Bolshevism and its theoretical exponents in the Second International, set about turning Marx’s vast and often conflicting writings into a holy catechism. This “orthodox” Marxism mutated Marx’s writings from a critical analysis of capitalism and ideology into a total system for “understanding” the world .
The Bolsheviks were largely responsible for creating the determinist, inhuman and authoritarian Marxism that has overshadowed much of Marx’s real theoretical value. Marx was called upon to justify every twist and turn of the Communist Party and the Comintern. The brutal treatment of the working class in the Soviet Union was named “War Communism” and justified as necessary in order to expand the “forces of production”, which to the Bolsheviks was what determined the social relations. Through this selective reading of Marx’s historical materialism, communism is not the product of the working classes autonomous struggle against the alienating effects of wage labour or the state but rather becomes a grand drive to increase the forces of production. Marx of course would have had no time for such garbled nonsense, which makes inanimate objects the real driving force behind human history.
However alongside this “orthodox” Marxism has always been another tradition of Marxism, left communism or council communism, a tradition that has kept alive the critical and open nature of his thought, not just for academic purposes but for forwarding the working classes struggle for self liberation.
The Other Marxism.
Rosa Luxemburg is probably the most famous of these Marxists. She opposed socialists supporting national liberationist struggles on the basis that they reinforce nationalism, and stunt the growth of a class analysis and internationalism. In doing so she opposed class collaboration and reaffirmed that “the working classes have no country. ”
Luxemburg also upheld that the “action of the masses” would create socialism and not the decrees of any political party.
“Finally we saw the birth of a far more legitimate offspring of the historical process: the Russian worker’s movement, which for the first time gave expression to the real will of the popular masses. Then the leadership of the Russian revolution leapt up to balance on its shoulders, and once more appointed itself the all powerful director of history…. This skilful acrobat did not even realise that the only one capable of playing the part of director is the ‘collective’ ego of the working class, which has a sovereign right to make mistakes and to learn the dialectics of history by itself. Let us put it quite bluntly: the errors committed by a truly revolutionary workers movement are historically far more fruitful and valuable than the infallibility of even the best Central Committee.”
She was also scathing about the autocratic and undemocratic path that the Bolshevik leadership was taking the revolution down.
“The remedy discovered by Lenin and Trotsky, the abolition of democracy, is worse than the evil it is supposed to cure, for it shuts off the lifespring from which can come the cure for all the inadequacies of social institutions.”
Whilst Rosa Luxemburg is probably the most famous of the anti-Leninist Marxists, and her criticisms of the limits of political vanguards and the dangers of nationalist contamination of class struggle are of great value and relevance, she did not develop these criticisms into a coherent alternative.
The council communist and anarcho-syndicalist movements were however putting Rosa Luxemburg’s concerns into action, rejecting outright the role of a revolutionary party, in favour of structures based on immediate working class experiences of the class struggle. Organising on a workplace as well as community basis, these movements sought to radicalise the working class through there own struggles rather than passively following a party line. The organ of resistance was to be the local syndicate or council whereby the workers made their decisions directly without a bureaucracy.
“ It has, therefore, a double purpose: 1. As the fighting organisation of the workers against the employers to enforce the demands of the workers for the safeguarding and raising of their standard of living; 2. As the school for the intellectual training of the workers to make them acquainted with the technical management of production and economic life in general so that when a revolutionary situation arises they will be capable of taking the socio-economic organism into their own hands and remarking it according to Socialist principles.”
Council communism and Anarcho-syndicalism come the closest in reconciling anarchism and Marxism in practical class struggle even if they do have slightly varying theoretical roots.
“Anarcho-syndicalists and Council Communists were at this time almost indistinguishable. In fact they co-operated pretty closely; if you look at the literature on the reactions to the Spanish revolution, the anarchist revolution, the Council Communists were, like the anarcho-syndicalists, very positive.”
Whilst both Anarcho-syndicalism and Council Communism as mass movements were destroyed by war and fascism, they remain probably the richest marxist and anarchist currents, in practice and theory.
“It is precisely the more advanced form of capitalism, with its advanced technology, high productivity, and network of communication, which offers a material base for the establishment of a communism based on a system of workers’ councils. The council idea is not a thing of the past, but the most realistic proposition for the establishment of a socialist society. Nothing which has evolved during the last decades has robbed it of its feasibility; on the contrary, it has merely substantiated the non-utopian character of the workers’ councils and the probability of the emergence of a truly communist society.”
Whilst anarchism and Marxism have had a very rocky relationship it is obvious that it has been one that has had a huge impact on their developments. From the early years of the First International, through the tragedy of the Russian revolution, to the farce of the Communist parties and their ideological gymnastics in service to Soviet foreign policy. However for many anarchists a rejection of official Marxist dogma became a rejection of Marx per se and sometimes the whole concept of class analysis. Anarchism may have gained a short burst of energy following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the “proclaimed end of history”, but such a boost may really be the kiss of death if it is dependent on anarchism’s rejection of class struggle. Now, over ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, class struggle is firmly back on the agenda, as the new world order has failed to deliver anything but the same militarism, economic crises, and despair to the vast majority of the worlds peoples. The choice for anarchism is clear, either continue as a fashionable life stylist and pseudo post modern philosophy, or embrace its class struggle roots fully and develop a real counter culture, one based on a social opposition to capitalism not a individualistic “dropping out”.
With the Soviet Union gone there is now a massive opening for a rethinking of the class struggle and Marx’s writings in particular. The anti capitalism movement has shown that history has not ended and globalisation is spreading not only neo-liberal economics but resistance and new forms of organising. The global nature of capitalism is more blatant than ever and as such the possibilities of a new international are ripe, a true internationalism, of autonomous working class resistance. The old national trade unions have shown their ineffectiveness not only at resisting local capital but at dealing with the increasingly globalised market, as witnessed in their ineffectual opposition to jobs being moved to cheaper labour markets.
But out of this void there will surely emerge new forms of resistance. Anarchism and Marxism, in the form of Anarcho-syndicalism and Council Communism, have much to offer this resistance, not as final words but as gripping preambles. So, as we start the 21st century it still holds true that the working class “has nothing to lose but its chains”.
[Excerpted from http://libcom.org/forums/thought/marxism-and-anarchism%5D