André Leo: Against Hierarchy – From the First Socialist Schism

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Wolfgang Eckhardt’s comprehensive account of the split in the International Workingmen’s Association (the “First International” – IWMA) between the advocates of working class political parties (Marx and his followers) and the anti-authoritarian revolutionary socialists (anarchists), entitled The First Socialist Schism: Bakunin vs. Marx in the International Working Men’s Association, has finally been published by PM Press. Although more narrowly focused than my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, Eckhardt’s book meticulously documents how Marx and his relatively small coterie of supporters tried to turn the International from a pluralist association of workers’ organizations with differing views regarding social change into a monolithic organization committed to the formation of national “working class” political parties whose ultimate object was the conquest of state power. Instead, Marx only succeeded in splitting the International, with the majority of its members and sections re-establishing the International along anti-authoritarian lines, and the Marxist rump soon expiring, with its seat of power being nominally transferred to New York. In this excerpt from Chapter 8 of The First Socialist Schism, Eckhardt describes the attempts by the Marxist controlled General Council to disenfranchise the French Communard refugees in Switzerland who were regrouping after narrowly escaping France with their lives. Particularly noteworthy are the passages by André Leo (1824-1900), the French feminist socialist, denouncing the attempts by Marx, the “pontiff” of the IWMA, to turn the International into a hierarchical organization imposing ideological uniformity on its members.

André Leo

André Leo

Marx vs. the Communards

After the Paris Commune was crushed, thousands of Communards narrowly escaped abroad. A few hundred of them fled to Switzerland with the help of the Jura sections, among others. On 3 July 1871, Schwitzguébel smuggled a number of Swiss passports and documents of Swiss citizenship into Paris in a knapsack with a secret compartment. Several members of the Commune who had gone into hiding were able to flee abroad thanks to these papers: for example, the author Léodile Champseix (1824–1900) – famous under the pseudonym André Léo – arrived in Switzerland a half month later. Some Communards settled in Lausanne, Berne or Jura but most in Geneva.

There they were soon confronted with the simmering conflict surrounding the split in the Romande Federation and the underlying debate about political-parliamentary or social-revolutionary socialism, which they were unable to keep out of for long. It is not surprising that very few Communards – with the memories of the greatest revolution of the century still fresh – would be sympathetic to the tame line of the Geneva fabrique, which was integrated in local politics. Just as Bakunin and his friends in the Alliance had two years before, the Commune refugees soon came to realise that the spokesmen of the fabrique – who set the agenda of the Geneva International – were primarily following their political ambitions (electoral alliance with the bourgeois parti radical, Grand Council elections of 12 November 1871, etc.).

The work of organising the sections was left by the wayside. Even the Geneva central section was much too involved in local politics to organise educational initiatives or the exchange of ideas between workers in the different trades as was its duty. The Communards thus began toying with the idea in July 1871 of forming their own section in order to create propaganda for France. It took until 6 September 1871 for the Geneva Communards to form the Propaganda and Socialist Revolutionary Action Section (Section de propagande et d’action révolutionnaire-socialiste) –section of propaganda in short. On 8 September, their Administrative Committee (Comité d’Administration) sent an application for membership along with their programme and section rules to the General Council.

The spokesmen of the Geneva fabrique quickly saw the section of propaganda as unwelcome political competition and thwarted their admission in the International: two weeks after the membership application was sent, Perret –secretary of Committee of the Romande Federation in Geneva – proposed a resolution at the London Conference ‘in order to avoid new conflicts’: it called to mind art. 5 of the Basel administrative resolutions which stated that the General Council must consult with the corresponding Federal Council before it decides on the membership application of a section. The message was received – the minutes state: ‘The General Council takes note of this recommendation.’ And so the section of propaganda didn’t even receive a reply even though it applied to the General Council a second time on 4 October and third time of 20 October 1871.

Perret was perhaps also responsible for the General Council’s continued silence: he sent a perturbing letter to Marx on 8 October 1871 saying that the members of the then dissolved Alliance section were supposedly behind this new section; according to Perret, the section of propaganda was ‘the rebirth of this sect under another name’. In reality there were only two or three former members of the Alliance among the 62 members of the section of propaganda.

So the situation was already quite tense when Égalité published an authorised advanced copy of various resolutions of the London Conference on 21October 1871. The Communards finally found out that effective immediately it was ‘no longer allowed […] to form separatist bodies under the names of sections of propaganda, Alliance de la Démocratie socialiste, etc.’ in the International according to resolution no. 16. By being lumped together with the dissolved Alliance and defamed as a separatist body, the section of propaganda was confronted with resentment that they had never before thought possible. It became immediately apparent that the General Council had been purposely delaying accepting the Communards’ section because of political reservation. For the Communard André Léo, these reservations flew in the face of the established mores of the International. On 2 November 1871, she wrote the following in the Révolution Sociale, the newspaper of the Commune refugees in Geneva:

“And I, who have until now believed that the International Association was the most democratic, the broadest, the most fraternal association one could dream of; the great mother, with immense breasts, of whom every worker of good will is the son. […] may the goddess Liberty help us! For we have violated the last papal bull in divulging these things to the Gentiles24 and in debating the infallibility of the supreme council. Now, we too are threatened with excommunication, and we have no other course than to yield our soul to the demon of Anarchy for what remains for us to say.”

In the week after the advanced copy of the conference resolution appeared in Égalité, the section of propaganda held a meeting where the decision was made to publicly protest against the resolutions of the London Conference and to invite other sections and federations to join this protest. Zhukovsky was given the mandate to go to Jura to inform the sections there of this initiative. The meeting in Neuchâtel held upon his arrival on 29 October 1871 called for a joint letter of protest to be adopted at the next congress of the Jura sections and circulated internationally. A circular on 31 October announced that a federal congress would be held on 12 November 1871 in Sonvillier.

The need for public protest became more apparent after all of the resolutions of the London Conference were released the week before the federal congress. In a further article for the Révolution Sociale, André Léo wrote:

“From the beginning of the International Association to this day, when we heard the good bourgeois refer to it as a secret society, constructed after their manner, i.e. hierarchically, with a watchword, a secret council, the old pyramid, finally, with God the Father, an Old Man of the Mountain or a Council of Ten at its summit, we shrugged our shoulders and told them, not without pride: – all of this is a bunch of old tales! You know nothing of the new spirit; your worn molds cannot contain it. We who want to destroy your hierarchies are not about to establish another. Each section is sovereign, as are the individuals who compose it, and what binds them all is the profound belief in equality, the desire to establish it, and the practice of our Rules: the emancipation of the workers by the workers themselves; no rights without duties, no duties without rights. Everything is done in the broad daylight of freedom, which alone is honest and fruitful; we have no leaders, for we do not recognise any, only an administrative council. But now, alas! – now we bow our heads before the accusations of Mr Prudhomme, or rather, we deserve his admiration; we suffer this supreme insult, because the resolutions published here construct the old pyramid in the International as elsewhere: ‘It is forbidden,’ ‘it will not be allowed,’ ‘the General Council has the right to admit or to refuse the affiliation of any new section or group’, ‘the General Council has the right of suspending, till the meeting of next Congress, any section of the International’. I beg your pardon; are we mistaken, here, as to the code? This is an article of the law on the general councils of France, made by the Assembly of Versailles: ‘The executive power shall be entitled to suspend the council that …’ – No, that’s right, but the article is the same in both laws, – ‘henceforth the General Council will be bound to publicly denounce and disavow all newspapers …’ – By our holy father the Pope, where are we? Bismarck has turned the heads of everyone from the Rhine to the Oder, and at the same time that Wilhelm I made himself emperor, Karl Marx consecrated himself Pontiff of the International Association.”

The strong words shocked Guillaume and his friends, however, the manner in which Léo concluded her article was irreproachable:

“We have just begun to understand that true unity does not consist in the absorption of all into one, that strange equation, that fatal delusion which has mystified humanity for so many centuries! And if asked how else to establish unity, most of us would hesitate to answer, because it is not only a matter of finding new means but of changing the ideal itself. – The new unity is not uniformity, but its opposite, which consists in expanding all initiatives, all freedoms, all conceptions, bound only by the fact of a common nature that gives them a common interest, upon which – on their own, and by different routes, however winding they may be – free forces converge. This is natural and universal harmony in place of the narrowness, the vicious unfairness of the personal plan. It is this autonomy of the citizen, achieved through the autonomy of the primary social group, the commune, that France has just tentatively sketched out with a hand wounded by the sword of despotic unity. This is the second act of the great Revolution that is beginning, the realisation after the revelation, the performance after the promise. And the International Association, a natural agent for this task, would, following these mad and narrow minds, repeat the experiments that were made, and made so badly, between 1802 and 1871! This cannot be. Let all the old world’s politics go that way; socialism has nothing to do with it, for it must take the opposite path, that of the freedom of all in equality.”

Wolfgang Eckhardt, The First Socialist Schism (Oakland: PM Press, 2016), pp. 103-106

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From Anarchism to Syndicalism: The Journey of James Guillaume

James Guillaume (1866)

James Guillaume (1866)

James Guillaume (1844-1916) was one of the leading militants of the Swiss Jura Federation in the International Workingmen’s Association. I have discussed his role in the struggles within the International over the proper direction of working class and socialist movements in We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. After he was expelled, along with Bakunin, from the Marxist faction of the International at the Hague Congress in 1872, Guillaume was instrumental in reconstituting the International along anti-authoritarian lines, playing an important role in producing the Sonvillier Circular in 1871, which denounced Marx’s attempts to centralize control of the International in the hands of the General Council in London, and to impose as official policy a commitment to the creation of national political parties whose object was to be the conquest of political power on behalf of the working class. After the Hague Congress, Guillaume and Bakunin, together with Internationalists from Spain, France, Italy and Switzerland, organized the St. Imier Congress, which resulted in a bold declaration of their revolutionary aims and a denunciation of Marxist policies and methods (both documents are in Volume One of  Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). Guillaume is very much the hero in René Berthier’s recent book, Social Democracy and Anarchism, which as I noted previously tries to show that the anarchist movements that emerged from the International somehow constituted a “break” with Bakunin’s “revolutionary socialism,” rather than a continuation of it. I disagree, and so would have the anarchist historian and Bakunin biographer, Max Nettlau (1865-1944). Below, I reproduce excerpts from a biographical sketch of Guillaume that Nettlau wrote in 1935, in which he sets forth some respectful criticisms of Guillaume’s claim that revolutionary syndicalism constituted the true heir to Bakunin’s revolutionary legacy.

Max Nettlau

Max Nettlau

Max Nettlau: James Guillaume – A Biographical Sketch

This relatively little remembered man was on the side of Bakunin and, of course, many other comrades, the most efficient actor of those in the old International who resisted the will of Marx, [which leads] to social democracy, reformism and bolshevism, and affirmed complete libertarian socialism, expressed by anarchist thought and, to a certain degree, by revolutionary syndicalism…

[In Locle, Switzerland, during the early 1860s, Guillaume,] in looking round, in observing the local working population, by reading socialist and advanced philosophical books, by frequenting an old local revolutionist of strong social feelings, Constant Meuron, found consolation in devoting himself to educational work for the people… He read Feuerbach, Darwin, Fourier, Louis Blanc, Proudhon; he emancipated himself entirely from metaphysics, felt interested in what he heard of the French cooperators (an effort then supported in a broad spirit by Elie and Elisée Reclus, etc.), and of the International, of which in the larger township nearby, at La Chaux-de-Fonds, a section had already been founded.

In August 1866, Guillaume, old Meuron and a small handfull of others founded another section [in] Locle and in September, Guillaume represented it at the first Congress of the International, held in Geneva. There he met French, Belgian, British and other delegates and had his first direct glimpse at several of the social and labour currents of that times.

The activities of Guillaume, beginning in this small and new section [of the International], yet show him gradually coming to the front in the then small Jurassian milieu as a man who had a solid basis of general socialist information, who was penetrated by the wish to establish fraternal relations all over the awakening world of labour, but who could not imagine that such relations could be based upon any other basis than that of mutual fraternity and solidarity, of equality and of autonomy, non-interference with local life.

He had no idea that a Karl Marx resided in London who had the ambition to impress his own ideas upon the association, nor that a Central or General Council could be under the impression [that it could] be some organ of authority in the association, nor that parties, cliques, coteries could be formed and that locally useful and efficient men would try to extend their influence over districts, provinces and regions. All this was, in his opinion, exactly what the International did not wish to be; it was found[ed on] solidarity, respecting autonomy, and had no call to be a doctrinaire or an administrative unifying authority.

Guillaume was far from being an anarchist then and, in the real sense he was this always as we shall see. He had not broken with politics, [but] he had not made an effort to enter a political career. He had lived in politics all his life, seeing his father, a professional politician and office holder, and this gave him some inside experience and created the strong wish not to have to court the favour of the electors year by year, as his father had to do.

He had watched closely, French and Italian popular and insurrectional movements – the continuous struggles against Napoleon III, the usurper, and against the Bourbons, the Pope and the Austrians in Italy, and he was observing with curiosity the English trade unionists, the German Lassalleans, the Russians of Tchernychevski’s time. All interested him and he loved and admired many things but he never wished to introduce artificially outside ideas and tactics into the Jurassian milieu. In this respect already Geneva and Lausanne, much more Berne and Zürich, were already, one might say, foreign continents to him. He did not dream of recommending Jurassian methods anywhere outside the mountain district, nor did he wish or tolerate that outsiders should interfere with the Jura.

By and by he concluded that the Internationalists of Belgium were least of all disposed to impose their ideas either by propaganda or by authority (majorities, administrative power) upon others, and he was on the best possible terms with them, notably with Caesar de Paepe. Later, as Paris always attracted him as the mother of Revolutions, he conceived great admiration for [Eugene] Varlin, who was equally disposed to feel fullest international solidarity, but to maintain the autonomy of Parisian tactics.

As for Bakunin, his idea of a… sweeping, all-[embracing] revolution was always strange and unnecessary and seemed to be improbable to Guillaume, who reserved the Jurassian autonomy before everything. Bakunin was of ripe experience and fully understood Guillaume and abstained with tact and care from all that might mean to be an infringement upon that autonomy. This brought about and safeguarded their close cooperation of several years, mainly from 1869 to 1872.

Marx was incapable [of] conceiv[ing] the notion of autonomy, just as Lenin later scorned the bourgeois notion of freedom and so, with all respect for his economic learnedness – Bakunin and Guillaume were the two only men in Switzerland who had read Das Kapital of 1867 in the years following, about 1869-1870 – it was impossible for them to cooperate with him (Marx) in the International as he (Marx) scorned and flouted Bakunin’s highest ideal – Freedom – [and] Guillaume’s ethical basis – Autonomy.

Guillaume, then, had a life [of] purpose before himself, at twenty two, to cooperate internationally and locally in the reconstitution of socialism which had so languished in the nearly twenty years of reaction and apathy intervening since 1848. He was in what he considered an independent local position of not elementary but almost high school teaching, and further educational and political advancement (by elections) was within his grasp. But he did nothing to promote such a career; when he understood that taking part in elections was of no social value to the workers, he and his friends proclaimed abstention from politics, and when his militant socialism and local independence were considered by the authorities incompatible with his employment as a public school-professor, he did nothing to bow before the storm and was in due form [made destitute] in 1869, aged twenty five, walking out of office as a well read young man, soon to be married, but with no earthly goods and prospects, locally a marked man. So he remained throughout a long life, always having to shift for himself.

He had no precarious resource at hand [but only] another dim light in the sky… his old plan to live in Paris and this had been nourished by his close contact with Ferdinand Buisson, lecturing in 1869 in Switzerland on the subject of a renewed liberal Christianity, left-wing Protestant Rationalism. Both he and Guillaume were deeply interested in tearing elementary education in France from the hands of the Catholic clergy, of laïcising and improving it, and as Buisson was a staunch republican, his counsel would be listened to when that party would triumph over Napoleon III, and then he and Guillaume would cooperate as educational Robespierres, so to speak. This, they planned about 1869, and some of this they were able to realize between ten and twenty years later, indeed.

But meanwhile, to get a living, he came to a business arrangement with his unsentimental father, who was furious to see him lose his professional position. [His] father had a little printing office, badly managed at the time, and this James took over, investing money of his wife, and thus from August 1869 to the end of 1872, he kept this small business going, managing, reading proofs, setting up type himself sometimes, employing confidential compositors, keeping up punctual business relations with his father, while many less punctual relations where on his own shoulders. For here papers and pamphlets for the movement, international books, some Italian printing, all in the interest of the Swiss, French, Italian movements, were printed and sometimes work requiring caution and meeting with difficulties in distribution.

At other times, unskilled, helpless refugees would learn composing there. This little office at Neuchâtel was a real oasis of international printing for some time, one of the very few places at that time where work was efficiently done which defied equally Napoleon III, Bismarck, the Tsar and the Pope – and Karl Marx, Liebknecht and all the capitalists, and where Bakunin, the refugees of the Commune, Kropotkin (a visitor in 1872), the Italian and Spanish internationalists anarchists and the Jura Swiss workers felt at home. It required intense work and care on Guillaume’s side to keep this place going with real efficiency and evading absolute financial disaster. He was finally unable to continue his own overlarge mixture of intellectual, business, routine and often manual occupations and felt relieved when his father sold the printing office (end of 1872) and from then to the spring of 1878 he had to make a living in Neuchâtel by private lessons, many small paid translations and [by] beginning literary work for encyclopedic publications in Paris and London.

The situation [facing] him in 1877-1878, however, was so little hopeful, locally, that then, finally, in may 1878 he carried out his plan to go to live in Paris. He had been preparing to do this in the beginning of 1871, already, on the invitation of Buisson, but the Commune had intervened and the years of full reaction in France had made it quite impossible…

The watchmakers in Geneva and in the small Jurassian townships and large villages were up to the second half of the 1870s, when American machine-made watches and similar factories established also in Switzerland, ruined them and made them slaves to machinery – they were until then a very independent home-industry, very skilled work was done by men in their own rooms of small houses ; the demand for their output was universal and constant, they were used to combining against the large firms, they were citizens interested in local politics, some of them in social questions, they were not proletarianized at all and many of them welcomed the International and formed sections which were meant at first to be local educational units, forming local electoral power [distinct] from the bourgeois, agricultural, conservative and other interests.

In Geneva, the electoral power of these skilled workers was so great that the International sections – except the one inaugurated [in] 1868 by Bakunin (the Section of the Alliance) – never emancipated themselves from the politicians. In the Jura (the cantons of Bern and Neuchâtel mainly), the other electoral powers were stronger, and those of the International sections who had expected to further socialist aims by electoral methods, by local politics, saw that they were powerless after all at the elections. The same experience was [had] by a number of militant workers and citizens in Geneva who had tried to form a more advanced workers’ party and had failed at the elections of the autumn of 1868. Thus about that time these two milieus of socialists abandoning electoral politics had been formed – that of Guillaume in the Jura and that of [Charles] Perron in Geneva – and that very summer, about July, Bakunin had entered the International at Geneva – and he made the acquaintance of Perron in August and that of Guillaume at the end of the year; from then, for some time, these three men cooperated intimately.

Before this, Guillaume had assisted at the international Congresses of Geneva (1866) and Lausanne (1867), [being] most interest[ed] in the company of some Belgians, notably De Paepe, of some London and Paris delegates, informing himself on trade unionism, Parisian Proudhonism, meeting Dr. Ludwig Büchner, the author of “Kraft und Stoff”, the old German socialist Johann Philipp Becker; he corresponded with Hermann Jung, the Swiss secretary of the General Council, talked with Eccarius, a German tailor of London who was to some degree in the confidence of Karl Marx, etc.

All that interested him, just as he had met before old Fourierists in the Jura, old Pierre Leroux himself and others. And he was [one] of the delegates sent by the Lausanne Congress to the Peace Congress of Geneva (September 1867), where he saw Garibaldi and first saw and heard Bakunin, though not making his personal acquaintance. [That] took place at the congress held at the end of 1868 in Geneva, for the purpose of federating the French-speaking sections of Switzerland, to form the Fédération Romande.

He was standing out by his earnest activity and his skill as a clear debater and writer, and this may have contributed to making Bakunin wish to see more of him. In any case, as the outside delegates lodged with comrades in Geneva, it may not have been quite an accident that the young professor from the Jura was invited to lodge with Bakunin and in this way they became friends, and Guillaume was eager to invite Bakunin to come to the Jura, and Bakunin was quite satisfied to extend his sphere of activity to this new ground, thus taking up his position both in Geneva and in the milieu of the [Jura] Mountains.

Bakunin’s visits in the Jura (February and May 1869), short as they were, were time well spent in local manifestations affirming the independence of the sections from powerful politicians who propagated an adulterated socialism which was just some petty reformism, with more intimate, cordial discussions with many workers, with very intimate revolutionary discussions with a number of militants who shaped the activities of their whole lives, in not a few cases, upon these early impressions – and in conversations of the fullest confidence with Guillaume and but a very few others.

Bakunin (as we know) always had in view this: to inspire a small number of men of real value and efficiency with the whole of the anarchist ideas and the desire for action and these would each operate upon the best men of their acquaintance and confidence – and these upon a wider milieu of [the] less advanced, and so on. The most intimate would consult among themselves and consult with Bakunin, who was in a similar way in touch with efficient men of a number of other countries – and thus, by personal contact, correspondence, some travelers, the meeting of these intimates during congresses, etc., all these men could co-operate upon similar lines, albeit locally modified, and such private mutual understanding would harmonize the propaganda, create local milieus disposed to act upon similar lines and, someday, when action was possible and imminent, would facilitate it efficiently.

“Action” was not an idle dream in those years (1864-1870), of Bakunin’s impulse in this direction, as in at least three countries (France, Italy, Spain) rotten powers were doomed to fall – Napoleon III, the Pope as sovereign of the Roman State [Kirchenstaat], and Queen Isabella of Spain – and indeed Isabella fell in September 1868, and both Napoleon III and the Pope’s power over Rome fell in September 1870.

In Spain followed a revolutionary period lasting up to the end of 1874, including a Republic and the great insurrection of the federalist republicans of 1874. In France the accumulated [discontent] led to the two months of the Commune of Paris, March to May 1871, and in Italy, Garibaldi, straight from the Geneva congress of 1867, went to fight the Popish army in open battle and, after his failure, three years later the Italian army fought Rome and reduced the Pope to living from that time onward – until Mussolini’s surrender – in the Vatican, nominally declaring himself to be a prisoner.

Here we have all elements of revolutionary warfare – the Commune defying the French State and the French bourgeoisie, the insurgent Spanish cities proclaiming their autonomy, the Church of Rome bombarded by the Italian army and many other events – and if in all these the popular forces, the workers, did not succeed and were even terribly defeated and massacred (Paris), surely it was neither a chimerical and idle or absurd, nor a useless, unpractical thought and effort of Bakunin to try to prepare and to coordinate forces which should be ready to act on such occasions. His activities were strongest just in these countries and, if he failed, if he and his comrades could not overcome all the enormous obstacles, the blame may be laid on them for this or that mistake, but it lays much more upon all those who did not help them and it lays heaviest upon those who did all they could to combat, to discredit, to destroy them: here lays one of the various culpabilities which Marx accumulated during his career.

Marx, in those years, wielding the power which, he imagined, his participation in the General Council of the International had legitimately given to him, was haunted by the idea of war against Russia in favour of Poland and a secondary thought of Irish rebellion in England, while he also, after the easy victory of Prussia over Austria in 1866, was [impressed] by Bismarck’s prestige and had but contempt for France, Italy and Spain. None of his then expectations were realized while Bakunin, as to the West and South of Europe, had seen clearly. When Bakunin tried to rally the revolutionists in preparation [for the] very struggles which did come, Marx insisted [on starting] electoral labour parties, as Lassalle had done, and urged upon the States to begin the world war against Russia. So his fraction of the International became emasculated and he used the very nominal powers confided to the General Council to make regular war by chicanery and other means against the autonomous sections and federations [of the International].

This was keenly felt by an autonomist like Guillaume and welded him and Bakunin together until autonomy had triumphed in 1872-1873. But Guillaume was not [amenable] to Bakunin’s favorite attempt, to give to his relations with the intimate comrades a formal name, the Fraternité internationale, Alliance secrète or so, to write or even print statements of principles and rules, to correspond in cypher, etc. He practised the real thing, but rejected the form, and in this respect he was wiser then Bakunin who lost time in drawing up documents of such apparently conspiratorial character which, when misused, seized [and] published, gave an extraordinary aspect to very harmless things.

Bakunin knew that as well, but all the secret societies had such documents and some of the members seemed to like and to require it, while, in practice, very few or hardly any one conformed to such documents. Anyhow, Guillaume obtained from Bakunin in 1869 a general indulgence not to have anything to do with written rules himself, nor should Bakunin introduce them in the Jura. For the rest he did not care and he did exactly what Bakunin did (and had done before, locally) – he had incessant private relations with the militants in the Jura and he corresponded with all the intimates of Bakunin abroad, whenever necessary, without using the terms of any secret body (Fraternité, Alliance). He was most eager to attract militants in France within this inner sphere and came to some understanding with Varlin during the Congress of Basel (1869), etc. He was at times most painstaking to arrive at agreements by discussion, while when he considered that the occasion required immediate or modified action, he took it on as his sole responsibility.

Two examples of this are the manifesto of September, 5, 1870 in Neuchâtel, when upon the first news of the collapse of the Empire in Paris (September 4), he was misled to consider this political change a social revolution and called [on] all to take up arms to defend the Revolution in France. The Swiss government had this Manifesto seized and suppressed the paper, Solidarité, and Guillaume’s father felt anxiety about the printing plant which belonged to him. Bakunin wrote a most generous letter on that occasion to the Committee of the Fédération Romande, in defence of Guillaume’s over rash act on his personal account which deprived the organization [the Romande Federation] of its paper.

The other case happened at the Hague Congress, where an artificial majority, fabricated by Marx, Engels and others, expelled Bakunin and Guillaume from the International (September 1872). It had been agreed upon that the revolutionary federations should leave the congress, when the Marxist intrigue should unfold itself openly. Guillaume preferred to pass much time during the congress week to explain the situation to quite a number of non-revolutionists, but who were not friends of Marx either and who simply ignored the facts. In this way he formed a minority of revolutionists and general friends of fair play, and Marx turned yellow, when he saw to his surprise, that the revolutionists  [did not] just leave, as he had expected, but that a declaration of solidarity by a strong minority was read, to which he had no reply to make.

Guillaume preferred an International composed of autonomous bodies of revolutionary or reformist, anarchist or social democratic, opinion, to a body composed exclusively of revolutionists. He did not object to such a body as the latter described, but he valued the principle of solidarity and autonomy expressed by the former composition – and so became the antiauthoritarian International of the St. Imier, Geneva, Brussels, Bern and Verviers congresses of the years 1872 (September) to 1877 (September). Bakunin formed intimate ties with the revolutionists at Zürich (September 1872), the Alliance of the Revolutionary Socialists (secret), but, after discussion with Guillaume, agreed with his tactics at the public Congress of St. Imier. A year later, in Geneva, Guillaume mainly shaped the new forms of the organization during a week of arduous discussion; Bakunin watched this from a distance, at Bern.

There is no question that the fall of the Commune in 1871 made Guillaume understand that socialism in France would not be revived in the spirit of his friend Varlin (who had been shot) for a long time to come, nor that the Hague congress, 1872, displaying all the malignity of Marx and Engels, made him see that socialism had that deleterious dry rot inside of it, Marxism – an emasculating disease which from then [on] has produced some fifty years of social democracy and [then] communist despotism in Russia. Both hard facts made Guillaume concentrate on Swiss local socialist autonomy and he had no real faith in revolutionary attempts as these were [being] prepared in Spain and in Italy by the fervent young Internationalists, and by Bakunin who, hopeful or hopeless, was active up to 1874.

Otherwise expressed – Guillaume considered his association with Bakunin more or less [had] come to an end, as the fight in common against Marx was over, as there was nothing to do in France, for some time, and as the Russian, Italian [and] Spanish activities of Bakunin did not concern him, while Bakunin was less interested than he in Belgian, British, Swiss, German and other movements. It came to this, sorry to tell, that while Bakunin continued to value what Guillaume did, the latter, who saw and heard little of Bakunin in 1873-74, came to imagine that Bakunin’s career was coming to an end. I cannot enter into this delicate subject [but] let it be sufficient to say here that at a moment in the autumn of 1874, when Bakunin would most have needed a clear thinking and fair-minded friend as Guillaume might have been to him, Guillaume proved utterly prejudiced, hard and cruel, and there was an absolute separation between Guillaume and several others and Bakunin (September 1874), and this remained so up to Bakunin’s death [in] 1876…

In this way Guillaume’s relations with Bakunin had a bitter end; [once again] a Robespierrist mind was unable to understand a Dantonesque character and felt obliged to try to destroy it.

That same autumn Guillaume wrote, at the invitation of Cafiero, an exposé of the social arrangements in a free society, a text published in 1876 as Idées sur l’Organisation sociale (Ideas on social organization), Chaux-de-Fonds, 1876, 56 p. – a clear statement of the collectivist anarchist conception with its eventual evolution toward communist anarchism; there were Italian and Spanish translations…

He had analysed Proudhon’s Confession of a Revolutionary, adding a description of mutualism and of collectivist anarchism, a book of which only a Russian translation (Anarchy according to Proudhon) exists in print, set up and printed by M.P. Sazin, in London, 1874 : the French manuscript is lost. He lectured on the French Revolution and printed sketches of great historical days in the Bulletin [of the Jura Federation]. He wrote also a study of the conspiracy of Babeuf. The Bulletin is very exact in foreign notes which he translated often from letters or took from secretly printed Spanish and other publications. The more one is able to inspect documentary relics of those years, the more there are traces of Guillaume’s constant care, resourcefulness and husbanding of very small means.

He was really masterful in exposing the Marxist protagonists, Engels, Lafargue, Greulich, etc. ; but he always tried to be on terms of polite correction with those who showed respect for autonomy toward the Jurassians, like some of the German Lassalleans and some less narrow socialists in Switzerland, in England, etc. But he kept out such as would adulterate and mix up the ideas like Benoît Malon and others of his ilk.

Kropotkin was greatly impressed by Guillaume on his first visit to him in the spring of 1872 and visited him again, [at the] end of 1876 (after [Kropotkin’s] escape from Russia), and saw him frequently in 1877 when [Kropotkin] had settled himself in the Jura. At that time, Paul Brousse, a French Southerner from Montpellier, was doing advanced and lively popular anarchist agitation in Bern and in the Jura, was best liked by the young people, while the elder generation preferred the sedate Guillaume. Kropotkin stood nearer to Brousse, but had a very great respect for Guillaume.

Brousse inspired the Red Flag procession in Bern, assaulted by the Gendarmes, when all the Jurassian and French militants and a number of Russians, Kropotkin as well as Plechanov, were in a hand-to-hand fight, with or without all sorts of weapons, implements and fists; and letters, recollections and the report of the ensuing trial still record who smashed up with gendarmes or was himself almost battered to pieces or was rescued by the intervention of the other comrades. There was a big trial in the autumn and 20 or 30 had to pass weeks or months that winter in the Jura prisons. They entered there in procession with the red flag (permitted there) and music and had their watchmakers’ table and tools brought into prison…  Guillaume arrived with cases of books and papers and did his literacy work as before.

He had last seen the Internationalists at their private meeting at La Chaux-de-Fonds where also a large Jurassian congress was held; also a small and private French congress. Then he assisted at the Verviers congress [of the reconstituted International] in Belgium, with Viñas and Morago from Spain, Costa, Brousse, Kropotkin, Emil Werner, the Belgians; and at the so-called “World Socialist Congress,” held at Gent: here Liebknecht and Guillaume confronted [each other] and all the efforts of Guillaume to bring about a state of mutual toleration between the authoritarians and the libertarians – he had acted in that spirit at the International’s Bern Congress of 1876 – were frustrated by Liebknecht.

Thus, he was active to the last, but his material situation was locally hopeless, while a more efficient collaboration in Buisson’s large Dictionnaire de Pédagogie (Paris, Hachette) was possible only if he were settled in Paris. The Bulletin was succumbing –  [at the] end of March 1878 – as the great crisis in the Jura (American competition by machinery) was approaching. In May, Guillaume went to Paris, having before resigned membership in the International, as this was a society prohibited in France.

The French liberal revival had begun by the elections early in 1876, but clerical governments still held power and James Guillaume imposed [on] himself the strictest incognito and abstained from participation in propaganda. Just then, Costa, who took no precautions, was arrested and heavily sentenced, and Kropotkin in connection with this had had to leave Paris and France. Later, [in] 1879, when Caferio and Malatesta, released from Italian prisons, came to see Guillaume, he was not exactly glad to receive the two romantic figures in his quiet home and so, by and by, he hinted to all visitors that they had better not come again and years of voluntary solitude followed…

[In the early 1900s], when he had discovered French Syndicalism, [Guillaume’s] purpose became to inform the syndicalists of the real work and spirit of the International as, unknown to most of them, they were in Guillaume’s opinion, its direct continuators…

Guillaume identified the ideas and aims of the collectivist International with those of Revolutionary Syndicalism – and he considered Communist Anarchism, the work of Reclus, Kropotkin, Malatesta etc., as an aberration, a period of time lost (1878-94) – and since 1895, more so since 1900 and 1904, the C.G.T. [the French revolutionary syndicalist organization, the General Confederation of Labour] had resumed in his opinion the old work of the International…

We are often told that the anarchist period in France, let us say the years 1880 to 1894 were a period of illusions: but if that were the case, the 1895 to 1906 and 1914 period of syndicalist illusions was infinitely more deceptive. With the workers by millions abandoning socialism for politics (social democracy), it was inevitable and logical on their part to abandon revolutionary syndicalism for reformist labourism (ouvrièrisme) and so they did, and the syndicalist leaders could not stay that current [stem that tide], but continued to proclaim the syndicalist ideology. They all knew that they were painting red the white cheeks of a corpse.

Only old James Guillaume did not wish to see things in their real light, and in the midst of reformism chose to believe to march ahead with an invincible revolutionary current impelling them all. It was pathetic to see the wish and the will of the old man not to see things as they were. To him, the syndicalists were the men of 1792 who when roused, as the events of 1914 – the war – might have done, would once more conquer Europe for freedom as the sansculottes of 1792 had meant to do – and when nothing of the kind happened, when the truth confronted him that summer [of 1914], within six months he had become a wreck and his life was nearly over, as we shall learn soon.

Meanwhile, from 1903-4 onward, he was “an Internationalist” by himself, entering into contact with the most suitable elements which he could find, trying to make them work together and like a spider, whose webs are almost constantly destroyed in part, he was undismayed by failure, always patched up the webs, but it told upon his nerves, he became bitter and in 1914 the open struggle by him against anarchism, as expressed by men like Bertoni and Malatesta, was only averted by [the] great efforts of Kropotkin…

Two factors stood in the way of any real success of his ceaseless activity. One was his absolute separation from the movements [for the preceding] 25 years. This meant that even those whom he knew intimately up until 1878, had changed, sometimes greatly developed, sometimes the contrary. He attributed to his old friends qualities which they had long since lost and – it was touching to see this – he imagined to see such qualities even in their grown up children who were quite unable to come up to his expectations…

…[F]from those of Kropotkin’s letters to [Guillaume] which have survived, one sees their entire separation: for the one, anarchism (implying Communism), for the other the Syndicalist Society, were the next ideal aims and coming realities. Kropotkin never wished to work for a Syndicalist Totalism, and Guillaume saw but this and considered Anarchism as the dream of the workers of Lyons (notorious dreamers), of Kropotkin (with all the vagueness of wide Russia-Siberia in him), of Malatesta (a romantic Italian insurrectionist), of Elisée Reclus (of old Christian mysticism), etc. So Guillaume had, in France, only the syndicalist leaders as comrades in the domain of ideas and these – some of whom like Pouget and Griffuelhes before all he really admired – these men had their hard daily struggle before them and not a moment’s rest and not time to listen to his advice, nor any wish to take him into their counsels in a really solidary way.

For these anti-parliamentarians and anti-politicians had themselves as much or more of “politics” in hand as ministers or political leaders. They had to control their committees and the members of these, the delegates of the Syndicates, had to secure the support of the majority of members; all were confronted by a strong reformist opposition, by governmental manoeuvres, and they required all the science or the tricks of regular “bosses” to do this. Besides, in the years after 1908, the syndicalist leaders themselves ceased to believe in the direct action-methods and became reformists at heart – Léon Jouhaux, once an anarchist, from 1909 to the present the secretary of the C.G.T., is typical for these transformations – while before the main body of members, at the Congresses, in the papers, they still affirmed until the war of 1914 to be revolutionist. Now a man like Guillaume, could not [prevent], nor hinder all this and it was best for all sides that he should keep out of it…

He was in touch mainly with some comrades in the Jura, in Lausanne, Bern and Zürich, with [Anselmo] Lorenzo in Barcelona, with Alceste de Ambris in Lugano or in Italy; but, as I hinted at before, this influence was not lasting, as all these correspondents had more or less made up their minds and had their own irons in the fire. He dreamed of coordinating them, as his friends had been internationally in Bakunin’s time. But all this was ephemeral or barely begun, and he had great disappointments.

These arose also, inevitably, out of the second factor which I now shall mention. As those who know the history of the International are aware of, at some time, in 1869, it was suggested that that organization was already the framework or the embryo of the coming free society and others, in 1870, accepted this as an organizational dogma and, logically – if any totalitarian reasoning could be logical at all – it was concluded and resolved upon, that in each locality, district, region, only one such organizational unit can and must exist. If by differences of opinion, etc., two units were forming, one was considered and decreed to be wrong and was expelled or expelled the other unit.

Endless and useless quarrels ensued in several places, but the dogma of the one unit in one place was maintained. Consequently also the French syndicalists recognized one territorial C.G.T. which, on its side, internationally, would enter into friendly relations, “be on speaking terms,” only with one similar territorial association for each country. Now in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, etc., such territorial organizations were all controlled by social democrats and were utterly reformist. Nonetheless, the only international contact which the C.G.T. cared to have, was that meeting every two years of the general secretaries of these great bodies – meetings where the French were faced by a compact body of social democratic adversaries… and which consisted only of mutual bickering and useless travelling expenses.

When the real syndicalist movements were founded in several countries, they looked to the C.G.T. to encourage and help them. But the C.G.T., linked up with the social democratic trade unions of other countries, did nothing to help these struggling new movements and, for instance, ignored their international Congress held in London in September 1913 – where the foundations were laid for what after the long war was founded as the present I.W.A – A.I.T. Guillaume could not alter this state of things, which made it so difficult for the new syndicalists of other countries to sympathize with the French C.G.T. when they saw it linked up with their most bitter local enemies, the social democratic unions. At the same time, Guillaume was opposed to the anarchist spirit in the syndicates and, both in Switzerland and in Italy, he was with those who were the adversaries of the most recognized anarchist promoters of syndicalism – of Bertoni, Borghi, etc. All this made his task always more hopeless.

This embittered him and made him on the one hand take sides with men who introduced national partiality in socialist discussion – I refer to the notorious French professor[Charles] Andler [1866-1933 – author of  Le Socialisme impérialiste dans l’Allemagne contemporaine, dossier d’une polémique avec Jean Jaurès 1912-1913, and  Le Pangermanisme, ses plans d’expansion allemande dans le monde, 1915]. On the other hand, he was at the bottom of the new dogma of syndicalist “automatism” (1913-14) which misused certain writings of Bakunin (mainly of 1869-1870). By this dogma, by merely becoming an organized worker, a worker is expected to become automatically a revolutionary syndicalist, a social revolutionist.

Bakunin, urging workers to enter into the International, had described in elementary writings, for publication, how a milieu of solidarity promotes social feelings and leads to social action, and may lead to final revolutionary activities. But, as Guillaume of all men knew best, Bakunin considered as essential efficient secret activities of militants of real mark, of the Alliance, and thus only revolutionary action, in his opinion, could be initiated, spread, coordinated, rousing the less developed members and reaching masses of men.

Guillaume was free to proclaim “automatism”, but he had no right to say that Bakunin had advocated it; nor had he ever himself practiced it in the Jura, where he and his nearest friends always had been the initiators of everything, the men who on certain days met in a little known locality and arranged everything among themselves. Malatesta in Volontà pointed out the real facts and said that Guillaume better than anybody knew that Bakunin and his near comrades practiced the Alliance-method. So did Kropotkin who, when he was really militant, was the secretary of the intimate circle and who believed in this method, while, of course, he would not discourage spontaneity in public utterances.

The revolutionary activities of the workers are so slow in unfolding, that beginnings must be made by the very best developed – and if these beginnings can be reasoned out intelligently and co-ordinated as much as possible, so much the better – this is what Bakunin, Guillaume in his early days (and in practice to the last), Malatesta, and Kropotkin meant and tried to do. Automatism in this domain would mean revolutionary parthenogenesis or self-combustion (as in wet haystacks): that may happen, but when other initiating methods exist, why deny, reject, belittle, ignore them? That controversy of the first months of 1914, when Guillaume was especially hard on Bertoni, who was combating that other weak side of syndicalist organizations, the inevitable reformism and conservativism of paid functionaries, was brought to an end by private letters of Kropotkin conjuring [imploring] Guillaume and Bertoni to give up public polemics. As to the question at issue, Kropotkin considered Guillaume to be in the wrong…

He was so absorbed by the inner life of the C.G.T. and his own writings and polemics, that the war took him by surprise, like many others; but then, from the first moment, it was to him the year 1792 come again; the regiments which he saw marching being to him like the old sansculottes, now the founders of Socialism and Syndicalism on the ruins of Marxism. He immediately wrote in this spirit in the Bataille syndicaliste almost every day for a few weeks. Then his eyes opened to the fact that it was all militarism and that the workers introduced nothing of their own, nothing socialist nor revolutionary, into what was being done and that they were quite powerless or inactive, the C.G.T. and all.

This was a terrible blow to him – he had believed that a working class power and will did exist in France and he now saw that this was not so. This did not in the least diminish his solidarity with the French cause in the war, but it broke his hopes and his spirit, if not his body. He went to Neuchâtel once more, in September, when many left Paris, and passed an uncomfortable time in Switzerland, returning to Paris in November. He still wrote in the Bataille until about January 1915, but a serious illness, badly defined, had struck him, and after a short recovery his state seems to have required in February or March 1915 that he should leave Paris for the last time, and he was then in a deplorable state of physical [depredation] and mental despair… he expired in the late autumn of 1916 in his native canton of Neuchâtel.

I do not regret to have spoken for this length of the life of this remarkable man, an intellectual worker of an intense painstaking working effort, as the most hardworking manual worker might claim for himself. With his qualities and the tenth part of his effort he might have acquired power and wealth in any other cause than the most advanced causes, those which he helped with absolute abnegation. Intellectual efficiency and personal self-effacement, patient co-ordination of forces for collective action, rejoicing in friends, free thought, study, a firm will were some of his qualities. Of his deficiencies I have said more than enough for the sake of historic truth, as far as I can see it. His long story ought to stimulate us to work and to study, without which we are less than nothing.

Max Nettlau, December 9, 1935

Guillaume's documentary history of the International

Guillaume’s documentary history of the International

We Still Do Not Fear Anarchy

we do not fear the book cover

This month marks several noteworthy anniversaries: the suppression of the Paris Commune, the Haymarket affair, and Bakunin’s birthday (May 18 on the old Russian calendar; May 3o on the modern calendar), among others. It has also been about a year since the publication of ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement (AK Press). I discussed the roles of both Bakunin and the Paris Commune in the emergence of self-proclaimed anarchist movements in Europe and the Americas in that book. The quote in the title is taken from Bakunin himself, who first publicly identified himself as an anarchist in 1868, around the time that he joined the International. It is surprising then that in another book along similar lines, Social Democracy & Anarchism in the International Workers’ Association 1864 – 1877, René Berthier argues that the anarchist movements that emerged from the struggles within the International regarding the proper direction of working class and socialist movements constituted a break with rather than a continuation of “Bakuninism,” and that Bakunin is better described as a revolutionary socialist or syndicalist than as an anarchist. I think my book provides a good counter-argument to that position. I also included several selections from Bakunin’s anarchist writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas But this is a blog, not a book, so today I thought I would just present some quotations from Bakunin in which he identifies himself as an anarchist and describes what he is advocating as a form of anarchism, in terms of tactics, methods, means and ends.

bakunin on anarchism

Bakunin’s Anarchism

“We do not fear anarchy, we invoke it. For we are convinced that anarchy, meaning the unrestricted manifestation of the liberated life of the people, must spring from liberty, equality, the new social order, and the force of the revolution itself against the reaction. There is no doubt that this new life—the popular revolution—will in good time organize itself, but it will create its revolutionary organization from the bottom up, from the circumference to the center, in accordance with the principle of liberty, and not from the top down or from the center to the circumference in the manner of all authority.” [Program of the International Brotherhood]

“Outside of the Mazzinian system, which is the system of the republic in the form of a State, there is no other system but that of the republic as a commune, the republic as a federation, a Socialist and a genuine people’s republic — the system of Anarchy. It is the politics of the Social Revolution, which aims at the abolition of the State, and the economic, altogether free organization of the people, an organization from below upward, by means of a federation.” [Circular Letter to My Friends in Italy]

“I am the absolute enemy of a revolution by decrees, which is the application of the idea of a revolutionary State and a sequel of it; that is, a reaction disguised by revolutionary appearances. As against the system of revolutionary decrees I oppose the system of revolutionary action, the only effective, consistent, and true system. The authoritarian system of decrees, in seeking to impose freedom and equality, destroys them. The Anarchist system of action evokes and creates them in an infallible manner, without the intervention of any official or authoritarian violence whatever. The first leads inevitably to the ultimate triumph of an outspoken reaction. The second system establishes the Revolution on a natural and unshakable foundation.” [Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis]

“Let us turn now to the Socialists, who divide into three essentially different parties. First of all, we shall divide them into two categories: the party of peaceful or bourgeois Socialists, and the party of Social Revolutionists. The latter is in turn subdivided into revolutionary State Socialists and revolutionary Anarchist-Socialists, the enemies of every State and every State principle.” [World Revolutionary Alliance of Social Democracy (Berlin: Verlag, 1904)]

“To the Communists, or Social Democrats, of Germany, the peasantry, any peasantry, stands for reaction; and the State, any State, even the Bismarckian State, stands for revolution… Altogether, the Marxists cannot even think otherwise: protagonists of the State as they are, they have to damn any revolution of a truly popular sweep and character especially a peasant revolution, which is anarchistic by nature and which marches straightforward toward the destruction of the State. And in this hatred for the peasant rebellion, the Marxists join in touching unanimity all the layers and parties of the bourgeois society of Germany.” [Statism and Anarchy]

“Since revolution cannot be imposed upon the villages, it must be generated right there, by promoting a revolutionary movement among the peasants themselves, leading them on to destroy through their own efforts the public order, all the political and civil institutions, and to establish and organize anarchy in the villages.”

“When the peasants have felt and perceived the advantages of the Revolution, they will give more money and people for its defense than it would be possible to obtain from them by ordinary State policies or even by extraor­dinary State measures. The peasants will do against the Prussians what they did in 1792. For that they must become obsessed with the fury of resistance, and only an Anarchist revolution can imbue them with that spirit.”

“But in letting them divide among themselves the land seized from the bourgeois owners, will this not lead to the establishment of private property upon a new and more solid foundation? Not at all, for that property will lack the juridical and political sanction of the State, inasmuch as the State and the whole juridical insti­tution, the defense of property by the State, and family right, including the law of inheritance, necessarily will have to disappear in the terrific whirl­wind of revolutionary anarchy. There will be no more political or juridi­cal rights—there will be only revolutionary facts.”

“Once the wealth of the rich people is not guaranteed by laws, it ceases to be a power. Rich peasants are now powerful because they are specially protected and courted by the functionaries of the State and became they are backed up by the State. With the disappearance of the State, this backing and power also will disappear. As to the more cun­ning and economically stronger peasants, they will have to give way before the collective power of the peasant mass, of the great number of poor and very poor peasants, as well as the rural proletarians—a mass which is now enslaved and reduced to silent suffering, but which revolutionary anarchy will bring back to life and will arm with an irresistible power.” [Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis]

“We revolutionary anarchists who sincerely want full popular emancipation view with repugnance another expression in this [Social Democratic] program – it is the designation of the proletariat, the workers, as a class and not a mass. Do you know what this signifies? It is no more nor less than the aristocratic rule of the factory workers and of the cities over the millions who constitute the rural proletariat, who, in the anticipations of the German Social Democrats, will in effect become the subjects of their so-called People’s State.” [Letter to La Liberté]

“The road leading from concrete fact to theory and vice versa is the method of science and is the true road. In the practical world, it is the movement of society toward forms of organization that will to the greatest possible extent reflect life itself in all its aspects and complexity.

Such is the people’s way to complete emancipation, accessible to all—the way of the anarchist social revolution, which will come from the people themselves, an elemental force sweeping away all obstacles. Later, from the depths of the popular soul, there will spontaneously emerge the new creative forms of social life.”

“We, the revolutionary anarchists, are the advocates of education for all the people, of the emancipation and the widest possible expansion of social life. Therefore we are the enemies of the State and all forms of the statist principle. In opposition to the metaphysicians, the positivists, and all the worshippers of science, we declare that natural and social life always comes before theory, which is only one of its manifestations but never its creator.”

“Such are our ideas as social revolutionaries, and we are therefore called anarchists. We do not protest this name, for we are indeed the enemies of any governmental power, since we know that such a power depraves those who wear its mantle equally with those who are forced to submit to it. Under its pernicious influence the former become ambitious and greedy despots, exploiters of society in favor of their personal or class interests, while the latter become slaves.”

“Our polemic had the effect of making them [the Marxist Social Democrats] realize that freedom or Anarchy, that is, the free organization of workers from below upward, is the ultimate aim of social development, and that every State, their own people’s State included, is a yoke, which means that it begets despotism on one hand and slavery on the other.”

“They say that this State yoke—the dictatorship—is a necessary transi­tional means in order to attain the emancipation of the people: Anarchy or freedom is the goal, the State or dictatorship is the means. Thus to free the working masses, it is first necessary to enslave them.”

“While the political and social theory of the anti-State Socialists or Anarchists leads them steadily toward a full break with all governments, and with all varieties of bourgeois policy, leaving no other way out but a social revolution, the opposite theory of the State Communists and scientific authority also inevitably draws and enmeshes its partisans, under the pretext of political tactics, into ceaseless compromises with governments and political parties; that is, it pushes them toward downright reaction.” [Statism and Anarchy]

“Between the Marxists and ourselves there is an abyss. They are the governmentalists; we are the anarchists, in spite of it all.” [Letter to La Liberté]

“In accepting the Anarchist rev­olutionary program, which alone, in our opinion, offers conditions for a real and complete emancipation of the common people, and convinced that the existence of the State in any form whatever is incompatible with the freedom of the proletariat, and that it does not permit the international fraternal union of nations, we therefore put forth the demand for the abolition of all States.” [Program of the Slav Section (Zurich) of the International]

“The lack of a government begets anarchy, and anarchy leads to the destruction of the State, that is, to the enslavement of the country by another State, as was the case with the unfortunate Poland, or the full emancipation of the toiling people and the abolition of classes, which, we hope, will soon take place all over Europe.” [Science and the Urgent Revolutionary Task]

“In a word, we reject all legislation- privileged, licensed, official, and legal — and all authority, and influence, even though they may emanate from universal suffrage, for we are convinced that it can turn only to the advantage of a dominant minority of exploiters against the interests of the vast majority in subjection to them. It is in this sense that we are really Anarchists.” [God and the State]

bakunin on freedom

Hurrah for Anarchy!

hurrah for anarchy

Recently Dissent magazine carried a rather lame critique of anarchism by Sheri Berman. Here I present an excellent rejoinder, posted by “Patrick” (also the author?) at For Student Power and the Black Rose Anarchist Federation website. As the article notes, Berman’s comments about the Paris Commune being an example of anarchism’s failure are particularly off the mark (for a different perspective, see my book, We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It). As for Dissent, I can’t resist recalling an old Woody Allen joke about Dissent merging with a similar magazine, Commentary, to create a new magazine, Dissentary.

volume-3

Another Day, Another Hatchet Job

Is just me, or has the quality of critiques of anarchism been getting worse lately?

Barnard Professor Sheri Berman’s contribution to Dissent’s Fall 2015 issue (“No Cheers for Anarchism”) makes it clear she holds anarchism — and anarchists — in contempt. I looked for, but sadly could not find, a well-argued reason why. Her essay is plagued by the kind of scattershot superficial analysis, innuendo, and guilt-by-association better suited to a publication like the Weekly Standard than such a storied journal of the left.

Berman’s trouble begins when she asserts a fundamental similarity between anarchists and libertarians:

Anarchists dream of a world without states, traditional political organizations, or any other structures that restrict individual freedom. Because they share such beliefs and goals with libertarians, anarchists are easily confused with them. In the American context, at least, the main distinction between the two concerns capitalism: anarchists view it as inherently coercive, while libertarians venerate it as the embodiment and guardian of individual rights. This has led the former to be viewed as left wing and the latter as right wing, but in reality, anarchists differ dramatically from other sectors of the modern left (just as libertarians differ dramatically from traditional conservatives and other factions of the modern right).

While it’s true that American libertarians essentially stole their appellation from us (“libertarian” at least in Europe still largely means anarchist), they sadly did not deign to import any of our ideas. Anarchist analysis is fundamentally social and structural, and is the common thread that links our opposition to capitalism and the state, our resistance to all forms of oppression and domination, and our proposal of common ownership of wealth and production through direct democracy. Libertarians, on the other hand, construct their world starting with the atomized individual, resting on a foundation of modern property rights: it is a thoroughly reactionary ideology.

no to anarcho-capitalism

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century anarchism’s rejection of traditional political organizations and activity led to its involvement in various uprisings and rebellions, the most important of which was the Paris Commune.

It is strange to see Berman assert that anarchists during that time rejected “traditional political organizations and activity.” I can only assume she means electoral and party politics, which given the time period were anything but traditional. Indeed, Europe has a much longer history of strikes, revolts, and revolutions than of parliaments. Modern European political parties only kicked off in earnest post-1848 while universal suffrage took even longer. And while she claims anarchism is a very different animal from its brethren on the left, anarchists made up a significant portion of the First International, and have joined arms with their fellow socialists in barricades, picket lines, and revolutions ever since.

Odder still, considering how few actual anarchists were there, is Berman’s implication that the Paris Commune was an “anarchist activity”:

Despite their often spectacular nature, anarchist activities were almost uniformly unsuccessful. For example, the Paris Commune’s lack of internal organization, leadership, or agreed-upon goals left it prone to infighting and vulnerable to counter-attack; it was brutally crushed by the forces of counter-revolution.

Given that both Marxists and anarchists spoke highly of the Commune, one suspects there is more to it than Berman lets on. While she pins the blame on a “lack of internal organization, leadership, or agreed-upon goals,” one of the anarchist critiques of the Commune is that while there was plenty of internal organization, it was hobbled by its centralized and bureaucratic nature. As Kropotkin put it:

But in 1871 the people of Paris, which had overthrown so many governments, was only involved in its first attempt at revolt against the governmental system itself: it submitted to governmental fetichism and gave itself a government. We know the consequence. It sent its devoted sons to the Hotel-de-Ville. Indeed, immobilised there by fetters of red tape, forced to discuss when action was needed, and losing the sensitivity that comes from continued contact with the masses, they saw themselves reduced to impotence. Paralysed by their distancing from the revolutionary centre — the people — they themselves paralysed the popular initiative.

Berman then claims that the fin-de-siecle left abandoned anarchism for political parties and trade unions, neglecting to mention that a large majority of anarchists at that time were already moving into the labor movement. While many socialist parties at the time saw trade unions as little more than party recruiting grounds and vehicles for turf wars with other socialists, anarchists placed labor struggles at the heart of revolutionary strategy (exemplified by the prominent rise of anarcho-syndicalism across Europe and Latin America).

Anarcho-Syndicalism

Anarcho-Syndicalism

Berman correctly notes that after World War I “socialists played a significant role” in governments across Europe:

During the interwar period socialist parties became the bulwarks of democracy in many parts of Europe. Defending democracy meant that socialists needed to win elections and attract the support of the majority, which would in turn require compromises, trade-offs and patience—none of which appealed to anarchists.

While socialists in power were quite successful at breaking strikes and attacking popular movements on their left, they failed at what was possibly their most important task: heading off the rise of nationalism and fascism. The world paid dearly for that failure. In Spain it was the election of a social democrat-led coalition, not anarchist agitation (as Berman alleges), that spurred Franco’s coup. Were it not for the immediate actions taken by the UGT and anarchist-led CNT trade unions to arm and mobilize the population, against a backdrop of paralysis on the part of the government, Franco’s victory likely would have been nearly instantaneous.

Similarly, Berman’s analysis of the 1960s is painfully incomplete. Claiming the post-1945 social democratic order “undergirded an unprecedented period of consolidated democracy, economic growth, and social stability in Europe and the West,” she neglects to mention the mountains of stolen resources and millions of bodies across Asia and Africa on which that order depended. Nor does she mention that the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist project was central to the radical left of the 1960s, simply stating that “many anarchist-influenced ‘New Left’ and counter-culture movements (including punk and the Yippies in the United States, and squatters movements in many European cities) attack[ed] the reigning ‘bourgeois, capitalist’ order.” The only time Berman bothers to reach outside the comforts of the West is for a few bogeymen:

Some praised the likes of Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro—hardly icons of freedom—and showed scorn for public opinion and for the “masses” who didn’t share their vision of the world.

Trying to hang those three around anarchism’s neck — none of whom were remotely anarchist, and in the case of Castro, actively jailed and murdered Cuban anarchists? The mind boggles.

Anti-Castro Cuban anarchist paper

Anti-Castro Cuban anarchist paper

In the post-Cold War era, anarchism has emerged as arguably the most energetic current on the left in the U.S. Berman dismisses Occupy Wall Street as a flash in the pan, little more than “theatrics” with “ephemeral impact.” While neither OWS nor the many successful campaigns and movements it birthed were majority anarchist, their tools, sensibilities and outlook drew heavily from that tradition. And too many progressives forget that over the course of a few months, OWS dramatically changed the bounds of mainstream economic and political debate (remember the summer preceding it, when matters of wealth inequality and Wall Street were permanently sidelined to debt ceilings and austerity packages?). That’s something for which the Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanderses of the world should thank their friendly neighborhood anarchist.

Berman reaches peak superficiality as she concludes her essay by way of former congressman Barney Frank, a man whose blinkered conception of social change can only be measured in angry letters and phone calls to the Capitol switchboard:

In his recent book, Barney Frank, for example, contrasted the National Rifle Association’s persistent grassroots organizing and resultant ability to mobilize supporters to flood lawmakers’ offices with letters and calls and to vote as a bloc, with the inclination of many on the left to “hold public demonstrations, in which like-minded people gather to reassure each other of their beliefs.” Frank goes on to argue that “if you care deeply about an issue and are engaged in group activity on its behalf that is fun and inspiring and heightens your sense of solidarity with others . . . you are most certainly not doing your cause any good.”

There’s quite a bit of confusion here, not least of which is the implication that social movements (let alone anarchist-inspired ones) desire the same scope and scale of change that the NRA does. I for one am glad that so many movements reject the Berman-Frank model of social change. From immigrant rights (in both the Americas and Europe) to service sector unionization, from campaigns against fossil fuel projects to the 2012 Québec student strike, anarchists are at the forefront and in the trenches, helping shape analysis and strategy. Instead of petitioning their elected officials, they are doing what every successful movement has done: changing the reality on the ground so starkly and fundamentally that political and economic elites are forced to accommodate.

chomsky on anarchism

Ultimately, the shadow that hangs over Berman’s entire essay is cast not by anarchism, but by the colossal wreckage of social democracy.

Berman approvingly quotes François Mitterand’s denunciation of Paris protesters in May 1968: “what a mish-mash of quasi-Marxism, what hotch-potch, what confusion.” While she contents to caricature one of the most important events of the twentieth century, the quote much more accurately describes Mitterand’s own panicked and confused descent into austerity when faced with all the terrible demands of capital but none of the workers and youth on the streets to force him to live up to his socialist promises.

For decades now, social democratic parties across the West have taken up the mantle of hatchet men for the interests of capital. It is austerity imposed by the “left” that cuts deepest and is hardest to oppose. This slow self-immolation by socialist parties, stretching from London to Athens and Paris to Berlin, reminds us that we can’t administer our way out of the horrors of capitalism. While those on the electoral left — the true starry-eyed utopians — propose yet another round of minor fixes to capitalism’s foundational deformities, anarchists and our allies will keep fighting for and building a liberated world, one that needs neither capitalists nor their reluctant stewards.

January 2016

A different perspective

A different perspective

Anarchism in the 21st Century

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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. 

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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

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