So, to start off with, a brief round-up of things that have actually happened in the real world that it’s reasonable to care about:
University College London went into occupation last week, and Hackney, Haringey and Camden can all be added to the list of areas that have seen militant demos against council cuts budgets – Haringey in particular deserve recognition for their success in managing to occupy the council chamber, excellent work. Meanwhile, construction workers in Hull have blockaded the entrance to a biofuels plant in a daring piece of wildcat direct action that caused massive disruption to traffic over fears of redundancies.
On a darker note, if you have any spare cash burning a hole in your pocket, I’d strongly recommend making a donation to the New Zealand/Aoteraoa-based anarchist group Beyond Resistance to support their work with victims of the recent earthquake in Christchurch.
So, having got the important stuff out of the way, back to what I do best: writing lengthy, vitriolic replies to shitty articles by irrelevant leftists. Specifically, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and their incredibly long, stunningly dishonest article on “working-class struggle and anarchism”.
For the most part, I don’t really object to the ideas they put forward in the article – it mostly consists of a lengthy explanation of why class struggle is important (which is true) and then a criticism of the sort of apolitical syndicalism practised by the French CGT before the First World War (which I agree is not a particularly useful organisational model). Sure, they do express some ideas I have problems with, as when they list “tenants’ and community struggles, anti-racist agitation, anti-war demonstrations, feminist activity, electoral politics” as if electioneering was somehow the same thing as a rent strike, but for the most part the real problem is with what they don’t talk about. The first paragraph sums up why this awful, awful article is so bad: “Anarchism opposes the capitalist state. But by no means all anarchists identify with the working class as the force to defeat the capitalist state and create a new society. Some anarchists do. Those are the anarcho-syndicalists, who on this issue have the same idea as Marxists do, and whose ideas this article will come back to later.“ As someone who’s never actively identified as an anarcho-syndicalist, but does see class struggle as central to my understanding of anarchism, I think you can see why I found it mildly discomforting to be told that I DON’T FUCKING EXIST. But at least I’m not alone: as part of a political tradition that the AWL doesn’t believe exists, or at least doesn’t find important enough to mention in an article about anarchism and class struggle, I join Kropotkin, Malatesta, Goldman, Berkman, the Haymarket Martyrs, the entire Spanish anarchist movement including the CNT, the FAI, the FIJL, the Mujeres Libres and the Friends of Durruti, every new development in the anarcho-syndicalist tradition after WWI, the entire International Workers’ Association, the entire International of Anarchist Federations, the Anarkismo project, the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists and the whole platformist tradition, the Situationists and the events of May 1968, the Solidarity group and pretty much the whole of the contemporary British anarchist movement – not just the obvious examples of the Anarchist Federation and the Solidarity Federation, but also Class War, Liberty & Solidarity, the Commune (not that the Commune identify as an anarchist group, but their politics are a lot more relevant to me than, say, Proudhon’s), Black Flag magazine, Freedom press, and the anarchist movement conference of 2009, which, despite not being anarcho-syndicalist, still managed to have enough of an interest in class to use “Anarchism has been its most effective when it has had its roots in the workers movement. How and why was this? And why has it changed? What do we and other working class people do as we face deepening recession? What does working class mean today?” as a major part of its programme. All this is written out of history to leave us with Proudhon (who I’ve never read, and I can’t remember any other anarchist I’ve known expressing much of an active interest in), Bookchin (again, not someone I’ve ever taken much of an interest in), Bakunin (who I think had some good points and some bad ones), some slanders about Makhno (which is pretty much a pointless argument, and one that’s been covered many times already) and a critique of classical apolitical syndicalism, which again doesn’t really bear any relation to my actual politics.
So, the AWL have been kind enough to give us an excellent example of what a bad “Marxism vs. anarchism” article looks like. The question is, what would a good one be? To be honest, I don’t really think it’s possible to write a good article on this subject, simply because “Marxism” and “anarchism” simply do not exist as two coherent ideas and movements in eternal opposition to each other. I’d take the “Marxism” of Otto Ruhle or Anton Pannekoek over the “anarchism” of a Christian pacifist or a primitivist any day. There are a great number of competing traditions all claiming to represent each idea, and I’ll take responsibility for Proudhon’s or Nechayev’s ideas the day the AWL take responsibility for Stalin. Given that this is the situation, I think the only meaningful debate possible is between two specific traditions, with each side defining the territory they are and aren’t willing to take responsibility for. “Anarchism vs. Marxism” is a meaningless question, but I think “anarcho-syndicalism as interpreted by the modern IWA vs. left communism as interpreted by the ICC”, or “platformism as interpreted by the Anarkismo project vs. the Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky-Shachtman-Matgamna thought of the AWL” is clear enough to have the potential to be meaningful.
I’ve written a frankly excessive amount in reply to this timewasting article already, and so I don’t have the time or energy for a full critique of the AWL, but I’ll give an example to start the ball rolling: as a (revolutionary, class-struggle) anarchist (one who recognises that formal organisation is useful in some situations, and thinks there are useful ideas to be found in the anarcho-syndicalist, platformist, council communist, situationist and insurrectionist traditions, but does not identify exclusively with any of them), I don’t think the AWL is particularly useful as a revolutionary organisation – not just because they’re Marxists, or even because they’re Trotskyists, but specifically because, in addition to writing really shitty dishonest articles, they also have a clear orientation towards the Labour Party, and continue to encourage illusions in the idea that it can be usefully reformed, a project that I think is impossible. (Maybe they also understand that it’s impossible to turn the Labour Party into a socialist organisation, but they think it’s useful to encourage people to believe in it because of some weird Trotskyist transitional demand logic. If that’s the case, then it’s incredibly dishonest and manipulative.) I think that the Labour Party, including its supposed left wing, is a barrier to the growth of revolutionary class consciousness, and so channelling people’s energies into it is the exact opposite of what communists should be doing. Now, if any AWLers can write an honest response explaining why I’m wrong and campaigning for John McDonnell is more useful than trying to convince people of the idea that mass working-class direct action is the only thing that can bring about real change, I’d be genuinely interested to see it.