Saturday, October 5, 2019

Socialism and Anarchism - Part 1 (1942)

From the March 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many workers whose active interest in politics goes back a generation or more would, until recently, have said that Anarchism had passed away for ever from English working class politics. In the years after the last war, Anarchism, never a large movement in this country, appeared to have all but died. The flickering life of a small monthly journal, Freedom (when it appeared) was the only evidence that Anarchist ideas anywhere survived. Maybe the ideas of the Third International and its appeal to certain sections of the workers left little elbow room for Anarchist doctrines and groups in which to grow. Maybe, also, the re-appearance in recent years of Anarchist doctrines and groups is in some part due to the disappearance of much of the original Bolshevik doctrines and theories from the shop windows of the parties affiliated to the Third International, in favour of more expedient policies. In any event, for whatever reason, Anarchist ideas are experiencing a new appearance of life, and whilst the influence is not considerable, and perhaps non-existent among organised workers, there is evidence of a well supported movement, publishing a monthly journal and other literature.

It is insufficient to say that Anarchism is anti-authoritarian, and is as old as mankind. So far as Anarchism has any relationship with working class problems or aspirations, it, like Socialism, has its roots in Capitalism. It is not accidental that some of the best known founders of Anarchist doctrines were contemporaries of Marx and Engels. As an attempt to deal with the social problems of capitalism and provide a solution for them, both Anarchism and Socialism grew directly out of capitalism. An examination of the ideas and methods of both, therefore, would assist in throwing them into contrast. The scientific approach of Marx and Engels to these problems took certain fundamental propositions as a starting point. These were: That the first conditions imposed by nature upon man is that he should work; that before he could evolve ideas and social institutions he must be able to live: that the manner society gets living is the basis upon which is built the superstructure of society. Before, therefore, there could be sound judgment of social and governmental institutions it was necessary to understand their relationship with the basis of society. In his examination Marx revealed the workings of the capitalist form of society. The solution, he pointed out, for the contradictions of capitalism was simple, though profound: it was social ownership of the means and instruments of production. In a society where the means and instruments of production were social in character but were privately owned no other solution was possible which would abolish the contradictions arising out of that private ownership. Socialism, therefore, was a new social order which would involve a complete and revolutionary transformation in social relations and institutions. The essence of the Marxist position (the scientific Socialist position) is that social institutions cannot be transformed, nor social problems solved, without first of all altering the basis upon which these institutions rest and with which social problems are bound up. Poverty and insecurity could not be abolished whilst private ownership in the means and instruments of production remained. The State, as a social institution and organ of coercion, could not disappear whilst private property in the means of living, the interests of which it existed to defend and conserve, remained. Social problems had their roots in capitalism as a social system. They could not be solved separately and apart from the revolutionary transformation involved in the change from private ownership to social ownership. Any attempt to solve the effects of Capitalism leads to reformism and failure so far as concerns the fundamental problems of capitalism and their solution.

What are the basic ideas of Anarchism? Can it be said that they grasp the fact of the interrelation of all social problems and their dependence on the basic fact of the private ownership of the means and instruments of production? It can be said that not one Anarchist of the 19th century, or contemporary of Marx, grasped this simple truth. Neither Kropotkin, Bakunin or Proudhon advocated the common ownership of the means and instruments of production. Rather than abolish private ownership they advocated more private ownership, an increase in the number of small holders. Kropotkin in his writings repeatedly held up the craft guilds of the Middle Ages as an example of workers owning their own means of production and being organised in small, independent communities, which could exist without the necessity of State interference, and which could exist independently of the State. The picture that Kropotkin drew was very pretty, but as a solution to the problems of a working class organised on a basis of social production, the majority of whom are not handicraftsmen, it was pure romanticism. The workers in capitalist society are organised nationally and internationally in their millions by the very nature of the production forces. The workers are a class carrying out social productive functions as a class and not as independent producers. To attempt to organise such workers as independent producers would involve not the conversion of the social productive forces—the means and instruments of production—into the common property of society, but the destruction of the productive forces themselves. Instead of society having to face the problems it does to-day it would have to face problems similar to those of earlier phases of industrial development. The idea that society could reverse historical development and create independent producers out of its proletarians is fantastic. Such ideas can only arise out of failure to appreciate the nature of capitalist production. That lack of understanding prevailed among the Anarchists yesterday and still does to-day. Nowhere does current Anarchist literature refute the immaturity of the ideas of its earlier founders. Rather does it endorse them and hold them up for approval. One difference is perhaps the conception of Syndicalism which attempts to adapt Anarchist ideas to modern industry. The following is a quotation from an Anarcho-Syndicalist Declaration of Principles quoted by Rudolf Rocker in his book, “Anarcho-Syndicalism, Theory and Practice” (page 142):
  Revolutionary Syndicalism is the confirmed enemy of economic and social monopoly, and aims at its abolition by economic communes and administrative organs of field and factory workers on the basis of a free system of councils entirely liberated from any subordination to any government or political party. Against the politics of the State and of parties, it erects the economic organisation of labour; against the government of men it sets up the management of things. Consequently, it has for its object not the conquest of political power, but the abolition of every State function in social life. It considers that, along with the monopoly of property, should disappear also the monopoly of domination, and that any form of the State, including the dictatorship of the Proletariat, will always be the creator of new monopolies and new privileges; it could never be an instrument of liberation.
Here again can be seen that the emphasis is against “monopoly” and “domination” and the “State.” There is no understanding that social ownership is the logical sequence to the development of the productive forces and the only solution to working class problems, leading incidentally to the “withering away” of the State. It is the modern version of Kropotkin’s mediaeval conception of small producers organised into communes.

It is a reactionary proposal which would lead to disaster and despair.
Harry Waite

(To be continued.)

Link to Part 2

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