The good and the bad
By Ed Clark
Praise first: your paper takes theory seriously enough to write
about it coherently. To my knowledge, that is unique in North America!
And you believe it is important to overcome the differences between
anarchists and libertarian Marxists, to reunite the red and the
black after a century of bitter disunity. I agree.
But is it really reasonable to expect this to happen as a result
of bringing up all the ancient squabbles? Are people who emotionally
identify with Marx or Bakunin going to admit that the other guy
was right? That seem so me to be what you're asking, a hopeless
request if there ever was one.
What are the contemporary differences between serious anarchists,
like the North American Anarchist-Communist Federation, and serious
libertarian Marxists, like yourselves? To me, that is much more
to the point than endless reruns of the split in the First International!
It is the present historical situation that is relevant, since after
all we cannot go back and change the past. "The dead oppress
the living", wrote Marx, and this is as true of those historical
figures themselves as of anything else. It is we the living who
will unify or fail to unify, not the ghosts of dead revolutionaries.
Once we put aside emotional identification with corpses, serious
anarchists and serious libertarian socialists share a lot of common
political ground. They use a lot of the same concepts; they analyze
events and come up with similar conclusions. There are differences,
some of them serious. There are also a lot of minor differences
of style, which people could learn to live with provided the major
differences were overcome. It remains to be seen whether anarchists
and libertarian socialists think unity is important enough to make
a serious effort to overcome these differences.
There is a very good example of this in Point 29 of your Political
Statement: "We oppose a parliamentary or reformist strategy
for bringing about socialism, but at times it may be tactically
correct to participate in elections, or parliaments, as part of
an overall strategy."
I submit that this is a case where the anarchists have been far
more "Marxist" than the Marxists. Although your point
is solidly rooted in Marx's own writings, Marx, after all, had an
excuse the idea was new in his time and had not been tested.
But now, a century after Marx's time, we have hundreds of examples
of all kinds of would-be revolutionaries trying every possible approach
to participation in capitalist electoral politics with uniformly
disastrous results! Even some of the Spanish anarchists tried it
- and it destroyed them as a revolutionary force just as effectively
as it has destroyed scores (hundreds?) of Marxist parties. Thus
contemporary anarchists, learning from history in the way Marxists
are supposed to be able to do, say clearly: no participation in
electoral politics. But you, as nominal Marxists, simply ignore
all these bad experiences and say "it may be correct."
And, worse, you don't even attempt to explain why you think this.
I've read every issue of The Red Menace and, unless my memory
is faulty, I can't recall where you've ever even discussed the "question".
For example, under what circumstances could it be correct to participate
in capitalist elections? How do you "recall" a parliamentary
representative who goes off on his own? How do you keep your parliamentary
representatives from being bought off? How do you keep them from
using their access to the media to develop a solid reformist faction
within your movement... to the point where the real revolutionaries
in your organization are simply expelled? This bullshit has happened
over and over again, and you know it! What in hell makes
you think it would be different if you did it? Unless you want to
try and pass yourselves off as some kind of revolutionary saints;
totally immune to the corrupting influences of capitalist politics
(which would be a curious position for Marxists to take), I don't
see how you can avoid the conclusion that if and when you try it,
you will end up as fucked over and fucked up as everyone else who's
As I said, I think this is an example of the real differences that
need to be resolved if the red and the black are to restore the
old alliance. I believe reunification is possible - but there is
clearly a long way to go. It will be instructive to see who's willing
to make the trip.
for a life without bosses,
Published in The
Red Menace, Number 5, Summer 1980.