Spanish Anarchism

The CNT fights fascism in Spain

The CNT fights fascism in Spain

July 19, 1936 marks the 79th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Revolution, when anarchists across Spain took up arms against the reactionary Spanish military forces that were attempting to take over Spain. What ensued was a bloody civil war and the ultimate defeat of the Spanish anarchists three years later, as a result of an arms embargo, Communist treachery and a fascist military machine fuelled by weapons and military expertise from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Spanish anarchist movement began in the late 1860s, when the majority of the Spanish Federation of the International Workingmen’s Association (the so-called “First International”) adopted an anarchist stance, something which I discuss in much more detail in my new book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It': The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. I included several selections regarding the Spanish anarchist movement in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

CNT Poster 'Hail the Heroes'

CNT Poster ‘Hail the Heroes’

By the beginning of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War, over 500,000 people belonged to anarchist affiliated organizations, primarily the anarcho-syndicalist trade union federation, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (the CNT, or ‘National Confederation of Workers’). Toward the end of the Civil War, over two million people belonged to these organizations, but by then they had been almost completely coopted by the Communist dominated Republican government, and had developed a bureaucratic structure that mirrored those of other left wing organizations (with the exception of the Stalinist Spanish Communist Party, whose authoritarian structure and methods were incomparable to other left organizations). In the following excerpt from my essay, “The Anarchist Current,” which forms the Afterword to Volume Three of the Anarchism anthology, I discuss the Spanish anarchist movement on the eve of the Revolution. I have created a page on the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, which includes additional material that I was unable to fit into Volume One.

'The Revolution and the War are Inseparable'

‘The Revolution and the War are Inseparable’

Spanish Anarchism: Prelude to Revolution

The Spanish anarchist movement which Bakunin had helped inspire experienced its greatest triumphs and most tragic defeats during the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (1936-1939). The two most prominent anarchist groups in Spain were the Iberian Anarchist Federation (the FAI) and the anarcho-syndicalist trade union confederation, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (the CNT). The FAI was a federation of anarchist revolutionaries which sought to foment social revolution and to keep the CNT on an anarchist path. This “dual organization” model had been followed in Spain since the days of the First International, when Bakunin recruited Spanish radicals into his Alliance of Social Revolutionaries. Members of the Alliance were to ensure that the Spanish sections of the International adopted Bakunin’s collectivist anarchist program.

By the 1930s, the Spanish anarchist movement had moved toward an anarchist communist position, although the doctrine of “anarchism without adjectives,” which originated in the debates between the anarchist collectivists and anarchist communists in the 1890s, continued to be influential. Diego Abad de Santillán (1897-1983), who played a prominent role in the Argentine and Spanish anarchist movements, saw anarchism as representing a broad “humanistic craving” which “seeks to defend man’s dignity and freedom, regardless of circumstances and under every political system, past, present and future.” Anarchism must therefore be without adjectives because it is not tied to any particular economic or political system, nor is anarchy only possible at a certain stage of history or development. Abad de Santillán argued that anarchism “can survive and assert its right to exist alongside plough and team of oxen as readily as alongside the modern combine-harvester; its mission in the days of steam was the same as it is in the age of the electric motor or jet engine or the modern age of the computer and atomic power” (Volume Two, Selection 53).

Despite his endorsement of “anarchism without adjectives,” Abad de Santillán did not shy away from controversy. Although he participated in the anarcho-syndicalist movements in Argentina and Spain, he urged anarchists “not to forget that the Syndicate is, as an economic by-product of capitalist organization, a social phenomenon spawned by the needs of its day. Clinging to its structures after the revolution would be tantamount to clinging to the cause that spawned it: capitalism” (Volume One, Selection 94).

On the eve of the Spanish Revolution, when the CNT reaffirmed its commitment to libertarian communism (Volume One, Selection 124), Abad de Santillán argued not only that people should be free to choose between “communism, collectivism or mutualism,” but that “the prerequisite” of such freedom is a certain level of material abundance that can only be achieved through an integrated economic network of productive units (Volume One, Selection 125).

Robert Graham



Errico Malatesta: Keep Moving Forward

Errico Malatesta

Errico Malatesta

The indefatigable anarchist revolutionary, Errico Malatesta, died at the age of 78 on July 22, 1932, while under house arrest by the Fascists in Italy. He had been active in the international anarchist movement since the time of the First International (see my new book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It': The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, for further details regarding Malatesta’s role in the Italian Federation of the International and the creation of an Italian anarchist movement). I included several selections from Malatesta in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. The following excerpts are from an article that Malatesta wrote in 1922, when the Fascist counter-revolution was well underway in Italy. Malatesta’s advice regarding the approach anarchists should take in such circumstances, and how to work with people and groups who do not identify as anarchist, remain pertinent today. Davide Turcato, who wrote the introduction to Volume Two of the Anarchism anthology, is now in the process of publishing Malatesta’s collected works in Italian and English.

Malatesta Works

What Is to Be Done?

In recent years we have approached the different avant garde parties with a view to joint action, and we have always been disappointed. Must we for this reason isolate ourselves, or take refuge from impure contacts and stand still trying to move only when we have the necessary strength and in the name of our complete program?

I think not.

Since we cannot make the revolution by ourselves, i.e. our forces alone are not sufficient to attract and mobilize the large masses necessary to win, and since, no matter how long one waits, the masses cannot become anarchist before the revolution has started, and we will necessarily remain a relatively small minority until we can try out our ideas in revolutionary practice, by denying our cooperation to others and by postponing the action until we are strong enough to act by ourselves, we would practically end up encouraging sluggishness, despite the high-sounding words and the radical intentions, and refusing to get started, with the excuse of jumping to the end with one big leap.

I know very well — if I had not known for a long time I would have learnt recently — that we anarchists are alone in wishing the revolution for good and as soon as possible, except some individuals and groups that champ at the bit of the authoritarian parties’ discipline, but remain in those parties in the hope that their leaders will resolve someday upon ordering general action. However, I also know that the circumstances are often stronger than the individual’s will, and one day or another our cousins from all different sides will have to resolve upon venturing upon the final struggle, if they do not want to ignominiously die as parties and make a present to the monarchy of all their ideas, their traditions, their best sentiments. Today they could be induced to that by the necessity of defending their freedom, their goods, their life.

Therefore we should always be prepared to support those who are prepared to act, even if it carries with it the risk of later finding ourselves alone and betrayed.

But in giving others our support, that is, in always trying to use the forces at the disposal of others, and taking advantage of every opportunity for action, we must always be ourselves and seek to be in a position to make our influence felt and count at least in direct proportion to our strength.

To this end it is necessary that we should be agreed among ourselves and seek to co-ordinate and organize our efforts as effectively as possible.

Let others keep misunderstanding and slandering our goals, for reasons we do not want to qualify. All comrades that seriously want to take action will judge what is better for them to do.

At this time, as at any time of depression and stagnation, we are afflicted by a recrudescence of hair-splitting tendencies; some people enjoy discussing whether we are a party or a movement, whether we have to associate into unions or federations, and hundreds of other similar trifles; perhaps we will hear again that “groups can have neither a secretary nor a cashier, but they have to entrust one comrade to deal with the group’s correspondence and another to keep the money”. Hair-splitters are capable of anything; but let practical men see to taking action, and let the hair-splitters in good faith, and those in bad faith above all, stew in their own juice.

Let anyone do whatever they like, associate with whoever they like, but let them act.

No person of good faith and common sense can deny that acting effectively requires agreeing, uniting, organizing.

Today the reaction tends to stifle any public movement, and obviously the movement tends to “go underground”, as the Russians used to say.

We are reverting to the necessity of a secret organization, which is fine.

However, a secret organization cannot be all and cannot include all.

We need to preserve and increase our contact with the masses, we need to look for new followers by propagandizing as much as possible, we need to keep in the movement all the individuals unfit for a secret organizations and those who would jeopardize it by being too well-known. One must not forget that the persons most useful to a secret organization are those whose beliefs are unknown to the adversaries, and who can work without being suspected.

Therefore, in my opinion, nothing that exists should be undone. Rather, it is a matter of adding something more; something with such characteristics as to respond to the current needs.

Let nobody wait for someone else’s initiative; let anyone take the initiatives they deem appropriate in their place, in their environment, and then try, with due precautions, to connect their own to others’ initiatives, to reach the general agreement that is necessary to valid action.

We are in a time of depression, it is true. However, history is moving fast nowadays: let us get ready for the events to come.

Errico Malatesta, Umanità Nova, n. 185, August 26, 1922


Anarchism in China

The Chinese Anarchist Movement-1

Continuing my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, here I return to anarchism in China during the 1920s and 30s, focusing on Huang Lingshuang’s critique of Marxism. In Volume One of the Anarchism anthology, I included several selections from Chinese anarchists, including He Zhen, the early Chinese anarchist feminist, Shifu, “the soul of Chinese anarchism” who helped create a Chinese anarchist communist movement, and Ba Jin (also known as Li Pei Kan or Li Feigan), the famous Chinese novelist who was active in the Chinese anarchist movement from the 1920s until the Communist Party’s seizure of power in 1949. On my blog, I have posted additional material from Lui Shipei, He Zhen’s companion who helped introduce anarchism to China in the early 1900s, and Kan San, on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

china collage

Anarchism in China Before the 1949 Revolution

In Asia during the 1920s and 30s, the anarchists faced obstacles similar to those of their European comrades. The success of the Bolsheviks in Russia led to the creation of Marxist-Leninist Communist parties in various parts of Asia. The anarchists had until then been the most influential revolutionary movement in China. By the late 1920s, the anarchists had been eclipsed by the Chinese Communist Party and the Guomindang, who fought each other, and the Japanese, for control of China over the next twenty years.

Chinese anarchists rejected the Marxist notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat, concentrating all power “in the hands of the state,” because this would result in the “suppression of individual freedom” (Volume One, Selection 100). The Chinese anarchists did not regard Marxist state socialism as sufficiently communist, for during the alleged “transition” from socialism to communism, a wage system and some forms of private property would be retained.

Huang Lingshuang (1898-1982), one of the more noteworthy Chinese anarchist critics of Marxism, rejected the Marxist view that society must progress through successive stages of economic and technological development before communism can be achieved. Drawing on the work of European anthropologists, Huang Lingshuang was able to more clearly distinguish between cultural change and biological evolution than Kropotkin, who had largely conflated the two. Huang Lingshuang argued that, contrary to the Marxist theory of historical materialism, the “same economic and technological conditions do not necessarily result in the same culture,” cultural and economic changes do “not occur at the same rate,” and not every society goes through the same economic stages of development in the same order (Volume One, Selection 100). Rudolf Rocker made similar arguments in Nationalism and Culture (Volume One, Selection 121).

Robert Graham

China down with emperors

Authority and Sexuality


Getting back to the installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in this section I discuss anarchist ideas connecting sexual repression with authoritarianism.

Authority and Sexuality

Anarchists who sought to understand the popular appeal of fascism turned to the work of the dissident Marxist psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Reich was unpopular in Marxist circles, having described Soviet Communism as “red fascism,” which resulted in his expulsion from the Communist Party. In his book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich discussed the role of the patriarchal nuclear family, legal marriage, enforced monogamy, religion and sexual repression in creating an authoritarian character structure (Volume One, Selection 119).

Reich’s work was similar to the earlier psychoanalytic anarchist critique of Otto Gross (1877-1920), who argued on the eve of the First World War, echoing Max Stirner, that previous revolutions “collapsed because the revolutionary of yesterday carried authority within himself.” Gross believed that “the root of all authority lies in the family,” and that “the combination of sexuality and authority, as it shows itself in the patriarchal family still prevailing today, claps every individuality in chains” (Volume One, Selection 78). Although he put greater emphasis than Reich on the “inner conflict” between “that which belongs to oneself” and the “authority that has penetrated into our own innermost self,” Gross also called for the sexual liberation of women and for a struggle “against the father and patriarchy” (Volume One, Selection 78).

The Japanese anarchist feminist, Takamure Itsue (1894-1964), argued that the ruling class viewed sexual fulfillment “as a mere extravagance for everyone except themselves” and “babies as eggs for their industrial machines… to be chained up within the confinement of the marriage system,” with the burdens of pregnancy, child birth and child rearing being imposed on women. She acknowledged the changes in sexual relations arising from the development of birth control, which potentially gave women more control over their lives, but as with Carmen Lareva and He Zhen before her, warned against mere “promiscuity.” For her, “genuine anarchist love” was based on mutual respect, such that those who seek it can “never be satisfied with recreational sex” (Volume One, Selection 109). The liberalization of marriage laws and the legalization of birth control were not enough, for men would continue to view women as sex objects and deny responsibility for child care.

In Spain, Félix Martí Ibáñez argued that sexual revolution, because it involves the transformation of individual attitudes and relationships, can neither be imposed from above nor completely suppressed by the ruling authorities. The sexual revolution must begin now, “by means of the book, the word, the conference and personal example.” Only then will people be able to “create and forge that sexual culture which is the key to liberation” (Volume One, Selection 121). That this would be no easy task was highlighted by Lucía Sánchez Saornil, one of the founders of the Mujeres Libres anarchist women’s group in Spain. She criticized those anarchist men who used notions of sexual liberation as a pretext for looking “upon every woman who passes their way as a target for their appetites” (Volume One, Selection 123). Such conduct either results in the reduction of women to “a plaything of masculine whims,” or alienates them from participation in the anarchist movement.

Some anarchists felt that Reich’s analysis overemphasized the role of sexual repression in the rise of fascism. A Spanish article suggested that a “completely healthy and well-balanced individual in terms of his sexual life may be a long way off from being a perfect socialist and a convinced revolutionary fighter,” for “an individual free of bourgeois sexual prejudice may lack all sense of human solidarity” (Volume One, Selection 119).

Others were more enthusiastic. Marie Louise Berneri (1918-1949) endorsed Reich’s argument that the “fear of pleasurable excitation” caused by conventional morality and the legally mandated patriarchal family “is the soil on which the individual re-creates the life-negating ideologies which are the basis of dictatorship.” She also drew on the work of the anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski, whose studies indicated that in those societies where people’s sex lives are “allowed to develop naturally, freely and unhampered through every stage of life, with full satisfaction” there are “no sexual perversions, no functional psychoses, no psychoneuroses, no sex murder,” in marked contrast to societies based on the “patriarchal authoritarian family organization.” Berneri accepted Reich’s claim that when his patients “were restored to a healthy sex-life, their whole character altered, their submissiveness disappeared, they revolted against an absurd moral code, against the teachings of the Church, against the monotony and uselessness of their work” (Volume Two, Selection 75). In other words, they became social revolutionaries.

Paul Goodman drew the connection between the repression of homosexual impulses among adolescent males and the war machine. These “boys” are made to feel “ashamed of their acts; their pleasures are suppressed and in their stead appear fistfights and violence.” In the army, “this violent homosexuality, so near the surface but always repressed and thereby gathering tension, turns into a violent sadism against the enemy: it is all knives and guns and bayonets, and raining bombs on towns, and driving one’s lust in the guise of anger to fuck the Japs” (Volume Two, Selection 11).

The libertarian communist, Daniel Guérin (1904-1988), wrote that “patriarchal society, resting on the dual authority of the man over the woman and of the father over the children, accords primacy to the attributes and modes of behaviour associated with virility. Homosexuality is persecuted to the extent that it undermines this construction. The disdain of which woman is the object in patriarchal societies is not without correlation with the shame attached to the homosexual act.” While Guérin urged people “to pursue simultaneously both the social revolution and the sexual revolution, until human beings are liberated completely from the two crushing burdens of capitalism and puritanism,” he agreed with Emma Goldman, Martí Ibáñez, and Paul Goodman that the process of sexual liberation must begin now, not after the revolution. Yet, as with Goodman, he also recognized that the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s “created a whole generation of ‘gay’ young men, profoundly apolitical… a million miles from any conception of class struggle,” casting doubt on the Reichian view that sexual liberation leads to social revolution (Volume Two, Selection 76).

Alex Comfort (1920-2000), who was also a pioneer of sexual liberation, suggested that part of the appeal of fascism lay in people’s consciousness of their own mortality and fear of death. Since “to admit that I am an individual I must also admit that I shall cease to exist,” people take refuge in the belief in “an immortal, invisible and only wise society, which can exact responsibilities and demand allegiances… Each sincere citizen feels responsibility to society in the abstract, and none to the people he kills… Fascism is a refuge from Death in death.” (Volume Two, Selection 20).

Robert Graham


Kobane Under Attack

ISIS attacks Kobane

ISIS attacks Kobane

Alarming news from Kobane – an ISIS attack that has likely resulted in the massacre of around 200 hundred people. While it appears that the armed forces in Kobane have repelled this latest ISIS assault, the situation remains very dangerous. The people of Kobane and Rojava need our support now more than ever. Below, I reproduce excerpts from a recent report by Zaher Baher from the Haringey Solidarity Group and Kurdistan Anarchists Forum on the possibility and need for an independent economic path in Rojava. Previously, I posted reports by David Graeber and Janet Biehl on social reconstruction in Rojava. In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included selections from Kurdish anarchists and Janet Biehl on the possibilities of a libertarian social revolution in Kurdish areas in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Tev-Dem (Movement for a Democratic Society)

Tev-Dem (Movement for a Democratic Society)

Kobane and its Reconstruction

The war and sanctions indeed made life in Kobane and the rest of Rojava miserable for a long time but in my opinion both factors played a major role in [the survival of] the whole of Rojava.

The war there introduced Rojava to the world and particularly leftists, communists, socialists, trade unionists, anarchists and libertarians. It brought love, support and solidarity to Rojava and its people. Hundreds of people from different countries travelled there to be in the front line against ISIS and a few of them lost their lives. Hundreds more went there as journalists and aid and community workers to show their support and solidarity.

[S]anction[s] against Rojava by Turkey, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the regional countries all also played a role in Rojava[‘s survival]. [These factors] prevented corruption, money [and] capital [entering], and hindered exploitation by businessmen and landowners. The simple life of the region managed to go on. People had to rely on themselves, work voluntarily and collectively. The true natural relation between the people continued.

Now Kobane and the whole of Rojava enter the economic test which is difficult indeed. Many countries can resist military occupation but cannot survive an economic one. Launching an economic war by the big corporations and the international financial institutions can be devastating. This may start with the reconstruction of Kobane. Rebuilding it could bring death or the survival of Rojava as a whole by initiating its social revolution.

In my opinion rebuilding Kobane may take one of the following [routes]:
• Either through the work of big corporations and financial institutions, like [the] IMF, WB and ECB. This [would] no doubt benefit the big corporations in particular and the capitalist system in general as happened, by imposing so many dramatic conditions, in Africa and South America.
• Or through international support and solidarity of leftists, communists, trade unionists, socialists, anarchists and libertarians. This of course is a slow process but it is the only way that Kabane can be rebuilt solidly… avoiding the influence of the big corporations.
• It could also be done by contracting out some of the projects to some companies to supply materials and expertise but the actual work to be done collectively by the people… provided a close watch and scrutiny [by] the DSAs [Democratic Self-Administration] and the Tev-Dem [Movement for a Democratic Society] could be imposed.

There is currently a big discussion among the politicians, academics and economists about the rebuilding [of] Kobane and the future economy of Rojava. In fact a big conference was held in Amed in early May regarding rebuilding Kobane but so far no decision has been taken. While I was in Bakur I spoke to many people in important positions. They all rejected the big corporations and explained that this is their own official and firm view.

[Deciding not to rebuild] Kobane through the big corporations and the international financial institutions is [an] excellent decision against the interests of the US and the Western countries and keeps their powers out. In the meantime it is our duty to help and support whatever we can to participate in [the] reconstruction of Kobane in order to protect this shining experiment. We should not let the blood of thousands of people who [sacrificed] themselves to liberate Kobane and protect the social revolution in Rojava to go in vain.

Zaher Baher, June 2015

kobane solidarity

Marxist influences on the anarchists of the First International

Marx & Bakunin

Marx & Bakunin

My new book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It': The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, should be out this Monday, June 16, 2015. Published by AK Press, it’s a history of the debates and struggles with the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA), which led to the creation of avowedly anarchist movements in Italy, Spain, France and Switzerland, and later in Russia and the Americas. Here, I include a brief excerpt from the conclusion regarding the influence of Marx’s political economy, but not his politics, on some of the anarchists involved in the International and what was to become an international anarchist movement.

marxism and anarchism cover final

Marxist influences on the emergent anarchist movement

Somewhat surprisingly, another part of the legacy of the International is the influence of Marxism on anarchism, albeit Marxism as a critique of capitalism and a theory of class struggle. Bakunin thought Marx’s Capital a much more incisive critique of capitalism than anything Proudhon ever wrote. Elisée Reclus was at one time in discussions with Marx about translating Capital into French. Johann Most produced a popular summary of Capital when he was still a Social Democrat, but Marx’s economic class analysis continued to have an influence on him after he became an anarchist. Carlo Cafiero prepared his own summary of Capital for Italian readers, and often referred to it in his anarchist writings. In the book that Albert Parsons put together while awaiting execution in a Chicago jail, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, he included lengthy excerpts from Marx’s Capital and the Communist Manifesto, together with the trial speeches of himself and the other Haymarket Martyrs, plus writings on anarchism by Kropotkin, Reclus and some other American anarchists.

Malatesta later remarked that the anarchists in the International, even those who had not read Marx, “were still too Marxist.” By this he meant that they had been too much influenced by Marx’s theory of history, according to which capitalism produced its own grave diggers, the revolutionary proletariat. For Malatesta, this had too much the air of inevitability to it, and it exaggerated the role of economic circumstance in creating class consciousness. It also underestimated the role of conscious choice and determination in revolutionary social transformation. Neither revolution nor anarchy was inevitable. They had to be fought for self-consciously, not as a merely instinctive revolt against oppression, which could just as easily result in some form of revolutionary dictatorship, or the restoration of the status quo, without the desire for freedom and clear ideas about how to achieve it.

But the anarchists in the International who admired Marx’s critique of capitalism, while rejecting his politics, never agreed with the Marxist view that classes and coercive political power as exemplified by the state would disappear once capitalism was abolished. Bakunin, Guillaume and other anarchists in the International argued, to the contrary, that if the state and other authoritarian institutions were not also abolished, a new ruling class would arise comprising those in control of the state. Although rarely given credit for it, this theory of the “new class” originated with the anarchists in the International, despite being appropriated, without acknowledgement, by some dissident Marxists after the advent of Stalinism.

Robert Graham


Fascism: The Preventive Counter-Revolution

The Fascist Counter-Revolution

The Fascist Counter-Revolution

Returning to my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in this section I discuss anarchist responses to and analyses of fascism. Despite common misconceptions in “ultra-leftist” circles, the anarchists did not fail to develop a response to fascism, nor to set forth a critical analysis of the spread of fascism in Europe. In fact, one of the first and best analyses of fascism, Fascism: The Preventive Counter-Revolution, was written by the Italian anarchist, Luigi Fabbri, in 1921-1922,  just as the Fascists were seizing power in Italy. Not being tied to a Marxist theory of historical materialism, which had difficulty explaining the appeal of fascism to many workers, anarchists drew on the emerging ideas of radical psychoanalysis to help explain the popularity of fascism, while keeping fascism’s counter-revolutionary role in the service of capitalism at the forefront of their analysis. Most of the material cited in this section can be found in Volume One of the Anarchism anthology.

Luigi Fabbri Memorial Plaque

Luigi Fabbri Memorial Plaque

Fascism: The Preventive Counter-Revolution

Those anarchists who were not seduced by the seeming “success” of the Bolsheviks in Russia were faced with an equally formidable opponent in the various fascist movements that arose in the aftermath of the First World War. As with the Communists, the Fascists championed centralized command and technology, and did not hesitate to use the most brutal methods to suppress and annihilate their opponents. One of the first and most perceptive critics of fascism was the Italian anarchist, Luigi Fabbri (1877-1935), who aptly described it as “the preventive counter-revolution.” For him, fascism constituted “a sort of militia and rallying point” for the “conservative forces in society,” “the organization and agent of the violent armed defence of the ruling class against the proletariat.” Fascism arose from the militarization of European societies during the First World War, which the ruling classes had hoped would decapitate “a working class that had become overly strong, [by] defusing popular resistance through blood-letting on a vast scale” (Volume One, Selection 113).

Fascism put the lie to the notion of a “democratic” state, with the Italian judiciary, police and military turning a blind eye to fascist violence while prosecuting and imprisoning those who sought to defend themselves against it. Consequently, Fabbri regarded a narrow “anti-fascist” approach as being completely inadequate. Seeing the fascists as the only enemy “would be like stripping the branches from a poisonous tree while leaving the trunk intact… The fight against fascism can only be waged effectively if it is struck through the political and economic institutions of which it is an outgrowth and from which it draws sustenance,” namely “capitalism and the state.” While “capitalism uses fascism to blackmail the state, the state itself uses fascism to blackmail the proletariat,” dangling fascism “over the heads of the working classes” like “some sword of Damocles,” leaving the working class “forever fearful of its rights being violated by some unforeseen and arbitrary violence” (Volume One, Selection 113).

The anarchist pacifist Bart de Ligt regarded fascism as “a politico-economic state where the ruling class of each country behaves towards its own people as for several centuries it has behaved to the colonial peoples under its heel,” an inverted imperialism “turned against its own people.” Yet fascism was not based on violence alone and enjoyed popular support. As de Ligt noted, fascism “takes advantage of the people’s increasing misery to seduce them by a new Messianism: belief in the Strong Man, the Duce, the Führer” (Volume One, Selection 120).

The veteran anarcho-syndicalist, Rudolf Rocker (1873-1958), argued that fascism was the combined result of the capitalists’ urge to dominate workers, nations and the natural world, the anonymity and powerlessness of “mass man,” the development of modern mass technology and production techniques, mass propaganda and the substitution of bureaucratic state control over every aspect of social life for personal responsibility and communal self-regulation, resulting in the dissolution of “society into its separate parts” and their incorporation “as lifeless accessories into the gears of the political machine.” The reduction of the individual to a mere cog in the machine, together with the constant “tutelage of our acting and thinking,” make us “weak and irresponsible,” Rocker wrote, “hence, the continued cry for the strong man who is to put an end to our distress” (Volume One, Selection 121). Drawing on Freud, Herbert Read argued that it is the “obsessive fear of the father which is the psychological basis of tyranny” and “at the same time the weakness of which the tyrant takes advantage” (Volume One, Selection 130).

Rocker Nationalism and Culture

The Triumph of the Irrational

Rocker noted how in Germany fascism had assumed a brutally racist character, with German capitalists citing Nazi doctrines of racial superiority to justify their own domination and to dismiss human equality, and therefore socialism, as biological impossibilities. Writing in 1937, Rocker foresaw the genocidal atrocities which were to follow, citing this comment by the Nazi ideologue, Ernst Mann: “Suicide is the one heroic deed available to invalids and weaklings” (Volume One, Selection 121).

The Italian anarchist, Camillo Berneri (1897-1937), described fascism as “the triumph of the irrational.” He documented and dissected the noxious racial doctrines of the Nazis, which, on the one hand, portrayed the “Aryan” and “Nordic” German people as a superior race, but then, in order to justify rule by an elite, had to argue that the “ruling strata” were of purer blood (Berneri, 1935). As Rocker observed, “every class that has thus far attained to power has felt the need of stamping their rulership with the mark of the unalterable and predestined.” The idea that the ruling class is a “special breed,” Rocker pointed out, originated among the Spanish nobility, whose “blue blood” was supposed to distinguish them from those they ruled (Volume One, Selection 121). It was in Spain that the conflict between the “blue bloods,” capitalists and fascists, on the one hand, and the anarchists, socialists and republicans, on the other, was to reach a bloody crescendo when revolution and civil war broke out there in July 1936.

The CNT fights fascism in Spain

The CNT fights fascism in Spain

Kropotkin on the Paris Commune

The Paris Commune

The Paris Commune

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from Peter Kropotkin’s essay on the Paris Commune, in which he argued that the lesson to be drawn from the Commune was the need for the people themselves to abolish capitalism and to create anarchist communism through their own direct action. As this week marks the anniversary of the brutal suppression of the Commune by the French government in Versailles, which massacred some 30,000 people in Paris during the so-called “Bloody Week” at the end of May 1871, I thought I would reproduce the section from Kropotkin’s essay in which he discusses some of the lessons to be drawn from the Commune. The translation is by Nicolas Walter, and first appeared in the Freedom Press pamphlet, The Paris Commune, Freedom Pamphlet No. 8 (1971), published to mark the 100th anniversary of the Commune.

Burning of the Tuileries by George Jules Victor Clairin, 1871

‘Burning of the Tuileries,’ by George Jules Victor Clairin, 1871

Lessons from the Paris Commune

What idea does the Paris Commune represent? And why is this idea so attractive to the workers of every land, of every nationality?

The answer is easy. The revolution of 1871 was above all a popular one. It was made by the people themselves, it sprang spontaneously from within the masses, and it was among the great mass of the people that it found its defenders, its heroes, its martyrs–and it is exactly for this ‘mob’ character that the bourgeoisie will never forgive it. And at the same time the moving idea of this revolution–vague, it is true, unconscious perhaps, but nevertheless pronounced and running through all its actions–is the idea of the social revolution, trying at last to establish after so many centuries of struggle real liberty and real equality for all.

It was the revolution of ‘the mob’ marching forward to conquer its rights.

Attempts have been made, it is true, and are still being made to change the real direction of this revolution and to represent it as a simple attempt to regain the independence of Paris and thus to constitute a little state within France. But nothing can be less true. Paris did not try to isolate itself from France, any more than to conquer it by force of arms; it did not try to shut itself up within its walls like a monk in a cloister; it was not inspired by a narrow parochial spirit.

If it claimed its independence, if it wished to prevent the interference of the central power in its affairs, it was because it saw in that independence a means of quietly working out the bases of future organization and bringing about within itself a social revolution–a revolution which would have completely transformed the whole system of production and exchange by basing them on justice, which would have completely modified human relations by putting them on a footing of equality, and which would have remade the morality of our society by giving it a basis in the principles of equity and solidarity.

Communal independence was then but a means for the people of Paris, and the social revolution was their end.

This end would have certainly been attained if the revolution of March 18 had been able to take its natural course, if the people of Paris had not been slashed, stabbed, shot and disembowelled by the murderers of Versailles. To find a clear and precise idea, comprehensible to everyone and summing up in a few words what had to be done to bring about the revolution–such was indeed the preoccupation of the people of Paris from the earliest days of their independence.

But a great idea does not germinate in a day, however rapid the elaboration and propagation of ideas during revolutionary periods. It always needs a certain time to develop, to spread throughout the masses, and to translate itself into action, and the Paris Commune lacked this time.

Paris commune

It lacked more than this, because ten years ago the ideas of modern socialism were themselves passing through a period of transition. The Commune was born so to speak between two eras in the development of modern socialism. In 1871 the authoritarian, governmental, and more or less religious communism of 1848 no longer had any hold over the practical and libertarian minds of our era. Where could you find today a Parisian who would agree to shut himself up in a Phalansterian barracks? On the other hand the collectivism which wished to yoke together the wage system and collective property remained incomprehensible, unattractive, and bristling with difficulties in its practical application. And free communism, anarchist communism, was scarcely dawning; it scarcely ventured to provoke the attacks of the worshippers of governmentalism.

Minds were undecided, and the socialists themselves didn’t feel bold enough to begin the demolition of individual property, having no definite end in view. Then they let themselves be fooled by the argument which humbugs have repeated for centuries : ‘Let us first make sure of victory; after that we shall see what can be done.’

First make sure of victory! As if there were any way of forming a free commune so long as you don’t touch property! As if there were any way of defeating the enemy so long as the great mass of the people is not directly interested in the triumph of the revolution, by seeing that it will bring material, intellectual, and moral well-being for everyone! They tried to consolidate the Commune first and put off the social revolution until later, whereas the only way to proceed was to consolidate the Commune by means of the social revolution!

The same thing happened with the principle of government. By proclaiming the free commune, the people of Paris were proclaiming an essentially anarchist principle; but, since the idea of anarchism had at that time only faintly dawned in men’s minds, it was checked half-way, and within the Commune people decided in favour of the old principle of authority, giving themselves a Commune Council, copied from the municipal councils.

If indeed we admit that a central government is absolutely useless to regulate the relations of communes between themselves, why should we admit its necessity to regulate the mutual relations of the groups which make up the commune? And if we leave to the free initiative of the communes the business of coming to a common understanding with regard to enterprises concerning several cities at once, why refuse this same initiative to the groups composing a commune? There is no more reason for a government inside a commune than for a government above the commune.

'Neither God Nor Master'

‘Neither God Nor Master’

But in 1871 the people of Paris, who have overthrown so many governments, were making only their first attempt to rebel against the governmental system itself; so they let themselves be carried away by governmental fetishism and gave themselves a government. The consequences of that are known. The people sent their devoted sons to the town hall. There, immobilized, in the midst of paperwork, forced to rule when their instincts prompted them to be and to move among the people, forced to discuss when it was necessary to act, and losing the inspiration which comes from continual contact with the masses, they found themselves reduced to impotence. Paralysed by their removal from the revolutionary source, the people, they themselves paralysed the popular initiative.

Born during a period of transition, at a time when the ideas of socialism and authority were undergoing a profound modification; emerging from a war, in an isolated centre, under the guns of the Prussians, the Paris Commune was bound to perish.

But by its eminently popular character it began a new era in the series of revolutions, and through its ideas it was the precursor of a great social revolution. The unheard of, cowardly, and ferocious massacres with which the bourgeoisie celebrated its fall, the mean vengeance which the torturers have perpetrated on their prisoners for nine years, these cannibalistic orgies have opened up between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat a chasm which will never be filled. At the time of the next revolution, the people will know what has to be done; they will know what awaits them if they don’t gain a decisive victory, and they will act accordingly.

Indeed we now know that on the day when France bristles with insurgent communes, the people must no longer give themselves a government and expect that government to initiate revolutionary measures. When they have made a clean sweep of the parasites who devour them, they will themselves take possession of all social wealth so as to put it into common according to the principles of anarchist communism.

And when they have entirely abolished property, government, and the state, they will form themselves freely according to the necessities dictated to them by life itself. Breaking its chains and overthrowing its idols, mankind will march them towards a better future, no longer knowing either masters or slaves, keeping its veneration only for the noble martyrs who paid with their blood and sufferings for those first attempts at emancipation which have lighted our way in our march towards the conquest of freedom.

Peter Kropotkin, 1881



The Transvaluation of Values and Communitarian Anarchism


After a short hiatus, here is the next installment from the “Anarchist Current,” my overview of the origins and development of anarchist ideas, from ancient China to the present day, which forms the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. In this section, I discuss Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman’s critiques of the Russian Revolution, and connect their ethical anarchism to the communitarian anarchism of people like Gustav Landauer, and later anarchist writers, such as Paul Goodman and Murray Bookchin, who sought to create a “community of communities,” based on freedom and equality. Emma Goldman derived the concept of the “transvaluation of values” from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.


The Transvaluation of Values

When Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman arrived in Russia in 1919, they were sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, whom they regarded as sincere revolutionaries. They began to take a more critical stance after making contact with those anarchists who still remained at liberty. Eventually they realized that the Bolsheviks were establishing their own dictatorship under the guise of fighting counter-revolution. Berkman noted how the “civil war really helped the Bolsheviki. It served to keep alive popular enthusiasm and nurtured the hope that, with the end of war, the ruling Party will make effective the new revolutionary principles and secure the people in the enjoyment of the fruits of the Revolution.” Instead, the end of the Civil War led to the consolidation of a despotic Party dictatorship characterized by the “exploitation of labour, the enslavement of the worker and peasant, the cancellation of the citizen as a human being… and his transformation into a microscopic part of the universal economic mechanism owned by the government; the creation of privileged groups favoured by the State; [and] the system of compulsory labour service and its punitive organs” (Volume One, Selection 88).

“To forget ethical values,” wrote Berkman, “to introduce practices and methods inconsistent with or opposed to the high moral purposes of the revolution means to invite counter-revolution and disaster… Where the masses are conscious that the revolution and all its activities are in their own hands, that they themselves are managing things and are free to change their methods when they consider it necessary, counter-revolution can find no support and is harmless… the cure for evil and disorder is more liberty, not suppression” (Volume One, Selection 117).

Emma Goldman drew similar lessons from the Russian Revolution, arguing that “to divest one’s methods of ethical concepts means to sink into the depths of utter demoralization… No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation unless the MEANS used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the PURPOSES to be achieved.” For Goldman, the essence of revolution cannot be “a violent change of social conditions through which one social class, the working class, becomes dominant over another class,” as in the Marxist conception. For the social revolution to succeed, there must be “a fundamental transvaluation of values… ushering in a transformation of the basic relations of man to man, and of man to society,” establishing “the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man, the right of every human being to liberty and well-being” (Volume One, Selection 89).

Nietzsche on the State

Nietzsche on the State

In conceiving the social revolution as “the mental and spiritual regenerator” of human values and relationships, Goldman was adopting a position close to that of Gustav Landauer, the anarchist socialist martyred during the short-lived Bavarian Revolution in 1919. Before the war, he criticized those revolutionaries who regard the state as a physical “thing—akin to a fetish—that one can smash in order to destroy.” Rather, the “state is a relationship between human beings, a way by which people relate to one another… one destroys it by entering into other relationships, by behaving differently to one another.” If the state is a kind of social relationship, then “we are the state” and remain so “as long as we are not otherwise, as long as we have not created the institutions that constitute a genuine community and society of human beings” (Volume One, Selection 49).

This positive conception of social revolution as the creation of egalitarian communities was later expanded upon by Landauer’s friend, the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber (1878-1965). Consciously seeking to build upon Landauer’s legacy, Buber called for the creation of “a community of communities,” a federation of village communes “where communal living is based on the amalgamation of production and consumption, production being understood… as the organic union of agriculture with industry and the handicrafts as well” (Volume Two, Selection 16). Such a vision drew upon both Landauer and Kropotkin, particularly the latter’s Fields, Factories and Workshops (Volume One, Selection 34). This vision was shared by some of the early pioneers of the kibbutz movement in Palestine (Horrox, 2009), and by Gandhi and his followers in India (Volume Two, Selection 32). It received renewed impetus after the Second World War, with the development of communitarian and ecological conceptions of anarchism by people like Paul Goodman (Volume Two, Selections 17 & 70) and Murray Bookchin (Volume Two, Selections 48 & 74).

Robert Graham

goldman on freedom and equality

Emma Goldman on May Day

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman

Just found this great quote from Emma Goldman from a May Day rally in Toronto in 1939. I included several selections from Emma in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, and began Volume Two with her thoughts on anarchism in the face of the Second World War. Thanks to Dave Lester for posting this.

Emma Goldman, May Day 1937, Hyde Park

Emma Goldman, May Day 1937, Hyde Park

May Day 1939

“Again we are celebrating the first day of May, marching in parades, singing songs, listening to pretty speeches delivered by politicians and labor leaders. But is this the purpose of the first of May?

“We are being told that here in Canada, prosperity is back again. The barons of industry are harvesting millions of dollars from the sweat and toil of the Canadian workers.

“Yes, our masters will grant us ‘democratic rights’ when it comes to elections. They know as long as we are using our “powerful” slips of paper nothing is threatening their privileges. But when we use direct action, your collective strength, and strike for higher wages, then our bosses tell us that we have overstepped our “democratic rights.

“Our strength lies in the field of economics, in the factories, in the workshops, in the mines, and not in the lobbies of parliament or the steps of city halls. Therefore, fellow workers, let us mark this first of May by the realization that organization in the economic field is our only effective weapon against war and its creator the state, against Capitalism and its offspring Fascism.”

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman 70th birthday



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