2000s >> 2009 >> no-1253-january-2009

Book Reviews

A Basic Mistake

Basic Kropotkin – Kropotkin and the History of Anarchism. by Brian Morris. Anarchist Communist Editions, 2008. 32 pages. £2

Russian émigré prince Kropotkin, pioneering advocate of “anarchist-communism”, is probably best known for his work Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. This short pamphlet takes us on a fleeting tour through the many strands of Anarchism as related to his theories.

Firstly we are presented with a sketch of the “libertarian impulse” throughout human history; Lao Tzu, classical Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium, the Diggers and even an Islamic sect, the Najadatam, all possessed an “anarchist sensibility” and were forerunners of Anarchism proper, it is claimed. For Kropotkin it is William Godwin who first stated the basic principles of Anarchism in his 1793 “Enquiry Concerning Political Justice” though he did not use the term – it was first used by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

In the next chapter we meet Bakunin whom, rather confusingly, we are told “was at heart a communist” even though he defended a form of private property where the products of labour are traded between individual – and therefore competing – labour associations or “free communes”.

Finally we come to Kropotkin’s dispute with the mutualists, most notably Proudhon, Warren and Tucker. Kropotkin applauded their “vigorous defence of the rights of the individual” but in defending private property they opened up the way “for reconstituting under the heading of ‘defence’ all the functions of the state.”

The main flaw of the pamphlet is in Morris’s failure to see the distinction between Marx’s thought and the Leninist concept of the vanguard party. Marx is falsely lumped together with the Blanquists of which Engels commented “Blanqui’s assumption, that any revolution may be made by the outbreak of a small revolutionary minority, follows of itself the necessity of a dictatorship after the success of the venture. This is, of course, a dictatorship, not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of the small minority that has made the revolution… These conceptions of the march of revolutionary events have long become obsolete.” (The Program of the Blanquist Fugitives from the Paris Commune).

For Marx and Engels the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ meant a politically organised and conscious working class democratically controlling the transformation of the state; not the totalitarian rule of the vanguard party, as Lenin, the Anarchists and others have claimed. However, circumstances have changed since Marx and Engles put forward this concept, it is not a term the Socialist Party would use today.
By still claiming that the theories of Marx are akin to those of Lenin and other vanguardists the Anarchists are doing a disservice to the truth.


Post-modern guru

Goodbye Mr Socialism. Radical Politics in the 21st Century. Antonio Negri with Raf Scelsi. Serpents Tail Press, London, 2008

The Italian intellectual, Toni Negri, who was once sentenced to jail in Italy for giving a theoretical defence of urban terrorism, is highly regarded in some circles. The blurb on the back of this book describes him as “one of the world’s leading experts on Marxism” and as “a guru of the post-modern Left”. He may well be the latter but is certainly not the former.

The opening chapter is a surprisingly indulgent justification of some of the things that happened in Stalin’s Russia, even if this is part of the “Mr Socialism” to which he is saying good bye in this transcript of a question and answer session with another Italian intellectual. The other part is the whole idea of the factory proletariat, organised in trade unions and left wing political parties, as the agent of social change:

“the epoch of wages is finished and that the struggle has moved from the level of a fight between capital and labour regarding the wage, to a fight between the multitude and the State around the income of citizenship.”

The “income of citizenship” is a clumsy translation of what is more usually called a “Basic Income” or, by the Green Party, a “Citizen’s Income”, defined in a lexicon at the end of the book as:

“a monetary payment distributed at regular intervals to all those who enjoy citizenship and residency for a certain period of time, which allows a minumum dignity of life . . . It is paid to those of working age, for the period that goes from the end of obligatory schooling to pension age or death.”

Negri supports this as he sees the demand for it as “a refusal of work and of the wage relationship”. If introduced other than as some tinkering with the tax and benefits system it would indeed undermine the economic compulsion to go out and work for an employer; which of course (apart from its cost) is why it is never going to happen under capitalism. In any event, as a goal, it is a poor substitute for “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.

Negri does, however, have a point when he criticises those who look only to the factory proletariat as the agent of social change. This is only a section of the working class properly so-called and, in the developed capitalist parts of the world, is now less than 50 percent of the workforce. But, in placing his hopes in those with knowledge skills involved in non-material work (the “cognitariat” as he calls them) he would seem to be making the same mistake of wanting to rely on a section only of the working class.

Surely the point is that social change has to be up to the class of wage and salary workers as a whole, not just one section. Or perhaps this is what Negri means by the “multitude”, which, if it is, comes across in English as a rather derogatory term to describe all those forced by economic necessity to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary.



Marx’s Theory of the Genesis of Money. By Samezō Kuruma, translated with an introduction by E. Michael Schauerte, Outskirts Press, 2008

Money can function as a means of exchange, a measure of value, a general equivalent, a standard of price, a store of value. Samezō Kuruma takes a close look at some of the key theoretical issues related to Marx’s concept of money. Kuruma (1893-1982) was a Japanese Marxist economist and the text here is translated by a member of our American companion party. He also provides an introduction which seeks to outline the answers to how, why and through what is a commodity money. Karuma’s text, however, is purely analytical in its approach and is devoid of historical context, a common failing amongst many Japanese writers on Marxian economics.


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