The Good and the Bad

What are the contemporary differences between serious anarchists and serious libertarian Marxists? It is the present historical situation that is relevant, since after all we cannot go back and change the past.

By Ed Clark

Praise first: your paper takes theory seriously enough to write about it coherently. To my knowledge, that is unique in North America!

And you believe it is important to overcome the differences between anarchists and libertarian Marxists, to reunite the red and the black after a century of bitter disunity. I agree.

But is it really reasonable to expect this to happen as a result of bringing up all the ancient squabbles? Are people who emotionally identify with Marx or Bakunin going to admit that the other guy was right? That seem so me to be what you're asking, a hopeless request if there ever was one.

What are the contemporary differences between serious anarchists, like the North American Anarchist-Communist Federation, and serious libertarian Marxists, like yourselves? To me, that is much more to the point than endless reruns of the split in the First International! It is the present historical situation that is relevant, since after all we cannot go back and change the past. "The dead oppress the living", wrote Marx, and this is as true of those historical figures themselves as of anything else. It is we the living who will unify or fail to unify, not the ghosts of dead revolutionaries.

Once we put aside emotional identification with corpses, serious anarchists and serious libertarian socialists share a lot of common political ground. They use a lot of the same concepts; they analyze events and come up with similar conclusions. There are differences, some of them serious. There are also a lot of minor differences of style, which people could learn to live with provided the major differences were overcome. It remains to be seen whether anarchists and libertarian socialists think unity is important enough to make a serious effort to overcome these differences.

There is a very good example of this in Point 29 of your Political Statement: "We oppose a parliamentary or reformist strategy for bringing about socialism, but at times it may be tactically correct to participate in elections, or parliaments, as part of an overall strategy."

I submit that this is a case where the anarchists have been far more "Marxist" than the Marxists. Although your point is solidly rooted in Marx's own writings, Marx, after all, had an excuse — the idea was new in his time and had not been tested. But now, a century after Marx's time, we have hundreds of examples of all kinds of would-be revolutionaries trying every possible approach to participation in capitalist electoral politics — with uniformly disastrous results! Even some of the Spanish anarchists tried it - and it destroyed them as a revolutionary force just as effectively as it has destroyed scores (hundreds?) of Marxist parties. Thus contemporary anarchists, learning from history in the way Marxists are supposed to be able to do, say clearly: no participation in electoral politics. But you, as nominal Marxists, simply ignore all these bad experiences and say "it may be correct."

And, worse, you don't even attempt to explain why you think this. I've read every issue of The Red Menace and, unless my memory is faulty, I can't recall where you've ever even discussed the "question". For example, under what circumstances could it be correct to participate in capitalist elections? How do you "recall" a parliamentary representative who goes off on his own? How do you keep your parliamentary representatives from being bought off? How do you keep them from using their access to the media to develop a solid reformist faction within your movement... to the point where the real revolutionaries in your organization are simply expelled? This bullshit has happened over and over again, and you know it! What in hell makes you think it would be different if you did it? Unless you want to try and pass yourselves off as some kind of revolutionary saints; totally immune to the corrupting influences of capitalist politics (which would be a curious position for Marxists to take), I don't see how you can avoid the conclusion that if and when you try it, you will end up as fucked over and fucked up as everyone else who's tried it.

As I said, I think this is an example of the real differences that need to be resolved if the red and the black are to restore the old alliance. I believe reunification is possible - but there is clearly a long way to go. It will be instructive to see who's willing to make the trip.

for a life without bosses,
Ed Clark