This article possibly contains original research. (March 2021)
Libertarian Marxism is a broad scope of economic and political philosophies that emphasize the anti-authoritarian and libertarian aspects of Marxism. Early currents of libertarian Marxism such as left communism emerged in opposition to Marxism-Leninism.
Libertarian Marxism is often critical of reformist positions such as those held by social democrats. Libertarian Marxist currents often draw from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' later works, specifically the Grundrisse and The Civil War in France; emphasizing the Marxist belief in the ability of the working class to forge its own destiny without the need for a state or vanguard party to mediate or aid its liberation. Along with anarchism, libertarian Marxism is one of the main currents of libertarian socialism.
Libertarian Marxism includes currents such as autonomism, council communism, De Leonism, Lettrism, parts of the New Left, Situationism, Socialisme ou Barbarie and workerism. Libertarian Marxism has often had a strong influence on both post-left and social anarchists. Notable theorists of libertarian Marxism have included Maurice Brinton, Cornelius Castoriadis, Guy Debord, Raya Dunayevskaya, Daniel Guérin, C. L. R. James, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Negri, Anton Pannekoek, Fredy Perlman, Ernesto Screpanti, E. P. Thompson, Raoul Vaneigem and Yanis Varoufakis, who claims that Marx himself was a libertarian Marxist.
Marxism started to develop a libertarian strand of thought after specific circumstances. According to Chamsy Ojelli, "[o]ne does find early expressions of such perspectives in Morris and the Socialist Party of Great Britain (the SPGB), then again around the events of 1905, with the growing concern at the bureaucratisation and de-radicalisation of international socialism".
In December 1884, William Morris established the Socialist League which was encouraged by Friedrich Engels and Eleanor Marx. As the leading figure in the organization, Morris embarked on a relentless series of speeches and talks on street corners as well as in working men's clubs and lecture theatres across England and Scotland. From 1887, anarchists began to outnumber Marxists in the Socialist League. The 3rd Annual Conference of the League held in London on 29 May 1887 marked the change, with a majority of the 24 branch delegates voting in favor of an anarchist-sponsored resolution declaring: "This conference endorses the policy of abstention from parliamentary action, hitherto pursued by the League, and sees no sufficient reason for altering it".
Morris played peacemaker, but he ultimately sided with the anti-parliamentarians, who won control of the Socialist League which consequently lost the support of Engels and saw the departure of Eleanor Marx and her partner Edward Aveling to form the separate Bloomsbury Socialist Society.
For "many Marxian libertarian socialists, the political bankruptcy of socialist orthodoxy necessitated a theoretical break. This break took a number of forms. The Bordigists and the SPGB championed a super-Marxian intransigence in theoretical matters. Other socialists made a return 'behind Marx' to the anti-positivist programme of German idealism. Libertarian socialism has frequently linked its anti-authoritarian political aspirations with this theoretical differentiation from orthodoxy. [...] Karl Korsch [...] remained a libertarian socialist for a large part of his life and because of the persistent urge towards theoretical openness in his work. Korsch rejected the eternal and static, and he was obsessed by the essential role of practice in a theory's truth. For Korsch, no theory could escape history, not even Marxism. In this vein, Korsch even credited the stimulus for Marx's Capital to the movement of the oppressed classes".
In rejecting both capitalism and the state, some libertarian socialists align themselves with anarchists in opposition to both capitalist representative democracy and to authoritarian forms of Marxism. Although anarchists and Marxists share an ultimate goal of a stateless society, anarchists criticise most Marxists for advocating a transitional phase under which the state is used to achieve this aim. Nonetheless, libertarian Marxist tendencies such as autonomism and council communism have historically been intertwined with the anarchist movement. Anarchist movements have come into conflict with both capitalist and Marxist forces, sometimes at the same time as in the Spanish Civil War, although as in that war Marxists themselves are often divided in support or opposition to anarchism. Other political persecutions under bureaucratic parties have resulted in a strong historical antagonism between anarchists and libertarian Marxists on the one hand and Leninists, Marxist-Leninists and their derivatives such as Maoists on the other. However, in recent history libertarian socialists have repeatedly formed temporary alliances with Marxist-Leninist groups in order to protest institutions they both reject.
Part of this antagonism can be traced to the International Workingmen's Association, the First International, a congress of radical workers, where Mikhail Bakunin (who was fairly representative of anarchist views) and Karl Marx (whom anarchists accused of being an "authoritarian") came into conflict on various issues. Bakunin's viewpoint on the illegitimacy of the state as an institution and the role of electoral politics was starkly counterposed to Marx's views in the First International. Marx and Bakunin's disputes eventually led to Marx taking control of the First International and expelling Bakunin and his followers from the organization. This was the beginning of a long-running feud and schism between libertarian socialists and what they call "authoritarian communists", or alternatively just "authoritarians". Some Marxists have formulated views that closely resemble syndicalism and thus express more affinity with anarchist ideas. Several libertarian socialists, notably Noam Chomsky, believe that anarchism shares much in common with certain variants of Marxism such as the council communism of Marxist Anton Pannekoek. In Chomsky's Notes on Anarchism, he suggests the possibility "that some form of council communism is the natural form of revolutionary socialism in an industrial society. It reflects the belief that democracy is severely limited when the industrial system is controlled by any form of autocratic elite, whether of owners, managers, and technocrats, a 'vanguard' party, or a State bureaucracy".
According to Chamsy el-Ojeili, "the most important ruptures are to be traced to the insurgency during and after the First World War. Disillusioned with the capitulation of the social democrats, excited by the emergence of workers' councils, and slowly distanced from Leninism, many communists came to reject the claims of socialist parties and to put their faith instead in the masses". For these socialists, "[t]he intuition of the masses in action can have more genius in it than the work of the greatest individual genius". Luxemburg's workerism and spontaneism are exemplary of positions later taken up by the far-left of the period. [...] Pannekoek, Roland Holst and Gorter in the Netherlands, Sylvia Pankhurst in Britain, Gramsci in Italy and Lukacs in Hungary. In these formulations, the dictatorship of the proletariat was to be the dictatorship of a class, "not of a party or of a clique". However, within this line of thought "[t]he tension between anti-vanguardism and vanguardism has frequently resolved itself in two diametrically opposed ways: the first involved a drift towards the party; the second saw a move towards the idea of complete proletarian spontaneity. [...] The first course is exemplified most clearly in Gramsci and Lukacs. [...] The second course is illustrated in the tendency, developing from the Dutch and German far-lefts, which inclined towards the complete eradication of the party form".
In the emerging Soviet state, there appeared left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks which were a series of rebellions and uprisings against the Bolsheviks led or supported by left wing groups including Socialist Revolutionaries, Left Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and anarchists. Some were in support of the White Movement while some tried to be an independent force. The uprisings started in 1918 and continued through the Russian Civil War and after until 1922. In response, the Bolsheviks increasingly abandoned attempts to get these groups to join the government and suppressed them with force.
The POUM is viewed as being libertarian Marxist due to its anti-Soviet stance in the Civil War in Spain.
In the mid-20th century, some libertarian socialist groups emerged from disagreements with Trotskyism which presented itself as Leninist anti-Stalinism. As such, the French group Socialisme ou Barbarie emerged from the Trotskyist Fourth International, where Castoriadis and Claude Lefort constituted a Chaulieu-Montal Tendency in the French Parti Communiste Internationaliste in 1946. In 1948, they experienced their "final disenchantment with Trotskyism", leading them to break away to form Socialisme ou Barbarie, whose journal began appearing in March 1949. Castoriadis later said of this period that "the main audience of the group and of the journal was formed by groups of the old, radical left: Bordigists, council communists, some anarchists and some offspring of the German 'left' of the 1920s". In the United Kingdom, the group Solidarity was founded in 1960 by a small group of expelled members of the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League. Almost from the start, it was strongly influenced by the French Socialisme ou Barbarie group, in particular by its intellectual leader Cornelius Castoriadis, whose essays were among the many pamphlets Solidarity produced. The intellectual leader of the group was Chris Pallis (who wrote under the name Maurice Brinton).
In the People's Republic of China (PRC) since 1967, the terms ultra-left and left communist refers to political theory and practice self-defined as further left than that of the central Maoist leaders at the height of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). The terms are also used retroactively to describe some early 20th century Chinese anarchist orientations. As a pejorative, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has used the term "ultra-left" more broadly to denounce any orientation it considers further left than the party line. According to the latter usage, in 1978 the CPC Central Committee denounced as ultra-left the line of Mao Zedong from 1956 until his death in 1976. Ultra-left refers to those GPCR rebel positions that diverged from the central Maoist line by identifying an antagonistic contradiction between the CPC-PRC party-state itself and the masses of workers and peasants conceived as a single proletarian class divorced from any meaningful control over production or distribution. Whereas the central Maoist line maintained that the masses controlled the means of production through the party's mediation, the ultra-left argued that the objective interests of bureaucrats were structurally determined by the centralist state-form in direct opposition to the objective interests of the masses, regardless of however "red" a given bureaucrat's thought might be. Whereas the central Maoist leaders encouraged the masses to criticize reactionary "ideas" and "habits" among the alleged 5% of bad cadres, giving them a chance to "turn over a new leaf" after they had undergone "thought reform", the ultra-left argued that cultural revolution had to give way to political revolution "in which one class overthrows another class". The emergence of the New Left in the 1950s and 1960s led to a revival of interest in libertarian socialism. The New Left's critique of the Old Left's authoritarianism was associated with a strong interest in personal liberty, autonomy (see the thinking of Cornelius Castoriadis) and led to a rediscovery of older socialist traditions, such as left communism, council communism and the Industrial Workers of the World. The New Left also led to a revival of anarchism. Journals like Radical America and Black Mask in the United States, Solidarity, Big Flame and Democracy & Nature, succeeded by The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy in the United Kingdom, introduced a range of left libertarian ideas to a new generation.
In 1969, French platformist anarcho-communist Daniel Guérin published an essay called "Libertarian Marxism?" in which he dealt with the debate between Marx and Bakunin at the First International and afterwards suggested that "[l]ibertarian marxism [sic] rejects determinism and fatalism, giving the greater place to individual will, intuition, imagination, reflex speeds, and to the deep instincts of the masses, which are more far-seeing in hours of crisis than the reasonings of the 'elites'; libertarian marxism [sic] thinks of the effects of surprise, provocation and boldness, refuses to be cluttered and paralysed by a heavy 'scientific' apparatus, doesn't equivocate or bluff, and guards itself from adventurism as much as from fear of the unknown".
Autonomist Marxism, neo-Marxism and situationist theory are also regarded as being anti-authoritarian variants of Marxism that are firmly within the libertarian socialist tradition. Related to this were intellectuals who were influenced by Italian left communist Amadeo Bordiga, but who disagreed with his Leninist positions, including Jacques Camatte, editor of the French publication Invariance; and Gilles Dauvé, who published Troploin with Karl Nesic.
Two Marxist and Freudian psychoanalytic theorists have received the libertarian label or have been associated with it due to their emphasis on anti-authoritarianism and freedom issues.
Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian psychoanalyst, a member of the second generation of psychoanalysts after Sigmund Freud and one of the most radical figures in the history of psychiatry. He was the author of several influential books and essays, most notably Character Analysis (1933), The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933) and The Sexual Revolution (1936). His work on character contributed to the development of Anna Freud's The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936) and his idea of muscular armour—the expression of the personality in the way the body moves—shaped innovations such as body psychotherapy, Fritz Perls's Gestalt therapy, Alexander Lowen's bioenergetic analysis and Arthur Janov's primal therapy. His writing influenced generations of intellectuals--during the 1968 student uprisings in Paris and Berlin, students scrawled his name on walls and threw copies of The Mass Psychology of Fascism at the police.
On 23 August, six tons of his books, journals and papers were burned in the 25th Street public incinerator in New York, the Gansevoort incinerator, in response to a violation of a ban on distributing orgone accumulators as medical devices. The burned material included copies of several of his books, including The Sexual Revolution, Character Analysis and The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Though these had been published in German before Reich ever discussed orgone, he had added mention of it to the English editions, so they were caught by the injunction. As with the accumulators, the FDA was supposed only to observe the destruction. It has been cited as one of the worst examples of censorship in the United States. Reich became a consistent propagandist for sexual freedom going as far as opening free sex-counselling clinics in Vienna for working-class patients as well as coining the phrase "sexual revolution" in one of his books from the 1940s.
On the other hand, Herbert Marcuse was a German philosopher, sociologist and political theorist associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. His work Eros and Civilization (1955) discusses the social meaning of biology--history seen not as a class struggle, but a fight against repression of our instincts. It argues that "advanced industrial society" (modern capitalism) is preventing us from reaching a non-repressive society "based on a fundamentally different experience of being, a fundamentally different relation between man and nature, and fundamentally different existential relations". It contends that Freud's argument that repression is needed by civilization to persist is mistaken as Eros is liberating and constructive. Marcuse argues that "the irreconcilable conflict is not between work (reality principle) and Eros (pleasure principle), but between alienated labour (performance principle) and Eros". Sex is allowed for "the betters" (capitalists) and for workers only when not disturbing performance. Marcuse believes that a socialist society could be a society without needing the performance of the poor and without as strong a suppression of our sexual drives--it could replace alienated labor with "non-alienated libidinal work" resulting in "a non-repressive civilization based on 'non-repressive sublimation'". During the 1960s, Marcuse achieved world renown as "the guru of the New Left", publishing many articles and giving lectures and advice to student radicals all over the world. He travelled widely and his work was often discussed in the mass media, becoming one of the few American intellectuals to gain such attention. Never surrendering his revolutionary vision and commitments, Marcuse continued to his death to defend the Marxian theory and libertarian socialism.
Socialisme ou Barbarie ("Socialism or Barbarism") was a French-based radical libertarian socialist group of the post-World War II period, whose name comes from a phrase Rosa Luxemburg used in her 1916 essay The Junius Pamphlet. It existed from 1948 until 1965. The animating personality was Cornelius Castoriadis, also known as Pierre Chaulieu or Paul Cardan. The group originated in the Trotskyist Fourth International, where Castoriadis and Claude Lefort constituted a Chaulieu-Montal Tendency in the French Parti Communiste Internationaliste in 1946. In 1948, they experienced their "final disenchantment with Trotskyism", leading them to break away to form Socialisme ou Barbarie, whose journal began appearing in March 1949. Castoriadis later said of this period that "the main audience of the group and of the journal was formed by groups of the old, radical left: Bordigists, council communists, some anarchists and some offspring of the German 'left' of the 1920s". The group was composed of both intellectuals and workers and agreed with the idea that the main enemies of society were the bureaucracies which governed modern capitalism. They documented and analysed the struggle against that bureaucracy in the group's journal. As an example, the thirteenth issue (January-March 1954) was devoted to the East German revolt of June 1953 and the strikes which erupted amongst several sectors of French workers that summer. Following from the belief that what the working class was addressing in their daily struggles was the real content of socialism, the intellectuals encouraged the workers in the group to report on every aspect of their working lives.
The Situationist International (SI) was a restricted group of international revolutionaries founded in 1957 and which had its peak in its influence on the unprecedented general wildcat strikes of May 1968 in France.
With their ideas rooted in Marxism and the 20th century European artistic avant-gardes, they advocated experiences of life being alternative to those admitted by the capitalist order, for the fulfillment of human primitive desires and the pursuing of a superior passional quality. For this purpose they suggested and experimented with the construction of situations, namely the setting up of environments favorable for the fulfillment of such desires. Using methods drawn from the arts, they developed a series of experimental fields of study for the construction of such situations, like unitary urbanism and psychogeography.
They fought against the main obstacle on the fulfillment of such superior passional living, identified by them in advanced capitalism. Their theoretical work peaked on the highly influential book The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. Debord argued in 1967 that spectacular features like mass media and advertising have a central role in an advanced capitalist society, which is to show a fake reality in order to mask the real capitalist degradation of human life. To overthrow such a system, the Situationist International supported the May 1968 revolts and asked the workers to occupy the factories and to run them with direct democracy through workers' councils composed by instantly revocable delegates.
Solidarity was a small libertarian socialist organisation from 1960 to 1992 in the United Kingdom. It published a magazine of the same name. Solidarity was close to council communism in its prescriptions and was known for its emphasis on workers' self-organisation and for its radical anti-Leninism. Solidarity was founded in 1960 by a small group of expelled members of the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League. It was initially known as Socialism Reaffirmed. The group published a journal, Agitator, which after six issues was renamed Solidarity, from which the organisation took its new name. Almost from the start it was strongly influenced by the French Socialisme ou Barbarie group, in particular by its intellectual leader Cornelius Castoriadis, whose essays were among the many pamphlets Solidarity produced. Solidarity existed as a nationwide organisation with groups in London and many other cities until 1981, when it imploded after a series of political disputes. The magazine Solidarity continued to be published by the London group until 1992--other former Solidarity members were behind Wildcat in Manchester and Here and Now magazine in Glasgow. The intellectual leader of the group was Chris Pallis, whose pamphlets (written under the name Maurice Brinton) included Paris May 1968, The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control 1917-21 and The Irrational in Politics. Other key Solidarity writers were Andy Anderson (author of Hungary 1956), Ken Weller (who wrote several pamphlets on industrial struggles and oversaw the group's Motor Bulletins on the car industry), Joe Jacobs (Out of the Ghetto), John Quail (The Slow-Burning Fuse), Phil Mailer (Portugal:The Impossible Revolution) John King (The Political Economy of Marx, A History of Marxian Economics), George Williamson (writing as James Finlayson, Urban Devastation - The Planning of Incarceration), David Lamb (Mutinies) and Liz Willis (Women in the Spanish Revolution).
Autonomism refers to a set of left-wing political and social movements and theories close to the socialist movement. As an identifiable theoretical system, it first emerged in Italy in the 1960s from workerist (operaismo) communism. Later, post-Marxist and anarchist tendencies became significant after influence from the Situationists, the failure of Italian far-left movements in the 1970s and the emergence of a number of important theorists including Antonio Negri, who had contributed to the 1969 founding of Potere Operaio, Mario Tronti and Paolo Virno.
Through translations made available by Danilo Montaldi and others, the Italian autonomists drew upon previous activist research in the United States by the Johnson-Forest Tendency and in France by the group Socialisme ou Barbarie.
It influenced the German and Dutch Autonomen, the worldwide social centre movement and today is influential in Italy, France and to a lesser extent the English-speaking countries. Those who describe themselves as autonomists now vary from Marxists to post-structuralists and anarchists. The autonomist Marxist and autonomen movements provided inspiration to some on the revolutionary left in English speaking countries, particularly among anarchists, many of whom have adopted autonomist tactics. Some English-speaking anarchists even describe themselves as autonomists. The Italian operaismo ("workerism") movement also influenced Marxist academics such as Harry Cleaver, John Holloway, Steve Wright and Nick Dyer-Witheford.
Yanis Varoufakis describes himself as a "libertarian Marxist