H.1 Have anarchists always opposed state socialism?

Yes. Anarchists have always argued that real socialism cannot be created using a state. The basic core of the argument is simple. Socialism implies equality, yet the state signifies inequality -- inequality in terms of power. As we argued in section B.2, anarchists consider one of the defining aspects of the state is its hierarchical nature. In other words, the delegation of power into the hands of a few. As such, it violates the core idea of socialism, namely social equality. Those who make up the governing bodies in a state have more power than those who have elected them.

Hence these comments by Malatesta and Hamon:

"It could be argued with much more reason that we are the most logical and most complete socialists, since we demand for every person not just his [or her] entire measure of the wealth of society but also his [or her] portion of social power." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, p. 20]

It is with this perspective that anarchists have combated the idea of state socialism and Marxism (although we should stress that libertarian forms of Marxism, such as council communism, have strong similarities to anarchism). This opposition to authoritarian socialism is a core aspect of anarchism, an opposition which has been consistent and strong. While it is sometimes argued by some on the right that libertarian socialists and anarchists only started voicing their opposition to Marxism and Leninism after the Soviet Union collapsed, the truth is totally different. Anarchists, we must stress, have been opposed to all forms of state socialism from the start (in the case of the Russian Revolution, the anarchists were amongst the first on the left to be suppressed by the Bolsheviks). Indeed, the history of Marxism is, in part, a history of its struggles against anarchists just as the history of anarchism is also, in part, a history of its struggle against the various forms of Marxism and its offshoots. To state, or imply, that anarchists have only lately opposed Marxism is false -- we have been arguing against Marxism since the start.

While both Stirner and Proudhon wrote many pages against the evils and contradictions of state socialism, anarchists have only really been fighting the Marxist form of state socialism since Bakunin. This is because, until the First International, Marx and Engels were relatively unknown socialist thinkers. Proudhon was aware of Marx (they had meant in France in the 1840s and had corresponded) but Marxism was unknown in France during his life time and so Proudhon did not directly argue against Marxism (he did, however, critique Louis Blanc and other French state socialists). Similarly, when Stirner wrote The Ego and Its Own Marxism did not exist bar a few works by Marx and Engels. Indeed, it could be argued that Marxism finally took shape after Marx had read Stirner's classic and produced his notoriously inaccurate diatribe The German Ideology against him. However, like Proudhon, Stirner attacked other state socialists and communists.

Before discussing Bakunin's opposition and critique of Marxism in the next section, we should consider the thoughts of Stirner and Proudhon on state socialism. These critiques contain may important ideas and so are worth summarising. However, it is worth noting that when both Stirner and Proudhon were writing communist ideas were all authoritarian in nature. Libertarian communism only developed after Bakunin's death in 1876. This means that when Proudhon and Stirner were critiquing "communism" they were attacking a specific form of communism, the form which subordinated the individual to the community. Anarchist communists like Kropotkin and Malatesta also opposed such kinds of "communism" (as Kropotkin put it, "before and in 1848" communism "was put forward in such a shape as to fully account for Proudhon's distrust as to its effect upon liberty. The old idea of Communism was the idea of monastic communities . . . The last vestiges of liberty and of individual energy would be destroyed, if humanity ever had to go through such a communism." [Act for Yourselves, p. 98]). Of course, it may be likely that Stirner and Proudhon would have rejected libertarian communism as well, but bear in mind that not all forms of "communism" are identical.

For Stirner, the key issue was that communism (or socialism), like liberalism, looked to the "human" rather than the unique. "To be looked upon as a mere part, part of society," asserted Striner, "the individual cannot bear -- because he is more; his uniqueness puts from it this limited conception." [The Ego and Its Own, p. 265] As such, his protest against communism was similar to his protest against liberalism (indeed, he drew attention to their similarity by calling socialism and communism "social liberalism").

Stirner was aware that capitalism was not the great defender of freedom it was claimed to be by its supporters. "Restless acquisition," he argued, "does not let us take breath, take a claim enjoyment: we do not get the comfort of our possessions." Communism, by the "organisation of labour," can "bear its fruit" so that "we come to an agreement about human labours, that they may not, as under competition, claim all our time and toil." However, communism "is silent" over "for whom is time to be gained." He, in contrast, stresses that it is for the individual, "[t]o take comfort in himself as the unique." [Op. Cit., pp. 268-9] Thus state socialism does not recognise that the purpose of association is to free the individual and instead subjects the individual to a new tyranny:

"it is not another State (such as a 'people's State') that men aim at, but their union, uniting, this ever-fluid uniting of everything standing -- A State exists even without my co-operation . . . the independent establishment of the State founds my lack of independence; its condition as a 'natural growth,' its organism, demands that my nature do not grow freely, but be cut to fit it." [Op. Cit., p. 224]

Similarly, Stirner argued that "Communism, by the abolition of all personal property, only presses me back still more into dependence on another, to wit, on the generality or collectivity . . . [which is] a condition hindering my free movement, a sovereign power over me. Communism rightly revolts against the pressure that I experience from individual proprietors; but still more horrible is the might that it puts in the hands of the collectivity." [The Ego and Its Own, p. 257]

History has definitely confirmed this. By nationalising property, the various state socialist regimes turned the worker from a servant of the capitalist into a serf of the state. In contrast, communist-anarchists argue for free association and workers' self-management as the means of ensuring that socialised property does not turn into the denial of freedom rather than as a means of ensuring it. As such, Stirner's attack on what Marx termed "vulgar communism" is still important and finds echoes in communist-anarchist writings as well as the best works of Marx and his more libertarian followers.

To show the difference between the "communism" Stirner attacked and anarchist-communism, we can show that Kropotkin was not "silent" on why organising production is essential. Like Stirner, he thought that under libertarian communism the individual would "discharge his [or her] task in the field, the factory, and so on, which he owes to society as his contribution to the general production. And he will employ the second half of his day, his week, or his year, to satisfy his artistic or scientific needs, or his hobbies." [Conquest of Bread, p. 111] In other words, he considered the whole point of organising labour as the means of providing the individual the time and resources required to express their individuality. As such, anarcho-communism incorporates Stirner's legitimate concerns and arguments.

Similar arguments to Stirner's can be found in Proudhon's works against the various schemes of state socialism that existing in France in the middle of the nineteenth century. He particularly attacked the ideas of Louis Blanc. Blanc, whose most famous book was Organisation du Travail (Organisation of Work, published in 1840) argued that social ills could be solved by means of government initiated and financed reforms. More specifically, he argued that it was "necessary to use the whole power of the state" to ensure the creation and success of workers' associations (or "social workshops"). Since that "which the proletarians lack to free themselves are the tools of labour," the government "must furnish them" with these. "The state," in short, "should place itself resolutely at the head of industry." Capitalists would be encouraged to invest money in these workshops, for which they would be guaranteed interest. Such state-initiated workshops would soon force privately owned industry to change itself into social workshops, so eliminating competition. [quoted by K. Steven Vincent, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism, p. 139]

Proudhon objected to this scheme on many levels. Firstly, he argued that Blanc's scheme appealed "to the state for its silent partnership; that is, he gets down on his knees before the capitalists and recognises the sovereignty of monopoly." Given that Proudhon saw the state as an instrument of the capitalist class, asking that state to abolish capitalism was illogical and impossible. Moreover, by getting the funds for the "social workshop" from capitalists, Blanc's scheme was hardly undermining their power. "Capital and power," Proudhon argued, "secondary organs of society, are always the gods whom socialism adores; if capital and power did not exist, it would invent them." [quoted by Vincent, Op. Cit., p. 157] He stressed the authoritarian nature of Blanc's scheme:

"M. Blanc is never tired of appealing to authority, and socialism loudly declares itself anarchistic; M. Blanc places power above society, and socialism tends to subordinate it to society; M. Blanc makes social life descend from above, and socialism maintains that it springs up and grows from below; M. Blanc runs after politics, and socialism is in quest of science. No more hypocrisy, let me say to M. Blanc: you desire neither Catholicism nor monarchy nor nobility, but you must have a God, a religion, a dictatorship, a censorship, a hierarchy, distinctions, and ranks. For my part, I deny your God, your authority, your sovereignty, your judicial State, and all your representative mystifications." [System of Economical Contradictions]

Equally, Proudhon opposed the "top-down" nature of Blanc's ideas. Instead of reform from above, Proudhon stressed the need for working class people to organise themselves for their own liberation. As he put it, the "problem before the labouring classes . . . [is] not in capturing, but in subduing both power and monopoly, -- that is, in generating from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labour, a greater authority, a more potent fact, which shall envelop capital and the state and subjugate them." For, "to combat and reduce power, to put it in its proper place in society, it is of no use to change the holders of power or introduce some variation into its workings: an agricultural and industrial combination must be found by means of which power, today the ruler of society, shall become its slave." [System of Economical Contradictions, p. 398 and p. 397] Proudhon stressed in 1848 that "the proletariat must emancipate itself without the help of the government." [quoted by George Woodcock, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography, p. 125] This was because the state "finds itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat." [Proudhon, System of Economical Contradictions, p. 399] In addition, by guaranteeing interest payments, Blanc's scheme insured the continued exploitation of labour by capital.

Proudhon, in contrast, argued for a two-way approach to undermining capitalism from below: the creation of workers associations and the organisation of credit. By creating mutual banks, which provided credit at cost, workers could create associations to compete with capitalist firms, drive them out of business and so eliminate exploitation once and for all by workers' self-management. In this way, the working class would emancipate itself from capitalism and build a socialist society from below upwards by their own efforts and activities. Proudhon, as Marxist Paul Thomas notes, "believed fervently . . . in the salvation of working men, by their own efforts, through economic and social action alone . . . Proudhon advocated, and to a considerable extent inspired, the undercutting of this terrain [of the state] from without by means of autonomous working-class associations." [Karl Marx and the Anarchists, pp. 177-8]

Rejecting violent revolution (and, indeed, strikes as counter productive) he argued for economic means to end economic exploitation and, as such, he saw anarchism come about by reform via competition by workers' associations displacing capitalist industry (unlike later anarchists, who were revolutionaries that argued that capitalism cannot be reformed away and so supported strikes and other forms of collective working class direct action, struggle and combative organisation). Given that the bulk of the French working class was artisans and peasants, such an approach reflected the social context in which it was proposed.

It was this social context, this predominance of peasants and artisans in French society which informed Proudhon's ideas. He never failed to stress that association would be tyranny if imposed upon peasants and artisans (rather, he thought that associations would be freely embraced by these workers if they thought it was in their interests to). He also stressed that state ownership of the means of production was a danger to the liberty of the industrial worker and, moreover, the continuation of capitalism with the state as the new boss. As he put it in 1848, he "did not want to see the State confiscate the mines, canals and railways; that would add to monarchy, and more wage slavery. We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers' associations . . . these associations [will] be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies woven into the common cloth of the democratic social Republic." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 62] Workers' associations would be applied for those industries which objectively needed it (i.e. capitalist industry) and for those other toilers who desired it.

Marx, of course, had replied to Proudhon's work System of Economic Contradictions with his Poverty of Philosophy. Marx's work aroused little interest when published, although Proudhon did carefully read and annotate his copy of Marx's work, claiming it to be "a libel" and a "tissue of abuse, calumny, falsification and plagiarism" (he even called Marx "the tapeworm of Socialism.") [quoted by George Woodcock, Proudhon, p. 102] Sadly, Proudhon did not reply to Marx's work due to an acute family crisis and then the start of the 1848 revolution in France. However, given his views of Louis Blanc and other socialists who saw socialism being introduced after the seizing of state power, he would hardly have been supportive of Marx's ideas.

So while none of Proudhon's and Stirner's arguments are directly aimed at Marxism, their ideas are applicable to much of mainstream Marxism as this inherited many of the ideas of the state socialism they attacked. Thus they both made forceful critiques of the socialist and communist ideas that existed during their lives. Much of their analysis was incorporated in the collectivist and communist ideas of the anarchists that followed them (some directly, as from Proudhon, some by co-incidence as Stirner's work was quickly forgotten and only had an impact on the anarchist movement when George Henry MacKay rediscovered it in the 1890s). This can be seen from the fact that Proudhon's ideas on the management of production by workers' associations, opposition to nationalisation as state-capitalism and the need for action from below, by working people themselves, all found their place in communist-anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism and in their critique of mainstream Marxism (such as social democracy) and Leninism.

Echoes of these critiques can be found Bakunin's comments of 1868:

"I hate Communism because it is the negation of liberty and because for me humanity is unthinkable without liberty. I am not a Communist, because Communism concentrates and swallows up in itself for the benefit of the State all the forces of society, because it inevitably leads to the concentration of property in the hands of the State . . . I want to see society and collective or social property organised from below upwards, by way of free associations, not from above downwards, by means of any kind of authority whatsoever . . . That is the sense in which I am a Collectivist and not a Communist." [quoted by K.J. Kenafick, Michael Bakunin and Karl Marx, pp. 67-8]

It is with Bakunin that Marxism and Anarchism came into direct conflict. It was Bakunin who lead the struggle against Marx in the International Workingmen's Association between 1868 and 1872. It was in these exchanges that the two schools of socialism (the libertarian and the authoritarian) clarified themselves. With Bakunin, the anarchist critique of Marxism (and state socialism in general) starts to reach its finalised form. Needless to say, this critique continued to develop after Bakunin's death (particularly after the experiences of actual Marxist movements and revolutions). However, much of this involved expanding upon many of Bakunin's original predictions and analyses.

We will discuss Bakunin's critique in the next section.

H.1.1 What was Bakunin's critique of Marxism?

Bakunin and Marx famously clashed in the first International Working Men's Association between 1868 and 1872. This conflict helped clarify the anarchist opposition to the ideas of Marxism and can be considered as the first major theoretical analysis and critique of Marxism by anarchists. Later critiques followed, of course, particularly after the degeneration of Social Democracy into reformism and the failure of the Russian Revolution (both of which allowed the theoretical critiques to be enriched by empirical evidence) but the Bakunin/Marx conflict laid the ground for what came after. As such, an overview of Bakunin's critique is essential.

First, however, we must stress that Marx and Bakunin had many similar ideas. They both stressed the need for working people to organise themselves to overthrow capitalism. They both argued for a socialist revolution from below. They argued for collective ownership of the means of production. They both constantly stressed that the emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves. They differed, of course, in exactly how these common points should be implemented in practice. Both, moreover, had a tendency to misrepresent the opinions of the other on certain issues (particularly as the struggle reached its climax). Anarchists, unsurprisingly, argue Bakunin has been proved right by history, so confirming the key aspects of his critique of Marx.

So what was Bakunin's critique of Marxism? There are five main areas. Firstly, there is the question of current activity (i.e. whether the workers' movement should participate in "politics" and the nature of revolutionary working class organisation). Secondly, there is the issue of the form of the revolution (i.e. whether it should be a political then an economic one, or whether it should be both at the same time). Thirdly, there is the issue of the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Fourthly, there is the question of whether political power can be seized by the working class as a whole or whether it can only be exercised by a small minority. Fifthly, there was the issue of whether the revolution be centralised or decentralised in nature. We shall discuss each in turn.

On the issue of current struggle, the differences between Marx and Bakunin were clear. For Marx, the proletariat had to take part in bourgeois elections as an organised political party. As the resolution of the (gerrymandered) Hague Congress of First International put it, "[i]n its struggle against the collective power of the possessing classes the proletariat can act as a class only by constituting itself a distinct political party, opposed to all the old parties formed by the possessing classes . . . the conquest of political power becomes the great duty of the proletariat." [Marx, Engels, Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 85]

This political party must stand for elections and win votes. As Marx argued in the preamble of the French Workers' Party, the workers must turn the franchise "from a means of deception . . . into an instrument of emancipation." This can be considered as part of the process outlined in the Communist Manifesto, where it was argued that the "immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties," namely the "conquest of political power by the proletariat," the "first step in the revolution by the working class" being "to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy." Engels latter stressed (in 1895) that the "Communist Manifesto had already proclaimed the winning of universal suffrage, of democracy, as one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat" and that German Social Democracy had showed workers of all countries "how to make use of universal suffrage." [Marx and Engels Reader, p. 566, p. 484, p. 490 and p. 565]

With this analysis in mind, Marxist influenced political parties have consistently argued for and taken part in election campaigns, seeking office as a means of spreading socialist ideas and as a means of pursuing the socialist revolution. The Social Democratic parties which were the first Marxist parties (and which developed under Marx and Engels watchful eyes) saw revolution in terms of winning a majority within Parliamentary elections and using this political power to abolish capitalism (once this was done, the state would "wither away" as classes would no longer exist). In effect, these parties aimed to reproduce Marx's account of the forming of the Paris Commune on the level of the national Parliament. Marx in his justly famous work The Civil War in France reported how the Commune "was formed of the municipal councillors" who had been "chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town" in the municipal elections held on March 26th, 1871. This new Commune then issued a series of decrees which reformed the existing state (for example, by suppressing the standing army and replacing it with the armed people, and so on). This Marx summarised by stating that "the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposed." [Marx and Engels, Selected Works, p. 287 and p. 285]

As Engels put it in a latter letter, it was "simply a question of showing that the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administratively centralised state power before it can use it for its own purposes." [quoted by David P. Perrin, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, p. 64] He repeated this elsewhere, arguing that "after the victory of the Proletariat, the only organisation the victorious working class finds ready-made for use is that of the State. It may require adaptation to the new functions. But to destroy that at such a moment would mean to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious working class can exert its newly conquered power, keep down its capitalist enemies and carry out . . . economic revolution." [our emphasis, Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 173]

Bakunin, in contrast, argued that while the communists "imagine they can attain their goal by the development and organisation of the political power of the working classes . . . aided by bourgeois radicalism" anarchists "believe they can succeed only through the development and organisation of the non-political or anti-political power of the working classes." The Communists "believe it necessary to organise the workers' forces in order to seize the political power of the State," while anarchists "organise for the purpose of destroying it." Bakunin saw this in terms of creating new organs of working class power in opposition to the state, organised "from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers, starting with the associations, then going on to the communes, the region, the nations, and, finally, culminating in a great international and universal federation." [Bakunin on Anarchism, pp. 262-3 and p. 270] In other words, a system of workers' councils. As such, he constantly argued for workers, peasants and artisans to organise into unions and join the International Workingmen's Association, so becoming "a real force . . . which knows what to do and is therefore capable of guiding the revolution in the direction marked out by the aspirations of the people: a serious international organisation of workers' associations of all lands capable of replacing this departing world of states." [Op. Cit., p. 174]

To Marx's argument that workers should organise politically, and send their representations to Parliament, Bakunin argued that when "the workers . . . send common workers . . . to Legislative Assemblies . . . The worker-deputies, transplanted into a bourgeois environment, into an atmosphere of purely bourgeois ideas, will in fact cease to be workers and, becoming Statesmen, they will become bourgeois . . . For men do not make their situations; on the contrary, men are made by them." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 108]

As far as history goes, the experience of Social Democracy confirmed Bakunin's analysis. A few years after Engels death in 1895, German Social Democracy was racked by the "revisionism" debate. This debate did not spring from the minds of a few leaders, isolated from the movement, but rather expressed developments within the movement itself. In effect, the revisionists wanted to adjust the party rhetoric to what the party was actually doing and so the battle against the revisionists basically represented a battle between what the party said it was doing and its actual practice. As one of the most distinguished historians of this period put it, the "distinction between the contenders remained largely a subjective one, a difference of ideas in the evaluation of reality rather than a difference in the realm of action." [C. Schorske, German Social Democracy, p. 38] Even Rosa Luxemburg (one of the fiercest critics of revisionism) acknowledged in Reform or Revolution that it was "the final goal of socialism [that] constitutes the only decisive factor distinguishing the social democratic movement from bourgeois democracy and bourgeois radicalism." [Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 36] As such, the Marxist critics of "revisionism" failed to place the growth in revisionist ideas in the tactics being used, instead seeing it in terms of a problem in ideas. By the start of the First World War, the Social Democrats had become so corrupted by its activities in bourgeois institutions it supported its state (and ruling class) and voted for war credits rather than denounce the war as Imperialist slaughter for profits (see also section J.2.6 for more discussion on the effect of electioneering on radical parties). Clearly, Bakunin was proved right.

However, we must stress that because Bakunin rejected participating in bourgeois politics, it did not mean that he rejected "politics" or "political struggle" in general (also see section J.2.10). As he put it, "it is absolutely impossible to ignore political and philosophical questions" and "the proletariat itself will pose them" in the International. He argued that political struggle will come from the class struggle, as "[w]ho can deny that out of this ever-growing organisation of the militant solidarity of the proletariat against bourgeois exploitation there will issue forth the political struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie?" Anarchists simply thought that the "policy of the proletariat" should be "the destruction of the State" rather than working within it. [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 301, p. 302 and p. 276] As such, the people "must organise their powers apart from and against the State." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 376]

As should be obvious by now, the difference between Marx and Bakunin on the nature of working class organisation in the struggle reflected these differences on political struggle. Bakunin clearly advocated what would later by termed a syndicalist strategy based on direct action (in particular strikes) and workers' unions which would "bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old world. They are creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself." [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 255] This union movement would be complemented by a specific anarchist organisation which would work within it to influence it towards anarchist aims by the "natural influence" of its members (see section J.3.7 for a fuller discussion of this). Marx argued for political parties, utilising elections, which, as the history of Social Democracy indicates, did not have quite the outcome Marx would have liked. Section J.2 discusses direct action, electioneering and whether anarchist abstentionism implies disinterest in politics in more detail.

Which brings us to the second issue, namely the nature of the revolution itself. For Bakunin, a revolution meant a social revolution from below. This involved both the abolition of the state and the expropriation of capital. In his words, "the revolution must set out from the first [to] radically and totally to destroy the State." The "natural and necessary consequences" of which will be the "confiscation of all productive capital and means of production on behalf of workers' associations, who are to put them to collective use . . . the federative Alliance of all working men's associations . . . will constitute the Commune." There "can no longer be any successful political . . . revolution unless the political revolution is transformed into social revolution." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 170 and p. 171]

Which, incidentally, disproves Engels' claims that Bakunin considered "the state as the main evil to be abolished." [Marx and Engels Reader, p. 728] Clearly, Engels assertions misrepresent Bakunin's position, as Bakunin always stressed that economic and political transformation should occur at the same time during the revolutionary process. Given that Bakunin thought the state was the protector of capitalism, no economic change could be achieved until such time as it was abolished. This also meant that Bakunin considered a political revolution before an economic one to mean the continued slavery of the workers. As he argued, "[t]o win political freedom first can signify no other thing but to win this freedom only, leaving for the first days at least economic and social relations in the same old state, -- that is, leaving the proprietors and capitalists with their insolent wealth, and the workers with their poverty." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 294] With capitalists' economic power intact, could the workers' political power remain strong? As such, "every political revolution taking place prior to and consequently without a social revolution must necessarily be a bourgeois revolution, and a bourgeois revolution can only be instrumental in bringing about bourgeois Socialism -- that is, it is bound to end in a new, more hypocritical and more skilful, but no less oppressive, exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeois." [Op. Cit., p. 289]

Did Marx and Engels hold this position? Apparently so. Discussing the Paris Commune, Marx noted that it was "the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour," and as the "political rule of the producer cannot coexist with the perpetuation of his social slavery" the Commune was to "serve as a lever for uprooting the economic foundations upon which rests the existence of classes." [Marx and Engels, Selected Writings, p. 290] Engels argued that the "proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the . . . means of production . . . into public property." [The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 717] In the Communist Manifesto they argued that "the first step in the revolution by the working class" is the "rais[ing] the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy." The proletariat "will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeois, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e. of the proletariat organised as the ruling class." [Manifesto of the Communist Party, p. 52]

Similarly, when Marx discussed what the "dictatorship of the proletariat" meant, he argued (in reply to Bakunin's question of "over whom will the proletariat rule") that it simply meant "that so long as other classes continue to exist, the capitalist class in particular, the proletariat fights it (for with the coming of the proletariat to power, its enemies will not yet have disappeared), it must use measures of force, hence governmental measures; if it itself still remains a class and the economic conditions on which the class struggle and the existence of classes have not yet disappeared, they must be forcibly removed or transformed, and the process of their transformation must be forcibly accelerated." [The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 542-3] Note, "capitalists," not "former capitalists," so implying that the members of the proletariat are, in fact, still proletariats after the "socialist" revolution and so still subject to wage slavery by capitalists.

Clearly, then, Marx and Engels considered the seizing of state power as the key event and, later, the expropriation of the expropriators would occur. Thus the economic power of the capitalists would remain, with the proletariat utilising political power to combat and reduce it. Anarchists argue that if the proletariat did not hold economic power, its political power would at best be insecure and would in fact degenerate. Would the capitalists just sit and wait while their economic power was gradually eliminated by political action? And what of the proletariat during this period? Will they patiently obey their bosses, continue to be oppressed and exploited by them until such time as the end of their "social slavery" has been worked out (and by whom)? As the experience of the Russian Revolution showed, Marx and Engels position proved to be untenable.

As we discuss in more detail in the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", the Russian workers initially followed Bakunin's path. After the February revolution, they organised factory committees and raised the idea and practice of workers self-management of production. The Russian anarchists supported this movement whole-heartedly, arguing that it should be pushed as far as it would go. In contrast, Lenin argued for "workers' control over the capitalists." [Will the Bolsheviks Maintain Power?, p. 52] This was, unsurprisingly, the policy applied immediately after the Bolshevik seizure of power. However, as one Leninist writer admits, "[t]wo overwhelmingly powerful forces obliged the Bolsheviks to abandon this 'reformist' course." One was the start of the civil war, the other "was the fact that the capitalists used their remaining power to make the system unworkable. At the end of 1917 the All Russian Congress of employers declared that those 'factories in which the control is exercised by means of active interference in the administration will be closed.' The workers' natural response to the wave of lockouts which followed was to demand that their [sic!] state nationalise the factories." [John Rees, "In Defence of October", pp. 3-82, International Socialism, no. 52, p. 42] By July 1918, only one-fifth of nationalised firms had been nationalised by the central government (which, incidentally, shows the unresponsiveness of centralised power). Clearly, the idea that a social revolution can come after a political was shown to be a failure -- the capitalist class used its powers to disrupt the economic life of Russia.

Faced with the predictable opposition by capitalists to their system of "control" the Bolsheviks nationalised the means of production. Sadly, within the nationalised workplace the situation of the worker remained essentially unchanged. Lenin had been arguing for one-man management (appointed from above and armed with "dictatorial" powers) since late April 1918. This aimed at replacing the capitalist managers with state managers, not workers self-management:

"On three occasions in the first months of Soviet power, the [factory] committees leaders sought to bring their model [of workers' self-management of the economy] into being. At each point the party leadership overruled them. The Bolshevik alternative was to vest both managerial and control powers in organs of the state which were subordinate to the central authorities, and formed by them." [Thomas F. Remington, Building Socialism in Bolshevik Russia, p. 38]

Bakunin's fear of what would happen if a political revolution preceded a social one came true. The working class continued to be exploited and oppressed as before, first by the bourgeoisie and then by the new bourgeoisie of state appointed managers armed with all the powers of the old ones (plus a few more). Russia confirmed Bakunin's analysis that a revolution must immediately combine political and economic goals in order for it to be successful.

Which brings us to the "dictatorship of the proletariat." While many Marxists basically use this term to describe the defence of the revolution and so argue that anarchists do not see the need to defend a revolution, this is incorrect. Anarchists from Bakunin onwards have argued that a revolution would have to defend itself from counter revolution and yet we reject the term totally (see sections H.2.1, I.5.14 and J.7.6 for a refutation of claims that anarchists think a revolution does not need defending). So why did Bakunin reject the concept? To understand why, we must provide some historical context -- namely the fact that at the time he was writing the proletariat was a minority of the working masses.

Simply put, anarchists in the nineteenth century rejected the idea of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" simply because the proletariat was a minority of working people at the time. As such, to argue for a dictatorship of the proletariat meant to argue for the dictatorship of a minority class, a class which excluded the majority of toiling people. When Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, for example, over 80% of the population of France and Germany were peasants or artisans -- what Marx termed the "petit-bourgeois" and his followers termed the "petty-bourgeois." This fact meant that the comment in the Communist Manifesto that the "proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority" was simply not true. Rather, for Marx's life-time (and for many decades afterwards) the proletarian movement was like "[a]ll previous movements," namely "movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities." [The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 482]

Not that Marx and Engels were unaware of this. In the Manifesto they note that "[i]n countries like France" the peasants "constitute far more than half of the population." In his famous 1875 work "Critique of the Gotha Program," Marx noted that "the majority of the 'toiling people' in Germany consists of peasants, and not of proletarians." He stressed elsewhere around the same time that "the peasant . . . forms a more of less considerable majority . . . in the countries of the West European continent." [Op. Cit., p. 493, p. 536 and p. 543]

Clearly, then, Marx and Engels vision of proletarian revolution was one which involved a minority dictating to the majority. As such, Bakunin rejected the concept. He was simply pointing out the fact that a "dictatorship of the proletariat," at the time, actually meant a dictatorship by a minority of working people and so a "revolution" which excluded the majority of working people (i.e. artisans and peasants). As he argued in 1873:

"If the proletariat is to be the ruling class . . . then whom will it rule? There must be yet another proletariat which will be subject to this new rule, this new state. It may be the peasant rabble . . . which, finding itself on a lower cultural level, will probably be governed by the urban and factory proletariat." [Statism and Anarchy, pp. 177-8]

Bakunin continually stressed that the peasants "will join cause with the city workers as soon as they become convinced that the latter do not pretend to impose their will or some political or social order invented by the cities for the greater happiness of the villages; they will join cause as soon as they are assured that the industrial workers will not take their lands away." As such, as noted above, while the Marxists aimed for the "development and organisation of the political power of the working classes, and chiefly of the city proletariat," anarchists aimed for "the social (and therefore anti-political) organisation and power of the working masses of the cities and villages." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 401 and p. 300]

For Bakunin, to advocate the "dictatorship of the proletariat" in an environment where the vast majority of working people were peasants would be a disaster. It is only when we understand this social context that we can understand Bakunin's opposition to Marx's "dictatorship of the proletariat" -- it would be a dictatorship of a minority class over the rest of the working population (he took it as a truism that the capitalist and landlord classes should be expropriated and stopped from destroying the revolution!). For Bakunin, when the industrial working class was a minority, it was essential to "[o]rganise the city proletariat in the name of revolutionary Socialism, and in doing this, unite it into one preparatory organisation together with the peasantry. An uprising by the proletariat alone would not be enough; with that we would have only a political revolution which would necessarily produce a natural and legitimate reaction on the part of the peasants, and that reaction, or merely the indifference of the peasants, would strangle the revolution of the cities." [Op. Cit., p. 378]

This explains why the anarchists at the St. Imier Congress argued that "every political state can be nothing but organised domination for the benefit of one class, to the detriment of the masses, and that should the proletariat itself seize power, it would in turn become a new dominating and exploiting class." As the proletariat was a minority class at the time, their concerns can be understood. For anarchists then, and now, a social revolution has to be truly popular and involve the majority of the population in order to succeed. Unsurprisingly, the congress stressed the role of the proletariat in the struggle for socialism, arguing that "the proletariat of all lands . . . must create the solidarity of revolutionary action . . . independently of and in opposition to all forms of bourgeois politics." Moreover, the aim of the workers' movement was "free organisations and federations . . . created by the spontaneous action of the proletariat itself, [that is, by] the trade bodies and the autonomous communes." [as cited in Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 438, p. 439 and p. 438]

Hence Bakunin's comment that "the designation of the proletariat, the world of the workers, as class rather than as mass" was "deeply antipathetic to us revolutionary anarchists who unconditionally advocate full popular emancipation." To do so, he argued, meant "[n]othing more or less than a new aristocracy, that of the urban and industrial workers, to the exclusion of the millions who make up the rural proletariat and who . . . will in effect become subjects of this great so-called popular State." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 253-4]

Again, the experiences of the Russian Revolution tend to confirm Bakunin's worries. The Bolsheviks implemented the dictatorship of the city over the countryside, with disastrous results (see the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for more details).

One last point on this subject. While anarchists reject the "dictatorship of the proletariat" we clearly do not reject the key role the proletariat must play in any social revolution (see section H.2.2 on why the Marxist assertion anarchists reject class struggle is false). We only reject the idea that the proletariat must dictate over other working people like peasants and artisans. We do not reject the need for working class people to defend a revolution, nor the need for them to expropriate the capitalist class nor for them to manage their own activities and so society.

Then there is the issue of whether, even if the proletariat does seize political power, whether the whole proletariat can actually exercise it. Bakunin raising the obvious questions:

"For, even from the standpoint of that urban proletariat who are supposed to reap the sole reward of the seizure of political power, surely it is obvious that this power will never be anything but a sham? It is bound to be impossible for a few thousand, let alone tens or hundreds of thousands of men to wield that power effectively. It will have to be exercised by proxy, which means entrusting it to a group of men elected to represent and govern them, which in turn will unfailingly return them to all the deceit and subservience of representative or bourgeois rule. After a brief flash of liberty or orgiastic revolution, the citizens of the new State will wake up slaves, puppets and victims of a new group of ambitious men." [Op. Cit., pp. 254-5]

He repeated this argument in Statism and Anarchy, where he asked "[w]hat does it mean, 'the proletariat raised to a governing class?' Will the entire proletariat head the government? The Germans number about 40 million. Will all 40 millions be members of the government? The entire nation will rule, but no one will be ruled. Then there will be no government, no state; but if there is a state, there will also be those who are ruled, there will be slaves." Bakunin argued that Marxism resolves this dilemma "in a simple fashion. By popular government they mean government of the people by a small number of representatives elected by the people. So-called popular representatives and rulers of the state elected by the entire nation on the basis of universal suffrage -- the last word of the Marxists, as well as the democratic school -- is a lie behind which lies the despotism of a ruling minority is concealed, a lie all the more dangerous in that it represents itself as the expression of a sham popular will." [Statism and Anarchy, p. 178]

So where does Marx stand on this question. Clearly, the self-proclaimed followers of Marx support the idea of "socialist" governments (indeed, many, including Lenin and Trotsky, went so far as to argue that party dictatorship was essential for the success of a revolution -- see next section). Marx, however, is less clear. He argued, in reply to Bakunin's question if all Germans would be members of the government, that "[c]ertainly, because the thing starts with the self-government of the township." However, he also commented that "[c]an it really be that in a trade union, for example, the entire union forms its executive committee," suggesting that there will be a division of labour between those who govern and those who obey in the Marxist system of socialism. [The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 545 and p. 544] Elsewhere he talks about "a socialist government . . . com[ing] into power in a country." ["Letter to F. Domela-Nieuwenhuis," Eugene Schulkind (ed.), The Paris Commune of 1871: The View from the Left, p. 244]

As such, Bakunin's critique holds, as Marx and Engels clearly saw the "dictatorship of the proletariat" involving a socialist government having power. For Bakunin, like all anarchists, if a political party is the government, then clearly they are in power, not the mass of working people they claim to represent. Anarchists have, from the beginning, argued that Marx made a grave mistake confusing workers' power with the state. This is because the state is the means by which the management of people's affairs is taken from them and placed into the hands of a few. It signifies delegated power. As such, the so-called "workers' state" or "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a contradiction in terms. Instead of signifying the power of the working class to manage society it, in fact, signifies the opposite, namely the handing over of that power to a few party leaders at the top of a centralised structure. This is because "all State rule, all governments being by their very nature placed outside the people, must necessarily seek to subject it to customs and purposes entirely foreign to it. We therefore declare ourselves to be foes . . . of all State organisations as such, and believe that the people can be happy and free, when, organised from below upwards by means of its own autonomous and completely free associations, without the supervision of any guardians, it will create its own life." [Marxism, Freedom and the State, p. 63] Hence Bakunin's constant arguments for decentralised, federal system of workers councils organised from the bottom-up. Again, the transformation of the Bolshevik government into a dictatorship over the proletariat during the early stages of the Russian Revolution supports Bakunin's critique of Marxism.

Which brings us to the last issue, namely whether the revolution will be decentralised or centralised. For Marx, the issue is somewhat confused by his support for the Paris Commune and its federalist programme (written, we must note, by a follower of Proudhon). However, in 1850, Marx stood for extreme centralisation of power. As he put it, the workers "must not only strive for a single and indivisible German republic, but also within this republic for the most determined centralisation of power in the hands of the state authority." He argued that in a nation like Germany "where there is so many relics of the Middle Ages to be abolished" it "must under no circumstances be permitted that every village, every town and every province should put a new obstacle in the path of revolutionary activity, which can proceed with full force from the centre." He stressed that "[a]s in France in 1793 so today in Germany it is the task of the really revolutionary party to carry through the strictest centralisation." [The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 509-10] Lenin followed this aspect of Marx's ideas, arguing that "Marx was a centralist" and applying this perspective both in the party and once in power [The Essential Works of Lenin, p. 310]

Ironically, it is Engels note to the 1885 edition of Marx's work which shows the fallacy of this position. As he put it, "this passage is based on a misunderstanding" and it "is now . . . [a] well known fact that throughout the whole revolution . . . the whole administration of the departments, arrondissements and communes consisted of authorities elected by the respective constituents themselves, and that these authorities acted with complete freedom . . . that precisely this provincial and local self-government . . . became the most powerful lever of the revolution." [The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 510f] Marx's original comments imply the imposition of freedom by the centre on a population not desiring it (and in such a case, how could the centre be representative of the majority in such a case?). Moreover, how could a revolution be truly social if it was not occurring in the grassroots across a country? Unsurprisingly, local autonomy has played a key role in every real revolution.

As such, Bakunin has been proved right. Centralism has always killed a revolution and, as he always argued, real socialism can only be worked from below, by the people of every village, town, and city. The problems facing the world or a revolution cannot be solved by a few people at the top issuing decrees. They can only be solved by the active participation of the mass of working class people, the kind of participation centralism and government by their nature exclude. As such, this dove-tails into the question of whether the whole class exercises power under the "dictatorship of the proletariat." In a centralised system, obviously, power has to be exercised by a few (as Marx's argument in 1850 showed). Centralism, by its very nature excludes the possibility of extensive participation in the decision making process. Moreover, the decisions reached by such a body could not reflect the real needs of society. In the words of Bakunin:

"What man, what group of individuals, no matter how great their genius, would dare to think themselves able to embrace and understand the plethora of interests, attitudes and activities so various in every country, every province, locality and profession." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 240]

He stressed that "the revolution should be and should everywhere remain independent of the central point, which must be its expression and product -- not its source, guide and cause . . . the awakening of all local passions and the awakening of spontaneous life at all points, must be well developed in order for the revolution to remain alive, real and powerful." [Op. Cit., pp. 179-80] This, we must stress, does not imply isolation. Bakunin always stressed the importance of federal organisation to co-ordinate struggle and defence of the revolution. As he put it, all revolutionary communes would need to federate in order "to organise the necessary common services and arrangements for production and exchange, to establish the charter of equality, the basis of all liberty -- a charter utterly negative in character, defining what has to be abolished for ever rather than the positive forms of local life which can be created only by the living practice of each locality -- and to organise common defence against the enemies of the Revolution." [Op. Cit., p. 179]

In short, anarchists should "not accept, even in the process of revolutionary transition, either constituent assemblies, provisional governments or so-called revolutionary dictatorships; because we are convinced that revolution is only sincere, honest and real in the hands of the masses, and that when it is concentrated in those of a few ruling individuals it inevitably and immediately becomes reaction." Rather, the revolution "everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation." [Op. Cit., p. 237 and p. 172]

Given Marx's support for the federal ideas of the Paris Commune, it can be argued that Marxism is not committed to a policy of strict centralisation (although Lenin, of course, argued that Marx was a firm supporter of centralisation). What is true is, to quote Daniel Guerin, that Marx's comments on the Commune differ "noticeably from Marx's writings of before and after 1871" while Bakunin's were "in fact quite consistent with the lines he adopted in his earlier writings." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 167] Indeed, as Bakunin himself noted, while the Marxists "saw all their ideas upset by the uprising" of the Commune, they "found themselves compelled to take their hats off to it." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 261] This modification of ideas by Marx was not limited just to federalism. Marx also praised the commune's system of mandating recallable delegates, a position which Bakunin had been arguing for a number of years previously. In 1868, for example, he was talked about a "Revolutionary Communal Council" composed of "delegates . . . vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates." [Op. Cit., pp. 170-1] As such, the Paris Commune was a striking confirmation of Bakunin's ideas on many levels, not Marx's (who adjusted his ideas to bring them in line with Bakunin's!).

In summary, Bakunin argued that decentralisation of power was essential for a real revolution that achieves more than changing who the boss it. A free society could only be created and run from below, by the active participation of the bulk of the population. Centralisation would kill this participation and so kill the revolution. Marx and Engels, on the other hand, while sometimes supporting federalism and local self-government, had a centralist streak in their politics which Bakunin thought undermined the success of any revolution.

Since Bakunin, anarchists have deepen this critique of Marxism and, with the experience of Bolshevism, argue that he predicted key failures in Marx's ideas. Given that his followers, particularly Lenin and Trotsky, have emphasised (although, in many ways, changed them) the centralisation and "socialist government" aspects of Marx's thoughts, anarchists argue that Bakunin's critique is as relevant as ever. Real socialism can only come from below.

H.1.2 What are the key differences between Anarchists and Marxists?

There are, of course, important similarities between anarchism and Marxism. Both are socialists, oppose capitalism and the current state, support and encourage working class organisation and action and see class struggle as the means of creating a social revolution which will transform society into a new one. However, the differences between these socialist theories are equally important. In the words of Errico Malatesta:

"The important, fundamental dissension [between anarchists and Marxists] is [that] . . . [Marxist] socialists are authoritarians, anarchists are libertarians.

"Socialists want power . . . and once in power wish to impose their programme on the people. . . Anarchists instead maintain, that government cannot be other than harmful, and by its very nature it defends either an existing privileged class or creates a new one; and instead of inspiring to take the place of the existing government anarchists seek to destroy every organism which empowers some to impose their own ideas and interests on others, for they want to free the way for development towards better forms of human fellowship which will emerge from experience, by everyone being free and, having, of course, the economic means to make freedom possible as well as a reality." [Life and Ideas, p. 142]

The other differences derive from this fundamental one. So while there are numerous ways in which anarchists and Marxists differ, their root lies in the question of power. Socialists seek power (in the name of the working class and usually hidden under rhetoric arguing that party and class power are the same). Anarchists seek to destroy hierarchical power in all its forms and ensure that everyone is free to manage their own affairs (both individually and collectively). From this comes the differences on the nature of a revolution, the way the working class movement such organise and the tactics it should apply and so on. A short list of these differences would include the question of the "dictatorship of the proletariat", the standing of revolutionaries in elections, centralisation versus federalism, the role and organisation of revolutionaries, whether socialism can only come "from below" or whether it is possible for it come "from below" and "from above" and a host of others (i.e. some of the differences we indicated in the last section during our discussion of Bakunin's critique of Marxism). Indeed, there are so many it is difficult to address them all here. As such, we can only concentrate on a few in this and the following sections.

One of the key issues is on the issue of confusing party power with popular power. The logic of the anarchist case is simple. In any system of hierarchical and centralised power (for example, in a state or governmental structure) then those at the top are in charge (i.e. are in positions of power). It is not "the people," nor "the proletariat," nor "the masses," it is those who make up the government who have and exercise real power. As Malatesta argued, government means "the delegation of power, that is the abdication of initiative and sovereignty of all into the hands of a few" and "if . . . , as do the authoritarians, one means government action when one talks of social action, then this is still the resultant of individual forces, but only of those individuals who form the government." [Anarchy, p. 40 and p. 36] Therefore, anarchists argue, the replacement of party power for working class power is inevitable because of the nature of the state. In the words of Murray Bookchin:

"Anarchist critics of Marx pointed out with considerable effect that any system of representation would become a statist interest in its own right, one that at best would work against the interests of the working classes (including the peasantry), and that at worst would be a dictatorial power as vicious as the worst bourgeois state machines. Indeed, with political power reinforced by economic power in the form of a nationalised economy, a 'workers' republic' might well prove to be a despotism (to use one of Bakunin's more favourite terms) of unparalleled oppression."

He continues:

"Republican institutions, however much they are intended to express the interests of the workers, necessarily place policy-making in the hands of deputies and categorically do not constitute a 'proletariat organised as a ruling class.' If public policy, as distinguished from administrative activities, is not made by the people mobilised into assemblies and confederally co-ordinated by agents on a local, regional, and national basis, then a democracy in the precise sense of the term does not exist. The powers that people enjoy under such circumstances can be usurped without difficulty. . . [I]f the people are to acquire real power over their lives and society, they must establish -- and in the past they have, for brief periods of time established -- well-ordered institutions in which they themselves directly formulate the policies of their communities and, in the case of their regions, elect confederal functionaries, revocable and strictly controllable, who will execute them. Only in this sense can a class, especially one committed to the abolition of classes, be mobilised as a class to manage society." [The Communist Manifesto: Insights and Problems]

This is why anarchists stress direct democracy (self-management) in free federations of free associations. It is the only way to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people and is not turned into an alien power above them. Thus Marxist support for statist forms of organisation will inevitably undermine the liberatory nature of the revolution.

Thus the real meaning of a workers state is simply that the party has the real power, not the workers. After all, that is nature of a state. Marxist rhetoric tends to hide this reality. As an example, we can point to Lenin's comments in October, 1921. In an essay marking the fourth anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution, Lenin stated that the Soviet system "provides the maximum of democracy for the workers and peasants; at the same time, it marks a break with bourgeois democracy and the rise of a new, epoch-making type of democracy, namely, proletarian democracy, or the dictatorship of the proletariat." ["Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution," Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 55] Yet this was written years after Lenin had argued that "[w]hen we are reproached with having established a dictatorship of one party . . . we say, 'Yes, it is a dictatorship of one party! This is what we stand for and we shall not shift from that position . . .'" [Op. Cit., vol. 29, p. 535] And, of course, they did not shift from that position! Indeed, Lenin's comments came just a few months after all opposition parties and factions within the Communist Party had been banned and after the Kronstadt rebellion and a wave of strikes calling for free soviet elections had been repressed. Clearly, the term "proletarian democracy" had a drastically different meaning to Lenin than to most people!

Indeed, the identification of party power and working class power reaches its height (or, more correctly, depth) in the works of Lenin and Trotsky. Lenin, for example, argued that "the correct understanding of a Communist of his tasks" lies in "correctly gauging the conditions and the moment when the vanguard of the proletariat can successfully seize power, when it will be able during and after this seizure of power to obtain support from sufficiently broad strata of the working class and of the non-proletarian toiling masses, and when, thereafter, it will be able to maintain, consolidate, and extend its rule, educating, training and attracting ever broader masses of the toilers." Note, the vanguard (the party) seizes power, not the masses. Indeed, he stressed that the "very presentation of the question -- 'dictatorship of the Party or dictatorship of the class, dictatorship (Party) of the leaders or dictatorship (Party) of the masses?' is evidence of the most incredible and hopeless confusion of mind" and "[t]o go so far . . . as to draw a contrast in general between the dictatorship of the masses and the dictatorship of the leaders, is ridiculously absurd and stupid." [Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, p. 35, p. 27 and p. 25]

Lenin stressed this idea numerous times. For example, in 1920 he argued that "the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through an organisation embracing the whole of the class, because in all capitalist countries (and not only over here, in one of the most backward) the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts . . . that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard . . . Such is the basic mechanism of the dictatorship of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the essentials of transitions from capitalism to communism . . . for the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised by a mass proletarian organisation." [Collected Works, vol. 32, p. 21]

Trotsky agreed with this lesson and argued it to the end of his life:

"The revolutionary dictatorship of a proletarian party is for me not a thing that one can freely accept or reject: It is an objective necessity imposed upon us by the social realities -- the class struggle, the heterogeneity of the revolutionary class, the necessity for a selected vanguard in order to assure the victory. The dictatorship of a party belongs to the barbarian prehistory as does the state itself, but we can not jump over this chapter, which can open (not at one stroke) genuine human history. . . The revolutionary party (vanguard) which renounces its own dictatorship surrenders the masses to the counter-revolution . . . Abstractly speaking, it would be very well if the party dictatorship could be replaced by the 'dictatorship' of the whole toiling people without any party, but this presupposes such a high level of political development among the masses that it can never be achieved under capitalist conditions. The reason for the revolution comes from the circumstance that capitalism does not permit the material and the moral development of the masses." [Writings 1936-37, pp. 513-4]

This point is reiterated in his essay, "Stalinism and Bolshevism" (again, written in 1937) when he argued that:

"Those who propose the abstraction of Soviets to the party dictatorship should understand that only thanks to the party dictatorship were the Soviets able to lift themselves out of the mud of reformism and attain the state form of the proletariat." [Stalinism and Bolshevism]

How soviet democracy can exist within the context of a party dictatorship is left to the imagination of the reader! Rather than the working class as a whole seizing power, it is the "vanguard" which takes power -- "a revolutionary party, even after seizing power . . . is still by no means the sovereign ruler of society." [Op. Cit.] Needless to say, he was just repeating the same arguments he had made while in power during the Russian Revolution (see "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for details). Nor was he the only one. Zinoviev, another leading Bolshevik, argued in 1920 along the same lines:

"soviet rule in Russia could not have been maintained for three years -- not even three weeks -- without the iron dictatorship of the Communist Party. Any class conscious worker must understand that the dictatorship of the working class can by achieved only by the dictatorship of its vanguard, i.e., by the Communist Party . . . All questions of economic reconstruction, military organisation, education, food supply -- all these questions, on which the fate if the proletarian revolution depends absolutely, are decided in Russia before all other matters and mostly in the framework of the party organisations . . . Control by the party over soviet organs, over the trade unions, is the single durable guarantee that any measures taken will serve not special interests, but the interests of the entire proletariat." [quoted by Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets, pp. 239-40]

How these positions, clearly argued as inevitable for any revolution, can be reconciled with workers' democracy, power or freedom is not explained. As such, the idea that Leninism (usually considered as mainstream Marxism) is inherently democratic or a supporter of power to the people is clearly flawed. The leading lights of Bolshevism argued that the dictatorship of the proletariat could only be achieved by the dictatorship of the party. Indeed, the whole rationale for party dictatorship came from the fundamental rationale for democracy, namely that any government should reflect the changing opinions of the masses. In the words of Trotsky:

"The very same masses are at different times inspired by different moods and objectives. It is just for this reason that a centralised organisation of the vanguard is indispensable. Only a party, wielding the authority it has won, is capable of overcoming the vacillation of the masses themselves." [The Moralists and Sycophants, p. 59]

This position has its roots in the uneven political development within the working class (i.e. that the working class contains numerous political perspectives within it). As the party (according to Leninist theory) contains the most advanced ideas (and, again according to Leninist theory, the working class cannot reach beyond a trade union consciousness by its own efforts), the party must take power to ensure that the masses do not make "mistakes" or "waver" ("vacillation") during a revolution. From such a perspective to the position of party dictatorship is not far (and a journey that all the leading Bolsheviks, including Lenin and Trotsky, we must note, did in fact take).

In contrast, anarchists argue that precisely because of political differences we need the fullest possible democracy and freedom to discuss issues and reach agreements. Only by discussion and self-activity can the political perspectives of those in struggle develop and change. In other words, the fact Bolshevism uses to justify its support for party power is the strongest argument against it. For anarchists, the idea of a revolutionary government is a contradiction. As Italian anarchist Malatesta put it, "if you consider these worthy electors as unable to look after their own interests themselves, how is it that they will know how to choose for themselves the shepherds who must guide them? And how will they be able to solve this problem of social alchemy, of producing a genius from the votes of a mass of fools?" [Anarchy, p. 53]

As such, anarchists think that power should be in the hands of the masses themselves. Only freedom or the struggle for freedom can be the school of freedom. That means that, to quote Bakunin, "since it is the people which must make the revolution everywhere . . . the ultimate direction of it must at all times be vested in the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial organisations . . . organised from the bottom up through revolutionary delegation." [No God, No Masters, vol. 1, pp. 155-6]

Clearly, then, the question of state/party power is one dividing anarchists and most Marxists. These arguments by leading Bolsheviks confirm Bakunin's fear that the Marxists aimed for "a tyranny of the minority over a majority in the name of the people -- in the name of the stupidity of the many and the superior wisdom of the few." [Marxism, Freedom and the State, p. 63] Again, though, we must stress that libertarian Marxists like the council communists agree with anarchists on this subject and reject the whole idea that dictatorship of a party equals the dictatorship of the working class. As such, the Marxist tradition as a whole does not confuse this issue, although the majority of it does. We must stress that not all Marxists are Leninists. A few (council communists, situationists, autonomists, and so on) are far closer to anarchism. They also reject the idea of party power/dictatorship, the use of elections, for direct action, argue for the abolition of wage slavery by workers' self-management of production and so on. They represent the best in Marx's work and should not be lumped with the followers of Bolshevism. Sadly, they are in the minority.

Finally, we should indicate other important areas of difference. Some are summarised by Lenin in his work The State and Revolution:

"The difference between the Marxists and the anarchists is this: 1) the former, while aiming at the complete abolition of the state, recognise that this aim can only be achieved after classes have been abolished by the socialist revolution, as the result of the establishment of socialism which leads to the withering away of the state. The latter want to abolish the state completely overnight, failing to understand the conditions under which the state can be abolished 2) the former recognise that after the proletariat has conquered political power it must utterly destroy the old state machine and substitute it for it a new one consisting of the organisation of armed workers, after the type of the Commune. The latter, while advocating the destruction of the state machine, have absolutely no idea of what the proletariat will put in its place and how it will use its revolutionary power; the anarchists even deny that the revolutionary proletariat should utilise its state power, its revolutionary dictatorship; 3) the former demand that the proletariat be prepared for revolution by utilising the present state; the latter reject this." [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 358]

We will discuss each of these points in the next three sections. Point one will be discussed in section H.1.3, the second in section H.1.4 and the third and final one in section H.1.5.

H.1.3 Why do anarchists wish to abolish the state "overnight"?

As indicated at the end of the last section, Lenin argued that while Marxists aimed "at the complete abolition of the state" they "recognise that this aim can only be achieved after classes have been abolished by the socialist revolution" while anarchists "want to abolish the state completely overnight." This issue is usually summarised by Marxists arguing that a new state is required to replace the destroyed bourgeois one. This new state is called by Marxists "the dictatorship of the proletariat" or a workers' state. Anarchists reject this transitional state while Marxists embrace it. Indeed, according to Lenin "a Marxist is one who extends the acceptance of the class struggle to the acceptance of the dictatorship of the proletariat." [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 358 and p. 294]

So what does the "dictatorship of the proletariat" actually mean? Generally, Marxists seem to imply that this term simply means the defence of the revolution and so the anarchist rejection of the dictatorship of the proletariat means the rejection of the defence of a revolution. Anarchists, they argue, differ from Marxist-communists in that we reject the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat, where the formerly oppressed use coercion to ensure that remnants of the oppressing classes do not resurrect the old society. This particular straw man was used by Lenin in State and Revolution when he quoted Marx to suggest that anarchists would "lay down their arms" after a successful revolution. Such a "laying down of arms" would mean the "abolition of the state" while defending the revolution by violence would mean "giv[ing] the state a revolutionary and transitory form." [Op. Cit., p. 315]

That such an argument can be made, never mind repeated, suggests a lack of honesty. It assumes that the Marxist and Anarchist definitions of "the state" are identical. They are not. As such, it is pretty meaningless to argue, as Lenin did, that when anarchists talk about abolishing the state they mean that they will not defend a revolution. As Malatesta put it, some "seem almost to believe that after having brought down government and private property we would allow both to be quietly built up again, because of respect for the freedom of those who might feel the need to be rulers and property owners. A truly curious way of interpreting our ideas." [Anarchy, p. 41]

For anarchists the state, government, means "the delegation of power, that is the abdication of initiative and sovereignty of all into the hands of a few." [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 40] For Marxists, the state is "an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another." [Lenin, Op. Cit., p. 274] That these definitions are in conflict is clear and unless this difference is made explicit, anarchist opposition to the "dictatorship of the proletariat" cannot be clearly understood.

Anarchists, of course, agree that the current state is the means by which the bourgeois class enforces its rule over society. In Bakunin's words, "the political state has no other mission but to protect the exploitation of the people by the economically privileged classes." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 221] Under capitalism, as Malatesta succulently put, the state is "the bourgeoisie's servant and gendarme." [Op. Cit., p. 20] The reason why the state is marked by centralised power is due to its role as the protector of (minority) class rule. As such, a state cannot be anything but a defender of minority power as its centralised and hierarchical structure is designed for that purpose. If the working class really was running society, as Marxists claim they would be in the "dictatorship of the proletariat," then it would not be a state. As Bakunin argued, "[w]here all rule, there are no more ruled, and there is no State." [Op. Cit., p. 223]

As such, the idea that anarchists, by rejecting the "dictatorship of the proletariat," also reject defending a revolution is false. We do not equate the "dictatorship of the proletariat" with the need to defend a revolution or expropriating the capitalist class, ending capitalism and building socialism. Anarchists from Bakunin onwards have taken both of these necessities for granted (also see sections H.2.1, I.5.14 and J.7.6). As he stressed, "the sole means of opposing the reactionary forces of the state" was the "organising of the revolutionary force of the people." This revolution involve "the free construction of popular life in accordance with popular needs . . . from below upward, by the people themselves . . . [in] a voluntary alliance of agricultural and factory worker associations, communes, provinces, and nations." [Statism and Anarchy, p. 156 and p. 33]

As we discuss this particular Marxist straw man in section H.2.1, we will leave our comments at this. Clearly, then, anarchists do not reject defending a revolution. We argue that the state must be abolished "overnight" as any state is marked by hierarchical power and can only empower the few at the expense of the many. The state will not "wither away" as Marxists claim simply because it excludes, by its very nature, the active participation of the bulk of the population and ensures a new class division in society: those in power (the party) and those subject to it (the working class).

Georges Fontenis sums up anarchist concerns on this issue:

"The formula 'dictatorship of the proletariat' has been used to mean many different things. If for no other reason it should be condemned as a cause of confusion. With Marx it can just as easily mean the centralised dictatorship of the party which claims to represent the proletariat as it can the federalist conception of the Commune.

"Can it mean the exercise of political power by the victorious working class? No, because the exercise of political power in the recognised sense of the term can only take place through the agency of an exclusive group practising a monopoly of power, separating itself from the class and oppressing it. And this is how the attempt to use a State apparatus can reduce the dictatorship of the proletariat to the dictatorship of the party over the masses.

"But if by dictatorship of the proletariat is understood collective and direct exercise of 'political power', this would mean the disappearance of 'political power' since its distinctive characteristics are supremacy, exclusivity and monopoly. It is no longer a question of exercising or seizing political power, it is about doing away with it all together!

"If by dictatorship is meant the domination of the majority by a minority, then it is not a question of giving power to the proletariat but to a party, a distinct political group. If by dictatorship is meant the domination of a minority by the majority (domination by the victorious proletariat of the remnants of a bourgeoisie that has been defeated as a class) then the setting up of dictatorship means nothing but the need for the majority to efficiently arrange for its defence its own social Organisation.


"The terms 'domination', 'dictatorship' and 'state' are as little appropriate as the expression 'taking power' for the revolutionary act of the seizure of the factories by the workers.

We reject then as inaccurate and causes of confusion the expressions 'dictatorship of the proletariat', 'taking political power', 'workers state', 'socialist state' and 'proletarian state'." [Manifesto of Libertarian Communism, pp. 22-3]

In summary, anarchists argue that the state has to be abolished "overnight" simply because a state is marked by hierarchical power and the exclusion of the bulk of the population from the decision making process. It cannot be used to implement socialism simply because it is not designed that way. To extend and defend a revolution a state is not required. Indeed, it is a hindrance:

"The mistake of authoritarian communists in this connection is the belief that fighting and organising are impossible without submission to a government; and thus they regard anarchists . . . as the foes of all organisation and all co-ordinated struggle. We, on the other hand, maintain that not only are revolutionary struggle and revolutionary organisation possible outside and in spite of government interference but that, indeed, that is the only effective way to struggle and organise, for it has the active participation of all members of the collective unit, instead of their passively entrusting themselves to the authority of the supreme leaders.

"Any governing body is an impediment to the real organisation of the broad masses, the majority. Where a government exists, then the only really organised people are the minority who make up the government; and . . . if the masses do organise, they do so against it, outside it, or at the very least, independently of it. In ossifying into a government, the revolution as such would fall apart, on account of its awarding that government the monopoly of organisation and of the means of struggle." [Luigi Fabbri, "Anarchy and 'Scientific' Communism", in The Poverty of Statism, pp. 13-49, Albert Meltzer (ed.), p. 27]

For anarchists, the abolition of the state does not mean rejecting the need to extend or defend a revolution (quite the reverse!). It means rejecting a system of organisation designed by and for minorities to ensure their rule. To create a state (even a "workers' state") means to delegate power away from the working class and eliminate their power in favour of party power. In place of a state anarchists' argue for a free federation of workers' organisations as the means of conducting a revolution (and the framework for its defence).

As we discuss in the next section, anarchists see this federation of workers' associations and communes (the framework of a free society) as being based on the organisations working class people create in their struggle against capitalism. These self-managed organisations, by refusing to become part of a centralised state, will ensure the success of a revolution.

H.1.4 Do anarchists have "absolutely no idea" of what the proletariat will put in place of the state?

Lenin's second claim is that anarchists, "while advocating the destruction of the state machine, have absolutely no idea of what the proletariat will put in its place" and compares this to the Marxists who argue for a new state machine "consisting of armed workers, after the type of the Commune." [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 358] For anarchists, Lenin's assertion simply shows his unfamiliarity with anarchist literature and need not be taken seriously -- anyone familiar will anarchist theory would simply laugh at such comments. Sadly, most Marxists are not familiar with that theory, so we need to explain two things. Firstly, anarchists have very clear ideas on what to "replace" the state with (namely a federation of communes based on working class associations). Secondly, that this idea is based on the idea of armed workers, inspired by the Paris Commune (although predicted by Bakunin).

Moreover, for anarchists Lenin's comment seems somewhat incredulous. As George Barrett puts it, in reply to the question "if you abolish government, what will you put it its place," this "seems to an Anarchist very much as if a patient asked the doctor, 'If you take away my illness, what will you give me in its place?' The Anarchist's argument is that government fulfils no useful purpose . . . It is the headquarters of the profit-makers, the rent-takers, and of all those who take from but who do not give to society. When this class is abolished by the people so organising themselves to run the factories and use the land for the benefit of their free communities, i.e. for their own benefit, then the Government must also be swept away, since its purpose will be gone. The only thing then that will be put in the place of government will be the free organisation of the workers. When Tyranny is abolished, Liberty remains, just as when disease is eradicated health remains." [Objections to Anarchism]

However, Barrett's answer does contain the standard anarchist position on what will be the basis of a revolutionary society, namely that the "only thing then that will be put in the place of government will be the free organisation of the workers." This is a concise summary of anarchist theory and cannot be bettered. This vision, as we discussed in section I.2.3 in some detail, can be found in the work of Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta and a host of other anarchist thinkers. Since anarchists from Bakunin onwards have stressed that a federation of workers' associations would constitute the framework of a free society, to assert otherwise is little more than a joke or a slander. To quote Bakunin:

"the federative alliance of all working men's associations . . . [will] constitute the Commune . . . [the] Communal Council [will be] composed of . . . delegates . . . vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates. . . all provinces, communes and associations . . . by first reorganising on revolutionary lines . . . [will] constitute the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . [and] organise a revolutionary force capable defeating reaction . . . [and for] self-defence . . . [The] revolution everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation. . ." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 170-2]


"The future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and universal." [Op. Cit., p. 206]

Similar ideas can easily be found in the works of other anarchists. While the actual names and specific details of these federations of workers' associations may change (for example, the factory committees and soviets in the Russian Revolution, the collectives in Spain, the section assemblies in the French Revolution are a few of them) the basic ideas are the same. Bakunin also pointed to the means of defence, a workers' militia (the people armed, as per the Paris Commune):

"While it [the revolution] will be carried out locally everywhere, the revolution will of necessity take a federalist format. Immediately after established government has been overthrown, communes will have to reorganise themselves along revolutionary lines . . . In order to defend the revolution, their volunteers will at the same time form a communal militia. But no commune can defend itself in isolation. So it will be necessary for each of them to radiate outwards, to raise all its neighbouring communes in revolt . . . and to federate with them for common defence." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 142]

A major difference between anarchism and Marxism which Lenin points to is, clearly, false. Anarchists are well aware of what should "replace" the bourgeois state and have always been so. The real difference is simply that anarchists say what they mean while Lenin's "new" state did not, in fact, mean working class power but rather party power. We discussed this issue in more detail in section H.1.2, so we will not do so here.

As for Lenin's comment that we have "absolutely no ideas" of how the working class "will use its revolutionary power" suggests more ignorance, as we have urged working people to expropriate the expropriators, reorganise production under workers' self-management and start to construct society from the bottom upwards (a quick glance at Kropotkin's Conquest of Bread, for example, would soon convince any reader of the inaccuracy of Lenin's comment). This summary by the anarchist Jura Federation (written in 1880) gives a flavour of anarchist ideas on this subject:

"The bourgeoisie's power over the popular masses springs from economic privileges, political domination and the enshrining of such privileges in the laws. So we must strike at the wellsprings of bourgeois power, as well as its various manifestations.

"The following measures strike us as essential to the welfare of the revolution, every bit as much as armed struggle against its enemies:

"The insurgents must confiscate social capital, landed estates, mines, housing, religious and public buildings, instruments of labour, raw materials, gems and precious stones and manufactured products:

"All political, administrative and judicial authorities are to be abolished.

". . . What should the organisational measures of the revolution be?

"Immediate and spontaneous establishment of trade bodies: provisional assumption by those of . . . social capital . . .: local federation of a trades bodies and labour organisation:

"Establishment of neighbourhood groups and federations of same . . .

[. . .]

"[T]he federation of all the revolutionary forces of the insurgent Communes . . . Federation of Communes and organisation of the masses, with an eye to the revolution's enduring until such time as all reactionary activity has been completely eradicated.

[. . .]

"Once trade bodies have been have been established, the next step is to organise local life. The organ of this life is to be the federation of trades bodies and it is this local federation which is to constitute the future Commune." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, pp. 246-7]

Clearly, anarchists do have some ideas on what the working class will "replace" the state with and how it will use its "revolutionary power"!

Similarly, Lenin's statement that "the anarchists even deny that the revolutionary proletariat should utilise its state power, its revolutionary dictatorship" again distorts the anarchist position. As we argued in section H.1.2, our objection to the "state power" of the proletariat is precisely because it cannot, by its very nature as a state, actually allow the working class to manage society directly (and, of course, it automatically excludes other sections of the working masses, such as the peasantry and artisans). We argued that, in practice, it would simply mean the dictatorship of a few party leaders. This position, we must stress, was one Lenin himself was arguing in the year after completing State and Revolution. Ironically, the leading Bolsheviks (as we have seen in section H.1.2) confirmed the anarchist argument that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" would, in fact, become a dictatorship over the proletariat by the party.

Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri sums up the differences well:

"The Marxists . . . foresee the natural disappearance of the State as a consequence of the destruction of classes by the means of 'the dictatorship of the proletariat,' that is to say State Socialism, whereas the Anarchists desire the destruction of the classes by means of a social revolution which eliminates, with the classes, the State. The Marxists, moreover, do not propose the armed conquest of the Commune by the whole proletariat, but the propose the conquest of the State by the party which imagines that it represents the proletariat. The Anarchists allow the use of direct power by the proletariat, but they understand by the organ of this power to be formed by the entire corpus of systems of communist administration-corporate organisations [i.e. industrial unions], communal institutions, both regional and national-freely constituted outside and in opposition to all political monopoly by parties and endeavouring to a minimum administrational centralisation." ["Dictatorship of the Proletariat and State Socialism", Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, no. 4, p. 52]

Clearly, Lenin's assertions are little more than straw men.

H.1.5 Why do anarchists reject "utilising the present state"?

Lastly, there is the question of Marxists demanding (in the words of Lenin) "that the proletariat be prepared for revolution by utilising the present state" while anarchists "reject this." Today, of course, this has changed. Libertarian Marxists, such as council communists, also reject "utilising the present state" to train the proletariat for revolution (i.e. for socialists to stand for elections). For anarchists, the use of elections does not "prepare" the working class for revolution (i.e. managing their own affairs and society). Rather, it prepares them to follow leaders and let others act for them. In the words of Rudolf Rocker:

"Participation in the politics of the bourgeois States has not brought the labour movement a hair's-breadth nearer to Socialism, but thanks to this method, Socialism has almost been completely crushed and condemned to insignificance. . . Participation in parliamentary politics has affected the Socialist Labour movement like an insidious poison. It destroyed the belief in the necessity of constructive Socialist activity, and, worse of all, the impulse to self-help, by inoculating people with the ruinous delusion that salvation always comes from above." [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 49]

While electoral ("political") activity ensures that the masses become accustomed to following leaders and letting them act on their behalf, anarchists' support direct action as "the best available means for preparing the masses to manage their own personal and collective interests; and besides, anarchists feel that even now the working people are fully capable of handling their own political and administrative interests." [Luigi Galleani, The End of Anarchism?, pp. 13-4]

Anarchists, therefore, argue that we need to reclaim the power which has been concentrated into the hands of the state. That is why we stress direct action. Direct action means action by the people themselves, that is action directly taken by those directly affected. Through direct action, the people dominate their own struggles, it is they who conduct it, organise it, manage it. They do not hand over to others their own acts and task of self-liberation. That way, we become accustomed to managing our own affairs, creating alternative, libertarian, forms of social organisation which can become a force to resist the state, win reforms and, ultimately, become the framework of a free society. In other words, direct action creates organs of self-activity (such as community assemblies, factory committees, workers' councils, and so on) which, to use Bakunin's words, are "creating not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself."

In other words, the idea that socialists standing for elections somehow prepares working class people for revolution is simply wrong. Utilising the state, standing in elections, only prepares people for following leaders -- it does not encourage the self-activity, self-organisation, direct action and mass struggle required for a social revolution. Moreover, as we noted in the section H.1.1, use of elections has a corrupting effect on those who use it. The history of radicals using elections has been a long one of betrayal and the transformation of revolutionary parties into reformist ones (see section J.2.6 for more discussion). Thus using the existing state ensures that the division at the heart of existing society (namely a few who govern and the many who obey) is reproduced in the movements trying to abolish it. It boils down to handing effective leadership to special people, to "leaders," just when the situation requires working people to solve their own problems and take matters into their own hands. Only the struggle for freedom (or freedom itself) can be the school for freedom, and by placing power into the hands of leaders, utilising the existing state ensures that socialism is postponed rather than prepared for.

Moreover, Marxist support for electioneering is somewhat at odds with their claims of being in favour of collective, mass action. There is nothing more isolated, atomised and individualistic than voting. It is the act of one person in a box by themselves. It is the total opposite of collective struggle. The individual is alone before, during and after the act of voting. Indeed, unlike direct action, which, by its very nature, throws up new forms of organisation in order to manage and co-ordinate the struggle, voting creates no alternative organs of working class self-management. Nor can it as it is not based on nor does it create collective action or organisation. It simply empowers an individual (the elected representative) to act on behalf of a collection of other individuals (the voters). Such delegation will hinder collective organisation and action as the voters expect their representative to act and fight for them -- if they did not, they would not vote for them in the first place!

Given that Marxists usually slander anarchists as "individualists" the irony is delicious!

If we look at the Poll-Tax campaign in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we can see what would happen to a mass movement which utilised electioneering. The various left-wing parties, particularly Militant (now the Socialist Party) spent a lot of time and effort lobbying Labour Councillors not to implement the tax (with no success). Let us assume they had succeeded and the Labour Councillors had refused to implement the tax (or "socialist" candidates had been elected to stop it). What would have happened? Simply that there would not have been a mass movement or mass organisation based on non-payment, nor self-organised direct action to resist warrant sales, nor community activism of any form. Rather, the campaign would have consisted to supporting the councillors in their actions, mass rallies in which the leaders would have informed us of their activities on our behalf and, perhaps, rallies and marches to protest any action the government had inflicted on them. The leaders may have called for some form of mass action but this action would not have come from below and so not a product of working class self-organisation, self-activity and self-reliance. Rather, it would have been purely re-active and a case of follow the leader, without the empowering and liberating aspects of taking action by yourself, as a conscious and organised group. It would have replaced the struggle of millions with the actions of a handful of leaders.

Of course, even discussing this possibility indicates how remote it is from reality. The Labour Councillors were not going to act -- they were far too "practical" for that. Years of working within the system, of using elections, had taken their toll decades ago. Anarchists, of course, saw the usefulness of picketing the council meetings, of protesting against the Councillors and showing them a small example of the power that existed to resist them if they implemented the tax. As such, the picket would have been an expression of direct action, as it was based on showing the power of our direct action and class organisations. Lobbying, however, was building illusions in "leaders" acting for us to and based on pleading rather than defiance. But, then again, Militant desired to replace the current leaders with themselves and so would not object to such tactics.

Unfortunately, the Socialists never really questioned why they had to lobby the councillors in the first place -- if utilising the existing state was a valid radical or revolutionary tactic, why has it always resulted in a de-radicalising of those who use it? This would be the inevitable results of any movement which "complements" direct action with electioneering. The focus of the movement will change from the base to the top, from self-organisation and direct action from below to passively supporting the leaders. This may not happen instantly, but over time, just as the party degenerates by working within the system, the mass movement will be turned into an electoral machine for the party -- even arguing against direct action in case it harms the election chances of the leaders. Just as the trade union leaders have done again and again.

All in all, the history of socialists actually using elections has been a dismal failure. Rather than prepare the masses for revolution, it has done the opposite. As we argue in section J.2, this is to be expected. That Lenin could still argue along these lines even after the betrayal of social democracy indicates a lack of desire to learn the lessons of history.

H.1.6 Why do anarchists try to "build the new world in the shell of the old"?

Another key difference between anarchists and Marxists is on how the movement against capitalism should organise in the here and now. Anarchists argue that it should prefigure the society we desire -- namely it should be self-managed, decentralised, built and organised from the bottom-up in a federal structure. This perspective can be seen from the justly famous "Circular of the Sixteen":

"The future society should be nothing but a universalisation of the organisation which the International will establish for itself. We must therefore take care to bring this organisation as near as possible to our ideal . . . How could one expect an egalitarian and free society to grow out of an authoritarian organisation? That is impossible. The International, embryo of the future human society, must be, from now on, the faithful image of our principles of liberty and federation." [quoted by Marx, Fictitious Splits in the International]

This simply echoes Bakunin's argument that the "organisation of the trade sections, their federation in the International, and their representation by the Chambers of Labour, not only create a great academy, in which the workers of the International, combining theory and practice, can and must study economic science, they also bear in themselves the living germs of the new social order, which is to replace the bourgeois world. They are creating not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself." [quoted by Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 45] Anarchists apply this insight to all organisations they take part in, stressing that the only way we can create a self-managed society is by self-managing our own struggles and organisations today. In this way we turn our class organisations (indeed, the class struggle itself) into practical and effective "schools of anarchism" in which we learn to manage our own affairs without hierarchy and bosses.

Marxists reject this argument. Instead they stress the importance of centralisation and consider the anarchist argument as utopian. For effective struggle, strict centralisation is required as the capitalist class and state is also centralised. In other words, to fight for socialism there is a need to organise in a way which the capitalists have utilised -- to fight fire with fire. Unfortunately they forget to extinguish a fire you have to use water. Adding more flame will only increase the combustion, not put it out!

Of course, Marx misrepresented the anarchist position. He argued that the Paris Communards "would not have failed if they had understood that the Commune was 'the embryo of the future human society' and had cast away all discipline and all arms -- that is, the things which must disappear when there are no more wars!" [Ibid.] Needless to say this is simply a slander on the anarchist position. Anarchists, as the Circular makes clear, recognise that we cannot totally reflect the future and so the current movement can only be "as near as possible to our ideal." Thus we have to do things, such as fighting the bosses, rising in insurrection, smashing the state or defending a revolution, which we would not have to do in a socialist society. Such common sense, unfortunately, is lacking in Marx who instead decides to utter nonsense for a cheap polemical point. He never answered the basic point -- how do people become able to manage society if they do not directly manage their own organisations and struggles? How can a self-managed society come about unless people practice it in the here and now? Can people create a socialist society if they do not implement its basic ideas in their current struggles and organisations?

Ironically enough, given his own and his followers claims of his theory's proletarian core, it is Marx who was at odds with the early labour movement, not Bakunin and the anarchists. Historian Gwyn A. Williams notes in the early British labour movement there were "to be no leaders" and the organisations were "consciously modelled on the civil society they wished to create." [Artisans and Sans-Culottes, p. 72] Lenin, unsurprisingly, dismissed the fact that the British workers "thought it was an indispensable sign of democracy for all the members to do all the work of managing the unions" as "primitive democracy" and "absurd." He also complained about "how widespread is the 'primitive' conception of democracy among the masses of the students and workers" in Russia. [Essential Works of Lenin, pp. 162-3] Clearly, the anarchist perspective reflects the ideas the workers' movement before it degenerates into reformism and bureaucracy while Marxism reflects it during this process of degeneration. Needless to say, the revolutionary nature of the early union movement compared to the reformism and bureaucratic control of the ones with "full-time professional officers" clearly shows who was correct!

Related to this is the fact that Marxists (particularly Leninists) favour centralisation while anarchists favour decentralisation within a federal organisation. As such, anarchists do not think that decentralisation implies isolation or narrow localism. We have always stressed the importance of federalism to co-ordinate decisions. Power would be decentralised, but federalism ensures collective decisions and action. Under centralised systems, anarchists argue, power is placed into the hands of a few leaders. Rather than the real interests and needs of the people being co-ordinated, centralism simply means the imposition of the will of a handful of leaders, who claim to "represent" the masses. Co-ordination, in other words, is replaced by coercion in the centralised system and the needs and interests of all are replaced by those of a few leaders at the centre.

Similarly, anarchists and Marxists disagree on the nature of the future economic and social system of socialism. While it is a commonplace assumption that anarchists and Marxists seek the same sort of society but disagree on the means, in actuality there are substantial differences in their vision of a socialist society. While both aim for a stateless communist society, the actual structure of that society is different. Anarchists see it as fundamentally decentralised and federal while Marxists tend to envision it as fundamentally centralised. Moreover, Marxists such as Lenin saw "socialism" as being compatible with one-man management of production by state appointed "directors," armed with "dictatorial" powers (see section 10 of the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for further discussion). As such, anarchists argue that the Bolshevik vision of "socialism" is little more than state capitalism -- with the state replacing the boss as exploiter and oppressor of the working class. As we discuss this issue in section H.3.13, we will not do so here.

By failing to understand the importance of applying a vision of a free society to the current class struggle, Marxists help ensure that society never is created. By copying bourgeois methods within their "revolutionary" organisations (parties and unions) they ensure bourgeois ends (inequality and oppression).

H.1.7 Haven't you read Lenin's "State and Revolution"?

This question is often asked of people who critique Marxism, particularly its Leninist form. Lenin's State and Revolution is often considered his most democratic work and Leninists are quick to point to it as proof that Lenin and those who follow his ideas are not authoritarian. As such, its an important question. So how do anarchists reply when people point them to Lenin's work as evidence of the democratic (even libertarian) nature of Marxism? Anarchists reply in two ways.

Firstly, we argue many of the essential features of Lenin's ideas are to be found in anarchist theory. These features had been aspects of anarchism for decades before Lenin put pen to paper. Bakunin, for example, talked about mandated delegates from workplaces federating into workers' councils as the framework of a (libertarian) socialist society in the 1860s. In the same period he also argued for popular militias to defend a revolution. Hence Murray Bookchin:

"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." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 213]

That this is the case is hidden in Lenin's work as he deliberately distorts anarchist ideas in it (see sections H.1.3 and H.1.4 for examples). Therefore, when Marxists ask whether anarchist have read Lenin's State and Revolution we reply by arguing that most of Lenin's ideas were first expressed by anarchists (while Lenin hide this fact). All in all, Lenin's work just strikes anarchists as little more than a re-hash of many their own ideas but placed in a statist context which totally and utterly undermines them in favour of party rule.

Secondly, anarchists argue that regardless of what Lenin argued for in State and Revolution, he did not apply those ideas in practice (indeed, he did the exact opposite). Therefore, the question of whether we have read Lenin's work simply drives how the ideological nature and theoretical bankruptcy of Leninism in all its many forms. This is because the person asking this kind of question is asking you to evaluate their politics based on what they say rather than on what they do, like any politician.

To use an analogy, what would you say to a politician who has cut welfare spending by 50% and increased spending on the military and who argues that this act is irrelevant and that you should look at their manifesto which states that they were going to do the opposite? Simply put, you would consider this argument as laughable and them as liars as you would evaluate them by their actions, not by what they say. Yet supporters of Leninism cannot do this (and, ironically enough, often quote Marx's words that it is impossible to judge either parties or peoples by what they say or think about themselves, you have to look at what they do). Leninists, by urging you to read Lenin's "State and Revolution" are asking you to evaluate them by what their manifesto says and ignore what they did. Anarchists, on the other hand, ask you to evaluate the Leninist manifesto by comparing it to what they actually did in power. Such an evaluation is the only means by which we can judge the validity of Leninist claims and politics.

As we discuss the Russian Revolution in more depth in the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", we will not provide a summary of Lenin's claims in his famous work State and Revolution and what he did in practice here. However, we will say here that the difference between reality and rhetoric was extremely large and, therefore, it is a damning indictment of Bolshevism. Simply put, if the State and Revolution is the manifesto of Bolshevism, then not a single promise in that work was kept by the Bolsheviks when they got into power. As such, Lenin's work cannot be used to evaluate Bolshevism ideology as Bolshevism paid no attention to it once it had taken state power. While Lenin and his followers chant rhapsodies about the Soviet State (this 'highest and most perfect system of democracy") they quickly turned its democratic ideas into a fairy-tale, and an ugly fairy-tale at that, by simply ignoring it in favour of party power (and party dictatorship).

To state the obvious, to quote theory and not relate it to the practice of those who claim to follow it is a joke. It is little more than sophistry. If you look at the actions of the Bolsheviks after the October Russian Revolution you cannot help draw the conclusion that Lenin's State and Revolution has nothing to do with Bolshevik policy and presents a false image of what Leninists desire. As such, we must present a comparison between rhetoric and realty.

It will be objected in defence of Leninism that it is unfair to hold Lenin responsible for the failure to apply his ideas in practice. The terrible Civil War, in which Soviet Russia was attacked by numerous armies, and the resulting economic chaos meant that the objective circumstances made it impossible to implement his democratic ideas. This argument contains three flaws. Firstly, as we indicate in section 3 of the appendix on "What caused the degeneration of the Russian Revolution?", the undemocratic policies of the Bolsheviks started before the start of the Civil War (so suggesting that the hardships of the Civil War were not to blame). Secondly, Lenin at no time indicated in State and Revolution that it was impossible or inapplicable to apply those ideas during a revolution in Russia (quite the reverse!). Given that Marxists, including Lenin, argue that a "dictatorship of the proletariat" is required to defend the revolution against capitalist resistance it seems incredulous to argue that Lenin's major theoretical work on that regime was impossible to apply in precisely the circumstances it was designed for. Lastly, of course, Lenin himself in 1917 mocked those who argued that revolution was out of the question because "the circumstances are exceptionally complicated." He noting that any revolution, "in its development, would give rise to exceptionally complicated circumstances" and that it was "the sharpest, most furious, desperate class war and civil war. Not a single great revolution in history has escaped civil war. No one who does not live in a shell could imagine that civil war is conceivable without exceptionally complicated circumstances. If there were no exceptionally complicated circumstances there would be no revolution." [Will the Bolsheviks Maintain Power?, p. 80 and p. 81] As such, to blame difficult objective circumstances for the failure of Bolshevism to apply the ideas in State and Revolution means to argue that those ideas are inappropriate for a revolution (which, we must stress, is what the leading Bolsheviks actually did end up arguing by their support for party dictatorship).

All in all, discussing Lenin's State and Revolution without indicating that the Bolsheviks failed to implement its ideas (indeed, did the exact opposite) suggests a lack of honesty. It also suggests that the libertarian ideas Lenin appropriated in that work could not survive being grafted onto the statist ideas of mainstream Marxism. As such, The State and Revolution laid out the foundations and sketched out the essential features of an alternative to Leninist ideas -- namely anarchism. Only the pro-Leninist tradition has used Lenin's work, almost to quiet their conscience, because Lenin, once in power, ignored it totally. The Russian Revolution shows that a workers state, as anarchists have long argued, means minority power, not working class self-management of society. As such, Lenin's work indicates the contradictory nature of Marxism -- while claiming to support democratic/libertarian ideals they promote structures (such as centralised states) which undermine those values in favour of party rule. The lesson is clear, only libertarian means can ensure libertarian ends and they have to be applied consistently within libertarian structures to work. To apply them to statist ones will simply fail.