Anarchism and the Commune

Anarchism

Anarchism and the Commune

This is the third and final part of a review article on Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, by Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt.

It covers the history of the First International, the workers' movement in which Karl Marx was active from its founding in 1864 and the anarchist leader Mikhail Bakunin was active from 1868. It reviews the split in the International, in 1872, in which Marx and Bakunin were the leading figures on opposing sides, and the broad outlines of anarchist development since 1872.


Click here to download all three parts as pdf.
The First International recruited substantially from its activity in supporting workers' strikes. It was initially a conglomerate of many shadings of socialist thought and many people who were not really socialists at all but rather radical democrats. In 1864 all the schools of socialist thought, Marx's too, lacked authoritative, readily-available texts codifying their ideas.

In 1864 nothing written by Marx was in general circulation. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 had had no new edition in any language since 1850. New editions in various languages appeared after 1865, as the International created a reading public for them, but only after.

Marx's "Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy" had been published in 1859; but only in German, and it was a severe economic text, with no immediate politics in it. Marx published "Capital" volume 1 in 1867 (in German), and a French translation came out in 1872-5 (an English translation, in 1886).

By patient argument within the International, Marx won a majority for three key ideas:

One: that strikes and trade unions must not only be supported, but were central to the working class organising and educating itself for emancipation. In a long debate in the General Council with an old Owenite socialist, John Weston, Marx refuted the alleged "iron law of wages" believed by many socialists at the time, according to which capitalism inevitably reduced wages to a subsistence minimum and all battles for higher wages must be fruitless.

Two: that the working class must aim for the expropriation of the capitalists and public ownership of the means of production. (The Proudhonists traditionally looked instead to the growth of a network of workers' cooperatives linked by "fair exchange" and crowding out capitalist production rather than expropriating the capitalists. Bakunin sided with Marx on this).

Three: that the working class must engage in political action (battles for reforms made by law, and electoral action) as well as economic struggle.

The climax of Marx's activity in the First International was his writing of "The Civil War in France", the International's statement of solidarity with the Paris Commune of March-May 1871. This was the major text by Marx likely to be read by the activists of the International.

"Marxism", for the purposes of the 1872 split, meant the ideas expressed in "The Civil War in France", and in the resolutions of the First International.

Engels, later, would summarise his and Marx's argument: "Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat".

In the text itself Marx argued that the Commune was "essentially a working-class government... the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour".

It had shown that "the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes". The working class must create a new form of state, a semi-state as Lenin would call it.

The Commune had suppressed the standing army and substituted for it the armed people. It was made up of elected representatives who were accountable to their voters and easily recallable.

It was "a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time" - not like a bourgeois parliament, which, at best, limits and demands consultation from an executive government separate from it and standing above it.

It had done away with any separate, privileged bureaucratic corps of unelected state officials. "From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen's wages".

Explaining how his view differed from the anarchists, Marx wrote that "this new Commune, which breaks the modern State power, has been mistaken for a reproduction of the medieval Communes" (idealised by Bakunin, and, later, even more so by Kropotkin). "The Communal constitution has been mistaken for an attempt to break up into a federation of small states". (Bakunin and his friends insisted that the future society must be a federation of small local units). Local liberties should be guaranteed: but "the few but important functions which still would remain for a central government were not to be suppressed, as has been intentionally mis-stated, but were to be discharged by Communal... agents".

The "Civil War in France" was the main text on which Lenin would later draw to write his "State and Revolution", and the Bolsheviks to propose the rule of workers' councils (soviets) as the form of a workers' regime.

Although they are warm towards the "council communists", who favoured workers' councils but came to reject a centralised revolutionary party and electoral activity by revolutionary socialists - some of them also to reject trade-union activity - Schmidt and van der Walt make no explicit and definite comment on workers' councils, and in some passages seem to hold on to the pre-1914 revolutionary syndicalist line that trade unions, when smartened up enough, will embody workers' rule.

In any case, a split against a "Marxism" defined principally by "The Civil War in France" was assuredly not a split against a socialism of manipulating the existing state machine or "one-party dictatorship through an authoritarian state".

What did Bakunin and his friends say at the time? They supported the Commune and agreed with Marx on that against the English trade union leaders in the International who recoiled in horror from the Paris workers' revolution and Marx's fierce defence of it. Like the Marxists, they would continue to honour the Commune and celebrate its anniversaries. As far as I know, they gave no direct reply to Marx's swipe at them in "The Civil War".

Bakunin complained that "in order to fight the monarchist and clerical reaction they [the Commune] were compelled to organise themselves in a Jacobin manner, forgetting or sacrificing the first conditions of revolutionary socialism". Kropotkin, later, would be even more critical of the Commune as too "Jacobin".

Marx and Engels, by contrast, later, when the lapse of time had given licence for franker criticism of the Commune than would have been decent at the time of its bloody suppression by the French bourgeoisie, wrote (in effect) that the Commune had not been "Jacobin" enough - not forceful, radical, pushy enough. "In the economic sphere much was left undone which, according to our view today, the Commune ought to have done. The hardest thing to understand is certainly the holy awe with which they remain standing respectfully outside the gates of the Bank of France. This was also a serious political mistake. The bank in the hands of the Commune - this would have been worth more than ten thousand hostages [in terms of pressure on the bourgeois government at Versailles]".

In 1871 Bakunin wrote about his encounters with Marx in the 1840s. "As far as learning was concerned, Marx was, and is still, incomparably more advanced than I... He called me a sentimental idealist, and he was right; I called him vain, perfidious, and cunning..."

In 1872 the distinguishing mark of Bakunin and his friends was still "sentimental idealism" - the sentimental rejection of the necessary means of struggle in the name of a vague scheme for an instant ideal stateless future society.

Marx regarded the Bakunin wing as a relapse of a section of the International into the old utopian socialism.

"We cannot repudiate these patriarchs of socialism [the old utopian socialists], just as chemists cannot repudiate their forebears the alchemists, [but] we must at least avoid falling back into their mistakes, which, if we were to commit them, would be inexcusable".

Relapse was given momentum by the general backlash after the defeat of the Commune. In a similar way, the backlash after the defeat of the 1848 revolutions had led in September 1850 to a split in the Communist League in which the anti-Marx faction, according to Marx, fell into an approach where "the will, rather than the actual conditions, was stressed as the chief factor in the revolution" and "the word 'proletariat' [was] reduced to a mere phrase, like the word 'people' was by the democrats".

Later Plekhanov, in his pamphlet "Anarchism and Socialism", would expound Marx's thought in more detail, arguing that "in their criticism of the 'political constitution', the 'fathers' of anarchy always based themselves on the Utopian point of view", namely on the assertion that human nature favours liberty and solidarity, the state is an artificial imposition, and capitalism is the product of the state.

Bakunin, moving from his native Russia to study in Germany in 1840, became a revolutionary democrat in the 1840s. In 1849 he was praised by Marx for his role in a rising in Dresden.

Arrested after that rising, he spent eight years in jail, mostly in Russia and in atrocious conditions, and then four years in Siberian exile. In 1861 he escaped from Siberia to Western Europe.

Bakunin was still a revolutionary democrat rather than a strong socialist. At first his political plan was to work with the liberal exile Alexander Herzen. Then he flirted inconclusively with Garibaldi and with the Polish nationalist leader Mierosławski.

He came to call himself a "revolutionary socialist". In 1867-8 he and some friends entered and tried to take over the just-launched radical-bourgeois League for Peace and Freedom.

He gave up within a year; but he wrote a elaborate document putting his views to the League - probably the longest and most complete political statement which Bakunin, notorious for rarely finishing things he started writing, ever published. It suggests that he then still saw his "revolutionary socialism" as more extreme than bourgeois democracy, rather than in irreducible class opposition to it.

He acclaimed the "complete emancipation... of industry and commerce... from the supervision and protection of the State"; remonstrated that "the majority of decent, industrious bourgeois" could quite well support his, Bakunin's, programme; limited his social-economic demands to changing "the law of inheritance, gradually at first, until it is entirely abolished as soon as possible"; and made no demand for the expropriation of capitalist property or the collective ownership of the means of production.

Disappointed in the League, he joined the International in 1868. His focus was still on anti-statism, and no doubt he still thought of Marx as "vain, perfidious, and cunning"; but his writings of that time suggest that he was genuinely won over by Marx's ideas as transmitted through the International. They read as paraphrases - with a particular bias and twist, but paraphrases - of the general ideas of the International. He started work on a Russian translation of Marx's Capital, which he would never finish.

Diffuse and restless as ever in his thinking, in 1869-70 he got drawn into an alliance by a demented "nihilist", Sergei Nechayev, who held that the true revolutionary was defined by contempt for all moral standards, including in his dealings with his own comrades, and "must ally himself with the savage word of the violent criminal, the only true revolutionary in Russia".

He recoiled from Nechayev. Bakunin supported France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, and with a couple of comrades made an abortive attempt at an anarchist rising in Lyon (September 1870).

In 1870-2, finding sympathy for his resentments against Marx among Swiss activists of the International, Bakunin led a faction fight which ended in the split of September 1872. Soon after that, in October 1873, he resigned from his local organisation, the Jura Federation, on grounds of ill-health and political disappointment. He spent most of the remaining time before his death in July 1876 in seclusion.

Some of Bakunin's ideas would be developed and codified, from the mid-1870s to World War One, by Peter Kropotkin, a much clearer and more systematic writer than Bakunin. But Bakunin's is not the record of a political figure who could in 1871-2 have represented a distinct "class-struggle" opposition to supposedly stodgier ideas coming from Marx.

The Bakunin wing's opposition in 1871-2 to electoral activity by socialists was not an exaggerated but understandable reaction against socialists allowing that activity to suck in too much of their energies and their hopes. At that time working-class electoral candidates were extremely rare.

Later new issues would arise. Socialists would allow electoral activity to suck in too much of their energies and their hopes.

The general principle established by Marx of the need for socialists to build and seek to broaden out trade unions would be complicated by the rise of trade-union bureaucracies, increasingly separating off into a distinct social layer mediating between workers and the bosses.

Those developments would give new life to anarchism, or at least to that wing of anarchism which swung away from the "propaganda of the deed" (assassinations of ruling-class figures) which had dominated anarchist activity in the 1880s to try to find a new basis in the growing workers' movements.

The revolutionary syndicalism of the decades before World War One was never (despite Schmidt and van der Walt) exclusively or even in majority anarchist; but some anarchists, such as Fernand Pelloutier and Emile Pouget in France, played a positive and important part in developing it.

It became, as Trotsky would put it, "a remarkable rough draft of revolutionary communism". Where the pre-1914 "political" socialists, too often, were content with the general perspective of building up and strengthening the workers' movement, the revolutionary syndicalists worked to transform, to invigorate, to democratise, to educate a workers' movement which they understood would tend to become conservatised and bureaucratised if left to its spontaneous course in capitalist society.

That dimension of socialist activity was taken up by the Communist International in its early years (1919-22), but quickly marginalised as the Communist International became Stalinised. Today groups like the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party leave it marginalised, and in that sense the revolutionary syndicalism which Schmidt and van der Walt celebrate still has ideas to teach us, ideas which need to be rediscovered and redeveloped in today's conditions.

When the IWW leader Big Bill Haywood, in August 1920, read an appeal by the Communist International leadership written to try to convince IWW activists that the International was the best continuation of the IWW's tradition, he exclaimed: "Here is what we have been dreaming about; here is the IWW all feathered out!"

He was right, I think. Schmidt's and van der Walt's scheme, by contrast, is traditional anarchism all feathered up.


Click here to download all three parts as pdf.

Comments

The Paris Commune

The climax of Marx's activity in the First International was his writing of "The Civil War in France", the International's statement of solidarity with the Paris Commune of March-May 1871.

You do realise that he was reporting on a revolt whose leading members were followers of Proudhon? All that stuff on mandating and recalling delegates, federations of communes, workers associations, and so on are all in Proudhon's works (and Bakunin's I should note). He raised them in the 1840s, particularly during the 1848 revolution. I discuss this here:

The Paris Commune (from the introduction to Property is Theft!)

The Paris Commune and the Kronstadt Uprising

This was the major text by Marx likely to be read by the activists of the International.

And Bakunin commented that Marx and Engels “proclaim[ing] that [the Commune’s] programme and purpose were their own” flew “in face of the simplest logic” and was “a truly farcical change of costume.” He was well aware, like the French Internationalists, who had proclaimed that vision between 1840 and 1865....

It had shown that "the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes". The working class must create a new form of state, a semi-state as Lenin would call it.

Except, of course, he later proclaimed that the workers COULD seize the state by means of "political action" (i.e., elections):

"We know that the institutions, customs and traditions in the different countries must be taken into account; and we do not deny the existence of countries like America, England, and if I knew your institutions better I might add Holland, where the workers may achieve their aims by peaceful means." (Collected Works, vol. 23, p. 255)

Engels explained what Marx meant after his death:

"It is simply a question of showing that the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administrative centralised state power before it can use it for its own purposes: whereas all bourgeois republicans since 1848 inveighed against this machinery so long as they were in the opposition, but once they were in the government they took it over without altering it and used it partly against the reaction but still more against the proletariat." (vol. 47, p. 74)

In short, socialism COULD be voted in... I discuss this in section H.3.10 of An Anarchist FAQ

It was made up of elected representatives who were accountable to their voters and easily recallable.

As advocated by Proudhon in 1848.... and Bakunin in the 1860s.

"It was 'a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time'"

As advocated by Proudhin in 1848....

Explaining how his view differed from the anarchists, Marx wrote that "this new Commune, which breaks the modern State power, has been mistaken for a reproduction of the medieval Communes" (idealised by Bakunin, and, later, even more so by Kropotkin).

Oh, right, his reporting of anarchist ideas applied in practice means that his views "differed from the anarchists"! Now that IS funny. And where did Bakunin idealise the medieval commune? Provide a reference. And the same can be said of Kropotkin, provide a reference (given that Kropotkin explicitly stated the opposite, that should be fun).

So, please, STOP misrepresenting anarchist ideas.

(Bakunin and his friends insisted that the future society must be a federation of small local units).

Where does he state that? He argued for workers councils:

"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." (No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, pp. 155-6)

This was written BEFORE the Paris Commune, I must note...

The "Civil War in France" was the main text on which Lenin would later draw to write his "State and Revolution", and the Bolsheviks to propose the rule of workers' councils (soviets) as the form of a workers' regime.

And so Lenin was echoing Bakunin's conclusions... from the 1860s!

Schmidt and van der Walt make no explicit and definite comment on workers' councils, and in some passages seem to hold on to the pre-1914 revolutionary syndicalist line that trade unions, when smartened up enough, will embody workers' rule.

Assuming that is true (which I doubt) that would be because anarchists had been arguing for workers councils since the 1860s. They would have been stating the obvious -- but, with Marxists, I guess we need to do so...

In any case, a split against a "Marxism" defined principally by "The Civil War in France" was assuredly not a split against a socialism of manipulating the existing state machine or "one-party dictatorship through an authoritarian state".

The split was over the question of forming political parties and standing in elections. The subsequent history of Marxism showed that Bakunin was right -- social democracy became as reformist as he predicted...

As far as I know, they gave no direct reply to Marx's swipe at them in "The Civil War".

You ASSUME Marx was swiping the anarchists because you falsely assume that Bakunin looked back to the past. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Commune's "Declaration to the French People" was written by a follower of Proudhon and stated standard libertarian ideas on federations of communes.

Bakunin complained that "in order to fight the monarchist and clerical reaction they [the Commune] were compelled to organise themselves in a Jacobin manner, forgetting or sacrificing the first conditions of revolutionary socialism". Kropotkin, later, would be even more critical of the Commune as too "Jacobin".

You really are quoting out of context here. The reason for criticism was based on an analysis which showed that handing power over to a few leaders WITHIN the commune was a source of weakness. And there is much evidence to support this, as I discuss in The Paris Commune, Marxism and Anarchism.

Marx and Engels, by contrast, later, when the lapse of time had given licence for franker criticism of the Commune than would have been decent at the time of its bloody suppression by the French bourgeoisie, wrote (in effect) that the Commune had not been "Jacobin" enough - not forceful, radical, pushy enough.

You do realise that by "Jacobin" it is meant rule/dictatorship by a revolutionary minority?

In 1872 the distinguishing mark of Bakunin and his friends was still "sentimental idealism" - the sentimental rejection of the necessary means of struggle in the name of a vague scheme for an instant ideal stateless future society.

Quite the reverse. The Paris Commune utilised key aspects of our vision of a future society. I discuss why this is important in section H.1.6 of An Anarchist FAQ. And I should note that Bakunin explicitly argued for the federation of workers militias to defend the revolution.

Bakunin supported France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, and with a couple of comrades made an abortive attempt at an anarchist rising in Lyon (September 1870).

Quite disgraceful misrepresentation of Bakunin's call to turn the imperialist war into a revolution.

But Bakunin's is not the record of a political figure who could in 1871-2 have represented a distinct "class-struggle" opposition to supposedly stodgier ideas coming from Marx.

But Bakunin was a supporter of revolutionary unionism and workers councils. Unlike Marx who pushed a Social Democratic line. As I discuss here:

Syndicalism, Marxism and Anarchism

The Bakunin wing's opposition in 1871-2 to electoral activity by socialists was not an exaggerated but understandable reaction against socialists allowing that activity to suck in too much of their energies and their hopes.

It was also proven completely right...

The general principle established by Marx of the need for socialists to build and seek to broaden out trade unions would be complicated by the rise of trade-union bureaucracies, increasingly separating off into a distinct social layer mediating between workers and the bosses.

Which was what Bakunin argued, Marx wanted to turn the IWMA into an organisation of electoral political parties...

Those developments would give new life to anarchism. . . which had dominated anarchist activity in the 1880s to try to find a new basis in the growing workers' movements.

By repeating Bakunin's arguments! As the syndicalists themselves noted, they were following the ideas expressed in the libertarian wing of the First International...

The revolutionary syndicalism of the decades before World War One was never (despite Schmidt and van der Walt) exclusively or even in majority anarchist; but some anarchists, such as Fernand Pelloutier and Emile Pouget in France, played a positive and important part in developing it.

Complete re-writing of history there. True, some Marxists embraced syndicalism but only once it was a recognised movement. At least the likes of Kautsky acknowledged at the time that it was the latest form of anarchism...

the revolutionary syndicalism which Schmidt and van der Walt celebrate still has ideas to teach us, ideas which need to be rediscovered and redeveloped in today's conditions.

Don't think modern day syndicalists will fall for the Bolshevik Myth like some (but not all) did back in 1920. The facts of the Bolshevik regime are too well known -- although apparently NOT in Leninist circles...

When the IWW leader Big Bill Haywood, in August 1920, read an appeal by the Communist International leadership written to try to convince IWW activists that the International was the best continuation of the IWW's tradition, he exclaimed: "Here is what we have been dreaming about; here is the IWW all feathered out!"

And that appeal skilfully avoided discussing the dictatorship of the party. In that appeal Zinoview stated that the "Russian Soviet Republic . . . is the most highly centralised government that exists. It is also the most democratic government in history. For all the organs of government are in constant touch with the working masses, and constantly sensitive to their will." Elsewhere during 1920 he was more forthcoming:

"Today, people like Kautsky come along and say that in Russia you do not have the dictatorship of the working class but the dictatorship of the party. They think this is a reproach against us. Not in the least! We have a dictatorship of the working class and that is precisely why we also have a dictatorship of the Communist Party. The dictatorship of the Communist Party is only a function, an attribute, an expression of the dictatorship of the working class . . . [T]he dictatorship of the proletariat is at the same time the dictatorship of the Communist Party." (Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920, vol. 2, p. 928 and pp. 151-2)

Sadly he did not explain how "dictatorship of the Communist Party" produced "the most democratic government in history". Perhaps you will do so?

So, does the AWL agree with Zinoviev? Is party dictatorship part of the AWL's "socialism from below"? Is it compatible with "the most democratic government"?

He was right, I think. Schmidt's and van der Walt's scheme, by contrast, is traditional anarchism all feathered up.

Black Flame, just to repeat myself, states basic revolutionary anarchist ideas, most of which have their basis in Bakunin. It is not "traditional anarchism all feathered up" -- it is a excellent restatement of the ideas and practice revolutionary anarchism.

Please, read some anarchist books before spouting off about it. Showing your ignorance in public is not wise. And I would also suggest getting a better understanding of Leninism in power as it appears your knowledge of that is a poor as your understanding of anarchism.

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

Debate?

Hello Iain.

Would you like to come and debate these issues publicly (or rather, in person as opposed to on the internet) at Ideas for Freedom (9-10 July in Archway)? I would have emailed you personally but I couldn't find any contact details on your site.

Thanks,
Daniel Randall for the AWL

On certain conditions

Yes, I would be interested -- after all, I have debated with yous before: Marxism or Anarchism

However, there would be certain conditions.

First, I would like there to be an anarchist stall at the meeting.

Second, would it be possible for this meeting to be free for anyone who wanted to come?

I know this is part of your annual event and so costs money to attend. I have a policy of free access to my material and I think this should apply to debates as well. Obviously, donations could be asked for at the end.

Finally, what would be the title of the meeting? And its format?

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

On for a debate?

As Iain will know, AWL has written to him saying:

a. of course there can be an anarchist bookstall at the event - we generally allow pretty much anyone on the left who wants to run bookstalls at our events;

b. we're open to suggestions about the title and format of the meeting, so long as it's broadly about Marxism and anarchism;

c. we think that meeting rooms and creche facilities, etc., should be made freely available for events like our summer school. But they aren't. So we have to charge for the event. But we don't mind making that particular session open to people who have not paid for the whole weekend, taking only voluntary donations from them.

So... on for a face-to-face debate?


1. The Paris Commune Proudhonist?

Yes, the leadership of the Commune included, alongside Blanquists and Jacobins, many left-Proudhonists like Eugène Varlin.

Varlin was a unorthodox Proudhonist, though, because he had come into politics as a strike leader and supported equality for women.

Right-Proudhonists like Henri Tolain opposed the Commune. Proudhon himself, in "The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d'Etat of the Second of December" (1852), had taken a stance of calling on Bonaparte to continue the work of the revolution. As Marx put it, "His [Proudhon's] work on the Coup d'Etat, in which he flirts with Louis Bonaparte and strives to make him palatable to the French workers... must be characterised as not merely bad but base..."

The Commune signalled the disintegration, not the triumph, of Proudhonism. Engels:

"By 1871, even in Paris, the centre of handicrafts, large-scale industry had already so much ceased to be an exceptional case that by far the most important decree of the Commune instituted an organization of large-scale industry and even of manufacture which was not based only on the association of workers in each factory, but also aimed at combining all these associations in one great union; in short an organization which, as Marx quite rightly says in The Civil War, must necessarily have led in the end to communism, that is to say, the direct antithesis of the Proudhon doctrine. And, therefore, the Commune was also the grave of the Proudhon school of socialism. Today [1891] this school has vanished from French working class circles..."

Today Schmidt and van der Walt, and as far as I can see a good few others too, want to disavow Proudhon and say he was not an anarchist at all - that their modern anarchism has no connection with his ideas.

2. Was Marx inconsistent with his 1871 statement that "the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes"?

Why inconsistent? Supposedly, because Marx thought it possible in England and in some other countries that workers could win a parliamentary majority and use it to dismantle the old state machinery (then, and in those countries, relatively lightweight: that is the point) and build up a new workers' "semi-state".

That is not inconsistent!

What seems more inconsistent is opposing electoral activity absolutely, and yet praising the elected Paris Commune.

3. Kropotkin not idealising medieval communes?

"The Conquest of Bread", first page. "The history of mankind... does not offer... an argument against Communism. It appears, on the contrary, as a succession of endeavours to realise some sort of communist organisation, endeavours which were crowned here and there with a partial success of a certain duration..."

As his examples of that "communist organisation", Kropotkin cites "village communities, for many hundreds of years", and "the medieval cities [which] succeeded in maintaining in their midst, for several centuries in succession, a certain socialised organisation of production and trade".

The anarchist-sympathising writer Paul Avrich, in his introduction to "The Conquest of Bread", puts it more brutally than I would: "What Kropotkin yearned for was the decentralised society of medieval Europe with a few up-to-date trappings".

4. Where does Bakunin insist that the future society must be a federation of small local units?

The nearest thing to a complete manifesto that Bakunin ever wrote, his statement for the League of Peace and Freedom, he entitled: "Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism". Federalism first, notice. And the only socialistic economic proposal in it was the gradual abolition of the right of inheritance.

Bakunin saw the revolution like this: "The spontaneous self-organisation of popular life, for centuries paralysed and absorbed by the omnipotent power of the State, will revert to the communes". (Notice: "revert". Again and again in the writings of Bakunin and Kropotkin appears the idea that their future society is also the natural order of society, which prevailed, and only a few hundred years ago, until the artificial irruption of the State).

He repeats his insistence on federalism again and again. He certainly assumed that the communes will wish to federate on a large scale.

5. Workers' councils

Schmidt and van der Walt do indeed "make no explicit and definite comment on workers' councils", though their book is heavily concerned to explicate an anarchist tradition which they take to have been give its prime statement by Bakunin and Kropotkin, and to state the key ideas of those writers (including a fair amount of "stating the obvious": that they opposed capitalism, favoured workers' struggles, etc.)

They see Bakunin and Kropotkin as forerunners of revolutionary syndicalism, i.e. of a "workers' republic" or "revolutionary junta" (workers' state, in all but a reluctance to use the word "state") organised through trade unions.

Bakunin often wrote pictures of the future like this: "an organization formed by the people themselves, apart from all governments and parliaments, a free union of associations of agricultural and factory workers, of communes, regions, and nations, and finally, in the more remote future; the universal human brotherhood..."

With hindsight you can read Bakunin's ideas about workers' associations as a premonition either of revolutionary syndicalism or of soviet (workers'-council) democracy. The fact that both readings are possible indicates that both are anachronistic.

In the 1860s and 1870s there were no trade unions anywhere near powerful enough that anyone could envisage them becoming, even after a huge leap forward, strong enough to administer the whole economy. The first workers' councils (soviets) were over 30 years in the future (1905).

A more common-sense reading: Bakunin, Kropotkin, and their comrades saw the future society as a spontaneous federation of small units, those small units in turn being formed by voluntary association of individuals. The small units would by definition be workers' associations.

The basic units of their future society were as much (or, as we've seen more) a reference-back to medieval villages (visualised as free associations of working people) as forward to the French CGT or the Russian workers' councils of 1905.

6. Quoting Bakunin out of context?

Here is the passage I quoted, in context:

"And, too, the small group of convinced socialists who participated in the Commune were in a very difficult position. While they felt the lack of support from the great masses of the people of Paris, and while the organization of the International Association, itself imperfect, compromised hardly a few thousand persons, they had to keep up a daily struggle against the Jacobin majority. In the midst of the conflict, they had to feed and provide work for several thousand workers, organize and arm them, and keep a sharp lookout for the doings of the reactionaries. All this in an immense city like Paris, besieged, facing the threat of starvation, and a prey to all the shady intrigues of the reaction, which managed to establish itself in Versailles with the permission and by the grace of the Prussians. They had to set up a revolutionary government and army against the government and army of Versailles; in order to fight the monarchist and clerical reaction they were compelled to organize themselves in a Jacobin manner, forgetting or sacrificing the first conditions of revolutionary socialism.

"In this confusing situation, it was natural that the Jacobins, the strongest section, constituting the majority of the Commune, who also possessed a highly developed political instinct, the tradition and practice of governmental organization, should have had the upper hand over the socialists...."

The argument here is that "setting up a revolutionary government and army" was something which they "had to" do, but which nevertheless inescapably involved "forgetting or sacrificing the first conditions of revolutionary socialism" [i.e. of anarchism: Bakunin then called his ideas "revolutionary socialism", in counterposition to "communism"].

There's nothing in this context about the "revolutionary government" being in the hands of too few people, etc. And if there were, what would that say about your claim (above) that the political organisation of the Commune was a splendid working-out in practice of Proudhon's ideas?

7. Jacobin means rule by a revolutionary minority

Oh? Just that? That's all there is to the French Revolution? Bakunin, rightly, did not think so:

"Let us make it clear, there are Jacobins and Jacobins... There are Jacobins who are frankly revolutionaries, the heroes, the last sincere representatives of the democratic faith of 1793; able to sacrifice both their well-armed unity and authority rather than submit their conscience to the insolence of the reaction. These magnanimous Jacobins led naturally by Delescluze, a great soul and a great character, desire the triumph of the Revolution above everything else..."

8. To say "Bakunin supported France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war" is a "quite disgraceful misrepresentation".

Bakunin hoped to latch onto French peasants' hostility to the Prussian invaders so as simultaneously to unleash revolution. That went together with, rather than contradicting, his siding with France.

Also, his scenario for this revolution-unleashing is highly manipulative. He does not claim that the peasants want to make a social revolution. He reckons that in their majority they back Louis Bonaparte. But he thinks that their patriotic fervour can be manoeuvred into "unconsciously but effectively destroying the state institutions".

It is not much like a foreshadowing of Lenin's "turn the imperialist war into a civil war". It is much more like George Orwell's naive 1941 scheme of Churchill's England surging into socialism "unconsciously but effectively" during World War Two.

"Within a year, perhaps even within six months, if we are still unconquered, we shall see the rise of something that has never existed before, a specifically English Socialist movement... It will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical... But all the same it will have done the essential thing..." (The Lion and the Unicorn).

As Orwell's naivety was governed by a gut patriotism, so also Bakunin's attitude was governed by a gut anti-German feeling and a gut insistence that "the Latins and the Slavs" were the revolutionary peoples.

9. Bakunin proved right on electoral activity?

You might as well say that the utopian socialists who opposed all workers' trade unions and strikes have been proved right by the growth of the trade union bureaucracy, or the submergence into petty trade-union routine, as lay activists, of hundreds of thousands of people who were revolutionaries when young. Or that pacifists have been proved right by the large role of after-effects of the Russian civil war in the growth of Stalinism. Or that those who argue that socialists should not bother with books and study, but instead rely solely on instinct, have been proved right by the follies of academic Marxism.

10. The revolutionary syndicalism of the decades before World War One - was it "exclusively or even in majority anarchist"?

Pelloutier and Pouget were anarchists (and notice that I do not write them out of the history or downplay their contribution). Pelloutier's article of 1895 on "Anarchism and the Workers' Union" is clear, however, that he is proposing a new direction for anarchists, and one that implies a departure from strict anarchism. "Nobody believes or expects that the coming revolution... will realise unadulterated anarchist communism"; but the unions could become at least "a quasi-libertarian organisation".

Griffuelhes was not an anarchist.

In the IWW, Big Bill Haywood was not an anarchist. Schmidt and van der Walt claim Daniel De Leon as an anarchist, but he was not. The IWW today says (accurately, I believe) that the anti-De-Leon faction in the 1908 split comprised "a diverse group of IWW members, including rank and file workers from across the Pacific Northwest, socialists of numerous stripes, and perhaps a handful of anarchists.."

Tom Mann was never an anarchist.

11. Dictatorship of the party and democracy

In any system of government (or "system of governance", or "workers' republic", or "revolutionary junta", if you prefer Schmidt's and van der Walt's terms) there will be a contest between parties, or trends, or schools of thought, for the majority.

Then the majority party rules. In conditions of civil war, it may be apt to call that "dictatorship of the party".

Stalinism rose, not by extending the "dictatorship of the party", but by crushing the party.

More here, in a 1934 article by Max Shachtman.

So the AWL support party dictatorship?

1. The Paris Commune Proudhonist?

The declaration to the French People Marx mentions was written by a mutualist. The whole vision of a federation of communes is straight out of Proudhon. As is obvious if you read Proudhon and the Commune's declaration.

Proudhon himself, in "The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d'Etat of the Second of December" (1852), had taken a stance of calling on Bonaparte to continue the work of the revolution.

And this is relevant, how? And obviously you have not read that book because you are distorting its message. Still, I assume you picked that up from Draper?

As Marx put it, "His [Proudhon's] work on the Coup d'Etat, in which he flirts with Louis Bonaparte and strives to make him palatable to the French workers... must be characterised as not merely bad but base..."

Ah, right, its not like Marx did not systematically distort Proudhon's ideas... oh, wait, he DID...

And, again, this is relevant how? I argued that key elements of the commune reflected Proudhon's ideas. That is a fact, sorry.

The Commune signalled the disintegration, not the triumph, of Proudhonism. Engels:

Man, this is pathetic. Don't you realise that Proudhon had long argued for an agro-industrial federation? The notion of federating workers associations into one organisation was suggested by Proudhon in 1848. The same time as he discussed mandates and recall, getting rid of executives and so on. I discuss Engels comments in detail here: The Paris Commune and the Kronstadt Uprising

Today Schmidt and van der Walt, and as far as I can see a good few others too, want to disavow Proudhon and say he was not an anarchist at all - that their modern anarchism has no connection with his ideas.

You do realise that they argue that while they consider Proudhon not to be an anarchist, they note that many of his ideas influenced anarchism? Have you actually read their book?

Why inconsistent? Supposedly, because Marx thought it possible in England and in some other countries that workers could win a parliamentary majority and use it to dismantle the old state machinery (then, and in those countries, relatively lightweight: that is the point) and build up a new workers' "semi-state".

Ah, right, so when you wrote "The working class must create a new form of state" you ACTUALLY meant was "the working class can capture the existing state and reform it"! Nice to know...

That is not inconsistent!

Shame you did not state that... so, just to confirm, the lesson of the Paris Commune, for Marx, was that the working class could, by voting, capture the existing state and reform it? Did Lenin not deny that in State and Revolution? Although he did have to twist some and ignore other comments of Marx and Engels to make that case.

What seems more inconsistent is opposing electoral activity absolutely, and yet praising the elected Paris Commune.

Yawn! As I discuss in The Paris Commune, Marxism and Anarchism the anarchist critique of the Commune was precisely that the elected government could NOT handle the needs of the revolution and, as a result, contributed to its failure. Hardly inconsistent to praise a revolt and argue that it made mistakes, mistakes we should learn from.

3. Kropotkin not idealising medieval communes?

"The Conquest of Bread", first page...

Now THAT is funny. Kropotkin's discussion of communistic tendencies IN THE PAST which show that elements of communism have been realised are taken to be what he is in favour of FOR THE FUTURE. Really, that is all you've got?

The anarchist-sympathising writer Paul Avrich, in his introduction to "The Conquest of Bread", puts it more brutally than I would: "What Kropotkin yearned for was the decentralised society of medieval Europe with a few up-to-date trappings".

And Avrich fails to provide any evidence to back that assertion up. Funny that!

Please, provide a quote BY KROPOTKIN in which he proclaims that the commune of the future will be the same as the mediveal commune....

4. Where does Bakunin insist that the future society must be a federation of small local units?

I did not ask that. I asked: "And where did Bakunin idealise the medieval commune? Provide a reference." Please don't change the subject...

The nearest thing to a complete manifesto that Bakunin ever wrote..."

Which is simply not true...

Federalism first, notice.

You have to start somewhere...

And the only socialistic economic proposal in it was the gradual abolition of the right of inheritance.

He proclaimed the need "to organize a society which, while it makes it impossible for any individual whatsoever to exploit the labor of others, will not allow anyone to share in the enjoyment of social wealth, always produced by labor only, unless he has himself contributed to its creation with his own labor." In other works he discusses the expropriation of capital by workers associations.

Bakunin saw the revolution like this: "The spontaneous self-organisation of popular life, for centuries paralysed and absorbed by the omnipotent power of the State, will revert to the communes". (Notice: "revert".

You do realise that in France the local council is called a commune? This can go from being a small village to Paris (as in the Commune of Paris). The word commune does not imply any specific size. In short, Bakunin is arguing that power should be decentralised back into the hands of the locality. Power should "revert" back into the hands of the people, in other words.

Again and again in the writings of Bakunin and Kropotkin appears the idea that their future society is also the natural order of society, which prevailed, and only a few hundred years ago, until the artificial irruption of the State).

And again and again no actual quote is provided to back this up, just strange intrepretations of passages in which words are twisted to fit into an ideologically driven position.

They see Bakunin and Kropotkin as forerunners of revolutionary syndicalism, i.e. of a "workers' republic" or "revolutionary junta" (workers' state, in all but a reluctance to use the word "state") organised through trade unions.

And they would be right, as regards Bakunin and Kropotkin. The later pointed to the obvious links to the libertarian wing of the first international. In terms of a "state", the whole point is that for anarchists the state is a centralised, top-down social structure. A decentralised, federal, bottom-up social structure is not a state.

With hindsight you can read Bakunin's ideas about workers' associations as a premonition either of revolutionary syndicalism or of soviet (workers'-council) democracy. The fact that both readings are possible indicates that both are anachronistic.

Not at all, as both are based on federations of delegates from workplaces. A federation of industrial unions is obviously similar to a workers council. Both readings are possible because they are similar. Hence we see syndicalists supporting workers councils in 1905 and 1917...

In the 1860s and 1870s there were no trade unions anywhere near powerful enough that anyone could envisage them becoming, even after a huge leap forward, strong enough to administer the whole economy.

Except, of course, Bakunin explicitly argued that the "organisation of the trade sections, their federation in the International, and their representation by the Chambers of Labour, not only create a great academy, in which the workers of the International, combining theory and practice, can and must study economic science, they also bear in themselves the living germs of the new social order, which is to replace the bourgeois world. They are creating not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself"

This is quoted by Rudolf Rocker in Anarcho-Syndicalism, in the chapter on forerunners to Syndicalism. This position is echoed by numerous anarchists and historians. I quote the evidence in H.2.8 What is the relationship of anarchism to syndicalism?.

The first workers' councils (soviets) were over 30 years in the future (1905).

And Bakunin predicted their essential features in the 1860s. Quite impressive. Here is one example:

"the Alliance of all labour associations . . . will constitute the Commune . . . there will be . . . 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." (No Gods, No Masters, pp. 155-6)

So here is Bakunin arguing for mandated and recallable delegates from workplaces to form a council. And what was a workers council in 1905? A council of mandated and recallable delegates from workplaces. Clearly completely different...

A more common-sense reading: Bakunin, Kropotkin, and their comrades saw the future society as a spontaneous federation of small units, those small units in turn being formed by voluntary association of individuals. The small units would by definition be workers' associations.

A very unusual definition of "common-sense"! And where is the reference to "small units"? Bakunin mentions workers associations, he talks of "[a]ll productive capital and instruments of labour" being "confiscated for the benefit of toilers associations" so he obviously thinking in terms of workers seizing their workplaces and factories. So, please, stop inventing things which are not there...

The argument here is that "setting up a revolutionary government and army" was something which they "had to" do, but which nevertheless inescapably involved "forgetting or sacrificing the first conditions of revolutionary socialism" [i.e. of anarchism: Bakunin then called his ideas "revolutionary socialism", in counterposition to "communism"].

Indeed, the setting up of a "revolutionary government" was a mistake -- because it concentrated power into a few hands. As for an army, well, Bakunin argued for workers' militias to defend the revolution. As the Red Army showed, such bodies could be used by the revolutionary government to repress the workers. As I discuss in my article. My comment on "out of context" is in relation to the whole anarchist critique, which is NOT being mentioned...

There's nothing in this context about the "revolutionary government" being in the hands of too few people, etc.

A revolutionary government is, by definition, about placing power into the hands of a few people. Basic anarchist analysis which is being completely ignored...

And if there were, what would that say about your claim (above) that the political organisation of the Commune was a splendid working-out in practice of Proudhon's ideas?

Christ, this is becoming painful... I noted that key aspects of the Commune (as praised by Marx) are straight out of Proudhon. That is just true, deal with it. That does not preclude a critique which argues that internally the Commune did not go far enough -- it did not federate within Paris as it argued for France as a whole. That was the crux of Kropotkin's critique, for example, alongside the lack of expropriation and economic change.

Sorry, I assumed you had read Kropotkin and Bakunin and knew the basic arguments they were making. I will need to remember to spell things out in detail from now on.

7. Jacobin means rule by a revolutionary minority

Oh? Just that? That's all there is to the French Revolution? Bakunin, rightly, did not think so:

Ah, right, I need to present a summary of the French Revolution now as well? And, yes, Bakunin recognised that some Jacobin's were better than others -- does not stop Jacobin forms of organisation from being a mistake.

8. To say "Bakunin supported France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war" is a "quite disgraceful misrepresentation".

You clearly meant the French state -- "Bakunin explicitly sided with Imperial France" -- he argued that the workers AND peasants should turn the imperialist war into a revolution. Hardly siding with the Empire.

9. Bakunin proved right on electoral activity?

Bakunin predicted that socialists using elections would result in reformism. That was proven right... I guess the rise of opportunism in social democracy never happened? That you deny this is just silly...

10. The revolutionary syndicalism of the decades before World War One - was it "exclusively or even in majority anarchist"?

Yes, as I noted Marxists did join syndicalism -- after it had become better known.

Pelloutier and Pouget were anarchists . . . Pelloutier's article of 1895 on "Anarchism and the Workers' Union" is clear, however, that he is proposing a new direction for anarchists, and one that implies a departure from strict anarchism.

He was writing for certain French Anarchists and trying to convince them to follow other anarchists into the unions. This was hardly new. In 1881 Kropotkin had argued that the French libertarians follow the example of their Spanish comrades who had remained faithful to “the Anarchist traditions of the International” and “bring this energy to workers’ organisations.” His “advice to the French workers” was “to take up again . . . the tradition of the International” (quoted by Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, p. 31) Kroptkin, unsurprisingly, was happy to see French anarchists follow his advice in the 1890s.

This was echoed by Malatesta: “I have . . . never ceased to urge the comrades into that direction which the syndicalists, forgetting the past, call new, even though it was already glimpsed and followed, in the International, by the first of the anarchists.” (The Anarchist Reader, p. 221)

In short, this was NOT a new direction. It was a return to that of the 1860s and 1870s.

"Nobody believes or expects that the coming revolution... will realise unadulterated anarchist communism";

And he was talking of communism: "while we do preach perfect communism, it is not in the certainty or expectation of communism's being the social form of the future" Malatesta, for example, argued that it was unlikely that pure communism could be introduced right after a revolution.

but the unions could become at least "a quasi-libertarian organisation".

Yes, because while organised in an anarchist way and using anarchist tactics there were not made up of anarchists but rather all workers.

In the IWW, Big Bill Haywood was not an anarchist. Schmidt and van der Walt claim Daniel De Leon as an anarchist, but he was not...

I have argued that this is a weakness in their book. However, Haywood was expelled from the Socialist Party and it is questionable how much an orthodox Marxist he was.

Tom Mann was never an anarchist.

He was influenced by the French syndicalist experience. And he actually moved close to the anarchist position. And as a direct result of those experiences, Mann turned away from political parties and electioneering in favour of a direct action based syndicalism. It is useful to quote his 1911 resignation letter from the Marxist Social Democratic Party:

"I find myself not in agreement with the important matter of Parliamentary action. My experiences have driven me more and more into the non-Parliamentary position . . . After the most careful reflection I am driven to the belief that the real reason why the trade unionist movement of this country is in such a deplorable state of inefficiency is to be found in fictitious importance which the workers have been encouraged to attach to Parliamentary action . . . I find nearly all the serious-minded young men in the labour and socialist movement have their minds centred upon obtaining some position in public life such as local, municipal or county councillorship . . . or aspiring to become an MP . . . I am driven to the belief that this is entirely wrong . . . that economic liberty will never be realised by such means. So I declare in favour of Direct Industrial Organisation, not as a means but as THE means whereby the workers can ultimately overthrow the capitalist system and become the actual controllers of their industrial and social destiny."

In short, he ended up agreeing with Bakunin on both unions and elections.

In any system of government (or "system of governance", or "workers' republic", or "revolutionary junta", if you prefer Schmidt's and van der Walt's terms) there will be a contest between parties, or trends, or schools of thought, for the majority.

And why should the majority give its power to a few party leaders? In short, a so-called workers government? To re-quote Lenin, "the Party, shall we say, absorbs the vanguard of the proletariat, and this vanguard exercises the dictatorship of the proletariat." This was required because "in all capitalist countries . . . the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts" that it "can be exercised only by a vanguard . . . the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised by a mass proletarian organisation." (vol. 32, pp. 20-1)

So Marxism means by "the majority" the minority elected by the majority. If the majority later change their mind, then the party uses the state power it holds to maintain its position:

"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." (Trotsky, "The Moralists and Sycophants against Marxism")

What a fine liberation... and so much for the "semi-state" of Marxism... that sounds like a normal state, but with new bosses in charge... and I should stress the Bolsheviks DID disband soviets, break strikes and protests to remain in power. They DID use "the resources of the state" against the working class -- and, by definition, everyone is "backward" in relation to the vanguard so Trotsky was giving himself quite extensive powers to impose the party dictatorship:

"The revolutionary dictatorship of a proletarian party is for me not a thing that one can freely accept or reject: It is an objective necessity imposed upon us by the social realities - the class struggle, the heterogeneity of the revolutionary class, the necessity for a selected vanguard in order to assure the victory. The dictatorship of a party belongs to the barbarian prehistory as does the state itself, but we can not jump over this chapter, which can open (not at one stroke) genuine human history. . . The revolutionary party (vanguard) which renounces its own dictatorship surrenders the masses to the counter-revolution . . . Abstractly speaking, it would be very well if the party dictatorship could be replaced by the 'dictatorship' of the whole toiling people without any party, but this presupposes such a high level of political development among the masses that it can never be achieved under capitalist conditions. The reason for the revolution comes from the circumstance that capitalism does not permit the material and the moral development of the masses." (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1936-37, pp. 513-4)

So please explain how that is "socialism from below"?

Then the majority party rules. In conditions of civil war, it may be apt to call that "dictatorship of the party".

You do realise that by "dictatorship of the party" the Bolsheviks meant precisely that? The monopoly of power in the hands of one party? So we find Victor Serge in the 1930s noting "at the start of 1919 I was horrified to read an article by Zinoviev . . . on the monopoly of the party in power." (The Serge-Trotsky Papers, p. 188] It should be noted, though, that Serge kept his horror well hidden throughout this period - and well into the 1930s.

That you deny that party dictatorship meant precisely that is significant.

And the "dictatorship of the party" was advocated by Trotsky into the 1930s... so much for "conditions of civil war"... And so, just to check, the AWL will impose a "dictatorship of the party" when the apparently inevitable civil war starts? How is that "socialism from below"?

Stalinism rose, not by extending the "dictatorship of the party", but by crushing the party.

As "Left Oppositionist" Victor Serge pointed out, "the greatest reach of boldness of the Left Opposition in the Bolshevik Party was to demand the restoration of inner-Party democracy, and it never dared dispute the theory of single-party government - by this time, it was too late." [The Serge-Trotsky Papers, p. 181] This was the case in the prison camps in the late 1920s and early 1930s where "almost all the Trotskyists continued to consider that 'freedom of party' would be 'the end of the revolution.' 'Freedom to choose one's party - that is Menshevism,' was the Trotskyists' final verdict." (Ante Ciliga, The Russian Enigma, p. 280)

And as for Stalinism crushing the party, that was Trotsky's line. He argued that 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." It repeats this principle by arguing that "the dictatorship of the proletariat demands a single and united proletarian party as the leader of the working masses and the poor peasantry." As such, "[w]e will fight with all our power against the idea of two parties, because the dictatorship of the proletariat demands as its very core a single proletarian party. It demands a single party." (The Platform of the Opposition)

So, please, explain how the dictatorship of a single party is compatible with socialism from below. This should be interesting... Still, it is refreshing to see a modern-day Leninist so happily defend the dictatorship of the party. Not sure what it has to do with workers' liberty or socialism from below, though...

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

Bakunin and Kropotkin on the Medieval Commune

First off, I looked at "Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism" and could not find this quote: "The spontaneous self-organisation of popular life, for centuries paralysed and absorbed by the omnipotent power of the State, will revert to the communes" As this was the text mentioned, I assumed that it was from that. I was obviously wrong.

After a little research, I discovered it was, in fact, from Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis. You are not making it easy for people to check your assertions...

Now, does this quote show that Bakunin wanted to recreate the medieval commune? Of course not, as is clear from the source. Bakunin was discussing the actual villages/towns/cities (communes) of 1870 France. In short, he was arguing that the peasants should organise themselves and they would govern their own communities. This also applied to urban workers too, although the given quote is from his discussion of the peasantry.

Significantly, in The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State he states "This work, like all my published work, of which there has not been a great deal, is an outgrowth of events. It is the natural continuation of my Letters to a Frenchman (September 1870)." And, after all, this was what happened in Paris, where the "spontaneous self-organisation of popular life" did "revert" to the commune. And here is Marx stating exactly the same thing in 1871:

"The Communal Constitution would have restored to the social body all the forces hitherto absorbed by the state parasite feeding upon, and clogging the free movement of, society."

Ah, but I know Marx explicitly stated that it "has been mistaken for a reproduction of the medieval Communes" and argued that it was a new development... but then so did Bakunin:

“Mazzini, in his hatred of the Paris Commune, has gone to the extreme of sheer foolishness. He maintains that the system proclaimed by the last revolution in Paris would lead us back to the medieval ages . . . He does not understand, poor fellow, that between the commune of the Middle Ages and the modern commune there is the vast difference which the history of the last five centuries wrought” (The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, pp. 272-3)

He could really not be more explicit...

Oh, and the "Communal Constitution" was the Declaration to the French People and this was written by a follower of Proudhon. It was a summary of Proudhon's well-known ideas on federalism -- which included, since 1848, mandating and recalling delegates and getting rid of executives. All those things Marx praised in 1871... and which Bakunin had argued for in the late 1860s.

And while I am at it, I should note that Kropotkin wrote an article explicitly stating that the communes of the future would not be like the ones of the Middle Ages. It was called The Commune and was included in his first book, Words of a Rebel. And so we find:

“Between the Commune of the middle ages and that which might be established today . . . there will be plenty of essential differences: a veritable abyss opened up by the six or seven centuries of human development” (Words of a Rebel, p. 82)

And this may be of interest to those seeking the facts of the matter:

H.2.3 Does anarchism yearn "for what has gone before"?

I.3.8 Do anarchists seek "small autonomous communities, devoted to small scale production"?

The section on how anarchists argue that the struggle within capitalism creates the working class organisations which will replace it should also be consulted:

I.2.3 How is the framework of an anarchist society created?

Oskar Anweiler's comments on how Bakunin "was able to foresee concrete aspects of the revolution" and how the "council movement during the Russian Revolution . . . often corresponded in form and progress to his revolutionary concepts and predictions" are of particular note.

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

Reply to Thomas' "Six points in reply to Iain McKay"

Well, as I cannot make comments on Thomas' post "Six points in reply to Iain McKay", I best post here...

I have to say, I’m not impressed by Thomas' response to my leaflet. I reply in detail in this article: AWL Versus Anarchism (Part 2)

Sorry for the delay in posting this link here – I’ve been busy doing much more important things.

Still, I wonder why no comments are allowed in the post? It closes down the debate -- which is handy for him given the quality of his response... maybe AWL could open it up and allow me to reply there?

Suffice to say, the reply is lengthy so I’ll summarise the key points here. Why is it lengthy? Simply because Thomas makes so many inaccurate and unsupported assertions about anarchism that I needed to provide substantial evidence to refute them. Here is an edited version…

1: “Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Malatesta were not so naive...

1: “Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Malatesta were not so naive as to believe that anarchism could be established overnight...”

Thomas fails to explain why anarchists are against the so-called “workers’ state.” If he bothered to explain the anarchist position then his readers would have discovered that we oppose the “strong, centralised” state (i.e., the authority of a few party leaders in practice) because we do not think it would remain democratic.

Anarchists like Bakunin, Kropotkin and Malatesta argued that Marxism would become the dictatorship over the proletariat, not of the proletariat – and, guess what? It did become precisely that. History has shown who was right.

The Bolsheviks created such a “strong, centralised” authority and it quickly usurped power from the workers’ councils. Within six months, this “workers’ state” was a de facto party dictatorship and within a year the Bolsheviks’ were openly advocating party dictatorship as a necessity of any revolution (see section H.6 of An Anarchist FAQ. Needless to say, this “strong, centralised” authority was not shy in breaking strikes. Thomas ignores all this and postulates something which has never existed – “a strong, centralised, democratic authority.” Still, why bother with such trivialities as the reality of the Bolshevik regime under Lenin and Trotsky?

Thomas mentions Spain and that his is a superficial account of the Spanish revolution should go without saying. The CNT-FAI had long argued for the need for federated defence committees (following Bakunin). The question is, of course, why did the CNT-FAI did not implement this vision of workers’ councils? Simply put, fear of isolation and of having to fight both the fascists and the republic made many anarchists put aside their ideas (see, for example, section I.8.10 of An Anarchist FAQ).

The question is how to organise a successful revolution without giving power to a few leaders. For Leninists, this is unproblematic – indeed, their ideology is based on the party taking power. However, in reality this produces a new class system (as the Bolshevik regime shows). For anarchists, federations of workers’ councils (with no execute of party leaders above them) is the means. Hence the need to smash the state and ensure no new one replaces it. Instead the federation of workers’ organisations is the social structure of the future.

Need I really have to point out that by saying anarchism cannot be established overnight, anarchists are saying that any anarchist revolution would need to do things which an anarchist society would not need to do – such as defending itself against counter-revolution, dealing with the economic disruption associated with the upheaval, rationing goods, reorganising production and industry to meet human needs rather than profit for the few, and generally dealing with the legacy of class society.

So arguing that anarchism cannot be created overnight is unproblematic.

2. Anarchists and working-class struggle

2. Anarchists and working-class struggle

The next section is “Anarchists and working-class struggle” Thomas states that I have him “saying something different” and that I produce a “version” of what he wrote. How could I get this so wrong? Well, I didn’t. I quoted Thomas quite accurately – see Working-class struggle and anarchism.

Strangely, Thomas seems to have forgotten he had written those words! It is even stranger because he responded to the comments I made there… So he did make the completely wrong assertion I quoted but and rather than say he later corrected this position to a slightly less wrong one he suggests I twist his words. Sad, really – slander, in fact.

What of his revised version? That he “wrote ‘primarily’ (i.e. not only) the anarcho-syndicalists. McKay has me saying that it is only the anarcho-syndicalists. I wrote that the anarcho-syndicalists and some other anarchists ‘identify with the working class as the force to defeat the capitalist state and create a new society’, while yet other anarchists do not.” Some other anarchists? The whole of the revolutionary anarchist tradition is hardly “some other anarchists”!

I quoted Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Berkman and Goldman on the necessity of working class struggle and organisation, a representative cross section of the great revolutionary anarchist thinkers and activists by any measure. That should show that the mainstream of anarchism holds the positions which Thomas assigns “primarily” to anarcho-syndicalism.” So to state that “some” anarchists other than anarcho-syndicalists support the class struggle is incredulous. The majority of the anarchist movement cannot be labelled as “some”! As Kropotkin put it in his classic Modern Science and Anarchism:

“since the times of the International Working Men’s Association, 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.

“Such a struggle, they say, better than any other indirect means, permits the worker to obtain some temporary improvements in the present conditions of work, while it opens his eyes to the evil that is done by Capitalism and the State that supports it, and wakes up his thoughts concerning the possibility of organising consumption, production, and exchange without the intervention of the capitalist and the State.”

Thomas mentions Bakunin in his article, wrongly asserting he “did not see the working class as the central agent of revolution.” The simple fact is that revolutionary anarchism, starting with Bakunin, has its focus on class struggle (see sections H.2.2 and H.2.7 of An Anarchist FAQ for evidence)

3. Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism

Thomas then gets into difficulties when discussing “Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism.” He states I claim, “or seems to claim, that almost all anarchism, at least after Bakunin, is anarcho-syndicalism anyway.” In a sense, yes, as revolutionary anarchists like Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta and Goldman all advocated active participation in the labour movement, stressing the importance of unions and strikes.

This should be uncontroversial, given the wealth of quotes I provided in my leaflet – all of which Thomas ignored. Instead, he decides to concentrate on “a highly compressed version of a passage from Marx” I give “in which Marx seems to attribute anarcho-syndicalism to Bakunin.” This is what he gives:

“McKay’s version: ‘Bakunin’s programme [is that] the working class must not occupy itself with politics. They must only organise themselves by trades-unions [and] by means of the International, they will supplant the place of all existing states’.”

The key point is that Marx points out something Thomas denied, namely that Bakunin’s ideas were directed to the working class and argued that not only should they organise themselves in unions but their international will replace the bourgeois state. Given that Thomas suggests that is purely an anarcho-syndicalist position, it is important to stress that Bakunin held it – as summarised by Marx.

Then there is this wonderful self-contradiction. Thomas states that for the anarchists in the First International “their opposition to political activity more or less automatically defined economic and trade-union activity for them as the only road to liberation.” This is actually accurate but it contradicts his comment that “[s]ome of what they wrote reads with hindsight like an early statement of the later anarcho-syndicalist idea. I think the apparent identity is an anachronistic illusion.” How does he define anarcho-syndicalism? It “focuses on the wage-working class” and aims to “build up the unions which will later be the instruments of revolution”

So, according to Thomas, Bakunin viewed “trade-union activity” as “the only road to liberation” and that anarcho-syndicalism aims to “build up the unions which will later be the instruments of revolution”! Yet to point out the obvious similarity is “I think… an anachronistic illusion” (one apparently shared by Marx and Engels at the time!). And note it well: “I think.” That is it – in comparison to numerous quotes by Bakunin advocating unions, strikes, general strikes and workers organisations being the basis of the socialist order (and quotes from Marx and Engels saying Bakunin advocated this).

I could quote extensively from Bakunin and other anarchists as well as numerous academics to show the overwhelming evidence against Thomas, but that would be tedious. For those interested see my articles Syndicalism, Marxism and Anarchism and Syndicalism: Marxist Myth and Anarchist Reality as well as section H.2.8 of An Anarchist FAQ in which I quote extensively from Bakunin, subsequent anarchists like Kropotkin, Goldman, Malatesta and Rocker as well as many academics. Still, what matter evidence when you can proclaim “I think”!

Thomas asserts that “[n]othing like anarcho-syndicalism emerged at first. For two decades, until the mid 1890s, [anarchism’s] dominant concern was not building workers’ unions, but ‘propaganda by the deed’.” Only if you ignore all those pesky pro-union comments by Bakunin! Or the Jura Federation. Or the union organising by the Spanish anarchists. Or the Chicago anarchists. Or the Mexican anarchists. Or the anarchists in Cuba. Or the anarchists in Argentina (Malatesta helped organise unions in the mid-1880s there). All of which took place before 1890. Or these comments by Kropotkin made in 1881:

“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 . . . [It is] a question of organising societies of resistance for all trades in each town, of creating resistance funds against the exploiters, of giving more solidarity to the workers' organisations of each town and of putting them in contact with those of other towns, of federating them . . . Workers’ solidarity must no longer be an empty word but practised each day between all trades and all nations.” (quoted by Caroline Cahm, Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism 1872-1886, pp. 255-6)

And:

“the great mass of workers will not only have to constitute itself outside the bourgeoisie . . . it will have to take action of its own during the period which will precede the revolution . . . and this sort of action can only be carried out when a strong workers’ organisation exists . . .the mass of workers we have to seek to organise. We . . . have to submerge ourselves in the organisation of the people . . . When the mass of workers is organised and we are with it to strengthen its revolutionary idea, to make the spirit of revolt against capital germinate there . . . then it will be the social revolution.” (quoted by Cahm, pp. 153-4)

In short, anarcho-syndicalism was a return to the traditions of Bakunin and the ideas Kropotkin advocated in the 1880s and 1890s.As for “propaganda by deed”, well, that was popular in some circles for a while but anarchist thinkers like Kropotkin were stressing the importance of workers’ organisation and struggle from the 1870s onwards. For example, in 1881 he was arguing that the French libertarians follow the example of their Spanish comrades who had remained faithful to “the Anarchist traditions of the International” and “bring this energy to workers’ organisations.” His “advice to the French workers” was “to take up again . . . the tradition of the International” (quoted by Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, p. 31).

Sadly, Thomas ignores the wealth of information available in favour of a misreading of a single article by a French syndicalist.

4. Anarchism and the medieval commune

4. Anarchism and the medieval commune

Now we get to a very funny issue, Thomas’ continued attempts to link “Anarchism and the medieval commune.” Medieval Communes, Thomas stated, were “idealised by Bakunin, and, later, even more so by Kropotkin.” That is it. No attempt to prove it. In response to some quotes which showed this was not the case, Thomas states:

“McKay quotes a couple of sentences from Bakunin, and one from Kropotkin, indicating awareness of differences between medieval communes and the Paris Commune. Those should be read together with the much greater number of sentences in which they emphasised what the commune of the future would have in common with the medieval commune of the past….”

Apparently they are so many sentences that it is impossible to quote even one! So it is ironic to read Thomas urge us to “read together with the much greater number of sentences” as he fails to provide a single one. Strange that.

So, we are still waiting for some quotes from Bakunin (good luck with that one!) and Kropotkin (and good luck explaining how Marx could have been referring to him, given that he became an anarchist years after the Paris Commune!)

5. Anarchism and capitalism

5. Anarchism and capitalism

Now we move onto “Anarchism and capitalism,” in which Thomas tries to defend his false claims against Bakunin and Proudhon. As far as the former goes, he tries to present Bakunin’s work in the “League for Peace and Freedom, in 1867-8” as “probably his largest-scale activity” when in fact it was his activity in the First International which was. In terms of “the only one for which he wrote a more or less comprehensive manifesto,” that is just wrong – Bakunin wrote quite a few manifesto-style pieces later which did “demand for the expropriation of capitalist property or the collective ownership of the means of production.” Still, I quoted from the manifesto to show that Thomas distorted its message.

Thomas then moves on to Proudhon, whom he claimed “did not even see industrial capital as exploitative.” I show he is cherry-picking Proudhon’s System of Economic Contradictions and distorting his ideas – as becomes obvious when you read those sections of that work which discuss exploitation and how Proudhon thinks it happens under capitalism.

Thomas then digs himself even deeper into his hole by stating the quote I provide to refute his claim “comes between a passage in which Proudhon complains about lending at interest as apparently the prime form of exploitation, and a passage where he repeats his key idea that trade should by its essence be between equal values.” Yet if you read this chapter you will see that, yes, Proudhon was discussing interest before the quoted passage because he was discussing all forms of exploitation. He discusses interest, then moves onto rent and then to profit. Each discussion is prefaced with an appropriate introduction and the part on profit which I quote begins:

“There is theft, in commerce and industry, every time the entrepreneur holds back from the worker some part of his wages, or receives a bonus in addition to what he is due.”

In short, Thomas is being wilfully misleading as Proudhon is clearly discussing industrial capital in the passage I quoted. That Thomas has no real understanding of Proudhon’s ideas on this matter can be seen from his failure to mention his analysis of bother the “collective force.” This is unsurprising because if he did, he would have to acknowledge that he was wrong. Here is Proudhon’s 1851 summary of this idea:

“It is an economic power of which I was, I believe, the first to accentuate the importance, in my first memoir upon Property [in 1840]. A hundred men, uniting or combining their forces, produce, in certain cases, not a hundred times, but two hundred, three hundred, a thousand times as much. This is what I have called collective force. I even drew from this an argument... that it is not sufficient to pay merely the wages of a given number of workmen, in order to acquire their product legitimately; that they must be paid twice, thrice or ten times their wages, or an equivalent service rendered to each one of them.” (Property is Theft!, p. 554)

This, needless to say, shows that Proudhon was aware that exploitation happens in production – the boss appropriates the collective force of his employees. He re-iterated this from System of Economic Contradictions and in What is Property? Thomas is obviously wrong and he should have the decency to admit it rather than make yet more inventions about a chapter from Proudhon’s book.

May I suggest this article: Laying the Foundations: Proudhon's contribution to Anarchist Economics?

6. Equating Trotskyism with Stalinism...

6. Equating Trotskyism with Stalinism (and with social democracy?)

Thomas starts badly here, proclaiming that “I challenged anarchists to provide evidence that the supposed ‘quote’ was a valid summary of Trotsky’s thought . . . Iain McKay quotes my challenge, and fails to answer it.” Apparently providing equivalent quotes from the standard English translation of Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism is not sufficient for Thomas! How strange.

By any objective measure I prove beyond doubt that this was “a valid statement of his vision of socialism.” Here is my quote from Thomas:

“Schmidt and van der Walt claim [Trotsky] ‘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’... None of the words was ever written by Trotsky as a statement of his vision of socialism.”

Let me go through it claim by claim, presenting the quotes I gave from Terrorism and Communism.

“authoritarian leadership...”

“We have... been accused of having substituted for the dictatorship of the Soviets the dictatorship of our party. Yet... the dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party.... In this ‘substitution’ of the power of the party for the power of the working class there is nothing accidental, and in reality there is no substitution at all.”

Unless Thomas is suggesting that “the dictatorship of the party” is not authoritarian, I think we can conclude that I have successfully proven the claim made.

“centralised distribution of the labour force...”

“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.”

That sounds like a centralised distribution of the labour force, so we can conclude that I have successfully proven the claim made.

“the workers’ state... entitled to send any worker wherever his labour may be needed”

“we can have no way to Socialism except by the authoritative regulation of the economic forces and resources of the country, and the centralised distribution of labour-power in harmony with the general State plan.”

And:

“the road to Socialism lies through a period of the highest possible intensification of the principle of the State... 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 organisation except the army has ever controlled man with such severe compulsion as does the State organisation of the working class in the most difficult period of transition. It is just for this reason that we speak of the militarisation of labour.”

And from another source:

“The working class cannot be left wandering all over Russia. They must be thrown here and there, appointed, commanded, just like soldiers.” (quoted by Brinton, For Workers’ Power, p. 356)

That sounds like the state being able to send workers wherever as required, so we can conclude that I have successfully proven the claim made.

“with dissenters sent to labour camps if necessary”

Well, I did not provide a quote for this one but I think it wise to mention that Trotsky did publically advocate this:

“Deserters from labour ought to be formed into punitive battalions or put into concentration camps.” (quoted by Brinton, For Workers’ Power, p. 356)

So let me compare the summary from Black Flame and Trotsky’s words from English language sources:

“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”

This becomes:

“the dictatorship of the party” with “the centralised distribution of labour-power in harmony with the general State plan” as the workers’ state must “treat the population of the whole country as the reservoir of the necessary labour power” with the workers “thrown here and there, appointed, commanded, just like soldiers” and “[d]eserters from labour…put into concentration camps.”

Yes, completely different! If anything, ironically, the words Black Flame use are less, not more, damning. The awkward fact that Black Flame was fundamentally right. It gave a fair account of the Bolshevik regime and Trotsky’s actual positions defending that authoritarian regime as socialistic.

Thomas then states that “He does, however, try to dispute the idea that ‘Trotsky fought Stalinism to the death’, after first suggesting that Marx and Engels favoured a parliamentary road to socialism, using the old bourgeois state machine and only adapting it a little.”

Clearly Thomas did not understand the point being made – Trotsky did fight Stalinism, but in terms of the reasons why socialists oppose Stalinism there was not much difference between the two. What marks out Stalinism as not being socialist? I think most people would argue that because it was a dictatorship and workers’ were wage-slaves to the state that it was not socialism.

What was Trotsky’s position on these? Was he against party dictatorship? Nope. Did he advocate workers’ self-management of production? No. That is why some termed the Trotskyites the bureaucracy in exile. The difference seems to be that Trotsky was under the belief that the privileged minority should not abuse its position, that its exploitation would not be too great. As Maurice Brinton concluded:

“there is a clear-cut and incontrovertible link between what happened under Lenin and Trotsky and the later practices of Stalinism . . . The more one unearths about this period the more difficult it becomes to define - or even to see - the ‘gulf’ allegedly separating what happened in Lenin’s time from what happened later. Real knowledge of the facts also makes it impossible to accept . . . that the whole course of events was ‘historically inevitable’ and ‘objectively determined’. Bolshevik ideology and practice were themselves important and sometimes decisive factors in the equation, at every critical stage of this critical period.” (The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control, p. 84)

So, yes, Trotsky did (literally) fight “Stalinism to the death” but he did not fight it to create democratic (never mind libertarian!) socialism. He fought it to recreate the conditions that produced it in the first place – conditions that he and Lenin were instrumental in creating in the first place and did not in any way conflict with the principles of socialism.

Anarchists look at the socio-economic relationships within a society rather than who is in charge and their good intentions. Once you do that, it becomes clear that in terms of class structure Leninism and Stalinism were the same – a state capitalist economy with a hierarchical and bureaucratic state presided over by a party dictatorship. Changing the people at the top may make some difference but it does not change the fundamental nature of the system.

And what of the Marx and Engels favouring a parliamentary road to socialism? Well, it is important to remember that Thomas claimed that the Paris Commune “had shown that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’. The working class must create a new form of state, a semi-state as Lenin would call it.” This meant that Bakunin’s “split against a ‘Marxism’ defined principally by ‘The Civil War in France’ was assuredly not a split against a socialism of manipulating the existing state machine.” In reality, this was decidedly not the case – as I showed by my quotes.

Thomas ignores the awkward fact that in post-Commune Marx proclaimed that workers’ could use introduce socialism by “of manipulating the existing state machine.” Indeed, he said so with regards to Britain and America just a few months after the Commune had been destroyed, repeating this claim the following year. Instead Thomas (like Lenin) tries to argue this away:

“At a time when the bourgeois state machine (standing army, bureaucracy, police) in England was very flimsy compared to what it had become by the end of the 19th century, and very flimsy compared to the state machines in some other countries in Europe, Marx thought that the ballot-box might let the working class win political supremacy.”

Yet Thomas had proclaimed that Marx had concluded that the “working class must create a new form of state” and was “against a socialism of manipulating the existing state machine.” Now, apparently, that is no longer the case. Apparently Marx did think that the existing state could be seized by the ballot-box and modified after all! And, indeed, this was Engels position when asked to explain what Marx had meant by his words in The Civil War in France:

“It is simply a question of showing that the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administrative centralised state power before it can use it for its own purposes: whereas all bourgeois republicans since 1848 inveighed against this machinery so long as they were in the opposition, but once they were in the government they took it over without altering it and used it partly against the reaction but still more against the proletariat.” (Collected Works, vol. 47, p. 74)

So in terms of equating Social Democracy with Marxism, I would suggest Marx and Engels played their role and my contribution is simply to remind modern Marxists of this! Thomas continues on this theme:

“Maybe Marx was wrong on that. It is a reasonable subject for debate. It has nothing to do with the alleged idea of taking over the existing bureaucratic state machine and using it, only slightly modified, to bring socialism.”

I should note that Thomas now adds the qualifier “slightly modified” to his account of Marx’s ideas. Remember that initially he argued about “a socialism of manipulating the existing state machine.” Yet this was precisely the argument of Marx and Engels, namely that the workers could use elections to conquer “political power” and use the state to introduce socialism. They were both clear on this and that this captured state would need to be transformed.

Thomas turns to Russia:

“As for Trotsky and the other Bolsheviks, there is no question about it that they organised a harsh military regime during the Civil War after the Russian Revolution, 1917-22. They did it to defend the revolution.”

And they destroyed the revolution in the process, something that Thomas does not wish to admit nor was it something Trotsky ever did acknowledge. Worse, it fails to recognise that authoritarian political and economic policies were being implemented by the Bolsheviks before the start of the Civil War at the end of May 1918. As indicated in section H.6.1 of An Anarchist FAQ, the Bolsheviks were had created an executive above the soviets, gerrymandered and disbanded soviets, eliminated military democracy, imposed one-man management in workplaces, repressed the opposition and broke strikes before the civil war started.

Thomas states:

“Also reasonable is the claim that, in that maelstrom, the Bolsheviks sometimes elevated the exigencies or expedients of adversity into general rules. It is certain that some passages from what they wrote make that false elevation, and plausible that even taken in context those passages skew the arguments out of shape.”

Sometimes? Really? Both Lenin and Trotsky wrote texts defending their policies for the international socialist movement. Left-wing Communism and Terrorism and Communism were many things, but they were not “some passages” – they were substantial works defending Bolshevik policies in terms of generalised lessons for the wider working class movement. Zinoviev, for example, proclaimed this to the world revolutionary movement in 1920:

“Today, people like Kautsky come along and say that in Russia you do not have the dictatorship of the working class but the dictatorship of the party. They think this is a reproach against us. Not in the least! We have a dictatorship of the working class and that is precisely why we also have a dictatorship of the Communist Party. The dictatorship of the Communist Party is only a function, an attribute, an expression of the dictatorship of the working class . . . the dictatorship of the proletariat is at the same time the dictatorship of the Communist Party.” (Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920, vol. 1, pp. 151-2)

In terms of, say, the necessity of dictatorship of the party Trotsky held this all throughout the 1920s and 30s. As for one-man management, well, this as Maurice Brinton put it, faced “with the bureaucratic monstrosity of Stalinist and post-Stalinist Russia, yet wishing to retain some credibility among their working class supporters, various strands of Bolshevism have sought posthumously to rehabilitate the concept of ‘workers’ control.’” The facts show that between 1917 and 1921 “all attempts by the working class to assert real power over production - or to transcend the narrow role allocated by to it by the Party - were smashed by the Bolsheviks, after first having been denounced as anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist deviations. Today workers’ control is presented as a sort of sugar coating to the pill of nationalisation of every Trotskyist or Leninist micro-bureaucrat on the make. Those who strangled the viable infant are now hawking the corpse around.” (For Workers’ Power, p. 165)

Simply put, these were not “mistakes.” Imposing a party dictatorship and then making it a core part of our ideology is not a “mistake”, it is a betrayal of the principles of socialism – a betrayal so deep that it you question how a socialist was the Bolshevik perspective. Thomas is aware of this conclusion and tries to answer it:

“Not a reasonable assessment is the idea that when they made mistakes in the direction of being too brusque and too military, those mistakes stemmed from a systematic bias in Marxism and Bolshevism towards authoritarianism and undemocracy.”

If you proclaim that Marxism is inherently democratic (as the AWL, like most Leninists, tend to do) then how can this “undemocracy” be explained? If there is “systematic bias” in Leninist away from “authoritarianism and undemocracy” then why did the leading Leninists of the period so happily embrace party dictatorship and one-man management?

Suffice to say, while Thomas may deny that Leninism has a “systematic bias… towards authoritarianism and undemocracy” but he has proven that it has no “systematic bias” towards liberty and democracy. In fact, he admits that Leninism will embrace “authoritarianism and undemocracy” on an opportunistic basis, when it suits the party leaders and when they are required to secure their power and position. In short, liberty and democracy are considered not as core aspects of socialism but rather optional extras which can be dispensed with if the right people are in power (i.e., Lenin, Trotsky and presumably their real followers, the AWL).

So how did this happen? How did one-time (representative) democrats become advocates and practisers of dictatorship? A combination of ideological positions (such as the privileged place allotted to the party in vanguardist ideology, unquestioning faith in centralisation, etc.) as well as specific institutions (a state) led necessary to certain conclusions and practices. So this evolution is easy to explain – there is a difference between the Bolsheviks before and after they seized power. Once in power they inhabited state structures and these shaped their ideas and perspectives. This, surely, is basic materialism?

Thomas tries to rationalise Bolshevik authoritarianism:

“They also knew that no-one can go through history reading off all their actions from a pocketbook of democratic rules. They knew that civil wars require emergency measures. That their choice of emergency measures included mistakes is plausible, and in the circumstances almost certain to have been true.”

Interesting. Anarchists are well aware that revolutions produce difficult objective circumstances. Indeed, Kropotkin spent sometime stressing the economic disruption a revolution would face and lived to see that confirmed in the 1917 Russian Revolution. He also lived to see the centralised Bolshevik state make it worse, again confirming his analysis. We are also aware that in the middle of combat decisions need to be made quickly but as the Makhnovists and the CNT militias show, you do not need to abolished military democracy as the Bolsheviks did to achieve that. We also are aware that sometimes decisions need to be made which violate standard processes.

That is not why we oppose Leninism. We oppose Leninism because it took these emergency measures and made them principles. We oppose Leninism because it systematically concentrated power into the hands of a few party leaders and so undermined working class democracy. We oppose Leninism because it systematically repressed the working class and peasantry and did so to remain in power. We oppose Leninism because it systematically took these measures and made general principles from them. We oppose Leninism because its ideological prejudices in favour of centralisation, its flawed analysis of the state, its vanguardism, its equation of state capitalism with socialism made all these so-called “mistakes” inevitable – and, indeed, they were expressed before the civil war started.

The counter-example of the anarchist influenced Makhnovist movement shows the impact of Bolshevik ideology on the fate of the revolution (see Peter Arshinov’s The History of the Makhnovist Movement or Alexandre Skirda’s Nestor Makhno Anarchy’s Cossack for more details). Defending the revolution in the Ukraine against all groups aiming to impose their will on the masses (including the Bolsheviks!), the Makhnovists were operating in the same objective conditions facing the Bolsheviks – civil war, economic disruption, isolation and so forth. However, the policies the Makhnovists implemented were radically different than those of the Bolsheviks. While the Makhnovists called soviet congresses, the Bolsheviks disbanded them. The former encouraged free speech and organisation, the latter crushed both. While the Bolsheviks raised party dictatorship and one-man management to ideological truisms, the Makhnovists stood for and implemented workplace, army, village and soviet self-management.

The Makhnovists were not perfect and, as would be expected, deviated from the ideal standards of anarchism on many occasions. However, they did their best to encourage those standards whenever they could – unlike the Bolsheviks, who happily turned their back on all their previous positions (except, of course, party power). Anarchists argue that the Makhnovist movement shows that the failure of Bolshevism cannot be put down to purely objective factors like the civil war: the politics of Leninism played their part.

Thomas ends his response with a classic piece of gibberish:

“A response to them which says: ‘Oh no! Things would have gone better if the Soviets had organised no central authority, no Red Army, no military discipline, and submitted to being slaughtered by the counter-revolutionaries with the consolation that they had proved themselves as democratic idealists’ is, in effect if not in intention, an abandonment of practical revolutionary politics.”

Ignoring the awkward fact that the Bolsheviks disbanded their fair share of soviets and broke strikes by force, it is fair to ask where, oh where, is an account of what anarchists actually argue? Nowhere – instead we get yet more false dichotomies.

Yes, anarchists argue against “central authority” but we also argue for federalism and do so precisely because we recognise the need to co-ordinate activity, including the defence of the revolution. As the Bolsheviks showed, a “central authority” quickly becomes as serious a threat to working class self-management as the self-proclaimed counter-revolution.

Yes, we are against the Red Army but in favour of democratic armed forces (as advocated from Bakunin onwards and applied by the Makhnovists and the CNT in 1936).

And what of “military discipline”? Is Thomas really suggesting that the AWL’s goal is to recreate the norms of the bourgeois army in the forces of the revolution? Anarchist reject this but are, of course, in favour of discipline within the federated workers’ militias defending a revolution – the self-discipline of self-managed workers militias.

If anyone is expressing “in effect if not in intention, an abandonment of practical revolutionary politics” it is Thomas. He is effectively ensuring that the AWL will recreate all the structures which helped defeat the Russian Revolution. The truly sad thing is he is not aware of it and so we see him stressing the need for “a strong, centralised, democratic authority” and downplaying that the Bolshevik regime may have been the first two but not the third. That the Bolshevik regime confirmed Bakunin’s critique of Marx is of little concern to him.

Conclusion...

Here we have an insurmountable contradiction within the AWL’s ideology. They proclaim that “[w]ithout democracy there can be no socialism and without a socialist society, there can be no real and complete democracy” and that this “simple idea is central to Marxism and inseparable from the work of revolutionary socialists.” Moreover, this must be applied to the economy as the “most basic facet of a socialist society is that ownership and control of the means of production” must “be taken out of the hands of a small group of people.” However, if collective ownership “is unaccountable and the control undemocratic, then by any measure it cannot be ‘progressive’ when compared to capitalism.” (D is for Democracy)

Then they spoil it all by proclaiming the Bolshevik regime under Lenin and Trotsky is socialist! Thus, according to the AWL, there can be a socialist regime without democracy and collective ownership based on “undemocratic” control – as long as Lenin and Trotsky are in charge. In short, “real and complete democracy” is no longer “central to Marxism”, it is an optional extra. The AWL article states that “[a]ny ideas posing as Marxism, socialism or in any way ‘radical’ that fail the democratic measure damage our movement.” Ironically, their own ideology fails such a measure.

It is the Bolshevik regime which always gives the likes of the AWL problems. For while (rightly) denouncing Stalinism as anti-socialist and stressing that real socialism needs extensive democracy and liberties, they make an exception for the USSR under their heroes Lenin and Trotsky. Which raises the question, can socialism exist without freedom? Apparently for the AWL, it can – as long as the right people are dictators. That, for anarchists, just shows a confused mind and, worse, opens the door for future authoritarianism if the likes of the AWL ever get near power.

Given the track record of Leninism in power it is unsurprising that Thomas spent so much time trying to make anarchism so unappealing. For if he presented an accurate account of anarchism and its critique of Marxism then quite a few of the AWL’s members may conclude that they are really libertarians.

As indicated above, visit my full article for AWL Versus Anarchism (Part 2) for my full critique. Shame that the AWL does not wish anarchists to comment on the appropriate webpage -- perhaps in the interest of debate it can have the comments enabled? Particularly given the slanderous comment by Thomas suggesting I invented a quote by him!

After all, not to do that suggests yous have something to hide and that you don't want debate...