The communist left and internationalist anarchism, Part 3: The approach needed for this debate

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The communist left and internationalist anarchism, Part 3: The approach needed for this debate
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: The communist left and internationalist anarchism, Part 3: The approach needed for this debate. The discussion was initiated by LoneLondoner.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Discussion with internationalist anarchists - is it possible?

This issue has come up here and there on the forum, but oddly enough nobody has actually started off from an article which we wrote explicitly on the subject. So I thought it might be an idea to kick off a discussion, and perhaps to clarify what has led us to write these articles if necessary.

In fact these articles represent a reappraisal of our approach to the whole issue (as should be obvious from reading them). Perhaps we could say that there were two reasons for this:

  1. It is in a sense part of a general reappraisal of our activity, and an effort to broaden our understanding of revolutionary politics, of which the reflection on the "culture of debate", confidence and solidarity, ethics, or the issue of human nature... are all a part.
  2. It is also prompted by the practical fact that we have found ourselves in action alongside anarchist comrades and against the forces of the bourgeois left (eg in Mexico and France).

The question has been asked - not unreasonably I suppose - whether this is not just opportunist. In fact if we go back to look at the workers' movement in the past, we can see that the divisions between anarchists and communists could be overcome. And not least by the Bolsheviks and our predecessors of the Italian Left.

It's instructive, from this point of view, to look at Rosmer's "Moscow in Lenin's days". Here for example is Bukharin, answering a young Spanish comrade who adopts an attitude of "merciless combat" against the anarchists:

Bukharin wrote:

What does that mean – fight the anarchists? There are anarchists who have rallied to the dictatorship of the proletariat since October; others have come close to us and are working in the Soviets, in economic institutions. It is not a question of ‘combating.’ It is necessary to discuss cordially and frankly, even to work together if possible, and not turn from that unless you run into insurmountable opposition.

Here is Trotsky

Trotsky wrote:

I felt myself a comrade among comrades in the company of Monatte, of Rosmer and of their friends, most of whom had an anarchist past. But what could there be in common between me and Renaudel who understood very well the need of a party? (...)

Comrade Pestana, who is the secretary of the big Spanish syndicalist organization, has come to Moscow because there are among us people who, in different degrees, belong to the syndicalist family; others are, so to speak, ‘parliamentarians’; others, finally, are neither parliamentarians nor syndicalists but supporters of mass action, etc.

So, if we are conducting a reappraisal we are not inventing something fundamentally new (though of course we are expressing it in new conditions and new ways), but rather rediscovering the old practice of the Third International and the Bolsheviks - who were a lot less "sectarian" than people usually paint them.

in defence of Bukharin

In that quote Bukharin speaks of anarchists who rallied to the dictatorship of the proletariat, an example of which is Grossman-Roshchin. Here is a text where Grossman-Roshchin critises Kropotkin's supra-class humanism and ethics (something that is useful also to some of the ICC's texts I think):

Grossman-Roshchin wrote:
Proletarian internationalism, like treacherous anarcho-socialist chauvinism, is not limited just to the matter of accepting or rejecting war.

Bukharin spoke very frankly about anarchism:

Bukharin wrote:
Anarchy is the ideology, not of the proletariat, but of declassed groups, inactive groups, lacking a connection with all productive labour: it is the ideology of a horde of beggars (lumpenproletariat), a category of people drawing its recruits from among proletarians, ruined bourgeois, decadent intellectuals, peasants cast out by their families and impoverished; an amalgam of people incapable of creating anything new, anything of value, only seizing what they have got their hands on through their "confiscations". Such is the social phenomenon of anarchy.

Anarchy is the product of the disintegration of capitalist society. The complexion of this misery is brought about by the crumbling of social bonds, the transformation of people who were once members of a class into atomised "individuals" who no longer depend on any class, who live "for themselves", do not work and who, to hold on to their individualism, acknowledge no organisation. That is the misery produced by the barbaric capitalist regime.

Anarchists debating among themselves, for example Makhno in his exchange with Malatesta:

Makhno wrote:
1. Should anarchism take some responsibility in the struggle of the workers against their oppressors, capitalism, and its servant the State?  If not, can you say why?  If yes, must the anarchists work towards allowing their movement to exert influence on the same basis as the existing social order?

2. Can anarchism, in the state of disorganisation in which it finds itself at the moment, exert any influence, ideological and practical, on social affairs and the struggle of the working class?

3. What are the means that anarchism should adopt outside the revolution and what are the means of which it can dispose to prove and affirm its constructive concepts?

4. Does anarchism need its own permanent organisations, closely tied among themselves by unity of goal and action to attain its ends?

5. What do the anarchists mean by institutions to be established with a view to guaranteeing the free development of society?

6. Can anarchism, in the communist society it conceives, do without social institutions?  If yes, by what means?  If no, which should it recognise and use and with what names bring them into being?  Should the anarchists take on a leading function, therefore one of responsibility, or should they limit themselves to being irresponsible auxiliaries?

Is Makhno perhaps also sectarian? Another passage of his analysis:

Makhno wrote:
However, the reality is entirely different: year after year our movement loses more and more influence among the workers and, consequently, it gets weaker.  It is true that certain theoreticians “in our Russian circles in particular say that anarchism’s strength lies in its weakness, and its weakness in its strength”, so there is no need to worry if anarchist organisations lose their influence…  But on closer examination, this statement is seen to be entirely stupid, it is simply an evasive formula designed to mollify the chatterboxes when it comes to explaining the real state of anarchism.


But, let me repeat, such a test cannot be attempted without a permanent organisation.  Believing that today’s propaganda groups will suffice for this revolutionary task is an illusion.  In order for any social organisation to play a role, it must be known by the popular masses before the revolutionary process begins its course.


Does "anarchism" exist?

Thanks to d-man for his post - the quotes are interesting and I will try to take the time out to study carefully the texts he refers to.

Just one point springs to mind reading this: that "anarchism" is an extremely broad category which includes some very different ideas. If you make an analogy with "marxism", just look at what describes itself as "marxist": everything from maoism through to a kind of intellectual liberalism. Anarchism is even worse in a sense, because at least "marxism" refers to an original body of theory - the writings of Marx and Engels - whereas "anarchism" does not. So there is no standard by which you can judge what is "real" anarchism (I realise I'm being a bit provocative here) and what is not. And anarchism can go from Stirneresque ultra-individualism to Makhno's Platformism (which requires the existence of a political organisation, a "party" perhaps?).

So what kind of anarchism is Bukharin referring to in d-man's quote? A different kind, it seems to me, than the kind referred to in my earlier quote. The anarchy he is talking to here could very well be inspired by Bakunin and his admiration for bandits as the ultimate revolutionaries, but it's a long way from the anarcho-syndicalism of Rosmer or Monatte, or indeed Pelloutier, just to take a few examples, who were real militants of the working class.


And certainly there were

And certainly there were currents of anarchism during the Russian Revolution that stood side-by-side with the Bolsheviks and the original ideals of the soviets. It also can't be forgotten that many (especially the syndicalists) were loyal to the class even as the cancer of the Bolshevik state began to turn against the working class.

This is not to say that "anarchism" is not without its weaknesses and is beyond critique, far from it. But dismissing proletarian currents who defended internationalism and workers' control as vigorously as the communist left simply because of an "anarchist" label seems to be a flawed methodology to me.

Of course it's not because

Of course it's not because these individual positive examples are people who called themselves anarchists, that they must be dismissed in the sense of their existence being denied (which I don't think the "old sectarian" ICC even has done). But Lenin was correct during the war to abstain from finding such positive examples from anarchist history (or the few in his contemporary time) and instead declared anarchism and French syndicalism bankrupt; "One of the useful results of this war will undoubtedly be that it will kill both anarchism and opportunism."