Anarchism & Marxism Part 666



PART 6 6 6

A while ago, tofu-loving blogger Toaf drew my attention to a new-ish book: Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History by Andrej Grubačić and Staughton Lynd (with an Introduction by Denis O’Hearn; PM Press, 2008). I ain’t read it — tho’ one day I’m sure I will — but in any case, courtesy of David the Buddhist anarcho-syndicalist carpenter, I have managed to view a really interesting panel discussion examining its contents and, moreover, the broader question of the relationship between anarchism and Marxism.

On the history of the Wobblies (IWW) in Australia, see Verity Burgmann’s Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Cambridge University Press, 1995 and Frank Cain’s The Wobblies At War: A History of the IWW and the Great War in Australia, Spectrum, Melbourne, 1993. The contemporary IWW has a website here.

Denis O’Hearn makes reference to the continuing relevance of the ideas of The Anarchist Formerly Known as Prince Peter Kropotkin, in particular those contained in his classic 1902 text Mutual Aid. Harry Cleaver, author of Reading Capital Politically, has written an interesting essay on Kropotkin and autonomist Marxism, ‘Kropotkin, Self-valorization and the Crisis of Marxism’. Also of note in this context is Andrew Giles-Peters‘ translation of ‘Ten Theses on Marxism Today’ by Karl Korsch, originally published in Telos, Winter 1975/6, and ‘Karl Korsch: A Marxist Friend of Anarchism’, originally published in Red & Black, No.5, 1973. On Karl Korsch, see Douglas Kellner, editor, Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory, University of Texas Press, Austin & London, 1974 (PDF). On Ireland, prisons and anarchism, see John McGuffin (1942 – 2002).

Cindy Milstein (see : Cindy Milstein on Anarchism, Planes For Baskets, April 20, 2009) rejects what she regards as being the false divide between anarchism on the one hand and Marxism on the other, and prefers to locate herself (and anarchism) within a broader left-libertarian tradition — one which is opposed to ‘authoritarian socialism’. In this context, she cites Gustav Landauer’s (1870–1919) essay ‘For Socialism’ (Aufruf zum Sozialismus, 1911; English translation by David J. Parent, Telos Press, 1978) and recommends the overview of these currents provided by Richard Gombin in The Origins of Modern Leftism (first published as Les Origines du gauchisme (Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1971); English translation by Michael K. Perl, published by Penguin (London, 1975): “…having consigned Marxism-Leninism to the ideological dustbin of history, the modern leftism theory claims to be the expression of current struggle. In this sense, it no longer represents one radical utopia among others, but the theory of a revolutionary movement in full flood.”)

Ziga Vodovnik takes note of the craptastic London conference On the Idea of Communism, at which cryptoneo-Leninist and philosophical superstar Slavoj Žižek was a keynote speaker. (On Žižek, see : Don’t know what i want, But i know how to get it, March 6, 2008 | Resistance is Utile: Critchley responds to Zizek (Harper’s Review, May 2008), May 16, 2008 | Uncle Hugo & the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, February 12, 2009.) Further, that while academic conferences such as the Left Forum may continue to be dominated by ‘Marxist’ and (other) ‘social democratic’ discourses, there is — at least in Europe — a backlash by the authoritarian Left, spearheaded by professional chatterers such as Žižek, with the potential to seriously damage radical social movements. On the relationship between anarchism and Marxism, Ziga also quotes from a letter of Proudhon’s to Mister Marx (1846):

“By all means let us work together to discover the laws of society, the ways in which these laws are realised and the process by which we are able to discover them; but, for God´s sake! (sic!), when we have demolished all a priori dogmas, do not let us think of indoctrinating the people in our turn”; Proudhon points out that he does not want to act like Luther, who replaced the catholic theology by a “protestant theology”. Proudhon “wholeheartedly” consents to presenting all opinions, “let us have a good and honest polemic; let us set the world an example of wise and far-sighted tolerance, but, simply because we are the avant-garde of a movement, let us not instigate a new intolerance, let us not set ourselves up as the apostles of a new religion, even if it be the religion of logic, or of reason. Let us welcome and encourage all protests, let us get rid of all exclusiveness and all mysticism. Let us never consider any question exhausted, and when we have used our very last argument, let us begin again, if necessary, with eloquence and irony. On this condition I will join your association with pleasure, otherwise I will not!” ~ ‘Marx-Proudhon: Their Exchange of Letters in 1846; On an episode of world-historical importance’, Lutz Roemheld, Democracy & Nature, Vol.6, No.1, March 2000.

Ziga also draws attention to Maurice Brinton’s For Workers’ Power (Edited by David Goodway, AK Press, 2004) and David Goodway (editor), For Anarchism: history, theory, and practice, Routledge, 1989. Brinton (aka Chris Pallis: 1923–2005) was an excellent libertarian writer; the other volume is equally interesting.

Note that all of the members of the audience who responded to the panel are male; one of whom makes the point that, in addition to anarchism, other liberatory ideas and movements — including but obviously not limited to feminism and the women’s movement(s); queer theory; ecological re-visionings, indigenous struggles and critical race theory — have embraced some form of ‘prefigurative politics’, antagonism to social hierarchies, and made important contributions to the articulation of a ‘revolutionary praxis’. The latest volume of Robert Graham’s anthology of anarchism further extends anarchist writing beyond European borders and, like many more recent treatments, also locates ‘The Anarchist Current’ among a diversity of movements, and in an array of different social contexts. (See : David Graeber, ‘The New Anarchists’, New Left Review 13, January-February 2002: “Is the ‘anti-globalization movement’ anything of the kind? Active resistance is true globalization, David Graeber maintains, and its repertoire of forms is currently coming from the arsenal of a reinvented anarchism.”)

Authoritarian Marxism is beaten to a pulp in An Anarchist FAQ; as for a synthesis of anarchism and Marxism, French writer Daniel Guérin (1904-1988) had a good honest crack. Also worth examining are Karl Marx and the Anarchists by Paul Thomas (Routledge, 1980) and Change the World Without Taking Power by John Holloway; which, despite basically dismissing anarchism, as indicated by its title, has a very strong libertarian flavour (Pluto Press, 2002) — see also ‘A critique of John Holloway’s Change the World Without Taking Power by Colm McNaughton (originally published in Capital & Class, June 2008 but subsequently liberated).

Finally, has a wonderful library of writings on anarchism, Marxism, and a whole lot more besides; for communism is also ace; there are an abundance of other materials available for free online, links to some of which may be found in the sidebar.

Do note that reading too many books can be seriously injurious to your health, both mental and physical — just ask French authorities. Also that anarchism is an ideology for fuckwits, bums & lowlifes and anarchy is a fag.


ezln military base occupation 2001 (chiapas mexico)

…[Socialism] has roots. Coming back to the United States, it has very strong roots in the American working class movements. So if you go back to, say, the 1850s, the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, right around the area where I live, in Eastern Massachusetts, in the textile plants and so on, the people working on those plants were, in part, young women coming off the farm. They were called “factory girls,” the women from the farms who worked in the textile plants. Some of them were Irish, immigrants in Boston and that group of people. They had an extremely rich and interesting culture. They’re kind of like my uncle who never went past fourth grade — very educated, reading modern literature. They didn’t bother with European radicalism, that had no effect on them, but the general literary culture, they were very much a part of. And they developed their own conceptions of how the world ought to be organized.

They had their own newspapers. In fact, the period of the freest press in the United States was probably around the 1850s. In the 1850s, the scale of the popular press, meaning run by the factory girls in Lowell and so on, was on the scale of the commercial press or even greater. These were independent newspapers — a lot of interesting scholarship on them, if you can read them now. They [arose] spontaneously, without any background. [The writers had] never heard of Marx or Bakunin or anyone else; they developed the same ideas. From their point of view, what they called “wage slavery,” renting yourself to an owner, was not very different from the chattel slavery that they were fighting a civil war about. You have to recall that in the mid-nineteenth century, that was a common view in the United States — for example, the position of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln’s position. It’s not an odd view, that there isn’t much difference between selling yourself and renting yourself. So the idea of renting yourself, meaning working for wages, was degrading. It was an attack on your personal integrity. They despised the industrial system that was developing, that was destroying their culture, destroying their independence, their individuality, constraining them to be subordinate to masters.

There was a tradition of what was called Republicanism in the United States. We’re free people, you know, the first free people in the world. This was destroying and undermining that freedom. This was the core of the labor movement all over, and included in it was the assumption, just taken for granted, that “those who work in the mills should own them.” In fact, one of the their main slogans, I’ll just quote it, was they condemned what they called the “new spirit of the age: gain wealth, forgetting all but self.” That new spirit, that you should only be interested in gaining wealth and forgetting about your relations to other people, they regarded it as a violation of fundamental human nature, and a degrading idea.

That was a strong, rich American culture, which was crushed by violence. The United States has a very violent labor history, much more so than Europe. It was wiped out over a long period, with extreme violence. By the time it picked up again in the 1930s, that’s when I personally came into the tail end of it. After the Second World War it was crushed. By now, it’s forgotten. But it’s very real. I don’t really think it’s forgotten, I think it’s just below the surface in people’s consciousness…

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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15 Responses to Anarchism & Marxism Part 666

  1. grumpy cat says:

    Why is Zizek, who has written a book on Lenin, and calls for us to ‘repeat Lenin’, called a ‘crypto-Leninist’? A pretty interesting piece of his on communist politics can be found here
    rebel love

  2. @ndy says:

    You’re right. ‘Neo’ is a much better appellation.

  3. grumpy cat says:

    Actually, contra what I have written about, Zizek rejects Leninism seeing it as a retrospective invention of Stalinism. Rather he argues we need to ‘repeat Lenin’ which he sees as meaning the subjective intervention into situations. It’s an attitude.
    rebel love

  4. @ndy says:

    OK… by what you’ve written about, do you mean the above comment? Comments on other posts on the same subject? Or…?

    Two things.

    One is the nature of Žižek’s own understanding of Lenin (and Leninism), his (and its) relationship to Stalin (and Stalinism), and the ongoing relevance of Leninist and Stalinist doctrines, especially inre radical or revolutionary social change.

    The other is the question of how accurate is Žižek’s understanding of these questions, and the meaning, significance and consequences of ‘repeating Lenin’.

    I’m not sure I fully understand or agree that, for Žižek, repeating Lenin means either ‘subjective intervention into situations’ — which, on the surface, seems like a banality — or that it’s an ‘attitude’. To put it another way: if what Žižek is saying about Lenin(ism) amounts to the above, I don’t see why he bothered. In addition, I don’t see why anyone should pay any attention.

  5. @ndy says:

    Oh yeah. I finally gots Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding. I’ve read the first chapter or so, and am enjoying it…

  6. THR says:

    Here’s a Zizek paper entitled ‘A plea for Leninist intolerance’:

    There are certainly things that Zizek admires in Lenin, but whether he is a Leninist per se, or whether he merely uses Lenin as a cipher, is debatable. At one level, invoking Vladimir Ilich in academic debate is surely a bit of bourgeois-baiting, an attempt to shock ‘progressive’ fellow scholars out of their perceived complacency.

    In the above paper, he says:
    To reinvent Lenin’s legacy today is to reinvent the politics of truth. We live in a postmodern era in which truth-claims as such are dismissed as an expression of hidden power mechanisms; as the reborn pseudoNietzscheans like to emphasize, truth is the lie that is most efficient in asserting our will to power.

    Note that this business about Lenin and ‘truth’, if it has any philosophical basis at all, has been lifted from Badiou, for whom truth is something like ‘fidelity to an event’. (An event in this instance could include a popular uprising, for instance).

    Now, I’d suggest that an anarchist reading of Badiou is possible, because whilst Badiou ignores anarchism in his work, there’s no reason why an anarchist revolution could not be considered along the same lines as any revolution that constitutes a ‘truth-event’.

    Zizek, however, skims over the surface of these things. In the above paper, he seems to be calling for honesty in the far-left’s dealings with Lenin, and saying that the ‘bad’, authoritarian Lenin shouldn’t be suppressed for the sake of the ‘good’ Lenin. If he seriously believes this, then he’s inadvertently making an argument on behalf on Lenin’s critics, isn’t he?

  7. @ndy says:


    ‘Tolerance’; the choices given consumers in a modern liberal society; Lenin’s distinction b/w ‘formal and ‘actual’ freedom… Z’s argument is directed, quite explicitly, at proponents of ‘liberalism’.

    On my reading, the problem he describes is not one I’m especially interested in addressing, Further, Lenin’s contempt for ‘formal’ freedoms was expressed in ‘actual’ policies. The consequences of these policies in Russia during the period 1917–1921 was not that Western academics had upset stomachs, but that the brains of workers and peasants were splattered against walls. Lenin as cipher versus Lenin as tyrant.


    Fanya Baron was among 13 anarchists held at Taganka concentration camp without charges. In July 1921, they went on hunger strike, attracting the attention of visiting French, Spanish and Russian syndicalists who argued for their release. Leon Trotsky remarked at the time “We do not imprison the real anarchists, but criminals and bandits who cover themselves by claiming to be anarchists”.

    Ten of the 13 anarchists were released and deported on 17 September 1921: Voline, Vorobiov, Mratchny, Michailov, Maximoff, Ioudine, Iartchouk, Gorelik, Feldman and Fedorov. Fanya Baron and the poet Lev Chernyi were detained, to be executed later that month. Her execution was personally ordered by Lenin himself.

    Fanya was shot by the Cheka on 29 September, 1921, her death becoming symbolic of the barbarity of Bolshevik governance. Aaron Baron was spared execution until 1940, after spending 18 years in Taganka.


    Fanya Baron was of the type of Russian woman completely consecrated to the cause of humanity. While in America she gave all her spare time and a goodly part of her meagre earnings in a factory to further Anarchist propaganda. Years afterward, when I met her in Kharkov, her zeal and devotion had become intensified by the persecution she and her comrades had endured since their return to Russia. She possessed unbounded courage and a generous spirit. She could perform the most difficult task and deprive herself of the last piece of bread with grace and utter selflessness. Under harrowing conditions of travel, Fanya went up and down the Ukraine to spread the Nabat, organize the workers and peasants, or bring help and succour to her imprisoned comrades. She was one of the victims of the Butyrki raid, when she had been dragged by her hair and badly beaten. After her escape from the Ryazan prison she tramped on foot to Moscow, where she arrived in tatters and penniless. It was her desperate condition which drove her to seek shelter with her husband’s brother, at whose house she was discovered by the Tcheka. This big-hearted woman, who had served the Social Revolution all her life, was done to death by the people who pretended to be the advance guard of revolution. Not content with the crime of killing Fanya Baron, the Soviet Government put the stigma of banditism on the memory of their dead victim.


    “The greatness of Lenin is that he WASN’T AFRAID TO SUCCEED.” ~ Slavoj Žižek

    Moar l8r…

  8. grumpy cat says:

    Hi @ndy (and others),

    Zizek’s writings on the repression within the Soviet Union and real existing socialism doesn’t pull any punches. I don’t think he is glorifying the killing of anarchists.

    I think he is arguing that there is something in Lenin’s mode of acting that is worth repeating. But first let me qualify. I don’t think Zizek sees Lenin as a success. I think he acknowledges the failure of the Bolshevik project to create emancipation. He thinks that Lenin’s gamble ultimately failed, but suggests that one must be willing to make this gamble if there is any hope of freedom.

    So I don’t think your critique works against what Zizek is saying.

    So what does Zizek like in Lenin? Well he sees in Lenin viable forms of radical practices: the withdrawal and the act. Faced with the outbreak of WW1 what does Lenin do? He reads Hegel. Likewise Zizek believes rather than ‘participating’ in the chaos of a situation, picking sides and debating, sometimes we need to withdraw, clear away some space and think afresh. Then when Lenin does act he goes against the party line and Marxist orthodoxy about historical development. In this Zizek sees a rejection of the notion of waiting for historical conditions to ripen. They never do, rather one must act out of time, and thus fundamentally change the social coordinates. This Zizek opposes to what he sees as ‘resistance’: the kinds of politics of protest that don’t actually attempt to seize power, but rather are content to act out within their position of helplessness.

    To repeat Lenin is to make this wager: withdraw and refuse to participate, but when you act do so in a way that aims at the heart of the matter.

    Even if we might not like democratic centralism (and I don’t) it is not terrible advice.

    I also think since Zizek’s work on ideology is so interesting, his suggestions about how to fight on the conditions he has described are worth thinking about.

    If I was to pretend to be some kind of Zizek-Lenin hybrid I think I would say to you @ndy and other anarchists: stop moaning about Makhno and stop counting the dead, rather pour some concrete in you cereal and focus on the task at hand.

    rebel love

  9. @ndy says:


    I think history is important; so too the struggle against forgetting. So: it’s not so much about ‘moaning about Makhno’ — among 1,794 blogposts, I’ve referenced him 12 times — I think, as is it understanding why ‘socialism’ came to assume such a grotesque form in the ‘Soviet Union’. (I would also suggest that to deride anarchist accounts which focus on the ‘negative’ impacts of Bolshevism on the global socialist movement may in some ways be compared to the ideological assaults upon those who are said to adopt a black armband view of Australian history.)

    Further, Lenin’s triumph was Makhno’s defeat (as it was that of the anarchist movement as a whole). Finally, I think that both the ideological pronouncements and the ‘real material practices’ of the Leninist and then Stalinist regime remain of enduring importance when it comes to responding to some concept of ‘repeating Lenin’.

    That said, the interpretation you’ve given above has a good deal of merit, especially insofar as it constitutes a political project aimed at re-assessing whatever political opportunities for radical social change present themselves at the present historical juncture. To the extent this is what constitutes the ‘essence’ of Žižek’s repetition, I have few qualms. But, as Graeber and others have pointed out, I don’t believe that this is the end of the story…

    Drink and be merry!

    Oi not jobs!

  10. grumpy cat says:

    Well fortunately I am not a Zizek-Lenin hybrid so I actually would never say such a thing…

    For me, one of the problems with Zizek is that he only has one understanding of power which prevents him from making a decent critique of the state: his writings contains celebrations of both state centred and antistatist struggles.

    rebel love

  11. grumpy cat says:

    p.s. I am also interested in your thoughts on Critchley

  12. Dr. Cam says:

    Crypto-Leninists, neo-Leninists… can’t we all just get along?

  13. Troll says:

    And now for something positive:

    I recently seperated [sic] from my blue-eyed blond boyfriend…

    [And so on. Trolls are so boring.]

  14. Judy. The Troll. says:

    How dare you censor my story! You fascist control freak! [Blah blah blah.]

  15. @ndy says:

    Critical Horizons
    A Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory
    Editor(s): Jay M. Bernstein, Emmanuel Renault, John Rundell

    VOLUME 10 (2009) ISSUE 2

    Ethics of Commitment and Politics of Resistance:
    Simon Critchley’s Neo-Anarchism
    Edited by Robert Sinnerbrink and Philip A. Quadrio


    Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance: Simon Critchley’s
    Infinitely Demanding
    Robert Sinnerbrink and Philip A. Quadrio

    On Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment,
    Politics of Resistance
    Alain Badiou

    Neo-Anarchism or Neo-Liberalism? Yes, Please! A Response to Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding
    Robert Sinnerbrink

    “Critchley is Zizek”: In Defence of Critical Political Philosophy
    Matthew Sharpe

    The Common Root of Commitment, Resistance and Power
    Karin de Boer

    Speaking to the People: Critchley, Rousseau and the Deficit in Practical Rationality
    Philip A. Quadrio

    Which Anarchism? On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Infinity for (Political) Life: A Response to Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding
    Nina Power

    A Plea for Prometheus
    Alberto Toscano

    Humorous Commitments and Non-Violent Politics: A Response
    to Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding
    Fiona Jenkins

    Mystical Anarchism
    Simon Critchley

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