January 25, 2009

Socialism's Either/Or

I have no political affiliation, I am not left or right. I am not a socialist, a libertarian, a marxist, or any of these labels/models of perceiving the world. I have taken this stance not out of conviction but out of ignorance. I view each system/model/label as a pair of glasses that I put on to see reality better. Sometimes when I'm looking at the economic reality the Austrian theory of the business cycle helps me see very clearly. But then I take them off because I don't want to keep on one pair of glasses for an extended period of time. I like to experiment and see the world through many different models; they each contribute to my understanding and help me see the overall picture more clearly. I don't like to dismiss any social theory for critiquing society until I've tried on particular glasses at least more than once. There are some glasses that quickly wear off and you immediately realize the inconsistency in the arguments and your vision flags . Other times you can have on one set of glasses for a very long time and you can still clearly as when you first put them on.

With all that out of the way, I like to draw you to the split within socialism, between marxism and libertarian socialism. One favors the use of the state, while the other believes the state is and always will be a corrupting institution because it is an illegitimate power. I'm in the second camp, but I'm never completely sure of my position, thus I'm rarely sure on these matters. I have no political experience or any extended knowledge of socialism and anarchism and their benefits so I am always willing to learn and take everything in. But sometimes that is not always the wisest approach to pursue because of you take everything in then you're likely to swallow alot of bullshit. But my stomach is intolerant of bullshit and I throw all that up within a 24 hour period. So if I say something stupid today then please believe that it will be out of my system tomorrow.

Below is a brief passage from an essay by the historian Eric Hobsbawm called "Bolshevism and the Anarchists", written in 1969. I copied it from his book "Revolutionaries."

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:
(a) 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.
(b) Marxists believe that this ultimate stage will be seperated 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 not 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 was total and clearly defined.
(c) In addition to the characteristic readiness of marxists to see the pwoer of a revolutionary state used fo revolutionary purposes, marxism was actively committed to a firm belief in the superiority of centralization to decentralization or federalism and (especially in the leninst version), to a belief in the indispensability of leadership, organization and discipline and the inadeuqacy of any movement based on mere 'spontaneity'.
(d) 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 would contribute to advance the overthrow of capitalism.
(e) 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.

In addition, read the following statements from the 19th century French anarchist Ernest Lesigne which appeared in Le Radical and were translated by Benjamin Tucker. Below is a small excerpt, you can read the entire passage at Shawn Wilbur's blog In the Libertarian Labyrinth. I first became aware of Mr. Wilbur's post through Check Your Premises blog.

There are two Socialisms.
One is communistic, the other solidaritarian.
One is dictatorial, the other libertarian.
One is metaphysical, the other positive.
One is dogmatic, the other scientific.
One is emotional, the other reflective.
One is destructive, the other constructive.
Both are in pursuit of the greatest possible welfare for all.
One aims to establish happiness for all, the other to enable each to be happy in his own way.
The first regards the State as a society sui generis, of an especial essence, the product of a sort of divine right outside of and above all society, with special rights and able to exact special obediences; the second considers the State as an association like any other, generally managed worse than others.
The first proclaims the sovereignty of the State, the second recognizes no sort of sovereign.
One wishes all monopolies to be held by the State; the other wishes the abolition of all monopolies.
One wishes the governed class to become the governing class; the other wishes the disappearance of classes.
Both declare that the existing state of things cannot last.
Read the rest.