Libertarian Communism: Between Anarchism, Leninism, and Democratic Socialism

anarchism leninism social democracy
Each shares positive traits with a second that the third lacks.


Connected to Libertarian Communism

Anarchism and Leninism recognize the limits of parliamentary participation, and have a positive distrust of bureaucracy and the law

While I like and support DSA (Democratic Socialists of America), I recognize that the organization will have to do some hard grappling with not only the limits of the Democratic Party but the limits of electoral socialism itself.  The comrades in the Left Caucus are probably better equipped to deal with these issues than the rest, understanding electoral politics as potentially a component of a revolutionary/social strategy (I think that’s their understanding?) instead of mistaking electoral politics as the whole strategy itself.

The working class has a right to own and democratically run the workplace, and the fact is we’re not going to get it by asking for it nicely.  We’ll also never be able to afford it by saving up and paying for it – the fact that we don’t own it is the very reason why we’re all so broke that we can’t buy it in the first place!  This doesn’t just mean that starting worker cooperatives is a dead-end as a system-wide solution, but also that government should not compensate corporate shareholders or owners when we seize or nationalize companies, because this would just cause out-of-control inflation which would defeat the whole purpose of seizing the means of production in the first place.

lenin freedom for slave owners

We have to face off with the fact that congresses and parliaments are not neutral bodies, but consist of people from wealthy class backgrounds, and that the power dynamics of elections in any given country  are not free and fair proceedings, but tightly stage-managed and controlled processes which reflect the power dynamics of the economic and political order in that country.  Democratic Socialism often live in denial of this reality.  Anarchism and Leninism do not.

Leninism and Democratic Socialism share a pragmatic compromise with using limited state power, formal organizations, and political parties (whether revolutionary parties or broad left parties) for positive social purposes, coordinating economic activity, and organizing the working class into a cohered force capable of overturning capitalism

Leninism and Democratic Socialism share something anarchism lacks, a pragmatist recognition that an immediate transition toward total social spontaneity might only lead to a distorted, criminal or reactionary re-establishment of essentially the same capitalist or hierarchical order, or a social breakdown of infrastructure, production and distribution that benefits no one and can’t really be called liberation.  They recognize that the state can be used for and by the working class to organize economic activity – to provide healthcare, to build and maintain infrastructure

They recognize that society has critical functions which cannot be thrown up into the air into a state of sheer spontaneity, that what we really need to immediately abolish is the exploitation, profiteering, wealth and income inequality that comes with private ownership of the means of production, not work-for-pay itself (at least immediately), and that work-for-pay will have to continue in order to safeguard critical social functions for a good deal of time after the revolution.

Furthermore, what probably resonates with the general population much more is the idea of democratically and collectively organizing the economy for the common good of meeting people’s needs than the rather abstract idea of eliminating the government for total spontaneous freedom, which could actually be harmful in the absence of a stable alternative system that provides for needs.  The label “socialism” focuses on what we need to create whereas the label “anarchism” focuses more on what we need to eliminate.  It’s true that both are necessary, because there is no substitute for the self-government of the working class, but one makes a little more immediate sense to most people.

They also recognize that while elections may not be the sole, primary way that the working class will liberate itself, they can still be extremely useful, and that building a broad parliamentary party can bring the political order to a crisis point which makes social revolution possible, whereas at least the stereotypical anarchist is completely against voting.  They finally furthermore recognize that building specific organizations with specific ideologies, with specified members and non-members, rather than just vague scenes, is a key part of of the revolutionary process, though vague scenes absolutely do have their part.

One of the most critical concepts that these traditions emphasize is the concept of being rooted in time, and seeing yourself as being engaged in a long-term project of building a mass socialist political party to overturn capitalism potentially over decades.

liberty socialism bakunun

Anarchism and Democratic Socialism share a necessary opposition toward dictatorship and unchecked authority, and a strong value of individual liberties and plural democracy, which even the best of Leninism has an awful record on if we’re honest (and I say this as a Leninist)

It is true that many of the democracy-reducing measures Lenin took during the Russian Civil War were emergency measures which he himself many not have even wanted to have made.  Nonetheless, most Leninists have now codified them into doctrine.

Leninism formally may rhetorically advocate pluralism but the reality is that pluralism has been completely eliminated within nearly all Leninist organizations, including not only the Maoist groups but also the Trotskyist groups and even some of the post-Trotskyist groups advocating “socialism from below.”  They are party-line organizations where everyone has to agree to one stance on political questions and/or one model of how the group should do its political organizing work.

Leninists seem comfortable with basic ideas like “think critically” and “question authority” in all situations except when applied to their own organizations, their own leaderships, their own party lines, or acknowledging the fact that they have monolithic party lines.

under communism man exploits man

Gulag jokes may be fun for you, but to everyone else they sound like you’re really not that much different from a fascist who jails people who democratically oppose your beliefs.

Leninists often complain that the workers’ councils that anarchists dream of are the very thing that the Bolsheviks brought to power in 1917.  This is true.  But the workers’ councils are the very thing that the same Bolsheviks eventually rendered meaningless by terrorizing them with secret police and flooding them with obedient Communist party hacks, so the anarchists kind of have a point.

It’s also obviously important to share anarchist and democratic socialist critiques of various “red” regimes, realizing that ruling classes can exist without markets, and some supposedly socialist revolutions only end up creating new bureaucratic ruling classes.  Sadly anarchism and democratic socialism often go a bit too far in rejecting revolutionary socialism without specifying that we do still need it, but need to fight to ensure it stays what it is supposed to be instead of degenerating into something else, and of course Leninism has usually embodied the problem more than analyzing or critiquing, or even when analyzing and critiquing it!

The Libertarian Communist Center

I try not to name too many labels — not because it’s not cool, but because it starts getting political.  — Nelly

My own position floats between all three of these.  I would call it libertarian communism – more radical than much practiced democratic socialism, because I want to make sure we go beyond setting up a welfare state to workers actually seizing the means of production, but more libertarian and pluralist than much practiced Leninism, more formal and majoritarian than much practiced anarchism, but not entirely rejecting all of these ideologies either, partially belonging to all three of them.  I say libertarian communism, rather than libertarian socialism, specifically to differentiate from European “socialist” welfare states.  Is my libertarian communism anarchist, Leninist, and democratic socialist?  Yes, all three, with some criticisms, and some issues needing to be further spelled out.

anarchism leninism social democracy

What specific schools would it borrow from in all these traditions?  In anarchists terms, it would borrow from the most organized schools, such as platformism and syndicalism, though I can’t entirely complain about starting a ruckus for its own sake now and then.  The thoughts of early Kautsky would be an inspiration for Social Democracy.  From the Leninist tradition we would probably borrow from Hal Draper’s thoughts on organization, Max Shachtman and all the people he borrowed from (a far better and more consistent counterpole against Stalinism and Maoism than Trotskyism), etc.  And of course all the classics like Marx, Lenin, Luxembourg, Kropotkin, etc.  Obviously Stalin and Mao can go rightly fuck themselves, lol.  Borrowing from Mao’s spiciness is one thing but know your history.

If we want to add a fourth dimension of synthesis, it would be between nihilist communism and political activism.  As you become a more thoroughly political person, and your political organizing methods become more organic, social, and human, the distinction between the things you do for nihilistic, hedonistic fun, and your “serious” political organizing breaks down.  Partying is political, and demonstrations can be energizing, social and fun.  In Taoist fashion, if nihilist communism is not trying, and political activism is trying, eventually we reach an equilibrium of effortless effort, where trying and not trying become the same thing.  I’m not even trying, but I am.  I am, but I’m not.  It’s fun.

buddha middle finger


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s