Marxism and anarchism

Submitted by AWL on 11 December, 2007 - 11:00

A list of reading to download, and some short notes..

The Anarchist "Classics"

  • Summary in a PowerPoint presentation: this is not designed to be "self-sufficient", but rather to help with discussion and reading.
  • Karl Marx: Political Indifferentism (2 pages). Marx criticises the anarchism of Proudhon. "All arms with which to fight must be drawn from society as it is, and the fatal conditions of this struggle have the misfortune of not being easily adapted to the idealistic fantasies which these doctors in social science have exalted as divinities under the names of Freedom, Autonomy, Anarchy".
  • Mikhail Bakunin, excerpt from God and the State; Karl Marx, Conspectus of Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy (4 pages). Bakunin declares that "all legislative assemblies, even those chosen by universal suffrage" must end in "the formation in a few years' time of... a sort of political aristocracy and oligarchy". "We reject all legislation, all authority... The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognised them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will... collective or individual". Marx charges that Bakunin "understands absolutely nothing about the social revolution, only its political phrases. Its economic conditions do not exist for him".
  • Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism and excerpt from Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal (4 pages). Kropotkin reviews Proudhon's "mutualism" (a system of workshops exchanging commodities with "labour-money" and with a national bank giving credit at zero interest); Stirner's "individualist anarchism" (close to present-day right-wing "libertarianism"); Bakunin's "collectivist anarchism"; and Kropotkin's own "anarchist-communism", by which he means a society organised as a agglomeration of small voluntary associations. The "collectivism" and "communism" reflected Marxist influence on the anarchist movement, but were also the setting-off point for transitions from anarchism to reformism, notably that of Paul Brousse, a leading anarchist in the First International who evolved, by way of seeing municipal activity as being, on anarchist principles, especially liberatory, into founding the "possibilist" (explicitly reformist) strand in the late 19th century French workers' movement. See David Stafford's From Anarchism to Reformism. Some anarchists of recent times, such as Murray Bookchin, have also seen town-council politics as a proper focus for anarchist activity while rejecting larger-scale electoral politics.
  • Hal Draper, excerpt from Two Souls of Socialism (1 page). Draper argues that anarchism, in rejecting collective democratic control over the large-scale mechanisms of modern society, necessarily incubates despotism, and documents the despotic proclivities of Proudhon and Bakunin (as well as Proudhon's anti-semitism, racism, and misogyny).
  • Georgi Plekhanov, Anarchism and Socialism and Lenin's criticism of Plekhanov (30 pages). Plekhanov, a former follower of Bakunin himself, gives a comprehensive survey of anarchist ideas from Stirner to Kropotkin, arguing that they are all essentially utopian, idealist (in the sense of imagining social development to be propelled by abstract ideas rather than by material circumstances), and egotistic. His pamphlet was translated into English by Eleanor Marx on the occasion of a political battle in the Socialist League between Marxists and anarchists. Lenin's comment (from State and Revolution) recognises Plekhanov's survey as valuable, but criticises it for not explaining the Marxist view of the workers' state as a "commune-state" or "semi-state".


  • Leon Trotsky, excerpts from Communism and Syndicalism and Rudolf Rocker, excerpts from Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism (6 pages). Anarcho-syndicalism, emerging most strongly in France at the end of the 19th century and up to World War 1, identified the "collectives" which were to run society in "collectivist anarchism" with trade unions. It is, historically, the most "Marxist-influenced" form of anarchism. Many revolutionary syndicalists, in fact, no longer considered themselves anarchists; Trotsky's article criticises even "revolutionary syndicalism" but describes it as it was before World War One as "a remarkable rough draft of revolutionary communism". There was also reformist syndicalism: the leadership of the French equivalent of the TUC, once revolutionary syndicalist, evolved into supporting the French government in World War One and then operating very ordinary reformist trade unionism for many years after 1918 without ceasing to consider itself "syndicalist", i.e. devoted to the idea that trade unions, rather than political parties, are the proper prime means for working-class advance. The IWW in the USA and Australia was also "revolutionary syndicalist", though few IWWers considered themselves anarchists.

The revolutionary party and the workers' state in practice: Bolshevik Russia

  • Victor Serge, excerpts from Year One of the Russian Revolution and Emma Goldman, "Afterward" from My Further Disillusionment in Russia (12 pages). Serge was one of the many revolutionary anarchists who rallied to the Bolsheviks after the Revolution; he was later a leading figure in the Trotskyist opposition to Stalinism. In this excerpt he explains why he thinks a revolutionary workers' political party (and of a particular type, lively, bold, focused on political clarity, and immersed in working-class activity) is necessary for successful revolution; and why the workers need to build a state to sustain their revolution. He defends the Bolsheviks' disarming of the anarchist groups in St Petersburg and other cities in April 1918. Emma Goldman argues that "The Russian Revolution reflects... the century-old struggle of the libertarian principle against the authoritarian... The Russian Revolution was a libertarian step defeated... by the temporary victory of the reactionary, the governmental idea".

The fight to make the working class a force independent of bourgeois politics in practice: the Spanish Revolution 1936-7

  • Felix Morrow, excerpts from Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain and Murray Bookchin, excerpt from To Remember Spain (7 pages). Spain 1936-7 is the one time in history where a revolutionary crisis has found a labour movement in which anarchists - left-wing anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists - had the strongest influence. The Spanish anarchists (a) controlled their union federation through a tight-knit political "party" (only they did not call it that); (b) joined the bourgeois Republican governments which stifled the workers' revolution in the name of "unity" against fascism. "Already running Catalan industry and the militias [after the workers' uprising], the anarchists [found that] their anti-statism 'as such' had to be thrown off. What did remain, to wreak disaster in the end, was their failure to recognise the distinction between a workers' and a bourgeois state... [Moreover] intoxicated with their control of the factories and the militias, the anarchists assumed that capitalism had already disappeared in Catalonia. They talked of the 'new social economy', and Companys [the bourgeois prime minister] was only too willing to talk as they did, for it blinded them and not him..." Anarchists elsewhere at the time concentrated on defending the Spanish anarchists against the accusations of the Stalinists: "In reality a very friendly relation has existed for a long time between the CNT and the anti-fascist bourgeoisie. This did not change until the disruptive work of the Stalinists set in..." (Rudolf Rocker, The Tragedy of Spain). Murray Bookchin is a modern anarchist writer reflecting on Spain long after the event. He finds "the structure of the CNT as a syndicalist union and that of the FAI as an anarchist federation was... quite admirable". Their efforts, in his view, were "vitiated" only by "the mystique about the classical proletariat" and their failure to develop more easy-going bonds of "friendship and love" within the organisations.

Anarchism today

  • Murray Bookchin, Anarchism Past and Present and Mick Armstrong, Is there anything radical about anarchism? (7 pages). Murray Bookchin is one of the recent anarchist writers most influential today; in this article he reviews the whole history of anarchism (criticising some variants of it) and its opposition to Marxism. Some of Bookchin's conclusions, such as his dismissal of the working class as a revolutionary agency, are not shared by all anarchists. There are many variants of anarchism and anarchist-influenced thought today, including Zapatismo and autonomism; in fact there are quite a few people who call themselves "anarchists" just because they prefer "affinity" groups and one-off actions to ongoing organisation structured around definite political ideas (even anarchist ideas). Mick Armstrong gives a terse criticism of "lifestyle anarchism" and "individualist" anarchism of the "Black Bloc" type. Click here for the context and source for the passage which Armstrong quotes from Emma Goldman despising "the masses", and here for Goldman's reply to critics of that passage.

Iain McKay: The AWL versus anarchism (bulletin produced for debate at AWL summer school 2011).
Martin Thomas: Six points in reply to Iain McKay.