European Anarchism Before 1848

Prelude to Revolution

Prelude to Revolution

This is the next installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterward to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Here, I discuss some of the revolutionary ideas that were emerging in Europe prior to the European revolutions of 1848-1849.

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Revolutionary Ideas in Europe

In the 1840s there was an explosion of radical ideas and movements in Europe, culminating in a wave of revolutions that swept the continent in 1848-49. In Germany, radical intellectuals inspired by and reacting against the philosophy of Hegel, sometimes referred to as the “Young” or “Left Hegelians,” began developing a “ruthless criticism of everything existing,” as Marx put it in 1843. The previous year, Bakunin had published his essay, “The Reaction in Germany,” in which he described the revolutionary program as “the negation of the existing conditions of the State” and “ the destruction of whatever order prevails at the time,” concluding with the now notorious phrase, the “passion for destruction is a creative passion, too!” (Volume One, Selection 10). Max Stirner’s masterpiece of nihilistic egoism, The Ego and Its Own, came out in 1844 (Volume One, Selection 11). Arnold Ruge, one of the most prominent of the “Young Hegelians,” called for “the abolition of all government” in favour of “an ordered anarchy… the free community… of men who make their own decisions and who are in all respects equal comrades” (Nettlau: 53-59).

Three aspects of the Young Hegelian critique had a lasting impact on Bakunin, and through him on the development of anarchist ideas. The first was the Young Hegelian critique of religion. The second was the development of a materialist worldview, from which all “divine phantoms” were banished. The third, which followed from the first two, was atheism. Bakunin and later anarchists were to denounce the alliance of Church and State, particularly the role of religion in pacifying the masses and in rationalizing their domination and exploitation, advocating a materialist atheism that emphasizes human agency because there are no divine or supernatural forces to protect or deliver the people from their earthly misery. The people can only liberate themselves through their own direct action.

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Max Stirner

Max Stirner (1806-1856) took the Young Hegelian critique of “divine phantoms” to its furthest extreme, attacking all ideal conceptions, whether of God, humanity, or good and evil, as “spooks” or “wheels in the head” which dominate the very consciousness of the unique individual, preventing him or her from acting freely.

In The Ego and Its Own, Stirner argued that through upbringing, education and indoctrination, people internalize abstract social norms and values, putting the individual “in the position of a country governed by secret police. The spy and eavesdropper, ‘conscience,’ watch over every motion of the mind,” with “all thought and action” becoming “a matter of conscience, i.e. police business.” Anticipating radical Freudians like the anarchist psychoanalyst, Otto Gross (Volume One, Selection 78), Stirner observed that everyone “carries his gendarme within his breast.”

Stirner advocated freedom “from the State, from religion, from conscience,” and from any other power or end to which the individual can be subjected. He rejected any concept of justice or rights, arguing that the unique individual is free to take whatever is in his or her power. Whenever the egoist’s “advantage runs against the State’s,” he “can satisfy himself only by crime.” After Stirner’s writings were rediscovered in the late 1890s, this aspect of his critique was developed by individualist anarchists, such as Albert Joseph (“Libertad”), into the doctrine of “illegalism,” which was used by the Bonnot Gang as an ideological cloak for their bank robberies in the early 1900s in France (Perry, 1987).

Stirner denounced socialism for seeking to replace the individual capitalist with a collective owner, “society,” to which the individual will be equally subject, but nevertheless argued that the workers need only stop labouring for the benefit of their employers and “regard the product of their labour” as their own in order to bring down the State, the power of which rests on their slavery.

Another aspect of Stirner’s thought that was to have some influence on later anarchists is his distinction between insurrection and revolution. Revolutions seek to rearrange society into a new order. Insurrection or rebellion, by contrast, is “a rising of individuals… without regard to the arrangements that spring from it” (Volume One, Selection 11). In light of the defeats of the anarchists in the Russian and Spanish Revolutions, Herbert Read (1893-1968) sought to revive Stirner’s distinction, arguing that anarchists must avoid creating “the kind of machinery which, at the successful end of a revolution, would merely be taken over by the leaders of the revolution, who then assume the functions of government” (Volume Two, Selection 1). During the 1960s, many of the younger anarchists endorsed the notion of “spontaneous insurrection” (Volume Two, Selection 51). More recently, Hakim Bey has argued in favour of the creation of “temporary autonomous zones,” which can be seen as “an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it” (Volume Three, Selection 11).

Anarchy is Self-Management

Anarchy is Self-Management

Proudhon: Machinery and Worker Self-Management

In one passage in The Ego and Its Own, Stirner described individuals as mere cogs in the “State machine.” In Proudhon’s 1846 publication, The System of Economic Contradictions, he argued that the first and “most powerful of machines is the workshop” The workshop degrades “the worker by giving him a master.” The “concentration of forces in the workshop” and the introduction of machinery “engender at the same time overproduction and destitution,” rendering more and more workers redundant, such that in a capitalist economy it is continually necessary to “create new machines, open other markets, and consequently multiply services and displace other” workers. Industry and wealth, population and misery, “advance, so to speak, in procession, one always dragging the other after it” (Volume One, Selection 9).

This focus on and opposition to relationships of subordination in both the economic and political spheres sharply distinguished Proudhon and the anarchists from many of their socialist contemporaries. In his sarcastic attempt to demolish Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), Marx dismissed Proudhon’s critique of factory organization and machinery as a reactionary demand for a return to a pre-industrial utopia of skilled craft production. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), co-written with Friedrich Engels, Marx called for the centralization of “all instruments of production in the hands of the State… to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.” This would require the establishment of “industrial armies, especially for agriculture.”

Proudhon’s solution to this problem was neither to advocate a return to a pre-industrial craft economy nor the creation of industrial armies, “for it is with a machine as with a piece of artillery: the captain excepted, those whom it occupies are servants, slaves” (Volume One, Selection 9). While Proudhon argued that free credit should be made available so that everyone would have the opportunity to engage in whatever productive activity they chose, he recognized from the outset the advantages of combining one’s labour with the labour of others, creating a “collective force” that in existing society was being exploited by the capitalists who reaped the benefit of the resulting increase in productive power. “Two hundred grenadiers stood the obelisk of Luxor upon its base in a few hours,” Proudhon wrote in What Is Property, “do you suppose that one man could have accomplished the same task in two hundred days?” (Volume One, Selection 8).

Proudhon therefore advocated workers’ control or worker self-management of industry, later referred to in France as “autogestion,” an idea that became a major tenet of subsequent anarchist movements (Guérin, Volume Two, Selection 49). In Proudhon’s proposals, all positions in each enterprise would be elected by the workers themselves, who would approve all by-laws, each worker would have the right to fill any position, “unpleasant and disagreeable tasks” would be shared, and each worker would be given a “variety of work and knowledge” so as to avoid a stultifying division of labour. Everyone would “participate in the gains and in the losses” of the enterprise “in proportion to his services,” with pay being “proportional to the nature of the position, the importance of the talents, and the extent of responsibility” (Volume One, Selection 12).

Robert Graham

Additional References

Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism. London: Freedom Press, 1996.

Perry, Richard. The Bonnot Gang. London: Rebel Press, 1987.

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From Fourier to Proudhon

Charles Fourier

Charles Fourier

This is the next installment from the Anarchist Current, my survey of the origins and development of anarchist ideas from ancient China to the present day, which appears as the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Charles Fourier and the Liberation of Desire

A younger contemporary of William Godwin was to have a noticeable influence on the development of anarchist ideas, the French writer, Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Fourier had lived through the French Revolution. Imprisoned for a time, he almost became another victim of the Terror. He witnessed the hoarding and profiteering that occurred during the Revolution and sought to develop a libertarian alternative by which everyone would not only be guaranteed their means of subsistence but would be able to engage in productive work which they themselves found fulfilling. “Morality teaches us to love work,” Fourier wrote, “let it know, then, how to render work lovable” (Volume One, Selection 7).

Fourier recognized that in order to survive in the emerging capitalist economy, workers were compelled to take whatever work they could find, regardless of their personal talents, aptitudes and preferences. They had to work long hours under deplorable conditions, only to see their employers reap the fruits of their labours while they continued to live in poverty. The new economy was “nothing but… a league of the minority which possesses, against the majority which does not possess the necessaries of life.”

Fourier, however, did not advocate revolution. He hoped to attract financial benefactors to fund the creation of communes or “phalanxes” where each person would rotate through a variety of jobs each day, free to choose each task, doing what they found to be enjoyable, giving expression to their talents and passions. Each member of the phalanx would be guaranteed a minimum of material support and remunerated by dividends from the phalanx’s operations. While later anarchists agreed that work should be freely undertaken, enjoyable and fulfilling, rather than an onerous burden, they found Fourier’s more detailed plans regarding the organization of society to be too constrictive and his idea that wealthy benefactors would bankroll the abolition of their own privileged status naïve.

Fourier was an early advocate of sexual liberation. Foreshadowing the work of Wilhelm Reich (Volume One, Selection 119; Volume Two, Selection 75), Fourier argued that people should be free to satisfy their sexual needs and desires, and that the repression of such desires is not only harmful to the individual but one of the foundations of a repressive society (Guérin, Volume Two, Selection 76).

A Phalanstery

A Phalanstery

Proudhon: The Self-Proclaimed Anarchist

In 1840, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) declared himself an anarchist in his groundbreaking book, What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government. Karl Marx (1818-1883), later Proudhon’s scornful opponent, at the time praised Proudhon’s book as “the first resolute, pitiless and at the same time scientific” critique of private property (Marx, 1845: 132). To the question posed by the title of the book, Proudhon responded that “property is theft” (Volume One, Selection 8). According to Proudhon, the workers should be entitled to the full value of their labour, not the mere pittance the capitalists doled out to them while keeping the lion’s share for themselves. By arguing that, in this sense, “property is theft,” Proudhon was not giving expression to bourgeois notions of justice, as Marx later claimed (Marx, 1867: 178-179, fn. 2), but was expressing a view of justice held by many workers, that people should enjoy the fruits of their own labours.

That the capitalists were parasites exploiting the workers by depriving them of what was rightfully theirs was to become a common theme in 19th century socialist and anarchist propaganda. In the 1883 Pittsburgh Proclamation of the International Working People’s Association (the so-called “Black International”), the then anarchist collectivist Johann Most (1846-1906) put it this way: “the propertied (capitalists) buy the working force body and soul of the propertyless, for the mere cost of existence (wages) and take for themselves, i.e. steal, the amount of new values (products) which exceeds the price” (Volume One, Selection 55).

Besides declaring property theft, Proudhon boldly proclaimed himself an anarchist, denouncing “the government of man by man” as “oppression.” It is government, through its laws and coercive mechanisms, that protects the property of the capitalists, condemning the workers to lives of servitude and misery. The only just form of society is one in which workers are free to associate, to combine their labour, and to exchange what they produce for products and services of equivalent value, instead of receiving wages “scarcely sufficient to support them from one day to another.” In a society based on equivalent exchange there would no longer be any need for government because those things which make government necessary, such as “pauperism, luxury, oppression, vice, crime and hunger,” would “disappear from our midst” (Volume One, Selection 8). Proudhon described this form of socialism as “mutualism.”

Proudhon was not the first to have drawn the connection between economic exploitation and political servitude. Bao Jingyan, Winstanley, Maréchal, Godwin and Fourier all made similar arguments. But Proudhon was the first to describe himself as an anarchist. Others were soon to follow.

Robert Graham

property-is-theft-pierre-joseph-proudhon-149042

Additional References

Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 (1867). Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976; and The Holy Family (1845). In Selected Writings. Ed. D. McLellan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

 

Godwin’s Philosophical Anarchism

William Godwin

William Godwin

This is the next installment of the “Anarchist Current,” my Afterword to Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, that appears in Volume Three: The New Anarchism (1974-2012). Here I discuss William Godwin’s philosophical anarchism in relation to the French Revolution (1789-1795). Previous installments dealt with Daoism and anarchism in ancient China, Etienne de la Boetie’s critique of voluntary servitude and the Diggers in the English Civil War, and anarchism in the French Revolution. Godwin’s companion was the early feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and their daughter became Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein and other literary works.

Godwin Enquiry

Godwin’s Critique of Coercion

Jean Varlet’s English contemporary, William Godwin (1756-1836), developed an anarchist critique not only of revolutionary violence but of coercion as such, whether the institutionalized coercion of the law with its penal systems, or the individual coercion of a parent toward a child. Godwin wrote and revised his great philosophical work, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (Volume One, Selection 4), during the French Revolution, publishing the final revised edition in 1797, around the time that Napoleon was coming to power, three years after the fall of Robespierre.

Godwin argued that coercion, and its positive correlate, inducements offered by those with wealth and power, distort political debate and moral discussion by causing people to evaluate a policy or course of conduct in terms of the punishments or rewards attached to them, rather than on their intrinsic merits. Coercion and inducements also have a debilitating effect on both persons in power and the people who obey or accept them.

“Dressed in the supine prerogatives of a master,” those in power are “excused from cultivating” their rational faculties. Those who are forced to obey their rulers become resentful and fearful. Instead of being encouraged to think for themselves, they learn how to avoid detection and seek power for themselves so that they can effect their own purposes.

The deleterious consequences of coercion and inducements are not surmounted by parliamentary debates, or what is now referred to as “deliberative democracy” (Dryzek, 2000). In the first place, the laws and policies of the government are not the result of direct debate among the people, but the result of the debates of elected representatives who represent particular interests. Decisions are made by majority vote of the representatives, who invariably vote along party lines. Even when a debate is not cut short by the ruling party, the “minority, after having exposed, with all the power and eloquence, and force of reasoning, of which they are capable, the injustice and folly of the measures adopted, are obliged… to assist in carrying them into execution,” since all the representatives are required to uphold the law. For Godwin, “nothing can more directly contribute to the deprivation of the human understanding and character” than to require people to act contrary to their own reason.

During parliamentary debates, which must come to a close with a vote of the assembled representatives, the “orator no longer enquires after permanent conviction, but transitory effect. He seeks to take advantage of our prejudices than to enlighten our judgement. That which might otherwise have been a scene of patient and beneficent enquiry is changed into wrangling, tumult and precipitation.”

This is particularly true during revolutionary upheavals. Reasoned and impartial debate “can scarcely be pursued when all the passions of man are afloat, and we are hourly under the strongest impressions of fear and hope, apprehension and desire, dejection and triumph.” Revolutions invariably provoke counter-revolution. When “we lay aside arguments, and have recourse to the sword,” amidst “the barbarous rage of war, and the clamorous din of civil contention, who shall tell whether the event will be prosperous or adverse? The consequence may be the riveting on us anew the chains of despotism.” To combat the counter-revolution, the revolutionaries suppress freedom of expression and resort to terror, organizing “a government tenfold more encroaching in its principles and terrible in its proceedings” than the old regime.

Despite regarding revolutions as being “necessarily attended with many circumstances worthy of our disapprobation,” Godwin recognized that “revolutions and violence have too often been coeval with important changes of the social system.” While we should “endeavour to prevent violence,” during revolutionary upheavals we cannot simply “turn away our eyes from human affairs in disgust, and refuse to contribute our labours and attention to the general weal.” Rather, we must take “proper advantage of circumstances as they arise, and not… withdraw ourselves because everything is not conducted according to our ideas of propriety.” Godwin’s critique of revolutionary violence must not therefore be misconstrued as tacit support for the injustices which the revolutionaries are seeking to overturn.

Since Godwin’s time, anarchists have continued to struggle with questions regarding recourse to violence and the role of anarchists during revolutionary struggles. The validity of Godwin’s warning, based on his own observations of the French Revolution, that revolution may result in a new tyranny because it is the strongest and not the most just who typically triumph, has been borne out by the experience of anarchists in subsequent revolutions. In the 20th century, both the Russian (Volume One, Chapter 18) and Spanish (Volume One, Chapter 23) revolutions resulted in dictatorships even more “ghastly” than that of Robespierre, despite the presence of significant anarchist movements.

When anarchist movements began to emerge in 19th century Europe, Godwin’s work was relatively unknown. It was largely through the work of the anarchist historian, Max Nettlau (1865-1944), that the ideas of de la Boétie and Godwin were introduced to European anarchists, well after anarchism had emerged as an identifiable current of thought (Walter, 2007).

Robert Graham

Anarchist Writings Godwin

Additional References

Dryzek, John S. Deliberative Democracy and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism. London: Freedom Press, 1996.

Walter, Nicolas. The Anarchist Past and Other Essays. Nottingham: Five Leaves Publications, 2007.

Anarchist Undercurrents Rise to Revolution

The French Revolution

The French Revolution

This is the third installment from The Anarchist Current, the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I discuss the origins and development of anarchist ideas from ancient China to the present day. Part one dealt with Daoism and anarchism in China around 300 CE. Part two dealt with Etienne de la Boetie’s critique of voluntary servitude and various religious heresies, from the Mu‘tazili Muslims to the Diggers in the English Revolution and Civil War. Part three deals with anarchist currents in Europe leading up to and during the Great French Revolution of 1789-1795.

De Foigny's Adventures of Jacques Sadeur

De Foigny’s Adventures of Jacques Sadeur

Utopian Undercurrents

Hounded by both parliamentary and royalist forces, the Digger movement did not survive the English Civil War. However, anarchist ideas continued to percolate underground in Europe, resurfacing during the Enlightenment and the 1789 French Revolution.

In 1676, Gabriel de Foigny, a defrocked priest, published in Geneva Les Adventures de Jacques Sadeur dans la découverte de la Terre Australe, in which he depicted an imaginary society in Australia where people lived without government, religious institutions or private property. De Foigny was considered a heretic and imprisoned. A year after his death in 1692, an abridged English translation of Les Adventures appeared as A New Discovery of Terra Incognita Australis. According to Max Nettlau, de Foigny’s book became “well known,” being “reprinted and translated many times” (1996: 12).

Jean Meslier, a priest from the Champagne area of France, wrote a political Testament in the 1720s in which he denounced the alliance of Church and State, calling on the people to keep for themselves “all the riches and goods you produce so abundantly with the sweat of your brow,” and to let “all the great ones of the earth and all nobles hang and strangle themselves with the priests’ guts” (Joll: 14). Similar sentiments were expressed by the French philosophe, Denis Diderot, who wrote in 1772 that “nature has made neither servant nor master—I want neither to give nor to receive laws… weave the entrails of the priest, for want of a rope, to hang the kings” (Berneri: 202). During the French Revolution this was transformed into the slogan, “Humanity will not be happy until the last aristocrat is hanged by the guts of the last priest.” Many variations on this slogan have followed since, with the Situationists during the May-June 1968 events in France calling for the last bureaucrat to be hanged by the guts of the last capitalist (Knabb: 344).

On the eve of the French Revolution of 1789, Sylvain Maréchal (1750-1803) published some fables and satirical works evincing an anarchist stance, picturing in one “the life of kings exiled to a desert island where they ended up exterminating each other” (Nettlau: 11). He attacked religion and promoted atheism. In 1796, in the face of the growing reaction, he published his “Manifesto of the Equals” (Volume One, Selection 6), in which he called on the people of France to march over the bodies of “the new tyrants, seated in the place of the old ones,” just as they had “marched over the bodies of kings and priests.” Maréchal sought “real equality,” through “the communal enjoyment of the fruits of the earth,” and the abolition not only of “individual property in land,” but of “the revolting distinction of rich and poor, of great and small, of masters and valets, of governors and governed.”

Storming the Bastille

Storming the Bastille

The Great French Revolution

Anarchist tendencies emerged among the more radical elements during the first, or “Great,” French Revolution of 1789, particularly among the sans-culottes and enragés who formed the backbone of the Revolution. Denounced as anarchists by their opponents, they did not entirely reject the label. In 1793, the sans-culottes of Beaucaire identified their allies as “those who have delivered us from the clergy and nobility, from the feudal system, from tithes, from the monarchy and all the ills which follow in its train; those whom the aristocrats have called anarchists, followers of faction (factieux), Maratists” (Joll: 27).

The sans-culottes played an important role in the revolutionary “sections” in Paris, directly democratic neighbourhood assemblies through which ordinary people took control of their lives. As Murray Bookchin has argued, the sections “represented genuine forms of self-management” that “awakened a popular initiative, a resoluteness in action, and a sense of revolutionary purpose that no professional bureaucracy, however radical its pretensions, could ever hope to achieve” (Volume Two, Selection 62).

Unfortunately, other forces on the left, notably Robespierre and the Jacobins, adopted an authoritarian policy of revolutionary terror to fight the counter-revolution, leading the enragé Jean Varlet (1764-1837) to denounce so-called “revolutionary government” as a monstrous “masterpiece of Machiavellianism” that purported to put the revolutionary authorities “in permanent insurrection” against themselves, which is patently absurd (Volume One, Selection 5).

Varlet and other sans-culottes and enragés had fought with the Jacobins against the more conservative Girondins, unwittingly helping the Jacobins to institute their own dictatorship. When Varlet saw his fellow revolutionaries “clapped in irons” by the Jacobins, he “retreated back into the ranks of the people” rather than support “a disgusting dictatorship dressed up with the title of Public Safety.” He could not accept that “Robespierre’s ghastly dictatorship” could somehow vindicate the preceding dictatorship of the Girondins, nor that he and his fellow enragés could be blamed for being the unwitting dupes of the Jacobins, claiming that they had done “nothing to deserve such a harsh reproach” (Volume One, Selection 5).

Varlet made clear that the Jacobin policy of mass arrests and executions, the so-called “Reign of Terror,” far from protecting the gains of the revolution, was not only monstrous but counter-revolutionary, with “two thirds of citizens” being deemed “mischievous enemies of freedom” who “must be stamped out,” terror being “the supreme law” and torture “an object of veneration.” The Jacobin terror “aims to rule over heaps of corpses” under the pretext that “if the executioners are no longer the fathers of the nation, freedom is in jeopardy,” turning the people against the revolution as they themselves become its victims. Even with the overthrow of Robespierre in July 1794, Varlet warned that “his ghastly system has survived him,” calling on the French people to take up their arms and their pens to overthrow the government, whatever its revolutionary pretensions.

Varlet, in rejecting his own responsibility for the Jacobin ascendancy to power, avoided a critique of revolutionary violence, simply calling on the people to rise yet again against their new masters, a call which went largely unanswered after years of revolutionary upheaval which had decimated the ranks of the revolutionaries and demoralized the people. There were a couple of abortive uprisings in Paris in 1795, but these were quickly suppressed.

Robert Graham

"The Family of Pigs Led Back to the Cow Shed." Etching with hand coloring in the original, 1791. The return of the royal family after their attempted escape and capture at Varennes in June 1791. Louis, Marie Antoinette, their son and heir the dauphin, the princess, and Madame Elisabeth (Louis's sister)and the others are cast as pigs and barnyard animals being returned to the barn. The failed flight greatly intensified the feeling that the Louis had rejected the revolutionary settlements of 1789-90 and could not be trusted as France's constitutional monarch. This caricature reflects the efforts by some to destroy the idea of monarchy and the sacred character of the king.

Additional References

Berneri, Marie Louise. Journey Through Utopia. London: Routlege & Kegan Paul, 1950 (republished by Freedom Press, 1982).

Joll, James. The Anarchists. 2nd Edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Knabb, Ken. Situationist International Anthology. Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981.

Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism. London: Freedom Press, 1996.

Bakunin: For Reasons of State

Michael Bakunin

Michael Bakunin

As part of the 200 hundredth anniversary of the birth of the revolutionary anarchist, Michael (Mikhail) Bakunin (1814-1876), I have been posting some of his writings. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several selections by Bakunin on libertarian socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, science and authority, revolutionary action, the Paris Commune, integral education and the nature of the state. One of the passages was taken from Bakunin’s critique of Rousseau’s social contract theory of the state. I am reproducing a portion of it here in response to the various wars that continue to grip this planet, and as an antidote to the propaganda celebrating the 100 hundredth anniversary of the commencement of the First World War.

Bakunin-weakness-crime-Meetville-Quotes-119350

For Reasons of State

The existence of one sovereign, exclusionary State necessarily supposes the existence and, if need be, provokes the formation of other such States, since it is quite natural that individuals who find themselves outside it and are threatened by it in their existence and in their liberty, should, in their turn, associate themselves against it. We thus have humanity divided into an indefinite number of foreign states, all hostile and threatened by each other. There is no common right, no social contract of any kind between them; otherwise they would cease to be independent states and become the federated members of one great state. But unless this great state were to embrace all of humanity, it would be confronted with other great states, each federated within, each maintaining the same posture of inevitable hostility.

War would still remain the supreme law, an unavoidable condition of human survival.

Every state, federated or not, would therefore seek to become the most powerful. It must devour lest it be devoured, conquer lest it be conquered, enslave lest it be enslaved, since two powers, similar and yet alien to each other, could not coexist without mutual destruction.

The State, therefore, is the most flagrant, the most cynical, and the most complete negation of humanity. It shatters the universal solidarity of all men on the earth, and brings some of them into association only for the purpose of destroying, conquering, and enslaving all the rest. It protects its own citizens only; it recognizes human rights, humanity, civilization within its own confines alone. Since it recognizes no rights outside itself, it logically arrogates to itself the right to exercise the most ferocious inhumanity toward all foreign populations, which it can plunder, exterminate, or enslave at will. If it does show itself generous and humane toward them, it is never through a sense of duty, for it has no duties except to itself in the first place, and then to those of its members who have freely formed it, who freely continue to constitute it or even, as always happens in the long run, those who have become its subjects. As there is no international law in existence, and as it could never exist in a meaningful and realistic way without undermining to its foundations the very principle of the absolute sovereignty of the State, the State can have no duties toward foreign populations. Hence, if it treats a conquered people in a humane fashion, if it plunders or exterminates it halfway only, if it does not reduce it to the lowest degree of slavery, this may be a political act inspired by prudence, or even by pure magnanimity, but it is never done from a sense of duty, for the State has an absolute right to dispose of a conquered people at will.

This flagrant negation of humanity which constitutes the very essence of the State is, from the standpoint of the State, its supreme duty and its greatest virtue. It bears the name patriotism, and it constitutes the entire transcendent morality of the State. We call it transcendent morality because it usually goes beyond the level of human morality and justice, either of the community or of the private individual, and by that same token often finds itself in contradiction with these. Thus, to offend, to oppress, to despoil, to plunder, to assassinate or enslave one’s fellowman is ordinarily regarded as a crime. In public life, on the other hand, from the standpoint of patriotism, when these things are done for the greater glory of the State, for the preservation or the extension of its power, it is all transformed into duty and virtue. And this virtue, this duty, are obligatory for each patriotic citizen; everyone is supposed to exercise them not against foreigners only but against one’s own fellow citizens, members or subjects of the State like himself, whenever the welfare of the State demands it.

This explains why, since the birth of the State, the world of politics has always been and continues to be the stage for unlimited rascality and brigandage, brigandage and rascality which, by the way, are held in high esteem, since they are sanctified by patriotism, by the transcendent morality and the supreme interest of the State. This explains why the entire history of ancient and modern states is merely a series of revolting crimes; why kings and ministers, past and present, of all times and all countries – statesmen, diplomats, bureaucrats, and warriors – if judged from the standpoint of simple morality and human justice, have a hundred, a thousand times over earned their sentence to hard labor or to the gallows. There is no horror, no cruelty, sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the states, under no other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so terrible: “for reasons of state.”

Michael Bakunin, 1868

smash the state

International Anarchist Manifesto Against the First World War

NOWARBUT

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several anarchist writings against the First World War, which is yet again being portrayed on the hundredth anniversary of its commencement by the governments involved and the political parties and interests that control them as a great patriotic war, the enormous human, environmental and financial costs of which were supposedly justified in defending “freedom”  and “democracy,” and in building nations, such as Canada and Australia, out of British colonies.

In addition to the patriotic media onslaught, the internet is inundated with misinformation, particularly from Marxist-Leninist groups, regarding the anarchist response to the war, repeating the falsehood that the majority of European anarchists were pro-War. The fact is, only a small minority of anarchists supported the war and those who did, even very prominent ones like Kropotkin, soon found themselves isolated from the various anarchist movements.

One of the best anarchist publications against the war was this one, “International Anarchist Manifesto on the War,” included in Chapter 17, “War and Revolution in Europe,” of  From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939), Volume One of the Anarchism anthology. It was signed by a number of well known anarchists from a wide variety of places, including Alexander Berkman, Joseph Cohen and Emma Goldman in the United States, Luigi Bertoni, Errico Malatesta and several other Italians, Russian anarchists who were to play a role in the 1917 Russian Revolution, such as Alexander Schapiro and Bill Shatoff, F. Domela-Nieuwenhuis from the Netherlands, George Barrett, Tom Keel, Lillian Woolf  from England, and several other anarchists from additional countries. 

Emma Goldman Speaking at Anti-Conscription Rally

Emma Goldman Speaking at Anti-Conscription Rally

International Anarchist Manifesto on the War

EUROPE IN A BLAZE, TWELVE MILLION MEN engaged in the most frightful butchery that history has ever recorded; millions of women and children in tears; the economic, intellectual, and moral life of seven great peoples brutally suspended, and the menace becoming every day more pregnant with new military complications – such is, for seven months, the painful, agonizing, and hateful spectacle presented by the civilized world.

But a spectacle not unexpected – at least, by the Anarchists, since for them there never has been nor is there any doubt – the terrible events of today strengthen this conviction – that war is permanently fostered by the present social system. Armed conflict, restricted or widespread, colonial or European, is the natural consequence and the inevitable and fatal outcome of a society that is founded on the exploitation of the workers, rests on the savage struggle of the classes, and compels Labour to submit to the domination of a minority of parasites who hold both political and economic power.

The war was inevitable. Wherever it originated, it had to come. It is not in vain that for half a century there has been a feverish preparation of the most formidable armaments and a ceaseless increase in the budgets of death. It is not by constantly improving the weapons of war and by concentrating the mind and the will of all upon the better organization of the military machine that people work for peace.

Therefore, it is foolish and childish, after having multiplied the causes and occasions of conflict, to seek to fix the responsibility on this or that government. No possible distinction can be drawn between offensive and defensive wars. In the present conflict, the governments of Berlin and Vienna have sought to justify themselves by documents not less authentic than those of the governments of Paris and Petrograd. Each does its very best to produce the most indisputable and the most decisive documents in order to establish its good faith and to present itself as the immaculate defender of right and liberty and the champion of civilization.

Saving Civilization by destroying it

Saving ‘civilization’ by destroying it

Civilization? Who, then, represents it just now? Is it the German State, with its formidable militarism, and so powerful that it has stifled every disposition to revolt? Is it the Russian State, to whom the knout, the gibbet, and Siberia are the sole means of persuasion? Is it the French State, with its Biribi, its bloody conquests in Tonkin, Madagascar, Morocco, and its compulsory enlistment of black troops? France, that detains in its prisons, for years, comrades guilty only of having written and spoken against war? Is it the English State, which exploits, divides, and oppresses the populations of its immense colonial empire?

No; none of the belligerents is entitled to invoke the name of civilization or to declare itself in a state of legitimate defence.

The truth is that the cause of wars, of that which at present stains with blood the plains of Europe, as of all wars that have preceded it, rests solely in the existence of the State, which is the political form of privilege.

The State has arisen out of military force, it has developed through the use of military force, and it is still on military force that it must logically rest in order to maintain its omnipotence. Whatever the form it may assume, the State is nothing but organized oppression for the advantage of a privileged minority. The present conflict illustrates this in the most striking manner. All forms of the State are engaged in the present war; absolutism with Russia, absolutism softened by Parliamentary institutions with Germany, the State ruling over peoples of quite different races with Austria, a democratic constitutional régime with England, and a democratic Republican régime with France.

The misfortune of the peoples, who were deeply attached to peace, is that, in order to avoid war, they placed their confidence in the State with its intriguing diplomatists, in democracy, and in political parties (not excluding those in opposition, like Parliamentary Socialism). This confidence has been deliberately betrayed, and continues to be so, when governments, with the aid of the whole of their press, persuade their respective peoples that this war is a war of liberation.

We are resolutely against all wars between peoples, and in neutral countries, like Italy, where the governments seek to throw fresh peoples into the fiery furnace of war, our comrades have been, are, and ever will be most energetically opposed to war.

Make Revolution Not War

Make Revolution Not War

The role of the Anarchists in the present tragedy, whatever may be the place or the situation in which they find themselves, is to continue to proclaim that there is but one war of liberation: that which in all countries is waged by the oppressed against the oppressors, by the exploited against the exploiters. Our part is to summon the slaves to revolt against their masters.

Anarchist action and propaganda should assiduously and perseveringly aim at weakening and dissolving the various States, at cultivating the spirit of revolt, and arousing discontent in peoples and armies.

To all the soldiers of all countries who believe they are fighting for justice and liberty, we have to declare that their heroism and their valour will but serve to perpetuate hatred, tyranny, and misery.

To the workers in factory and mine it is necessary to recall that the rifles they now have in their hands have been used against them in the days of strike and of revolt and that later on they will be again used against them in order to compel them to undergo and endure capitalist exploitation.

To the workers on farm and field it is necessary to show that after the war they will be obliged once more to bend beneath the yoke and to continue to cultivate the lands of their lords and to feed the rich.

To all the outcasts, that they should not part with their arms until they have settled accounts with their oppressors, until they have taken land and factory and workshop for themselves.

To mothers, wives, and daughters, the victims of increased misery and privation, let ut show who are the ones really responsible for their sorrows and for the massacre of their fathers, sons, and husbands.

We must take advantage of all the movements of revolt, of all the discontent, in order to foment insurrection, and to organize the revolution to which we look to put an end to all social wrongs.

No despondency, even before a calamity like the present war. It is periods thus troubled, in which many thousands of men heroically give their lives for an idea, that we must show these men the generosity, greatness, and beauty of the Anarchist ideal: Social justice realized through the free organization of producers; war and militarism done away with forever; and complete freedom won, by the abolition of the State and its organs of destruction.

Signed by – Leonard D. Abbott, Alexander Berkman, L. Bertoni, L. Bersani, G. Bernard, G. Barrett, A. Bernardo, E. Boudot, A. Calzitta, Joseph J. Cohen, Henrry Combes, Nestor Ciele van Diepen, F.W. Dunn, Ch. Frigerio, Emma Goldman, V. Garcia, Hippolyte Havel, T.H. Keell, Harry Kelly, J. Lemaire, E. Malatesta, H. Marques, F. Domela Nieuwenhuis, Noel Panavich, E. Recchioni, G. Rijnders, I. Rochtchine, A. Savioli, A. Schapiro, William Shatoff, V.J.C. Schermerhorn, C. Trombetti, P. Vallina, G. Vignati, Lillian G. Woolf, S. Yanovsky.

This manifesto is published by the International Anarchist movement and will be printed in several languages and issued in leaflet form.

London, 1915

IWW_anti-conscription_poster_1916

IWW Anti-Conscription Poster

Voluntary Servitude and Other Anarchist Heresies

Discourse on Voluntary Servitude

Here is the second installment from the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I survey the origins and development of anarchist ideas from ancient China to the present day.

Étienne de la Boétie (1530-1563)

Étienne de la Boétie (1530-1563)

Étienne de la Boétie and Voluntary Servitude

The Daoist sage Bao Jingyan argued that the strong and cunning forced and tricked the people into submitting to them. That the people may play a part in their own servitude is an idea that was explored in much greater detail by Étienne de la Boétie (1530-1563), in his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1552, Volume One, Selection 2). Seeking to explain how the masses can be subjugated by a single tyrant, de la Boétie argued that it is the masses themselves “who permit, or, rather, bring about, their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their own servitude.” Despite de la Boétie’s focus on tyranny, rather than hierarchy and domination as such, as Murray Rothbard points out, de la Boétie’s critique of tyranny applies to all forms of government, whether democratic, monarchic or dictatorial, such that his arguments can easily be pressed on “to anarchist conclusions,” as they were by subsequent writers (1975: 20).

This idea that the power of the state depends on the voluntary submission or acquiescence of the people, such that state power can be abolished or undermined by the withdrawal of cooperation, was taken up by later anarchists, including William Godwin (Volume One, Selection 4), Leo Tolstoy (Volume One, Selection 47), Gustav Landauer (Volume One, Selection 49), Praxedis Guerrero (Volume One, Selection 72), Alex Comfort (Volume Two, Selection 26) and contemporary writers, such as Noam Chomsky (Volume Two, Selection 68) and Ed Herman (Volume Three, Selection 40), who have emphasized that so-called democratic states require an extensive propaganda apparatus to “engineer” or “manufacture” the consent of the people to their own continuing domination and exploitation.

English Ranters

English Ranters

Heresy and Revolution

While religion has often served as both a justification and palliative for coercive authority, various heretical religious currents have emerged throughout human history denying the legitimacy of earthly authority (Walter, Volume Two, Selection 43). In the 1960s, Gary Snyder highlighted those strands of Buddhism that evinced an anarchist sensibility (Volume Two, Selection 42). In the 9th century, a minority among the Mu‘tazili Muslims argued that anarchy is preferable to tyranny (Crone, 2000), while another Islamic sect, the Kharijites, “disputed any need at all for an imam, or head of state, as long as the divine law was carried out” (Levy, 1957).

In Europe, several heretical Christian sects emerged during the Middle Ages and Reformation, rejecting human authority in favour of freedom and community. The Brethren of the Free Spirit adopted a libertarian amoralism similar to Max Stirner’s egoism (Volume One, Selection 11), advocating total freedom for themselves while taking advantage of others (Marshall, 2008: 87-89). In contrast, the Taborites in Bohemia were egalitarians, seeking to abolish private property, taxes and political authority, asserting that “All shall live together as brothers, none shall be subject to another” (Marshall: 92). The Hussites and Moravian Brothers also advocated an egalitarian community without coercive authority, modeled after Christ’s relationship with his apostles.

But it was not until the English Revolution (1642-1651) that Christian teachings were transformed into a body of ideas resembling modern anarchism. The Ranters advocated and practiced free love and the holding of all things in common, with some adopting a libertarian amoralism similar to that of the Brethren of the Free Spirit. The Diggers also advocated holding things in common, and sought to establish egalitarian communities on waste lands.

diggers winstanley

Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers 

One of the Diggers, Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676), published a pamphlet in 1649, The New Law of Righteousness, in which he advocated an early form of anarchist communism, drawing inspiration from the Bible (Volume One, Selection 3).

Winstanley argued that anyone getting “authority into his hands tyrannizes over others,” whether husband, parent, master or magistrate. He saw private property, inequality and exploitation as the inevitable result of “rule and dominion, in one part of man-kinde over another.” He advocated making the earth the “common treasury” of all, such that anyone in need should be able to “take from the next store-house he meets with.” There “shall be none Lord over others,” and “no need for Lawyers, prisons, or engines of punishment,” with the distinction between “Mine and Thine” having been abolished.

In opposing coercive authority, hierarchy and private property, Winstanley was careful to endorse means consistent with his ends. He endorsed a form of nonviolent direct action, while denouncing those who would replace one tyranny with another. For Winstanley,  “the manifestation of a righteous heart shall be known, not by his words, but by his actions,” for “Tyrannie is Tyrannie in one as wel [sic] as in another; in a poor man lifted up by his valour, as in a rich man lifted up by his lands.”

Although couching his argument in religious terms, Winstanley conceived of God as “the law of righteousness, reason and equity” dwelling within all of us, a position similar to that later adopted by Leo Tolstoy. He advocated freedom for both men and women, applying his critique of hierarchy and domination not just to their more obvious manifestations, but also to relationships between husband and wife and parents and children.

Robert Graham

Additional References

Crone, Patricia. “Ninth-Century Muslim Anarchists.” Past and Present, No. 167. 2000.

Levy, Reuben. The Social Structure of Islam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957.

Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: Harper Perennial, 2008.

Rothbard, Murray. Introduction to Étienne de la Boétie, The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1975.

Anarchism-Is-Love

From Anarchy to Anarchism

Anarchy Before Anarchism

Anarchy Before Anarchism

The subtitle of Volume One of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, was From Anarchy to Anarchism. By this I meant to emphasize that people lived without states for tens of thousands of years, and therefore in a kind of “anarchy,” before the first states began to emerge about 6,000 years ago. Far from being impossible, as Thomas Hobbes and many other political commentators have argued, anarchy was a very successful form of human social organization which existed for the most of the time of human existence on this planet. Because these societies without states were preliterate, it is impossible to say to what degree this may have been a conscious choice. It is highly doubtful that people living in stateless societies ever identified themselves in opposition to the state, as “anarchists” of some sort, given that there were no states in existence for most of the time that people lived within these stateless societies. Anarchism, as an identifiable doctrine, could only emerge after the development of state forms and institutions, hence the subtitle, “From Anarchy to Anarchism.” 

Volume 3

For Volume Three of the Anarchism anthology, I wrote an Afterword, “The Anarchist Current,” in which I discuss the evolution from living without states, or “anarchy,” to the origins of anarchist ideas and movements, after the rise of so-called “civilization.” I then survey the development of anarchist ideas over time and across the globe, from the Daoists in ancient China to contemporary “Occupy” and similar transnational movements against neo-liberalism. As the Afterword also serves as an extended introduction to the material in the the volumes of the Anarchism anthology, and the history of anarchist thought, I have decided to publish it in serial form here on my blog in the hope that this will pique peoples’ interest in the original material contained in the anthology, of which the Afterward can of course only offer a glimpse (the material is referenced in the text by volume and selection numbers). I hope someday in the not too distant future to expand the Afterward into a book.

Bakunin Bicentennial 2014

Bakunin Bicentennial 2014

From Anarchy to Anarchism

Anarchism, George Woodcock once wrote, is like the river of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: constantly changing, with different sources, eddies and currents, sometimes percolating below the surface, at other times bursting forth in revolutionary torrents, but generally moving “between the banks of certain unifying principles” (1977: 16). Contrary to popular misconceptions, those unifying principles are not chaos and terrorism, but a rejection of hierarchy, authority and exploitation, and an alternative vision of a society without domination based on freedom and equality. Anarchists reject the State and its institutions, advocating societies based on free association, without anyone having the power to dominate or exploit another.

Long before anyone consciously articulated anarchist ideas, people had lived in societies without a state for thousands of years. So-called primitive and prehistoric peoples lacked any formal institutions of government and hierarchical social structures based on relationships of command and obedience (Clastres, Volume Two, Selection 64). As the anthropologist Harold Barclay puts it, “Ten thousand years ago everyone was an anarchist” (1982: 39). Around 6000 years ago, the first hierarchical societies began to emerge in which a minority of their members assumed positions of prestige and authority, from which they came to exercise power over others (Barclay, Volume Three, Selection 17).

It took thousands of years for this process of state formation finally to encompass the entire globe, with some people continuing to live in stateless societies into the 20th century. Members of stateless societies lived in roughly egalitarian communities without rank or status (Taylor, 1982). For the most part, stateless societies had sustainable subsistence economies based on relationships of equality, reciprocity and mutual aid (Clastres, Volume Two, Selection 64; Bookchin, Volume Three, Selection 26; Sahlins (1974), Barclay (1982) and Kropotkin (1902)).

Relatively few states emerged from within their own societies: ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Mexico, Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa and possibly India (Barclay, 2003). State institutions were forced on most societies by external powers, or were created in response to such power. According to Barclay, a combination of factors led to the emergence of state forms: 1) increased population; 2) sedentary settlement; 3) horticulture/agriculture; 4) redistribution of wealth; 5) military organization; 6) secondary significance of kinship ties; 7) trading; 8) specialized division of labour; 9) individual property and control of resources; 10) a hierarchical social order; and 11) ideologies of superiority/inferiority (Volume Three, Selection 17).

As most people were innocent of government, having lived without it for thousands of years, they had nothing against which to compare their so-called primitive forms of social organization until it was too late. “Anarchy” was for them a way of life, not a concept. Although they may have had nonhierarchical conceptions of their societies and the natural world (Bookchin, Volume 3, Selection 25), it is unlikely that they conceived of anarchy as some sort of ideal. Anarchist ideas only began to be articulated after people started living within hierarchical societies based on exploitation and domination. When looking for precursors of the anarchist idea, one must be careful then not to read too much into the writings of people who never identified themselves as anarchists and never explicitly endorsed anarchy as an ideal.

Lao Tzu - Neither Lord Nor Subject

Lao Tzu – Neither Lord Nor Subject

Daoism and Early Anarchism

Daoism in ancient China helped give more formal expression to the nonhierarchical sensibilities of earlier human societies, eventually leading some Daoists to adopt an anarchist stance. John P. Clark has argued that the classic text, the Daode Jing (or Tao Te Ching), circa 400 BCE, evokes “the condition of wholeness which preceded the rending of the social fabric by institutions like the state, private property, and patriarchy” (1984: 168).

Writing around 300 CE, the Daoist sage Bao Jingyan gave the Daoist rejection of the hierarchical cosmology of the Confucians a more political slant, seeing it as nothing more than a pretext for the subjugation of the weak and innocent by the strong and cunning (Volume One, Selection 1). He harkened back to the “original undifferentiated” condition of the world in which “all creatures found happiness in self-fulfillment,” expressing a nonhierarchical, ecological sensibility which eschews “the use of force that goes against the true nature of things.” He noted that in “the earliest times,” prior to the creation of a hierarchical social order, “there was neither lord nor subjects.” He saw compulsory labour and poverty as the results of the division of people into ranks and classes. With the emergence of a hierarchical social order, everyone seeks to be above the other, giving rise to crime and conflict. The “people simmer with revolt in the midst of their poverty and distress,” such that to try to stop them from revolting “is like trying to dam a river with a handful of earth.” He prefered a life worth living to the religious promise of life after death.

In his commentary on Bao Jingyan’s text, Etienne Balazs argues that Bao Jingyan was “China’s first political anarchist” (1964: 243). As with later self-proclaimed anarchists, Bao Jingyan opposed hierarchy and domination, seeing them as the cause of poverty, crime, exploitation and social conflict, rejected religious beliefs that justify such a state of affairs, predicted the revolt of the masses and advocated a society without hierarchy and domination where there are “neither lord nor subjects,” a phrase strikingly reminiscent of the 19th century European anarchist battle cry, “Neither God nor Master.” While similar ideas may have been expressed in ancient Greece by the Stoic philosopher, Zeno of Citium (333-262 BCE), only fragments of his writings have survived, making Bao Jingyan’s text perhaps the oldest extant to set forth a clearly anarchist position.

Robert Graham

Additional References

Balazs, Etienne. Chinese Civilization and Bureaucracy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964. Trans. H.M. Wright.

Barclay, Harold. People Without Government. London: Kahn & Averill, 1982.

Clark, John P. “Master Lao and the Anarchist Prince.” The Anarchist Moment. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1984.

Kropotkin, Peter. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902). Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989.

Sahlins, Marshall. Stone Age Economics. London: Tavistock Publications, 1974.

Taylor, Michael. Community, Anarchy and Liberty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Woodcock, George, Ed. The Anarchist Reader. Fontana, 1977.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future

Kropotkin: This is a Strike (1889)

London Dockworkers Strike

London Dockworkers Strike

In August 1889, London dockworkers went on strike. The anarchist communist, Peter Kropotkin, recognized the significance of the event, and published the article below in September 1889. As Kropotkin points out, the dockworkers were the kind of unskilled labourers that Marxist and other socialists at the time regarded as less likely to embrace socialism, looking instead to factory workers “united” by the systems of mass production in which they worked. Anarchists, on the other hand, considered all the oppressed and exploited as potential revolutionaries, including unskilled labourers, peasants and even the lumpenproletariat, the homeless and unemployed. Kropotkin suggests that anarchists could accomplish much more if they worked with these groups towards  organizing a general strike against capitalism and the state. I included excerpts from several of Kropotkin’s works in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. The translation is by N.C., and has been kindly provided by Iain McKay, editor of the most comprehensive anthology of Kropotkin’s writings, Direct Struggle Against Capital, published by AK Press.

South_Side_Central_Strike_Committee

What a Strike Is

We search our recent memories in vain for a single strike that was as important as the one that broke out in the docks of London and is still on going.

There have been more numerous strikes, there have been more violent ones. But none had the same meaning for the revolutionary socialist idea.

Firstly, the socialist movement was born within better-paid trades and has grouped the elite workers, the latter have always looked down on the rough trades. Men from the Fourth-Estate like to talk about “the unconscious masses, incapable of organising themselves, demoralised by poverty”.

We know that we have maintained the opposite view. And now these dock workers, who can neither go to socialist meetings nor read our literature, but who feel oppression and hate it more sincerely than well-read workers, come to confirm the core idea of those who know the people and respect it.

The most complete solidarity rules amongst the dock workers. And, for them, striking is far harder than for mechanics or carpenters.

All that was needed was that Tillet, a very young man and of weak health, devoted himself for two years to work on the beginnings of an organisation within the dock workers – while socialists doubted he could ever succeed in his task – so that all thousand branches of the workers related to the loading of ships cease work with a moving solidarity.

They knew well that for them, strike means hunger; but they didn’t hesitate.

It’s hunger with all its horrors. It’s terrible to see haggard men, already exhausted by lack of food, dragging their feet after a twenty kilometre walk, to Hyde Park and back, collapsing, fainting at the doors of cheap restaurants where the crowd was pushing to receive provision coupons and bowls of soup.

***

An immense organisation, spontaneous, was born from the centre of these rough workers, often referred to as the herd even by socialists.

Hundreds of leaflets are distributed every day. Sums of 10 to 30,000 Francs in aid – in great part pennies coming from collections – are counted, written down, distributed. Restaurants are improvised, filled with food, etc. And, except Tillet, Burns, Mann and Champion – already experienced – everything is done by dock workers who quite simply came to offer their help. Quite a vast organisation, absolutely spontaneous.

It’s the picture of a people organising itself during the Revolution, all the better for having less leaders.

It is useless to add that if this mass of 150,000 striking men didn’t feel that currently the Bourgeoisie is united and strong, it would walk as a single man against the West-End wealthy. Conversations of groups on the street state it only too well.

8hours_labour

But the strike has also a greater impact.

It has confirmed the strength of organisation of a mass of 150,000 men coming from every corner of England, not knowing each other, too poor to be militant socialists. But it has also demonstrated, in a way that produces a shiver down the back of the bourgeois, the extent a great city is at the mercy of two or three hundred thousand workers.

All the trade of England has already been disrupted by this strike. London Bridge, this universal trade centre, is mute. Ships coming from the four corners of the globe, go away from it as if it were a poisoned city and go towards other English ports. Cargoes – mountains – of fresh meat, fruits, food of all sorts, coming each day, rot on board ships guarded by troops. Wheat doesn’t come in to fill the shops empty each day. And if coal merchants hadn’t hastened to grant everything that the coal loaders were asking, London would stay without fuel for its million daily lit homes. It would stay in the dark if the gasmen had left work, as they had suggested, even though they had emerged victorious in a strike that took place last month. London would stay without any means of communication if Burns hadn’t commanded the tram drivers to stay at their work.

The strike spread like an oil leak. A hundred factories of all sorts, some very large, others small, no longer getting the flour, lime, kaolin, oilseeds, etc., etc. that are delivered to them on a daily basis, have extinguished their fires, throwing onto the streets every day new contingents of strikers.

It was the general strike, the stopping of all life in this universal commercial centre, imposed by the strike of three or four branches of work that hold the key to the buffet.

There are articles in the newspapers sensing terror. Never have the bourgeois felt how much they are the subjects of the workers. Never have the workers felt how much they are the masters of society. We had written it, we had said it. But the deed has more impact than the printed word! The deed has proved this strength of the workers.

Yes, they are the masters. And the day when those anarchists who exhaust themselves in empty discussions will do like Tillet, but with firmer and more revolutionary ideas – the day when they will work within the workers to prepare the stopping of work in the trades that supply all the others, they will have done more to prepare the social, economic Revolution, that all the writers, journalists, and orators of the socialist party.

We have often spoken about the general strike. We now see that in order to achieve it, it is not necessary that all workers cease work on the same day. It is necessary to block the supply channels to the Bourgeoisie and to its factories.

Peter Kropotkin

La Révolte, 7th September 1889

The Spirit of Revolt

The Spirit of Revolt

Nestor Makhno: The Struggle Against the State

Nestor Makhno

Nestor Makhno

Nestor Makhno (1888-1934) is a controversial figure in the history of the anarchist movement. For three years he led a guerrilla army campaign in Ukraine during the civil war that followed the 1917 Russian Revolution. He would sometimes summarily execute counter-revolutionaries, and his army conscripted some of its members. On the other hand, when his forces liberated a village or town from the control of the Czarists (the “Whites”) or from the Bolsheviks (the “Reds”), they would reopen the presses and meeting halls shut down by those forces and free everyone from the local jails. With his comrade, Peter Arshinov, and some other anarchists, he helped craft the “Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists,” which called on anarchists to form a federalist revolutionary organization based on collective responsibility, which some anarchists regarded as a vanguard organization that would function more like a revolutionary socialist party than a federalist anarchist organization. Around the same time as the Platform appeared, Makhno published this essay on the struggle against the State, summarizing his views on the tasks ahead based on the lessons of the Russian Revolution. I included excerpts from the Platform and responses from some of its critics, including Malatesta and Voline, in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, as well as some proclamations by the Makhnovist army and excerpts from Arshinov’s history of the Makhnovist movement.

The Struggle Against the State

The Struggle Against the State

THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE STATE

The fact that the modern State is the organizational form of an authority founded upon arbitrariness and violence in the social life of toilers is independent of whether it may be “bourgeois” or “proletarian.” It relies upon oppressive centralism, arising out of the direct violence of a minority deployed against the majority In order to enforce and impose the legality of its system, the State resorts not only to the gun and money, but also to potent weapons of psychological pressure. With the aid of such weapons, a tiny group of politicians enforces psychological repression of an entire society, and, in particular, of the toiling masses, conditioning them in such a way as to divert their attention from the slavery instituted by the State.

So it must be clear that if we are to combat the organized violence of the modern State, we have to deploy powerful weapons appropriate to the magnitude of the task.

Thus far, the methods of social action employed by the revolutionary working class against the power of the oppressors and exploiters — the State and Capital — in conformity with libertarian ideas, were insufficient to lead the toilers on to complete victory.

It has come to pass in history that the workers have defeated Capital, but the victory then slipped from their grasp because some State power emerged, amalgamating the interests of private capital and those of State capitalism for the sake of success over the toilers.

The experience of the Russian revolution has blatantly exposed our shortcomings in this regard. We must not forget that, but should rather apply ourselves to identifying those shortcomings plainly.

We may acknowledge that our struggle against the State in the Russian revolution was remarkable, despite the disorganization by which our ranks were afflicted: remarkable above all insofar as the destruction of that odious institution is concerned.

But, by contrast, our struggle was insignificant in the realm of construction of the free society of toilers and its social structures, which might have ensured that it prospered beyond reach of the tutelage of the State and its repressive institutions.

The fact that we libertarian communists or anarcho-syndicalists failed to anticipate the sequel to the Russian revolution, and that we failed to make haste to devise new forms of social activity in time, led many of our groups and organizations to dither yet again in their political and socio-strategic policy on the fighting front of the Revolution.

If we are to avert a future relapse into these same errors, when a revolutionary situation comes about, and in order to retain the cohesion and coherence of our organizational line, we must first of all amalgamate all of our forces into one active collective, then without further ado, define our constructive conception of economic, social, local and territorial units, so that they are outlined in detail (free soviets), and in particular describe in broad outline their basic revolutionary mission in the struggle against the State. Contemporary life and the Russian revolution require that.

Those who have blended in with the very ranks of the worker and peasant masses, participating actively in the victories and defeats of their campaign, must without doubt come to our own conclusions, and more specifically to an appreciation that our struggle against the State must be carried on until the State has been utterly eradicated: they will also acknowledge that the toughest role in that struggle is the role of the revolutionary armed force.

It is essential that the action of the Revolution’s armed forces be linked with the social and economic unit, wherein the labouring people will organize itself from the earliest days of the revolution onwards, so that total self-organization of life may be introduced, out of reach of all statist structures.

From this moment forth, anarchists must focus their attention upon that aspect of the Revolution. They have to be convinced that, if the revolution’s armed forces are organized into huge armies or into lots of local armed detachments, they cannot but overcome the State’s incumbents and defenders, and thereby bring about the conditions needed by the toiling populace supporting the revolution, so that it may cut all ties with the past and look to the final detail of the process of constructing a new socio-economic existence.

The State will, though, be able to cling to a few local enclaves and try to place multifarious obstacles in the path of the toilers’ new life, slowing the pace of growth and harmonious development of new relationships founded on the complete emancipation of man.

The final and utter liquidation of the State can only come to pass when the struggle of the toilers is oriented along the most libertarian lines possible, when the toilers will themselves determine the structures of their social action. These structures should assume the form of organs of social and economic self-direction, the form of free “anti-authoritarian” soviets. The revolutionary workers and their vanguard — the anarchists — must analyze the nature and structure of these soviets and specify their revolutionary functions in advance. It is upon that, chiefly, that the positive evolution and development of anarchist ideas, in the ranks of those who will accomplish the liquidation of the State on their own account in order to build a free society, will be dependent.

Dyelo Truda No.17, October 1926

Makhnovist Flag (trans.)

Makhnovist Flag (trans.)

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