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The Convergence of Marxism and Anarchism? September 8, 2004 by RedStar2000


Ever since the split in the First International, people have speculated, off and on, about the possibilities of a convergence in Marxist and anarchist theory.

I'm not speaking in terms of some kind of "formal unity" here...or even a "unity in struggle".

Rather, I'm referring to the possibility that Marxist and anarchist theories will change in such a way as to make them fundamentally indistinguishable from one another.

Will there come a time when communists and anarchists will "think so much alike" that the separate names will seem pointless?

I think it's a real possibility.

And I think it would be "a very good thing".


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In my opinion, there is a material basis for the convergence of Marxist and Anarchist theory.

The working class in Marx's time (and Lenin's, for that matter) was very backward in many respects. A centralized state-apparatus "made sense" under those conditions...or at least appeared plausible.

In particular, the working classes of those eras often did look for "great leaders" to follow...the idea that ordinary working people could make informed decisions in their own interests was dismissed by most as a "fantasy".

I assert that such is no longer the case and will become even less the case over the course of this century...particularly if revolutionaries pound away at this message.

In other words, telling people that they "must" follow a party or a leader now simply delays the revolution. Telling people that they really can rule themselves, speeds up the revolution.

I also think this convergence will have good effects on both Marxists and anarchists.

The conceit of 20th century "Marxism" (really Leninism) was that it was possible for a small elite to "master dialectics" and "foretell the future" in useful detail...turning Marx's ideas into a kind of secular theology and degrading Marx himself to the level of "prophet". We will be well rid of this crap!

On the other hand, the weakness of most variants of anarchism has been the conceit of a "moral elite"...people who've "embraced goodness" for the sake of "goodness" itself -- with little or no regard for actual material conditions.

I think that's why you often run into such weird ideas in the anarchist "milieu"...including a strong "abstentionist" current -- you know, no meat, no tobacco, no alcohol, no modern technology, no this or no that. A "good" person "abstains from vice". They too have made anarchism into a kind of theology...Protestants to the Leninist Catholics.

There are difficulties, of course. People who have a "vested interest" in ***MARXISM-LENINISM*** or in ***ANARCHISM*** will not look kindly on any effort that threatens their status as "guardians of the sacred flame" or "bearers of the rings of power". You can probably imagine the howls of outrage that will be heard...on both sides.

But there's an old joke about science that may be relevant in this context; it goes "the only way that a revolutionary idea gets adopted in science is that, as times passes, the supporters of the obsolete ideas get old and die."

If the idea of the convergence of Marxism and Anarchism catches on among young revolutionaries...then time will do its useful work and the theologians in both currents will indeed get old and die.

And then, perhaps, things will really start to get interesting.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 3, 2004
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quote:

If [there is]...another Marxist revolution some day...what position do you think would suit the old ruling class, of, say a country like the UK? De-centralized, loosely organised, weak "workers federations" OR the creation of a new state - like the old one but [its] complete opposite - that is, run, populated and supervised by the whole working class.


This is a (pardon the expression) Leninist muddle.

First, it assumes that workers' federations "must" be "weak".

Why? Because there's no "iron commanding will" present...in other words, no "great leader"?

Second, it further assumes that the old ruling class will either be "permitted" to sneak back into power or else will do so as a united force against the "weak", "divided" workers' federations.

This is especially foolish in the light of history...which plainly shows that old ruling classes, once overthrown, are inevitably "weak" and "divided" themselves! Without external support on a massive scale, they are helpless.

And third, of course, Russia, China, etc. did have massive centralized states...and what was the consequence? Why, the restoration of capitalism.

That Leninist state that was supposed to be "run, populated, and supervised by the whole working class" turned out to be nothing more than the womb of a new capitalist ruling class.

quote:

Everything is considered in terms of how "it" should be done rather than how it "must" be done. This is completely at odds with Marxism whose sole preoccupation is materially realities and unflinching practical clarity.


There may be some truth in this criticism of anarchism, granted. Nonetheless, the "blanket" of Marxism is not large enough to cover a dictatorship over the proletariat no matter how "practical" that may be.

Lenin was "practical". Stalin was "practical". Trotsky was "practical". Mao was "practical".

But whatever their "practical achievements", in the end, the working class was defeated!

A "practicality" that takes you where you don't want to go is useless!

quote:

It could very easily be argued that the working [class] is more backward than it was in some cases. The working class of South Korea is bigger than the world working class at the time of Marx's writings. And this is a good example because what is the state of the working class movement in South Korea? Practically zero unionism, practically no socialism and no little love for American imperialism.


How odd! I have the completely opposite impression: South Korean workers are presently among the most militant in Asia if not in the world; their unions are large and tough...frequently defying anti-strike laws and engaging in violent confrontations with police; and they are radically opposed to American imperialism, both in South Korea and Iraq.

There was even a two-day "commune" in a South Korean city back in the 1980s.

As a general point, when we speak of this or that working class being "more advanced" or "less advanced", I think we have to make an important distinction.

A worker in Petrograd who followed Lenin in 1917 may appear "more advanced" to some than a modern worker who is "a-political".

But I think that's a very superficial judgment...reading Lenin's political sophistication into his followers.

The differences between the way a modern worker looks at things and the way a working-class follower of Lenin looked at things are simply enormous.

One of the most important of which is that the modern worker is, by and large, no longer a follower of "leaders".

quote:

[A distinction between Marxism and Marxism-Leninism] doesn't exist.


You wish!

However plausible that claim looked in 1920, it is now long past its "sell-by" date.

What kind of "Marxism" ends up restoring capitalism?

quote:

Yes, that is all fine and dandy but sadly is meaningless until the revolution has been defended and has "naturally" spread to the entire world.


A recipe for the indefinite postponement of communism.

Consider the logical sequence...

1. Revolutions in only a few countries which establish centralized Leninist states.

2. Time passes.

3. Revolutions in a few more countries that also establish centralized Leninist states...but meanwhile, the previously established Leninist states have restored capitalism.

4. Repeat steps 1-3.

The Leninist-Maoist formula -- "No communism until the whole world is socialist" -- means, in practice, no communism ever!

quote:

What, for instance would happen if there were proletarian revolutions in...Germany and France? What do you suspect the response of the British and American governments (clearly panicked) might be? Answer is immediate military engagement to slaughter millions. Now, in the Anarchist schematic, the French and German states would have been immediately dissolved. No armies, no diplomats to represent or garner support abroad, no way of defending itself. The working class "directly controlled" communities would be probably be bombed back into the stone age and the working class movement probably obliterated for all time.


Yes, that is the standard Leninist rationale...when all other arguments fail.

Is it a realistic scenario?

Proletarian revolution in France and Germany (and other western European countries) will probably arise as a consequence of a general crisis of capitalism. That means the British and the Americans will be having their own problems as well...perhaps still trying to "pacify Iraq" as well as many other provinces of their empire or perhaps having to deal with a radical working class movement within their own borders.

So what can they do? Particularly against tens of millions of armed European workers?

True, there is always the "option" of bombing Europe "back to the stone age"...but where's the profitability of a stone-age Europe? Even if they "win", they've "won" a continent full of rubble...that's still full of millions of armed workers who are even more pissed off.

And at what cost? The proto-communist Europe will only have a handful of nukes...but you can hurt your enemy very badly with a handful of nukes.

What I think is the most rational ruling class response is to simply wait for communism "to collapse"...after all, that's what "happened" in the 20th century, why shouldn't it "happen again"? At least, I expect them to take this position rather than risk a major war, possibly involving a nuclear exchange.

quote:

Or maybe you can just put your fingers in your ears and go "oooo, it won't happen like that".


When it comes to future events, we're all both blind and deaf. Nevertheless, hysterical cries of "the imperialists are coming" are insufficient to support the Leninist contention that their rule is "required" to "save the revolution".

All they've ever managed to achieve up to now is lose it!
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 4, 2004
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quote:

Great leader? Where do you find this stuff? If you accept that were talking about Marxist-Leninism then I think you must agree to confine your responses to Lenin or my (poor) representations of him and great leader appears nowhere in Lenin's teachings or action.


Your objection is not without merit; it's true that in Lenin's time, neither he nor his followers explicitly argued in favor of a "great leader".

What Lenin very definitely did argue in favor of was a "vanguard party" organized along hierarchal lines.

It was a party of "order-givers" and "order-takers"...the leadership told the membership what to do and the membership did it or else.

Is it really such a "stretch" to suggest that such a structure naturally evolves a "great leader"?

This has nothing to do with perfidy or "mindless lust for power"...it's just what happens in that kind of organization.

quote:

If you insist on bringing up the Stalinist or Maoist (particularly baffling) paradigm as if they were in anyway associated with the theories and practice of Lenin then I fear this may be a circular argument.


We need not spend time on "the heirs of Lenin" if that's your wish.

Lenin himself began the restoration of capitalism in Russia with his "New Economic Policy". Lenin himself did everything he could to lure foreign capitalists back into Russia.

Perhaps you would like to formulate a "neo-Leninism" that would somehow avoid the more baroque excesses of Stalin or Mao...but it won't work. You'd still be faced with Lenin's own practice in the period 1917-1922...and his determined and consistent opposition to real power in the hands of the Russian working class.

There's no "getting around that".

quote:

The ruling class is one global class and their removal in one area will automatically result in "external support" to the internal members.


No doubt...but recall I said "massive external support". In the next era of proletarian revolutions, I do not expect the global capitalist class to be capable of more than "moral support" for their dispossessed brethren.

With "moral support" and $7.50, you can buy a pack of cigarettes in Manhattan.

quote:

China? As alluded to before, I'll disregard that.


As noted above, it won't help you.

quote:

The original conception of the Leninist state was to oppress the bosses and the ruling class in defence of the workers revolution. Any "ugliness" (and there was some) was to further this end...under Lenin.


Sure, it started out that way...but it didn't stay that way even "under Lenin".

At the 10th Party Congress (March 1921), even the rank-and-file of the party itself were rendered powerless to oppose the leadership in any organized fashion...and Lenin ran that congress!

quote:

Hindsight is a marvelous thing. It has indeed been proven to the have been "the womb"; there is no actual evidence that this was inevitable or unavoidable in 1917.


Hindsight is indeed "a marvelous thing"...provided you take the trouble to use it!

I don't "blame" Lenin (or Stalin or Trotsky or Mao, etc.) for their deeds; I don't think they were "evil" men acting from "personal malice".

I think they all sincerely thought they were "doing the right thing" to advance the communist cause.

But the advantage of "hindsight" is that we can see they all were wrong! In every case where a Leninist party has attained state power, the result was the restoration of capitalism.

There's no justification to sneer at "hindsight"...it's how we learn from history.

quote:

Most of the big radical left parties defend Lenin and October from attacks from the left and right.


They are certainly not "big" and they are "living fossils."

All of the Leninist parties in the U.S. put together wouldn't fill up a single minor-league ballpark.

As to having any influence with the working class...forget it! The modern working class, as I've told you before, is not looking for leadership.

quote:

The non-existing type?


The Leninist "type"!

quote:

"No communism until the whole world is socialist"

Absolutely. It's called historical materialism, I think.


Call it "green cheese" if you like; it's still a formula that delays communism forever.

quote:

The marines will roll in, covered by bombing strikes, slaughter a few million, probably install a military dictatorship and leave - glad as hell that they didn't have to face any kind of organized collective defense.


Just like Iraq, eh?

A real "piece of cake".

quote:

So, we have to answer things like this by offering solutions, not babbling on about de-centralization and quoting Kropotkin ad nauseum.


I don't believe, in over 6,000 posts, that I've ever "quoted Kropotkin" even once.

But I do agree that no matter how much I "babble", I cannot hope to catch up with you.

Your "solution" to imperialism is to imitate it in every crucial respect; your attempts to verbally distance yourself from Stalin and Mao fool no one.

Your powerful state, massive professional army, etc., will not only "defend" the revolution by gutting it but will inevitably look for "new horizons" to conquer...becoming more oppressive and exploitative with every passing year.

Of course, that's what would happen if you had any chance of success...which you don't.

After all, given your track-record, why would any worker -- especially one who was a communist -- ever follow you guys again?

Who wants class society v.5.0?
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 4, 2004
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quote:

Sorry to jump in at this point and spoil the wet dream, but Anarchism is the rejection of Dialectical Materialism, the centre piece of Marxism. Yes, Anarchists have hijacked onto Historical Materialism at points but it hardly makes them "Marxists". Anarchist-Marxists like to forget or even deny the influence of Hegel on Marx.


Well, I neither forget nor deny the "influence of Hegel on Marx".

I just think it's extremely unfortunate.

Not simply because Hegel was a windbag and a fraud...but mostly because ever since the death of Engels, "dialectics" has been an "intellectual mask" used to defend the indefensible.

Whenever a Leninist party wants to do something really rotten, a "dialectical" justification is manufactured to order.

And if you say "hey, what you're doing is really rotten!", the response will inevitably be "your problem, comrade, is that you don't properly grasp the dialectic".

Not to be crude about it, but fuck that shit!

"Dialectics" is not "the secret key to history" but rather a specimen of 19th century idealism worthy only of the dumpster of history.

Historical materialism? Sure! "Dialectical materialism"? There ain't no such animal!

quote:

Now I leave the path open for someone to sweep philosophical history and theory under the carpet...


I volunteer! Somebody has to take out the trash.

quote:

Now, for those who like to consider Marxian rhetoric as compatible with anarchism, I leave Engels to finish this nonsense...


Why do you "quote scripture" concerning a point that was already dealt with?

quote:

In my opinion, there is a material basis for the convergence of Marxist and Anarchist theory.

The working class in Marx's time (and Lenin's, for that matter) was very backward in many respects. A centralized state-apparatus "made sense" under those conditions...or at least appeared plausible.


In other words, Engels might very well have been correct when he wrote those words and be wrong now.

As Engels understood better than many modern so-called "Marxists" -- "defenders of the faith" -- things change.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 4, 2004
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quote:

It essentially requires that one or both terms be made meaningless. Marxists believe in a transitional "workers' state" while anarchists want the immediate abolition of the state. Those are opposed positions that cannot be merged.


Was the Paris Commune a "transitional workers' state"?

Would a consistent and principled anarchist be able to support -- with enthusiasm! -- a modern Paris Commune?

quote:

Furthermore, we shouldn't have a "dictatorship of the majority" - that would mean white people in the US could vote to execute black people. 51% of the population should not dominate 49% of the population.


Does that strike you as a plausible scenario?

Is it "large-scale" voting on policy issues that bothers you or is it policy decisions made by voting on any scale that you're opposed to?

We all know that there is a current within the anarchist milieu that is opposed to voting in principle...but there are also many anarchist groups that have no problem at all with voting to decide policy.

I think that we should keep in mind that when we discuss the convergence of Marxist and anarchist theory, we want "only the good stuff"...not everything that happens to be flying either flag at the moment.

As for myself, I think voting to decide policy is perfectly acceptable -- though I would prefer demarchy for selecting positions of responsibility.

quote:

They felt that a new concept called for a new word and that the use of the old term could be dangerously ambiguous; so they ceased to give the name "State" to the social collective of the future."


Perfectly understandable; Lenin abandoned the term "social democracy" for much the same reason.

The future of the revolutionary movement in this century may require similar terminological changes...we should not have any silly attachments to "old words" if new ones will serve us better.

quote:

You can expand the definition of Marxism so that it includes people who do not believe in a "workers' state" but then the term becomes meaningless.


Why? Look at all the varieties of ideas that rest (comfortably or otherwise) under the umbrella of "anarchism".

Does that make "anarchism" a "meaningless" term?

In fact, every serious anarchist or anarchist collective picks out the stuff they like -- the coherent ideas that "make sense" to them -- and dismisses the rest.

Why can't Marxists do the same?

quote:

Apparently, it appeared less plausible to the workers & peasants of the late 19th/early 20th century than it did to the workers/peasants of the mid-twentieth century. In the former period, anarchism was much more popular than state socialism but in the later state socialism much more popular.


I think that's oversimplified. The popularity of anarchism, social democracy, and Leninism have all waxed and waned at different times in different countries for a lot of different reasons.

The point that I was making is that a "centralized state" could have appeared plausible to Marx and Engels because of the over-all backwardness of the working class in their era.

There's also the fact that "centralization" was seen as "inherently progressive" in the 19th century...something that is now, as you know, no longer the case.

quote:

Many workers still do that today. In the late 19th/early 20th century anarchist workers & peasants didn't look to a "great leader," that came later with the rise of authoritarian socialism.


I disagree. Aside from the followers of outright cults, I don't see most people today yearning for, much less actually following, a "great leader".

I think there's been a fundamental shift in mass consciousness in that regard. And one that's by no means "completed".

As to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, my impression is that people like Proudhon, Bakunin, Blanqui, Kropotkin, Makhno, et.al., had "great leader" status even if they lacked mechanisms of formal command. To be sure, they were never "cult figures" like Lenin et.al., but then neither were Marx or Engels.

And of course the vast majority of workers and peasants of that era did enthusiastically follow many bourgeois and even reactionary "great leaders"...and did so well into the 20th century.

quote:

poisoning the well and Strawman


If you dispute my observations, why not say so and give reasons?

Some "wells" are poisonous and some men are made of more than straw.

quote:

You're a good example of how "libertarian marxists" make the phrase "marxist" meaningless. You don't believe in Dialectical Materialism, the labor theory of value or a transitional state (i.e., the majority of Marx's theories).


Meaning he only had two others? *laughs*

I think you know better than that...and that you are really quibbling over terminology here.

"Dialectics" has been shown to be crap, true.

Marx's version of the labor theory of value has serious problems...I would perforce downgrade it to the level of a hypothesis at this point and await further evidence.

In Marx's time, I would have agreed with him (against Bakunin) about the need for a transitional state...of the Paris Commune type. But now, it seems to me that things have changed (and will continue to change) to the point where it seems no longer necessary...a modern capitalist country can indeed go "straight to communism".

Do these views make me "less Marxist" than some Leninist cult-follower? Perhaps in your eyes and certainly in his...but not in mine.

quote:

If Pannekoek is a Marxist [then] everyone is a Marxist and the term loses all meaning.


In other words, Leninists are the "only real Marxists".

Well, they would agree with you.

quote:

The theory of democratic centralism - if practiced correctly - works absolutely perfectly for the revolutionary party, creating the internal debate crucial to any meaningful party and the unity of action crucial to getting anything done.


In your dreams.

How many Leninist parties of all kinds have we had in the "west" over the last 80 years or so?

And what have they accomplished?

Not one of them "understood correctly" how to practice "democratic" centralism?

My "caricature" is a reflection of actual Leninist history. There are thousands of books on this subject...though admittedly, most are difficult to find. If you have access to a really good library, look up some scholarly works on the history of various Leninist parties...and see for yourself how they actually operated, how they treated their members, etc.

I think you are in for a "rude awakening".

quote:

What was the number in 1917?


You are living in the past. What will be the number in 2017 or even 2117?

quote:

LO and LCR in France gained about 5% in the recent presidential elections, both of those are neo-Trotskyist groups. Rifondazione Communista in Italy has a daily newspaper and 300,000 members, not to mention British, German, Spanish, etc. groups who would claim to be heirs of Leninism.


In general, the Leninist parties in Europe that achieved significant working class support did so by becoming openly reformist. Internally, they still operated in the "democratic" centralist mode but their public face abandoned all pretense of proletarian revolution. The PCF and the PCI being the outstanding examples of this.

I suspect the examples you give would turn out to be very similar. Lenin, for all his shortcomings, was a revolutionary...most of his "heirs" have turned out to be wimps or worse.

quote:

Good question, maybe they won't. Maybe we have seen "the end of history" and maybe revolution is for the dustbin.


History does not have an "end". The possibilities of future proletarian revolutions are still unknown.

But I agree that Leninism is approaching its well-earned grave..."it seemed like a good idea at the time but it just didn't work out".
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 5, 2004
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quote:

You are only too keen to argue that the whole experience of "Leninism" in 20's Russia completely translates to our times, yet you contend that somehow the capitalists will act different? Have their class interests changed substantially since then? Don't think so.


That's a good point, though not for the reasons you suggest.

It is Leninists themselves that insist on the ongoing "relevance" of all of Lenin's ideas and practices. Why else, indeed, do they call themselves "Marxist-Leninists"?

Their idea of a "revolutionary vanguard party" is lifted from Lenin c.1920-21. Their idea of "socialism" comes from Stalin (c.1936) and/or Mao (c.1966). Their ideas about "defending the revolution" come from the Russian and/or Chinese civil wars.

Even details of their "line" are borrowed -- they participate in bourgeois elections "because Lenin did".

In fact, trying to discuss matters with a Leninist has a curious "time-warp" feel to it. Stalinists are passionate about details a half-century old or even older. Trotskyists and Maoists are the same way.

You get the feeling, honestly, that they think the present century will be a "re-play" of the last century...only this time, they're going to "win", dammit.

quote:

Leninist parties can now form their own programmes and campaigns without "external influence" and this will mean they have the chance to flourish.


Well, it's easy enough to "blame Stalin" for all the fuckups...but then you have to ask yourself why all the "western" communist parties flopped on their bellies whenever a messenger from Joe arrived.

No one "made" them do it; they couldn't be arrested and sent to labor camp or shot if they told Joe to go fuck himself.

It seems to me that the Leninist conception of "democratic" centralism creates an atmosphere of servile obedience. If you've been trained in unquestioning obedience, then why wouldn't you be strongly inclined to follow the personality that you thought most prestigious?

It "naturally follows" from what you've already been taught is the most important duty of a "communist" -- to carry out the party's line with "iron discipline".

quote:

Believe it or not, we do learn from past mistakes.


I've noticed a few occasions where Leninist parties have attempted to deal with "errors of line"...and even that causes difficulties because it threatens the leadership's position.

But in terms of fundamental matters of principle...I don't see Leninists doing that; they'd almost have to stop being Leninists to manage it.

Can you imagine a Leninist party saying something like "the vanguard party should not hold state power; only rank-and-file non-party workers should serve in official positions"? Or, "no party member should serve more than one term in a party leadership position"? Or, "the party leadership may only say and/or do what the party membership has already approved of"?

Maybe that will happen. But as someone said, "maybe a ground-hog will learn to fly -- but, man, that will be one strange-looking bird."
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 5, 2004
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