Monday, March 23, 2009

The State: Anarchy vs. Leninism

Tom Wetzel wrote a piece I previously mentioned that is the precursor to this piece.

The Anti-Statism of Marxism compared/contrasted to the anti-statism of anarchy is something I find very interesting (
and something I have touched on before). It is also a discussion that could be very important in the actual creation of an anti-authoritarian socialism society.

I encourage you to read on.

The disagreement between Leninism and social anarchism isn't over some statement about a far-off state of society but about the means to social change, and in particular the means to liberation of the mass of the people from oppression and exploitation.

Most libertarian socialists agree that some sort of polity or system of self-government is necessary in society. Libertarian socialists believe it is possible for institutions of popular power -- a form of polity built up from the direct democracy of assemblies in workplaces and neighborhoods -- to replace the hierarchical state in a self-managed socialist society, or such a society in the process of being built, without the hierarchical state apparatus.

Marxists sometimes argue that if the working class creates a new polity to replace the state and uses this polity to engage in coercion, such as against armed attacks on the new social arrangement, this makes the new governance system necessarily a "state." But any polity or governance system enforces its rules, and needs to be able to use coercion, if necessary, against anti-social criminality. Even tribal societies in ancient times could some times use coercion against wayward individuals. The ability of a society to defend itself does not require a hierarchical state apparatus rather than a form of democratic self-governance under direct popular control.

Leninists seem to imagine that you can consolidate decision-making power in a state administrative layer and then expect that they will easily give up power later. But any group that acquires the position of a dominating class is likely to work to keep their power and privilege and to also develop an ideology to justify their position...and they can easily call it "socialism".

Now it should be obvious that a structure that can make rules for the society and has enforcement powers is a polity or government. From the Spanish anarchist point of view, this would not be a state because of the direct control over the armed militia -- the main armed body in society -- by the organized working class, and also because of the transfer of legislative power to the grassroots congresses and the direct worker management of the economy. The people's militia would be close to what Engels called a "self-acting armed body of the population."

Nowadays there are those like John Holloway -- a libertarian Marxist writer -- who argue it is possible "to change the world without taking power." I think this is best understood as a reaction against the failure of various forms of statist socialism -- both social-democracy and Leninism. But as long as power remains in the hands of the dominating classes, the majority of the population won't be free, but will continue to be dominated and exploited. It's hard to see how the self-emanicpation of the oppressed and exploited can take place except through gaining control over the decisions that affect them. And this needs to happen not only in workplaces but through figuring out a way to evolve goverance of public affairs from the hierarchical state to a form of popular power, directly controlled by the population. But precisely because liberation requires social empowerment of the majority, capturing the state isn't a plausible route as the state is the wrong kind of institution for popular self-management of public affairs. A different form of polity is needed.


This conversation is an important aspect of what makes an anarchist vision of the future so dynamic.
I encourage any comments that wish to continue the dialogue.


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