Anarchism

Anarchism seems to come in a multitude of varieties, with at least one special suffix for each kind to try to distinguish itself from all the others (anarcho-communist, anarcho-syndicalist, etc.). With all of these divergent offshoots, it's difficult to concisely submit anarchism to a single definition, especially as concerns the tactical methodology of individual groups. But the contradictions which have divided anarchism have all developed from a common basis, and all anarchist thought remains connected, ultimately, to that basis. This common root or connection consists of specific unresolved philosophical mistakes, that render the anarchist objective an impossibility. The anarchist goals, as well as their methods for achieving them, are all impossible to achieve due to the fact that anarchist theory is incapable of understanding the nature of the state, the real relation of the revolutionary process to the state, and consequently, also the relation of political parties to the masses and the revolution itself. It all stems from the petty-bourgeois philosophical foundations of anarchism which were established before scientific-socialism (Marxism) had emerged.

Anarchist thought is rooted in the formulas of the pre-Marxist utopian socialists of the 18th and early 19th centuries. In the era of the bourgeois-democratic revolutions, egalitarianism was a fervently held principle of the most intelligent philosophers and the most passionate revolutionaries. However, since capitalism, still combatting feudal / monarchical barriers to its development, was too young to have yet created large-scale industry, the class balance of forces was still in favor of the petty-bourgeoisie (rich peasants, intellectuals, small business owners) – not the working class. As a result of the individualism, subjectivism, and economic naivete this set of circumstances engendered, these people approached the question of achieving equality in an unscientific way. They formulated a conception of an "ideal legislation" (a perfect system of government), allowing for the unrestricted freedom of all people (a conception blind to scientific class distinctions beyond "rich" and "poor"). These ideas were divorced from the real processes at work in society as they were based upon definitions of morality. As a result, they were incapable of anticipating the material conditions the historical development capitalism was to bring about, such as the changes in the class balance of forces in favor of the working class, the social roles and destinies of the main classes in society, industrialization and socialized production, etc. Nor were they capable of understanding that all of these processes were laying the material basis for the the formation of a new social system (socialism) within the womb of the old society (capitalism), which at that point in time had not yet fulfilled its historical role. The utopian socialists tried to solve the problem of inequality by means of "fair exchange" of the products produced by society; their unscientific theoretical viewpoints rendered them unable to concieve that the more fundamental issue was that of bringing into harmony the relations of production. Because of this, their methods for constructing a utopian society met again and again with insoluble contradictions which kept the conscious movement for socialism unorganized and disconnected, consumed by continuous in-fighting.

Max Stirner and the Anarchist View of Authority

It was in this setting that Max Stirner, the father of "egoism", laid the framework for the anarchist view of the state. In Stirner's criticisms of Feuerbach on the issue of religion, he relied upon a line of logic which led itself to the notion that any social entity apart from the interests of the individual (what he called "the ego") was a purely mental construct that people had allowed themselves to be restricted by, in the same manner as religious superstitions. Feuerbach philosophized that in the idea of "God", humanity is only assigning its own virtues to something outside of itself, at which point Stirner proclaimed that Feuerbach was unaware of the full implications of his own reasoning. Stirner said that, if humanity was abstracting its virtures from itself to arrive at the idea of a God, then Feurbach was abstracting an idealized notion of "humanity" in order to assign humankind these virtues. In place of this, Stirner advocated the belief that there is no "humanity", but only the interests of individuals to do what fulfills them. He called these interests, collectively, the "ego". While not particularly relevant to the topic of this article, it is important to mention, however, that in doing this he was himself guilty of "abstracting", as his entire conception of "the ego" was not deduced with specific individuals and their real social relations in mind, but instead proceeded solely from the idea of "the individual in general".

He asserted that all authority, of any kind, was an infringement upon the freedom of the "ego" to operate by the principles he assigned it. He announced, "I…declare war to the knife to all States, even the most democratic. Every State is a despotism, whether it is the despotism of one or many… For this is the case whenever a given law, the expressed will perhaps of some assemblage of the people, is immediately to become a law to the individual, which he must obey, and which it is his duty to obey…", and, "Communists think that the Commune should be the property owner. On the contrary, I am a property-owner, and can only agree with others as to my property. If the Commune does not do as I wish I rebel against it, and defend my property…"

Stirner's ideal society was composed of "Leagues of Egoists", wherein individuals would unite on the basis of common interests. But exactly what those interests could be in the context of modern property relations, which would be an essential factor in organizing the production of the needs of society, Stirner would have been forever unable to answer, since his ideas were based upon an abstract idea of individualist "freedom" instead of the concrete relations governing modern methods of production. Instead of approaching the question of what would replace capitalism with the scientific perspective of class forces and class interests, Stirner dreamed that everyone would simply realize that no state could give them freedom and that they would then proceed to abolish it and all the taxes and regulations it relied upon – resulting in "fair exchange". This is very similar to the "laissez faire" doctrine which the petty-bourgeoisie are generally compelled to pine for, taken to an extreme. The fact that Stirner's ideas are aimed towards the "owner of property", and have as their goal the "rights of everyone to property", yet operate through means of "free contracts" and disallowing any "collectivity", gives away his entire outlook as petty-bourgeois individualism. As a political ideology, the working class had no cause to identify with it.

The anarchists of today echo this call for "war on all States" for the same reason, but most would not seriously propose that "Leagues of Egoists" serve as the building blocks of their ideal society. At first glance, the modern anarchist plan for the organizing of post-capitalist society seems almost identical to the way Marxists present socialism: power to the popular organizations of the proletariat to exercise workers' control over production and distribution, with free elections and the right to recall. But the details of the anarchist plan are different in terms of which combinations of workers make these decisions, what brings these bodies together; what their functioning relations to one another are, and the anarchist insistance for the absence of any governing superstructure to conduct their operations and interactions. The anarchist design discourages representative bodies but acknowledges for reasons of practicality limited usage of them, while the major emphasis is on "self-management" and extreme federalization, through smaller cooperatives, unions, and councils.  In anarchist society, these groupings would operate individually or through "freely contracted agreements" as entities called "syndicates". Ideally, syndicates have full sovereignity over themselves, and exchange with other syndicates in terms of materials and labor, not money. Military operations to defend the syndicates from the armed forces of the counter-revolution would be conducted by partisans in guerrila fashion, relying on consensus to formulate battle plans for both the seperate platoons as well as any collaboration of forces on a national scale. Because there could be no central authority or broad, formal political structure (that is, no state), the role of any workers' parties in the revolution would be totally denied; whereas Marxists see a workers' party as being composed of the vanguard (leading layer) of the working class, united on a principled basis, the anarchists believe that all parties are hierarchial, and that their existence or authority would contradict the "freedom" of the super-federal system.

To square with these perspectives, anarchism would have to rely upon a very irrational line of events and set of conditions; that a vastly overwhelming majority of people can be simultaneously convinced to support genuine socialism at all times and are so well educated that in addition to knowing precisely what measures have to be taken to assure victory and manage society, they are incapable of being swayed or confused by bourgeois or petty-bourgeois agents; that a military, an economy, and social services can function successfully without any management or representative specialization; that these confederations of syndicates will feel neighborly enough to not exploit those atomized syndicates which are less rich in resources and labor power than they are; and, to even have abolished capitalism in the first place, that the working class, without of course any allegedly "oppressive" political expression through a party (regardless of the correctness of its ideas), could even succeed in planning and executing a nation-wide insurgency against the bourgeoisie to begin with. Anarchism, due to these failings, is just as abstracted and inapplicable today as it was in Max Stirner's mind nearly two centuries ago.

As Lenin explained in the The State and Revolution:

"We are not utopians, we do not 'dream' of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination. These anarchist dreams, based upon incomprehension of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and 'foremen and accountants'.

"The subordination, however, must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and working people, i.e., to the proletariat. A beginning can and must be made at once, overnight, to replace the specific 'bossing' of state officials by the simple functions of 'foremen and accountants', functions which are already fully within the ability of the average town dweller and can well be performed for 'workmen's wages'.

"We, the workers, shall organize large-scale production on the basis of what capitalism has already created, relying on our own experience as workers, establishing strict, iron discipline backed up by the state power of the armed workers. We shall reduce the role of state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, revocable, modestly paid 'foremen and accountants' (of course, with the aid of technicians of all sorts, types and degrees). This is our proletarian task, this is what we can and must start with in accomplishing the proletarian revolution. Such a beginning, on the basis of large-scale production, will of itself lead to the gradual 'withering away' of all bureaucracy, to the gradual creation of an order – an order without inverted commas, an order bearing no similarity to wage slavery–an order under which the functions of control and accounting, becoming more and more simple, will be performed by each in turn, will then become a habit and will finally die out as the special functions of a special section of the population."

And as Engels explained in On Authority:

"Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is an act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon, all of which are highly authoritarian means. And the victorious party must maintain its rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries. Would the Paris Commune have lasted more than a day if it had not used the authority of the armed people against the bourgeoisie? Cannot we, on the contrary, blame it for having made too little use of that authority? Therefore, one of two things: either that anti-authoritarians don't know what they are talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion. Or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the cause of the proletariat. In either case they serve only reaction."

The anarchists ruined their greatest opportunity to show the viability of their design when, in 1918, as Lenin and Trotsky were discussing the possibility of giving the anarchists their own autonomous territory, anarchist groups began to organize armed squads of "Black Guards" which threatened to destabilize the Brest-Litovsk peace-talks.  A number of them also decided to carry out "expropriations" of dubious legality, including the theft of a car belonging to representative of the American Red Cross, who was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks.  As the Bolsheviks attempted to conduct investigations and arrests at anarchist offices, a gun battle broke out, killing a dozen Cheka (political police) agents and somewhere between 20-30 anarchists.

Proudhon and the Nature of the State

In the first half of the 19th Century, Proudhon (called "the immortal father of anarchism" by Kropotkin) sought to fortify Stirner's system of philosophical beliefs by expanding them into more concrete economic and political terms. Proudhon's main elaborations in this regard relate to his theory of "dual constitutions".  But before he could proceed to take up that task, he had to reinforce the philosophical basis for anarchism, upon which any of his elaborations would depend.  Proudhon began with the proposition that God is the virture of humankind which humanity abstracts from itself and transplants into an imaginary body.  On the premise that humanity, for just as long a time as it had been grappling with religious issues, had also been struggling with finding suitable governments, and that people in both cases looked to "higher powers" for benevolence and wisdom, he proclaimed that the state, too, must be a case of humanity extracting from itself its own virtues and placing them above itself.  As he put it, "Outside humanity there is no God; the theological concept has no meaning: – outside liberty no government, the political concept has no value."  Naturally this whole line of reasoning was divorced from a scientific perspective of political development throughout history.  Marxists take the historical materialist view of society, whereby the progression of political structures over the course of history is based not upon the high ideals or ignorance of any people, but upon the class relations created by new methods of production.  In short, the history of all hitherto existing class societies is the history of the class struggle.  The slave-owners of ancient Rome, the Kings of feudal Europe, and the capitalists of today all wrested authority only by the power which they hold over the productive forces of society.  Myths justifying conquest, papal dogmas claiming that nobility is appointed by divine providence, and the wholly unscientific doctrine of "social Darwinism" – all of these things (all "virtues" supposedly personified) only came into being after these classes had come into power and were able to use their assets to exert a decisive influence over art, culture, the sciences.  Most important of all, as the classes owning the means of production on which society depended, they were able to then effect those political forms which were best suited to managing the economic foundation constituted by the property relations from which they derived their dominance.

Proudhon continued, stating that, since people sought liberty through better government, the "essence" of the citizen which is being abstracted is liberty itself.  And since this liberty is at odds with all forms of government and authority, this liberty immanent in humanity and imminent in society is none other than anarchist liberty!  He had now "discovered" that the state was merely an "illusion", and that the history of all hitherto existing socities had been only a product of collective imagination – from this totally superficial standpoint, the "essence" of the state itself could be anything.  Proudhon filled this void with the theory of "dual constitutions".  It was Proudhon's belief that human society, in one singularity spanning human existence, was consisted by both a "social constitution" and a "political constitution".  The social constitution comprised "the equilibration of interests based upon free contract and the organization of the economic forces, which, generally speaking, are labor, division of labor, collective force, competition, commerce, money, machinery, credit, property, equality in transactions, reciprocity of guarantees, etc.", while the political constitution was composed of "…authority…, distinction of classes, separation of powers, administrative centralization, the judicial hierarchy, the representation of sovereignty by elections, etc."  Proudhon claimed that the social constitution was mankind's organic, natural, innermost constitution, while the political constitution had been created artificially by humanity for want of order, as the human race had not yet "discovered" its own essence and could only do so after a long period of experience, through which the political constitution would be overshadowed by growing awareness of the social constitution.   That would mean that the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of the successive lessening of ignorance – in other words, it is due to the ignorance of people that we have repressive state structures!  As highlighted in his definitions of the constitutions, he saw the creation and existence of classes as something divorced from the property relations of productive methods, by attributing classes to the "order" which the state – any state – exists only to impose.   Nothing could be further from a solid, scientific understanding of the processes underlying social change, political forms, and economic development. This again is the world-view of the self-satisfied petty-bourgeois intellectual, looking down his nose at the "ignorant masses" who need only to be "enlightened" in order to become free.

The Marxist perspective, when used to understand the nature of the state, concludes, in contradiction to anarchist thought, that the state is not the source of class antagonisms.  On the contrary, the state is a historically evolved organism, that came into being shortly after that point in history when the division of society into classes was set into motion. This early class division was due to society's increasing capability to create a surplus of food, due to the development of the productive forces and techniques which pre-historic humanity pioneered over hundreds of thousands of years.  The problem arose as to who would control and benefit from this surplus, and of who would own the tools to create it – who could, therefore, live off of surplus resources which were the product of others' labor.  The emergence of the state was due to the seperation of society into classes, and the need for the ruling class to defend its interests through the use of force – not the other way around, as the anarchists maintain.  Whereas the anarchist definition of the state is based on moralism and individualist sentiment, the Marxist definition is derived from an analysis of the actual social relations engendered by the methods of production.

So what are the tasks of the working class in relation to the capitalist state?

As Lenin explained in Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?:

"…Marx, basing himself on the experience of the Paris Commune, taught that the proletariat cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machine and use it for its own purposes, that the proletariat must smash this machine and substitute a new one for it.  …  The proletariat cannot 'lay hold of' the 'state apparatus' and 'set it in motion'. But it can smash everything that is oppressive, routine, incorrigibly bourgeois in the old state apparatus and substitute its own, new apparatus. The Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies. are exactly this apparatus.  …

"The Soviets are a new state apparatus which, in the first place, provides an armed force of workers and peasants; and this force is not divorced from the people, as was the old standing army, but is very closely bound up with the people. From the military point of view this force is incomparably more powerful than previous forces; from the revolutionary point of view, it cannot be replaced by anything else. Secondly, this apparatus provides a bond with the people, with the majority of the people, so intimate, so indissoluble, so easily verifiable and renewable, that nothing even remotely like it existed in the previous state apparatus. Thirdly, this apparatus, by virtue of the fact that its personnel is elected and subject to recall at the people's will without any bureaucratic formalities, is far more democratic than any previous apparatus. Fourthly, it provides a close contact with the most varied professions, thereby facilitating the adoption of the most varied and most radical reforms without red tape. Fifthly, it provides an organisational form for the vanguard, i.e., for the most class-conscious, most energetic and most progressive section of the oppressed classes, the workers and peasants, and so constitutes an apparatus by means of which the vanguard of the oppressed classes can elevate, train, educate, and lead the entire vast mass of these classes, which has up to now stood completely outside of political life and history. Sixthly, it makes it possible to combine the advantages of the parliamentary system with those of immediate and direct democracy, i.e., to vest in the people's elected representatives both legislative and executive functions. Compared with the bourgeois parliamentary system, this is an advance in democracy's development which is of world-wide, historic significance."

He continues in State and Revolution:

"The proletariat needs the state only temporarily. We do not after all differ with the anarchists on the question of the abolition of the state as the aim. We maintain that, to achieve this aim, we must temporarily make use of the instruments, resources, and methods of state power against the exploiters, just as the temporary dictatorship of the oppressed class is necessary for the abolition of classes.  …  After overthrowing the yoke of the capitalists, should the workers "lay down their arms", or use them against the capitalists in order to crush their resistance? But what is the systematic use of arms by one class against another if not a "transient form" of state?"

Even earlier, Engels outlined the position in Anti-Duhring

"The proletariat seizes from state power and turns the means of production into state property to begin with. But thereby it abolishes itself as the proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, and abolishes also the state as state. Society thus far, operating amid class antagonisms, needed the state, that is, an organization of the particular exploiting class, for the maintenance of its external conditions of production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited class in the conditions of oppression determined by the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom or bondage, wage-labor). The state was the official representative of society as a whole, its concentration in a visible corporation. But it was this only insofar as it was the state of that class which itself represented, for its own time, society as a whole: in ancient times, the state of slave-owning citizens; in the Middle Ages, of the feudal nobility; in our own time, of the bourgeoisie. When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection, as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon the present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from this struggle, are removed, nothing more remains to be held in subjection — nothing necessitating a special coercive force, a state. The first act by which the state really comes forward as the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — is also its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies down of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not 'abolished'. It withers away. This gives the measure of the value of the phrase 'a free people's state', both as to its justifiable use for a long time from an agitational point of view, and as to its ultimate scientific insufficiency; and also of the so-called anarchists' demand that the state be abolished overnight."

Because of their rejection of the state in general, and all that goes with it, anarchists also reject the need for a party which can fight for political power in the interests of the working class. Whether the anarchists like it or not, the capitalist class uses its state and its politial parties to enforce their class rule over the majority of society.  To simply reject political activity as "being part of the problem" means in practice to abandon the working class to the parties and ideologies of the ruling class.

The argument that we don’t need parties and leaders is false to the core. As a matter of fact it is not even logical. If a shoe pinches your foot, the answer is not to go barefoot but to get a shoe that fits. If our food is bad the conclusion is not that we must go without food altogether but that we need decent, tasty wholesome food. If I am not satisfied with my doctor, I look for a better one. Why should it be any different with a party or leadership? The present leadership of the working class is very bad. There is no doubt about this. But the conclusion is not that we do not need a leadership, but that we must fight to replace the present leadership with one that really represents the interests and aspirations of the working class.

In the movement of the proletariat to create a workers' democracy, petty-bourgeois philosophical and political tendencies can only be destabilizing, disorganizing, and ultimately dangerous to the emancipation of the working class. Without detracting from the bravery of anarchist workers in their battles against fascists other counter-revolutionary forces, the history of "anarchism in practice" – from the incompetence of the Bakuninists in Spain in the 1870's, to the bizarre violence of "direct action" today – provides one example after another of how these mistakes serve only to sow confusion and cause disorientation in the revolutionary movement, atomizing the forces of the working class at the moment when maximum unity is required.

The crux of the matter is that the ideology of anarchism is rooted in the petty-bourgoies individualism of the intellectual who has no faith in the ability of the "ignorant" working class masses to take their destiny into their own hands.  And yet, time and again, the "untutored masses" have done just that – taken their rightful place on the stage of history and moved might and main to transform society.  However, without a correct program, theory, strategy, tactics, methods, and organization, the working class will be unable to sieze, hold and extend their power globally and end the nightmare of capitalism once and for all.  The ideas of anarchism serve only to "abolish" the state and "authority" in the mind of the individual, whereas the ideas of Marxism provide a framework for a genuine end to class society and al the horrors it means for the vast majority of humanity.

Recommended further reading:

 


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