Yet another SWP numpty on anarchism (part 4)

Happy new year! Hope everyone has a good 2014. First post of the year, namely a review of Alex Prichard’s Justice, Order and Anarchy: The International Political Theory of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (Routledge, 2013). As yous will see, I think it is rather good. Hopefully this will see the start of a general better understanding of Proudhon’s ideas in the English speaking world – at the very least, within anarchist circles.

The good news is that I have managed a 1,000 word review of the (in general, bar Blackledge’s chapter) excellent Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) for Anarchist Studies (AS). I was concerned I was never going to make the word limit but I chopped out the extensive critique of Blackledge in favour of  “he is not even wrong” – which I have  wanted to use for a long time! I will be putting both the AS and longer version on-line shortly.

I will also be having a short version of my recent Victor Serge review (to which I added a pdf version just before Xmas) in AS as well as the latest version of my incomplete Kropotkin Bibliography with an introductory discussion on “Sages” and movements. This discusses why focusing on a few great thinkers gives a misleading impression of anarchism – particularly when those great thinkers had no impact on the development of anarchism, like Godwin and Stirner. It stresses the interaction between “sages” and movements, noting that people become influential when they express the discussions within the movement (for example, Bakunin taking up and championing the syndicalist ideas then current in the First International). Both will be posted in due course.

My new Kropotkin Anthology Direct Struggle Against Capital is being laid-out for publication in the Spring of this year. I’m looking forward to seeing it finally in print. I think it will enrich our understanding of Kropotkin’s ideas as well as the development of revolutionary anarchism from the 1870s to 1890s. As it collects so many of Kropotkin’s writings on the labour movement, it will be hard to present him as being opposed to class struggle or syndicalism as being a “new” development in the 1890s and somehow incompatible with communist-anarchism. Not that it will stop Leninists making those assertions…

Talking of which, back to my critique of Blackledge’s terrible chapter in Libertarian Socialism. This has taken a wee bit longer than I had anticipated. Here are the first three blogs on this subject:

In his first footnote, Blackledge states that he “will use anarchism as a synonym for class struggle anarchism.” (31) However, to prove his thesis he first turns to… Max Stirner. While he asserts that Marx’s critique of Stirner the “first significant engagement between Marxism and anarchism,” this is nonsense. Stirner had zero influence on class struggle anarchism (just in case you are a forgetful as our author, remember, he uses “anarchism as a synonym for class struggle anarchism”). As Mark Leier summarises: “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, 97) Proudhon did not mention him (and Stirner critiqued him precisely because he was not an egoist!). He was rediscovered in the 1890s by a movement that had developed for over five decades without any influence from him at all. So while Stirner is of interest (see section G.6 of An Anarchist FAQ), the only people he influenced in any meaningful way were – Marx and Engels. Stirner’s impact after the 1890s was minimal (his ideas split the American individualist anarchists, hastening their decline). To start the hunt for anarchism’s “liberal” assumptions there is strange – but it will chime with Marxists who consider anarchism, without evidence, as being inherently individualistic.

Equally strange for Blackledge not to mention that Stirner’s critique of “communism” (19-20) was directed at the kind of “vulgar” and “utopian” communism Marx attacked at around the same time. It was moralistic and authoritarian. Proudhon called this “Community” in What is Property? and elsewhere, often (wrongly) translated as “communism.” As such, Stirner was right – at the time “communism (‘social liberalism’) was not so much a radical alternative to the status quo as it was its latest moralistic variant.” (21) So he was not attacking “modern” communism in either its Marxian or anarchist forms. Indeed, the former would not be quite what it is now without Stirner’s work (as Blackledge admits) for Marx essentially agrees with Stirner (just as he agreed with Proudhon’s similar critique of “community”). As for anarchist-communism, as noted Stirner had no impact on its development at all.

As an aside, I should note that Stirner was aware of Proudhon’s advocacy of socialisation of the means of production: “he tries to get us to believe that society is the original possessor and the sole proprietor, of imprescriptible right; against it the so-called proprietors have become thieves (La propriété c'est le vol); if it now deprives of his property the present proprietor, it robs him of nothing, as it is only availing itself of its imprescriptible right. -- So far one comes with the spook of society as a moral person.” (“2. My Intercourse”, The Ego and Its Own). That, however, would be beside the point except that, as noted and refuted in Part One of this series, Blackledge suggests that Bakunin “went further than Proudhon in a collectivist direction” (27)

Back to Stirner, whom Blackledge argues thought “the correct egoistic response was not revolution in the name of some ‘good’ but a more simple rebellion of the ego against authority.” (21) This is not precisely correct. For Stirner, revolution (like anything else!) should only be embraced if the individuals involved gain from it. As Stirner suggests: “But should competition someday disappear, because concerted effort will have been acknowledged as more beneficial than isolation, then will not every single individual inside the associations be equally egoistic and out for his own interests?” This egoism “is not hostile to socialism: in short, it is not inimical to any interest: it excludes no interest… it is… not against socialists, but against the sacred socialists.” (No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, 22, 23) Moreover:

“The labourers have the most enormous power in their hands, and, if they once become thoroughly conscious of it and used it, nothing could withstand them; they would only have to stop labour, regard the product of labour as theirs, and enjoy it. This is the sense of the labour disturbances which show themselves here and there.” (The Ego and Its Own, 116)

I am not, of course, suggesting that Stirner was a syndicalist (although some Glasgow anarchists did combine Stirner with syndicalism, taking his “union of egoists” literally). Just that he is not the idiot Marx and Engels tried to portray him as (so why spend hundreds of pages on a theoretical non-entity? And it is hundreds – the English translation of The German Ideology has 350 pages on Stirner, the bulk of the book). While not an influence on anarchism, his ideas are definitely anarchistic and were seen as such when they were discovered in the 1890s by the anarchist movement. Suffice to say, Stirner is not the right-winger many wish to portray him as.

Blackledge does seem to confuse the state with social organisation as he suggests Stirner does. Thus we have “the liberal conception of the social as an alien power” and so anarchists “can conceive of the state only as an alien power.” (31) Given that it has been such a thing since its rise, it seems strangely a-historic to moan that anarchists have simply recognised what the historical record tells us the state is – namely, “an alien form of public power that stands over society.” (29)

Indeed, this is meant to be the Marxist position. As Engels stated, the distinguishing feature of the state “is the establishment of a public power which no longer directly coincides with the population organising itself as an armed force. This special public power is necessary because a self-acting armed organisation of the population has become impossible since the split into classes . . . This public power exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons and institutions of coercion of all kinds.” Thus “an essential feature of the state is a public power distinct from the mass of the people.” (Selected Works, 576-7, 535-6)

Simply out, if the so-called “workers’ state” really is no longer an alien power separate from the mass of the population, then why call it a state? Perhaps because the Leninist aim is to secure a party government, considered essential to the success of a revolution? (see section H.3.11 of AFAQ) This was the first act of the Bolshevik revolution, the creation of a Bolshevik executive above the soviets (in spite of Lenin’s State and Revolution proclaiming the ending of such things – see section H.1.7 of AFAQ). The evolution of the Bolshevik state was precisely the repression of the working class by the armed forces of a new state – from early 1918 onwards (see section H.6.3 of AFAQ) and its corresponding impact on Bolshevik ideology (see section H.3.8 of AFAQ). However, such historical context is missing from Blackledge’s account which follows the standard Marxist metaphysical position on the state (see section H.3.7 of AFAQ)

So why mention Stirner? He may be relevant to the evolution of Marx’s pre-Darwinian notion of human nature, it has no bearing to “the most important voices within social anarchism – Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin.” (21)  These figures, Blackledge asserts, “embraced models of human nature that included transhistorical conceptions of both egoism and sociality” and so “make sense of the evils of modern society by embedding a transhistorical conception of egoism as the necessary counterweight to the idea of mutual aid.” This has its roots in an “attempt to forge a creative synthesis of socialism and liberalism” and fails to lead to “a root and branch critique of egoism but rather reif[ies] it as an important facet of human essence.” (21)  Marx, in contrast, argued for “historical model of human essence that underpinned a historical model of human freedom.” (19) Thus we do not need to worry that humans have a tendency to abuse power and others because that fails to understand that “modern egoism” is associated with “the rise of capitalism” and working class struggle will overcome it. (19) As Marx said in 1847: “M. Proudhon does not know that the whole of history is nothing but a continual transformation of human nature.” (The Poverty of Philosophy)

Blackledge is clearly one of those who think that this sentence by Marx nullifies millions of years of evolution! Equally bizarre is a critique of anarchism that proclaims its major problem is that it has a too pessimistic perspective of human nature. Worse, for all his stressing of the need to recognise the “historical” context of human nature Blackledge’s own account is sadly lacking in history or historical context.

First off, it is correct to suggest that people (including scientists) do have a bad habit of projecting bourgeoisie cultural values onto nature and back into history. In terms of the former, this shows itself by the alleged paradox of co-operation – if natural selection works on an individual basis and competitive behaviour favours individuals then why is there so much co-operation (mutual aid) in the animal world? Such a paradox only exists if you project the dominant culture onto animal life – if you reject what is “normal” in capitalism then you can easily explain it as co-operation benefits all involved (see my Mutual Aid: An Introduction and Evaluation).

So there is an element of truth in Blackledge’s argument, but this insight is misused to present a pre-Darwinian vision. This applies to “transhistorical” notions and the legacy of evolution, the fact that humanity is a hairless ape evolved from hominids, apes, and so on back millions of years. It would be surprising if this evolutionary process did not leave some impact on us and many evolutionary scientists have pointed to how animals (including humans) have evolved co-operative behaviour and that this has resulted in a sense of fairness (justice) appearing in animals (including humans). This, I should note, is confirming Kropotkin’s arguments.

To suggest otherwise, to ignore the legacy of evolution, in the name of rejecting “transhistorical” notions is flawed. Marxism may or may not inherit anything from “liberalism” in terms of “human nature” but only because it seems to have a quasi-religious notion in which humanity is somehow excluded from evolution and its legacies. We were not created from clay and like other animals we can be nasty to others for our own benefit and co-operate with others (usually for our own benefit, but not always). So to state “the emergence of a new social class with novel needs and capacities (that is, a new nature)” (26) is at odds with modern science that it is touching. Yes, struggle changes people and transforms their world-view, ways of interacting with others, their ethical standards but it does not produce “a new nature” – it modifies an existing one, bringing different aspects to the fore and undermining others. While cultural evolution is fast, biological evolution is not. As Kropotkin suggested:

“While the fundamental features of human characters can only be mediated by a very slow evolution, the relative amount of individualist and mutual aid spirit are among the most changeable features of man. Both being equally products of an anterior development, their relative amounts are seen to change in individuals and even societies with a rapidity which would strike the sociologist if only he paid attention to the subject, and analysed the corresponding facts.” (“Proposed Communist Settlement: A New Colony for Tyneside or Wearside”, The Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 20th February 1895)

If pressed, I am sure that Blackledge will admit that is what he thinks Marx “really” meant (after all, how can you argue capitalism is alienating unless there is a basic human nature to be alienated from?). German philosophy does not overcome millions of years of evolution. In short, we have an evolved “human nature” and anarchists argue that how that is expressed is not “fixed” as this reflects social systems, property systems, political structures – in a nutshell, social relationships. As Kropotkin summarised: “Man is a result of both his inherited instincts and his education.”  (Mutual Aid, 217)

Anarchists can agree with Blackledge when he suggests that through “prehistory and on through pre-capitalist modes of production, the individual’s sense of self was mediated through familial and clan units” (24) but this did not stop a few attempting (and succeeding!) in oppressing and exploiting the many. Unless he is arguing that the chiefs, Kings, aristocrats and so were indifferent to their personal wealth and power, it is difficult to know what he means. So it seems unlikely that pointing out of the realities of class systems in pre-capitalist regimes implies “social anarchism’s naturalisation of one or other aspect of modern egoism.” (24) Perhaps they were not “modern” forms of “egoism”, but it seems fair that to suggest that the ruling classes of these regimes were expressing a desire to increase their personal wealth and power – “egoism”, for want of a better word. Much the same can be said of members of the Leninist and Stalinist bureaucracies who enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian peasants and workers. How they did so may differ, but surely the root cause was similar?

So when Blackledge suggests that an “overlap between anarchism and liberalism is evident, for instance, in the parallels between Bakunin’s suggestion that ‘power corrupts the best’ and Lord Acton’s famous aphorism that ‘all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’” (17) it is hardly convincing. What next, an “overlap” between the Leninism of the SWP and Liberalism because they both criticise Stalinism as (rightly!) dictatorial? When did stating the obvious imply overlaps in ideology?

And what of it? Is Blackledge really suggesting that it is unproblematic to give dictatorial power s to people? I hope not. What of governmental power? Is it unproblematic to proclaim that certain people are, say, good comrades and so don’t need to be elected and subject to recall? Or, with Lenin, that state appointed one-man managers should be given “dictatorial” powers and expect “unquestioning obedience” to their orders? As we suggest in section H.3.13 of AFAQ, this simply handed economic power to the bureaucracy and so set the foundations of Stalinism.

This flows from a dismissal of the anarchist position in favour of the so-called superior Marxist notion that Blackledge is keen to proclaim as so democratic in its aspirations – in practice, less so.

And this is, surely, basic materialism? The anarchist position is that your social relationships shape you (change your “human nature”, to use pre-Darwinian Marxist terminology). Thus someone made King would be shaped by their position in society (for the worse – we will leave it for fairy tales to talk of kind and generous rulers!). To use a more appropriate example: was the Trotsky who defended party dictatorship and one-man management in 1920’s Terrorism and Communism the same Trotsky who predicted the drawbacks of Bolshevik nearly 20 years previously? Did his position in the soviet hierarchy not influence his views in the slightest? If the obvious conclusion is admitted then Blackledge’s case dissolves.

As such, it is funny to see someone following the tradition of “scientific socialism” present such a pre-Darwinian perspective. Apparently the ideas of a German Philosopher written in the 1840s overcomes the whole of the Darwinian revolution just as a single line in The Poverty of Philosophy negates millions of years of evolution. Simply put, “human nature” cannot change as rapidly as Marx asserts nor does it transform as quickly as economies do. What is true is that different aspects of human nature come to the fore in different socio-economic conditions – as Kropotkin publicly argued long before The German Ideology was finally published.

He did so in two key works. Mutual Aid discussed the evolution of popular institutions while Ethics did the same for moral principles. If Marx’s “political opposition to liberalism is similarly rooted in a historical conception of emergent forms of solidarity and association” (24) as Blackledge suggests, this ignores that Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid and Ethics did likewise but, unlike Marx, with a key understanding of Darwin’s ideas and how we are not alien to the animal world and its tendencies to mutual aid are reflected in our evolution as a species. Reading Kropotkin, it is clear that he had no “romantic notion of a natural human solidarity” but saw co-operation in both non-human and human animals as essential for survive in a hostile world – and the work discusses how the masses organised institutions to survive in the hostile environment of class society. In terms of capitalism, he points to unions and co-operatives as expressions of mutual aid – that is, “real struggles.”

Much the same can be said of Bakunin, who stressed how labour struggles transformed those involved, making them political aware, conscious of the need to organise collectively and that these would be the means of ending capitalism and the state. As he put it, there was, “between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, an irreconcilable antagonism which results inevitably from their respective stations in life.” He stressed that “war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is unavoidable” and would only end with the “abolition of the bourgeoisie as a distinct class.” In order for the worker to “become strong” he “must unite” with other workers in “the union of all local and national workers’ associations into a world-wide association, the great International Working-Men’s Association.” It was only “through practice and collective experience” and “the progressive expansion and development of the economic struggle [that] will bring [the worker] more to recognise his true enemies: the privileged classes, including the clergy, the bourgeoisie, and the nobility; and the State, which exists only to safeguard all the privileges of those classes.” There was “but a single path, that of emancipation through practical action” which “has only one meaning. It means workers’ solidarity in their struggle against the bosses. It means trades-unions, organisation, and the federation of resistance funds.” Then, “when the revolution… breaks out, the International will be a real force and know what it has to do”, namely to “take the revolution into its own hands” and become “an earnest international organisation of workers’ associations from all countries” which will be “capable of replacing this departing political world of States and bourgeoisie.” (The Basic Bakunin, 97-8, 103, 110)

So it hardly required a Marxist “perspective” to recognise that “revolutionary activity is not merely system chang­ing, it is also individually transformative” (25) Thus we find Kropotkin , echoing Bakunin, noting that “by degrees, the revolutionary education of the people was being accomplished by the revolution itself.” (The Great French Revolution, 241)

There is, of course, an element of truth in Blackledge’s arguments – there is a tendency for people to take the cultural norms and values of their society as a taken as project them backwards in history and onto nature. However, you would really need to be blind to the realities of both to assert that individual animals (human and non-human alike) do not have a drive to gain at the benefit of others. There is, as Kropotkin argued, competitive and co-operative behaviour and which predominates reflects many factors, including the property relations that exist. This can be seen by the well-known fact that class society has existed for some time and, as Marx and Engels put it, human society “is the history of class struggles.” (Manifesto of the Communist Party) The very fact of class and hierarchical society shows that there is something in human nature that allows the few to seek and succeed in dominating the many. Of course, for most of our 200,000 years as a species we lived in classless and egalitarian societies so showing that class and hierarchy are not an inevitable aspect of humanity. However, anthropologists have shown how classless and egalitarian communities they have studied have mechanisms in place to keep them that way. That these mechanisms have broken down, so producing a series of class and hierarchical societies, suggests that rather the glibly assume away the problem as Blackledge does is no answer – it will ensure that it happens again (as under Lenin and Trotsky).

This applies to working class organisations as well. So while attacking Robert Michels for pointing of “the iron law of oligarchy”, Blackledge does not really address the awkward fact that this does seem exist and that working class organisations are not immune to it. Proclaiming that Marx’s “historicalised” notion of human nature negates this problem is not convincing, particularly when Engels recognised for the need for self-guards to protect against the abuse of position by elected representatives in his 1891 introduction to Marx’s The Civil War in France:

“From the outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not manage with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment. What had been the characteristic attribute of the former state? Society had created its own organs to look after its common interests… But these organs, at whose head was the state power, had in the course of time, in pursuance of their own special interests, transformed themselves from the servants of society into the masters of society, as can be seen, for example, not only in the hereditary monarchy, but equally also in the democratic republic…It is precisely in America that we see best how there takes place this process of the state power making itself independent in relation to society, whose mere instrument it was originally intended to be. …

“Against this transformation of the state and the organs of the state from servants of society into masters of society – an inevitable transformation in all previous states – the Commune made use of two infallible expedients. In this first place, it filled all posts… by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, with the right of the same electors to recall their delegate at any time. And in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers… In this way an effective barrier to place-hunting and careerism was set up…”

All fine and good – but Engels is simply repeating Proudhon’s ideas from 1848. As he put it in March of that year:

“In the end, we are all voters; we can choose the most worthy.

“We can do more; we can follow them step-by-step in their legislative acts and their votes; we will make them transmit our arguments and our documents; we will suggest our will to them, and when we are discontented, we will recall and dismiss them.

“The choice of talents, the imperative mandate [mandate impertif], and permanent revocability are the most immediate and incontestable consequences of the electoral principle. It is the inevitable program of all democracy.” (Property is Theft!, 273)

Bakunin, it must be noted, argued the same in the 1860s. So it would seem that we anarchists have a point and one which Engels appears to agree with. Moreover, Michels had a point with regards Marxist parties (not to mention trade unions). Blackledge would object to mentioning the bureaucracy of the Social Democratic parties as they were not real Marxist parties and can be ignored. This is because the iron law of oligarchy “misses its target” as genuine Marxist parties do not aim to seize power in the old state. (29) So simply having the correct ideology insulates from the pressures of reformism and bureaucracy – that the Bolshevik party was subject to both is best unmentioned (so denying historical context, again). As Trotsky noted as regards the bureaucracy in the Bolshevik party:

“As often happens, a sharp cleavage developed between the classes in motion and the interests of the party machines. Even the Bolshevik Party cadres, who enjoyed the benefit of exceptional revolutionary training, were definitely inclined to disregard the masses and to identify their own special interests and the interests of the machine on the very day after the monarchy was overthrown. What, then, could be expected of these cadres when they became an all-powerful state bureaucracy?” (Stalin, vol. 1, 298)

Quite. Discussing the Bolsheviks in 1905 Trotsky points out this tendency existed from the start as the “habits peculiar to a political machine were already forming in the underground. The young revolutionary bureaucrat was already emerging as a type. The conditions of conspiracy, true enough, offered rather meagre scope for such formalities of democracy as electiveness, accountability and control. Yet, undoubtedly the committeemen narrowed these limitations considerably more than necessity demanded and were far more intransigent and severe with the revolutionary workingmen than with themselves, preferring to domineer even on occasions that called for lending an attentive ear to the voice of the masses.” He quotes one member on these party bureaucrats, the “committeemen,” and how “as a rule” they “did not recognise any party democracy” and “did not want any innovations. The ‘committeeman’ did not desire, and did not know how to, adapt himself to rapidly changing conditions.” (101) These criticisms are regularly directed to Blackledge’s own party, by other Leninists (who think their own parties are unaffected by it) and dissidents and ex-members of the SWP (see section H.5.11 of AFAQ).

Then there is the Soviet State around which a centralised system quickly emerged. Rather than immediately cutting the size and power of the bureaucracy, it “grew by leaps and bounds. Control over the new bureaucracy constantly diminished, partly because no genuine opposition existed. The alienation between ‘people’ and ‘officials,’ which the soviet system was supposed to remove, was back again. Beginning in 1918, complaints about ‘bureaucratic excesses,’ lack of contact with voters, and new proletarian bureaucrats grew louder and louder.” (Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets, 242) So the rise of a state bureaucracy started immediately with the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, particularly as the state’s functions grew to include economic decisions as well as political ones:

“The old state’s political apparatus was ‘smashed,’ but in its place a new bureaucratic and centralised system emerged with extraordinary rapidity. After the transfer of government to Moscow in March 1918 it continued to expand . . . As the functions of the state expanded so did the bureaucracy, and by August 1918 nearly a third of Moscow’s working population were employed in offices. The great increase in the number of employees . . . took place in early to mid-1918 and, thereafter, despite many campaigns to reduce their number, they remained a steady proportion of the falling population” (Richard Sakwa, “The Commune State in Moscow in 1918,” pp. 429-449, Slavic Review, vol. 46, no. 3/4, pp. 437-8)

This, anarchists would stress, is an inherent feature of centralised systems. As such, this rise of bureaucracy confirmed anarchist predictions that centralisation will recreate bureaucracy. After all, some means were required to gather, collate and provide information by which the central bodies made their decisions. Overtime, this permanent collection of bodies would become the real power in the state, with the party members nominally in charge really under the control of an unelected and uncontrolled officialdom. Thus a necessary side-effect of Bolshevik centralism was bureaucracy and it soon became the real power in the state (and, ultimately, in the 1920s became the social base for the rise of Stalin). This is to be expected as any state “is already a privileged class and cut off from the people” and would “seek to extend its powers, to be beyond public control, to impose its own policies and to give priority to special interests.” Moreover, “what an all-powerful, oppressive, all-absorbing oligarchy must be one which has at its services, that is at its disposal, all social wealth, all public services.” (Malatesta, Anarchy, 36, 37)

Bakunin would hardly have been surprised, yet Blackledge states that Bakunin’s prediction of a “red bureaucracy” was based on “a priori comments” which “reflect not a perceptive grasp on reality but rather the fundamental problems associated with conceiving democracy from an anarchist perspective and this the limitations of anarchism as an anti-capitalist ideology.” (30) Yet if you read Bakunin, you soon realise that his prediction is based on a clear understanding of the nature of the state and why it could not be used as a means of liberation. And that it was confirmed in practice. It is Marxism which as “limitations” as “an anti-capitalist ideology” (if that it be – most, but not all, Marxists seem intent on creating state-capitalism as per Lenin).

Blackledge is right to argue that “workers begin to create modes of existence which underpin a virtuous alternative to egoism” (25) but, at the same time, they also create the means by which those they delegate tasks do not misuse that power – election, mandates and recall (as Proudhon suggested in early 1848). The two go hand-in-hand and it seems incredulous that Blackledge does not mention that this as it is something Leninists usually pay lip-service to – without acknowledging that anarchists argued it long before the libertarians in the Paris Commune applied these ideas. This flows from our recognition that how “human nature” expresses itself is not fixed – no anarchist has ever suggested that how our nature expresses itself is fixed. Indeed, our critique of Marxism notes that giving power to a few people changes all involved for the worse, even the best. Hence the need to end hierarchy and replace it with self-management.

This shows a real difference which Blackledge ignores. The anarchist perspective on “human nature” logically implies the need for a decentralised federalism rooted in elections, imperative mandates and recall and, unsurprisingly, we discover both Proudhon and Bakunin arguing for these long before 1871. Blackledge’s position implies no such thing and Marx is silent on mandates and recall before libertarians in the Commune implemented them. Ultimately, if the anarchists are wrong then no big deal – recall is never needed – but if Marxism is wrong and power does corrupt then you end up with Stalinism. Blackledge ignores this, along with Marxism’s own (very) “ambiguous relationship” to democracy (to mention one obvious example, the Bolshevik advocacy of party dictatorship and one-man management).

But that is enough for now. Until I blog again, be seeing you!


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