Anarchism and Radical Governments

How should anarchists relate to revolutionary or left-wing populist governments? Should they denounce them out of hand? Should they join in the movement? What are the traps to avoid? This is an important question as radicalized populations are creating movements which give rise to alleged progressive governments. As capitalism goes into ever-deeper crisis we can expect more of these movements to develop. 

  The below article from the international anarchist news site asks some good questions and is a good first step towards getting to an answer. The author, Larry Gambone, charactorizes anarchist reaction to radical governments into largely two camps. The first, where anarchists essentially give up their own political organization and values to dissolve themselves into participating and joining the radical government or party, which he called liquidationism. The second, is a stance of sectarianism, whereby ararchists become ‘side line snipers’ of sorts and alienate themselves from the participants of social movement who are supportive of enacted reforms.

  This is a stepping point I think. Perhaps this article better speaks to the situation in Latin America, but let’s look at the campaign and election of Obama in the US. Of course a key difference is that while Latin American leaders such as Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia both profess a support for socialism, Obama is a difference story. While his style and rhetoric have provoked a deep sense of connection with many facing the brunt of the economic collapse and those disillusioned with the Bush administration, his glittering words of hope and change stand in contrast to what looks to be his comittment to a more populist flavored continuation of Clinton administration neo-liberalism.

 While the many usual suspects on the left (some anarchists included) have surely taken a sectarian stance of derision and attacks on Obama, other aspects of the left haven’t quite taken a stance or approach that could be call liquidationism entirely…. (more to come)

  For folks looking to learn more about the debate around Hugo Chavez and Venezuela specifically, you can find a number of articles I assembled here.

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The Debate Over Chavez, Revolution and the Role of the State

About two years ago I had some friends attending a revolutionary youth conference in Venezuela organized by folks connected to various Communist Parties (old school CPs here) which got me interested in learning more about Hugo Chavez and his supposed “Socialism for the 21st Century.” My friends came back severely disillusioned, but it was not as if they had been enthralled with him much to begin with. Nonetheless, scouring the internet for discussions I tapped into an interesting debate revolving around Venezuela and the role of the state and began compiling a reading list of short articles that captured what I felt was most interesting.



An interesting debate in the left has been popping up and catching my attention. From what I’ve been able to gather mostly through internet sources these are the rough contours of the debate: Starting with the Zapatistas and the recent social movements in South America (Argentinean factory occupations,Oaxaca,  MST, etc) many on the left are seeing that movements are less and less orienting themselves around electoral politics and the goal of state power and rather have expressed a goal focused on building movements of the base or popular power. “Poder de Base” for instance is the title of the publication of the CNTE, the radical/dissident current within the Mexican teachers union that played a leading role in initiating Oacaxa protests. I don’t think this is really anything new historically (it depends on how you look at history though), but much of the social movements around the world falling under the umbrella of opposition to neo-liberalism/anti-capitalism have embraced these ideals that are influenced by and very close to historically Anarchist positions.

In steps folks like John Holloway, an autonomous Marxist intellectual, who is becoming a leading articulator of these politics with his writings about the Zapatistas over the last 10 years and a recent book that is very popular among the anti-capitalist/anti-globalizationist crowd, How to Change the World Without Taking Power. These movements and their politics have been a big thorn in the side of traditional Marxist-Leninists and state socialists and the politics they’ve stressed historically around the role of the state in revolutionary change. What I’ve seen is a bit of a reaction on the part where some state-oriented socialists who are starting to point to Venezuela and Hugo Chavez as the example of ‘Mira, the state can be a revolutionary force!’ I think the situation in Venezuela obviously has a mess of contradictions for those trying to put forward this position, but I think its all an interesting debate with much to ponder over. What is the role of the state in revolution? What should be the relationship between revolutionaries and the state?

“Can We Change the World Without Taking Power?”

A short summary of John Holloway’s points in How to Change the World Without Taking Power of rejecting the state as an instrument for social change.

“Taking Power Seriously: A Response to John Holloway”

Article by M. Juniad Alam, edior of Left Hook online magazine, criticizing Holloway’s perspective from the point of view that the state is an important site of struggle citing Venezuela and Hugo Chavez as an example.

“What is Happening in Venezuela?”

Jonah Gindin interview by M. Junaid Alam. Gives some background and info about the situation in Venezuela.

“Is Venezuela the New Cuba?” By Teo Ballve

Discusses Venezuela as a new threat to US imperialism and the idea of Hugo Chavez’s “socialism for the twenty-first century” as leading the way in Latin America.

And lower in the same page…

“Brief Reflections on Teo Ballve’s ‘Is Venezuela the New Cuba?’”

A funny article whining about how Cuba is getting passed over for Venezuela in getting the state socialist props and adoration.


Fidel: “Ay, ¿Quién pedo Hugo?”

Chavez: “Arrrr”


“Venezuela: Changing the World by Taking Power”Interview with the Marxist author of Clash of Fundamentalisms Tariq Ali by Claudia Jardin and Jonah Gindin. “You cannot change the world without taking power, that is the example of Venezuela,” says Ali. Attacks Holloway’s position on the state.

“Brazilian Intellectuals and Artists Declare Support for Venezuela’s Chavez”

Exactly what the title is. Tariq Ali helped present this statement.

“Chavez Election Victory- A Fresh Wind of Change or a dead end?”

By Gerry Foley, Editor of Socialist Action newspaper, published by the US Trotskyist group of the same name. He writes a critically of Chavez, putting him in the camp of populism and not as a socialist.

“Axis of Hope, Venezuela and the Bolivarian Dream”

By Tariq Ali. Article celebrating Chavez as a source of new international hope.

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