A classic criticism of classical anarchism

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alb
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Feb 12 2020 17:05
A classic criticism of classical anarchism

This Marxist criticism of anarchism, dating from 1911, has just been put online here.

A reminder of just how all over the place anarchists were before they adopted Marxian economics and theory of history and (some of them) democratically organised majority action and called themselves "libertarian socialists".

Also contains chapter and verse quotes from Commonweal after William Morris left in 1890 and the anarchists took over and ran riot.

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Feb 12 2020 18:56
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The pioneer of Anarchism was Max Stirner, who, in “The Individual .and his Property” (published in 1845), expounded the “philosophy” that lies at the root of all Anarchist teaching. The only “reality” that he recognised was that of the individual. In his own words:

I know the SPGB keeps saying that Stirner was father of anarchism, but I've never once seen your publications even demonstrate an influence. Stirners work remained obscure until Tucker translated it, but even he didn't subscribe to Stirner's ideas.

And I also note that every time your group has used stirner as tool to distance anarchism from marxism (or more accurately your own version of it) your criticisms ignore the sections of his work where he talks about the economy and class.

Also see it talks about evolution and Kropotkin but fails to mention Mutual Aid, a work that had been published several years before this series of articles was written. Either the author didn't do much research or its just another hatchet job.

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darren p
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Feb 12 2020 20:22
Reddebrek wrote:
Also see it talks about evolution and Kropotkin but fails to mention Mutual Aid, a work that had been published several years before this series of articles was written. Either the author didn't do much research or its just another hatchet job.

Does seem like a strange omission. Actually "Mutual Aid" was on the SPGB recommended reading list for many years, not sure when it was first recommended (1940s?).

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sherbu-kteer
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Feb 13 2020 00:33

What do you think the "lib" in libcom means? Why post this gibberish here? It's no better than the sort of thing any random Leninist sect puts out.

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The Anarchist ranks have steadily dwindled in Britain, and their members apathetically drop away. Its Press makes a sporadic appearance. Accusations of being police spies lead to continual recrimination and permanent distrust among the “comrades.” Hence Anarchism’s decline, and its inability to organise the working class.

As opposed to the SPGB, which has been overflowing with members since day 1

ajjohnstone
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Feb 13 2020 03:13

From ALB himself on Kropotkin

https://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2015/07/what-marx-should-h...

I don't see any purpose in who can piss the highest charges when it comes to membership and support, sherbu.

You are right the has been a paltry number of workers who joined the SPGB, but equally take a look around this forum and tell me who has done any better. It pains all of us at the negligible effect either the anarchist or left communists or the SPGB have had.

Is it wrong to try and analyse why and suggest the cause? I know it won't please all, but I rarely found any form of criticism pleased everybody.

DarrenP as a teenager first introduced to socialism, it was the Western Socialist that advertised Mutual Aid that led me to getting it and soon afterwards Berkman's ABC of Anarchism that one local anarchist sold around the pubs.

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sherbu-kteer
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Feb 13 2020 04:46

I'm not trying to start a pissing contest over membership numbers, I know anarchists are broadly insignificant now -- I was trying to point out how silly this article is. It criticises anarchists for being "unable to organise the working class" whilst themselves being unable to organise the working class. Though, with that said, anarchists did do a tremendous amount of organising the working class, in Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere. In 1911, the criticism does not hold up at all.

In general, I like criticism. It's good, and it's good to engage with it. But this is just incredibly bad, riddled with the same kind of smears that Marxists have been repeating since the First International. To go through and rebut them all would be a waste of time, but I'll try and deal with a couple to show what I mean.

The claim that Stirner was the "pioneer of anarchism" whose thought "lies at the root of all Anarchist teaching" is just absurd. It's reasonable to say that Stirner influenced Marxism more than he influenced anarchism -- Bakunin mentions him only once, casually and negatively, whereas Engels was in agreement with him for some time, and Marx felt it necessary to write 300 pages against him.

As far as I know, this particular line of attack about the king of Anarchy Stirner originates with Engels and Liebeknecht in the 1880/90s. You can see it here in this article from Liebeknecht trying to justify the exclusion of libertarians from the Second International, with an absurd argument that admitting anarchists would entail admitting Stirner which would entail admitting Stirner's disciple Eugen Richter, the German liberal, basically one of the only people claiming allegiance to him. Which would entail letting capitalists in the Second International. Like I said, absurd.

This was pointed out by Tcherkesoff in his reply (page 6 of the Sept-Oct 1896 issue found here) where he accurately says that Stirner and Richter are "strangers to our party". It's an article worth reading. Stirner was unknown by anarchists until John Henry Mackay rediscovered him in the late 1880s and spread his ideas among the individualist-anarchists like Tucker. It wasn't until 1898 that Mackay put his biography of Stirner out, and an English edition of Der Einzige und sein Eigentum didn't come out until 1907.

The rest of the article is just as absurd, there's nothing remotely fair or reasonable within it. For instance, it spends paragraphs railing against anarchists as idealists who put too much stock in ideas, then it says this:

Quote:
The final plea of the Anarchists usually is that politicians always have sold out and always will sell, but this cannot apply to our movement, for informed Socialist men and women are not material for the man on-the make.

In other words, as long as you have the right kind of socialist ideas, you won't get corrupted. Brilliant!

It's not just the article itself that's nonsense, but alb's framing comments too, which is why I addressed my comment to him.

Quote:
A reminder of just how all over the place anarchists were before they adopted Marxian economics and theory of history and (some of them) democratically organised majority action and called themselves "libertarian socialists".

This gets the history arse-backwards and is a silly, sectarian attempt to chalk anarchism's successes up to Marxism. I don't think anarchists have ever adopted "Marxian economics and theory of history" but if they did, it wasn't until after WWII, when anarchism's relative peak had already passed. Capital influenced Bakunin and some of the other federalists, but Proudhon was a significant influence too, and after the International disintegrated (mainly because of Marx and co.) Marx ceased to be a significant reference point for libertarians. You can look at documents from the French anarchist-syndicalist movement, Spanish movement, etc and not see very much Marx at all, but you will see quite a lot of Proudhon.

As for the "democratically organised majority action" and calling ourselves "libertarian socialists", we have been doing that since the beginning. Perhaps the main role of Bakunin and the other federalists in the First International was to encourage mass proletarian organisation. That's what he wanted the International to be, which explains why he accepted that some sections would seek to run for parliament; he didn't want any single line to be mandated on the sections by the General Council, not even his own collectivist line, since it would inevitably produce splits and “there would be as many Internationals as there were different programs”. And remember, Bakunin and his comrades were much more likely to call themselves collectivists or federalists than they were anarchists, a label some of them were uncomfortable with.

Bakunin wasn't some insurrectionist terrorist, though you wouldn't get that if you believed the lies in the SPGB article.

alb
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Feb 13 2020 18:39

People are not seeing the series of articles in context -- that of 1911. At the time Marxists and Anarchists were going at each other hammer and tongs, and others in the Marxist tradition such as Rosa Luxemburg, Herman Gorter and Anton Pannekoek (and before them, William Morris) were severely critical of the anarchists of the time. Anarchists replied in kind, including calling Marx a German Jew.

I thought it was a well-researched article. Kohn had obviously read anarchist literature widely and had even gone through the files of Commonweal. I can't see how people today can deny that anarchists of the time did endorse and practise "propaganda of the deed" nor that they were influenced by the "philosophical anarchism" of the individualist anarchists. The idea that the individual was sovereign and authority (with a capital A) was the enemy was behind their rejection of democracy as "the tyranny of the majority", which William Morris ridiculed.

As to Stirner, by 1911 his ideas had been known in the English-speaking world for over a decade and had been embraced and propagated by individualist anarchists like Benjamin Tucker as their own (or should that be their Own?). Ok, his work wasn't translated into English till 1907 (not by Tucker himself, incidentally, he just arranged for it to be translated) but his ideas were known. After all, Tucker's paper Liberty was the leading English-language anarchist paper at the time. George Woodcock says of Stirner's book in his Anarchism (which devotes a chapter to Stirner) that "during the 1890s and the Edwardian era it was read widely, both within and outside anarchist circles". A.M. Lewis, the Social Democrat, in his book Ten Blind Leaders of the Blind, published by Charles H. Kerr of Chicago in 1910, lists and discusses Stirner as one of the ten.

In other words, it would have been natural in 1911 to discuss Stirner as a leading anarchist philosopher, and a "pioneer" in the chronological sense. I can understand why the classical anarchists represented here should want to repudiate Stirner and individualist anarchism generally as their descendants are more faithfully represented by what the word "libertarian" means in the US.

I didn't claim that modern-day "classical" anarchists (those who still swear by Proudhon and Bakunin) had in the meantime been influenced by Marx's ideas. This is far from being the case. In fact, they are still hostile to Marx as ever, even if they have dropped calling him a German Jew. I was talking of those here who run this site and prefer to call themselves "libertarian communists" and "libertarian socialists" than anarchists, In fact, Marxian economics and his theory of history seem to dominate many discussions here.

Yes, Kropotkin was the best of a bad bunch. Malatesta wasn't too bad either. At least they were communists, as opposed to advocates of an economy of workers' cooperatives producing for the market ("market anarchists", as it were). Kropotkin, however, rather blotted his copybook in the end by supporting one side in the First World Slaughter, suggesting that much of his anti-Marxism was inspired by anti-Germanism. He was joined by two others Kohn cites, Jean Grave and Tcherkesoff, and by … Benjamin Tucker.

Anyway, I thought the articles were of historical interest as an example of the polemics of the time and a useful complement to John Quail's The Slow Burning Fuse.

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Feb 13 2020 19:43
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What do you think the "lib" in libcom means? Why post this gibberish here? It's no better than the sort of thing any random Leninist sect puts out.

Shouldn't it be that the random "leninist sects" sounds like the SPGB considering this text came out a good or two decade before anything resembling leninists sects started appearing.

The part about legality that draws on Engels is good though since I think it is an aspect of Engels and Marx' politics not often brought up, even if this representation is a bit vulgar and limited.

Quote:
With merciless criticism he destroyed the fanciful representation of the all-powerful barricade and destroyed the hope of the European reaction that the labourers could be provoked to a street-fight in which they could be repulsed with decimated ranks. He showed how the revolution in the art of warfare had made the old form of struggle impossible, while a new weapon had been provided for the labouring class in the new political right of suffrage against which the ruling class were helpless. ‘The irony of the world’s history,’ says Engels, ‘ places everything on its head. We, the “revolutionaries,” the “overturners,” we succeed better with the legal means than with illegality and force.

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Feb 14 2020 00:40

Oh give me a break. What anarchists were calling Marx a German Jew in 1911? Nothing about this article is well-researched; the author clearly went through a few anarchist papers looking for gotchas to attack anarchists with. That's not good research.

Anarchists had been involved in the dumb "propaganda of the deed" terror attacks, true, but by 1911 that period had passed. Probably the majority opinion was now for libertarians to be active in the labour movement. Which is something this article attacks anyway. This isn't just an attack on insurrectionism but all anarchists, period. It's not some reasoned critique but a typical smear article that you'd expect from a social democrat in 1911. The main aim is to make anarchists look bad, truth be damned.

At no point do I deny Stirner having an influence over anarchists, particular individualists. But a) those individualists were and are a minority among anarchists, and b) this article doesn't claim that Stirner merely had an influence, but that he was the pioneer of anarchism and that his thought was at the root of all anarchist thinking. Just ridiculous, and I think you know it, which is why you're trying to shift the discussion away to a general one about Stirner having an impact, and ignoring most of the other points I made.

Kropotkin, Tcherkesoff, Grave, etc "blotted their copybook" by supporting the war, yes, but I don't think Marxists can throw stones here.

In the first half of the 1900s, anarchists were involved in the labour organisation of perhaps millions of workers, and they would play a central role in several revolutions, most obviously the Spanish. What was the equivalent "peak" for the SPGB in the corresponding period? This isn't a fairly researched criticism, it's a pathetic hit-piece designed to make all anarchists look bad and the SPGB look great. It is no better than any of the other sectarian hit pieces you get from the SWP or whatever: anarchism is bad, our sect is great.

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Feb 14 2020 07:55

We all reach our present political positions carrying our own baggage, and sometimes we do not even see the baggage on our backs. And if we do become aware of it, we are often reluctant to jettison it.

Re-fighting old battles don't get us anywhere so I do have some sympathy for sherbu's attitude. 1911 isn't 2020 and we have witnessed an evolution in anarchist thought and practice such as propaganda by the deed as no longer part of the ideology (although I suppose the Angry Brigade was the last gasp) The pamphlet, "You can't blow up a social relationship" expresses the current prevailing view.

Syndicalism and the industrial unionism have developed from the simplistic "mines for the miners and dust for the dustmen" analysis and now expanded to include neighbourhood community voices and non-working persons in their organisational projections and not just work-places. Yes, even the SPGB have changed attitudes and emphasis since the time I first joined in the 1970s and re-joined in the 2000s.

ALB has made the case that the article is reflective of the times, hence if I understand correctly it was publishing something from the SPGB's history's archive. Was it representative of the political situation in 1911, probably. Does it inform us any better of the relationship of anarchism and marxism today, probably not at all.

Do there still exist differences between the SPGB and many on this website. Most definitely.

Political action through parliament to capture the State. And the precedence over that approach of industrial action and workers councils. There is also lesser differences in matters of degree of the role respective organisations take in the class struggle and how class consciousness arises. But those latter are not fundamental disagreements as the former is but issues for comradely debate.

As an SPGBer, who remains committed to advocating for our corner, I see that our pamphlet "What's wrong with using Parliament" does express the flexibility of its position if situations and conditions call for a non-parliamentary struggle but where is the anarchist case to support workers if they strategically and tactically choose to prioritise voting in elections to gain political power.

I'm not going to get into a deep discussion of the role of anarchism in the class struggle but merely point out one important distinction. Syndicalism doesn't equate to anarchism and Bookchin's study of the FAI and the CNT in his book 'Spanish Anarchists the Heroic Years' brings out the contradictions

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Feb 14 2020 09:31

Just for the record, I've been involved with the anarchist 'movement' (for want of a better word) for 40 years, and in all that time, I've never met a single Stirnerite.

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Feb 14 2020 10:45

But I don't think this article would have meant much even in 1911...

We all need to look back at history without rose-coloured glasses and look clearly at strengths and weakness, when we did right, when we did wrong. Lord knows anarchists can be as bad at mangling history as Marxists. But alb is not promoting an honest view of history at all, quite the opposite. The article might be of historical interest to someone studying early 20th century polemics against anarchism, but it certainly doesn't say anything reasonable about anarchism either then or now. It's not a "classic criticism of classical anarchism", and it's not remotely well-researched.

If we want to look at how syndicalism and anarchism has evolved, we can do that. But without the muddle. To take the issue of "neighbourhood community voices and non-working persons", obviously there's been more of an emphasis on it these days as opposed to a hundred years ago, but even then, the question was not alien to them. As an example, at the founding congress of the CNT in 1911, they discussed how to include the disabled in their activity -- see here, CTRL+F "This Commission faces an extremely difficult problem".

The article was bad in 1911, and I don't understand why alb would want to pretend otherwise in 2020. The only explanation that comes to mind is the usual sectarianism, our sect is better than yours, bla bla bla.

On syndicalism, you're right that it's not synonymous with anarchism but it's not like this article was attempting to be careful about that point. First it says that the only alternative to individual action (defined as propaganda of the deed terrorism) is political action (defined as "action pursued through the channels of local and national control and government"). Anticipating a response that syndicalism is an avenue too, it just goes on to rubbish it and anything associated with it. Eg attacking the CGT as undemocratic for allowing small unions to have the same votes as big ones. This particular criticism just makes me think the author doesn't understand what federalism is. Would someone of his mindset get mad knowing that Tuvalu (pop: 11000) has the same vote in the UN General Assembly as China (pop: 1.4b)?

I also just noticed the bizarre racism in the next paragraph:

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Owing to the tempestuous, excitable nature of the people of southern climes, [the French] are more prone to display and impetuous action than other races. Hence the sudden strikes and the equally sudden and sad collapse of them.

I also agree with Serge about Stirnerites, they're altogether marginal, at least among social anarchists. I've only ever seen bonafide Stirnerites on the internet and in all my readings of history I haven't come across that many of them that weren't just died in the wool individualists -- the only exceptions I can think of are Emma Goldman and some of the Glaswegian anarcho-communists.

alb
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Feb 14 2020 14:59

To tell the truth, I've never met a Stirnerite either. But we would have in 1911 as his ideas were then held and propagated by many prominent anarchist thinkers, so no article on anarchism at the time could have avoided mentioning them. In any event, Kohn was not saying that all anarchists were Stirnerites, just noting (following some anarchists) that he was a pioneer of anarchist ideas. Stirnerism is just an intellectual pose anyway but there were plenty of anarchist poseurs around at the time.

The main criticisms of the article is directed a (1) "propaganda of the deed"; (2) the fact that a minority of anarchists had hijacked the leaderhip of the CGT in France and had let it into a number of failed strikes; (3) the proposition that capitalism could be overthrown by a general strike; (4) the idea that history was motivated by pure ideas rather material, economic factors; (5) opposition to political action.

You say (1) was unfair as by 1911 this had died out. Maybe (but the Siege of Sidney Street and Peter the Painter took place in 1911) but, in any event, this is what some anarchists had done or defended within the previous 10-20 years (The King of Italy had been assassinated in 1900 and the US President in 1901). Saying that someone writing in 1911 shouldn't comment on events that were part of the living memory of people over 30 is like saying that somebody today shouldn't mention 9/11. Any article written in 1911 would have had to mention this.

As to (2), was it or was it not the case that the federal structure of the CGT enabled a minority of anarchists to control the organisation? Did they or did they not justify this on the grounds that "a conscious minority" could and should act on behalf of and lead the majority? In other words, they were not democrats and didn't claim to be, but were, in today's terminology "vanguardists".

On (3) Kohn quotes Malatesta's trenchant criticism of the idea that capitalism could be overthrown by a general strike. It was also the basis of Luxemburg's and Pannekoek's criticism of the "anarcho-syndicalists". So what was wrong with making that point?

On (4) this would have no practical implications but did distinguish anarchist thinkers from Marxists.

On (5) Kohn does say that, where they exist, political action does involve elections and going into parliament. I wouldn't expect any anarchist to agree with that but you seem to have missed this passage:

Quote:
Just as Engels shows, we, the revolutionists, are prepared to use legal means in so far as they can be used in the workers’ interest, and ignore them when they cannot. When legal means fail illegal means are justifiable and commendable.

I don't know why you are getting so upset as you seem to agree with some, most in fact, of Kohn's criticisms of the anarchists of the time, i.e that Stirner was an idiot; that assassinations and bomb-throwing were "dumb"; and that capitalism cannot be overthrown by a simple general strike. If you had been alive in 1911 intellectually honesty would have compelled you to have expressed these criticisms too.

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Feb 14 2020 16:11

I don’t think it proves anything, though I have met several Glaswegians who claimed to be Stirnerites or egoists.

Robert Lynn (https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/4qrg24) and a number of his comrades often argued that Stirner’s ideas were the bedrock of their anarchism. My rejection of his ideas and my preference for Kropotkin was seen as a wee bit suspicious (added to my activism inside my union, and a belief in direct democracy – the horror, the horror!).

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Feb 14 2020 16:14

If I wrote an article saying that Marxism is a totally stupid, fundamentally totalitarian doctrine, made up by Germanic Northern Europeans who are unable to understand liberty on account of their racial characteristics, how would you respond? Would you say "hmm, a fair article really, some Marxists are totalitarians" or reject it as a low-quality hit piece?

You're trying to pretty up the article and make it sound more reasonable than it is. Kohn was not merely noting that Stirner was a "pioneer of anarchist ideas" (which would be a false claim it in of itself) but trying to make the claim that his thought "lies at the root of all Anarchist teaching". He wants to do this so he can quote one of Stirner's most absurd passages and then smear all anarchists with it.

1. I'm not saying it should be verboten to bring up the propaganda of the deed actions, I'm saying you can't smear all anarchists as terrorists because of it, when most anarchists -- certainly at the time it was written -- rejected such acts.

2. The federal structure of the CGT allowed revolutionary syndicalists (anarchist or no) to have the power they did, yes. It also allowed them to lose that power. It was not a system set up purely for their benefit, but a system totally in accord with the federalism that stretched back to the First International and beyond. Anarchists don't believe that majorities have the right to assert their will over minorities. Obviously, they don't want minorities to assert their will over majorities either, which is why the aim is to decentralise organisations as much as possible.

More generally, it's a confederation of unions, not a mass section in of itself. The basic unit of the confederation is not the individual but the constituent union. You only find this odd because it allowed anarchists to be influential for a period. Like I said before -- do you get mad that the Tuvalu has the same vote as China in the UN General Assembly?

I concede that the anarchists and other syndicalists didn't consider themselves to be democrats. I don't think that's a problem though.

3. Though I disagree with it, I don't have any major issue with that criticism being raised. I have an issue with sectarian smear articles.

4. Proudhon didn't think like that. Bakunin didn't think like that. I can't think of any anarchist who has thought like that. It's an absurd claim. The Proudhon quote Kohn cites is ripped completely out of context to the point that it's nearly incomprehensible (the definitions of "political constitution" and "social constitution" are not given and need to be), but even in this form you can tell it's not being utopian, it's the opposite of that. He's saying that the social constitution is something that emerges out of experience, the practical interplay of forces in real life. It's not something that you can draw a picture perfect image of in advance.

The people who come out as idealists in this exchange are the ones that think "informed Socialist men and women" will never sell out, that having the right ideas will immunise you from the pressure of capitalism and government. What could go wrong with that attitude?

5. I didn't say that these people were incapable of advocating revolutionary action so I don't know what relevance this has. In the article, Kohn criticises Malatesta for saying that political action doesn't need to involve parliaments, that killing a king can be considered political too. To counter, Kohn says that political action necessarily includes parliaments -- "therefore Politics DO include Parliament". What part of all this are you disputing?

Since I've responded to your list of questions, please respond to some of mine, that I have already asked but you've ignored:

1. Which anarchists were calling Marx a German Jew in 1911?

2. In 1911, anarchists were involved in the organisation of hundreds of thousands of members of the working class. What was the SPGB doing in the same period, that allowed it to talk of anarchism's "inability to organise the working class"?

Every time I read this article, I find another shitty thing about it. It claims that anarchists are constantly accusing each other of being spies -- "accusations of being police spies lead to continual recrimination and permanent distrust among the “comrades" -- then they themselves go on to accuse anarchists of being spies -- "Just so with the members of the Anarchist groups. It is often difficult to find out which are the genuine “comrades” and which the spies".

It also repeats the baseless smear about Bakunin maybe being a spy, here:

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Marx believed in effective organisation, strong and well knit, and political action as against street fights. The unscrupulous methods Bakunine used to smash the International from within, together with his past, often laid him under suspicion of being a spy, but against his intrigues the sturdy Socialist pioneer proved too strong.

It doesn't endorse it, but you know, just throws it out there, maybe he was a spy, maybe he wasn't, you never know, but he certainly did act like one.

Never mind that actions of "the sturdy Socialist pioneer" led to virtually every section of the IMWA abandoning Marx and going over to the side of the federalists...

Black Badger
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Feb 14 2020 16:13

time travel is fun! in 1911 it was not at all clear that propaganda by the deed was finished as a strategy (there were plenty of such acts in Russia, for example, leading up to the 1917 revolution, and the actions of the so-called Bonnot Gang, which would grab the radical imagination in France, was just beginning, and the soon-to-be outlawed CNT in Spain would soon start their campaigns of direct action, which often included assassination, especially during the years of "pistolerismo"). imperfect general strikes were soon to be more common, but that's no reason to think that the strategy as a whole was flawed; indeed, it could be argued that the mass mutinies in the Russian army coupled with the industrial work stoppages in Petrograd and Moscow in 1917 were a general strike, and we know what happened to tsarism...
the 1911 SPGB screed is typical of anti-anarchist rants by socialists: a bad faith hatchet job relying on one or more straw men, containing deliberate misreadings, and overflowing with guilt-by-(false) association
but yeah, time travel is fun. what's that saying about hindsight?

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Feb 14 2020 17:27
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Anarchists don't believe that majorities have the right to assert their will over minorities. Obviously, they don't want minorities to assert their will over majorities either, which is why the aim is to decentralise organisations as much as possible.

Sounds like a very headless way of organizing that opens up for abuse. I think a "majority rule" is important to allow the rank-and-file to hold the organisations leaders accountable and allow them to decide the direction of the organisation. Historically I think this "decentralism" and de-centering of the rank-and-file has ironically allowed for bureaucratic zig-zags of both the "syndicalist" and reformist fractions to destroy, split or halter CGT.

Quote:
the 1911 SPGB screed is typical of anti-anarchist rants by socialists: a bad faith hatchet job relying on one or more straw men, containing deliberate misreadings, and overflowing with guilt-by-(false) association
but yeah, time travel is fun. what's that saying about hindsight?

I think it would be fair to say that the text was not written primarily as a "theoretical" critique or "battle of ideas" but rather an attack on the then existing anarchist groupings within the labor movement, like most critiques of anarchism from that time. It is not like anyone calls Rosa Luxemburg's text The Mass Strike a leninist sect text because she calls the Russian anarchists bandits and French syndicalists "half-anarchists", and that the social-democrats(SPD) is the most class conscious vanguard. Is the only difference that the SPD actually was the largest organisation in Germany at the time?

alb
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Feb 14 2020 20:09

Imagine if Kohn had described anarchism as

Quote:
a tendency “revolutionary” in the most naked pitchfork sense

and as

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the ideological signboard of the counter-revolutionary lumpenproletariat

or as

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practical helps to the reaction

As Luxemburg did in 1906:

In the next chapter she said of anarchism:

Quote:
For the anarchist there exist only two things as material suppositions of his “revolutionary” speculations – first, imagination, and second goodwill and courage to rescue humanity from the existing capitalist vale of tears. This fanciful mode of reasoning sixty years ago gave the result that the mass strike was the shortest, surest and easiest means of springing into the better social future. The same mode of reasoning recently gave the result that the trade-union struggle was the only real “direct action of the masses” and also the only real revolutionary struggle – which, as is well known, is the latest notion of the French and Italian “syndicalists.” The fatal thing for anarchism has always been that the methods of struggle improvised in the air were not only a reckoning without their host, that is, they were purely utopian, but that they, while not reckoning in the least with the despised evil reality, unexpectedly became in this evil reality, practical helps to the reaction, where previously they had only been, for the most part, revolutionary speculations.

Is your knife ready Sherbu-kleer?

Black Badger
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Feb 14 2020 23:08

alb, are you saying that Rosa Luxemburg is beyond reproach for using similar bullshit dismissals? if so, why? because she's Rosa Luxemburg and not Kohn?
i want to make sure i understand your provocation

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sherbu-kteer
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Feb 14 2020 23:29

Why do you think I care what Rosa Luxemburg said?

ajjohnstone
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Feb 15 2020 02:07

If we are to explore the growth of anarchist ideas, why have we omitted the influence of William Godwin. Although, I have never met anyone who claimed to be a Godwinist (Godwinite?) but should we disavow him in the annals of anarchism?

I tried to bring the discussion to a contemporary debate on the contrasting approaches of present day anarchists/council communists/syndicalists/SPGB but the historical perspective seems to have deepened somewhat.

I have always been sympathetic to Joseph Dietzgen position
"The terms anarchist, socialist, communist should be so "mixed" together, that no muddlehead could tell which is which. Language serves not only the purpose of distinguishing things but also of uniting them - for it is dialectic." June 9, 1886

On anarchists and socialists generally, he said:
"For my part, I lay little stress on the distinction, whether a man is an anarchist or a socialist, because it seems to me that too much weight is attributed to this difference...While the anarchists may have mad and brainless individuals in their ranks, the socialists have an abundance of cowards. For this reason I care as much for one as the other...The majority in both camps are still in great need of education, and this will bring about a reconciliation in time" - April 20, 1886

Emma's mention of the SPD is relevant. I have read that the early SPGB aspired to be a class-based party similar to the SPD but without its reformism and revisionism. It was something the SPGB failed to achieve. Perhaps my fellow members and those within the anarchist and left communist tradition should be discussing why a mass organisation didn't materialise rather than casting stones in a glass house.

Sherbu's point of Spain becomes a bit more relevant as does the experience of the KAPD, IWW etc...was it solely because of State repression that they did not bear more permanent fruit when we look around the world today?

alb
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Feb 15 2020 07:25

Of course Luxemburg is not beyond criticism. My point was that Kohn's analysis of anarchism was not an isolated one by a small breakaway party, but an expression of the mainstream contemporary Marxist criticism of the anarchism of the time. So ad hominem arguments against Kohn won't do.

Obviously Luxemburg was over the top in describing anarchism as "the ideological signboard of the counter-revolutionary lumpenproletariat" but here is Anton Pannekoek in 1913 using the same arguments as Kohn:

Quote:
"Among all modern Utopian systems, Anarchism in its various forms has become the most influential and significant for the labor movement. In countries that have remained backward in capitalistic development, where the government is in the hands of a small, corrupt clique serving only special petty interests, instead of in the hands of an energetic capitalist class that has strongly organized the power of the State, the Anarchistic watchword, abstinence from corrupting politics, meets with ready response among the workers. Thus it was for a long time in Italy, thus it is still in Spain. As the logical successor to liberalism, it forces the latter's individualism — worship of abstract liberty and aversion to the power of the State and all authority — into a complete opposite to capitalism. Its Socialism is Utopianism, that is, it has no idea of the necessary evolution of social formations upon the basis of the evolution of the forces of production, but places before itself the ideal of an absolutely just and best world, for which it seeks to win adherents by means of propaganda."

"In Kropotkin's famous work, "The Conquest of Bread," the workers are advised, when the revolution breaks out, to throw off all authority and to establish no new authority, but to combine into free laboring groups. All that could result from this is co-operative, or private, petty industry. The Anarchistic ideal discloses itself here as a petty-bourgeois ideal, a yearning for the "liberty" of the small, independent producer; some Anarchists, who call themselves the most logical, even put their theory into practice and settle as hermits upon some small estate, far removed from the tumult of world conflicts and development."

"This idea often prevails among those who seek exact definitions of Socialism and Anarchism, in order to answer the question whether the Anarchists also belong to the great family of Socialists, and whether they are justly or unjustly rejected by the Social-Democrats as illegitimate "brothers." Practically, the question is not of the slightest importance; we fight the Anarchists most energetically, in spite of the fact that they call themselves enemies of capitalism, because they are enemies of the working class movement; because their propaganda always threatens to destroy organization and discipline, the chief weapons of the proletariat in its struggles, and tends to divert the workers from the most important part of their struggle, the conquest of the power of the State. And so it is not because of a formal definition, but in the interests of the practical struggle, that we regard the Anarchists as opponents who do not belong to our Socialist movement."

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Feb 15 2020 13:23

I still don't understand what point you're making or why you're bringing up people like Luxemburg or Pannekoek -- do you think I'm a council communist? That Kohn is expressing sentiments common among the Marxists of the time is not exactly relevant. My issue with him isn't that I think he's being unique or something.

If anything, the fact he's repeating the mainline social-democratic view is a mark against him -- a certain big thing would happen in Germany in 1914 that would register mainline social democracy as very obviously bankrupt in the eyes of any serious socialist. The kind of big thing that anarchists would have been able to predict.

alb
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Feb 15 2020 13:23

I think it is rather obvious that you are not even a council communist but a dyed-in-the-wool pure and simple anarchist and so an inveterate opponent of Marx and everything Marxist.

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Feb 15 2020 13:25

Finally, we can agree on something!

BigFluffyTail
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Feb 15 2020 14:11
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If anything, the fact he's repeating the mainline social-democratic view is a mark against him -- a certain big thing would happen in Germany in 1914 that would register mainline social democracy very obviously bankrupt in the eyes of any serious socialist, but something that anarchists would have been able to predict.

I don't think criticizing an SPGBer via WW1 is the best argumentation you could've gone for there. Especially considering that organizations outside of political parties, like the CGT in France, found themselves in the same position as the social-democrats (Union Sacrée). Something anarchists most certainly didn't predict.

Just to stir more shit in this thread, I'd like to point out that Marx's reading and critique of Stirner profoundly influenced his thinking. It's rarely picked up on but I believe both David McLellan and Michel Henry wrote on the subject. If anything, he's the most 'individualistic' here. In a very different way from Stirner and his individual as pure consciousness of course.

Black Badger
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Feb 15 2020 14:20
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I think it is rather obvious that you are not even a council communist but a dyed-in-the-wool pure and simple anarchist and so an inveterate opponent of Marx and everything Marxist.

even though it's not precisely accurate, obviously it's not much of an insult. in fact, i'd say that it's exactly the same kind of dismissal you've been quoting and promoting all along. Marxist and non-Marxist socialists have been dismissing and condemning anarchists (and other unaffiliated radicals too, by the way) for not being Marxists or socialists since the time of the First International, if not before. it's not much of an argument. most anarchists don't simply dismiss Marxists and non-Marxist socialists for being insufficiently anti-statist; sozis don't (usually) say they are against the state, so how much sense does it make to condemn them for not adhering to a position they never said they hold? in short, alb, make your point using something like good faith and you might get a more fruitful discussion.

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Feb 15 2020 15:02

That's a fair point BigFluffyTail, but could it not be the case that the hostility of the German social-democrats to direct anti-militarism could have been a contributing factor in the decision of the CGT to join the Union Sacrée? For a while prior to the war, French socialists had tried to organise anti-militarist resolutions with the German socialists calling for a general strike on the outbreak of war, but they were rebuffed.

You are French so you would know more about this than I do but I could see this as contributing to an unwillingness on the part of CGT leaders to act against the war, seeing as it was unlikely their actions would be reciprocated in kind by their equivalents in Germany. Doesn't justify the decision of course and there were plenty of other factors at play but it could explain it somewhat.

To me this is relevant to the SPGB article, because of:

a) The claim about "informed socialist men and women" being impervious to corruption or betrayal of principles was proven wrong by the decision of the SPD to vote for war credits -- unless alb wants to make the claim that they weren't informed enough, or were the wrong kind of informed -- at which point you may as well replace "well-informed socialist" in that bit with "SPGB member".

b) The broad anti-general strike attitude, opposing on principle one of the only tactics that could have possibly stopped the war as it was just beginning, thus holding significant value to the working class.

On the Marx and Stirner thing, I don't know a lot about it but I've read that after the episode with Stirner's thinking, Marx shed some of the humanist concepts he had gotten from Feuerbach. Do you remember the names of the texts where McLellan or Henry go into it?

alb
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Feb 15 2020 15:35

Marx, for one, said he was against the state and envisaged as the next stage in human social evolution a society without a coercive organisation standing above and dominating society. Maximillien Rubel even argued that he was the first theorist of anarchism. Engels made a similar claim in a letter he wrote in January 1884:

Quote:
In case Mr von der Mark or anyone else should again speak of our 'concessions' to the anarchists, we had proclaimed the cessation [Aufhören] of the state before the anarchists even existed: Misere de la philosophie, page 177:
'La classe laborieuse substituera, dans son développement, à l'ancienne société civile une association qui excluera les classes et leur antagonisme, et il n'y aura plus de pouvoir politique proprement dit, puisque le pouvoir politique est précisément le résumé officiel de l'antagonisme dans la société civile.'' '
Manifesto, end of Section II:
'When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared ... the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another.'' (Letter to E. Bernstein, 28 January 1884)

[The passage in French, which was the language Marx wrote it in, is from the Poverty of Philosophy that was published in 1847, reads in English: "The working class, in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society."]

Who was the first: Marx or Stirner? How about a tie: Stirner as the first individualist anarchist and Marx as the first anti-state communist. The latter is incontestable as, as early as 1844, Marx was arguing, long before any self-styled "anarchists" did, for a society without a state, money or working for wages based on the common ownership of the means of production -- to be established by political action.

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Feb 15 2020 15:40

Alb claims the article shows how "all over the place" anarchists were until they adopted "marxian economics' and labelled themselves “libertarian socialist”. That might be true if the article's description of anarchist history was accurate but it's not, it's rubbish. Anarchists have used the terms libertarian & socialist since the 1850s. From early in their history – during Marx’s lifetime - anarchists weren’t generally opposed to his theories of economics. Eg, Bakunin made the first Russian translation of the Communist manifesto in the 1860s and began the first translation of Das Kapital which was finished by N. Danielson and published in 1872.

Stirner wasn't "the pioneer of anarchism" and that claim alone reveals the shallow historical ignorance of the article and its promoters. He was a contemporary and social acquaintance of his fellow Young Hegelians Marx, Engels & Bakunin. He wrote one obscure philosophical book (published in 1844) which had little, if any, influence on anarchist activity in the labour movement of the time. If one is to judge who was most influenced by it according to who wrote the most about it that would probably be Marx & Engels, whose German Ideology contains a long section criticising Stirner’s book. But, according to historian D. McLellan, the influence on Marx was considerable;

Quote:
McLellan asserts that Stirner's influence on Marx has been under-estimated and that he "played a very important role in the development of Marx's thought by detaching him from the influence of Feuerbach", his static materialism and his abstract humanism. Stirner's critique of communism (which Marx considered a caricature) also obliged Marx to refine his own definition. Stirner's concept of the "creative ego" is also said to have influenced Marx's concept of "praxis". https://libcom.org/history/stirner-feurbach-marx-young-hegelians-david-m...

Not that you’d know about such subtle aspects of the subject if you believed the simplistic claims peddled here by SPGB.

The method of argument is also dishonest; despite claiming to show how muddle-headed anarchist thinking is the article cherry picks quotes from various authors and sews them together as supposed evidence of a uniform strawman anarchist creed. They ignore that the individualists, communist, collectivist, syndicalist etc anarchists are distinct currents due to differences of opinion and tactics. One may as well critique the SPGB’s marxism with references to stalinism.

Kohn article wrote:
Stirner and Proudhon have been dealt with to show the Utopian nature of Anarchism in all its majesty. Go right through the Anarchist writings, from Stirner to Bakunine and Kropotkin and notice the same spirit through it all. Like all Utopians, they start out with an abstract principle, and endeavour to apply it so as to form a perfect society.

What irony - from the party that idealistically and mechanically clings, since 1904, to notions of their eventual parliamentary conquest as the primary force of global change in the face of all historical experience to the contrary; pitiful handfuls of votes and all. One might’ve thought that if the ‘democratic will of the people’ is given such central importance as an indicator that its absolute rejection of the SPGB throughout its history would give pause for reconsideration of the voting tactic.

Kohn wrote:
Those who follow in the Anarchists’ footsteps and ramble in the Utopian wilderness, but delay the time when they must inevitably come to see that the Socialist Party of Great Britain alone is sound, for its aims are revolutionary, its methods scientific, and its working democratic.
Loyalty to its principles and devotion to its aims will do far more to hasten the workers’ emancipation than the will-’o-the-wisp notions of Anarchists and the dangerous policy they pursue.

Yes, history since 1911 has “inevitably” proved the superiority of the SPGB method.

As for quoting Pannekoek; Pannekoek took account of historical experience and developments in class struggle to soon reject parliamentarism as a useful method – whereas the SPGB’s rigid eternal fetish of bourgeois democratic voting (reducing ‘class consciousness’ to a parliamentary majority) has led it to “ramble in the Utopian wilderness” for 100+ years.

Kohn wrote:
Political machinery, then, in modern society, includes, as its central feature, Parliament, and the Socialists, in urging the workers to displace their enemies from that citadel, are but pointing the right road. Parliament controls “supplies” — the force against Court and Bureaucracy alike. Through its control over “supplies” it rules the Army, though it employs a War Minister, and he in turn an Army Council, to arrange details. Political control relies eventually upon power over the armed forces, and these are under the control of Parliament.

It seems the SPGB have never heard of such things as military coups or states of emergency. Nor considered the role of mutinies, probably because such things are ‘undemocratic’ and against the ‘sovereignty’ of their sacred bourgeois Parliament.

Not only do you not have the sense to be embarrassed by this crap article, you actually want to revive it and troll it. And yet a few years ago, when there was what appeared to be a brief rise in anarchism’s popularity, one of the SPGBers here opportunistically claimed on libcom that their Party was “the parliamentary wing of anarchism” (which didn’t please most SPGB members). Like any political current, there are plenty of valid and useful criticisms of historical anarchist theory & practice that could be made. This article is not a contribution to that.

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Feb 15 2020 16:08

This is probably going to be my last reply as this is getting a bit like talking to a brick wall, but calling Marx an anarchist is just silly. You can't be saying this in good-faith. Anarchism is not merely a stateless endpoint but a method of getting there, a set of principles, a philosophy about organisation, and more.

Anarchism as we know it largely came from two key sources: Proudhon, and the development of the federalist current in the First International -- those that had grouped around Bakunin, Guillaume, etc. Marx opposed this current with all his might, even before they started calling themselves anarchists -- remember, Bakunin preferred not to use the term to describe himself, and Guillaume said the term was in bad taste. Anarchism only became the preferred term after Marx had helped fracture the International and the libertarians began to embark on their own project.

Proudhon published What is Property? in 1840, in which he explicitly claims he is an anarchist, something neither Marx nor Stirner ever did.