The WSM and the State

The World Socialist Movement (WSM) holds a clear definition of what it would describe socialism to be and it is not to be unexpected that we will not accept certain ideas as socialist if it conflicts.

The WSM’s point is that we do share something in common with the Kropotkinists and other communist-anarchists such as Alexander Berkman and Murray Bookchin (although the latter is now considered by some of not being be an anarchist) i.e. those anarchists that stand for a class-free, state-free, money-free, wageless society based on common ownership, but not with the Proudhon, (or Benjamin Tucker or Josiah Warren), that is those who stand for the self-management of a market economy.

The problem that aggrieves many members of the World Socialist Movement is that too many anarcho-communists feel they have more in common with the Proudhonists, than with ourselves when after all we both agree on the ends (albeit differ occasionally on the means to attain the end and as such is of secondary importance at this point of time in history and what matters far more is what we have in common.)

The WSM argument is that capitalism (or property/class based societies in general) necessitates a state. Hence to bring about a  society without the State which is what is meant by anarchism you need to get rid of capitalism and that logically entails getting rid of the need for money and the market as well, very much echoing Engels to Cuno in 1872:

“And since the state is the chief evil [for Bakunin], the state above all must be abolished; then capital will go to hell of itself. We, on the contrary, say: Abolish capital, the appropriation of all the means of production by the few, and the state will fall of itself. The difference is an essential one: the abolition of the state is nonsense without a social revolution beforehand; the abolition of capital is the social revolution and involves a change in the whole mode of production.”

Proudhon was an opponent of government and wanted a society without one. But being in favour of features of capitalism and wanting to retain the money-prices-wages-profit system (what Marx called “commodity production”). In the opinion of the WSM that would not make him a socialist. He was against ground rent and interest but not against profit. In fact, he was a bit of a currency crank with his ideas of credit bank and stood for a society of small-scale producers trading with each other without the interference of the state. His famous catchword “property is theft” was aimed not at small-scale property but essentially at landed property. He defended individual property against common ownership.

Proudhon was also against workers organising it trade unions, was against workers going on strike for higher wages.

Some would call him the first anarcho-capitalist rather than the mutualist that he was and the reformist he could also be accused of being.

 Proudhon possessed a popular programme which in essence involved a society of artisans. Proudhon was very concerned at the tendency of employers to exploit employees, and thought that if society was made up of artisans then no such exploitation would take place, each worker would own their own means of production, and would sell their products at the market rate, since the market is an unbiased process of checks and counters, this would tend to balance incomes and prices and provide an equitable system of commodity production and sale, but without the massive problems of class division and exploitation. There are people today who still believe this, Marx’s efforts to debunk it notwithstanding.

As for definitions the World Socialist Movement has theirs but the definition of “socialist”, basically what it generally meant in the 1840s was anyone who wanted to reform society, in whatever way, so as to benefit Labour. That was indeed how it was used them and was of course one of the reasons why Marx and Engels called the manifesto they wrote for the Communist League of Germany in 1848 the “Communist Manifesto” and not the “Socialist Manifesto”. Basically, it was much too broad a definition that included too many contradictory views. We suppose the more appropriate word (then as much as today) would be “social reformers”. It is only on that basis that supporters of private property and the market such as Proudhon, could be called “socialist”.

We should be more demanding on labels we ascribe to people. The very words “socialism” and “communism” are connected with the idea that the means of production should be owned by society as a whole (or socially, hence “socialism”) or by the whole community (or communally, hence “communism”). And it is far better that people who are opposed to it are not called “socialists” or “communists”.

The difference between socialists and anarchists is not over the aim of abolishing the State but over how to do this.

Anarchists say that the first objective of the workers’ revolution against capitalism should be to abolish the State. Socialists say that, to abolish the State, the socialist working class majority must first win control of it and, if necessary, retain it (in a suitably very modified form) but for a very short while just in case any pro-capitalist recalcitrant minority should try to resist the establishment of socialism. Once socialism, as the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by the whole people, has been established (which the WSM has always claimed can be done almost immediately ), the State is dismantled, dissolved completely We are not talking years or decades or generations here , but as a continuation of the immediate revolutionary phase of the over throw of capitalism.

But to end with the “Anarcho-Marxist” case, some quotes from Marx about the abolition of the State.

In 1844 Marx wrote that “the existence of the state and the existence of slavery are inseparable” – “The King of Prussia and Social Reform”.

Again, as Engels wrote in a letter to Bebel in March 1875, “Marx’s book against Proudhon and later the Communist Manifesto directly declare that with the introduction of the socialist order of society the state will dissolve itself and disappear”.

Then, in a circular against Bakunin prepared for the First International in 1875, Marx wrote: “To all socialists anarchy means this: the aim of the proletarian movement–that is to say the abolition of social classes–once achieved, the power of the state, which now serves only to keep the vast majority of producers under the yoke of a small minority of exploiters, will vanish, and the functions of government become purely administrative.

In  ‘The Conspectus of Bakunin’s Book State and Anarchy’ , In response to Bakunin’s question “There are about forty million Germans. Are all forty million going to be members of the government?” Marx answered “Certainly, because the thing starts with the self-government of the commune.”