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Counterpower, Participatory Democracy, Revolutionary Defence

category international | the left | feature author Thursday April 21, 2011 22:11author by Lucien van der Walt Report this post to the editors

Debating Black Flame, revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism

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Stalin and Lenin

This article responds to criticisms of the broad anarchist tradition in International Socialism, an International Socialist Tendency (IST) journal.

It discusses topics such as the use of sources, defending revolutions and freedom, the Spanish anarchists, anarchism and democracy, the historical role of Marxism, and the Russian Revolution.


Counterpower, participatory democracy, revolutionary defence: debating Black Flame, revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism

This article responds to criticisms of the broad anarchist tradition in International Socialism, an International Socialist Tendency (IST) journal.[1] I will discuss topics such as the use of sources, defending revolutions and freedom, the Spanish anarchists, anarchism and democracy, the historical role of Marxism, and the Russian Revolution.

The articles I am engaging with are marked by commendable goodwill; I strive for the same. Paul Blackledge’s article rejects “caricatured non-debate”.[2] Ian Birchall stresses that “lines between anarchism and Marxism are often blurred”.[3] Leo Zeilig praises Michael Schmidt’s and my book, Black Flame: the Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, as “a fascinating account”.[4]

It is important to note where we converge. The IST states it is for socialism from below through revolution. If Marx, Lenin and Trotsky are invoked here, it is because the “essence” of their works is taken to be “working class self-emancipation”.[5] The term “dictatorship of the proletariat”, Leo insists, means merely “the democratic defence of working class power” through “organs of self-organisation; councils, trade unions, communes etc”.[6]

By any measure, anarchists favour working class self-emancipation. For Mikhail Bakunin and Pyotr Kropotkin, social revolution required a movement by “the workers and the peasants”, “the only two classes capable of so mighty an insurrection”.[7] The “new social order” would be constructed “from the bottom up” by the “organisation and power of the working masses”.[8] The popular classes would “take upon themselves the task of rebuilding society”,[9] through revolutionary counter-power and counter-culture, outside and against the ruling class, state and capital.

We have real differences too: these require comradely yet frank discussion. The first step in avoiding “caricatured non-debate” is to engage seriously with what Leo calls the “often obscured” history of the broad anarchist tradition. It is a pity, then, that Leo’s review concentrates on refuting (as I will show, not convincingly) what Black Flame said about mainstream Marxism. The point of Black Flame is not to study Marxism, but the 150 year tradition of anarchism and syndicalism—a mass movement with a sophisticated theory, usually caricatured by Marxists.

Benedict Anderson notes that the broad anarchist tradition was long the “dominant element in the self-consciously internationalist radical left”, “the main vehicle of global opposition to industrial capitalism, autocracy, latifundism, and imperialism”.[10] Into the 1950s its movements were often larger than their Marxist rivals. In its dark years, into the 1980s, the tradition remained important in unions and armed struggles in Asia, Latin America and southern Europe, and in the Cuban and Soviet undergrounds.[11]

Today anarchists are central to the “most determined and combative of the movements” fighting capitalist globalisation.[12] A 2007 syndicalist union summit in Paris drew 250 delegates worldwide, Africans the biggest continental grouping.[13] There is a global spread of anarchist values: bottom-up organising and direct action outside the official political system.[14]

I agree with Paul and Leo that anarchists have caricatured Marxists, but the reverse is true too—often because Marxists use unreliable or hostile sources, dismissing other accounts as “liberal”, etc. Ian commendably distances himself from Hal Draper’s bizarre charges that Bakunin favoured dictatorship, etc.[15] Draper distorted anarchist views through manipulation and fabrication.[16] Ian instead cites former anarchist Victor Serge’s recollections.[17] Serge, however, is not reliable. He claimed, Ian notes, that the anarcho-syndicalist Golos Truda group “made common cause” with the Bolsheviks; in fact, it charged Bolshevism with state capitalism and dictatorship, and was repressed.[18] The materials of the anarchist movement itself—particularly its mainstream—deserve more thorough, open-minded engagement.

Anarchism and revolutionary force

Do anarchists really deny the need for the popular classes to be “organised ideologically, politically and militarily” to defend revolution, as Paul claims?[19] Leo’s own review of Black Flame admits the book shows that most anarchist currents insisted on the need to “coordinate the defence of the revolution against internal and external enemies”.[20] A few syndicalists hoped for a “bloodless revolution”, but not the mainstream.[21]

Bakunin wanted the existing “army…judicial system…police” replaced by “permanent barricades,” coordinated through delegates with “always revocable mandates”, and the “extension of the revolutionary force” between “rebel countries”.[22] This is “revolutionary force”, used for emancipation, not oppression,[23] based on the peasants and workers “federating” their “fighting battalions, district by district, assuring a common coordinated defence against internal and external enemies”.[24] To be anti-authoritarian requires forceful struggle against oppressors; this is no contradiction, as Engels asserted.[25]

The need for “revolutionary force” was recognised by most key figures, Kropotkin, Pyotr Arshinov, Alexander Berkman, Camillo Berneri, Buenaventura Durruti, Emma Goldman, Praxedis Guerrero, Li Pei Kan (“Ba Jin”), Liu Sifu (“Shifu”), Ricardo Flores Magón, Errico Malatesta, Nestor Ivanovich Makhno, José Oiticica, Albert Parsons, Domingos Passos, Rudolph Rocker, Shin Ch’aeho and Kim Jao-jin. It spurred anarchist/syndicalist militias in China, Cuba, Ireland, Korea/Manchuria, Mexico, Spain, Russia, the Ukraine and United States.[26] It was the official stance of, for instance, the anarchist majority of the post-1872 First International, the syndicalist International Workers’ Association (1922), the Eastern Anarchist League (1927), the Korean People’s Association in Manchuria and Spain’s National Confederation of Labour (CNT).

Paul says: “Once social movements are strong enough to point towards a real alternative to the status quo, states will intervene with the aim of suppressing them”.[27] What anarchist would deny this? To suggest anarchists and syndicalists ignore the state is equivalent to insisting Marxism ignores capitalism. The anarchist mainstream does not agree with the self-proclaimed Marxist John Holloway’s Change the World Without Taking Power.[28] Paul claims the CNT joined the Spanish Popular Front in 1936 because anarchists lacked a plan for “coordinating the military opposition to Franco’s fascists”.[29] In fact, joining violated CNT policy, and was driven by fear of isolation and fighting on two fronts. Since the 1870s Spanish anarchists aimed to “annihilate the power of the state” through “superior firing power”.[30] From 1932 the CNT and the Anarchist Federation of Iberia (FAI) organised insurrections, stressing armed defence and coordination through a National Revolutionary Council.[31] This was reiterated at the 1936 FAI and CNT congresses,[32] was still official policy in August 1936, and was partially implemented through the Council of Aragon.[33] In 1937 the dissident Friends of Durruti reiterated it, calling for a National Defence Council, not a Popular Front.[34]

Anarchism, democracy and armed defence of revolution

What is the place of participatory democracy, debate and freedom in this scenario? First, the FAI / CNT / Friends of Durruti insisted, coordinated military defence was subject to the basic aims of the revolution—self-management, collectivisation and emancipation—and to the popular classes’ organs of counterpower. Repeating Bakunin’s arguments, the National Defence Council would be “elected by democratic vote”, under revocable mandate.[35] Handing power to officers or a revolutionary clique would destroy revolution from within as surely as external defeat.

Secondly, the revolution is for libertarian communism, ie for freedom, against capitalism, state and oppression. In place of the late Tony Cliff’s notion that it is acceptable that “tactics contradict principles”,[36] anarchists insist means must match ends, because they shape them.

Defence of revolution necessarily includes defence of participatory democratic processes and structures, and of political and civil rights. The democratic heart of counterpower cannot be cut out to “save” the revolution: it is both its means and its end.

The basic system would be popular self-government through worker/community assemblies and councils made up of mandated and recallable delegates, with basic rights protected at all times. As Diego Abad de Santillan wrote, anarchists “oppose with force those who try to subjugate us on behalf of their interests or concepts”, but do not “resort to force against those who do not share our points of view”.[37]

Legitimate coercion is applied to external threats, including the counter-revolutionary ruling class, and to internal anti-social crime; the majority within the system is prevented from oppressing internal dissenters and minorities; internal dissidents are prevented from forcible disruption. Anarchism will be the guiding revolutionary programme because it is freely accepted by the popular classes through debate and participatory democracy, in multi-tendency structures of counterpower.

The mainstream anarchist/syndicalist movement’s rejection of the Marxist “dictatorship of the proletariat” was never based on rejecting the need to defend revolution. It arose from the view that the Marxist “dictatorship of the proletariat” was really “dictatorship over the proletariat”.

“Real democracy”, anarchism and the Paris Commune

Given this, it is odd that Paul claims (echoing Draper) that anarchists reject the “possibility of real democracy”.[38] If “democracy” means the rule of the people, anarchism is radically democratic. Bakunin and Kropotkin viewed the state as a centralised, hierarchical system of territorial power, run by and for the ruling class. Here “all the real aspirations, all the living forces of a country enter generously and happily”, only to be “slain and buried”.[39]

The class system is defined both by relations of production expressed in inequitable control of the means of production, and relations of domination, expressed in inequitable control of the means of coercion that physically enforce decisions, and administration, that govern society.[40]

The means of coercion and administration are centralised in the state, controlled by state managers: senior officials, judges, military heads, mayors, parliamentarians. Capitalists are only part of the ruling class; those who run the state are always members of the ruling class; the ruling class is always a dominant, exploiting minority; the state is centralised in order that this minority can rule the majority. (Marxists have a different definition, but let’s get clear about the anarchists.)

The popular classes’ counterpower, for anarchists, cannot therefore be expressed through a state.[41] Anarchist anti-statism arises from recognition of the state’s profoundly anti-popular class character.[42] In place of states and corporations, anarchists/syndicalists advocate that the means of production, coercion and administration be taken and restructured under genuine participatory democracy. When the “whole people govern”, argued Bakunin, “there will be…no government, no state”.[43] Wayne Price argues “Anarchism is democracy without the state”.[44]

Paul cites Uri Gordon and George Woodcock, who insisted anarchism is against “democracy”. But did they mean what Paul suggests? They defined “democracy” as imposing “collectively binding” decisions on dissidents, and objected.[45] They did not oppose collective decisions—only this supposed coercion. Theirs is not an argument most anarchists would accept; nor do most anarchists think consensus decision-making preferable.[46] This is not, however, to deny that the Gordon/Woodcock line has a profoundly democratic intent.

There is nothing “difficult to understand” about Bakunin praising the 1871 Paris Commune as “practical realisation” of anarchist ideals. [47] Anarchists played a central role in communalist risings in France, Spain and Italy at this time; with Proudhonists, they were a large bloc on the Commune’s Council.[48] The Commune’s basic project was anticipated in Bakunin’s 1870 open “Letter to a Frenchman”, and by Proudhon, revolutionary anarchism’s immediate precursor.[49] Bakunin’s and Kropotkin’s only critique of the Commune was that it did not go far enough in collectivisation and self-management, leaving too much power in the Council.[50]

Anarchism, syndicalism and specific political organisations

Paul suggests that anarchism denies the need for revolutionary political organisations that can link struggles, and fight for ideological clarity and revolution.[51] He is correct that there is an anarchist current that argues against specific political organisations. He is incorrect to present this current as representative.

Many key anarchists/syndicalists advocate specific political organisations, working with mass organisations like unions. Flores Magón stresses “an activating minority, a courageous minority of libertarians”.[52] Bakunin, Flores Magón, Kropotkin, Makhno, Oiticica and Shifu also insist on “organisations of tendency”, based on political unity and collective discipline (others favoured looser structures).[53]

“Organisations of tendency” include the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, Spain’s FAI, Mexico’s La Social, China’s Society of Anarchist-Communist Comrades, the postwar Uruguayan Anarchist Federation, etc. These were to fight the battle of ideas and promote self-activity, counterpower and counterculture, not to replace or rule the popular classes.

Anarchists/syndicalists are not “opposed to the political struggle” for rights, but stress it “must take the form of direct action”. [54] Rights should be won from below by mobilising counterpower; participation in the state is ineffective, corrupting. All stress the importance of revolutionary ideas for a revolutionary change, a “new social philosophy”.[55]

Do anarchists misunderstand the “Marxist tradition”?

Rejection of Leninist parties arises from a different concern: the argument that these parties created dictatorships. Paul thinks anarchists have a “massive misunderstanding of Marxism”, and Leo that Black Flame caricatures “classical Marxism” in calling it reductionist and authoritarian.[56]

But Paul admits the “rational kernel” of the anarchist critique is “that the most powerful voices claiming to be Marxists in the 20th century were statists (of either the Stalinist or Maoist variety) who presided over brutal systems” of “bureaucratic state capitalism”.[57] Leo admits that the anarchist critique is valid if “you include Kautsky, Stalin and Mao in the Marxist canon”.[58]

That suffices. According to International Socialism and IST writers, Kautsky was long “the most prominent Marxist theorist”; Stalin represented “Soviet Marxism”, Maoism a type of “Marxism-Leninism”, etc.[59] By the IST’s own admission, then, mainstream pre-Leninist Marxism was reductionist and statist; mainstream 20th century Marxism was “Stalinist or Maoist”; all Marxist regimes ended as state capitalist dictatorships, with even (the late Chris Harman stated) the Soviet Union a “Bolshevik dictatorship” by 1921.[60]

I am not sure why Paul confidently claims the “essence” of Marxism is “working class self-emancipation”.[61] That’s been rather unusual in Marxist theory and action, as Ian himself has shown.[62] Libertarian minority Marxist traditions like Council Communism and autonomism are the exception, not Leninism or “classical Marxism”.

Leo claims Black Flame repeats the “daily clichés of the media”.[63] I concede—if he means the mainstream Marxist media, mass papers like Umsebenzi, L’Humanité, New Age, People’s Democracy, Angve Bayan, etc. This may be, by the IST’s lights, mere “debased” Marxism—but why should anarchists accept the IST’s judgement? Most Marxists do not.

We cannot claim that “the only significance of Christianity in history is to be found in reading unaltered versions of the Gospels”, and ignore 2,000 years of the church and its offshoots. Marxism, too, must be judged by its history, not by selected quotes.[64]

The early “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the Soviet Union

Paul insists that Marxism’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” merely proposes a “workers’ state” to end “exploitative social relations”.[65] Leo adds that this “most maligned concept” merely means “democratic defence of working class power”.[66]

The problem is that it’s not easy to find a real world example; this is pure assertion. Writers like Cliff looked hopefully at the early Soviet Union. Supposedly, “the land…was distributed to the peasants, the factories…taken under state ownership…run under workers’ control” and “the oppressed nationalities got…self-determination”. If “many hundreds of thousands” died, this was “not because of the action of the Soviet government”.[67]

Regrettably, the facts show the Lenin-Trotsky regime to be the template for Stalin’s. Land was nationalised, not “distributed”, and “the action of the Soviet government” in forced grain requisitions killed millions. Peasant uprisings were crushed with fire and sword: iron dictatorship over 90 percent of the population. Industry was “under state ownership”, not “workers’ control”: in 1919 state-appointed individual managers ran 10.8 percent of enterprises; by 1920, 82 percent.[68] Red Army elections were abolished in March 1918, command turned over to ex-Tsarist officers and party commissars.

Cliff condemned Stalin for Taylorism and piecework,[69] but Lenin introduced these policies in 1918.[70] Unions, Harman claimed, enabled “workers’ control”.[71] Actually, these “unions” were state-run bodies by 1919, active in repressing strikes.[72] Rather than insist that “strikes were not to be suppressed”,[73] the Bolsheviks routinely crushed them, also militarising industry.[74] The crushing of the Kronstadt revolt had numerous precedents.[75]

Harman claimed Bolshevism was the soviet “majority party”. This was only true in a few cities, for a few months. Defeated in the 1918 urban elections, the Bolsheviks responded by dissolving, gerrymandering and purging soviets, repressing opponents.[76] Power was centralised in the cabinet (Sovnarkom) and Supreme Economic Council (Vesenkha); a secret police (Cheka) and militarised Red Army; and a state bureaucracy heavily recruited from the old order. Thus an unpopular party of 600,000 ruled an empire of 90 million in 1920. The Cheka’s mandate included watching the “press, saboteurs, strikers”, and summary executions.[77] Besides 20 times more executions in five years than the Tsarist Okhrana in 50, it ran concentration and labour camps, “cleared from time to time by mass extermination”.[78]

Cliff claimed the Bolshevik minority was nonetheless internally democratic. By 1919 the party was run from the top down, staffed with apparatchiks; factions were banned in 1921 and dissidents jailed.[79] The early 1920s saw Lenin’s GPU operate a vast informer network; beatings, torture and rape were routinely used; left opponents were crushed; open soviet elections were prevented.[80] Rather than “self-determination,” the Red Army installed puppet regimes in Belarus and Ukraine from 1919, Georgia (1921), Armenia and Azerbaijan (1922). The anarchist-led Ukraine saw its soviets banned, its communes smashed, its leaders executed—despite formal treaties of cooperation.[81]

Delinking socialism-from-below from Bolshevism

It is precisely because anarchists and syndicalists defend socialism from below that they reject Bolshevism. Paul claims Bakunin’s critique of the Marxist “dictatorship of the proletariat”—that it would end in a “barracks” regime of “centralised state capitalism”[82]—is “superficial” and “inept”.[83]

By any reasonable measure, however, Bakunin’s theory is “vindicated by the verdict of history”.[84] International Socialism has tried to exonerate Lenin’s and Trotsky’s dictatorship by reference to difficult conditions: counter-revolution, “imperialism,” economic crisis, etc. The “Bolsheviks had no choice”, said Harman, but to rule alone: the “class they represented had dissolved itself while defending to fight that power”. Power anyway rightly belonged to “only those who wholeheartedly supported the revolution…the Bolsheviks”.[85] Cliff argued that “the pressure of world capitalism” later forced the Soviet Union’s rulers to make the economy “more and more similar”.[86]

This will not do. Leo objects to Black Flame suggesting classical Marxism tends to economic reductionism, but one would struggle to find a better illustration of exactly that tendency than these alibis.

It is contradictory to proclaim that Bolshevik ideology was essential to the revolution’s supposed success, yet insist that it had no impact on the revolution’s outcome. It is contradictory to condemn all anarchist experiences (as in Spain) as due entirely to ideology, not context, but to exonerate all Marxist experiences (as in Russia) as due entirely to context, not ideology.

Unless Leo embraces the “no choice” determinism he claims to reject, he must concede some choice is still possible when fighting faceless forces like “imperialism”. If he does, he cannot deny Bolshevik culpability in destroying the “democratic defence of working class power”. If he does not, he can hardly condemn Stalin, who faced the “pressure of world capitalism”.

Bolshevik choices led straight to one-party dictatorship, even before the Civil War started (May 1918) and long after it ended (November 1920). This was precisely because the Bolsheviks insisted (as Harman revealed) that they alone deserved power: all rivals were automatically counter-revolutionary.[87] Faced with popular repudiation—by peasants, and by the embarrassingly not actually “dissolved” proletariat through the soviets and strike waves in 1918, 1919 and 1921—the party clung to power at all costs.

Despite some genuinely democratic elements in Lenin’s thought, its overall thrust was simple: substitutionism.[88] Even State and Revolution is silent on political contestation in soviets: the “workers’ party” will be “directing and organising the new system”.[89] Unlike Leo, who hopes for democracy, Lenin insisted that “the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through an organisation embracing the whole of that class… It can be exercised only by a vanguard”.[90] This was, said Trotsky, “entitled to assert its dictatorship even if that dictatorship temporarily clashed with the passing moods of the workers’ democracy”.[91]

As for socialism, it would be top-down: “To organise the whole economy on the lines of the postal service…all under the control and leadership of the armed proletariat” (see above: meaning the party), “that is our immediate aim”.[92] The “working masses” must “be thrown here and there, appointed, commanded”, “deserters” “formed into punitive battalions” or sent to “concentration camps”.[93] Lenin and Trotsky unapologetically opposed self-management,[94] and Trotsky’s Left Opposition advocated forced industrialisation long before Stalin.[95] Before anyone says I am picking quotations, note that the Bolsheviks acted on precisely the lines these quotes suggest; the State and Revolution’s council system existed only as words in an incomplete pamphlet.

To which tradition should we look for resistance today?

To defend the Russian Revolution against liberal and conservative critiques is commendable. To conflate this with a defence of the Bolshevik regime that destroyed the revolution is a serious error.

To reclaim socialism, we must reclaim its participatory democratic and revolutionary traditions, suppressed by Leninist Marxism. This requires that sincere Marxists seriously engage with—rather than arrogantly lecture to—the black flame of anarchism and syndicalism, and its alternative vision of libertarian communism, revolutionary process and radical democracy.

Extended version:
Lucien van der Walt, 7 April 2011, "Detailed reply to 'International Socialism': debating power and revolution in anarchism, 'Black Flame' and historical Marxism," 62 pp., online at

1: I develop these arguments more in a paper at Thanks to Shawn Hattingh, Ian Bekker, Iain McKay and Wayne Price for feedback.
2: Blackledge, 2010, p132.
3: Birchall, 2010, p177.
4: Zeilig, 2009 , pp221-2. I use the term “syndicalism” to refer to revolutionary trade unionism that combines daily struggles with the goal of seizing the means of production. It emerged from the anarchist wing of the First International; it is an anarchist strategy and all its forms are part of the “broad anarchist tradition”.
5: Blackledge, 2010, p132.
6: Zeilig, 2009 , pp221-222.
7: Bakunin [1870], pp185,189, emphasis in original.
8: Bakunin, 1953, pp300,319,378.
9: Kropotkin [1912], p188.
10: Anderson, 2006, pp2,54.
11: See the online article for full citations.
12: Meyer, 2003, p218; Epstein, 2001.
13: “Conférences Internationale Syndicales-107,” ../
14: Goaman, 2004, pp173-174.
15: Birchall, 2010 , pp179-180, referring to Draper, 1966, chapter 4.
16: Keffer, 2005.
17: Birchall, 2010, p178, notably Serge’s Revolution in Danger.
18: Thorpe, 1989, pp96,98,100,164,179,197,200.
19: Blackledge, 2010, pp136,139,142.
20: Zeilig, 2010, p222. See van der Walt and Schmidt, 2009, ch4, 6.
21: For example, Chaplin [1933].
22: Bakunin [1869], pp152-154; also Bakunin [1870], p190.
23: Bakunin [1865], p137.
24: Bakunin, [1870], p190.
25: Engels [1873], 1972. See McKay, The Anarchist FAQ, section H 4.7.
26: See online paper for references, and “Declaration of the Principles of Revolutionary Syndicalism”: Thorpe, 1989, p324.
27: Blackledge, 2010, p139.
28: Holloway, 2005.
29: Blackledge, 2010, p139.
30: Maura, 1971, pp66,68, 72, 80-83.
31: Gómez Casas, 1986, pp137, 144, 154-157.
32: Gómez Casas, 1986, pp171, 173-175; CNT [1 May 1936], pp10-11.
33: Paz, 1987, p247.
34: Friends of Durruti [1938, 1978], p25.
35: Friends of Durruti [1938, 1978], p25.
36: Birchall, 2010, p175.
37: Abad de Santillan [1937], p47.
38: Blackledge, 2010 , pp133-134, 136, 143-144.
39: Bakunin [1871b], p269.
40: van der Walt and Schmidt, 2009, p109.
41: Bakunin, 1990, p63.
42: Price, 2007, pp172-173.
43: Bakunin, 1953, p287.
44: Price, 2007, p172, emphasis in original.
45: Gordon, 2008, pp69-70.
46: van der Walt and Schmidt, 2009 , pp70-71, 240-242, 244-247, 256-257.
47: Blackledge, 2010, pp131-132, 148.
48: Avrich, 1988, pp229-239.
49: Bakunin [1870], pp184, 186-187, 189-192, 197, 204.
50: Kropotkin [1880], pp123-124.
51: Blackledge, 2010 , pp136, 139, 142.
52: In Hodges, 1986, pp83-84.
53: Bakunin [1865], p138; see van der Walt and Schmidt, 2009, chapter 8.
54: Rocker [1938], pp64, 74, 77.
55: Bakunin [1871a], pp249, 250-251.
56: Zeilig, 2009, pp221-2.
57: Blackledge, 2010, p133, note 15.
58: Zeilig, 2010, p222.
59: For example, Blackledge, 2006; Harman, 2004; Rees, 1998; Renton, 2002, 2004; Banaji, 2010, editor’s introduction.
60: Harman, 1987, p18.
61: Blackledge, 2010, p132.
62: Birchall, 1974.
63: Zeilig, 2010, pp221-222.
64: Castoriadis, 2001, p77.
65: Blackledge, 2010, pp146-147.
66: Zeilig, 2010 , pp221-222.
67: Cliff, 2000 , pp66-67.
68: All figures unless otherwise stated, from Shukman, 1994, pp29, 166, 175, 177, 182, 184, 187.
69: Cliff [1964], pp30-34.
70: Devinatz, 2003.
71: Harman, 1987, p43.
72: Pirani, 2010a.
73: Cliff [1964], pp28, 34.
74: For a summary see McKay, The Anarchist FAQ, section H 6.3.
75: Kronstadt argued for new, open elections to soviets; it never called for “soviets without Bolsheviks”: Avrich, 1991, p181.
76: Avrich, 1967, pp184-185; Brovkin, 1991, p159; Farber, 1990, p22; Malle, 1985, pp240,366-367; Rabinowitch, 2007, pp248-252; Schapiro, 1977, p191.
77: Quoted in Daniels, 1985, p90.
78: Shukman, 1994, pp182-3.
79: Avrich, 1984.
80: Avrich, 1967, pp234-237; Brovkin, 1998, pp20-26, 44-46, 52-53,61-80,90-93; Bulletin[1923-1931]; Dubovic and Rublyov, 2009; Jansen, 1982; Pirani, 2010b.
81: For a recent debate on the “Makhnovist” anarchist movement, see McKay, 2007, pp30-32, 39.
82: Bakunin [1872], p284; Kropotkin [1912], pp170, 186.
83: Blackledge, 2010 , pp133, 146-147.
84: Compare Blackledge, 2010, p133.
85: Harman, 1987, pp19-20.
86: Cliff, 2000 , pp29-30.
87: See, for example, Lenin [1918], p599.
88: Price, 2007, pp128-129; Tabor, 1988, pp93-104.
89: Lenin [1917], p255.
90: Lenin, [1920], p21, my emphasis.
91: Trotsky, 10th Party Congress, in Farber, 1990, p203.
92: Lenin [1917], p273; also Lenin [1918], pp258, 269.
93: Trotsky, 9th Party Congress, in Brinton, 1970, p61; also Trotsky [1920], pp150-151.
94: Lenin [1918], pp258, 269; Trotsky [1920] 1921, pp150-151; also see Brinton, 1970.
95: Marot, 2006.


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Ricardo Flores Magón
Ricardo Flores Magón

Nestor Makhno
Nestor Makhno

author by apublication date Sun Apr 10, 2011 14:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

in spanish please! :)

author by Belga - Red Libertaria de Buenos Airespublication date Sat Apr 23, 2011 12:41author email das.belge at gmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

I haven't read the full long version* however in my humble opinion this is an incredible piece of work. I hope that we can translate it to spanish.

Belga - Red Libertaria de Buenos Aires.

*Full version:

author by Jan Makandalpublication date Mon May 02, 2011 03:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I tried to avoid engaging in any discussions pitting against each other revolutionary militants, engaged in their own struggle to transform their social formation, in a competitive manner, simply because the rule of engagements is to build unity, and in competition, unity can’t be achieved. In our camp, the objective of the rules of engagement is to construct unity in our battle to defeat capital. Rules of engagements are defined and determined by class struggle.

I will do so in this case, not because my position on competition is in a process of rectification but because some points raised in this response are for me contemporary, and those points are worth struggling around in our common struggle to defeat capital and collectively offer a viable alternative to capitalism and imperialism, rather than discussing over some dead comrades so that we transform their contributions, some of them valuable contributions, positive or negative, into formulas, scriptures and general untouchable dogma that we are competing over their correctness or incorrectness without even acknowledging whether those formulas still practical and applicable to our new objective reality.

I did start reading Black Flame, as a revolutionary militant, and quickly discovered in the process of reading Black Flame that I was being offered a choice on the color of the flame, not a means to light the flame from lessons learned from the past, simply a simplistic choice of choosing the color of the flame. For me, for theory to be a guide for our actions it must be non-partisan, non emotional. It must be intransigent, non-apologetic for it to be effective. Theory is an interpretation of an objective reality, since that objective reality is constantly evolving due to the fact the struggle of production and class struggle is the motor of an uninterrupted dynamic development of that reality. The production of the theory therefore must constantly evolve and adapt to that dynamic, making theory, the productions of theory constant, not permanent, imposed by this dynamic internal to any objective reality. This problematic is totally unnatural, irreconcilable to dogmatism and sectarianism. Both the response to International Socialism, Black Flame, the text by IST and most of the debate between Anarchists and Marxists are of the same trend and all are unable to really contribute to develop a theory capable of guiding us to confront capitalism, especially in a period of deep crisis.

My position is that Anarchism and Marxism with all their denominations need deepening to face our new objective reality and this deepening will not occur by defending either but by an attempt to exceed all in the construction of a proletarian alternative, where all theories, all contributions become the collective property of the proletariat. After all, isn’t this what communism is all about?

The need to enter a new stage
We are in the period of imperialism and proletarian revolution. All stages in proletarian theory must correspond to a new stage of proletarian struggle internationally. It is certain, the Bolshevik revolution, the Chinese revolution, the Vietnamese revolution and the National Liberation movements are enclosed in a stage and the need to enter a new stage at present. We have enough elements in the struggle of the international proletariat to do so, but our experiences are limited, very limited. Much more needs to be accomplished by the international proletariat to really enter a new stage. One of the important contradictions that new stage needs to overcome is the constant search for an individual, a trend, and a revolutionary militant to associate, as essential with that stage. The thought process of identifying an individual or a trend as representing a new stage is deeply flawed, bureaucratic and elitist, presenting theoretical positions as dogma, enshrining the positive as well as the negative aspects of their contributions, to be quoted from to validate arguments. This is completely anti-proletarian.

It is important, from the conception of proletarian internationalism, to work, to develop theory from a collective conception, even if, at times, some ideas do originate from particular individuals. This individual origination is irrelevant, accidental, besides being historically determined by broader social forces. The collective development of proletarian revolutionary theory is its correspondence to the class nature of the proletariat. This is what is corresponds to communism. We must overcome the form and limitations that all the previous stages took, that corresponded to previous levels of capitalism, and the form proletarian struggles took, and the maturity of these proletarian struggles. Finally theory is to be validated, and the validation is the implementation of that theory in reality and the process of validation to be guided by a constant need of rectification, consolidation and the application of the constant relation of specific to general, so our theory as a guide need to have a dual purpose, a specific one and an universal/general one to serve as a guideline in our international struggle against capital. For the left to have a future, we need to overcome this vulgar and primitive dogmatism and sectarianism. We need to deepen existing concepts and come with new one to advance in our struggle against capitalism and imperialism. I will follow with a series called Debunking formula and scripture.

Debunking formula and scripture [1]
1] The lexical definition of Democracy is not derived from the objective reality of class struggle and class domination, an intricate element of class struggle. Democracy is structural and abstract. Democracy is defined and determined by class struggle in any class society. So, the concept of democracy is historically determined based on the class that dominates society.
• Democracy is the capacity of a class/fraction of classes or classes to maintain and reproduce its or their domination.
• Democracy is power, political power guaranteeing that reproduction of power in a social formation divided in classes.
• Democracy is dictatorship, meaning with all the struggles existing in that society in the final analysis, the social practice will conform or be recuperated by the class dominating this society in the interest of that class and all classes that are part of the dominant classes. To think dictatorship is repression. Is formulating a reformist vision of dictatorship. All the anti-dictatorship struggles waged in the seventies are concrete examples of that reformism. Most recently, Egypt, Tunisia, and the ongoing struggles in North Africa are dominated by reformism.
• Democracy is the power of a class to maintain it domination [formal power] and the capacity of that class to administer it [real power]. This administration is done through the State Apparatus. To confuse and or fuse formal power with real power leads us to reformism. For example, the anti-Apartheid struggle was not addressing real power by not addressing the power of capitalism and making the anti-capitalist struggle the fundamental form of struggle, leading to a reformist path. The same could apply for Haiti, Nicaragua or El Salvador and the National Liberation movements.
• Democracy is not elections. Election is a democratic right won in most social formations by popular struggle. In the US, although we have called it a democratic society, correctly so, slavery existed, women, as well as African Americans, won the rights to vote much later, but it was still a bourgeois democracy. The political orientation to boycott elections or abstain from elections is in fact a reformist practice. Our role is to debunk the electoral process in bourgeois democracy and show that it is window-shopping, not a form of power sharing. We could use the electoral process, applicable in specific instances, to expose bourgeois democracy but not to proceed in the belief that we have a chance. Whether we vote or not the dominant classes will still hold power, will still control the capacity of their reproduction.
• Democracy is structural: guaranteeing the reproduction of the social relations in a social formation at all levels, economic, politic and ideological, all these levels exist in a relation of relative autonomy, determined by the economy. The reason we can identify a social formation as a slave, a feudal or capitalist social formation is because these modes of production are characterized by the dominant mode, even if other modes of production still play a role. Inside a social formation in general the entire historically constituted social classes, or/ and in the process of being constituted, the relations of these classes are the structural constitution of class struggle, and democracy regulates these relations and reproduces them.
• Democracy is different from bourgeois democratic rights. Bourgeois democratic rights are won in battle: the right to vote, civil rights, and the eight-hour day work and/or in the struggle inside the dominant classes. Bourgeois democratic rights are popular struggles won in battles and some of these rights integrated bourgeois law.
• Democracy is class dictatorships, even in exceptional periods or conjuncture such as autocracy’s or fascism the underpinning aspect is class dominance and class dictatorships manifesting in class struggle in the interest of primarily hegemonic fraction as well as in the interest of the power block. Power block meaning the entirety of all classes comprising of the dominant classes, with all their internal struggles, the unity of these classes facing the popular masses and their internal struggles to guarantee the reproductions of these social formation in their best interest as well as the power block. Dictatorship is never individual or express by a political party. This one of the empirical mistake made in the understanding of the degeneration of the Soviet Union. It was not a party dictatorship, even if the hegemonic bourgeois fraction controlled state power. An empirical conclusion not allowing us to deepen our knowledge of Russia and learn from the economist orientation allowing the formation and the constitution of the bourgeoisie in that social formation.

These points mentioned are vary concise and could be clarified in an ongoing debate

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Mon May 02, 2011 23:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As always, Jan's points are clear and challenging. I agree about the importance of politics being informed, indeed, "defined and determined by class struggle." I also agree that debates that are "competitive" pose some problems, and the dangers of sectarianism and dogmatism.

However, I am sure you, Jan, agree that we need to have a historical understanding of the debates that the previous generations of militants engaged - debates that obviously shaped their praxis - so that we have some reference points to inform how we engage with a contemporary reality. Even the question of whether we are in a new "stage" cannot easily be posed without that. Even the question of what is to be done, now, cannot easily be posed now. Also, lessons must be drawn from the past, because they do inform the present. What a "new stage" implies is not something that is neatly set by objective realities; many people talking about, say, 21st century socialism mean very different things.

Now, if you think most of the debates between anarchism and Marxism are "unable to really contribute to develop a theory capable of guiding us to confront capitalism, especially in a period of deep crisis," that is fine. But you should show this, rather than imply that alternative views on this are simply partisan, dogmatic, sectarian etc. They are, perhaps, simply "intransigent, non-apologetic." Like yours.


author by Larry gambone - IWWpublication date Sat May 07, 2011 13:32author email redlionpress at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Just recently the International Marxist Tendency released an article purportedly critiquing anarchism. It was even worse than the attempts dissected in this article. Good response, by the way! My own attempt at dealing with the IMT can be read at

author by Stephanie McMillan - One Struggle (South Florida)publication date Sat May 14, 2011 10:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I agree with Jan Makandal's point: "One of the important contradictions that new stage needs to overcome is the constant search for an individual, a trend, and a revolutionary militant to associate, as essential with that stage. The thought process of identifying an individual or a trend as representing a new stage is deeply flawed, bureaucratic and elitist, presenting theoretical positions as dogma, enshrining the positive as well as the negative aspects of their contributions, to be quoted from to validate arguments. This is completely anti-proletarian."

I would like to share this list of things we can do in a situation of low struggle, as exists for example in the U.S., where I am. It does not draw a line between anarchists, communists, radical environmentalists or any others who want to bring this system down. We need to learn from history, of course, but this generation must create its own path. (Please attribute if reprinted, unchanged).

* * *
50 Ways to Prepare for Revolution

The people of the United States are currently unprepared to seize a revolutionary moment. We must fix that.
How can we raise our levels of revolutionary consciousness, organization and struggle?

Raise consciousness

1) Raise consciousness with the purpose of building organization and raising the level of struggle.

2) Investigate before forming opinions. Research how the world and the system function.

3) Read foundational and historical works about revolution, by those who have participated in and led them.

4) Analyze the system’s current condition and trajectory.

5) Learn about the resistance, uprisings and revolutions going on in the world today.

6) Read the material that currently active groups are issuing and discussing.

7) Continuously develop, elaborate upon and refine principles, theories and strategies for our movement.

8. Raise our voices. Articulate revolutionary ideas, and give them a public presence.

9) Listen and speak in the spirit of mutual clarification.

10) Participate in discussion, to develop our ideas and hone our skills in expressing them, and to help others do so.

11) Figure out how to use all our various talents, positions, energy and resources as effectively as possible, to expose the system’s evil, irredeemable and unreformable nature.

12) Analyze and explain the many ways the system dominates and exploits.

13) Stand with the dominated, exploited, invaded, colonized, threatened and oppressed.

14) Display a revolutionary spirit and celebrate it in others.

15) Exercise patience in winning over reluctant potential allies and supporters.

16) Ridicule and discredit the enemy.

17) Create revolutionary culture. Make videos and art, speak, sing, and write blogs, books, comments, leaflets, rhymes, stories, and articles about the enemy s crimes and the people s resistance.

18) Exchange ideas locally, nationally and (within the law or safe channels) globally.

19) Encourage others to participate in the revolutionary process.


20) Organize as a way to raise consciousness more broadly and to build struggle.

21) Start with people we know.

22) If our friends discourage us, make new friends.

23) Network sensibly with people online. Find local people online who express similar ideas, and meet with them.

24) Find a group that we basically agree with. Work with it.

25) If there’s no local group we want to work with, start one.

26) Write a leaflet with contact info. Pass it out in public to find potential comrades.

27) When we meet people, assess our points of agreement. If we agree on basic essentials, decide how to work together. If not, say goodbye for now.

28) Build strong ties locally and nationally, and build solidarity globally.

29) Define allies according to overall outlook and goals.

30) Don’t let secondary differences prevent cooperation. Handle differences between allies non-antagonistically.

31) Do not tolerate oppressive (sexist, racist, homophobic etc.) dynamics within the movement. Confront their expression and put a stop to it.

32) Refrain from saying anything aloud, on the phone or electronically that we wouldn’t want to hear played back in court.

33) Keep illegal drugs away from our political life.

34) Research and practice good security culture.

35) Prioritize the wellbeing of our organizations over personal benefit.

36) Ready our ranks to seize on any breaks in the legitimacy of the system.


37) Use struggle to spread revolutionary consciousness and build organization.

38) Collectively determine what we want, and declare our demands.

39) Act as far as possible within our capacity, not either beyond or below our capacity.

40) Continuously strive to expand and consolidate our capacity and strength.

41) Assert our rights and our responsibilities.

42) Bring our revolutionary perspective into struggles already occurring.

43) Defend, support, and encourage our allies.

44) As opportunities arise, weaken the enemy and its ability to rule.

45) Obey the small laws. Don t get taken out of the game for something unworthy.

46) For illegal acts, make sure you can trust your comrades with your life and the lives of everyone connected to you.

47) Avoid being distracted and diverted into symbolic action-for-action’s sake.

48) Don t expect the enemy to act against its nature. It has no mercy and can not be reasoned with.

49) Turn every attack by the enemy into an opportunity to speak out, organize, and grow more powerful.

50) Be willing to work hard. Be smart. Be brave. Remember we re all in this together.

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author by Wayne - personal opinionpublication date Thu May 26, 2011 07:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is an excellent statement. Lucien deserves credit for writing it and the British SWP credit for publishing it.

I do not agree with Jan's statement that it is a case of sectarian dogmatism, made irrelevant by the new stage we are in. On the contrary, one of the curses of the radical movement is that we do not study the lessons of the past and learn from tkhem. We keep reinventing the wheel and making the same mistakes. Learning from the past does not mean that we have to do exactly what some sage once said, but we should think about it. This is especially true when dealing with the disputes between Marxists and anarchists. A great deal of blood has been shed over this "debate" and may yet be shed again if we do not take ourselves seriously.

I may not fully agree with Lucien; I am not sure. I think that there are libertarian-democratic trends within classical Marxism as well as valuable scientific knowledge (mainly the critique of political economy). And I believe that there are authoritarian and dangerous trends within anarchism, from Proudhon's and Bakunin's racism and antisemitism to the Spanish mainstream anarchists' betrayal of their program and the working class.

But none of this alters his main points: that the mainstream of Marxism participated in supporting imperialism and then in creating totalitarian state capitalisms, killing tens of millions of workers, peasants, and revolutionaries. Whatever the faults of anarchism, it does not have this record!

Nor is this just something in the past, in a previous stage. The Cuban state remains influential. The Columbian FARC remains powerful. The Nepalese Maoists remain powerful. The great nation of China is still ruled by a Communist Party. Who is to say that such regimes may not yet arise again?

And what of the Trotskyists with whom Lucien is debating? Unlike the "orthodox" (Pabloite) wing of Trotskyism, they reject Trotsky's theory that Stalin's regime remained a "workers' state," because it maintained nationalized property. BUT they continue to justify and support the one-party police state of Lenin and Trotsky as a "workers' state" and "dictatorship of the proletariat." AND they believe that Stalin's bureaucratic-dictatorship was "a workers' state" and a "dictatorship of the proletariat" up until 1929 (long after every drop of workers' power was squeezed out of it). With such views, how do we know that they would not recreate a one-party police state themselves, given the chance? They do not intend to, but neither did Lenin and Trotsky in the beginning (probably).

So, yes, anarchists should be willing to learn from anyone--Marx, Trotsky, Malcolm X, feminists, ecologists, religious people, etc. But not by ignoring our history and what we already know.

author by the red star twinkles mischeviouslypublication date Fri Jun 01, 2012 19:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If I remember correctly, (and while I think the article referred to to back up the claim 'Trotsky, The Left Opposition, and the Rise of Stalinism' is well done, and has merit to be sure) Trotsky and the Left Opposition were not so much in favour of 'forced' industrialisation, but of a faster pace than what was occuring under the NEP. If I may quote from Victor Serge's Memoirs: "We had proposed a tax on the rich peasants- they were actually liquidated! We had proposed limitations and reforms of NEP- it was actually abolished! We had proposed industrialisation- it was done, on a colossal scale that we, "superindustrializers" as we were dubbed, had never dared to dream of, which moreover inflicted immense suffering on the country" (Serge 2012:293). Even the notoriously hostile historian Robert Service, in his biography of Trotsky, claims that 'Trotsky displayed... restraint when demanding the quickening of Soviet industrialisation" and favoured a system of collective farming to be conducted "on a voluntary basis" (Service 2009:350). Comments?

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