Anarchism and 20th Century Liberation Movements

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In this installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchist responses to national liberation struggles in the post-WW II era.

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20th Century Liberation Struggles

In the post-WW II era, anarchists continued to oppose colonialism and imperial domination but were wary of those who sought to take advantage of national liberation struggles to facilitate their own rise to power, much like the state socialists had tried to harness popular discontent in Europe, and had succeeded in doing in Russia and China.

Drawing on James Burnham’s concept of the managerial revolution (1941), while rejecting his pessimistic and politically conservative conclusions, the anarcho-syndicalist Geoffrey Ostergaard (1926-1990) warned of the “increasingly powerful managerial class” which holds out the prospect of “emancipation but in reality hands over the workers to new masters,” turning trade unions and other popular forms of organization into “more refined instruments for disciplining the workers” after the intellectuals, trade union leaders and party functionaries succeed in riding waves of popular discontent to assume positions of power (Volume Two, Selection 27).

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French anarchists associated with the Groupe Anarchiste d’Action Revolutionnaire recognized the “proliferation of nation-states” as “an irreversible historical trend, a backlash against world conquest” by European powers, and that although “national emancipation movements do not strive for a libertarian society,” such a society “is unattainable without them. Only at the end of a widespread process of geographical, egalitarian redistribution of human activities can a federation of peoples supplant the array of states.”

Nevertheless, anarchists could afford “national liberation movements only an eminently critical support,” for the mission of anarchists remains “to undermine the foundations of all… nationalist world-views, as well as every colonial and imperial institution. The bulwark of exploitation and oppression, injustice and misery, hatred and ignorance is still the State whosoever it appears with its retinue—Army, Church, Party—thwarting men and pitting them against one another by means of war, hierarchy and bureaucracy, instead of binding them together through cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid “ (Volume Two, Selection 31).

Mohamed Saïl (1894-1953), an Algerian anarchist who fought with the Durruti Column in Spain, regarded Algerian nationalism as “the bitter fruit of French occupation.” He suggested that “the Algerian people, released from one yoke, will hardly want to saddle itself with another one,” given their strong village ties and historic resistance to central authorities, whether Turk, Arab or French. While things did not work out as he had hoped, his fellow Kabyles have continued the “revolt against authoritarian centralism” for which he praised them (Volume Two, Selection 28; Volume Three, Selection 50).

An anarchist critique of the Cuban Revolution

An anarchist critique of the Cuban Revolution

During the 1950s, Cuban anarchists were directly involved in the struggle to overthrow the U.S. supported Batista dictatorship but at the same time had to fight against Marxist domination of the revolutionary and labour movements. They encouraged the “workers to prepare themselves culturally and professionally not only to better their present working conditions, but also to take over the technical operation and administration of the whole economy in the new libertarian society” (Volume Three, Selection 55).

After Castro seized power, they struggled in vain to maintain an independent labour movement and to prevent the creation of a socialist dictatorship. Outside of Cuba, Castro’s victory divided anarchists, particularly in Latin America, with some arguing that to support the revolution one must support the Castro regime, similar to the arguments that had been made earlier by the “Bolshevik” anarchists in Russia. Others came to doubt the efficacy of armed struggle and violent revolution, such as the anarchists associated with the Comunidad del Sur group in Uruguay, who turned their focus towards building alternative communities (Volumes Two and Three, Selection 60).

Robert Graham

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  1. Reblogged this on sergiofalcone.


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