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Marx's Economics for Anarchists

category international | economy | opinion / analysis author Monday October 03, 2011 21:50author by Wayne Price - (personal opinion)author email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

An Anarchist's Introduction to Marx's Critique of Political Economy

This is the introductory chapter 1 (a 2nd edition) of the book I am writing with the above title and subtitle. This introduction focuses on why it may be useful for anarchists and libertarian socialists to learn Marx's political economy, despite the negative history between anarchists and Marxists.

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Marx's Economics for Anarchists

An Anarchist's Introduction to Marx's Critique of Political Economy

The world is facing upsetting upheavals, with aspects which are political, military, ecological, cultural, and even spiritual. Clearly this includes a deep economic crisis, overlapping with all other problems. We need to understand the nature of the economic crisis if we are to deal with it.

Of the theories about the economy, the two main schools are bourgeois, in the sense that they advocate capitalism. Both the conservative, monetarist, unrestricted-free-market school and the liberal/social democratic Keynesian school exist to justify capitalism and to advise the government how to manage the capitalist economy.

The only developed alternate economic theory is that of Karl Marx's. His theory was thought out to guide the working class in understanding the capitalist system in order to end it (one reason he called his theory a "critique of political economy"). Other radicals, particularly anarchists, developed certain topics relating to economics, such as the possible nature of a post-capitalist economy. But no one, besides Marx, developed an overall analysis of how capitalism worked as an economic system. Therefore I have focused on Marx's work, even though I am an anarchist and not a Marxist (nor an economist for that matter). By this I mean I do not accept the total worldview developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, even though I agree with large parts of it.

I make no claims for originality. At most, when there are differing interpretations of Marx's theory, I may take a minority position. But I am focusing on the theory of Marx, as expressed in the three main volumes of Capital, the Grundrisse, and a few other works, and in the work of his close collaborator and comrade, Friedrich Engels.

Otherwise I am not covering "Marxist" theory, which includes post-Marx commentators, some of whom disagree with fundamentals of Marx's views. For example, many self-styled Marxist political economists reject Marx's labor theory of value. Even more reject his tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Many reject the possibility of state capitalism. Most are de facto advocates of state capitalism! (Most social democratic/reformist Marxists call on the existing state to intervene in the economy, in order to bolster capitalism. Most revolutionary Marxists seek to overturn the existing state and to create a new state which would replace the bourgeoisie with state ownership — while maintaining the capital/labor replationship.) At most, I will have to touch on some post-Marx Marxists, as when discussing imperialism and the epoch of capitalist decay.

There have been many versions of Introductions to Marxist Economics, starting with Marx himself, in his Value, Price and Profit and Wage-Labor and Capital, not to mention vast numbers of more sophisticated works on the topic. Very rarely has there been anything on this topic by an anarchist, written for anarchists and other libertarian socialists, and I suspect it may be useful today.

Can Anarchists Learn from Marx?

Yet how can anarchists learn anything from Marxists? The First International was torn apart in a bitter faction fight between the followers of Marx and those of Michael Bakunin, the founder of anarchism as a movement. The Second (Socialist) International did not let anarchists join. Following the Russian Revolution, the regime of Lenin and Trotsky had anarchists arrested and shot. In the Spanish revolution of the 1930s, the Stalinists betrayed and murdered the anarchists. More generally, the Marxist movement has led, first, to social-democratic reformism and support for Western imperialism, and, second, to mass-murdering, totalitarian, state capitalism (miscalled "Communism"). Finally it collapsed back into traditional capitalism.

But both Marxism and anarchism grew out of the 19th century socialist and working class movements. Both had the same goals of the end of capitalism, of classes, of the state, of war, and of all other oppressions. Both focused on the working class as the agent of revolutionary change, in alliance with other oppressed parts of the population.

Yet anarchists rejected Marx's concepts of the transitional state ("the dictatorship of the proletariat"), of a nationalized and centralized post-capitalist economy, of the strategy of building electoral parties, and of the tendency toward teleological determinism. Instead, anarchists sought to replace the state with non-state federations of workers' councils and community assemblies, to replace the military and police with a democratically-organized armed people (a militia), and to replace capitalism with federations of self-managed workplaces, industries and communes, democratically planned from the bottom-up.

However, many anarchists expressed appreciation for Marx's economic theory. This began with Bakunin and continues to today. They believed that it was possible to unhook it from Marx's political strategy. For example, Cindy Milstein, an influential US anarchist, wrote in Anarchism and its Aspirations, "More than anyone, Karl Marx grasped the essential character of what would become a hegemonic social structure — articulated most compellingly in his Capital..." (2010; p. 21).

Some radicals have argued that there was two sides to Marxism (Marx's Marxism that is) — and I agree. One side was libertarian, democratic, humanistic, and proletarian, and another side was authoritarian, statist, and bureaucratic; one side was scientific and one side was determinist and scientistic (pseudo-scientific). From this viewpoint, Stalinist totalitarians had used both sides of Marx's Marxism, not only the centralizing, authoritarian aspects, but even the positive, libertarian and humanistic aspects, in order to paint an attractive face over their monstrous reality. So they have misled hundreds of millions of workers and peasants in mass movements which thought they were fighting for a better world. But does that mean that libertarian socialists should reject all of Marx's work, even those positive aspects?

There has long been a minority trend within Marxism which has based itself on the humanistic and libertarian-democratic aspects of Marxism. This goes back to William Morris, the Britisher who worked with Engels while being a friend of Peter Kropotkin. It continues to today's "autonomist" Marxists. The version of Marxist economics I learned was heavily influenced by the "Johnson-Forrest Tendency" (C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayeskaya) and by Paul Mattick (of the "council communists").

I am not arguing here whether these libertarian Marxists were "correct" in their understanding of Marxism, as opposed to the authoritarianism of Marxist-Leninists. I am only pointing out, empirically, that it was possible for some to combine Marxist economics with a politics which was essentially the same as anarchism. I draw the conclusion that it is possible for anarchists to learn from Marx's critique of political economy.

Was Marx a Plagiarist?

There is one other complaint about Marx's political economy sometimes raised by anarchists. Some argue that Marx did not invent his theory by himself but learned it mostly from other thinkers, including Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first person to call himself an "anarchist." They denounce Marx as a plagiarist.

There is no question but that Marx made a thorough study of thinkers who went before him, including bourgeois political economists and socialist writers. His writings, published and unpublished, often read like dialogues between himself and earlier economists (e.g., his Theories of Surplus Value, the "fourth volume" of Capital). This is another part of what he meant by his "critique of political economy." He claimed to go beyond them but he never denied that he built on earlier thinkers. Some political economists he respected (particularly those in the line from Adam Smith to David Ricardo). Others he despised (the pure apologists whom he called "prizefighters").

When Marx and Engels first read Proudhon, and then met him in France, they were impressed. Coming from the background of a working artisan, Proudhon had developed a critique of capitalism and a concept of socialism. The two young, middle-class, radicals learned from him. In The Holy Family (the first really "Marxist" book), Marx and Engels commented on Proudhon's 1840 What is Property?:
"Proudhon makes a critical investigation — the first resolute, ruthless, and at the same time scientific investigation — of the basis of political economy, private property. This is the great scientific advance he has made, an advance which revolutionizes political economy and for the first time makes a real science of political economy possible." (quoted in Foster, 2000; p. 12).
Later on, Marx and Engels became political and theoretical opponents of Proudhon. Marx attacked his views in The Poverty of Philosophy, as did Engels in The Housing Question. I am not going to get into the theoretical questions raised there; I believe that Marx and Engels learned from Proudhon and then developed past him in certain ways. Bakunin stated,
"There is a good deal of truth in the merciless critique [Marx] directed against Proudhon. ... Proudhon remained an idealist and a metaphysician. His starting point is the abstract idea of right. From right he proceeds to economic fact, while Marx, by contrast, advanced and proved the incontrovertible truth...that economic fact has always preceeded legal and political right. The exposition and demonstration of that truth constitutes one of Marx's principal contributions to science". (Leier, 2006: p.256).
Beside immediate economic theory, Proudhon opposed labor unions and strikes, let alone working class revolution. But, Proudhon worked out a concept of decentralized-federalist socialism, which was contrary to Marx's centralist statism. This concept was important in the development of revolutionary anarchism.

However, the whole discussion is pointless. The key question should be whether or not Marx's economic theory is a good theory, useful for understanding the capitalist economy, and useful for developing political reactions to it. Whether or how much Marx learned from others is irrelevant. If he got good ideas from Proudhon, then good for him.

Critique of Political Economy?

There is some dispute over whether to refer to "Marx's economics," "Marx's political economy", or "Marx's critique of political economy". As to the first, Marx discussed the production and distribution of commodities and other topics which are typical of subjects covered by texts on "economics". At the same time, his goals and interests were entirely different from those of bourgeois economists: not to make the system work better but to overthrow it.

As for "political economy", this was a term taken from Aristotle, who distinguished between "domestic economy" (of the household and the farm) and "political economy" (of the polis — the overall community). Early bourgeois economists picked up the term. They connected their analysis of economics with the role of classes and the state. Modern radicals often like to use the term in order to emphasize that they are integrating production and consumption with the role of the state and the social totality. Yet Marx himself generally used "political economy" as a synonym for bourgeois economics.

Marx preferred to use the phrase, "critique of political economy". It was the title or subtitle of several of his books (including Capital). The term "critique" meant "a critical analysis", examining the positive and negative aspects of something, in their interactions. He was the political enemy of the political economists, however much he respected a few of them for their insights. He was the opponent of the system he was examining, and exposing. Some Marxists today prefer to say they are furthering the "critique of political economy". Yet it does seem a lengthy and somewhat awkward phrase.

I use all three terms. But it is essential to keep in mind that what we are doing is an attack on bourgeois economic theory and on the capitalist economy. In a very real sense, the whole of Marx's Capital was a justification for what he wrote as the conclusion of the Communist Manifesto, "The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of all countries unite!" and what he wrote as the first "rule" of the First International, "The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves".

* Chapter 2 will discuss Marx's method, the labor theory of value, and the nature of surplus value.

Written for

author by Hirampublication date Sat Sep 24, 2011 15:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is an excellent idea, and I am impatient to read the whole thing. Having "evolved" from Trotskyist marxism to anarchist communism (à la Platform), I have never lost my admiration for Marx's economic insights. And a refresher course, written by an anarchist, is just what I need.

author by Ilan S. - AAtW, A-infos, Matzpenpublication date Sat Sep 24, 2011 18:25author email ilan at shalif dot comauthor address Tel Avivauthor phone Report this post to the editors

"The only developed alternate economic theory is that of Karl Marx."

Marx contributed to the anticapitalist analysis of the capitalist system. Though any scientific and political contribution of 150 years ago is with minimal scientific value if at all.

The whole spectrum of Marxists are part of a cult - an interesting subject to some people. Understanding of it may help to open the eyes of real revolutionary activists lured by "Marxists" to the erroneous road.

There are many anticapitalist economics scientist who are up to date and contribute to us much more than we can find in the pro and con Marx texts.

Most of the relevant data of the various statistics of the capitalist world economy are available to all. Any one with the world system analysis approach who take into consideration the important factors can see through the capitalist disinformation.

Rumors say that the only contribution of Marx was his presenting the surplus value equation.

(The last world crisis is mainly due to diminishing taxes for the big capital which invested too big part of the huge profits in speculations, frauds, and bad credit resulting in a bubble that was sure to explode, and not because of any factor of capitalism mentioned by Marx.)

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author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Sat Sep 24, 2011 20:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks Wayne for taking this task on your shoulders. I agree with you that Marx critique of capitalism should be fundamental for anarchists, because anarchism developed within the First International as part of the broader socialist tradition and in fact Bakunin himself acknowledged many times how much he owed to Marx in terms of his own intellectual development.

Such a task, should be noted, is not the first time to be carried: let alone the fact that Bakunin translated the first parts of Das Kapital into Russian (an endeavour he could not finish because of the Nechayev affair) after translating the Manifesto at the end of 1869, also the Italian anarchist Carlo Cafiero produced a small simple abridged version of the first volume of Das Kapital while in jail in 1878 (for the Benevento affair) and the US anarchist Albert Parsons produced his famous work Anarchism while in jail in 1887, waiting to be executed because of the Haymarket affair, in which he describes capitalist development in North America while popularizing Marx's economic theories for a US public. Johann Most also produced a "manual" to read Das Kapital (its first volume) between 1867-1873, which he did of course before becoming an anarchist and while he still was a social-democrat, but he never de-authorised that work. Most of this manuals though were written over a hundred years ago and in spite of having been written with the intention of making it an easy read, their old style language now makes it hard read. So a renewed initiative, with the perspective given by over a century of history, is a most welcome one.

I do think that in turning its back to Marx contributions to socialism, anarchism loss an awful lot and opened up the doors to some liberal tendencies denying class struggle, etc. Good luck in this task.

author by Lucien van der Waltpublication date Sat Sep 24, 2011 22:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors


I too think this is an excellent idea - I would just add that it would be useful to look at some of the critiques that anarchists raised about elements of Marx's theory, including on prices, on the process of the concentration and centralisation of capital, on the role of the state in capital's evolution etc., and also on Marx's larger views on history, society and class (at least, how class is theorised), and Marx's debt to PJ Proudhon and others. In Black Flame as you know, we argue that Marx had a decisive influence on anarchism/ syndicalism, and that anarchists who decried Marx's influence often did not elude it, but we also add that (and outline how) key anarchists engaged Marx's theory through a critical appropriation of his economics.


author by Cathal - WSM-personal capacitypublication date Tue Sep 27, 2011 02:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A great idea. A few anarchists, marxists and other lefties here in Cork, Ireland are just finishing a reading group for Marx's Capital. I'd highly recommend it, not only for the economics but also to understand the dialectical method. We used David Harvey's lecture series (available on youtube) to help us through it.

author by Ilan S. - AAtW, A-infos, Matzpenpublication date Wed Sep 28, 2011 00:51author email ilan at shalif dot comauthor address Tel Avivauthor phone Report this post to the editors

When I was ignorant about the social sciences Marx dialectics seemed great. When I studied some and did my own research I found how ridiculous it is comparing to Kun and other modern/materialist philosophers of science.
After learning about "Chaos" and system approach the "modern Marxists" seem to be much more ridiculous.

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author by Ilan S. - AAtW, A-infos, Matzpenpublication date Wed Sep 28, 2011 16:02author email ilan at shalif dot comauthor address Tel Avivauthor phone Report this post to the editors

No subject is out of potential debate or scientific study. However, some mix between aesthetics and history or psychology and a sound social sciences. Studying Marx and the Marxists can help us a lot - mainly in the context of "study your enemy". Marx was the most influential thinker in the last 100 years or so... He is most relevant to the understanding of revolutionaries. He is most relevant for psychology of opinions. But it does not mean he have any relevance to modern understanding of present processes of the various economic and sociological aspects of the capitalist system.
Unless we really understand the Marxist root of authoritarians of the left, humanity may experience again a version of the red fascist state capitalism.

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author by zoranpublication date Wed Sep 28, 2011 22:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

it's sad to see how comrades at west always go back to marx, although it's clear that something is wrong on basic level with theory that was later main ideology for all dictators and totalitarian birocrats at east. as anarchist who lived through that era, i can tell you one thing - anti-authoritarians can't learn anything from authoritarian ideologists - and most of all not from those who were so influenced by efficency of capitalism.

either we go further or we quit now rather then doing again mistakes of past and trust those who are same enemy as capitalists.

sorry for bad english and telling obvious things, but i'm really shocked every time anarchists make same mistakes over and over.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Thu Sep 29, 2011 00:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Zoran's comment has many debatable issues, but I will go by parts. First, because he assumes that the dictatorships in the East were "ideologically" Marxists, when, at best, they paid lip service to marxism as an "ideology" they manipulated to justify whatever decisions had to be taken. Most of those dictators were traditional bureaucrats with a tokenistic knowledge of some quotes. A lot of bad stuff has been done in the name of grand ideologies that were blatantly in contradiction with their very spirit... let us remember that the Jacobin dictatorship cut so many heads in the guillotine with the sweet word of the human rights in their lips, and that does not mean we should abandon and oppose totally human rights as such. Secondly, Zona himself recognize how those regimes were influenced by the "efficiency of capitalism" -in fact, Lenin's own approach (and he was the most knowledgable and possible honest of the whole lot) was more influenced by Taylorism and German capitalist system than by Marx's own views of communism.

Third, and most importantly, to reduce Marx to a mere "authoritarian" is extraordinarily short-sighted. Marx was authoritarian in approach and personality (not in goals, since he also aimed at a Stateless society) and that caused serious clashes with the "anti-authoritarians" who would later start calling themselves anarchists, and other anti-authoritarians who did not become anarchists (de paepists, etc.). But he was also a formidable critic of capitalism, probably the most incisive one to date and he played a massive role in shaping socialism in its various trends -including anarchism.

The intellectual contribution of Marx to Bakunin, and through him to anarchism, was recognized by Bakunin himself (quotes taken from "Bakunin" Mark Leier, Seven Stories Press, 2006):

About Marx importance in his own intellectual development:

"[When we met in 1844, Marx] was much more advanced than I was, as he remains more advanced and incomparably more learned than I today. I knew nothing then about political economy, I had not given up metaphysical abstractions, and my socialism was only instinctive" (p.134)

In relation to his contribution to the materialistic analysis of society:

"There is a good deal of truth in the merciless critique he directed against Proudhon. For all his efforts to ground himself in reality, Proudhon remained an idealist and a metaphysician. His starting point is the abstract idea of right. From right he proceeds to economic fact, while Marx, by contrast, advanced and proved the incontrovertible truth, confirmed by the entire past and present history of human society nations, and states, that economic fact has always preceeded legal and political right. The exposition and demonstration of that truth constitutes one of Marx's principal contributions to science" (p.256, my emphasis)

In relation to Marx's contribution to the International of the workers movement:

"leaving aside all the foulness he has spewed against us, we cannot ignore, at least I cannot, the great service he has rendered to the socialist cause for twenty-five years. Undoubtedly he has left all of us far behind in this. He is also one of the first founders, if not the creator, of the International. This is of enormous worth, in my view, and whatever his attitude towards us, I will always acknowledge this... Marx is undeniably a very useful man in the International. Up to now he has been a wise influence and has been the strongest bulwark for socialism, the strongest obstacle against the invasion of bourgeois ideas and tendencies. And I could never forgive myself if I destroyed or weakened his beneficial influence for the mere aim of personal vengeance." (pp.277-278)

(This last quote is remarkable, since is a letter to Herzen in the middle of his bitter dispute with Marx on the International, and constitutes a response to Herzen on why he was so benign with Marx himself during the debate. This private reply gives a measure of the man and it is surprising that while Bakunin could remain above the petty intrigues, some of today's anarchists can't help it!)

To reject in toto Marx's contribution to socialism, as some anarchists have done, risks ending up with a completely devoid form of radical liberalism which rejects class struggle, etc. That has happened (check the Korean experience, or other Cold War anarchists who ended up supporting the West against the East). I don’t think it to be mere chance that anarchist revolutionaries owe to Marx and Engels at least three all-time favourite slogans: “down with the wage system”, “the emancipation of the working classes must be at the hands of the working classes themselves” and “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

Instead of rejecting Marx whole thought in a manichean and binary, polarizing way, I prefer to have a.... dialectical approach! :)

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Thu Sep 29, 2011 01:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

ps. Ilan, if you are interested in "Chaos theory" I'd strongly recommend you to read the book of Sokal and Bricmont "Fashionable Non sense" (also called "Intellectual Impostures") about the misuse and abuse of ill-understood scientific theories (which were not meant to explain society nor human behaviour in the first place) to social sciences. It is a devastating document about how social scientists in the post-structuralist currents have misused theories developed in physics (quantum mechanics, non-euclidian geommetry, chaos theory, etc. etc. etc.), with barely any understanding of them (if they did understand them, they would know how little they apply to social sciences), as an argument of "authority". You only need to say "as the chaos theory goes..." to an audience not familiarised with the concepts to accept your opinions as a higher form of knowledge. The book is actually good read and a good antidote to the post-modernism in the left.

author by Waynepublication date Thu Sep 29, 2011 02:55author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is difficult to respond to Zoran or to Ilan because they do not respond to my essay in the first place. Instead they just play their old records about the evils of Marxism, based on the real evils done by Marxists (which my essay refers to in detail). Except that Ilan sort-of responds to my claim that Marxism is the only major system of economics which is not bourgeois; he makes vague references to other thinkers and cites "rumors." Neither writer refers to my point (cited by Lucien and again by Jose Antonio) that there have been anarchists who respected Marx's economics, beginning with Bakunin himself. I am not embarrassed to be in that number. My essay also refers to the autonomous Marxists, who held anarchist politics. As to the real evils of "Marxist" dictatorships, I note that they used not only the authoritarian side of Marxism but also they (falsely) used the humanistic side, in order to make their societies look more attractive to outsiders.

author by Waynepublication date Fri Sep 30, 2011 05:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The following message was emailed on the NAASN list:

It strikes me as a bit counterintuitive to describe Marxism as "the
only developed alternative economic theory," because Marx's work was
almost entirely a critique of capitalism. He wrote very little about
the concrete features of a post-capitalist society. "Critique of the
Gotha Program" is about it. Of course his references to the
"associated producers" are calculated to make the hearts of
Proudhonians like me go pitty-pat, but not so much when the glittering
generality is filled in with actual content.

-To which I responded:

That Marx was weak in projecting an alternate, post-capitalist, economy is well-known. I intend to discuss this in the last chapter of my book. However, what I was asserting ws that Marx had the only developed theory of how the capitalist political econmy worked, that ws not pro-capitalist. This is true.

author by Nestor - Anarkismo Editorial Grouppublication date Mon Oct 03, 2011 22:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Please note that this article has been republished in a revised version on the request of the author. All comments to date concern the original version of the article, though mostly remain relevant also to this 2nd version.

author by Zoranpublication date Wed Oct 05, 2011 22:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

wayne, it's simple, no matter what bakunin thought at the time (and he changed his mind often) or that anarchists were members of 1st international, this doesn't change much, or whatever reason you find to go back to marx, since time and events that followed clearly show what is outcome of marx and marxist approach.

of course, you can say that simplification of marx's ideas is to blame in east, but that would be simplified view of east, it's intelectuals and education, that was, no matter how totalitarian society was, really good and free. so it's not ignorance that led east to authoritorian way, but ideas that were well studied and used in that way.

after all, very simple argument says all: if it was so easy to use marx's ideas to manipulate milions of people and keep them in totalitarian society, and if so many authoritorians were attracted by his ideas, then you have to ask yourself - what there can be for anarchists?

my comment is not directly about your essay since i can't understand why to go back and repeat mistakes of the past... unless you see this as "know your enemy", but from all, it doesn't seem to be just that. in solidarity, zoran

author by Waynepublication date Thu Oct 06, 2011 01:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors


I wonder if you read my article?

You argue that we should be anarchists and not Marxists. I agree with you. I said so. I do not think that Marx wanted to create murderous state capitalisms, but parts of his theory led to that. But that is not what my book is primarily about.

What my book argues is that anarchists can learn from Marx's economic analysis of capitalism. You say nothing about that. That Marxism led to totalitarian regimes proves nothing about whether Marx had good insights into how capitalism works. I think he did. The other main theories of economics are all openly pro-capitalist. Their ideas are also tied to terrible developmens, such as imperialism, world wars, economic collapse, and fascism. This is not better than the record of Marxism.

author by zoranpublication date Thu Oct 06, 2011 02:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

yes, i read your article. sorry for not reffering directly to it.

understanding capitalist economics in a way marx does it is important just if you want to take them over, not abolish them. this is my point. that's why i was saying that anarchist don't have anything to learn from marx. i started with that - marx was "in love" (can't find better word in english) with capitalism. so much that he didn't see possibility for revolution if society didn't develop to capitalist one. all this is very problematic in many ways.

still, i'll stop here, not to distract discussion from your text and i think i'm more clear in this comment so no much to add. sorry again for bad english which brings bad argumentation.

author by ajohnstone - socialist party of great britainpublication date Thu Oct 06, 2011 18:43author email alanjjohnstone at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address scotlandauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

"There has long been a minority trend within Marxism which has based itself on the humanistic and libertarian-democratic aspects of Marxism. This goes back to William Morris, the Britisher who worked with Engels while being a friend of Peter Kropotkin. It continues to today's "autonomist" Marxists. The version of Marxist economics I learned was heavily influenced by the "Johnson-Forrest Tendency" (C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayeskaya) and by Paul Mattick (of the "council communists")."

Surprisingly, you never mentioned the Socialist Party of Great Britain at this point, as a socialist party being very much influenced by Morris and both James and Mattick have acknowledged the anti-State SPGB in their writings and it is an organisation that has refuted the necessity for a leadership-structured political party that has earned it in some quarters the title of anarcho-marxist.

A link some might find interesting since it incorporates Rubel's "Marx- the theoretician of anarchism ", and an article by an SPGBer describing an imaginary meeting of Marx and Kropotkin where Karl is pulled up by Peter for advocating labour vouchers as a temporary measure instead of going the whole way and abolishing the wages system - full stop

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author by Lucien van der Waltpublication date Thu Nov 03, 2011 23:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

José Antonio Gutiérrez Danton states that "anarchist revolutionaries owe to Marx and Engels at least three all-time favourite slogans: 'down with the wage system', 'the emancipation of the working classes must be at the hands of the working classes themselves' and 'from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs'".

Not exactly true!
- "From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs'" was first used by Louis Blanc in 1840
- "the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself” was first used by Flora Tristan in 1843

However, the phrase "we inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!" used by the revolutionary syndicalist IWW is without a doubt straight form Marx's "Value, Price and Profit"


author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Fri Nov 04, 2011 00:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Lucien, this does not change at all the value of what I'm saying in my post, so please let's focus on the bottom line arguments. There are doubts, by the way, that Flora Tristán first said it (it is disputed) but even if she did; in what sense will this change that it was Marx who popularized it? Also, Bakunin got familiar with this slogan (and the political concept behind it) thanks to Marx, not Tristán. Louis Blanc may have said that about the abilities & needs first, but again, who turned this slogan into a system and really popularized it again was Marx. Whoever said it first (and many a Christian mystic from the Xth century may have expressed some similar views as well), does not change the fact that they became influential for anarchists through being popularized in the context of the First International.

author by Lucien van der Waltpublication date Sat Nov 05, 2011 04:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi José Antonio,

Its not a question of the value of your arguments - but it raises a question of accuracy, and more precisely how we understand what it is that Marx can teach anarchists, and how we engage with Marxism as anarchists. That is very much a "bottom line" issue.

It is not a matter of antiquarian interest about where such slogans arose; it matters a great deal how we account the influences on the anarchist milieu and its historical context. I raise these points with this in mind, not to be churlish.

In retrospect, Marx looms larger than he was in his lifetime. In his lifetime, he was less well known than figures like Blanc, Blanqui, Bakunin, Proudhon etc. Even in the First International, he was by no means the dominant figure there, as the split showed , when almost all of the International went over to Bakunin. And before the Russian Revolution, Marxism was (viewed globally) a minority left current.

So to assume that this not-so-popular figure was the key person in popularising certain ideas that were already common in a larger left milieu -a milieu in which Bakunin, Marx and many others all participated - is not quite convincing. And it is that milieu, in which French socialism, rather than German socialism, was central, that the importance of Blanc, Tristan etc. must be understood.

But let us get more concrete about this. Marx uses the phrase "from each according to ability..." in his Critique of the Gotha Progamme, which is an unpublished letter of 1875, only later published by the German SDP press in 1891. Where in Marx's addresses to the IMWMA/ AIT does Marx raise this slogan? The Critique of the Gotha Programme was, moreover, penned 3 years after the IWMA/ AIT split of anarchists/ Marxists, and 1 year before Bakunin died.

Yet we find the phrase in Kropotkin's "Conquest of Bread" ("to every man according to his needs"), a work is compiled from articles in the 1880s, and published in 1891 as a book. This book shows a profound familiarity with Blanc and others, but his usual marked distaste for Marx and "German socialism". It is unlikely Kropotkin was studying the Critique of the Gotha Programme.

Similarly, "the emancipation of the working class" was not Marx's slogan, as such, but from the rules of the IWMA/ AIT. Of course Marx played a leading role in these rules, but they were revised and reworked by the organisation, with insertions etc. Naturally the rules had to accommodate a range of currents and sentiments, and maximise unity. To then attribute to Marx this collective product, to make it a "slogan" of Marx, when it in fact a reflecting the influence of a range of socialists including the Proudhonists, Blanquists etc. is to stretch a point. You stated that the anarchists "owe to Marx and Engels" this slogan; my point is simply that it predated them, and its later articulation and use by Marx and Engels should not be conflated with its creation by Marx and Engels.

This all goes to a general point that while Marx was important - as I have argued in "Black Flame" he was with Proudhon a decisive influence on anarchism - but let us keep him in some perspective and steer clear of some of the myths that surround him. Many ideas were "popularised in the context of the First International," but that International was far from Marx's.


author by ultravioletpublication date Mon Nov 07, 2011 08:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I've been waiting for something like this to be written! Thanks for taking on this project! I expect comrades in my city will have a study group on the book when it's released. Any idea when that will be? I want to wait until the book comes out rather than read these online articles, because these are drafts which will be revised and I assume improved by the time they are published in book form.

author by ultravioletpublication date Mon Nov 07, 2011 08:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

(When I said the articles will be "improved" I wasn't implying they aren't already of high quality. Hope I didn't sound like a jerk! I only meant that maybe important things will be added that are currently missing, etc.)

author by Waynepublication date Mon Nov 07, 2011 12:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Ultraviolet is entirely correct; I am making changes (hopefully improvements) in the chapters which I have already published on Anarkismo, although nothing fundamental.

I do not know when the book will be published. I am almost done writing it but do not have any definite publisher. AF Press has expressed some interest but is not committed. But thanks for your interest.

author by Jerome - UCLpublication date Mon Nov 21, 2011 11:22author email jerome at riseup dot netauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Comrades, I'm the author of the French translation that was published just now. If you have any comments about it, or wish to contribute in translating further chapters to French, please contact me.

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