From Chomsky to Marx: Why I Joined the IMT

An ongoing series on membership in the IMT, in which comrades explain what drove them to reject the capitalist system and embrace revolutionary socialism.


A revolutionary organization is not the prototype of the future state, but merely the instrument for its creation. An instrument ought to be adapted to fashioning the product; it ought not to include the product. Thus a centralized organization can guarantee the success of revolutionary struggle.
— Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution

The revolutionary party is a necessary tool for overthrowing capitalism. Must a tool resemble what it produces? In order to make a chair, a saw is required. But a saw that resembled a chair would never produce a chair or anything else.
— Alan Woods, Marx versus Bakunin

So-called “libertarian” socialism is presented as an alternative to “authoritarian” or “state” socialism by some on the left. This is especially true since the rise of Stalinism and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. It is suggested that the main reason the Soviet Union ended up with a bureaucratic, authoritarian regime was because the Bolsheviks created a workers’ state after the revolution and that every “state” is necessarily despotic.

While Stalinism has nothing in common with genuine Marxism and is not a viable path for the liberation of the working class, neither is libertarian socialism. Despite the impression that this is a “new alternative” to “state” socialism, these ideas are very old. Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon were contemporaries of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Peter Kropotkin lived in the young Russian workers’ state and even met with Lenin in 1919.

Revolutionary Philosophy of Marxism Book Cover
While Stalinism has nothing in common with genuine Marxism and is not a viable path for the liberation of the working class, neither is libertarian socialism. / Image: Socialist Revolution

Libertarian socialism goes by many names: anarchism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, mutualism, Communalism, and Parecon, among others. All these ideas have in common their basis in philosophical idealism and the petty bourgeoisie, and they have nothing in common with a materialist understanding of the world and the social position and role of the working class.

I was introduced to these ideas through books like Chomsky on Anarchism and The Conquest of Bread. But, the ultimate test of any set of ideas is putting them into practice. I was fortunate enough to be able to see how these ideas worked in real-world politics as the co-chair of my local DSA chapter. Instead of building a fighting organization for the working class, these ideas only led to infighting and disorganization. This experience led me to seek out the ideas of genuine Bolshevism via the comrades of the International Marxist Tendency.

At this stage in history, capitalism has developed the forces of production and created the global working class. But it is now at an impasse and cannot take society forward. The class balance of forces is overwhelmingly on the side of the proletariat. The objective factors for socialist revolution are present or rapidly maturing. But the revolutionary subjective factor, in the form of a trained and disciplined Bolshevik organization, must still be built. Thus, the question of our time is, “How do we build the revolutionary organization of the working class?” Through my own experience, I have concluded that “libertarian socialism” does not provide the framework to build such an organization.

Libertarian socialism puts forward the idea that authority itself is the root of evil in society. Freedom can be maximized by eliminating as much authority as possible. When in an elected position, I did not see myself as a leader, but as a “facilitator” of the abstract will of the group, encouraging spontaneous groupings and for members to “just try things out.” Instead of creating a more democratic and cohesive group, the result was the opposite. Instead of reducing the authority of my own elected position, I created a tyranny of the unelected.

I was introduced to anarchism through books like Chomsky on Anarchism. As the co-chair of my local DSA chapter, I saw how these ideas only led to infighting and disorganization. / Image: Σ, Wikimedia Commons

As Alan Woods explains in Marx versus Bakunin:

In reality, anarchist organizations (surely a contradiction in terms?) always suffer from the most extreme bureaucracy because someone has to make decisions. Who are they? In practice, decisions are made “spontaneously” by self-appointed groups that are elected by nobody and responsible to nobody—that is to say, government by cliques.

Ultimately, someone has to make a decision. Train engineers cannot leave the station whenever they want and ride on any track. Nothing would ever get done without some kind of authority. The point is that authority is necessary. But how do we select who has authority? A group of factory workers would not let just anyone off the street come in and use the most dangerous piece of machinery. They would select the person who is best trained and most reliable. Revolutionary organizations should choose their leadership in the same way.

As workers, we already have very little time to spend outside of our jobs. We need to be very deliberate about where our time and energy go. When I was a libertarian socialist, I would argue that different people could just try their own thing. Some people could unionize, some could try a co-op, others could start a commune, some could vote, and still others could try revolution. Whichever one was successful would be our solution to achieving socialism.

Efforts to build unions and other collective organizations, along with voting for class-independent candidates, pose a threat to capitalism—but only insofar as they are connected with a movement to remove the ruling class and their dictatorship. But the aim of the working class should be to fight and win, not merely to threaten. It is ultimately revolution—combining the above with a leadership of committed revolutionaries—that poses a truly existential threat to capitalism.

As workers, we are all in the same boat together, in that we are unified by our exploitation by the capitalist class. Our colossal potential power comes from our collective relations to the means of production. If one power plant operator walks off the job, nothing meaningful happens. But if all power plant operators in all the plants went on strike, they could shut down the economy of an entire country. We are all on the same boat, and each has our oar. If half the boat rows in one direction and the other half in another direction, we will only go in circles. However, if we all row in the same direction, we can actually make it to our destination.

The members of the IMT were the only ones who had been consistently correct, comradely, and offered clear political perspectives on the past, present, and future. / Image: Socialist Revolution

Before becoming DSA Chapter co-chair, I told friends who were in both DSA and the IMT that I would never join a Marxist organization—specifically the IMT. Nobody in the IMT ever tried to get me to join because I specifically said I did not want to be involved. In the end, I recruited myself. The members of the IMT were the only ones who had been consistently correct, comradely, and offered clear political perspectives on the past, present, and future. When I found that none of my libertarian socialist ideas worked, I went to them for help.

It became clear to me that Marxism provided the real ideas that could take the movement forward to socialism. It clarified that we need to build a political tendency linked to the working class based on those ideas. Through this, we can build the party that the workers need to bring about a new society. That’s why I joined and why I think you should join too.

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