A Living Utopia – Spanish Anarchism and Revolution

A documentary with English subtitles on Spanish anarchism and the Spanish Revolution. This time you can click on the play button to watch the film. Viva la anarquia!

The Spanish Revolution – 80th Anniversary

"Freedom"

“Freedom”

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a chapter on the Spanish Revolution that included writings from before and during the revolution regarding the Spanish anarchist movement and its role in the often misrepresented and sometimes ignored contributions of the anarchists to the social revolution in Spain that began with the Civil War that was precipitated by a fascist military coup on July 19, 1936. I have added extra material on the role of the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution to this blog. To mark the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Revolution, I present a very short introduction (take that Oxford University Press) from the Workers Solidarity Movement.

Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution

Anarchist and syndicalist ideas had deep roots among Spanish peasants and workers. In 1911, a massive revolutionary trade union federation, the CNT (National Confederation of Labour) was formed. It had two aims; first, to fight the bosses with mass action in the daily struggle and, second, to make an anarchist revolution by organising the workers and the poor to seize back the land, factories and mines.

The CNT led many militant and successful struggles against the bosses and the government. By 1936 it was the biggest union in Spain, with nearly two million members. But the CNT was always democratic and, despite its giant size, never had more than one paid official.

The Anarchists did not restrict themselves to the workplace. They also organised an anarchist political group to work within the unions (the FAI) and organised rent boycotts in poor areas. The CNT itself included working peasants, farm workers and the unemployed. It even organised workers’ schools!

In July 1936, fascists led by General Franco, and backed by the rich and the Church, tried to seize power in Spain. The elected government (the Popular Front coalition of left-wing parties) was unable and unwilling to deal with the fascists. It even tried to strike a deal with the fascists by appointing a right-winger as Prime Minister. Why? Because they would rather compromise with the right wing and protect their wealth and power than arm the workers and the poor for self-defence.

Fortunately, the workers and the peasants did not wait around for the government to act. The CNT declared a general strike and organised armed resistance to the attempted take-over. Other unions and left wing groups followed the CNT’s lead.

In this way the people were able to stop the fascists in two-thirds of Spain. It soon became apparent to these workers and peasants that this was not just a war against fascists, but the beginning of a revolution! Anarchist influence was everywhere, workers’ militias were set up independently from the State, workers seized control of their workplaces and peasants seized the land.

There were many triumphs of the revolution, although we are only able to consider a few of the Spanish workers’ and peasants’ victories here. These included the general take over of the land and factories.

Small peasants and farm workers faced extremely harsh conditions in Spain. Starvation and repression were a part of their daily lives and, as a result, anarchism was particularly strong in the countryside. During the revolution, as many as 7 million peasants and farm workers set up voluntary collectives in the anti-fascist regions. After landowners fled, a village assembly was held. If a decision to collectivise was taken, all the land, tools and animals were pooled together for the use of the entire collective. Teams were formed to look after the various areas of work, while a committee was elected to co-ordinate the overall running of the collective. Each collective had regular general meetings in which all members participated. Individuals who did not want to join the collectives were not forced to. They were given enough land to farm on, but were forbidden to hire labourers to work this land. Most “individualists” eventually joined the collectives when they saw how successful they were.

Anarchism inspired massive transformations in industry. Workers seized control over their workplaces, and directly controlled production by themselves and for the benefit of the Spanish workers and peasants. The tram system in Barcelona provided a shining example of just how much better things can be done under direct workers’ control. On July 24th 1936, the tram crews got together and decided to run the whole system themselves. Within five days, 700 trams were in service instead of the usual 600. Wages were equalised and working conditions improved, with free medical care provided for workers.

Everyone benefited from the trams being under workers’ control. Fares were reduced and an extra 50 million passengers were transported. Surplus income was used to improve transport services and produce weapons for defence of the revolution. With the capitalist profit motive gone, safety became much more important and the number of accidents were reduced.

In the early stages of the revolution, the armed forces of the state had effectively collapsed. In their place, the trade unions and left-wing organisations set about organising the armed workers and peasants into militias. Overall, there were 150,000 volunteers willing to fight where they were needed. The vast majority were members of the CNT. All officers were elected by the rank-and-file and had no special privileges.

The revolution showed that workers, peasants and the poor could create a new world without bosses or a government. It showed that anarchist ideas and methods (such as building revolutionary unions) could work. Yet despite all this, the revolution was defeated. By 1939, the fascists had won the civil war and crushed the working-class and peasants with a brutal dictatorship.

Why did this happen? The revolution was defeated partly because of the strength of the fascists. They were backed by the rich, fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

The CNT also made mistakes. It aimed for maximum anti-fascist unity and joined the Popular Front alliance, which included political parties from government and pro-capitalist forces. This required the CNT to make many compromises in its revolutionary programme. It also gave the Popular Front government an opportunity to undermine and destroy the anarchist collectives and the workers militias, with the Communist Party playing a leading role in these attacks at the behest of Stalinist Russia.

Nevertheless, anarchists had proved that ideas, which look good in the pages of theory books, look even better on the canvas of life.

Workers Solidarity Movement

'The Revolution and the War are Inseparable'

‘The Revolution and the War are Inseparable’

From Anarchism to Syndicalism: The Journey of James Guillaume

James Guillaume (1866)

James Guillaume (1866)

James Guillaume (1844-1916) was one of the leading militants of the Swiss Jura Federation in the International Workingmen’s Association. I have discussed his role in the struggles within the International over the proper direction of working class and socialist movements in We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. After he was expelled, along with Bakunin, from the Marxist faction of the International at the Hague Congress in 1872, Guillaume was instrumental in reconstituting the International along anti-authoritarian lines, playing an important role in producing the Sonvillier Circular in 1871, which denounced Marx’s attempts to centralize control of the International in the hands of the General Council in London, and to impose as official policy a commitment to the creation of national political parties whose object was to be the conquest of political power on behalf of the working class. After the Hague Congress, Guillaume and Bakunin, together with Internationalists from Spain, France, Italy and Switzerland, organized the St. Imier Congress, which resulted in a bold declaration of their revolutionary aims and a denunciation of Marxist policies and methods (both documents are in Volume One of  Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). Guillaume is very much the hero in René Berthier’s recent book, Social Democracy and Anarchism, which as I noted previously tries to show that the anarchist movements that emerged from the International somehow constituted a “break” with Bakunin’s “revolutionary socialism,” rather than a continuation of it. I disagree, and so would have the anarchist historian and Bakunin biographer, Max Nettlau (1865-1944). Below, I reproduce excerpts from a biographical sketch of Guillaume that Nettlau wrote in 1935, in which he sets forth some respectful criticisms of Guillaume’s claim that revolutionary syndicalism constituted the true heir to Bakunin’s revolutionary legacy.

Max Nettlau

Max Nettlau

Max Nettlau: James Guillaume – A Biographical Sketch

This relatively little remembered man was on the side of Bakunin and, of course, many other comrades, the most efficient actor of those in the old International who resisted the will of Marx, [which leads] to social democracy, reformism and bolshevism, and affirmed complete libertarian socialism, expressed by anarchist thought and, to a certain degree, by revolutionary syndicalism…

[In Locle, Switzerland, during the early 1860s, Guillaume,] in looking round, in observing the local working population, by reading socialist and advanced philosophical books, by frequenting an old local revolutionist of strong social feelings, Constant Meuron, found consolation in devoting himself to educational work for the people… He read Feuerbach, Darwin, Fourier, Louis Blanc, Proudhon; he emancipated himself entirely from metaphysics, felt interested in what he heard of the French cooperators (an effort then supported in a broad spirit by Elie and Elisée Reclus, etc.), and of the International, of which in the larger township nearby, at La Chaux-de-Fonds, a section had already been founded.

In August 1866, Guillaume, old Meuron and a small handfull of others founded another section [in] Locle and in September, Guillaume represented it at the first Congress of the International, held in Geneva. There he met French, Belgian, British and other delegates and had his first direct glimpse at several of the social and labour currents of that times.

The activities of Guillaume, beginning in this small and new section [of the International], yet show him gradually coming to the front in the then small Jurassian milieu as a man who had a solid basis of general socialist information, who was penetrated by the wish to establish fraternal relations all over the awakening world of labour, but who could not imagine that such relations could be based upon any other basis than that of mutual fraternity and solidarity, of equality and of autonomy, non-interference with local life.

He had no idea that a Karl Marx resided in London who had the ambition to impress his own ideas upon the association, nor that a Central or General Council could be under the impression [that it could] be some organ of authority in the association, nor that parties, cliques, coteries could be formed and that locally useful and efficient men would try to extend their influence over districts, provinces and regions. All this was, in his opinion, exactly what the International did not wish to be; it was found[ed on] solidarity, respecting autonomy, and had no call to be a doctrinaire or an administrative unifying authority.

Guillaume was far from being an anarchist then and, in the real sense he was this always as we shall see. He had not broken with politics, [but] he had not made an effort to enter a political career. He had lived in politics all his life, seeing his father, a professional politician and office holder, and this gave him some inside experience and created the strong wish not to have to court the favour of the electors year by year, as his father had to do.

He had watched closely, French and Italian popular and insurrectional movements – the continuous struggles against Napoleon III, the usurper, and against the Bourbons, the Pope and the Austrians in Italy, and he was observing with curiosity the English trade unionists, the German Lassalleans, the Russians of Tchernychevski’s time. All interested him and he loved and admired many things but he never wished to introduce artificially outside ideas and tactics into the Jurassian milieu. In this respect already Geneva and Lausanne, much more Berne and Zürich, were already, one might say, foreign continents to him. He did not dream of recommending Jurassian methods anywhere outside the mountain district, nor did he wish or tolerate that outsiders should interfere with the Jura.

By and by he concluded that the Internationalists of Belgium were least of all disposed to impose their ideas either by propaganda or by authority (majorities, administrative power) upon others, and he was on the best possible terms with them, notably with Caesar de Paepe. Later, as Paris always attracted him as the mother of Revolutions, he conceived great admiration for [Eugene] Varlin, who was equally disposed to feel fullest international solidarity, but to maintain the autonomy of Parisian tactics.

As for Bakunin, his idea of a… sweeping, all-[embracing] revolution was always strange and unnecessary and seemed to be improbable to Guillaume, who reserved the Jurassian autonomy before everything. Bakunin was of ripe experience and fully understood Guillaume and abstained with tact and care from all that might mean to be an infringement upon that autonomy. This brought about and safeguarded their close cooperation of several years, mainly from 1869 to 1872.

Marx was incapable [of] conceiv[ing] the notion of autonomy, just as Lenin later scorned the bourgeois notion of freedom and so, with all respect for his economic learnedness – Bakunin and Guillaume were the two only men in Switzerland who had read Das Kapital of 1867 in the years following, about 1869-1870 – it was impossible for them to cooperate with him (Marx) in the International as he (Marx) scorned and flouted Bakunin’s highest ideal – Freedom – [and] Guillaume’s ethical basis – Autonomy.

Guillaume, then, had a life [of] purpose before himself, at twenty two, to cooperate internationally and locally in the reconstitution of socialism which had so languished in the nearly twenty years of reaction and apathy intervening since 1848. He was in what he considered an independent local position of not elementary but almost high school teaching, and further educational and political advancement (by elections) was within his grasp. But he did nothing to promote such a career; when he understood that taking part in elections was of no social value to the workers, he and his friends proclaimed abstention from politics, and when his militant socialism and local independence were considered by the authorities incompatible with his employment as a public school-professor, he did nothing to bow before the storm and was in due form [made destitute] in 1869, aged twenty five, walking out of office as a well read young man, soon to be married, but with no earthly goods and prospects, locally a marked man. So he remained throughout a long life, always having to shift for himself.

He had no precarious resource at hand [but only] another dim light in the sky… his old plan to live in Paris and this had been nourished by his close contact with Ferdinand Buisson, lecturing in 1869 in Switzerland on the subject of a renewed liberal Christianity, left-wing Protestant Rationalism. Both he and Guillaume were deeply interested in tearing elementary education in France from the hands of the Catholic clergy, of laïcising and improving it, and as Buisson was a staunch republican, his counsel would be listened to when that party would triumph over Napoleon III, and then he and Guillaume would cooperate as educational Robespierres, so to speak. This, they planned about 1869, and some of this they were able to realize between ten and twenty years later, indeed.

But meanwhile, to get a living, he came to a business arrangement with his unsentimental father, who was furious to see him lose his professional position. [His] father had a little printing office, badly managed at the time, and this James took over, investing money of his wife, and thus from August 1869 to the end of 1872, he kept this small business going, managing, reading proofs, setting up type himself sometimes, employing confidential compositors, keeping up punctual business relations with his father, while many less punctual relations where on his own shoulders. For here papers and pamphlets for the movement, international books, some Italian printing, all in the interest of the Swiss, French, Italian movements, were printed and sometimes work requiring caution and meeting with difficulties in distribution.

At other times, unskilled, helpless refugees would learn composing there. This little office at Neuchâtel was a real oasis of international printing for some time, one of the very few places at that time where work was efficiently done which defied equally Napoleon III, Bismarck, the Tsar and the Pope – and Karl Marx, Liebknecht and all the capitalists, and where Bakunin, the refugees of the Commune, Kropotkin (a visitor in 1872), the Italian and Spanish internationalists anarchists and the Jura Swiss workers felt at home. It required intense work and care on Guillaume’s side to keep this place going with real efficiency and evading absolute financial disaster. He was finally unable to continue his own overlarge mixture of intellectual, business, routine and often manual occupations and felt relieved when his father sold the printing office (end of 1872) and from then to the spring of 1878 he had to make a living in Neuchâtel by private lessons, many small paid translations and [by] beginning literary work for encyclopedic publications in Paris and London.

The situation [facing] him in 1877-1878, however, was so little hopeful, locally, that then, finally, in may 1878 he carried out his plan to go to live in Paris. He had been preparing to do this in the beginning of 1871, already, on the invitation of Buisson, but the Commune had intervened and the years of full reaction in France had made it quite impossible…

The watchmakers in Geneva and in the small Jurassian townships and large villages were up to the second half of the 1870s, when American machine-made watches and similar factories established also in Switzerland, ruined them and made them slaves to machinery – they were until then a very independent home-industry, very skilled work was done by men in their own rooms of small houses ; the demand for their output was universal and constant, they were used to combining against the large firms, they were citizens interested in local politics, some of them in social questions, they were not proletarianized at all and many of them welcomed the International and formed sections which were meant at first to be local educational units, forming local electoral power [distinct] from the bourgeois, agricultural, conservative and other interests.

In Geneva, the electoral power of these skilled workers was so great that the International sections – except the one inaugurated [in] 1868 by Bakunin (the Section of the Alliance) – never emancipated themselves from the politicians. In the Jura (the cantons of Bern and Neuchâtel mainly), the other electoral powers were stronger, and those of the International sections who had expected to further socialist aims by electoral methods, by local politics, saw that they were powerless after all at the elections. The same experience was [had] by a number of militant workers and citizens in Geneva who had tried to form a more advanced workers’ party and had failed at the elections of the autumn of 1868. Thus about that time these two milieus of socialists abandoning electoral politics had been formed – that of Guillaume in the Jura and that of [Charles] Perron in Geneva – and that very summer, about July, Bakunin had entered the International at Geneva – and he made the acquaintance of Perron in August and that of Guillaume at the end of the year; from then, for some time, these three men cooperated intimately.

Before this, Guillaume had assisted at the international Congresses of Geneva (1866) and Lausanne (1867), [being] most interest[ed] in the company of some Belgians, notably De Paepe, of some London and Paris delegates, informing himself on trade unionism, Parisian Proudhonism, meeting Dr. Ludwig Büchner, the author of “Kraft und Stoff”, the old German socialist Johann Philipp Becker; he corresponded with Hermann Jung, the Swiss secretary of the General Council, talked with Eccarius, a German tailor of London who was to some degree in the confidence of Karl Marx, etc.

All that interested him, just as he had met before old Fourierists in the Jura, old Pierre Leroux himself and others. And he was [one] of the delegates sent by the Lausanne Congress to the Peace Congress of Geneva (September 1867), where he saw Garibaldi and first saw and heard Bakunin, though not making his personal acquaintance. [That] took place at the congress held at the end of 1868 in Geneva, for the purpose of federating the French-speaking sections of Switzerland, to form the Fédération Romande.

He was standing out by his earnest activity and his skill as a clear debater and writer, and this may have contributed to making Bakunin wish to see more of him. In any case, as the outside delegates lodged with comrades in Geneva, it may not have been quite an accident that the young professor from the Jura was invited to lodge with Bakunin and in this way they became friends, and Guillaume was eager to invite Bakunin to come to the Jura, and Bakunin was quite satisfied to extend his sphere of activity to this new ground, thus taking up his position both in Geneva and in the milieu of the [Jura] Mountains.

Bakunin’s visits in the Jura (February and May 1869), short as they were, were time well spent in local manifestations affirming the independence of the sections from powerful politicians who propagated an adulterated socialism which was just some petty reformism, with more intimate, cordial discussions with many workers, with very intimate revolutionary discussions with a number of militants who shaped the activities of their whole lives, in not a few cases, upon these early impressions – and in conversations of the fullest confidence with Guillaume and but a very few others.

Bakunin (as we know) always had in view this: to inspire a small number of men of real value and efficiency with the whole of the anarchist ideas and the desire for action and these would each operate upon the best men of their acquaintance and confidence – and these upon a wider milieu of [the] less advanced, and so on. The most intimate would consult among themselves and consult with Bakunin, who was in a similar way in touch with efficient men of a number of other countries – and thus, by personal contact, correspondence, some travelers, the meeting of these intimates during congresses, etc., all these men could co-operate upon similar lines, albeit locally modified, and such private mutual understanding would harmonize the propaganda, create local milieus disposed to act upon similar lines and, someday, when action was possible and imminent, would facilitate it efficiently.

“Action” was not an idle dream in those years (1864-1870), of Bakunin’s impulse in this direction, as in at least three countries (France, Italy, Spain) rotten powers were doomed to fall – Napoleon III, the Pope as sovereign of the Roman State [Kirchenstaat], and Queen Isabella of Spain – and indeed Isabella fell in September 1868, and both Napoleon III and the Pope’s power over Rome fell in September 1870.

In Spain followed a revolutionary period lasting up to the end of 1874, including a Republic and the great insurrection of the federalist republicans of 1874. In France the accumulated [discontent] led to the two months of the Commune of Paris, March to May 1871, and in Italy, Garibaldi, straight from the Geneva congress of 1867, went to fight the Popish army in open battle and, after his failure, three years later the Italian army fought Rome and reduced the Pope to living from that time onward – until Mussolini’s surrender – in the Vatican, nominally declaring himself to be a prisoner.

Here we have all elements of revolutionary warfare – the Commune defying the French State and the French bourgeoisie, the insurgent Spanish cities proclaiming their autonomy, the Church of Rome bombarded by the Italian army and many other events – and if in all these the popular forces, the workers, did not succeed and were even terribly defeated and massacred (Paris), surely it was neither a chimerical and idle or absurd, nor a useless, unpractical thought and effort of Bakunin to try to prepare and to coordinate forces which should be ready to act on such occasions. His activities were strongest just in these countries and, if he failed, if he and his comrades could not overcome all the enormous obstacles, the blame may be laid on them for this or that mistake, but it lays much more upon all those who did not help them and it lays heaviest upon those who did all they could to combat, to discredit, to destroy them: here lays one of the various culpabilities which Marx accumulated during his career.

Marx, in those years, wielding the power which, he imagined, his participation in the General Council of the International had legitimately given to him, was haunted by the idea of war against Russia in favour of Poland and a secondary thought of Irish rebellion in England, while he also, after the easy victory of Prussia over Austria in 1866, was [impressed] by Bismarck’s prestige and had but contempt for France, Italy and Spain. None of his then expectations were realized while Bakunin, as to the West and South of Europe, had seen clearly. When Bakunin tried to rally the revolutionists in preparation [for the] very struggles which did come, Marx insisted [on starting] electoral labour parties, as Lassalle had done, and urged upon the States to begin the world war against Russia. So his fraction of the International became emasculated and he used the very nominal powers confided to the General Council to make regular war by chicanery and other means against the autonomous sections and federations [of the International].

This was keenly felt by an autonomist like Guillaume and welded him and Bakunin together until autonomy had triumphed in 1872-1873. But Guillaume was not [amenable] to Bakunin’s favorite attempt, to give to his relations with the intimate comrades a formal name, the Fraternité internationale, Alliance secrète or so, to write or even print statements of principles and rules, to correspond in cypher, etc. He practised the real thing, but rejected the form, and in this respect he was wiser then Bakunin who lost time in drawing up documents of such apparently conspiratorial character which, when misused, seized [and] published, gave an extraordinary aspect to very harmless things.

Bakunin knew that as well, but all the secret societies had such documents and some of the members seemed to like and to require it, while, in practice, very few or hardly any one conformed to such documents. Anyhow, Guillaume obtained from Bakunin in 1869 a general indulgence not to have anything to do with written rules himself, nor should Bakunin introduce them in the Jura. For the rest he did not care and he did exactly what Bakunin did (and had done before, locally) – he had incessant private relations with the militants in the Jura and he corresponded with all the intimates of Bakunin abroad, whenever necessary, without using the terms of any secret body (Fraternité, Alliance). He was most eager to attract militants in France within this inner sphere and came to some understanding with Varlin during the Congress of Basel (1869), etc. He was at times most painstaking to arrive at agreements by discussion, while when he considered that the occasion required immediate or modified action, he took it on as his sole responsibility.

Two examples of this are the manifesto of September, 5, 1870 in Neuchâtel, when upon the first news of the collapse of the Empire in Paris (September 4), he was misled to consider this political change a social revolution and called [on] all to take up arms to defend the Revolution in France. The Swiss government had this Manifesto seized and suppressed the paper, Solidarité, and Guillaume’s father felt anxiety about the printing plant which belonged to him. Bakunin wrote a most generous letter on that occasion to the Committee of the Fédération Romande, in defence of Guillaume’s over rash act on his personal account which deprived the organization [the Romande Federation] of its paper.

The other case happened at the Hague Congress, where an artificial majority, fabricated by Marx, Engels and others, expelled Bakunin and Guillaume from the International (September 1872). It had been agreed upon that the revolutionary federations should leave the congress, when the Marxist intrigue should unfold itself openly. Guillaume preferred to pass much time during the congress week to explain the situation to quite a number of non-revolutionists, but who were not friends of Marx either and who simply ignored the facts. In this way he formed a minority of revolutionists and general friends of fair play, and Marx turned yellow, when he saw to his surprise, that the revolutionists  [did not] just leave, as he had expected, but that a declaration of solidarity by a strong minority was read, to which he had no reply to make.

Guillaume preferred an International composed of autonomous bodies of revolutionary or reformist, anarchist or social democratic, opinion, to a body composed exclusively of revolutionists. He did not object to such a body as the latter described, but he valued the principle of solidarity and autonomy expressed by the former composition – and so became the antiauthoritarian International of the St. Imier, Geneva, Brussels, Bern and Verviers congresses of the years 1872 (September) to 1877 (September). Bakunin formed intimate ties with the revolutionists at Zürich (September 1872), the Alliance of the Revolutionary Socialists (secret), but, after discussion with Guillaume, agreed with his tactics at the public Congress of St. Imier. A year later, in Geneva, Guillaume mainly shaped the new forms of the organization during a week of arduous discussion; Bakunin watched this from a distance, at Bern.

There is no question that the fall of the Commune in 1871 made Guillaume understand that socialism in France would not be revived in the spirit of his friend Varlin (who had been shot) for a long time to come, nor that the Hague congress, 1872, displaying all the malignity of Marx and Engels, made him see that socialism had that deleterious dry rot inside of it, Marxism – an emasculating disease which from then [on] has produced some fifty years of social democracy and [then] communist despotism in Russia. Both hard facts made Guillaume concentrate on Swiss local socialist autonomy and he had no real faith in revolutionary attempts as these were [being] prepared in Spain and in Italy by the fervent young Internationalists, and by Bakunin who, hopeful or hopeless, was active up to 1874.

Otherwise expressed – Guillaume considered his association with Bakunin more or less [had] come to an end, as the fight in common against Marx was over, as there was nothing to do in France, for some time, and as the Russian, Italian [and] Spanish activities of Bakunin did not concern him, while Bakunin was less interested than he in Belgian, British, Swiss, German and other movements. It came to this, sorry to tell, that while Bakunin continued to value what Guillaume did, the latter, who saw and heard little of Bakunin in 1873-74, came to imagine that Bakunin’s career was coming to an end. I cannot enter into this delicate subject [but] let it be sufficient to say here that at a moment in the autumn of 1874, when Bakunin would most have needed a clear thinking and fair-minded friend as Guillaume might have been to him, Guillaume proved utterly prejudiced, hard and cruel, and there was an absolute separation between Guillaume and several others and Bakunin (September 1874), and this remained so up to Bakunin’s death [in] 1876…

In this way Guillaume’s relations with Bakunin had a bitter end; [once again] a Robespierrist mind was unable to understand a Dantonesque character and felt obliged to try to destroy it.

That same autumn Guillaume wrote, at the invitation of Cafiero, an exposé of the social arrangements in a free society, a text published in 1876 as Idées sur l’Organisation sociale (Ideas on social organization), Chaux-de-Fonds, 1876, 56 p. – a clear statement of the collectivist anarchist conception with its eventual evolution toward communist anarchism; there were Italian and Spanish translations…

He had analysed Proudhon’s Confession of a Revolutionary, adding a description of mutualism and of collectivist anarchism, a book of which only a Russian translation (Anarchy according to Proudhon) exists in print, set up and printed by M.P. Sazin, in London, 1874 : the French manuscript is lost. He lectured on the French Revolution and printed sketches of great historical days in the Bulletin [of the Jura Federation]. He wrote also a study of the conspiracy of Babeuf. The Bulletin is very exact in foreign notes which he translated often from letters or took from secretly printed Spanish and other publications. The more one is able to inspect documentary relics of those years, the more there are traces of Guillaume’s constant care, resourcefulness and husbanding of very small means.

He was really masterful in exposing the Marxist protagonists, Engels, Lafargue, Greulich, etc. ; but he always tried to be on terms of polite correction with those who showed respect for autonomy toward the Jurassians, like some of the German Lassalleans and some less narrow socialists in Switzerland, in England, etc. But he kept out such as would adulterate and mix up the ideas like Benoît Malon and others of his ilk.

Kropotkin was greatly impressed by Guillaume on his first visit to him in the spring of 1872 and visited him again, [at the] end of 1876 (after [Kropotkin’s] escape from Russia), and saw him frequently in 1877 when [Kropotkin] had settled himself in the Jura. At that time, Paul Brousse, a French Southerner from Montpellier, was doing advanced and lively popular anarchist agitation in Bern and in the Jura, was best liked by the young people, while the elder generation preferred the sedate Guillaume. Kropotkin stood nearer to Brousse, but had a very great respect for Guillaume.

Brousse inspired the Red Flag procession in Bern, assaulted by the Gendarmes, when all the Jurassian and French militants and a number of Russians, Kropotkin as well as Plechanov, were in a hand-to-hand fight, with or without all sorts of weapons, implements and fists; and letters, recollections and the report of the ensuing trial still record who smashed up with gendarmes or was himself almost battered to pieces or was rescued by the intervention of the other comrades. There was a big trial in the autumn and 20 or 30 had to pass weeks or months that winter in the Jura prisons. They entered there in procession with the red flag (permitted there) and music and had their watchmakers’ table and tools brought into prison…  Guillaume arrived with cases of books and papers and did his literacy work as before.

He had last seen the Internationalists at their private meeting at La Chaux-de-Fonds where also a large Jurassian congress was held; also a small and private French congress. Then he assisted at the Verviers congress [of the reconstituted International] in Belgium, with Viñas and Morago from Spain, Costa, Brousse, Kropotkin, Emil Werner, the Belgians; and at the so-called “World Socialist Congress,” held at Gent: here Liebknecht and Guillaume confronted [each other] and all the efforts of Guillaume to bring about a state of mutual toleration between the authoritarians and the libertarians – he had acted in that spirit at the International’s Bern Congress of 1876 – were frustrated by Liebknecht.

Thus, he was active to the last, but his material situation was locally hopeless, while a more efficient collaboration in Buisson’s large Dictionnaire de Pédagogie (Paris, Hachette) was possible only if he were settled in Paris. The Bulletin was succumbing –  [at the] end of March 1878 – as the great crisis in the Jura (American competition by machinery) was approaching. In May, Guillaume went to Paris, having before resigned membership in the International, as this was a society prohibited in France.

The French liberal revival had begun by the elections early in 1876, but clerical governments still held power and James Guillaume imposed [on] himself the strictest incognito and abstained from participation in propaganda. Just then, Costa, who took no precautions, was arrested and heavily sentenced, and Kropotkin in connection with this had had to leave Paris and France. Later, [in] 1879, when Caferio and Malatesta, released from Italian prisons, came to see Guillaume, he was not exactly glad to receive the two romantic figures in his quiet home and so, by and by, he hinted to all visitors that they had better not come again and years of voluntary solitude followed…

[In the early 1900s], when he had discovered French Syndicalism, [Guillaume’s] purpose became to inform the syndicalists of the real work and spirit of the International as, unknown to most of them, they were in Guillaume’s opinion, its direct continuators…

Guillaume identified the ideas and aims of the collectivist International with those of Revolutionary Syndicalism – and he considered Communist Anarchism, the work of Reclus, Kropotkin, Malatesta etc., as an aberration, a period of time lost (1878-94) – and since 1895, more so since 1900 and 1904, the C.G.T. [the French revolutionary syndicalist organization, the General Confederation of Labour] had resumed in his opinion the old work of the International…

We are often told that the anarchist period in France, let us say the years 1880 to 1894 were a period of illusions: but if that were the case, the 1895 to 1906 and 1914 period of syndicalist illusions was infinitely more deceptive. With the workers by millions abandoning socialism for politics (social democracy), it was inevitable and logical on their part to abandon revolutionary syndicalism for reformist labourism (ouvrièrisme) and so they did, and the syndicalist leaders could not stay that current [stem that tide], but continued to proclaim the syndicalist ideology. They all knew that they were painting red the white cheeks of a corpse.

Only old James Guillaume did not wish to see things in their real light, and in the midst of reformism chose to believe to march ahead with an invincible revolutionary current impelling them all. It was pathetic to see the wish and the will of the old man not to see things as they were. To him, the syndicalists were the men of 1792 who when roused, as the events of 1914 – the war – might have done, would once more conquer Europe for freedom as the sansculottes of 1792 had meant to do – and when nothing of the kind happened, when the truth confronted him that summer [of 1914], within six months he had become a wreck and his life was nearly over, as we shall learn soon.

Meanwhile, from 1903-4 onward, he was “an Internationalist” by himself, entering into contact with the most suitable elements which he could find, trying to make them work together and like a spider, whose webs are almost constantly destroyed in part, he was undismayed by failure, always patched up the webs, but it told upon his nerves, he became bitter and in 1914 the open struggle by him against anarchism, as expressed by men like Bertoni and Malatesta, was only averted by [the] great efforts of Kropotkin…

Two factors stood in the way of any real success of his ceaseless activity. One was his absolute separation from the movements [for the preceding] 25 years. This meant that even those whom he knew intimately up until 1878, had changed, sometimes greatly developed, sometimes the contrary. He attributed to his old friends qualities which they had long since lost and – it was touching to see this – he imagined to see such qualities even in their grown up children who were quite unable to come up to his expectations…

…[F]from those of Kropotkin’s letters to [Guillaume] which have survived, one sees their entire separation: for the one, anarchism (implying Communism), for the other the Syndicalist Society, were the next ideal aims and coming realities. Kropotkin never wished to work for a Syndicalist Totalism, and Guillaume saw but this and considered Anarchism as the dream of the workers of Lyons (notorious dreamers), of Kropotkin (with all the vagueness of wide Russia-Siberia in him), of Malatesta (a romantic Italian insurrectionist), of Elisée Reclus (of old Christian mysticism), etc. So Guillaume had, in France, only the syndicalist leaders as comrades in the domain of ideas and these – some of whom like Pouget and Griffuelhes before all he really admired – these men had their hard daily struggle before them and not a moment’s rest and not time to listen to his advice, nor any wish to take him into their counsels in a really solidary way.

For these anti-parliamentarians and anti-politicians had themselves as much or more of “politics” in hand as ministers or political leaders. They had to control their committees and the members of these, the delegates of the Syndicates, had to secure the support of the majority of members; all were confronted by a strong reformist opposition, by governmental manoeuvres, and they required all the science or the tricks of regular “bosses” to do this. Besides, in the years after 1908, the syndicalist leaders themselves ceased to believe in the direct action-methods and became reformists at heart – Léon Jouhaux, once an anarchist, from 1909 to the present the secretary of the C.G.T., is typical for these transformations – while before the main body of members, at the Congresses, in the papers, they still affirmed until the war of 1914 to be revolutionist. Now a man like Guillaume, could not [prevent], nor hinder all this and it was best for all sides that he should keep out of it…

He was in touch mainly with some comrades in the Jura, in Lausanne, Bern and Zürich, with [Anselmo] Lorenzo in Barcelona, with Alceste de Ambris in Lugano or in Italy; but, as I hinted at before, this influence was not lasting, as all these correspondents had more or less made up their minds and had their own irons in the fire. He dreamed of coordinating them, as his friends had been internationally in Bakunin’s time. But all this was ephemeral or barely begun, and he had great disappointments.

These arose also, inevitably, out of the second factor which I now shall mention. As those who know the history of the International are aware of, at some time, in 1869, it was suggested that that organization was already the framework or the embryo of the coming free society and others, in 1870, accepted this as an organizational dogma and, logically – if any totalitarian reasoning could be logical at all – it was concluded and resolved upon, that in each locality, district, region, only one such organizational unit can and must exist. If by differences of opinion, etc., two units were forming, one was considered and decreed to be wrong and was expelled or expelled the other unit.

Endless and useless quarrels ensued in several places, but the dogma of the one unit in one place was maintained. Consequently also the French syndicalists recognized one territorial C.G.T. which, on its side, internationally, would enter into friendly relations, “be on speaking terms,” only with one similar territorial association for each country. Now in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, etc., such territorial organizations were all controlled by social democrats and were utterly reformist. Nonetheless, the only international contact which the C.G.T. cared to have, was that meeting every two years of the general secretaries of these great bodies – meetings where the French were faced by a compact body of social democratic adversaries… and which consisted only of mutual bickering and useless travelling expenses.

When the real syndicalist movements were founded in several countries, they looked to the C.G.T. to encourage and help them. But the C.G.T., linked up with the social democratic trade unions of other countries, did nothing to help these struggling new movements and, for instance, ignored their international Congress held in London in September 1913 – where the foundations were laid for what after the long war was founded as the present I.W.A – A.I.T. Guillaume could not alter this state of things, which made it so difficult for the new syndicalists of other countries to sympathize with the French C.G.T. when they saw it linked up with their most bitter local enemies, the social democratic unions. At the same time, Guillaume was opposed to the anarchist spirit in the syndicates and, both in Switzerland and in Italy, he was with those who were the adversaries of the most recognized anarchist promoters of syndicalism – of Bertoni, Borghi, etc. All this made his task always more hopeless.

This embittered him and made him on the one hand take sides with men who introduced national partiality in socialist discussion – I refer to the notorious French professor[Charles] Andler [1866-1933 – author of  Le Socialisme impérialiste dans l’Allemagne contemporaine, dossier d’une polémique avec Jean Jaurès 1912-1913, and  Le Pangermanisme, ses plans d’expansion allemande dans le monde, 1915]. On the other hand, he was at the bottom of the new dogma of syndicalist “automatism” (1913-14) which misused certain writings of Bakunin (mainly of 1869-1870). By this dogma, by merely becoming an organized worker, a worker is expected to become automatically a revolutionary syndicalist, a social revolutionist.

Bakunin, urging workers to enter into the International, had described in elementary writings, for publication, how a milieu of solidarity promotes social feelings and leads to social action, and may lead to final revolutionary activities. But, as Guillaume of all men knew best, Bakunin considered as essential efficient secret activities of militants of real mark, of the Alliance, and thus only revolutionary action, in his opinion, could be initiated, spread, coordinated, rousing the less developed members and reaching masses of men.

Guillaume was free to proclaim “automatism”, but he had no right to say that Bakunin had advocated it; nor had he ever himself practiced it in the Jura, where he and his nearest friends always had been the initiators of everything, the men who on certain days met in a little known locality and arranged everything among themselves. Malatesta in Volontà pointed out the real facts and said that Guillaume better than anybody knew that Bakunin and his near comrades practiced the Alliance-method. So did Kropotkin who, when he was really militant, was the secretary of the intimate circle and who believed in this method, while, of course, he would not discourage spontaneity in public utterances.

The revolutionary activities of the workers are so slow in unfolding, that beginnings must be made by the very best developed – and if these beginnings can be reasoned out intelligently and co-ordinated as much as possible, so much the better – this is what Bakunin, Guillaume in his early days (and in practice to the last), Malatesta, and Kropotkin meant and tried to do. Automatism in this domain would mean revolutionary parthenogenesis or self-combustion (as in wet haystacks): that may happen, but when other initiating methods exist, why deny, reject, belittle, ignore them? That controversy of the first months of 1914, when Guillaume was especially hard on Bertoni, who was combating that other weak side of syndicalist organizations, the inevitable reformism and conservativism of paid functionaries, was brought to an end by private letters of Kropotkin conjuring [imploring] Guillaume and Bertoni to give up public polemics. As to the question at issue, Kropotkin considered Guillaume to be in the wrong…

He was so absorbed by the inner life of the C.G.T. and his own writings and polemics, that the war took him by surprise, like many others; but then, from the first moment, it was to him the year 1792 come again; the regiments which he saw marching being to him like the old sansculottes, now the founders of Socialism and Syndicalism on the ruins of Marxism. He immediately wrote in this spirit in the Bataille syndicaliste almost every day for a few weeks. Then his eyes opened to the fact that it was all militarism and that the workers introduced nothing of their own, nothing socialist nor revolutionary, into what was being done and that they were quite powerless or inactive, the C.G.T. and all.

This was a terrible blow to him – he had believed that a working class power and will did exist in France and he now saw that this was not so. This did not in the least diminish his solidarity with the French cause in the war, but it broke his hopes and his spirit, if not his body. He went to Neuchâtel once more, in September, when many left Paris, and passed an uncomfortable time in Switzerland, returning to Paris in November. He still wrote in the Bataille until about January 1915, but a serious illness, badly defined, had struck him, and after a short recovery his state seems to have required in February or March 1915 that he should leave Paris for the last time, and he was then in a deplorable state of physical [depredation] and mental despair… he expired in the late autumn of 1916 in his native canton of Neuchâtel.

I do not regret to have spoken for this length of the life of this remarkable man, an intellectual worker of an intense painstaking working effort, as the most hardworking manual worker might claim for himself. With his qualities and the tenth part of his effort he might have acquired power and wealth in any other cause than the most advanced causes, those which he helped with absolute abnegation. Intellectual efficiency and personal self-effacement, patient co-ordination of forces for collective action, rejoicing in friends, free thought, study, a firm will were some of his qualities. Of his deficiencies I have said more than enough for the sake of historic truth, as far as I can see it. His long story ought to stimulate us to work and to study, without which we are less than nothing.

Max Nettlau, December 9, 1935

Guillaume's documentary history of the International

Guillaume’s documentary history of the International

We Still Do Not Fear Anarchy

we do not fear the book cover

This month marks several noteworthy anniversaries: the suppression of the Paris Commune, the Haymarket affair, and Bakunin’s birthday (May 18 on the old Russian calendar; May 3o on the modern calendar), among others. It has also been about a year since the publication of ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement (AK Press). I discussed the roles of both Bakunin and the Paris Commune in the emergence of self-proclaimed anarchist movements in Europe and the Americas in that book. The quote in the title is taken from Bakunin himself, who first publicly identified himself as an anarchist in 1868, around the time that he joined the International. It is surprising then that in another book along similar lines, Social Democracy & Anarchism in the International Workers’ Association 1864 – 1877, René Berthier argues that the anarchist movements that emerged from the struggles within the International regarding the proper direction of working class and socialist movements constituted a break with rather than a continuation of “Bakuninism,” and that Bakunin is better described as a revolutionary socialist or syndicalist than as an anarchist. I think my book provides a good counter-argument to that position. I also included several selections from Bakunin’s anarchist writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas But this is a blog, not a book, so today I thought I would just present some quotations from Bakunin in which he identifies himself as an anarchist and describes what he is advocating as a form of anarchism, in terms of tactics, methods, means and ends.

bakunin on anarchism

Bakunin’s Anarchism

“We do not fear anarchy, we invoke it. For we are convinced that anarchy, meaning the unrestricted manifestation of the liberated life of the people, must spring from liberty, equality, the new social order, and the force of the revolution itself against the reaction. There is no doubt that this new life—the popular revolution—will in good time organize itself, but it will create its revolutionary organization from the bottom up, from the circumference to the center, in accordance with the principle of liberty, and not from the top down or from the center to the circumference in the manner of all authority.” [Program of the International Brotherhood]

“Outside of the Mazzinian system, which is the system of the republic in the form of a State, there is no other system but that of the republic as a commune, the republic as a federation, a Socialist and a genuine people’s republic — the system of Anarchism. It is the politics of the Social Revolution, which aims at the abolition of the State, and the economic, altogether free organization of the people, an organization from below upward, by means of a federation.” [Circular Letter to My Friends in Italy]

“I am the absolute enemy of a revolution by decrees, which is the application of the idea of a revolutionary State and a sequel of it; that is, a reaction disguised by revolutionary appearances. As against the system of revolutionary decrees I oppose the system of revolutionary action, the only effective, consistent, and true system. The authoritarian system of decrees, in seeking to impose freedom and equality, destroys them. The Anarchist system of action evokes and creates them in an infallible manner, without the intervention of any official or authoritarian violence whatever. The first leads inevitably to the ultimate triumph of an outspoken reaction. The second system establishes the Revolution on a natural and unshakable foundation.” [Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis]

“Let us turn now to the Socialists, who divide into three essentially different parties. First of all, we shall divide them into two categories: the party of peaceful or bourgeois Socialists, and the party of Social Revolutionists. The latter is in turn subdivided into revolutionary State Socialists and revolutionary Anarchist-Socialists, the enemies of every State and every State principle.” [World Revolutionary Alliance of Social Democracy (Berlin: Verlag, 1904)]

“To the Communists, or Social Democrats, of Germany, the peasantry, any peasantry, stands for reaction; and the State, any State, even the Bismarckian State, stands for revolution… Altogether, the Marxists cannot even think otherwise: protagonists of the State as they are, they have to damn any revolution of a truly popular sweep and character especially a peasant revolution, which is anarchistic by nature and which marches straightforward toward the destruction of the State. And in this hatred for the peasant rebellion, the Marxists join in touching unanimity all the layers and parties of the bourgeois society of Germany.” [Statism and Anarchy]

“Since revolution cannot be imposed upon the villages, it must be generated right there, by promoting a revolutionary movement among the peasants themselves, leading them on to destroy through their own efforts the public order, all the political and civil institutions, and to establish and organize anarchy in the villages.”

“When the peasants have felt and perceived the advantages of the Revolution, they will give more money and people for its defense than it would be possible to obtain from them by ordinary State policies or even by extraor­dinary State measures. The peasants will do against the Prussians what they did in 1792. For that they must become obsessed with the fury of resistance, and only an Anarchist revolution can imbue them with that spirit.”

“But in letting them divide among themselves the land seized from the bourgeois owners, will this not lead to the establishment of private property upon a new and more solid foundation? Not at all, for that property will lack the juridical and political sanction o f the State, inasmuch as the State and the whole juridical insti­tution, the defense of property by the State, and family right, including the law of inheritance, necessarily will have to disappear in the terrific whirl­wind of revolutionary anarchy. There will be no more political or juridi­cal rights—there will be only revolutionary facts.”

“Once the wealth of the rich people is not guaranteed by laws, it ceases to be a power. Rich peasants are now powerful because they are specially protected and courted by the functionaries of the State and became they are backed up by the State. With the disappearance of the State, this backing and power also will disappear. As to the more cun­ning and economically stronger peasants, they will have to give way before the collective power of the peasant mass, of the great number of poor and very poor peasants, as well as the rural proletarians—a mass which is now enslaved and reduced to silent suffering, but which revolutionary anarchy will bring back to life and will arm with an irresistible power.” [Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis]

“We revolutionary anarchists who sincerely want full popular emancipation view with repugnance another expression in this [Social Democratic] program – it is the designation of the proletariat, the workers, as a class and not a mass. Do you know what this signifies? It is no more nor less than the aristocratic rule of the factory workers and of the cities over the millions who constitute the rural proletariat, who, in the anticipations of the German Social Democrats, will in effect become the subjects of their so-called People’s State.” [Letter to La Liberté]

“The road leading from concrete fact to theory and vice versa is the method of science and is the true road. In the practical world, it is the movement of society toward forms of organization that will to the greatest possible extent reflect life itself in all its aspects and complexity.

Such is the people’s way to complete emancipation, accessible to all—the way of the anarchist social revolution, which will come from the people themselves, an elemental force sweeping away all obstacles. Later, from the depths of the popular soul, there will spontaneously emerge the new creative forms of social life.”

“We, the revolutionary anarchists, are the advocates of education for all the people, of the emancipation and the widest possible expansion of social life. Therefore we are the enemies of the State and all forms of the statist principle. In opposition to the metaphysicians, the positivists, and all the worshippers of science, we declare that natural and social life always comes before theory, which is only one of its manifestations but never its creator.”

“Such are our ideas as social revolutionaries, and we are therefore called anarchists. We do not protest this name, for we are indeed the enemies of any governmental power, since we know that such a power depraves those who wear its mantle equally with those who are forced to submit to it. Under its pernicious influence the former become ambitious and greedy despots, exploiters of society in favor of their personal or class interests, while the latter become slaves.”

“Our polemic had the effect of making them [the Marxist Social Democrats] realize that freedom or Anarchism, that is, the free organization of workers from below upward, is the ultimate aim of social development, and that every State, their own people’s State included, is a yoke, which means that it begets despotism on one hand and slavery on the other.”

“They say that this State yoke—the dictatorship—is a necessary transi­tional means in order to attain the emancipation of the people: Anarchism or freedom is the goal, the State or dictatorship is the means. Thus to free the working masses, it is first necessary to enslave them.”

“While the political and social theory of the anti-State Socialists or Anarchists leads them steadily toward a full break with all governments, and with all varieties of bourgeois policy, leaving no other way out but a social revolution, the opposite theory of the State Communists and scientific authority also inevitably draws and enmeshes its partisans, under the pretext of political tactics, into ceaseless compromises with governments and political parties; that is, it pushes them toward downright reaction.” [Statism and Anarchy]

“Between the Marxists and ourselves there is an abyss. They are the governmentalists; we are the anarchists, in spite of it all.” [Letter to La Liberté]

“In accepting the Anarchist rev­olutionary program, which alone, in our opinion, offers conditions for a real and complete emancipation of the common people, and convinced that the existence of the State in any form whatever is incompatible with the freedom of the proletariat, and that it does not permit the international fraternal union of nations, we therefore put forth the demand for the abolition of all States.” [Program of the Slav Section (Zurich) of the International]

“The lack of a government begets anarchy, and anarchy leads to the destruction of the State, that is, to the enslavement of the country by another State, as was the case with the unfortunate Poland, or the full emancipation of the toiling people and the abolition of classes, which, we hope, will soon take place all over Europe.” [Science and the Urgent Revolutionary Task]

“In a word, we reject all legislation- privileged, licensed, official, and legal — and all authority, and influence, even though they may emanate from universal suffrage, for we are convinced that it can turn only to the advantage of a dominant minority of exploiters against the interests of the vast majority in subjection to them. It is in this sense that we are really Anarchists.” [God and the State]

bakunin on freedom

Kropotkin on Christmas

Kropotkin santa

Every year I usually post something by Kropotkin around December 21st (his birthday) but this year I was a bit too busy. Someone else beat me to reposting this article by Ruth Kinna about Kropotkin’s views regarding Christmas and Santa Claus, which reminded me to do so as well. Is the true spirit of Christmas the Spirit of Revolt?

The Christmas Spirit of Revolt

The Christmas Spirit of Revolt

An Anarchist Guide to Christmas

It’s no surprise to discover that anarchist theorist Pyotr Kropotkin was interested in Christmas. In Russian culture, St. Nicholas (Николай Чудотворец) was revered as a defender of the oppressed, the weak and the disadvantaged. Kropotkin shared the sentiments. But there was also a family link. As everyone knows, Kropotkin could trace his ancestry to the ancient Rurik dynasty that ruled Russia before the upstart Romanovs and which, from the first century CE, controlled the trade routes between Moscow and the Byzantine Empire. Nicholas’s branch of the family had been sent out to patrol the Black Sea. But Nicholas was a spiritual man and sought an escape from the piracy and brigandage for which his Russian Viking family was famed. So he settled under a new name in the southern lands of the Empire, now Greece, and decided to use the wealth that he had amassed from his life of crime to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.

Unpublished archival sources recently discovered in Moscow reveal that Kropotkin was fascinated by this family tie and the striking physical similarity between himself and the figure of Father Christmas, popularised by the publication of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ (better known as ‘The Night Before Christmas’) in 1823.

Kropotkin was not quite so portly as Klaus, but with a cushion stuffed up his tunic, he felt he could pass. His friend Elisée Reclus advised him to drop the fur trim on the outfit. That was a good idea as it would also allow him to wear a bit more black with the red. He’d decided to follow Elisée’s advice on the reindeer, too, and to use a hand driven sleigh. Kropotkin wasn’t normally given to dressing up. But exploiting the resemblance to spread the anarchist message was excellent propaganda by the deed.

Anticipating V, Kropotkin thought that we could all pose as Santa Claus. On the edge of one page Kropotkin writes: “Infiltrate the stores, give away the toys!”

Faint remnants on the back of a postcard read:

On the night before Christmas, we’ll all be about
While the people are sleeping, we’ll realise our clout
We’ll expropriate goods from the stores, ‘cos that’s fair
And distribute them widely, to those who need care.

His project notes also reveal some valuable insights into his ideas about the anarchistic features of Christmas and his thinking about the ways in which Victorian Christmas rituals might be adapted.

“We all know”, he wrote, “that the big stores – John Lewis, Harrods and Selfridges – are beginning to exploit the sales potential of Christmas, establishing magic caves, grottos and fantastic fairylands to lure our children and pressurise us to buy gifts that we do not want and cannot afford”.

“If you are one of us”, he continued, “you will realise that the magic of Christmas depends on Father Christmas’s system of production, not the stores’ attempts to seduce you to consume useless luxuries”. Kropotkin described the sprawling workshops at the North Pole, where elves worked all year, happily because they knew that they were producing for other peoples’ pleasure. Noting that these workshops were strictly not-for profit, craft-based and run on communal lines, Kropotkin treated them as prototypes for the factories of the future (outlined in Fields, Factories and Workshops).

Some people, he felt, thought that Father Christmas’s dream to see that everyone received gifts on Christmas day, was quixotic. But it could be realised. Indeed, the extension of the workshops – which were quite expensive to run in the Arctic – would facilitate generalised production for need and the transformation of occasional gift-giving into regular sharing. “We need to tell the people”, Kropotkin wrote, “that community workshops can be set up anywhere and that we can pool our resources to make sure that everybody has their needs met”!

Kropotkin santa B & W

One of the issues that most bothered Kropotkin about Christmas was the way in which the inspirational role that Nicholas’s had played in conjuring Christmas myths had confused the ethics of Christmas. Nicholas was wrongly represented as a charitable, benevolent man: saintly because he was beneficent. Absorbed in the figure of Father Christmas, Nicholas’s motivations for giving had become further skewed by the Victorian’s fixation with children.

Kropotkin didn’t really understand the links, but felt that it reflected an attempt to moralise childhood through a concept of purity that was symbolised in the birth of Jesus. Naturally he couldn’t imagine the creation of the Big Brother Santa Claus who knows when children are asleep and awake and comes to town apparently knowing which have dared to cry or pout.

But sooner or later, he warned, this idea of purity would be used to distinguish naughty from nice children and only those in the latter group would be rewarded with presents.

Whatever the case, it was important both to recover the principle of Nicholas’ compassion from this confusing mumbo-jumbo and the folkloric origins of Santa Claus. Nicholas gave because he was pained by his awareness of other peoples’ hardship. Though he wasn’t an assassin (as far as Kropotkin knew), he shared the same ethics as Sofia Petrovskaya. And while it was obviously important to worry about the well-being of children, the anarchist principle was to take account of everyone’s suffering.

Similarly, the practice of giving was mistakenly thought to require the implementation of a centrally-directed plan, overseen by an omniscient administrator. This was quite wrong: Father Christmas came from the imagination of the people (just consider the range of local names that Nicholas had accrued – Sinterklaas, Tomte, de Kerstman). And the spreading of good cheer – through festivity – was organised from the bottom up.

Buried in Christmas, Kropotkin argued, was the solidaristic principle of mutual aid.

Kropotkin appreciated the significance of the ritual and the real value that individuals and communities attached to carnivals, acts of remembrance and commemoration. He no more wanted to abolish Christmas than he wished to see it republicanised through some wrong-headed bureaucratic re-ordering of the calendar.

It was important, nonetheless, to detach the ethic that Christmas supported from the singularity of its celebration. Having a party was just that: extending the principle of mutual aid and compassion into everyday life was something else. In capitalist society, Christmas provided a space for special good behaviours. While it might be possible to be a Christian once a year, anarchism was for life.

Kropotkin realised his propaganda would have the best chance of success if he could show how the anarchist message was also embedded in mainstream culture. His notes reveal that he looked particularly to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to find a vehicle for his ideas. The book was widely credited with cementing ideas of love, merriment and goodwill in Christmas. Kropotkin found the genius of the book in its structure. What else was the story of Scrooge’s encounter with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future than a prefigurative account of change?

By seeing his present through his past, Scrooge was given the chance to alter his miserly ways and re-shape both his future and the future of the Cratchit family. Even if it was only remembered once a year, Kropotkin thought, Dickens’s book lent anarchists a perfect vehicle to teach this lesson: by altering what we do today, by modelling our behaviours on Nicholas, we can help construct a future which is Christmas!

Ruth Kinna is the editor of the journal Anarchist Studies and professor of Political Theory at Loughborough University. She is the author of Anarchism: A Beginners Guide and also William Morris: The Art of Socialism. This article was originally published by STRIKE! magazine.

Peter-Kroptkin birthday

We Do Not Fear Anarchy: A Summary

we do not fear the book cover

I prepared an article for the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review summarizing the main points from my latest book, We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It: The First International and the Emergence of the Anarchist Movement, which was published in ASR #63 (Winter 2015). It’s a bit long for my blog, but here it is. The full book can be ordered from AK Press or your local bookseller.

The Spirit of Anarchy

The Spirit of Anarchy

We Do Not Fear Anarchy: A Summary of My Book on the First International and the Emergence of the Anarchist Movement

September 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA – in the Romance languages, the AIT – now commonly referred to as the First International). While much is often made of the dispute between Marx and Bakunin within the International, resulting in Bakunin’s expulsion in 1872, more important from an anarchist perspective is how anarchism as a distinct revolutionary movement emerged from the debates and conflicts within the International, not as the result of a personal conflict between Marx and Bakunin, but because of conflicting ideas regarding working class liberation.

Many members of the International, particularly in Italy, Spain and French speaking Switzerland, but also in Belgium and France, took to heart the statement in the International’s Preamble that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves. They envisioned the International as a fighting organization for the daily struggle of the workers against the capitalists for better working conditions, but also looked to the International as a federation of workers across national borders that would provide the impetus for revolutionary change and the creation of a post-revolutionary socialist society based on workers’ self-management and voluntary federation. It was from out of these elements in the International that the first European anarchist movements arose.

When the International was founded in September 1864 by French and British trade unionists, any anarchist tendencies were then very weak. The French delegates at the founding of the First International regarded themselves as “mutualists,” moderate followers of Proudhon, not anarchist revolutionaries. They supported free credit, workers’ control, small property holdings and equivalent exchange of products by the producers themselves. They wanted the International to become a mutualist organization that would pool the financial resources of European workers to provide free credit for the creation of a system of producer and consumer cooperatives that would ultimately displace the capitalist economic system.

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

The first full congress of the International was not held until September 1866, in Geneva, Switzerland, with delegates from England, France, Germany and Switzerland. Although the French delegates did not call for the immediate abolition of the state, partly because such radical talk would only result in the International being banned in France, then under the dictatorship of Napoleon III, they did express their rejection of the state as a “superior authority” that would think, direct and act in the name of all, stifling initiative. They shared Proudhon’s view that social, economic and political relations should be based on contracts providing reciprocal benefits, thereby preserving the independence and equality of the contracting parties. The French delegates distinguished this “mutualist federalism” from a communist government that would rule over society, regulating all social and economic functions.

At the next Congress of the International in Laussane, Switzerland, in September 1867, César De Paepe, one of the most influential Belgian delegates, debated the more conservative French mutualists on the collectivization of land, which he supported, arguing that if large industrial and commercial enterprises, such as railways, canals, mines and public services, should be considered collective property to be managed by companies of workers, as the mutualists agreed, then so should the land. The peasant and farmer, as much as the worker, should be entitled to the fruits of their labour, without part of that product being appropriated by either the capitalists or the landowners. De Paepe argued that this “collectivism” was consistent with Proudhon’s “mutualist program,” which demanded “that the whole product of labour shall belong to the producer.” However, it was not until the next congress in Brussels in September 1868 that a majority of delegates adopted a collectivist position which included land as well as industry.

At the Brussels Congress, De Paepe also argued that the workers’ “societies of resistance” and trade unions, through which they organized and coordinated their strike and other activities, constituted the “embryo” of those “great companies of workers” that would replace the “companies of the capitalists” by eventually taking control of collective enterprises. For, according to De Paepe, the purpose of trade unions and strike activity was not merely to improve existing working conditions but to abolish wage labour. This could not be accomplished in one country alone, but required a federation of workers in all countries, who would replace the capitalist system with the “universal organization of work and exchange.” Here we have the first public expression within the International of the basic tenets of revolutionary and anarchist syndicalism: that through their own trade union organizations, by which the workers waged their daily struggles against the capitalists, the workers were creating the very organizations through which they would bring about the social revolution and reconstitute society, replacing capitalist exploitation with workers’ self-management.

The First International

The First International

After the Brussels Congress, Bakunin and his associates applied for their group, the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, to be admitted into the International. The Alliance stood for “atheism, the abolition of cults and the replacement of faith by science, and divine by human justice.” The Alliance supported the collectivist position adopted at the Brussels Congress, seeking to transform “the land, the instruments of work and all other capital” into “the collective property of the whole of society,” to be “utilized only by the workers,” through their own “agricultural and industrial associations.”

In Bakunin’s contemporaneous program for an “International Brotherhood” of revolutionaries, he denounced the Blanquists and other like-minded revolutionaries who dreamt of “a powerfully centralized revolutionary State,” for such “would inevitably result in military dictatorship and a new master,” condemning the masses “to slavery and exploitation by a new pseudo-revolutionary aristocracy.” In contrast, Bakunin and his associates did “not fear anarchy, we invoke it.” Bakunin envisaged the “popular revolution” being organized “from the bottom up, from the circumference to the center, in accordance with the principle of liberty, and not from the top down or from the center to the circumference in the manner of all authority.”

In the lead up to the Basle Congress of the International in September 1869, Bakunin put forward the notion of the general strike as a means of revolutionary social transformation, observing that when “strikes spread out from one place to another, they come very close to turning into a general strike,” which could “result only in a great cataclysm which forces society to shed its old skin.” He also supported, as did the French Internationalists, the creation of “as many cooperatives for consumption, mutual credit, and production as we can, everywhere, for though they may be unable to emancipate us in earnest under present economic conditions, they prepare the precious seeds for the organization of the future, and through them the workers become accustomed to handling their own affairs.”

Bakunin argued that the program of the International must “inevitably result in the abolition of classes (and hence of the bourgeoisie, which is the dominant class today), the abolition of all territorial States and political fatherlands, and the foundation, upon their ruins, of the great international federation of all national and local productive groups.” Bakunin was giving a more explicitly anarchist slant to the idea, first broached by De Paepe at the Brussels Congress, and then endorsed at the Basle Congress in September 1869, that it was through the International, conceived as a federation of trade unions and workers’ cooperatives, that capitalism would be abolished and replaced by a free federation of productive associations.

Jean-Louis Pindy, a delegate from the carpenters’ Chambre syndicale in Paris, expressed the views of many of the Internationalists at the Basle Congress when he argued that the means adopted by the trade unions must be shaped by the ends which they hoped to achieve. He saw the goal of the International as being the replacement of capitalism and the state with “councils of the trades bodies, and by a committee of their respective delegates, overseeing the labor relations which are to take the place of politics,” so that “wage slavery may be replaced by the free federation of free producers.” The Belgian Internationalists, such as De Paepe and Eugène Hins, put forward much the same position, with Hins looking to the International to create “the organization of free exchange, operating through a vast section of labour from one end of the world to another,” that would replace “the old political systems” with industrial organization, an idea which can be traced back to Proudhon, but which was now being given a more revolutionary emphasis.

The Basle Congress therefore declared that “all workers should strive to establish associations for resistance in their various trades,” forming an international alliance so that “the present wage system may be replaced by the federation of free producers.” This was the highwater mark of the federalist, anti-authoritarian currents in the First International, and it was achieved at its most representative congress, with delegates from England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

Bakunin speaking at the Basel Congress 1869

Bakunin speaking at the Basel Congress 1869

Bakunin attended the Congress, drawing out the anarchist implications of this position. He argued that because the State provided “the sanction and guarantee of the means by which a small number of men appropriate to themselves the product of the work of all the others,” the political, juridical, national and territorial State must be abolished. Bakunin emphasized the role of the state in creating and perpetuating class privilege and exploitation, arguing that “if some individuals in present-day society do acquire… great sums, it is not by their labor that they do so but by their privilege, that is, by a juridically legalized injustice.”

Bakunin expressed his antipathy, shared by other members of the International, to revolution from above through a coercive state apparatus. With respect to peasant small holders, he argued that “if we tried to expropriate these millions of small farmers by decree after proclaiming the social liquidation, we would inevitably cast them into reaction, and we would have to use force against them to submit to the revolution.” Better to “carry out the social liquidation at the same time that you proclaim the political and juridical liquidation of the State,” such that the peasants will be left only with “possession de facto” of their land. Once “deprived of all legal sanction,” no longer being “shielded under the State’s powerful protection,” these small holdings “will be transformed easily under the pressure of revolutionary events and forces” into collective property.

The Basle Congress was the last truly representative congress of the International. The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the Paris Commune in 1871 made it difficult to hold a congress, while the Hague Congress of 1872 was stacked by Marx and Engels with delegates with dubious credentials. One must therefore look at the activities of the various International sections themselves between 1869 and 1872 to see how the anti-authoritarian, revolutionary collectivist currents in the International eventually coalesced into a European anarchist movement.

In France, Eugène Varlin, one of the International’s outstanding militants, described the position adopted “almost unanimously” by the delegates at the Basle Congress as “collectivism, or non-authoritarian communism.” Varlin expressed the views of many of the French Internationalists when he wrote that the workers’ own organizations, the trade unions and societies of resistance and solidarity, “form the natural elements of the social structure of the future.” By March 1870, he was writing that short “of placing everything in the hands of a highly centralized, authoritarian state which would set up a hierarchic structure from top to bottom of the labour process… we must admit that the only alternative is for the workers themselves to have the free disposition and possession of the tools of production… through co-operative associations in various forms.”

Bakunin & Fanelli with other Internationalists

Bakunin & Fanelli with other Internationalists

The revolutionary syndicalist ideas of the Belgians and Bakunin’s more explicitly anarchist views were also being spread in Spain. Echoing De Paepe’s comments from the Brussels Congress, the Spanish Internationalists described the International as containing “within itself the seeds of social regeneration… it holds the embryo of all future institutions.” They founded the Federación Regional Española (FRE – Spanish Regional Federation) in June 1870, which took an anarchist position. One of its militants, Rafael Farga Pellicer, declared that: “We want the end to the domination of capital, the state, and the church. Upon their ruins we will construct anarchy, and the free federation of free associations of workers.” In addition, the FRE adopted a form of organization based on anarchist principles, “from the bottom upward,” with no paid officers or trade union bureaucracy.

In French speaking Switzerland, as a result of a split between the reformist minority, supported by Marx, and the anti-authoritarian collectivist majority, allied with Bakunin, the Jura Federation was created in 1870. The Jura Federation adopted an anarchist stance, declaring that “all participation of the working class in the politics of bourgeois governments can result only in the consolidation and perpetuation of the existing order.”

On the eve of the Franco-Prussian War during the summer of 1870, the French Internationalists took an anti-war stance, arguing that the war could only be a “fratricidal war” that would divide the working class, leading to “the complete triumph of despotism.” The Belgian Internationalists issued similar declarations, denouncing the war as a war of “the despots against the people,” and calling on them to respond with a “war of the people against the despots.”

This was a theme that Bakunin was soon to expand upon in his Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis, published in September 1870. Although many of the French Internationalists abandoned their anti-war stance, Bakunin argued that revolutionaries should seek to transform the war into a country wide insurrection that would then spread the social revolution across Europe. With the French state in virtual collapse, it was time for the “people armed” to seize the means of production and overthrow their oppressors, whether the French bourgeoisie or the German invaders.

bakunin letters to a frenchman

For the social revolution to succeed, Bakunin argued that it was essential that the peasants and workers band together, despite the mutual distrust between them. The peasants should be encouraged to “take the land and throw out those landlords who live by the labour of others,” and “to destroy, by direct action, every political, juridical, civil, and military institution,” establishing “anarchy through the whole countryside.” A social revolution in France, rejecting “all official organization” and “government centralization,” would lead to “the social emancipation of the proletariat” throughout Europe.

Shortly after completing his Letters, Bakunin tried to put his ideas into practice, travelling to Lyon, where he met up with some other Internationalists and revolutionaries. Bakunin and his associates issued a proclamation announcing the abolition of the “administrative and governmental machine of the State,” the replacement of the judicial apparatus by “the justice of the people,” the suspension of taxes and mortgages, with “the federated communes” to be funded by a levy on “the rich classes,” and ending with a call to arms. Bakunin and his confederates briefly took over City Hall, but eventually the National Guard recaptured it and Bakunin was arrested. He was freed by a small group of his associates and then made his way to Marseilles, eventually returning to Switzerland. A week after Bakunin left Marseilles, there was an attempt to establish a revolutionary commune there and, at the end of October, in Paris.

In Paris, the more radical Internationalists did not take an explicitly anarchist position, calling instead for the creation of a “Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic.” But this “republic” was to be none other than a “federation of socialist communes,” with “the land to go to the peasant who cultivates it, the mine to go to the miner who exploits it, the factory to go to the worker who makes it prosper,” a position very close to that of Bakunin and his associates.

paris_commune-popular-illustration

After the proclamation of the Paris Commune on March 18, 1871, the Parisian Internationalists played a prominent role. On March 23, 1871, they issued a wall poster declaring the “principle of authority” as “incapable of re-establishing order in the streets or of getting factory work going again.” For them, “this incapacity constitutes [authority’s] negation.” They were confident that the people of Paris would “remember that the principle that governs groups and associations is the same as that which should govern society,” namely the principle of free federation.

The Communes’ program, mostly written by Pierre Denis, a Proudhonist member of the International, called for the “permanent intervention of citizens in communal affairs” and elections with “permanent right of control and revocation,” as well as the “total autonomy of the Commune extended to every township in France,” with the “Commune’s autonomy to be restricted only by the right to an equal autonomy for all the other communes.” The Communards assured the people of France that the “political unity which Paris strives for is the voluntary union of all local initiative, the free and spontaneous cooperation of all individual energies towards a common goal: the well-being, freedom and security of all.” The Commune was to mark “the end of the old governmental and clerical world; of militarism, bureaucracy, exploitation, speculation, monopolies and privilege that have kept the proletariat in servitude and led the nation to disaster.”

For the federalist Internationalists, this did not mean state ownership of the economy, but collective or social ownership of the means of production, with the associated workers themselves running their own enterprises. As the Typographical Workers put it, the workers shall “abolish monopolies and employers through adoption of a system of workers’ co-operative associations. There will be no more exploiters and no more exploited.”

The social revolution was pushed forward by female Internationalists and radicals, such as Nathalie Lemel and Louise Michel. They belonged to the Association of Women for the Defence of Paris and Aid to the Wounded, which issued a declaration demanding “No more bosses. Work and security for all — The People to govern themselves — We want the Commune; we want to live in freedom or to die fighting for it!” They argued that the Commune should “consider all legitimate grievances of any section of the population without discrimination of sex, such discrimination having been made and enforced as a means of maintaining the privileges of the ruling classes.”

Nevertheless, the Internationalists were a minority within the Commune, and not even all of the Parisian Internationalists supported the socialist federalism espoused in varying degrees by Varlin, Pindy and the more militant Proudhonists. The federalist and anti-authoritarian Internationalists felt that the Commune represented “above all a social revolution,” not merely a change of rulers. They agreed with the Proudhonist journalist, A. Vermorel, that “there must not be a simple substitution of workers in the places occupied previously by bourgeois… The entire governmental structure must be overthrown.”

The Commune was savagely repressed by French state forces, with the connivance of the Prussians, leading to wholesale massacres that claimed the lives of some 30,000 Parisians, including leading Internationalists like Varlin, and the imprisonment and deportation of many others, such as Nathalie Lemel and Louise Michel. A handful of Internationalists, including Pindy, went into hiding and eventually escaped to Switzerland.

Executed Communards

Executed Communards

For Bakunin, what made the Commune important was “not really the weak experiments which it had the power and time to make,” but “the ideas it has set in motion, the living light it has cast on the true nature and goal of revolution, the hopes it has raised, and the powerful stir it has produced among the popular masses everywhere, and especially in Italy, where the popular awakening dates from that insurrection, whose main feature was the revolt of the Commune and the workers’ associations against the State.” Bakunin’s defence of the Commune against the attacks of the veteran Italian revolutionary patriot, Guiseppe Mazzini, played an important role in the “popular awakening” in Italy, and the rapid spread of the International there, from which the Italian anarchist movement sprang.

The defeat of the Paris Commune led Marx and Engels to draw much different conclusions. For them, what the defeat demonstrated was the necessity for working class political parties whose purpose would be the “conquest of political power.” They rammed through the adoption of their position at the September 1871 London Conference of the International, and took further steps to force out of the International any groups with anarchist leanings, which by this time included almost all of the Italians and Spaniards, the Jura Federation, many of the Belgians and a significant proportion of the surviving French members of the International.

In response, the Jura Federation organized a congress in Sonvillier, Switzerland, in November 1871. Prominent Communards and other French refugees also attended. They issued a Circular to the other members of the International denouncing the General Council’s actions, taking the position that the International, “as the embryo of the human society of the future, is required in the here and now to faithfully mirror our principles of freedom and federation and shun any principle leaning towards authority and dictatorship,” which was much the same position as had been endorsed by a majority of the delegates to the 1869 Basel Congress.

The Belgian, Italian and Spanish Internationalists supported the Jura Federation’s position, with the Italian and Spanish Internationalists adopting explicitly anarchist positions. Even before the London Conference, the Spanish Internationalists had declared themselves in favour of “collective property, anarchy and economic federation,” by which they meant “the free universal federation of free agricultural and industrial workers’ associations.” The Italian Internationalists rejected participation in existing political systems and in August 1872 called on the federalist and anti-authoritarian sections of the International to boycott the upcoming Hague Congress and to hold a congress of their own. Marx and Engels manipulated the composition of the Hague Congress to ensure a majority that would affirm the London Conference resolution on political action, expel Bakunin and his associate, James Guillaume of the Jura Federation, from the International, and transfer the General Council to New York to prevent the anti-authoritarians from challenging their control.

hague congress

Barely a week after the Hague Congress in September 1872, the anti-authoritarians held their own congress in St. Imier where they reconstituted the International along federalist lines. The St. Imier Congress was attended by delegates from Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and Russia. For them, “the aspirations of the proletariat [could] have no purpose other than the establishment of an absolutely free economic organization and federation, founded upon the labour and equality of all and absolutely independent of all political government.” Consequently, turning the London Conference’s resolution on its head, they declared that “the destruction of all political power is the first duty of the proletariat.”

They regarded “the strike as a precious weapon in the struggle” for the liberation of the workers, preparing them “for the great and final revolutionary contest which, destroying all privilege and all class difference, will bestow upon the worker a right to the enjoyment of the gross product of his labours.” Here we have the subsequent program of anarcho-syndicalism: the organization of workers into trade unions and similar bodies, based on class struggle, through which the workers will become conscious of their class power, ultimately resulting in the destruction of capitalism and the state, to be replaced by the free federation of the workers based on the organizations they created themselves during their struggle for liberation.

The resolutions from the St. Imier Congress were ratified by the Italian, Spanish, Jura, Belgian and, ironically, the American federations of the International, with most of the French sections also approving them. The St. Imier Congress marks the true emergence of a European anarchist movement, with the Italian, Spanish and Jura Federations of the International following anarchist programs. While there were anarchist elements within the Belgian Federation, by 1874, under the influence of De Paepe, the Belgians had come out in favour of a “public administrative state” that the anarchist federations in the anti-authoritarian International opposed. The French Internationalists contained a prominent anarchist contingent, but it was not until 1881 that a distinctively anarchist movement arose there.

In his memoirs, Kropotkin wrote that if the Europe of the late 1870s “did not experience an incomparably more bitter reaction than it did” after the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Paris Commune, “Europe owes it… to the fact that the insurrectionary spirit of the International maintained itself fully intact in Spain, in Italy, in Belgium, in the Jura, and even in France itself.” One can say, with equal justification, that anarchism itself, as a revolutionary movement, owes its existence to that same revolutionary spirit of the International from which it was born in the working class struggles in Europe during the 1860s and early 1870s. It was from those struggles, and the struggles within the International itself regarding how best to conduct them, that a self-proclaimed anarchist movement emerged.

Robert Graham

Malatesta quote 2

 

Poetry and Anarchism: Herbert Read

Herbert Read

Herbert Read

Continuing with my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in this section I discuss the contributions of Herbert Read to the development of anarchist ideas in response to the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. I included several selections from Read in Volumes One and Two of the Anarchism anthology. Read influenced people like Alex Comfort, Howard Zinn and Murray Bookchin, laying the groundwork for the new directions in anarchist theory that were to emerge from out of the aftermath of the Second World War.

herbert-read-ICA-006

Poetry and Anarchism

One of the anarchists involved in rethinking anarchism around the time of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War was the English poet, art critic and essayist, Herbert Read (1893-1968). In Poetry and Anarchism (1938), Read acknowledged that “to declare for a doctrine so remote as anarchism at this stage of history will be regarded by some critics as a sign of intellectual bankruptcy; by others as a sort of treason, a desertion of the democratic front at the most acute moment of its crisis; by still others as mere poetic nonsense.” Read sought to “balance anarchism with surrealism, reason with romanticism, the understanding with the imagination, function with freedom” (Volume One, Selection 130). He developed an ecological conception of anarchism emphasizing spontaneity and differentiation. He saw society as “an organic being” in which communities “can live naturally and freely” and individuals can “develop in consciousness of strength, vitality and joy,” with progress being “measured by the degree of differentiation within a society” (Volume Two, Selection 1). It was partly through Read’s writings that Murray Bookchin was later inspired to draw the connections between ecology and anarchism (Volume Two, Selection 48).

Read noted that even “if you abolish all other classes and distinctions and retain a bureaucracy you are still far from the classless society, for the bureaucracy is itself the nucleus of a class whose interests are totally opposed to the people it supposedly serves.” Taking advantage of the bureaucratic structure of the modern state, the professional politician rises to power, “his motive throughout [being] personal ambition and megalomania” (Volume One, Selection 130), a notion further developed by Alex Comfort in his post-war book, Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State, in which he argued that the bureaucratic state, through its power structures, provides a ready outlet for those with psychopathic tendencies (Volume Two, Selection 26).

ReadHerbert-1938Read sought to reverse the rise to power of professional politicians and bureaucrats by advocating a “return to a functional basis of representation,” by which he meant the development of decentralized but federated organs of self-management, as had long been advocated by anarchists from Proudhon and Bakunin to the anarcho-syndicalists. The professional politician would be replaced by the “ad hoc delegate,” who would continue to work within his or her area, such that there would be “no whole-time officials, no bureaucrats, no politicians, no dictators” (Volume One, Selection 130).

Arguing that “real politics are local politics,” Read proposed that local councils or “governments” composed of delegates from the community and the functional groups that comprise it “control all the immediate interests of the citizen,” with “remoter interests—questions of cooperation, intercommunication, and foreign affairs—[being] settled by councils of delegates elected by the local councils and the [workers’] syndicates.” Read admitted that this was a system of government, but distinguished this conception of local and functional organization from the “autonomous State,” which “is divorced from its immediate functions and becomes an entity claiming to control the lives and destinies of its subjects,” such that “liberty ceases to exist” (Volume One, Selection 130).

Robert Graham

herbert-read

Making Sense of Malatesta

Making Sense

Davide Turcato’s excellent book, Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta’s Experiments with Revolution, 1889-1900, is now out in paperback from AK Press. Davide charts Malatesta’s changing views of anarchism and revolution from the time of the First International to the 20th century, focusing on the period from 1889-1900, when Malatesta developed what Davide describes as a concept of “anarchist gradualism,” which nevertheless remained revolutionary, but acknowledged that anarchists were likely to remain a minority voice on the revolutionary left. Here I reproduce excerpts from Chapter 9, where Davide describes Malatesta’s “anarchist gradualism” in more detail. I included several excerpts from Malatesta’s writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Errico Malatesta

Errico Malatesta

Malatesta’s Anarchist Gradualism

Malatesta summed up the trajectory of Italian anarchism in an article of 1931, a year before his death. He recalled that sixty years earlier, at the outset of their movement, anarchists believed that anarchy and communism could come about as direct, immediate consequence of a victorious insurrection and that their establishment would be the very initial act of the social revolution.

‘This was indeed the idea that, after being accepted a little later by Kropotkin, was popularized and almost established by him as the definitive programme of anarchism’ (‘A proposito di “revisionismo”’). That confidence rested on the beliefs that the people had the innate capacity to self-organize and provide for their own interests and that anarchists interpreted the deep instincts of the masses. As time went by, study and experience proved that many such beliefs were wishful thinking.

The historian Richard Hostetter regards that early belief in the ‘instinctive revolutionism of the masses’ as the kernel of an inescapable ‘anarchists’ dilemma’ that by 1882 had already determined the ‘ideological liquidation’ of the Italian International (409–10). However, in spite of the ‘obsequies of the Italian anarchist movement’ that end Hostetter’s book (425), anarchist theory and tactics had more resources and potential than many historians would like to believe.

italiananarchismakpress

As Malatesta remarked in his 1931 article, the key realizations that neither the mass had all the virtues attributed to it, nor that propaganda had all the potential that anarchists had believed, were the starting point of a new outlook on the social struggle. Anarchists realized that only a limited number of people could be converted in a given environment; then, finding new members became increasingly difficult, until economic and political occurrences created new opportunities.

‘After reaching a certain point’, Malatesta observed, ‘numbers could not grow except by watering down and adulterating one’s programme, as happened to the democratic socialists, who were able to gather imposing masses, but only at the price of ceasing to be real socialists.’ Anarchists came to understand their mission differently, based on the conviction that the aspiration to integral freedom, or the ‘anarchist spirit’, was the cause of humanity’s progress, while political and economic privileges pushed humanity back into a barbaric condition, unless such privileges found an obstacle in a more or less conscious anarchism.

Anarchists understood that ‘anarchy could only come gradually, to the extent that the mass could understand and desire it, but it would never come except under the impulse of a more or less consciously anarchist minority, acting so as to prepare the necessary environment’. Remaining anarchists and acting as anarchists in all circumstances, before, during, and after a revolution, was the duty they set to themselves (‘A proposito di “revisionismo”’).

Malatesta had summarized what anarchists were to do before, during, and after a revolution in his 1925 article ‘Gradualismo’. For Malatesta, anarchy could still be seen as absolute perfection, and it was right that this concept should remain in the anarchists’ minds, like a beacon to guide their steps, but obviously such an ideal could not be attained in one sudden leap. Nor, conversely, were anarchists to wait till everyone become anarchist to achieve anarchy.

FAI

On the contrary, they were revolutionary precisely because they believed that under present conditions only a small minority could conceive what anarchy was, while it would be chimerical to hope for a general conversion before the environment changed. Since anarchists could neither convert everybody at once, nor remain in isolation from the rest of society, it was necessary to find ways to apply anarchy, or that degree of anarchy that became gradually feasible, among people who were not anarchist, or were such to different degrees, as soon as a sufficient amount of freedom was won, and anarchist nuclei existed with enough numerical strength and capabilities to be self-sufficient and spread their influence locally.

Before a revolution, Malatesta argued, anarchists were to propagate their ideas and educate as widely as possible, rejecting any compromise with the enemy and keeping ready, at least mentally, to grab any opportunity that could present itself.

What were they to do during a revolution? They could not make a revolution alone, nor that would be advisable, for without mobilizing all spiritual forces, interests, and aspirations of an entire people a revolution would be abortive. And even in the unlikely case that anarchists were able to succeed alone, they would find themselves in the paradoxical position of either pushing forward the revolution in an authoritarian manner or pulling back and letting someone else take control of the situation for their own aims. Thus, anarchists should act in agreement with all progressive forces and attract the largest possible mass, letting the revolution, of which anarchists would only be one component, yield whatever it could.

However, anarchists were not to renounce their specific aim. On the contrary, they were to remain united as anarchists and distinct from other parties and fight for their own programme: the abolition of political power and the expropriation of capitalists. If, notwithstanding their efforts, new powers succeeded in establishing themselves, hindered popular initiative, and imposed their will, anarchists should disavow those powers, induce the people to withhold human and material resources from them, and weaken them as much as possible, until it became possible to overthrow them altogether. In any case, anarchists were to demand, even by force, full autonomy, and the right and means to organize and live their own way, and experiment with the social arrangements they deemed best.

quetione_sociale_n11

The aftermath of a revolution, after the overthrow of the existing power and the final triumph of the insurgents, was the terrain in which gradualism was to become really crucial. All practical problems of life were to be studied – concerning production, exchange, means of communication, and so on – and each problem was to be solved in the way that was not only economically most convenient, but also most satisfactory from the point of view of justice and freedom, and left the way open to future improvements.

In case of conflict between different requirements, justice, freedom, and solidarity were to be prioritized over economic convenience. While fighting against authority and privilege, anarchists were to profit [from] all the benefits of civilization. No institution that fulfilled a need, even imperfectly, was to be destroyed until it could be replaced with a better solution to provide for that need. While anarchists were intransigent against any imposition and capitalistic exploitation, they were to be tolerant toward any social plans prevailing in the various groupings, as long as such plans did not infringe the equal freedom of others.

Anarchists were to be content with progressing gradually, in step with the people’s moral development and as material and intellectual means increased, doing at the same time all they could, by study, work, and propaganda, to hasten the development towards ever more advanced ideals. Solutions would be diverse, according to circumstances, but would always conform, as far as anarchists were concerned, to the fundamental principle that coercion and exploitation were to be rejected (‘Gradualismo’).

Ultimately, as Malatesta wrote in an open letter of 1929 to Nestor Makhno, ‘the important thing is not the victory of our plans, our projects, our utopias, which in any case need the confirmation of experience and can be modified by experience, developed and adapted to the real moral and material conditions of the age and place. What matters most is that the people, men and women lose the sheeplike instincts and habits which thousands of years of slavery have instilled in them, and learn to think and act freely. And it is to this great work of moral liberation that the anarchists must specially dedicate themselves’ (‘A proposito della “Plateforme”’).

Davide Turcato

malatesta anarchist spirit

Anarchism in the Korean Liberation Movement

Korean Anarchist Federation 1928

Korean Anarchist Federation 1928

In this section from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchist influences in the Korean national liberation movement prior to the Korean War.

Anarchism in the Korean Liberation Movement

Japan annexed Korea in 1910, around the same time that Japanese authorities had made their first attempt to destroy the nascent Japanese anarchist movement by executing several leading anarchists, including Kôtoku Shûsui (Volume One, Selection 102). The Japanese occupation of Korea gave rise to a national liberation movement to free the Korean people from Japanese exploitation and domination. Some of the more radical elements in the liberation movement gravitated toward anarchism.

In 1923, a prominent member of the movement, Shin Chaeho (1880-1936), published his “Declaration of the Korean Revolution” in which he argued that when driving out their Japanese exploiters, the Korean people must be careful not to “replace one privileged group with another.” The goal of the Korean revolution should be the creation of a world in which “one human being will not be able to oppress other human beings and one society will not be able to exploit other societies.” The revolution must therefore be a “revolution of the masses.” To succeed in constructing a free society, the revolution must destroy foreign rule, the “privileged class” that benefits from it, the “system of economic exploitation,” “social inequality” and “servile cultural thoughts” created by conformist forms of “religion, ethics, literature, fine arts, customs and public morals” (Volume One, Selection 105).

In emphasizing the constructive role of destruction, Shin Chaeho was expressing a viewpoint shared by many anarchists that can be traced back to Proudhon and Bakunin (Volume One, Selection 10). He also recognized that to win the masses over to the cause of the revolution, they must be convinced that the revolution will result in material improvements and greater freedom for themselves, not simply the expulsion of their foreign rulers. As Kropotkin put it, for “the revolution to be anything more than a word… the conquest of the day itself must be worth the trouble of defending; the poor of yesterday must not find themselves even poorer today” (Volume One, Selection 45).

This was one of the reasons why Kropotkin had entitled his most sustained argument in favour of anarchist communism The Conquest of Bread (Volume One, Selection 33). When Korean anarchists began publishing their own paper in 1928, they called it Talhwan, or Conquest, and championed anarchist communism, calling for the abolition of capitalism and government (Volume One, Selection 108). They also rejected the Marxist “state capitalism” that was being created in the Soviet Union through the “despotic and dictatorial” policies of the Soviet Communist Party (the Bolsheviks).

Korean anarchists, including Shin Chaeho, were instrumental in forming the Eastern Anarchist Federation in 1927, which had members from Korea, China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan. Most of their work and publications had to be carried out from exile, and even then at great risk to themselves. Shin Chaeho was arrested by Japanese authorities in Taiwan in 1928 and died in prison in 1936. However, after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, it was only in Korea that a significant anarchist movement reemerged in southeast Asia.

In China, the Marxist Communists under the leadership of Mao Zedong had seized control by 1949. They no more tolerated an independent anarchist movement than had the Communists in the Soviet Union. In Japan, the U.S. occupiers engineered the purging of radicals, whether Marxist or anarchist, from positions of influence within the trade union movement, and the reform of rural landholdings, creating “a new class of landowning small farmers” who “then became a bastion of political conservatism” hostile rather than sympathetic toward anarchism (Crump, 1996).

During the war, some Korean anarchists participated in the Korean Provisional Government in exile. Their desire for Korean independence superseded their commitment to anarchist ideals. Before the war, the Korean Anarchist Federation had rejected the establishment of a “national united front” (Volume One, Selection 108). After the war, Yu Lim, who had served as a cabinet minister in the Provisional Government, urged the anarchists to support an independent Korean government to prevent Korea from falling “into the hands of either the Stalinists to the north or the imperialistic compradore-capitalists to the south” (Volume Two, Selection 9).

Other Korean anarchists, while seeking “to cooperate with all genuinely revolutionary nationalist groups of the left,” continued to call for “total liberation” through the “free federation of autonomous units covering the whole country” (Volume Two, Selection 9). At the conclusion of the war in 1945, grass roots committees for the reconstruction of Korea sprang up across the country, and peasants and workers began forming independent unions. However, this process of social reconstruction “from the bottom upward” came to a halt after the Soviet Union and the United States imposed their own “national” governments in the north and south in 1948, leading to the divisive and inconclusive Korean War (1950-1953).

Robert Graham

Shin Chaeho

Shin Chaeho

Japanese Anarchism Before the War

Museifushugi brief history of anarchism in prewar Japan

Continuing with my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, here I discuss anarchism in Japan prior to the Second World War. I included several selections from pre-War Japanese anarchists in Volume One of the Anarchism anthology, and in Volume Three, I included an update on Japanese anarchism since the 1960s.

Anarchist_flag_with_A_symbol.svg

Class Struggle and ‘Pure’ Anarchism in Japan

In contrast to the decline of the Chinese anarchist movement in the 1920s, according to John Crump, “the anarchists in Japan were organisationally stronger than ever before, and there was a corresponding flowering of ideas and theories, particularly among the anarchist communists” (Crump, 1996). The anarchist communists identified themselves as “pure anarchists.” They criticized the anarcho-syndicalist concept of workers’ control of the existing means of production. As Hatta Shûzô (1886-1934) put it, “in a society which is based on the division of labour, those engaged in vital production… would have more power over the machinery of coordination than those engaged in other lines of production.”

The Japanese “pure anarchists” therefore proposed a decentralized system of communal production “performed autonomously on a human scale,” where “production springs from consumption,” being designed to meet local and individual wants and needs, in contrast to existing systems of production, where consumption is driven by the demands of production. Under such a system of decentralized human scale production, people “can coordinate the work process themselves,” such that there is no need for a “superior body and there is no place for power” (Volume One, Selection 106).

anarcho-communism

Japanese anarcho-syndicalist advocates of class struggle agreed that the existing authoritarian system of production should be replaced by “communal property… where there is neither exploiter nor exploited, neither master nor slave,” with society being “revived with spontaneity and mutual free agreement as an integral whole” (Volume One, Selection 107). However, in order to create such a society a profound revolutionary transformation was required. The anarcho-syndicalists argued that it was only by participating in the workers’ daily struggles against the capitalist system that anarchists would be able to inspire a revolutionary movement capable of creating the anarchist community to which the “pure anarchists” aspired.

Contrary to the claims of the “class struggle” anarcho-syndicalists though, the “pure anarchists” did not hold themselves aloof from the workers’ struggles but convinced the anarchist Zenkoku Jiren labour federation to adopt a “pure anarchist” position which emphasized that their goal was not to take over the existing means of production, replacing the capitalists and the government with a trade union administration, but to create a decentralized system of communal production based on human-scale technology, a position similar to that developed by Murray Bookchin in the 1960s (Volume Two, Selections 48, 62 & 74).

anarcho syndicalism

The Zenkoku Jiren reached out to Japanese tenant farmers, seeing them “as the crucial social force which could bring about the commune-based, alternative society to capitalism” advocated by the “pure anarchists” (Crump, 1996). The appeal of this vision to radical Japanese workers and farmers is illustrated by the fact that by 1931, the Zenkoku Jiren had about 16,000 members, whereas the more conventional anarcho-syndicalist federation, the Jikyô, had only 3,000.

In the early 1930s, as the Japanese state began a concerted push for imperialist expansion by invading Manchuria, the state authorities renewed their campaign against the Japanese anarchist movement, which was staunchly anti-imperialist. In the face of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, the Japanese Libertarian Federation had called on all people to “cease military production, refuse military service and disobey the officers” (Volume One, Selection 110). Anarchist organizations were banned and hundreds of anarchists arrested. By 1936, the organized anarchist movement in Japan had been crushed.

Robert Graham

War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army

War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army

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