Karl Marx and the anarchists - Paul Thomas

Karl Marx and the Anarchists examines Marx's confrontations with anarchist theoreticians he encountered at various stages of his career as a revolutionist. Paul Thomas argued that Marx's attacks on Stirner, Proudhon, and Bakunin strongly influenced his own interpretation of revolutionary politics, and are of vital importance to an understanding of the subsequent enmity between Marxists and Anarchists.

Submitted by Ross Arctor on August 3, 2015




8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by kurekmurek on August 6, 2015

I love this book. Thanks for uploading. Also I think the real discussion of the separation of the first international was the most interesting part of the book.


8 years 1 month ago

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Submitted by Anarcho on August 8, 2015

Actually, this book is just a rehash of standard Marxist nonsense about anarchism. The author just repeats what Marx proclaims as if it were true.

While not without some okay bits, I would not recommend it -- unless you are a Marxist seeking to renew the dogma by reading another Marxist proclaim that, in the main, Marx was right about anarchism.

Those interested in the real differences between anarchism and Marxism or an accurate account of Proudhon's ideas or Bakunin's politics need to look elsewhere.


8 years 1 month ago

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Submitted by kurekmurek on August 8, 2015

It is interesting why you are so harsh on this book. First of all I am not a political expert but I think the book provides a good example of the failure of anarchism to have a some sort of unified theory. This is something I agree with Well even he title is sort of sign of weakness - Marx and Anarchists - Who exaclty - Well a bunch of people some of people considered essential (for example Stirner is he an anarchist?? )(on the other hand I think it can be possible to transcend the history of anarchism to find a unified core of some sort. However this is not the aim of book, -and why it should be anyway. I think this heterogeneity can be observed in anarchist circles -not necessarily a totally negative thing, but sometimes not great either.)

However for example The Bakunin and International part of the book is very pro-anarchist. And if I remember correctly goes beyond Marx was authoritarian and Bakunin was a sexual pervert and secret agent of some sort arguments. And show on the concrete level that how Bakunin and Marx approached to the question of the organisation (or if you want to call it party) how differently, in the end destroying the International which was actually very in line with (more or less) the anarchist ideals of decentralization and federation.(So again united class organisation divided because of demand for centralization - as anarchists predicted and opposed.)

Of course there might be better books on the topic (Any advise would be appreciated). Or for example to read about the philosophy of the Proudhon, propably Ian McKay's writings might be better (and you get sort of anarchist pride reading him - we said it already, in your face Marx! :P )

EDIT: I made some google search and now I find my last sentence a bit funny :D Sorry :D


3 years 8 months ago

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Submitted by Reddebrek on January 16, 2020

Just started reading this, and I can see where anarcho is coming from, it doesn't really seem like Paul Thomas had done a lot of reading on the anarchists, even the big three he's singled out. He keeps making statements about their failings when at least one (sometimes all three) absolutely did try to account for what he claims they lacked.

The chapter on Hegel is also very strange, it seems clear that Thomas views orthodox Hegelianism as some sort of compelling argument in its own right. Several sections revolve around

Hegel's view on X
A statement that "the anarchists" don't agree or ignore it
Marx agrees with Hegel

And the last two sections are about Hegel's failures, but the failings are all just from Marx's early works.

Its not what I'd call a balanced work so far.


3 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Reddebrek on February 28, 2020

but, in fact, far from being marginal to
civil society, as Max Stirner for example thought it was, the prolet-
ariat was its very basis. Without this basis bourgeois society could
not - and Marx hastened to add, would not - persist.


The labourers have the most enormous power in their hands, and, if they once became thoroughly conscious of it and used it, nothing would withstand them; they would only have to stop labour, regard the product of labour as theirs, and enjoy it. This is the sense of the labour disturbances which show themselves here and there.
The state rests on the - slavery of labour. If labour becomes free, the state is lost.

Yeah, looks my misgivings are proving correct.

Edit: At the end of part one, and yeah so far Anarcho's been completely accurate. So far it barely mentions the three anarchists chosen, but the few claims made are usually widely off base, if not made up. And when he comes to talking about the unusual parts of Karl Marx's writings and the contradictions, he just restates them at length and trusts that Marx is correct, outside of philosophical lineage and chronology he doesn't seem interested in doing any actual analysis or evaluation.

There's a brief section where he talks about the "vulgar Marxism" of the manifesto, but he just states that it was the result of deadlines and propaganda, and its the fault of vulgar Marxists for taking it seriously.

Unless part ii is a massive change I'll probably drop it.


3 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Reddebrek on March 6, 2020

On Part II, it is a better but I feel that's because its a bit more substantial. Thomas is still doing that strange thing where he documents disagreements between Karl Marx and someone else and then concluding Marx is correct. He even attributes a sort of fiendish to Marx where he writes a rebuttal of sorts to one person, but because the criticism could apply to someone else Marx was falling out with its probably a veiled double criticism.

But its all conjecture and if true would rely on the audience being intimately familiar with the thoughts and deeds of at least two very different and wide apart figures. And yet be obscure enough not to register.

There's also this passage.

‘[The] danger of any fundamentally anarchist position’, it has been
pointed out, is that ‘when one is disgusted by any and all government,
whatever its forms, one finishes by losing sight of certain elementary
political realities’.

This quote comes from a section where Thomas is comparing Proudhon to Lassalle, so we have one person who isn't an anarchist, and the next sentence acknowledges that for Thomas's and Marx's criticisms of Proudhon to be correct, this one about anarchist positions doesn't apply. And its not a quotation from Marx, so why include it? Its one of many passages that are scattered throughout the pages about Anarchism that Thomas tries to tie into his general argument with varying degrees of success and obviousness.

Its quite the annoying habit, in addition to being a disappointing example of partisanship, it often confuses the specific arguments being made.


3 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Reddebrek on March 17, 2020

Well I've finished it, I might try and reorganise my notes on it later. The final section on Bakunin is the strongest section if you go by the stated premise*. But even that has severe issues, his main source on Bakunin is Carr's hostile biography, and while he does occasionally break with it and point out some of its more fanciful passages, its not a good sign that it was his main source. And many of the other supplementary sources he uses are by Thomas's own admission quite partisan for Marx, with the only sources favourable to Bakunin being himself, his contemporaries and a handful of citations of Woodcock.

It also keeps using the term "Bakuninism" even though he points out that Bakunin didn't in fact try to establish his own doctrinal system. He also attritubutes the views and actions of Bakunin the person to the "Bakuninists" and anarchists generally, even when if its ideas that were held at most a handful of revolutionists, some of whom were not anarchists or even on speaking terms with Bakunin.

I was caught by surprise when it got to the International how negative its tone had turned when documenting Marx in this period. But again the criticism is almost exclusively that of personal failings. One bit that did stand out though is that throughout the sections the words authoritarian and dictatorial keep appearing in quotation marks to make them appear exaggerated, but the account Thomas describes seems to bare them out pretty conclusively. The closest Thomas comes to actively disputing this is to state that Marx genuinely believed what he was doing was necessary, and that the General Council was not ideologically monolithic. Which would also disqualify nearly every dictatorship in history also.

The conclusion is very weak, as Thomas tries to tie a connecting thread between the three chosen standard bearers.

I think I'd prefer if Thomas had used his extensive knowledge of Marx and Hegel to write a book of critique on both instead, and just brought the three in when required to give context to Marx's ideas, along with his other colleagues and rivals. I've definitely read much worse Marx biographies and the book keeps raising some interesting points for evaluation, but unless he can use it to make Anarchists look bad (the only times he refers to Anarchists in general are to make negative accusations) he just drops them and moves on.

*I think the section on Hegel was the most useful as it was a surprisingly readable introduction into his ideas and thoughts.