Introduction to the mini-pamphlet Anarchism vs. Marxism reprinted in Issue 7 of the US libertarian marxist journal. Undated but published late 1978/early 1979.
We are here reprinting two articles by Ulli Diemer—Anarchism vs. Marxism and The Continuing Debate : Bakunin vs. Marx—which first appeared in The Red Menace 2 :2. 1 In a clear and concise way they confront the main anarchist misconceptions about Marxism and demonstrate the relevance of these issues for libertarian socialists today. However, there is a major weakness in the Bakunin vs. Marx article. In demonstrating that Marx is not an economic determinist, Diemer comes close to denying Marx's materialism. The conflict between materialism and idealism was central to the debate between Marx and Bakunin. More significantly, it remains important for our own attempts to clarify the difficulties and possibilities of revolutionary action.
Idealism and what we may call vulgar materialism both disconnect ideas from the process of people's active transformation of their environment, natural and social. For the latter, people are the passive recipients of ideas forced on them from outside; for the former, conceptions evolve by their own logic, and here too "happen to" people, instead of being developed by people in the course of dealing with their problems and opportunities. As a result of this similarity, both orientations have tended to see world-changing ideas as the property of educated elites. As it has no explanation for the origin of ideas, except earlier ideas, idealism gives those who have the "correct" ideas at any time a key role in the making of history. On this terrain the idealist and the undialectical materialist shake hands on the necessity of placing the reins of action in the hands of the few who, for one reason or another, are in tune with the objective necessities of the situation.
Thus Lenin, the philosophical materialist, was a complete idealist politically, believing that the idea of socialism could develop only in heads exposed to higher learning, and never among the workers, tied to their immediate needs, themselves. Similarly, Bakunin believed in the absolute necessity for an elite organization controlling and guiding the movement of the People, to whose unformed thoughts only the anarchist Alliance (and above all he, Bakunin) could give articulate form.
While such views may be very inspiring to an intellectual elite, they are of no use to the rest of us. It is this problem that Marx was addressing when he wrote in the Theses on Feuerbach that "the educator himself needs educating". Marx, in contrast to the left wing idealists whom he criticized (Proudhon, Lassalle, Bakunin), did not see the problem of revolution as that of drawing up plans for others to carry out. His ideas and later theory developed out of his experiences and studies of movements of the emerging proletariat. He noted that this class, unlike the peasantry, was integrated over large areas because it produced for the national or world market instead of for local consumption. Consequently, what happened to workers in one area tended to affect workers in others. But this state of affairs was also relative. In times of capitalist expansion and prosperity, workers' struggles for higher wages, better working conditions, and even political goals could remain more or less localized. On the other hand, capitalist crises threw the working class in general into similar conditions, conditions (mass layoffs, wage-cutting, and generalized misery) which could neither be ignored nor fought on a small group level. They could only be fought collectively and cooperatively.
Marx studied the origin and development of the proletariat in order to clarify the meaning of the ideal of socialism, advanced during periods of crisis. His analysis of capitalism led him to conclude that the system would become world-dominant, that the proletariat would become the large majority of the population in the capitalistically developed countries, and that the continuing crisis cycle would thus become more severe and involve larger numbers of people. At some point in history, he supposed, the world's working class would be so large and the crisis so deep that the direct, collective activity of the proletariat would move from resistance to revolution, expropriate the capitalists, and create a society on the basis of "the free and equal association of producers". These predictions were based in part on empirical observations and in part on scientific abstraction from such observations. Only in this way could theory be a guide to action, rather than an ideological justification or a program for others to carry out. It was in order to aid his comrades in changing the world—the workers—to realize their collective capabilities that Marx wanted to "lay bare the laws of motion of capitalist society" in Capital. He wanted to understand, and so help others understand, the social realities that make possible new forms of social action, and the new forms of thinking that such action involves. This was the content of Marx's materialism—the explanation of the origin and content of socialist ideas in terms of the structural dynamics of capitalism.
The Marxian model is, if anything, more relevant today than it was in Marx's time, when large portions of the world were still untouched by capitalism and the working class was a small minority even in the most capitalistically developed countries. At the present time, it is true, the revolutionary workers' movement has reached a uniquely low point. The officially left organizations—parties and unions—have come to devote themselves to the interest of capitalism or its party-ruled analogue in the "socialist" nations. And yet the international working class, larger than ever, and more closely than ever linked through their domination by the world market, faces the very conditions and necessities that Marx discerned a century ago. The current economic decline indicates that government intervention in the economy has not rendered the capitalist crisis obsolete; it is rather the crisis which is rendering obsolete those theories—shared in the sixties by bourgeois ideologists and most of the left—that see crisis as a thing of the past. The Marxian analysis of capitalist development, clarifying the situation faced by the workers, provides no guarantee of a libertarian future. That depends now as before on the workers' response to their conditions. But Marxism does show that such a future is not just a utopian dream but a real possibility worth fighting for.
Root & Branch
"... From the first moment of victory, mistrust must be directed no longer against the conquered reactionary parties, but against the workers' previous allies, against the party that wishes to exploit the common victory for itself along. . . The workers must put themselves at the command not of the State authority but of the revolutionary community councils which the workers will have managed to get adopted. . . Arms and ammunition must not be surrendered on any pretext".
K. Marx & F. Engels. Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League (1850).
[Transcribers note : here there followed the two reprinted articles which are already in the library].
- 1The Red Menace. P.O. Box 171, Station D, Toronto, Ontario, Canada