Ervin Batthyány:

Socialism and Anarchism

Ervin Batthyány (1877-1945)

The life of this „anarchist count” was more interesting than his writings. It can be said that the writings of a lot of comrades who were active at the beginning of the last century, have been lost their significance until now, their fresh innovations and statements for now have been assimilated by the big stream of the working-class movement. Our hero was early influenced by William Morris, Edward Carpenter, Piotr Kropotkin (whom he met in in 1910) and Ervin Szabó, who was a close friend of him. His “devout” aristocratic family wanted to put the young count into a mental hospital because of his revolutionary views. This performance repeated several times during his life – although he was healthy, there were attempts to end his political activity this way.

Already in this period, social democracy reigned on the terrain of the working-class movement in . Comparing to it, the anarchist movement was rather small, but it was active and enthusiastic… During the whole of his life, Batthyány had always a lot of plans, and sometimes he managed to realize some of his ideas. He delivered lectures, dreamed about the establishment of a publishing house, translated, publicated, created a school and several journals. In 1905, he founded the “popular school” in Bögöte (this place belonged to his lordship). Embedded into his own naivity, he wanted to maintain this school within the semi-feudalistic and semi-capitalistic relations of . He intended to run a clear popular school, in which the children of the working class would have been taught in the progressive class-conscious spirit and moral of the working-class movement. The authorities worked according to their social tasks, and made the functioning of the school impossible. In 1906, Batthyány contributed to the foundation of the socialist journal “Jövő” (Future), and with his financial help the journal “Testvériség” (Fraternity) was also established this year. The latter was published as a newspaper of social democracy, but the editors had been anarchists until the intervention of the Social Democratic Party.

Ervin Batthyány (maybe because of the influence of his comrade Ervin Szabó) didn’t accept the seeming contradictions between anarchism and communism, this can be seen in his activity even if his plan of the reform school, his close relations to Kropotkin (which was clearly indicated by the fact that he forced the publication of Kropotkin’s “Mutual Help” which was finally published) foreshadow a typical libertarian militant. Undoubtedly, there were also idealist and individualist elements in his movement activity, as we can see from the text published below. But despite of its problematic and bad views (making distinction between “political” and “economic” struggle and then uniting them, ultra-determinism, extension of the role of individuals, emphasizing the importance of education – shortly, the propagation of enlightenment with its idealism etc. etc.), this text remains a document of the always developing revolutionary movement.

About 1906, began comrade Batthyány’s anarcho-syndicalist epoch. A new journal, „Társadalmi Forradalom” (Social Revolution) was published from February 1907, which was started by him and several of his comrades. Their slogan was the call for general strike, their flag was the propagation of anti-militarism. He travelled to quite often until the early 1910’s when he remained there till the end of his life. The edition of „Társadalmi Forradalom” was continued by the „Budapest Group of Revolutionary Socialists”, and the journal ceased to exist only when the Soviet Republic of Hungary was defeated. Batthyány wanted Ervin Szabó for editor, but he didn’t accept this because at this time he hadn’t broken his contradictory links to social democracy yet. The activity of Ervin Batthyány was touched by syndicalism basically in the period when he actively co-operated with his comrades, mainly when they edited „Társadalmi Forradalom” (together with the group of Károly Krausz) and when he was influenced by the French syndicalists (Grave and the CGT). He usually lived the life of a „queer revolutionary”, isolated by the walls of social-democratic counter-revolution, against which he fought actively during his whole life. We know little about his years in London.

In general, it can be said that his activity infiltrated firmly into the struggles of next proletarian generations, and mentioning his name, we didn’t remember an „animal species died out in the glacial epoch”, but a committed anarcho-communist comrade, who fought for the communist society during the active period of his life.

Barricade Collective, 2005 summer

Ervin Batthyány: Socialism and Anarchism

There are so many contradictory, often muddled, opinions about the relationship between socialism and anarchism that first we should briefly sketch the character of the two social movements.

Socialism aims at removing the means of production from the hands of a privileged few into the hands of the community and thus assure everyone an equal share in the fruits of nature and the work of the community; it wants to abolish the exploitation of the poor by the rich and thus achieve a happy life for all. Anarchism demands that the domination of man over man be abolished, that everyone be able to live his life according to his own taste, needs, and wishes, that a harmony and balance emerging from the solidarity and free contracted union of free individuals should replace the dominion of law, statute, and violence.

How do these two trends agree and how can their practical accomplishment be coordinated? Both socialism and anarchism are the results of the development of mankind. Socialist and anarchist society appear on the horizon of possibilities only when this development has reached a certain point; only then can the ideal of this kind of future and the demand for its achievement enter the minds of people. This point is reached, first, when the domination of man over natural forces truly enables society to fulfill all needs of everyone, when agriculture, industry, and transportation are on a level that permits— through a rational social order—all to enjoy a healthy, good and happy life without inordinate efforts. Second, this moment—not unconnected to the formerly described conditions—arrives when human minds are cleansed of superstition and prejudice, understand in the light of reason and observation the forces of nature and themselves, are freed from fear of the unknown and the pressure of religious and political authorities, and recognize the unity of the life of mankind, the equality of all men, and the solidarity that binds them together.

Thus the point of departure of socialism and anarchism is the same, and so is their final aim: the happiness of all mankind. But let us look at the methods of reaching this target. Socialism wants to abolish property and wishes to put production at the disposal of the community, by the community. But this cannot be achieved by laws and ordinances. Obviously, the existing government and administration are not only useless for this purpose but indeed hinder it. The entire legal order — legislation, system of justice and punishment— of the state is at the service of private property. If property vanishes, the entire system will collapse. But it is also certain that socialism will not replace it with another system of government. The task of future society is the rational organization of production, the fulfillment of daily needs— in general, making life happy and comfortable. This task demands above all the independent action and the full use of the energies of every single individual. Masses strictly regulated and moved by commands from above cannot achieve this aim. Social life has to adapt to ever-changing needs and the continuously varying conditions which preclude a general, all-embracing system of regulations; instead, actions conforming with the actual situation and agreements derived from individual cases have to take their place.

In socialism, once the workers will have taken over production and administration, it is highly unlikely that they will replace the old bosses with new ones, in the form of bureaucrats. People know best themselves what they need and how to achieve that; but if they entrust the running of their business to officials, no matter how democratically elected, those will soon lose all touch with reality and the people eventually end up on the leash of a new privileged class, which they themselves have created. In a socialistic order all members have to think with their own heads and participate, according to their abilities, in the affairs of all. In order to operate successfully, each group has to be bound together by common needs, common ideals, and aims; that is, by free association and not by some kind of contract, law, or coercion. Hence, for the success of socialism one thing is necessary: anarchism.

But is socialism needed for the accomplishment of anarchism as well? Anarchism demands the abolition of all dominion. But economic dominion, the power of rich over poor, is the most dangerous of all. It is the origin and mainstay of all other rule and violence. In order for mankind to live according to its own wishes in liberty, it needs economic equality, lack of exploitation, and access for all to general welfare. Hence, whereas socialism is not merely the prerequisite of anarchism, anarchism expressly implies socialism.

The two social movements, which are often depicted as opposites, are in fact identical; they are two sides—one the economic, the other the political—of the same issue: the future liberation of mankind. Why is it, then, that not only outsiders but often those who participate in these movements are unable to see this identity and even fight against each other? Anarchic socialism cannot, of course, be accomplished in full at once. The rule of capitalism and the state has made a good part of society simply unable to think and to act independently. The awakening of the workers  and  their  revolutionary  organization  will  still leave behind plenty of slag, which after the collapse of the old order will not know what to do and will not find its place by itself in the new social order. There will be the poorest, the ones crippled in soul and body, the depraved wrecks, and also those from the "upper ten thousand," who grew up without any life experience, unfamiliar with any useful work. The education, organization, employment, and care of these people will fall upon socialist society until they become able to help themselves and do not hamper healthy society; these measures will possibly be at variance with the principles of pure anarchism. But this will be only a transitory stage, compatible with socialism if it serves the final aim, the eventual accomplishment of anarchic socialism.

Many present-day socialists, aware of the need of this transitory stage, concentrate on these first steps and believe that the success of the entire socialist future depends on them. They act in good faith, and there is a grain of truth in their thinking. However, it is also true that the success of these first — and any future — steps depends on how far they serve the final aim and ideal toward which they lead. Every step of socialism has to prepare the people for the complete liberation, for anarchic communism; every step has to develop their selves, their independence, and their ability to cooperate freely. Everything that points in a different direction, for the sake of transitory or temporary purposes, acts against socialism in the last resort. That is what the social democratic parties often lose sight of when they accuse the anarchist socialists, who look neither right nor left but proceed towards their final aim, of being utopians.

However, there are anarchists who fall into the other extreme. In their great enthusiasm for freedom and in their boundless trust in the improvement of mankind they overlook the present realities, do not see the obstacles which the long epoch of oppression and stupefaction has built on the road towards a free society. They regard everybody to be like themselves, free individuals for whom even the necessary external limitations of socialist society would appear as fetters. They take it so much for granted that the life of the individual is one with mankind, and that the unlimited freedom of all would lead to the perfect harmony of all, that they do not wish to waste time thinking about all this. They ask instead, why should we ponder over the system of future society, why do we need any forms of society, when all this will develop from itself out of the individuals, once they are left to their own devices and unlimited desires?

Doubtlessly, they, too, are right. The development of mankind is progressing in this direction and has to reach this stage. But this perfect anarchism will be possible only after several generations have passed, whereas socialism, and not only transitory social democracy, but anarchic communism as well, can be achieved by our own will in the foreseeable future. The way of anarchism is not to disregard and reject the latter, but to build a social order that conforms best to the final aim, which we should never lose sight of. But, as I said, there are some impatient, overly enthusiastic anarchists who cannot see this. In their impatience they would rather grab a dagger or a bomb to eliminate today's tyrants and do not consider that these men are merely the products of the present social order and will be replaced by the same kind as long as this order and the people in it do not change radically. These fanatics tend to regard socialist anarchism as conservative and treacherous.

Socialism and anarchism can travel only on a common road. Socialism without anarchism, if at all thinkable, would lead mankind into a slavery probably worse than the present: into a rule of bureaucracy by the grace of god. Anarchism without socialism is not even thinkable, for that would be equivalent to a struggle of all against all as among wild animals (a struggle which never existed, even in the wild!) and which would soon annihilate mankind. There is only one road to the development of mankind: free communism that unites in itself both socialism and anarchism.

The task of today's working-class movement is to foster this development and to establish the better future of mankind, the free communist society. That can be achieved only if the image of the future exists clearly in the mind of everyone, if all act out of their own convictions, striving for the final aim according to their means and possibilities. The workers have to achieve their future by their own direct action; their organizations, based on free and independent compact and common interests, are the germs of future social order. These will have to blow up capitalism and state power from within and take over production and administration. All proletarian movements have to cooperate in order to enable the working class, its single members as well as its entirety, to perform this gigantic task. That is the purpose of the workers’ economic betterment, education, and increase of political power, but all these are only means and preparation toward the social revolution.

(A Jövő [The Future], February 1906.)