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What is Anarchist-Communism? PART 2
international | the left | opinion / analysis Sunday December 30, 2007 09:46 by Wayne Price - (NEFAC) personal opinion drwdprice at aol dot com
It is Not the Label but the Content Which Matters
We have the industrial potential for full communism, but there remain difficulties such as the need to reorganize technology and to appropriately industrialize the "Third World." This raises the need for some sort of phasing-in of communism.
In the century since Kropotkin and Marx wrote about communism, there has been an enormous increase in productivity. For millennia, 95 to 98 % of humanity had to be involved in producing food. Today the ratios are reversed; in the United States, only 2 or 3 % work in agriculture. Similarly, with automated factories, it has been argued, we could produce enough for a comfortable life for everyone. More people would volunteer for work than there would be necessary jobs. An industrialized and cooperative, democratically-planned, economy could provide plenty of leisure for everyone. This is essential for any society based on democracy-from-the-bottom-up. In all previous revolutions, once the upheavals were over, the masses went back to their daily grind while only a few had the time available to actually run things. With leisure for all, then all would be free to self-manage their communes, worksites, and society as a whole.
The Need for Increased World ProductionAlso, while North America, western Europe, Japan, and a few other places, have much modern technology, this is not true of most of the world. The so-called Third World is underindustrialized or unevenly industrialized right now. These impoverished and exploited countries do not have the wealth or industry necessary to go even to the lower phase of communism (called by Lenin the phase of socialism), let alone achieve full communism. The workers and peasants are able to take power in their countries, establishing a system of workers’ councils and popular assemblies. However, to solidify their path to communism they would have to spark revolutions in the industrialized, imperialist, nations, in order to get aid.
I disagree with some council communists and other Marxists who claim that the oppressed nations can only make bourgeois revolutions; on the contrary, the workers and peasants of these nations can overthrow the national bourgeoisie and then spread the revolution to the industrialized countries, which will help them in developing toward communism. This view is opposed to Stalin’s concept of Building Socialism in One Country. A great deal of help from the industrialized parts of the planet will be needed to develop Africa, Asia, and Latin America, in a humane, democratic, and ecologically balanced fashion.
Therefore to say that there exists all the technological preconditions for full communism is certainly true, but true only in potential. Humanity has the technical knowledge and skills necessary to create a world of plenty for all, with leisure for all, in balance with the natural world, but it will require much work to create this world after a revolution.
Phases of CommunismIt is for such reasons that libertarian communists have often presented the change to a fully communist society as taking place over time, being phased-in after the revolution. Marx proposed a higher and lower phase of communism. Bakunin implied the same. Even Kropotkin (as Anarcho has pointed out in last month’s discussion) suggested a sort of phasing-in of full communism. Immediately after a revolution, Kropotkin indicated, able-bodied adult working people would be required to work a half day (5 hours) in order to get a decent amount of food, clothing, and shelter. Most goods would still be scarce so they would have to be rationed by the community. Over time, as productivity improved, the economy would develop into full communism. Most goods would be plentiful and people could freely take them off the shelves of community warehouses. Work would be done out of social conscience and a desire to keep active. But this would not be immediately possible.
There is another factor. A revolution is likely to be carried out by a united front of anti-capitalist political groupings. For example, North America or Europe is so large and complex that no one revolutionary organization will have all the best ideas and all the best militants. They will have to work together. But some will be anarchist-communists while others will not. Leaving aside out-and-out authoritarian statists, we are likely to be in coalition with pareconists, noncommunist anarchists, revolutionary-democratic socialists, various types of Greens, and so on. We cannot force all these people to live under anarchist-communism. Compulsory libertarian communism is a contradiction in terms! The majority of one region may decide to live under anarchist communism, but a neighboring region may decide for parecon (“participatory economics”). So long as workers are not exploited, the anarchist-communists will not start a civil war inside the revolution. In an experimental way, different approaches may be tried out in different regions and we will learn from each other.
Malatesta wrote (1984), “Imposed communism would be the most detestable tyranny that the human mind could conceive. And free and voluntary communism is ironical if one has not the right and the possibility to live in a different regime, collectivist, mutualist, individualist—as one wishes, always on condition that there is no oppression or exploitation of others” (p. 103). He expected some sort of anarchist-communism to win out eventually, but felt that this might take considerable time to achieve everywhere.
Should We Call Ourselves Communists?With modern technology, anarchist-communism is a practical goal, whether or not we have to pass through various stages or compromises. However, this does not answer the question: Should we call ourselves communists? We are, after all, opponents of every (big-c) Communist state that exists or has existed, and of every Communist Party. Yet we cannot call ourselves anti-communists, since this usually means endorsement of Western imperialism, its (at most) limited democracy, and its rule by a minority class. We are opposed to this class’ rule, far more fiercely than have been the Communist Parties. But we endorse the goals of Kropotkin and Karl Marx, of a classless, stateless, society organized by the principle, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” In this sense, we are truly authentic communists.
The mainstream of historical anarchism has been anarchist- communism. We can, and, I think, should, identify with the communist tradition in anarchism, which goes from Bakunin (as a goal) to Kropotkin (as a label) to Malatesta, Goldman, and almost all anarchists of their time. There have been factional conflicts between those anarchists who called themselves anarchist-communists and those who called themselves anarchist-syndicalists, but they did not have differences of principle. The anarchist-communists were afraid that the anarchist-syndicalists would dissolve themselves into the union movement (“syndicalism”); the anarchist-syndicalists were afraid that the communists would downplay the central power and importance of the organized workers. However, the anarchist-communists mostly agreed on the need for working class self-organization, particularly on the need for unions, while the anarchist-syndicalists shared the libertarian communist goal.
Our modern agreement with the historical goal of working class anarchist-communism should certainly be stated in our documents and programs. But should it be more prominently stated, in our leaflets and in the names of our organizations?
My answer is: It depends. In some countries, communism has a positive connotation among most militant workers. This is mainly due to the historical self-sacrifice and struggle of the rank-and-file of the Communist Parties, whatever their weaknesses. Apparently this is the case, for example, in South Africa, where our co-thinkers formed the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front.
But in other countries, communism has a very negative connotation. This is not just due to negative bourgeois propaganda, but also to 75 years of its identification with the totalitarian reality of the Soviet UnionWha. This regime called itself Communist, as did its puppets and imitators in Eastern Europe, China, etc. In other countries, the Communists were well known for their slavish adoration of the USSR, for their heavy-handed domination of their followers, and for their reformism. With such reasons, I think, the Anarchist Communist Federation of the UK changed its name to the Anarchist Federation. The Irish Workers Solidarity Movement obviously does not include Communist in its name. Leaving Communist out of our name does not necessarily mean abandoning the communist tradition.
I think the United States falls into the second category. Putting Communist in our name just creates unnecessary barriers between ourselves and most U.S. workers. It makes it more difficult to distinguish ourselves from statist tendencies which also call themselves Communist. So I recommend against it, especially if we ever form a North American-wide federation.
“Social anarchism” is commonly used among anarchists to distinguish ourselves from individualists and “libertarian” supporters of capitalism. I prefer the term “socialist-anarchist.” Malatesta agreed, “We…have always called ourselves socialist-anarchists” (p. 143). Socialist is a vaguer term than communist. To some it indicates reformism , due to its being used widely by the social democrats (“democratic socialists”) as well as by the Communists. But at least it does not imply totalitarian mass murder, which is the real problem. The Trotskyists called themselves “revolutionary socialists” to distinguish themselves from the Stalinists, and non-Trotskyists have also used the revolutionary socialist label. For generations, “libertarian socialist” has also been used to mean anarchist.
My preference for “socialist-anarchist” and “libertarian socialist” over “anarchist-communist” is my personal opinion, which may be a minority view among U.S. anarchist-communists. In any case, it is not a matter of principle. It is not the label but the content which matters most.
ReferencesMalatesta, Errico (1984). Errico Malatesta; His life and ideas (Vernon Richards, ed.). London: Freedom Press.
Written for www.Anarkismo.net. Wayne Price has recently published a book, The Abolition of the State: Anarchist & Marxist Perspectives, AuthorHouse.
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