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Source: The Two Traditions / Marxist Internet Archive

Published: as brochure by Anarchos for the SDS conference in 1969.
Transcription: Jonas Holmgren

By Murray Bookchin

The Two Traditions

It would be incredibly naive to suppose that Leninism was the product of a single man. The disease lies much deeper, not only in the limitations of Marxian theory but in the limitations of the social era that produced Marxism. If this is not clearly understood, we will remain as blind to the dialectic of events today as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky were in their own day. For us this blindness will be all the more reprehensible because behind us lies a wealth of experience that these men lacked in developing their theories.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were centralists—not only politically, but socially and economically. They never denied this fact and their writings are studded with glowing encomiums to political, organizational and economic centralization. As early as March 1850, in the famous “Address of the Central Council to the Communist League,” they call upon the workers to strive not only for “the single and indivisible German republic, but also strive in it for the most decisive centralization of power in the hands of the state authority.” Lest the demand be taken lightly, it is repeated continually in the same paragraph, which concludes: “As in France in 1793, so today in Germany the carrying through of the strictest centralization is the task of the really revolutionary party.”

The same theme reappears continually in later years. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, for example, Marx writes to Engels:

“The French need a thrashing. If the Prussians win, the centralization of state power will be useful for the centralization of the German working class.”[8]

Marx and Engels, however, were not centralists because they believed in the virtues of centralism per se. Quite the contrary: both Marxism and anarchism have always agreed that a liberated, communist society entails sweeping decentralization, the dissolution of bureaucracy, the abolition of the state, and the breakup of the large cities.” Abolition of the antithesis between town and country is not merely possible,” notes Engels in Anti-Dühring. “It has become a direct necessity…the present poisoning of the air, water and land can be put to an end only by the fusion of town and country. …” To Engels this involves a “uniform distribution of the population over the whole country”[9]—in short, the physical decentralization of the cities.

The origins of Marxian centralism are in problems arising from the formation of the national state. Until well into the latter half of the nineteenth century, Germany and Italy were divided into a multitude of independent duchies, principalities and kingdoms. The consolidation of these geographic units into unified nations, Marx and Engels believed, was a sine qua non for the development of modern industry and capitalism. Their praise of centralism was engendered not by any centralistic mystique but by the events of the period in which they lived—the development of technology, trade, a unified working class, and the national state. Their concern on this score, in short, is with the emergence of capitalism, with the tasks of the bourgeois revolution in an era of unavoidable material scarcity. Marx’s approach to a “proletarian revolution,” on the other hand, is markedly different. He enthusiastically praises the Paris Commune as a “model to all the industrial centers of France.” “This regime,” he writes, “once established in Paris and the secondary centers, the old centralized government would in the provinces, too, have to give way to the self-government of the producers.” (Emphasis added.) The unity of the nation, to be sure, would not disappear, and a central government would exist during the transition to communism, but its functions would be limited.

Our object is not to bandy about quotations from Marx and Engels but to emphasize how key tenets of Marxism—which are accepted so uncritically today—were in fact the product of an era that has long been transcended by the development of capitalism in the United States and Western Europe. In his day Marx was occupied not only with the problems of the “proletarian revolution” but also with the problems of the bourgeois revolution, particularly in Germany, Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe. He dealt with the problems of transition from capitalism to socialism in capitalist countries which had not advanced much beyond the coal-steel technology of the Industrial Revolution, and with the problems of transition from feudalism to capitalism in countries which had scarcely advanced much beyond handicrafts and the guild system. To state these concerns broadly, Marx was occupied above all with the preconditions of freedom (technological development, national unification, material abundance) rather than with the conditions of freedom (decentralization, the formation of communities, the human scale, direct democracy). His theories were still anchored in the realm of survival, not the realm of life.

Once this is grasped it is possible to place Marx’s theoretical legacy in meaningful perspective—to separate its rich contributions from its historically limited, indeed paralyzing, shackles on our own time. The Marxian dialectic, the many seminal insights provided by historical materialism, the superb critique of the commodity relationship, many elements of the economic theories, the theory of alienation, and above all the notion that freedom has material preconditions—these are lasting contributions to revolutionary thought.

By the same token, Marx’s emphasis on the industrial proletariat as the “agent” of revolutionary change, his “class analysis” in explaining the transition from a class to a classless society, his concept of the proletarian dictatorship, his emphasis on centralism, his theory of capitalist development (which tends to jumble state capitalism with socialism), his advocacy of political action through electoral parties—these and many related concepts are false in the context of our time and were misleading, as we shall see, even in his own day. They emerge from the limitations of his vision—more properly, from the limitations of his time. They make sense only if one remembers that Marx regarded capitalism as historically progressive, as an indispensable stage to the development of socialism, and they have practical applicability only to a time when Germany in particular was confronted by bourgeois-democratic tasks and national unification. (We are not trying to say that Marx was correct in holding this approach, merely that the approach makes sense when viewed in its time and place.) Just as the Russian Revolution included a subterranean movement of the “masses” which conflicted with Bolshevism, so there is a subterranean movement in history which conflicts with all systems of authority. This movement has entered into our time under the name of “anarchism,” although it has never been encompassed by a single ideology or body of sacred texts. Anarchism is a libidinal movement of humanity against coercion in any form, reaching back in time to the very emergence of propertied society, class rule and the state. From this period onward, the oppressed have resisted all forms that seek to imprison the spontaneous development of social order. Anarchism has surged to the foreground of the social arena in periods of major transition from one historical era to another. The decline of the ancient and feudal world witnessed the upsurge of mass movements, in some cases wildly Dionysian in character, that demanded an end to all systems of authority, privilege and coercion.

The anarchic movements of the past failed largely because material scarcity, a function of the low level of technology, vitiated an organic harmonization of human interests. Any society that could promise little more materially than equality of poverty invariably engendered deep-seated tendencies to restore a new system of privilege. In the absence of a technology that could appreciably reduce the working day, the need to work vitiated social institutions based on self-management. The Girondins of the French Revolution shrewdly recognized that they could use the working day against revolutionary Paris. To exclude radical elements from the sections, they tried to enact legislation which would end all assembly meetings before 10 p.m., the hour when Parisian workers returned from their jobs. Indeed, it was not only the manipulative techniques and the treachery of the “vanguard” organizations that brought the anarchic phases of past revolutions to an end, it was also the material limits of past eras. The “masses” were always compelled to return to a lifetime of toil and rarely were they free to establish organs of self-management that could last beyond the revolution.

Anarchists such as Bakunin and Kropotkin, however, were by no means wrong in criticizing Marx for his emphasis on centralism and his elitist notions of organization. Was centralism absolutely necessary for technological advances in the past? Was the nation-state indispensable to the expansion of commerce? Did the workers’ movement benefit by the emergence of highly centralized economic enterprises and the “indivisible” state? We tend to accept these tenets of Marxism too uncritically, largely because capitalism developed within a centralized political arena. The anarchists of the last century warned that Marx’s centralistic approach, insofar as it affected the events of the time, would so strengthen the bourgeoisie and the state apparatus that the overthrow of capitalism would be extremely difficult. The revolutionary party, by duplicating these centralistic, hierarchical features, would reproduce hierarchy and centralism in the post-revolutionary society.

Bakunin, Kropotkin and Malatesta were not so naive as to believe that anarchism could be established overnight. In imputing this notion to Bakunin, Marx and Engels willfully distorted the Russian anarchist’s views. Nor did the anarchists of the last century believe that the abolition of the state involved “laying down arms” immediately after the revolution, to use Marx’s obscurantist choice of terms, thoughtlessly repeated by Lenin in State and Revolution. Indeed, much that passes for “Marxism” in State and Revolution is pure anarchism—for example, the substitution of revolutionary militias for professional armed bodies and the substitution of organs of self-management for parliamentary bodies. What is authentically Marxist in Lenin’s pamphlet is the demand for “strict centralism,” the acceptance of a “new” bureaucracy, and the identification of soviets with a state.

The anarchists of the last century were deeply preoccupied with the question of achieving industrialization without crushing the revolutionary spirit of the “masses” and rearing new obstacles to emancipation. They feared that centralization would reinforce the ability of the bourgeoisie to resist the revolution and instill in the workers a sense of obedience. They tried to rescue all those pre-capitalist communal forms (such as the Russian mir and the Spanish pueblo) which might provide a springboard to a free society, not only in a structural sense but also a spiritual one. Hence they emphasized the need for decentralization even under capitalism. In contrast to the Marxian parties, their organizations gave considerable attention to what they called “integral education”—the development of the whole man—to counteract the debasing and banalizing influence of bourgeois society. The anarchists tried to live by the values of the future to the extent that this was possible under capitalism. They believed in direct action to foster the initiative of the “masses,” to preserve the spirit of revolt, to encourage spontaneity. They tried to develop organizations based on mutual aid and brotherhood, in which control would be exercised from below upward, not downward from above.

We must pause here to examine the nature of anarchist organizational forms in some detail, if only because the subject has been obscured by an appalling amount of rubbish. Anarchists, or at least anarcho-communists, accept the need for organization.[19*] It should be as absurd to have to repeat this point as to argue over whether Marx accepted the need for social revolution.

The real question at issue here is not organization versus non-organization, but rather what kind of organization the anarcho-communists try to establish. What the different kinds of anarcho-communist organizations have in common is organic developments from below, not bodies engineered into existence from above. They are social movements, combining a creative revolutionary lifestyle with a creative revolutionary theory, not political parties whose mode of life is indistinguishable from the surrounding bourgeois environment and whose ideology is reduced to rigid “tried and tested programs.” As much as is humanly possible, they try to reflect the liberated society they seek to achieve, not slavishly duplicate the prevailing system of hierarchy, class and authority. They are built around intimate groups of brothers and sisters—affinity groups—whose ability to act in common is based on initiative, on convictions freely arrived at, and on a deep personal involvement, not around a bureaucratic apparatus fleshed out by a docile membership and manipulated from above by a handful of all-knowing leaders.

The anarcho-communists do not deny the need for coordination between groups, for discipline, for meticulous planning, and for unity in action. But they believe that coordination, discipline, planning, and unity in action must be achieved voluntarily, by means of a self-discipline nourished by conviction and understanding, not by coercion and a mindless, unquestioning obedience to orders from above. They seek to achieve the effectiveness imputed to centralism by means of voluntarism and insight, not by establishing a hierarchical, centralized structure. Depending upon needs or circumstances, affinity groups can achieve this effectiveness through assemblies, action committees, and local, regional or national conferences. But they vigorously oppose the establishment of an organizational structure that becomes an end in itself, of committees that linger on after their practical tasks have been completed, of a “leadership” that reduces the “revolutionary” to a mindless robot.

These conclusions are not the result of flighty “individualist” impulses; quite to the contrary, they emerge from an exacting study of past revolutions, of the impact centralized parties have had on the revolutionary process, and of the nature of social change in an era of potential material abundance. Anarcho-communists seek to preserve and extend the anarchic phase that opens all the great social revolutions. Even more than Marxists, they recognize that revolutions are produced by deep historical processes. No central committee “makes” a social revolution; at best it can stage a coup détat, replacing one hierarchy by another—or worse, arrest a revolutionary process if it exercises any widespread influence. A central committee is an organ for acquiring power, for recreating power, for gathering to itself what the “masses” have achieved by their own revolutionary efforts. One must be blind to all that has happened over the past two centuries not to recognize these essential facts.

In the past, Marxists could make an intelligible (although invalid) claim for the need for a centralized party, because the anarchic phase of the revolution was nullified by material scarcity. Economically, the “masses” were always compelled to return to a daily life of toil. The revolution closed at ten o’clock, quite aside from the reactionary intentions of the Girondins of 1793; it was arrested by the low level of technology. Today even this excuse has been removed by the development of a post-scarcity technology, notably in the U.S. and Western Europe. A point has now been reached where the “masses” can begin, almost overnight, to expand drastically the “realm of freedom” in the Marxian sense—to acquire the leisure time needed to achieve the highest degree of self-management.

What the May-June events in France demonstrated was not the need for a Bolshevik-type party but the need for greater consciousness among the “masses.” Paris demonstrated that an organization is needed to propagate ideas systematically—and not ideas alone, but ideas which promote the concept of self-management. What the French “masses” lacked was not a central committee or a Lenin to “organize” or “command” them, but the conviction that they could have operated the factories instead of merely occupying them. It is noteworthy that not a single Bolshevik-type party in France raised the demand of self-management. The demand was raised only by the anarchists and the Situationists.

There is a need for a revolutionary organization—but its function must always be kept clearly in mind. Its first task is propaganda, to “patiently explain,” as Lenin put it. In a revolutionary situation, the revolutionary organization presents the most advanced demands: it is prepared at every turn of events to formulate—in the most concrete fashion—the immediate task that should be performed to advance the revolutionary process. It provides the boldest elements in action and in the decision-making organs of the revolution.

In what way, then, do anarcho-communist groups differ from the Bolshevik type of party? Certainly not on such issues as the need for organization, planning, coordination, propaganda in all its forms or the need for a social program. Fundamentally, they differ from the Bolshevik type of party in their belief that genuine revolutionaries must function within the framework of the forms created by the revolution, not within the forms created by the party. What this means is that their commitment is to the revolutionary organs of self-management, not to the revolutionary “organization”; to the social forms, not the political forms. Anarcho-communists seek to persuade the factory committees, assemblies or Soviets to make themselves into genuine organs of popular self-management, not to dominate them, manipulate them, or hitch them to an all-knowing political party. Anarcho-communists do not seek to rear a state structure over these popular revolutionary organs but, on the contrary, to dissolve all the organizational forms developed in the prerevolutionary period (including their own) into these genuine revolutionary organs.

These differences are decisive. Despite their rhetoric and slogans, the Russian Bolsheviks never believed in the soviets; they regarded them as instruments of the Bolshevik Party, an attitude which the French Trotskyists faithfully duplicated in their relations with the Sorbonne students’ assembly, the French Maoists with the French labor unions, and the Old Left groups with SDS. By 1921, the Soviets were virtually dead, and all decisions were made by the Bolshevik Central Committee and Political Bureau. Not only do anarcho-communists seek to prevent Marxist parties from repeating this; they also wish to prevent their own organization from playing a similar role. Accordingly, they try to prevent bureaucracy, hierarchy and elites from emerging in their midst. No less important, they attempt to remake themselves; to root out from their own personalities those authoritarian traits and elitist propensities that are assimilated in hierarchical society almost from birth. The concern of the anarchist movement with lifestyle is not merely a preoccupation with its own integrity, but with the integrity of the revolution itself.[20*]

In the midst of all the confusing ideological crosscurrents of our time, one question must always remain in the foreground: what the hell are we trying to make a revolution for? Are we trying to make a revolution to recreate hierarchy, dangling a shadowy dream of future freedom before the eyes of humanity? Is it to promote further technological advance, to create an even greater abundance of goods than exists today? It is to “get even” with the bourgeoisie? Is it to bring PL to power? Or the Communist Party? Or the Socialist Workers Party? Is it to emancipate abstractions such as “The Proletariat,” “The People,” “History,” “Society”?

Or is it finally to dissolve hierarchy, class rule and coercion—to make it possible for each individual to gain control of his everyday life? Is it to make each moment as marvelous as it could be and the life span of each individual an utterly fulfilling experience? If the true purpose of revolution is to bring the neanderthal men of PL to power, it is not worth making. We need hardly argue the inane questions of whether individual development can be severed from social and communal development; obviously the two go together. The basis for a whole human being is a rounded society; the basis for a free human being is a free society.

These issues aside, we are still faced with the question that Marx raised in 1850: when will we begin to take our poetry from the future instead of the past? The dead must be permitted to bury the dead. Marxism is dead because it was rooted in an era of material scarcity, limited in its possibilities by material want. The most important social message of Marxism is that freedom has material preconditions—we must survive in order to live. With the development of a technology that could not have been conceived by the wildest science fiction of Marx’s day, the possibility of a post-scarcity society now lies before us. All the institutions of propertied society—class rule, hierarchy, the patriarchal family, bureaucracy, the city, the state—have been exhausted. Today, decentralization is not only desirable as a means of restoring the human scale, it is necessary to recreate a viable ecology, to preserve life on this planet from destructive pollutants and soil erosion, to preserve a breathable atmosphere and the balance of nature. The promotion of spontaneity is necessary if the social revolution is to place each individual in control of his everyday life.

The old forms of struggle do not totally disappear with the decomposition of class society, but they are being transcended by the issues of a classless society. There can be no social revolution without winning the workers, hence they must have our active solidarity in every struggle they wage against exploitation. We fight against social crimes wherever they appear—and industrial exploitation is a profound social crime. But so are racism, the denial of the right to self-determination, imperialism and poverty profound social crimes—and for that matter so are pollution, rampant urbanization, the malignant socialization of the young, and sexual repression. As for the problem of winning the working class to the revolution, we must bear in mind that a precondition for the existence of the bourgeoisie is the development of the proletariat. Capitalism as a social system presupposes the existence of both classes and is perpetuated by the development of both classes. We begin to undermine the premises of class rule to the degree that we foster the declassifying of the non-bourgeois classes, at least institutionally, psychologically and culturally.

For the first time in history, the anarchic phase that opened all the great revolutions of the past can be preserved as a permanent condition by the advanced technology of our time. The anarchic institutions of that phase—the assemblies, the factory committees, the action committees—can be stabilized as the elements of a liberated society, as the elements of a new system of self-management. Will we build a movement that can defend them? Can we create an organization of affinity groups that is capable of dissolving into these revolutionary institutions? Or will we build a hierarchical, centralized, bureaucratic party that will try to dominate them, supplant them, and finally destroy them?

Listen, Marxist: The organization we try to build is the kind of society our revolution will create. Either we will shed the past—in ourselves as well as in our groups—or there will simply be no future to win.

New York May 1969



A Note on Affinity Groups

The term “affinity group” is the English translation of the Spanish grupo de afinidad, which was the name of an organizational form devised in pre-Franco days as the basis of the redoubtable Federación Anarquista Ibérica, the Iberian Anarchist Federation. (The FAI consisted of the most idealistic militants in the CNT, the immense anarcho-syndicalist labor union.) A slavish imitation of the FAI’s forms of organization and methods would be neither possible nor desirable. The Spanish anarchists of the thirties were faced with entirely different social problems from those which confront American anarchists today. The affinity group form, however, has features that apply to any social situation, and these have often been intuitively adopted by American radicals, who call the resulting organizations “collectives,” communes” or “families.”

The affinity group could easily be regarded as a new type of extended family, in which kinship ties are replaced by deeply empathetic human relationships—relationships nourished by common revolutionary ideas and practice. Long before the word “tribe” gained popularity in the American counterculture, the Spanish anarchists called their congresses asambleas de las tribus—assemblies of the tribes. Each affinity group is deliberately kept small to allow for the greatest degree of intimacy between those who compose it. Autonomous, communal and directly democratic, the group combines revolutionary theory with revolutionary lifestyle in its everyday behavior. It creates a free space in which revolutionaries can remake themselves individually, and also as social beings.

Affinity groups are intended to function as catalysts within the popular movement, not as “vanguards”; they provide initiative and consciousness, not a “general staff” and a source of “command.” The groups proliferate on a molecular level and they have their own “Brownian movement.” Whether they link together or separate is determined by living situations, not by bureaucratic fiat from a distant center. Under conditions of political repression, affinity groups are highly resistant to police infiltration. Owing to the intimacy of the relationships between the participants, the groups are often difficult to penetrate and, even if penetration occurs, there is no centralized apparatus to provide the infiltrator with an overview of the movement as a whole. Even under such demanding conditions, affinity groups can still retain contact with each other through their periodicals and literature.

During periods of heightened activity, on the other hand, nothing prevents affinity groups from working together closely on any scale required by a living situation. They can easily federate by means of local, regional or national assemblies to formulate common policies and they can create temporary action committees (like those of the French students and workers in 1968) to coordinate specific tasks. Affinity groups, however, are always rooted in the popular movement. Their loyalties belong to the social forms created by the revolutionary people, not to an impersonal bureaucracy. As a result of their autonomy and localism, the groups can retain a sensitive appreciation of new possibilities. Intensely experimental and variegated in lifestyles, they act as a stimulus on each other as well as on the popular movement. Each group tries to acquire the resources needed to function largely on its own. Each group seeks a rounded body of knowledge and experience in order to overcome the social and psychological limitations imposed by bourgeois society on individual development. Each group, as a nucleus of consciousness and experience, tries to advance the spontaneous revolutionary movement of the people to a point where the group can finally disappear into the organic social forms created by the revolution.


Further reading:
A Discussion on “Listen, Marxist!”



[1] Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” in Marx and Engels, Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 318.

[2] V. I. Lenin, The Threatening Catastrophe and How to Fight It, The Little Lenin Library, vol. 11 (International Publishers; New York, 1932), p. 37.

[3] Quoted in Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution (Simon & Schuster; New York, 1932), vol. 1, p. 144.

[4] V. V. Osinsky, “On the Building of Socialism,” Kommunist, no. 2, April 1918, quoted in R. V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution (Harvard University Press; Cambridge, 1960), pp. 85-86.

[5] Robert G. Wesson, Soviet Communes (Rutgers University Press; New Brunswick, N.J., 1963), p. 110.

[6] R. V. Daniels, op. cit., p. 145.

[7] Mosche Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle (Pantheon; New York, 1968), p. 122.

[8] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (International Publishers; New York, 1942), p. 292.

[9] Frederick Engels, Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (Anti-Dühring) (International Publishers; New York, 1939) p. 323.



[1*] These lines were written when the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) exercised a great deal of influence in SDS. Although the PLP has now lost most of its influence in the student movement, the organization still provides a good example of the mentality and values prevalent in the Old Left. The above characterization is equally valid for most Marxist-Leninist groups, hence this passage and other references to the PLP have not been substantially altered.

[2*] The Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, part of the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

[3*] Marxism is above all a theory of praxis, or to place this relationship in its correct perspective, a praxis of theory. This is the very meaning of Marx’s transformation of dialectics, which took it from the subjective dimension (to which the Young Hegelians still tried to confine Hegel’s outlook) into the objective, from philosophical critique into social action. If theory and praxis become divorced, Marxism is not killed, it commits suicide. This is its most admirable and noble feature. The attempts of the cretins who follow in Marx’s wake to keep the system alive with a patchwork of emendations, exegesis, and half-assed “scholarship” a la Maurice Dobb and George Novack are degrading insults to Marx’s name and a disgusting pollution of everything he stood for.

[4*] In fact Marxists do very little talking about the “chronic [economic] crisis of capitalism” these days—despite the fact that this concept forms the focal point of Marx’s economic theories.

[5*] For ecological reasons, we do not accept the notion of the “domination of nature by man” in the simplistic sense that was passed on by Marx a century ago. For a discussion of this problem, see “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought.”

[6*] It is ironic that Marxists who talk about the “economic power” of the proletariat are actually echoing the position of the anarcho-syndicalists, a position that Marx bitterly opposed. Marx was not concerned with the “economic power” of the proletariat but with its political power; notably the fact that it would become the majority of the population. He was convinced that the industrial workers would be driven to revolution primarily by material destitution which would follow from the tendency of capitalist accumulation; that, organized by the factory system and disciplined by industrial routine, they would be able to constitute trade unions and, above all, political parties, which in some countries would be obliged to use insurrectionary methods and in others (England, the United States, and in later years Engels added France) might well come to power in elections and legislate socialism into existence. Characteristically, many Marxists have been as dishonest with their Marx and Engels as the Progressive Labor Party has been with the readers ofChallenge, leaving important observations untranslated or grossly distorting Marx’s meaning.

[7*] This is as good a place as any to dispose of the notion that anyone is a “proletarian” who has nothing to sell but his labor power. It is true that Marx defined the proletariat in these terms, but he also worked out a historical dialectic in the development of the proletariat. The proletariat developed out of a propertyless exploited class, reaching its most advanced form in the industrial proletariat, which corresponded to the most advanced form of capital. In the later years of his life, Marx came to despise the Parisian workers, who were engaged preponderantly in the production of luxury goods, citing “our German workers”—the most robot-like in Europe—as the “model” proletariat of the world.

[8*] The attempt to describe Marx’s immiseration theory in international terms instead of national (as Marx did) is sheer subterfuge. In the first place, this theoretical legerdemain simply tries to sidestep the question of why immiseration has not occurred within the industrial strongholds of capitalism, the only areas which form a technologically adequate point of departure for a classless society. If we are to pin our hopes on the colonial world as “the proletariat,” this position conceals a very real danger: genocide. America and her recent ally Russia have all the technical means to bomb the underdeveloped world into submission. A threat lurks on the historical horizon—the development of the United States into a truly fascist imperium of the nazi type. It is sheer rubbish to say that this country is a “paper tiger.” It is a thermonuclear tiger and the American ruling class, lacking any cultural restraints, is capable of being even more vicious than the German.

[9*] Lenin sensed this and described “socialism” as “nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people. “[2] This is an extraordinary statement if one thinks out its implications, and a mouthful of contradictions.

[10*] On this score, the Old Left projects its own neanderthal image on the American worker. Actually this image more closely approximates the character of the union bureaucrat or the Stalinist commissar.

[11*] The worker, in this sense, begins to approximate the socially transitional human types who have provided history with its most revolutionary elements. Generally, the “proletariat” has been most revolutionary in transitional periods, when it was least “proletarianized” psychically by the industrial system. The great focuses of the classical workers’ revolutions were Petrograd and Barcelona, where the workers had been directly uprooted from a peasant background, and Paris, where they were still anchored in crafts or came directly from a craft background. These workers had the greatest difficulty in acclimating themselves to industrial domination and became a continual source of social and revolutionary unrest. By contrast, the stable hereditary working class tended to be surprisingly non-revolutionary. Even in the case of the German workers who were cited by Marx and Engels as models for the European proletariat, the majority did not support the Spartacists in 1919. They returned large majorities of official Social Democrats to the Congress of Workers’ Councils, and to the Reichstag in later years, and rallied consistently behind the Social Democratic Party right up to 1933.

[12*] This revolutionary lifestyle may develop in the factories as well as on the streets, in schools as well as in crash-pads, in the suburbs as well as on the Bay Area-East Side axis. Its essence is defiance, and a personal “propaganda of the deed” that erodes all the mores, institutions and shibboleths of domination. As society begins to approach the threshold of the revolutionary period, the factories, schools and neighborhoods become the actual arena of revolutionary “play”—a “play” that has a very serious core. Strikes become a chronic condition and are called for their own sake to break the veneer of routine, to defy the society on an almost hourly basis, to shatter the mood of bourgeois normality. This new mood of the workers, students and neighborhood people is a vital precursor to the actual moment of revolutionary transformation. Its most conscious expression is the demand for “self-management”; the worker refuses to be a “managed” being, a class being. This process was most evident in Spain, on the eve of the 1936 revolution, when workers in almost every city and town called strikes “for the hell of it”—to express their independence, their sense of awakening, their break with the social order and with bourgeois conditions of life. It was also an essential feature of the 1968 general strike in France.

[13*] A fact which Trotsky never understood. He never followed through the consequences of his own concept of “combined development” to its logical conclusions. He saw (quite correctly) that czarist Russia, the latecomer in the European bourgeois development, necessarily acquired the most advanced industrial and class forms instead of recapitulating the entire bourgeois development from its beginnings. He neglected to consider that Russia, torn by tremendous internal upheaval, might even run ahead of the capitalist development elsewhere in Europe. Hypnotized by the formula “nationalized property equals socialism,” he failed to recognize that monopoly capitalism itself tends to amalgamate with the state by its own inner dialectic. The Bolsheviks, having cleared away the traditional forms of bourgeois social organization (which still act as a rein on the state capitalist development in Europe and America), inadvertently prepared the ground for a “pure” state capitalist development in which the state finally becomes the ruling class. Lacking support from a technologically advanced Europe, the Russian Revolution became an internal counterrevolution; Soviet Russia became a form of state capitalism that does not “benefit the whole people.” Lenin’s analogy between “socialism” and state capitalism became a terrifying reality under Stalin. Despite its humanistic core, Marxism failed to comprehend how much its concept of “socialism” approximates a later stage of capitalism itself—the return to mercantile forms on a higher industrial level. The failure to understand this development led to devastating theoretical confusion in the contemporary revolutionary movement, as witness the splits among the Trotskyists over this question.

[14*] The March 22nd Movement functioned as a catalytic agent in the events, not as a leadership. It did not command; it instigated, leaving a free play to the events. This free play, which allowed the students to push ahead on their own momentum, was indispensable to the dialectic of the uprising, for without it there would have been no barricades on May 10, which in turn triggered off the general strike of the workers.

[15*] See “The Forms of Freedom” [New York, January 1968].

[16*] With a sublime arrogance that is attributable partly to ignorance, a number of Marxist groups were to dub virtually all of the above forms of self-management as “Soviets.” The attempt to bring all of these different forms under a single rubric is not only misleading but willfully obscurantist. The actual Soviets were the least democratic of the revolutionary forms and the Bolsheviks shrewdly used them to transfer the power to their own party. The Soviets were not based on face-to-face democracy, like the Parisian sections or the student assemblies of 1968. Nor were they based on economic self-management, like the Spanish anarchist factory committees. The Soviets actually formed a workers’ parliament, hierarchically organized, which drew its representation from factories and later from military units and peasant villages.

[17*] V. I. Lenin, “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government,” in Selected Works, vol. 7 (International Publishers; New York, 1943), p. 342. In this harsh article, published in April 1918, Lenin completely abandoned the libertarian perspective he had advanced the year before in State and Revolution. The main themes of the article are the needs for “discipline,” for authoritarian control over the factories, and for the institution of the Taylor system (a system Lenin had denounced before the revolution as enslaving men to the machine). The article was written during a comparatively peaceful period of Bolshevik rule some two months after the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and a month before the revolt of the Czech Legion in the Urals—the revolt that started the civil war on a wide scale and opened the period of direct Allied intervention in Russia. Finally, the article was written nearly a year before the defeat of the German revolution. It would be difficult to account for the “Immediate Tasks” merely in terms of the Russian civil war and the failure of the European revolution.

[18*] In interpreting this elemental movement of the Russian workers and peasants as a series of “White Guard conspiracies,” “acts of kulak resistance,” and “plots of international capital,” the Bolsheviks reached an incredible theoretical low and deceived no one but themselves. A spiritual erosion developed within the party that paved the way for the politics of the secret police, for character assassination, and finally for the Moscow trials and the annihilation of the Old Bolshevik cadre. One sees the return of this odious mentality in PL articles like “Marcuse: Cop-out or Cop?”—the theme of which is to establish Marcuse as an agent of the CIA. (See Progressive Labor, February 1969.) The article has a caption under a photograph of demonstrating Parisians which reads: “Marcuse got to Paris too late to stop the May action.” Opponents of the PLP are invariably described by this rag as “redbaiters” and as “anti-worker.” If the American left does not repudiate this police approach and character assassination it will pay bitterly in the years to come.

[19*] The term “anarchist” is a generic word like the term “socialist,” and there are probably as many different kinds of anarchists as there are socialists. In both cases, the spectrum ranges from individuals whose views derive from an extension of liberalism (the “individualist anarchists,” the social-democrats) to revolutionary communists (the anarcho-communists, the revolutionary Marxists, Leninists and Trotskyists).

[20*] It is this goal, we may add, that motivates anarchist dadaism, the anarchist flipout that produces the creases of consternation on the wooden faces of PLP types. The anarchist flipout attempts to shatter the internal values inherited from hierarchical society, to explode the rigidities instilled by the bourgeois socialization process. In short, it is an attempt to break down the superego that exercises such a paralyzing effect upon spontaneity, imagination and sensibility and to restore a sense of desire, possibility and the marvelous—of revolution as a liberating, joyous festival.


Last updated on: 9.6.2010

Murray Bookchin Archive | MIA