Anarchism and Marxism

Anarchism and Marxism

Anarchism and Marxism are similar political philosophies which emerged in the nineteenth century. While Anarchism and Marxism are both complex movements riven by internal conflict, as ideological movements their primary attention has been on human liberation achieved through political action. Similarly, both have been intensely interested in abolishing social inequalities present in societies as a result of wage labour and the Industrial Revolution. In their most socially significant forms, both movements have been revolutionary, and have focused on the working class as the agent of revolution. As working class movements Marxism and anarchism have been sometimes allied and sometimes opposed groups. In particular revolutions there has been significant armed conflict between Marxist and anarchist groups.

Conflicts between anarchist and Marxist movements have emerged in terms of theory, strategy, practice and immediate political goals. Agreements between anarchism and Marxism have tended to focus on ideological convergence based around the concept of the working class as the group that creates real human freedom. The first major ideological conflict between anarchists and Marxists occurred within the First International, a European revolutionary communist political movement. The first major armed conflicts between anarchists and Marxists occurred during the 1917–1923 revolutions in the Russian Empire between urban anarchists, rural Makhnovist anarchists, the Marxist Menshevik Russian Social Democratic Party and the Marxist Bolshevik Russian Social Democratic Party. A major armed conflict occurred during the Spanish Civil War between the Spanish anarchist movement and the Soviet Union-supported central government.

After World War Two, in the West major conflicts between anarchism and Marxism have been generally confined to sectarian left-wing bickering between anarchist groups and Trotskyist or Trotsky-inspired organisations over minor points of tactics or language use. Additionally, since the New Left period, major convergences between minor trends of thought within Marxism and anarchism have occurred, generally in the area of exploring working class self-liberation. After the fall of the Soviet Union, little conflict has occurred between Stalin, post-Stalin or Stalin-inspired Marxists and anarchists, due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union's influence within Marxist circles. Prior to 2000, there was little conflict between pro-property anarchism and Marxism, due to the small size of pro-property anarchist movements and the focus of pro-property anarchist movements on behavioural change within their own perceived movement.

Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber has distinguished the two philosophies as follows:

  1. Marxism has tended to be a theoretical or analytical discourse about revolutionary strategy.
  2. Anarchism has tended to be an ethical discourse about revolutionary practice.[1]


Historical relationships between anarchists and Marxists

International Workingmen's Association

The International Workingmen's Association (the First International), at its founding, was an alliance of socialist groups, including both anarchists and Marxists. Both sides had a common aim and common enemies. But each was critical of the other, and the inherent conflict between the two groups soon embodied itself in an ongoing argument between Mikhail Bakunin, representative of anarchist ideas, and Karl Marx himself. The Marxist branch tended to support the formation of workers' or socialist parties that participated in parliamentary politics in Western liberal democracies to advance their agendas, while anarchists tended to criticize parliamentary politics as not being sufficiently democratic "from the bottom up" and as providing no democratic control over the workplace and the means of production. In 1872, the conflict in the First International climaxed with the expulsion of Bakunin and those who had become known as the "Bakuninists" when they were outvoted by the Marx party at the Hague Congress.

Industrial Workers of the World

In the late 19th and early 20th century, many Marxists and anarchists joined syndicalist movements for militant revolutionary labor unions, such as the Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW drew upon principles of Anarchism and Marxism.

Many communists left the IWW in the period from 1919 to 1925 due to an ideological split between centralists and decentralists within the IWW, and with encouragement from the Bolshevik government in Moscow to work within the more mainstream American Federation of Labor unions. The decentralists, or E.P.-ers (for Emergency Program) in the IWW opposed an emphasis on political action, and favored a greater focus on organizing centered within stronger industrial union divisions.

Russian Revolution

Both anarchists and Marxists participated in the overthrow of the Tsar in February 1917 in the beginning stages of the 1917 Russian Revolution. However, a hostile relationship quickly developed between anarchists and Bolsheviks, so that anarchists generally opposed the Bolshevik-initiated transfer of power from the Provisional Government to the Bolshevik commissars (acting on behalf of Bolshevik-led workers councils—known in Russian as "soviets"), in October 1917. Even the ensuing civil war pitting the Bolshevik government and Red Army against the Tsarist White Armies did not reconcile anarchists and Bolsheviks.

The Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, led by anarchists, fought counter-revolutionary forces in a tenuous alliance with the Red Army. These Ukrainian anarchists were highly critical of other anarchists in the Russian Revolution who lacked their discipline. The RIAU was later suppressed by Red Army over the issue of the integration of the RIAU into the Red Army.

Russian anarchists were the first organized victims of the CHEKA in April and May 1918.[2] They were arguing for free soviets, freedom of expression and association and the establishment of free communes on the basis of voluntary association. As a result of their interpretation of the Bolshevik hegemony over the revolution, some urban anarchists engaged in protest and civil disobedience. Most Russian anarchists were imprisoned and their press silenced.

At the end of the civil war, sailors at Kronstadt influenced by anarchists and dissident Marxists mutinied, demanding more political liberties while defending socialism and workers' democracy, and were surrounded, attacked, and suffered reprisal by mass execution and political imprisonment at the hands of the Bolshevik Red Army and political police.

Spanish Civil War

During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, although the anarchists and Marxists both fought in a united front against the fascist movement of General Francisco Franco, the revolutionary Marxists of the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), the anarcho-syndicalists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), and the anarchists of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) faced repression and attacks from the Communist party.

Attempted theoretical syntheses

A number of political ideologies and movements have attempted some degree of synthesis of the Marxist and anarchist traditions with the aim of a liberated workers' society. These include the followers of Joseph Dietzgen in the 19th century, syndicalism, Jan Wacław Machajski, De Leonism, council communism, and Bordigism in the first half of the 20th century, and the Situationist International and Autonomist Marxism in the second half of the 20th century. The modern Zapatista Army of National Liberation movement in Chiapas, Mexico also incorporates both anarchist and Marxist ideas, along with indigenous Mayan political thought.

Alliances and joint movements

There have been overlaps between Anarchism and Marxism historically, including hybrid movements of anarchism and anti-authoritarian Marxism such as libertarian Marxism and Autonomism.

Arguments surrounding the issue of the state

Modern political scientists generally define the "state" as a centralized, hierarchical, governing institution which maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, in keeping with the definition originally proposed by the German sociologist Max Weber in his 1918 essay "Politics as a Vocation". Marxists, and some anarchists, dispute this definition. Marxism has a unique definition of the state: that the state is an organ of one class's repression of all other classes. To Marxists, any state is intrinsically a dictatorship by one class over all others. Therefore, within Marxist theory, should the differentiation between classes disappear, so too will the state.

However, there is some convergence of views. Anarchists believe that any state—be it a worker's state or a bourgeois state—will inevitably be created and ruled by a political and economic elite, therefore becoming an organ of class domination. Conversely, Marxists believe that successful class repression almost always requires a superior capacity for violence, and that all societies prior to socialism are ruled by a minority class, so that in Marxist theory any non-socialist state will possess the properties attributed to all states by anarchists and others.

Disputes arise between anarchists and those Marxists who believe that a state is required for the repression of classes other than the working class. In example, Bakunin wrote in his work "Anarchism and the State":

They [the Marxists] maintain that only a dictatorship—their dictatorship, of course—can create the will of the people, while our answer to this is: No dictatorship can have any other aim but that of self-perpetuation, and it can beget only slavery in the people tolerating it; freedom can be created only by freedom, that is, by a universal rebellion on the part of the people and free organization of the toiling masses from the bottom up.

Bakunin believed that Marx's desire to abolish the state and create, in the last analysis, an anarchist system via state power is irrational. Commenting on that he added that "anarchism or freedom is the aim, while the state and dictatorship is the means, and so, [for Marxists] in order to free the masses, they have first to be enslaved."[3]

The process of transition

The theory of the state leads directly into the practical question of what form the transition to the stateless society both anarchists and Marxists view as their end goal will take.

Marxists believe that a successful transition to a stateless society communism will require the repression of capitalists in order for them not to re-establish their control. That requires, according to Marxists, the existence of a state in some form run by workers (there is a dispute on whether the dictatorship of the proletariat is a state as we conceive it today). This formulation can be gross, envisaging the dictatorship of the proletariat as a political dictatorship; or, it can be nuanced, seeing the dictatorship of the proletariat as an internally democratic amongst workers. The kind of workers' state envisaged varies between the bureaucratic apparatus and internally undemocratic state departments and armed forces of capitalist states through to internally democratic and anti-bureaucratic structures such as workers councils.

Anarchists and some libertarian socialists reject the Marxist view that a transitional phase will be needed and accuse Marxism of being too authoritarian, though they have been much less critical of Libertarian varieties of Marxism than scientific communism, Leninism and Stalinism.[4] Anarchists contend that the "workers' state" advocated by Marxists is a logical impossibility since, as soon as a group -be it the workers- begins to govern by means of a state apparatus, they gain power and become oppressors. It is important to note however that this argument is a misrepresentation in that it uses the Anarchist definition of the state and not that of the Marxists, ascribing to the "workers state", characteristics which the Marxists do not necessarily imply by the word "state".

The idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat has been criticized by most anarchists both on a theoretical and historical basis. Mainly, it is argued that it is not a class that takes power but at best a minority of that class, a party in the Leninist sense, and so is a dictatorship over the proletariat. They point to the measures taken by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin during the Russian Revolution since as early as 1917 as evidence of this. Anarchists support their arguments by pointing to the undemocratic nature of the Soviet Union and other self-identified "Marxist" states.

Some Marxists criticise the immediatist anarchist position by arguing that any revolutionary institution using armed force is acting as a state, regardless of its name or self-conception. Other Marxists argue for the necessity of a strong and cohesive repressive institution during revolutions, and support this position by pointing to the defeat of anarchist-led revolutions such as that during the Spanish Civil War, or other revolutions which were defeated.

Therefore, both Marxists and anarchists wish to abolish the existing state. Immediately after abolishing the existing state, Marxists seek to replace it with a workers' state, i.e. the "dictatorship of the proletariat", or the workers organized as the ruling class. From this point, as expressed by Frederick Engels, the worker's state will begin to wither away, finally ceasing to exist when class antagonisms have been defeated. On the other hand, anarchists feel the re-creation of any sort of state will place power in the hand of a tiny minority, that States with their repressive capacities and massive bureaucracies tend to be self-perpetuating and do not "wither away", and that in practice establishing a new state is thus counter-revolutionary because in order to eventually eliminate it a second revolution will be required. Anarchists point to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demands by grassroots movements throughout the Soviet block to abolish the dictatorship but keep socialism as a failed attempt to make such a second revolution. The failure of such movements as they were co-opted by former Soviet leaders (nomenklatura) who instead kept the dictatorship and abolished socialism, is seen as evidence that such a long and circuitous route from capitalism to freedom is inefficient and unlikely to actually result in freedom. Marxists respond to this saying that the organized, centralized repression of the capitalist class will be absolutely necessary, and that the proletariat can only accomplish this by the use of the state.

The Marxist position blends into anarchism at one end of the spectrum, mostly due to the wide variety of Marxist and Anarchist movements. The anarchists disagree among themselves if a system of democratic workers' councils constitutes a state or not, while on the other hand Marxists disagree widely among themselves over the form and the existence of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Political parties

The issue of seizing state power brings up the issue of political parties, which also divides anarchists and Marxists. Most Marxists see political parties as useful or even necessary tools for seizing state power, since they view a centrally coordinated effort as necessary to successfully defeat the capitalist class and state and establish a body capable of maintaining power. However, Marxists disagree on whether a revolutionary party ought to participate in bourgeois elections, what role it should have after a revolution, and how it should be organized.

Anarchists generally refuse to participate in governments, and so do not form parliamentary political parties. However, the organisations formed by anarchists have either been political federations, such as the FAI, or often resemble the non-parliamentary roles of a political party by having a shared membership, set of principles, platform for action and media such as newspapers. Many of these organisations have been characterised by attempts at direct democracy, federalism or participatory democracy. When anarchist organisations have been pushed by historical circumstances, such as the controversy over the CNT-FAI's participation in the Spanish Popular Front, some anarchist organisations have acted as representative or commanding organisations. Marxists often point to the irony of this situation, and use it to argue in favour of a more honest approach to the relationship between party, or party like organisation, and the rest of the working class.

Violence and revolution

Another practical question closely related to the theory of the state is whether and how much violence is acceptable in order to achieve a successful revolution. Some anarchist trends rely more on propaganda of the deed, actions they perceive as inspirational to the working class. Marxists and many anarchists believe that violent revolution is necessary or inevitable. Such anarchists often believe the anarchist revolution will be a spontaneous, unorganized uprising, while Marxists and anarcho-syndicalists believe that the bourgeoisie will inevitably use violence against the organized workers' movement.

On the other hand, some anarchists promote self-defense rather than large-scale anti-state violence. Some promote non-violent protests, marches, and general strikes, only condoning violence in self-defense against aggressive actions taken by the state to prevent non-violent anarchist revolutions. Some view force as inherently authoritarian. Indeed, this was an argument made by Karl Marx against the logic of anarchism as promoted by Mikhail Bakunin.[citation needed] Many social, individualist and mutualist anarchists however sometimes prefer reformist approaches rather than open violence and would only advocate such under extreme circumstances.

Arguments surrounding the issue of class

Both Marxist and socialist anarchist class analyses are based on the idea that society is divided into "classes", which are created based on the control each class has upon the means of production and hence each class having differing interests. The two differ, however, in where they draw the lines between these groups. Anarcho-primitivists and post-left anarchists reject left wing politics in general (and theoretically by extension Marxist class analysis) as they typically see left wing politics as corrupt and in the former case see civilization as unreformable.

For Marxists, the two most relevant classes are the "bourgeoisie", those who own the means of production, and the "proletariat", more explicitly, the wage laborers. Marx believed that the industrial workers -and only them- would organize together, abolish the state, take control over the means of production, collectivize them, and create a classless society administered by and for workers. He believed that only the workers have the motive and power to do that. For this reason, he dismissed peasants,the "petty-bourgeois", and the "lumpen-proletariat"—the unemployed "underclass"—as incapable of creating revolution.

The anarchist class analysis predates Marxism and contradicts it. Anarchists argue that it is not the whole bourgeoisie who has control over the means of production and the state, but only a minority of them, which is part of the ruling class, but has its own concerns. Also, traditionally anarchists have rejected Marx's dismissal of the lumpen proletariat and the peasantry as revolutionary and argued that a revolution, in order to be successful, needs the support of the peasants. Classical Anarchists believed that this is only possible through the redistribution of land. That is, they explicitly reject imposing state property of the land, although voluntary collectivization is seen as more efficient and thus supported (indeed, during the Spanish revolution anarchists impulsed hundreds of collectivizations but only a tiny minority had all the land in the area, small peasants were allowed to cultivate their own land without hired labour).

Some modern anarchists (particularly pareconists) argue that there are three "classes", which have relevance to social change—not two. The first is the labor class (which includes everyone whose labor is involved in producing and distributing goods as well as much of the so-called "service" industry). This includes farmers, peasants, industrial workers, small landowners, small business owners who labor with their employees and blue, pink and white-collar workers. The second is the coordinator class which includes everyone whose labor is primarily concerned with "coordinating" and managing the labor of others primarily on behalf of the bourgeoisie, administrating organizations, setting the intellectual status quo or managing the State apparatus. The anarchist definition of the "coordinator class" includes people such as bureaucrats, technocrats, managers, administrators, middle-class intellectuals (such as economists, political and social scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, etc.), physical scientists, judges, lawyers, military officials, political party organizers and leaders, etc. And finally the elite owning class or "capital class" which derives its income from its control of wealth, land, property and resources. Marxists vigorously debate the exact composition of the middle class under capitalism. Some also describe a "co-ordinating class" which implements capitalism on behalf of the capitalists, composed of the petit bourgeoisie, professionals and managers. Others dispute this, freely using the term "middle class" to refer to affluent white-collar workers as described above (even though, in Marxist terms, they are part of the proletariat—the working class). Still others (for example, Council communists) allege, like anarchists, that there is a class comprising intellectuals, technocrats and managers which seeks power in its own right. This last group of communists allege that such technocratic middle classes seized power and government for themselves in Soviet-style societies.

Anarchists contend that Marxism fails, and will always fail, because it creates a dictatorship of the coordinating technocratic/managerial class and that a "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a logical impossibility. Mikhail Bakunin foreshadowed this argument when he wrote:

[The] State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class: a priestly class, an aristocratic class, a bourgeois class. And finally, when all the other classes have exhausted themselves, the State then becomes the patrimony of the bureaucratic class and then falls—or, if you will, rises—to the position of a machine.

On the International Workingmen's Association and Karl Marx, 1872

Some believe that Marxism fails because its theoretical "socialist mode of production" involves centralizing and empowering the State apparatus which empowers people from the coordinator class to seize control of the State and means of production to manage the labor class, effectively acting as a surrogate capital class. However, this is less of a problem for libertarian Marxists who believe that such as State apparatus should operate on working class-led participatory democracy or even as a consociational state.

Key differences thus include the fact that Anarchists do not differentiate between peasants, lumpen, and proletarians and instead define all people who work for the profit of others as members of the working class, regardless of occupation; and that anarchists do differentiate between the economic and political elites who set policy and the business and government functionaries that carry those policies out whereas Marxists lump the two together.

Further, some Anarchists argue that Marxism fails because it springs from the minds of middle class intellectuals, while arguing that anarchism springs spontaneously from the self-activity and self-organization of the labor class. They point to the fact that the major schools of Marxism are often named after the intellectuals who formed the movements through high analytical and philosophical praxis theorization. While schools of Anarchism tend to emerge from organizational principles or forms of practice and are rarely (if ever) named after or centered around an individual intellectual. Anarchists distinguish themselves by what they do, and how they organize themselves where as Marxists tend to distinguish themselves by their strategic approach and their philosophical or intellectual methodology. Marxists, however, contend that their ideas are not new ideologies which sprang from intellectuals but are ideas which form from the class contradictions of each economic and social mode of history. They argue that Marxian socialism in particular arose from the minds of the working class due to the class contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. Some Marxists even argue that anarchism springs from the ideas of proletarians (or even petty bourgeoisie) who have been marginalized by capitalism as an unorganized and unrefined reactionary struggle against the forces of capitalism.

Other axes of oppression

The Marxist analysis of class struggles and of power as the cause of injustice has consequences on how Marxists relate themselves to the liberation movements of groups such as women, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, and cultural minorities (such as homosexuals). Classical Marxism generally dismissed such movements since, for Marxists, class struggle had to take precedence over all other forms of struggle. They argued that only the class struggle could allow the working class to seize power via seizing the state. Once state power had been seized, issues like racism or sexism, could be much more easily to deal with. Since the 1970s, however, most Marxist organizations explicitly support such liberation movements, not only because they are worthy in and of themselves, but also on the grounds that they are seen as necessary for a working-class revolution. Many Marxists believe that attempts by oppressed people to liberate themselves will continue to fail to achieve their full aims until class society is done away with, because under capitalism and other class societies, social power rests at the point of production.

Anarchists, other political movements and a lot of theorists criticize classical Marxism for giving class priority and argue that this way of explaining social movements denigrates other oppressions, which operate with their own independent dynamics. Most Anarchists see liberation movements by oppressed people as fundamentally legitimate, be they "peasants", "proletarians", or bourgeoisie, without needing to fit these movements into a predetermined schema for revolution. However, many anarchists believe that single issue struggles are extremely limited and not powerful enough to change in depth societal conditions. Nevertheless, they still support and participate in them since they still think of them as useful.

Marxists tend to view people as sharing a certain class consciousness based on their station in capitalist society. They believe that people share a collective socio-economic mindset and that freedom comes from liberating the class of its class status shackles, thus eventually empowering the individual. Anarchists on the other hand tend to view people as social individuals who share a common condition in capitalist society, but don't necessarily share a uniform class consciousness.


Religion is another area of disagreement amongst anarchists and Marxists. Marx in the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right described religion as the instrument of the bourgeois class to easily dominate the minds of the proletariat and inspire subservience to authority and acceptance of the status quo in return for future reward in the after death 'life'. Most Marxists tend to envision a "pure communism" as being free of religion, sometimes promoting violence against clergy and religious institutions. Nonetheless, religious marxists exist all over the world.

Despite the hostility of Marxism to organized religion, there have been attempts to fuse the two, Liberation theology being the most obvious example. Some Priests associated with Liberation Theology have even joined and fought with armed guerrillas, Camilo Torres, for instance, joined and fought with the ELN (National Liberation Army) in Colombia and died in combat. Although the Vatican has actively condemned liberation theology, liberation theology remains influential in parts of Latin America, most notably with the Landless Workers' Movement of Brazil.

Anarchists advocate resistance to oppressive and authoritarian institutions, including religious ones; and in extreme cases this may include violent resistance. During the Spanish Civil War, for instance, the Catholic Church was one of the biggest landowners and allied itself with the Falangist Fascist movement led by Francisco Franco. Opposition to Catholic institutions and the collectivization of church lands by peasants formed a major part of the anarchist revolution that opposed Franco in Barcelona. In the Basque Country, however, most priests defied the church and opposed Fascism and urged their congregations to do likewise, and so on the ground there was little in the way of physical conflict between anarchists and Catholics over religion.

In contrast to Marxism, anarchism has historically been more accepting of personal spirituality and egalitarian religions. Anarchism has also historically gained much more support amongst religious communities and at various times and places explicitly anarchist forms of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions have claimed tens of thousands of members. Some anarchists envision future society as being free of religion while others envision a future society in which egalitarian religions and spirituality being a private matter equally tolerated with non-religious tendencies in a neutral, secular society. A smaller number envision spirituality or egalitarian religions playing a prominent role in society, most recently Neopaganism, with its focus on the sanctity of nature and equality, along with its often decentralized nature, has led to a number of Neopagan inspired anarchists. One of the most prominent is Starhawk, who writes extensively about both spirituality and activism.

Nationalism and relationships with indigenous peoples and stateless nations

Anarchism and Marxism differ in their relationships with Indigenous peoples and national minorities. The classical Anarchist position was that the coming revolution would wipe away all distinctions of nationality, since nationality is socially constructed, that the proletariat has no "nation", and that the natural form for socialism was internationalism. This remained the established position of the entire anti-capitalist left up until the early 1900s and still holds considerable sway in both anarchist and Marxist circles. Marxists acknowledge boundaries and development of the nation state.

During the build-up to the Russian revolution, however, Lenin and the Bolsheviks found it expedient to promise independence to the various indigenous non-Russian national minorities, notably the Ukrainians and the Poles, in return for their support against the Czarist empire. Whilst some Bolsheviks continued to support this position, the dominant Bolshevik faction grouped around Lenin in Moscow first drove the National Communists underground and the liquidating them in 1928. Subsequently all nationalist movements throughout the USSR were brutally crushed by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and all their successors until the collapse of the USSR as a political unit. In the run-up to World War II Russia's foreign policy centered around the idea of National Bolshevism, through which the Bolshevik political elite in Russia sought to instigate and support communist-nationalist revolutions around the world, most notably in Hungary and Germany, and then absorb the newly independent areas into a Soviet commonwealth—a goal that was achieved after World War II with the Warsaw Pact. Elements of this persisted in Soviet foreign policy throughout the cold war and helped motivate support of nationalist and anti-imperialist movements throughout the third world. Aid by Russia to the Chinese Communist Party during the Chinese revolution was driven by the same motivation, but once in power Mao refused to allow the USSR to control Chinese policy, leading to a break with Stalin that culminated in a brief war between the two powers. The same process would later play out in the relationship between Communist rulers in China and Vietnam.

During the Chinese revolution a parallel process occurred as Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party first promised independence and self-determination to all of China's many stateless nations, and then not only refused to deliver once the CCP's grip on power was solidified but actually invaded and annexed Tibet, which he regarded as a renegade province. Every successive Communist government throughout the world has followed this same pattern of first promising indigenous national minorities self-determination in order to gain their support and then actively opposing that self-determination once in power. In a nutshell, the general policy of Marxist governments from Lenin on has been to support revolution nationalism and the rights of indigenous groups in theory and to oppose it in practice. Most recently, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were accused of carrying out campaigns of ethnic cleansing against indigenous peoples in order to seize their land.[clarification needed]

Ward Churchill has gone so far as to argue in his essay on Marxism and Indigenism[citation needed] that Marxism is inherently imperialist and racist in effect, if not in intent, because it is based on the idea of historical progress and industrialization as inevitable, and sees industrial proletarian-based societies as more "advanced" than other societies (particularly indigenous societies). Other scholars argue that the conflict has to do with the demands of running a State structure and argue that if the Bolsheviks had come to power in Poland (for example) instead of Russia they would have had to become Polish nationalists and would have bitterly opposed Russian attempts to dominate Poland. Seizing the Russian State, however, meant that they had to defend the interests of that State; and the rights of stateless nations thus became anathema.

The position of Anarchism is somewhat the reverse. Most Anarchists, both historically and up to the present day, see borders and national divisions as detrimental and envision a world in which distinctions of race and ethnicity fade and disappear over time as the ideal. In practice, however, Anarchism is based on small-scale systems of self-determination, local self-governance, and mutual aid that fulfill the desire of national minorities for self-determination on a defacto basis; and has thus been historically compatible with anti-state forms of nationalism. The most notable collaboration, of course, being the movements for self-rule by the Catalans and Basques in Spain which found expression under the banner of the anarchist CNT during the Spanish Civil War. More recently there has been an attempt at an explicit fusion of Anarchism and native-American political traditions manifested in the modern Indigenist movement. Anti-State nationalist organizations that explicitly describe their politics as Anarchist currently exist in Ireland and Brittany. Many members of the modern American Indian Movement also consider themselves Anarchists.

Methodological disagreements

Marxism uses a form of analysis of human societies called "historical materialism." The central idea of historical materialism is the idea that people live in a determined material world, and act in order to produce changes upon this predetermined world, without being able to fundamentally change it. In economic terms, the relations of production are the driving force of history. Underlying these processes, as a dialectical background notion, is the idea that contradictions and opposed social groups are the ones that form and drive social progress.

Marx formulated the concept of historical materialism from a critique of Hegel's Idealism and dialectics. Marx only applied historical materialism to human history; however, Marxists claim that his methodology can be applied to all phenomena and they usually describe it as dialectical materialism. Anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin developed dialectical naturalism out of a combination of Marxist and Hegelian dialectics, and Kropotkin's biological outlook.

Classical Anarchists saw value in historical materialism as a tool for social analysis. Contemporary anarchists use a wide variety of tools of social analysis, historical materialism included. The Irish Workers Solidarity Movement, for instance, makes agreeing with the historical materialist method's value a central point of unity. Many anarchists, however, dismiss dialectical materialism as a pseudo-science based on untestable and unfalsifiable universal claims. Anarchists were among the first to criticise the dialectical materialist trend as pseudo-science and generally criticised either the Marxist methodologies as such, or the applications of them, on the basis that both historical and dialectical materialism dehumanise people as the agents of history. Within Marxism these criticisms are mirrored by the criticisms of socialist humanists, Western Marxists, Autonomist Marxists and other similar thinkers.

The rule of heaven and the rule of nature—angels, spirits, devils, molecules, atoms, ether, the laws of God-Heaven and the laws of Nature, forces, the influence of one body on another—all this is invented, formed, created by society. Marxism is the new scientific Christianity, designed to conquer the bourgeois world by deceiving the people, the proletariat, just as Christianity deceived the feudal world.

Abba and V.L. Gordin, Russian anarchists.[5]


A simple interpretation of historical materialism suggests that if Marxism is right about the class forces operating in capitalism, a successful working-class revolution is inevitable. Some Marxists, notably the leaders of the Second International in the late 19th and early 20th century, have believed this. However, the degree to which the revolution must be made by conscious forces has always been a matter of dispute among Marxists, with many arguing that Marx' famous statement that "I am not a Marxist" was a rejection of determinism, and the split was sharpened by the First World War, when the social democratic parties of the Second International supported their respective nations' war efforts. Many Marxist opponents of the war, such as Rosa Luxemburg, blamed the Second International's "betrayal" partly on its doctrine of the inevitability of socialism, which justified its attempt to reform existing capitalist states. Luxemburg put the alternatives for the future, instead, as "socialism or barbarism."

Since an influential segment of anarchists reject either dialectical materialism or historical materialism or both, these anarchists usually do not claim that revolution and the reorganization of society are inevitable, only that they are desirable. Some anarchists, while rejecting dialetical or historical materialism claim other bases for the inevitability of revolution, such as the natural yearning of consciousness for freedom; these anarchists find their mirror within Marxist intellectual movements in individuals such as Herbert Marcuse.


  1. ^ Graeber, David (2004). Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. ISBN 0972819649. 
  2. ^ P. Avrich. G. Maximoff
  3. ^ Bakunin, Mikhail. "Statism and Anarchism". 
  4. ^ An Anarchist FAQ: Section H - Why do anarchists oppose state socialism? & Appendix 3 - Anarchism and Marxism
  5. ^ Clifford Harper, ed (1994). Prolegomena: To a Study of the Return of the Repressed in History. London: Rebel Press. ISBN 0946061130. 


  • Bakunin, Mikhail (1950). Marxism, Freedom and the State. London: Freedom Press. ISBN 0900384271. 
  • Thomas, Paul (1985). Karl Marx and the Anarchists. London: Routledge/Kegan Paul. ISBN 0710206852. 

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