Ōsugi Sakae: The Chain Factory

Ōsugi Sakae (1885-1923) was a Japanese anarchist active from around 1906 until his murder by Japanese military police in 1923. Together with his lover, the anarchist feminist Itō Noe, and his 6 year old nephew, Ōsugi was beaten to death and thrown in a well, on the pretext that the anarchists were going to take advantage of the chaos and destruction following the Great Kantō earthquake to overthrow the government. I included pieces by both Ōsugi and Itō in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Adam Goodwin has recently translated the following short story by Ōsugi, “The Chain Factory.” Goodwin describes it as an “allegorical story by Ōsugi to represent the modern economic order as he relates it by recollection of a dream he had one night. The imagery in Japanese is compelling and accurate to an insurrectionary-anarchist’s perspective on our social order.”

Osugi Sakae, Ito Noe and the editors of Rodo Undo, Tokyo 1921

The Chain Factory

Late one night I awoke with a start and found myself in a strange place.

As far as I could see there were countless people busily working away at something. They are fashioning chains.

The fellow beside me wraps a rather long length of chain around himself and passes one end of it to the chap beside him. The second fellow lengthens the chain further, wraps it around himself and, again, passes it to another chap sitting diagonally from him. While this was happening, the first chap takes the end of another chain from the fellow beside him, and, as before, lengthens it and wraps it once around himself, and then passes the end to the chap sitting diagonally from him. This continues on and on, with everyone doing the same thing, and at a dizzying pace.

All of them have chains wrapped around their mid-sections ten to twenty times, and at first glance it seemed that they were completely immobilized, but their hands and feet were free enough to make the chain and wrap it around their bodies. They work so intently. There isn’t a sign of bother on any of their faces. They actually look happy as they work.

But all is not what it seemed. Ten places from me a chap shouted something as he tosses away the end of a chain. But then, another fellow, who was standing near, but also with chains wrapped around his body, gruffly approached him and clubbed him three or four times with the large truncheon he was carrying. Everyone near the clubbed chap cried out in glee. The clubbed chap, crying, picks up the end of the chain, fashions a small link and joins it, makes another link, and joins that one. And, after a while, the tears on his face had all disappeared.

In places there are slightly-more refined men standing with, again, chains wrapped around their mid-sections, and they incessantly speak in a shrill voice, like that one would hear from a phonograph. They speak at length with difficult words and complicated reasoning something to the effect of ‘the chains protect us; the chains are sacred to our freedom.’ Everyone listens intently.

And, in the middle of this expansive factory are a group splendid-looking fellows—perhaps the family that owns this factory—lounging on sofas, smoking what seem to be cigars. Their smoke rings sometimes gently waft past the faces of the workers, making them choke uncomfortably.
As I dwelt upon how strange this place was, I felt my own joints begin to ache. I look down to find my own body wrapped ten to twenty times in chains. I busily attend to linking the chains. I was also, as is to be expected, another worker at this factory.

I cursed myself; I grew saddened, and then angry. I remembered the words of Hegel: “The real is the rational, and the rational is the real.”
Wilhelm I and his loyal subjects interpreted these words to grant the sanctity of philosophy to all political realities of the day, including the despotic government, the police state, the arbitrary courts and the suppression of free speech.

Not just the political realities. But everything. For the dim-witted Prussian people, all of those realities were, without a doubt, necessary and just.
As I cast the chains and bind myself with them, their reality is unavoidable; it is just; and, it is my own fate.

I must cease the casting of my own chains. I must cease the binding of my body. I must break the chains that bind me. I must also create a new self, a new reality, a new sense of justice, a new fate.

The chains that bound my mind were rather much easier to break than I had believed. Yet the chains around my feet and hands dig tenaciously into my flesh, and, with time, down to my bones; even the slightest touch left me in agony. Yet, as I endured, the chains relented somewhat. And, as time passed, that pain was accompanied by a slight sense of satisfaction. I even began to tolerate the the three to four truncheon blows from the fellow on watch. I eventually got to the point that I gladly accepted the taunting and abuse from the lounging men.

However, there were many chains that, try as I might, I could not break alone. Everyone’s chain is cleverly linked with mine. There is nothing I can do.If I at all grew idle, the chains that I had taken great pains to loosen subtly worked their way around my body again. Before I knew it, I found my hands mending the links of my own chain.

The master of the factory holds the key to our bellies, and by wielding it, he moves our feet and hands. I had always thought that it was my own mind that controlled my feet and hands; how mistaken I was. As far as I look, no one controls their feet and hands with their own mind. Everyone is under the complete control of the master holding the key to our bellies. It sounds so foolish, but the fact is there is nothing we can do.

I then thought I would try to get back the key to my belly from the man holding it. But it was an impossible task to snatch it away from him by myself. It turns out that he holds my key in such a clever way that it is interlocked with the keys of everyone else, and I cannot possibly grab away from him my key alone.

He is also surrounded by many guards. They all have chains wrapped around their torsos, as they stand holding their spears and bows. They are a frightening bunch and I dare not approach them.

I had lost almost all hope. I then shifted my gaze to the fellows around me.

There are so many who do not realize that they are bound by chains. There are many more still who, were they to realize, would only be grateful for their chains. There are also many who, while not grateful, have resigned themselves to work industriously making their chains. And there are the many who see the chain-making as ridiculous, find the gaps in the watch to frequently rest their bodies as they harbour selfish delusions in their heads, and passionately spout nonsense of actually being free, and not bound by chains at all. It is too foolish to bear to watch.

I then suddenly cast my gaze. I found others around me that seemed to be aligned with me.

They are few, and they are scattered all around. But they all desire the key to their bellies in the clutches of the master. And, like me, they seem to be aware of not being able to take back their own keys alone, so they whisper frequently to their neighbours forging alliances.

“They are few; we are many. They are outnumbered. If we act together, we can take back our keys in one fell swoop.”

“However, since we make pronouncements about justice and peace, we must not permit violence. We must proceed through peaceful means. There is a simple way to do this.”

“Once a year, we send a representative to the master to decide every aspect of our lives. All of those chaps in that meeting are representatives of the master, and if we muster up our own true representatives now, we can be the majority in the meeting, and that’s how we can pass the resolutions that we want.”

“All we need to do is shut up and make the chains. Just continue to wrap the chains around ourselves. Then, when the day comes every few years that we choose our representative, we simply vote for our own representative.”

“Our representative will gradually loosen our chains, and will, ultimately, take back the key to our bellies from the master. We will then find ourselves in a factory under a new organization and a new system of our own ideals, with our chains in the hands of our representative.”

For a time, I thought this to be the soundest argument. But the idea of relying simply on numbers, or relying on someone else over myself, did not sit right with me somehow. And when they declared their philosophy to be scientific, I then realized that they were not my comrades.

They were dreadful subscribers to panlogism. Dreaded mechanical fatalists. In their ideal of the new organization of the factory, they believe themselves to be the natural inheritors of the current factory organization, the result of an inevitable economic process. Thus, their belief is vested in simply changing the factory system and organization according to economic processes.

When pushed to decide, I, myself, am also a subscriber to panlogism. I am a mechanical fatalist. But there were a great many unknowns in my thinking, in my mechanical fatalism. As long as I did not discern these unknowns, achieving my ideals would not be certain. They would remain probabilities with a degree of potential. I cannot look favourably to the future like these men. In fact, my pessimism for the future is what nourishes my efforts in the present.

The majority of my so-called unknowns lie with humans. They’re with the development of life, itself. They’re with the power of life, itself. More specifically, they lie with the efforts to realize one’s potential, to realize one’s autonomy, to fight tirelessly for that development, and all of the effort therein.

I have no doubt that economic processes are a major force in determining the future of our factory. Yet, those unknowns—more specifically, our power and efforts—shape what kind of organization and system should be brought about as a result of those processes. Whether it be an organization or a system, these are merely phenomena manifested from the interactions of human beings. The interaction of nothing with nothing—the relationship between nothing and nothing—will, ultimately, be nothing.

And yet, I cannot help but shudder in fear at what might rightly be called the omnipotence of the organizations and systems that already exist today. Those fellows in the factory, steeped in a dream within a dream, consider themselves to be complete individuals and give not a moment’s thought to the destruction of those systems.

Sloth has no ambition. Sloth makes no history.

I looked around myself once again.

I am surrounded almost entirely by sloth. They work dutifully fashioning chains and wrapping them around their own bodies, under the full control of the mind of another; almost not a single one moves of his own mental faculties. It matters not how many of these fellows are brought together, for they have no ambition, no creative power.

I have given up on this vulgar group.

My own hopes rested on me alone. We can only come to realize our own power and autonomy, go through our own small revolutions, and have our hopes rest on the scant minority that put forth all they can to achieve their own betterment.

We must face the men who hold the key to our bellies, look upon the organization and system of the factory they have created to subjugate us, and confront it like wild beasts.

We will likely be a scant minority until the bitter end. Yet we have the will and the effort. And we also have the experience of actions born of this effort. Our aspirations are born from this experience. We will fight to the last.

That fight is a demonstration of our power. It is the touchstone of our personal autonomy. We are the magnets who invite the slothful within our sphere of influence and transform them into warriors.

This fight yields new meaning and new power within our lives, and germinates the seed of the new factory we are trying to construct.

Well, I’ve relied too much on argument alone. Arguments don’t break chains. Arguments don’t snatch back the keys to our bellies.

The chains have grown ever tighter around us now. The keys to our bellies have become ever stiffer to turn. Even the slothful among this vulgar group began to grow restless. The time for the efforts of the self-aware, combative minority is now. I threw off the chains wrapped around my hands and feet, and stood up.

I awoke. The night had past, and the mid-August morning sun lights up my half-asleep countenance.

Ōsugi Sakae

Kropotkin: The Coming Anarchy (1887)

In my last post, I reproduced some thoughts of Tomás Ibáñez on the “coming anarchism,” that is the anarchism of the future, modified and adapted to rapidly changing conditions unforeseen by 19th century anarchist revolutionaries. The title to the piece was an allusion to an article by the anarchist communist, Peter Kropotkin, “The Coming Anarchy,” the second part of an essay he published in the English review, The Nineteenth Century (February and August 1887 issues). The two parts of Kropotkin’s essay were republished as the pamphlet, “Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles” (1887, reprinted on its 100th anniversary in Kropotkin, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism, ed. N. Walter, Freedom Press,  1987). Here, I reproduce excerpts from “The Coming Anarchy,” highlighting Kropotkin’s advocacy not only of anarchism, but of anarchy itself. Unlike some anarchists who equate “anarchy” with some decentralized, federalist forms of direct democracy, Kropotkin argued that what we should be striving for is anarchy in the sense of a society without any kind of law or government at all. I included several selections by Kropotkin on anarchy, anarchist communism, law and morality in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Peter Kropotkin

The Coming Anarchy

I have already said that anarchy means no-government. We know well that the word ‘anarchy’ is also used in the current language as synonymous with disorder. But that meaning of ‘anarchy’ being a derived one, implies at least two suppositions. It implies, first, that whenever there is no government there is disorder; and it implies, moreover, that order, due to a strong government and a strong police, is always beneficial. Both implications, however, are anything but proved. There is plenty of order — we should say, of harmony — in many branches of human activity where the government, happily, does not interfere.

As to the beneficial effects of order, the kind of order that reigned at Naples under the Bourbons surely was not preferable to some disorder started by Garibaldi; while the Protestants of this country will probably say that the good deal of disorder made by Luther was preferable, at any rate, to the order which reigned under the Pope. As to the proverbial ‘order’ which was once ‘restored at Warsaw,’[1] there are, I suppose, no two opinions about it. While all agree that harmony is always desirable, there is no such unanimity about order, and still less about the ‘order’ which is supposed to reign on our modern societies; so that we have no objection whatever to the use of the word ‘anarchy’ as a negation of what has been often described as order.

By taking for our watchword anarchy, in its sense of no-government, we intend to express a pronounced tendency of human society. In history we see that precisely those epochs when small parts of humanity broke down the power of their rulers and reassumed their freedom were epochs of the greatest progress, economical and intellectual. Be it the growth of the free cities, whose unrivalled monuments — free work of free associations of workers — still testify [to] the revival of mind and of the well-being of the citizen; be it the great movement which gave birth to the Reformation — those epochs when the individual recovered some part of his freedom witnessed the greatest progress.

And if we carefully watch the present development of civilized nations, we cannot fail to discover in it a marked and ever-growing movement towards limiting more and more the sphere of action of government, so as to leave more and more liberty to the initiative of the individual. After having tried all kinds of government, and endeavoring to solve the insoluble problem of having a government ‘which might compel the individual to obedience, without escaping itself from obedience to collectivity,’ humanity is trying now to free itself from the bonds of any government whatever, and to respond to its needs of organization by the free understanding between individuals prosecuting the same common aims.

Home Rule, even for the smallest territorial unity or group, becomes a growing need; free agreement is becoming a substitute for the law; and free co-operation a substitute for governmental guardianship. One after the other those functions which were considered as the functions of government during the last two centuries are disputed; society moves better the less it is governed.

And the more we study the advance made in this direction, as well as the inadequacy of governments to fulfill the expectations placed in them, the more we are bound to conclude that Humanity, by steadily limiting the functions of government, is marching towards reducing them finally to nil; and we already foresee a state of society where the liberty of the individual will be limited by no laws, no bonds — by nothing else but his own social habits and the necessity, which everyone feels, of finding cooperation, support, and sympathy among his neighbours.

Of course, the no-government ethics will meet with at least as many objectives as the no-capital economics [communism]. Our minds have been so nurtured in prejudices as to the providential functions of government that anarchist ideas must be received with distrust. Our whole education, from childhood to the grave, nurtures the belief in the necessity of a government and its beneficial effects.

Systems of philosophy have been elaborated to support this view; history has been written from this standpoint; theories of law have been circulated and taught for the same purpose. All politics are based on the same principles, each politician saying to the people he wants to support him : ‘Give me the governmental power; I will, I can, relieve you from the hardships of your present life.’

All our education is permeated with the same teachings. We may open any book of sociology, history, law, or ethics : everywhere we find government, its organization, its deeds, playing so prominent a part that we grow accustomed to suppose that the State and the political men are everything; that there is nothing behind the big statesmen. The same teachings are daily repeated in the Press. Whole columns are filled up with minutest records of parliamentary debates, of movements of political persons; and, while reading these columns, we too often forget that there is an immense body of men — mankind, in fact — growing and dying, living in happiness or sorrow, labouring and consuming, thinking and creating, besides those few men whose importance has been so swollen up as to overshadow humanity.

And yet, if we revert from the printed matter to our real life, and cast a broad glance on society as it is, we are struck with the infinitesimal part played by government in our life. Millions of human beings live and die without having had anything to do with government. Every day millions of transactions are made without the slightest interference of government; and those who enter into agreements have not the slightest intention of breaking bargains. Nay, those agreements which are not protected by government (those of the Exchange, or card [gambling] debts) are perhaps better kept than any others. The simple habit of keeping one’s word, the desire of not losing confidence, are quite sufficient in the immense overwhelming majority of cases to enforce the keeping of agreements.

Of course, it may be said that there is still the government which might enforce them if necessary. But not to speak of the numberless cases which could not even be brought before a court, everybody who has the slightest acquaintance with trade will undoubtedly confirm the assertion that, if there were not so strong a feeling of honour in keeping agreements, trade itself would become utterly impossible.

Even those merchants and manufacturers who feel not the slightest remorse when poisoning their customers with all kinds of abominable drugs, duly labelled, even they also keep their commercial agreements. But, if such a relative morality as commercial honesty exists now, under the present conditions, when enrichment is the chief motive, the same feeling will further develop very fast as soon as robbing somebody of the fruits of his labour is no longer the economical basis of our life…

The objections to the above may be easily foreseen. It will be said of course: “But what is to be done with those who do not keep their agreements? What with those who are not inclined to work? What with those who would prefer breaking the written laws of society, or—on the anarchist hypothesis—its unwritten customs? Anarchism may be good for a higher humanity,—not for the men of our own times.”

First of all, there are two kinds of agreements: there is the free one which is entered upon by free consent, as a free choice between different courses equally open to each of the agreeing parties. And there is the enforced agreement, imposed by one party upon the other, and accepted by the latter from sheer necessity; in fact, it is no agreement at all; it is a mere submission to necessity. Unhappily, the great bulk of what are now described as agreements belong to the latter category. When a workman sells his labour to an employer and knows perfectly well that some part of the value of his produce will be unjustly taken by the employer; when he sells it without even the slightest guarantee of being employed so much as six consecutive months, it is a sad mockery to call that a free contract. Modern economists may call it free, but the father of political economy—Adam Smith—was never guilty of such a misrepresentation. As long as three-quarters of humanity are compelled to enter into agreements of that description, force is of course necessary, both to enforce the supposed agreements and to maintain such a state of things. Force—and a great deal of force—is necessary to prevent the labourers from taking possession of what they consider unjustly appropriated by the few; and force is necessary to continually bring new “uncivilized nations” under the same conditions.

But we do not see the necessity of force for enforcing agreements freely entered upon. We never heard of a penalty imposed on a man who belonged to the crew of a lifeboat and at a given moment preferred to abandon the association. All that his comrades would do with him, if he were guilty of a gross neglect, would probably be to refuse to have anything further to do with him. Nor did we hear of fines imposed on a contributor to the dictionary for a delay in his work, or of gendarmes driving the volunteers of Garibaldi to the battlefield. Free agreements need not be enforced.

As to the so-often repeated objection that no one would labour if he were not compelled to do so by sheer necessity, we heard enough of it before the emancipation of slaves in America, as well as before the emancipation of serfs in Russia…

Overwork is repulsive to human nature—not work. Overwork for supplying the few with luxury—not work for the well-being of all. Work is a physiological necessity, a necessity of spending accumulated bodily energy, a necessity which is health and life itself. If so many branches of useful work are so reluctantly done now, it is merely because they mean overwork, or they are improperly organized. But we know—old [Benjamin] Franklin knew it—that four hours of useful work every day would be more than sufficient for supplying everybody with the comfort of a moderately well-to-do middle-class house, if we all gave ourselves to productive work, and if we did not waste our productive powers as we do waste them now.

As to the childish question, repeated for fifty years: “Who would do disagreeable work?” frankly I regret that none of our savants has ever been brought to do it, be it for only one day in his life. If there is still work which is really disagreeable in itself, it is only because our scientific men have never cared to consider the means of rendering it less so. They have always known that there were plenty of starving men who would do it for a few cents a day.

As to the third—the chief—objection, which maintains the necessity of a government for punishing those who break the law of society, there is so much to say about it that it hardly can be touched incidentally. The more we study the question, the more we are brought to the conclusion that society itself is responsible for the anti-social deeds perpetrated in its midst, and that no punishment, no prisons, and no hangmen can diminish the numbers of such deeds; nothing short of a reorganization of society itself.

Three quarters of all the acts which are brought before our courts every year have their origin, either directly or indirectly, in the present disorganized state of society with regard to the production and distribution of wealth—not in perversity of human nature. As to the relatively few anti-social deeds which result from anti-social inclinations of separate individuals, it is not by prisons, nor even by resorting to the hangmen, that we can diminish their numbers. By our prisons, we merely multiply them and render them worse. By our detectives, our “price of blood,” our executions, and our jails, we spread in society such a terrible flow of basest passions and habits, that he who should realize the effects of these institutions to their full extent would be frightened by what society is doing under the pretext of maintaining morality. We must search for other remedies, and the remedies have been indicated long since.

…[I]f all our children—all children are our children—received a sound instruction and education—and we have the means of giving it; if every family lived in a decent home—and they could at the present high pitch of our production; if every boy and girl were taught a handicraft at the same time as he or she receives scientific instruction, and not to be a manual producer of wealth were considered as a token of inferiority; if men lived in closer contact with one another, and had continually to come into contact on those public affairs which now are vested in the few; and if, in consequence of a closer contact. we were brought to take as lively an interest in our neighbours’ difficulties and pains as we formerly took in those of our kinsfolk—then we should not resort to policemen and judges, to prisons and executions. Anti-social deeds would be nipped in the bud, not punished. The few contests which would arise would be easily settled by arbitrators; and no more force would be necessary to impose their decisions than is required now for enforcing the decisions of the family tribunals of China.

And here we are brought to consider a great question: what would become of morality in a society which recognized no laws and proclaimed the full freedom of the individual? Our answer is plain. Public morality is independent from, and anterior to, law and religion. Until now, the teachings of morality have been associated with religious teachings. But the influence which religious teachings formerly exercised on the mind has faded of late, and the sanction which morality derived from religion has no longer the power it formerly had. Millions and millions grow in our cities who have lost the old faith. Is it a reason for throwing morality overboard, and for treating it with the same sarcasm as primitive cosmogony?

Obviously not. No society is possible without certain principles of morality generally recognized. If everyone grew accustomed to deceiving his fellow-men; if we never could rely on each other’s promise and words; if everyone treated his fellow as an enemy, against whom every means of warfare is justifiable—no society could exist. And we see, in fact, that notwithstanding the decay of religious beliefs, the principles of morality remain unshaken. We even see irreligious people trying to raise the current standard of morality. The fact is that moral principles are independent of religious beliefs: they are anterior to them…

In fact, each new religion takes its moral principles from the only real stock of morality—the moral habits which grow with men as soon as they unite to live together in tribes, cities, or nations. No animal society is possible without resulting in a growth of certain moral habits of mutual support and even self-sacrifice for the common well-being. These habits are a necessary condition for the welfare of the species in its struggle for life—cooperation of individuals being a much more important factor in the struggle for the preservation of the species than the so-much-spoken-of physical struggle between individuals for the means of existence. The “fittest” in the organic world are those who grow accustomed to life in society; and life in society necessarily implies moral habits.

As to mankind, it has during its long existence developed in its midst a nucleus of social habits, of moral habits, which cannot disappear as long as human societies exist. And therefore, notwithstanding the influences to the contrary which are now at work in consequence of our present economic relations, the nucleus of our moral habits continues to exist. Law and religion only formulate them and endeavour to enforce them by their sanction…

Whatever the variety of theories of morality, all can be brought under three chief categories: the morality of religion; the utilitarian morality; and the theory of moral habits resulting from the very needs of life in society. Each religious morality sanctifies its prescriptions by making them originate from revelation; and it tries to impress its teachings on the mind by a promise of reward, or punishment, either in this or in a future life.

The utilitarian morality maintains the idea of reward, but it finds it in man himself. It invites men to analyse their pleasures, to classify them, and to give preference to those which are most intense and most durable. We must recognize, however, that, although it has exercised some influence, this system has been judged too artificial by the great mass of human beings.

And finally—whatever its varieties—there is the third system of morality which sees in moral actions—in those actions which are most powerful in rendering men best fitted for life in society—a mere necessity of the individual to enjoy the joys of his brethren, to suffer when some of his brethren are suffering; a habit and a second nature, slowly elaborated and perfected by life in society. That is the morality of mankind; and that is also the morality of anarchism.

Such are, in a very brief summary, the leading principles of anarchism. Each of them hurts many a prejudice, and yet each of them results from an analysis of the very tendencies displayed by human society. Each of them is rich in consequences and implies a thorough revision of many a current opinion. And anarchism is not a mere insight into a remote future. Already now, whatever the sphere of action of the individual, he can act, either in accordance with anarchist principles or on an opposite line. And all that may be done in that direction will be done in the direction to which further development goes. All that may be done in the opposite way will be an attempt to force humanity to go where it will not go.

Peter Kropotkin

1. This was a statement made by the Russian Governor of Poland, Muraviov, after brutally putting down the Polish uprising of 1863.

Shawn Wilbur: Notes on the Anarchist Culture Wars

Taking a break from my usually more historical postings, today I reproduce a blogpost by Shawn Wilbur, prompted by recent discussions regarding alleged personal and political connections between the far right and anarchism. The problem of egoists, Nietzschean “supermen,” “national syndicalists,” “national anarchists,” and the like associating themselves with anarchism goes back at least to the 1890s, when Malatesta argued that anarchy without “socialist content… would be worthy of ‘supermen’ in Nietzsche’s and [the proto-fascist Gabriele] D’Annunzio’s fashion and, contradicting itself, would turn into aristocratism and tyranny” (Complete Works, Vol. 3, p. 293). Attempts by the far right to co-opt anarchists (and anarchism) were not limited to individualist anarchism, nor are they limited today to the so-called “post-left” anarchist milieu. The original Fascists in Italy attempted to recruit syndicalists (without as much success as some “post-leftist” anarchists would have it), and in France they attempted to appropriate the legacy of Proudhon, among other things. In Russia, “national bolsheviks” and “national anarchists” claim Bakunin as a forerunner, quoting from his various anti-semitic outbursts in support of  their “white nationalism.” But it is a completely fallacious leap to then argue that anarchism is an incipiently fascist doctrine, “contaminated” by inherently fascist ideas because fascists sometimes like to court self-proclaimed anarchists or to misappropriate anarchist ideas and tactics, such as direct action, for their own purposes.

Shawn Wilbur’s Contr’un: Anarchist Theory

Notes on the Anarchist Culture Wars

With regard to the “courting” of anarchists by authoritarians, and as someone who has been so courted on various occasions, it seems to me that the key vulnerability among radicals is not attraction to certain authors or ideas, but particular ways of interacting with ideas. And that vulnerability is widespread in the milieu, with perhaps the more dangerous instances involving ideas that are not themselves so obviously edgy.

What is required for someone to slide from Stirner toward fascism, from Proudhon toward monarchy, from Bakunin toward actual dictatorship, etc. is for a few, generally uncharacteristic bits of their thought to be disconnected from their context, elevated in importance and then associated with similarly disconnected bits of authoritarian thought, with some sort of eclecticism, “syncretism” or outright opportunism as the guiding philosophy. The alt-right has made this sort of opportunist, hodge-podge thinking a fairly explicit policy. Unfortunately, many radicals also engage in it, without much sense of the stakes. The result is a convergence of people who aren’t really all that interested in ideas, except as potential capital to put behind projects with some less philosophical basis or as a sort of personal adornment. And these people, whether they identify with the right or the left, tend to tell a story about “theory” that assumes ideas are generally mixable. No idea is really very distant from any other, provided you simply disregard the bits that establish distance (and, of course, clarity.)

(These folks will “use” any idea, no matter how radical, provided they can break off some little bit of it that appeals to their audience of people who don’t care much. We can never stop these people from this kind of annoying, but ultimately trivial appropriation. All we can do is be clearer than they are, so that people who actually do care aren’t mislead. You never convince opportunists that they are wrong, because that’s not ultimately what it’s about. You can, however, demonstrate the weaknesses of opportunism as a mode of thought.)

Sometimes these folks find common cause with people who think that ideas are indeed important, but draw firm lines between ideas that they think of as “bad” or “dangerous” and some set of ideas that seem to them safe, good, etc. There’s a kind of narrow rationalism that is constantly concerned that “something could go wrong” if we have unsafe thoughts or make use of ideas and ways of thinking unapproved by its particular standards. A lot of well-meaning and unconsciously authoritarian would-be radicals fall into this camp. Some of them are quite serious about the defense of their particular sort of approved thinking and some just have a low tolerance for anything that might seem “problematic,” “sketchy” or “fucked up.”

When we do find people swept from one position to another, I suspect these are often people who rather enjoy the fact that many ideas are dangerous, but aren’t so concerned about using ideas in any very serious way. Philosophy, like ideology, can be just another recreational drug. When we “lose” these people, we probably have to acknowledge that we only had them in a very limited sense in the first place.

None of these groups, it seems to me, are very well situated to deal with the notion of anarchy, which is necessarily (in the short term certainly, but probably also in the longest of terms) a truly dangerous idea. Now, some self-proclaimed “anarchists” are happy to do without the notion of anarchy, but as far as I can see that’s just giving up before you get started. But there are also people who look at Stirner (or something they’ve heard about egoism) and think “that’s problematic,” hear the usual criticisms of Proudhon and Bakunin and think “that’s fucked up,” worry about what might “go wrong” with poststructuralism, etc., but then look at anarchy and think “nothing to worry about here, folks.” But we often find that these folks also consider “democracy” a safe, positive notion, will find room in their nominally “anarchist” theory for authority, hierarchy, etc. It’s easy to be tolerant of this sort of thing as “rookie mistakes,” which ought to be fixed by more exposure to anarchist thought — except that there doesn’t seem to be much in the milieu pushing anarchists towards any more complex engagement, while there is perhaps an increasing resistance.

When it comes right down to it, the only people I have much faith in when it comes to a lasting commitment to anarchist thought and practice are those who are both serious about ideas (although I recognize a lot of ways this seriousness might manifest itself) — and specifically serious about anarchist ideas and anarchistic ways of thinking — and ready to acknowledge that the particular ideas that separate anarchism from the rest of the political or social philosophies out there, anarchy chief among them, are not “safe.” This isn’t a question of an intellectual vanguard or any sort of commitment that should exclude the average working stiff. We just shouldn’t be surprised that committing to even the serious contemplation of anarchy, which involves a radical break with the principles that govern the majority of our current relations and institutions, takes some mental effort, no matter where we’re starting from. You don’t have to know that Proudhon came to anarchy as a result of research into “the criterion” of certainty, but you probably do have to come to terms, in one way or another, that the “definitive” and “authoritative” are at least going to have to undergo some reworking in an anarchistic context, if they don’t simply get swept away with the authoritarian.

But if you can come to terms with anarchy, then you have not only gained an ideal, but presumably also mastered a skill. And that skill is, it seems to me, the one that best protects us whenever we are dealing with “dangerous” ideas. It might even simply involve the recognition that all ideas are dangerous, which is a pretty good inoculation against all the various systems and schemes that are peddled from every direction.

Shawn Wilbur

Anarchist Resistance: After the Elections – Before the Revolution


The website “Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness” has recently posted a collection of anarchist responses to the Fall 2016 US elections, “Our Work Has Begun – The Future is Coming.” Here is the contribution from Anarchist Resistance NYC. Their criticisms of electoral strategies cannot be separated from the call for alternative means of action; as Malatesta argued, abstentionism in itself doesn’t change anything.

The Days After the Election and the Days Before the Revolution

by Anarchist Resistance NYC

Today, many radicals are asking themselves how they could be waking up to President Trump. Our question instead is what does this mean for the Left in this country. Paralyzing myths have now been shattered, and this situation could, with a lot of work, passion, and clear thinking, lead to a strategy of action and a far greater positive change than voting for the status quo. The change we are talking about is generational and will have a far greater effect than any string of elections, no matter how repugnant they may be.

Those that see the Greatness of America as being misogynist, nativist, anti-urban, and homogenous in race, sexuality and faith are fighting a rearguard battle against the future which they can not hope to win.

First, this election has dispelled the myth, spread during Occupy, that the primary division in this country exists between the 99% and the 1%. Trump’s victory proves that the conflict is deeper than what amounts to a very simplistic and inaccurate economic calculus: the 99 must surely win against the 1. Many of the so-called 99%ers came out in to support a billionaire, while the other half supported a pro-free trade, Wall Street democrat. Yes, there is absolutely a conflict between the rich and the poor, but that has never been the only division in this country. Those that see the Greatness of America as being misogynist, nativist, anti-urban, and homogeneous in race, sexuality and faith are fighting a rearguard battle against the future which they can not hope to win. This doesn’t mean that they will go away quietly and without inflicting great harm, but that is the nature of dying ideologies.

What is distressing is that this desperate rhetoric has captured the imagination of many who have suffered real humiliation and pain under the neo-liberalism of the one-percent. The tragedy is that the rejection and failure of neo-liberalism has led those “left behind” to eagerly cast their lot with the equally oppressive and failed ideology of paleo-conservativism, with its xenophobia, isolationism and anti-intellectualism. This has created a desperate new political alignment that rejects the very things that can restore its adherents’ respect and livelihood.

From this vantage point, American electoral politics has been nothing more than a zombie horde of defunct worldviews along with oppressive and dangerous ideologies lurching across the blue and red states. No president can overturn the demographic reality that this country will continue to urbanize, will become more and more diverse, and that the mythologized manufacturing jobs of the past will remain dead and buried. These realities are the true wheel of history – the dead will inexorably give way to the living, the past to the future – and no election can change that.

Revolution is not an event that suddenly happens, but something that is carefully prepared, built towards, and eventually implemented by those aligned with the future. All governments, whether they are liberal or conservative, will fight equally hard against threats to the State or the capitalist power structure.


The second shattered myth is that electoral politics is a valid arena for populist leftist change. Whether it is Syriza or Trump, Podemos or Hillary, in the end the Left must confront the oppressive powers of the State and capitalism, none of which can possibly be subverted by superficial electoral games. This is not to say there would be no difference between a Trump administration and a Bernie administration, rather it is to say that the latter would only serve to stall the inevitable confrontation. Electoral politics holds out the promise of slow-moving, incremental socio-political advancement, but real evolution only comes about with a radical change of environment, and this can only be achieved through social revolution.

Revolution is not an event that suddenly happens, but something that is carefully prepared, built towards, and eventually implemented by those aligned with the future. All governments, whether they are liberal or conservative, will fight equally hard against threats to the State or the capitalist power structure. So if we are seeking a confrontation that promises a substantial and irreversible change in society, it doesn’t really matter if it is a liberal or a conservative regime in power. Liberal and conservative governments are both inherently reactionary and resistant to any kind of meaningful change, if only because their very existence is dependent on freezing the present and obscuring all possible futures.

We have seen this play out recently in places like Spain, Greece, the UK, and countless other countries. It is always the same paradigm: the political structure refuses to truly change and will continue an endless cycle of lurching back and forth between liberal and conservative. This brutal and blind impulse towards self-preservation is not only found in rightist regimes. Both right and left-wing regimes have used the implements of totalitarianism – prisons, secret police, fear, war, and economic oppression – to maintain the status quo. To have a future, we must reject all the State’s apparatuses of oppression, and this includes electoral politics with its self-serving divisiveness and false promises of change and hope.


The third myth is that the government has ever been our government. The government is the tool of the State, it is an occupying force now, just as much as it was before. All occupying forces of the twentieth century pair an outward benevolence with a healthy dose of fear and repression. We have always understood this formula, and have been struggling against it. Trump’s victory, nevertheless, heightens the sense of urgency to pull down the mask of benevolence, and we must not squander it. The government has never been our protector, and now those caught up in the trap of “representative democracy” may finally see this as well.

Without these myths, what ways are open to us in the dark days to come? The situation has changed and will continue to change during the next four long years. It won’t be easy, in large part because currently the Left is small and lacks the maturity needed to mitigate many of the on-coming attacks on the future. Attacks on women, LGBTQ, POC, immigrants, political dissidents, and so many others, have been par for the course for too long, and the coming years will be no different. Trump’s victory has only increased the number of bullies and people who are fearful.

We need to pluck up our courage, ready or not, and do what we can to stand up to the bullies. We need not only audacity, but imagination. Our theater of action must move beyond the co-optable symbolic opposition to the lived reality of everyday struggles against oppression. Our actions need to be bold like the Greek anarchists who squatted a hotel to house refugees or the German Leftists who physically shut down and re-purposed a neo-fascist radio station. We need to take up space in Trump’s America and support others to speak, move, and love in their own neighborhoods without fear. We need to continue to expose the systemic brutality against those racially targeted by the police.

While the Trumpists spew their fevered conspiracy theories we will double down on reality. Yes, we will get bashed, we will lose some fights, but there is too much at stake to stay on the sidelines waiting “for next time.” There is no cavalry coming, no courts, no congressional gridlock, no petitions, no media; now it is clear the only recourse is action from the ground up. This is the time when we must ask ourselves: do we really stand with those being bullied even when to do so may cost us our own safety? Is it worth it to stand side by side with the targeted, the scared, and the disheartened, knowing there will be risks? This time we cannot delude ourselves – thanks to Trump these risks are greater but so also are the rewards.

We can cower in the corner, or we can stand up and make new comrades with whom we will grow our resistance. We must become ungovernable to the occupation and unwavering in our support of those that feel targeted. This is how resistance is born and how it achieves victory.

The liberals promised to protect everyone with nothing but a ballot, and now they have been routed and are publicly conceding on all fronts. They are asking us to passively accept whatever injustices Trump has planned for us, for our neighbors, for our friends, for our co-workers, and for those comrades we have not yet met. We have never believed in hiding who we are or being ashamed of our liberatory aspirations.

We know the power of solidarity. We have relied on it for generations and we know it is a stronger, more honest way to protect ourselves and ensure our future. The time has come to stand up for ourselves and what we fight for, to defend the communities that the liberals have abandoned to fend for themselves while cynically asking them to return to the fold in four years’ time. Four years is too long to hide in fear or to look the other way. Let us not be afraid, let us not offer concessions, for we know our work has begun and the future is coming.

Let us not be afraid, let us not offer concessions, for we know our work has begun and the future is coming



Laurens Otter: Nuclear Weapons and the Permanent War Economy

Laurens Otter 2016

Laurens Otter 2016

Laurens Otter, born in 1930, has been active in anarchist and pacifist movements since the 1950s. I heard him speak (briefly) at a History Workshop conference in 1986, where he recounted that during the French conflicts in Algeria, French anarchists fire bombed troop trains to stop the soldiers from reaching Algeria, a militant form of direct action that he, as a pacifist, did not endorse, advocating instead non-violent direct action. Recently, his memoir, The Accidental Making of an Anarchist, has been posted online. The memoir covers a period from his youth to the 1960s. While it is sometimes difficult to follow, particularly the changing relationships between various leftist and anarchist groups and their members, the memoir covers a period when anarchism emerged from its ideological exile during the era of Soviet and social democratic domination of the left, to yet again take its place at the forefront of campaigns against nuclear weapons, imperialist wars, and the “military-industrial” complex. This excerpt deals with the attitude of the non-Stalinist left to nuclear weapons during the 1950s. The reemergence of anarchism during the 1950s and 60s is documented in Volume Two of  Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.


The Left and Nuclear Weapons

Attitudes of the Traditional Left to nuclear weapons need outlining. I hope I don’t need to say that I don’t consider Stalinism part of the Left, traditional or otherwise.

Given that most of the Left had been resisters for a long time, the reaction that ‘though this was a particularly nasty weapon, it was after all just that, one weapon, only worse than others as a matter of degree, not one of kind’, was understandable.

A minority, however, had decided in the past that a war might be the lesser of two evils, particularly an anti-imperialist war or a war to stop the spread of a tyranny like fascism, and were now confronted with a new evil, an evil that seemed to be the moral equivalent of the gas chambers. By its nature nuclear weaponry could not be selective to use it to counter tyranny. Inevitably the victims of the tyranny as well as the tyrant would be made the targets – indeed the tyrant might be able to build him/herself an adequate shelter, while the victim never could.

But it was not merely a question of the nature of the Bomb itself. It may have been understandable, for those who felt war against Hitler was a lesser evil, that the American uranium bombs were made in secret. The buildings where the designs were wrought unknown, the costs not mentioned in national budgets. But when this similarly happened in Britain after the war, when [Emanuel] Shinwell (who had been [Labour Party] Secretary of State for War) showed that he had not known that the Bomb was being made under his authority and he was made to look a fool in Parliament for not knowing; when no one had a chance to vote on the matter; when it became apparent that Government must have spent many millions on building research facilities, on buying and processing uranium and manufacturing bombs, at all times hiding the costs. (Did some of the money said to have been spent on the Health Service or on education, go to make nuclear weapons? Certainly, since the then major world source of uranium was in Rwanda and Burundi, the then Soviet allegation that the East African ground nut scheme was just a cover for transporting the ore had verisimilitude.)

This was why, right back in 1950, Common Wealth [an independent socialist group] argued that the [atomic] Bomb symbolised new class divisions, what [Alfred] Rosmer and [Pierre] Monatte had christened the permanent arms economy (a term taken up by, vulgarised and then hurriedly discarded by the International Socialists), that it was essential to the neo-Colonialism exercised by both Moscow and Washington, as also the remnants of traditional Imperialism. It was a weapon held exclusively by Whites, though uranium was primarily mined in Africa. It was thus not merely just another new weapon, not merely a symptom of new class society, but the symbol of it. Obviously such an analysis gave rise to divisions as to just how important the issue was in everyday politics.

The Bomb was not only a major manifestation of violence, it symbolized the lack of democracy; not even the supposedly relevant member of the Cabinet [Shinwell] knew it was being made, so Parliament (let alone the country) was never consulted; therefore nothing appeared in the budgets – none of the costs of the enormous factory-complexes (Aldermaston, Foulness) ever figured in government building costs. Some may have gone in under a cover-all of Defence, but not in itemized Defence Ministry accounts.

Huge housing estates were built for workers and this would have appeared in Budgets as normal housing. Many workers who didn’t want to work at Aldermaston told us that they’d lived in London and asked to go on the housing lists and been refused, and then they had been told that there were houses at Aldermaston for workers there. The Groundnut Scheme in Tanzania paid for two major harbours and two major railway lines from the coast to the Rwanda-Burundi border (Rwanda-Burundi was then the largest source of uranium), so probably a large part of what was meant to be Colonial Development and Third World Aid was spent as part of the hidden nuclear weaponry budget.

There was an enormous body of horrifying facts to be learnt that would only be revealed to people who asked questions and they only asked them when alerted by the ‘symptoms’ connected to the Bomb.

Laurens Otter

Copyright in this document as that of Laurens Otter and his family, though you may quote them freely in the spirit of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International.

Not just an armchair anarchist

Not just an armchair anarchist

Sebastien Faure: “Anarchy”


Some time ago I posted Sébastien Faure’s definition of “anarchist” from the Encyclopédie Anarchiste. Shawn Wilbur has now translated an excerpt from Faure’s definition of “anarchy” from the Encyclopédie. Faure was a French anarchist who first came to prominence doing speaking tours with the legendary Louise Michel in the 1890s. He revived the use of the term “libertarian” as a synonym for “anarchist” when it became illegal to publish anarchist propaganda in France. He later became a proponent of the “anarchist synthesis,” which sought to combine the best elements of individualist, syndicalist and communist anarchism (I included Voline’s entry from the Encyclopédie on “anarchist synthesis” in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas).


ANARCHY n. (from the Greek: a privative and archè, command, power, authority)

Preliminary observation. The object of this Anarchist Encyclopedia being to make known the full range of conceptions—political, economic, philosophical, moral, etc.—that arise from the anarchist idea or lead there, it is in the course of this work and in the very place that each of them must occupy within it, that the multiples theses contained in the exact and complete study of this subject will be explained. So it is only by drawing and joining together, methodically and with continuity, the various parts of this Encyclopedia that it will be possible for the reader to achieve the complete understanding of Anarchy, Anarchism and the Anarchists.

Consequently, I will show here only in its outlines, in a narrow and synthetic fashion, what constitutes the very essence of Anarchy and Anarchism. For the details—and it is appropriate to note that none have a great importance—the reader should consult the various words to which this text will ask them to refer.

Etymologically, the word “Anarchy” (which should be spelled An-Archy) signifies: the state of a people and, more precisely still, of a social milieu without government.

As a social ideal and in its actual fulfillment, Anarchy answers to a modus vivendi in which, stripped of all legal and collective restraint having the public force at its service, the individual would have no obligations but those imposed on them by their own conscience. They would possess the ability to give themselves up to rational inspirations of their individual initiative; they would enjoy the right to attempt all the experiments that appear desirable or fruitful to them; they would freely commit themselves to contracts of all sorts—always temporary, and revocable or revisable—that would link them to their fellows and, not wishing to subject anyone to their authority, they would refuse to submit to the authority of anyone. Thus, sovereign master of themselves, of the direction that it pleases them to give their life, of the use that they will make of their faculties, of their knowledge, of their productive activity, of their relations of sympathy, friendship and love, the individual will organize their existence as it seems good to them: radiating in every sense, blossoming as they please, enjoying, in all things, a full and complete liberty, without any limits but those that would be allocated to them by the liberty—also full and complete—of other individuals.

This modus vivendi implies a social regime from which would be banished, in right and in fact, any idea of employer and employed, of capitalist and proletarian, of master and servant, of governor and governed.

You will see that, thus defined, the world “Anarchy” has been insidiously and over time distorted from its precise meaning, that it has been taken, little by little, in the sense of “disorder” and that, in the majority of dictionaries and encyclopedias, it is only mentioned in that sense: chaos, upheaval, confusion, waste, disarray, disorder.

Apart from the Anarchists, all the philosophers, all the moralists, all the sociologists—including the democratic theorists and the doctrinaire socialists—maintain that, in the absence of a Government, of a legislation and a repression that assures respect for the law and cracks down on every infraction of it, there is and can only be disorder and criminality.

And yet!… Don’t the moralists and philosophers, men of State and sociologists perceive the frightful disorder that reigns, despite the Authority that governs and the Law that represses, in all domains? Are they so deprived of critical sense and the spirit of observation, that they are unaware that the more regulation increases, the more the more the web of legislation tightens, the more the field of repression extends, and the more immorality, disgrace, offenses and crimes increase?

It is impossible that these theorists of “Order” and these professors of “Morals” think, seriously and honestly, of confounding with what they call “Order” the atrocities, horrors, and monstrosities, the revolting spectacle of which observation places before our eyes.

And—if there are degrees of impossibility—it is still more impossible that, in order to diminish and a fortiori to make these infamies disappear, these learned doctors count on the virtue of Authority and the force of Law.

That pretention would be pure insanity.

The law has only a single aim: to first justify and then sanction all the usurpations and iniquities on which rest what the profiteers of these iniquities and usurpations call “the Social Order.” The holders of wealth have crystallized in the Law the original legitimacy of their fortune; the holders of Power have raised to the level of an immutable and sacred principle the respect owed by the crowds to the privileged, the to power and majesty with which they are invested. We can search, to the bottom or even deeper, all of the monuments to hypocrisy and violence that are the Codes, all the Codes, but we will never find a disposition that is not in favor of these two facts—facts of a historical and circumstantial order, which we tend to convert into facts of a natural and inevitable order—Property and Authority. I abandon to the official tartuffes and to the professionals of bourgeois charlatanism all that which, in the Legislation, deals with “Morals,” as that is, and can only be, in a social state based on Authority and Property, only the humble servant and brazen accomplice of those things.

Sébastien Faure

"Whoever denies authority and fights against it is an anarchist."

“Whoever denies authority and fights against it is an anarchist.”

We Still Do Not Fear Anarchy

we do not fear the book cover

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

bakunin on anarchism

Bakunin’s Anarchism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bakunin on freedom

Means and Ends, War and Peace – November 11th


This is the next installment from the Anarchist Current, the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I survey the historical origins and development of anarchist ideas. In this installment, I discuss anarchist views during the 1880s-1890s on the relationship between means and ends and the need to remain engaged in popular struggles. I briefly refer to the execution on November 11, 1887, of the Haymarket Martyrs, four Chicago anarchists framed for a bombing at a demonstration against police violence at the beginning of May 1886. I previously posted one of Voltairine de Cleyre‘s speeches commemorating their executions and excerpts from their trial speeches.


In Britain and several of its former colonies, November 11th is celebrated as a day of remembrance for all the soldiers who have been killed fighting wars on behalf of their political and economic masters. Earlier this year I posted the International Anarchist Manifesto against the First World War. I have also posted Marie Louise Berneri’s critique of the hypocrisy of the politicians and patriots who condemn any acts of violence against the existing order as “terrorism” but venerate the mass slaughters known as “modern warfare” as great patriotic self-sacrifice.


Means and Ends

There were ongoing debates among anarchists regarding methods and tactics. Cafiero agreed with the late Carlo Pisacane that “ideals spring from deeds, and not the other way around” (Volume One, Selections 16 & 44). He argued that anarchists should seize every opportunity to incite “the rabble and the poor” to violent revolution, “by word, by writing, by dagger, by gun, by dynamite, sometimes even by the ballot when it is a case of voting for an ineligible candidate” (Volume One, Selection 44).
Kropotkin argued that by exemplary actions “which compel general attention, the new idea seeps into people’s minds and wins converts. One such act may, in a few days, make more propaganda than thousands of pamphlets” (1880).

Jean Grave (1854-1939) explained that through propaganda by the deed, the anarchist “preaches by example.” Consequently, contrary to Cafiero, “the means employed must always be adapted to the end, under pain of producing the exact contrary of one’s expectations”. For Grave, the “surest means of making Anarchy triumph is to act like an Anarchist” (Volume One, Selection 46). Some anarchists agreed with Cafiero that any method that brought anarchy closer was acceptable, including bombings and assassinations. At the 1881 International Anarchist Congress in London, the delegates declared themselves in favour of “illegality” as “the only way leading to revolution” (Cahm: 157-158), echoing Cafiero’s statement from the previous year that “everything is right for us which is not legal” (Volume One, Selection 44).

After years of state persecution, a small minority of self-proclaimed anarchists adopted terrorist tactics in the 1890s. Anarchist groups had been suppressed in Spain, Germany and Italy in the 1870s, particularly after some failed assassination attempts on the Kaiser in Germany, and the Kings of Italy and Spain in the late 1870s, even before Russian revolutionaries assassinated Czar Alexander II in 1881. Although none of the would be assassins were anarchists, the authorities and capitalist press blamed the anarchists and their doctrine of propaganda by the deed for these events, with the Times of London describing anarchism in 1879 as having “revolution for its starting point, murder for its means, and anarchy for its ideals” (Stafford: 131).

The Lyon Anarchist Trial

The Lyon Anarchist Trial

Those anarchists in France who had survived the Paris Commune were imprisoned, transported to penal colonies, or exiled. During the 1870s and 1880s, anarchists were prosecuted for belonging to the First International. In 1883, several anarchists in France, including Kropotkin, were imprisoned on the basis of their alleged membership, despite the fact that the anti-authoritarian International had ceased to exist by 1881. At their trial they declared: “Scoundrels that we are, we claim bread for all, knowledge for all, work for all, independence and justice for all” (Manifesto of the Anarchists, Lyon 1883).

Perhaps the most notorious persecution of the anarchists around this time was the trial and execution of the four “Haymarket Martyrs” in Chicago in 1887 (a fifth, Louis Lingg, cheated the executioner by committing suicide). They were convicted and condemned to death on trumped up charges that they were responsible for throwing a bomb at a demonstration in the Chicago Haymarket area in 1886.

When Emile Henry (1872-1894) threw a bomb into a Parisian café in 1894, describing his act as “propaganda by the deed,” he regarded it as an act of vengeance for the thousands of workers massacred by the bourgeoisie, such as the Communards, and the anarchists who had been executed by the authorities in Germany, France, Spain and the United States. He meant to show to the bourgeoisie “that those who have suffered are tired at last of their suffering” and “will strike all the more brutally if you are brutal with them” (1894). He denounced those anarchists who eschewed individual acts of terrorism as cowards.

Malatesta, who was no pacifist, countered such views by describing as “ultra-authoritarians” those anarchists who try “to justify and exalt every brutal deed” by arguing that the bourgeoisie are just “as bad or worse.” By doing so, these self-described anarchists had entered “on a path which is the most absolute negation of all anarchist ideas and sentiments.” Although they had “entered the movement inspired with those feelings of love and respect for the liberty of others which distinguish the true Anarchist,” as a result of “a sort of moral intoxication produced by the violent struggle” they ended up extolling actions “worthy of the greatest tyrants.” He warned that “the danger of being corrupted by the use of violence, and of despising the people, and becoming cruel as well as fanatical prosecutors, exists for all” (Volume One, Selection 48).

Malatesta at the Magistrate's Court

Malatesta at the Magistrate’s Court

In the 1890s, the French state brought in draconian laws banning anarchist activities and publications. Bernard Lazare (1865-1903), the writer and journalist then active in the French anarchist movement, denounced the hypocrisy of the defenders of the status quo who, as the paid apologists for the police, rationalized the far greater violence of the state. He defiantly proclaimed that no “law can halt free thought, no penalty can stop us from uttering the truth… and the Idea, gagged, bound and beaten, will emerge all the more lively, splendid and mighty” (Volume One, Selection 62).

Malatesta took a more sober approach, recognizing that “past history contains examples of persecutions which stopped and destroyed a movement as well as of others which brought about a revolution.” He criticized those “comrades who expect the triumph of our ideas from the multiplication of acts of individual violence,” arguing that “bourgeois society cannot be overthrown” by bombs and knife blows because it is based “on an enormous mass of private interests and prejudices… sustained… by the inertia of the masses and their habits of submission.” While he argued that anarchists should ignore and defy anti-anarchist laws and measures where able to do so, he felt that anarchists had isolated themselves from the people. He called on anarchists to “live among the people and to win them over… by actively taking part in their struggles and sufferings,” for the anarchist social revolution can only succeed when the people are “ready to fight and… to take the conduct of their affairs into their own hands” (Volume One, Selection 53).

Robert Graham

malatesta anarchist spirit

Additional References

Cahm, Caroline. Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism, 1872-1886. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Henry, Emile. “A Terrorist’s Defence” (1894). The Anarchist Reader. Ed. G. Woodcock. Fontana, 1977.

Kropotkin, Peter. “The Spirit of Revolt” (1880). Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets. Ed. R.N. Baldwin. New York: Dover, 1970.

Stafford, David. From Anarchism to Reformism: A Study of the Political Activities of Paul Brousse, 1870-90. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971.

Sam Mbah Needs Help

Sam Mbah

Sam Mbah

In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from Sam Mbah and I.E. Irgariwey’s book, African Anarchism. More recently, I posted an interview with Sam Mbah regarding the situation in Nigeria. Now Sam Mbah is in need of medical help, and Jura Books in Australia is conducting a fundraising campaign. Their appeal for donations is set forth below.

Jura Books Fundraising Appeal on Behalf of Sam Mbah

Sam Mbah is an anarchist author and activist from Nigeria. Jura has been in contact with Sam for some years; one collective member spent time with him in 2012, interviewing him and setting up his blog. Sam’s classic book African Anarchism explores the anarchistic aspects of a number of traditional African societies, as well as the potential for anarchism in Africa today. Sam was active in the struggle against the Nigerian dictatorship, and helped to found the Awareness League – a large anarchist organisation at that time. Sam is now one of a small number of prominent anarchists in Nigeria – the third most populous English-speaking country in the world. He is of great significance to our global community.

Now Sam needs our help. His health has been deteriorating due to a heart condition. He needs an operation on his heart and is seeking to raise $12,000. Jura is helping to fundraise. Please make a donation now – any amount would be appreciated. You can donate in cash at Jura, or by paypal [ http://jura.org.au/donate ], or by direct transfer into our bank account below. Please include the reference ‘Sam Mbah‘ and let us know you’ve made the donation. We will send the money to Sam in one transfer.


David Wieck: Anarchism, Anarchy, Anarchists (1951)


The Free Society Group of Chicago was an anarchist group founded in 1923 in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, when most radicals went over to the Soviet camp. Two of its best known members were Gregory Maksimov and Sam Dolgoff. They helped to keep anarchist ideas alive at a time when anarchist ideas and movements were being repressed virtually everywhere. In 1951, the Group published a pamphlet, The World Scene From the Libertarian Point of View, an anarchist assessment of the human prospect in light of the mass murder of the Second World War, the atomic bomb, the Cold War and the Korean War. For some, the human prospect was bleak. Others held out hope for the reemergence of a social libertarian, anarchist approach regarding the many crises and problems then facing humanity. One of those holding out hope for the present and the future was David Thoreau Wieck (1921-1997), an American anarchist, war resister and editor of one of the best post-war anarchist journals, Resistance. In Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a piece by David Wieck on the realization of freedom, from the August 1953 issue of Resistance. Here I reproduce his still timely contribution to The World Scene From the Libertarian Point of View. Isn’t it time someone published a collection of Wieck’s anarchist writings?



Let us identify and locate ourselves, the Anarchists.

I shall speak, necessarily, of Anarchists as I understand Anarchists, Anarchism as I understand it.

We are people who have values, aims, and methods radically different from the dominant. Our comradeship is neither in doctrine nor daily program; on these we easily disagree, rather this: we face our nature, affirm life, stubbornly insist on the real and basic needs; and we understand that these are possible only as we are free from external oppression (authority as violence) and internal oppression (authority within us). We are people who insist upon, and affirm, liberty from authority, and freedom within the individual; we are those who assert (and follow our logic) that these ends of freedom and liberty can be achieved only by directness: freedom through freedom, liberty through liberty.

This last century, our oppressors, problems, goals, are specific in this way: the centralized political State, the dominant capitalist-military- political ruling class, an increasingly complex array of institutions binding these together, and the social organization (and ourselves) to them; holding society in tension and violence of world war following world war, concentration camps and extermination camps of indifferent flags and ideologies; most significantly in the systematic, ruthless, even purposeless, destruction of the principle of life. (The ideally adapted human today is composed, as it were, of a small small core of living substance, surrounded by a many times larger mass of deadness, confusion, violence; covered completely by a hard thin shell of customs, habits, and compulsions that constitute the daily economic rituals, the culture, civilization: this is the basic disaster; the great bombs are consistent, but ironically superfluous.)

Living so: burdened, threatened, oppressed, exploited, enslaved, regimented, killed, and left (living) for dead: for a century we have risen in rebellion, adamant in disobedience, joined as friends and neighbours in solidarity and community; this handful of Anarchists; believing firmly that this need not be, we need not live so, will be free.

Our definition in space and time becomes more exact now: the day after a century of unmitigated disasters to movement, comrades, friends, strangers; a handful still, seemingly forced to choose between illusion and despair; on the day before other atomic facts, amid the potent demonstrations of giant nation-states planning our (incidental) extermination. And, seemingly without reluctance, our neighbours perform the necessary labour: mass homicide, slavery, regimentation, and the rest.

These facts, the lack of even individual refuge for survival alive, the unimpassioned murderings by our neighbours—are these all there is? Are we to withdraw to museums and study histories of the decay of civilizations—or make peace, pact or armistice, so as to die a little later, in greater safety? (but not the safety of our selves). Or is it so, that there is work to do, joyful and rewarding work, and we may think and hope without illusion or despair?

There is this work, this illusionless, affirming thought, but it is easier not to see and do it.

Assume a worst: that it were so (if it were so), for example, that our neighbours, even our friends (our enemies cannot disappoint us as our friends can), are, forever will be, as they are (which we know too well) ; or, the same thing, the prevailing social orders are immutable in their central principle of slavery: were this really so (some argue) our Anarchism has no meaning, we ought to become one with the ideals and acts of the society and its population. No! Not so that a thing is better for being inevitable; not so that our happiness and health would no longer depend on rejection of this social machine, its inhuman demands, its suffocating terms: so, on the other hand, that a man must be as free as he can, make a revolution of indefinite (most possible) extension.

Were it really so—some argue this, too—that the mass is by nature docile, unrebellious, must be led and herded, it then does not follow that we should lead, herd and slaughter them into our (former!) utopia. Even so, when we observe the State’s seeming omnipotence, we cannot become its slaves, masters, or loyal opposition; again we protect ourselves, shelter our friends, undermine it in its locus of power (minds of subjects).

Or assume that no alternative to destruction can be: Could we then be “realists,” as we are bidden to be, argue the relative merits of a bomb now or two years from now; support (that is, help create) a war, be its soldiers, fabricate its weapons? No! If our belief is in life, community, and freedom, No! Not by participating in a lesser evil (killing strangers, to the gain of our oppressors), but by rejecting all the evils will we mitigate them all. (And I deny that we will not one day abolish them!)

But let us not give these people the best of the argument a moment more! We are learning; there is work to be done; we know (our friends disappoint us; but not always) from day to day that there is ability for another life in us, our neighbours, strangers.

Experience and our science tell us that the nature of man is not such as slavery causes to appear.

If, less than of old, we have faith in the virtue of propaganda, dramatic insurrections, quick revolution; less than of old, in the inevitability of mass anarchic rebellion to economic misery; if so, we have learned much of the power of direct action, immediate action, personal action, group action, learning that what is revolutionary in time of revolution is not so much street barricades but the immediate revolutionary act: as the Spanish anarchists taught us, a village or a factory is enough. We have learned that as groups living the ethics and meaning of Anarchism we create an Anarchist community in and as our movement, and demonstrate by this new society our ideas, and their practicality. We have learned that as individuals we do most by this same living of ethics and meaning of Anarchism, creating a new environment for our non-Anarchist friends, creating the new society, a new life.

By daily acts of life we are more deeply angered, gifted with hatred at a kind of life (as it is) ; more deeply knowing, in our hearts, that we must live differently; more earnestly searching in each direction our strength allows us, ways and instruments and friends and comrades in a struggle which must have this form: the creation of new life, or continuing death.

More urgent work, a finer goal, labour more consonant with our persons and ideas, surely we cannot imagine. To those who wish immediate, simple, political answers to atomic problems, we would seem to give no answer: but it is by plotting the utilitarian murder of a million strangers in a far-off city that one can intervene in this politics, guide the hands of States. We select, for our goals, other weapons: the strong desires and dreams of man, the strength and joy and magic of life. We can do this.

David Wieck, 1951

hierachy v anarchy