Yet another SWP numpty on anarchism (part 2)

Before continuing my critique of “Freedom and Democracy: Marxism, Anarchism and the Problem of Human Nature” by SWPer Paul Blackledge, I should note I’ve posted a (longish) review of a reprinted biography of Lucy Parsons. This book is a terrible due to it being completely unreliable on anarchism. On issues I know a bit about (like anarchism!), I can state that it is not only wrong but also misleading so I would take anything it claims with a large pinch of salt.

So why reprint such an obviously flawed book? Because the distortions reflect common Leninist views of anarchism. As such, I’m not surprised that the American ISO (part of the same “tendency” as the British SWP) have reprinted it. It was used by one of their members as the basis of an equally misleading article and pamphlet (as I blogged before about). Seeing that few radicals these days believe in the Bolshevik Myth, it makes sense to muddy the water by suggesting that those who argue for class struggle are not really anarchists.

And as I note in my review, if Parsons did downplay the struggle against patriarchy in favour of an almost total focus on class struggle then she was wrong. The struggle for equality (which socialism is, surely?) cannot be indifferent to other forms of oppression nor assume that everything will work out okay after “the glorious day.” The element of truth in Parsons’ position is struggles against social oppression like racism, sexism, homophobia cannot ignore class (any more than the struggle against class can ignore social oppression!). As such, Goldman’s position was correct – we need to fight social oppression in the here and now but in a class conscious manner, recognising that equality means more than the ability for everyone to become bosses or politicians (or wage-slaves and governed subjects).

And as the current crisis in the British SWP shows, you cannot ignore the importance of feminism in the here and now nor tolerate patriarchal attitudes because “class struggle” is considered more important.

Oh, and on a personal note, I must report that my An Anarchist FAQ event at Housemans Bookshop went well. The bookshop people seemed happy with the turn out (it was packed, although I must note it’s a small shop!) and the people I talked to afterwards said they enjoyed my talk on the history of anarchism. Talking of which, I need to write that up. I suggested I could do another talk on Proudhon and they will look into suitable dates.

Anyway, back to my critique of Blackledge.

In part one, I focused on the Paris Commune and his claims that this showed how Marx’s superior politics allowed him to embrace it and envision new forms of social organisation. I countered by pointing that he was reporting on actions by followers of Proudhon who applied the ideas he had advocated during the 1848 revolution and after (and repeated by Bakunin in the late 1860s). I also showed how Blackledge simply did not understand the anarchist critique of the Commune. I ended by saying part two would be on democracy.

Blackledge talks of anarchism’s “ambiguous relationship to the idea of a real democratic alternative to capitalism” (21) which raises more questions. What of democracy as an ideal? Are anarchists against it? The answer, of course, cannot be summarised into a few sentences as Blackledge tries to. To do so cannot help but produce a distorted perspective on anarchist ideas (perhaps as intended?). First, however, I must note a certain irony here. Blackledge is keen to paint anarchists as being influenced by liberalism yet his frame of discussion is distinctly liberal as Lenin suggested (in a chapter entitled “How Kautsky Turned Marx Into A Common Liberal”):

“It is natural for a liberal to speak of ‘democracy’ in general; but a Marxist will never forget to ask: ‘for what class?’... To transform Kautsky’s liberal and false assertion into a Marxist and true one, one must say: dictatorship does not necessarily mean the abolition of democracy for the class that exercises the dictatorship over other classes; but it does mean the abolition (or very material restriction, which is also a form of abolition) of democracy for the class over which, or against which, the dictatorship is exercised.” (“The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”, The Lenin Anthology, 465)

So to go on about “ambiguous relationship to the idea of a real democratic alternative to capitalism” (21) fails to recognise the fundamental issue (democracy for which class?) and its implications (which forms of organisation empower which classes?). In short, some forms of “democracy” promote socialism while others do not. The anarchist critique of democracy has focused precisely on these kinds of questions, as I will sketch. Simply put, centralised (representative) democracy is not democracy for the working class (the vast majority) – it is democracy for the few who make up the government (as Lenin’s regime showed).

I must also note that Lenin’s work this was written in October and November 1918. By this time the Soviet Regime was a de facto one-party state. As discussed in section H.6.1 of An Anarchist FAQ, the spring of 1918 saw the Bolsheviks gerrymander and pack soviets to ensure their majority, disbanding (by force) any to which a non-Bolshevik majority managed to get elected. This reached its peak by the gerrymandering and packing of the Fifth All-Russian Soviet Congress in July 1918 to deny the Left-SRs of their rightful majority. In short, when Lenin wrote those words the Bolshevik Party exercised dictatorship over the proletariat, so confirming Bakunin’s critique of Marxism. And just as the reality of Social Democracy saw its official ideology revised to (reformist) practice, so Bolshevik ideology was revised to reflect its monopolisation of political power – in 1919 the necessity of party dictatorship became official Bolshevik policy, as reflected in Trotsky’s works in the 1920s and 1930s (see below). However, I am getting ahead of myself!

So where do anarchists stand of “democracy”? Well, depends on what you mean by “democracy”! Anarchists recognise that “democracy” means different things at different times – and to different classes. Kropotkin spoke highly of the directly democratic federal “sections” of the French Revolution (see chapters XXIV and XXV of his classic The Great French Revolution) but attacked representative democracy (see “Representative Government” and “Revolutionary Government” in Words of a Rebel). Does than suggest an “ambiguous” perspective of “democracy” or does it simply recognise that the term “democracy” it itself “ambiguous” as it covers a wide range of visions and practices?

In the past, this basic point was recognised by Leninists, who tended to stick the word “proletarian” or “workers” before democracy (and state!) to show that they advocated something radical and different to bourgeois democracy (although, as we note before, this did not stop them also advocating party dictatorship at the same time). Blackledge does not do this, instead using “democracy” as if it were an unproblematic word defining an agreed notion. Thus we find him quoting Malatesta on how “[d]emocracy is a lie, it is oppression and is in reality, oligarchy.” Which raises the question, what did Malatesta mean by democracy? If you consult the text in question it is clear he is talking about a republic in the context of the struggle against Italian fascism. Moreover, it is clear that he is discussing representative democracy:

“It would be closer to the truth to say, ‘government of the majority of the people.’ This implies a minority that must either rebel or submit to the will of others.

“But it is never the case that the representatives of the majority of people are all of the same mind on all questions; it is therefore necessary to have recourse again to the majority system and thus we will get closer still to the truth with ‘government of the majority of the elected by the majority of the electors.’

“Which is already beginning to bear a strong resemblance to minority government.… it is easy to understand what has already been proved by universal historical experience: even in the most democratic of democracies it is always a small minority that rules and imposes its will and interests by force.

“Therefore, those who really want ‘government of the people’… must ensure that no-one, majority or minority, can rule over others; in other words, they must abolish government… and replace it with the free organisation of those with common interests and aims.” (“Democracy and Anarchy“, The Anarchist Revolution, 78)

Is this so difficult to understand? That “democracy” in a representative system means that the people elect those who govern on their behalf? That democracy, in practice, is as Proudhon suggested in 1848: “Instead of saying, as M. Thiers did, that the King reigns and does not govern, democracy says that the People reigns and does not govern, which is to deny the Revolution.” (Property is Theft!, 267) A democracy in which, to quote Proudhon, “the citizen has nothing left but the power of choosing his rulers by a plurality vote” (Property is Theft!, 566) is not very democratic! Hence Proudhon stressing the importance of decentralisation and federalism in 1851:

“Unless democracy is a fraud, and the sovereignty of the People a joke, it must be admitted that each citizen in the sphere of his industry, each municipal, district or provincial council within its own territory, is the only natural and legitimate representative of the Sovereign, and that therefore each locality should act directly and by itself in administering the interests which it includes, and should exercise full sovereignty in relation to them.” (Property is Theft!, 595)

In short, Blackledge presents another classic example of selective quoting by Marxists against anarchism. Malatesta was, clearly, discussing the realities of representative democracy where a majority of voters becomes a majority of representatives then a majority of the executive and then, in the end, a majority of the cabinet.

Not that this is a controversial position. Here is Lenin in 1920 describing the reality of the Bolshevik regime within the context of a debate with left-communists that it was “ridiculously absurd, and stupid” to “a contrast, in general, between the dictatorship of the masses and the dictatorship of the leaders” (“Left-wing communism: An Infantile Disorder”, The Lenin Anthology, 568):

“In Russia today, the connection between leaders, party, class and masses… are concretely as follows: the dictatorship is exercised by the proletariat organised in the Soviets and is guided by the Communist Party… The Party, which holds annual congresses..., is directed by a Central Committee of nineteen elected at the congress, while the current work in Moscow has to be carried on by [two] still smaller bodies… which are elected at the plenary sessions of the Central Committee, five members of the Central Committee to each bureau. This, it would appear, is a full-fledged ‘oligarchy.’ No important political or organisational question is decided by any state institution in our republic [sic!] without the guidance of the Party’s Central Committee.

“In its work, the Party relies directly on the trade unions, which... have a membership of over four million and are formally non-Party. Actually, all the directing bodies of the vast majority of the unions… are made up of Communists, and carry out of all the directives of the Party. Thus… we have a formally non-communist… very powerful proletarian apparatus, by means of which the Party is closely linked up with the class and the masses, and by means of which, under the leadership of the Party, the class dictatorship of the class is exercised.” (571-2)

So all the affairs of the Soviet regime are in the hands of nineteen people as these have been elected by the appropriate party bodies (we will ignore the awkward fact that at this time the Bolsheviks had a monopoly of power in the soviets). So Malatesta and Lenin agree – except that the latter sees no problem with oligarchy as long as it is his party’s central committee which is at the top.

So it is all fine and well to proclaim that “workers could become fit to rule through the revolutionary process itself” (26) but the anarchist critique is that precisely that by creating a new state the workers will not rule, rather it will be a few party leaders. Blackledge makes no attempt to discuss, never mind refute, this critique. to quote Bakunin, anarchists do “not accept, even in the process of revolutionary transition, either constituent assemblies, provisional governments or so-called revolutionary dictatorships; because we are convinced that revolution is only sincere, honest and real in the hands of the masses, and that when it is concentrated in those of a few ruling individuals it inevitably and immediately becomes reaction.” (Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, 237) As we will see below, the Bolshevik leaders proved him right by implementing and advocating party dictatorship.

So does anarchism have an “ambiguous relationship” to democracy? Yes, but simply because democracy itself is a very ambiguous term (which is why anarchists tend to avoid it!). It could mean many things:

  • Majority decision making
  • Majority rule
  • Electing, mandating and recalling delegates
  • Voting in referendum
  • Electing representatives
  • Electing a government within a current state
  • Electing a government within a “workers’ state”

Clearly some of these anarchists are opposed to, namely electing a government (although as Blackledge admits anarchists consider representative government a step forward compared to monarchies or dictatorships). However, in a centralised hierarchical body (like a state) democracy is limited to picking masters (as Proudhon argued). And, as Malatesta put it, “if you consider these worthy electors as unable to look after their own interests themselves, how is it that they will know how to choose for themselves the shepherds who must guide them? And how will they be able to solve this problem of social alchemy, of producing a genius from the votes of a mass of fools?” (Anarchy, 53-4) Indeed, Presidential elections are often too similar to electing Kings (as, again, Proudhon noted). For this reason we find Proudhon attacking (centralised, representative) democracy:

“At present we are a quasi-democratic Republic: all the citizens are permitted, every third or fourth year, to elect, first, the Legislative Power, second, the Executive Power. The duration of this participation in the Government for the popular collectivity is brief; forty-eight hours at the most for each election... The President and the Representatives, once elected, are the masters; all the rest obey. They are subjects, to be governed and to be taxed, without surcease.” (Property is Theft!, 573)

So we are against this kind of democracy precisely because it is undemocratic – shuffling into a voting booth as an isolated individual every four years is hardly a great example of popular sovereignty! This applies to so-called workers’ states as much as bourgeois ones (a topic I will blog about in the next instalment of this series).

Which leaves us with majority decision making, majority rule and electing, mandating and recalling delegates. As far as the last one, as I showed in my last blog, anarchists like Proudhon and Bakunin had raised this as the basis of their federalism for years before the Paris Commune made Marx aware of its importance. As such, to proclaim as Blackledge does that “the worry that Marxists have about Bakunin’s position is that his own criticisms of democracy show no evidence that he even considered the possibility that it could have a deeper social content than bourgeois democracy” (21) shows an ignorance of Bakunin’s ideas rather than an accurate summary of them! As is clear from reading Bakunin (or Proudhon), he advocated a decentralised, federated system based on elected, mandated and recallable delegates. This is the way anarchists argue that social decision making in a decentralised socialism (or labour movement) would work. Instead of electing representatives and giving them power to decide as they wish (as per our current system), we make decisions in our communities and workplaces and co-ordinate more widely by means of federations of councils made up of mandated, elected and recallable delegates (see section I of An Anarchist FAQ on this).

These councils of delegates are elected from workplace and community assemblies, which brings us to the last two options – majority decision making and majority rule. These two are often confused, sometimes rightly (in many situations you have to go with the majority as it is impractical not to) and sometimes wrongly (in many situations a majority decision need not be binding on a minority). Anarchists, in general, have no problem with the former but recognise the problems with the latter.

Simply put, the majority (just like a minority) can be idiots, can make mistakes, can be oppressive. As such, to proclaim that the majority should rule regardless is simply false – for example, if the majority decide that homosexuality should be banned, it does not make it right. This is what Rousseau was getting at with his idea of “the General Will” – the majority’s decisions may not be just or protective of minority rights and liberties. And the reason why democracy is meant to be a good thing is not because the majority are always right but because it secures the liberty of the people far better than rule by a few (although in practice democracy usually means “rule by the elected few”).

That, surely, does not make anarchists “undemocratic” it just recognises that majorities can act in ways which undermine the principles of democracy? To take an obvious example from the 1848 revolution, Proudhon noted that the February revolt which created the Republic was not the product of a majority vote and that the first election of the Second Republic produced a reactionary National Assembly which spent its time pushing the revolution backwards. If we are democrats, do we deny the creation of the Republic (the act of a minority) and approve the attacks on social reform and restrictions on universal suffrage passed by the elected representatives of the people (a majority of the few elected by the majority)? And let us not forget what other ideas have had majority support (or may have) in certain places at certain times:

  • That women are inferior and should not have the same rights as men or the vote
  • That married women should become the property of their husbands
  • That black people are inferior and can be held as slaves
  • That black people are inferior and should not have same right as whites or the vote
  • That inter-racial marriage is against the laws of nature and should be banned
  • That homosexuality is against the laws of nature and should be banned
  • That homosexuals should be denied equal rights (including the right to marriage)
  • That Catholics are inferior to Protestants and should not have equal rights
  • That evolutionary theory is the work of the devil and should not be taught in schools

The list could go on (and include the notions that some or all workers should not be allowed to strike and/or that unions should be banned). The simple point is that minorities are the progressive force in human history, not majorities. Think of a movement – be it the anti-slavery movement, feminism, trade unionism, socialism, the civil rights movement, gay liberation, etc. – and you will discover a militant minority which challenges the views of the majority, fights them by direct action, and ends up shifting social perspectives.

(As an aside, I really should mention that Proudhon was not the racist that many Marxists think he was – thanks to numpty Hal Draper. As Proudhon put it in 1851: “Whatever a man’s race or colour, he is really a native of the universe; he has citizen’s rights everywhere.” (Property is Theft!, 597) In 1863, he argued that “[t]o save the [American] Union, two things were necessary through common accord and energetic will: 1) free the blacks and give them civil rights… 2) energetically resist the growing [size of the] proletariat.” The aim would be to “hail them [Black people] as fellow citizens and equals” for they were “as free as the whites by nature and human dignity”. Thus “the principle of equality before the law must have as corollaries: 1) the principle of equality of races, 2) the principle of equal conditions and 3) the principle of increasingly similar, although never completely equal, fortunes.” As such, both sides in the American Civil War were “fighting only over the type of servitude” and so were “betrayers of the federative principle” – the North defending the proletariat, the South slavery. The aim was to abolish both wage-labour and slavery by means of “organising, alongside political guarantees, a system of economic guarantees” (Third Part: Chapter IX, “Slavery and the Proletariat”, Du Principe Fédératif) Suffice to say, as I show in my introduction to Property is Theft! Proudhon is a much misrepresented thinker. He was, however, a sexist prat.).

Of course, for social revolution this militant minority must convince the majority. As Kropotkin put it, the “idea of anarchist communism, today represented by feeble minorities, but increasingly finding popular expression, will make its way among the mass of the people. Spreading everywhere, the anarchist groups… will take strength from the support they find among the people, and will raise the red flag of the revolution.” When revolution breaks out, “what is now the minority will become the People, the great mass, and that mass rising against property and the State, will march forward towards anarchist communism.” (“Revolutionary Minorities”, Words of a Rebel, 75) However, this should not blind us to the fact that majorities can be stupid and oppressive (and, yes, so can minorities but few argue that they should rule).

Yes, we can hope (with good reason) that a free society would produce people who are enlightened and progressive due to the elimination of the hierarchies which distort and impoverish people – however, we cannot assume that will always be the case (as can be seen by the many revolutionaries who pay lip-service to, say, feminism but in practice as sexist prats). As with all things, with enough assumptions we can overcome all problems but that does not make for good politics. In other words, while we can hope that minorities would not need to fear the majority and its prejudices we should not build that assumption into our politics – we need to recognise that minorities have the right to rebel against the majority if the latter act like idiots (just as the majority has the right to resist attempts by minorities to oppress them). And for those who argue that minority rights should be embedded into democratic decision making then I would reply that they (implicitly) agree with the anarchist critique of democracy.

So if we are to make assumptions, assume the worse! If we are wrong, then no big deal. If we are right, at least we have the theoretical basis to recognise the problems and fix them. This can best be shown by the contrasting anarchist and Marxist positions on economic disruption during a revolution. To quote from my introduction to the forthcoming Kropotkin anthology:

So “the Revolution will take a different character in each of the different European nations; the point attained in the socialisation of wealth will not be everywhere the same.” (“Food”, The Conquest of Bread, 81-2) It was by its very nature a learning process, and “by degrees, the revolutionary education of the people was being accomplished by the revolution itself.” (The Great French Revolution, 241)

Given this, it is strange [for Marxist Bertell Ollman] to claim that anarchists thought a “full blown” communist society was possible “overnight” given that anarchists had always stressed the difficulties facing a social revolution. Ironically, while Kropotkin was discussing the problems facing a revolution the Marxists of the time were suggesting the opposite. It took until 1920 and Nikolai Bukharin’s (infamous) The Economics of the Transition Period for Marxists to recognise this basic point. Bukharin noted four “real costs of revolution” and that “great revolutions were always accompanied by destructive civil wars.” This “may appear to have been an obvious point, but it apparently came as something of a revelation to many Bolsheviks. It directly opposed the prevailing Social Democratic assumption that the transition to socialism would be relatively painless… Profound or not, Bolsheviks generally came to accept the ‘law’ and to regard it as a significant discovery by Bukharin.” (Stephan F. Cohen, “In Praise of War Communism: Bukharin’s The Economics of the Transition Period”, Revolution and politics in Russia: essays in memory of B.I. Nicolaevsky (Bloomington: Indiana University Press for the International Affairs Center, 1973), Alexander and Janet Rabinowitch with Ladis K.D. Kristof (eds.), 195-6) The Bolsheviks sought to cope with this inevitable disruption by state coercion and centralism, which made matters much worse.

It was the very problems a revolutionary period would face which recommended the anarchist solution. Socialism could only be built from the bottom up and “the next revolution” will be “accomplished outside Parliament, by the free initiative of British workmen, who will take possession for themselves of capital, land, houses, and instruments of labour, and then combine in order to start life on new lines of local independence… No Parliament, however noisy, will help accomplish the Social Revolution… it is not to parliamentary rule that the revolted workmen will look for the economic and political reorganisation of the People.” (“Parliamentary Rule”, Act For Yourselves, 41) Economically, this meant that the “workers, the producers, must become the managers of the producing concern” (Freedom, July 1917 […]) and the expropriation of “everything that enables any man – be he financier, mill-owner, or landlord – to appropriate the product of others’ toil.” This meant “the property of the great landlords is socialised,” housing “taken over by the Commune,” industry “communalised” and turned over “to those who work in them.” In short: “oust the landowners, and hand over the mills and factories to the worker. (“Expropriation”, The Conquest of Bread, 61-3) Politically, workers “would federate as soon as they would have broken the capitalist yoke in their own city.” (“Municipal Socialism”, Act For Yourselves, 92)

Which brings us to the next problem, which is what many advocates of “democracy” really mean is that once their party is in power then the population should just shut-up and obey. Hence the Thatcherites in the 1980s and now note that their unpopular policies have to be implemented because they are the “democratically elected government” (regardless of the awkward fact it is actually a handful of millionaires in the cabinet who are making the decisions and not “the people”). Equally, the Tory anti-union laws (forcing unions to hold secret ballots before striking) were portrayed as being “democratic” reforms – however, they replaced the collective democracy of union meetings with that of isolated individuals. Which is more democratic? Surely the democracy of the union assembly which allowed members to debate and set policy rather than the aye/no of paper ballots?

(As an aside, this was the theme of both Proudhon’s 1848 pamphlet “Democracy” and the fourth study (“The Principle of Authority”) in 1851’s General Idea of the Revolution).

Which raises another question, like “the majority of which group?” Take my union, the branch is the elemental body but in a large organisation this means that local issues in sub-units cannot lead to strike action until the branch has a General Meeting. This is exploited by management who make sub-unit changes aware that the union would need to ballot all members for action, not just the few who are affected. This applies regionally and nationally, too, and leads to trade union officials having the power to deny strike action in branches as this could harm the union as a whole. So taken nationally, branches having the autonomy to strike is avoided as this would be “undemocratic” as it is a minority who are involved... So, in the name of “democracy”, the actual power of members is reduced.

I should note here that the NUM, Britain’s most militant union, was federalist and had significant branch autonomy – something lost of many Leninists who seem to assume that its militancy was due to it being centralised rather than decentralised (as shown by my last encounter with the AWL). As British syndicalist Tom Brown summarised (and needless to say, this echoes the arguments of Proudhon and Bakunin):

“The trade unionist is in a dilemma. He knows that the strikers, assembled at their place of work, are the ones to decide when to strike, when top pay benefits and what shall be official and what unofficial. But, nevertheless, he wishes the workers’ organizations to be so linked that they present one solid, nation-wide front against the common enemy. He does not wish to see the labour forces split into a thousand small units to be tackled one at a time by the boss, and, too often, he believes that centralism is the only way of achieving this. We affirm that there is another way and deny that centralisation achieves its claimed objective.

“Centralisation takes control too far away from the place of struggle to be effective on the workers’ side in that fight. Most disputes arise in the factory, bus garage or mine. According to trade union procedure the dispute must be reported to the district office of the union, (and in some cases to an area office) then to head office, then back again, then the complicated ‘machinery for avoiding disputes’ devised by trade union ‘leaders’ and the employers’ lawyers is set in its ball passing motion, until everyone forgets the original cause of all this passing up and down. The worker is not allowed any direct approach to, or control of the problem.

“How are we to achieve rank-and-file control of the union and yet gain the maximum co-ordination of the labour forces? Syndicalism solves the problem in a simple and straightforward way.

“The basis of the Syndicate is the mass meeting or workers assembled at their place of work, factory, garage, ship, loco shed or mine, The meeting elects its factory committee and delegates. The factory Syndicate is federated to all other such committees in the locality—textile, shop assistants, dockers, busmen and so on. In the other direction the factory, let us say engineering factory, is affiliated to the District Federation of Engineers. In turn the District Federation is affiliated to the National Federation of Engineers.

“Such federations are formed in each of the twenty-five to thirty industries and services—Rail Federation, Transport Federation and so on. Then, each industrial federation is affiliated to the National Federation of Labour, the co-ordination of all the workers’ forces.

“But how the members of such committees are elected is most important. They are, first of all, not representatives like Members of Parliament who air their own views; they are delegates who carry the message of the workers who elect them. They do not tell the workers what the ‘official’ policy is; the workers tell them.

“Delegates are subject to instant recall by the persons who elected them. None may sit for longer than two successive years, and four years must elapse before his next nomination. Very few will receive wages as delegates, and then only the district rate of wages for the industry. We want none of the thousand a year trade union bosses.

“It will be seen that in the Syndicate the members control the organisation — not the bureaucrats controlling the members. In a trade union the higher up the pyramid a man is the more power he wields; in a Syndicate the higher he is the less power he has.

“The factory Syndicate has full autonomy over its own affairs. The district deals only with the general conditions of the district and industry; the national with those things which are generally nationally but not particular to the primary Syndicate.

“By such an organization the workers would be able to express in deeds their solidarity with striking fellow-workers. The only hope of the greatest labour force being turned onto any dispute is that feeling of class solidarity.” (“Principles of Syndicalism“, Syndicalism, 33-6)

(And as for anyone who suggests that this is syndicalism, not anarchism, I would note that this misunderstands the relationship between the two – a misunderstanding popular in Marxist circles – as I discuss in section H.2.8 of An Anarchist FAQ as well as this critique of a SWP Academic’s article and this talk from last year’s London Anarchist bookfair).

Hence the need for federalism to complement decentralisation, to co-ordinate the common struggles and interests of the people within a decentralised system which ensures that people do actually govern themselves, make their own decisions, rather than simply elect a few people to govern (and repress!) them in their name. This, I would suggest, is far more democratic than Lenin’s vision of a nineteen-man central committee ruling in the name of the working class and has its roots in the ideas of Bakunin (and, ultimately, in Proudhon as Bakunin, like many libertarians at the time, applied his ideas in the labour movement and developed them in a revolutionary class struggle direction).

So while in favour of majority decision making, anarchists do not extend this to majority rule. It raises too many problems, not least that of oppression of minorities. Of course, this does not mean that we do not defend a revolution against those seeking to recreate property or hierarchy. As Malatesta put it, some seem to suppose “that anarchists, in the name of their principles, would wish to see that strange freedom respected which violates and destroys the freedom and life of others. They seem almost to believe that after having brought down government and private property we would allow both to be quietly built up again, because of respect for the freedom of those who might feel the need to be rulers and property owners. A truly curious way of interpreting our ideas.” (Anarchy, 42-3) This applies to those seeking to create or practice any form of hierarchical social relationship – whether by a minority or a majority.

This position is hardly controversial and one, I would suggest, most Marxists would agree with if they bothered to present the anarchist position accurately.

So in terms of “democracy” anarchists argue that the minority has the right to dissent, to revolt, to ignore the majority and their “public power” simply because the majority are not ways right. Leninists agree but with a significant difference – the minority they grant that right to is the government, the party leaders (as indicated below and section H.3.8 of An Anarchist FAQ). Few would disagree that the anarchist position is the one truly in the spirit of real democracy while the Leninist one is in the spirit of bourgeois democracy and the likes of Blair, Bush, and so on.

As this is discussed more in section H.2.11 and section I.5.6 of An Anarchist FAQ, I will leave it there. Suffice to say, the anarchist critique of democracy is based on two key points – that a statist democracy is fundamentally undemocratic and the majority can be oppressive and so simply stating that the majority should rule is not unproblematic. This, needless to say, does not imply that anarchists are undemocratic in the sense that we are against people having meaningful control over the decisions that affect them – quite the reverse! Our critique recognises that democracy (however defined) need not achieve this goal – and in its representative (statist) form, cannot.

Hence we find Proudhon arguing that the state produced an “external constitution of its power and sovereignty” and so “the people does not govern itself; now one individual, now several, by a title either elective or hereditary, are charged with governing it, with managing its affairs.” Instead, he aimed for a social organisation in which “the people... can and ought to govern itself by itself... We deny government and the State, because we affirm that which the founders of States have never believed in, the personality and autonomy of the masses.” So anarchists “deny the State and the government” and “affirm in the same breath the autonomy of the people and its majority.” Thus “the only way to organise democratic government is to abolish government.” However, he also considered universal suffrage as a “great principle of democracy” but added it was “a corollary of the federal principle or nothing.” This meant that “universal suffrage provides us,… in an embryonic state, with the complete system of future society. If it is reduced to the people nominating a few hundred deputies who have no initiative... social sovereignty becomes a mere fiction and the Revolution is strangled at birth.” Instead he argued that libertarian society would “have, then, not an abstract sovereignty of the people, as in the Constitution of 1793 and subsequent constitutions, or as in Rousseau’s Social Contract, but an effective sovereignty of the working, reigning, governing masses... how could it be otherwise if they are in charge of the whole economic system including labour, capital, credit, property and wealth?” (Property is Theft!, 482, 483, 484, 485, 64, 29)

Needless to say, Blackledge ignores all this as thoroughly as he ignores Leninism’s own (very!) “ambiguous relationship” to democracy – as suggested by Lenin’s words from 1920 quoted above. Let us quote Trotsky on the question of party dictatorship, given that the SWP consider him as an example of their form of socialism and consider themselves following in his tradition (if critical of certain aspects of his ideas on Stalinism preferring their – flawed – notion that it was state capitalist rather than a “degenerated” workers state – see section H.3.13 of An Anarchist FAQ).

In 1920 we find Trotsky arguing that while the Bolsheviks have “more than once been accused of having substituted for the dictatorship of the Soviets the dictatorship of the party,” in fact “it can be said with complete justice that the dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party.” “In this ‘substitution’ of the power of the party for the power of the working class,” Trotsky added, “there is nothing accidental, and in reality there is no substitution at all. The Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class.” (Terrorism and Communism, 109) In early 1921, he argued again for Party dictatorship at the Tenth Party Congress:

“The Workers’ Opposition has come out with dangerous slogans, making a fetish of democratic principles! They place the workers’ right to elect representatives above the Party, as if the party were not entitled to assert its dictatorship even if that dictatorship temporarily clashed with the passing moods of the workers’ democracy. It is necessary to create amongst us the awareness of the revolutionary birthright of the party, which is obliged to maintain its dictatorship, regardless of temporary wavering even in the working classes. This awareness is for us the indispensable element. The dictatorship does not base itself at every given moment on the formal principle of a workers’ democracy.” (quoted by Samuel Farber, Before Stalinism, 209)

It would be remiss not to mention that the Workers’ Opposition limited their demands for workers’ democracy (mediated, of course, by party cells) to economic organisations – like the rest of the Bolsheviks “had no wish to disturb the communist party’s monopoly of political power.” (Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy, 294) However, back to Trotsky…

In 1922 Trotsky was happy to proclaim that “we maintain the dictatorship of our party!” (The First Five Years of the Communist International, vol. 2, 255) The next year saw him arguing that “[i]f there is one question which basically not only does not require revision but does not so much as admit the thought of revision, it is the question of the dictatorship of the Party.” (Leon Trotsky Speaks, 158) December of that year (1923) saw him write that “[w]e are the only party in the country, and in the period of the dictatorship it could not be otherwise… the Communist Party is obliged to monopolise the direction of political life.” (The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25), 87) In 1926 he opined that the “dictatorship of the party does not contradict the dictatorship of the class either theoretically or practically; but is the expression of it, if the regime of workers’ democracy is constantly developed more and more.” (The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27), 76) He needless to say linked his ideas to Lenin:

“Of course, the foundation of our regime is the dictatorship of a class. But this in turn assumes… it is a class that has come to self-consciousness through its vanguard, which is to say, through the party. Without this, the dictatorship could not exist… Dictatorship is the most highly concentrated function of a class, and therefore the basic instrument of a dictatorship is a party. In the most fundamental aspects a class realises its dictatorship through a party. That is why Lenin spoke not only of the dictatorship of the class but also the dictatorship of the party and, in a certain sense, made them identical.” (75-6)

In 1927 he argued for “the Leninist principle, inviolable for every Bolshevik, that the dictatorship of the proletariat is and can be realised only through the dictatorship of the party.” It was stressed that the “dictatorship of the proletariat [sic!] demands as its very core a single proletarian party.” (The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-7), 395, 441) Thus it was a case that “[w]ith us the dictatorship of the party (quite falsely disputed theoretically by Stalin) is the expression of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat… The dictatorship of a party is a part of the socialist revolution.” (Leon Trotsky on China, 251) Ten years later, after the obvious evils of Stalinism could not be avoided any longer, he still repeated this position and presents the position which Blackledge is at pains to suggest is anarchist slander against the Marxist tradition:

“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, 513-4)

Still, to be fair to Blackledge Trotsky’s arguments do not suffer for ambiguity! Unfortunately for Blackledge, they are not only completely at odds with his arguments they are also all-too-common in the Bolshevik tradition. Trotsky’s comments in 1937 echo Lenin’s argument that “the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through an organisation embracing the whole of the class, because in all capitalist countries (and not only over here, in one of the most backward) the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts . . . that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard… Such is the basic mechanism of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the essentials of transition from capitalism to communism… for the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised by a mass proletarian organisation.” (Collected Works, vol. 32, 21)

And it is necessary stress that Lenin and Trotsky both contradict Blackledge’s claim that the anarchist critique of Marxism fails to recognise that Marx “departed from Blanqui’s revolutionary elitism by insisting that workers could become fit to rule through the revolutionary process itself... it was the collective struggles in the revolutionary process that did away with the need for Blanqui’s elitist model of ‘revolutionary dictatorship’.” (26) Both these leading Marxists argued the exact opposite – that workers could not become fit to rule and that a party had to wield power on their behalf until they were (sometime in the unspecified future). Which, of course, supports those Marxists who argue that Leninism is not Marxist but does aid Blackledge’s Leninism!

This support for party dictatorship was not some minority position. It was Bolshevik policy post-1917 as the they lost popular support: as shown by by their gerrymandering and disbanding of soviets (section H.6.1 of An Anarchist FAQ) and the breaking of strikes and protests (section H.6.3 of An Anarchist FAQ). As Lenin admitted: “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 . . .’” (vol. 29, 535) Zinoviev stated the same idea at the second congress of the Comintern in 1920:

“Today, people like Kautsky come along and say that in Russia you do not have the dictatorship of the working class but the dictatorship of the party. They think this is a reproach against us. Not in the least! We have a dictatorship of the working class and that is precisely why we also have a dictatorship of the Communist Party. The dictatorship of the Communist Party is only a function, an attribute, an expression of the dictatorship of the working class… the dictatorship of the proletariat is at the same time the dictatorship of the Communist Party.” (Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920, vol. 1, 152)

He made the same point in print the same year, arguing that “soviet rule in Russia could not have been maintained for three years - not even three weeks - without the iron dictatorship of the Communist Party. Any class conscious worker must understand that the dictatorship of the working class can be achieved only by the dictatorship of its vanguard, i.e., by the Communist Party.” (quoted by Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets, 239-40) Three years later, at the Communist Party’s congress, he made light of “comrades who think that the dictatorship of the party is a thing to be realised in practice but not spoken about.” He went on to argue that what was needed was “a single powerful central committee which is leader of everything… in this is expressed the dictatorship of the party.” The Congress itself resolved that “the dictatorship of the working class cannot be assured otherwise than in the form of a dictatorship of its leading vanguard, i.e., the Communist Party.” (quoted by E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, vol. 1, 236, 236-7, 237]

In March 1923 the Central Committee of the Communist Party in a statement issued to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Bolshevik Party. This statement summarised the lessons gained from the Russian revolution, stating that “the party of the Bolsheviks proved able to stand out fearlessly against the vacillations within its own class, vacillations which, with the slightest weakness in the vanguard, could turn into an unprecedented defeat for the proletariat.” Vacillations, of course, are expressed by workers’ democracy. Little wonder the statement rejects it: “The dictatorship of the working class finds its expression in the dictatorship of the party.” (“To the Workers of the USSR” in G. Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party, 213-4)

Even in the prison camps in the late 1920s and early 1930s, “almost all the Trotskyists continued to consider that ‘freedom of party’ would be ‘the end of the revolution.’ ‘Freedom to choose one’s party - that is Menshevism,’ was the Trotskyists’ final verdict.” (Ante Ciliga, The Russian Enigma, 280) As “Left Oppositionist” Victor Serge pointed out, “the greatest reach of boldness of the Left Opposition in the Bolshevik Party was to demand the restoration of inner-Party democracy, and it never dared dispute the theory of single-party government - by this time, it was too late.” (The Serge-Trotsky Papers, p. 181)

Blackledge is, of course, keen to distance Marxism’s from charges of Blanquism and rule by an elite. He stresses that Marx’s historicalised conception of “human nature” shows how “workers could become fit to rule through the revolutionary process itself” (26) and quotes Engels against the Blanquists as proof. Yet, for some reason, he fails to quote Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev on how that this was not the case and revolution required a party dictatorship. For these leading Marxists, party dictatorship was required because the masses could not become fit to rule as capitalism precludes this.

Given this open advocacy of party dictatorship to the world and the urging the world’s revolutionaries to follow down that path, you would think that Blackledge would mention it. After all, if anarchism’s has an “ambiguous relationship to the idea of a real democratic alternative to capitalism” (21) where does that leave Marxism? Ah, but I am being unfair as I’m bringing up history again when discussing Marxism’s “historical conception of human essence.” (23) We must, apparently, discuss anarchism and Marxism as if nothing of note has happened in the 130 years since Marx’s death in 1883! Or, for that matter, critically evaluate the events of his lifetime and his analysis of them (like the Paris Commune.

Which covers political (or communal) democracy, what of economic democracy? It is significant that Marx wrote next to nothing about workplace or economy democracy (workers’ management of production). Marxist Bertell Ollman notes that “Marx’s picture of life and organisation in the first stage of communism is very incomplete. There is no discussion of such obviously important developments as workers’ control. We can only guess how much power workers enjoy in their enterprises…” (“Marx’s Vision of Communism”, Social and Sexual Revolution: Essays on Marx and Reich, 65-6) This is significant, as this article trawls all of Marx’s works to present his vision of communism – if such an advocacy of economic democracy existed then he would have reported it. The same cannot be said of Proudhon and Bakunin, nor Kropotkin. All were clear on workers’ management of production and its importance.

Compare Marx to, say, Proudhon. While the Manifesto of the Communist Party goes on about the need “to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State” and “industrial armies” but fails to mention workers’ management of production (neither did The Poverty of Philosophy, if you want to compare the first books of each tradition), we find What is Property? stating quite clearly that “leaders, instructors, superintendents… must be chosen from the workers by the workers themselves, and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility. It is the same with all public functions, whether of administration or instruction.” (Property is Theft!, 119)

This is no isolated occurrence. Proudhon returned to economic democracy repeatedly from 1840 to his death in 1865. Thus, to present a few examples, we find an extended discussion of association in System of Economic Contradictions (Property is Theft!, 213-5), 1848’s election manifesto (377-8), The Bank of the People (391), his polemic with Pierre Leroux (499-500), his extended discussion in General Idea of the Revolution (Property is Theft!, 558-9, 582-6), Stock Exchange Speculator’s Manual (Property is Theft!, 609-17), The Federative Principle (Property is Theft!, 712-4, 718), The Political Capacity of the Working Classes (Property is Theft!, 735, 744-53, 758-9) and The Theory of Property (780). As he summarised in 1848:

“under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership… We do not want expropriation by the State of the mines, canals and railways: it is still monarchical, still wage-labour. We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations… We want these associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies woven into the common cloth of the democratic and social Republic.” (“Election Manifesto of Le Peuple,Property is Theft!, 377-8)

Thus anarchists have long seen “industrial associations” as “worker republics” as well as the need for a “universal association” (or an “agricultural-industrial federation”). As Proudhon put it on his death bed: “The revolution, in democratising us, has launched us on the paths of industrial democracy.” (Property is Theft!, 179, 711, 780, 735) Bakunin and Kropotkin followed Proudhon in this. As I’ve been working on gathering together rare texts for my new Kropotkin anthology Direct Struggle Against Capital, I will quote a few of them:

“No one can underrate the importance of this labour movement for the coming revolution. It will be those agglomerations of wealth producers which will have to reorganise production on new social bases. They will have to organise the life of the nation and the use which it will make of the hitherto accumulated riches and means of production. They – the labourers, grouped together – not the politicians.” (“Commemoration of the Chicago Martyrs”, Freedom, December 1892)

“The capitalists are continually complaining that they cannot manage industries well enough to be productive; they are too poor to pay you a living wage. Well, if they cannot manage industry without exploiting us so, let them go. We don’t want them; we can manage better than they have done yet… You are told that you have nothing to say in the management of these things; the present is a good time to begin saying you have, that it is the capitalist who is the outsider and that the organisation of industry must be taken into the hands of the workers. This is one movement in which you have only to be logical; to come to the necessary conclusion imposed upon you by the managers of industry themselves.” (“The Development of Trade-Unionism”, Freedom, March 1898)

“Their idea is to discover a means for the workers, organised by trades, to seize all branches of industry, and prepare the means whereby they themselves can manage these industries for the benefit of society… But ever since the great dock strike in London raised some hope, the English workers openly expressed the idea of the docks’ being seized by the Dockers’ Union and the Workers’ Union managing the operation of them… That was where their eyes were directed… all the workers, engineers, stokers, etc., managing that industry themselves…For it is not going to be the ministers but rather the workers themselves who will see to the honest management of industry.” (“Trade Unionism and Parliamentarism”, Les Temps Nouveaux, 13th October 1906)

This lack of concern for workplace/economic democracy by Marx had consequences. While anarchists were raising workers’ self-management in 1917, the Bolsheviks were aiming for state control and any (limited) support for workers’ control (i.e., supervision) was quickly replaced by the imposition of one-man management (see section H.3.14 of An Anarchist FAQ).

This flowed from Marx’s lack of comment on workplace democracy. As historian S.A. Smith correctly summarises, the Bolshevik party “had no position on the question of workers’ control prior to 1917.” The “factory committees launched the slogan of workers’ control of production quite independently of the Bolshevik party. It was not until May that the party began to take it up.” However, Lenin used “the term [‘workers’ control’] in a very different sense from that of the factory committees.” In fact Lenin’s proposals were “thoroughly statist and centralist in character, whereas the practice of the factory committees was essentially local and autonomous.” While those Bolsheviks “connected with the factory committees assigned responsibility for workers’ control of production chiefly to the committees” this “never became official Bolshevik party policy.” In fact, “the Bolsheviks never deviated before or after October from a commitment to a statist, centralised solution to economic disorder. The disagreement between the two wings of the socialist movement [i.e., the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks] was not about state control in the abstract, but what kind of state should co-ordinate control of the economy: a bourgeois state or a workers’ state?” They “did not disagree radically in the specific measures which they advocated for control of the economy.” Lenin “never developed a conception of workers’ self-management. Even after October, workers’ control remained for him fundamentally a matter of ‘inspection’ and ‘accounting’… rather than as being necessary to the transformation of the process of production by the direct producers. For Lenin, the transformation of capitalist relations of production was achieved at central-state level, rather than at enterprise level. Progress to socialism was guaranteed by the character of the state and achieved through policies by the central state - not by the degree of power exercised by workers on the shop floor.” (Red Petrograd, 153, 154, 159, 153, 154, 228)

This was in 1917 and when the Bolsheviks were in opposition. When in power, the Bolsheviks changed their position and came out against even the limited workers’ control (i.e., supervision) they had advocated and instead urged “dictatorial” one-man management based on state appointees (see Maurice Brinton’s essential The Bolsheviks and Workers Control for details). This was considered as unproblematic by the Bolsheviks, with Trotsky summarising their position in 1920 by noting that “our Party Congress… expressed itself in favour of the principle of one-man management in the administration of industry… It would be the greatest possible mistake, however, to consider this decision as a blow to the independence of the working class. The independence of the workers is determined and measured not by whether three workers or one are placed at the head of a factory.” As such, it “would consequently be a most crying error to confuse the question as to the supremacy of the proletariat with the question of boards of workers at the head of factories. The dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed in the abolition of private property in the means of production, in the supremacy over the whole Soviet mechanism of the collective will of the workers, and not at all in the form in which individual economic enterprises are administered.” Rather than manage their workplaces as Kropotkin had urged, unions “should discipline the workers and teach them to place the interests of production above their own needs and demands” Thus “the only solution to economic difficulties from the point of view of both principle and of practice is to treat the population of the whole country as the reservoir of the necessary labour power… and to introduce strict order into the work of its registration, mobilisation and utilisation.” This was a general principle not a result of the difficulties of the Civil War: “I consider if the civil war had not plundered our economic organs of all that was strongest, most independent, most endowed with initiative, we should undoubtedly have entered the path of one-man management in the sphere of economic administration much sooner and much less painfully.” (Terrorism and Communism, 162, 143, 135,162-3)

Needless to say, this simply handed economic power straight to the bureaucracy – which quickly confirmed the anarchist analysis that a centralised body could not handle the problems facing a social revolution. Interestingly, Ollman admits that “[a]lthough Marx recognises that demand is elastic he never doubts that his proletarian planners – whose actual planning mechanisms are never discussed – will make the right equations.” (63) In practice, this proved to be less easy than Marx had lead his followers to believe – so confirming Kropotkin’s warnings that the notion that a “strongly centralised Government” could “command that a prescribed quantity” of a good “be sent to such a place on such a day” and be “received on a given day by a specified official and stored in particular warehouses” was not only “undesirable” but also “wildly Utopian.” During his discussion of the benefits of free agreement against state tutelage, Kropotkin noted that only the former allowed the utilisation of “the co-operation, the enthusiasm, the local knowledge” of the people. (The Conquest of Bread, 82-3, 137)

And do not be fooled by Trotsky’s cant about “the collective will of the workers” for, as noted above, Trotsky admitted in the same work that there was a party dictatorship and this was simply an euphemism for that grim reality. And talking of that, I’m sure most Leninists reading this will mutter about me not discussing the Russian Civil War which forced the Bolsheviks to be authoritarian. That is true, I do not discuss it for five reasons – first, the Bolsheviks themselves did not justify their actions in relation to the Civil War (they generalised to all revolutions); second, Bolshevik authoritarianism started before the Civil War started; third, the Bolsheviks argued that Civil War was an inevitable aspect of revolution (a position Leninists repeat to this day when they falsely assert anarchists fail to see the need to defend a revolution – see section H.2.1 of An Anarchist FAQ); fourth, the Makhnovists operating in the same difficult circumstances did not implement the same policies; and, fifth, I discuss this in section H.6 of An Anarchist FAQ and so will not here.

(As an aside, Leninists tend to explain the degeneration of the Bolshevik regime purely in terms of the “objective circumstances” facing the ruling party, in part by the legacy of the pre-capitalist, quasi-feudal Tsarist regime. Ignoring the awkward fact that Lenin in 1917 did not suggest this was a hindrance to seizing power, it would be more convincing if they used this legacy to explain the apparent “success” of Bolshevism – perhaps vanguardism (see section H.5 of An Anarchist FAQ) can only work in such pre-capitalist societies? After all, those have been the only places where such an organisational form and ideology have allegedly worked – I say allegedly for it is a strange definition of success to count the creation of state capitalist party dictatorships as that!).

All of which brings raises an interesting fact about Blackledge’s chapter, namely its complete avoidance of the reality of Leninism in power and its ideological positions. Nowhere does he raise, never mind explain, the awkward fact that leading Bolsheviks like Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev all advocated party dictatorship and one-man management. If, as Blackledge smugly proclaims, Marxism (or Leninism) is “a real democratic alternative to capitalism” which anarchists must “re-engage” with then why did this happen? (30, 31) His readers would never know that this had happened from his account as he fails to mention all this yet feels confident enough to lecture anarchists over “democracy.” Worse, as noted in my first blog of this series, he prattles on about Marxism supporting “new forms of democracy” (19) when, in fact, anarchists had advocated them first!

(As yet another aside, this does not mean that Marxism is inherently undemocratic. At its most basic, some Marxists are not Leninists – and indeed protest, with reason, that Leninism is not Marxist at all – and some – like council communists – can be very close to anarchism. In terms of Leninism, it simply means that it is simply not inherently democratic – freedom and democracy are considered optional extras, which the party can dispense with if it considers it necessary. Ironically, this perspective is related to what Blackledge is so proud of, namely Marx’s pre-Darwinian notions on human nature – a topic I will blog about latter in this series. Suffice to say, given the track record of Leninism in power it takes some nerve to talk of anarchism’s “ambiguous” relationship to “democracy”!).

So perhaps it is time for Marxists to “re-engage” with anarchism? Like, for example, actually reading the likes of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin and recognising that much of what passes for “Marxism” was actually first raised by them? If they did that, they would see how stupid it is to write things like “Marx was able to conceive of new forms of democracy that overcame the capitalist separation of economic and politics, as we shall see anarchism’s tendency to embed a transhistorical conception of human egoism acts as a barrier to its conceptualisation of any such project”! (19) For in terms of economic and communal democracy and federalism based on elected, mandated and recallable delegates, anarchists like Proudhon and Bakunin had advocated this years before Marx had his eyes opened in 1871 and “embrace[d] the Paris Commune as a model of socialism.” (23) And, perhaps, recognising that “democracy” is an ambiguous term and that anarchist positions in regards to it cannot be summarised in a few sentences without seriously distorting libertarian ideas?

In my next blog, I will discuss Marxism and the state as well as its relationship to Social Democracy, a relationship Blackledge is keen to deny.


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