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Anarchism and Marxism

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Anarchism and Marxism

Even communist anarchism and Marxism are two very different political philosophies, although there is some similarity between the methodology and ideology of some anarchists and some Marxists, and the history of the two have often been intertwined.

The International Workingmen's Association, at its founding, was an alliance of socialist groups, including both anarchists and Marxists. Both sides had a common aim (stateless communism) and common political opponents (conservatives and other right-wing elements). But each was critical of the other, and the inherent conflict between the two groups soon embodied itself in an ongoing argument between Mikhail Bakunin, representative of anarchist ideas, and Karl Marx himself. In 1872, the conflict in the First International climaxed with the expulsion of Bakunin and those who had become known as the "Bakuninists" when they were outvoted by the Marx party at the Hague Congress.

Arguments surrounding the issue of the state

Marxism has a very precise definition of the state: that the state is an organ of one class's repression of all other classes. To Marxists any state is necessarily a dictatorship by one class over all others. Within this definition the idea of a "dictatorship of the proletariat" can mean anything from the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force by armed working people's councils, to a monopoly of force by a party composed of intellectuals claiming to be the leadership of the working people. Within Marxist theory, should the differentiation between classes disappear, so too will the state disappear.

Anarchism has a broader series of definitions of the state, ranging from the bourgeois state formation of army, bureaucracy, and representative parliament, to an idea of the state as a monopoly of violence. Anarchists disagree amongst themselves if democratic workers councils with a monopoly of violence constitutes a state or not.

While communist anarchists and Marxists both agree on the desirability of a stateless Communism, they have deep arguments about phases of a revolution between now and that ideal. Anarchists often wish to "smash" the state, replacing it with workers' councils, syndicates and other methods of organisation that are not a governmental body as such. Marxists often wish to "smash" the bourgeois state, but they wish to replace it with a new kind of state run by the workers. This Marxist desire is often referred to as "seizing state power." These arguments are often seen as critical, because they involved the autonomy of workers councils, the existence of secret police, and the transparency of justice. As the argument between these conceptions often hides an argument about whose ideas lead the revolution, Anarchists and Marxists have on a number of occasions tried to eliminate each other during revolutions.

The issue of the state, and the idea of seizing the state for a party, brings up the issue of political parties, which also divides Anarchists and Marxists. In general, anarchists refuse to participate in governments, and so do not form political parties. Marxists, on the other hand, see political parties as tools for seizing power, which they believe is necessary to effect any meaningful political change.

Arguments concerning the method of historical materialism

Marxism uses a form of dialectical analysis of human societies called historical materialism. At the crux of historical materialist analysis is the idea that people find themselves in a predetermined material world, and act to produce changes upon that world within the limits of what changes they can conceive of. An example of historical materialism would be that feudal peasants would find themselves with a lord above them, and imagine religious, instead of political, solutions to the problem of their unfree status. Underlying these processes is an idea that contradictions and opposed social groups will naturally form and drive social progress.

However, Marxism also contains another method of analysis called dialectical materialism. This method claims that all physical and non-physical elements of the world have contradictory properties within them, driving things forward through change. Dialectical materialism claims that all natural phenomena, not simply human society, are governed by dialectics. This analysis is more tenuously established than historical materialism, and is often associated with Frederick Engels and Stalinism.

Anarchists use a wide variety of tools of social analysis. However, most anarchists recognise the value of historical materialism as a tool for social analysis. Some anarchist organisations like the Irish Workers Solidarity Movement make agreeing with the historical materialist method's value a central point of unity. Anarchists use historical materialism for the same reason that Marxists do: it gives them a materially supportable insight into how society currently works.

Anarchists were one of the first groups to criticise the dialectical materialist trend, on the basis that it dehumanises social and political analysis, and is not sustainable as a universal methodology. Anarchists have, however, pointed out when dialectics seem to govern the behaviour of natural phenomena, as Peter Kropotkin does in Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution regarding the structure of bee hives and rabbit populations.

Points of political commonality

Marxism and anarchism are not always incompatible. At the beginning of the 20th century many Marxists and anarchists were united within syndicalist movements for militant revolutionary trade unions (see: De Leonism, IWW). Many Marxists have participated honestly in anarchist revolutions, and many anarchists have participated honestly in Marxist revolutions. More over, a large number of political groups attempt a synthesis of Marxist and anarchist traditions with the aim of a liberated workers society. Examples would include Autonomist Marxism and Situationism.

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