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 QUALITY OF EVERYDAY LIFE

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 SPONTANEOUS MAJORITY MOVEMENT

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.)

AUTHORITY AND HIERARCHY

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

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CrimethInc: Unravelling the Logic of Anti-Terrorism

A group of alleged “anarcho-autonomist terrorists” in France was acquitted on April 12, 2018 of the most serious charges against them. Around the same time that the 10 year legal ordeal of the defendants was coming to an end, the French police mounted a full scale assault on the ZAD—the Zone a Défendre (Zone To Defend) against the construction of an airport near Nantes. From one struggle to another. Here I reproduce excerpts from a CrimethInc. piece reflecting on the Tarnac trial, “The Tarnac Verdict: Unravelling the Logic of Anti-Terrorism.”

Subverting the trial process

The Tarnac Verdict

In 2008, the state of France accused the Tarnac Ten of terrorism, charging that they had formed “a group of the ultraleft, of the autonomous type, maintaining links with international extremist movements.”1 After a decade-long ordeal, the remaining defendants received their final verdict on April 12, 2018.

All of the defendants were found not guilty of the charges of sabotage, rioting, and conspiracy; the terrorism charges had been dropped much earlier. Christophe Becker was sentenced to six months of probation for possession of fake IDs and a fine of 500 euros for refusal to give a DNA sample to the authorities. Julien Coupat and Yildune Lévy were also found guilty of refusing to give DNA, but face no sentence on account of the amount of time that has passed. Considering how many resources the French state had invested in this court case, this represented a massive victory for the defendants…

The original charge was essentially terrorist conspiracy—seeking “to severely disturb public order through intimidation or terror.” The alleged crime consisted of taking part in international meetings in Germany, the US, and Greece, inciting violence against police officers and destruction of property, and destroying train power lines. The anti-terrorist prosecutor was determined not to let the narrative of terrorism collapse, and presented appeal after appeal against the dropping of the terror charges. Eventually, the prosecution took the accusation of “terrorism” to the highest court of France, the court de cassation. In 2015, the court ruled that the charge of a “terrorist enterprise” was to be dropped, but that a criminal trial without the charge of “terrorist enhancement” would continue.

The accused of Tarnac were downgraded from terrorism defendants to an association de malfaiteurs, a charge introduced in 1894 for the express purpose of sending anarchists to jail in France for supporting direct action in newspapers such as l’Anarchie even if no other charges could be brought against them. Without the terrorism charge, the case was held together by the barest of threads. Gabrielle Hallez and Aria Thomas saw their charges completely dropped, reducing the Tarnac Ten to the Tarnac Eight.

Matthieu Burnel and Benjamin Rosoux were charged with refusing to give their DNA to the police. Manon Glibert and Christophe Becker faced charges for faking documents. Bertrand Deveaux and Elsa Hauck remained charged with association de malfaiteurs, but not on account of the sabotage, which everyone maintained they had nothing to do with. Rather, they were accused of participating in an anti-fascist demonstration against an EU summit on blocking immigration that was organized in Vichy—ironically, during the occupation, the seat of the collaborationist government that deported Jews and communists to Nazi death camps. Only Yildune Lévy and Julien Coupat retained the sabotage charges and the charges of being part of an association de malfaiteurs. Julien had been demoted from being the chief of a terrorist conspiracy to a mere animateur, dovetailing with his current job as part of a theater group.

The attempt to introduce the logic of anti-terrorism had failed. The French state had tried to use a massive media operation to convince the public that the “anarcho-autonomous” movement was a “pre-terrorist organization” in 2011, but they were defeated on their own territory. The Tarnac Ten withstood the pressure and managed to convince the vast majority of the French population that autonomy was not synonymous with terrorism.

At the same time, in the end, the prosecution was able to avail themselves of all the special resources reserved for pursuing terrorism cases to target what turned out to be a handful of perfectly ordinary activists. All the evidence gathered under the auspices of “fighting terrorism” was still admissible in the trial. The lead anti-terrorist prosecutor was still prosecuting the case, despite the merely criminal nature of the trial. Above all, the tremendous, debilitating repression reserved for terrorism cases was directed at paralyzing the defendants and their communities. This gives us a foretaste of what we can expect from the security apparatus in the future. We can see this process somewhat further along in Russia and Brazil.

The “Tarnac Process”

“Before the judges of the bourgeois class, the revolutionary does not have to account for his acts nor does he have to respect any so-called truth of theirs.”

-Victor Serge

In every court case, there are certain roles: the solemn judges, the defendants pleading guilty or innocent (but above all, pleading), and a well-paid supporting cast of parasites, from lawyers to journalists, who stand to profit from the case. The entire procedure requires everyone to play by the rules. Even denouncing the entire juridical procedure, as popularized by Algerian revolutionaries and illegalist anarchists,8 has become a formalized part of the procedure. But when the court case opened on March 13, 2018, it became clear that the defendants were not playing the game.

How might the accused avoid playing the game of the state? Perhaps, first, by treating all the members of the trial, including the prosecutor and the judge, as everyday people: laughing when they say something stupid, chiding them when they forget a key point, refusing to put them on a pedestal. The judge, irritated, demanded that the defendants either denounce the court or continue in a respectful manner: “You are free to adopt a defense of rupture,” she railed, “it’s your right. But if you don’t want this, you need to respect the court.” The Tarnac defendants refused either approach, discussing the facts of the case in detail but according the pomp and circumstance of the judicial sphere no respect. The proceedings resembled a decidedly more philosophical version of the Chicago Seven trial, with the defendants constantly interrupting the judge, the police, the lawyers, and each other.

Another way the defendants subverted the justice system was by neither denying the charges nor validating them. While the act of sabotage itself was clearly defensible as an anti-nuclear ecological measure and the French court attempted to suppress the fact that police had received a communiqué from German groups claiming responsibility for it, the defendants never denounced the action. Likewise, the prosecutor showed picture after picture of the accused at a demonstration in Vichy against the opponents of immigration, at which they were alleged to have brought ropes to pull down the fencing around the meeting. Finally, Christophe emerged and noted that it was ridiculous to question the defendants about a demonstration that had taken place ten years earlier, but asserted that he was proud to have participated in a demonstration for immigration. The entire court broke into applause. The defendants never recanted any of their actions but, one by one, gave reasons for them. Julien, for example, justified his illegal border crossing into the United States from Canada as a refusal of a fascist biometric system.

More importantly, the defendants never refused their cause. While the defendants proclaimed their support of the autonomous project of Tarnac in public, the police and intelligence officers hid their identities behind masks, referred to by numbers rather than names.

The judge attempted to go through the file in chronological order. She hastily pushed through the files on Mark Kennedy and the infamous trip of Julien and Yildune Lévy to New York City after Julien openly mocked FBI reports about a Network of Worldwide Anarchists (NWA). Even in France, NWA sounds like an acronym for a hip-hop band or wresting federation; the defendants took the opportunity to hold forth on the history of hip hop in the USA. Still, the judge refused to acknowledge the crucial role played by the intelligence of Mark Kennedy, seeking to avoid blaming the English spy for the initial frame of anti-terrorism.

As the trial continued, the question of the authorship of The Coming Insurrection came up again and again. The book states that,

“To sabotage the social machine with some consequence today means reconquering and reinventing the means of interrupting its networks. How could a TGV [high speed train] line or an electrical network be rendered useless?”

This quote was used as evidence to demonstrate conclusively that there was a plan to “paralyze” the city. While expressing agreement with the contents of the book, the defendants never admitted to authoring the text. Strangely, the charge of thoughtcrime premised on authorship of The Coming Insurrection had been the raison d’être for the terrorist charges. In the time since the charges had first been pressed, it had become one of the best-selling political books in France; legions of intellectuals, paranoid police officers, and journalists had agreed that the book was of high quality. The terrorism charges created a paradox for those who wished to see themselves as the defenders of society: if the authors were terrorists, was the popularity of the book a sign of popular support for terrorism?

… Mathieu Burnel, in his final statement, used the court as a platform to indict the state apparatus itself rather than submit to the judgment of the state. Julien took the stand and noted that it was indeed their privileged roles as intellectuals that saved them: “The peculiarity of this trial is that the judicial apparatus has come up against people who are prepared to defend themselves and determined not to let themselves be crushed. We are conscious of having had the chance to defend ourselves, of being able to speak, of having three weeks in which to do so. Since we’ve fought, we have benefited from certain privileges. Having spent a little time in prison, I would like to dedicate this trial to all those who haven’t had the means to defend themselves, who are not listened to and who are convicted in silence.” The court broke into a final applause for the alleged terrorists.

Anti-terrorism is a peculiar kind of logic. As the enemy is potentially anyone, all it takes to label someone a terrorist is to frame the actions of the accused in such a way that they potentially undermine the stability of the state. As the state edges closer to dissolution, there are more and more excuses to accuse people of undermining its stability. The security apparatus is on the lookout for anyone who refuses the logic of capitalist individualism—a category that can include anyone from Islamic fundamentalists to anarchists who want to live in a commune. Benjamin Rosoux observed this irony in court when he noted that life in Tarnac was based on openness and sharing, while the police were hiding in the forest taking photos of their houses.

What is terrorism? Terrorism is the panic put into the state apparatus by the fear of its own demise. Terrorism, defined by the state, is not a matter of human anguish but of institutional loss of control. The Tarnac Ten struck a chord of terror in the state—not because of the force they could muster, but because of the uncontrollable potential they represent. The specter of insurrection that had disappeared in the 1980s returned, as new groups of young people appeared who were prepared to defy the existing order.

One should never underestimate the power of small groups. The Paris Commune was not brought about by a great organization or Party, but by myriad small conspiracies: the Vigilance Committees that met in each arrondissement, the networks of friends and neighbors on each street in the faubourgs. When the stars align, little conspiracies like these can spread like wildfire until they are innumerable; that is what creates the conditions for uncontrollable insurrection. This is why the state apparatus always attempts to nip these conspiracies in the bud; it is why they targeted the Tarnac defendants in hopes of forestalling the wave of unrest that surged in December 2008; and it is why no amount of repression can ultimately stem the tide of insurrection, for it can spring anew from any of the countless nodes in the vast web of relations that makes up this society.

It is the intensity of feeling that we can share that the state fears above all, the capacity to generate new dreams and ambitions together. This is the very stuff of life. For those who can find it together, it is worth any ordeal, any degree of repression.

Some have criticized the way the Tarnac Ten engaged with the media and with the public notions of legitimacy represented by the intellectuals who came forward to speak in their favor. We should never make the mistake of believing that media exposure or social legitimacy are tools that can in themselves serve to advance the cause of liberation; but nor can we always afford to do without them entirely when the forces of repression use those tools to set the stage to destroy us. As anarchists, we are always fighting against the terrain itself as well as against our adversaries. This is not a reason not to fight on the terrain of media or perceived legitimacy; it simply means that we must find a way to operate in that territory that enables us to outflank the authorities without absorbing their logic. Every blow they strike against us must cost them double: in this regard, the explosion of interest that the Tarnac arrests produced in The Coming Insurrection sets a good example for how revolutionaries can prepare to make the phase of repression just another step in our plans—a phase in which we can continue to advance.

At the same time, spectacular fame is dangerous, above all because it enables the spectator to sit back and let another protagonist stand in for his or her own agency. We must not look to any particular cadre of heroes for the next brilliant theory or courageous action. If the promise of the Invisible Committee is that perhaps, in a world of Maoist academics and hipsters spouting empty words, someone somewhere might be putting their thoughts into action, that someone must be us.

There are still many battles to be fought, and many thoughts yet unthought, and many acts for which one must try not to get caught. The fear of imprisonment should not prevent us from unifying our thoughts with our actions. Indeed, the possibility that we might do so is the last, best hope of a dying world.

CrimethInc. April 2018

Sébastien Faure: Anarchist Synthesis

Sébastien Faure

Recently I noticed some renewed interest in the idea of an “anarchist synthesis,” a concept championed in the 1920s by such anarchists as Voline and Sébastien Faure. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from Voline’s article on an anarchist synthesis that Faure had printed in his Encyclopédie Anarchiste. Today, I am reproducing parts of an article Faure wrote in 1928 on the anarchist synthesis. Fundamentally, Faure and Voline were trying to transcend the sectarian differences that existed among anarchists that had been exacerbated by the Marxist, Fascist and military suppression of anarchist ideas and movements in Russia, Italy and Latin America. The idea of an anarchist synthesis is similar to the concept of anarchism without adjectives, in that both sought to overcome the sectarian squabbles that prevented anarchists from taking united action, without attempting to impose a particular perspective as a quasi-official anarchist orthodoxy (something which the synthesists accused the Platformists of doing). Thanks to Shawn Wilbur for yet again making a translation of this sort of material available.

The Anarchist Synthesis

In France, as in the majority of other countries, we distinguish three great anarchist currents, which can be designated in this way:

Anarcho-syndicalism;
Libertarian communism;
Anarchist individualism.

It was natural and inevitable that, having reached a certain development, an idea as vast as anarchism would result in this triple manifestation of life.

A philosophical and social movement, a movement of ideas and action, intending to make a clean break with all authoritarian institutions, must inevitably give rise to these distinctions necessarily determined by the variety of the situations, milieus and temperaments, as well as the diversity of the sources by which the countless individual formations and the tremendous multiplicity of events are fueled.

Anarcho-syndicalism; libertarian communism; anarchist individualism: these three currents exist and nothing nor any person can prevent this from being the case. Each of them represents a force—a force that it is neither possible nor desirable to strike down. To convince ourselves of this, it is enough place ourselves—as simply anarchists, full stop—at the very heart of the gigantic effort that must be carried out in order to shatter the principle of authority. Then, you will be conscious of the indispensable boost furnished by each of these three currents in the battle to be given.

These three currents are distinct, but not opposed.

Now, I have three questions to pose:

The first is addressed from the anarcho-syndicalists to the libertarian communists and anarchist individualists;

The second is addressed from the libertarian communists to the anarcho-syndicalists and anarchist individualists;

The second is addressed from the anarchist individualists to the anarcho-syndicalists and libertarian communists.

Here is the first:

“If anarchism, considered as a social and popular action, contemplates the hour when, inevitably, it will make the decisive assault on the capitalist, authoritarian world that we express by the phrase “the Social Revolution,” can it do without the support of the imposing masses that group within their midst, in the field of labor, the trade-union organizations?”

I think that it would be madness to hope for victory without the participation in the liberating upheaval — and a participation that is active, efficient, brutal and persistent — by these working masses, who, en bloc, have a greater interest than anyone in social transformation.

I am not saying, and I do not think that, in anticipation of the necessary collaboration between the syndicalist and anarchist forces in the period of revolutionary ferment and action, both must, right now, unite, associate, merge and form just one homogeneous and compact whole. But I do think and will say, with my old friend Malatesta:

“Anarchists much recognize the utility and importance of the trade-union movement, they must favor its development and make it one of the levers of their action, striving to make the cooperation of syndicalism and other progressive forces lead to a social revolution that includes the suppression of classes, total liberty, equality, peace and solidarity among all human beings. But it would be a macabre illusion to believe, as many do, that the workers’ movement will lead to such a revolution by itself, by virtue of its very nature. Quite the contrary: in all the movements based on immediate and material interests (and a broad workers’ movement can be built on no other foundations), there is a need for ferment, pressure, the concerted work of men of ideas who struggle and sacrifice themselves in the service of a future ideal. Without this lever, every movement inevitably tends to adapt itself to the circumstances, giving rise to the conservative spirit, the fear of change among those who succeed in obtaining better conditions. Often, new privileged classes are created, who strive to support, to reinforce the state of things that we wish to bring down.

From this arising the pressing necessity of properly anarchist organizations that, within or outside the syndicates, struggle for the full realization of anarchism and seek to sterilize all the germs of corruption and reaction.” — Malatesta, “A Project of Anarchist Organization”

We see it: it is no more a question of organically linking the anarchist movement to the syndicalist movement than [of linking] syndicalism to anarchism; it is only a question of acting, within or outside of the syndicates, for the full realization of the anarchist ideal.

And I ask the libertarian communists and the anarchist individualists what reasons of principle or fact, what essential, fundamental reasons, they can oppose to an anarcho-syndicalism conceived and practiced in this manner?

Here is the second question:

“Intransigent enemy of the exploitation of man by man, engendered by the capitalist regime, and of the domination of man by man, birthed by the State, can anarchism conceive of the actual and total suppression of the first without the suppression of the capitalist regime and placing in common (libertarian communism) of the means of production, transport and exchange? And can it conceive of the actual and total abolition effective of the second without the permanent abolition of the State and of all the institutions that result from it?”

And I ask the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarchist individualists (1) what reasons of principle or fact, what essential, fundamental reasons, they can oppose to a libertarian communism conceived and practiced in this manner?

Here is the third and last question:

“Anarchism being, on the one hand, the highest and clearest expression of the reaction of the individual to the political, economic and moral oppression that all the authoritarian institutions cause to weigh on them and, on the other hand, the firmest and most precise affirmation of the right of every individual to their full flourishing through the satisfaction of their needs in all domains, can anarchism conceive of the actual and total realization of that reaction and that affirmation by a better means that that of an individual culture pushed as far as possible in the direction of a social transformation, breaking all the machinery of constraint and repression?”

And I ask the anarcho-syndicalists and the libertarian communists, what reasons of principle or fact, what essential, fundamental reasons they can oppose to an anarchist individualism conceived and practiced in this way?

These three currents are called to combine: the anarchist synthesis.

From all that has come before and, particularly, from the three questions above, it follows:

1° that these three currents: anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism, currents that are distinct, but not contradictory; there is nothing about them that renders them irreconcilable, nothing that essentially, fundamentally opposes them, nothing that proclaims their incompatibility, nothing that prevents them from coexisting peacefully, or indeed from acting together toward a common propaganda and action;

2° that the existence of these three currents not only could not, in any way and to any degree, harm the total force of anarchism,—a philosophical and social movement considered, as is appropriate, in all its breadth,—but still can and, logically, must contribute to the combined force of anarchism;

3° that each of these currents has its indicated place, its role, its mission in the heart of the broad, deep social movement that, under the name of “Anarchism,” aims at the establishment of a social milieu that will insure to each and all the maximum well-being and liberty;

4° that, under these conditions, anarchism can be understood as what we call, in chemistry, a composite or mixed body, a body formed by the combination of several elements.

This mixed body is composed by the combination of these three elements: anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism.

Its chemical formula could be S. 2 C. 2 I. 2.

According to the events, the milieus, the multiple sources from which the currents that make up anarchism spring, the mixture of the three elements must vary. It is up to analysis and experimentation to reveal this dosage; through synthesis, the composite body is reassembled and if, here, one element predominates, it is possible that, there, it will be some other…

How is it that the existence of these three currents could have weakened the anarchist movement?

At this point in my demonstration, it is necessary to ask how it has happened that, especially in recent years and very particularly in France, the existence of these three anarchist elements, far from having strengthened the libertarian movement, has resulted in its weakening.

And having posed this problem in clear terms, it is important that it be studied and resolved in an equally crystalline manner.

The response is easy; but it demands from all, without exception, a great steadfastness.

I say that it is not the existence itself of these three elements—anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism—that has caused the weakness or, more precisely, the relative weakening of anarchist thought and action, but only the position that they have taken in relation to one another: a position of open, relentless, implacable war.

In the course of these harmful divisions each faction has employed an equal malice. Each has done their best to misrepresent the theses of the two others, to reduce their affirmations and negations to absurdity, to puff up or deflate their essential lines until they make an odious caricature of them.

Each tendency has directed against the others the most treacherous maneuvers and made use of the most murderous arms.

If, lacking an understanding between them, these three tendencies had been less rabid to make war against one another; if the activity used to struggle, within or outside of the various groupings, had been used to battle, even separately, against the common enemy, the anarchist movement of this country would have gained, as a result of the circumstances, a considerable breadth and a surprising strength.

But the intestine war of tendency against tendency, often even of personality against personality, has poisoned, corrupted, tainted, sterilized everything; even to the countryside, which should have been able to group around our precious ideas the hearts and minds enamored of Liberty and Justice, which are, especially in the popular milieus, much less rare than we like to pretend.

Each current has spit, drooled, vomited on the neighboring currents, in order to sully them and suggest that it alone is clean.

And, before the lamentable spectacle of these divisions and of the horrible machinations that they provoke on all sides, all our groupings are little by little emptied of the best of there content and our forces are exhausted against one another, instead of united in the battle to be waged against the common enemy: the principle of authority. That is the truth.

The evil and the remedy

The evil is great; it can, it must only be short-lived and the remedy is within reach of our hands.

Those who have read these lines attentively and without prejudice will work it out without effort: the remedy consists of drinking in the idea of the anarchist synthesis and applying that synthesis as soon and as well as possible. (2)

From what does the anarchist movement suffer? — From the war to the knife made by the three elements of which it is composed.

If, according to their origin, their character, their methods of propaganda, organization and action, these elements are condemned to rise up against one another, the remedy that I propose is worth nothing; it is inapplicable; it would be ineffective; let us abstain from its use and seek something else.

On the contrary, if the aforementioned oppositions do not exist and, in particular, if the elements—anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian communist and anarchist individualist—are made in order to combine and form a sort of anarchist synthesis, it is necessary—not tomorrow, but today—to attempt the realization of that synthesis.

I have discovered nothing and I propose nothing new: Luigi Fabbri and some Russian comrades (Voline, Fléchine, Mollie Steimer), with whom I have talked extensively these days, have confirmed to me that realization has been attempted in Italy, in the Italian Anarchist Union and, in Ukraine, within Nabat, and that these two attempts have given the best results, that they alone have broken the triumph of fascism in Italy and the victory of bolshevism in Ukraine.

There exists, in France, as pretty much everywhere, numerous groups having already applied and currently applying the elements of the anarchist synthesis (I wish to cite none of them, in order not to omit any), groups in which anarcho-syndicalists, libertarian communists and anarchist individualists work in harmony; and these groups are neither the least numerous nor the least active.

These few facts (and I could cite others) demonstrate that the application of the synthesis is possible. I do not say, I do not think that it will be done without delay or difficulty. Like everything that is still new, it will encounter incomprehension, resistance, even hostility. If we must remain imperturbable, we will remain so; if we must resist critiques and malice, we will resist. We are conscious that salvation lies there and we are certain that, sooner or later, the anarchists will reach it. That is why we do not let ourselves become discouraged.

What was done, in memorable circumstances, in Italy, in Spain, in the Ukraine; what was done in many localities in France, can be done and, under the pressure of events, will be done in all countries.

[Faure’s Notes:]

(1) It being well understood, as the libertarian communists have explicitly declared at Orléans (at the congress held in that town July 12-14, 1926), that, in the heart of the libertarian Commune, as they conceive it, “all the forms of association will be free, from the integral colony to individual labor and consumption.

(2) The phrase anarchist synthesis must be taken, here, in the sense of gathering, association, organization and understanding of all the human elements who align themselves with the anarchist ideal.

Speaking of association and studying whether it is possible and desirable that all these elements should assemble, I could only call anarchist synthesis, this assembly, this basis of organization.

The synthesis of the anarchist theories is another matter, an extremely important subject that I propose to address when my health and circumstances allow.

Sébastien Faure, 1928

The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future (1869)

César De Paepe

In 1868, at the Brussels Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association (the “International”), César De Paepe, on behalf of the Belgian section, put forward the idea that the workers’ “societies of resistance,” or trade union organizations, constituted the “embryo” of the future socialist society based on workers’ self-management.  This idea was to have enormous influence in the International, and led to the development of what would now be described as anarcho-syndicalism. In February 1869, the Belgian section published a pamphlet by De Paepe, “The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future,” which developed this idea in more detail, this time focusing on the International’s constitutive workers’ organizations as the building blocks for the society of the future. De Paepe’s pamphlet was reprinted in various Internationalist papers, and translated into Spanish by the Spanish Federation. Similar ideas were expressed and adopted by the French Internationalists, with Eugène Varlin writing that trade union organizations “form the natural elements of the social edifice of the future.” Bakunin agreed with this approach, arguing that the trade union sections “bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old world.” Marx and Engels derided this approach, claiming it would introduce “anarchy,” in the pejorative sense, into the ranks of the workers, rendering them incapable of combatting the counter-revolution (for the details, see my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It” – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement).

It is with great pleasure then that I present Shawn Wilbur’s translation of De Paepe’s pamphlet. It is a welcome antidote to Marcello Musto’s anthology, Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later, from which De Paepe’s pamphlet is notably absent (for an excellent critique of Musto’s book, see Iain McKay’s review essay). Contrary to Musto’s general analysis, De Paepe’s pamphlet illustrates the degree to which Proudhon’s mutualist ideas continued to play an influential role within the debates in the International, despite the declining influence within the International of his more conservative adherents, such as Henri Tolain. De Paepe argues first and foremost for a federalist form of organization, in which higher level committees simply do the bidding of the sections’ members. Whereas Marx supported the General Council of the International having executive powers over the sections, and consistently opposed attempts to comprise the Council as a Council of delegates, subject to imperative mandates and recall, De Paepe, consistent with Proudhon’s federalist ideas, advocates that the General Council should be only an administrative, not a governing, body. De Paepe, as with Proudhon, also supports the creation of a variety of self-managed workers’ organizations separate and apart from existing political institutions, not simply trade unions and societies of resistance, but also mutual aid societies, worker and consumer cooperatives, and worker controlled integral education. It is these workers’ organizations that are to provide the basis for the future socialist society based on worker self-management.

With respect to socialism itself, De Paepe advocates a form of socialism based on Proudhon’s, not Marx’s, conception of socialism. It is a form of socialism based on the exchange between the workers themselves, without any capitalist intermediaries to exploit them, of products and services of equivalent value, with credit being available at “cost-price,” coordinated through a Bank of Exchange. Marx’s derided this form of socialism (exchange without exploitation) in his unfair critique of Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy (see Iain McKay’s essay, “Proudhon’s Constituted Value and the Myth of Labour Notes”). Finally, De Paepe envisages the gradual hollowing out of existing institutions by the workers’ organizations, resulting in the collapse of those institutions “with a sigh,” without the need for a violent revolution, which is also what Proudhon advocated.

The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future

The International Workingmen’s Association bears social regeneration within itself.

There are many who agree that if the Association should realize its program, it will have effectively established the reign of justice, but who believe that certain present institutions of the International are only temporary and are destined to disappear. We want to show that the International already offers the model of the society to come and that its various institutions, with the required modifications, will form the future social order.

So let us examine the structures in which the association currently presents itself, taking its most complete examples, for a great number of sections have still not arrived at a perfect organization.

The section is the model of the commune. There the workers of all trades are gathered without distinction. There we must address the affairs that concern all the workers, whatever their profession.

At the head of the section is an Administrative Committee, which is charged with carrying out the measures decreed by the section. Instead of commanding, like the present administrations, it obeys the citizens.

The Federal Council is composed of the delegates of different worker groups; to it [are assigned] questions of relations between the different trades and of the organization of labor. This is a gap in our present governments, which only represent a confused rabble of individuals instead of representing groups united by interests.

The different societies gathered in the Federal Council are societies of resistance. These societies also belong as much to the future as to the present. Gathering around them the workers of a single trade, teaching them their interests, to calculate the sale price and cost price in order to base their expectations on it, the society of resistance is destined to organize labor in the future, much more than the society of production, which, in the present state, can hardly be expanded. Nothing will be more easy, when the moment comes, than to transform the societies of resistance into cooperative workshops, when the workers have agreed to demand the liquidation of the present society, which bankrupts them perpetually.

The cooperative consumer societies, which are established in the majority of sections, are destined one day to replace the present commerce, full of frauds and pitfalls; they will transform themselves into communal bazaars, where the different products will be displayed with exact indication of the consignments, without any other surcharge but the payment of the costs.

The mutual assistance and provident funds, will take on a wider expansion and become societies of universal insurance. Sickness, disability, old age, widowhood and all these present sources of poverty will be swept away. No more charity office, public assistance dishonored; no more hospitals where one is admitted on charity. All the care that one will receive will have been paid for; there will no longer be doctors for the poor.

Ignorance, that other source of poverty, will disappear in the face of the education given by each section. It is not a question of that training that even our doctrinaires demand in loud cries. We want to make men, and one is only a complete man when one is a laborer and scholar at the same time; and have not all the workers gathered at the Congress of Brussels last September demanded integral education that includes science apprenticeship in the trades. That instruction being presently impossible, as a result of material impediments, the sections compensate as best they can, by organizing meetings and conferences, by founding newspapers, where the workers are taught the rights of man, where they are taught to claim them, where finally we assemble the materials for the edifice of the future society.

The problem of the organization of justice is already resolved within the International. The defense funds will accomplish that aim. They have their current relevance, in the sense that having examined the case, the Defense Committee decides if the affair will be upheld in justice, when a worker has to complain of an injustice committed by their boss. But that institution also looks toward the future, in that it decides contestations between members by means of a jury chosen by election and rapidly renewable. In the future, no more quibblers, judges, prosecutors or attorneys. The same rights for all and justice based, no longer on some more or less muddled text, about which we quarrel, but on reason and rectitude.

The different sections are connected in their turn by federation, by basins, then by country. These federations include not only a grouping by sections, but also by trades, as that exists in the communes. So the relations between the different groups will be facilitated and labor can be organized, not only within the communes, but within the entire country.

Vast institutions of credit will be like the veins and arteries of that organization. Credit will no longer be what it is today, an instrument of death, for it will be based on equal exchange: it will be credit at cost-price.

If the International has not yet been able, in its present state, to establish an institution of this sort, at least it has already discussed its principles and statutes at the Congresses of Lausanne and Brussels. At that latest Congress, a plan for a bank of exchange has been presented by the Brussels section.

Finally, the relations between the different countries are dealt with by an international General Council. Such will be the future diplomacy: no more embassy attachés, no more smartly dressed diplomatic secretaries, no more diplomats, protocols or wars.

A central office of correspondence, information and statistics would be all that is necessary to connect the nations united by a fraternal bond.

We now believe that we have shown that the International contains within itself the seeds of all the institutions of the future. Let a section of the International be established in each commune; the new society will be formed and the old will collapse with a sigh. Thus, when a wound heals, we see a sore form above while the flesh slowly settles itself below. One fine day, the scab falls off, and the flesh appears fresh and ruddy.

César De Paepe

February 1869

Eduardo Colombo 1929-2018: A Grand Anarchist Fighter Leaves Us

Eduardo Colombo

I was sad to hear of the passing of Eduardo Colombo, one of the more interesting anarchist writers from the post-World War II era. I included a short piece by Colombo on voting in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. I also posted on this blog his essay on the state as the paradigm of power, in which he drew on the work of Cornelius Castoriadis and Pierre Clastres. Here I reproduce a tribute to Colombo by the Spanish anarchist theorist, Tomás Ibáñez. It would be nice to see more of Colombo’s writings translated into English.

Tribute to Eduardo Colombo

Today, March 13th, the sad note of the death of Eduardo Colombo strikes us painfully.  With Eduardo, not only disappears a dear and fraternal compañero, but also a first-rate thinker and a militant anarchist of unshakeable convictions.

It was in the 1940’s when the young student Eduardo Colombo became intensely involved in the anarchist movement in his native Argentina participating in the anarcho-syndicalist struggles of the FORA (Worker Federation of the Argentina Region), collaborating and taking on management responsibilities in his renowned newspaper, “La Protesta”.  Since then, an extensive period of time has passed of more than 70 years during which Eduardo Colombo never abandoned not for even one minute his early and intense commitment to “the idea” and the sought after Social Revolution, for which he lived all his life with inexhaustible enthusiasm.

Doctor and psychoanalyst, he was also professor of social psychology at the University of Buenos Aires until the military coup of 1966 expelled him of his teaching duties and caused him just a few years afterwards to seek asylum in Paris where he arrived with his compañera Heloisa Castellanos in 1970.  There, in spite of the difficulties of professional and social relocation, he did not hesitate to involve himself immediately in the activities of the anarchist movement in France, at the same time strengthening his ties with the anti-franco movement of the libertarian exiles.

His willingness to permanently engage thought and action led him to position himself as one of the most important theorists of contemporary anarchism, while participating in dozens of events at the internal level.  Let me briefly mention examples of that tireless international activity: his participation as speaker in the libertarian days of Barcelona in 1977, his contribution to the organization of the extraordinary international anarchist conference in Venice in 1984, and his interventions in the international anarchist gathering in Saint-Imier in 2012.

His numerous books and articles contributed to his permanent invitation to conferences, above all in Italy, Greece, Spain, Argentina and various other Latin American countries.  He was also one of the founders in 1997 of the anarchist magazine “Réfractiones” and one of its principal animators for two decades.

There will be time to detail more closely this unforgettable figure and his valuable intellectual contributions that go beyond simply the anarchist movement to cover also the field of psychoanalysis and philosophy.  However, we cannot close this brief summary without again emphasizing that he who left today was a militant anarchist of incomparable strength and worth, furthermore a beautiful being and endearing person.

Tomás Ibáñez

Barcelona, March 13th,  2018

Translated from the original: https://www.portaloaca.com/historia/biografias/13551-eduardo-colombo-1929-2018-un-gran-luchador-anarquista-nos-deja.html

Emma Goldman: A New Declaration of Independence

This year’s International Women’s Day had some interesting developments, in particular the general strike by Spanish women against sexual inequality, discrimination and violence against women. This reminded me of Emma Goldman, who supported the concept of the general strike and was a champion of women’s equality and freedom (I included Goldman’s essay on revolutionary syndicalism in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). Here is a piece she wrote, not for International Women’s Day, but for Independence Day in the USA. Her comments about the “American kings of capital and authority” still ring true today, and her call for economic, social, sexual and political freedom for all women and men, irrespective of race or color, remains as inspiring as ever.

A New Declaration of Independence

When, in the course of human development, existing institutions prove inadequate to the needs of man, when they serve merely to enslave, rob, and oppress mankind, the people have the eternal right to rebel against, and overthrow, these institutions.

The mere fact that these forces–inimical to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–are legalized by statute laws, sanctified by divine rights, and enforced by political power, in no way justifies their continued existence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all human beings, irrespective of race, color, or sex, are born with the equal right to share at the table of life; that to secure this right, there must be established among men economic, social, and political freedom; we hold further that government exists but to maintain special privilege and property rights; that it coerces man into submission and therefore robs him of dignity, self-respect, and life.

The history of the American kings of capital and authority is the history of repeated crimes, injustice, oppression, outrage, and abuse, all aiming at the suppression of individual liberties and the exploitation of the people. A vast country, rich enough to supply all her children with all possible comforts, and insure well-being to all, is in the hands of a few, while the nameless millions are at the mercy of ruthless wealth gatherers, unscrupulous lawmakers, and corrupt politicians. Sturdy sons of America are forced to tramp the country in a fruitless search for bread, and many of her daughters are driven into the street, while thousands of tender children are daily sacrificed on the altar of Mammon. The reign of these kings is holding mankind in slavery, perpetuating poverty and disease, maintaining crime and corruption; it is fettering the spirit of liberty, throttling the voice of justice, and degrading and oppressing humanity. It is engaged in continual war and slaughter, devastating the country and destroying the best and finest qualities of man; it nurtures superstition and ignorance, sows prejudice and strife, and turns the human family into a camp of Ishmaelites.

We, therefore, the liberty-loving men and women, realizing the great injustice and brutality of this state of affairs, earnestly and boldly do hereby declare, That each and every individual is and ought to be free to own himself and to enjoy the full fruit of his labor; that man is absolved from all allegiance to the kings of authority and capital; that he has, by the very fact of his being, free access to the land and all means of production, and entire liberty of disposing of the fruits of his efforts; that each and every individual has the unquestionable and unabridgeable right of free and voluntary association with other equally sovereign individuals for economic, political, social, and all other purposes, and that to achieve this end man must emancipate himself from the sacredness of property, the respect for man-made law, the fear of the Church, the cowardice of public opinion, the stupid arrogance of national, racial, religious, and sex superiority, and from the narrow puritanical conception of human life. And for the support of this Declaration, and with a firm reliance on the harmonious blending of man’s social and individual tendencies, the lovers of liberty joyfully consecrate their uncompromising devotion, their energy and intelligence, their solidarity and their lives.

Emma Goldman

Mother Earth, Vol. IV, No. 5, July 1909

Thomas Spence: Pioneer of Anarchist Socialism

Thomas Spence

The recently formed London Anarchist Communist group (LAC) will be publishing a book on “Anarchist Communism in Britain.” Part One deals with precursors of anarchist socialism and communism in Britain. Below I have reproduced the section on Thomas Spence (1750-1814), who advocated a decentralized system of parish government based on the common ownership of land. From an anarchist perspective, it is Spence’s ideas on property that are of most interest. The LAC compares him to the French revolutionary, François-Noël “Gracchus” Babeuf (1760-1797), but as Brian Morris argues at the end of the excerpt, he was much closer in his approach to the enragés in the French Revolution, who were radical egalitarians and supporters of direct democracy based on neighbourhood sections and districts. I included excerpts from the writings of one of the enragés, Jean Varlet, in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which Varlet denounces “revolutionary government” as a contradiction in terms: “To any rational being, government and revolution are incompatible, unless the people wishes to set its constituted authorities in permanent insurrection against itself.”

Prehistory of Anarchist Communism in Britain: Thomas Spence

In Britain there was a parallel figure to Babeuf in 1792 in London. This was Thomas Spence, who had developed advanced views in Newcastle on Tyne inside the Newcastle Philosophical Society. Within this rather genteel group, the plebeian Spence began to develop ideas of land communism expressed in his Plan. He first lectured on these ideas within the Society at the age of 25. “The land or earth, in any country or neighbourhood, with everything in it or the same, or pertaining thereto, belongs at all times to the living inhabitants of the said country or neighbourhood in an equal manner”. He believed that each parish should take the land back into their possession and form themselves into corporations. The land becomes the property of the parish.

Spence in no way envisages the end of the money system. He pictures people paying rent to the parish for usufruct rights to the land. This rent would be paid into a parish treasury to support the poor and unemployed, and for the maintenance of lands and highways etc. The government, a democratic assembly of representatives, and elected by secret ballot, was seen by Spence as having limited functions, and would not meddle in the functioning of the parishes.

Spence chose to go beyond the gentlemanly hobbies of the Philosophical Society by disseminating his ideas through the publication of a halfpenny ballad in 1775-6. For this he was expelled from the Society, and subsequently lost his job as a teacher. Spence eventually resolved to go to London, because his radical ideas had little audience in Newcastle.

Spence’s arrival coincided with the founding of the London Corresponding Society, set up by the shoemaker Thomas Hardy, and which consisted of tradesmen, shopkeepers and mechanics. The Society’s aims were the discussion of parliamentary reform, and put forward demands for universal suffrage and annual parliaments.

Spence influenced members of the Society, among whom was Thomas Evans. He gathered a small group around him and began to propagandise the ideas contained within his plan. This included methods of propagation similar to those of the Babeuvists: chalk and charcoal notices on walls and public places, debates and public meetings, and the sale or distribution of handbills, broadsheets, tracts and pamphlets.

Spence was jailed several times for steadfast adherence to his ideas. His greatest period of activity was between 1792 and 1801 and he continued with intermittent publication of his ideas until his death in 1814. Evans and Allen Davenport formed a Spencean Society to propagate his ideas around 1807. With the death of Davenport, Evans founded the Society for Spencean Philanthropists which continued with the propagation of Spence’s ideas.

The Spenceans were at the forefront of the working class demonstrations in London between 1815 and 1820. Some Spenceans were implicated in the Cato Street conspiracy in 1820. The repression which followed led to the disappearance of the Society and the extinction of the Spencean current, although his continuing influence on British radicalism should not be ignored.

Spence’s emphasis was on land communism, and he saw “Private Property in land” as the main evil within society. The abolition of private property in land would of course mean the suppression of the aristocracy and “Lordship”. However goods, merchandise and cattle would not face similar communalisation.

Spence symbolises a radical current within the great movement that was emerging around Chartism and the demands for universal suffrage and annual parliaments. Spence expressly came to London to propagate his ideas there because he sensed that his ideas might have a certain resonance within this movement. The fact that he was not able to move beyond land communism to general communism is a result of the limits imposed by the class of artisans and “mechanics”, of which he was an advanced spokesman, which was yet to develop into the working class.

Alongside his advocacy of land communism was the concept of a federation of parishes administering the economic process and with a system of social welfare. In this Spence prefigures the notion of the commune or municipality as the basic unit of society as developed by anarchist communist thinkers. Spence sees the parishes as providing public grain stores, free schools, libraries, public baths and hospitals. Spence was very wary of centralised State solutions to economic inequality and he believed that a bottom-up revolution was necessary which might well involve the use of physical force to overthrow the old ruling class.

Brian Morris has been instrumental in rescuing the important figure of Spence from obscurity. As he notes: “Neither the sans-culottes nor the enragés nor that much-neglected socialist Thomas Spence fully and explicitly articulated anarchism as a political doctrine. What they had in common was that they stressed local and popular democracy and were hostile toward big capital, whether of the merchant class or of the capitalist landlords. Their social idea was that of an egalitarian society consisting of independent artisans and small peasant farmers. Even Spence, though he advocated communal property in land, parish democracy, and parish militias… allowed for a structure of provincial and national assemblies. Even so, like the sans-culottes, he tended to see the parish or local commune as the fundamental unit of society and sought any means to limit the power of the central government.” (“The sans-culottes and the enragés: libertarian movements within the French Revolution,” in Ecology and Anarchism, pp.101-102).

Spence needs to take his rightful place as one of the precursors within Britain of the libertarian communist current that was to emerge with the emergence of the working class.

From The Idea: Anarchist Communism, Past Present and Future

Emma Goldman and Johann Most: In Defence of Anarchism

By 1896, anarchism was acquiring a fearsome reputation, largely due to the actions of a few self-proclaimed anarchists, particularly in France, where there was a series of bombings and assassinations. Emma Goldman and Johann Most were already notorious anarchists in the United States. Goldman’s comrade, Alexander Berkman, had tried to assassinate the industrialist Henry Clay Frick in 1892, after Frick had ordered the violent suppression of a strike at the Homestead steel plant, resulting in the deaths of several workers and some of the Pinkertons sent in to put down the strike. Despite the anti-anarchist atmosphere at the time, the Metropolitan Magazine, a New York literary and political magazine, printed this defence of anarchism by Goldman and Most (anglicizing his first name) in October 1896 (much later it sent John Reed to cover the Mexican Revolution). It is difficult to find English translations of Most’s work (thanks to the Anarchy Archives for finding this one). In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included the Pittsburgh Proclamation, which was mainly written by Most, from the 1883 founding congress of the International Working People’s Association.

johann-most-revolutionary-is-anarchism-desirable-well-who-does-not

Anarchy Defended by Anarchists

To most Americans Anarchy is an evil-sounding word — another name for wickedness, perversity, and chaos. Anarchists are looked upon as a herd of uncombed, unwashed, and vile ruffians, bent on killing the rich and dividing their capital. Anarchy however, to its followers, actually signifies a social theory which regards the union of order with the absence of all government of man by man; in short, it means perfect individual liberty.

If the meaning of Anarchy has so far been interpreted as a state of the greatest disorder, it is because people have been taught that their affairs are regulated, that they are ruled wisely, and that authority is a necessity.

In by-gone centuries any person who asserted that mankind could get along without the aid of worldly and spiritual authority was considered a madman, and was either placed in a lunatic asylum or burned at the stake; whereas to-day hundreds of thousands of men and women are infidels who scorn the idea of a supernatural Being.

The freethinkers of today, for instance, still believe in the necessity of the State, which protects society; they do not desire to know the history of our barbarian institutions. They do not understand that government did not and cannot exist without oppression; that every government has committed dark deeds and great crimes against society. The development of government has been in the order, despotism, monarchy, oligarchy, plutocracy; but it has always been a tyranny.

It cannot be denied that there are a large number of wise and well-meaning people who are anxious to better the present conditions, but they have not sufficiently emancipated themselves from the prejudices and superstitions of the dark ages to understand the true inwardness of the institution called government.

“How can we get along without government?” ask these people. “If our government is bad let us try to have a good one, but we must have government by all means!”

The trouble is that there is no such thing as good government, because its very existence is based upon the submission of one class to the dictatorship of another. “But men must be governed,” some remark; “they must be guided by laws.” Well, if men are children who must be led, who then is so perfect, so wise, so faultless as to be able to govern and guide his fellows.

We assert that men can and should govern themselves individually. If men are still immature, rulers are the same. Should one man, or a small number of men, lead all the blind millions who compose a nation?

“But we must have some authority, at least,” said an American friend to us. Certainly we must, and we have it, too; it is the inevitable power of natural laws, which manifests itself in the physical and social world. We may or may not understand these laws, but we must obey them as they are a part of our existence; we are the absolute slaves of these laws, but in such slavery there is no humiliation. Slavery as it exists to-day means an external master, a lawmaker outside of those he controls; while the natural laws are not outside of us — they are in us; we live, we breathe, we think, we move only through these laws; they are therefore not our enemies but our benefactors.

Are the laws made by man, the laws on our statute books, in conformity with the laws of Nature? No one, we think, can have the temerity to assert that they are.

It is because the laws prescribed to us by men are not in conformity with the laws of Nature that mankind suffers from so much ill. It is absurd to talk of human happiness so long as men are not free.

We do not wonder that some people are so bitterly opposed to Anarchy and its exponents, because it demands changes so radical of existing notions, while the latter ofend rather than conciliate by the zealousness of their propaganda.

Patience and resignation are preached to the poor, promising them a reward in the hereafter. What matters it to the wretched outcast who has no place to call his own, who is craving for a piece of bread, that the doors of Heaven are wider open for him than for the rich? In the face of the great misery of the masses such promises seem bitter irony.

I have met very few intelligent women and men who honestly and conscientiously could defend existing governments; they even agreed with me on many points, but they were lacking in moral courage, when it came to the point, to step to the front and declare themselves openly in sympathy with anarchistic principles.

We who have chosen the path laid down for us by our convictions oppose the organization called the State, on principle, claiming the equal right of all to work and enjoy life.

When once free from the restrictions of extraneous authority, men will enter into free relations; spontaneous organizations will spring up in all parts of the world, and every one will contribute to his and the common welfare as much labor as he or she is capable of, and consume according to their needs. All modern technical inventions and discoveries will be employed to make work easy and pleasant, and science, culture, and art will be freely used to perfect and elevate the human race, while woman will be coequal with man.

“This is all well said,” replies some one, “but people are not angels, men are selfish.”

What about? Selfishness is not a crime; it only becomes a crime when conditions are such as to give an individual the opportunity to satisfy his selfishness to the detriment of others. In an anarchistic society everyone will seek to satisfy his ego; but as Mother Nature has so arranged things that only those survive who have the aid of their neighbors, man, in order to satisfy his ego, will extend his aid to those who will aid him, and then selfishness will no more be a curse but a blessing.

A dagger in one hand, a torch in the other, and all his pockets brimful with dynamite bombs — that is the picture of the Anarchist such as it has been drawn by his enemies. They look at him simply as a mixture of a fool and a knave, whose sole purpose is a universal topsy-turvy, and whose only means to that purpose is to slay any one and every one who differs from him. The picture is an ugly caricature, but its general acceptance is not to be wondered at, considering how persistently the idea has been drummed into the mind of the public. However, we believe Anarchy — which is freedom of each individual from harmful constraint by others, whether these others be individuals or an organized government — cannot be brought about without violence, and this violence is the same which won at Thermopylae and Marathon.

The popular demand for freedom is stronger and clearer than it has ever been before, and the conditions for reaching the goal are more favorable. It is evident that through the whole course of history runs an evolution before which slavery of any kind, compulsion under any form, must break down, and from which freedom, full and unlimited freedom, for all and from all must come.

From this it follows that Anarchism cannot be a retrograde movement, as has been insinuated, for the Anarchists march in the van and not in the rear of the army of freedom.

We consider it absolutely necessary that the mass of the people should never for a moment forget the gigantic contest that must come before their ideas can be realized, and therefore they use every means at their disposal — the speech, the press, the deed — to hasten the revolutionary development.

The weal of mankind, as the future will and must make plain, depends upon communism. The system of communism logically excludes any and every relation between master and servant, and means really Anarchism, and the way to this goal leads through a social revolution.

As for the violence which people take as the characteristic mark of the Anarchist, it cannot and it shall not be denied that most Anarchists feel convinced that “violence” is not any more reprehensible toward carrying out their designs than it is when used by an oppressed people to obtain freedom. The uprising of the oppressed has always been condemned by tyrants: Persia was astounded at Greece, Rome at the Caudine Forks, and England at Bunker Hill. Can Anarchy expect less, or demand victories without striving for them?

Emma Goldman and John Most

Metropolitan Magazine, vol. IV, No. 3; October 1896

emma gold anarchism

Louise Michel: Why I am an Anarchist (1896)

Louise Michel

The recent death of Ursula Le Guin reminded me of Louise Michel (1830-1905), the French revolutionary anarchist. For one thing, Michel wrote some anarchist science fiction herself in the 1880s, The Human Microbes (1887) and The New World (1888), sharing some similarities with Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. The New World features a utopian anarchist community in the arctic, an environment equally as inhospitable as the desert moon, Anarres, in The Dispossessed, from which the anarchists aim to migrate into space. Michel also reminds me a bit of Odo, the anarchist feminist sage who inspired the anarchists on Anarres. But Louis Michel, in contrast to Odo, was no pacifist. In this article from 1896, Michel explains why she is an anarchist, and refers to her coming to an anarchist position on her voyage to the French penal colony in New Caledonia after the fall of the Paris Commune. One of the people on that voyage who helped persuade her to adopt an anarchist stance was Nathalie Lemel, who also played an important role during the Commune. I included excerpts from Michel’s defiant speech to the military tribunal that condemned her to the penal colony, and her defence of women’s rights, in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Why I am an Anarchist

I am an Anarchist because Anarchy alone, by means of liberty and justice based on equal rights, will make humanity happy, and because Anarchy is the sublimest idea conceivable by man. It is, today, the summit of human wisdom, awaiting discoveries of undreamt of progress on new horizons, as ages roll on and succeed each other in an ever widening circle.

Man will only be conscious when he is free. Anarchy will therefore be the complete separation between the human flocks, composed of slaves and tyrants, as they exist to day, and the free humanity of tomorrow. As soon as man, whoever he may be, comes to power, he suffers its fatal influence and is corrupted; he uses force to defend his person. He is the State; and he considers it a property to be used for his benefit, as a dog considers the bone he gnaws. If power renders a man egotistical and cruel, servitude degrades him. A slave is often worse than his master; nobody knows how tyrannous he would be as a master, or base as a slave, if his own fortune or life were at stake.

To end the horrible misery in which humanity has always dragged a bloody and painful existence incites brave hearts more and: more to battle for justice and truth. The hour is at hand: hastened by the crimes of governors, the law’s severity, the impossibility of living in such circumstances, thousands of unfortunates without hope of an end to their tortures, the illusory amelioration of gangrened institutions, the change of power which is but a change of suffering, and man’s natural love of life; every man, like every race, looks around to see from which side deliverance will come.

Anarchy will not begin the eternal miseries anew. Humanity in its flight of despair will cling to it in order to emerge from the abyss. It is the rugged ascent of the rock that will lead to the summit; humanity will no longer clutch at rolling stones and tufts of grass, to fall without end.

Anarchy is the new ideal, the progress of which nothing can hinder. Our epoch is as dead as the age of stone. Whether death took place yesterday or a thousand years ago, its vestiges of life are utterly lost. The end of the epoch through which we are passing is only a necropolis full of ashes and bones.

Power, authority, privileges no longer exist for thinkers, for artists, or for any who rebel against the common evil. Science discovers unknown forces that study will yet simplify. The disappearance of the order of things we see at present is near at hand. The world, up till now divided among a few privileged beings, will be taken back by all. And the ignorant alone will be astonished at the conquest of humanity over antique bestiality.

I became definitely an Anarchist when sent to New Caledonia, on a state ship, in order to bring me to repentance for having fought for liberty. I and my companions were kept in cages like lions or tigers during four months. We saw nothing but sky and water, with now and then the white sail of a vessel on the horizon, like a bird’s wing in the sky. This impression and the expanse were overwhelming. We had much time to think on board, and by constantly comparing things, events, and men; by having seen my friends of the Commune, who were honest, at work, and who only knew how to throw their lives into the struggle, so much they feared to act ill; I came rapidly to the conclusion that honest men in power are incapable, and that dishonest ones are monsters; that it is impossible to ally liberty with power, and that a revolution whose aim is any form of government would be but a delusion if only a few institutions fell, because everything is bound by indestructible chains in the old world, and everything must be uprooted by the foundations for the new world to grow happy and be at liberty under a free sky.

Anarchism is today the end which progress seeks to attain, and when it has attained it will look forward from there to the edge of a new horizon, which again as soon as it has been reached will disclose another, and so on always, since progress is eternal.

We must fight not only with courage but with logic; that the disinherited masses, who sprinkle every step of progress with their blood, may benefit at last by the supreme struggle soon to be entered upon by human reason together with despair. It is necessary that the true ideal be revealed, grander and more beautiful than all the preceding fictions. And should this ideal be still far off it is worth dying for.

That is why I am an Anarchist.

LOUISE MICHEL

Liberty (UK), 3, 3 (March, 1896), 26

Ursula Le Guin (1929 – 2018)

Ursula Le Guin

I was sad to hear of the death of Ursula Le Guin yesterday. I heard her speak at an international anarchist symposium in Portland, Oregon back in 1980. She talked about her views on anarchism, buddhism, anthropology, science fiction, creativity and writing, and answered questions about her stories and books. The book that anarchists celebrated was The Dispossessed, about an anarchist colony on a large moon orbiting a planet like Earth. Here I reproduce a dialogue between the main character, Shevek, from the anarchist moon, Anarres, and a rich woman, Vea, living on the Earth-like planet that Shevek has secretly arranged to visit. Shevek expresses the ideas of the anarchists on Anarres, the “Odonians,” while Vea speaks from the vantage point of a cynical female member of the ruling class who cannot accept that the anarchists can live without hierarchy and authority, arguing that they have merely internalized them. It’s a great passage, drawing out some potential issues about life in an anarchist society, while showing that even a cynical “propertarian” (the word Le Guin uses to describe the capitalists) really wants to be free, but cannot see that freedom itself is a kind of relationship, and not something that can be achieved in isolation, or by exploiting others.

The Dispossessed – Chapter 7

[Vea] sat down on a low, cushioned stool near [Shevek], so she could look up into his face. She arranged her white skirt over her ankles, and said, “Now, tell me how it really is between men and women on Anarres.”

It was unbelievable. The maid and the caterer’s man were both in the room; she knew he had a partner, and he knew she did, and not a word about copulating had passed between them. Yet her dress, movements, tone — what were they but the most open invitation?

“Between a man and a woman there is what they want there to be between them,” he said, rather roughly. “Each, and both.”

“Then it’s true, you really have no morality?” she asked, as if shocked but delighted.

“I don’t know what you mean. To hurt a person there is the same as to hurt a person here.”

“You mean you have all the same old rules? You see, I believe that morality is just another superstition, like religion. It’s got to be thrown out.”

“But my society,” he said, completely puzzled, “is an attempt to reach it. To throw out the moralizing, yes — the rules, the laws, the punishments — so that men can see good and evil and choose between them.”

“So you threw out all the do’s and don’ts. But you know, I think you Odonians missed the whole point. You threw out the priests and Judges and divorce laws and all that, but you kept the real trouble behind them. You just stuck it inside, into your consciences. But it’s still there. You’re just as much slaves as ever! You aren’t really free.”

“How do you know?”

“I read an article in a magazine about Odonianism,” she said. “And we’ve been together all day. I don’t know you, but I know some things about you. I know that you’ve got a — a Queen Teaea inside you, right inside that hairy head of yours. And she orders you around just like the old tyrant did her serfs. She says, `Do this!’ and you do, and `Don’t’ and you don’t.”

“That is where she belongs,” he said, smiling. “Inside my head.”

“No. Better to have her in a palace. Then you could rebel against her. You would have to. Your great-great-grandfather did; at least he ran off to the Moon to get away. But he took Queen Teaea with him, and you’ve still got her!”

“Maybe. But she has learned, on Anarres, that if she tells me to hurt another person, I hurt myself.”

“The same old hypocrisy. Life is a fight, and the strongest wins. All civilization does is hide the blood and cover up the hate with pretty words!”

“Your civilization, perhaps. Ours hides nothing. It is all plain. Queen Teaea wears her own skin, there. We follow one law, only one, the law of human evolution.”

“The law of evolution is that the strongest survives!”

“Yes, and the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are those who are most social. In human terms, most ethical. You see, we have neither prey nor enemy, on Anarres. We have only one another. There is no strength to be gained from hurting one another. Only weakness.”

“I don’t care about hurting and not hurting. I don’t care about other people, and nobody else does, either. They pretend to. I don’t want to pretend. I want to be free.”