All feathered up: a new defence of anarchism

Review of "Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism", by Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt (AK Press).


Click here to download all three parts as pdf.
Variants of revolutionary syndicalism were major influences in the labour movements of several countries between the 1890s and World War One.

Their activists reckoned the work of the "political" socialists who spent much time on parliamentary electioneering to be deficient or even harmful, and focused effort on building up militant and democratic trade-union movements which they believed could be both the agency to overthrow capitalist power and the framework for future working-class administration of society. Some of them saw themselves as anarchists as well as syndicalists - "anarcho-syndicalists".

Schmidt and van der Walt, a journalist and an academic from Johannesburg, South Africa, tell us not only about the famous movements of France and Spain, Argentina and Mexico, but also about the less-known ones of China, Japan, and Korea.

Their book is not primarily a history. The authors reconstruct what the authors call a "broad anarchist tradition". They argued that it includes all of revolutionary syndicalism, not just the strands which called themselves anarchist. They present their own variant of "anarchism" as the most thorough and "sophisticated" development of the "tradition".

Their own version of anarchism is one in which the traditional points of dispute with Marxism are thinned down or, some of them, virtually given up; but it is accompanied by a horror of Marxism.

Schmidt and van der Walt never say straight out that they agree that a working class overthrowing capitalism must organise from among itself a strong revolutionary authority to combat counter-revolution and consolidate the new order. They never directly disavow the traditional anarchist doctrine of the immediate abolition of any form of state.

But they pointedly do not repeat Bakunin's doctrine that the task of anarchists on the day after any revolution must be (through, so Bakunin held, a "secret" network of "invisible pilots") to thwart, divert, disrupt the victorious workers in their moves to coordinate their efforts democratically by electing a revolutionary authority.

Junta

They agree with "taking power in society" and "creating a coordinated system of governance". They say "stateless governance", but the adjective "stateless", for them, seems to mean "radically democratic", "linked through delegates and mandates". In that sense, the Marxist-envisaged "workers' state" (or, in Lenin's term, "semi-state"), is "stateless".

They accept the term "Revolutionary Junta" or "Workers' Republic" for the new authority. Although in one passage they claim that "class no longer exists" once the workers' revolution wins, in other passages they concede that counter-revolutionary groups will not disappear instantly, and accept the need for the new authority to organise "coordinated military defence" with "the best weaponry" (i.e. not just scattered militia groups with hand-weapons).

They agree that revolutionaries must build "a coherent... organisation, with a common analysis, strategy, and tactics, along with a measure of collective responsibility, expressed in a programme". They use the term "party" sometimes and the term "vanguard" often for that.

They agree that the party must be disciplined and tight. They quote with approval an account of the Nabat organisation led by Nestor Makhno: "The secretariat... was not merely 'technically' executive... It was also the movement's ideological 'pilot core'... controlling and deploying the movement's resources and militants".

While many anarchists today see the fact that Marxist organisations stretch themselves to produce and circulate weekly papers as infamous, Schmidt and van der Walt report on the extensive newspaper-producing and newspaper-selling culture of late 19th century anarchists with approval and pride.

They agree that the process of the working class preparing itself for revolution must include struggle for reforms. They approvingly quote Bakunin's statement, from the time (1867-8) when he was focused on trying to win over the bourgeois League for Peace and Freedom, that "the most imperfect republic is a thousand times better than the most enlightened monarchy... The democratic regime lifts the masses up gradually to participation in public life". (Bakunin wrote different things later).

They emphasise that the value of the struggle for reforms lies in organisation from below in the struggle; but this is not a point of difference from Marxism. They explicitly dissent from the strands in anarchism which "refuse to deal with reforms, laws, and compromises".

Schmidt and van der Walt argue that revolutionary socialists should work systematically in trade unions, generally on building sustained and organised rank-and-file movements, and also sometimes contest elections for union office.

They agree that revolutionary socialists should take up battles for national liberation - "engage seriously with national liberation struggles and [aim] at supplanting nationalism, radicalising the struggle, and merging the national and class struggles in one revolutionary movement".

They oppose "identity politics" and the "cultural relativist" "claim made by some nationalists that certain rights are alien to their cultures and therefore unimportant or objectionable".

On all these points Schmidt and van der Walt have, in effect, a criticism of most of what calls itself anarchism today different only in shading from what we in Workers' Liberty would say. They are further away from conventional anarchism than is a group like the avowedly-Marxist Socialist Workers Party today, with its "One Solution, Revolution" slogan and its pretence that all "direct action" against the established order, even if it be led by Islamist clerical-fascists, is revolutionary and progressive.

Schmidt and van der Walt seem to stick to the old anarchist dogma of boycotting all electoral politics - "this would apply regardless of the mandates given... the wages paid to the parliamentarians, or the existence of other mechanisms to keep the parliamentarians accountable to their constituents" - and their account of anarchists in Korea who were elected to parliament there in the 1920s is disapproving. But they make little fuss about that issue.

In one passage they uphold the old anarchist idea of "the revolutionary general strike" as the only and more or less self-sufficient path to socialist revolution. But they make little of it, and other passages in the book imply a much less "fetishistic" view of the general strike.

Anti-Marxism

Their anti-Marxism is built not so much on a defence of traditional anarchist points as on a skewed presentation of Marxism. For them, Marxism from its earliest days was proto-Stalinism. They construct their picture of Marxism by "reading back" from Stalinism.

They concede that "in claiming that his theory was scientific, Marx was no different from say, Kropotkin or Reclus, who saw their own theories as scientific". But somehow they also think that Marx's claim to have worked some things out and got some things right was more sinister than the similar claim made by anyone who ventures to trouble the public with their writings.

"Classical Marxism purported to alone understand the movement of history and express the fundamental interests of the proletariat... When [this] claim to a unique truth was welded to the strategy of the dictatorship of the proletariat... the formula for a one-party dictatorship through an authoritarian state was written".

Marxist theory was also, the authors claim, "teleological", seeing history as progressing mechanically "in a straight line towards a better future", through predetermined "stages". Marx (so they allege, on the basis of out-of-context snippets from his writings on India) "considered colonialism to be progressive". The "two-stage" doctrine developed for poorer countries by the Stalinists - that workers should first support the "national bourgeoisie" in "bourgeois-democratic revolution", and look to socialist revolution only at a later "stage" - was authentic Marxism, or so Schmidt and van der Walt claim.

They say that Marx had a relatively conservative view of socialist economic organisation: "Marx believed that the law of value would operate after the 'abolition of the capitalist mode of production'... the distribution of consumer goods under socialism would be organised through... markets". On that basis they claim the ideal of communist economics - supersession of the wages system; from each according to their ability, to each according to their need - as having been pioneered by the anarchist writer Peter Kropotkin.

The poor quality of Schmidt's and van der Walt's polemic on such points can be judged from their quotations. For example, they claim that Marx was cool on trade-unions, and that it was the anarchists who explained and championed the potential of trade-union struggles.

"Marx complained that anarchists contended that workers 'must... organise themselves by trades-unions' to 'supplant the existing states'..."

This is the passage from Marx (in a letter to Paul Lafargue of April 1870) from which Schmidt and van der Walt quote their snippets:

"Bakunin's programme [held that] the working class must not occupy itself with politics. They must only organise themselves by trades-unions. One fine day, by means of the International, they will supplant the place of all existing states. You see what a caricature he [Bakunin] has made of my doctrines!

"As the transformation of the existing States into Associations is our last end, we must allow the governments, those great Trade-Unions of the ruling classes, to do as they like, because to occupy ourselves with them is to acknowledge them. Why! In the same way the old socialists said: You must not occupy yourselves with the wages question, because you want to abolish wages labour, and to struggle with the capitalist about the rate of wages is to acknowledge the wages system!

"The ass has not even seen that every class movement, as a class movement, is necessarily and was always a political movement".

Marx was not hostile or cool about workers organising in trade unions. On the contrary: he was probably (in "The Poverty of Philosophy", his polemic against Proudhon in 1846, at a time when trade unions existed only in infant form) the first socialist to argue that trade-union organisation could be central in working-class emancipation.

Marx's objection was not to organising in trade unions, but to Bakunin's claim that the working class should not also "occupy itself with politics" (i.e. struggles for political reforms, and electoral activity).

Trotsky fought Stalinism to the death. But Schmidt and van der Walt claim he "envisaged socialism as 'authoritarian leadership... centralised distribution of the labour force... the workers' state... entitled to send any worker wherever his labour may be needed', with dissenters sent to labour camps if necessary".

The footnotes show that the words put in quote marks by Schmidt and van der Walt, as if they come from Trotsky, are culled not from Trotsky himself but from "pages 128, 132" of a book by one Wayne Thorpe.

Some of the words may have been taken by Thorpe from one of the polemics in which, in late 1920 - between the Bolsheviks' voting-down of Trotsky's first proposal in February 1920 of what would become the more liberal "New Economic Policy" and the adoption of the NEP itself, on Lenin's initiative, in early 1921 - Trotsky sought expedients to get the economy of revolutionary Russia into working order in the midst of civil war. None of the words was ever written by Trotsky as a statement of his vision of socialism. The quoted string of words was never written as a whole connected passage by Trotsky anywhere.

Schmidt and van der Walt claim further that: "The differences between [Stalinism and Trotskyism] should not be overstated: both embraced classical Marxism and its theories, both saw the USSR as post-capitalist and progressive, and both envisaged revolution by stages in less developed countries". A footnote dismisses Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution as "no break with stage theory... simply a compression of the time frame".

Although Trotsky sketched the permanent revolution theory around 1905, before Stalin became prominent in politics and before Mao Zedong was politically active at all, they call permanent revolution an "echo" of "the two-stage formulation of Stalin and Mao". Why? Apparently because Trotsky recognised that issues such as land reform, national independence, and the replacement of autocracy by elected and constitutional government would be central in the first stages of mass mobilisation in capitalistically-undeveloped countries, and could not be "skipped over".

Marxism and Trotskyism are equated to Stalinism by Schmidt and van der Walt in order to clear the way for defence of "the broad anarchist tradition", with the authors' particular variants presented as the most thorough version of that tradition. The book raises, and offers a distinctive and unusual answer to, the question: what exactly is anarchism?

Its headline argument is that "the anarchist tradition" is in history the libertarian, class-struggle, "from-below" wing of the broad socialist current of thought. The authors have the same scheme of the history of socialism as the Marxist Hal Draper's famous pamphlet "The Two Souls of Socialism" - "socialism from below" versus "socialism from above" - but for them, unlike Draper, "the broad anarchist tradition" is socialism from below, and Marxism a chief species of socialism from above.

Anarchism = unions?

Schmidt and van der Walt say that anarchism proper began only with the Bakunin wing of the First International, in the early 1870s. It was always a class-struggle movement. Anarcho-syndicalism was not a fringe development from anarchism. On the contrary, "the most important strand in anarchism has always been syndicalism: the view that unions... are crucial levers of revolution, and can even serve as the nucleus of a free socialist order".

The "broad anarchist tradition" is thus for them, so to speak, what the "broad labour movement" is to Marxists.

We know that our views are for now in a small minority, and I think Schmidt and van der Walt know that theirs are too. But we see ourselves as immersed in a broader movement which - despite all the follies and limitations which affect it now - is constantly pushed by its own activity, by its own logic and fundamentals, in our direction, for now in the shape of local flurries, and in future crises potentially wholesale.

For us, that broader movement is the labour movement; for Schmidt and van der Walt, it is the "broad anarchist tradition".

Their definition allows them to deal with what they effectively admit to be the follies of much anarchism either by defining them out - for them, Max Stirner and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon were not anarchists at all - or by seeing them as vagaries and immaturities which, with good work, will be dispelled by the logic of the movement itself.

It allows them to claim as de facto anarchists many heroes who in life did not consider themselves anarchists at all. They claim the whole of the pre-1914 revolutionary syndicalist movement in France, and the whole of the IWW, for anarchism, though most of the leaders of the French movement and of the IWW did not see themselves as anarchists, and some, like Victor Griffuelhes, secretary of the French CGT in its heroic period, were explicitly political socialists.

They claim the avowed Marxists Daniel De Leon and James Connolly as "anarchists" because of their syndicalistic views, and seem (though this is not so explicit) also to claim the "council communists" Herman Görter, Anton Pannekoek, and Otto Rühle, and modern "autonomist Marxists", for their own.

Having "secured their flank" polemically by dismissing Marxism as proto-Stalinism (all but a few Marxists whom they claim as having really been anarchists), and by portraying many traditional anarchist dogmas as mere immature errors of the movement, they free themselves to maintain some traditional anarchist tenets at a more "theoretical" level.


This review article will be continued in future issues of Solidarity. Continuation articles will cover:

● The discrepancy between Schmidt's and van der Walt's definition of their politics as "class politics", and their views that peasantries are as good a basis for socialism as wage-working classes, or better, and that capitalist development is not a prerequisite for socialism;

● Why "socialism from below" is not an adequate political definition, and anyway cannot be equated with a "broad anarchist tradition";

● The real history of the separating-out of anarchism and Marxism as distinct currents in the labour movement after the Paris Commune.



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Comments

These anti-anarchist articles are getting worse!

Wow and I thought the previous ones did not know what they were talking about...

Some of them saw themselves as anarchists as well as syndicalists - "anarcho-syndicalists".

That would be because they, as is well known, traced their ideas back to the libertarian wing of the First International. The ideas of Revolutionary unionism can be found expressed in Bakunin's writting, as I prove here:

Syndicalism, Anarchism and Marxism

They never directly disavow the traditional anarchist doctrine of the immediate abolition of any form of state.

On why anarchists argue for the immediate abolition of the state:
H.1.3 Why do anarchists wish to abolish the state "overnight"?

"But they pointedly do not repeat Bakunin's doctrine that the task of anarchists on the day after any revolution must be (through, so Bakunin held, a "secret" network of "invisible pilots") to thwart, divert, disrupt the victorious workers in their moves to coordinate their efforts democratically by electing a revolutionary authority."

And where does Bakunin argue that? He did, in fact, argue the opposite:

"Immediately after established governments have been overthrown, communes will have to reorganise themselves along revolutionary lines . . . In order to defend the revolution, their volunteers will at the same time form a communal militia. But no commune can defend itself in isolation. So it will be necessary to radiate revolution outward, to raise all of its neighbouring communes in revolt . . . and to federate with them for common defence." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 142]

And:

"the Alliance of all labour associations . . . will constitute the Commune . . . there will be a standing federation of the barricades and a Revolutionary Communal Council . . . [made up of] delegates . . . invested with binding mandates and accountable and revocable at all times . . . all provinces, communes and associations . . . [will] delegate deputies to an agreed place of assembly (all . . . invested with binding mandated and accountable and subject to recall), in order to found the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . and to organise a revolutionary force with the capacity of defeating the reaction . . . it is through the very act of extrapolation and organisation of the Revolution with an eye to the mutual defences of insurgent areas that the universality of the Revolution . . . will emerge triumphant." [pp. 155-6]

I think the AWL confuse organisation with government... which is to be expected, as Leninists confuse workers power with party power....

"In that sense, the Marxist-envisaged "workers' state" (or, in Lenin's term, "semi-state"), is "stateless"."

In practice, the Bolsheviks ended up arguing for a normal state so that they could impose the party line. Here is Trotsky:

"The very same masses are at different times inspired by different moods and objectives. It is just for this reason that a centralised organisation of the vanguard is indispensable. Only a party, wielding the authority it has won, is capable of overcoming the vacillation of the masses themselves . . . if the dictatorship of the proletariat means anything at all, then it means that the vanguard of the proletariat is armed with the resources of the state in order to repel dangers, including those emanating from the backward layers of the proletariat itself." [Their Morals and Ours, p. 59]

That sounds like a normal state, where a minority (the party) rule the many. As Bakunin predicted...

"They accept . . . the need for the new authority to organise "coordinated military defence" with "the best weaponry" (i.e. not just scattered militia groups with hand-weapons)."

As did Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Goldman, Berkman and so on. This is proved here:

H.2.1 Do anarchists reject defending a revolution?

This should be well known, assuming you read any anarchist thinkers...

"While many anarchists today see the fact that Marxist organisations stretch themselves to produce and circulate weekly papers as infamous..."

Who would those be? Not that who sell Freedom, which is a fortnightly anarchist newspaper...

"They emphasise that the value of the struggle for reforms lies in organisation from below in the struggle; but this is not a point of difference from Marxism."

Well it is. Lenin argued that Marxism "strives to proceed from the top downward." [Collected Works, vol. 7, pp. 396-7] In fact: "Limitation, in principle, of revolutionary action to pressure from below and renunciation of pressure also from above is anarchism." [Op. Cit., vol. 8, p. 481] This is discussed here:

H.3.3 Is Leninism "socialism from below"?

"They are further away from conventional anarchism than is a group like the avowedly-Marxist Socialist Workers Party today..."

So they are "further away" from anarchism by expressing standard anarchist positions? How does that work?

"Schmidt and van der Walt seem to stick to the old anarchist dogma of boycotting all electoral politics..."

Given the net effect of socialists standing for election was to prove anarchist warnings correct, most people would see their point! Still, Marxists are well known for not learning the lessons of history so what can you expect?

"In one passage they uphold the old anarchist idea of "the revolutionary general strike" as the only and more or less self-sufficient path to socialist revolution. But they make little of it, and other passages in the book imply a much less "fetishistic" view of the general strike."

Would this the general strike as anarchists actually argued or the notion Engels attributed to the anarchists? Because, if you know the facts, you would know that they are not the same. This is discussed here: H.3.5 Has Marxist appropriation of anarchist ideas changed it?

"Their anti-Marxism is built not so much on a defence of traditional anarchist points as on a skewed presentation of Marxism."

Now that IS funny, given the article's distortions of anarchism! By Black Flame is quite right to point out the tendencies within Marxism which helped produce Stalinism. Just as they also note those Marxists which have libertarian tendencies (such as council communism).

"Marx (so they allege, on the basis of out-of-context snippets from his writings on India) "considered colonialism to be progressive"."

Engels made similar comments as well, on Algeria. And Marx's comments on British rule in India and its progressive role are so well known it is silly to deny them.

"they claim that Marx was cool on trade-unions, and that it was the anarchists who explained and championed the potential of trade-union struggles . . . This is the passage from Marx . . . "

And so the article admits that syndicalism has its origins in anarchism. Nice! And Marx WAS cool on unions -- he advocated forming a political party, NOT revolutionary unionism.

"Marx's objection was not to organising in trade unions, but to Bakunin's claim that the working class should not also "occupy itself with politics" (i.e. struggles for political reforms, and electoral activity)."

And strange not to admit that Bakunin was proved RIGHT! As he predicted the "worker-deputies, transplanted into a bourgeois environment, into an atmosphere of purely bourgeois ideas, will in fact cease to be workers and, becoming Statesmen, they will become bourgeois . . . For men do not make their situations; on the contrary, men are made by them." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 108]

"Trotsky fought Stalinism to the death."

Yes, but never questioned the dictatorship of the party nor one-man mangement, etc. In fact, he attacked the "growing replacement of the party by its own apparatus is promoted by a 'theory' of Stalin's which denies the Leninist principle, inviolable for every Bolshevik, that the dictatorship of the proletariat is and can be realised only through the dictatorship of the party." (The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-7), p. 395] Or again:

"With us the dictatorship of the party (quite falsely disputed theoretically by Stalin) is the expression of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat . . . The dictatorship of a party is a part of the socialist revolution"? [Leon Trotsky on China, p. 251]

This position of Trotsky should be well known in Leninist circles but for some reason they fail to mention it. Another example can be found here:

15. Did Trotsky keep alive Leninism's "democratic essence"?

"The footnotes show that the words put in quote marks by Schmidt and van der Walt, as if they come from Trotsky, are culled not from Trotsky himself but from "pages 128, 132" of a book by one Wayne Thorpe."

Have you not read Trotsky's Terrorism and Communism? Here are some extracts...

"our Party Congress . . . expressed itself in favour of the principle of one-man management in the administration of industry . . . It would be the greatest possible mistake, however, to consider this decision as a blow to the independence of the working class. The independence of the workers is determined and measured not by whether three workers or one are placed at the head of a factory." As such, it "would consequently be a most crying error to confuse the question as to the supremacy of the proletariat with the question of boards of workers at the head of factories. The dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed in the abolition of private property in the means of production, in the supremacy over the whole Soviet mechanism of the collective will of the workers, and not at all in the form in which individual economic enterprises are administered." [Terrorism and Communism, p. 162]

The term "collective will of the workers" is simply a euphemism for the Party which Trotsky had admitted had "substituted" its dictatorship for that of the Soviets (indeed, "there is nothing accidental" in this "'substitution' of the power of the party for the power of the working class" and "in reality there is no substitution at all." The "dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party"). The unions "should discipline the workers and teach them to place the interests of production above their own needs and demands." He even argued that "the only solution to economic difficulties from the point of view of both principle and of practice is to treat the population of the whole country as the reservoir of the necessary labour power . . . and to introduce strict order into the work of its registration, mobilisation and utilisation." [p. 109, p. 143 and p. 135]

"Some of the words may have been taken by Thorpe from one of the polemics in which, in late 1920..."

You seem to be as ignorant about Leninism as you are about anarchism! Really, not knowing about Terrorism and Communism!

"None of the words was ever written by Trotsky as a statement of his vision of socialism."

Clearly you have never read Terrorism and Communism. Here is Trotsky on one-man management: "I consider if the civil war had not plundered our economic organs of all that was strongest, most independent, most endowed with initiative, we should undoubtedly have entered the path of one-man management in the sphere of economic administration much sooner and much less painfully." [pp. 162-3] In short, it WAS his vision of socialism as a means towards communism.

The book raises, and offers a distinctive and unusual answer to, the question: what exactly is anarchism?

Read An Anarchist FAQ. There is even a section on H.2 What parts of anarchism do Marxists particularly misrepresent?

"Its headline argument is that "the anarchist tradition" is in history the libertarian, class-struggle, "from-below" wing of the broad socialist current of thought."

That would be because "from below" was constantly being argued by Bakunin (following Proudhon). Not so much with Marx and Engels. As discussed here:

H.3.2 Is Marxism "socialism from below"?

And, as noted above, Lenin agreed...

"The authors have the same scheme of the history of socialism as the Marxist Hal Draper's famous pamphlet "The Two Souls of Socialism"...

I think you mean "infamous" given its distortions, selective quoting and so on! Particularly as Draper basically stole the notion of "from below" from the anarchists...

All in all, this is a terrible review. It seems as ignorant of Leninism as it is of anarchism. Black Flame is being criticised for explaining basic revolutionary anarchist ideas! Suffice to say, the author of this article should really read a few anarchist books -- perhaps if he did he would not be so keen to show his ignorance publicly!

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

From Black Flame author

I've been asked to post this by one of Black Flame's authors. I will post some extra comments after this.

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

----------------

Martin Thomas writes that ‘Trotsky fought Stalinism to the death. But Schmidt and van der Walt claim he "envisaged socialism as 'authoritarian leadership... centralised distribution of the labour force... the workers' state... entitled to send any worker wherever his labour may be needed', with "dissenters sent to labour camps if necessary" … The words put in quote marks are culled not from Trotsky himself but from "pages 128, 132" of a book by one Wayne Thorpe … None of the words was ever written by Trotsky as a statement of his vision of socialism. The quoted string of words was never written as a whole connected passage by Trotsky anywhere.’

Actually, this is passage is from Leon Trotsky, Terrorisme et communisme (Paris, 1963; 1st edn in Russia, July 1920), p. 215

It draws on his remarks at the 9th Party Congress 1920, where he added that "the working masses cannot be left wandering all over Russia. They must be thrown here and there, appointed, commanded, just like soldiers," and "Deserters from labour ought to be formed into punitive battalions or put into concentration camps". This is from Leon Trotsky, Sochineniya (Works), vol. XV, p. 126, quoted in Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers Control, 1917-1921: The State and Counter-Revolution (London: Solidarity, 1970)., p. 61

The fact that it was in a "polemic" - in fact, as Thomas notes, part of a larger "proposal" to militarise labour - merely underlines the point in Black Flame that "The differences between [Stalinism and Trotskyism] should not be overstated."

From Trotsky

I have to admit to be surprising that Martin Thomas questions Black Flame's summary of Trotsky's arguments in 1920. I guess that he is nearly as ignorant of Leninism as he is of anarchism. Here are a few more quotes from Terrorism and Communism.

“If it were true that compulsory labor is unproductive always and under every condition, as the Menshevik resolution says, all our constructive work would be doomed to failure. For we can have no way to Socialism except by the authoritative regulation of the economic forces and resources of the country, and the centralized distribution of labor-power in harmony with the general State plan. The Labor State considers itself empowered to send every worker to the place where his work is necessary. And not one serious Socialist will begin to deny to the Labor State the right to lay its hand upon the worker who refuses to execute his labor duty.”

"The introduction of compulsory labor service is unthinkable without the application, to a greater or less degree, of the methods of militarization of labor."

"The foundations of the militarization of labor are those forms of State compulsion without which the replacement of capitalist economy by the Socialist will for ever remain an empty sound."

"No organization except the army has ever controlled man with such severe compulsion as does the State organization of the working class in the most difficult period of transition. It is just for this reason that we speak of the militarization of labor."

and so on... Seems like Black Flame is correct -- but I knew that already, having read Terrorism and Communism and a host of works about this period. For example, Maurice Brinton's classic The Bolsheviks and workers' control

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

Trotsky in 1920

One (which) of the authors of "Black Flame" says that the whole passage attributed to Trotsky in their book was written by him as a connected passage, in "Terrorism and Communism".

Unfortunately he refers to the French edition of that book, although it is widely available in English, and doesn't tell us what French text he is translating into the English words given in "Black Flame". I don't have a copy of the French edition to hand to check. What are the words in French? What are the corresponding words in the widely available English version of "Terrorism and Communism"?

There is a long section in "Terrorism and Communism" on the "militarisation of labour". I cannot find anything in it which could be reasonably translated as the text which "Black Flame" gives.

It is certainly true that Trotsky advocated the "militarisation of labour" in "Terrorism and Communism". He did it in something like the spirit that, say, workers in a worker-occupied factory maintaining production and a distribution of essentials from stocks found in the factory might put themselves on a war footing to direct some workers to guard the factory perimeter against cops and strikebreakers, others to do essential production tasks, and yet others to distribute the essentials. He did it in the context of a civil war and a war-ruined economy, where the greatest exertions were necessary to sustain the workers' republic and protect from being overrun by the counter-revolutionaries.

In the same way as workers' leaders in that occupied factory would openly say to their fellow-workers that the collective should put itself on a war footing, and seek to convince them of that, Trotsky advocated the "militarisation of labour" openly and without glossing it up. It was an entirely different thing from the Stalinist imposition of forced labour under cover of propaganda about life in the USSR becoming joyful and easy.

Read this, for example. "General labor service has an obligatory character; but this does not mean at all that it represents violence done to the working class. If compulsory labor came up against the opposition of the majority of the workers it would turn out a broken reed, and with it the whole of the Soviet order. The militarization of labor, when the workers are opposed to it, is the State slavery of Arakeheyev. The militarization of labor by the will of the workers themselves is the Socialist dictatorship".

It is true that in "Terrorism or Communism" Trotsky tends also to present "militarisation of labour" as a norm of building a socialist society, rather than an emergency imperative. I think Trotsky was wrong about that. If we read Trotsky's "Revolution Betrayed" we have to conclude that Trotsky himself later decided he had been wrong about that.

Trotsky proposed the "militarisation of labour" after his proposal in February 1920 to "ease up" and move to something like the NEP had been defeated so clearly that he must have thought that it was not worth re-raising it soon. His proposal was vigorously disputed by many Bolsheviks and never adopted.

Then, in early 1921, faced by a new emergency, the Bolsheviks relatively suddenly swung over to the NEP, a new version of what Trotsky had proposed in February 1920. The whole debate about "militarisation of labour" was thrown off the agenda, and remained off it.

After 1929 Stalin would do things which seemed to mimic the expedients adopted or proposed under "war communism". But the context was radically different.

The militarisation of labour and party dictatorship

"Trotsky proposed the "militarisation of labour" after his proposal in February 1920 to "ease up" and move to something like the NEP had been defeated so clearly that he must have thought that it was not worth re-raising it soon."

And he wrote Terrorism and Communism after that to explain and justify the policies of militarisation of labour. Thus we find him stating:

"The only solution of economic difficulties that is correct from the point of view both of PRINCIPLE and of practice is to treat the population of the whole country as the reservoir of the necessary labor power" (my emphasis).

Note, in PRINCIPLE. He was quite clear that Bolshevik policies were driven by their ideology, NOT purely by circumstances (circumstances which were made WORSE by their policies I must add). This can be seen from Trotsky's defence of one-man management I quoted above. And need I remind people that this policy was imposed BEFORE the start of the civil war?

And why principle? Perhaps because Marx and Engels had advocated the creation of "labour armies" in the Communist Manifesto?

His proposal was vigorously disputed by many Bolsheviks and never adopted."

Not true. Trotsky's theses were adopted by the Party: On Mobilising the Industrial Proletariat, on Labour Service, on Militarising the Economy, and on the Utilisation of Army Units for Economic Needs ("The theses On Mobilising the Industrial Proletariat were adopted by the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and confirmed in the resolution On the Immediate Tasks of Economic Construction’ adopted by the 9th Congress of the Communist Party, on Comrade Trotsky’s report.")

These facts are acknowledged by some later-day Leninists like Tony Cliff

"This policy, which in Stalinist legend is the policy of Trotsky, and Trotsky alone, was in fact the policy of the party as a whole at the time. It is true that a number of prominent Bolshevik leaders opposed the militarisation of labour – Rykov, Miliutin, Nogin, and above all Tomsky – but both Lenin and Trotsky on 12 January 1920 urged the Bolshevik leaders of the trade unions to accept the militarisation of labour. The theses of the central committee for the Ninth Congress (March 1920), drafted by Trotsky, were entitled On Mobilising the Industrial Proletariat, on Labour Service, on Militarising the Economy and on the Utilisation of Army Units for Economic Needs … The trade unions were to adopt ‘the same rights in relation to their members as have been previously exercised only by military organisations.’ They were ‘to distribute, to group, to transfer separate groups and separate categories of workers and individual proletarians to the place where they are needed by the state, by socialism.’"

And the Leninist regime was based on centralised leadership, etc, as sketched correctly by Black Flame.

"Then, in early 1921, faced by a new emergency, the Bolsheviks relatively suddenly swung over to the NEP, a new version of what Trotsky had proposed in February 1920. The whole debate about "militarisation of labour" was thrown off the agenda, and remained off it."

That "new emergency" was a mass revolt by the working class, the class the Bolsheviks had proclaimed had "disappeared" or become "atomised." General strikes took place in most cities, causing the Bolsheviks to proclaim martial law to repress them. Until that happened, the Bolshevik leadership were quite happy to continue their militarisation of labour. As one historian summarises the "the effective conclusion of the Civil War at the beginning of 1920 was followed by a more determined and comprehensive attempt to apply these so-called War Communism policies rather than their relaxation" (Jonathan Aves, Workers Against Lenin, p. 2)

I discuss the labour protest under the Bolsheviks in section H.6.3 of An Anarchist FAQ, the early sections of H.6 discuss the idological nature of Bolshevik polices and how they had a negative impact on the revolution.

Of course the one thing they refused to compromise on was the Bolshevik monopoly of power. This was because they had long come to conclude that party dictatorship was a necessary feature of any successful revolution. And they proclaimed this as a lesson for the rest of the world to follow...

"After 1929 Stalin would do things which seemed to mimic the expedients adopted or proposed under "war communism". But the context was radically different."

Did not Trotsky proclaim that the Stalinists had embraced the Opposition's policies on industrialisation? Did not many Oppositions leave it because of this? Did not Trotsky, for all his disgust at elements of Stalinism, not give (critical) support to the Five Year Plans? Did he not write in The Revolution Betrayed:

"The bourgeois world at first tried to pretend not to notice the economic successes of the soviet regime – the experimental proof, that is, of the practicability of socialist methods."

And:

"With the bourgeois economists we have no longer anything to quarrel over. Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earths surface – not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity."

So, please, he criticised elements of Stalinism but he did not question many of its features. He was not against the party dictatorship (quite the reverse). He was not against "primitive socialist accumulation" (quite the reverse). He was against the privileges of the elite, but then he was not against those when he held power...

I also note you did not mention Trotsky's well known support for party dictatorship. Given you consider Trotsky to be an advocate of "socialism from below" can I assume that, for the AWL, party dictatorship is completely compatible with "socialism from below"?

Lenin also advocated it. For example, in 1920 in proclaimed that one of the key lessons from the Bolshevik revolution was that the "mere presentation of the question - 'dictatorship of the party or dictatorship of the class: dictatorship (party) of the leaders or dictatorship (party) of the masses?' - testifies to most incredible and hopelessly muddled thinking" and "[t]o go so far . . . as to contrast, in general, the dictatorship of the masses with a dictatorship of the leaders is ridiculously absurd, and stupid." (Left-wing communism) Thus it was a case of:

"the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through an organisation embracing the whole of the class, because in all capitalist countries (and not only over here, in one of the most backward) the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts . . . that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard . . . Such is the basic mechanism of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the essentials of transition from capitalism to communism . . . for the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised by a mass proletarian organisation." (Collected Works, vol. 32, p. 21)

This was, I should note, precisely Bakunin's critique of Marx -- the so-called workers' state meant power was at the top, in the hands of the leaders, and not in the hands of all (see my review of his Statism and Anarchy. And, of course, such a "workers" state meant coercion against the "degraded" masses by the enlightened leaders. As Lenin put it:

"Without revolutionary coercion directed against the avowed enemies of the workers and peasants, it is impossible to break down the resistance of these exploiters. On the other hand, revolutionary coercion is bound to be employed towards the wavering and unstable elements among the masses themselves." [vol. 42, p. 170]

Trotsky, as I quoted above, repeated this position in the late 1930s. The problem is, of course, is that by definition everyone is "backward" compared to the vanguard. The vanguard can proclaim any one to be "wavering" and "unstable" -- and as the party holds power NOT the workers, they can use coercion to maintain their power.

And the Bolsheviks did do that. They gerrymandered soviets and disbanded any which elected non-Bolshevik majorities. They repressed strikes and protests. All to maintain the party's power. And all before the start of the civil war.

Now, please explain how all this equals "socialism from below"?

And, to return to the point, Black Flame's summary of Trotsky in power is correct. The book is also correctly summarises basic revolutionary anarchist ideas on the defence of the revolution, the need for workers councils, working class self-organisation (in unions, councils, etc.), the federation of communes and workplaces, strikes, and so on.

And I should note that in this Black Flame is repeating the ideas of Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Goldman, Berkman, Rocker and a host of other revolutionary anarchists. To question that, as this so-called review does, just shows a staggering ignorance of anarchist theory and history.

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

Trotsky 1920/ Trotsky on Stalinism/ Bolshevik regime

Some proposals of Trotsky's about "militarisation of labour" were adopted. But they were never implemented in any comprehensive way, partly, I guess, because the emergency conditions which generated the proposals in the first place also made their implementation difficult, and partly because of the opposition which was vocal, in the so-called "trade union debate".

Yes, Trotsky wrote of "militarisation of labour" being necessary in principle. In "Terrorism and Communism" he explains the "principle" as being the old socialist idea, "they who do not work, neither shall they eat".

He does seem to slip in "Terrorism and Communism" from that general principle to a defence "in principle" of what could only be emergency expedients. Fair point.

But the whole picture also includes the facts that:

  • The proposal was only made after a proposal to "ease up" and move to something like NEP had been defeated;
  • It was never implemented anything like comprehensively;
  • The whole idea was dropped from early 1921.

Did not Trotsky, for all his disgust at elements of Stalinism, not give (critical) support to the Five Year Plans?

I can't recall any text of Trotsky where he puts it quite like that. It is true that between 1928 and 1940 Trotsky's assessment of what was going on in the USSR tacked to and forth through a sort of process of successive approximations.

There are passages like chapter one of "Revolution Betrayed", which Iain quotes, which seem completely out of kilter with others (for example, with the rest of "Revolution Betrayed") and which, in isolation, you could read as a sort of "critical support to the Five Year Plans".

Trotsky was trying to come to grips with a new and unforeseen development, and to do it as the development constantly threw up new unexpected twists.

It was his assessment that the peasant majority of Russia, now thinking that the return of the landlords was very unlikely, had been fairly hostile to the Bolsheviks ever since the end of the civil war. It would readily rally to any plausible counter-revolutionary force, and the result of the victory of that counter-revolutionary force would be a Russian version of fascism, the mass slaughter of all the leading working-class activists (oppositionists as well as Stalinists, and including many workers caught up in it just by bad luck), and the demoralisation and dispersal of the revolutionary workers' movement outside Russia.

That conditioned all his responses. Yet as early as April 1933, for example, in the article "Theory of Degeneration and the Degeneration of Theory", Trotsky indicted Stalinism as a "regime of terror against the party and the proletariat", "neither a monetary nor a planned [economy] but an almost purely bureaucratic economy", which had "lost the ability to satisfy human wants even to the degree to which it had been accomplished by the less-developed capitalist industry".

He was not just criticising "elements of Stalinism".

The Bolsheviks

No workers' revolution will be made without also eliciting attempts at counter-revolution. The bourgeoisie will not give up easily.

Just as in strikes, the strike-breakers and scabs mobilised by the employers are workers, not capitalists - and indeed the police also used against strikes are mostly recruited from working-class backgrounds - so also it is inevitable that the bourgeoisie will be able to recruit plebeians to the counter-revolution.

Acting against strike-breakers and scabs, including by violence, or for that matter warning wavering strikers that things will go badly for them if they defect, is not a matter of declaring them "backward" as compared to the strike committee. It is a matter of them being on, or wavering towards, the other side of the struggle.

That is what Lenin meant by using "coercion towards the wavering and unstable elements".

The Menshevik leadership of the railworkers' union tried to sabotage the October revolution by calling a strike. Some local soviets led by Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries tried to sabotage the Bolshevik-led efforts in the civil war. So the Bolsheviks acted against them.

All this happened "before the start of the civil war"? Only if you put the start of the civil war back to April 1918. The first attempts at military overthrow of the Soviet regime came on 27 October and 31 October 1917, a few days after it was declared on 25 October.

Those were small attempts? Yes, by comparison with the later full-scale civil war. But the Soviet regime at that time was "small" too. It consisted only of a committee elected by a congress in St Petersburg. It had no commissariats or ministries, no administrative structure, no well-organised armed forces of its own, etc. The party apparatus was even smaller. The Bolshevik party's central files consisted mainly of notebooks in the pockets of one man, Jacob Sverdlov, helped by a few assistants.

The picture of the Bolsheviks as possessed by a demonic urge to "maintain the party's power" makes no sense. If "power" was all the leading Bolsheviks wanted, why didn't they make careers in the Tsarist system, as many of them could have done? Or make careers in one of the West European countries where they lived in exile, as Alexander Helfand (Parvus) did? Why did they dedicate their lives to a party whose doctrine, until a few months before October 1917, held that it was impossible for the coming revolution to bring their own party to supremacy? And whose leaders even after October 1917 were jubilantly startled to have lasted out longer than the nine weeks of the Paris Commune?

A picture of them as striving to sustain the revolution, understanding that it could not be done just by "federation of communes" and "strikes", doing their heroic best in a maelstrom, and, to be sure, making mistakes along the way, makes more sense.

Yet more on the Bolshevik regime...

Some proposals of Trotsky's about "militarisation of labour" were adopted.

So what has changed since the claim that Trotsky's "proposal was . . . never adopted"?

But they were never implemented in any comprehensive way, partly, I guess, because the emergency conditions which generated the proposals in the first place also made their implementation difficult, and partly because of the opposition which was vocal, in the so-called "trade union debate".

Ah, so we have progressed from "never adopted" to "never implemented in any comprehensive way"! What an admission... And what do we discover in August 1920? Let me quote Maurice Brinton's classic "The Bolsheviks And Workers Control":

Due to the Civil War - and to other factors less often mentioned such as the attitude of the railway workers to the 'new' regime the Russian railways had virtually ceased to function. Trotsky, Commissar for Transport, was granted wide emergency powers to try out his theories of 'militarisation of labour'. He started by placing the railwaymen and the personnel of the repair workshops under martial law. When the railwaymen's trade union objected, he summarily ousted its leaders and, with the full support and endorsement of the Party leadership. "appointed others willing to do his bidding. He repeated the procedure in other unions of transport workers".

That is the whole transport network... Unsuprisingly, it did not work.

Yes, Trotsky wrote of "militarisation of labour" being necessary in principle. In "Terrorism and Communism" he explains the "principle" as being the old socialist idea, "they who do not work, neither shall they eat".

And he explains a lot more than that! I would suggest people read Trotsky's arguments. It has little to do with paying people who produce goods. For example:

"the road to Socialism lies through a period of the highest possible intensification of the principle of the State. And you and I are just passing through that period. Just as a lamp, before going out, shoots up in a brilliant flame, so the State, before disappearing, assumes the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the most ruthless form of State, which embraces the life of the citizens authoritatively in every direction . . . No organization except the army has ever controlled man with such severe compulsion as does the State organization of the working class in the most difficult period of transition. It is just for this reason that we speak of the militarization of labor."

He goes on this way for some time, arguing that rewarding work by payment ("they who do not work, neither shall they eat") is NOT enough. The full force of state compulsion is needed.

"He does seem to slip in "Terrorism and Communism" from that general principle to a defence "in principle" of what could only be emergency expedients. Fair point."

Understatement of the decade there! The awkward fact is that Trotsky thought party dictatorship, one-man management, militarisation of labour, etc. were all compatible with socialism. That is NOT a slip. Writing a 200-odd page book is NOT a slip. That Leninists still excuse this as "a slip" shows how far their ideology is from socialism from below.

The proposal was only made after a proposal to "ease up" and move to something like NEP had been defeated;

And that affects his subsequent arguments how, exactly? He wrote a book defending Bolshevik policy. Policy he obviously agreed with.

It was never implemented anything like comprehensively;

You denied it was even adopted! As such, Black Flame was right.

The whole idea was dropped from early 1921.

And still no mention of the mass working class protest that forced the Bolsheviks to drop it! They did not do so from the kindness of their hearts or of a suddent realisation that it was not socialist. They dropped it to remain in power in the face of a massive strike wave. This is extremely significant, if we are talking of "the whole picture"...

In short, Martin has admitted that Black Flame was right. Good we can move on.

There are passages like chapter one of "Revolution Betrayed", which Iain quotes, which seem completely out of kilter with others (for example, with the rest of "Revolution Betrayed") and which, in isolation, you could read as a sort of "critical support to the Five Year Plans".

Out of kilter? Come off it. His whole position on Stalinism was that the bureaucracy was defending the "gains" of the Revolution (the nationalised property which was the source of the its power and privilege) and that, amazingly enough, the working class remained the ruling class as a result. Yes, really.

"Trotsky was trying to come to grips with a new and unforeseen development, and to do it as the development constantly threw up new unexpected twists."

Unforeseen? Well, not by anarchists. We predicted that state socialism would produce a ruling bureaucracy, oppressing and exploiting the working class. And the twists and turns he got into trying to avoid the obvious would be funny, if they did not have such terrible consequences for the left.

That conditioned all his responses...

And in 1933 he argued (in respect to Stalin's regime) that "anatomy of society is determined by its economic relations. So long as the forms of property that have been created by the October Revolution are not overthrown, the proletariat remains the ruling class." (The Class Nature of The Soviet State) Still, that is understandable as the social position of the working class had not changed since HE was in the Bolshevik leadership...

He was not just criticising "elements of Stalinism".

And he did not criticise party dictatorship, one-man management, etc., etc., etc.

"No workers' revolution will be made without also eliciting attempts at counter-revolution. The bourgeoisie will not give up easily."

I know. Anarchists like Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, etc., all made that point. Now the question becomes, if you think counter-revolution is inevitable it is NOT convincing to blame the degeneration of the Bolshevik regime on an inevitable event...

That is what Lenin meant by using "coercion towards the wavering and unstable elements".

No, he meant that the workers' state (i.e., the vanguard party) can use coercion against the workers it claims to represent. The problem is that it is the government which decides what is "wavering" and "unstable" -- which means that the Bolsheviks gave themselves total power to break any protest against their regime. In short, the workers are not in power -- a few party leaders are. And when Lenin wrote that, in 1920, they had had a monopoly of power since mid-1918.

Some local soviets led by Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries tried to sabotage the Bolshevik-led efforts in the civil war. So the Bolsheviks acted against them.

Nope. Workers voted against the Bolsheviks and elected non-Bolshevik majorities to soviets across Russia. The Bolsheviks disbanded the soviets -- BEFORE the start of the civil war in May 1918.

All this happened "before the start of the civil war"? Only if you put the start of the civil war back to April 1918. The first attempts at military overthrow of the Soviet regime came on 27 October and 31 October 1917, a few days after it was declared on 25 October.

Let me quote Lenin. On March 14th, 1918, Lenin had proclaimed that "the civil war was one continuous triumph for Soviet power" and in June argued that "the Russian bourgeoisie was defeated in open conflict . . . in the period from October 1917 to February and March 1918". (Collected Works, vol. 27, p. 174 and p. 428) So historians dating the civil war to late May 1918 and the revolt of the Czech Legion is done for a reason.

So, just to check, are you REALLY arguing that civil war makes socialist democracy impossible?

"Those were small attempts? Yes, by comparison with the later full-scale civil war. But the Soviet regime at that time was "small" too."

In short, Lenin's State and Revolution is only applicable when the inevitable civil war does not happen...

"It consisted only of a committee elected by a congress in St Petersburg."

And I thought Marxists praised the Paris Commune for abolishing executives? There is no mention of creating such a "committee" in State and Revolution. And what was this congress? Why, it was the soviet congress. And the Bolsheviks ensured that it handed its power to them. As the Central Committee argued in November 1917, "it is impossible to refuse a purely Bolshevik government without treason to the slogan of the power of the Soviets, since a majority at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets . . . handed power over to this government." (contained in Robert v. Daniels (ed.), A Documentary History of Communism, vol. 1, pp. 128-9).

So the soviets "handed power over" to the Bolsheviks. So much for workers' power! Still, a mere four days after this seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, the Sovnarkom unilaterally took for itself legislative power simply by issuing a decree to this effect: "This was, effectively, a Bolshevik coup d’état that made clear the government's (and party's) pre-eminence over the soviets and their executive organ. Increasingly, the Bolsheviks relied upon the appointment from above of commissars with plenipotentiary powers, and they split up and reconstituted fractious Soviets and intimidated political opponents." (Neil Harding, Leninism, p. 253)

"It had no commissariats or ministries, no administrative structure, no well-organised armed forces of its own, etc."

Yes -- and the Bolsheviks created the Cheka. And I thought State and Revolution had promised no military forces separate from the workers? Still, if you are going to smash working class protests and strikes to maintain party power then you do need a body of armed men, separate from the working class...

"The picture of the Bolsheviks as possessed by a demonic urge to "maintain the party's power" makes no sense."

So why did they disband soviets with non-Bolshevik majorities? Why did they raise party dictatorship to an ideological truism? Because their vanguardism had taught them that the vanguard was right and if the workers disagreed then this was "wavering" (and had to be treated appropriately).

"Why did they dedicate their lives to a party whose doctrine, until a few months before October 1917, held that it was impossible for the coming revolution to bring their own party to supremacy?"

You are aware that Lenin argued in 1917 that the "Bolsheviks must assume power." The Bolsheviks "can and must take state power into their own hands." He raised the question of "will the Bolsheviks dare take over full state power alone?" and answered it: "I have already had occasion . . . to answer this question in the affirmative." Moreover, "a political party . . . would have no right to exist, would be unworthy of the name of party . . . if it refused to take power when opportunity offers." (vol. 26, p. 19 and p. 90)

"And whose leaders even after October 1917 were jubilantly startled to have lasted out longer than the nine weeks of the Paris Commune?"

Now that really does not follow! And if they were so in favour of the Paris Commune did they repeatedly violate its principles -- from the first night!

A picture of them as striving to sustain the revolution, understanding that it could not be done just by "federation of communes" and "strikes", doing their heroic best in a maelstrom, and, to be sure, making mistakes along the way, makes more sense.

Again, does not follow. I'm sure that they thought what they were doing was for the best, for socialism. However, their ideological positions made certain outcomes more or less inevitable. Their vanguardism placed party above class. Their statism placed the party in power. Their centralisation ensure minority rule and bureaucracy. Their vision of socialism ensured the destruction of the factory committees, and so on.

The simple facts of the matter are, the Bolsheviks faced a massive rejection in soviet elections in early 1918. Rather than accept that, they disbanded soviets by force. In Petrograd they gerrymandered the soviet to remain in power -- and imposed martial law against protest strikes. They gerrymandered the 5th All-Russian Congress of Soviets to remain in power. By July 1918 they had a monopoly of power and within 6 months they were arguing that a "dictatorship of the party" was needed to ensure a successful revolution. Their vision of socialism was equally flawed, undermining workers self-management and creating a centralised bureaucratic system which made things much worse. And so on.

The question is whether we learn from history or whether we rationalise and justify it -- and so ensure that it repeats.

Clearly, for the AWL, "socialism from below" is an optional extra. For anarchists it is not.

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

And what about the quote from "Terrorism & Communism"?

Above, Iain posted a claim from "one of the authors" of "Black Flame" that the passage which they attribute to Trotsky (describing socialism as "authoritarian", etc.), but in fact quote from one Wayne Thorpe, is actually to be found in Trotsky's "Terrorism and Communism".

Only, the claim refers us to the French translation of "Terrorism and Communism" - "passage is from Leon Trotsky, Terrorisme et communisme (Paris, 1963...), p. 215".

I do not have the French translation to hand. I asked:

1. What is the corresponding passage in the (widely available) English version of Trotsky's book?

2. What are the actual words in French?

Yet again on Trotsky

Here is the quote from the review:

Trotsky fought Stalinism to the death. But Schmidt and van der Walt claim he "envisaged socialism as 'authoritarian leadership... centralised distribution of the labour force... the workers' state... entitled to send any worker wherever his labour may be needed', with dissenters sent to labour camps if necessary".

I have already shown, with quotes from the English translation, that this is a fair summation of Trotsky's ideas on "socialism" in 1920.

Trotsky was quite happy to admit to "the dictatorship of the party" (making "authoritarian leadership" seem mild by contrast).

As for "centralised distribution of the labour force" Trotsky states: "we can have no way to Socialism except by the authoritative regulation of the economic forces and resources of the country, and the centralized distribution of labor-power in harmony with the general State plan."

As for "the workers' state... entitled to send any worker wherever his labour may be needed" we find him arguing: "The Labor State considers itself empowered to send every worker to the place where his work is necessary."

As for labour camps, well, where do you think they put the people they arrested for labour protest? They did not shoot all of them. Of the 17,000 camp detainees on whom statistical information was available on 1 November 1920, peasants and workers constituted the largest groups, at 39% and 34% respectively. Similarly, of the 40,913 prisoners held in December 1921 (of whom 44% had been committed by the Cheka) nearly 84% were illiterate or minimally educated, clearly, therefore, either peasants or workers. (George Leggett, The Cheka: Lenin's Political Police, p. 178)

As I noted above, Black Flame gives a correct summation of Trotsky's views at this time -- and Bolshevik policy. I'm surprised you keep questioning it...

As for "Trotsky fought Stalinism to the death" well, as I noted above, he did not question party dictatorship, one-man management, and so on. Hardly the picture of someone fighting Stalinism from a socialist perspective.

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

"Black Flame" author van der Walt debates these issues ...

---Forwarded from Lucien van der Walt

Many of the misconceptions that Martin outlined are dealt with in-depth by Lucien van der Walt in a recent piece for "International Socialism." There is also an extended version of the paper, available online. Both articles are linked below.

Before outlining some of the key points in these, let me just mention that Martin proceeds from the assumption that van der Walt and Schmidt are somehow revising anarchism, or breaking with traditional anarchism. This is mistaken. Black Flame is simply a description of the views of mainstream historical anarchism and syndicalism, made through a discussion of standard texts and a world of historical experiences. That the conclusions do not fit the AWL vision of what anarchism "really" is, is simply testament to the fact that the comrades at the AWL seem to be trying to fit anarchism and syndicalism into a set of flawed Marxist stereotypes - rather than seriously engage with actual anarchist and syndicalist writings or the actual history of anarchism and syndicalism, they are relying instead on clichés, assertions and reiterations of certain Marxist myths.

The point is simply that a constructive discussion between Marxism and anarchism/ syndicalism, from which both can learn, is frustrated by such an approach.

Now, the misconceptions regarding anarchism (and syndicalism) dealt with in van der Walt's two papers include:

- the role of anarchists in the Paris Commune and their views on the Commune. Many of the ideas of the Commune were first expressed by the anarchists, who, unlike the Marxists, played a key role in the Commune, and who were also involved in the other communalist revolts of the time in Spain, France and Italy; to assert a contradiction between anarchism and the Commune, or to present the anarchists as anti-Commune, is simply wrong.

- the notion that Bakunin and Kropotkin either rejected class struggle, or rejected the modern working class. Both anarchist luminaries saw class struggle and trade unions as central to the anarchist project - this is precisely why syndicalism arose in the anarchist wing of the First International, as both Marx and Engels themselves recognised.

- the myth that the Spanish anarchists and syndicalists (and anarchists and syndicalists elsewhere) lacked any programme for "coordinated authority for the war against the fascists" and other reactionaries. The need for coordinated military defence of revolution - in the context of a multi-tendency system of working class and peasant rule - was a staple of anarchist thought and was, for instance, the official programme of the Spanish CNT and FAI - joining the Spanish government violated anarchist policy, and did not flow from it; the need for armed and coordinated military defence was central to anarchism, and this is clear from a vast range of primary texts, not to mention the fact of numerous anarchist and syndicalist militias and armies historically. Contrary to Martin's suggestions, these issues are also discussed at length in Black Flame, which comes down in favour of this approach.

- the myth that (to use Martin's words) anarchists reject the need for a "disciplined revolutionary socialist party with a definite programme and a press." If by "party" we mean a specific political organisation, based on theoretical and tactical unity, with some collective discipline, then this was precisely the view of key anarchists and syndicalists worldwide, ranging from Bakunin and Kropotkin to Ricardo Flores Magón, José Oiticica, Shifu, T.W. Thibedi etc. Notable organisations on these lines include the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, Spain’s FAI, Mexico’s La Social, China’s Society of Anarchist-Communist Comrades, the postwar Uruguayan Anarchist Federation, etc. The prevalence of this approach is clearly shown in Black Flame, although Martin does not mention it. Of course some anarchists rejected this approach, but then again, you get Marxists who reject the Marxist party e.g. autonomists; it does not follow from the fact of Marxist autonomism that the mainstream of Marxism rejected the need for vanguard parties, and it equally does not follow from the fact that a few anarchists and syndicalists rejected political organisation that the mainstream of anarchism and syndicalism did so - the issue was, for the mainstream, not whether to form specific anarchist groups, but how they should be structured, and how they should operate in relation to the masses and the revolution; in those debates, Bakunin etc. came down firmly for specific political organisation, based on theoretical and tactical unity, with some collective discipline. These issues are also discussed at length by van der Walt’s two papers and by Black Flame.

- the misleading claim that Bolshevism (and mainstream historical Marxism) was more democratic than anarchism and syndicalism. The Russian Revolution was (precisely as Bakunin and Kropotkin predicted years before), strangled by the Marxist "vanguard", which from the start operated a party-run secret police, crushed strikes, murdered left opponents, destroyed soviet democracy and workers self-management etc. - to assert a sharp break between "Marxism" and "Stalinism" and the whole Soviet/ EAst bloc experience is not just historically flawed, but is at odds with the views of the great majority of Marxists ; it is mistaken to write about Marxism as if Communism never happened, and as if Lenin and Trotsky did not create a one-party state, complete with the apparatus of forced labour camps, secret police, peasant extortions etc. later developed further by Stalin.

SHORT VERSION
Lucien van der Walt, 2011, "Counterpower, Participatory Democracy, Revolutionary Defence: debating 'Black Flame,' revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism," 'International Socialism: a quarterly journal of socialist theory', no. 130 (2011), pp. 193-207, online here

Description: This article is, in part, a response to criticisms of the broad anarchist tradition in 'International Socialism' (ISJ), an International Socialist Tendency (IST) journal. However, it is also an examination of issues like the use of sources in Marxist/ anarchist debates, the historical/ current impact of anarchism/ syndicalism, anarchism and the question of defending revolutions, revolutions and pluralism, anarchism and political struggles and bodies, the Spanish anarchists' debates on taking power, anarchism's relationship to democracy, the historical role of Marxism, the role of Bolshevism in the fate of the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Stalin, and the tasks of the 21st century left.

EXTENDED VERSION
Lucien van der Walt, 7 April 2011, "Detailed reply to 'International Socialism': debating power and revolution in anarchism, 'Black Flame' and historical Marxism," 62 pp., online here

Description: This paper develops the themes in the short paper at length, with far more extensive data and references.