Anarchism versus Leninism

I’ve still not followed this up, but Andy brings to our attention a whole spate of recent Leninist critiques of anarchism. The most sophisticated is Marxism and anarchism byPaul Blackledge in International Socialism Journal. Most of the others are by crude defenders of ortho-Marxism like Alan Woods. Slightly different, and worth reading, are Steven Strauss’ socialist indictment of Noam Chomsky (Freedom Road Socialist Party) and “The Historical Failure of Anarchism” [pdf] by Christopher Day, then of Love and Rage.

The question is, I suppose, why are Leninist so keen right now to take up arms against anarchism? Is it a sign that anarchism is ascendant, that anarchism has better expressed working class rage at the economic crisis at a time when the left should be growing but isn’t?

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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Personally, I think the Leninists see an opportunity where there is one.

    Thanks a lot for all this great material.

  2. I have always preferred the anarchist critique of Leninism as opposed to the other way round.

  3. it is my impression and experience, that this kind of symbiotic relationship between “leninists” and “anarchists” is far more common in the English speeking countries than enywhere else, e.g. in France, Sweden or Germany, this kind of tribal boundaries are less important in the daily life on the left

  4. Entdinglichung, any suggestion why that might be? In the Second International, it was the other way around. The British socialists (Keir Hardie and so on) tried to keep both the anarchists and the social democrats in the International, but the French and especially German ortho-Marxists refused.

  5. Alan Woods didn’t write that series, really to deal with anarchism vs Marxism. It was really about how differences are approached. How do you deal with splits?

  6. it is probably due to this culture of doctrinarian soap box sermon preaching and pamphlet/paper selling which is far more common among the “anglo-saxon left” (a legacy of “impossibilism” and its cultural links to evangelicanism?), the left on the continent had far more serious things to survive and the experiences of the last 100 years have made these posture less common

  7. I suspect the articles criticizing anarchists are there not to win over any anarchists but to keep the troops in line who might otherwise be tempted by heresy. And the same for anarchist anti-marxist polemics.

    Part of the problem is the idea that everything can be settled by debates and polemics. Anarchists and Marxists have been debating for 150 years and yet both tendencies are still here. Ideologies have a life of their own, and even though both Marxism and anarchism have strengths and weaknesses, the debates are usually framed in terms of straw man arguments, for no one wants to admit their ideology has weaknesses and could do with a dose of their opponents ideas.

    As for sectarianism and culture, I found the British anarchist movement to be highly sectarian – though this has improved recently. This is something I did not find in France. It may have less to do with culture and more to do with the small size of the UK anarchist movement compared to the French one.

  8. Re-thinking that last point. Size of movement may not be a factor. The Canadian anarchist movement was even smaller than that of the UK, yet was (and remains) highly anti-sectarian. The reason for this was that the movement’s founders were put off by the sectarianism of the Marxist groups and refused to allow anarchism to engage in such quarrels. This attitude seems to have remained with the movement.

  9. Interesting points.

    On size, this is a slightly different point, but I used to live in a small town (in Britain), where there were lots of different left groups represented but only tiny numbers of people in each – anarchist-communists, Class War, the WRP, Labour left, etc: we all had to get on with each other and worked very well jointly. Only the International Communist Current acted in a sectarian way. Then I moved to a big city, where the leaders of all these factions lived, and the idea of working together on anything seemed completely absent. (Actually, it occurs to me there was a postscript: the SWP arrived in the small town, and they managed, in the space of a year or so, to destroy all the non-sectarian initiatives, pulled away a few comrades from other groups, recruited a bunch of students, and were the only show in town, leaving years of hard work in tatters, and the working class areas where the left had a base were never recovered…)

    On impossibilism and evangelism. I’m not sure that the legacy of either of those has really survived to today in any meaningful way, apart from in a few bizarre milieux such as the SPGB (if I can say that while retaining the utmost respect for many of their positions!)

  10. I have the same experience living, as I now do, in a small town. Here anarchists, CPers, left-social democrats and Greens all work together on various projects and are friends. It may be that due to the size of the town, we know each other as human beings and not as ideological projections. In a big city we would be cut off from each other, tending to socialize only with our own group and thus begin to see The Other as the enemy.

  11. […] been down on Alan Woods lately, for his support of the soft-Stalinist authoritarian populist regime of Hugo […]

  12. […] our anarchism vs Marxism discussion, these lapidary posts from Lady Poverty are well worth your time: Marx and Foucault; A […]

  13. ” On April 8, 2010 at 7:36 pm Michael Ezra said:

    I have always preferred the anarchist critique of Leninism as opposed to the other way round.”


  14. These critiques aren’t new. They are standard fare for organisations that have developed more towards irrelevant cults than socialist organisations. Here is similar rant denouncing the Greens (I was impressed by some of the creepy demagogy in it):

    Honestly this kind of shit makes me very sad. I hope that someday the communists can ditch their schema, sectarianism and hierarchical behavior and I hope the anarchists can get past their own issues too (and you do have them – I just wont go into my opinions because I think it’s your own place to recognize and deal with them). Maybe then we might all be able to deal with the real enemy which is capitalism.

  15. Anon, I agree. When you say “you”, by the way, I am not actually an anarchist, although I undoubtedly have my own issues I need to get past!

  16. Sorry, I only meant “you” as in anarchists in general or any anarchists I may be talking to. :) I’m not sure what I’d call myself these days anyway.

  17. […] Anarchism versus Leninism […]

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