attacks on anarchism. by hal draper ... and david mcnally

On Sat, 13 Jun 1998, richard petersen wrote:

> I found your comments illuminating of an issue which is at the core of what
> it means to be an anarchist today.  would you mind if I post your reply on
> the anarchy forum here:

richard --

   no, i wouldn't mind, and thanks.  i hadn't seen that forum before, and
it looks interesting, although i'm not sure i understand how it functions
as more than simply a collection of texts.  some of the postings to the
forum are statements of position; others are simple questions.  is this
then a message board? or is it meant to be a sort of showcase of some
varieties of anarchist thinking about certain issues? if it's the former,
i'm not sure why you solicit 'clippings' from other lists; if it's meant
to be the latter, then maybe it's not the best place for postings like the
one asking for contacts in the kansas city area.  no? maybe i'm just being
   actually, i was thinking about looking up the anarchist anti-defamation
league (or 'anarchist action network') page recently, as i came across a
couple of web sites containing strikingly similar attacks on anarchism.
one is a text by hal draper, 'the two souls of socialism'; the other is
called 'socialism from below', by david mcnally of the new socialist
group.  both, in the course of arguing for what sounds like a
democratic-socialist version of marxism, attack what they call 'the myth
of anarchist libertarianism' by painting quick portraits of proudhon and
bakunin as sexist, anti-semitic crypto-authoritarians -- accusations with
a grain of truth, frankly, but not enough to make them anything but gross
misrepresentations of the historical anarchist movements.  reading these
folks, you would never guess that jewish workers would form such an
important part of the american movement, for instance, or that there was
any difference between proudhonian mutualist individualism, stirnerite
egoism, and bakuninian collectivism, much less that both proudhonian and
stirnerite varieties of individualism were rather marginal elements in the
history of the movement, whose real identity came from the combined action
of the thousands of workers and peasants who fought against tyrannies of
both the right and 'left' in the ukraine and spain (and that often without
having read a word of proudhon).  marx dabbled in his own form of
auto-anti-semitism, of course, but this is not mentioned.  (see his early
essay 'on the jewish question': this is not the variety of jew-hating
that, in sartre's words, seeks to dehumanize jews, but rather the kind
that 'wishes to destroy him as a jew and leave nothing in him but the man,
the abstract and universal subject,' which hates jews *as* jews but offers
them the option of becoming 'human' (sartre, *anti-semite and jew*).  it
is indeed depressing to see how few of the brightest minds of the 19th
century declined to be the fools for whom anti-semitism is a kind of
counterfeit socialism.
   anyway, it is rather odd that the draper and mcnally texts sound so
similar -- in fact, on closer inspection, i suspect a bit of plagiarism
(probably on mcnally's part, since i think draper is an older figure).
you be the judge.  i include them below for comparison.  funny how some
marxists can be not only the least honest critics of anarchism, but also
the least creative.


ps --  if you are not active in the anti-defamation end of things at the
website, please forward this to whoever is.

from ('The Two
Souls of Socialism', by Hal Draper):

One of the most thoroughgoing authoritarians in the history of radicalism
is none other than the "Father of Anarchism," Proudhon, whose name is
periodically revived as a great "libertarian" model, because of his
industrious repetition of the word liberty and his invocations to
"revolution from below." 

Some may be willing to pass over his Hitlerite form of anti-Semitism ("The
Jew is the enemy of humankind. It is necessary to send this race back to
Asia, or exterminate it..."). Or his principled racism in general (he
thought it was right for the South to keep American Negroes in slavery,
since they were the lowest of inferior races). Or his glorification of war
for its own sake (in the exact manner of Mussolini). Or his view that
women had no rights ("I deny her every political right and every
initiative. For woman liberty and well-being lie solely in marriage, in
motherhood,in domestic duties...") -- that is, the "KINDER-KIRCHE-KCHE" of
the Nazis. 

But it is not possible to gloss over his violent opposition not only to
trade-unionism and the right to strike (even supporting police
strikebreaking), but to any and every idea of the right to vote, universal
suffrage, popular sovereignty, and the very idea of constitutions. ("All
this democracy disgusts me... What would I not give to sail into this mob
with my clenched fists!") His notes for his ideal society notably include
suppression of all other groups, any public meeting by more than 20, any
free press, and any elections; in the same notes he looks forward to "a
general inquisition" and the condemnation of "several million people" to
forced labor -- "once the Revolution is made." 

Behind all this was a fierce contempt for the masses of people -- the
necessary foundation of Socialism-from-Above, as its opposite was the
groundwork of Marxism. The masses are corrupt and hopeless ("I worship
humanity, but I spit on men!") They are "only savages ... whom it is our
duty to civilize, and without making them our sovereign," he wrote to a
friend whom he scornfully chided with: "You still believe in the people."
Progress can come only from mastery by an elite who take care to give the
people no sovereignty. 

At one time or another he looked to some ruling despot as the one-man
dictator who would bring the Revolution: Louis Bonaparte (he wrote a whole
book in 1852 extolling the Emperor as the bearer of the Revolution);
Prince Jerome Bonaparte; finally Czar Alexander II ("Do not forget that
the despotism of the czar is necessary to civilization"). 

There was a candidate for the dictator's job closer to home, of course:
himself. He elaborated a detailed scheme for a "mutualist" business,
cooperative in form, which would spread to take over all business and then
the state. In his notes Proudhon put himself down as the Manager in Chief,
naturally not subject to the democratic control he so despised. He took
care of details in advance: "Draw up a secret program, for all the
managers: irrevocable elimination of royalty, democracy, proprietors,
religion [and so on]." -- "The Managers are the natural representatives of
the country. Ministers are only superior Managers or General Directors: as
I will be one day... When we are masters, Religion will be what we want it
to be; ditto Education, philosophy, justice, administration and

The reader, who may be full of the usual illusions about anarchist
"libertarianism," may ask: Was he then insincere about his great love for

Not at all: it is only necessary to understand what anarchist "liberty"
means. Proudhoun wrote: "The principle of liberty is that of the Abbey of
Theleme [in Rabelais]: do what you want!" and the principle meant: "any
man who cannot do what he wants and anything he wants has the right to
revolt, even alone, against the government, even if the government were
is the sense of the brilliant insight by Dostoyevsky's Shigalev: "Starting
from unlimited freedom, I arrive at unlimited despotism." 

The story is similar with the second "Father of Anarchism," Bakunin, whose
schemes for dictatorship and suppression of democratic control are better
known than Proudhon's. 

The basic reason is the same: Anarchism is not concerned with the creation
of democratic control from below, but only with the destruction of
"authority" over the individual, including the authority of the most
extremely democratic regulation of society that it is possible to imagine.
This has been made clear by authoritative anarchist expositors time and
again; for example, by George Woodcock: "even were democracy possible, the
anarchist would still not support it... Anarchists do not advocate
political freedom. What they advocate is freedom from politics..."
Anarchism is on principle fiercely anti-democratic, since an ideally
democratic AUTHORITY is still authority. But since, rejecting democracy,
it has no other way of resolving the inevitable disagreements and
differences among the inhabitants of Theleme, its unlimited freedom for
each uncontrolled individual is indistinguishable from unlimited despotism
by such an individual, both in theory and practice. 

The great problem of our age is the achievement of DEMOCRATIC CONTROL FROM
freest of all with verbiage about something-from-below, rejects this goal.
It is the other side of the coin of bureaucratic despotism, with all its
values turned inside-out, not the cure or the alternative. 


FROM BELOW', by David McNally, New Socialist Group, Canada):


ANOTHER RADICAL doctrine developed during the period of the
1830s--anarchism. Anarchism is often considered to represent current of
radical thought that is truly democratic and libertarian. It is hailed in
some quarters as the only true political philosophy freedom. The reality
is quite different. From its inception anarchism has been a profoundly
anti-democratic doctrine. Indeed the two most important founders of
anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Michael Bakunin, developed theories
that were elitist and authoritarian to the core. While later anarchists
may have abandoned some of the excesses' of their founding fathers their
philosophy remains hostile to ideas of mass democracy and workers' power. 

It is certainly true that anarchism developed in opposition to the growth
of capitalist society. What's more, anarchist hostility to capitalism
centered on defence of the liberty of the individual. But the liberty
defended by the anarchists was not the freedom of the working class to
make collectively a new society. Rather, anarchism defended the freedom of
the small property owner-- the shopkeeper, artisan and tradesman--against
the encroachments of large- scale capitalist enterprise. Anarchism
represented the anguished cry of the small property owner against the
inevitable advance of capitalism. For that reason, it glorified values
from the past: individual property, the patriarchal family, racism. 

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, widely proclaimed 'the father of anarchism', is a
case in point. A printer by vocation, Proudhon strongly opposed the
emergence of capitalism in France. But Proudhon's opposition to capitalism
was largely backward-looking in character. He did not look forward to a
new society founded upon communal property which would utilise the
greatest inventions of the industrial revolution. Instead, Proudhon
considered small, private property the basis of his utopia. His was a
doctrine designed not for the emerging working class, but for the
disappearing petit bourgeoisie of craftsmen, small traders and rich
peasants. In fact Proudhon so feared the organised power of the developing
working class that he went so far as to oppose trade unions and support
police strike-breaking. 

Worst still, he violently opposed democracy. 'All this democracy disgusts
me', he wrote. And his notes for an ideal society involved the suppression
of elections, of a free press, and of public meetings of more than 20
people. He looked forward to a 'general inquisition' and the condemnation
of 'several million people' to forced labour. The masses, he wrote are
'only savages ... whom it is our duty to civilise, and without making them
our sovereign.' 

Consistent with this outlook, Proudhon supported nearly every
backward-looking cause available to him. He was a rabid racist reserving
his greatest hatred for Jews, whose 'extermination' he advocated. He
opposed emancipation for the American blacks and backed the cause of the
southern slave owners during the American Civil War. Likewise, he
denounced women's liberation, writing that 'For woman liberty and
well-being lie solely in marriage, in motherhood, in domestic duties ...' 

George Lichtheim, in his book The Origins of Socialism, has written quite
accurately that 

It is difficult to name a single author, alive or dead, of whom Proudhon
ever found anything good to say. His other crochets included antisemitism,
Anglophobia, tolerance for slavery (he publicly sided with the South
during the American civil war), dislike of Germans, Italians,
Poles--indeed of all non-French nationalities--and a firmly patriarchal
view of family life ... After this it comes as no surprise that he
believed in inherent inequalities among the races or that he regarded
women as inferior beings. 
The Russian 'father of anarchism', Michael Bakunin, shared most of
Proudhon's views. Indeed, Bakunin was fond of claiming to his fellow
anarchists that 'Proudhon is the master of us all'. Bakunin shared his
master's anti-semitism- -he was convinced that the Jews had constructed an
international conspiracy that included Karl Marx and the wealthy
Rothschild family. He was a Great Russian chauvinist convinced that the
Russians were ordained to lead humanity into anarchist utopia. And what
that utopia might have looked like is hinted at by Bakunin's
organisational methods, which were overwhelmingly elitist and
authoritarian. As one historian has written of Bakunin, 
The International Brotherhood he founded in Naples in 1865-66 was as
conspiratorial and dictatorial as he could make it, for Bakunin's
libertarianism stopped short of the notion of permitting anyone to
contradict him. The Brotherhood was conceived on the Masonic model, with
elaborate rituals, a hierarchy, and a self-appointed directory consisting
of Bakunin and a few associates. 
These characteristics of Bakunin and Proudhon were not mere quirks of
personality. Their elitism, authoritarianism and support for
backward-looking and narrow-minded causes are rooted in the very nature of
anarchist doctrine. 
Originating in the revolt of small property owners against the
centralising and collectivising trends in capitalist development (the
tendency to concentrate production in fewer and fewer large workplaces),
anarchism has always been rooted in a hostility to democratic and
collectivist practices. The early anarchists feared the organised power of
the modern working class. To this day, most anarchists defend the
'liberty' of the private individual against the democratically made
decisions of collective groups. Anarchist oppose even the most democratic
forms of collective organisation of social life. As the Canadian anarchist
writer George Woodcock explains: 'Even were democracy possible, the
anarchist would still not support it ... Anarchists do not advocate
political freedom. What they advocate is freedom from politics ...' That
is to say, anarchists reject any decision-making process in which the
majority of people democratically determine the policies they will

There is, however, another trend which is sometimes associated with
anarchism. This is syndicalism. The syndicalist outlook does believe in
collective working class action to change society. Syndicalists look to
trade union action--such as general strikes--to overthrow capitalism.
Although some syndicalist viewpoints share a superficial similarity with
anarchism -- particularly with its hostility to politics and political
action--syndicalism is not truly a form of anarchism. By accepting the
need for mass, collective action and decision-making, syndicalism is much
superior to classical anarchism. However, by rejecting the idea of working
class political action, syndicalism has never been able to give real
direction to attempts by workers to change society. 


this is very odd, but once again, while looking for something
completely unrelated, i ran across a reference to this 'myth of anarchist
libertarianism' stuff. this time, it was in the archives of the anarchy
list (june 1997), where i found a couple of anarchists mentioning coming
across that same hal draper chapter (intact, under draper's name) at . the second of these
commentators, writing under the name 'general strike', had some good
criticisms of draper; you can find his comments at . i.m. mckay weighed in
as well at ; he comments
that "This text is the standard introduction to the leninism of the SWP
(UK) and ISO (USA) organisation. We are planning to have a reply to it in
the FAQ (probably as an appendix)." curious, i looked up the FAQ and found
no such critique. a quick web search found the phrase "the myth of
anarchist 'libertarianism'" at a bunch of other sites. just for the hell
of it, i'll list these below. thanks again --



you can find the mcnally text at a marxist site at the australian national

the same site hosts draper's text:

the draper text can also be found at

finally, both the draper and mcnally texts can be found together at

however, the version of mcnally's "socialism from below" at is apparently a different
version (it is presented as a second edition, dated 1997); it still
contains a subchapter on anarchism-as-bogus-socialism (under chapter 2,
'birth of the socialist idea'), but much has been cut. in fact, it is so
short, i will include it here:




The same is true, sometimes to a shocking degree, of the earliest
exponents of the radical doctrine known as anarchism. It's "founder,"
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, was an anti-semite and a woman-hater who
vigorously opposed democracy. He opposed workers' strikes, and supported
France's military dictatorship in the early 1850s. "All this democracy
disgusts me," he wrote on one occasion. The masses, he argued are "only
savages...whom it is our duty to civilise, and without making them our

The Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin carried on this tradition, declaring
that "Proudhon is the master of all of us." Bakunin continued his
"master's" anti-semitism, believing in the existence of an international
Jewish conspiracy that included Karl Marx and the wealthy Rothschild
family. Moreover, Bakunin was forever creating conspiratorial
"brotherhoods" organized according to a rigid hierarchy with himself and
his appointed followers at the top.

Early anarchism too, then, lacked a commitment to democratic emancipation. 

From: Jesse Cohn []
Page created: June 16, 1998
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