Monday, September 14, 2009

Anarchism and Marxism

The statement which concluded Eric Kerl’s review of Wobblies and Zappatistas – a conversation on anarchism and Marxism, synthesizing the two – in issue 67 of the International Socialist Review, that a synthesis of “Marxism and anarchism, ideas which have repeatedly waged combat with one another, can only offer more confusion and hesitation in the midst of these turning points of human history,” cannot but come off as useless and unthoughtful sectarianism; a recurrent theme, I have found, of the ISR’s distasteful Leninism.

For as I have written in some detail[1], the two tendencies have all throughout history converged and in many instances are virtually indistinguishable: Anton Pannekoek’s council communism and Rudolf Rocker’s anarcho-syndicalism is a vivid instance.

Kerl points out that many anarchists embraced Marx’s analysis of the political economy of capitalism and wants to make this seen as hypocritical or inconsistent in some sense, writing that anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin “appropriated” Marx’s analysis “wholesale for their own program.” Bakunin certainly did champion Marx’s analysis, translating Capital into Russian, but that has absolutely nothing to do with Bakunin’s now almost prophetic criticism of portions of Marx’s tactics, especially with regards to the state as a transitory mechanism (a tactic altered after the Paris Commune and Marx’s address The Civil War in France). Undoubtedly one can accept Marx’s breathtaking analysis of political economy while simultaneously rejecting some of his tactical decisions and premises, there is simply no contradiction there.

Kerl, while making this trifling charge, ignores the fact that Marx was greatly influenced by the anarchism of Proudhon (to later pen a full length polemic against his one time comrade, a recurrent theme of Marx and Engels: viciously and publically castigating former comrades), for, as Rudolf Rocker observes, it was Proudhon’s What is Property? that led Marx to embrace socialism in the first instance. As Rudolf Rocker writes in Marx and Anarchism: “As editor in chief of the Rheinische Zeitung, one of the leading newspapers of the German democracy, Marx came to make the acquaintance of France’s most important socialist writers, even though he himself had not yet espoused the socialist cause. We have already mentioned a quote from him in which he refers to Victor Considerant, Pierre Leroux and Proudhon and there can be no doubt that Considerant and Proudhon were the mentors who attracted him to socialism. Without any doubt, What is Property? was a major influence over Marx’s development as a socialist; thus, in the periodical mentioned, he calls the inspired Proudhon ‘the most consistent and wisest of socialist writers’” (Rheinische Zeitung, 7 January 1843).

It is here that one actually has a case of inconsistency, the early Marx who embraced Proudhon and the later Marx who castigated him, whereas with anarchists such as Bakunin their embrace of Marx’s analysis of political economy and rejection of portions of Marx’s tactical premises are entirely consistent.

Rather than attempting to wedge a superficial divide between the two tendencies one would do much better by working towards just the kind of synthesis that indisputably exists (i.e., Pannekoek and Rocker); considering that one of the most severely debilitating aspects of the left as well as a cause for much failure is the crippling sectarianism that Kerl has decided to become the latest proponent of.

[1] Anarchist-Marxist Convergence: Part 1

Anarcho-Syndicalist Council Communism


capecodkwassa said...

Interesting read, Hurf. You know a lot about Marx, and this piece was enlightening. The latest ISR has a cool article on marriage equality. I don't agree with some of their articles, but this one was really good.

JDHURF said...

Thank you cape. I too don't agree with some of their articles, as this post helps illustrate, and I also agree that Regina Johnson's article against waiting for LGBT rights and for direct action is really good. The ISO has been a really solid force with regards to the LGBT movement.

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