Following the ‘Monday Interview’ concerning myself and this blog, I have been asked several times what exactly is meant by my self-description as a ‘libertarian Marxist.’ This was perhaps the most common question posed to me following the article, the second one being why do I advocate socialism/Marxism in light of the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ and its obvious nightmare-like qualities for humanity.
‘Actually Existing Socialism’
First, I’ld like to respond to the second question, about why I advocate what was seen in the USSR, PRC or even in Cuba.
The quick answer is that, quite frankly, I don’t.
When people hear the word ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ or ‘Marxism’ they have certain preconcieved notions of what these ‘isms’ entail. Due to obvious reasons, namely, they called themselves socialist/communist/Marxist, people tend to think of the authoritarian States such as the USSR, the PRC and Cuba. This was reinforced, especially in Bermuda with our proximity and dependency on US media, by Cold War propaganda and its associated ‘Red scares’ that sought to portray these ism’s as totalitarian monstrosities, often exagerating the very real totalitarianism that these societies did become for propaganda reasons.
These preconceptions of what one means by socialism/communism/Marxism are perfectly understandable in light of these totalitarian nightmares, what I personally qualify with the prefix ‘authoritarian,’ as opposed to my own ‘libertarian’ socialism/communism/Marxism.
This causes one some difficulties, precisely in that everyone on hearing that you’re a socialist/communist/Marxist automatically assumes you’re an advocate of these totalitarian nightmares that are legitimately discredited. Some people who ideologically agree with libertarian or various democratic forms of socialism choose to avoid self-identifying with these ism’s altogether as a result and use all manner of euphemisms in their place.
Personally I try to reclaim the words socialism/communism/Marxism to describe what I understand by them through reading Marxist theory first-hand and as what I understand the mass of people who actually brought about both successful and unsuccessful revolutions were fighting for. I admit that at times I use euphemisms for certain terms, for short-term tactical purposes, but do not shirk from identifying with the ism’s themselves either. I occassionaly use the term ‘progressive labour’ (always with small capitals to differentiate from the Progressive Labour Party) for democratic socialism, ’emancipation’ and ‘reparations’ often are used by me in the sense of revolution both political and social, for example.
I’ll go into detail in a separate thread later about my specific criticisms of ‘actually existing socialism’ or what I see as authoritarian socialism/communism/Marxism, but for this thread I’m going to try and stick to describing what I concieve as libertarian socialism/communism/Marxism.
Okay, so what do you mean by ‘libertarian’ then?
Alot of the confusion about my self-description as a libertarian Marxist seems to stem with a confusion with the term ‘libertarian’ as it is used in the sense of US political discourse. In the US the term is generally used to cover various forms of anarcho-capitalism, examples (of various degrees) would be the Objectivists, Minarchism and more than anything else the Libertarian Party of the US. There are controversies between these and other ‘libertarian’ positions, but I think in general one can describe them as all being pro-free market and anti-State, or at least advocating for a minimal State, hence my description of them as essentially anarcho-capitalist to various degrees.
With the dominance of this US understanding of what ‘libertarian’ means it is no wonder that many people regard my self-description as oxymoronic, as I would be by definition anti-capitalist.
However the term ‘libertarian’ itself was first used in the political sense by the French anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque in 1857, and was used as a synonym for ‘anarchism.’ It was used to oppose ‘authoritarianism’ in general. In the late nineteenth century the word was used in place of anarchism in France due to the anti-anarchist ‘lois scélérates’ laws that made the word ‘anarchist’ illegal. It is from this origin that I use the term in self-describing myself as a libertarian Marxist. It is simply another way of saying that I am an anti-authoritarian Marxist, and believe that socialism itself can be instituted by non-coercive means and must be based on direct democracy, along with the end of sexism, racism, sectarianism, etc.
There are different schools of libertarian socialist thought, of which I particularly identify with Council Communism, or Marxist-Luxemburgism, although I am partial to aspects of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Syndicalism, as well as regarding myself as an Eco-Socialist.
While I do advocate running in elections I have no illussions to the ability of bringing about socialism within the confines of liberal democracy. Rather I see elections as particularly useful for challenging the status quo and developing revolutionary consciousness. I do not support the idea of a vanguard Party in the Leninist sense, or the social-democratic sense for that matter, that seeks to act ‘on the behalf’ of the people.
All previous attempts to delegate power on behalf of the working class have only resulted in the formation of bureaucracies and the economic and political expropriation of the working class. Such ‘labour’ Parties have been coopted by the system, and now express non-labour interests, something that has an objective basis itself in the development of the system, and a subjective basis in the imposition (or acceptance of) capitalist methods of thinking and organising into the labour movement. Without political AND social revolution leading to popular economic and political democracy the system will perpetuate itself.
I remain a member of the Progressive Labour Party, and believe that its original ideals and the popular conception of what it stood for, were essentially that of democratic socialism. I have no illusions that the PLP today is anything more than a Blairite ‘Third Way’ form of social democracy, with a distinct anti-White supremacist tendency as a result of our racial history. I continue to attempt to defend the prinicples of progressive labour/democratic socialism within the Party through a continual and consistent critique of it from a libertarian socialist position. I do not envision winning the Party over to libertarian socialism, but feel it is my duty to advocate within and without the Party for libertarain socialism with the aim of developing such revolutionary consciousness in Bermuda.
I am constantly amused at those who would portray me as being ‘used’ by the PLP, or something to that effect. About the only real ideological position we share today is a commitment to ending institutional racism. On pretty much all other questions we are miles apart. Its important to stress here that I don’t think I’m necessarily miles apart from much of the grassroots, but more miles apart from the ‘official’ Party Line position. I will, and do, counter what I see as covert/institutional racism, especially as argued by many pro-UBP supporters, and the UBP itself. Simulteonously though I constantly critque the social-democracy of the PLP.
This is not the only option, of course, and I know others that regard themselves as socialists who choose not to work within the Party. Thats fine, and I certainly emphasise with their decision. Nor is work within the Party something fixed. But from my analysis of the current situation I conclude that it remains the best strategy for the immediate future. As the situation changes, be it from my own actions, or by external factors, I will have to reevaluate my position. My objective, ultimately, is to develop revolutionary consciousness through a critique of the capitalist system as a whole, against imperialism, against false consciousness and against those various ideologies that support and maintain the system (such as patriachy, sexism, racism, mysticism, nationalism, etc.), and to encourage self-organisation and popular economic and political democracy as a whole.
How I came to my position
In the ‘About’ sections I give a brief summary of how I came to socialism from growing up in Bermuda. One of the key formative events though was when I went to Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, where I and a handful of others founded the Trent Socialists. The main currents, or rather, influences in that organisation when we founded it were Isreali Kibbutzimism and two Trotskyist groups, the International Marxist Tendency and Socialist Action (Canada). I remain in contact with and friends with many within these respective groups, and acknowledge their contribution to my own theoretical development.
Around this time I was taking a history course elective, and focused much of my research into the 1918 German Revolution, which allowed me to study the works of Rosa Luxemburg. At this time I also became involved with the Worker-Communist Party of Iran (long story…) and became acquainted with the writings of their founder, Mansoor Hekmat. It was through a combination of studying the works of Rosa Luxemburg and Mansoor Hekmat that I came to question certain aspects of Marxist-Leninist/Trotskyist theory, notably their conceptions of power and the vanguard party.
I have since devoted much of my free time to studying the histories of various revolutions, notably the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions, the 1918 German Revolution, the 1919-1920 Italian Revolution, the 1936 Spanish Revolution, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the events of 1968 (Paris and Prague) and the Grenada Revolution. I have also devoted much of my time reading (in addition to Marx and Engels) the works of Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci (in particular his pre-prison writings), Anton Pannekoek, Otto Rühle, Paul Mattick, György Lukács, Karl Korsch, Evgeny Pashukanis, Mansoor Hekmat, CLR James, Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm and Maurice Brinton (from whose group ‘Solidarity – for workers power’ inspired part of this blogs name). I have done so in order to better understand the events of the revolutions and the workers councils, as well as to develop my conception of socialism/communism/Marxism.