I do not believe that there is in fact much disagreement between Marxists and Anarchists; rather there is disagreement between anarchists and Leninists in all their guises and it is this disagreement which I will be focusing on. The disagreements center around but are not exclusive to the question of the state. I will first assess general Marxian ideas before moving on specifically to Leninism. Marxists in general hold that the state is an expression of class antagonisms which serves the interests of whichever class controls it. Under capitalism it serves the interests of the capitalist class by enforcing private property and the exploitation of the working class. Thus the overthrow of capitalism requires the seizing of state power by the working class in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The state only disappears from social life once all class antagonisms are ended and the state is rendered unnecessary.
The problem with traditional Marxist analysis is that the state is not exclusively an expression of class antagonisms, rather it is an expression of violence and coercion in general which often takes the form of class violence but is not exclusively determined by those who own the means of production or the given economic system of the specific society. This can be seen by the fact that within a patriarchal, racist or homophobic society the state will oppress women, ethnic minorities and queers despite the fact that these forms of oppression are social in character rather than economic. Moreover, during the Vietnam War the business community demanded that the war be ended after the Tet offensive of 1968 because it showed that the war could go on for a long time and thus be too costly. This demand was ignored by US power and the war continued until 1975. What we can infer from this is that the state has a will of its own outside the interests of the capitalist class. The will of the state is the will of oppression.
There is also an error in class analysis. Marxists in their analysis ignore the class which lies between capital and labour, namely the co-ordinator class which is composed of educated professionals, managers and technocrats who monopolies empowering and appealing work and consequently possess far more status, power and prestige than those on the factory floor. The co-ordinator class should be seen as the workers above the workers. Thus when according to Leninist theory the workers lead by the vanguard seize control of the state apparatus what actually happens is that the co-ordinator class, which makes up the bulk of the vanguard, seize control of the state in the name of the working class and in so doing become the new ruling class. The dictatorship of the proletariat mutates into the dictatorship of the co-ordinator class over the proletariat.
This process can be seen in the Russian Revolution and the actions of Lenin in particular. Prior to the October Revolution Lenin’s work is somewhat libertarian in nature. In ‘The Task of the Proletariat in Our Revolution’ published September 1917 Lenin tells us that the republic of soviets as he describes it is a “type of democratic state, the kind of state which in certain respects, to quote Engels, ceases to be a state…This is a state of the type of the Paris Commune.”
However in practice things are very much different. After the October revolution the character of Lenin’s work dramatically changes and becomes ever more authoritarian and opposed to worker control. On November the 3rd Lenin announced in a Draft Decree on Worker’s control that delegates elected to exercise worker control were to be “answerable to the state for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for the protection of property.” As the year ended, Lenin noted that “we passed from workers’ control to the creation of the Supreme Council of National Economy,” which was to “replace, absorb and supersede the machinery of workers’ control”. In 1918 Lenin wrote that “Unquestioning submission to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of labour processes that are based on large-scale machine industry…today the Revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process”. What Lenin just quite literally said in that quote is that it is in the interests of socialism to destroy socialism because a key tenant of socialism is worker control of the means of production and thus if you move against workers control you move against socialism. While a month or so later Lenin demanded “obedience… during work to the one-man decisions of Soviet directors, of the dictators elected or appointed by Soviet institutions, vested with dictatorial powers.” From the writings of Lenin himself and not what may be labelled as ‘imperialist propaganda’ we can conclude that Lenin deeply opposed worker control.
Not only did Lenin oppose worker control but he, alongside Trotsky, supported Taylorism a doctrine of scientific management of production which was very popular among capitalists of the time. The aims of Taylorism are to reduce worker control and turn workers into the talking tools of management; Taylor complains that under traditional forms of management which are bad enough “practically the whole problem is up to the workman” while under Taylorism he continues “fully one-half of the problem is up to the management”. It is clear then that all of this is the opposite of worker control and if by socialism we mean worker control it follows from this that Lenin, alongside Trotsky and the Bolsheviks actively moved to destroy and did in fact destroy socialism in Russia. What they put in the place of socialism was what has been called a form of state capitalism, namely when the state becomes the employer of all and the manager of the business world is replaced by the party bureaucrat. From this I believe that we should conclude that the state cannot democratically control industry and because of this we should reject the idea that an intermediary stage of state control is required in order to protect socialism because the historic record shows that the state destroys socialism.
Moreover, in anarchist controlled regions of Spain during the revolution of 1936 economic efficiency improved and production increased despite the fact that prior to the revolution Spain, like Russia, was a highly un- industrialised country more akin to feudalism than to the capitalist countries of its day. Nor was anarchist control of production within Spain small scale. The CNT had a membership of 2 million and it is estimated that between 5 and 7 million people out of the country’s total population of 24 million were involved in the wider social revolution. At its peak 100% of Catalonia’s industry and public services and 70% of Levante’s industry were collectivised and a total of 1,600 agricultural collectives were formed. We can thus reject Marxist arguments that state tyranny is required out of necessity due to the needs of industrialisation.
What then is the anarchist position on revolution? Anarchists advocate revolution from below and the self-emancipation of the working class. If we seek a future society based on freedom liberty and equality then the means by which we reach such a society must mirror these values, if they do not then the society created is very much likely to be based on tyranny, oppression and inequality. Leninist vanguard thus produces authoritarian dictatorship by party officials. In place of the top down vanguard and political party anarchists advocate horizontal decentralised federations of affinity groups who educate, agitate and participate in direct action, appropriate to the needs of their individual members and the community in which they struggle. Alongside these affinity groups are anarcho-syndicalist unions which seek to undermine existing institutions by struggling for better pay and conditions while at the same time becoming something more than a mere defender and protector of the worker. The anarcho-syndicalist union looks beyond the struggle for everyday wages and aims to ensure that the shop committee and union become the fields of preparation for a new economic system and a new social life through the education and development of its workers. The skills of self-management thus become a skill of everyday life. The agitation and action of affinity groups and syndicalist unions culminate in the social revolution and the general strike in which the means of production are seized by workers and community councils while popular assemblies render the state non-existent. I do not pretend that this answer to the question of social change is definitive and absolute but it is the best one can manage in a few short minutes.
I wish to end by saying this. If you consider yourself a socialist and if by socialism you mean worker control then you ought to reject Leninism. If by socialism you do not mean worker control then if that is socialism I am not a socialist. Nor is it the case that one must reject Marxist theory in order to agree with certain anarchist principles as shown by the left communist tradition within Marxism itself. The point at which Marxists and Anarchists agree on the importance of worker control and emancipation from below is the point at which antagonism between these two different social philosophies will come to an end.
Brinton, Maurice. The Bolsheviks and Worker’s Control – The State and Counter-Revolution. (1970)
Chomsky, Noam. The Soviet Union Versus Socialism (1986)
Maxmov, Grigori Petrovitch. Bolshevism: Promises and Reality (1935)
Lenin, Vladimir. The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government (1918 )
Lenin, Vladimir. The Task of the Proletariat in Our Revolution (1917)
Lenin, Vladimir. Six Thesis on The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government (1918)
Taylor, Frederick Winslow. Principles of Scientific Management (1911)