Academic journal article Capital & Class

Marxism and Anarchism in an Age of Neoliberal Crisis

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Marxism and Anarchism in an Age of Neoliberal Crisis

Article excerpt

Introduction: A left convergence?

In the wake of the financial crisis that began in 2007, there have been a growing number of calls for convergence on the radical left. In particular, there have been appeals for a rapprochement or alliance between anarchism and Marxism (e.g. Kinna & Prichard 2012). These calls have a certain logic, given that both anarchism and Marxism appear especially well placed to address the neoliberal conditions that led to the crisis. The consequences of neoliberal globalisation have after all vindicated some of the central arguments of both ideologies: in The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels presciently anticipated economic globalisation and its effects, while the dispersion of state sovereignty that it has produced has arguably validated claims that at least at a global level we already live in an anarchic world (Bottici 2013: 25). More importantly, both anarchism and Marxism have played high-profile roles in responding to the crisis: anarchist activists, ideas, and strategies have been central to resistance movements like Occupy (Graeber 2012, 2013), while Marxist political economy has proved invaluable in analysing events over which mainstream classical economics has only been able to maintain an embarrassed silence (Lapavitsas 2012, 2013).

On the other hand, however, it can be argued with equal plausibility that anarchism, Marxism and the left in general have proved notably ineffective in responding to the crisis. Far from representing a revival, in Western Europe at least it is just as credible to claim that this is a moment of historic defeat for the left. If this has been a neoliberal crisis, it is not simply because it was caused by neoliberalism, nor because for a brief moment it seemed that the theories and logic of neoliberalism had been discredited and hence thrown into crisis. Rather, it is above all because neoliberal capitalism has emerged even stronger from the crisis it caused: that which is euphemistically named 'austerity' represents the consolidation and extension of the same neoliberal policies that produced the very problems (of recession, debt, and unemployment) it is purported to solve.

So while in theory anarchism and Marxism are well placed to offer insights into our current predicament, in practice, the conditions for any revival of the radical left are not necessarily propitious. As such, it is my argument that we should treat with caution calls for an alliance between anarchism and Marxism, and instead engage in sober reflection on their relative strengths and weaknesses. Anarchists and Marxists find common cause in confronting the forms of exploitation and oppression generated by contemporary neoliberalism, and our everyday organisation and activism can only be strengthened by maintaining and extending existing alliances. But there is no contradiction in calling for solidarity in practice and using the tools of theory to investigate and sharpen distinctions. Indeed, any attempt to find 'common ground' must necessarily involve some assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two parties, as a prelude to the search for or negotiation of such common ground. Hence, although I ultimately argue that Marxism offers superior resources for challenging neoliberalism, this claim does not in any way rule out a potential left convergence.

Even those calling for convergence implicitly acknowledge that anarchism and Marxism remain distinct: this article sets out to explore those distinctions in more detail. Recognising that both anarchism and Marxism are broad and varied movements, I nonetheless claim that it is both possible and desirable to identify important differences between each. I will argue that the recent crisis and its aftermath help to bring into sharper focus the differences between anarchism and Marxism--and, moreover, illuminate the advantages of the latter over the former in terms of helping us to understand and resist the dominance of neoliberalism. …

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