My fellow Anarchists! We have an insecurity problem. We need to get over it. We need to stop complaining about “Marxists” and build a heterodox communist movement with everybody who believes in working towards a society without classes.
Let me start with a joke.
Two men are sitting at the bar, one is forlorn about his recent divorce, the other proclaims, “If you had listened to my advice about love you would have saved your marriage!” The forlorn man, perplexed, responds, “but you’ve never had a girlfriend, much less a wife, what makes you think you know about love?” “Obviously, the fact that I know about love” the other responds, “is clearly proved by the fact that, unlike you, I’ve never been divorced!”
Anarchists, never having had their ways and means in charge of anything on any globally significant scale, and as result, never having failed on any signification scale, think they know everything there is to know about power. Like the people’s front of Judea, they militate against the Judean peoples’ front, and not the Romans. With apologies to Monty Python, you can picture the scene in an infoshop near you: “We must unite against the common enemy! Yes! The Marxists! NO NO THE CAPITALISTS!”
Some Anarchists spend so much of their time distancing themselves from so-called “Marxists” or “Leninist” or, when they really want to be scary, “Stalinists,” that you’d think that defeating capitalism is a secondary goal compared to settling the score over the transgressions of the past and winning told-you-so points in some imaginary rivalry for leadership of the working class.
Don’t get me wrong. Anarchism is right. Marx is not some infallible prophet who’s received wisdom may not be questioned. The thing is, you need to dig far into the grungy depth of obscure ideological echo chambers like the Socialist Worker’ Party to find anybody who actually thinks that way, so why bother refuting it? And yeah, Marx was not only fallible, but could be a jerk, he didn’t give due credit to the likes of Proudhon and Bakunin, and was not above using an impressively deployed array of misrepresentations and fallacies in his attacks on them. But come on, if you’re really surprised and scandalized by this, you need to read yourself some of Schopenhauer’s art of controversy. In their own time, both Proudhon and Bakunin where better known and more widely influential than Marx was, so get over it!
Ok, so Marx was a jerk sometimes. Proudhon and Bakunin where hardly sweethearts themselves, as their misogyny and antisemitism illustrates, not to mention Bakunin’s involvement with his ruthless, murderous, buddy Nachayev. It’s not like Proudhon and Bakunin never got anything wrong! Just like the contributions of Proudhon and Bakunin are in no way invalidated by their personal failings, neither are Marx’s, and they’re all dead now anyhow, so it’s a little late to rehabilitate them. Can’t we just admit that, despite their failings, they all made huge contributions to the struggle against capitalism and move on? Does the identification with “Marxist” and “Anarchist ” camps really help us? Is it about flying our gang colours, or getting on with, you know, the struggle?
Anarchists need to deal with arguments worth dealing with, and not feel like they have to respond to every single provocation, endlessly proclaiming “Look look! Some random “Marxist” said something wrong about Anarchism! Outrage!” There’s a great XKCD cartoon called “Duty Calls” where a man at a computer is being called into bed by his lover, but refuses to come, proclaiming he can’t because “Somebody is wrong on the Internet!” A similar cartoon could be made with an Anarchist being called into action in the struggle against capital, but says “Can’t come now! Somebody said something wrong about Anarchism in some totally obscure journal!”
We really need anarchist to grow up and help make the communist movement whole. The anarchist position is very important! Not their position on what Marx took from Proudhon without credit, or what mean and unfair things Marx said about Bakunin. Boo Freakin’ Hoo! Also not interesting is the burning questions of who was really at “fault” in the Spanish civil war or the Soviet experience, as if these historical outcomes were based on the personalities or opinions of Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin, and not the material facts of class struggle. These failings need to be analyzed as complex and multifaceted topics, not anarchism vs Marxism brownie points. No current involved in those events is solely responsible, or completely innocent, for what happened, we need to look beyond the sectarian blame-game and try to better understand the complex political, economic, social and geographic forces at work. It really is super pointless to try to pin it on Marx or even “Marxists,” as if that gets us anywhere.
The reason the anarchist position is important is to understand the limitations of state power. Communism can not be imposed from the top down, it must be built from the bottom up. This is very important to understand. The state is the servant of the ruling class, because the ruling class has the wealth to relentlessly push the state towards their own interests. Trying to give control of the State to an underclass is like trying to make a rock fly by throwing it into air and berating it to stay up there. An underclass, by definition, has less wealth than the ruling class, and therefore can never retain state power! Even in the extremely rare case it manages to seize it, no matter how well it manages what wealth it has, it will, inevitably, eventually, fall to the unceasing attack of the global ruling class, and it will inevitably be distorted and degraded beyond recognition by the fight for its life during the time that it does remain in power.
The only way to change the structure of wealth in society, is to change the way we produce and share, by producing and distributing wealth differently, we change the structure of society itself. The preamble of constitution of the IWW states this quite well: “The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old”
However, the complete rejection of parliamentary action that many anarchists promote is also problematic. The goal of taking the state and imposing a new society is not the only possible motivation for parliamentary action! Our capacity for building the new society in the shell of the old depends on the amount of wealth and freedom that we currently have, and that level is clearly affected by the policies of the state, parliamentary action can help resist policies that degrade the conditions of workers by fighting for the maintenance of rights and benefits. Like workplace and community action, parliamentary action is another theater of struggle, and it is foolish to abdicate this struggle, simply because we understand that such activity alone can never achieve our goals! The struggle for communism must be waged on all fronts where inequality reigns, in the workplace, in the household, and in the parliament as well!
Anarchists! Stop being so childish and defensive, get over crying about “Marxists” for their transgressions against you, get over your sibling rivalry. Communists of all sorts are our brothers and sisters in the struggle! We’ve got plenty to learn from and teach each other, so lets stop bickering about long irrelevant doctrinal fights, and lets build a heterodox communist movement that can challenge the power of capitalism on all fronts!
Meanwhile, back in Berlin, Stammtisch will go on as usual at Cafe Buchhandlung, and I’ll be at Toronto Stammtisch number 5 tonight at the Embassy!