On the Real Splits in the IWA-AIT


Over the past several months I have been posting material on a split developing in the International Workers’ Association, with the Spanish CNT calling for a “refounding” of the IWA-AIT at a special congress being organized outside of the auspices of the existing IWA-AIT. Here I present an analysis by Laure Akai, the Secretary of the IWA-AIT, regarding the split. Akai refers to the Spanish CNT and the other groups that want to “refound” the IWA-AIT as the “renovados,” for want of a better term. However, this does create some confusion, as the CNT itself split in the late 1970s/early 1980s between the more traditional anarcho-syndicalists, who kept the CNT name, and the Spanish “renovados,” who created a separate organization, the Spanish CGT (not to be confused with the French CGT, which ceased to be a revolutionary syndicalist organization by the First World War, and has been effectively controlled by the French Communists (Marxists) since the early 1920s). Akai is concerned about what is, in effect, the creation of a third international for syndicalist-styled unions, because the Spanish CGT is already loosely allied with other “modern syndicalist” unions that participate in State controlled union elections and sometimes receive funding through the state in accordance with their individual states’ labour representation schemes (such as “works councils,” not to be confused with “workers’ councils,” which are not state-controlled but worker controlled organs of revolutionary self-management). Akai refers to this group as the “Red and Black Coordination.”


What has confused many people, myself included, is why the CNT doesn’t simply reunite with the CGT, as their policy differences seem to be disappearing, with the only real sticking point being the receipt of state funding. Akai’s piece raises these and many other important issues, including the possibility of a return to the pluralist form of organization of the original International Workingmen’s Association of the 1860s and 70s, where workers opposed to state or class collaboration worked together with other groups that favoured participation in existing political systems and lobbied for state law reform, until Marx engineered the expulsion of the anarchists at the 1872 Hague Congress (all of which is covered in much greater detail in my book, “We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It”: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement).


Laure Akai: Why do we need a third International?

Over the last dozen or so years, at least in Europe, two internationals have existed – the IWA and the Red and Black Coordination. The latter has never been a formalized federation, but more of a network whereas the former has always had a more strict federative form. Nevertheless, we can still use the word “International” to refer to the RBC as indeed it had membership on an international level.

With the existence of the two internationals, organizations could have a choice. If an organization tended towards a certain tactical unity in relation to the state, class collaborationist institutions and horizontal internal structure, it usually (but not always) tended towards the IWA. On the other hand, if an organization tended towards tactical flexibility and if this included the use of certain institutions, or if it tended to favor more integration of various syndical tendencies, it tended to join the RBC.

Despite recent attempts at revisionist history, the IWA was born out of anarchist ideas, that a federation of revolutionary unions could exist whose goals were the creation of a stateless society. In this sense, it was the continuation of an earlier tradition, when libertarian socialists and anarchists broke with the Marxist/statist tradition of the First International. Further factors contributed to its evolution, such as a critique of the mistakes made in Spain or a rejection of the social democratic and class collaborationist schemes which spread after the Second World War. In the 50s, as the federation revived itself, it opted for tactical unity and henceforth tended to promote a set of ideas of what anarchosyndicalist unions could look like.

The RBC however grew out of tendencies that either had left the IWA or had split from its sections, typically due to questions such as state-supported schemes or forms of representative unionism in which they participated. New adherents may have had different motivations for joining RBC, not IWA; among the reasons I am aware of include a preference for working closely with some particular RBC unions, not thinking the issues which the IWA found important were important or having a vision that a syndical organization should be more of a neutral one in respect of the question of the state…

There was a choice of internationals with different tactics. A few organizations felt no need to join either or felt that the differences were insignificant and did not feel inclined to make any choices.

The situation has changed on the landscape since a few unions have decided to attempt to take over the IWA project, excluding the majority of its member Sections and inviting others to join it. Of course it is very unlikely that the real IWA will dissolve itself. We don’t know about the RBC. Will the RBC see this new project as a competitive one or will it try to merge with the “renovados”?

This is where we see who has really been paying attention. The CNT sent out an invitation letter to a conference on the “refounding of the IWA”, which was later published on the internet with a different title, as a conference of anarchosyndicalists and revolutionary syndicalist organizations. (http://www.cnt.es/en/news/open-invitation-letter-bilbao-international-co…) The purpose of the conference though is the creation of this new international. As we read in the invitation, the new international would include organizations which, among other things, do not receive “economic funding from the state due to being a union or carrying out union activity”.

What this actually means is that the new initiative does not envision the inclusion of the [Spanish] CGT, which receives money from the state.

Additionally, members of IWA unions can refer to the report sent from the delegate to the USI Congress last year where both USI and CNT representatives told the FAU delegate that FAU would not be supported in the IWA if it were to cooperate with the CGT or USI Roma. (Delegate’s Report to IWA, May 11, 2015, p.4)

For those not aware of the history, USI suffered a split in the 90s and only one USI faction was recognized as the Section of the IWA. Since that time, relations between the unions in that country remain very sour and the IWA was asked many times by USI to defend it from the actions of USI-Roma (which was how the other faction was called by us).

The ideas for requirements to join this new international may also exclude USI-Roma, if USI’s traditional claims about its activity are still current or true. (This relates to support of political parties. I do not pretend to know the answer to that.)

According to the criteria sent out in invitations, we can proceed with the assumption that the CGT is not really welcome in this new initiative. So how then will those who are comrades of the CGT, some supported for years financially, react to this new initiative and the attempts to invite them to it?

We cannot say for sure and various scenarios are possible. In the past years, individual supporters of some of the RBC organizations within the IWA have tried to suggest that a “reestablished” IWA might be attractive to them or that they would prefer to work with the CNTE [the Spanish CNT] than the CGT. (IWA members can see for example the report of the CNTE delegate to the FAU Congress, sent to Sections in June 2016.) These can only be treated as personal opinions of individuals or as attempts to float the ideas of a new international past others. Nonetheless, there may be some unions that could have reasons to change in orientation. One can name the CNTF [the French CNT], where a split occurred and those in favour of more professionalized unionism formed a new organization. This does not assume that any changes will in fact take place, especially as years of ties have already been established in the other network.

No doubt the organizations will have to discuss what this means. Ultimately, this discussion will also have to treat the fact that now not 2 but 3 internationals will be there and that not everybody from the RBC may be welcomed in the renovado international…

However, in some of the RBC organizations, a real discussion may not be necessary since the decision to attend the conference or not will be taken by executive organs.

Additionally, we understand that other entities which are either not unions or formal entities may participate in this conference.

All of this might leave readers in even more confusion than before. Some, it seems, were hoping for a reunification of those who parted ways decades ago… Those that never understood the reason for tactical splits and separate internationals in the first place are no doubt scratching their heads and just repeating the idea to themselves that we need to be “all together” to be stronger. Such commentators may be truly baffled then when they see that instead of more “unity”, the creation of a third international actually threatens to create another division. In addition, attempts to legalize the IWA by the split-off faction would threaten a rather long-term conflict, the mediation of which might fall on the state.

Attempts to know what the Troika envision for the new international and why they have decided to adopt guidelines that exclude the CGT are complicated by the fact that, although such an invitation was published, no real decision has been made amongst the membership, at least in the CNT. Members of the IWA may refer to the CNT Congress decisions (sent to all the Sections on April 4, 2016) or to the actual proposals of the CNT Congress (sent by the pro-AIT [IWA] faction on various dates in 2015). Details about potential affiliates such as not being funded by the state do not appear anywhere in the Congress agreements. Nor do the details about who to invite or even the decision not to attend the real IWA Congress, but instead hold a refounding Congress outside of the federation.

What this means is that this “requirement” was added later. Those who care about matters of process (which unfortunately may not be many) may then ask about the circumstances of making such decisions. It seems that, although this may have been discussed somewhere, these details were agreed “behind closed doors”. The reason I say this is because maybe one of the three organizations discussed these minimal requirements somewhere, but it is not a decision of the CNT Congress. Such a proposal was not put before the CNT membership before the last “refoundation” meeting in June and the “results” of this meeting not reported until 3 months later. These requirements were not consulted beforehand, nor reported to the membership in this report. And since that time, no CNT Plenary was held. (The Plenary will only take place today.) How is it then that the additional requirements got added without any binding decision on the part of the CNT membership?

This fact can only be understood with a deeper understanding of what is currently going on in Spain. Besides a certain verticalization of the decision-making process, where delegated people feel free to take bolder and bolder steps, there is also a problem of diverse ideas and expectations in that organization. Currently, there is a part of people who want to remain in the real IWA, a slightly larger part who don’t and a small part who apparently wanted some changes but did not understand that, in fact, the CNT was choosing to form a parallel federation. Within the part that wanted to leave (or perhaps, more accurately, wanted to take over the organization and inorganically expel most of its Sections), there is also no consensus as to what they should do next. Among them are those who have commented that they don’t even know why they split with the CGT, and those who know why and still believe that the CNT is very different, at least in terms of its relation to the state.

In the current situation, where a few dozen unions have been already purged or left the Confederation [CNT] and are forming their own, and where a number of large unions still support the IWA, the pro-integration faction actually cannot afford to propose any formal federation with the CGT. The real support that they have for the new project is delicate, perhaps tentative. At this point, it seems that they have become concerned that internal opposition will grow.

Another theory would be that, in fact, the competition with the CGT is going strong and that the CNT hopes to grow by gaining more members and more comrades from the CGT’s traditional sphere of influence. In recent years, proponents of such strategies have often boasted that some people, after trying the CGT, decided that they preferred the CNT. Perhaps they are hoping that by adopting a somewhat different approach, more people will join them and that they would gain in influence. Perhaps some are convinced that their tactics are substantially better.

One cannot help but notice now that that the catalogue of differences between the CGT and the CNT has narrowed. The CGT is excluded from the new plans because it receives state subsidies. However, the radical part of the CNT still publish articles telling about the differences between the organizations that provide a much longer list. One is the use of work councils, an issue which caused some tactical divisions in the IWA over the years.

The requirements for the new international do not really refer to such issues. The reason for that is that two of the founders of this initiative have, to some extent, involvement and some of the organizations that they are inviting participate in class collaborationist schemes. The renovado international would exclude any union that takes a state subsidy, but not a union with people who were freed from work activities on the cost of the enterprise. Receiving financial support from the state is out – but no word about receiving financial support from a business. Nor is there any word about secondary state-funding. Certain organizations which actively support various initiatives around the world are themselves funded directly by the state and connected to the activity of political parties. Usually these organizations act as NGOs but in fact, have close ties to the government or to factions within it.

This means that the perceived differences between the renovados and some unions which have fallen outside the IWA have unfortunately narrowed. However, despite this, both the CNT and USI have pushed to limit integration with the organizations that split off from them.

Leaving this topic, as it cannot be properly developed without conjecture, another “requirement” is worth pointing out: that the new organizations should not be “vertical organizations”. However, it seems to me that my definition of this differs dramatically from theirs. I don’t consider any organization where decisions are routinely made from above or behind closed doors to be very horizontal. Conveniently, there is no definition for this offered. For sure, organizations which are not very horizontal were invited.

The last theory which was raised by some in the IWA was that a need for control was one of the motivations for CNTE to want a split. This theory was supported by the fact that their proposals in the IWA seemed to focus on getting more votes and defederating member Sections, rather than on building unionism in the federation. Some of those who see this as an underlying factor have also at some point commented that the CNT should go with their proportional voting to the CGT and ask for a federation. The implication being that they would have absolutely no interest in applying such criteria if they were federated with larger organizations. So one could wonder whether the issue of state funding is still so essential to the CNT that they won’t federate with CGT, or whether the real issue is that they want to be the big kid on the block and would not like, by the logic of their own ideas, to be dominated by that organization.

With the situation still in a dynamic phase, one cannot predict what will happen in the next months. During this time, the RBC will meet, the new Confederation in Spain (which wants to “refound the CNT-AIT”) will have a Congress and the conference about the parallel project of the renovados will be held. All of this before the Congress of the IWA.

Whatever the outcome, I personally don’t think that the creation of a third international will do anybody much good. When I say this, it is not because I think we all have to be in one federation or that the fewer organizations the better. Actually, I strongly believe in free association and that if you want to explore another way, that you should do it without pressure to remain together. The reasons for such an assessment are complex and again, perhaps need to be developed separately. The attitudes displayed towards the rest of the IWA have been consistently awful and have been usually aimed at disenfranchising organizations and undermining morale, instead of concentrating on solidarity and union activity. On the other hand, although I am not a supporter of the RBC, I also see that the new international project seeks to form itself partly on some of their member organizations, which in turn also threatens to undermine this project. If it wasn’t this way, they should have just joined [the RBC] or try to integrate their projects.

Not that I am arguing for organizational integration. Some RBC unions actively pushed for and financially supported the development of a more hierarchical unionism, politically diverse and dependent on mainstream practices and, at times, collaborationist schemes. Although I have plenty of acquaintances and even a few friends on that side, and although I have supported a few of the concrete struggles developed by their unions, it’s not the kind of unionism I’d like to see develop. My opinion is that if we want to develop a more horizontal and radical unionism, it is best done with other like-minded people, in an atmosphere which is supportive of these ideas, not always trying to talk them down. However, at this point, what the renovados are up to hardly looks better to me than the RBC unions. Some people in the renovado unions been expressing their support of some of the more mainstream practices of the RBC unions and would have even the [RBC unions] that are quite hierarchical in their project. This means, in essence, they accept the practices of most (but not all) of the unions and this means that the reason for having something separate seems not too clear to some people who have asked me about this.

Because of the nature of invitations sent and not sent, and because of the criteria set, the reason for having a 3rd international instead can be seen as primarily the CGT. It is now in a position where the renovados will try to effectively isolate them from federation with other unions who see themselves in a similar tradition. The IWA is also in this position as the renovados try increasingly to discredit it and cause commotion, so as to discourage people from being in it. The renovados essentially are trying to gather people around a vision which they haven’t even really worked out themselves. And which is far from universal acceptance, at least inside the CNT.

At this point, I will repeat here what I have said to people who have asked me privately about these matters: what is most important to me is what the IWA will do in light of these developments. Will some members be discouraged by everything to the point that they are paralyzed, or will Sections use this as a wake up call? A wake up call because for years there hasn’t been good discussion and because we don’t always coordinate as well as we could. A wake up call because none of us can afford to be slack about organizing ever again. Or that tendencies in syndicalism are moving back 150 years to a time when anarchists did not strive to make their own organizations and that, in light of this, we cannot afford to be irrelevant?

I can only hope that what does not kill us will (eventually) make us stronger.

Laure Akai



IWA-AIT, the CNT and the November Bilbao Conference


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


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



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

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

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

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

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

IWA Secretariat



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CNT-E, exteriores@cnt.es

FAU, is@fau.org

USI-AIT, info@usi-ait.org




Anarchism: Toward Global Justice

anti-globalization portland

Getting back to the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I survey the origins, development and evolution of anarchist ideas, in this installment I discuss the relationship between anarchism and contemporary anti-capitalist movements. As the electoral debacles of representative government in capitalist “democracies” continue to unfold, perhaps we will see yet another resurgence in direct action movements against capitalism and domination.


Anarchism and Global Justice Movements

David Graeber, among others, has noted that many groups involved in the global justice movement utilize “a rich and growing panoply of organizational instruments—spokescouncils, affinity groups, facilitation tools, break outs, fishbowls, blocking concerns, vibe-watchers and so on—all aimed at creating forms of democratic process that allow initiatives to rise from below and attain maximum effective solidarity; without stifling dissenting voices, creating leadership positions or compelling anyone to do anything which they have not freely agreed to do,” an essentially anarchist approach. Indeed, the “very notion of direct action, with its rejection of a politics which appeals to governments to modify their behaviour, in favour of physical intervention against state power in a form that itself prefigures an alternative—all of this emerges directly from the libertarian tradition” (Volume Three, Selection 1). Similar approaches have been adopted by the Occupy movements that spread across the globe in 2011 (Volume Three, Selection 9).

In light of these developments, some anarchists have begun to articulate a less sectarian and more inclusive conception of anarchism which focuses on process and action, allowing for a diversity of views regarding ultimate ends, recognizing that what anarchists seek is social liberation, not the triumph of an ideology. Anarchists have participated in such international resistance networks as People’s Global Action, which also include many non-anarchists, but which also reject more conventional organizational structures. As the Zapatista inspired Second Declaration of La Realidad put it, such networks have “no central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who resist” (Volume Three, Selections 1 & 58).

This view has been embraced by a variety of anarchist groups. In the 2001 Madrid Declaration of social revolutionary libertarian groups from Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, they argue that anarchists “should currently strive towards encouraging convergence, the interaction of social movements—including the workers’ movement—in a solid social movement antagonistic to capital and its present true face: economic globalization and all other types of domination. This antagonistic social movement does not have, and nor should it have, a single organizational expression. It is pluralistic, based on current reality, coming and acting together in the same territory, recreating a common territorial identity, composed of many identities,” such as “the workers’ movement, the unemployed, the excluded, indigenous movements, discriminated groups, ecologists and feminists, promoting direct action as a way towards social reappropriation of wealth and as a form of propaganda by the deed, as an exercise in direct democracy, participatory and federalist, without delegations or intermediaries, building on a community level in each territory and as an alternative to authoritarian institutions” (Volume Three, Selection 2).


One of the signatories to the Madrid Declaration, the CIPO-RFM or Consejo Indigena Popular de Oaxaca ‘Ricardo Flores Magón’ (‘Ricardo Flores Magón’ Native People’s Council of Oaxaca), is a liberation movement in the Oaxaca region of Mexico that consciously draws on the heritage of Mexican anarchism and indigenous traditions (Volume One, Selection 73; Volume Three, Selection 59). As the Columbian anarchist group, Colectivo Alas de Xue, argues, there exists much common ground between anarchists and many indigenous (or “Indian”) groups in the Americas, such as opposition to the conformity and homogenization imposed by nation states within their own borders, with their centralized power structures, national “culture” and “official” languages, and the separation of peoples by those same borders, dividing families and inhibiting people’s movements (Volume Three, Selection 60). Many anarchists have become involved in groups like “No Borders” and “No One Is Illegal,” which seek, in Harsha Walia’s words, “to attain justice and victories for immigrants and refugees, and to develop the communities’ own capacity to attain dignity for themselves and their families. Real justice will come as immigrants, refugees, and nonstatus people build greater trust in visions of an alternate world, and organize, educate, act, and fight for their own self-determination” (Volume Three, Selection 64).

This quest for self-determination often brings indigenous peoples and immigrants into conflict with national governments, multinational corporations and the paramilitary organizations upon which they sometimes rely, but it is a quest which lies at the heart of anarchism conceived as a movement that seeks to create a world in which people may, in Bakunin’s words, “take into their own hands the direction of their destinies” (Volume One, Selection 24).

From this perspective, there is no necessary conflict between anarchist anti-statism and communal self-determination—rather, they can be seen as parts of the same age old struggle for freedom, often incorporating similar decision making procedures and forms of organization while employing similar tactics, such as direct action. As Uri Gordon argues in the context of the Palestinian struggle for independence, “anarchists may take action in solidarity with Palestinians (as well as Tibetans, West Papuans and Sahrawis for that matter) without reference to the question of statehood. The everyday acts of resistance that anarchists join and defend in Palestine and Israel are immediate steps to help preserve people’s livelihoods and dignity, which are in no way necessarily connected to a statist project” (Volume Three, Selection 21).

latin american anarchism

The Colectivo Alas de Xue notes that many indigenous societies utilize collective forms of decision making similar to the kinds of direct democracy that “libertarians have yearned for down through the centuries” (Volume Three, Selection 60). As David Graeber argues, many indigenous communities developed forms of consensus-based decision making that provide a model consonant with anarchist conceptions of direct democracy precisely because in such societies there is “no way to compel a minority to agree with a majority decision—either because there is no state with a monopoly of coercive force, or because the state has nothing to do with local decision-making” (Volume Three, Selection 6).

This is not to say that libertarian groups drawing on these communal traditions uncritically endorse every aspect of them. Sharif Gemie points out that “many tribal lifestyles are explicitly patriarchal: they refuse women any formal involvement in decision-making. Many tribes also affirm the sanctity of rule by elders, thus rejecting the political potential of younger people” (Volume Three, Selection 50). In Mexico, the CIPO-RFM has consciously striven to deal with these sorts of issues by, for example, actively promoting “a culture of respect for women and for women’s rights, ensuring in practice that within our organization women take up their equal and fair share of positions of representation and responsibility within our ranks” (Volume Three, Selection 59).

In Africa, anarchists have sought to build upon the pre-colonial history of people living without states in egalitarian communities, particularly in light of the disastrous consequences of colonialism and the division of Africa into nation states whose borders were arbitrarily set by the former colonial powers (Volume Three, Selections 51 & 52). Kurdish anarchists have similarly argued that tribal traditions of decentralization and hostility toward the various nation states which have sought to control them predispose the Kurds toward anarchism, leading to the development of a community assembly movement drawing on the ideas of Murray Bookchin (Volume 3, Selection 61). Bas Umali has suggested that Bookchin’s ideas can also be adapted to conditions in the Philippine archipelago, building on traditional community forms such as the “barangay,” a small community of 50 to 100 families (Volume Three, Selection 62).

Whether in Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, or the South Pacific, wherever functioning communities exist, there will also exist social practices and institutions of solidarity and mutual aid. As Elisée Reclus noted long ago, “where anarchist practice really triumphs is in the course of everyday life among common people who would not be able to endure their dreadful struggle for existence if they did not engage in spontaneous mutual aid, putting aside differences and conflicts of interest” (Volume One, Selection 38). Colin Ward therefore argues that “an anarchist society, a society which organizes itself without authority, is always in existence, like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism” (1973: 11). From this perspective, anarchism is not “the founding of something new,” but as Gustav Landauer wrote, “the actualization and reconstitution of something that has always been present, which exists alongside the state, albeit buried and laid waste” (Ward, 1973: 11).

Robert Graham

another world is possible

May Day: An African Anarchist Perspective

may day reclaim

In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from Sam Mbah’s and I.E. Igariwey’s African Anarchism: The History of a Movement. Despite Mbah’s unfortunate death, anarchist ideas and approaches are still championed in Africa by a variety of groups, one of the most significant being the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front. Today I reproduce a piece by one of its members, Leroy Maisiri, “Why May Day? An African Working Class Perspective.”


South African anarchists at anti-privatization protest

Why May Day?

Like a baby deer born into an unforgiving world with three broken legs, life has never been fair for the working class. We have witnessed centuries pass by, half-awake, half-trapped, half-fed. —- Locked in a cage fight with feet shackled to the ground (pound for pound, “no kicking allowed” they said) while the state and capitalism take turns at us, the dazed giant called the working class. With complicated combinations, the system lands organised blows: a punch to the heart called colonialism and apartheid; a quick right uppercut called minimal wages; a roundhouse kick called neo-liberalism; an elbow strike called privatization; the full body blow of unemployment; and the referee joins in with a face stomp called the “law.” The young champ is sent to the floor. —- In South Africa, the black working class majority is gripped by the rough hands of its ruling class, made up of a cold combination of black state elites and white capitalist elites, who choke the very life out of her.

How tight does this noose around our neck have to be before we choke? We do eight to five; the system works overtime to ensure the hungry never get fed, to make sure working class children never receive an education beyond what the system needs, and blocks access to tertiary education with financial barricades. If education is the key to being free, it’s no wonder they keep the poor locked out, or our throats slit with debt.

The system suffocates, and there is really not enough space at the top; we need to make society bottom-up instead. It is far more important we empower ourselves with liberatory education, from below, embrace the lessons learned from day-to-day struggle, building our own popular education, opening our own mind. Let us move onwards, with a revolutionary counter-culture embracing new ideas of what a better free anarchist society looks like.

And clear about the enemy we face. I present to you capitalism. Capitalism, who never travels alone: his brother, the state, next to him; his son racism to his right, and his daughter, the class system to his left. And at their feet, we, the working class: the workers, the unemployed, slaves of the factories, slaves of the offices, slaves of the mines, slaves of the shops, slaves of the system, picking up the pieces of our broken dreams, chained by a past of exploitation, racism and colonialism, blinded by the glare of a fake future promised on the billboards. Held down by the weight of our chains.

This why it is important we celebrate May Day.

The working class – all of us, white collar, blue collar, pink collar, employed and unemployed, skilled and unskilled, city and country, men and women, of all countries and peoples – have never stopped fighting back.

We have been picking up broken crayons, in the hopes of colouring in a better tomorrow for ourselves. We carry hand-me-down dreams from different tales of socialism, the dreams of freedom, of dignity, burning in our hearts, while we wear fake smiles for our masters, in-between lies. In our eyes, rests the hope of one day being able to grow into the sounds of our own laughter, where we can wear our happiness and freedom like fitting gloves. Unbowed. Unweighted by chains. Not forgetting the past, but moving into the new land of freedom.

Capitalism, racism, sexism, and class: hammer forces, colliding trains, smashing into us, who have no life insurance, and leaving us shattered windshields for eyes. Battered and blinded, it’s no wonder we’d rather march for minimum wages than a wage-less society; no wonder we constantly stumble after false solutions in “workers parties” and election promises, instead of democracy-from-below, in building our movements into a counter-power that can create a new world. No wonder we are held into separate sections of the stumbling, by continuous lines of old division and dogma.

An entire orchestra drowns in our throats: the voices of the unemployed echoing in a society with veins like guitar strings, our voices cracking, like the self-esteem of the single African mother dependent on a barely functional welfare system, our screams whispers, our dreams blazing but blinded.

In days like these it is important to remember our heroes, our champions of past years, to remember the stories of Ma Josie Mpama, who wanted nothing more, than to see the working class mature, to explode like landmines under the feet of the oppressive system that has spent centuries trampling over us.


The other day, while deep in thought, I felt the room grow more still, filled with clarity. The voice of Lucy Parsons pierced my very being. She, a labourer, a black woman, radical socialist and a mindful anarchist, had joined me in a conversation, not alone but with the likes of comrades from many sides, among them Samuel Fielden, S.P Bunting, T.W. Thibedi and Johnny Gomas.

Their voices reminded me of the dream, the obtainable goal. They reminded me that it was days like May Day, a symbolic dream, a global general strike, raised over the broken promises and bones, made by rich and powerful men carrying the flags of slavery, racism, gender oppression, exploitation, and neo-liberalism. The flag of capitalism and all its children, and its brother, the state.

They jogged my memory, reminded me that it was up to us to create a better tomorrow, and that we can! Even if the system has us looking like we are losing the fight against a melanoma, where even chemotherapy has claimed all our dreams.

To remember that we, the working class billions, can be more than what we are now, that we can awake, from our half-life, that we can be more than the shares and stocks that the system has nailed to our backs. That we can have the audacity to breathe, that we can do more than march apologetically, hoping for concessions from our ruling class masters.

I hope we wake up from our slumber. I hope the working class remembers that without her, there is no them, no ruling class. I hope we form ranks so tight, that nothing can get through them. I hope we remember that it all belongs to us.

That ours are victories won neither by co-option or negotiation. I hope we remember why May Day is what it is, that it is more than a public holiday but a powerful reminder: of the ongoing struggle for a united, anti-capitalist, anti-statist, bottom-up, international movement, asserting the common interests of the people against the minority elites who use laws and their militarized police to keep us oppressed.

This is the time to embrace working-class unity and challenge the status quo of capitalist oppression.

May Day is a call to the global working class to unite across any and all division lines that exist; to unite across race; to unite against nationalism and to fight for a bottom-up democracy, for workers’ control, one world, freedom and justice, redress of past wrongs and economic and social equality, self-management. Only then are we truly free.

Leroy Maisiri


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…


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.


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


CrimethInc: From Democracy to Freedom

vote for nobody

Last week, I posted a brief section on “community assemblies” from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. I raised some concerns regarding proposals for direct democracy that to my mind create structures that are too rigid and will result in a return to political parties and power politics as people coalesce into groups with sometimes conflicting interests (a critique I have more fully developed in my article, “Reinventing Hierarchy: The Political Theory of Social Ecology,”[6] in Anarchist Studies, Volume 12, No. 4 (2004)). Previously, I posted some selections from Malatesta, Luce Fabbri and Murray Bookchin setting forth different views about anarchy and democracy. Coincidentally, CrimethInc. has been running a serious of articles providing an anarchist critique of even directly democratic forms of government. Here, I present some excerpts from the section on democracy and freedom.

democracy means police

Anarchist critiques of democracy

Democracy is the most universal political ideal of our day. George Bush invoked it to justify invading Iraq; Obama congratulated the rebels of Tahrir Square for bringing it to Egypt; Occupy Wall Street claimed to have distilled its pure form. From the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea to the autonomous region of Rojava, practically every government and popular movement calls itself democratic.

And what’s the cure for the problems with democracy? Everyone agrees: more democracy. Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen a spate of new movements promising to deliver real democracy, in contrast to ostensibly democratic institutions that they describe as exclusive, coercive, and alienating.

Is there a common thread that links all these different kinds of democracy? Which of them is the real one? Can any of them deliver the inclusivity and freedom we associate with the word?

Impelled by our own experiences in directly democratic movements, we’ve returned to these questions. Our conclusion is that the dramatic imbalances in economic and political power that have driven people into the streets from New York City to Sarajevo are not incidental defects in specific democracies, but structural features dating back to the origins of democracy itself; they appear in practically every example of democratic government through the ages. Representative democracy preserved all the bureaucratic apparatus that was originally invented to serve kings; direct democracy tends to recreate it on a smaller scale, even outside the formal structures of the state. Democracy is not the same as self-determination.

To be sure, many good things are regularly described as democratic. This is not an argument against discussions, collectives, assemblies, networks, federations, or working with people you don’t always agree with. The argument, rather, is that when we engage in those practices, if we understand what we are doing as democracy—as a form of participatory government rather than a collective practice of freedom—then sooner or later, we will recreate all the problems associated with less democratic forms of government. This goes for representative democracy and direct democracy alike, and even for consensus process.

Rather than championing democratic procedures as an end in themselves, then, let’s return to the values that drew us to democracy in the first place: egalitarianism, inclusivity, the idea that each person should control her own destiny. If democracy is not the most effective way to actualize these, what is?

As fiercer and fiercer struggles rock today’s democracies, the stakes of this discussion keep getting higher. If we go on trying to replace the prevailing order with a more participatory version of the same thing, we’ll keep ending up right back where we started, and others who share our disillusionment will gravitate towards more authoritarian alternatives. We need a framework that can fulfill the promises democracy has betrayed…


Creating Spaces of Encounter

In place of formal sites of centralized decision-making, we propose a variety of spaces of encounter where people may open themselves to each other’s influence and find others who share their priorities. Encounter means mutual transformation: establishing common points of reference, common concerns. The space of encounter is not a representative body vested with the authority to make decisions for others, nor a governing body employing majority rule or consensus. It is an opportunity for people to experiment with acting in different configurations on a voluntary basis.

The spokescouncil immediately preceding the demonstrations against the 2001 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec City was a classic space of encounter. This meeting brought together a wide range of autonomous groups that had converged from around the world to protest the FTAA. Rather than attempting to make binding decisions, the participants introduced the initiatives that their groups had prepared and coordinated for mutual benefit wherever possible.

Much of the decision-making occurred afterwards in informal intergroup discussions. By this means, thousands of people were able to synchronize their actions without need of central leadership, without giving the police much insight into the wide array of plans that were to unfold. Had the spokescouncil employed an organizational model intended to produce unity and centralization, the participants could have spent the entire night fruitlessly arguing about goals, strategy, and which tactics to allow.

Most of the social movements of the past two decades have been hybrid models juxtaposing spaces of encounter with some form of democracy. In Occupy, for example, the encampments served as open-ended spaces of encounter, while the general assemblies were formally intended to function as directly democratic decision-making bodies. Most of those movements achieved their greatest effects because the encounters they facilitated opened up opportunities for autonomous action, not because they centralized group activity through direct democracy.16

Many of the decisions that gave Occupy Oakland a greater impact than other Occupy encampments, including the refusal to negotiate with the city government and the militant reaction to the first eviction, were the result of autonomous initiatives, not consensus process. Meanwhile, some occupiers interpreted consensus process as a sort of decentralized legal framework in which any action undertaken by any participant in the occupation should require the consent of every other participant.

As one participant recalls, “One of the first times the police tried to enter the camp at Occupy Oakland, they were immediately surrounded and shouted at by a group of about twenty people. Some other people weren’t happy about this. The most vocal of these pacifists placed himself in front of those confronting the police, crossed his forearms in the X that symbolizes strong disagreement in the sign language of consensus process, and said ‘You can’t do this! I block you!’ For him, consensus was a tool of horizontal control, giving everyone the right to suppress whichever of others’ actions they found disagreeable.” If we approach the encounter as the driving force of these movements, rather than as a raw material to be shaped through democratic process, it might help us to prioritize what we do best.

Anarchists frustrated by the contradictions of democratic discourse have sometimes withdrawn to organize themselves according to preexisting affinity alone. Yet segregation breeds stagnation and fractiousness. It is better to organize on the basis of our conditions and needs so we come into contact with all the others who share them. Only when we understand ourselves as nodes within dynamic collectivities, rather than discrete entities possessed of static interests, can we make sense of the rapid metamorphoses that people undergo in the course of experiences like the Occupy movement—and the tremendous power of the encounter to transform us if we open ourselves to it.

democracy autonomy

The CNT Splits from the IWA



The CNT in Spain has apparently decided to break from the existing International Workers’ Association and to “refound” the IWA on a new organizational basis, with each affiliate to have a minimum number of members, to have votes at IWA congresses proportional to the number of members in each affiliate, and to be a functioning anarcho-syndicalist trade union. That would mean that the CNT would most likely have the largest block of votes, if not a majority, at any congresses of the “refounded” IWA, which doesn’t provide much incentive for other groups to join the “refounded” IWA. Interestingly, the Spanish Federation of the original IWA argued at the 1872 Hague Congress that the number of delegates for each national federation should be proportional to the number of members in each federation. See my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

Below, I reproduce excerpts from the CNT’s announcement regarding its break with the existing IWA/AIT and its proposal to refound the IWA. I have also included excerpts from a response from the IWA secretariat. I don’t know the details regarding the dispute with the German FAU, but the CNT appears to have changed its position regarding the FAU’s membership in the IWA. The issue regarding member organizations having to be functioning trade unions is an important one. But the demand for the “legalization” of member groups, i.e. their legal incorporation or recognition, raises serious concerns. Since when should anarchist groups seek legal recognition from state legal systems in order to function?


On the Refoundation of the IWA

The CNT would like to announce and explain the agreements made during our December 2015 Congress with regards to the current International Workers’ Association (IWA). We believe that it is necessary to explain our position on the drift of our international, so that this internal situation can be made publically known in order to openly and quickly begin the process of its re-foundation.

In the CNT we consider international solidarity to be critical in this historical moment, marked by the global organization of capitalism. As expected, the economic crisis has served as an excuse to accelerate the process of dismantling the past achievements of the working class. While this phenomenon is not new, it has sped up and intensified in recent years. We understand that a global intervention is required to defend our interests, as workers, against this offensive of capitalism, a world-wide extension of the class struggle following the parameters of anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism. However, we also believe that this global effort needs to be built upon the work of organization and struggle at the local level, carried out by organizations grounded and present in their own territory. International solidarity flows as an extension of these local struggles. To do the opposite would be putting the cart before the horse.

Sadly, we have found sections in the current IWA to have very little commitment to union work in their local context. Rather, they exert enormous efforts to monitor the activities of other sections, larger or smaller, that do make this area a priority. Consequently, over the past few years, the IWA has become inoperative as a vehicle to promote anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism at an international level.

We insist, so that it can be clear, that this is not an issue of the size of the sections. All of us are far smaller than we would like to be and than we should be. But there is an enormous difference between the sections that dedicate their efforts to increase their presence or relevance in their regions, experiment with new strategies, initiate and develop labor conflicts, and have an impact, small as it may be, in their immediate context, and those that go for years without union activities yet inquisitorially monitor and criticize the activities of others, lest in their eagerness to build a viable anarcho-syndicalist alternative commit some sin against the purity of the IWA.

For some time, due to these contradictions, the IWA has experienced a considerable internal crisis that erupted with the expulsion of the German section, the FAU. This decision, made unilaterally by the current general secretary on completely unjustifiable motives, was ratified later in a special Congress in Oporto in 2014. At this congress it became clear that due to the peculiar structure of the decision-making within the IWA, a small group of sections, despite their scant presence in their own territories and total lack of orientation towards union activity, could impose their criteria upon the rest of the international. Since this congress, all attempts to address the situation have failed, due to the unwillingness of the current secretary to engage in dialogue (a basic duty of the office) and the complicity of a number of sections that only exist on the internet.

It is therefore evident that this IWA is unable to progress beyond offering the most basic kind of solidarity in the occasional labor conflict. As valuable as this form of international solidarity can be, and as much as we can appreciate it, the truth is that it is ultimately always organized (as there is really no other way) at the local level. Thus the current structure of the IWA is rendered effectively redundant. The contrast between this reality of the IWA and its bureaucracy and infrastructure has reinforced the internal conflicts and attempts at ideological control which we referred to previously. This is far from the objectives we should aspire for in an international coordinating body. As a result of these factors, we have reached the point where the internal situation prevents any attempts to correct this drift, which makes it urgent that we reconsider both the internal operation and the working program of the IWA.

To bring about concrete solutions to these questions, the CNT proposes to begin a process for the re-founding of an anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary unionist international. To this end we are preparing a series of conferences and contacts with those sections of the IWA interested in a process of re-founding the International, and with other organizations that, while not currently members of the IWA, are interested in participating in the construction of a model for revolutionary unionism at the global level. These conferences and contacts will have as their aim the organization of a congress to re-found a radical unionist international…


Legalization of the International is necessary to defend against wrongful use of the acronym by non-member unions attempting to benefit from the historic name of the IWA without practicing anarcho-syndicalism or revolutionary unionism. The financial accounts of the organization should no longer in the name of individuals and should be in the name of the IWA itself, avoiding the need to rely blindly on the moral integrity of each secretary that manages these funds.

Autonomy, openness, and dynamism

We believe that it is urgent to reverse the exclusionary dynamics of the IWA and the politics of internal control between the sections and to work towards much more open and flexible politics. Basing ourselves always in direct action as our means of struggle, we must give ourselves the capacity to develop a wide range of international contacts with workers organized in different sectors and struggles, which can only result in strengthening our capacity for the international work of anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism.

While it is often important to have more tightly focused international campaigns limited to organizations in the International, it is essential to also have the ability to perform open campaigns at the international level, which can engage with a diversity of organizations and workers’ initiatives. This can only help strengthen the IWA.

The sections have the autonomy to have temporary relationships in the course of their labor conflicts.

In international work we should always use the name of the Chapter next to the acronym for the International (IWA-AIT). In this way we can limit the self-interested use of a section’s name by outside groups. Any kind of external contact will be made with good faith and maximum transparency…

International expansion project

Along with maintaining the current strategies of contact with existing labor or social organizations interested in belonging to the International, we propose to use the larger union sections of the CNT active in international corporations as a means to expand our conflicts on an international level. We suggest that other sections of the IWA can do the same to the extent of their organizing capacity.

This entails coordination between the delegate of the union section of the CNT, the secretariat of union activity, the secretariat of legal affairs, and the secretariat of external affairs to initiate contact with workers in the same company in other countries. In this way they can encourage processes of organization and struggle that depart from specific cases or objectives, and that with time can go beyond the limits of the company and consolidate broader organizations that develop anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism in all of their aspects.

Simplifying internal processes

It has become necessary to simplify our internal processes in order to make them clear and unambiguous. The CNT is working on various concrete proposals in order to clarify the functions and methodologies within the IWA.

The CNT will immediately begin reaching out to organize the conference that we have announced, whose objective will be the preparation of a congress to re-found the IWA. During this process of re-founding, and until it has gone into effect, the CNT will cease to pay dues to the current IWA.

To conclude, all of the current sections of the IWA that wish to participate in this project of re-founding are invited to be a part of it. We also welcome those anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary unions and organizations that wish to join towards the construction of an alternative that contributes, through international solidarity, to the growth and the implementation of strong local initiatives committed to practical and concrete union activity, who stand against the most recent offensives of capitalism in their regions. This process of re-founding the IWA will be open and transparent. We will periodically provide information about the steps that are being taken, and we hope that we will be joined by organizations from all over the world with whom we share the libertarian spirit of anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism.

Long Live the IWA! Long Live Anarcho-syndicalism!

Long live the global struggle of the working class!



Response from the IWA

Any official decisions of the IWA related to this matter can only be taken at the Congress of the IWA. It is not possible, under the IWA statutes, for the CNT or any other Sections to convoke a refounding conference of the IWA without the approval, in Congress, of the entire IWA. Only if the IWA Congress approves any Ordinary or Extraordinary Congress dedicated to its refoundation can such Congress be considered organic and legitimate.

We stress that only the decisions of the Congress are representative of the IWA’s positions. In turn, only the official positions of each member Section are representative of that Section…

Is the FAU expelled from IWA?

No. The Extraordinary Congress of the IWA of December 2014 decided to put this question on the agenda of the next ordinary Congress in December 2016.

No final decision has been made by the Sections concerning the future affiliation or disaffiliation of that Section…

What has been CNT’s position on this issue?

The position of the CNT on this issue is currently to support the FAU. However, the original motion to expel FAU was made by the CNT. The CNT brought these positions to 4 consecutive IWA Congresses from 2000-2009.

Does this mean the position of the CNT changed?

Yes and it is normal. Organizations develop, change their membership or re-assess their positions so this can and does happen…

lf CNT is bigger, why doesn’t the IWA just take that into account and let them decide what to do?

This is against our federative statutes which have regulated this since 1922. ln 2009 and 2013, the IWA overwhelmingly rejected motions which would go in this direction.

This historical position shapes the current composition of the IWA today since, had we operated on the assumption that the largest should decide, the CNT would not be the IWA Section today. That is because the CNT which we know today was the smaller part of two factions which split years ago, the larger being known as the CGT today.

The same principles which forced us to recognize the CNT as our legitimate Sections years ago are in play today. CNT conformed to our statutes, ideas and tactics. The faction which later became CGT held a split Congress and, although they were definitely much larger, this process was in contradiction to the organic norms and it was not the continuation of the CNT-AIT.

Today, the CNT takes another position. However the type of refoundation process it proposes today is close to this situation. The questions related to the organic legitimacy of such processes, remains the same…

What has been the process of discussion with FAU after the last Congress?

The IWA Secretariat expressed to FAU that it would like to talk and would hope that some Sections would facilitate discussion. Unfortunately, there has not been any good development in this area.

Members of the IWA Secretariat travelled to the Congress of FAU but were not allowed to address this issue at this Congress. Attempts to ask about meetings, including meetings with other Sections, did not get any positive response…

Below is some basic information on decisions or pending topics.

The minimum membership issue was rejected by two Congresses.

In 2013, another Section rejected the number criteria completely and submitted the opinion that the criteria should be a demonstration of syndical activity and organizational regularity, together with an adhesion to our principles and tactics. However as this opinion could only be made after the original proposals were submitted and there was no time to submit a counter-proposal, it is up to the Section to propose a continuation of debate on it in 2016 or not.

The point on international expansion was brought in 2009 to the Congress by the CNT. There was a position paper of that organization. The IWA Sections were in agreement that they wanted to expand but the details on the specifics of how to do this, what steps to take, etc., were not in this paper and thus it was decided to take this to the next Plenary…

What about the legal issue? Are the IWA funds in the name of one individual?

No, this is not correct. The funds are in the name of a member Section and have been for quite a long time.

Permission to access and manage the funds comes with the appropriate mandate of the IWA Congresses and this is a rotated task. The IWA Secretariat is fully accountable and reports all use of funds regularly.

We point out that no matter which entity holds the funds, only a group of mandated individuals would be legally empowered to access them. The safety of any collective money therefore is dependent on the commitment to our ideas of collective responsibility.

As the CNT should know, just because money is in the name of its organization does not mean it is safe because everything depends on the culture of the organization, whether people are committed to ensuring responsibility and have the ability to control the delegates of their organization…

Affiliation to the IWA is open to all organizations that agree with its statutes. By this, it is understood the binding statutes which are in agreement and approved by the official instances of the IWA. The official instance for modifying the statutes is the IWA Congress and only the official IWA Congress, held in accordance with our statutes, or any Extraordinary Congress held by decision of the IWA Congress. The IWA Congress is agreed according to the statutes and cannot be decided by a faction…

At the same time, we point out that the CNT is not mandated to invite organizations to a refounding process that has not been approved, nor is it mandated to speak on behalf of the IWA. The process of official delegation is one strictly based in anarchosyndicalist doctrine and concretely in our case, by the Statutes of the lnternational Workers Association.

All Sections of the IWA are free to maintain relations with other organizations and do this, keeping in mind and within the agreements of the IWA.

We hope that this information will clarify some questions related to the publication. We ask that if organizations have questions, they ask them by writing to the IWA Secretariat so these questions and answers can be known to all the Sections. We also ask for time and respect for our internal process at this moment which is very difficult for our federation.

IWA Secretariat

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Toward a Convivial Society

Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich

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 focus on Ivan Illich and his critique of modern institutions, “disabling” professions, and the commodification of everyday life, and his alternative vision of a convivial society. Illich was friends with Paul Goodman, who helped to inspire Illich to write one of his best known books, Deschooling Society. Like Goodman, Illich has unjustly faded from public view since his death (in 2002). By that time he had already become marginalized, as even “liberal” intellectual forums, like the New York Review of Books, had long since ceased to discuss his work, following a brief intellectual opening in the late 1960s and the 1970s (with Noam Chomsky suffering a similar fate). While Illich never described himself as an anarchist, some of his critics did. I included one of his essays in Volume Two of the Anarchism anthology. Anarchists can still benefit from his critique of modern industrialized society.

Illich Tools

Toward a Convivial Society

In the 1970s, Ivan Illich, who was close to Paul Goodman, called for the “inversion of present institutional purposes,” seeking to create a “convivial society,” by which he meant “autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and intercourse of persons with their environment.” For Illich, as with most anarchists, “individual freedom [is] realized in mutual personal interdependence,” the sort of interdependence which atrophies under the state and capitalism. The problem with present institutions is that they “provide clients with predetermined goods,” making “commodities out of health, education, housing, transportation, and welfare. We need arrangements which permit modern man to engage in the activities of healing and health maintenance, learning and teaching, moving and dwelling.” He argued that desirable institutions are therefore those which “enable people to meet their own needs.”

Where Illich parted company with anarchists was in his endorsement of legal coercion to establish limits to personal consumption. He proposed “to set a legal limit to the tooling of society in such a way that the toolkit necessary to conviviality will be accessible for the autonomous use of a maximum number of people” (Volume Two, Selection 73). For anarchists, one of the problems with coercive legal government is that, in the words of Allan Ritter, the “remoteness of its officials and the permanence and generality of its controls cause it to treat its subjects as abstract strangers. Such treatment is the very opposite of the personal friendly treatment” appropriate to the sort of convivial society that Illich sought to create (Volume Three, Selection 18).

Anarchists would agree with Illich that existing political systems “provide goods with clients rather than people with goods. Individuals are forced to pay for and use things they do not need; they are allowed no effective part in the process of choosing, let alone producing them.” Anarchists would also support “the individual’s right to use only what he [or she] needs, to play an increasing part as an individual in its production,” and the “guarantee” of “an environment so simple and transparent that all [people] most of the time have access to all the things which are useful to care for themselves and for others.” While Illich’s emphasis on “the need for limits of per capita consumption” may appear to run counter to the historic anarchist communist commitment to a society of abundance in which all are free to take what they need, anarchists would agree with Illich that people should be in “control of the means and the mode of production” so that they are “in the service of the people” rather than people being controlled by them “for the purpose of raising output at all cost and then worrying how to distribute it in a fair way” (Volume Two, Selection 73).

Illich proposed that “the first step in a more general program of institutional inversion” would be the “de-schooling of society.” By this he meant the abolition of schools which “enable a teacher to establish classes of subjects and to impute the need for them to classes of people called pupils. The inverse of schools would be opportunity networks which permit individuals to state their present interest and seek a match for it.” Illich therefore went one step beyond the traditional anarchist focus on creating libertarian schools that students are free to attend and in which they choose what to learn (Volume One, Selections 65 & 66), adopting a position similar to Paul Goodman, who argued that children should not be institutionalized within a school system at all (1964).

illich deschooling 2

By replacing the commodity of “education” with “learning,” which is an activity, Illich hoped to move away from “our present world view, in which our needs can be satisfied only by tangible or intangible commodities which we consume” (Volume Two, Selection 73). The “commodification” of social life is a common theme in anarchist writings, from the time when Proudhon denounced capitalism for reducing the worker to “a chattel, a thing” (Volume One, Selection 9), to George Woodcock’s critique of the “tyranny of the clock,” which “turns time from a process of nature into a commodity that can be measured and bought and sold like soap or sultanas” (Volume Two, Selection 69).

Illich criticized those anarchists who “would make their followers believe that the maximum technically possible is not simply the maximum desirable for a few, but that it can also provide everybody with maximum benefits at minimum cost,” describing them as “techno-anarchists” because they “have fallen victim to the illusion that it is possible to socialize the technocratic imperative” (Volume Two, Selection 73). It is not clear to whom Illich was directing these comments, but a few years earlier Richard Kostelanetz had written an article defending what he described as “technoanarchism,” in which he criticized the more common anarchist stance critical toward modern technology (Volume Two, selection 72).

Kostelanetz suggested that “by freeing more people from the necessity of productivity, automation increasingly permits everyone his artistic or craftsmanly pursuits,” a position similar to that of Oscar Wilde (Volume One, Selection 61). Instead of criticizing modern technology, anarchists should recognize that the “real dehumanizer” is “uncaring bureaucracy.” Air pollution can be more effectively dealt with through the development of “less deleterious technologies of energy production, or better technologies of pollutant-removal or the dispersion of urban industry.” Agreeing with Irving Horowitz’s claim that anarchists ignored “the problems of a vast technology,” by trying to find their way back “to a system of production that was satisfactory to the individual producer, rather than feasible for a growing mass society,” Kostelanetz argued that anarchists must now regard technology as “a kind of second nature… regarding it as similarly cordial if not ultimately harmonious, as initial nature” (Volume Two, Selection 72).

In response to Horowitz’s comments, David Watson later wrote that the argument “is posed backwards. Technology has certainly transformed the world, but the question is not whether the anarchist vision of freedom, autonomy, and mutual cooperation is any longer relevant to mass technological civilization. It is more pertinent to ask whether freedom, autonomy, or human cooperation themselves can be possible in such a civilization” (Watson: 165-166). For Murray Bookchin, “the issue of disbanding the factory—indeed, of restoring manufacture in its literal sense as a manual art rather than a muscular ‘megamachine’—has become a priority of enormous social importance,” because “we must arrest more than just the ravaging  and simplification of nature. We must also arrest the ravaging and simplification of the human spirit, of human personality, of human community… and humanity’s own fecundity within the natural world” by creating decentralized ecocommunities “scaled to human dimensions” and “artistically tailored to their natural surroundings” (Volume Two, Selection 74).

Robert Graham

radical tech

Anarchy and Ecology

eco anarchist flag

Continuing my recent theme of dealing with big issues, like anarchism and feminism, in today’s installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchy and ecology. While Murray Bookchin is often credited with bringing the ideas of ecology and anarchism together, previous writers had dealt with ecological themes, including the anarchist geographers, Elisée Reclus and Peter Kropotkin, the communitarian anarchist, Gustav Landauer, the English writer, Ethel Mannin, and the American social critic and author, Paul Goodman. Selections from their writings can be found across the three volumes of the Anarchism anthology. A bit early for Earth Day, but here it is.

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Anarchy and Ecology

Anarchists had long been advocates of decentralized, human scale technology and sustainable communities. In the 1940s, Ethel Mannin drew the connections between increasing environmental degradation, existing power structures and social inequality, writing that as long as “Man continues to exploit the soil for profit he sows the seeds of his own destruction, not merely because Nature becomes his enemy, responding to his machines and his chemicals by the withdrawal of fertility, the dusty answer of an ultimate desert barrenness, but because his whole attitude to life is debased; his gods become Money and Power, and wars and unemployment and useless toil become his inevitable portion” (Volume Two, Selection 14). Murray Bookchin expanded on this critique in the 1960s, arguing that the “modern city… the massive coal-steel technology of the Industrial Revolution, the later, more rationalized systems of mass production and assembly-line systems of labour organization, the centralized nation, the state and its bureaucratic apparatus—all have reached their limits,” undermining “not only the human spirit and the human community but also the viability of the planet and all living things on it” (Volume Two, Selection 48).

Bookchin was fundamentally opposed to those environmentalists who looked to existing power structures to avert ecological collapse or catastrophe. This was because the “notion that man is destined to dominate nature stems from the domination of man by man—and perhaps even earlier, by the domination of woman by man and the domination of the young by the old” (Volume Three, Selection 26). Consequently, the way out of ecological crisis is not to strengthen or rely on those hierarchical power structures which have brought about that crisis, but through direct action, which for Bookchin is “the means whereby each individual awakens to the hidden powers within herself and himself, to a new sense of self-confidence and self-competence; it is the means whereby individuals take control of society directly, without ‘representatives’ who tend to usurp not only the power but the very personality of a passive, spectatorial ‘electorate’ who live in the shadows of an ‘elect’”(Volume Three, Selection 10).

In Mutual Aid, Kropotkin argued not only that the state was unlikely to effect positive social change, given the interests it represents, but that reliance on state power renders people less and less capable of collectively managing their own affairs, for in “proportion as the obligations towards the State [grow] in numbers the citizens [are] evidently relieved from their obligations towards each other.” As Michael Taylor puts it, under “the state, there is no practice of cooperation and no growth of a sense of the interdependence on which cooperation depends.” Because environmental crisis can only be resolved through the action and cooperation of countless individuals, instead of strengthening the state people should heed the anarchist call for decentralization, by seeking to disaggregate “large societies… into smaller societies,” and by resisting “the enlargement of societies and the destruction of small ones,” thereby fostering the cooperation and self-activity upon which widespread social change ultimately depends (Volume Two, Selection 65). Otherwise, as Paul Goodman argued, we are stuck in “a vicious circle, for… the very exercise of abstract power, managing and coercing, itself tends to stand in the way and alienate, to thwart function and diminish energy… the consequence of the process is to put us in fact in a continual emergency, so power creates its own need.” For the emergency or crisis to be effectively resolved, there must be “a profound change in social structure, including getting rid of national sovereign power” (Volume Two, Selection 36).

Robert Graham




Belatedly realizing that I should make a better effort to tie my posts into international dates, like Women’s Day, here is a section from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I discuss anarchist critiques of patriarchy, hierarchy and domination that began to emerge in the 1960s and 70s. It’s a bit  out of order, but nothing wrong with that from an anarchist perspective (“I reject my own self-imposed order!”). I particularly like Carole Pateman’s critique of “libertarian” contractarianism, which ultimately results in an anarcho-capitalist dystopia of universal prostitution. Message to Benjamin Franks: please stop describing me as a liberal. You’ve misunderstood my essay on the “Anarchist Contract.” Take a look at the original, more ‘academic’ version, “The Role of Contract in Anarchist Ideology,” in For Anarchism (Routledge, 1989), ed. David Goodway. In both essays, I draw on Pateman’s critiques of liberal ideology, and no, neither “free agreement” nor “autonomy” are inherently “liberal” concepts.



In his discussion of the emergence of hierarchical societies which “gradually subverted the unity of society with the natural world,” Murray Bookchin noted the important role played by “the patriarchal family in which women were brought into universal subjugation to men” (Volume Three, Selection 26). Rossella Di Leo has suggested that hierarchical societies emerged from more egalitarian societies in which there were “asymmetries” of authority and prestige, with men holding the social positions to which the most prestige was attached (Volume Three, Selection 32). In contemporary society, Nicole Laurin-Frenette observes, “women of all classes, in all trades and professions, in all sectors of work and at all professional levels [continue] to be assigned tasks which are implicitly or explicitly defined and conceived as feminine. These tasks usually correspond to subordinate functions which entail unfavourable practical and symbolic conditions” (Volume Three, Selection 33).

Radical Feminism

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a radical feminist movement emerged that shared many affinities with anarchism and the ecology movement. Peggy Kornegger argued that “feminists have been unconscious anarchists in both theory and practice for years” (Volume Two, Selection 78). Radical feminists regarded “the nuclear family as the basis for all authoritarian systems,” much as earlier anarchists had, from Otto Gross (Volume One, Selection 78), to Marie Louise Berneri (Volume Two, Selection 75) and Daniel Guérin (Volume Two, Selection 76). Radical feminists also rejected “the male domineering attitude toward the external world, allowing only subject/object relationships,” developing a critique of “male hierarchical thought patterns—in which rationality dominates sensuality, mind dominates intuition, and persistent splits and polarities (active/passive, child/adult, sane/insane, work/play, spontaneity/organization) alienate us from the mind-body experience as a Whole and from the Continuum of human experience,” echoing the much older critique of Daoist anarchists, such as Bao Jingyan (Volume One, Selection 1).

Kornegger noted that as “the second wave of feminism spread across the [U.S.] in the late 60s, the forms which women’s groups took frequently reflected an unspoken libertarian consciousness,” with women breaking off “into small, leaderless, consciousness-raising groups, which dealt with personal issues in our daily lives,” and which “bore a striking resemblance” to “anarchist affinity groups” (see Bookchin, Volume Two, Selection 62), with their “emphasis on the small group as a basic organizational unit, on the personal and political, on antiauthoritarianism, and on spontaneous direct action” (Volume Two, Selection 78).

As Carol Ehrlich notes, radical feminists and anarchist feminists “are concerned with a set of common issues: control over one’s body; alternatives to the nuclear family and to heterosexuality; new methods of child care that will liberate parents and children; economic self-determination; ending sex stereotyping in education, in the media, and in the workplace; the abolition of repressive laws; an end to male authority, ownership, and control over women; providing women with the means to develop skills and positive self-attitudes; an end to oppressive emotional relationships; and what the Situationists have called ‘the reinvention of everyday life’.” Despite the Situationists’ hostility toward anarchism, many anarchists in the 1960s and 70s were influenced by the Situationist critique of the “society of the spectacle,” in which “the stage is set, the action unfolds, we applaud when we think we are happy, we yawn when we think we are bored, but we cannot leave the show, because there is no world outside the theater for us to go to” (Volume Two, Selection 79).


Some anarchist women were concerned that the more orthodox “feminist movement has, consciously or otherwise, helped motivate women to integrate with the dominant value system,” as Ariane Gransac put it, for “if validation through power makes for equality of the sexes, such equality can scarcely help but produce a more fulsome integration of women into the system of man’s/woman’s domination over his/her fellow-man/woman” (Volume Three, Selection 34). “Like the workers’ movement in the past, especially its trade union wing,” Nicole Laurin-Frenette observes, “the feminist movement is constantly obliged to negotiate with the State, because it alone seems able to impose respect for the principles defended by feminism on women’s direct and immediate opponents, namely men—husbands, fathers, fellow citizens, colleagues, employers, administrators, thinkers” (Volume Three, Selection 33). For anarchists the focus must remain on abolishing all forms of hierarchy and domination, which Carol Ehrlich has described as “the hardest task of all” (Volume Two, Selection 79). Yet, as Peggy Kornegger reminds us, we must not give up hope, that “vision of the future so beautiful and so powerful that it pulls us steadily forward” through “a continuum of thought and action, individuality and collectivity, spontaneity and organization, stretching from what is to what can be” (Volume Two, Selection 78).

The Sexual Contract

In criticizing the subordinate position of women, particularly in marriage, anarchist feminists often compared the position of married women to that of a prostitute (Emma Goldman, Volume One, Selection 70). More recently, Carole Pateman has developed a far-reaching feminist critique of the contractarian ideal of reducing all relationships to contractual relationships in which people exchange the “property” in their persons, with particular emphasis on prostitution, or contracts for sexual services, noting that: “The idea of property in the person has the merit of drawing attention to the importance of the body in social relations. Civil mastery, like the mastery of the slave-owner, is not exercised over mere biological entities that can be used like material (animal) property, nor exercised over purely rational entities. Masters are not interested in the disembodied fiction of labour power or services. They contract for the use of human embodied selves. Precisely because subordinates are embodied selves they can perform the required labour, be subject to discipline, give the recognition and offer the faithful service that makes a man a master” (Volume Three, Selection 35).

What distinguishes prostitution contracts from other contracts involving “property in the person” is that when “a man enters into the prostitution contract he is not interested in sexually indifferent, disembodied services; he contracts to buy sexual use of a woman for a given period… When women’s bodies are on sale as commodities in the capitalist market… men gain public acknowledgment as women’s sexual masters.” Pateman notes that “contracts about property in persons [normally] take the form of an exchange of obedience for protection,” but the “short-term prostitution contract cannot include the protection available in long-term relations.” Rather, the “prostitution contract mirrors the contractarian ideal” of “simultaneous exchange” of property or services, “a vision of unimpeded mutual use or universal prostitution” (Volume Three, Selection 35).

Robert Graham

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