jueves, 11 de agosto de 2011

The Anarchist Synthesis by Sébastien Faure


The three anarchist currents

In France, as in most other countries, three main anarchist currents can be distinguished, which can be named thus:


Libertarian Communism;

Anarchist Individualism.

It was natural and inevitable that, having reached a certain stage of development, an idea as vast as anarchism should end up with this triple manifestation of its existence.

A philosophical and social movement, that is to say one of ideas and action, that seeks to do away with every authoritarian institution, would necessarily give rise to those distinctions that obligatorily determine the variety of situations, environments and temperaments, the diversity of sources on which the innumerable individual formations and the prodigious body of events draw nourishment.

Anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism, these three currents exist and nothing and no-one can prevent them from doing so. Each of them represents a force, a force that it is neither possible nor desirable to destroy. To be convinced, it is enough to place oneself — as an anarchist pure and simple — at the very heart of the gigantic effort that must be made in order to demolish the principle of authority. One would then become aware of the indispensable contribution that each of these currents can make to the fight we carry on.

These three currents are distinct, but do not oppose each other.

I have, therefore, three questions to put:

the first is from the anarcho-syndicalists to the libertarian communists and the anarchist individualists;

the second is from the libertarian communists to the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarchist individualists;

the third is from the anarchist individualists to the anarcho-syndicalists and the libertarian communists.

Here is the first:

“Considering anarchism as social movement and popular action, when the time comes that anarchism delivers the inevitable and decisive assault on the capitalist, authoritarian world that we call the Social Revolution, can it do this without the help of the great masses who are grouped together in the labour organizations?”

I believe that it would be folly to hope for victory without the participation in the liberatory uprising — active, efficient, brutal and persistent participation — of these working masses, who together have a greater interest than anyone else in social transformation.

I do not say nor do I think, in view of the necessary cooperation in the period of revolutionary ferment and action, that both the syndicalist forces and the anarchist forces should already unite, associate, mix together and form a homogenous, compact entity. But I do think and say, together with my old friend Malatesta:

“Anarchists should recognize the usefulness and importance of the syndical movement, they should encourage its development and make it one of the levers of their action, seeking to ensure cooperation between syndicalism and the other forces of progress for a social revolution that results in the supression of classes, total freedom, equality, peace and solidarity among all human beings. But it would be a dire illusion to believe, as many do, that the workers’ movement by itself, by virtue of its very nature, will bring about such a revolution. Quite the opposite: in every movement based on material, immediate interests (and a vast workers’ movement cannot be established on any other basis), the agitation, drive and concerted efforts of men of ideas who fight and sacrifice themselves for the ideal are essential. Without this leverage, all movements tend inevitably to adapt themselves to the circumstances, breed a conservative spirit, a fear of change among those who would seek to win better conditions; new privileged classes are often created which attampt to win support and consolidate the status quo that we are seeking to destroy.

Hence the pressing need for specifically anarchist organizations which, both inside and outside the syndicates, struggle for the complete realization of anarchism and seek to sterilize any germ of corruption and reaction.”

As you see, it is not so much a case of organically linking the anarchist movement to the syndicalist movement, as linking syndicalism to anarchism; it is only a question of working for the complete realization of the anarchist ideal both inside the syndicates and outside.

So I ask the libertarian communists and the individualist anarchists what reason of principle or of fact, what essential, fundamental reasons can they have for opposing anarcho-syndicalism thus conceived and practised?

Here is the second question:

“As the indomitable enemy of the exploitation by one man of another that is generated by the capitalist regime, and of the domination of one man over another that is spawned by the State, can anarchism conceive the effective and total suppression of the former without the suppression of the capitalist regime and the pooling (libertarian communism) of the means of production, transport and exchange? And can it conceive the effective and total abolition of the latter without the definitive abolition of the State and all the institutions that result from it?”

And I ask the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarchist individualists [1] what reasons of principle or of fact, what essential, fundamental reasons can they have to oppose libertarian communism so conceived and practised?

Here is the third and final question:

“As anarchism is, on the one hand, the highest and clearest expression of the individual’s reaction against political, economic and mental oppression which is brought to bear on him through the authoritarian institutions and, on the other hand, the firmest and mostprecise affirmation of the right of every individual to complete fulfilment for the satisfaction of his needs in every domain, can anarchism conceive the effective and total realization of this rection and this affirmation by any means other than an individual culture pursued to the greatest possible extent towards a social transformation that breaks every cog of constraint and repression?”

And I ask the anarcho-syndicalists and the libertarian communists for what fundmental reasons of principle or fact can they object to anarchist individualism so conceived and practical?

I call on these three currents to join with each other.

The Anarchist Synthesis

From everything that has thus far been said and in particular from the three questions above, it would appear:

that these three currents — anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism, distinct currents but not contradictory — have nothing that makes them irreconcilable, nothing that puts them in opposition to each other, nothing that proclaims their incompatibility, nothing that can prevent them from living in harmony, or even coming together for joint propaganda and action;

that the existence of these three currents not only does not harm in any way or to any degree the total force of anarchism — a philosophical and social movement envisaged, and rightly so, in all its breadth, but can and logically must contribute to the overall strength of anarchism;

that each of these currents has its own place, its role, its mission within that broad, deep social movement that goes by the name of “anarchism”, whose goal is the establishment of a social environment that can assure the maximum well-being and freedom to each and every one;

that in these conditions, anarchism may be compared to what in chemistry is called a compound, that is to say a substance made up of a combination of various elements.

This particular compound is created by the combination of three elements: anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism.

Its chemical formula could be S2C2I2.

The proportions of the three elements can vary according to events, circumstances and the multiple sources that the currents that make up anarchism spring from. On analysis, experimentation reveals the proportions; on synthesis, the compound re-forms and and if one element is missing or lacking, its place may be taken by another. S3C2I1; or even: S2C3I1; or yet again: S1C2I3; the formula reflects the variable proportions locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

Whatever the case, these three elements — anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian communist and anarchist individualist (S.C.I.) — are made to combine with each other and, by amalgamating, go to make up what I shall call “The Anarchist Synthesis”.

How has the existence of thse three currents come to weaken the anarchist movement?

Having reached this point in my presentation, it must be asked how it is that, above all in recent years in France particularly, the existence of these three anarchist elements has not only failed to strengthen the libertarian movement, but has ended up weakening it.

And it is important that this question, put clearly, be studied and resolved in an equally clear way.

The answer is simple, but it requires great honesty from everyone, without exception.

I believe that it is not the existence itself of these three elements — anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism — that has caused the weakness or, more precisely, the relative weakness of anarchist thought and action, but only the position they have each taken towards each other: a position of open, bloody, implacable warfare.

Each faction has employed equal malice during these harmful rifts. Each has stooped to distorting the theses of the other two, to reaching almost ridiculous levels in their statements and negations, and to bloat or mitigate their basic lines to the point of painting an odious caricature.

Each tendency has carried out the most perfidious manoeuvring against the others and has used the deadliest weapons against them.

Had these three tendencies, even in the absence of understanding between them, been a little less intent on waging war against each other, had the will to struggle both within the various groupings and without, been directed towards fighting the common enemy, even separately, the anarchist movement in this country would, given the right circumstances, have acquired considerable influence and surprising strength.

But the intestine war of one tendency against another and often of one individual against another, has completely poisoned, corrupted, ruined and rendered fruitless everything, including those campaigns should have seen the hearts and minds of the lovers of freedom and justice group around our beloved ideas, who are, above all in popular environments, much less rare that it is often claimed.

Each current has spit, drooled and vomited on its neighbouring currents in order to smear them and give the impression that it alone was right.

And, faced with the lamentable spectacle of these divisions and the odious goings-on that they have produced on all sides, our groupings — all of them alike — gradually lost much of their content and our forces exhausted themselves instead of joining together for the battle to be waged against the common enemy — the principle of authority. That is the truth.

The problem and the remedy

The problem is a big one; but it can, it must be only a temporary problem — the remedy is close at hand.

Anyone who has read the preceding lines carefully and without any preconceptions will guess it without any effort: the remedy lies in the idea of the anarchist synthesis gaining ground and being applied as quickly and as well as possible [2].

What is the anarchist movement suffering from?

From the fact that the three elements that make it up fight tooth and nail with each other.

If, by reason of their origin, their nature, their methods of propaganda, organization and action, these elements are fated to rise up against each other continually, then the remedy that I am proposing will be pointless; it will be inapplicable; it will be unworkable; we shall abstain from trying it and look elsewhere.

On the other hand, if the above opposition does not exist and, even more so, if the elements — anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian communist and anarchist individualist — are instead made to join forces and form a sort of anarchist synthesis, [3] an effort to achieve this synthesis must be made — and today, not tomorrow.

I have discovered nothing nor am I proposing anything new: Luigi Fabbri and several Russian comrades (Volin, Fleshin, Mollie Steimer) with whom I have had discussions over recent days, have told me that attempts of this nature have been made in Italy, by the Unione Anarchica Italiana, and in Ukraine, by the Nabat, and that both these attempts have had the finest results, which only the triumph of fascism in Italy and the Bolshevik victory in Ukraine have destroyed.

There exist in France, as indeed in many other places, numerous groups who have already applied and currently apply the concept of the anarchist synthesis (I shall not name any for fear of omitting some), groups in which anarcho-syndicalists, libertarian communists and anarchist individualists work together in harmony; and these groups are neither the least numerous nor the least active.

These few facts (and I could mention others) show that application of the synthesis is possible. I am not saying, nor do I think, that it can be done quickly or without difficulty. Like everything that is still new, it will come up against misunderstanding, resistance, even hostility. If we need to remain impassable, we shall so remain; if we need to resist criticism and malice, we shall resist. We know that it is the way to a healthy future and we are certain that sooner or later anarchists will find their way there. That is why we shall not allow ourselves to become discouraged.

What has been done in memorable circumstances in Italy, Spain and Ukraine, what is being done in many places in France, can and, under the pressure of events, will be done throughout the country.


[1]^ It being understood, as the libertarian communists themselves “explicitly” stated in Orléans, that within the Libertarian Commune, as they conceive it, “all forms of association will be free, starting from the whole colony and including work and individual consumption”.

[2]^ The expression Anarchist Synthesis should be taken here in to mean a grouping, association, organisation and understanding of all the human elements who support the anarchist ideal.

[3]^ In talking of association and studying whether it is possible and desirable for all those elements to unite, I could only call this grouping of forces, this basis for organization, the Anarchist Synthesis. Quite something else is the synthesis of anarchist theories, an extremely important subject, which I intend to deal with when my state of health and circumstances permit me.

lunes, 1 de agosto de 2011

Anarchism: Communist or Individualist? Both by Max Nettlau

Anarchism is no longer young, and it may be time to ask ourselves why, with all the energy devoted to its propaganda, it does not spread more rapidly. For even where local activity is strongest, the results are limited, whilst immense spheres are as yet hardly touched by any propaganda at all. In discussing this question, I will not deal with the problem of Syndicalism, which, by absorbing so much of Anarchist activity and sympathies, cannot by that very fact be considered to advance the cause of Anarchism proper, whatever its other merits may be. I will also try not to repeat what I put forward in other articles in years gone by as possible means of increasing the activity of Anarchists. As my advice was not heeded, it cannot, in any case, be considered to have hampered the progress of our ideas.

I will consider the theories of Anarchism only; and here I have been struck for a long time by the contrast between the largeness of the aims of Anarchism — the greatest possible realization of freedom and well-being for all — and the narrowness, so to speak, of the economic program of Anarchism, be it Individualist or Communist. I am inclined to think that the feeling of the inadequacy of this economic basis — exclusive Communism or exclusive Individualism, according to the school — hinders people from acquiring practical confidence in Anarchism, the general aims of which appeal as a beautiful ideal to many. I feel myself that neither Communism nor Individualism, if it became the sole economic form, would realize freedom, which always demands a choice of ways, a plurality of possibilities. I know that Communists, when asked pointedly, will say that they should have no objection to Individualists who wished to live in their own way without creating new monopolies or authority, and vice versa. But this is seldom said in a really open and friendly way; both sections are far too much convinced that freedom is only possible if their particular scheme is carried out. I quite admit that there are Communists and Individualists to whom their respective doctrines, and these alone, give complete satisfaction and leave no problem unsolved (in their opinion); these would not be interfered with, in any case, in their lifelong constancy to one economic ideal. But they must not imagine that all people are constituted after their model and likely to come round to their views or remain “unreclaimed” adversaries on whom no sympathy is to be wasted. Let them but look on real life, which is bearable at all only by being varied and differentiated, in spite of all official uniformity. We all see the survivals of earlier Communism, the manifold workings of present-day solidarity, from which new forms of future Communism may develop — all this in the teeth of the cut-throat capitalist Individualism which predominates. But this miserable bourgeois Individualism, if it created a desire for solidarity, leading to Communism, certainly also created a desire for a genuine, free, unselfish Individualism, where freedom of action would no longer be misused to crush the weaker and to form monopolies, as to-day.

Neither Communism nor Individualism will ever disappear; and if by some mass action the foundations of some rough form of Communism were laid, Individualism would grow stronger than ever in opposition to this. Whenever a uniform system prevails, Anarchists, if they have their ideas at heart, will go ahead of it and never permit themselves to become fossilised upholders of a given system, be it that of the purest Communism.

Will they, then, be always dissatisfied, always struggling, never enjoying rest? They might feel at ease in a state of society where all economic possibilities had full scope, and then their energy might be applied to peaceful emulation and no longer to continuous struggle and demolition. This desirable state of things could be prepared from now, if it were once for all frankly understood among Anarchists that both Communism and Individualism are equally important, equally permanent; and that the exclusive predominance of either of them would be the greatest misfortune that could befall mankind. From isolation we take refuge in solidarity, from too much society we seek relief in isolation: both solidarity and isolation are, each at the right moment, freedom and help to us. All human life vibrates between these two poles in endless varieties of oscillations.

Let me imagine myself for a moment living in a free society. I should certainly have different occupations, manual and mental, requiring strength or skill. It would be very monotonous if the three or four groups with whom I would work (for I hope there will be no Syndicates then!) would be organized on exactly the same lines; I rather think that different degrees or forms of Communism will prevail in them. But might I not become tired of this, and wish for a spell of relative isolation, of Individualism? So I might turn to one of the many possible forms of “equal exchange” Individualism. Perhaps people will do one thing when they are young and another thing when they grow older. Those who are but indifferent workers may continue with their groups; those who are efficient will lose patience at always working with beginners and will go ahead by themselves, unless a very altruist disposition makes it a pleasure to them to act as teachers or advisers to younger people. I also think that at the beginning I should adopt Communism with friends and Individualism with strangers, and shape my future life according to experience. Thus, a free and easy change from one variety of Communism to another, thence to any variety of Individualism, and so on, would be the most obvious and elementary thing in a really free society; and if any group of people tried to check this, to make one system predominant, they would be as bitterly fought as revolutionists fight the present system.

Why, then, was Anarchism cut up into the two hostile sections of Communists and Individualists? I believe the ordinary factor of human shortcomings, from which nobody is exempt, accounts for this. It is quite natural that Communism should appeal more to some, Individualism to others. So each section would work out their economic hypothesis with full ardour and conviction, and by-and-by, strengthened in their belief by opposition, consider it the only solution, and remain faithful to it in the face of all. Hence the Individualist theories for about a century, the Collectivist and Communist theories for about fifty years, acquired a degree of settledness, certitude, apparent permanency, which they never ought to have assumed, for stagnation — this is the word — is the death of progress. Hardly any effort was made in favor of dropping the differences of schools; thus both had full freedom to grow, to become generalized, if they could. With what result?

Neither of them could vanquish the other. Wherever Communists are, Individualists will originate from their very midst; whilst no Individualist wave can overthrow the Communist strongholds. Whilst here aversion or enmity exists between people who are so near each other, we see Communist Anarchism almost effacing itself before Syndicalism, no longer scorning compromise by accepting more or less the Syndicalist solution as an inevitable stepping-stone. On the other hand, we see Individualists almost relapse into bourgeois fallacies — all this at a time when the misdeeds of authority, the growth of State encroachments, present a better occasion and a wider field than ever for real and outspoken Anarchist propaganda.

It has come to this, that at the French Communist Anarchist Congress held in Paris last year Individualism was regularly stigmatised and placed outside the pale of Anarchism by a formal resolution. If ever an international Anarchist Congress was held on these lines, endorsing a similar attitude, I should say good-bye to all hopes placed in this kind of sectarian Anarchism.

By this I intend neither to defend nor to combat Communism or Individualism. Personally, I see much good in Communism; but the idea of seeing it generalized makes me protest. I should not like to pledge my own future beforehand, much less that of anybody else. The Question remains entirely open for me; experience will show which of the extreme and of the many intermediate possibilities will be the best on each occasion, at each time. Anarchism is too dear to me that I should care to see it tied to an economic hypothesis, however plausible it may look to-day. Unique solutions will never do, and whilst everybody is free to believe in and to propagate his own cherished ideas, he ought not to feel it right to spread them except in the form of the merest hypothesis, and every one knows that the literature of Communist and Individualist Anarchism is far from keeping within these limits; we have all sinned in this respect.

In the above I have used the terms “Communist” and “Individualist” in a general way, wishing to show the useless and disastrous character of sectional exclusiveness among Anarchists. If any Individualists have said or done absurd things (are Communists impeccable?), to show these up would not mean to refute me. All I want is to see all those who revolt against authority work on lines of general solidarity instead of being divided into little chapels because each one is convinced he possesses a correct economic solution of the social problem. To fight authority in the capitalist system and in the coming system of State Socialism, or Syndicalism, or of both, or all the three combined, an immense wave of real Anarchist feeling is wanted, before ever the question of economic remedies comes in. Only recognize this, and a large sphere of solidarity will be created, which will make Communist Anarchism stand stronger and shine brighter before the world than it does now.

* * *

P. S. — Since writing the above I have found an early French Anarchist pamphlet, from which I translate the following:

“Thus, those who feel so inclined will unite for common life, duties, and work, whilst those to whom the slightest act of submission would give umbrage will remain individually independent. The real principle [of Anarchism] is this far from demanding integral Communism. But it is evident that for the benefit of certain kinds of work many producers will unite, enjoying the advantages of co-operation. But I say once more, Communism will never be a fundamental [meaning unique and obligatory] principle, on account of the diversity of our intellectual faculties, of our needs, and of our will.”

This quotation (the words in brackets are mine) is taken from p. 72 of what may be one of the scarcest Anarchist publications, on which my eye lit on a bookstall ten days after writing the above article: “Philosophie de l’lnsoumission ou Pardon a Cain,” par Felix P. (New York, 1854, iv. 74 pp., 12mo) — that is, “Philosophy of Non-Submission,” the author’s term for Anarchy. I do not know who Felix P. was; apparently one of the few French Socialists, like Dejacque, Bellegarrigue, Coeurderoy, and Claude Pelletier, whom the lessons of 1848 and other experiences caused to make a bold step forward and arrive at Anarchism by various ways and independent of Proudhon. In the passage quoted he put things into a nutshell, leaving an even balance between the claims of Communism and Individualism. This is exactly what I feel in 1914, sixty years after. The personal predilections of everybody would remain unchanged and unhurt, but exclusivism would be banished, the two vital principles of life allied instead of looking askance at each other.

Source: Mother Earth. 9, 5 (July 1914) 170-175

domingo, 5 de junio de 2011

Anarchy Without Road Maps or Adjectives by Aragorn!

Most tendencies within anarchist circles have a narrow conception of what exactly makes an anarchist, what an anarchist project is, and what the transformation to an anarchist world will look like. Whether Green or Red, Communist or Individualist, Activist or Critical, Anarchists spend as much time defending their own speculative positions on these complicated issues as they do learning what others have to offer — especially other anarchists.

As a result many find that they would prefer to do their projects, political and social, outside of anarchist circles. Either they do not think their particular project is interesting to anarchists but believe it’s important none the less (as in most progressive activism) or they do not particularly enjoy the company of anarchists and the kind of tension that working with anarchists entails. Both reasons are almost entirely accountable to the deep mistrust anarchists have of other anarchists’ programs.

Once upon a time there was an anarchist call for “Anarchism without Adjectives,” referring to a doctrine that tolerated the co-existence of different schools of anarchist thought. Instead of qualifying Anarchism as collectivist, communist, or individualist, Anarchism without Adjectives refused to preconceive economic solutions to a post-revolutionary time. Instead, Anarchism without Adjectives argued that the abolition of authority, not squabbling over the future, is of primary importance.

Today there are as many (if not more) divisions about what the abolition of authority should look like, as there were divisions on the question of the economic program for After the Revolution a hundred and twenty years ago. Anarchist activists (“organizers”) believe that a power-from-below will abolish authority. Class-struggle anarchists believe that the working class will end the authority of capitalist society. Collapsists believe that economic and environmental conditions will inevitably lead to social transformation and an end to authority.

Then again, many anarchists do not believe that the abolition of authority is of primary importance for anarchists at all. Their arguments are that authority cannot be simply understood (it is both capitalism and the state and neither of these). That anarchists do not have the (political, social, people or material) power to bring about this abolition, and that authority has transformed itself into something far more diffuse than the kings and monopolists of the 19th century. If authority can best be understood as a spectacle, today, then it is both diffuse and concentrated. This flexibility on the part of spectacular society has resulted in the effort for the abolition of authority (and the practice of many anarchists), for its own sake, to be perceived as utopian and (spectacularly) ridiculous.

Anarchists of all stripes agree that the revolutionary programs of the past have fallen far short of the total liberation of the oppressed. Leftists believe that the programs were likely to have been right but that the timing and conditions were wrong. Many other anarchists believe that the time for Programs is over. These perspectives are represented in the history of anarchism and are the source of endless contention in the founding of and meetings of anarchist groups.

History should be used to provide the context of these differing perspectives but is, instead, seen as providing evidence for one or another. Instead of trying to understand one another, to communicate, we seem to use the opportunity of our lack of success to fix our positions and argue for decreasing returns.

If anarchy does not have a road map then we (as anarchists) are free to work together. Our projects might not be of the same scale as the general strike, or even the halting of business-as-usual in a major metropolitan area, but they would be anarchist projects. An anarchy without road map or adjectives could be one where the context of the decisions that we make together will be of our own creation rather than imposed upon us. It could be an anarchy of now rather than the hope of another day. It would place the burden of establishing trust on those who actually have a common political goal (the abolition of the state and capitalism) rather than on those who have no goal at all or whose goal is antithetical to an anarchist one.

An anarchy without road map or adjectives does not ignore difference but instead places it in the context that it belongs in. When we are faced with a moment of extreme tension, when everything that we know appears about to change, then we may choose different forks in the road. Until that time anarchists should approach each other with the naïvete that we approach the world with. If we believe that the world can change and could change in a radical direction from the one traveled the past several thousand years then we should have some trust in others who desire the same things.

A Project of Anarchist Organisation (1927) by Errico Malatesta

I recently happened to come across a French pamphlet (in Italy today [1927], as is known, the non-fascist press cannot freely circulate), with the title Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Project).

This is a project for anarchist organisation published under the name of a `Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad' and it seems to be directed particularly at Russian comrades. But it deals with questions of equal interest to all anarchists; and it is, clear, including the language in which it is written, that it seeks the support of comrades worldwide. In any case it is worth examining, for the Russians as for everyone, whether the proposal put forward is in keeping with anarchist principles and whether implementation would truly serve the cause of anarchism.

The intentions of the comrades are excellent. They rightly lament the fact that until now the anarchists have not had an influence on political and social events in proportion to the theoretical and practical value of their doctrines, nor to their numbers, courage and spirit of self-sacrifice — and believe that the main reason for this relative failure is the lack of a large, serious and active organisation.

And thus far I could more or less agree.

Organisation, which after all only means cooperation and solidarity in practice, is a natural condition, necessary to the running of society; and it is an unavoidable fact which involves everyone, whether in human society in general or in any grouping of people joined by a common aim.

As human beings cannot live in isolation, indeed could not really become human beings and satisfy their moral and material needs unless they were part of society and cooperated with their fellows, it is inevitable that those who lack the means, or a sufficiently developed awareness, to organise freely with those with whom they share common interests and sentiments, must submit to the organisations set up by others, who generally form the ruling class or group and whose aim is to exploit the labour of others to their own advantage. And the age-long oppression of the masses by a small number of the privileged has always been the outcome of the inability of the greater number of individuals to agree and to organise with other workers on production and enjoyment of rights and benefits and for defence against those who seek to exploit and oppress them.

Anarchism emerged as a response to this state of affairs, its basic principle being free organisation, set up and run according to the free agreement of its members without any kind of authority; that is, without anyone having the right to impose their will on others. And it is therefore obvious that anarchists should seek to apply to their personal and political lives this same principle upon which, they believe, the whole of human society should be based.

Judging by certain polemics it would seem that there are anarchists who spurn any form of organisation; but in fact the many, too many, discussions on this subject, even when obscured by questions of language or poisoned by personal issues, are concerned with the means and not the actual principle of organisation. Thus it happens that when those comrades who sound the most hostile to organisation want to really do something they organise just like the rest of us and often more effectively. The problem, I repeat, is entirely one of means.

Therefore I can only view with sympathy the initiative that our Russian comrades have taken, convinced as I am that a more general, more united, more enduring organisation than any that have so far been set up by anarchists — even if it did not manage to do away with all the mistakes and weaknesses that are perhaps inevitable in a movement like ours — which struggles on in the midst of the incomprehension, indifference and even the hostility of the majority — would undoubtedly be an important element of strength and success, a powerful means of gaining support for our ideas.

I believe it is necessary above all and urgent for anarchists to come to terms with one another and organise as much and as well as possible in order to be able to influence the direction the mass of the people take in their struggle for change and emancipation.

Today the major force for social transformation is the labour movement (union movement) and on its direction will largely depend the course events take and the objectives of the next revolution. Through the organisations set up for the defence of their interests the workers develop an awareness of the oppression they suffer and the antagonism that divides them from the bosses and as a result begin to aspire to a better life, become accustomed to collective struggle and solidarity and win those improvements that are possible within the capitalist and state regime. Then, when the conflict goes beyond compromise, revolution or reaction follows. The anarchists must recognise the usefulness and importance of the union movement; they must support its development and make it one of the levers in their action, doing all they can to ensure that, by cooperating with other forces for progress, it will open the way to a social revolution that brings to an end the class system, and to complete freedom, equality, peace and solidarity for everybody.

But it would be a great and a fatal mistake to believe, as many do, that the labour movement can and should, of its own volition, and by its very nature, lead to such a revolution. On the contrary, all movements based on material and immediate interests (and a big labour movement can do nothing else) if they lack the stimulus, the drive, the concerted effort of people of ideas, tend inevitably to adapt to circumstances, they foster a spirit of conservatism and fear of change in those who manage to obtain better working conditions, and often end up creating new and privileged classes, and serving to uphold and consolidate the system we would seek to destroy.

Hence there is an impelling need for specifically anarchist organisations which, both from within and outside the unions, struggle for the achievement of anarchism and seek to sterilise all the germs of degeneration and reaction.

But it is obvious that in order to achieve their ends, anarchist organisations must, in their constitution and operation, remain in harmony with the principles of anarchism; that is, they must know how to blend the free action of individuals with the necessity and the joy of cooperation which serve to develop the awareness and initiative of their members and a means of education for the environment in which they operate and of a moral and material preparation for the future we desire.

Does the project under discussion satisfy these demands?

It seems to me that it does not. Instead of arousing in anarchists a greater desire for organisation, it seems deliberately designed to reinforce the prejudice of those comrades who believe that to organise means to submit to leaders and belong to an authoritarian, centralising body that suffocates any attempt at free initiative. And in fact it contains precisely those proposals that some, in the face of evident truths and despite our protests, insist on attributing to all anarchists who are described as organisers. Let us examine the Project.

First of all, it seems to me a mistake — and in any case impossible to realise — to believe that all anarchists can be grouped together in one `General Union' — that is, in the words of the Project, In a single, active revolutionary body.

We anarchists can all say that we are of the same party, if by the word `party' we mean all who are on the same side, that is, who share the same general aspirations and who, in one way or another, struggle for the same ends against common adversaries and enemies. But this does not mean it is possible — or even desirable — for all of us to be gathered into one specific association. There are too many differences of environment and conditions of struggle; too many possible ways of action to choose among, and also too many differences of temperament and personal incompatibilities for a General Union, if taken seriously, not to become, instead of a means for coordinating and reviewing the efforts of all, an obstacle to individual activity and perhaps also a cause of more bitter internal strife.

As an example, how could one organise in the same way and with the same group a public association set up to make propaganda and agitation, publicly and a secret society restricted by the political conditions of the country in which it operates to conceal from the enemy its plans, methods and members? How could the educationalists, who believe that propaganda and example suffice for the gradual transformation of individuals and thus of society, adopt the same tactics as the revolutionaries, who are convinced of the need to destroy by violence a status quo that is maintained by violence and to create, in the face of the violence of the oppressors, the necessary conditions for the free dissemination of propaganda and the practical application of the conquered ideals? And how to keep together some people who, for particular reasons, do not get on with; and respect one another and could never be equally good and useful militants for anarchism?

Besides, even the authors of the Project (Platforme) declare as `inept' any idea of creating an organisation which gathers together the representatives of the different tendencies in anarchism. Such an organisation, they say, `incorporating heterogeneous elements, both on a theoretical and practical level, would be no more than a mechanical collection (assemblage) of individuals who conceive all questions concerning the anarchist movement from a different point of view and would inevitably break up as soon as they were put to the test of events and real life.'

That's fine. But then, if they recognise the existence of different tendencies they will surely have to leave them the right to organise in their own fashion and work for anarchy in the way that seems best to them. Or will they claim the right to expel, to excommunicate from anarchism all those who do not accept their programme? Certainly they say they `want to assemble in a single organisation' all the sound elements of the libertarian movement; and naturally they will tend to judge as sound only those who think as they do. But what will they do with the elements that are not sound?

Of course, among those who describe themselves as anarchists there are, as in any human groupings, elements of varying worth; and what is worse, there are some who spread ideas in the name of anarchism which have very little to do with anarchism. But how to avoid the problem? Anarchist truth cannot and must not become the monopoly of one individual or committee; nor can it depend on the decisions of real or fictitious majorities. All that is necessary — and sufficient — is for everyone to have and to exercise the widest freedom of criticism and for each one of us to maintain their own ideas and choose for themselves their own comrades. In the last resort the facts will decide who was right.

Let us therefore put aside the idea of bringing together all anarchists into a single organisation and look at this General Union which the Russians propose to us for what it really is — namely the Union of a particular fraction of anarchists; and let us see whether the organisational method proposed conforms with anarchist methods and principles and if it could thereby help to bring about the triumph of anarchism.

Once again, it seems to me that it cannot.

I am not doubting the sincerity of the anarchist proposals of those Russian comrades. They want to bring about anarchist communism and are seeking the means of doing so as quickly as possible. But it is not enough to want something; one also has to adopt suitable means; to get to a certain place one must take the right path or end up somewhere else. Their organisation, being typically authoritarian, far from helping to bring about the victory of anarchist communism, to which they aspire, could only falsify the anarchist spirit and lead to consequences that go against their intentions.

In fact, their General Union appears to consist of so many partial organisations with secretariats which ideologically direct the political and technical work; and to coordinate the activities of all the member organisations there is a Union Executive Committee whose task is to carry out the decisions of the Union and to oversee the `ideological and organisational conduct of the organisations in conformity with the ideology and general strategy of the Union.'

Is this anarchist? This, in my view, is a government and a church. True, there are no police or bayonets, no faithful flock to accept the dictated ideology; but this only means that their government would be an impotent and impossible government and their church a nursery for heresies and schisms. The spirit, the tendency remains authoritarian and the educational effect would remain anti-anarchist.

Listen if this is not true.

`The executive organ of the general libertarian movement — the anarchist Union — will introduce into its ranks the principle of collective responsibility; the whole Union will be responsible for the revolutionary and political activity of every member; and each member will be responsible for the revolutionary and political activity of the Union.'

And following this, which is the absolute negation of any individual independence and freedom of initiative and action, the proponents, remembering that they are anarchists, call themselves federalists and thunder against centralisation, `the inevitable results of which', they say, `are the enslavement and mechanisation of the life of society and of the parties.'

But if the Union is responsible for what each member does, how can it leave to its individual members and to the various groups the freedom to apply the common programme in the way they think best? How can one be responsible for an action if it does not have the means to prevent it? Therefore, the Union and in its name the Executive Committee, would need to monitor the action of the individual members and order them what to do and what not to do; and since disapproval after the event cannot put right a previously accepted responsibility, no-one would be able to do anything at all before having obtained the go-ahead, the permission of the committee. And on the other hand, can an individual accept responsibility for the actions of a collectivity before knowing what it will do and if he cannot prevent it doing what he disapproves of?

Moreover, the authors of the Project say that it is the `Union' which proposes and disposes. But when they refer to the wishes of the Union do they perhaps also refer to the wishes of all the members? If so, for the Union to function it would need everyone always to have the same opinion on all questions. So if it is normal that everyone should be in agreement on the general and fundamental principles, because otherwise they would not be and remain united, it cannot be assumed that thinking beings will all and always be of the same opinion on what needs to be done in the different circumstance and on the choice of persons to whom to entrust executive and directional responsibilities.

In reality — as it emerges from the text of the Project itself — the will of the Union can only mean the will of the majority, expressed through congresses which nominate and control the Executive Committee and decide on all the important questions. Naturally, the congresses would consist of representatives elected by the majority of member groups, and these representatives would decide on what to do, as ever by a majority of votes. So, in the best of cases, the decisions would be taken by the majority of a majority, and this could easily, especially when the opposing opinions are more than two, represent only a minority.

Furthermore it should be pointed out that, given the conditions in which anarchists live and struggle, their congresses are even less truly representative than the bourgeois parliaments. And their control over the executive bodies, if these have authoritarian powers, is rarely opportune and effective. In practice anarchist congresses are attended by whoever wishes and can, whoever has enough money and who has not been prevented by police measures. There are as many present who represent only themselves or a small number of friends as there are those truly representing the opinions and desires of a large collective. And unless precautions are taken against possible traitors and spies — indeed, because of the need for those very precautions — it is impossible to make a serious check on the representatives and the value of their mandate.

In any case this all comes down to a pure majority system, to pure parliamentarianism .

It is well known that anarchists do not accept majority government (democracy), any more than they accept government by the few (aristocracy, oligarchy, or dictatorship by one class or party) nor that of one individual (autocracy, monarchy or personal dictatorship).

Thousands of times anarchists have criticised so-called majority government, which anyway in practise always leads to domination by a small minority.

Do we need to repeat all this yet again for our Russian comrades?

Certainly anarchists recognise that where life is lived in common it is often necessary for the minority to come to accept the opinion of the majority. When there is an obvious need or usefulness in doing something and, to do it requires the agreement of all, the few should feel the need to adapt to the wishes of the many. And usually, in the interests of living peacefully together and under conditions of equality, it is necessary for everyone to be motivated by a spirit of concord, tolerance and compromise. But such adaptation on the one hand by one group must on the other be reciprocal, voluntary and must stem from an awareness of need and of goodwill to prevent the running of social affairs from being paralysed by obstinacy. It cannot be imposed as a principle and statutory norm. This is an ideal which, perhaps, in daily life in general, is difficult to attain in entirety, but it is a fact that in every human grouping anarchy is that much nearer where agreement between majority and minority is free and spontaneous and exempt from any imposition that does not derive from the natural order of things.

So if anarchists deny the right of the majority to govern human society in general — in which individuals are nonetheless constrained to accept certain restrictions, since they cannot isolate themselves without renouncing the conditions of human life — and if they want everything to be done by the free agreement of all, how is it possible for them to adopt the idea of government by majority in their essentially free and voluntary associations and begin to declare that anarchists should submit to the decisions of the majority before they have even heard what those might be?

It is understandable that non-anarchists would find Anarchy, defined as a free organisation without the rule of the majority over the minority, or vice versa, an unrealisable utopia, or one realisable only in a distant future; but it is inconceivable that anyone who professes to anarchist ideas and wants to make Anarchy, or at least seriously approach its realisation — today rather than tomorrow — should disown the basic principles of anarchism in the very act of proposing to fight for its victory.

In my view, an anarchist organisation must be founded on a very different basis from the one proposed by those Russian comrades.

Full autonomy, full independence and therefore full responsibility of individuals and groups; free accord between those who believe it useful to unite in cooperating for a common aim; moral duty to see through commitments undertaken and to do nothing that would contradict the accepted programme. It is on these bases that the practical structures, and the right tools to give life to the organisation should be built and designed. Then the groups, the federations of groups, the federations of federations, the meetings, the congresses, the correspondence committees and so forth. But all this must be done freely, in such a way that the thought and initiative of individuals is not obstructed, and with the sole view of giving greater effect to efforts which, in isolation, would be either impossible or ineffective. Thus congresses of an anarchist organisation, though suffering as representative bodies from all the above-mentioned imperfections, are free from any kind of authoritarianism, because they do not lay down the law; they do not impose their own resolutions on others. They serve to maintain and increase personal relationships among the most active comrades, to coordinate and encourage programmatic studies on the ways and means of taking action, to acquaint all on the situation in the various regions and the action most urgently needed in each; to formulate the various opinions current among the anarchists and draw up some kind of statistics from them — and their decisions are not obligatory rules but suggestions, recommendations, proposals to be submitted to all involved, and do not become binding and enforceable except on those who accept them, and for as long as they accept them.

The administrative bodies which they nominate — Correspondence Commission, etc. — have no executive powers, have no directive powers, unless on behalf of those who ask for and approve such initiatives, and have no authority to impose their own views — which they can certainly maintain and propagate as groups of comrades, but cannot present as the official opinion of the organisation. They publish the resolutions of the congresses and the opinions and proposals which groups and individuals communicate to them; and they serve — for those who require such a service — to facilitate relations between the groups and cooperation between those who agree on the various initiatives. Whoever wants to is free to correspond with whomsoever he wishes, or to use the services of other committees nominated by special groups.

In an anarchist organisation the individual members can express any opinion and use any tactic which is not in contradiction with accepted principles and which does not harm the activities of others. In any case a given organisation lasts for as long as the reasons for union remain greater than the reasons for dissent. When they are no longer so, then the organisation is dissolved and makes way for other, more homogeneous groups.

Clearly, the duration, the permanence of an organisation depends on how successful it has been in the long struggle we must wage, and it is natural that any institution instinctively seeks to last indefinitely. But the duration of a libertarian organisation must be the consequence of the spiritual affinity of its members and of the adaptability of its constitution to the continual changes of circumstances. When it is no longer able to accomplish a useful task it is better that it should die.

Those Russian comrades will perhaps find that an organisation like the one I propose and similar to the ones that have existed, more or less satisfactorily at various times, is not very efficient.

I understand. Those comrades are obsessed with the success of the Bolsheviks in their country and, like the Bolsheviks, would like to gather the anarchists together in a sort of disciplined army which, under the ideological and practical direction of a few leaders, would march solidly to the attack of the existing regimes, and after having won a material victory would direct the constitution of a new society. And perhaps it is true that under such a system, were it possible that anarchists would involve themselves in it, and if the leaders were men of imagination, our material effectiveness would be greater. But with what results? Would what happened to socialism and communism in Russia not happen to anarchism?

Those comrades are anxious for success as we are too. But to live and to succeed we don't have to repudiate the reasons for living and alter the character of the victory to come.

We want to fight and win, but as anarchists — for Anarchy.


Il Risveglio (Geneva),

October 1927

“Facing the Enemy”: A platformist interpretation of the history of anarchist organization by Jason McQuinn

Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968 by Alexandre Skirda, translated by Paul Sharkey (AK Press, POB 40682, San Francisco, CA 94140-0682, USA; AK Press, POB 12766, Edinburgh, EH8 9YE, Scotland; & Kate Sharpley Library, BM Hurricane, London, WC1 3XX, England; 2002) 292 pp., $17.95 paper.

Any history of anarchist currents and movements must also be a history of their organization. Radical ideas and practices are nothing if not aspects of a social engagement whose own content and structure both anticipate the new society that is desired. In fact, the theory and critique of organization has consistently been one of the most central and contested concerns of anarchists since Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, Faure, Malatesta, Kropotkin and many, many others gave world-historical shape to the anarchist movement in the 19th Century.

It thus remains extremely important to this day for all anarchists to fully understand not only the major anarchist theories and critiques of organization, but also the history of the actual forms of organization used by anarchists around the world in well over a century of often highly-effective practice. Unfortunately, Alexandre Skirda in Facing the Enemy isn’t going to be the person to write this history, despite Paul Sharkey’s misleading English translation of the subtitle of the book as A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968. (The original French title and subtitle actually translate more literally as “Individual Autonomy and Collective Force: Anarchists and Organization from Proudhon to our time.”)

What Skirda is equipped to do is something much narrower, that is to write a polemical platformist interpretation of the history of anarchist organization. Facing the Enemy is certainly not without value in providing a revealing look into the machinations of Marx in the First International, the various incarnations of Bakunin’s secret societies, the effects of police interventions, and the manipulative mindsets and practices of those adopting platformist ideology, primarily in France. However, as a history of anarchist organization in general the book is often biased, intentionally incomplete, and occasionally illogical — quite clearly reflecting the limitations of the platformist ideology it preaches.

Every anarchist (and every would-be revolutionary) should take some time to study the history of the First International. However, given the apparent decline of interest within the anarchist milieu in unearthing its own history (paralleling a decline in interest in history within the larger media-saturated, spectator/internet society), even reading a short account like Skirda’s would improve on most anarchists’ knowledge of the situation. Of particular interest here is the period following the demise Marx’s rump First International after he safely deposited it’s General Council with stooges in New York — a period of anarchist agitation too-often ignored in most of the full-scale accounts of the Marx/Bakunin, centralist/federalist conflict in the International.

Skirda’s quick review of a few of Bakunin’s various organizational schemes and programs for his Alliances and International Brotherhoods is another worthwhile contribution to anarchist history, especially since most biographical and historical studies of Bakunin and those he influenced were done before important source materials were excavated in recent decades. However, Bakunin’s penchant for invisible, “collective dictatorship” (p. 15), always unsettling to anti-authoritarians who study his ideas, is played down a bit too unconvincingly here. Secret societies of revolutionaries make much more sense when anarchists operate in countries where all radical speech is suppressed (as Bakunin most often did). But the invisible “dictatorship” of anarchist revolutionaries from within the masses is a formulation just as much given to authoritarian tensions as the more well-known and oft-criticized Marxist formulation of “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Another valuable aspect of Skirda’s account of anarchist history is his periodic focus on the effects of police surveillance, infiltration and provocation. This has huge implications for contemporary anarchists. There are the obvious dangers for autonomous, small-group activities (primarily the odd provocateur urging worthless or suicidal acts of violence, since widespread infiltration and surveillance are more difficult in such groups). While there are also many dangers for larger sectarian groupings or the various types of federation (more obviously revealed in accounts of the COINTELPRO destabilization of the ’60s & ’70s New Left in the US, particularly aimed at the Black Panthers and AIM), in which surveillance and infiltration are much easier, as are attempts to incite internecine strife.

However, like most platformists (and like authoritarians in general), Skirda considers many important historical anarchist ideas and criticisms of organization to be impractical or inefficient because under free self-organization there is nothing to compel anarchists to fall into line as a disciplined mass of followers under a unitary ideology at the call of their leadership. Like too many organizationalists he prefers to condemn any anarchists who balk at attempts to discipline and control them, ridiculing their refusals to subordinate their own judgments for those of more-or-less democratic processes or less-than-transparent organizational directives. This is where sneering efforts at manipulation of the reader enter his narrative more and more frequently, as in chapter 8: “Anti-organizationists and bombers.” Skirda is as well aware as anyone else that political bombings have been by far more often the work of organizations than of isolated, demoralized individuals, and that even within the anarchist milieu around the end of the 19th century attentats weren’t predominantly the work of anarchist individualists, much less the semi-mythical “anti-organizationists.”

Relying on a piece of testimony at a trial as his only flimsy evidence, Skirda concludes that all the anarchist groups in 1880s Paris were really non-existent except as “temporary get-togethers,” with “no connection and no coordination involved” even between groups in federation. If a formal platform, membership cards or dues, and a secretariat didn’t exist, then, for the organizational fetishists, obviously there was no organization involved! Similarly, for the authoritarian left, without formal offices of leadership and means of controlling members, only chaos can ensue. Both views oppose the full range of anarchist self-organization, which can be formal or informal, depending upon its purposes and the situations in faces.

Neither is Skirda very clear in his analysis of the various illegalist, insurrectionary, “propaganda of the deed” tendencies which came to prominence in the anarchist milieu of the 1870s and 1880s, at times mixing the various ideas, and portraying them as a single phenomenon centering on the coincidental movement-wide infatuation with dynamite and attentats. In its most general meaning, of course, “propaganda by deed” signifies, as Malatesta said, the “act of insurrection, designed to assert socialist principles by deeds” (p. 39), or in more contemporary terms, the potentially exemplary nature of direct action. And anarchist illegalism at its most basic refuses to acknowledge capitalist laws as in any way valid limits to anarchist activity. While insurrectionary anarchism advocates support for the immediate break with all hierarchical, capitalist institutions and social relations whenever and wherever possible.

Clearly, the most effective anarchist propaganda will always be the actual, direct implementation of anarchist social relationships, and in this sense “propaganda by deed” has always been a core practice of most anarchists, despite the ill repute gained by the term itself after it became much more narrowly associated with bombings and attentats in the popular mind. And the most effective anarchists have always refused to be limited by the laws imposed by state and capital to maintain our slavery, though the term “illegalism” has also fallen into ill repute after being associated with a few particular French anarchists whose law-breaking tended to stretch the credulity of their commitments to anarchism. While every form of social revolutionary anarchism has always advocated insurrectionary practice, since without a complete break with capitalist social institutions revolution is clearly impossible — though the question of appropriate timing for insurrectionary acts remains widely contested.

To criticize any of these three aspects of anarchist practice should always call for careful distinctions to be made in what is being criticized. Ignorant claims that “propaganda by deed” necessarily requires bombings or tyrannicide ignore the fruitful history of anarchist direct action (as well as the fact that some bombings and tyrannicides have at times been appropriate and effective). While condemnations of illegalism often ignore the fact that every genuine revolt necessarily involves the repudiation of all illegitimate, capitalist laws. And categorical repudiations of insurrectionary practice always in imply the defense of the institutions of capital and state, which will never wither away without our active participation in their demise.

Just as importantly, no one should lose sight of the that the relatively brief anarchist craze for dynamite and fulminates of mercury, along with assassinations by dagger or pistol, in the decades immediately before and after the turn of the 19th to the 20th century has little to do with the more general validity of extra-legal direct action and insurrectionary or revolutionary violence. While individual and small-group attentats have sometimes been the work of despairing solidarity (like Alexander Berkman’s attempted assassination of the industrialist mass-murderer Frick), they have often been tactically and strategically effective (like the activities of some of the anarchist pistoleros in Spain).

Which brings up the strangest aspect of Skirda’s platformist interpretation of anarchist organizational history. The FAI (the Iberian Anarchist Federation) is almost absent from his analysis, despite the fact that this notorious federation may be the one example of an anarchist organization that is admired by social revolutionary anarchists of all tendencies — at least so far as I’m aware. I’m sure the fact that the FAI’s practice in the decade leading up to the Spanish Revolution was contrary to platformist dogmas has a part to play in Skirda’s avoidance of the subject, but no platformist interpretation of history will ever convince anyone by ignoring the most historically important example of a large anarchist federation. However, rather than discussing the actual organizational structure and dynamics of the FAI, Skirda is content to complain that the FAI ought to have followed the Platform instead of ignoring it. And after this he gives a confusing account of the CNT refusal of social revolution and policy of collaboration with political authorities. And this without indicating the faintest understanding that the only genuine revolutionary question posed in 1936 was whether the people in arms would organize their own social revolution (which they attempted throughout much of the countryside) or submit to authorities, whether those authorities were constituted in Madrid, the Catalan Generalitat, or the CNT and UGT (as they largely did in Barcelona and other cities).

The usefulness of Skirda’s history plummets with his account of the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Suddenly the poor, misunderstood Organizational Platform is portrayed as the be-all and end-all of anarchism. The general opposition within the international anarchist movement to the more unsavory aspects of the Platform must be explained away, distorted, undermined with personal innuendo and accusations of petty plots. And a minority organizational practice which has never accomplished much of lasting value within the international anarchist movement becomes the complete center of attention for Skirda, as though the vast majority of non-platformist and anti-platformist anarchists count for little or nothing. In fact, Skirda often demeans the vast majority of anarchists, their ideas and practices as chaotic individualist nut-cases of one sort or another. This despite the fact that platformists, for all their delusionary bombast about organizing “all of the wholesome elements of the anarchist movement into one umbrella organization” (p. 211), have almost always attracted only a small minority of anarchists to follow their sectarian tenets, often only those least committed to anarchist principles to begin with.

In one of his illogical tirades against opponents of the Platform (p. 142), Skirda exclaims: “If one wanted to reject [the Platform], then one also had to throw out ‘the baby with the bathwater,’ that is, repudiate what was...the most radical revolutionary experiment of the century.” Which of course is nonsensical in the extreme. The Makhnovist experiment was one of the most radical of the century, but that experiment had nothing directly to do with injecting authoritarian leftist organizational practices into the anarchist milieu ten years later!

Skirda continues, not understanding how any anarchist could ever oppose the incoherent synthesis of leftist organization and anarchist ideology proposed by the Platform: “Who could challenge that? Always the same old figures, the usual ditherers, the incorrigible blatherers, all those who in the end had something to lose, be it their petty vanity, or ultimately cozy position in established society. That said, the loudest opposition came from the Russian émigré community...and a handful of anarchist elders.” But all was not lost for Skirda, since years later a few platformist-inspired groups managed to organize themselves and carry on the ever-misunderstood, ever-persecuted cause. Of course, the actual practice of some of these platformist groups proved to be a pathetic travesty, with platformists taking secret control of the French post-World War II Anarchist Federation with a manipulative scheme worthy of any power-hungry Marxist-Leninists (recounted in Chapter 18).

Despite its many failures, Facing the Enemy is an important book and I recommend that every anarchist seriously committed to encouraging social revolution read it. Along with chronicling an episodic, Eurocentric and polemical (but still worthwhile) history of anarchism, it provides a fairly comprehensive catalog of the most tempting authoritarian, leftist compromises that cut the heart out of anarchist practice and turn anarchist theory into a rigid ideology. Ultimately, the unintended message of Skirda’s book is that not only is the platformism it pushes hopelessly anachronistic in today’s anarchist milieu, but historically it has been the ideology of demoralized losers.

viernes, 3 de junio de 2011

Reply by several Russian Anarchists to the ‘Platform’ by Various Authors

Photo: Senya Fleshin, Volin, Mollie Steimer

Reasons for the Weakness of the Anarchist Movement

We do not agree with the position of the Platform ‘that the most important reason for the weakness of the anarchist movement is the absence of organisational principles’. We believe that this issue is very important because the Platform seeks to establish a centralised organisation (a party) that would create ‘a political and tactical line for the anarchist movement’. This over emphasises the importance and role of organisation.

We are not against an anarchist organisation; we understand the harmful consequences of a lack of organisation in the anarchist movement; we consider the creation of an anarchist organisation to be one of our most urgent tasks . . . But we do not believe that organisation, as such, can be a cure-all. We do not exaggerate its importance, and we see no benefit or need to sacrifice anarchist principles and ideas for the sake of organisation. We see the following reasons for the weakness of the anarchist movement:

- The confusion in our ideas about a series of fundamental issues. such as the conception of the social revolution, of violence, of the period of transition, of organisation.

- The difficulty of getting a large part of the population to accept our ideas. We must take into account existing prejudices, customs, education, the fact that the great mass of people will look for an accommodation rather than radical change.

- Repression.

The Anarchist Synthesis

We also disagree with the idea of a ‘synthesis’, as stated in the Platform. The authors proclaim that anarchist-communism is the only valid theory, and they take a critical, more or less, negative position toward individualist anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists.

We repeat what we declared when we organised NABAT (Organisation of Ukrainian anarchists in 1917-1921): ‘There is validity in all anarchist schools of thought. We must consider all diverse tendencies and accept them.’ To unite all militants we must seek a common base for all, seeing what is just in each concept. This should be included in a Platform for the entire movement. There are several examples of such a Platform, such as the declaration of the Nabat Conference in Kursk, as well as the resolutions of other anarchist conferences of that period. Here are some extracts of the resolution adopted at the First Congress of the Confederation of Anarchist Organisations in the Ukraine, ‘NABAT’, that took place April 2, 1919, in Elizabethgrad, Ukraine:

‘. . . our organisation does not represent a mechanical alliance of different tendencies, each holding only to its own point of view and, therefore, unable to offer ideological guidance to the working population; it is a union of comrades joined together on a number of basic positions and with an awareness of the need for planned, organised collective effort on the basis of federation.’

Anarchism as a Theory of Classes

Synthesis is needed in this area also. We cannot affirm that anarchism is a theory of classes and reject those who try to give it a human character. And we cannot declare like some do that anarchism is a humanitarian ideal for all people and accuse those who hold to a class base of marxist deviation. Nor, finally, can we maintain that anarchism is solely an individualist conception having nothing to do with humanity as a whole or with a ‘class’. We must create a synthesis and state that anarchism contains class elements as well as humanism and individualist principles.

We must try to determine in a theoretical and practical manner the role and importance of each of these elements in the conception of anarchism. To maintain that anarchism is only a theory of classes is to limit it to a single viewpoint. Anarchism is more complex and pluralistic, like life itself. Its class element is above all its means of fighting for liberation; its humanitarian character is its ethical aspect, the foundation of society; its individualism is the goal of mankind.
The Role of the Masses and Anarchism in the Social Struggle and the Social Revolution

The thesis of the Platform on this question can be summarised as follows: the masses must be directed. The contrary viewpoint was the prevailing one in our movement until now: individuals and conscious minority, including their ideological organisations, cannot ‘direct the masses’. We must learn from the masses constantly if we do not want to lead them into a blind alley.

This is how the problem should be seen. Their solution is very superficial and false because the central problem is not resolved: the revolutionary masses and the conscious minority or their ideological organisations. The political parties have an advantage in this area: it is not a problem for them. Their solution is:

* the masses and developments must be directed;

* the conscious minority, separated from the masses, must take the initiative;

* this ‘collective’ must be organised into a party;

* the party takes the initiative in all areas, including the social revolution.

The authors of the Platform take a similar position. However they choose to begin with some precaution: ‘The ideological direction of revolutionary activities and revolutionary movements should not be understood as a tendency of the anarchists to take control of the building of the new society.’

The Platform expresses the idea that the need to direct the masses is linked directly to a party, a well defined political line, a predetermined program, control of the labour movement, political direction of the organisations created to fight the counter-revolution. The Platform states: ‘The anarchist union as an organisation of the social revolution rests on the two main classes of society: the workers and the peasants . . . all their energies must be concentrated on the ideological guidance of the labour organisations.’

The concrete form of organisation needed to achieve such political and social direction of the masses and their actions will be: at the highest level, the leading party (General Union); a little below: the higher levels of the workers and peasants organisations led by the Union; still lower: the organisations at the base set up to fight the counter-revolution, the army, etc.

We do not believe that the anarchists should lead the masses; we believe that our role is to assist the masses only when they need such assistance. This is how we see our position: the anarchists are part of the membership in the economic and social mass organisations. They act and build as part of the whole. An immense field of action is opened to them for ideological, social and creative activity without assuming a position of superiority over the masses. Above all they must fulfills their ideological and ethical influence in a free and natural manner.

The anarchists and specific organisations (groups, federations, confederations) can only offer ideological assistance, but not in the role of leaders. The slightest suggestion of direction, of superiority, of leadership of the masses and developments inevitably implies that the masses must accept direction, must submit to it; this, in turn, gives the leaders a sense of being privileged like dictators, of becoming separated from the masses.

In other words, the principles of power come into play — This is in contradiction not only with the central ideas of anarchism, but also our conception of the social revolution. The revolution must be the free creation of the masses, not controlled by ideological or political groups.

The Transition Period

The Platform denies the principle of the transition, period in words yet accepts it as a fact. If the Platform contains an original idea it is precisely on this point, on the detailed description of the idea of the transition period. Everything else is only an attempt to justify this idea.

Some Russian anarcho-syndicalists openly defended this idea a few years ago. The authors of that Platform do not defend the idea of a transition clearly and openly. This vacillation, this conditional acceptance and rejection, makes frank and logical discussion of the issue difficult. For instance, they declare on the issue of majority and minority in the anarchist movement: In principle (the classical conception follows) . . . however, at certain moments it could be that (the compromise follows). . .’

We know that life does not happen in ‘moments’. Another example: ‘We believe that decisions of the soviets wilt be carried out in society without decrees of coercion. But such decisions must be obligatory for everyone who has accepted them, and sanctions must be applied against those who reject them’ This is the start of coercion, violence, sanctions.

The Platform states:

‘Because we are convinced that acceptance of a government will result in the defeat of the revolution and the enslavement of the masses, we must direct all our efforts to have the revolution take the anarchist road . . . But we also recognise that our organisation of labour on the basis of small groups of artisans cannot help us fulfil our goal. This must be recognised in advance by the specific organisations.

The Anarchist Union will lead the discussion and will decide the question in case of disagreement. This is precisely the issue. We find the same contradiction with regard to the defence of the revolution:

‘Politically, whom will the army obey? Since the workers are not represented by a single organisation, they will probably organise various economic organisations. Thus, if we accept the principle of an army, we must also accept the principle of obedience of the army to the economic organisations of the workers and peasants . . .’

This is the transition period!

The Platform states with respect to freedom of press and freedom of speech: ‘There can be specific moments when the press, however well intentioned, will be controlled to an extent for the good of the revolution.’ Who will judge when, these ‘specific moments’ occur? Who will judge what their ‘limits’ should be? There will be authority and power, even though it may be called by some other name.

The Platform writes regarding the anarchist principle ‘From each according to his capacities, to each according to his needs’:

‘This principle is the touchstone of anarchist-communism. But it is a conception of principle: its realisation will depend on the practical steps taken during the early days of the revolution.’ Here again the ‘howevers’. What. then, is the transition period?

It is clear and logical to us: the idea of the necessity to lead the masses to guide developments, therefore the need for elements of power and a transition period. We, on the other hand, regard the essential core of the social revolution to be the role of the mass of the workers who, thrust into the colossal process of social destruction by their historical experience, can achieve the free society in freedom, conscious of what they are doing.


How will production be organised? Will it be centralised and planned the way the Bolsheviks are doing? Will it be too decentralised on a federalist basis?

This is the most important question. The authors of the Platform write: ‘The organisation of production will be carried out by organisations created by the workers — soviets, factory committees which will direct and organise production in the cities, the regions and the nations. They will be linked closely with the masses who elect and control them, and have the power of recall at any time.

The Platform accepts a centralised, mechanical system, giving it the simple corrective of election. This is not enough. We think that changing names of an administrative body by means of an election is no great change. A mechanical, inanimate process can never come alive. So far as we are concerned, the participation of the masses cannot be limited only to ‘electing’. There must be an immediate participation in the organisation of production. As a matter of principle we are not against committees (factory committees, workshop committees), nor against the need for a relationship and co-ordination between them. But these organisations can have a negative aspect: immobility, bureaucracy, a tendency to authoritarianism that will not be changed automatically by the principle of voting. It seems to us that there will be a better guarantee in the creation of a series of other, more mobile, even provisional organs, which arise and multiply according to needs that arise in the course of daily living and activities. Thus, in addition to organisations for distribution, for consumers, for housing, etc. All of these together offer a richer, more faithful reflection of the complexity of social life.
Defence of the Revolution

This is the way the Platform sees the problem:

‘In the first days of the social revolution, the armed forces are formed by all the armed workers and peasants, by the people in arms. But this is only in the first days when the civil war has not reached a climax, when the combatants have not yet coordinated their military organisation. After these early days, the armed forces of the revolution with its general command and general plan of operation. This organisation of struggle against the counter-revolution on battlefields in civil war is under the direction of the workers and peasants producers’ organisations.’

We see two errors here, one technical, one political. The technical error: only a centralised army can defend the revolution. To avoid total confusion, we point out that the opposite is also incorrect, namely, that only isolated, local units with no contact with each other can guarantee the success of the revolution. A highly centralised command developing a general plan of action can lead to catastrophe. Actions without co-ordination are also inefficient. The defects of the first, which do not take local conditions into consideration, are self-evident. The discouragement of local and individual initiative, the weight of the apparatus, the tendency to regard the center as infallible, the priorities of the specialists are all the weaknesses of centralised command. The defects of the second system are self-evident.

How can these problems and defects be resolved? We believe, especially in view of the Russian experience, that the armed participation of the working masses is essential, not only in the first days of revolutionary action, but during the entire period of struggle. Local formations of workers and peasants must be maintained with the understanding that their action is not isolated, but rather coordinated in a common campaign. And even when the situation requires larger armed formations, the command should not be centralised. There should be joint combat effectiveness when necessary, but they must be able to adapt easily to changing situations and take advantage of unforeseen conditions.

It must not be forgotten that the partisan units won the victories in the Russian Revolution against the forces of reaction, Denikin, Kolchak, Wrangel. The central army, with their central command and pre-established strategic planning was always taken by surprise and was unable to adapt to the unexpected. Most of the time, the centralised Red Army arrived late, almost always in to receive the laurels and glory of victory which belonged to the real victors, the partisans. One day history will report the truth about the bureaucracy of military centralisation.

We can be asked how is it possible to defend the social revolution against foreign intervention without a solid centralised army. We respond, first, that this danger should not be exaggerated. Most of the time such an expedition comes from far away with all the difficulties this entails; second, the Russian Revolution had a series of such interventions, and they were all defeated by partisan units, not by the centralised army, by the active resistance of the masses, by the intense revolutionary propaganda addressed to the soldiers and sailors of the invading forces.

Finally, we point out that a centralised army with its central command and ‘political direction’, has too much opportunity to stop being a revolutionary army; consciously or not it becomes an instrument to hold back, a tool of, reaction, of suffocation of the true revolution. We know because history has taught these lessons in the past. The latest example is the Russian Revolution with its Red Army.

The position of the Platform on the role of the army as a ‘political defender’, an ‘arm against reaction’, surprises us. We believe that such an apparatus can have only a negative role for the social revolution. Only the people in arms, with their enthusiasm, their positive solutions to the essential problems of the revolution (particularly in production) can offer sufficient defence against the plots of the ‘bourgeoisie’. And if the people fall, no ‘apparatus’, no ‘army’, no ‘tcheka’ can save the revolution. To disagree with this viewpoint means that the problems of the revolution do not interest the masses except as a political cloak. This is the typically — Bolshevik conception.

This leads to the following conclusion: a leading organisation (the Union) that orients the mass organisations (workers and peasants) in their political direction and is supported as needed by a centralised army is nothing more than a new political power.

Anarchist Organisation

We return to the problem of organisation which is of concern to us. We believe that the disorganisation of the anarchist movement around the world does us great harm. We are convinced that forces and movements must be organised. Three questions arise when we consider the creation of an organisation: the method of establishing an organisation, the aim and essence of an organisation, and its form.

Method of Creating an Anarchist Organisation

Why and how should an anarchist organisation be created? We must start by trying to understand the most important causes of disorganisation among anarchists. It is clear and simple for the authors of the Platform: some anarchists have a ‘disturbed’ character, a sense of ‘irresponsibility’,’ a ‘lack of discipline’. We believe that among a number of causes of disorganisation in anarchist movements, the most important is the vague and imprecise character of some of our basic ideas.

The authors of the Platform agree with this. They speak of ‘contradiction in theory and practice’, of doubts without end’. There are two ways to resolve this question: Take one idea among ‘contradictory ideas’ as the basis, accept it as the common program. If necessary, organise with a certain discipline. At the same time, all who disagree with the program should be excluded and even driven out of the movement. The organisation thus created — the only organisation — will further clarify its ideas (there are comrades who believe that the anarchist ideas on this issue are sufficiently clear). As a serious organisation is created, we will have to devote our best energies to clarify, deepen and develop our ideas.

Above all we must try to reduce the ‘contradictions’ in the field of theory. Our efforts to create an organisation will help us in our ideological work. To put it another way, we will organise our forces as we develop and systematise our ideas.

The authors of the Platform forget that they are following an old road in seeking to create an organisation based on a single ideological and tactical conception. They are creating an organisation that will have more or less hostile relations with other organisations that do not have exactly the same conceptions. They do not understand that this old road will lead inevitably to the same old results; the existence not of a single organisation but of many organisations. They will not be in a co-operative, harmonious relationship, but rather in conflict with each other even though they are all anarchist: each organisation will claim the sole, the profound truth. These organisations will be concerned with polemics against each other rather than developing propaganda and activities to help the anarchist movement in general.

The authors of the Platform speak of the need for ‘ideological and tactical unity’. But how is this unity to be achieved? This is the problem, and there is no satisfactory answer. The method outlined does not lead to unity. On the contrary, it will make the differences, the discussion, among us more acute leading even to hatred.

This approach must be treated as follows? the ‘only’, the ‘true’ theory and tactic of the authors of the Platform must be rejected without further discussion.

However this is not the anarchist way to act. We suggest another course of procedure. We believe that the first step toward achieving unity in the anarchist movement which can lead to serious organisation is collective ideological work on a series of important problems that seek the clearest possible collective solution.

For those comrades who are afraid of philosophical and intellectual digressions and wanderings, we make it clear that we are not concerned with philosophical problems or abstract dissertations, but with concrete questions for which, unfortunately, we do not have clear answers. For example, the questions, among others, of the constructive task of anarchism, of the role of the masses and the conscious minority, of violence, the analysis of the process of social revolution and the problem of the period of transition, the way to the libertarian society, the role of workers and peasants organisations, of the armed groups, the relations with unions, the relationship between communism and individualism, the problem of the organisation of our forces.

How can this be realised?

We suggest that there be a publication for discussion in every country where the problems in our ideology and tactics can be fully discusses, regardless of how ‘acute’ or even ‘taboo’ it may be. The need for such a printed organ, as well as oral discussion, seems to us to be a ‘must’ because it is the practical way, to try to achieve ‘ideological unity’, ‘tactical unity’, and possibly organisation.

There are, however, comrades who refuse to use an organ of discussion. They prefer a series of publications, each defending a particular position. We prefer a single organ with the condition that representatives of all opinions and all tendencies in anarchism be permitted to express themselves and become accustomed to living together. A full and tolerant discussion of our problems in one organ will create a basis for understanding, not only among anarchists, but among the different conceptions of anarchism. This type of agreement to discuss our ideas together in an organised fashion can advance along parallel lines.

Role and Character of Anarchist Organisations

The role and aim of an organisation are fundamental. There cannot be a serious organisation without a clear definition of this question. The aims of an organisation are determined in a large part by its form. The authors of the Platform attribute the role of leading the masses, the unions and all other organisations, as well as all activities and developments to the anarchist organisation. We declare that juxtaposing the words ‘to lead’ with the adverb ‘ideologically’ does not change the position of the Platform’s authors significantly because they conceive the organisation as a disciplined party. We reject any idea that the anarchists should lead the masses. We hope that their role will only be that of ideological collaboration, as participants and helpers fulfilling our social role in a modest manner. We have pointed out the nature of our work: the written and spoken word, revolutionary propaganda, cultural work, concrete living example, etc.

Form of Anarchist Organisation

The contradictions, the semi-confessions, the vacillations in language of the Platform are characteristic on this point. However, in spite of many precautions, their conception appears to be that of any political party: the Executive Committee of the Universal Anarchist Union must, among other things, assume the ideological and organisational direction of every organisation according to the general ideological and tactical line of the Union. At the same time, the Platform affirms its faith in the federalist principle which is in absolute contradiction with the ideas cited above. Federalism means autonomy at the base, federation of local groups, regions, etc., and finally a union of federations and confederations.

A certain ideological and tactical unity among organisations is clearly necessary. But how? In what sense? We cite again the resolution adopted by the Ukrainian organisation, NABAT, at the Kursk conference: ‘A harmonious anarchist organisation in which the union does not have a formal character but its members are joined together by common ideas of means and ends.’

The authors of the Platform begin by affirming: ‘Anarchism has always been the negation of a centralised organisation.’ Yet they then go on to outline a perfectly centralised organisation with an Executive Committee that has the responsibility to give ideological and organisational direction to the different anarchist organisations, which in turn will direct the professional organisations of the workers.

What has happened to federalism? They are only one step away from bolshevism, a step that the authors of the Platform do not dare to take. The similarity between the bolsheviks and the ‘Platform anarchists’ is frightening to the Russian comrades. It makes no difference whether the supreme organ of the anarchist party is called Executive Committee, or if we call it Confederal Secretariat. The proper spirit of an anarchist organisation is that of a technical organ of relations, help and information among the different local groups and federations.

In conclusion, the only original points in the Platform are: its revisionism toward bolshevism hidden by the authors, and acceptance of the transition period. There is nothing original in the rest of the Platform. This cannot be clear to the comrades of other countries because not enough has been published yet in other languages on the Russian Revolution and anarchism in Russia. The comrades therefore do not know much about developments there. Some of them are therefore able to accept the Platform’s interpretation.

However, we think that the ‘acceptance’ will not last long.

We are convinced that discussion of the Platform will help clear up some of the misunderstandings.

Roman Ervantian