25 October 2010

On Authority and Political Indifferentism

The Classics, Mature Struggles, Part 5a

On Authority and Political Indifferentism

Today we have two short pamphlets one by Engels and one by Marx, one on “Authority” and one on “Indifferentism”, compiled together in one document, downloadable via the link below. Which brings us to an announcement.


Google has announced a unilateral change. It is to do away with the “Files” and “Pages” facilities that have been part and parcel of Google Groups for the past five years or so. Our files now have to be migrated to a new, separate site. See the work in progress, here.

What this may mean is that in the future, links that we have given may not continue to work from older documents and blog posts, because the downloadable files have been housed on Google Groups, and therefore they may disappear.

The links given below are to documents stored on the new site. Please, if you find any difficulty downloading them, do drop us a line by reply to the group and tell what happens. Let us hope that there are no such problems.

Says Engels: Either the anti-authoritarians don't know what they're talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction.

This is written in 1872 and published in 1874, in Italy. It is a “classic” because it addresses a familiar argument. The “politically correct” of the day were saying that all forms of “authority” were bad and must be done away with. Engels corrects this “politically correct” error.

Marx, writing in 1873, also for publication in Italy in 1874, addresses what he calls “Political Indifferentism”. In this pamphlet, Marx first quotes Proudhon, and readers can be deceived to think that Marx is approving of Proudhon. But this is only polemic. Marx quotes Proudhon extensively, only so as to thoroughly contradict him.

This is a very profound lesson of Karl Marx’s. What he is saying is that although, under the bourgeois dictatorship, in the bourgeois democracy, whose choices are all bourgeois choices, yet we cannot therefore say that we should have nothing to do with it, and refuse to choose.

On the contrary, we have to study it with more attention than anyone else and make the tactically right choices in the interest of the working class.

In South Africa in the early 21st century, clearly the communists are deeply involved in the politics of the bourgeois state, and Marx would, according to this text, say that such involvement is more than inevitable. It is deliberate and it is right. The communists cannot remain indifferent to what the bourgeoisie is doing.

Please download and read this text:

Further reading: