and entering

“I’ve been silent": Harvard's Bakunin backers face life on a pro-Marx campus

Iversen, pictured here with her favorite notebook, stands resolute on this pro-Marx campus.

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Walk around any college campus and Marxism’s popularity is immediately apparent. Depending on the climate, you’re likely to see Marx T-shirts or Marx sweaters or Marx hats or Marx scarves.

You’re less likely to encounter Mikhail Bakunin memorabilia. In a setting where students are meant to be agitating for a dictatorship of the proletariat, supporting the nineteenth-century Russian anarchist and factional leader of the International Workingmen’s Association just isn’t cool.

It turns out this is even true at Harvard University—hardly known for revolutionary-vanguardist politics.

In April, Dan Levinson, a 20-year-old government student at Harvard and an editorial writer for the Harvard Crimson, wrote a letter to the New York Times lamenting that his support for Bakunin meant that on campus he “might as well be Klemens von Metternich”.

“At Harvard, saying that #PropertyIsTheft is nearly tantamount to boasting ‘Better dead than Red’,” Levinson wrote.

“If you’re a Bakunin supporter, you’re kind of in this happy medium. Or really an unhappy medium,” Levinson said, “where, by voicing support for Bakunin, you’re at once alienating the college bourgeoisie—who still view him as a filthy subversive—and you’re alienating Marx supporters who view him as a philosophical nincompoop with confused ideas about individual liberty whose only accomplishment was inspiring a couple failed revolts in France.”

Not all Harvard’s students are as reluctant to admit their support for Bakunin. As a member of the Harvard for Mikhail group, 19-year-old freshman Genevieve Iversen distributed anarchist literature during the Massachusetts primary. Iversen said she felt she had to “justify” her backing of Bakunin to Marx fans.

“They see the Bakunin supporter as someone who doesn’t really want as much revolution as they do. Like, ‘What do you mean you want the immediate abolition of all governments? It’s not practical. Why don’t you accept the inevitable withering away of the state? Why do you think that a dictatorship of the proletariat will have its own ruling class? Why do you support fomenting revolt by founding secret brotherhoods of revolutionaries rather than by education of the working people? What’s wrong with you?’ Like: you’re reactionary.”

Levinson said he was prompted to out himself as a Bakunin supporter due to frustration at being unable to be open about it. He wanted to address what he sees as a double standard among some Marx supporters—that to support Bakunin is to fail to support the fight for equality.

“Around the country, low income people, low income minorities are agitating for anarchy in vast majorities,” Levinson said.

“And this attitude on college campuses that ‘if you’re an advocate for the proletariat, you need to be a Marxist’ is really dismissive of those people across the country who are agitating for anarchy.”

“I think Marx supporters need to understand that Bakunin is not the enemy,” Iversen said.

“But I don’t feel bad or sad when he’s challenged. It’s more like, ‘OK, I understand what you’re saying, but you’re wrong.’ At the end of the day, he is still the more viable far-left revolutionary. He is fighting for the same issues. But I'd still take Marx over any of the bourgeois politicians any day.”


© 2016