Brazilian Anarchists on the Crisis in Brazil

Brazil is back in the news as people there begin again to mobilize against corrupt politicians (for a detailed analysis of the corruption itself, see this article from the Guardian newspaper). It’s been four years since the “Free Pass Movement” that began as a protest against transit fare increases and turned into a movement for free access to a variety of public services. Since then the most corrupt of the Brazilian politicians forced the impeachment of the President, Dilma Rousseff, replacing her with someone even more corrupt, Michel Temer. On May 24, 2017, Temer issued a decree for the military enforcement of “law and order.” In the piece below by Coordenação Anarquista Brasileira (Brazilian Anarchist Coordination, CAB), the CAB calls for the intensification of the popular movements for political power through directly democratic organizations (translation from anarkismo.net).

Direct democracy now!

Brazil is experiencing a political earthquake, laying bare the rottenness of the country’s elites and further weakening the ties that sustain them in power. The orchestrated operation that enabled the recording between President Michel Temer and the owner of JBS, the largest meat company in the world, changes the balance of forces in the country and pours petrol on the political and social crisis. With the political instability it is more difficult for the government to mobilize its base and move forward with the Labor Rights and Pension Reforms, the biggest attacks on the oppressed class.

But this is no reason to celebrate and we must not be complacent about these struggles. Now is the time to intensify the struggle, to generalize the mobilizations with the blockading of streets, work stoppages building towards the general strike to block the social cuts and reforms. We must deepen democracy, but direct democracy, where workers in their places of work, study and residence decide the direction of the country. We cannot accept the crumbs from those at the top, we need to impose a popular program of social rights built and decided by the people. We need to build direct democracy – outside the agreements of those at the top – in neighborhoods, in slums, in villages, in land and housing occupations, in factories, in schools.

The coup that brought down the PT/PMDB’s fourth mandate in the presidency made it possible to begin a successful first round of harsh anti-people measures at an overwhelming pace, with broad support in Congress and in the media, notably the Globo television network. Temer approved the high school education reform, the PEC spending cap bill, the outsourcing bill, privatizations and several more attacks – initiated during the PT government itself.

Decades of bureaucratization of struggles by the large trade unions centrals and the practice of co-opting leaders of big social movements by the PT helped, and is still helping, to demobilize the people and impede the generalization of resistance against these attacks. Despite this, other sectors such as high school students and indigenous people are breathing new life into the social struggle. The growth of popular dissatisfaction with Temer’s labour and pension reforms manifested itself with great impact in the streets, in the mobilizations by the general strike of 15 and 28 April, forcing the coup makers to back down with their proposals.

With more than 90% rejection, the Temer government doesn’t even have the legitimacy to sustain this false democratic system. This serves only to maintain the businessmen and political class robbing and killing the people. Lula and Dilma’s government of class conciliation was a government for businessmen and the rich, with a few crumbs for the poor. And the innumerable accusations of corruption only make evident the disgusting relationship of favoritism that exists between big business and the state. The cases of corruption are not isolated incidents but what makes the wheels of the state and private sector turn. That is, the representative system does not serve the interests of the people but those of capitalism, so that the political and business class can advance their projects.

That is why “magic solutions” like privatization, outsourcing, attacks on workers’ rights only serve to make businessmen profit more. Attacks on social rights, attacks on indigenous people and their territories, on peasants and the landless, on women, LGBTQIs, the genocide of blacks and residents of slums and poor neighborhoods and the criminalization of poverty are the same. They are all measures and policies for the right wing and conservative sectors, businessmen, landowners, bankers to impose their ideology, profit more, concentrate more wealth and exploit the people more. Businessmen, like João Dória, are no different from other politicians, they are enemies of the people.

If professional politicians are in disrepute the justice system tries to assert legitimacy with anti-corruption operations in order to increase its power in the state structure. The heads of the Judiciary, Federal Police and Public Prosecutor’s Office, with sectors directly aligned to the United States, have massive support from the Globo network to accumulate power with dangerously authoritarian biases. It is necessary to repudiate this escalation and to avoid any illusion in salvation by bourgeois justice.

The old media plays a crucial role in the tangle of ruling class interests. The Globo network, which supported the Parliamentary Judicial Media Coup, engineered and legitimized the current coup and has now placed itself on the stronger side, with the Attorney General’s Office (PGR, Procuradoria-Geral da República), for the departure of Temer. The purpose is to recuperate the conditions to approve the reforms with the election of a new president by indirect elections. We can not underestimate the role that communication giants play in the ideological field.

Globo’s turn against Temer does not signify any advance for the popular camp. In the discrediting of professional politicians it discards old bets, like Aécio Neves, and orients its agenda by the worldwide tendency to leverage the candidacies of personalities seemingly “from outside” the political-partisan camp. They seek to put in place subjects directly from the business community (Doria, Meirelles), the judiciary (Nelson Jobim, Carmem Lúcia, Joaquim Barbosa), or even the entertainment media (Luciano Huck). It is strategic to advance in the discrediting of the old media and to strengthen the demand for the democratization of communication with restrictions to the power of these companies, as well as to strengthen popular means of communication.

It is still necessary to question the reason for the denunciations only arriving at this moment. Even though they have discarded some politicians and triggered some instability, the action shows loyalty in the agreements between state and capital. The criterion is economic and there is an interest in defending a company that recently faced the Carne Fraca (“Weak Meat”) operation; an action that, if on the one hand has demonstrated the terrible conditions in which our food is produced, first served the US interests of weakening a competitor in the international dispute of the meat market. It should be noted that it was the PT/PMDB government that fattened JBS up through BNDES with millions of dollars, transforming the company into one of the largest in the world.

From Below and to the Left, Direct Democracy now!

The fact is that the demand that brought many people onto the streets in this 1 year of Temer government could become reality: Michel Temer’s departure from the presidency of the republic. And we ask ourselves: what now? What is the next step? We know that with the coup makers weakened and their parliamentary base oscillating, there is a lack of conditions to continue the process of labor and pension reform.

Now it is urgent to generalize the struggle against the reforms and to take back the rights that were rolled back by coup makers from the past and the present conjuncture, the PT/PMDB. In addition to blocking the reforms we need to build a project that makes the rich pay for the cost of the crisis and that recognizes the political, business and media elite as enemies of the people. Big companies like JBS owe the government more than 400 billion, about three times the amount they contribute to the false social security deficit.

Only the organization of the people and pressure in the streets can prevent the reforms and attacks on social rights. Nothing from parliament will go in that direction. We have to prevent businessmen and the political elite from making their summit agreements and coups in order to proceed with their project. Mobilization and popular pressure are necessary and urgent now to block the reforms from moving forward amid this instability. They are necessary pressures to impose a popular agenda on the government, even in the case of a direct election. And the mobilization of the people today is urgent to prevent the worst case scenario, which is a suspension of the elections in 2018 through a political-military intervention and the persecution of the combative sectors of the left.

The electoral left demands rights now so that the Presidency of the Republic and lulismo (Lula-ism) can appear, as in previous years, managing to present itself as a supposed popular exit in the middle of the earthquake of the political crisis. We can not deceive ourselves! We have affirmed and continue affirming: we must overcome petismo (PT-ism) and all its inheritance on the left. The belief that Lula will have to deal with the crisis and bring about improvements in the living conditions of those at the bottom of society does not hold up. An election of Lula would only represent another class pact with the bourgeoisie and the bosses, in even more withdrawn terms than in previous years.

The important thing at the moment is that the struggle has to be from below and in the streets in order to advance a popular rights program! Promote organization, mobilization against the pension and labor rights reform, and for the construction of a popular project based on class independence. Catalyze popular dissatisfaction in revolt and advance in grassroots struggles.

Do not allow yourself to be carried away by immediate solutions, in this process of reorganization of the left and summit agreements to save bourgeois democracy. There is no rabbit in a top hat, the way out is to build popular organization in the neighborhoods, in schools, in workplaces with the poor and oppressed people. We must demand the suspension of all the anti-people measures initiated by the PT government and continued by the coup leader Temer.

The moment is unfavorable for us oppressed, but the crisis and the dispute between the elites open up space for other projects. We need to use the dissatisfaction to delegitimize this system and channel the social struggle.

Direct Democracy now!
For the suspension of all anti-people measures!
Against the fiscal adjustment and rights cuts!
Away with Globo coup makers!
Build Popular Power against austerity and repression!

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We Do Not Fear Anarchy: A Summary

we do not fear the book cover

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

The Spirit of Anarchy

The Spirit of Anarchy

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

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

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

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

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

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

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

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

The First International

The First International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bakunin speaking at the Basel Congress 1869

Bakunin speaking at the Basel Congress 1869

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

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

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

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

Bakunin & Fanelli with other Internationalists

Bakunin & Fanelli with other Internationalists

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

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

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

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

bakunin letters to a frenchman

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

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

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

paris_commune-popular-illustration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Executed Communards

Executed Communards

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

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

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

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

hague congress

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

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

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

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

Robert Graham

Malatesta quote 2

 

Kropotkin: The Action of the Masses (1890)

Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin

Every once in a while one of my older posts starts generating traffic. The most recent example is Peter Kropotkin’s article on “Workers Organization.” In that article, now included in Iain McKay’s anthology of Kropotkin’s writings, Direct Struggle Against Capital, published by AK Press, Kropotkin emphasizes the need for revolutionary working class organizations controlled by the workers themselves for any revolution to be successful. The following excerpts are taken from a later article by Kropotkin, “The Action of the Masses and the Individual,” in which he responds to a letter regarding increased strike activity among the workers in conjunction with May Day demonstrations. I included several selections by Kropotkin on anarchism and revolution in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Many thanks to Iain McKay for making this translation available, and for providing the footnotes.

May Banner Jpeg

The Action of the Masses and the Individual

Our comrades are perfectly right to say [in their letter] that the May strikes are a consequence of general economic conditions. If the return of work to the mines and in the iron industry, and if dreadful poverty in the other trades did not exist, there wouldn’t have been any strikes at all, as there weren’t any on such a large scale ten years ago. But what our comrades ignore is that, outside all socialist organisations, right now, within the workers of all nationalities, an immense work to press on to a general strike is taking place. Democrats, trade unionists, socialists, anarchists, have absolutely nothing to do with it. – “We are overwhelmed by this movement” we were told, two years ago, by a Belgian socialist. In England, in a big city, at least socialists took hold of this movement. They were well received at first; but when people realised that they wanted to enlist it to an electoral aim, they threw them overboard.[1]

Whether it is enough to say that this international movement comes from America; [2] that it is taking form outside all [existing] organisation; and that we find ourselves faced with one of these facts that have always characterised the great popular movements – tacit understanding that becomes established outside newspapers, committees, agitators. A word put out in a workshop is enough and they tell each other: “So be it, see you on the 1st of May!” Then a worker goes from England to Austria, or from Austria to England, and expresses the same idea, and the idea – since it results from an economic necessity – is accepted straightaway.

Every strike of the last two years, in Belgium, in England, in Moravia[3], etc., etc., are due to this spontaneous spreading of the idea. If ever there was a movement anarchist by its essence and a propaganda essentially anarchist in its processes, it is this one. Because there is no secret – it is a tacit agreement that becomes established.

Our comrades from Geneva are mistaken to attribute the 1st May to the Paris Congress.[4] It was made absolutely outside of the Congress, against the will of the social-democrats, against the will of trade-union committees and despite indifference of socialists, anarchists and authoritarians. It is precisely for that reason that we attach significance to it.

In a Congress where Liebknecht[5] enjoyed royal rights, an unknown coming from Australia makes the proposal. The flabbergasted chiefs do not dare to renounce it, because the worker delegates – the unknowns – acclaim it unanimously. Then, the proposal is forgotten. The watchword of the socialist press is to not breathe a word of it. Socialists and anarchists treat it as a joke. Democrats oppose it. And meanwhile the workers spread the call [for a general strike] amongst each other: see you on the 1st of May. And fifteen days before the 1st of May the trade unionist, socialist and democrat leaders learn with dread that the working people will be on the street on that day. So they put on a brave face at this bad news, then they try to curb the demonstration and they end up joining it. But still, they expect a demonstration of no significance – and there is the whole of working London coming out of its hovels, a third of Vienna going to the Prater[6], the whole of Hamburg on its feet, and a general uprising of miners starts in Moravia, in the Basque provinces, etc.

In fact, we are persuaded that what the popular initiators of the movement wanted for the 1st of May was the general strike – as they had wanted it, a few years ago, in America. And we are persuaded that the idea of a general strike has only been postponed and that popular agreement will find in a year or two another date, unforeseen by those in power, to start the general strike.

* * *

general-strike1

We think that these facts are generally unknown and are the best reply to our comrades’ letter and for that very reason we had to set them out at length

“Individual initiative?” – Damn it! Let us practice it as much as possible! Let us not talk: let us act! But when we face a spontaneous movement of the masses – in front of an individual initiative of millions of workers – let us not put a spanner in the wheels of what is being done without us in the name of individual initiative, which will be excellent when it is taken but which, on its own, will not make the revolution. The strong point of individual initiative is to awake the spirit of revolt in the masses – because without the masses, no revolution. But once the masses awaken, once they move and descend onto the street, at the risk of sleeping that night on the barricades (it was the idea in Vienna), where does individual initiative have to go?

The answer is obvious – Where the masses are! And on the very day when the masses arrange to meet up! For us, it is absolutely obvious that in Moravia, in the Basque provinces, in Barcelona, in Valencia and elsewhere, those amongst the workers who really have some individual initiative and who wait for the watchword from the anarchists no more than from the democrats, told themselves: “While the troops are in Vienna or in Madrid, we will start the revolution here, in Moravia, in Barcelona or in Bilbao. And we will do it precisely on the 1st of May (or rather on the 2nd of May) whilst the troops are still in Vienna or in Madrid, and not on the 15th of May or on the 15th of June, when they will be back in our provinces”.

They have not been supported, precisely because the initiative was lacking elsewhere.

As for the arrests of anarchists – it is time to anticipate them in advance. Every time there is agitation in the masses, wherever it is from, the government will arrest anarchists – if they do not take precautions. That will take place before the revolution, during the revolution and after the revolution. We need only to remember Marat[7] and so many others, less known, who were forced to live in cellars right in the middle of 1793, while aristocrats were guillotined by the dozens. Anarchists will be arrested because – sometimes wrongly, but most often rightly – governments will tell themselves this: “When the people are in the street and that individual initiative is lacking amongst these masses marching to storm society, it is from the anarchists that the initiative of a movement will be able to come, not from the legalists”.

And, let us note, that it will be absolutely the same thing during the revolution itself, as long as the revolution, in its development, has not reached the anarchist phase. Therefore, let us not speak of it.

* * *

Revolution-fists

Let us also add that if, on the day of a large popular demonstration, a movement in a big city hardly ever takes place, it is always a few days after such a demonstration that the movement starts. We counted ourselves, we understood its strength, we were offended by the brutality of the police, we were enraged by the blood shed at a peaceful demonstration: the soldiers themselves are furious at the leaders who made them shoot women and children; and then, on a call that, once more, is born spontaneously in the masses – we prepare another demonstration. But, before that day, the revolution already breaks out.

In short, let us turn the question over and over as much as we like, but we cannot reach another conclusion than this one: “whether we are the partisan of individual action or action of the masses – and it is obvious that both are necessary – the man of action’s place is where the masses are. If he carries out an individual act; if he responds to a policeman’s kick with a pistol shot; if he rebels against such iniquity; if he extinguishes the fire in some working factory, or if he breaks its windows (as was done in Moravia); if he goes to prison for spreading some propaganda amongst the troops or if he carries out quite another act of individual courage – his act will only have more impact, since it was done in the eyes of the masses, openly and publicly, while the press will talk about it in all details, while every worker will talk about it in the workshop”.

It is so simple, and we are so certain that all revolutionaries are of the same opinion, that there can only be debate on it by misunderstanding.

Peter Kropotkin

La Révolte, 24th of May 1890

mayday_flagcrop

[1] A reference to the 1889 London Dock Strike (see Kropotkin’s article “Ce que c’est qu’une gréve” [“What a Strike is”], La Révolte, 7th of September 1889. (translator)

[2] A reference to the 1886 eight-hour day movement in America that called upon workers to strike on the 1st of May. The Haymarket event in Chicago – a police attack on a strike meeting, a bomb being thrown and subsequent framing and hanging of five Anarchists, was a part of this strike wave. (translator)

[3] Moravia was a historical country in Central Europe in the east of the Czech Republic and one of the historical Czech lands, together with Bohemia and Czech Silesia. (translator)

[4] A reference to founding congress of the Second International held in Paris during July 1889. This congress designated the 1st of May as an international holiday for labour to be marked by demonstrations and parades. It was inspired by the American Eight-Hour movement of 1886. (translator)

[5] Wilhelm Martin Philipp Christian Ludwig Liebknecht (1826-1900) was a leading German social democrat. Under his leadership, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) grew from a tiny sect to become the country’s largest political party. (translator)

[6] The Prater is a large public park in Vienna’s 2nd district (Leopoldstadt). (translator)

[7] Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793) was one of the one of the most radical voices of the French Revolution. He was a vigorous defender of the sans-culottes and published the newspaper L’Ami du people (Friend of the People) which was renowned for its fierce tone and advocacy of political and economic rights for the working classes. He was Marat assassinated while taking a medicinal bath and became a revolutionary martyr for the Jacobins. Kropotkin quoted him favourably in his classic 1909 history, The Great French Revolution. (translator)

Kropotkin: This is a Strike (1889)

London Dockworkers Strike

London Dockworkers Strike

In August 1889, London dockworkers went on strike. The anarchist communist, Peter Kropotkin, recognized the significance of the event, and published the article below in September 1889. As Kropotkin points out, the dockworkers were the kind of unskilled labourers that Marxist and other socialists at the time regarded as less likely to embrace socialism, looking instead to factory workers “united” by the systems of mass production in which they worked. Anarchists, on the other hand, considered all the oppressed and exploited as potential revolutionaries, including unskilled labourers, peasants and even the lumpenproletariat, the homeless and unemployed. Kropotkin suggests that anarchists could accomplish much more if they worked with these groups towards  organizing a general strike against capitalism and the state. I included excerpts from several of Kropotkin’s works in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. The translation is by N.C., and has been kindly provided by Iain McKay, editor of the most comprehensive anthology of Kropotkin’s writings, Direct Struggle Against Capital, published by AK Press.

South_Side_Central_Strike_Committee

What a Strike Is

We search our recent memories in vain for a single strike that was as important as the one that broke out in the docks of London and is still on going.

There have been more numerous strikes, there have been more violent ones. But none had the same meaning for the revolutionary socialist idea.

Firstly, the socialist movement was born within better-paid trades and has grouped the elite workers, the latter have always looked down on the rough trades. Men from the Fourth-Estate like to talk about “the unconscious masses, incapable of organising themselves, demoralised by poverty”.

We know that we have maintained the opposite view. And now these dock workers, who can neither go to socialist meetings nor read our literature, but who feel oppression and hate it more sincerely than well-read workers, come to confirm the core idea of those who know the people and respect it.

The most complete solidarity rules amongst the dock workers. And, for them, striking is far harder than for mechanics or carpenters.

All that was needed was that Tillet, a very young man and of weak health, devoted himself for two years to work on the beginnings of an organisation within the dock workers – while socialists doubted he could ever succeed in his task – so that all thousand branches of the workers related to the loading of ships cease work with a moving solidarity.

They knew well that for them, strike means hunger; but they didn’t hesitate.

It’s hunger with all its horrors. It’s terrible to see haggard men, already exhausted by lack of food, dragging their feet after a twenty kilometre walk, to Hyde Park and back, collapsing, fainting at the doors of cheap restaurants where the crowd was pushing to receive provision coupons and bowls of soup.

***

An immense organisation, spontaneous, was born from the centre of these rough workers, often referred to as the herd even by socialists.

Hundreds of leaflets are distributed every day. Sums of 10 to 30,000 Francs in aid – in great part pennies coming from collections – are counted, written down, distributed. Restaurants are improvised, filled with food, etc. And, except Tillet, Burns, Mann and Champion – already experienced – everything is done by dock workers who quite simply came to offer their help. Quite a vast organisation, absolutely spontaneous.

It’s the picture of a people organising itself during the Revolution, all the better for having less leaders.

It is useless to add that if this mass of 150,000 striking men didn’t feel that currently the Bourgeoisie is united and strong, it would walk as a single man against the West-End wealthy. Conversations of groups on the street state it only too well.

8hours_labour

But the strike has also a greater impact.

It has confirmed the strength of organisation of a mass of 150,000 men coming from every corner of England, not knowing each other, too poor to be militant socialists. But it has also demonstrated, in a way that produces a shiver down the back of the bourgeois, the extent a great city is at the mercy of two or three hundred thousand workers.

All the trade of England has already been disrupted by this strike. London Bridge, this universal trade centre, is mute. Ships coming from the four corners of the globe, go away from it as if it were a poisoned city and go towards other English ports. Cargoes – mountains – of fresh meat, fruits, food of all sorts, coming each day, rot on board ships guarded by troops. Wheat doesn’t come in to fill the shops empty each day. And if coal merchants hadn’t hastened to grant everything that the coal loaders were asking, London would stay without fuel for its million daily lit homes. It would stay in the dark if the gasmen had left work, as they had suggested, even though they had emerged victorious in a strike that took place last month. London would stay without any means of communication if Burns hadn’t commanded the tram drivers to stay at their work.

The strike spread like an oil leak. A hundred factories of all sorts, some very large, others small, no longer getting the flour, lime, kaolin, oilseeds, etc., etc. that are delivered to them on a daily basis, have extinguished their fires, throwing onto the streets every day new contingents of strikers.

It was the general strike, the stopping of all life in this universal commercial centre, imposed by the strike of three or four branches of work that hold the key to the buffet.

There are articles in the newspapers sensing terror. Never have the bourgeois felt how much they are the subjects of the workers. Never have the workers felt how much they are the masters of society. We had written it, we had said it. But the deed has more impact than the printed word! The deed has proved this strength of the workers.

Yes, they are the masters. And the day when those anarchists who exhaust themselves in empty discussions will do like Tillet, but with firmer and more revolutionary ideas – the day when they will work within the workers to prepare the stopping of work in the trades that supply all the others, they will have done more to prepare the social, economic Revolution, that all the writers, journalists, and orators of the socialist party.

We have often spoken about the general strike. We now see that in order to achieve it, it is not necessary that all workers cease work on the same day. It is necessary to block the supply channels to the Bourgeoisie and to its factories.

Peter Kropotkin

La Révolte, 7th September 1889

The Spirit of Revolt

The Spirit of Revolt

Kropotkin: The 1905 Revolution in Russia (Conclusion)

Peter Kropotkin

In Parts Five and Six of Kropotkin‘s essay, “The Revolution in Russia,” Kropotkin notes the hollowness of the reforms agreed to by the Russian autocracy in the face of the 1905 Russian Revolution, foreseeing that the “reforms” would ultimately prove unsuccessful in stemming the revolutionary tide, as similar measures had been during the French Revolution. Kropotkin was also quick to recognize the importance of the Workers’ Soviets, or Councils, that arose in St. Petersburg, and which were to play such an important role during the 1917 Russian Revolution. He illustrates the completely reactionary and counter-revolutionary role of the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly in inciting massacres and pogroms by the Cossacks and the “black guards,” proto-fascist groups of thugs recruited by the counter-revolutionaries. He denounces the “race hatred” incited by the autocracy to justify pogroms against the Jews, inter-ethnic and religious conflict, and attacks on revolutionaries, an approach later imitated by the Nazis in Germany. Yet despite the counter-revolutionary violence and repression, Kropotkin was right that as a result of the 1905 Russian Revolution, the autocracy already lay “mortally wounded,” with other revolutionary victories to follow.

Russia October 1905

The 1905 Revolution in Russia, Part Five

Count Witte having been invested on October 30 with wide powers as minister-president, and the further march of events undoubtedly depending to a great extent upon the way in which he will use his extensive authority, the question, “What sort of man is Witte?” is now asked on all sides.

The present prime minister of Russia is often described as the Necker of the Russian revolution [a conservative politician during the French Revolution]; and it must be owned that the resemblance between the two statesmen lies not only in the situations which they occupy with regard to their respective monarchies. Like Necker, Witte is a successful financier, and he is also a “mercantilist”: he is an admirer of the great industries, and would like to see Russia a moneymaking country, with its Morgans and Rockefellers making colossal fortunes in Russia itself and in all sorts of Manchurias.

But he has also the limited political intelligence of Necker, and his views are not very different from those which the French minister expressed in his work Pouvoir Exécutif published in 1792. Witte’s ideal is a liberal, half absolute and half constitutional monarchy, of which he, Witte, would be the Bismarck, standing by the side of a weak monarch and sheltered from his whims by a docile middle-class parliament. In that parliament he would even accept a score of labour members—just enough to render inoffensive the most prominent labour agitators and to have the claims of labour expressed in a parliamentary way.

Count Witte

Witte is daring, he is intelligent, and he is possessed of an admirable capacity for work; but he will not be a great statesman because he scoffs at those who believe that in politics, as in everything else, complete honesty is the most successful policy. In the polemics which Herbert Spencer carried on some years ago in favour of “principles” in politics, Witte would have joined, I suppose, his opponents, and I am afraid he secretly worships the “almighty dollar policy” of Cecil Rhodes. In Russia he is thoroughly distrusted. It is very probable that people attribute to him more power over Nicholas II than he has in reality, and do not take sufficiently into account that Witte must continually be afraid of asking too much from his master, from fear that the master will turn his back on him and throw himself at the first opportunity into the hands of his reactionary advisers, whom he certainly understands and likes better than Witte.

But Witte, like his French prototype, has retained immensely the worship of bureaucracy and autocratic power, and distrust of the masses. With all his boldness he has not that boldness of doing things thoroughly, which is gained only by holding to certain fundamental principles. He prefers vague promises to definite acts, and therefore Russian society applies to him the saying: Timeo danaos et dona ferentes [beware of Greeks bearing gifts]. And if the refusal he has met with on behalf of all prominent liberals to collaborate with him has been caused by their complete disapproval of the policy which refuses home rule for Poland, there remains besides the widely spread suspicion that Witte is capable of going too far in the way of compromises with the palace party. At any rate, even the moderate zemstvoists could not agree—we learn now—with his policy of half measures, both as regards the popular representation, and even such a secondary question as the amnesty. He refused to accept universal suffrage and to grant a complete amnesty, upon which the zemstvo delegation was ordered to insist.

That “straightforwardness and sincerity in the confirmation of civil liberty” which—the prime minister wrote—had to be accepted as binding for the guidance of his ministry, surely are not yet seen. The state of siege not only continues to be maintained in many parts of Russia, but it has been spread over Poland; and as to the amnesty, its insincerity is such that it might be envied by Pobedonostsev. An honest amnesty is never couched in many words: it is expressed in four or five lines. But Witte’s amnesty is a long document written with an obvious intention of deceiving the reader as to its real tenor, and therefore it is full of references to numbers of articles of the code, instead of naming things by their proper names. Thousands of contests must arise, Russian lawyers say, out of this muddled document.

Schlusselburg Fortress

At any rate, one thing is evident. Those who were confined at Schlusselburg since 1881-1886—immured in secrecy would be the proper term—and whose barbarous treatment is known to the readers of this review, will not be liberated, according to the terms of the amnesty. They will have to be exiled as posselentsy (“criminal exiles”) for another four years to Siberia, probably to its most unhealthy parts, before they are allowed to enter Russia! This, after a twenty-four years’ cellular confinement, in absolute secrecy, without any communication whatever with the outer world! As to those who were driven to desperate action by the police rule of Plehve, they all must remain for ten to twelve years more in the Russian bastille of Schlusselburg; the amnesty does not apply to them. And as regards the exiles abroad, they are offered the right to obtain certificates of admission to Russia from the Russian state police!

All over the world, each time that a new departure has been made in general policy, an honest general amnesty was granted as a guarantee of good faith. Even that pledge was refused to Russia. And so it is all around. All that has hitherto been done are words, words, and words. And every one of these words can be crossed with a stroke of the pen, just as the promises of a constitution given by the Austrian emperor after the Vienna revolution of March 13, 1848 were cancelled a few months later, and the population of the capital was massacred as soon as its revolutionary spirit cooled down. Is it not the same policy that is coveted at Tsarskoe Selo? Unfortunately, the first step in the way of reaction has already been made by proclaiming the state of siege in Poland.

Part Six

Revolutionary Russia

The first victory of the Russian nation over autocracy was met with the wildest enthusiasm and jubilation. Crowds, composed of hundreds of thousands of men and women of all classes, all mixed together, and carrying countless red flags, moved about in the streets of the capitals, and the same enthusiasm rapidly spread to the provinces, down to the smallest towns. True that it was not jubilation only; the crowd also expressed three definite demands. For three days after the publication of the manifesto in which autocracy had abdicated its powers, no amnesty manifesto had yet appeared, and on November 3, in St. Petersburg, a crowd a hundred thousand men strong was going to storm the House of Detention, when, at ten in the evening, one of the Workmen’s Council of Delegates [Soviet] addressed them, declaring that Witte had just given his word of honour that a general amnesty would be granted that same night. The delegate therefore said: “Spare your blood for graver occasions. At eleven we shall have Witte’s reply, and if it is not satisfactory, then tomorrow at six you will all be informed as to how and where to meet in the streets for further action.” And the immense crowd—I hold these details from an eyewitness—slowly broke up and dispersed in silence, thus recognizing the new power—the labour delegates—which was born during the strike.

Two other important points, beside amnesty, had also to be cleared up. During the last few months the Cossacks had proved to be the most abominable instrument of reaction, always ready to whip, shoot, or bayonet unarmed crowds, for the mere fun of the sport and with a view to subsequent pillage. Besides, there was no guarantee whatever that at any moment the demonstrators would not be attacked and slaughtered by the troops. The people in the streets demanded therefore the withdrawal of the troops, and especially of the Cossacks, the abolition of the state of siege, and the creation of popular militias which would be placed under the management of the municipalities.

It is known how, first at Odessa and then all over Russia the jubilant crowds began to be attacked by bands, composed chiefly of butcher assistants, and partly of the poorest slum dwellers, sometimes armed, and very often under the leadership of policemen and police officials in plain clothes; how every attempt on behalf of the radical demonstrators to resist such attacks by means of revolver shots immediately provoked volleys of rifle fire from the Cossacks; how peaceful demonstrators were slaughtered by the soldiers after some isolated pistol shot—maybe a police signal—was fired from the crowd; and how finally at Odessa an organized pillage and the slaughter of men, women, and children in some of the poorest Jewish suburbs took place, while the troops fired at the improvised militia of students who tried to prevent the massacres or to put an end to them.

Cossack Troops

In Moscow, the editor of the Moscow Gazette, Gringmut, and part of the clergy, stimulated by a pastoral letter of Bishop Nikon, openly preached “to put down the intellectuals by force,” and improvised orators spoke from the platform in front of the Iberia Virgin, preaching the killing of the students. The result was that the university was besieged by crowds of the “defenders of order,” the students were fired at by the Cossacks, and for several nights in succession isolated students were assailed in the dark by the Moscow Gazette men, so that in one night twenty-one were killed or mortally wounded.

An inquest into the origin of these murders is now being made by volunteer lawyers; but this much can already be said. If race hatred has played an important part at Odessa and in other southern towns, no such cause can be alleged at Moscow, Tver (the burning of the house of the zemstvo), Tomsk, Nizhni Novgorod, and a great number of towns having a purely Russian population. And yet outbreaks having the same savage character took place in all these towns and cities at about the same time. An organizing hand is seen in them, and there is no doubt that this is the hand of the Monarchist party. It sent a deputation to Peterhof, headed by Prince Shcherbatov and Count Sheremetev, and after the deputation had been most sympathetically received by Nicholas II, they openly came forward in the Moscow Gazette and in the appeals of the bishops Nikon and Nikandr, calling upon their sympathizers to declare an open war on the radicals.

Of course it would be unwise to imagine that autocracy, and the autocratic habits which made a little tsar of every police official in his own sphere, would die out without showing resistance by all means, including murder. The Russian revolution will certainly have its Feuillants and its Muscadins. And this struggle will necessarily be complicated in Russia by race hatred. It has always been the policy of the Russian tsardom to stir national hatred, setting the Finns and the Karelian peasants against the Swedes in Finland, the Letts against the Germans in the Baltic provinces, the Polish peasants (partly Ukranian) against the Polish landlords, the Orthodox Russians against the Jews, the Musulmans [Muslims] against the Armenians, and so on. Then, for the last twenty years it has been a notable feature of the policy of Ignat’ev, and later on of Plehve, to provoke race wars with a view of checking socialist propaganda. And the police in Russia have always taken advantage of all such outbreaks for pilfering and plundering… Consequently, a few hints from above were enough—and several reactionary papers and two bishops went so far as to openly give such hints—to provoke the terrible massacres at Odessa and the smaller outbreaks elsewhere.

Such conflicts between the representatives of a dark past and the young forces representing the future will certainly continue for some time before the mighty floods raised by the storm of the revolution will subside. The revolution in England lasted from 1639 to 1655, that of France from 1788 till 1794, and both were followed by an unsettled period of some thirty years’ duration. So we cannot expect that the Russian revolution should accomplish its work in a few months only. One extremely important feature has, however, to be noted now. Up to the present moment, “bloodshed has come, not from the revolutionists, but from the defenders of absolutism.” It is estimated that more than twenty-five thousand persons have already been killed in Russia since January last. But all this mass of murders lies on the side of the defenders of autocracy.

The victory over absolutism which compelled it to abdicate was obtained by a strike, unique in the annals of history by its unanimity and the self-abnegation of the workers; but no blood was shed to win this first victory. The same is true of the villages. It may be taken as certain that the landlord ownership of the land has already sustained a blow which renders a return to the status quo ante in land ownership materially impossible. And this other victory—a very great one, in my opinion—is being obtained again without bloodshed on behalf of the revolting peasants. If blood is shed, it is shed by the troops called in for the defence of the monopoly in land—not by those who endeavour to get rid of it. As to the peasants, they have even pronounced themselves against retaliation.

St. Petersburg Soviet

Another prominent feature of the Russian revolution is the ascendency which labour has taken in it. It is not social democrats, or revolutionary socialists, or anarchists, who take the lead in the present revolution. It is labour—the workingmen. Already during the first general strike, the St. Petersburg workingmen had nominated 132 delegates, who constituted a “Council [Soviet] of the Union of Workingmen,” and these delegates had nominated an executive of eight members. Nobody knew their names or their addresses, but their advice was obeyed like orders. In the streets they appeared surrounded by fifty or sixty workingmen, armed, and linked together so as to allow no one to approach a delegate. Now, the workingmen of St. Petersburg have apparently extended their organization, and while their delegates confer with representatives of the revolutionary parties, they nevertheless retain their complete independence. Similar organizations most probably have sprung up at Moscow and elsewhere, and at this moment the workingmen of St. Petersburg are systematically arming themselves in order to resist the absolutist “black gangs.”

As to the powers of the labour organization, they are best seen from the fact that while the bureaucrat lawyers are still concocting some crooked press law, the workingmen have abolished preventive censorship in St. Petersburg by publishing a short-worded resolution in their clandestine daily, the Isvestia of the Council of Labour Delegates. “We declare,” they said, “that if the editor of any paper continues to send his sheet to the censor before issuing it, the paper will be confiscated by us in the streets, and the printers will be called out from the printing office (they will be supported by the strike committee). If the paper continues nevertheless to appear, the scabs will be boycotted by us, and the presses will be broken.” This is how preliminary censorship has ceased to exist in St. Petersburg. The old laws remain, but de facto the daily press is free.

Many years ago the general strike was advocated by the Latin workingmen as a weapon which would be irresistible in the hands of labour for imposing its will. The Russian revolution has demonstrated that they were right. Moreover, there is not the slightest doubt that if the general strike has been capable of forcing the centuries-old institution of autocracy to capitulate, it will be capable also of imposing the will of the labourers upon capital, and that the workingmen, with the common sense of which they have given such striking proof, will find also the means of solving the labour problem, so as to make industry the means not of personal enrichment but of satisfying the needs of the community.

That the Russian revolution will not limit itself to a mere reform of political institutions, but like the revolution of 1848, will make an attempt, at least, to solve the social problem, has always been my opinion. Half a century of socialist evolution in Europe cannot remain without influence upon the coming events. And the dominant position taken by labour in the present crisis seems to yield support to that foresight. How far the social change will go, and what concrete forms it will take, I would not undertake to predict without being on the spot, in the midst of the workers; but steps in that direction are sure to be made.

To say that Russia has begun her great revolution is no longer a metaphor or a prophecy; it is a fact. And one is amazed to discover how history repeats itself: not in the events, of course, but in the psychology of the opposed forces. The governing class, at any rate, has learned nothing. They remain incapable of understanding the real significance of events which are screened from their eyes by the artificiality of their surroundings. Where a timely yielding, a frank, open-minded recognition of the necessity of new forms of life would have spared the country torrents of blood, they make concessions at the last moment, always in a half-hearted way, and always with the secret intention of soon returning to the old forms. Why have they massacred at least twenty-five thousand men during these ten months, when they had to recognize in October what they refused to recognize last December?

Why do they continue repression and provoke new massacres, when “they will have to recognize in a few months hence universal suffrage as the basis of representative government in Russia, and the legislative autonomy of Poland as the best, the only possible means for keeping the two countries, Russia and Poland, firmly linked together,” just as they were compelled, after having set all the country on fire, to recognize that the honest recognition of Finland’s autonomy was the only means of maintaining her bonds with Russia. But no, they will not recognize what is evident to everyone as soon as he frees himself from the fools’ paradise atmosphere of the St. Petersburg bureaucracy. They will stir up the bitterest civil wars.

Happily enough, there is a more hopeful side to the Russian revolution. The two forces which hitherto have played the leading part in the revolution—namely, the workingmen in the towns, fraternizing with the younger “intellectuals,” and the peasants in the countryside—have displayed such a wonderful unanimity of action, even where it was not concerted beforehand, and such a reluctance for useless bloodshed, that we may be sure of their ultimate victory.

The troops have already been deeply impressed by the unanimity, the self-sacrifice, and the consciousness of their rights displayed by the workmen in their strikes; and now that the St. Petersburg workmen have begun to approach in a spirit of straightforward propaganda those who were enrolled in the “black gangs,” that other support of autocracy will probably soon be dissolved as well. The main danger lies now in that the statesmen, enamoured of “order” and instigated by timorous landlords, might resort to massacres for repressing the peasant rebellions, in which case retaliation would follow to an extent and with consequences which nobody could foretell.

The first year of the Russian revolution has already proved that there is in the Russian people that unity of thought without which no serious change in the political organization of the country would have been possible, and that capacity for united action which is the necessary condition of success. One may already be sure that the present movement will be victorious.

The years of disturbance will pass, and Russia will come out of them a new nation; a nation owning an unfathomed wealth of natural resources and capable of utilizing them; ready to seek the ways for utilizing them in the best interest of all; a nation averse to bloodshed, averse to war, and ready to march towards the higher goals of progress. One of her worst inheritances from a dark past, autocracy, lies already mortally wounded, and will not revive; and other victories will follow.

Peter Kropotkin, November 1905

The 1917 Russian Revolution

Kropotkin: The 1905 Revolution in Russia, Parts Three & Four

Peter Kropotkin

Here are the third and fourth installments of Kropotkin‘s essay on the 1905 Russian Revolution. In Part Three, Kropotkin discusses how the 1905 Russian Revolution spread throughout the Russian empire among all the oppressed groups and classes, only to be met by severe state repression. Part Four, perhaps the most interesting part of the essay, shows how the tide again began to turn in favour of the rebels when workers renewed their involvement in the revolutionary movement in October 1905, leading to a country-wide general strike.

For Kropotkin and other anarchists, the October General Strike showed that the general strike advocated by anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists, but dismissed by Marxists as “general nonsense,” really was an effective “new weapon” in the revolutionary arsenal, “more terrible than street warfare,” which had now “been tested and proved to work admirably.” Also important for Kropotkin was how the general strike spread across the country largely spontaneously, being “entirely a workingmen’s affair,” rather than the work of organized revolutionary parties. For anarchists, the 1905 Russian Revolution was a vivid illustration of the kind of far-reaching social revolution, from the bottom up, that they had been advocating since the inception of revolutionary anarchist movements in the late 1860s.

Odessa Protest Against the Tsar October 1905

The 1905 Russian Revolution, Part Three

The peasants uprising alone, spreading over wide territories, rolling like waves which flood today one part of the country and tomorrow another, would have been sufficient to entirely upset the usual course of affairs in Russia. But when the peasant insurrection is combined with a general awakening of the workingmen in towns, who refuse to remain in the old servile conditions; when all the educated classes enter into an open revolt against the old system; and when important portions of the empire, such as Finland, Poland, and the Caucasus, strive for complete home rule, while other portions, such as Siberia, the Baltic provinces, and Little Russia, and in fact every province, claim autonomy and want to be freed from the St. Petersburg bureaucrats—then it becomes evident that the time has come for a deep, complete revision of all the institutions. Every reasoning observer, everyone who has learned something in his life about the psychology of nations, would conclude that if any concessions are to be made to the new spirit of the time, they must be made with an open mind, in a straightforward way, with a deep sense of responsibility for what is done—not as a concession enforced by the conditions of a given moment, but as a quite conscious reasoned move, dictated by a comprehension of the historical phase which the country is going through.

Repression in Russia 1905

Unfortunately, nothing of that consciousness and sense of responsibility is seen among those who have been the rulers of Russia during the last twelve months. I have told in my memoirs how certain moderate concessions, if they had been granted towards the end of the reign of Alexander II or at the advent of his son, would have been hailed with enthusiasm and would have paved the way for the gradual and slow passage from absolutism to representative government. Even in 1895, when Nicholas II had become emperor, it was not too late for such concessions. But it was also evident to everyone who was not blinded by that artificial atmosphere of bureaucracy created in all capitals, that ten years later—that is, in November last [1904]—such half-hearted concessions as a “Consultative Assembly” were already out of the question. The events of the last ten years, with which the readers of this review are familiar—the students’ affair of 1901, the rule of Plehve, and so on, to say nothing of the abominable blunders of the [Russo-Japanese] war—had already created too deep a chasm between Russia and Nicholas II. The January massacres widened that chasm still more. Therefore only an open recognition of the right of the nation to frame its own constitution, and a complete honest amnesty, granted as a pledge of good faith, could have spared Russia all the bloodshed of the last ten months. Every intelligent statesman would have understood it. But the cynical courtier, Bulygin, whom Nicholas II and his mother considered a statesman, and to whom they had pinned their faith, was not the man to do so. His only policy was to win time, in the hope that something might turn the scales in favour of his masters.

Alexander Bulygin

Consequently, vague promises were made in December 1904, and next in March 1905, but in the meantime the most reckless repression was resorted to—not very openly, I must say, but under cover, according to the methods of Plehve’s policy. Death sentences were distributed by the dozen during the last summer. The worst forms of police autocracy, which characterized the rule of Plehve, were revived in a form even more exasperating than before, because governors-general assumed now the rights which formerly were vested in the minister of the interior. Thus, to give one instance, the governor-general of Odessa exiled men by the dozen by his own will, including the old ex-dean of the Odessa University, Professor Yaroshenko, whom he ordered (on July 26) to be transported to Vologda! And this went on at a time when all Russia began to take fire, and lived through such a series of events as the uprising of the Musulmans, and the massacres at Baku and Nakhichevan; the uprising at Odessa, during which all the buildings in the port were burned;

The Potemkin Mutiny

the mutiny on the ironclad Kniaz Potemkin; the second series of strikes in Poland, again followed by massacres at Lodz, Warsaw, and all other chief industrial centers; a series of uprisings at Riga, culminating in the great street battles of July 28—to say nothing of a regular, uninterrupted succession of minor agrarian revolts. All Russia had thus to be set into open revolt, blood had to run freely in the streets of all the large cities, simply because the tsar did not want to pronounce the word which would put an end to his sham autocracy and to the autocracy of his camarilla. Only towards the end of the summer could he be induced to make some concessions which at last took the shape of a convocation of a state’s Duma, announced in the manifesto of August 19 [1905].

Part Four

Nicholas II

General stupefaction and disdain are the only words to express the impression produced by this manifesto. To begin with, it was evident to anyone who knew something of human psychology that no assembly elected to represent the people could be maintained as a merely consultative body, with no legislative powers. To impose such a limitation was to create the very conditions for producing the bitterest conflicts between the crown and the nation. To imagine that the Duma, if it ever could come into existence in the form under which it was conceived by the advisers of Nicholas II, would limit itself to the functions of a mere consulting board, that it would express its wishes in the form of mere advices, but not in the form of laws, and that it would not defend these laws as such, was absurd on the very face of it. Therefore the concession was considered as a mere desire to bluff, to win time. It was received as a new proof of the insincerity of Nicholas II.

But in proportion as the real sense of the Bulygin “Constitution” was discovered, it became more and more evident that such a Duma would never come together; never would the Russians be induced to perform the farce of the Duma elections under the Bulygin system. It appeared that under this system the city of St. Petersburg, with its population of nearly 1,500,000 and its immense wealth, would have only about 7,000 electors, and that large cities having from 200,000 to 700,000 inhabitants would have an electoral body composed of but a couple of thousand, or even a few hundred electors; while the 90,000,000 peasants would be boiled down, after several successive elections, to a few thousand men electing a few deputies. As to the nearly 4,ooo,ooo Russian workingmen, they were totally excluded from any participation in the political life of the country. It was evident that only fanatics of electioneering could be induced to find interest in so senseless a waste of time as an electoral campaign under such conditions. Moreover, as the press continued to be gagged, the state of siege was maintained, and the governors of the different provinces continued to rule as absolute satraps, exiling whom they disliked, public opinion in Russia gradually came to the idea that, whatever some moderate zemstvoists might say in favour of a compromise, the Duma would never come together.

Then it was that the workingmen again threw the weight of their will into the contest and gave quite a new turn to the movement. A strike of bakers broke out at Moscow in October last, and they were joined in their strike by the printers. This was not the work of any revolutionary organization. It was entirely a workingmen’s affair, but suddenly what was meant to be a simple demonstration of economic discontent grew up, invaded all trades, spread to St. Petersburg, then all over Russia, and took the character of such an imposing revolutionary demonstration that the autocracy had to capitulate before it.

Kharkiv strike meeting

When the strike of the bakers began, troops were, as a matter of course, called out to suppress it. But this time the Moscow workingmen had had enough of massacres. They offered an armed resistance to the Cossacks. Some three hundred men barricaded themselves in a garret, and a regular fight between the besieged workingmen and the besieging Cossacks followed. The latter took, of course, the upper hand, and butchered the besieged, but then all the Moscow workingmen joined hands with the strikers. A general strike was declared. “Nonsense! A general strike is impossible!” the fools said, even then. But the workingmen set earnestly to stop all work in the great city, and fully succeeded. In a few days the strike became general. What the workingmen must have suffered during these two or three weeks, when all work was suspended and provisions became extremely scarce, one can easily imagine; but they held out.

Moscow had no bread, no meat coming in, no light in the streets. All traffic on the railways had been stopped, and the mountains of provisions which, in the usual course of life, reach the great city every day, were lying rotting along the railway lines. No newspapers except the proclamation of the strike committees appeared. Thousands upon thousands of passengers who had come to that great railway center which Moscow is could not move any further, and were camping at the railway stations. Tons and tons of letters accumulated at the post offices, and had to be stored in special storehouses. But the strike, far from abating, was spreading all over Russia.

Once the heart of Russia, Moscow, had struck, all the other towns followed. St. Petersburg soon joined the strike, and the workingmen displayed the most admirable organizing capacities. Then, gradually, the enthusiasm and devotion of the poorest class of society won over the other classes. The shop assistants, the clerks, the teachers, the employees at the banks, the actors, the lawyers, the chemists, even the judges gradually joined the strikers. A whole country had struck against its government, all but the troops; but even from the troops separate officers and soldiers came to take part in the strike meetings, and one saw uniforms in the crowds of peaceful demonstrators who managed to display a wonderful skill in avoiding all conflict with the army.

The 1905 Revolution in Russia

In a few days the strike had spread over all the main cities of the empire, including Poland and Finland. Moscow had no water, Warsaw no fuel; provisions ran short everywhere; the cities, great and small, remained plunged in complete darkness. No smoking factories, no railways running, no tramways, no stock exchange, no banking, no theatres, no law courts, no schools. In many places the restaurants, too, were closed, the waiters having left, or else the workers compelled the owners to extinguish all lights after seven o’clock. In Finland even the house servants were not allowed to work before seven in the morning or after seven in the evening. All life in the towns had come to a standstill. And what exasperated the rulers most was that the workers offered no opportunity for shooting at them and re-establishing “order” by massacres. A new weapon, more terrible than street warfare, had thus been tested and proved to work admirably.

The panic in the tsar’s entourage had reached a high pitch. He himself in the meantime, was consulting in turn the conservatives (Ignat’ev, Goremykin, Sturmer, Stishinskii), who advised him to concede nothing, and Witte, who represented the liberal opinion. It is said that if he yielded to the advice of the latter, it was only when he saw that the conservatives refused to risk their reputations, and maybe their lives, in order to save the autocracy. He finally signed on October 30, a manifesto in which he declared that his “inflexible will” was:

(1)To grant the population the immutable foundations of civic liberty based on real inviolability of the person and freedom of conscience, speech, union, and association.

(2) Without deferring the elections to the state Duma already ordered, to call to participation in the Duma, as far as is possible in view of the shortness of the time before the Duma is to assemble, those classes of the population now completely deprived of electoral rights, leaving the ultimate development of the principle of the electoral right in general to the newly established legislative order of things.

(3) To establish it as an immutable rule that no law can come into force without the approval of the state Duma, and that it shall be possible for the elected of the people to exercise a real participation in the supervision of the legality of the acts of the authorities appointed by us.

On the same day Count Witte was nominated the head of a ministry, which he himself had to form, and the tsar approved by his signature a memorandum of the minister-president in which it was said that “straightforwardness and sincerity in the confirmation of civil liberty,” “a tendency towards the abolition of exclusive laws,” and “the avoidance of repressive measures in respect to proceedings which do not openly menace society and the state” must be binding for the guidance of the ministry. The government was also “to abstain from any interference in the elections to the Duma,” and “not resist its decisions as long as they are not inconsistent with the historic greatness of Russia.”

At the same time a general strike had also broken out in Finland. The whole population joined in supporting it with a striking unanimity; and as communication with St. Petersburg was interrupted, the wildest rumours about the revolution in the Russian capital circulated at Helsinki. Pressed by the Finnish population, the governor-general undertook to report to the tsar the absolute necessity for full concessions, and, the tsar agreeing with this demand, a manifesto was immediately issued, by which all repressive measures of the last few years, including the unfortunate manifesto of the year 1899, by which the Finnish Constitution had been violated, were rescinded, the Diet was convoked, and a complete return to the status quo ante Bobrikov was promulgated. What a pity for the future development of Russia that on this very same day an identical measure, establishing and convoking a Polish Diet at Warsaw, was not taken! How much bloodshed would have been saved! And how much safer the further development of Russia would have been, if Poland had then known that she would be able to develop her own life according to her own wishes!

Peter Kropotkin, November 1905

Kropotkin: The 1905 Revolution in Russia, Part One

Kropotkin circa 1900

In his 1904 preface to the Italian edition of Words of a Rebel, Kropotkin discusses the renewed militancy among European workers, and the embrace of the general strike as a means of revolutionary transformation. Soon thereafter, general strikes broke out, first in Poland, and then in Russian itself, as Polish and Russian workers rose against Czarist autocracy, leading to the 1905 Russian Revolution. Although the Revolution was ultimately unsuccessful, it proved but a prelude to the 1917 Russian Revolution, which led to the final overthrow of the Czarist regime. In this essay, “The Revolution in Russia,” first published in the Nineteenth Century magazine, Vol. 58, No. 346 in December 1905, Kropotkin discusses the origins and development of the 1905 Russian Revolution from an anarchist perspective, emphasizing again the role of the general strike, as did Siegfried Nacht in his contemporaneous pamphlet, The Social General Strike, which was widely translated and distributed at the time. Due to the length of Kropotkin’s essay, which I do not believe has yet been posted on the internet, I will be presenting it in installments, starting, naturally enough, with Part One.

Kropotkin: The Revolution in Russia, Part One

1905 March on the Winter Palace

Events in Russia are following one another with that rapidity which is characteristic of revolutionary periods. Eleven months ago when I wrote in this review about the constitutional agitation in Russia, the Congress of the Zemstvos, which had timidly expressed the desire of having some sort of representative institutions introduced in Russia, was the first open step that had been made by a collective body in the struggle which was going to develop itself with such an astounding violence. Now, autocracy, which then seemed so solid as to be capable of weathering many a storm, has already been forced to recognize that it must cease to exist. But between these two events so many others of the deepest importance have taken place that they must be recalled to memory, before any safe conclusion can be drawn as to the probable further developments of the revolution in Russia.

On August 10, 1904, the omnipotent minister of the interior, Plehve, was killed by the revolutionary socialist Sazonov. Plehve had undertaken to maintain autocracy for another ten years, provided that he and his police were invested with unlimited powers; and having received these powers, he had used them so as to make of the police the most demoralized and dangerous body in the state. In order to crush all opposition, he had not recoiled from deporting at least thirty thousand persons to remote corners of the empire by mere administrative orders. He was spending immense sums of money for his own protection, and when he drove in the streets, surrounded by crowds of policemen and detective bicyclists and automobilists, he was the best-guarded man in Russia—better guarded than even the tsar. But all that proved to be of no avail. The system of police rule was defeated, and nobody in the tsar’s surroundings would attempt to continue it. For six weeks the post of minister of the interior remained vacant, and then Nicholas II reluctantly agreed to accept Sviatopolk-Mirskii, with the understanding that he would allow the zemstvos to work out some transitional form between autocracy pure and simple, and autocracy mitigated by some sort of national representation. This was done by the zemstvos at their congress in November of last year, when they dared to demand “the guarantee of the individual and the inviolability of the private dwelling,” “the local autonomy of self-administration,” and “a close intercourse between the government and the nation,” by means of a specially elected body of representatives of the nation who would “participate in the legislative power, the establishment of the budget, and the control of the administration.”

Modest though this declaration was, it became the signal for a general agitation. True, the press was forbidden to discuss it, but all the papers, as well as the municipal councils, the scientific societies, and all sorts of private groups discussed it nevertheless. Then, in December last, the “intellectuals” organized themselves into vast unions of engineers, lawyers, chemists, teachers, and so on—all federated in a general union of unions. And amid this agitation, the timid resolutions of the zemstvos were soon outdistanced. A constituent assembly, elected by universal, direct, and secret suffrage, became the watchword of all the constitutional meetings. This demand was soon as popular as the paragraphs of the charter were during the Chartist agitation [in England 1836-1848].

The students were the first to carry these resolutions into the streets, and they organized imposing demonstrations in support of these demands at St. Petersburg, Moscow, and in all the university towns. At Moscow the Grand Duke Sergei [Aleksandrovich Romanov] ordered the troops to fire at the absolutely peaceful demonstration. Many were killed and from that day he became a doomed man.

Things would have probably dragged if the St. Petersburg workingmen had not at this moment lent their powerful support to the young movement—entirely changing by their move the very face of events. To prevent by any means the “intellectuals” from carrying on their propaganda amid the workingmen and the peasant had been the constant preoccupation of the Russian government; while, on the other side, to join hands with the workers and the peasants and to spread among them the ideas of freedom and socialism had always been the goal of the revolutionary youth for the last forty years—since 1861. Life itself worked on their side. The labour movement played so prominent a part in the life of Europe during the last half-century, and it so much occupied the attention of all the European press, that the infiltration of its ideas into Russia could not be prevented by repression. The great strikes of 1896—1900 at St. Petersburg and in central Russia, the growth of the labour organizations in Poland, and the admirable success of the Jewish labour organization, the Bund, in western and south western Russia proved, indeed, that the Russian workingmen had joined hands in their aspirations with their Western brothers.

There is no need to repeat here what Father Gapon has told already in his autobiography—how he succeeded in grouping in a few months a considerable mass of the St. Petersburg workers around all sorts of lecturing institutes, tea restaurants, cooperative societies, and the like, and how he, with a few workingmen friends, organized within that mass and linked together several thousands of men inspired by higher purposes. They succeeded so well in their underground work that when they suggested to the workingmen that they should go en masse to the tsar, and unroll before him a petition asking for constitutional guarantees as well as for some economic changes, nearly seventy thousand men took in two days the oath to join the demonstration, although it had become nearly certain that the demonstration would be repulsed by force of arms. They more than kept word, as they came out in still greater numbers—about two hundred thousand—and persisted in approaching the Winter Palace notwithstanding the firing of the troops.

It is now known how the emperor, himself concealed at Tsarskoe Selo, gave orders to receive the demonstrators with volley-firing; how the capital was divided for that purpose into military districts, each one having at a given spot its staff, its field telephones, its ambulances… The troops fired at the dense crowds at a range of a few dozen yards, and no less than two to three thousand men, women, and children fell: the victims of the tsar’s fears and obstinacy.

Bloody Sunday, St. Petersburg 1905

The feeling of horror with which eyewitnesses, Russian and English, speak of this massacre surpasses description. Even time will not erase these horrible scenes from the memories of those who saw them, just as the horrors of a shipwreck remain engraved forever in the memory of a rescued passenger. What Gapon said immediately after the massacre about the viper’s brood of the whole dynasty was echoed all over Russia, and went as far as the valleys of Manchuria. The whole character of the movement was changed at once by this massacre. All illusions were dissipated. As the autocrat and his supporters had not shrunk from that wanton, fiendish, and cowardly slaughtering, it was evident that they would stop at no violence and no treachery. Since that day the name of the Romanov dynasty began to become odious among the workingmen of Russia. The illusion of a benevolent autocrat who was going to listen paternally to the demands of his subjects was gone forever.

Distrust of everything that might come from the Romanovs took its place; and the idea of a democratic republic, which formerly was adopted by a few socialists only, now found its way even into the relatively moderate program. To let the people think that they might be received by the tsar, to lure them to the Winter Palace, and there to mow them down by volleys of rifle fire—such crimes are never pardoned in history.

If the intention of Nicholas II and his advisers had been to terrorize the working classes, the effect of the January slaughter was entirely in the opposite direction. It gave a new force to the labour movement all over Russia. Five days after the terrible “Vladimir” Sunday, a mass strike broke out at Warsaw, and was followed by mass strikes at Lodz and in all the industrial and mining centers of Poland. In a day or two the Warsaw strike was joined by a hundred thousand operatives and became general. All factories were closed, no tramways were running, no papers were published. The students joined the movement, and were followed by the pupils of the secondary schools. The shop assistants, the clerks in the banks and in all public and private commercial establishments, the waiters in the restaurants—all gradually came out to support the strikers. Lodz joined Warsaw, and two days later the strike spread over the mining district of Dombrowo. An eight-hour day, increased wages, political liberties, and home rule, with a Polish Diet sitting at Warsaw were the demands of all the strikers. We thus find in these Polish strikes all the characteristics which, later on, made of the general strikes of October last so powerful a weapon against the crumbling autocratic system.

If the rulers of Russia had had the slightest comprehension of what was going on, they would have perceived at once that a new factor of such potency had made its appearance in the movement, in the shape of a strike in which all classes of the population joined hands, that nothing remained but to yield to their demands; otherwise the whole fabric of the state would be shattered down to its deepest foundations. But they remained as deaf to the teachings of modern European life as they had been to the lessons of history; and when the strikers appeared in the streets, organizing imposing demonstrations, they knew of no better expedient than to send the order: “Shoot them! ” In a couple of days more than three hundred men and women were shot at Warsaw, one hundred at Lodz, forty-three at Sosnowice, forty-two at Ostrowiec, and soon, all over Poland!

The result of these new massacres was that all classes of society drew closer together in order to face the common enemy, and swore to fight till victory should be gained. Since that time governors of provinces, officers of the police, gendarmes, spies, and the like have been killed in all parts of Poland, not one day passing without some such act being recorded; so it was estimated in August last that ninety-five terrorist acts of this sort had taken place in Poland, and that in very few of them were the assailants arrested As a rule they disappeared—the whole population evidently helping to conceal them.

Peter Kropotkin, November 1905

Geoffrey Ostergaard: The Relevance of Syndicalism

Geoffrey Ostergaard (1926-1990) was an English anarcho-syndicalist who also wrote about non-violence and direct action. His publications include The Gentle Anarchists, with Melville Currell, Nonviolent Revolution in India, and The Tradition of Workers’ Control. I included excerpts from his essay, “Fabianism and the Managerial Revolution” in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas: The Emergence of the New Anarchism (1939-1977). In “The Relevance of Syndicalism,” originally published in Colin Ward’s Anarchy magazine, Volume 3, No. 6, June 1963, he argues for the relevance of syndicalism by connecting the syndicalists’ anti-statism and direct action tactics to the burgeoning peace movements of the 1960s. In the mid-1980s, he revised the article for inclusion in a book of articles on influential anarchist thinkers and movements that I was putting together (but for which I was unable to find a publisher). This is the first time that his revised version of the paper has appeared, in the first of two parts.

THE RELEVANCE OF SYNDICALISM

Geoffrey Ostergaard

Syndicalism, as a movement of significant size and influence, flourished in the two decades prior to 1917 and, since then, apart from a brief and cruel flowering in Spain during the Civil War, it has been largely a spent force. Avowedly syndicalist groups and organizations still exist in many countries but their memberships are numbered in the hundreds and thousands rather than in tens of thousands and millions; and a dispassionate observer would be forced to place them in that half-submerged world inhabited by ‘the socialist sects.’ Periodical1y attempts are made to regroup the scattered forces of syndicalism in preparation for a new offensive. But it seems unlikely that such attempts will lead to a revival of the movement in its classical form in the foreseeable future.

Why, then, should we bother our heads with syndicalism? Why not leave the subject to the historians? It is clearly one of the failures of history, a movement that did not ‘come off.’ With our eyes on the present and the future, why concern ourselves with the past, especially the unsuccessful past? As T.S. Eliot reminded us, ‘We cannot revive old factions or follow an antique drum’; and perhaps, even if we could, we ought not to do so.

There are at least two good reasons for not adopting the viewpoint implicit in such questions. One is that the present and possible future cannot be understood without an understanding of the past. And by ‘the past’ I mean not only the ‘successful’ past — that part of history which most obviously leads to the present; I include also the ‘unsuccessful’ past — that part of history which from the viewpoint of the present seems to have led nowhere. It is a point often overlooked, even by intelligent historians, that there is as much, if not more, to be learned from the failures as from the successes of history. This, as I shall try to show, is particularly true of syndicalism. An understanding of why syndicalism failed and a pondering of the implications of that failure can illuminate our understanding of the present in a way that no account of ‘successful’ movements could do.

A second reason for not dismissing syndicalism out of hand is perhaps more debatable, since it stems from the values inherent in my own political position. Looked at in the round, the world socialist movement since 1917 has been divided into two great camps the social democratic camp, on the one side, and the Bolshevik or Communist camp, on the other. Initially, what divided the two camps was the question of which road to take to the socialist society. The social democrats or (to avoid the ambiguity this term may now have for British readers) democratic socialists opted for the constitutional road, while the Communists chose the revolutionary road taken by their great hero, Lenin. In recent decades, however, the division between the two has become blurred.

‘Revisionists’ have been at work in both camps. In the Communist camp, failure to make much progress along the revolutionary road in advanced capitalist countries led to doubts which eventually expressed themselves in the form of ‘Eurocommunism.’ Essentially, what Eurocommunism boils down to is the reluctant acceptance of the basic idea of the first ‘revisionist’ of Marxism, Eduard Bernstein: the road to socialism, in some countries at least, must be constitutional and democratic. But at the same time as many Communists were re-routing themselves, democratic socialists engaged in a revisionism even more radical. In their case, the definition of socialism itself was involved. Henceforth, socialism was not to be defined as it once had been by every kind of socialist: the social ownership of all the means of production, distribution and exchange. So long as the State controls ‘the governing heights of the economy,’ it is not necessary, so it was argued, to abrogate capitalist ownership completely. Abrogation is necessary, if at all, only for certain ‘basic’ industries; in others, State regulation will suffice.

However, despite the curious cavortings of both Communists and democratic socialists, they have remained united in one underlying belief: the road to socialism lies through the acquisition by their respective parties of the political power of the State, the institution claiming, within its territory, a monopoly of the major means of physical coercion and, within its territory but also in relation to other States, the attribute of sovereignty. In this respect, both differ from the socialists of what may be called the third camp: the anti-state or non-state libertarian socialists.

In the first forty years after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, not much was heard from this camp. The notable exception was in Spain; but, even there, the victory in 1939 of Franco’s fascist forces appeared to mark for most socialists the final liquidation of libertarian socialism. Historically, this third camp has comprised a variety of groups and movements, both constitutional and revolutionary. These include the so-called pre-Marxian ‘utopian socialists’; the cooperative movement; anarchists of all hues other than ‘individualist’; the guild socialists; and, of course, the syndicalists. Apart from the doubtful exception of the cooperators, the list may look like a catalogue of history’s ‘failures.’ Twenty years ago, certainly, that is how most historians would have read the list. But things have changed in the third camp as well as in the other two camps.

In the late ‘fifties and the ‘sixties, under the umbrella of ‘The New Left,’ libertarian socialism resurfaced. The starting point of New Left thinking was disillusionment with both democratic socialism and Marxian Communism as then extant in the shape of Welfare Statism and Stalinism, respectively. As New Left movements proliferated, various themes, theories and actions, all distinctly libertarian, began to come to the fore: anti-militarism, nonviolent direct action, the rediscovery of community, community action and politics, radical decentralism, participatory democracy, the organization of the poor and oppressed inter-racially, and the building of a counter culture and counter-institutions (such as new co-ops, collectives and communes). For many youthful New Leftists all these were novel ideas which they believed they themselves had invented. But it was not long before the more historically-minded among them began to realize that the ‘new’ ideas were essentially a rediscovery of old insights and a reassertion of a once-honoured but submerged tradition. As a consequence, there was a revival of serious study of old masters and old movements. In Academia, even anarchism became a respectable subject of enquiry and discussion.

For a brief moment in 1968 it looked as though forces ranged behind the New Left banner might succeed in making a spectacular breakthrough in the heartlands of advanced industrial capitalism. But, for a variety of complex reasons, the prospect (or dream) of a libertarian revolution speedily vanished, and by the early ‘seventies the New Left – ‘a movement of movements’ rather than a single movement – had dissolved into disputatious rival fragments. Libertarian socialism had been reasserted and today, in the mid-eighties, it remains a lively current of thought, infecting in some degree socialists from the other two camps. But it has not yet succeeded in firmly establishing itself as a distinctive third camp with a coherent analysis of the contemporary world and a clear strategy for achieving the classical socialist goal of a free, egalitarian, classless and transnational society.

This is unfortunate, since there is no doubt that at the present time we are witnessing the continuing decomposition of both democratic socialism and Marxian communism. The democratic socialist road, it is now clear, leads not to socialism as traditionally understood but to the managerial-bureaucratic Welfare-cum-Warfare State. It is equally clear that the Communist road leads to a variant of the same end. Overall, in the period since 1917, Communism has gained ground at the expense of democratic socialism. In relatively undeveloped countries, usually in alliance with the old enemy of nationalism, Communism has demonstrated in a way that democratic socialism has never done its capacity to make a revolution, to establish a new social order. What, alas, it has not demonstrated, and shows no signs of demonstrating, is its capacity to create a new social order remotely resembling that of the classical socialist ideal. If the future does, indeed, lie with Communism, so much the worse for the socialist dream! For, if one has to choose between them, a managerial-bureaucratic State run on the basis of a state socialist economy is even more tyrannical than one run on the basis of a capitalist  or mixed economy.

From this perspective, the libertarian socialist tradition takes on a special significance for the present generation of socialists. It may be — we have cause enough to be skeptical — that there is no road to the truly socialist society. The whole ideology of socialism over the last 175 years may come to be seen in the future — if humanity has any future — as yet one more ideology preparing the ground for the rise of yet one more historic ruling class. But, if there be a road, I am convinced that it is the third road which the syndicalists among others helped to pave. It is for this reason that syndicalism remains a subject of continuing relevance.

The most striking feature of syndicalist thought and action is the importance attached to the class struggle. Classical syndicalism, it should be noted, emerged at about the same time as the first revisionist controversy within Marxism at the turn of the century. Led by Bernstein, the revisionists questioned, among other things, Marx’s analysis of class development and his theory of the State. They argued, in effect, for what I have called the democratic socialist position — the view that socialism could be achieved gradually by a broad democratic movement acquiring, peacefully and constitutionally, control of the existing machinery of the State. This amounted to a right-wing revision of Marxism. Syndicalism, in contrast, was a revision of Marxism to the left. The struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was seen by the syndicalists as the very essence of Marxism — ‘the alpha and omega of socialism’, as Sorel put it. All their energies were directed toward the relentless pursuit of this struggle: the class war was to be fought to a victorious finish with no compromise given or taken. Any form of class collaboration was seen as anathema. Like orthodox Marxists, the syndicalists regarded the existing State as an instrument of coercion for maintaining bourgeois domination. Where they parted company from the orthodox, however, was in their opposition to any form of the State. Marx had argued that the task of the proletariat was to destroy, in the course of the revolution, the bourgeois State and to put in its place a proletarian State. The new State would socialize the means of production, distribution and exchange, thereby abolishing social classes, and this would be the prelude to the eventual liquidation of the coercive apparatus of society. The State, as Engels put it, would ‘wither away.’. The syndicalists, in contrast, and influenced in this respect by the anarchists, insisted that the State as such must be destroyed in the course of the revolution: to build a new State on the ruins of the old would simply result in the perpetuation of class rule over the proletariat in a new, possibly more vicious, form.

This view implied a rejection not only of parliamentary action — the contesting of elections for bourgeois parliaments — but also of political action in the narrow Statist sense of the term. The syndicalists insisted that the class war must be waged, as the French put it, on the terrain de classe by direct action. Fighting the class war involves, of course, political action in the wider sense of a struggle for social power. What distinguished the syndicalists was the view that this struggle for social power, the struggle to achieve proletarian ascendancy, did not involve setting up a specialized political organization, to wit, a political party. Quite the contrary. To try to achieve socialism through such an organization, argued the syndicalists, would be fatal to the very aims of the proletariat.

It is important to grasp this point and the reasoning behind it if we are to begin to understand syndicalism. To Communists rejection of party organization appears as the fatal error of the syndicalists. The Marxist revolutions of our century, they would argue, have all been carried through only by means of the highly disciplined form of the proletarian party perfected by Lenin. As Lenin put it to some syndicalists who visited Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution: ‘You cannot lead the proletariat without a Party.’ No Communist Party means no revolution; at best, only revolt that stops short of revolution. How, it might be asked, could the syndicalists have made such a stupid mistake?

This, of course, is to beg the question. But leaving aside for the moment the suggestion that the syndicalists were in error, and noting as we do so that some syndicalists, such as Tom Mann, did admit to error and joined the Communist Party, it is relatively easy to see how the classical syndicalists arrived at their position. In a sense, they did so because they were more Marxist than Marx himself, and perhaps less heretical Marxists than Lenin. (There is a strong case for arguing that Bolshevism is the greatest Marxist heresy, turning the materialist conception on its head and, by its political success, invalidating the theory.) The classical syndicalists accepted wholeheartedly the materialist conception of history, and deduced from it the conclusion that political power is essentially a derivative from economic power. As James Connolly put it, ‘It is an axiom, enforced by the experience of the ages, that they who rule industrially will rule politically.’ A class that possesses economic power will thus necessarily, sooner rather than later, acquire political power. If, then, the proletariat, like the bourgeoisie before it, sets about acquiring economic power and is able to do so, it need not worry overmuch about political power. For the proletariat, as for the industrial bourgeoisie, economic power means power over and within industry. So, if the workers can win control of industry, the battle for proletarian ascendancy will have been won. James Connolly, again, expressed the point succinctly in these words ‘The workshop is the cockpit of civilization…. The fight for the conquest of the political state is not the battle, it is only the echo of the battle. The real battle is being fought out every day for the power to control industry.’

But there is more to the syndicalist case than this. Taking seriously, indeed, the theory of the class struggle, the syndicalists worked for a clean-cut, uncompromising proletarian victory. Socialism for them meant the replacement of bourgeois culture and institutions by proletarian culture and institutions. Their whole conception of socialism was, in the words of a Freedom editorial of the time, a thoroughly ‘working class conception.’ They had no time at all for middle class socialists. They had little patience even for the guild socialists whose ideas were closest to their own. Because guild socialists retained in some form the institution of the State, conceived in a Fabian-way as representing the interests of consumers, the syndicalists thought, as one of them put it, that they were ‘incapable of conceiving a commonwealth which is not designed on the canons of bourgeois architecture.’ Designing and building a commonwealth on the canons of proletarian architecture was what the syndicalists were about. When Marx in his Address to the First International had said that the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the workers themselves, the syndicalists thought he meant it. They did not think he meant that emancipation would come through the organization of a self-styled proletarian party led principally by people of bourgeois origins who, for one reason or another — and not always, they suspected, for creditable reasons — had taken up the cause of the workers. Bourgeois socialist intellectuals — professors, students, publicists and the like — had, the syndicalists thought, only a strictly limited and auxiliary role to play in the workers’ movement. The task of such people was to make explicit what was implicit in the social relations of capitalist society. Most definitely, it was not their task to instruct the proletariat, to guide the workers, and to lead them into correct courses of action. A workers’ movement which allowed itself to be directed by bourgeois intellectuals, even déclassé intellectuals, would, they believed, end up either compromising with the status quo or establishing a new form of class rule over the proletariat.

From this perspective, the syndicalists proceeded to juxtapose the concept of class against the concept of party. As social formations, the two are quite different. A class is a natural product of historical development, comprising individuals who occupy essentially the same position in the economic order of society. A party, in contrast, is an artificial aggregate, a consciously contrived organization, a social artifact, composed of heterogeneous elements drawn from all or, at least, a variety of classes. A class is based on a homogeneity of origin and conditions of life, and the bond of unity between its members is primarily economic. A party, however, represents essentially an intellectual unity: the bond uniting its members is primarily ideological. When individuals are approached on the basis of their class, the focus is on their role in the economic order, a role which sharply separates them from members of other classes. Thus the opposition of class interests is highlighted. But when individuals are approached on the basis of party, the focus is on their role as citizens and electors in the political order, and this role they share with members of all classes. Inevitably, on this approach, the opposition of class interests is muted. Parties may, and often do, express particular class interests — hence the view, held by political sociologists, that elections are the democratic expression of the class struggle. But parties also serve to moderate and to contain class antagonism. And, whatever the function of particular parties may be, the party system as a whole works to mitigate class conflicts and to preserve the existing socio-economic and political system.

The syndicalists, of course, appreciated that classes as such do not act. Social action involves the action of individuals in and through organizations. Organization of the proletariat, therefore, was an admitted necessity. In this respect, the syndicalists differed from those among the classical anarchists who minimized the importance of organization and who pinned their hopes on spontaneous revolutionary uprisings, stimulated by catalytic agents like Bakunin.

But, if the class struggle was the basic reality, why, asked the syndicalists, set up a special organization — a political party — which from its very nature would inevitably undermine the struggle? Why, indeed, when the proletariat already had an organization of its own: the trade or labour union — an organization based on the working class, confined (at that time) to the working class, and set up by the workers for the purpose of defending their interests in the daily struggle against their capitalist masters? True, the trade unions had been conceived, even by their creators, as mainly ameliorative instruments, as a means to win concessions for the workers within the social framework of capitalism. But there was no a priori reason why the role of unions should be so limited. Given proper direction, it was argued, they could be transformed into revolutionary instruments.

A single-minded emphasis on the potentialities of the trade union is in fact the most distinctive single feature of classical syndicalism. Syndicalists differed among themselves about how unions should be organized, many favouring industrial rather than craft unions, but all agreed that they had a dual role to perform: first, the traditional role of defending the interests of the workers under capitalism; and, secondly, the revolutionary role of overthrowing capitalism and constituting themselves as the basic units of the succeeding socialist society. Referring to this second role, James Connolly put it thus: ‘to build up an industrial republic with the shell of the political state, in order that, when the industrial republic is fully organized, it may crack the shell of the political state and step into its place in the scheme of the universe.’ As these words suggest, the more important second role became operative at once and not simply during and on the morrow of the revolution. In other words, syndicalism was not just a blueprint of the future socialist society in which unions would be the basic units of all social organization and would federate at the local, regional, national and transnational levels in order to carry out all the useful functions presently performed by bourgeois organizations. The task of the unions was to struggle here and now to divest the existing organizations of capitalist society of all life and to transfer whatever value they might have to the proletarian organizations. This part of the syndicalist strategy was summed up in Sorel’s words: ‘to snatch from the State and from the Commune, one by one, all their attributes in order to enrich the proletarian organisms in the process of formation.’