An Open Letter to My Fellow Marxists Who Critique Anarchists with Blatant Dismissal: You’re Communists First!
Dear fellow Marxists:
There is a specter haunting the much discussion of the left in these days. This specter is the ghosts of the First International. This specter is visible in the flames of burning strawman lining the streets of the electronic Kremlin and the metaphorical tomb of Lenin. There have been some groups moving to see past this, particularly the Kasama Project, which has been reaching anarchists who are communists, and the Libcom, which has been willing to work with left communists and friendly Marxists.
I have heard much complaining from Marxist commentariat and blogs about anarchists lately as pressures from the OWS has brought out many legitimate critiques by both sides. Furthermore, many anarchists have militant liberal tendencies instead of sustained critiques, even from an anarchist point of view. This has happened at the precise moment when post-left anarchism and TAZ delusions have largely faded into the background, and the “anarcho”-capitalists have largely been exposed a fronts from traditional libertarians. In short, it has happened at the exact moment in the US when the anarchists have returned to the “left” and when the anarchists have between working with Maoists and other groups in the Europe.
Today, I was listening to Douglas’s Lain’s interview with Jodi Dean, where she and Doug makes excellent points. However, the idea spoken about anarchists are inherently capitalists because they don’t understand class warfare. Now, this may be true in the case of some anarcho-liberals in the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street who have been radicalized very recently and were first exposed to the idea of class warfare through the David Graeber and Noam Chomsky. This, however, is not true of anarchism through most of its history? Did the CNT lack class consciousness? Did Bakunin? Did Makhno? Does Exarchia? Does Tiqqun?
Let me put this into perspective my academic Marxist friends: We can’t go back to the first international, but we shouldn’t repeat its mistakes. My fellow Marxists, if you are going to alienate all the anarchists including the syndicalists and platformists and the anarcho-Maoists, you seem to have developed a taste for defeat. If you think you can be an intellectual vanguard that will mystically raise class AND political consciousness in the all the oppressed classes–peasant, slum worker, and proletariat? In Europe and North America, in so much as there is remnant of the spirit of the left, the social anarhcists and the radical unions are the only ones in the radical vein. In Greece, it was the anarchists in Exarchia and the KOE (Maoists) who opposed the austerity and occupied. In Occupy London, it is syndicalists and anarcho-Maoists working with Leninists that fired the fuels. Yes, we need to fight post-left, Zerzan primitivist, or anarcho-liberal vein that denies class struggle, but if you think you can defeat the anarchism in the spirit of the popular movements, that is foolish.
Furthermore, while I agree with my Marxist friends that we critique out of love and as Marxists we critique: that is part of what Marxists do historically, we often forget our past failings, our co-options, and our history. Take Louis Proyect’s recent writings on the black bloc, which he links to the Marxist Italian automatists to recent black bloc tactics in #Occupy. The automatists, however, are left Marxists in a tradition that goes back to the Second International: they view their guerrilla anarchism as an extension of the Marxist project. While I also have deeply mixed views on the black bloc, there are much better critiques of them.
While there are serious critiques to be made of historical anarchism: the lack of a transitional mechanism, the inability to fight coordinately against a reactionary attack, the development of post-left anarchism, and the mischaracterizations of early Marxism. There are deep points to be understood. While there are sincere issues at the point in the Red and Black areas of the civil war in Russia, there is much to be discussed. However, let us remember Karl Korsch:
The pursuit of revolutionary struggle by what Marxism and Philosophy called an “ideological dictatorship” is in three ways different from the system of intellectual oppression established in Russia today in the name of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” First of all, it is a dictatorship of the proletariat and not over the proletariat. Secondly, it is a dictatorship of a class and not of a party or party leadership. Thirdly and most importantly, as a revolutionary dictatorship it is one element only of that radical process of social overthrow which by suppressing classes and. class contradictions creates the preconditions for a ‘withering away of the State,’ and thereby the end of all ideological constraint. The essential purpose of an ‘ideological dictatorship’ in this sense is to abolish its own material and ideological causes and thereby to make its own existence unnecessary and impossible. From the very first day, this genuine proletarian dictatorship will be distinguished from any false imitation of it by its creation of the conditions of intellectual freedom not only for ‘all’ workers but for ‘each individual’ worker. Despite the alleged ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom of thought’ in bourgeois society, this freedom has never been enjoyed anywhere by the wage slaves who suffer its physical and spiritual oppression. This is what concretely defines the Marxist concept of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. With it disappears the otherwise apparent contradiction between a call for ‘ideological dictatorship,’ and the essentially critical and revolutionary nature of the method and outlook of Communism. Socialism, both in its ends and its means, is a struggle to realize freedom.
-Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy
I know few anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists, platformists, Badiou-ians, post-Maoists, or Left communists who would object to this. We are not even near a moment like the Russian Revolution, no side has guns, and if you continue to spend most of your critique of your anarchist comrades as strawman, you seem to be longing for the moral righteous enabled only by a martyr’s cult. While we are to resist action without theory, we are also to resist theory without action.
The words of Badiou’s communist hypothesis come to mind:
`Communism’ as such denotes only this very general set of intellectual representations. It is what Kant called an Idea, with a regulatory function, rather than a programme. It is foolish to call such communist principles utopian; in the sense that I have defined them here they are intellectual patterns, always actualized in a different fashion. As a pure Idea of equality, the communist hypothesis has no doubt existed since the beginnings of the state. As soon as mass action opposes state coercion in the name of egalitarian justice, rudiments or fragments of the hypothesis start to appear. Popular revolts—the slaves led by Spartacus, the peasants led by Müntzer—might be identified as practical examples of this `communist invariant’. With the French Revolution, the communist hypothesis then inaugurates the epoch of political modernity… - Alain Badiou (New Left Review 49, January-February 2008)
Or perhaps John Steele will make this clearer for you:
We are communists: not socialists but communists. To the extent that socialism is a goal, it is as a means, a way-station to communism.
Marxism is not a body of truths from which we deduce a politics. Politics is a creative practice proceeding from what is new in the present. In this practice, Marxism (and its developments) is a necessity, but the practice itself must be a process of forging new truths.
We are not revolutionaries because we are Marxist (or Maoists, or etc.), but we are Marxists (and whatever else may be necessary and applicable) because we are revolutionaries, because we seek to forge an emancipatory politics, a politics capable of overcoming the present and pursuing a communist future.
In this sense any emancipatory politics of the present will of necessity be postmarxist, postmaoist (postleninist, postanarchist, postsyndicalist….). This (or some of this) is our tradition, we love and honor it, we learn from it, but it does not define or constitute our thinking or practice. . . .
But that tradition, in the sense of a sequence of revolutions (Paris Commune, Russian Revolution, and Chinese) and of organizations (First, Second, Third Internationals), has reached a break; this sequence is saturated. It may retrospectively appear that a decisive advance made in this era – if we make such an advance – must be seen as another link in this sequence. But this is not the possibility from which we can proceed. Today it is necessary to articulate and give emphasis to precisely the gap between our efforts and our tradition, if we’re to create a politics which is worth anything at all.
We do not know what this politics is. It does not exist today. To forge it is both a theoretical and a practical task – the most important work we can do. What’s required is theoretical exploration and practical experimentation; this site offers itself as a space for the former.
Remember, we are communist first. Marx’s critique of capital was brilliant as is both the revolutionary and academic tradition it inspired, but Marx is not our prophet nor was his “scientific socialism” the end game. Furthermore, the actuality exisiting politics of all these rebellions had flaws and did not produce the classless society that we promised. We should take all our claims to being a vanguard carefully in light of that. Anarchists who understand the goals of a classless society are our brothers and sisters. We critique them from a standpoint of love and solidarity, but we should do so with a willingness to listen nor just react. To remind you of a phrase from Mao: It is right to rebel against reactionaries. Be careful that we don’t become reactionaries ourselves from our notions of the past–a past that none of us lived through, particularly in North America.
Please remember, we are leftists first. The goal is not just the undoing of capitalism. It is not just to end exploitation, but also to greatly remove other forms of oppression.