Libertarianism and marxism

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zugzwang
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Apr 13 2017 03:25
Libertarianism and marxism

What's with marxist writers/thinkers and their misrepresentation of anarchism? I'm reading through David Harvey's Seventeen Contradictions (only on chapter 3) but am being put off by what seems to be the usual marxian misrepresentation of anarchism. (It's the same with Wolff who's reinventing the wheel when he discusses workplace democracy as something 'new' to replace 'traditional socialism' but uses his own terminology like 'worker self-directed enterprises.')

For example,

Quote:
All but the most rabid of libertarians and the most extreme of anarchist will agree, however, that some semblance of state power has to exist in order to sustain the individualised property rights and structures of law that according to theoreticians like Friedrich Hayek guarantee the maximum of non-coercive individual liberty.

I think all anarchists/libertarians would, to the contrary, agree that capitalism presupposes the state; it's only the right-wing libertarians (predominantly in North America) who mistakenly believe the two can be separated. Capitalism has nothing to do with the anarchist tradition, going all the way back to Proudhon who said property was theft and advocated a form of market socialism. Libertarianism has always been against capitalism and the state, so it peeves me that Harvey lumps these right-wingers in with us. I understand there are political differences between anarchists and marxists, which could be traced to the First International split between the Bakunin and Marx factions. Why can't they represent anarchist political ideas correctly, though?

Oh and this great,

Quote:
There is, I repeat, no such thing as a non-contradictory response to a contradiction. An examination of the range of contemporary political responses to universal alienation on the ground produces a profoundly disturbing picture. The rise of fascist parties in Europe (particularly virulent and prominent in Greece, Hungary and France) and the organisation of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party with its singular aim to defund and shut down government in the United States are manifestations of deeply alienated factions of the population seeking political solutions. They do not shrink from violence and are convinced that the only way to preserve their threatened freedom is to pursue a politics of total domination.
...
The politics of the Tea Party as well as those of the autonomistas and the anarchists in the United States converge in seeking to limit or even to destroy the state, though in the name of pure individualism on the right and some sort of individualistically anchored associationism on the left.

Again (and I hope I'm not just misreading Harvey), I don't think any real anarchists are against social programs that help the poor and most vulnerable, or are against the state interfering on behalf the working class and mass of people. I don't think any libertarian socialists seek to destroy those beneficial aspects of the state without having anything to put in their place. What anarchists do oppose, and what Harvey doesn't seem to understand, is the concentration of decision-making in political parties/states and the creation of a new ruling class from that, as happened under Lenin after he wiped out all the socialist institutions that had arisen out of revolutionary Russia.

Anarcho
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Apr 1 2017 10:46
zugzwang wrote:
What's with marxist writers/thinkers and their misrepresentation of anarchism?

I have often wondered the same thing. It is rare to find a Marxist did a decent account of anarchism -- off the top of my head, Cleaver's article on Kropotkin is the only one I can think of.

Sad to say, it started with Marx and his terrible -- and terribly dishonest -- book on Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy. As I indicate in my recent review, Marx invents quotes, tampers with quotes, asserts incorrect points for Proudhon (not least that he advocated "labour-notes") and a host of other activities which if done against a Marxist would produce howls of anger and disgust.

Harvey is mild in comparison.

zugzwang wrote:
I think all anarchists/libertarians would, to the contrary, agree that capitalism presupposes the state; it's only the right-wing libertarians (predominantly in North America) who mistakenly believe that two can be separated.

Indeed -- that the state exists to defend inequality, property, and both need to be fought and got rid of at the same time has been a principle of anarchism since Proudhon. It is with the rise of propertarianism that anything else has been suggested -- and genuine libertarians have always been there noting that the two cannot be separated.

zugzwang wrote:
Libertarianism has always been against capitalism and the state, so it peeves me that Harvey lumps these right-wingers in with us.

It helps him -- guilt by association, puts people off looking into anarchism. And, of course, he would disapprove if we linked him with, say, Stalin...

zugzwang wrote:
Why can't they represent anarchist political ideas correctly, though?

because if they did then they would have to explain why they are not anarchists, which would be hard given their stated principles. They would have to say that, well, we need a state because the masses are too backward to rule themselves and they need us in charge to educate them... As Trotsky and Lenin both explicitly argued.

zugzwang
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Apr 1 2017 22:32
Anarcho wrote:
Harvey is mild in comparison.

I should add that I'm finding Harvey's analysis of capital and its contradictions insightful and that I mean no disrespect. It only bugs me that some Marxists appear to misrepresent or fail to mention certain things when discussing libertarian socialism (like AnCaps having nothing to do with the anti-capitalist and socialist anarchist tradition), whatever their intentions may be.

ajjohnstone
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Apr 2 2017 01:19

.

Quote:
It is rare to find a Marxist did a decent account of anarchism -- off the top of my head, Cleaver's article on Kropotkin is the only one I can think of

.

Anarcho you forget ALB's
https://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2015/07/what-marx-should-h...

But i know you are very critical of ALB's interpretation of Proudhon, as well as Marx's, so we'll skip that.

zugzwang
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Apr 4 2017 00:14

Could the people who down-voted Anarcho please explain themselves? Is it because he insulted Marx or because he's defending Proudhon ... ? I'd be really interested to know.

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Rommon
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Apr 4 2017 08:27
Quote:
I think all anarchists/libertarians would, to the contrary, agree that capitalism presupposes the state; it's only the right-wing libertarians (predominantly in North America) who mistakenly believe that two can be separated. Capitalism has nothing to do with the anarchist tradition, going all the way back to Proudhon who said property was theft and advocated a form of market socialism. Libertarianism has always been against capitalism and the state, so it peeves me that Harvey lumps these right-wingers in with us. I understand there are political differences between anarchists and marxists, which could be traced to the First International split between the Bakunin and Marx factions. Why can't they represent anarchist political ideas correctly, though?

In the United States (and even in England now) this is a HUGE problem, Capitalism has basically become a cult, With a founding myth and so on, I've argued With so-called anarcho-capitalists who will say that ALL voluntary Activity is market Activity. This is why I think Works like David Graebers "debt: the first 5000 years" are so important, they basically show clearly how Capitalism, and even market relationships are NOT the norm, they are NOT the basic way humans interact, and they are InFact gounded in violence.

In my viewpoint the MOST Dangerous ideology today is market fundamentalism, and it's spreading.

Spikymike
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Apr 5 2017 10:20

zugzwang, I don't put anarcho in this category but when talking in generalisations about 'libertarians', 'anarchists' and 'marxists' there is a long history of people from each misrepresenting the other - best to refer to particular writers and organisations and particular periods of history etc.

zugzwang
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Apr 6 2017 16:56
Spikymike wrote:
zugzwang, I don't put anarcho in this category but when talking in generalisations about 'libertarians', 'anarchists' and 'marxists' there is a long history of people from each misrepresenting the other - best to refer to particular writers and organisations and particular periods of history etc.

I was referring to Harvey and Wolff. I don't know what flavor of Marxism they subscribe to; it doesn't change how they're both doing a disservice to anarchism. From my experience it's the Leninist type of Marxists who misrepresent libertarian socialist ideas the most, and who like portraying (or maybe distorting is the right word) events like Kronstadt and the Makhno Movement as counter-revolutionary and so on. I'm still keen on the economic analyses of Harvey and Wolff, as I also am with some liberal/socially-minded economists and Keynesian economists. With Wolff, it just seems like he's a libertarian socialist (or some kind of market socialist) when he talks about democratizing the workplace and getting governments to support a worker coop sector of the economy (instead of centrally planning things), an idea that I'm not completely against. It's frustrating however that he doesn't mention libertarian socialism which has always supported workers' self-management. I have no problem with worker coops, but democratizing workplaces under capitalism and within a market system of course is not the end-goal. What generally puts me off of Marxism is similar to what caused the split between the Bakunin and Marx factions in the First International: the capturing of political power.

I still need to get around to reading the "Libertarian Marxists," which I've had some Marxists tell me is an oxymoron (?).

ajjohnstone
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Apr 6 2017 01:54

Andrew Kliman is perhaps a better model of a libertarian Marxist economist

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Rommon
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Apr 7 2017 07:04

I think "Anarchism" is an extremely vague word, some Leninists think that the Atheist model is basically revolution - No state/no Capitalism, I'm sure there are Anarchists that think like that, but there are also many anarchists who don't view it as a model but rather as a ethical principle for society, or a tendancy, we want to get rid of as many structures of domination and alienation as possible.

I sometimes hesitate to Call myself an anarchist becuase I very often have to caveat it a lot, the same With the term communist. But then again I'm not as radical as many anarchists, so it's not a cut and dry term.

I think Marxists are used to thinking in terms of ideologies that follow one model of how Things work; usually named after some guy, Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism and so on, and thus put this way of thinking on other ideologies, so they think anarchism must be a set model of revolution and social organization.

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Craftwork
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Apr 7 2017 09:56

Wolff and Harvey are overrated IMO, I don't even know what Wolff is, some kind of market socialist thing. Harvey's reading of Marx has been criticised by Critisticuffs here: https://libcom.org/library/companion-david-harveys-companion-marxs-capit...

Some other stuff that might be of interest:

What Marx should have said to Kropotkin - Adam Buick: https://libcom.org/library/what-marx-should-have-said-kropotkin-adam-bui...

Marx, theoretician of anarchism - Maximilien Rubel: https://libcom.org/library/marx-theoretician-anarchism

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Craftwork
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Apr 7 2017 10:03

And finally, this on the historic (mis)readings of Marx:

Between Marx, Marxism, and Marxisms – ways of reading Marx’s theory - Ingo Elbe:
https://libcom.org/library/between-marx-marxism-marxisms-%E2%80%93-ways-...

zugzwang
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Apr 8 2017 18:26
Craftwork wrote:
Wolff and Harvey are overrated IMO ...

Wolff I guess is a pop economist who tries making Marxian ideas accessible, as he peddles his worker coop ideas. He's written some nice articles (in my opinion) about the financial crisis and American economic history, as well as a nice refutation to the libertarian-right in the US. I don't know much about Harvey. Thanks anyway Craft and ajjohnstone for the recommendations. I was going to check out Polanyi next.

Anarcho
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Apr 8 2017 11:22
zugzwang wrote:
Could the people who down-voted Anarcho please explain themselves? Is it because he insulted Marx or because he's defending Proudhon ... ? I'd be really interested to know.

Yes, that would be interesting to know... after all, I simply stated facts (the evidence is in the review I linked to): Marx really did make things-up (including at least one quote but specifically the notion Proudhon advocated "labour notes"), tamper with quotes (from the serious -- Proudhon on money -- to the trivial), proclaim that Proudhon ignored X when in fact he did not, and so on.

Now, regardless of what you may think of Proudhon, Marx's so-called "reply" is deeply dishonest. Perhaps your view of Proudhon is shaped by Marx's book? If so, you may benefit from actually reading what Proudhon actually argued rather than what Marx proclaimed he did. Particularly when much of Marx's critique is bad-faith nonsense.

Sadly, most Marxist accounts/critiques/attacks on anarchism follow that example.

Anarcho
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Apr 8 2017 11:46
ajjohnstone wrote:
.Anarcho you forget ALB's
https://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2015/07/what-marx-should-h...

But i know you are very critical of ALB's interpretation of Proudhon, as well as Marx's, so we'll skip that.

Hmmh, that article is a mixed bag -- some of it is correct, some of it plain wrong:

Quote:
Most anarchists today justify their anarchism not on the grounds that they want to abolish the State because it is an instrument of class oppression and defender of private property and capitalist exploitation, but on the grounds of the "right of the individual" to be unrestrained by any external authority. Look at the various anthologies of anarchism in the bookshops and you will see that the socialist element has shrunk to a distinct minority viewpoint.

I don't think that is remotely true -- even in 1994. As for "other advocates of complete laissez-faire in the tradition of Proudhon," well, he had the change to correct himself on that but as we know he did not appear to have read my Property is Theft! before reviewing it.

So, nowhere as good as Cleaver's article but not the worse I have read.

komuna
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Apr 10 2017 14:56

This came up on reddit,

With the rise of Maoism/Stalinism among the meme generation I think this stuff needs to be engaged with more. As someone new to communism does anyone have a response to this? I've looked through libcoms section on Maoism but seems lacking.

Question:

"Hey everyone, I just had a question regarding Anarcho-Communism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, whether both would be in favour or inherently against the notion of a vanguard party to bring about the post-state, and if vanguardism is compatible with dissolving back into the collective of the proletariat after this transition has taken place, or if they hi-jack the revolution to bring about an elitist leadership body. Thanks!"

Answers:

"Your OP contains a bunch of questions so I'll try to answer all of them in an organized way but no promises that I'll be successful! tongue emoticontongue

I avoid using the term "vanguardism" because it's not a term used by anybody who actually practices it and is so broad as to include a lot of contradictory and mutually-exclusive practices but is used to flatten those differences and conjure up a particular, bad form of practice characterized by bureaucratic leadership and so it's kind of a loaded term.

The theory of the vanguard party basically says that some people will come to a communist consciousness before others (simply as a function of chance, but also because different contradictions in society will propel some sections of the people toward revolutionary politics sooner than others). Because of this, people with revolutionary politics should organize into a group with a high level of unity and internal discipline (and with a lot of vigorous internal debate and democracy!) in order to most effectively carry out the tasks required for the revolution. This is the party.

The party should strive to have the most advanced ideas possible - that is, the ideas which are most effective in getting us to communism. Of course, this doesn't mean that just because the party says something that it is automatically the most advanced idea - just the opposite: it means that if an idea is more advanced than what the party already thinks, the party should adopt that idea! This is what makes the party a 'vanguard' party.

The party's status as the 'vanguard' - the leading force of the revolution' isn't gained by its own self-proclamation. it's not enough to just say you're the leading force of the revolution, you have to actually *be* the leading force of the revolution. This is done by organizing among the people, drawing in their most advanced forces, identifying the best way to move toward the revolution, and effectively carrying it out.

Even 'leadership' is one of those slippery concepts because it has a few different meanings but people will often use it like it doesn't. Leadership can mean effectively convincing people to do what you think they should do voluntarily, or it can mean being in a position to tell them what they have to do whether they like it or not. A communist vanguard party should strive for the first type of leadership. The strength of its ideas, the effectiveness of its propaganda, and the victories in its practice should be able to convince growing sections of the people to follow the party's political line, and in turn the integration of broader sections of the people should allow those people to improve the party's political line, make it more advanced and so more effective in leading the revolution ("it's dialectical!").

When we talk about "leading" the revolutionary movement, being the "leading force" of the people, etc., this is what we're talking about. Some organizations get bogged down trying to hold organizational leadership positions over people's organizations (being the president of this community group or the treasurer of that union local, etc), but I think this is a mistake. Political leadership has to come first, and organizational leadership is secondary, incidental, and subordinated to political leadership.

I think history has proven that a vanguard party is necessary for you to have a successful revolution - to smash the bourgeois state and establish the proletarian one. That said, a lot of dangers come along with this strategy that we should not ignore.

For starters, it's all well and good to say that the party should be open to changing its political perspectives when more advanced ideas come along, but this is easier said than done. We spend a lot of time defending the party's perspectives against ideas that are definitely bad, and so we can develop a bit of inertia and get in the habit of rejecting any idea we didn't already think of or ignoring evidence that we're wrong about something.

Another problem, and we know this because of the experiences of socialism in the 20th century, is that an emergent bourgeoisie develops and will try to re-establish capitalism, and that it makes its home in the party. Class struggle continues under socialism, and in fact it intensifies. This means that class struggle occurs in every sphere of life, and most certainly occurs in the party itself between the bourgeois political line (toward capitalism) and the proletarian political line (toward communism). If the bourgeois political line becomes the leading idea of the party, then this problem will combine with the inertia I mentioned in the last paragraph and make it very difficult to put the party back on the revolutionary path.

Fortunately, the experiences of socialism in the 20th century have also prepared us with the theory and strategy to identify this problem and combat it. We expect these two-line struggles to occur, so we welcome them when they arise because it's a chance to defeat bourgeois perspectives in the party rather than pretend they aren't bourgeois and have them ruin everything. Furthermore, we know that this struggle cannot ultimately be confined to the party's own apparatus - the masses must be engaged in the struggle, the cultural revolution, to defeat all the bourgeois forces in society after the establishment of socialism and in fact beforehand as well!

So yes there are risks that come along with the theory of the vanguard party but we have a strategy for overcoming them, and what's more is that without the vanguard party we won't even be able to have a revolution in the first place.

This is mostly incompatible with most anarcho-syndicalist and anarcho-communist persepctives.

Anarcho-syndicalism is focused on building economic power, and doing it by organizing in existing capitalist workplaces. This has two weaknesses, in my opinion. The first is that it does not focus on the conquest of political power. It isn't enough for unions to organize production under workers' control, though this may be an element of the general conquest of power by the proletariat. We need a political agenda that encompasses every aspect of social existence, far beyond the workplace - this is the task of the proletarian state. This proletarian state must defeat the bourgeois state on every front - economic, yes, but also political, social, cultural and military. This is a criticism of anarcho-syndicalism I first encountered from Platformist anarcho-communists, of course without all that stuff about the state obviously.

The next difference with anarcho-syndicalism is the role of the individual workplace in relation to the rest of society. Whereas anarcho-syndicalism would say that ultimately workplaces, the means of production, should come under the direct control of the workers who work on them, revolutionary communism wants for them to come under the control of the proletariat as a class. While we can talk about day-to-day operations being under the direct control of the workers, ultimately the class as a whole needs to be able to implement a general economic plan, and this economic plan needs to be developed to meet the political agenda of the proletariat. Sometimes individual workplaces (especially those in strategic industries) will have contradictions between their own narrow self-interest and the needs of the proletariat as a whole and the tasks of the revolution, and ultimately I think the individual workplaces should be subordinated to the class as a whole. This too is a question of whether the proletariat, as a class, has political power or if individual workers, or collections of individual workers, do. Anarcho-syndicalists would disagree with me.

Some tendencies within anarchist communism (specifically the Platformists) uphold something which is in practice similar to a vanguard party: an "explicitly political organization" with "theoretical and tactical unity". At its best, it looks similar to the vanguard party but it has some important differences.

First is that a lot of these organizations spend a lot of time trying "not to be vanguardists". So they don't study how to effectively run a party, don't know how to make use of all the advantages offered by the theory of the vanguard party. They often aren't great at centralization because of this and so have trouble developing a coherent political line that can keep a large and active organization together (in fact, from 2015-2016, three different regional Platformist organizations in Canada - The UCL in Quebec, Prairie Struggle, and Common Cause in Ontario - disbanded).

More importantly though, these organizations don't theorize any of the insights gained from socialism in the 20th century and so it do not have a theory for how to combat the emerging bourgeoisie or bourgeois line. They think of themselves as immune from the challenges of building the vanguard party and the dictatorship of the proletariat and so will often ignore the emergence of the very things they would criticize Marxist-Leninists and Marxist-Leninist-Maoists for.

We understand the need for a transitional stage to communism, and so we can look at transitional forms, grapple with their shortcomings and plan for how to transcend them. If you reject this transition stage out of hand, though, you are forced to imagine that transition forms are the final goal, ignore the contradictions that exist within them, and ultimately doom yourself to re-establishing the old order. This is why I think MLM is actually more radical than anarchism, even if anarchism is sometimes "more extreme".