The Continuing Debate
Before the discussion of anarchism and Marxism which began in the
last issue of the Red
Menace and which continues in this one is carried
much further, it seems worth-while to pause and re-examine its purpose.
Where is this debate heading? What is to be gained by continuing
My view is that we have little to gain if we Marxists,
anarchists, or whatever view Marxism and anarchism in black
and white terms, if we see the one as absolutely correct
and the other as absolutely wrong. If we enter the discussion
with this attitude, we are likely to produce little more than mutual
denunciations which may be morally satisfying but which rarely convince
anyone. It is still possible to produce useful analyses given this
though few seem to be forthcoming but there seems
little point in attempting a dialogue with each other.
What we should be doing is subjecting both Marxism and anarchism
to a critical analysis, and thereby start to provide the basis for
a libertarian revolutionary movement that relates adequately to
the needs and problems of today.
I tried to make this point at the start of my two articles
in the last Red Menace, although perhaps I did not make it
as well as I should have. It is certainly true that my articles
were themselves one-sided, and for this the criticism that Greg
Renault makes in his letter
is at least partially justified. Nevertheless, it was necessary
to be one-sided, given what I was attempting to do: i.e., to respond
to the very one-sided view of Marx and Marxism that nearly all anarchists
hold. One of the main problems of the anarchist approach, one that
emerges very clearly in the articles and letters from anarchists
printed in this issue, is that it does tend to pose everything in
very moralistic, black-and-white terms. I tried to point out in
my articles that there has been more than one interpretation and
more than one strain of Marxism, and I indicated my
view that there is a great deal of common ground between this libertarian
interpretation of Marxism which I argued is the only one
consistent with Marxs own writings and other forms
of libertarian thought, including anarchism. Dolgoff et al, however,
will have none of this. They will not have the purity of their doctrine
tainted with the idea that there might be any common ground at all
between anarchism and any form of Marxism. This purist attitude
is maintained by simply ignoring, by never acknowledging, the existence
of any non-Leninist, non-Stalinist interpretation of Marxism. Some
of the most important figures of the Marxist tradition Rosa
Luxemburg, Karl Korsch, Anton Pannekoek, the Frankfurt School, William
Reich are consequently simply dropped from history. Anarchists
never mention them. A complementary approach is taken to Marx: his
own works are rarely looked at (references are usually to interpreters
writing after his death) and where they are, they are given the
most vulgar Stalinist interpretation possible.
By thus insulating itself, anarchism tends to become a closed system
to which nothing is ever added and from which nothing is ever taken
away. This closed system is maintained in turn by a closed, self-perpetuating
system of logic. Essential to this system of logic is a blatant
double standard. Thus, the actions or writings of anyone who ever
called himself a Marxist are charged to Marx's personal
account, and held to be am essential part of the Marxist tradition,
even though these actions or words may be in direct and demonstrable
contradiction to Marxs own position. The actions or writings
of any inconvenient anarchist, on the other hand, are simply dismissed
as being extraneous to anarchism. So, for example, the fact that
there were Communists in the government of republican Spain (Spain
is to anarchism what Russia is to Leninism) is taken as clear proof
of the essentially statist nature of all forms of Marxism.
The fact that the leaders of the anarchists were also members
of the same government is dismissed as a mistake,
or as irrelevant because they weren't real anarchists.
And the fact that the Marxist POUM opposed that government just
as much as the most bonafide, pure, real anarchists
is conveniently ignored in discussions such as these.
This kind of attitude is hardly enlightening, and it tends to provoke
a polemical and one-sided response. When this kind of blatant nonsense
is being peddled, it necessarily becomes a priority to challenge
it, even though ones purpose is not at all to engage in a
sterile and tedious battle of quotations and historical references.
As long as fantasies and distortions prevail, it is impossible to
come to grips with the real issues. Marxism, in particular, can
only benefit from the most rigorous critical analysis - requires
such an analysis - an analysis to which anarchists potentially have
a great deal to offer, but the analysis cannot take place when it
is a caricature of Marxism which is given currency.
Sam Dolgoffs portrayal of Marxism is such a caricature. This
is particularly unfortunate because Dolgoff is an outstanding revolutionary
militant whose excellent work on anarchist collectives in Spain,
in particular, indicates that he could contribute significantly
to a real critical analysis of Marxism and its problematic
areas if he was not so blindly dogmatic on the topic.
Nevertheless, most of his comments
do represent serious misunderstandings or distortions, and thus
they have to be dealt with, at least briefly:
Dolgoff is at pains to prove that there is a fundamental,
indissoluble connection between dialectics and Marxism, and
that Marx and Engels were materialists. In this, at least, we have
no quarrel. To me, dialectics is the essence of Marxism.
What I was trying to illustrate in the short footnote which attracted
Dolgoff's extended ire is that anarchist critics are almost invariably
unfamiliar with Marxs own writings. The blithe use of a term,
Dialectical Materialism, which was introduced after
Marxs death by one of his major perverters, as if it was employed
by Marx, seems to indicate that the people using it are not overly
familiar with Marxs writings.
The inability or unwillingness to distinguish between
Marx and his followers (several of whom moved Marx to
announce, a century ago, that I am not a Marxist) seems
to be congenital among anarchists.
It lies at the root of Bakunins claims that Marx advocated
a Peoples State, a claim which Dolgoff says was
not a fabrication. (Dolgoffs logic here is beyond me: he seems
to be saying that the charge was not a fabrication because Marxs
denial came after Bakunin's accusation.) What had happened was that
some of the German Social Democrats introduced the concept, and
Bakunin, believing as he did that all Germans were the same, concluded
that Marx accepted it as well. The fact that Marx have never advocated
such a thing in his life, that he attacked the concept once it came
into circulation, and that he rejected Bakunins claims to
the contrary (well before 1873), made no impression on Bakunin.
Dolgoff suffers from the same inability to distinguish between
Marx and Marxs interpreters. Trying to prove that The Civil
War in France does not represent Marxs real views
on the state, although the book is Marxs major work on the
topic, Dolgoff launches into a long quotation from Franz Mehring
which he says decisively refutes my arguments. The trouble
with Dolgoff's decisive quotation, however, is that
it is at best irrelevant. The fact that Mehring, writing after Marxs
death, thought that The Civil War in France contained the
wrong view on the state may be interesting, but it says nothing
about Marxs views. Dolgoffs presentation of the Mehring
quote is also less than honest. Dolgoff refers to Mehring as Marxs
authorized biographer, as if this somehow made Mehrings
views more authentic. But Mehring's authorization came
not from Marx, who was long dead, but from the leaders of the German
SPD, the very people Marx so vigorously attacked over their views
on the state. Moreover, Marx had been quite specifically critical
of Mehrings own views, including his views on the state. Mehring,
as one of the leading figures in the SPD, was at pains to justify
the SPDs position and to downplay Marx's criticisms. He is
hardly a reliable source when he proclaims that Marx didnt
really mean what he said.
It would unproductive to reply to Dolgoffs many claims point
by point, so a few more brief comments will have to suffice:
The idea that socialism implies the abolition of the state is repeated
countless times in the works of Marx and Engels. It is one of the
essential concepts of Marxism. The fact that they advocated the
use of the state by the proletariat during the transition to socialism
may very well be problematic, it may very well be dangerous, but
it in no way alters the fact that for Marx and Engels socialism
only existed when the state ceased to exist.
Economic determinism: How many times is it necessary to
say that there is a difference between materialism and a theory
that reduces everything to economic phenomena? In his inability
to understand this difference, Dolgoff is not joined by many other
anarchists, incidentally. Bakunin, for example, called Marxs
Capital a magnificent work and worked to translate it
into Russian, while Kropotkin alleged that Marx had stolen his economic
theories from the anarchists!
Dolgoff, because he is not a materialist, fails entirely to understand
Marxs analysis of slavery. As Dolgoff knows very well, Marx
hated slavery. What Marx did, however, was to show that slavery
was rooted in material conditions and that a purely moralistic opposition
to it was impotent. To say that something is bad is not an analysis.
In the same sense, Marx repeatedly said that capitalism had been
progressive. Is there any doubt that Marx nevertheless
Dolgoff challenges a number of my references. Readers may turn
to page 168 of Woodcocks book for themselves, and the comment
concerning Rothschild is reproduced in the footnote below.
Of more interest, however, is Dolgoffs denial that Bakunin
himself advocated a post-revolutionary state. It is of interest
because the denial illustrates the typically magical anarchist attitude
to reality: the belief that changing the word changes the reality.
For the point is that Bakunin advocated precisely such a state,
complete with parliament, cabinet, army, police, etc. but gave it
a different name, and thus managed to persuade himself that he had
done away with it.
This attempt to do away with the reality by changing the word also
characterizes the anarchist attitude to revolutionary organization.
Anarchists may persuade themselves that a network of secret
cadres who will be the General Staff of the revolution
and who would serve as intermediaries between the revolutionary
ideas and the popular instincts is a strictly benevolent structure
which would serve the interests of the people and never oppress
The Bolsheviks once persuaded themselves of the same thing; they
were all once as sincere as Bakunins Secret
Brotherhood. And to put Bakunins naive prescription
that members of his alliance would never be permitted to take
public office into perspective, it is necessary only to recall
that Stalin held no public office whatsoever until 1941.
Published in Volume 3, Number 1 of The
Red Menace, Winter 1979.
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