Response by Ivysyn to a Trotskyist critique of anarchism written by Daniel Morley.
Some person on twitter challenged Anarchists to read this crappy article written by Trotskyists, with the seeming assumption that this article effectively refutes Anarchism. I decided to read this and refute it so you don't have to waste your time. The article starts off, as most critiques of Anarchism, with a completely false assertion about what Anarchists believe.
whereas Anarchism paradoxically rejects theory as an accomplice of intellectual elitism or armchair inaction
How do people who completely reject any kind of theory write tomes and tomes of it over hundreds of years? It's amazing how detractors of Anarchism simply expect us to accept whatever they assert as the "real doctrine of Anarchism".
As Marxists and materialists, we understand that the class struggle does not arise of itself, but is conditioned by the more general struggle for existence; it is an expression of the unavoidable struggle with nature, to use a rather crude expression. For before we are enslaved by our fellow man, we are at the whim of the all powerful laws of nature. Yes, each person is born into the world free, i.e. not with some rank preordained by God, but at the same time each person is born very much a prisoner of nature. As Marx said, mankind is a suffering, limited being; we feel our dependence on nature every second that we breathe, every time the involuntary muscles in our stomach compel us to look for a meal, every time our puny composition makes our bodies shudder with cold. If we did not have such pressing material needs, we would not need to go to the capitalist begging for work. So before we can understand the lack of freedom in our society, we must recognize this most fundamental of social laws – material conditions determine consciousness.
Marxists continue to refuse to actually read Marx. Marx understands the human relationship to nature as transformative. We "appropriate" it as our "organic body" that produces not only our material sustenance, but also creates our objective view of the world. It is for this reason that Marx's philosophy wasn't "materialist" in the sense, as advocated here, that Marx saw matter as more fundamental than mind. He saw them in a mutually dependent relationship.
History knows all kind of strange transformations. For much of our history there was no oppressive state authority or class exploitation to speak of, and yet somehow out of such a situation exploitation and coercion have arisen. Furthermore, the forms of exploitation and state authority have transformed themselves many times, and with them the relative level of culture has changed also. What underlying mechanism or process ties all this together, what is the common thread that allows us to put them all under one and the same category ‘society’? For Marxists, it is the struggle for the economization of labor, the development of the forces of production (or useful technology) to be wielded by one or another class as part of the struggle with nature. For when we develop useful technology, the immediate aim is always that someone may live better, may secure themselves in the struggle with nature. But such technology, developed and used socially, has unplanned social consequences, changing the structure of society, giving some power over others. Those who control the productive forces control society.
Here we have Trotskyists passing off the post-Marx interpretation of Marx's philosophy, specifically by social democrats, as Marx's philosophy. Pity that a theory hating Anarchist such as myself knows more about Marx's philosophy than the "Marxists". Marx did not assume that all social change was subordinate to changes in productive techniques, not least because he wasn't stupid enough to accept such confused nonsense. Where does the development of productive techniques come from absent social change? The gods? The sky? Marx's actual philosophy was revolutionary humanism, he thought that societies and social change, as well as the production they spurred, were innovations of social relationships. Changes in social relationships, themselves the product of the human struggle for freedom, dictate all the rest.
As we have said, the first forms of society lacked a system of exploitation and a state apparatus, having arisen immediately out of ‘nature’, which knows nothing of formal rank and chains of command. Productivity would have been so low that society could not have afforded any privileged stratum. Although life in these conditions was undoubtedly tough, there must have been relative harmony within the community, since everyone would have had to ‘pull their weight’ in roughly equal measure. But this harmony finished at the geographical threshold of the tribe, outside of which we find other tribes. And, as the geographically dispersed communities developed their productive forces, so would they have expanded, and, ultimately, come into contact with other similar communities. Trade between them would have developed based on the different goods they were able to produce, such trade being used by each community to enrich themselves. Although within each community there may have been enormous unity and cooperation in production, between the communities there must have been little or none. The respective communities would not be interested in producing for the sake of the other, but to get something in return. And so not only would competition and antagonism develop between the communities, but more and more the internal life of each community would be determined by the need to produce more for exchange outside the community. We may surmise that those with more involvement in the process, e.g. elders who led production and were in contact with other communities, had an advantageous position. In addition, the struggle for resources and control of land must emerge from such a situation of geographical dispersion and antagonisms. War between communities for conquest of land and to use the labor power of other communities flows from such a situation. In this way, the communal struggle to develop the productive forces led to the dissolution of the community in favor of class divisions.
Everything about this is wrong anthropologically speaking. While the earliest peoples were not able to produce the vast stores of wealth we are, they were much freer in terms of leisure, thus spawning anthropological theories of luxury in hunter-gatherer societies. Early societies were not isolated communities either, they involved themselves in "world-systems" in which different groups existed within the same social arrangements. Inequalities developed not principally because of trade among groups, but because 1; there were already minor inequalities based on gender and age and 2; because the intensification of food production relative to population density meant that if one couldn't move somewhere else to continue production, social conflict would arise and the state would fallow to put a lid on the former.
This is the material, economic basis for class and the state. There is a debate between Marxists and Anarchists as to whether class division arises first, followed by a coercive state apparatus tasked with protecting the ruling class (the Marxist position), or whether state power with its instruments of oppression developed first and gave rise to class division, which some Anarchists argue. But the question is not so much a chronological one, i.e. whether class or the state arose first, as one of form and content, i.e. whether state power is fundamental and class inequalities are merely the formal expression of the former, whose aim is simply the maintenance of state power (an Anarchist position), or alternatively whether the real content and basis for all political power, state authority and coercion is economic class relations, as Engels points out in polemic with Dühring (who was not an anarchist)
The view with actual anthropological support is that leadership hierarchies and gender/age inequalities laid the basis for the development of more extreme social stratification which was then made actual by the development of the state, itself the result of social conflict arising from the ratio of resources to population. Nobody should have fidelity to specific "Marxist", or "Anarchist" views if they are not supported by the anthropological evidence.
State authority, then, is not some arbitrary evil, existing for its own sake, and it does not gain its negative properties of oppression and inequality purely from itself, rather it arises out of developing economic inequality and plays a role dependent upon the latter. And the state does not oppress all in society equally, indeed, in our society there are many capitalists who have no direct involvement with the state, and yet feel themselves very well represented by it. This is because, in the final analysis, the state gets its power from the ruling economic class, whom it serves by protecting their property and generally maintaining the social order.
And lucky for Marxist dogma, this teleology means that the state can be used for egalitarian social change. Yet, this doesn't mean anything of the kind, but, let's give the author a chance to develop this teleology..
Two things of interest to us follow from this. If a class can wield economic power, then it can in principle control its own state apparatus, rather than being the victim of it, since the state power is in the final analysis dependent on economic relations. If the state apparatus is a tool with which to repress other classes, and if Marxists and Anarchists can agree that a working class led revolution will face active, organized opposition from the bourgeoisie (a fact many Anarchists recognize), then the working class can and must wield this state power, i.e. organize their own coercive apparatus to defend their revolution from counterrevolution. So long as the working class can collectively, democratically run and develop the economy in their own interests, through democratic workers’ committees, then they can maintain control of their state apparatus so long as they need it. For many anarchists representation itself as a political form contains the seeds of, or is, the problem. They say one cannot be genuinely represented, and that the representative will always abuse their position. But it is not the form that is the problem. As we said, if that were the case the bourgeoisie would always be oppressed by their own state representatives. A bourgeois parliament always fails to represent ‘the people’ not because representation per se is a sham, but because parliament is controlled by that class which controls the economy, the media etc. and that class’s interests do not coincide with ‘the people’s’.
The Anarchist response is that the conclusion does not fallow from the premises. It doesn't matter that the state has a class basis, it matters what that class basis actually is. Capitalism has a class basis, but one would find no Marxists arguing that the workers can democratically control capitalism..at least..one would hope. Anarchists assert that the class basis of the state is in fact one in which the state is by nature in the service of the ruling, exploiting, minority. This is what Marxists, insistent on the idea of conquering state power, need to address, not whether the state is a class based structure.
The same applies to the workers own organisations. If the leadership of the unions and of workers’ parties sells out the working class, it is not so much because they are a leadership, but because they come under the enormous social pressure of the ruling class, whose ideology dominates society. The solution to such a problem is never to abandon the concept of leadership in the workers’ movement, but to wage a struggle against a leadership which has sold out to the bourgeois class. Ironically, despite professing a burning hatred of bureaucracy and leadership, the Anarchist movement has often displayed a tendency to make a fetish out of right-wing leadership and an ignorance of the working class rank and file – they tend to blame only the existence of a bureaucracy or participation in parliament for the degeneration of workers’ parties, ignoring the fact that the precondition for the rightward shift of the bureaucracy is always a lack of open class struggle, lack of pressure from below. But there is no remedy for this other than the mass movement of the working class and the struggle for revolutionary ideas within these organizations. That is how we remove a betraying leadership and replace it with a revolutionary one. If such a struggle in workers’ mass organizations does not take place, then it is inevitable that the top layers of such organizations become distant from the rank and file and will attempt to collaborate with the capitalists.
So it is the "Marxist" position that the watchword of the first international "the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves" can be brushed aside as long as "leaders" are put under rank and file pressure. I suppose to, then, the bourgeois state can be made a tool of the workers if the workers exert on it sufficient "pressure".
But a workers’ state, and genuine revolutionary working class leadership, is not the end goal for Marxists; we too see the need for a stateless society. That can exist only when the objective conditions that require a state apparatus (class struggle) have disappeared. In other words, when the working class has dissolved itself as a class by dissolving all classes, by uniting humanity in a global plan of production that leaves no lasting material antagonisms between classes or nations, and when production has attained such a level that the working week is sufficiently shortened so that all may participate in education and running society, then coercion and subjugation will have no objective role, and become worthless.
Indeed, the state exists as long as society is a class divided one, however, it simply doesn't fallow that the state can be used to make class divisions go away. It is Anarchists that point out that as long as there is a state as such, it's job will be to reinforce the division between rulers and ruled, and thus the division between classes.
But it is not ‘collectivism’ on a large and complex scale that contains the seeds of inequality and domination, but already existing material inequality and exploitation that give rise to the division between mental and manual labor in class society, where some have the luxury to study and others are told what to do. It is class exploitation and long hours of work that mean that in our society, workers cannot plan and direct production themselves, firstly because the capitalist class produces for their own private profit, and so cannot permit workers a say in controlling that profit, and secondly because workers do not have the time to democratically plan society. Kropotkin has the whole thing on its head, and so his solution – localism, federalism, and a ‘simple’ economy – would only reintroduce the problem on a small scale. Only a globalized economy, a global division of labor, which capitalism has made a fact, harmoniously planned on a global scale (whereas the globalized capitalist economy is not planned at all but full of regional imbalances and antagonisms) can liberate the working class and put ordinary people in control, since only the high productivity it creates, and the technological sophistication involved, can shorten the working week to allow for mass participation, and do away with the miserable struggle between people and nations for jobs, control of resources etc. Kropotkin actually ends up patronizing workers by implying that the mass of people are incapable of planning the economy, when in reality it is only as exploited workers that they are prevented from doing so. ‘Technocrats’ are only able to fulfil their role above workers because, in a society based on exploiting the working class, workers are barred access to higher education – do away with that exploitation by nationalizing the economy and this problem can be overcome, in fact, it is the only way to overcome it.
In typical Leninist fashion the author simply pretends that the 20th century never happened. You see, if only we nationalized capitalist production and centrally planned it, then we could get real egalitarian social change! Yea, nobody ever tried that before. It's not like that produced states with bureaucratic ruling classes which redefined "socialism" as economic development within the very capitalist world-system their communist forebearers sought to destroy. But fine, lets indulge the author and ourselves pretend history never happened.
The argument is simply a repackaging of social democratic interpretations of Marx, chiefly to be found in the Erfurt Program and Karl Kautsky's commentary on it. In this reading what is progressive about capitalism is it's concentration of production, which is limited by the anarchy of production latent in the market. Thus all that is needed is for the socialist state to take over centralized capitalist production and run it rationally. This was standing Marx on his head. Marx actually thought that what was progressive about capitalism was that it brought workers together for large-scale cooperation. The concentration of production was in fact, for Marx, the fetter on this cooperation, creating a labor bureaucracy that subordinated producers to the factory clock and stopping them from free association. This is why Anarchists, like Kropotkin whom the author quotes, preferred decentralized networks of communes to Gosplan. It would certainly be a shame if some "Marxists" taken with this theory of centralist progress were to take power and implement it on a mass scale, associating socialism with what is in fact the bureaucratic plan of capitalism...good thing that never happened!
Oh but wait! This Trotskyist has tried to understand history. Stalinism, you see, wasn't the result of centralism, but the opposite, the result of the economic chaos caused by the Russian Revolution! This allowed Stalin and his bureaucrats to impose order. So, I suppose, that Lenin never created the Commissariat to pass power over the country to, instead of passing it to the Petrograd Soviet, which even many Bolsheviks expected, I suppose the Bolsheviks never manipulated, or shut down soviets which became politically hostile to them, I suppose the soviets were never politically neutralized by military party command during the civil war, I suppose the Bolsheviks never squeezed every drop of product they could from the peasants, nor introduced one man management during "war communism". I suppose Stalin himself never amassed clientelist privileged and power within the very central organs of the Bolshevik party. Such are the tales of Trotskyist "history". This analysis in favor of centralism is backed up by some wheel spinning about Nestor Makhno's movement, but nothing is cited other than more articles from the same Trotskyist group, or sources unavailable in English, appearing to have no entries in English either.
Contrary to Anarchist hopes, political leadership in our society is necessary for the working class. It could only be discarded, made superfluous, if the working class had the time and inclination to collectively develop revolutionary theory, collectively grasp the need for a revolution, and therefore organize it at once. The very existence of famous theorists such as Marx and Bakunin, who do play a leading role (whether they like it or not) by developing theory with which to educate the movement, is proof that in capitalist society this is not the case. Some Anarchists propose that, instead of a leadership of people, we have a leadership of ideas. Actually, this shows how the objective necessity for political leadership forces its way into Anarchist theory all the time. Only they give it another name instead. Anarchist theorists, themselves acting as leaders by developing theory to influence society, have variously made use of concepts such as ‘helpers’ of the working class, working class ‘spokesmen’, revolutionary ‘pathfinders’, the need for a ‘conscious minority in the trade unions’, or Bakunin’s concept of a disciplined Blanquist ‘directorate’ for the revolution. They use these terms but do not explain why they are necessary and how they really differ from political leadership. Why does the working class need helpers, pathfinders, a directorate, spokesmen, or a conscious minority? And what role would such people play? And if we merely have a leadership of ideas, then what of the people who developed those ideas (for they weren’t developed by the whole working class in a collective, uniform way), who presumably can explain them best, who can be most trusted to put the ideas forward in trade union negotiations, which, after all, cannot involve the whole working class at once? To change the name of something is not to change its essence.
Indeed, the division between mental and manual labor in our society makes it so only those with the resources to develop ideas will do so. Apparently, the "Marxist" answer to this problem is to simply find those so well endowed to lead the masses. This division of labor shouldn't be broken down, that's a fools errand, because it exists, don't worry, this argument isn't circular! It's a proper Marxist analysis! Again, the author makes recourse to citing Makhno. Makhno used coercion in his movement and therefore was a leader! Even Anarchists recognize the nesseceity of leadership!! I'm not sure what using coercion has to do with leadership, from Bakunin on most Anarchists were for violent class struggle should it be necessary. The difference is that Anarchists argued that this class struggle needed to be the product of the workers themselves, not "leaders". In so far as Anarchists failed practically to implement this conception the question is why they failed, but instead of asking that question, we are tolled by "Marxists" to just accept that this conception is an impossibility. Very revolutionary.
Syndicalist Anarchists propose that a general strike, involving the vast majority of the working class, can be sufficient to overthrow capitalism, and moreover has the advantage of doing so without a party leadership. But the history of general strikes teaches otherwise
No we don't..
trade unions do have political leadership in them. Unfortunately, this leadership rarely has a determined revolutionary mission and tends to sell out general strikes. So the demand for a general strike must also be accompanied by a political struggle against the ideas of the reformist trade union leadership. But history has shown that such a struggle does not emerge, and certainly does not succeed, in a purely automatic fashion.
Wow, I wonder if revolutionary syndicalists ever sought ways to deal with this, I wonder if they ever organized revolutionary union movements and participated in them as militant activists. They probably didn't though, since they are stupid Anarchists and I am a smart Trotskyist.
In a general strike some organized political grouping must raise the idea of the need to use the strike as a launch pad to overthrow capitalism so that the working class can build socialism. And such an organization would therefore be playing a leading role.
If only we didn't have to be slaves to the mental and manual division of labor, if only we could actually work to overcome it through movement building, if only..oh well, I will now go back to appointing myself and people who think like me as the natural leaders of the masses! The author then tries to prove their hilarious assertion that Anarchists reject theory by citing Paul Averch's quotation of a Russian Anarchist.
Only feeling, passion, and desire have moved and will move men to acts of heroism and self-sacrifice; only in the realm of passionate life, the life of feeling, do heroes and martyrs draw their strength... we do not recognize the inevitability of social phenomena; we regard with skepticism the scientific value of many so-called laws of sociology.
Apparently, asserting that people have the power to change society and that they only do this when they care about the state of social relations, is..rejecting theory..somehow..
Unfortunately, 20th Century history, with its industrialization and mass workers parties, and general sidelining of all Anarchist tendencies, would suggest that Marx’s laws are not so arbitrary.
Anarchism has been less popular than Marxism, therefore Marxism is correct. Amazing. Further, Anarchists must reject careful analysis of the world, because Paul Avrich said that some particular Russian Anarchists did. Amazing. Bakunin, also didn't carefully analyze society because..who cares, I assert it so therefore it's true! This was a completely tedious exorcise in Trotskyist critique. I encourage wide reading of opposing ideas, but this is just another "Marxist" diatribe where Anarchists are just assumed to be intellectually lazy utopians, with no actual proof of this provided, and where we are assured that centralism and taking state power will work because these things have a "class basis". There are a million more polemics like this, all equally bereft of any substantive criticism. Don't waste your time with this, I did so you don't have to.