AFAQ critique of a Marxist vindicated

One of the aims of An Anarchist FAQ (AFAQ) is to refute common myths about anarchism, particularly those spread by those opposed to anarchism. Marxists of various sorts (mostly Leninists, but not solely that trend) seem to be incapable of discussing anarchism without distorting it. Section H.2 goes into the most common Marxist myths in some detail, but there is an appendix (Anarchism and Marxism) which addresses specific articles by Marxists which attack anarchism.

The first such reply was one directed to David McNally's Socialism from Below, specifically its "The Myth of Anarchist Libertarianism" section. This, of course, was just a repeating of Hal Draper's early nonsense, entitled the same and using the same (weak and distorted) arguments. AFAQ explains in great detail the weaknesses of the McNally/Draper case, showing how the facts simply fail to support their diatribe against anarchism (in the shape of Proudhon and Bakunin, although clearly directed at all social anarchists).

This critique did get praise from some socialists. For example:

"A significant and highly detailed anarchist critique, a 'Reply to errors and distortions in David McNally’s pamphlet Socialism from Below' has been made of McNally’s arguments regarding anarchism. I share many of the same critiques and for reasons of space I will not repeat it." [Tom K, "Marxism, Anarchism, & the Genealogy of 'Socialism From Below', Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action, No. 2]

Which was good to read. Even better was seeing David McNally himself explicitly distance himself from his early arguments. In an end-note in his recent book Another World Is Possible: Globalization & Anti-Capitalism [Revised Expanded Edition, Merlin, 2006] he wrote:

"I dissent from Draper's one-sided critique of anarchism . . . Draper is not fair to some of the currents within social anarchism. I also reject my own restatement of Draper's interpretation in the first edition of my booklet Socialism from Below" [David McNally, Another World Is Possible, p. 393]

While it seems unlikely this was in response to reading AFAQ's critique, it does show that our critique was correct. Unfortunately it took McNally over 20 years to acknowledge that his 1980 essay gave a distinctly distorted account of anarchism. Perhaps significantly, McNally no longer seems to be associated with the sister organisations of the British Socialist Workers Party (a group whose distortions of anarchism are infamous). Somewhat ironically, a review by that party stated, in part, "the detailed research in this book makes it a useful handbook for activists who want to counter the lies we are told." [Katherine Connelly, "A handbook for activism", International Socialism, No. 115] It is doubtful that Connelly meant the lies spread by the SWP and its sister organisations about anarchism, but McNally's book does (at least somewhat) correct a few of the slanders that organisation has spread about anarchism since it first published his pamphlet in 1980.

McNally now argues that "it may be more helpful to try and defend a common political vision -- such as socialism from below or libertarian socialism -- as a point of reference" rather than fixate over labels like "Marxism" or "anarchism." [p. 347] As we noted in our critique of his 1980 pamphlet, the term "socialism from below" has a distinctly anarchist feel to it, a feel distinctly at odds with Leninist ideology and practice. As we discuss in section H.3.3, Lenin explicitly denounced "from below" as an anarchist idea -- and his practice once in power showed that "from above" is part and parcel of Leninism in action (see section H.6).

So any genuine socialism from below must reject Leninism. As for Marxism, that is more ambiguous (as discussed in section H.3.2). Suffice to say, there are genuine libertarian forms of Marxism out there (council communism, Situationism, some forms of Autonomist Marxism). Hopefully the links between libertarian socialists (whether anarchist or Marxist) can grow. However, it does raise the interesting question -- if a socialist agrees more with Bakunin than on Marx on a whole range of key issues (such as electioneering, workers' councils, the general strike, etc.), in what sense can they really be considered a Marxist?


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