The Poverty of Historicism

daring future

Continuing with the installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I survey the historical development and evolution of anarchist ideas, here I summarize the anarchist critique of theories of history, such as Marx’s theory of historical materialism, which posit stages of historical development culminating in the achievement of socialism, with the working class being the agent of this historical process of revolutionary transformation.

poverty of statism

The Poverty of Historicism

The Impulso group remained committed to an essentially Marxist view of progressive historical development, the kind of view that Dwight Macdonald argued had literally been exploded by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Volume Two, Selection 13). One can no longer claim that from “out of present evil will come future good,” wrote Macdonald, when “for the first time in history, humanity faces the possibility that its own activity may result in the destruction not of some people or some part of the world, but of all people and the whole world for all time” (Volume Two, Selection 13).

The Impulso group clung to the view that as the result of an objective historical process, the working class developed “unitary, ongoing interests,” impelling it to fulfill its “historical role” of abolishing capitalism (Volume Two, Selection 38). That the working class has unitary interests is a concept that has been criticized by other anarchists since at least the time of Bakunin, who argued against Marx that city workers “who earn more and live more comfortably than all the other workers,” by virtue of their “relative well-being and semibourgeois position” form a kind of “aristocracy of labour… unfortunately only too deeply saturated with all the political and social prejudices and all the narrow aspirations and pretensions of the bourgeoisie” (1872: 294).

Macdonald pointed to the post-War “failure of the European masses to get excited about socialist slogans and programs,” suggesting that the “man in the street” feels “as powerless and manipulated vis-à-vis his socialist mass-organization as… towards his capitalistic employers and their social and legal institutions” (Volume Two, Selection 13). For Louis Mercier Vega (1914-1977), social stratification within the “working class” makes it necessary “to speak of several working classes,” each with conflicting interests. “Wage differentials,” for example, “make class consciousness that much harder to achieve… encouraging collusion between (private or state) management and privileged brackets of wage-earners. They accentuate rather than curtail the tendency to retain a sub-proletariat reduced to low wages and readily disposed of in the event of a crisis or economic slow-down, alongside groups of workers, employees and officials locked into complex [regulatory] arrangements wherein their docility and diligence are reflected in their wage levels” (Volume Two, Selection 45).

Marx's theory of history

Marx’s theory of history

The Impulso group implicitly accepted the Marxist view of historical stages of development which other anarchists, from Bakunin onward, have also challenged. Even before Bakunin’s conflict with Marx in the First International, one of the points of disagreement between Marx and Proudhon was whether an anarchist form of socialism could be achieved before capitalism created the technology that would produce an abundance of goods allegedly necessary to sustain a socialist society (Marx, 1847). Anarchists promoted peasant revolutions in a variety of circumstances, rather than waiting for the development of an urban proletariat as suggested by the Marxist view of history.

Gustav Landauer rejected that “artifice of historical development, by which—as a matter of historical necessity—the working class, to one extent or another, is called by Providence to take for itself the role of the present day ruling class” (Volume One, Selection 40). For Landauer, “the miracle that materialism and mechanism assume—that… fully-grown socialism grows not out of the childhood beginnings of socialism, but out of the colossal deformed body of capitalism—this miracle will not come, and soon people will no longer believe in it” (Volume One, Selection 49). Huang Lingshuang and Rudolf Rocker later put forward similar critiques of the Marxist theory of history.

popper poverty of historicism

In the 1950s, some anarchists were influenced by the contemporaneous critique of Marxist “historicism” that was being developed by philosophers such as Karl Popper (1957). Writing in the early 1960s, the Chilean anarchist Lain Diez urged anarchists to reject all “historicist systems” based on “the supremacy (in terms of decision making in men’s affairs) of History… which, unknown to men, supposedly foists its law upon them,” for this “new and jealous divinity has its intermediaries who, like the priests of the ancient religions, interpret its intentions, prophesying as they did and issuing thunderous anathemas against miscreants refusing to be awed by their revelations” (Volume Two, Selection 47). More recently, Alan Carter has presented a thoroughgoing anarchist critique of Marxist “technological determinism” (1988), emphasizing the role of the state in creating and enforcing “the relations of production that lead to the creation of the surplus that the state requires” to finance the “forces of coercion” necessary to maintain state power, turning Marx’s theory of history on its head (Volume Three, Selection 19).

Robert Graham

Alan Carter's anarchist critique of Marxism

Alan Carter’s anarchist critique of Marxism

We Do Not Fear Anarchy: A Summary

we do not fear the book cover

I prepared an article for the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review summarizing the main points from my latest book, We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It: The First International and the Emergence of the Anarchist Movement, which was published in ASR #63 (Winter 2015). It’s a bit long for my blog, but here it is. The full book can be ordered from AK Press or your local bookseller.

The Spirit of Anarchy

The Spirit of Anarchy

We Do Not Fear Anarchy: A Summary of My Book on the First International and the Emergence of the Anarchist Movement

September 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA – in the Romance languages, the AIT – now commonly referred to as the First International). While much is often made of the dispute between Marx and Bakunin within the International, resulting in Bakunin’s expulsion in 1872, more important from an anarchist perspective is how anarchism as a distinct revolutionary movement emerged from the debates and conflicts within the International, not as the result of a personal conflict between Marx and Bakunin, but because of conflicting ideas regarding working class liberation.

Many members of the International, particularly in Italy, Spain and French speaking Switzerland, but also in Belgium and France, took to heart the statement in the International’s Preamble that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves. They envisioned the International as a fighting organization for the daily struggle of the workers against the capitalists for better working conditions, but also looked to the International as a federation of workers across national borders that would provide the impetus for revolutionary change and the creation of a post-revolutionary socialist society based on workers’ self-management and voluntary federation. It was from out of these elements in the International that the first European anarchist movements arose.

When the International was founded in September 1864 by French and British trade unionists, any anarchist tendencies were then very weak. The French delegates at the founding of the First International regarded themselves as “mutualists,” moderate followers of Proudhon, not anarchist revolutionaries. They supported free credit, workers’ control, small property holdings and equivalent exchange of products by the producers themselves. They wanted the International to become a mutualist organization that would pool the financial resources of European workers to provide free credit for the creation of a system of producer and consumer cooperatives that would ultimately displace the capitalist economic system.

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

The first full congress of the International was not held until September 1866, in Geneva, Switzerland, with delegates from England, France, Germany and Switzerland. Although the French delegates did not call for the immediate abolition of the state, partly because such radical talk would only result in the International being banned in France, then under the dictatorship of Napoleon III, they did express their rejection of the state as a “superior authority” that would think, direct and act in the name of all, stifling initiative. They shared Proudhon’s view that social, economic and political relations should be based on contracts providing reciprocal benefits, thereby preserving the independence and equality of the contracting parties. The French delegates distinguished this “mutualist federalism” from a communist government that would rule over society, regulating all social and economic functions.

At the next Congress of the International in Laussane, Switzerland, in September 1867, César De Paepe, one of the most influential Belgian delegates, debated the more conservative French mutualists on the collectivization of land, which he supported, arguing that if large industrial and commercial enterprises, such as railways, canals, mines and public services, should be considered collective property to be managed by companies of workers, as the mutualists agreed, then so should the land. The peasant and farmer, as much as the worker, should be entitled to the fruits of their labour, without part of that product being appropriated by either the capitalists or the landowners. De Paepe argued that this “collectivism” was consistent with Proudhon’s “mutualist program,” which demanded “that the whole product of labour shall belong to the producer.” However, it was not until the next congress in Brussels in September 1868 that a majority of delegates adopted a collectivist position which included land as well as industry.

At the Brussels Congress, De Paepe also argued that the workers’ “societies of resistance” and trade unions, through which they organized and coordinated their strike and other activities, constituted the “embryo” of those “great companies of workers” that would replace the “companies of the capitalists” by eventually taking control of collective enterprises. For, according to De Paepe, the purpose of trade unions and strike activity was not merely to improve existing working conditions but to abolish wage labour. This could not be accomplished in one country alone, but required a federation of workers in all countries, who would replace the capitalist system with the “universal organization of work and exchange.” Here we have the first public expression within the International of the basic tenets of revolutionary and anarchist syndicalism: that through their own trade union organizations, by which the workers waged their daily struggles against the capitalists, the workers were creating the very organizations through which they would bring about the social revolution and reconstitute society, replacing capitalist exploitation with workers’ self-management.

The First International

The First International

After the Brussels Congress, Bakunin and his associates applied for their group, the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, to be admitted into the International. The Alliance stood for “atheism, the abolition of cults and the replacement of faith by science, and divine by human justice.” The Alliance supported the collectivist position adopted at the Brussels Congress, seeking to transform “the land, the instruments of work and all other capital” into “the collective property of the whole of society,” to be “utilized only by the workers,” through their own “agricultural and industrial associations.”

In Bakunin’s contemporaneous program for an “International Brotherhood” of revolutionaries, he denounced the Blanquists and other like-minded revolutionaries who dreamt of “a powerfully centralized revolutionary State,” for such “would inevitably result in military dictatorship and a new master,” condemning the masses “to slavery and exploitation by a new pseudo-revolutionary aristocracy.” In contrast, Bakunin and his associates did “not fear anarchy, we invoke it.” Bakunin envisaged the “popular revolution” being organized “from the bottom up, from the circumference to the center, in accordance with the principle of liberty, and not from the top down or from the center to the circumference in the manner of all authority.”

In the lead up to the Basle Congress of the International in September 1869, Bakunin put forward the notion of the general strike as a means of revolutionary social transformation, observing that when “strikes spread out from one place to another, they come very close to turning into a general strike,” which could “result only in a great cataclysm which forces society to shed its old skin.” He also supported, as did the French Internationalists, the creation of “as many cooperatives for consumption, mutual credit, and production as we can, everywhere, for though they may be unable to emancipate us in earnest under present economic conditions, they prepare the precious seeds for the organization of the future, and through them the workers become accustomed to handling their own affairs.”

Bakunin argued that the program of the International must “inevitably result in the abolition of classes (and hence of the bourgeoisie, which is the dominant class today), the abolition of all territorial States and political fatherlands, and the foundation, upon their ruins, of the great international federation of all national and local productive groups.” Bakunin was giving a more explicitly anarchist slant to the idea, first broached by De Paepe at the Brussels Congress, and then endorsed at the Basle Congress in September 1869, that it was through the International, conceived as a federation of trade unions and workers’ cooperatives, that capitalism would be abolished and replaced by a free federation of productive associations.

Jean-Louis Pindy, a delegate from the carpenters’ Chambre syndicale in Paris, expressed the views of many of the Internationalists at the Basle Congress when he argued that the means adopted by the trade unions must be shaped by the ends which they hoped to achieve. He saw the goal of the International as being the replacement of capitalism and the state with “councils of the trades bodies, and by a committee of their respective delegates, overseeing the labor relations which are to take the place of politics,” so that “wage slavery may be replaced by the free federation of free producers.” The Belgian Internationalists, such as De Paepe and Eugène Hins, put forward much the same position, with Hins looking to the International to create “the organization of free exchange, operating through a vast section of labour from one end of the world to another,” that would replace “the old political systems” with industrial organization, an idea which can be traced back to Proudhon, but which was now being given a more revolutionary emphasis.

The Basle Congress therefore declared that “all workers should strive to establish associations for resistance in their various trades,” forming an international alliance so that “the present wage system may be replaced by the federation of free producers.” This was the highwater mark of the federalist, anti-authoritarian currents in the First International, and it was achieved at its most representative congress, with delegates from England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

Bakunin speaking at the Basel Congress 1869

Bakunin speaking at the Basel Congress 1869

Bakunin attended the Congress, drawing out the anarchist implications of this position. He argued that because the State provided “the sanction and guarantee of the means by which a small number of men appropriate to themselves the product of the work of all the others,” the political, juridical, national and territorial State must be abolished. Bakunin emphasized the role of the state in creating and perpetuating class privilege and exploitation, arguing that “if some individuals in present-day society do acquire… great sums, it is not by their labor that they do so but by their privilege, that is, by a juridically legalized injustice.”

Bakunin expressed his antipathy, shared by other members of the International, to revolution from above through a coercive state apparatus. With respect to peasant small holders, he argued that “if we tried to expropriate these millions of small farmers by decree after proclaiming the social liquidation, we would inevitably cast them into reaction, and we would have to use force against them to submit to the revolution.” Better to “carry out the social liquidation at the same time that you proclaim the political and juridical liquidation of the State,” such that the peasants will be left only with “possession de facto” of their land. Once “deprived of all legal sanction,” no longer being “shielded under the State’s powerful protection,” these small holdings “will be transformed easily under the pressure of revolutionary events and forces” into collective property.

The Basle Congress was the last truly representative congress of the International. The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the Paris Commune in 1871 made it difficult to hold a congress, while the Hague Congress of 1872 was stacked by Marx and Engels with delegates with dubious credentials. One must therefore look at the activities of the various International sections themselves between 1869 and 1872 to see how the anti-authoritarian, revolutionary collectivist currents in the International eventually coalesced into a European anarchist movement.

In France, Eugène Varlin, one of the International’s outstanding militants, described the position adopted “almost unanimously” by the delegates at the Basle Congress as “collectivism, or non-authoritarian communism.” Varlin expressed the views of many of the French Internationalists when he wrote that the workers’ own organizations, the trade unions and societies of resistance and solidarity, “form the natural elements of the social structure of the future.” By March 1870, he was writing that short “of placing everything in the hands of a highly centralized, authoritarian state which would set up a hierarchic structure from top to bottom of the labour process… we must admit that the only alternative is for the workers themselves to have the free disposition and possession of the tools of production… through co-operative associations in various forms.”

Bakunin & Fanelli with other Internationalists

Bakunin & Fanelli with other Internationalists

The revolutionary syndicalist ideas of the Belgians and Bakunin’s more explicitly anarchist views were also being spread in Spain. Echoing De Paepe’s comments from the Brussels Congress, the Spanish Internationalists described the International as containing “within itself the seeds of social regeneration… it holds the embryo of all future institutions.” They founded the Federación Regional Española (FRE – Spanish Regional Federation) in June 1870, which took an anarchist position. One of its militants, Rafael Farga Pellicer, declared that: “We want the end to the domination of capital, the state, and the church. Upon their ruins we will construct anarchy, and the free federation of free associations of workers.” In addition, the FRE adopted a form of organization based on anarchist principles, “from the bottom upward,” with no paid officers or trade union bureaucracy.

In French speaking Switzerland, as a result of a split between the reformist minority, supported by Marx, and the anti-authoritarian collectivist majority, allied with Bakunin, the Jura Federation was created in 1870. The Jura Federation adopted an anarchist stance, declaring that “all participation of the working class in the politics of bourgeois governments can result only in the consolidation and perpetuation of the existing order.”

On the eve of the Franco-Prussian War during the summer of 1870, the French Internationalists took an anti-war stance, arguing that the war could only be a “fratricidal war” that would divide the working class, leading to “the complete triumph of despotism.” The Belgian Internationalists issued similar declarations, denouncing the war as a war of “the despots against the people,” and calling on them to respond with a “war of the people against the despots.”

This was a theme that Bakunin was soon to expand upon in his Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis, published in September 1870. Although many of the French Internationalists abandoned their anti-war stance, Bakunin argued that revolutionaries should seek to transform the war into a country wide insurrection that would then spread the social revolution across Europe. With the French state in virtual collapse, it was time for the “people armed” to seize the means of production and overthrow their oppressors, whether the French bourgeoisie or the German invaders.

bakunin letters to a frenchman

For the social revolution to succeed, Bakunin argued that it was essential that the peasants and workers band together, despite the mutual distrust between them. The peasants should be encouraged to “take the land and throw out those landlords who live by the labour of others,” and “to destroy, by direct action, every political, juridical, civil, and military institution,” establishing “anarchy through the whole countryside.” A social revolution in France, rejecting “all official organization” and “government centralization,” would lead to “the social emancipation of the proletariat” throughout Europe.

Shortly after completing his Letters, Bakunin tried to put his ideas into practice, travelling to Lyon, where he met up with some other Internationalists and revolutionaries. Bakunin and his associates issued a proclamation announcing the abolition of the “administrative and governmental machine of the State,” the replacement of the judicial apparatus by “the justice of the people,” the suspension of taxes and mortgages, with “the federated communes” to be funded by a levy on “the rich classes,” and ending with a call to arms. Bakunin and his confederates briefly took over City Hall, but eventually the National Guard recaptured it and Bakunin was arrested. He was freed by a small group of his associates and then made his way to Marseilles, eventually returning to Switzerland. A week after Bakunin left Marseilles, there was an attempt to establish a revolutionary commune there and, at the end of October, in Paris.

In Paris, the more radical Internationalists did not take an explicitly anarchist position, calling instead for the creation of a “Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic.” But this “republic” was to be none other than a “federation of socialist communes,” with “the land to go to the peasant who cultivates it, the mine to go to the miner who exploits it, the factory to go to the worker who makes it prosper,” a position very close to that of Bakunin and his associates.

paris_commune-popular-illustration

After the proclamation of the Paris Commune on March 18, 1871, the Parisian Internationalists played a prominent role. On March 23, 1871, they issued a wall poster declaring the “principle of authority” as “incapable of re-establishing order in the streets or of getting factory work going again.” For them, “this incapacity constitutes [authority’s] negation.” They were confident that the people of Paris would “remember that the principle that governs groups and associations is the same as that which should govern society,” namely the principle of free federation.

The Communes’ program, mostly written by Pierre Denis, a Proudhonist member of the International, called for the “permanent intervention of citizens in communal affairs” and elections with “permanent right of control and revocation,” as well as the “total autonomy of the Commune extended to every township in France,” with the “Commune’s autonomy to be restricted only by the right to an equal autonomy for all the other communes.” The Communards assured the people of France that the “political unity which Paris strives for is the voluntary union of all local initiative, the free and spontaneous cooperation of all individual energies towards a common goal: the well-being, freedom and security of all.” The Commune was to mark “the end of the old governmental and clerical world; of militarism, bureaucracy, exploitation, speculation, monopolies and privilege that have kept the proletariat in servitude and led the nation to disaster.”

For the federalist Internationalists, this did not mean state ownership of the economy, but collective or social ownership of the means of production, with the associated workers themselves running their own enterprises. As the Typographical Workers put it, the workers shall “abolish monopolies and employers through adoption of a system of workers’ co-operative associations. There will be no more exploiters and no more exploited.”

The social revolution was pushed forward by female Internationalists and radicals, such as Nathalie Lemel and Louise Michel. They belonged to the Association of Women for the Defence of Paris and Aid to the Wounded, which issued a declaration demanding “No more bosses. Work and security for all — The People to govern themselves — We want the Commune; we want to live in freedom or to die fighting for it!” They argued that the Commune should “consider all legitimate grievances of any section of the population without discrimination of sex, such discrimination having been made and enforced as a means of maintaining the privileges of the ruling classes.”

Nevertheless, the Internationalists were a minority within the Commune, and not even all of the Parisian Internationalists supported the socialist federalism espoused in varying degrees by Varlin, Pindy and the more militant Proudhonists. The federalist and anti-authoritarian Internationalists felt that the Commune represented “above all a social revolution,” not merely a change of rulers. They agreed with the Proudhonist journalist, A. Vermorel, that “there must not be a simple substitution of workers in the places occupied previously by bourgeois… The entire governmental structure must be overthrown.”

The Commune was savagely repressed by French state forces, with the connivance of the Prussians, leading to wholesale massacres that claimed the lives of some 30,000 Parisians, including leading Internationalists like Varlin, and the imprisonment and deportation of many others, such as Nathalie Lemel and Louise Michel. A handful of Internationalists, including Pindy, went into hiding and eventually escaped to Switzerland.

Executed Communards

Executed Communards

For Bakunin, what made the Commune important was “not really the weak experiments which it had the power and time to make,” but “the ideas it has set in motion, the living light it has cast on the true nature and goal of revolution, the hopes it has raised, and the powerful stir it has produced among the popular masses everywhere, and especially in Italy, where the popular awakening dates from that insurrection, whose main feature was the revolt of the Commune and the workers’ associations against the State.” Bakunin’s defence of the Commune against the attacks of the veteran Italian revolutionary patriot, Guiseppe Mazzini, played an important role in the “popular awakening” in Italy, and the rapid spread of the International there, from which the Italian anarchist movement sprang.

The defeat of the Paris Commune led Marx and Engels to draw much different conclusions. For them, what the defeat demonstrated was the necessity for working class political parties whose purpose would be the “conquest of political power.” They rammed through the adoption of their position at the September 1871 London Conference of the International, and took further steps to force out of the International any groups with anarchist leanings, which by this time included almost all of the Italians and Spaniards, the Jura Federation, many of the Belgians and a significant proportion of the surviving French members of the International.

In response, the Jura Federation organized a congress in Sonvillier, Switzerland, in November 1871. Prominent Communards and other French refugees also attended. They issued a Circular to the other members of the International denouncing the General Council’s actions, taking the position that the International, “as the embryo of the human society of the future, is required in the here and now to faithfully mirror our principles of freedom and federation and shun any principle leaning towards authority and dictatorship,” which was much the same position as had been endorsed by a majority of the delegates to the 1869 Basel Congress.

The Belgian, Italian and Spanish Internationalists supported the Jura Federation’s position, with the Italian and Spanish Internationalists adopting explicitly anarchist positions. Even before the London Conference, the Spanish Internationalists had declared themselves in favour of “collective property, anarchy and economic federation,” by which they meant “the free universal federation of free agricultural and industrial workers’ associations.” The Italian Internationalists rejected participation in existing political systems and in August 1872 called on the federalist and anti-authoritarian sections of the International to boycott the upcoming Hague Congress and to hold a congress of their own. Marx and Engels manipulated the composition of the Hague Congress to ensure a majority that would affirm the London Conference resolution on political action, expel Bakunin and his associate, James Guillaume of the Jura Federation, from the International, and transfer the General Council to New York to prevent the anti-authoritarians from challenging their control.

hague congress

Barely a week after the Hague Congress in September 1872, the anti-authoritarians held their own congress in St. Imier where they reconstituted the International along federalist lines. The St. Imier Congress was attended by delegates from Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and Russia. For them, “the aspirations of the proletariat [could] have no purpose other than the establishment of an absolutely free economic organization and federation, founded upon the labour and equality of all and absolutely independent of all political government.” Consequently, turning the London Conference’s resolution on its head, they declared that “the destruction of all political power is the first duty of the proletariat.”

They regarded “the strike as a precious weapon in the struggle” for the liberation of the workers, preparing them “for the great and final revolutionary contest which, destroying all privilege and all class difference, will bestow upon the worker a right to the enjoyment of the gross product of his labours.” Here we have the subsequent program of anarcho-syndicalism: the organization of workers into trade unions and similar bodies, based on class struggle, through which the workers will become conscious of their class power, ultimately resulting in the destruction of capitalism and the state, to be replaced by the free federation of the workers based on the organizations they created themselves during their struggle for liberation.

The resolutions from the St. Imier Congress were ratified by the Italian, Spanish, Jura, Belgian and, ironically, the American federations of the International, with most of the French sections also approving them. The St. Imier Congress marks the true emergence of a European anarchist movement, with the Italian, Spanish and Jura Federations of the International following anarchist programs. While there were anarchist elements within the Belgian Federation, by 1874, under the influence of De Paepe, the Belgians had come out in favour of a “public administrative state” that the anarchist federations in the anti-authoritarian International opposed. The French Internationalists contained a prominent anarchist contingent, but it was not until 1881 that a distinctively anarchist movement arose there.

In his memoirs, Kropotkin wrote that if the Europe of the late 1870s “did not experience an incomparably more bitter reaction than it did” after the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Paris Commune, “Europe owes it… to the fact that the insurrectionary spirit of the International maintained itself fully intact in Spain, in Italy, in Belgium, in the Jura, and even in France itself.” One can say, with equal justification, that anarchism itself, as a revolutionary movement, owes its existence to that same revolutionary spirit of the International from which it was born in the working class struggles in Europe during the 1860s and early 1870s. It was from those struggles, and the struggles within the International itself regarding how best to conduct them, that a self-proclaimed anarchist movement emerged.

Robert Graham

Malatesta quote 2

 

Anarchism in China

The Chinese Anarchist Movement-1

Continuing my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, here I return to anarchism in China during the 1920s and 30s, focusing on Huang Lingshuang’s critique of Marxism. In Volume One of the Anarchism anthology, I included several selections from Chinese anarchists, including He Zhen, the early Chinese anarchist feminist, Shifu, “the soul of Chinese anarchism” who helped create a Chinese anarchist communist movement, and Ba Jin (also known as Li Pei Kan or Li Feigan), the famous Chinese novelist who was active in the Chinese anarchist movement from the 1920s until the Communist Party’s seizure of power in 1949. On my blog, I have posted additional material from Lui Shipei, He Zhen’s companion who helped introduce anarchism to China in the early 1900s, and Kan San, on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

china collage

Anarchism in China Before the 1949 Revolution

In Asia during the 1920s and 30s, the anarchists faced obstacles similar to those of their European comrades. The success of the Bolsheviks in Russia led to the creation of Marxist-Leninist Communist parties in various parts of Asia. The anarchists had until then been the most influential revolutionary movement in China. By the late 1920s, the anarchists had been eclipsed by the Chinese Communist Party and the Guomindang, who fought each other, and the Japanese, for control of China over the next twenty years.

Chinese anarchists rejected the Marxist notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat, concentrating all power “in the hands of the state,” because this would result in the “suppression of individual freedom” (Volume One, Selection 100). The Chinese anarchists did not regard Marxist state socialism as sufficiently communist, for during the alleged “transition” from socialism to communism, a wage system and some forms of private property would be retained.

Huang Lingshuang (1898-1982), one of the more noteworthy Chinese anarchist critics of Marxism, rejected the Marxist view that society must progress through successive stages of economic and technological development before communism can be achieved. Drawing on the work of European anthropologists, Huang Lingshuang was able to more clearly distinguish between cultural change and biological evolution than Kropotkin, who had largely conflated the two. Huang Lingshuang argued that, contrary to the Marxist theory of historical materialism, the “same economic and technological conditions do not necessarily result in the same culture,” cultural and economic changes do “not occur at the same rate,” and not every society goes through the same economic stages of development in the same order (Volume One, Selection 100). Rudolf Rocker made similar arguments in Nationalism and Culture (Volume One, Selection 121).

Robert Graham

China down with emperors

Anarchism in the 21st Century

anarchy-600x250

I recently published an article, “Marxism and Anarchism on Communism: The Debate between the Two Bastions of the Left,” in Volume 2 of Communism in the 21st Century, ed. Shannon Brincat (Praeger: Santa Barbara, 2013). The “Communism” in the main title of the book is, of course, Marxism. One of the main points I wanted to make was that Marxism, and only certain schools of Marxism at that, is only one conception of communism. Communist doctrines first arose in Europe among heretical religious groups and dissenters, such as the Diggers during the English Revolution. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from a pamphlet by the Digger, Gerrard Winstanley, “The New Law of Righteousness” (Selection 3, 1649), in which he argued for a kind of anarchist communism, where all wealth would be held in common, with each person being free to take what he or she needs “from the next store-house he meets with,” and “there shall be none Lord over others.” The were communist tendencies during the French Revolution (1789-1795), which later inspired the creation of radical communist groups during the 1830s, well before Marx and Engels published their Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848. 

Utopian_Socialism_Marxism_Anarchism

In my article, I argue that anarchists came to adopt a communist position largely independently of Marxism, and that even Marx himself believed that before communism could be achieved there would have to be a socialist transition period which would retain some form of wage labour. His social democratic followers soon came to focus almost exclusively on achieving some form of state socialism, with communism being relegated to a distant goal. Even Lenin, who renamed the Bolshevik Party the Communist Party, was clear that there would have to be a lengthy transition period before communism could be achieved. Thus, both before the Russian Revolution, when the social democrats were the dominant Marxist faction, and after the Revolution, when Marxist Leninist Communist parties became dominant, communism not only remained a distant, if not mythical, goal among most Marxists, the anarchists were almost alone in advocating communism as an immediate goal. There were some Marxists who called themselves “council communists,” who also advocated the creation of a kind of libertarian communism, but they were a small minority among the Marxists, the majority of whom supported the Soviet Union and its satellite Communist parties.

Anarchism, Marxism and Communism

Communism 21st CenturyHere are some extracts from the introduction and conclusion to my article:

In this paper, I will review the historical disagreements between the anarchists and Marxists, focusing on Marx himself, but wish to show that the adoption of a communist position by the majority of anarchists by the 1880s was largely the result of an “internal” anarchist critique of earlier forms of anarchist socialism, and not in response to Marx’s criticisms of them. Indeed, anarchist communism retained several elements of its anarchist precursors to which Marx had expressed profound disagreement. However, despite continued theoretical disagreements, particularly over Marx’s theory of history (or “historical materialism”), after the Russian Revolution and the advent of “council communism,” some anarchist and Marxist currents began to converge into a hybrid doctrine referred to by some as “libertarian communism” (Guérin)…

During the Russian Revolution some anarcho-syndicalists began advocating factory committees or councils as revolutionary organs, concerned that the soviets were being coopted by the Bolsheviks [Anarchism, Volume One: 299-300]. Similar approaches were embraced by anarchists in Italy and Germany in 1919-1920, working with more radical Marxists, who came to describe themselves as “council communists”…

Despite the adoption of libertarian communism by the majority of anarchists after Bakunin, and the anti-authoritarian approach of some Marxists, such as the council communists, important differences remain not only between anarchists and “libertarian” Marxists, but between the anarchists themselves. In many ways, there are now more similarities between so-called “class struggle” anarchists, who trace their lineage back to Bakunin (Schmidt and van der Walt, 2009), and council communists, than there are between the former and contemporary anarchist currents which emphasize process, assembly forms of organization, particularly in the 2011 Occupy movements, and the creation of a decentralized ecological society without hierarchy, representation, mediation or domination, merging with post-structuralist currents in anarchist thought [Anarchism, Volume Three].

Robert Graham, 2014

anarchist_third_way_for_the_21st_century_by_black_cat_rebel-d59m2g2

Gustav Landauer: For Anarchist Socialism

Gustav Landauer

Gustav Landauer

One of the great influences on the German anarchist revolutionary, Erich Mühsam, was his friend and fellow anarchist, Gustav Landauer (1870-1919), murdered by government troops putting down the 1919 Bavarian Revolution, in which Landauer and Mühsam were both active participants. Mühsam shared Landauer’s rejection of the Marxist theory of historical materialism which saw socialism as the result of capitalist (over) development, instead insisting on the need for revolutionaries to make the revolution, for socialism is a process of creation, not the automatic result of technological development. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several excerpts from Landauer’s writings rejecting the Marxist view of history, as well as his famous critique of the state as “a relationship between human beings” which we destroy “by entering into other relationships, by behaving differently to one another” (Selection 49). Here I reproduce some further extracts from his 1911 book, Call to Socialism, in which Landauer expands on his critique of Marxism, arguing that an anarchist form of socialism may be possible in a variety of social circumstances, and that one does not have to wait “for the tidy progress of big capitalism” for anarchy and freedom to be achieved.

landauer and muhsam anarchisten

Against Marxism: For Anarchist Socialism

What Karl Marx called cooperation that is supposed to be an element of socialism is — the form of work which he saw in the capitalist enterprises of his time, the factory system, where thousands work in one room, the adaptation of the worker to the machines and the resulting pervasive division of labour in the production of commodities for the capitalist world market. For he says unquestioningly that capitalism is “already actually based on the social production enterprise”!

Yes indeed, such unparalleled nonsense goes against the grain, but it is certainly Karl Marx’s true opinion that capitalism develops socialism completely out of itself and that the socialist mode of production “flourishes” under capitalism. We already have cooperation, we already are at least well on the road to common ownership of the earth and the means of production. In the end nothing will be left to do but to chase away the few remaining owners. Everything else has blossomed from capitalism. For capitalism is equated with progress, society and even socialism. The true enemy is “the middle classes, the small industrialist, the small merchant, the craftsman, the farmer.” For they work, themselves, and have at most a few helpers and apprentices. That is the bungler, the dwarf enterprise, while capitalism is uniformity, the work of thousands in one place, work for the world market; that is social production and socialism.

That is Karl Marx’s true doctrine: when capitalism has gained complete victory over the remnants of the Middle Ages, progress is sealed and socialism is practically here.

It is not symbolically significant that the foundation of Marxism, the Bible of this sort of socialism is called Capital? We oppose this capitalist socialism with our own socialism, saying: socialism, culture and solidarity, just exchange and joyous work, the society of societies can come only when a spirit awakens such as the Christian and pre-Christian era of the Teutonic nations knew it, and when this spirit does away with the unculture, dissolution and decline, which in economic terms is called: capitalism.

Thus two opposite things stand in sharp contrast.

Here Marxism—there socialism!

Marxism—unspirit, the paper blossom on the beloved thornbush of capitalism.

Socialism — the new force against rottenness; the culture that rises against the combination of un-spirit, hardship, and violence, against the modern state and modern capitalism.

And now one can understand what I want to say to its face against this no less modern thing, Marxism: it is the plague of our time and the curse of the socialist movement. Now it will be said even more clearly that it is so, why it is so, and why socialism can come about only in mortal enmity toward Marxism.

Call to Socialism

Call to Socialism

For Marxism is, above all, the philistine who looks down upon and despises everything past, who calls whatever suits him the present or the beginning of the future, who believes in progress, who likes 1908 better than 1907, who expects something quite special from 1909, and almost a final eschatological miracle from something so far off as 1920.

Marxism is the philistine and therefore the friend of everything mass-like and comprehensive. Something like a medieval republic of cities or a village mark or a Russian mir or a Swiss Allmend or a communist colony cannot for him have the least similarity with socialism, but a broad, centralized state already resembles his state of the future quite closely. Show him a country at a period when the small peasants prosper, when highly skilled trades flourish, when there is little misery, he will contemptuously turn up his nose.

Karl Marx and his successors thought they could make no worse accusation against the greatest of all socialists, Proudhon, than to call him a petit-bourgeois and petit-peasant socialist, which was neither incorrect nor insulting, since Proudhon showed splendidly to the people of his nation and his time, predominantly small farmers and craftsmen, how they could have achieved socialism immediately without waiting for the tidy progress of big capitalism. However, believers in progress do not at all want to hear us speak of a possibility that was once there and yet did not become reality, and the Marxists and those infected by them cannot stand to hear anyone speak of a socialism that could have been possible before the downward movement which they call the upward movement of sacred capitalism.

We, on the other hand, do not separate a fabulous development and social processes from what men want, do, could have wanted, and could have done. We know, however, that the determination and necessity of all that happens, including, of course, will and action, is valid and without exception, but only after the fact, i.e., after a reality is already there, does it thus become a necessity. When something did not happen, it was thus not possible, because, for example, men to whom urgent appeals were addressed and to whom reason was preached with fervour did not want to and could not be reasonable. Aha! the Marxists will interject triumphantly, Karl Marx however predicted that there was no possibility for that. Yes sir, we answer, and thereby he assumed a certain part of the guilt that it did not come about. He was for then, and for a long time afterwards, one of the guilty hinderers. In our opinion, human history does not consist of anonymous processes and a mere accumulation of many small mass events and omissions. For us bearers of history are persons, and for us there are also guilty persons.

Proudhon by Courbet

Proudhon by Courbet

Does anyone believe that Proudhon did not, like every prophet, every herald, more strongly than any cold scientific observer, often in great hours sense the impossibility of leading these his people to what he considered the most beautiful and most natural possibility? Anyone who thinks that faith in fulfillment is part of the great deeds, visionary behaviour and urgent creativity of the apostles and leaders of mankind, knows them badly. Faith in their sacred truth is certainly a part of it, but also despair in men and the feeling of impossibility! Where overwhelming change and renewal have occurred, it is the impossible and incredible that is precisely the usual factor that brought about change.

But Marxism is uncultured, and it therefore always points, full of mockery and triumph, at failures and futile attempts and has such a childish fear of defeat. It shows greater contempt for nothing else than what it calls experiments or failures. It is a shameful sign of disgraceful decline, especially for the German people, whom such fear of idealism, enthusiasm and heroism so poorly fits, that such pitiful characters are the leaders of its enslaved masses. But the Marxists are for the impoverished masses exactly what nationalists have been since 1870 for the satiated classes of people: worshippers of success.

Thus we grasp another, more accurate meaning of the term “materialist conception of history.” Yes indeed, the Marxists are materialists in the ordinary, crude, popular sense of the word, and just like the nationalistic blockheads, they strive to reduce and exterminate idealism. What the nationalistic bourgeois has made of the German students, the Marxists have made of broad segments of the proletariat, cowardly little men without youth, wildness, courage, without joy in attempting anything, without sectarianism, without heresy, without originality and individuality. But we need all that. We need attempts. We need the expedition of a thousand men to Sicily. We need these precious Garibaldi-natures, and we need failures upon failures and the tough nature that is frightened by nothing, that holds firm and endures and starts over and over again until it succeeds, until we are through, until we are unconquerable. Whoever does not take upon himself the danger of defeat, of loneliness, of set-backs, will never attain victory.

One of Landauer's Papers

One of Landauer’s Papers

O you Marxists, I know how bad that sounds in your ears, you who fear nothing except what you call stabs in the back. That word belongs to your special vocabulary and perhaps with some right, since you show the enemy your back more than your face. I know how deeply you hate and how repulsive and unpleasant your dry temperaments find such fiery natures as the constructive Proudhon and the destructive Bakunin or Garibaldi. Everything Latin or Celtic, everything that smacks of the open air and wildness and initiative is almost embarrassing to you. You have plagued yourselves enough to exclude everything free, personal or youthful, which you call stupidities, from the party, the movement and the masses.

Truly, things would be better for socialism and our people if instead of the systematic stupidity, which you call your science, we had the fiery-headed stupidities of hot-tempered men brimming over with enthusiasm, which you cannot stand. Yes indeed, we want to do what you call experiments. We want to make attempts. We want to create from the heart, and then we want, if it must be, to suffer shipwreck and bear defeat, until we have the victory and land is sighted. Ashen-faced, drowsy men, cynical and uncultured, are leading our people; where are the Columbus natures, who prefer to sail the high seas in a fragile ship into the unknown rather than wait for developments? Where are the young, joyous victorious Reds who will laugh at these gray faces? The Marxists don’t like to hear such words, such attacks, which they call relapses, such enthusiastic unscientific challenges. I know, and that is exactly why I feel so good at having told them this. The arguments I use against them are sound and they hold water, but if instead of refuting them with arguments I annoyed them to death with mockery and laughter, that would also suit me fine.

Landauer quote

Thus the uncultured Marxist is much too clever, level-headed and cautious ever to think that capitalism in a state of total collapse, as was the case during the February [1848] revolution in France, might be confronted with socialist organization, just as he prefers to kill the forms of living community from the Middle Ages that were saved particularly in Germany, France, Switzerland, Russia, during centuries of decline and to drown them in capitalism rather than to recognize that they contain the seeds and living crystals of the coming socialist culture.

However if one shows him the economic conditions, say, of England from the middle of the nineteenth century, with its desolate factory system, with the depopulation of the countryside, the homogenization of the masses an of misery, with economies geared to the world market instead of to real needs, he finds social production, cooperation, the beginnings of common ownership. He feels at home…

Add to this, capitalist concentration which looked as if the number of capitalists and of fortunes would become ever fewer, and further the model of the omnipotent government in the centralized state of our times, and add finally the ever greater perfection of the industrial machines, the ever increased division of labour, the replacement of the trained craftsman by the unskilled machine operator — all this however seen in an exaggerated and caricatured light, for it all has another side and is never a schematically unilinear development. It is a struggle and equilibrium of various tendencies, but everything Marxism sees is always grotesquely simplified and caricatured. Add finally the hope that working hours will become shorter and shorter and human work more and more productive: then the state of the future is finished. The future state of the Marxists: the blossom on the tree of governmental, capitalist and technological centralization.

It must yet be added that the Marxist, when he dreams his pipe dreams especially boldly — for never was a dream emptier and drier, and if there ever have been unimaginative fantasists, the Marxists are the worst — the Marxist extends his centralism and economic bureaucracy beyond present-day states and advocates a world organization to regulate and direct the production and distribution of goods. That is Marxism’s internationalism. As formerly in the [First] International everything was supposed to be regulated and decided by the London-based General Council and today in Social Democracy [the “Second” International] all decisions are made in Berlin, this world production authority will someday look into every pot and will have the amount of grease for every machine listed in its ledger.

KArl_Marx_statue_

One more layer and our description of Marxism will be finished.

The forms of organization of what these people call socialism blossom forth completely in capitalism, except that these organizations, these ever expanding — through steam — factories are still in the hands of private entrepreneurs, exploiters. We have already seen, however, that they are supposed to be reduced to a smaller and smaller number by competition. One must visualize clearly what this means: first a hundred thousand — then a few thousand — then a few hundred — then some seventy or fifty — then a few absolutely monstrous giant entrepreneurs.

Opposed to them stand the workers, the proletarians. They become more and more numerous, the middle classes disappear, and with the number of workers the number, intensity and power of the machines also grows, so that not only the number of workers, but also the number of unemployed, the so-called industrial reserve-armies, increases. According to this description, capitalism reaches an impasse and the struggle against it, i.e., against the few remaining capitalists, becomes easier and easier for the countless masses of disinherited who have an interest in change. Thus it must be remembered that in Marxist doctrine everything is immanent, though the term is taken from another area and misapplied. Here it means that nothing requires special efforts or mental insights, everything follows smoothly from the social process. The so-called socialist forms of organization are already immanent in capitalism…

As the program of German Social Democracy says in such beautiful and so genuinely Marxist terms (otherwise various ungenuine elements have crept in, which the makers of this program now are calling revisionist in their opponents): the powers of production are growing beyond the capacity of contemporary society. This contains the genuinely Marxist teaching that in contemporary society the forms of production have become more and more socialist and that these forms lack only the right form of ownership. They call it social ownership, but when they call the capitalist factory system a [system of] social production (not only Marx does this in Capital, but the present-day Social Democrats in their currently effective program call work in the forms of present-day capitalism, social work), we know the real implications of their socialist forms of labour.

MarxPyramid

Just as they consider the production forms of steam technology in capitalism to be a socialist form of labour, so they consider the centralized state to be the social organization of society and bureaucratically administered state-property to be common property! These people really have no instinct for the meaning of society. They haven’t the least idea that society can only be a society of societies, only a federation, only freedom. They therefore do not know that socialism is anarchy and federation. They believe socialism is government, while others who thirst for culture want to create socialism because they want to escape from the disintegration and misery of capitalism and its concomitant poverty, spiritlessness and coercion, which is only the other side of economic individualism. In short, they want to escape from the state into a society of societies and voluntary association.

Because, as these Marxists say, socialism is still so to speak, the private property of the entrepreneurs, who produce wildly and senselessly, and since they are in possession of the socialist production powers (read: of steam power, perfected production machinery and the superfluously available proletarian masses), that is, because this situation is like a magic broomstick in the hands of the sorcerer’s apprentice, a deluge of goods, overproduction and confusion must be the result, i.e., crises must ensue, which, no matter what the details may be, always come about, at least in the opinion of the Marxists, because the regulative function of a statistically controlling and directing world state authority is necessary to go with the socialist mode of production, which, in their wickedly stupid view, already exists.

As long as this controlling authority is missing, “socialism” is still imperfect, and disorder must result. The forms of organization of capitalism are good, but they lack order, discipline, and strict centralization. Capitalism and government must come together, and where we would speak of state capitalism, those Marxists say that socialism is here. But just as their socialism contains all forms of capitalism and regimentation, and just as they allow the tendency to uniformity and leveling that exists today to progress to its ultimate perfection, the proletarian too is carried over into their socialism. The proletarian of the capitalist enterprise has become the state proletarian, and proletarianization has, when this type of socialism begins, really and predictably reached gigantic proportions. Everyone without exception is an employee of the state.

communist_party_mask

Capitalism and the state must come together—that is in truth Marxism’s ideal. Although they do not want to hear of their ideal, we see they seek to promote this trend of development. They do not see that the tremendous power and bureaucratic desolation of the state is necessary only because our communal life has lost the spirit, because justice and love, the economic associations and the blossoming multiplicity of small social organisms have vanished. They see nothing of all this deep decay of our times; they hallucinate progress.

Technology progresses, of course. It actually does so in many times of culture, although not always—there are also cultures without technical progress. It progresses especially in times of decay, of the individualization of spirit and the atomization of the masses. That is precisely our point. The real progress of technology together with the real baseness of the time is—to speak, for once, Marxistically for the Marxists — the real, material basis for the ideological superstructure, namely for the Marxists’ Utopia of progressive socialism…

No doubt, the Marxists believe that if the front and back sides of our degradation, the capitalist conditions of production and the state, were brought together, then their progress and development would have reached its goal and so justice and equality would be established. Their comprehensive economic state, whether it be the heir to previous states or their world state, is a republican and democratic structure, and they really believe that the laws of such a state would provide for the welfare of all the common people, since they comprise the state. Here we must be allowed to burst out in irrepressible laughter at this most pitiful of all stodgy fantasies. Such a complete mirror image of the Utopia of the sated bourgeois can in fact only be the product of the undisturbed laboratory development of capitalism. We will waste no more time on this accomplished ideal of the era of decline and of depersonalized unculture, this government of dwarves.

We will see that true culture is not empty but fulfilled and that the true society is a multiplicity of real, small affinities that grow out of the binding qualities of individuals, out of the spirit, a structure of communities, and a union. This “socialism” of the Marxists is a gigantic goiter that supposedly will develop. Never fear, we will soon see that it will not develop. Our socialism, however, should grow in the hearts of men. It wishes to cause the hearts of those who belong together to grow in unity and spirit. The alternative is not pigmy-socialism or socialism of the spirit, for we will soon see that if the masses follow the Marxists or even the revisionists, then capitalism will remain. It absolutely does not tend to change suddenly into the “socialism” of the Marxists nor to develop into the socialism of the revisionists, which can be thus called only with a shy voice. Decline—in our case, capitalism— has in our time just as much vitality as culture and expansion had in other times. Decline does not at all mean decrepitude, a tendency toward collapse or drastic reversal. Decline, the Epoch of sunkenness, folklessness, spiritlessness, is capable of lasting for centuries or millennia. Decline, in our case, capitalism, possesses in our time precisely that measure of vitality which is not found in contemporary culture and expansion. It has as much strength and energy as we fail to muster for socialism. The choice we face is not: one form of socialism, or the other, but simply: capitalism or socialism; the state or society; unspirit or spirit. The doctrine of Marxism does not lead out of capitalism. Nor is there any truth to Marxism’s doctrine that capitalism can at times out-trump Baron Münchhausen’s fantastic accomplishment of pulling himself out of a strange swamp by his pig-tail, i.e., the prophecy that capitalism will emerge out of its own swamp by virtue of its own development.

Gustav Landauer, 1911

Published by PM Press

Published by PM Press

Blasting the Anarchist Canon

histFrontCoverWithoutBleed

The current online issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies (ADCS) is called “Blasting the Canon,” with articles debating the whole concept of an “anarchist canon,” that is whether anarchism can be defined in terms of foundational or “canonical” texts. I don’t think so. Anarchism is not like Marxism, which must relate somehow to the writings and theories of Karl Marx. It is a collective and evolving product of countless individuals in a wide variety of circumstances.

As I wrote in the conclusion to my three volume anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, “what I hope to have demonstrated in the material included in this anthology is that there is indeed an anarchist current running throughout human history, from the nonhierarchical sensibilities and social relationships found among people living in stateless societies, to the nonhierarchical and anti-authoritarian worldviews of the Daoists and various religious sects, heretics and free thinkers, to literary and popular utopias with their visions of freedom and well-being, to the radical egalitarianism of the anarchist currents in the English and French revolutions, to landless peasants and indigenous peoples, to artisans and workers resisting industrialization and factory discipline, to artists seeking freedom of expression, to students and draft resisters, to women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people struggling against patriarchy and heterosexism, to the discriminated, dispossessed and all manner of people seeking sexual and social liberation.”

I was given a maximum of 1000 words in the “Blasting the Canon” issue of ADCS to respond to the claim of Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt in Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, that there is an anarchist canon, which consists of nothing other than the class struggle anarchism that can be traced back to Michael Bakunin and his Alliance of Socialist Democracy. Van der Walt wrote a rejoinder that was over twice as long, which he has now posted online, in what can only be described as an ongoing campaign not only to redefine anarchism to exclude any anarchist currents which cannot trace their lineage back to Bakunin and the Alliance, but to discredit any contrary views.

Unfortunately, the online version of my brief piece contained some typographical errors. Accordingly, I am posting the original version here.

anarchist-tradition2

The Anarchist Tradition

In their critique of the so-called “seven sages” approach to anarchism in Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, Counter-Power, Volume 1, Schmidt and van der Walt claim that there “is only one anarchist tradition, and it is rooted in the work of Bakunin and the Alliance” of Socialist Democracy (2009: 71). This is the tradition of “class struggle” anarchism, which for Schmidt and van der Walt is not merely “a type  of anarchism; in our view, it is the only anarchism” (2009: 19). This is an extraordinary claim, based upon a historicist definition of anarchism which excludes even Proudhon, the originator of the doctrine and the first self-proclaimed anarchist, from “the broad anarchist tradition,” by which Schmidt and van der Walt really mean the more narrow tradition of class struggle anarchism (2009: 18). According to this approach, the “broad anarchist tradition” is really nothing more than a form of socialism, one which is libertarian and revolutionary (2009: 6). Anarchism, as a distinct doctrine, disappears, subsumed under the socialist rubric.

That there are different schools of anarchist thought does not mean that only one of them qualifies as “anarchist,” no more than the fact that there are many different schools of socialist thought means that only one of them qualifies as “socialist,” although the Marxists used to think so. Schmidt and van der Walt argue that their narrow definition of anarchism makes anarchism a coherent doctrine because differing conceptions of anarchism with contrary ideas are now excluded from the very definition of anarchism. But if anarchism is just a form of socialism, and there are differing conceptions of socialism, then any definition of socialism that encompasses these competing and sometimes contradictory conceptions of socialism is similarly deficient. If only one body of thought can qualify as anarchist, to avoid charges of “incoherence,” then only one body of thought can qualify as socialist.

But Schmidt and van der Walt accept that there are competing and contrary conceptions of socialism, including anarchism and Marxism. If both anarchism and Marxism can be considered forms of socialism, despite their many differences, then there is no reason why there cannot be different forms of anarchism. Just as Marxism may be an internally coherent theory of one kind of socialism, without that entailing that contrary conceptions of socialism, such as “class struggle” anarchism, cannot be “socialist,” so can different conceptions of anarchism be internally coherent, even though they may be contrary to each other to greater and lesser degrees, and still remain “anarchist.”

Marx and Bakunin

Marx and Bakunin

Schmidt and van der Walt then conflate anarchism with self-described anarchist movements, so that anarchism cannot but be the ideas expressed and embodied by these movements, which they claim all trace their lineage back to Bakunin and the First International (2009: 44-46). Anyone who cannot trace his or her ideological roots back to this family tree does not qualify as an “anarchist.” This is a completely circular argument, and a problematic way to approach the study of anarchist ideas and movements.

If anarchism is whatever Bakunin and his associates said it was, then of course Bakunin and his associates qualify as anarchists. But if other people develop conceptions of anarchism contrary to that of Bakunin and the Alliance, then they don’t qualify as anarchists,  even if they did so around the same time as Bakunin, or even before him, as in the case of Proudhon (2009: 83-85). Gustav Landauer, whose communitarian anarchism was heavily influenced by Proudhon and Tolstoy, both of whom Schmidt and van der Walt exclude from the anarchist canon, cannot be considered an anarchist because he was not a Bakuninist. Anarchism then becomes a much more narrow body of thought, from which no significant departures or modifications can be made without risking one’s status as an “anarchist,” much as what happened with Marxism, inhibiting any significant innovation as anarchism must remain within the general confines of its “original” formulation. This turns anarchism from a living tradition into an historical relic.

While Schmidt and van der Walt exclude Proudhon from the “broad” anarchist tradition, Bakunin and Kropotkin certainly did not do so. Bakunin praised Proudhon for “boldly [declaring] himself an anarchist,” and described his own revolutionary anarchism as “Proudhonism widely developed and pushed right to these, its final consequences” (Lehning, Selected Writings of Michael Bakunin, 1974: 100 & 198). Kropotkin similarly observed that Proudhon “boldly proclaimed Anarchism and the abolition of the State” (Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, 1995: 56).

Proudhon the Anarchist

Proudhon the Anarchist

There are other ways of defining anarchism, including recognizing that there may be different “anarchisms,” which allow for anarchism to be conceived as a truly “broad” tradition of thought comprising different schools, currents and tendencies, something which Kropotkin acknowledged, having participated in the formulation and refinement of anarchist views, including the movement away from Bakunin’s collectivism to anarchist communism, the debates between the insurrectionists and the syndicalists, the disagreements over direct action and propaganda by the deed, the role of technology and the nature of post-revolutionary society.

Later anarchists, such as Landauer, were aware of these debates and participated in some of their own, developing new ideas and approaches incorporating elements from the anarchists who preceded them, often in a very conscious manner, but also departing from them in significant respects. For them, anarchism was a broad and living tradition, always subject to change, not restricted to the general form initially developed in the particular historical circumstances of the First International.

Gustav Landauer

Gustav Landauer

Post Script

Van der Walt’s claim that Landauer does qualify as an anarchist because he was martyred during the 1919 Bavarian Revolution cannot go unanswered. Landauer certainly qualifies as an anarchist under my approach, but he was not a “class struggle anarchist,” in which case, under the Black Flame approach, despite his martyrdom he does not qualify as an anarchist. His economic views were based on Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s mutualism. Black Flame excludes both Proudhon and mutualism from the anarchist canon. With respect to the means of action, Landauer was a proponent of non-violent or “passive” resistance, inspired by the political writings of Leo Tolstoy, who is also excluded from Schmidt and van der Walt’s “anarchist canon.” Landauer did not think much of Marx’s “class analysis” and rejected his theory of historical materialism, which provided the basis for Marx’s claims, rejected by Landauer, that the working class was destined to abolish capitalism and class society as part of the process of technological and economic development spurred on by capitalism (see the selections from Landauer in Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939)).

anarchism volume 1

 

Murray Bookchin: Ethical Anarchism (1981)

Bookchin in Lyon 1984

Bookchin in Lyon 1984

This is the second part of the Open Road interview with Murray Bookchin. Here, Bookchin makes clear his rejection of Marxism, particularly the Marxist theory of “historical materialism.” He clarifies his concept of “post-scarcity anarchism” and advocates an ethical anarchism, urging anarchists to focus their efforts in locations where they have greater chances of success. Space limitations prevented me from including excerpts from this interview in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, now available from AK Press.

1969 Bookchin Pamphlet

1969 Bookchin Pamphlet

Open Road: What kind of balance do you find between a Marxist or historical materialist concept of necessary conditions, and the idea of anarchism as an act of will, anarchism as voluntarism, anarchism as a potential in any historical situation according to the desire, consciousness, etc., of those who advocate it?

Bookchin: I’m less influenced by any of Marx’s ideas today than I’ve ever been in my life, and most significantly Marx’s theory of historical materialism, which I think is virtually a debris of despotism. But to respond very directly to what you said, I’m by no means convinced that capitalism and the development of technology has made anarchism easier. On the contrary it has imposed tremendous difficulties by reinforcing domination and hierarchy with instrumentalities, techniques, from electronic devices to thermo-nuclear bombs and neutron bombs, has reinforced hierarchy and domination on a scale that I could never have even foreseen, say in my youth, when I was a radical and a Marxist at that time.

But here’s what I do believe very strongly: that once capitalism comes into existence, once it creates this mythology of a stingy nature, then that myth has to be exorcised. In other words, we have to get out of people’s heads the idea that without a market economy, without egotism, competition, rivalry and self-interest, without all the technological advances that Marx imputed to capitalism, we have to eliminate the feeling that we would sink into some kind of barbarism. We have to give people the freedom to choose lifestyles and material satisfactions that suit their needs, and we have to redefine need itself. We can’t redefine need among ghetto people by telling them we should all give up our TV sets or automobiles: we have to tell them there’s enough to go around, now let’s talk about using it sensibly.

So in that sense I speak of post-scarcity because my concern is to eliminate the sense of scarcity that people feel. Capitalism has created a situation called scarcity. And that scarcity is not natural, it’s socially induced. Along with that sense of scarcity, or feeling of scarcity, is a feeling of economic insecurity. Along with that is a feeling of deprivation…  And unless we can demonstrate that that feeling is not justified technologically, we will not be able to speak intelligently to the great majority of people and reorganize our economy so that we really know what needs are rational and human and what have been created, almost fetishisticaly, by the capitalist economy. What I’m saying in effect is we have to say the goodies are all here to be had, but to what extent do we really want them and to what extent are they goodies? As long as we feel that we can’t have them, we’ll want them and we’ll make them central to our lives.

I’ve been criticized by many anarchists as believing that anarchism is impossible without affluence. On the contrary, I think affluence is very destructive to anarchism. If you are absorbed by that commodity world then you’re not going to move toward any radical positions, you’re going to move toward a stance of protectiveness.

European Youth Revolt

European Youth Revolt

Open Road: On the other hand, it is those affluent countries in Europe— Switzerland, Germany— which seem to be developing a rebellious youth movement.

Bookchin: That’s an intriguing fact. I have been criticized for pointing out that anarchism is likely to flourish more easily, at least in the western world, and to a certain extent in eastern Europe, in those areas where there is either grim need or considerable technological development. Since you’ve pointed this out, I’ll be the last one in the world to deny that. But I don’t believe that you can make a whole historical theory out of it. That’s very important to see.

After reading The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi, I realized that capitalism did not naturally grow as Marx would imply by his theory of historical materialism. People were dragged into capitalism screaming, shouting, and fighting all along the way, trying to resist this industrial and commercial world. And I’m convinced more than ever that capitalism, with its technological development, has not been an advance toward freedom but has been an enormous setback of freedom. I am more disenchanted with “civilization,” which does not mean that I’m a primitivist, than I’ve ever been in my life. In The Ecology of Freedom, my critique of what is called civilization and industrial society is massive, and my attack upon Marx’s commitment to it as a necessary stage in human progress and the domination of nature is very sharp.

Open Road: Is there a necessity for a spiritual or religious idea in addition to practical, every day demands, in organizing, as a unifying bond for a political or social movement?

Bookchin: I believe that there has to be an ideal and I favour an ethical anarchism which can be cohered into an ideal.

I believe that it’s terribly important to have a movement that is spiritual, not in the supernatural sense, but in the sense of German Geist, spirit, which combines the idea of mind together with feeling, together with intuition. I’m sorry that some self-styled anarchists have picked up on the word spirit and have turned me into a theological ecologist, a notion which I think is crude beyond all belief. There has to be a body of values. I would prefer to call them ecological because my image of ecology goes beyond nature and extends into society as a whole—not to be confused in any way with socio-biology, which I think is an extremely regressive, reactionary tendency…

Green anarchism

Open Road: Anarchism and its various qualifiers—communalist, syndicalist, eco-, collectivist, etc., seems to have a pretty nebulous identity at the present time.

Bookchin: We have to clarify the meaning of the word. We have to give it a rich content. And that content has to stand apart from a critique of other ideologies, because the way you sharpen a knife is, frankly, on a grindstone. And the grindstone for me is Marxism. I’ve developed my anarchism, my critique of Marxism, which has been the most advanced bourgeois ideology I know of, into a community of ideas and ultimately a common sense of responsibilities and commitments. I don’t think anarchism consists of sitting down and saying let’s form a collective. I don’t think it consists of saying we’re all anarchists: you’re an anarcho-syndicalist; you’re an anarcho-communist; you’re an anarcho-individualist. I believe that anarchists should agree to disagree but not to fight with each other. We don’t have to go around as the Protestant reformation did, or as the socialist revolution did, and execute each other as soon as we are successful—assuming we’ll ever be successful. But I believe that if we do have a commonality of beliefs we should clarify them, we should strengthen their coherence and we should also develop common projects that produce a lived community of relationships.

And also we should try to become better people, ethically speaking, reflect upon ourselves and our very limited existences and develop a sense of tolerance for each other, as well as for other anarchist groups with which we may disagree. But we’re not committed to toeing a line called anarchism; there are many different anarchisms. My anarchism is frankly anarcho-communalism, and it’s eco-anarchism as well. And it’s not oriented toward the proletariat. I would like to see a critical mass of very gifted anarchists come together in an appropriate place in order to do highly productive work. That’s it. I don’t know why that can’t be done except for the fact that I think that people mistrust their own ideals today. I don’t think that they don’t believe in them; I think they mistrust the viability of them. They’re afraid to commit themselves to their ideals.

You see something very important is happening. Personality is being eaten out, and with that the idealism that always motivated an anarchist movement—the belief in something, the ideal that there is something worth fighting for.

I’m much more interested in developing human character in this society. And I’m much more interested in the social conditions that foster commitment to ideals, a sense of solidarity, purposefulness, steadfastness, responsibility…

Open Road: I’m not that clear on what you were suggesting when you said you felt that highly gifted anarchists should get together in one location and…

Bookchin: Anarchists should get together who agree, and develop their gifts at a critical point, in a critical place, and form genuine affinity groups in areas where they can have certain results, notable results—not move into areas of great resistance where they’re almost certain to be crushed, defeated, demoralized. And secondly, I would not want to be in the same movement with an anarcho-syndicalist, however much I may respect and like that person. Some of my best friends are anarcho-syndicalists. I mean, I realize that we do not have a commonality, even a language, that makes it possible for us to communicate.

Sam Dolgoff - anarcho-syndicalist

Sam Dolgoff – anarcho-syndicalist friend

Open Road: How do too feel about the developing “doctrine of Bookchinism’’ around your ideas?

Bookchin: Terms that are related to individuals like Marxist, or Hegelian, or Bakuninist, or Kropotkinist, are completely outside my intellectual and emotional horizon. I’m a follower of no one; I’m a Bookchinite, and nobody has a right to claim that but me. When I die Bookchinism comes to an end, and all the allusions to it both among Marxists and anarchists…

(lots of laughter)

Bookchin quote

Noam Chomsky: The Manufacture of Consent (1983)

chomsky interview

In 1982-83, I conducted an interview with Noam Chomsky (by mail! there was no internet back then, or at least one accessible to the general public). It was published in the Open Road news journal, then the highest circulation English language anarchist publication (it’s circulation peaked at around 14,000). The interview reflects many of my own concerns at the time. Chomsky himself was fairly pessimistic back then regarding the human prospect. During the time over which the interview was conducted, the U.S. backed Rios Montt regime in Guatemala was murdering literally tens of thousands of people, largely among the indigenous peasant population. I note that Rios Montt has, just this month, some 30 years later, been convicted in Guatemala of genocide but the conviction has already been overturned. Space limitations prevented me from including excerpts from this interview in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, now available from AK Press.

open roadThe Manufacture of Consent: An Interview With Noam Chomsky

Today you are probably best known as a critic of U.S. foreign policy. What sort of audience are you trying to reach? Are you afraid that you may just be preaching to the converted?

I’m aware of the danger, but don’t feel that it is real. The major groups of “the converted”—that is, the deeply indoctrinated with naive and immutable quasi-religious beliefs—are the mainstream elite intelligentsia. But they are much too well-disciplined to listen to anything I have to say, and they know of it, if at all, only through the fabrications of various party-liners or their own incomprehension of anything that parts from doctrinal purity The reaction among various Marxists sects and the like is similar, and for similar reasons.

The audience I try to reach, and to some limited extent do reach, is a different one: partly, activists of a less doctrinaire sort than the mainstream liberal intelligentsia and sectarian Marxists, partly the kind of general interested audience that one finds everywhere: around universities (primarily students), church groups, and so on.

I’m not trying to convert, but to inform. I don’t want people to believe me, any more than they should believe the party line I’m criticizing—academic authority, the media, the overt state propagandists, or whatever. In talks and in print, I try to stress what I think is true: that with a little willingness to explore and use one’s mind, it is possible to discover a good deal about the social and political world that is generally hidden. I feel that I’ve achieved something if people are encouraged to take up this challenge and learn for themselves.

There are a vast number of people who are uninformed and heavily propagandized, but fundamentally decent. The propaganda that inundates them is effective when unchallenged, but much of it goes only skin deep. If they can be brought to raise questions and apply their decent instincts and basic intelligence, many people quickly escape the confines of the doctrinal system and are willing to do something to help others who are really suffering and oppressed.

This is naturally less true of better-educated and “more sophisticated” (that is, more effectively indoctrinated) groups who are both the agents and often the most deluded victims of the propaganda system.

The New Diplomacy - Just Like the Old One

The New Diplomacy – Just Like the Old One

What position do you think North American anti-authoritarians should take with regard to Third World liberation movements, especially the more authoritarian, Leninist/Maoist type of movement? Do you think our first priority should be to simply oppose U.S. imperialism?

The U.S. has not been elected God, and has no authority to impose its will by violence in the Third World. Apart from the matter of principle, some familiarity with recent history shows clearly enough the effects of its benevolence, in Central America and the Caribbean for many years, in Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. Any honest person will therefore oppose and attempt to block such intervention, exactly as in the case of subversion or aggression by any other power.

This truism aside, our attitude towards Third World “liberation movements” should be to find out and tell the truth about them. Where we can do something to defend people who are oppressed, to alleviate suffering, or to expand the scope of freedom, we should do so, though the best we can do, quite often, is to keep our bloody hands out of their affairs. We should also try to offer constructive assistance to people attempting to overcome centuries of misery and oppression, in part because it is just and right, in part out of a recognition of what the plague of European civilization has created as it spread through the world. Outside intervention regularly tends to enhance the authoritarian and oppressive elements in these movements, and in fact is often designed to achieve this end (Cuba and Nicaragua are two obvious examples).

It is not clear that there exists any way for most of the people of the Third World to overcome the enormous problems they face, which transcend anything in our historical experience. Whatever slight chance there might be for decent prospects are reduced or eliminated by the violence of the great powers, in part motivated by fear that successful development will take place outside of their control, with a “demonstration effect” that will undermine their dominance elsewhere. These are some of the facts of the world that have to be faced. It is easy to preach to the Third World, a little more difficult to offer constructive recommendations.

quiet rumours

Has there been a resurgence of left-wing political activity in the U.S. in the past couple of years?

First, the alleged decline of activism in the 1970s was partly mythical. This was, after all, the period of the rise of the feminist and ecological movements, and much else. In fact, there remained from the 1960s a proliferation of activists groups of many sorts, doing valuable work, generally locally oriented, and many new people joined or began afresh. As the state gradually returned to its natural stance of militancy, subversion and aggression after its partial failures in Vietnam, and as the economic crisis deepened, this activism quickly emerged to public view.

Yet in Radical Priorities, you deny that either feminism or the ecology movement pose a real threat to capitalism—presumably the demands of both movements can be met within the capitalist system. Do you see any revolutionary potential in these movements, or do you think that the working class remains the most likely agent of revolutionary transformation?

The feminist movement, and to some extent the ecology movement, have, I think, had a significant and lasting effect on social thought and practice. But it should be recognized that capitalism can easily accommodate the idea that individuals are interchangeable tools of production and that the environment should be maintained to be exploited by the masters of the economic and political system. A radical and emancipatory movement is not necessarily anti- capitalist. There are many forms of authority and domination apart from those of the capitalist system; correspondingly, there are many forms of “revolutionary transformation.” It doesn’t seem to me a matter of “one or the other,” as your formulation tends to suggest.

Isn’t industrialism itself becoming obsolete?

Industrialism is far from obsolete. The vast majority of the human race has not even entered the industrial era, or has barely entered it, and in the advanced industrial societies the production of useful goods poses real and imminent problems. One major problem of advanced industrial societies—England, and now the U.S.—is that the capacity for useful production is to a certain extent being lost, a fact that has been emphasized for many years by Seymour Melman, among others.

Manufacturing Unemployment

Manufacturing Unemployment

Do you see any prospects for a libertarian social movement emerging in the U.S.?

Quite often, one tends to find libertarian elements in the various activist groups that are continually forming, disappearing, and transmuting into something else. One of the healthy aspects of American society and culture is the relatively low level of deference to privilege and a general skepticism about hierarchy and authority. I emphasize “relatively”; there is a long way to go. The lack of any live socialist tradition or any party structure also serves to make the U.S. different from other capitalist industrial societies in this respect: on the one hand, it leads to a lack of continuity at the intellectual or activist-organizational levels and a generally shifting and evanescent quality to much that happens here; on the other hand, it often leads to openness and innovation, which helps foster libertarian tendencies that often have quite deep roots, I think. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to where it will lead.

chomsky new mandarins

Many of your political writings are directed toward the “new mandarins,” the intellectual servants of American power and interests. Why do you think it is important to expose the collusion between intellectuals and the state?

It has been recognized for many years that “the manufacture of consent” is a major task in societies where obedience cannot be ensured by violence. Whether they are aware of it or not, a substantial part of the intelligentsia commit themselves to this task. The result is a system of indoctrination that is often remarkable in its effectiveness. The first step in freeing oneself from its grip is to recognize that it exists, to come to understand that the pretended objectivity and neutrality of social and political commentary, or simply news reporting, masks presuppositions and ideological principles that should be challenged, and that often collapse very quickly when exposed.

Until people free themselves from the system of indoctrination, they will continue to support the violence of existing institutions. If they can free themselves, they can often combat it effectively in countries such as ours, where the level of institutionalized violence is relatively low, for the privileged at least. So I think it is important to continually bring out the ongoing collusion, whether it is tacit and subconscious or quite consciously undertaken.

This is unending task, since the major institutions and their servants naturally never cease to construct the perceived world in the form that suits their needs. It is a great mistake to believe that once the lies of the propaganda system have been exposed about, say, the Vietnam war, then it is pointless to take the topic up again. On the contrary, the intelligentsia will maintain their natural commitment to restoring the shattered faith and do so in the course of time, quite effectively if unchallenged.

chomsky statistical error

As a self-described “statistical error,” meaning that people with your sort of political views are generally excluded from prominent positions in the U.S., how do you see yourself as an intellectual teaching at a major American university, in your role as a member of the very intelligentsia you criticize, and in relation to your students?

In fact, I have very little contact with the so-called academic or intellectual community, apart from a few friends and colleagues. With regard to students, the matter is different. They are in a phase of their lives when they are uniquely able to question and explore. They haven’t been completely socialized.

It is, in fact, quite striking to see how differently students and faculty respond to issues involving the university or the larger society. Take just one rather typical example. A few years ago MIT in effect arranged to sell about 1/3 of the nuclear engineering department to the Shah of Iran. When the scandal surfaced, there was much uproar on campus, leading to a student referendum that showed about 80% opposed. There was also a series of well-attended faculty meetings (a rare event), which led to a vote in which about 80% approved.

The faculty are simply the students of a few years ago, but the difference in reaction, on a matter of simple academic freedom apart from the obvious broader implications, reflects the fact that they are now a functional part of the institutional structure of power. It is that step towards acceptance and obedience that it is important to try to prevent. Once it has been taken, the rest is fairly predictable.

1960s Student Movement

1960s Student Movement

So you think a large American university is a suitable place for free education and independent thought?

Insofar as the universities provide the opportunities for free inquiry and expression, it would be crazy not to make use of them, while trying to expand these opportunities. This can be done; it was done quite effectively, in fact, by the student movement of the 1960s, one reason why it was so hated and why it is so maligned by the custodians of history, whose privilege and authority were threatened by the student pressure for free inquiry and who now have to mask their real fears by the pretense that the main thrust of the student movement was totalitarian, Stalinist, opposed to academic freedom, and so on. There is a whole literature of falsification on this topic, which is naturally very highly regarded in intellectual circles.

Anarchists, from Godwin to Goodman, have developed libertarian theories of education very critical of conventional, state-controlled education systems. Do you have any thoughts on this libertarian tradition of educational thought?

I think it often effectively expressed crucially important values. Schools function in many ways as instruments of indoctrination, not only in the content of what is taught, but in the style and manner of teaching and organization, from the earliest years.

Students are rewarded for obedience and passivity—one result is that in the elite institutions students are often pre-selected for these traits and are more effectively indoctrinated than elsewhere.

These are not laws of nature. It is possible in principle for schools to foster the creative impulses that are rather natural from childhood on and to encourage a constant willingness to challenge established doctrine and authority. In fact, this comes close to being true in advanced work in the natural sciences, though very rarely elsewhere. For just this reason, training in the natural sciences might not be a bad way to prepare oneself for a life of serious engagement in social and political issues.

A bit of personal good fortune is that up to high school, I was in such school—one that was Deweyan, not libertarian in our sense, but that did encourage independent thought and self-realization in the best sense. It wasn’t until I entered a city high school, for example, that I discovered, to my surprise, that I was a good student. It was assumed in my earlier school experience that everyone was. Insofar as students were “measured,” it was not against one another but against what they could accomplish.

Such schooling is fundamentally subversive, in the best sense, and therefore rarely undertaken, but it is possible even within the institutional constraints of our societies as they now exist, and the effort to create and expand such possibilities merits much effort and struggle. This is most important within the state educational system, where the overwhelming majority of the population is educated, or mis-educated.

goodman miseducation

You have argued that your linguistic theories have revolutionary implications. Why do you feel that your theoretical work in linguistics is important, and what is the relation between that work, your political views and social liberation in general? In other words, what do innate structures and generative grammar have to do with human emancipation?

A word of caution: I don’t argue that my linguistic theories have revolutionary implications. Rather, that they are merely suggestive as to the form that a libertarian social theory might assume. One shouldn’t claim more than can be shown. Surely one cannot simply deduce social any political consequences from any insights into language. Rather, it is perhaps possible to begin to perceive, if only dimly, how innate structures of mind may lead to an extraordinary richness of understanding, and may underlie and enter human action and thought. On this basis one may hope—it is only a hope—to be able to show, some day, that structures of authority and control limit and distort intrinsic human capacities and needs, and to lay a theoretical basis for a social theory that eventuates in practical ideas as to how to overcome them. But there are huge gaps in any such argument, something I’ve always taken pains to emphasize.

My own hopes and intuitions are that self-fulfilling and creative work is a fundamental human need, and that the pleasures of a challenge met, a work well done, the exercise of skill and craftsmanship, are real and significant, and are an essential part of a full and meaningful life, The same is true of the opportunity to understand and enjoy the achievements of others, which often go beyond what we ourselves can do, and to work constructively in cooperation with others.

chomsky anarchismYou have described yourself as a “derivative fellow traveler” of anarchism and as an “anarchist socialist.” Just how do you see yourself in relation to anarchism as a philosophy, and anarchism as a movement?

What I think is most important about anarchism as a “philosophy” (a term I’m uncomfortable with) is its recognition that there is and will always be a need to discover and overcome structures of hierarchy, authority and domination and constraints on freedom: slavery, wage-slavery, racism, sexism, authoritarian schools, etc., forever. If human society progresses, overcoming some of these forms of oppression, it will uncover others, particularly as we move from confronting animal problems to confronting human problems, in Marx’s phrase.

Anarchism does not legislate ultimate solutions to these problems. I see it as a rather practical “philosophy,” inspired by a vision of the future that is more free and more conducive to a wide range of human needs, many of which are in no position even to identify under the intellectual and material constraints of our present existence.

We will each commit ourselves to the problems we feel most pressing, but should be ready to learn from others about the limitations of our own conceptions and understanding, which will always be substantial. It is only in this sense that anarchism can be a “movement.” It won’t be a party with members and a finished doctrine.

How did you come to embrace such ideas? Is it true you were influenced by the kibbutz movement in Israel when you were young?

Yes, I was influenced by the kibbutz movement, and in fact lived for a while on a kibbutz and almost stayed on. I think there is much of value in the kibbutz experience, but we must also not forget (as I have sometimes tended to do) that the historical particularity of the kibbutz movement in Israel embodies many serious flaws, sometimes crimes. One should also explore other facets of the experience, for example, the kinds of coercion that arise from the need for acceptance in a closely-knit community, not a small topic, I think.

I can’t really say how I came to be influenced by anarchist ideas; I can’t remember a time when I was not so influenced.

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity

What, in general, is your opinion of Marx and Marxism?

Marx was a person, not a god. The concept “Marxism” belongs to the history of organized religion, and should not be seriously employed by a free and independent person. Marx was a major intellectual figure and it would be foolish not to learn from him or to value his contributions properly. He was, like anyone, limited in his perceptions and understanding. His personal behavior (not to be confused with his thought) often left much to be desired, to put it mildly. There are also very dangerous and destructive elements in his ideas, some of which underlie the worst elements of Leninist thought and practice.

chomsky libertarian

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