Home > General Comment > Anarchism versus Marxism (Or, Dumb and Dumber, Part two)

Anarchism versus Marxism (Or, Dumb and Dumber, Part two)

Marx (L) and Bakunin

I had a conversation with Tim (@timthesocialist) last night which was really interesting. I have not debated a Marxist about Marx in some time. I am really trying to understand the Marxist argument on the state — at least the Leninist wing of Marxism. As a Marxist by history this should be easy for me, but surprisingly it is not. I am looking for some distinction between anarchism and Marxism on the state — but it is quite difficult to find one.

Both anarchists and Marxists insist Marx’s theory involves something called the “worker’s state”, that replaces the present state. They both insist on this despite the lack of any reference to such an abomination in Marx’s own writings. Marx does indeed insist that had there been a successful revolution during his lifetime, the result would have been a “revolutionary dictatorship”. But, there are many curious features of his argument.

First, his example of this “dictatorship” was the Paris Commune. The commune, however, was clearly an association in his argument, not a state in any formal sense. Moreover, it was managed by anarchists, not Marxists. While Marxists and anarchists both agree on the significance of the Commune, they each seem to argue this was not Marx’s idea of dictatorship.

Of course, because both sides in this ongoing fratricidal conflict are as dishonest as can be, they do not make this argument directly — since that would be patently against his own explicit statements on the subject. Instead they each redefine and twist the concept, not the Commune itself, to suit their ideological prejudices. And, they both agree on this subtle redefinition of the term “dictatorship”, so that, for both, it becomes a “state”, not an association of the members of society. In other words, in a rather perverse fashion, distorting Marx’s own views is what anarchism and leninism have in common. They each have made quite a cottage industry of this deliberate distortion. Each for their own reasons have insisted Marx argued for some new form of state to replace the existing state.

This is, in fact, a baseless lie and indefensible mischaracterization of Marx’s argument on the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The coincidence of this common distortion among both anarchists and Marxists is in my opinion evidence of their common sectarian motives. Despite lies and gross distortions of both leninists and anarchists, Marx never pointed to any other form than the Commune as an example of his idea of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” — and both sides know this to be true. And, since the Commune was created and managed by anarchists, what leg do either variants of communism have to stand on?

Second, Marx stated this Commune-form had two significant features: a. it was not political, and b. it abolished the working class as a class. How could this so-called “working class state” be a working class state in Marx’s view if, as he argued, there were no working class? And, how could this be a political form if it was founded on association?

The only argument either anarchists or leninists have in this regard is that the Commune-form would not be based on voluntary association. So, what do they offer as their evidence, based on the experience of the Commune? Nothing, of course — they just ignore the Commune.

Bakunin, who puts forth the basic argument of BOTH anarchists and leninists, argued that Marx’s insistence on the non-state nature of the Commune-form was impractical. Everyone could not manage the affairs of the commune together, he countered. Since everyone could not manage the Commune-form together, day to day management would require the know how of representatives and technocrats who would evolve into a political class. This political class would, over time, make itself felt as exploiters of labor in its own right.

The anarchists state this proves the Commune-form of association is unworkable; the leninists state this proves the Commune-form of association must be guided by a vanguard party. Both accept Bakunin’s argument that association is unworkable under the Commune-form, and, each offer their own alternative to association and the Commune-form. Anarchists offer “revolution from below”; while leninists offer “revolution from above”, i.e., the party-state.

The leninist argument for the party-state is pretty simple: the capitalist mode of production creates a merely commercial consciousness among the working class. This commercial, or trade union consciousness understands its relation to capital as a struggle over wages, working conditions, etc. To acquire a socialist consciousness, however, the working class has to be taught the scientific reasoning of the middle (bourgeois) class.

In his work, “What is to be Done”, Lenin makes this argument by employing the writings of Kautsky. Kautsky makes the argument grasping the laws of capitalist development is a science, and science is the purview of the bourgeoisie. Science, he alleges, is not a natural product of working class life. Hence, this science of society has to be brought to the working class from outside.

Mind you, Kaustky makes this idiotic argument even though a worker — Josef Dietzgen — was cited by both Marx and Engels as having independently discovered historical materialism.

Nevertheless, this idiotic argument was the basis of Lenin’s Iskra-model of organization: a focus on spreading the science of socialism among the working class and avoiding simply becoming caught up in the “commercial” contest between capital and wage labor.

Since scientific knowledge of the laws of motion of society is necessary for successful creation of communist society, Lenin argued, a party composed exclusively of theoretically developed cadre is essential to the entire process — both before and after the social revolution.

If I am wrong on any of this, Leninists feel free to correct me — just try to prove me wrong, please.

“What is to be Done” was the bible, chapter and verse of Marxism-Leninism in the old days. Everybody employed the Iskra-model of building an organization around a newspaper of one sort or another. The Iskra-model, however, is founded on the proposition — Bakunin’s no less — that the working class could not manage its own affairs. Running a modern society was too technically difficult and would need some mass of technocrats who would come to dominate the process. The leninists, via Kautsky, incorporate this dumb argument into their own on behalf of a small vanguard to “lead” the working class

Anarchists, on the other hand, never solved the contradiction at the heart of this ideological nonsense. In that sense, perhaps, they did not run into their own Stalinist abomination — instead they just endlessly loop around it. The anarchists argument requires the state be abolished all at once, and by a simultaneous uprising of the entire working class together. In no case is there to be any intermediate stage between capitalism and a classless society. It is absolutely necessary this be done all at once and together in order to avoid any possible rise of a technocrat-political class.

Somehow, in all of this nonsense, Marx’s own view gets labeled “statist” by the anarchists, and “anarchistic” by the leninists. Which is to say, the Commune-form, created by anarchists, gets rejected by both sides in their meaningless internecine warfare. And, paradoxically, both embrace the actual Commune, in proportional measure to their rejection of it as a model for a new society.

Both have to embrace it because 1. anarchists created it, and 2. Marx gave it the kiss of legitimacy. But, in practice, both have to reject it, because it renders all their dumb theories moot.

In Paris at the beginning of the Commune, capitalist production was of asmaller scale, more scattered, and far less developed than at present. The general cultural and educational level of society was far lower, than even the least developed nations today. Yet, despite these obstacles, a crude, mostly uneducated population, bound by impossible circumstances, managed to teach the meaning and power of association to the world for sixty short days.

Frankly, I think both anarchists and leninists are simpletons, who have yet to grasp what an illiterate population did 140 years ago. Nobody needs your fucking theories or your silly blueprints and schemes — you and all your stupid arguments are past tense. Marx’s argument was, from the first, even before he worked out his theory of capitalism, that the social revolution was entirely empirical.

The working class did not need theories or schemes — not even his.

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  1. January 18, 2012 at 3:14 am | #1

    I am interested in hearing why you do think attempting to come up with an answer to the question “What is to be done?” is not part of the “empirical” process of social revolution.

    I would also like to hear what you read Marx to mean with ‘dictatorship’ & ‘not political’ here (citations?).

    Are you reading Marx as suggesting that anarchists would be the ones forming association in all cases or that he noticed this happened at the Paris Commune? I feel like you passively suggested the former.

    Finally, does Marx, for you, signify the Paris Commune is an actualization of his ideal model of association or does he uses the Paris Commune as an example of a /type of/ or /example of/ a possible working association. In other words, do you read Marx in a way that suggests the Paris Commune is the /only/ way we can do it? If not, then does the question “What is to be done?” become one that will have to be asked if we want to make have an association which takes into account history since Marx?

    • January 18, 2012 at 4:27 am | #2

      Really wish I could fix those typos :/

    • January 18, 2012 at 4:17 pm | #3

      Yelbley: I am interested in hearing why you do think attempting to come up with an answer to the question “What is to be done?” is not part of the “empirical” process of social revolution.

      I must agree, I do go overboard in condemning theorists. But, I do so because they have a tendency to imagine they are not part of the empirical process, but rather determine it. In reality reflection is a very important part of action. But, isolated from action, theory is just nonsense, and even as an important part of action it is necessarily delayed in time. (I mean, we are still trying to assess the arguments of individuals who have long since passed away, while capitalism has more than 100 years of additional real activity under its belt!)

      So, I do not mean to belittle theory, just theorists who do not know their place. :)

      I completely agree that theory is part of the empirical process. If I am hard on the theoretical side of both anarchism and marxism it is precisely because our theory has not kept up with the process of capitalist development. We continue to argue over meaningless definitions of a generic state (an instrument of coercion or domination) while the actual state has long since displaced the capitalist as the exploiter of labor power.

      Yelbley: I would also like to hear what you read Marx to mean with ‘dictatorship’ & ‘not political’ here (citations?).

      I read dictatorship to mean an temporary and extraordinary form of governance. In this case, that dictatorship is determined not by the needs to suppress the exploiting classes, as many argue; but, to lay the material basis for abolishing the rule: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” As long as conditions of scarcity determine the length of the socially necessary work day, the duration of labor time of each must remain as the measure of her access to the means of consumption.

      What makes this a non-political dictatorship is that this rule must be, and can only be, enforced by the will of each of the members of the community as individuals and in association with the other laboring members of society. They must, individually and in association, refuse to recognize the idle wealth of the capitalist as the basis for access to those means.

      Yelbley: Are you reading Marx as suggesting that anarchists would be the ones forming association in all cases or that he noticed this happened at the Paris Commune? I feel like you passively suggested the former.

      I only want suggest that anarchists cannot ignore the Commune because they created it, and can blame no one but themselves for the Commune-form of association. Marxist cannot ignore it because Marx himself pointed to this very association as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

      Yelbley: Finally, does Marx, for you, signify the Paris Commune is an actualization of his ideal model of association or does he uses the Paris Commune as an example of a /type of/ or /example of/ a possible working association. In other words, do you read Marx in a way that suggests the Paris Commune is the /only/ way we can do it? If not, then does the question “What is to be done?” become one that will have to be asked if we want to make have an association which takes into account history since Marx?

      To the first question, no. The Commune failed, and the reasons for it failure are both objective and purely circumstantial. I think he is pointing to a practical example of association, as he does in his inaugural address to the International Workingmen’s Association, where he singles out the cooperative movement as an example of worker self-management and self-activity at the factory level. It is necessary to revisit the Commune and the cooperative to determine exactly what aspect of these examples struck him as significant. However, I think we can say with confidence, both show that self-activity of the working class based on association can replace the hierarchical structures of management based on property and the state. This is the lesson of first importance for us today: the working class can set its sights higher than merely union negotiations or political action; it can aspire to manage the affairs of society on its own behalf and in its own name.

      To your last question, yes. I think this all needs to be updated with current analysis of actual capitalist development. I think we will find it possible to go well beyond anything Marx imagined in his day as the potential for working class self-activity and association.

  2. January 18, 2012 at 4:49 pm | #4

    You seem to assume the empirical process of those ‘involved’ is not one which must confront what I see as a pretty open question of tactic [What is to be done?]. Why is this the work of theorists (or, to be contemporary, what we define as ‘experts’) rather than the work which was, and maybe still is to some degree, theoretical (in the sense of educational classism) and is now the work [read: responsibility] of all? I often read a tone of condemnation of the work of intellectuals rather than an appropriation of that work (and, thus, knowledge) by all members of society. Even further, I am unsure what level of ‘action’ or ‘involvement’ grants one the entitlement to suggest what should be done next, where we are going, or what we are doing wrong. Is this not a sort of ‘hoop’ one must jump through which you so despised with regard to having GAs be free of sexism, racism, etc.?

    How is abolishing the rule, no work – no food, not entangled with the process of suppressing the exploiting class? If not through material action then through expelling the limits of the ideology of the status quo as a limitation on possible action. Along that line how does one abolish the working class w/o negating the ruling class? These seem dialectically entangled.

    I may have others questions in a bit.

    • January 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm | #5

      Okay, let me throw a few ideas out there on these questions:

      To the contrary, I think it is a process everybody has to be involved with. Which is why I insist that petty sects should dissolve themselves and engage democracy, not stand aloof from it. My entire problem with regards to Kautsky’s silly argument on the inability of the working class to create its own science is precisely along these lines.

      Also, I am not trying to say enforcing the rule of “no work – no food” is not entangled with suppressing the exploiting class, but that the entire concept of suppressing the exploiting class is over-done. It completely misses the point that necessary work is a condition of all members of society until such time as voluntary effort alone suffices to satisfy the needs of the members of the community. Only the community as a whole can determine this material boundary.

      Negating the ruling class is, I think, a matter of imposing on all members of society the conditions of the working class. Depending on the actual level of material development, this can require more or less a given number of hours of work per week as a condition of access to the means of consumption. It is something that must be determined concretely based on what the entire community decides. Postone (1993) implies we may be presently free of all necessary labor at this point, once the capitalist mode of production is abolished.

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