Listen, Anarchists!

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!


  1. Khaled Kenawi

    Maybe we should give in to call it ‘communist’ movement to avoid more futile discussions or discourage them to start one at all. In fact, I’m positive about an even broader movement. There has happen a fundamental change since the old battles happens. All struggles for anarchy, communism, freedom and justice were fought in a world of scarcity. The aim was always a fairer distribution of these scarcities by justice and equity this has always been in conflict with human nature, To meet ones needs, no matter what they are, cannot talked out of people not even of the truest follower. Needs can change, goods can be shared, whole parts of the economy can be transformed – owning a car, the whole concept of private transport by cars is far from being state of the art – big parts of the economy can be dropped like advertisement with all what come with it. If we bring all the people, small and medium size business who are willing to cooperate and share the knowledge especially their intellectual property, if we can manage to connect all the many efforts from different parts of the world and the society who care for open hard and soft ware, crowd and cooperative funding, we will not only create a sustainable base for human society, it will create a self improving source of knowledge, the most important resource and the one which can grow for ever enable us to make more with less (RBF). For all that – even if we know that is communism in its best – the term has been use for terrible crimes. North Korea, China and Cuba (still) calling themselves communist countries, therefore one can not even claim the word has been poised by the enemy. If communists are part if this movement fine, if they together with our anarchistic friends a leading part wonderful, to judge the role of communism in or for this movement should left to future historians. A world of abundance is just in front of us if we ‘believe’ in that – in the way the brothers of wright believed that flying with a machine heavier than air (the balloon was already invented) could be made.

  2. Anonymous

    Dear Khaled, please stop the FUD about Cuba being a dictatorship country. Inform yourself better and don’t missinform the people. Thanks.

  3. Khaled Kenawi

    Dear Anonymous,
    I don’t know what FUD means but anyway Cuba is – without any doubt – a dictatorship. One may enjoy it, I lived in the GDR – a dictatorship according to its own declaration, the dictatorship of the proletariat (what of course was not true) – I knew such kind of dictatorship. I lived under it and decided to stay, because is was quite comfortable. But I was also involved in anti-government activities, because I hated the dictatorship, I hated to be restricted where to go and never be able to
    see the world (not even West-Berlin), I hated to be checked and harassed by the police time and again, I hated that the whole society was infiltrated by the Stasi.
    But you refuse to see, that all that happened in Cuba? Your ‘love’ for the Cuban revolution – once a great victory – misleads you.
    First, if you take the term ‘dictatorship’ as something to disparage Cuba you fall into the capitalist ideology trap.
    Second, we all live under a brutal dictatorship: the us-lead dictatorship of global-corporations, with dead-camps in Africa, Labour-camps called sweatshops all over the world. To all who don’t get: After 9/11 Leader-puppet Bush announced it publicly: Who is not with us is against us – this is dictatorship, this was the official he end of free choice and liberty.
    But you want me to deny that Cuba is a dictatorship? I don’t want hurt your feelings, but do you believe anybody in Cuba doubt it? Do you believe the people never experienced the old Mafia-system – almost all of the population, believe they live in the best possible system? Do you want me to tell the Cuban people, don’t fight the government? All what they do is for your best? The fact, the government makes the decisions for them, is the core of the definition of dictatorship!
    Do you want, at least yourself, make believe the people of Cuba make the decisions how to organize, how to share, how to vote together?
    You, well equipped, are going to tell the Cuba people – half of the population next to what we call poverty line – hang on, it will be for your best? Do you know how long they hear that? There whole life, like in the Soviet Union? Was that a dictatorship? If you really like the Cuban people and not only your idea about that failed revolution, for what reason ever, the promised of the revolution made back then, was never fulfilled. Do you doubt that? Are you ready to live there harsh live? Think again.

  4. James

    But did Marxism, in its classical pre-Cold War variety argue that communism could be imposed from the top down? Marx was pretty anti-state in a lot of ways, e.g. the restrictions on its role in education; the emphasis on co-ops in the 1860s. Kautsky and Liebknecht in debates with ‘state socialists’ in the SPD as far back as the 1890s, were arguing that nationalisation by the state was not by itself a step towards socialism. It depended on the balance of class power in the society in which nationalisation occurred.

    Also, Kautsky argued in the 1920s that the Bolsheviks were on the wrong road because, even if they succeeded in industrialising Russia, the necessary suppression of independent workers’ organisations that was required if the party was to maintain power would result in a working class bereft of the capacity to transition to socialism itself.

    In other words, the classical Marxist position was that for the working class to emancipate itself, it needed independent *institutions*: unions, co-ops, and a party. These were absent in the USSR. (The party’s job, by the way, was to subordinate the state to democratic wishes of the population. But although state power was necessary, it was by no means sufficient).

    And of the notoriously top-down Bolsheviks, Lenin and of course Bukharin emphasised the role of co-operatives in transitioning to socialism. I think we sometimes look back at history and imagine that what happened in, say, the USSR, was intended rather than the outcome of a very heavy selective pressure.

  5. Josef Davies-Coates

    “Communism can not be imposed from the top down”

    Almost certainly true, but good things certainly can be greatly supported and enabled by the State, much like the inspirational co-operative economy of Emilia Romagna was by the Communist Party in that region of Italy (in contrast to the more Centralist lot in Rome) have done soo since their election victories in 1976.

    And similarly in Kerala in India. And in Venezuela since Chavez.

    Your defeatist determinism about the total inability of States to act in the interest of the greater good is mostly true, but ultimately misplaced. IMHO :)

  6. Josef Davies-Coates

    Posted my comment before reading the whole article. See that further down you say:

    “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! ”

    Agree. Both/And. Not Either/Or.

    The same thing could be said to ‘Marxists’ and others who discount bottom up action too… i.e. “Like striking, marching and parliamentary action, workplace and community action are other theatres of struggle, and it is foolish to abdicate this struggle, simply because we understand that such activity alone can never achieve our goals! ”

    But, frankly, most of the people we need to engage in ‘the struggle’ (i.e. everyone) get bored as soon as anyone starts talking about either Anarchism or Marxism who whichever dead 18th/19th century theorist you care to mention. Both have mostly fossilized and failed to adapt and keep up to date with a rapidly changing world. Something capitalism has done far better. The language used is no longer relevant nor of any interest to most people and will likely never capture the imagination of the masses. IMHO.

    PS – very glad to see you right about how all these theorists (like everyone) were fallible. Have to admit that in the past I’ve taken you as someone who tends too far towards the “so and so wrote such and such and therefore it is true” camp :)

  7. Dmytri

    Hey Joseph, my position is not in anyway defeatist, we’re better served by building alternatives outside of the state, while fighting within the state to protect our freedoms, privileges and benefits. It’s a matter of strategy and realistic goals.

  8. Dmytri

    Given my extreme dilettantishness and that my primary work is as a hacker and artist, not sure how anybody could mistake me as being academically dogmatic or scholastic. My work is conspicuously light on citations and my approach is thoroughly heterodox, and always has been, what else could “Venture Communism” be if not heterodox? I’m flattered, I guess, to be mistaken for a scholar 😉

  9. Pingback: Anarchist Fundamentalists: Get Over Yourselves | Planning Beyond Capitalism

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