Anarchism, Marxism and the Lessons of the Paris Commune – II

Marina Gusmao, Mingus.


Socialism from below or from above?

“The form finally discovered…”?

For Marx, the Commune was "the finally discovered political form under which to work out the economic emancipation of labor". He welcomed features such as the Communal Council being composed of delegates who were "revocable at any time and bound by the imperative mandate (formal instructions) of their constituents", that it was "an operational, non-parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time". and that "the standing army should be replaced by the national militia."[I] Marx is paraphrased by Gluckstein (2006, p. 199): “What made the Parisian democratic structure so different?”. Simply put, their representatives "were 'revocable at any time,' so delegates could not deviate from the mandate of their constituents." The creation of a militia is also hailed as if it meant that the “[state] force was fundamentally different” and thus “[as] turning the principles of the state upside down” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2011, p. 51).

However, while the Communards applied these forms, it is false to suggest, as Marx does, that they came quite like a bolt from a blue sky. In fact, the Paris Commune applied ideas that anarchists had been discussing for some time. Proudhon, for example, raised the idea of ​​representatives with binding terms being elected to executive and legislative assemblies during the 1848 revolution:

It is up to the National Assembly, through the organization of its committees, to exercise executive power, just as it exercises legislative power… In addition to universal suffrage and as a consequence of universal suffrage, we want the implementation of the binding mandate. Politicians refuse! Which means that in their views, the people, when electing representatives, do not appoint representatives, but instead renounce their sovereignty! This is certainly not socialism: this is not democracy at all.[ii]

The view of a free society being a federation of communes was discussed by Proudhon in his 1863 book, Of the Federative Principle. Bakunin repeated the same vision of a federalist system of communes based on revocable mandates and delegations in 1868:

The Alliance of all workers' associations… will constitute the Commune… there will be a permanent federation of the barricades and a Revolutionary Communal Council… [formed by] delegates… invested with binding, responsible and revocable mandates at any time… all provinces, communes and associations… will appoint representatives to an agreed place of assembly (all… vested with binding, accountable and subject to revocation mandates) in order to found the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces.[iii]

What about abolishing the army and replacing it with a militia? For Gluckstein (2006, p. 114), the idea of ​​a militia “owes nothing… to Proudhon's anarchist rejection of the State… the federation desired to replace the standing army with a militia of workers… This completely subverted the idea of ​​the State as something that imposes its will on society from above”. This is not true, as Proudhon suggested, in 1848, that it was "necessary to disarm the constituted powers" by ending military conscription and "organizing an army of citizens". It is “the right of citizens to name the hierarchy of their military chiefs, the simple soldiers and national guardsmen nominating low-ranking officers, the officers nominating their superiors”. In this way “the army maintains its civic sentiments” while the people “organize their military in such a way as to simultaneously guarantee their defense and their freedoms, while waiting for the nations to agree to end armed peace”.[iv]

As a reformist, Proudhon does not address the question of defending the revolution, but the revolutionary Bakunin did so on the basis of his call for a democratic militia:

Immediately after having established the overthrow of governments, the communes will have to reorganize themselves along revolutionary lines… In order to defend the revolution, its volunteers will form, at the same time, a communal militia. But no commune can defend itself in isolation. Then it will be necessary to radiate the revolution outwards, to rise up all neighboring communes... and thus to unite with them for common defense.[v]

So the inconvenient fact is that anarchists have been defending the organizational forms that Gluckstein hails the Commune for implementing since Proudhon in the 1840s, being developed by Bakunin in the 1860s. Nothing like this can be found in Marx until after the Commune. As KJ Kenafick points out:

the program established [by the Commune]… the system of federalism, which Bakunin had been advocating for years, had been enunciated for the first time by Proudhon. The Proudhonians… wielded considerable influence in the Commune. This 'political form', therefore, had not been 'finally' discovered; she had been discovered years ago; and it was now proved correct by the very fact that, in the crisis, the workers of Paris adopted it almost automatically, under the pressure of circumstances, rather than as the result of a theory, as being the most suitable form for expressing the aspirations of the working class. .[vi]

So clearly the biggest influence in terms of the "political vision" of the Commune was anarchism. The “outline of national organization that the Commune did not have time to develop”[vii], which Marx hailed but did not quote, was written by a follower of Proudhon and expounded on a clearly federalist and “bottom-up” organizational structure.[viii] Based on this libertarian revolt, it is not surprising that Marx's defense of it took a libertarian turn.

That the ideas generated by workers in struggle reflected Bakunin's predictions is not to suggest that Internationalists influenced by him somehow injected these ideas into struggle. Rather, both groups of people, subjected to many similar experiences as well as theoretical discussions and influences, drew similar conclusions from them. So, indeed, “by the late 1870s, the vision of a Commune as a complete alternative to existing power was emerging from discussion clubs” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 104), and these discussions were influenced by Internationalists as well as themselves. were influenced by them. Which refutes the Leninist assumption that the masses cannot develop a socialist consciousness by themselves.

The Anarchist Critique

In his discussion of the champions of the Commune, Gluckstein at least acknowledges that anarchists analyzed and claimed it as an expression of our ideas. He gives just under two pages to the subject (what he calls feminist criticism is covered in more depth). It is, at best, careless and superficial and, at worst, simply false and self-contradictory while, at the same time, he unconsciously also demonstrates that he is correct.

The representation of what Gluckstein (2006, p. 184) calls the “anarchist interpretation” of the Commune starts badly, with the author stating that “anarchists believe that the Commune cannot be described as a workers' government, because it abolished the very concept of government”, citing the most famous essays by both Bakunin and Kropotkin on the Paris Commune as evidence. However, despite Gluckstein's assertions, anarchists do not believe in such a thing - as this article itself proves.

Central to the anarchist critique is precisely that one of the key problems with the Commune was that it maintained a government within Paris while proclaiming the free federation of communes outside. This was the position of Bakunin, who while proclaiming that "revolutionary socialism had just attempted its first attack and practical demonstration in the Paris Commune" and "demonstrated to all enslaved people (and is there any mass that is not enslaved?) only path to emancipation” also pointed out that the Communards they had "established a revolutionary government" and thus organized "themselves in a Jacobin manner, forgetting or sacrificing the first conditions of revolutionary socialism".[ix] Kropotkin repeated and extended this analysis, as Gluckstein himself admitted: “one of Kropotkin's complaints about the Commune was precisely that the masses cooperated with the centralized power they created in the Hotel de Ville” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 184-185) . He even quoted Kropotkin, arguing that “there is no more reason for a government within the Commune than outside it” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 185). Despite this, he did not ask the obvious question: if this is the case, how could anarchists think that the commune "abolished" government?

As Gluckstein cannot bring himself to present the anarchist critique, it is useful to summarize it here by taking Kropotkin's analysis as a starting point. It has two main aspects, which Kropotkin summed up in a few words: "the Commune was not communist enough... the Commune was not anarchist enough."[X]

First, the Commune "treated the economic question as secondary, to be dealt with later, after the triumph of the Commune", when "the triumph of a popular Commune was materially impossible without a parallel triumph of the people in the economic field". Second, by “proclaiming the free Commune, the people of Paris proclaimed an essentially anarchist principle”, but “they stopped halfway” and gave “themselves a Communal Council copied from the old municipal councils”. The Commune did not “break with the tradition of the State, of representative government, and did not try to achieve within the Commune that organization from the simple to the complex which it inaugurated by proclaiming the independence and free federation of the Communes”. This resulted in the revolutionaries being cut off from the masses at City Hall, “immobilized… by the bureaucracy” and losing “the sensibility that comes from continuous contact with the masses… Paralyzed by their distancing from the revolutionary center – the people – they themselves paralyzed popular initiative”.[xi]

Totally missing the focus of anarchist criticism, Gluckstein opines that “if the Commune had been just a moment from below, the anarchist interpretation would be right”, but the insurrection “inaugurated a new focus of power” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 185 ). Indeed - and anarchists argued that this power was simply not up to the task at hand. This can be seen when Gluckstein admits that the Board was “overloaded” with suggestions from other bodies, because of the “great volume” that “created complications”, [the Board] “had difficulty dealing with the flow of people that crowded its offices” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 47-48), while reports, letters and motions “piled up” in the city hall and secretariat offices and were not discussed (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 51). This bureaucratic inertia can be seen since the decree of April 16, 1871 on transforming closed workshops into cooperatives:

Workers' trade councils are convened to establish a commission of inquiry, as well as an inventory… To report on the practical requirements for the immediate recommencement of these workshops… by the cooperative association of workers who were employed there… This commission of inquiry must send its report to the Communal Commission of Labor and Exchange, which will be requested to present to the Commune… the draft of a decree…[xii]

Perhaps because the author of this decree, whom Gluckstein (2006, p. 30) salutes, was Leo Frankel (the only member of the Council who can even remotely be considered a Marxist), Gluckstein mentions him almost in passing, summarizing it uncritically in less than a paragraph, before pointing out that "in practice, there was little time to do many things". Considering the process being implemented, this is hardly surprising. No wonder Kropotkin concluded from this decree and others like it the following:

the insurgent people will not wait for any former government in its marvelous wisdom to enact economic reforms. They will abolish individual property themselves… They will not stop the expropriation of the owners of social capital through a decree that will remain a dead letter; they will take possession and establish their usufructuary rights immediately. They will organize the workshops so that they can continue production.[xiii]

It is odd that Gluckstein has so little to say on this subject, as he obviously considers this decree a key example of the “new type of society [which] can be glimpsed fleetingly in the action [of the Commune]” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006 p. 27 ). Considering the central role this clearly played in the lessons anarchists drew from the Commune, the lack of discussion certainly points to a political perspective based on governmental action rather than workers' self-activity as the means to create socialism.

In terms of mass participation, Gluckstein points out that “the relations between the Commune” and “the clubs and mass meetings” are “difficult to measure” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006 p. 50), which is an incriminating confession for someone which claims that the Commune implemented a new regime based on direct democracy and that evidence that such a regime was "radically different from all previous states" can be found therein. (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006 p. 46). Even his conclusions against the “anarchist interpretation” are fallacious: “It was this combination of direct activity plus an organized governmental structure (with all its inadequacies) that gave the Paris Commune its historical significance as the moment when an anti-capitalist movement was transformed into a power in its own right” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006 p. 185).

Yes, “with all its inadequacies”! Instead of considering whether "an organized governmental structure" hampers the "direct activity" of the masses and is willing to solve the many tasks facing a social revolution, as Kropotkin and other anarchists have done, Gluckstein simply ignores this question. He points out, in passing, the difficulties facing the Council in trying to deal with numerous problems facing the revolution, but does not draw any conclusions from them. Anarchists, however, would point out that they confirmed Bakunin's 1870 prediction that any revolutionary government would:

[…] could not fail to severely limit the scope of revolutionary action because it is impossible for even the most energetic and tenacious authoritarian revolutionary to understand and deal effectively with all the manifold problems generated by revolution. Because every dictatorship, whether exercised by an individual or, collectively, by relatively few individuals, is necessarily very circumscribed, with very little vision, and its limited perception cannot, consequently, penetrate to the depth and encompass the whole complex range of popular life.[xiv]

The people of Paris were also aware of this problem, namely, the inability of the Commune to be effective. As the Council “proved increasingly incompetent or insufficiently revolutionary, the clubs and committees became the vehicles for the assertion of direct sovereignty through association… committees and the National Guard would have put up serious and organized opposition to the Common Council”.[xv] Before and during the Commune, there were attempts to federate various clubs and assemblies (such as the Delegação dos Vinte Bairros). These would eventually have produced a federal structure within the commune itself, as the Council's limitations became clear. As Kropotkin argued:

In 1871 Paris saw a vague anticipation of a better way of doing things. The revolutionaries among the people seemed to understand that the Commune Council had to be regarded as mere background, as a nod to past traditions; that the people should not only disarm, but maintain, together with the Council, their own organization, their federated groups, and that the necessary measures to guarantee the success of the revolution should come from these groups instead of from the prefecture. Unfortunately, a certain modesty among popular revolutionaries, underpinned also by authoritarian prejudices, whose roots still ran deep in that period, prevented these federated groups from completely ignoring the Council, as if it did not exist, and acting to inaugurate a new era of social construction. .[xvi]   

Significantly, during the Commune, the Delegation “began or joined a series of initiatives designed to more effectively unite popular organizations. She started a Federation of Clubs… If the Commune had survived it is almost certain that these projects would again have made the Delegation the center of the revolutionary club and committee movement, as it was during the siege and armistice”. In other words, it would "return to the idea of ​​running a central club in which delegates from all clubs and committees could meet... it would be open to the public and would bring together delegates from popular clubs."[xvii]

Gluckstein suggests that the Commune was a “new form of government based on active mass democracy”, and the “first workers' state” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006 p. 7)). The question is, if the so-called workers' state is “an entirely new form of state, in its complete newness” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006 p. 114), then why call it a state? Insofar as it was based on an “active mass democracy” it was not a state, since it was based on what states have evolved to limit – mass participation in social life (“The state is necessarily hierarchical and authoritarian – or it ceases to be the State”[xviii]). He is right to say that this power "from above, acting on those below, has been challenged and the very foundations of the conventional state have been shaken"; however, he shows typical Marxist confusion when he claims that the new social institutions formed “a new type of state that fused people and power”. This is understandable given the false and metaphysical Marxist notion that the state is simply “a system of domination of one class over another”, rather than a set of institutions marked by the specific social relations required to maintain class dominance. minority on society (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006 p. 205).[xx] As Kropotkin argued:

Developed in the course of history to establish and maintain the monopoly of land ownership in favor of a class - which, for this reason, became the dominant class par excellence -, what means could the State provide to abolish this monopoly that the class worker can not find in their own strength and groups? Then perfected throughout the XNUMXth century to secure monopoly industrial, commercial and banking property to the newly wealthy classes to whom the state was providing low-cost “arms”, taking land away from village communes and crushing farmers with taxes – what advantages could the state provide to abolish these same privileges? Could its governmental machinery, developed for the creation and maintenance of these privileges, now be used to abolish them? Wouldn't the new function demand new organs? And wouldn't these new bodies have to be created by the workers themselves, in their unions, their federations – completely outside the state?[xx]

So, in the words of Gluckstein (2006, p. 184), “reality was not simple”. Unfortunately, this applies more to his distortions of the "anarchist interpretation" than the analysis he was unable to present, let alone discuss. Simply put, the assertion of the “anarchist belief that by 1871 the Commune had already abolished the State” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 206) cannot be sustained by looking at what anarchists actually wrote about the Commune and how one of its failures was precisely that it had not abolished the state within Paris itself – as Gluckstein himself points out in passing.

Perhaps this obvious reluctance to address the true anarchist position helps, in part, to explain why Gluckstein reproduces a very common Marxist contradiction about anarchism. Thus, we find him claiming that “Proudhon's disciple, Mikhail Bakunin, made the abolition of the State his central principle” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 74), although this is also a case of the State being “ignored” “in the style of anarchist” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 50). Needless to say, you cannot “bypass” the State if your goal is its “abolition”. Furthermore, it should be stressed that Bakunin's "central principle" was not simply the abolition of the state, but, as Wayne Thorpe correctly summarized, "the simultaneous destruction of the state and the capitalist system, accompanied by the bottom-up organization of a federalist system of administration based on economic associations of work”.[xxx]

Therefore, contrary to what the Marxist tradition claims, it is not the case that the “originality of the Commune resided in its determination to found a new type of State” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 63). Instead, its decentralized and federal form showed how to replace the state with a new form of social organization, which, rather than being designed to exclude, is based on mass participation. One of the limitations of the Commune, as Bakunin and Kropotkin emphasized, was that it combined aspects of this new social organism with aspects of the state and, as a consequence, made social revolution difficult.

Centralization and Federalism

For most Marxists, any form of cooperation or coordination is “centralization” or “centralism” and, correspondingly, decentralization implies isolation and atomization of forces. The anarchist system of federalism simply does not fit this rigid dichotomy. This can be seen when Lenin proclaimed the clearly federalist aim of the Commune as an example "of voluntary centralism, of the voluntary fusion of proletarian communes". He seemed not to realize that “abolishing central authority” does not mean “destroying national unity”, since federalism postulates the need to coordinate joint activity.[xxiii] In short, Marxists, like all "adversaries of federalism, benevolently take it for granted that centralization has all the advantages they deny to federation."[xxiii]

Gluckstein does not disappoint and confuses decentralization with isolation, centralization with coordination. He points to the discussion within the Commune about whether “one should emphasize centralized direction or local initiative, freedom or authority” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 159) and states that “even the main anarchists, who opposed centralization on the grounds of principle,” recognized the need to coordinate resistance to the central government and its forces. He contrasts the mistrust of Communards of a central leadership with the “unified command of Versailles” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 165) and points out that the debate over the Committee of Public Safety was, at its core, “whether, given the conditions of civil war, the power it could be decentralized immediately” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 52). He, of course, sides with the Blanquists, insofar as the civil war showed that “the workers could not do without a concentrated authority of their own. Lenin, remembering Marx, called this authority the Workers' State. (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 206).

However, no anarchists have argued against the idea of ​​coordinating the struggle; instead, anarchists have consistently advocated federalism as a means of doing so. Therefore, the commune “must break the State and replace it with the Federation”.[xxv] As Proudhon argued, a federal body “has only a very restricted part of public administration, that relating to federal services”, “subordinated and entrusted to an Assembly formed by delegates” who “exercise over the acts of the federal assembly even more zealous and severe”. Thus, communes and workplaces “confederate for the joint guarantee of their territorial integrity or for the protection of their liberties” and “from an economic point of view, may federate for the mutual protection of commerce and industry… for the construction and maintenance of communication routes, roads, canals, railways, for the organization of credit and insurance, etc. ”.[xxiv]

In short, anarchists advocate federation precisely to coordinate joint activities and to provide services that are best organized or can only be organized by many groups working together. We reject centralization because it does not do this coordination and, moreover, it empowers and benefits the few at the expense of the many, since “there are no limits on the State beyond those that it voluntarily imposes”.[xxv]

There have been attempts to centralize power in the Commune, most notably by the Commune Council itself, who have seen the “concentration [of] power in fewer and fewer hands in the course of the Commune, centralizing authority rather than widening it”[xxviii], followed by the Blanquist/Jacobin-inspired Committee of Public Safety. This, as Gluckstein notes, was a “proposal for [a] strong leadership [that] reflected widespread frustration with existing arrangements” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 158). In the debate to form the Committee, “the majority emphasized the need for centralized decision-making at the expense of grassroots democracy”, but he had to admit that it “performed no better than the Communal Council” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 160). If centralization is to be taken as an automatic guarantee of the means for the success of a revolution, this failure should give pause for reflection, but it does not, and so the Commune shows that "discipline under centralized command was absolutely vital in forming the fighting force of the workers of Paris. This was not an optional extra” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 141).

The Marxist prejudice that centralization is always more efficient and effective will not let mere evidence stand in its way. Gluckstein notes how the conflict over who should organize resistance has seen forces Communards “taking orders from no fewer than seven different sources” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 144), while “none of the war delegates was ever able to place the Commune's artillery under command, or even discover the exact contingent available.” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 144). This “competition for control” between the Central Committee of the National Guard and the Commune Council resulted in an “impasse” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 145). As noted above, he presents enough evidence to show that this was not an isolated case, that problems with bureaucracy existed within a single city. (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 47-51).

It is not surprising, then, that when the affairs of an entire nation were centralized in 1917, bureaucracy and inefficiency correspondingly increased. As Emma Goldman experienced, “the newly formed officialdom was just as difficult to deal with as the old bureaucracy”, run by “bureaucratic officials [who] seemed to take special pleasure in revoking one another's orders” and:

. To get a pound of nails, it would be necessary to petition about ten or fifteen sections; to secure some bed linen or common dishes, days were wasted.[xxviii]

The same issues that Gluckstein laments in the Commune have also arisen within the centralized Bolshevik regime he supports, more broadly. Indeed, “in practice, hyper-centralization turned into infighting and struggles for control between competing bureaucracies” and, likewise:

[…] the not atypical example of a small condensed milk factory with fewer than 15 workers which became the subject of a protracted competition between six organizations including the Supreme Council of National Economy, the Council of People's Commissars of the Northern Region, the Vologda People's Commissars and the Petrograd Food Commissariat.[xxix]

Bolshevik centralization was ineffective for other reasons, for “it seems evident that many workers… came to believe… that confusion and anarchy [sic] at the top were the main causes of their difficulties, and with some justification. The fact is that the Bolshevik administration was chaotic… Dozens of competing and conflicting Bolshevik and Soviet officials issued contradictory orders, often brought into factories by armed Chekists. The Supreme Economic Council… has issued dozens of orders and passed countless directives with virtually no real knowledge of the business.”[xxx] The new centralized regime was “not only bureaucratically cumbersome, but [involved] enormous problems of influence” and with its “multiple offices… and commissariat structure literally swamped with urgent 'delegations' and drowning in paperwork”[xxxii]Unsurprisingly, the number of bureaucrats has exploded – along with their power and privileges.

This does not mean that coordination is impossible, simply that it needs to be organized by those affected, by their own organizations – by federal means, in other words. This would mean, as Bakunin argued, a federation of barricades and militias, rather than waiting for central bodies to try to organize defense, for example. Likewise for other aspects of social life – whether social, economic or political.

Just as the Commune demonstrates that the need for centralization of power is not as successful as Leninists assume, it also shows that representative bodies can easily be given more power at the expense of popular organizations. This can be seen in the Committee of Public Safety in the Commune, with a minority of council members (essentially those active in the International) arguing that "the Paris Commune had ceded its authority to a dictatorship" and was "hiding behind a dictatorship that the electorate did not authorize us to accept or recognize”.[xxxi] So this example shows that it is difficult for the masses to control those they empower, even within the confines of a city. Gluckstein observes that the Commune could be “seen as the organ of solidarity giving collective control through a Workers' State” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 184). Yet “collective control” is precisely what the state was designed to exclude: “To attack central power, to strip it of its prerogatives, to decentralize, to dissolve authority, would be to relegate control of its affairs to the people, to run the risk of of a truly popular revolution. That is why the bourgeoisie sought to further strengthen the central government”.[xxxii]

Ironically, after quoting a commonard on the need for federalism, Gluckstein notes that this “would allow the population to directly engage in accessible power structures” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 52) Indeed, this is why the minority classes reject it, as he himself admits. , when he observes that the victory of the French bourgeoisie in the Great French Revolution meant that “the popular involvement of the masses and the democratic structures of the previous period were no longer essential” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 58).

Unsurprisingly, our Marxist repeats the myth that the Girondins “disapproved of centralized state power” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 57) when, in reality, they wished “to establish a strong government and reduce the people to submission” and thus “in Instead of federalizing, everything the Girondins did showed that they were just as centralizing and authoritarian as the [Jacobins], perhaps even more so”.[xxxv] This was understood by many Communards and one is quoted by Gluckstein – not noticing that this echoed Proudhon – about how the aim of the Commune was “to break the outer system of centralization and thus destroy the only weapon the privileged classes possess” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 52). ). Sadly, he doesn't ponder why.

The question is: can the centralized social organization, which is the State, be used by the many rather than the few? For Marxists, the answer is yes. For anarchists, the answer is no, for centralization is not a neutral form of organization, and if the oppressed use it then they will simply empower a new few to rule them. The question, as Kropotkin put it, is “how is it possible that the socialists of the second half of the XNUMXth century adopted the ideal of the Jacobin state when that ideal was conceived from the point of view of the bourgeoisie, in direct opposition to the egalitarian and communist tendencies of the people”. that arose during the Revolution?”[xxxiv]

Gluckstein shows this confusion when he states that “direct democracy was the basis of the communal movement and had created an embryonic workers' state, without which the defeat of capitalism and the creation of a new society could not have been attempted” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 148-149). However, his own account shows that the creation of the “embryonic workers' state” undermined the direct democracy that is needed to ensure that capitalism is not replaced by state capitalism and that a genuinely new society is created rather than replacing the bosses. Equally, his sympathies are directed towards the Blanquists and their quest for more centralisation, although he himself records their failures.

This shows how the Paris Commune brought out the contradictions of Marxist attacks on anarchism. Thus we read Engels attacking anarchists for holding a certain position, but praising the 1871 revolution when it implemented exactly the same ideas. For example, in his imprecise diatribe, The Bakuninists in Action, Engels was keen to distort the federalist ideas of anarchism, rejecting “the so-called principle of anarchy, the free federation of independent groups”, since Bakunin “as early as September 1870 (in his Letters to a Frenchman)… had declared that The only way to drive the Prussians out of France by revolutionary struggle was to do away with all forms of centralized leadership and let each city, each village, each hamlet wage war on its own.” For Engels, anarchist federalism "consisted precisely in the fact that each city acted on its own, declaring that the important thing was not cooperation with other cities, but their separation, which excluded any possibility of a combined attack". This meant “the fragmentation and isolation of revolutionary forces that allowed government troops to crush one uprising after another”. According to Engels, anarchists "proclaimed [this] a principle of supreme revolutionary wisdom"[xxxiv].

Contrast this with Engels's eulogy of the Paris Commune which, as he effusively pointed out, refuted the Blanquist notion of a revolution sparked by a vanguard which would create "the most rigid and dictatorial centralization of all power in the hands of the new revolutionary government". Instead, the Commune “appealed [to the provinces] to form a free federation of all French Communes…a national organization which for the first time was really created by the nation itself. It was precisely the oppressive power of the old centralized government... which dissipated everywhere, just as it had fallen in Paris”.[xxxviii]

Clearly, the “free federation” of communes is bad when anarchists defend it, but excellent when workers in revolt do. Whatever the case, Engels could not explain or even attempt to compare this praise of "free federation" to his comments that only those who "have no idea what revolution is or are revolutionary in word only" speak of "authority and centralization". as two things that deserve condemnation, whatever the circumstances”?[xxxviii]

There is an element of truth in all this, insofar as Bakunin rejected “centralized leadership” as not suited to the task, but it is a falsification to claim that he denied the need for bottom-up coordination of struggles and federal organizations. As he put it, the revolution must "encourage the self-organization of the masses into autonomous bodies, federated from the bottom up." Rather than denying the need for coordination, Bakunin stressed it: "Peasants, like industrial workers, must unite, federating combat battalions, district by district, ensuring a common coordinated defense against internal and external enemies."[xxxix] At this point, he repeated his earlier arguments about social revolution – arguments of which Engels was well aware and therefore deliberately misrepresenting Bakunin's ideas through an attack on federalism when, in Spain, federalism was not implemented.

Likewise, Engels quickly forgot Marx's praise of the Commune implementing binding mandates, attacking the anarchist use and support of them, the following year. For him, it was part of Bakunin's nefarious plans to control the International: "for a secret society... there is nothing more convenient than the imperative mandate", since all its members vote in one way, while the others will "contradict themselves" (he did not explain how members of the "secret society" could all vote one way unless... delegated to do so by the groups that elected them). Without these binding mandates, "the common sense of the independent delegates will quickly unite them in a common party against the secret society party." Obviously, the notion that a group's delegates should reflect that group's wishes was lost on Engels, for that was the usefulness of this system, since "if all voters gave their delegates imperative mandates in relation to all points on the agenda , delegate meetings and debates would be superfluous”.[xl] Given this, it seems ironic to read Gluckstein lamenting how politicians in the capitalist state “cannot be mandated or deposed and thus, once elected, are free to act as they wish until the next vote” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 22) . This is why anarchists have supported the binding mandate since 1848, to ensure – to quote one commonard – that any elected person remain a servant rather than lord of the electors: “We are here as representatives of the people and we must obey their wishes”. (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 46)

Ultimately, this is Marxism's main ideological flaw. Although it claims to be based on mass participation, direct democracy, and so on ("socialism from below"), it advocates a form of social organization, centralization, that is designed to exclude it.[xi] and ensure the defeat of the revolution from within, if not defeated from without.

From below or from above?

This shows the limitations of Marxism and its confusions about the State. For Gluckstein, the Commune, “a change inextricably linked from below and from the State” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 50) and “Parisian direct democracy made the masses part of the State and the State part of the masses” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 204). He suggests that Marx synthesized Proudhonism and Blanquism (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 83), that his contribution was “to synthesize their insights” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 206).

Yet, during the Russian Revolution of 1905, Lenin mocked the Mensheviks for wanting only "pressure from below", which was "pressure from the citizens on the revolutionary government". Instead, he advocated "pressure...from above and from below", where "pressure from above" was "pressure by the revolutionary government on the citizens". Lenin invoked the authority of Engels, noting that against the anarchists, as a "true Jacobin of Social Democracy", he "recognized the importance of action from above" and saw the need for "the utilization of revolutionary governmental power". Lenin summed up his position (which he considered in line with orthodox Marxism): "The limitation, in principle, of revolutionary action to pressure from below and the renunciation of pressure from above as well is anarchism."[xliii]

Considering that Lenin rejected the idea of ​​"only from below" as an anarchist principle (which indeed it is), we need to keep in mind that Leninist calls for "democracy from below" are always placed in the context of a Leninist government, for Lenin always emphasized that the Bolsheviks "would assume full state power", that they "can and must take state power into their own hands".[xiii] Leninist “democracy from below” always means representative government, not popular power or self-government, but a “revolutionary” government exercising power “from above” over all the classes it claimed to represent. As Lenin summarized for his political police, the Cheka, in 1920: “Without revolutionary coercion directed against the declared enemies of the workers and peasants, it is impossible to break the resistance of these exploiters. On the other hand, revolutionary coercion is bound to be employed on the vacillating and unstable elements among the masses themselves.”[xiv] Or as Trotsky said almost 20 years later:

The same masses are, at different times, inspired by different modes and aims. It is for this reason alone that a centralized organization of the avant-garde is indispensable. Only a party, with the authority it has gained, is capable of overcoming the vacillation of the masses themselves... if the dictatorship of the proletariat means anything, then it means that the vanguard of the proletariat is armed with the resources of the State to ward off dangers, including those which emanate from the most backward strata of the proletariat itself.[xlv]

If Gluckstein thinks that the Commune shows that the so-called workers' state “was not there to oppress or exploit them” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. 25), then Bolshevism – both in theory and in practice – proves that this It's not the case. The vanguard party arms itself with the power of the state to put "pressure" on, or force, anyone who is deemed "wobbly and unstable" or, to use Trotsky's word, "backward", who is, by definition, anyone who disagrees with the vanguard party.

Compare the position of Lenin and Trotsky with that expressed in the Commune that the National Guard “gives the city a national militia that defends the citizens against power, instead of an army that defends the state from the citizens” (GLUCKSTEIN, 2006, p. . 51). Bakunin, however, would not have been surprised, for, on the basis of the anarchist analysis of the state as "minority rule, top down, by a vast number of men," he correctly predicted that even the so-called workers' state "cannot to be secure in his self-preservation without an armed force to defend himself against his own internal enemies, against the discontent of his people.”[xlv]

This is precisely why anarchists reject socialism “from above” in favor of one created “from below”. In the state, it is always the leaders at the top who hold power, not the masses. No revolutionary anarchist denies the need for self-discipline and the need to coordinate revolutionary struggle and defence: it is considered a truism that there was a need to federate revolutionary forces in order to defeat reaction. What we also recognize is that giving power to some leaders is a fatal mistake, that they will implement what they see as “socialism” and replace the creative actions from below so necessary for the success of a revolution and the building of socialism. For example:

On three occasions, in the first months of Soviet power, [factory] committee leaders sought to bring their model [of socialism based on self-management of the economy by workers]. In each attempt, the party leadership overruled them. The Bolshevik alternative was to invest both managerial and controlling powers in state bodies that were subordinate to and formed by central authorities.[xlv]

This was in line with pre-October Bolshevik notions about building “socialism” for, let us not forget, “the postal service [is] an example of the socialist economic system” and “imperialism is gradually transforming all trusts into organizations of the same type… Once we overthrow the capitalists… we will have a splendidly equipped mechanism”. Therefore, the “immediate objective” was “to organize the whole economy in the format of the postal service” and “on the basis of what capitalism has already created”. Thus, everyone is “transformed into contract employees of the State”.[xlviii] This simply ensured that the revolution would develop in state capitalist style – both in the sense that Lenin intended and in the sense that anarchists warned would be the inevitable result of state socialism. The Bolshevik regime shows that “from below” and “from above” cannot be combined. The latter will always weaken the former simply because that's what it was designed to do.

*Iain McKay is a writer and anarchist. Author, among other books, of Anarchism, Anarchist Communism, and the State: Three Essays (PM Press).

Translation: Ivan Thomaz Leite de Oliveira e Claudio Ricardo Martins dos Reis.

Originally published in the magazine Anarcho-Syndicalist Review.

To read the first part of this article click on


[I]           MARX; ENGELS, 1971, p. 75, 72-73, 71, 72.

[ii]         PROUDHON, 2011, p. 378-379 (see also p. 273 and 279).

[iii]        BAKUNIN, Mikhail. Program and object of the secret revolutionary organization of the international brethren (1868). In: No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism. Daniel Guérin (ed.). Edinburgh/Oakland: AK Press, 2005, p. 182.

[iv]         PROUDHON, 2011, p. 407, 443-444.

[v]          BAKUNIN, 2005, p. 164.

[vi]         KENAFICK, KJ Michael Bakunin and Karl Marx. Melbourne: 1948, p. 212-213.

[vii]       MARX; ENGELS, 1971, p. 72.

[viii]      AVRICH, Paul. Anarchist Portraits. Princeton University Press, 1988; VINCENT, 1984, p. 232; “In reality,” the Marxist Paul Thomas admits, “the Commune owes very little to Marxism and much more, ironically, to the Proudhonians, who proved to be thorns in the side of the Marxists during the first four years of the International's existence. Cf. THOMAS, Paul. Karl Marx and the Anarchists. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul plc, 1985, p.194.

[ix]         BAKUNIN, Michael. Bakunin on Anarchism. Sam Dolgoff (ed.). Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1980, p. 263, 267.

[X]          KROPOTKIN, 2014, p. 453.

[xi]         KROPOTKIN, Peter. Words of a Rebel. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1992, p. 74, 97, 93, 97.

[xii]       LEFRANCAIS, Gustave. Erude sur le mouvement communaliste a Paris in 1871. Neuchatel: Guillaume Fils, 1871, p. 171-172.

[xiii]      KROPOTKIN, 1992, 99.

[xiv]       BAKUNIN, 1980, p. 196.

[xv]        JOHNSON, 1996, p. 162-163. Contrast Bookchin's comment that the Communal Council was “widely ignored…once it was installed. The insurrection, the actual management of city affairs and finally the struggle against Versailles, was spearheaded mainly by the popular clubs, the neighborhood watch committees and the battalions of the National Guard. If the Paris Commune (the City Council) had survived, it is extremely questionable whether it could have avoided conflict with these loosely established street and militia formations”. BOOKCHIN, Murray. Post-Scarcity Anarchism. AK Press, 2004, p. 90.

[xvi]       KROPOTKIN, 2014, p. 578.

[xvii]     JOHNSON, 1996, p. 197-200.

[xviii]    KROPOTKIN, Peter. Modern Science and Anarchy. Edinburgh: AKPress, 2018, 227.

[xx]       The difference between the anarchist analysis of the evolution of the state and the metaphysical analysis of Marxism is discussed in this section H 3.7 of An Anarchist FAQ.

[xx]        KROPOTKIN, 2018, p. 164.

[xxx]       THORPE, Wayne. The Workers Themselves: Revolutionary Syndicalism and International Labor, 1913-1923. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989, p. 6.

[xxiii]     LENIN, Vladimir. Collected Works 25: p. 435.

[xxiii]    PROUDHON, 2011, p. 755.

[xxv]     KROPOTKIN, 1992, p. 83.

[xxiv]      PROUDHON, 2011, p. 707, 711.

[xxv]     PROUDHON, 2011, p. 769.

[xxviii]   JOHNSON, 1996, p. 185-6.

[xxviii]  GOLDMAN, 1970, p. 45, 46, 40. See also section H. 6.2. from An Anarchist FAQ for further discussion.

[xxix]     FARBER, Samuel. Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy. Oxford: Polity Press, 1990, p. 73.

[xxx]      ROSENBERG, William G. Russian Labor and Bolshevik Power. The Workers Revolution in Russia: the view from below. D. Kaiser (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, p. 116.

[xxxii]     ROSENBERG, William G. The Social Background to Tsektran: Party, State, and Society in the Russian Civil War. Diane P. Koenker, William G. Rosenberg and Ronald Grigor Suny (eds.). Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1989, p. 357.

[xxxi]   SCHULKIND (eds), 1972, p. 187.

[xxxii]  KROPOTKIN, 1992, p. 143.

[xxxv]   KROPOTKIN, Peter. The Great French Revolution. Montreal/New York: Black Rose Books, 1989, p. 349, 366.

[xxxiv]    KROPOTKIN, 2018, p. 366.

[xxxiv]   MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich. Marx-Engels Collected Works 23: p. 592.

[xxxviii] MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich. Marx-Engels Selected Writings, p. 256-257.

[xxxviii] MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich, 1971, p. 292.

[xxxix]   BAKUNIN, 1980, p. 206, 190.

[xl]         MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich. Marx-Engels Collected Works 22: p. 281, 277. It should be noted that Trotsky shared with Engels an aversion to binding mandates which obliged 'representatives' to actually represent the views of their constituents within the party, rather than their own views. TROTSKY, Leon. In Defense of Marxism. NewYork: Pathfinder, 1995, p. 80-81.

[xi]       The state is the most obvious example of this, but it is equally applicable within Leninist parties, where power is explicitly entrusted to a few leaders at the top of the party hierarchy.

[xliii]      LENIN, Vladimir. Collected Works 8: p. 474-475, 478, 480, 481. This seems to have been a common Bolshevik position at the time, with Stalin emphasizing in the same year that "action only from below" was "an anarchist principle, which, in fact, fundamentally contradicts socialist tactics". -democrats”. STALIN, Joseph. Collected Works 1: p. 149.

[xiii]     LENIN, Vladimir. Collected Works 26: p. 90, 19.

[xiv]     LENIN, Collected Works 42: p. 170.

[xlv]       TROTSKY, Leon. The Moralists and Sycophants: Their Morals and Ours. New York: Pathfinder, 1973, p. 59. Contrast this with your 1906 statement that "the dictatorship of the proletariat in no way means the dictatorship of the revolutionary organization over the proletariat." TROTSKY, Leon. Thirty-five Years After: 1871-1906. In: Leon Trotsky on the Paris Commune. NewYork: Pathfinder Press, 1970, p. 24.

[xlv]     BAKUNIN, Michael, 1973, p. 265.

[xlv]    REMINGTON, Thomas F. Building Socialism in Bolshevik Russia: Ideology and Industrial Organization 1917-1921. London: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984, p. 38.

[xlviii]   LENIN, Vladimir. Collected Works 25: p. 431, 478.

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