Reply to Socialist Review on Anarchism

Chuck0's picture

Hello all

I have sent this letter to Socialist Review, monthly magazine of the British Socialist Workers Party. It is a reply to the article they published in issue no. 246 on anarchism. As the letter makes clear, the article is little more than a series of lies and misrepresentations.

For a *real* introduction to anarchism, visit "An Anarchist FAQ" at:

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yours in solidarity



Dear Socialist Review

It is difficult to know where to start in Pat Stack's "Anarchy in the UK?" article (issue no. 246). It contains so many inaccuracies that I can only assume that Stack either knows nothing about anarchism or is deliberately lying. I know that the SWP wish to combat anarchist influence in the anti-globalisation movement but this article will surely backfire on you. This is because anyone with even a small understanding of anarchist theory and history will instantly know that Stack's "analysis" of anarchism is so flawed as to be laughable.

Needless to say, I cannot reply to every mistake in the article. I will, however, concentrate on some of the more glaring ones in order to give your readers a taste of the level of inaccuracy it contains.

The most amazing assertion is that anarchists like Kropotkin and Bakunin did not see "class conflict" as "the motor of change, the working class is not the agent and collective struggle not the means." Obviously the author has never read any of Bakunin's and Kropotkin's work. Indeed, Kropotkin's The Great French Revolution was written explicitly to show "the part played by the people of the country and town in the [French] Revolution." He did not deny the importance of collective class struggle, rather he stressed it. As he wrote, "to make the revolution, the mass of workers will have to organise themselves. Resistance and the strike are excellent means of organisation for doing this." Kropotkin could not be clearer on this subject. He stressed that "the Anarchists have always advised taking an active part in those workers' organisations which carry on the direct struggle of Labour against Capital and its protector, the State."

Similarly, Bakunin argued "the natural organisation of the masses . . . is organisation based on the various ways that their various types of work define their day-to-day life; it is organisation by trade association." He thought that the International Workers Association should become "an earnest organisation of workers associations from all countries, capable of replacing this departing world of States and bourgeoisie." In other words, the "future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom upwards, by the free association of workers, first in their unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and universal."

He stresses this vision in his last work Statism and Anarchy: "the Slavic proletariat . . . must enter the International [Workers' Association] en masse, form[ing] factory, artisan, and agrarian sections, and unite them into local federations" as "a social revolution . . . is by nature an international revolution." Which, I must note, makes a mockery of Stack's claim Bakunin did not see "skilled artisans and organised factory workers" as "the source of the destruction of capitalism" and "agents for change."

Bakunin, like Kropotkin, saw a socialist society as being based on "the collective ownership of producers' associations, freely organised and federated in the communes, and by the equally spontaneous federation of these communes." Thus "the land, the instruments of work and all other capital [will] become the collective property of the whole of society and be utilised only by the workers, in other words by the agricultural and industrial associations." As can be seen, labour unions (workers' associations) played the key role in Bakunin's politics both as the means to abolish capitalism and the state and as the framework of a socialist society (this support for workers' councils predates Marxist support by five decades, I must note). Kropotkin followed him in this. Bakunin, like Kropotkin, thought the strike was "the beginnings of the social war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie." Strikes, he argued, "electrify the masses" and "awaken in them the feeling of the deep antagonism which exists between their interests and those of the bourgeoisie." They also "establish between the workers. . . the consciousness and very fact of solidarity" These "constitute directly the new world of the proletariat, opposing it almost in an absolute way to the bourgeois world." The revolution would involve "a general strike" and "an insurrection of all the people and the voluntary organisation of the workers from below upward."

Indeed, you do not have to read Bakunin to find this out, you can read Marx and Engels. As Marx noted, Bakunin thought that the "working class . . . must only organise themselves by trades-unions." Engels acknowledged that the anarchists aimed to "dispose all the authorities, abolish the state and replace it with the organisation of the International."

Therefore Stack's claim that "the huge advantage" anarcho-syndicalists have "over other anarchists was their understanding of the power of the working class, the centrality of the point of production (the workplace) and the need for collective action" is simply nonsense. Bakunin and Kropotkin, as can be seen, also understood all this. Little wonder that all serious historians see the obvious similarities between syndicalism and Bakunin's anarchism.

As can be seen, the claim Kropotkin or Bakunin, or anarchists in general, denied the central role of the working class in transforming society, ignored the class struggle or collective working class struggle is either a lie or indicates ignorance.

Similarly, Stack's discussion of Kropotkin's idea of Mutual Aid is simply false. This can best be seen when Kropotkin discusses labour unions and strikes in his book Mutual Aid. He stresses that unionism was an "expression" of "the workers' need of mutual support." The realities of capitalism, of exploitation and oppression by the boss and by the state, forced workers to practice mutual aid (i.e. solidarity) and take collective action (strikes) to survive. Mutual aid, in other words, was a means of survival and the outcome of class conflict in Kropotkin's eyes. As he wrote elsewhere, "the strike develops the sentiment of solidarity."

The author claims that Bakunin "industrialisation was an evil." Actually Bakunin argued that "to destroy . . . all the instruments of labour. . . would be to condemn all humanity . . . to. . . death by starvation." Only when workers "obtain not individual but collective property in capital" and capital is no longer "concentrated in the hands of a separate, exploiting class" will they be able "to smash the tyranny of capital." Similarly, I would urge Stack to actually read Kropotkin's classic work Field, Factories and Workshops before making such silly comments about it.

I must also note that the implication of Stack's comments is that the SWP think that a socialist society will basically be the same as capitalism, using the technology, industrial structure and industry developed under class society without change. After all, did Lenin not argue that "Socialism is merely state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people"? Anarchists, however, are aware that capitalist methods and structures cannot be used for socialist ends. If they are, as Lenin's Russia proved, the net result is just state capitalism.

I could go on, but I have shown Stack's article is simply a series of lies, inaccuracies and misrepresentations. I have indicated just a few of the errors above -- space excludes a detailed exposure of it all -- but be assured the rest of the article is as bad. The question now arises why such an obviously inaccurate article was printed in the first place. I can only assume that either the editor is as incompetent as Stack and shares a desire to lie. I hope that the ordinary membership of the SWP raise this issue in their branches and demand an answer. If they do not, if they accept the murder of the truth, then it is only a matter of time until they, like Stack, accept the murder of the revolution and the workers fighting for it.

The real differences between anarchism and Leninism can be seen from the discussion on Kronstadt. In spite of Stack's assertion, the "central demand" of the uprising was, essentially, "all power to the soviets and not to parties" (as Paul Avrich noted, "'Soviets without Communists' was not, as is often maintained by both Soviet and non-Soviet writers, a Kronstadt slogan."). They, like anarchists, rejected the idea that soviet power equalled party power. For anarchists, a revolution will solve social problems in the interests of the working class only if working class people solve them themselves. For this to happen it requires working class people to manage their own affairs directly and that implies self-managed organising from the bottom up (i.e. anarchism) rather than delegating power to a minority at the top, to a "revolutionary" party or government. As Bakunin argued, the "revolution should not only be made for the people's sake; it should also be made by the people."

Stack justifies the slaughter at Kronstadt by arguing that the Russian working class had been "decimated" by 1921. While there is no denying that the urban working class had been greatly reduced in number, its ability for collective action (and so collective decision making) had not been destroyed. After all, the Kronstadt uprising was provoked by a wave of strikes, protest meetings and demonstrations (and Bolshevik repression of them) in Petrograd. Similar events occurred all across Russia at the same time. If workers could organise near general strikes, why could they not organise society?

Stack argues that the Bolsheviks could not allow workers to vote freely after the end of the Civil War as this would inevitably result in White victory, a victory Stack argues the working class "would have paid a huge price." The question is, of course, was the introducing soviet democracy rather than party power really more of a danger than the uncontrolled dictatorship of a single party in a deeply bureaucratic and centralised state system? Could the abuses and power of the bureaucracy, the extensive privileges and powers of party and state officials be combated without a third revolution which replaced party dictatorship with soviet self-management? History provides the answer with the rise of Stalin.

Yes, by repressing Kronstadt, Lenin and Trotsky saved the revolution -- saved it for Stalin. The ramifications of suppressing Kronstadt and the arguments used to justify the "revolutionary" Bolshevik dictatorship paved the way for Stalinism, but the SWP appear incapable of seeing this.

The economy was in a terrible state (partly due to insane Bolshevik policies such as hyper-centralisation, the militarisation of labour and eliminating workers' self-management). There were "no overnight solutions" but the essential precondition for any improvement was freedom. By its very nature a dictatorship destroys the creative capacities of a people. The Kronstadt sailors and workers were not utopian enough to think that reconstruction would occur instantly. Rather, it was the Bolsheviks (and their latter-day followers) who were the utopians in thinking reconstruction could develop in a socialist manner without the active participation of the working class and that the Bolshevik regime was "revolutionary".

The issue is simple -- either socialism means the self-emancipation of the working class or it does not. Stack's justification for the suppression of the Kronstadt revolt simply means that for the SWP, when necessary, the party will paternalistically repress the workers for their own good. The clear implication of this support of the suppression of Kronstadt is that it is dangerous to allow working class people to manage society and transform it as they see fit as they will make wrong decisions (like vote for the wrong party). If the party leaders decide a decision by the masses is incorrect, then the masses are overridden (and repressed). As Trotsky said at the time: "As if the Party were not entitled to assert its dictatorship even if that dictatorship clashed with the passing moods of the workers' democracy!"

Ultimately, Stack's comments show that the SWP's commitment to workers' power and democracy is non-existent. What is there left of workers' self-emancipation, power or democracy when the "workers state" represses the workers for trying to practice these essential features of any real form of socialism? It is the experience of Bolshevism in power that best refutes the Marxist claim that the workers' state "will be democratic and participatory." The suppression of Kronstadt was just one of a series of actions by the Bolsheviks which began, before the start of the Civil War, with them abolishing soviets which elected non-Bolshevik majorities, abolishing elected officers and soldiers soviets in the Red Army and Navy and replacing workers' self-management of production by state-appointed managers with "dictatorial" powers. As Bakunin predicted, the "workers' state" did not, could not, be "participatory" as it was still a state.

Needless to say, space excludes me from replying to the rest of the article. For example, I could have discussed Proudhon's ideas and shown that he, like Bakunin and Kropotkin, saw the central role of the working class in changing society and how his ideas were not solely for the artisan or peasant. I could discuss how anarchist's base our politics on the fact of "uneven development" of ideas in the working class and how we organise to win people to our ideas. Or why we reject electioneering ("political action") in favour of collective direct action. Equally, I could indicate why the events of the Spanish Revolution indicate a failure of anarchists rather than a failure of anarchism. If the reader is interested in finding out what anarchism really stands for I would suggest they visit this webpage:

yours in disgust

Iain McKay

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Iain McKay