Everything Is Just Dandy!

Eric Hobsbawm – Anarchists


Author: Eric Hobsbawm
Title: Anarchists
Date: 1973
Notes: From Volume II of Revolutionaries.
Source: Retrieved on 8th June 2022 from www.ditext.com

Bolshevism and the Anarchists

The libertarian tradition of communism — anarchism — has been bitterly hostile to the marxist ever since Bakunin, or for that matter Proudhon. Marxism, and even more leninism, have been equally hostile to anarchism as theory and programme and contemptuous of it as a political movement. Yet if we investigate the history of the international communist movement in the period of the Russian revolution and the Communist International, we find a curious asymmetry. While the leading spokesmen of anarchism maintained their hostility to bolshevism with, at best, a momentary wavering during the actual revolution, or at the moment when the news of October reached them, the attitude of the bolsheviks, in and outside Russia, was for a time considerably more benevolent to the anarchists. This is the subject of the present paper.

The theoretical attitude with which bolshevism approached anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movements after 1917, was quite clear. Marx, Engels and Lenin had all written on the subject, and in general there seemed to be no ambiguity or mutual inconsistency about their views, which may be summarized as follows:

  1. There is no difference between the ultimate objects of marxists and anarchists, i.e. a libertarian communism in which exploitation, classes and the state will have ceased to exist.

  2. Marxists believe that this ultimate stage will be separated from the overthrow of bourgeois power through proletarian revolution, by a more or less protracted interval characterized by the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and other transitional arrangements, in which state power would play some part. There was room for some argument about the precise meaning of the classical marxist writings on these problems of transition, but no ambiguity at all about the marxist view that the proletarian revolution would not give rise immediately to communism, and that the state could not be abolished, but would ‘wither away’. On this point the conflict with anarchist doctrine was total and clearly defined.

  3. In addition to the characteristic readiness of marxists to see the power of a revolutionary state used for revolutionary purposes, marxism was actively committed to a firm belief in the superiority of centralization to decentralization or federalism and (especially in the leninist version), to a belief in the indispensability of leadership, organization and discipline and the inadequacy of any movement based on mere ‘spontaneity’.

  4. Where participation in the formal processes of politics was possible, marxists took it for granted that socialist and communist movements would engage in it as much as in any other activities which could contribute to advance the overthrow of capitalism.

  5. While some marxists developed critiques of the actual or potential authoritarian and/or bureaucratic tendencies of parties based on the classical marxist tradition, none of these critics abandoned their characteristic lack of sympathy for anarchist movements, so long as they considered themselves to be marxists.

The record of the political relations between marxist movements and anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist ones, appeared equally unambiguous in 1917. In fact, these relations had been considerably more acrimonious in the lifetime of Marx, Engels and the Second International than they were to be in that of the Comintern. Marx himself had fought and criticized Proudhon and Bakunin, and the other way round. The major social democratic parties had done their best to exclude anarchists, or been obliged to do so. Unlike the First International, the Second no longer included them, at all events after the London Congress of 1896. Where marxist and anarchist movements coexisted, it was as rivals, if not as enemies. However, though the marxists were intensely exasperated by the anarchists in practice revolutionary marxists, who shared with them an increasing hostility to the reformism of the Second International, tended to regard them as revolutionaries, if misguided ones. This was in line with the theoretical view summarized in (a) above. At least anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism might be regarded as a comprehensible reaction against reformism and opportunism. Indeed, it might be — and was — argued that reformism and anarcho-syndicalism were part of the same phenomenon: without the one, the other would not have gained so much ground. It could further be argued that the collapse of reformism would also automatically weaken anarcho-syndicalism.

It is not clear how far these views of the ideologists and political leaders were shared by the rank-and-file militants and supporters of the marxist movements. We may suppose that the differences were often much less clearly felt at this level. It is a well-known fact that doctrinal, ideological and programmatic distinctions which are of major importance at one level, are of negligible importance at another- e.g. that as late as 1917 ‘social democratic’ workers in many Russian towns were barely if at all aware of the differences between bolsheviks and mensheviks. The historian of labour movements and their doctrines forgets such facts at his peril.