Anarchism or Socialism? The Adbusters debate

Barry Stoller bstoller at
Thu Mar 22 23:04:23 MST 2001

anarchy-list-digest    Wednesday, December 6 2000    Volume 01 : Number 1560

Date: Wed, 6 Dec 2000 15:19:57 -0800 (PST)
From: Jamal Hannah
Subject: Leninist Attacks Anarchism in Adbusters Letters Section

The latest issue of Adbusters magazine, the publication about fighting
commercialism, contains a rather misleading and condemning letter from a
Leninist about anarchism.  I think people should respond to this letter
in the letters section of the magazine.

Date: Wed, 06 Dec 2000 20:34:49 -0600
From: Sandi & Scott Spaeth
Subject: Re: Leninist Attacks Anarchism in Adbusters Letters Section

go get 'em Jamal.  I'd do it, it would just be a childish tirade about
how  much of an idiot Barry is, and who really in their right mind gives
a  flying fuck about what Vladimir Ilyich had to say about anything.
Fucking  authoritarians.



Sent to owner-anarchy-list-digest at and the
home e-mail address of Jamal Hannah, Thursday 22 March 2001.

Open invitation to Jamal Hannah from Barry Stoller

Jamal Hannah:

I recently came across your rebuttal to my Adbusters (#33) letter
regarding Lenin's description of anarchism in Adbusters #34.

It occurs to me that your letter was probably as heavily edited as mine.
I also have an interest in rebutting your rebuttal. Knowing that
Adbusters would not host such an exchange, I suggest that we continue
our high-profile debate, cross-posted on our respective forums---yours
the virginia edu anarchist list; mine a yahoo e-list. I will forward
this invitation to the owner of the anarchist list. You may visit me at
the address below.

With respect
Barry Stoller.


My unedited letter, as posted on McSpotlight's Capitalism and the
Alternatives forum.

Once more on the topic of anarchism and communist objection to it. Barry
Stoller, Fri Sep 29 15:22:59 2000

Your reference to Lenin (in Adbusters #32) was incorrect. While he
referred to anarchism in his pamphlet "Left-Wing" Communism---An
Infantile Disorder, he mentioned anarchism as a distinctly different
political trend, namely petty-bourgeois revolutionism.(1) Let us do
Lenin---and anarchism---a service by considering WHY he called it such.

The main Leninist objection to anarchism is that it promotes, in your
words, 'a voluntary association of free and equal individuals,' often
grouped together as 'self-governing communes,' (AKA the autonomous
communes immortalized by Mikhail Bakunin). This vision of productive
association, while potentially attractive to affluent areas such as
Silicon Valley, offers little to impoverished areas such as Mexico's
Sonora. Anarchism, however radical its rhetoric, presupposes the free
trade that is the essential precondition for capitalism while
disregarding the uneven development of areas, national or regional, due
to geographical, technical and political differences that amplifies the
inegalitarian effects of free trade.

Consider the economic demands of the Kronstadt mutineers (whom
modern-day anarchists idolize): artisans to be allowed to produce craft
commodities and peasants to be allowed to own small holdings (with the
caveat that they not employ the labor of others). In other words, the
very atomized holdings, or at least selective associations of small
holders, represented by the Smithian ideal of independent
proprietorship, i.e. nascent capitalism. The caveat rejecting wage-labor
is but a cry for the social relations of socialism without the
production relations that would materially support the social relations.

This important omission is why Lenin considered anarchism to be
characterized by '[f]ailure to understand the development of
society---the role of large-scale production---the [productive]
development of capitalism into socialism.'(2) Because of that, the
anarchist perspective represents 'not the future of bourgeois society,
which is striding with irresistible force towards the socialization of
labor, but the present and even the past of that society, the domination
of blind chance over the scattered and isolated small producer.'(3)

Anarchism, simply put, is an idealist political doctrine possessing no
material (productive) grounding.

Indeed, if the anarchist motto is 'mind your own business,' as you
state, then what separates it from the WTO's laissez-faire desire to
insure that Third World 'communes' remain 'autonomous' from those of the
developed nations? The populist desire for equality, the anarchist
qualification of the above motto, will not equalize the uneven
development throughout the world, for the autonomous communes of the
First World will continue to enjoy higher levels of productivity in
their exchanges with those of the Third. Only global proletarian
revolution which acts to unify the materials and instruments of labor
through a planned global economy can hope to accomplish equality on a
worldwide basis. Anarchism, on the other hand, in its asomatous mania
for decentralization and its radicalized deification of Robinson Crusoe,
remains a misguided call for superannuated production (and, therefore,
social) relations---a call that is all too easily co-opted by
capitalism's insincere sentimentalization of the small business.


1. Lenin, Collected Works volume 31, Moscow 1966, p. 32.

2. Lenin, Collected Works volume 5, Moscow 1964, p. 327.

3. Lenin, Collected Works volume 10, Moscow 1965, p. 73.


The edited letter.

Adbusters, Jan - Feb 2001, p. 7.

Your reference to Lenin (in Adbusters #32) was incorrect. While he
referred to anarchism in his pamphlet "Left-Wing" Communism---An
Infantile Disorder, he mentioned anarchism as a distinctly different
political trend, namely petty-bourgeois revolution.

The main Leninist objection to anarchism is that it promotes, in your
words, 'a voluntary association of free and equal individuals.'
Anarchism, however radical its rhetoric, presupposes free trade while
disregarding the inegalitarian effects of free trade. Indeed, if the
anarchist motto is 'mind your own business,' then what separates it from
the World Trade Organization's laissez faire attitude?

Barry Stoller.


Jamal Hannah's response. (If Jamal Hannah wishes to submit an unedited
draft, I will be happy to post that.)

Adbusters, March - April 2001, p. 4.

Contrary to what Barry Stoller claims, anarchism has always been a
strongly working-class movement opposed to capitalism, 'free trade'
agreements, and corporate control of the media.

It's noteworthy that the anarchists were at the front of the recent
anti-free trade protests while the Leninists obeyed the police and
remained non-confrontational? The Leninists use signs and banners that
are printed with uniform text and march in rigid formation while the
anarchists' protests are filled with colorful, home-made signs. What
side would you be on?

Jamal Hannah.


Response. 22 March 2001.

With all respects, I beg to differ.

As I understand it, anarchism has its strongest roots in the (often
disgruntled) petty-bourgeoisie. And this original middle-class
(artisans, independent proprietors, peasant farmers), from which the
modern middle-class (white collar employees) springs, shares with the
modern middle-class many attributes---such as its historic opposition to
large capital. Indeed, if we discount the union members sent to these
protests (professional protesters), the majority of W.T.O. protesters
have been relatively affluent middle-class youth. For example, only 5%
of those who attended the Seattle protests were people of color (Monthly
Review, July - August  2000, p. 143).

As I see it, the anarchist opposition to 'free trade' agreements is
contradictory. For example, the W.T.O., although an organization of
great power, uses its great power to thwart ANY OTHER organization which
could enforce global wage minimums and environmental health standards.
Therefore, the W.T.O. is organized laissez faire. The traditional
anarchist aversion to authority---especially the sort of centralized
authority that global wage minimums and environmental health standards
would require---merely advocates unorganized laissez faire. Hence my comparison.

Capitalism, and by that I include global trade, presupposes the sort of
geographic uneven development that traditional notions of anarchism
would foster. Autonomous communes in wealthy areas would have higher
living standards than autonomous communes in poor areas. Pollution could
never be regulated because anarchism finds centralized authority
abhorrent. Here we see that anarchism is the logical ideology of and for
artisans, independent proprietors and peasant farmers, i.e.
preindustrial laborers. Trade, disparities and conflict must ensue from
applying preindustrial social relations to industrial social relations.

Socialism is not so much an ideology as it is a rational organization of
production necessitated by industrialization (which is merely the
highest form of socialized labor).

Your comment regarding the law-abiding presence of Leninists at recent
anti-free trade protests is superfluous. Until the VAST majority of
workers---not just the paid unionists and the middle-class kids who
could afford to be there---show up, confrontations with the state will
only result in demoralizing, if not antagonizing, the MASS working class
which, alas, remains undecided on the tactics, even the issue, of
challenging capitalism. And, as far as home-made signs are concerned,
such veneration of home crafts only give away the artisan---and
atomized---class structure of anarchism. We either march in step against
capital or we fall to the side as individuals.

Barry Stoller.


The original article <>.

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