The Platypus Questions on Marxism & Anarchism

From Anarkismo - by Wayne Price
Announcement of Event
The Platypus Society is having a panel discussion in Chicago on “Radical Ideology Today: Marxism and Anarchism.” It will be at 7 pm on the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), room TBA, March 17, 2014, a Monday. This is part of a number of discussions on this topic which they are sponsoring in several cities (including NYC). At this point in time, I was told, they have invited Peter Hudis, of the Marxist-Humanist Institute, someone from the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, a local anarchist (TBA), and…me. (I won’t be “representing” anyone, let alone “the anarchists,” just expressing my own views.)

To prepare for the discussion, the Platypusites have prepared a 3 paragraph statement (“Panel Description”) and a list of 6 questions. (http://platypus1917.org/2013/11/15/upcoming-internation...hism/) Since each panelist gets only 12 minutes to speak (to provide time for dialogue and audience comments), they cannot expect us to cover all of this. Therefore I am now writing out my responses. (This is NOT what I will be saying in my 12 minutes; it is what I might say if I had an hour.)

The Statement about Marxism and Anarchism

The statement begins by declaring, “It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Anarchism and Marxism…. They are the revolutionary heritage…” It asks what we make of this today. While radical feminism, Black consciousness/ nationalism, and eco-socialism may also be called “radical ideologies,” it seems fair to say that anarchism and Marxism are the two main, historic, systems-of-ideas for total social change. They propose abolition of the state, capitalism, and all other forms of oppression.

The statement presents an odd conception of anarchism, referring to “…an anarchist practice—understood as an anti-hierarchical principle that insists [!] revolution must begin now…[but] Marxism rejects anti-statist adventurism….” No doubt there are adventurist anarchists (and Marxists!) who believe that a revolution could be sparked at any moment. But while I would be happy to see a revolution begin immediately, like most anarchists I am aware that the US is not in a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary period—yet. Anarchists participate in mass movements which fight for short-range reforms (higher wages, union recognition, keeping abortion legal, an end to current US wars, GLBT rights, etc.). But they should guide their current actions by the long-range goal of a socialist-anarchist revolution. And they should be aware that the ruling class is most likely to grant reforms when it feels threatened by revolutionary opposition.

The Platypus Questions

1.What do Marxism and Anarchism have to say to those politicized today?

Ans.: I do not accept Marxism as a total world view, but think that it has valuable concepts and insights which are useful for revolutionary anarchists. In particular, Marxism (the Marxism of Marx and Engels) has the best analysis of how capitalism works; there is nothing comparable in anarchist theory. But anarchism has a far better vision of what a post-capitalist society should look like--the goal. Anarchists reject the Marxist program of either taking over the existing state or building a new state, and nationalizing and centralizing the economy. This is the route to state capitalism, not to a stateless, classless, society.

2. In general, what forms of organization are necessitated by the theories we inherit and the tasks of today?

I am a supporter of the “dual-organizationalist” tradition in anarchism. It is sometimes called “neo-platformism” or (in Latin America) “especificismo.” It advocates the formation of a specifically revolutionary anarchist organization in the form of democratic federalism. This would participate in broader popular organizations (unions, community groups, united fronts of radical groups, etc.). This is not a “party” because it does not aim to take power for itself. It does not intend to either get elected to office or to seize state power. The anarchist organization promotes mass self-activity, militancy, participation, and self-organization, to prefigure a self-managed society.

3. Can you briefly assess the most important splits and breaks between and within both traditions? Does the historical divide between Marxism and Anarchism still matter?

Within anarchism there are those (going back to Bakunin) who advocate eventual revolution: the smashing of the state and the capitalist class, and then their replacement with an association of workplace councils, neighborhood assemblies and popular militias. This requires building mass movements of popular opposition. This is revolutionary, class-struggle, anarchist-communism. But others, perhaps a majority, of anarchists today advocate building alternate institutions and lifestyles (coops, bike clubs, gardens, etc.). In this view (going back to Proudhon), these would spread until they can, mostly peacefully, take over and replace capitalism and the state. These views are not necessarily sharply differentiated. The first viewpoint does not oppose the formation of coops and community organizations, but sees them as, at best, a part of an overall revolutionary program. But, by itself, the alternate-institution idea is not a workable strategy.

Within Marxism, there has long been a (small, minority) trend which is based on the libertarian, democratic, humanistic, and proletarian side of Marxism. It rejected the authoritarian, statist, and scientistic side. From William Morris to today’s “left communists,” these tendencies have raised a revolutionary politics close to anarchism, while using Marx’s critique of political economy. I think that anarchists can find this trend sympathetic. But this does not mean that anarchists can simply become uncritical Marxists. The authoritarian side of Marxism is also real and has resulted in terrible suffering for working people.

Anarchists and Marxists can work together. This is because they share a set of negative politics: they are both against capitalism and the capitalist ruling class, the existing state, patriarchy, white supremacy, ecological catastrophe, etc. Differences are about positive politics, what they are for: whether to be for a new, bureaucratic-military, state or for a non-state federation of councils and associations. Some Marxists are very far from anarchist goals, being openly totalitarian. Others claim to be quite close to libertarian socialism. (But many of the most anti-authoritarian Marxists are often supporters of Lenin’s one-party police state, and presumably would do something comparable if “objective factors” similarly pressured them.)

4. What are the inalienable values and the end goals of radical politics? Are Marxism and Anarchism ideologies of freedom? Of democracy? Of the working class?

Anarchism is the most extreme version of radical, participatory, democracy. While not opposed to all necessary delegation and representation, it wants a society rooted in self-managed communities and workplaces of day-to-day direct, face-to-face, democracy. Democracy and freedom are its “values and end goals.” As contrasted with Marxism. While Marx was deeply motivated by moral values, his theory did not include them. It relied on the “historical process.” Nowhere did Marx write that socialism was “good,” or that people “should” be for socialism. This lack of clarity about moral goals led to most revolutionary Marxists accepting the monstrosities of Stalinist Russia and Maoist China as “really existing socialism.”

Marxism and class-struggle anarchism overlap in that both look to the working class, allied with other oppressed groupings, as the agent of change. Strategically, the workers have the ability to immediately stop society and to start it up on another basis. The US working class is perhaps the most conservative working class in the world. But the workers are the majority of the US population; without the workers, there will be no revolution. No one is more likely to revolt against the felt evils of the capitalist workplace than workers—certainly not managers, police officers, or shopkeepers. And the working class overlaps with every other oppressed group: women, People of Color, GLBT people, prisoners, and people who suffer from climate change.

5. What should we fight for today - more state or less state?

What we should want is not more or less state, but NO state, as part of a classless, stateless, nonoppressive, society. Put another way, what we should fight for is not so much “less state” but less oppression, domination, and exploitation! Anarchists are not merely against the state, but against all oppression, of which the state is the keystone. (There is no such thing as “anarcho-capitalism.”) Just as workers make demands on a corporation’s management (e.g., for higher wages), I think they can make demands on the overall management of capitalist society, the state (e.g., for living wage laws). But just as workers should not join a corporate board of directors (as some have done, here and in Europe), so they should not seek to join the state through a supposed “workers’ party” or “improved” Democratic Party.

6. Has history vindicated Marxism or Anarchism or neither at all?

In terms of theory, Marxism has been definitely “vindicated” as a critique of political economy. The continuation of the business cycle, including periodic crashes, the long-term stagnation of the epoch of capitalist decline, the growth of semi-monopoly capitalism and imperialism, the continuation of class conflict, and the ecological crises—all were present in Marx’s economic theory.

Anarchism has also been theoretically “vindicated” in the failures of both reformist and revolutionary state socialist strategies. The anarchist opposition to electoralism (the “parliamentary road to socialism”) has been repeatedly justified in practice. Anarchism further predicted that the Marxist program of a “workers’ state” with nationalization would lead to state capitalism, with a new, bureaucratic, ruling class. Unfortunately, this has also been demonstrated for an extended period.

But in a key way, both anarchism and Marxism have been failures. Neither alone nor together have they led to successful socialist working class revolutions in the industrialized countries or elsewhere.

Marxism has especially failed. The first wave of world Marxism led to reformist social democracy, which revealed itself to be pro-imperialist, statist, and counterrevolutionary. The next wave, of Leninism, led to the authoritarian, mass murdering, inefficient, state capitalist regimes—which have now collapsed back into traditional capitalism. As Engels liked to say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Marxists have to explain why and how their theory repeatedly produced such terrible results.

This does not mean that authentic socialist revolutions will not succeed in the future. I advise combining the anarchist vision and values with the Marxist economic analysis to reach that goal. History is not over.

Further Reading

a) Peter Hudis, the Marxist-Humanist, has recently published a book on the post-capitalist vision of Marx. My review can be found at:

The Alternative to Capitalism? A Review of Peter Hudis, “Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism”
http://anarkismo.net/article/26446

b) The Chairman of the Maoist RCP, Bob Avakian, has written a criticism of anarchism. My response can be found at:

A Maoist Attack on Anarchism: An Anarchist Response to Bob Avakian, “MLM vs. Anarchism”
http://anarkismo.net/article/5847?search_text=Wayne+Price

c) For further discussion of the relation between anarchism and Marxism, see

The Marxist Paradox: An Anarchist Critique
Review of Ronald D. Tabor, The Tyranny of Theory: A Contribution to the Anarchist Critique of Marxism.
http://anarkismo.net/article/26583?search_text=Wayne+Price

*written for www.Anarkismo.net

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Comments

Please get me out of here.

Bus tickets to Seattle shouldn't be very steep... or carpooling.

I remember what Seattle was like in 2007-2008. Most people I talked to thought everything was dead and that the image of lib-rad-anarchy from anti-globalization times snuffed out any ongoing possibility. The biggest difference between Chicago and Seattle is that some people took responsibility for turning the anarchist space around in Seattle. This meant being ok with hard work, taking an experimental approach, and several years in which there was no guarantee things would get better.

Same for Atlanta.

Total dismay and hopelessness for years. A number of people made long, patient, strides toward what they wanted to see; planting seeds and building ties. When Occupy happened, the stage had already been set and things have been irreversibly shifted.

This exactly. Atlanta really used to be purely leftist. We didn't have ANYTHING at all to work with. When I was one of "the young anarchists", an open door to the left was really all the old crowed left for us. (Groups like CTC and mad rats and shit) Anarchists here were either working for Jobs With Justice or various other progressive NGOs and those of us who didn't work directly with them were still operating as their "base" playing loyal opposition at every rally and march they would hold. Obedient too... There was little to no rocking the boat going on. If there were other anarchists, we didn't know of them.

In other words (to the OP) Atlanta was fuckin bleak!!! Top that off with the MLK non violent civil rights era politics that defined struggle in Atlanta for decades and it could be argued that Atlanta was about as unfertile as it gets for anarchists in North America.

Things can shift quick... In Atlanta all it took was a small handful of people dedicated to just a few random (unorganized even) projects we felt were more meaningful to us than whatever everyone else was doing and shit snowballed from there.

I was a capitalist puppet for most of my life, yeah, I'd done wage slavery, gambling, rent, mortgage, licence application and obedience to authority until a friend turned me on to one incredible writer who made all philosophies and ideologies suddenly seem,,,insignificant. This amazing person revolutionized my whole perception of reality, I went from being a grumpy cantankerous person to a free anarchist thinker and lover of humanity, by just reading this one volume of work. Call it subliminal wisdom and the chemistry of poetry and concepts somehow combined and juxtaposed in a way that certain atoms combine to form giant resilient molecules of significant resilience, so this writer and his wondrous work have transformed me to the extent that I am held in awe by any freedom fighters who engage in conversation with me. With a small deposit of $100 US I can send you the mind changing masterpiece of anarchist enlightenment which the author has permitted me to release to world at this critical piont in history, knowing that it will produce and be the catalyst for the eternal revolution all anarchists have been waiting for for 150 years.

lol... a fine hit, my son.

But its only $10 bux here... http://www.crimethinc.com/books/days.html
Thank God for the Free Market!

Yes I know, a cheap plagiarism of the masterpiece I have available, my volume comes with a swiss army knife stitched into its spine, yes, it can actually save you in real life situations from severe embarrassment!

"Marxism and class-struggle anarchism overlap in that both look to the working class, allied with other oppressed groupings, as the agent of change."

Ewww this is how identity politics are born...

Please do better Chicago... please?

Can't avoid it … have to pass through the fiery crucible ;)

Trying to pass through the Left seems a dead end to me. I think we must fully abandon it. Fighting for the minds of "the politicized" seems less useful then abandoning the dead weight of Leftist identity.

It seems that the places (or instances) where meaningful progress has been made by anarchists, are where the failed and anti-anarchist programs of the Left were ignored and left defunct. These vampires will only suck our energy, and AS HISTORY ALWAYS PROVES will stab us in the back. Engaging with them in the graveyard of ideology is a loosing battle.

It seems evident that the appeal of anarchism is in the streets. When we engage in struggle as only anarchists can, Moaists and the like, can only look ridiculous (and show their counter-revolutionary nature) as they scramble to gain control. The only people who won't be able to see this are those who have already drank the cool aide.

So no comrade you don't have to suffer on the altar of the Left. This serves none but our enemies.

Will someone please mail chicago copies of The Coming Insurrection or something?

I fucking wish anyone in Chicago would read strategies and theories from the past ten years, but it feels like everyone here is just trying to live out a late-90s activist fantasy.

gross.

There's a lot of that everywhere.
At least it's not as bad as being stuck in a city where anarchists literally still think it's the 1930s.

Oh, no, we've got an active IWW chapter in Chicago, too.

I'm not sure if there's a larger current or if it's just me on a personal level but I was exposed to identity politics through vicious infighting and accountability processes, since I'm not an academic, I came across it during the conflicts instead.

So I did the reading and added some useful shit to my analysis and avoided taking my new sense of identity too seriously and now I'm better for it. I watched how some people were sincere and others used this shit to try and play the thought police.

I think it might be a messy growth process with sum total gains? caveat: If your "scene" doesn't survive then maybe it wasn't that great to begin with?

The Platypus Society is a minor left-sectarian group (and a bit of a cult, I hear) in Chicago that exists mainly in the form of internet discussions, even less significant than the ISO. And look who they invited to participate in this forum the RCP, the coma-inducing Marxist-Humanists. Jesus Christ

some @s in Chicago have fucked with Platypus on and off for years. the Plats take the art school crowd and some grad school marxists. they're pretty boring generally. they basically do a close trotskyist read of marxist texts and call the rest of the Left stupid.

it's not like the anarchist crowd in chicago has anything so interesting going on that they're stepping on anarchist territory. it gets droll rehashing guilt/privilege discussions all the time, and the visible anarchist groups are beyond lame. i can't say i want to hear some undergrad's profound interpretation of Luckas, but Platypus' has outlasted any dumb @ reading group in this town.

i went to a plat thing like this once and saw some weird anarcho-insurrecto dude get drunk on stage and make all the commie party and platypus panelists look and sound like idiots. probably the only good thing plat has ever done. and the free food, if they aren't too cheap to have snacks for everyone. i don't think seeing Wayne Price's blahblahblah will be that sort of performance.

"probably the only good thing plat has ever done. and the free food, if they aren't too cheap to have snacks for everyone."

When have the Plats ever had free food? I went to the Plat convention with a friend one time, and afterwards, there was a catered dinner at a bar call, I shit you not, The Exchequer. It was absurd. Chicken wings, pitchers of like six kinds of beer, and pizzas a yard wide with cheese three-eighths thick. In a separate room, with a section of the staff dedicated purely to attending to that needs of the art school leftists. We were invited to this with no mention of money. When it was over, they sent a dude around to hit everyone up for 25 dollars! I said fuck that, and left some cash on the table for the staff. It was probably the most bourgeois thing I've ever seen, and I've been in a country club.

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