Anarchist Theory and Practice

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Thu Apr 27 21:06:47 MDT 1995

I find it odd that I am defending anarchism, a doctrine I reject, but
still, this theory seems to be widely misunderstood by Marxists, who have
less excuse, as by bourgeois theorists.

(1) Anarchism is not advocacy of chaos but but of a non-coercive,
voluntaristic order.

(2) Some anarchism (typically the right wing variety) is liberal in the
classic 19th century sense; some is not.

(3) There exists a substantial and respectable body of anarchist theory
that's older than Marxist theory--probably the first major anarchist work
of modern times is William Godwin's Political Justice (1793).

Serious anarchists are as theoretically informed as any Marxist and more
than some. Like anyone who has engaged in practical struggle intewlligent
anarchist activists will have nuanced views about the formation of
revolutionary consciousness. They will not, in principle, reject theory.

Remember taht Noam Chomsky is an anarchist. Nothing he believes can be
foolish, evem if it's wrong. He's like Doctor Science, only more so. He
really does know more than you do.

(4) Steve or someone suggested that a divide runs through both anarchism
and Marxism rightly corresponding to what Hal Draper calls the distinction
between socialism from below (worker's self-emancipation) and socialism
from above (liberation of the masses by an enlightened elite). This is
almost certainly right, despite the anarchists' typical attempt to say
that Marxism is entirely on the "above" side. (Though much of it, alas,
has been.) Draper himself argues that Bakunin and Proudhon are both
"socialists from above."

(5) What does Guy mean when says that Marxists say that theory must be
constrained in some way? I hope he does not mean taht there are off-limits
topics for debate or claims which must be held as items of religious
faith. "I believe in the abolition of the market, the dictatorship of the
proletariat, and the labor theory of value, world without end. Amen." (
There--my old Catholic school training is showing through.) That's silly.
Everything is up for grabs. Even the labor theory of value. The only
constrains on theory are the usual ones--internal coherence, empirical
adequacy, explantory power--you know, the conditions for rational thought.

(6) George Woodcock, Daniel Guerin, and James Joll all have short
histories of anarchism as a political and intellectual movement. All
strike me as pretty good. It wouldn't hurt Marxists to read one of these
to get a sense of what anarchists have thought and said and done. (Then
read Paul Thomas' Karl Marx and the Anarchists for a brilliant explantion
of what Marx himself wasn't an anarchist.)

(7) Steve, I think, also suggested that Marxists have a lot to learn from
anarchists, e.g., the experience of the worker collectives in Spain in the
Civil war and before and other good stuff anarchists have done. Quite so.
That's why Marxists should learn what what the good and bad is, instead of
criticizing a straw figure.


On Fri, 28 Apr 1995, Guy Yasko wrote:

> Justin Schwartz wrote:
> > "chaos." The fundamental left anarchist belief, its defining
> > characteristic, is that society should not have an organbized coercive
> > apparatus to maintain order, which should rather be done--and it is agreed
> > that it should be done--cooperatively and voluntarily. Anarchists differ
> > from Marxists largely in the question of whether the establishment of a
> > workers' state should be a revolutionary goal. Anarchists don't want to
> > establish any state.
> As a friend says, like liberals without the police.  Actually, I think the
> anarchists  differ from Marxists over the relation between theory and
> practice, too.   Anarchists optimistically assume that the transformation
> of the working class from a class in itself to a class for itself occurs by
> means of struggle.  In other words, according to the anarchists
>  all we need to do is struggle.  As things which would restrict and
> restrain the autonomous activity of the people, theory and politics hold
> little value for anarchists.  Practice is enough.
> The problem with this approach to relating theory and practice is that
> it becomes very difficult to decide who is and is not part of the struggle.
> For  example, I study the Japanese student movement from about 65-73.
> I find the more anarchistically inclined students incapable of defining
> their movement and themselves.  This became a serious problem when
> people like Mishima Yukio (the novelist, but also the leading right
> wing ideologue of the time) began to argue that the student movement
> ought to fight for the emperor.  The students couldn't answer Mishima,
> because they had no means of self-definition, i.e. no theory.  They had
> defined themselves as people struggling together against the state and
> university administration.  In fact the abbreviated version of their
> moniker translates to "All Struggling Together"  (Zenkyoto).  I
> could also use a Russian example: One of the criticisms of the
> Mensheviks was that anyone could be a Menshevik.
> The anarchists do have a point in that the theory and form of struggle
> must be open.  Marxists reply that they can't be completely open.
> g.y.
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