Anarchism; more popular than marxism?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 9 07:40:18 MST 1999

>In short, the new 'anarchist' movement is more popular than Marxism - i.e it
>has a more active base of support within certain imperialist powers -  but
>only by virtue of it being 'last man standing'.  It's come out of the 80s
>and 90s in better shape than rival political traditions (needless to say it
>has little to do with Bakunin et al at present).  As Phil Ferguson and
>others have suggested, what looks like a popular movement is closer to a
>youth subculture, made up of drop-outs who need to grow up.
>Graham Barnfield

This is comparing apples and oranges. Marxism is actually in better shape
than the *organized* anarchist ideological current. For example, one of the
better known groups "Love and Rage" fell apart not too long ago. From

The break-up of Love and Rage was preceded by a two-year-long debate within
the organization around a number of issues that proved irreconcilable. In
the course of this debate, the ex-RSL members and a few others active in
the Anti-Racist Action Network (ARA) signed onto a document entitled What
We Believe (WWB), which argued that all of the practical and theoretical
problems that faced Love and Rage could be answered from "within
anarchism." Other members raised provocative questions (How do you defend
the ideals of a new society without replicating elements of a state? How
does a revolutionary relate to her or his communities as an organizer?) and
often found that anarchist history and thought didn t have satisfying
answers. The WWB document and its backers offered vague and moralistic
answers to such questions. Worse, WWB warned that this questioning was
evidence of a covert plot to corrupt anarchism with Marxist thought."

When one joins a Marxist organization, you customarily go through a
rigorous training period. You study the literature and take assignments.
There are no such equivalent duties in the anarchist "movement". So with
the dues being much lower, obviously membership--such as it is--is less
demanding. Marxists from the Communist Party and the Committees of
Correspondence have been responsible for convening the Black Radical
Congress. They are also supplying the foot soldiers for new initiatives in
the labor movement, including NYC's Transit Workers Union which is about to
go on strike. There are no such things as IWW led labor struggles. When you
get down to the nitty-gritty of working class and oppressed nationality
resistance to the capitalist system, it is disciplined Marxist cadres who
are supplying the leadership and energy.

There is one area in which the anarchists have made inroads--and this was
demonstrated in the Seattle actions--and that is in the Green movement.
Bioregionalism and anarchism have a lot of affinities. This is from a piece
I wrote on the Unabomber:

Green anarchism contains some deeply reactionary tendencies. There is a
belief in the Gaea principle which regards the natural world as some kind
of self-regulating, perfect mechanism. Homo Sapiens can be seen as almost
superfluous or, worse, as intrusive. If humanity does nothing to mend its
ways, the natural system will continue without it.

Green anarchists embrace localism. One of them says that each community
should exist as "totally separate geographical and social entity. If there
is much social mixing between the groups, if people work outside the group,
it will weaken the community bond ... xenophobia is the key to the
community's success." (R. Hunt, "The Natural Society: a Basis for Green
Anarchism") Some welcome the break-up of Eastern "communism" as an
expression of bioregionalism and embrace Yugoslavia's dissolution into
Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia.

The belief in a "natural order" defies attempts at creating ethical
imperatives since there are no "moral values" in nature. Sale says "When
[people] look with Gaean eyes and feel a Gaean consciousness, as they can
do at the bioregional scale, there is no longer any need to worry about the
abstruse effluvia of 'ethical responses' to the world around."

As a corollary, politics in the conventional sense is to be shunned. Green
anarchists bypass the class struggle and seek to implement visions of their
"new society" in the here-and-now within the framework of capitalist
society. They are encouraged by such phenomena as urban dwellers creating,
without state aid, green spaces, playgrounds, etc. from waste grounds.

This hostility toward the state is typical of traditional anarchism.
Moreover, the green anarchists share with "postmodernist" Marxism a
non-class based enthusiasm for the new social movements. Communities of
peace activists and feminists who are non- hierarchical, sharing and
spontaneous, and who live in harmony with nature represent pockets of the
new order. Workers hardly figure in this schema.

One other reason that anarchism has grown in influence in the green
movement is that Marxists, except for the Australian DSP, largely ignore
it. Some give lip-service to the movement, like the American SWP while
others like the Spartacist League are outright hostile. The reason that
Marxists have tended to shun the movement is that they are theoretically
underdeveloped around the question of sustainable agriculture, energy
depletion, etc. While Marx and Engels were deeply cognizant of such issues,
the Trotskyist and Stalinist movement tended to neglect them completely. In
recent years some academy-based Marxists such as John Bellamy Foster, Paul
Burkett and James O'Connor have attempted to re-establish the connections
between Marxism and ecology. Such efforts are largely ignored by comrades
who prefer a Marx falsely understood as a champion of "Promethean" mastery
of nature. Ironically, this distortion is embraced both by Frankfurt type
thinkers and the few remaining Marxist thinkers connected to Furedi's sect.
The former group, of course, intend to "correct" Marxism of this flaw using
Heideggerian insights, while the latter want to ratchet up the bulldozer's

Louis Proyect

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