Alienation, human nature and mutual aid

As long term readers of this blog will be aware, I wrote an introduction and evaluation for the new edition of Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid by Freedom Press. Perhaps unsurprisingly given my previous work record, it got a bit long and only the biographical sketch and further reading bits of it were included in the final book.

This seemed, and still seems, a mistake as you really need a good reason to buy a new edition of a classic, particularly if there are other versions out there. Having a detailed discussion of Kropotkin’s ideas, how well they stand up as regards modern biological theory and how Mutual Aid fits into his revolutionary ideas seemed like a good way to make a new edition sell. Sadly, the comrades at Freedom disagreed. Fortunately, the comrades at AK decided to produce it as a pamphlet (available from their webpage) with a funky frontpage:

The first review is in and its by ALB from the March edition of Socialist Standard, the magazine of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB):


Mutual Aid. An Introduction and Evaluation. By Iain McKay. AK Press.

Socialists have always recommended Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, including it on lists of books for sale. Kropotkin was an anarchist, but had been a scientist (geographer) himself and in this book was writing as science writer. It was originally written as a reply to T. H. Huxley, the biologist known as “Darwin’s Bulldog”, who had argued that both in nature and in human society “life was a continual free fight, and beyond the limited and temporary relations of the family, the Hobbesian war of each against all was the normal state of existence”.

Huxley was a biologist and an expert on Darwin’s views, but here was expressing a popular prejudice; in fact, more than this, a view that justified the division of society into rich and poor, oppressors and oppressed. As Iain McKay puts it in this pamphlet:

“In its most extreme form, this became ‘Social Darwinism’ which (like much of sociobiology today) proceeds by first projecting the dominant ideas of current society onto nature (often unconsciously, so that scientists mistakenly consider the ideas in question as both ‘normal’ and ‘natural’). … Then the theories of nature produced in this manner are transferred back onto society and history, being used to ‘prove’ that the principles of capitalism (hierarchy, authority, competition, etc.) are eternal laws, which are then appealed to as a justification for the status quo!”

Kropotkin produced the evidence from scientific studies to show that this was not the case, neither in nature nor in society. In nature a “struggle for existence” certainly went on, but cooperation (“mutual aid”) was just as much “a factor in evolution” (the book’s subtitle) as competition. It wasn’t just a struggle of members of the same species against each other to survive and so leave more offspring; in many species cooperation was a survival strategy with the less cooperative having less chance of survival and so leaving less offspring.

McKay goes into detail to show that many sociobiologists, including Dawkins himself, accept this, even if on the basis of mathematical models. Kropotkin can be seen as a bit of a sociobiologist himself in that he too argued from animal behaviour to human social behaviour. Only two of his book’s eight chapters are devoted to biological evolution, the rest dealing with human social behaviour and social evolution. However, these are governed by quite different factors that have nothing to do with genetics. But Kropotkin did at least turn the tables on the Social Darwinists by arguing that it was capitalism, not socialism, that was against human nature.

McKay’s 60-page pamphlet is a useful account of the background, significance and influence of Kropotkin’s book.


I would like to thank the comrade for their kind words, some of which I will now quibble with!

First, there is the contrast between socialists and anarchists. Anarchists are socialists, most are (like Kropotkin) communists. We have been calling ourselves socialists since 1840, when Proudhon called for a “scientific socialism” in What is Property? Except for 1846’s System of Economic Contradictions, in which he equated utopian socialism with socialism as such and opposed it, he repeatedly placed his ideas in the socialist camp (will, like Marx, being critical of other socialists). Bakunin and Kropotkin, likewise, called themselves socialists.

So Marxists do not have the monopoly in use of “socialist” and present a contrast between the two does suggest a false notion that anarchists are not as anti-capitalist as Marxists. Suffice to say, anarchism has always opposed state and property and so is “the denial of Government and of Property” (to quote Proudhon from 1851). Indeed, while some proclaim that anarchism combines a socialist critique of capitalism and a liberal critique of socialism I would suggest this is wrong. This misreads the elitist nature of classical liberalism and the origins of anarchism in a constructive dialogue with and critique of the French democratic tradition rather than with the English liberal one. We do have a critique of state socialism, because we have a socialist critique of both property and the state:

Capital, whose mirror-image in the political sphere is Government, has a synonym in the religious context, to wit, Catholicism. The economic notion of capital, the political notion of government or authority, the theological notion of the Church, these three notions are identical and completely interchangeable: an attack upon one is an attack upon the others, as all the philosophers today know fine well. What capital does to labour and the State to freedom, the Church in turn does to understanding. This trinity of absolutism is deadly, in its practice as well as in its philosophy. In order to oppress the people effectively, they must be clapped in irons in their bodies, their will and their reason.” (CHAPTER XVII, Confessions of a Revolutionary)

This is reflected, decades later, when Malatesta and Hamon argued after the Second International kicked us out:

"It could be argued with much more reason that we are the most logical and most complete socialists, since we demand for every person not just his [or her] entire measure of the wealth of society but also his [or her] portion of social power, which is to say, the real ability to make his [or her] influence felt, along with that of everybody else, in the administration of public affairs." [No Gods, No Masters]

That is a minor point and not particularly new. The other isue is, I think, more interesting and something I've thought about on-and-off for a while. This second issue is related to the comment that “human social behaviour and social evolution . . .  are governed by quite different factors that have nothing to do with genetics.”

I would argue that these are rooted in our evolved ethical standards and capacity to co-operate. So while human institutions, as the book noted in a footnote, evolve in a Larmarkian fashion, they are a reflection of our genetic heritage. Given the wealth of human mutual aid institutions Kropotkin listed, I think we can take it for granted that he was aware that while we have evolved to co-operate the specific forms that co-operation expresses itself reflected more than just “human nature” (he was, of course, unaware of genetics).

In short, the product of millions of years of evolution as expressed in Homo Sapiens (“human nature”) does not just change quickly but rather different aspects of it come to the fore and are expressed in different eras depending on various influences (economic relations, etc.). And, as Kropotkin points out, we can ignore our feelings of mutual aid (our genetic heritage) to a large degree – he was well aware of class divisions, exploitation and oppression as he was fighting to abolish them!

However, we do tend to suffer when we do, as can be seen by the fact so many people are miserable in hierarchical and competitive societies! As my Kropotkin article indicated, the book The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett proves that inequality (both in terms of power and wealth) is bad for us – we are evolved from co-operative, egalitarian apes and when we live in hierarchy, unequal and competitive societies we do not flourish. The Spirit Level does have section on our biological heritage which Kropotkin would have liked (I know I did) although its reformism is a bit grinding after a while. Particularly given that they have a section recommending co-operatives and so, in effect, are urging the abolition of wage-labour and so the capitalist mode of production! To quote Proudhon:

There is mutuality, in fact, when in an industry, all the workers, instead of working for an owner who pays them and keeps their product, work for one another and thereby contribute to a common product from which they share the profit.

However, extend the principle of mutuality that unites the workers of each group to all the Workers’ Associations as a unit, and you will have created a form of civilisation that, from all points of view — political, economic, aesthetic — differs completely from previous civilisations, that can no longer return to feudalism or imperialism, with all possible guarantees of freedom, fair advertising, an impenetrable system of insurance against theft, fraud, misappropriation, parasitism, nepotism, monopoly, speculation, exorbitant rent, living expenses, transportation and credit; against overproduction, stagnation, gluts, unemployment, disease, and poverty, with no need for charity because it will provide us instead, everywhere and always, with our RIGHT.

Which makes their puzzlement at the attacks from the right seem strange -- what did they expect? Are the wealthy going to be quiet while they argue that workers should control their own work and keep the product of their wages? How are the wealthy to stay wealthy if others do not work for them? So it is all fine and well to proclaim that they do not necessarily urge higher taxation but the logic of their evidence suggests that having an extremely wealthy elite is a bad idea and they recommend a solution, ending wage-labour, which will make it hard for those at the top to enrich themselves off the work of others. Unsurprisingly, their pet-projects such as the (misnamed) Tax Payers Alliance will attack the book.

That is, however, beside the point. Kropotkin was well aware that social evolution was different (faster) than the evolution of species but the former is not somehow independent of the latter. As Kropotkin showed, there is a struggle between the law of mutual aid and the law of mutual struggle, a struggle between classes, in society and this influences the transformation of human institutions through time. If this were not the case, if human institutions were determined by our “nature” then they would hardly change.

As the pamphlet discusses this in some detail, it seems strange to suggest that Kropotkin argued that the evolution of human behaviour and structure is determined by our “nature” or (to use a more modern term) genetics.

Which raises the issue of “human nature” and that bug-bear of many on the left “socio-biology.” This something the SPGB have an issue with, at least from a few copies of their magazine I’ve seen in the past. And rightly so, in-so-far as sociobiology (or, more correctly, evolutionary psychology) is little more than a series of “just-so” stories used to justify various nasty aspects of human life particularly social hierarchies associated with gender and wealth. However, we are animals and we are evolved creatures. This will influence our social life and institutions -- and whether socialism is possible or not. So when ALB states that “Kropotkin can be seen as a bit of a sociobiologist himself in that he too argued from animal behaviour to human social behaviour” that presents a strange dichotomy. Also, I do discuss how far Kropotkin can be considered as being a sociobiologist (in short, it depends on what you mean by sociobiology!).

Still, I think it fair to suggest that socialism needs to be able to work with human beings rather than angels -- yes, flawed, imperfect, wonderful humans! As I said, it is unlikely that millions of years of evolution can be transformed overnight (and even hundreds of years is “overnight” in evolutionary terms!). What is likely is that different economic and social relationships bring forth different aspects of “human nature” and, more importantly, social struggle can do the same. Depending on the circumstances, we are more likely to be competitive than co-operative – and vice versa. The question is about struggling to create the right social environment to support co-operation and so our full development as individuals (you cannot fully develop if crushed by the hierarchies created by capitalist competition).

This is discussed in section A.2.15 of An Anarchist FAQ so I’ll leave it there.

This did make me think about something I’ve often wondered about as regards Marxism, namely the notion of alienation. Suffice to say, I think alienation is an important concept and one which is applicable to wage-labour under capitalism. Workers, as Proudhon argued and Marx repeated, did not control their work or their product (which ensured that they were exploited). Similarly, Proudhon argued that the state was an external organ which exercised power over the society (i.e., social power was, in effect, alienated). So the concept is powerful.

However, to argued (correctly!) that we are alienated under capitalism implies, surely, something from which we are alienated from? That implies, surely, some notion of “human nature” which does not change (or changes slowly) the expression of which is hindered or stopped by capitalism. I cannot see how you can have a notion of alienation and deny “human nature” exists. Chomsky has argued along these lines and I tend to agree. Here he is in Notes on Anarchism:

‘the early Marx., with his discussion of the “alienation of labour when work is external to the worker...not part of his nature...[so that] he does not fulfil himself in his work but denies himself...[and is] physically exhausted and mentally debased,” alienated labour that “casts some of the workers back into a barbarous kind of work and turns others into machines,” thus depriving man of his “species character” of “free conscious activity” and “productive life.” Similarly, Marx conceives of “a new type of human being who needs his fellow men....[The workers’ association becomes] the real constructive effort to create the social texture of future human relations.”’

This was expressed in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 as follows:

“Estranged labour estranges human beings from 1.) nature and 2.) from themselves in their own active function, their life-activity, and from this, it estranges human beings from their species ; estranged labour makes the species being only the means for the individual life. First, it estranges the species life from the individual life, and second, it makes the individual life in its abstraction the purpose of the species life, even in its abstracted and estranged form.

“First, labour appears to human beings, labour which is the life-activity, the productive life itself, only as a means to meet some need, the need of maintaining physical existence. The productive life is also the species life. It is life engendering life. In the art of life-activity lies the entire character of the species, its species-character, and the species-character of humanity consists of free, conscious activity. Life itself manifests itself as a means of life .”

Which suggests a core “human nature” (one based on our evolved nature, our genetics) which is alienated under capitalism (and other hierarchical systems). What else is “species being” other than a concept of “human nature”? And if we do not have a “species being” then how can we be alienated from something which does not exist.

Of course, many Marxists consider “human nature” to not exist and that we are completely shaped by our surroundings. This can be seen from Marx’s comments in The Poverty of Philosophy (where else?):

“M. Proudhon does not know that all history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature”

That seems unlikely, given that humans are not blank sheets and our minds (including emotions) are just as much products of evolution as our bodies. It does, however, raise two issues.

First, if human nature does change then how can we be alienated by capitalism? Our “nature” has changed so how can we feel alienated? We know no better, we are products of capitalism. Perhaps this explains why alienation was dropped by the “mature” Marx in favour of a focus on exploitation?

Second, it opens the door for authoritarianism – if human nature is malleable then all we need to do to change the economy and, eventually, people will adjust. In the mean time, the party can repress the people to ensure “human nature” transforms in the right way… a position which Marxist-Leninist parties, when in power, happily applied (the SPGB argues, with some evidence, that Marxism and Leninism are not the same thing).

As I suggested in my Proudhon book, The Poverty of Philosophy is a terrible book – it is full of distortions and intellectually dishonest. The notion of a malleable “human nature” is just another of its (many) bad ideas and arguments. Suffice to say, Proudhon was well aware that people, like economic relations, could and can change. Thus he explicitly argued that the “present form” of organising labour “is inadequate and transitory” and that wage-labour could and would be replaced by associated-labour. While rejecting the spectulations of the utopian socialists both in their visions of socialism and in the spectacular transformations in human nature they argued would result, Proudhon wanted to ensure “equality of fortunes, voluntary and free association, universal solidarity, material comfort and luxury, and public order without prisons, courts, police, or hangmen.” That does imply sum transformation of the typical person and how they act ("human nature").

I suppose it is all depends whether you think Marx in the 1844 manuscripts is right and we have a “species being” from which we can be alienated from or whether Marx in 1847 is right and "human nature" changes with each kind of economic system. I don't think that the latter is remotely correct -- millions of years of evolution do not get cancelled out by a change in the economy! However, the process of changing the economy and the creation of a new one (along with social and political transformations) can change what aspects of our “nature” come to the fore – specifically, as Kropotkin argued, it can bring our evolved mutual aid tendencies to the fore while minimising other, less appealing, aspects of our heritage as social, co-operative, egalitarian apes who can, at times depending on the circumstances, be aggressive, competitive and downright nasty…

Until I blog again, be seeing you…


I thought this was

I thought this was interesting and cleared things up. According to Saul Newman:

"It is important to note here that Stirner's concept of alienation is fundamentally different from the Feuerbachian humanist understanding as alienation from one's essence. Stirner radicalizes the theory of alienation by seeing this essence as itself alienating. As I shall suggest, alienation in this instance may be seen more along the lines of a Foucauldian notion of domination--as a discourse that ties the individual to a certain subjectivity through the conviction that there lies within everyone an essence to be revealed. According to Stirner, it is this notion of a universal human essence that provides the foundations for the absolutization of moral and rational ideas. These maxims have become sacred and immutable because they are now based on the notion of humanity, on man's essence, and to transgress them would be a transgression of this very essence. In this way the subject is brought into conflict with itself. Man is, in a sense, haunted and alienated by himself, by the specter of "essence" inside him: "Henceforth man no longer, in typical cases, shudders at ghosts outside him, but at himself; he is terrified at himself." So for Stirner, Feuerbach's "insurrection" has not overthrown the category of religious authority--it has merely installed man within it, reversing the order of subject and predicate."

Perhaps. Would you argue then

Perhaps. Would you argue then that a Nietzschian egoism (the will to self-preservation) is just as essential as mutual aid, that they are both aspects of a human nature? At the very least, it seems to that individual power, war, or struggle (in the non-dominating, non-competitive sense) have their place in our origins as much as the cooperative, social aspects.

Both aspects are there, it's

Both aspects are there, it's just that societies can choose to emphasize these different aspects to different degrees.

You forget to note that Max

You forget to note that Max Stirner had a conception of alienation without any recourse to a fictional "human nature."

You forget to note that Max

You forget to note that Max Stirner had a conception of alienation without any recourse to a fictional "human nature."

That is because, first, I was discussing Stirner's influence on Marx and, second, Marx obviously took onboard Stirner's argument. Shame it was wrong -- as noted, we are an evolved species and no amount of egoism or historical materialism can change that. In short, we are not blank-slates and so there is such a thing a human nature (and it could be argued that Stirner postulates an egoist human nature). Luckily, our nature reflects our origins as a co-operative, social ape.

I strongly object to your

I strongly object to your characterization of Stirner as believing in a "blank slate" human nature. For Stirner the individual was unique, right from the start the individual was different from everyone and everything else. My nature is not your nature, because I am not you. Stirner would not deny that a person's evolutionary history influenced them, he would deny that it determined them (Stirner explicitly rejects the dichotomy between a person and their nature, I am my nature and my nature is me).

Also, Marx didn't take on-board Stirner's argument, he couldn't. Marx thought in terms of collectives determining the individual, while Stirner's thought was rooted in individualism and how collectives grew from individual influences. To say that the worker is alienated from his or her self instead of from their nature, as Stirner did, is to reject collectives as the fundamental unit.

Which means that once Stirner demolished Fuerbach, Marx was left without a theory of alienation.

For Stirner the individual

For Stirner the individual was unique, right from the start the individual was different from everyone and everything else. My nature is not your nature, because I am not you.

And yet we are human beings, with a shared genetic and evolutionary history.

Stirner would not deny that a person's evolutionary history influenced them, he would deny that it determined them (Stirner explicitly rejects the dichotomy between a person and their nature, I am my nature and my nature is me).

And so his position is the same as Kropotkin's, who obviously was well aware that we are not determined by our evolutionary history. Rather, it presents us with a range of options -- although from the scientific research it appears that egalitarian and co-operative associations are best for us.

Also, Marx didn't take on-board Stirner's argument, he couldn't.

Never said he was. I said that he had "to deal with Stirner" -- I also noted that he, apparently, selectively quotes Stirner (which implies he could not answer him). As it is, Marx after Stirner rejected the notion of "species character". I would be surprised if reading Stirner did not influence that decision.

Marx thought in terms of collectives determining the individual, while Stirner's thought was rooted in individualism and how collectives grew from individual influences.

And yet individuals exist in a social context, work within collectives. How these collectives are organised does impact on the individual. Stirner, at his best, recognises this.

Which means that once Stirner demolished Fuerbach, Marx was left without a theory of alienation.

Was that not what I had written? That reading Stirner forced Marx to reject the notion of a "species character" and this was expressed in his comments on changing "human natures" in The Philosophy of Poverty?

It has been a while since I read Stirner -- maybe I should do so again?

Rather, it presents us with a

Rather, it presents us with a range of options -- although from the scientific research it appears that egalitarian and co-operative associations are best for us.

I am not sure if you cited any of this in your introduction to Kropotkin, but I would be curious to know precisely what scientific research definitively shows this. You mentioned The Spirit Level, which I will have to read, but leading human evolution writers you also mentioned in your introduction, like Stephen Jay Gould, who, while agreeing largely with Kropotkin's basic argument in Mutual Aid (as do I, especially as an anarchist), believe he was wrong in seeing the cooperation as *always* the best or predominant mode of struggle in evolution, just as seeing competition as *always* the best or predominant mode of struggle would be wrong. It always depends on the mode or form of struggle, and so according to Gould we simply have the potential for both, with neither an inherently favourable disposition towards cooperation or competition in nature (something which, of course, Kropotkin argued for as well, but not always completely).

Stephen Jay Gould argued at the end of his article "Kropotkin Is No Crackpot": "There are no shortcuts to moral insight. Nature is not intrinsically anything that can offer comfort or solace in human terms – if only because our species is such an insignificant latecomer in a world not constructed for us. So much the better. The answers to moral dilemmas are not lying out there, waiting to be discovered. They reside, like the kingdom of God, within us," meaning that we cannot argue cooperation is scientifically proven to be better for us. He also says elsewhere: "Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenuity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms. Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science."

I am not taking his word entirely as authority (that wouldn't be very anarchist), but it makes me at least quite skeptical that an argument for cooperation should be gained from scientific research, and how authoritarian this could possibly be, as opposed to valuing cooperation simply through philosophy and ethics. This is why *I* believe egalitarian and cooperative associations are best for human beings, but that the natural sciences ultimately cannot tell us they are. It's too easy to try and see our political and social preferences through science or nature, and this is precisely what many rather authoritarian traditions have always done most often. It's why I think people like Emma Goldman and Rudolf Rocker, for instance, had huge praise for Nietzsche and Stirner, libertarian thinkers who both explicitly argued against a human nature, against the dogmas of Hegel or Marx.

(This is a different "Anonymous" than the one you just replied to, by the way. I'm kind of confused about the User Login thingy.)

Stirner considers collectives

Stirner considers collectives as spooks. And more than half his book is about how spooks are real influences on people. I (sometimes) consider his discussion of the Union of Egoists as a search for an organizational form that transcends the lordship/bondage dialectic that all hierarchical organizations fall into, so that he can avoid both the primary subjugation of the bondsman and the secondary subjugation of the lord (who is enslaved by his mastery and is increasingly dominated by his status re the bondsman).

In the post I responded to, you said that Marx took on Stirner's argument, but that the argument was wrong. The problem with this is that Stirner's argument is that essences are inherently alienating for they define the individual both too narrowly and too broadly at the same time. For a Methodological Collectivist like Marx this only leaves "tabula rasa", when Stirner was obviously constructing his own theory of alienation.

I doubt very much that Stirner would find much objectionable in Mutual Aid, since it's basically an expanded version of his comment on cooperation being egoistic. (Although I imagine him being smug at the comparison of hares and rabbits).

Never a bad time to read Stirner in my opinion (although I've resolved to finish getting through Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit before I reread Ego).

Since Stirner's attack on

Since Stirner's attack on Feuerbach influenced Marx, I wonder if Stirner's attack on Proudhon also influenced Marx?

I forgot Max Stirner! Between

I forgot Max Stirner!

Between the 1844 manuscripts and The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx had to deal with Stirner and The Ego And Its Own. I'm sure that that had its impact in his change of mind. Stirner seems to have had quite an impact on him.

I quite like Stirner (see section G.6 of AFAQ on his ideas). In the 1940s in Glasgow, anarcho-syndicalists used to combine him with Kropotkin and take the "union of egoists" to mean One Big Union. I like that -- I'm a communist because I think it will make my life better -- and as the quality of my life and liberty is dependent on how I interact with the people around me, making other people's lifes better is also a good idea (as Bakunin argued forcefully, liberty is a product of social interation and not isolation, as in the liberal tradition).

In terms of Stirner and Marx, Donald Rooum once noted at a Glasgow Anarchist Summer School that in The German Ideology Marx utilised selective quoting to distort Stirner's ideas. I've not checked this (unlike System of Economic Contradictions and The Poverty of Philosophy) but I would not be surprised.

The German Ideology does have this famous quote in it:

"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things."

I've often thought that modern Marxism does not get anywhere near this. It does have a ideal state against which working class movements and revolutions are compared to and are denounced if they do not meet the required standard.

This applies to the vision of communism as central planning (hence the Bolshevik attacks on the factory committee movement in the Russian Revolution and their massive economic mismanagement -- see section H.6.2) as well as social struggles (as can be seen when the SWP, for example, attacked the Argentine revolt against neo-liberalism for not creating workers' council -- see section H.1.4).

This is a subject I will return to, some day...

I don't have a copy of TGI on

I don't have a copy of TGI on hand to give you exact quotes, but Marx does regularly distort Stirner's positions, much like his hatchet job on Proudhon. Aside from constantly calling Stirner "Sancho" and "Saint Max" (off to such a scholarly start), Marx, I feel, simply did not understand what Stirner was talking about. Stirner's Ego is not an isolated sociopath or Nietzsche's ubermench, yet Marx's characterization paints it as such. Marx also makes a weird dichotomy between mind and material conditions, and then castigates Stirner for the celebration of mind over material... something he again does not do.

I'll try and find some specifics later for you.

Justin Mueller

I would like someone,

I would like someone, someday, to compare The German Ideology to The Ego and Its Own. I'm sure that, as you say, there are significant differences between what Stirner argues and what Marx claims he says.

Funny but sadly true story. In the run-up to that Glasgow Anarchist Summer School I was talking to a Leninist (non-party sort, ironically enough) who was quite excited about the Stirner workshop. He quite proudly announced that he was going to read The German Ideology to get ready for it. I innocently asked whether this was before or after reading Stirner. The look on his face was priceless -- the notion had obviously never crossed his mind!

And that is a major problem. Few Marxists would consider reading Stirner, Proudhon or Bakunin. Marx has pronounced judgement on them and so they can be ignored. This means that, firstly, they have no idea how Marx distorted their ideas. Second, how misinformed they are about anarchism. Three, how many of their own so-called "Marxist" ideas were first expounded by the likes of Proudhon and Bakunin.

I am unfortunately busy for a

I am unfortunately busy for a while, but I will be writing up a more detailed paper at the latest during early summer on this, or at least partly this. Most people, as I'm sure you know, see Stirner as a highly individualistic, solely self-interested, anti-social, etc., kind of thinker. I read him probably very similarly to yourself: as a social radical who advocates the disestablishment and debunking of authorities and abstractions, because he recognizes these things to be inimical to his own values and interests (rather than appealing to a Good, or abstract Humanity).

Though, to get through ALL of TGI's chapter on Stirner would be quite a task, probably of dissertation-length proportions ;). What I think would be incredibly valuable would be a broad compendium covering and correcting Marx's habitual distortions, especially of certain influential counterparts of his time (Proudhon, Stirner, Bakunin being the most frequent in my mind).

Justin Mueller


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