Debate "Marxism and Anarchism" London 09/07/2011

Well, life is busy just now and it is making it hard to find the time to write, never mind blog! I'm still working on trimming volume 2 of An Anarchist FAQ (I need to cut approximately 10% off it to make it the same size as volume 1). Volume 2 will be sections G, H, I and J. And talking of AFAQ, the last issue of Anarchist Studies had a good review of it. Suffice to say, I quibble over a few of the comments but it is definitely a positive review. And talking of volume 2, I'm still looking for a good picture for the front cover -- something along the lines of volume 1, namely a group of anarchists looking like they mean business. So, suggestions would be good.

Still, even though life has been busy I have been managing to write a few things. First off, a review of a book on "Tory Anarchism". The book itself admits that "Tory Anarchism" has nothing in common with anarchism -- which raises the obvious question, Why call it Anarchism?. I guess nonsense like this book will soon find its way into Wikipedia... Next up is The Red Flag of Anarchy, which was published in Freedom. It was based on an old AFAQ blog (but quoting Property is Theft!) and can be considered as a supplement to the AFAQ appendix on the symbols of anarchy.

Then there is Does My Society Look Big in This?, which was written for the new Black Flag and is a short analysis of the huge demo on March 26th. Then there is Going Beyond Picking Rulers, which explores how anarchists have been arguing for mandating and recalling delegates since the 1848 revolution (see, all that work I've done on Proudhon is relevant!). Lastly, there is Crisis and capitalism's contradictions which was published in Freedom and was provoked by reading an account of the Bank of England's report on growth and inflation in a free paper on the train back from work. The obvious contradictions it exposed in what passes for government economic policy were not commented upon by, which is not too surprising as said (rubbish) free paper is the Tory- and City-loving Evening Standard. Linking it in with Proudhon's highly quotable System of Economic Contradictions seemed far too good an opportunity to miss (although, as my review of that book makes clear, it is doubtful Proudhon would have agreed with my conclusions!).

I also had the launch of Property is Theft! in Freedom bookshop. It went well, although I had hoped more people would turn up (in part, this was due to the Freedom advertising the launch being delayed). Still, if I decide to do a talk at this year's London anarchist bookfair on Proudhon I won't need to write a new speech! Still, given the many distortions about Proudhon circulated by Marxists (like Marx and Hal Draper) I did expect that getting his actual ideas and contributions to anarchism better known would be an up-hill struggle (particularly as these distortions are often believed by revolutionary anarchists).

Next up is a debate on "Marxism and Anarchism" at the Trotskyist Alliance for Workers' Liberty's "Ideas for Freedom" conference. According to the webpage, "Ideas for Freedom is the annual weekend of socialist discussion and debate hosted by Workers' Liberty" and will take place on 8-10 July. I will be there on Saturday the 9th between 4pm and 5.20pm. Here are the details:

4-5.20 -- Marxism and anarchism
Martin Thomas of the AWL debates Iain McKay of Anarchist FAQ

Highgate Newtown Community Centre,
25 Bertram Street,
London N19 5DQ.

My conditions for attending were, firstly, that this meeting would be free (subject to donations asked for at it) and, secondly, that there could be an anarchist bookstall. Both were agreed to and so here I am working on a speech. As if I did not have enough to do! Particularly as my work is being restructured and as a union rep I will be very busy fighting any attempts to balance budgets on our backs... Hope to see some anarchists there as it would be nice to get support from the floor.

The reason I got involved into this is because I decided to make a few comments on Martin Thomas' laughably bad three part "review" of Black Flame. This, along with my extensive comments, can be found here:

My favourite bits? Well, when the reviewer pronounces that Trotsky did NOT advocate the militarisation of labour then, after my showing he DID, the reviewer pronouncing it was never proposed. After I pointed out he DID propose it, the reviewer than states it was NOT Bolshevik policy. After I pointed out it WAS, he ends up saying it was not implemented very much... In short, the reviewer admitted that Black Flame's summary of Trotsky's ideas while in power was right after all! I also loved how Trotsky's defence of "labour armies", "militarisation of labour" and so on were a "slip"! How a 200+ book (Terrorism and Communism) can be considered a slip is lost on me... Particularly as this reflected the Bolshevik orthodoxy at the time. Also, the reviewer's assertion that Bakunin and Kropotkin wanted to recreate the Medieval Commune was surreal. In spite of there being "quote after quote" showing that this was the case, none were forthcoming... He did produce a Kropotkin quote from a preface from Conquest of Bread but sadly that did not say what he wanted it to say (as was blindingly obvious if you read the preface!)... Oh, and finally, his denial that Bakunin was advocating workers councils and revolutionary syndicalism was touching. Here is Bakunin:

"the revolution must set out from the first to radically and totally destroy the State . . . The natural and necessary consequence of this destruction will be . . . [among others, the] dissolution of army, magistracy, bureaucracy, police and priesthood. . . confiscation of all productive capital and means of production on behalf of workers' associations, who are to put them to use . . . the federative Alliance of all working men's associations . . . [will] constitute the Commune . . . [the] Communal Council [will be] composed of . . . delegates . . . vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates. . . all provinces, communes and associations . . . by first reorganising on revolutionary lines . . . [will] constitute the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . [and] organise a revolutionary force capable defeating reaction . . . [and for] self-defence . . . [The] revolution everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation." (Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 170-2)

Workers councils are, let us not forget, based on a council of mandated and recallable delegates from workplaces. Bakunin is advocating a council made up of mandated and recallable delegates from workplaces (the labour associations had control of industry). Obviously completely different! And like later syndicalists, Bakunin argued that unions could play this role as well as organisations during by the revolution itself (see section H.2.8, for example). And I should note that our Marxist has a very dualistic perspective -- thus revolutionary unionism seems to exclude workers councils, being critical of aspects of the Paris Commune means that you cannot also support it, and so forth. His comments on the Commune are of particular note, seemingly being unable to understand that anarchists can point out that it reflected basic anarchist ideas ( as expounded by Proudhon in 1848!) AND argue that it did not apply them far enough. There is no contradiction between supporting the Commune while being critical of aspects of the revolt (I discuss this in in The Paris Commune, Marxism and Anarchism). Just as there is no contradiction in recognising the contributions of Proudhon (or Bakunin, Kropotkin, etc.) to anarchism while at the same disagreeing with aspects of their ideas! Surely that is NOT difficult to understand?

As I said, this flowed from the AWL's "review" of the excellent Black Flame. While I have a few issues with Black Flame (as I discussed in my review of it) I recognise it as an important contribution to anarchist theory. It is an excellent restatement of the basic ideas of revolutionary class struggle anarchism -- something the AWL person does not seem to recognise. The basic assumption of the review seems to be that Black Flame are describing some sort of new, improved anarchism which accepts workers councils, working class struggle, defence of the revolution, etc. Yet, if you read Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta and so forth, you would soon discover that Black Flame just summarises their ideas. As the book quotes and references the likes of Bakunin and Kropotkin, there is no excuse for implying that this is some kind of "new" anarchism...

I have to say that section H.2 of AFAQ (entitled "What parts of anarchism do Marxists particularly misrepresent?") came in particularly handy! Being able to cut-and-paste from AFAQ and link to appropriate sections is extremely helpful -- even if I do say so myself... What is sad is that Marxists come out with the same nonsense about anarchism time and time again...

Talking of which, I should mention I have debated the AWL before, way back in 2003 (is it really 8 years?). Given how bad they were, I'm surprised they asked me back. I wrote up my speech -- Marxism or Anarchism. While temping to just repeat it, I decided it is best to do a new one. I've done more research over the last 8 years and the talk should reflect that. The major problem is trying to fit into a 20/25 minute speech all the relevant information required to conclude that Marxism is deeply flawed and how badly the Bolsheviks messed up the Russian revolution (which is why section H.6 is so long -- and that was trying to summarise it!).

Still, hats off of them for having an anarchist speaker. The SWP don't have the balls to do that -- which is wise, given the nonsense they come out with. As can be seen from Pat Stack's "Anarchy in the UK?" article and subsequent Marxism 2001 repetition. My reply to his nonsense can be found here and while here are my experiences at Marxism 2001 -- other replies to SWP nonsense on anarchism are listed in this blog.

I've been going to Marxist "debates" on anarchism since 1988. I remember the first one I went to, organised by the SWP in response to our new anarchist group. I went thinking "well, we have our differences but we aim for the same thing." I came out thinking "what a bunch of lying bastards!" It was staggeringly bad. I had discovered anarchism the year before and I knew more about it than the SWP speaker. All the usual nonsense was there -- anarchists reject collective class struggle, don't believe in defending a revolution, the usual distortions about Spain, etc. -- and I said so during the discussion part of it.

Since then, not much has changed. I've seen article upon article by Marxists attacking anarchism in the same (flawed) way, repeating almost word by word the same nonsense. You would get the impression all they do is real other Marxists attacking anarchism -- and, I think, you would be right. I remember reading a book by some ultra-leftist sect (the ICC, perhaps) and it proclaimed anarchists think the state, not capital, is the main enemy. So far, so wrong (we oppose both equally and, as my research on Proudhon shows, have done so from the start and because both are interwoven). Still, what was different about this was that it was REFERENCED! Wow, finally I will discover which anarchist said that, the mysterious anarchist Marxists were quoting when they proclaimed that we thought the state was the main enemy. I hastily flicked to the back of the book to discover the anarchist who proclaimed this was... Engels!

I cannot say I was too surprised to discover that a Marxist referenced a Marxist rather than an anarchist on what anarchism stands for. Sums up, though, the pathetic state of Marxism -- things like that show how much of a cult it is, quoting from the Holy Texts as if they were true when, in this case, they are demonstrably false (as indicated in section H.2.4 Engels' claim is easily disproven -- John Stuart Mill at the time recognised that anarchists wished to abolish state AND property!). And you would think that the first anarchist book being entitled What is Property? would be a big clue!

Still, back to the grindstone... until I blog again, be seeing you!


Thanks for the links, having

Thanks for the links, having spent quite a bit of time at quazi marxist communities I have seen the failings of collectivism. It always shows itself to be a backhanded power grab which only rewards the obedient and seeks to destroy personal freedom. Talk all you want about ideals and revolution it's just brainwashing talking points that don't add up.

more on the

more on the SWP/anarchism...

It was remiss of me not to mention that the SWP actually published a reply by an anarchist to a couple of their attacks on anarchism. It is by Lucien van der Walt, one of the author's of Black Flame:

“Counterpower, Participatory Democracy, Revolutionary Defence: debating Black Flame, revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism," International Socialism: a quarterly journal of socialist theory, no. 130 (2011), pp. 193-207.

I should note that Lucien asked my advice on this article and I'm happy to say that some of my comments were included in it. And I should also note that publishing this has not stopped the SWP attacking libertarians for ideas they do not actually hold...

Lucien has posted a longer version of this paper which substantially expands arguments.

Both are worth reading as the address the key issues between anarchism and Leninism extremely well.


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