Working-class struggle and anarchism

Submitted by martin on 1 March, 2011 - 8:54

Anarchism opposes the capitalist state. But by no means all anarchists identify with the working class as the force to defeat the capitalist state and create a new society.

For the revised and abridged version of the article in Solidarity 3/195, click here; and and to download a pdf of that revised and abridged version, click here.

Click here to download this text as pdf.

Click here for follow-up on debate in Solidarity 3/196.

Some anarchists do. Those are the anarcho-syndicalists, who on this issue have the same idea as Marxists do, and whose ideas this article will come back to later.

But most schools of anarchism do not. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the "father of anarchism", was opposed to unions, strikes, and class struggle. "We...wage war", he wrote, "not upon the rich but upon principles... We are socialists, not despoilers... men of reconciliation and progress".

He condemned the press for supporting workers' strikes for better wages. "It is impossible for strikes followed by an increase of wages to end otherwise than in a general rise of prices... The working men, supported by the favour of an indiscreet press, in demanding an increase of wages, have served monopoly much better than their own real interests".

He did not even see industrial capital as exploitative. In his view only financial and merchant capital were exploitative.

He seized upon a lull in trade-union activity in Britain to exclaim: "The British workers have got out of the habit of combination, which is assuredly a progress for which one cannot but congratulate them".

He saw no point in condemning the state for shooting down strikers. "Working men's strikes are illegal", he writes. "And it is not only the penal code which says this, but... the necessity of the established order. As long as labour is not sovereign, it must be a slave; society is possible only on this condition... that the workers should undertake, by combinations, to do violence to monopoly, society cannot permit".

Proudhon is credited with coining the phrase later popularised by Marx, that the emancipation of the working class must be the task of the workers themselves. At any rate Proudhon wrote in 1848 that "the proletariat must emancipate itself without the help of the government".

But Proudhon did not mean emancipation through class struggle. He meant that the workers should organise themselves into small workshop groups and trade and give credit between the groups. He claimed that by doing that "they would soon have wrested alienated capital back again, through their organisation and competition... become the masters of it all... without the proprietors being despoiled..."

By the time of Bakunin, in the 1870s, "the working-class movement", as Marx wrote, had become "so powerful that these philanthropic sectarians dare not repeat for the economic struggle those great truths which they used incessantly to proclaim". Bakunin supported unions and strikes, while opposing (as Proudhon also had) workers organising into a workers' political party.

Bakunin did not see the working class as the central agent of revolution. He considered peasants and the urban unemployed, beggars, petty criminals, etc. to be much more potent revolutionary forces. His repeated declaration that the first step in any revolution should be to have "all legal papers consigned to the flames", and all public regulation of debts and taxes abolished, was designed to appeal to the peasant for whom "the state" is nothing but the unwelcome tax-collector.

Today, anarchists identifying with Zapatismo accept the Zapatistas' strategic decision to orient to the peasants of Chiapas, an economically little-developed region in the south of Mexico, rather than the workers in Mexico's huge cities. In the book written by John Holloway to spell out Zapatista strategy in theoretical terms, the working class is redefined as "nearly everybody", and the central political priority is "the scream" of protest and rage against the existing order.

"Autonomists", in practice close to anarchism though their ideas originate from Marxist discussions, hold that the agency for change is now no longer the working class, but the "multitude". By "refusal, desertion, exodus and nomadism", the "multitude" can produce "a kind of spontaneous and elementary communism".

Revolutionary activity, for them, is not about class struggle, but about "the affirmation of the movement itself as an 'alternative society'... To conquer and control its own 'spaces'...".

The contemporary "social-ecology" anarchist writer Murray Bookchin insists that "we are no longer living in a world where revolutionary consciousness can be developed primarily or even significantly around the issue of wage-labour versus capital". "The proletariat has become - and probably always has been - an organ of capitalist society, not a revolutionary agent". Instead, be believes that "the revolutionary project" must be "a counter-culture".

"Marxism", he complains, "is linked to the... most inorganic of all oppressed classes, the proletariat". The working class expresses not universal human interests but "bourgeois egoism". "Anarchist theories and movements" are linked by an "umbilical cord" to "organic societies... the clan, tribe, polis, medieval commune... the village and decentralised towns of the past". In contrast, capitalist market society is entirely "inorganic".

Exactly how Bookchin thinks that such an unpromising society, with the majority of the population belonging to "the most inorganic of all oppressed classes", can generate a "counter-culture" except as marginal, is not clear. In practice, many anarchists following Bookchin's line of thinking do an anarchist version of the famous "revision" that Eduard Bernstein did of Marxist perspectives. For them as for Bernstein, "the movement is everything, the end is nothing". The day-to-day business of "counter-cultural" activity is an end in itself, and the final aim remains in the blurred distance.

In his own terms, Bookchin is logical. David Footman, in his book "Civil War in Russia", describes the efforts in 1917-21 of the peasant army led by Nestor Makhno. The "Makhnovshchina" was arguably the largest-scale effort ever made actually to run a significant area on anarchist lines.

Most of the "theoretical" anarchists who joined Makhno quickly quit when they saw that the necessities of battle had brought him to the same wartime expedients which they had damned as "authoritarian Marxism" when employed by the Bolsheviks: military orders, conscription, food requisitions, secret police, summary assassination of opponents (which, for Makhno, most of the time, included Bolsheviks).

Yet Makhno was a serious man of ideas, and had real support among peasants. As Footman records, "Many of [the Makhnovites'] ideas made sense to Ukrainian peasants whose one political obsession was to be rid of any outside interference. Most of their ideas make nonsense when applied to any larger or more developed administrative unit".

The Makhno movement had no idea how to organise towns. It airily told workers concerned at the fact that they had not received wages and had no food to "organise a free economic order from below". At the two workers' conferences which the Makhnovites organised in the area they controlled in October 1919, the big majority of the workers were hostile to the Makhnovites.

To peasants, or small-scale craft workers, used to living their whole lives in small collectives, it can make sense that the small collective should manage its own affairs and deal with whatever it needs from outside its area by ad hoc contracts with other similar collectives.

To the modern wage-worker, used to living in large cities, to moving from job to job and city to city, and conscious that her or his job is part of an enormously ramified chain of production, it makes no sense.

Bookchin's indictment of the working class as "inorganic" is much the same thought as Marx develops about the "emptiness" of advanced bourgeois society.

"In fact... when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc., created through universal exchange? The absolute working-out of his creative potentialities...? Where he does not reproduce himself in one specificity, but produces his totality? Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming?

"In bourgeois economics — and in the epoch of production to which it corresponds — this complete working-out of the human content appears as a complete emptying-out, this universal objectification as total alienation, and the tearing-down of all limited, one-sided aims as sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end..."

Only, Marx argues that the working class can and must press forward, through this "working-out", to overthrowing capital and creating the free association of producers on an extensive and rich rather than a localised and poor basis.

"The mass of workers must themselves appropriate their own surplus labour. Once they have done so — and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence — then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that... disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time".

"It is as ridiculous", writes Marx, "to yearn for a return to [the] original fullness as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill. The bourgeois viewpoint has never advanced beyond this antithesis between itself and this romantic viewpoint, and therefore the latter will accompany it as legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end".

Anarchism - again with the exception of anarcho-syndicalism - is essentially a variant of the "romantic viewpoint".

But working-class organisation and struggle today are at a low level. A link between the sort of trade-union activity feasible today and social revolution appears far-fetched. Even if anarchist activity is only a "romantic" protest against the capitalist order, isn't "romantic" protest at least better than dull immersion in the routine bargaining processes of the capitalist order?

It is no part of Marxism to deny the value of imaginative "stunts". But we do believe that revolutionaries must prepare for revolution by a focus on patient, long-term work in working-class struggles (even small ones).

A long view is necessary in order to see the connections.

The wage-working class in capitalist society has a twofold character. It is both the basic alienated class, having its life reduced to the margins around a process of labour for capital which sucks out its energy while returning to it only a pittance by which to keep its labour-power in trim; and the basic creative class, developing an ever-more-multifarious cooperative potency in production.

As Marx put it: "Large-scale industry... does away with all repose, all fixity and all security as far as the worker's life-situation is concerned [and enforces] the ceaseless sacrifices required from the working class... the reckless squandering of labour-powers, and... the devastating effects of social anarchy. But [also] large-scale industry, through its very catastrophes, makes the recognition of the variation of labour and hence of the fitness of the worker for the maximum number of different kinds of labour into a question of life and death. [It points towards] the totally developed individual, for whom the different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn..."

Capitalist production throws the working class into constant conflicts with capital over the terms and conditions of the sale of labour-power. Even if limited to the issue of wages, those battles generate class organisations of the workers - trade unions - and ties of class solidarity. Extended to issues of workers' control over production, they pose the question of the principle of solidarity replacing the rules of the market.

The creative powers of the working class, increased through cooperation and science, demand direct self-organisation in place of the capitalist organisation where those powers appear as the property of individual capitals - where the social fact that labour produces all new value is expressed as the market fact that money buys all commodities.

A cooperative commonwealth is thus not just a benevolent scheme to relieve the sufferings of the workers, or a good plan for which the workers' numbers and economic power are necessary as a battering-ram. It is the photographic positive for which the negative is provided by the struggle of the working class, within capitalist society, to lift the burdens of its class subordination by abolishing it.

History confirms theory. Time and again, from the Paris Commune of 1871 through the Russian Revolution of 1917, the revolutionary movements across Europe after World War 1, and the Spanish Revolution of 1936 through to Portugal in 1975 and Poland in 1980-1, when the working class has gained enough self-confidence and organisation to come forward as a force challenging the existing order, it has created workers' councils with direct democracy, imposed workers' control of production, and placed social provision for need as the guiding principle in place of profit.

Even in quiet times, when the workers' movements are unmilitant and cautious, it is almost always in their ranks that the most numerous advocates, and the best hearing, for such ideas is found.

In times when working-class organisation and struggle have run at a high level, many anarchists have gone over to anarcho-syndicalism, i.e. to much the same idea as Marxists about the centrality of the wage-working class and its everyday struggles.

The constant whirl of capitalist restructuring implies also a constant whirl of breaking-up and sidelining workers' organisations as they exist at any given time. The organisation constantly requires rebuilding. After a series of defeats, it may stumble at a low level for a long time.

And it may need to be rebuilt in a form seriously different from what it had before the defeats. After the Chartist movement of the British workers in the 1830s and 1840s, and the mostly short-lived trade union organisations associated with it, were defeated, for a long time attempts to organise a revival came to nothing. When the working-class revival came in the 1880s, its form - the New Unionism, mostly in large-scale industry, and the first Marxist groups - was significantly different from that of 1830s and 1840s.

But, so long as capital continues, the workers' movement will rebuild, and its rebuilding will include trade-union organisation, even though we cannot predict the specific forms and tempos.

While the workers' movement remains at a low level, it cannot overthrow capital and make a revolution. But nor can anyone else. The revolutionaries need to decide what long-term work they can do, in relatively quiet times and (if the revolutionaries are not very numerous) on a small scale, which will best prepare the way for mass revolutionary action in the future.

In September 1850 Marx decided that he and his comrades faced a long period when the workers' movement would be at a low level. He broke with the majority of the Communist League exiles in London, with these words:

"We tell the workers: If you want to change conditions and make yourselves capable of government, you will have to undergo fifteen, twenty or fifty years of civil war.

"Now they are told [by the majority]: We must come to power immediately or we might as well go to sleep. The word 'proletariat' has been reduced to a mere phrase, like the word 'people' was by the democrats.

"To make this phrase a reality one would have to declare the entire petty bourgeois to be proletarians, i.e. de facto represent the petty bourgeoisie and not the proletariat. In place of actual revolutionary development one would have to adopt the revolutionary phrase".

In other words, only by a lengthy development within capitalist society (by civil war, Marx evidently means social war, rather than necessarily military battle), does the working class become the revolutionary working class.

To adopt the "revolutionary phrase", that is, to pretend that conditions are always immediately revolutionary, is to end up recommending whatever oppositional movements, or even just protest activities, are immediately to hand, and glossing them up as more than they are, rather than cleaving to the long-term interests of the working class.

Thus activists can be drawn to anarchism today by either one of two apparently contradictory impulses: the desire for immediately "revolutionary" activity, or the resigned conclusion that revolution is so remote that all talk of strategy is pointless, and the best we can do for now is to contest and challenge the capitalist order piecemeal but in the most colourful way we can find.

A Marxist focus on the working class does not mean that we occupy ourselves entirely or even mainly with trade-union routine.

Workers do not just work. They live. Workers are drawn into a vast range of partial battles in capitalist society - tenants' and community struggles, anti-racist agitation, anti-war demonstrations, feminist activity, electoral politics - and often in a way that is specifically shaped by their working-class social identity, or can be specifically shaped that way.

In those battles, every day, even when class struggle is at a relatively low and piecemeal level, activists can and do "make socialists" - convince workers, on the basis of the experience of the struggle, that capitalist oppression and exploitation must be overthrown and replaced by a cooperative commonwealth, and that the working class is the force to do it.

Trade-union struggle is one of those partial struggles. It is not necessarily the one that "makes socialists" in the greatest numbers. But it is the one that yields the biggest, most stable, and most powerful organisations, and best enables the socialists to develop dialogue with and gain organised influence among their fellow-workers in an ongoing, relatively-permanent way.

Thus in all the partial battles, it is usually trade unions - and specifically, trade union organisations where socialists have been active - that campaigners turn to when they want large-scale organised support for emancipatory causes. That is true even when the trade unions are at a low level.

Antonio Negri once expressed well a basic idea of Marxism. "The fact that we cannot spell out the alternative does not necessarily mean that it does not exist. It exists as a murmuring among the proletariat".

Marxist tactics are about organising ourselves to hear and listen to that "murmuring among the proletariat", to develop dialogue with it, and by dialogue to raise it first to open speech and then finally to a yell of victory.

Only a minority are "made socialists", in normal times; certainly only a minority are "made socialists" with sufficient conviction and confidence to become active in a regular, ongoing way, not just in particular actions and campaigns.

Anarchists, of course, know as well as Marxists do that only a minority in normal times are consistently active. But what anarchists - again with the exception of anarcho-syndicalists - lack is a coherent idea of how the minority can act today so as best to contribute to majority action tomorrow.

Our rules were best formulated by Trotsky. "To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one's programme on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives..."

The premiss here, the long view, is that "the logic of the class struggle" tends to socialist conclusions even at times when, the class struggle being relatively muted, that "logic" expresses itself only in louder or quieter "murmurings".

If workers organise, mobilise and agitate on key issues of working-class interest, then other "adjacent" social issues will also be brought to the fore - for example, the right of trade unionists to take industrial action on "political" issues is brought to the fore by campaigns to save the Health Service.

Action and success can generate confidence and combativity that brings things near which, a short time ago, were far off and seemingly impossible. Demands and proposals which have the potential to make those links, to guide those chain-reactions, are what Marxists call "transitional demands".

Such transitional demands form the bridge between reform battles and revolutionary socialist politics.

Yes, Marxist tactics may involve a lot of routine work in trade unions and other campaigns. And, yes, some would-be Marxists get submerged in that routine work and lose sight of the revolutionary aim: that is a central reason why Marxists argue for tight revolutionary organisation, rather than just a diffuse network loosely linking individuals each immersed in her or his own trade union or campaign.

But the point is to do the routine work in a way that is constantly focused on noticing and developing the non-routine, the sparks of rebellion.

Undeniably, Marxism is more "bookish" than anarchism. It values the spirit of spontaneous revolt as much as anarchism does, but insists more on the need for those who have decided to become consistent activists to study, to educate themselves, to thrash out their ideas in a collective organisation which strives to make its policies precise.

We can base our programme on the logic of the class struggle only if we understand that logic, and we can come to understand that logic only by studying the underlying mechanisms of capitalist life - as analysed in works like Marx's "Capital" - and the history and lessons of past workers' struggles.

Looking back at the Russian revolutionary movement, Trotsky observed that it was not the revolutionary populists who started with bombs and bullets for Tsars and Tsarist officials, but those who started out with the heavy tomes under their arms and worked to educate and organise the proletariat, who eventually made the revolution.

The revolutionary populists - the Socialist Revolutionary party of Russia, established in 1898 - were essentially reconstructed anarchists. Until 1911 much of their effort, through a special subgroup, the "SR Combat Organisation", was dedicated to assassinating Tsarist officials. After February 1917 they ended up supporting the bourgeois Provisional Government; after October 1917, in their majority, as subordinates to Tsarist generals in the civil war against the new workers' and peasants' government.

Some anarchists denounce the "bookishness" of Marxists as "elitists", and claim that they themselves rely on the spontaneously revolutionary impulses of the multitude, rejecting all attempts to bring in ideas "from the outside", i.e. from books, from the documented experiences of past struggles, from the studies and debates pursued by activist minorities before mass struggles erupt.

The truth is just the opposite. The Marxist view reflects our confidence that the working class - when mobilised in full flower - can and will quickly absorb (and in the process, revive, renew, reshape) the ideas which at present can be got only from books and small discussions. It reflects our conviction that the socialist revolution will be made by a working class which has thought through and fully understood what it is doing, or will not be made at all.

No-one actually believes that anyone, worker or not, can develop a scientific understanding of capitalist society "spontaneously", without study or discussion, any more than we can learn mathematical analysis just by "instinct". The anarchist view here comes down to the idea that it doesn't matter if the workers (or the "multitude") have very little beyond an instinctive rage against the system. It is all right if all theoretical overviews remain the property of the anarchist-activist minority, the "invisible pilots" as Bakunin called them.

Finally, what of anarcho-syndicalism? This is the version of anarchism that identifies the society of the future as a federation of industries each run by the trade-union of the workers in the industry, rather than as federation of small local communes.

Unlike other variants of anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism focuses on the wage-working class. It has a coherent idea of what to do in un-revolutionary times: build up the unions which will later be the instruments of revolution.

Anarcho-syndicalism is far from "pure" anarchism. Arguing with fellow anarchists to turn away from their closed discussion circles and small bomb-throwing conspiracies towards the unions, Fernand Pelloutier, the pioneer of French anarcho-syndicalism (which was a mass movement between 1902 and 1914) wrote that:

"Nobody believes or expects that the coming revolution will realise unadulterated anarchist communism". Trade-union administration of society would be the best "transitional state" available.

Weren't the trade unions disciplined, collective bodies? Didn't that outrage the individualist sensibilities of anarchism? Well, said Pelloutier, in unions "individuals are at liberty to quit, except... when battle has been joined with the enemy". Presumably he hoped that anarchists would overlook how big an "except" that was, or would admit that pure individual autonomy cannot be an absolute principle in a society of class struggle.

Inside the mass French trade-union movement, the CGT, the revolutionary syndicalists formed a self-conscious "active minority", mostly grouped around newspapers and magazines, who deliberately strove to educate rather than just to rely on spontaneous rebellion.

Trotsky described that French revolutionary syndicalism as "a remarkable draft outline of revolutionary communism".

Unfortunately, most anarchists today are not anarcho-syndicalists. When there is a big workers' struggle, the people contributing support and proposals, organising rank-and-file groups, and so on, are mostly (for better or for worse) the various Marxist or would-be Marxist groups, not anarchist groups.

However, the "draft outline" was and is lacking in several respects.

Firstly, in anarcho-syndicalist perspectives the unions have to combine the three distinct roles played in a Marxist perspective by three distinct sorts of organisation - the workers' political party (or proto-party), the unions, and the workers' councils.

The result is a sort of pantomime-horse effect. Unions, if they are to be effective, must include as nearly as possible the whole workforce, excluding only strike-breakers. Under anywhere near normal conditions, they include many workers whose social ideas are conformist and bourgeois.

To try to make the union a revolutionary-educational force is to narrow it down and make it ineffective as a union. The activists end up with neither an effective union, nor an effective party, but something which is botched in both respects. The French revolutionary-syndicalist idea of "the active minority" was a partial answer, but only a partial one, to that problem.

Further, even the broadest unions usually organise only a minority of the workforce. Usually the worst-off sections of the working class are not, or only scantily, unionised. In revolutionary times, those worst-off sections explode into activity. Workers then need much broader and more flexible organisations than even the trade unions - namely, workers' councils.

Those workers' councils will be the foundation of the future workers' state. It should be the unions instead? But if the unions are to play the role of rulers in the future society, then what will play the role of unions? Even under a workers' state, individual groups of workers may sometimes need to assert their particular interests against the collective.

Although, as Pelloutier admitted, the anarcho-syndicalists effectively abandoned the "pure anarchist" idea of immediate abolition of all government, they did keep warning the workers against what Emile Pouget, another leader of the CGT, called "the virus of politics".

Actually, the warnings were pretty ineffective. Despite the CGT's calls not to vote, most CGT workers voted socialist. For socialists who in their majority turned out to be unprincipled parliamentary reformists, of course, since anarcho-syndicalist doctrine banned the more revolutionary activists from using the electoral arena for their own agitational, educational, recruitment efforts.

Syndicalism cannot be equated fully with "economism". Around the end of the 19th century, a section of the Russian Marxists, bowled over by the success of their new agitation on workplace economic issues, came to argue that socialists should focus exclusively or overwhelmingly on such economic issues, leaving outside-the-workplace political issues to the bourgeois liberals for the time being, and that socialist politics would then easily grow out of the extension of economic struggle. That was "economism".

The CGT put much effort into political campaigns against militarism, and indeed explicitly against "patriotism". That makes its collapse into supporting the French government in 1914 all the more revealing of the ultimate inadequacy of its strategy. But it certainly campaigned politically.

The revolutionary syndicalists in the USA, the IWW, held true to their anti-militarist principles in World War One. In their heyday they probably spent more energy on free-speech fights - defending their right to hold street meetings and to publish papers - than they did on direct economic agitation.

The syndicalists did campaign politically. But there is an overlap with "economism". The syndicalists curtailed their own political agitation by their belief that strong union organisation was ultimately enough, by itself, to make a revolution; and by their fear of the "virus of politics".

They could campaign against reactionary government measures - in 1913, the CGT established a united front with the Socialist Party, to protest against the government introducing a three-year term of compulsory military service - but they could never campaign for positive reforms to be nailed down in law! They could not campaign for votes for women, for example, because their principle was to avoid and reject voting for parliament. All their political activity was done with one hand tied behind their backs.

As Trotsky pointed out: "By the manner in which they treat the question [of the state], the syndicalists, unwittingly of course, contribute to the passive conciliation of the workers with the capitalist state. When the syndicalists keep drumming into the workers, who are oppressed by the bourgeois state, their warnings about the dangers of a proletarian state, they play a purely reactionary role.

"The bourgeois will readily repeat to the workers: 'Do not touch the state because it is a snare full of dangers to you'..."

The anarcho-syndicalists had no real idea of how to deal with the bourgeois state, other than the thought that if they could organise a full general strike then bourgeois power would simply collapse. They took great comfort in calculations that compared the numbers of the French army with the length of railway line in France, and concluded that in a perfect general strike the army could not exert control over the railways, let alone over any other industry.

In reality, such a perfect general strike is impossible. Faced with World War One in 1914, the syndicalists knew that their cure-all of a general strike to stop war was impractical. While revolutionary Marxists like Lenin and Luxemburg, who had always rejected the anarchist myth of the perfect general strike, were able to start organising opposition to the war, the CGT collapsed into support for its own government in the war no less abjectly than the parliamentary-reformist socialists.

Only a minority among the syndicalists, people like Alfred Rosmer and Pierre Monatte, remained true to their principles. And in the course of doing so, they found that they had to develop their principles, and become "political" revolutionary communists, Marxists.

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Submitted by martin on Tue, 01/03/2011 - 10:19

Clear doctrinal demarcations are not anarchism's strong point, and I'm sure that there are anarchists who think of themselves as anarchist-communists but have many anarcho-syndicalist ideas. Historically, however, anarchist-communism is defined in contrast to individualist anarchism, and its focus is on local "communes" in opposition to a central authority, rather than on the working class in opposition to the capitalist class.

Martin Thomas

Submitted by guenter on Tue, 01/03/2011 - 14:08

iam writing on various websites.also on 1 gay website with 1,1 mio members. this main club is divided further in several subclubs. i hold 2 political clubs. there is an anarchist club, labelling itself as red rats, which has a huge number of members, but no political postings/activities in it. under its roof one can find anarchists, "antinationals","frankfurt school"(adorno, marcuse a.s.o.) punks, esoterics, buddhists and whatever. (if less concrete the self-defination of a club, if more members. then any1 can make his own interpretation out of it).
most of them express strong hostility towards marxism and dont hesitate to support hardcore rightwingers and even fascists against me. 1 of this comics, a british guy. said he was from "socialist party of great britain". their website claims to be marxist, but u wont find more than a few anarchist phrases and some links for punk events- thats it. they say, that lenin led a bourgeois revolution and was as worse than stalin. the political knowledge of this guy was less than zero; he used to block me (that i cudnt see him and his postings anymore) to slander me around behind my back and organise against me with the worst of fascist elements, who wished me to die and mocked about someone´s grandpa who died in hitler´s concentration camp.

recently, when i said about the ongoing worldwide revolts, that the working class is back on the plan, they said that this was revolutionary romantic of the past, that nowadays societies are so complex and fragmented, that there is no more working class and so on. at least they said, i shall be shot.
with some liberals or conservatives it was rather possible, to discuss less hysterical about communism, then with them!

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 01/03/2011 - 19:00

That's some funny shit, Dee.

I love how anarchists always harp on at Trots for being "sectarian" and then come out with stuff like that. So unless every individual AWL member you know issues a public disavowal of this article, you're going to "find it very difficult to work with [us]"... meaning what? You'll walk out of campaigns you're involved in which AWLers are active too? Or attempt to have us "no platformed"? Or what?

Your fundamental problem with this article seems to be that it attacks anarchism (or "maligns" it, to use your rather bizarre word). Is that really so shocking? We're Marxists; we think anarchism is, at its best, limited and at worse a counter-productive dead-end. I don't think the article is wilfully misrepresentative, or indeed misrepresentative at all, and if you're going to claim it is then you have a responsibility to elaborate a little bit beyond "I'm not going to get into history".

Your righteous anger is misplaced. We're the only Trot group that takes anarchism remotely seriously as a tradition (hence this article) and the idea that we're just making shit up to discredit anarchism is weird. The righteous "how dare you say these things about anarchists??!!" fury is particularly rich given how obstinately sectarian so many anarchists are towards Trotskyists, consistently misrepresenting our politics in your publications and lumping us all in with the SWP or SP.

We are pretty keen on Hal Draper, yes, but for what it's worth I think his critique of anarchism was a bit light.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 01/03/2011 - 19:22

Hi comrade,
Write a proper reply and we'll print it in Solidarity and on the site.

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 01/03/2011 - 21:27


If you want to see our misrepresentations comprehensively exploded then please write a proper response. As Sacha says, we'll publish it (which is more than one might expect from the SWP or SP, to be fair).

Merely screaming "you're all liars and I will refuse to work with you until you retract these lies!" and then saying "I can't be bothered" or "I don't want to get into history" when asked to elaborate is hardly conducive to any sort of meaningful exchange.



Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Wed, 02/03/2011 - 19:39

In reply to by AWL

I do intend to write a fuller reply to this when I get around to it, but I really can't see why anyone should feel under any obligation to put time and effort into replying to such a shoddy piece of trolling. This is basically equivalent to if I wrote an article saying that most of the Second International took the side of their various nation-states in WWI, and those who didn't went on to be in the Third International and support Stalin, and therefore Marxism is bad. If I just did that and then added a paragraph about why the SWP is shit it would actually genuinely be more honest than your article, because it would at least make some attempt to engage with what contemporary Marxists do or say, rather than giving the impression that the world stopped turning in 1920.
It's genuinely frustrating how bad this is, because there are actually real arguments to be had here - anarchists reject the Labour Party as a fundamentally anti-working-class force, you continue to encourage illusions in nonsense like the Labour Party Democracy Task Force (…). Anarchists reject electoralism in general, you still clearly see it as having something to offer. Anarchists support decentralised, federal, organisational structures, you support centralised authority. (Some) anarchists have an internationalist position of opposition to all states, you accept the idea of the right of nation-states to self-determination. (Some) anarchists see the trade unions as being beyond redemption and look to the creation of alternative structures as part of their industrial strategy, you seem to have a "transform the TUC" position (apologies if I've got that one wrong, but that's the impression I get). And I've not even mentioned Kronstadt yet. These are all genuine issues that it'd be possible to have an actual, reasonable, grown-up debate over. But hey, why bother doing that when you can just trot out some tired out bollocks about how anarchists aren't interested in the working class instead? Who is this shit even aimed at?

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 01/03/2011 - 22:42

Some quick responses. Apologies if you feel I've misinterpreted your criticisms. Feel free to set me straight.

1) "Proudhon has literally zero sway in contemporary anarchist thought."

Really? The A-Fed's "Manifesto of Libertarian Communism" says that Proudhon's writings "undoubtedly express anarchist ideas." (Don't believe me? Check.) Not decisive, certainly, but that took me about thirty seconds to find...

2) "Non-syndicalist anarchists are also class struggle oriented."

Sometimes, yes. But class struggle doesn't necessarily occupy same central, irreplaceable position for them as it does for Marxists and syndicalists (anarchist or otherwise). Anarchists who focus on activities such as hunt-sabbing, squatting, animal liberation, Zapatismo-type politics, social centres, mutual aid, TAZs, etc. etc. (and it is beyond argument that there are plenty of anarchists who do) rather than workplace-focused (or at least workplace-linked) class-struggle activity necessarily imply that something other than the conflict between labour and capital can be an integral core and political point-of-departure. Often, as the article points out, this is figured as the conflict between "the individual" and "the state" or "authority".

3) "But those tendencies are minorities within anarchism".

Maybe, although given the fairly significant explosion of people identifying broadly as "anarchists" following the growth post-Seattle movements (most whom never joined an anarchist organisation) it's pretty hard to tell. In my experience of people who call themselves "anarchists", there's a pretty even split between people who have a class-struggle perspective and people who think class struggle is fine but that it's just one star in a galaxy of different struggles against "authority" and no more important than any others. But that's anecdotal (on which point, more later), so hardly conclusive. Even if it's true that not many anarchists (in Britain, maybe? The anarchist movement varies from country to country) hold those views, does that mean the critiquing them is illegitimate?

4) "You misrepresent Bakunin".

Show me something from Bakunin's work to suggest that the article's charge against him - that he did not see the working class as the privileged revolutionary agent and saw other elements as potentially more powerful - is false. This is not supposed to be a macho challenge. I'm genuinely interested. Convince me.

5) "Most anarchists I know don't rate Murray Bookchin".

Okay. Good. A lot of anarchists I know do. So what? This is anecdotal. The point is that he's a prominent thinker who identified explicitly with the anarchist tradition. This article is a critique of anarchism, not a critique of only the particular anarchist thinkers that you and your mates happen to like. A lot of your stuff is very anecdotal ("most anarchists I know" ... "anarchist circles I've been involved with" etc.), which is a bit disingenuous given that your central charge against the article is that its misrepresentative in general terms. If what you actually mean is that the author didn't spend long enough engaging specifically with the particular anarchist traditions you adhere to then I can only apologise on his behalf. Personally speaking I wouldn't get too worked up if an anarchist wrote a critique of Trotskyism that said "on the whole Trots have been soft on Stalinism" and only mentioned the Shachtman-Draper tradition in passing. I might say (particularly if I was interested in "working together" and ongoing engagement rather than set-piece posturing) "okay, fair enough but moving forward let's focus in on that, shall we?", but I wouldn't say "this is a disgusting misrepresentation and you're a shameful liar." You also seem to have missed one of the basic points of the article - i.e. that there's a lot of value in the tradition of revolutionary syndicalism (anarchist and otherwise) that we want to learn from, absorb and develop.

6) "This article is like a critique of Marxism that only mentions Hegel and Stalin." (That one's from Tom, not Dee.)

No it isn't, Tom. Bakunin and Proudhon are not the "Stalins of anarchism" - i.e. people who claimed its language and symbolism but whose concrete role was that of counter-revolutionary opponents of working-class power. They are people who activists from right across the anarchist spectrum identify as significant theoretical originators. (Incidentally I wouldn't lump them together, as I do happen to see Bakunin as someone who, broadly speaking, occupies a legitimate position within what you might call the pantheon of socialism; see this article for more on how the AWL sees the genuine socialist tradition). If this article had focused solely on critiquing, say Murray Rothbard and Troy Southgate (or even someone like Hakim Bey) then Tom might have a point.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 02/03/2011 - 10:57

I'd tend to disagree with Daniel on Bakunin. While he was undoubtedly a revolutionary and anti-capitalist in ways that Proudhon was not, it's not clear to me he was any less reactionary (though less open/clear about it).

On that, I also tend to agree with Tom on Hal Draper and anarchism. His criticisms of Proudhon and Bakunin in Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution seem (I'm not an expert, and have read only bits and pieces of these two) thoughtful and serious, but his more general critique of anarchism as a broader ideology seems pretty lightweight. That's most true in The Two Souls of Socialism, but I don't know of anywhere where Draper really tries to get to grips with the multifaceted tradition/s as a whole, rather than simply damning the whole thing as anti-democratic from abstract considerations.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by guenter on Wed, 02/03/2011 - 12:50

interesting, that anybody did ignore my posting about my experience with various nowadays anarchists. dont that tell more than any theory? and dont tell their behaviour during the spanish civil war more than enough? joining a bourgeois-stalinist "united front" with ministers.... with 2 million members, the CNT was unable to stop the small stalinist CP to gain control.
chanting "no power 4 anyone" is good enough 4 peaceful times, but when it comes 2 the proof...
since lenins time, many anarchists always ended up on the bourgeois side.
just 2 mention a few from germany, who did spent their youth as anarchist streetfighters:

-ex minister 4 foreign affairs, joschka fischer, responsible 4 the war against yugoslawia and for the "hartz4"-law, the worst social-cutoffs ever,
-daniel cohn bendit, a figure from may 1968 in france, later organised the first coaltion between his new party, "the greens" and the christ-democrats "CDU"(our tories) in frankfurt;
-thomas schmid, from the same circle, now cheflecturer of "welt", the most rightwing daily newpaper in germany,
-michael miersch, highly decorated journalist of the far right and lobbyist from the atomic-industry, in his younger days a sympathisant of RAF, who used to label me (and any communist) as revisionist and reformist.
via "the grren party" they all went back to their bourgeois CDU-familys they usually came from . i cud make an endless long list!
P.S.: i just get a phone-call with the information, that cohn-bendit demands an imperialist intervention into lybia.

Submitted by guenter on Thu, 03/03/2011 - 03:07

And best not to mention how the regime of Lenin and Trotsky imposed one-man management, militarised labour, crushed strikes, broke independent unions and generally acted as the new bourgeoisie...

this nonsense is refuted in details, since decades. dont wanna repeat all. there are enough articles about all these quests on this website also. go and offer this to the "sun".

anyway, the mentioned "marxists" who ended on the side of the bourgeoisie -as the german SPD or mussolini´s(!) "socialists"- never had been really marxist, and thats why the marxists internationally did break with the socialdemocrats to form their own parties.
and the POUM was no real trotskyte, but a centrist party.
and the "20 or so" trotskytes in spain had been the only ones then who did NOT join the bourgeois-stalinist united front, as the anarchists did. so what does that say about anarchists and trotskytes? the trots had obviously been right.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:40

J Haaglund,

But Rosa Luxemburg, while criticising the Bolsheviks, supported them and thought the regime they had established embodied workers' power! That doesn't mean you can't admire aspects of her politics, but how do you square it with the counterposition you make above?


Submitted by AWL on Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:09

For me the point about Spain is not that all anarchists were traitors - because that's not true: there were left anarchists who actively opposed the CNT's participation in the government. That's good, and as I understand it the Trotskyists and some of these anarchists worked together towards the end. But what was the concrete anarchist alternative to what the CNT leaders did? The Trotskyists' alternative was clear: link up the organs of workers' and popular self-rule into a workers' government, seize power and turn the war against Franco into a revolutionary war.


Submitted by guenter on Thu, 03/03/2011 - 12:55

Lenin, for instance, despite raising the slogan "All power to the Soviets", actually did everything he could to take power away from the soviets once the Bolsheviks had control of the Russian state. This isn't because Lenin was Evil, but because his party had become a part of the bourgeoisie by entering the bourgeois state. (jhaaglund)

Also this thesis was discussed over and over in any group, on any side. just have a look into the archives. and, i never nmade it a personal quest ("traitors") , but who had the right strategy and who hadnt.

and, sacha, during the spanish civil war, among 2 mio. anarchists, only the small circle of "durutti´s friends" made the exceptiopn u discribe.
AWL seems to be quite soft on anarchists -trotsky was not- cause of her own sotness towards imperialism sometimes.

Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Thu, 03/03/2011 - 19:02

Right, finally finished off my full reply, which you can read here.

Submitted by guenter on Fri, 04/03/2011 - 03:27

this discussions here with the anarchists leads to nothing. AWL-guys discuss too soft with them, ignoring my concrete experience with nowadays anarchists,(2nd or 3rd posting) which tell how they really act in concrete situations.
there are some articles here about actual ongoing things, which have much more importance, and no one does post on it, but dozens of time-wasting postings about a confused nonsense-philosophy. iam out of here.

Submitted by guenter on Sat, 05/03/2011 - 14:37

well, when i checked their website about 3 years ago, i saw anarchist phrases and some links to punk events. anyway, when u read how my experience with this SPGB-guy was, then the more serious quest is, if he was a provokateur for the other side, or if this whole party may be.

Submitted by martin on Sun, 06/03/2011 - 15:06

A response to some of the points above soon. But while I'm ploughing through the references, here are some references from us. They're from an AWL briefing produced in 2007. If you read the accompanying notes, it should at least convince you that we do not ignore the diversity of anarchism.

  • Karl Marx: Political Indifferentism (2 pages). Marx criticises the anarchism of Proudhon. "All arms with which to fight must be drawn from society as it is, and the fatal conditions of this struggle have the misfortune of not being easily adapted to the idealistic fantasies which these doctors in social science have exalted as divinities under the names of Freedom, Autonomy, Anarchy".
  • Mikhail Bakunin, excerpt from God and the State; Karl Marx, Conspectus of Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy (4 pages). Bakunin declares that "all legislative assemblies, even those chosen by universal suffrage" must end in "the formation in a few years' time of... a sort of political aristocracy and oligarchy". "We reject all legislation, all authority... The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognised them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will... collective or individual". Marx charges that Bakunin "understands absolutely nothing about the social revolution, only its political phrases. Its economic conditions do not exist for him".
  • Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism and excerpt from Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal (4 pages). Kropotkin reviews Proudhon's "mutualism" (a system of workshops exchanging commodities with "labour-money" and with a national bank giving credit at zero interest); Stirner's "individualist anarchism" (close to present-day right-wing "libertarianism"); Bakunin's "collectivist anarchism"; and Kropotkin's own "anarchist-communism", by which he means a society organised as a agglomeration of small voluntary associations. The "collectivism" and "communism" reflected Marxist influence on the anarchist movement, but were also the setting-off point for transitions from anarchism to reformism, notably that of Paul Brousse, a leading anarchist in the First International who evolved, by way of seeing municipal activity as being, on anarchist principles, especially liberatory, into founding the "possibilist" (explicitly reformist) strand in the late 19th century French workers' movement. See David Stafford's From Anarchism to Reformism. Some anarchists of recent times, such as Murray Bookchin, have also seen town-council politics as a proper focus for anarchist activity while rejecting larger-scale electoral politics.
  • Hal Draper, excerpt from Two Souls of Socialism (1 page). Draper argues that anarchism, in rejecting collective democratic control over the large-scale mechanisms of modern society, necessarily incubates despotism, and documents the despotic proclivities of Proudhon and Bakunin (as well as Proudhon's anti-semitism, racism, and misogyny).
  • Georgi Plekhanov, Anarchism and Socialism and Lenin's criticism of Plekhanov (30 pages). Plekhanov, a former follower of Bakunin himself, gives a comprehensive survey of anarchist ideas from Stirner to Kropotkin, arguing that they are all essentially utopian, idealist (in the sense of imagining social development to be propelled by abstract ideas rather than by material circumstances), and egotistic. His pamphlet was translated into English by Eleanor Marx on the occasion of a political battle in the Socialist League between Marxists and anarchists. Lenin's comment (from State and Revolution) recognises Plekhanov's survey as valuable, but criticises it for not explaining the Marxist view of the workers' state as a "commune-state" or "semi-state".


  • Leon Trotsky, excerpts from Communism and Syndicalism and Rudolf Rocker, excerpts from Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism (6 pages). Anarcho-syndicalism, emerging most strongly in France at the end of the 19th century and up to World War 1, identified the "collectives" which were to run society in "collectivist anarchism" with trade unions. It is, historically, the most "Marxist-influenced" form of anarchism. Many revolutionary syndicalists, in fact, no longer considered themselves anarchists; Trotsky's article criticises even "revolutionary syndicalism" but describes it as it was before World War One as "a remarkable rough draft of revolutionary communism". There was also reformist syndicalism: the leadership of the French equivalent of the TUC, once revolutionary syndicalist, evolved into supporting the French government in World War One and then operating very ordinary reformist trade unionism for many years after 1918 without ceasing to consider itself "syndicalist", i.e. devoted to the idea that trade unions, rather than political parties, are the proper prime means for working-class advance. The IWW in the USA and Australia was also "revolutionary syndicalist", though few IWWers considered themselves anarchists.

The revolutionary party and the workers' state in practice: Bolshevik Russia

  • Victor Serge, excerpts from Year One of the Russian Revolution and Emma Goldman, "Afterward" from My Further Disillusionment in Russia (12 pages). Serge was one of the many revolutionary anarchists who rallied to the Bolsheviks after the Revolution; he was later a leading figure in the Trotskyist opposition to Stalinism. In this excerpt he explains why he thinks a revolutionary workers' political party (and of a particular type, lively, bold, focused on political clarity, and immersed in working-class activity) is necessary for successful revolution; and why the workers need to build a state to sustain their revolution. He defends the Bolsheviks' disarming of the anarchist groups in St Petersburg and other cities in April 1918. Emma Goldman argues that "The Russian Revolution reflects... the century-old struggle of the libertarian principle against the authoritarian... The Russian Revolution was a libertarian step defeated... by the temporary victory of the reactionary, the governmental idea".

The fight to make the working class a force independent of bourgeois politics in practice: the Spanish Revolution 1936-7

  • Felix Morrow, excerpts from Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain and Murray Bookchin, excerpt from To Remember Spain (7 pages). Spain 1936-7 is the one time in history where a revolutionary crisis has found a labour movement in which anarchists - left-wing anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists - had the strongest influence. The Spanish anarchists (a) controlled their union federation through a tight-knit political "party" (only they did not call it that); (b) joined the bourgeois Republican governments which stifled the workers' revolution in the name of "unity" against fascism. "Already running Catalan industry and the militias [after the workers' uprising], the anarchists [found that] their anti-statism 'as such' had to be thrown off. What did remain, to wreak disaster in the end, was their failure to recognise the distinction between a workers' and a bourgeois state... [Moreover] intoxicated with their control of the factories and the militias, the anarchists assumed that capitalism had already disappeared in Catalonia. They talked of the 'new social economy', and Companys [the bourgeois prime minister] was only too willing to talk as they did, for it blinded them and not him..." Anarchists elsewhere at the time concentrated on defending the Spanish anarchists against the accusations of the Stalinists: "In reality a very friendly relation has existed for a long time between the CNT and the anti-fascist bourgeoisie. This did not change until the disruptive work of the Stalinists set in..." (Rudolf Rocker, The Tragedy of Spain). Murray Bookchin is a modern anarchist writer reflecting on Spain long after the event. He finds "the structure of the CNT as a syndicalist union and that of the FAI as an anarchist federation was... quite admirable". Their efforts, in his view, were "vitiated" only by "the mystique about the classical proletariat" and their failure to develop more easy-going bonds of "friendship and love" within the organisations.

Anarchism today

  • Murray Bookchin, Anarchism Past and Present and Mick Armstrong, Is there anything radical about anarchism? (7 pages). Murray Bookchin is one of the recent anarchist writers most influential today; in this article he reviews the whole history of anarchism (criticising some variants of it) and its opposition to Marxism. Some of Bookchin's conclusions, such as his dismissal of the working class as a revolutionary agency, are not shared by all anarchists. There are many variants of anarchism and anarchist-influenced thought today, including Zapatismo and autonomism; in fact there are quite a few people who call themselves "anarchists" just because they prefer "affinity" groups and one-off actions to ongoing organisation structured around definite political ideas (even anarchist ideas). Mick Armstrong gives a terse criticism of "lifestyle anarchism" and "individualist" anarchism of the "Black Bloc" type. Click here for the context and source for the passage which Armstrong quotes from Emma Goldman despising "the masses", and here for Goldman's reply to critics of that passage.

Submitted by martin on Mon, 07/03/2011 - 07:57

I'm working on a longer response for Solidarity 3/196. Watch this space...

Submitted by martin on Mon, 07/03/2011 - 12:22

But the concept of "multitude" as the agent of change is "held" by autonomist Marxists! Why is pointing that out a "cheap shot"?

Yes, I know autonomism originated from "operaismo", but it has changed.

Click here and click here for more on autonomism.

Submitted by martin on Mon, 07/03/2011 - 14:51

Check out the links in the comment above.

Click here and click here.

I do acknowledge Cleaver. To sure, when I made a brief reference to autonomism today in the article on anarchism I didn't insert the entire article surveying autonomist and operaista politics over nearly half a century; but it would become impossible to write articles on anything if every side-reference had to be expanded into a full discussion of the thing referred to.

It's not just Negri, by the way. See for example the journal Multitudes.

Submitted by edwardm on Sat, 12/03/2011 - 01:55

Hi Duck,

Thanks for the considered response. But I think that, in fact, each of the paragraphs you've written above needs some unpacking.

1) "it's easier for me as an anarchist to take ideas from other traditions without it causing much problem politically"
Why? You list a series of different traditions from which you "take ideas" - Marx for the economics; Trotsky for the anti-fascism; anarchist thinkers for your basic attitude to political method; the Situationists for... well, for something... But politics isn't like a pick-n-mix. Each of the thinkers in that list reached different conclusions and made different recommendations for a given situation *because they understand the world differently*. Trotsky's politics on anti-fascism do not exist in isolation from his ideas on working-class organisation, the structure of capitalist society, and his overall political programme - for the working-class seizure of power. His ideas on antifascism do not make sense if they're divorced from the other parts of his politics. And politics is about making sense of the world generally, analysing it, accounting for and understanding new things that happen. If you eclectically cobble together your politics from all sorts of different sources without attempting to address the contradictions between them, then you're not understanding the world, or addressing the mistakes and lessons of history, or indeed thinking for yourself. That's what Martin is getting at in the final paragraph of his second article. Marxists aim to function as a 'memory of the class' and to provide a means of analysing events in the world, not a jumble-bag of good-sounding ideas on a variety of topics that don't join up. That means we have to have a coherent, overall analysis from which the different parts of our programme flow.

2) "The world has changed greatly since the days of Marx and the arena of struggle has changed similarily." How? Why? Is not the basic dynamic of capitalist society the exploitation of wage labour? Isn't that the fundamental building block of our society? And aren't there in fact more, not fewer, proletarians in the world than ever before? Doesn't that mean that struggle at the centre of capitalist functioning (the workplace), the key contradiction-point of capitalism is *more*, not less important than ever before? You have to back that kind of assertion up; you have to account for it. We're in the business of understanding the world. I note that above you say that Marx's ideas on economics are more useful than most anarchist writings. Why do you think that, if you think that Marx's focus on capitalist relations is now outdated?
Now, the point that you make about the SWP is fair enough - their attitude to the Poll Tax was crudely "workerist". But Martin is at pains in both articles to point out that struggles other than workplace struggles are important too, if not central. Indeed, Martin provides exactly that qualification at the beginning of the passage you cite! And in fact, this narrowness, this wooden focus on one arena of struggle to the exclusion of all others that you criticise in the SWP is a very close cousin to the anarchist dismissal of electoral politics. The point is that workplace struggle is *central*, not the only game in town. (I think it's also the case that the poll tax struggle was only made possible by a high degree of political and organisational culture in the working class - a product of a powerful *union* movement).

3) Speaking of electoral politics...
Martin says: "Despite the CGT's calls not to vote, most CGT workers voted socialist. For socialists who in their majority turned out to be unprincipled parliamentary reformists, of course, since anarcho-syndicalist doctrine banned the more revolutionary activists from using the electoral arena for their own agitational, educational, recruitment efforts."

You reply: "Whatever the weaknesses of that approach, with the benefit of hindsight, I'm not convinced that Lenin's call to support the Labour Party was a more effective class struggle tactic."

Why? That's not a response, more of a harrumph. Yes - the CGT missed a trick in abandoning the electoral arena to opportunists. Do you deny that? If you don't (and you don't seem to), then how can it follow that it was wrong for Marxists to use the Labour Party as a platform for a similar effort? We give a brief account of Communist activity in the LP in the 1920s here: - what do you think about that? Again - account for things, don't just assert.

4) The political genesis of the AWL is not in the "IS tradition" - we came from an "orthodox Trotskyist" tradition (variously expelled from the forerunners of the SP and WRP) before fusing with IS some years later and forming "the Trotskyist Tendency" within it. We were always critical of their theory.

Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Mon, 14/03/2011 - 16:06

In reply to by edwardm

1) Fair enough, but you might want to tell Martin Thomas that. To my feeble brain, "Trotsky's politics on anti-fascism do not exist in isolation from his... his overall political programme... His ideas on antifascism do not make sense if they're divorced from the other parts of his politics... If you eclectically cobble together your politics from all sorts of different sources without attempting to address the contradictions between them, then you're not understanding the world, or addressing the mistakes and lessons of history, or indeed thinking for yourself... Marxists aim to function as a 'memory of the class' and to provide a means of analysing events in the world, not a jumble-bag of good-sounding ideas on a variety of topics that don't join up. That means we have to have a coherent, overall analysis from which the different parts of our programme flow." sounds like it contradicts "We identify with the “Third Camp” Trotskyism of the Workers’ Party and the Independent Socialist League, and yet we argue that both Shachtman and Draper got some things seriously wrong. We call ourselves Trotskyists and we think Trotsky was wrong to hold to the characterisation of the USSR as a “degenerated workers’ state” in the 1930s. We call ourselves Marxists, and many of us think Marx was wrong, for example, on the “tendency of the rate of profit to fall”" (from his other article) really quite seriously. Still, I'm sure the magic of the dialectic can explain why it's fine to separate Trotsky's ideas about the USSR off from the rest of his ideas, but not to do the same thing with his ideas about anti-fascism.
2) Marx's description of certain specific situations is not the same thing as "Marx's focus on capitalist relations". Capitalist relations exist outside the workplace, unless you're going to claim that the Poll Tax had nothing to do with capitalism. Also, self-organised working-class struggles outside the workplace are not the same thing as the attempts of various politicians to gain state power via electoral politics. Even if those politicians use nice, progressive, socialist language. To attempt to equate rent strikes or non-payment of the Poll Tax with parliamentary campaigns is pretty bizarre.
3) I can't speak for Duck, but for myself: No, the CGT did not miss a trick by refusing to encourage electoral illusions. If Marxist involvement in Labour is such a useful tactic, what do you have to show for it today?
4) Fair enough. Joining a group whose ideas you disagree with seems pretty inexplicable to me, but it's far from being your worst idea.

Submitted by guenter on Sat, 12/03/2011 - 14:57

I wrote posting after posting, and this demagoguel asshat "duck" says, that i would "cowardly" stay away from the debate(!). how much anti-logical can some1 be?
The same anti-logic (or mental-disturbness?) is in his sentence, to label my widespread CONCRETE experience with anarchists as "unpolitical whinings" (!)
Or this blame, i would wait 4 the AWL "to do it for me"- obviously i can speak very well for myself. i neither belong to AWL nor must i wait 4 their support to argue with you.

How right i was, to leave the debate with such nonserious comics &clowns, which cant be taken serious.
Such an hateful, inhuman, irrational nonsense-attack does express the mentality of rightwingers, provocateurs and fascists. and thats it. byebye, lame duck.

Submitted by guenter on Sat, 12/03/2011 - 15:07

The role of political movements is not judged by whether they want to be your friend.

This sentence is another example of duck´s sick interpretations (cant call that thinking). When i described in detail the sectarian behaviour of an anarchist group who weekly does their 10-person demonstrations and never contacts other groups nearby, then, in an very pseudo-psychological attempt, duck tries to INDIVIDUALIZE this political critic as an personal one: guenter dont like them cause they didnt befriend him (!)
Be asured, that i have a high number of better friends than such nonsense-clowns.
I guess its duck, who needs an psychologist for his sick and demagoguel interpretations.

Submitted by guenter on Sat, 12/03/2011 - 15:11

..this try, to falsify an political statement into an personal complain, cause of personal defects, is a 150% stalinist method.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 14/03/2011 - 19:37

"We're the only Trot group that takes anarchism remotely seriously as a tradition (hence this article)"

Daniel Randall

I think it's a bit much to say, Dan, that the AWL is the only Trotskyist group who take anarchism seriously.

There are problems with much of the practices of anarchism for sure. However, there are clearly problems with much of the practice and theory of the Marxist left, including of course Trotskyist groups, and I think it is important that we show some humility. Most activists who are attracted to socialism are like activists attracted to anarchism fighting for a society based on freedom and equality, for the abolition of money, scarcity and oppression for a world where human beings can interact freely.

I'd argue that a foundation of such a society should be one based on the mass of workers' councils or similar popular organs of rule. Of course it is an interesting question about why the Russian revolution degenerated and much of the work of the more serious anarchists at least deserves respectful attention. An attempt to unpick the problems of the Russian revolution, its degeneration and the effect this has had on subsequent communists organisations both those avowedly Trotskyist as well as the Stalinists is called for.

The failure of Marxists to build a revolutionary party organisation that appeals to a wide range of activists is also crucial. What is clear is that those 'communists' who put the needs of a party or organisation ahead of class struggle, who think they know best, who don't in their daily practice and lived struggle organise the widest possible participation of workers in the struggle to understand and overcome our existence as wage slaves have failed. We need to rebuild communism from below. We need vibrant workers' struggles against the cuts, against oppression and attacks and win workers in practice and theory to the idea that Marxism and communism is about liberating ourselves from being told what to do, to be limited to making profits for others, to discover our own sense of agency and creativity.

In those struggles I am happy to work with anarchists and anyone else who wants to struggle against the capitalist state, against the tyranny of profit. Along the way we definitely need theoretical discussions and historical case studies but let us agree to conduct those discussions amicably with an open mind (not a prejudgement that we are correct) and use the lessons we learn to better prosecute the class struggle (e.g. the need for maximum participation of workers in struggle to show in practice that workers can rule their own lives without the need for a ruling elite).

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