A Marxist Critique of Anarchism

28 min readJul 28, 2019


Mikhail Bakunin (left), the father of modern anarchism, and Karl Marx (right), the father of scientific socialism.

Within the historic socialist movement, the conflict of Marxism and anarchism has been quite visible, though the former has certainly come to a far greater relevance on the global-historic stage. The split of the First International was due to this conflict, and in the late 19th century, this struggle was arguably the primary internal struggle of the socialist movement. While today, anarchism’s prominence is largely confined to the West, it still holds relevance, and thus demands examination by we scientific socialists. Further, it is important for us to demonstrate the superiority of Marxism to anarchism if we wish to defend Marxism and the workers’ movement. I myself am a former anarchist, and a deeper investigation into Marxism and its method of analysis is what aided me in throwing off that theoretical framework and becoming a scientific socialist. So, this brings us to those questions which are most important to ask and answer about anarchism in our critique: what is anarchism, how does it conceive of the world, what critiques does it offer to Marxism, what has been its historic practice, and what is the material basis beneath it?

Let us begin with the philosophical foundation of anarchism. The Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, in Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal, described anarchism as:

seek[ing] the most complete development of individuality combined with the highest development of voluntary association in all its aspects, in all possible degrees, for all imaginable aims; ever changing, ever modified associations which carry in themselves the elements of their durability and constantly assume new forms, which answer best to the multiple aspirations of all.

Broadly, anarchism places a high emphasis on the ideals of voluntary association, anti-hierarchy (which is based in a view of hierarchy as contrary to the ideal of voluntary association), and individuality. This is what anarchism is in simple terms. By extension of these ideals, anarchism as a whole stands in opposition to the state, although anarchists vary in what they oppose beyond that according to what they believe does or doesn’t stand in contradiction to their ideals. Typically, along with the state, anarchists oppose capitalistic private property (though not all oppose private property in and of itself), religious authority, and political parties. Now that we have defined anarchism, we must ask: how does anarchism go about analyzing the world?

In an article from the anarchist journal Pensiero e Volontà, the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta wrote thusly about his view on whether idealism or materialism are a more correct framework of analyzing the world:

Material needs, the satisfaction of physiological needs, are indeed lesser and even contemptible matters, but they are the basic pre-requisite for any higher moral and intellectual existence… One must not ignore reality; but if reality is noxious, one must fight it, resorting to every means made available to us by reality itself… We anarchists have greatly minded the ideal; we have devised a critique of all the moral falsehoods and all the social institutions that corrupt and oppress humanity and we have outlined, with whatever poetry and eloquence each of us may have possessed, a yearned-for harmonious society rooted in kindness and love; but there is no denying that we have scarcely troubled ourselves about the ways and means of turning our ideals into reality.

This is a very odd understanding of materialism and idealism. Malatesta seems to interpret materialism as a focus on meeting the means of subsistence, and idealism as a focus on an ideal society. While his use of these terms is certainly incorrect, he is still communicating a central idea for a major bloc of anarchism, that being that anarchists should focus on meeting the means of subsistence, but that only grand ideals will create a strong movement. This concept is reflected in other anarchist authors, such as Voltairine de Cleyre in her essay “The Dominant Idea”, and Emma Goldman in “Anarchism: What It Really Stands For”. This concept, as we Marxists can identify, reflects an idealist worldview, although it purports to be balancing “materialism” and idealism. A Marxist would correctly assert that any grand ideals one claims to be necessary in organizing a mass movement would merely be a reflection of material reality, and thus an indirect appeal to material relations and tendencies. Anarchist ideals of voluntary association and individuality certainly have a basis in the material world, that being in the petite-bourgeoisie. The ideals anarchists appeal to tend to be ideals reflecting the individuality of the petite-bourgeoisie, and said class’s moralistic outlook. Even anarchism’s anti-capitalism reflects a petite-bourgeois moralistic and idealistic outlook. Anarchists, such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, consistently appeal to their ideals as just, as moral, and as “fair”. They fail to understand that their morality-based worldview is, again, merely extrapolated from petite-bourgeois existence, and that focusing one’s practice around ideals creates a tendency toward the dominant ideology of the dominant class, who control the means of communication and of mental production.

Now, many anarchists might reject a characterization of anarchism as moralistic. These anarchists tend to fall into two categories: the egoists and the vulgar materialists. We will begin by focusing on the egoists. Egoist anarchism as we know largely finds its origins in The Ego and Its Own by the German Max Stirner. Stirner, a Young Hegelian, was certainly an idealist if ever there was one. In his book, he examines human history through the lense of the frameworks through which people have conceived of the world. Stirner explains people’s behavior by means of their “stuffing their heads”, to use a favorite phrase of his, with such ideas, and acting accordingly. By extension of this incorrect view, which fails to understand that people’s ideals, what they “stuff their heads” with, comes from their material existence, Stirner believes that liberation from the “phantoms” that people simply decide to deceive themselves with is merely to stop believing in them. To him, once one no longer attributes a mystified character to social relations and institutions, said bodies no longer hold power over them. Marx quickly does away with this incorrect perception in The German Ideology, saying:

Further, the man who, as a youth, stuffed his head with all kinds of nonsense about existing powers and relations such as the Emperor, the Fatherland, the state, etc., and knew them only as his own ‘delirious fantasies’, in the form of his conceptions-this man, according to Saint Max [Stirner], actually destroys all these powers by getting out of his head his false opinion of them. On the contrary: now that he no longer looks at the world through the spectacles of his fantasy, he has to think of the practical interrelations of the world, to get to know them and to act in accordance with them. By destroying the fantastic corporeality which the world had for him, he finds its real corporeality outside his fantasy. With the disappearance of the spectral corporeality of the Emperor, what disappears for him is not the corporeality, but the spectral character of the Emperor, the actual power of whom he can now at last appreciate in all its scope.

Stirner, and those anarchists who follow in their footsteps, fails to understand that powerful material relations and institutions are not made powerful when they are attributed mystified characteristics, but rather, they are attributed mystified characteristics because they are powerful. To give a simple example, one does not merely give oneself the means of accumulating every commodity in a grocery store once they cease to perceive private property as a right. Even if they throw off this mystified view of the commodities in question, said view comes from the fact that the owners of that property hold the means of ensuring their ownership of it. That is, they hold the means of force. One’s lack of belief in private property as a right doesn’t mean one will not be stopped by private security guards if they try to take it, or that they will not be arrested by the police. Further, to take an example Stirner himself uses, a Stirnerite would believe the poor are poor because they believe in the right of private property and refuse to simply use force to appropriate it themselves. The reality is the other way around. The poor cannot simply appropriate private property on a whim, because said property exists due to organized force being applied to defend it. As a result, property is given a mystified characteristic. Stirnerite ideas of liberation through ceasing belief in particular ideals is yet more idealist drivel, and certainly does not shape up better than the idealism of Malatesta, de Cleyre, and anarchists of similar views.

Now, let us confront the final most common anarchist philosophical framework: the vulgar materialists. Within this category falls the Russians Peter Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin, the latter an opponent of Marx in his lifetime. Kropotkin is certainly a poor materialist, writing books such as The Conquest of Bread which outline how anarchism could perhaps be organized, but with no explanation as to whether there is any tendency in historic development toward such a society, or what actual feasible practice could be adopted toward the development of such a society. With regards to the former, Kropotkin does, in other works, attempt to identify tendencies in existing society which create a foundation for anarchist development. These, however, fall short. This largely amounts to him identifying the existence of voluntary association organizations and instances of mutual aid in human and animal societies. Nowhere does he identify how these could be tendencies toward broad social development and change, nor how they hold within them the potential to enact a broad social upheaval, aside from wishing into existence a large and well organized anarchist movement. Compare this to Marxism, which identifies the contradiction of socialized production and private appropriation, the anarchy of social production, and the growth of the propertyless proletariat as conditions which tend toward the development of socialism. Bakunin, a contemporary of Marx, was at least better at materialist analysis than Kropotkin, if one chooses to ignore his conspiratorial worldview, up to and including antisemitic beliefs in global Jewish conspiracies. Bakunin’s main antagonism toward Marxism lay in the central contradiction of Marxism and anarchism: the state.

Anarchism opposes not only the bourgeois and feudal states, but the proletariat’s use of the state as well. In fact, those anarchists which tend toward a vulgar materialist framework assert that the proletariat, as a class, cannot use the state for its own class rule, and that any attempts to do such would merely lead to the rise of a new class, those of the bureaucrats, who supposedly become a new bourgeoisie in a “state capitalist” society, since, according to these anarchists, they own the means of production. A comrade has already written a very complete and quality essay on Marxism and the state, with a critique of the anarchist view in the latter portion. They make great use of Friedrich Engels’ seminal work On the Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State in elaborating the Marxist conception of the state. In said work, Engels defines the state thusly:

The state is therefore by no means a power imposed on society from without;… it is a product of society at a particular stage of development; it is the admission that this society has involved itself in insoluble self-contradiction and is cleft into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to exorcise. But in order that these antagonisms, classes with conflicting economic interests, shall not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, a power, apparently standing above society, has become necessary to moderate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of “order;” and this power, arisen out of society, but placing itself above it and increasingly alienating itself from it, is the state.

Engels further identifies the state as holding a particular class character:

As the state arose from the need to keep class antagonisms in check, but also arose in the thick of the fight between the classes, it is normally the state of the most powerful, economically ruling class, which by its means becomes also the politically ruling class, and so acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class. The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave-owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is the instrument for exploiting wage-labour by capital.

Through Engels, we see that the state is not a trans-historic entity, but rather emerges from a very real state of affairs, where the interests of people become irreconcilable due to the rise of class distinctions, and that the characteristics of the state change according to the nature of this contradiction and related contradictions. Now that we have defined the state in Marxist terms, we can examine anarchist conceptions of the state, and the character and basis of anarchist opposition to proletarian class rule through a state.

First I offer an excerpt from Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy, critiqued in Marxism and the State, by Valarie Renaux:

What does it mean that the proletariat will be elevated to a ruling class [under the dictatorship of the proletariat]? Is it possible for the whole proletariat to stand at the head of the government? There are nearly forty million Germans. Can all forty million be members of the government? In such a case, there will be no government, no state, but, if there is to be a state there will be those who are ruled and those who are slaves.

The Marxist theory solves this dilemma very simply. By the people’s rule, they mean the rule of a small number of representatives elected by the people. The general, and every man’s, right to elect the representatives of the people and the rulers of the State is the latest word of the Marxists, as well as of the democrats. This is a lie, behind which lurks the despotism of the ruling minority, a lie all the more dangerous in that it appears to express the so-called will of the people. Ultimately, from whatever point of view we look at this question, we come always to the same sad conclusion, the rule of the great masses of the people by a privileged minority. The Marxists say that this minority will consist of workers. Yes, possibly of former workers, who, as soon as they become the rulers of the representatives of the people, will cease to be workers and will look down at the plain working masses from the governing heights of the State; they will no longer represent the people, but only themselves and their claims to rulership over the people. Those who doubt this know very little about human nature.

Now, let me quote at length from their (Valarie Renaux’ s) response:

The flaws and failures of analysis in this view are many-fold and should be readily apparent to anyone who genuinely wishes the look. Bakunin is holding the inclusion of the entire proletariat within the state (something he rightly points out would represent the liquidation of the state itself) as a requisite for workers’ state power, for if otherwise, a small cabal of governing once-proletarians will become a “ruling minority” over “the great masses of the people.” But is all the bourgeois class contained within the bourgeois state? No, of course not, such an idea is preposterous; only a very small section of the bourgeoisie actually work within the state, and of these, a great many of them are petite-bourgeois, that is, of the lesser bourgeoisie who do not actually control society. But does Bakunin think that capitalist states are not bourgeois states — that the massive monopoly capitalists, the industrialists, the weapons manufacturers and their ilk, that these people are not “ruling,” are not a “privileged minority” set apart from “the great masses of the people”? He, of course, does not, yet he draws such an absurd conclusion with regard to a proletarian state. The double standards of the anarchists are here in clear view: they hold the workers’ movement to different, abstract and moralising — utopian — standards than they do the capitalist class and its organs of power, and in doing so decry any attempt to genuinely stop, abolish, and supersede the power of the capitalists by the workers as ‘authoritarian,’ as ‘tyrannical,’ as ‘dictatorial’ and all the other age-old sophisms that, lest we forget, the bourgeoisie too flung at the moribund aristocracy of the ancien régime with all their strength and polemical vitriol those centuries ago. This is why Engels rightly and famously remarked that “either the anti-authoritarians don’t know what they’re talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction.” This last point is key; irrespective of their intentions, by propagandising and even organising against socialist governments, anarchism has, in this current historical epoch, had an almost wholly reactionary character, irrespective of the dress it dons to do so.

But this is far from the only flaw in the analysis quoted above. Bakunin also posits that, instead of being a workers’ state, the socialist state will consist of “former workers,” former workers that, once they begin to rule, “will cease to be workers and will look down at the plain working masses from the governing heights of the State.” Again, do all those that work within capitalist states own capital? Do they play the stock market, run a factory, or sit on the governing board of a transnational corporation? Many do, for sure, but many more also do not. Does this stop them from working in the capitalist state, from serving the capitalists’ interests? It, of course, does not. One’s class is not simply a matter of your relationship to the means of production, though this is indeed the foundation and core of it. It is also to do with your position within the social organism — your ‘social class’ as opposed to your ‘economic class.’ Just as how the bourgeoisie, bereft under socialism of the economic ties that made them bourgeois in the first place, remain bourgeois in culture, practise, ideology and aims, so too does the worker, even if he does not work, still remain a worker in that other sense, in the sense of his loyalties, of the socialisation he underwent and continues to undergo, of his worldview and his values, his loves and his hates, his hopes and dreams and fears too. If the bourgeoisie can, having been liquidated as an economic class in the USSR by the 1930s, work towards and eventually even achieve total capitalist restoration in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then the proletariat can similarly function according to their material, class interests even if they are not directly working at any one time. Again, anarchism treats capitalists and workers according to evidently different standards and demands. Even here though, we are ignoring the fact that, even if a woman may not be working as she works (the paradox of that phrase should, incidentally, be telling) in the proletarian state, it does not mean she stops being a proletarian — can she now sustain herself by any means other than selling her labour-power? Does she now control a part of the means of production? Does she have a waged workforce working under her? No, to all of these things, so in what way has she ceased to be a proletarian? Only in the immaterialist, idealist and workerist sense that anarchism demands of her.

The workers’ state is one in which, it must not be forgotten, the considerable majority of the population, for the first time in history, constitutes the ruling class. The ramifications of this are enormous, one of which being that those who rule — who administrate the society — must also work, must also build it; apparatchiki and a nomenklatura will and do exist, they must if higher state functions are to be done, but they represent only a small section of those involved in the state, and are by no means the primary way in which the state interacts with the population it governs. Does, for example, a police force in a socialist state represent a “special body of armed men”? Only in the very lowest stages of communism, as while the function of policing in capitalist states is to suppress the workers and protect private property, in a socialist state it is to protect the workers and suppress private property — there is no distinction between policeman and steelworker, either in terms of their class, their aims, their backgrounds, or any other such sense. Even when a state does certainly exist, then, that the ‘special’ bodies of it are made up of and organised by and for the statistical majority of the people makes them wholly different to those that came before.

Here, perhaps, is a manifestation of one of the foundational flaws in anarchist theory: its veneration of human nature (as it understands it, at least). Bakunin claims that “human nature” makes corruption and counterrevolutionary, anti-proletarian actions inevitable once a section of the working class seizes power. Why does he say this? What proof does he have? In a word, none. ‘Human nature’ as it is predominantly understood is nothing more than our proclivity towards certain actions within specific material contexts, which are subject to change — and thus so are the proclivities. Even if it could be established that capitalist society generates some kind of fundamental proclivity among the working class and even humanity as a whole to act out of greed, selfishness and short-termism (which is practically speaking impossible to prove anyway), it does not follow that this is inherent and unavoidable in the human animal itself as some kind of abstract template for our actions. By elevating the human creature itself to the level of pseudoreligious ideology, anarchism practises exactly the same form of ideologising that the bourgeoisie and the feudal and even patrician classes before them have long done. Marxism rightfully does not concern itself with such sophistry, with such meaningless protestations against placing power in the hands of the working class and its party. “During its lifetime the working class state will continually evolve up to the point that it finally withers away: the nature of social organisation, of human association, will radically change according to the development of technology and the forces of production, and man’s nature will be equally subject to deep alterations always moving away more and more from the beast of burden and slave which he was.”

This links closely with the final problem with Bakunin and the anarchists’ position on the state that we shall address here. Bakunin describes his fictitious once-proletarians as “look[ing] down” on the workers from the “governing heights of the State.” What does this mean? It means, in one clear sense, that Bakunin sees the state as something distinct from society, something separate from and alien to it, something parasitical and detached from the productive elements of society. But never has or will the state be something “imposed on society from without,” something that stands above class distinctions, or gendered divisions in labour, or religious and secular ideology alike, or indeed anything else. The state is not separate from society; it is society, it is the inevitable and necessary product of a society as it exists at certain stages of historical-economic development, and without it, the society would be reduced to utter barbarism, open, ubiquitous kinetic violence, a marked decline in living standards for all, both relative and actual, a severe degradation in the quality of goods, and so on. In a word, you would have social and even civilisational collapse. This is because ‘society’ is not one harmonious thing; rather, it is the aggregate of all human social and economic relations, and these humans and their socioeconomic situations are anything but uniform. Without the state, with its monopoly on violence and its often dominant role in the cultural narrative, these contradictions — irreconcilable contradictions — would be acted out through direct, physical struggle. There are but two outcomes to such a thing: either a state will be formed anew, but only after an extended period of acute crisis dealing devastating damage to all, and so the destruction of the state (and more precisely the failure to build a new state to replace it) was not only pointless but entirely undesirable to the society, or, worse still, the construction of a new state, for whatever reason, fails, and the population collapses into a regressed state of primitive-communism. History would have been reset. There does not exist some dichotomy of society and state, only the existence of a society with a state, and if a society has a state, it needs a state, and simply seeking its destruction is entirely misguided and naïve, springing from a fundamental misconstruing of what the state is, what society is, and what one’s own material interests are. In a word, it is idealism — it is utopianism. It should be evident from the rest of this essay that the state is not something that can be simply dismantled and destroyed by force and violence; it can only “wither away” when the material conditions are right. To attempt to act outside of history as anarchism does is dangerous to all, never mind arrogant and individualist. It is a position in absolute opposition to the interests of the workers.

To believe that the proletariat, by its nature as a class, cannot wield the state as an organ of class rule is a common and incorrect critique anarchism offers to Marxism. This idea is not isolated to Bakunin. From Kropotkin, to Goldman, to Malatesta, this is the critique offered to revolutions headed by Marxist parties. Often, they also point to the fact that socialist states did not immediately wither away post-revolution, claiming this is proof that the Marxist analysis is wrong and that the state merely becomes a new bourgeoisie. This comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the Marxist conception of the state. The USSR, PRC, DPRK, and other socialist states did not eliminate the bourgeoisie and petite-bourgeoisie in totality, nor is this possible to immediately do. Even where they abolished private property, the bourgeoisie still exists as a scorned class. Further, the international and imperialist bourgeoisie still exists outside the socialist nation, pushing for its downfall. The state will not wither away until the international bourgeoisie is entirely eliminated, and the basis of classes is destroyed, as productive capacity is developed in an even manner and the distribution legacy of imperialism is reversed. Contrary to anarchists’s complaints, the existence of a socialist state does not lead to a permanent dependence upon said state, preventing the future withering away of the state. The state’s dissolution is far in the future. We say this not out of preference, but out of a realistic evaluation of material conditions. There is much to be developed in order to satisfy the preconditions for communist development. Besides, there is already mass participation within socialist states, which creates a foundation for proletarian development and future withering away of the state, such as in trade union organizations, social events, and education in theory. Further, even when the state withers away, authority will not be abolished. Material reality does not pay heed to ideals, not even ideals of anti-authority. As Engels correctly identifies in On Authority:

We have seen, besides, that the material conditions of production and circulation inevitably develop with large-scale industry and large-scale agriculture, and increasingly tend to enlarge the scope of this authority. Hence it is absurd to speak of the principle of authority as being absolutely evil, and of the principle of autonomy as being absolutely good. Authority and autonomy are relative things whose spheres vary with the various phases of the development of society. If the autonomists confined themselves to saying that the social organisation of the future would restrict authority solely to the limits within which the conditions of production render it inevitable, we could understand each other; but they are blind to all facts that make the thing necessary and they passionately fight the world.

Besides, the use of “authoritarian”, especially against Marxists, is meaningless. What feels free to one may feel dictatorial to another, especially in class society. What is free to the bourgeoisie, such as a lack of taxes to pay for social programs, feels dictatorial for the proletariat. Thus, what is free to the proletariat, such as socialization of appropriation, feels dictatorial to the bourgeoisie, who lose their private property under socialism. Anarchists tend to point to false anti-communist claims that socialist states were horribly repressive, that millions died under the USSR and PRC, and so on in a floundering attempt to prove their correctness. All they do is merely appeal to the dominant ideology in this, that of the bourgeoisie.

Revolutions guided by Marxist analysis have been the most successful in modern times, aiding in the birth and survival of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The use of the repressive state apparatus has aided these socialist revolutions in resisting bourgeois and imperialist reaction, and their discipline in organization, theory, and practice has brought them much success. By contrast, anarchism has seen no success or longstanding revolutions. Anarchists tend to point to four main societies as “proof” of anarchism’s salience: the Ukrainian Free Territory, the CNT-FAI controlled regions of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, the EZLN in Mexico, and the DFNS in Syria. The Free Territory only lasted 1918 to 1921, and did little to actually build productive forces or expand very far. Many anarchists complain that it failed due to Bolshevik “betrayal” (failing to understand that the Bolsheviks did not hold solidarity with the Black Army, rather making a strategic alliance with them against the White Army out of necessity). However, even if this were the case, the Free Territory clearly was not sustainable in the way of self-defense if the Bolsheviks won out against it. The CNT-FAI-”controlled” regions were even more unimpressive, as the CNT-FAI operated under the rule of the Generalitat in Catalonia, had concentration camps and other means of repression characteristic of a state, failed to engage in production in an efficient manner, and did not actually abolish commodity production in most regions, despite anarchist claims to the contrary. Further, the “revolutionary” regions of Spain were not even entirely controlled by the CNT-FAI, with many actually being controlled by the PSOE-affiliated UGT. With regards to the EZLN and DFNS, neither consider themselves anarchist. The EZLN considers itself to be in the tradition of indigenous political movements and is in particular inspired by Emiliano Zapata’s Ejército Libertador del Sur. Anarchists consider the EZLN to be anarchist merely because it has historically followed a decentralized model. They fail to understand that the EZLN hasn’t survived because of that model, but in spite of it. The EZLN has survived because it has mass support of the indigenous population in Southern Mexico, and has means of blending in among the people. Further, it is operating in largely rural areas, where decentralization is less likely to represent a death knell than in urban areas. Besides, the EZLN has realized the need to combine legal with illegal work, and now participates in politics through the National Indigenous Congress. The DFNS is a very different case. The DFNS is most certainly a state, with a police force called Asayish, with private property protected by the constitution, and ethnic minorities, particularly Assyrians, face repression and discrimination. It has further been allied very closely to the US, and has operated as a mere proxy for imperialism in Syria.

Now that we have examined those common examples given of anarchist societies, let us examine anarchist practice. Anarchists tend to lay heavy emphasis on spontaneity, believing that attempts to create organization, such as by building a vanguard party, creates bureaucracy, and leads to a contradiction between the masses and the rulers. This ridiculous view sees organized leadership as always leading to a “new bourgeoisie”, an idea criticized by Lenin in “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder:

The divergence between ‘leaders’ and ‘masses’ was brought out with particular clarity and sharpness in all countries at the end of and after the imperialist war. The principal reason for this phenomenon was explained many times by Marx and Engels between the years 1852 and 1892 by the example of England. That country’s monopoly position led to the separation from the ‘masses’ of a semi-petty- bourgeois, opportunist ‘labour aristocracy’. The leaders of this labour aristocracy constantly deserted to the bourgeoisie, and were directly or indirectly in its pay. Marx earned the honour of incurring the hatred of these scoundrels by openly branding them as traitors. Modern (twentieth century) imperialism created a privileged, monopoly position for a few advanced countries, and this gave rise everywhere in the Second International to a certain type of traitor, opportunist, social-chauvinist leaders, who champion the interests of their own craft, their own section of the labour aristocracy. This divorced the opportunist parties from the ‘masses’, that is, from the broadest strata of the working people, from their majority, from the lowest-paid workers. The victory of the revolutionary proletariat is impossible unless this evil is combated, unless the opportunist, social-traitor leaders are exposed, discredited and expelled. And that is the policy on which the Third International embarked.

Leaders do not constitute a separate, antagonistic class to masses. And yet, anarchists continue to assert that they do, and continue to place all their bets on spontaneity. This means that anarchists tend to merely follow mass movements whenever they crop up, and refuse to take the initiative necessary to organize them sufficiently for success, or to raise their consciousness to any significant extent. While Marxists combine the socialist movement and the worker’s movement, with the Party raising the consciousness of the proletariat and guiding them beyond spontaneity into political movements, anarchists merely follow behind the spontaneity of the masses. Anarchists reject political work broadly, and often reject legal work as a whole. Anarchists view any participation in politics as useless, failing to see that participating does not necessarily mean one views such participation as an avenue to revolution, but merely a component. Boycott of bourgeois politics can be useful in particular cases, as when the Party has the support of enough of the masses that to do so threatens the legitimacy of bourgeois democracy. However, to merely make it a principle cuts off an avenue which is important to make use of for agitation. As long as the proletariat believes in the legitimacy of bourgeois democracy, the Party must use bourgeois democracy as a platform.

The anarchist emphasis on spontaneity, voluntary association, and individuality, coupled with opposition to political work or organizational discipline, leads to utter failure in the building of successful movements. Occupy Wall Street, which placed heavy emphasis on consensus democracy, voluntary association, and ideological pluralism (contrasted to Marxist emphasis on unity in strategy and tactics) lead to its total failure. Modern-day antifa, while it succeeds in shutting down individual fascist rallies, has failed to truly crush fascism, with the frequency of individual mass violence from reactionaries increasing, and with little detriment to the size of fascist movements. Contrast this to historic and modern socialist states, which repress the class basis of fascism (the petite-bourgeoisie, labor aristocracy, and haute bourgeoisie), and thus succeed in its destruction. Anarchism also offers very little in the way of anti-imperialism and decolonization. Both require great discipline and a strong repressive state apparatus. Anarchism has failed to build any long-lasting movement or society, and it certainly offers no means of resisting imperialism and colonization. It is no coincidence that Marxism has played such a major role in historic national liberation struggles, while anarchism has tended to avoid the national question, or make utopian statements like claiming it’s unnecessary since all nations will be abolished during the revolution, and that by extension, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved with a “no state solution”. On the question of the fight against the gendered division of labor, anarchism also fails in its shying away from discipline, organization, and the use of the state. Patriarchal elements, the defenders of the gendered division of labor, cannot properly be combatted without a fully developed means of repression. Anarchism offers no realistic means of organizing LGBT healthcare on a broad scale or socializing domestic labor. Anarchists might claim socialist states are inherently patriarchal and anti-LGBT, but what they fail to realize is that whatever anti-LGBT or patriarchal aspects exist in socialist states are not merely due to “state socialism” being “inherently reactionary”. Instead they are a reflection of the continuing contradiction of old and new, reactionary and progressive, being expressed even within the Party. The Party holds members who benefit from, or have been indoctrinated into, the institution of the gendered division of labor. Especially significant to this is that socialist revolutions occur in those nations which are the weakest link in world imperialism, and that said nations tend to have especially pronounced, typically semi-feudal and/or colonial gendered divisions of labor, and do not have the developed proletarianization of women pre-revolution which poses a revolutionary challenge to the gendered division of labor. To combat the gendered division of labor, Parties the world over must elevate the LGBT community and women to its leadership, not reject scientific socialism in favor of anarchism. Very importantly, on the point of anarchism’s lack of potential in organizing major social change, anarchism’s proposed localized and decentralized productive model cannot properly change production in a manner which is efficient enough to combat productive models which contribute to climate change. Only a centralized planned economy can truly save us from the devastation of climate change, not scrambling to organize a massive initiative among many scattered localized communes and confederations.

Now that we have broadly examined anarchism in theory and practice, let us identify the basis of it in material reality. Where does anarchism come from?

Anarchism began, as acknowledged by Peter Kropotkin in his Encyclopedia Britannica article on anarchism and Rudolf Rocker in his Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice, as a synthesis of utopian socialism and liberalism. From utopian socialism, it took opposition to capitalism and attempts to create a new, “perfect” system, from liberalism, it took the ideals of liberty and individuality, extended into opposition to the state. The Englishman William Godwin is considered the first modern anarchist, and in him we see this synthesis very clearly. Godwin came from a petite-bourgeois family, and his anarchism reflected petite-bourgeois ideals of individuality and morality. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Errico Malatesta were also from petite-bourgeois backgrounds, whereas the major collectivist anarchists, Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, came from the Russian nobility. This class character of major anarchist theorists is no coincidence. Anarchism is an extension of liberalism by elements of the petite-bourgeoisie. Advocacy for localized production, individuality, and decentralization are clear expressions of petite-bourgeois interests. Further, reliance upon morality and ideals broadly reflects this petite-bourgeois existence. Now, not all anarchists are petite-bourgeois, and not all anarchism is petite-bourgeois, though the ideology as a whole is strongly influence by said class. The anarchism of Eastern and Southern European immigrants in the US during the early 20th century was much more an expression of an immature workers’ movement than anything, and its tendency toward liberalism was a reflection of their life in a settler nation and their eventual recuperation into white settler society. Anarchism in their places of origin was merely an underdeveloped workers movement in semi-feudal conditions, relying on spontaneity in conditions where the proletariat was not yet developed to an extent where a properly centralized movement could be implemented. Regardless, anarchism is thrown aside by any successful and developed workers movement, as it begins to centralize in accordance with the demands created by the tendencies of capitalist development, those of centralizing and socializing production, and of the need for discipline in resisting the bourgeoisie.

In closing, I would like to address a common idea offered in response to contradictions between Marxists and anarchists: that being that anarchists and Marxists somehow have “the same goals”, and thus our differences in practice can be reconciled, since “we all want the same thing”. This claim fails to take account of the fact that Marxism does not have “end goals” in such a manner, as it is not a utopian ideology, but a scientific method of analysis and movement. Further, the means of achieving “ends” is quite important, and differences in such means are very significant. Anarchists tend to criticize Marxists on the basis of the idea that “authoritarian” means cannot lead to “libertarian” ends. In this we see the core of the contradiction. Anarchists are guided by ideals of “liberty”, Marxists are guided by scientific analysis of the material conditions and tendencies of historical development. While the development of communism will certainly create a state of affairs where a universal definition of freedom can be applied, since the abolition of class distinctions means that what benefits one section of society benefits all, rather than leading to the detriment of another section as in class society, such a state of affairs does not come about due to the existence of an ideal. Rather, such a state of affairs comes about because the tendencies of historic development (the growth of productive capacity, the characteristic of the proletariat as a class that can abolish the bourgeoisie and itself, due to its lack of property or other “chains”, the socialization of production, etc). So, Marxism and anarchism cannot be reconciled, though Marxists and anarchists can create strategic alliances when necessary, such as in the case of combatting fascism (although anarchism’s tendency toward pluralism threatens said effort, since it refuses to enforce discipline or unity). Marxists should reject anarchism, and criticize it where it exists. This does not necessarily mean we should be antagonistic to anarchists, but that we should educate them, particular in the scientific basis and method of analysis that Marxism offers. Marxism is the ruthless criticism of all that exists, and anarchism cannot be spared simply to satisfy the ideal of some “left unity”. Calls for unity between the two have been made since before the First International, and constantly on the basis of a supposed common “goal”. Clearly, these calls have done nothing to reconcile the inherent contradictions of anarchism and Marxism, in theory and in practice. Unity in theory and practice is what brings success, not unity of plurality.




Influenced by Marxism-Leninism, the Frankfurt School, Third World Marxism, and social reproduction theory.