Fredrick Engels argues against Anarchism on the basis that authority is needed to carry out a revolution against capitalism and the organization of society. This article argues that he fundamentally ignored what Anarchists actually meant when they said they were against authority.
The debates between Anarchists and Marxists in the first international were instrumental in the development of both schools of thought and as such in how both movements organized themselves. The fundamental Marxist text on the subject of authority was authored as a result of these debates; “On Authority” by Marx’s closest theoretical ally Fredrick Engels. Historically Marxists have used this text to guide their ideas about the subject, specifically in regard to the state. From the point of view espoused by Engels authority itself is not negative, but can be positive if used by specific groups for a specific end. In the case of state authority Engels and Marxists after him argue that if it is created by and for the working class against the capitalist class within the class struggle then this authority becomes a weapon of the workers for their emancipation.
Anarchists have always maintained “anti-authoritarianism” which means that they oppose what they have referred to as “authority” in all circumstances, rather than viewing it as a tool which can be used for negative, or positive outcomes. For Anarchists this included state authority which they always conceived as a coercive mechanism that forced exploitation by the capitalist class on to the working class. Engels argues against “anti-authoritarianism” as such.
In Engels view “anti-authoritarianism” is a childish over-reaction to a multifaceted social question. If we oppose authority in every instance then we can 1; not properly carry out the operation of day to day life in a society and 2; not properly carry out the task of a socialist revolution against capitalism.
The aim of this article will be to review Engels’ arguments and see how exactly they hold up to scrutiny.
The Running of Society
It is pretty obvious that in order to maintain a functioning society people need to exert force over things. They need to operate the railroads and trains to make them run on time, they need to organize factories to produce the needed products on time, ect. ect.. Engels argues that this is “authority”. By exerting physical force over the railroads and trains we are in effect exerting our “authority” over them. “Let us take another example — the railway. Here too the co-operation of an infinite number of individuals is absolutely necessary, and this co-operation must be practised during precisely fixed hours so that no accidents may happen. Here, too, the first condition of the job is a dominant will that settles all subordinate questions, whether this will is represented by a single delegate or a committee charged with the execution of the resolutions of the majority of persona interested. In either case there is a very pronounced authority. Moreover, what would happen to the first train dispatched if the authority of the railway employees over the Hon. passengers were abolished?”
For Engels the Anarchist desire to abolish authority is ridiculous. All practical organization of society would be rendered impossible if authority was to be abolished. “We have thus seen that, on the one hand, a certain authority, no matter how delegated, and, on the other hand, a certain subordination, are things which, independently of all social organisation, are imposed upon us together with the material conditions under which we produce and make products circulate.”
So the question is, are “the anti-authoritarians” , as Engels refers to Anarchists, really so ridiculous as to not recognize the authority exerted in social organization over things and even people? To answer this question we have to understand what Anarchists mean when they say “Authority”.
When Anarchists rail against authority they are typically railing against a specific kind of authority, rather than authority in the abstract. Specifically the authority most prominent in our lives as members of a hierarchical class society. The authority of rulers over the ruled. The authority that capitalists impose over workers by monopolizing social production as their private property, the authority that the state imposes over society by creating and enforcing laws and regulations that establish and protect the claim capitalists have to social production, the authority of the family relations that allow men to control women in order to saddle women with the housework that reproduces the lives of the working class, ect. ect.. Here it is useful to quote an article from the Anarchist Mikhail Bakunin on the same subject written not long before Engels’ piece. “The most stubborn authorities must admit that then there will be no need either of political organisation or direction or legislation, three things which, whether they eminate from the will of the soverign or from the vote of a parliament elected by universal suffrage, and even should they conform to the system of natural laws – which has never been the case and never will be the case – are always equally fatal and hostile to the liberty of the masses from the very fact that they impose on them a system of external and therefore despotic laws.” “The Liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognised them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatsoever, divine or human, collective or individual.”
This explanation makes clear that when Anarchists say they are against authority what they mean is that they are against the domination of one person by another, the rigid and hierarchical control of the mass of people by a bureaucracy, the exploitative power that bosses hold over workers, the misogynist restriction that men impose on women through patriarchal social norms. But what do Anarchists have to say about the authority that is exerted for practical purposes in social organization? Let us again turn to Bakunin. “Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting a single authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognise no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.” “I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed on me by my own reason. I am conscious of my own inability to grasp, in all its detail, and positive development, any very large portion of human knowledge. The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labour. I receive and I give – such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subbordination.”
Here we can see that Bakunin recognizes authority that is based on expertise, efficiency, and practical social organization, precisely the authority that Engels accuses Anarchists of rejecting. Anarchists want an efficient, large scale, organized society created through the free agreement of associated people and as such accept the authority of delegation, expertise, and natural laws. We can then safely conclude that Engels’ assertions about Anarchists ignoring the need for practical authority in social organization are fundamentally wrong.
Authority In Revolution
Engels also argues that without authority a revolution against capitalism can not be carried out. He exclaims “Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution?!” and goes on to describe how when workers rise up against their oppressors they will arm themselves and exert supreme coercive and forceful authority over them with canons, bayonets, ect.. “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?” So then how do Anarchists conceive of revolution?
Anarchists are fully aware that a revolution against capitalism will mean that the working class overthrows the capitalist class by force and uses the same force to destroy the reactionary forces aiming to preserve capitalist society. In the 1936 social revolution in Spain lead by Anarchist unions, the CNT and FAI, the working class took up arms and forcibly suppressed an attempted coup by Francoist Fascists forcing them to flee the country. In this social revolution the Anarchist Buenaventura Durruti lead armed Anarchists in a fight against the Fascist reactionary forces. The question then is whether this revolutionary force of the masses of people is in contradiction with opposition to authority.
We have already established that Anarchists only oppose the kind of authority which is imposed from above through the domination and exploitation of people by other people. In this sense, to reverse Enegels’ statement, a revolution is the most anti-authoritarian thing there is. When the masses of working people rise up to take possession of the production which they operate every day, when they destroy the state that exists to forcibly prevent them from taking this action, when women challenge and reorganize social relations to create equality between genders in the place of patriarchy, the hierarchical domination of people by people is being destroyed through the free organization of those formerly subjugated to said domination. Anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker illustrates this point well when he contrasts the Marxist view of revolution to the Anarchist one. “We already know that a revolution cannot be made with rosewater. And we know, too, that the owning classes will never yield up their privileges spontaneously. On the day of victorious revolution the workers will have to impose their will on the present owners of the soil, of the subsoil and of the means of production, which cannot be done — let us be clear on this — without the workers taking the capital of society into their own hands, and, above all, without their having demolished the authoritarian structure which is, and will continue to be, the fortress keeping the masses of the people under dominion. Such an action is, without doubt, an act of liberation; a proclamation of social justice; the very essence of social revolution, which has nothing in common with the utterly bourgeois principle of dictatorship.”
Does Engels Have a Leg To Stand On?
The investigation of his arguments we have done here shows us that, in fact, he didn’t. It is clear from the text that Engels did no real investigation into the positions of “the anti-authoritarians”. He finds himself in debates with anti-authoritarians such as Bakunin and feels the need to respond and to do this pulls his own prejudices about the anti-authoritarian point of view out of a hat, regardless of any relation they have to the actual views of the anti-authoritarians. He compares the hierarchical domination and exploitation that Anarchists oppose to practical social organization between freely associated people, and then, even worse, the overthrow of these systems of exploitation and domination to said systems themselves. It’s high time this little bit of Marxist common sense be discarded.
On Authority, Frederick Engels
What Is Authority, Mikhail Bakunin
Anarcho-syndicalism: Theory and Practice, Rudolf Rocker
Durruti Is Dead, Yet Living, Emma Goldman
Anarchism and Sovietism, Rudolf Rocker
Hey, thanks for this. Quick
Hey, thanks for this. Quick thing: do you think you could write a more detailed introduction to the blog? Nothing to involved; just a sentence or two to let readers know a little more about what specifically your critique will be about.
Quote: Hey, thanks for this.
May I suggest section H.4
May I suggest section H.4 Didn't Engels refute anarchism in "On Authority"? of An Anarchist FAQ. I'm surprised you did not reference it, as it covers the same ground...
Quote: May I suggest section
I've been slowly making my way through the FAQ for like 3 years so I hadn't gotten to that section yet, meaning I can't really cite it.
Engels also argued that
Engels also argued that "authority and autonomy are relative things." I'm interested in how anarchists respond to not everyone finding something to be "externally imposed upon them"; capitalist society would quickly fall apart if everyone already felt it a violation of their liberty/freedom. I think Bakunin also kind of ignored the co-existence of religion and freedom in early human and Native American societies (though you can't really blame him for not having all the research we have today), which kind of shows "God" and slavery don't necessarily go hand in hand.
One of Engels' other points was that in organizing production/society there would inevitably be situations where a minority disagrees with a majority, with the latter "imposing its will" on the former. The usual response to this I believe is that the minority, if so offended, can just go do other stuff, but it's basically conceding "imposing wills on others" is unavoidable.
Basing one's whole critique on "irrational authority" seems as ambiguous, speaking of common sense, as Tom Paine basing his critique of monarchy/hereditary rule on them being in disagreement with God:
Quote: I think Bakunin also
That wasn't Bakunin's views on religion, he was personally an atheist and was quite sceptical of religious faith on a personal level equating it to alcohol, but he didn't think belief in a creator being or power equalled slavery, his criticism in God and the State was directed firmly at the social function that religious institutions played in the societies he had experienced operated. He opposed socialist organisations becoming atheist only or expelling believers, because he openly acknowledged that many revolutionary minded individuals and the majority of the labouring masses who ideally would join in the fight for liberation, were believers in one type of spiritualism or other.
Reddebrek wrote: That wasn't
I'm interested in what primary sources from Bakunin you're basing all that on. Passages like this in God and State make it seem like Bakunin is speaking about religions in general: "All religions are cruel, all founded on blood; for all rest principally on the idea of sacrifice—that is, on the perpetual immolation of humanity to the insatiable vengeance of divinity." It's an ironic claim also, because "his"1 G&S scarcely considers any other religion besides the Christian world of Europe. (At the end of G&S he even attempts to trace the history of European Christianity up to the Enlightenment era.) I don't think anyone would disagree that Christianity at certain points in history has supported the ruling classes, but it would be a sweeping claim to assert as Bakunin does that "If God is, man is a slave [...]" Rather than Bakunin's generalizations of God always accompanying slavery, there's evidence God can do without slavery, as in the case of some egalitarian Native American societies (and many other examples), and that (wage) slavery can do without God, as in the case of today with the spread of atheistic thinking.
Part of G&S principally deals with how natural laws are the only type of legitimate/rational authority, for Bakunin at least.2 He opposes "government by scientists," however, since that would violate his liberty/freedom. In Bakunin's words: "The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human, collective or individual." Again, I don't see how, with such shaky definitions, people couldn't just assert (as many do) that capitalist social relations are what their "liberty" consists of, since they don't personally feel them to be "externally imposed upon them."
Bakunin Selected texts
Bakunin Selected texts 1868-75. If you want direct quotations this essay contains several
God and the State refers exclusively to Christianity since its references are all biblical in nature, and the text was written as a section of a work that was focussing on the German and Russian Empires. So its pretty obvious he's talking about state religions in Europe.
Just like how in The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International one of three texts on religion Bakunin published in his life time (which God and State wasn't) he's specifically rejecting Mazzini's attempt to build a sort of revolutionary church to support his Italian republican dreams.
Bakunin isn't talking about personal feelings, he's quite clearly talking about material social relations.
Reddebrek wrote: God and the
I'm not sure why you're being all condescending as if I don't have 10 pages of notes on "his pamphlet," nor why you're arguing points I literally just refuted by quoting from Bakunin directly. It seems more like Bakunin generalized his few observations of European Christianity to all religions, rather than actually considering other religions or instances where European Christianity was not employed by the ruling classes to keep people in bondage. E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class goes in depth about 17th-18th century English Christian reformers, as well as deist Enlightenment thinkers like Paine.1 (This religious influence on reformers/workers is perhaps why Bakunin knew it would be foolish to "exclude Christians" from the socialist movement.) I mean Bakunin kind of ignored the "new world" and Afro-Asia when making his claims about "all religions," don't you think? Why would Bakunin say "All religions are cruel, all founded on blood [...]" if he actually meant, as you falsely claim, all "state religions in Europe"?2 He even made one or two references to Muhammad,3 so it's obvious he was arguing that "All religions are cruel, all founded on blood [...]" and was not simply talking about "state religions in Europe." Contrary to what you insist, Bakunin also quite clearly equated religion to slavery when he said "If God is, man is a slave; [...]" This again shows that Bakunin is not just referring to "state religions in Europe," but rather making his sweeping statement that religion and slavery go hand in hand based off his selective observations of European Christianity.
Pointing me to a youtuber is also not citing Bakunin's works directly to support your claims, and the passages Zoe Baker does cite are mostly from God and State, and likewise don't support what you said.
adri wrote: I'm not sure why
Look, there's no polite way of saying this, but this isn't about God and the state, this about the views of Mikhail Bakunin and I'm sorry if you feel talked down to but its the truth, you have a faulty conclusion because you haven't look at all the relevant information.
God and State isn't a definitive statement of Bakunin's views he didn't even finish it or publish it. The best argument you can make is that it reflected his views when he was writing it. It just doesn't exist in a vacuum we have at least three published works on this issue to go off of that Bakunin endorsed at the time they came out. You haven't read any of them and I know you haven't because you keep making assumptions that you couldn't possibly do, had you done so.
We also have decades of correspondence public remarks and activism to further see what his views were on this subject.
See right here, you have no idea what his reasoning was so why are you speculating about this? and why are you forming a viewpoint based on this speculation? That isn't helpful, you know were the information can be found to confirm or deny this.
Also for the record in the very first text Bakunin published on religious matters Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism he talks quite a bit about the early religious socialist movements and their legacy, usually critical, but not always.
Been over this, God and the State was written for a commentary on two European powers, stop ignoring context that gets in the way of your preconceptions. Also if you're going to complain about discourtesy kindly drop talk like "as you falsely claim" its incredibly rude and doesn't make your argument any more convincing.
Also one of the footnotes Bakunin wrote acknowledges that his comments on religion don't line up with the religious practices in Asia and explains that he's comments are directed at Christianity.
Yes we've both read God and the state, I've also read many of his other statements on religion which you haven't done. God and the state was not meant to be a bible its only his most popular work and one he neither finished or published so it isn't a good idea to read it through the methodology of biblical literalism.
That's one possible reading, it could just as easily mean Bakunin is against monotheism alone since the concept of a singular God only really applies to them, and that has no issue with non monotheistic religions and belief systems.
And in Paris Commune and the Idea of the State he equated religion to revolution, atheism and science because in that passage he's describing movements and he was aware that there are similarities, whereas in all the other passages in that text that are extremely anti religious he's discussing the role of religious institutions in the power structure of class societies and their impact on the masses. So on the one hand he talks about slavery again but on the other he talks about how movements for liberation have commonalities with religious movements.
Like in God and the State he also says things like this
Many of the people on this list aren't religious figures, and yet they're right there with Jesus, Moses etc. Its almost like he's aware that secular societies can have the same features of religious ones and that he's building an argument based on social factors and relationships between people and institutions and not saying "man believes in sky demon therefore this man is a literal slave"
You asked for sources and I delivered, if you don't like the direct quotations in that blog then why didn't you get the book?
Fyi, you remove the fn's in
Fyi, you remove the fn's in brackets from the comments you're quoting. All I really asked was that you support your original claims with direct quotations (which is how this stuff works), rather than pointing me to a youtuber, a secondary source, whose direct quotations don't support what you're saying anyway.
I wasn't really interested in this descending into an "I've read more about anarchy than you!" contest, even though I've actually read Berkman, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, et al., the AFAQ, all of Paul Avrich's works, anthologies like No Gods, No Masters, etc. It never ceases to amuse me when anarchists treat Bakunin, anarchism as if they're theoretically dense; like anyone could read and comprehend Bakunin's entire output in no more than a week, if not sooner. I think that's in part a reaction to most people equating "anarchy" to "brick-throwing chaos," with some anarchists responding by dressing up the works of Bakunin and co. to make it appear as if "they have so much more to offer!" Anarchism has more to offer than "brick-throwing chaos," but let's be realistic also. 10 pages might not seem like a great deal, but honestly G&S don't deserve much more than that. Avrich and the editors themselves noted how poorly composed Bakunin's manuscripts/ "magnum opus" was, which again he didn't even publish. He should have had his manuscripts burnt like Adam Smith, which would be an appropriate treatment for some of the racist drivel in G&S.1
Anyway, being such a great admirer and pupil of Bakunin, whose works definitely merit serious attention and study, I think he said it best when he wrote:
adri wrote: Fyi, you remove
I pointed you to the book with the direct texts then did you a favour by showing where some of the extracts can be found online, and we so how grateful you were. If you really hate the youtuber so much then you can just go to book, that's how it works.
Coolio, but we're not talking about anarchism though, we're talking about Mikhail Bakunin's views, so that isn't really relevant. And if you've read all that then the question remains why are you so hesitant to read such an comparably light selection?
I just pointed out that the man published more works on a subject you claimed to have an interest in.
Reddebrek wrote: You asked
Thanks for correcting the formatting of your post so that it's now readable. I was originally paraphrasing from God and State and then responding to your claims about the work, so I don't see how it's relevant to bring in Bakunin's other writings, where he pretty much argues the same. Making vague references to Bakunin's other works and footnotes isn't sufficiently citing Bakunin to back up your claims. The onus isn't really on others to sift through a work and find the parts that agree with what you're arguing. I did some sifting however, and the footnote you're referring to is this I believe:
Bakunin's whole work is attacking "theological and metaphysical systems" in favor of natural laws and atheism, so why would his criticisms not apply to Buddhism and Asiatic religions as well? If I'm not mistaken (since as the editors mention, Bakunin's manuscripts were not the most lucid), he's stating here that we also find in Asiatic religions "the annihilation of the real world in favor of the ideal." Elsewhere in G&S he writes how the "nature and essence of every religious system [...] is the impoverishment, enslavement, and annihilation of humanity for the benefit of divinity." The negation part is referring to an earlier comment where he states that "every development necessarily implies a negation" of its point of departure or base. For example, Bakunin writes (my emphasis):
Bakunin is likely saying in the footnote that in Asia there was not the same "negation of the animality point of departure" (which includes religious thinking or "divine slavery") toward humanity and reason that existed in Christian Europe, due to the historical differences between the two regions. China for example never had a Renaissance, Scientific Revolution or Enlightenment, since China's (and Asia's) historical conditions were different from that of Europe.1 Thus there were not the agents of negation of this "animality point of departure," such as Kepler, Newton and so on. China actually considered Europeans to be barbarians (see for example Emperor Qianlong's letter to King George III), and China was also for a time more technologically advanced than Europe. In any case Bakunin is hardly excepting Asiatic religions from his critique, and is not saying that his "comments are directed [only] at Christianity." See here, and other places, where he speaks negatively of "Oriental religions":
It's glaringly obvious to anyone who has read G&S that Bakunin was speaking about "all religions," and not merely "state religions in Europe." It's literally a pamphlet arguing in favor of atheism, where he generalized his selective observations of European Christianity to all religions rather than actually considering other religions, or instances where European Christianity was not employed to keep people "enslaved." I'm not "ignoring context" at all, but it does seem you're ignoring the contents of Bakunin's works. The actual title given by Bakunin to what Cafiero and Reclus called G&S, as Avrich notes, was actually "The Historical Sophisms of the Doctrinaire School of Communism." As Avrich further notes, G&S deals with how "government and religion have always worked together to keep men in chains." It's so obvious that one wonders what your and other's actual motives are in disagreeing with me.
Again, Bakunin's entire argument in the "G&S" manuscripts is that natural law is the only type of legitimate authority. Whether the religion was monotheistic or polytheistic, it would still be an irrational human-construction for Bakunin. Why would Bakunin take issue with monotheistic religion but have no issue with non-monotheistic ones? Furthermore which writings of his are you basing these claims on?
Speaking of dressing up (or
Speaking of dressing up (or misrepresenting) Bakunin, I really don't see the relevance of any of the works by Bakunin you brought up. The text "The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State," where Bakunin remarks on the Paris Commune, is actually part of the manuscripts for The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution (KGESR). If the KGESR manuscripts (which partly make up God and State) are not a definitive or reliable source for Bakunin's views, since Bakunin neither published nor finished the work as you say, then what makes "The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State" any different?
(The text "What is Authority?" is also just an excerpt from God and State, and so also part of the manuscripts for KGESR that Bakunin did not publish himself.)
Similarly the work "Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism" was not "the very first text Bakunin published on religious matters." It appears to be a text or speech presented at the Geneva Congress for the League of Peace and Freedom. Nowhere in the text in fact does Bakunin even mention "the early religious socialist movements"—so why do you claim that he does?
As an aside, Bakunin also seems to argue that 19th century American workers being able to move to the frontiers was one thing keeping their wages high:
It's unfortunate that he kind of ignores that workers moving to the frontiers, or expanding westward, was to the detriment of the liberty of the Native Americans already occupying those lands; North America after all was not just some vast and unoccupied land.
The few parts of these works actually dealing with religion are mostly consistent with God and State. Bakunin continues to argue in favor of natural laws and atheism against all religions, and ignores, as I originally stated, that God and slavery don't necessarily always go hand in hand. Also related to America, I mentioned elsewhere that there was a religious component to early American workers' anti-capitalist activities, which again shows that religious thinking has not always been some instrument of oppression (see also some of the egalitarian Native American societies). I share Bakunin's preference for natural laws and atheism, but that doesn't mean he's allowed to say historically inaccurate things like "If God is, man is a slave; [...]"