MLM vs. Anarchism, Part 1: Doing Away with Classes and What a Proletarian State Is Good For

by Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #919, Aug. 17, 1997

First of all, one important aspect of this question of MLM vs. anarchism is the point that Lenin made in his time about the growth of various trends similar to anarchism, various radical trends that are different from and in some important ways opposed to communism. He said that in a certain sense anarchism and these trends more generally have to be understood as, in his phrase, "payment for the sins of right opportunism." In other words, where and to the degree that the communist movement, the Marxist movement, was not revolutionary enough, then this gave rise to, or gave strength to, anarchism. Honest revolutionary-minded people were attracted to anarchism because it seemed more revolutionary than Marxism. This is one important aspect: where anarchism grows as a trend among people radically opposed to the status quo, this is often partly as a result of the fact that what is supposed to be the most revolutionary ideology and program, namely communism, is not revolutionary itself, or not thoroughly and consistently revolutionary, but is instead some variant of reformism wearing the mantle of Marxism. This is what Lenin meant when he said that, in part, anarchism is "payment for the sins of right opportunism."

Now, a few years back we published a pamphlet on this question, and the title as well as the overall content of that pamphlet brought out that, in reality, there is nothing more revolutionary than Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Although there are many things more revolutionary than revisionist phony communism, there is nothing more revolutionary than genuine communism--there is nothing more revolutionary than the fundamental interests, the historic mission, and the corresponding world outlook of the proletariat, and the struggle to make this a material reality. And there should be no way that anything can be presented as being more revolutionary--or that we should allow anything to come across as being more revolutionary--than what we're all about.

What is our fundamental answer to anarchism--how should we proceed in giving this answer? We should start from the perspective of our final aim--the most thoroughgoing revolution in all of human history--and then talk about what is actually necessary to get there. In other words, in opposing anarchism, rather than proceeding by saying, "You have to understand that we can't do this right away, and we can't eliminate that right away, and you don't understand we have to have a state and we have to have a party," and so on--instead of getting into it that way--we should start from the point of view of the final aim of communism, which represents the most radical revolution, the most radical ruptures, in all of human history, and put that out very clearly as what we're aiming for, and then get into the contradictions that are necessary to struggle through and overcome in order to get to that final aim. Otherwise, we might actually come off as more conservative than anarchism, when in fact, as has been stressed, we're much more radical than anarchists.

If we're going to criticize anarchism and struggle with people to take up MLM, we have to unite with the radical inclinations of many anarchists. And we have to struggle with them to deepen these radical inclinations and take them further. We have to do this from a revolutionary standpoint--from the standpoint of the most radical transformation in the history of humanity, the proletarian revolution and its communist ideology.

As also pointed out in that pamphlet ("There's Nothing More Revolutionary Than MLM"), and as our Party has consistently emphasized, communism must be--can only be--achieved worldwide. But there is, in the anarchist position, especially as it finds expression within an imperialist country, a certain amount--and in some cases a great deal--of what we could call "imperialist chauvinism." At least in its objective content, and regardless of the intention of those who put it forward, and even regardless of certain internationalist sentiments of some anarchists, the anarchist position, when put forward in an imperialist country, amounts in a certain aspect to a program of "communizing the plunder of imperialism." The reason is that if you were to implement the anarchist position that you shouldn't have any state at all, then there would not be any way to put the interests of the proletariat as a class, and the interests of the masses of people, above the interests of individuals and small groups of people. And, along with that, there would be no way to put the interests of the world revolution above the more narrow interests of the people in this or that particular country. And this is especially a problem in a country that has a whole history of imperialist domination and plunder.

From an Internationalist Point of View

Now, the anarchists actually argue not only that you shouldn't have a state in their vision of a new society, but that you shouldn't have an established, organized revolutionary leadership to carry out the overthrow of the existing order. If that line were followed, it would actually mean that you couldn't overthrow the existing order--because, in order to do that, you have to go up against and actually defeat the highly organized and very powerful military as well as political forces of the imperialists and their whole state apparatus.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that somehow you did overthrow the old system without any revolutionary leadership of an organized character and then, in accordance with the anarchist position, you tried to do without any kind of state. Well then, really, the way the society and the economy would have to be structured, to be consistent with this anarchist vision, is that every unit of production in society, or small groups of people that got together to carry out production and exchange, should enjoy the fruits and the benefits of what's produced through their labor. But among the many problems with this is the inescapable fact that, if you were to do this beginning on an economic foundation that resulted from the position of the old imperialist country in the overall international division of labor and accumulation process of the imperialist system, then you would be proceeding on the basis of reaping the fruits and "communizing" the plunder and exploitation that had been carried out by imperialism. And this would be true, even taking into account the unavoidable destruction and dislocation of technology and of the economy overall that would be involved in a revolutionary war to overthrow imperialism--even with all that, you would still be "inheriting" vast and highly developed technology and other productive forces that are, to a significant degree, the fruit of exploitation and plunder carried out over decades and centuries of imperialist domination and colonial conquest throughout the world.

So the question will be: are you going to have an approach of "communizing" those fruits, for the benefit only of the people in that (former) imperialist country, or are you going to utilize those productive forces first and above all to advance the world revolution toward the aim of overcoming all exploitative and unequal relations in the world, including the "great divide" between the imperialist and the colonial countries?

The Process of Doing Away with Classes

Another way of getting at this is to say that, so long as society is divided into classes--and so long as the economic-material basis exists for such class division--it is only through a socialist state that the highest interests of the proletariat and masses of people can be realized. And what goes along with that is that it is only through such a state that proletarian internationalism can be given its fullest and highest expression. This is the only way that the larger interests of the proletarian class, including its proletarian internationalism, can actually find expression--can actually be implemented and, yes, enforced, against the opposition of the overthrown exploiters and other reactionary forces.

In these conditions, where the basis for class divisions has not yet been overcome and uprooted, without such a proletarian state--without a unifying instrument to give concentrated expression and concentrated material force to the interests of the proletarian class as a whole--then "the best" you would be able to get (and this could only last for a brief period of time) would be small groups of people who were actually exercising a petit bourgeois way of life, operating in a petit bourgeois mode. And if the means of production were owned or controlled by small groups of people, with each owning a small portion of these means of production and organizing production in accordance with this, then by what means and through what mechanisms would economic relations among these different groups, and among the individuals within these groups, be regulated?

It will not be possible to do away with commodity relations and money right away--in fact for a considerable period of time--after the overthrow of the present capitalist system; and if you try to abolish them right away, you will have chaos and the result, politically as well as economically, will be anything but the idealized vision of the anarchists of a society without elites monopolizing authority and power. (This is a decisive point which I will return to later.) So, in fact, if such an anarchist program were implemented, the economic relations among different sectors of the economy, and between the people in society, could only end up being regulated according to the principles of commodity production and exchange--and, more than that, capitalist commodity production and exchange. The result would be re-polarization of society along capitalist lines, with the emergence of a bourgeoisie full-blown and a bourgeois society full-blown. And, along with that, the result would be the restoration of imperialist plunder and exploitation throughout the world.

The Problem of Being "Ben-and-Jerryized"

In other words, if you have not, in reality, uprooted the material conditions that give rise to and underlie the division of society into classes; if you have not overcome the division between mental and manual labor, the social division of labor that involves the oppression of women, and other major social contradictions; if you have not brought into being the conditions that make it possible to articulate the production and exchange of goods and services without commodity relations and money; if you have not accomplished all that--not only in one part of the world but in the world as a whole--and you try to just have small groups of people get together and produce things, you're going to find yourself forced to "fall back" on capitalist principles in regulating the economy.

First of all, you're not going to be able to avoid a certain division of labor in society. Individuals, or small groups of people, are not going to be able to produce everything they need by themselves. So there's going to have to be some form of exchange. And, again, this will have a worldwide dimension and cannot be limited to just one country or one part of the world. What form is this exchange going to take? How is this exchange--and the production that underlies it--going to be on a basis that contributes to overcoming these divisions and inequalities in the particular society, and also contributes to the world revolution and the transformations necessary for the elimination of classes and social inequality, worldwide?

In reality, these small groups, both in their relations of exchange with each other and within their units of production, would reproduce capitalist relations. They would be in a situation where, in society as a whole, there is no embodiment of interests and, yes, of authority, which is higher than these various different small groups and which can therefore unify the masses of people around those higher interests. And the fact is that, without such embodiment of higher interests and authority, there will be no means for uprooting social inequalities, for uprooting commodity production, for uprooting the material basis that gives rise to class distinctions. So these small units of production, in having to deal in the larger economic arena of both that country and of the world, in having to find their place within the overall accumulation process that exists in the world as a whole, would find themselves "Ben-and-Jerry-ized." Despite any intentions of doing things for the social good, they would not be able to avoid getting into a situation where some people are exploiting others within that society, and where, on a world scale, they are benefitting from the unequal division of labor and from the exploitative and lop-sided relations.

Unless, through the medium of the state, you move systematically to suppress the forces of capitalism and to realize the higher interests of the proletariat, capitalist forces will (as Lenin put it) be regenerated daily, hourly, continuously, spontaneously, and on a mass scale, out of these underlying economic and social contradictions that you've only begun to address. Without a state to provide a higher synthesis and unification of the interests of the people--of the proletariat and the broad masses of people--these different units of production having to exchange with each other are objectively going to be thrown into competition with each other. And this competition is going to lead to some advancing, while others are set back, it's going to lead to further polarization and inequality, both between different sectors of the economy and within those different sectors.

So in terms of proletarian internationalism and in terms of actually overcoming these inequalities and divisions which continually reproduce the bourgeoisie--which, even after the capitalist system has been overthrown, continually produce forces that strive toward the restoration of the bourgeois mode of production--you cannot do without the state right away. In fact, you cannot do without it for a long historical period, until you have completely eradicated the basis for class distinctions and all the social inequalities and antagonisms that are bound up with this. Until you reach that point, without the proletarian state you're going to find the forces of capitalism reinforced, and rather than being able to quickly abolish the state, you're going to find the bourgeois state, bourgeois dictatorship, exercising its oppressive rule over society, enforcing the bourgeois mode of production with all its exploitation and inequality, both within the country and internationally.

After the present capitalist system is overthrown, not only will old bourgeois forces try to regroup and sabotage and ultimately overthrow the new society, but new bourgeois forces are going to continually emerge, for a long time. These various bourgeois forces are going to seek each other out and form alliances, they're going to gather their forces, they're going to seek allies internationally, and they're going to move to restore capitalism. Without the proletarian state, there's going to be, frankly, nobody to stop them--no unified force, no leadership, to represent the proletariat as a whole in being able to combat this capitalist restoration.

A Radically Different State

Of course (as I'll return to later in this series), the state in the new, socialist society, must be radically different than all previous states. It must represent the revolutionary interests of the proletariat and the masses of people, and this must be concretely expressed in the institutions of this state and its functioning. It must rely on and continually unleash the conscious revolutionary activism of the masses and increasingly involve them in mastering and transforming all spheres of society, and it must embody and develop the forms for doing this. And our ultimate goal, in this most radical revolution in all of history, is to abolish the state (and generally to bring into being the conditions where there is no longer any need, or basis, for one group of people to institutionalize their leadership in society and for one part of society to dominate and exploit others).

Further, it is true--and historical experience of the socialist revolution has dramatically illustrated this truth--that the most strategically placed forces within socialist society who seek to carry out the restoration of capitalism are precisely high-ranking people within the socialist state (and the vanguard party, which is the leading force within the socialist state) who turn against the revolution. As Mao summed up, the greatest danger of capitalist restoration within socialist society is posed by those in authority who follow the capitalist road. This is a very acute contradiction--and it has a very profound basis in the nature of socialist society as a transition from capitalism to communism (where there will no longer be class distinctions and social inequality). But these very contradictions of socialism (such as the persistence of the differences between mental and manual labor, of commodity and money relations, of the social conditions that are bound up with the oppression of women, and other major social contradictions) also make necessary the leading role of a vanguard party representing the revolutionary outlook and interests of the proletariat. And they make necessary the struggle to continually revolutionize the party itself as a crucial part of revolutionizing society toward the goal of communism. But, until communism is achieved--and we have to emphasize especially here, until it is achieved worldwide--until the material (and ideological) basis has been brought into being to abolish the state (and the vanguard party), there is no way other than through the proletarian state (and through the vanguard role of the party of the proletariat) for the highest interests of the proletariat and masses of people to be upheld and acted on.

Along with that, there is no other way for proletarian internationalism to be actually made into a material reality. Instead we'll get the re-emergence and polarization of class forces and the exploitation that are characteristic of capitalism and imperialism. And we'll get a chauvinism of a kind that says that the people who emerge as the more elite strata within this society should once again enjoy the benefits that have been derived from the whole history of imperialist plunder and lop-sidedness and all the exploitative relations and the international division of labor that goes along with that in the world as a whole with the operation of the imperialist system.

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