MLM vs. Anarchism Part 2: Learning and Leading

by Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #920, Aug. 17, 1997

by Bob Avakian

While at times anarchism may appear extremely radical and appear to be criticizing Marxism from a more "left" position, anarchism is essentially reformist.

A crucial point in relation to this is that, even when socialist states exist in various parts of the world, they are involved in a very intense contradiction: if, through a wave-like or spiral-like process, the world proletarian revolution is not advanced, then, within the socialist states themselves, the basis for capitalist restoration and the forces fighting for capitalist restoration gain in strength in a qualitative way after a certain point. Now, if that's true even where you have the proletarian state, then it's all the more true if you try to immediately abolish the proletarian state.

Along with this, in terms of the limitations of anarchism and its class outlook, there's a profound and fundamental difference between merely being in opposition within any given society and really building a revolutionary movement that carries out the seizure of power, and then carries forward the revolutionary transformation of society as part of the world proletarian revolution. In other words, what the anarchist position boils down to is really the position of being the petit bourgeois critic, or the petit bourgeois opposition, within the given society. This is objectively as far as anarchism can ever really go as a material force, and to a large degree this is actually the subjective intentions and aims of the anarchists.

Most anarchists actually aim for something far short of actually carrying out the revolutionary overthrow of the existing order and the revolutionary transformation of society and the world as a whole.

This has to do with the fact that, regardless of the intentions and sentiments of particular anarchists, anarchism as a program and outlook is ultimately the expression of petit bourgeois interests (which I touched on in the first part of this series). But this should not be taken to mean that anarchists can only play a negative--or mainly negative--role, that anarchists are bound to be enemies of the proletarian revolution.

The point is that an anarchist line cannot lead in carrying out the profound and world-historical revolutionary transformations that are required. And, on the other hand, the more that a proletarian-revolutionary line, a communist line, is leading, the more we will be able to bring out the positive side of anarchism, in its opposition to oppressive relations, and to carry forward the process of unity-struggle-unity with many anarchists.

Learning from Criticism

In writing about our strategic orientation of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat (UFuLP), I have pointed out that under the dictatorship of the proletariat, it will be necessary (as Lenin put it) to live with and transform the petite bourgeoisie over a long historical period. And one aspect of living with and transforming the petite bourgeoisie is that there is a certain aspect in which there can be a positive role for opposition within socialist society, a positive role for people who, from a different vantage point than that of the proletariat, raise criticisms and point to problems within socialist society and the proletarian state and its leadership.

Since there are going to be class divisions anyway within socialist society, since for a long time these petit bourgeois strata are going to exist and be regenerated within socialist society, they are going to find various ways to give expression to their class position, including raising criticisms of the policies and lines of the proletariat in power. While, on the one hand, we can't concede to this fundamentally--that is, we can't allow the inclinations and outlook of the petit bourgeoisie to set the terms for things--on the other hand, we should recognize that this criticism from people expressing essentially an anarchist viewpoint (or other viewpoints that ultimately represent the petit bourgeoisie) can play a certain positive role in the sense of pointing out shortcomings in the socialist state--ways in which at any given time we fall short. And here I mean ways in which we fall short, not of what the anarchists with a certain idealist utopianism say should be possible, but short of what actually can and must be done in the given situation in terms of transforming society and overcoming inequalities and divisions and advancing this process on a world scale.

So there is an aspect in which a positive role can be played by certain opposition and critical forces within socialist society. As I said, since they are going to exist anyway, and since they are going to seek out ways to give political and ideological expression to their class position at any given time, we might as well strive to find the ways to give this a positive direction and make positive use of this kind of criticism. But, at the same time, it must be firmly grasped that there is an even more crucial role--a qualitatively more important and decisive role--for vanguard leadership to make possible the advance to the final aim of communism, worldwide. And this vanguard role does involve correctly assimilating the criticisms that are raised by such petit bourgeois forces, including those of this or that anarchist inclination.

At the same time, there is very definitely an even more important and more profound role for criticism that's made from our own class standpoint, from the viewpoint of the revolutionary proletariat. This gets back to a fundamental point that Marx made about the communist revolution--that it must subject even itself to continual criticism and continually remake itself and arise from its defeats and failures and go forward again. So, while there is a role for other class forces, such as the petit bourgeoisie, in terms of being a certain kind of opposition and raising criticisms, and while we have to correctly assimilate this and make this serve the advance of the proletarian revolution, in an even more fundamental sense our whole revolution itself has to be about continually criticizing itself and continuing to advance in that way.

The vanguard party must recognize that, at any given point it does not have absolute truth--in the general sense that there is always more to be learned, or even just in the sense that no one, including communists, can avoid making mistakes. But, along with that, the very need for the vanguard party to determine priorities and to concentrate its attention and energies on certain decisive questions and struggles at any given time means that there are bound to be things in society, including some important things, which the vanguard party is not able to focus on, perhaps not even aware of or only dimly aware of.

Both in the struggle for the seizure of power and afterwards in socialist society, there will be ways in which we are, in a certain sense, so absorbed in the particular priorities and concentrations of struggle that we are taking up, that certain other aspects of society may not be as clear or as immediately apparent to us as they may to other forces in society who are not so absorbed in the major struggles that we are engaged in and who do not have the same responsibility for the overall direction of society. This happens today and it will happen all throughout the struggle in building for and carrying out the seizure of power and even afterward under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The important thing again is, as Mao said, to be good at learning. The important thing is to have the necessary orientation and methodology to be able to critically assimilate and correctly synthesize things that other people raise, including their criticisms, and make this serve the overall cause of advancing the proletarian revolution not just in the particular country but worldwide.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)