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Journal of Political Ideologies
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Politics, power and the state: a Marxist
response to postanarchism
Simon Choat
School of Economics, History and Politics, Faculty of Arts and
Social Sciences, Kingston University London, Penrhyn Road,
Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, KT1 2EE, UK
Published online: 14 Oct 2013.
To cite this article: Simon Choat (2013) Politics, power and the state: a Marxist response to
postanarchism, Journal of Political Ideologies, 18:3, 328-347, DOI: 10.1080/13569317.2013.831592
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13569317.2013.831592
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Journal of Political Ideologies, 2013
Vol. 18, No. 3, 328–347, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13569317.2013.831592
Politics, power and the state: a
Marxist response to postanarchism
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School of Economics, History and Politics, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston
University London, Penrhyn Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey KT1 2EE, UK
ABSTRACT Recent years have seen the development of a new form of anarchism.
Under the label ‘postanarchism’, writers such as Todd May, Saul Newman and
Lewis Call have sought to combine the insights of anarchism with those of recent
Continental philosophy, in particular post-structuralism. A central but neglected
element of postanarchist thought is its critique of Marxism. The main aim of this
article is to counter the postanarchist dismissal of Marxism. It will: introduce the
key ideas and arguments of postanarchism; locate its critique of Marxism,
demonstrating its importance to the postanarchist project; and highlight
weaknesses in the postanarchist critique of Marxism. It argues that the
postanarchist portrayal of Marxism is reductive and misleading. Contrary to
postanarchist claims, many post-structuralists have drawn inspiration from
Marxism rather than rejecting it: as such, Marxism anticipates many of the poststructuralist-inflected ideas of postanarchism, in particular their approach to the
state, power, subjectivity and politics. In addition, some Marxist criticisms of
classical anarchism apply equally to postanarchism, thus raising questions to which
postanarchists should respond.
Since the start of this century, anarchist theory and practice have seen something of
a resurgence. In part this is reflected in the increasing prominence of anarchistinspired alter-globalization movements and protests.1 In addition, however, the
past decade has seen the emergence and development of a new strand of anarchism
known as ‘postanarchism’, represented by thinkers including Todd May, Saul
Newman, Lewis Call and Richard Day.2 Postanarchism is an attempt to reread and
renew the anarchist tradition using late 20th and 21st century Continental
philosophers, in particular post-structuralists like Foucault and Deleuze. It offers a
critical appropriation of anarchism—one which criticizes the weaknesses of
classical anarchism while nonetheless drawing on its resources and arguments. Put
simply, postanarchism is an anarchism relieved of the ontological baggage of
q 2013 Taylor & Francis
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a marxist response to postanarchism
Enlightenment humanism and rationalism.3 One of the ways in which
postanarchism both defines itself and links itself to the classical anarchist tradition
is through a critique of Marxism. Yet although postanarchists have explicitly and
repeatedly detailed their criticisms of Marxism, this critique has so far received
little comment from Marxists.
This article seeks to remedy that neglect by offering a Marxist response to
postanarchism. The main aim is to counter the postanarchist critique of Marxism
by demonstrating the continuing relevance of the Marxist tradition. The
postanarchist critique is flawed in important ways, misrepresenting both Marxism
and the relationship between Marxism and post-structuralism. Rather than
defending one particular variant of Marxism, I will argue that Marxism is a much
richer and more fertile tradition than is claimed by postanarchism’s reductive
reading. Indeed, many postanarchist arguments have much in common with
Marxist theories.
Although I am critical of postanarchism, my aim is not to dismiss it entirely in
favour of Marxism. The broader goal of postanarchism—to combine the insights
of post-structuralism with older traditions of radical thought—is laudable. It also
makes some pertinent criticisms of classical anarchism, leading to some
interesting claims about politics, power, subjectivity and the state. Many of these
criticisms and claims, however, have in effect already been made by Marxists.
In addition, however, many Marxist criticisms of classical anarchism can be
applied to postanarchism and hence call for a response from postanarchists.
It is not my aim here to tread over old ground or revive ancient enmities.
Nonetheless, I will draw upon classical Marxist criticisms of anarchism, and my
arguments can be placed in the context of a debate between anarchism and
Marxism that has persisted since the 19th century. This debate has had enormous
historical significance: both anarchists and Marxists have portrayed themselves as
members of the same family4 and the disagreements between them have played a
large role in shaping these two ideologies, with each defining themselves in
opposition to the other. Yet the debate is not of merely theoretical or historical
interest. It has had substantial material and political effects: the rise and fall of the
First International, the course of the revolutionary movement in Russia and the
outcome of the Spanish Civil War were all influenced by disagreements between
anarchists and Marxists. It is a timely debate today because it is not only anarchism
that is resurgent: Marxism too has seen a revival in recent years. In contrast to the
jubilant proclamations of the death of Marxism that greeted the end of the Cold
War, Marx’s ideas are now being turned to once more to help understand and
navigate the problems faced by a globalized world. In the wake of a massive
financial crisis that mainstream economists failed to predict or explain, many of
the most perspicacious analyses of that crisis have come from Marxist and neoMarxist scholars.5 Given the significance of both anarchism and Marxism to
radical politics today, it seems pertinent to assess the criticisms made of Marxism
by the latest version of anarchism.
In the first section of the article, I will explain what postanarchism is,
detailing its central claims and its relationship with classical anarchism and
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simon choat
post-structuralism. The aim of this first section is to provide an introduction to
postanarchism and to highlight its central criticisms of classical anarchism. Next,
I will outline the postanarchist critique of Marxism, explaining why postanarchists
reject Marxism and why this critique is so significant for their broader project: to a
great extent the rejection of Marxism motivates and justifies their use of both
anarchism and post-structuralism. Third, I will begin to formulate a Marxist
response to this critique, questioning postanarchist claims about both Marxism and
its relation to post-structuralism. Finally, I will develop this response by drawing
on the classical Marxist engagement with anarchism, showing that many
postanarchist criticisms of classical anarchism are anticipated by Marxism. My
claim is not that Marxism has all the answers to our problems, but that it is unfair
and unwise to dismiss it in the way that postanarchism has.
Finally, two notes on terminology. First, if I have not considered the ‘postMarxism’ of thinkers like Laclau and Mouffe here, it is because post-Marxism
and postanarchism have very different relations to their respective traditions.
Whereas postanarchism is a critical appropriation of anarchism, post-Marxism—
with its rejection of the centrality of class—is in effect a repudiation of
Marxism. I offer a Marxist, rather than a post-Marxist, response to
postanarchism. Second, although the thinkers labelled ‘postanarchist’ have
given different names to their project—Todd May writes of ‘post-structuralist
anarchism’ and Lewis Call of ‘postmodern anarchism’—there are more than
enough commonalities to justify grouping them all under one title, and so for
reasons of clarity and convenience I am going to adopt Saul Newman’s term
and call them all ‘postanarchists’.
Postanarchism and classical anarchism
Postanarchism is a varied body of thought, but is perhaps best characterized as a
critical appropriation of the anarchist tradition, revisiting the classical anarchism
of 19th and early 20th century thinkers like Bakunin, Stirner and Kropotkin.
In part, this means an attempt to renew anarchist ideas in order to apply them to
present-day political and social developments—developments sometimes referred
to using the name ‘postmodernity’.6 More than this, however, it means revitalizing
anarchism using recent theoretical innovations—in particular post-structuralist
concepts and arguments. This involves two related moves: first, demonstrating
the affinities between classical anarchism and post-structuralism; second, using
post-structuralism to criticize the weaknesses of classical anarchism. In brief,
postanarchists use post-structuralism to criticize classical anarchism for its
obsession with the state, its conception of power as purely repressive, its
essentialist and humanist ontology, and its naive understanding of politics as
something that can be abolished. Before examining these criticisms in more detail,
and in order to attain a better understanding of the postanarchist project, we will
look briefly at the affinities that it finds between classical anarchism and poststructuralism.
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a marxist response to postanarchism
For postanarchists, there is ‘an ethical continuum’7 between classical anarchism
and post-structuralism. They argue that although the post-structuralists themselves
may not have explicitly characterized their own work as anarchist, poststructuralism can be seen as heir to the anarchist tradition, providing us with ‘a
new type of anarchism’.8 Conversely, anarchism can be used to develop and
articulate a post-structuralist politics, helping to counter the commonplace view of
post-structuralism as a form of apolitical relativism or nihilism. To defend these
claims, postanarchists point to the origins of post-structuralism in May 1968—
events which played a large role in politicizing and shaping the views of poststructuralist thinkers such as Deleuze and Foucault, and which were strongly
influenced by anti-authoritarian and anarchist currents and ideas.9 More
importantly, postanarchists highlight a number of theoretical commonalities
between classical anarchism and post-structuralism—in particular, common
attitudes towards power and representation.
As the postanarchists point out, a rejection of political representation is a key
element of classical anarchism: if anarchists wish to abolish the state, it is because
the state ‘is the ultimate form of political representation’, and they reject all forms
of representation.10 This anarchist critique of representation, it is argued, is echoed
and extended by post-structuralism. Like the classical anarchists, post-structuralist
thinkers are suspicious of forms of political representation—or of ‘the indignity of
speaking for others’ as Deleuze put it in an interview with Foucault.11 But poststructuralism deepens this critique by basing it on an epistemological critique of
representation. Lyotard, for example, sought to show how the theoretical
apparatus of representation both relies upon and obscures libidinal drives and
intensities that cannot be represented.12 For Deleuze, the epistemological critique
of representation is necessarily linked to a political critique of forms of power:
representation calls on us merely to recognize what is already given—to endorse
established values and institutions, rather than investigating their genesis or
creating new values.13
Just as they reject all forms of representation, so do anarchists reject all forms of
power—not merely the power of the state, but also that of the church, family,
educational institutions, etc. Recognizing that power operates across a number of
terrains and in many different ways, anarchists call for varied, decentralized and
non-hierarchical forms of resistance. Postanarchists argue that this approach to
power resonates with the post-structuralist view. If power is everywhere, as
Foucault has claimed, it is not because we are all subjected to one overarching
form of domination, but because power is found in all relationships, operating in
every sphere of life, and exercised in multiple ways.14 Like the anarchists,
Foucault calls for an ‘ascending analysis of power’ that begins with localized and
immediate mechanisms of power.15
So for postanarchists, classical anarchism and post-structuralism are united in
their suspicion of representation and their appreciation of the plurality of forms of
power. Yet if post-structuralism is a ‘new type of anarchism’, it is because it also
differs from classical anarchism in significant ways: post-structuralism does not
merely replicate the insights of classical anarchism but builds upon them.
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Although they think that the anarchist tradition provides the best template for
radical politics today, postanarchists do not uncritically accept that tradition: they
argue that post-structuralism must be used to criticize and supplement classical
anarchism, with which they find a number of related problems.
Above all, it is argued that classical anarchism has left us with an ambiguous
legacy, its insights undermined by a certain Enlightenment naivety.16 While they
applaud anarchism’s analysis of power—with its recognition that power can be
found in many spheres of life and can take many forms—postanarchists argue that
this analysis is undermined by a tendency to view power and resistance in naively
Manichean terms: the evil and artificiality of power is counterposed to some
natural, uncorrupted order which can act as a source of resistance.17 This
Manicheanism can take one of two forms (or some combination of both). In the
work of some classical anarchists, power is opposed to a benign human essence
which is repressed by and which must be liberated from power.18 The artificiality
and impurity of power are contrasted with the naturality and purity of the human
essence.19 In the work of others, power is opposed to a broader notion of the innate
rationality of society: an idea of an organic, self-regulating social order, which can
be revealed through the discovery of positive natural laws yet which has been
disrupted and suppressed by violent and irrational power.20
Using the tools of post-structuralism, postanarchists highlight a number of
problems with this ‘rational-humanist paradigm’.21 In the first place, it undermines
anarchism’s own insights into the plurality of power. The desire to abolish power
as a whole leads classical anarchists to search for a single source of power—
something that can be easily contrasted with the natural and harmonious social
order. The source that they identify is the state, which becomes the focus of
classical anarchism’s critique of power. So the recognition of the dispersed nature
of power sits in tension with and is undermined by a reductionism that draws a
crude distinction between ‘society’ on the one hand and ‘the state’ on the other.
The classical anarchist analysis wavers between an acknowledgement of the many
sources and forms of power and a preoccupation with the state as the epitome of
power. Classical anarchists are criticized by postanarchists not simply for focusing
on the state but, second, for their understanding of the way in which power
operates. Power for the classical anarchists is always repressive: it is something
that prohibits, conceals, excludes and prevents. Postanarchists counter this view of
power with the post-structuralist position, wherein power is productive: power
does not act simply by repressing individuals, but by constituting the very subject
to which it is applied, so that the individual is herself or himself an effect or a
product of power.22
The other side of classical anarchism’s naive conception of power is, third, a
reliance on dubious ontological foundations. For classical anarchists, power is
repressive, and what it represses is some social or human essence given to us by
nature. By positing an essence of society or of human nature, the classical
anarchists were searching for ‘a transcendental or quasi-transcendental ground
from which to recover a pure, untainted source of resistance’.23 Inspired by poststructuralism’s suspicion of claims to essentialism, postanarchists propose a
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a marxist response to postanarchism
deconstruction of anarchism’s ontological foundations.24 In particular, they reject
classical anarchism’s humanism—that is, the idea that the human subject is
rational, unified, and possesses certain essential characteristics.25 For postanarchists, the subject is never simply given but is constituted by discourses and
practices of power. Finally, postanarchists argue that classical anarchism’s
Manichean opposition between the artificiality of state power and the naturality of
society and humanity leads to a naive understanding of politics. Equating politics
with the authority of the state leads classical anarchists to demand the ‘total
abolition of politics’: the abolition of the state and the end of politics are the same
thing for classical anarchism.26 In contrast, postanarchists call for a more nuanced
understanding of politics which recognizes its inevitability. Politics is necessary
because even the abolition of the state requires political forms of organization and
strategy, and will not simply occur spontaneously. Moreover, if society has no
essence and power is everywhere then the very foundations of society become
politicized: attempts to transform society cannot be characterized as the overthrow
of politics and the return of natural order, but only as a political attempt to find an
alternative articulation of social relations.
These, then, are the four main criticisms of classical anarchism by
postanarchism: it focuses too much on the state; it offers an inadequate theory
of power; it relies too heavily on a humanist ontology; and it misunderstands the
nature of politics. I will argue later that each of these criticisms of classical
anarchism had already been articulated in certain (but not identical) ways by
Marxism—and, hence, rather than dismissing Marxism, postanarchists should turn
to it for insights.
In reflection of recent trends within Continental political philosophy, some
postanarchists have lately moved beyond post-structuralism to analyse the
connections between anarchism and present-day thinkers like Alain Badiou and
Jacques Rancière.27 These analyses follow a familiar pattern: drawing out the
anarchist assumptions supposedly implicit in a thinker’s work, while
simultaneously using that thinker to expose and remedy the naiveties of classical
anarchism. Postanarchists have been careful to emphasize that they are not trying
to reject or move beyond anarchism. As Newman explains: ‘postanarchism does
not understand post to mean being “after” anarchism, but post in the sense of
working at the limits of anarchist thought by uncovering its heterogeneous and
unpredictable possibilities’.28 Despite this qualification, postanarchism has drawn
criticism from other anarchists, in particular for its representation of classical
Some of these criticisms may be valid—although in many cases anarchists have
clearly misunderstood both postanarchism and post-structuralism.30 It is not my
intention, however, to assess these claims here: it is for postanarchists themselves
to defend their arguments. Instead, I would like to examine an aspect of
postanarchism that has been overlooked by its anarchist critics—and, indeed, by
almost everyone else31—namely its views on Marxism. In doing so, I will argue
that many of postanarchism’s criticisms of classical anarchism are entirely
legitimate: it is just that many of them have already been expressed by Marxism.
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Any rigorous assessment of postanarchism demands an analysis of its attitude
towards Marxism because, as I will show in the next section, a critique of Marxism
is central to postanarchism.
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The postanarchist critique of Marxism
The postanarchist critique of Marxism centres on three interrelated points. The
first and most important claim is that Marxism is economically reductionist: it
understands social conflict only in terms of class struggle, and it understands
power only as the dominance of a particular economic class.32 Other forms of
power and conflict are marginalized or ignored, and Marxism sets itself only one
goal, namely the overthrow of capitalism.
This reductive analysis of society leads, second, to an authoritarian politics.
Because Marxists understand political power as ‘merely the organized power of
one class for oppressing another’ (as Marx and Engels claim in the Manifesto33),
they do not appreciate that power can have other sources and take other forms.
In particular, they do not recognize that the state has its own autonomous power,
irreducible to and distinct from its role in the perpetuation of class power. As such,
they think that the state can be used as a neutral tool of revolutionary change, as in
the transitional ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.34 This, postanarchists claim, is in
stark contrast to anarchism, which believes that the state is always oppressive, no
matter what its form or who is in charge of it, and which thus seeks to smash the
state rather than make use of it.35 The authoritarianism inherent in the plan for a
dictatorship of the proletariat is according to postanarchism redoubled in the
Marxist notion of the vanguard party, a notion which for postanarchists is also a
consequence of Marxism’s economic reductionism: if there is only one struggle
(the class struggle) and one source of oppression (capital) then it makes sense that
those who can best understand this struggle are the ones to lead it. Even if the
proletariat is not the most numerous class in society, it must lead the social
struggle because of its unique position within society—and it must be led and
disciplined by a party that can interpret and explain the struggle to the ignorant.
If, on the other hand—and as anarchism recognizes—there are many different
struggles, then the legitimacy of an avant-garde leadership is necessarily
weakened, and it is those who are caught up in these many different struggles who
are best placed to lead them.36 In place of the vanguard party, anarchists propose
decentralized, spontaneous forms of political action that prefigure the free and
equal society they are fighting for.
According to postanarchism, the reductive privileging of a single site of
oppression also leads Marxists, third and finally, to isolate a single political
subject: because of its unique place within capitalist relations of production, the
industrial proletariat can be the only agent of political change.37 Privileging the
proletariat in this way, Marxism (it is claimed) overlooks or is dismissive of other
potentially revolutionary actors and other forms of struggle.
So for postanarchists, Marxism is reductionist, authoritarian, and has an
impoverished understanding of political subjectivity. These flaws, postanarchists
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a marxist response to postanarchism
argue, have had serious consequences: while the degradations of Stalinist and
Maoist regimes cannot simply be seen as the inevitable result of the attempt to
apply Marxist ideas, for postanarchists the disasters of 20th century communism at
the very least help to confirm Marxism’s theoretical redundancy and validate the
anarchist suspicion of the monolithic, centralizing and reductionist approach of
Marxist theory.38 Marxism, in short, has been totalitarian in thought and
This critique of Marxism is not incidental to postanarchism. In fact, it can be said
that a rejection of Marxism is the starting point of the whole project: it is in large
part the alleged failure of Marxism that has led postanarchist thinkers to turn to
anarchism in the first place. Postanarchists argue that in order to address the
political problems that we face today, we need a radical politics—something which
can take us beyond liberalism and social democracy, both of which are seen as
complicit in the development and consolidation of a brand of neoliberalism that has
preached a market fundamentalism at the same time as it has increased the powers
of the state in the name of security.40 But for postanarchists we cannot turn to
Marxism, which arguably dominated radical politics in the 20th century. Marxism,
it is claimed, is not nearly radical enough to provide an adequate response to our
contemporary political situation.41 Yet, as we have seen, postanarchists do not
simply claim that Marxism is obsolete or went wrong at some point in the past, but
rather that Marxism has never been radical enough: its inadequacies are systemic
and ineradicable, and it is not a coincidence that Marxist regimes were among the
most tyrannical of the 20th century. Faced with the failures of Marxism—
represented and confirmed by the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union—
postanarchists claim that we should turn instead to its great rival anarchism in
order to help us develop a radical politics fit for the 21st century. But why turn to
anarchism specifically?
One reason is that the classical anarchists had already recognized the
inadequacies of Marxism. In their critique of Marxism, postanarchists are drawing
on thinkers like Bakunin, who are portrayed by postanarchism as presciently
anticipating the problems of the Soviet Union.42 Classical anarchists had already
criticized Marxism for its economic reductionism—its failure to recognize nonclass forms of power and non-capitalist sources of oppression—and they had
already argued that this reductionism leads to authoritarianism. For Bakunin, the
restricted focus and supposedly scientific status of Marxism’s social analysis lends
itself to authoritarian forms of leadership: ‘since thought, theory, and science . . .
are the property of a very few individuals, those few must be the directors of social
life’.43 Bakunin argues that the state itself is a site of power—and not merely a
reflection of the economic power of the bourgeoisie—and hence fiercely rejects
the Marxist plan to use the state as a tool of revolution: he argues that ‘the only
way to render any political power harmless, to pacify it and subdue it, is to destroy
it . . . [T]here can be no guarantee against political power except its complete
abolition’.44 Anarchists have long claimed that Marxism offers a narrow and
dogmatic analysis of society, dismissive of classes like the peasantry who do not fit
into that analysis. Many contemporary anarchists have updated this particular
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criticism, arguing that while a focus on the industrial proletariat may have been
understandable (if ultimately inadequate) in Marx’s day, it is entirely
inappropriate today, when ecological, gender and racial questions—what the
eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin calls ‘transclass issues’—have been put firmly on
the political agenda. Bookchin argues that there is a need ‘to enlarge and broaden
existing concepts of social oppression’: class remains a significant issue, but there
is in addition a need to account for other social struggles, a need that Marxism
cannot fulfil.45
Hence, the critique of Marxism places postanarchism firmly within the anarchist
tradition: the suspicions of some contemporary anarchists notwithstanding, the
strong hostility of postanarchists towards Marxism goes some way towards
validating their anarchist credentials, providing one strand of continuity between
the classical anarchism of Bakunin and others to the postanarchism of Newman and
others. Yet as well as providing a connection to classical anarchism, in
postanarchist eyes their rejection of Marxism provides a link to post-structuralism.
For postanarchists, post-structuralism is characterized in large part by a suspicion
of Marxism: ‘thinkers in this tradition—including Foucault, Lyotard and
Deleuze—were all deeply influenced by the political experience of May ’68, and
they became critical of what they saw as the totalizing and universalizing logic of
Marxist theory’.46 In place of Marxism’s reductionism and authoritarianism, poststructuralism emphasizes contingency, heterogeneity and difference—the need to
analyse specific situations at the micro-level rather than forcing events into a preestablished narrative of class struggle. Hence, the union of anarchism and poststructuralism is in part justified by a common critique of Marxism:47 postanarchism
uses post-structuralism not merely to expose some of the weaknesses of classical
anarchism, but also to reinforce its hostility to Marxism.
The critique of Marxism thus plays a key role in both initiating and orienting
postanarchism: the alleged deficiencies of Marxism are used to justify recourse to
both classical anarchist and post-structuralist ideas. It would not be an
exaggeration to state that the ‘failure’ of Marxism is the key underlying
assumption of postanarchism. If Marxism as a form of radical politics had not
‘failed’ (as postanarchists claim it has), then there would be no need to return to
classical anarchism in search of an alternative, nor to turn to post-structuralism for
new ideas. Postanarchists develop their theory in a context that they define by
reference to the ‘collapse’ of the Marxist project.48 Given the importance of the
critique of Marxism to postanarchism, therefore, it is regrettable that so little
attention has been paid to it. Regrettable, if also understandable: most commentary
on postanarchism has so far come from anarchists themselves, and they are
unlikely to question or challenge criticisms of Marxism. If Marxists, on the other
hand, have thus far declined to engage with postanarchism, then this may reflect a
traditionally patronizing attitude towards anarchism, which is often characterized
as little more than a pale shadow of Marxism. Rather than simply dismiss
postanarchism in these terms, however, I would like to interrogate its claims
concerning Marxism.
a marxist response to postanarchism
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A Marxist response
I do not intend to try to refute every aspect of the postanarchist critique of Marxism.
Indeed, the fundamental claim of that critique—that Marxism can tend towards
economic reductionism, its focus on class struggle tending to obscure other forms
of power and conflict—is well taken, although it is not exactly original: it is a claim
that has been made not only by anarchists, but also by liberals, conservatives,
feminists, social democrats, environmentalists and even many Marxists. But
Marxism is an extremely broad and varied tradition: while it has its flaws, those
flaws are not good reason to reject the entire tradition. In their reductive
interpretation of Marxism, postanarchists overlook or ignore its breadth and
variety. In doing so, they make a number of dubious claims about Marxism and its
relation to post-structuralism.
For postanarchists, following their anarchist predecessors, Marxism’s
reductionism necessarily leads to forms of authoritarianism that are contrasted
with the anarchist emphasis on decentralization. Richard Day, for example,
contrasts a logic of hegemony—derived from Marx, Lenin and Gramsci, and which
emphasizes political leadership and engagement with and use of the state—with a
logic of affinity, which is inspired by anarchism and promotes ‘horizontal’ (rather
than hierarchical) modes of political organization in which networks of activists
operate outside of the state.49 Yet while this is an important debate within
contemporary political theory,50 it is one which cuts across anarchist– Marxist
lines: a number of recent thinkers working in the Marxist tradition have rejected the
logic of hegemony and embraced horizontal, networked forms of organization and
resistance.51 It is simplistic and inaccurate to equate Marxism with authoritarianism and anarchism with decentralization.
Postanarchists might respond that the history of Marxist states confirms their
suspicions concerning Marxism’s authoritarian tendencies. But the attempt to
discredit an ideology by pointing to its concrete historical manifestations (arguing,
for example, that the nightmare of Stalinism somehow disproves Marxism) is
highly questionable, and for anarchists somewhat risky. For if it is true that an
ideology can be judged in this way, then where does that leave anarchism? The
history of anarchism ‘in practice’ since the 19th century is not a victorious or
glorious one, and has instead frequently ended with anarchists being arrested,
executed or otherwise defeated. Judging anarchism by it historical manifestations,
in other words, would seem only to confirm the popular image of anarchism as a
form of romantic but ultimately doomed idealism, with anarchists as martyrs to a
noble but naive cause. If an ideology should be judged according to its results in
practice, then it seems anarchism at least as much as Marxism must be considered
a failure. Anarchism’s historical failures also bring into question the anarchist
claim that radical change can be achieved without some measure of leadership and
discipline: if it is true that political transformation can be attained without the
kinds of party structures that Marxism has traditionally adopted, then why has
anarchism not seen greater success?
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In addition, the postanarchist attempt to discredit Marxist theory by pointing to
its practical applications seems to confirm a well-established Marxist criticism of
anarchism, namely that anarchists have offered only abstract and naive analyses of
politics that pay too little attention to real, historical conditions. The postanarchist
portrayal of Marxism is abstract and naive for at least two reasons. First, it
conflates very different types of Marxism, subsuming what is a varied and
heterogeneous body of thought under a single, teleological narrative, whereby all
forms of Marxism lead ineluctably to the gulag. What of the many Marxist
thinkers who have themselves offered critiques of the horrors of Stalinism?
Second, the postanarchist portrayal implies a simplistic link between the
weaknesses of an ideology and its historical embodiments, without addressing the
social, economic, political and historical context within which theoretical
arguments and concepts are created, developed and employed. This is not to say
that Marxism does not have certain theoretical weaknesses or tendencies, nor that
these have nothing to do with the weaknesses of Marxism in practice—but we
should avoid simplistic connections between, for example, the texts of Marx and
Soviet labour camps. What we need is a more nuanced and sophisticated analysis
of the relations between theory and practice. Such an approach—which would
trace the complex relations between forms of discourse and forms of power instead
of seeing particular historical events as the results of inadequate ideas—would
seem to have more in common with the post-structuralism to which postanarchists
claim allegiance.
This leads us to the next point: the attitude of post-structuralist thinkers towards
Marxism is much more complex than postanarchists claim. Some poststructuralists were happy to be identified as Marxists: Deleuze, for example,
explicitly asserted his commitment to Marxism on numerous occasions and was
writing a book on the grandeur de Marx when he died.52 Deleuze and Guattari’s
Anti-Oedipus is full of Marxist ideas and terminology, to the extent that the entire
book can be considered a novel contribution to Marxist historical methodology as
much as a critique of Freudian psychoanalysis.53 There are other poststructuralists who cannot plausibly be called Marxists, yet who nevertheless
went out of their way to affirm Marx’s continuing contemporary significance.
In Specters of Marx, for instance, Derrida may caution against Marxist
metaphysical ontologies, but he also repeatedly insists on Marx’s contemporary
importance, and explicitly places deconstruction in the tradition of Marxism.54
Derrida is sometimes portrayed as a thinker who kept silent on Marx until pressed
to comment, but even in his earlier work he was emphasizing the necessity of an
‘encounter’ between Marxism and deconstruction, and he spent much of the 1970s
giving seminars on Marx.55 Even a thinker like Foucault, who was frequently
highly critical of Marxism, cannot be characterized as an anti-Marxist: he often
explicitly praises Marx, placing him alongside Nietzsche as an originator of the
kind of historical thought that Foucault himself sought to practise, and declaring
that the study of history is necessarily influenced by Marx’s work.56
The point here is not that all post-structuralist thinkers were closet Marxists, but
that even a cursory glance at their work begins to throw doubt on the postanarchist
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claim that recent French philosophy—post-structuralism in particular—begins
from a rejection of Marxism. Certainly, post-structuralists were suspicious of
particular forms of Marxism (especially those propagated by the Communist Party)
and they were clearly suspicious of some of Marx’s claims, but far from rejecting
Marxism altogether they continued to assert its importance and draw upon its
ideas.57 In contrast, they have almost nothing to say about anarchism and do not
engage with any major classical anarchist. More recent thinkers such as Badiou and
Negri have been even more explicit in their rejection of anarchism.58 For
postanarchists, this dismissive attitude towards anarchism is a ‘disavowal’ of an
unacknowledged anarchist ethos that runs through contemporary radical politics.59
But if contemporary thinkers have rejected anarchism, then perhaps this rejection is
the result of a reasonable assessment of anarchism’s weaknesses rather than a
disavowal of their own unspoken anarchist tendencies. Equally, if contemporary
thinkers have continued to praise and use Marxism, then perhaps that is because
Marxism cannot be as easily dismissed as postanarchists claim, and provides
analyses that are more acute and enduring than those found in the anarchist
tradition. The postanarchist position stretches credibility: postanarchists ask us to
value the connections between anarchism and contemporary thought even though
those contemporary thinkers explicitly repudiate anarchism, while simultaneously
asking us to abandon Marxism even though those same contemporary thinkers
continue to affirm Marxism’s importance.
Marxism contra anarchism
So far, I have called into question postanarchism’s reductive and somewhat
simplistic interpretation of Marxism. I would now like to challenge that
interpretation further by exploring what Marxism has to offer. We have seen that
while postanarchists value classical anarchism for its critique of representation
and its recognition of the plurality of forms of power and resistance, they also
highlight its weaknesses. More specifically, they draw upon post-structuralism in
order to criticize classical anarchism for: its preoccupation with the state; its naive
conception of power as purely repressive; its essentialist ontology, in particular its
humanism; and its call for the abolition of all politics. I aim to show that on each of
these issues—the state, power, humanism and politics—postanarchists are closer
to Marxism than they realize or acknowledge. In many cases, postanarchist claims
have already been anticipated in some way by Marxism. This does not mean that
postanarchism is redundant, nor that Marxism is always right while anarchism is
always wrong—but it does suggest that postanarchists have been too quick to
dismiss Marxism.
Postanarchists argue that classical anarchism’s acknowledgement of the
plurality of power is undermined by its obsession with the state—its tendency to
see the state as the source of all evil and to believe that if the state is abolished then
a spontaneous harmonious social order will prevail. If we look at Marxist critiques
of classical anarchism, we can find similar arguments. Commentaries on the
debate between anarchism and Marxism tend to focus on the question of whether
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the state should be used as a tool of revolution. Important as this question is, the
key differences between Marxist and anarchist views of the state lie elsewhere.
Marxists have argued that the anarchist understanding of the state is too abstract:
instead of analysing states as they actually exist in all their variety, anarchists treat
as their enemy the state in general, ‘an abstract State, the State as such, a State that
nowhere exists’.60 Rather than attacking an abstract idea of the State, Marxists
claim that the state must be analysed in its wider context and in relation to other
social forms and relations.
It is for this reason that Marxists have offered analyses based on a very broad
definition of the state as an organization that encompasses a range of social
institutions. For both Gramsci and Althusser, for example, state apparatuses
include not only courts, prisons, police forces, and so on, but also schools,
churches, the media and even the family.61 As Gramsci says, the state is ‘the entire
complex of practical and theoretical activities with which the ruling class not only
justifies and maintains its dominance, but manages to win the active consent of
those over whom it rules’.62 Importantly, Marxists argue further that the state must
be understood in relation to capital—which in turn demands a rigorous analysis of
the workings of the capitalist mode of production. Marxists have repeatedly
criticized anarchists for their failure to provide such an analysis. When Marx
criticizes the anarchist Proudhon, for example, it is not so much because of
Proudhon’s deficient understanding of the state, but because he thinks Proudhon
has inadequately understood the mechanics of capitalism.
Postanarchists themselves have recognized the links between capital and the
state,63 even though, like their anarchist forerunners, they have failed to provide
any rigorous analysis of capitalism (preferring instead to resort to ethical
condemnations of the status quo).64 Given this, it is strange that postanarchists
have repudiated the theory that has done most to examine the links between the
state and capitalism. The Marxist analysis of the state is arguably much richer than
that offered by anarchism. Ultimately, classical anarchism has little to say about
the state, beyond detailing its crimes and calling for its abolition. When they ask
that anarchists move beyond their preoccupation with the state, postanarchists do
not acknowledge that Marxism has already done this—not by reducing the state to
an epiphenomenon of an underlying economic base, but by situating the state as a
complex network of institutions within the context of broader, non-state social
This Marxist approach is arguably closer to post-structuralism than the anarchist
theory of the state. From the point of view of Marxism, anarchism looks very much
like a variety of what Foucault termed ‘state-phobia’, indulging in the ‘great
fantasy of the paranoiac and devouring state’ and failing to distinguish between
different types of state.65 This, of course, does not mean that Marxist theories of
the state are without their problems: such theories are often overly simplistic,
presenting the state as nothing more than a tool of the ruling class. But this is not a
reason to reject Marxism altogether. The Marxist tradition of state theory remains
valuable, not least because it provides one possible response to the postanarchist
critique of anarchist state theory.
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a marxist response to postanarchism
We saw that postanarchism also criticizes classical anarchism for its
understanding of power and its essentialist humanism. These two criticisms are
in effect two sides of the same charge: classical anarchism, it is argued, views
power only as a repressive force, constraining and limiting the natural capacities of
a human subject that is endowed with certain essential characteristics. One way to
define postanarchism, therefore, is as a form of anarchism that no longer relies on
humanism.66 It is clear that Marxism to some extent shares with classical anarchism
a conventional view of power and the human subject. When Marx and Engels claim
that ‘[p]olitical power . . . is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing
another’,67 they do nothing to suggest that power is anything other than repressive.
And for the young Marx at least, what the power of capital suppresses is our human
nature—our unique ability to engage in creative labour. But there is also a different
approach to the human subject that can be found in Marx and the Marxist tradition:
an anti-humanist approach in which the subject is decentred and which anticipates
post-structuralism. From 1845 and the Theses on Feuerbach, in which ‘the essence
of man’ is portrayed as ‘the ensemble of the social relations’,68 Marx is committed
to demonstrating the mutability and historicity of ‘human nature’, against all
attempts to define the essential characteristics of ‘man’ in general. This antihumanist position has been a strong theme in Marxist thought, most obviously in
the work of Althusser, who famously argued that the ‘philosophical (theoretical)
myth of man’ should be ‘reduced to ashes’.69
Some postanarchists have argued that the anarchist Max Stirner might be seen
as a forerunner of post-structuralist ideas about subjectivity: in arguing that the
concept of ‘Man’ is nothing more than a form of power, an abstraction that
enslaves the individual, Stirner completely rejects the idea that there is a fixed
human essence.70 Yet as Marx and Engels point out in The German Ideology,
Stirner’s weakness is that he sees the concept of ‘Man’—along with those of God,
emperor, fatherland, and so on—as nothing more than an abstraction, and as such
he believes that one can just personally decide to rid oneself of this abstraction in
order to be free.71 He thus commits the error that Marx attributes to all Young
Hegelians: believing that the world is ruled by ideas, Stirner thinks that one need
only combat these ideas in order to achieve liberation. But as Marx argues, if one
destroys the idea of the emperor, one still has the real, actually existing emperor to
deal with. Likewise, if we rid ourselves of the concept of Man, we will still be left
with the actual social relations that underlie this abstraction.
For Marx, the aim of criticism is not merely to refute abstraction but to explain
its genesis: to show how abstract ideas are related to material conditions. This is
exactly what he tries to do when it comes to the human subject: rather than simply
trying to abolish the concepts of ‘Man’ or ‘Human Nature’, Marx is interested in
demonstrating how particular subjects are produced at the intersection of various
social relations and practices. This is Marx’s task in the central pages of Capital—
to show how capitalism produces the workers that it needs. The individual for
Marx is not simply an abstraction, the invention of liberal ideology, or the ideal
precondition or result of the exchange process. The individual is produced in a
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series of concrete material operations: classified, trained and disciplined,
individuals are combined and formed into a ‘collective worker’.72
It is this approach—investigating the constitution of the subject by power—that
aligns Marx rather than Stirner or any other anarchist with post-structuralism. So
although Marxism, like classical anarchism, at times relies on a repressive
conception of power and a certain humanist essentialism, there can also be found
in Marxism an investigation of the productivity of power that anticipates poststructuralism. Although anarchism recognizes the plurality of power, the claim
that ‘power is everywhere’ is arguably not what is most distinctive about the poststructuralist approach. It is the claim that power is constitutive—rather than
merely repressive—that marks the post-structuralist approach, and it is this claim
that can be recognized in Marx’s analysis of forms of discipline that take place in
the factory. This is why Foucault turns to Capital in order to illustrate the idea of
the constitution of the subject as a productive force.73 In that light, the
postanarchist position seems a little strange—defending classical anarchism in
spite of its essentialism, yet rejecting Marxism even though it develops a critique
of essentialism.
The fourth and final criticism of classical anarchism that postanarchism makes
is that it has a naive view of politics: conflating politics with the state, it believes
that politics itself can be abolished. For postanarchists, this is mistaken: politics is
both necessary and interminable: necessary because even anarchists must have
some level of political organization and strategizing, however minimal;
interminable because there is no ‘natural’ social order, but only contingent and
inherently political articulations of the social. This critique of classical
anarchism’s naive understanding of politics is to a large extent anticipated by
Marxism. Indeed, for classical Marxists this was the key disagreement: when
Marx, Engels and Lenin attacked anarchists it was not so much for their faulty
approach to the party or revolution but, much more broadly, for their attitude
towards politics. For Marxists, the anarchist abstention from politics is ill-advised,
hypocritical and ultimately impossible.
The classical anarchists believed that all forms of political action would
necessarily entail compromise with the state and so could lead only to dictatorship or
social-democratic reformism.74 As such, they ruled out all forms of political action:
not merely the use of the state as a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, but also standing
for or voting in government elections, lobbying the state for improved conditions
(e.g. a shorter working day), and the formation of political parties. As the Russian
anarchist Alexander Berkman put it: ‘so-called political “action” is, so far as
the cause of the workers and of true progress is concerned, worse than inaction’.75
For Marxists, the anarchist rejection of political action is at once confused and
naive. By dogmatically proscribing political action, anarchism denies the
oppressed classes the most effective means of carrying out their struggle.76
Contrary to anarchist claims, political action does not entail acceptance of the
status quo: ‘It is said’, writes Engels in response to anarchist demands for political
abstention, ‘that every political act implies recognition of the status quo. But when
this status quo gives us the means of protesting against it, then to make use of these
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a marxist response to postanarchism
means is not to recognise the status quo’.77 To deny the working class the use of
political action on the grounds that such action recognizes the state is, according to
Marx, as foolish as claiming that a strike in the name of higher wages is
illegitimate because it ‘recognises’ the wage system.78 In order to challenge the
status quo, one must necessarily engage with it: to claim that all political action
reinforces the dominant order is to slip into abstraction and to fail to discriminate
between different types of political action.
Marxists have argued further that even if they wanted to—and even if it was a
good idea to do so—workers could not abstain from political action: ‘Absolute
abstention from politics is impossible’.79 For Marxists, politics is not something
that workers choose to enter or withdraw from: by virtue of being wage-labourers
they are necessarily subjected to the political oppression imposed by the
bourgeoisie, and thus thrown onto a political battlefield whether they are willing
combatants or not. The anarchists themselves, despite their claims, are in fact
involved in politics. They organize, agitate, criticize—and at times they have
abandoned their principles entirely and engaged in elections and established new
city states.80 It is just that they do not recognize their involvement, and deny
themselves the most efficacious political means.
Bakunin claimed that political action, if it does not lead to dictatorship, can lead
only to parliamentarianism, as one ends up trying to wring concessions from the
system instead of trying to overturn the system. For Marxists, however, it is
anarchism itself which remains caught within parliamentarianism, because
anarchists accept the liberal fallacy that politics concerns only the state: the
equation of ‘politics’ with ‘state politics’ forms the basis of their vocal rejection of
politics. Marxists, in contrast, go beyond bourgeois liberalism to recognize that
politics can take place in other arenas: there is, for example, a politics of the
workplace, and the oppression of exploited classes is ultimately and necessarily a
political matter. By advocating political abstention, anarchism ends up capitulating
to the dominant order rather than challenging it: ‘Subordination of the working class
to bourgeois politics in the guise of negation of politics.’81 The Marxist and
postanarchist critiques of the classical anarchist approach to politics are not
identical, but they have strong similarities: for both Marxists and postanarchists,
classical anarchists are naive to think that politics can be abolished and that radical
change can take place without some form of political action.
In summary, then, if it can be said that postanarchists have been too swift in
their dismissal of Marxism, then this is in large part because many of their claims
echo Marxist arguments. In some cases—such as the analysis of the state or the
understanding of politics—Marxist criticisms of classical anarchism anticipate
later postanarchist criticisms of anarchism. In other cases—such as the decentring
of the subject and the rethinking of power—Marxism had already begun to
develop arguments and ideas that anticipate themes that postanarchism draws
from post-structuralism. In addition, however, there are Marxist criticisms of
classical anarchism—such as the claim that it fails to offer a rigorous or thorough
analysis of capitalism—that could equally apply to postanarchism and with which
postanarchists would be well advised to engage, rather than dismissing them.
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For postanarchists, Marxism is in effect irrelevant to our contemporary situation,
exposed and surpassed by the advances of post-structuralism but unlike classical
anarchism incapable of redemption. I have argued that this dismissal of Marxism
is based on a misunderstanding not only of Marxism but also of post-structuralism.
Contrary to postanarchist claims, the central thinkers of post-structuralism did not
repudiate Marxism. This is not surprising, because Marxism anticipates many
post-structuralist themes—and hence also many postanarchist themes. Where
classical anarchists became preoccupied with the state, Marxists argued that the
state needs to be analysed in its specific context, avoiding reliance on abstractions;
where classical anarchists claimed that power represses some innate social or
human goodness, many versions of Marxism adopted an anti-humanist perspective
and analysed the ways in which forms of power constitute different subjects;
where classical anarchism called for the abolition of politics, Marxism mocked the
naivety of this position and emphasized the inevitability of political engagement.
Even if Marxism did not anticipate post-structuralism and postanarchism in this
way, the postanarchist dismissal of Marxism would still be too strong. It is true, as
anarchists and postanarchists (and many others) have argued, that Marxism’s
preoccupation with class struggle has tended to exclude other forms of power and
conflict. But it is simplistic to claim that this necessarily leads to authoritarianism,
and a form of crude reductionism to imply that it was the cause of Stalinism.
In addition, however, the Marxist focus on class and economics is a useful
corrective to anarchism (‘post’ or otherwise), which fails to offer any rigorous
analysis of capitalism. Given the current political context—the biggest financial
crisis for almost a century and a wave of austerity measures sweeping Europe—it
would seem inopportune to ignore class or to abandon the ideology that more than
any other has contributed to the analysis of class.
Marxism is of course far from perfect, and there are elements of it that we may
well want to leave behind. But it is such a large, varied and contradictory ideology
that this kind of selective approach is inevitable. Moreover, it is hard to see how
postanarchists could object to such an approach: after all, this is exactly how they
treat classical anarchism, dispensing with its Enlightenment ontology while
welcoming its insights into power and representation, picking and choosing which
elements to adopt and which to discard. The post-structuralists themselves
continued to draw upon Marxism, recognizing both that Marxism is too diverse
and complex to reject en bloc and that it still has much to offer. If postanarchism
genuinely wants to embrace the spirit of post-structuralism, then it should engage
much more fully with Marxism.
For their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper, I would like to thank
Elizabeth Evans, John Grant and the two anonymous assessors.
a marxist response to postanarchism
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Notes and References
1. Uri Gordon, ‘Anarchism reloaded’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 12(1) (2007), pp. 29–48; David Graeber,
‘The new anarchists’, New Left Review, I(13) (2007), pp. 61–73; Saul Newman, ‘Editorial: the libertarian
impulse’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 16(3) (2011), p. 239.
2. The literature on postanarchism continues to grow, but the key texts are Todd May, The Political Philosophy
of Poststructuralist Anarchism (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994); Saul
Newman, From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-Authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power (Lanham, MD:
Lexington Books, 2001); Lewis Call, Postmodern Anarchism (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2002);
Richard J. F. Day, Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements (London: Pluto
Press, 2005).
3. Saul Newman, ‘Postanarchism: a politics of anti-politics’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 16(3) (2011),
p. 316.
4. Daniel Guérin, ‘Anarchism and Marxism’, in David Goodway (Ed.) For Anarchism: History, Theory, and
Practice (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 118; Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital: A Commentary on
Volume One (London: Verso, 2011), p. 150.
5. Costas Lapavitsas, ‘Financialised capitalism: crisis and financial expropriation’, Historical Materialism,
17(2) (2009), pp. 114– 148; Ben Fine, ‘Locating financialisation’, Historical Materialism, 18(2) (2010),
pp. 97 –116; Robin Blackburn, ‘Crisis 2.0’, New Left Review, I(72) (2011), pp. 33–62.
6. Call, op. cit., Ref. 2.
7. Saul Newman, Unstable Universalities: Poststructuralism and Radical Politics (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 2007), p. 15.
8. May, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 85.
9. N. J. Jun, ‘Deleuze, Derrida, and anarchism’, Anarchist Studies, 15(2) (2007), pp. 132–134.
10. May, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 47.
11. Cited in May, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 97; see Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953–1974, ed.
David Lapoujade, trans. Michael Taormina (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotexte, 2004), p. 208.
12. Jean-Franc ois Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (London: The Athlone Press, 1993).
13. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (London: The Athlone Press, 1994).
14. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality. Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (London: Allen
Lane, 1979), p. 93.
15. Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–76, trans. David
Macey (London: Penguin, 2004), p. 30.
16. Day, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 16; Newman, op. cit., Ref. 2.
17. Newman, op. cit., Ref. 2.
18. May, op. cit., Ref. 2.
19. Saul Newman, Power and Politics in Poststructuralist Thought: New Theories of the Political (London:
Routledge, 2005), p. 39.
20. Saul Newman, The Politics of Postanarchism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), pp. 36 –37.
21. Ibid., p. 25.
22. Foucault, op. cit., Ref. 15, pp. 29–30.
23. May, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 65.
24. Newman, op. cit., Ref. 20, p. 5.
25. Call, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 15.
26. Newman, op. cit., Ref. 20, p. 37.
27. Newman, op. cit., Ref. 20; Todd May, The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière: Creating Equality
(University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008).
28. Saul Newman, ‘Editorial: postanarchism’, Anarchist Studies, 16(2) (2008), p. 101.
29. It has been claimed that the arguments of postanarchism and post-structuralism can already be found in
classical anarchism: Jesse Cohn, ‘What is postanarchism “Post”?’, Postmodern Culture, 13(1) (2002),
available at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/postmodern_culture/v013/13.1cohn.html (accessed 24 August
2013); that post-structuralism should be interrogated by classical anarchism rather than the other way
around: Allan Antliff, ‘Anarchy, power, and poststructuralism’, SubStance, 36(2) (2007), pp. 56–66; that
classical anarchism has been misrepresented: Jesse Cohn and Shawn Wilbur, ‘What’s wrong with
postanarchism?’, available at http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/jesse-cohn-and-shawn-wilbur-what-swrong-with-postanarchism (accessed 20 June 2012); and that the very notion of ‘classical anarchism’ is
something of a straw man: Nathan Jun, Anarchism and Political Modernity (London: Continuum, 2012).
30. To give one example: it has been argued (Antliff, op. cit., Ref. 29) that, contrary to postanarchism’s claims,
classical anarchists do not see power as merely negative, but instead have a positive theory of power that
recognizes the creative powers of the subject. But this misunderstands the stakes of the debate: the
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postanarchist position is not that classical anarchism fails to recognize that power can be ‘positive’, but that it
fails to recognize that power is constitutive (of the subject).
One exception is Benjamin Franks, who has offered the most rigorous assessment of postanarchism thus far:
he does so from an anarchist perspective but questions and resists the rejection of class analysis by some
postanarchists. See Benjamin Franks, ‘Postanarchism: a critical assessment’, Journal of Political Ideologies,
12(2) (2007), pp. 136– 138.
Newman, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 31.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, ed. David McLellan (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1998), p. 26.
Saul Newman, ‘Anarchism, Marxism and the Bonapartist state’, Anarchist Studies, 12 (2004), pp. 36-59.
Saul Newman, ‘Post-anarchism and radical politics today’, in Duane Rousselle and Süreyyya Evren (Eds.)
Post-Anarchism: A Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2011), p. 50.
May, op. cit., Ref. 27, pp. 80 –81.
Newman, op. cit., Ref. 35, p. 51.
Newman, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 33.
Call, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 11.
Newman, op. cit., Ref. 20, pp. 3, 17 –18.
Call, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 6.
Ibid., p. 68.
Michael Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, trans. Marshall S. Shatz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1990), p. 136.
Ibid., p. 150.
Murray Bookchin, Anarchism, Marxism, and the Future of the Left: Interviews and Essays, 1993– 1998
(Edinburgh: A. K. Press, 1999), pp. 273, 271.
Newman, op. cit., Ref. 7, p. 3.
Todd May, ‘Is post-structuralist political philosophy anarchist?’, Philosophy and Social Criticism, 15(2)
(1989), p. 167.
May, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 3; Newman, op. cit., Ref. 19, p. 156; Call, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 11.
Day, op. cit., Ref. 2; Richard J. F. Day, ‘Hegemony, affinity and the newest social movements: at the end of
the 00s’, in Duane Rousselle and Süreyyya Evren (Eds.), Post-Anarchism: A Reader (London: Pluto Press,
See, for example, Alexandros Kioupkiolis, ‘Radicalizing democracy’, Constellations, 17(1) (2010),
pp. 137 –154.
John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today (London: Pluto
Press, 2002); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire
(New York: The Penguin Press, 2004); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2009).
Gilles Deleuze, ‘Le “Je me souviens” de Gilles Deleuze’, Le Nouvel Observateur, 1619 (1995), p. 51; Gilles
Deleuze, Negotiations 1972–1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995),
p. 171.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark
Seem and Helen R. Lane (New York: The Viking Press, 1977).
Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International,
trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 68, 92.
Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (London: Continuum, 2002), p. 62; the seminars on Marxism are
discussed by Jason Smith, ‘Jacques Derrida: “Crypto-Communist”?’, in Jacques Bidet and Stathis
Kouvelakis (Eds.), Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism (Leiden: Brill, 2008), pp. 631–633.
Michael Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (London: Tavistock
Publications, 1977), p. 13; Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings
1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon et al. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), p. 53.
For a relatively thorough analysis of the post-structuralist uses of Marx, see Simon Choat, Marx Through
Post-Structuralism (London: Continuum, 2010). Other books that explore the fruitful connections between
Marxism and post-structuralism include: Jason Read, The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the
Prehistory of the Present (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003); J. K. Gibson-Graham,
Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff (Eds.), Class and Its Others (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2000); Jean-Jacques Lecercle, A Marxist Philosophy of Language, trans. Gregory Elliott
(Leiden: Brill, 2006); Nicholas Thoburn, Deleuze, Marx and Politics (London: Routledge, 2003); Michael
Ryan, Marxism and Deconstruction: A Critical Articulation (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University
Press, 1982).
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a marxist response to postanarchism
58. Badiou claims that anarchism ‘has never been anything else than the vain critique, or the double, or the
shadow, of the communist parties, just as the black flag is only the double or the shadow of the red flag’.
More bluntly, Hardt and Negri state: ‘we are not anarchists’. See Alain Badiou, Polemics, trans. Steve
Corcoran (London: Verso, 2006), p. 321; Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 350.
59. Newman, op. cit., Ref. 20.
60. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ‘The Alliance of Social Democracy and the International Working Men’s
Association’, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 23 (London: Lawrence and Wishart,
1988), p. 466.
61. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell
Smith (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971); Louis Althusser, ‘Ideology and ideological state apparatuses
(Notes towards an Investigation)’, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (London:
NLB, 1971).
62. Gramsci, op. cit., Ref. 61, p. 244.
63. Newman, op. cit., Ref. 20, pp. 77 –80.
64. May, op. cit., Ref. 2.
65. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–79, ed. Michel Senellart,
trans. Graham Burchell (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 187 –188.
66. Newman, op. cit., Ref. 19, p. 49.
67. Marx and Engels, op. cit., Ref. 33, p. 26.
68. Karl Marx, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5 (London:
Lawrence and Wishart, 1976), p. 4.
69. Louis Althusser, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (London: NLB, 1969), p. 229.
70. Andrew M. Koch, ‘Max Stirner: The last Hegelian or the first poststructuralist?’ Anarchist Studies, 5 (1997),
pp. 95-107; Newman, op. cit., Ref. 2.
71. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works,
vol. 5 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1976).
72. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One, trans. Ben Fowkes (Harmondsworth,
Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1976), pp. 466 –467.
73. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Allen Lane,
1977), p. 163.
74. Bakunin, op. cit., Ref. 43.
75. Alexander Berkman, What Is Communist Anarchism? (New York: Dover Publications, 1972), p. 125.
76. Frederick Engels, ‘The Congress of Sonvillier and the International’, In Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,
Collected Works, vol. 23 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988), p. 66.
77. Frederick Engels, ‘On the political action of the working class’, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,
Collected Works, vol. 22 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1986), p. 418.
78. Karl Marx, ‘Political indifferentism’, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 23 (London:
Lawrence and Wishart, 1988).
79. Engels, op. cit., Ref. 77, p. 417.
80. Frederick Engels, ‘The Bakuninists at work: an account of the Spanish Revolt in the summer of 1873’, in
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 23 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988).
81. V. I. Lenin, ‘Anarchism and socialism’, in Collected Works, vol. V (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing
House, 1961), p. 328.