Jan Wacław Machajski

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Portrait photography of Jan Wacław Machajski

Jan Wacław Machajski (1866 in Busko-Zdrój – 1926), pseudonym A. Wolski (A. Vol'ski) (often corrupted in Russian as Makhaev), was a Polish revolutionary whose methodology drew from both anarchism and Marxism whilst criticising both as being products of the intelligentsia.[1]:105


The son of a poor Polish official, Machajski was briefly attracted to Polish nationalism as a student, but abandoned it for internationalism and socialism.[2] He was arrested and exiled to Siberia in 1892, where he began to develop his critique of Marxist revisionism in German and Russian socialism. His ideas were taken up by the Workers' Conspiracy, which was active in Odessa in 1906 but had become peripheral in the Russian empire a year later.[2]


Influenced by Bakunin, he argued – in opposition to Karl Kautsky – that the class interest of intellectuals, including Marxist social democrats, was opposed to that of manual workers,[3] since the unproductive labour of intellectuals depended upon preserving a hereditary monopoly on education at workers' expense. Rather than put their hopes in political revolution, manual workers needed to concentrate upon pressing their economic demands through a mass general strike, until their wages equalled those of the intellectual worker and there could be a socialization of knowledge. Revolution would consist of a violent revolt of the unemployed worker-peasant.[2]

Machajski thus attempted a theoretical synthesis of anarchist political critique and Marxist political economy and theory of history (historical materialism), by applying the Marxist critique of class-dominated ideology to Marxism itself. Machajski theorised a "state capitalist" moment of social development, approximating the seizure of power by intellectuals of the state apparatus, and the oppression of the working class by intellectuals acting to further capitalism in its dying days. In comparison, Machajski theorised socialism as the direct political control of economic institutions by the working class itself. Machajski's contributions foreshadowed the debate over the nature of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-style societies, including the critiques of Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism.


Machajski wrote predominantly in Russian. His writing is more available in Polish or French than English, though commentary on his ideas exists in English.

  • Scientific socialism (1899)
  • The Evolution of Social Democracy (1899)
  • The Intellectual Worker (1905)
  • An Unfinished Essay in the Nature of a Critique of Socialism

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Avrich, Paul (1967). The Russian Anarchists. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  2. ^ a b c Michael D. Kennedy, 'The Alternative in Eastern Europe at Century's Start: Brzozowski and Machajski on Intellectuals and Socialism' [review of Shatz], Theory and Society, Vol. 21. No. 5 (October 1992), pp. 735-753
  3. ^ Mark Leier, review of Marshall Shatz, Jan Waclaw Machajski, The International History Review Vol 11 No. 4 (November 1989), pp. 743-45

Further reading[edit]

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