G.P. Maksimov: The Anarchists and the February Revolution in Russia

February 1917

February 1917

Gregory (“Grigori”) Maksimov (often written as “Maximov” and “Maximoff” in English language material) was one of the leading exponents of anarcho-syndicalism in Russia during the 1917 Revolution.  He was in St. Petersburg when the February 1917 Revolution broke out, participating in the strike wave that helped provoke the Revolution. He became active in the factory committee movement which sought to bring about genuine workers’ control in Russia. After he was forced into exile in 1921, he wrote an exposé of the Bolshevik tyranny in Russia, The Guillotine at Work, and edited the first major English language selection of Bakunin’s writings, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin (published from Maksimov’s manuscripts after his death in 1950). The following excerpt is taken from Maksimov’s pamphlet, Syndicalists in the Russian Revolution, in which he describes the beginning of the Russian Revolution, before the return of the many political exiles who were to play such a fateful role in the Revolution’s ultimate outcome (including Bolsheviks like Lenin and Trotsky, and anarchists like Boris Yelensky).

Revolutionaries in St. Petersburg - March 1917

Revolutionaries in St. Petersburg – March 1917

The February Revolution

The Revolution shook all classes and strata of Russian social life. A vast unrest had permeated all levels of Russian society as a result of three centuries of oppression by the Tsarist regime.

During the revolutionary explosion, this unrest became the force which cemented the heterogeneous elements into a powerful united front, and which annihilated the edifice of despotism within three days, a brief revolutionary period, unprecedented in history. Within this movement, despite the fact that its component forces were actuated by different, and often mutually exclusive tasks and purposes, reigned full unanimity. At the moment of revolutionary explosion the aims of those various forces happened to coincide, since they were negative in character, being directed at annihilating the superannuated absolutist regime. The constructive aims were not yet clear. It was only during the further course of development, through the differing constructions placed on the aims and tasks of the revolution, that the hitherto amorphous forces began to crystallize and a struggle arose among them for the triumph of their ideas and objectives.

It is a noteworthy feature of the revolution that despite the rather small influence of Anarchists on the masses before its outbreak, it followed from its inception the anarchistic course of full decentralization; the revolutionary bodies immediately pushed to the front by the course of revolution were Anarcho-Syndicalist in their essential character. These were of the kind which lend themselves as adequate instruments for the quickest realization of the Anarchist ideal – Soviets, Factory Committees, peasant land committees and house committees, etc. The inner logic of the development and growth of such organizations led in November (October) 1917 to the temporary extinction of the State and the sweeping away of the foundations of capitalist economy.

I say temporarily, for in the long run the State and capitalism came to triumph, the logical development of the revolution having been openly frustrated by those who at first were instrumental in accelerating its course of development. Unchecked by the too trustful masses, whose aims and course of action, though felt instinctively, were still a far from being clearly realized, the Bolsheviks, to the extent that they gained the confidence of those masses, gradually enveloped the revolution with the chilling atmosphere of State dominance and brute force, thus dooming it to an inevitable process of decay. This process, however, became noticeable only six months after the “October revolution”. Up to that moment the revolution kept on ripening. The struggle became sharper and the objectives began to assume an ever clearer and more outspoken character. The country seethed and bubbled over, living a full life under conditions of freedom.

Grand struggle

The struggle of classes, groups and parties for preponderant influence in the revolution was intense, powerful and striking in character. As a result of this struggle there resulted a sort of stalemate of forces; none was in a position to command superiority in relation to the rest. This in turn made it impossible for the State and government – the external force standing above society – to become the instrument of one of the contending forces. The State, therefore, was paralyzed, not being able to exert its negative influence on the course of events, the more so in that the army, due to its active part in the movement, ceased to be an obedient instrument of State power. In this grand struggle of interests and ideas the Anarchists took an active and lively part.

The period from March (February) to November (October) 1917 was in its sweep and scope a most resplendent one for Anarcho-Syndicalist and Anarchist work, that is for propaganda, agitation, organization and action.

The revolution opened wide the door to Anarchist emigres returning from various countries, where they had fled to escape the ferocious persecution of the Tsar’s government. But even before the emigres’ return there arose, with the active participation of comrades released from prison and exile, groups and unions of Anarchists, as well as Anarchist publications. With the return of the Anarchists from abroad, this work began to pick up considerable momentum. Russia was covered with a thick, albeit too loosely connected, net of groups. Scarcely a sizeable city did not have an Anarcho-Syndicalist or Anarchist group. The propaganda took dimensions unprecedented for Anarchist activity in Russia. Proportionately, there was a great number of Anarchist newspapers, magazines, leaflets, pamphlets and books. The book market was flooded with Anarchist literature. The interest in Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarchism was enormous, reaching even the remote corners of the faraway North.

Newspapers were published not only in the large administrative and industrial centres, like Moscow and Petrograd, which had several Anarchist newspapers (in Petrograd the circulation of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Golos Trouda and the Anarchist Burevestnik was 25,000 each; the Moscow daily Anarchia had about the same circulation), but also in provincial cities, like Kronstadt, Yaroslavl, Nizhni-Novgorod, Saratov, Samara, Krasnoyarsk, Vladivostok, Rostov on Don, Odessa and Kiev. (In 1918, Anarchist papers were coming out in Ivanovo-Vosnesensk, Chembar, Ekaterinburg, Kursk, Ekaterinoslav, Viatka.)

Oral propaganda was even more extensive than written – it was carried out in the army, as well as in factories and villages. The propaganda stressed the central task of bringing out and carrying to their logical end the Anarchist principles and tendencies inherent in the revolution. This propaganda, Anarcho-Syndicalist propaganda especially, was very successful with the toilers. The influence of Anarchism, especially its Anarcho-Syndicalist variety, was so great with the Petrograd workers that the Social-Democrats were compelled to issue a special publication for the purpose of waging a struggle against “Anarcho-Syndicalism among the organized proletariat.” Unfortunately, this influence was not organized.

Gregory Maksimov

maximoff-bakunin-cover

Russian Anarchism Today

Autonomous Action

Autonomous Action

Recently, I posted an analysis of the situation in Ukraine by the Russian anarchist group, Autonomous Action. Here I present a statement of principles by Autonomous Action, to give a flavour of contemporary anarchist movements in Russia. I included material from Russian anarchists in all three volumes of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

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AUTONOMOUS ACTION: WHO ARE WE

Autonomous Action – it is a community of people, for whom “freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality” [Bakunin]. We consider that the most important things in life are not the consumption of goods, making a career, reaching positions of power and making money, but creativity, real human relations and personal liberty. All of us, be it workers and the unemployed people, students and pupils, employees and marginal elements, have one common unifying element – to protest against any power of a man over another man, state, capitalism and officially spread bourgeois “culture”. A desire not to be a willful nut in the mechanism of the System – to collectively resist it, to demand free self-realization.

OUR IDEALS AND OUR AIM

Autonomous Action against any form of domination and discrimination, both within the society and in our own organization. The current system of domination is tightly interlaced with a repressive state apparatus, industrial capitalist economical structure and authoritarian and hierarchic relations between people. We see that every state is an instrument of oppression and exploitation of the working majority for the benefit of the privileged minority. Power of state and capital is suppression of personality and creativity of each and everyone. This is why for us libertarian (free, stateless, self-governed) communism, a society without domination, is the necessary structure of society. The closest aim of Autonomous Action is to create a tradition and basis for a new humanist culture, social self-organization and radical resistance against militarism, capitalism, sexism and fascism.

HOW WE ARE ORGANIZED

Our goals may be reached only when aims and means meet. This is why our organization has a federative structure, which excludes leadership and hierarchy, denies inequality of the participators, centralism, strict division of functions, which ruin initiative, destroy autonomy and suppress personality. Our ideals and organizational principles are wide enough not to make us a sect, and concrete enough to allow co-ordination of actions, common tactics and aims and successful decision about tasks we engage in. Our structure,conditions of membership and mechanism of decision-making are defined in detail in the organizational principles of Autonomous Action.

HOW WE TAKE ACTION

Members of Autonomous Action support direct action. In order to reach our goals, we do not participate in the fight for power, for a seat in parliament or for arm-chairs of state officials. We realise our goals in direct order, by a wide spectrum of non- parliamentary and cultural action, if necessary revolutionary by form and content. Autonomous Action is a common front, subdivisions of which, each in their own directions, realise an attack against repressive relations in different social movements, in all spheres of social and individual life – at the same time building new relations, without domination and submission. Autonomous Action recognises the right of society and individuals to defend themselves and to resist against exploitation.

WAY TO OUR GOAL

We recognise a multitude of ways to reach our goals. The way might be one of revolutionary insurrection self-organised by the working masses, a general strike or a more or less gradual disappearance of the institutions of power and capital in favour of self-governing structures of alternative civil society, and so on. Life itself will define, which of the methods will be most effective and timely. But a society without domination may never be reached through reforms and legislative acts of parliaments and governments, initiatives of inter-state and corporate structures, representatives of the privileged and the ruling class. Our strategy is REVOLUTIONARY in the sense that it comes from below, from the very bottom structures of the society, and does not operate with the mechanisms and resources of the system; in the sense, that it does not demand partial changes in the system, but its destruction and change as a whole.

OUR ALTERNATIVE

Centralised bureaucratic machine, national and global capital and the consumerist mass culture which they have given rise to, that is the system suPpressing us, and it’s not only immoral and unjust, but it also leads the present human society to an ecological and cultural catastrophe and to war. Sharp change of direction has become an urgent necessity today. This is why we propose a radical alternative to existing order of things, based on humanism, liberty and equality. Our goal is not to “set up a divine kingdom on Earth”, but only to open a road to real social development. In such a society some of the present problems may remain, and some new may appear, but it will in any case be more equal, human and free than the present one, and in certain circumstances, becomes almost the only alternative to approaching catastrophe. Simultaneously, our alternative is not only a goal of the distant future, for which we are fighting for, but a society which we are creating here and now through everyday resistance. This alternative is fixed by the following ideals and directions of our activity, which every participator of Autonomous Action expresses according to his will, whereas her or his actions comply with goals of Autonomous Action and do not contradict the ideas of this manifesto.

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IDEALS AND DIRECTIONS

ANTI-AUTHORITARIANISM

Against every form of dictatorship, leadership, authoritarism, centralised bureaucratical apparatus, police excesses. For right to participate in making decision on any question influencing our destiny. For minimisation of vertical and maximisation of horizontal relations inside the society. For decentralisation of the governance, local autonomy, direct grassroots democracy and federalism. For free federation of self-governed, but interconnected individuals, groups, communes, regions where organs of the co-ordination, when they are necessary, are independent councils or other institutions of social self-governance, formed by assemblies not according to principle of presentation, but according to principle of delegation and imperative mandate – with the right to immediate recall delegates. FOR COMPLETE LIBERATION OF EACH AND EVERYONE! YOUR FREEDOM IS SENSELESS WITHOUT FREEDOM OF THE OTHERS!

ANTICAPITALISM

Human race, undivided in its natural state, has become divided between masters and powerless exploited majority. We stand for liquidation of the class society, wage work, humiliation and exploitation of human by another and imperialism, and for elimination of power of money and products. Against the dependence of human from the nature of “market relations”. Products should not govern people, in contrary people should use products sensibly and cautiously. Society should get over the catastrophical logic of the bourgeois production. Against growing power of transnational corporations and international structures of the capital. For workers’ governance and control in production. The wealth and resources of society should be accessible to everyone, not only to the governing elite. For people’s self-governance without capitalists and bureaucrats. Organisation and integration of the production should be made according to the principle: from everyone according to their capacities, to everyone according to their needs – taking into account transformation in the structure of needs themselves, and keeping in mind the production limits given by the society and saving the equilibrium and diversity of nature. Capitalism, as a system of all out war, profiting and humiliation has only one historical perspective – death of humanity and planetwide ecological catastrophe. And in the best case, immersion to gulf of “civilised” barbarism. Capitalism may not be reformed.

ANTI-FASCISM, ANTI-NATIONALISM

Fascism, racism and nationalism are means of bourgeoisie and bureaucracy to provoke people against each other, and to divide them to different races and nations, to hide mastership. To create profits and maintain power of bourgeoisie and bureaucracy over the society. We are internationalists. Only organising workers in international scale may not only challenge power and capital and reactionary political tendencies, but also to give them a decisive death blow. World should be multi-coloured, not brown! For a world without borders and national states, one in it’s multitude of cultures and traditions. For a world with multitude of personalities, collectives, communities and regions, no to a downcast world of national and religious hatred, racial prejudices, chauvinism, xenophobia, unified and closed “national culture”. For protection of national and cultural minorities against discrimination and fascist terror. For radical counter-attack against neo-nazis and national-patriotist ideologists and organisations. For foundation of anti-fascist shock troops to physically confront fascists.

ANTI-BOLSHEVISM

Negative experience of “real socialism” in countries like USSR, China, Cuba etc. does not in any case discredit ideas of libertarian communism. It is not possible to create free society and solidarity through authoritarian party structure seizing the state power, with dictatorship of any party apparatus or self-appointed “avant-garde”. Against Bolshevik principles of the organisation. For organisational structure, based on libertarian principles of mutual respect, equality and solidarity. Organisational structure should be image of things to come in the society, foundation of which we are trying to reach. We see, that regimes in so called “socialist states” were nothing but rude form of global tendency towards state-capitalism, a system in which bourgeois economical relations, wage labour as well as psychology remain. The only difference was that capitalist was one and collective – the governing party elite. Only difference between “socialist” and “western” capitalism was the form of capitalist accumulation. Libertarian experience of the Makhnovist movement, Spanish revolution, Tolstoyanism, independent labour movement etc. showed with which zeal Bolsheviks try to root out any anti-authoritarian, really communist movement. We are against any ideal and organisational unity with Leninists (Stalinists, Maoists, trotskists etc.). For close co-operation with non-authoritarian socialists, anti-party left communists and libertarian Marxists.

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SELF-GOVERNANCE

Forms of self-governance may be a) means of production seized by the workers to become common property, functioning with libertarian model of organisation; b) libertarian communes; c) other institutions, founded on regional, functional and other principles.

Such forms of self-governance could be effective method to found the basis of social alternative to the present society.

ANTI-MILITARISM

Against state army as a system of violence, instrument of governance of ruling class and instrument of integration of young men to patriarchal, authoritarian and hierarchical systems of domination. Against forced conscription. We should not defend state and government, which only exist in order to humiliate us. Boycott military call-ups! Trash all draft cards! For an alternative of general armament of workers and people’s militias, without hazing, humiliation of human dignity and prison regime. For full control of the society over military specialists. PEACE TO THE WHOLE WORLD! FREE PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE TO DIVIDE IT!

ECOLOGY

Against non-sustainable exploitation of the nature for profit of the few. Against industrial system of organisation and power of the technocrats. For development from all directions and inculcation of the alternative technologies. For foundation of ecological settlements and harmonisation of the relation between human and the nature. For decentralised, humanist, balanced production for interests of the people, with protection of the environment for the future generations, with gradual abolition of the industrial technologies. Active support to social ecologists in their struggle, participation to ecological actions and campaigns. NOT MORE, BUT BETTER! NOT EXTERNAL, BUT INTERNAL! NOT TO OWN, BUT TO BE!

FEMINISM

Against sexism – humiliation, violence and discrimination against women and men based on their sex. Against patriarchy – authoritarian structure of any class society, where mostly proprietor-men have power in all key spheres of the society, “female” is always subordinated to “male”, and family has a function of of reproduction and socialisation of the labour power. Against sexist stereotypes, family despotism, homophobia, porno industry and ageism (discrimination on the basis of the age). For active participation of the women to the life of the society, and possibility of individuals themselves to control their own bodies (and reproduction in special). Every human is equal and unique socially, sexually (in her/his gender) and age.

NEW HUMANIST CULTURE

Against hypocrisy and repression of the official mass culture, commercialisation of the creativity, power of the show-business and “amusement industry”. Against manipulation of the conscience and behaviour of any kind and form. Against elitism of the culture and hierarchy of its institutions. Global support to any kind of uncommercial creativity, experimental art and pedagogic. For support of the initiative of people, who already now want to live according to unauthoritarian principles. This kind of initiatives are important not only for escape from the reality, but also to gather experience of free and sensible relations. For foundation of squats, housing collectives, artist communes, autonomous cultural and information spaces, organisation of mass festivals of alternative culture. CULTURE SHOULD NOT IMPOVERISH OUR LIFE. LIFE SHOULD BECOME BIGGER THAN IT IS!

ANTI-CLERICALISM

We, without conditions, support full “freedom of spirit”, for every man’s free search of world outlook and faith. But we should do our best to resist, without using mechanism of rule, those ideological systems which bring hatred, xenophobia, nationalism in society and transfer individual to an authoritarian and dogmatic person. Many religious ideas are connected to such kind of systems. Even more resolutely we are against hierarchical church organisations, pyramidal and authoritarian structure of which may not serve interests of liberation of human individual. Such churches serve only one goal – fortifying human both physically and in spirit. One of the most serious and powerful churches of such kind in Russia is the Russian Orthodox Church, which already long time ago transformed into a powerful capitalist and bureaucratic corporation, receiving from the state both financial and ideological advantages. Against using needs of man for explanations about universe in the interests of business and power.

HOW TO START RESISTANCE?

Do not wait, take action yourselves. Concentrate your efforts to any direction you desire and feel close to yourselves. Find adherents among your friends, work- or schoolmates. Start from little, main thing is that you have some real issues to organise, such as publication and distribution of papers, formation of worker’s unions, organisation of squats, communes, alternative information centres or participation to a strike, anti-fascist struggle, protest camp, meetings, pickets or rock-concerts. The main thing is to take action, not to be based on the state or bourgeoisie, to take action against them and independent from them. It is necessary to connect other groups and initiatives, maintain informational and organisational connections to adherents in the whole country and abroad. That brings you confidence and power. Send materials about your life and struggle to our paper “Avtonom”, which covers struggle in the whole libertarian sphere. BE COURAGEOUS! LIVE FULLY, FREELY AND STRONGLY! RESIST! REMEMBER, THAT A SMALL GROUP OF FIGHTERS MAY START AN AVALANCHE!

AUTONOMOUS ACTION

"Anarchy is Good"

“Anarchy is Good”

Free Pussy Riot

PussyRiot

Amnesty International is trying to organize an international day of solidarity for the imprisoned Russian punk-feminists, Pussy Riot, for June 10, 2013, to coincide with the broadcast of Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, a documentary film about Pussy Riot and their persecution by Russian authorities: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/campaigns/individuals-at-risk/pussy-riot-punk-prayer?msource=W1306ECIAR1.

In support of Pussy Riot, I previously posted Michael Bakunin’s classic critique of the relationship between church and state, a critique which appears to hold true in Putin’s post-Soviet Russia. For many more of Bakunin’s anarchist writings, see Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot

Kropotkin: Prisons and Their Moral Influence on Prisoners (1886)

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, subtitled From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939), I included excerpts from Kropotkin’s well known essay, Law and Authority (Selection 52), in which he presents an anarchist critique of the law and the criminal justice system. While he touches on the anarchist view of prisons as “schools of crime” which create more harm than good, it is in his other essay, Prisons and Their Moral Influence on Prisoners (1886), that he presents the anarchist case against the prison system, and in his book, In Russian and French Prisons (1887), much of which was written while Kropotkin himself was in the French prison in Clairvaux for his revolutionary activities (see my previous post, Manifesto of the Anarchists: Lyon 1883).

Prisons and Their Moral Influence on Prisoners

Once a man has been in prison, he will return. It is inevitable, and statistics prove it. The annual reports of the administration of criminal justice in France show that one-half of all those tried by juries and two-fifths of all those who yearly get into the police courts for minor offences received their education in prisons. Nearly half of all those tried for murder and three-fourths of those tried for burglary are repeaters. As for the central prisons, more than one-third of the prisoners released from these supposedly correctional institutions are reimprisoned in the course of twelve months after their liberation.

Another significant angle is that the offence for which a man returns to prison is always more serious than his first. If, before, it was petty thieving, he returns now for some daring burglary; if he was imprisoned for the first time for some act of violence, often he will return as a murderer. All writers on criminology are in accord with this observation. Former offenders have become a great problem in Europe…

In spite of all the reforms made up to the present — in spite of all the experiments of different prison systems, the results are always the same. On the one hand, the number of offences against existing laws neither increases nor diminishes, no matter what the system of punishments is — the knout has been abolished in Russia and the death penalty in Italy, and the number of murders there has remained the same. The cruelty of the judges grows or lessens, the cruelty of the Jesuitical penal system changes, but the number of acts designated as crimes remains constant. It is affected only by other causes which I shall shortly mention. On the other hand, no matter what changes are introduced in the prison régime, the problem of second offenders does not decrease. That is inevitable — it must be so — the prison kills all the qualities in a man which make him best adapted to community life. It makes him the kind of a person who will inevitably return to prison to end his days in one of those stone tombs over which is engraved — “House of Detention and Correction.” There is only one answer to the question, “What can be done to better this penal system?” Nothing. A prison cannot be improved. With the exception of a few unimportant little improvements, there is absolutely nothing to do but demolish it…

So long as you deprive a man of his liberty, you will not make him better. You will cultivate habitual criminals: that is what I shall now prove.

To begin with, there is the fact that none of the prisoners recognize the justice of the punishment inflicted on them. This is in itself a condemnation of our whole judicial system. Speak to an imprisoned man or to some great swindler. He will say. “The little swindlers are here but the big ones are free and enjoy public respect.” What can you answer, knowing the existence of great financial companies expressly designed to take the last pennies of the savings of the poor, with the founders retiring in time to make good legal hauls out of these small fortunes? We all know these great stock issuing companies with their Iying circulars and their huge swindles. What can we answer the prisoner except that he is right?

Or this man, imprisoned for robbing a till, will tell you, “I simply wasn’t clever enough, that’s all.” And what can you answer, knowing what goes on in important places, and how, following terrible scandals, the verdict “not guilty” is handed out to these great robbers? How many times have you heard prisoners say, “It’s the big thieves who are holding us here; we are the little ones.” Who can dispute this when he knows the incredible swindles perpetrated in the realm of high finance and commerce; when he knows that the thirst for riches, acquired by every possible means, is the very essence of bourgeois society. When he has examined this immense quantity of suspicious transactions divided between the honest man (according to bourgeois standards) and the criminal, when he has seen all this, he must be convinced that jails are made for the unskillful, not for criminals…

Everyone knows the evil influence of laziness. Work relieves a man. But there is work and work. There is the work of the free individual which makes him feel a part of the immense whole. And there is that of the slave which degrades. Convict labour is unwillingly done, done only through fear of worse punishment. The work, which has no attraction in itself because it does not exercise any of the mental faculties of the worker, is so badly paid that it is looked upon as a punishment…

And what inspiration can a prisoner get to work for the common good, deprived as he is of all connections with life outside? By a refinement of cruelty, those who planned our prisons did everything they could to break all relationships of the prisoner with society. In England the prisoner’s wife and children can see him only once every three months, and the letters he is allowed to write are really preposterous. The philanthropists have even at times carried defiance of human nature so far as to restrict a prisoner from writing anything but his signature on a printed circular. The best influence to which a prisoner could be subjected, the only one which could bring him a ray of light, a softer element in his life — the relationship with his kin — is systematically prevented.

In the sombre life of the prisoner which flows by without passion or emotion, all the finer sentiments rapidly become atrophied. The skilled workers who loved their trade lose their taste for work. Bodily energy slowly disappears. The mind no longer has the energy for sustained attention; thought is less rapid, and in any case less persistent. It loses depth. It seems to me that the lowering of nervous energy in prisons is due, above all, to the lack of varied impressions. In ordinary life a thousand sounds and colours strike our senses daily, a thousand little facts come to our consciousness and stimulate the activity of our brains. No such things strike the prisoners’ senses. Their impressions are few and always the same…

In prisons as in monasteries, everything is done to kill a man’s will. He generally has no choice between one of two acts. The rare occasions on which he can exercise his will are very brief. His whole life is regulated and ordered in advance. He has only to swim with the current, to obey under pain of severe punishment.

Under these conditions all the will power that he may have had on entering disappears. And where will he find the strength with which to resist the temptations which will arise before him, as if by magic, when he is free-of the prison walls? Where will he find the strength to resist the first impulse to a passionate outbreak, if during several years everything was done to kill this inner strength, to make him a docile tool in the hands of those who control him? This fact is, according to my mind, the most terrible condemnation of the whole penal system based on the deprivation of individual liberty.

The origin of this suppression of individual will, which is the essence of all prisons, is easy to see. It springs from the desire of guarding the greatest number of prisoners with the fewest possible guards. The ideal of prison officials would be thousands of automatons, arising, working, eating and going to sleep by means of electric currents switched on by one of the guards. Economies might then be made in the budget, but no astonishment should be expressed that men, reduced to machines, are not, on their release, the type which society wants. As soon as a prisoner is released, his old companions await him. He is fraternally received and once again engulfed by the current which once swept him to prison. Protective organizations can do nothing. All that they can do to combat the evil influence of the prison is to counterbalance some of those results in the liberated men.

And what a contrast between the reception by his old companions and that of the people in philanthropic work for released prisoners! Who of them will invite him to his home and say to him simply, “Here is a room, here is work, sit down at this table, and become part of the family”? The released man is only looking for the outstretched hand of warm friendship. But society, after having done everything it could to make an enemy of him, having inoculated him with the vices of the prison, rejects him. He is condemned to become a “repeater”…

During all his prison life the prisoner is subjected to treatment which shows the greatest contempt of his feelings. A prisoner is not accorded the single respect due a human being. He is a thing, a number, and he is treated like a numbered thing. If he yields to the most human of all desires, that of communicating with a comrade, he is guilty of a breach of discipline. Before entering prison he may not have lied or deceived, but in prison he will learn to lie and deceive so that it will become second nature to him.

And it goes hard with those who do not submit. If being searched is humiliating, if a man finds the food distasteful, if he shows disgust in the keeper’s trafficking in tobacco, if he divides his bread with his neighbour, if he still has enough dignity to be irritated by an insult, if he is honest enough to be revolted by the petty intrigues, prison will be a hell for him. He will be overburdened with work unless he is sent to rot in solitary confinement. The slightest infraction of discipline will bring down the severest punishment. And each punishment will lead to another. He will be driven to madness through persecution. He can consider himself lucky to leave prison otherwise than in a coffin.

It is easy to write in the newspapers that the guards must be carefully watched, that the wardens must be chosen from good men. Nothing is easier than to build administrative utopias. But man will remain man — guard as well as prisoner. And when these guards are condemned to spend the rest of their lives in these false positions, they suffer the consequences. They become fussy. Nowhere, save in monasteries or convents, does such a spirit of petty intrigue reign. Nowhere are scandal and tale-bearing so well developed as among prison guards.

You cannot give an individual any authority without corrupting him. He will abuse it. He will be less scrupulous and feel his authority even more when his sphere of action is limited. Forced to live in any enemy’s camp, the guards cannot become models of kindness. To the league of prisoners there is opposed the league of jailers. It is the institution which makes them what they are — petty, mean persecutors. Put a Pestalozzi [renowned Swiss pedagogue] in their place and he will soon become a prison guard.

Quickly rancour against society gets into the prisoner’s heart. He becomes accustomed to detesting those who oppress him. He divides the world into two parts — one in which he and his comrades belong, the other, the external world, represented by the guards and their superiors. A league is formed by the prisoners against all those who do not wear prison garb. These are their enemies and everything that can be done to deceive them is right.

As soon as he is freed, the prisoner puts this code into practice. Before going to prison he could commit his offences unthinkingly. Now he has a philosophy, which can be summed up in the words of Zola, “What rascals these honest men are.”

If we take into consideration all the different influences of the prison on the prisoner, we will be convinced that they make a man less and less fitted for life in society. On the other hand, none of these influences raises the intellectual and moral faculties of the prisoner, or leads him to a higher conception of life. Prison does not improve the prisoner. And furthermore, we have seen that it does not prevent him from committing other crimes. It does not then achieve any of the ends which it has set itself…

Until now, penal institutions, so dear to the lawyers, were a compromise between the Biblical idea of vengeance, the belief of the middle ages in the devil, the modern lawyers’ idea of terrorization, and the idea of the prevention of crime by punishment.

It is not insane asylums that must be built instead of prisons. Such an execrable idea is far from my mind. The insane asylum is always a prison. Far from my mind also is the idea, launched from time to time by the philanthropists, that the prison be kept but entrusted to physicians and teachers. What prisoners have not found today in society is a helping hand, simple and friendly, which would aid them from childhood to develop the higher faculties of their minds and souls — faculties whose natural development has been impeded either by an organic defect or by the evil social conditions which society itself creates for millions of people. But these superior faculties of the mind and heart cannot be exercised by a person deprived of his liberty, if he never has choice of action. The physicians’ prison, the insane asylum, would be much worse than our present jails. Human fraternity and liberty are the only correctives to apply to those diseases of the human organism which lead to so-called crime.

Of course in every society, no matter how well organized, people will be found with easily aroused passions, who may, from time to time, commit anti-social deeds. But what is necessary to prevent this is to give their passions a healthy direction, another outlet.

Today we live too isolated. Private property has led us to an egoistic individualism in all our mutual relations. We know one another only slightly; our points of contact are too rare. But we have seen in history examples of a communal life which is more intimately bound together — the “composite family” in China, the agrarian communes, for example. These people really know one another. By force of circumstances they must aid one another materially and morally.

Family life, based on the original community, has disappeared. A new family, based on community of aspirations, will take its place. In this family people will be obliged to know one another, to aid one another and to lean on one another for moral support on every occasion. And this mutual prop will prevent the great number of anti-social acts which we see today.

It will be said, however, there will always remain some people, the sick, if you wish to call them that, who constitute a danger to society. Will it not be necessary somehow to rid ourselves of them, or at least prevent their harming others?

No society, no matter how little intelligent, will need such an absurd solution, and this is why. Formerly the insane were looked upon as possessed by demons and were treated accordingly. They were kept in chains in places like stables, riveted to the walls like wild beasts. But along came Pinel, a man of the Great Revolution, who dared to remove their chains and tried treating them as brothers. “You will be devoured by them,” cried the keepers. But Pinel dared. Those who were believed to be wild beasts gathered around Pinel and proved by their attitude that he was right in believing in the better side of human nature even when the intelligence is clouded by disease. Then the cause was won. They stopped chaining the insane.

Then the peasants of the little Belgian village, Gheel, found something better. They said: “Send us your insane. We will give them absolute freedom.” They adopted them into their families, they gave them places at their tables, chance alongside them to cultivate their fields and a place among their young people at their country balls. “Eat, drink, and dance with us. Work, run about the fields, and be free.” That was the system, that was all the science the Belgian peasant had. (I am speaking of the early days. Today the treatment of the insane at Gheel has become a profession and where it is a profession for profit, what significance can there be in it? ) And liberty worked a miracle. The insane became cured. Even those who had incurable, organic lesions became sweet, tractable members of the family like the rest. The diseased mind would always work in an abnormal fashion but the heart was in the right place. They cried that it was a miracle. The cures were attributed to a saint and a virgin. But this virgin was liberty and the saint was work in the fields and fraternal treatment.

At one of the extremes of the immense “space between mental disease and crime” of which Maudsley speaks, liberty and fraternal treatment have worked their miracle. They will do the same at the other extreme.

The prison does not prevent anti-social acts from taking place. It increases their numbers. It does not improve those who enter its walls. However it is reformed it will always remain a place of restraint, an artificial environment, like a monastery, which will make the prisoner less and less fit for life in the community. It does not achieve its end. It degrades society. It must disappear. It is a survival of barbarism mixed with Jesuitical philanthropy.

The first duty of the revolution will be to abolish prisons — those monuments of human hypocrisy and cowardice. Anti-social acts need not be feared in a society of equals, in the midst of a free people, all of whom have acquired a healthy education and the habit of mutually aiding one another. The greater number of these acts will no longer have any raison d’être. The others will be nipped in the bud.

As for those individuals with evil tendencies whom existing society will pass on to us after the revolution, it will be our task to prevent their exercising these tendencies. This is already accomplished quite efficiently by the solidarity of all the members of the community against such aggressors. If we do not succeed in all cases, the only practical corrective still will be fraternal treatment and moral support.

This is not Utopia. It is already done by isolated individuals and it will become the general practice. And such means will be far more powerful to protect society from anti-social acts than the existing system of punishment which is an ever fertile source of new crimes.

Le Révolté, August 1886

Alexander Schapiro – Anarchosyndicalism and Anarchist Organization

Alexander Schapiro (1882-1946) was an anarcho-syndicalist militant active in the international anarchist movement and the revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist movement in Russia during the Russian Revolution and civil war (Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism, Chapter 18: The Russian Revolution). Born in Russia, he was raised in Turkey, studied in France and then joined his father in London, where both of them were active in the London Anarchist Federation. He was a delegate of the Jewish Anarchist Federation of London at the 1907 International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam and one of the signatories to the International Anarchist Manifesto against the First World War (Volume One, Selection 81). He became the secretary of the Anarchist Red Cross, which provided aid to imprisoned anarchists, particularly in Russia. He returned to Russia after the 1917 February Revolution, where he worked on the anarcho-syndicalist paper, Golos Truda [The Voice of Labour], and sought to revive and strengthen the Russian anarcho-syndicalist movement. For a time, Schapiro collaborated with the Bolshevik government, taking a post in the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. He protested the persecution and imprisonment of anarchists by the Bolshevik regime and went into exile in 1922. He became active in the revived International Workers Association (IWA), which adopted an anarcho-syndicalist program (Volume One, Selection 114), and helped organize relief for anarchist prisoners in Russia. He spent time in Berlin, where he worked with Gregory Maksimov (Volume One, Selection 83) on the Russian anarcho-syndicalist paper in exile, Rabochii Put’ [The Workers Voice], and then went to France, where he continued his work with the IWA and edited the anarcho-syndicalist paper, La Voix du Travail [The Voice of Labour]. He eventually emigrated to New York, where he died in 1946.

The first excerpt set forth below is taken from Schapiro’s September 8, 1917 article in Golos Truda, “The Crisis of Power,” in which he calls for decentralization and self-organization in place of the centralized power favoured by the Bolsheviks. Events were to take a much different turn when the Bolsheviks seized power two months later in the co-called October Revolution and proceeded to establish a centralized dictatorship.

The Crisis of Power (1917)

The last scenes of the first act of the crisis of power are playing themselves out at a feverish pace. And there is only one possible outcome: the removal of the bourgeoisie from any interference in the affairs of the working class. This is now the principal condition for achieving fundamental social changes in the life of the country, the more so as the bourgeoisie is marching openly and defiantly hand in hand with the Kornilovs [leader of a failed Tsarist coup in August 1917] and other conspirators against the revolution.

But we must not close our eyes to the approaching second act, when Russia must decide whether to introduce a socialist government, as demanded by the Soviet of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. If this should happen, the form of power would doubtless be different, but the root of the evil, the essence, would stay the same. For as long as power exists, a small circle of men will have in their hands the right to decide the fate of the whole people; and even if these rulers are socialists of the most decent and honourable sort, a clash between them and the people is unavoidable, and their relations after each conflict will grow more and more intense and antagonistic. The new authority will use as much force as the present authority against its enemies, and the struggle for socialism, the struggle for the rights of man, the struggle for liberty, equality and fraternity, will be as ferocious as it has been until now.

Anticipating this new crisis of socialist power, we come to the conclusion that there is only one way out: the removal of all governmental interference in the affairs of the toiling masses. There must first occur a fundamental decentralization of power to the point of its final disappearance as a factor in the life of the Russian people. The people must not allow themselves to be muzzled again – not even with the muzzle of socialist production – so that they will have to fight once more for the elementary rights of free men.

The transfer of authority to the hands of a Central Executive Committee is not the answer to the crisis of power. It can only slow down the development of this crisis, not resolve it. The only way out of the present situation is to transfer administrative tasks to local organizations – in other words, complete decentralization and the broadest self-direction of local organizations. In this work the local soviets of workers’ and peasants’ deputies can and must play an important role in regulating the course of everyday life and guaranteeing the local population the widest development of freedom.

Only the spread of self-determination and local self-rule will definitively resolve the crisis of power.

Golos Truda, September 8, 1917

Many years later, when the anarchists in Spain were fighting for their lives in another revolution, Schapiro wrote the following introduction to an IWA pamphlet by Pierre Besnard, Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarchism, which set forth the principles of modern anarcho-syndicalism. Schapiro sought to persuade anarchist communists to support anarcho-syndicalist trade union organizations, and pointed to the Spanish FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) as an example of how anarchists can work within broad based anarcho-syndicalist organizations, such as the Spanish CNT (National Confederation of Labour), while maintaining their own explicitly anarchist organizations to help prevent the trade union organizations from becoming apolitical unions or subservient to political parties. At the same time, Schapiro recognized the dangers inherent is such dual organization, as the ideological anarchist organizations could become the de facto leaders of the trade union organization, something which had happened in Spain with disastrous results, as a number of FAI militants took up positions in the Catalonian and Republican governments and sought to subordinate the anarchist movement to the immediate war aims of the Republican government in its fight against fascism, which ultimately resulted in the Communist domination of the Republican forces and the suppression of the anarchist movement (Volume One, Selections 127 & 128). Schapiro was very critical of the Spanish anarchist collaboration with the Republican government and joined with Pierre Besnard at the June 1937 IWA Congress in Paris in denouncing the CNT for abandoning anarcho-syndicalist principles. Translated by Paul Sharkey.

Introduction to Pierre Besnard’s Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarchism (1937)

When the Russian anarchists nearly a half a century ago pioneered the hoisting of the anarcho-syndicalist colours, the word was rather coldly received by the anarchist movement. And in 1917, following the downfall of Tsarism it was also the eve of the October Revolution anarcho-communists were unduly guarded about and even hostile towards this new anarchist formation.

Anarcho-syndicalism is not a doctrine. It is the meeting between a given doctrine and an equally specific trade union tactic.

Revolutionary syndicalism, as we knew it in France, prior to the war, was, so to speak, created and nurtured by anarchist militants, by [Fernand] Pelloutier [Volume One, Selection 56], by [Victor] Griffuelhes, by [Emile] Pouget. But right from the moment it arrived, its creators and propagandists, its militants made to surround the movement with a wall of absolute neutrality as far as political or philosophical ideology went [Volume One, Selection 60]. Remember the terms of the Charter of Amiens [“syndicalism is sufficient unto itself”]…

But the class struggle is of positive value only if it is constructive in its aspirations. So that struggle has to be endowed with a future program that would complement its minimum program of partial demands in the here and now.

Anarcho-syndicalism arose precisely out of that need, which anarchists have eventually come to appreciate, to add to the short-term program a social program that would embrace the whole economic and social life of a people.

The Great War swept away the Charter of trade union neutrality. And the split inside the First International between Marx and Bakunin [Volume One, Chapter 6] was echoed nearly a half-century later in the inevitable historic split in the post-war international workers movement.

To counter the policy of subordinating the workers’ movement to the conveniences of the so-called workers’” political parties, a new movement founded upon mass direct action, outside of and against all political parties, rose from the still smoking embers of the 1914-1918 war. Anarcho-syndicalism made a reality of the only confluence of forces and personnel capable of guaranteeing the worker and peasant class its complete independence and its inalienable right to revolutionary initiative in all of the manifestations of an unrelenting struggle against capitalism and State, and the rebuilding of a libertarian social life upon the ruins of outmoded regimes.

So anarcho-syndicalism is complementary to anarcho-communism. The latter was afflicted by a considerable shortcoming that paralyzed all its propaganda: its detachment from the labouring masses. In order to plant libertarian principles there and afford them opportunities for actual realization, what was required was the organizing of trade unions and the placement of trade unionism upon libertarian and anti-statist foundations.

Which is what anarcho-syndicalism did and continues to do.

Now that anarcho-syndicalism exists as a force organizing the social revolution on libertarian communist lines, anarcho-communists owe it to themselves to become anarcho-syndicalists for the sake of organizing the revolution and every anarchist eligible to become a trade unionist should be a member of the anarcho-syndicalist General Labour Confederation.

Organized, outside of their unions, into their ideological (or, to borrow the terminology employed by our Spanish comrades, specific) federations, anarchists remain the continually active leaven, allowing anarcho-syndicalism to build but preventing dangerous compromises.

But the ideological guidance implied by the builders being imbued with the ideal of the propagandists turns into effective leadership. Prior to this, and especially in the aftermath of the war, nationally and internationally, the trade union movements had always found themselves tied to the apron strings of some workers’” party or labour International. Anarcho-syndicalism, which today stands for the revolutionary syndicalist direct action movement and libertarian reconstruction, must not, by aping the rest of the workers movement, come to find that it too is tied to the apron strings of some specific organization be it at the national or international level. That would be a mistake every bit as irreversibly fatal as it has proved for the reformist or dictatorship-minded brands of trade unionism.

The Anarchist Federation supports the Anarcho-Syndicalist Confederation in its class struggle and striving for revolutionary reconstruction. But it should not assume the initiative or leadership of it.

On the international scene, an Anarchist International can only mirror the national Anarchist Federations. It will be the bulwark of the IWA [International Workers Association – Volume One, Selection 114], but must never become its commander-in-chief.

May 30, 1937