That about sums up the disagreement between anarchists and Leninists and the odds are you know who is calling who what.
On Chris Spannos’ ZSpace page he provides a definition of a cynic: “A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.”
To their credit, Leninists have a good reason for being “cynical.” Lenin himself was a practical man with a sincere desire to have a socialist revolution and he valued efficiency – he did what he thought was best and to work with the tools at his disposal. That’s admirable. I can see how he found Marxism and Democratic Centralism to be both useful and efficient, but I can also see how critics find them, especially the latter, to be counter-productive. Rosa Luxemburg, herself a Marxist, criticized it as such:
…the two principles upon which Lenin’s centralism rests are precisely these: 1- The blind subordination, in the smallest detail, of all party organs to the party center, which alone thinks, guides, and decides for all. 2- The rigorous separation of the organized nucleus of revolutionaries from its social revolutionary surroundings.
If Marx and Engels were correct that the "emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself," and I think they are, then a revolutionary vanguard or class of coordinators will not move us towards socialism. It will, as it has, move us towards coordinatorism.
Stephen Shalom has said that one of the Leninists “mistake was in assuming that they were free of self-interest or ignorance, and that they knew the interests of others, with enough certainty to warrant suppressing those who disagreed.” Just how aware Lenin and his cohorts were, for example, to their position in the coordinator class and their ignorance of this, especially in economic and political terms, is open to debate and it is not likely anarchists and Leninists will ever agree. But Shalom’s point is valid.
It also reflects the sociobiology work of Robert Trivers in what he calls “the art of self-deception in the service of deceit.” He sees this as a natural phenomena found in many species. We deceive ourselves to better deceive others. What has served as a survival mechanism can and does creep into social settings. No doubt Lenin was, for the most part, unaware of his flaws. He was, after all, a human like the rest of us. But are Leninists capable of recognizing those flaws and resolving them, or will they make excuses (i.e., the climate in 1917, no revolution in the rest of Europe, etc.) and ignore (i.e., there is no coordinator class, no reason to blame Lenin and the Bolsheviks for they are true revolutionary heroes) them? I am not suggesting here that the fact that the rest of Europe didn’t have a socialist revolution, or the civil war in Russia are not to be factors to consider when reflecting on why the revolution took the turn it did, but that it is fair to point out that much of the flaws critics point to in Leninism were present long before the revolution – which makes the excuses moot. This begs the question: Are Leninists capable and/or willing to own up to this and make amends?
And anarchists are utopian. That is, they are often more occupied with how things “ought to be.” And one of their biggest flaws is their lack of a detailed vision and strategy on how to realize their Utopia. There is no “anarchist movement” because there really isn’t anything to mobilize around other than empty slogans and vague rhetoric. Being anti-authoritarian or anti-capitalist or anti-anything does not provide the general population with something to risk their lives over.
As Paul Street quoted Noam Chomsky in his Reimagining Society essay,
"In an advanced industrial society," Chomsky elaborated, "it is, obviously, far from true that the mass of the population have nothing to lose but their chains, and there is no point in pretending otherwise. On the contrary, they have considerable stake in preserving the existing social order." Further: "any serious radical movement…will not be able to satisfy itself with a litany of forms of oppression and injustice. It will have to provide compelling answers to the question of how these evils can be overcome by revolution or large-scale reform…The threat of tyranny and disaster, or even their early manifestation, does not itself provide a sufficient basis for the creation of a significant radical mass movement. In fact, this threat may induce a conservative defensive reaction. For a person to commit himself to a movement for radical social change with all of the uncertainty and hazard that this entails, he must have a strong reason to believe that there is some likelihood of success in bringing about a new social order." Vision matters.
I think the reason why Leninist’s (and other sects of Marxism) can be so stubbornly dogmatic is because they do have more detail in their ideology. There is more to be stubbornly dogmatic about. It’s a difficult job, however, to remain self-critical and open to growth and change. But it’s something we all need to practice and work hard at. Just like the question for Leninists, this too begs the question: Are anarchists capable and/or willing to own up to this and make amends?
I do not doubt one iota that Marxists of all stripes are anti-capitalist and desire a socialist revolution but I do doubt their ability to think outside their intellectual tool boxes – and for clarity, I only partially blame their ideology in that introspection is not a key component of it, but I also blame (or excuse, depending on how you look at it) them for simply being human. We often give ourselves the benefit of doubt.
One thing I think participatory anarchists* have in their favor is their incorporation of self-critical analysis – the core of Complementary Holism has been to reflect on the good and bad stuff of a wide range of theories and ideologies and to configure how best to use them in order to more accurately view the world, develop a vision that seeks to overcome all obstacles and to remain flexible enough to guide us there. In place of a priori assumptions participatory anarchists emphasize empiricism. By doing this they build in the notion that we must constantly reassess our understanding.
Marx wrote that, “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living, and just when they seem to be revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something entirely new, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from the names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time honored disguise and borrowed language …. The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot draw its poetry from the past but only from the future.”
This is something anarchists, especially of the participatory stripe, understands quite well, and something Marxists, especially of the Leninist, Maoist and Trotskyist stripes, would do well to consider. Are they conjuring up spirits of a dead generation? There are good reasons to believe that they are. No ones ideologies are infallible and none should be considered sacrosanct even though that is often the impression I get. Marxists can be quite economistic, and not recognizing the coordinator class is more than problematic. It’s counter-productive to their socialistic goals. I say this not as an adversary but as an ally.
This is precisely why participatory economics proposes what it does: social ownership, participatory planning, balanced job complexes and equitable remuneration. If no one owns enterprises, if no markets or central groups of planners plan the economy, if tasks are not monopolized, and if bargaining power is not rewarded, but rather: everyone owns the means of production, all participate in planning to the degree they are affected, all tasks are equitably distributed based on (a) what one wants to do; (b) what one is capable of doing; and (c) what is available to do and in a way that ensures all are equal in their relations to the means of production, and if people are compensated solely on what they are in control of (i.e., effort and sacrifice – how hard and long they work at something) then there can be no class divisions.
I really don’t understand what it is about participatory economics that divides its advocates from its (socialist) opponents.
I don’t think social ownership is a problem. No socialist I know of wants private enterprise. We are socialists, not privatists.
I hear the “time” complaint on participatory planning and it’s possible that there will be considerable time consumed in workers and consumers councils but it’s odd to site this as a complaint. First, there is already considerable time spent on planning but workers are kept out of this. This is one of our grievances. If we want workers and consumers to control the economy then time spent planning is a given. But consider that in the US we are more than 360% more productive than we were during the so-called “Golden Age of Capitalism.” This means that we could radically reduce our work hours and still be just as productive. In a participatory economy where overproducing would be resolved through the planning process, this would free up a considerable amount of time for planning and leisure. And just as some say technology can help alleviate burdensome tasks, so too can it facilitate in meeting and planning.
I also don’t think balanced job complexes are that problematic either. If we want a classless society then it is imperative that we structure work to not divide workers in their relations to society’s productive assets. If some monopolize empowering and informative tasks then this creates class divisions. Only by equitably distributing tasks, which could be done in a number of ways, do we go a long way in making a classless society.
I do notice that some oppose the remuneration standard of rewarding effort and sacrifice. Alan Maass, in a debate with Michael Albert, said,
I would say that remuneration for effort and sacrifice is a concession to the ideology of the free market. In a society of true abundance, where the resources and means of production are democratically controlled, I’m not sure that the concept of "sacrifice" will hold any real meaning. Certainly, there will be no reason why anyone should ever go without, and a mature socialist society will have developed the technological means to abolish as much of the work that no one wants to do as possible (garbage collection is the classic example). The guiding principle of a socialist society will be solidarity, so I would imagine the members of that society would see it as their responsibility to every other to do their share–without the need to be remunerated on the basis of "sacrifice." Remuneration should be on the basis of need, not the quantity or quality of work.
If I work harder and longer than you then why on Earth should you get the same rewards as me? And why are we only entitled to what we “need”? I don’t need a guitar but I enjoy playing one. Shouldn’t I be free to purchase a guitar? Humans get immense satisfaction from more than just meeting our needs, but also our desires. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. When it is a product of exploitation then, yes, I agree that is wrong. But if I fulfill my desires because I am rewarded more for working hard and long at socially valued tasks then I am not exploiting anyone. We are only producing as much as we ask for and we include the costs of our activities in terms of ecology, etc., and assuming there are political laws protecting the conservation of our environment then if I am capable of enjoying more than my needs we should allow that. In a speech on exploitation, Chris Spannos, an advocate for participatory economics, said, “the only factor we personally have any control over, and therefore the only one it makes sense to reward in order to motivate people to produce as much as they can is effort.”
I would hope that we all would be open to constructive criticism and not cling to the “dead generations [that] weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”
Anarchists could learn a lot from Leninists about the importance of establishing something more tangible to work with and aspire towards – and not just “smashing the state.” So long as this is the case then Hal Draper is right that anarchism “is the other side of the coin of bureaucratic despotism, with all its values turned inside-out, not the cure or the alternative.” This is why Chomsky likes to repeat to anarchists the Brazilian workers saying about expanding the floor of the cage.
And Leninist’s (as well as other Marxists, etc) could learn a lot from anarchists on the importance of looking to the future and constantly challenging the legitimacy of authority. As Draper notes on “plannism”: “As a matter of fact, it would be important to demonstrate that the separation of planning from democratic control-from-below makes a mockery of planning itself.”
The Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber once wrote that, "One cannot in the nature of things expect a little tree that has been turned into a club to put forth leaves." The moral lesson here is that the end does not justify the means – the means must compliment the end. We will not arrive to our destination of a socialist society unless the revolutionary transformations of society come from the general population themselves. In the conclusion of his speech in 1970, titled Government in the Future, Chomsky says,
We have today the technical and material resources to meet man’s animal needs. We have not developed the cultural and moral resources or the democratic forms of social organization that make possible the humane and rational use of our material wealth and power.
Conceivably, the classical liberal ideals as expressed and developed in their libertarian socialist form are achievable. But if so, only by a popular revolutionary movement, rooted in wide strata of the population and committed to the elimination of repressive and authoritarian institutions, state and private. To create such a movement is a challenge we face and must meet if there is to be an escape from contemporary barbarism.
Ideologically there is too much unnecessary divisions within the socialist left. We all desire a socialist society and we all likely agree that socialism has four essential factors: (1) a classless society; (2) social ownership and planning of the economy (this includes workers and consumers); (3) workers control over their workplaces; and (4) the egalitarian and equitable distribution of wealth. We should all agree that only by working towards the realizations of these factors can we arrive at a society that is socialist. This means we should be able to form alliances round existing struggles (i.e., affordable healthcare, education, housing, jobs, living wages, racial, gender and sexual equality, protection and enhancement of social security, holding corporations accountable, tax justice, restoring constitutional protections, climate change, ending wars of aggression, adhering to international law, etc) and push for reforms (both internally in our groups and organizations and externally throughout society) that strengthen workers and consumers influence over the political and economic system.
We need to come to terms with two simple facts: (1) we have much more in common than we do in differences, especially in terms of goals; and (2) a class divided cannot stand. Unless we make the effort to plow through our ideological baggage and adopt a shared vision and strategy whose means compliment the end then revolution and social liberation are unattainable.
* Participatory Anarchists are those particular anarchists supportive of and/or contributing to the work being done on Participatory Society – the theory and practice that all people should be empowered by social institutions to have a meaningful role in managing their affairs in cooperation with others based on the degree in which they are affected.