Plzeňské sympozia

Johannes Gleixner

Comments on T.G. Masaryk’s Initial Debate with the Marxists

pp. 33–41 (Czech), Summary pp. 41–42 (English)

This essay deals with T.G. Masaryk’s initial debate with the Marxists. The author points to the fact that Masaryk actually became involved in an already ongoing discussion. For instance, the Vienna weekly magazine Die Zeit had sought to engage in a debate with the Marxists in the German Social Democratic party since as early as 1896, with a view to shedding light on the question of the status of scientific socialism in an urban middle-class society. Until then, however, the Marxists had succeeded in limiting the platform for discussion to Social Democratic press. Masaryk’s articles on “crisis in Marxism” changed this. The publisher of Die Zeit, Heinrich Kanner, found in Masaryk the long-sought “bourgeois” intellectual who was capable of challenging the Marxists to engage in a philosophical discussion. The Marxist orthodoxy formulated by Karl Kautsky was by then already enmeshed in polemics with the revisionist premises of Eduard Bernstein. In his turn, Masaryk managed to recruit Bernstein for Die Zeit. The scope of the discussion then broadened, and Masaryk became the “crown witness for revisionism”, though ideologically he had only very little in common with it. Another markedly relevant aspect of Masaryk’s attempts at a critique of Marxism was his aspiration to interpret the actual writings of Marx and Engels. His criticism did not concentrate on Marxism as a doctrine, but aimed also at Marxists as its followers, blaming them for misinterpreting their own ideology. In the course of the debate it became evident that the nature of the print medium and the form of the individual contributions can be of greater relevance than the contents of argumentation. This may lead to the conclusion that the critical factor in asserting a social vision or a utopia is often not their ideological substance but rather a particular historical moment, plus the personality of their chief proponent.

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