Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Anarchist Poet

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 – 2021)

Here’s to Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021), anarchist, poet, publisher of the Beat poets, and host of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, who died on February 22, 2021 at the grand old age of 101, a month shy of his 102nd birthday.

I Am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I Am Waiting” from A Coney Island of the Mind. Copyright © 1958 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Trial of the Chicago 7/8

Aaron Sorkin’s liberal revisionist take on the trial of the Chicago 7/8 has sent me in search of more accurate portrayals of the trial, for example, Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8, which relies entirely on the actual court transcripts and includes later interviews with the defendants. Another more accurate depiction is Chicago 10:

The proceedings against the defendants was a show trial orchestrated by the Nixon administration in order to break the back of radical protest and revolutionary movements in the United States in the late 1960s. The original 8 defendants, including Black Panther leader, Bobby Seale, were accused of conspiracy to incite riots at the Democratic Party National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

What really happened is more accurately described as a “police riot,” with the Chicago police assaulting and arresting hundreds of anti-Vietnam war protestors outside of the Convention. The defendants, with the exception of Bobby Seale, had helped organize the protests, but were then put on trial for allegedly instigating the so-called riots by the protestors who were being beaten by the police. The trial was a farce, with Bobby Seale being bound, gagged and chained in the courtroom, until his case was severed from the other defendants, leaving the 7 defendants of the title to Sorkin’s Hollywood version of the trial.

The most radical of the defendants were the two Yippies (Youth International Party), Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Hoffman had been involved in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s and then became more radical, advocating a youth-based cultural revolution, departing from the boring rituals of leftwing protest by doing things like showering the New York Stock Exchange trading floor with dollar bills to disrupt the heart of world capitalism. Jerry Rubin had been involved in the free speech movement in Berkeley, California, and then became active in the Yippies, an anarchistic, anti-capitalist as well as anti-war group. While Sorkin at least portrays Hoffman as a smart and funny guy (well played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen), Rubin is portrayed as an irresponsible stoner nitwit with a penchant for molotov cocktails and female FBI infiltrators of the protest movement (all untrue according to Rubin’s then companion, Nancy Kurshan (

The veteran anti-war activist David Dellinger (I included a piece by him in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas), is portrayed in Sorkin’s film as a middle-class pacifist do-gooder provoked into punching a sheriff at the trial (which never happened either).

One of the prosecutors is portrayed, again inaccurately, as having doubts about putting people on trial for their radical ideas.

One of the few good parts in Sorkin’s version of the trial is that it includes (briefly) one of the leaders of the Black Panthers in Chicago, Fred Hampton, and the fact that he was murdered by the FBI during the trial.

Fred Hampton

Diane di Prima (1934-2020)

Diane di Prima, famous beat poet, radical, anarchist, activist, died at age 86 on October 25, 2020. One of the better tributes to her was an interview with her daughter, Dominique di Prima, on CBC radio in Canada:

To get the full flavour of the interview you need to listen to it, as the transcript omits any reference to di Prima’s anarchist politics. Here is one of di Prima’s poems, Revolutionary Letter No. 4:


Left to themselves people

grow their hair.

Left to themselves they

take off their shoe’s.

Left to themselves they make love

sleep easily

share blankets, dope & children

they are not lazy or afraid

Stuart Christie – In Memoriam (1946-2020)

Stuart Christie (1946-2020)

Very sad to hear of the death of Stuart Christie on August 15, 2020. He maintained an excellent website providing access to anarchist films and literature. Here is an excerpt from his autobiography, My Granny Made Me an Anarchist: The Christie File: Part 1, 1946-1964, in which he summarizes his view of anarchism. He and his comrade, Albert Meltzer, wrote a book on revolutionary anarchism, The Floodgates of Anarchy, which sets forth his ideas in more detail. I met Stuart many years ago and had a very interesting conversation with him in which we agreed that by the 1980s neo-liberalism was a much more significant ideological foe than Marxism. Little did we know that the Soviet Union would collapse a mere three years later. The Kate Sharpley Library has posted an obituary by John Patten.

Anarchism – A Definition

At this juncture it would probably be helpful to give a summary of the idea which won me over so completely at such a young age.

Anarchism encompasses such a broad view of the world that it cannot easily be distilled into a formal definition. Mikhail Bakunin, a man of action whose writings and example over a century ago did most to transform anarchism from an abstract critique of political power into a theory of practical social action, defined its fundamental tenet thus:

In a word, we reject all privileged, licensed, official, and legal legislation and authority, even though it arise from universal suffrage, convinced that it could only turn to the benefit of a dominant and exploiting minority, and against the interests of the vast enslaved majority.[1]

Anarchism is a movement for human freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian. It is rooted in normality as opposed to eccentricity. It has existed and developed since the seventeenth century, with a philosophy and a defined outlook that have evolved and grown with time and circumstance. Anarchism began – and remains – a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation. It opposes both the insidious growth of state power and the pernicious ethos of possessive individualism, which, together or separately, ultimately serve only the interests of the few at the expense of the rest.

Anarchism is both a theory and practice of life. Philosophically, it aims for the maximum accord between the individual, society and nature. Practically, it aims for us to organise and live our lives in such a way as to make politicians, governments, states and their officials superfluous. In an anarchist society, mutually respectful sovereign individuals would be organised in non-coercive relationships within naturally defined communities in which the means of production and distribution are held in common.

Anarchists are not dreamers obsessed with abstract principles and theoretical constructs, Events are ruled by chance and people’s actions depend on long-held habits and on psychological and emotional factors that are often antisocial and usually unpredictable. Anarchists are well aware that a perfect society cannot be won tomorrow. Indeed, the struggle lasts forever! However, it is the vision that provides the spur to struggle against things as they are, and for things that might be.

Whatever the immediate prospects of achieving a free society, and however remote the ideal, if we value our common humanity then we must never cease to strive to realise our vision. To settle for anything less means we are little more than beasts of burden at the service of the privileged few, without much to gain from life other than a lighter load, better feed and a cosier berth.

Ultimately, only struggle determines outcome, and progress towards a more meaningful community must begin with the will to resist every form of injustice. In general terms, this means challenging all exploitation and defying the legitimacy of all coercive authority. If anarchists have one article of unshakable faith, it is that, once the habit of deferring to politicians or ideologues is lost, and that of resistance to domination and exploitation acquired, then ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives in their own interests, anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly.

Anarchists do not stand aside from popular struggle, nor do they attempt to dominate it. They seek to contribute to it practically whatever they can, and also to assist within it the highest possible levels both of individual self-development and of group solidarity. It is possible to recognise anarchist ideas concerning voluntary relationships, egalitarian participation in decision-making processes, mutual aid and a related critique of all forms of domination in philosophical, social and revolutionary movements in all times and places.

Elsewhere, the less formal practices and struggles of the more indomitable among the propertyless and disadvantaged victims of the authority system have found articulation in the writings of those who on brief acquaintance would appear to be mere millenarian dreamers. Far from being abstract speculations conjured out of thin air, such works have, like all social theories, been derived from sensitive observation. They reflect the fundamental and uncontainable conviction nourished by a conscious minority throughout history that social power held over people is a usurpation of natural rights: power originates in the people, and they alone have, together, the right to wield it.

Stuart Christie

Mission: Impossible – Fallout – Worst Film of the Year

Not being one to run out to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Mission: Impossible – Fallout slipped under my radar when it was released last summer. Recently, while travelling by plane, I started watching it on the in-plane movie service. Within 5 minutes I got the gist of it: a group of rogue secret agents, formerly professional killers for various states, have become “anarchists” intent on bringing down the existing world order by detonating nuclear bombs in the Himalayan watershed. The intended result is to contaminate the water supply for billions of people, which will somehow lead to the collapse of civilization and the emergence of a new kind of world order from out of the chaos. Reminds me of a fellow university student years ago who seriously asked my why I was opposed to nuclear arms when a nuclear war would destroy everything — isn’t that what anarchists want? One commentator has suggested that this marks a shift in Hollywood from Islamic bogeymen to anarchists as the new “bad guys.” Let’s hope not, but MI: Fallout was a big hit at the box office. As a belated and partial antidote to this patent nonsense, I reprint a piece written by Paul Goodman in 1962 during the height of the Cold War, in which he points out that it is mainstream culture that has become suicidal, a theme he also pursued in “A Public Dream of Universal Disaster,” which I included in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Paul Goodman

In a disturbing study of the paralyzing effects of war spirit and war preparations, “The Arms Race as an Aspect of Popular Culture,” Professor Robert Engler of Columbia warns us of the dislocation of scientific and professional education; the dislocation of the normal pattern of economy and industry; the growing spirit of the garrison state: censorship, lying propaganda, the infiltration of the (retired) military into the industrial system; the crazy competitive goals in armaments and the space race; the astonishing distortion of community values in the private-shelter business. People accept the whittling away of civil liberties. There is distortion even in the play and dreams of children.

We must ask also the opposite question: Why are people susceptible? What in our society and culture makes such a development possible? What paralysis in the public allows these preparations to become so deadly? It is a useful question, because to the degree that we can answer it, we can try to withdraw energy from the conditions and feelings that lurk in the background of the present spirit.

The economic advantages of the Cold War (to some) must be mentioned first. And we may use economic policy as an unerring index of the secret position of the government in Washington. The government can protest as loudly as it wishes to the people of the world that it wants disarmament with inspection, etc.; but so long as there are no actual economic plans and preparations being made to reconvert industries to peacetime uses and to take up the slack of employment that disarmament would involve, we cannot believe the government. There are no such plans and preparations, though there is a Disarmament Agency and though Professor Melman has offered them a philosophy in The Peace Race.

John Ullmann of Hofstra has shown that even apart from the budget, our political structure itself predisposes us to the war spirit; for it combines prejudice and regimentation, self-righteousness and violence. And every study of the present regime in Washington shows that it has become largely a machine for waging Cold War. Even vested economic interests must succumb, for the government can make or ruin a firm by manipulating the contracts for armaments.

Let me now, however, go on to recall some psychological factors in the American cultural background that make the Cold War “advantageous.” Our modern times are affluent and disappointed, active and powerless, technical and purposeless. This clinch is the Cold War.

In America, the so-called high standard of living, urbanism, the sexual revolution only partly carried through, have notoriously resulted in excessive busyness with little reward in happiness, and in excessive stimulation with inadequate sexual or creative discharge. People are balked by the general inhibition of anger and physical aggression in our cities, offices, and streamlined industries and grievance committees. And since one cannot be angry, one cannot be affectionate.

At the same time, as part of the same urban-technological-economical-political complex, common people today are extraordinarily powerless. Few ever make, individually or in face-to-face associations, decisions about many of the most important matters. Labor decides about neither the product nor the process, the utility nor the distribution. Affairs are bureaucratized, with inevitable. petty delays and tensions. There is an almost total absence of real rather than formal democracy. A local meeting, e.g., a Parent-Teachers meeting, has no power to decide but can only exert pressure, which is usually cleverly evaded. Voters decide not issues or policies but the choice between equivalent Front personalities. The corporations dominate the economy and small enterprises are discouraged. The pattern, especially of middle-class life, is scheduled often down to the minute, and spontaneity is penalized. Even consumption goods are bought for emulation rather than final satisfaction. Police surveillance increases conformity and timidity. With increasing wealth, there is increasing insecurity.

According to the theory of masochism of Wilhelm Reich, which has become fairly standard, the result of such excessive stimulation and inadequate discharge is a need to “explode,” be pierced, beaten, etc., in order to release the feelings that have been pent up. Of course, it is people themselves who are imprisoning themselves; they could release themselves if it were not for the totality of their fearfulness and ineffectuality. That is to say, they cannot release themselves. Instead, they feel that release must come from outside agents or events. More healthily, this is felt as excitement in destruction and danger; in the lure of daring and dangerous sports; in the innocent joy in watching a house burn down and living through hurricanes and earthquakes (and discussing them endlessly.) And characteristically of poor mankind, once they been given the cosmical permission of Necessity, people act with the community and heroism that is in them from the beginning. The case is darker, more painful and sadistic when, avidly but generally more privately, people read up the air disasters. Likewise, the nuclear phobia of many patients is a projection of their own self-destructive and destructive wishes, and it vanishes when so analyzed, that is, when the patient can reconnect the images of disaster to the actual things that he wants to explode, burn, poison, annihilate.

Similar are fantasies of destructive Enemies, who will do the job for us. And it does not help if two opposed Enemies cooperate in their projections, so that each one recognizes a threat in the other and arms accordingly and so provides more tangible proof of the threat. (This phenomenon of mirror-image projections has been somewhat studied by Professor Osgood.)

A less familiar factor, but to my mind a very important one, is the inhibited response to the insulting and nauseating tone of our commercialized popular culture and advertising. People experience a self-disgust and a wish to annihilate, vomit up, this way of life; but they hold their nausea down, they feel powerless to give up this culture — it is all there is — they cannot even shut off the TV.

On these grounds, we can speak of War Spirit as an epidemic wish to commit suicide en masse, as one community. To have the frustration over with! to get rid of all that junk at once! Thus, an important explanation of the paralysis of the public in safeguarding against, or simply dismissing, the obvious irrationality and danger of war policies, is that people are inwardly betrayed by a wish for the catastrophe that they rationally oppose.

So far negatively. But there is a positive side. Powerless and uninventive in decisive affairs of everyday life, people increasingly find excitement in the doings of the Great on far-off stages and in the Big News in the newspapers. This occurs everywhere as spectatoritis and TV-watching. An event might be happening outside the window, but people will watch it on the TV screen instead; for there, it is purified, magnified, and legitimized by the national medium. What is sponsored by a national network is Reality. And, of course, of this Big News the most important is the drama of the Warring Powers, that toys with, and continually threatens to satisfy, every man’s orgastic-destructive urges. Brinkmanship and Playing Chicken and the Testing of bigger firecrackers — however stupid and immediately rejectable by common reason — are nevertheless taken as most serious maneuvers. The powerlessness of the small gets solace by identification with power Elites, and people eagerly say “We” and “They,” meaning one bloc or the other.

The outpouring of dammed-up hostility is channeled antiseptically and guiltlessly through pugnacious diplomacy, interest in impersonal technology, and the excitement of war-games theory. Push-button and aerial war is especially like a dream. It is forbiddingly satisfactory in its effects, yet one is hardly responsible for it, one has hardly even touched a weapon. Games-theory has the mechanical innocence of a computer.

My guess is that in the contemporary conditions of technology and standard of living, the Americans suffer somewhat more from the above psychological pressures than the Russians, who are still starved for consumer’s goods and hope naively to get important satisfaction from them. The Americans have more need for the Cold War than the Russians. They can afford it more and, for the same reason, need it more. Since the Russians can afford it less, they also need it less. (I am told, however, that in Russia the big arms-production has gone so far that they too have an industrial-military complex that now goes by itself.) On the other hand — again this is my guess — in dictatorships there is more underlying animal fear, fear because acquaintances have suddenly vanished, fear of speaking out; therefore their War Spirit might involve more desperate adventurousness, more need for little proving victories, because people feel more inwardly unsafe. Also — this is said to be true of the Chinese — when there is famine and utter misery of life, it is only extreme actions that can weld people together at all. (The remedy for this is rather simple, to feed them.)

By and large, the panicky craze of the Americans for private, family bomb shelters seems best explicable in these terms. Because of the threat of poisoning and fire, public policy has come into an obvious clash with elementary biological safety. Yet it is impossible to change the public policy, and get rid of the industrial-military complex, for the war is wished for, and the identification with the Powerful is necessary for each powerless individual’s conceit. The private bomb shelter is the way out of the clinch: It allows the war to happen, yet it withdraws from reliance on the Public Policy which is evidently too dangerous to trust. It is a Do-It-Yourself. It even somewhat satisfies the biological instinct for safety — if one reads Life rather than scrupulous scientists. Naturally all the better if the Shelters can then be harmonized with business as usual and become an emulative luxury, a part of the high standard of living.

The entire argument of this essay is summed up in the official bulletin of the Office of Civil Defense, when it says, “Fallout is merely a physical fact of this nuclear age. It can be faced like any other fact.” Here we have the full-blown hallucination: dropping the bombs is — thought of as a physical fact rather than a social fact. And also this outrageous and moronic proposition is swallowed like everything else.

But as Margaret Mead has recently pointed out, this private flight of the Americans into their shelters has aroused shock and horror in the Europeans who are equally endangered. They cannot identify with the Powers; and many of them — British, Dutch, Russians — know what it is to be bombed and suffer in the war. (The Germans seem to be eager to assume the Bully role again themselves.) Naturally, Professor Mead’s solution is international bomb shelters for the fertile and academically talented!

Historically, the theorists of militarism have profited by the above analysis. From the time of Frederick William, the gait and posture of the warrior has been designed, by competent teachers of gymnastics, to cut off full sexual feeling and tenderness: the pelvis retracted, the anus tightened, the belly hardened, the exhalation impeded by squaring the shoulders. Marriage and other civilian ties are discouraged (but not the economic and political connections of retired generals). A soldier or sailor on the town must not become emotionally involved with the woman he picks up. And the Marine, balked in his manliness and insulted in his independence by spirit-breaking discipline and the chain of command, lives by a conceit of toughness and power, with slavish griping to let off steam. All are in a state of muscular hyper-toms, to snap unthinkingly to a command. The jaw is in a position of watchfulness. The public glorification of this mindless power is the complement of the public masochism; it is experienced as the terrible sublimity of war.

What then? How under modern conditions can we wage peace instead of war? We need a vast increase in the opportunities for initiative and making important decisions. This involves considerable decentralization of management, in industry, in government, in urban affairs like housing and schooling. (I do not think that this necessarily implies less efficiency, but that is another story.) It involves the use of our productivity to insure minimum subsistence, but otherwise the encouragement of individual enterprises. We must forthrightly carry through the sexual revolution, encourage the sexuality of children and adolescents, get rid of the sex laws and other moral laws. Many people might be offended by this policy, it might have disadvantages, but our present condition of stimulation and inadequate discharge is simply too dangerous in its irrational effects; we cannot continue it. We must revive individual worth and self-respect, by jobs of useful work that employ more of each person’s capacities, and an education that makes the culture and technology comprehensible and appropriable, so that people may be at home with it and possibly inventive and creative in it. We need a genuine folk-culture to enliven community, and a lofty public culture to give us meaning, and loyalty to a greater self. And paradoxically, if there were less false politeness, conformity, and civil peace — more energetic confrontation, loud quarrels, and fist fights — there would be less ultimate and catastrophic explosiveness. These things comprise, in my opinion, the modern moral equivalent of war that William James was after. They are entirely practical; and if, as the Americans are, they are utopian — there it is.

An occasional fist fight, a better orgasm, friendly games, a job of useful work, initiating enterprises, deciding real issues in manageable meetings, and being moved by things that are beautiful, curious, or wonderful — these diminish the spirit of war because they attach people to life. They should not be postponed while we “buy time” with deterrence and negotiations. On the contrary, if people began to insist on more life, the Front Page would carry very different news.

Let me add a postscript. I read these remarks to a conference of learned men, experts in the social sciences, in engineering, and in politics, discussing the deadly danger of the Cold War and the need to get out of it. The great majority of them found what I said to be entirely irrelevant. They were, predictably, hilarious about the references to sexuality. We are faced with an unexampled situation, a matter of life and death, publicly apparent to all the people and to which people hardly respond. Yet these experts believe that the concrete facts of people’s lives are not involved at all. Being superstitious as only modern scientists can be, they believe that something comes from nothing. Presumably, none of these facts of a life worth living are existent facts for them — not when they are “thinking.” They are “practical”: they face the issues as presented. Presented by whom? why?

One scientist, from Washington, spoke up and said: “You say that the Americans have a neurotic feeling of powerlessness. You don’t realize that those in power are equally frustrated.”

Paul Goodman (1962)

Tomás Ibáñez: Anarchism is Movement

The excellent Autonomies website has begun posting a translation of Tomás Ibáñez’s 2014 essay, “Anarchism is movement: Anarchism, neoanarchism and postanarchism.” Here I present excerpts from the conclusion to Ibáñez’s introduction. Ibáñez grew up in France, where his parents found refuge following the crushing of the Spanish anarchist movement at the end of the Spanish Civil War. As a youth, he become active in the Spanish anarchist exile group, Federación Ibérica de Juventudes Libertarias (FIJL). Autonomies notes that in “1968, he joined the March 22 Movement, participating actively in the May events of that year, until his arrest in June, and subsequent forced ‘internal exile’ outside Paris. In 1973 he returned to Spain and participated in the attempts to rebuild the CNT.” While I don’t agree with Ibáñez on some points, he is a thoughtful and provocative contemporary anarchist writer well worth reading (one area of disagreement is that I see anarchy as something that preceded the creation of explicitly anarchist doctrines, and believe that anarchist ideas can not only continue to exist without a movement, and in fact preceded the creation of any anarchist movements, but in those historical interregnums between the efflorescence of anarchist movements when the burden of anarchism’s historical past is less pressing, as are pressures for ideological uniformity precisely because of the seeming political irrelevance of anarchists (but not anarchism), anarchists can and have revitalized anarchist thinking about contemporary events, and future prospects, helping lay the groundwork for yet another resurgence of anarchist activity. This was particularly true in Europe and North and Latin America in the 1940s and 50s, as I have argued in my essay, “The Anarchist Current”).

Tomás Ibáñez

From May 1968 to the 21st Century

After having demonstrated an appreciable vitality for about a century – grosso modo between 1860 and 1940, that is, some 80 years -, anarchism fell back, inflected back upon itself and practically disappeared from the world political stage and from social struggles for various decades, undertaking a long journey in the wilderness that some took advantage of to extend their certificate of dysfunctionality and to speak of it as of an obsolescent ideology which only belongs to the past.

The fact is that, after the tragic defeat of the Spanish Revolution in 1939, if an exception is made for the libertarian presence in the anti-franquista struggle, of the participation of anarchists in the anti-fascist resistance in certain regions of Italy during WWII or the active participation of British anarchists in the anti-nuclear campaigns of the end of the 1950s and the early 1960s or, also, a certain presence in Sweden and Argentina, for example, anarchism remained strikingly absent from the social struggles that marked the next thirty years in the many countries of the world, limiting itself in the best of cases to a residual and testimonial role.  Marginalised from struggles, unable to renew ties with social reality and relocate itself in political conflict, anarchism lost all possibility of re-actualising itself and of evolving.

In these unfavourable conditions, anarchism tended to fold in upon itself, becoming dogmatic, mummified, ruminating on its glorious past and developing powerful reflexes of self-preservation.  The predominance of the cult of memory over the will to renew led it, little by little, to make itself conservative, to defend jealously its patrimony and to close itself in a sterilising circle of mere repetition.

It is a little as if anarchism, in the absence of being practiced in the struggles against domination, had transformed itself slowly into the political equivalent of a dead language.  That is, a language that, for lack of use by people, severs itself from the complex and changing reality in which it moved, becoming thereby sterile, incapable of evolving, of enriching itself, of being useful to apprehend a moving reality and affect it.  A language which is not used is just a relic instead of being an instrument; it is a fossil instead of being a living body, and it is a fixed image instead of being a moving picture.  As if it had been transformed into a dead language, anarchism fossilised itself from the beginnings of the 1940s until almost the end of the 1960s.  This suspension of its vital functions occurred for a reason that I will not cease to insist upon and this is none other than the following: anarchism is constantly forged in the practices of struggle against domination; outside of them, it withers away and decays.

Stuck in the trance of not being able to evolve, anarchism ceased to be properly anarchist and went on to became something else.  There is no hidden mystery here, it is not a matter of alchemy, nor of the transmutation of bodies, but simply that if, as I maintain, what is proper to anarchism is rooted in being constitutively changeable, then the absence of change means simply that one is no longer dealing with anarchism…

One has to wait until the end of the 1960s, with the large movements of opposition to the war in Vietnam, with the incessant agitation on various campuses of the United States, of Germany, of Italy or of France, with the development, among a part of the youth, of nonconformist attitudes, sentiments of rebellion against authority and the challenge to social conventions and, finally, with the fabulous explosion of May 68 in France, until a new stage in the flourishing of anarchism could begin to sprout.

Of course, even though strong libertarian tonalities resonated within it, May 68 was not anarchist.  Yet it nevertheless inaugurated a new political radicality that harmonised with the stubborn obsession of anarchism to not reduce to the sole sphere of the economy and the relations of production the struggle against the apparatuses of domination, against the practices of exclusion or against the effects of stigmatisation and discrimination.

What May 68 also inaugurated – even though it did not reach its full development until after the struggles in Seattle of 1999 – was a form of anarchism that I call “anarchism outside its own walls” [anarquismo extramuros], because it develops unquestionably anarchist practices and values from outside specifically anarchist movements and at the margin of any explicit reference to anarchism.

May 68 announced, finally, in the very heart of militant anarchism novel conceptions that, as Todd May says – one of the fathers of postanarchism, whom we will speak of below -, privileged, among other things, tactical perspectives before strategic orientations, outlining thereby a new libertarian ethos.  In effect, actions undertaken with the aim of developing political organisations and projects that had as an objective and as a horizon the global transformation of society gave way to actions destined at subverting, in the immediate, concrete and limited aspects of instituted society.

Some thirty years after May 68, the large demonstrations for a different kind of globalisation [altermundista] of the early 2000s allowed anarchism to experience a new growth and acquire, thanks to a strong presence in struggles and in the streets, a spectacular projection.  It is true that the use of the Internet allows for the rapid communication of anarchist protests of all kinds that take place in the most diverse parts of the world; and it is obvious that it permits assuring an immediate and almost exhaustive coverage of these events; but it is also no less certain that no single day goes by without different anarchist portals announcing one or, even, various libertarian events.  Without letting ourselves be dazzled by the multiplying effect that the Internet produces, it has to be acknowledged that the proliferation of libertarian activities in the beginning of this century was hard to imagine just a few years ago.

This upsurge of anarchism not only showed itself in struggles and in the streets, but extended also to the sphere of culture and, even, to the domain of the university as is testified to by, for example, the creation in October of 2005, in the English university of Loughborough, of a dense academic network of reflection and exchange called the Anarchist Studies Network, followed by the creation in 2009 of the North American Anarchist Studies; or as is made evident by the constitution of an ample international network that brings together an impressive number of university researchers who define themselves as anarchists or who are interested in anarchism.  The colloquia dedicated to different aspects of anarchism – historical, political, philosophical – do not cease to multiply (Paris, Lyon, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico and a vast etcetera).

This abundant presence of anarchism in the world of the university cannot but astound us, those who had the experience of its absolute non-existence within academic institutions, during the long winter that Marxist hegemony represented, that followed conservative hegemony, or that coexisted with it, above all in countries like France and Italy.  In truth, the panorama outlined would have been unimaginable even a few years ago, even at a time as close as the end of the 1990s.

Let us point out, finally, that between May 68 and the protests of the years 2000, anarchism demonstrated an upsurge of vitality on various occasions, above all in Spain.  In the years 1976-1978, the extraordinary libertarian effervescence that followed the death of Franco left us completely stupefied, all the more stupefied the more closely we were tied to the fragile reality of Spanish anarchism in the last years of franquismo.  An effervescence that was capable of gathering in 1977 some one hundred thousand participants during a meeting of the CNT in Barcelona and that allowed during that same year to bring together thousands of anarchists that came from all countries to participate in the Jornadas Libertarias in this same city.  A vitality that showed itself also in Venice, in September of 1984, where thousands of anarchists gathered, coming from everywhere, without forgetting the large international encounter celebrated in Barcelona in September-October of 1993.

Many were the events around which anarchists gathered in numbers unimaginable before the explosion of the events of May 68.  In fact, the resurgence of anarchism has not ceased to make us jump, so to speak, from surprise to surprise.  May 68 was a surprise for everyone, including of course for the few anarchists who we were, wandering the streets of Paris, a little before.  Spain immediately after Franco was another surprise, above all for the few anarchists who nevertheless continued to struggle during the last years of the dictatorship.  The anarchist effervescence of the years 2000 is, finally, a third surprise that has nothing to envy in those that preceded it.

Tomás Ibáñez

Paris, May 1968

Anarchy, Democracy and Murray Bookchin

Recently I posted Murray Bookchin’s comments, made when he was a committed anarchist and revolutionary, regarding the May – June 1968 events in France. Those comments were taken from one of his best books, Post-Scarcity Anarchism. Although I have never agreed with Bookchin’s “post-scarcity” thesis, which for me retains too much of a Marxist perspective regarding the “necessary” technological basis for a libertarian communist society (without which an anarchist society would allegedly be unable to function), Bookchin was one of the first writers to draw clearly the connections between ecological and anarchist perspectives. I made a note earlier of a new collection of Bookchin’s writings, The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy, reposting Ursula LeGuin’s preface, but I didn’t say much about the essays by Bookchin included in the book, which Bookchin’s “communalist” acolytes no doubt prefer over Post-Scarcity Anarchism and Toward an Ecological Society, which both contain much better essays. Iain McKay has now written a response to the later Bookchin material in the new collection, when Bookchin rejected anarchism and made the same shabby arguments against anarchism that he had refuted in his earlier writings. I’ve shared Iain’s piece on facebook and am now posting it here on my blog.

Iain McKay on the later Murray Bookchin

Murray Bookchin (1921-2006) was for four decades a leading anarchist thinker and writer. His many articles and books – Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Toward an Ecological Society, The Ecology of Freedom and a host of others – are libertarian classics and influential in the wider green movement. However, in 1995 he became involved in a vicious polemic over various negative aspects of (primarily American) anarchism with the publication of his Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism which, in 1999, saw him break with anarchism completely, denouncing it as inherently individualist. Still considering himself a libertarian socialist, he now called his politics “Communalism” rather than “Social Ecology” or “Social Anarchism.”

This context is important in order to understand this often contradictory collection of essays, for the work combines articles written between 1992 and 2002 and so ones before and after his break with anarchism. This means he indicates the anarchist pedigree of his “Commune of communes” in some chapters (63, 95) while proclaiming anarchism as being against organisation in others. So following a preface by the late, great, Ursula Le Guin and an introduction by Debbie Bookchin and Blair Taylor, we have  nine chapters by Bookchin on a range of subjects written over a range of times and this produces the key flaw in the work: denunciations of anarchism sit next to praise for it.

What of these denunciations? It is hard to take them seriously. It is depressing to read someone who has actually read anarchist thinkers come out with the same sort of nonsense as a hack of a Marxist party parroting claims made by others about people they have obviously never read. Just as sad is that every one of his claims against anarchism can be refuted by quoting from his early works. For his list of anarchist flaws – individualism, primitivism, etc. – were once directed at his own ideas by Marxists and he refuted them with flair.

Space precludes using Bookchin to refute Bookchin, so I will concentrate on a few issues.

Sadly, post-break Bookchin is not above selective quoting when it comes to anarchism – for example, he quotes Kropotkin on rejecting majority rule (10) when he surely knew that on the page in question Kropotkin was discussing “parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether.” Also, after decades of denouncing syndicalism for impoverishing anarchism, he turned around and proclaimed the superiority of the former as regards the latter – while also ignoring how he had shown that the first of the revolutionary anarchists had advocated syndicalism as a tactic. Likewise, Bookchin asserted post-break that “anarchists conceive of power essentially as a malignant evil that must be destroyed” (139) yet also quotes Bakunin on the need for the “development and organization of the nonpolitical or antipolitical social power of the working class in city and country.” (12) As he himself noted long ago, “power” can mean two things, power to do and power over, and for the former to flourish, it needs the latter to be destroyed. So power over – hierarchy – must be destroyed if we want power to manage our own lives.

Bookchin points to the Spanish Revolution as evidence of Anarchism’s failure here. Yet his discussion of this (“Anarchism and Power in the Spanish Revolution”) ignores the circumstances in which the CNT decided to postpone the social revolution in favour of caricatures on anarchist theory. He position is that anarchism is blind to the need for institutions to replace the State and this blindness lead the CNT not to “seize power.” Yet anarchism has anyways been clear on what to do in a revolution – replace the State by federations of workers’ organisations. The CNT obviously failed to do so in July 1936 with obvious negative results – but the question, as Bookchin surely knew, is why they failed to apply anarchist ideas. To understand that needs context – essentially fear of isolation and the real possibility of having to fight both the Republic and the Fascists if social revolution was pursued – which Bookchin fails to provide.

Instead, we get the same superficial analysis that embarrasses Marxist journals. The only difference is that Bookchin calls this new system a “government” rather than “state.” So Bookchin post-break was against the State but for government – “government” being used to describe collective decision making. Just as Engels equated agreement with authority, Bookchin came to equate governance with government. This is hardly convincing.

So the post-break articles present a travesty of anarchism by someone who knew better. Given Bookchin’s revisionism, it is unsurprising that the authors of the introduction assert that popular assemblies were “viewed with suspicion by anarchists.” (xviii) This in spite of Proudhon praising the popular clubs of the 1848 revolution, Bakunin urging federation by quartier (neighbourhood) and Kropotkin pointing to the popular assemblies of the Great French Revolution — just as Bookchin did!

Ironically, many of the traits of “anarchism” Bookchin came to deplore and which caused his break with anarchism could be traced to certain elements of his 1960s works – even if these were selectively used and exaggerated to the point of travesty by others, they were there as his critics in the 1990s reminded Bookchin in their polemics against him.  Bookchin seems like someone who found it hard to admit being wrong – and so broke with anarchism rather than admit this. Yes, some self-proclaimed anarchists have silly notions (primitivism obviously springs to mind) and some tendencies can have little in common with the main current of social anarchism. Likewise, some anarchist have little time for long term strategy and involve themselves in small-scale, insular projects. Yet this is not anarchism as such. Rather than expect all anarchists to come together it is far better to organise with like-minded people and ignore those whose politics and activities are a dead-end. Instead, Bookchin rejected anarchism – talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!

So what of any substantive points between his new politics and anarchism? This are just a few. One is the question of “majority rule.” As he put it in a particularly overheated passage:

‘It is primarily by giving priority to an ideologically petrified notion of an “autonomous individual” that anarchists justify their opposition not only to the state but to any form of constraint, law, and often organization and democratic decision-making based on majority voting. All such constraints are dismissed in principle as forms of “coercion,” “domination,” “government,” and even “tyranny”—often as though these terms were coequal and interchangeable.’ (160-1)

Ignoring the awkward fact – which Bookchin was once aware – that the likes of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, etc. not only did not speak in those terms but also explicitly attacked such notions, we should note that majority decision making within freely joined associations is hardly the same as majority rule. In addition, anyone acting in the manner Bookchin describes within an anarchist group would be asked to leave, and rightly so. Nor, for that matter, is “consensus” an “authentic” anarchist principle (25) – you would be hard pressed to find any classical anarchist thinker – “authentic” or otherwise! – discussing it. Kropotkin mentions it in passing, when discussing the Russian mir and that is about it.

Why are anarchists concerned about talk of majority rule? It is quite simple: majorities have often oppressed minorities – we need only think of sectarianism, sexism, racism, homophobia and such like to see that the majority need not always be right. Ironically, Bookchin admits this (94) but does not attempt to square it with his fetishization of “majority rule.” And this is an issue. For example, he proclaims that a community which joins a confederation “may withdraw only with the approval of the confederation as a whole.” (15) So Bookchin’s “libertarian” confederation provides less rights than the UK (with regards the referendum on Scottish independence) and the European Union (with regards Brexit). Yet why is it just at a confederal level? If this is a good and democratic principle, why does it not apply to every association? So a worker can only leave their job if the majority of the workplace agrees? So a family can only leave a community if the majority of the local citizenry approve? A wife or husband from a family? Simple: for it would clearly be unfree.

Similarly, his “libertarian” democracy appears less than that guaranteed by our statist ones for he argues that after losing the debate “the minority must have patience and allow a majority decision to be put into practice” (61) and there would be “the commitment of municipal minorities to defer to the majority wishes of participating communities.” (88) Yet, today, the right of minorities to protest exists (if always under threat by the State, always ready to proclaim its “undemocratic” nature). Would libertarian municipalism really not allow minorities to protest, to use direct action, when the majority acts in ways which we cannot wait addressing or simply cannot be undone?

A more flexible perspective is needed, particularly given Bookchin admits that there is no “guarantee” that “a majority decision will be a correct one.” (88) What if the majority make racist, sexist, homophobic or ecologically destructive decisions? Can an “unswerving opposition to racism, gender oppression, and domination as such” (135) be limited to mere words or can minorities protest against them by direct action? If so, then his fetishisation of majority rule needs to be reviewed. True, Bookchin stressed the importance of minority rights (25) – but to do so automatically means admitting (implicitly at least) the flaws of his position and the validity of anarchist concerns over terms like “majority rule.”

Still, this has little bearing on the day-to-day decisions of freely joined associations in which majority-decision making will, undoubtedly, be the norm – with even a written constitution, when appropriate – in the struggle against oppression today and any future free society. Those who fetishise consensus (and there are a few, I am sure) can associate with those who feel the same — and leave the others to get on with changing the world rather than just discussing it.

Yet does Bookchin actually advocate majority rule? The answer is no, for he indicates (52-3) that all revolutions are the work of active minorities and that he does not expect the majority of a population to take part in his neighbourhood assemblies. So we have decisions being made by a majority of a minority, in other words minority rule. So for all his bluster, his “democratic” politics ends up recognising the key role minorities play in social change and that they often have to push forward in the face of the indifference of the majority: as Kropotkin, Goldman and many other anarchists indicated.

So we are left with Bookchin agreeing that the majority cannot, say, ban women from leaving the house without being accompanied by a man nor that neighbourhood assembly decisions are invalid unless a majority of people in the community attend. Which makes you wonder why he was so focused on majority rule to the extent of destroying his own legacy.

As for “libertarian municipalism,” it is clear why few anarchists embraced it: “Communalists do not hesitate to run candidates in municipal elections who, if elected, would use what real power their offices confer to legislate popular assemblies into existence.” (30) The notion of standing in local elections as a means of creating popular assemblies and then federating them was always unconvincing. Particularly given the all-to-correct predictions of anarchists on the effects of electioneering. Indeed, Bookchin himself repeats these and provides examples of it (83-4) – but seems to think this only happens at a national level. He also seems unaware that the national State can and does control the autonomy of local municipal councils and this strategy could easily mutate into national electioneering in the mistaken view of ensuring needed reforms for the local strategy. Electioneering is indeed a slippery slope which even the repeated experience of history does not seem to affect.

Anarchists, regardless of Bookchin’s revisionism, are well aware of the need for federations of community assemblies in both the struggle for liberation and as part of the structure for the post-capitalist society. Kropotkin, for example, discussed their role in his book The Great French Revolution and indicated that “the libertarians would no doubt do the same today.” However, these were viewed as a genuine dual-power created in opposition to the State – a community syndicalism, as it were – rather than something bestowed by a suitably enlightened local municipal council. Nor was this considered the only means – Kropotkin also advocated a syndicalist strategy as both a means of winning reforms now and for providing the framework of managing workplaces during and after a social revolution. Bookchin knew all this and so it is depressing to read him pretend otherwise.

Rejecting Bookchin’s electioneering does not mean rejecting building federations of community assemblies, especially within the context of building other federations of associations (such as radical unions). Likewise, his notion of dissolving all associations into a single communal one does not take into account the complexities of modern life. Such community assemblies would be the forum for overseeing the others – to protect against, say, workplaces becoming proprietary as Bookchin rightly warns (19, 72) – but they can hardly be called upon to actually manage them on a day-to-day basis.

Kropotkin and other anarchists bemoaned the State and its attempts to centralise all aspects of social life and place them in the hands of a few representatives who had no real notion of what they were deciding upon. Doing the same but at the base of society may not be as problematic but it does have issues – not least, the volume of issues that would need to be discussed. So there is a pressing need for a functional federalism as well as a communal federalism. This suggests a diverse associational life embracing all aspects of the world – so if Kropotkin and Malatesta argued that syndicalists focused on one aspect of society (the economic) and ignored the other two (community and leisure), Bookchin likewise focused on one (the community) at the expense of the others.

So, to conclude. This is a mixed selection of articles – with the pre-break ones being by far the best. The post-break ones often just repeat what Bookchin previously – rightly! – called anarchism but with snide anti-anarchist remarks added.

Where does that leave Bookchin’s legacy?

I still remember the joy I experienced reading Post-Scarcity Anarchism thirty years ago – here was someone who both understood anarchism and built upon it. Yet in the last decade of his life he produced works which were marred by anti-anarchist tirades which he surely knew were nonsense. Which leaves us with a conundrum: if you utilise his earlier works, could not his later works be quoted to show that even a leading anarchist eventually saw its deep flaws? If you embrace his later anti-anarchist works, how could you reference in good-faith his earlier contributions?

Yes, Bookchin did do the latter but then he also sought to rewrite his past to suggest he had seen through anarchism at a very early stage or had never “really” been an anarchist at all. This was all very unbecoming – particularly given the numerous quotes from the early 1990s proclaiming his long-standing and continuing commitment to anarchism.

Ultimately, Bookchin left a wealth of books and articles between the 1960s and 1990s which anarchists today can draw upon, even if his strategy of “libertarian municipalism” is deeply flawed. So while The Next Revolution does contain important pieces which activists today would benefit from reading, it pales against his earlier works. These should be read first, simply to ensure that when reading the anti-anarchist remarks in this book the pre-break Bookchin will be fresh in your memory to refute them.

Iain McKay

Murray Bookchin: The May-June 1968 Events In France

Beauty is in the streets

Lately I have been focusing on recent events in France – the conclusion to the Tarnac trial and the police attack on the ZAD autonomous zone near Nantes. Now it is time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the May-June events in France in 1968, an audacious attempt at an anti-authoritarian social revolution in an advanced capitalist society. The French anarchist paper, Le Monde Libertaire, has just published a special issue on May 1968. Here I reproduce excerpts from Murray Bookchin’s reflections on these events, written within weeks of the uprising, and included in Bookchin’s classic collection of anarchist essays, Post-Scarcity Anarchism. It’s important to emphasize the anarchist influences in the May-June events, because with the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth coming in the same year as the 50th anniversary of May 1968, much commentary has focused on Marxist influences on the May-June events when, as Bookchin notes, the various Marxist parties were completely taken by surprise by these events, and if you go back to read Marxist responses to the events at the time, they mainly bemoaned the failure of French students and workers to let themselves be led by the umpteen “vanguards of the proletariat” in France at the time, the various Marxist political parties marching backwards into the future under the banner of Marxism-Leninism. This is something the Cohn-Bendit brothers brought out beautifully in their book, translated into English as Obsolete Communism: The Leftwing Alternative. The French title would be better translated as Leftism: Remedy for the Senile Disease of Communism, a parody of Lenin’s notorious pamphlet, “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder. I included excerpts from the Cohn-Bendit’s book in Volume 2 of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Noteworthy in Bookchin’s essay is how radical he was in 1968 – an unabashed anarchist calling for a far reaching social revolution. I included several of Bookchin’s anarchist writings in Volumes 2 and 3 of the Anarchism anthology.

Bookchin’s “Listen Marxist”


The 1968 May-June uprising was one of the most important events to occur in France since the Paris Commune of 1871. Not only did it shake the foundations of bourgeois society in France, it raised issues and posed solutions of unprecedented importance for modern industrial society. It deserves the closest study and the most thoroughgoing discussion by revolutionaries everywhere.

The May-June uprising occurred in an industrialized, consumption-oriented country—less developed than the United States, but essentially in the same economic category. The uprising exploded the myth that the wealth and resources of modern industrial society can be used to absorb all revolutionary opposition. The May-June events showed that contradictions and antagonisms in capitalism are not eliminated by statification and advanced forms of industrialism, but changed in form and character.

The fact that the uprising took everyone by surprise, including the most sophisticated theoreticians in the Marxist, Situationist and anarchist movements, underscores the importance of the May-June events and raises the need to re-examine the sources of revolutionary unrest in modern society. The graffiti on the walls of Paris—”Power to the Imagination,” “It is forbidden to forbid,” “Life without dead times,” “Never work”—represent a more probing analysis of these sources than all the theoretical tomes inherited from the past. The uprising revealed that we are at the end of an old era and well into the beginning of a new one. The motive forces of revolution today, at least in the industrialized world, are not simply scarcity and material need, but also the quality of everyday life, the demand for the liberation of experience, the attempt to gain control over one’s own destiny. It matters little that the graffiti on the walls of Paris were initially scrawled by a small minority. From everything I have seen, it is clear that the graffiti (which now form the content of several books) have captured the imagination of many thousands in Paris. They have touched the revolutionary nerve of the city.


The revolt was a majority movement in the sense that it cut across nearly all the class lines in France. It involved not only students and workers, but technicians, engineers and clerical people in nearly every stratum of the state, industrial and commercial bureaucracy. It swept in professionals and laborers, intellectuals and football players, television broadcasters and subway workers. It even touched the gendarmerie of Paris, and almost certainly affected the great mass of conscript soldiers in the French army.

The revolt was initiated primarily by the young. It was begun by university students, then it was taken up by young industrial workers, unemployed youth, and the “leather jackets”—the so-called “delinquent youth” of the cities. Special emphasis must be given to high school students and adolescents, who often showed more courage and determination than the university students. But the revolt swept in older people as well—blue- and white-collar workers, technicians and professionals. Although it was catalyzed by conscious revolutionaries, especially by anarchist affinity groups whose existence no one had even faintly supposed, the flow, the movement of the uprising was spontaneous. No one had “summoned it forth”; no one had “organized” it; no one succeeded in “controlling” it.

A festive atmosphere prevailed throughout most of the May-June days, an awakening of solidarity, of mutual aid, indeed of a selfhood and self-expression that had not been seen in Paris since the Commune. People literally discovered themselves and their fellow human beings anew—or remade themselves. In many industrial towns, workers clogged the squares, hung out red flags, read avidly and discussed every leaflet that fell into their hands. A fever for life gripped millions, a reawakening of senses that people never thought they possessed, a joy and elation they never thought they could feel. Tongues were loosened, ears and eyes acquired a new acuity. There was singing with new, and often ribald, verses added to old tunes. Many factory floors were turned into dance floors. The sexual inhibitions that had frozen the lives of so many young people in France were shattered in a matter of days. This was not a solemn revolt, a coup d’etat bureaucratically plotted and manipulated by a “vanguard” party; it was witty, satirical, inventive and creative—and therein lay its strength, its capacity for immense self-mobilization, its infectiousness.

Many people transcended the narrow limitations that had impeded their social vision. For thousands of students, the revolution destroyed the prissy, tight-assed sense of “studenthood”—that privileged, pompous state that is expressed in America by the “position paper” and by the stuffy sociologese of the “analytical” document. The individual workers who came to the action committees at Censier [the new building of the Sorbonne Faculty of Letters] ceased to be “workers” as such. They became revolutionaries. And it is precisely on the basis of this new identity that people whose lives had been spent in universities, factories and offices could meet freely, exchange experiences and engage in common actions without any self-consciousness about their social “origins” or “background.”

The revolt had created the beginnings of its own classless, nonhierarchical society. Its primary task was to extend this qualitatively new realm to the country at large—to every corner of French society. Its hope lay in the extension of self-management in all its forms—the general assemblies and their administrative forms, the action committees, the factory strike committees—to all areas of the economy, indeed to all areas of life itself. The most advanced consciousness of this task seems to have appeared not so much among the workers in the more traditional industries, where the Communist-controlled CGT exercises great power, as among those in newer, more technically advanced industries, such as electronics. (Let me emphasize that this is a tentative conclusion, drawn from a number of scattered but impressive episodes that were related to me by young militants in the student-worker action committees.)


Of paramount importance is the light that the May-June revolt cast on the problem of authority and hierarchy. In this respect it challenged not only the conscious processes of individuals, but also their most important unconscious, socially conditioned habits. (It does not have to be argued at any great length that the habits of authority and hierarchy are instilled in the individual at the very outset of life—in the family milieu of infancy, in childhood “education” at home and in school, in the organization of work, “leisure” and everyday life. This shaping of the character structure of the individual by what seem like  archetypal” norms of obedience and command constitutes the very essence of what we call the “socialization” of the young.)

The mystique of bureaucratic “organization,” of imposed, formalized hierarchies and structures, pervades the most radical movements in nonrevolutionary periods. The remarkable susceptibility of the left to authoritarian and hierarchical impulses reveals the deep roots of the radical movement in the very society it professedly seeks to overthrow. In this respect, nearly every revolutionary organization is a potential source of counterrevolution. Only if the revolutionary organization is so “structured” that its forms reflect the direct, decentralized forms of freedom initiated by the revolution, only if the revolutionary organization fosters in the revolutionist the lifestyles and personality of freedom, can this potential for counterrevolution be diminished. Only then is it possible for the revolutionary movement to dissolve into the revolution, to disappear into its new, directly democratic social forms like surgical thread into a healing wound.

The act of revolution rips apart all the tendons that hold authority and hierarchy together in the established order. The direct entry of the people into the social arena is the very essence of revolution. Revolution is the most advanced form of direct action. By the same token, direct action in “normal” times is the indispensable preparation for revolutionary action. In both cases, there is a substitution of social action from below for political action within the established, hierarchical framework. In both cases, there are molecular changes of “masses,” classes and social strata into revolutionary individuals. This condition must become permanent if the revolution is to be successful—if it is not to be transformed into a counterrevolution masked by revolutionary ideology. Every formula, every organization, every “tried-and-tested” program, must give way to the demands of the revolution. There is no theory, program or party that has greater significance than the revolution itself.

Among the most serious obstacles to the May-June uprising were not only de Gaulle and the police, but also the hardened organizations of the left—the Communist Party that suffocated initiative in many factories and the Leninist and Trotskyist groups that created such a bad odor in the general assembly of the Sorbonne. I speak here not of the many individuals who romantically identified themselves with Che, Mao, Lenin or Trotsky (often with all four at once), but of those who surrendered their entire identity, initiative and volition to tightly disciplined, hierarchical organizations. However well-intentioned these people may have been, it became their task to “discipline” the revolt, more precisely, to de-revolutionize it by imbuing it with the habits of obedience and authority that their organizations have assimilated from the established order.

These habits, fostered by participation in highly structured organizations—organizations modeled, in fact, on the very society the “revolutionaries” profess to oppose—led to parliamentary maneuvering, secret caucusing, and attempts to “control” the revolutionary forms of freedom created by the revolution. They produced in the Sorbonne assembly a poisonous vapor of manipulation. Many students to whom I spoke were absolutely convinced that these groups were prepared to destroy the Sorbonne assembly if they could not “control” it. The groups were concerned not with the vitality of the revolutionary forms but with the growth of their own organizations. Having created authentic forms of freedom in which everyone could freely express his viewpoint, the assembly would have been perfectly justified to have banned all bureaucratically organized groups from its midst.

It remains to the lasting credit of the March 22nd Movement that it merged into the revolutionary assemblies and virtually disappeared as an organization, except in name. In its own assemblies, March 22nd arrived at all its decisions by the “sense of the assembly,” and it permitted all tendencies within its midst to freely test their views in practice. Such tolerance did not impair its “effectiveness”; this anarchic movement, by the common agreement of nearly all observers, did more to catalyze the revolt than any other student group. What distinguishes March 22nd and groups such as the anarchists and Situationists from all others is that they worked not for the “seizure of power” but for its dissolution.

Murray Bookchin, July 1968

Syndicalism and the Welfare State: The SAC’s Historical Compromise

Since my post on the origins of anarcho-syndicalism in the First International, particularly through the debates at the 1869 Basle Congress, I have been posting more contemporary pieces that defend various syndicalist approaches in today’s world, from Alex Kolokotronis’ more reformist call for a “municipalist syndicalism” to Graham Purchase’s advocacy of a “green” anarcho-syndicalism. While I included some pieces in Volumes Two and Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas reinterpreting syndicalist approaches to social change in the post-World War II era, I skipped the reformist turn taken by the Swedish syndicalist federation (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation Syndikalisterna – Central Organization of Swedish Workers–the SAC), mainly because that belongs more properly in a documentary history of syndicalism, not a documentary history of anarchist ideas. But that doesn’t stop me from posting this excerpt from the SAC’s 1963 pamphlet in which the Swedish syndicalists advocated a more reformist syndicalism that accepted the reality of the post-War welfare state. One of the biggest problems with this approach is that as the Welfare State came under increasing attack starting with the Reagan and Thatcher governments in the early 1980s, people who had advocated working alongside it now faced the dilemma of whether to defend it against neo-liberal attacks, or whether to return to a more radical approach.

Syndicalism in Modern Society

[…] During the [19]40s Syndicalism went into its fourth and present phase. The new orientation has its origin above all in three things. The experiences of the Spanish Civil War, where the Anarohosyndicalist ideas for the first time could be put into practice on a large scale, the changed society and its new problems, foremost the emergence of the Welfare State but also Bolshevism’s push forward, and thirdly the actualization of certain liberal and anarchist lines of thought. Because of the advanced character of the Swedish Social State and the, from the international point of view, relatively strong position of Swedish Syndicalism after Spanish Anarchosyndicalism had been driven into exile after Franco’s victory, the new course has, in the first hand, been marked out in Sweden.

Modern Libertarian Syndicalism has written off the ”class struggle dogma” of the classical Syndìcalists and stresses very strongly its libertarian character. The old thought of a definitive general strike revolution has been abandoned for being, in today’s society, unrealistic and implying totalitarian risks. The development towards a Libertarian Socialist society is thought as an evolutionary process with trade union struggle, opinion making and other direct social activity as pushing means. On the whole, for modern Syndicalists the end plays a considerably lesser part than the direction, and Libertarian Syndicalism is still more undoctrinaire and pragmatic than older Syndicalism.

Although not constituting (as yet anyhow) a new historical phase something should perhaps be added about the youngest generation of Swedish Syndicalists. They have a somewhat broader perspective, and the young Marx, modern ”Revisionism” and British Anarchist and New Left thinking are new sources of inspiration. Having grown up together with the Anti-Colonial Revolution in Asia and Africa the young Syndicalists base their View of the world on the emergence of these new countries. This new generation is mostly to be found in the ideological groups and in the circle around the ”Journal of Libertarian Socialism”, Zenit.

Syndicalism in Today’s Sweden

The principal organization of Swedish Syndicalism is Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (Central Organization of Swedish Workers) SAC, a Syndicalist trade union movement founded in 1910, organizing all categories of wage and salary earners and having about 20.000 members with its greatest strength among wood- and building-workers. Beside SAC there is a Syndicalist women’s federation and independent ideological and/or propagandistical groups, among others students’ clubs.

The Syndicalist press in Sweden comprises the famous weekly Arbetaren (The Worker), the union organ Industriarbetaren and the ideological and cultural review Zenit.

Internationally, the Swedish Syndicalists cooperate with several Syndicalist and other Libertarian and Socialist organizations all over the world.

The Declaration of Principles of the Central Organization of Swedish Workers (SAC)

1) The Syndicalist movement is emanating from the working class as a safeguard for the interests of the working people and with the purpose of remoulding society into a Libertarian Socialist direction, which implies the greatest possible freedom and economic justice being given to everybody.

2) The world scene is primarily dominated by three systems:
a) The democratic-statist with a mixture of private, state and other collective property together with political democracy and certain rights for individuals and organizations.
b) The statist-totalitarian system, where property as well as power monopoly are entirely in the hands of the state.
e) The politically statist-totalitarian system, where the property monopoly predominantly is in private hands.

3) The SAC is against all these systems but does not equate them. The society which respects the human rights is preferred decidedly. Syndicalism has contributed to the creation of the human liberties and rights which exist in the democratic society and is ready to defend these against the adherents of dictatorship.

4) Where private capitalism is dominating there also exists the private monopoly of supplies of raw materials and of means of production. This monopoly is a bar to continued economic democratization and federative administration. Instead of being objects of speculation for a privileged few the production must, to an equal degree, be put at everybody’s disposal. Thereby the greatest cause for exploitation and economic conflicts between men is removed.

5) In industrialized countries with a political democracy the social security of the property-less masses has become greater through the modern social reforms, but at the same time has the power of the state increased by this policy. Through its organizational strength the working-class must see to it that the carrying through of the social security reforms occur in forms favouring self-administration and being under the control of the popular organizations.

6) Syndicalism opposes the nationalization of the economic, social and cultural life. It appeals to all who are opposed to every form of exploitation, to all who do not defend economic or other privileges and who are ready to participate in a struggle for a social order where all Working people have a chance of getting a coresponsibility in the administration of the means of production by adhesion to cooperative producers’ groups, and where every member of society, on the basis of extended forms of communal and regional autonomy gets the opportunity of actively participating in a decentralized social life.

7) Syndicalism fights against every form of dictatorship and declines all authoritarian forms of organization, which by the centralization of the right of decision, create oppressors and oppressed and which render more difficult the development of self-responsibility which is the prerequisite for autonomy. Since one man does not have a natural right to determine over another and since might in itself is not right, there only rest the voluntarily made agreements as a basis for men’s social cooperation.

From this fact the federative form of organization is derived. Therefore, Syndicalism in the first hand directs its energies towards the building up of organizations on a federative basis, within which it is left to each organizational unit to decide their own affairs, which does not imply that the units have a right to act contrarily to commonly made regulations.

This organization is shaped so, that these locally employed in an enterprise form an operation section; the operation sections from all enterprises in the same branch and at the same place form a syndicate, and all syndicates form together in their turn the local federation, which as regards general and common interests form the unit within the central organization. For the furthering of the activity and special interests of the respective industrial groups the syndicates form country-wide federations, according to expediency are brought together into departments. This organization shall be developed with all vital functions in a free socialist society taken into consideration.

8) The SAC does not participate in party politics. Both in the day-to-day struggle and for the creation of a classless social order the direct, economic, social and cultural activity is regarded as the essential. Syndicalism prepares and follows up the social transformation from below with the place of work as point of departure and with a constructive View of the social upbuilding. The SAC, therefore, organizes all workers — wherein technicians and administrators of all kinds also are included — in their character of producers, in a common organization, which beyond the immediate interest struggle aims at the construction of a Syndicalist society.

The members of the SAC have the right outside the movement to participate in the forms of social activity that corresponds to their political, philosophic and religions views on the condition that this activity does not bring them into a state of open hostility to the Syndicalist movement.

9) Syndicalism contributes to a cooperative economy in a socialist meaning and aims at the forming of international federations of producers’ cooperatives as a first step towards the Libertarian Socialism of the future. Syndicalism regards all forms of cooperative activity, even the cooperation of the farmers and the self-employed, which does not exploit other labour or sets aside social solidarity, as a stage in the development towards e society where everybody is liberated from undue economic dependence and where all appropriate forms of mutual aid are coordinated according to federalist principles. Syndicalism also regards the consumers’ cooperation as an applicable means in the struggle against national and international monopolies.

Syndicalism’s order of production implies the complete realization of Industrial Democracy, so as a striving towards this goal the SAC participates, by direct union-industrial measures in every activity aiming at coinfluence of the workers in private, communal, state or consumer-owned enterprises. Syndicalism therefore also intends to give the partial industrial democracy a socialist direction, bearing in mind that the administration of the means of productions shall he overtaken by all employed.

10) State boundaries’ and national administration unite are contrary to the social structure of Syndicalism, which follows the economic life and is, administrationally, nationless. In consequence of that is the state as a representative of nationalism and war the bitterest enemy of Syndicalism. Syndicalism, therefore, combats militarism and regards the anti-militarist propaganda as one of. its most important civilizational tasks. It moreover works for a joint action against militarism and war by the free popular movements. The methods for the anti-military struggle will be determined by the situation prevailing in each special case.

Instead of the existing system of sovereign states Syndicalism aims at international, regional and universal federations, resting upon economic and cultural unions of both geographic and functional character. Autonomy and suitable forms of control in all social fields must make the guarantee for a democratic development within the frame of a common federalist judicial system which overcomes nationalism and makes militarism superfluent.

In this way Syndicalism wants to further a humanistic view of life and a higher civilization in the spirit of freedom and solidarity with the intent at last to reach a brotherly cooperation between all peoples and races of the earth.

The SAC, 1963

Anarcha-Feminism: To Destroy Domination in All its Forms


In Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included some anarcha-feminist selections from the 1970s by Peggy Kornegger and Carol Ehrlich. I’ve posted more stuff on my blog, including Kytha Kurin’s 1980 article on anarcha-feminism from the Open Road anarchist newsjournal. Here I reproduce a brief excerpt from “To Destroy Domination in All Its Forms: Anarcha-Feminist Theory, Organization and Action 1970-1978,” by Julia Tanenbaum. The complete article is in the current issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. Tanenbaum does an excellent job describing the emergence and development of anarcha-feminism in the US during the 1970s.


To Destroy Domination in All its Forms

Anarcha-feminism was at first created and defined by women who saw radical feminism itself as anarchistic. In 1970, during the rapid growth of small leaderless consciousness raising (CR) groups around the country, and a corresponding theory of radical feminism that opposed domination, some feminists, usually after discovering anarchism through the writings of Emma Goldman, observed the “intuitive anarchism” of the women’s liberation movement. Radical feminism emphasized the personal as political, what we would now call prefigurative politics, and a dedication to ending hierarchy and domination, both in theory and practice.

CR groups functioned as the central organizational form of the radical feminist movement, and by extension the early anarcha-feminist movement.  Members shared their feelings and experiences and realized that their problems were political. The theories of patriarchy they developed explained what women initially saw as personal failures. Consciousness raising was not therapy, as liberal feminists and politicos frequently claimed; its purpose was social transformation not self-transformation.

Radical feminist and anarchist theory and practice share remarkable similarities. In a 1972 article critiquing Rita Mae Brown’s calls for a lesbian party, anarchist working-class lesbian feminist Su Katz described how her anarchism came “directly out of” her feminism, and meant decentralization, teaching women to take care of one another, and smashing power relations, all of which were feminist values. Radical feminism attributed domination to the nuclear family structure, which they claimed treats children and women as property and teaches them to obey authority in all aspects of life, and to patriarchal hierarchical thought patterns that encouraged relationships of dominance and submission.

To radical feminists and anarcha-feminists, the alternative to domination was sisterhood, which would replace hierarchy and the nuclear family with relationships based on autonomy and equality. A chant that appeared in a 1970 issue of a feminist newspaper read “We learn the joys of equality/Of relationships without dominance/Among sisters/We destroy domination in all its forms.” These relationships, structured around sisterhood, trust, and friendship, were of particular importance to the radical feminist vision of abolishing hierarchy. As radical feminist theologian Mary Daly wrote in 1973, “The development of sisterhood is a unique threat, for it is directed against the basic social and psychic model of hierarchy and domination.” Radical feminists opposed the “male domineering attitude” and “male hierarchical thought patterns,” and attempted to act as equals in relationships deeper than male friendships.

To feminists familiar with anarchism, the connections between both radical feminist and anarchist theory and practice were obvious. Anarchist feminism was essentially a step in self-conscious theoretical development, and anarcha-feminists believed that an explicit anarchist analysis, and knowledge of the history of anarchists who faced similar structural and theoretical obstacles, would help women overcome the coercion of elites and create groups structured to be accountable to their members but not hierarchical. They built an independent women’s movement and a feminist critique of anarchism, along with an anarchist critique of feminism.

To anarcha-feminists, the women’s movement represented a new potential for anarchist revolution, for a movement to confront forms of domination and hierarchy, personal and political. Unlike Goldman, Voltaraine De Cleyre, the members of Mujeres Libres, and countless other female anarchists concerned with the status of women in the 19th and early 20th century, they became feminists before they became anarchists. Anarcha-feminists eventually merged into the anti-nuclear movement by the end of 1978, but not before contributing to crucial movement debates among both anarchists and feminists, building egalitarian, leaderless, and empowering alternative institutions, and altering US anarchism in theory and practice…

Julia Tanenbaum