Marginalia on Radical Thinking: Interview with Wayne Price (archive 2012)

I have been reading Wayne Price’s serialized book on Marxist Economics and Anarchism as well as his articles on the topic and his debates with Michael Albert. I found his stance engaging and clarifying on what Marxian libertarian communism would look like.  This is an interview I had with him during the month of November 2011.  

Skepoet: Dr. Price, I have been reading your book “Marixst Economics for Anarchists” which seems to be an attempt to be reintroduce the Marx to anarchist thinkers and also introduce Marxists to the pre-Leninist forms of Marxism.  Why do you think this is important?

Wayne Price: Please call me Wayne (or Comrade Price if you want to be formal!).  I do not have a doctorate in anarchism (actually my degree is in psychology; I was a school psychologist for deaf and blind children).

The book, which is being published serially on www.Anarkismo.net, is “Marx’s Economics for Anarchists; An Anarchist’s Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy.”  That is, it is about Marx’s economic theory, Marx’s Marxism, not the post-Marx Marxism of Kautsky or Lenin or Trotsky. The purpose of the book is exactly what the title says, in a period of economic crisis, to educate anarchists about Marx’s economic theories, the better to understand what is happening and how best to fight capitalism.  As to Marxists, I have no especial interest in educating them as to Marx’s views, so much as to expose them to the anarchist critique of Marxism.

Skepoet: Do you see yourself as picking back up the work that was somewhat legacy of the First Intentional?
Wayne Price: I do not accept all the consequences of the Marx-Bakunin dispute, over a century and a half ago.  Ultimately, the anarchists were right, but Marx had a lot of useful things to say.  There are, I believe, both libertarian-democratic and authoritarian-elitist sides to Marx’s Marxism, both scientific and teleological-scientistic sides.  I am an anarchist but I believe that a lot can be learned from the positive sides of Marxism.

Skepoet : What do you see as the primary problem of Leninism?
Wayne Price: I would say that Lenin’s views suffer from basic problems in Marxism.

(1) His vision of socialism is centralist.  We see this in his most librtarian work, State and Revolution.    He wants to replace the state with an association of workers’ councils.  Good.  But he sees the economy of socialism as on the model of the Prussian post office or of Germany’s war-time government-dominated state-monopolist capitalism.    He says so.  This vision had terrible effects on Marxism-Leninism.
(2)  He believed that Marxism–as HE understood it–had the whole, absolute, truth.  Since he knew the truth, what was in the interests of the proletariat and all humanity, and then he was justified in establishing a one-party police state to implement it.

Skepoet: Anarchist has been much more active but much less economically and theoretically sophisticated in my mind particularly after the late nineties when post left anarchism became more of an issue. Do you agree with that? Or am I being unfair? Secondly, do you think lingering liberalism is a problem in anarchist circles?
Wayne Price: I must admit that I do not know much about “post-let” anarchism.  I am an advocate of left anarchism.  I see anarchism as the left of the left of the left of the left, rather than post-left. I am not much impressed with most anarchist theorizing, which has been essentially reformist, but which I man that it is opposed to a strategy of working class revolution.  Instead it advocates a gradual, peaceful, step-by-step development of counterinstitutions to overcome the state and capitalism.

This takes us to your second question.  Yes, I feel that much of current anarchism is liberal.  Many anarchists have illusions in the state, in its agents, such as police, and in the ruthlessness of the capitalist class.  They lack a perspective of class war

Skepoet: Why do you think they lack the perspective of class war?  Can you cite any popular anarchist writers who keep this up?

Wayne Price: There is nothing subtle about it (nor do I mean simply that they include other oppressions, such as gender, race, etc., along with class conflict).  They explicitly advocate a focus on building counterinstitutions (or in Bookchin’s case, electing people to local governments).  They explicitly say that they advocate gradually, peacefully, replacing the state and capitalism.

Some of the key figures here are David Graeber, Uri Gordon, and Murray Bookchin.

Skepoet: Why do you think this approach is so popular?
Wayne Price A peaceful and gradual nonviolent change to socialist anarchism would be vastly preferable to any sort of mass revolution….if it were possible.  Personally I hate violence, which is hardly unique.  Nor am I wild about chaos and suffering and the risks of loosing.  So the reformist approach is very attractive.  Add this to the low level of working class struggle over the last decades and  reformism makes a lot of sense.  It is, of course, what our rulers would prefer us to believe.

Skepoet: How do you define the working class?

Wayne Price: Modern workers are all those who work by hand and brain, for a wage or salary, who are not supervisors.  The working class–as a class–also includes their stay-home spouses, children, also retirees, people looking for work, etc.  In our society this is most of the population.

Skepoet So supervisors would be a kind of labor aristocracy since they aren’t truly owners  but definitely have class interests with the owners?
Wayne Price: As Marx puts it, the bourgeoisie is the “personification of capital.”  So are their immediate agents, the managers.

Skepoet : Does this also apply to cops as manifestations of the state?

Wayne Price: In general yes.  Cops are an essential part of the state, of its repressive apparatus.  For example,  during  the Occupy Wall Street protests, there has been some sympathy shown by some of the rank and file of the police, as well as outright hatred by the higher-ups.  But even the most sympathetic ranks will do their jobs.  If ordered to clear away the Occupiers, they will do their jobs, and that is what their job is.  This is not a matter of cops being personally evil, although their jobs create a certain mindset.  It is a matter of doing their jobs.

Skepoet : How do you think an anarcho-communist should handle the police when they are not in official capacity?

Wayne Price: When is a police officer not in an official capacity?  Off duty they still have their badges with them and carry their guns (even when they go to a bar, which has resulted in various incidents over the years).    However I am not for provoking police.  In normal human interactions I am for acting normally.

Skepoet : Back to Marx, what are the limits to Marxist theories for anarchists if you think there are any?
Wayne Price: I think that there are both libertarian-demcratic aspects to Marx and authoritarian aspects.  There are aspects which contributed to the eventual development of the totalitarian state-capitalism which called itself “Marxist.”  This includes his generally centralist approach to socialism as well as  a tendency toward teleological determinism, which involves a generally non-moralism (nowhere does he write that it is morally correct to be for socialism).

Skepoet : Do you think similar of Bakunin?

Wayne Price: Even more so.  As a movement, anarchism began with Bakunin. For that we honor him.  Yet he was deeply flawed.  His racism was apparent in his public attacks on Marx and others as Germans and as Jews.  He continually attempted to set up conspiratorial secret centralized groups to act behind the backs of the workers’ organizations and to manipulate them (although most of his attempts were imaginary).  He was incapable of much systematic writing.  The movement which developed after him was greater than he was.

Skepoet : What are your thoughts on Occupy?

Wayne Price This is a wonderful thing;

a new upsurge in mass rebellion, the beginning of a new mass radicalization comparable took the 60s or the 30s–combined.  I do not know how it will develop, but it is exciting.    Programmatically, it is weak (having no program).  It has arisen due to the popular discontent, and to the failure of the liberal Democrats or the union bureaucrats to fight.  So instead the discontent has taken this form.  But the genie is out of the bottle and will not go back.

Skepoet: Anything you’d like to say in closing?

Wayne Prince: This is an exciting time to be a revolutionary anarchist.  Yet we are threatened with terrible suffering if we fail:  economic crisis, nuclear wars, ecological cataclysm.  We have to get it right this time.

Thanks for the chance to express my views.

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