Perspectives on Anarchist Theory

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Vol. 2 - No. 2
Fall, 1998

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We asked Anthony D’Agostino, author of Marxism and the Russian Anarchists (San Francisco: Germinal Press, 1977), to tell us about his favorite critical analysis of Marxism. He writes:

"I see anarchism and Marxism developing at around the same time from the same roots in the ideas of the Enlightenment and French Revolution, and I see their interaction as the key feature of the Russian and Spanish Revolutions. The Anarchist critique has a kind of class analysis that I think is scientifically interesting. Bakunin warned that Marxism in power would create, not the emancipation of labor, but a regime of state functionaries and engineers, actually the rule of scientific intellect. Excerpts of his writings on this may be found in Sam Dolgoff, Bakunin on Anarchy (Montreal: Black Rose, 1980). These are the clearest and fullest in English translation. The best biographies are those of Max Nettlau, the ‘Herodotus of Anarchism’ and Yuri Steklov, who called Bakunin "the founder of the idea of Soviet power"!

"Jan Waclaw Machajski, in his ambitious theoretical study of 1906, The Intellectual Worker, which has never been translated from the Russian, took Bakunin’s idea several steps further. Education itself was akin to capital in that its ownership permitted a class existence at the expense of the proletariat. The Intelligentsia, that is, the whole class comprised of white collar workers, professionals, civil servants, administrative and technical personnel, was a parasitic layer whose true interests were most precisely articulated by Marxism. There is a translation of some of Machajski in V.F. Calverton, The Making of Society (New York: Modern Library, 1937) and an exegesis by his disciple Max Nomad in many works, including Rebels and Renegades, Aspects of Revolt, and Apostles of Revolution. Academic studies of Machajski include those by Paul Avrich, Marshall Shatz, and myself.

"You might suppose that the anarchists would have reacted to Bolshevism with horror, but this was not the case. Their critique of Marxism was really directed against the Social Democratic Marxist parties of the Second International. They saw Bolshevism, which broke with the International as a "social patriotic" organization, as a splendid alternative, at least at first. Many of the most prominent anarchists joined the Communists, the scourge of the intelligentsia. Machajski himself went this way. The further disillusionment and liquidation of the Russian anarchists would ensue. It can be followed in Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary (New York, Writers & Readers, 1984). Serge’s attempt to reconcile anarchism and Marxism makes his account more interesting than G.P. Maksimoff’s Guillotine at Work, which catalogues anarchist victimization but fails to report on Maksimoff’s support for the Soviets and his near-Bolshevik idea of workers’ control."