Saturday, August 24, 2013

Marx as "Anarchist"

Or almost. Maybe more like modern Autonomists.

The Commune publishes today a very interesting article by David Adams questioning in depth the notion of Marxism, or more precisely Marx' own thought, as authoritarian and statist, being in fact quite different from the Leninist model (as well as from the Socialdemocratic or Bersteinian one).

A key excerpt on the dictatorship of Proletariat as being nothing but radical grassroots democracy:
A little-known text by Marx, his 1874 “Notes on Bakunin’s Book Statehood and Anarchy,” explains the concept of proletarian dictatorship more clearly than any other. In his book Bakunin ridicules Marx’s concept of the transitional state power of the proletarian dictatorship, and Marx critically responds in his “Notes.”  Bakunin writes, “If there is a state, then there is domination and consequent slavery. A state without slavery, open or camouflaged, is inconceivable-that is why we are enemies of the state. What does it mean, ‘the proletariat raised to a governing class?’”26 Marx responds, “It means that the proletariat, instead of fighting in individual instances against the economically privileged classes, has gained sufficient strength and organisation to use general means of coercion in its struggle against them; but it can only make use of such economic means as abolish its own character as wage labourer and hence as a class; when its victory is complete, its rule too is therefore at an end, since its class character will have disappeared.”27 The claim that through revolution the proletariat will be “raised to a governing class” thus has nothing to do with creating a dictatorship of a political sect, but is rather a claim that the proletariat will use “general means of coercion” to undercut the bourgeoisie’s power (by abolishing the private ownership of the means of production, disbanding the standing army, and so forth). It is the entire proletariat that is to exercise this power.  Bakunin asks, “Will all 40 million [German workers] be members of the government?”28 Marx responds, “Certainly! For the system starts with the self-government of the communities.”29

Can there be a more Anarchist statement? Or rather we may want to describe it as genuine Communism. 

Another excerpt: Leninism as Blanquism:

Blanqui, for example, advocated an educative dictatorship of a small group of revolutionaries. Marx’s use of the word “dictatorship” in the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat,” however, is original and deliberately distinct from Blanqui’s usage. Engels emphasizes this point in a passage on Blanqui: “From the fact that Blanqui conceives of every revolution as the coup de main of a small revolutionary minority, what follows of itself is the necessity of dictatorship after it’s success-the dictatorship, please note, not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of the small number of those who made the coup de main and who themselves are organized beforehand under the dictatorship of one person or a few. One can see that Blanqui is a revolutionary of the previous generation.”37 It is clear that the Leninist model of a particular sect or political party exercising political power is much closer to the Blanquist conception of “dictatorship” than to Marx’s (...)

Much of the divergence between Anarchists and Marx seems merely semantic: the use of the word "state" (polity):
For Marx, this form of power can be a “state” from the perspective of its political, coercive function of uprooting the foundations of the rule of capital. It cannot be a “state” in the sense of a “parasitic excrescence” usurping power from the mass of workers.50

Again much closer to Kropotkin or Durruti than to Lenin, never mind Stalin.
Marx saw the mandated and revocable delegates of the Commune as an example of working class state power in action.

Mandated and revocable delegates? Isn't that precisely what Anarchists propose?

So what do Marx and Engels mean by "state" and "class dictatorship"? In the words of Richard N. Hunt:
The full-time army as parasite disappeared, but the part-time National Guard remained as the coercive instrument of the workers’ state. Here in sharpest focus one can perceive Marx and Engels’ double usage: the parasite state is to be smashed immediately; the state as instrument of class coercion is to remain until the need for it fades away.

A people's militia under popular command, it seems.

The criticism of bourgeois "democracy" and state is persistent and merciless, and Engels charged against the USA as archetype of this separation between society and state by means of ritual and pointless elections:
Nowhere do “politicians” form a more separate and powerful section of the nation than precisely in North America. . . . It is precisely in America that we see best how there takes place this process of the state power making itself independent in relation to society, whose mere instrument it was originally intended to be. Here there exists no dynasty, no nobility, no standing army, beyond the few men keeping watch on the Indians, no bureaucracy with permanent posts or the right to pensions. And nevertheless we find here two great gangs of political speculators, who alternately take possession of the state power and exploit it by the most corrupt means and for the most corrupt ends-and the nation is powerless against these two great cartels of politicians, who are ostensibly its servants, but in reality dominate and plunder it.

Naturally, although many have forgotten, the term Communism itself derives from commune (municipality or local government in French and other languages) and very specifically from the 1871 Paris Commune.

In this pioneering communist "state", not just the army became part of the people in full but the whole state did by suppressing the bureaucracy and getting managers to be paid common workers' salaries and be under the command of the People directly. Totally different to what happened in the Soviet Union.

Marx did not live to see the Russian Revolution but he witnessed the beginnings of the rise of what is now the Socialdemocracy, especially in France and Germany. It was then when he famously declared "I am not a Marxist myself". He was very critical of Lassalle and his socialdemocratic or proto-Keynesian ideas of building socialism from above by means of state loans and other nonsense. 

One of the key issues is democratic centralism, centralization or central planning. In this certainly Marx and Bakunin were very much at odds:
While Bakunin was a sworn enemy of all political and economic centralization, Marx had a very different perspective, but one that was in no way more “authoritarian”: “National centralization of the means of production will become the natural basis of a society composed of associations of free and equal producers, carrying on the social business on a common and rational plan.”70 Marx thought that both centralism (a common plan) and democratic control from below were necessary for building socialism.

Read the original article, "Karl Marx and the State", at The Commune.

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