IWA-AIT, the CNT and the November Bilbao Conference


The International Workers Association (IWA-AIT), an association of anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary syndicalist trade unions founded in 1922, was intended to be a successor to the International Workingmen’s Association, which was created in 1864 by European workers, predominantly English and French, to provide for international solidarity between the workers of the world in their struggle against capitalism. The original (or “First”) International split in 1872 between the Marxists, who advocated the creation of “working class” political parties whose purpose was to “conquer political power,” and the anti-authoritarian, federalist and anarchist sections of the International that sought to abolish the state and replace authoritarian organization and capitalism with the free association of free producers. I discuss these developments in “We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It”: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement and included many of the most important documents relating to the anarchist wing of the International in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas


After the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, creating the USSR, the renamed Communist Party sought in 1921 to enlist the world’s revolutionary trade unions in the so-called “Red International.” However, several union organizations of an anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary syndicalist orientation, including the CNT in Spain, were concerned about the nascent Communist dictatorship and disagreed with any attempt to establish state socialism. These groups instead formed the IWA-AIT. The majority of the CNT now wants to “refound” the IWA, for reasons briefly summarized below. However, they are doing so in conflict with the IWA-AIT, which insists in the first statement below that the way to change the IWA-AIT is from within at a proper congress of the IWA-AIT, not by creating a new organization using the same name.



lt has come to our attention that various organizations have been invited to a conference ostensibly about “rebuilding the IWA” that is to be held in November in Spain. Due to the fact that this has caused some confusion as to the nature of said conference and to avoid any misunderstandings, we would like to clarify a few matters. —- The Congress of the lnternational Workers’ Association is to be held at the beginning of December in Poland. This Congress and only this Congress is where decisions about the proposals submitted to the Association can be made by the entirety of its member Sections. —- The conference being held in Spain, to which some organizations were invited, is not organized by the IWA, although it claims to be a “conference for the preparation of the IWA refoundation”. This initiative is thus a split where outside organizations are being invited to decide over the future of a federation to which they do not belong. It is held against the statutes, agreements and principles of the very federation it claims to be refounding and its aim is to exclude a dozen other member Sections from the process.

We refer to these facts since it has come to our attention that some comrades around the world may not have been informed to the nature of the conference and believe this is just an international “solidarity” event. However, the invitation sent to these organizations clearly state what the purpose is in the title. Therefore, those who are not members of the IWA Federation must really consider basic principles and ask how it is possible that anybody proposes to cut out the Members and give a voice to non-members.

The reason for holding this parallel conference before the legitimate one is to involve outside organizations in shaping the internal conflict. Instead of coming before the membership. Such a maneouvre is to make it look as if outside organizations are taking sides in an internal conflict and to place them on one side of a split. This is how the attendance of outside organizations will be treated, whether or not that was their intention.

With this clarification, we hope to inform the rank and file members of various organizations, who may not have seen the invitation or be aware of the circumstances. The IWA meets in December and it is at the Congress that the Member Sections must discuss and make decisions about the future of the federation, not any non-statutory meeting to which outside organizations are called to interfere and support the split faction. As stated before, time is needed to work things out in accordance with the procedures of our federation and we would appreciate it if outside organizations refrain from involvement in these matters which concern us directly and need to be resolved by ourselves.

We stress that in no way do we imply that any organizations avoid either the IWA or the split faction in matters such as international solidarity, which must continue even through this difficult time. It is possible that no resolution will be reached right away and that a longer conflict may exist, should the split faction continue to insist on acting in the name of the existing federation. The IWA has tried not to involve other organizations in these internal matters or ask them to take sides in the split. The split faction however has decided to do just that. We ask that people be cautious about such circumstances so that the situation not have new negative repercussions.

IWA Secretariat



CNT-ES: Open invitation to the Bilbao International Conference, 26-27 November, 2016 for anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary syndicalist organizations

AIT/IWA Dear comrades: — CNT-E, FAU and USI are sections of the International Workers’ Association (IWA), founded in 1922. — We consider essential and urgent the existence of an active and inclusive anarcho-syndicalist International, which participates in and promotes struggles of workers worldwide and facilitates social improvements for them through this. Unfortunately, we have to admit that despite our best efforts the IWA has deviated from its principles and practices. Instead of concentrating on union activity, it has become bureaucratic, dogmatic and isolationist with regard to the labor movement. Considering this, we need to rebuild our International.

We believe that our International should restrict itself to general principles that express the commonalities that the members sections have, despite their different histories, traditions and social-economic situations. For us these general principles include:

– being an anarcho-syndicalist or revolutionary syndicalist organization as well as a bottom-up organization;

– not receiving economic funding from the state due to being a union or carrying out union activity;

– not supporting as an organization any electoral project, neither of a political party nor of individual candidates.

In addition, we believe that member sections should have at least 100 members nationally. We believe that smaller groups can carry out propaganda activities or local conflicts better and should concentrate on developing at the national level, before taking part in the complex decision-making process of an International. In order to support groups which have less than 100 members we will have the status “Friends”. We wish to help such groups grow and would be pleased to have them take part in our international solidarity campaigns.

At the same time, we do not presume to know or be aware of every other initiative worldwide that might fulfill these requirements. Therefore, we are issuing this open invitation to the International Conference, to be held in Bilbao (Spain) on November 26-27, 2016 during which we will be able to work towards a congress to rebuild an IWA. At the conference you will have a chance to present your organization and its work, get to meet other similar initiatives, assess the benefits of joining us in this endeavor, make contributions and proposals towards the congress agenda and the rebuilding of an IWA, and explore, in any case, the possibility of joint international actions and solidarity.

Even if your organization is not interested in joining this project on a more formal capacity, or ultimately decides not to, we still invite you to contact us to collaborate in international solidarity campaigns.

A proposal for the conference agenda and more practical info will be sent at a later date to those organizations that have expressed an interest in participating in it.

You can contact us on any of the following email addresses to express your interest, confirm your attendance, raise queries or concerns, etc.:

CNT-E, exteriores@cnt.es

FAU, is@fau.org

USI-AIT, info@usi-ait.org




The Transvaluation of Values and Communitarian Anarchism


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


The Transvaluation of Values

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

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

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

Nietzsche on the State

Nietzsche on the State

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

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

Robert Graham

goldman on freedom and equality

The Platform and Its Critics

Organizational Platform

Continuing with the installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in this section I discuss the impact of the “Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists,” published by Peter Arshinov, Nestor Makhno and other anarchists in 1926. Excerpts from the Platform were included in Volume One of the Anarchism anthology. The Platform generated a great deal of criticism from other anarchists, some of which I also included in Volume One. More recently, I posted a debate on Platformism between two Ukrainian anarchists in relation to the current civil war in Ukraine.

The Original Platformists

The Original Platformists

The Platform and Its Critics

The defeat of the Makhnovists in Ukraine and the anarchist movement in Russia led Arshinov and Makhno to argue that anarchists needed to rethink their approach. In 1926, now in exile, they published the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, calling for the creation of a General Union of anarchists based on theoretical and tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism (Volume One, Selection 115). Although, for the most part, the Platform merely restated the Makhnovist conception of anarchism, it generated considerable controversy in anarchist circles. The Platform argued in favour of military organization based on “unity in the plan of operations and unity of common command,” “revolutionary self-discipline,” and “total submission of the revolutionary army to the masses of worker and peasant organizations common throughout the country.” Despite its insistence on revolutionary self-discipline and contrary to the practice of the Makhnovists during the Civil War, the Platform rejected any form of conscription, stating that “all coercion will be completely excluded from the work of defending the revolution,” marking a return to rather than a departure from anarchist principles (Volume One, Selection 115).

It was the Platform’s emphasis on the need for theoretical and tactical unity, and the notion of “collective responsibility,” that caused the greatest debate. The Platform argued that “the tactical methods employed by separate members and groups within the Union should… be in rigorous concord both with each other and with the general theory and tactic[s] of the Union.” Collective responsibility “requires each member to undertake fixed organizational duties, and demands execution of communal decisions.” The Platform took the position that revolutionary activity in collective areas of life “cannot be based on the personal responsibility of individual militants,” describing such an approach as “irresponsible individualism” (Volume One, Selection 115).

The General Union of anarchists was to strive “to realize a network of revolutionary peasant [and worker] economic organizations” and unions, “founded on anti-authoritarian principles,” with the General Union serving as “the organized vanguard of their emancipating process” (Volume One, Selection 115). Voline and several other exiled Russian anarchists argued against any anarchist organization assuming a vanguard role. For them, the social revolution “must be the free creation of the masses, not controlled by ideological or political groups,” for the “slightest suggestion of direction, of superiority, of leadership of the masses… inevitably implies that the masses must… submit to it.” A General Union of “anarchists” that “orients the mass organizations (workers and peasants) in their political direction and is supported as needed by a centralized army is nothing more than a new political power” (Volume One, Selection 115).

Anarchist critics of the Platform: Senya Fleshin, Voline & Mollie Steimer

Anarchist critics of the Platform: Senya Fleshin, Voline & Mollie Steimer

Voline and his associates found the Platform’s conception of social and economic organization “mechanical” and simplistic, with its scheme for the coordination of production and consumption by workers’ and peasants’ soviets, committees and unions run by elected delegates subject to recall. They saw in such organizations a danger of “immobility, bureaucracy [and] a tendency to authoritarianism that will not be changed automatically by the principle of voting.” They thought a “better guarantee” of freedom lies “in the creation of a series of other, more mobile, even provisional organs which arise and multiply according to the needs that arise in the course of daily living and activities,” offering “a richer, more faithful reflection of the complexity of social life” (Volume One, Selection 115).

While the Voline group acknowledged that ideological differences among anarchists, and the resulting disunity, were partly responsible for the failure of the Russian anarchist movement, they argued that there were other factors at play, including the “existing prejudices, customs [and] education” of the masses, the fact that they “look for accommodation rather than radical change,” and the repressive forces lined up against them (Volume One, Selection 115). For Voline, what was needed was not a more centralized and disciplined party type organization, but a “synthesis” of all the “just and valid elements” of the various anarchist currents, including syndicalism, communism and individualism (Volume One, Selection 116). Foreshadowing subsequent ecological conceptions of anarchism (Volume Two, Selection 48; Volume Three, Chapter 6), Voline argued that anarchism should reflect the “creative diversity” of life itself, achieving unity through “diversity and movement” (Volume One, Selection 116).

Malatesta responded to the Platform by emphasizing that “in order to achieve their ends, anarchist organizations must, in their constitution and operation, remain in harmony with the principles of anarchism.” He argued that the proposed General Union of anarchists should be seen for what it really was, “the Union of a particular fraction of anarchists.” He regarded as authoritarian the proposal for a “Union Executive Committee” to “oversee the ‘ideological and organizational conduct’” of the Union’s constitutive organizations and members, arguing that such an approach would turn the Union into “a nursery for heresies and schisms” (Volume One, Selection 115).

For Malatesta, what the Platformists were proposing was a form of representative government based on majority vote, which “in practice always leads to domination by a small minority.” While anarchist organizations and congresses “serve to maintain and increase personal relationships among the most active comrades, to coordinate and encourage programmatic studies on the ways and means of taking action, to acquaint all on the situation in the various regions and the action most urgently needed in each; to formulate the various opinions current among the anarchists… their decisions are not obligatory rules but suggestions, recommendations, proposals to be submitted to all involved, and do not become binding and enforceable except on those who accept them, and for as long as they accept them” (Volume One, Selection 115).

Malatesta quote 2

Since the publication of the Platform in 1926, anarchists have continued to debate which forms of organization are compatible with an anarchist vision of a free society. Some have championed various forms of direct democracy, whether in factory committees (Volume Two, Selection 59) or community assemblies (Volume Two, Selection 62). Others have followed Kropotkin, Voline and Malatesta in arguing in favour of more fluid, ad hoc organizations forming complex horizontal networks of voluntary associations (Volume Two, Selection 63; Volume Three, Selection 1).

Malatesta suggested that the Russian Platformists were “obsessed with the success of the Bolsheviks,” hence their desire “to gather the anarchists together in a sort of disciplined army which, under the ideological and practical direction of a few leaders, would march solidly to the attack of the existing regimes, and after having won a material victory would direct the constitution of a new society” (Volume One, Selection 115). But for those so inclined, there were other organizations for them to join, namely the various Communist Parties that were soon organized in Europe, Asia and the Americas under Russian tutelage.

Despite the creation of an anarcho-syndicalist International in early 1922 (Volume One, Selection 114), many anarchists and syndicalists, and the trade unions in which they were influential, affiliated instead with the Comintern (Communist International) and its related organizations. In addition, many anarchist and syndicalist groups and organizations were forcibly suppressed, by the Bolsheviks in Russia, the Fascists in Italy, the new “revolutionary” government in Mexico, military dictatorships in Portugal, Spain and Latin America, and the “democratic” government of the United States, which deported scores of radicals in 1919 (including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman), imprisoned Mexican anarchists like Ricardo Flores Magón, and enacted “criminal syndicalism” laws to prohibit revolutionary syndicalist speech and action.

Robert Graham


The Makhnovist Movement in the Russian Revolution

Makhnovist tachanka

Makhnovist tachanka

Today I continue with selections on anarchism in the Russian Revolution taken from my survey of the historical development and influence of anarchist ideas, the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. In this selection, I discuss anarchist responses to counter-revolution in Russia, focusing on the struggle for freedom and equality conducted by the “Makhnovist” movement in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War, where the anarchists did battle with the “Whites” (pro-Czarist counter-revolutionaries) and the “Reds” (the Bolsheviks). Although the anarchist insurgency, led by Nestor Makhno, was ultimately defeated, it provided an example of how an anarchist inspired movement for popular liberation could mobilize large numbers of people to take up arms against forces intent on re-establishing state power. I included some Makhnovist proclamations and other material regarding the Makhnovist movement in Volume One of my Anarchism anthology.

CHEKA Chairman Dzerzhinsky: the face of the Bolshevik Counter-Revolution

CHEKA Chairman Dzerzhinsky: the face of the Bolshevik Counter-Revolution

Counter-Revolution in Russia

The Russian Revolution raised another issue of fundamental importance to revolutionary anarchists: how to deal with counter-revolution, whether from the left or the right. From 1918 to 1921, Russia was racked by civil war. Many anarchists took the position that in order to protect the gains of the 1917 Revolution, they had no choice but to work with the Bolsheviks (the “Reds”) in preventing Czarist counter-revolutionaries (the “Whites”) from forcing a return to the old order, with all the reprisals and massacres of the revolutionaries that that would entail. According to Paul Avrich, during the civil war “a large majority [of anarchists] gave varying degrees of support to the beleaguered regime,” leading Lenin in 1919 to compliment some anarchists for “becoming the most dedicated supporters of Soviet power” (1978: 196-197).

Makhnovist Proclamation

Makhnovist Proclamation

The Makhnovist Movement

Other anarchists argued that there were alternatives to simply supporting the Bolsheviks in their struggle against the White counter-revolutionaries, thereby strengthening the Bolshevik dictatorship. Instead, they argued for “relentless partisan war, here, there and everywhere,” as Voline put it in February 1918 (Avrich, 1973: 107). But it was only in Ukraine that anarchists were able to instigate a popular insurgency, with the anarchist Nestor Makhno leading a peasant and worker guerrilla army (the “Makhnovshchina”) against a variety of forces, from occupying German and Austrian troops, to local strongmen (the “Hetman”), to the Whites, and when necessary, to the Bolsheviks themselves (Volume One, Selections 85 & 86).

When the Makhnovists liberated an area, they would abolish all decrees issued by the Whites and the Reds, leaving it to “the peasants in assemblies, [and] the workers in their factories and workshops” to decide for themselves how to organize their affairs. The land was to be returned to “those peasants who support themselves through their own labour,” and the “factories, workshops, mines and other tools and means of production” to the workers themselves (Volume One, Selection 85).

The Makhnovists denounced “the bourgeois-landlord authority on the one hand and the Bolshevik-Communist dictatorship on the other.” They would throw out the Bolshevik secret police, the Cheka, from areas that had been under Bolshevik control and reopen the presses and meeting places that the Bolsheviks had shut down, proclaiming that “freedom of speech, press, assembly, unions and the like are inalienable rights of every worker and any restriction on them is a counter-revolutionary act.” The Makhnovists called upon the soldiers of the Red Army, sometimes with some success, to desert and join the Makhnovists in their struggle for “a non-authoritarian labourers’ society without parasites and without commissar-bureaucrats” (Volume One, Selection 85).


Despite their opposition to “state militia, policemen and armies,” which they would declare abolished in the areas they had liberated (Volume One, Selection 85), the Makhnovist insurgents adopted some aspects of more conventional military organization, including a chain of command and conscription, and sometimes carried out “summary executions” (Avrich, 1988: 114 & 121).

Many anarchists who were still free to do so, such as Voline, Aaron Baron and Peter Arshinov, went to Ukraine to support the Makhnovists, setting up the Nabat confederation, one of the more effective anarchist organizations during the Revolution and Civil War. But as Peter Arshinov noted, “three years of uninterrupted civil wars made the southern Ukraine a permanent battlefield,” making it difficult for the anarchists and Makhnovists to accomplish anything positive (Volume One, Selection 86). Yet for five months in early 1919, “the Gulyai-Polye region” where Makhno was based “was virtually free of all political authority,” giving the anarchists a chance, albeit a very brief one, to put their constructive ideas into practice by helping the peasants and workers to set up libertarian communes and soviets (Avrich, 1988: 114).

A “series of Regional Congresses of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents” was held, the third in April 1919, “in defiance of a ban placed upon it” by the Bolsheviks (Avrich, 1988: 114-115). After “two Cheka agents [who] were sent to assassinate Makhno were caught and executed” in May 1919, and the Makhnovists called upon the Red Army soldiers to join them, Trotsky outlawed the Makhnovists, sending in troops to dismantle their peasant communes (Avrich, 1988: 115). Despite subsequent temporary alliances to fight the Whites, by early 1921, the Bolsheviks had crushed the Makhnovist movement.

Unlike the Bolsheviks, the Makhnovists were able to garner significant support among the Ukrainian peasantry, who resented Bolshevik seizures of their grain and food, seeing that “the bread taken by force from [them] nourishes mainly the enormous governmental machine” being created by the Bolsheviks. For the revolution to succeed, the anarchists believed that the masses “must feel truly free; they must know that the work they do is their own; they must see in every social measure which is adopted the manifestation of their will, their hopes and their aspirations” (Volume One, Selection 86).

Robert Graham




The 1917 Russian Revolution and the Factory Committees

The 1917 Russian Revolution

The 1917 Russian Revolution

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

russian revolution soldiers on street

The Russian Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

Either Death to Capitalism or Death Under Capitalism

Either Death to Capitalism or Death Under Capitalism

Factory Committees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Graham

Workers' Control

Workers’ Control

Nestor Makhno: The Struggle Against the State

Nestor Makhno

Nestor Makhno

Nestor Makhno (1888-1934) is a controversial figure in the history of the anarchist movement. For three years he led a guerrilla army campaign in Ukraine during the civil war that followed the 1917 Russian Revolution. He would sometimes summarily execute counter-revolutionaries, and his army conscripted some of its members. On the other hand, when his forces liberated a village or town from the control of the Czarists (the “Whites”) or from the Bolsheviks (the “Reds”), they would reopen the presses and meeting halls shut down by those forces and free everyone from the local jails. With his comrade, Peter Arshinov, and some other anarchists, he helped craft the “Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists,” which called on anarchists to form a federalist revolutionary organization based on collective responsibility, which some anarchists regarded as a vanguard organization that would function more like a revolutionary socialist party than a federalist anarchist organization. Around the same time as the Platform appeared, Makhno published this essay on the struggle against the State, summarizing his views on the tasks ahead based on the lessons of the Russian Revolution. I included excerpts from the Platform and responses from some of its critics, including Malatesta and Voline, in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, as well as some proclamations by the Makhnovist army and excerpts from Arshinov’s history of the Makhnovist movement.

The Struggle Against the State

The Struggle Against the State


The fact that the modern State is the organizational form of an authority founded upon arbitrariness and violence in the social life of toilers is independent of whether it may be “bourgeois” or “proletarian.” It relies upon oppressive centralism, arising out of the direct violence of a minority deployed against the majority In order to enforce and impose the legality of its system, the State resorts not only to the gun and money, but also to potent weapons of psychological pressure. With the aid of such weapons, a tiny group of politicians enforces psychological repression of an entire society, and, in particular, of the toiling masses, conditioning them in such a way as to divert their attention from the slavery instituted by the State.

So it must be clear that if we are to combat the organized violence of the modern State, we have to deploy powerful weapons appropriate to the magnitude of the task.

Thus far, the methods of social action employed by the revolutionary working class against the power of the oppressors and exploiters — the State and Capital — in conformity with libertarian ideas, were insufficient to lead the toilers on to complete victory.

It has come to pass in history that the workers have defeated Capital, but the victory then slipped from their grasp because some State power emerged, amalgamating the interests of private capital and those of State capitalism for the sake of success over the toilers.

The experience of the Russian revolution has blatantly exposed our shortcomings in this regard. We must not forget that, but should rather apply ourselves to identifying those shortcomings plainly.

We may acknowledge that our struggle against the State in the Russian revolution was remarkable, despite the disorganization by which our ranks were afflicted: remarkable above all insofar as the destruction of that odious institution is concerned.

But, by contrast, our struggle was insignificant in the realm of construction of the free society of toilers and its social structures, which might have ensured that it prospered beyond reach of the tutelage of the State and its repressive institutions.

The fact that we libertarian communists or anarcho-syndicalists failed to anticipate the sequel to the Russian revolution, and that we failed to make haste to devise new forms of social activity in time, led many of our groups and organizations to dither yet again in their political and socio-strategic policy on the fighting front of the Revolution.

If we are to avert a future relapse into these same errors, when a revolutionary situation comes about, and in order to retain the cohesion and coherence of our organizational line, we must first of all amalgamate all of our forces into one active collective, then without further ado, define our constructive conception of economic, social, local and territorial units, so that they are outlined in detail (free soviets), and in particular describe in broad outline their basic revolutionary mission in the struggle against the State. Contemporary life and the Russian revolution require that.

Those who have blended in with the very ranks of the worker and peasant masses, participating actively in the victories and defeats of their campaign, must without doubt come to our own conclusions, and more specifically to an appreciation that our struggle against the State must be carried on until the State has been utterly eradicated: they will also acknowledge that the toughest role in that struggle is the role of the revolutionary armed force.

It is essential that the action of the Revolution’s armed forces be linked with the social and economic unit, wherein the labouring people will organize itself from the earliest days of the revolution onwards, so that total self-organization of life may be introduced, out of reach of all statist structures.

From this moment forth, anarchists must focus their attention upon that aspect of the Revolution. They have to be convinced that, if the revolution’s armed forces are organized into huge armies or into lots of local armed detachments, they cannot but overcome the State’s incumbents and defenders, and thereby bring about the conditions needed by the toiling populace supporting the revolution, so that it may cut all ties with the past and look to the final detail of the process of constructing a new socio-economic existence.

The State will, though, be able to cling to a few local enclaves and try to place multifarious obstacles in the path of the toilers’ new life, slowing the pace of growth and harmonious development of new relationships founded on the complete emancipation of man.

The final and utter liquidation of the State can only come to pass when the struggle of the toilers is oriented along the most libertarian lines possible, when the toilers will themselves determine the structures of their social action. These structures should assume the form of organs of social and economic self-direction, the form of free “anti-authoritarian” soviets. The revolutionary workers and their vanguard — the anarchists — must analyze the nature and structure of these soviets and specify their revolutionary functions in advance. It is upon that, chiefly, that the positive evolution and development of anarchist ideas, in the ranks of those who will accomplish the liquidation of the State on their own account in order to build a free society, will be dependent.

Dyelo Truda No.17, October 1926

Makhnovist Flag (trans.)

Makhnovist Flag (trans.)

Anarchism in the 21st Century


I recently published an article, “Marxism and Anarchism on Communism: The Debate between the Two Bastions of the Left,” in Volume 2 of Communism in the 21st Century, ed. Shannon Brincat (Praeger: Santa Barbara, 2013). The “Communism” in the main title of the book is, of course, Marxism. One of the main points I wanted to make was that Marxism, and only certain schools of Marxism at that, is only one conception of communism. Communist doctrines first arose in Europe among heretical religious groups and dissenters, such as the Diggers during the English Revolution. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from a pamphlet by the Digger, Gerrard Winstanley, “The New Law of Righteousness” (Selection 3, 1649), in which he argued for a kind of anarchist communism, where all wealth would be held in common, with each person being free to take what he or she needs “from the next store-house he meets with,” and “there shall be none Lord over others.” The were communist tendencies during the French Revolution (1789-1795), which later inspired the creation of radical communist groups during the 1830s, well before Marx and Engels published their Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848. 


In my article, I argue that anarchists came to adopt a communist position largely independently of Marxism, and that even Marx himself believed that before communism could be achieved there would have to be a socialist transition period which would retain some form of wage labour. His social democratic followers soon came to focus almost exclusively on achieving some form of state socialism, with communism being relegated to a distant goal. Even Lenin, who renamed the Bolshevik Party the Communist Party, was clear that there would have to be a lengthy transition period before communism could be achieved. Thus, both before the Russian Revolution, when the social democrats were the dominant Marxist faction, and after the Revolution, when Marxist Leninist Communist parties became dominant, communism not only remained a distant, if not mythical, goal among most Marxists, the anarchists were almost alone in advocating communism as an immediate goal. There were some Marxists who called themselves “council communists,” who also advocated the creation of a kind of libertarian communism, but they were a small minority among the Marxists, the majority of whom supported the Soviet Union and its satellite Communist parties.

Anarchism, Marxism and Communism

Communism 21st CenturyHere are some extracts from the introduction and conclusion to my article:

In this paper, I will review the historical disagreements between the anarchists and Marxists, focusing on Marx himself, but wish to show that the adoption of a communist position by the majority of anarchists by the 1880s was largely the result of an “internal” anarchist critique of earlier forms of anarchist socialism, and not in response to Marx’s criticisms of them. Indeed, anarchist communism retained several elements of its anarchist precursors to which Marx had expressed profound disagreement. However, despite continued theoretical disagreements, particularly over Marx’s theory of history (or “historical materialism”), after the Russian Revolution and the advent of “council communism,” some anarchist and Marxist currents began to converge into a hybrid doctrine referred to by some as “libertarian communism” (Guérin)…

During the Russian Revolution some anarcho-syndicalists began advocating factory committees or councils as revolutionary organs, concerned that the soviets were being coopted by the Bolsheviks [Anarchism, Volume One: 299-300]. Similar approaches were embraced by anarchists in Italy and Germany in 1919-1920, working with more radical Marxists, who came to describe themselves as “council communists”…

Despite the adoption of libertarian communism by the majority of anarchists after Bakunin, and the anti-authoritarian approach of some Marxists, such as the council communists, important differences remain not only between anarchists and “libertarian” Marxists, but between the anarchists themselves. In many ways, there are now more similarities between so-called “class struggle” anarchists, who trace their lineage back to Bakunin (Schmidt and van der Walt, 2009), and council communists, than there are between the former and contemporary anarchist currents which emphasize process, assembly forms of organization, particularly in the 2011 Occupy movements, and the creation of a decentralized ecological society without hierarchy, representation, mediation or domination, merging with post-structuralist currents in anarchist thought [Anarchism, Volume Three].

Robert Graham, 2014


Pano Vassilev: The Idea of the Soviets (1933)

pano vassilev

The Kate Sharpley Library is seeking help typing a handwritten manuscript of an English translation of the 1933 work of the Bulgarian anarchist, Pano Vassilev, The Soviets Idea (or “The Idea of the Soviets”), in order to prepare it for publication. Pano Vassilev (1901-1933) was a prominent Bulgarian anarcho-syndicalist. He worked in Argentina for a few years and became acquainted with anarcho-syndicalism through the anarchist trade union federation, the FORA. He then spent some time in France, where he came into contact with Pierre Besnard and other French anarcho-syndicalists. Upon his return to Bulgaria, he became a leading advocate for anarcho-syndicalism within the Bulgarian anarchist movement. He was assassinated by the Bulgarian police in April 1933 as he was preparing to launch an anarchist appeal to Bulgarian workers on the eve of May Day demonstrations. In Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a 1945 manifesto from the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation, which melded together anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist communist approaches. The BACF, as with Vassilev, rejected both dictatorship and parliamentarianism. Below, I set forth some passages from Chapter One of Vassilev’s book, which focuses on the Bolsheviks’ antipathy toward council forms of working class self-organization, and then their cooptation of the soviets during the Russian Revolution. I have omitted the footnotes, which can be found here

Soviets lenin

Chapter One : The Soviets Idea not a Bolshevik Notion 

The theory of soviets has no connection with the soviet system of government, despite what most people believe. On the contrary, we are entitled to argue the very opposite, namely, that the soviets idea, the idea of social life being organized along the lines of a new, free, communist system, with the production and distribution of goods in the society of the future being regulated through the good offices of meetings and working encounters between direct delegates, subject to replacement at all times and possessed of no authority, from trade union organizations and distribution agencies… this idea has nothing in common with the characteristic peculiar to the Bolsheviks, their statist inclinations and their dictatorial system in the regimentation of social life.

If, in spite of that, the soviets idea is still identified (especially in Bulgaria) with Bolshevism and with the current Soviet system, with their statist dictatorship, this is due primarily to the fact that the Bolshevik Party, for a variety of reasons, has managed to impose and to consolidate its dictatorial authority in Russia. In the very place where the proletariat first attempted to implement the soviets system in practice and on a huge scale.

And if one adds to this, simple ignorance of the history of the labour movement and more especially of its left wing, the confusion is the more readily understandable. Even in our own circles, there are anarchists who look upon soviets as a purely Bolshevik invention and do not distinguish them from Bolshevik dictatorship.

It is not hard to demonstrate that, fundamentally, Bolshevism and the soviets idea in its proper and original sense, are utterly unconnected.

Above all, one has to remember that, according to its own supporters, Bolshevism is the “true”, “the only properly understood marxism”. Marx and Engels, the founding fathers of the marxist ideology, never pronounced themselves in favour of soviets. They wrote numerous books in which they expounded in detail not only the theoretical and philosophical principles, but also the constructive program of what they themselves dubbed “ scientific socialism”. But in none of their works (whether these be books, pamphlets, programs, letters or critical notes) will one discover a single line on the basis of which it might be argued that “the great teachers of the proletariat” envisaged “workers’ councils” as organs which might be used by the proletariat in its struggle so as to marshal its efforts, or in some future  socialist order, to organize production, distribution and social life in general, or even in the so-called ‘transitional’ period.

Likewise, it is impossible to discover one single word to the effect that workers’ councils are organs of struggle in the works of marxism’s students and publicists who have thought and put pen to paper since Marx and Engels. This is quite natural, since marxism was conceived, formed and evolved precisely as a parliamentary, statist variant of socialism. Such it was, and such essentially, it remains, despite the soviet backdrop erected by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

The split which took place in the first international in 1872 was the logical outcome of the incompatible and profoundly antagonistic views of the marxists and the bakuninists on the very issue of the relationship between workers’ movements and the modern bourgeois state generally, and its legislative organ, parliament in particular. The marxists, led by Karl Marx himself, clearly and categorically described themselves as parliamentarians and statists. And the bakuninists were dubbed anarchists because they pronounced themselves against all forms of parliamentarianism.

In the view of Marx, Engels and their disciples, the social revolution is still regarded as a series of social reforms effected by a political party, describing itself as socialist or proletarian, which has taken power. This is to say that, that political party has achieved mastery of the State’s legislative and executive arms, parliament, the police, the army and the courts. The so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, as conceived by the founders of marxism and their supporters, is the dictatorship of a parliament in which the “representatives of the proletariat” have managed to secure a majority. This notion is spelled out in the Communist Manifesto wherein there is mention of conquest of the machinery of State and of “centralization of credit by means of the State.” In Anti-Dühring, Engels writes: “The proletariat takes charge of state power and transforms the major means of production into State property” and “The State emerges truly representative of the whole of society”.  In their immediate aims the marxists have always employed the expression “People’s State” (Volkstaat) complete with a legislative assembly, i.e. a parliament wherein the majority is held by the “people’s representatives”.

In the 12 June 1845 issue of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Marx even wrote bluntly that, “following the proletariat’s victory” a constituent assembly with dictatorial powers would have to be summoned. And in his mind this was “dictatorship of the proletariat”.

For marxists, this “dictatorship of the proletariat” has always meant the dictatorship of the “people’s representatives” in parliament, in the present bourgeois State and this is especially clear in the commentary of Marx’s friend, Engels, upon the Critique of the Erfurt Programme. “One absolutely certain point is that our party and the working class can only accede to power in the form of the democratic republic. Indeed, as the Great French Revolution has shown, that is the specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

From this we may conclude that for Engels and so for Marx and for Marxists, the bourgeois democratic republic is the political form of socialism on the morrow of the Revolution. There is no other form in which the proletariat’s dictatorship may be expressed, because the Great French Revolution has shown (!)that the democratic republic is its specific form.

Up until the October 1917 Revolution and even for two months after that, the Russian Bolsheviks – who, like all marxists at the time called themselves social-democrats – depicted the famed “dictatorship of the proletariat” exclusively as the dictatorship of a constituent assembly. And it was towards just that dictatorship that they had bent all their efforts right up to the last breath of the Russian Constituent Assembly of 1917. There are facts and documents galore to confirm this, including those drawn from Bolshevik sources. For instance, the very program of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in which the Bolsheviks were the majority, is quite clear about its hostility to the soviet and its advocacy of parliamentarianism. That program was still in force in 1917. In this programme, which the Bolsheviks and Lenin subscribed to, until the Kronstadt sailors dismissed the Constituent Assembly in October 1917, one may read:

     “That is why the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party deems it its most urgent task to abolish the absolutism of the Tsar and its replacement by a democratic republic whose constitution must guarantee:

i.    The sovereignty of the people, which is to say, the concentration of the entire supreme power of the State in the hands of a legislative assembly made up of the people’s representatives.

ii.    The right of eligibility (general, equal and direct, for all citizens aged more than 20 years) to the Constituent Assembly and to the organs of local power; and the entitlement of every person elected to be appointed to any parliamentary position.
While pursuing its immediate objectives, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party supports any revolutionary opposition movement directed at a radical political change, and categorically repudiates any schedule of reforms that would reinforce the police and administrative surveillance of the labouring classes.

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party is firmly convinced that the implementation of political and social reforms is feasible only through the abolition of the authoritarianism of the tsars, and the summoning of a constituent assembly freely elected by the entire people.”

As this extract indicates, this program did not look beyond a democratic republic, a constituent assembly elected by the whole citizenry. And as we have said, this program was still extant, unchanged, in 1917, and enjoying the support of the Mensheviks and of the Bolsheviks together with Lenin. The program had not altered following the attempted revolution of 1905-1906 when the Russian workers had set up their soviets which then played a highly significant role in the struggle. And, not merely did the Bolsheviks not amend the program in the wake of the “general repetition” of 1905-1906… they stressed that they opposed the soviets, the workers’ experiment. Thus at the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party congress held in London from 13 May to 1 June 1907, the Bolshevik Party (at that time only a faction) moved and (becoming the majority) ensured the adoption of a resolution on the issue of soviets, of which the following are some excerpts :

“Resolution on the matter of the party’s relations with the Duma (the Russian Parliament): the people must be given an explanation of the impossibility of achieving political freedom by the parliamentary route, as long as power remains in the hands of the tsarist government; the necessity of an open struggle by the masses of the people against the armed might of absolutism, as the only chance for the revolution to assure itself of a total victory; the transfer of power into the hands of the people’s deputies and the summoning of a constituent assembly with equal, direct and secret ballot.
“Resolution vis-à-vis the labour congress [the Bolsheviks’ draft which was adopted]: Given 1) that the Social Democratic Labour Party is the only organization unifying the conscious element of the proletariat as a vanguard and which directs the working class’s struggles for a socialist society and the conditions crucial for its          introduction:

“That at the moment of revolutionary eruption, it seems possible (!) to organize or to employ for the ends of the social democracy the workers’ non-party formations, such as, say, the soviets of workers’ representatives, etc.
“That the idea of a labour congress leads in fact to the replacement of the social democracy by the workers’ organizations lacking any party of a lasting nature, and that the organization and preparation through propaganda for that labour congress inevitably culminates in the disorganization of the party and leaves broad masses of workers under the tutelage and influence of bourgeois democracy.”

“The congress acknowledges that… The Party’s participation in these organizations is a possibility in the event of necessity, provided that the party develops and strengthens its aims; the idea of a partyless labour congress backed by the anarcho-syndicalists in their struggle against the influence of social democrats over the         labouring masses, is absolutely harmful for the proletariat’s class development; as regards the need for free discussion of the labour congress issue in the party press, congress takes the view that there should be no propaganda geared to the organization of the labour congress, neither by members individually nor among the party’s organizations.”

These quotations from the program of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (in which the Bolsheviks were the majority) and the resolutions regarding that party’s attitude to the Duma and the projected non-party “congress of workers” indicate that the Russian “Marxist – Leninists”, even after the 1905-1906 experience, kept the faith with the teachings of Marx and Engels and went on regarding as their own the “specific formula” according to which “the dictatorship of the proletariat” was to be a democratic, parliamentary republic and not the workers and peasants’ soviets.

And if, after the October uprising (1917) they jettisoned their old parliamentarian and non-revolutionary democratic standpoint vis-à-vis the constituent assembly and became “pro-soviets”, this was purely and simply under compulsion and because they could not do otherwise.

All information concerning the conduct of the Bolsheviks during this period is of tremendous historical importance and shows that up until the dismissal of the Constituent Assembly, they were its champions and placed their hopes in it so as to secure a majority, no matter how, and, thanks to that majority to proclaim the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Hence their hesitant and confused stance vis-à-vis the soviets even when the labouring masses had begun openly to ventilate the slogans  “Down with the Constituent Assembly”…  “All power to the soviets of the workers, soldiers and peasants!”

Quite by contrast the anarchists, or rather those of their number who were for the soviets, looked upon them as “executive organs of the will of the labouring people” From June or July 1917 on, they placed themselves at the head of the monthly assemblies which had rallied around the councils of the proletariat and against the Constituent Assembly. As for the Bolsheviks, they persisted in regarding as possible a “revolutionary overhaul” of the national assembly and adopted no clear and definite stance on the question of the soviets’ role and mission in the proletarian revolution.

So, for instance, when the masses of Petrograd and Kronstadt, disgusted by the Constituent Assembly and the machinations of the “people’s representatives” sitting in it, openly lined up behind the watchword “All power to the soviets!,” first launched by anarchists, “then…” as Efim Yarchuk writes… “The Bolsheviks took up the cudgels for the Constituent Assembly and in order to defend it, introduced into the soviets the idea of their being metamorphosed to a certain extent, into organs of the central authority”. “And whenever the Bolshevik Roshal at a meeting in Kronstadt on 3 July 1917 spoke to the masses of an armed demonstration under the slogan of “All power to the soviets!”, the other members of the party met with Raskolnikov to await the decision of the party’s central committee which was based in Petrograd. And when Roshal asked Raskolnikov the question “What do we do if the party decides not to support anything?”, the latter replied “That doesn’t matter! From here we will force their hand.”

It is well known and the Bulgarian Bolsheviks concede this, that up to the very last minute before the October rising, the majority of the party’s central committee opposed it, and that Zinoviev, Kamanev and others played the dismal role of typical opportunists and counter-revolutionaries during those decisive days. Those gentlemen who subsequently pronounced themselves “authentic” and patent  revolutionaries and who during the Kronstadt Revolt of 1921 against the Bolshevik authorities whom they represented dared label the Kronstadt sailors as “counter-revolutionaries”, these gentlemen funked the fight at the crucial moment for the real proletarian revolution.

That the Bolshevik Party was truly, up to the last moment before the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, in favour of it and that it was compelled to amend its anti-soviet stance and moreover, to embrace the watchword “All power to the soviets!” as soon as it was confronted by the fait accompli of the dismissal of the Constituent Assembly, is evidenced by the testimony of Leon Trotsky : “ Our party did not reject democracy, taking account of the certain priorities of political agitation in this lawful transition towards the new regime. Out of this came our attempt to convene the Constituent Assembly… The constituent assembly proved an obstacle to the revolutionary movement and was swept aside”.

Trotsky does not say, of course, how and by whom precisely the constituent assembly was “swept aside”, because we may be sure he has no “political agitation” interest in doing so. Nor is he in a position to describe this revolutionary act on the part of the Bolshevik Party which, as he himself admits, did its utmost to attain “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, i.e. the Constituent Assembly. Trotsky merely hints that the Constituent Assembly was “swept aside” because it was an obstacle in the path of the revolutionary movement. But anyone who bothers to reflect upon this for a moment will infer from this  cautious phrasing that… “1) The revolutionary movement at that point was assuredly not led by the Bolshevik Party and 2) The Bolshevik Party of the day with its preference, obvious up to the last minute, for the Constituent Assembly was one of the factors hampering the development of the revolution.”

Anatol Gorelik without concealing the reality for considerations of “political agitation” has this to say of the events of those days… “Still hesitant, torn between the soviets and the Constituent Assembly, they were in any case determined to ensconce themselves firmly in the Winter Palace. It was only in January 1918 (two months on from 25 October!) that, having failed to win a majority of votes in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, and faced with the fait accompli of the latter having been dismissed by a detachment of sailors under the command of the anarchist Zhelezniakov, they repudiated that Constituent Assembly”. “On that day, comrade Zhelezniakov was commander of the guard of the Constituent Assembly. Later, that afternoon, he calmly strode up to the father of the house, the Social Revolutionary Chernov and suggested to all of the Constituent Assembly’s members that they remove themselves for folk had had enough of their palaver and their ‘work’ (and that the sailors wanted to get to their beds). The existence of the Constituent Assembly was terminated as straight-forwardly as that. The Bolsheviks had no hand in dismissing the Constituent Assembly; they merely ‘legalized’ the fait accompli”. “Even then, as now, the Bolshevik’s policy hinged upon the balance of forces.”

And, truth to tell, one can only understand the about turn in terms of the need to readjust to the facts. The Bolshevik Party suddenly did a somersault a propos of the soviets and the Constituent Assembly in 1917-1918, under pressure from the astute and far-sighted Lenin. An exposition of the facts shows that, faced with the  choice of being faithful to Marxism and parliamentarianism by clinging stubbornly, come what may, to the Constituent Assembly and opposing the transfer of power implicit in ‘All power to the soviets!’, with the risk of being “swept aside” by the labouring masses from the theatre of the social struggle as a political party identified with the Constituent Assembly (as befell all the other ‘socialist’, ‘worker’ and ‘labour’ parties), the Bolsheviks repudiated the Constituent Assembly and temporarily fell into line with the  surge from the masses by swimming with the current so as  to await  the opportune  moment to annihilate the  ‘soviets,’ to strip them of their ‘power’ and to concentrate power by a round-about route into their own  hands, no longer through the Constituent Assembly plan of course but rather through the agency of a central executive committee of the soviets.

And despite the prevailing consensus in the party’s central committee – that there be no surrender to the enthusiasm of the masses – Lenin, though in the minority, correctly grasped with his expansive mind the dismal fate which lay in store for the party unless it fell into line with the inclinations of the masses. Lenin announced that the party was with the movement of the workers and peasants and with its outlook. He announced that he was taking the majority on the central committee to task for it was at odds with the wishes of the masses and defaulting upon its revolutionary duty. He unreservedly embraced the slogan of ‘All power to the soviets!’ and, by decree, changed the party’s name to ‘communist’ and for the time being, toed the communist line.

But this did not last long. After it had been announced that the counter-revolution had been defeated, and thanks to Lenin’s bold stratagem, the Bolshevik Party managed to secure a majority in the Pan-Russian Congress of Soviets and on the central executive committee of the soviets. This signalled the start of centralization within that institution (in which the Bolsheviks always retained the upper hand) of initiative and rights. Indeed “by a round-about route” there was a homecoming to the old attitude: all of the soviets’ rights had been cancelled “temporarily” to begin with, and then for good and were now soviets in name only.

“But as long as a country is governed by the dictatorship of one party, the workers’ and peasants’ councils obviously lose all their meaning. They are reduced to the passive role played in by-gone days by the States-General and parliaments when these were summoned by the monarch and had to contend with an all-powerful King’s Council”.

Once ensconced in power and masters of the situation, the Bolsheviks could hardly have acted otherwise. Indeed “The Bolsheviks have never been supporters of an authentic council system. In 1905, Lenin for instance explained to the chairman of the St. Petersburg soviet that ‘his party could not sympathize with the obsolete institution of the councils arrangement.’ But as the early stages of the Russian Revolution had evolved precisely on the basis of just that councils arrangement, the Bolsheviks, whenever they took power, had to seek an accommodation, willy nilly with this inheritance, a very dubious one in their  eyes. Then all of their actions were designed gradually to divest them of all power and to subordinate them to the central government. That they were successful in this is, in our view, the tremendous tragedy of the Russian Revolution.”

Pano Vassilev, Bulgaria 1933


Alexander Berkman: Social Reconstruction

Alexander Berkman

Alexander Berkman

Alexander Berkman was a dedicated anarchist revolutionary who well appreciated the difficulties people would face during revolutionary upheavals. Deported from the United States to Russia in 1919, he witnessed firsthand how the dictatorial methods of the Bolsheviks were strangling the revolution and creating economic misery. In this excerpt from his book, Now and After: The ABC of Anarchist Communism, other portions of which are included in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Berkman emphasizes the importance of immediately implementing workers’ self-management in order to ensure that people have enough to satisfy not only their basic needs, but also their wants and desires.

From the General Strike to the Social Revolution

From the General Strike to the Social Revolution

Making the Revolution

The first effect of the revolution is reduced production. The general strike, which I have forecast as the starting point of the social revolution, itself constitutes a suspension of industry. The workers lay down their tools, demonstrate in the streets, and thus temporarily stop production.

But life goes on. The essential needs of the people must be satisfied. In that stage the revolution lives on the supplies already on hand. But to exhaust those supplies would be disastrous. The situation rests in the hands of labour: the immediate resumption of industry is imperative. The organized agricultural and industrial proletariat takes possession of the land, factories, shops, mines and mills. Most energetic application is now the order of the day.

It should be clearly understood that the social revolution necessitates more intensive production than under capitalism in order to supply the needs of the large masses who till then had lived in penury. This greater production can be achieved only by the workers having previously prepared themselves for the new situation. Familiarity with the processes of industry, knowledge of the sources of supply, and determination to succeed will accomplish the task. The enthusiasm generated by the revolution, the energies liberated, and the inventiveness stimulated by it must be given full freedom and scope to find creative channels. Revolution always wakens a high degree of responsibility. Together with the new atmosphere of liberty and brotherhood it creates the realization that hard work and severe self-discipline are necessary to bring production up to the requirements of consumption.

On the other hand, the new situation will greatly simplify the present very complex problems of industry. For you must consider that capitalism, because of its competitive character and contradictory financial and commercial interest, involves many intricate and perplexing issues which would be entirely eliminated by the abolition of the conditions of today. Questions of wage scales and selling prices; the requirements of the existing markets and the hunt for new ones; the scarcity of capital for large operations and the heavy interest to be paid on it; new investments, the effect of speculation and monopoly, and a score of related problems which worry the capitalist and make industry such a difficult and cumbersome network today would all disappear. At present these require divers departments of study and highly trained men to keep unravelling the tangled skein of plutocratic cross purposes, many specialists to calculate the actualities and possibilities of profit and loss, and a large force of aids to help steer the industrial ship between the perilous rocks which beset the chaotic course of capitalist competition, national and international.

All this would be automatically done away with by the socialization of industry and the termination of the competitive system; and thereby the problems of production will be immensely lightened. The knotted complexity of capitalist industry need therefore inspire no undue fear for the future. Those who talk of labour not being equal to manage “modern” industry fail to take into account the factors referred to above. The industrial labyrinth will turn out to be far less formidable on the day of the social reconstruction.

In passing it may be mentioned that all the other phases of life would also be very much simplified as a result of the indicated changes: various present-day habits, customs, compulsory and unwholesome modes of living will naturally fall into disuse.

Furthermore it must be considered that the task of increased production would be enormously facilitated by the addition to the ranks of labour of vast numbers whom the altered economic conditions will liberate for work.

Useless work

Recent statistics show that in 1920 there were in the United States over 41 million persons of both sexes engaged in gainful occupations out of a total population of over 105 million. Out of those 41 million only 26 million were actually employed in the industries, including transportation and agriculture, the balance of 15 million consisting mostly of persons engaged in trade, of commercial travellers, advertisers, and various other middlemen of the present system. In other words, 15 million persons would be released for useful work by a revolution in the United States. A similar situation, proportionate to population, would develop in other countries

The greater production necessitated by the social revolution would therefore have an additional army of many million persons at its disposal. The systematic incorporation of those millions into industry and agriculture, aided by modern scientific methods of organization and production, will go a long way toward helping to solve the problems of supply.

Capitalist production is for profit; more labour is used today to sell things than to produce them. The social revolution re-organizes the industries on the basis of the needs of the populace. Essential needs come first, naturally. Food, clothing, shelter—these are the primal requirements of man. The first step in this direction is the ascertaining of the available supply of provisions and other commodities. The labour associations in every city and community take this work in hand for the purpose of equitable distribution. Workers’ committees in every street and district assume charge, co-operating with similar committees in the city and state, and federating their efforts throughout the country by means of general councils of producers and consumers.

Great events and upheavals bring to the fore the most active and energetic elements. The social revolution will crystalise the class- conscious labour ranks. By whatever name they will be known—as industrial unions, revolutionary syndicalist bodies, co-operative associations, leagues of producers and consumers—they will represent the most enlightened and advanced part of labour, the organized workers aware of their aims and how to attain them. It is they who will be the moving spirit of the revolution.


With the aid of industrial machinery and by scientific cultivation of the land freed from monopoly, the revolution must first of all supply the elemental wants of society. In farming and gardening intensive cultivation and modern methods have made us practically independent of natural soil quality and climate. To a very considerable extent man now makes his own soil and his own climate, thanks to the achievements of chemistry. Exotic fruits can be raised in the north to be supplied to the warm south, as is being done in France. Science is the wizard who enables man to master all difficulties and overcome all obstacles. The future, liberated from the incubus of the profit system and enriched by the work of the millions of non-producers of today, holds the greatest welfare for society. That future must be the objective point of the social revolution; its motto: bread and well-being for all. First bread, then well-being and luxury. Even luxury, for luxury is a deep-felt need of man, a need of his physical as of his spiritual being.

Intense application to this purpose must be the continuous effort of the revolution: not something to be postponed for a distant day but of immediate practice. The revolution must strive to enable every community to sustain itself, to become materially independent. No country should have to rely on outside help to exploit colonies for its support. That is the way of capitalism. The aim of anarchism, on the contrary, is material independence, not only for the individual, but for every community.

This means gradual decentralization instead of centralization.

Even under capitalism we see the decentralization tendency manifest itself in spite of the essentially centralistic character of the present day industrial system. Countries which were before entirely dependent on foreign manufactures, as Germany in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, later Italy and Japan, and now Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc., are gradually emancipating themselves industrially, working their own natural resources, building their own factories and mills, and attaining economic independence from other lands. International finance does not welcome this development and tries its utmost to retard its progress, because it is more profitable for the Morgans and Rockefellers to keep such countries as Mexico, China, India, Ireland, or Egypt industrially backward, in order to exploit their natural resources, and at the same time be assured of foreign markets for “over-production” at home. The governments of the great financiers and lords of industry help them to secure those foreign natural resources and markets, even at the point of the bayonet. Thus Great Britain by force of arms compels China to permit English opium to poison the Chinese, at a good profit, and exploits every means to dispose in that country of the greater part of its textile products. For the same reason Egypt, India, Ireland, and other dependencies and colonies are not permitted to develop their home industries.

In short, capitalism seeks centralization. But a free country needs decentralization, independence not only political but also industrial and economic.

Berkman quote

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Readership is way up from 2011. Daniel Guérin remains the most popular author. The Russian Revolution is now the most popular topic. 2012 also saw the publication of Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. See you some more in 2013!

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 85,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.