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A review of AW’s Marxism and Anarchism

posted 27 Feb 2010, 01:38 by M MacDonald   [ updated 15 Mar 2010, 06:36 by Admin uk ]

by John Gandy, Britain

I believe that the Marxist organisation should never attack people, besides class enemies. When defenders of the workers, and the subject classes, make mistakes, the Marxist organisation should help them learn by those mistakes, by raising discussion on the issues involved. In some sense AW is doing exactly this in his talk on Anarchism and Marxism, because he considers, I suspect, that Anarchist ideas have developed in the IMT. The problem however, is that AW does not seem to have grasped what Anarchism is.

His theme is that the working class needs a Marxist leadership. He simply calls anything that gets in the way Anarchism. This is a mechanical reading of the history of the 1st International, where this conflict was played out in practice. The fact that the Anarchists, in that context, hindered the Marxist leadership, does not make this the definition of Anarchism.

When he tries to substantiate the idea it becomes a little confused. He belittles the role played by Bakunin (Marx’s chief Anarchist rival in the 1st International) in an uprising in Lyon. True to Anarchist philosophy, he says, Bakunin did not take a leadership role and failed to organise defence. Yet he says that the idea that the Anarchists don’t have leaders is “just nonsense”.

Anarchism has finished as an idea as far as the workers are concerned, AW explains. The workers have a collective mentality. Yet it is found among students who lack discipline and tend toward individualism and ultra-Leftism. It is a dead idea, yet we must challenge its pernicious effect.

Bakunin, he explains, accused Marx of authoritarianism. For AW this was just strong leadership. He mocks the trend to be easily offended by things. The revolutionary party he says “is not a prep school for young middle class ladies”. Yet “tone is important” and it is the job of the membership to “scrutinise the leadership and make sure things don’t go off the rails”.

He goes on to explain that centralism does not mean authoritarianism, and Bolshevism did not lead to Stalinism, that was due to objective factors. Yet organisations can degenerate and there can be no guarantees against this. “The only real guarantee is that the Marxist tendency must be mainly composed of educated cadres”. The other only guarantee is the “political and moral authority of the leadership.”

Let’s see if we can make sense of this: What is AW’s real point?

He says that every strike needs a leader. This is true. The workers, he says, “choose the people they feel represent them”. They choose what he calls the “natural leaders”, “the most militant, the most determined, the most intelligent, the most conscious”. Why this analogy? Because the revolution requires leaders too, and they will be chosen in the same way.

Anarchism is a form of bourgeois individualism, it claims to be “anti-authoritarianism” but in reality is anti-authority. This is evident in its argument that power corrupts. Thus, all leaders eventually are corrupted, and so, in practice, it discourages the organisation of the class. Bakunin was not really against organising, he did enough of that himself. He was against the workers organising. This, as Marx said, condemned the workers to bourgeois leadership.

Thus we can draw out a concrete idea of Anarchism, even if it is evidently weak, and perhaps, as AW suggests, historically dead. So why is he addressing a dead idea?

Some critics of the leadership of the IMT have been called “Anarchist”. What do their ideas have in common with the concrete one expressed above? They have nothing in common. These critics have not suggested that the workers do not need to organise, or that the revolution does not need leadership.

The connection between the historical Anarchists and the contemporary critics of the IMT leadership is insinuated. When AW says that Bakunin was an unscrupulous intriguer, who formed a secret group to undermine the leaders with the lowest slanders, he is insinuating that all association of critics is secret and that all criticism is slander.

When AW suggests that Anarchists confuse party apparatus for bureaucracy and that they play upon fears of bureaucracy to undermine leadership, he is insinuating that whenever critics point to bureaucratic tendencies they are undermining leadership, and in effect, seeking, like the Anarchists, to dissolve the apparatus.

When AW says that during a lull in class struggle, when worker’s activity subsides, trendy middle class elements prone to Anarchism emerge, he is insinuating that the critics are trendy middle class elements prone to Anarchism.

When AW says that even experienced Marxists can get infected by “alien”, “backward” and “stupid” ideas. He is suggesting that the critics of the leadership have been infected by such ideas. AW states selective truths to make false implications.

By comparing the organisation of the revolutionary party to the organisation of a strike AW insinuates that those who step outside of the discipline of the party are like “scabs”. He uses this word. But a revolutionary party is not like a strike and this analogy is false.

A scab is dangerous because he or she breaks the unity of the workers and undermines their collective power. What is the collective power of the revolutionary party? It’s role is to reach the widest possible layer of the class with the ideas of Marxism and through leadership of its mass organisations take the decisive steps to secure the victory of the revolution. It has no collective power apart from that of the class as a whole. To break this unity is to scab, or more precisely, to go over to counter-revolution. We are talking about the unity of the class, not an organisation within it. To apply this same reasoning to an organisation within the class is sectarian and extremely dangerous.

“In a bourgeois army” AW says “you have the captains, the majors, the sergeants, all they do is to follow the general line as the officers advise them, well or ill as the quality of the leadership might be. But you need that.” Thus, he suggests it must be so for the forces of revolution.

Is the analogy of a bourgeois army and the forces of revolution a valid one? A bourgeois army is held together by loyalty. This is to some extent analogues to the loyalty of the revolutionary worker to the class, but this is the class, not a force within it. The workers may, to some extent, “follow the general line” of their leaders through loyalty, but is AW suggesting that the rank and file of the Marxist organisation should “follow the general line” of its leaders through loyalty?

Then AW trumps the crude analogy with a ploy characteristic of the mind games of a bourgeois army. He says “you make one mistake in a revolution and there are serious consequences, you pay with your life.” Thus, the corpse of the argument is reanimated by an injection of fear, the natural chief ingredient of loyalty.

Critics of the current IMT leadership are not Anarchists. This is a red herring. They are not arguing that you shouldn’t have leadership, they are doing what AW says is their duty, “to scrutinise the leadership and make sure things don’t go off the rails”

They agree with AW when he says that organisations degenerate when they turn to “empty agitation…at the expense of forming and training, and educating cadres”. To avoid this “the Marxist tendency must be mainly composed of educated cadres, people who have a certain level of understanding and capable of thinking for themselves … educated cadres will not easily be deceived, they will not easily be lead by the nose.”.

We should also be training ourselves and each other on how to spot empty agitation and when someone is trying to lead us by the nose. We will not be afraid to point it out when we see it.

Critics of the current IMT leadership are not trying to dissolve the cadre organisation, but on the contrary, trying to build a real one. This is how we will make sure the leadership does not go off the rails: by making genuine cadres, that is, people who can lead the working class by talking straight; who can educate about ideas, not make crude analogies; who can really think for themselves; who can turn the rank and file into cadres, not scared, sergeants who follow the general line. We will build an organisation based on genuine political authority, not loyalty.


For some notes drawn from a branch discussion on Anarchism in which we made a serious attempt to understand what it is