David Berry: Kropotkin’s Great French Revolution

PM Press is publishing a new edition of Peter Kropotkin’s The Great French Revolution (originally published in 1909), with an introduction by David Berry, who has kindly agreed to let me publish the following excerpts from his introduction to Kropotkin’s classic book to mark Kropotkin’s birthday on December 21, 1842.

For Kropotkin, as for so many others throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the French Revolution was where it all began…

Kropotkin’s claim to originality in The Great French Revolution did not lie in the discovery of previously unknown facts—unable to re-enter France for fear of being arrested, his research was not carried out in the Paris archives, but on published material, almost entirely among the British Museum’s albeit considerable holdings. His originality lay in his method, his approach and in his interpretation. Kropotkin’s background in the natural sciences had an influence on the way he worked and wrote, and he prided himself on this.[1] Not only is his work thoroughly researched and based on evidence gleaned from all the most up-to-date studies, his style is also very different from and notably less lyrical and digressive than that of many nineteenth and early twentieth-century historians, including Jaurès. It is scholarly, but written lucidly, in accessible language and with passion.

His anarchist communism also determined how he saw 1789: “You have seen, with Mutual Aid”, he wrote to Guillaume in 1903, “and you will see with The State: Its Historic Role, what a remarkable, powerful tool of investigation the anarchist tendency represents—the anarchist hypothesis in the language of science.”[2] And as he wrote of history in Words of a Rebel:

Do you not understand that history, today a convenient mythology regarding the greatness of kings, of notable personalities, of parliaments⸺must be entirely recast from the popular point of view, from the viewpoint of the work accomplished by the masses in the phases of human revolution?[3]

Such a perspective guarded Kropotkin against the various ‘legends’ that had been built up over the years by the more conventional histories⸺what he called the “legend of 4 August 1789”, for example, when the National Assembly is supposed to have abolished feudalism, but in fact included a clause insisting that feudal rights and tithes had to be redeemed (ie the peasants had to buy themselves out), a clause which set back the actual abolition by four years, when peasant revolts finally forced the government to act. (Besides, as Kropotkin emphasises in chapter 17: “The Assembly only sanctioned in principle and extended to France altogether what the people had accomplished themselves in certain localities. It went no further.”) Nor was the anarchist-communist Kropotkin unduly impressed by the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, “this profession of middle-class liberalism” (chapter 19), with its insistence on the sacredness of private property: “Like the American Constitutionalists assembled in the Congress of Philadelphia, the National Assembly kept out of its declaration all allusions to the economic relations between citizens.” (chapter 10)

There are thus several aspects to Kropotkin’s originality, a consequence of this anarchist-communist approach: the first was a kind of class analysis (quite different, as we shall see, from that of the Marxists) and his focus on the common people, and especially on the peasantry (who made up over 80% of the population at the end of the eighteenth century); secondly, the attention he paid to spontaneous experiments by the people in decentralisation and direct democracy; and thirdly, his attempt to trace the appearance and development during the course of the Revolution of embryonic forms of socialism, communism and anarchism.

The people

His central concern, then, was with the oppressed, with the social and economic realities of their lives, with the practical implications for them of the many changes wrought by the Revolution. This is what set Kropotkin’s history apart. As he himself wrote in an article to mark the centenary:

The history of the French Revolution has been written and re-written. We know the slightest details of the drama played on the stages of the National Assembly, the Legislative Assembly, and the Convention. The parliamentary history of the movement is fully elaborated. But its popular history has never been attempted to be written.[4]

Historians had previously focussed only on what he called “the theatrical aspect”:[5] “Thanks to the fables churned out by the Jacobin bourgeoisie on the Great Revolution, the people have learnt nothing of their own history.”[6] But it was the people who were “the passionate heart of the Revolution” (chapter 11). […]

Decentralisation and direct democracy

Kropotkin had long been interested in the history of communes and the development of central states. In The Great French Revolution he insisted on the hitherto neglected importance of the alacrity with which the insurgents created “revolutionary communes”⸺the Commune of Paris being the prototype⸺without the need for legislation at national level:

It is chiefly by studying this method of action among the people, and not by devoting oneself to the study of the Assembly’s legislative work, that one grasps the genius of the Great Revolution—the Genius, in the main, of all revolutions, past and to come. (chapter 15)

And he emphasised the extent to which such communes represented a new form of direct democracy:

The Commune which sprang from the popular movement was not separated from the people. By the intervention of its “districts”, “sections” or “tribes”, constituted as so many mediums of popular administration, it remained of the people, and this is what made the revolutionary power of these organisations.[7] (chapter 24)

The significance here was that such developments were driven by the base, it was a revolution ‘from the bottom up’ and federatively organised:

The first attempt at constituting a Commune was thus made from below upward, by the federation of the district organisms; it sprang up in a revolutionary way, from popular initiative. […] [T]he masses were practising what was described later on as Direct Self-Government. […] They sought for unity of action, not in subjection to a Central Committee, but in a federative union. (chapter 24)

The corollary of this movement was the inevitable conflict with the statists—the “antagonism which arose between the governmental prejudices of the democrats of that time [ie the bourgeois politicians] and the ideas that dawned in the hearts of the people as to political decentralisation.” (chapter 3) This, for Kropotkin, was a question of class and was the root of all the conflicts which arose later in the Convention. It would be an aspect of the Revolution which Daniel Guérin also focussed on⸺something which would not endear him to Jacobin-admiring Communists: “As an anarchist”, Guérin commented approvingly, “Kropotkin always paid attention to the rivalry between the Commune and the central government”, and to the ways in which the Committee of General Security and the Committee of Public Safety gradually undermined the Commune’s autonomy.[8] […]

Conclusion

Alongside Jaurès’ Histoire socialiste, Kropotkin’s The Great French Revolution is one of the foundational texts of what would later come to be known as ‘history from below’, even if⸺inevitably, given the amount of research done since then on every aspect of the period—some details need correcting and some more recent avenues of research (including gender) are not touched upon at all. It can also be seen as a complement to Kropotkin’s other works, given the importance of its role in providing supporting historical evidence and example so essential for an understanding of the anarchist communism which Kropotkin elaborated over several decades. As Berneri remarked:

The epoch of the Communes and of the French Revolution were for Kropotkin […] the two historical fields in which he found the confirmation of his own federalist ideas and the elements of the development of his libertarian conception of life and politics.[9]

Throughout the history of the histories of the French Revolution, people have taken sides, identifying with certain characters or groups, turning some into heroes and demonising others. Among those so often treated in this way, Kropotkin’s sympathy was for Marat, or the enragés Varlet and Roux, rather than Danton (of whom he had a very low opinion) or Robespierre (whom he credits with at least being honest, but a very lukewarm revolutionary and a centralising authoritarian “ready […] to pass over the dead bodies of his opponents”[10]), and with the Cordeliers Club rather than the Jacobins or the Girondins (whose chief aim was “to prevent a rising of the people, to constitute a strong government, and to protect property”⸺chapter 39).[11] Whereas Lenin “saw in the Jacobins the model for revolutionaries, even though they were bourgeois, because they were firm, inflexible, decisive—the most consistent revolutionaries in the history of all the bourgeois revolutions” [12], Kropotkin not only points out that they were “chiefly well-to-do middle-class men”, “the educated, moderately democratic middle class”, he also stresses that “they did not lead the Revolution; they followed it.” (chapter 36) Robespierre “was powerfully seconded by the growing middle classes as soon as they recognised in him the “happy mean”⸺equally removed from the extremists and the moderates⸺the man who offered them the best guarantees against the “excesses” of the people.” (chapter 66) As for Babeuf, another hero of many twentieth-century communists..:

Babeuf—direct and pure descendant of the Jacobin Club of 1793⸺had conceived this idea that a revolutionary surprise attack, prepared by a conspiracy, could create a communist dictatorship in France. But once⸺true Jacobin⸺he had conceived the communist revolution as something which could be done by decrees, he came to two other conclusions: democracy first would prepare communism; and then a single individual, a dictator, provided he had the strength of will to save the world, will introduce communism.[13]

Before the publication of his history of the French Revolution, Kropotkin had already made clear his opinions with regard to ‘Jacobinism’, a term which derives from the French Revolution but came to serve as universal shorthand for the belief in the need for strong, centralised, and more or less authoritarian government. As he wrote in 1913:

It is sufficient to say that our conception of the coming social revolution is quite different from that of a Jacobin dictatorship, or the transformation of social institutions effected by a Convention, a Parliament, or a dictator. Never has a revolution been brought about on those lines; and if the present working-class movement takes this form, it will be doomed to have no lasting result. / On the contrary, we believe that if a revolution begins, it must take the form of a widely spread popular movement, during which movement, in every town and village invaded by the insurrectionary spirit, the masses set themselves to the work of reconstructing society on new lines… / Who guessed⸺who, in fact, could have guessed⸺before 1789 the role to be played by the Municipalities and the Commune of Paris in the revolutionary events of 1789-1793? It is impossible to legislate for the future. All we can do is vaguely guess its essential tendencies and clear the road for it.[14]

So like Proudhon before him, Kropotkin found the sans-culottes movement around the Paris Commune the most interesting. As he wrote in his conclusion of the The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793:

In any case, what we learn to-day from the study of the Great Revolution is, that it was the source and origin of all the present communist, anarchist, and socialist conceptions. We have but badly understood our common mother, but now we have found her again in the midst of the sans-culottes, and we see what we have to learn from her.

One final point should be made regarding the lessons Kropotkin drew from the experience of the French Revolution, and indeed from the lessons of the failed revolutions of 1848 and 1871 as well. In a pamphlet of 1913 on ‘The Revolutionary Idea in the Revolution’, he urges his readers to also read his history of the Great French Revolution and to absorb one important lesson above all others, and that was the importance of knowing what you want to achieve through revolutionary change and of having a plan of action:

Whatever may be the shortcomings of my study, it will make [any revolutionary who reads it] reflect on the necessity of bringing to the next revolution a set of constructive ideas (as well as destructive ones), of thinking them through carefully and pushing for their realisation with great vigour, and to reflect on the means at the people’s disposal to realise those ideas in society.[15]


[1] Kropotkin, an admirer of Darwin, has been criticised by some for applying an overly optimistic, even teleological understanding of evolution to history. Such criticisms are convincingly challenged in Matthew S. Adams, ‘Kropotkin: evolution, revolutionary change and the end of history’ in Anarchist Studies 19.1 (2011), pp.56-81.

[2] Kropotkin to Guillaume, 12 June 1903, quoted in Ruth Kinna, ‘Kropotkin’s Theory of Mutual Aid in Historical Context’, in International Review of Social History vol.40, no.2 (August 1995), pp.259-83 (p.279).

[3] Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1992), p.57. Note that the original French has “evolution” rather than “revolution”⸺Paroles d’un révolté (Antony: TOPS, 2013), p.68.

[4] Kropotkin, ‘The Great French Revolution and its Lesson’ (1889).

[5] Kropotkin, L’Idée révolutionnaire dans la Révolution (Paris: Les Temps nouveaux, 1913), Publications des «Temps nouveaux» no.64, p.6. First published in La Révolte (1891) as ‘Etudes sur la Révolution’.

[6] Kropotkin, L’Idée révolutionnaire dans la Révolution, p.22.

[7] Bear in mind that ‘commune’ in French is an administrative term meaning the lowest level of local government, ie a village, district or town. Before 1789 such local structures had been very varied, and during the Revolutionary period a number of changes were imposed by the central government in an effort to standardise them.

[8] Daniel Guérin, La lutte de classes sous la Pemière République, 1793-1797 (Paris: Gallimard, 1946; revised edition 1968), vol.II, pp.15, 375-6.

[9] Camillo Berneri, ‘Peter Kropotkin: His Federalist Ideas’, in The Raven: An Anarchist Quarterly no.31 (Autumn 1995); abridged version available at < https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/camillo-berneri-kropotkin-his-federalist-ideas&gt;.

[10] Matt Adams discusses Kropotkin’s acknowledgement of Robespierre’s probity in an analysis of the relationship between anarchism and the idea of ‘civic virtue’: see his ‘Utopian civic virtue: Bakunin, Kropotkin, and anarchism’s republican inheritance’, in Political Research Exchange, 1:1 (2019), pp.1-27 (available here: <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2474736X.2019.1668724>).

[11] Kropotkin’s admiration for Marat was, incidentally, shared by the Bolsheviks, who named a battleship and a Leningrad street after him; they also admired Robespierre, however.

[12] Daline, ‘Lénine et le jacobinisme’, p.100. Plenty has been written about the Bolsheviks and the Jacobins; the most comprehensive study is Tamara Kondratieva, Bolcheviks et jacobins: Itinéraire des analogies (Paris: Payot, 1989; 2nd edition Les Belles Lettres, 2017). See also Albert Mathiez, Révolution russe et Révolution française, edited and with a useful introduction by Yannick Bosc and Florence Gauthier (Paris: Editions Critiques, 2017).

[13] Kropotkin, Modern Science and Anarchy (Oakland & Edinburgh: AK Press, 2018), p.366.

[14] Kropotkin, Modern Science and Anarchy, quoted in Becker, p.229.

[15] Kropotkin, L’Idée révolutionnaire dans la Révolution. This pamphlet discusses the same failing with regard to 1848 and 1871: the paucity of new and constructive ideas contrasting with the audacity of action.

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Gerrard Winstanley on Power – Real and Imagined

Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676) first began publishing radical religious pamphlets in 1648, during the latter half of the English Revolution and Civil Wars. In January 1649, around the time of the execution of Charles I by the English Parliament, he published his first explicitly political pamphlet, The New Law of Righteousness (excerpted in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). A few months later, he put his ideas into action. He and a group of like-minded people, who came to be called the Diggers, sought to reclaim “waste” (unoccupied) lands at St. George’s Hill in Surrey, England, and to create an agrarian, libertarian communist settlement. They were eventually run out of the area by hostile land owners, moving to Cobham Heath, where they were able to maintain a new settlement until they were again run off the land in April 1650. About a month beforehand,, Winstanley published one of his most anarchistic pamphlets, Fire in the Bush. Here, I provide an analysis of Winstanley’s pamphlet, which contains noteworthy parallels to the writings of Cornelius Castoriadis in the late 20th century.

From The Anarchist Current: A History of Anarchist Ideas – Gerrard Winstanley, Digger and Anarchist

Fire in the Bush, published in March 1650, was one of Winstanley’s last political writings before the Digger experiment was forcibly ended. In it, Winstanley develops an analysis of the psychopathology of hierarchical societies. He argues that in addition to the kingly powers that hold the people in bondage – coercive government, the legal system, private property and the ideological apparatus (the Church and universities) – there is another that dwells within us all: the “imaginary self ruling in man’s heart.” [Hill, page 235]

Just as the “Kingdom of Heaven,” or “universal love, or pure knowledge,” lies within everyone, so does the “selfish imaginary power […] of darkness,” which seeks fulfilment in things outside of the self, like wealth and power. [Hill, pp. 218, 221] Through the power of imagination, people deceive themselves into thinking that they could achieve happiness if only they had more wealth, more power, more pleasure. But this just leads to conflict, as each person seeks their own satisfaction at the expense of others, jealous of their power and possessions, and envious of other’s. They mistake good for evil, and evil for good, judging things in terms of whether they are for their own benefit or to their disadvantage. [Hill, pp. 220 – 221] The selfish imagination fills people with “fears, doubts, troubles, evil surmisings and grudges,” stirring up “wars and divisions,” as each person seeks more power, more riches and more pleasures. [Hill, page 221]

This way of thinking lies at the root of all “power, authority and government.” [Hill, pp. 223 -224] It “makes men envy, censure and destroy one another; and to take pleasure in none but what pleases self.” People seek power over others to stop them from having power over them. Man “will oppress others, lest others oppress him; and fears he shall be in want hereafter: therefore he takes by violence that which others have laboured for.” [Hill, page 226]

While earlier Christians, such as Pelagius, had pointed to the futility of seeking spiritual fulfilment through the satisfaction of earthly ambitions and desires, Winstanley expressly ties this avaricious psychology to the emergence of hierarchical societies and authoritarian institutions, like the church and the state.

Rather than seeing government as the only means of escaping the war of all against all (the so-called “state of nature”), as Thomas Hobbes did, Winstanley sees coercive government as the institutionalization of the state of nature, leading to the perpetuation of violence, domination, exploitation and conflict, instead of their supersession. The kingly powers create, rather than prevent, “divisions and war.” Winstanley makes the point that it is inaccurate therefore to describe the condition of social conflict that results in the creation of dominating institutions as a state of nature, for it is “nature or the living soul” that is held “in bondage” by the selfish imaginary power that is incarnated in these institutions. [Hill, page 268]   

The power of authoritarian institutions is ultimately based on an internalized ideological conceptualization of the self and society. People create their own imaginary chains that bind them to a society of domination. Winstanley’s social psychology of domination provides an explanation for the voluntary obedience to authority that de la Boétie found so perplexing.

Winstanley’s notion of the “selfish imaginary power” foreshadows, in a strikingly modern way, Cornelius Castoriadus’ concept of the “social imaginary.” For Winstanley, the various manifestations of the “kingly powers” are concrete expressions of a shared imaginary conception of social life as a competitive struggle for status. Similarly, Castoriadis argues that there is an “originary psychical core” that “we carry within us and which always dreams, whatever our age, of being all-powerful and at the center of the world.” [Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), page 135.]

Unlike Castoriadis, however, Winstanley conceives of the “selfish imaginary power” as something entirely negative. He contrasts it with the “righteous spirit” of truth that each must find within themselves, the basis of “true community,” which makes “every one to seek the preservation and peace of others as of themselves,” no longer seeking fulfilment through the “outward objects” of prestige, status, power and property with which Satan tempts us. [Hill, page 222] Winstanley retains the radical Christian notion of the “kingdom of heaven within,” the spirit of Christ that “will have all saved.” [Hill, page 222] He straddles a more traditional religious conception of reality and a more modern conception of social transformation, through a process of self and social (re)creation, that nevertheless remains steeped in Christian imagery.

For Castoriadis, the social imaginary is not just constitutive of existing heteronomous social forms. The social imaginary has a radical aspect to it that provides a basis for creating collective autonomy. The “radical imaginary” allows for “the emergence of something new” that transcends the “underlying imaginary significations” of existing institutions. [Castoriadis, Vol. 1, pp. 30 – 31] The object of politics is not to achieve any particular end state, but “the instauration of a state of affairs in which man as a social being is able and willing to regard the institutions that rule his life as his own collective creations” that are in state of “perpetual” transformation and “renewal.” [Castoriadis, Vol. 1, page 31] This is a variation of the concept of “permanent revolution” first articulated by 19th century anarchists, whereas Winstanley’s view of social change retains an element of Christian eschatology, as he foresees the attainment of a “new Jerusalem” where all will “live in peace and rest.” [Hill, pp. 222 – 223]

But Winstanley and Castoriadis share the view that social and personal transformation must go hand in hand. For Winstanley, a libertarian communist society requires not only the abolition of the kingly powers, but a new way of relating to the world and to each other. People must attain a state of inner contentment and enlightenment in order to deliver themselves “from that bondage within,” so that they no longer seek fulfillment through greater riches and status. [Hill, page 271] Castoriadis argues in a like vein that “the conditions that make it possible for” a self-instituting society “to function have to be incorporated in a certain fashion into our social organization as well as into the organization of individuals’ psyches.” [Vol. 1, page 34]

Both Winstanley and Castoriadis extoll the virtues of an inner freedom. For Castoriadis, this is the ability to put a society’s “own imaginary into question.” Not only is “the mere absence of censure or repression” not enough to achieve this, it is sometimes easier to do “under tyrannical regimes” than “under apparently liberal regimes,” because the repressive imaginaries of tyrannical regimes are more readily apparent. [Vol. 1, pp. 34 – 35] Winstanley expresses similar views, writing that even “if I were in prison without,” I can still achieve “freedom within.” [Hill, page 229] The main difference between Castoriadis and Winstanley on this point is that, for Castoriadis, the process of putting social imaginaries into question is a never-ending one, whereas Winstanley looks forward to a time when people are able to achieve both inner and outer peace and freedom.

However, unlike many other radical Christians and “antinomians,” Winstanley does not substitute for the kingly powers a power within that will ensure obedience to God’s will under threat of supernatural sanctions. Winstanley’s vision of an anarchist arcadia does not require that everyone carry a gendarme in their breast. While Winstanley would have agreed with Max Stirner that people’s actions are governed, to a certain extent, by “spooks” in their heads, for Winstanley the biggest spook is the selfish imaginary power, the very egoism that Stirner put at the centre of his philosophy.

It is in Fire in the Bush that Winstanley comes closest to proclaiming himself an anarchist. He poses the question that if what he says is true, then this “will destroy all government and all our ministry and religion,” answering yes, that when people find the kingdom of God within them, “all rule and all authority and all power” will have been put down. [Hill, page 243] The kingly powers “must be shaken to pieces.” [Hill, page 233 – 234] True “magistracy” is not the magistracy of the sword, but reason, truth, and ethics. It is not the power of the sword, but the power of love, that will bind people together, instead of making them enemies of one another. [Hill, pp. 244 – 245]

Winstanley’s anarchist writings of 1649 – 1650 remain a remarkable achievement. His critique of existing English institutions, the market economy, private property, wage labour, and other elements of the “agrarian capitalism” that was being consolidated in England, was unparalleled for its time. [Meikson Woods, Liberty and Property, page 280] So was his analysis of the inter-relationships between economic and political power, hierarchy and domination, and the social psychology that sustained and promoted the hierarchical social, economic and political structures and relations under which the English people then laboured.

Kropotkin: Against the State

Kropotkin Words of a Rebel Black Rose

This February marks the 99th anniversary of the death of Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921). Kropotkin’s funeral was the last anarchist mass demonstration of the Russian Revolution, which was coming to a close as the Bolsheviks consolidated their dictatorship. Today I reprint excerpts from Kropotkin’s article, “The Breakdown of the State,” which was included in his collection of essays, Words of a Rebel. This is from the George Woodcock translation published by Black Rose Books. Iain McKay is working on a new translation of Words of a Rebel, to be published by PM Press. Sadly, much of what Kropotkin wrote remains true today. The modern state remains in a condition of permanent crisis, which is then used to bolster its supports.

Kropotkin-Quote-In-existing-States-a-fresh-law-is-looked

The Breakdown of the State

Today the State takes upon itself to meddle in all the areas of our lives. From the cradle to the grave, it hugs us in its arms. Sometimes as the central government, sometimes as the provincial or cantonal government, and sometimes even as the communal or municipal government, it follows our every step, it appears at every turning of the road, it taxes, harasses and restrains us.

It legislates on all our actions. It accumulates mountains of laws and ordinances among which even the shrewdest of lawyers can no longer find his way. Every day it devises new cogwheels to be fitted into the worn out old engine, and it ends up having created a machine so complicated, so misbegotten and so obstructive that it repels even those who attempt to keep it going.

The State creates an army of employees like light-fingered spiders, who know the world only through the murky windows of their offices or through their documents written in absurd jargons; it is a black band with only one religion, that of money, only one care, that of attaching oneself to any party, black, purple, or white, so long as it guarantees a maximum of appointments with a minimum of work.

The results we know only too well. Is there a single branch of the State’s activity that does not arouse revolution in those unfortunate enough to have dealings with it? Is there a single direction in which the State, after centuries of existence and of patchy renovation, has not shown its complete incompetence?

The vast and ever growing sums of money which the States appropriate from the people are never sufficient. The State always exists at the expense of future generations; it accumulates debt and everywhere it approaches bankruptcy. The public debts of the European States have already reached the vast, almost incredible figure of more than five milliards, i.e. five hundred million francs! If all the receipts of the various States were employed to the last penny just to pay off these debts, it could hardly be done in fifteen years. But, far from diminishing, the debts grow from day to day, for it is in the nature of things that the needs of States are always in excess of their means. Inevitably the State seeks to extend its jurisdiction; every party in power is obliged to create new employment for its supporters. It is an irrevocable process.

Thus the deficits and public debts continue and will continue, always growing, even in times of peace. But as soon as a war begins, however small, the debts of the States increase at an alarming rate. There is no ending; it is impossible to find our way out of this labyrinth.

The States of the world are heading full steam for ruin and bankruptcy; and the day is not distant when the people, tired of paying four milliards of interest each year to the bankers, will declare the failure of State governments and send the bankers to dig the soil if they are hungry.

Say “State” and you say “war.” The State strives and must strive to be strong, and stronger than its neighbours; if it is not so, it will become a plaything in their hands. Of necessity it seeks to weaken and impoverish other States so that it can impose on them its laws, its policies, its commercial treaties, and grow rich at their expense. The struggle for preponderance, which is the basis of economic bourgeois organization, is also the basis of political organization. This is why war has now become the normal condition of Europe. Prusso-Danish, Prusso-Austrian, Franco-Prussian wars, war in the East, war in Afghanistan follow each other without a pause. New wars are in preparation; Russia, Prussia, England, Denmark, all are ready to unleash their armies. And at any moment they will be at each other’s throats. There are enough excuses for wars to keep the world busy for another thirty years.

But war means unemployment, economic crisis, growing taxes, accumulating debts. More than that, war deals a mortal blow to the State itself. After each war, the peoples realize that the States involved have shown their incompetence, even in the tasks by which they justify their existence; they are hardly capable of organizing the defence of their own territory, and even victory threatens their survival. Only look at the fermentation of ideas that emerged from the war of 1871, as much in Germany as in France; only observe the discontent aroused in Russia by the war in the Far East.

Wars and armaments are the death of the State; they accelerate its moral and economic failure. Just one or two great wars will give the final blow to these decrepit machines.

But parallel to war outside is war within.

Accepted originally by the people as a means of defending all men and women, and above all of protecting the weak against the strong, the State today has become the fortress of the rich against the exploited, of the employer against the proletarian.

Of what use in fact is this great machine that we call the State? Is it to hinder the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist, of the peasant by the landlord? Is it to assure us work? To protect us from the loan-shark? To give us sustenance when the woman has only water to pacify the child who weeps at her dried-out breast?

No, a thousand times no! The State is there to protect exploitation, speculation and private property; it is itself the by-product of the-rapine of the people. The proletarian must rely on his own hands; he can expect nothing of the State. It is nothing more than an organization devised to hinder emancipation at all costs.

Everything in the State is loaded in favour of the idle proprietor, everything against the working proletarian: bourgeois education, which from an early age corrupts the child by inculcating anti-egalitarian principles; the Church which disturbs women’s minds; the law which hinders the exchange of ideas of solidarity and equality; money, which can be used when needed to corrupt whoever seeks to be an apostle of the solidarity of the workers; prison-and grapeshot as a last resort-to shut the mouths of those who will not be corrupted. Such is the State.

Can it last? Will it last? Obviously not. A whole class of humanity, the class that produces everything, cannot sustain for ever an organization that has been created specifically in opposition to its interests. Everywhere, under Russian brutality as much as under the hypocrisy of the followers of Gambetta, the discontented people are in revolt. The history of our times is the history of the struggle of the privileged rulers against the egalitarian aspiration of the peoples. This struggle has become the principal occupation of the ruling class; it dominates their actions. Today it is neither principles nor considerations of the public good that determine the appearance of such-and-such a law or administrative decree; it is only the demands of the struggle against the people for the preservation of privilege.

This struggle alone would be enough to shake the strongest of political organizations. But when it takes place within States that for historical reasons are declining; when these States are rolling at full speed towards catastrophe and are harming each other on the way; when, in the end, the all-powerful State becomes repugnant even to those it protects: then all these causes can only unite in a single effort: and the outcome of the struggle cannot remain in doubt. The people, who have the strength, will prevail over their oppressors; the collapse of the States will become no more than a question of time, and the most peaceful of philosophers will see in the distance the dawning light by which the great revolution manifests itself.

Peter Kropotkin

Kropotkin The State

 

Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin

David Lester, illustrator, artist , writer and musician, is working on a graphic novel-biography of Emma Goldman. Above is an excerpt commemorating her deportation from the United States to Russia on December 21, 1919, which is also Kropotkin’s birthday. This reminded me of Goldman’s recollections of her meetings with Kropotkin. Below I set forth an excerpt from Goldman’s My Disillusionment with Russia, where Goldman  describes her visit with Kropotkin in the summer of 1920, when both were witnessing the consolidation of the growing Bolshevik dictatorship. Kropotkin suggested that rather than working with authoritarian state socialists, despite their revolutionary slogans, anarchists should work to strengthen revolutionary workers’ movements, like anarcho-syndicalism, and movements to create alternate economic relationships, such as the cooperative movement (both of which were being suppressed by Bolshevik regime). Less than a year later, Kropotkin was dead, with his funeral marking the last mass anarchist demonstration in Russia for about 75 years.

Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman at Kropotkin’s funeral

Peter was interested to know my impressions [of the Russian Revolution] since he saw me last. I related to him how confused and harassed I was, how everything seemed to crumble beneath my feet. I told him that I had come to doubt almost everything, even the Revolution itself. I could not reconcile the ghastly reality with what the Revolution had meant to me when I came to Russia. Were the conditions I found inevitable, the callous indifference to human life, the terrorism, the waste and agony of it all? Of course, I knew revolutions could not be made with kid gloves. It is a stern necessity involving violence and destruction, a difficult and terrible process. But what I had found in Russia was utterly unlike revolutionary conditions, so fundamentally unlike as to be a caricature.

Peter listened attentively; then he said: “There is no reason whatever to lose faith. I consider the Russian Revolution even greater than the French, for it has struck deeper into the soul of Russia, into the hearts and minds of the Russian people. Time alone can demonstrate its full scope and depth. What you see to-day is only the surface, conditions artificially created by a governing class. You see a small political party which by its false theories, blunders, and inefficiency has demonstrated how revolutions must not be made.”

It was unfortunate, Kropotkin continued, that so many of the Anarchists in Russia and the masses outside of Russia had been carried away by the ultra-revolutionary pretenses of the Bolsheviki. In the great upheaval it was forgotten that the Communists are a political party firmly adhering to the idea of a centralized State, and that as such they were bound to misdirect the course of the Revolution. The Bolsheviki were the Jesuits of the Socialist Church: they believed in the Jesuitic motto that the end justifies the means. Their end being political power, they hesitate at nothing. The means, however, have paralysed the energies of the masses and have terrorized the people. Yet without the people, without the direct participation of the masses in the reconstruction of the country, nothing essential could be accomplished.

The Bolsheviki had been carried to the top by the high tide of the Revolution. Once in power they began to stem the tide. They have been trying to eliminate and suppress the cultural forces of the country not entirely in agreement with their ideas and methods. They destroyed the cooperatives which were of utmost importance to the life of Russia, the great link between the country and the city. They created a bureaucracy and officialdom which surpasses even that of the old regime. In the village where he lived, in little Dmitrov, there were more Bolshevik officials than ever existed there during the reign of the Romanovs. All those people were living off the masses. They were parasites on the social body, and Dmitrov was only a small example of what was going on throughout Russia. It was not the fault of any particular individuals: rather was it the State they had created, which discredits every revolutionary ideal, stifles all initiative, and sets a premium on incompetence and waste. It should also not be forgotten Kropotkin emphasized, that the blockade and the continuous attacks on the Revolution by the interventionists had helped to strengthen the power of the Communist regime. Intervention and blockade were bleeding Russia to death, and were preventing the people from understanding the real nature of the Bolshevik regime.

Discussing the activities and role of the Anarchists in the Revolution, Kropotkin said: “We Anarchists have talked much of revolutions, but few of us have been prepared for the actual work to be done during the process. I have indicated some things in this relation in my ‘Conquest of Bread.’ Pouget and Pataud have also sketched a line of action in their work on ‘How to Accomplish the Social Revolution.’” Kropotkin thought that the Anarchists had not given sufficient consideration to the fundamental elements of the social revolution. The real facts in a revolutionary process do not consist so much in the actual fighting, that is, merely the destructive phase necessary to clear the way for constructive effort. The basic factor in a revolution is the organization of the economic life of the country. The Russian Revolution had proved conclusively that we must prepare thoroughly for that. Everything else is of minor importance. He had come to think that syndicalism was likely to furnish what Russia most lacked: the channel through which the industrial and economic reconstruction of the country may flow. He referred to Anarcho-syndicalism. That and the cooperatives would save other countries some of the blunders and suffering Russia was going through.

Emma Goldman

Kropotkin, Bakunin and Goldman – for anarchist socialism

George Barrett: Direct Action v. Parliamentarianism

Freedom Press in England has recently published a collection of essays on anarchism by George Barrett (1888-1917), Our Masters Are Helpless, edited by Iain McKay. Barrett wrote for the London based anarchist paper, Freedom, and published his own paper, The Anarchist, and several pamphlets on anarchism. Two of his best known pamphlets were the posthumously published Objections to Anarchism (Freedom Press, 1921) and The Anarchist Revolution (Freedom Press, 1920). Here I reproduce his answer from Objections to Anarchism about why Parliament cannot be used to achieve a social revolution, and the section on direct action from The Anarchist Revolution, in which Barrett sets forth the anarchist alternative to parliamentary (or electoral) methods. Both topics retain their relevance today, particularly with respect to the current political debacle in Britain regarding its exit from the European Union and Boris Johnson’s attempts to usurp the British Parliament.

Objections to Anarchism No. 2

The House of Commons and the Law have been used by the present dominant class to gain their ends; why cannot they be used by us to gain ours?

This question is based upon an extraordinary misunderstanding. It seems to be taken for granted that Capitalism and the workers’ movement both have the same end in view. If this were so, they might perhaps use the same means; but as the capitalist is out to perfect his system of exploitation and government, whilst the worker is out for emancipation and liberty, naturally the same means cannot be employed for both purposes. This surely answers the question sufficiently so far as it is a definite question. In so far, however, as it contains the vague suggestion that government is the agent of reform, progress, and revolution, it touches the very point upon which Anarchists differ from all political parties. It is worthwhile, then, to examine the suggestion a little more closely.

It is thought by the enthusiastic politicians that once they can capture government, then from their position of power they would be able very quickly to mould society into the desired shape. Pass ideal laws, they think, and the ideal society would be the result. How simple, is it not? We should thus get the Revolution on the terms promised us by the wonderful Blatchford — “without bloodshed, and without losing a day’s work,” But, alas! the short cut to the Golden Age is an illusion. In the first place, any form of society shaped by law is not ideal. In the second place, law cannot shape society; indeed, rather the reverse is true. It is this second point which is all-important.

Those who understand the forces behind progress will see the law limping along in the rear, and never succeeding in keeping up with the progress made by the people; always, in fact, resisting any advance, always trying to start reaction, but in the long run always having to give way and allow more and more liberty. Even the champions of government recognise this when they want to make a drastic change, and then they throw aside the pretence of the law and turn to revolutionary methods.

The present ruling class, who are supposed to be a living proof that the Government can do anything, are in themselves quite candid in the admission that it can do very little. Whoever will study their rise to power will find that to get there they preach in theory, and establish in fact, the principle of resistance to the law. Indeed, curious as it may seem, it is a fact that immediately after the Revolution it was declared seditious to preach against resistance to law, just as today it is seditious to speak in favour of it.

To sum up, then, if there was any logic in the question, which there is not, we might restate it thus: “Since the present dominant class were unable to gain their ends by use of the House of Commons and the Law, why should we hope to gain ours by them?”

Direct Action

To make it quite clear what is meant by the expression Direct Action, let us take an illustration. Not very many years ago, if there was a great national calamity, such as an outbreak of plague, the religious people used to declare that the only remedy was for us as a nation to pray that God might remove his curse. These good people were very much shocked when scientists came along and began taking merely sanitary precautions to stamp out the disease. The first was the indirect method: prayers were sent up to heaven so that God might send down his good influence on the plague. This was a very indirect route to reach a disease which was, so to speak, next door. The scientist attended to the disease itself, studied its nature, and tried to find a means of stamping it out. This was direct action.

To-day in very much the same way the people are divided with two methods. In their factories and homes they find themselves discontented, and some of them propose to influence the chief of society — the Parliament — so that it will exercise its power to put things right. These in their turn are shocked when advanced thinkers come along and declare that the way to get a remedy is to study the nature of the trouble and apply the cure directly to it. The former believe in the indirect or legislative method, for it is a long way from home to Westminster and back home again. The latter are the direct actionists, and they recognise that if anyone is going to put the factories in order, it will be the workers who spend their lives in them, and not the politicians.

Imagine the utter absurdity of a group of politicians sitting in the House of Commons earnestly discussing the welfare of the people. While they are doing so, are there not countless bakers, builders, and tailors walking about the streets, unemployed, and cut off, by the laws which these same politicians have passed, from the means of production, machinery, and tools with which they might produce what they need. To break down the laws and allow these people to produce what is necessary for their welfare, on equal terms with the other workers, is the way to abolish poverty.

It is clear that, if we are to rid ourselves of the troubles that best us at present, we must organise an entirely new system of wealth distribution. I do not mean by this that we must divide up, but I mean that the wealth which is produced must be stopped from flowing to the rich man who produces nothing; the stream must be diverted so that it will come to the producer.

But who is it that distributes the wealth? Is it the politician? Certainly not; as a matter of fact, it is the transport workers. If, then, the workers who produce want an alteration in the present distribution, to whom must they apply? To their comrades, the transport workers, and not to the politicians, who have nothing to do with the matter. Similarly when better conditions are needed in the factories — larger sheds, better floors, and more efficient lighting and ventilation — who are the only people capable of doing this? It is the workers who need these reforms, and the workers who can carry them out. The task before the worker to-day is as it has been in the past: the slave class must rid itself of the dictating class — i.e., of those in authority.

Such is the simple logic of the Direct Actionist, and it is already clear how it necessarily leads to the Anarchist Revolution. We must, however, be careful how we follow this principle — not that we fear being taken too far, but lest it does not take us far enough. The expression has been used so much in contradistinction to legislation, that any one who throws a brick through a window is generally supposed to be a Direct Actionist. He may be and he may not.

To be logical and true to the real meaning of the term, every act should, of course, be on the direct road towards the desired end — in our case, the Social Revolution. Sometimes it is difficult to be entirely consistent, but it is nevertheless of the utmost importance that there should be at least a minority of the workers who understand what is the direct road, so that every skirmish may be made by them a step towards the final overthrow of Capitalism.

At the risk of repeating myself, then, let me try to state the position very clearly. We have two classes — the governing, ruling, and possessing people on the one hand, and those governed and without property on the other; in a word, a master class and a slave class.

When this slave class becomes discontented and restive, it has several courses to consider before deciding which will give better conditions. It may be argued:

  1. That since the present masters do not give enough of the good things of life, these must be turned out and a new set selected from among the slave class; or
  2. That since the slave class is composed of the producers, and the master class is, therefore, dependent on it, the former is clearly in a position to force the masters to give them more food and everything that may be desired; or
  3. That since the slave class is the producer of all that is necessary for life, there is no need to either ask or demand anything from the master class. The slave class need simply to cut off supplies to the masters and start feeding themselves.

The first of these arguments, it will be seen, is that of the politicians; and it may be dismissed without further comment, since, as will be understood after what has been already said, it obviously misses the point. It is not a question of who shall be master, but it is a matter of the essential relationship between master and slave, quite irrespective of who either of them may be.

The second argument is that of the non-Parliamentary but non-Revolutionary Trade Unionist. It is right in that it recognises where lies the true power of the workers in their fight against the capitalists, but it is wrong in that it proposes no change in the relationship between these two.

If the slave class is to be better housed, fed, and clothed from the masters’ store, it means that the slaves will become more and more completely owned by the masters. It is not revolutionary, because it proposes to retain master and slave, and merely attempts to better the conditions of the latter.

The third argument is, of course, that of the revolutionist. It agrees with the second as to the weapon to be used, but it says that the task before the workers is to feed, house, clothe, and educate themselves, and not to spend their energies in making better masters of the capitalists.

To cut off supplies to the capitalist and to retain what is produced for the workers are the main points of the revolutionary fight.

In every industrial dispute there are really two, and only two, essentials. On the one hand are the factories, warehouses, railways, mines, etc., which may be termed industrial property; on the other, the workers. To unite these two is to accomplish the revolution; for with them will be built the new society.

The capitalist and master class in general can hold their position only so long as they can keep the workers outside the warehouses and factories, for within are the means of life, and the common people must be allowed to use these only on the strict understanding that they make profit and submit to the conditions dictated. To come out on strike, then, is merely rebellion, and is essentially not the revolution, however thoroughly it is done; to stay in and work in the condition of equality, free from the dictates of a useless master class, is the real object of the revolutionist.

Direct action, therefore, in this strictly revolutionary sense would mean the taking possession of the means of production and the necessities of life by the workers who have produced them, and the reorganisation of industry according to the principles of freedom.

The doctrine of Direct Action does not boast of bringing the workers easy salvation. It is, indeed, a recognition of the terribly simple fact that nothing can save us except our own intelligence and power. We, the workers, are the creative force, for is it not we who have produced all the food, clothing, and houses? Assuredly it is we who need them. What, then, has the politician to do with this? Nothing, absolutely nothing! What use is it to hand over to the master class all that we produce, and then keep up a continuous quarrel as to how much we shall be allowed back? Instead of this we have to stop supplies, reorganise our industries, not from above but from their source below, and see that in future all that is produced goes to the producer and not to the dominant class. This is the meaning of direct action, and it is Anarchism.

But, alas! it is easier to accomplish a revolution on paper with cold logic than it is to bring it about in industrial life. We have to fight the lack of understanding on the part of the worker and the craft of the politician ever at work to increase this; and in addition we have the certainty that the class in power will attempt to resist the change, with the only argument that remains on their side — brute force. While, therefore, it is important to understand that direct action properly applied means the actual “conquest of bread” and the taking possession of the factories, we must be content probably for some little while longer to use our weapon of direct action simply according to the second of the three arguments given above — that is, to demand better conditions from the capitalist class.

It is not, however, too much to hope that in the very near future the Anarchists will form a militant section of the workers, which will give to every great industrial rebellion the revolutionary character which is its true meaning. Worker as well as capitalist is beginning to recognise that a well-planned scheme for feeding the strikers is more than possible. Such a scheme would entail the capturing of the bakeries, and this is surely the first step of the revolution.

Beside this real problem, simple but great, how hollow and grotesque are the promises of the politicians. How absurd the idea of gaining liberty through the ballot-box. These hopeless government men, who talk with such sublime imbecility of feeding, housing, and clothing, only add insult to injury. The House they stand in to make their senseless speeches was built and furnished by the workers, and it is the workers who house and feed them.

And beyond our own doubt and hesitation, what, after all, stands in our way? Let us gain inspiration from the hopeless position of our foes. How helpless they are! Is not the policeman’s baton shaped by the worker, and his absurd uniform stitched by underpaid women? The soldier’s rifle is certainly not made by the master class — in every particular they are hopelessly our dependents. Every instrument of oppression is supplied to them by us, and we keep them alive by feeding them day by day. Surely, then, it is apparent that this change must come. Those above are powerless for good, or for evil; the revolution can be brought only by an upheaval from below — from the one vital section of society, the workers.

George Barrett

Malatesta: Revolution in Practice (Umanità Nova, 1922)

Some more Malatesta, in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the (then daily) anarchist paper, Umanità Nova, in February 1920, a publication of the Italian Anarchist Federation (FAI). An anarchist festival celebrating Umanità Nova is being held today and tomorrow in Gragnana, Italy.

Revolution in Practice

We want to make the revolution as soon as possible, taking advantage of all the opportunities that may arise.

With the exception of a small number of “educationists”, who believe in the possibility of raising the masses to the anarchist ideals before the material and moral conditions in which they live have changed, thus deferring the revolution to the time when all will be able to live anarchically, all anarchists agree on this desire of overthrowing the current regimes as soon as possible: as a matter of fact, they are often the only ones who show a real wish to do so.

However, revolutions did, do and will happen independently from the anarchists’ wish and action; and since anarchists are just a small minority of the population and anarchy cannot be made by force and violent imposition by few, it is clear that past and future revolutions were not and will not possibly be anarchist revolutions.

In Italy two years ago the revolution was about to break out and we did all we could to make that happen. We treated like traitors the socialists and the unionists, who stopped the impetus of the masses and saved the shaky monarchical regime on the occasion of the riots against the high cost of living, the strikes in Piedmont, the Ancona uprising, the factory occupations.

What would we have done if the revolution had broken out for good?

What will we do in the revolution that will break out tomorrow?

What did our comrades do, what could and should they have done in the recent revolutions occurred in Russia, Bavaria, Hungary and elsewhere?

We cannot make anarchy, at least not an anarchy extended to all the population and all the social relations, because no population is anarchist yet, and we cannot either accept another regime without giving up our aspirations and losing any reason for existence, as anarchists. So, what can and must we do?

This was the problem being discussed in Bienne, and this is the problem of greatest interest in the present time, so full of opportunities, when we could suddenly face situations that require for us to either act immediately and unhesitatingly, or disappear from the battle ground after making the victory of others easier.

It was not a matter of depicting a revolution as we would like it, a truly anarchist revolution as would be possible if all, or at least the vast majority of the people living in a given territory were anarchist. It was a matter of seeking the best that could be done in favour of the anarchist cause in a social upheaval as can happen in the present situation.

The authoritarian parties have a specific program and want to impose it by force; therefore they aspire to seizing the power, regardless of whether legally or illegally, and transforming society their way, through a new legislation. This explains why they are revolutionary in words and often also in intentions, but they hesitate to make a revolution when the opportunities arise; they are not sure of the acquiescence, even passive, of the majority, they do not have sufficient military force to have their orders carried out over the whole territory, they lack devoted people with skills in all the countless branches of social activity… therefore they are always forced to postpone action, until they are almost reluctantly pushed to the government by the popular uprising. However, once in power, they would like to stay there indefinitely, therefore they try to slow down, divert, stop the revolution that raised them.

On the contrary, we have indeed an ideal we fight for and would like to see realized, but we do not believe that an ideal of freedom, of justice, of love can be realized through the government violence.

We do not want to get in power neither we want anyone else to do so. If we cannot prevent governments from existing and being established, due to our lack of strength, we strive, and always will, to keep or make such governments as weak as possible. Therefore we are always ready to take action when it comes to overthrowing or weakening a government, without worrying too much (I say ‘too much’, not ‘at all’) about what will happen thereafter.

For us violence is only of use and can only be of use in driving back violence. Otherwise, when it is used to accomplish positive goals, either it fails completely, or it succeeds in establishing the oppression and the exploitation of the ones over the others.

The establishment and the progressive improvement of a society of free men can only be the result of a free evolution; our task as anarchists is precisely is to defend and secure the evolution’s freedom.

Here is our mission: demolishing, or contributing to demolish any political power whatsoever, with all the series of repressive forces that support it; preventing, or trying to prevent new governments and new repressive forces from arising; in any case, refraining from ever acknowledging any government, keeping always fighting against it, claiming and requiring, even by force if possible, the right to organize and live as we like, and experiment the forms of society that seem best to us, as long as they do not prejudice the others’ equal freedom, of course.

Beyond this struggle against the government imposition that bears the capitalistic exploitation and makes it possible; once we had encouraged and helped the masses to seize the existing wealth and particularly the means of production; once the situation is reached whereby no one could impose his wishes on others by force, nor take away from any man the product of his labour, we could then only act through propaganda and by example.

Destroy the institution and the machinery of existing social organizations? Yes, certainly, if it is a question of repressive institutions; but these are, after all, only a small part of the complex of social life. The police, the army, the prisons, and the judiciary are potent institutions for evil, which exercise a parasitic function. Other institutions and organizations manage, for better or for worse, to guarantee life to mankind; and these institutions cannot be usefully destroyed without replacing them by something better.

The exchange of raw material and goods, the distribution of foodstuffs, the railways, postal services and all public services administered by the State or by private companies, have been organized to serve monopolistic and capitalist interests, but they also serve real needs of the population. We cannot disrupt them (and in any case the people would not in their own interests allow us to) without reorganizing them in a better way. And this cannot be achieved in a day; nor as things stand, have we the necessary abilities to do so. We are delighted therefore if in the meantime, others act, even with different criteria from our own.

Social life does not admit of interruptions, and the people want to live on the day of the revolution, on the morrow and always.

Woe betide us and the future of our ideas if we shouldered the responsibility of a senseless destruction that compromised the continuity of life!

Errico Malatesta, Umanità Nova, No. 191, October 7, 1922

Malatesta: Toward Anarchy (1899)

I concluded Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas with excerpts from Errico Malatesta’s inspiring piece, “Toward Anarchy.” Often mistranslated as “Toward Anarchism,” Malatesta’s article was originally published in La Questione Sociale, No. 14, in December 1899, which Malatesta was then editing from Paterson, New Jersey. It was first translated into English in Man!, published out of San Francisco, in April 1933. Here I present the complete article, with a corrected translation by Davide Turcato. This translation of “Toward Anarchy” is included in Volume IV of the Complete Works of Malatesta, edited and compiled by Davide Turcato, and published by AK Press. Here, Malatesta presents not only a succinct definition of “anarchy” as conceived by the anarchists, but also of his “experimental” method, a non-dogmatic approach to revolutionary change by which one always seeks to achieve as much freedom as possible, given the circumstances in which one must work.

Toward Anarchy

It is a general opinion that we, because we call ourselves revolutionists, expect Anarchy to come with one stroke—as the immediate result of an insurrection that violently attacks all that which exists and which replaces it with institutions that are really new. And to tell the truth this idea is not lacking among some comrades who also conceive the revolution in such a manner.

This prejudice explains why so many honest opponents believe Anarchy a thing impossible; and it also explains why some comrades, disgusted with the present moral condition of the people and seeing that Anarchy cannot come about soon, waver between an extreme dogmatism which blinds them to the realities of life and an opportunism which practically makes them forget that they are Anarchists and that for Anarchy they should struggle.

Of course the triumph of Anarchy cannot be the consequence of a miracle; it cannot come about in contradiction to the laws of development (an axiom of evolution that nothing occurs without sufficient cause), and nothing can be accomplished without the adequate means.

If we should want to substitute one government for another, that is impose our desires upon others, it would only be necessary to combine the material forces needed to resist the actual oppressors and put ourselves in their place.

But we do not want this; we want Anarchy which is a society based on free and voluntary accord—a society in which no one can force his wishes on another and in which everyone can do as he pleases and together all will voluntarily contribute to the well-being of the community. But because of this Anarchy will not have definitively and universally triumphed until all men will not only not want to be commanded but will not want to command; nor will Anarchy have succeeded unless they will have understood the advantages of solidarity and know how to organize a plan of social life wherein there will no longer be traces of violence and imposition.

And as the conscience, determination, and capacity of men continuously develop and find means of expression in the gradual modification of the new environment and in the realization of desires in proportion to their being formed and becoming imperious, so it is with Anarchy; Anarchy cannot come but little by little—slowly, but surely, growing in intensity and extension.

Therefore, the subject is not whether we accomplish Anarchy today, tomorrow or within ten centuries, but that we walk toward Anarchy today, tomorrow and always.

Anarchy is the abolition of exploitation and oppression of man by man, that is the abolition of private property and government; Anarchy is the destruction of misery, of superstitions, of hatred. Therefore, every blow given to the institutions of private property and to the government, every exaltation of the conscience of man, every disruption of the present conditions, every lie unmasked, every part of human activity taken away from the control of the authority, every augmentation of the spirit of solidarity and initiative, is a step towards Anarchy.

The problem lies in knowing how to choose the road that really approaches the realization of the ideal and in not confusing the real progress with hypocritical reforms. For with the pretext of obtaining immediate ameliorations these false reforms tend to distract the masses from the struggle against authority and capitalism; they serve to paralyze their actions and make them hope that something can be attained through the kindness of the exploiters and governments. The problem lies in knowing how to use the little power we have—that we go on achieving, in the most economical way, more prestige for our goal.

There is in every country a government which, with brutal force, imposes its laws on all; it compels all to be subjected to exploitation and to maintain, whether they like it or not, the existing institutions. It forbids the minority groups to actuate their ideas, and prevents the social organizations in general from modifying themselves according to, and with, the modifications of public opinion. The normal peaceful course of evolution is arrested by violence, and thus with violence it is necessary to reopen that course. It is for this reason that we want a violent revolution today; and we shall want it always—so long as man is subject to the imposition of things contrary to his natural desires. Take away the governmental violence, ours would have no reason to exist.

We cannot as yet overthrow the prevailing government; perhaps tomorrow from the ruins of the present government we cannot prevent the arising of another similar one. But this does not hinder us, nor will it tomorrow, from resisting whatever form of authority—refusing always to submit to its laws whenever possible, and constantly using force to oppose force.

Every weakening of whatever kind of authority, each accession of liberty, will be a progress toward Anarchy; always it should be conquered—never asked for; always it should serve to give us greater strength in the struggle; always it should make us consider the state as an enemy with whom we should never make peace; always it should make us remember well that the decrease of the ills produced by the government consists in the decrease of its attributions and powers, not in increasing the number of rulers or in having them chosen by the ruled. By government we mean any person or group of persons in the state, country, community, or association who has the right to make laws and inflict them upon those who do not want them.

We cannot as yet abolish private property; we cannot regulate the means of production that is necessary to work freely; perhaps we shall not be able to do so in the next insurrectional movement. But this does not prevent us now, nor will it in the future, from continually opposing capitalism. And each victory, however small, gained by the workers against their exploiters, each decrease of profit, every bit of wealth taken from the individual owners and put to the disposal of all, shall be progress—a forward step toward Anarchy. Always it should serve to enlarge the claims of the workers and to intensify the struggle; always it should be accepted as a victory over an enemy and not as a concession for which we should be thankful; always we should remain firm in our resolution to take with force, as soon as it will be possible, those means which the private owners, protected by the government, have stolen from the workers.

The right of force having disappeared, the means of production being placed under the management of whomever wants to produce, the rest must be the fruit of a peaceful evolution.

It would not be Anarchy, yet, or it would be only for those few who want it, and only in those things they can accomplish without the cooperation of the non-anarchists. This does not necessarily mean that the ideal of Anarchy will make little or no progress, for little by little its ideas will extend to more men and more things until it will have embraced all mankind and all life’s manifestations.

Having overthrown the government and all the existing dangerous institutions which with force it defends, having conquered complete freedom for all and with it the right to the means of production, without which liberty would be a lie, and while we are struggling to arrive at this point, we do not intend to destroy those things which we little by little will reconstruct.

For example, there functions in the present society the service of supplying food. This is being done badly, chaotically, with great waste of energy and material and in view of capitalist interests; but after all, one way or another we must eat. It would be absurd to want to disorganize the system of producing and distributing food unless we could substitute it with something better and more just.

There exists a postal service. We have thousands of criticisms to make, but in the meantime we use it to send our letters, and shall continue to use it, suffering all its faults, until we shall be able to correct or replace it.

There are schools, but how badly they function. But because of this we do not allow our children to remain in ignorance—refusing their learning to read and write. Meanwhile we wait and struggle for a time when we shall be able to organize a system of model schools to accommodate all.

From this we can see that, to arrive at Anarchy, material force is not the only thing to make a revolution; it is essential that the workers, grouped according to the various branches of production, place themselves in a position that will insure the proper functioning of their social life—without the aid or need of capitalists or governments.

And we see also that the Anarchist ideals are far from being in contradiction, as the “scientific socialists” claim, to the laws of evolution as proved by science; they are a conception which fits these laws perfectly; they are the experimental system brought from the field of research to that of social realization.

Errico Malatesta, December 1899

 

Emma Goldman: Trotsky Protests Too Much (1938)

Emma Goldman

As we approach yet another anniversary, the Bolshevik dictatorship’s suppression of the revolt by the Krondstadt naval garrison in March 1921, I thought it was an opportune time to reprint excerpts from Emma Goldman’s classic rejoinder to Leon Trotsky’s shabby justifications for the Bolsheviks’ repressive actions. Written in 1938, “Trotsky Protests Too Much” is classic Goldman. She takes to task both Trotsky and one of his apologists, John G. Wright, for their ongoing attempts to defend Trotsky’s (and the Bolshevik regime’s) violent attack on the Krondstadt sailors, and their abject failure to acknowledge the role these actions played in paving the way for Stalin’s dictatorship. I included excerpts from Emma Goldman’s book on the Bolshevik counter-revolution, My Disillusionment in Russia, in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Trotsky Protests Too Much

Leon Trotsky will have it that criticism of his part in the Kronstadt tragedy is only to aid and abet his mortal enemy, Stalin. It does not occur to him that one might detest the savage in the Kremlin and his cruel regime and yet not exonerate Leon Trotsky from the crime against the sailors of Kronstadt.

In point of truth I see no marked difference between the two protagonists of the benevolent system of the dictatorship except that Leon Trotsky is no longer in power to enforce its blessings, and Josef Stalin is. No, I hold no brief for the present ruler of Russia. I must, however, point out that Stalin did not come down as a gift from heaven to the hapless Russian people. He is merely continuing the Bolshevik traditions, even if in a more relentless manner.

The process of alienating the Russian masses from the Revolution had begun almost immediately after Lenin and his party had ascended to power. Crass discrimination in rations and housing, suppression of every political right, continued persecution and arrests, early became the order of the day. True, the purges undertaken at that time did not include party members, although Communists also helped to fill the prisons and concentration camps.

A case in point is the first Labour Opposition whose rank and file were quickly eliminated and their leaders, Shlapnikov sent to the Caucasus for “a rest,” and Alexandra Kollontai placed under house arrest. But all the other political opponents, among them Mensheviki, Social Revolutionists, Anarchists, many of the Liberal intelligentsia and workers as well as peasants, were given short shrift in the cellars of the Cheka, or exiled to slow death in distant parts of Russia and Siberia. In other words, Stalin has not originated the theory or methods that have crushed the Russian Revolution and have forged new chains for the Russian people.

I admit, the dictatorship under Stalin’s rule has become monstrous. That does not, however, lessen the guilt of Leon Trotsky as one of the actors in the revolutionary drama of which Kronstadt was one of the bloodiest scenes…

What a pity that the silence of the dead sometimes speaks louder than the living voice. In point of truth the voices strangled in Kronstadt have grown in volume these seventeen years. Is it for this reason, I wonder, that Leon Trotsky resents its sound?

Leon Trotsky quotes Marx as saying, “that it is impossible to judge either parties or people by what they say about themselves.” How pathetic that he does not realise how much this applies to him! No man among the able Bolshevik writers has managed to keep himself so much in the foreground or boasted so incessantly of his share in the Russian Revolution and after as Leon Trotsky. By this criterion of his great teacher, one would have to declare all Leon Trotsky’s writing to be worthless, which would be nonsense of course.

In discrediting the motives which conditioned the Kronstadt uprising, Leon Trotsky records the following: “From different fronts I sent dozens of telegrams about the mobilisation of new ’reliable’ detachments from among the Petersburg workers and Baltic fleet sailors, but already in 1918, and in any case not later than 1919, the fronts began to complain that a new contingent of ‘Kronstadters’ were unsatisfactory, exacting, undisciplined, unreliable in battle and doing more harm than good.” Further on, on the same page, Trotsky charges that, “when conditions became very critical in hungry Petrograd the Political Bureau more than once discussed the possibility of securing an ’internal loan’ from Kronstadt where a quantity of old provisions still remained, but the delegates of the Petrograd workers answered, ‘You will never get anything from them by kindness; they speculate in cloth, coal and bread. At present in Kronstadt every kind of riff-raff has raised its head.’” How very Bolshevik that is, not only to slay one’s opponents but also to besmirch their characters. From Marx and Engels, Lenin, Trotsky to Stalin, this method has ever been the same.

Now, I do not presume to argue what the Kronstadt sailors were in 1918 or 1919. I did not reach Russia until January 1920. From that time on until Kronstadt was “liquidated” the sailors of the Baltic fleet were held up as the glorious example of valour and unflinching courage. Time on end I was told not only by Anarchists, Mensheviks and social revolutionists, but by many Communists, that the sailors were the very backbone of the Revolution. On the 1st of May, 1920, during the celebration and the other festivities organised for the first British Labour Mission, the Kronstadt sailors presented a large clear-cut contingent, and were then pointed out as among the great heroes who had saved the Revolution from Kerensky, and Petrograd from Yudenich. During the anniversary of October the sailors were again in the front ranks, and their re-enactment of the taking of the Winter Palace was wildly acclaimed by a packed mass.

Is it possible that the leading members of the party, save Leon Trotsky, were unaware of the corruption and the demoralisation of Kronstadt, claimed by him? I do not think so. Moreover, I doubt whether Trotsky himself held this view of the Kronstadt sailors until March, 1921. His story must, therefore, be an afterthought, or is it a rationalisation to justify the senseless “liquidation” of Kronstadt?

Granted that the personnel had undergone a change, it is yet a fact that the Kronstadters in 1921 were nevertheless far from the picture Leon Trotsky and his echo have painted. In point of actual fact, the sailors met their doom only because of their deep kinship and solidarity with the Petrograd workers whose power of endurance of cold and hunger had reached the breaking point in a series of strikes in February 1921. Why have Leon Trotsky and his followers failed to mention this? Leon Trotsky knows perfectly well… that the first scene of the Kronstadt drama was staged in Petrograd on 24th February, and played not by the sailors but by the strikers. For it was on this date that the strikers had given vent to their accumulated wrath over the callous indifference of the men who had prated about the dictatorship of the proletariat which had long ago deteriorated into the merciless dictatorship of the Communist Party.

Alexander Berkman’s entry in his diary of this historic day reads:

“The Trubotchny mill workers have gone on strike. In the distribution of winter clothing, they complain, the Communists received undue advantage over the non-partisans. The Government refuses to consider the grievances till the men return to work.

“Crowds of strikers gathered in the street near the mills, and soldiers were sent to disperse them. They were Kursanti, Communist youths of the military academy. There was no violence.

“Now the strikers have been joined by the men from the Admiralty shops and Calernaya docks. There is much resentment against the arrogant attitude of the Government. A street demonstration was attempted, but mounted troops suppressed it.”

It was after the report of their Committee of the real state of affairs among the workers in Petrograd that the Kronstadt sailors did in 1921 what they had done in 1917. They immediately made common cause with the workers. The part of the sailors in 1917 was hailed as the red pride and glory of the Revolution. Their identical part in 1921 was denounced to the whole world as counter-revolutionary treason. Naturally, in 1917 Kronstadt helped the Bolsheviks into the saddle. In 1921 they demanded a reckoning for the false hopes raised in the masses, and the great promise broken almost immediately the Bolsheviks had felt entrenched in their power. A heinous crime indeed. The important phase of this crime, however, is that Kronstadt did not “mutiny” out of a clear sky. The cause for it was deeply rooted in the suffering of the Russian workers; the city proletariat, as well as the peasantry.

To be sure, the former commissar assures us that “the peasants reconciled themselves to the requisition as a temporary evil,” and that “the peasants approved of the Bolsheviki, but became increasingly hostile to the ‘Communists’.” But these contentions are mere fiction, as can be demonstrated by numerous proofs – not the least of them the liquidation of the peasant soviet, headed by Maria Spiridonova, and iron and fire used to force the peasants to yield up all their produce, including their grain for their spring sowing.

In point of historic truth, the peasants hated the régime almost from the start, certainly from the moment when Lenin’s slogan, “Rob the robbers,” was turned into “Rob the peasants for the glory of the Communist Dictatorship.” That is why they were in constant ferment against the Bolshevik Dictatorship. A case in point was the uprising of the Karelian Peasants drowned in blood by the Tsarist General Slastchev-Krimsky. If the peasants were so enamoured with the Soviet regime, as Leon Trotsky would have us believe, why was it necessary to rush this terrible man to Karelia?

He had fought against the Revolution from its very beginning and had led some of the Wrangel forces in the Crimea. He was guilty of fiendish barbarities to war prisoners and infamous as a maker of pogroms. Now Slastchev-Krimsky recanted and he returned to “his Fatherland.” This arch-counter revolutionist and Jew-baiter, together with several Tsarist generals and White Guardists, was received by the Bolsheviki with military honours. No doubt it was just retribution that the anti-Semite had to salute the Jew, Trotsky, his military superior. But to the Revolution and the Russian people the triumphal return of the imperialist was an outrage.

As a reward for his newly-fledged love of the Socialist Fatherland, Slastchev-Krimsky was commissioned to quell the Karelian peasants who demanded self-determination and better conditions.

Leon Trotsky tells us that the Kronstadt sailors in 1919 would not have given up provisions by “kindness” – not that kindness had been tried at any time. In fact, this word does not exist in Bolshevik lingo. Yet here are these demoralised sailors, the riff-raff speculators, etc., siding with the city proletariat in 1921, and their first demand is for equalisation of rations. What villains these Kronstadters were, really!

Much is being made by both writers against Kronstadt of the fact that the sailors who, as we insist, did not premeditate the rebellion, but met on the 1st of March to discuss ways and means of aiding their Petrograd comrades, quickly formed themselves into a Provisional Revolutionary Committee. The answer to this is actually given by John G. Wright himself. He writes: “It is by no means excluded that the local authorities in Kronstadt bungled in their handling of the situation… . It is no secret that Kalinin and Commissar Kusmin, were none too highly esteemed by Lenin and his colleagues… . In so far as the local authorities were blind to the full extent of the danger or failed to take proper and effective measures to cope with the crisis, to that extent their blunders played a part in the unfolding events… .”

The statement that Lenin did not esteem Kalinin or Kusmin highly is unfortunately an old trick of Bolshevism to lay all blame on some bungler so that the heads may remain lily pure.

Indeed, the local authorities in Kronstadt did “bungle.” Kuzmin attacked the sailors viciously and threatened them with dire results. The sailors evidently knew what to expect from such threats. They could not but guess that if Kuzmin and Vassiliev were permitted to be at large their first step would be to remove arms and provisions from Kronstadt. This was the reason why the sailors formed their Provisional Revolutionary Committee. An additional factor, too, was the news that a committee of 30 sailors sent to Petrograd to confer with the workers had been denied the right to return to Kronstadt, that they had been arrested and placed in the Cheka.

Both writers make a mountain of a molehill of the rumours announced at the meeting of 1st March to the effect that a truckload of soldiers heavily armed were on their way to Kronstadt. Wright has evidently never lived under an air-tight dictatorship. I have. When every channel of human contact is closed, when every thought is thrown back on itself and expression stifled, then rumours rise like mushrooms from the ground and grow into terrifying dimensions. Besides, truckloads of soldiers and Chekists armed to their very teeth tearing along the streets in the day, throwing out their nets at night and dragging their human haul to the Cheka, was a frequent sight in Petrograd and Moscow during the time when I was there. In the tension of the meeting after Kuzmin’s threatening speech, it was perfectly natural for rumours to be given credence.

The news in the Paris Press about the Kronstadt uprising two weeks before it happened had been stressed in the campaign against the sailors as proof positive that they had been tools of the Imperialist gang and that rebellion had actually been hatched in Paris. It was too obvious that this yarn was used only to discredit the Kronstadters in the eyes of the workers.

In reality this advance news was like other news from Paris, Riga or Helsingfors, and which rarely, if ever, coincided with anything that had been claimed by the counter-revolutionary agents abroad. On the other hand, many events happened in Soviet Russia which would have gladdened the heart of the Entente and which they never got to know – events far more detrimental to the Russian Revolution caused by the dictatorship of the Communist Party itself. For instance, the Cheka which undermined many achievements of October and which already in 1921 had become a malignant growth on the body of the Revolution, and many other similar events which would take me too far afield to treat here.

No, the advance news in the Paris Press had no bearing whatever on the Kronstadt rebellion. In point of fact, no one in Petrograd in 1921 believed its connection, not even quite a number of Communists. As I have already stated, John G. Wright is merely an apt pupil of Leon Trotsky and therefore quite innocent of what most people within and outside of the party thought about this so-called “link.”

Future historians will no doubt appraise the Kronstadt “mutiny” in its real value. If and when they do, they will no doubt come to the conclusion that the uprising could not have come more opportunely if it had been deliberately planned.

The most dominant factor which decided the fate of Kronstadt was the N.E.P. (the New Economic Policy). Lenin, aware of the very considerable party opposition this new-fangled “revolutionary” scheme would meet, needed some impending menace to ensure the smooth and ready acceptance of the N.E.P. Kronstadt came along most conveniently. The whole crushing propaganda machine was immediately put into motion to prove that the sailors were in league with all the Imperialist powers, and all the counter-revolutionary elements to destroy the Communist State. That worked like magic. The N.E.P. was rushed through without a hitch.

Time alone will prove the frightful cost this manoeuvre has entailed. The three hundred delegates, the young Communist flower, rushed from the Party Congress to crush Kronstadt, were a mere handful of the thousands wantonly sacrificed. They went fervently believing the campaign of vilification. Those who remained alive had a rude awakening.

I have recorded a meeting with a wounded Communist in a hospital in My Disillusionment With Russia. It has lost nothing of its poignancy in the years since:

“Many of those wounded in the attack on Kronstadt had been brought to the same hospital, mostly Kursanti. I had an opportunity to speak to one of them. His physical suffering, he said, was nothing as compared with his mental agony. Too late he had realised that he had been duped by the cry of ‘counter-revolution.’ No Tsarist generals, no White Guardists in Kronstadt had led the sailors – he found only his own comrades, sailors, soldiers and workers, who had heroically fought for the Revolution.”

No one at all in his senses will see any similarity between the N.E.P. and the demand of the Kronstadt sailors for the right of free exchange of products. The N.E.P. came to reintroduce the grave evils the Russian Revolution had attempted to eradicate. The free exchange of products between the workers and the peasants, between the city and the country, embodied the very raison d’etre of the Revolution. Naturally “the Anarchists were against the N.E.P.” But free exchange, as Zinoviev had told me in 1920, “is out of our plan of centralisation.” Poor Zinoviev could not possibly imagine what a horrible ogre the centralisation of power would become.

It is the idée fixe of centralisation of the dictatorship which early began to divide the city and the village, the workers and the peasants, not, as Leon Trotsky will have it, because “the one is proletarian … . and the other petty bourgeois,” but because the dictatorship had paralysed the initiative of both the city proletariat and the peasantry.

Leon Trotsky makes it appear that the Petrograd workers quickly sensed “the petty bourgeois nature of the Kronstadt uprising and therefore refused to have anything to do with it.” He omits the most important reason for the seeming indifference of the workers of Petrograd. It is of importance, therefore, to point out that the campaign of slander, lies and calumny against the sailors began on the 2nd March, 1921. The Soviet Press fairly oozed poison against the sailors. The most despicable charges were hurled against them, and this was kept up until Kronstadt was liquidated on 17th March. In addition, Petrograd was put under martial law. Several factories were shut down and the workers thus robbed, began to hold counsel with each other. In the diary of Alexander Berkman, I find the following:

“Many arrests are taking place. Groups of strikers guarded by Chekists on the way to prison are a common sight. There is great nervous tension in the city. Elaborate precautions have been taken to protect the Government institution. Machine guns are placed on the Astoria, the living quarters of Zinoviev and other prominent Bolsheviki. Official proclamations commanding immediate return of the strikers to the factories … and warning the populace against congregating in the streets.

“The Committee of Defence has initiated a ‘clean-up of the city.’ Many workers suspected of sympathising with Kronstadt have been placed under arrest. All Petrograd sailors and part of the garrison thought to be ‘untrustworthy’ have been ordered to distant points, while the families of Kronstadt sailors living in Petrograd are held as hostages. The Committee of Defence notified Kronstadt that ‘the prisoners are kept as pledges’ for the safety of the Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, N. N. Kuzmin, the Chairman of the Kronstadt Soviet, T. Vassiliev, and other Communists. If the least harm is suffered by our comrades the hostages will pay with their lives.”

Under these iron-clad rules it was physically impossible for the workers of Petrograd to ally themselves with Kronstadt, especially as not one word of the manifestoes issued by the sailors in their paper was permitted to penetrate to the workers in Petrograd. In other words, Leon Trotsky deliberately falsifies the facts. The workers would certainly have sided with the sailors because they knew that they were not mutineers or counter-revolutionists, but that they had taken a stand with the workers as their comrades had done as long ago as 1905, and March and October, 1917. It is therefore a grossly criminal and conscious libel on the memory of the Kronstadt sailors.

In the New International on page 106, second column, Trotsky assures his readers that no one “we may say in passing, bothered in those days about the Anarchists.” That unfortunately does not tally with the incessant persecution of Anarchists which began in 1918, when Leon Trotsky liquidated the Anarchist headquarters in Moscow with machine guns. At that time the process of elimination of the Anarchists began. Even now so many years later, the concentration camps of the Soviet Government are full of the Anarchists who remained alive.

Actually before the Kronstadt uprising, in fact in October 1920, when Leon Trotsky again had changed his mind about Makhno, because he needed his help and his army to liquidate Wrangel, and when he consented to the Anarchist Conference in Kharkhov, several hundred Anarchists were drawn into a net and despatched to the Boutirka prison where they were kept without any charge until April 1921, when they, together with other Left politicals, were forcibly removed in the dead of night and secretly sent to various prisons and concentration camps in Russia and Siberia. But that is a page of Soviet history of its own. What is to the point in this instance is that the Anarchists must have been thought of very much, else there would have been no reason to arrest them and ship them in the old Tsarist way to distant parts of Russia and Siberia.

Leon Trotsky ridicules the demands of the sailors for Free Soviets. It was indeed naive of them to think that free Soviets can live side by side with a dictatorship. Actually the free Soviets had ceased to exist at an early stage in the Communist game, as the Trade Unions and the co-operatives. They had all been hitched to the chariot wheel of the Bolshevik State machine. I well remember Lenin telling me with great satisfaction, “Your Grand Old Man, Enrico Malatesta, is for our soviets.” I hastened to say, “You mean free soviets, Comrade Lenin. I, too, am for them.” Lenin turned our talk to something else. But I soon discovered why Free Soviets had ceased to exist in Russia.

John G. Wright will have it that there was no trouble in Petrograd until 22nd February. That is on par with his other rehash of the “historic” Party material. The unrest and dissatisfaction of the workers were already very marked when we arrived. In every industry I visited I found extreme dissatisfaction and resentment because the dictatorship of the proletariat had been turned into a devastating dictatorship of the Communist Party with its different rations and discriminations. If the discontent of the workers had not broken loose before 1921 it was only because they still clung tenaciously to the hope that when the fronts would be liquidated the promise of the Revolution would be fulfilled. It was Kronstadt which pricked the last bubble.

The sailors had dared to stand by the discontented workers. They had dared to demand that the promise of the Revolution – all Power in the Soviets – should be fulfilled. The political dictatorship had slain the dictatorship of the proletariat. That and that alone was their unforgivable offense against the holy spirit of Bolshevism.

In his article Wright has a footnote to page 49, second column, wherein he states that Victor Serge in a recent comment on Kronstadt “concedes that the Bolsheviki, once confronted with the mutiny had no other recourse except to crush it.” Victor Serge is now out of the hospitable shores of the workers’ “fatherland.” I therefore do not consider it a breach of faith when I say that if Victor Serge made this statement charged to him by John G. Wright, he is merely not telling the truth.

Victor Serge was one of the French Communist Section who was as much distressed and horrified over the impending butchery decided upon by Leon Trotsky to “shoot the sailors as pheasants” as Alexander Berkman, myself and many other revolutionists. He used to spend every free hour in our room running up and down, tearing his hair, clenching his fists in indignation and repeating that “something must be done, something must be done, to stop the frightful massacre.” When he was asked why he, as a party member, did not raise his voice in protest in the party session, his reply was that that would not help the sailors and would mark him for the Cheka and even silent disappearance.

The only excuse for Victor Serge at the time was a young wife and a small baby. But for him to state now, after seventeen years, that “the Bolsheviki once confronted with the mutiny had no other recourse except to crush it,” is, to say the least, inexcusable. Victor Serge knows as well as I do that there was no mutiny in Kronstadt, that the sailors actually did not use their arms in any shape or form until the bombardment of Kronstadt began. He also knows that neither the arrested Communist Commissars nor any other Communists were touched by the sailors. I therefore call upon Victor Serge to come out with the truth. That he was able to continue in Russia under the comradely régime of Lenin, Trotsky and all the other unfortunates who have been recently murdered, conscious of all the horrors that are going on, is his affair, but I cannot keep silent in the face of the charge against him as saying that the Bolsheviki were justified in crushing the sailors.

Leon Trotsky is sarcastic about the accusation that he had shot 1,500 sailors. No, he did not do the bloody job himself. He entrusted [Mikhail] Tukhachevsky, his lieutenant, to shoot the sailors “like pheasants” as he had threatened. Tukhachevsky carried out the order to the last degree. The numbers ran into legions, and those who remained after the ceaseless attack of Bolshevisk artillery, were placed under the care of [Pavel] Dybenko, famous for his humanity and his justice.

Tukhachevsky and Dybenko, the heroes and saviours of the dictatorship! History seems to have its own way of meting out justice.*

Emma Goldman, 1938

*An ironic comment from Emma Goldman regarding the executions of Tukhachevsky and Dybenko as traitors and counter-revolutionaries by the Stalin regime in 1937-1938. Tukhachevsky was the first of them to be arrested and executed in 1937. In a further irony, Dybenko had before his arrest and execution not only participated in the purges but had been involved in the arrest and trial of Tukhachesky, his former “comrade in arms” in the brutal suppression of the Krondstadt revolt. Needless to say, Goldman’s reference to Dybenko’s reputation for humanity and justice was completely facetious.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout – Worst Film of the Year

Not being one to run out to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Mission: Impossible – Fallout slipped under my radar when it was released last summer. Recently, while travelling by plane, I started watching it on the in-plane movie service. Within 5 minutes I got the gist of it: a group of rogue secret agents, formerly professional killers for various states, have become “anarchists” intent on bringing down the existing world order by detonating nuclear bombs in the Himalayan watershed. The intended result is to contaminate the water supply for billions of people, which will somehow lead to the collapse of civilization and the emergence of a new kind of world order from out of the chaos. Reminds me of a fellow university student years ago who seriously asked my why I was opposed to nuclear arms when a nuclear war would destroy everything — isn’t that what anarchists want? One commentator has suggested that this marks a shift in Hollywood from Islamic bogeymen to anarchists as the new “bad guys.” Let’s hope not, but MI: Fallout was a big hit at the box office. As a belated and partial antidote to this patent nonsense, I reprint a piece written by Paul Goodman in 1962 during the height of the Cold War, in which he points out that it is mainstream culture that has become suicidal, a theme he also pursued in “A Public Dream of Universal Disaster,” which I included in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Paul Goodman

In a disturbing study of the paralyzing effects of war spirit and war preparations, “The Arms Race as an Aspect of Popular Culture,” Professor Robert Engler of Columbia warns us of the dislocation of scientific and professional education; the dislocation of the normal pattern of economy and industry; the growing spirit of the garrison state: censorship, lying propaganda, the infiltration of the (retired) military into the industrial system; the crazy competitive goals in armaments and the space race; the astonishing distortion of community values in the private-shelter business. People accept the whittling away of civil liberties. There is distortion even in the play and dreams of children.

We must ask also the opposite question: Why are people susceptible? What in our society and culture makes such a development possible? What paralysis in the public allows these preparations to become so deadly? It is a useful question, because to the degree that we can answer it, we can try to withdraw energy from the conditions and feelings that lurk in the background of the present spirit.

The economic advantages of the Cold War (to some) must be mentioned first. And we may use economic policy as an unerring index of the secret position of the government in Washington. The government can protest as loudly as it wishes to the people of the world that it wants disarmament with inspection, etc.; but so long as there are no actual economic plans and preparations being made to reconvert industries to peacetime uses and to take up the slack of employment that disarmament would involve, we cannot believe the government. There are no such plans and preparations, though there is a Disarmament Agency and though Professor Melman has offered them a philosophy in The Peace Race.

John Ullmann of Hofstra has shown that even apart from the budget, our political structure itself predisposes us to the war spirit; for it combines prejudice and regimentation, self-righteousness and violence. And every study of the present regime in Washington shows that it has become largely a machine for waging Cold War. Even vested economic interests must succumb, for the government can make or ruin a firm by manipulating the contracts for armaments.

Let me now, however, go on to recall some psychological factors in the American cultural background that make the Cold War “advantageous.” Our modern times are affluent and disappointed, active and powerless, technical and purposeless. This clinch is the Cold War.

In America, the so-called high standard of living, urbanism, the sexual revolution only partly carried through, have notoriously resulted in excessive busyness with little reward in happiness, and in excessive stimulation with inadequate sexual or creative discharge. People are balked by the general inhibition of anger and physical aggression in our cities, offices, and streamlined industries and grievance committees. And since one cannot be angry, one cannot be affectionate.

At the same time, as part of the same urban-technological-economical-political complex, common people today are extraordinarily powerless. Few ever make, individually or in face-to-face associations, decisions about many of the most important matters. Labor decides about neither the product nor the process, the utility nor the distribution. Affairs are bureaucratized, with inevitable. petty delays and tensions. There is an almost total absence of real rather than formal democracy. A local meeting, e.g., a Parent-Teachers meeting, has no power to decide but can only exert pressure, which is usually cleverly evaded. Voters decide not issues or policies but the choice between equivalent Front personalities. The corporations dominate the economy and small enterprises are discouraged. The pattern, especially of middle-class life, is scheduled often down to the minute, and spontaneity is penalized. Even consumption goods are bought for emulation rather than final satisfaction. Police surveillance increases conformity and timidity. With increasing wealth, there is increasing insecurity.

According to the theory of masochism of Wilhelm Reich, which has become fairly standard, the result of such excessive stimulation and inadequate discharge is a need to “explode,” be pierced, beaten, etc., in order to release the feelings that have been pent up. Of course, it is people themselves who are imprisoning themselves; they could release themselves if it were not for the totality of their fearfulness and ineffectuality. That is to say, they cannot release themselves. Instead, they feel that release must come from outside agents or events. More healthily, this is felt as excitement in destruction and danger; in the lure of daring and dangerous sports; in the innocent joy in watching a house burn down and living through hurricanes and earthquakes (and discussing them endlessly.) And characteristically of poor mankind, once they been given the cosmical permission of Necessity, people act with the community and heroism that is in them from the beginning. The case is darker, more painful and sadistic when, avidly but generally more privately, people read up the air disasters. Likewise, the nuclear phobia of many patients is a projection of their own self-destructive and destructive wishes, and it vanishes when so analyzed, that is, when the patient can reconnect the images of disaster to the actual things that he wants to explode, burn, poison, annihilate.

Similar are fantasies of destructive Enemies, who will do the job for us. And it does not help if two opposed Enemies cooperate in their projections, so that each one recognizes a threat in the other and arms accordingly and so provides more tangible proof of the threat. (This phenomenon of mirror-image projections has been somewhat studied by Professor Osgood.)

A less familiar factor, but to my mind a very important one, is the inhibited response to the insulting and nauseating tone of our commercialized popular culture and advertising. People experience a self-disgust and a wish to annihilate, vomit up, this way of life; but they hold their nausea down, they feel powerless to give up this culture — it is all there is — they cannot even shut off the TV.

On these grounds, we can speak of War Spirit as an epidemic wish to commit suicide en masse, as one community. To have the frustration over with! to get rid of all that junk at once! Thus, an important explanation of the paralysis of the public in safeguarding against, or simply dismissing, the obvious irrationality and danger of war policies, is that people are inwardly betrayed by a wish for the catastrophe that they rationally oppose.

So far negatively. But there is a positive side. Powerless and uninventive in decisive affairs of everyday life, people increasingly find excitement in the doings of the Great on far-off stages and in the Big News in the newspapers. This occurs everywhere as spectatoritis and TV-watching. An event might be happening outside the window, but people will watch it on the TV screen instead; for there, it is purified, magnified, and legitimized by the national medium. What is sponsored by a national network is Reality. And, of course, of this Big News the most important is the drama of the Warring Powers, that toys with, and continually threatens to satisfy, every man’s orgastic-destructive urges. Brinkmanship and Playing Chicken and the Testing of bigger firecrackers — however stupid and immediately rejectable by common reason — are nevertheless taken as most serious maneuvers. The powerlessness of the small gets solace by identification with power Elites, and people eagerly say “We” and “They,” meaning one bloc or the other.

The outpouring of dammed-up hostility is channeled antiseptically and guiltlessly through pugnacious diplomacy, interest in impersonal technology, and the excitement of war-games theory. Push-button and aerial war is especially like a dream. It is forbiddingly satisfactory in its effects, yet one is hardly responsible for it, one has hardly even touched a weapon. Games-theory has the mechanical innocence of a computer.

My guess is that in the contemporary conditions of technology and standard of living, the Americans suffer somewhat more from the above psychological pressures than the Russians, who are still starved for consumer’s goods and hope naively to get important satisfaction from them. The Americans have more need for the Cold War than the Russians. They can afford it more and, for the same reason, need it more. Since the Russians can afford it less, they also need it less. (I am told, however, that in Russia the big arms-production has gone so far that they too have an industrial-military complex that now goes by itself.) On the other hand — again this is my guess — in dictatorships there is more underlying animal fear, fear because acquaintances have suddenly vanished, fear of speaking out; therefore their War Spirit might involve more desperate adventurousness, more need for little proving victories, because people feel more inwardly unsafe. Also — this is said to be true of the Chinese — when there is famine and utter misery of life, it is only extreme actions that can weld people together at all. (The remedy for this is rather simple, to feed them.)

By and large, the panicky craze of the Americans for private, family bomb shelters seems best explicable in these terms. Because of the threat of poisoning and fire, public policy has come into an obvious clash with elementary biological safety. Yet it is impossible to change the public policy, and get rid of the industrial-military complex, for the war is wished for, and the identification with the Powerful is necessary for each powerless individual’s conceit. The private bomb shelter is the way out of the clinch: It allows the war to happen, yet it withdraws from reliance on the Public Policy which is evidently too dangerous to trust. It is a Do-It-Yourself. It even somewhat satisfies the biological instinct for safety — if one reads Life rather than scrupulous scientists. Naturally all the better if the Shelters can then be harmonized with business as usual and become an emulative luxury, a part of the high standard of living.

The entire argument of this essay is summed up in the official bulletin of the Office of Civil Defense, when it says, “Fallout is merely a physical fact of this nuclear age. It can be faced like any other fact.” Here we have the full-blown hallucination: dropping the bombs is — thought of as a physical fact rather than a social fact. And also this outrageous and moronic proposition is swallowed like everything else.

But as Margaret Mead has recently pointed out, this private flight of the Americans into their shelters has aroused shock and horror in the Europeans who are equally endangered. They cannot identify with the Powers; and many of them — British, Dutch, Russians — know what it is to be bombed and suffer in the war. (The Germans seem to be eager to assume the Bully role again themselves.) Naturally, Professor Mead’s solution is international bomb shelters for the fertile and academically talented!

Historically, the theorists of militarism have profited by the above analysis. From the time of Frederick William, the gait and posture of the warrior has been designed, by competent teachers of gymnastics, to cut off full sexual feeling and tenderness: the pelvis retracted, the anus tightened, the belly hardened, the exhalation impeded by squaring the shoulders. Marriage and other civilian ties are discouraged (but not the economic and political connections of retired generals). A soldier or sailor on the town must not become emotionally involved with the woman he picks up. And the Marine, balked in his manliness and insulted in his independence by spirit-breaking discipline and the chain of command, lives by a conceit of toughness and power, with slavish griping to let off steam. All are in a state of muscular hyper-toms, to snap unthinkingly to a command. The jaw is in a position of watchfulness. The public glorification of this mindless power is the complement of the public masochism; it is experienced as the terrible sublimity of war.

What then? How under modern conditions can we wage peace instead of war? We need a vast increase in the opportunities for initiative and making important decisions. This involves considerable decentralization of management, in industry, in government, in urban affairs like housing and schooling. (I do not think that this necessarily implies less efficiency, but that is another story.) It involves the use of our productivity to insure minimum subsistence, but otherwise the encouragement of individual enterprises. We must forthrightly carry through the sexual revolution, encourage the sexuality of children and adolescents, get rid of the sex laws and other moral laws. Many people might be offended by this policy, it might have disadvantages, but our present condition of stimulation and inadequate discharge is simply too dangerous in its irrational effects; we cannot continue it. We must revive individual worth and self-respect, by jobs of useful work that employ more of each person’s capacities, and an education that makes the culture and technology comprehensible and appropriable, so that people may be at home with it and possibly inventive and creative in it. We need a genuine folk-culture to enliven community, and a lofty public culture to give us meaning, and loyalty to a greater self. And paradoxically, if there were less false politeness, conformity, and civil peace — more energetic confrontation, loud quarrels, and fist fights — there would be less ultimate and catastrophic explosiveness. These things comprise, in my opinion, the modern moral equivalent of war that William James was after. They are entirely practical; and if, as the Americans are, they are utopian — there it is.

An occasional fist fight, a better orgasm, friendly games, a job of useful work, initiating enterprises, deciding real issues in manageable meetings, and being moved by things that are beautiful, curious, or wonderful — these diminish the spirit of war because they attach people to life. They should not be postponed while we “buy time” with deterrence and negotiations. On the contrary, if people began to insist on more life, the Front Page would carry very different news.

Let me add a postscript. I read these remarks to a conference of learned men, experts in the social sciences, in engineering, and in politics, discussing the deadly danger of the Cold War and the need to get out of it. The great majority of them found what I said to be entirely irrelevant. They were, predictably, hilarious about the references to sexuality. We are faced with an unexampled situation, a matter of life and death, publicly apparent to all the people and to which people hardly respond. Yet these experts believe that the concrete facts of people’s lives are not involved at all. Being superstitious as only modern scientists can be, they believe that something comes from nothing. Presumably, none of these facts of a life worth living are existent facts for them — not when they are “thinking.” They are “practical”: they face the issues as presented. Presented by whom? why?

One scientist, from Washington, spoke up and said: “You say that the Americans have a neurotic feeling of powerlessness. You don’t realize that those in power are equally frustrated.”

Paul Goodman (1962)

Trade Unions and the Society of the Future (Brussels Section of the International, 1868)

Recently I posted Iain McKay’s translation of Eugène Varlin’s 1870 article on workers’ societies, in which Varlin expressed views that had become widespread among the libertarian federalists in the International Workingmen’s Association regarding the role of trade unions in combatting capitalism and achieving socialism. This position was first clearly articulated within the International by the Brussels section in its report to the September 1868 Congress of the International. Here I reproduce excerpts from Iain McKay’s translation of the report from the Brussels section, which will be included in his forthcoming Libertarian Reader, a collection of libertarian socialist writings from the 1850s to the present day. I included several selections from anarchist members of the International in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, which covers a time span from 300 CE to 1939. Previously I posted Shawn Wilbur’s translation of the widely circulated 1869 statement from the Belgian Internationalists on the role of the International in creating the social institutions of a libertarian socialist society.

Report of the Brussels Section of the International

We must first declare that in our eyes the strike is not a solution, even partial, for the great problem of the extinction of poverty, but we believe that it is an instrument of struggle whose use will definitely lead towards the solution of this problem. This is why we believe we must respond to exclusive co-operators who see no serious movement amongst workers other than consumer, credit and producer societies and who in particular regard the strike as useless, or even as disastrous to the interests of the workers. We believe that it is necessary here to distinguish between types of strikes, both from the point of view of the organisation of the strike and from the point of view of the goal it pursues. […]

We believe we have sufficiently demonstrated that the strike can therefore offer unquestionable advantages. But, in our opinion, strikes must be subject to certain conditions, not only of justice and legitimacy, but also of opportunity and organisation. Hence, for the question of opportunity, it is easy to understand that such and such a season, for example, may be more favourable to the success of the strike than another. As for the question of organisation, we believe that the strike must be conducted by resistance societies […]

[…] [D]espite our desire and the certainty that we cherish of one day seeing the social order completely transformed, that is to say the abolition of the exploitation of man by man, replaced by the equal exchange of products and reciprocity between producers, we maintain that it is necessary to establish resistance societies, as long as there are categories of workers whose complete liberation is currently impossible. Example: miners, whose instrument of work or raw material can hardly be acquired; navvies, who would require enormous capital to perform their transformations, etc. We again support this necessity, because while founding production associations, it will take, with the current organisation of credit, some time for each of the different professions to acquire the instruments of labour that could require the use of many arms, and because, during the time required to create the necessary capital, the exploiters could reduce wages in such a way that the worker, instead of being able to save enough for his down payment, would fall into the situation of a man who does not know how to meet his commitments.

The resistance society is again necessary because it inspires a certain fear in the exploiter. The latter, when he is not quite sure of success, will be careful not to violate conventions, knowing that he would lose his authority in the case of the failure of his arbitrary attempt. This remark is so true that it can be applied to the exploited. In fact, workers who are forced to return to work which they initially refused because the wage had been reduced, feel the authority exerted over them by the disdainful exploiter much more when need forces them to return, crestfallen, into this prison, which should be a place of happiness and satisfaction for the hard-working man since that is where life, wealth and well-being come from.

The resistance society is of indisputable necessity, as long as the exploitation of man by man remains, as long as the idlers take anything from the work of others. It is necessary not only in view of what we have said, but also because it is only through it that the bosses and the workers will know who they are dealing with in the person of those who come to ask for work. The Association gives each of its members a certificate of morality and honesty. The employer and the worker will know that the Association keeps in its midst only workers free from all taint.

One of the causes of the steady decline of the price of labour, we may also mention, is that unemployed workers go from house to house offering their arms, and thus give the exploiter the idea that there is a greater abundance of unemployed men than there really are. Through association, demands for workers should be made directly to the committees which could still send workers only where the need arises.

Finally, apart from its usefulness for strikes, the placement of workers, etc., the society for maintaining prices is also useful through one of its complementary institutions, namely the insurance fund against unemployment, an essential complement to the resistance fund itself. Indeed, if it is necessary that the association raises funds to provide for the existence of its members in the case of strikes, that is to say, unemployment as a result of a dispute with the bosses, it is at least as useful for it to do the same for unforeseen cases of unemployment due to more or less temporary industrial crises.

If strikes, in order to be successful, need to be made and directed by resistance societies, in turn the resistance societies will be serious only when they are all federated, not only in a trade and in a country, but between countries and between trades; hence the need for an international federation. […]

Lastly, we shall conclude this subject by saying that if we are such great supporters of societies for maintaining prices, as we say in Belgium; resistance societies, as they say in France; trade unions, as they say in England; it is not only with regard to the necessities of the present, but also with regard to the social order of the future. Let us explain. We do not consider these societies merely a necessary palliative (note that we do not say cure); no, our sights are much higher. From the depths of the chaos of the conflict and misery in which we are agitating, we raise our eyes towards a more harmonic and happier society. Therefore, we see in these resistance societies the embryos of these great workers companies which will one day replace the companies of capitalists having under their orders legions of employees, at least in all industries where collective force is involved and where there is no middle ground between wage-labour and association. Already in the major strikes that have broken out in recent years a new tendency is quite clearly beginning to emerge: the strike must lead to the production society. That has already been said during the strike of the association of joiners and carpenters in Ghent, as during the strike of tailors in Paris. And that will happen, because it is in the logic of ideas and the force of events. It is inevitable that the workers will to come this little argument: “But while we are on strike because the bosses refuse to accede to our demands, consumers are still clamouring for the products of our industry; since our inactivity does not come from lack of demand but only from the obstinacy of our bosses, why should we not work directly for the public; the money that our fund spends to maintain inactive workers because of the strike could be spent on the purchase of raw materials and tools.”

Once this idea is understood, it will soon be realised. Only, it is important to note (and this is an important point) that these production associations that will result from the transformation of the societies for maintaining prices, will not be these petty associations like most of those existing currently; these latter, excellent as examples and as education which we wish well, do not seem to us to have any great social future, no role to play in the renewal of society because, composed of only a few individualities, they can only succeed, as Dr. Buchner says, in creating, alongside of the bourgeoisie or third-estate, a fourth-estate having beneath it a fifth more miserable than ever. Contrariwise, the production associations derived from the unions encompass entire trades, invade large industry and thereby form the NEW CORPORATION; a corporation that bourgeois economists will gladly confuse (we know) with the old guilds, although the latter was organised hierarchically, based on monopoly and privilege, and limited to a certain number of members (just like our current small production associations), while the former will be organised on the basis of equality, founded on mutuality and justice, and open to all.

Here appears to us the real and positive future of the trade unions, because the strike, we admit, is only useful as an interim measure; perpetual strikes would be the perpetuation of wage-labour, and we want the abolition of wage-labour; perpetual strikes would be the fight without truce nor end between capital and labour, and we want, not precisely what has been called today the association of labour and capital (a hybrid combination, under which the capitalist, provider of finance, has an agreement with the workers to eliminate the boss, while still collecting interest and dividends from labour), rather we want the absorption of work by labour; since capital is accumulated labour, which must have only a simple exchange value equal to the value of the labour it has cost, it cannot be taken into account in the division of the products; product of labour, capital can only be the property of the worker, he cannot be associated with it.

So, this transformation of resistance societies taking place not just in one country but in all, or at least those which are at the head of civilisation; in a word, all these associations of all lands, federated, will intervene initially for the struggle, benefiting from this federation to apply the reciprocal exchange of products at cost price, and international mutual exchange will replace the protectionism and free trade of the bourgeois economists. And this universal organisation of labour and exchange, of production and circulation, coinciding with an inevitable and necessary transformation in the organisation of land ownership at the same time as with an intellectual transformation, having for a starting point integral education given to all, social regeneration will be carried out in both the material and mental domain. And humanity, henceforth based on science and labour instead of being based on ignorance and the domination of capital as today, marching from progress to progress in all branches of the arts, sciences and industry, will peacefully fulfil its destiny.

The Brussels Section of the International, September 1868