Why Socialists Oppose Anarchism. Its Fallacies and Dangers Exposed.

The Difference is Fundamental

The evils of modern society stand out for all men to see, but the remedy is far less obvious. To arrive at the conclusion that Socialism is the real remedy involves patient study and investigation of the affairs of modern life.

Unfortunately, there are some workers who shun the duty of thinking out these “problems,” and they, therefore, fall a prey to the plausible plea of the Anarchist, who misrepresents, besides misunderstanding, the views of the Socialist.

The idea widely prevails that the difference between Socialism and Anarchism is simply one of methods—the end in view being the same. Far is this from being the case, however. The whole philosophy of the Socialist is at variance with the Anarchist position. A brief survey of the history of the Anarchist theory will make that clear.

The pioneer of Anarchism was Max Stirner, who, in “The Individual .and his Property” (published in 1845), expounded the “philosophy” that lies at the root of all Anarchist teaching. The only “reality” that he recognised was that of the individual. In his own words:

     “Away with everything that is not wholly and solely thy own affair. You think that my own concerns must at least be good ones? A fig for good and evil! I am I, and I am neither good nor evil. Neither has any meaning for me. The godly is the affair of God, the human that of humanity. My concern is neither the Good, the Right, the Free, etc., but simply my own self, and it is not general, it is individual as I myself am individual.”

Stirner’s views may well be summed up as Idealism run mad. For him there was no such process as evolution in society and the majority of the institutions of social life were but phantoms. He starts with a pure abstraction, the individual, but this afterwards stands unmasked as an individual of the bourgeoisie!

Very Much Like Capitalism.

It is in opposing Communism that Stirner — as is inevitable with the logical Anarchist — shows the bourgeois nature of his ideal.

       “Communists think that the Commune should be property owner. On the contrary I am a property owner and can only agree with others as to my property. I am the owner of property but property is not sacred. Should I only be the holder of property? No, hitherto one was only the holder of property, assured of possession of a piece of land, but now everything belongs to me. I am the owner of everything I need and can get hold of. If the Socialist says society gives me what I need the Egoist says I take what I want. If the Communists behave like beggars the Egoist behaves like an owner of property.”

Stirner only objected to the State of his day because it interfered with his freedom as owner of commodities. Individual “rights” and desires were alone to be regarded, and to maintain them he advocated the formation of “Leagues of Egoists.” Shades of Individualism !

Stirner was followed by Proudhon, who took the same Utopian point of view. The whole mechanism of our social life is not the growth of more and more complex relations between man and man—developed through the connection established by industrial operations — but is born of men’s ideas! “The political constitution was conceived and gradually completed in the interest of order for want of a social constitution, the rules and principles of which could only be discovered as a result of long experience, and are even to-day the subject of Socialist controversy.” (“Confessions of a Revolutionist.” ) ,

Hence we see that epochs in human history are not viewed as necessary stages in the upward march of men from the time when, faced with only the elemental forces of nature, they slowly but steadily became masters of implements and powers, and by their influence arose the differing and progressing forms of social life. No, the Anarchist says that right down the ages men have been seeking.the perfect society ; but it is only discovered in all its charm and beauty, now — by the Anarchists!

The Utopian Spirit of Anarchism.

Stirner and Proudhon have been dealt with to show the Utopian nature of Anarchism in all its majesty. Go right through the Anarchist writings, from Stirner to Bakunine and Kropotkin and notice the same spirit through it all. Like all Utopians, they start out with an abstract principle, and endeavour to apply it so as to form a perfect society.

Proudhon plainly showed in his “Philosophy of Misery,” the petty bourgeois nature of his “system.” Individual ownership and control of the instruments of industry, with State regulation of prices so as to avoid industrial crises !

This great Anarchist even denounced Trades Unionism as as outrage against “the liberty of the individual.” This is the man whom Kropotkin acclaims as “the founder of Anarchism.”

Proudhon’s theories underwent but slight change at the hands of his successor. Michael Bakunine, “the Apostle of Universal Destruction.” Although claiming to believe in the common ownership of the means of life, his views demonstrated that Individual Anarchism is the only logical alternative to the opponent of Socialism.

At a Congress in Berne in 1869 Bakunine pleaded for ‘’the economical and social equalisation of classes and individuals.” This is the same as Proudhon’s theory of the unity of Capital and Labour. Continuing, Bakunine said “I detest Communism because it is the negation of Liberty.” The mental kinship of Bakunine with his Utopian predecessors is well established by his idealistic views. “I desire the radical extirpation of the principle of the authority and tutelage of the State, which has until now enslaved, exploited, oppressed and depraved men. I desire the abolition of property, individually hereditary, which is nothing hut a result of the principle of the State.”

Anarchism Ignores Evolution.

The private ownership of the means of life has its roots, then, in the principle of the State!

Bakunine’s influence is very marked on his follower, the leading living Anarchist, Prince Kropotkin. Like the whole school of Anarchists, be ignores the trend of social evolution and invents a “perfect society” of the future. In the “Conquest of Bread” he says “It is of an Anarchist Communist society that we are about to speak, a society that will recognise the absolute liberty of the individual.” (Chap. XII.) In his address to the Jura Federation he said : “This ideal is not the product of the dreams of the study, but flows directly from the popular aspirations, that is in accord with the historical progress of culture and ideas.” This metaphysical vein permeates all Anarchist teaching. Jean Grave, the prominent French Anarchist, in his “Moribund Society and Anarchy,” tells us that the conceptions of Anarchists “are in harmony with the physiological and psychological nature of man and in harmony with the observance of natural laws, while our actual organisation has been established in contradiction of all good logic and all good sense.”

The Socialist is a materialist, the Anarchist an idealist. The Socialist recognises social development as a consequence of the evolution of economic forces. The Anarchist view is well stated by Kropotkin in ‘Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal,” as follows: “ The fact is that each phase of development of a society is a resultant of all the activities of the intellects which compose that society; it bears the imprint of all those millions of wills.”

The Socialist Position

With the materialist conception of history as his guide, the Socialist correctly grasps the relation which prevailing institutions hear to the slavery of the working class. But turn to the bewilderingly vague writings of the Anarchists and you will find them filled with the most vain tirades against the State and every form of authority. “The State,” “Authority,” and “Law” are held to be the real cause of the workers’ sufferings, and the immediate abolition of the State is said to be “the only way.”

Against this the Socialist places the scientific position. The State is not born of a despot’s ideas —conceived and built up to do his bidding. Frederick Engels. in his brilliant work “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,” shows that the State as we know it, is but the final form of an institution which fulfilled a useful service in the social economy of the past. It arose as a part of the division of labour in early societies, and carried on the administration of public affairs. The advent of private property in the means of producing wealth gradually influenced the form of the State till it became the instrument of the ruling class.

The State has been the State of the chattel-slave owner, the State of the feudal nobility, and now it is the State of the industrial capitalist. It exists to day because there is a class to be kept in subjection. When the present subject class become organised and seize political power, their supremacy will have sounded the death-knell of the State. The working class being the last class to achieve its freedom, its emancipation will end class distinctions: neither a dominant nor a subject class can exist when the ownership of the means of life is vested in the community.

Anarchists are fond of accusing Socialists of wanting to increase the power of the State. Marx and Engels are denounced by Kropotkin (“Conquest of Bread’’ and elsewhere) for this reason. Yet every student of these Socialist pioneers knows that they pointed out that when the toilers triumph the day of the State will be gone for ever. The Anarchist lament about tyranny under Socialism will be seen to be without foundation. Tyranny presupposes power, but when the instruments of production are commonly owned, power to oppress can no longer exist. Further, when wealth is no longer privately owned there is no incentive to tyrannise. There are no clashing interests —the mainspring of tyranny.

All Anarchist conceptions are vitiated by their misunderstanding of the nature of society. W C. Owen, in the pamphlet “Anarchy versus Socialism,’’ says: “Anarchy concentrates its attention on the individual, considering that only when absolute justice is done to him or her will it be possible to have a healthy and happy society. For society is merely the ordinary individual multiplied indefinitely.” The Socialist, on the contrary, holds to the view accepted universally in scientific circles to-day, viz., that society is something more than a number of individuals—society is an organism. Even the great anti-Socialist, Herbert Spencer, proved conclusively the organic nature of society.

As the result of their erroneous view, the Anarchists are wholly concerned with the individual. “Absolute liberty of the individual” is their cry. Ever busy discussing the “rights” of the individual and the tyranny of other than individual control of affairs, they lose sight of the importance of the economic necessities of society itself.

Consider the possibilities and needs of modern life. A great population covers the globe. These people need “food, clothing, and shelter” and a hundred and one other things that centuries of economic advance have accustomed them to and made part of their standard needs. How are these things to be supplied ? What are the means at our disposal ? To provide the things required the great machinery, etc., has to be used in accordance with the best and most productive methods. Association of the wealth producers is an imperative necessity of the future. This involves the organisation of industry, the division of labour, and the arrangement of processes in proper sequence. The distribution of wealth has to be organised, too, otherwise chaos and starvation ensue.

This is where Anarchism plainly fails, for it repudiates the very mainspring of organisation. It proclaims each individual a law unto himself. It stands for the universal play of “free agreement.” Apply that to industrial life and see how it would work out.

If the production and distribution of social necessaries were to wait on the “free agreement” of all the industrial population to certain methods being pursued; if industry were to depend upon the whim and caprice of the members of society, then Nemesis would await us. The running of a railroad, the sailing of a ship, the building of a bridge, all these involve centralised control and speedy action.

The Socialist does not advocate Socialism as “the perfect system.” He seeks but to adapt institutions and customs to the changes in the mode of producing wealth. He claims that, subject to evolution, therefore, imperfect though it be, it is the best system possible in the circumstances that face us.

The common ownership of wealth is decreed as the only alternative to private ownership, and the method of production conditions the method of control. Democratic control is the complement of communal ownership. The Anarchist hates democracy, while the Socialist takes it for his constant guide. The Anarchist rejects the view that the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the masses, and believes that the action of an “intelligent minority” suffices. The rest will be carried along. Autocracy is the logical outcome of his method, and reaction the inevitable aftermath. Majority decisions are anathema to the Anarchist.  He asserts that “the majority have ever erred.” Let us again quote Owen’s pamphlet.

  “If the workers were to come into possession of the means of production tomorrow, the administration, under the most perfect system of universal suffrage—which we attained in this country years ago, and have been vainly trying to doctor into decent shape for generations past —would simply result in the creation of a special class of political managers, professing to act for the welfare of the majority. Were they as honest as the day, which it is folly to expect, they could only carry out the dictates of the majority, and those who did not agree to those dictates would find themselves outcasts.”

How do the Anarchists propose to administer affairs? How are means of production to be controlled? Kropotkin, in “Anarchist Communism, its Basis and Principles,” says they “must be managed in common by the producers of wealth.” Though freely denouncing democratic methods the Anarchists never face facts and state how the socially owned means of production are to be “commonly controlled” except through democratic channels (i.e., “under the most perfect system of universal suffrage”). Individualist-Anarchism offers the only retreat for the “Anarchist-Communist,” and this involves the individual ownership and control of wealth producing instruments. In other words, the evolution of industry and the immense amount of wealth now required for our use must be ignored, and we are to return to handicraft and petty enterprise!

Democracy, to the Socialist, does not only mean the counting of heads. It implies opening all the means of knowledge to the entire population; giving access to every source of information and advancement to all — thus ensuring, as far as is humanly possible, that the vote is the deliberate expression of the will of equals. And if all do not agree, then ample justification exists for acting on the decision of the majority in matters of social importance. There is no other way. The minority are ever free to try to change the opinions of the majority, but they must loyally abide by the supreme views in the meantime. Without this all organisation is impossible, whether its ramifications extend to society or are extremely limited.

Though the Anarchists condemn democratic procedure, by stating that nobody can represent us but ourselves, they have to destroy their own theory when they begin to act. Of course, such times are very infrequent, but one such occurred at the last Anarchist congress (Amsterdam, Aug. 1907). There representatives of various bodies in different countries attended, and besides voting, they constituted an International Bureau “composed of five delegates.” (“Freedom” report.)

That is the Anarchist tribute to the soundness of Socialist criticism. It must be obvious that great populations cannot come together and discuss and arrange all matters in detail, but must delegate their authority to representatives. ‘Though the “Referendum” and “Initiative” are serviceable methods, they must be supplemented by delegation when occasion demands. Even the first two methods turn on majority rule in the last analysis.

In economics the Anarchist rivals the Anti-Socialist in misrepresentation of the Socialist position. Kropotkin attacks Marx (in “The Wage System“) for advocating the use of labour notes as a method of paying wages under Socialism, in spite of Marx’s repudiation of them in his “Critique of Political Economy” and the “Poverty of Philosophy.”

Marx and Engels analysed capitalist society and laid bare the process of exploiting the working class. In his three great volumes on the Production and Circulation of Capital, Marx demonstrates the true nature of Value, Price, and Profit, and buttresses his own theories by quotations from the classic writers of the nineteenth century. Yet the Anarchist “economists” continually accuse him of accepting the views of Smith, Ricardo, and others, without independent inquiry!

“It was from Malthus’ supposed law of population that Ricardo deduced his famous theory of rent which Henry George has made familiar to everybody, and on which Marx founded hie ‘Scientific Socialism ’ ” !

Thus the Anarchist pamphlet “Anarchy and Malthus,” by C. L. James, published recently. In it we are also told that “the difference between Anarchism and Socialism as we usually understand the later term is the difference between Malthus and Ricardo.”

The whole pamphlet is typical of Anarchist confusion. Malthus’ moonshine is supported, and no praise seems sufficient for the priestly defender of the must inhuman methods capitalism used in its prime. Malthus is commended “with those who abolished slavery, repealed the Corn Laws, put an end to imprisonment for debt,” and “ established the policy of peace.” Apart from this highly imaginative “history,” the Anarchist forgets to remark that Malthus was mainly occupied with such things as opposing Poor law relief “because it fostered the perpetuation of the unfit.”

Kropotkin’s “criticism” of the Marxian Surplus-Value theory is remarkable. He says (“Conquest of Bread“): “The evil of the present organisation is not that the ‘surplus-value’ of production passes over to the capitalist—as Robertus and Marx had contended. Surplus value itself is only a consequence of more profound causes. The evil is that there can be any kind of ‘surplus value,‘ instead of a surplus not consumed by each generation.”

Kropotkin and his followers also attack Marx for his scientific theory that control over capital concentrates into proportionately fewer hands along with its expansion. This is so plainly seen to-day that it is superfluous to deal with the Anarchists denial.

In the foregoing the unscientific and visionary character of Anarchist “philosophy” is established beyond cavil. Anarchism attracts to its ranks a motley gathering. Its lack of cohesion, its individualism and its Utopianism, have enabled it to embrace the most ill assorted set of votaries that ever nestled under one banner. From the proud Prince Kropotkin to the official John Turner, it includes suppliers of every movement but ours. From Malthusians to anti morganatic marriage apostles, advocates of eight-hour and other piece-meal reforms, supporters of the Liberal Government like Morrison Davidson, and of the Labour Party like Edward Carpenter—these are the revolutionary Anarchists!

The Anarchist ranks have steadily dwindled in Britain, and their members apathetically drop away. Its Press makes a sporadic appearance. Accusations of being police spies lead to continual recrimination and permanent distrust among the “comrades.” Hence Anarchism’s decline, and its inability to organise the working class.

But still the danger exists that those workers who have been sickened by the compromise, confusion, and betrayal of the Labour and pseudo-Socialist parties may succumb to the plea that because the fake political parties have failed to help them and advance their cause, Socialism is useless and Anarchism the only hope. Those who follow in the Anarchists’ footsteps and ramble in the Utopian wilderness, but delay the time when they must inevitably come to see that the Socialist Party of Great Britain alone is sound, for its aims are revolutionary, its methods scientific, and its working democratic.

Loyalty to its principles and devotion to its aims will do far more to hasten the workers’ emancipation than the will-’o-the-wisp notions of Anarchists and the dangerous policy they pursue. But the latter must be dealt with in the next issue.

Adolph Kohn

Concluded in october 1911 issue >