Marxism and the Anarchist Movement

Jamal Hannah jah at SPAMiww.org
Mon Dec 6 19:29:11 MST 1999



Louis Proyect, and others, I would like to clear up some of the
misconceptions of the anarchist movement expressed by you on this list.
I used to be interested in marxism but was converted over to anarchism
by Noam Chomsky and the folks on the anarchy-list through discussion and
a desire to overcome the contradictions inherent in the history of marxist
movements worldwide.

I was especialy troubled by the fact that Marxist-Leninism has been
associated with repressive regimes.  The fact that no clear explanations
for why Marxist leaders like Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin were
such terrible leaders led me to conclude that there was something
fundamental about Marxism which led to a system of authoritarian power,
a deep contradiction for a system that is supposed to be liberatory and an
improvement over the capitalism which such systems were intended to
replace.

I realize that for a country calling itself socialist, which nationalizes
the means of production, there is the problem of being under attack from
all sides, overtly and covertly, and thus the government must be
repressive in order to preserve national security. However, this
is not really a valid way of proving to workers worldwide
that a Marxist system is an improvement over a capitalist one.
Installing "state-capitalism", in which the means of production are
owned and controlled by the state, takes power and enthusiasm for the
revolution away from workers and peasents in any country this happends
in. What is needed is a heavy dose of libertarian and grass-roots
democratic measures that keep power in the hands of workers councils,
collectives, co-ops, and unions.

I also believe that you cannot have "socialism in one country"... you
must have a revolution in the United States before revolutions in other
countries can successfully survive without being repressive.  The best
one can hope for in other countries is the setting of an example that
_revolution is possible and desireable_ ... yet I think it's simply
impossible to have a full-scale socialist economy before the major powers
in the world (USA, Russia, and China) also have the same.

So, I think if there is a revolution in a country like France (as almost
happened in 1968), or Chile (as almost happened in 1970-73), the
socialist government must step back, grant broad organizational freedoms
to workers organizations, but not try to enforce revolution through
statist means.

Anyway, as to anarchism... I can tell you that anarchism is a broad
movement that has been growing constantly over the years since the USSR
collapsed. There are two major anarchist branches which work together or
oppose each other depending on the situation. One movement is oriented
towards workers organization and it is made up of anarcho-syndicalists,
anarcho-communists, and platformist anarchists. In the US, the syndicalists
are represented by organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World
(IWW, which isnt actualy anarcho-syndicalist but calls itself Industrial
Unionist or Revolutionary Unionist, but it has many anarchist and
Socialist Party members, and even a few Communist Party members), and also
the Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA), which is part of the International
Workers Association (IWA, or "AIT" in Spanish). The anarcho-communists
in the US are represented by a few small groups, which are trying to
start organizations. There are many anarcho-communists in the Anarcho
Punk Federation, for example, even though it isnt specificaly an
anarcho-communist organization. There are no formal platformist anarchist
organizations in the USA yet.

The other tendency of anarchism in the USA is the "lifestylist" tendency,
which is a bit more pragmatic and practical than the more ideological
"workerist" tendency. (Well, it's actualy hard to say which side is more
practical and pragmatic.) These anarchists set up real-world projects like
squatted abandoned buildings (and they attempt to defend them from police
takeover), as well as info-shops, bookstores, and collectives. The
lifestylists also focus heavily on left-wing issues, like gay rights,
environmental issues, and the rejection of the "pro-work" ideology.
The lifestylist tendency is also often more interested in confronting
police at demonstrations than the workerist tendency, which they
sometimes accuse of being "pacifists".  Actualy, the workerist tendency
would probabaly also be willing to engage in street battles if they had
greater numbers in their organizations and felt confident they could do
so without being utterly destroyed.  Basicaly they are more cautious.

While these two sides are sometimes in bitter arguments, they actualy
compliment each other. The workerist tendency appeals to more ideological
people who want to be systematic and have no problems with organizations,
meetings, planned strikes, and so on.  The lifestylist tendency is more
interested in doing things that are exciting and spontanious, and has an
appeal to young people or folks who are not as heavily commited to the
ins-and-outs of organization.

The anarchist movement is actualy getting quite big, and will likely be
larger than the marxist movement in the USA sooner or later, if it isn't
already. The question is, will anarchists as a whole be willing to create
formal organizations with a paid membership where members agree to
a basic platform of ideals, or, will they prefer to engage in actions as
autonomous individuals driven solely by their own drives and desires,
without having to discuss what to do with an entire group-membership?

Anarchists are often hostile to marxists because they have had bad
experiances in the past: the Spanish Civil War, in which the Communist
Party attacked and persecuted anarchists who had formed militia units to
fight Franco, as well as the Kronstadt incident in Russia in 1921, where
Lenin and Trotsky ordered the attack on dissident members of the
Communist Party & anarchists who wanted to carry out revolution on their
own terms. This also happened in the Ukraine and in Russia in general.
It is no surprise that anarchists see Communist parties as groups that
will backstab them if they ever succeed in revolution.  Communist
parties could deal with this problem if they wanted to, by having open
dialogues with anarchists, and incorporating a libertarian set of
principles in their platforms. Sort of a "Bill of Rights" to protect
people's human rights from the arbitrary power of Communist central
committees.

Anarchists online often find themselves fighting a small number of
"anarcho-capitalists" and Libertarian Party zealots who wish to make the
words "anarchist" and "libertarian" mean "capitalist freedom".  It is sad
that anarchists today have to fight to defend the meaning of the very
labels they take... however, anarcho-capitalism is a very small movement
of a few isolated individuals because the majority of capitalists
understand that the state is needed to defend private wealth.
The fights with anarchist and libertarian capitalists happen pretty much
exclusivly online.... on chat-systems like IRC, the USENET newsgroups,
and anarchist mailing-lists which capitalists try to take over.

For extensive information about anarchism, see my web page at:
http://flag.blackened.net/liberty/

For a list of anarchist and syndicalist mailing-lists, see this web page:
http://www.tigerden.com/~berios/lists.html

Note that there are two major anarchist mailing-lists, the "Anarchy-List",
which has a more lifestylist bent, and the "Organise" mailing list (over
320 members from all over the world), which has a Statement of Principles
that a person who wishes to join must agree to (basicaly being
anti-capitalist, and being against using voting as a tactic to solve
political problems)... but the Organise list has a sister list called
"Solidarity" which anyone can join to discuss anarchism.
To subscribe to that list, send an email message to
majordomo at flag.blackened.net with "subscribe solidarity" in the message
body.

Note that anarchists who are more prominently dedicated to class-struggle
also use a qualifying and more descriptive term to refer to themselves:
"libertarian socialist".  This basicaly means that as anarchists, they
are dedicated to the creation of a version of socialism that is not
based on the state controlling the means of production, but rather
the workers themselves controlling the means of production.
You can read about libertarian socialism at:
http://www.tigerden.com/~berios/libsoc.html

There are even some "libertarian marxists".  You can read about
libertarian marxism at:
http://www.tigerden.com/~berios/libmarx.html

Note that many anarchists see marxism as a useful critique of the
capitalist system, but they do not like Marx's conclusions about how
to have a revolution: a dedicated cadre of party members who are
the "vangaurd" of the revolution. Rather, anarchists see _The Idea_
as being the leader, not any specific _people_ being leaders.

The closest thing to leaders in the anarchist movement are famous writers
like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Murray Bookchin, John Zerzan; or people
who edit newspapers; or people who are elected or appointed as delegates
to do specific tasks in the name of an organization or group.  However,
the difference between these "leaders" and the leaders of marxist
groups is that these people are more easily anyone who wishes
to take these positions by simply working hard to be a good writer
or organizer. In an anarchist movement, anyone can be important if
they work hard to do things right.  This, in essence, is more democratic
than marxist practice. The way anarchists who are un-organized
basicaly get things done is by "direct action", which simply
means taking the initiuative and doing some action that is intended
to have a desired result, as opposed to waiting for someone else to
do it.

The question of how anarchists would defend a successful revolution is
a complex one.  The odds are, anarchists would have to take measures,
during the counter-revolutionary phase, in which matters such as
security and resources are more easily protected.  However, anarchists
would quickly revert back to being as libertarian as possible
after the danger has passed.  Marxists, on the other hand, tend to
keep military generals in power forever.

The reality of a revolution would probably consist of 1) a left-wing
government that does basic custodial tasks, and 2) anarchist workers
organizations which would be completely in control of issues such
as production of needed goods, the media, and the defense of individual
liberties of all workers. The government would be offered an ultimatum:
stay out of the workers hair and take care of only basic things, or we
will kick you out of power.  This is what should have happened in Spain in
the 1930's. Unfortunatly the government, working with the Communist Party,
was able to take power away from the more libertarian anarchist and
socialist groups like the CNT, FAI, and POUM... and the revolutionaries
lost their enthusiasm to fight, and the workers were defeated. (See the
movie "Land and Freedom" for an illustration fo this point. It's available
in any video store.) This does not mean that anarchists are "minarchists",
but they realize that a significant number of working people would
probabaly still end up voting for a left-wing government after the
revolution. The anarchists would basicaly expect the government to
stay out of their affairs: "The government that governs least governs
best."

It is untrue that anarchism is a small and disorganized movement. More
and more, there are "black blocs" in demonstrations where the anarchists
show their strength and solidarity. Unless there is increased government
repression after the Seattle November 30 events, the anarchist
movement in the USA will likely grow and grow, and hopefully resolves
it's problems and contradictions through increased debate within the
movement.

Marxists could learn a lot by reading anarchist writings and opinions.
It is possible that anarchists could learn from marxists too, but dont
be surprised if anarchists simply are too weary of marxism to bother
reading their materials because of the way anarchists have been treated
by marxists in the past, and also the more bizarre marxist groups like
the Maoists (RCP, MIM, and PLP), and the Trotskyists (ISO, SWP, Spartacist
League, the Workers League and the Workers World Party). These groups
believe in an elite vangaurd and "democratic centralism" which are
both ideas totaly incompatible with anarchism. More democratic or liberal
organizations, like the Socialist Party, Solidarity, Freedom Road
Socialist Organization, Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist
Labor Party, the CoC or the Communist Party USA *might* be worked with,
but it really comes down to a case-by-case basis of individuals working
with anarchists from these groups. Note: I mention the Communist Party
in the more "liberal" group of marxist/socialist organizations because
the CPUSA is currently a lot like a Democratic Party that supports Cuba
and China, strange as that may seem. I suspect that in a revolutionary
time, the CPUSA's real nature would come out).

Final note: the issue of violence at demonstrations is an issue that
anarchists are debating now, and will continue to debate. It's true that
the violence at the WTO conference caused anarchism to be mentioned more
in the media... but this may have dire consequences for anarchists in the
future. We'll have to wait and see what happeneds, and keep on organizing.

For general info about anarchism, see the Anarchist Frequently Asked
Questions file at:
http://flag.blackened.net/sai/faq/

 - Jamal Hannah
   jah at iww.org










More information about the Marxism mailing list