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(en) Anarkismo.net: Is It a State? - Anarchists Are Really Against the State: A Response to Marxists by Wayne Price
Tue, 30 Apr 2013 16:30:41 +0300
Marxists argue that anarchists really do advocate a state, or something indistinguishable
from one, but do not admit it. But what anarchists advocate is the overturning of the
existing state and the creation of a new, nonstate, association of councils, assemblies,
and a popular mililtia. There is no such thing as a "workers' state." ---- Most people
believe that a society without a state, as advocated by anarchists, would be chaos
(âanarchyâ). Many think that anarchists want a society essentially as it is, but without
police (which is, in fact, advocated by pro-capitalist anti-statists who miscall
themselves âlibertariansâ). This would indeed result in chaos, until either the Mafia or
the security guards hired by the rich (or both) become the new state. ---- A more
sophisticated criticism is to say that anarchists really do advocate a state, they just do
not call it by that name.
As Hal Draper, a Marxist, wrote, ââThe state has been a societal necessityâ.As soon as
antistatismâeven raises the question of what is to replace the stateâthen it has always
been obvious that the state, abolished in fancy, gets reintroduced in some other formâ.In
anarchistic utopiasâthe pointed ears of a very undemocratic state poke outââ (Draper,
1990; p. 109).
Leninists argue that what anarchists argue for, is, at best, indistinguishable from the
Marxist idea of a âworkersâ stateâ (the âdictatorship of the proletariatâ). To them, this
would be âtransitionalâ between the overturned capitalist state and an eventual stateless
society. They refer anarchists to Marxâs Civil War in France (on the 1871 Paris Commune)
and to Leninâs State and Revolution, the most libertarian thing he wrote.
But what revolutionary, class-struggle, anarchists propose is not a state. It is a
realistic alternative to the state.
After the Revolution
After a revolutionary transformation from capitalism to socialist-anarchism, there will be
a need to coordinate various aspects of society, particularly self-managed industries and
communes. There will need to be a way to settle disputes among different sectors of
society as well as between individuals. There will be a need to develop an economic plan,
democratically, from the bottom up. This will be especially true during and immediately
after the revolution, given the inherent conflicts and difficulties of the period.
There will be a need to oppose counter-revolutionary armed forces, sent by still-existing
imperialist states or, in a civil war, by internal reactionary armies. Anti-social
individuals, created by the loveless society of previous capitalism, will still need to be
dealt with. Anarchists do not believe in punishment or revenge, but we do believe in
protecting the people from conscienceless and emotionally wounded persons.
Anarchists have long advocated federations of workplace councils and neighborhood
assemblies to carry out these tasks (detailed in Price, 2007). In revolution after
revolution, workers and oppressed have created self-governing councils, committees, and
assemblies, in workplaces and neighborhoods. During revolutions anarchists call on the
people to form such associations and bring them together to coordinate the struggle. The
concept of federated councils was raised by Bakunin and Kropotkin, and especially by the
Friends of Durruti Group in Spain, 1938. Implicitly this includes the right of working
people to freely organize themselves to fight for their ideas among the rest of the
population (a pluralistic âmulti-partyâ democracyâwhich is not the same as allowing any
parties to take over and rule).
There should be no more specialized bodies of armed people, such as the military or
police. Instead there would be an organized, armed, population, a militia of working
people and the formerly oppressed, under the direction of the council federation. These
would exist until considered unnecessary. Popular armed forces (including guerilla and
partisan armies) have worked quite well in the past and even now in parts of the world.
Methods of public safety would be worked out mostly on a local level, in a society of
freedom and plenty for all.
To this approach, Leninists and some others respond, âYou anarchists are really advocating
a state.â They point to the experience of the Paris Commune and the original Russian
soviets (councils), and say that this is what they want tooâbut that they are being honest
about calling it a state. They note that, in his State and Revolution, Lenin had
interpreted Marx to say that this working class state would âimmediatelyâ begin to âwither
awayâ or âdie outââimmediately, from the first day. Working people would more and more
become involved in directly managing society themselves, while pro-capitalist resistance
would die down. A stateâa specialized, centralized, and repressive institution--would be
established but then the need for it would decrease and finally vanish. Is this really
different from what anarchists want, they ask?
What is the State?
To deal with this question, we have to define what we mean by âthe state.â Frederick
Engels, Marxâs closest comrade, described societies before states, such as hunter-gatherer
societies or early agriculturalists. There was a certain amount of community coercion and
even âwars.â But this was carried out by an armed population, or at least the armed men of
the community. When society became divided into classes, rulers and ruled, this was no
longer possible. The state is distinguished by âthe institution of a public force which is
no longer immediately identical with the peopleâs own organization of themselves as an
armed powerâ.This public force exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men
but also of material appendages, prisons and coercive institutions of all kindsâ.Officials
now present themselves as organs of society standing above societyâ representatives of a
power which estranges them from societyâ.â (1972; pp. 229â230). I think that anarchists
would accept this description.
Like the anarchists of the time, Marx and Engels were very impressed by the
ultra-democratic workersâ self-organization of the Paris Commune. Among other things, it
replaced the standing permanent army by a popular militia, the National Guard. For such
reasons, in 1875, Engels wrote a letter proposing changes in the party program: âThe whole
talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the Commune, which was no longer
a state in the proper sense of the wordâ. We would therefore propose replacing âstateâ
everywhere by âGemeinwesenâ [community], a good old German word which can very well take
the place of the French word âcommuneâ â (quoted in Lenin, 1970; p. 333).
I do not intend to get into a fuller discussion of the Marxist concept of the state, the
âdictatorship of the proletariat,â or related subjects (again, see my book, Price 2007).
My point is only that, even by Marxist description, the state is a socially-alienated,
bureaucratic, military-police machine above the rest of society. By this description, it
is not something which the working class can use, neither to transform society into a
classless, nonoppressive, system, nor to manage society after its transformation. There
can be no such thing as a âworkersâ state.â
I am not quibbling about words. People may call things whatever they want; itâs a
semi-free country. But we need to recognize that the council system is qualitatively
different from all the states in history. All these statesâeven those set up by popular
revolutions, such as the bourgeois-democratic French revolution or U.S.
revolutionâestablished the rule of a minority over an exploited majority. They had to be
separate from the people, distinct institutions, no matter how democratic in form. But the
federated councils of the workersâ commune, backed by the armed people, is the
self-organized people itself, not a distinct institution. It may carry out certain tasks
which states have done in the past, but it is not useful to describe it as a state. When
everyone governs, there is no âgovernment.â
Leninism and the State
Lenin argued that it was necessary to overturn the existing, capitalist, state, and to
build a new state, a workersâ stateâtemporarily, transitionally--which would eventually
âwither away.â What the revolutionaries will be doing, what they will be working at, is
building the new state. The âwithering awayâ of the state will be left to take care of
itself. With such an approach, it should not be surprising that what the Leninists
produced isâ.a state.
âThe very revolutionaries who claim that they are against the state, and for eliminating
the stateâsee as their central task after a revolution to build up a state that is more
solid, more centralized and more all-embracing than the old one. âThe point is not that
the workers and other oppressed people should not build up a strong set of organizations
during and after a revolution to manage the economy and society, defend their gains and
suppress the exploiters, etc. But they also need to take steps o prevent a new state from
arising and oppressing them. That is, they need to figure out how they are going to build
a stateless societyâ (Taber, 1988; pp. 56 & 58). In other words, the centralized and
repressive aspects of political organization should actively âbe witheredâ by the working
Trotskyism and the State
Trotskyists often say to anarchists that they want what we want, an association of
councils tied to a workersÂ militia. This is, they say, what they mean by a âworkersâ
state.â So far, so good.
But they also use âworkersâ stateâ to described the Russian regime of Lenin and Trotsky up
to about 1923. This was a one-party police state dictatorship, and not at all a radically
democratic council system. At the time of the 1917 revolution there had been democratic
soviets (councils), factory committees, independent unions, a range of socialist parties
and anarchist groups (parties and groups which supported the revolution and fought on the
side of the Bolsheviks during the Civil War), and dissenting caucuses inside the Bolshevik
party. Between 1918 and 1921, this lively working class democracy was destroyed. I am not
arguing why this happened (Trotskyists claim it was entirely due to objective conditions;
anarchists claim that Lenin and Trotskyâs authoritarian politics had much to do with it).
But it did happen. So the Trotskyists are left calling a state in which the workers had no
power, a âworkersâ state.â Given the chance, how do we know that they would not create the
same kind of âworkersâ stateâ again (if the âobjective conditionsâ existed)?
It gets worse. One wing of the Trotskyist movement is called âorthodox Trotskyismâ or
âSoviet defensists.â They follow Trotskyâs stated view that the Soviet Union under Stalin
was a totalitarian mass-murdering regime, but was also a âworkersâ stateâ (a âdegenerated
workersâ stateâ). This was because it expanded nationalized property and for no other
reason. Similarly, the regimes of Eastern Europe, China, and Cuba were also âworkersâ
statesâ without any worker control (âdeformed workersâ states,â except Cuba which most
regarded as a pretty good âworkersâ stateâ).
There is a more democratic wing of Trotskyism, which rejected Trotskyâs view of Stalinâs
USSR. They believe (with most anarchists) that the bureaucracy became a new ruling class
and the economy became âstate capitalistâ or some new type of exploitative system.
But they still believe that Lenin and Trotskyâs regime was a âworkersâ state.â And they
believe that Stalinâs rule remained a âworkersâ stateâ up to some turning point (1929,
when the industrialization drive began, or the late 1930s, in the time of the great purge
trials when the party was remade).
My point is that, for Trotskyists, the concept of a âworkersâ stateâ is not only a label
for a council system, slightly different from that of the anarchists. It is a concept they
use to cover for drastically undemocratic institutions.
Other Leninists exist, such as Communists in the tradition of the old pro-Moscow parties,
Maoists, and some others. They rarely refer to Marxâs goal of a stateless society. They
support the monstrous one-party tyrannies of Stalin or Mao. But they often follow a
reformist approach, that is, try to change society through the existing state rather than
by seeking to overturn it and create something new. The Communist Parties are notorious
for this approach. But even Maoists may follow it, as is exemplified by the Maoists in
Nepal who are trying to take over a bourgeois state through parliamentary maneuvering.
Even the Trotskyists have, in practice, abandoned their Leninist position of needing to
overthrow the bourgeois state. This is seen by their support for Hugo Chavezâ effort to
establish âsocialismâ through the Venezuelan capitalist state or their support for
pro-capitalist politicians running for election, such as Ralph Nadar.
Another view was expressed by Paul Mattick, Sr., a council communist (libertarian
Marxist). (I am not discussing who has the âcorrectâ interpretation of Marx on the state.
Nor am I discussing the issue raised earlier by Draper about authoritarian tendencies
within anarchism). For âMarx and Engelsâthe victorious working class would neither
institute a new state nor seize control of the existing stateâ. It is not through the
state that socialism can be realized, as this would exclude the self-determination of the
working class, which is the essence of socialismâ (1983; pp160â161).
Revolutionary anarchists and other revolutionary libertarian socialists aim for the
workers and all oppressed to break up the existing states and replace them with radically
democratic, self-managed, societies.
Draper, Hal (1990). Karl Marxâs Theory of Revolution; Vol. IV: Critique of Other
Socialisms. NY: Monthly Review.
Engels, Frederick (1972). The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. NY:
Lenin, V.I. (1970). Selected Works; vol. 2. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Mattick, Paul, Sr. (1983). Marxism: Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie? Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Price, Wayne (2007). The Abolition of the State: Anarchist and Marxist Perspectives.
Bloomington IN: AuthorHouse.
Taber, Ron (1988). A Look at Leninism. NY: Aspect Foundation.
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