Gabriel Kuhn: Anarchism Today

Gabriel Kuhn

Gabriel Kuhn

Gabriel Kuhn is the author and editor of numerous works relating to anarchism, rebellion and revolution, including Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics, Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy, a collection from Gustav Landauer, Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader, Erich Mühsam‘s Liberating Society from the State and Other Writings: A Political Reader, and All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918–1919. He has a blog at PM Press, his main publisher. The following excerpts are from his post, “Revolution Is More Than a Word: 23 Theses on Anarchism.” I thought it was a useful contribution to the current situation facing anarchists, particularly in the U.S. I included some of Gustav Landauer’s writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian IdeasI discuss the origins of the anarchist movement from out of the struggles and debates within the International Workingmen’s Association (the so-called “First International”) in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

no-nations-no-borders

Anarchism: A Political Movement

The origin of anarchism as a self-defined political movement dates back to the social question in mid-nineteenth-century Europe. Anarchists were part of the International Workingmen’s Association, better known as the First International, together with the political forces that would later turn into social democrats on the one hand and Leninists on the other. (1) We consider this origin important and see anarchism as part of the left-wing tradition. We are opposed to declaring anarchism a “philosophy”, an “ethic”, a “principle”, or a “way of life” rather than a political movement. An existential attitude is one thing; organizing for political change is another. Without proper organizing, anarchism is easily reduced to a noble idea, reflecting religion or hipsterism more than political ambition. At the same time, anarchism is not just antiauthoritarian class struggle. It is broader and includes activities that range from setting up social centers to deconstructing gender norms to conceiving alternative forms of transportation. Anarchism’s prefigurative dimension has always included questions that didn’t fit narrow definitions of the Left: dietary, sexual, and spiritual concerns as well as matters of personal ethics…

Anarchism’s problems today

The problem of revolution has haunted anarchism since its inception. Other problems have come and gone, depending on historical circumstances and the state of the movement. Here are the main ones we’re able to identify today:

* There is an unfortunate sense of moral superiority, which often overshadows political work. The underlying problem seems to be that two motivations overlap when people become active in anarchist circles: one is that you want to change the world; the other is that you want to be better than the average person. The latter easily leads to self-marginalization since any sense of moral superiority relies on belonging to a selected few rather than the masses. When this becomes dominant, your identity takes precedent over your actions and pointing out the personal shortcomings of others over political change. Ironically, the main targets are often people from within our own ranks rather than the enemy, following the sorry logic of, “If you can’t hit the ones you need to hit, you hit those within arm’s reach.” The combination of judging outsiders while competing with insiders for the moral top-dog position is incompatible with any movement claiming revolutionary integrity.

* The anarchist movement is, by and large, a subculture. Subcultures are great. They provide a home to people (sometimes a life-saving one), they help preserve activist knowledge, they allow for experimentation, and so on. But dissent is not revolution. So if the politics are reduced to the subculture, the revolutionary rhetoric becomes empty and alienating. People hate this and fuck that, but to what end?

* The default mode (mood) of many anarchist circles ranges from grumpy to outright rude. At times, our supposed microcosms of a liberated world are among the most uninviting places imaginable: dark, dirty, and populated by folks who confuse unfriendliness with rebellion. Acting like a jerk does not make you more radical, it just makes you a jerk. Sadly, belligerence also characterizes internal debates. The threads on some anarchist online forums are among the safest means to turn people off anarchism for good. A radical approach to conflict is characterized by openness and self-criticism, not anonymous growling.

* Despite the theoretical embrace of individuality and diversity, many anarchist scenes are incredibly uniform. Any average coffee shop on main street brings together a wider variety of people than most anarchist venues. There are historical reasons for this, but essentially, anarchist culture – the language, the appearance, the social codes – is simply very homogenous. How anarchist are environments in which people feel uncomfortable because of what they wear, eat, or listen to?

* There is a crucial divide in anarchist circles between activists who are opposed to injustice and activists who experience injustice. All activists need to work together to effectively change anything, but the different motivations need to be considered. While people who follow a missionary call tend to be rather ideological, people affected by injustice are often more pragmatic. If such a difference is not recognized, people will drift apart. In the worst case, only the ideologues remain, with abstract debates about personal identity or acceptable language assuming the supposed forefront of radical politics while losing any connection with political work on the ground. Radical politics, then, becomes primarily an intellectual exercise that says next to nothing about the quality of its protagonists as dedicated and reliable comrades.

* The concepts of a free space and a safe space, respectively, are often confounded. Safe spaces, that is, spaces where people can count on finding care and support, are needed in the world we live in. But they are spaces that fulfill a certain purpose. They are not the free spaces we seek to establish, that is, spaces in which people speak their mind, engage in debate, and commonly solve the problems that arise in the process. What makes people safe in the long run is the collective ability to negotiate boundaries. Absolute safety is impossible. Vulnerabilities, misunderstandings, and irritations are part of social life and will not disappear even in the most anarchist of societies.

* The idea that everyone should be allowed to do everything is confused with the idea that everyone is able do everything. The introduction of skills or the passing on of knowledge by experienced activists and organizers is scoffed at. This leads to encountering the same pitfalls and reinventing the wheel over and over again.

* There exists an almost complete lack of vision and strategic orientation in the anarchist movement. In addition, organizational structures are in crisis. Spontaneity, the affinity group model, and a romanticized understanding of multiplicity have become hegemonic. All of these notions are riddled with flaws. The only longterm communities they allow consist of a handful of friends, which is an insufficient basis for the organizing required for broad social change. The main answer to this from within the anarchist movement, namely platformism, underestimates the importance of individual responsibility, which leads to a confusion of formality with efficiency…

Gabriel Kuhn

anarchy-lives

The Poverty of Historicism

daring future

Continuing with the installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I survey the historical development and evolution of anarchist ideas, here I summarize the anarchist critique of theories of history, such as Marx’s theory of historical materialism, which posit stages of historical development culminating in the achievement of socialism, with the working class being the agent of this historical process of revolutionary transformation.

poverty of statism

The Poverty of Historicism

The Impulso group remained committed to an essentially Marxist view of progressive historical development, the kind of view that Dwight Macdonald argued had literally been exploded by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Volume Two, Selection 13). One can no longer claim that from “out of present evil will come future good,” wrote Macdonald, when “for the first time in history, humanity faces the possibility that its own activity may result in the destruction not of some people or some part of the world, but of all people and the whole world for all time” (Volume Two, Selection 13).

The Impulso group clung to the view that as the result of an objective historical process, the working class developed “unitary, ongoing interests,” impelling it to fulfill its “historical role” of abolishing capitalism (Volume Two, Selection 38). That the working class has unitary interests is a concept that has been criticized by other anarchists since at least the time of Bakunin, who argued against Marx that city workers “who earn more and live more comfortably than all the other workers,” by virtue of their “relative well-being and semibourgeois position” form a kind of “aristocracy of labour… unfortunately only too deeply saturated with all the political and social prejudices and all the narrow aspirations and pretensions of the bourgeoisie” (1872: 294).

Macdonald pointed to the post-War “failure of the European masses to get excited about socialist slogans and programs,” suggesting that the “man in the street” feels “as powerless and manipulated vis-à-vis his socialist mass-organization as… towards his capitalistic employers and their social and legal institutions” (Volume Two, Selection 13). For Louis Mercier Vega (1914-1977), social stratification within the “working class” makes it necessary “to speak of several working classes,” each with conflicting interests. “Wage differentials,” for example, “make class consciousness that much harder to achieve… encouraging collusion between (private or state) management and privileged brackets of wage-earners. They accentuate rather than curtail the tendency to retain a sub-proletariat reduced to low wages and readily disposed of in the event of a crisis or economic slow-down, alongside groups of workers, employees and officials locked into complex [regulatory] arrangements wherein their docility and diligence are reflected in their wage levels” (Volume Two, Selection 45).

Marx's theory of history

Marx’s theory of history

The Impulso group implicitly accepted the Marxist view of historical stages of development which other anarchists, from Bakunin onward, have also challenged. Even before Bakunin’s conflict with Marx in the First International, one of the points of disagreement between Marx and Proudhon was whether an anarchist form of socialism could be achieved before capitalism created the technology that would produce an abundance of goods allegedly necessary to sustain a socialist society (Marx, 1847). Anarchists promoted peasant revolutions in a variety of circumstances, rather than waiting for the development of an urban proletariat as suggested by the Marxist view of history.

Gustav Landauer rejected that “artifice of historical development, by which—as a matter of historical necessity—the working class, to one extent or another, is called by Providence to take for itself the role of the present day ruling class” (Volume One, Selection 40). For Landauer, “the miracle that materialism and mechanism assume—that… fully-grown socialism grows not out of the childhood beginnings of socialism, but out of the colossal deformed body of capitalism—this miracle will not come, and soon people will no longer believe in it” (Volume One, Selection 49). Huang Lingshuang and Rudolf Rocker later put forward similar critiques of the Marxist theory of history.

popper poverty of historicism

In the 1950s, some anarchists were influenced by the contemporaneous critique of Marxist “historicism” that was being developed by philosophers such as Karl Popper (1957). Writing in the early 1960s, the Chilean anarchist Lain Diez urged anarchists to reject all “historicist systems” based on “the supremacy (in terms of decision making in men’s affairs) of History… which, unknown to men, supposedly foists its law upon them,” for this “new and jealous divinity has its intermediaries who, like the priests of the ancient religions, interpret its intentions, prophesying as they did and issuing thunderous anathemas against miscreants refusing to be awed by their revelations” (Volume Two, Selection 47). More recently, Alan Carter has presented a thoroughgoing anarchist critique of Marxist “technological determinism” (1988), emphasizing the role of the state in creating and enforcing “the relations of production that lead to the creation of the surplus that the state requires” to finance the “forces of coercion” necessary to maintain state power, turning Marx’s theory of history on its head (Volume Three, Selection 19).

Robert Graham

Alan Carter's anarchist critique of Marxism

Alan Carter’s anarchist critique of Marxism

Communities of Freedom

anarchist communities wingnut

Continuing my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterward to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, below I deal with the resurgence of communitarian anarchism after the Second World War. One of the pioneers of communitarian anarchism was Gustav Landauer, who advocated the creation of networks of anarcho-socialist communities, eventually resulting in a “community of communities,” as his friend Martin Buber later phrased it. The revival of these sorts of ideas by people like Dwight Macdonald, David Dellinger, Paul Goodman and Murray Bookchin helped pave the way for the North American “back to the land” and communal movements of the 1960s.

anarchist communities brooklyn

Community and Freedom

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Dwight Macdonald (1905-1982) wrote that the “brutality and irrationality of Western social institutions has reached a pitch which would have seemed incredible a short generation ago; our lives have come to be dominated by warfare of a ferocity and on a scale unprecedented in history,” leading him to conclude that the “Anarchists’ uncompromising rejection of the State, the subject of Marxian sneers for its ‘absolutist’ and ‘Utopian’ character, makes much better sense in the present era than the Marxian relativist and historical approach” (Volume Two, Selection 13).

Macdonald argued that in the face of these harsh realities, “we must reduce political action to a modest, unpretentious, personal level—one that is real in the sense that it satisfies, here and now, the psychological needs, and the ethical values of the particular persons taking part in it.” He suggested forming “small groups of individuals” into “families” who “live and make their living in the everyday world but who come together… to form a psychological (as against a geographical) community.” Through these groups their “members could come to know each other as fully as possible as human beings (the difficulty of such knowledge of others in modern society is a chief source of evil), to exchange ideas and discuss as fully as possible what is ‘on their minds’ (not only the atomic bomb but also the perils of child-rearing), and in general to learn the difficult art of living with other people.” The members of these groups would “preach” their “ideals—or, if you prefer, make propaganda—by word and by deed, in the varied everyday contacts of the group members with their fellow men,” working “against Jim Crow [racist laws]” in the United States, “or to further pacifism,” and supporting individuals “who stand up for the common ideals” (Volume Two, Selection 13).

The pacifist David Dellinger (1915-2004), writing a few years later in the anarchist journal, Resistance, went a step further, arguing for the creation of small communes “composed of persons who have the same type of disgust at the economic selfishness of society that the conscientious objector has concerning war and violence.” In these “experimental” communities, “economic resources” would be shared, “so that the total product provides greater strength and freedom for the members than they would be able to achieve, ethically, as isolated individuals,” while providing “daily pleasures and satisfactions” by “finding time to do things together that are fun” (Volume Two, Selection 40).

The “families” of like minded individuals proposed by Macdonald would today be described as affinity groups, a form of organization that had been utilized for decades by anarchists, particularly anarchist communists wary of the more formal organizational structures of the anarcho-syndicalists (Grave, Volume One, Selection 46). As Murray Bookchin pointed out, the FAI in Spain had been based on an affinity group structure. In the 1960s, Bookchin helped to popularize this intimate form of non-hierarchical organization, which combines “revolutionary theory with revolutionary lifestyle in its everyday behaviour.” Much like the “families” advocated by Macdonald, each affinity group would seek “a rounded body of knowledge and experience in order to overcome the social and psychological limitations imposed by bourgeois society on individual development,” acting “as catalysts within the popular movement.” For Bookchin, the aim of anarchist affinity groups is not to subordinate “the social forms created by the revolutionary people… to an impersonal bureaucracy” or party organization, but “to advance the spontaneous revolutionary movement of the people to a point where the group can finally disappear into the organic social forms created by the revolution” itself (Volume Two, Selection 62).

Similarly, the small-scale communes advocated by Dellinger had long been a part of many anarchist movements, in Europe, the Americas, and in China, arising from the need and desire of anarchists to create daily living arrangements consistent with their ideals, and as an alternative to hierarchical and authoritarian social institutions, such as the patriarchal nuclear family. What distinguished these types of communes from affinity groups were the factors highlighted by Dellinger himself, primarily living together and sharing financial resources. In the 1960s and early 1970s, there was a flourishing of communal groups, particularly in North America, created by disaffected youth seeking to create alternate lifestyles. In Europe, the various squatting movements often adopted communal living arrangements, for example in the Christiania “freetown” in Copenhagen.

While many anarchist communes were short-lived, some have been remarkably resilient. In Uruguay, for example, the Communidad del Sur group, which originated in the social struggles of the 1950s, sought to create libertarian communities based on self-management, including productive enterprises (Volume Three, Selection 56). Assets were shared, compensation was based on need, education, work and art were integrated, and people lived communally. Despite a long period of exile in Sweden that began in the 1970s due to growing state repression, the Communidad group eventually returned to Uruguay where it continues to promote the creation of a self-managed ecological society through its own ongoing experiments in community living. For the Communidad group, the “revolution consists of changing social relationships,” much as Gustav Landauer had argued previously (Volume One, Selection 49). Fleshing out their “ideals of equality and sociability in a free space,” the Communidad group has sought to inspire the creation of that “community of communities” long envisioned by anarchists like Landauer, Martin Buber, Paul Goodman and many others (Volume Two, Selection 60).

Robert Graham

Community garden

Community garden

The Transvaluation of Values and Communitarian Anarchism

change_anarchism

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

emmagoldman

The Transvaluation of Values

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

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

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

Nietzsche on the State

Nietzsche on the State

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

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

Robert Graham

goldman on freedom and equality

The 1917 Russian Revolution and the Factory Committees

The 1917 Russian Revolution

The 1917 Russian Revolution

Every February, I get renewed interest in my posts and pages regarding the 1917 February Revolution in Russia. I imagine interest will continue as we approach the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 2017. I included a Chapter on the Russian Revolution in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Here, I reproduce excerpts from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my Anarchism anthology, dealing with the February Revolution and the rise of factory committees during the revolutionary upheavals in Europe that began in Russia in February 1917.

russian revolution soldiers on street

The Russian Revolution

In 1916, echoing Bakunin’s position during the Franco-Prussian War, Russian anarchists who rejected Kropotkin’s pro-war stance called for the “imperialist war” in Europe to be transformed into an all embracing social revolution (Geneva Group of Anarchist-Communists, 1916: 44-47). In February 1917, the long sought after Russian Revolution began with relatively spontaneous uprisings for which, much like the 1905 Russian Revolution, no particular group could claim credit.

For the anarchists, the “February Revolution” was another vindication of their view of social revolution. “All revolutions necessarily begin in a more or less spontaneous manner,” wrote the Russian anarchist Voline. The task for revolutionary anarchists is to work with the insurgent people to enable them to take control of their own affairs, without any intermediaries, and to prevent the reconstitution of state power. For Voline and the anarchists, effective “emancipation can be achieved only by the direct, widespread, and independent action of those concerned, of the workers themselves, grouped, not under the banner of a political party or of an ideological formation, but in their own class organizations (productive workers’ unions, factory committees, co-operatives, etc.) on the basis of concrete action and self-government, helped, but not governed, by revolutionaries working in the very midst of, and not above the mass” (Volume One, Selection 87).

The anarchists therefore opposed the Provisional Government which replaced the Czarist regime and pressed for the expropriation by the workers and peasants themselves of the means of production and distribution, a process the workers and peasants had already begun, with workers taking over their factories and peasants seizing the land that they had worked for generations. Anarchist communists expropriated the homes of the rich and called for the creation of revolutionary communes (Avrich, 1978: 125-126 & 130).

Many anarchists supported and participated in the peasant and worker “soviets” that sprang up across Russia, following a pattern similar to the 1905 Russian Revolution. The anarcho-syndicalist, Gregory Maksimov, described the soviets as having “been brought into being by the proletariat spontaneously, by revolutionary means, and with that element of improvisation which springs from the needs of each locality and which entails (a) the revolutionizing of the masses, (b) the development of their activity and self-reliance, and (c) the strengthening of their faith in their own creative powers” (Volume One, Selection 83).

When Lenin rejected the orthodox Marxist view that Russia had to proceed through a “bourgeois” revolution and the development of a capitalist economy before socialism could be implemented, calling for a proletarian revolution that would replace the Russian state with worker and peasant soviets modeled after the Paris Commune, he was not only recognizing what was already happening, but adopting a position so close to the anarchists that both orthodox Marxists and many anarchists regarded the Bolsheviks as the anarchists’ allies (Avrich, 1978: 127-130). Many anarchists worked with the Bolsheviks to overthrow the Provisional Government in October 1917, and to dissolve the newly elected Constituent Assembly in January 1918.

Either Death to Capitalism or Death Under Capitalism

Either Death to Capitalism or Death Under Capitalism

Factory Committees

Soon after the October Revolution, some anarchists began to realize that rather than pushing the social revolution forward, the Bolsheviks were seeking to establish their own dictatorship, subordinating the soviets to their party organization. Maksimov therefore proclaimed in December 1917 that the anarchists “will go with the Bolsheviks no longer, for their ‘constructive’ work has begun, directed towards what we have always fought… the strengthening of the state. It is not our cause to strengthen what we have resolved to destroy. We must go to the lower classes to organize the work of the third—and perhaps the last—revolution” (Volume One, Selection 83).

Because the soviets, as “presently constituted,” were being transformed by the Bolsheviks into organs of state power, Maksimov argued that the anarchists “must work for their conversion from centres of authority and decrees into non-authoritarian centres,” linking the “autonomous organizations” of the workers together (Volume One, Selection 83). But as the Bolsheviks continued to consolidate their power, subordinating not only the soviets but also the trade unions to their “revolutionary” government, the anarcho-syndicalists began to emphasize the role of the factory committees in furthering the cause of the anarchist social revolution and in combatting both capitalism and the nascent Bolshevik dictatorship.

At their August 1918 congress, the Russian anarcho-syndicalists described the factory committee as “a fighting organizational form of the entire workers’ movement, more perfect than the soviet of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies in that it is a basic self-governing producers’ organization under the continuous and alert control of the workers… With the aid of the factory committees and their industry-wide federations, the working class will destroy both the existing economic slavery and its new form of state capitalism which is falsely labelled ‘socialism’,” which the Bolsheviks were in the process of establishing (Volume One, Selection 84).

A similar approach was put forward by anarchists in Italy during the factory occupations in 1919-1920, and by anarchists in Germany. Malatesta, returning to Italy in late 1919, argued, as he had before in his debates with the syndicalists (Volume One, Selection 60), that general strikes were not sufficient to bring about a revolution. The anarchists therefore “put forward an idea: the take-over of factories,” which would constitute “an exercise preparing one for the ultimate general act of expropriation” (Malatesta, 1920: 134). The Italian factory occupation movement peaked in September 1920, with armed workers running their own factories using a factory committee form of organization, but ended that same month when reformist trade union and socialist leaders negotiated an agreement with the government that returned control of the factories to their capitalist owners.

In Germany, anarchists fought to establish a system of workers’ councils, most notably in Bavaria, where Gustav Landauer and Erich Muhsam were directly involved in the short lived Council Republic of 1919. However, the Bavarian Revolution was crushed by troops sent in by the more conservative Social Democrats, whom Landauer had been denouncing as the scourge of the socialist movement for years (Volume One, Selections 79 & 111). Landauer was brutally murdered, and Muhsam was imprisoned for several years (Kuhn, 2011: 8-10).

Both the soviet and factory committee models of revolutionary organization were very influential in anarchist circles. At the founding congress of the reconstituted anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association in early 1922, the delegates declared themselves in favour of “a system of free councils without subordination to any authority or political party” (Volume One, Selection 114). Nevertheless, some anarchists voiced concerns regarding the limitations of soviet and factory council modes of organization.

Maksimov pointed to the danger of the soviets being transformed into representative bodies instead of direct organs of libertarian self-management (Volume One, Selection 83). More recently, Murray Bookchin has argued that “council modes of organization are not immune to centralization, manipulation and perversion. These councils are still particularistic, one-sided and mediated forms of social management,” being limited to the workers’ self-management of production, “the preconditions of life, not the conditions of life” (Volume Two, Selection 62). Following the May-June 1968 events in France, Maurice Joyeux pointed out that factory committees need to coordinate their actions during the revolutionary process in order to spread and succeed, and then, after the revolution, to coordinate production and distribution, leading him to suggest that broader trade union federations would be better able to undertake this coordinating role (Volume Two, Selection 61).

Robert Graham

Workers' Control

Workers’ Control

Science and Technology: Anarchist Perspectives

Yoked to the Machine

Yoked to the Machine

Continuing with my installments from “The Anarchist Current,” the afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchist perspectives on science and technology. Although some anarchists, such as Carlo Cafiero, took a somewhat uncritical view of technology, other anarchists developed a sophisticated critique of the role of science and technology in modern capitalist societies, a critique that was sharpened by later anarchists and their fellow travellers, such as Paul Goodman and Ivan Illich. As Gustav Landauer argued, this more critical perspective on science and technology helped to distinguish the views of the anarchists from other revolutionary currents, particularly Marxism, which saw technological development as the key to social emancipation.

science and tech

Science and Technology

The anarchist critique of science and technology goes back at least to Proudhon, who denounced machinery which, “after having degraded the worker by giving him a master, completes his degeneracy by reducing him from the rank of artisan to that of common labourer” (Volume One, Selection 9). Carlo Pisacane argued that technological innovation under capitalism simply concentrates economic power and wealth “in a small number of hands,” while leaving the masses in poverty (Volume One, Selection 16).

Other anarchists have argued that once the people take control of technology, it can be redesigned to eliminate onerous toil, much like Oscar Wilde suggested, to make workplaces safer and to increase production for the benefit of all. Carlo Cafiero recognized that in capitalist economies, the worker has reason to oppose the machinery “which comes to drive him from the factory, to starve him, degrade him, torture him, crush him. Yet what a great interest he will have, on the contrary, in increasing their number when he will no longer be at the service of the machines and when… the machines will themselves be at his service, helping him and working for his benefit” (Volume One, Selection 32).

Gustav Landauer took a more critical position, arguing in 1911 that “the capitalist system, modern technology and state centralism go hand in hand… Technology, allied with capitalism, makes [the worker] a cog in the wheels of the machine.” Consequently, the technology developed under capitalism cannot provide the basis for a free society. Rather, workers must “step out of capitalism mentally and physically,” and begin creating alternative communities and technologies designed to meet their needs in conditions which they themselves find agreeable (Volume One, Selection 79). In the early 1960s, Paul Goodman (1911-1972) suggested some criteria “for the humane selection of technology: utility, efficiency, comprehensibility, repairability, ease and flexibility of use, amenity and modesty” (Volume Two, Selection 70), the use of which would result in something which Goodman’s friend, Ivan Illich (1926-2002), described as “convivial tools,” enabling “autonomous and creative intercourse among persons and… with their environment” (Volume Two, Selection 73).

Goodman the-black-flag-of-anarchism

Nineteenth century anarchists often extolled the virtues of modern science, particularly in contrast to religious belief, as part of their critique of the role of organized religion in supporting the status quo. In What is Property, Proudhon looked forward to the day when “the sovereignty of the will yields to the sovereignty of reason, and must at last be lost in scientific socialism” (Volume One, Selection 8). José Llunas Pujols wrote in 1882 that in an anarchist society, “the political State and theology would… be supplanted by Administration and Science” (Volume One, Selection 36), echoing Saint Simon’s comment that in an enlightened society, the government of man will be replaced by the “administration of things”. In the conclusion to his 1920 anarchist program, Malatesta summed up what anarchists want as “bread, freedom, love, and science for everybody” (Volume One, Selection 112).

However, this did not mean that anarchists were uncritical supporters of science. One of the most widely published and translated anarchist pamphlets in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Bakunin’s essay, God and the State, in which he discussed the limitations of scientific theory and research, and warned against the danger of entrusting our affairs to scientists and intellectuals. Bakunin argued that science “cannot go outside the sphere of abstractions,” being “as incapable of grasping the individuality of a man as that of a rabbit.” Because science cannot grasp or appreciate the existential reality of individual human beings, “it must never be permitted, nor must anyone be permitted in its name, to govern” individuals. Those claiming to govern in the name of science would yield “to the pernicious influence which privilege inevitably exercises upon men,” fleecing “other men in the name of science, just as they have been fleeced hitherto by priests, politicians of all shades, and lawyers, in the name of God, of the State, of judicial Right” (Volume One, Selection 24).

Even Kropotkin, who argued in Modern Science and Anarchism (1912) that anarchism “is a conception of the Universe based on the mechanical [kinetic] interpretation of phenomena” that “recognizes no method of research except the scientific one,” never suggested that scientists should have a privileged role in society, nor that scientific hypotheses should be regarded as akin to human laws that need to be enforced by some authority. He decried the introduction of “artificial modes of expression, borrowed from theology and arbitrary power, into [scientific] knowledge which is purely the result of observation” (Volume One, Selection 52), and argued that all theories and conclusions, including those of the anarchists, are subject to criticism and must be verified by experiment and observation.

Kropotkin no more endorsed “the government of science” than Bakunin did (Volume One, Selection 24). Instead, he looked forward to:

“A society in which all the mutual relations of its members are regulated, not by laws, not by authorities, whether self-imposed or elected, but by   mutual agreement… and by a sum of social customs and habits—not petrified by law, routine, or superstition, but continually developing and continually readjusted, in accordance with the ever-growing requirements of a free life, stimulated by the progress of science, invention, and the steady growth of higher ideals” (Modern Science and Anarchism: 59).

Robert Graham

modern science and anarchism mother earth

Anarchist Communism

anarcho_communsim_by_3_a_p_a_3_a.sized

This is the latest installment from the Anarchist Current, the afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I continue my survey of the development of anarchist ideas. In this installment, I describe how the doctrine of anarchist communism arose from the debates within the anti-authoritarian sections of the International, following the split between the anarchists and the Marxists at the 1872 Hague Congress.

carlo cafiero

Carlo Cafiero

Anarchist Communism

It was from among the debates within the anti-authoritarian International that the doctrine of anarchist communism emerged in the 1870s. François Dumartheray published a pamphlet in February 1876 advocating anarchist communism, and Elisée Reclus spoke in favour of it at the March 1876 Lausanne Congress of the anti-authoritarian International. By the fall of 1876, the Italian Federation considered “the collective ownership of the products of labour to be the necessary complement of the [anarchist] collectivist” program of common ownership of the means of production (Nettlau: 139). Anarchist communism was debated at the September 1877 Verviers Congress of the anti-authoritarian International, with Paul Brousse and the Italian anarchist, Andrea Costa, arguing in favour, and the Spanish anarchists, Tomás González Morago and José García Viñas, defending the collectivist view, shared by Proudhon and Bakunin, that each person should be entitled to the full product of his or her labour.

At the October 1880 Congress of the Jura Federation, the delegates adopted an anarchist communist position, largely as the result of Cafiero’s speech, “Anarchy and Communism” (Volume One, Selection 32). Cafiero defined the communist principle as “from each and to each according to his will,” with everyone having the right to take what they will “without demanding from individuals more work than they would like to give.” With production being geared towards satisfying people’s wants and needs, instead of the financial demands of the military, the state and the wealthy few, there will be no “need to ask for more work than each wants to give, because there will be enough products for the morrow.”

Cafiero argued against the collectivist position on the basis that “individual distribution of products would re-establish not only inequality between men, but also inequality between different kinds of work,” with the less fortunate being relegated the “dirty work,” instead of it being “vocation and personal taste which would decide a man to devote himself to one form of activity rather than another.” Furthermore, with “the ever-increasing tendency of modern labour to make use of the labour of previous generations” embodied in the existing economic infrastructure, “how could we determine what is the share of the product of one and the share of the product of another? It is absolutely impossible.” With respect to goods which are not sufficiently abundant to permit everyone to take what they will, Cafiero suggested that such goods should be distributed “not according to merit but according to need,” much as they are in present-day families, with those in greater need, such as children and the elderly, being given the larger portions during periods of scarcity (Volume One, Selection 32).

kropotkin_anarchism_Freedom

Kropotkin further developed the theory of anarchist communism in a series of pamphlets and books, the best know and most influential being The Conquest of Bread (Volume One, Selection 33), and Fields, Factories and Workshops (Volume One, Selection 34). The Conquest of Bread helped persuade many anarchists, including former collectivists in Spain, anarcho-syndicalists (Volume One, Selections 58, 84, 95 & 114), and anarchists in Japan, China and Korea (Volume One, Selections 99, 106 & 108), to adopt an anarchist communist position, sometimes referred to, particularly in Spain, as “libertarian communism” (Volume One, Selection 124).

In Fields, Factories and Workshops, Kropotkin set forth his vision of a decentralized anarchist communist society “of integrated, combined labour… where each worker works both in the field and in the workshop,” and each region “produces and itself consumes most of its own agricultural and manufactured produce.” At “the gates of your fields and gardens,” there will be a “countless variety of workshops and factories… required to satisfy the infinite diversity of tastes… in which human life is of more account than machinery and the making of extra profits… into which men, women and children will not be driven by hunger, but will be attracted by the desire of finding an activity suited to their tastes” (Volume One, Selection 34). This remarkably advanced conception of an ecologically sustainable society inspired many subsequent anarchists, including Gustav Landauer (1870-1919) in Germany (Volume One, Selection 111), and through him the kibbutz movement in Palestine (Buber, Volume Two, Selection 16, and Horrox, 2009), the anarchist communists in China (Volume One, Selection 99), the “pure” anarchists of Japan (Volume One, Selection 106), and the anarchist advocates of libertarian communism in Spain (Volume One, Selection 124).

communitas cover

Paul and Percival Goodman updated Kropotkin’s ideas in Communitas (1947), proposing not only the integration of the fields, factories and workshops, but also the home and the workplace, providing for decentralized, human-scale production designed “to give the most well-rounded employment to each person, in a diversified environment,” based on “small units with relative self-sufficiency, so that each community can enter into a larger whole with solidarity and independence of viewpoint” (Volume Two, Selection 17). In the 1960s, Murray Bookchin (1921-2006) argued that “the anarchist concepts of a balanced community, a face-to-face democracy, a humanistic technology, and a decentralized society… are not only desirable, they are also necessary” to avoid ecological collapse and to support a libertarian society (Volume Two, Selection 48), a point made earlier by Ethel Mannin (Volume Two, Selection 14). Kropotkin continues to influence and inspire “green” anarchists, such as Graham Purchase, who advocates an anarchist form of bioregionalism (Volume Three, Selection 28), and Peter Marshall, with his “liberation ecology” (Volume Three, Selection 30).

There is another aspect of Kropotkin’s conception of anarchist communism that had far-reaching implications, and this is his vision of a free society which “seeks the most complete development of individuality combined with the highest development of voluntary association in all its aspects.” These “ever changing, ever modified associations” will “constantly assume new forms which answer best to the multiple aspirations of all” (Volume One, Selection 41). Some Italian anarchist communists, such as Luigi Galleani (1861-1931), argued for an even more fluid concept of voluntary association, opposing any attempts to create permanent organizations, whether an anarchist federation or a revolutionary trade union, arguing that any formal organization inevitably requires its members to “submit for the sake of discipline” and unity to “provisions, decisions, [and] measures… even though they may be contrary to their opinion and their interest” (Volume One, Selection 35).

As Davide Turcato points out (2009), the debate between “anti-organizationalists,” such as Galleani, and the “organizationalists,” such as Malatesta, “was a debate of great sophistication,” which developed many ideas which were to “become common currency in the sociological literature, particularly through the work of Robert Michels,” who recognized that “anarchists were the first to insist upon the hierarchical and oligarchic consequences of party organization.”

Most anarchist communists, including Kropotkin and Malatesta, believed that nonhierarchical organization is possible and desirable, although one must always be on guard against oligarchic and bureaucratic tendencies. In our day, Colin Ward (1924-2010), drawing explicitly on Kropotkin’s theory of voluntary association, has endeavoured to show that anarchist ideas regarding “autonomous groups, workers’ control, [and] the federal principle, add up to a coherent theory of social organization which is a valid and realistic alternative to the authoritarian, hierarchical institutional philosophy which we see in application all around us” (Volume Two, Selection 63).

Robert Graham

eco-anarchism

eco-anarchism

Additional References

Goodman, Paul & Percival. Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life. New York: Vintage Books, 1960.

Horrox, James. A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement. San Francisco: AK Press, 2009.

Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism. London: Freedom Press, 1996.

Turcato, Davide. “Making Sense of Anarchism.” Introduction. Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume Two. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2009.

Gustav Landauer: For Anarchist Socialism

Gustav Landauer

Gustav Landauer

One of the great influences on the German anarchist revolutionary, Erich Mühsam, was his friend and fellow anarchist, Gustav Landauer (1870-1919), murdered by government troops putting down the 1919 Bavarian Revolution, in which Landauer and Mühsam were both active participants. Mühsam shared Landauer’s rejection of the Marxist theory of historical materialism which saw socialism as the result of capitalist (over) development, instead insisting on the need for revolutionaries to make the revolution, for socialism is a process of creation, not the automatic result of technological development. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several excerpts from Landauer’s writings rejecting the Marxist view of history, as well as his famous critique of the state as “a relationship between human beings” which we destroy “by entering into other relationships, by behaving differently to one another” (Selection 49). Here I reproduce some further extracts from his 1911 book, Call to Socialism, in which Landauer expands on his critique of Marxism, arguing that an anarchist form of socialism may be possible in a variety of social circumstances, and that one does not have to wait “for the tidy progress of big capitalism” for anarchy and freedom to be achieved.

landauer and muhsam anarchisten

Against Marxism: For Anarchist Socialism

What Karl Marx called cooperation that is supposed to be an element of socialism is — the form of work which he saw in the capitalist enterprises of his time, the factory system, where thousands work in one room, the adaptation of the worker to the machines and the resulting pervasive division of labour in the production of commodities for the capitalist world market. For he says unquestioningly that capitalism is “already actually based on the social production enterprise”!

Yes indeed, such unparalleled nonsense goes against the grain, but it is certainly Karl Marx’s true opinion that capitalism develops socialism completely out of itself and that the socialist mode of production “flourishes” under capitalism. We already have cooperation, we already are at least well on the road to common ownership of the earth and the means of production. In the end nothing will be left to do but to chase away the few remaining owners. Everything else has blossomed from capitalism. For capitalism is equated with progress, society and even socialism. The true enemy is “the middle classes, the small industrialist, the small merchant, the craftsman, the farmer.” For they work, themselves, and have at most a few helpers and apprentices. That is the bungler, the dwarf enterprise, while capitalism is uniformity, the work of thousands in one place, work for the world market; that is social production and socialism.

That is Karl Marx’s true doctrine: when capitalism has gained complete victory over the remnants of the Middle Ages, progress is sealed and socialism is practically here.

It is not symbolically significant that the foundation of Marxism, the Bible of this sort of socialism is called Capital? We oppose this capitalist socialism with our own socialism, saying: socialism, culture and solidarity, just exchange and joyous work, the society of societies can come only when a spirit awakens such as the Christian and pre-Christian era of the Teutonic nations knew it, and when this spirit does away with the unculture, dissolution and decline, which in economic terms is called: capitalism.

Thus two opposite things stand in sharp contrast.

Here Marxism—there socialism!

Marxism—unspirit, the paper blossom on the beloved thornbush of capitalism.

Socialism — the new force against rottenness; the culture that rises against the combination of un-spirit, hardship, and violence, against the modern state and modern capitalism.

And now one can understand what I want to say to its face against this no less modern thing, Marxism: it is the plague of our time and the curse of the socialist movement. Now it will be said even more clearly that it is so, why it is so, and why socialism can come about only in mortal enmity toward Marxism.

Call to Socialism

Call to Socialism

For Marxism is, above all, the philistine who looks down upon and despises everything past, who calls whatever suits him the present or the beginning of the future, who believes in progress, who likes 1908 better than 1907, who expects something quite special from 1909, and almost a final eschatological miracle from something so far off as 1920.

Marxism is the philistine and therefore the friend of everything mass-like and comprehensive. Something like a medieval republic of cities or a village mark or a Russian mir or a Swiss Allmend or a communist colony cannot for him have the least similarity with socialism, but a broad, centralized state already resembles his state of the future quite closely. Show him a country at a period when the small peasants prosper, when highly skilled trades flourish, when there is little misery, he will contemptuously turn up his nose.

Karl Marx and his successors thought they could make no worse accusation against the greatest of all socialists, Proudhon, than to call him a petit-bourgeois and petit-peasant socialist, which was neither incorrect nor insulting, since Proudhon showed splendidly to the people of his nation and his time, predominantly small farmers and craftsmen, how they could have achieved socialism immediately without waiting for the tidy progress of big capitalism. However, believers in progress do not at all want to hear us speak of a possibility that was once there and yet did not become reality, and the Marxists and those infected by them cannot stand to hear anyone speak of a socialism that could have been possible before the downward movement which they call the upward movement of sacred capitalism.

We, on the other hand, do not separate a fabulous development and social processes from what men want, do, could have wanted, and could have done. We know, however, that the determination and necessity of all that happens, including, of course, will and action, is valid and without exception, but only after the fact, i.e., after a reality is already there, does it thus become a necessity. When something did not happen, it was thus not possible, because, for example, men to whom urgent appeals were addressed and to whom reason was preached with fervour did not want to and could not be reasonable. Aha! the Marxists will interject triumphantly, Karl Marx however predicted that there was no possibility for that. Yes sir, we answer, and thereby he assumed a certain part of the guilt that it did not come about. He was for then, and for a long time afterwards, one of the guilty hinderers. In our opinion, human history does not consist of anonymous processes and a mere accumulation of many small mass events and omissions. For us bearers of history are persons, and for us there are also guilty persons.

Proudhon by Courbet

Proudhon by Courbet

Does anyone believe that Proudhon did not, like every prophet, every herald, more strongly than any cold scientific observer, often in great hours sense the impossibility of leading these his people to what he considered the most beautiful and most natural possibility? Anyone who thinks that faith in fulfillment is part of the great deeds, visionary behaviour and urgent creativity of the apostles and leaders of mankind, knows them badly. Faith in their sacred truth is certainly a part of it, but also despair in men and the feeling of impossibility! Where overwhelming change and renewal have occurred, it is the impossible and incredible that is precisely the usual factor that brought about change.

But Marxism is uncultured, and it therefore always points, full of mockery and triumph, at failures and futile attempts and has such a childish fear of defeat. It shows greater contempt for nothing else than what it calls experiments or failures. It is a shameful sign of disgraceful decline, especially for the German people, whom such fear of idealism, enthusiasm and heroism so poorly fits, that such pitiful characters are the leaders of its enslaved masses. But the Marxists are for the impoverished masses exactly what nationalists have been since 1870 for the satiated classes of people: worshippers of success.

Thus we grasp another, more accurate meaning of the term “materialist conception of history.” Yes indeed, the Marxists are materialists in the ordinary, crude, popular sense of the word, and just like the nationalistic blockheads, they strive to reduce and exterminate idealism. What the nationalistic bourgeois has made of the German students, the Marxists have made of broad segments of the proletariat, cowardly little men without youth, wildness, courage, without joy in attempting anything, without sectarianism, without heresy, without originality and individuality. But we need all that. We need attempts. We need the expedition of a thousand men to Sicily. We need these precious Garibaldi-natures, and we need failures upon failures and the tough nature that is frightened by nothing, that holds firm and endures and starts over and over again until it succeeds, until we are through, until we are unconquerable. Whoever does not take upon himself the danger of defeat, of loneliness, of set-backs, will never attain victory.

One of Landauer's Papers

One of Landauer’s Papers

O you Marxists, I know how bad that sounds in your ears, you who fear nothing except what you call stabs in the back. That word belongs to your special vocabulary and perhaps with some right, since you show the enemy your back more than your face. I know how deeply you hate and how repulsive and unpleasant your dry temperaments find such fiery natures as the constructive Proudhon and the destructive Bakunin or Garibaldi. Everything Latin or Celtic, everything that smacks of the open air and wildness and initiative is almost embarrassing to you. You have plagued yourselves enough to exclude everything free, personal or youthful, which you call stupidities, from the party, the movement and the masses.

Truly, things would be better for socialism and our people if instead of the systematic stupidity, which you call your science, we had the fiery-headed stupidities of hot-tempered men brimming over with enthusiasm, which you cannot stand. Yes indeed, we want to do what you call experiments. We want to make attempts. We want to create from the heart, and then we want, if it must be, to suffer shipwreck and bear defeat, until we have the victory and land is sighted. Ashen-faced, drowsy men, cynical and uncultured, are leading our people; where are the Columbus natures, who prefer to sail the high seas in a fragile ship into the unknown rather than wait for developments? Where are the young, joyous victorious Reds who will laugh at these gray faces? The Marxists don’t like to hear such words, such attacks, which they call relapses, such enthusiastic unscientific challenges. I know, and that is exactly why I feel so good at having told them this. The arguments I use against them are sound and they hold water, but if instead of refuting them with arguments I annoyed them to death with mockery and laughter, that would also suit me fine.

Landauer quote

Thus the uncultured Marxist is much too clever, level-headed and cautious ever to think that capitalism in a state of total collapse, as was the case during the February [1848] revolution in France, might be confronted with socialist organization, just as he prefers to kill the forms of living community from the Middle Ages that were saved particularly in Germany, France, Switzerland, Russia, during centuries of decline and to drown them in capitalism rather than to recognize that they contain the seeds and living crystals of the coming socialist culture.

However if one shows him the economic conditions, say, of England from the middle of the nineteenth century, with its desolate factory system, with the depopulation of the countryside, the homogenization of the masses an of misery, with economies geared to the world market instead of to real needs, he finds social production, cooperation, the beginnings of common ownership. He feels at home…

Add to this, capitalist concentration which looked as if the number of capitalists and of fortunes would become ever fewer, and further the model of the omnipotent government in the centralized state of our times, and add finally the ever greater perfection of the industrial machines, the ever increased division of labour, the replacement of the trained craftsman by the unskilled machine operator — all this however seen in an exaggerated and caricatured light, for it all has another side and is never a schematically unilinear development. It is a struggle and equilibrium of various tendencies, but everything Marxism sees is always grotesquely simplified and caricatured. Add finally the hope that working hours will become shorter and shorter and human work more and more productive: then the state of the future is finished. The future state of the Marxists: the blossom on the tree of governmental, capitalist and technological centralization.

It must yet be added that the Marxist, when he dreams his pipe dreams especially boldly — for never was a dream emptier and drier, and if there ever have been unimaginative fantasists, the Marxists are the worst — the Marxist extends his centralism and economic bureaucracy beyond present-day states and advocates a world organization to regulate and direct the production and distribution of goods. That is Marxism’s internationalism. As formerly in the [First] International everything was supposed to be regulated and decided by the London-based General Council and today in Social Democracy [the “Second” International] all decisions are made in Berlin, this world production authority will someday look into every pot and will have the amount of grease for every machine listed in its ledger.

KArl_Marx_statue_

One more layer and our description of Marxism will be finished.

The forms of organization of what these people call socialism blossom forth completely in capitalism, except that these organizations, these ever expanding — through steam — factories are still in the hands of private entrepreneurs, exploiters. We have already seen, however, that they are supposed to be reduced to a smaller and smaller number by competition. One must visualize clearly what this means: first a hundred thousand — then a few thousand — then a few hundred — then some seventy or fifty — then a few absolutely monstrous giant entrepreneurs.

Opposed to them stand the workers, the proletarians. They become more and more numerous, the middle classes disappear, and with the number of workers the number, intensity and power of the machines also grows, so that not only the number of workers, but also the number of unemployed, the so-called industrial reserve-armies, increases. According to this description, capitalism reaches an impasse and the struggle against it, i.e., against the few remaining capitalists, becomes easier and easier for the countless masses of disinherited who have an interest in change. Thus it must be remembered that in Marxist doctrine everything is immanent, though the term is taken from another area and misapplied. Here it means that nothing requires special efforts or mental insights, everything follows smoothly from the social process. The so-called socialist forms of organization are already immanent in capitalism…

As the program of German Social Democracy says in such beautiful and so genuinely Marxist terms (otherwise various ungenuine elements have crept in, which the makers of this program now are calling revisionist in their opponents): the powers of production are growing beyond the capacity of contemporary society. This contains the genuinely Marxist teaching that in contemporary society the forms of production have become more and more socialist and that these forms lack only the right form of ownership. They call it social ownership, but when they call the capitalist factory system a [system of] social production (not only Marx does this in Capital, but the present-day Social Democrats in their currently effective program call work in the forms of present-day capitalism, social work), we know the real implications of their socialist forms of labour.

MarxPyramid

Just as they consider the production forms of steam technology in capitalism to be a socialist form of labour, so they consider the centralized state to be the social organization of society and bureaucratically administered state-property to be common property! These people really have no instinct for the meaning of society. They haven’t the least idea that society can only be a society of societies, only a federation, only freedom. They therefore do not know that socialism is anarchy and federation. They believe socialism is government, while others who thirst for culture want to create socialism because they want to escape from the disintegration and misery of capitalism and its concomitant poverty, spiritlessness and coercion, which is only the other side of economic individualism. In short, they want to escape from the state into a society of societies and voluntary association.

Because, as these Marxists say, socialism is still so to speak, the private property of the entrepreneurs, who produce wildly and senselessly, and since they are in possession of the socialist production powers (read: of steam power, perfected production machinery and the superfluously available proletarian masses), that is, because this situation is like a magic broomstick in the hands of the sorcerer’s apprentice, a deluge of goods, overproduction and confusion must be the result, i.e., crises must ensue, which, no matter what the details may be, always come about, at least in the opinion of the Marxists, because the regulative function of a statistically controlling and directing world state authority is necessary to go with the socialist mode of production, which, in their wickedly stupid view, already exists.

As long as this controlling authority is missing, “socialism” is still imperfect, and disorder must result. The forms of organization of capitalism are good, but they lack order, discipline, and strict centralization. Capitalism and government must come together, and where we would speak of state capitalism, those Marxists say that socialism is here. But just as their socialism contains all forms of capitalism and regimentation, and just as they allow the tendency to uniformity and leveling that exists today to progress to its ultimate perfection, the proletarian too is carried over into their socialism. The proletarian of the capitalist enterprise has become the state proletarian, and proletarianization has, when this type of socialism begins, really and predictably reached gigantic proportions. Everyone without exception is an employee of the state.

communist_party_mask

Capitalism and the state must come together—that is in truth Marxism’s ideal. Although they do not want to hear of their ideal, we see they seek to promote this trend of development. They do not see that the tremendous power and bureaucratic desolation of the state is necessary only because our communal life has lost the spirit, because justice and love, the economic associations and the blossoming multiplicity of small social organisms have vanished. They see nothing of all this deep decay of our times; they hallucinate progress.

Technology progresses, of course. It actually does so in many times of culture, although not always—there are also cultures without technical progress. It progresses especially in times of decay, of the individualization of spirit and the atomization of the masses. That is precisely our point. The real progress of technology together with the real baseness of the time is—to speak, for once, Marxistically for the Marxists — the real, material basis for the ideological superstructure, namely for the Marxists’ Utopia of progressive socialism…

No doubt, the Marxists believe that if the front and back sides of our degradation, the capitalist conditions of production and the state, were brought together, then their progress and development would have reached its goal and so justice and equality would be established. Their comprehensive economic state, whether it be the heir to previous states or their world state, is a republican and democratic structure, and they really believe that the laws of such a state would provide for the welfare of all the common people, since they comprise the state. Here we must be allowed to burst out in irrepressible laughter at this most pitiful of all stodgy fantasies. Such a complete mirror image of the Utopia of the sated bourgeois can in fact only be the product of the undisturbed laboratory development of capitalism. We will waste no more time on this accomplished ideal of the era of decline and of depersonalized unculture, this government of dwarves.

We will see that true culture is not empty but fulfilled and that the true society is a multiplicity of real, small affinities that grow out of the binding qualities of individuals, out of the spirit, a structure of communities, and a union. This “socialism” of the Marxists is a gigantic goiter that supposedly will develop. Never fear, we will soon see that it will not develop. Our socialism, however, should grow in the hearts of men. It wishes to cause the hearts of those who belong together to grow in unity and spirit. The alternative is not pigmy-socialism or socialism of the spirit, for we will soon see that if the masses follow the Marxists or even the revisionists, then capitalism will remain. It absolutely does not tend to change suddenly into the “socialism” of the Marxists nor to develop into the socialism of the revisionists, which can be thus called only with a shy voice. Decline—in our case, capitalism— has in our time just as much vitality as culture and expansion had in other times. Decline does not at all mean decrepitude, a tendency toward collapse or drastic reversal. Decline, the Epoch of sunkenness, folklessness, spiritlessness, is capable of lasting for centuries or millennia. Decline, in our case, capitalism, possesses in our time precisely that measure of vitality which is not found in contemporary culture and expansion. It has as much strength and energy as we fail to muster for socialism. The choice we face is not: one form of socialism, or the other, but simply: capitalism or socialism; the state or society; unspirit or spirit. The doctrine of Marxism does not lead out of capitalism. Nor is there any truth to Marxism’s doctrine that capitalism can at times out-trump Baron Münchhausen’s fantastic accomplishment of pulling himself out of a strange swamp by his pig-tail, i.e., the prophecy that capitalism will emerge out of its own swamp by virtue of its own development.

Gustav Landauer, 1911

Published by PM Press

Published by PM Press

Erich Mühsam: Anarchy (1912)

Erich Mühsam

Erich Mühsam

Here is a brief piece on anarchy by the German anarchist revolutionary, Erich Mühsam (1878-1934). Friend of Gustav Landauer, participant in the 1919 Bavarian Revolution, and one of the first radicals to be murdered by the Nazis in July 1934 after their seizure of power, Mühsam was, next to Landauer and Rudolf Rocker, one of the leading German speaking anarchists of the 20th century. This translation is taken from Gabriel Kuhn’s collection of Mühsam’s writings, Liberating Society from the State, published by PM Press.

Mühsam's paper, Fanal

Mühsam’s paper, Fanal

Anarchy

Anarchy means freedom from domination. Those for whom it means nothing but chaos have the sensory perception of a horse.

Anarchy is freedom from coercion, violence, servitude, law, centralization and the state. An anarchic society rests on voluntariness, communication, contract, agreement, alliance and people.

Humans demand to be controlled, because they cannot control themselves. They kiss the robes of priests and the boots of princes, because they lack self-respect and must find an object of adoration outside of themselves. They call for the police, because they cannot protect themselves against the bestiality of their own instincts. In making decisions, they trust others to represent them… because they lack the courage necessary to trust their own opinions.

To continue with the horse analogy: the political life of the civilized peoples remains limited to conceiving ever more perfect reins, saddles, shafts, curbs, and whips. The working human being only distinguishes himself from the working horse by helping the master to develop ever better tools of bondage and by adjusting to them voluntarily. Both share the trust in iron mountings and accept blinders to prevent these from being used properly.

Scientific studies have revealed how the capitalist system robs human beings of the profits of their labour. They are exploited, and they know it. They also know the route to socialism, the redistribution of land and the means of production from the hands of the privileged to the hands of the people. They have known this for half a century, but they have not taken a single step in the right direction up to this day.

The means to change conditions that you know are dreadful is action. But the people of our times are lazy. As an excuse for their lack of action, they have developed the theory that history follows materialistic necessity: time changes things automatically. Meanwhile, the working people wait, repair and wash their dishes, complain, and vote. These provisional activities have become their habit, their need, their purpose in life. In fact, they have forgotten what they were waiting for. And if anyone dares to remind them, that person better watch out!

Anarchy is the society of humans as brothers. Its economic alliance is called socialism. Humans who are brothers exist. Anarchy is alive whenever they come together. They need no domination. However, they still have to create socialism. This demands labour. Those who refuse to help create and to engage in socialist labour in brotherly communion, those who want to wait until things change without themselves lifting a finger, they may go on repairing and washing their dishes, they may go on complaining and voting—but they must not call themselves socialists! In particular, they must not speak of anarchy! Anarchy is a matter of the heart, and they know nothing of that.

Erich Mühsam, from the Kain-Kalendarflir das Jahr 1912

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Blasting the Anarchist Canon

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The current online issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies (ADCS) is called “Blasting the Canon,” with articles debating the whole concept of an “anarchist canon,” that is whether anarchism can be defined in terms of foundational or “canonical” texts. I don’t think so. Anarchism is not like Marxism, which must relate somehow to the writings and theories of Karl Marx. It is a collective and evolving product of countless individuals in a wide variety of circumstances.

As I wrote in the conclusion to my three volume anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, “what I hope to have demonstrated in the material included in this anthology is that there is indeed an anarchist current running throughout human history, from the nonhierarchical sensibilities and social relationships found among people living in stateless societies, to the nonhierarchical and anti-authoritarian worldviews of the Daoists and various religious sects, heretics and free thinkers, to literary and popular utopias with their visions of freedom and well-being, to the radical egalitarianism of the anarchist currents in the English and French revolutions, to landless peasants and indigenous peoples, to artisans and workers resisting industrialization and factory discipline, to artists seeking freedom of expression, to students and draft resisters, to women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people struggling against patriarchy and heterosexism, to the discriminated, dispossessed and all manner of people seeking sexual and social liberation.”

I was given a maximum of 1000 words in the “Blasting the Canon” issue of ADCS to respond to the claim of Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt in Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, that there is an anarchist canon, which consists of nothing other than the class struggle anarchism that can be traced back to Michael Bakunin and his Alliance of Socialist Democracy. Van der Walt wrote a rejoinder that was over twice as long, which he has now posted online, in what can only be described as an ongoing campaign not only to redefine anarchism to exclude any anarchist currents which cannot trace their lineage back to Bakunin and the Alliance, but to discredit any contrary views.

Unfortunately, the online version of my brief piece contained some typographical errors. Accordingly, I am posting the original version here.

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The Anarchist Tradition

In their critique of the so-called “seven sages” approach to anarchism in Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, Counter-Power, Volume 1, Schmidt and van der Walt claim that there “is only one anarchist tradition, and it is rooted in the work of Bakunin and the Alliance” of Socialist Democracy (2009: 71). This is the tradition of “class struggle” anarchism, which for Schmidt and van der Walt is not merely “a type  of anarchism; in our view, it is the only anarchism” (2009: 19). This is an extraordinary claim, based upon a historicist definition of anarchism which excludes even Proudhon, the originator of the doctrine and the first self-proclaimed anarchist, from “the broad anarchist tradition,” by which Schmidt and van der Walt really mean the more narrow tradition of class struggle anarchism (2009: 18). According to this approach, the “broad anarchist tradition” is really nothing more than a form of socialism, one which is libertarian and revolutionary (2009: 6). Anarchism, as a distinct doctrine, disappears, subsumed under the socialist rubric.

That there are different schools of anarchist thought does not mean that only one of them qualifies as “anarchist,” no more than the fact that there are many different schools of socialist thought means that only one of them qualifies as “socialist,” although the Marxists used to think so. Schmidt and van der Walt argue that their narrow definition of anarchism makes anarchism a coherent doctrine because differing conceptions of anarchism with contrary ideas are now excluded from the very definition of anarchism. But if anarchism is just a form of socialism, and there are differing conceptions of socialism, then any definition of socialism that encompasses these competing and sometimes contradictory conceptions of socialism is similarly deficient. If only one body of thought can qualify as anarchist, to avoid charges of “incoherence,” then only one body of thought can qualify as socialist.

But Schmidt and van der Walt accept that there are competing and contrary conceptions of socialism, including anarchism and Marxism. If both anarchism and Marxism can be considered forms of socialism, despite their many differences, then there is no reason why there cannot be different forms of anarchism. Just as Marxism may be an internally coherent theory of one kind of socialism, without that entailing that contrary conceptions of socialism, such as “class struggle” anarchism, cannot be “socialist,” so can different conceptions of anarchism be internally coherent, even though they may be contrary to each other to greater and lesser degrees, and still remain “anarchist.”

Marx and Bakunin

Marx and Bakunin

Schmidt and van der Walt then conflate anarchism with self-described anarchist movements, so that anarchism cannot but be the ideas expressed and embodied by these movements, which they claim all trace their lineage back to Bakunin and the First International (2009: 44-46). Anyone who cannot trace his or her ideological roots back to this family tree does not qualify as an “anarchist.” This is a completely circular argument, and a problematic way to approach the study of anarchist ideas and movements.

If anarchism is whatever Bakunin and his associates said it was, then of course Bakunin and his associates qualify as anarchists. But if other people develop conceptions of anarchism contrary to that of Bakunin and the Alliance, then they don’t qualify as anarchists,  even if they did so around the same time as Bakunin, or even before him, as in the case of Proudhon (2009: 83-85). Gustav Landauer, whose communitarian anarchism was heavily influenced by Proudhon and Tolstoy, both of whom Schmidt and van der Walt exclude from the anarchist canon, cannot be considered an anarchist because he was not a Bakuninist. Anarchism then becomes a much more narrow body of thought, from which no significant departures or modifications can be made without risking one’s status as an “anarchist,” much as what happened with Marxism, inhibiting any significant innovation as anarchism must remain within the general confines of its “original” formulation. This turns anarchism from a living tradition into an historical relic.

While Schmidt and van der Walt exclude Proudhon from the “broad” anarchist tradition, Bakunin and Kropotkin certainly did not do so. Bakunin praised Proudhon for “boldly [declaring] himself an anarchist,” and described his own revolutionary anarchism as “Proudhonism widely developed and pushed right to these, its final consequences” (Lehning, Selected Writings of Michael Bakunin, 1974: 100 & 198). Kropotkin similarly observed that Proudhon “boldly proclaimed Anarchism and the abolition of the State” (Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, 1995: 56).

Proudhon the Anarchist

Proudhon the Anarchist

There are other ways of defining anarchism, including recognizing that there may be different “anarchisms,” which allow for anarchism to be conceived as a truly “broad” tradition of thought comprising different schools, currents and tendencies, something which Kropotkin acknowledged, having participated in the formulation and refinement of anarchist views, including the movement away from Bakunin’s collectivism to anarchist communism, the debates between the insurrectionists and the syndicalists, the disagreements over direct action and propaganda by the deed, the role of technology and the nature of post-revolutionary society.

Later anarchists, such as Landauer, were aware of these debates and participated in some of their own, developing new ideas and approaches incorporating elements from the anarchists who preceded them, often in a very conscious manner, but also departing from them in significant respects. For them, anarchism was a broad and living tradition, always subject to change, not restricted to the general form initially developed in the particular historical circumstances of the First International.

Gustav Landauer

Gustav Landauer

Post Script

Van der Walt’s claim that Landauer does qualify as an anarchist because he was martyred during the 1919 Bavarian Revolution cannot go unanswered. Landauer certainly qualifies as an anarchist under my approach, but he was not a “class struggle anarchist,” in which case, under the Black Flame approach, despite his martyrdom he does not qualify as an anarchist. His economic views were based on Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s mutualism. Black Flame excludes both Proudhon and mutualism from the anarchist canon. With respect to the means of action, Landauer was a proponent of non-violent or “passive” resistance, inspired by the political writings of Leo Tolstoy, who is also excluded from Schmidt and van der Walt’s “anarchist canon.” Landauer did not think much of Marx’s “class analysis” and rejected his theory of historical materialism, which provided the basis for Marx’s claims, rejected by Landauer, that the working class was destined to abolish capitalism and class society as part of the process of technological and economic development spurred on by capitalism (see the selections from Landauer in Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939)).

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