Saturday, March 14, 2009

Marxist/Anarchist Anti-State

Paul D'Amato recently wrote an interesting piece on Marxist versus anarchist views of THE STATE/ANTI-STATE. Although most anarchists are probably as quick to write off Socialist anti-state views as Socialists are to write off anarchists, the article illustrates something of a bridge between the two. I find a lot of contradiction-sharpening hair-splitting sectarianism between strains of liberation socialism to be counter-productive. This article provides a basic useful analysis.

Marxism and anarchism do have different conceptions of the state, and, therefore, of what should be done about it. Both anarchists and Marxists seek a stateless society--the anarchists because in the state they see the root of all oppression and exploitation, and the Marxists because the state, as the instrument for the maintenance of class rule, must fall away when class rule is done away with.

As, therefore, the state is the chief evil, it is above all the state which must be done away with and then capitalism will go to hell of itself. We, on the contrary say: do away with capital, the appropriation of the whole means of production in the hands of the few, and the state will fall away of itself.

Anarchy=“it is above all the state which must be done away with and then capitalism will go to hell of itself”
“the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. “

What is important here is “before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed”
Capitalism as established itself as such an entrenched social force and reinvented society in its image that simply doing away with its custodian (the state) will not kill it. It would live on in the hearts and minds of the people and, whether they wanted to or not- whether it would be beneficial or efficient to whatever circumstance they find themselves in, people would continue to reproduce the competitive individualistic society of capitalism.

Socialism=” do away with capital… and the state will fall away of itself.”
“public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society”

It is also overly optimistic and naïve to think ‘power’ ceases to exist where capital or class have died. I actually think this position is less naïve than the anti-authoritarian argument presented just because if a society/state removes the incentives of hierarchy, “power” becomes less hierarchical power and more function. With that said, a state is still power removed from the people and will not whither away. One could apply historical materialism to realize that! Would a Socialist state be easier to demolish than a capitalist state?

Engels concluded by arguing that revolutions are, by definition, authoritarian, because they involve one part of society (the majority of oppressed an exploited) imposing its will on the other (the minority of exploiters and their supporters).

I think I would agree with Engels about what he defines as the “authoritarian” aspect of any revolution… and I have no problem with that. There is a fundamental difference between fighting against oppression and fighting for oppression. I suppose this is where some strains of anarchy shout “authoritarian!” or Leninist!” or where those more along the lines of Post-Leftism (and even Nihilists?) insist that any attempt at “forcing” a social order, even a non-hierarchical one, damages the anarchist notion of free will/free association. I find those perspectives seriously lacking in any realistic credibility. They seem to exist more in the realm of philosophy than struggle.

The question then arises: How can a new society be built if the new revolutionary power refuses to establish a new power, i.e., a state, to prevent the old order from regaining its foothold?

Part of what is a crucial strength of anarchy is that the ends do not justify the means. If they did, we would just continue to create societies in the image of the ones they were born out of. However, even if a stateless non-hierarchical society was created (assuming that we could get that far given the resources one could surely count on fighting against it), how would it expand rather than contract and/or die at the hands of global power? We, as anarchists, cannot look to the Spanish Republic as a model because this is exactly where it failed. At what point does this organized defense look more like socialism and less like anarchism?

What this all serves to illustrate to me is that despite the distrust or hostility existing between Socialists and anarchists (and sometimes for good reason while mostly for divisive pontification), each foundation has strengths and shortcomings to build upon. I won’t abandon anarchist principles or anti-authoritarian socialism. I do so as a concrete means of struggle and not as any form of philosophical wankering.

Please Note:
Above I tried to use Socialism with a capital 'S' to signify a more orthodox Marxist Socialism. I used socialism with a small 's' to signify a socialism not tied to any specific ideology.


Anonymous Bryan G said...


Paul D'mato is one of the chief editors of the Socialist publication, The International Socialist Review. A literary off shoot of the greater International Socialist Organization (along with Haymarket Books and Socialist Worker) - an organization that means well in it's organizing around struggle, but if you read their "manifesto" - The Meaning of Marxism (by D'mato himself) - you'll see their stridently Trotskyist/Leninist approach and appalling sectarianism.

This does not mean that this article, or any other article by D'mato (or someone else from the ISO for that matter) does not offer something worthwhile - but considering the historical context of their specific ideology, and the type of socialism this organization adheres to, D'mato should be taken with a grain of salt. What he's talking about is so abstracted from the reality of their politics, I can't take it seriously.

What does being anti-state even mean in the context of this world?

The point that the social world and political world are separate yet tightly intertwined is an important point - this is why social, economic and political restructuring are so necessary. "On The Jewish Question" by Karl Marx is a fantastic essay on this exact topic.

I am trying to steer away from nihilistic or apathetic conclusions, but this article rubs me the wrong way considering my interactions with the ISO and the garbage that is D'mato's book, The Meaning of Marxism.

this is only the beginning of a much larger, life long conversation.

in struggle,
bryan g

2:33 PM  
Blogger shanedanger said...

The context and political motivations of the author cannot be discounted.

BTW- The previous entry is critical of Mr. D'mato.

8:12 PM  

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