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(en) US, The Utopian #4 - LIBERTARIAN MARXISM'S RELATION TO ANARCHISM - by Wayne Price

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 6 Aug 2004 17:37:29 +0200 (CEST)


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...I found, again and again, that the conclusions I slowly
and imperfectly arrived at were already fully and demon-
strably (and I may say, beautifully) expressed by Karl
Marx. So I too was a Marxist! I decided with pleasure, fo
it is excellent to belong to a tradition and have wise
friends. This was Marx as a social psychologist. But as
regards political action...it never seemed to me that the
slogans of the Marxians, nor even of Marx, led to frater-
nal socialism [that...requires the absence of state or other
coercive power]; rather they led away from it. Bakunin
was better. Kropotkin I agree with. (Paul Goodman,
1962; p. 34)

The current world-wide revival of anarchism is premised on
the decline of Marxism. Yet there remains a strand of Marxism
(libertarian or autonomist Marxism) to which anarchists often
feel close and whose followers often express a closeness to
anarchism. Its libertarian-democratic, humanist, and anti-sta-
tist qualities permit anarchists to use valuable aspects of
Marxism (such as the economic analysis or the theory of class
struggle). Yet it still contains the main weaknesses of Marxism.
And in certain ways it has the same weaknesses of much of
anarchism, rather than being an alternative. This version of
Marxism has much to offer anarchists but remains fundamen-
tally flawed, as I will argue.

From at least the Thirties to the Eighties, anarchism was mar-
ginal, in an international left which was dominated by
Marxism. While the Sixties in the U.S began with calls for
"participatory democracy," the period ended with chants of
"Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, The NLF is Gonna Win!" and appeals
to Mao's Little Red Book--that is, to support of barbaric
Stalinist states. Even the libertarian aspects of Marxism--such
as working class organization or the goal of a society with
unalienated labor--were ignored.

But the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Soviet Union
soon followed. China embraced an openly market-based capi-
talism. To a great extent, Marxism was discredited. However,
world capitalism has not improved--the collapse of Russian
state capitalism was really part of the global crisis of capital-
ism. So, much of the growing opposition, which previously
would have gone into varieties of Marxism, has currently
channeled itself into the alternate radicalism, anarchism.

The history of defeat and betrayal on the part of Marxism has
come in two great waves. From the time of Engels on, there
was the creation of the social democratic parties of Europe.
With little strategy beyond getting elected to parliament, they
built mass parties and practical-bureaucratic unions, until
everything went crash in World War I. Then most of the par-
ties supported "their own" imperialist governments and
fought against fellow members of the Socialist International.
After World War I, they opposed the Russian Revolution and
sabotaged revolutions in their own countries, especially
Germany. In the Thirties they failed to fight fascism, particu-
larly Nazism. Uncritically supporting Allied imperialism in
World War II, they next became agents of U.S. imperialism in
the Cold War. By now, the European social democratic and
labor parties have completely abandoned any belief in a new
sort of society, advocating only a weak form of liberalism, if
not outright neoliberalism.

During World War I, Lenin, Trotsky, and others determined to
have a new beginning, to return to the revolutionary roots of
Marxism in a new International. The result, as is well known,
was Stalinist state capitalism in Russia, and the creation of
Stalinist parties everywhere. The Stalinists utterly failed to lead
any working class revolutions in Europe or elsewhere (which
was the original goal of the project). New Communist Party
states were formed only by the Russian army or by peasant
armies led by declassé intellectuals--that is, by non-working
class forces. After creating piles of corpses, Russian state capi-
talism bogged down in its own inefficiency, and eventually
collapsed. Its legacy is the misery of Eastern Europe and a
large part of Asia. Existing Communist Parties are as liberal as
the existing social democratic parties.

In addition to these two great failures of Marxism, Trotsky's
attempt to recreate Leninist Marxism in a new Fourth
International was another failure. The various Trotskyist
trends of today are variants of Stalinism, nationalism, and/or
social democratic reformism.

This history would seem to have completely discredited
Marxism. After all, Marxism is not just nice ideas, like
Christianity. It is supposed to be a praxis, a theory-and-prac-
tice. As Engels often quoted, "The proof of the pudding is in
the eating." Massive failure should discredit it.

However, Marxism continues to have an
attraction on the left, especially as the memory of state-
capitalist Communism fades. It has a body of theory--whole
libraries of theory--and a history of experiences in all
the great revolutions from 1848 on. Anarchism, on the other hand, is notori-
ously thin in its theory, and its revolutionary experience is ambiguous.
Therefore many anarchists look for a strand of Marxism which may be con-
sistent with what is valuable in anarchism.

This minority trend in Marxism has been called libertarian Marxism, or
following Harry Cleaver, 2000) autonomist Marxism ("libertarian" here
has nothing to do with the right-wing, propertarian, Libertarians of the
U.S.). Historically contributing tendencies are the European "council
communists" after World War I, and the "Johnson-Forest Tendency"
(C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskya) of the Forties and Fifties, which
came out of the Trotskyist movement, as did Castoriadis' Socialism or
Barbarism group in France. There were also the French Situationists,
and the more recent German and Italian "autonomous" movements.
(Surprisingly, I have rarely seen U.S. references to William Morris,
the great British utopian Marxist of the 1880s.) Dunayevskya's
lowers are still functioning as the News and Letters
Committee. Castoriadis is particularly interesting in that he
and his group evolved from libertarian Marxism out of
Marxism altogether (Curtis, 1997; Dunayevskaya, 1992;
Glaberman, 1999; Rachleff, 1976).

Many anarchists look favorably on these varieties of libertarian
Marxism. Noam Chomsky, in an introduction to a book on
anarchism, quotes Anton Pannekoek of the council commu-
nists and concludes, "In fact, radical Marxism merges with
anarchist currents" (1970; p. xv). Some Marxists reject the con-
nection. Antonio Negri, the leading thinker of the Italian
autonomists, declares in his influential book Empire, "...We are
not anarchists but communists..." (Hardt & Negri, 2001; p.
350). But Cleaver, the autonomist Marxist (he may have
invented the term), has written a paper (1993) which argues
for strong "similarities" between Kropotkin and Cleaver's
brand of Marxism. Two followers of C.L.R. James write,
"Marxism can mean anything from a libertarian anarchism to
Stalinist totalitarian dictatorship. We tend in the first direc-
tion...." (Glaberman & Faber, 1998; p. 2). In a sense, this is the
last chance for Marxism to prove it can be liberating...or just
decent.

Anarchists may agree or disagree with much of Marx's eco-
nomic or political analysis. To anarchists, what is most positive
about these libertarian trends in Marxism is a belief in the self-
activity of the working classes. They reject the notion that an
elite (in the form of a party) could stand in for the workers
and take power for the workers. Instead they point to the cre-
ation of workers' and popular councils formed in every revolu-
tionary upheaval (Root and Branch, 1975). These, they feel,
should unite as the new power, replacing the old state forms.
Rather than focusing on the politics of the tops of the big
bureaucratic unions, they look at shop floor struggles, showing
how workers' initiative affects the process of production in a
day to day way (Glaberman & Faber, 1998). They study how
mass strikes can take off, beyond the limits set by the union
officials (Brecher, 1972). Their interest has been in the creativi-
ty of the working class and all the oppressed, which Negri and
Cleaver have called its "self-valorization." Some of the most
valuable revolutionary thinking on Black liberation was devel-
oped by C. L. R. James--although his ideas were mostly devel-
oped before he had broken with Trotskyism (McLemee, 1996).

During the Great Depression and the Cold War, when the
anarchists were few, autonomous Marxists kept alive ideas of
the self-activity of the workers. They maintained a revolution-
ary opposition to Stalinism as well as to Western capitalism.
They correctly analyzed Stalinism as state capitalism, rather
than some sort of society moving toward socialism (degenerat-
ed workers' state, postcapitalist society, transitional state, etc.).
They declared that the post-World War II capitalist boom was
fundamentally flawed. They predicted it would eventually
end--as it did in the Sixties (Mattick, 1969). Anarchists can
appreciate all of this.

The libertarian Marxists sought to reinterpret Marxism from
the orthodox versions taught by the social democrats or
Stalinists. Mainstream Marxism sees the historical process
rolling on in an automatic way, stage following stage, antithesis
following thesis, until capitalism has reached its final stage
(optimistically referred to as "late capitalism" or "the last stage
of capitalism"), to be inexorably followed by socialism and
then communism. History for the orthodox Marxists is some-
thing that happens to people as opposed to something which
people do. To them, "class consciousness" means that the
workers become aware of what they are required to do by the
historical process. The phrase sometimes quoted from Hegel is,
"Freedom is the recognition of necessity." Often referring to
socialism as "inevitable," the mainstream theorists of Marxism
see socialism as the invariable outcome of the automatic
processes of social development. Naturally, opponents of
Marxism, from the right to the left, have pointed out that even
if a thing seems inevitable that does not mean that it should be
desired. What is there about socialism that workers (let alone
others) should struggle and sacrifice for? Orthodox Marxism
does not answer this.

The attempts of the libertarian Marxists to shake free of
Marxist automaticity (as I shall refer to it) have not been fully
successful. They cannot be fully successful, given that it is not a
misinterpretation of Marxism, but is a central part of Marx's
Marxism. The whole point of Capital is that socialism must
happen. But you can read volumes of Marx's writings (and I
have) without finding any statement of why socialism is good
or worth striving for. However, Marx makes plenty of criti-
cisms of the utopians and anarchists for raising moral reasons
in support of socialism.

This automatic and amoral conception of
Marxism had its negative effects. For the
Bolsheviks it became a rationale for tyranny.
Believing the party knew the absolute truth
about what must happen (that is, having correct
class consciousness), and sure it was only imple-
menting historically necessary tasks, they felt justi-
fied in killing or oppressing others--for the sake of
human liberation, of course. After all, they knew it
would come out all right in the end.

For the social democrats, this amoral automaticity justi-
fied a passive, nonrevolutionary policy. As stated, they
built political parties which ran in elections, and they
supported mass unions which negotiated with business.
Otherwise they had no strategy except to keep going.
Meanwhile they committed their own atrocities by sup-
porting their states' imperialisms. They too felt it would
come out all right in the end.
This acceptance of capitalist development, this surety
that it would lead to socialism, led Marxists to accept
other aspects of capitalism. The anti-ecological technology
of capitalism, forged for the purposes of exploitation, was
endorsed. So were all centralizing tendencies in economic,
political, and military organization, which were to produce
such human disasters.

This is not to deny that there are real tendencies in
capitalism which push toward socialist freedom, especially the
struggle of the working class, as Marx taught. But there are
countertendencies (such as the tendency of the better-off workers
to be bought off and the worse-off workers to give up). There is no
automaticity, no inevitability, about the socialist revolution. Capitalism
will not create socialism for us.

Some of the libertarian Marxists, such as James and Dunayevskya and their
followers, have sought to break out of the mechanical version of Marxism by
going back to Hegel's philosophy. This is a dead end. It is true that Hegel's
dialectics portray the world as moving in a dynamic, contra-
dictory, and interconnected (almost ecological) fashion, rather
than mechanically and rigidly . But he still saw history as fol-
lowing an automatic process, moving to its inevitable end.
That end was the creation of Hegel's philosophy--and, in
society, the Prussian monarchy--as the culmination of histo-
ry. The News and Letters organization seems to see itself as
existing in order to explain to the workers the relation
between their actions and the philosophy of Hegel. To organ-
ize activists to go off into ever deeper studies of this highly
alienated and authoritarian version of reality (bringing Hegel
to the workers) is its own form of elitism. Marx freed himself
from Hegel and it is a mistake to go back.

Cleaver (who does not refer to Hegel much) also shows a sim-
ilar failure to overcome Marxist automaticity, even when he
most thinks he has gone beyond it. For example, he praises
Kropotkin (Cleaver, 1993) for showing how aspects of the
future were already appearing, for showing how present forces
would become the future. In contrast, he specifically rejects
George Woodcock's interpretation that Kropotkin was raising
things as mere possibilities which could or might happen. And he
rejects any analysis which is concerned with what should or ought to
be in the future. Instead, Cleaver's Kropotkin focused on indi-
cations in the present of what would lawfully and certainly
develop into communist anarchism.

It is interesting that it is just this aspect of Kropotkin which
Malatesta criticized. Errico Malatesta, the great Italian anar-
chist, wrote his "Recollections and Criticisms of an Old
Friend" (1977; pp. 257-268), as a memorial to Kropotkin.
Kropotkin's main "two errors," which he especially criticized,
were a "mechanistic fatalism" and "his excessive optimism."
Malatesta implied that these faults led to Kropotkin's betrayal
of anarchism by his support for the Western Allies in World
War I (the Germans were supposedly interfering with the
automatic development of cooperation and free associa-
tion in the Allied nations). Cleaver does not mention
this, although it has to be accounted for by any
admirer of Kropotkin.

This mechanical automaticity of the libertarian Marxists does not flow
through a party-concept but, in their thinking, through the masses.
They are confident that ultimately the workers will do things right.
The libertarians show little appreciation for the mixed consciousness
among the workers, influenced by the unendin
pounding of the mass media. They deny the need to organize
in order to fight against conservative or social democratic or
Stalinist forces within the working class. As Marxists, the
autonomists are passive before the forces of history.

Similarly, the council communists rejected the very idea that
socialism could succeed in the oppressed nations, because
they were too poor and technologically delayed to develop a
society of plenty, which socialism (communism) required.
Therefore council communists accepted capitalism (or state
capitalism) as the best the oppressed nations could do in this
period. They did not see that the neo-colonial countries are
part of the world system of capitalism and therefore workers'
revolutions there were an essential part of a world socialist
revolution.

Due to this acceptance of Marxist automaticity, the libertarian
Marxists are unfortunately weak in much the same areas
many anarchists are or even worse. There has been a strand of
anarchism in favor of building anarchist revolutionary organi-
zations which can work inside mass organizations such as
(but not only) unions (Malatesta, or Makhno's "platformist"
movement). But the libertarian Marxists have been so trau-
matized by Leninism that they reject almost all revolutionary
organization--making it almost impossible to understand
why they themselves organize, if they do. (However,
Castoriadis was for developing an organization and Socialism
or Barbarism had a split over this issue.)

Believing that the workers will make everything come out
right in the end, libertarian Marxists tend to be passive in
relationship to issues of strategy or organization. The weirdest
example is a statement by the Italian autonomist Marxist,
Antonio Negri (and M. Hardt, 2000): "Against the common
wisdom that the U.S. proletariat is weak because of its low
party and union representation with respect to Europe...per-
haps we should see it as strong for precisely those reasons.
Working class power resides not in the representative institu-
tions but in the antagonism and autonomy of the workers
themselves" (p. 269). By this argument, the drastic decline in
union numbers in the U.S., and the victories of union busters,
have made the U.S. workers even stronger. When all the
unions are destroyed, the workers will be strongest of all! Why
then do the capitalists work to defeat unions?

The council communists were right against Lenin in opposing
a party-state and favoring a system of councils. But this does
not prove that they were right on other matters, particularly
Lenin's advocacy of tactical and strategic flexibility. They were
right against Lenin when they opposed electoralism but were
wrong to oppose participation in unions. I am not arguing
this here, but I am pointing out that there is no necessary
connection between each issue. They need to be thought out
separately.

Autonomous Marxism, then, is weak in the same areas that
much of anarchism is weak. It does not see the need for self-
organization of revolutionaries. It is strategically inflexible, in
particular opposed to working inside unions, the main mass
organizations of the working class. And it has not been able to
transcend key weaknesses of Marxism, particularly the auto-
maticity of the Marxist view of history.

There is a great deal in Marxism that can be mined by anar-
chists. In particular, Marxism shows the connection between
the functioning of capitalism and the development of a work-
ing class capable of self-activity, moving toward the creation
of a revolutionary socialist society. But Marxism, as Marxism,
is not just a collection of concepts, which can be taken or left
in bits. It was meant to be a whole, the total worldview of a
new class. It included an economics (value analysis), a politi-
cal strategy (electoralism), a method of social analysis (histor-
ical materialism), and a philosophy of nature (dialectical
materialism)--everything but an ethics or a moral vision. It
stands or falls all of a piece. As it turned out, Marxism was not
the program of the working class, as was intended, but the
program of a state capitalist ruling class.

In some ways it is comparable to liberalism. Much in anar-
chism derives from classical liberalism. Anarchists agree with
the liberal ideas of free speech, free association, pluralism, fed-
eralism, democracy, and self-determination. But liberalism
today is the left face of imperialist capitalism and we are not
liberals! So too, while much should be gained from Marxism,
socialists who believe in liberation are better off being anar-
chists

Brecher, J. (1972). Strike! San Francisco: Straight Arrow
(Rolling Stone).
Chomsky, N. (1970). Introduction. In D. Guerin (1970).
Anarchism. NY: Monthly Review Press.
Cleaver, H. (2000). Reading Capital Politically. San Francisco,
CA: AK Press.
Cleaver, H. (1993). In T.V. Cahill, ed. Anarchist Studies.
Lancaster, UK: Lancaster University (2/24/93).
Curtis, D.A. (1997). (Ed. and trans.). The Castoriadis Reader.
Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Dunayevskya, R. (1992). The Marxist-Humanist Theory of State
Capitalism. Chicago: News and Letters.
Glaberman, M. (1999). Marxism for Our Time: C.L.R. James on
Revolutionary Organization. Jackson: University Press of
Mississippi.
Glaberman, M. & Faber, S. (1998). Working for Wages: The
Roots of Insurgency. Dix Hills, NY: General Hall.
Goodman, P. (1962). Drawing the Line: A Pamphlet. NY:
Random House. Partially reprinted in P. Goodman
(1979) Drawing the Line: The Political Essays of Paul
Goodman (T. Stoehr, ed.). NY: E.P. Dutton.
Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2000). Empire. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Malatesta, E. (1984). Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas. V.
Richards, ed. London: Freedom Press.
Mattick, P. (1969). Marx and Keynes: The Limits of the Mixed
Economy. Boston: Porter Sargent.
McLemee, S. (1996). (Ed.). C.L.R. James on the "Negro
Question." Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
Rachleff, P. J. (1976). Marxism and Council Communism: The
Foundation for Revolutionary Theory for Modern Society.
New York: Revisionist Press.
Root and Branch (1975). Root and Branch: The Rise of the
Workers' Movements. Greenwich, CN: Fawcett
Publications


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