Anarchism and the Marxist Critique of Capitalism.
Wayne Price, The Value of Radical Theory: An Anarchist Introduction to Marx's Critique of Political Economy
Oakland, CA: AK Press 2013; 200pp; ISBN 978-1939202017
Sasha Lilley, Capitalism and its Discontents
Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2011; 320pp; ISBN 978-1604863345
Long ago Peter Kropotkin emphasized that anarchism, or rather, social anarchism (anarchist communism)--or what Malatesta and Landauer described as anarchism without adjectives--had a dual heritage, combining radical liberalism, with its emphasis on the freedom of the individual, as a fundamental premise, and socialism, with its emphasis on equality, social solidarity and voluntary co-operation. Kropotkin therefore, like Murray Bookchin in a later generation, was highly critical of both Marxist socialism, which lacked a libertarian perspective, and what Bookchin later described as lifestyle anarchism, which tended to repudiate socialism, the economy of the commons, and class struggle politics. Life-style anarchism, of course, embraces a variety of individualistic tendencies--Stirnerite egoism, Nietzschean aestheticism, mystical anarchism and right-wing libertarianism.
According to Kropotkin both Marxism and individualist (lifestyle) anarchism were one-sided, or rather lop-sided tendencies. Those who advocate some kind of rapprochement between lifestyle and social anarchism, therefore, misunderstand the nature of social anarchism (or libertarian socialism)--for a libertarian perspective is intrinsic to Kropotkin's conception of social anarchism. They thus also misinterpret or simply ignore Bookchin's critique of lifestyle (individualist) anarchism.
Unfortunately, given his harsh polemics, Bookchin--like those academics who set up a radical (and false) dichotomy between anarchism and anarchy--tended to muddy the conceptual waters!
Words belong to the commons--language has not yet been completely privatised! They can therefore take on a variety of different meanings. As 'anarchism' in the United States had come to signify lifestyle anarchism, primitivism and the libertarian advocacy of free-market capitalism, Bookchin in his last years, in exasperation, ceased to describe himself as an 'anarchist'. But of course, he remained a libertarian socialist, that is, a social anarchist.
Although both Kropotkin and Bookchin (along with most social anarchists) were highly critical of Marxist politics, given its emphasis on the vanguard party and state power, they were not anti-Marx. They recognised the salience of Marx's materialist philosophy (a form of evolutionary naturalism)--Marx, like Kropotkin, was a pioneer ecologist--and they also acknowledged his important and profound critique of capitalism.
In the bookshops now are two very worthwhile books that endeavour to recapture and explore the radical aspects of Marx's critique of capitalism.
The first is Wayne Price's The Value of Radical Theory, which, as its subtitle denotes, is an 'anarchist introduction' to Marx's critique of political economy. Lucidly and engagingly written, Price's book attempts to explain, in everyday language, Marx's economic theory. It thus has a useful account of Marx's labour theory of value--Marx always insisted that exploitation under capitalism was inherent in the realm of production rather than in the circulation of goods--as well as interesting discussions on the origins of capitalism, issues around the rise and fall of the rate of profit, and reflections on the state capitalism of the Soviet Union and Maoist China. Price discusses, too, Marx's conception of communism as a 'co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production' (p 140)--and highlights that there is a libertarian and humanistic aspect to Marx's economic and political theory. This contrasts of course, with the political tendencies in Marx's thought that are authoritarian and statist. The libertarian aspects of Marxist theory, as Price indicates, were later developed by council communists such as Anton Pannekoek and Paul Mattick and by autonomist Marxists such as C.L.R. James and Antonio Negri. Both these libertarian tendencies rejected Bolshevism, and emphasised the autonomous self-activity of the working class, or with Negri, the 'multitude' (p 159-160).
But as a social anarchist (libertarian socialist) who acknowledges the crucial importance of class struggle and a 'working class revolution' (p 163), Wayne Price also highlights the serious limitations of Marx's politics.
The book concludes with an interesting appendix on Errico Malatesta's anarchist 'method' for creating an 'anarchist-communist society'. Price cogently explores Malatesta's emphasis on openness, flexibility, pluralism and experimentation. He notes too that Malatesta--rather like Bookchin--refused to call himself a 'communist' after it had been appropriated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and thus came to describe himself as a 'socialist-anarchist' (p 173).
The second book, Sasha Lilley's Capitalism and its Discontents has as its subtitle 'conversations with radical thinkers in a time of tumult'. Most of the chapters that comprise the book originated from a radio programme, 'Against the grain', broadcast in the United States. Thus, as 'conversations' they make for easy reading. The conversations are enhanced by the fact that Lilley takes a back seat and in her interviews with around fifteen radical scholars, she asks intelligent, probing and insightful questions--regarding their writings, their understanding of contemporary capitalism, and their views on the possibility of a sustainable anti-capitalist 'project'.
Most of the contributors to the book have a Marxist background, and include many well-known scholars. Selectively, mention may be made of Ellen Meiksins Wood on capitalism as a form of empire; David Harvey on neoliberalism as a political project; Leo Panitch and his colleagues on globalisation and what has been described as 'cowboy capitalism'; David McNally on the deregulation of the financial markets; and finally, Jason Moore on the relationship between capitalism and the ecological crisis. John Bellamy Foster gives an insightful overview of the ecological dimensions of Marx's thought, while emphasising that the ecological cycles on which life depends simply cannot withstand the ravages of capitalism indefinitely --as the editor clearly puts it (p 23).
But the two chapters that may be of particular interest to anarchists are those of Noam Chomsky and Andrej Grubacic.
Although Chomsky is often described as an anarchist in that he is extremely sceptical of all forms of authority and domination, in fact he is something of a radical democrat, for like the autonomous Marxists, and many contributors to these 'conversations', he has an extremely ambivalent attitude towards the modern state. Chomsky upholds the state--with regard to which, he suggests, we have 'some influence' (p 238)--in contrast to capitalist corporations which he describes as 'private tyrannies' (p 230). But, of course, the power of corporations is dependent upon state power, for the state and capitalism are intrinsically interdependent--as Kropotkin long ago emphasised. That markets depend on states is what capitalism is all about (p 80).
Chomsky emphasises that he is quite happy to be a part of the legacy of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, whose essential premises--particularly in questioning all authority and dominance--were, he suggests, 'basically anarchist' (p 242). It is hardly surprising then that Chomsky has very little sympathy for either postmodernism or the anarcho-primitivism of John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen. Postmodernism, in fact, is well critiqued in the book by John Sanbonmatsu, who suggests that the postmodernist celebration of flux, indeterminacy, flows, fragmentation and the obsession with novelty and difference seems to have close affinities with the actual cultural effects of global capitalism, which, as Marx famously put it, turns 'all that is solid into air'.
The chapter by Andrej Grubacic on libertarian socialism in the twenty-first century sets a very different tone to that of Chomsky.
However, one gets the decided impression from reading contemporary academic accounts of the so-called 'new anarchism' that anarchism went into hibernation after the Spanish civil war only to re-emerge, Phoenix-like, from the ashes, when academic anarchists arrived on the scene during protests and demonstrations in the last decade of the twentieth century. We are also given the impression that the British anarchist tradition in the post-war years consists solely of the writings of such intellectual luminaries as Herbert Read, Alex Comfort and Colin Ward. Whither Vernon Richards, Albert Meltzer, Stuart Christie, Nicholas Walters, Laurens Otter, Geoffrey Ostergaard, not forgetting many anarcho-feminists and the class war anarchists? And were not anarchists intrinsically a part of all protests and demonstrations over the last half century--protests against the Second World War, nuclear weaponry, the Vietnam War, the apartheid system in South Africa, and the poll tax? Grubacic, however, is concerned only with the most recent resurgence and revival of anarchism, and strongly affirms that this 'new' anarchism is a form of libertarian socialism, akin to that of Malatesta and Tarrida Del Marmol in the early years of the twentieth century (p 246).
Both the editor and Grubacic however seem to identify socialism with Marxism (red) in contrast to anarchism (black). But of course, social anarchism (libertarian socialism) was from its inception, as Kropotkin affirmed, both libertarian and socialist, a form of revolutionary socialism.
But in an interesting and informative discussion Grubacic argues that the libertarian socialism which he advocates needs to be not only revolutionary, but also non-sectarian, in embracing diversity--an anarchism without adjectives. And he appears to support the editor Sasha Lilley in suggesting that 'anarchism would be enriched by the understanding of capitalism as a social system provided by the rich tradition of Marxist political economy' (p 21). He even toys with the idea of a synthesis of Marxism and anarchism, and is thus critical of the nihilism and insurrectionist tactics of some anarchists (p 256).
The book as a whole is not only an excellent anti-capitalist treatise, but offers some cogent criticisms of neoliberalism as an ideology.
Both books are highly recommended.
Brian Morris, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Goldsmiths College London
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|Title Annotation:||The Value of Radical Theory: An Anarchist Introduction to Marx's Critique of Political Economy, Capitalism and Its Discontents|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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