Section H - Why do anarchists oppose state socialism?
H.1 Have anarchists always opposed state socialism?
H.2 What are the myths of state socialism?
H.2.1 Is economic power the root of all class oppression?
H.2.2 What is wrong with Marxist economics?
H.2.3 Is Big Business the precondition for socialism?
H.2.4 Will capitalist economic crisis help create socialism?
H.2.5 Why is state socialism not socialism?
H.2.6 Why is state ownership capitalistic?
H.2.7 Why are vanguard parties anti-socialist?
H.2.8 Why will the state not "wither away?
H.2.9 Why does central planning fail?
H.3 What actually happened in Russia?
H.3.1 What is "The Bolshevik myth"?
H.3.2 What was the Bolshevik attitude to workers control?
H.3.3 Why did the soviets become powerless in the USSR?
H.3.4 Did the Bolsheviks become authoritarian because of
the Russia Civil War?
H.3.5 Why is the Kronstadt rebellion important to understanding
the true nature of Bolshevism?
H.3.6 Why does the Makhnovist movement show there is an
alternative to Bolshevism?
H.4 What is market socialism?
H.4.1 What's wrong with market socialism from a libertarian
H.4.2 Is there any form of market socialism that is
compatible with libertarian socialism?
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
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
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
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 Second Revolution_, vol. 2,
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
"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. 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.