Bukharin and Anarchism
The Bolsheviks could never bear if the proletariat organized itself independently of them. Each Bolshevik “brains trust” had written his inquisitory report about his understanding of anarchism. The denunciations reach from Lenin to Bordiga. Their absurd accusations and views feed on the same bourgeois rubbish-shoot, on the museum of the dead ideologies. When they took the power, they started to take their theories seriously, and as “brave Marxists” they began to act with the army behind them. This led to the partial liquidation of the proletarian movement. The anarchist movements in had been unorganized and divided (from the Kropotkinists to the syndicalists), but in the fire of attacks they slowly began to recover consciousness. At first, most of them had marched together with the Bolsheviks, but when the spectres of the Kremlin started to nationalise and established the Cheka, they were frightened and played alarm. An anonymous anarchist pamphlet from 1918 argues this way: “Bolshevism proves day by day, step by step, that state power has inalienable features; it can change its label, its ‘theory’ and its servants, but in the essence, it takes merely a new form of power and despotism.” At time of the Brest-Litovsk conclusion of peace, the divergences became even sharper. The anarchists opposed the conclusion of peace, they answered to the critiques of Lenin: “the defence of the revolution has to be done by partisan units and by the organized masses of the people, and not by the official armies”. On February the 23rd, the anarcho-communist revolutionary Alexander Ge made a speech in the assembly of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, where he said: “Anarcho-communists propagate terror and partisan war on both fronts; it’s better to die for the world revolution, than living longer as a result of the German imperialist pact.” In front of the capital’s domination, the Bolshevik power “capitulated” – in the reality, he fulfilled his mission. The anarchists started to organize irregular troops. In 11th and 12th of April, the Bolsheviks occupied the anarchist headquarters. The units of the Cheka clashed with the anarchist proletarians, whose press was banned, and whose activists were massacred or shoved into clink. According to the anarchists, the Bolsheviks were traitors, this blindness costed the lives of several thousand comrades… The Bolsheviks didn’t betray anything, because their party had never stood on the side of the revolution, and the class-struggle movement wasted a lot of energy and time until it clarified its stand towards the Bolshevik party. Everywhere in the world, several millions of proletarians landed on the airports of Bolshevism, but shortly, they could feel its “good deeds” on their skin… “Lenin built its October throne on our bones” – realized so many people after. Nothing proves better the plasticism (and the capacity of self-adaptation) of bolshevism, than the fact, that at the time of the conclusion of peace in , its left-wing fractions came into antagonism with the leadership. Bukharin and the leftists around the Communist journal (Osinsky, Smirnov etc.) stood on the side of the revolutionary war, they regarded the conclusion of peace as a betrayal of the world revolution. The leftists revolted always within the Bolshevik frameworks, and didn’t get out from the walls of Bolshevism. So, Bukharin at first had disputed, had upheld his opinion for a time, then he surrendered and – becoming an ideologist of the NEP – he was heading to disaster. During the Bolshevik horror of the 30’s, in his inquisition process he became a victim of his own system, playing the role of a miserable clown. The counter-revolution devours its children…
Bukharin wrote his article “Anarchy and scientific communism” in 1918, during his “radical” period. In it, he is worthy of his Marxist predecessors, who were only able to qualify the anarchists as petty-bourgeois, harmful, bourgeois-minded individualists. This article begins with the same. In the social-democratic sanctuary, the abusing of the anarchists occupies a special place and has a special function. As we have sketched out, this led directly to their harassment, and the anarchist militants came into conflict with the new ruling class…
We reject the debates of the First International as attempts to divide the movement, we reject this “noble and disgusting” tradition, which was bequeathed by the true revolutionary camp to the posterity, and which was maintained by social democracy and the Proudhonist-Kropotkinist currents. During the First World War it became clear, that these two are the same: the left-wing aid-de-camp of the bourgeois imperialist war. The exceptions were the German-Dutch internationalists and those Bolsheviks, who formulated the slogan of “revolutionary struggle against the war”. But as we know, what Lenin and his comrades had thought to be revolutionary in 1915, was abandoned by them in 1918 as useless for the maintaining of their power. The times had changed: it’s not the same to fight for the gaining of power and for its maintaining (are they really different? they need different political behaviour, different tactics, but the essence is the same). The Bolshevik poundmasters did everything to break the struggle of our class. While in 1918 Bukharin is chattering about the internationalist struggle, he writes this article. He recalls the virtual contradictions between communism and anarchism – virtual, because his deductions are idealist, and he builds his views on theory… His picture of anarchism is false and mendacious, even if the divergences in the movement really existed and exist, and only a few militants recognized the real identity beyond the egoist division (Joseph Dietzgen, Domela Nieuwenhuis and Ervin Szabó, for example). Bukharin – as an “excellent professor of dialectics” – examines everything from a theoretical point of view, and his ideas will be denied soon by the events in, which he can see with his own eyes. And they were already denied by those proletarian movements, which could swing over the captious and merely theoretical debates. (It is enough to mention here the quite unknown Radical Socialists in Hungary, the Chicago-based International Working Peoples’ Association, the struggle of the proletarian militants around Ricardo Flores Magón or some elements of the IWW.) The denial was partially present in the struggle of the Makhnovtshina itself, against both the white guardist and the Bolshevik section of capitalism was fighting. This proletarian army – with its strength, its inventiveness, its mistakes and its will of centralization – fought for long against the overwhelming numerical superiority. There and then it was the Makhnovtshina, which most solidly represented the party of the proletariat, that part of our class, which managed to organize itself into a fighting unity. The proletarian dictatorship started to come to itself, without party membership cards and without “everlasting assemblies”. Without top and bottom, without leaders and those being led. Breaking the Bolshevik handcuffs of servitude and submission. This is still not realized by the most of the Marxists. Why? Because they would confront their own bureaucratic dogmas and the pure fact that collaterally with their vision, there were real revolutionary events. The article is also interesting from this point of view. Bukharin recalls the usual clichés about the state and revolution, the proletarian dictatorship and power, about the role of the proletariat as the new ruling class. But who is the enemy, if the class relations are already abolished? Proletarian dictatorship means the abolition of class relations, so against whom will be the proletariat the ruling class? The Bolsheviks had also an answer to this question: “proletarian dictatorship” meant for them the seizure of power over the productive forces by the Bolshevik party, and by taking the leadership of the capitalist production to their own hands, by exploiting the proletariat, they maintained the domination of capital. But this has nothing to do with the dictatorship of the proletariat, this is nothing else than democracy: the dictatorship of labour, commodity and value over our lives! In his article, the party’s “devil of a fellow” presents the anarchists as collaborators of the bourgeoisie – justifying their harassment. Then we can hear such charges which were used also by other social democrats: the anarchists have become the hotbed of the “bands of expropriators” (see for example those excellent comrades, anarchist groups, who really exacted a ransom from their capitalist masters and/or killed them, who from the beginning of the 1900’s plundered all over the Ukraine and Belorussia, never worked, and distributed among the proletarians the food, clothes and other necessary stuffs which they had obtained in the actions). So he accuses the starving and spoiled of private expropriation. “Comrade Bukharin”, according to you, is that revolutionary? Really, survival in itself is not revolutionary – but it still is, because this acts show, that the capitalist relations didn’t manage to exile us to the coffin. And the “expropriators” used up jointly what they had taken back from the bourgeoisie, and they could continue and spread the struggle. (In 1904, the newspaper of the Bund reports that the anarchists of Belostok have become spectres for the local bourgeoisie.)
Within the circumstances of , we criticize quite often the backwardness of the Hungarian revolutionaries. But there are important exceptions. Ervin Szabó, the Marxist-anarchist wrote an article about Marx and Bakunin, in which he emphasizes the identity of the “Marxian communism” and the “anarchism of Bakunin”. This contribution was written among the “provincial conditions” of in 1908. Bukharin writes a counter-revolutionary broshure in the middle of the revolution, and the “radical of ” incites to fight against anarchism. He knew that revolutionary struggle is a big “rival” for them. We finish our preface with a comradely cry from this period, which can also be a motto of our revolutionary struggle in the future:
Arise then people!
Destroy the parasites who torment you!
Destroy all who oppress you!
Create your happiness yourself… Do not trust your fate to anyone…
Arise people! Create Anarchy and the Commune!
(Vestnik Anarkhii, 14 July 1918)
Barricade Collective, June 2005
Nikolai Bukharin: Anarchy and Scientific Communism
Economic ruin, the decline of production, are undeniably accompanied by the decline of healthy proletarian psychology; all of which – tending to drag the proletariat down to the level of a ragged mob and turning outstanding worker elements, with a record of productive activity, into declassed individuals – makes for a situation that more or less favours anarchist tendencies. On top of that, the social democrats have obscured and created confusion about anarchy with their adulteration of Marx. As a result, it is our belief that there is a need to spell out what separates Marxist, or scientific, communism from anarchist teachings.
Let’s begin with our own “final objective” and that of the anarchists. According to the way the problem is posed at present, communism and socialism presuppose the conservation of the state, whereas “anarchy”, eliminates the state. “Advocates” of the state, as against “adversaries” of the state: that is how the “contrast” between Marxists and anarchists is usually depicted.
One must recognise that such an impression of the “contrast” is not the work of the anarchists alone. The social democrats are also very much to blame for it. Talk about “the state of the future” and “the people’s state” has had widespread currency in the realm of ideas and the phraseology of democracy. Furthermore, some social democrat parties always strive to lay special emphasis on their “statist” nature. The catchphrase of Austrian social democracy used to be “We are the true representatives of the state”. That sort of thinking was spread by others, too, apart from the Austrian party. In a way, it was a commonplace at an international level, and still is to this day, insofar as the old parties have not yet been thoroughly liquidated. And of course, this “state learning” has nothing to do with the revolutionary communist teachings of Marx.
Scientific communism sees the state as the organisation of the ruling class, an instrument of oppression and violence, and it is on these grounds that it does not countenance a “state of the future”. In the future there will be no classes, there will be no class oppression, and thus no instrument of that oppression, no state of violence. The “classless state” – a notion that turns the heads of social democrats – is a contradiction in terms, a nonsense, an abuse of language, and if this notion is the spiritual nourishment of the social democracy it is really no fault of the great revolutionaries Marx and Engels.
Communist society is, as such, a STATELESS society. If this is the case – and there is no doubt that it is – then what, in reality, does the distinction between anarchists and Marxist communists consist of? Does the distinction, as such, vanish at least when it comes to examining the problem of the society to come and the “ultimate goal”?
No, the distinction does exist; but it is to be found elsewhere; and can be defined as a distinction between production centralised under large trusts and small, decentralised production.
We communists believe not only that the society of the future must free itself of the exploitation of man, but also that it will have to ensure for man the greatest possible independence of the nature that surrounds him, that it will reduce to a minimum “the time spent of socially necessary labour”, developing the social forces of production to a maximum and likewise the productivity itself of social labour.
Our ideal solution to this is centralised production, methodically organised in large units and, in the final analysis, the organisation of the world economy as a whole. Anarchists, on the other hand, prefer a completely different type of relations of production; their ideal consists of tiny communes which by their very structure are disqualified from managing any large enterprises, but reach “agreements” with one another and link up through a network of free contracts. From an economic point of view, that sort of system of production is clearly closer to the medieval communes, rather than the mode of production destined to supplant the capitalist system. But this system is not merely a retrograde step: it is also utterly utopian. The society of the future will not be conjured out of a void, nor will it be brought by a heavenly angel. It will arise out of the old society, out of the relations created by the gigantic apparatus of finance capital. Any new order is possible and useful only insofar as it leads to the further development of the productive forces of the order which is to disappear. Naturally, further development of the productive forces is only conceivable as the continuation of the tendency of the productive process of centralisation, as an intensified degree of organisation in the “administration of things” that replaces the bygone “government of men”.
Well now – the anarchist will reply – the essence of the state consists precisely of centralisation and since you keep the centralisation of production, you must also keep the state apparatus, the power of violence, in short, “authoritarian relations”.
That reply is incorrect, for it presupposes an unscientific but, rather, wholly infantile conception of the state. The state, just like capital, is not an object but a relationship between social classes. It is the class relationship obtaining between he who rules and he who is ruled. This relationship is the very essence of the state. Should this relationship cease, the state would cease to exist. To see in centralisation an essential feature of the state is to make the same mistake as is made by those who regard the means of production as capital. The means of production become capital only when they are a monopoly in the hands of one class and serve to exploit another class on the basis of wage labour, that is to say, when these means of production are the expression of the social relationships of class oppression and class economic exploitation. In themselves, the means of production are something to be admired, the instruments of man’s struggle against nature. It is understood, then, that not only will they not vanish in the society of the future, but, for the first time ever, they will enjoy the place they deserve.
Of course, there was a time in the labour movement when the workers were not yet clear on the difference between the machine as a means of production and the machine as capital, that is, as a means of oppression. Nonetheless, at that time the workers tended not to do away with private ownership of the machines, but to destroy the machines themselves, so as to return to primitive manual means of labour.
There is an analogy here with the position of anarchists “who are class conscious” on the centralisation of production. Seeing that capitalist centralisation is a method of oppression, they protest, in their simplicity, against all centralisation of production in general; their infantile naivety confuses the essence of the thing with its social, historical, outward form.
And so the distinction between us communists and the anarchists with regard to bourgeois society lies not in that we are for the state and they are against the state, but rather in that we favour production being centralised in large units, fitted to the maximum development of productive forces, whereas anarchists favour small, decentralised production which cannot raise, but only lower, the level of these productive forces.
The second essential issue that divides communists and anarchists is their attitude to the dictatorship of the proletariat. In between capitalism and “the society of the future” lies a whole period of class struggles, the period during which the last remains of bourgeois society will be rooted out, and the class attacks provoked by the bourgeoisie – already fallen, but still resisting – fought off. The experience of the October revolution has shown that, even after it has been “thrown on its back on the ground”, the bourgeoisie still uses what resources remain to it, to go on fighting against the workers; and that, ultimately, it relies on international reaction in such a way that the final victory of the workers will be possible only when the proletariat has freed the whole world of the capitalist rabble and completely suffocated the bourgeoisie.
For this reason, it is quite natural that the proletariat makes use of an organisation for its struggle. The bigger, the stronger and the more solid this organisation is, the more rapidly will the final victory be won. Such a transitional organisation is the proletarian state, the power and the rule of the workers, their dictatorship.
Like all power, the power of the proletarians is likewise organised violence. Like all states, the proletarian state is likewise an instrument of oppression. Of course, there is no need to be so circumspect about the question of violence. Such circumspection is best left to the good Christian or the Tolstoyan, not the revolutionary. In coming down for or against violence, there is a need to see who it is directed against. Revolution and counter-revolution are acts of violence in equal measure, but to renounce revolution for that reason would be nonsensical.
The same thing applies when we come to the question of power and the proletariat’s authoritarian violence. Certainly, this violence is a means of oppression, but one employed against the bourgeoisie. That implies a system of reprisals, but these reprisals in their turn are likewise directed against the bourgeoisie. Whenever the class struggle reaches its point of maximum tension and becomes civil war, one cannot go around talking about individual liberty; rather, one must talk about the need to systematically repress the exploiter class.
The proletariat must choose between two things: either it crushes the dislodged bourgeoisie once and for all and defends itself against their international allies, or it does not. In the first instance, the work must be organised, conducted in a systematic fashion and taken as far as resources allow. To do this the proletariat needs an organised force, whatever the cost. That force is the state power of the proletariat.
Class differences do not vanish from the world at the stroke of a pen. The bourgeoisie does not vanish as a class after it loses political power. Similarly, the proletariat is always proletariat, even after its victory. Of course, it has assumed its position as ruling class. It has to maintain that position or merge with the rest of society, which is profoundly hostile towards it. That is the problem as it arises historically and there are no two ways of resolving it. The sole solution is this: as the motive force behind the revolution, the proletariat has a duty to hold on to its dominant position until it has succeeded in remoulding other classes in its image. Then – and only then – the proletariat dismantles its state organisation and the state “dies out”.
The anarchists take a different stand on the question of this transitional period and the difference between us and them boils down, in effect, to being for or against the PROLETARIAN COMMON-STATE, for or against the DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT.
For anarchists all power, let alone general power, is unacceptable whatever the circumstances because it amounts to oppression even if directed against the bourgeoisie. For this reason, and at the current stage in the development of the revolution, anarchists are at one with the bourgeoisie and collaborationist parties in raising a furore against the power of the proletariat. Whenever anarchists cry out against the power of the proletariat they cease to be the “leftists” or “radicals” they are usually labelled; on the contrary, they turn into bad revolutionaries, unwilling to lead an organised systematic class struggle against the bourgeoisie. In renouncing the dictatorship of the proletariat, they deprive themselves of the most valid weapon in the struggle; in fighting against that dictatorship, they disorganise the proletariat’s forces, snatching their weapons from their grasp and, objectively, give succour to the bourgeoisie and its agents, the social traitors.
It is easy to detect just what the fundamental notion is that accounts for the anarchists’ stance on the society of the future and their stance on the dictatorship of the proletariat; it boils down to their aversion – as a matter of principle, so to speak – to the technique of systematic, organised mass action.
It follows from anarchist theory that the consistent anarchist must be averse to soviet power and fight against it. But, given that such a stance would be clearly absurd for workers and peasants, the number of anarchists whose principles lead them to such a position is not great; on the contrary, there are anarchists quite satisfied to take a seat in the supreme legislature and executive of the state power of the proletariat, namely in the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet.
That this is a contradiction is obvious, a departure from the true anarchist viewpoint. But it is understood that the anarchists cannot have any special affection for the Soviets. At best, they merely “exploit them” and are ever ready to dismantle them. From this situation arises a further, rather far-reaching practical difference: as far as we are concerned, the chief task is to give the power of the mass proletarian organisations – the Workers’ Councils – the widest possible base by strengthening and organising them; whereas the anarchists have consciously to obstruct that work.
We also differ widely in the courses we take in the province of what shape economic praxis ought to take during the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The fundamental condition for economic victory over capitalism consists of ensuring that the “expropriation of the expropriators” does not degenerate into an atomisation, even should it be into equal shares. Any new shareout produces small property holders, but big capitalist property grows out of small property, and in this way a shareout of the possessions of the rich leads, of necessity, to a rebirth of that same class of the rich.
It is up to the working class not to carry out a shareout that would favour the petite bourgeoisie and the ragged mob, but to see that the means of production to be expropriated are used socially and collectively in a systematic, organised fashion.
And that, in turn, is only possible where expropriation is effected in an organised way, under the control of the proletarian institutions; otherwise, expropriation takes on a frankly disorganising complexion and easily degenerates into mere “appropriation” by private individuals, of what ought to be the property of society as a whole.
Russian society – and particularly industry and agricultural industry – is passing through a period of crisis and total ruin. These tremendous difficulties result not only in the obvious destruction of productive forces, but also in the massive disorganisation of the whole economic setup. As a result, the workers ought, more than ever today, to take care to take an exact inventory of and to supervise all the means of production, dwellings, consumer products requisitioned and so on. Such supervision is possible only where expropriation is the work not of private individuals or groups but of the organs of proletarian power.
We have purposely avoided arguing against anarchists as if they were delinquents, criminals, bandits and so on. The important thing, for workers, is to understand what is pernicious in their teachings and the origin of noxious praxis.
We cannot have a superficial squabble at the focal point of our argument. Everything that has already been said explains, in itself, why it should be that it is precisely the anarchist groups that rapidly spawn bands of “expropriators”, who expropriate for the sake of their own pockets, and why the anarchists attract delinquents. There are always and everywhere disruptive elements that exploit the revolution for their own private gain. But where expropriation is carried out under the control of mass organs it is much more difficult for the private profit situation to arise.
On the other hand, when one shuns participation in organised mass actions on principle and substitutes for them the actions of free groups “that make their own decisions”, “autonomously and independently”, one creates the best possible atmosphere for “expropriations” that are, theoretically and in practical terms, no different from the activities of a common street-thief.
Individual expropriations and confiscations and so on are not only dangerous on account of the fact that they act as a brake on the creation of an apparatus of production, distribution and control, but also because such actions completely demoralise the men who carry them out and deprive them of class consciousness, make them unused to collaboration with their comrades, and abandon these in favour of a single group or even a single “free individual”.
There are two sides of the workers’ revolution: the destructive side and the creative or reconstructive side. The destructive side shows above all in the destruction of the bourgeois state. The social democratic opportunists claim that in no shape or form does the proletariat’s capture of power mean the destruction of the capitalist state; but such a “capture” exists only in the minds of a few individuals. In reality the capture of power by the workers can become a reality only through the destruction of the power of the bourgeoisie.
The anarchists have a positive role to play in this labour of destroying the bourgeois state, but, in organic terms, they are incapable of creating a “new world”; and, on the other hand, once the proletariat has taken power, when the most urgent task is to build socialism, then anarchists have an almost exclusively negative role, harassing such constructive activity with their wildcat and disorganising actions.
Communism and communist revolution – that is the cause of the proletariat, of the productively active class, through the apparatus of large scale production. As for all the other strata of the poor classes, they can only become agents of communist revolution whenever they protect the rear of the proletariat.
Anarchy is the ideology, not of the proletariat, but of declassed groups, inactive groups, lacking a connection with all productive labour: it is the ideology of a horde of beggars (lumpenproletariat), a category of people drawing its recruits from among proletarians, ruined bourgeois, decadent intellectuals, peasants cast out by their families and impoverished; an amalgam of people incapable of creating anything new, anything of value, only seizing what they have got their hands on through their “confiscations”. Such is the social phenomenon of anarchy.
Anarchy is the product of the disintegration of capitalist society. The complexion of this misery is brought about by the crumbling of social bonds, the transformation of people who were once members of a class into atomised “individuals” who no longer depend on any class, who live “for themselves”, do not work and who, to hold on to their individualism, acknowledge no organisation. That is the misery produced by the barbaric capitalist regime.
A class as healthy as the proletarian one cannot allow itself to catch the contagion of anarchy. Anarchy could emerge from one of its extremes only if that working class were to break up, and then as a sign of sickness. And the working class, struggling against its economic dissolution, must likewise fight against its ideological dissolution, the product of which is anarchy.