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Review of Wayne Price, The Value of Radical Theory

category international | economy | review author Tuesday August 20, 2013 01:48author by Gabriel Kuhn Report this post to the editors

The Value of Radical Theory is a well-written, non-sectarian introduction to Marxism from an anarchist perspective. It highlights both the key differences between Marxism and anarchism and the potential for mutual learning. It engages with Marxism on the grounds of critical solidarity, which is the most promising start for any fruitful exchange.
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Review of Wayne Price, The Value of Radical Theory: An Anarchist Introduction to Marx's Critique of Political Economy (Oakland/Edinburgh: AK Press, 2013)

The relationship between Marxism and anarchism has been a complicated one ever since Mikhail Bakunin was expelled from the First International in 1872. To this day, a number of anarchists reject any association with Marxism, some going as far as denouncing "the Left" altogether. This might explain why Wayne Price uses most of the introduction to his new book, The Value of Radical Theory: An Anarchist Introduction to Marx's Critique of Political Economy, to justify writing a book about Marx as an anarchist. He concludes: "I hope to show anarchists that it is possible to learn from aspects of Marxist theory while remaining anarchists." (7)

That Price would pick up this task is of little surprise. The self-described "Marxist-informed anarchist" (157) is a veteran anarcho-communist militant who has played an important role in organizations such as Love and Rage and the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC). Among his best-known publications are the The Abolition of the State: Anarchist and Marxist Perspectives (2007) and Anarchism and Socialism: Reformism or Revolution? (2010).

In reevaluating the relationship between Marxism and anarchism, Price is not alone. In Germany, for example, Philippe Kellermann has edited a number of books in recent years – most notably, two volumes tellingly entitled Begegnungen feindlicher Brüder, or, "Encounters of Hostile Brothers" – in which both Marxists and anarchists reflect on the Left's old feuds. Such discussions have far more than only theoretical relevance. In face of the current neoliberal assault and the threats by the extreme right, strong and united anticapitalist and antifascist resistance seems crucial. In one of his last articles, the late Joel Olson – writing about the now defunct Bring the Ruckus organization – stated that "we believe that the old arguments between communists and anarchists are largely irrelevant today". [1] This is not to advertise any particular political organization; as a NEFAC member, Wayne Price himself criticized the Bring the Ruckus approach. [2] It is important to note, however, that attempts to deescalate the historical conflict between Marxism and anarchism in order to build a stronger Left already exist, both on a theoretical and on an activist level. Price's book is a welcome contribution to further this development.

The Value of Radical Theory – which is based on a series of essays first published on the anarkismo website under the title Marx's Economics for Anarchists – is divided into three parts:

The first, "Basics", addresses Marx's method ("abstraction", as Price calls it), and some of the key terms of Marxist theory ("value", "alienation", "fetishism", and so on).

Part two, "Epochs of Capitalism", offers a historical account of economic and political development reaching from "primitive accumulation" to "state capitalism". Price pays particular attention to issues that are often seen as lacking in orthodox Marxist theory, namely gender, race, ecology, and technology.

Part three, "The Socialist Goal", discusses some the most contested themes when it comes to the Marxist-anarchist relationship. On the role of the working class, Price states: "Because they produce the wealth of society, workers have their hands on the means of production and distribution. They have the potential power to stop society in its tracks and even to start it up in a different way." (121) On historical determinism, he comments: "It is not inevitable at all that workers, or anyone else, will choose revolution before we face economic collapse, nuclear war, or environmental cataclysm. It is only possible. It is less a matter of prediction than commitment. Whatever is the 'correct' interpretation of Marx on the question of inevitability, the issue will be decided in struggle." (133) And on the subject of revolution, he declares: "The international revolution of the workers and all oppressed is the only road to a classless, stateless, nonoppressive society, democratic and cooperative, of freely associated individuals, 'in which the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all' (Communist Manifesto)." (163)

The book ends with an interesting appendix on Malatesta's views on anarchist organizing, a critique of prefabricated social models such as Parecon, and a very useful reference list.

The Value of Radical Theory is a well-written, non-sectarian introduction to Marxism from an anarchist perspective. It highlights both the key differences between Marxism and anarchism and the potential for mutual learning. It engages with Marxism on the grounds of critical solidarity, which is the most promising start for any fruitful exchange. The book is recommended for anyone who believes in such an exchange strengthening the fight against state and capital.

Gabriel Kuhn
(August 2013)


[1] Joel Olson, "Movement, Cadre, and the Dual Power", Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, v.13 n.1
[2] See, for example, "Revolutionary Strategy or Stagism", http://nefac.net/node/127

Related Link: http://www.alpineanarchist.org/r_price_review.html
author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Tue Aug 20, 2013 06:32Report this post to the editors

Thanks for the review. It is always a great delight to read Wayne, so I am eager to get hold of a copy of his book which I am sure is a contribution to modern revolutionary thinking.

 
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