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Plain Anarchism, Marxist Anarchism and Anarchist Marxism (1969)

Part 1. Bakunin and Marx

A major source of tension between anarchists and left socialists is the latter's misapprehension of the relation between anarchism and marxism. While it may be remembered that Marx wrote "The Poverty of Philosophy" as a reply to Proudhon's "Philosophy of Poverty", it is more rarely remembered that Bakunin was the first person to attempt to translate "Das Kapital" into Russian. Similarly, nearly every leftist knows that Plekhanov wrote "Anarchism and Socialism" - an attack on Russian anarchism - but how many know that at the time he converted Plekhanov to socialism (i.e. anarchism), Axelrod himself was an anarchist. (Essentially his position was not changed when he, called himself a marxist).

The attitude of the anarchists in the first international (I.W.M.A.) is the real indicator of the difference between marxism and anarchism. There, the two parties clashed (in a milieu of somewhat mystified trade unionists) over three issues. These were

  1. the role of "parties" in the revolution;
  2. the state after the revolution;
  3. the abolition of inheritance.

Taking these in reverse order may surprise the modern reader. The two parties were agreed on abolition of inheritance but the bakunists insisted on adopting it as a plank of the platform of the international, whereas the marxists claimed that it would follow naturally from a socialist revolution. (In Russia it was necessary to introduce a law abolishing inheritance after a few years of experimentation.). On the other two points the differences were more serious.

On the nature of the state after the revolution, the argument was over the forms of worker power. The anarchists wanted worker direct democracy (direct "dictatorship of the proletariat"), but the marxists wanted a dictatorship of a party 'representing' the working class. Countering the marxist demand for a party dictatorship over the workers (c.f. Engels' idea of subjecting the workers to a very strong government - letter to Carlo Caffiero), the anarchists pointed to the possibility of bureaucratic degeneration and the likelihood of the bureaucracy becoming a special social interest in its own right. (The theory of the 'new class' was discovered many times by anarchists and alienated working class socialists before Djilas enunciated it.

Compare the following quotations:

"There will therefore be no longer any privileged class, but there will be government and note this well, an extremely complex government, which will not comfort itself with governing and administrating the masses politically, but which will also administer them economically, concentrating in its own hands the production and just division of wealth, the cultivation of land, the establishment and development of factories, the organisation and direction of commerce, finally the application of capital to production by the only broker, the State. All that will demand an immense knowledge and many 'heads overflowing with brains' in this government. It will be the reign of scientific intelligence, the most aristocratic, despotic, arrogant and contemptous of all regimes. There will be a new hierachy of real and pretended scholars and scientists, and the world will be divided into a minority ruling in the name of knowledge and an immense ignorant majority. And then, woe betide the mass of the ignorant ones." - Michael Bakunin: "Marx, the Bismarck of Socialism" (1870).

"Our system; which allegedly represented a policy 'in the interests of the workers, in the interests of the people' was completely insensitive towards the working people as producers as well as consumers. The system which justified its centralised structure by the alleged requirements of scientific direction, did not provide scope for enterprise. .... Such a structure (Russian style marxist political economy) therefore requires a particular interest group which comes foreward in the name of the working class .... and which acquires certain nonsocialist traits." Radavor Richta (central committee of Czech communist party) "Models of Socialism" translated in Australian Left Review 1969 No. 1.

The current self-criticism of communists and ex-communist socialists surely stands as the major justification of the anarchist reservations about the marxist state. (A later article will deal with social democracy).

On the role of a socialist party (and thus the roles of sections of the I.W.M.A.) the anarchists stood for propaganda and non-parliamentary organisation of the working class (and of the peasants). The marxists stood primarily for the organisation of political parties of the organised working class (that part of the class called the 'labor autocracy' by Bakunin). Partly this was because Marx believed that the successful completion of the bourgeois revolution required the power of the organic working class (Bakunin by 1870 did not support any bourgeois revolutions), and partly because in Germany and England, for different reasons, prior political capture of the state appeared a precondition for revolution (or at least a breakdown in capitalism could only be exploited if a party was already available to take power. History endorsed neither view unanimously: Marx's favorites, the German socialist party and the English unionists had blundered into complete defeat as socialist bodies a little before the Bakuninist creation, the Spanish anarchist movement, was destroyed by the two twentieth century totalitarianisms.

Part 2. Anarchism and Social Democracy 1871-1914

For a while after the collapse of the First International - due to Marx's removal of the Central Council to New York where it quietly died - it seemed that anarchism in its Bakuninist form might take the labour movement in all bar the northern countries. The anarchists of the Swiss (Jura) federation of the old International sent the so-called Souvillier circular to all other surviving national sections and in 1872 these assembled at St. Imier to create a new organisation.

The "St. Imier" International - which lasted until 1877 - combined nearly all the groups that had opposed Marx's control of the Central Council; anarchists, trade unionists and state socialists. The conflict between the anti-political stance of the Bakuninists and the politics of the northern socialists proved too great a strain for the organisation which having produced a stream of compromise conference resolutions finally fell apart. In the end only the anarchists remained in the organisation and the socialists called their own United Socialist Conference. The anarchist delegates went on to this from their own conference and it split completely over the issues of state ownership and political activity. Neither the anarchists nor the socialists could sustain an international alone and so by the end of the 1870's the old international had completely disintegrated into its national and ideological components. In Spain and Italy the movement was predominantly anarchist: in France it was split; in Austria the social-democrats themselves were split into moderate and (quasi-anarchist) radical factions. The English movement was splitting and mainly interested in trade union affairs. In Germany, the movement, marxist in phraseology, was social-reformist in fact.

When the socialists initiated the series of conferences known as the Second International the anarchists unsuccessfully applied for membership. The majority of the first conference voted to exclude them and so the split between anarchism and social-democracy was finally formally established. Anarchists were set the task of establishing a counter-organisation and counter-theory to the social democrats.

From time to time the anarchist movement called its own conferences but these rarely set up organisations of any duration. The general nature of anarchist doctrine and activity - propaganda and insurrection - tended to make anarchist organisations small and/or short-lived. Thus it proved impossible to form a durable anarchist international. Similarly national organisations tended to be loose federations of groups: there was no national activity to engage in and so no necessity for strong national bodies. Obviously even quite large anarchist movements, e.g. that of Spain with about. 50,000 members, could not do anything except in a national revolutionary emergency.

The solution to this political impotence of anarchism - to some extent a revision of anarchism - was found in France.

After the collapse of the attempts to form an anarchist International the French movement became a network of small groups held together by constant contact between militants (activity rather than membership card being the basis of membership) and a few national anarchist papers. The movement did not attempt any constructive ventures but engaged in ceaseless agitation and organisation of marginal groups such as the Paris unemployed. Simultaneously there was a general rise in the influence of anarchist ideas in French literary and artistic life. As a result when individual terrorism began in the 1890's the numerically small anarchist movement had considerable respect from both workers and intellectuals. After a period of assassinations, bombings and robberies initiated by Ravochol the government staged show trials of leading anarchist militants and intellectuals. The tactic failed because the public called for acquital but the anarchist movement had had a salutary shock and sought avenues for constructive work.

The activities attempted in the aftermath of the terrorist period included the creation of anarchist communes in the countryside - some of which lasted in the 1930's, the creation of anarchist schools and "Universities Populaire" (adult education) and revolutionary work in labour organisations. Of these the latter was destined to be the most significant.

The French Labour movement, crushed by the defeat of the Paris Commune, had been reviving in the 1880's and 1890's and insofar as it was organised was predominantly under the control of Guesde's Marxists (reformists). This control was being challenged in the unions by anarchist proponents of the general strike, Allemandists (revolutionary socialists) and Blanquists. An important factor in the ultimate victory of the revolutionaries was the anarchist control under Pelloutier of the "Bourses de Travail" - labour exchanges originally set up by the reformists as a counter to the employers' "Bureaux de Placement". In 1894 a joint conference of the Federation des Bourses de Travail and the Federation Nationale du Syndicats declared for the revolutionary general strike and formed a committee for propagating the idea. In 1902 the organisations united under a predominantly revolutionary leadership.

The victory of the revolutionaries (and in particular that of the anarchists) was due to the faction fights for control of unions occasioned by the divisions between the socialist groups. The organised French worker wanted a strong and independent union and also had a distrust of bourgeois parliamentarians born of the betrayals of the past (and present and future). The solution of keeping "politics" out of the unions seemed natural.

Similarly the idea of an independent workers' organisation facing the hostile bourgeois state made sense in the light of the experience of strikes, lockouts, etc, the brutal crushing of the Paris Commune and the ideas put forward by the First International. Those anarchists not totally opposed to large organisations fitted in well in the new union movement and energetically set about building the syndicats and bourses, opposing the political parties and labour reformists in the unions and developing the syndicalist approach to revolution.

The existence of a powerful practical anarchist organisation having a theory of revolutionary struggle and of the organisation of post-revolutionary society - viz. that the svndicats and bourses were respectively the national/economic and local/civil/cultural organs of the new society - constituted an implicit critique of social democratic aims and methods since the latter lacked either. However the syndicalists themselves did not work this out and the job was left to syndicalist influenced intellectuals many of whom were after 1920 to be found in the new communist parties along with the ex-syndicalists and the syndicalist-influenced left-wing of the old socialist parties. The reason for this was that although anarcho-syndicalism was the only proletarian revolutionary doctrine before 1914 (since social democracy only had a theory of reformist and parliamentary action) the key concept of the general strike was a defensive rather than an aggressive one. Because of this incongruity of aim and strategy - the general strike being conceived as an alternative to violent insurrection - sympathetic intellectuals such as Georges Sorel were able to interpret it as a revolutionary myth. After the Russian Revolution syndicalism only lived on where it inherited the old insurrectional traditions.

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