Malatesta: All or Nothing?

trump-mussolini-together

In these troubled times, I often think back to the situation faced by Errico Malatesta and the Italian anarchists when Mussolini’s Fascists held power in Italy. In this excerpt from an article that Malatesta wrote in 1930, eight years into the Fascist dictatorship, Malatesta argues against an “all or nothing” approach, advocating that one must always try to achieve as much as is practically possible in any given situation consistent with one’s ideals. I included several excerpts from Malatesta’s other writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

allornothing

All or Nothing?

I am not an advocate of the ‘all or nothing’ theory. I believe that nobody actually behaves in such a way as implied by that theory: it would be impossible.

This is just a slogan used by many to warn about the illusion of petty reforms and alleged concessions from government and masters, and to always remind [one] of the necessity and urgency of the revolutionary act: it is a phrase that can serve, if loosely interpreted, as an incentive to a fight without quarter against every kind of oppressor and exploiter. However, if taken literally, it is plain nonsense.

The ‘all’ is the ideal that gets farther and wider as progress is made, and therefore it can never be reached. The ‘nothing’ would be some abysmally uncivilized state, or at least a supine submission to the present oppression.

I believe that one must take all that can be taken, whether much or little: do whatever is possible today, while always fighting to make possible what today seems impossible.

For instance, if today we cannot get rid of every kind of government, this is not a good reason for taking no interest in defending the few acquired liberties and fighting to gain more of those. If now we cannot completely abolish the capitalist system and the resulting exploitation of the workers, this is no good reason to quit fighting to obtain higher salaries and better working conditions. If we cannot abolish commerce and replace it with the direct exchange among producers, this is no good reason for not seeking the means to escape the exploitation of traders and profiteers as much as possible. If the oppressors’ power and the state of public opinion prevent [us] now from abolishing the prisons and providing any defence against wrongdoers with more humane means, not for this we would lose interest in an action for abolishing the death penalty, life imprisonment, [solitary] confinement and, in general, the most ferocious means of repression by which what is called social justice, but which actually amounts to a barbarian revenge, is exercised. If we cannot abolish the police, not for this we would allow, without protesting and resisting, that the policemen beat the prisoners and allow themselves all sorts of excesses, overstepping the limit prescribed to them by the laws in force themselves…

I am breaking off here, as there are thousands and thousands of cases, both in individual and social life, in which, being unable to obtain ‘all’, one has to try and get as much as possible.

At this point, the question of fundamental importance arises about the best way of defending what one has got and fighting to obtain more; for there is one way that weakens and kills the spirit of independence and the consciousness of one’s own rights, thus compromising the future and the present itself, while there is another way that uses every tiny victory to make greater demands, thus preparing minds and the environment [for] the longed-for complete emancipation.

What constitutes the characteristic, the raison d’etre of anarchism, is the conviction that the governments — dictatorships, parliaments, etc. — are always instruments of conservation, reaction, oppression; and freedom, justice, well-being for everyone must come from the fight against authority, from free [activity] and free agreement among individuals and groups.

malatesta-quote

One problem worries many anarchists nowadays, and rightly so.

As they find it insufficient to work on abstract propaganda and revolutionary technical preparation, which is not always possible and is done without knowing when it will be fruitful, they look for something practical to do here and now, in order to accomplish as much as possible of our ideas, despite the adverse conditions; something that morally and materially helps the anarchists themselves and at the same time serves as an example, a school, an experimental field.

Practical proposals are coming from various sides. They are all good to me, if they appeal to free initiative and to a spirit of solidarity and justice, and tend to take individuals away from the domination of the government and the master. And to avoid wasting time in continuously recurring discussions that never bring new facts or arguments, I would encourage those who have a project to try to immediately accomplish it, as soon as they find support from the minimal necessary number of participants, without waiting, usually in vain, for the support of all or many — experience will show whether those projects were workable, and it will let the vital ones survive and thrive.

Let everyone try the paths they deem best and fittest to their temperament, both today with respect to the little things that can be done in the present environment, and tomorrow in the vast ground that the revolution will offer to our activity. In any case, what is logically mandatory for us all, if we do not want to stop being truly anarchist, is to never surrender our freedom into the hands of an individual or class dictatorship, a despot or a Constituent Assembly; for what depends on us, our freedom must find its foundation in the equal freedom of all.

Errico Malatesta

Adunata, October 4, 1930

malatesta-organization

 

The October Revolution and the Communist Party

Soviet poster

Soviet poster

It’s that time of year again – no, not Halloween, the World Series, or the return to “Standard Time” (in a regimented world, all time is “standard” time). It’s the anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, which ultimately led to the creation of a brutal dictatorship cloaked in the ideological mantle of Marxism (“our friends, the enemy,” as the anarchist historian Max Nettlau used to say). For some reason, my posts regarding the 1917 Russian Revolution generate some of the most traffic. I have posted some of Alexander Berkman’s writings on the Russian Revolution before, and also included his critique of the “Bolshevik Myth” in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Here is a piece by Berkman, written around 1922, on the counter-revolutionary role of the Communist Party (formerly, the Bolshevik party).

lenin-october-revolution

The Russian Revolution and the Communist Party

The October Revolution was not the legitimate offspring of traditional Marxism. Russia but little resembled a country in which, according to Marx, “the concentration of the means of production and the socialisation of the tools of labor reached the point where they can no longer be contained within their capitalistic shell. The shell bursts…”

In Russia, “the shell” burst unexpectedly. It burst at a stage of low technical and industrial development, when centralisation of the means of production had made little progress. Russia was a country with a badly organised system of transportation, with a weak bourgeoisie and weak proletariat, but with a numerically strong and socially important peasant population. In short, it was a country in which, apparently, there could be no talk of irreconcilable antagonism between the grown industrial labor forces and a fully ripened capitalist system.

But the combination of circumstances in 1917 involved, particularly for Russia, an exceptional state of affairs which. resulted in the catastrophic breakdown of her whole industrial system. “It was easy for Russia”, Lenin justly wrote at the time, “to begin the socialist revolution in the peculiarly unique situation of 1917.”

The specially favorable conditions for the beginning of the socialist revolution were:

  1. the possibility of blending the slogans of the Social Revolution with the popular demand for the termination of the imperialistic world war, which had produced great exhaustion and dissatisfaction among the masses;

  2. the possibility of remaining, at least for a certain period after quitting the war, outside the sphere of influence of the capitalistic European groups that continued the world war;

  3. the opportunity to begin, even during the short time of this respite, the work of internal organisation and to prepare the foundation for revolutionary reconstruction;

  4. the exceptionally favorable position of Russia, in case of possible new aggression on the part of West European imperialism, due to her vast territory and insufficient means of communication;

  5. the advantages of such a condition in the event of civil war; and

  6. the possibility of almost immediately satisfying the fundamental demands of the revolutionary peasantry, notwithstanding the fact that the essentially democratic viewpoint of the agricultural population was entirely different from the socialist program of the “party of the proletariat” which seized the reins of government.

Moreover, revolutionary Russia already had the benefit of a great experience — the experience of 1905, when the Tsarist autocracy succeeded in crushing the revolution for the very reason that the latter strove to be exclusively political and therefore could neither arouse the peasants nor inspire even a considerable part of the proletariat .

The world war, by exposing the complete bankruptcy of constitutional government, served to prepare and quicken the greatest movement of the people — a movement which, by virtue of its very essence, could develop only into a social revolution.

Anticipating the measures of the revolutionary government, often even in defiance of the latter, the revolutionary masses by their own initiative began, long before the October days, to put in practice their Social ideals. They took possession of the land, the factories, mines, mills, and the tools of production. They got rid of the more hated and dangerous representatives of government and authority. In their grand revolutionary outburst they destroyed every form of political and economic oppression. In the deeps of Russia the Social Revolution was raging, when the October change took place in the capitals of Petrograd and Moscow.

The Communist Party, which was aiming at the dictatorship, from the very beginning correctly judged the situation. Throwing overboard the democratic planks of its platform, it energetically proclaimed the slogans of the Social Revolution, in order to gain control of the movement of the masses. In the course of the development of the Revolution, the Bolsheviki gave concrete form to certain fundamental principles and methods of Anarchist Communism, as for instance: the negation of parliamentarism, expropriation of the bourgeoisie, tactics of direct action, seizure of the means of production, establishment of the system of Workers’ and Peasants’ Councils (Soviets), and so forth.

Furthermore, the Communist Party exploited all the popular demands of the hour: termination of the war, all power to the revolutionary proletariat, the land for the peasants, etc. This, as we shall see later, base demagoguery proved of tremendous psychological effect in hastening and intensifying the revolutionary process.

But if it was easy, as Lenin said, to begin the Revolution, its further development and strengthening were to take place amid difficult surroundings.

The external position of Russia, as characterised by Lenin about the middle of 1918, continued to be “unusually complicated and dangerous”, and “tempting for the neighboring imperialist States by its temporary weakness”’ The Socialist Soviet Republic was in an “extraordinarily unstable, very critical international position”.

And, indeed, the whole subsequent external history of Russia is full of difficulties in consequence of the necessity of fighting ceaselessly, often on several fronts at once, against the agents of world imperialism, and even against common adventurers. Only after the final defeat of the Wrangel forces was at last put an end to direct armed interference in the affairs of Russia.

No less difficult and complex, even chaotic, was the internal situation of the country.

Complete breakdown of the whole industrial fabric; failure of the national economy; disorganisation of the transportation system, hunger, unemployment; relative lack of organisation among the workers; unusually complex and contradictory conditions of peasant life; the psychology of the “petty proprietor”, inimical to the new Soviet regime; sabotage of Soviet work by the technical intelligentsia; the great lack in the Party of trained workers familiar with local conditions, and the practical inefficiency of the Party heads; finally, according to the frank admission of the acknowledged leader of the Bolsheviki, “the greatest hatred, by the masses, and distrust of everything governmental” — that was the situation in which the first and most difficult steps of the Revolution had to be made.

It must also be mentioned that there were still other specific problems with which the revolutionary government. had to deal. Namely, the deep-seated contradictions and even antagonisms between the interests and aspirations of the various social groups of the country. The most important of these were:

  1. the most advanced, and in industrial centers the most influential, group of factory proletarians. Notwithstanding their relative cultural and technical backwardness, these elements favored the application of true communist methods;

  2. the numerically powerful peasant population, whose economic attitude was decisive, particularly at a time of industrial prostration and blockade. This class looked with distrust and even hatred upon all attempts of the Communist government to play the guardian and control their economic activities;

  3. the very large and psychologically influential group (in the sense of forming public opinion, even if of a panicky character) of the common citizenry: the residue of the upper bourgeoisie, technical specialists, small dealers, petty bosses, commercial agents of every kind — a numerous group, in which were also to be found functionaries of the old regime who adapted themselves and were serving the Soviet government, now and then sabotaging; elements tempted by the opportunities of the new order of things and seeking to make a career; and, finally, persons torn out of their habitual modes of life and literally starving. This class was approximately estimated at 70% of the employees of Soviet institutions.

Naturally, each of these groups looked upon the Revolution with their own eyes, judged its further possibilities from their own point of view, and in their own peculiar manner reacted on the measures of the revolutionary government.

All these antagonisms rending the country and, frequently clashing in bloody strife, inevitably tended to nourish counter-revolution — not mere conspiracy or rebellion, but the terrific convulsion of a country experiencing two world cataclysms at once: war and social revolution.

Thus the political party that assumed the role of dictator was faced by problems of unprecedented difficulty. The Communist Party did not shrink from their solution, and in that is its immortal historic merit.

Notwithstanding the many deep antagonisms, in spite of the apparent absence of the conditions necessary for a social revolution, it was too late to discuss about driving back the uninvited guest, and await a new, more favorable opportunity. Only blind, dogmatic or positively reactionary elements could imagine that the Revolution could have been “made differently”. The Revolution was not and could not be a mechanical product of the abstract human will. It was an organic process burst with elemental force from the very needs of the people, from the complex combination of circumstances that determined their existence.

To return to tile old political and economical regime, that of industrial feudalism, was out of the question. It was impossible, and first of all because it were the denial of the greatest conquest of the Revolution: the right of every worker to a decent human life. It was also impossible because of the fundamental principles of the new national economy: the old regime was inherently inimical to the developement of free social relationship — it had no room for labor initiative.

It was apparent that the only right and wholesome solution — which could save the Revolution from its external enemies, free it from the inner strife which rent the country, broaden and deepen the Revolution itself — lay in the direct, creative initiative of the toiling masses. Only they who had for centuries borne the heaviest burdens could through conscious systematic effort find the road to a new, regenerated society. And that was to be the fitting culmination of their unexampled revolutionary zeal.

Lenin himself, replying in one of his works to the question, “How is the discipline of the revolutionary party of the proletariat to be maintained, how to be strengthened?” clearly and definitely replied: “By knowing how to meet, to combine, to some extent even to merge, if you will, with the broad masses of the toilers, mainly with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian laboring masses”.

However, this thought was and still remains, on the whole, in irreconcilable conflict, with the spirit of Marxism in its official Bolshevik interpretation, and particularly with Lenin’s authoritative view of it.

For years trained in their peculiar “underground” social philosophy, in which fervent faith in the Social Revolution was in some odd manner blended with their no less fanatical faith in State centralisation, the Bolsheviki devised an entirely new science of tactics. It is to the effect that the preparation and consummation of the Social Revolution necessitates the organisation of a special conspirative staff, consisting exclusively of the theoreticians of the movement, vested with dictatorial powers for the purpose of clarifying and perfecting beforehand, by their own conspirative means, the class-consciousness of the proletariat.

Thus the fundamental characteristic of Bolshevik psychology was distrust of the masses, of the proletariat. Left to themselves, the masses — according to Bolshevik conviction — could rise only to the consciousness of the petty reformer.

The road that leads to the direct creativeness of the masses was thus forsaken.

According to Bolshevik conception, the masses are “dark”, mentally crippled by ages of slavery. They are multi-colored: besides the revolutionary advance-guard they comprise great numbers of the indifferent and many self-seekers. The masses, according to the old but still correct maxim of Rousseau, must be made free by force. To educate them to liberty one must not hesitate to use compulsion and violence.

“Proletarian compulsion in all its forms”, writes Bukharin, one of the foremost Communist theoreticians, “beginning with summary execution and ending with compulsory labor is, however paradoxical it may sound, a method of reworking the human material of the capitalistic epoch into Communist humanity”.

This cynical doctrinairism, this fanatical quasi-philosophy flavored with Communist pedagogic sauce and aided by the pressure of “canonized officials” (expression of the prominent Communist and labor leader Shliapnikov) represent the actual methods of the Party dictatorship, which retains the trade mark of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” merely for gala affairs at home and for advertisement abroad. Already in the first days of the Revolution, early in 1918, when Lenin first announced to the world his socio-economic program in its minutest details, the roles of the people and of the Party in the revolutionary reconstruction were strictly separated and definitely assigned. On the one hand, an absolutely submissive socialist herd, a dumb people; on the other, the omniscient, all-controlling Political Party. What is inscrutable to all, is an open book to It. In the land there may be only one indisputable source of truth — the State. But the Communist State is, in essence and practice, the dictatorship of the Party only, or — more correctly — the dictatorship of its Central Committee. Each and every citizen must be, first and foremost, the servant of the State, its obedient functionary, unquestioningly executing the will of his master — if not as a matter of conscience, then out of fear. All free initiative, of the individual as well as of the collectivity, is eliminated from the vision of the State. The people’s Soviets are transformed into sections of the Ruling Party; the Soviet institutions become soulless offices, mere transmitters of the will of the center to the periphery. All expressions of State activity must be stamped with the approving seal of Communism as interpreted by the faction in power. Everything else is considered superfluous, useless and dangerous.

This system of barrack absolutism, supported by bullet and bayonet, has subjugated every phase of life, stopping neither before the destruction of the best cultural values, nor before the most stupendous squandering of human life and energy.

Alexander Berkman

berkmancover

Franciso Ferrer: Against Rewards and Punishments

Francisco Ferrer Guardia (1859-1909)

Francisco Ferrer Guardia (1859-1909)

October 13th marks the 113th anniversary of the Spanish state’s execution of the libertarian revolutionary Francisco Ferrer (1859-1909), who tried to establish “Modern Schools” in Spain, for boys and girls, that were rationalist and anti-authoritarian. But he was also a revolutionary in the more political sense, supporting the efforts of radical working class movements to abolish the state and capitalism, and to create a free society based on workers’ self-management. This made him a target for state repression. When the workers in Barcelona arose in revolt in July 1909, in the face of mass conscription to fight in Spanish Morocco and mass lockouts by the employers, leading to a week of armed struggle, Ferrer was accused of being one of the instigators, when in reality he played virtually no role in the uprising. His crime was preaching and practicing “free thought” in a country where education was controlled by a reactionary Catholic Church, and providing funds and support to radicals and revolutionaries.  The following excerpts are taken from Chapter 10 of his book,  The Origins and Ideals of the Modern School (first published in 1908; English translation, 1913). Ferrer’s rejection of rewards and punishments as teaching “methods” was shared by other anarchists involved in libertarian education, from William Godwin, to Sebastien Faure, to people like Paul Goodman and Joel Spring. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included Ferrer’s essay, “L’École Rénovée,” which summarizes his libertarian approach to education.

Bulletin of the Modern School

Bulletin of the Modern School

No Reward or Punishment

Rational education is, above all things, a means of defence against error and ignorance. To ignore truth and accept absurdities is, unhappily, a common feature in our social order; to that we owe the distinction of classes and the persistent antagonism of interests. Having admitted and practised the co-education of boys and girls, of rich and poor — having that is to say started from the principle of solidarity and inequality — we are not prepared to create a new inequality. Hence in the Modern School there will be no rewards and no punishments; there will be no examinations to puff up some children withe the flattering title of excellent, to give others the vulgar title of “good”, and make others unhappy with a consciousness of incapacity and failure. These features of the existing official and religious schools, which are quite in accord with their reactionary environment and aim, cannot, for the reasons I have given, be admitted in to the Modern School. Since we are not educating for a specific purpose, we cannot determine the capacity or incapacity of the child. When we teach a sciend, or art, or trade, or some subject requiring special conditions, an examination may be useful, all(] there may be reason to give a diploma or refuse one; I neither affirm nor deny it. But there is no such specialism in the Modern School. characteristic note of the school, distinguishing It even from some which pass as progressive models, is that in it the faculties of the children shall develop freely without subjection to any dogmatic patron, not even to what it may consider the body of convictions of the founder and teachers; every pupil shall go forth from it Into social life with the ability to be his own master and guide his own life in all things.

Hence, if we were rationally prevented from giving prizes, we could not impose penalties, and no one Would have dreamed of doing so In our school if the idea had not been suggested from without. Sometimes parents came to me with the rank proverb, “Letters go in with blood,” on their lips, and begged me to punish their children. Others who were charmed with the precocious talent. of their children wanted to see them shine in examinations and exhibit medals. We refused to admit either prizes or punishments , and Sent the parents away. 11’ any child were conspicuous for merit, application, laziness, or bad conduct, we pointed out to it the need of accord, or the unhappiness of lack of accord, with its own welfare and that of others, and the teacher might give a lecture oil the subject. Nothing more was (]oil(,, and the parents were gradually reconciled to the system, though they often had to be corrected in their errors and prejudices by their own children.

Nevertheless, the old prejudice was constantly recurring, and I saw that I had to repeat my arguments with the parents of new pupils. I therefore wrote the following article in the Bulletin:

The conventional examinations which we usually find held at file end of a scholastic year, to which our fathers attached so much Importance, have had no result at all; or, if any result, a bad one. These functions and their accompanying solemnities seem to have been instituted for the sole purpose of satisfying the vanity of parents and the selfish interests of many teachers, and in order to put the children to torture before the examination and make them ill afterwards. Each father wants his child to be presented in public as one of the prodigies of the college, and regards him with pride as a learned man in miniature He does not notice that for a fortnight or so the child suffers exquisite torture. As things are judged by external appearances, It is not thought that there is ally real torture, as there is not the least scratch visible on the skin ……

The parent’s lack of acquaintance with the natural disposition of the child, and the iniquity of putting it in false conditions so that its intellectual powers, especially in the sphere of memory, are artificially stimulated, prevent the parent from seeing that this measure of personal gratification may, as has happened in many cases, lead to Illness and to the moral, if not the physical, death of the, child.

On the other hand, the majority of teachers, being mere stereotypers of ready — made phrases and mechanical innoculators, rather than moral fathers of their pupils, are concerned in these examinations with their own personality and their economic interests. Their object is to let the parents and the others who are present at the public display see that, under their guidance, the child has learned a good deal, that its knowledge is greater in quantity and quality than could have been expected of its tender years and in view of the short time that it has been under the charge of this very skilful teacher.

In addition to this wretched vanity, which is satisfied at the cost of the moral and physical life of the child, the teachers are anxious to elicit compliments from the parents and the rest of the audience, who know nothing of the real state of things, as a kind of advertisement of the prestige of their particular school.

Briefly, we are inexorably opposed to holding public examinations. In Our school everything must be done for the advantage of the pupil. Everything that does ]lot conduce to this end must be recognised as opposed to the natural spirit of positive education. Examinations do no good, and they do much harm to the child. Besides the Illness of which we have already spoken, the nervous system of the child suffers, and a kind of temporary paralysis is inflicted on its conscience by the immoral features of the examination; the vanity provoked In those who are placed highest, envy and humiliation grave obstacles to sound growth, in those who have failed, and in all of them the gel-ills of’ most of the sentiments which go to the making of egoism.

In a later number of the Bulletin I found it necessary to return to the subject:

We frequently receive letters from Workers’ Educational Societies and Republican Fraternities asking that the teachers shall chastise the children in our schools. We ourselves have been disgusted, during our brief excursions, to find material proofs of the fact which is at the base of this request; we have seen children on their knees, or in other attitudes of punishment.

These irrational and atavistic practices must disappear. Modern pædagogy entirely discredits them. The teachers who offer their services to the Modern School, or ask our recommendation to teach in similar schools, must refrain from any moral or material punishment, under penalty of being disqualified permanently. Scolding, impatience, and anger ought to disappear with the ancient title of “master.” In free schools all should be peace, gladness, and fraternity. We trust that this will suffice to put an end to these practices, which are most improper in people whose sole ideal is the training of a generation fitted to establish a really fraternal, harmonious, and just state of society.

Francisco Ferrer Guardia, 1908

ferrer-modern-school

Fearless Anarchy

Fireworks of various colors bursting against a black background

Just got my sales statement from AK Press, and see that ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’ – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement has now sold over 1200 copies! (over 1100 paperbacks and over 100 e-books). Many thanks to AK Press for their excellent marketing and promotion. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion, drawing some lessons for today from out of the debates among the anarchists in the International Workingmen’s Association.

We Do Not Fear the Cover

Anarchism and Social Movements

Today, many anarchists advocate not only working within broader based social movements, but helping to establish popular movements that from their inception adopt decentralized, affinity group based organizational structures that form horizontal networks and popular assemblies where power remains at the base, not in a hierarchical administration, bureaucracy or executive.[i]

But this concept can also be traced back to the International, for it was the federalists, anti-authoritarians and anarchists in the International who insisted that the workers’ own organizations, including the International itself, should be directly democratic, voluntary federations freely federated with one another, for they were to provide the very basis for the future free society. Contemporary anarchists have simply developed more sophisticated ways of implementing these ideas and preventing movements from being co-opted and transformed into top down organizations.

Gone is the “inverted” pyramid of the 19th century anarchists, with smaller scale groups federating into larger and more encompassing federations, ultimately resulting in international federations composed of groups from lower level federations, such as national or regional federations. The problem with these kinds of federations is that the higher level federations can be transformed into governing bodies, particularly in times of crisis, as Marx and Engels attempted to transform the International’s General Council into an executive power after the suppression of the Paris Commune.

Instead of federations organized “from the bottom up,” many contemporary anarchists advocate interlocking horizontal networks like those used in various global movements against neo-liberalism, the “horizontalidad” movement in Argentina and the Occupy movement, networks with no centres, not even administrative or “federalist” ones.[ii] These contemporary movements have been able, at least for a time, to break out of the isolation to which autonomous anarchist communist groups in late 19th century Europe were prone prior to the renewed involvement of many anarchists in the workers’ movement in the mid-1890s, which gave rise to various revolutionary and anarchist syndicalist movements in Europe and the Americas.

What is different about contemporary anarchist approaches to organization is that they bridge the gap between the affinity group, popular assemblies and broader networks of similar organizations and movements in a way that 19th century anarchist communist groups were unable to do, without relying on the more permanent forms and institutions utilized by the anarcho-syndicalists in their federalist organizations. Syndicalist organizations were always in danger of being transformed into top down bureaucratic organizations, as eventually happened with the French CGT during the First World War and even more so after the Russian Revolution, when the CGT came under the control of the Marxists. Under the pressure of the Spanish Civil War, even the anarcho-syndicalist CNT in Spain began turning into a bureaucratic organization.

In many ways, these contemporary forms of anarchist organization mirror the anarchist communist vision of a society in which, in Kropotkin’s words, “ever modified associations… carry in themselves the elements of their durability and constantly assume new forms which answer best to the multiple aspirations of all.”[iii] By making these kinds of organizations, like affinity groups, the basis of their horizontal networks, contemporary anarchists have created non-hierarchical organizations that not just prefigure, but realize in the here and now, the organizational forms consonant with an anarchist communist future, within the context of broader movements for social change.

Robert Graham

[i] Graeber, “The New Anarchists,” in Anarchism Vol. 3, “The New Anarchism,” ed R. Graham, 2012: 1-11.

[ii] Graham, ibid: 572-576.

[iii] Graham, Anarchism Vol. 1, “From Anarchy to Anarchism,” 2005: 142.

anarchist_commmunist_poster_by_redclasspride

The Spanish Revolution – 80th Anniversary

"Freedom"

“Freedom”

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a chapter on the Spanish Revolution that included writings from before and during the revolution regarding the Spanish anarchist movement and its role in the often misrepresented and sometimes ignored contributions of the anarchists to the social revolution in Spain that began with the Civil War that was precipitated by a fascist military coup on July 19, 1936. I have added extra material on the role of the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution to this blog. To mark the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Revolution, I present a very short introduction (take that Oxford University Press) from the Workers Solidarity Movement.

Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution

Anarchist and syndicalist ideas had deep roots among Spanish peasants and workers. In 1911, a massive revolutionary trade union federation, the CNT (National Confederation of Labour) was formed. It had two aims; first, to fight the bosses with mass action in the daily struggle and, second, to make an anarchist revolution by organising the workers and the poor to seize back the land, factories and mines.

The CNT led many militant and successful struggles against the bosses and the government. By 1936 it was the biggest union in Spain, with nearly two million members. But the CNT was always democratic and, despite its giant size, never had more than one paid official.

The Anarchists did not restrict themselves to the workplace. They also organised an anarchist political group to work within the unions (the FAI) and organised rent boycotts in poor areas. The CNT itself included working peasants, farm workers and the unemployed. It even organised workers’ schools!

In July 1936, fascists led by General Franco, and backed by the rich and the Church, tried to seize power in Spain. The elected government (the Popular Front coalition of left-wing parties) was unable and unwilling to deal with the fascists. It even tried to strike a deal with the fascists by appointing a right-winger as Prime Minister. Why? Because they would rather compromise with the right wing and protect their wealth and power than arm the workers and the poor for self-defence.

Fortunately, the workers and the peasants did not wait around for the government to act. The CNT declared a general strike and organised armed resistance to the attempted take-over. Other unions and left wing groups followed the CNT’s lead.

In this way the people were able to stop the fascists in two-thirds of Spain. It soon became apparent to these workers and peasants that this was not just a war against fascists, but the beginning of a revolution! Anarchist influence was everywhere, workers’ militias were set up independently from the State, workers seized control of their workplaces and peasants seized the land.

There were many triumphs of the revolution, although we are only able to consider a few of the Spanish workers’ and peasants’ victories here. These included the general take over of the land and factories.

Small peasants and farm workers faced extremely harsh conditions in Spain. Starvation and repression were a part of their daily lives and, as a result, anarchism was particularly strong in the countryside. During the revolution, as many as 7 million peasants and farm workers set up voluntary collectives in the anti-fascist regions. After landowners fled, a village assembly was held. If a decision to collectivise was taken, all the land, tools and animals were pooled together for the use of the entire collective. Teams were formed to look after the various areas of work, while a committee was elected to co-ordinate the overall running of the collective. Each collective had regular general meetings in which all members participated. Individuals who did not want to join the collectives were not forced to. They were given enough land to farm on, but were forbidden to hire labourers to work this land. Most “individualists” eventually joined the collectives when they saw how successful they were.

Anarchism inspired massive transformations in industry. Workers seized control over their workplaces, and directly controlled production by themselves and for the benefit of the Spanish workers and peasants. The tram system in Barcelona provided a shining example of just how much better things can be done under direct workers’ control. On July 24th 1936, the tram crews got together and decided to run the whole system themselves. Within five days, 700 trams were in service instead of the usual 600. Wages were equalised and working conditions improved, with free medical care provided for workers.

Everyone benefited from the trams being under workers’ control. Fares were reduced and an extra 50 million passengers were transported. Surplus income was used to improve transport services and produce weapons for defence of the revolution. With the capitalist profit motive gone, safety became much more important and the number of accidents were reduced.

In the early stages of the revolution, the armed forces of the state had effectively collapsed. In their place, the trade unions and left-wing organisations set about organising the armed workers and peasants into militias. Overall, there were 150,000 volunteers willing to fight where they were needed. The vast majority were members of the CNT. All officers were elected by the rank-and-file and had no special privileges.

The revolution showed that workers, peasants and the poor could create a new world without bosses or a government. It showed that anarchist ideas and methods (such as building revolutionary unions) could work. Yet despite all this, the revolution was defeated. By 1939, the fascists had won the civil war and crushed the working-class and peasants with a brutal dictatorship.

Why did this happen? The revolution was defeated partly because of the strength of the fascists. They were backed by the rich, fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

The CNT also made mistakes. It aimed for maximum anti-fascist unity and joined the Popular Front alliance, which included political parties from government and pro-capitalist forces. This required the CNT to make many compromises in its revolutionary programme. It also gave the Popular Front government an opportunity to undermine and destroy the anarchist collectives and the workers militias, with the Communist Party playing a leading role in these attacks at the behest of Stalinist Russia.

Nevertheless, anarchists had proved that ideas, which look good in the pages of theory books, look even better on the canvas of life.

Workers Solidarity Movement

'The Revolution and the War are Inseparable'

‘The Revolution and the War are Inseparable’

Neither EU Nor UK

Brexit

The recent “Brexit” vote in Britain brings to mind a few things. First, the counter-revolutionary role of state-controlled referendums (‘referenda’ for the language police), something that Proudhon pointed out in 1851 in General Idea of the Revolution, building on his previous seemingly paradoxical statement that “universal suffrage is counter-revolution” (I included excerpts from General Idea in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, and several other of Proudhon’s anarchist writings). Just as universal suffrage is used to legitimate political rule by giving the illusion of popular sovereignty, so do referendums provide an illusion of “direct democracy,” when the ruling classes remain firmly in control (although not always as firmly as they like)

lesser evil

Second, the false dichotomies represented by the choices provided in referendums — in this case the choice between an “independent United Kingdom” and the European Union. Throughout the history of anarchist movements, anarchists have been told they have to choose between one or the other unacceptable alternative, the so-called “lesser evil” (and so we have “derivative anarchist fellow traveller” Noam Chomsky advocating support for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump). Failing to choose is supposed to constitute an abdication of responsibility and to condemn anarchists to powerlessness and irrelevancy. In 1851 in France, the choice was supposed to be between Napoleon III or the Republic; during the Russian Revolution, the choice was supposed to be between the Bolsheviks (Marxist Leninists) or the counter-revolution; during the two World Wars, in Europe the choice was supposed to be between the “Allies” or Germany/the Nazis; during the Spanish Revolution, the choice was supposed to be between Fascism or the Republic, or between military victory or social revolution; during the Cold War, the choice was supposed to be between US or Soviet imperialism, inspiring Marie Louise Berneri to coin the phrase, “Neither East Nor West” (see Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). In response to the Brexit vote, I would like to put forward a variation of that theme: Neither the EU Nor the UK.

Third, if anarchists reject this latest false dilemma, what alternatives can they present? Besides the obvious (possibly long term) ones, like social revolution, an anarchist society without hierarchy and domination, freedom and equality, and so forth? As a contribution to that debate, I present Andrew Flood’s 10 point guide for post Brexit resistance (from the Workers Solidarity Movement website). Andrew has also presented an excellent analysis of the Brexit vote results.

10 point guide for post Brexit resistance as racist right wins EU referendum

  1. The Brexit vote for the UK to leave the European Union demonstrates that even weak parliamentary democracy is incompatible with escalating neoliberal inequality.  In the UK as elsewhere a tiny segment of the population have taken a larger and larger share of total wealth in the last decades.  Particularly under austerity almost everyone else has seen their share of the wealth they produce decline massively.
  2. The Remain campaign was headed up by the political class of the neoliberal establishment and backed by model neo liberal corporations like Ryanair.  But because the anger against rising inequality was successfully diverted through scapegoating already marginalized people, in particular migrants, the Leave campaign was also led by wealthy elitist bigots whose variant of neoliberalism looks to the former colonies and the US rather than Europe.
  3. The markets are now punishing the electorate with capital flight. But the racist colonialist nature of the Leave campaign means that rather than capitalism being blamed migrants will again be scapegoated.  The impact of continued inequality – on white citizen workers – will be blamed on attacks on migrants not being as cruel and ruthless as ‘required’.
  4. The alternative to fight for isn’t yet another referendum but the abolition of a global order built on inequality & market dictatorship.
  5. In the immediate future, the defense of migrants, including those yet to come, is fundamental to opposing the swing to the right post-Brexit.
  6. If the left swings towards a simple economist stance post-Brexit then the racist colonialist nature of that vote will be solidified  We must argue on the more apparently difficult grounds of global class solidarity and not on the treacherous path of the narrow self interest of white citizen workers which can only serve a reactionary English nationalism steeped in racism and colonialism.
  7. The fallout from the Leave vote will not just be limited within the borders of the UK will see a  but huge boost for racist colonialist movements across EU.  The leaders of those movements, like Marine Le Pen have already greeted the Leave vote with joy.
  8. It’s vital to understand this cannot be combatted with liberal platitudes because it is a consequence of the rising inequality economic liberalism has created.  We are facing either a transformation to radical direct democracy that will create economic equality or a turn to the authoritarian politics of control needed to enforce sharp divisions in wealth.
  9. Things look grim but then they were already grim as we face into climate change and automation under capitalism.  The rise of the far right and colonialist racism is not a natural phenomenon but a consequence of a system in a crisis that is a fundamental product of  its own functioning.
  10. We need to take our world back from the patriarchal white supremacist capitalist elite that dominates the planet and dominated both sides of the EU referendum.  The transformation we need if we are not to face escalating poverty, war and climate destruction is a total one that eliminates the state and capitalism to create libertarian communism.

Andrew Flood

brexit voter analysis

The First of May Anarchist Alliance

First of May Anarchist Alliance

The First of May Anarchist Alliance (M1) describes itself as an “organization with its members having a… history of collaboration, in some instances reaching back to the 1980’s through an array of revolutionary anarchist organizing. With the creation of M1 we move from the informal affinity to being an established organizational presence; fully engaged with the broader anarchist, revolutionary and social movements.” Here, I set forth excerpts from its programmatic statement, “Our Anarchism.” The statement refers to a variety of anarchist approaches, from anarcho-syndicalism to insurrectionary anarchism, anarchist communism and eco-anarchism, while trying to develop a working class based “anarchism without hyphens,” reminiscent of earlier attempts by some anarchists to develop an “anarchism without adjectives.” I have documented the intellectual development of these various anarchist approaches in my three volume collection of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

anarchist revolution

REVOLUTION: Anarchism is not only direct action, decentralization, and dissent from capital, the state and an array of oppressions. It is not just about struggling to ensure that the practices and processes of the movements we are part of reflect our libertarian and egalitarian values. It is also about putting “Revolution” out there in the many discussions and debates about where society is going.

Overturning the system has long been a moral imperative given the toll it has already taken on people and the Earth. Now a radical leap to an alternative society is becoming an increasingly necessary act of ecological and social self-defense. We must not hide this evaluation from our co-workers, neighbors, classmates or our social movement friends and comrades. It is the need for revolution that, in part, motivates our broad feelings of solidarity. It is the purpose, program and plan that impel our many acts of resistance.

We all need to wrestle with the problem of raising revolution in day-to-day life and activism. It is not easy to do this in a fashion that does not seem fantastic, delusional or perfunctorily tacked on. The present period has been one of intermittent and relatively low levels of struggle and political consciousness. There has existed a constant pressure to downplay the more radical and maximal aspects of our politics. Against this tendency to conservatism we are committed to the development of a more fully elaborated and popular conception of anti-authoritarian revolution and the role of anarchist revolutionaries in its realization.

The potential for a sustained break in the current order of things has been growing. Two draining wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Katrina and the BP gulf oil spill; the banking collapse, foreclosure crisis and ensuing severe recession (and a litany of other calamities and crimes) have caused large numbers of people left, center and right to have their faith in the system and the elites severely shaken.

A real break will entail the rise of ongoing mass movements left and right. The outlines of this can already be seen in the mobilizations/counter-mobilizations and debates around healthcare, immigration and culture/religion (in particular the political and physical attacks on Muslims).

These developments portend dangers as well as possibilities for action. We cannot trust simply in the course of events to take the broadly left-wing movements into fundamentally attacking the underlying system itself or developing a truly anti-authoritarian character. We cannot confine our role to getting people into motion around their immediate concerns and trusting an unseen logic of struggle to lead to evermore radical and anti-authoritarian results.

A progressively unfolding Left strategy of “one step at a time” will not suffice. We must wage a conscious fight for a revolutionary and anarchist outcome in the here and now if there is ever to be an advance in that direction.

liberty equality solidarity

A WORKING CLASS ORIENTATION: We want an anarchist movement weighted towards and rooted in the working class and poorer sectors of society. The working class has the potential to both shake and reshape society. We do not dismiss the skills, concerns or contributions of other strata – but a solid working class component is necessary to any fully liberatory and egalitarian social transformation.

If the working class is to be a force for liberation, sizeable numbers must turn away from the concept of defending or restoring a precarious “middle class” existence. (In other words, fighting for re-inclusion into a social and environmental arrangement that is proving itself to be ever more unsustainable.) Instead we must champion independent working class organization that aggressively encourages and defends the struggle and self-organization of all the excluded and oppressed as allies in a fight for an alternative society.

Anarchists must increasingly put ourselves in positions to help create such developments. As individuals and collectives we need to carefully assess where we work, live and organize. In these settings we must systematically build our personal and political relationships through involvement in a range of struggles small and large. We should not devalue as non-political the personal acts of solidarity, compassion, and love. Conversely, we should not assume any lack of interest in our grander or more controversial ideas.

We must remain intimately involved in the lives and debates amongst rank and file working and poor people. So we oppose the widespread trend of taking paid staff positions in the unions and non-profits that would place us outside of the grassroots and dependent on and tied to reformist hierarchy. Similarly, while we need a movement that includes serious intellectuals and artists, we must also be on guard against the negative aspects of academic careerism and sub-culture isolation.

Our priority is building personal-political networks within the working-class with our co-workers, neighbors, classmates and their/our families, and developing revolutionary nuclei from within those networks. Workers have numerous familial and community ties to aid in such an endeavor.

workers solidarity movement

A Working-Class Movement
Armed with anarchist principles and concepts (and a good bit of energy and creativity) we must try and resurrect a culture of working class independence, direct action and solidarity on an ever-widening scale. We must push for diverse self-organization and the cooperative development of alternative/decentralist strategies for addressing societal problems outside of and in counter-position to conventional governmental structures.

We fully understand this will involve an uphill battle of methodical education, agitation and organizing. The goal is an anti-authoritarian united front of whatever sections can be mustered of wage labor, immigrants, the excluded urban & rural poor – and grouping around itself sympathetic independent craft and service people, shopkeepers, small farmers, artists, scholars, health and science professionals. We see this being done through conferences, assemblies, councils and common struggle of an array of collaborating formations.

If of enough weight and mass, such a united front could act as a type of societal rallying point against the irresponsible and corrupt capitalist and political classes, the racist and nationalist right-wing movements and a general social dissolution.

The history of capitalism is inextricably bound to white supremacy and patriarchy and has thus left deep structural legacies of inequality in the economy and society. Despite advances on the front of formal equality, the declining and shifting economy coupled with the neglect of the social and educational infrastructure has marginalized large sectors of the population, creating a growing class of permanently excluded. This has fallen heaviest on Black, Brown and Native peoples. Poverty continues to be heavily “gendered” toward women and children. The struggles against patriarchy, racism, and capitalism must become one.

A working class orientation does not dismiss or neglect the need for organized autonomous movements of people of color, women, GLBTQ or other people even if they are of a mixed class character. Anarchists must be active in these formations (and in support), working to cohere the more militant elements around these movement’s more radical demands as well as direct action alliances with a range of other popular and working class struggles.

The Unions
We see the mainstream unions as having a dual character. On the one hand, the unions over the course of time (and some from the beginning) have integrated themselves into the regular functioning of capitalism, becoming reliable partners in economic management and political theater with the ruling elite. On the other hand, despite this (or not), the unions maintain a space where workers struggles do emerge and are either bottled up or push forward. Our approach is therefore not limited to a single organizational tactic.

We are opposed to the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy, have no illusions in any “movement” from above, and thus reject a simplistic “Build the Unions” approach. But depending on the workplace, industry, and union we fully expect to also participate within the unions, union reform movements, or rank & file and “extra-union” groupings – as revolutionaries and anarchists. We would need to carefully assess any bids for elected union/community positions, being clear on what we are trying to accomplish, what we really could achieve, as well as the duration of time spent there.

We are also part of and support the re-emerging I.W.W., Workers Centers, Workers Assemblies and other labor formations outside of the mainstream unions…

anarchism_defined_by_ztk2006

FOR A NON-DOCTRINAIRE ANARCHISM: Our anarchism is both revolutionary and heterodox. We maintain hostility to conventional politics. We are opposed to the programs and methods of the various union and movement bureaucracies, including their most left variants. We are not fooled by authoritarians on the left, who opportunistically clothe themselves in elements of anti-authoritarian garb, but haven’t seriously examined their past and present practices…

We believe anarchist theory and practice needs to be renewed and elaborated. While there are limits and deficiencies in the realms of theory and practice, there is also much past and present in anarchism to uncover, weigh and draw upon. This history is rich and continues to provide a substantial basis for a viable historical trend and a present day fighting movement…

Anarcho-syndicalism. Anarcho-syndicalism has much to recommend in it. It has a working class orientation, a strong sense of organization, and rightly gives great importance to direct action and the general strike. One of the deepest transformations of human society, the Spanish Revolution, was largely due to an anarcho-syndicalist movement.

However, anarcho-syndicalism tends towards a class reductionism, organizational dogmatism (“One Big Union”, “The CNT was my womb, it shall be my tomb”), and down plays the social, political, and cultural dimensions of struggle. It has exhibited strong tendencies towards centralism and incremental reformism on the one hand or isolationist purism within the workers movement on the other.

Changes in the global industrial systems have challenged but not eliminated anarcho-syndicalism as a potential force. That said, we still lean heavily upon its best aspects. Members of M1 actively participate within the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.)

Anarchist-Communism. The other major school in the revolutionary anarchist tradition attempts to have a more holistic vision and flexible approach to organization. There is much to be learned from its practice, writings, and heroism as well.

Anarchist-Communism in its early articulations was weakened by its over-optimistic view of an “anarchist” human nature that led to both anti-organizational (“The street will organize us!”) and propaganda-by-the-deed conclusions.

Modern Anarchist-Communism, overlapping to a large degree with the “Platformist” current, bends the stick too far the opposite direction. While their organizational seriousness and commitment to mass struggle are exemplary, an influence of certain forms and practice (not necessarily politics) reminiscent of Trotskyist groups is apparent.

While a libertarian communism may or may not be our long-term preference, we do not make it a point of unity. Against any dogmatic insistence that the revolutionary society must be organized on a specific communist basis, we make co-operation and experimentation our watchwords. There is no way to get around the fact that a truly mass self-organized revolt will produce diverse attempts at social reconstruction. Fixation on and zeal in the pursuit of one form is a dangerous thing no matter the intent.

Anarchist-Communists generally fail to take seriously the problem of the label “Communism” in a world where millions have been murdered under the banner of “Communism”. As revolutionaries with experience in areas with large Polish, Hmong, Balkan, and East African immigrant communities this is not an academic question for us.

Drawing the wrong connections

Drawing the wrong connections

Green and Eco-Anarchism. With the green and eco-anarchists we share the view that the ecological crisis is fundamental and that the industrial society must be radically reorganized. The tendencies generally associated with the “class struggle” anarchist traditions need to fully integrate ecological concerns into its vision. Economic life arises from human relations with the Earth. How this life is constituted and organized in a decentralist fashion needs to be fully rooted in our politics.

The technologies and industrialization developed and mastered in the service of the authoritarian and capitalist society is constantly reshaping our world. We are witness to an unimaginable and frightening growth of agribusiness and urbanization. This process uproots peoples land based traditions, their knowledge and capabilities for self-sufficiency and autonomy, creates a consumerist culture in which mass sectors of the populace are reduced to cheap labor pools, and creates conditions for the mass extinction of earth’s species – human, non-human, and plant.

A significant development of this devastating course is that the corporations of trans-national capitalism have set up massive economic zones, which combined with the deepening crisis of people’s detachment from the land, gives rise to global maquiladora type factory-cities surrounded by vast slums. Through any combination of factors these factory-cities can be left behind by the capitalist classes with the work “outsourced” to other regions deemed more manageable or with low cost risks. The areas – whether in full capitalist development or abandoned – become bio-catastrophes.

There is resistance ranging from rural insurgencies waged by peasants and indigenous peoples, to independent organizing within the walls of the factory-cities. Tendencies within the green anarchist movement would ignore these struggles, heralding instead the mere collapse of industrial society. We argue for the linking up of the rural and urban forces into a movement that can reshape the terrain imposed upon us by capitalism.

In some of the de-industrialized cities abandoned by capitalism, including where we are active, new movements of community farmers, food activists, and “take back the land” projects have emerged. These new formations are creating networks stretching out over entire regions, encompassing city, suburb, and more traditionally acknowledged farmland. We defend these autonomous projects and support linking them up with oppositional social movements.

We absolutely oppose significant trends within the “green” movements that embrace anti-human and anti-working class ideology. We reject and will fight any and all racist and sexist ideas, for instance those that oppose immigration and support population controls.

Insurrectionism. We do not believe that the revolutionary change needed can be achieved through an accumulated series of reforms or by an expanding community of anti-authoritarian practice. There will need to be an uprising of the oppressed and exploited against the ruling class. Land and workplaces must be seized, police and military disarmed, and the will of the rulers broken. A mass and popular insurrection will be necessary for the revolutionary transformation we seek.

This clear need has prompted several trends – anarchist and others – to identify as “Insurrectionists”. The Insurrectionists reject left bureaucratic movement management and mediation and are rightly suspicious of organization that tends simply towards self-perpetuation. However, the Insurrectionists create an ideology with its own particular fetishisms and by doing so promote a rather dogmatic program regarding acceptable (non)organization and tactics.

While we welcome a radical approach and a confrontation with reformism (including among anarchists), we are not impressed with any lazy caricature of insurrection. Poorly thought out “militancy” uncritical of its isolation from broader working-class communities and social movements offers little threat. The Black Bloc, for instance, has gone from being a useful show of force and protection for the anarchist movement, to, too often, an isolated and state-scrutinized cultural ghetto with limited reach and influence…

Our critique of “Insurrectionism” is not a rejection of militancy and self-defense, nor a consignment of the fight to the distant horizon. Our members’ history and experience, particularly within the anti-fascist movement but in other struggles as well, is one of building popular combativity, developing our capabilities, and in general, keeping the insurrectionary arts alive.

anarchism without adjectives

An anarchism without hyphens. From the above we hope to show our commitment to listening and learning from a number of different traditions and trends within anarchism – without painting ourselves into a narrow ideological corner. This should not be confused with favoring a slop-bag organization with no clarity or direction. We are determined to build a group with coherent anarchist politics and the ability to carry out work and discussions democratically. But we do so with both a sense of humility and an understanding that the politics we wish to develop does not currently reside in any one of the anarchist sub-schools.

Anarchism, Empire and National Liberation. Two approaches have dominated the modern anarchist approach to national liberation movements. Both are inadequate and have helped ensure anarchism usually remained on the sidelines of the major struggles against imperialism and for self-determination.

The first approach condemns all national liberation movements – from top to bottom and across all tendencies – as inherently capitalist and statist and therefore as equal an enemy as Empire. This then justifies abstention from solidarity with those people under the gun of imperialism. Besides being entirely immoral, this practice leaves anarchist ideas and methods off the playing field of the imperialized world.

The second failed approach also removes anarchism as an independent political pole, by uncritically backing whatever force or leader is fighting against (or posing against) US or other imperialism. The traditional anarchist critique of hierarchy, the State, and patriarchy are pushed to the side in order to support the “leadership” of the resistance.

Against all this we promote anarchist participation within movements against Empire and for self-determination, advocating anti-authoritarian, internationalist, decentralized and cooperative societies as an alternative to social democratic, state-capitalist or religious fundamentalist opposition projects. We see this as in keeping with the best traditions from the anarchist movement.

For those of us living and working in North America we have a particular responsibility to oppose the ongoing wars of occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine and other countries around the world. We must help build anti-war consciousness, movements and actions, as well as stand firm against the racist hysteria directed against Muslim, Arab, and East African communities here.

The criminalization of supporters of the main movements in Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia and other countries prevents anti-war movements and those immigrant communities from fully expressing themselves and engaging in dialogue and debate about the course of struggle. We must oppose this criminalization even as we clarify our critique of the dominant or other specific resistance organizations.

We believe it is vital that the costs of Empire be raised in our mass work in the Labor movement and other social movements. The wars in the Middle East are directly tied to the massive cutbacks being demanded by the bosses and politicians in education, social services and retirement. It will not be possible to resist these cuts or make demands for our communities needs without confronting the costs of the war machine. Any base built on narrow trade-union demands will not be sufficient to develop the revolutionary nuclei needed to help create the challenge needed.

Our understanding of Empire includes not only the outward projection of economic, cultural, and military domination but also that the US and Canadian states themselves are built on the colonization of Native land in North America. Our consistent opposition to Empire must mean an opposition to the US state. Our vision is of the Empire dismantled, not some red flag raised at the White House.

We also understand that the organization of Empire is not static and that the continuing globalization of capital and the rise of international economic and supra-state institutions will mean that both imperialism and the struggles against it will look and feel different than previous eras. We will continue to study and discuss the implications of these changes and what it means for our work.

Christian_Anarchism

Religion. Anarchists and anarchist organizations have overwhelmingly seen themselves as militantly atheist. Given our movement’s history this is not surprising. Russia, Italy and Spain are at the center of most anarchist history. These were societies dominated by single state churches intertwined with particularly reactionary landowning classes. So it is also no surprise that much of the opposition to these obscurantist regimes was militantly anti-clerical. Today’s anarchist movement was also largely born in struggles against conservative and reactionary mores epitomized by the so-called Christian Right. No small wonder our movement has maintained an irreligious stance.

M1 jettisons this stance because we believe it to be an un-anarchist but understandable holdover from our past. Further, we believe it to be a roadblock to deepening our movement’s presence in many sectors of the working class and oppressed.

Hypocrites aside, spiritual belief is intensely personal. Anarchy’s bedrock is the defense and development of each unique human personality. The social revolutionary aspect of anarchism comes from the realization that gender, ethnic, class, sexual and other oppressions and exploitation do violence to personhood and must be resisted collectively. If we liquidate individuality in the course of our collective endeavors we position ourselves on the same slippery slope as the authoritarians.

Our experience shows that some folks will respond to our activity and organizing and step forward motivated by their religious beliefs and values. Many assume that our activism is also motivated by such beliefs and are surprised to find we hold atheist views. If someone of religious outlook unites with us in struggle and is interested in our fuller views should they be subjected to bigoted humor or background banter about believers, Jesus, Allah, etc.? When it is their personal version of religious belief that motivates their own resistance and feelings of solidarity? It happens in our movement, all too often.

How one acts in the world should be the basis of our revolutionary affinity. We do not care what personal philosophy motivates a person or group to a similar anti-authoritarian outlook /fighting stance. We argue with folks on issues involving incontrovertible facts (such as evolution). We confront and struggle with people who harbor reactionary and/or patriarchal planks of theology (politics). We actively resist religion-based authority. At the same time we do not discourage or closet those aspects of personal belief that bring people forward as revolutionaries. The movement we need must be mass, determined, and open to latter day John Browns, Zapatas, Dorothy Days, and Malcolms.

A look at the past Civil Rights / Black Liberation Movement and a close look at some of today’s organizations and proto-movements underline another lesson. We see significant activity by faith-based organizations in social justice activities ranging from immigration and anti-war, to workers rights to urban mass transit amongst others. These formations are still defined and limited by their liberalism, but are attracting a new layer of energetic activists amongst youth and workers to the social democratic aspects of their politics. In coming years the cauldron of struggle will undoubtedly lead to a radicalization of elements, if not wings of such organizations, coalitions etc. We should not leave unnecessary obstacles stand between us and such developments.

achieving anarchism

Non-sectarian and Multi-layered Approach to Organization: We are for the creation of anti-authoritarian/anarchist federations of regional, national, continental and even global dimensions. Such federations must be of a mass character and able to intervene in and influence the coming broader left, in addition to launching and defining independent anarchist campaigns and projects.

The outlines and nature of this anticipated wider movement can only be speculated on.

We can be certain that it will be comprised of distinct social formations arising from various communities and sectoral concerns. Some formations will be short lived, but others will be of longer standing and a potentially radically shifting nature. New currents with an anti-authoritarian thrust will undoubtedly arise in and around these formations. Anarchist militants must be inside and contributing to such developments in addition to building independent projects.

Inside the broad movements, we will have to (along with the new currents) contend with forces committed to dominating these movements. Liberals – sometimes pressured and pushed by, but in general allied with more formally left-wing and even self proclaimed “revolutionary” organizations – will be attempting to isolate and block more radical elements and surges.

The liberals’ goal is to subordinate the societal left to a conservative pro-capitalist strategy of cooptation and government reform (in the most limited sense of the term) in an attempt to stabilize the existing system by shifting and reshuffling some of the present structures of domination and exploitation.

In combating an ever more aggressive social movement of the right they will be hard put to come up with effective means of confronting and politically dividing this hard reality. Rather their timidity and statist methods could lead to ill and tragic results.

With enemies left and right the anti-authoritarian left will need to be organized. Serious future social/political battles will be played out on regional, national and international stages. The anarchist movement will need to develop organizational forms to coordinate at these levels. There can be no denying this just as there can be no denying the truth that we need strong popular bases in countless locales.

Any serious, rooted and effective regional to North American anarchist co-ordinations/federations can only fully come together out of a rising curve of politicization, struggle and solidarity/survival organizing. The precise politics and organizational combinations of such formations will be shaped and worked out in struggle. However, it is crucial the discussion and initial steps begin in the here and now.

We are for a common front in action and mutual aid of all anti-authoritarian and anarchist currents.

We do not care whether the people and groups who step forward are coming from a similar interest in developing the anarchist tradition or are instead motivated to a libertarian-egalitarian stance by different religious, ecological or political views.

We are for a simple and clear commitment to a) a free, decentralized and cooperative society achieved by a radical break with the system, b) direct and mass action, independent of conventional politics and c) a voluntary collaboration of individuals, groupings, sectoral and social formations charting their course through respectful deliberation and carried out in the spirit of all going forward together with none left behind.

We support federative efforts of a rich variety of groupings. In addition to regional and national organizations constituted around specific social and political programs and theories, we seek the direct affiliation of ongoing campaigns, clinics, kitchens, anti-fascist projects, autonomous worker and neighborhood centers, art and sports clubs, union caucuses, independent workers committees and radical unions to name a few.

The wide-ranging nature of such an alliance can only contribute to its vitality and innovativeness. The programmatically specific groups can bring many valuable lessons past and present from the international anarchist movement into the mix. This is on top of their memberships’ accumulated skills, experiences and connections. The projects of specific area activism help ensure a more outward facing stance and a much more diverse skill set.

We must be constantly tuned in to preserving and deepening all our organizations’ anti-authoritarian character at all times. Pressures for effectiveness, delegation of tasks, uneven levels of education, experience and skills all are problematic but unavoidable. The attempts at remedy cannot be structural alone. Political questions of ideology, instrumentality, and values are key…

First of May Anarchist Alliance
January 2011

mayday_flagcrop

The Struggle on the Minneapolis Northside

4thPrecintAPCBanner

Below are excerpts from an article by Ikemba Kuti, “The 4th Precinct: A Black Anarchist’s Perspective on Struggle in Minneapolis’ Northside Streets,” recently published by the First of May Anarchist Alliance. The Alliance is a revolutionary anarchist organization based in Detroit, built around four principles: 1) commitment to revolution; 2) a working-class orientation; 3) a non-doctrinaire anarchism; and 4) a non-sectarian and multi-layered approach to organization. The Alliance seeks “to identify, draw out and help build the movements within our communities, workplaces and schools that have the determination, sophistication, and solidarity necessary to resist and ultimately overthrow the system and the underlying authoritarian social relationships that prop it up. We believe that in order to win the freedom worth fighting for – that the revolution necessary must have an anti-authoritarian character – egalitarian, decentralized, directly democratic, ecological, and internationalist.” The problem of self-defense will continue to grow as fascist populism, which has found its voice in Donald Trump, continues to grow in the USA.

jamar clark - black lives matter

The 4th Precinct: A Black Anarchist’s Perspective on Struggle in Minneapolis’ Northside Streets

Jamar Clark

On November 15th, 2015, police executed Jamar Clark in North Minneapolis, MN. Several witnesses claim that Mr. Clark was handcuffed and on the ground when he was shot in the head. Following the execution, an occupation of the 4th precinct police station took place on Plymouth Avenue.

The call for the encampment and occupation came from Black Lives Matter – Minneapolis. BLM-MPLS, is a part of the nation-wide organization of chapters that is backed by the Democratic Party of the same system that ensures black and brown communities are hyper-policed. BLM-St. Paul is not a part of the nation-wide organization, and has even been condemned for making Black Lives Matter as a whole “look bad” for simply chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon…” while they are not a chartered chapter.

BLM-MPLS’ call for the encampment resulted in BLM organizers heading the movement with little to no democratic process until later in the struggle. The encampment also generated tensions arising from different agendas, ideologies, levels of anger, and an array of different tactics that different organizations and members of the community aimed to use.

The nationally connected Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis did, and does, great work at getting people to come out. Unfortunately, they also do great work channeling that revolutionary energy into their dogmatic nonviolent reformism due to an undeniable affiliation with the Democratic Party (the system), which must be noted by those interested in liberation of the people, and which is quickly revealed through research on those who are heading #CampaignZero (Black Lives Matter flow chart to attain a world with limited police terror).

Take note of campaign zero’s four person “planning team” – these are important facts: “In 2014, Brittany helped bring community voice to the Ferguson Commission and President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing as an appointee to each. She’s been named one of TIME Magazine’s 12 New Faces of Black Leadership” (http://www.joincampaignzero.org/about/). This individual works directly for the president.

The remaining three are also heavily connected to non-profits such as Teach for America (TFA), which is also historically connected to maintaining the system. For example: TFA was recently given a grant to continue to project their brand through the media. Furthermore, another member of this four-person team was the other recipient; she is the director of St Louis TFA. TFA is, effectively, the leading edge of the neoliberal attempts to gut city schools and further hinder education equity, which in turn systemically hinders black and brown kids educational achievement under the guise of helping those kids.

As an anarchist, of African descent, I argue that we need revolutionary struggle controlled by the grassroots and not by top-down leaders. It was the domination of top-down leadership from BLM-Minneapolis, and their seemingly unconscious commitment to the system, that effectively steered Northside community militants away from 1) the encampment, 2) becoming further politicized, and 3) in playing any role in the organizing of their own communities self-determination. Their voices were effectively hushed; just as the system we function under has done for centuries to oppressed people of color.

black-lives-matter

Non-Profits and Their Agenda

…[I]t is easy to see how chartered Black Lives Matter organizers (not the people who come out to support and demonstrate), along with other reformist non-profits, can build movements through agitation. However, movements are more than just people in the streets. Non profit-ism is, more often than not, directly connected to government co-optation of a could-be movement; many times non-profits hijack a movement into electoral politics for Sanders, Clinton, or whoever claims that they are creating change for you while they are lining their pockets. You create change for you – we create change for we – from the grassroots.

These problems arose for many reasons. While it was great that people were in the streets, it is unacceptable to suppress the voices of the people who are terrorized by the police daily. We must come to terms with the fact that Democratic Party-aligned non-profits, while they look helpful, are in fact a hindrance to the movement. Many times, and historically, they co-opt movements. Non-Profits are one of the system’s many witty tactics that aids in halting militant actions and restrains the revolutionary spirit created by a rage that comes out of shared or comparable traumatizing experiences.

Minnesota calls itself the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but it’s also full of Non-Profits. The tendency of non-profits to co-opt, channel, and restrain revolutionary movements is not new to radical organizers in the Land of 10,000 Non-Profits. Many of these organizers have been pushed out of non-profits when their ideologies differed with those of the non-profit leadership in ways that resemble how community members were expelled, alienated, or made to feel unwelcome from the 4th Precinct encampment. This happened many times, once on the first night of struggle when family, as well as community members wanted to see something other than the singing of “slave songs”, as one Northside resident put it. At another moment during the occupation, police came outside and asked BLM-MPLS organizers if they could have protestors move a fire because the smoke from the fire was blocking vision of a police camera. Disgruntled working class community members attempted to dissent the BLM-MPLS protest police, as well as the real police who BLM-MPLS organizers were conforming to while at an action that was to oppose police.

Non-profits are constrained by their grants, money “for the community”, and paid organizing jobs that go on along with the continued oppression of those they are “fighting” to relieve. Paid organizer positions are unethical; a paid organizer continues to get paid at the expense of those they are fighting for. An anti-police paid organizer’s job continues, or BLM-the-brand, only exists because of the existence of police brutality, and the police in general. Non-Profits are extremely limited in their politics and actions because of their ties to the ruling class and the system that is killing the people.

Towards the end of the occupation, I had a conversation with family members of Jamar Clark. They voiced, with the support of people from that community, that they wanted to continue occupying the precinct. However, they were told by Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis organizers that when they would be told to leave by police, that BLM, which also means a large portion of the resources, were going to be obedient to the police, and desert the community who they called to action. Once again, ignoring and hushing the community that police violence is most prevalent in. Since the occupation, many but not all BLM-MPLS organizers have virtually gone AWOL in the midst of struggle when leadership is needed most and while the planning for future actions to obtain justice for Jamar Clark, which continues to this day and will continue against police terrorism even if the police in this case are prosecuted…

minneapolis-police

High Points in Militancy – Wednesday

Wednesday, November 18th was different from the majority of the occupation – things were a bit more heated on this night. The escalation began when police complained about not being able to go home, and asked Black Lives Matter organizers if demonstrators could move away from the gates that allowed cars in and out of the precinct. They asked this in order for the police to leave and go home to their families, while Jamar Clark and the thousands of others slain by police will never be allowed to return home to their families. Demonstrators began to ensure that police were unable to go home that night. Protestors blocked exits by standing in front of them and linking arms.

As we know, even when we are peaceful, police use violence – because violence is all that they know. Police used mace on peaceful masses, and shot green marker rounds and rubber bullets at protestors. Only after police used their one and only tactic, violence, even when protestors were peaceful, did rocks begin to be thrown at police. Struggle began at the West side of the precinct. It shifted towards the East side of the complex after the police used enough force to regain the West side and demanded that they be allowed to go home.

After the police made these demands, and the struggle shifted from the West side of the building to the East the level of militancy rose. It was raised by the autonomous actions of a united front of Northside gangs as well as your “average Jamar” Northside community members who have lived with the feeling of being hunted by police since their innocent youth. Siege warfare tactics were used against the police station.

Two groups acted throughout the night, but not necessarily in accord with each other: BLM-MPLS organizers on the one hand, and a handful of radicals and community militants, on the other. Some BLM-MPLS organizers did use their bodies to prevent police from going home; they also pointed people out to be targets of police violence, because these people were not adhering to BLM-MPLS’ dogmatic non-violence.

No more that 20-30 feet from the BLM group, community militants threw stones and erected barricades. BLM-MPLS’ claims about these community militants became so absurd that at one point an organizer yelled at community members to “stop ruining our/your community,” when they tore down a mobile police camera. The brothers from that block promptly hushed him and the large camera was quickly used as a barricade to keep the police from coming out of their pigpen.

Later in the night, militancy rose to even higher levels. Molotovs were made and thrown, and shots fired at the police station. The siege lasted for 3 hours. During those 3 hours militant action of community members and the United Front of Northside gangs would match the police’s use of heightened militant repression on demonstrators. Elevated militant pushback by demonstrators took place in waves, because it matched the waves of police repression: when the police used violence as a terror tactic to scare protestors away, those committed to struggle used community self defense against the police, so that demonstrators could go peacefully back out, and not allow the police force occupying their neighborhood to go home.

After the shots were fired the crowd started to dissipate. Police found nothing that they could use as evidence, and no one was arrested on this night. However, the cops demonstrated their force by occupying all of the streets on the South end of the precinct in military fashion, with locked and loaded assault rifles…

Minneapolis police chief Harteau

Minneapolis police chief Harteau

Inner Movement Pushback

Organizers from Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis – along with the Chief of Police and the Mayor – condemned militant actions as a part of protest. They have claimed, for instance, that property damage, and the throwing of bricks and bottles, was due to the presence of “outside agitators.” These reformist organizers and city officials specifically referred to “white anarchists.” The lies also included accusations of non-BLM aligned demonstrators actually being police officers – as one vouched for the other, each was accused of being a police officer.

There are several problems with the line that was and is being pushed. First, Black Lives Matter-MPLS and city officials ignore the autonomous militant action of the North Minneapolis community. The community doesn’t need “white anarchists” or any other “agitators” to tell them to be angry, or how to take action. The purpose of these accusations was to maintain the system’s current agenda of BLM nationwide, and in this case BLM-MPLS’ monopolization of the anti-police brutality movement. This has become a part of BLM-MPLS’ program in the fight against police terrorism. As with other non-profits, BLM-MPLS and police officials actively tried to push revolutionaries and militants out of this movement, with no care for the repercussions these faulty accusations could cause the victims of their snitch-jacketing.

minneapolis-shooting-blm

Fascist Pushback

Monday, November 23rd, 2016 neo-Nazis violently took their organizing to the streets and shot 5 demonstrators outside of the 4th precinct. The night of the attack neo-Nazis got into an altercation with demonstrators after being asked to leave. The altercation successfully lured several demonstrators Northeast of the precinct and Plymouth Avenue onto Morgan Avenue. It was significantly darker on the north side of Plymouth Ave and easy to flee northbound away from the precinct. That is when the 5, African-American, demonstrators were shot. Police and paramedics came to the scene after a lengthy wait, especially since this took place in front of the precinct. The police rejected giving medical aid to the wounded protesters when they were asked by other protestors to use their medic training, and instead established a cordon to prevent protesters from pursuing the attackers, who escaped (they were arrested later, after one of them negotiated his surrender via a high school friend who is now a police officer).

Lance Scarsella, a 23-year-old white male from Lakeville, Minnesota is the man who pulled the trigger, but not the only organizer. Events leading to the Nazi attack are interesting. First and foremost the shooter, Scarsella, is a white nationalist with white supremacist ideology and now action. There are also pictures that surfaced of the group who led the fascist attack at the 4th precinct toting guns with the confederate flag in the background. Much of the organizing for this attack took place on 4chan, which is described online as ‘a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images anonymously.’ Those who accompanied Allen Lawrence “Lance” Scarsella III, 23, were Nathan Gustavsson, 21, of Hermantown, Daniel Macey, 26, of Pine City, Joseph Backman, 27, of Eagan, and Julio Suarez, a 32 year old Hispanic (and believed to be ex-marine) was also briefly held in custody.

The Friday before the attack, November 20th, the shooters infiltrated the encampment. This is known for two reasons: 1) the attackers posted on 4chan using code names that have surfaced throughout the investigation (‘Black Powder Ranger’ being the one of the shooter) stating that they were heading to the 4th precinct to “knock this shit out” while holding a gun in the video. They urged people to keep watching the stream as they logged off by saying: “stay white”. 2) People of the community that was created by the encampment caught on to the infiltrators during, what was ultimately their recon mission, which allowed them to execute their attack with precision. When they were identified, they were asked to leave. After the infiltration there were messages sent out on 4chan that read descriptions of specific individuals that were “high profile” targets. Those who were participants in the attack were told to “Remember to wear camo /k/lansmen, we will open fire on anyone who isn’t wearing camo.” (http://www.unicornriot.ninja/?p=4833).

Fascism in the United States is a reality. The fact that Donald is polling so well after some of the most outlandish fascist remarks he has made, and after neo-Nazis carried out a successful violent terrorist attack on black protestors at the 4th precinct in Minneapolis, MN, there is simply no denying it. Throughout the 4th precinct shutdown individuals were forced to adapt and learn quickly. We were forced to understand violence and push back from police, white activists, and black activists. While most radicals are aware of neo-Nazism and its reality, I think those who are unaware of their activity both politically and on the street level were shocked that the white supremacists followed up their threat and took it to that level.

White supremacists and neo-Nazis terrorized the encampment for the next 4 days, at least. The day following the attacks, four shots were fired in an alley just South of the precinct. United fronts of gang members and others teamed up again to create a united front for armed security in the name of Community Self Defense. Many demonstrators had pointed out that the shooters had had tactical police equipment with them, and shared the sentiment that the police were connected to the shooting. This feeling was widely shared, firstly because community members saw police’s limited and near total neglect of the shooting victims while they were suffering and secondly, because of the common knowledge that the president of the police union, Bob Kroll, was a member of a white supremacist biker gang.

While Scarsella executed the attack, we must maintain an understanding that Nazis are building a nationwide movement similar to BLM or that of the revolutionary left. This is not an isolated occurrence or attack. Fascism, or more simply put – hate – is organizing to take similar action nationwide and globally.

anarchist revolution self defense

Neighborhood Networks – Community Self-Defense

After fascists came and the police refused to protect and serve the Northside community, an acquired taste for self-defense emerged. Members of the community came out and began organizing legitimate security to protect the encampment. This protection was not simply for protection from white supremacists, but also from some individuals from the neighborhood who were coming to the encampment for the wrong reasons; for example, amongst those wrong reasons were that of cat calling (harassment of women) as well as thievery while demonstrators were asleep. I recall one individual, who was affiliated with the Vice Lords stating that he had stopped people from stealing and even reclaimed phones as he proudly stated afterwards “I aint ‘bout that, I’m here to do a job… I’m an honest security guard.” It seemed as though an understanding swept across a large portion of the encampment and people realized that policing is violence and police are a reactionary force. Therefore, if they won’t protect us, we should.

November 15th, police executed a man in North Minneapolis, MN during an altercation where several of witnesses stated that Jamar Clark, the man whose life was stolen by Minneapolis police, was handcuffed and on the ground. Who is to protect us when those who are meant to protect and serve the people, the police, have a monopoly on the “legitimate” use of violence and therefore use that as an excuse to partake in year round human hunting? The occupation of the Fourth Precinct in Minneapolis pushed many to understand that liberalism and non-profit reforms are not ridding our societies of systemic killings of black and brown people. It forced people to recognize fascism, and that white supremacists are a real threat to our existence; through the Nazi attacks, and the dissent towards those who police “protect and serve”, which police showed when not one officer protected community members from the attack and not one officer rushed to medical aid after the attack, illustrates that community self defense is a key step to self determination.

Is the time now for community self defense? Through studying historical social change movements it is evident that movements have phases. With police rapidly militarizing themselves, militant neo-Nazis such as the ones who shot five black protestors in Minneapolis, and demagogue fascist leaders like Donald Trump gaining massive amounts of support, we have no need to ask whether the time is now. We can see that the time is now; phase one of a mass social change movement is nearing its end. It’s time – as anarchists – to take matters in our own hands; we must acknowledge that the time is now and start creating opportunities for community self defense outside of non-profits and other mainstream reformist “liberation” campaigns.

Ikemba Kuti, March 2016

First of May Anarchist Alliance

Resisting the Nation State

Make-Love-Not-War-Shirt

In this installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss how movements against nuclear proliferation and the draft in the early to late 1960s helped turn some  people towards anarchism, as they came to see the role of the state in perpetuating rather than resolving conflict.

draft-resistance

Resisting the Nation State

The anti-war movements in Europe and North America that began to emerge during the late 1950s started as “Ban the Bomb” or anti-nuclear peace movements, the primary aim of which was to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons. These movements began to adopt a more expansive anti-war approach as draft resistance movements also began to emerge, first in France in response to the war in Algeria, and then in the U.S. as the war in Vietnam escalated and intensified.

Many people in the various peace movements were pacifists. Some of them began to move towards an anarchist position as they came to realize that the banning of nuclear weapons was either unlikely or insufficient given the existing system of international power relations. Many came to agree with Randolf Bourne that “war is the health of the state” and became advocates of non-violent revolution, for one “cannot crusade against war without crusading implicitly against the State” (Volume Two, Selection 34).

Veteran anarchists, such as Vernon Richards, despite recognizing the limitations of peace marches, realized that for “some the very fact of having broken away from the routine pattern of life to take part” in a march, and “for others the effort of will needed to join a demonstration for the first time in their lives, are all positive steps in the direction of ‘rebellion’ against the Establishment,” for there “are times when the importance of an action is for oneself” (Volume Two, Selection 33).

Some of the people opposed to conscription in France and the U.S. also gravitated toward anarchism, as they came to realize not only that meaningful draft resistance was illegal, thereby making them criminals, but also the degree to which those in positions of power were prepared to use force not only against their “external” enemies but against their own people to prevent the undermining of their authority. As Jean Marie Chester wrote in France in the early 1960s, the young draft resisters had, “through their refusal, unwittingly stumbled upon anarchism” (Volume Two, Selection 31).

Unlike more conventional conceptions of civil disobedience, where demonstrators emphasize that their disobedience is an extraordinary reaction to an extreme policy, accepting the punishment meted out to them because they do not want to challenge the legitimacy of authority in general, anarchist disobedience and direct action suffer from no such contradictions but instead seek to broaden individual acts of disobedience into rejection of institutional power by encouraging people to question authority in all its aspects. From individual acts of revolt and protest, and experience of the repressive measures the State is prepared to resort to in response, will come a growing recognition of the illegitimacy of State power and the hierarchical and exploitative relationships which that power protects. As the Dutch Provos put it, the “means of repression” the authorities “use against us” will force them “to show their real nature,” making “themselves more and more unpopular,” ripening “the popular conscience… for anarchy” (Volume Two, Selection 50).

During the 1960s, anarchist ideas were reintroduced to student rebels, anti-war protesters, environmentalists and a more restless general public by people like Murray Bookchin (Volume Two, Selection 48), Daniel Guérin (Volume Two, Selection 49), the Cohn-Bendit brothers (Volume Two, Selection 51), Jacobo Prince (Volume Two, Selection 52), Nicolas Walter (Volume Two, Selection 54) and Noam Chomsky (Volume Two, Selection 55). While libertarian socialist intellectuals such as Claude Lefort from the Socialisme ou Barbarie group, who came from a Marxist background, regarded the anarchist ideas and actions of the student radicals of the May-June 1968 events in France as the “brilliant invention” of “naïve prodigies,” the Cohn-Bendit brothers, who were directly involved, replied that, to the contrary, those events were “the result of arduous research into revolutionary theory and practice,” marking “a return to a revolutionary tradition” that the Left had long since abandoned, namely anarchism (Volume Two, Selection 51).

Robert Graham

May '68 - the beginning of a long struggle

May ’68 – the beginning of a long struggle

Resistance or Revolution

Respect existence expect resistance

In this installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss the increasing differences between anarchists, not just in English speaking countries, but also in Europe, over how best to deal with the political realities emerging after the Second World War. These realities included the Cold War, and outright conflict, between the US and Soviet blocs, decreasing militancy among the working classes, and various struggles for personal liberation in the face of growing social conformity.

revolution-and-class-struggle-everyday-life-raoul-vaneigem

Resistance or Revolution

Not all anarchists were enamoured with the turn toward personal liberation, alternative lifestyles and cultural change in the aftermath of the Second World War. In Italy, the class struggle anarchists of the Impulso group denounced these anarchist currents as counter-revolutionary, much as Murray Bookchin did many years later (Bookchin, 1995).

The Impulso group described these approaches as “resistencialism,” a term suggested in 1949 by the French anarchist paper, Études Anarchistes, to describe the new perspectives and approaches being developed by anarchists in the English speaking countries in the aftermath of the Second World War which emphasized resistance to authoritarian and hierarchical modes of thought and organization, and the creation of libertarian alternatives here and now, regardless of the prospects of a successful social revolution.

What the Impulso group’s critique illustrates is the degree to which these new conceptions and approaches had spread beyond England and the USA by 1950, when they published their broadside, for much of their attack is directed toward the Italian anarchist journal, Volontà, belying the claim that the “new” anarchism was a largely “Anglo-Saxon” phenomenon (Volume Two, Selection 38).

The Volontà group, with which Camillo Berneri’s widow, and long time anarchist, Giovanna Berneri (1897-1962) was associated, had begun exploring new ideas and analyses which have since become the stock in trade of so-called “post-modern” anarchists (Volume Three, Chapter 12), including a critique of conventional conceptions of rationality and intellectual constructs which seek to constrain thought and action within a specific ideological framework. As one contributor to Volontà put it, “All ideologues are potential tyrants” (Volume Two, Selection 38).

volonta-movimento-anarchico-italiano-1948

The Impulso group denounced Volontà for celebrating “irrationalism” and “chaos,” turning anarchism into “a motley, whimsical subjective representation,” and for abandoning any concept of class struggle. For the Impulso group, anarchism was instead “the ideology of the working and peasant class, the product of a reasoned re-elaboration of revolutionary experiences, the theoretical weapon for the defence of the unitary, ongoing interests of the labouring class, the objective outcome of a specific historic process,” illustrating the degree to which the class struggle anarchists had incorporated into their outlook several Marxian elements (Volume Two, Selection 38).

For them, there were “three vital coefficients to the act of revolution: the crisis in the capitalist system… active participation by the broad worker and peasant masses… and the organized action of the activist minority.” To the criticism that the “masses” can never become self-governing if led by an elite activist minority, the Impulso group responded that an informed, consciously anarchist minority cannot betray the revolution because its theory “is not only the correct general theory” but the correct theory “especially in relation to the activist minority and its nature, its functions, [and] its limitations” (Volume Two, Selection 38).

This claim that an activist minority of anarchists would never effectively assume positions of authority because their general theory eschews such a role is not particularly persuasive on either theoretical or historical grounds. No matter how well informed by or committed to anarchist principles, the “activist minority,” armed with their “correct” theory will, as Malatesta had said of the Platformists, be prone “to excommunicate from anarchism all those who do not accept their program,” promoting sectarianism rather than creating a unified movement (Volume One, Selection 115).

Neno Vasco (1920) and other anarchists had long argued that the focus of anarchist minorities should instead be on fostering the self-activity of the masses. This is because by “acting directly,” as Murray Bookchin has written, “we not only gain a sense that we can control the course of social events again; we recover a new sense of selfhood and personality without which a truly free society, based on self-activity and self-management, is utterly impossible” (Volume Three, Selection 10). That being informed and guided by anarchist theory does not prevent one from assuming a more conventional leadership role was demonstrated by those CNT-FAI “militants” who joined the Republican government in Spain during the 1936-39 Revolution and Civil War (Volume One, Selections 127 & 128).

The Impulso group saw themselves performing a “locomotive function,” pulling the masses toward liberation through the revolutionary upheaval that would inevitably result from the crisis of international capitalism, committing themselves to “a harsh self-discipline” (Volume Two, Selection 38), the kind of self-abnegation that Bakunin had warned against earlier (Volume One, Selection 20).

Despite the denunciations of the Impulso group, it was the “new” anarchism pioneered by the so-called “resistencialists” that was to inspire radicals in the 1960s, with people like the Cohn-Bendit brothers writing, “Act with others, not for them. Make the revolution here and now,” for “it is for yourself that you make the revolution,” not some abstract ideal to which all should be sacrificed (Volume Two, Selection 51).

Robert Graham

cohn bendit gauchisme

Leftism – remedy for the Communist senile disorder