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My Political Influences

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My introduction to socialism was through the writings of Daniel De Leon, a Marxist who was the leading theorist of the Socialist Labor Party of America from 1891 until his death in 1914 (I was briefly a member of the SLP in the early 1990s). De Leon’s primary contribution was a relatively detailed blueprint for organizing both a revolution and a post-revolutionary government, that he called socialist industrial unionism, and which bore some resemblance to both syndicalism (although De Leon was critical of anarcho-syndicalism) and the later council communism (and De Leon’s advocacy of the necessity of a revolutionary political party also set him apart from that tendency).

This naturally led directly to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the fathers of scientific socialism and dialectical materialism, who provided the necessary tools of analysis for seeing through and critically assessing the economic power relations society takes for granted.

I read Rudolf Rocker‘s Anarcho-Syndicalism at some point after that. Perhaps the most important thing I took away from De Leon was the socialist industrial unionism concept, which was a form of syndicalism, so Rocker’s work represented a similar perspective.

Daniel Guérin‘s Libertarian Marxism? and Towards a Libertarian Communism were also part of my political development.

In Guérin’s words: “Libertarian Communism, as I understand it, is a combination of the best of both anarchism and the thought of Marx” and “the future social revolution will not be Muscovite despotism nor anaemic social-democracy…it will not be authoritarian but libertarian and self-managing, or, if you like, councillist.”

Guérin was bisexual, and supported queer liberation. He wrote that “the revolution cannot be simply political. It must be, at the same time, both cultural and sexual and thus transform every aspect of life and society,” and that queer liberation “will be total and irreversible only if it is achieved within the context of social revolution.” These views also influenced me as a queer woman.

I was also influenced by James Connolly, a Scottish-born Irish revolutionary syndicalist. During the years he lived in the United States (1903-1910), he was a member of De Leon’s SLP and the Industrial Workers of the World. He returned to Ireland in 1910 and became an organiser for the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, then the most radical union in Ireland.

Connolly is best known for his leadership of the Irish Citizen Army, initially formed as a militia to protect striking workers in 1913, and later taking part in the Easter Rising of 1916 (Lenin would later describe the ICA as “the first Red Army in Europe”). Connolly was executed by the British for his role in the uprising.

Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish-born co-founder of the Communist Party of Germany, was another influence, particularly her view that the socialist reconstruction of society “must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people”.

I do have some theoretical disagreements with Luxemburg, particularly her views on the question of national liberation. She felt it was divisive and had no progressive role to play, whereas I agree with Lenin’s post-1916 views (influenced in part by Ireland’s Easter Rising–before then, his views had been closer to Luxemburg’s) that social revolution is inconceivable “without revolts by small nations” and that anti-imperialist liberation movements can be progressive.

Anton Pannekoek was one of the theorists of council communism, which advocated a model of revolution and post-revolutionary government that was radically decentralized and based around democratic workers’ councils.

While I have some fundamental disagreements with V. I. Lenin, I also learned from him. He made important theoretical contributions relevant to imperialism, and I also learned from the Bolsheviks’ example that a model of revolution based around a revolutionary party, particularly one “whose leadership is the essential part of the liberation” (quoting Pannekoek), can be problematic.

There have been other influences, of course, but these are the ones that have consistently defined my political development, and explain why I’ve been variously described, or described myself, as a Libertarian Marxist, Marxian Anarcho-Communist, or Syncretic Marxist, and why I reject vanguard party dictatorships in favor of the self-liberation and self-rule of the working class.

Having said that, I’m too Marxist for anarchists, and too anarchist for Marxist-Leninists, Maoists, etc., but to quote Guérin again: “To call oneself a libertarian Marxist today is not to look backwards but to be committed to the future.”


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