Monday, 8 December 2014

Thinking beyond Leninism

I have fallen out with political partys it may or may not be clear to all. I have been on a political journey which started back in 2010 starting with the labour party embarrassingly for myself it was the first glimpse into politics and social structures I encountered. I didn’t spend long in this disgusting party which claims to represent the working class. I am now here today following a time in a trotskyist party called the socialist party of England and Wales having found that a Leninist party is not for me. I genuinely believed the SP was the revolutionary party and Marxism of the Leninist variety had all the answers if only we had a more militant left union leadership and a new workers party for the working class to feel represented by. For a while I was wondering where I should go next and I still do in many ways. I'm in a state of flux my ideas always changing my thoughts developing and learning new ideas and ways of thinking all the time. Theory is incredibly important to me politically. Spending time to read and discover what others are going through and are thinking is key to anyone’s development as a human being. I have come to the position of rejecting hierarchy and preferring situations where we are not controlled what we think by a group of self imposed leaders of the vanguard of the working class. I still do hold to allot of what I understand of Marxism especially the economic writings which are still by far the best analysis of capitalism and how it works and is prone to crisis's being hugely important for today. For example I still do support and lend my full solidarity to the remaining comrades in the CWI who are battling the leadership hard on the cause of the great recession and taking on their corrupt and bankrupt ideas on capitalist crisis being a crisis of under consumption. They have come under huge attack and two of their members are still suspended indefinitely some democratic organisation huh? But on the other hand I reject Marxism’s authoritarian tendencies. I have seen it put to use and abused against our own members of our own class. At the time, these groups represented everything I believed in and wanted to work towards: internationalism, anti-capitalism, anti-discrimination, anti-racism, a strong central government that would provide the needs to survive for everyone, and the like. One topic that would frequently come up within all of these groups - whether Stalinist or trotskyist - was how there is not a single marxist-leninist state around today (even North Korea calls itself "jucheist", not marxist-leninist), and that we could build a new one if we recruited enough people into a future vanguard party and sold them more papers. A huge portion of what these groups talked about was recruitment. Their members were always seeking out ways to recruit others into their groups, and with finding ways of having their organization members get into positions of power within the current political system. Even during that time I felt a bit disconnected; I completely understood that capitalism was a destructive and immoral system, but I wanted to do far more than just recruit and vote for members of particular political parties (and parties that had very little clout in the mainstream at that). I found the more I learnt about leninism the more questions would arise how could these projects of socialism in one country like Russia, Cuba and the former Eastern blocks all fall back to capitalism in the end ? was our thinking bound to fail and we were simply naval gazing for old times’ sake. During my time in the Socialist party I learnt a lot including methods of organising and methods which I now feel are detrimental to changing things for the better. I fully accept that we need to base ourselves on the type of society we wish to see. So by creating more hierarchical structures like political parties with a leadership how will this look once the working class is in power or so called power. The Russian revolution is key to many on the left and often defines your thinking. Mine included I read allot about Lenin and Trotsky and their roles in the 1917 uprising... But one thing never sat well with me despite my acceptance of the Russian revolution being a very good thing initially for the working class the first time the workers had over thrown elite and had gained power. Or had they? I could not get my head around how did the highs of 1917 turn into the Stalinist grotesque bureaucratic monster it turned into? How can things have gone so badly wrong? Was it simply due to what the trotskyists still say today that Russia was bound to turn in on itself being a backward country with little history of capitalism and the Russian revolution being isolated and this was unfortunate as the revolutionary wave did not spread across Europe as it should have done. This is what I believed up till recently when I’ve tried to look for answers as to why this happened and could this have been prevented in anyway. For me it comes down to democracy and who is in power and how they are using power. For me the Bolsheviks started off with good intentions but good intentions alone does not make you right in your analysis and your methods. Spending time in the Socialist party has enabled me to understand how Russia turned out the way it did party's like the SP, SWP and their other 57 varieties of vanguard party's work today and wishing to recreate Russia terrifies me as the same language same methods of closing down debate and devotion to the great leadership is exactly the route the Bolsheviks took and that lead to destruction and deaths on a incredible scale putting the working class back hundreds of years. Replying to this idea that Russia was bound to fail due to isolation and destruction of the economy made democracy alive and political progress to keep on track is taken up by the excellent guys over at anarchist FAQ " One of the most common explanations for the failure revolution is that the Bolsheviks faced terrible economic conditions, which forced them to be less than democratic. Combined with the failure of the revolution to spread to more advanced countries, party dictatorship, it is argued, was inevitable. In the words of one Leninist: "In a country where the working class was a minority of the population, where industry had been battered by years of war and in conditions of White and imperialist encirclement, the balance gradually titled towards greater coercion. Each step of the way was forced on the Bolsheviks by dire and pressing necessities." [John Rees, "In Defense of October," International Socialism, no. 52, p. 41] He talks of "economic devastation" [p. 31] and quotes various sources, including Victor Serge. According to Serge, the "decline in production was uninterrupted. It should be noted that this decline had already begun before the revolution. In 1916 the output of agricultural machinery, for example, was down by 80 per cent compared with 1913. The year 1917 had been marked by a particularly general, rapid and serious downturn. The production figures for the principal industries in 1913 and 1918 were, in millions of poods: coal, from 1,738 to 731 (42 per cent); iron ore, from 57, 887 to 1,686; cast-iron, from 256 to 31.5 (12.3 per cent); steel, from 259 to 24.5; rails, from 39.4 to 1.1. As a percentage of 1913 production, output of linen fell to 75 per cent, of sugar to 24 per cent, and tobacco to 19 per cent." Moreover, production continued "to fall until the end of civil war . . . For 1920, the following indices are given as a percentage of output in 1913: coal, 27 per cent; cast iron, 2.4 per cent; linen textiles, 38 per cent." [Year One of the Russian Revolution, p. 352 and p. 425] According to Tony Cliff (another of Rees's references), the war-damaged industry "continued to run down" in the spring of 1918: "One of the causes of famine was the breakdown of transport . . . Industry was in a state of complete collapse. Not only was there no food to feed the factory workers; there was no raw material or fuel for industry . . . The collapse of industry meant unemployment for the workers." Cliff provides economic indexes. For large scale industry, taking 1913 as the base, 1917 saw production fall to 77%. In 1918, it was at 35% of the 1913 figure, 1919 it was 26% and 1920 was 18%. Productivity per worker also fell, from 85% in 1917, to 44% in 1918, 22% in 1919 and then 26% in 1920. [Lenin, vol. 3, pp. 67-9, p. 86 and p. 85] In such circumstances, it is argued, how can you expect the Bolsheviks to subscribe to democratic and socialist norms? This meant that the success or failure of the revolution depended on whether the revolution spread to more advanced countries. Leninist Duncan Hallas argues that the "failure of the German Revolution in 1918-19 . . . seems, in retrospect, to have been decisive . . . for only substantial economic aid from an advanced economy, in practice from a socialist Germany, could have reversed the disintegration of the Russian working class." ["Towards a revolutionary socialist party," pp. 38-55, Party and Class, Alex Callinicos (ed.), p. 44] Anarchists are not convinced by these arguments. This is for two reasons. Firstly, we are aware that revolutions are disruptive no matter where they occur (see section 1) Moreover, Leninists are meant to know this to. Simply put, there is a certain incredulous element to these arguments. After all, Lenin himself had argued that "[e]very revolution . . . by its very nature implies a crisis, and a very deep crisis at that, both political and economic. This is irrespective of the crisis brought about by the war." [Collected Works, vol. 30, p. 341] Serge also considered crisis as inevitable, arguing that the "conquest of production by the proletariat was in itself a stupendous victory, one which saved the revolution's life. Undoubtedly, so thorough a recasting of all the organs of production is impossible without a substantial decline in output; undoubtedly, too, a proletariat cannot labour and fight at the same time." [Op. Cit., p. 361] As we discussed in detail in section 2, this was a common Bolshevik position at the time (which, in turn, belatedly echoed anarchist arguments -- see section 1). And if we look at other revolutions, we can say that this is the case. Secondly, and more importantly, every revolution or near revolutionary situation has been accompanied by economic crisis. For example, as we will shortly prove, Germany itself was in a state of serious economic collapse in 1918 and 1919, a collapse which would have got worse is a Bolshevik-style revolution had occurred there. This means that if Bolshevik authoritarianism is blamed on the state of the economy, it is not hard to conclude that every Bolshevik-style revolution will suffer the same fate as the Russian one. " "moreover Peter Kropotkin had argued from the 1880s that a revolution would be accompanied by economic disruption. Looking at subsequent revolutions, he has been vindicated time and time again. Every revolution has been marked by economic disruption and falling production. This suggests that the common Leninist idea that a successful revolution in, say, Germany would have ensured the success of the Russian Revolution is flawed. Looking at Europe during the period immediately after the first world war, we discover great economic hardship. To quote one Trotskyist editor: "In the major imperialist countries of Europe, production still had not recovered from wartime destruction. A limited economic upswing in 1919 and early 1920 enabled many demobilised soldiers to find work, and unemployment fell somewhat. Nonetheless, in 'victorious' France overall production in 1920 was still only two-thirds its pre-war level. In Germany industrial production was little more than half its 1914 level, human consumption of grains was down 44 per cent, and the economy was gripped by spiralling inflation. Average per capita wages in Prague in 1920, adjusted for inflation, were just over one-third of pre-war levels." [John Riddell, "Introduction," Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920, vol. I, p. 17] Now, if economic collapse was responsible for Bolshevik authoritarianism and the subsequent failure of the revolution, it seems hard to understand why an expansion of the revolution into similarly crisis ridden countries would have had a major impact in the development of the revolution." Since leninists can point to only one apparent success of their model, namely the Russian Revolution. However, we are warned by Leninists that failure to use the vanguard party will inevitably condemn future revolutions to failure: "The proletariat can take power only through its vanguard. . . Without the confidence of the class in the vanguard, without support of the vanguard by the class, there can be no talk of the conquest of power . . . The Soviets are the only organised form of the tie between the vanguard and the class. A revolutionary content can be given this form only by the party. This is proved by the positive experience of the October Revolution and by the negative experience of other countries (Germany, Austria, finally, Spain). No one has either shown in practice or tried to explain articulately on paper how the proletariat can seize power without the political leadership of a party that knows what it wants." [Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism] To anarchist ears, such claims seem out of place. After all, did the Russian Revolution actually result in socialism or even a viable form of soviet democracy? Far from it. Unless you picture revolution as simply the changing of the party in power, you have to acknowledge that while the Bolshevik party did take power in Russian in November 1917, the net effect of this was not the stated goals that justified that action. Thus, if we take the term "effective" to mean "an efficient means to achieve the desired goals" then vanguardism has not been proven to be effective, quite the reverse (assuming that your desired goal is a socialist society, rather than party power). Needless to say, Trotsky blames the failure of the Russian Revolution on "objective" factors rather than Bolshevik policies and practice, an argument we address in detail in "What caused the degeneration of the Russian Revolution?" and will not do so here. So while Leninists make great claims for the effectiveness of their chosen kind of party, the hard facts of history are against their positive evaluation of vanguard parties. Ironically, even the Russian Revolution disproves the claims of Leninists. The fact is that the Bolshevik party in 1917 was very far from the "democratic centralist" organisation which supporters of "vanguardism" like to claim it is. As such, its success in 1917 lies more in its divergence from the principles of "democratic centralism" than in their application. The subsequent degeneration of the revolution and the party is marked by the increasing application of those principles in the life of the party. Thus, to refute the claims of the "effectiveness" and "efficiency" of vanguardism, we need to look at its one and only success, namely the Russian Revolution. As the Cohen-Bendit brothers argue, "far from leading the Russian Revolution forwards, the Bolsheviks were responsible for holding back the struggle of the masses between February and October 1917, and later for turning the revolution into a bureaucratic counter-revolution -- in both cases because of the party's very nature, structure and ideology." Indeed, "[f]rom April to October, Lenin had to fight a constant battle to keep the Party leadership in tune with the masses." [Obsolete Communism, p. 183 and p. 187] It was only by continually violating its own "nature, structure and ideology" that the Bolshevik party played an important role in the revolution. Whenever the principles of "democratic centralism" were applied, the Bolshevik party played the role the Cohen-Bendit brothers subscribed to it (and once in power, the party's negative features came to the fore). Even Leninists acknowledge that, to quote Tony Cliff, throughout the history of Bolshevism, "a certain conservatism arose." Indeed, "[a]t practically all sharp turning points, Lenin had to rely on the lower strata of the party machine against the higher, or on the rank and file against the machine as a whole." [Lenin, vol. 2, p. 135] This fact, incidentally, refutes the basic assumptions of Lenin's party schema, namely that the broad party membership, like the working class, was subject to bourgeois influences so necessitating central leadership and control from above. Looking at both the 1905 and 1917 revolutions, we are struck by how often this "conservatism" arose and how often the higher bodies were behind the spontaneous actions of the masses and the party membership. Looking at the 1905 revolution, we discover a classic example of the inefficiency of "democratic centralism." Facing in 1905 the rise of the soviets, councils of workers' delegates elected to co-ordinate strikes and other forms of struggle, the Bolsheviks did not know what to do. "The Petersburg Committee of the Bolsheviks," noted Trotsky, "was frightened at first by such an innovation as a non-partisan representation of the embattled masses, and could find nothing better to do than to present the Soviet with an ultimatum: immediately adopt a Social-Democratic program or disband. The Petersburg Soviet as a whole, including the contingent of Bolshevik workingmen as well ignored this ultimatum without batting an eyelash." [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 106] More than that, "[t]he party's Central Committee published the resolution on October 27, thereby making it the binding directive for all other Bolshevik organisations." [Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets, p. 77] It was only the return of Lenin which stopped the Bolshevik's open attacks against the Soviet (also see section 8 of the appendix on "How did Bolshevik ideology contribute to the failure of the Revolution?"). The rationale for these attacks is significant. The St. Petersburg Bolsheviks were convinced that "only a strong party along class lines can guide the proletarian political movement and preserve the integrity of its program, rather than a political mixture of this kind, an indeterminate and vacillating political organisation such as the workers council represents and cannot help but represent." [quoted by Anweiler, Op. Cit., p. 77] In other words, the soviets could not reflect workers' interests because they were elected by the workers! The implications of this perspective came clear in 1918, when the Bolsheviks gerrymandered and disbanded soviets to remain in power (see section 6). That the Bolshevik's position flowed naturally from Lenin's arguments in What is to be Done? is clear. Thus the underlying logic of Lenin's vanguardism ensured that the Bolsheviks played a negative role with regards the soviets which, combined with "democratic centralism" ensured that it was spread far and wide. Only by ignoring their own party's principles and staying in the Soviet did rank and file Bolsheviks play a positive role in the revolution. This divergence of top and bottom would be repeated in 1917. Given this, perhaps it is unsurprising that Leninists started to rewrite the history of the 1905 revolution. Victor Serge, a "Left Oppositionist" and anti-Stalinist asserted in the late 1920s that in 1905 the Petrograd Soviet was "led by Trotsky and inspired by the Bolsheviks." [Year One of the Russian Revolution, p. 36]. While the former claim is correct, the latter is not. As noted, the Bolsheviks were initially opposed the soviets and systematically worked to undermine them. Unsurprisingly, Trotsky at that time was a Menshevik, not a Bolshevik. After all, how could the most revolutionary party that ever existed have messed up so badly? How could democratic centralism faired so badly in practice? Best, then, to suggest that it did not and give the Bolsheviks a role better suited to the rhetoric of Bolshevism than its reality. Trotsky was no different. He, needless to say, denied the obvious implications of these events in 1905. While admitting that the Bolsheviks "adjusted themselves more slowly to the sweep of the movement" and that the Mensheviks "were preponderant in the Soviet," he tries to save vanguardism by asserting that "the general direction of the Soviet's policy proceeded in the main along Bolshevik lines." So, in spite of the lack of Bolshevik influence, in spite of the slowness in adjusting to the revolution, Bolshevism was, in fact, the leading set of ideas in the revolution! Ironically, a few pages later, he mocks the claims of Stalinists that Stalin had "isolated the Mensheviks from the masses" by noting that the "figures hardly bear [the claims] out." [Op. Cit., p. 112 and p. 117] Shame he did not apply this criteria to his own claims. Of course, every party makes mistakes. The question is, how did the "most revolutionary party of all time" fare in 1917. Surely that revolution proves the validity of vanguardism and "democratic centralism"? After all, there was a successful revolution; the Bolshevik party did seize power. However, the apparent success of 1917 was not due to the application of "democratic centralism," quite the reverse. While the myth of 1917 is that a highly efficient, democratic centralist vanguard party ensured the overthrow of the Provisional Government in November 1917 in favor of the Soviets (or so it seemed at the time) the facts are somewhat different. Rather, the Bolshevik party throughout 1917 was a fairly loose collection of local organisations (each more than willing to ignore central commands and express their autonomy), with much internal dissent and infighting and no discipline beyond what was created by common loyalty. The "democratic centralist" party, as desired by Lenin, was only created in the course of the Civil War and the tightening of the party dictatorship. In other words, the party became more like a "democratic centralist" one as the revolution degenerated. As such, the various followers of Lenin (Stalinists, Trotskyists and their multitude of offshoots) subscribe to a myth, which probably explains their lack of success in reproducing a similar organisation This is not to say that the Bolshevik leaders were 100% happy with the state of their revolution. Lenin, for example, expressed concern about the rising bureaucratic deformations he saw in the soviet state (particularly after the end of the civil war). Yet Lenin, while concerned about the bureaucracy, was not concerned about the Party's monopoly of power. Unsurprisingly, he fought the bureaucracy by "top-down" and, ironically, bureaucratic methods, the only ones left to him. A similar position was held by Trotsky, who was quite explicit in supporting the party dictatorship throughout the 1920s (and, indeed, the 1930s). Needless to say, both failed to understand how bureaucracy arises and how it could be effectively fought. "It is this insubordination, this local autonomy and action in spite of central orders which explains the success of the Bolsheviks in 1917. Rather than a highly centralised and disciplined body of "professional" revolutionaries, the party in 1917 saw a "significant change . . . within the membership of the party at local level . . . From the time of the February revolution requirements for party membership had been all but suspended, and now Bolshevik ranks swelled with impetuous recruits who knew next to nothing about Marxism and who were united by little more than overwhelming impatience for revolutionary action." [Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution, p. 41] This mass of new members (many of whom were peasants who had just recently joined the industrial workforce) had a radicalising effect on the party's policies and structures. As even Leninist commentators argue, it was this influx of members who allowed Lenin to gain support for his radical revision of party aims in April. However, in spite of this radicalisation of the party base, the party machine still was at odds with the desires of the party. As Trotsky acknowledged, the situation "called for resolute confrontation of the sluggish Party machine with masses and ideas in motion." He stressed that "the masses were incomparably more revolutionary than the Party, which in turn was more revolutionary than its committeemen." Ironically, given the role Trotsky usually gave the party, he admits that "[w]without Lenin, no one had known what to make of the unprecedented situation." [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 301, p. 305 and p. 297] Which is significant in itself? The Bolshevik party is usually claimed as being the most "revolutionary" that ever existed, yet here is Trotsky admitting that its leading members did not have a clue what to do. He even argued that "[e]very time the Bolshevik leaders had to act without Lenin they fell into error, usually inclining to the Right." [Op. Cit., p. 299] This negative opinion of the Bolsheviks applied even to the "left Bolsheviks, especially the workers" whom we are informed "tried with all their force to break through this quarantine" created by the Bolshevik leaders policy "of waiting, of accommodation, and of actual retreat before the Compromisers" after the February revolution and before the arrival of Lenin. Trotsky argues that "they did not know how to refute the premise about the bourgeois character of the revolution and the danger of an isolation of the proletariat. They submitted, gritting their teeth, to the directions of their leaders." [History of the Russian Revolution, vol. 1, p. 273] It seems strange, to say the least, that without one person the whole of the party was reduced to such a level given that the aim of the "revolutionary" party was to develop the political awareness of its members. Lenin's arrival, according to Trotsky, allowed the influence of the more radical rank and file to defeat the conservatism of the party machine. By the end of April, Lenin had managed to win over the majority of the party leadership to his position. However, as Trotsky argues, this "April conflict between Lenin and the general staff of the party was not the only one of its kind. Throughout the whole history of Bolshevism . . . all the leaders of the party at all the most important moments stood to the right of Lenin." [Op. Cit., p. 305] As such, if "democratic centralism" had worked as intended, the whole party would have been arguing for incorrect positions the bulk of its existence (assuming, of course, that Lenin was correct most of the time). For Trotsky, "Lenin exerted influence not so much as an individual but because he embodied the influence of the class on the Party and of the Party on its machine." [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 299] Yet, this was the machine which Lenin had forged, which embodied his vision of how a "revolutionary" party should operate and was headed by him. In other words, to argue that the party machine was behind the party membership and the membership behind the class shows the bankruptcy of Lenin's organizational scheme. This "backwardness," moreover, indicates an independence of the party bureaucracy from the membership and the membership from the masses. As Lenin's constantly repeated aim was for the party to seize power (based on the dubious assumption that class power would only be expressed, indeed was identical to, party power) this independence held serious dangers, dangers which became apparent once this goal was achieved." I now understand that the root issue of politics is not who is on top of the hierarchy but the fact that the hierarchy exists at all. You can paint the governmental state any color you'd want, christen it with any ideology you'd desire, but it is still a force that rules over you and others. That was the other big thing I remember when the topic of anarchists came up in the Marxist-Leninist circles I was a part of (usually online): the notion that anarchists were weak philosophically and that they depended on Marx and Marxist thinkers for most of their "good" theories. However, the historical reality is that a lot of Marxist ideas came from early anarchism, and if one takes a look at it they'll see how a lot of these arguments that Marx had come up with were arguments Proudhon came up with years before. For example, in Marx's early manuscripts from 1844 he talks about abolishing private property through its universalization. Of course, this was a political communism, since the state would still exist (not to mention, Marx would desire a socialist republic where the governmental principle would be present, though that's really not all that surprising when one considers the political situation of his home country Germany that existed at the time). What's striking is how this was essentially identical to Proudhon's early idea on revolution. Two years before, Proudhon had called for property to be universalized as a means to its abolition. It should be noted that Proudhon later changed his definition of "state" from a monopoly on force to a collectivity, so instead of a transition from a governmental "workers' state" to an era of "statelessness", he called for a transition from the governmental state to the "state" as a collective force. When reciprocal property relations are put into place, and new institutions based on these principles are formed, the oppressive hierarchies dissolve. With this comes the dissolution of the managerial class as workers appropriate the means of production. Credit is re-organized, so the money class dissolves as well. But all of that is beside the point; the real point here is that one can see a lot of instances where Proudhon's ideas are repeated in Marx. Theories of property (at least, early on) and theories of exploitation are very similar. It's all very weird. To sum it all up, what drove me away from Marxism and towards anarchism wasn't just the re-evaluating this whole concept of what would be called the governmental principle, or what's called the state in modern lexicon, but the history of these ideas as well. " I'm still on a journey learning all the time. I don’t reject all forms of Marxism allot of it is still very useful for today but we cannot be locked into some long time dead Russian or German to tell us what we should be doing today. We face very real and very different problems which neither Marx, Lenin nor Trotsky could ever have foreseen. We need to start in the here and now and not pretend we are in a better place than we are. We on the left are in a very low position having faced defeat after defeat over decades the unions in this country are pathetic on the whole in terms of mounting any fight back to austerity. I believe when Karl Marx rejected being labeled a Marxist too. He felt that any change in society must be brought about by the working class and the working class acting on its own not being lead by the nose by a self appointed vanguard of the working class. Nothing could be more patronizing than being told what to think and how to act. While not stating I’m any ism or it’s I am a free thinker and want to hold to that. I was close to joining the green party as seemed more left and had a chance of power but quickly realised where this would lead with them passing cuts in Brighton and various examples of greens in power across the world concerned me greatly . The Best description for Marxism and Leninism I’ve ever read has to be “analysing everything through the eyes of corpses.” Genius. This was a reference to the tendency of nearly all groups and currents (though far from all individuals, I hasten to add) which identify as Marxist to treat the writings of Marx, Lenin, et all as gospel. This for me is dangerous while allot of what these thinkers wrote can set you on a good path of class analysis repeating word for word a Lenin text in a meeting full of workers wishing to take action is not likely to mean much to them. Relating your everyday issues with your understanding of theory is the key to any good revolutionary. If you think reeling off a passage of Trotsky will win you support in the workers movement you are seriously out of touch. Yes, some dead guys with beards said some things which are spot on. But they were still flawed people who got things wrong as well. That’s why anarchists are anarchists and not Proudhonists, Bakuninists, Kropotkinites, etc. If you use the fact that some revered thinker of the past said it as proof of your argument instead citing them as someone who made a particular point more articulately, then what you have is dogmatism and not reasoned argument. History is something we should learn from, but we shouldn’t live our lives through it. Unless we’re after a career as an archaeologist. , the difference between anarchists and other flavours of communist to two sentences from Karl Marx can be summed up as; Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. The most significant anarchist contention with Marxism is with the idea – solidified and put to brutal practice by Lenin, but originating with Marx – that the working class need a revolutionary leadership, and that rather than building the new world in the shell of the old we need this “transitional state” where a new elite takes over the state apparatus to run things in the interests of the workers before “true communism” can be achieved and the state magically “withers away”. We know this not to be true from history. The analysis of the state is what divides many authoritarian and non authoratiarian thinkers on the left. Some think we need a stronger state a "workers state" to work in the interests of the working class others see a state of any sort a block on progress. I'd tend to favor the later. "You can expand upon this, polemicise it, write gargantuan essays about it, (and – believe me – many have) but that’s about the crux of the thing. Non-anarchist communists, from this point referred to as Communists for ease, believe that a workers’ state led by a workers’ party is the necessary transition from a capitalist society to a stateless, “true” communism. Anarchists, on the other hand, believe that the state and capitalism must be dismantled simultaneously. All this does is supplanting one upper class with another. And their self-appointed role as “vanguard of the proletariat” gives them justification for self-righteous tyranny. In the words of Mikhail Bakunin, Marx’s anarchist contemporary; We do not admit, even as a revolutionary transition, either National Conventions, or Constituent Assemblies, or so-called revolutionary dictatorships; because we are convinced that the revolutionary is only sincere, honest and real in the masses, and that when it is concentrated in the hands of some governing individuals, it naturally and inevitably becomes reaction. The most obvious fulfillment of this prophecy comes in the form of Josef Stalin, with his murderous purges and the vast network of gulag slave labour camps. This is undeniable even to most Communists, who are more than eager to fling the term “Stalinist” at each other across party and factional lines. But are the other Communist leaders they exalt any better? Though Stalin was the most extreme despot of any Communist regime, save perhaps Pol Pot and Mao Zedong, the fact is that they are just the thick end of the wedge. The stage for Stalin was set by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks.” "Lenin’s arrogant assertion that nobody else could rule would become Stalin’s iron-fisted tyranny. His fear-mongering that everyone who disagreed with him was with the capitalists would become Stalin’s paranoid, and bloody, purges. We can look at Leon Trotsky similarly. Today, he is the thinker that most Marxists and Communists look to, his exile and death at the hands of a Stalinist agent lending him some credibility. Trotskyism is perhaps the largest wing of the Communist movement today, but the same flawed principles of vanguardism and dictatorship of the proletariat dominate. For example, for Trotsky the mistake of the POUM in the Spanish Civil War was that they didn’t mobilise “the masses against the reformist leaders, including the Anarchists,” and “they did not form their own nuclei inside the CNT, and in general did not conduct any kind of work there.” In other words, they didn’t attempt an entryist takeover. This “isolates [end] the revolutionary vanguard from the class” and so “rendered the vanguard impotent and left the class without leadership.” Once again, the assertion that the working class need an elite (conveniently enough, the same people making this assertion) prevails, and even highly successful bottom-up organisations like the CNT require a “nuclei” of vanguardists pulling the strings. Forgetting, of course, that it was the self-organised militias and collectives which were most successful against the fascists, whilst the Liberal-Communist government was more concerned about destroying worker autonomy than about General Franco. Trotsky’s attitude her matches Lenin are to the Russian soviets. And, of course, he shared Lenin’s contempt for the rebels at Kronstadt. As Bakunin once so astutely noted, “no dictatorship can have any other aim but that of self-perpetuation, and it can beget only slavery in the people tolerating it.” Those who follow the vanguardist path are the elite who will lead the workers to utopia and nothing else (especially free self-organisation, can be tolerated. We can see this even today, where accusations of being “sectarian” (that is, diverting from the party line) are not yet the first step on the road to the gulag. Taking Britain as my example, as usual it is the one I am most familiar with; we can see this most explicitly in what are currently the two biggest “left” parties: the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers’ Party. The present Socialist Party argues that its electoral policies are based on Trotsky’s transitional programmed, and it is at the forefront of the Campaign For A New Workers’ Party. After all, “in the absence of a mass workers’ party that had the confidence of the working class to fight on their behalf,” workers – whose role is reduced to that of “voters” – are simply left with “a deep sense of powerlessness.” The party almost seems proud it got itself expelled from the labour party and takes it upon itself to be the main promoters of the need for a "new workers party" which they see TUSC as a precursor of sorts. You just have to look back to last week to my post on "why we don’t need another left party" to see that the SP intend to create a labour party mark two only with them in the leadership and keen to lead the workers to grand victory. More overtly open to criticism are the SWP. Not just for their cheap and irrelevant stunts, or the engineering of pointless mini confrontations in order to appear “militant” or “radical.” They adhere to the vanguardist principle of “democratic centralism.” That is, traditional top-down authoritarianism and attacks on those who don’t adhere to the central party line. The crisis which has engulfed the SWP in the last few years of cover up's of rape allegations and rape apologism for leaders of their own party and their attitude to women stinks. I won’t expend a great deal of time drawing out the SWP’s laundry list of failures here, as they have been done to death a thousand times over. I will instead point, briefly, to members resigning over the lack of democracy and accountability, and its propensity for setting up front groups. The most notable of these, Unite Against Fascism, has a record of hijacking events [ But, in the meantime, let’s return to that fundamental difference between anarchism and Marxism: bottom-up self-organisation versus the dictatorship of the proletariat in a transitional state. The latter is clearly a corruptible idea, but surely this doesn’t mean the idea itself is inherently flawed? After all, if it started with Lenin, he was only thirteen when Karl Marx died, and when he gained power the Communist Manifesto had been in print for 69 years! This point falls down when we realise that, unlike Lenin, Bakunin was contemporaneous to Marx. More than that, he was open and vocal in his disagreement with him. The result was Bakunin’s expulsion from the International Workingmen’s Association, along with all those who supported his position. We can only speculate what Bakunin’s fate might have been had their been a Communist revolution in Marx’s lifetime. Bakunin saw him as “a vain man, perfidious and crafty,” whilst noting that “the instinct of liberty is lacking in him; he remains from head to foot, an authoritarian.” It was, after all, Marx who provided the theoretical foundations upon which Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, and Maoism are all built. It is Marx’s “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” to which those upholding that same mentality today aspire. As Bakunin asserts; "If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself. This is one reason why establishing a “workers’ state” will not lead to genuine, anarchist communism. If you establish “the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat,” Stalinist tyranny is the inevitable result. True revolution must come from below." with quotes and extracts from communism and the state blog post by Phil Dickens at and an anarchist Faq at

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