Anarchism versus Communism: Our points of connection and our differences

Pierre Bibeau
Translated from Le Point communiste, September 2001

The primacy given to the free enterprise market economy, the pompous speeches of the bourgeois class, the ever more invasive advertising, a dead-end future, a dying planet, increasing social inequalities -- here is a whole panoply of reasons which make more and more people want to change the system. Of these, the young are a live and increasingly radicalized force. Voices are being raised, demanding the destruction of this system of obsolete values. But the question is: What should replace it and how? Must we try to reform the system on social-­democratic lines (there exist several variants of the recipe)? Can we replace the system with egalitarian and libertarian self-management? What strategy should we adopt?

The left faces various choices, and around these there are, of course, different currents. These include anarchist currents besides us Communists. Some points unite us; at the same time, we also have our differences.

Solidarity and equality

Anti-capitalist anarchist movements of the left, as opposed to other libertarian currents usually associated with right-wing ideas, are obviously closer to us. At the heart of these left-wing anarchist movements solidarity and the principles of equality are predominant. Left-wing anarchists rebel against all forms of authority, advocate self-management and direct democracy, are against all forms of centralized power and defend egalitarian principles for all citizens.

To arrive at the principles of self-management, their paths may differ according to their views. To some, local initiatives of direct democracy represent small popular liberations; they see this as a catalyst to a hypothetical seizure of power by the citizens in a movement that would grow broader and broader. Hence the need to think globally, but act locally. Others don't really seek to enlarge the movement; they see themselves first and foremost as dissidents -- "Ni Dieu, ni Maître", so to speak. [A French saying: "No God, no master".]

Anarcho-syndicalism refers to anarchists who work in unions. In North America, because of the Rand formula, the principle of the "closed shop" and the influence of the big union centrals, anarcho-syndicalists are forced to work within a union structure they most often loathe. In general, they face serious difficulties promoting their ideals and mode of direct action within the unions. In Europe, where there exists free affiliation with a union central, they can more easily be a force there. In North America, the anarchists prefer to work in community movements, where more flexible structures probably correspond better to their values.


Anarcho-communists, as their name indicates, are, by their nature, still closer to us. They want the realization of communism, agree that a revolutionary organization must be created to oust the ruling power, but will not base it on democratic centralism or on the notion of a vanguard party such as the Communists support.

Most of them are at the same time against the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We share the same revolutionary objective, but the anarcho-communists seem to skip the stage of socialism. Finally, anarcho-communists are generally unity-minded -- and so, like us, favour the union of forces on the left, what we Communists call the united front.


For its part, the Communist movement is not much more homogenous. Thus, between the extreme Maoist Shining Path in Peru and the rather moderate Communist Party in France there are many differences. In this context, we will limit ourselves to describing what we, the Communist Party of Quebec and of Canada, stand for. The final version of our political program, adopted following an all-Canadian congress last February, will soon be available. [It is now available in English and French.]

Like many others, we believe that the capitalist system is evil, destructive and obsolete. In such a context, it seems to us imperative to build a party that will unite conscious elements of the people for the purpose of co-ordinated struggle. We want to build this party according to the democratic centralist precepts elaborated by Lenin, which is to say according to the concept that directions are determined by the base but implemented starting from the top. This amounts to an "elevator" type of democracy, from bottom to top, and at the same time from top to bottom. There's nothing particularly mystifying in any of this. To some extent the workers' movement functions in that type of way. It's a method which already has in large measure proved to work, despite having often been perverted.

We Communists, seek to unite the working class in alliance with other strata of the people to combat the monopoly bourgeoisie. To do this, we are ready to initiate or join a united front of the left coalition.

Our differences

Anarchists tend to be more hesitant regarding the question of alliances, especially if these concern elections. They most often oppose all electoral participation, even for a tactical purpose; some, still more sectarian, envisage coalitions that work only to mount spectacular actions.

We share with many anarchists an anti-capitalist vision, and we are also in agreement with them on the necessity of abolishing social classes, as well as wages as the means of allocating goods and services. Some points of convergence also appear as regards the eventual demise of the State and its replacement by a direct citizens' democracy.

On the other hand, though, and in opposition to anarchists, we don't think that the elimination of the State will be possible immediately after taking power. Our viewpoint is that it will be necessary for some short or long period after taking power to maintain some form of government because the bourgeoisie will necessarily seek to regain power in order to stop the revolution. This new State, built on the remains and vestiges of the old State, must at the same time be radically different from the old one. It will need as well to find the means of preventing the bourgeoisie from taking back control of the situation.

The Communists speak of this period as being, of necessity, the "dictatorship of the proletariat", as opposed to the present dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The expression is not new, and it is often even now poorly understood. Contrary to what many people believe, the Communists are not so much in favour of more State, but aim instead to create, at the same time as the establishment of the "dictatorship of the proletariat", a citizens' takeover of power which, in its real operation will eventually facilitate the progressive elimination of the State. Obviously, various conditions will slow or speed this process, depending on the situation.

On the role of the workers' movement

We cannot agree either with the anarchists who in a leftist way flatly reject the role of the workers' movement in these struggles on the sole ground that the current upper levels of certain unions have taken the path of class collaboration.

Another difference: we value the work of education and large-scale mobilization far more than the spectacular actions which are in general the trademark of different anarchist tendencies. On this point, we are very clearly against terrorism, as much when it comes to the underlying ideology as the strategies associated with it.

Overall, despite our differences, we believe it is nonetheless important to maintain contact with the anarchists of the left. They should be recognized, respected and considered as allies in the struggle against capital. At the last congress of the PCQ we invited the anarchist group Émile Henry to speak to the delegates. It is not customary for the Communist movement to act in this way but we did it; this shows the route we want to take.

It is also good to get criticism (given in a respectful way, of course) and to exchange ideas. Take for example the place of the individual in society; anarchists assign a manifest primacy to the individual, while the Communists give collective needs priority over individual needs. In the past we had a tendency to greatly minimize the latter, saying that they would be met through the satisfaction of collective needs. Real life, in the countries of the East among others, shows us that this transfer from the collective to the individual is not carried out automatically or completely. Certain deficiencies have to be corrected.