Anarchist Theory and Practice

Guy Yasko guyy at
Fri Apr 28 16:46:04 MDT 1995

In message <Pine.3.07.9504272344.A5071-d100000 at acme>  writes:
> (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.

    In this particular context I meant to say that there has to be some means of
boundary maintenance, both in terms of theory and self-definition.  Those
probably  end up meaning the same thing.  There has something beyond
merely formal criteria, e.g. all those who struggle in a certain way, other-
wise, there is no means of deciding what is and what is not Marxism.  If
one leaves this entirely open, how does one reply to the Gramsci toting
skinheads who demand a united front against Zionist hegemony?  More
seriously, if everything does come down to struggle, it seems difficult to
put together a coherent movement and a program.  Backing up to '68
again, I think you see in places like Japan and France what happens to
movements like this. You have a many, many autonomous groups doing
interesting, even revolutionary things.  But without a program, without
coordination, it all fell apart after a while. I think this may have been
quite different from the US experience where the anti-war movement
gave a certain direction to the student movement.

As Justin points out, the content of Marxism must be open.  I accept
this,  but again, if it is completely open, who isn't a Marxist?  There
are things some things I think we should be quite firm about: smashing
racism and sexism, destroying hierarchy, total freedom of information,
direct democracy, worker's self management.  I have no qualms
whatsoever about this catechism.  If it prevents an alliance with the
Michigan Militia, so be it.  I suspect Justin has a similar
list himself.   What I should have said but didn't was that Marxism is
a way of relating theory and practice.  The tricky part is in how you
establish institutions and pracitices that facilitate it, and then continue
doing it.  Obviously, the relation has to change along with society; it
itself has to remain an open question.  I don't think Lukacs' answers
will work for us, but I don't think anarchism has much to say about
the problem.  Unfortunately, neither do I.  I'm still working on it.
Anarchism's emphasis on openness and autonomy are indeed
important lessons, but I don't we can stop there.  That is what I meant
by anarchist optimism, which I insist bears a certain resemblence to
liberal optimism.


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