Another Weekly Worker letter

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Well, another week and another letter to Weekly Worker. I have to say, the reply to my previous one seems a bit week, as can be seen from my reply. To be honest, it is a bit of an own-goal. Particularly as it was Marx who said that cannot judge people by what they say about themselves.

I've had a few run-ins with people on the libcom forums. Some seem to think I am a sectarian anti-Marxist, who thinks Marx was "wicked." Interesting conclusions, given I have generally been at pains to explain what Marx and Engels actually advocated (in particular, in terms of their theory of the state and ideas on social transition).

I can only assume that quoting the "awkward" statements from Marx and Engels, showing how they are not in contradiction with their core ideas, is apparently sectarian. Or maybe it is that I find the whole notion of "Marxists" who agree more with Bakunin than Marx on key issues somewhat ironic.

Still, I fail to see how suggesting that the Socialist Party of Great Britain, as the only genuine Marxists, would recommend a good biography of Marx is remotely an expression of anti-Marxism.

For the record, I think that Marx and Engels were important thinkers who contributed greatly to socialist ideas. However, key aspects of their ideas are flawed (such as their theory of the state and the tactics they advocated). We are also living with the legacy of those errors, particularly in the form of Bolshevism. Also, their critiques of anarchism are really not reliable, but are quoted as if they were by Marxists.

As for Marxists, I think libertarian marxists like the council communists and Situationists are important thinkers and should be read by all socialists, anarchists included. Still, on key positions they agree with Bakunin, not Marx! And given the track-record of Marxism, some perspective would be in order -- like why, if Marx is so inherently libertarian, have the majority of Marxist movements been authoritarian?

Perhaps being an anarchist who is proud of our ideas and does not bow-down to the shrine of Marx and Engels is equated with being sectarian? Or is it seeking to understand their ideas and explaining why the standard Marxist ideas on certain subjects (such as the state) are myths?

So Lenin's State and Revolution casts a long shadow over our understanding of both Marxism and Anarchism. While Lenin's distortions of anarchism are obvious enough, the ambiguity of some of Marx's own works allowed him to distort the Marxist theory of the state as well. This becomes obvious, once you look into it I think.

Anyway, here is the letter.

Dear Weekly Worker,

Enso White states my quoting of Engels was “meant to shock the CPGB.” Far from it, it was meant to show that quoting “The Bakuninist at Work” is a double-edged sword. Not only did Engels seriously distorts Bakunin’s ideas, his recommending that workers send representatives to parliament ended up confirming Bakunin’s predictions that it would generate reformism.

“Evidently,” he states, I “eschews democratic elections and has no idea of combining parliamentary methods with other tactics.” Anarchists do eschew “democratic elections” when that means electing governments to rule us. We have no problems with electing mandated, recallable delegates. In fact, we have advocated that since the 1840s. As for “combining parliamentary methods with other tactics,” well, that was what social democracy claimed to do. In the end, the reformist pressures of the former ended up vastly outweighing the latter – as anarchists had long predicted.

I had “no idea” that Marxism involves ignoring the lessons from history, but apparently they do. White informs us that Marxists “do not fetishise any particular tactic. Nothing is automatically ruled in, nothing automatically ruled out.” Anarchists, in contrast, rule out those tactics which have repeatedly failed. I would think that is a sensible position to hold, but I am willing to be persuaded otherwise.

White confuses the matter no end by claiming Engels comment on the republic being “the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat” equates with the CPGB advocating “the working class taking the lead in the battle for extreme democracy and the call for a democratic republic.” So, the CPGB does not call for the republic to be smashed and replaced by a system of workers’ councils? Does it really think socialism can be introduced by electing a workers’ party into office? When did the CPGB reject Lenin’s arguments in “The State and Revolution”? Can we expect an official statement on this conversion to the SPGB’s quintessential Marxist position? Or, perhaps, he is, like Lenin, confused by what “specific form” means?

He states that the CPGB “have explained again and again” what “the ‘form’ of the dictatorship, or rule, of the working class” would be. Ah, yes, of course. We need only see what the CPGB say they want and in no way compare it to the reality of a Communist Party in power. By this criterion, then, New Labour is doing very well in fighting child poverty. After all, they “have explained again and again” how reducing child poverty is their goal. The awkward fact it has risen need not bother us.

White ends by stating that “the aim of the democratic republic is clear and so is the content we want to give it.” This reminds me of Stalin’s 1905 diatribe against anarchism where he denied that Marxists aimed for party power. He stressed that there was “a dictatorship of the minority, the dictatorship of a small group . . . which is directed against the people . . . Marxists are the enemies of such a dictatorship, and they fight such a dictatorship far more stubbornly and self-sacrificingly than do our noisy Anarchists.” The practice of Bolshevism and the ideological revisions it generated easily refutes Stalin's claims. The practice of Bolshevism showed that his claim that “[a]t the head” of the “dictatorship of the proletarian majority . . . stand the masses” is in sharp contradiction with Bolshevik support for “revolutionary” governments. Either you have (to use Stalin's expression) “the dictatorship of the streets, of the masses, a dictatorship directed against all oppressors” or you have party power in the name of the street, of the masses.

The fundamental flaw in Leninism is that it confuses the two and so lays the ground for the very result anarchists correctly predicted and Stalin denied. That is why anarchists, unlike White, compare the claims of Leninists with the reality of their regimes. We do not question the commitment of (most) Leninists to the aim of a free socialist society, we simply point out that the ideology and methods advocated cannot produce that result. Not only do we have logic on our side, we also have substantial empirical evidence to support our analysis.

Still, why bother doing that when we can simply read what Leninists say they are aiming for?

Iain McKay


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