"Synthesised" Marxism and Anarchism? My arse!

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While I have great respect for Marx's contribution to the socialist movement (specifically, but not limited to, his analysis of capitalism), I really get sick of attempts to over-egg his influence and, at the same time, reduce the the influence of anarchism or implicitly deny core aspects of revolutionary anarchism. To say that, for example, the Haymarket anarchists "synthesised" anarchism and Marxism seems to suggest that if you accept class struggle, collective action and unions then you are not really an anarchist. Which is, to say the least, bollocks. It suggests an utter ignorance of anarchist ideas and movements. [Serbo-Croat translation]

A lot of this "synthesis" nonsense is appearing on Znet just now (inspired by a recent book by a Marxist academic, whose position I have critiqued before). It was mentioned a few days back, which I blogged about and here I am doing it again. So Znet strikes again:

"Much like the historical traditions of the Haymarket Martyrs and the ‘Wobblies' (the Industrial Workers of the World) in the United States, Lynd and Grubacic argue that the Zapatistas have synthesized the best aspects of both the Marxist and anarchist traditions." Review of Wobblies & Zapatistas By Hans Bennett

And what, exactly, does that mean? Both the Martyrs and Wobblies rejected that shibboleth of Marx and Engels, "political action"! They agreed with Bakunin on the need for economic organisation and action. A position Marx and Engels explicitly rejected and mocked...

So what does "synthesis[ing] the best aspects of both Marxist and anarchist traditions" mean? Recognising the importance of collective class struggle? That is found in Bakunin. Having a critique of capitalism as exploitative? That is found in Bakunin (and Proudhon). Would it be rejecting "political action"? That is hardly Marxist. Would it be focusing on economic struggle and organisation? That is pure Bakunin, not Marx. So, it makes sense to proclaim that the Chicago Anarchists "synthesised" anarchism and Marxism only if you buy into the all-to-common Marxist myths about anarchism...

Perhaps it means recognising that Bakunin was right after all on "political action", the transitional state, the need for revolutionary unionism and so on? If so, then that is hardly "synthesising" anarchism and Marxism, it is admitting that Marx was wrong. Or does it mean accepting various aspects of Marx's critique of capitalism? Yet Bakunin happily did that -- and Marx build on themes first raised and explored (however incompletely) by Proudhon.

"I myself learned for the first time that in the US, both the Haymarket anarchists of the late 1800s, and the anarchist Wobblies of the early 1900s were heavily influenced by Marxism."

Sorry, but the Chicago anarchists came out of, and rejected, Marxism! They were social democrats and, seeing the flaws, moved to an anarchist position. Yes, they kept much of the economic analysis of capitalism from Marx -- but so did Bakunin! They were "Marxists" in the same sense that Bakunin was a "Marxist"... And given that Engels wrote next to nothing about them, it is pretty clear he agreed! That Albert Parsons called his book Anarchism could be considered a clue to his politica, at least to some...

As for the Wobblies, yes, many leading Wobs were Marxists -- and they were purged from the social democratic (Marxist) parties for their unorthodox (un-Marxist) positions. That such people saw the limitations in the orthodox Marxist position says it all, I think. Still, ever since German Social Democracy supported the imperialist war of 1914 Marxists have been trying to distance Marx and Engels (and so Marxism) from the reformist results Bakunin predicted their "political action" would produce... As Emma Goldman put it, they were pursuing a policy which Bakunin had started, not Marx:

"That is also the reason why leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World continue in the Socialist party, which is antagonistic to the principles as well as to the activities of the I. W. W. Also why a rigid Marxian may propose that the Anarchists work together with the faction that began its career by a most bitter and malicious persecution of one of the pioneers of Anarchism, Michael Bakunin . . .

"In fact, it was this determined radical stand which eventually brought about the split in the revolutionary movement of that day, and its division into two factions: the one, under Marx and Engels, aiming at political conquest; the other, under Bakunin and the Latin workers, forging ahead along industrial and Syndicalist lines. The further development of those two wings is familiar to every thinking man and woman: the one has gradually centralized into a huge machine, with the sole purpose of conquering political power within the existing capitalist State; the other is becoming an ever more vital revolutionary factor, dreaded by the enemy as the greatest menace to its rule."

"Syndicalism is, in essence, the economic expression of Anarchism", Goldman concluded and it is hard to disagree. As I've discussed before, unsurprisingly a Leninist could write a lengthy (and distorted) account of her life and politics and fail to mention her syndicalist ideas -- I guess that would not fit in with the "anarchists are individualists who reject collective class struggle" theme Marxists have been inflicting on the world for some time now...

This does not mean that Marxists cannot be syndicalists, of course not. For example, many Italian syndicalists were Marxists (and these were the ones who became Nationalists and then fascists after World War I!). It simply means recognising that those "Marxists" who embraced syndicalism were going against the recommendations of Marx and Engels. As such, movements like syndicalism or the Martyr's "Chicago Idea" are not a synthesis between anarchism and Marxism simply because anarchists like Bakunin advocated revolutionary unionism and Marx opposed it and advocated "political action" (social democracy, in other words). As I noted in my review of Tommy Sheridan's book, while Marxists may like to forget it, social democracy was originally a revolutionary movement following Marx and Engels arguments on the need for "political action" to achieve social revolution. Of course, it did not stay that way for long -- it quickly became as reformist as Bakunin predicted...

So, yes, Marx was important and needs to be read -- but as one comrade among many and, like the others, got a lot wrong which we need to build on and transcend. Calling things "Marxist" when they reject vast chucks of his ideology is hardly convincing... particularly when they (like council communism) end up coming to the same conclusions as a certain Russian anarchist... (and, as we are not "Proudhonists" or "Bakuninists" we do not that the ideological awkwardness of Marxists when it comes to proclaiming famous anarchists wrong on certain issues).

I would say what I am objecting about with this "synthesis" nonsense is that far too many accept the Marxist (usually Leninist) myths on anarchism. Hence syndicalism is seen as being not "pure" anarchism (which is just nonsense, as it means that Bakunin was not a "pure" anarchist!). It also suggests that we should be more up-front about how correct our ideas proved to be. That some many Marxists came to downplay or even reject "political action" and party organisation is significant, as was the Lenin-inspired attempt to distance Marx from social democracy ( as discussed in AFAQ, Marx and Engels thought it was possible to capture the republican state, reform it and then use it to transform society. Little wonder Lenin distorted Marx and Engels, along with anarchism, in State and Revolution!).

On other, more pleasant things. The Proudhon Reader is progressing well. I'll post an specific update soon, but suffice to say only translations of new material are still to be done. The contents page is quite impressive and very comprehensive, even missing the still-to-be-done translations! We still need translation help, so if you want to help out on making the ideas of the founder of anarchism better known then please contact me (at cllv13[at]yahoo.com -- this old email gets a lot of spam anyway, so putting it online should not cause too many problems!). Suffice to say, I'm quite excited about this project as it will enrich our understanding of Proudhon, his ideas and their influence plus how anarchism developed -- the links between Proudhon and subsequent social anarchists cannot be more obvious (bar revolution and communism, the themes are identical -- self-management, communes, decentralisation, working class self-activity, federalism and so on -- as I've noted before in my comments on the otherwise excellent book Black Flame)

Until I blog again, be seeing you...

[Serbo-Croat translation]

Comments

This is hilarious, because I

This is hilarious, because I just wrote an essay in favor of 'fusion'.

This is written as though

This is written as though those who identify as anarchists generally have much time for or knowledge of Marx's critique of political economy, as though the tendency isn't to throw the theoretical baby out with the political bathwater. As you say yourself, anarchists typically don't think of themselves as 'Bakuninists', so noting that Bakunin co-signed Marx's critique (or even that he actually called Marx "the supreme economic and socialist genius of our day") is neither here nor there when it comes to how most anarchists think about Marx. It's like you're weirdly hung up on the semantics of the word 'Marxism', as though it has to mean 'adherence to every aspect of Marx's thought'. When an idea is described as 'Marxist', all it means is it's in some way derived from some aspect of Marx's work. That's why there are so many 'Marxisms' that barely have any resemblance to each other. The council communists and the autonomist Marxists, as you say, came to political conclusions that are basically anarchist - but that doesn't mean that they're 'not Marxists' anymore, they still identify explicitly with a whole body of theory that is not traditionally given much attention by anarchists. The anarchist tradition hasn't made anywhere near the contribution to philosophy, sociology, economics or history as the Marxist tradition has. Personally, I started out identifying as anarchist, then was won over by the sophistication of Marxist theory, identified as Leninist for a while because it's the dominant Marxist tradition to such an extent that to a neophyte it seems synonymous with Marxism, then I discovered the non-Leninist Marxisms and realised I could have it both ways, so I gradually found my way back to anarchism, but I still also identify as Marxist.

This is written as though

This is written as though those who identify as anarchists generally have much time for or knowledge of Marx's critique of political economy, as though the tendency isn't to throw the theoretical baby out with the political bathwater.

Quite true -- some anarchists do reject everything Marx wrote, which is just silly. However, most Marxists seem unaware of how much of what they consider to be "Marxism" was first argued by Proudhon. Indeed, the idea that exploitation happened in production was mocked by Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy!

It's like you're weirdly hung up on the semantics of the word 'Marxism', as though it has to mean 'adherence to every aspect of Marx's thought'. When an idea is described as 'Marxist', all it means is it's in some way derived from some aspect of Marx's work.

And so, apparently, can result in conclusions Marx himself explicitly rejected! The question is "What does 'Marxist' mean?" I would say it means the ideas and conclusions Marx himself advocated -- such as a focus of political action, political parties, etc. You can selectively quote Marx to justify anything (and Marxists do) so "some way derived from some aspect of Marx's work" allows almost anything to proclaim itself Marxist. Which is not helpful -- particularly when it is directly opposed to what Marx and Engels themselves advocated.

So, for example, rejecting political action and embracing revolutionary unionism is not "Marxist" when Marx himself mocked Bakunin for advocating it.

That's why there are so many 'Marxisms' that barely have any resemblance to each other.

Quite -- so "Marxists" can embrace position 100% the opposite of each other, which suggest "Marxism" means very little.

The council communists and the autonomist Marxists, as you say, came to political conclusions that are basically anarchist - but that doesn't mean that they're 'not Marxists' anymore, they still identify explicitly with a whole body of theory that is not traditionally given much attention by anarchists.

If someone rejects positions Marx argued in favour of those he explicitly attacked when advocated by Bakunin, the question surely arises as to whether they are really a Marxist any more.

The anarchist tradition hasn't made anywhere near the contribution to philosophy, sociology, economics or history as the Marxist tradition has.

I would dispute that as much of the anarchist contribution is buried away in difficult to fine articles from papers and journals, or not translated into English. Indeed, much of what passes as "Marxist" was first advocated by Proudhon.

I think anarchists have a lot to be proud of and we should recognise it -- and we should recognise the contributions of Marx while, at the same time, not over-egging it.

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