First and foremost let’s begin by recognizing the historical importance of anarchism as a broad political philosophy. While anarchism is fundamentally flawed in many ways most anarchists can be seen as allies in the struggle against monopoly capital. The contradiction between anarchists and communist forces on the ground can be characterized as non-antagonistic, a contradiction primarily among the people. Therefore the following criticism should be understood as a way we might bring anarchists into the scope of Marxism over the course of a wide United Front.
At the risk of overemphasizing anecdotes realize many Maoists including myself began as anarchists or were at least radicalized through some form of anarchist thought. In fact, it was Lenin himself who characterized Marxists as fundamentally anarchists with a real revolutionary politic for change. And while the tradition of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism draws much distinction between modern schools of anarchism it should be noted that both strive for the total liberation of all oppressed peoples.
There are many points to begin a Marxist criticism of anarchism but its best to understand precisely what is anarchism with applied dialectics. Anarchists could be considered loosely under the umbrella of ultra-leftism. Not in the dogmatic sense of a scoffing orthodoxy but how Mao characterized ultra-leftism in the resolution of a contradiction. An ultra-leftist line is one in which a contradiction is recognized but the means by which to resolve said contradiction are ‘extreme’ or in someway incompatible with a real politic.
1. The State
The most prolific example is the anarchist line on the state. Granted, we must move lightly as anarchism in the contemporary is very broad and encompasses many different lines and schools. However, the overall consensus from most anarchists is that the state must be ‘smashed’, ‘abolished’, etc. Now we agree with the sentiment that the state as an institution functions primarily to express class power and this in modern capitalism takes the form of repressive bourgeois apparatuses. Yet, the state is not a transhistorical fixture of social interaction in the way we observe it today. Like all things, the state is in constant motion, and in certain points in the development of class society actually qualitatively changes form while maintaining its function as the formal expression of class power. For example, the French Revolution saw the young bourgeoisie capture state power away from the feudal classes; effectively changing the ruling class. And while feudal ideology persisted for sometime the productive relations began transforming as the secondary aspect capital social relations became the primary aspect which in the epoch prior was feudal social relations. Therefore in the same way that the bourgeoisie utilized the state to consolidate its power so must the proletariat. This is what Marx means by the proletarian conquest of political supremacy and what socialism is fundamentally understood as the negation of bourgeois power in the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
This is important to understand for a number of reasons not simply limited to applying historical materialism. For historical materialism like any proletarian science is useless if it does not advance the revolutionary position of the proletariat.
Instead we must grasp the necessity of utilizing state power to concretely express class power and in the present struggle to express the dominance of the working peoples. For the state is a function of class society and is therefore necessitated by the existence of a ruling class. The state cannot be anymore ‘abolished’ before classes are done away with.
2. On Contradiction
And this leads to our next criticism of anarchism in its inability to conceive the principal contradiction. Given, most anarchists recognize the capitalist class as a ‘bad thing’ and at least an oppressive strata (absent the opinion of “anarcho-capitalists” who should not be considered anarchists when understanding the tradition of anarchism) the principal contradiction is between capital and labor. The capitalist class are functionaries of capital dominance and serve only insofar as they reinforce the capital circuit of M-C-M’. Refer to my piece on Ariel Sharon and imperialism for a more precise description of the role of capitalists. Therefore to defeat capitalism as a mode of production requires more than to nominally defeat the capitalist class but to materially transform the productive and social relations of capital. And this is the primary problem with anarchist measures towards co-operatives or what we have termed ‘cooperative capitalism’. At most these are ethically founded methods of collective ownership which do not tackle the problem of capital accumulation but only broaden the individual base of capital circulation. The circuit of capital, M-C-M’ is left fundamentally unchanged and thus the social relations of capital cannot be transformed through the prevalence of co-operative organization alone.
The principal contradiction is the contradiction from which all other contradictions are made secondary. Such as the contradiction between the state and the masses. The principal contradiction manifests itself distinctly in a concrete form in any particular instance (which is why social investigation is so important, refer to my piece on such);however, understood universally in capitalism, as a mode of production, the principal contradiction between capital and labor mediates all other secondary contradictions in a totality. Therefore the only way to really resolve the contradiction between the state and the masses is to resolve the contradiction between capital and labor. The method to do so requires that the proletariat capture state power away from the bourgeoisie so that the proletariat may express its class power. In doing so, the proletariat is able to abolish private property and establish social ownership so that capital social relations may be gradually replaced with communist social relations; meaning effectively the unity of opposites. And this is precisely how Lenin described socialism, not as an abstract mode of production based on some sort of ethic but as a political unity of opposites between a dying capitalism and a rising communism.
This is why the victory of the oppressed over the oppressors, the working peoples over the exploiters, becomes the center of communist praxis. Rather than putting morals-in-command we put politics-in-command so that everything might be subjected to the victory of the proletariat.
And this understanding and application of dialectical materialism is precisely what separates most anarchist organizations from most communist organizations. Not to degrade the struggle of anarchists but only by having correct theory can one have correct practice, and correct practice validates correct theory. That is real revolutionary politic; making theory work for the goal of social revolution.
3. The Vanguard Party
This leads to another point of contention one which seems to divide anarchists and communists in their work organizing on the ground. The question of a ‘Vanguard Party’. The notion of a Vanguard Party is undoubtedly synonymous with elitism, commandism, and bureaucracy to many anarchists. Some of this has to do with the ethics of hierarchy (something I will approach later in the piece) and some of it has to do with historical failures of communists in building a Vanguard Party. First, let’s understand the historical significance of a vanguard. Lenin, after socially investigating the conditions of Tsarist Russia, came to the conclusion that a party of the most advanced elements, professional revolutionaries, must be utilized to agitate for and lead a socialist revolution. Two important observations to make, first the vanguard already exists it is simply not organized, second the role of the vanguard is socially necessitated. On the first point, some individuals are more advanced theoretically in understanding capitalism, socialism, and revolutionary politic than others. These individuals exist often sporadically in capitalist society and act in small cells with little guidance other than a mutual desire to destroy the current social order. Communists propose that this vanguard of the most advanced elements for the overthrow of capitalism be united in one force to concretely develop the subjective conditions (agitating, organizing, constructing dual power, etc.) for social revolution. This party may become elitist, bureaucratic, etc. however in function it is most certainly not. It exists as an organized weapon for the working peoples. This is theoretically consistent with Marx’s desire for a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, not a coalition of proletarians; rather, an organized center acting on behalf of the interests of the whole working peoples. The principle of Democratic Centralism, freedom of discussion/criticism, unity in action actively revolutionizes the party purging it of reactionary lines and elements while ensuring it remains a concrete force for proletarian power. Mao also theorized that the party must remain fundamentally connected to the desires of the masses, acting on their interests and transforming them along the way; he did this through developing the Mass Line as a principle of combating the commandism which can push the party towards revisionism and failure. Utlizing Althusser we can also understand that the Vanguard Party is often uneven in development and has contradictions of its own. Only through combating these elements and carefully resolving these contradictions can we ensure the vitality of the Vanguard Party as a weapon of the working class.
On the second point, Lenin observed the social necessity of the vanguard party. Through all manner of ideological reinforcement capital is able to entrench its social relations particularly in the consciousness of the working peoples and the oppressed as a whole. He posited that the working class could only attain ‘trade union consciousness’ without the intervention of theoretically advanced elements. As Mao put forth, the first stage of knowledge is perceptual, the second and qualitative transformation comes in organizing perceptual knowledge into rational knowledge. The working class may perceptually understand its oppression but it is trapped in that stage of conscious development and unable to progress without theoretical intervention. Therefore the Vanguard Party exists as an organ by which the working class can express its power but also so that it might be organized as a revolutionary class. The transformation from a socially necessitated exploited class, ‘class-in-itself’, to a revolutionary force of change, a ‘class-for-itself’.
All of this reflects the communist desire to put politics-in-command. We want the establishment of socialism by the most successful means possible and we must utilize all available tools to advance this goal. The Vanguard Party is one of the most important tools and we understand its function and necessity by applying dialectics.
4. The ‘Managerial Class’
This extends into discussion surrounding a ‘managerial’ or ‘coordinating class’. While this discussion is a bit irrelevant considering we have yet to even organize a social revolution in the centers of imperialism, the fact it seems to predominate so much anarchist discourse on Marxism is worth addressing. First, on face value, a manager class does not constitute a capitalist class and should not be immediately associated with a degenerative revolution. Managers are often necessitated in the labor process, not in the same way a capitalist is necessitated in the circuit of capital. The ‘coordinators’ are professionalized elements of the working peoples and do not extract surplus value from the labor-power of workers. They do not direct the flow of capital, they do not store their wealth in private banks or invest it to expand their capital. The manager is a utility for the expediency of production in any given instance. Even when forms of self-administration are utilized the function of a manager does not disappear it is only expanded to a wider group of individuals. However, this is not to say there is no danger of a ‘managerial class’ negatively influencing the construction of socialism. There certainly is. In fact, when lower order functionaries are given too much weight, too much privilege, they may begin to agitate on behalf of private interests beyond those of socialism and form a ‘red bourgeoisie’ as it is termed. Yet, the contradiction between managers and nominal workers is a non-antagonistic contradiction, a contradiction among the people. Only when it is mishandled (see: Mao’s work on correct handling) does this contradiction become antagonistic, a ‘red bourgeoisie’ is formed, and the threat of counter-revolution becomes imminent. This is why there is a constant need to harmonize social relations with the base, something internalized by Lenin in State and Revolution but further developed by Mao. Thus the question of a ‘coordinating class’ should not be one answered with an outright rejection of the science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism but with diligent application of correct principles. The focus of anarchists, in some circles, on the ‘coordinating class’ as an inevitability is both unscientific and seemingly dishonest. All things are interconnected, and the victory of a ‘red bourgeoisie’ often requires the mishandling of many other secondary and non-antagonistic contradictions including those but not limited to the contradiction between men and women, the countryside and the city, the semi-proletariat and the proletariat, the different sectors of production, etc. Such a narrow focus on one element of socialist construction may paralyze our ability to fully comprehend the internal developments of any particular condition.
Also, keep in mind that while the manager is a tool of correcting productive inefficiencies his bourgeois character must indeed be transformed by social revolution. Remember, socialism is a unity of opposites between a dying capitalism and a rising communism and the reactionary elements of managerialism, not limited to commandism and elitism, must be combated. This may include collective managerial efforts including those understood as self-administration which took a concrete form in the revolutionary communes of China. However, the question should not devolve into a metaphysics of a ‘manager’ but how we might employ all subjective forces for the victory of revolution.
5. On Property
And this understanding of dialectics may transcend the political into the unfortunate metaphysics of some anarchist thought. Take, for example, the wide discussion of property by anarchists especially those active online. The problem here may again be understood as a misguided replacement of dialectic understanding for a crude analytic philosophy of arbitrary metaphysics.
The question should not be ‘what is property’ or ‘what is legitimate property’ but understanding, what does property do, how does it change, and how does it function in bourgeois society?
The goal here is to not make property the subject (not in the mechanical sense, to pretend that property relations do not act upon a social formation) but to understand property as an object of social forces in the development of a productive mode. Principally, a concrete relationship between classes. Bourgeois property, private property, functions as a weapon against labor in its domination by capital. By transforming property relations, abolishing private property and replacing it with social ownership, property ceases to be a weapon against the working class but an object of its utility. A tool used to advance the material conditions and productive capacity of society and in doing so promote the living standards and interests of the people. This understanding may be mechanical, as is most dialectical analysis with a sense of brevity, but the point is to ‘change’ not ‘reinterpret’ crudely. As Marx pointed out, private property has already been ‘abolished’ for the vast majority of humanity, our mission is to end its service to the bourgeoisie with its abolition entirely.
6. On Ethics
Now, some anarchists may still be unconvinced of my criticism or the validity of Marxist theory precisely so on the point of ethics. Some may even point out that the entire program of anarchism is an ethical rejection of subjugation: in a phrase ‘no gods, no masters’. The timeless rejection of ‘illegitimate authority’ and hierarchy as a form of social organization in any context. This subject no doubt could fill endless books of social philosophy and political inquiry (and perhaps we will pursue such in the future); however, we must continue with the criticism in the space given.
The desire to understand ethics abstractly is first and foremost a political dead end. Not to discount the possible understanding or theorization of some universal conception relating to the question of hierarchy but we must once again refer to our method of understanding everything: dialectical materialism. Ethics exists in the superstructure, a fundamental rationalization of the existing productive relations. It is out of no coincidence that the predominant theories of ethics reaffirm the existence of capital social relations. To very crudely summarize the contributions of Althusser in this field: the ideology of capital reproduces itself as “common sense” and no doubt in the school of ethics. Therefore to speak of ethics without some relation to the political is entirely unfeasible at least in our sense of action.
So where does this concept of ‘illegitimate authority’ or ‘oppressive hierarchy’ fit into this account? Well no doubt any oppressive hierarchy is understood through the processes of a class society. In particular, this contradiction is mediated through the principal contradiction between labor and capital. And while the principal contradiction in any particularity shifts with conditions the relationship of mediation is a universal understanding of social change. To a communist, the only way to resolve these instances of oppressive hierarchy would be to resolve the the principal contradiction. This apriori ethical rejection of capitalism in favor of horizontalism and ‘mutual social structures’ is useful insofar as an exploration of communist social relations under the umbrella of working class power. This was experienced concretely through Soviet usage of co-operatives and revolutionary communes in China. However, one should hesitate to attach moralisms to the functions of class power, in specific the tools for liberating the oppressed. Extrapolations on ethical social organization without first putting politics-in-command negates the importance of a revolutionary politic and instead substitutes morals-in-command which can paralyze a movement. Precisely so in what is referred to as the ‘tyranny of the structureless’. Where there is not a codified and understood form of organization does not mean there will be no existing form. Instead, organizations which do engage in such are usually dominated by some implicit cult of personality. In which the most charismatic individual correctly or incorrectly guides the organization through force of their own personality with no established method to challenge that direction. This is a very dangerous slope and while certainly not all ‘horizontalist’ formations fall into such there is definitely a consistent threat.
Instead we should understand hierarchy in the same way we understand all objects of power. Is a hierarchy within a revolutionary organization the same as a hierarchy within a bourgeois? Most certainly not. The function of hierarchy is utilized on behalf of the oppressed instead of against the oppressed. An M16 can be utilized by an occupying Marine, or a rebel Naxalite. The state can be used to repress the working peoples, or to repress the reactionary elements. Point being that these tools are functions of power and their usage by the proletariat necessarily transforms their character as character should be understood politically and socially before abstractly. Not to say that hierarchy does not present contradictions of its own but these can only be resolved and social relations actually transformed after putting politics-in-command.
7. Criticism and Self-Criticism
I am sure someone will inevitably criticize my appropriation of the phrase ‘politics-in-command’ outside of its routine usage but I feel as though this is the most accurate approximation of how we might distinguish an anarchist politic from a communist politic. Once again, not to demean the anarchist position, as many of their lines are correct and many of their organizations doing good work. The problem is primarily in epistemology, in how the anarchist might interpret any given condition, contradiction, or social force(s). However, this should not dilute the importance of constructive and comradely criticism. Criticism that might hopefully precede self-criticism, rectification, and orientation towards a correct theory. This is an integral condition of solid Marxism one which must dominate the activity of all Marxist organizations if they hope to be successful in their work. The disposal of the individual to the victory of the masses. To summarize Guevara, the greatest quality of any revolutionary is that of love. I agree but perhaps not in the poetic sense of admiration. Rather, the love of the masses and the unending desire for their victory should predominate all of the work which we conduct. The process of unity-struggle-unity is one of concrete utility to the revolutionary movement not simply a ‘good moral’ or maxim of thoughtful action. We must consistently resist the urge to put our personality before politics. This is a form of liberalism, a petty-bourgeois individualist line which emanates from many anarchists and communists alike who would put their careers, opinions, and qualities before the needs of the people. This is why we welcome criticism and self-criticism. Not personal or opportunistic attacks which attempt to appropriate the method of criticism but criticism which is characteristically essential to the success of the movement; the success of correct theory over incorrect theory, correct practice over incorrect practice.
If I could summarize my transformation from an anarchist to a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist I would recognize three concepts and their application: discipline, dialectics, and do-what-works.
1. Discipline in the revolutionary sense of recognizing there are those more advanced than you and your duty to build up those who are not. Subjecting yourself to the process of decision making even if you personally disagree. Accepting when you have lost and rectifying your own line.
2. Dialectics in everything we do. Not in some quasi-religious worship of a philosophy but accepting that Marxism is only omnipotent when it’s true. Using the dialectical method to analyze every condition so that the correct plan of action might be unearthed and the truths be separated from half-truths.
3. Do what works. Putting politics-in-command not in the loose ‘pragmatism’ of some opportunists but in the actual process of realizing victory for the oppressed and using every available tool to accomplish this task.
Clearly every experience is different but they are all interrelated as well. Regardless, our objective has been and always will be the victory of the oppressed over their oppressors. The total liberation of humanity found in the negation of the negation, the complete victory of communism. The identity of one aspect is intrinsic to its difference from another. To construct the new means to destroy the old and this process can only take place in the right conditions conducive to such a resolution. This requires correct theory, a correct practice and a real revolutionary politic.