Why I am now a Marxist

Many of the people who know me on a political level know I’ve wrestled with what I call an “ideological dysphoria” for (at least) the past year. To put it simply, I questioned fundamental Anarchist theory of thinkers like Petr Kropotkin, Nestor Mahkno and Murray Bookchin, against that of Karl Marx. This has become less and less about not being an Anarchist, and more about the fact that I am undeniably a Marxist. I cannot use the label Anarchist in good faith anymore, I don’t think like an Anarchist.

In reality, my politics are not changing a great deal, this is indeed a transformation, and one that I can only say makes sense for me. I will always hold a high degree of admiration for Anarchists. Putting nearly a decade of Anarchism behind me doesn’t come without a feeling of having left something very influential behind. I still hold the Spanish Civil War in high regards as the greatest revolutionary period, and the groundbreaking society built around the CNT-FAI in such a short amount of time. I also remain, a vocal proponent of Revolutionary Syndicalism. I am still a Prison Abolitionist, calling for the immediate dismantling of the US Prison Industrial Complex.

So one might ask, if you are still inspired by the same revolutionaries and believe in much the same politics, why Marxism? The short answer is one that will likely annoy those who aren’t Marxist: Historical Materialism and Dialectical Materialism.

This calls for elaboration. I will make an attempt to point to basic contradictions between Anarchism and Marxism, and try to explain why I find myself to be a Marxist and not an Anarchist. The contradictions manifest more in philosophy and science, than that of the classic “authoritarian” vs. “libertarian” divide, that some believe to be the most significant contradictions between the ideologies. I abhor this dichotomy, and abhor those two classifications. They don’t make sense to the Marxist, because they are both dependent on “ideals”. They are certainly inevitable when speaking of revolutionary praxis, but we do not live in a revolutionary period. Marxism doesn’t have the emphasis on “ethics” that Anarchism has.

Dialectical materialism is the Marxist methodology and basic philosophy proposed by Marx and Engels. It takes Hegel’s “Dialectical Idealism”, which is the reconciling of ideas with a “thesis-antithesis-synthesis” through a negation process which begins anew upon synthesis. In short (it is hard to do the concept justice so) Marx takes this dialectical process and applies to material (economic) change. Hegel belonged to a school of philosophical thought known as “German Idealism”. Marx’s deviation (and ultimately his inversion) from the idealists was not simply his idea of “Dialectical Materialism”, but “Historical Materialism”. The significant departure from the idealists was that the advancement of history is not properly measured by new ideas, but a change in material conditions.

In a political sense (and in contradiction to many Anarchists) this is also significant in that Marx (and Marxists) did not believe that the “new age of socialism” (of which I am considering Anarchism a part of) would not be ushered in by new ideas, but systemic and material change. This is where I make a departure with Peter Kropotkin. Without him, there is no Anarchism for me. With all the respect to Bakunin (who scorned idealism in God and the State), his theory was never strong enough for me and is full of more contradictions, and Anarchists have been dismissing him since the split of the First International. Historically, it’s essentially the fault of Bakunin that I am probably even having to write this piece. Having an understanding of Hague Caucus and the Paris Commune is perhaps more significant than understanding the divides that Anarchists and Marxists had in the Spanish Civil War, Russian Revolution, and more recent revolutionary periods.

Kropotkin (and most other Anarchist thinkers) employ “straight to communism” theories that I cannot endorse. When put to a dialectical materialist analysis of history, revolution goes through a period of transitory socialism before reaching communism. This is not something I view as subjective, as communism is a material condition of society. Socialism may indeed refer to a period of “communization”, as I have heard many modern non-Marxist communists refer to, this is still bastardized and closeted Marxism to me, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. I am not endorsing a singular revolutionary road, slavery did not become feudalism overnight, neither did feudalism become capitalism overnight. Trying to transition to a period that is post-capital and post-market is not only an impossibility, but a recipe for disaster, and not the kind that will end in any form of communism. We’ve been socialized thus far to produce things under these institutions. A working-class under capitalism cannot reorganize themselves into a society which is devoid of not only market and currency, but organization itself. We do not simply abolish capital and market, we rule them obsolete through the process of socialism. Communism is built, not declared.

Anarchists have a bleeding heart that I admire. Action now, change now, you can say their idealism is as material as it gets. These ethics, found so ubiquitously in Anarchism, may indeed be enough to bring about their ends, which are ultimately our ends. In many ways, they understand the materialist position that “revolution is measured by material change” the best of all. The failure is that in my experience, is that when I ask the more difficult questions which challenge the bleeding heart, I am given answers which point to a different revolutionary conclusion than I: “that we will shape the new society with new ideas, values and ethics”. I find failure in these things.

Most Anarchism (and Anarchists) is idealist as I understand it. This is okay. Some non-idealist Anarchists will be very offended by this statement, and I certainly don’t  mean to insinuate that all Anarchists are idealist or that you must be one to be an Anarchist, this is hardly true. Anarchism doesn’t function like Marxism this way, in that it isn’t built on a fundamental philosophy and economic theory. While Anarchists concern themselves with tactics, ethics and ideals; The Marxists concern themselves with strategy, science and philosophy. This is indicative of my personal transformation as a revolutionary.

As I said before, I remain a proponent of Revolutionary Syndicalism, and I think the Anarchist contributions to that school obviously outweigh the Marxist. However, I believe we have to also have revolutionary organization outside the economic field which fights to legitimize that of the economic struggle and advance the period in which they occur. I believe the only function of these political organizations is legitimize these economic victories, and develop and advance revolutionary ideology. To some these functions manifest in a party, and with partisan Marxism comes the idea of vanguardism. Despite my frequent mentions of Lenin and my encouragement to Anarchists to read and understand him (this is not new), I have no intentions of becoming a Leninist of any current.

The question of “Autonomist Marxism” has come up with many of the people who have been made aware of my decision to become a Marxist, and while I am influenced heavily by Autonomism (always have as an Anarchist), my ideology is Orthodox Marxism. For those of you who do not understand that, it is not simply the ideas of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, but that of their successor, Karl Kautsky. Other Orthodox Marxist thinkers that I would say identify my revolutionary theory are Daniel De Leon and Rosa Luxemburg. As I said before, I am still a Syndicalist; the ideas of Daniel De Leon, and his hybrid of Revolutionary Syndicalism and Orthodox Marxism, reflect my current ideological orientation.

With this comes the inevitable questions concerning the State. As all Marxists comes the demand for the overthrow of the bourgeois state and all it’s mechanisms, that much is understood. When it comes the idea of a “revolutionary worker’s state”, as theorized by Lenin (where state is defined “the mechanism in which one class oppresses the other”, I remain disillusioned. I do not, however, concern myself with ethics and values of Anarchists. I believe there is perhaps, a democratic socialist road to communism, which could be interpreted as “libertarian” but not every interpretation of stateless. You cannot organize the masses of society to build towards radical social change without looking like a “government”, no revolutionary should not ignore this.

I could say ethics and values are of absolutely no concern for me as a revolutionary. I am only concerned with the advancement of socialism, and the economic change. Reforms to capitalism only increase support for the capitalist class, that is not ethical but scientific, its a basic analysis of history. We can only legitimize and bring a political voice to the organizing being done on the economic field, and socialist parties should do only that. The economic conditions of the political base determine the politics (and thus culture and nature) of the political realm. As long as we remain capitalist, mainstream politics will continue to reflect the interests of the ruling class. As revolutionaries, we concern ourselves not with their politics but the politics of that of others socialists. Building popular support for Socialism is not the role of one party, but many parties and ultimately, the workers organizing to change the mode of production to socialism. Socialism is quite purely worker control, not party control. I also believe a socialist revolution can take the form of a pan-socialist movement that is also internationalist and spans ideologies working towards the same goals.

I call for the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. I believe in a proletariat capable of doing this. I also believe mass organization and popular support for socialism is needed for a viable communist revolution, both of which are measured by material change. I concern myself with these things, not vague appeals to anti-authoritarianism or extreme measures of egalitarianism within capitalism. Overthrowing the State is easy in comparison to overthrowing Capitalism. Even in an Imperialist super-state like the USA, the force of Washington pales in comparison to the forces of capital.

Anarchists are certainly not as wrong, as the Marxists are right. I still admire the work done by Anarchists, will always continue to organize amongst Anarchists, and will always respect Anarchists as comrades. We once marched all together underneath one red flag, I hope we can one day again.  After our split, during the Hague Caucus of the First International, the Chancellor of  Germany Otto von Bismarck said: “Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!” Let them tremble.

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3 thoughts on “Why I am now a Marxist

  1. From my anarchist communist perspective I find a lot of the “differences” very shallow when it comes to on-the-ground organisation between libertarian/revolutionary/autonomist Marxists, revolutionary syndicalists, social/communist anarchists and even some flavours of party socialist. We all have enough common ground to work as different currents within revolutionary organisations (such as the IWW), and we definitely have more in common with one another in terms of our relation to the class struggle than, say, a bunch of the ‘anarchists’ I see at bookfairs.

    Wile I agree that as an anarchist I try and embody my ideals as best I can, this praxis is tightly focussed on winning material gains for us as part of the working classes. In fact, the criticisms you put forward of anarchism would aptly describe many Marxists I know. I guess it comes down to where we are based and who we know ;)

  2. both karl marx and ayn rand marveled at the liberatory potential of the technologies of their day, namely the new train systems being built, and the fantasies of BOTH of those charlatans has been proven conclusively false when looked back upon from today. We are no more liberated now than when they heralded the promise of technologies, because they were both very WRONG about the way to freedom from the bondage of corporate capitalism. have fun mired in irrelevancy!

  3. I find it interesting that although I often call myself an anarchist, I have read next to no anarchist literature, including the classical anarchist thinkers like Kropotkin, Bakunin, etc. I’ve glanced at excerpts, but found them rather dull and dated. Indeed, my inclination to revolutionary politics almost entirely stems from reading Marxist literature, ranging from good old Karl himself, to mid-century theorists like Althusser, and up to modern proponents like David Harvey, Silvia Federici, Mike Davis, etc.

    I think my inclination to keep an “anarchist” label in addition to my “communist/Marxist” label is my distaste for the party-form. But oddly enough, this disinclination seems to come from a specifically Marxist standpoint, in that I feel like the party-form is fundamentally idealist–that is, the practices of communist parties today seem dominated by the notion that their main purpose is the spread of the idea of socialism, rather than taking concrete steps to expropriate bourgeoisie property and undermine the State in a revolutionary processes that directly and immediately improves the economic power of the masses. And then, even when this does take place (i.e. in the South Asian Maoist movements), the Party itself becomes increasingly problematic, as the control over liberated spaces and the development of socialism is delegated to the Party leadership, resulting in a predictable increase of repression, purges, alienation between the mass base and the leadership, and so on.

    (Side note: since when are communization theorists non-Marxist? At least, the folks over at Endnotes seem to be exclusively basing their analysis off of readings of Marx himself).

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