Saturday, February 25, 2012

Communism and anarchism

So I'm going through this phase where, as a means of procrastination, I'm reading a lot about the Soviet Union and the history of interaction between communists of the state and anarchist varieties, such as Emma Goldman's book, My Disillusionment in Russia, and Peter Kropotkin's vision of a possible anarcho-communist revolution, The Conquest of Bread.

You'll see that I used the word "possible." One of the key differences between anarchist and state communist thinkers is the dogma: the former, like Kropotkin, though willing to lay out a general outline of what they think must be done, aren't willing to dictate a One True Way to anarcho-topia, whereas your Lenins and Trotskys would argue that there must be a revolutionary party that must seize the existing institutions of state power and must institute a centrally administered dictatorship of the proletariat.

The more dogmatic, uniform nature of state communist thinkers is evident in their lexicography, anarcho-communists and other leftist dissenters are but "petit-bourgeois," to be purged the moment the Party has assumed power. Or maybe sooner. Trotsky, for example, calls anarchism "an utterly anti-revolutionary doctrine" due to its principled anti-statism, blaming it for the fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War:
To renounce the conquest of power is voluntarily to leave the power with those who wield it, the exploiters. The essence of every revolution consisted and consists in putting a new class in power, thus enabling it to realize its own program in life. It is impossible to wage war and to reject victory. It is impossible to lead the masses towards insurrection without preparing for the conquest of power.
Trotsky, of course, wrote those words while living in exile, having been purged from the Communist Party leadership by Stalin, who later had him assassinated. Live by the conquest of power, die by the conquest of power.


  1. Dongo2:34 PM

    I'm not one to defend state institutions of any sort, including the oddly-contradictory concept of "state communism", but it's worth noting that quite a few communist and socialist revolutions have enjoyed some degree of success (even if temporary and rapidly corrupted), whereas anarchist revolutions are almost immediately strangled in their cribs and have yet to achieve anything remotely resembling even transient success.

  2. Dongo,

    The Catalans, the "Makhnovists" and the Italians all had varying degrees of longevity and success, such that "strangled in cribs" is perhaps not the best description.

  3. "But He does not yet perceive our purpose clearly. He supposes that we were all going to Minas Tirith; for that is what he would himself have done in our place. And according to his wisdom it would have been a heavy stroke against his power. Indeed He is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly apear, wielding the Ring, and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place. That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream."

  4. jcapan10:04 PM

    Can't recommend this one highly enough:

  5. Not to discount the more overt anarchist revolutions Jack Crow mentions, but I'm far more drawn to citing the local, more constant anarchic efforts in all societies: Argentinian worker takeovers, Zapata, U.S. intentional communes, etc.

    This sort of gets to the core of what Trotsky never understood, and his quote is so telling. Statists like him want easy revolution, not true revolution. One violent overthrow, one vanguard party to solve all the problems, it's a lazy shortcut that doesn't come anywhere near arriving at our common desired destination.

    Anarchism is a tedious revolution: revolt in every workplace, every community, every level of governance. Revolt against your own privilege. Confront your own proclivity to the patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc.

  6. Daniel,

    I almost went in the direction of Mondragon, Gaviotas* and the autonomist workers collectives in Bologna, but it seemed that Dongo had a specific concept of revolution in mind, and even within those limits, the idea that anarchism has been crib-strangled seemed suspect.

    * - Gaviotas is not ideologically anarchist, but it's organizational modes of operation mimic some of what we anarchists tend to discuss when we argue for "from the ground up."

  7. I highly recommend Martin Amis' "Koba the Dread" for a personal account of how even after his atrocities were well known and documented, the far left continued to sing Stalin's praises.

  8. Ellis5:42 AM

    Actually, the history of the anarchists in Spain proves exactly what Trotsky said. The anarchist leaders lined up behind the very repressive forces inside the Loyalist government that were crushing the workers, peasants and poor. And that meant also helping to crush the anarchists who opposed this betrayal, like the friends of Durruti.

  9. I highly recommend Martin Amis' "Koba the Dread" for a personal account of how even after his atrocities were well known and documented, the far left continued to sing Stalin's praises.

    Probably not a line of inquiry that should be pursued by anarchists. Anti-communism and redbaiting have been the cause of a lot of state violence, after all.