Born 1905 – Chernivtsi, Ukraine, died February 1996 – Paris, France
Maximilien Rubel died in Paris in late February 1996. He had originally arrived in Paris in 1931 to finish his studies in philosoph y, sociology and law that he had started in his home town of Czerlowitz, which had been first ruled by the Austro-Hungarians, then by the Romanians, and is now in the Ukraine. He began to frequent radical circles and to express solidarity with the struggle for social emancipation, particularly from 1936 when he gave support to the efforts of the Spanish anarchists during the Civil War and Revolution.
This activity put him in contact with unorthodox Marxists, Anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists. His militant activity began in earnest during the Second World War when he wrote a number of leaflets in German (his mother tongue) distributed among the German forces of occupation by the tiny Revolutionary Proletarian Group in which he was active alongside Roger Bossiere*. The leaflets denounced both Nazism and the Western imperialist powers. He took the double risk in this very dangerous work of being both a Jew and a revolutionary.
A supporter of council communism, he participated in the late forties and the fifties in the activities and the debates of that current, scattered to the four corners of the world by Stalinism, in particular his published correspondence with Anton Pannekoek. He began a critical examination of the work of Marx, and indeed began to produce a Complete Works of Marx. He ferociously denounced both capitalism and what he saw as the false socialism of Leninism. His essay “Marx – Theoretician of Anarchism” horrified both orthodox Marxists and anarchists. His critique of the Soviet Union and its satellites directed the fire of the Stalinists of the French Communist Party upon him. Unlike others who started out as anti-authoritarian critics of Stalinism, he did not change into a defender of capitalism and Cold War “anti-communism”.
He had contacts with the libertarian socialists of Socialisme ou Barbarie (who in their turn had a great influence on the British group Solidarity) and the anarchist communists of the excellent magazine Noir et Rouge. He participated in a reading group alongside Ngo Van Xuhat and Jean Malaquais, and was closely allied to Rene Lefeuvre whose Spartacus publishing house brought out a vast series of anarchist, council communist and critical Marxist books and pamphlets. He remained a convinced anti-capitalist and anti-statist right up to his death.
* The original text here read "Roger Bossiere, still a militant today!" Sadly, Bossiere died on 7 August 2006.
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I’m afraid I have to admit that I was, as Nick says, one of those anarchists who were "horrified" by Maximilien Rubel’s thesis on "Marx theorist of anarchism". "Horrified" is perhaps an exaggeration. In fact I was very disappointed by Rubel’s argumentation. The idea that Marx could have a final vision of communism that is close to anarchism is not original: that’s what all Marxists say, even if it means moving on to the serious things, that is to say to state practices, when it comes to taking action.
I have never taken this passage very seriously, where Marx states that "All socialists understand by anarchy this: the goal of the proletarian movement, the abolition of classes, once achieved, the power of the state disappears and the functions of government are transformed into mere administrative functions.”
First of all because the "anarchy" in question is a passive anarchy, I would say, which occurs through the effect of a historical determinism that escapes real men and women.
Marx wrote this in a polemical text, The Ficticious Splits in the International (1871), at a time when he had begun his great manoeuvres against Bakunin and thought he was trying to soften the anarchists by saying: "You see, we’re not that different...". When a communist says to anarchists: "we’re not that different", the anarchists had better watch out for themselves. In the case of Marx, he had Bakunin and James Guillaume excluded from the International, and by ricochet the whole organised labour movement of the time.
This is what Lenin also did when he wrote The State and the Revolution, after which he had all the anarchists arrested.
In short, this sentence of Marx doesn’t really say much, it’s a paraphrase of Saint-Simon who was not an anarchist at all and who said that the government of men was going to be replaced by the administration of things. It remains very, very vague.
After reading "Marx, theorist of anarchism", I wrote a very polemical text, Rubel, Marx and Bakounine, in a publication of libertarians from Lyon, Informations et réflexions libertaires (Oct-Nov. 1985). Later I rewrote the text, softening the polemical side and I changed the title into "L’anarchisme dans le miroir de Maximilien Rubel" (Anarchism in the mirror of Maximilien Rubel).
In fact what shocked me wasn’t really the idea that Marx was a theoretician of anarchism. After all, if one makes a hypothesis and argues it, I find it can only be interesting, even if one disagrees. What shocked me is that his argument in favour of an "Anarchist Marx" is not good.
Rubel’s article dates from 1973. The following year, the General Secretary of the French Communist Party, Jacques Duclos, published a book with the significant title: Bakunin and Marx, Shadow and Light, a particularly representative work of communist literature on Bakunin. The book is a comprehensive and uncritical account of all the nonsense that Marx and Engels wrote about the Russian revolutionary. However, the inventory of passages dealing with Bakunin in Marx critique du marxisme, Rubel’s book which contains the article on "Marx theorist of anarchism", reveals a discourse absolutely identical to that of Jacques Duclos: Bakunin is a conspirator, a slavophile, a Germanophobe, a revolutionary aesthete, his teaching is worthless, etc.
This observation, coming from a man with Rubel’s intellectual value, was very disappointing. It revealed either an absolute bad faith or an absolute ignorance concerning Bakunin.
But there was another disappointment.
Indeed, there were many elements in the anarchist movement that showed convergences between anarchism and Marxism. One would never stop mentioning examples of theoretical interrelationship between Marxism and anarchism, on which Rubel could have relied. But that would have meant a debate between equals, which Rubel was not willing to engage in.
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Anarchism in the mirror of Maximilien Rubel
The evolution of Maximilian Rubel’s critical thinking led him to formulate the idea that Marx was a theorist of anarchism. It is easy to imagine that if the idea did not arouse enthusiasm among Marxists, it did not arouse enthusiasm among anarchists either: the oppositions between Marx and the anarchists of his time were such that if one accepts the idea of a Marx theorist of anarchism, one is forced to reject from the anarchist “pantheon” all the others, which obviously simplifies the debate... by making it useless. This idea also poses another problem: the “niche” of anarchist theorists is already largely occupied by men, some of them contemporaries of Marx, who had obviously never envisaged such an idea and who would probably have vigorously rejected it.
Maximilian Rubel is thus in the uncomfortable situation of being alone against all. Worse, he puts Marx himself in this uncomfortable position.