Marxism or anarchism? - An open letter to thinking anarchists

Today we publish the fourth and final part of Alan Woods' series: 'Marxism or anarchism? - An open letter to thinking anarchists'. The open letter is a response to an article by 'Black Flag' (an anarchist group in Brazil). Click here to jump straight to the fourth part



[Part 1]

I was recently informed that the Bandeira negra (Black Flag) anarchist group in Brazil has published an answer to my "Marxism and Anarchism" article published in January 2012. It goes without saying that we welcome comradely criticism from any part of the international workers’ movement. That includes comrades who adhere to points of view opposed to Marxism, which anarchism has always been.

A comradely debate can help us clarify our ideas and thus strengthen the revolutionary movement. I consider, however, that the theories of Marxism, which have stood the test of time, are sufficiently strong to rebut any criticism, which I will demonstrate in this article.

However, the prior condition for a healthy debate is an honest approach to one’s opponent. My article "Marxism and Anarchism" is described as “a festival of fallacies and historical falsifications”. We shall show where the fallacies and historical falsifications lie, and we will let the reader decide whether the lies and falsifications are to be found in my article or in the assertions of my critics.

Does anarchism have a theory?

Black flag expresses great indignation at the fact that I allegedly denied that the anarchists have a theory. As a matter of fact I have never made such a statement. It is, like most of the other statements attributed to me by our critic, a product of his fertile imagination.

He writes:

“The author starts talking about the importance of theory, as if anarchists denied it!

“It is important to remember that Mikhail Bakunin recognized "Capital" as one of the best works already made and was willing to translate it. PROUDHON, a federalist socialist who inspired anarchism, whom the document spits on, had his work "What is Property?" which was considered a scientific study by Marx himself.”

I am very well aware that anarchism is based on a theory. My problem with it is that it is a very weak theory, full of contradictions: a mishmash of the old ideas taken from the utopian socialists, particularly Proudhon, mixed up with adventurous and sectarian notions introduced by Bakunin. The authentic father of these ideas was indeed Proudhon.

In spite of Black Flag’s attempt to find a quote which is aimed at proving that Marx respected the ideas of Proudhon, I am afraid to say that we must expose this fallacy. Far from praising Proudhon’s confused ideas, Karl Marx described Proudhon’s major work Philosophie de la misère as “on the whole poor, if not very poor… his philosophy is absurd—he produces an absurd philosophy because he has not understood present social conditions”. Indeed Marx went so far as to write a devastating criticism of Proudhon’s work in the Poverty of Philosophy.

The theoretical weakness of anarchism – which Marx clearly exposed – is precisely that it repeats the mistakes of the utopian socialists and in particular of Proudhon, the exponent of petty bourgeois socialism par excellence. Bakunin’s programme (insofar as it existed) was a superficial mixing together of ideas taken from Proudhon, St. Simon and other utopian socialists. Above all, he preached abstention from the political movement – an idea that he also took from Proudhon.

The truth is that Marxism and anarchism are completely opposed and mutually exclusive ideologies. The first is a scientific theory and a revolutionary policy reflecting the class interests of the proletariat. Marxism bases itself on the working class, the only genuinely revolutionary class in society. By contrast, anarchism is a confused and unscientific doctrine that finds its class base in the petty bourgeoisie and the lumpenproletariat. But do not take my word for it. Let us see what Bakunin had to say on this question.

What was Bakunin’s position in relation to the working class? From a letter to La Liberté that Bakunin wrote in 1872 it is very clear that he does not even accept that the proletariat is a class and even refers to the aristocratic rule of the factory workers over the rural proletariat, i.e. the urban proletariat over the peasantry:

“We revolutionary anarchists who sincerely want full popular emancipation view with repugnance another expression in this program: it is the designation of the proletariat, the workers, as a class and not a mass. Do you know what this signifies? It is no more nor less than the aristocratic rule of the factory workers and of the cities over the millions who constitute the rural proletariat, who, in the anticipations of the German Social Democrats, will in effect become the subjects of their so-called People’s State. “Class,” “power ... .. state” are three inseparable terms, one of which presupposes the other two, and which boil down to this: the political subjection and economic exploitation of the masses.” [My emphasis, AW]

In the same letter he refers to the “bourgeoisified minority” of city workers:

“This same logic leads the Marxists directly and fatally to what we call bourgeois socialism and to the conclusion of a new political pact between the bourgeois who are ‘radicals,’ or who are forced to become such, and the ‘intelligent’, ‘respectable’ bourgeoisified minority of city workers, to the detriment of the proletarian masses, not only in the country but also in the cities.”

“Spontaneity” and the political struggle

One of the main features which has always characterised virtually every anarchist tendency, starting with Bakunin, was precisely the rejection of politics and political parties. This well-known fact is indignantly denied by our anarchist critic. In Part One of his diatribe against Marxism, my critic also hotly denies that anarchism is “spontaneist”. Black Flag begins by claiming that I associate anarchism with “disorganization, something akin to lost people running in circles and not knowing where to go, without clear political proposals. This is obviously false.”

But wait a minute, my friend. Since you are so keen to lay claim to the theories of Bakunin, the founding father of anarchism, and since you insist that we read his works, let us see what he has to say on the subject of “spontaneity”:

In Stateless Socialism: Anarchism, one of his key works, [no date but most likely 1873 Bakunin insists that “the spontaneous action of masses is everything”:

“In a social revolution, which in everything is diametrically opposed to a political revolution, the actions of individuals hardly count at all, whereas the spontaneous action of masses is everything.”[My emphasis]

I believe that these words are so clear that even Black Flag will not have much difficulty in understanding them. In just a couple of sentences Bakunin sweeps aside all “political revolutions”, that is to say, every struggle for political demands, every revolution that aims to change the political order of society. He calls instead for a pure “social revolution”, that is to say, one that will instantly sweep away all classes and immediately establish the anarchist society where there will be no political power, no state, no oppressors and oppressed.

Anything short of that is to be rejected with contempt as miserable reformism – something that is “diametrically opposed” to the anarchist ideal of a “social revolution”. From this it would follow that the struggle for democratic demands, and the workers’ struggle for wage demands and better conditions, should be rejected because they do not lead to the instant overthrow of capitalism and its state.

It also follows that the political struggle, participation in elections, the struggle for reforms in the field of health, education, better pensions, a limitation on the length of the working day, women’s rights etc. are not only useless but positively harmful, since they draw the masses’ attention away from the real struggle – for the “social revolution”.

In the letter to La Liberté Bakunin says the following in reference to getting candidates elected to bourgeois parliaments:

“Such is the meaning of workers’ candidacies to the parliaments of existing states, and of the conquest of political power. Is it not clear that the popular nature of such power will never be anything but a fiction? It will obviously be impossible for hundreds or even tens of thousands or indeed only a few thousand to exercise this power effectively. They will necessarily have to exercise power by proxy, to entrust this power to a group of men elected to represent them and govern them... After a few brief moments of freedom or revolutionary euphoria, these new citizens of a new state will awake to find themselves again the pawns and victims of the new power clusters...”

We see here how abstract Anarchist theory is in practice. From an appraisal of the limited nature of bourgeois democracy, they go over to the other extreme. Here it is state power as such, and not the class interests it serves, that is presented as causing betrayal or oppression. According to Bakunin, merely holding office, regardless of the context, which class is applying pressure etc., turns you into an oppressor. Anarchists reject participation in elections. But the working class struggled for a long time to win the right to vote and other democratic rights against the ferocious resistance of the ruling class. We understand that these conquests, in and of themselves, cannot solve the fundamental problems of society and the working class. Nevertheless, the fundamental problem lies not in the form of representative democracy itself, but in the economic power of the bourgeoisie over parliament – otherwise in our system the capitalists would also end up being oppressed by their parliamentary representatives. The struggle for Democratic demands has played a most important role in developing the consciousness and militancy of the working class and the exploited masses in general.

The workers of Brazil understand this perfectly well. It is not a matter of indifference to the working class whether we have the right to strike and demonstrate, or the right to vote in elections. As long as capitalism continues to exist, the working class is obliged to take advantage of each and every legal possibility to advance its cause. To refuse to participate in elections would be to hand political power to the parties of our class enemies. In what way this abstention could help advance the interests of the working class is a mystery that only an anarchist could hope to understand.

Marxists have always understood that participation in parliamentary activity contains many risks and dangers. The bourgeoisie has developed to the level of a fine art the systematic corruption of the workers’ representatives in Parliament. That is perfectly true. But in the same way the bosses have developed all kinds of ways of corrupting the workers’ representatives in the factories, in the local councils and at every other level. Are we to refuse to elect representatives, for example, to a strike committee out of fear that they may be corrupted by the bosses? This line of argument must logically lead to a refusal to organise the workers at all.

Marx on political action and organization

This is what Marx had to say as far as the rejection of political action and organization is concerned:

N.B. as to political movement: The political movement of the working class has as its object, of course, the conquest of political power for the working class, and for this it is naturally necessary that a previous organization of the working class, itself arising from their economic struggles, should have been developed up to a certain point.

“On the other hand, however, every movement in which the working class comes out as a class against the ruling classes and attempts to force them by pressure from without is a political movement. For instance, the attempt in a particular factory or even a particular industry to force a shorter working day out of the capitalists by strikes, etc., is a purely economic movement. On the other hand the movement to force an eight-hour day, etc., law is a political movement. And in this way, out of the separate economic movements of the workers there grows up everywhere a political movement, that is to say a movement of the class, with the object of achieving its interests in a general form, in a form possessing a general social force of compulsion. If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organization, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organization.

“Where the working class is not yet far enough advanced in its organization to undertake a decisive campaign against the collective power, i.e., the political power of the ruling classes, it must at any rate be trained for this by continual agitation against and a hostile attitude towards the policy of the ruling classes. Otherwise it will remain a plaything in their hands, as the September revolution in France showed, and as is also proved up to a certain point by the game Messrs. Gladstone & Co. are bringing off in England even up to the present time.” (Marx to Friedrich Bolte In New York, November 23, 1871, published in Marx and Engels Correspondence; Publisher: International Publishers, 1968)

Reformism or revolution?

Black Flag states the following:

“So, the difference between Social Democracy and Marxism has always been very thin. The divergence is found exclusively on how the Party should conquer the state apparatus. But once in its power, the transformation of capitalist society would be the task of THE FEW, unlike the anarchist way forward which, as Bakunin explained, ‘The social theory of the anti-state socialists or anarchists leads them directly and inevitably towards a break with all forms of the State, with all varieties of bourgeois politics, and leaves no choice except a social revolution. The opposite theory, state communism and the authority of the scientists, attracts and confuses its followers and, under the pretext of political tactics, makes continuous deals with the governments and various bourgeois political parties, and is directly pushed towards reaction.’” [Statism and Anarchy]

Our friend concludes triumphantly: “Reformism is not a denial of Marxism: it is its child.” He attempts to portray Marx and Engels as reformists, but the way he does it reveals his utterly dishonest method of quotation. Black Flag provides this brief quote from Engels’s Principles of Communism, written in October-November 1847: “Communists have therefore continuously take sides for the bourgeois liberals against governments.”

In his usual manner, the quote is taken out of context, the sentence is not complete, and the source is not provided. Let us see what Engels actually said. In reply to question number 25, “What is the attitude of the communists to the other political parties of our time?” Engels explains the following in reference to Germany:

“In Germany, finally, the decisive struggle now on the order of the day is that between the bourgeoisie and the absolute monarchy. Since the communists cannot enter upon the decisive struggle between themselves and the bourgeoisie until the bourgeoisie is in power, it follows that it is in the interest of the communists to help the bourgeoisie to power as soon as possible in order the sooner to be able to overthrow it. Against the governments, therefore, the communists must continually support the radical liberal party, taking care to avoid the self-deceptions of the bourgeoisie and not fall for the enticing promises of benefits which a victory for the bourgeoisie would allegedly bring to the proletariat. The sole advantages which the proletariat would derive from a bourgeois victory would consist:

“(i) in various concessions which would facilitate the unification of the proletariat into a closely knit, battle-worthy, and organized class; and

“(ii) in the certainly that, on the very day the absolute monarchies fall, the struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat will start. From that day on, the policy of the communists will be the same as it now is in the countries where the bourgeoisie is already in power.

As you can see the fragment of a sentence italicised above is what our anarchist friend quotes, turning its meaning into its opposite, making out that Engels was advocating support for the bourgeois liberals always. In actual fact, he is simply stating that in Germany in 1847, as the struggle was against the feudal aristocracy, the communists would support the bourgeoisie against the feudal state, after which the struggle against the bourgeoisie would commence. But why bother with the full quote when a partial one taken out of context is much more useful in distorting what Engels said?

But let us return to today’s situation and present-day reformists. Our criticism of the reformists is not that they fight for reforms, but that they do not fight for reforms; they capitulate to the pressure of the bourgeoisie and carry out counter-reforms, reducing living standards in order to prop up the capitalist system, especially in present period of capitalist crisis. The experience of the PT government in Brazil or the Tsipras government in Greece is sufficient to illustrate this point. It is elementary that if we are serious about winning the working class to revolutionary ideas, we must place ourselves at the forefront of every struggle to defend and improve living standards, even the most basic.

The immediate demands of the masses are not restricted to economic questions but inevitably move onto the terrain of politics. Here the traditional arguments of the anarchists come into direct conflict with the interests of the working class. Whether you like it or not – until capitalism is overthrown – important questions are decided by Parliament. Laws are passed that directly affect the lives and conditions of workers, the unemployed, the sick, the old, the young and women. Are we to abandon the day to day struggle to change the laws in the interests of our class?

Let us take the question of the vote. In Marx’s day the workers did not have the right to vote, and so the struggle for the vote was an extremely important question for the working class. What was Bakunin’s attitude to this important question?

Here is what he wrote in On Representative Government and Universal Suffrage (1870):

“If a government composed exclusively of workers were elected tomorrow by universal suffrage, these same workers, who are today the most dedicated democrats and socialists, would tomorrow become the most determined aristocrats, open or secret worshippers of the principle of authority, exploiters and oppressors.”

And he adds later in the same text:

“Representative government is a system of hypocrisy and perpetual falsehood. Its success rests on the stupidity of the people and the corruption of the public mind.

“Does this mean that we, the revolutionary socialists, do not want universal suffrage – that we prefer limited suffrage, or a single despot? Not at all. What we maintain is that universal suffrage, considered in itself and applied in a society based on economic and social inequality, will be nothing but a swindle and snare for the people; nothing but an odious lie of the bourgeois-democrats, the surest way to consolidate under the mantle of liberalism and justice the permanent domination of the people by the owning classes, to the detriment of popular liberty. We deny that universal suffrage could be used by the people for the conquest of economic and social equality. It must always and necessarily be an instrument hostile to the people, on which supports the de facto dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.”

Bakunin rejects participation in elections, although he says that he is “not at all” opposed to fighting for universal suffrage. What is this Sphynx-like utterance supposed to mean? What is the point of fighting for the right to vote if we then advocate not voting in elections? But, says Bakunin, when the reformist leaders are elected to parliament they always betray. Yes, that is certainly true. Trotsky explains that betrayal is inherent in reformism, and all history shows that this is the case. But that does not exhaust the question by any means. We Marxists are not worshippers of parliamentary politics, but nor do we believe that it is possible to dispose of parliamentarism by merely ignoring elections.

Makhail Bakounine wiki FileCOLONFélix Nadar 1820 1910 portraits Makhail BakounineMikhail Bakunin

The electoral struggle is merely one more front of the class struggle. By refusing to participate in this struggle we merely hand political power to our class enemies on a plate. In what way this serves the cause of socialism and the working class it is impossible to say.

We are certainly opposed to reformism, but we are not at all opposed to participating energetically in the struggles of the workers and the youth for demands that tend to improve their lives under capitalism, because only through these struggles can they acquire the necessary understanding of the nature of capitalism and the state, the need to organise and the need for a fundamental change in society: the need for the socialist revolution. The struggle for democratic rights is extremely important not only as a school of struggle, but also as a way of raising the consciousness of the workers and raising their organisations to a higher level.

Let us take an example from the Russian revolution. The revolution was fought out on the basis of the following slogans: peace, bread and land. If we analyse the content of these slogans we will find at first sight that there is nothing revolutionary about them. Nor do they contain any element of socialism, much less anarchism. In theory, all these things could be achieved under capitalism. But in the concrete reality of Russia in 1917, peace, bread and land could only be achieved through the overthrow of capitalism and the achievement of Soviet power.

Only by taking up these slogans, and linking them to the idea of Soviet power, could the Bolsheviks succeed in uniting millions of workers and peasants under the revolutionary banner. In the case of Brazil the struggle against the dictatorship in more recent times was a fundamental question for the working class. Was it necessary and correct to struggle for democratic rights and against the dictatorship? Here the importance of political struggle speaks for itself.

In 2013 Brazil experienced a mass movement of unparalleled proportions. How did this movement begin? It began with a struggle against the increase in bus fares in São Paulo. Doubtless our anarchist friend considers this to be merely a reformist demand, and unworthy of attention by serious revolutionists. Yet in fact the struggle over this limited demand rapidly escalated into a mass movement with revolutionary implications.

All these examples show how the struggle for elementary demands on immediate questions (“reforms”) serves to carry the workers’ movement forward, ultimately leading the proletariat to revolutionary conclusions. But for our anarchist friend this is a book sealed with seven seals. He has built a Chinese wall separating the struggle for reforms from revolution, and cannot see the dialectical relation between the two.

What attitude should we have taken towards this movement and this demand? The logic of what our anarchist critic says is that we should not dirty our hands with such trivial reforms as a reduction in bus fares. Rather we should proclaim the need for an anarchist revolution. But in reality the line between the struggle for reforms and the struggle for socialist revolution is not so clear cut as our friend imagines.

The position put forward by our critic overlooks the fact that the working class in general does not learn from books and speeches but from life itself. The workers learn from experience, particularly the experience of the class struggle. It is only through the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism that the working class acquires sufficient experience to raise itself to the level of drawing revolutionary conclusions. If our anarchist friend cannot understand this elementary fact, we are sincerely very sorry for him.

A slight misunderstanding?

The next claim made by Black Flag is so extraordinary that it makes one rub one’s eyes to see if we have read it correctly: He writes:

“When the various revolutionary experiences of a libertarian character throughout history are studied, the appreciation of a serious political program is undeniable, aligned with the interests of the working class and carrying a revolutionary discipline.”

So there we have it. Our critic maintains that throughout history the anarchists have in fact been in favour of forming a revolutionary party, based on “the appreciation of a serious political program, aligned with the interests of the working class and carrying a revolutionary discipline.” To all of which we say: Amen!

If all this is true it is hard to see what all the fuss has been about for the last 150 years. It would appear that the differences between Marxism and anarchism were only the product of an unfortunate misunderstanding. That is good news indeed! But is it true? To begin with, when the “various revolutionary experiences of a libertarian character throughout history” are studied, the abiding impression is one of self-contradiction and eclecticism within anarchism, and not ‘a serious political programme’.

We must point out that the terminology used by Black Flag is confused in the extreme. What is the meaning of “the appreciation of a serious political program”? Here we are playing a game of hide and seek with words. Does this famous “anarchist political party” possess a political program, yes or no? If the answer is yes, it is hard to see how this conception differs from that of the Marxists. But like every other argument utilised by Black Flag, this is an ambiguous formula, calculated to confuse and not to clarify the issue.

What is a political party?

A party is a voluntary organisation based upon definite principles and a program. The nature of the party will be largely determined by these questions of principle and programme. A reformist party will be based naturally on reformist principles and the reformist policy, that is to say a policy designed fundamentally to defend the capitalist system by introducing certain secondary modifications. A Marxist party, on the contrary, is based on the strategic aim of overthrowing capitalism, and its programme and policy will be determined by this aim.

What about the anarchists? They are opposed to the idea of organising the workers into a revolutionary party because such a party inevitably leads to bureaucratic and hierarchical leadership. They explain that parties are bad, but are useless at explaining how a revolution may take place without one. When asked to provide a concrete alternative they never provide a straight answer. What alternative do they propose? No organisation at all? My critic indignantly denies any such idea. He says:

“Finally, the author has to ramble about the importance of the Party for the political experience of the class, as if anarchists rejected this.”

So where do we stand? Do you accept or reject the need for the creation of a revolutionary party? On this question our friend twists and turns, and finally comes up with a formulation that he imagines will solve an insoluble contradiction in anarchist theory:

“Both the mass organization (social movements and trade unions) and the specifically anarchist organization are able to develop strategies and tactics, learn from the experience of struggles and develop towards socialism. The hierarchy and authority concentrated in a ‘superior intellectual elite’ has nothing to do with this, but with a desire for power.”

Our anarchist friend seeks to confuse the issue. It turns out that he does not want a party but only a “specifically anarchist organization”. This will have a structure, a programme (even a political programme!) and will be based on a definite theory. It will be able to “develop strategies and tactics, learn from the experience of struggles and develop towards socialism”. But it will not have a hierarchy and authority concentrated in a "superior intellectual elite". Needless to say, it will have nothing to do with any “desire for power”.

It is difficult to make any sense of this mishmash of contradictory ideas, but we will do our best. In the first place we point out that, as explained by Black Flag, not only the “specifically anarchist organization” but also the mass organization (social movements and trade unions) are able to “develop strategies and tactics, learn from the experience of struggles and develop towards socialism”.

But hang on a moment! The mass organisations to which you refer are precisely the bureaucratic reformist organisations like the PT and the CUT that you have consistently described in the most negative terms, portraying them as things that are beyond the pale from a revolutionary point of view. Now suddenly, for mysterious reasons that are unexplained, they suddenly become transformed into organisations that can not only develop tactics and strategy on the basis of experience, but also “develop towards socialism”.

If this is the case, then it is hard to see why a “specifically anarchist organization” is needed at all. If the workers through their traditional mass reformist organisations are able to do exactly the same things, why do we need to exist as a separate entity?

Matters become even more confused when we try to analyse the content of the expression “develop towards socialism”. What does this mean? We are supposed to stand for socialist revolution. There is no question of “developing towards socialism”. This presupposes, not revolution, but a gradual evolution in the direction of socialism: precisely the age-old formula of the reformists. Here confusion is piled upon confusion, contradiction upon contradiction. But since when has this kind of thing ever bothered the theoreticians of anarchism?

To anyone with an elementary grasp of ideas, this “specifically anarchist organization” sounds very much like a political party. And like any political party, it will presumably contain a division of responsibilities. Unless we are referring to a very tiny group like a discussion circle, it will need to elect or select certain individuals to take responsibility for the daily running of the organisation (publications, finance, propaganda etc.). Moreover, experience shows that the more experienced members of this organisation will carry rather more weight in its deliberations than others and will in effect play a leading role.

At this point the anarchist will protest vociferously that the celebrated “specifically anarchist organization” will have no leaders, that everyone is the same so there is no need to elect a leadership at all. All that this means in practice is that there will be a clique of people who in practice take all the main decisions, but who are neither elected nor responsible to any form of democratic control. We have seen this many times in groups claiming to be anarchist. This leads in practice to the worst kind of hierarchical rule: the rule of an unelected clique.

A revolutionary party does not necessarily presuppose a “hierarchy and authority concentrated in a ‘superior intellectual elite’” nor is it guided by a “desire for power”. The Bolshevik party under Lenin and Trotsky was the most democratic party that ever existed. It led the working class to power in October 1917 in Russia. That is what earns it the hatred of the ruling class and provides an inspiration to workers and youth that are fighting to change society everywhere.

Is a Party Needed?

The whole history of the class struggle over the last hundred years provides the answer to this question. Marxism does not deny the importance of the role of the individual in history, but only explains that the role played by individuals or parties is circumscribed by the given level of historical development, by the objective social environment which, in the last analysis, is determined by the development of the productive forces. This does not mean—as has been alleged by the critics of Marxism—that men and women are merely puppets of the blind workings of “economic determinism”.

Historical materialism teaches us to look beyond the individual players on the stage of history and look for deeper causes for great historical events. But this by no means denies or belittles the role of the individual in history. In given moments the role of a single man or woman can be decisive. The working class needs a party to change society. If there is no revolutionary party capable of giving a conscious leadership to the revolutionary energy of the class, this energy can be wasted, in the same way that steam is lost if there is no piston to channel its power.

Russian Communist Party Meeting wiki FileCOLONPresidium of the 9th Congress of the Russian Communist Party BolsheviksRussian Communist Party Meeting 1920

Marx and Engels explained that men and women make their own history, but they do not do so as free agents, being constrained by their position in society. The personal qualities of political figures —their theoretical preparation, skill, courage and determination—can determine the outcome in a given situation. There are critical moments in human history when the quality of the leadership can be the decisive factor that tips the balance one way or another. Although individuals cannot determine the development of society by the force of the will alone, yet the role of the subjective factor is ultimately decisive in human history.

The revolutionary party cannot be improvised on the spur of the moment, any more than a general staff can be improvised on the outbreak of war. It has to be systematically prepared over years and decades. Rosa Luxemburg, that great revolutionary and martyr of the working class, always emphasised the revolutionary initiative of the masses as the motor force of revolution. In this, she was absolutely right. In the course of a revolution the masses learn rapidly. But a revolutionary situation, by its very nature, cannot last for long. Society cannot be kept in a permanent state of ferment, nor the working class in a state of white-hot activism. Either a way out is shown in time, or the moment will be lost. There is not enough time to experiment or for the workers to learn by trial and error. In a life and death situation, errors are paid for very dearly! Therefore, it is necessary to combine the “spontaneous” movement of the masses with organisation, programme, perspectives, strategy and tactics—in a word, with a revolutionary party led by experienced cadres. It goes without saying that this party of cadres must patiently win the confidence of the masses through democratic means.

The Marxist party, from the very beginning, must base itself on theory and programme; the apparatus is merely a necessary means to put this programme into practice. Such a theory and programme is not sucked out of our thumb, but is nothing other than the summing up of the general historical experience of the proletariat. Without this, the party is nothing. The building of a revolutionary party always begins with the slow and painstaking work of assembling and educating the cadres, which forms the backbone of the party throughout its entire lifetime. That is the first half of the problem. But only the first half. The second half is more complicated: how to reach the mass of the workers with our ideas and programme? This is not at all a simple question.

Should a revolutionary party reproduce communism?

The main mistake of our anarchist friends is to imagine that a party (or an “anarchist association”) should replicate as closely as possible the future communist society, i.e. a free association of men and women. But this is to completely misunderstand the role of a revolutionary party.

A revolutionary party is a tool for the purpose of overthrowing the existing state power. It is not, and cannot be, a mirror image of the future society that will be created on the basis of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. A carpenter’s plane cannot resemble the chair or table that is the final result of his work. A bricklayer’s trowel cannot resemble a wall.

When we look at Michelangelo’s statue of David we are overwhelmed by its tremendous sense of humanity and warmth. It is difficult to believe that this stone is not a human body; one has the impression that if you were to touch it, it would feel soft and warm. Yet in order to create this wonderful masterpiece Michelangelo had to use a sharp chisel fashioned out of the toughest steel capable of slicing through the hardest stone.

Despite the difference in time and subject matter, the analogy with a revolutionary party is a precise one. It is not the business of a revolutionary party to model itself on the future communist society where all oppression and compulsion will be merely a bad memory of the past. It is our business to gather together the most conscious and revolutionary elements of the working class and the youth in a disciplined revolutionary organisation to which has befallen the task of waging a ruthless struggle to overthrow the oppressors, creating the necessary conditions for the establishment of a genuinely humane and democratic society.

In reality, the anarchists also want to create a party. But it is a party that is not at all suited for the revolutionary tasks facing the working class. It is as useless for revolutionary purposes as it would have been for Michelangelo to try to turn a huge lump of stone into the statue of David using a paintbrush instead of a chisel.

[End of part one]

 [Part 2]

The role of leadership

Black Flag writes:

“The repetitive argument that the working class needs leaders do not differ from any RIGHT WING speech which states that equality is impossible because some must rule and others obey.”

Our anarchist friend speaks of the working class in a very abstract way, but completely ignores the concrete reality. The working class is not one homogeneous mass but is composed of different layers. Some workers are more backward, others more advanced and class conscious. Some are religious and under the influence of the church, while others have broken away from religious prejudices. Some organise unions, others do not.

The reality of the class struggle – something which is clearly a closed book to our anarchist critic – demonstrates the complete falsity of the way he poses the question of leadership. In every factory there is always a group of workers – a minority under normal circumstances – that maintain trade union organisation and stand up to the bosses. These are the “natural leaders” of the working class.

Even in a strike of half an hour, we will find leadership. And this leadership is not improvised on the spur of the moment but prepared over a whole period of work and struggle. These advanced workers may be Marxists, anarchists, reformists or people of no fixed political views (although this is rarely the case in practice). But invariably they will be people who have earned the right to lead.

We see this in every strike. The question as to whether to strike or not is debated democratically in a mass meeting. Some workers are in favour of strike action and others against. And it frequently occurs that a single intervention by a militant worker can decide the issue. What is this but leadership? The next step is that somebody has to go and put the workers’ case to management. When the time comes to decide who walks through the manager’s door, who do the workers choose? They do not toss a coin to decide, nor do they elect the most backward elements to defend their interests. They will look to the most determined and class conscious elements able to represent them – and yes, also to lead them. It is one-sided to portray leadership as only hindering or pacifying the rank-and-file. Good leaders, who do exist, can also inspire the rank-and-file into taking action.

All this is really ABC for any worker with even the slightest experience of the class struggle. Only people completely ignorant of the workers’ movement or blinded by anarchist prejudices can have the slightest doubt about the importance of leadership at the shop floor level.

How the working class draws revolutionary conclusions

The working class does not automatically and en masse arrive at revolutionary conclusions. If that were so, the task of party-building would be redundant. The task of transforming society would be a simple one, if the movement of the working class took place in a straight line. But this is not the case. Over a long historical period, the working class comes to understand the need for organisation. Through the establishment of organisations, both of a trade union and, on a higher level, of a political character, the working class begins to express itself as a class, with an independent identity. In the language of Marx, it passes from a class in itself to a class for itself. This development takes place over a long historical period through all kinds of struggles, involving the participation, not just of the minority of more or less conscious activists, but of the “politically untutored masses”, who, in general, are awakened to active participation in political (or even trade union) life only on the basis of great events.

As we have seen, the working class in general learns from experience, especially the experience of the class struggle. Many workers have passed through the experience of strikes: they have known victories and defeats and have drawn certain lessons from their experience. Consequently, experienced worker militants possess the necessary knowledge to organise and lead a strike. They do not require advice from revolutionaries – whether Marxists or anarchists – in order to perform this function.

However, when it comes to revolutionary situations, the question is posed differently. How many workers have gone through the experience of an all-out general strike? Not very many. But the general strike is not the same as an ordinary strike. It challenges the rule of capital in a direct manner. Who runs society: the bosses or the workers? In other words it poses the question of power. A general strike cannot therefore be approached in the same way as a normal strike. As a rule it either ends in the working class taking power or in a decisive defeat.general strike 1968 franceThe French general strike of May 1968

In the past the anarcho-syndicalists thought that a general strike in and of itself would be sufficient to carry out a revolution. But this idea is profoundly mistaken. The capitalists can wait as long as it takes to defeat a general strike, but the ability of the workers to survive without payment, without food for their families, has definite limits. If the strike goes on for too long without resolution, the mood of the workers will begin to decline and the strike will be defeated. Even the stormiest strike in itself cannot solve the question of power. We saw this clearly in France in May 1968, where the greatest general strike in history ended in defeat. And this was precisely a problem of the nature of the leadership. It is one thing to strike against a system, and in doing so to temporarily cripple it, it is quite another to organise the complex and detailed task of disbanding the old government, agreeing how it is to be replaced and then organising the systematic defence of this new social regime. Without a distinct political organisation, visible to the working class and proposing such concrete measures, revolutionary general strikes fizzle out and the old regime recovers its control.

The causes of bureaucracy

Despite, or indeed because of, anarchism’s blanket rejection of authority and hierarchy, anarchist theory ironically lacks any coherent theory of leadership, authority, or power. This is because anarchists treat such phenomena abstractly and uniformly, when in fact there is no such thing as ‘power’ as such. Marxists, as historical materialists, recognise that power emerges from accumulated material inequality and the resulting social contradictions. It is a tool that is created for its wielder – the ruling economic class - and is determined by their ends, which in the final analysis are material ones. The authority that slaves impose onto their owner as they fight for their freedom is not only different from, but diametrically opposite to, the authority of a slave owner oppressing his slaves.

State power has arisen as economic development has created class divisions, and it serves those divisions. It is inseparable from social antagonisms, and will exist so long as these antagonisms remain. Rather than explaining this, anarchists concentrate on denouncing the power of the ruling class as ‘illegitimate’ and a lie, as if all history were a giant trick miraculously imposed onto the masses by a sinister magician. In doing so, they mystify the very thing they despise. Whilst proudly proclaiming platitudes such as ‘No gods, no masters’, or ‘we are ungovernable’, they remain doomed to being governed because they do not understand the basis of their oppression.

How do we explain the phenomenon of bureaucracy in the workers’ organizations? Our critic turns for help to the nebulous realms of psychology:

“Several researches in the fields of psychology and pedagogy show, however, that the authority and hierarchy, far from favouring, hinder. The Stanford Experiment is a good example of how the concentration of power in one individual can cause problems.”

The Stanford Experiment was carried out at Stanford University in August 1971. It divided a group of student volunteers into “prison guards” and “prisoners” to see how they would react. Some of the “guards” began abusing the “prisoners”. Many have criticised the validity of the experiment, inasmuch as the organiser of the experiment, professor Philip Zimbardo, actively participated in pushing the participants to behave in a certain manner, i.e. he was far from objective in his approach. It was also found that the initial character traits of those involved influenced their behaviour rather than the conditions of the experiment influencing them. There were attempts to replicate the experiment which produced different results.

Has our learned anarchist critic thrown in this passing reference to the Stanford Experiment to give himself an aura of being a knowledgeable person in such matters? Unfortunately, he has chosen poorly, for such an experiment has nothing whatsoever to do with the leadership of workers’ organisations. The workers who join mass organisations are not prisoners and the leaders are not omnipotent prison guards.

Our anarchist critic continues:

“The main complaint in this field is that anarchists opposed the bureaucratic manipulation of the Union by an allegedly revolutionary party. Why, let's just look at what happens when parties bureaucratically use the Union to realize that the result is always the same: stagnation, corruption, class treason and often sectarianism and authoritarianism. The CUT here in Brazil is the biggest example of this - the Central is connected to the PT, of which until yesterday the Marxist Left was a part of, remember.” [My emphasis]

The implication of our anarchist friend is that all organisations end up as a bureaucratic hierarchy. It is true that organisations like the trade unions that are formed under capitalism, and inevitably come under the pressures of capitalism, can degenerate. The leaders can become corrupted, lose contact with the rank and file and sell out. That has happened many times, including in the case of the Brazilian CUT. However, it is entirely false to treat things in this blanket fashion, as if the history of our movement is nothing but one of bureaucracy and ‘class treason’. It is false to present the relationship between the working class and its leaders in terms of hierarchy and blind obedience (“some must rule and others obey.”). The workers’ movement is generally democratic. The decision to strike or not is decided in a democratic mass meeting. The strike leaders are democratically elected. If they do not act according to the wishes of the workers, they can be recalled and replaced by others. “Rule and obey” does not enter into it.

Instead of merely denouncing this degeneration, we should also strive to understand it. Why do workers’ organisations degenerate? Is it because of the bad character of the workers’ leaders? Is it because they are “hungry for power”, as our anarchist critic seems to believe with his references to individual psychology? Is it the case that degeneration is the inevitable result of setting up a political party and fighting for political power, and that all workers’ parties, always, betray? If that is the case, then the outlook for the working class would be grim indeed. Our anarchist friend does not provide any serious explanation for the phenomenon which he deplores so much. To find the reasons for this degeneration it is necessary to look, not in the misty realms of psychoanalysis, nor in the formal structures of parties, but in the actual functioning of class society.

The workers’ organisations do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in the framework of capitalism, and come under the pressures of capitalism. Under certain conditions even the best organisation can degenerate under these pressures, which exercise their most powerful effect on the leading strata. The formation of a bureaucratic crust is a reflection of that pressure. It is not a product of leadership in itself, but leadership corrupted by the capitalists. Over a long period of time the ruling class has developed highly effective and sophisticated mechanisms for bribing and controlling the workers’ leaders.

Every organisation – anarchist organisations included – always contains the possibility of degeneration. As long as we are compelled to work within capitalist society, we cannot escape from the pressures of capitalism. There is of course no absolute guarantee against the degeneration of any organisation. Life in general, and the class struggle in particular, offers us no guarantees.

The working class has ways of combatting the pernicious influence of the bourgeoisie inside the labour movement. It is necessary to actively participate in the struggle against bureaucracy, to purge the movement of careerists and traitors and to bring the trade unions under the control of the working class. By standing aside from this struggle, one does not help the cause of the socialist revolution but objectively serves the interests of the bourgeoisie and its agents within the workers’ movement, for this leaves the mass organisations in the hands of bureaucrats who, lacking pressure from below, will have no trouble capitulating to bourgeois pressure from above.russian revolution protest 1917Men and Women organise in the streets of St Petersburg during the first days of the 1917 February Revolution

Therefore, rather than abstaining from the struggle, we must conduct a systematic struggle within the Labour movement against bureaucracy, and demand that our representatives must be brought under the control of the rank and file. We must demand that every trade union official, local councillor or Member of Parliament should be elected at regular intervals and subject to recall at all times. No workers’ representative should receive a higher wage than that of a skilled worker, and all expenses should be open to the inspection of the rank and file.

These basic principles will serve to purge the workers’ organisations of bureaucrats and careerists and ensure that our representatives genuinely reflect the interests and aspirations of the class, and not their own personal interests and ambitions.

Marxists and the mass organizations

In order to cover his bare backside, our anarchist critic adds insult to injury. He has the audacity to claim that the betrayal of the Spanish CNT leaders during the Spanish Civil war was,

“…closer to that of Marxists, as we have seen in the Trotskyist participation of the IMT within the bourgeois regimes of the PT and Syriza.”

Regarding our participation in the mass organisations of the working class, our friend thinks he is on to a winner. Like a little boy walking around showing everybody his new shoes, he repeats this fact as though it were a damning condemnation of Marxists in general and the IMT in particular. In resorting to this tactic, he merely parades his ignorance of the working class and its organisations, and his own sectarian arrogance.

Like a repeating groove on a gramophone record, he reiterates the same monotonous tune:

“Alan Woods tries to blame the reformist and bureaucratic wings for the discrediting of the leaderships. It is to be noted that the Marxist Left [Esquerda Marxista], today in the PSOL, until early 2015 was a component part of the Workers’ Party (PT). These Trotskyists saw no problems in asking for votes for Lula and Dilma even considering what the party had become.

“The IMT section in Greece also gave full support to the election of Tsipras, of Syriza, who refused to respond to the popular appeal and resist the austerity demanded by the Troika. In fact, about ‘bureaucrats and careerists’, Alan Woods knows a lot.”

This is a complete distortion of reality. Firstly, no member of the IMT has ever joined any bourgeois regime, either of the PT, Syriza or any other government. What is true that at different times the Marxists have participated in mass parties of the working class in different countries, struggling side by side with the rank and file workers in these organisations to fight against the bureaucracy and advance the programme of revolutionary socialism. In exactly the same way, the Friends of Durruti fought side-by-side with the rank and file anarchist workers of the CNT against the treacherous policy of the anarchist leaders. The CNT leaders, on the other hand, joined a bourgeois government as ministers.

The participation of the Marxists in the mass organisations of the proletariat, far from being a weakness, represents, together with our theoretical clarity and revolutionary intransigence, our main strength. Our participation in these organisations, far from representing participation in the “regime”, is based on an implacable struggle against the bureaucracy in order to win over the workers and youth. You can only help liberate the masses from the influence of reformism by going through with them, step by step, the living struggle in these reformist organisations, pointing out at each step that the reformists cannot solve their problems. The refusal of the anarchists to dirty their hands with the mass organisations of the workers they claim to represent is merely a confession of impotence: sterile abstentionism disguised under a thin layer of pseudo-revolutionary demagogy.

The masses must test the parties and leaders in practice, for there is no other way. The mass of the working class learns from this experience. They do not learn from books, not because they lack the intelligence, as middle class snobs imagine, but because they lack the time, the access to culture and the habit of reading that is not something automatic, but is acquired. This process of successive approximation is both wasteful and time-consuming, but it is the only one possible. In every revolution—not only Russia in 1917, but also France in the 18th century and England in the 17th century—we see a similar process, in which, through experience, the revolutionary masses, by a process of successive approximations, find their way towards the most consistently revolutionary wing. The history of every revolution is thus characterised by the rise and fall of political parties and leaders, a process in which the more extreme tendencies always replace the more moderate, until the movement has run its course. But they can only test out the political parties and tendencies that actually exist in a sizeable form, therefore if revolutionaries are to gain the leadership of the working class in the heat of revolutionary events, there is no other way than through building such an organisation as a part of this living struggle, which is nothing if not political.




[Part 3]

Bakunin’s theories

Let us dispense with the interpreting services of Black Flag for now, and allow Bakunin to speak for himself. In On Representative Government and Universal Suffrage, September 1870 he says:

“The whole system of representative government is an immense fraud resting on this fiction that the executive and legislative bodies elected by universal suffrage of the people must or even can possibly represent the will of the people. The people instinctively reach out for two things: the greatest possible prosperity coupled with the greatest possible freedom to live their own lives, to choose, to act. They want the best organization of their economic interests coupled with the complete absence of all political power and all political organization, since every political organization must inescapably nullify the freedom of the people. Such is the dynamic aspiration of all popular movements.”

And he goes on,

“To correct the obvious defects of this system, the radical democrats of the Zurich Canton introduced the referendum, direct legislation by the people. The referendum is also an ineffective remedy; another fraud. In order to vote intelligently on proposals made by legislators or measures advanced by interested groups, the people must have the time and the necessary, knowledge to study these measures thoroughly... The referendum is meaningful only on those rare occasions when the proposed legislation vitally affects and arouses all the people, and the issues involved are clearly understood by everyone. But almost all the proposed laws are so specialized, so intricate, that only political experts can grasp how they would ultimately affect the people. The people, of course, do not even begin to understand or pay attention to the proposed laws and vote for them blindly when urged to do so by their favourite orators.

“Even when the representative system is improved by referendum, there is still no popular control, and real liberty – under representative government masquerading as self-government – is an illusion. Due to their economic hardships, the people are ignorant and indifferent and are aware only of things closely affecting them. They understand and know how to conduct their daily affairs. Away from their familiar concerns they become confused, uncertain, and politically baffled. They have a healthy, practical common sense when it comes to communal affairs. They are fairly well informed and know how to select from their midst the most capable officials. Under such circumstances, effective control is quite possible, because the public business is conducted under the watchful eyes of the citizens and vitally and directly concerns their daily lives.

“This is why municipal elections always best reflect the real attitude and will of the people. Provincial and county governments, even when the latter are directly elected, are already less representative of the people. Most of the time, the people are not acquainted with the relevant political, juridical, and administrative measures; those are beyond their immediate concern and almost always escape their control. The men in charge of local and regional governments live in a different environment, far removed from the people, who know very little about them. They do not know these leaders’ characters personally, and judge them only by their public speeches, which are packed with lies to trick the people into supporting them... If popular control over regional and local affairs is exceedingly difficult, then popular control over the federal or national government is altogether impossible.

“Does this mean that we, the revolutionary socialists, do not want universal suffrage – that we prefer limited suffrage, or a single despot? Not at all. What we maintain is that universal suffrage, considered in itself and applied in a society based on economic and social inequality, will be nothing but a swindle and snare for the people; nothing but an odious lie of the bourgeois-democrats, the surest way to consolidate under the mantle of liberalism and justice the permanent domination of the people by the owning classes, to the detriment of popular liberty. We deny that universal suffrage could be used by the people for the conquest of economic and social equality. It must always and necessarily be an instrument hostile to the people, on which supports the de facto dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.”

Here the utopian nature of anarchism stands out very clearly. This scheme has nothing to do with modern society or the present day working class. It is the product of an economy of small producers, living in isolated communities with little or no contact between them: that is to say, the society of feudalism.

But the modern world does not consist of small isolated local communities but of huge cities and factories, a world in which even the biggest nation state cannot survive unless it participates on the world market. The task of the bourgeois revolution was to break down the limitedness of feudalism, to destroy the barriers imposed by local tolls, customs barriers and taxes and to establish the nation state. And despite the terribly oppressive nature of capitalism, that was a historically progressive mission.

The task of the socialist revolution now is to sweep away all national barriers, abolish the nation state and achieve world socialism. Globalization means the crushing domination of the world market, which is the most decisive element in the world of the 21st century. It is also the material condition for the creation of a future world socialist federation – the achievement of which constitutes the great historical task of the proletariat. In the long run, the best guarantees of the success of communism will be its being built on a highly productive basis, so that there is material abundance for all and not a struggle over scarcity, and the elimination of national antagonisms. Both of these require a world revolution.

What does Bakunin say about this? What Bakunin is saying is that in great cities with hundreds of thousands or millions of inhabitants, real democracy is impossible. From this point of view, universal suffrage (voting in elections) is either futile or reactionary, or both. Elections are merely a hypocritical facade that disguises the tyranny of class rule.

The inescapable conclusion is that communism is only possible (and then only to a relative degree) in small or medium-sized communities where face-to-face democracy can be put into practice. It is no wonder that Bakunin found his main support among Swiss watchmakers and artisans, and in Spain and Italy, where capitalism had not yet taken firm root.

Moreover, the idea that democracy can only flourish in small local communities is false. There is no lack of bureaucracy, careerism and corruption in local town halls, in small villages just as in big towns. And what do we say about big factories? Is it really impossible for the workers in a Ford plant to elect people who genuinely represent their interests? We have seen how workers’ democracy can flourish in big factories in many strikes. In small workplaces, by contrast, the workers have a hard time even setting up a union. And the union representative in a small workplace is very likely to be a bosses’ stooge. The idea that there can be no bureaucracy in small circles where everybody knows each other is positively laughable. You can have a bureaucracy in a football club or an old ladies’ knitting circle. And yes, you can have a bureaucracy in an anarchist circle of five people who spend all their time discussing the evils of hierarchy.

Arguably in today’s society workers have a better grasp of the machinations of national politics and big questions such as austerity, than they do for the obscure details of local government. From the standpoint of the workers, contrary to the argument of the bourgeois economists, small is emphatically not beautiful.


Black Flag informs us that,

“The Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin who always fought against the centralization of power is accused of being a dictator.” [My emphasis].

We are genuinely surprised that the person claiming to be so well versed in the theory and history of anarchism is not aware that Bakunin, far from being opposed to the centralisation of power, established an organisation that was strictly centralised, hierarchic and controlled with an iron hand by one individual: Bakunin himself, or as he liked to call himself at the time, “citizen B”.

The charge of authoritarianism and dictatorial tendencies can with far greater justice be directed against Bakunin than against Marx. It is interesting to note that the "authoritarian" structures of the International that Bakunin protested against so vehemently in 1871 and 1872 were introduced to the International on the motion of Bakunin's supporters, with Bakunin's support. That was at a time when he was aiming to gain control of the International. Only when this plan failed did Bakunin suddenly discovered the "authoritarian" character of the International’s structure and rules.

Bakunin’s methods were completely exposed by the notorious Nechayev affair. Nechayev was a young fanatic, a revolutionary adventurer who turned up in Geneva in the spring of 1869, claiming to have escaped from the fortress of St. Peter-Paul. He also claimed to represent an all-powerful committee that would overthrow Tsarist Russia. This was a pure invention. He had never been in St. Peter-Paul and the Committee never existed.

Nevertheless, Bakunin was impressed by “the young savage,” “the young tiger” as he used to call Nechayev. Nechayev was a devoted disciple of Bakunin. But unlike his master, Nechayev was always characterized by an iron consistency. Bakunin had preached that the lumpenproletariat were the real carriers of the social revolution. He regarded criminals as desirable elements to be recruited into the revolutionary movement. So it was logical that his loyal disciple Nechayev should conclude that it was necessary to organize a group of lumpens for the purpose of “expropriation” in Switzerland.

In the autumn of 1869 Nechayev returned to Russia with a plan to set up a Bakuninist group there. There is no doubt that he went with Bakunin's full support. He carried with him a written authorization from Bakunin which declared that he was the “accredited representative” of a so-called European Revolutionary Alliance – another invention of Bakunin. He even issued an appeal to the officers of the tsarist army calling on them to place themselves unconditionally at the disposal of the “Committee”, although in fact it did not exist.

This Bakuninist organization was absolutely hierarchical and dictatorial. Everything was decided by Nechayev and no dissent was allowed. When a member of Nechayev’s group, a student called Ivanov, began to doubt the existence of the secret Committee, Nechayev murdered him. This led to numerous arrests. The Nechayev trial opened in St. Petersburg in July, 1871 and the whole ghastly affair was publicly exposed. There were over eighty accused, mostly students, Nechayev himself having conveniently fled to Geneva where he was under the protection of his leader and teacher Bakunin.

The Nechayev affair did a lot of damage to the movement in Russia and internationally. It affected the International because Nechayev let people believe that he was acting in its name, whereas in fact he was operating in secret as an agent of Bakunin. Later, in order to explain away this wretched affair and absolve Bakunin from his personal responsibility for it, it had been claimed that Bakunin fell under the influence of Nechayev who tricked him and used him for his own purposes.

But it was Bakunin who provided him with fake documents that purported to be from the International and were signed by him. It was Bakunin who wrote most, if not all, the proclamations and manifestos of the non-existing “Committee” and it was Bakunin who defended Nechayev after he had fled from the scene of his crime, describing the murder of the unfortunate Ivanov as “a political act”. Meanwhile, the majority of the students that were put on trial were sentenced to long terms in prison or to a living death in the Siberian mines.

Pan Slavism

In order to muddy the waters further, our anarchist critic also drags in the question of Pan-Slavism. Now nobody can dispute the fact that Bakunin was a devoted supporter of this tendency, which he saw as a revolutionary movement. Marx and Engels on the contrary denounced it as a counterrevolutionary phenomenon.

Black Flag once again regales us with one of his innumerable semi-quotations, torn out of context and presented in a completely false and dishonest manner. He writes:

"Marxists usually accuse Bakunin of pan-Slavism, however he never said something that sounded like Engels when he stated that ‘In the sentimental verbiage about brotherhood, that here we are offered on behalf of the counterrevolutionary nations of Europe, we respond that hatred of Russia was and remains the first revolutionary passion of the Germans’ and that ‘we can only ensure the revolution if we turn to the most determined terrorism against these Slav peoples.’ He also calls for ‘Struggle, 'relentless struggle of life and death', against Slavism that betrays the revolution, destruction and fighting terrorism without contemplations, not in the interests of Germany, but in the interest of the revolution.’ Not being enough, ‘The generalized war that will soon be triggered will reduce to dust that particularistic League of Slavs and will even erase the name of all those little recalcitrant nations. The next world war will not only vanish from the globe classes and reactionary dynasties, but also entire reactionary peoples. And that will be progress." (Engels, Democratic Pan-Slavism, The Magyar Struggle)"

The purpose here is to present Engels as a German racist and an anti-Slav. But anyone who reads Engels's full text, which is easily available on the internet, [see Democratic Pan-Slavism, February 1849,] will find that there is no racism whatsoever.

Engels points out quite correctly that the national movements of the South Slavs were being used as a front for the counter-revolutionary intrigues of Russian tsarism. There is absolutely no doubt that this was the case at the time when Engels was writing. The Tsar posed as the Father of the Slavs, their Protector and Liberator. In reality, however, they were being used to promote Russian imperial expansion in Europe, particularly the Balkans.

The cynical falsehood of so-called Pan Slavism is shown by the fact that one of the most important Slav nations, Poland, was brutally crushed under the heel of Russian tsarism. For the Poles, the Tsar was neither a Protector nor a Liberator but a bloody tyrant. In the Revolutions of 1848-9, the Tsar used the services of the South Slavs (the Croats) to drown the movement in blood.engelsFriedrich Engels

When the revolutions of 1848 took place in many European countries, Russia in particular was a bulwark of reaction, and it is clear that Engels is referring to the Russian tsarist regime, not to the Russian people as such. Anti-Slav anti-Russian racism did not enter into it. Let us reproduce the full paragraph which our Brazilian anarchist takes his quote from.

"To the sentimental phrases about brotherhood which we are being offered here on behalf of the most counter-revolutionary nations of Europe, we reply that hatred of Russians was and still is the primary revolutionary passion among Germans; that since the revolution hatred of Czechs and Croats has been added, and that only by the most determined use of terror against these Slav peoples can we, jointly with the Poles and Magyars, safeguard the revolution. We know where the enemies of the revolution are concentrated, viz. in Russia and the Slav regions of Austria, and no fine phrases, no allusions to an undefined democratic future for these countries can deter us from treating our enemies as enemies."

It is not the Russian people that Engels regards as the enemy, but the counter-revolutionary role of tsarist Russia. And he names the Poles as one of the key revolutionary nations. But these also are Slavs! Later on the situation changed radically, with the development of a revolutionary movement in Russia itself. In later years there are many texts in which both Marx and Engels looked with enthusiasm to developments in Russia, as the situation changed.

Here is what Engels wrote in his 1875 article, Russia and the Social Revolution, published in Volksstaat, 21 April 1875:

"The future path of Russia is of the greatest importance to the German working class because the present Russian empire is the last great centre of support for all reactionary forces in Western Europe. This was proved conclusively in 1848 and 1849. Because Germany failed to create an insurrection in Poland in 1848 and to declare war against the Russian tsar (as had been demanded by the Neue Rheinische Zeitung from the beginning), this very same tsar could in 1849 crush the Hungarian revolution which had penetrated to the gates of Vienna, could in 1850 sit in judgement at Warsaw over Austria, Prussia and the smaller German states, and could finally re-establish the old German Bundestag. And only a few days ago – in the beginning of May 1875 – the Russian tsar received the homage of his vassals in Berlin and thus proved that he is today, as he was twenty-five years ago, still the arbiter of Europe. Therefore, no revolution in Western Europe can be definitely and finally victorious as long as the present Russian state exists at its side. Germany is its nearest neighbour. Germany must sustain the first shock from the armies of Russian reaction. The overthrow of the Russian tsarist state and the dissolution of the Russian empire is therefore one of the first conditions for the final victory of the German proletariat"

Some years later, in 1885 in a letter to Vera Zasulich he wrote:

"I am proud to know that there is a party among the youth of Russia which frankly and without equivocation accepts the great economic and historical theories of Marx and has definitely broken with all the anarchists and also the few existing Slavophil tendencies of its predecessors…. What I know or believe I know about the situation in Russia makes me think that the Russians are fast approaching their 1789. The revolution must break out any day. In these circumstances the country is like a charged mine which only needs a single match to be applied to it." (Engels, Frederick; "Letter to Vera Ivanovna Zasulich in Geneva"; London April 23 1885; In: "Marx-Engels: Selected Correspondence"; Moscow; 1982; pp.361-363.)


Not satisfied with accusing Marx and Engels, without the slightest basis, of being anti-Slav, Black Flag now proceeds to plumb the depths of the already murky waters of his anti-Marxist diatribe. Now he informs us, without even blushing, that Karl Marx was an anti-Semite. The small detail that Marx himself happened to be a Jew does not appear to worry our friend in the slightest. Evidently he bases himself on the old journalists’ saying: “Never let the facts spoil a good story.” Let us now see how he performs this latest feat of intellectual acrobatics. He writes:

"Finally, let the opinion of Marx on Jews in The Jewish Question, to answer on the charge of anti-Semitism: 'Only then could Judaism impose its general empire and alienate the alienated man and alienated nature, converting them into venal things in objects delivered to the subjection of selfish need, negotiation and usury'; 'The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism'."

Our Brazilian anarchist is not the first to claim that Marx was anti-Semitic. Many anti-Communist right-wing writers have attempted to do the same, using exactly the same method, i.e. misquoting Marx's On the Jewish Question (Autumn 1843). But anybody who takes the trouble to read Marx's text will see that it is in fact a powerful defence of Jewish rights. It was written as a polemic against Bruno Bauer, who asked “How can Jews obtain Civil Rights until Germans themselves obtain Civil Rights?” Marx was in favour of giving full citizenship rights to Jews, whether they renounced their Jewishness or not.

Marx writes,

"The German Jew, in particular, is confronted by the general absence of political emancipation and the strongly marked Christian character of the state. In Bauer’s conception, however, the Jewish question has a universal significance, independent of specifically German conditions. It is the question of the relation of religion to the state, of the contradiction between religious constraint and political emancipation. Emancipation from religion is laid down as a condition, both to the Jew who wants to be emancipated politically, and to the state which is to effect emancipation and is itself to be emancipated."

Bruno Bauer was of the opinion that Jews had to renounce their Judaism, i.e. stop being Jews, before being granted full political rights. Marx was of the opposite opinion.

Later in Marx’s text we read:

"The political emancipation of the Jew, the Christian, and, in general, of religious man, is the emancipation of the state from Judaism, from Christianity, from religion in general."

Here our critic – once again – tries to throw dust in our eyes by quoting Marx completely out of context. Needless to say, the quotes above prove absolutely beyond any doubt that Marx was not anti-Semitic. However, one has to ask why he had to drag in this absurd argument about Marx’s alleged anti-Semitism? The reason is obvious. Black Flag wishes to draw attention away from the established fact that in his attacks against Marx Bakunin stooped to the lowest level of anti-Semitism.

For example, he wrote in 1872:

“It is possible that Marx might theoretically reach an even more rational system of liberty than that of Proudhon – but he lacks Proudhon’s instinct. As a German and a Jew he is authoritarian from head to foot. Hence come the two systems: the anarchist system of Proudhon broadened and developed by us and freed from all its metaphysical, idealist and doctrinaire baggage, accepting matter and social economy as the basis of all development in science and history. And the system of Marx, head of the German school of authoritarian communists.” [Quoted by James Joll fom Nettlau’s Bakunin und die Internationale in Italien, in his book The Anarchists, London, 1964, p. 90, My emphasis]

This is by no means an isolated example, although generally Bakunin preferred to attack Marx as a German, appealing to the national prejudices of the French in particular, following the horrors of the Franco-Prussian War. The London Conference of the IWA had given the General Council authority to disown all alleged organs of the International which, like the Progres and the Solidarité in the Jura, discussed internal questions of the International in public. The Bakuninists changed the name of Solidarité to La Révolution Sociale, which immediately began a ferocious attack on the General Council of the International, which it described as the “German Committee led by a brain à la Bismarck.”

This was a scandalous attempt to play on the anti-German prejudices of the French. Marx wrote to an American friend:

“It refers to the unpardonable fact that I was born a German and that I do in fact exercise a decisive intellectual influence on the General Council. Nota bene: the German element in the General Council is numerically two-thirds weaker than the English and the French. The crime is, therefore, that the English and French elements are dominated (!) in matters of theory by the German element and find this dominance, i.e., German science, useful and even indispensable.” (Marx to Friedrich Bolte In New York, November 23, 1871)

We pass over in silence the equally absurd accusations that Marx, in addition to being a racist, anti-Slav and anti-Semite, was also an imperialist (!). Life is really too short and we have already exhausted ourselves swimming in the muddy waters of insult and calumny. Let us return for a moment to serious political questions.

The state and revolution

In fighting against the capitalist state, anarchists argue that we do not need a state at all: the working class will merely overthrow capitalism and proceed directly to organise themselves spontaneously into a free association of producers. This is a very pleasant idea, but has absolutely nothing to do with reality. It overlooks a number of important facts – facts which should be known to any person who takes revolution seriously.

We agree with the anarchists that the bourgeois state is a monstrous instrument of oppression, a gigantic and bloated parasite that sucks the life blood out of society. There can be no question of reforming the state. It must be overthrown, destroyed, and completely eradicated. On this there is no difference between us. We also agree that in the future communist society there will be no state. The state will be dissolved and replaced with an entirely different form of organisation in which free men and women will determine their own destiny in a harmonious manner.

Yes, we agree on all this. But the question is posed: how does one achieve this end? How does one get from “A” to “B”? To this question our anarchist friends have never provided a satisfactory answer. Let us pose the question concretely.

The ruling class over centuries has built up a formidable apparatus – the state power – in order to defend its class rule. And all history shows us that the ruling class will never surrender its power, wealth and privileges without a struggle. The bankers and capitalists possess a centralised power based on the army, the police and intelligence services, the media, the education system, the church, the prisons, the judiciary etc. All of these things will be used in an attempt to prevent the workers from taking power into their own hands. These are the facts of life.

It should be evident to any thinking person that the overthrowing of the existing state will not be an easy task. It requires careful thought, planning and preparation. Of course, the revolution cannot be made by any small group of conspirators (the myth peddled by bourgeois opponents of the October revolution that it was a “coup” organised by Lenin and Trotsky is a piece of nonsense but does not bear the slightest examination). Revolutions are made by the masses, and the self-movement of the masses.

How many times in history has a numerous army composed of valiant and self-sacrificing fighters being defeated by a much smaller disciplined force of professional soldiers led by experienced and competent officers? It is sufficient to peruse the pages of Caesar’s Gallic Wars to find the answer to this question. Merely to rely upon the initiative of the masses – crucial though that is to the success of the revolution and the establishment of a democratic workers’ state – will not be sufficient to overthrow and defeat the centralised and disciplined forces at the disposal of the class enemy.

Some anarchists counterpoise to this the idea of a federal workers’ militia to defend the revolution, in which each local group enjoys autonomy and there is no ‘overbearing centre’ to dictate with authority. But revolutions are not simple affairs. The bourgeoisie will use all means at its disposal to confuse the masses. It will find points of support in more conservative layers of the population. Even the most democratic and popular of workers’ revolutions will find layers of counter-revolutionary sympathy in minorities of the working class. The bourgeoisie will attempt to utilise all such points of support in their struggle against the revolution. In such circumstances as, say, a revolutionary civil war, is the revolution to stand by and allow those minorities actively supporting the counter-revolution ‘autonomy’ to sabotage the revolution? Indeed, such a situation demonstrates that in modern conditions, there can be no real autonomy. Any group exercising their ‘autonomy’ to undermine the revolution is in fact imposing their authority onto the revolution, at least insofar as they have any success. For these reasons, the revolutionary power must be centralised and highly coordinated – on condition that this centre is under the democratic control of the revolutionary workers.

In order to defeat the bourgeois state, the proletariat needs to build its own army – a revolutionary army. Lenin explained that the state, stripped of all nonessentials, is armed bodies of men. In order to overthrow the bourgeois state, the workers must organise their own state power, based on the democratic organs of workers’ control and workers’ militias. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the monstrous oppressive state of the landlords and capitalists. But it is absolutely necessary to counterpose to that monster the alternative of a workers’ state.

The Spanish Revolution

The Spanish Revolution of 1931-37 is yet another tragic example of the consequences of lack of leadership in a revolutionary situation.

On the role of the CNT in the Spanish Revolution our critic again puts words into my mouth when he writes that:, “[Woods] claims that the CNT failed in not promoting the Revolution and being part of a bourgeois government.” To which he merely says, “We agree completely,” and adds that anarchists today “fully agree with the positions of Durruti”.

Black Flag in fact claims to be an admirer of that great Spanish revolutionary José Buenaventura Durruti. But Durruti acted not like an anarchist but as a Bolshevik. He organised a revolutionary army and waged a revolutionary war against the fascists. If his policy had been followed by the leaders of the CNT, the revolution could have succeeded, not only in Catalonia but in the rest of Spain also. It was for that reason that he was killed.

The wisdom of hindsight is of course the cheapest of all. It is a very easy thing to fight the old battles and win them all without firing a shot. But what has to be explained here is how the biggest anarchist movement in the world could betray the working class and wreck the Spanish revolution? Like the conduct of Kropotkin in 1914, this is dismissed by our critic as an “error of the CNT”, a simple mistake, such as anyone might make, like leaving one’s umbrella on the bus or putting on two different socks in the morning.

With such glib phrases we are expected to swallow the fact that the leaders of the main workers’ organisation in Spain in the moment of truth joined the bourgeois government, betrayed the revolution and even ordered the workers of Barcelona to hand over their weapons and deliver themselves defenceless into the hands of the Stalinist counterrevolution.

But don’t worry about this. Our anarchist friend has a very convenient explanation ready to hand. The conduct of the leaders of the CNT you see was “precisely the betrayal of one of the principles of anarchism, non-participation in the state.” This is an “explanation” that explains nothing at all. On the contrary, it was precisely the application of the anarchist theory of the state that was responsible for the defeat in Catalonia.

Anarchists simply reject the state in general and on principle. At first sight this position seems very revolutionary. But in practice it turns out to be precisely the opposite. To prove this point we must pass from the theory of anarchism to its practice. In 1936 the anarchist workers – the most courageous and revolutionary section of the Spanish working class – rose up in the insurrection in Barcelona and smashed the fascists who were preparing to join Franco’s rebellion.

In a short space of time the workers were in control. The factories were occupied under workers’ control and the only power in Barcelona were the armed militias of the anarchist CNT and the left-wing POUM. As a result of the heroic actions of the anarchist workers in Barcelona, the fascist reaction was smashed. The old bourgeois state was hanging in the air with no support. In reality, power was in the hands of the armed working class. All that was required was for the CNT to arrest the bourgeois government and declare that power was in the hands of the working class.spanish civil warA militia leave for the front in the Spanish civil war

This fact was recognised by Companys, the president of the Generalitat, the bourgeois nationalist government of Catalonia. He invited the anarchist leaders into his office and addressed them in the following terms: “Well gentlemen, it seems you have the power. You ought to form a government.” The anarchist leaders indignantly rejected this proposal on the grounds that they were opposed to all governments. This was a fatal mistake that destroyed the revolution.

It would have been a simple matter to call upon the workers to elect representatives from the factory committees and the workers militias to a central council that would take over the running of society and appeal to the workers and peasants of the rest of Spain to follow their example. But they did not do so. Instead, they permitted the bourgeois government of Companys to continue to exist, allowing it sufficient time to build a base with the assistance of the Stalinists, and then to organise a counter-revolution and crush the workers.

If the anarchists did not like the word “state”, they could have called it a commune, or any other word they liked. In Russia it was known as Soviet power. What word you use is quite immaterial. But what is absolutely necessary in a revolution is for the working class to overthrow the old state and take power into its own hands. Refusal to do this inevitably leads to counter-revolution and the re-establishment of the old oppressive state power. That is precisely to play irresponsibly with revolution.

Was this really just a “tragic mistake” resulting from a failure to apply the anarchist theory of the state? Far from it! The anarchist leaders refused to organise a workers’ state precisely because of their anarchist prejudices against “all states in general”. They were in fact carrying out the anarchist theory of the state to the letter. They rejected politics, thinking that the workers' control in factories simply meant they had a 'new social economy' and no need to take power. They argued for a mass general strike as an alternative to politics. Quite how the general strike goes on to dismantle the old government, army, police etc., and organise a publicly recognised and accepted new form of society and economy is always left vague, naturally.

To make matters worse, the same anarchist leaders who refused to establish workers’ state power subsequently entered as ministers in a bourgeois government – the very same government that strangled the revolution in May 1937. It is in actual fact that anarchist leaders like Federica Monseny (who was Minister of Health in the Republican government) personally went to Barcelona to persuade the anarchist workers to lay down their arms. The two betrayals are linked – their failure to seize power on a revolutionary basis caused them to later join, in desperation, the bourgeois government half-heartedly fighting Franco’s fascists. This constitutes betrayal carried to the nth degree.

Nowadays anarchists like Black Flag criticise the behaviour of the CNT leaders for entering a bourgeois government as a betrayal of anarchist principles. What they do not, and cannot explain is how the CNT, having power in its grasp, allowed that power to slip from their fingers and pass into the hands of the counter-revolution. That was the real betrayal of the revolution and the working class. And it flows directly from the false and disastrous theories of anarchism.

The Egyptian revolution

If the Russian revolution demonstrates the importance of leadership in a positive sense, many other experiences demonstrate the same thing in a negative and tragic manner. I am thinking mainly of the magnificent Egyptian revolution, where the masses moved spontaneously, without a party or leadership, to overthrow the tyrannical regime of Mubarak.

Here we have, on the one hand, a marvellous example of the power of a spontaneous mass movement involving millions of people. On the other hand, we see cruelly exposed the limitations of such a movement. The masses showed tremendous courage in confronting a brutal and dictatorial regime, risking their lives for the cause of revolution. They succeeded in overthrowing first Mubarak, and then Morsi.

In the latter case 17 million people came out onto the streets. This movement really has no parallel in history. The Egyptian masses overthrew the government. But what happened afterwards? In reality, power was lying in the streets waiting for somebody to pick it up. But in the absence of a guiding force, a revolutionary party and leadership, the masses allowed power to slip through their fingers. Instead of a workers’ and peasants’ government, Egypt ended up with a brutal military dictatorship.

If there had been present in Egypt at that time a revolutionary party like the Bolshevik Party, the entire situation would have been different. It would have been a simple matter to elect delegates from the workplaces and villages, uniting them in one revolutionary committee and proclaiming a revolutionary government. But this was not done, and revolution turned into counter-revolution with the most tragic consequences for the people of Egypt. And why? Only because of the lack of what Marxists call the subjective factor: the party and the leadership.

Could the Egyptian masses have acquired sufficient experience to draw the necessary conclusions to have taken power without a party? The question answers itself. They did not do so because they did not have the luxury of time in order to get a clear understanding of what was necessary. Without the necessary leadership, the masses were confused, hesitated and did not know what to do with the power that was in their hands.

Contrary to the confident assertions of Black Flag, the Egyptian masses did not “develop towards socialism.” Instead they were handed over bound hand and foot to the tender mercies of the counter-revolution. And the same thing has been seen time and time again in the history of the last hundred years in one country after another. Our anarchist friend cannot see any of this. But then there are none so blind as those who will not see.



 [Part 4]

The “dictatorship of the proletariat”

In describing the transitional state between capitalism and socialism Marx spoke of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” This term has led to a serious misunderstanding. Nowadays, the word dictatorship has connotations that were unknown to Marx. In an age that has known the horrific crimes of Hitler and Stalin, it conjures up nightmarish visions of a totalitarian monster, concentration camps and secret police. But such things did not yet exist even in the imagination in Marx’s day. For him the word dictatorship came from the Roman Republic, and referred to wartime emergencies in which the normal rules were temporarily set aside.

The Roman dictator (“one who dictates”), was an extraordinary magistrate (magistratus extraordinarius) with the absolute authority to perform tasks beyond the normal authority of a magistrate. The office was originally named Magister Populi (Master of the People), that is to say, Master of the Citizen Army. In other words, it was a military role which almost always involved leading an army in the field. Once the appointed period ended, the dictator would step down. The idea of a totalitarian dictatorship like Stalin’s Russia, where the state would oppress the working class in the interests of a privileged caste of bureaucrats, would have horrified Marx.

In reality Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” is merely another term for the political rule of the working class or a workers’ democracy. Marx based his idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the Paris Commune of 1871. The Commune was a glorious episode in the history of the world working class. Here, for the first time, the popular masses, with the workers at their head, overthrew the old state and at least began the task of transforming society.

Marx and Engels drew a thorough balance sheet of the Commune, pointing out its advances as well as its errors and deficiencies. These can almost all be traced to the failings of the leadership. It is true, as Black Flag states, that the supporters of Marx in the Commune were a small minority. The leaders of the Commune were a mixed bunch, ranging from a minority of Marxists to elements that stood closer to reformism or anarchism.

One of the reasons the Commune failed was that it did not launch a revolutionary offensive against the reactionary government that had installed itself at Versailles. This gave time to the counterrevolutionary forces to rally and attack Paris.

With no clearly-defined plan of action, leadership or organization, the masses displayed an astonishing degree of courage, initiative and creativity. Yet in the last analysis, the lack of a bold and far-sighted leadership and a clear programme led to a terrible defeat. Over 30,000 people were butchered by the counter-revolution. The Commune was literally buried under a mound of corpses.

Violence and Socialism

What is the anarchist position on the question of revolutionary violence? Here again our friend tries to confuse the issue by telling us something that we already knew: that there are as many theories of anarchism as there are people claiming to be anarchists:

“Throughout history, in fact, there were some insurrectionary anarchists who defended the use of terrorism as a means of social transformation. But they were always minority. Most libertarian forces dedicated themselves to building of broad mass movements, such as Syndicalism, and to strengthen it until the conditions to trigger a revolution. The use of violence as a revolutionary tool for social transformation has never been denied.”

So where do we stand then? Are anarchists in favour of a revolutionary violence or are they not? We are as wise now as what we were to start with. But one thing is crystal clear, and it was already stated by Bakunin: the working class must not take power, because if it does so it will invariably fall into the trap of “authoritarianism”:

“Let us ask, if the proletariat is to be the ruling class, over whom is it to rule? In short, there will remain another proletariat which will be subdued to this new rule, to this new state. For instance, the peasant “rabble” who, as it is known, does not enjoy the sympathy of the Marxists who consider it to represent a lower level of culture, will probably be ruled by the factory proletariat of the cities. Or, if this problem is to be approached nationalistically, the Slavs will be placed in the same subordinate relationship to the victorious German proletariat in which the latter now stands to the German bourgeoisie.” (Statism and Anarchy, Bakunin, 1873)

Now it stands to reason that when the working class takes power, it will be impossible for each and every worker to exercise that power directly. This, however, does not present insurmountable problem, on one condition: that we accept the principle of democratic elections, in which the minority accepts the decisions of the majority. Admittedly, this democratic principle is far from perfect. But it is the best solution that has been historically evolved, and nobody so far, and least of all Bakunin and his supporters, have ever proposed any better solution.

Black Flag urges us to “seek the institutionalization of a face-to-face direct democracy." It would be useful if he would write in plain English (or Portuguese) for a change, so that we ordinary mortals might understand what is being said. What does this wonderful “face-to-face direct democracy" consist of? Presumably, it means that individuals must talk to each other.

We have nothing whatsoever against this idea, which has actually been around for quite a long time. But having exercised “face-to-face direct democracy" for a reasonable space of time, how does one then resolve differences of opinion? Sadly, we have no alternative but to raise our hands for or against. And the majority must decide.

By the same token, since everyone cannot directly participate in governing society, in the end we are obliged to elect people we trust to represent our interests. That there is always a risk that these people will not do this adequately is self-evident. But there are concrete steps that can be taken to limit this risk to a minimum.

Firstly, all positions must be elected for restricted periods with right of recall. Secondly, the remuneration received by elected officials must be no higher than the wage of a skilled worker. There must be no standing army or police force, but the armed people: i.e. a workers’ militia. Last but not least, to the degree that it is possible, the tasks of administering society should be performed by everyone in turn. This last condition, however, will depend upon the development of the productive forces and the raising of the cultural level of society.

To return to the question of revolutionary violence, Black Flag complains bitterly that the program of Lenin's State and Revolution is “plagiarized out of Anarchism”. And he protests that “the people in arms was an anarchist position”. If that is so, then surely our anarchist friend should be pleased. In fact, at every step he seems to be saying: look, there is really no difference between us; you say we need a revolutionary party – so do we! You say we need a disciplined organisation – so do we! You say the CNT leaders in Spain should not have joined a bourgeois government – so do we! And as for Lenin’s State and Revolution – that is pure anarchism!

And yet despite all this agreement, Black Flag is still not contented. He insists that there is a fundamental disagreement between Marxism and anarchism. And he is not mistaken. The problem arises because he is playing a game of hide and seek with ideas. Far from clarifying the differences between Anarchism on Marxism, differences which are very clear and known to everyone, except Black Flag it seems, he attempts to confuse the issue by covering up the differences instead of bringing them out sharply. The result is a real ceremony of confusion. With this method nobody can ever learn anything.

To carry his ceremony of confusion still further along its merry way, having told us that Lenin’s State and Revolution has been copied word for word from anarchist texts, he now informs us that in reality the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky have nothing to do with anarchism, that what they really stood for was – wait for it! – an authoritarian state:

“The rotative character of administrative tasks and the election of delegates with a revocable mandate were anarchists guidelines, as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Marx and Engels themselves always favoured the centralization of power in a bureaucratic and authoritarian caste.”

Incidentally, Black Flag is not even factually correct when he says that the idea of an armed people was taken from the anarchists. As a matter of fact, this idea was present before 1914 in the program of the International Social Democracy, where it figures as a democratic demand. It was realised in practice by Trotsky after the October revolution when he formed the Red Army, which represented the armed forces of the workers and peasants of the Soviet Republic.

Incidentally, during the Spanish Civil War Durruti, that great revolutionary hero, himself organised a Red Army along lines very similar to that organised by Trotsky. Durruti waged a revolutionary war, sweeping through Aragon, seizing the land, shooting the priests and landlords, collectivizing and arming the peasants. His conduct was therefore authoritarian in the extreme. In short, he acted like a Bolshevik, not an anarchist.

Naturally, the bourgeois historians hate both Trotsky and Durruti for exactly the same reason. They were revolutionaries and acted as such. They led a successful military struggle against the class enemy and dealt blows against the counter-revolution. That is why Durruti is always described as a “violent thug” and Trotsky as a “bloodthirsty monster”.

We expect the bourgeois reactionaries to write in this way about revolutionary leaders, but it is a little bit disheartening to find the same kind of slanders against Trotsky in the writings of people who describe themselves as revolutionaries. Black Flag cannot resist the temptation of repeating the calumnies against Trotsky that he has picked up from bourgeois historians.

Since we have no room to deal with any more of Black flags slanders, we refer the reader to the book which I wrote many years ago together with the late Ted Grant, Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for, where I answer these slanders in detail.

Marxism and the state

The modern state is a bureaucratic monster that devours a colossal amount of the wealth produced by the working class. Marxists agree with the anarchists that the state is a monstrous instrument of oppression that must be eliminated. The question is: How? By whom? And what will replace it? This is a fundamental question for any revolution.

In a speech on anarchism during the Civil War that followed the Russian Revolution, Trotsky summarized very well the Marxist position on the state:

“The bourgeoisie says: don’t touch the state power; it is the sacred hereditary privilege of the educated classes. But the Anarchists say: don’t touch it; it is an infernal invention, a diabolical device, don’t have anything to do with it. The bourgeoisie says, don’t touch it, it’s sacred. The Anarchists say: don’t touch it, because it’s sinful. Both say: don’t touch it. But we say: don’t just touch it, take it in your hands, and set it to work in your own interests, for the abolition of private ownership and the emancipation of the working class.” (Leon Trotsky, How The Revolution Armed, Vol. 1, 1918. London: New Park, 1979)

Generalising from the experience of the Paris Commune Marx explained that the working class cannot simply base itself on the existing state power, but must overthrow and destroy it. The basic position was outlined in State and Revolution, where Lenin writes: "Marx’s idea is that the working class must break up, smash the ‘ready-made state machinery,’ and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it."

Against the confused ideas of the anarchists, Marx argued that the workers need a state to overcome the resistance of the exploiting classes. But that argument of Marx has been distorted by both the bourgeois and the anarchists. The working class must destroy the existing (bourgeois) state. On this question we agree with the anarchists. But what then? In order to bring about the socialist reconstruction of society, a new power is required. Whether you call it a state or a commune is a matter of indifference. The working class must organize itself and therefore constitute itself as the leading power in society.

The working class needs its own state, but it will be a state completely unlike any other state ever seen in history. A state that represents the vast majority of society does not need a huge standing army or police force. In fact, it will not be a state at all, but a semi-state, like the Paris Commune. Far from being a bureaucratic totalitarian monster, it will be far more democratic than even the most democratic bourgeois republic – certainly far more democratic than Sweden is today.Leon Trotsky BundesarchivLeon Trotsky

Commenting on Lenin’s State and Revolution in his book The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky wrote:

“This same bold view of the state in a proletarian dictatorship found finished expression a year and a half after the conquest of power in the program of the Bolshevik party, including its section on the army. A strong state, but without mandarins; armed power, but without the Samurai! It is not the tasks of defense which create a military and state bureaucracy, but the class structure of society carried over into the organization of defense. The army is only a copy of the social relations. The struggle against foreign danger necessitates, of course, in the workers’ state as in others, a specialized military technical organization, but in no case a privileged officer caste. The party program demands a replacement of the standing army by an armed people.

“The regime of proletarian dictatorship from its very beginning thus ceases to be a ‘state’ in the old sense of the word – a special apparatus, that is, for holding in subjection the majority of the people. The material power, together with the weapons, goes over directly and immediately into the hands of the workers’ organizations such as the soviets. The state as a bureaucratic apparatus begins to die away the first day of the proletarian dictatorship.” (The Revolution Betrayed, Chapter 3, Socialism and the State)

The Russian Revolution

For Marxists, the October Revolution of 1917 represents the most important event in human history. For the first time ever, with the exception of the brief but heroic episode of the Paris Commune, the working class laid hold of the reins of state power, threw aside capitalist property relations, and began the process of socialist transformation. The revolution represented a huge victory for the working class, as the factories passed into their hands; for the peasants, as the land passed into theirs; for women, who saw full legal equality for the first time in Russia; for national and ethnic minorities, particularly Jews, who had suffered greatly under Great Russian chauvinism of the autocratic tsarist regime.

The workers’ state established by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was neither bureaucratic nor totalitarian. On the contrary, before the Stalinist bureaucracy usurped control from the masses, it was the most democratic state that ever existed. The basic principles of the Soviet power were not invented by Marx or Lenin. They were based on the concrete experience of the Paris Commune, and later elaborated upon by Lenin.

The Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies were elected assemblies composed not of professional politicians and bureaucrats, but of ordinary workers, peasants and soldiers. It was not an alien power standing over society, but a power based on the direct initiative of the people from below. Its laws were not like the laws enacted by a capitalist state power. It was an entirely different kind of power from the one that generally exists in the parliamentary bourgeois-democratic republics of the type still prevailing in the advanced countries of Europe and America.

Engels long ago explained that in any society in which art, science and government is the monopoly of a minority, that minority will use and abuse its position in its own interests. Lenin was quick to see the danger of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Revolution in conditions of general backwardness.

Lenin was the sworn enemy of bureaucracy. He always emphasised that the proletariat needs only a state that is “so constituted that it will at once begin to die away and cannot help dying away.” A genuine workers’ state has nothing in common with the bureaucratic monster that exists today, and even less the one that existed in Stalinist Russia. The basic conditions for workers’ democracy were set forth in State and Revolution:

  1. Free and democratic elections with the right of recall of all officials.
  2. No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker.
  3. No standing army or police force, but the armed people.
  4. Gradually, all the administrative tasks to be done in turn by all. “Every cook should be able to be Prime Minister—When everyone is a ‘bureaucrat’ in turn, nobody can be a bureaucrat.”

These were the conditions which Lenin laid down, not for full-fledged socialism or communism, but for the very first period of a workers' state—the period of the transition from capitalism to socialism. This programme of workers' democracy is directly aimed against the danger of bureaucracy. This in turn formed the basis of the 1919 Party Programme.

The transition to socialism – a higher form of society based on genuine democracy and plenty for all – can only be accomplished by the active and conscious participation of the working class in the running of society, of industry, and of the state. It is not something that is kindly handed down to the workers by kind-hearted capitalists or bureaucratic mandarins. The whole conception of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky was based upon this fact. Anybody can see that this programme is completely democratic and the very antithesis of bureaucratic dictatorship. Socialism as understood by Marxists is democratic or it is nothing.

Marx explained long ago that in any society where want is general, “all the old crap revives.” It was these conditions that gave rise to Bureaucracy – a thick layer of officials and careerists who elbowed the workers to one side and grabbed privileged positions in the State and in industry. Lenin warned repeatedly against the dangers of Bureaucracy – not only in the State but in the Party itself.

The real reason for the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution was not some "original sin" of Bolshevism, but the isolation of the Revolution in conditions of material and cultural backwardness. This, in turn, was the result of the betrayal of the leaders of European Social Democracy. But to deal with this in detail wold carry us far beyond the limits of the present polemic.

Under conditions of frightful backwardness, the Russian revolution suffered a process of bureaucratic degeneration. The Stalinist counter-revolution destroyed the democratic regime established by Lenin and Trotsky in 1917. Contrary to the myth assiduously spread by the bourgeois reactionaries and also the anarchists, Stalinism and Bolshevism are two mutually incompatible phenomena. The proof of this was the fact that Stalin, in order to consolidate his bureaucratic and totalitarian regime, had to physically exterminate all the leaders of Lenin’s Party.

What failed in the Soviet Union was not socialism or communism in any sense that would be recognised by Marx, Lenin or Trotsky, but a bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature of socialism. This certainly failed, and was bound to fail. The demise of the Soviet Union was predicted as early as 1936 by Trotsky in his book The Revolution Betrayed. He pointed out that the Stalinist bureaucracy would not be satisfied with their bloated salaries and privileges, but would inevitably take the road to capitalist restoration. That is precisely what occurred.

Anarchism today

Anarchists imagine that they are more revolutionary because they call for a social revolution here and now. But dialectically, in their impatience to carry out a social revolution when the conditions for it are absent, they actually find themselves reduced to impotent “direct actions” of small minorities isolated from the mass of the working class that lead nowhere, combined with the advocacy of “small deeds” on a local level and pseudo-revolutionary tokenism.

Under the influence of bourgeois post-modernism, they are obsessed with language, trying to make sure they all speak “with no trace of oppression or hierarchy” in their language. Thus, “social revolution” is reduced to empty tokenism and terminological radicalism. By abolishing hierarchy in language they imagine that they have abolished it in fact, while the real world passes them by without even noticing this remarkable “revolution” and hierarchy, exploitation and oppression carry on quite happily, just as before.

For anybody like myself who has a sincere respect and admiration for the old anarchist workers like the old CNT worker militants who were genuine revolutionaries, betrayed by their anarchist leaders, modern day anarchism presents a truly depressing spectacle. The old anarchist workers may have been mistaken in some of their ideas, but they were revolutionaries and class fighters to the very core of their being. What we have today is only a caricature of the genuine item, a thing without any real substance, with no roots in the workers’ movement, no clear ideas, no notion of tactics or strategy, whose only role is to spread confusion in the minds of a layer of radicalised youth that is trying to find the revolutionary road. Anarchism is not the road to revolution but only a blind alley.CNTMilitants from the CNT

In the absence of a strong revolutionary party, a layer of young people who wish to change society, initially fall under the influence of anarchist ideas. Most of them soon come to understand the limitations of anarchist ideas and tactics. For them, anarchism is a kind of preparatory school that will eventually lead to Marxism. We Marxists hold out our hand in friendship to those young people. We will fight together with them against the common enemy. But we will also explain patiently the difference between anarchism and Marxism and polemicize against incorrect ideas and tactics that cannot lead the workers and youth to a victorious socialist revolution.

With regret, we must end this interesting encounter with anarchism by quoting the words of the old Bakunin: "Whoever wants not freedom, but the state, should not play Revolution". But that is precisely what anarchism signifies. Anyone who wishes seriously to carry out revolutionary work must pass beyond the limitations and confusions of anarchism and adopt the only consistent revolutionary standpoint – the standpoint of Marxism.

We are firmly convinced that there are many young people who consider themselves to be anarchists who have a serious attitude towards revolution and wish to learn. But revolution is both a science and an art that must be studied with the same painstaking attention that the officers in a bourgeois army study the history of war in order to develop tactics and strategy.

We Marxists are striving for the creation of an international army of the proletariat. The International Marxist Tendency is continuing the great revolutionary traditions of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Our programme is the program of the Bolshevik Revolution and of the Communist International.

We also lay claim to that great Spanish revolutionary and martyr of the working class, Buenaventura Durruti who represented the best element in anarchism – that element that stood close to Bolshevism and in effect was indistinguishable from it. We call upon all serious anarchists who wish to fight for world socialism to join with us, debate and discuss with us, and finally to fuse together in one powerful proletarian revolutionary tendency on a world scale.

The only road to revolution is the road that leads to the building of a revolutionary workers’ organization, a Marxist party and an International. That is what is offered to the workers and youth of Brazil by the International Marxist Tendency.

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