Section H - Why do anarchists oppose state socialism?

The socialist movement has been continually divided, with various different tendencies and movements. Two of the main tendencies of socialism are state socialism (Marxism, Leninism, Maoism and so on) and libertarian socialism (anarchism in all its many forms). The conflict and disagreement between anarchists and Marxists is legendary. As Benjamin Tucker noted:

"[I]t is a curious fact that the two extremes of the [socialist movement] . . . though united . . . by the common claim that labour should be put in possession of its own, are more diametrically opposed to each other in their fundamental principles of social action and their methods of reaching the ends aimed at than either is to their common enemy, existing society. They are based on two principles the history of whose conflict is almost equivalent to the history of the world since man came into it . . .

"The two principles referred to are AUTHORITY and LIBERTY, and the names of the two schools of Socialistic thought which fully and unreservedly represent one or the other are, respectively, State Socialism and Anarchism. Whoso knows that these two schools want and how they propose to get it understands the Socialistic movement. For, just as it has been said that there is no half-way house between Rome and Reason, so it may be said that there is no half-way house between State Socialism and Anarchism." [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 78-9]

In addition to this divide between libertarian and authoritarian forms of socialism, there is another divide between reformist and revolutionary wings of these two tendencies. "The term 'anarchist,'" Murray Bookchin writes, "is a generic word like the term 'socialist,' and there are probably as many different kinds of anarchists are there are socialists. In both cases, the spectrum ranges from individuals whose views derive from an extension of liberalism (the 'individualist anarchists', the social-democrats) to revolutionary communists (the anarcho-communists, the revolutionary Marxists, Leninists and Trotskyites)." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 214f]

In this section of the FAQ we concentrate on the conflict between the revolutionary wings of both movements. Here we discuss why communist-anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and other revolutionary anarchists reject Marxist theories, particularly the revolutionary ideas of Leninists and Trotskyites. We will concentrate almost entirely on the works of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky as well as the Russian Revolution. This is because many Marxists reject the Chinese, Cuban and other revolutions as being infected by Stalinism. In contrast, there is a general agreement in Marxist circles that the Russian Revolution was a true socialist revolution and the ideas of Lenin (and usually Trotsky) follow in Marx's footsteps. What we say against Marx and Lenin is also applicable to their more controversial followers, therefore we ignore them. We also dismiss out of hand any suggestion that the Stalinist regime was remotely socialist. Unfortunately many serious revolutionaries consider Lenin's regime to be a valid example of a valid socialist revolution so we have to discuss why it was not.

As noted, two main wings of the revolutionary socialist movement, anarchism and Marxism, have always been in conflict. While, with the apparent success of the Russian revolution, the anarchist movement was overshadowed by its authoritarian name-sake in many countries, this situation has been changing. In recent years anarchism has seen a revival as more and more people recognise the fundamentally anti-socialist nature of the Russian "experiment" and the politics that inspired it. With this re-evaluation of socialism and the Soviet Union, more and more people are rejecting Marxism and embracing libertarian socialism. As can be seen from the press coverage from such events as the anti-Poll Tax riots in the UK at the start of the 1990s, the J18 and N30 anti-capitalist demonstrations in 1999, anarchism has become synonymous with anti-capitalism.

Needless to say, the self-proclaimed "vanguard(s) of the proletariat" become worried and hurriedly write patronising articles on "anarchism" (without bothering to really understand it or its arguments against Marxism). These articles are usually a mishmash of lies, irrelevant personal attacks, distortions of the anarchist position and the ridiculous assumption that anarchists are anarchists because no one has bothered to inform of us of what "Marxism" is "really" about. We do not aim to repeat such "scientific" analysis in our FAQ so we shall concentrate on politics and history. By so doing we will indicate that anarchists are anarchists because we understand Marxism and reject it as being unable to lead to a socialist society.

It is unfortunately common for many Marxists, particularly Leninist influenced ones, to concentrate on personalities and not politics when discussing anarchist ideas. Albert Meltzer put it well when he argued that it is "very difficult for Marxist-Leninists to make an objective criticism of Anarchism, as such, because by its very nature it undermines all the suppositions basic to Marxism. If Marxism is held out to be indeed the basic working class philosophy, and the proletariat cannot owe its emancipation to anyone but itself, it is hard to go back on it and say that the working class is not yet ready to dispense with authority placed over it. Marxists therefore, normally refrain from criticising anarchism as such -- unless driven to doing so, when it exposes its own authoritarianism . . . and concentrates its attack not on anarchism, but on anarchists" [Anarchism: Arguments For and Against, p. 37]

This can be seen, for example, when many Leninists attempt to "refute" the whole of anarchism, its theory and history, by pointing out the personal failings of specific anarchists. They say that Proudhon was anti-jewish and sexist, that Bakunin was racist, that Kropotkin supported the Allies in the First World War and so anarchism is flawed. All these facts about Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin are true and they are all irrelevant to a critique of anarchism. Such a "critique" does not address anarchist ideas, all of which are ignored by this approach. In other words, they attack anarchists, not anarchism.

Even taken at face value, you would have to be stupid to assume that Proudhon's misogyny or Bakunin's racism had equal weighting with Lenin's and the Bolsheviks' behaviour (for example, the creation of a party dictatorship, the repression of strikes, free speech, independent working class organisation, the creation of a secret police force, the attack on Kronstadt, the betrayal of the Makhnovists, the violent repression of the Russian anarchist movement, etc.) in the league table of despicable activity. It seems strange that personal bigotry is of equal, or even more, importance in evaluating a political theory than its practice during a revolution.

Moreover, such a technique is ultimately dishonest. Looking at Proudhon, for example, Proudhon's anti-semitic outbursts remained unpublished in his note books until well after his ideas and, as Robert Graham points out, "a reading of General Idea of the Revolution will show, anti-semitism forms no part of Proudhon's revolutionary programme." ["Introduction", The General Idea of the Revolution, p. xxxvi] Similarly, Bakunin's racism is an unfortunate aspect of his life, an aspect which is ultimately irrelevant to the core principles and ideas he argued for. Moreover, Bakunin and his associates totally rejected Proudhon's sexism and argued for complete equality between the sexes. Why mention these aspects of their ideas at all? They are irrelevant to evaluating anarchism as a viable political theory. To do so is to dishonestly imply that anarchism is racist and sexist, which it is not.

If we look at Kropotkin's support for the Allies in the First World War we discover a strange hypocrisy on the part of Marxists as well as an attempt to distort history. Why hypocrisy? Simply because Marx and Engels supported the Prussian during the Franco-Prussian war (in contrast, Bakunin argued for a popular uprising and social revolution to stop the war). As Marx wrote to Engels on July 20th, 1870:

"The French need to be overcome. If the Prussians are victorious, the centralisation of the power of the State will be useful for the centralisation of the German working class. Moreover, German ascendancy will transfer the centre of gravity of the European worker's movement from France to Germany . . . On a world scale, the ascendancy of the German proletariat the French proletariat will at the same time constitute the ascendancy of our theory over Proudhon's." [quoted by Arthur Lehning, Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 284]

Marx, in part, supported the deaths of working class people in war in order to see his ideas become more important than Proudhon's! At least Kropotkin supported the allies because he was against the dangers to freedom implied by the German military state. The hypocrisy of the Marxists is clear -- if anarchism is to be condemned for Kropotkin's actions, then Marxism must be equally condemned for Marx's.

This analysis also rewrites history as the bulk of the Marxist movement supported their respective states during the conflict. A handful of the parties of the Second International opposed the war (and those were the smallest ones as well). The father of Russian Marxism, George Plekhanov, supported the Allies. The German Social Democratic Party (the jewel in the crown of the Second International) supported the war (a small minority of it did not). There was just one man in the German Reichstag in August 1914 who did not vote for war credits (and he did not even vote against them, he abstained). And many of the anti-war minority went along with the majority of party in the name of "discipline" and "democratic" principles.

In contrast, only a very small minority of anarchists supported any side during the conflict. The bulk of the anarchist movement (including such leading lights as Malatesta, Rocker, Goldman and Berkman) opposed the war, arguing that anarchists must "capitalise upon every stirring of rebellion, every discontent in order to foment insurrection, to organise the revolution to which we look for the ending of all of society's iniquities." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2., p. 36] As Malatesta noted at the time, the "pro-war" anarchists were "not numerous, it is true, but [did have] amongst them comrades whom we love and respect most." He stressed that the "almost all" of the anarchists "have remained faithful to their convictions" namely "to awaken a consciousness of the antagonism of interests between dominators and dominated, between exploiters and workers, and to develop the class struggle inside each country, and solidarity among all workers across the frontiers, as against any prejudice and any passion of either race or nationality." [Life and Ideas, p. 243, p. 248 and p. 244]

By pointing to Kropotkin, Marxists hide the fact that it was the official Marxist movement which betrayed the cause of internationalism, not anarchism. Indeed, the betrayal of the Second International was the natural result of the "ascendancy" of Marxism over anarchism that Marx had hoped. The rise of Marxism, in the form of social-democracy, ended as Bakunin predicted, with the corruption of socialism in the quagmire of electioneering and statism. As Rudolf Rocker correctly argues, "the Great War of 1914 was the exposure of the bankruptcy of political socialism." [Marx and Anarchism]

We will not follow this common Marxist approach here as the failings of Marxism, particularly in its Leninist form, come not from the personal failings of individuals but from their politics and how they would work in practice. No one ever lives up totally to their ideals in practice, we are all human and pointing out individual faults does not undermine the theory they contributed to. If this was the case then Marxism would be "refuted" because of Marx and Engel's anti-Slav feelings and their support for the German State during the Franco-Prussian war of 1871.

Rather, we will analyse Marxism in terms of its theories and how these theories worked in practice. Thus we will conduct a scientific analysis of Marxism, looking at its claims and comparing them to what they achieved in practice. Few, if any, Marxists present such an analysis of their own politics, which makes Marxism more a belief system rather than analysis. For example, many Marxists point to the success of the Russian Revolution and argue that while anarchists attack Trotsky and Lenin for being statists and authoritarians, that statism and authoritarianism saved the revolution.

In reply, anarchists point out that the Marxist revolution did, in fact, fail. After all, the aim of those revolutions was to create a free, democratic, classless society of equals. In fact it created a one party dictatorship based around a class system of bureaucrats exploiting and dominating working class people and a society lacking equality and freedom. As the stated aims of the Marxist revolution failed to materialise, anarchists would argue that those revolutions failed even though a "Communist" Party remained in power for over 70 years. And as for statism and authoritarianism "saving" the revolution, they saved it for Stalin, not socialism. That is nothing to be proud of.

From an anarchist perspective, this makes perfect sense as "[n]o revolution can ever succeed as factor of liberation unless the MEANS used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the PURPOSE to be achieved." [Emma Goldman, Patterns of Anarchy, p. 113] In other words, statist and authoritarian means will result in statist and authoritarian ends. Calling a new state a "workers state" will not change the state's nature as a form of minority (and so class) rule. It has nothing to do with the ideas or nature of those who gain power, it has to do with the nature of the state and the social relationships it generates. The state structure is an instrument of minority rule, it cannot be used by the majority because it is based on hierarchy, centralisation and the empowerment of the minority at the top at the expense of everyone else. States have certain properties just because they are states. They have their own dynamics which place them outside popular control and are not simply a tool in the hands of the economically dominant class. Making the minority Socialists within a "workers' state" does not change the fundamental nature of the state as an instrument of minority rule -- it just changes the minority in charge, the minority exploiting and oppressing the majority.

Similarly, in spite of over 100 years of socialists and radicals using elections to put forward their ideas and the resulting corruption of every party which has done so, most Marxists still call for socialists to take part in elections. For a theory which calls itself scientific this ignoring of empirical evidence, the facts of history, is truly amazing. Marxism ranks with economics as the "science" which most consistently ignores history and evidence.

Indeed, this refusal to look at factual evidence can be seen from the common comment Marxists make of anarchists, namely that we are "petty-bourgeois." For anarchists, such comments indicate that, for many Marxists, class is more a source of insults than analysis. This can be seen when Marxists state that, say, Kropotkin or Bakunin was "petty-bourgeois." As if a member of the Russian ruling class could be petty-bourgeois! If we look at class as an socio-economic fact and a social relationship (which it is) rather than an insult, then we discover if Bakunin and Kropotkin were "petty-bourgeois" then so was Marx, for they both shared the same socio-economic situation! Nor can it explain how Marx (a member of the petty-bourgeois, an independent journalist, when he worked at all) and Engels (an actual bourgeois, a factory owner!) could have created a "proletarian science." After all, in order to be a "proletarian" theory it must be developed by working class people in struggle. It was not. Albert Meltzer explains the problems Marxists face when they call us "petty-bourgeois":

"This leads them into another difficulty: How can one reconcile the existence of anarcho-syndicalist unions with 'petty bourgeois' origins -- and how does one get over the fact that most Marxist-Leninists of today are professional ladies and gentlemen studying for or belonging to the professions? The answer is usually given that because anarchism is 'petty bourgeois' those embracing it -- 'whatever their occupation or social origins' must also be 'petty bourgeois.' Thus because 'Marxism is working class', its adherents must be working class 'at least subjectively.' This is a sociological absurdity, as if 'working class' meant an ideological viewpoint. It is also a built in escape clause." [Op. Cit., p. 39]

As this section of the FAQ will make clear, this name calling and concentration on the personal failings of individual anarchists by Marxists is not an accident. If we take the ability of a theory to predict future events as an indication of its power then it soon becomes clear that anarchism is far more useful a tool in working class struggle than Marxism. After all, anarchists predicted with amazing accuracy the future development of Marxism. Bakunin argued that electioneering would corrupt the socialist movement, making it reformist and just another bourgeois party (see section J.2). This is what in fact happened to the Social-Democratic movement across the world by the turn of the twentieth century (the rhetoric remained radical for a few more years, of course). Murray Bookchin's comments about the German Social Democrats are appropriate here:

"[T]he party's preoccupation with parliamentarism was taking it ever away from anything Marx had envisioned. Instead of working to overthrow the bourgeois state, the SPD, with its intense focus on elections, had virtually become an engine for getting votes and increasing its Reichstag representation within the bourgeois state . . . The more artful the SPD became in there realms, the more its membership and electorate increased and, with the growth of new pragmatic and opportunistic adherents, the more it came to resemble a bureaucratic machine for acquiring power under capitalism rather than a revolutionary organisation to eliminate it." [The Third Revolution, vol. 2, p. 300]

The reality of working within the state soon transformed the party and its leadership, as Bakunin predicted. If we look at the 1920s, we discover a similar failure to consider the evidence:

"From the early 1920s on, the Leninist attachment to pre-WWI social democratic tactics such as electoral politics and political activity within pro-capitalist labour unions dominated the perspectives of the so-called Communist. But if these tactics were correct ones, why didn't they lead to a less dismal set of results? We must be materialists, not idealists. What was the actual outcome of the Leninist strategies? Did Leninist strategies result in successful proletarian revolutions, giving rise to societies worthy of the human beings that live in them? The revolutionary movement in the inter-war period was defeated. . ." [Max Anger, "The Spartacist School of Falsification", Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, no. 43, Spring/Summer 1997, pp. 51-2]

As Scottish Anarchist Ethel McDonald argued in 1937, the tactics urged by Lenin were a disaster in practice:

"At the Second Congress of the Third International, Moscow, a comrade who is with us now in Spain, answering Zinoview, urged faith in the syndicalist movement in Germany and the end of parliamentary communism. He was ridiculed. Parliamentarianism, communist parliamentarianism, but still parliamentartarianism would save Germany. And it did. . . Saved it from Socialism. Saved it for Fascism." ["The Volunteer Ban", Workers City, Farquhar McLay (ed.), p. 74]

When the Nazi's took power in 1933 in Germany the 12 million Socialist and Communist voters and 6 million organised workers took no action. In Spain, it was the anarcho-syndicalist CNT which lead the battle against fascism on the streets and helped create one of the most important social revolutions the world has seen. The contrast could not be more clear. And many Marxists urge us to follow Lenin's advice today!

If we look at the "workers' states" created by Marxists, we discover, yet again, anarchist predictions proved right. Bakunin argued that "[b]y popular government they [the Marxists] mean government of the people by a small under of representatives elected by the people. . . [That is,] government of the vast majority of the people by a privileged minority. But this minority, the Marxists say, will consist of workers. Yes, perhaps, of former workers, who, as soon as they become rulers or representatives of the people will cease to be workers and will begin to look upon the whole workers' world from the heights of the state. They will no longer represent the people but themselves and their own pretensions to govern the people." [Statism and Anarchy, p. 178] The history of every Marxist revolution proves Bakunin was right.

Due to these "workers' states" socialism has become associated with repressive regimes, with totalitarian regimes the total opposite of what socialism is actually about. Nor does it help when self-proclaimed socialists (such as Trotskyites) "obscenely describe regimes that exploit, imprison and murder wage labourers in Cuba, North Korea, and China as 'workers' states'" [Max Anger, Op. Cit., p. 52] Little wonder many anarchists do not use the terms "socialist" or "communist" and just call themselves "anarchists." They are associated with regimes which have nothing in common with our ideas, or, indeed, the ideas of socialism as such.

This does not mean that anarchists reject everything Marx wrote. Far from it. Much of his analysis of capitalism is acceptable to anarchists, for example (both Bakunin and Tucker considered Marx's economic analysis as important). Indeed, there are some schools of Marxism which are very libertarian and are close cousins to anarchism (for example, council communism and autonomist Marxism are close to revolutionary anarchism). Unfortunately, these forms of Libertarian Marxism are a minority current within that movement.

In other words, Marxism is not all bad -- unfortunately the vast bulk of it is and those elements which are not are found in anarchism anyway. For most, Marxism is the school of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, not Marx, Pannekoek, Gorter, Ruhle and Mattick. The minority libertarian trend of Marxism is based, like anarchism, on a rejection of party rule, electioneering and creating a "workers' state." They also, like anarchists, support direct action, self-managed class struggle, working class autonomy and a self-managed socialist society. These Marxists oppose the dictatorship of the party over the proletariat and, in effect, agree with Bakunin when he argued against Marx that socialists should "not accept, even in the process of revolutionary transition, either constituent assemblies, provisional governments or so-called revolutionary dictatorships; because we are convinced that revolution is only sincere, honest and real in the hands of the masses, and that when it is concentrated in those of a few ruling individuals it inevitably and immediately becomes reaction." Like Bakunin, they think that "a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards" will be the basis of a new society (Libertarian Marxists usually call these associations workers' councils). [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 237 and p. 172]

These libertarian forms of Marxism should be encouraged and not tarred with the same brush as Leninism and social democracy (indeed Lenin commented upon "the anarchist deviation of the German Communist Workers' Party" and other "semi-anarchist elements," the very groups we are referring to here under the term "libertarian Marxism." [Marx, Engels and Lenin, _Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 333 and p. 338]). Over time, hopefully, such comrades will see that the libertarian element of their thought outweighs the Marxist legacy. So our comments in this section of the FAQ are mostly directed to the majority form of Marxism, not to its libertarian wing.

One last point. We should point out that in the past many leading Marxists have argued that anarchism and socialism were miles apart: indeed, that anarchism was not a form of socialism. The leading American Marxist Daniel De Leon took this line, along with many others. This is true, in a sense, as anarchists are not Marxian socialists -- we reject such "socialism" as deeply authoritarian. However, all anarchists are members of the socialist movement and we reject attempts by Marxists to monopolise the term. Be that as it may, sometimes in this section we may find it useful to use the term socialist/communist to describe "state socialist" and anarchist to describe "libertarian socialist/communist." This in no way implies that anarchists are not socialists. It is purely a tool to make our arguments easier to read.

In the sections that follow we will discuss Marxism and the practice of Marxists in power. This will indicate why anarchists reject it in favour of a libertarian form of socialism.