Yet another SWP numpty on anarchism (part 5)

Well, it has taken longer than expected but here is the last part of my critique of Blackledge’s terrible article on anarchism. Indeed, it has taken so long I’ve actually written and published the review of the otherwise excellent book it is part of (long version in Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, short version in Anarchist Studies).

I’ve done a lot of these kinds of replies to Leninist attacks over the years (mostly, but not exclusively, against the British SWP – which Blackledge was a member of, not sure if he has remained in it after its recent crisis). Indeed, section H.2 of An Anarchist FAQ had to be done to correct (at least in part) the many, many distortions out there. I hope that they are of use to people – but while fun to do (exercising my sarcasm talents can be enjoyable), the repetitiveness of them gets to you.

Before starting, I should note that I’ve recently posted an article on the London Dock Strike of 1889 and its lessons for anarchists them and now (it includes the new translation of Kropotkin’s article inspired by it: What a strike is). I have just posted a review of the excellent new Malatesta reader The Method of Freedom – it confirms the Italian in his position as my favourite dead anarchist. I’m working on getting Black Flag re-launched for this year’s London Anarchist Bookfair on the 18th of October – just need to get that article on the UK economy finished…

Anyway, back to Blackledge. Here are the first four blogs on this subject:

Blackledge, like most Marxists, tries to discuss Proudhon and his ideas. It is a sign of how seriously he treats the subject that he gets his reference wrong – while quoting from 1851’s General Idea of the Revolution he references 1840’s What is Property?. Suffice to say, he does not present a fair summary of Proudhon’s arguments. He singularly fails to mention two fundamental aspects of Proudhon critique of the state, namely that he considered it as an instrument of class rule and that it lead to rule by the few over the many. By leaving these unmentioned, Blackledge completely distorts anarchist ideas and presents a caricature of epic proportions (see also “Introduction: General Idea of the Revolution in the 21st Century”, my introduction to Property is Theft!).

According to Blackledge, “[w]hereas Marx’s critique of capitalism was made from the standpoint of the struggles of the ‘new fangled’ working class, Proudhon criticised nineteenth-century French society for its deviation from the ‘natural order’.” Of course, when you finally track down the actual source of the quote you discover the Proudhon wrote something completely different to what was claimed. He did not talk of how capitalism violated “the” natural order, but rather argued that “modern society” existed in place “of a natural order” and was “unable to answer the needs of an entirely industrial civilisation” and so “revolution is the necessary result.” (General Idea of the Revolution, 75)

Changing the “a” to “the” he presents Proudhon – as Marx tried to – as someone aiming for an ideal rather than a theorists who prided himself on analysing tendencies within modern society for glimpses of the society which would replace it. In other words, the “system” Proudhon was discussing in 1846’s System of Economic Contradictions was not – as Marx suggested – an invented utopia but rather capitalism – an economic system racked by contradictions. That work also shows no desire for a return to pre-capitalist systems, embracing as it does large-scale technology and workers associations (the “organisation of labour”). Still, I doubt that Blackledge has bothered to confirm whether Marx’s diatribe against it was accurate or not (short answer: no).

In terms of his point, well, the idea that capitalism (selling your labour) was hardly “natural” was not limited to Proudhon. Other working class people argued the same, for example an American Printers’ Union argued its members “regard such an organisation [a union] not only as an agent of immediate relief, but also as an essential to the ultimate destruction of those unnatural relations at present subsisting between the interests of the employing and the employed classes . . . when labour determines to sell itself no longer to speculators, but to become its own employer, to own and enjoy itself and the fruit thereof, the necessity for scales of prices will have passed away and labour will be forever rescued from the control of the capitalist.” (quoted by Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello, Common Sense for Hard Times, 27-28)

Still, I guess we can be grateful that Marx came along and informed workers of the correct nature of class consciousness!

And given that Marx soon talked about how capitalism alienated people from their species character (their “nature”) then suggesting that capitalism is not “a natural order” can hardly be considered much different.

So the changing of the “a” to “the” is significant as the latter, unlike the former, suggests a fixed – backwards looking – idea rather than a critical perspective which analyses today in order to see what could be. It should come as no surprise that Proudhon repeatedly attacked those who did look backwards for inspiration or sought to invent visions of the good society to which humanity must fit.

In terms of the former, we discover him arguing in 1848 on the need to look forwards in words remarkably similar to Marx’s later (and more famous) comments in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte :

“All of the ground that we have covered in retreat over the past two months was covered under the aegis of memories contrary to the old republic. It is by ’93 and all of its discord that we are being ruled; and as for 1848, that is still the seven-times-sealed book. What we have here is a phenomenon of social psychology that is deserving of further exploration. That phenomenon has come to pass in every revolutionary age and it is this that has raised every peril and determined catastrophes.

“The democrats of ’93, conjuring up a republic with their high school memories, after devouring one another, set the revolution back by half a century . . . The democrats of 1848, building the republic on their parliamentary memories, have also set the revolution back by half a century. I am not pointing the finger at their patriotism, their good intentions, their disinterestedness. The sum total of their fault is that they are only imitators; they thought themselves statesmen because they were following the old models!

“So what is this queer preoccupation which, in time of revolution, bedazzles the most steadfast minds, and, when their burning aspirations carry them forward into the future, has them constantly harking back the past? How does it come about that the People, just when it is making the break with established institutions, takes another plunge and gets further immersed in tradition? Society does not repeat itself: but one would have thought it was walking backwards, like the rope-maker playing out his rope. Could it not turn its gaze in the direction in which it is going?

“This is not the place for a comprehensive exploration of this difficult problem which strikes at the very depths of our nature and relates directly to the most abstract principles of metaphysics. We shall restrict ourselves to stating, in accordance to the recent works of philosophy, that the phenomenon involved has its roots in the make-up of our understanding and can be explained by the law of the sameness of opposites, a law that lies at the bottom of creation, as well as of logic. That said, let us turn back to the issue at hand.

“In order to organise the future, a general rule confirmed by experience, the reformers always start out with their gaze fixed upon the past. Hence the contradiction forever discovered in their actions: hence also the immeasurable danger of revolutions.” (Property is Theft!, p. 308)

As for the latter, his 1846 System of Economic Contradictions attacked the utopian socialists for forsaking analysis for dreams:

“It is important, then, that we should resume the study of economic facts and practices, discover their meaning, and formulate their philosophy. Until this is done, no knowledge of social progress can be acquired, no reform attempted. The error of socialism has consisted hitherto in perpetuating religious reverie by launching forward into a fantastic future instead of seizing the reality which is crushing it.” (System of Economical Contradictions, 128)

Which is, of course, more associated with Marx than Proudhon but while he did not use the phrase “utopian socialism”, he labelled the socialists before him – Fourier and Saint-Simon – utopians. Returning to General Idea, it should be stressed that much of the book addresses the class nature of capitalism, arguing for social reforms which would benefit all parts of the working classes – the peasantry, artisans and proletariat. For the latter, he argued for workers’ associations to be founded precisely to end wage-labour, the proletariat. Blackledge fails to mention this, instead stating “[i]n place of the state, Proudhon envisioned a social contract which was the opposite of Rousseau's statism because it was to be freely entered into by independent producers” (27) Here is what Proudhon actually wished to replace the state with:

“under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership…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)

Blackledge’s “independent producers” is an allusion to pre-capitalist economic forms, seeking to paint Proudhon – as Marx did – as against large-scale industry and modern technology. This is not remotely true as the discussion and support for workers’ associations in General Idea shows, which followed on from comments made in 1846:

“M. de Sismondi, like all men of patriarchal ideas, would like the division of labour, with machinery and manufactures, to be abandoned, and each family to return to the system of primitive indivision, — that is, to each one by himself, each one for himself, in the most literal meaning of the words. That would be to retrograde; it is impossible” (“System of Economic Contradictions”, Property is Theft!, 194)

So it is important to stress here that Proudhon did not abstractly compare an ideal system to the current one, as Blackledge implies. Rather he argued against such a position, mocking the speculation by the Utopian Socialists who did precisely that.

Rather than seeking to invent another perfect community or social panacea, he urged radicals to analyse, understand and so transcend capitalism by seeing what tendencies within it point beyond it. In this Marx followed Proudhon, albeit with a focus on unions and political parties rather than the Frenchman’s hopes of gradual reform by means of alternative economic bodies (such as mutual banks, workers’ associations, etc.). Revolutionary anarchists, like Bakunin and Kropotkin, shared with Proudhon his focus on what was happening within capitalism and extended it to the class struggle (unions, strikes, etc.).

As for "the standpoint of the struggles of the ‘new fangled’ working class", well, you would have to know little about Proudhon's ideas or life to suggest that this was alien to him (or, for that matter, Bakunin or Kropotkin). Indeed, Proudhon was well aware of the rise of the proletariat and took part in its struggles (for example, his involvement in the February Revolution of 1848 as well as his journalism during the Second Republic). He did, as is well known, oppose strikes (as counter-productive and unlikely to create socialism) but he did view himself as working class and urged it to follow – in his view – better ways to self-liberation. As he put it in 1842’s Warning to Proprietors:

“Workers, labourers, men of the people, whoever you may be, the initiative of reform is yours. It is you who will accomplish that synthesis of social composition which will be the masterpiece of creation, and you alone can accomplish it.” (quoted in Geogre Woodcock, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography, 143)

In 1848 it was a case of he “had always thought that the proletariat must emancipate itself without the help of the government” and in “Toast to the revolution” he argued “the revolutionary power, the power of conservation and of progress, is no longer today in the hands of the government; it is not in the National Assembly: it is in you. The people alone, acting upon themselves without intermediary, can achieve the economic Revolution begun in February. The people alone can save civilisation and advance humanity!” (Property is Theft!, 306, 366) He was precise in arguing for workers’ organisations – albeit reformist ones – to be take the lead:

“I propose a provisional committee be set up to orchestrate exchange, credit and commerce between workers ... [and] liaise with similar committees set up in the main cities . . .

“That, under the aegis of these committees, a body representative of the proletariat be formed in Paris, imperium in imperio [a state within a state], in opposition to the bourgeoisie’s representation.

“That a new society be founded in the heart of the old society” (Property is Theft!, 321)

This has clear links to his comments from 1846’s System of Economic Contradictions:

“Thus power, the instrument of collective might, created in society to serve as a mediator between labour and privilege, finds itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat. No political reform can solve this contradiction, since, by the confession of the politicians themselves, such a reform would end only in increasing the energy and extending the sphere of power, and since power would know no way of touching the prerogatives of monopoly without overturning the hierarchy and dissolving society. The problem before the labouring classes, then, consists, not in capturing, but in subduing both power and monopoly,—that is, in generating from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labour, a greater authority, a more potent fact, which shall envelop capital and the State and subjugate them.” (Property is Theft!, 266)

This viewpoint, the state as an unreformable instrument of class rule, shows why Blackledge does no justice to Proudhon’s ideas when he talks of “the dictatorial methods of ‘the scoundrel’ Rousseau.” (26-7) Gone are Proudhon’s arguments that cerntralised representative democracy was not only undemocratic but also an instrument of class rule. Perhaps it would help is I – unlike Blackledge – quote Proudhon on why Rousseau was a “scroundrel”? As he put it:

“as for the mode of acquisition and transmission, as to labour, exchange, value and price of products, as to education, as to the multitude of relations which, whether he wishes it or not, places man in perpetual association with his fellows, Rousseau says not a word . . . in his Treatise on Education, he starts with the false, thievish, murderous supposition that only the individual is good, that society depraves him, that man therefore should refrain as much as possible from all relations with his fellows; and that all we have to do in this world below, while remaining in complete isolation, is to form among ourselves a mutual insurance society, for the protection of our persons and property; that all the rest, that is to say, economic matters, really the only matters of importance, should be left to the chance of birth or speculation, and submitted, in case of litigation, to the arbitration of elected officers, who should determine according to rules laid down by themselves, or by the light of natural equity. In a word, the social contract, according to Rousseau, is nothing but the offensive and defensive alliance of those who possess, against those who do not possess; and the only part played by the citizen is to pay the police . . . this coalition of the barons of property, commerce and industry against the disinherited lower class, this oath of social war indeed, which Rousseau calls Social Contract, with a presumption which I should call that of a scoundrel, if I believed in the genius of the man.” (“General Idea of the Revolution”, Property is Theft!, 565-6)

So Proudhon was arguing that “the social contract, according to Rousseau, is nothing but the offensive and defensive alliance of those who possess, against those who do not possess” and that “Rousseau does not know what economics means. His programme speaks of political rights only; it does not mention economic rights.” A centralised republic was “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. For this reason the correlative of the Government remains nearly the same as before, almost the whole Country. 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.” (“General Idea of the Revolution”, Property is Theft!, 566, 573)

As he put elsewhere:

“is it your sole wish to produce political acts in society, to organise wars against foreign nations, to assure the supremacy of an aristocracy and the subordination of the working class domestically, to maintain privilege against the proletariat’s efforts to emancipate itself? The governmental system will suffice, with or without the separation of powers. It was invented for this purpose and has never served any other end.” (Property is Theft!, 436)

So, then, a different picture emerges of Proudhon – someone who recognised the state as an instrument of class rule (by the few) which could not be captured (by the many) and, consequence, a new form of social organisation – decentralised, self-managed, federal – was needed which was based on fundamental economic change – “Capitalist and landlord exploitation stopped everywhere, wage-labour abolished” by means of self-managed workers’ co-operatives because “association, due to the immorality, tyranny and theft suffered [by workers employed by capitalists], seems to me absolutely necessary and right. The industry to be carried on, the work to be accomplished, are the common and undivided property of all those who take part therein.” (“General Idea of the revolution”, Property is Theft!, 596, 584) As he put it a few years later:

“Workers’ Associations are the locus of a new principle and model of production that must replace present-day corporations . . . The principle that prevailed there, in place of that of employers and employees . . . is participation, that is, the MUTUALITY of services supplementing the force of division and the force of collectivity.

“There is mutuality, in fact, when in an industry, all the workers, instead of working for an owner who pays them and keeps their product, work for one another and thereby contribute to a common product from which they share the profit.

“However, extend the principle of mutuality that unites the workers of each group to all the Workers’ Associations as a unit, and you will have created a form of civilisation that, from all points of view — political, economic, aesthetic — differs completely from previous civilisations” (“Stock Exchange Speculator’s Manual”, Property is Theft!, 616)

So he was anti-state because it was an instrument of the bourgeoisie and could be used to end capitalism, for he was also anti-capitalist and recognised that the “objective of socialism is liberation of the proletariat and eradication of poverty, which is to say, effective equality of circumstances between men. In the absence of equality, there will always be poverty, always be a proletariat.” (Property is Theft!, 372)

Instead of this account of Proudhon’s actual views on the state and its utility for social change, Blackledge focuses on a few minor statements and proclaims that Blanc and Blanqui “shared” a “common focus on reform through the state. This approach, or so Proudhon believed, confused legitimate with illegitimate forms of authority: the state transferred patriarchal authority from its proper abode in the family to an unnatural situation.” (27) Not quite. Yes, Proudhon did argue that patriarchal authority within the family was legitimate and that it was inappropriate to widen it (subsequent anarchists were more consistent, arguing that all forms of authority were illegitimate and that included patriarchal ones). And it should also be noted that the utopian socialists were quite favourable to invoking family analogies, as Proudhon suggested: “Fraternity! Brothers as much as you please, provided I am the big brother and you the little” (System of Economic Contradictions). However, the key aspect of his critique was that using the state would be socialism from above. To quote him from 1846 against Blanc:

“M. Blanc is never tired of appealing to authority, and socialism loudly declares itself anarchistic; M. Blanc places power above society, and socialism tends to subordinate it to society; M. Blanc makes social life descend from above, and socialism maintains that it springs up and grows from below; M. Blanc runs after politics, and socialism is in quest of science. No more hypocrisy, let me say to M. Blanc: you desire neither Catholicism nor monarchy nor nobility, but you must have a God, a religion, a dictatorship, a censorship, a hierarchy, distinctions, and ranks. For my part, I deny your God, your authority, your sovereignty, your judicial State, and all your representative mystifications” (“System of Economic Contradictions”, Property is Theft!, 205)

Plus that the state could not be captured by the working class and so social reform had to be done outside of it for “the problem of association consists in organising... the producers, and by this organisation subjecting capital and subordinating power. Such is the war that you have to sustain: a war of labour against capital; a war of liberty against authority; a war of the producer against the non-producer; a war of equality against privilege.” He rejected the idea the state could be captured for social change, arguing that it “finds itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat” and so “it is of no use to change the holders of power or introduce some variation into its workings: an agricultural and industrial combination must be found by means of which power, today the ruler of society, shall become its slave.” (“System of Economic Contradictions”, Property is Theft!, 225-6, 321-2) This is repeated in “General Idea of the Revolution”:

“Experience ... shows that everywhere and always Government, however much it may have been for the people at its origin, has placed itself on the side of the richest and most educated class against the more numerous and poorer class; it has little by little become narrow and exclusive; and, instead of maintaining liberty and equality among all, it works persistently to destroy them, by virtue of its natural inclination towards privilege . . . Government . . . found itself in fact established for the rich against the poor. Who does not see now that this anomaly, which then it was thought proper to embody in the political constitution of our country, is common to all governments? . . . Authority, in defending rights, however established, has always been for riches against misfortune: the history of governments is the martyrology of the proletariat.” (Property is Theft!, 561-2)

In contrast, Marx and Engels argued in the Communist Manifesto a few years after Proudhon’s 1846 work that the “immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties,” namely the “conquest of political power by the proletariat,” the “first step in the revolution by the working class” being “to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” (Marx and Engels Reader, 484, 490) No notion of an “industrial and agricultural combination” there, rather the use of the democratic state. It would be pointed here that Proudhon’s combination was reformist and not based on unions and I quite agree – but later anarchists in the IWMA applied this idea to the workers movement and by so doing created revolutionary anarchism (associated first with Bakunin and then Kropotkin).

(as an aside, while I discussed the issue of democracy, Marxism and anarchism in an earlier instalment of this series, I should quote Trotsky’s comments that “Rosa Luxemberg criticised very severely and fundamentally incorrectly the policies of the Bolsheviks in 1918” including “their rejection of formal democracy” in this “her most erroneous work” (“Hands off Rosa Luxemburg”, Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, 449-450) By “formal democracy” he meant winning a majority of votes in an election, or “to win the battle of democracy” to use the words of Marx and Engels. Needless to say, Blackledge ignores the many anti-democratic words – and actions – of the Bolsheviks while proclaiming Leninism as more democratic than anarchism).

If, as Blackledge states, Marx’s goal was the “replacement” of “an alien form of public power that stands over society” by “a public authority that is ‘re-absorbed’ into society” (29) then in what sense can this be considered a state? He quotes Marx from 1875’s Critique of the Gotha Programme that freedom consists “in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it.” (31) Strangely, he fails to note that Proudhon had argued the same thing in 1846 and System of Economic Contradictions that “the STATE… until it shall have become the obedient and submissive organ of a society of equals, will be for the people an inevitable hell” and so “an agricultural and industrial combination must be found by means of which power, today the ruler of society, shall become its slave.” (Property is Theft!, 220, 225) However, given the experience of the 1848 revolution Proudhon changed his opinion and concluded that the state had to be ended. As he put it 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.” (“General Idea of the Revolution”, Property is Theft!, 595)

This applied economically as well, as noted above, and so this system of communal and economic federalism ensured that “no longer do we have the abstraction of the people’s sovereignty as in the ’93 Constitution and the others that followed it, and in Rousseau’s Social Contract. Instead it becomes an effective sovereignty of the labouring masses which rule and govern... the labouring masses are actually, positively and effectively sovereign: how could they not be when the economic organising – labour, capital, property and assets – belongs to them entirely…?” (“The Political Capacity of the Working Classes”, Property is Theft!, 761-2)

So, clearly, Blackledge’s summary of Proudhon’s critique of Rousseau leaves a lot to be desired. Indeed, it is so superficial and so limited that it is clearly distortion.

Basically, Proudhon rejects the centralised, unified democracy of the Jacobins (with their one and indivisible republic) with a decentralised, federal democracy. Or, to use terms he may be familiar with, Proudhon rejects bourgeois democracy (like the Second Republic) in favour of working class democracy (like the Paris Commune). Given the obvious influence of Proudhon’s ideas in the Commune, this is very appropriate terminology (see also this blog).

Talking of Jacobins, according to Blackledge “Bakunin was keen to stress that Marx was a statist who produced a top-down politics that he inherited from the Jacobins through Blanqui.” (27) This is asserted but nothing a trivial as evidence is presented to back it up. So ignoring that Blackledge really means Blanc here (Bakunin never links Marx and Blanqui, as far as I am aware and Blackledge himself quotes on page 27 Bakunin stating he thought Marx was “a direct disciple of Louis Blanc”), the crux of Bakunin’s critique is that any state is a top-down machine by which the few rule the many (and in this he follows Proudhon). He states that it is “woefully inadequate to characterise his political project in terms of Jacobinism or Blanquism” (26) but Marx and Engels did make many pro-Jacobin comments, including suggesting the terror was the dictatorship of the proletariat (see section H.3.10 of AFAQ). It is interesting to note that it was Rosa Luxemburg who berated Lenin for claiming a Social Democrat was nothing else but a “Jacobin indissolubly joined to the organisation of the proletariat, which has become conscious of its class interests.” (Lenin quoted by Luxemburg, “Organisational Question of Social Democracy”, Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, 117)

And talking of Lenin, to recognise the “simple fact” that there are “more and less advanced sections of the working class - that is (so to speak) vanguards and rearguards” does not automatically mean embracing Leninist notions of vanguard parties. (25) While giving a lead is required and a key part of socialism from below (see section J.3 of AFAQ), “the idea of socialist leadership” is not. Needless to say, he suggests that “this idea has little in common with the caricatured critiques of vanguardism that are all too common in anarchist circles.” (25) However, drawing out the logical conclusions of Lenin’s ideas is hardly producing a “caricature” of them (see section H.5 of AFAQ).

Blackledge talks of how the vanguardism “has little in common with the caricatured critiques” that are “all too common in anarchist circles.” (25) Sadly, he does not reference any so it is hard to judge that comment. He then suggests that (“despite widespread rumours to the contrary”) Lenin “said nothing about the role of a Central Committee, omnipotent or otherwise, in What Is to Be Done?” (25) which may be true, but need we remind him that Lenin wrote more works than this on party organisation? Rosa Luxemburg, for example, quotes from One Step Forward, Two Steps Back in her critique of Lenin’s central committee. Here are Trotsky’s famous – and prescient – comments from the same time:

“In the internal politics of the Party these methods lead, as we shall see below, to the Party organisation ‘substituting’ itself for the Party, the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organisation, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee” (Our Political Tasks)

Neither Luxemburg nor Trotsky can be charged with listening to “rumours” by anarchists – they were reading what Lenin was writing in this period and noting the role of the Central Committee being suggested.

Move forward a decade and a bit and here is the official Bolshevik line from the Communist International’s 1920 resolution on the role of the Communist Party in the revolution. The party must have a “centralised political apparatus” and “must be organised on the basis of iron proletarian centralism.” This “Communist cells of every kind must be subordinate to one another as precisely as possible in a strict hierarchy.” The Communist Party” must be organised on the basis of democratic centralism. The most important principle of democratic centralism is election of the higher party organs by the lowest, the fact that all instructions by a superior body are unconditionally and necessarily binding on lower ones, and existence of a strong central party leadership whose authority over all leading party comrades in the period between one party congress and the next is universally accepted.”(Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920, vol. 1, 193, 198-9)

Trotsky raised this notion at this Congress when he pondered the important decisions of the revolution and who would make them in his reply to the delegate from the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT:

“Who decides this question [and others like it]? We have the Council of People’s Commissars but it has to be subject to some supervision. Whose supervision? That of the working class as an amorphous, chaotic mass? No. The Central Committee of the party is convened to discuss . . . and to decide . . . Who will solve these questions in Spain? The Communist Party of Spain.” (Op. Cit., 174)

So perhaps these “widespread rumours” do have a basis after all?

In terms of why What Is to Be Done? is considered so important in understanding Leninism and its flaws in anarchist circles, you would think that Blackledge would mention how Lenin argued that workers could not develop socialist theory by themselves, that it had to be introduced into the working class from the outside, by bourgeois intellectuals. True, he quoted Karl Kautsky and Blackledge seems keen for us to infer that he was not “really” a Marxist by turning Lenin’s attacks on “opportunism” in State and Revolution into a “critique of Kautskyism” (29), however Lenin quoted Kautsky to bolster his position and show how orthodox Marxist it was.

For Lenin, Kautsky was a renegade precisely because he once considered him a Marxist but by 1914 he no longer was. If only, Lenin argued, Kautsky could remember his previous ideas – the very ideas which Blackledge now suggests were not Marxist at all. Which raises the question of why Lenin did not notice at the time – or why he denounced him as a renegade from genuine Marxism rather than never being a Marxist in the first place?

But enough of Blackledge’s unconvincing historical revisionism. Let me return to Bakunin and his critique of Marx. Blackledge, of course, quotes Bakunin being anti-Semitic against Marx and then states “[p]assing over this casual racism” (27) as if Marx and Engels did not do that (indeed, it could be quite nasty and public – and genocidal – at times). But let us, too, pass that over. For Blackledge, it appears that because Bakunin had not read The German Ideology he could not pass judgement on Marxism and so his (correct) predictions on it can be ignored. Remember that this work was written by Marx and Engels in 1845-6 and was first published in 1932 by the Soviet Regime. Unfortunately this was a little late for Bakunin, who had died in 1876. As such, it seems a little unfair to criticise the likes of Bakunin, Kropotkin and Malatesta for not being familiar with works which they simply could not read. He draws no such conclusions as against Lenin and Trotsky, of course, who somehow managed to renew the real spirit of Marxism without getting that work out of the local library.

Bakunin had, then, only Marx’s published works to go by and any conversations he may have had with Marx and Engels during his lifetime. Blackledge moans that Bakunin’s statement that Marx was a “state communist” is “manifestly false” as “Marx had already written” that the working class “cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes” but that it must be “smashed.” (27) Yet this confuses “the state” with the “state machinery” – smashing the former means smashing the latter but smashing the latter is perfectly compatible with seizing the existing state via “political action.” To quote Engels when he was asked to clarify what Marx “actually meant” by the words Blackledge presents:

“It is simply a question of showing that the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administrative centralised state power before it can use it for its own purposes: whereas all bourgeois republicans since 1848 inveighed against this machinery so long as they were in the opposition, but once they were in the government they took it over without altering it and used it partly against the reaction but still more against the proletariat.” (Collected Works, vol. 47, 74)

As discussed in section H.3.10 of AFAQ, this was hardly the only “social-democratic” statement made by Engels and Marx. As such Bakunin was perfectly correct, particularly given that Marx and Engels were more than happy to break the First International to ensure the creation of political parties aiming to utilise “political action” within existing states and win universal suffrage as a first step. Needless to say, being a “state communist” need not imply you think that person seeks to utilise the current state – a new state can do as well and given that is Blackledge’s basic position (the need for a “workers’ state”) to then quibble about Bakunin’s correctly arguing that Marx wished to build socialism using a state (which then – allegedly – withers away!) is strange. Particularly when you suggest that Marxism is better than anarchism because Marx understood “that to embrace the Commune involved embracing a novel form of state”! (28)

(I will ignore that all the factors – like election, recall, federalism – which marked the Commune as a “novel form of state” were advocated by Proudhon in 1848 and Bakunin in 1868. In terms of the anarchist analysis of the Commune, may I suggest my article The Paris Commune, Marxism and Anarchism – suffice to say, the Commune contained elements of anarchism – via Proudhon’s influence – as well as the existing municipal council which makes it a mixed institution whose statist limitations, as my article makes clear, soon came to the fore).

What of “state communism”? Marx and Engels wrote the Demands of the Communist Party in Germany which was issued as a leaflet in March 1848. It demanded that the “whole of Germany shall be declared a united, indivisible republic” (obviously inspired by the example of Jacobin France) as well as “[a]ll baronial and other feudal estates, all mines, pits etc. shall be converted into state property”, the “mortgages on peasant farms shall be declared state property”, “[a]ll private banks will be replaced by a state bank”, “[a]ll means of transport: railways, canals, steamships, roads, posts etc. shall be taken in hand by the state” (“converted into state property”) and “[e]stablishment of national workshops. The state shall guarantee the livelihood of all workers and provide for those unable to work.”

That does sound like state communism, which with the state owning all the property of the “united, indivisible republic” of Germany (and, given such an obviously centralised base, could there be anything other than a centralised superstructure? And best not ponder the obvious threats to liberty of such economic and political centralisation!)

But that is not that well known a text. Perhaps Blackledge has never read the Manifesto of the Communist Party? It raised, after all, the call “to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State” as well as the “[c]entralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly”, “[c]entralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State” and “[e]xtension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State” with “[e]stablishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.” (Marx and Engels Reader, 490)

Again, sounds like “state communism” – and if Blackledge has never read that particular document, Bakunin had as he was the first to translate it into Russian!

Two years later, in 1850, Marx was still arguing “to concentrate the utmost possible productive forces, means of transport, factories, railways, etc. in the hands of the state” and that they be “confiscated by the state.” And what of the federalism and decentralisation of the Commune which Blackledge is so keen to appropriate to Marxism? Unlike Proudhon and Bakunin, such ideas were very much foreign to Marx, who stood for extreme centralisation of power as the workers “must not only strive for a single and indivisible German republic, but also within this republic for the most determined centralisation of power in the hands of the state authority.” In a nation like Germany “where there are so many relics of the Middle Ages to be abolished” it “must under no circumstances be permitted that every village, every town and every province should put a new obstacle in the path of revolutionary activity, which can proceed with full force from the centre.” He stressed that “[a]s in France in 1793 so today in Germany it is the task of the really revolutionary party to carry through the strictest centralisation.” (“Address to the Communist League”, The Marx-Engels Reader, 510, 509-10)

For Proudhon, in contrast, “expropriation by the State of the mines, canals and railways” was “still wage-labour” and instead urged – as noted above and unlike Marx and Engels – that “democratically organised workers’ associations” run the economy. (“Election Manifesto of Le Peuple”, Property is Theft!, 377-8) Bakunin, needless to say, argued exactly on the same lines:

“the revolution must set out from the first to radically and totally destroy the State . . . confiscation of all productive capital and means of production on behalf of workers' associations, who are to put them to use . . . the federative Alliance of all working men's associations . . . [will] constitute the Commune . . . [the] Communal Council [will be] composed of . . . delegates . . . vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates. . . all provinces, communes and associations . . . by first reorganising on revolutionary lines . . . [will] constitute the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . [and] organise a revolutionary force capable defeating reaction . . . [and for] self-defence . . . [The] revolution everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation.” (Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 170-2)

This was written, needless to say, before the Paris Commune applied most – but not all – of this sketch of social revolution.

Blackledge, then, seems to want to have his cake and eat it: Marxists advocate both a state and the end of the state. Thus for anarchists to say Marxists aim for state socialism is a slander but it is fine for Marxists like him to proclaim that goal of a “novel form of state”! It may be that he confuses social organisation – any social organisation – with the state, which is just unhistoric nonsense (section H.3.7 of AFAQ). It may also be he confuses defence of the revolution with the state (section H.2.1 of AFAQ). Neither is something anarchists do (I discuss why comments like “[s]urely authoritarian in the sense that such an organisation must aim at suppressing the counter­revolution” are confused in my discussion of Engels’ “On Authority” – specifically section H.4.7 of AFAQ – and will not do so here).

(as an aside, Blackledge’s comment that “[t]his is why, as Hal Draper points out, rather than use the abstract word socialism to describe their goal, Marx and Engels more usually wrote of workers' power” [24] seems unsupportable – I cannot recall either using the term “workers’ power” rather than, say, the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The Bolsheviks used the term “soviet power”, of course, but by that they meant a Bolshevik government to which the soviets had delegated their power).

So “areas of convergence” between Marx and Bakunin “were soon overshadowed by renewed debates on the question of political power and the state” (27) yet these debates focused on “political action” and whether “political power and the state” could be utilised for social revolution or whether new forms of social organisation were required. Needless to say, Marx’s argument that the working class’s “struggle for freedom takes a new form as a growing need and desire for associa­tion” (24) was hardly alien to Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, and so forth. The idea that it should take the form of a political party standing in elections was – and history has shown who was right in that regards. In terms of Bakunin, unlike Marx, he had no illusions that the bourgeois republic could be captured and used to introduce socialism. Rather, the “organisation of the trade sections and their representation by the Chambers of Labour” and these “bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old world. They are creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself.” (Bakunin on Anarchism, 255)

Finally, Blackledge makes much of the notion that anarchism is a fusion of socialism and liberalism. He quotes Rocker on this and other anarchists have suggested something similar. However, this is I would suggest flawed. While Rocker popularised this notion (in his justly famous Anarcho-Syndicalism and elsewhere) and it is echoed by Noam Chomsky, I think this obscures more than it illuminates. Kropotkin raised this idea in the 1880s, in his article Anarchist-Communism: Its Basis and Principles, but it cannot really be found in Proudhon or Bakunin. And, I should note, that Kropotkin always stressed that anarchism was socialist, the “left-wing” of the socialist movement.

So I think that it is wrong to consider anarchism as “working a synthesis of these two tra­ditions” (18) of socialism and anarchism. Rather it is a socialist critique of the state and capital which is anarchism’s position, as suggested by Proudhon in 1849: “these two propositions — abolition of man’s exploitation of his fellow-man and abolition of man’s government of his fellow-man — amount to one and the same proposition.” (Property is Theft!, 503) As such, Blackledge is wrong to talk of “anarchism’s inheritance from liberalism acts as a barrier to the full realisation of the revolutionary implications of its socialist side.” (18) Rather, I would suggest that it is Marxism’s inheritance from Republicanism which acts as a barrier to the full realisation that the revolutionary implications of socialism imply anti-statism (and if you really wish to see someone infused with “liberal” politics, then read Engels’ “On Authority” – see section H.4 of AFAQ for details).

This, of course, does not address the key issues being raised. It could be that anarchism smuggles in liberal notions even if the “synthesis” of liberalism and socialism notion is wrong. However, recognising that power corrupts those who exercise it and those over whom it is exercised is hardly “liberal” (liberalism hardly bothers wondering about the corrupting effects of economic power nor questions “management’s right to manage”!). And as I suggested in previous instalments of this series, the anarchist position clearly implies certain things – election, recall, decentralisation, federalism, abolition of wage-labour by association – and we, unsurprisingly, discover anarchists advocating all these things before Marx discovered them when the Paris Commune raised them. Blackledge’s position implies we don’t have to worry about that as “human nature” is “transformed” – which opened the door to party dictatorship, one-man management, etc. under the Bolsheviks (which only makes sense if you are not bothered by power corrupting those in charge – and, what a surprise, it was not the working class under Lenin and Trotsky…).

In short, anarchist ideas inspired these aspects of the Paris Commune and its “novel form” of democracy and, as such, is somewhat galling – but unsurprising – to see Blackledge proclaim Marxism a more consistent form of democracy than libertarian ideas. I could go on, but as I’ve covered this previously, I won’t.

Finally, I have always found it quite funny when Marxists point to the multitude of anarchists and anarchism, given the multiple kinds of Marxism and the numerous Marxist parties (read sects) out there. Most agree that Stalinism is not Marxism (although Stalinists disagree), most agree that Leninism is Marxism (although council communists and the SPGB disagree, rightly in the main). Most Leninists, ironically, would dismiss as not Marxist many statements of Marx and Engels – indeed, they would be more likely to agree with Bakunin’s ideas if presented with unattributed quotes from all three rather than their ideological fathers. This is to be expected, as Leninist political education is limited – particularly about the realities of the Bolshevik regime (see section H.6 of AFAQ). Blackledge is an example of this, with his article’s revisionism on social-democracy, Kautsky and such like.

Few anarchists, I hope, would dismiss Marx’s contribution to socialism as Blackledge implies. Indeed, Bakunin was very keen to praise Marx while criticising many of his ideas. Kropotkin, while more critical, praised some of his works while attacking his legacy, namely Social Democracy and – indirectly -- Bolshevism. Sadly, Blackledge’s article shows that Marxists seem unable to understand anarchism before attacking it. Part of the problem is that to understand anarchism would mean to honestly appraise Marxism and recognise its failures – which would mean rejecting Marxism. The likes of Daniel Guérin did it – I hope my critique of Blackledge helps more make that journey.

So I am finished, at long last. Until I blog again, be seeing you…


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