Listen to the Episode — 61 min
Clara: The Ex-Worker;
Alanis: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Clara: A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Alanis: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Clara: Hey everyone! Thanks for tuning back in to the Ex-Worker! In this episode, we return to our series clarifying what anarchism is (and isn’t) by comparing it with communism and socialism. We’ll explore what classical anarchists had to say, the history of how we’ve related with socialists and communists, and how these dynamics play out today. We’ll also share an interview with anarcho-communist Wayne Price, tracing his trajectory from communism into anarchism, and his reflections on their relationship today.
Alanis: In addition, we’ve got statements to share from Ukrainian anarchists, some exciting developments with US political prisoners, statements from Jeremy Hammond, announcements, news, and more. I’m Alanis…
Clara: …and I’m Clara, and we’ll be your hosts. To read the transcript from the show along with all the links, citations, and extra reading material, visit our website at crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: And if you’ve got thoughts, suggestions, critiques, announcements, or anything else to share, let us know by emailing podcast [at] crimethinc.com.
Clara: Let’s get started!
THE HOT WIRE
Clara: Let’s kick things off with the Hot Wire, our look at resistance and revolt happening around the world. Alanis, what’s going on out there?
Alanis: Immigrant detainees in the Tacoma Washington ICE detention center have begun a hunger strike for better conditions and an end to U.S. deportations. Advocates for the hunger strikers have reported that twelve hundred out of thirteen hundred detainees are currently refusing meals, and many are also participating in a work stoppage. Supporters have also been demonstrating outside the facility daily since the strike began.
Clara: In the early morning of March 3rd, the occupied auditorium of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM, was raided by hooded figures wearing bulletproof vests, who tied up comrades who showed up to defend the space and beat them brutally with pipes, pellet guns, shovels, tasers, and sticks. The attackers also confiscated phones and personal belongings. The auditorium has been occupied since a student strike in 1999, and serves as a hub for subversive activity within both the university and the city.
Alanis: In our last episode, we heard Barbara Carter from the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands discussing the sketchy tactics police used against her lockdown against the dirty energy corporation Endbridge. She and her two co-defendants were facing up to 2 years in prison for their action; we’re happy to report that they were sentenced to no prison time! They’ll be on probation for 13 months and are supposed to pay $45,000 in restitution to the police who cut them out and led them off in burlap sacks.
Clara: Which is disgusting and insane.
Alanis: Yes. But they’re free and back with their loved ones. So congrats to them! Find out more about the campaign against tar sands at michigan cats dot org.
Clara: In other good news, former Black Panther and COINTELPRO target Marshall “Eddie” Conway has been released after nearly 44 years in prison! Here’s an excerpt from an interview the day after he was freed, in which he discusses how he got involved in the black liberation struggle in the 1960s and how he sustained his spirit through his long years inside.
Marshall “Eddie” Conway: This is like the late ’60s. There was a lot of racism going on. There was a lot of organizing going on. There was a lot of activities that were actually just kind of like undermining the efforts that people in the black community was making to improve their lot. So, as I went on, I realized—I said, “Well, OK, some more serious kind of organizing needs to happen to improve the condition in the black community.” And I looked at all the different organizations, and the Black Panther Party represented at least a serious attempt to start feeding the children, to start educating the population, to start organizing healthcare and stuff like that. So I joined and started working with them. And I didn’t discover until later on that the chapter was organized by a national security agent and police informers and so on. But we did that kind of work. And in the process of doing that kind of work, I think some of the most active people in the organization was targeted, followed around by the COINTELPRO, and opportunities were created with agent provocateurs or police informers, or even just incidents were created, that ultimately led to them destroying like 25 of our 37 state chapters in a period of 18 months. And they locked up the primary leadership, all the national leadership, or they chased them out of the country. And then they started focusing on the secondary leadership. At that time, I was considered part of the secondary leadership. And they pretty much locked us up or framed some of us or chased some of us out of the country.
Amy Goodman: What gave you hope, almost 44 years behind bars? Marshall “Eddie” Conway:: Well, I appreciate you asking me that, because I want to take this opportunity to thank the tens of thousands of people that have supported me over the years and that have sent letters, postcards, marched, rallied, organized across America, around the world. Those letters, postcards, rallies, marches, organizing, etc., gave me hope, gave me encourage, gave me energy, and kept my spirit high. And it made me know that I was loved. And that same love needs to go out to the other political prisoners that remain locked up today for almost 40 years, most of them. And one of them is a little over 44 years. They need to have that same kind of support, that same kind of encouragement and that same kind of work to help get them free, because I think when you know that people work and love you, then you can do work yourself. And I think those are what political prisoners are doing, work in their particular areas, and they need to be encouraged to do that by people coming out and giving them that kind of support that I got.
Alanis: Congratulations to Eddie and his family, and welcome back! You can find a link to the full interview at our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Clara: In other exciting political prisoner news, Russell “Maroon” Shoats, whose work we reviewed in Episode 8, has been released from solitary confinement! The 70-year old black liberation fighter and three-time escapee had been in solitary for over 22 years, and last month rejoined the general population at SCI Graterford in Pennsylvania. Keep tabs on his struggle for freedom at russellmaroonshoats.wordpress.com.
Alanis: And finally: big things are going down in Ukraine. After weeks of protests, occupations of public squares and government buildings, armed clashes with police, and dozens of deaths, prime minister Yanukovich fled the country, and a pro-EU interim government has taken power. In response, Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula, escalating international tensions and raising fears of a new Cold War fought in proxy between Russia and the West.
Clara: How are anarchists responding to these events? We want to share a couple of statements from anarchists in the region about the recent Russian military actions. First, here’s the “Declaration of Internationalists against the war in Ukraine.” They write:
*War on war! Not a single drop a blood for the "nation”!
The power struggle between oligarchic clans in Ukraine threatens to escalate into an international armed conflict. Russian capitalism intends to use redistribution of Ukrainian state power in order to implement their long-standing imperial aspirations in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
With economic crisis impending in Russia, the regime is stoking Russian nationalism to divert attention from workers’ growing socio-economic problems: poverty wages and pensions, dismantling of health care, education and other social services. In the thunder of the nationalist and militant rhetoric it is easier to complete the formation of a corporate, authoritarian state based on reactionary conservative values and repressive policies.
In Ukraine, the acute economic and political crisis has led to increased confrontation between “old” and “new” oligarchic clans, and the former used ultra-rightist and ultra-nationalist formations to make a coup in Kiev. The political elite of Crimea and eastern Ukraine does not intend to share their power and property with the next rulers in Kiev and are trying to rely on help from the Russian government. Both sides resorted to rampant nationalist hysteria…
Warring cliques of bosses, as usual, force us ordinary people - wage workers, unemployed, students, pensioners - to fight for their interests… Making us drunk on the drug of nationalism, they set us against each other, causing us forget about our real needs and interests: we don
t and cant care about their “nations” when we are now concerned more vital and pressing problems – how to make ends meet in the system which they found to enslave and oppress us.
We will not succumb to nationalist intoxication. To hell with their state and “nations”, their flags and offices! This is not our war, and we should not go on it, paying with our blood for their palaces and bank accounts… And if the bosses in Moscow, Kiev, and beyond start this war, our duty is to resist it by all available means!
No war between “nations”-no peace between classes!*
Clara: The statement is signed by the Russian section of the International Workers Association; Internationalists of Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Israel, and Lithuania; Anarchist Federation of Moldova, and the Fraction of the Revolutionary Socialists (Ukraine).
Alanis: Also, the Autonomous Worker’s Union of Kiev has released a statement on Russian Intervention:
It’s obvious that the government of the “Russian Unity” movement headed by Aksionov is no more than a puppet of the Kremlin regime. We don’t regard Ukraine’s territorial integrity and inviolability of its borders as a value; we are against violent “pacification” of Crimea, but we think that the status of Crimea should be defined with due regard to the opinion of the Crimean Tatar minority. The latest events show that Putin is not going to limit himself to the annexation of Crimea. The aim of the imperialist Kremlin regime is to expand the Russian practices onto all territory of Ukraine. This proves the Russian regime to be the main threat to the interests of the proletariat in the post-Soviet area. We are opponents of war and militarism. But we think that in this situation conscious proletarians can rely on nobody but themselves. There’s no point in waiting for “rescue” from NATO. Ukrainian nationalist politicians can only organize defense of a part of territory at best. The war can be averted only if proletarians of all countries, first and foremost Ukrainian and Russian, together make a stand against the criminal regime of Putin. Joint action by the Ukrainian and Russian proletariat and all progressive democratic forces which will put an end to Putin’s regime, will also mean an end to the current neoliberal-oriented nationalist regime in Ukraine. While for the leftists and anarchists of the West it’s high time to cut ties with the so-called “anti-imperialism” which comes down to the support of the Putin’s regime against the US. Alanis: And once again, they conclude:
No war between nations, no peace between classes!
Alanis: We’ll do our best to keep you posted about developments in Ukraine as they unfold. If you’ve got news sources or statements to suggest, or thoughts of your own about the crisis there, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clara: And finally, we’ve got an update from imprisoned anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond, who released a statement a couple weeks ago in solidarity with survivors of the Bhopal disaster in India. These folks are still struggling for justice nearly 30 years after the Dow Chemical company fatally poisoned thousands and then attempted to cover it up. Jeremy writes:
Jeremy Hammond: Rebel greetings! I want to voice full support for the survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster in their struggle for justice against Dow, a multinational corporation that continues to do everything they can to avoid taking responsibility.
Two years ago I hacked the intelligence company Stratfor and handed over all of their private email correspondence to WikiLeaks for publishing. Amongst the revelations was proof that Dow hired Stratfor to monitor the activities of Bhopal survivor activist groups.
To add further insult to injury, Dow is now suing dozens of these activist groups for 25 million Indian rupees!
This shows how profiteering multinational corporations like Dow will abuse the courts and influence international conventions so that they can continue to attack worker conditions, fair wages and environmental regulations. The United Nations – whose foundation includes Dow as a corporate partner - has turned a blind eye to this human rights disaster for 30 years.
Justice will not be found in their courts so we must bring it to them in the streets. Dow’s recent tactics of desperation shows how they are worried that these activists are succeeding in bringing attention to their crimes. We must continue to expose and confront Dow!
Alanis: For more information about how you can help do that, visit the North American website for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal at studentsforbhopal.org.
Clara: And now it’s time to share a piece of the CrimethInc Contradictionary. This episode is brought to you by: Marxism and Ideology.
Clara: For more explorations of the war in every word, visit crimethinc.com/contradictionary.
FEATURE: SOCIALISM AND COMMUNISM – PART I
Alanis: So what’s up with communism and socialism? As anarchists, how should we relate to these traditions? Where do we overlap, and where do we diverge?
Clara: In past episodes, we’ve looked at National Anarchism, Christian anarchism, libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism, and explained what differentiates anarchism as we see it from these ideologies. But some listeners don’t appreciate this focus on drawing lines of separation - even accusing us of “divide and conquer” tactics.
Alanis: Let’s be clear from the beginning: our intention isn’t to conquer anything or anyone, and if clarifying our politics means dividing us from others, we’d prefer that to a false unity based on downplaying our core ideals. Our goal for this podcast is to strengthen our struggles for liberation; as Sean’s feedback points out, it’s not clear that simply having larger numbers of people alongside us actually does that, if our basis for coming together isn’t rooted in anarchist principles. We’re exploring these different political perspectives as a way to look critically at our tactics, our allies, and how we approach our struggles, moreso than to draw lines about who counts as anarchist or not.
Clara: In Episode 18, we asked whether libertarians and anarcho-capitalists were anarchists – and the answer was clear cut: no way. There were some interesting points of convergence in our critiques of the state, but in theory and especially in practice, we rarely find ourselves on the same side of the barricades. So-called National Anarchism is a recent fringe development, emerging from explicitly racist foundations and clearly out of sync with anarchist thought and struggles across history. And Christian anarchism, though it has been present since at least Tolstoy’s time, has always been a minor and controversial current within anarchism, proving more influential on nonviolent statist movements.
Alanis: But this time around, things aren’t so simple. Socialism and communism have been intertwined with anarchism from the beginning. Many anarchists over the years, and no small number today, also passionately identify as socialists or communists. Our struggles and tactics may diverge, but often run parallel. So we can’t simply write off these traditions as we hone in on our definition of anarchism.
Clara: To understand what anarchists do and don’t have in common with socialists and communists, we’ll have to look at the spectrum of the left over the past two hundred years, confront some ugly history, and examine the situation today around the world. Certainly not all communists are anarchists… but are all anarchists communists, at least in some sense? How do we relate to “the left?” Can we find affinity with these folks who share many of our political goals, despite some crucial differences and the painful lessons of history? And what are the implications of all of this for anarchist resistance today?
Alanis: Let’s start off with some definitions. Socialism, communism, Marxism… what are we talking about here?
Clara: OK, first of all: socialism. For all its permutations across the years, the core concept is pretty simple. Socialism is a social and economic system based on social rather than private ownership of the means of production; it’s also the political movement aimed at making this system happen. Centrally planned economies, market socialism, and self-managed or solidarity economies can all fall under the socialist rubric, within political systems ranging from social democracy to authoritarian dictatorships to federations of decentralized communes… it’s a pretty broad umbrella.
Alanis: What unites these different expressions? A few key principles: social problems have an economic basis in exploitation and inequality, which stem from capitalist ownership; all wealth is in some sense social and should be deployed to the benefit of all; therefore, we should pursue an economy rooted in collective or social control of resources rather than private property; and we should aspire to social justice and equality between all people.
Clara: In this sense, socialism is the opposite of the private property orientation of self-described libertarians or anarcho-capitalists from episode 18. Some market anarchists insist that they’re the true socialists, because they believe that free markets outside state intervention will maximize prosperity and equality for all, but virtually no socialists would agree with this definition.
Alanis: On a political level, socialism can encompass a very wide range of approaches. Parliamentary and representative politics, mass party building, federations of unions or syndicalism, worker’s councils, autonomous communes and cooperatives, and many other styles of organization can fall under the socialist banner. There are religious socialisms, often focused on non-violent protest or withdrawal from the world; reformist socialisms based on campaigning for politicians and pursuing legislative change; and revolutionary socialisms, aspiring to overthrow existing regimes and either seize or dismantle state power.
Clara: So is anarchism a form of socialism? Let’s see what folks have had to say about that over the years. According to Peter Kropotkin, who wrote the encyclopedia entry about it, Anarchism is
Kropotkin: “the no-government system of socialism.”
Clara: He continues:
Kropotkin: "In common with all socialists, the anarchists hold that the private ownership of land, capital, and machinery has had its time; that it is condemned to disappear: and that all requisites for production must, and will, become the common property of society, and be managed in common by the producers of wealth.”
Alanis: The individualist anarchist Joseph Labadie, building off both Benjamin Tucker and Mikhail Bakunin, put it like this:
Labadie: "Anarchism is voluntary Socialism. There are two kinds of Socialism, archistic and anarchistic, authoritarian and libertarian, state and free.”
Clara: Adolph Fischer, one of the executed Haymarket anarchists, declared, Fischer: “Every anarchist is a socialist, but not every socialist is necessarily an anarchist.”
Alanis: The French anarchist Daniel Guerin wrote in 1968,
Guerin: “Anarchism is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man.”
Clara: So it sounds like the consensus from past anarchist generations holds that anarchism is an elaboration of socialism in a libertarian, anti-state direction. It’s a useful place to start, but it’s not enough.
Alanis: But listen to what the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta had to say about it:
Malatesta: "Socialists want power … and once in power, wish to impose their program on the people… Anarchists instead maintain that government cannot be other than harmful, and by its very nature it defends either an existing privileged class or creates a new one; and instead of aspiring to take the place of the existing government, anarchists seek to destroy every organism which empowers some to impose their own ideas and interests on others.”
Clara: So if the key defining factor of socialism is an end to exploitation and collective control of the resources we need to live, then yeah, we’re on board – but if the key is state control of those resources, then not only are we not socialists, we’re against them.
Alanis: And another difference lies in the anarchist insistence that the reason to challenge private property and to promote collective control of resources is to allow for the fullest flourishing of the individual; if pursuing social ownership renders us less free, then it entirely misses the point. As William C. Owen, an American contemporary of Emma Goldman, wrote in 1922, the heart of the quarrel between socialists and anarchists is that “To us the problem is not merely economic. We do not think that a certain stage of industrial development must be reached before men are ripe for freedom. Still less do we believe in the fatalistic dogma that by the necessary evolution of the present system the problem will solve itself. We hold that man is servile because he has been drilled into servility, and remains helpless because he accepts his helplessness as unalterable. To us, therefore, the promotion of individuality, and the encouragement of the spirit of revolt against whatever institutions may be unworthy of humanity, are everything. We are rebels against slavery, and we understand that men will win their way to freedom only when they yearn to be free.”
Clara: These two key areas – state power and individual freedom – mark the lines between anarchism and socialism, or libertarian versus authoritarian socialism, if you prefer.
Alanis: OK then, so what about communism?
Clara: Emma Goldman, who sympathized with the ideal of communism while actively opposing what she viewed as its false manifestations, defined it thus:
Emma Goldman: “Communism is the ideal of human equality and brotherhood. It considers the exploitation of man by man as the source of all slavery and oppression. It holds that economic inequality leads to social injustice and is the enemy of moral and intellectual progress. Communism aims at a society where classes have been abolished as a result of common ownership of the means of production and distribution. It teaches that only in a classless, solidaric commonwealth can man enjoy liberty, peace and well-being.”
Alanis: That’s a pretty generous formulation. If you read Marx’s Communist Manifesto, he writes that the immediate aim of the communists is
Marx: “formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, and conquest of political power by the proletariat.”
Alanis: That political power will be used to abolish private property and to effect a ten point program, including such gems as “centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state” and “confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.”
Clara: Hmm… this doesn’t sound quite so clear-cut. What is a Marxist, anyway?
Alanis: Well, at the risk of restating the obvious, it’s an adherent of the ideas of Karl Marx; he had a lot of ideas, so this encompasses a pretty wide range of intellectual territory. Some of the key tenets most Marxists adopt include historical materialism – which sees history as flowing from shifts in the economic means of production, and social and political organization as resulting from this economic basis – and a critique of capitalism based on the labor theory of value, which holds that surplus value derived from unpaid labor of workers is the source of capitalist profit. Marxism as a political label – well, that’s more controversial; followers of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and Mao all trace back to this underlying label, while others, such as autonomous Marxists, reject the legacies of his authoritarian followers but still embrace elements of his thought. Marxism can also entail an academic approach to philosophy or social sciences: there are Marxist economists, anthropologists, geographers, literary critics, and so forth. One of the weird ironies of contemporary Marxism is that an ideology supposedly valorizing the working class has become - in North America and parts of Europe, at least – largely the province of the wealthy intelligentsia.
Clara: Certainly many anarchists have drawn ideas from Marx, whose critiques of capitalism are still pretty foundational. Not too many of us would identify as “Marxists,” though; while socialists have been keen to tag themselves with the label of their preferred ideologue, virtually no anarchists self-identify as “Bakuninists,” “Goldmanists,” “Bookchinists,” and so forth. Perhaps because our rejection of authority entails preserving our right to think for ourselves, and not granting legitimacy to a perspective – however out of touch – simply because it was written or said by an authority figure. Another symptom of religious thinking!
Alanis: So how did Marx come onto the scene? Let’s back up a little.
Clara: Socialism existed before Marx; early European and US variants in the 19th century, such as Owenism, Charterism, Fourierism, and such ranged from early reformist working-class movements to collectivist visions dreamed up by eccentric utopians. Many organized early trade unions and joined mass movements to agitate for improved conditions for workers in the rapidly expanding cities, while some formed communal living experiments in the countryside. As more and more people left traditional agricultural modes of living and began working in industrial factories, social dislocation, poverty, and population concentration provided large, receptive audiences for socialist ideas.
Alanis: Marx and Engels weren’t the first to use the term communism; it began spreading in the early 1840s from France. While it was sometimes used interchangeably with socialism, it took on the sense of that subset of socialism advocating not just state ownership of the means of production, but the abolition of private property, and the ultimate goal of the abolition - or “withering away,” in Lenin’s infamous words - of the state after a transitional period.
Clara: But it was Marx and Engels’ 1848 Communist Manifesto that really kicked things off. It lays out the basic philosophy of history as the history of class struggle, with the evolution from a feudal society dominated by the nobility to a capitalist society in which the bourgeoisie was now ascendant, riding to power in the French Revolution and its successors. It defined the proletariat, the class of the workers with nothing to sell but their labor, as exploited by the bourgeois owners of production. This conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie would result in the triumph of the workers, who would carry history along to the next stage, in which private property would be abolished and freedom would flourish.
Alanis: These ideas spread like wildfire in Germany, England, France, Switzerland, and beyond. But there were also many other currents of socialist thought swirling around. In 1864, many of them came together in the International Workingman’s Association, better known as the First International. Over the next decade, the debates in the International laid out some of the key fault lines between communists and anarchists that continue to this day.
Clara: In 1868, before storming onto the stage of the First International, Bakunin and his crew were sitting in on the second Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom. There he made a speech laying out his opinion on the question:
Bakunin: I hate Communism - because it is the negation of liberty, and because for me humanity is unthinkable without liberty. I am not a Communist, because Communism concentrates and swallows up in itself for the benefit of the State all the forces of society, because it inevitably leads to the concentration of property in the hands of the State, whereas I want the abolition of the state. I want to see society and collective or social property organized from below upwards, by way of free associations, not from above downwards, by means of any kind of authority whatsoever … That is the sense in which I am a Collectivist and not a Communist.
Clara: When it didn’t work out with the League, he and his collectivist anarchist pals hopped over to Brussels to join the IWA’s congress, and over the following years, he and Marx became the figureheads of opposing strains of thought within the Association. So how did Bakunin and Marx’s ideas differ?
Alanis: First, there is the question of current activity: should the workers’ movement participate in electoral politics? What form should revolutionary working class organizing take?
Second: What form should the revolution take - political and then an economic one, or both at the same time?
Third: Will state socialism remain true to communist principles, or will it become exploitative, replacing the capitalist class with the state bureaucracy?
Fourth: the “dictatorship of the proletariat:” awesome, or creeeepy?
Fifth, can political power be seized by the working class as a whole, or can it only be exercised by a small minority?
And sixth: will the revolution be centralized or decentralized?
Marx, what have you got to say?
Karl Marx: Well, I believe the workers must participate in electoral democracy. Universal suffrage and organized political parties will help the proletariat gain political power. This political revolution paves the way to the expropriation of the means of production; by taking state power, the proletariat will pave the way to communism. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the entire working class that seizes power as a whole, must centralize power in its hands to extend and defend the revolution.
Alanis: OK, thanks Karl? And now Bakunin – what you got?
Bakunin: Voting? No way! We build power from the bottom up – non-political, anti-political power! We seize the means of production as we abolish the state, one and the same! Social revolution and political revolution! And the proletariat, as you conceive of it, is a minority of the population – any new class that seizes state power will just become the new exploiters! And there’s no way that an entire class can govern through a state – you’ve gotta have representatives, who then have their own interests apart from the people they claim to represent! This isn’t freedom! It’s just a new form of SLAVERY! AAAARGH!!!
Clara: As you can imagine, things got ugly. After the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871, things came to a head at the following year’s congress at the Hague. After a knock-down, drag-out fight, the Marxist faction gathered enough votes to expel Bakunin and his chum James Guillaume from the International.
Alanis: Afterwards, Bakunin wrote:
Bakunin: Barely two months have passed since this congress and already in all of Europe…there has arisen a cry of indignation and contempt against this cynical burlesque which dares to call itself a true Congress of the International. All has been travestied, falsified, brutalized. Justice, good sense, honesty, and the honor of the International brazenly rejected, its very existence endangered – all this the better to establish the dictatorship of Mr. Marx. It is not only criminal – it is sheer madness.
Clara: Whoof! Things are getting a little heated in here! And I thought the anarchist scene in my town was full of drama. Tell ya what– we’re gonna stop here for now, and come back next episode to finish our discussion on communism and socialism. For now, let’s get to our interview with Wayne Price.
WAYNE PRICE INTERVIEW
Alanis: Wayne Price is a lifelong radical, active in many organizations over the years, including the Love and Rage Federation, and the Northeast Federation of Anarcho-Communists. He’s published many essays and books on Marxism and it’s relationship to anarchism, as well as thoughts on organizations, platforms, class struggle, and what lessons we can draw from the theory and history of the left.
Wayne Price: My name is Wayne Price, I have written a certain amount on topics of anarchism, and of anarchism’s relationship to other movements. I have been an anarchist, and in the past, before that, I was a trotskyist of an organizational sort, and before that I was an anarchist-pacifist. So, I’ve gone through various developments, and, to use a metaphor, God isn’t through with me yet.
Alanis: Tell us about how you got involved in radical politics?
Wayne Price: Well! In High School, it was the beginning of the, moving into the 60’s, and I still remember being a part of a very small demonstration that was giving out leaflets against military involvement by the U.S. in a small place, far away, called Vietnam. So, the Vietnam war and the struggle against racial segregation and racism were two major things that shook up the country. And, one summer, I ran into some writings by Paul Goodman, who was a prominent anarchist of the period, as well as Dwight McDonald, and they both converted me to Anarchist Pacifism. So that’s how I started off in radical politics.
Alanis: What was the appeal of trotskyism? How did that come into your life? And what experiences and critiques moved you away from it?
Wayne Price: Oh well, in College, I ran into a guy who was an orthodox trotskyist. And he persuaded me that, first, a revolution was needed, and that the rulers of the United States would not give up their wealth and power based on non-violent appeals, and that there were some places and peoples who would not civilly surrender to non-violence, the Nazis for example. So I gave up my pacifism. And he gave me some literature on the Spanish Revolution, and on the Hungarian Revolution, which argued that: Oh, what they meant by a “worker’s state” was that the workers councils and associations and organizations, and the peasants, and neighborhood assemblies, and etc, should associate together, and replace both the liberal-democratic state and any fascist alternatives. And I thought, “Hey! I’m for that!” In fact I am still for that, except I wouldn’t call it a worker’s state.
And so these things caused me to look for some other alternative, and unfortunately for this orthodox trotskyist I could never accept the theory that the Soviet Union and these other countries were worker’s states, because even thought the workers had absolutely no control over it, they admitted, nevertheless the property was nationalized and run by the government, and that by itself made it a worker’s state. And Cuba was somehow regarded as “run by the workers,” even though it wasn’t.
So, that always seemed to be ridiculous, so I joined a kind of unconventional trotskyist grouping that rejected that notion, the group that eventually became, it’s current incarnation is the ISO, or Solidarity. But, always regarded it as this very mushy organization, really more social-democratic than revolutionary, so a group of us went of, we split off to form a more revolutionary organization, the Revolutionary Socialist League.
And, at a certain point, we had to deal with the fact that all these other people who call themselves Marxists, all of them seem to think that Marxism implied totalitarianism! And that’s why they were for it! How could we be the only ones who were right, and they were all wrong? So, we re-examined our views: in effect, we had been giving Marx, and Lenin, and Trotsky the benefit of the doubt. And so at least some of us became anarchists.
Alanis: What aspects of the legacy of communism do you think…
Wayne Price: I dunno why you use the word communism! I don’t know what communism is. The anarchists called themselves communists before the Bolsheviks decided to adopt it. Marxism has a certain tradition, and Marxism includes the social democrats, who aren’t communists, so probably the broad, historical trend of anarchism is anarchist-communism.
Alanis: OK, fair enough. So from the legacy of Marxism, what do you still think is useful for anarchists today, and what needs to be rejected?
Wayne Price: Well, the most useful part is particularly the analysis, of the society and the economy, but I still think that there’s a great deal of value in Marxist theory, most especially in the economic analysis of capitalism. But the goal, the strategies, are not good at all. It’s because of a Marxist analysis that I was able to look at it and say that the economy has been going downhill, that it’s not going to get any better, that ever since the 70’s the post WWII boom was over, and that we could effectively face greater and greater crises. And in fact we’ve returned to an epoch of capitalist decay, returned in a sense of symptoms and overt aspects of it. Which leads us to a political point of saying anarchism, libertarian socialism, is something that would not just be good, would be ethically “nice,” but would be necessary if humanity is to survive, including economic crashes, the dangers of nuclear war, the probability of the ecological catastrophe, and so forth.
Also, a strategic point: the Marxism of Marx overlaps with that of the historical class struggle anarchism in saying that the industrial working class is at least one of the two or five most significant potential agents in the change of society. So I think all that is true.
On the other hand, however democratic Marx may have been in his personal concepts, you know, we’ve seen his movie, we know how it comes out. First, Marxism resulted in social democracy, which betrayed its program, supported the imperialist-capitalist state, opposed revolutions… and then the second attempt to build a Marxist movement, lead by Lenin and others, resulted in these totalitarian, mass-murdering, inefficient and oppressive forms of state capitalism, which eventually collapsed back into traditional capitalism. So, there’s a problem for Marxists, in how come something that seemed to have good values ends up as such a disaster. And this is why I reject Marxism as a whole, as a total worldview.
In particular, Marxism lacks a moral thrust, a moral evaluation. Marx himself, he’s very plain, you read his writing and it’s full of a great, ethical passion. But it’s not part of the system. And you can read a lot of Marx, but you’ll never find a statement saying that “people should be for socialism, that socialism is good.” It’s just not in the system, it’s just his historical process will take care of things, whereas for anarchism, the ethical evaluation has always been a part of the program, part of the analysis.
Alanis: How would you define anarcho-communism? What distinguishes it from anarchism proper, or, why the hyphen? What’s the distinction?
Wayne Price: Well, there isn’t a distinction as such. Becuase it’s like making a distinction between liberalism and capitalism. If you read black flame by vandervalt and schmidt, they argue that the broad anarchist tradition, the mainstream tradition has always been historically socialist or communist, that is that anarchism has always been in opposition to the state and capitalism, as well as other forms of oppression. So it’s not like there’s a distinction, really, it’s just a way of making clearer that we’re saying that we’re against capitalism, we’re against all forms of oppression. Becuase people are easily confused by this… because they think of anarchism as A) in favor of chaos, or B) simply against the state. Probably most people, if you ask them what anarchism is, the image they have, if it’s not just rioting in the streets, is society just the way it is, but no police. And in fact there are people that advocate that! There’s the members on the libertarian party, or the so-called anarcho-capitalists, who I don’t regard as anarchists. They may be against the state, but they’re not against capitalism. So anarcho communism, or social anarchism, or socialist anarchism, or whatever– the point to get across is that what we are in favor of is opposition to all forms of oppression, including not just the state, but capitalism, and sexism and so forth and so on.
Alanis: Tell us a little bit about the dual-organizationalist approach, or especifismo, that you support.
Wayne Price: Well, the basic idea is that anarchists should form themselves, at least those who can agree on a particular program, should organize themselves into a specific organization that advocates that program. And at the same time should participate in broader, mass organizations– whether unions, or community organizations, or united fronts– with other radical groups, or, in a revolutionary situation, with worker’s councils, popular committees or something like that. It’s a concept that’s gone back to Bakunin, and certainly very widespread among anarchists historically. And we have to fight to spread these ideas, because capitalism is organized to fight for it’s ideas, and the right wing is organized to fight for their ideas, the stalinists are organized and the marxist-leninists, to fight for their ideas… the notion that we should leave them alone, that they should be allowed to try to influence and win over working people, but that anarchists– we shouldn’t try to persuade anyone of our ideas is, I think, a rather naïve and hopeless perspective.
Alanis: Some of the anarchist critiques that I’ve heard of this broad, organizationalist approach are that forming these types of groups tends either to slide into either a centralizing authoritarian direction, or that they tend to dissolve themselves into mass movements that don’t actually share their politics.
Wayne Price: Well. We’re not advocating that anarchists simply dissolve themselves into mass movements. This very issue came up in the famous 1907 conference of the anarchists in Europe, where the debate between Monat, the syndicalist versus Malatesta. And Monat says it’s not enough being small little propaganda groups, let alone people who wanna go blow things up, we have to get involved in the mass struggles of working people and show them that we can help them build the unions they want and fight against the bosses. And Malatesta wasn’t against that, but he said, yes, but we can’t simply dissolve ourselves into the unions, if we do that we won’t really be anarchists. After all, unions are sort of a revolutionary situation, they have to be open to everybody, to reformists and conservatives and religious and non-religious, and people with all sorts of points of view, so we have to advocate our point of view, and we should maintain organization, operate inside unions, inside other mass organizations, but on our own also, raising our point of view, publishing our literature, and persuading people of our particular revolutionary perspective. So as precisely to prevent that kind of dissolution in the mass movement, that it’s important to build, specifically, an anarchist organization.
The notion that it’s authoritarian is simply an anarchist prejudice. What’s authoritarian is to accept capitalism as it is, and to not make an effort to fight against it. Just the conception that anarchists are sort of outside of the mass struggle, we’re outside of the working class, we’re outside, and that we should tell them what to do, so again, we’re outside, telling them what to do is being a new boss… but if we think of ourselves as we’re working workers too, we’re people, citizens too, we’re also part of this society. And we too suffer from these things. And what happens is a layer of people, a number of people among working people, come to awareness of the evils of the system, come to decide to look for an alternative, and that layer organizes itself in order to fight, to spread these ideas! This is not counterposed to the self-organization of the mass of people, it’s an integral part of the self-organization of the mass of people. It’s as libertarian and democratic of a conception as there could be.
Alanis: I wanted to pick up on this term democracy; in your writings you’ve characterized anarchism as the most extreme version of democracy– radical participatory democracy. The term today is pretty fraught, it’s used in the mass media to describe everything from fascists in Ukraine, to justification for military invasions of Iraq and elsewhere, to the Occupation movements in the US and Spain and elsewhere. So broadly that it seems virtually meaningless. Is characterizing anarchism as “more democratic than democracy” just a strategic gesture, given how impossible it seems to think outside of the discourse of democracy in politics these days? Or, is democracy core to your political vision of what anarchism is?
Wayne Price: Well, again, it’s like the discussion we just had about communism. So, the old Soviet Union called itself for socialism and for communism, and the ruling class of the capitalist United States says it’s for democracy and freedom. They take all the good words, all the words that have a history of struggle of ordinary people for a better life, and they try and monopolize them for themselves. And I don’t want to let them do that. There’s a reason that they use these words– because of the popularity of it, because of the historical meaning of socialism, communism and democracy and liberty. And I don’t want to let them have the monopoly on these therms. Also there really aren’t too many words left.
But really, the concept of democracy– there’s really two sides to that, there’s two souls of democracy, there’s one side that is used as a cover for the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the rule of a minority class to exploit, dominate, and rule over the rest of the country and in fact, the rest of the world. And they cover themselves with a slogan, and with a certain kind of reality to bourgeois democracy… people get to vote, different factions of the ruling class get to fight out their differences without actually having to shoot each other. That’s convenient for them.
But there’s another concept of democracy, the other side to that, which is the struggle of ordinary people, to try to manage, run their own lives! To have their own freedoms, to decide how they want society to function, and how they want the institutions that affect us to be run by ourselves, and I find that most anarchists who feel anxious about the word democracy just as well have no problem being for self-management, which is exactly the same thing.
The concept of democracy goes back to hunter-gatherer society, people gathered together and made decisions, or to ancient Athens and the democratic traditions of the people themselves gathered together to making decisions for their society, up through the revolutions that fought for greater freedom and self control, up through the abolitionists and so forth. The bourgoisie did not like the term democracy, incidentally, historically, prior to the American Revolution, most of them were against the term democracy. In fact, most of the founding fathers, to them “democracy” meant “mob rule,” or “rule of the poor people,” who might break up the big states, or print cheap money, they liked the idea of a “representative,” quote unquote, democracy, of the big country, because that sort of serves as a filter, to keep the people from having too much power. On the other hand, they didn’t want to dictator, a king. They didn’t want the actual rule of the people. Well, I believe in that, I think the actual idea of the rule of the people, directly, face-to-face– this is my notion of democracy, and it’s no accident that it keeps on coming up again, in lands throughout the world, whether in China, or in Burma, or in the United States, like in the Occupy movement, the people raise concepts of democracy. Because it means self-government, self-rule. And when everybody governs, then there’s no government. That is, the fullest democracy is anarchism!
Alanis: Today, many Marxists, socialists and communists participate in struggles that overlap with anarchists: political prisoner support, anti-war organizing, labor struggles, etc. What are your thoughts about the benefits or risks of collaborating with them politically?
Wayne Price: Well, it’s almost a peculiar question, because there are so few anarchists. If we would refuse to work with everybody that’s not an anarchist, there isn’t very much we’re going to achieve in this life. Or, we could say “I don’t wanna work with those authoritarian leftists but I’m willing to work with, by implication, liberals and ordinary citizens, and so forth.” The problem is, who are the liberals? They may be nicer people than some of the Stalinists, but their actual politics are support for U.S. imperialism, and the U.S. ruling class, whatever they think they’re doing. So they idea of saying “I’m only willing to work with those who support U.S. imperialism but not those who are opposed to it,” that’s the kind of limiting politics, if you think it through. So I’m willing to work with anybody who’ll go in my direction. After all, anarchists tend to agree with far-rightists in their opposition to gun control, so on principal I only work with people who I like.
The thing is, one of the key aspects is, I think, the Marxists, leaving aside a minority tendency of libertarian Marxists– council communists or whatever– Marxists agree with anarchists in what we’re against– We’re against the U.S. state, we’re against U.S. imperialism, we’re against U.S. capitalism, the ruling class, we’re against sexual oppression and racial oppression, etc, etc. So we can work together because we’re opposed to this ruling class, this system. Our differences, after all, are what we are for, what we wish to replace it with. They would, in fact, replace it with their own rule… the RCP, the maoists would replace it with the dictatorship of Bob Avakian (god forbid!) ya know? But up to that point, they legitimately are against the U.S. ruling class! More or less. They also can turn to act like reformists in various ways, but that’s another question. But in principal, they’re against the U.S. ruling class, so we can work with them against the U.S. ruling class. It’s only when you come to what you wanna replace it with– then it becomes real issues. No doubt, were we on the verge of a massive revolution or something, the possibility of them trying to take power themselves would be an issue, but that’s not the issue, it’s really the authoritarian way they act in the current movement.
Alanis: What are some of the ways that anarchists who are sympathetic to these perspectives can plug into organizing today?
Wayne Price: There are going to be upheavals. There’s a bubbling of anger, that breaks out now and then. There was, for example, the Wisconsin mass demonstrations, which could have lead to a mass general strike, but instead were channeled into electoralism. There was the Occupy movement, which was kept from being too militant up until the government finally simply chased them away, broke ’em up. Some were better than others, some, particularly the parks on the west coast where people linked up with the union struggles, the mass demonstrations in North Carolina, the “moral mondays.” These things are happening and they’re going to happen at higher and higher levels, and we have to be looking for them, we have to be ready for them, we have to be in positions inside the working class positions, our jobs, our people we know. Again, it’s not like there’s something outside us, that we ourselves are involved in, with the shoe pinching us– we have to organize ourselves! I’m very much in favor of anarchists organizing on the basis of revolutionary program, and those who can agree with other, ya know? To prepare for this kinda thing. So that’s what I would advocate.
Alanis: Wayne, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Wayne Price: Ok, thanks a lot!
Alanis: And last but not least, some prisoner birthdays to keep in mind.
Clara: On March 10, Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, a contemporary of George Jackson and revolutionary prisoner locked up for over 49 years – 43 of them in solitary. Last month he had the opportunity to make a phone call to his family for the first time in over 40 years. He’s up for parole this spring, so send him some support if you can.
Alanis: On March 17th, Jason Sutherlin of the anti-fascist Tinley Park Five;
Clara: And also on the 17th, Ruchell Cinque Magee, sole survivor of the Marin County Courthouse Slave Rebellion in 1970;
Alanis: And on the 21st, Jaan Laaman, revolutionary from the United Freedom Front, whose voice we heard in Episode 10 promoting the Running Down the Walls event in support of political prisoners.
Clara: And that’s all for this episode! This podcast has been a production of the omnipotent, omnipresent CrimethInc Ex-Worker’s Collective, the holy spirit of anarchy and insurrection. Thanks to Wayne for speaking with us and to Underground Reverie for the music. Let us know what you thought and what you’d like to hear in future episodes by emailing us at podcast at crimethinc dot com. We’ll be back next week with a continuation of our discussion on communism and socialism. Until then…
Bakunin: I warned you about states, bro, I told you dawg!!!
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
In the Hotwire, we excerpted audio from an interview that recently paroled black liberation prisoner Marshall “Eddie” Conway gave with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! The full interview can be viewed here.
Russel Maroon Shoats is out of solitary! Read his writings and stay updated about his case here.
We’re going to be taking an in-depth look at the Ukraine uprisings in an upcoming episode. For now, check out our feature Ukraine and the Future of Social Movements, and How Nationalists took the Lead.
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, the organization that Jeremy Hammond mentions in his statement in solidarity with the survivors of the Bhopal disaster.
The Anarchist FAQ has an extensive section about why anarchists are opposed to state socialism, and other related questions, and is brimming with quotes and references from historical anarchists on the subject. From our theme segment:Bakunin clearly had a lot more to say on the topic of the splits in the first international, and Pëtr Kropotkin’s Encyclopedia entry about anarchism clarifies a few things about socialism.
It’s not too late to send these prisoners a birthday card!
March 10: Hugo “Yogi” Pinell #A–88401
CSP-Sac B-FAC FB3–125
P.O. Box 290066
Represa, CA 95671
March 17: Jason Sutherlin #M34023
100 Hillcrest Rd
East Moline, IL 61244
March 17: Ruchell Cinque Magee # A92051
P.O. Box 4670
Lancaster, CA 93539
March 21: Jaan Laaman #10372–016
PO Box 24550
Tucson, AZ 85734