"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik


Pat Stack makes the case for revolutionary Marxism rather than anarchism as the way of bringing about a better society…gulag anybody? We wouldn’t normally post such an ill-informed un-educated piece of Trot rubbish such as this but we’re sure it would get one or two hackles up, and for entertainments sake…over to you Pat!

Over the past few months we have witnessed a surge in political activity against Con-Dem government policies. Many of those coming new to the struggle will be asking questions—about the injustices being committed, but also about the whole capitalist system.
For those wanting to smash the system, as opposed to those who want to reform it, there will be two main alternatives—revolutionary Marxism or anarchism.
On the face of it there would appear to be much that is appealing about anarchist ideas.

A struggle waged with no leaders and no parties, and bringing about a society with no state and no rules, would seem to fit perfectly with acts of rebellion.
But if we want to rid ourselves of this rotten capitalist system we need to look beyond the superficially attractive, and try to understand just how such change can be brought about.

There are many different anarchist theories and practices that often appeal to people for quite diverse reasons.

So for some there is an exhilarating freedom in just taking action without waiting for the right conditions—just smash that bank window, clobber that cop.
For others there can be the very different appeal of “consensus”. Here voting in protests, such as student occupations, is banned because it is seen as coercive—majorities imposing their will on minorities.

Despite the variation of anarchist ideas and theories, there are four main areas of difference with revolutionary socialists: how the struggle is developed and led, the role of leadership, the role of the revolutionary party and the role of the state.

To understand how society can be changed we need to look back at Karl Marx’s view of capitalism.

Unlike the leading anarchists of the 19th century, Marx recognised the progress capitalism represented. For the first time systems of production existed that created the potential for a society without fear of poverty, starvation and hopelessness.

For instance, if droughts brought about famine under feudalism, people starved because there simply wasn’t enough to eat. Under capitalism enough food is produced many times over—there is nothing “natural” about the disasters that people in various parts of Africa and Asia face today. But Marx went on to explain that this potential could never be fulfilled because capitalist society subordinates everything to profit.

He also understood that by drawing together large numbers of workers to make profits for them, the capitalists were potentially creating their own gravedigger—a working class that could only move forward if it moved forward collectively.

The key question then was how this class could be organised to challenge the system. On the face of it, such change should be easy—the working class are many, the capitalists few.

Yet capitalism has lasted a long time. The capitalists retain their power through a combination of force and fraud.

The fraud takes many forms.
The greed of capitalism is portrayed as human nature. We are told that capitalism is as good as it gets, and that there have to be rulers and ruled. We are also continually being urged to turn our anger on each other in a variety of ways—skin colour, nationality, sexuality and gender are all used to divide us.

Workers in the private sector are told to blame workers in the public sector, the low paid to blame those on benefits and the unemployed to blame immigrants.
A consistent minority of workers reject all such fraud.

They see their class interests and their class enemies clearly and believe workers of the world should unite against the global system. A consistent minority accept the fraud completely—they buy into the racism, scab on every occasion and always vote Tory or to the right of the Tories.

In the middle lie the majority who at times act in the interests of their class and at times fall for the fraud.For Marxists the key to changing the world is the ability of the class conscious minority to win over the vast majority to act in their own interests.

This is what we mean by leadership.
This is not an important person giving orders or making grand pronouncements, but the most advanced sections of the class winning the majority. For many anarchists such concepts of leadership are seen as elitist.

Yet in reality it is much more elitist for a self-appointed group of activists to carry out actions regardless of whether they are taking wider forces with them.
Leadership does however mean battling for ideas.

In every struggle there will be arguments about the way forward and about the right demands—and out of such conflicts comes clarity. Consensus in such situations can only mean one of two things. Either we work only with those who already agree with us, cutting ourselves off from the wider audience we want to draw into struggle. Or we only travel at the pace of the most cautious, limiting our ability to carry the struggle forward.

The question that arises out of this is how do the most advanced workers organise themselves to win the allegiance of the majority? Here, the question of the revolutionary party becomes key.

Revolutionary Marxist parties are not like mainstream political parties.
They are not concerned about winning elections, dining with the Murdochs to win over the media or watering down their politics to gain popularity.

They are not made up of passive members dictated to by important leaders.
They are organised democratically and they act in a centralised way. Democracy in a revolutionary party means the coming together of members to understand the world and debate a strategy. It is vital to the possible success of the party.
And the centralism—unity in action—that comes out of this democracy is essential against a highly centralised and powerful class enemy.

For anarchists, the question of organisation remains a largely unanswered one.
Historically, organisation is either rejected outright or attempts to build it have floundered because of its loose and confused nature, or conversely because of the building of conspiratorial and elitist formations.

If fraud is one key weapon in capitalism’s armoury, the other is force.
The capitalist state is highly organised. The police, judiciary, armed forces and leading echelons of the civil service are not neutral—their role is to defend the status quo.

In periods where capitalists are losing the battle for ideas, force becomes more and more important. The bosses will not surrender their wealth, power and privilege just because we have voted for them to do so. They will fight to the death to defend their system. That is why they will have to be overthrown by force.

Here the question of violence is important. The system is violent in so many different ways. Millions have died in its wars, suffer torture and imprisonment, and experience the casual violence that daily exploitation brings. So we should take no lectures from their media or politicians about violence. At the same time we have to ensure that we take the widest possible forces with us in our actions.
Small elitist groups carrying out acts that make no sense to the majority who support their cause are likely to leave those supporters confused and demobilised.

If such elitist actions have a demobilising effect, then they do the class struggle real damage.There is also another difference.

While Marxists see the state as an apparatus that acts to protect the class system, anarchists tend to see it as the enemy in and of itself. This can lead to utter confusion.

The father of anarchism, French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, is most famous for stating that “all property is theft”.
But his alternative to the growing power of big capitalist firms was to look to small-scale production linked by a network of exchange of goods and services.
Proudhon went on to see private property as a bulwark against the “real enemy”—the state. He ended up describing private property as “Liberal, Centralist, Decentralising, Republican, Egalitarian, Progressive and Just”. This view of the state leads anarchists to reject not just the capitalist state, but post-revolutionary workers’ states that would be necessary to defend the revolution against its capitalist enemies.

Revolutionary socialists and anarchists share a hatred of the current system and all the misery it brings. However, how we end that misery and change the world is the key to our differences. When it comes to questions of leadership, organisation and the state, the superficially attractive appeal of anarchism fails to provide a coherent strategy to change the world.


2 responses

  1. Bob

    The following points come to mind reading this article:
    1. Its ridiculous to imply the SWP can represent “revolutionary Marxism”
    2. The Socialist Workers words and practice over the last decade (or more) reflect reforming the system and not getting rid of it.
    3. Marxists and Anarchists aim for different end results and highlight different crap parts of the present system. The same point is true with regard to “reformism” and “revolution”. They aim for different aims and aren’t just different ways of achieving the same thing.
    4. The article is patronising and tries to summarise “anarchism” in a child-like way not shared by actual anarchists.
    5. The article insinuates the SWP, of course, want to smash the whole of the rotten capitalist system but this isn’t at all obvious. They have been bending over backwards to avoid this in all their various so-called “united fronts”.
    6. A distinctive feature of the SWP is to be “superficial”.
    7. If they thought smashing bank windows and clobbering cops were popular then they would pretend they are all for it in order to gain recruits.
    8. There is no need to describe any decision-making process as being “banned”. The majority may vote and choose to “impose on the minority” to have “consensus” building decision making process rather than a strict “centralist” way.
    9. The article preaches about the world we live in in ways that have nothing to do with the difference between anarchists and revolutionary socialists.
    10. Aha! I pesonally agree! about “a minority of workers rejecting fraud, a minority accepting fraud and a majority may do either; at different times.”. However I often find that both Anarchists and also SWPers talk about “the working class” in a prejudiced and deluded way that implies “We’re all the same”.
    11. Aha ! Again I agree the minority would be well served to attempt to win over the more ambiguous majority “to act in their own interests” but the writer can’t help but use “elitist” terms like “advanced”. They also wrongly identify this minority and the SWP as being one and the same!
    12. The SWP practice of leadership is nothing like this. A tiny weeny clique at the top of their party treats the party hacks as robots who then dictate to robotic members who then try to use deceitful, partial viewpoints to influence the wider population. The aim of all this is for the self-interest of the SWP and not for people “to act in their own interests”.

    July 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm

  2. Rick

    Ernest Lesigne on “The Two Socialisms”

    There are two Socialisms.
    One is communistic, the other solidaritarian.
    One is dictatorial, the other libertarian.
    One is metaphysical, the other positive.
    One is dogmatic, the other scientific.
    One is emotional, the other reflective.
    One is destructive, the other constructive.
    Both are in pursuit of the greatest possible welfare for all.
    One aims to establish happiness for all, the other to enable each to be happy in his own way.
    The first regards the State as a society sui generis, of an especial essence, the product of a sort of divine right outside of and above all society, with special rights and able to exact special obediences; the second considers the State as an association like any other, generally managed worse than others.
    The first proclaims the sovereignty of the State, the second recognizes no sort of sovereign.
    One wishes all monopolies to be held by the State; the other wishes the abolition of all monopolies.
    One wishes the governed class to become the governing class; the other wishes the disappearance of classes.
    Both declare that the existing state of things cannot last.
    The first considers revolutions as the indispensable agent of evolutions; the second teaches that repression alone turns evolutions into revolution.
    The first has faith in a cataclysm.
    The second knows that social progress will result from the free play of individual efforts.
    Both understand that we are entering upon a new historic phase.
    One wishes that there should be none but proletaires.
    The other wishes that there should be no more proletaires.
    The first wishes to take everything away from everybody.
    The second wishes to leave each in possession of its own.
    The one wishes to expropriate everybody.
    The other wishes everybody to be a proprietor.
    The first says: ‘Do as the government wishes.’
    The second says: ‘Do as you wish yourself.’
    The former threatens with despotism.
    The latter promises liberty.
    The former makes the citizen the subject of the State.
    The latter makes the State the employee of the citizen.
    One proclaims that labor pains will be necessary to the birth of a new world.
    The other declares that real progress will not cause suffering to any one.
    The first has confidence in social war.
    The other believes only in the works of peace.
    One aspires to command, to regulate, to legislate.
    The other wishes to attain the minimum of command, of regulation, of legislation.
    One would be followed by the most atrocious of reactions.
    The other opens unlimited horizons to progress.
    The first will fail; the other will succeed.
    Both desire equality.
    One by lowering heads that are too high.
    The other by raising heads that are too low.
    One sees equality under a common yoke.
    The other will secure equality in complete liberty.
    One is intolerant, the other tolerant.
    One frightens, the other reassures.
    The first wishes to instruct everybody.
    The second wishes to enable everybody to instruct himself.
    The first wishes to support everybody.
    The second wishes to enable everybody to support himself.
    One says:
    The land to the State.
    The mine to the State.
    The tool to the State.
    The product to the State.
    The other says:
    The land to the cultivator.
    The mine to the miner.
    The tool to the laborer.
    The product to the producer.
    There are only these two Socialisms.
    One is the infancy of Socialism; the other is its manhood.
    One is already the past; the other is the future.
    One will give place to the other.
    Today each of us must choose for the one or the other of these two Socialisms, or else confess that he is not a Socialist.”

    Ernest Lesigne, Liberty V, 10 (December 17 1887)

    July 29, 2011 at 7:59 pm

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