Hal Draper, numpty – part deux!

I've finally done a proper review of Black Flame and have sent it off to Freedom. The new issue of Black Flag should be ready for the bookfair. And I'm making progress on the introduction to the Proudhon Reader. And talking of which, here is another exclusive extract which refutes Leninist Hal Draper's attacks on Proudhon.

I have, in the past, blogged on how Marxist academic Hal Draper was a first-class numpty. I included this material in An Anarchist FAQ (AFAQ), in section H.3.10. I also critique some of Draper's other arguments on Lenin (section H.5.4) and on anarchism and democracy (section H.2.11). Suffice to say, that this guy was considered a leading Leninist scholar says much about Leninism...

It would be fair to say, however, that Draper's attacks on anarchism, particularly in his rants against Proudhon and Bakunin, have put a great many Marxists off investigating libertarian socialist ideas. So, regardless of how pathetic his arguments are, they need to be addressed. So, unsurprisingly, I'm planning to cover it in the introduction to the Proudhon reader (along with Schapiro's infamous hatchet-job of an article).

Before that, though, I'm going to comment on yet another of Draper's attacks on libertarian ideas, namely an article on Victor Serge. All the usual Draper hallmarks are there -- pathalogical hatred of the subject, a free and easy concern over facts and a willingness to ignore logic and plain commonsense when it suits him. The article is entitled Victor Serge and “Libertarianism”

Draper: “Having rejected the Bolsheviks — the only socialist party which has so far actually led a proletarian revolution — because its ‘authoritarian centralization’ paved the way for Stalinism, the left still does not want to reject the revolution itself.”

Actually, most of the revolution in 1917 took place against the wishes of the party hierarchy which Draper claims was leading it. Lenin spent most of that year berating his own organisation, ignoring its hierarchical structure and acting for what he thought was best (and you can be sure if anyone other than Lenin acted like that, Draper would have denounced him as an anarchist elitist…)

“One thing Victor Serge was not. He was not a defender of proletarian democracy. He wasn’t a democrat. He had nothing but contempt for democracy.”

Yes, when Serge was an anarchist he was a firm individualist. That was why, when faced with Bolshevik elitism, he quickly became its supporter. He was given the task of convincing anarchists to join the party which, at the time, was expressing quite a lot of contempt for democracy -- as noted by the likes of Karl Kautsky.

And what is "proletarian democracy"? If it means mandating and recalling delegates then anarchists have been advocating it since 1848 (1871 for Marxists). If it means workers councils, then we have been advocating those since (at the latest) 1868 (1917 for Marxists). If it means giving the leaders of a "proletarian" party power, well, no we do have contempt for that... As I've suggested before, anarchists reject democracy because Democracy is undemocratic

“That is the explanation for the special meaning given the word ‘authoritarian’ by ‘libertarians.’ It was the ‘authority’ of the democratic majority over the ‘libertaires’ they objected to. What right had the inferior mass to dictate to the superior élite?”

And what happens if the "democratic majority" decides that gays should not have equal rights? That blacks should be at the back of the bus? That unions should be banned? That a dictatorship is preferrable to a republic? That an imperialist war should be supported? Apparently it would be pure elitism for the minority to protest and rebel... Which is an obvious point Draper never addresses, namely that the majority can be wrong and that the minority has the right to rebel. Equally, all progressive ideas start with a minority and, over time and usually by protest, become accepted by the majority -- by Draper's "logic" the civil rights movement was the action of a superior elite dictating to the inferior mass...

As discussed in AFAQ, Draper's argument is fundamentally flawed -- and for pretty obvious reasons. I expand on this in the Proudhon extract below, using the case of the coup of 1851 -- and its subsequent approval by the majority -- and Draper's own account of the Paris Commune. In summary, if Marxists support minorities then it shows they are democratic, if anarchists do so then it shows they are elitists...

“Serge was an anarchist. He was philosophically an anti-Marxist, contemptuous of political parties, and considered trade unions, even trade unions run by his anarchist comrades, at best a waste of time. To state these positions openly in the late 30s and 40s — the period of his greatest political influence — would have cost him his audience.”

Of course Serge never once changed his ideas. The Serge of 1910 held the same ideas as that of 1920, of 1930 and of 1940… That Serge proclaimed himself a Marxist is irrelevant to Draper – not to mention the numerous Leninists who concurred and considered him one of “the best” of the anarchists precisely because he rejected anarchism for Marxism! I use the term "the best" because a member of ISO (which claims to be inspired by Draper's "Socialism from Below" pamphlet used that word to describe Serge, contrasting him to the "elitist" Emma Goldman...

According to Draper, Serge’s “political point of view” at this time was “‘libertarian’ communism”! In fact, he was a Stirnerite, an individualist anarchist – something Draper was aware of, as he mentions “individualist anarchists” later in his article. However, it serves his pursue to equate Kropotkin with Stirner… But, then, Marxists (from Marx and Engels onwards) try to associate Stirner with Bakunin as well for some reason... I guess Stirner must be their ideal anarchist.

“Especially since anarchists, or people claiming to be anarchists, were a dominant force in the French union movement.”

Ah, yes, “claiming to be anarchists” – there seemed to be a lot of that about in Draper’s world. Thus Serge only claimed to be a Marxist (he was really always a Stirnerite) and the syndicalists only claimed to be anarchists (perhaps he thought they were Marxists?) In reality, of course, the syndicalists were following Bakunin’s ideas rather than Marx’s… an awkward fact which does not compute in many Leninist’s minds and is thus ignored. As AFAQ proves, Bakunin had advocated syndicalist ideas in the 1860s and 1870s.

Needless to say, Draper seemed blissfully unaware of the reality of the Bolshevik regime, as can be seen by the sub-title “Bolshevik ‘Authoritarianism’” – why the scare quotes around “authoritarianism”? Is one-party dictatorship by mid-1918 not authoritarian?

“what did Serge know about the Bolsheviks? The answer to that question is — absolutely nothing.”

Except, of course, the party leadership embraced him and he obviously quickly became aware of party doctrine....

“Not even the most rabid academic anti-Leninist denies that Lenin won a majority in the Soviets in 1917 by an open, democratic, political appeal to those Victor Serge had called ‘prolos.’”

Yet within months of seizing power the Bolsheviks had started to gerrymander those soviets, disbanding those which elected non-Bolshevik majorities, repressing strikes and protests against these actions. Not to mention that the first act of Lenin’s regime was to create a Bolshevik executive power over the soviets, something he proclaimed against in State and Revolution

“But didn’t Serge discover what ‘Bolshevism’ was really all about when he arrived in Russia itself? No. By the time Serge arrived in revolutionary Russia in 1919 the Bolshevik party . . .  was composed of all those who chose the revolution. And all who joined it brought their own politics with them when they joined. There were no loyalty oaths. No one was forced to renounce their past or their old programs.”

Ah, you see, Bolshevik authoritarianism was due to the influx of Mensheviks, SRs and others into the party! The policies introduced by Lenin and Zinoviev were, in fact, reflecting other people’s politics… So Lenin was letting his inner-Menshevik speak when he proclaimed: "When we are reproached with having established a dictatorship of one party . . . we say, 'Yes, it is a dictatorship of one party! This is what we stand for and we shall not shift from that position . . .'" [Collected Works, vol. 29, p. 535] I doubt it... particularly as the Mensheviks remained social democrats.

“What was more important was that the civil war destroyed the organized working class that had been the base of Bolshevism.”

A “destroyed” class does not require martial law to break its general strikes… (as discussed in AFAQ)

“Of course, Serge was not the only one making such arguments in 1921. Former Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were making similar ones. But, as Marxists, they were abandoning their former principles.”

You mean people like Zinoviev? Trotsky? Lenin? Was Lenin a former Marxist when he argued at the Comintern that it was "ridiculously absurd, and stupid" to make "a contrast, in general, between the dictatorship of the masses and the dictatorship of the leaders"? [The Lenin Anthology, p. 568]

Ah, right, once in power they become former Marxists… which is handy…

“It never occurred to Serge’s anarchist mind that democratic control could prevent such corruption.”

Which is why, presumably, anarchists like Proudhon (in 1848) and Bakunin (in 1868) has raised the demand for mandating and recalling delegates? That Marx waited until 1871, after the libertarian inspired Paris Commune, to publically proclaim these very same principles just shows how democratic he was unlike these silly anarchists…

“Communists defended their one-party rule, conceived as either a temporary aberration or an inevitable stage in the transition to communism, with a new ideological invention called the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat.’ It is clear that none of the participants in this debate knew what Marx had meant by it”

Really? Lenin did not know that Marx meant by it? No one had read State and Revolution? How strange…

“Like Trotsky, Bukharin and Zinoviev (and unlike Lenin) Serge insists that this dictatorship, which he defines explicitly as the dictatorship of the conscious minority over the majority”

Clearly Draper has not read Left-wing Communism! He does not seem to be aware that Lenin explicitly defined the dictatorship in terms of party dictatorship at the same time as Trotsky, Bukharin and Zinoviev. Moreover, Lenin rubbished Draper's notion of "from below", arguing (rightly) that it was an anarchist principle...

In pre-revolutionary Russia, the peasants consoled themselves with tales that the Tsar was a good man, mislead by his advisors, and once he knew of their real situation under the nobles he would act. By this comment, Draper exposed his belief in a myth like the “good Tsar” – in this case, the good Lenin who somehow was oblivious to comments of his fellows in the central committee… or, for that matter, his own…

In addition: I would recommend everyone read Ante Ciliga's account of how he (when in a Soviet prison camp as a Left-Oppositionist) finally saw through the "good Lenin" myth: Lenin, Also

Draper, of course, discusses Trotsky’s opposition yet somehow failed to mention that he fully supported one-party rule…

“Serge’s reputation as a sympathetic critic of the Bolsheviks from a democratic point of view rests in considerable degree on a confrontation with Trotsky that took place in the late 30s. This dispute concerned the 1920 uprising against the Bolsheviks by the garrison at Kronstadt.”

It would be easier to take his argument more seriously if he actually knew ended in November 1920 and Kronstadt rebelled in February 1921…

“And that is strange because in 1921 this uprising was one of the main pieces of evidence in the anarchists’ charge that the Soviet government was just another repressive state.”

Clearly breaking strikes, suppressing protests, disbanding soviets, gerrymandering elections, repressing opposition parties and papers, are not repressive when Lenin does it…

“it is in this essay that Serge is most open about the need for a minority dictatorship”

And he was just repeating Bolshevik orthodoxy on the matter…

“Trotsky, in the course of this debate, raised most of the right objections.”

Trotsky proclaimed during the debate on Kronstadt that a “revolution is ‘made’ directly by a minority. The success of a revolution is possible, however, only where this minority finds more or less support, or at least friendly neutrality, on the part of the majority. The shift in different stages of the revolution . . . is directly determined by changing political relations between the minority and the majority, between the vanguard and the class.” (Lenin and Trotsky, Kronstadt, p. 85)

A few years later he stated:

“The revolutionary dictatorship of a proletarian party is for me not a thing that one can freely accept or reject: It is an objective necessity imposed upon us by the social realities - the class struggle, the heterogeneity of the revolutionary class, the necessity for a selected vanguard in order to assure the victory. The dictatorship of a party belongs to the barbarian prehistory as does the state itself, but we can not jump over this chapter, which can open (not at one stroke) genuine human history. . . The revolutionary party (vanguard) which renounces its own dictatorship surrenders the masses to the counter-revolution . . . Abstractly speaking, it would be very well if the party dictatorship could be replaced by the 'dictatorship' of the whole toiling people without any party, but this presupposes such a high level of political development among the masses that it can never be achieved under capitalist conditions. The reason for the revolution comes from the circumstance that capitalism does not permit the material and the moral development of the masses.” (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1936-37, pp. 513-4)

And again:

The very same masses are at different times inspired by different moods and objectives. It is just for this reason that a centralised organisation of the vanguard is indispensable. Only a party, wielding the authority it has won, is capable of overcoming the vacillation of the masses themselves . . . if the dictatorship of the proletariat means anything at all, then it means that the vanguard of the proletariat is armed with the resources of the state in order to repel dangers, including those emanating from the backward layers of the proletariat itself.” (“The Moralists and Sycophants against Marxism", pp. 53-66, Their Morals and Ours, p. 59)

What was that, Draper, about anarchist elitism? Oh, but I forgot, this was simply Trotsky’s Menshevism coming to the fore as he was never a real Bolshevik…

So with that out of the way, here is the extract from the Proudhon Reader introduction. Feed back and positive suggestions will be gratefully received. As can be seen, logic and facts were not something that always afflicted Draper when he was anarchist bashing….

Until I blog again, be seeing you…

The case of Hal Draper, numpty[1]

A few words are required on subsequent Marxists and Proudhon. Perhaps needless to say, Marxists since Marx have taken “The Poverty of Philosophy” as their template for discussing Proudhon, both in terms of critique and in terms of quality.

Thus we find that habitual but always ignorant critic of anarchism, Eric Hobsbawm, proclaim it to be “a revolt of the pre-industrial past against the present” marked by “the disbeliefs of anarchists in disciplined organisations” and advocated by “muddle minds like P-J Proudhon” who “even made peace with the new regime” of Napoleon III. [2] That this is wrong on every count should go without saying. The key areas of Marxist ignorance over Proudhon usually relate to his theory of exploitation and his support for workers’ association (usually combined with the assumption he wished to revert back to a pre-industrial economy). Others concentrate on expounding upon his “petit-bourgeois” nature and politics, plus his obviously anti-libertarian positions (such as his personal bigotries of sexism and anti-Semitism). We have addressed most of the more common attacks elsewhere in the introduction and so will not do so here.

Suffice to say, it would be far too long a task to discuss every Marxist rant against Proudhon and so we will concentrate on Hal Draper as he spent some time denouncing the French anarchist (and Bakunin) as authoritarians seeking personal dictatorship over the masses. While it can safely be said that few Marxists bother to read Proudhon (or any anarchist thinker), they are generally familiar with attacks on him by Marxist intellectuals. Not familiar with the source material, the poverty of these attacks is unknown and so their nonsense becomes part of the Marxist movement. The example of Draper can be used to show that this is the case. [3]

Draper[4] proclaims (in “The Case of Proudhon”) that Proudhon was the “Frenchman of 1848 who most avidly thirsted for absolute authority.” (p. 58) This seems a somewhat staggering comment, given that Louis Bonaparte, elected to the Constituent Assembly and Presidency in 1848, actually did organise a coup and create a dictatorship. Not to mention Louis Auguste Blanqui, whose desire for dictatorship by a revolutionary minority Draper is at pains to distance Marx from. Nor would it be remise to mention Louis Blanc, member of the provisional government who sough, as Draper himself denounces as dictatorial, postponement of elections as well as “rule by a minority” (p. 47) which would ensure “the dictatorship Blanc desired.’ (p. 46) No, a mere actual dictator and two self-confessed would-be dictators pale into insignificance compared to Proudhon![5]

So what does Draper base his claim that Proudhon sought to “impose his Libertarian grip on society” (p. 58) on? Would it be a detailed discussion of Proudhon’s extensive writings? No, rather “dozens of passages from his notebooks of the revolutionary period.” (p. 58) Yes, “dozens” of comments in his private notebooks (to gain some idea of how few these are, it should be noted that volume 3 of Proudhon’s Carnets amounts to nearly 400 pages). Sadly, Draper does not provide references for these passages but instead references one of his more obscure and hard to find articles.

In this he follows his referencing technique in his pamphlet The Two Souls of Socialism. [6] The weakness, and shear gall, of his case can be seen from this: “For Proudhon, see the chapter in J.S. Schapiro’s Liberalism and the Challenge of Fascism, and Proudhon’s Carnets! Thus Proudhon’s substantial public output (namely the 26 volumes of the works published in his lifetime!) is ignored in favour of out-of-context quotes from his personal notebooks, published long after his death, and an American liberal who cherry-picked quotes from a handful of books to back up his own bizarre interpretation of Proudhon’s ideas. Such quality of scholarship is obviously inspired by the high-standards of Marx’s “The Poverty of Philosophy”! Such nonsense would be easy to ignore, expect that it gets recycled by other Leninists, such as David McNally in his pamphlet Socialism from Below, [7] and read, and repeated, by a host of party members ever since.

Clearly, providing easily verifiable (at least if you read French and have access to Proudhon’s Carnets!) references was not high on his list of priorities. Given the few quotes he does provide references for, it becomes easy to understand why. He does provide a few “passages” to show that dictatorship, for Proudhon, (in “case after case”) was “linked in his mind to extreme democracy (“because democratic authority was the worst kind of authority”) (p. 59) Of course, Draper cannot provide any quotes in which Proudhon expresses that particular notion[8] so we will leave that awkward fact to one side and look at some of the apparently damning evidence Draper gleans from Proudhon’s private diaries.

Draper states: “He jotted down a note for himself -- ‘Protest against the theory of the omnipotence of majorities, which is a form of dictatorship.’ But when he wrote down, ‘I have been, I still am the invisible Director of society.’ this had nothing to do with dictatorial aspirations.” (p. 59)

Sadly, no. It was just an example of Proudhon’s well-known arrogance: “I have been, I still am the invisible Director of society; because, as I am the only one to have the science of what is going on, and that everything that is happening is happening in conformity with my ideas, I can consider  myself the author of them.” [9] Such a quote is a somewhat weak nail to hang the claim of “dictatorial aspirations” on but it does show the utility of selective quoting.

Then there is this: “He more than once denounced the ‘dictatorship of the democratic party’ and the ‘dictatorship if L. Blanc and Ledru-Rollin’ -- citing no fact nor complaint.” (p. 59)

This is from April 23, 1850, after Blanc tried to postpone elections and a year after, as Draper himself notes, had admitted to the governing Council that he wanted a dictatorship, albeit one of progress. Perhaps Proudhon thought the facts well known enough not to mention or, perhaps, as these were his private notebooks he would be unaware that over a century later he would be expected to fully document his comments or be denounced as a would-be tyrant? Who can tell… And, it is fair to ask, when did Draper start to think Louis Blanc represented extreme democracy?

Then there is Draper denouncing Proudhon for suggesting that the immediately after the February Revolution “a provisional dictatorship is being established.” (p. 59) Given that the Provisional Government had not been elected, the question arises what Proudhon should have called it? Draper, at the same time, denounces Louis Blanc, member of said government, for arguing that the unelected Provisional Government should “regard themselves as directors appointed by the revolution . . . and which was under no obligation to seek the sanction of universal suffrage until after having accomplished all the good which the movement required.” (p. 46)

We can be sure that if Proudhon had called it a Republic or a Democratic government, Draper would have been quick to denounce Proudhon for suggesting an unelected government was such. Significantly, Draper notes that Lamartine “publicly used the term ‘dictatorship’ not for what he dreamed about but for what he was actually doing. The Provisional Government, after all, had not been the product of the ballot box, hence in Lamartine’s language it was a dictatorship.” (p. 47) Sadly, Draper failed to give his readers any suggestion what the suitable term should be, but calling an unelected government a dictatorship hardly suggests a thrust for absolute power. Equally unfortunately, Draper fails to provide any reference to support his claim that “in the same pages [Proudhon] deplored the overthrow of the type of dictator called a monarch, in the name of Liberty, of course” (p. 59) Volume 3 of Proudhon’s Carnets is nearly 400 pages long (assuming it is to be found there rather than in say, the other volumes of equal size).

To be fair, a concept Draper may have had problems comprehending, he did address one of Proudhon’s actually published works, namely The General Idea of the Revolution. This, he proclaims, was “a straightforward call to the bourgeoisie to kindly make the revolution from above.” (p. 239) That the reader of that work may find such a “call” absent just drives home how Machiavellian Proudhon was. Thus he hide his desire for “for absolute authority” by calling upon the bourgeoisie to work with the labouring masses to create “the Democratic and Social Republic.” (p. 10) Proudhon, being a reformist and opposed to violent revolution, always sought ways to make the best of bad situations and his call for the bourgeoisie to commit social suicide was an example of that (as the Keynesians found out, the rentiers are extremely unwilling to agree to their own euthanasia).

Draper states that when “Proudhon attacks the people of 1793 for ‘dictatorship’, the present-day reader may fail to understand that he is charging them with the sin of being extreme democrats.” (p. 240) Actually, if the present-day reader reads Proudhon he will find that he actually charges them of being “elected by the people” (although “not of the people”) and “cared for nothing but for preserving the rights of property: they cared nothing for the rights of labour”, caring only for “maintaining [the bourgeoisie’s] interests.” [10]

Proudhon, Draper states, “characteristically denounces ‘direct government’ -- meaning here government directly by an Assembly that chooses and controls the Executive . . . do not send to ask of Proudhon why the control of an Executive by a democratic assembly is a step to dictatorship” (p. 240)

We can easily discover why Proudhon argued against direct government for he explains it at length in his book. As he explained, if it was desired that people “be represented in the Executive branch” why the President is not “elected directly by the citizens” rather than being “named by their deputies. This, Proudhon suggested, was “taking away form the People the best half of the Government” as well as “relieving the People of all legislative duties.” In fact, “nine-tenths of all questions are removed from their initiative, under the name of decrees and “the whole of the Executive power is snatched from them.” All in all, “the People who ought not to have any representative, nor delegate any power, whose direct sovereignty, on the contrary, should remain in permanent exercise” will “find that they have less authority than their deputies.” This means that “all citizens are permitted, every third of fourth year, to elect” the government. The “duration of this participation is brief” and the “President and the Representatives, once elected, are the masters; all the rest obey.” [11]

Thus, Draper turns Proudhon’s critique of delegated power and arguments that it restricted popular participation into a call for tyranny. A truly impressive work! [12]

Draper, needles to say, also failed to mention that the 4th May 1848 had seen the provisional government resign and the republican and anti-socialist majority of the Constituent Assembly, on the 9th of May, entrust supreme power to an Executive Commission consisting of five members. It would also be remiss of us not to mention that the 1848 revolution climaxed in 1851 with the seizure of power by the Executive and the destruction of the National Assembly. [13] But why mention how prescient Proudhon was in predicting that the centralisation of power in the hands of a President[14] could result in dictatorial tendencies? After all, the American republic is marked by extensive Presidential authority to veto the actions of two democratic assemblies. We can only assume that, for Draper, such powers should not be denounced?

Strangely, Draper is less than critical of others who opposed the creation of an executive power, one elected by a democratic assembly. In fact, he positively glorifies them and praises their rejection, to use a phrase he lambastes Proudhon for using, of “the omnipotence of majorities. Who would these people, who obviously, like Proudhon, “most avidly thirst for absolute authority”, be? Why, they are the Communards, Karl Marx and Hal Draper himself!

Draper quotes Marx’s comments on the Commune that was “to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time” with all officials “responsible and revocable.” These ensured “the basis of really democratic institutions.” (p. 273) What? Did the Communards not realise that opposing having an executive elected by an assembly was a clear sign of dictatorial ambitions? Did not Marx? These words, Draper assures us, express Marx’s “glowing and approving” comments on “the characteristics of the Commune that differentiated it from the bourgeois democracies.” (p. 273) It would be churlish to note that Proudhon had publically expressed the same ideas… in 1848!

Draper’s confusions get worse. He denounces the Blanquist and Jacobinist majority for seeking to create a Committee of Public Safety which, he admits, was framed as a “motion was for setting up of a five-man executive.” (p. 276) Why did the minority protest so? After all, only an authoritarian like Proudhon could think that “the control of an Executive by a democratic assembly is a step to dictatorship”! [15] It gets worse. Draper notes that a “majority of 45 voted for the dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety, against a minority of 23” and argues that this undermined “the democratic measures of the Communes” as well as expressing “a hankering to turn responsibility over in despair to a dictatorial authority.” (p. 276) He notes approvingly that the Minority thought that “the Majority . . . was discrediting the ideal of democratic freedom.” (p. 277) To use Proudhon’s words, the Minority “Protest[ed] against the theory of the omnipotence of majorities, which is a form of dictatorship.”!

So, just to summarise, when Proudhon suggests that majority rule can be oppressive and dictatorial and that accepting majority rule, no matter what the majority decides, is a bad idea, this exposes his tyrannical notions; when Communards do so it is the case of “the best and most advanced socialists in the Commune supported the Minority”! (p. 278) While it can be assured that Draper expected few, if any, of his Marxist readers to consult Proudhon it does seem strange that he seemed to think they would fail to read the rest of his own book!

Needless to say there are other problems with Draper’s account. Most obviously, he makes the typical Marxist mistake to suggest that “the bulk of the Minority was formed by members of the International and the Proudhonists.” (p. 277) In Paris most Internationalists were Proudhonists![16] To differentiate between the two groups is simply to distort the political situation, although it does serve to downplay Proudhonist influence in both the International (which they, unlike Marx, founded!) and the Commune.[17] Draper also manages to double the generally accepted number of possible Marxists in the Commune (to two!), while proclaiming of “all the Proudhonists, Varlin is sometimes described [by whom?] as a semi-Marxist.” (p. 278) That Varlin joined Bakunin’s Alliance is best left unmentioned…

Then there is the awkward that that when Marx advocated the dictatorship of the proletariat, that class was only a minority of the working classes in all countries bar Britain. Draper acknowledged that “the majority of the French people were not proletarian” (p. 271) but did not let it bother him nor cause him to wonder how the Marxist state, in that case, could be “inaugurating a political system of democratic control form below.” (p. 274) Nor does he recognise that anarchist attacks on democracy were on centralised and representative forms of it in the name of self-government of the masses.[18] For Draper, electing rulers was the be-all and end-all of freedom. He even smugly notes that Marx, “against Bakunin,” had “to argue the basic idea of representative democracy” (p. 116) so showing that neither he nor Marx understood the basics of Bakunin’s critique. If he had, then he would have been aware that Bakunin’s, like Proudhon’s, attacks on democracy were framed as a critique of thinking electing rulers equalled self-government and freedom.

Suffice to say, anyone who actually comprehended the anarchist critique of the state would recognise the ignorance and fallacy at the heart of Draper’s claim that there “are always two possibilities” in attacks on democracy, the first is based on it “not being democratic enough, for not really effecting control by the people” while the second aims to discredit “democracy itself.” Without evidence he asserts (p. 299) that “anarchism takes the second road. Bakunin continually denounces the ‘Marxists’ because they favour universal suffrage.” He does, wisely, add an “In general” to avoid awkward questions when critics, aware of what Proudhon and Bakunin actually argued, point to the substantial evidence against his claims. After all, a glance at Bakunin’s critique of Marx shows that he criticised Marxists because they, like the bourgeois liberals, saw universal suffrage as the means of electing governments[19] and did not, as he did, see popular self-management as the means by which the people manage their own affairs.[20]

That Draper failed to comprehend Proudhon’s or Bakunin’s critique of democracy is clear. He equates democratically electing a government with actual mass participation, an equation Proudhon (and Bakunin) rightly rejected.[21] For example, Louis-Napoleon was a democratically elected President. Why was his coup not an expression of his mandate from the masses? Moreover, that coup was ratified in a plebiscite and, one year later, another referendum decided to officially end the Second Republic and restore the Empire, so ushering in the Second French Empire. Needless to say, Draper does not explain if his love of democracy required him to support the Second Empire as it was, after all, approved of by the overwhelming majority of voters.[22]

This is not to suggest that there are no non-libertarian remarks in his notebooks or even his published works. Of course they are. Proudhon was only human, subject to contradiction, and, moreover, forging new ideas. We can expect him to be inconsistent (his support for patriarchy being most obvious). The question is whether such rare remarks should be considered the be-all and end-all of his ideas, as Draper seeks.

Ultimately, we have two options. Either we conclude, like Draper, that Proudhon’s real ideas are contained in a handful of selectively quoted comments scrawled in his notebooks and so reject the 26 volumes of his published works and 14 volumes of his correspondence as simply conscious lies (and, of course, the many, many more libertarian comments in his Carnets such as: “My opinion is that the mandate should be imperative [impératif] and at any moment revocable”[23]); Or we can conclude that Draper is simply a Marxist hack, ignoring Proudhon’s actual ideas by quoting a few entries in his notebook totally out of context and in the worse light possible.

Few anarchists, not to mention serious scholars, are convinced that comments about Proudhon’s personal life make for a compelling critique of his ideas or anarchist theory in general. As anarchists are, well, anarchists and not Proudhonists, such personal failings are irrelevant. Ultimately, though, what quotes Draper does present are used out of context to present Proudhon as authoritarian or proto-fascist. Sadly, many Marxists seem to think such techniques are sufficient against anarchists. This suggests a lack of confidence in their ideology as such techniques simply avoid addressing anarchist ideas and its critique of state socialism. If it were not for the fact many Leninists take Draper seriously, it would not be required to discuss him or his bizarre interpretations of Proudhon (or Bakunin). His obvious hatred of anarchism ensures his accounts leave much to be desired and his Leninism twists his understanding of Marx and Engels. Unfortunately, his work can be taken as typical for Marxist approaches to Proudhon (and anarchism in general).

In summary, Draper cherry-picked quotes from Proudhon’s private notebooks, removing them from both their textual and social contexts. He failed to reference many of them, perhaps unsurprisingly as the ones he does reference, upon consultation, simply do support the interpretations he imposes upon them. His summary of the one published work he looks at misrepresents it. Finally, his book is completely self-contradictory, with Draper repeating Proudhon’s own critique of democracy when he comes to praise the Minority in the Commune. Needless to say, Draper’s distorted account of Proudhon’s ideas ensures that the reader would fail to understand that the Communal revolution of 1871 Draper (and Marx) praised clearly reflects the ideas that Proudhon had been advocating before, during and after the 1848 revolution.

Still, to be fair, it is not only Proudhon which Draper fails to understand. He also has difficulties with Engels as well, as shown by his bizarre and ill-informed attempts to prove that Engels meant the Paris Commune by the term “Great French Revolution” in latter’s 1891 critique of the draft of the Erfurt program of the German Social Democrats.[24]

Suffice to say, this is to be expected from someone who could proclaim that “Proudhon did not call himself an anarchist – not at all until 1863 and then only by exception”! [25] And Draper was considered a leading Marxist academic and intellectual…


[1] Numpty is a good Scots word for someone who (sometimes unwittingly) by speech or action demonstrates a lack of knowledge or misconception of a particular subject or situation to the amusement of others. It is not, in this case, meant as a term of endearment.

[2] The Age of Capital, 1848-1875 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975), p. 161, p. 160, p. 296, p. 108. Hobsbawmn was never one to let facts or logic get in the way of his attacks on anarchism. See, for example, Jerome R Mintz’s classic debunking of Hobsbawm’s claims in Primitive Rebels on Spanish anarchism (The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, University of Chicago Press, 1982).

[3] Not all Marxists are as pathological as Draper, it must be stressed. Some can be fair and it is significant that fellow Marxist John Ehrenberg in his detailed account of Proudhon’s life and ideas fails to accuse Proudhon of quasi-fascist or dictatorial aims or tendencies.

[4] Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: The ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ (Monthly Review Press, 1986), Volume III. All unattributed page numbers in this section refer to this work.

[5] But what can you expect from someone who happily proclaimed that anarchism was the most “fundamentally anti-democratic in principle”? (Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: Critique of Other Socialisms (Monthly Review Press, 1989), Volume IV, p.132) Now, given that there are fascists, monarchists, supporters (like Trotsky) of “party dictatorship” and a host of others who advocate minority rule (even by one person) over everyone else, can it be argued with a straight face that anarchism is the most “anti-democratic” because it argues for the liberty of all? The stupidities of Draper’s argument are discussed in section H.2.11 of An Anarchist FAQ.

[6] Draper’s short account of Proudhon (and Bakunin) in this pamphlet is staggering in its intellectual dishonesty. This can be seen when you compare, for example, Draper’s assertion on Proudhon’s “violent opposition . . . to any and every idea of the right to vote, universal suffrage, popular sovereignty” and the Frenchman’s actual opinions on these issues.

[7] It should be noted that McNally has distanced himself from his pamphlet’s critique of anarchism, as indicated in his book Another World Is Possible: Globalization & Anti-Capitalism. Whether this applies to Proudhon and Bakunin is not indicated but given that social anarchism draws heavily on these two thinkers, a rethinking of these two founders of anarchism seem implied.

[8] It almost goes without saying that Draper fails to mention that, for example, Proudhon stated that the managers and policy of the People’s Bank would be determined by majority vote of its democratically elected General Assembly. (Selected Writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, p. 79) Nor does Draper bother to inform his readers of Proudhon’s consistent arguments that democracy only becomes meaningful within a decentralised, federal system which combines economic and political participation from below.

[9] Carnets, Volume 3, p. 248

[10] General Idea, p. 7

[11] General Idea, pp. 156-7, pp. 158-9

[12] Draper (like Marxists from Marx onwards) seems to assume that no one will read the source material he is critiquing. That, sadly, seems an all too valid assumption as regards Marxists. On a personal note, I remember a Marxist coming up to me to inform me that he would be attending a meeting on Stirner’s egoism by an old Syndicalist comrade at an Anarchist Summer School we held in Glasgow. He proudly proclaimed that he was planning to read The German Ideology by Marx and Engels in preparation from the event. He was genuinely shocked when I innocently asked whether this was before or after reading Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own. The thought had never crossed his mind!

[13] As recounted in, say, Marx’s The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, a work which Draper may have heard of…

[14] His opposition was rooted in democratic principle: “I disapproved this election for the same reasons that led me to support the proclamation of the Republic” (General Idea of the Revolution, p. 142)

[15] If Draper was better acquainted with the history of the Russian revolution, he would have known that the executives of the soviets likewise usurped more and more power, leaving the assembly little more than a rubber stamp. This process was repeated at the national level, with the first act of the Bolsheviks being to create an Executive over and above the soviet congress and which quickly arrogated itself more and more power at the expense of the assembly. These were essential steps in securing Bolshevik power and, ultimately, party dictatorship (section H.6.1 of An Anarchist FAQ).

[16] At least Engels had the intellectual honesty to admit that the minority of the Commune were “members of the Internal Working Men’s Association, chiefly consisting of adherents of the Proudhon school of socialism.” (The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 625)

[17] Draper, of course, did not explain the slight problem of why, if Proudhon was such a reactionary, that he had such a large working class following. In another article he did so by, invoking working class stupidity and inability to comprehend what they read: “Proudhon was a thorough authoritarian . . . [but workers] who thought he was their leader did not understand just what he was getting at. . .” (Socialism from Below (Humanities Press, 1992), p. 185)

[18] This can be seen from Proudhon’s analysis in the March 1848 pamphlet “Democracy” where, as well as denouncing centralised representative democracy as infused with monarchical principles, he proclaims the need for decentralisation along with the mandating and recall of elected delegates.

[19] For example: “By popular government [the Marxists] mean government of the people by a small under of representatives elected by the people. . . [That is,] government of the vast majority of the people by a privileged minority. But this minority, the Marxists say, will consist of workers. Yes, perhaps, of former workers, who, as soon as they become rulers or representatives of the people will cease to be workers and will begin to look upon the whole workers’ world from the heights of the state. They will no longer represent the people but themselves and their own pretensions to govern the people.” (Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, p. 178)

[20] For Bakunin revolution was “an end to all masters and to domination of every kind, and the free construction of popular life in accordance with popular needs, not from above downward, as in the state, but from below upward, by the people themselves, dispensing with all governments and parliaments - a voluntary alliance of agricultural and factory worker associations, communes, provinces, and nations; and, finally, . . . universal human brotherhood triumphing on the ruins of all the states.” (Statism and Anarchy, p. 33)

[21] This is most succinctly expressed in Proudhon’s polemic against Louis Blanc “The State: Its Nature, Object, and Destiny” (La Voix du Peuple, December 3, 1849)

[22] Section H.2.11 of An Anarchist FAQ discusses the contradictions and absurdities Draper’s position results in.

[23] Carnets, vol. 3, p. 45

[24] See section H.3.10 of An Anarchist FAQ. In addition, section H.5.4 of that work exposes Draper’s pathetic attempts to distance Lenin from the elitism of “What is to be done?”

[25] Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Volume IV, p. 128


This may be three years too

This may be three years too late, but I still feel obliged to make the point: Hal Draper was not the author of "Victor Serge & ‘Libertarian’ Socialism." It was written by Ernie Haberkern and published in 1998, 8 years after Draper's death: http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/Back/Wnext9/Ernie.html

This is not a reprint of an old article under a pen name, as Haberkern and Ian Birchall debate the topic over the next couple of issues: http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/Back/Wnext12/Serge.html

I can see how you might have thought it was Draper, given that most of the Center for Socialist History's stuff is by him (and most of the sidebar links don't work, or only work bizarrely), but the intro to the piece is http://csh.gn.apc.org/Archives/Libertarian/pages/TopPage.htm , by "EH".

Haberkern, by the way, is still arguing this line with a piece in Against the Current (http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/2373 , rejoinder http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/2380).


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