REVOLUTION wants to build a movement that can overthrow this system and create a society based on equality and freedom. But we are Marxists not Anarchists. This article explains the difference between Marxism and Anarchism on one crucial question: the state.
We reject these criticisms completely. Our criticism of the anarchists is entirely different.
We agree with the anarchists that States do not exist to hold things together or to protect ordinary people from crime. They exist to defend the property and privileges of the rich. In a society based on real equality, a genuinely communist society in which scarcity, poverty and class divisions had been overcome, it would be possible to administer the economy, and to plan the production and distribution of goods, without the need for any special state apparatus separated from the population. As for crime, most of it is directly caused by poverty anyway. Any genuinely anti-social crime such as rape or violence could be dealt with much more effectively by the community itself than by any police force.
Our difference with the anarchists is not about what might be possible in a future society. It is about how to get a new society in the first place. That is why we do not believe that the state can simply be abolished. Before we can get rid of the state altogether, it will at first be necessary to create a new type of state.
This sounds like a contradiction. But in reality it is the only revolutionary way forward.
Our starting point is to understand everything in terms of class. Under the present system, society is divided into two main classes. The capitalists are a tiny minority – they own factories, banks and land, all the main blocks of shares… in short they control the overwhelming majority of wealth in society. But the wealth is produced by the other main class – the working class. The workers are the overwhelming majority. They have nothing but a few possessions paid for out of hard earned wages. Unlike the capitalists, all they have to sel1 is the ability to work They produce everything – the capitalists own it.
We view the state from this standpoint. The entire state apparatus – the army, police, judges and faceless civil servants – is nothing more than an instrument for the rule of one class by another. Stripped of all the usual flowery phrases about democracy, patriotism and the rule of law which are used to cover up what the state is really about, we want to see it for what it is. At the end of the day, the state is nothing more nor less than armed force in defence of property.
Before we can abolish classes and plan production for need instead of greed, the private property of the minority must become the public property of the majority.
This means that the capitalist state will have to be smashed and the capitalists’ property will have to be confiscated. The division of society into classes will not disappear immediately – instead the working class will need to use new laws and direct force to stop the capitalists from holding onto their wealth and from trying to get it back
In short, the working class will become the ruling class. We will need our armed force in defence of our property a workers’ state.
At this point anarchists will object. Wouldn’t this just be as bad as the old state? We say it would not – it would be radically different. Unlike the capitalist state, a workers’ state will be an instrument for the rule of the overwhelming majority over a handful of former exploiters. Such a state will need no special apparatus of secret repression, no standing professional army set up against the people, no secret permanent bureaucracy. It will base its power on the armed population and on the broadest democratic control by the working class through democratic workers’ councils, able to directly elect its delegates and recall them as soon as the workers want to.
To anarchists who are serious about wanting to change society, we pose a question. How will you deal with the capitalists once they have been driven from power? Will the people be entitled to organise to stop them raising private armies and resisting the will of the majority? If so, then that organisation – whatever you might prefer to call it – would to all intents and purposes be a state. It would be an apparatus designed to enable one class to rule over another. But this time the tables would be turned. The state would be nothing more than the organised power of working people.
But – runs the last-ditch defence of the anarchists – power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! How could we stop that happening?
The Bolsheviks had to tackle that problem when they established a workers’ state after the Russian Revolution of 1917. They adopted four principles:
- No privileges. No official could receive more in wages than the average skilled worker.
- Rotation of official duties to stop a fixed layer of bureaucrats emerging.
- All working people were to bear arms so that the revolution could be protected from threatens from both the outside and from within.
- All power was to be in the hands of workers’ councils, whose delegates should be elected from the workplaces and working class areas, who would have to report back to mass meetings and who could be replaced by the workers at any time, not just once every five years like in British elections today.
The Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin summed this all up when he said “when everyone is a bureaucrat, no-one is a bureaucrat”. The whole idea was that once all private capitalist property was abolished and once attempts by the capitalists to recapture their property had been defeated, the old capitalist class would gradually die out. Their children and descendants would be forced to work like everyone else The whole need for a special apparatus to rule on behalf of one class over another – even on behalf of the working class – would disappear. The government of persons would become replaced by “the administration of things”. The workers’ state would gradually wither away altogether.
The Russian revolution went wrong. Stalin and his supporters abolished every shred of working class democracy and control – power passed into the hands of a monstrous regiment of bureaucrats. But the reason for this was not that the mass of the workers were corrupted by having too much power. It was that the workers’ councils and mass control were undermined because of Russia having to fight to defend its revolution against the armies of 14 capitalist countries in a devastating war, and because the revolution did not spread. Russia was a backward country and could not build socialism on its own. A whole layer of middlemen and bureaucrats emerged.
The way to avoid this in the future is to build a strong international movement so that the next country in which the workers take power will not be isolated for long, but will soon be joined by other countries. By contrast, the anarchist conclusion is not to build any sort of state in the first place – not even a democratic workers’ state. But that way the capitalists will never be stopped when they try to get their property back – something they will definitely try to do.
By opposing the whole idea of the state in case it goes wrong, the anarchists are rejecting something which is essential if the workers are to have a chance of beating the bosses and building a classless socialist society. This is like a football team refusing to kick the ball. That way you are guaranteed against scoring an own goal – but you stand no chance of winning the match.
This is not just an academic argument. During the Spanish revolution of 1936-39 the influence of anarchists helped to prevent the working class from winning victory. In the Spanish Republic, the working class responded to a fascist rebellion in 1936 by seizing control of the factories and taking arms into their own hands.
Meanwhile the peasants took control of the land away from the rich landlords. The opportunity was there for the working class to take power and build socialism.
The anarchist movement was very strong in Spain at the time, in the form of the anarchist trade union the CNT. But the government of the Spanish Republic was made up of parties that wanted to stop the working class taking over political power – including Stalin’s puppets in the Communist Party. By I937 the government felt strong enough to try to break the control of the workers over the factories and workplaces. In Barcelona – the heart of the revolution – the government sent troops in to drive the workers out of their telephone exchange. But the workers weren’t having it. They responded with a general strike.
This was the time to bring the revolution to a head. The workers’ own democratic organisations needed to launch an uprising and take political power, establishing a workers’ state. That would have been the only way to secure their control of the factories and land and stop them being handed back to the control of the capitalists. But the anarchist leaders (yes, in reality they do have leaders, just like every movement!) rejected this. Because they were anarchists, they were against the whole idea of a workers’ state. But there was no other way forward. So they ordered their supporters to return to work, and some anarchist leaders even joined the capitalist government!
The opportunity was missed to build a democratic workers’ state. Exactly as the Trotskyists (Marxists who were opposed to Stalin) warned at the time, this left the capitalists free to regain control. The workers were defeated and the fascist revolt won out in the end. Spain had to suffer over 30 years off fascism, and it remains a capitalist country today.
The lesson is that there can be no lasting victories for the working class and no chance of socialism without the working class fighting for workers’ power and a workers’ state.
Despite sounding very revolutionary, the problem with anarchism is that it is not revolutionary enough.