Monday, June 1, 2009

Anarchism and Marxism

From the Socialist Standard, August 2000.

Book Review: Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left by Murray Bookchin. AK Press. 1999.

Murray Bookchin is on the same wavelength as us in that he, too, stands for a classless, stateless society of common ownership in which money becomes redundant and the principle "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" applies.

But the agreement does not stop there. He recommends Marx's analysis of how the capitalist economic system works ("As a study of the capitalist economy as a whole, it [Capital] has no equal today. Marx's economic studies are central to any socialist analysis"). In this book, largely a collection of interviews, he also argues that, although capitalism can offer the occasional palliative, it can never be reformed so as to work in the interest of the majority. And he defends rationalism, science and technology against the current wave of New Age mysticism and self-indulgent life-stylism (including fighting the police on demonstrations) that has infected the Green and anarchist movements. He opposes so-called "identity politics", seeing this as essentially seeking a better deal for women, gays and blacks within capitalism as well as being divisive.

So where do we disagree? As a boy Bookchin had been a member of the US Communist Party's youth section, then he became a Trotskyist. By the 1960s he had come to call himself an anarchist and wrote a series of influential articles that were later published as Post-Scarcity Anarchism. His main argument was that current scientific knowledge and technology had made it possible to establish more or less immediately a decentralised society which would not only eliminate material want but also allow the state and hierarchies to be dissolved and money to be abolished.

In one of the essays called "Listen Marxist!" he gave the vanguardists with their advocacy of "proletarian dictatorships" and "transitional states" a real trouncing in the same sort of way we do. Only he mistakenly attributed the source of their views to Marx, whereas the essay should have more accurately been called "Listen Leninist!". Interestingly enough, while still disagreeing with Marx (as over questions of history and the need to win control of the central state) he backtracks considerably in this book on his earlier criticisms.

The major disagreement between him and us is precisely over this last point of the need for the majority to win control of the central state in the course of establishing socialism. In classic anarchist fashion he opposes this on the grounds that, supposedly, it would lead to the perpetuation of the state under new management. He accepts that to win control of the state the majority would need a party but argues that any party must inevitably reflect the state.

He is on very weak ground here as, contrary to classical anarchism (indeed, some other anarchists regard him as not being an anarchist for this), he is in favour of those who want a decentralised, classless, stateless society participating in local elections. But this too involves organising as a party. But if such a party, operating at local level, can organise itself on democratic, non-hierarchical lines why can't a party contesting national elections do so?

Bookchin does in fact advocate co-operation between local "libertarian municipalist" parties, so why couldn't they constitute a federation based on the principles of delegated democracy to win control of central state power without becoming a statist party? And if they could, why not do it? Surely this would be a better strategy than working to win control of local councils in the hope that when a majority of them had been won "the nation-state's power would be sufficiently diminished that people would withdraw their support from it, and it would collapse like a house of cards"? Far better, if only to minimise the risk of violence, to organise also to win a majority in parliament too, not to form a government of course but to end capitalism and dismantle the state.


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