On Syndicalism and Marxism

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Well, I finally posted the final draft of my reply to an article in Anarchist Studies on “Syndicalism, Anarchism and Marxism.” I’m planning to submit this to Anarchist Studies, mostly because I was somewhat shocked that an anarchist journal would publish such unsubstantiated claims on Marxism being a “core” ideological influence on syndicalism. However, this seems to be a recurring theme and one I’ve commented on before and will do so again, now.

My basic point, as expounded with appropriate sources in my new article, is simply that to suggest that syndicalism or “the Chicago Idea” was somehow a “synthesis” of anarchism and Marxism is simply false (as covered in my post popular blog: “Synthesised” Marxism and Anarchism? My arse!”). It fails to acknowledge the syndicalist ideas of Bakunin and others in the First International. It fails to note that Kropotkin (and others) repeated this vision of anarchist activities, regardless of critiques of certain aspects of French. syndicalist theory. Ultimately, disagreements on aspects of syndicalism have been blown out of all proportion to paint a picture of a communist-anarchist and syndicalist divide (true, some communist-anarchists rejected all suggestion of syndicalism and there were some Marxist-syndicalists but that cannot be taken as typical).

I discuss why many communist-anarchists did not call themselves syndicalists in AFAQ, so I won’t do so here. Suffice to say, the discussion focused on the need for a specific anarchist organisation, whether unions by themselves were revolutionary and on the general strike as being sufficient in itself.

As I note in passing in a footnote, Darlington (seriously) misreads Malatesta’s critique of syndicalism at the 1907 International Anarchist congress to falsely suggest a deeper divide between anarchists and syndicalists than actually existed. Suffice to say, Malatesta did not disagree with the need for anarchists to work within unions or that class struggle would be the key means of achieving anarchism. He simply, and rightly, questioned whether this was the be-all and end-all of anarchist activity, whether unions were sufficient in themselves and on whether the general strike, which he considered an excellent means of starting a revolution, was (again) sufficient. Malatesta explicitly stated his critique focused on where he disagreed with the French syndicalists, leaving the large area of agreement unaddressed – for obvious reasons! I doubt he expected future historians to ignore what he took for granted, but, well, historians can have their agendas. It also does not help that the translation in “The Anarchist Reader” seems to leave syndicalisme as syndicalism rather than the more correct (from the context) “trade unionism” (as when Malatesta proclaims “syndicalism” as “reformist”).

Of course the article does not cover many important issues. For example, the influence of reformist anarchism (Proudhon and mutualism) on syndicalism (leading French revolutionary syndicalists referenced Proudhon, for example). After all, the evolution of libertarian ideas from Proudhon to Bakunin took place in the First International (I discuss the mutualists in the IWMA and the relationships between mutualism revolutionary anarchism in the introduction to “Property is Theft!”). Then there is the issue, raised in Black Flame, of whether self-proclaimed Marxists who embraced syndicalism should be included in the anarchist tradition. Some, yes. My rule of thumb is on “political action.” That is, if they consider syndicalism as a complement to electioneering then they are Marxist-syndicalists. If they reject electioneering then they are de facto anarchists. As Tom Mann came to reject electioneering I would class him an anarchist but not de Leon and Connelly. Thus, council communism is closer to the revolutionary ideas of Bakunin than Marx and so is libertarian. As I say, it’s a rule of thumb and the key point to stress is that these Marxists were moving closer to Bakunin.

Talking of which, I should acknowledge Lucien van der Walt, whose comments on earlier versions of this essay were very useful and improved it considerably. When I submit it to Anarchist Studies I’ll include an acknowledgements footnote along with this abstract:

“Ralph Darlington seeks to downplay anarchist influence on syndicalism while also suggesting that Marxism was one of its core ideological elements. This means ignoring both the more obvious influence of Bakunin and that Marx and Engels explicitly rejected the syndicalist ideas expounded by libertarians in the First International. The supposed conceptions syndicalism is claimed to have inherited from Marxism can all be found in the revolutionary anarchist tradition. Rather than syndicalist ideas being inherited from Marxism, they arose from a large anarchist movement in the 1860s and subsequently influenced a wing of Marxism decades later.”

This is not to suggest that, scattered here and there, are not comments by Marx and Engels which could come across as syndicalistic. They both supported unions and strikes, for example. However, their key position was the need for workers to organise political parties and exercise their “political power” by “political action” (universal suffrage). That was their legacy for the labour movement, not syndicalism. Just compare the First and Second Internationals, with Kropotkin arguing that the socialism had “moved away from a pure labour movement, in the sense of a direct struggle against capitalists by means of strikes, unions, and so forth” in favour of standing in elections, political parties and so on. (The Conquest of Bread and Other Writings, pp. 207-8)

A key question is why do we even need to do this, I mean state the obvious about the links between anarchism and syndicalism?

This seems to all flow from false assumptions. Most Marxists, of course, follow Marx and dismiss anarchists as petit-bourgeois individualists who rejected class struggle and organization (as per, for example, Pat Stack’s abysmally bad article in Socialist Review ten years ago which I utilized so much in section H.2 of An Anarchist FAQ – or David McNally’s ). The notion of the likes of Bakunin and Kropotkin rejecting class struggle simply cannot withstand even the slightest awareness of the facts, a fate which awaits anyone who suggests a clear difference between revolutionary anarchism and syndicalism.

Keynes, in a review of one of von Hayek’s book, once stated that it “is an extraordinary example of how, starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end up in Bedlam.” Much the same can be said of commentators on anarchism. For example, in the anthology “Patterns of Anarchy” an economist called J. A. Estey argues that syndicalism is not a form of anarchism. He admits the idea that syndicalism IS a form of anarchism was common and had “countenanced to some extent by utterances of Syndicalists themselves” (p. 43) however this was not the case for there “exists a veritable abyss between Syndicalists and philosophic Anarchists” (p. 45) Why? Well, because of “the anti-social nature of Anarchism”! (p. 45)

Estey suggests that there are three types of anarchist: the Anarchist who throws bombs, the “philosophic Anarchist of the type of Stirner” and “the Anarchist like Proudhon, an essentially social creature, who would abolish the State as we know it, only to set up in its place another.” (p. 44) He then states that syndicalists are neither type one or two. Well, no surprise there. However, type three is not really anarchist even though Proudhon “was pleased to call himself an Anarchist” but did so “not in order that individuals should enjoy the pleasures of isolation”! In fact, “no more ardent exponent of association ever lived” and so “[t]hroughout the entire body of Proudhon’s writings runs this panegyric upon association, stamping him at once not an Anarchist, but as an ardent Socialist.” In short: “The attitude of Proudhon is the attitude of the Syndicalist” (p. 46)

So the founder of anarchism, the person who coined the term, is not an anarchist because he believed in association, not in “isolation”! Never, then, was Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman and the rest of us. Makes you wonder if Stirner was an anarchist in that case, as his “union of egoists” sounds remarkably like an association… And, of course, Proudhon was a socialist! Like all anarchists, but never mind we have our assumptions and by remorseless logic we end up in Bedlam…

This approach applies to more scholarly works as well. A while ago (well, 1994) Daniel Guérin’s accounts of his 1930s trips to Germany were translated and published (The Brown Plague: travels in late Weimar & early Nazi Germany, Duke University Press, Durham, 1994). In the introduction, Robert Schwartzwald (p. 4) states the following:

“Sympathetic to anarchist theory, Guerin was too sophisticated a student of state power and class forces to uncritically embrace anarchist practice; yet, convinced of the revolutionary necessity of mass action, he instinctively distrusted all self-proclaimed leaderships”

Now, I’m not sure that anyone familiar with Guérin’s life and ideas could actually write that. I assume that the editor is a Marxist and so cannot bring himself to acknowledge that Guérin rejected Marxism for anarchism (a bit like the “anarcho”-capitalist fans of Voltairine de Cleyre failing to note their “genius” became a communist-anarchist). After all, Guérin had stated in 1973 the following:

“I am a believer in militant revolutionary anarchism, though I prefer the term ‘libertarian communism’ to ‘anarchism’ – a libertarian communism combing the best elements of Marxist and anarchist ideas. The outstanding anarchist thinkers were Proudhon and Bakunin. I have little regard for Kropotkin, who was too utopian in his writings and did not understand the class struggle.” (Anarchist Voices, p. 468)

Of course, what the “best elements” of Marxism are is a big question (I guess, rightly, it’s the critique of capitalism, but Marx was often developing and expanding upon the insights of Proudhon and others) but he does proclaim his anarchism, even re-iterating that a “practical brand of anarchism is the purpose of my own group” (p. 468) So Guérin was more than being “sympathetic” to anarchism – does that make him unsophisticated?

As for “uncritically embrace anarchist practice” that is nice and vague. I’m not sure ANY anarchist does that, if by “anarchist practice” you mean everything anarchists have done! Notice, though, the counterpoising of “anarchist practice” and “mass action” as if the two were somewhat at odds. It would be better to say that Guérin embraced those forms of “anarchist practice” based on “mass action”, such as Bakunin’s syndicalism I outlined in my article. Suffice to say, we have a statement on Guérin which appears to mean something but when looked at closely becomes gibberish if you don’t share the unstated (Marxist) assumptions of the person who wrote it.

(as an aside, I would question Guérin’s dismissal of Kropotkin who was, myths not-with-standing, well aware of class struggle and its importance. His theory of mutual aid is an important contribution to both biology and anarchist theories of social transformation. I would, needless to say, I agree with the importance of Proudhon but have to note that while he did recognise the existence of classes and class struggle was always keen to stress reconciliation and peaceful reform).

Schwartzwald states that Guérin “played an active role in a ‘libertarian’ Communist group in his later years”. Which raises the question of why libertarian in quote marks? Why the capital on Communist? What does he think “libertarian communism” is? Free-market Marxism? Self-managed gulags? Does he not know the history of libertarian and how it was first used by a communist (an anarchist communist) in 1858? In a footnote, Schwartzwald states Guérin’s was “a small group on the French left that eschewed Leninist and vanguardist models of organisation and action” – or, more correctly, a small group on the French left which embraced revolutionary anarchist models of organisation and action?

So this self-proclaimed anarchist who aligned himself with libertarian communist organisations becomes “one of the few French intellectual militants of this century to successfully negotiate the hazards of ‘nonaligned’ status”! After all, how could someone as “sophisticated” as Guérin be an anarchist? Just like how could syndicalist embrace of class struggle and organisation come from anarchism when, by definition, anarchism is petit-bourgeois individualism? A sadly all too familiar refrain of Marxists, particularly in the SWP.

As with the Chicago Anarchists, if Guérin embraced class struggle tactics and organisation the implication is that this somehow at odds with “anarchist practice” – which to make sense would mean also concluding that Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Berkman, Goldman, etc., were not anarchists! Hence, I suppose, the need for the likes of the SWP to divide us into (“good”, nearly Marxist) syndicalists and (“bad”, individualist) anarchists. If this means ignoring the well known pro-syndicalist positions of the likes of Bakunin and Kropotkin, so be it – when have mere facts bothered to ideologues? Thus we get articles on Emma Goldman and her ideas by members of the ISO which, as I showed, fail to mention her well know support for syndicalism and strike support activities. That does not square with the assumptions and so are placed in the memory hole…

The whole notion that the Chicago Anarchists were “really” Marxists makes the almost complete silence by Engels about the Haymarket affair strange. After all, surely if anyone would be able to recognise a Marxist it would have been Engels? Yet silence, at best mentioned in passing (both publically and in his correspondence). Then there is Marx’s daughter and her husband, Eleanor Marx Aveling and Edward Aveling, who proclaimed:

“The only necessity for stating, before we address ourselves to our task, that we are not Anarchists, but are opposed to Anarchism, lies in the fact that our position of antagonism to the teachings of Anarchism, strengthens our position in asking justice for the condemned men.” (The Chicago Anarchists)

No proclamations of comradely recognition there! What about the Marxist organisations in America at the time. T.V. Powderly, head of the Knights of Labour, during his quite disgusting diatribe against Anarchists (From Thirty Years of Labor 1859 to 1889: Anarchy and the Knights) provides a useful quote, utilised to disabuse “[t]hose who still believe that the anarchists of Chicago and the socialists of America were one”, from “a pamphlet issued by the Socialistic Labor Party on June 1, 1886, in refutation of the charge that socialism and anarchism were one”:

“In reading the newspapers we find the two names mentioned above frequently put side by side. Nay, we And them also associated with the terms communism and nihilism, as though these four ‘isms’ had the closest relation to each other. This is a mistake. Socialism and anarchism are opposites which have nothing in common but their appurtenance to social science. Socialists and anarchists as such are enemies. They pursue contrary aims, and the success of the former will destroy forever the fanatical hopes of the latter.”

Subsequently, the likes of Debs and De Leon made similar comments on the opposition of anarchism and socialism. Of course, from this disavowal of anarchism as a form of socialism eventually comes the myth that anarchism is “just” against the state. With Marxists asserting we were not socialists and anarchists taking our socialism for granted, the debate did become focused around the issue of the state. For those not that aware of the history of anarchism (your typical academic or “anarcho”-capitalist, for example), it becomes a simple case of defining anarchism as opposition to the state – particularly as we criticise “socialism” (i.e., Marxism and its off-shoots). This is not the case, we are just as opposed to capitalism (with Proudhon starting our position of opposition to both capitalism and the state back in 1840).

However, back to Powderly whose words and logic (if it can be called that) are amazing. Essentially, anarchists believe in “anarchy” (as in chaos) and all comments otherwise should be ignored (sounds familiar). After all, who can trust someone who seeks chaos? As Powderly puts it:

“The average anarchist is cowardly and deceitful. When he is asked to explain the principles of anarchy, he will give the definition which is advanced by the apostles of that school of thought. This he will do if those who surround him are not anarchists, but free him from such surroundings and he at once begins to rave in an incoherent manner of what will be done if anarchy once prevails.”

Assuming this was true (which it is not), it makes you wonder how he knew this to be the case. After all, he was not an anarchist and so presumably never got to see this raving in person… reminds me Tommy Sheridan who, in a book written after the anti-Poll-Tax riot, proclaimed that ALL English anarchists were not good anarchists like us in Glasgow (who were, of course, syndicalists). No English anarchist every, apparently, turned up to stop a warrant sale – unlike Sheridan who presumably attended every single one in England and quizzed those who were there on their political allegiance.

Of course, he was trying to deflect attention from his “name names” balls-up on the telly (I still remember the subsequent Strathclyde anti-poll tax federation delegate meeting when the Class War Federation was proclaimed the “name” he was prepared to name – yes, really – and the demonisation of Class War was the order of the day). Sheridan then went on to found the Scottish Socialist Party and this became the grand-hope for the British-left before imploding under the weight of Sheridan’s ego and the usual sectarian in-fighting. I reviewed his book Imagine for Black Flag ages ago, a mish-mash of reformist and Marxist ideas, with (ironically) a few dashes of Proudhon as well (plus the amusing prediction the SSP would sweep to power in 2010). Anyway, to return to Powderly (whom I know was not a Marxist):

“The anarchist in America is no more to be considered a part of the labor movement than the man who sits up nights to work his way into a bank vault that he may enrich himself from the earnings of others.”

That many of the Chicago Anarchists had been seasoned unionists, Knights of Labor members, clearly is irrelevant here. He then quotes a paper called “The Knights of Labor” (May 8, 1886, four days after the Haymarket police riot) and its leading editorial:

“Let it be understood by all the world that the Knights of Labor have no affiliation, association, sympathy or respect for the band of cowardly murderers, cutthroats and robbers known as anarchists, who sneak through the country like midnight assassins, stirring up the passions of ignorant foreigners, unfurling the red flag of anarchy, and causing riot and bloodshed. Parsons, Spies, Fielding, Most, and all their followers, sympathizers, aiders and abetters should be summarily dealt with. They are entitled to no more consideration than wild beasts.”

Quite disgraceful. Still, that is what we can expect and it continues to this day (with a SWP member happy to suggest after Genoa that the Black Bloc was part of the police, for example). Although I cannot help note the reference to the “red flag of anarchy”, something I’ve mentioned on the AFAQ blog as a supplement to the appendix on Anarchist symbols in AFAQ. There is one interesting comment in his rant:

“[The anarchists] resorted to a most effectual means of doing injury. Having secured control in certain Assemblies of the Knights of Labor, they would decide in the anarchist group what should be done, and then have a Local Assembly of the Order, of which I was the executive officer, pass resolutions against my administration.”

Wow, these anarchists have no shame! Taking part in a union assembly and getting their fellow workers to pass resolutions against Powderly… how anti-labour is that? I should mention that in this the Chicago anarchists echoed Bakunin’s advice over a decade previously. Taking the Geneva section of the IWMA, he notes that in the unions the membership "simply left all decision-making to their committees . . . In this manner power gravitated to the committees, and by a species of fiction characteristic of all governments the committees substituted their own will and their own ideas for that of the membership." To combat this bureaucracy, the union "sections could only defend their rights and their autonomy in only one way: the workers called general membership meetings. Nothing arouses the antipathy of the committees more than these popular assemblies . . . In these great meetings of the sections, the items on the agenda was amply discussed and the most progressive opinion prevailed." (Bakunin on Anarchism, pp. 246-7)

But, of course, apparently being pro-union makes you a Marxist (at least according to historian James Green). I get the impression that Stirner (who never called himself an anarchist and whose influence on Marx seems greater than anyone else at the time!) is considered the ideal anarchist. This can be seen from Marx and Engels repeatedly asserting a link between Stirner and Proudhon/Bakunin. When I was doing research for the Proudhon Reader, I came across (I think) Marx proclaiming that Proudhon had got a certain point from Stirner. Which raised some interesting questions. From the first, far too long, introduction to “Property is Theft!”:

“Given that Proudhon did not read German and that the first French translation of Stirner’s Ego and Its Own was made in 1899, we can safely say Proudhon got nothing from the arch egoist (assuming he was even aware he or his book existed). For some reason, Marx and Engels were keen to link Bakunin with Stirner’s ideas. Engels talked about ‘Stirner, the great prophet of contemporary anarchism - Bakunin has taken a great deal from him . . . Bakunin blended [Stirner] with Proudhon and labelled the blend ‘anarchism’” For Marx, “Bakunin has merely translated Proudhon’s and Stirner’s anarchy into the crude language of the Tartars.’ (Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 175 and p. 153). While Bakunin’s debt to Proudhon is well known and obvious, the link with Stirner seems to have existed only in the heads of Marx and Engels. As Mark Leier notes, ‘there is no evidence of this . . . Bakunin mentions Stirner precisely once in his collected works, and then only in passing . . . as far as can be determined, Bakunin had no interest, even a negative one, in Stirner’s ideas.’ (Bakunin: The Creative Passion, p. 97)”

Proudhon, as far as I am aware, never mentions Stirner and, on the face of it, it seems unlike that Proudhon even knew he existed. Bakunin, as Leier notes in his excellent must-read new biography, was not influenced by Stirner. I wonder how many Marxists take their comments at face value?

On a personal note, I remember a Leninist 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 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!

One interesting point to note on this apparently random Stirner association by Marx and Engels, before the Paris Commune Marx complained about the French mutualists: “Proudhonised Stirnerism. Everything is to be dissolved into small ‘groups’ or ‘communes’, which in turn are to form an ‘association’, but no state.” (Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism p. 43) Except Marx is implying that ANY social organisation is a state (something Proudhon rightly questioned) and so a federation of communes is a state. After the Paris Commune, things became somewhat different: “The whole talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the Commune, which was no longer a state in the proper sense of the word” (Engels, p. 154) So an association of communes is “no longer a state”, so implying that the mutualists had been right after all!

And here, of course, Marxists will invoke the magical word “dialectical” to absolve themselves of any possible contradiction…

So before March 1871 arguing for a federation of communes is “Proudhonised Stirnerism”; afterward, the height of proletarian socialism… Just as advocating syndicalism in the IWMA is to be mocked but Marxists embracing it and rejecting social democratic orthodoxy a few decades later shows an “ideological” influence…

I’ve addressed this before (for example, in the Proudhon and Marx appendix to “Property is Theft!” and related blog posts). But then, the Paris Commune did result in Marx and Engels embracing a lot of positions Proudhon had been publically arguing for since at least 1848… While, of course, attacking anarchists for holding the same opinions (but first!) on, say, mandating delegates…

So, in short, we have a situation when the positions first held by anarchists are being passed-off as Marxist. The attempts to portray Marxism as a “core” ideological influence on syndicalism is just the latest in a long line of such appropriations, just as the assertion that the Chicago anarchists “synthesised” Marxism and Anarchism by, well, applying Bakunin’s ideas on revolutionary unions! I have no problem with Marxists recognising the strength of these ideas, I just wish they would at least credit where they came from originally… but to do so would, I guess, undermine attempts to discredit anarchism…

Finally, a few words on our new CON-DEM-nation and the austerity the Tories are imposing. Hats off to them, though. They have managed to spin the narrative of this crisis from the factually correct (we have a high deficit because we had to bail out the unregulated finance sector) into the ideologically correct (we have a high deficit because New Labour spent too much on the public sector). The crisis caused by neo-liberalism is being used to further the neo-liberal agenda…

The Tories (and if the Lib-Dems are having any impact, it is hard to tell – particularly as they have embraced with passion the Tory policies they denounced before the election) have had their first budget. And, unsurprisingly, once you remove the New Labour policies you discover that the Tory part of the budget is regressive:

“As the IFS pointed out, the reason the measures looked so fair was because they took into account the announcements made by Labour in its last few budget statements – higher taxes on income, the clampdown on rich people's pension relief and so on. Strip those out to look at the measures brought in by the Cameron government – the rise in VAT next January, the uprating of benefits in line with inflation as measured by CPI rather than the higher RPI – and the burden falls heaviest on the poorest. Indeed, by the end of the parliament, the IFS finds that the total cost of Mr Osborne's budget was to make the poorest section of society 2.6% worse off, while leaving the richest only 0.6% down. Not only does this show the new chancellor as having been unfair and unprogressive; it also leaves an early impression that he is keen on spin, however misleading.”

In graph form:

Budget-distribution-1024x755.jpg

This is to be expected, it is the Tories! Increasing VAT is their favourite, which is indirect and regressive, and guess what they did it again (after Osborne stating on 6th April that “[t]he tax increases are already in place, the plans do not include an increase in VAT.”). The narrative of the budget was as to be expected, tax increases for all – although not corporation tax, which gets a cut, and an increase for Capital Gains Tax threshold for business. In fact, the VAT rise was only necessary to pay for a series of tax cuts elsewhere, including >corporation tax (so much for “unavoidable” tax rises). Of course, there is the pathetically small and tokenistic bank levy (£1.2bn compared to the £850bn to save the banks from collapse) but rest-assured: “Cut in corporation tax to 24% from 28% [is] expected to negate the impact of the levy on bank profitability.” Surprise!

Why? Because they are Tories and its what Tories do...

As with the Republicans, the long term aim seems to be to eliminate taxation on property and shift it to working class (by taxing labour income and buying). Thus, as usual with capitalist ideology, the derived right (property) trumps the claimed fundamental right (liberty or labour).

So the Tories are using the policies they inherited to portray themselves as being “fair” – but, of course, no matter who got in the cuts would have happened. It is just that the Tories have no qualms about targeting the working class. Ultimately, we have to resist these attacks – although, at present, we seem to be sleep-walking to austerity in the UK. Which, I think, helps explain why the ruling class is pursuing such ideologically driven economic nonsense – they think they can get away with it. Without resistance, without an alternative vision, they are making the most of their opportunity to get rid of what is left of the welfare state. I say help, because we cannot underestimate the power of ideology and assumptions in decision making. The Tories are usually true-believers in neo-classical economics and we cannot discount the power of faith in decision making.

We are just repeating the incompetence and dogma of the first few Thatcher years which deepened the recession but helped break the back of the labour movement. Talking of which, I came across this letter in the Guardian:

“At the conclusion of Adam Curtis's 1992 documentary exposé of the destructive monetarist fantasies of Thatcherism, The League of Gentlemen, Alan Budd offers the following sombre observations on the 1980s policies for which he supplied the gloss of supposed economic objectivity: ‘The nightmare I sometimes have about this whole experience runs as follows … there may have been people making the actual policy decisions … who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation. They did, however, see that it would be a very, very good way to raise unemployment. And raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes … that what was engineered there, in Marxist terms, was a crisis of capitalism which recreated a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.’”

As argued by the likes of Nicholas Kaldor and Thomas Balogh at the time... This interview is on YouTube:

Well, given that capitalism has been rooted in the “Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment” (NAIRU) dogma since the late 1970s, Alan Budd’s faith is truly touching. Particularly since its main proponent got the so-called Nobel Prize for economics and the likes of the Economist stated that the role of unemployment was to cow workers… As I wrote at the time, they should have given it to Marx.

Still, I’m sure Budd will consider all that as just a co-incidence…

I would say that the Tories (and Reagan) utilised a crisis caused, in part, by working class strength in the late 1960s onwards and made it deeper, partly to break the unions, partly due to ideological blindness and partly just incompetence. One thing is sure, inequality exploded under Thatcher (an awkward fact ignored when Cameron hypocritically attacked inequality under Brown). In the home of neo-liberalism, America, the top 1% has more wealth than the bottom 90% -- and nearly as much as the 90-99 percentiles:

half-of-america-has-25-of-the-wealth_0b13c_0.jpg

(part of the essential 15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Wealth And Inequality In America)

Who said that capitalism is not working?

Which brings me back to the issue of assumptions. One of the key aspects of any resistance will be the need to counter the arguments for austerity. We need to understand why cutting wages will make things worse and how the crisis developed as well as what reforms, strategies and organisations should we be raising, how the crisis brings forth the contradiction between profits and meeting human needs, etc. We also need a vision, an alternative, to a system in crisis which flows from our resistance against capitalism.

While it is true that only social revolution will solve the crisis by removing capitalism, I don’t think that most people will just jump to that conclusion. We need to encourage people to make the choice between austerity and resistance and that involves showing how the latter will make our situation improve while the former will not only deepen the problem in the short term but also “solve” the crisis in the longer term (until the next one) by making those who did not cause it pay for it.

Anarchism offers this. That Marxists keep appropriating our ideas and movements just reinforces that.

Until I blog again, be seeing you…

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