Building the Revolution in Greece

The New Anarchism (1974-2012)

The New Anarchism

Below I reproduce excerpts from a recent report at Truthout by Joshua Stephens on the constructive efforts by Greek anarchists to create alternatives to capitalism and the nation-state. The approaches they have been developing since the uprising in 2008 are similar to those proposed by Alexander Berkman based on his experiences during the Russian Revolution. Directly democratic popular assemblies formed the basis of the anarchist collectives during the Spanish Revolution, and were later championed by Murray Bookchin. Stephens refers to Colin Ward, whose ground breaking article on anarchism as a theory of organization is included in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Anarchist alternatives to capitalism and hierarchical organization are well documented in all three volumes of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, now on sale at AK Press.

Joshua Stephen’s on the situation in Greece:

“On the first day of the uprising, we smashed the police stations,” an anarchist in Thessaloniki told me last spring.  “On the second, we smashed the banks.  On the third, there was nothing left to smash, and we were suddenly faced with the fact that we didn’t really know what to do.”  It seems to have been a widespread frustration.  The occupations of academic and political institutions that occurred amidst the uprising gave way to what are called Popular Assemblies in some 70 neighborhoods across Athens.

About half of these are still operating, composed of an often unlikely spectrum of participants.  Anarchists, local workers, even municipal employees and officeholders all collaborate off the political grid in democratically administering needs, redistributing available resources and bolstering existing struggles against both austerity and the steady creep of fascism.

Their strategy can be read in a short 1958 article by Colin Ward in the British anarchist journal Freedom, entitled “The Unwritten Handbook”:  “The choice between libertarian and authoritarian solutions occurs every day and in every way, and the extent to which we choose, or accept…  or lack the imagination and inventiveness to discover alternatives to the authoritarian solutions to small problems is the extent to which we are their powerless victims in big affairs.”  When a round of austerity measures included a new and often unaffordable property tax in electricity bills, many Greeks saw their power abruptly cut.  Popular Assemblies began compiling lists of households without power, ranking them based on vulnerability (age, the presence of infants, etc.), and deploying qualified people to restore electricity, illegally.

On a cool April evening in the neighborhood of Peristeri, assembly participants debated models for localizing economic transactions through alternative currencies and non-monetary programs like time-banks.  Over drinks following a talk I gave last spring, the bulk of the questions from local anarchists known the world over for bravado and street warfare were about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, an overwhelmingly liberal phenomena back home, hardly considered political (much less radical).  In Greece, however, forging direct relationships with the agricultural sector amounts to a fuck-you to the International Monetary Fund and its threats of import cutoffs, issued to leverage passage of austerity measures.

During my few days on the ground in Athens this trip, I was invited to an anti-fascist march organized by the Popular Assemblies of south Athens.  It marked what felt like an expansion of their role into directly confronting Golden Dawn, where the state has proved either unwilling or unable to tread. “If we don’t resist in every neighborhood, they will soon become our prisons” could be heard reverberating off the facades of buildings.

Counting by tens, I estimated roughly a thousand marching from the commercial plaza adjacent to the Dafni Metro, winding through a number of its various neighborhoods before reaching a former military installation occupied and renamed Asyrmatos Greek for “wireless,” referring to the towering antennas jutting out of what is now a sizable community garden and community-managed conservatory.

In the adjacent neighborhood of Aghios Dimitrios, where much of the march was organized, the Popular Assembly meets weekly in theatrical space of a local municipal building.  On the surface, it appears quite innocuous, as though it’s scheduled through an arrangement with the local government.  I was surprised to learn that each week’s meeting is a sort of micro-occupation; participants simply walk in and seize the space, with zero visible pushback from employees, and no police response.  “In 2008 (during the uprising), we seized the building for a month,” one local told me.  “So, I think that, for them, two hours a week is a bargain.”

The oldest Popular Assembly in Athens operates in the neighborhood of Petralona, the site of a recent, widely publicized murder of a Pakistani man at the hands of fascists.  When I visited with them last spring, they were opening a kitchen and cafe space for educating people about nutrition and food production, and operating an extensive calendar of peer-led health and mental health events, inspired in part by Mexico’s Zapatistas.  Today, they operate medical, dental and eye clinics in coordination with other Popular Assemblies, based on non-monetary mutual aid.

As we weaved through commercial corridors and narrow neighborhood  arteries last week, all of this seemed to be shifting from a sort of quiet mode of survival into an overt assertion of power.  Scattered action commanded the attention of onlookers.  Quarter-sheet fliers were tossed into open bus windows, open supermarkets and even into the day’s light breeze, scattering like ticker tape. Two masked young women darted out of the crowd periodically, spray-painting a stencil onto walls featuring a sort of close-up frontal image of a boy with his fist forward, reading “The sons of Adolf will receive a red and black punch” (a reference to the colors of the traditional anarchist flag).

The smell of fresh spray paint hung in the air, the fire to its smoke appearing on walls, the sides of buses, and a newly favorite target in the country’s crisis establishments set up to buy people’s gold.  These entrepreneurs are referred to as mavragoriters a termcoined during Greece’s years under Nazi occupation. “They were Greeks, usually friends of or sympathetic to the Nazis, and they took advantage of the crisis and the starvation that existed all over the country,” explained a young woman, who asked not to be named.  “It reached a point where they were buying houses in exchange for two bottles of olive oil, or quantities of rice.”

The subtext of the young woman’s description seems the soul of the Popular Assemblies:  dignity.  She later pointed me to a communique posted at Indymedia Athens, in which anarchists in the city set about countering the neoliberal mantra heard around the country, and the ethics of the mavragoriters “No job is a shame.”  The Popular Assemblies appear to operate from the inverse that appears in the communique “Shame is not a job.” Surviving merely to revive histories of foreign occupation or homegrown fascism, for them, is a path without hope.

Joshua Stephens is a board member with the Institute for Anarchist Studies, and has been active in anti-capitalist, international solidarity and worker-cooperative movements across the last two decades.  He currently divides his time between the northeastern US and various parts of the Mediterranean.

Anarchist Demonstration in Athens

Anarchist Demonstration in Athens

Tunisian Anarchists Against World Capitalism

rebellion-revolution-anarchy

In response to the World Social Forum in Tunisia, some Tunisian anarchists have issued this anti-capitalist manifesto. Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideascontains similar selections regarding anti-capitalist anarchist movements in Egypt, Greece, Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America. Volume Three is available through AK Press.

Revolutionaries of the world:

On the occasion of the World Social Forum which will be held in Tunisia during March 2013, we believe that the liberal reformist approach opted for by the organizing bureaucracy of the Forum will in no way lead to a revolutionary project for the people of the world. Even though the event is presented as an opportunity for the revolutionaries coming from all corners of the globe to meet, we deem that the ultimate objective, namely the collapse of the capitalist system, will not be taken into consideration.

This Forum will take place in a highly critical time in the history of the world; social movements and uprisings are sweeping capitalism off its feet. Rage against the system does not recognize frontiers and geographical taxonomy of East and West. The so-called democratic states are as threatened by these risings as the worst dictatorships; the question to be examined is what are the driving forces of these revolts from Spain to Egypt and from Greece to Tunisia which are jeopardizing the capitalist states?

The economic crisis is not a conclusion created by “experts” and professional critics of the field; even politicians in power and their oppositions admit that they are incapable of putting an end to the outrageous rates of unemployment, impoverishment, undernourishment, diseases and pollution. The repetitive discourses delivered through mass-media are only encouraging people to adjust to the situation and await resolutions that will never come. This proves that the system has resorted to the time-old strategies of encroachment and propaganda in order to survive one of its many major crises throughout history. Wherever and whenever implemented, these strategies only brought about ravages and precariousness.

Despite the recurrent scenario of democratic succession to power and elections as a means of power distribution between “left” and “right,” “liberals” and “conservatives,” and despite the huge budgets spent to organize media campaigns to promote the illusion of “democratic transition” and “political liberties” or “freedom of expression,” only disillusionment is installed.

The World Social Forum, which is held and financed by capitalists and their affiliates, is nothing but an attempt to convince the victims of the capitalist system that the inherent reasons behind the economic crisis are so-called “Neo-Liberalism,” “extreme globalization,” “financial speculation” and worsening debt, which they suggest calls for the one and only alternative and that is the reformation of a system which is the actual source of these ailments.

Libertarians of the world:

The wretched of the earth are rejecting their everyday reality through uprising and revolting; now they know that union and determination are the keys to their own liberation and to the liberation of future generations from the grip of capitalism.

As the wretched and revolutionaries of the world we have to continue the insurrection in order to liberate our existence from the deadly claws of capitalism. There is absolutely nothing more powerful than our union and determination to fight till the last gasp against the oppressive system.

We boycott and oppose this Forum not only because we refuse tohave anything to do with the bureaucratic syndicalist associations organizing the event, and because the mere participation in the Forum is equivalent to being part of the project of promoting for and installing colonialist collaboration and social submission which are cherished by the bourgeoisie, its media and political mediocrity, but also because we primarily boycott every reform movement whether it comes from the right or the left.

We are the allies of social revolution.

As the crisis is intensifying and is more keenly felt by the masses we can see disobedience movements being born all over the world along with incessantly growing uprisings. These different crises have resulted in revolutionary movements in different countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain as well as social uprisings in Greece, Spain, Portugual, and even in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Libertarians of the world:

This call is ours. It is that of the marginalized, the unemployed graduates and non-graduates, the farmers without lands, women without voices, the exploited miners, all those that the bureaucrats of the WSF pretend to represent after excluding them from the organizations of debates. Our call is that of the disobedient, revolutionaries and  other social movements opposed to the capitalist system and authoritarian governments.

Politicians, media and ideologies:

Sellers of illusion and fear disguised under their reformist customs who are pretending to be against the capitalist system are only a part of this very system. We only have to examine the components of this Forum, its bureaucratic organization and statements to realize that it does not attack the essence of capitalism and that it is nothing but another attempt to diminish the rage of the billions of individuals revolting against hunger, impoverishment and precariousness chanting but one unique slogan:

“The people want the fall of the regime”

This was the echo of the cry which resonated from Tahrir Square to Wall Street, from Athens to Tunis and from Barcelona to Bahrain. This cry carried one simple slogan that frightens the retrograde forces which call for an accurate articulation of the exact words of the slogan:

“The people want the fall of capitalism”

Capitalism is the system; a particular president, a political party, or a king, are no more than the temporary guardians of the system and not the system. They are the docile executioners of its mechanisms regardless of the form of the government it adopts.

Libertarians of the world:

Mass-media owned by world capitalism spend billions to circulate the illusion of democratic transitions. It distorts any experience or attempt of self-organization by workers to manage their own resources because it threatens the capitalists’ best interests.

In order for us to emancipate ourselves today we need to form revolutionary fronts, coordinate our actions and effectively fight against the world capitalist regime. We want to trigger real transformation in our societies which must be based on self-management of resources.

We call upon all the revolutionary forces of the world, movements and organizations of resistance to capitalism to unite our work internationally against the pseudo-democratic states or dictatorships whether they are secular or religious, liberal or conservative.

Capitalism is the crisis; the fall of the system is the fall of capitalism.

Tunisian Anarchist Flag

Tunisian Anarchist Flag

Anarchists Against Counter-Revolution in Tunisia

Protests in Tunisia

Protests in Tunisia

Protests have spread across Tunisia after the assassination of a leftist opposition leader, Chokri Belaid. The new Islamist government is also cracking down on the Tunisian anarchist movement, following the example of their brethren in Egypt. Recently, I have been posting selections from Kropotkin’s Words of a Rebel on the counter-revolutionary nature of representative and “revolutionary” governments. Here, I reproduce a declaration of Tunisian anarchists calling for libertarian socialism in Tunisia.

Ambulance carrying Chokri Belaid surrounded by protesters

Ambulance carrying Chokri Belaid surrounded by protesters

English translation by Ryan Harvey of the manifesto of Disobedience Movement ( هيئات العمل الثوري/حركة عصيان, Tunisian anarchist group):

Haraket A’ssyann – Disobediance Movement, Tunisia

A DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES:

Haraket A’ssyan is a libertarian anarchist movement that struggles against capitalism and its authoritarian system; for accomplishing a self-organized mass and for direct power in its affairs.

We aim to:

-Support the revolutionary movement with all kinds of social resistance.

-Put efforts into driving the self-organized mass to realize independence from authoritarian and
centralized power.

-Get-around representative elections, and push for direct-democracy, which guarantees self-organization and management.

-Unite libertarian socialists in Tunisia to move further towards achieving the goals of the revolution.

-Strive to cancel all forms of persecution and discrimination in the quest for real equality between woman and man, and among all people.

-Resist any kind of colonialism and hegemony, in addition to supporting worldly liberatory movements, especially the Palestinian struggle.

-Devote a true culture of critique and praxis to liberatory anarchism.

-Unite the revolutionary tasks in coordination with its committed participants to bring it to life.

-Refrain from all forms of hierarchy and bureaucracy.

-Ensure the enforcement of free group decision-making and discourse over all cases, accompanied by an explicit rejection of all of democratic-centralist systems and voting conferences.

-Confront all forms of privelleges of competence, experience, age or sybolism. Emphasize the principle of sharing responsibilities and the right to disagree.

A’ssyan movement is free, independent and creatively innovative on an individual and group level.

A’ssyan movement is one of the revolution’s driving forces, with no authority or leadership over the mass, struggling in its shadow, providing it with theoretical and tangible support, and will dissolve once it becomes self-organized.

A’ssyan Movement (Nov, 2012)

Tunisian Anarchist Flag

Tunisian Anarchist Flag

Anarchy in Egypt

Egyptian Anarchist Black Bloc

Egyptian Anarchist Black Bloc

Here is a post from “Even if Your Voice Shakes” regarding anarchism in Egypt:

Anarchists have been present in Egypt before, during, and after the revolution, but until today, they have yet to organize a mass grouping under the banner of anarchism. The Ultras of Egypt’s football clubs have for years been associated with anarchist ideas and actions, and they are widely credited with having initiated the level militancy that brought down the Mubarak government in February of 2011.

Last night, anarchism left the graffitied walls, small conversations, and online forums of Egypt, and came to life in Cairo, declaring itself a new force in the ongoing social revolution sparked two years ago with multiple firebombings against Muslim Brotherhood offices. Later, the government shutdown the “Black Blocairo” and “Egyptian Black Bloc” Facebook pages, but they were soon re-launched.

“Wait for our next attacks as we respond to the closing of our official page…” they posted in a statement posted online this morning (translated below).

Today, the black bloc made its first mass-appearance in Tahrir Square, and, shortly after, firebombed the Shura Council (Egyptian Parliament), tore down a section of the protest-barrier walls leading from Tahrir Square, and, with others, engaged in fighting against security forces.

These statements and actions are in preparation for tomorrow’s second anniversary of the revolution, and for what some are calling “a whole new level” or protest in Egypt.

Anarchism and the black bloc concept has grown in recent months across Egypt, Stemming from various anarchist grouping/circles that coalesced during the revolutionary period. A massive distrust among the youth of all political parties, a sharp critique of the role of religion within governance, and the inspiration of anarchist resistance around the world (largely symbolized by the late-2008 revolt in Greece) have helped it catalyze.

Protesters teargassed in Egypt

Protesters teargassed in Egypt

Below is the statement of Black Blocairo in regards to the removal of their websites, their firebombing attacks against government offices, and their calls for revolt:

“Yesterday and after we finished our event, we met some of the revolutionary movements and we decided to unite together in our next attacks, hence we did our first two attacks, as we told you yesterday:

1- Setting fire to Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) online office.

2- Setting fire in the Ikhwan office in Al-Manial street in Cairo.

 And we announced our revolution since today in Al-Tahrir Square untill Egypt and it’s people get their rights back! Life, Freedom and social justice!

Black Blocairo, The Hooligans

Wait for our next attacks as we respond to the closing of our official page…”

EGYPTIAN ANARCHIST LINKS:

Revolution Black Bloc (Egyptian anarchist page)

Black Blocairo (Black Blocairo’s new page)

Black Bloc Egypt

OTHER ARAB ANARCHIST LINKS:

Anarchists of Arabs  (Arab anarchist page)

Moroccan Black Bloc

 Anarchists in Lebanon

Tunisian Anarchist Movement

Tunisian Anarchist Organization

Tunisian Anarchist

Syrian Anarcha Feminist Movement

Syrian Anarchists

Tahrir ICN (English European solidarity page)

egypt black bloc revolution

Carlo Pisacane: Propaganda by the Deed (1857)

Carlo Pisacane (1818-1857) was an Italian revolutionary and libertarian socialist, killed leading a revolutionary expedition against the Kingdom of Naples. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from Pisacane’s On Revolution and his “Political Testament. There was one minor error in the translation of the excerpts from his “Political Testament.” The name of Agesilao Milano was mistakenly translated as the city of Milan. Below, I have set forth a corrected translation, which makes it clear that Pisacane was not referring to “the use of the bayonet in Milan,” but to the use of the bayonet by Milano, an Italian soldier who tried to kill King Ferdinand of Naples by bayonetting him in 1856. After Italian unification, Milano was considered something of a national hero. Special thanks to Davide Turcato, who also wrote the introduction to Volume Two of the Anarchism anthology, for providing the correct translation. Pisacane’s writings were rediscovered by Italian anarchists in the mid-1870s. In his 1880 article on “Action,” Anarchism, Volume One, Selection 44, Carlo Cafiero quoted Piscane’s comments below that “ideas spring from deeds, not the other way around,” arguing that “just as the deed gave rise to the revolutionary idea, so it is the deed again which must put it into practice.” This doctrine came to be known as “propaganda by the deed.”

Political Testament (1857)

My political principles are sufficiently well known; I believe in socialism, but a socialism different from the French systems, which are all pretty much based on the monarchist, despotic idea which prevails in that nation… The socialism of which I speak can be summed up in these two words: freedom and association…

I am convinced that railroads, electrical telegraphs, machinery, industrial advances, in short, everything that expands and smooths the way for trade, is destined inevitably to impoverish the masses…  All of these means increase output, but accumulate it in a small number of hands, from which it follows that much trumpeted progress ends up being nothing but decadence. If such supposed advances are to be regarded as a step forward, it will be in the sense that the poor man’s wretchedness is increased until inevitably he is provoked into a terrible revolution, which, by altering the social order, will place in the service of all that which currently profits only some…

Ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around; the people will not be free until it is educated but it will be well educated once free. The only thing for a citizen to do to be of service to his country is to patiently wait for the day when he can cooperate in a material revolution; as I see it, conspiracies, plots and attempted uprisings are the succession of deeds whereby Italy proceeds towards her goal of unity. The flash of Milano’s bayonet was a more effective propaganda than a thousand volumes penned by doctrinarians who are the real blight upon our country and the entire world.

There are some who say:  the revolution must be made by the country. This there is no denying. But the country is made up of individuals and if we were quietly to wait for the day of revolution to come instead of plotting to bring it about, revolution would never break out. On the other hand, if everybody were to say: the revolution must be made by the country and I, being an infinitesimal part of the country, have my infinitesimal portion of duty to do and were to do it, the revolution would be carried out immediately and would be invincible because of its scale.

Carlo Pisacane

Geoffrey Ostergaard: The Relevance of Syndicalism, Part 2

Here is the second part of the revised and previously unpublished version of Geoffrey Ostergaard’s The Relevance of Syndicalism, the original version of which was published in Anarchy magazine in 1963. It is in this portion of his article that Ostergaard argues that the syndicalists’ anti-statism and direct action tactics retained their relevance in the context of the post-war peace movement. Because “War is the health of the State,” as Randolf Bourne once wrote, it will continue to plague humanity until nation states are abolished.

The Relevance of Syndicalism: Part 2

Leninists have often classified the syndicalists as ‘economistic’ and accused them of ignoring politics and the State and, more generally, the problem of power. The label and the accusation, however, are both unwarranted. To the Leninist, the syndicalists might have replied thus: ‘Our actions demonstrate clearly that we appreciate what real politics are about. Nor are we unaware that the bourgeoisie will use the coercive forces of the State to try to repress our movement: that is why we envisage the workers having to resort to arms to defend what they will capture in the course of the revolution. And as for ignoring the problem of power, far from doing that we propose the most realistic way open to the workers to acquire power. We propose to begin to acquire power at the point of production where, according to the logic of Marxist theory, we ought to begin; that is, in the factories and mines. We propose this because we are convinced that, unless the workers win power bases within capitalist society, there will be no proletarian revolution, whatever other kind of revolution there might be. As we syndicalists see it, the revolution must begin in the workshop. Our message to our fellow workers is much the same as Goethe’s message to the emigrant in search of liberty: Here, or nowhere, is your America. Here, in the workshop and in the mine, we must accomplish the revolution or it will be accomplished nowhere. So long as we are a subject class industrially, so long will we remain a subject class politically. The real revolution must be made not in Parliament, not even at the barricades, but in the places where we earn our daily bread. The organizations that we have built up to carry on our daily struggle must be the foundations of the new order and we must be its architects. The law and morality that we have evolved in our long struggle against capitalism must be the law and morality of the future workers’ commonwealth. All other proposals are but snares and delusions.’

The syndicalist strategy of revolution did, therefore, involve a struggle for social power — a struggle to be conducted through direct action based on the workers’ own class organizations. The tactics of direct action included ca’canny or go-slow, the use of the boycott, insistence that goods produced should carry a trade union label, sabotage, and, of course, industrial strikes. What is common to all these tactics is a determined refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of bourgeois rule. It is not, argued the syndicalists, a proper function of trade unions to make agreements with the employers. Negotiations, agreements, contracts all necessarily involve bargaining and compromise within the framework of rules contrived by capitalists. The proper function of trade unions is not to participate with employers in ruling workers but, as far as they able, to impose the will of the workers on the employers. Vincent St. John, a Wobbly leader, expressed clearly the syndicalist attitude when he described how the Industrial Workers of the World operated among the miners in Goldfield, Nevada: ‘The minimum wage for all kinds of labour was $4.50 a day and the 8 hour day was universal. No committee was ever sent to any employers. The unions adopted the wage scales and regulated hours. The secretary posted the same on a bulletin board outside the union hall, and it was the LAW. The employers were forced to come and see the union committee.’ The only kind of contract syndicalists were prepared to consider was ‘the collective contract,’ conceived as part of a strategy of ‘encroaching control’; that is, a contract according to which workers within a factory or shop would undertake a specific amount of work in return for a lump sum, to be allocated among the work-group as the workers saw fit, and on condition that the employers abdicated their control of the productive process itself.

After a period of vigorous pursuit of the various tactics of direct action, the syndicalists envisaged that the workers in their unions would have gained sufficient power to make a successful General Strike possible. Such a strike, seen as the form which the proletarian social revolution would take, could not be planned in advance: the conditions had to be ripe for it. It would probably begin as a local strike or as a national strike confined to a single industry. Class solidarity would lead to its extension to other industries, and rapidly it would build up to a strike general in its dimensions. Symbolized as a mass ‘folding of arms,’ such a strike would constitute a total withdrawal by the workers of their consent to a continuance of the system of class servitude. The legitimacy of the bourgeois order would be finally shattered and in its place would emerge the new proletarian order based on the unions.

The syndicalist General Strike, as we now know, proved to be a dream. It was not, however, a dream that has simply faded. The syndicalist theory of revolution was never put to the test, except perhaps in Spain under the exceptionally difficult conditions of civil war. But long before that the syndicalist movement elsewhere had disintegrated, the Bolshevik Revolution marking the turning point. For many syndicalists who had not drunk deep the waters of anarchism, Lenin appeared to offer a superior strategy. Thus syndicalism was relegated to the list of history’s failures. The reasons for the movement’s failure are varied and complex, but one may be noted here. There was a basic weakness in the syndicalist strategy, a weakness that was revealed only as the movement developed. The strategy, as we have seen, assigned to the unions a dual role: the traditional role of acting as the workers’ defensive organizations, and the revolutionary role of transforming capitalism and constituting themselves the nuclei of the future socialist society. The idea was plausible in theory but, in practice, the two roles proved difficult to combine. To be effective as defensive organizations, the unions needed to embrace as many workers as possible — ideally, all of them. But the more they succeeded in doing this, the more diluted became their revolutionary membership — the mass of their members or potential members being, for commonsense reasons, more interested in the short-term aims than in the ultimate long-term aims. So, in practice, syndicalists found themselves faced with a dilemma, or painful choice. They had to choose between unions which were either large, basically defensive and reformist, or small, composed of convinced revolutionaries but, for that reason, relatively ineffective as defensive organizations. Given the democratic structure of union organization, there was a natural tendency to make the first of these two choices. In this connection, it is significant that even the Spanish CNT, although its leaders were committed revolutionaries, tended to become reformist in practice — some avowed anarchists going so far as to swallow their principles by joining the Republican Government.

But the most interesting thing about syndicalism is not why it failed but that it failed — and what that failure implies. In retrospect, syndicalism can be seen as the great heroic movement of the industrial proletariat. It was the first and, indeed, the only socialist movement to take really seriously Marx’s injunction that the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves. As we have noted, syndicalism sought to achieve the emancipation of labour (as the phrase then was) unaided by middle class intellectuals and politicians, and it aimed at establishing a genuinely working class conception of socialism and culture, free from all bourgeois taints. That it failed suggests that, whatever else they may be, the socialist revolutions that have occurred since the eclipse of syndicalism are not the proletarian revolutions that the ideologists of these revolutions would have us believe.

We are, indeed, living in a revolutionary epoch in which dramatic changes are taking place in the composition and structure of the ruling class. The changes are unevenly spread but in East and West, North and South, the emerging rulers, displacing the old capitalist class, are not the workers but the managerial bureaucrats whose privileges and power are based on their command of organizational resources and control of the major instruments of physical coercion. In the West the rule of this new class is being legitimized in terms of a rationalized corporate capitalism operating in a mixed economy; in Communist countries, the formula of legitimization is ostensibly socialist and the economy is state-owned and managed. But, in both, the rulers, like all ruling classes known in history, accord to themselves superior rewards and privileges; and the mass of humankind continue to toil and to spin for inferior rewards and for the privilege of keeping their rulers in a state to which they show every sign of becoming accustomed.

The new society, rationalized managerial capitalism or bureaucratic state socialism, is in many respects a more tolerable society than competitive capitalism. Given industrialization and modern economic techniques, mass poverty can be and is being abolished, at least in advanced industrial countries. For this reason, among others, in such countries the acute class divisions that marked 19th and early 20th century capitalism are becoming increasingly blurred and it is no longer possible to locate in the social arena a simple straight forward contest between two main classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. At the same time, the techniques of social control available to the rulers in the shape of the mass media of communications, mass political parties and sophisticated police forces have enormously increased their power vis-à-vis the ruled. All in all, the rulers of the emerging managerial-bureaucratic society possess historically unparalleled potentialities for maintaining a stable system of exploitation. There is only one major flaw in the system: its patent inability to solve the problem of war in an age when, for technological reasons, war has become a truly deadly institution.

The omnipresent threat of nuclear annihilation has now clearly vindicated the anti-statism of the anarchists and the syndicalists. For modern war is a function of the state and of the state system into which humankind is politically divided. War can be defined as the use of armed force by states and by those who aspire to build or control states. From its origins some 6,000 years ago, the institution of the state has been harnessed with the institution of war. States have made wars and wars have made states — bigger and better states. Both have thrived together in unholy wedlock. Certainly, war is not an accidental or incidental institution. War is no aberration or sickness: all historical evidence confirms the judgment of Randolph Bourne that ‘War is the health of the state.’

The emerging new social order has modified the classical bourgeois state system; it is no longer a system of many balancing sovereign nation-states but rather a system of two superstates each surrounded by their satellites plus a group of uneasy non-aligned and relatively undeveloped states. The state system has been rationalized but not rationalized enough: for, within the framework of a state system, nothing short of one world state would be adequate to solve the problem of war in our nuclear age. And a world state — set up by mutual agreement — is just not on the political agenda of the great powers. But the reasons which led the capitalist ruling classes in their several states to engage in mutually destructive wars still operate to make possible, and perhaps almost inevitable, a third world war between states dominated by the managerial-bureaucrats. Such a war is likely to be humanity’s final war, a supremely ironical version of ‘the war to end all wars.’

The great tragedy of our epoch is the lamentable failure of the socialist movement, with its fine promise of universal peace and human brotherhood, to appreciate that an indispensable condition for achieving its objective was the liquidation of that quintessentially bourgeois institution, the modern sovereign state. Failing to appreciate this, the socialists after one hundred and seventy-five years of endeavour have succeeded not in making socialism but only in making socialist states. Not surprisingly, in this situation the socialist leaders have found what the anarchists and syndicalists predicted they would find: that it is impossible for socialists to accept the responsibility of governing states without thereby becoming defenders of them. The role that they occupy as state leaders inevitably impels them to act like state leaders, even to the extent, as in the case of the USSR, of making them subordinate, in the interests of the Soviet State, revolutionary Communist movements in other countries. That the Soviet leaders have not always and everywhere succeeded in this attempted subordination, with the result that in recent decades we have witnessed the development of national rivalries within the international Communist sector of the world, is no consolation. It makes only more obvious the fact that socialist revolutions within states, even socialist revolutions within all states of the world, would not solve the problem that now confronts humankind. If the American continent were to sink beneath the ocean tomorrow, the state system in the rest of the world would not prevent, for example, the possibility of war sooner or later between a Communist Russia and a Communist China. To think otherwise is to put far too high a value on the beneficent effects of a common ideology, to ignore the material interests that divide one state from another, and to overlook the disastrous increase in nationalist sentiment that is a feature of the contemporary world.

It may be that, from the point of view of sheer survival as a species, humanity has already passed the eleventh hour. In the present context of human affairs, Levine’s cryptic phrase, ‘We are all dead men on furlough’, takes on a new significance. In the contemporary crisis, there is only one sensible course open to those who wish to survive to see the year 2000 and beyond: to join the struggle to control, or better still to overthrow, the nuclear warlords, other militarists, the managerial-bureaucrats and political bosses in all states. This struggle in an inchoate form began in earnest in the late 1950s and, after waxing and waning, has been gathering momentum again in many countries. And it is no accident that the most determined participants in the anti-war movement have found themselves adopting the classic stance of the syndicalists: direct action of a basically nonviolent kind. A direct action movement always has been and always will be anathema to the rulers and would-be rulers of states.

For direct action involves a refusal to play the political game according to the rules laid down by our masters. It is a grassroots, do-it-yourself kind of action which recognizes implicitly if not explicitly the truth of what M.K. Gandhi called ‘voluntary servitude’: the fact that, in the last analysis, people are governed in the way they are because they consent to be so governed, the ‘consent’ ranging from active acceptance to sullen acquiescence.

When sufficient numbers of the governed — and ‘sufficient’ here may be less than a majority according to a simple head-count — can be persuaded to withdraw that consent and to demonstrate by their actions that they do not recognize the legitimacy of the rulers to act in their name, the government must either collapse or radically change its policies. When politicians and their pundits warn the participants in Civil Disobedience campaigns that they are undermining the foundations of social order, we should take heed. Civil Disobedience, pressed to its radical and logical conclusion, involves just that. All that we need to add is that it undermines the existing social order which has brought humankind to the edge of the abyss and prepares the way for a new social order in which power will be recovered and retained by the people.

There is thus a clear link between the classical syndicalists and the radical nonviolent direct actionists who constitute the cutting edge of the contemporary peace movement. The link is most obvious at the level of method or political style but it extends also to the level of values. What may be called anarcho-pacifism shares with anarcho-syndicalism both a negative value — rejection of the State as an institution — and a positive value — the construction, in the here and now, of an alternative culture and alternative institutions. Both are strongly internationalist or transnationalist in outlook, and both emphasize the need for a radical dispersion of social power. In connection with the latter, the old syndicalist slogan of ‘workers’ control of industry’ now re-appears as the more generalized demand for collective ‘self-management’ in all areas of social life.

Of course, the differences between the two movements are obvious too. Syndicalism was clearly and self-consciously a class movement of the industrial proletariat: the anti-war movement directs its appeal to the sane-minded in all classes and is thus populistic or universalistic. In terms of revolutionary potential, the contemporary movement may be judged of greater significance. The immediate issues involved are simpler and more dramatic than those raised by the syndicalists, and the crisis is more compelling. In struggling to resolve the present crisis, the new generation of social radicals cannot hope to revive a movement that, in its classical form, is now almost dead. But they would do well to learn the lessons of syndicalism and to draw inspiration by breathing in full measure the syndicalist spirit of militant direct action.

Geoffrey Ostergaard, 1984

Siegfried Nacht: The Social General Strike (1905)

Siegfried Nacht (1878-1956) was active in the international anarchist movement around the turn of the century. In 1905, under the name of Arnold Roller, he published his influential pamphlet, The Social General Strike. Max Baginski and a group of anarchists circulated it at the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World in Chicago in June 1905. Kôtoku Shûsui (1871-1911) obtained a copy when in contact with American anarchists in San Francisco and translated The Social General Strike into Japanese. Kôtoku then introduced Chinese anarchists to the pamphlet, and Zhang Ji (1882-1947) translated it into Chinese. In October 1905, there was a massive general strike in Russia which made a deep impression on workers and revolutionaries around the world, giving renewed credence to anarchist ideas, for it was the anarchists who had been advocating the general strike as a revolutionary weapon since the time of the First International (Volume One, Selection 27). The Marxist social democrats, taking their cue from a 1873 Engels’ pamphlet against Bakunin, “The Bakuninists at Work,” had been dismissing the general strike as “general nonsense” for years, as Nacht notes in his pamphlet. Kropotkin observed that “what exasperated the rulers most” about the general strike “was that the workers offered no opportunity for shooting at them and reestablishing ‘order’ by massacres. A new weapon, more terrible than street warfare, had thus been tested and proved to work admirably” (The Revolution in Russia, 1905: 280). Despite this practical vindication of anarchist ideas, Malatesta was careful to point out the limitations of the general strike during the debate on syndicalism at the 1907 International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam. Instead of “limiting ourselves to looking forward to the general strike as a panacea for all ills,” Malatesta warned, anarchists needed to prepare for the insurrection or civil war that would inevitably follow. For it is not enough for the workers to halt production; to avoid being forced by their own hunger back to work, the workers need to provide for themselves by taking over the means of production (Volume One, Selection 60). Nacht was one of the anarcho-syndicalist delegates at the Congress who spoke in favour of the general strike. He later emigrated to the United States, where he became a Communist fellow-traveller after the 1917 Russian Revolution, and later worked for the US department of Inter-American affairs. His brother Max Nacht, better known as Max Nomad (1881-1973), had also been an anarchist, then a follower of the early theorist of the “new class,” Jan Machajski, and then, surprisingly, a pro-Soviet socialist and later an unreliable historian and hostile critic of anarchism. A complete copy of the Baginski translation is now available from Corvus editions at http://www.corvusdistribution.org. Below I have reproduced Part 1.

SIEGFRIED NACHT

1. THE GENERAL STRIKE AS A WEAPON IN THE SOCIAL BATTLE

I. WHAT IS THE GENERAL STRIKE?

A new idea, a new weapon of the struggling proletariat, has pushed itself vehemently to the front and stands today on the bulletin of all discussions in the labour movement. This idea, which forces itself everywhere upon the international proletariat, is that of the “General Strike.” Until of late the general belief in the success of parliamentarianism has been unshaken among workingmen.

The events and the results of the political condition of recent years however, soon made it clear to the international proletariat that nothing could be gained in this way, and it was obliged to look around for a new fighting method. Even where parliamentarian socialism had developed most, and where with every additional election victory and quantitative increase—in Germany—its powerlessness was manifested, we hear, even in the reactionary camps of the social democratic party, voices calling for a new tactic.

The idea of the General Strike, which so far has largely been ridiculed and its propagators treated with slander and insult, has to be recognized now and is being discussed in all national and international labour congresses; and a member of the German social democratic party, Dr. Friedeberg, propagates this idea openly in the party.

The attitude of Social Democracy towards this idea, if it is not directly hostile, is in general however still very ambiguous; and all resolutions passed in its party congresses in regard to it, if they have not been directly hostile towards it, after long debates about the definition of the word, called only for a political “Mass-Strike” for the purpose of gaining certain single demands, but always refused to deal with the General Strike as a means and way to a social revolution.

The name “General Strike,” of course, admits of misunderstandings because it is applied to different general acts.

It is often used to designate the strike of all branches in one trade; for instance the General Strike of the miners, when helpers and hoisting engineers, etc., are all out. Then it is used as: General Strike of a city, i.e., “General Strike in Florence,” or a General Strike in a whole country or province for the purpose of gaining political rights, i.e., the right to vote, as in Belgium, or in Sweden.

The profoundest conception of the General Strike, however, the one pointing to a thorough change of the present system: a world social revolution; an entire new reorganization; a demolition of the entire old system of all governments—is the one existing among the proletarians of the Roman race (Spain and Italy). For them the General Strike is nothing less than an introduction to the social revolution. Therefore we call this General Strike, to distinguish it from General Strikes for higher wages, or for political privileges (political mass strikes), “The Social General Strike.” This conception of the General Strike will be dealt with in this treatise.

The General Strike idea has been opposed by the German workingman until now with the same idiotic phrases as the big-bellied bourgeois have used heretofore, by everlastingly re-chewing the tale of dividing all property, thus thinking to have made clear the nonsense of socialism, and at the same time proving only their own ignorance.

The “General Strike is general nonsense.” With this phrase the Social Democrats thought they could kill the General Strike idea.

When a discussion about the General Strike was permitted, the following ideas were always maintained: “The General Strike is a Utopia. It will never be possible to so thoroughly organize the proletariat that all workingmen will go on strike like one man; and if it were so well educated, and imbued with solidarity, and so well organized as to be able to declare a General Strike, then it would not need any General Strike; then it is the power in the country; then it may do anything it sees fit.”

Here we want to call attention to the fact that even with the best organization of the proletariat and the largest majority in the country and in Parliament, nothing can be done against the will of the Herrenhaus or Bundesrath , nothing against the will of the emperor, who has the whole army to support his will, while Parliament has nothing but paper scraps to defend itself against the bayonets of the soldiers.

The conduct and the result of the General Strike do not depend upon all workers laying down their tools. It would certainly be worthwhile to endeavour to educate all classes of workingmen so well that, on the day on which the General Strike began, the Proletariat of all countries would leave its factories and mines like one man, and through the expression of its united will throw off the chains of slavery. This ideal of propaganda will, however, in spite of its beauty always be a dream.

It was always the energetic and enthusiastic minority only that revolted against tyranny and oppression, thereby giving the initiative to the large, indolent masses who were dissatisfied and complained of their fate, but didn’t have the courage to revolt. It is quite a distance between a complaining dissatisfaction and open rebellion. In every revolution it was the force of the energetic minority that aroused the courage of the timid masses.

The same is observed in a strike. Although the labour unions as a rule represent only a minority of the workingmen, they always cause, organize, and lead the strikes of the unorganized masses. Often in this way a small minority goes on a strike, and during the strike the rest of the masses follow.

Often it happens that just through the strike the related industries and branches join in, spreading the strike over ever increasing territories and amongst ever growing masses of labourers.

The example of the strike is, in fact, suggestive and contagious to the masses.

It is therefore not of such great importance for the propagandists and followers of the general strike theory (as for instance the Spanish and French workers understand it) to get all the workers to lay down their tools at the same time, as it is to completely interrupt production in the whole country and stop communication and consumption for the ruling classes long enough to totally disorganize the capitalistic society, so that after the complete annihilation of the old system the working people can take possession through its labour unions of all the means of production, mines, houses, the land; in short: of all the economic factors.

Proudhon on Insurrection and Resistance

In addition to being the bicentennial of Proudhon’s birth, 2009 was the 160th anniversary of the publication of Proudhon’s Confessions of a Revolutionary, one of his most anarchist works. In it he denounced the unholy trinity of capitalism, religion and the state, which was to become a common theme in subsequent anarchist writings:

Capital, which in the political field is analogous to government, in religion has Catholicism as its synonym. The economic idea of capitalism, the politics of government or of authority, and the theological idea of the Church are three identical ideas, linked in various ways. To attack one of them is equivalent to attacking all of them… What capital does to labour, and the State to liberty, the Church does to the spirit… The most effective means for oppressing the people would be simultaneously to enslave its body, its will and its reason. If socialism is to reveal its truly positive aspect, free from all mysticism, all it will have to do is denounce the idea of this trinity.

When Bakunin and James Guillaume put together a selection of Proudhon’s writings in 1873, entitled Anarchy According to Proudhon, they included extensive excerpts from the Confessions, as well as material from The General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century. Both books, written by Proudhon while imprisoned for denouncing Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte as the personification of reaction, set forth Proudhon’s anarchist analysis and response to the 1848 Revolution in France, not his subsequent and far inferior work, The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the December 2 Coup d’Etat, seized upon by Proudhon’s critics to show he was a “secret friend” of the right (for more on this, see my previous blog page entry, The General Idea of Proudhon’s Revolution). In the following excerpts from the Confessions, Proudhon argues that the majority always has a right of insurrection against the minorities which oppress them, but that when a democratic government is established based on universal suffrage and majority rule, minorities should limit themselves to what today would be called civil disobedience, the refusal to pay taxes, to serve in the military, and to obey the laws imposed upon them by the majority. Later anarchists, for the most part, argued that oppressed minorities always have a right to revolt, even where the government is elected by majority vote, while pacifist anarchists, inspired by Tolstoy’s doctrine of non-violent resistance (Anarchism, Volume One, Selection 47), preferred civil disobedience (what Proudhon refers to below as “legal resistance”).

The following excerpts, translated by Martin Walker, are taken from Chapter 18 of the Confessions and will be included in the forthcoming collection of Proudhon’s anarchist writings, Property is Theft! A Pierre Joseph Proudhon Anthology, to be published by AK Press in 2010 (the 170th anniversary of the publication of Proudhon’s What is Property?, in which he first proclaimed himself an anarchist).

Confessions of a Revolutionary, Chapter 18

As the question of legal resistance is of the highest seriousness, it being a part of republican law which is revived every day by the arbitrary nature of power and of the parliamentary majority, and because many people confuse it with the right to insurrection recognised by the Declaration of 1793, I am going to give a short account of its true principles before accounting for the political course followed by [Proudhon’s newspaper] the People in this situation.

What is the right to insurrection?

How is one to understand the concept of legal resistance?

In which cases may one or the other apply?

If it were possible that the government were truly concerned with order, if it respected liberty and sought less to impose arbitrary decisions, it would make haste to deal with these questions officially and not leave the job to a journalist. But the government hates all questions of legality above all things and hushes them up as much as it can. What occupies it most is to persecute authors, printers, newspaper sellers, peddlers, bill-posters: it reserves its instructions and circulars for them [Proudhon’s newspapers were suppressed by the authorities and he was imprisoned for 3 years in June 1849].

I will observe first of all that the rights of insurrection and resistance are peculiar to the period of subordination and antagonism: they fall into disuse when liberty is practiced. In a democracy organized on the basis of the popular initiative with multiple locations of responsibility and no superior authority the exercise of such rights would have no grounds for taking place at all. By the establishment of universal suffrage the Constitution of 1790 had already invalidated, while implicitly recognizing, the right to insurrection. Imperial despotism, the Charters of 1814 and 1830, the 200 franc poll tax suppressing the intervention of the masses in public affairs, all these re-established it. The February [1848] revolution had once more abolished it, at the same time as the death penalty: the monstrous doctrine of the omnipotence of parliamentary majorities which the government would like to impose restores it again.

It is not, after all, to tell the truth, a principle of democratic and social institutions which we are going to discuss now: it is a principle of absolute and constitutional monarchy, an idea born of privilege. Socialism repudiates the right to insurrection and legal resistance: it has only to make similar sanctions for its theory. But, forced to defend itself on the terrain where the Constitution challenges it, it borrows the right from absolutists and doctrinaire politicians, authors or instigators of that Constitution, and uses it against them in the manner of an argumentum ad hominem, to use the scholastic expression.

The right to insurrection is that by virtue of which a people can claim its liberty, either against the tyranny of a despot or against the privileges of an aristocracy, without a previous denunciation as warning, and by force of arms.

It may happen, and hitherto this has been the almost constant state of the majority of nations, that an immense, scattered people, disarmed and betrayed, finds itself at the mercy of a few thousand satellites under the orders of a despot. In this state, insurrection is fully justified and has no rules but prudence and opportunity. The insurrections of the 14th July [1789] and 10th August [1792] were of this nature. There was a chance that Malet’s conspiracy in 1812 could have provoked an insurrection which would have been equally legitimate. The insurrection of July 1830, in which the country sided with the parliamentary majority against a king who violated a pact, was irreproachable. That of 1848, in which the majority of the country rose against the parliamentary majority to claim the right to vote, was all the more rational for having as its object the abolition of the right to insurrection by re-establishing universal suffrage.

So when the Convention [of 1792], after having organized the primary assemblies and re-consecrated universal suffrage, wrote the right to insurrection into the constitution of the year II, it was creating retrospective legislation, to be exact; it took out a guarantee against a danger which no longer existed in principle. The Constituent Assembly of 1848 acted in the same way when, having declared direct and universal suffrage in Article 24, in Article 110 it adds that it entrusts the Constitution and the rights that it preserves to the guardianship and the patriotism of all the French. In principle, let me repeat, universal suffrage abolishes the right to insurrection: in practice, the antagonism of the separate powers and the absolutism of majorities can cause it to be reborn. How and in what cases is precisely what must yet be determined.

The right of insurrection has a particular characteristic, namely that it presupposes a people oppressed by a despot, a third estate by an aristocracy, the greater number by the lesser. That is the principle, apart from which the right of insurrection vanishes at the same time as the conflicts of opinions and interests. The social union effectively takes on a different character inasmuch as the practice of universal suffrage becomes more widespread and propagates itself, while the economic forces tend toward equilibrium; the empire of minorities is succeeded by that of majorities, which latter is itself succeeded by that of universality, that is absolute liberty, which excludes any idea of conflict.

There is, however, one case when the right of insurrection might be legitimately invoked by a minority against a majority: that would be in a transitional society when the majority wishes to abolish universal suffrage, or at least limit its application, in order to perpetuate its despotism. In that case, I maintain, the minority has the right to resist oppression, even by force…

We now come to legal resistance.

We have said that the right of insurrection cannot be allowed to pertain for a minority against a majority in a country where universal suffrage has begun to develop. However arbitrary the decisions of that majority may be and however flagrant the violation of the pact may appear, a majority can always deny that there is a violation as such, which reduces the difference to a simple question of perspective and consequently offers no pretext for revolt. Even if the minority invoked certain rights prior to or superior to the Constitution that it claims the majority has overlooked, it would be easy for the latter to invoke in its turn other prior or superior rights like the public safety by virtue of which it could legitimize its will. This would be so effective that it would always be necessary to arrive at a definitive solution by voting, to appeal to the law of number. So let us admit this proposition as proven: between the minority and the majority of the citizens as constitutionally manifested by universal suffrage an armed conflict is illegitimate.

A minority cannot be permitted to be at the mercy of a majority, however: justice, which is the negation of force, demands that the minority have its guarantees. For it may occur as a result of political passions and the opposition of interests that the minority reacts to an action of the ruling majority by claiming that the Constitution has been violated, which the majority denies; when the people are called upon as a final arbiter of this disagreement, being the supreme judge in these matters, the majority of the citizens joins the majority of representatives with uncompromising egoism in deliberately treading underfoot both truth and justice, though they are precisely the ones who should defend them according to the Constitution. The minority, overtly oppressed, is then no longer a party in political and parliamentary opposition but a proscribed party, a whole class of citizens thus being placed outside the law.  Such a situation is shameful, is suicide, is the destruction of all social bonds. Yet insurrection in the terms of the Constitution is forbidden: what can the minority do in this extreme case?

When the law is audaciously violated; when a fraction of the people is outlawed by society; when the passionate impetus of a party has come to the point of saying: We will never give in; when there are two nations in the nation, one of them weaker and oppressed, the other more numerous which oppresses: if the division is admitted on both sides, my opinion is that the minority has the right to consummate this division by declaring it. The social bond being broken, the minority is freed from any political agreement with the majority: this is expressed by the refusal to obey those in power, pay one’s taxes, do one’s military service, etc. A refusal motivated in this way has been called legal resistance by journalists because the government has gone beyond the bounds of law, and the citizens remind it of that fact by refusing to obey it.

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