Anarchism, Marxism and electoral politics
southern africa |
the left |
opinion / analysis
Friday August 19, 2005 21:21 by Zabalaza - ZACF
Making History or just Repeating it?
The state is the instrument by which minority classes use to maintain their power and privileges. It can never be used to destroy them. What is surprising is that Marxists seem to forget this, urging us to vote for radicals at election time and get outraged when they defend the interests of the few rather than the many.
Making History or just Repeating it?
Karl Marx once wrote that history repeated itself, first time as
tragedy, second time as farce. The left seem intent on proving him
right. How else can we explain the attempts to create yet another new
The history of the labour movement is happily ignored while some
people in the social movements and assorted other sects want us to
repeat the tactics which worked so unsuccessfully in the past. All
our "comrades in government" did not appear from nowhere. They are
just the latest in a long line of politicians who, upon gaining
office in the capitalist state, promote capitalist policies.
This is not surprising. The state is the instrument by which
minority classes use to maintain their power and privileges. It can
never be used to destroy them. What is surprising is that Marxists
seem to forget this, urging us to vote for radicals at election time
and get outraged when they defend the interests of the few rather
than the many.
0 MARX OUT OF 10
This is, of course, not the first time Marxists have urged us to
vote. Marx himself argued for the working class to take part in
bourgeois elections and institutions. The net effect was simply to
prove his anarchist opponents right. The "revolutionary" Social
Democratic Parties across the world quickly became bureaucratic,
top-down and opportunist. Revolutionary rhetoric simply disguised a
deeply reformist practice. When the First World War broke out, the
bourgeois chickens came home to roost in the "socialist" parties -
across the globe, the "socialists" supported their ruling class in
One hundred years later, the German Greens followed the same path.
They too argued for electioneering combined with direct action.
Unsurprisingly, they arrived in the same destination. They became
split between a small group who argued for principles and a majority
who adjusted to the realities of power. The same sad story of
opportunism, bureaucracy and betrayal - exactly the same fate that
has befallen Lula in Brazil and radicals elsewhere who thought that
their ideas made them immune to the realities of the tactics of
Anarchists were not surprised by this. We accurately predicted
this outcome of socialist tactics. What we did not predict was the
stubborn persistence of "scientific" socialists in ignoring the
evidence of history. You would think that over a hundred years of
using a tactic that does not work would make them think twice about
it but no. They want to prove Marx right; even it is only by
providing the "farce."
Now we have a choice. Do we repeat the mistakes of the past or do
we learn the lessons of history? Is there an alternative?
Yes - direct action, solidarity and self-management. We think that
only working class control of our own struggles can create working
class control of society. This means pursuing a policy of
extra-parliamentarian struggle. It means waging the class war using
federations of community and workplace assemblies.
Anarchists look to the basic mass meeting of workers at their
place of work and people in their communities as the foundation of
organisation and the source of labour's power. These meetings are
co-ordinated by means of federations of elected, mandated and
recallable delegates. Unlike the parliamentarian, the delegate must
carry out the wishes of their electors otherwise they are kicked out
and replaced by someone who will obey the people. This is
organisation from the bottom upwards.
Through direct action, people create, conduct, organise and manage
their own struggle. We do not hand over to others our task of
self-liberation. We become used to managing our own affairs, creating
alternative, libertarian, forms of social organisation which can
become a force to resist the state and the bosses and win reforms. It
creates organs of self-activity which, to use Bakunin's words, are
"creating not only the ideas but also the facts of the future
itself." Workers' control of struggle is the only way that workers'
control of their own lives and society becomes a possibility. And it
builds the organisations that can achieve it - popular assemblies,
workers' councils, factory committees, and so on.
Unlike Marxist calls for a new electoral activity. The idea that
socialists standing for elections somehow prepares for revolution is
simply wrong - it only prepares people for following leaders. It does
not encourage the self-activity, self-organisation, direct action and
mass struggle required for a social revolution. There is nothing more
isolated, atomised and individualistic than voting. It is the act of
one person in a closet by themselves. Voting creates no alternative
organs of working class power. And Marxists slander anarchists as
Electing the lesser evil does not work. We need to organise in our
communities and workplaces. That is where our power lies, that is
where we can create a real alternative. Unlike politicians, the mass
of the population cannot be bought off and if they are willing and
able to resist then they can become a power second to none. By
creating a network of self-managed community and workplace
organisations we can impose by direct action that which politicians
can never give us from Parliament. And only such a movement can stop
the attacks upon us by whoever gets into office. A government (left
or right) which faces a mass movement based upon direct action and
solidarity will always think twice before making unjust decisions.
BUILDING THE NEW WORLD WHILE FIGHTING THIS ONE
Anarchists see the framework of an anarchist society coming from
the class struggle and the process of revolution itself. Anarchy is
not a jump into the dark but rather a natural development of the
struggle for freedom under capitalism. It will be created from below
up as working class people start to resist oppression and
exploitation. The class struggle transforms those involved as well as
society and creates the organisational structure and people required
for a libertarian society.
With that in mind, our alternatives are rooted in building the
real organs of working class power in the here and now. That means
encouraging a rank and file movement based on the spirit of the
wildcat. It means promoting the idea of strikers' assemblies as
decision making bodies in industrial disputes rather than relying on
"left-wing" leaders to act for us. It means creating a network of
militants who put the needs of the struggle above the recruiting
needs of their party or vote gathering. It means investing the
resources, time and energy wasted in supporting political parties in
building a labour movement run by and for its members. Rather than
voting someone to misrepresent us every four years, we should be
creating community organisations which allow people to put real
pressure on the state all the time. The radical unions of the 70's
and early '80s and the assemblies in Argentina and of the Zapatistas
today show what is possible.
Building the new world while fighting this one will be much harder
than electioneering and letting a few leaders act for us - but it is
something well worth fighting for.
Based on a text taken from the anarchism.ws website
from Zabalaza: A Journal of Southern African Revolutionary
Anarchism #5 - May 2004