By Jonathan Dodds
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Anarchism: A Marxist Criticism

This article is over 10 years, 3 months old
John Molyneux
Issue 362

The last 12 months have seen a new wave of revolt. From “los indignados” in Spain, to the streets of Athens, and from the squares of Egypt to the students who smashed their way into Millbank in London late last year, questions about organisation, leadership and how to relate to the state have been central.

As John Molyneux points out in his introduction, anarchist inspired ideas can be welcome developments to the anti-cuts movements, “bringing imagination and flair” as well as “new tactics and an expanded sense of the possible”. Compared to the stagnant and bureaucratic institutions and parties of the social democratic left, it is easy to see why anarchist (and anarchist-influenced autonomist) ideas are appealing to a whole new layer of young and emerging left wing activists.

Molyneux’s book is split into five manageable sections. He discusses the appeal of anarchism, anarchist ideas, the historical record of anarchism, anarchism today and the way forward. The discussion of the one historical example where anarchism has exercised a major influence inside the working class during a revolution, Spain 1936-7, is particularly revealing.

This short book doesn’t claim to be an advanced or in depth analysis of anarchism or anarchist theory. Molyneux takes on the most common general ideas within anarchist thought which apply to all forms and schools of anarchy.

However, this new book does frame the Marxist arguments about the limitations of anarchism in relation to very recent and very important political events, in Spain, Greece and Britain.

The heart of Molyneux’s argument is that “anarchism cannot win” – it ultimately lacks a credible strategy to turn its ideals and heroism into reality. This is not because humans can never live in equality and without a state machine – history shows otherwise.

It is because anarchism is unable to deal with the unevenness of ideas of workers under capitalism. Capitalist ideology exercises a significant impact on workers’ thinking even as the experience of exploitation and class solidarity opens workers up to different ideas. Nor is it enough to wait for spontaneous struggle to wash away the effect of capitalist ideas in workers’ heads. There is always a battle for leadership inside the workers’ movement, whether acknowledged or not. Denying this simply evades the problem. The real question is how to develop a leadership that helps rather than holds back workers’ struggles and is democratic and accountable.

In a very clear and accessible fashion, this book offers us the essential arguments to discuss with those influenced by anarchism.

Anarchism: a Marxist Criticism is published by Bookmarks, £4.00

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