Recently Arun Kumar Sinha posted in Marx_Forum, Murray Bookchin’s pamphlet ‘Listen! Marxist!’ This was published in the ’50s in which he admonished and rebuked the ‘Marxists’ community.
You are opening a Pandora’s Box by introducing Murray Bookchin. You are introducing Anarchism! Maybe time has come to introduce Anarchism to Marx_Forum although Marxists (including Marx) have never looked at Anarchism favourably. There is a history of vicious attacks on Anarchists by Marxists.
Before I go any further, let me first welcome this. Also let me also admit that my knowledge, like my knowledge of Marxism, is limited. There is a great body of theory and debate and history on all this. Let me briefly say my take on it, limited as it is. Also it is barely possible that some members of Marx_Forum, erudite as they are, may need to know what exactly this ‘evil’ Anarchism is. Briefly: 1. Anarchists are opposed to all authority, 2. Anarchists believe in self management within a local community on the basis of ‘a free association of free people’, 3. The Anarchist community will federate with other communities also on the basis of ‘a free association of free people’.
First let us look at the attacks. It appears that Marx felt very threatened by the Anarchists. His attack on Proudhon’s Philosophy of Poverty was called ‘Poverty of Philosophy’. This trick of rewording the title of opponents’ writing to make it look funny and run it down has become standard in Marxist tradition and goes on up to this day. It is not a good tradition as it starts with ridiculing the opponent. Proudhon never replied and by and large Anarchists don’t engage with Marxists because of the latter’s viciousness. When Bakunin wrote to Marx seeking collaboration, Marx never replied and the legend is that Marx ‘informed on’ Bakunin to get him arrested. Marx moved the headquarters of IWW to New York as he feared that in Europe it would be taken over by the Anarchists.
After the Russian revolution, there was a celebration of Marxism and Anarchists lay low. But they were active in the Spanish civil war, in Italy, Greece and in Latin America. The success of Cuba’s special period (1991-1995) after they lost the support of the Soviet Union is also due to its own tradition of Anarchism and help from other newer Anarchist traditions like Permaculture. By and large Anarchists have kept a low profile. Bertrand called himself an Anarchist and Chomsky has tried to combine Marxism and Anarchism.
Has Marxism become Irrelevant?
Hardly! The situation on the ground can be compared to the situation of health care in India. People go to mainstream health care (Allopathy) for diagnosis but for treatment they go to a variety of therapists. In the working class districts I found the workers themselves and male children go to Allopaths (quick relief), the girl children are sent to homeopaths, women for home remedies often mixed with herbal and Ayurvedic traditions. Likewise, factory workers go to trade unions and lawyers for wage issues but poor people including workers go to ‘Anarchist’ kind of initiatives like self help groups, chit funds, cooperatives for their need of change here and now. Newer Anarchist kinds of initiatives; like workers’ housing colony, health care (Niyogi’s work in Chhatisgarh – Sangharsh Aur Nirman) are also coming up. Thus people are actually following Bakunin’s original proposal to Marx, ‘You do the analysis and we do the revolution!’
In theory of course Marx’s analysis of capitalism remains the most important tradition and in spite of criticism over 150 years it is still vibrant and I found even today’s university students all over the world concerning them with Marxism.
In practice however a large number of new trends have come up and many of them are in the Anarchist kind of tradition – though anarchists don’t go about claiming them. These are: pacifism and anti nuclear movement, feminism and LGBT movements, appropriate technology, health care, organic farming and permaculture. Also there is a call for simplicity and self management and learning from tribal and indigenous communities. And in the last twenty years global climate emergency and the response to it, that of, transition towns and the Russian Eco villages are very much in the Anarchist tradition.
Advice to a Young Person
We have to inherit the best of traditions from all sources – be it Marxist, Anarchist and other ‘rainbow’ traditions. If I were to advise a young person, I would ask him first to go to a working class district, live there and work with trade unions. S/he can read the small Marxist booklets like ‘Wage Labour and Capital’ and half a dozen other such small booklets. Then she should read Leo Huberman’s ‘Man’s Worldly Goods’.
Then I will ask her to meet an anthropologist and go and live in a remote tribal village for a year. Here she can read similar pamphlets on Anarchism – ‘What is Anarchism’ and Kropotkin’s pamphlets.
Then she will be ready to become an activist with contemporary sensibilities.
Like in most political traditions, Anarchists too did not have enough faith in masses. When they were asked, if their theory was so beautiful why people don’t practise them. Their answer usually was ‘People are not ready for self management’ and they pompously quote, ’Mankind is moving from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom’. They forget that for thousands of years mankind lived in self managed societies.
We have to thank the Prime Minister Mody to correct this vision. He imposed a national lock down with just 3 hours notice for a period of three months. While there was some chaos and a lot of suffering, by and large people took it in their stride and helped each other. There was a tremendous national initiative, the biggest of its kind in world history, where millions of people helped each other. The government ceased to function, except the police beating up people in some places. All the political parties could do nothing except issuing statements. Our intellectuals got a paid holiday and some of them happily ‘explained’ the situation. Few of them remembered, ‘the point however is to change it’.
But people don’t know Marxism or Anarchism or any other ism. The Bumblebee, according to the laws of aerodynamics cannot fly, but it still flies!
Some of you are Bengalis. I would like you to listen to a Bengali song of the Lockdown period. The visuals are also fantastic:
Akti Aaschorjo Pathcholar Galpo | একটি আশ্চর্য পথচলার গল্প | Bangla Adhunik Gaan | Tapas, Bipul
Premiered on 8 Apr 2022
“আমরা দু’জনে দুটি সাইকেলে
চলা শুরু করি একটি বিকেলে
মুম্বাই থেকে আঁকাবাঁকা পথে
চলেছি মজিলপুর ….. ”
Two of us on two bicycles
Started cycling on one afternoon
From Mumbai on twisting path
We started going to Majilpur ”
This song is about an amazing journey. After the announcement of lockdown in the whole country, countless working class people staying away from their original home place were forced to travel thousands of kilometres on bicycle to go to their villages where they had friends and relatives.
The last four lines of the song go like this:
Neither government nor political parties
were there to help.
But once this journey has begun,
it will not stop.
T. Vijayendra (1943- ) was born in Mysore, grew in Indore and went to IIT Kharagpur to get a B. Tech. in Electronics (1966). After a year’s stint at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata, he got drawn into the whirlwind times of the late 60s. Since then, he has always been some kind of political-social activist. His brief for himself is the education of Left wing cadres and so he almost exclusively publishes in the Left wing journal Frontier, published from Kolkata. For the last nine years, he has been active in the field of ‘Peak Oil’ and is a founder member of Peak Oil India and Ecologise. Since 2015 he has been involved in Ecologise! Camps and in 2016 he initiated Ecologise Hyderabad. He divides his time between an organic farm at the foothills of Western Ghats, watching birds, writing fiction and Hyderabad. He has published a book dealing with resource depletions, three books of essays, two collections of short stories, a novella and an autobiography. Vijayendra has been a ‘dedicated’ cyclist all his life, meaning, he neither took a driving licence nor did he ever drive a fossil fuel based vehicle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org