I’ve known Wayne Price for several years now, having met him as a member of NEFAC. Regular readers might also notice that I’ve re-printed a couple of his articles and pamphlets on this site when I felt the need to get a new post up but didn’t have the time or focus to write anything myself. Last year, when Wayne published The Abolition of the State: Anarchist and Marxist Perspectives I put it up near the top of my ‘things to read’ list. Unfortunately, I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I say “unfortunately” because Wayne has written a great book here, the kind that re-hashes and updates the ideas and reasons behind anarchist-communism and puts the “big picture” right in its proper place.
While little of this book is particularly new or ground-breaking, the entirety of it is important and timely. With the resurgence of “anarchism” over the past decade there has emerged a sprawling debate about just exactly what such a politic looks like and stands for. While often fairly nuanced and layered, much of this conversation boils down to two main camps: the more primitivist, “green”, “life-style” oriented idea of anarchism at the dawn of the Twenty-First Century, and the vision of anarchism that is strongly rooted in the idea’s origins in the mid and late Nineteen Century. In my opinion, Wayne has done a great job in this book illustrating just why it is the latter, rather than the former, which wins the day.
Wayne is incredibly well-versed in Marx and Marxist ideas, and he applies the best and most lasting of these ideas to his understanding of anarchism. At the same time, he uses his thorough understanding of anarchist ideas and history (as evidenced by this book’s 13 and a half pages of “references” at the back, which includes titles by everyone from Lenin to Lincoln to Maltesta to Kropotkin to Bookchin) to examine the failings of less anti-authoritarian socialist ideas such as what was advocated by Marx and his supporters.
While much of Abolition is a re-statement of classical libertarian-socialist ideas (essentially freeing today’s students from having to read-through the often antiquated language of Proudhon, Kropotkin, Bakunin and the like) Wayne’s treatment of the subject matter is refreshing in his straight-forward, clear treatment of ideas that are all too often written in less than easy to comprehend ways. Just as importantly, the classical anarchist and socialist ideas are updated to expand beyond simple class analysis (a major critisism from those who deride anarchist-communism and far left socialist ideas as “irrelevant” in these post-modern multi-class times):
Besides being against the state and capitalism, anarchists have opposed all forms of domination and oppression: the rule of men over women, of European-Americans over African-Americans, of Anglos over Latinos, of the imperialist nations over oppressed nations, of straights over Gay men, Lesbians, and Transgendered people, of the mainstream over political or religious minorities, and so on. The record of Marxists is more mixed, but generally they have opposed many, if not all, forms of oppression. While agreeing that the working class is central to the overturn of capitalism, most anarchists and Marxists today believe that these other forms of oppression are also real- overlapping and interacting with capitalist exploitation. (p. 4)
Another invaluable aspect of Wayne’s work here is the manner in which he places the State (government) in relation to capitalism and the exploitation of the working classes. Wayne thoroughly and articulately shows how the ruling classes require the State apparatus to not only hold the working classes in their place, but to control the entirely self-destructive nature of capitalism and exploitive labor-relationships (through often superficial means such as minimum wages, safety and environmental regulations, and the like). Not only does this work serve to explain why capitalism and patriarchy must be opposed entirely, but also why all forms of socialism that have endeavored to “take power” for the working class through appropriation of the appendages of the State have been an utter failure; for the latter, he trots out the history of “socialist” States such as Russia, China, and Cuba as well as the Russian and Spanish Revolutions and the on-the-ground fight against Nazism in Germany. Perhaps most effective of all, he points to the rise of Social Democratic Parties throughout Europe- their promises and failures- throughout the last Century as proof positive that the final revolution and humanity’s ultimate liberation is and will always be at odds with the existence of a State “above and beyond” society at large.
It is said that the abolition of the state would result in chaos. This is topsy-turvy. It is the chaos of capitalism which requires the state. In a society of constant competition and conflict, there must be a state to hold it all together. Otherwise all will fly apart. A cooperative, socialized, society would not need a state to act as the metal hoops on an exploding barrel. It would hold together by itself. Society could use the productive potential of modern technology to provide a comfortable life for everyone, with plenty of free time for participating in social decision-making, and the opportunity for creative, unalienated, labor for all. (p. 13)
The Abolition of the State is a clear and well-written examination of anarchism and the competing ideas of how to accomplish a socialist revolution. For many people who may be newly discovering such ideas, or who may be inclined to favor slower, more “transitional” forms of socialist revolution, few reads are as thorough and well-backed by historical example as this one; likewise, few authors today are as well-versed in the complexities of the State and its functioning’s and failures. Abolition is a great read for both anarchists (who from time to time may need a refresher to keep their daily struggles in context) and the curious though skeptical who are turned off by overly academic or aged libertarian texts.