Wednesday, May 13, 2020



What Anarchism Is Not:
It isn’t violence or terrorism. True, many years ago a tiny handful of anarchists did engage in violence. However, reactionaries, liberals, populists and socialists have also engaged in violent actions, yet no one brands their ideologies as terrorist or violent. Many anarchists are non-violent activists or pacifists.
It isn’t chaos, hostility to organization or everyone doing what ever they damn well please. Anarchist organization is not an oxymoron, anarchists believe very strongly in organization, but the organizations must be democratic, decentralized and federated, not hierarchical, top-down and authoritarian.
Anarchism is not nihilism or amorality. Anarchists have a very strong ethical basis for their beliefs – the most important of which, that it is wrong to coerce another person.
Anarchists do not think society can be changed overnight. Rather they wish society to move in a libertarian direction, rather than an authoritarian one. Nor do anarchists believe in perfect societies or utopias. They just want life to be better than it is now.
What Anarchism Is:
Liberty. Everyone must be free to live, speak, write, organize as they wish. Their bodies are their own, they are free to ingest whatever plant or drug they wish and engage in whatever adult consensual sexual activity they wish. No one may coerce another.
Self- management. Most work places are petty tyrannies, everyone ought to have a say in how things are run.
Mutual aid. As much as possible services rendered at present by the government or by corporations ought to be done by democratic, client-run cooperatives (mutual aid societies)
Decentralization. What can be done best at the local level ought to be done there. Centralization leads to corruption and alienation.
Federalism. Not everything can be done at the micro-level. In some areas scale is also important. In order to have large organizations, the smaller groups must federate and in this way maintain their independence yet have the advantage of a large organization. Control is horizontal – like a web – rather than vertical as in an authoritarian hierarchy.
Direct democracy. People make decisions in mass meetings. Recallable delegates are elected to the higher levels. This way power stays at the base and the “representatives” aren't a controlling elite.
Types of Anarchists
Above were the basic concepts of anarchism. All anarchists believe in and try to practice these precepts. However, there are a number of different kinds of anarchists:
Anarcho-syndicalists. These are anarchists who practice their anarchism in the work place, attempting to form anarchist trade unions, or influence existing unions in an anarchist direction. They promote worker self-management.
Mutualists. Promote the formation of mutual aid societies and cooperatives and are sympathetic to individual producers as well as collective ones.
Individualists. Seek a minimum of organized activity. Prefer individual control of property, and cooperation at a more limited level than mutualists.
Communitarians seek to build new communities and/or promote community within existing populations.
Anarchist communists. Not to be confused with Marxist Leninist communists who are statists, anarchist communists prefer community ownership and democratic control of the means of production.
Ecological anarchists. Apply ecological and green principles to anarchism and society.
Pacifists and Tolstoyans. Can be any of the above types, but totally reject any form of violence in the promotion of these goals or in the future society.
Syntheists and Platformists. The former seek groups and federations that unite all anarchists whether individualist or communist. The latter, unite anarchist communists around a program and favor a tighter, disciplined organization.
These divisions are not that serious. They are mostly differences in emphasis and actually help spread anarchist ideas to all corners of society. 2005

Unite Around Common Aims

My view of "anarchist strategy" is not based upon municipal governments, anarcho-syndicalist unions, nor choosing a model out of the past. (Athens or the Paris Commune) Rather than attempting to create something out of our heads, we must look at actual popular struggle, both past and present. If you examine true mass movements (those not the creature of some political party) unity is based upon a few key issues, representing the concerns of a great many people. The consensus can be moderate (end the war), somewhat radical (student power in the '60's) radical (workers' self-management, Poland 1980) or revolutionary (abolish the wage system/state, syndicalism in the 1920's) Such positions do not come handed down from some individual, but are "in the air" at the time.
People remain united around these key issues as long as the movement is growing. During decline ideologies come to the forefront and fragmentation begins - although sectarian groups exist at all stages. But mass movements always fail and are always recuperated. The reason for this is that "social revolution" is a process and not the Apocalypse. Movements are however, successful in their failure - few of us in the developed world live 5 to a room and drop dead at 40 like our ancestors of only 100 years ago. This remarkable change was largely the result of the workers' movement and not a gift from the bosses. People must see things as process and not become dependent upon the immediate success of their particular movement.
What is "in the air" today? Concern about war, nuclear power, gentrification of cities, a rejection of work and political parties, concern with the situation of women and minorities, the environment. All of these issues really boil down to one central issue - people do not have control over their lives - not at work, not at home and not in the community. It seems to me that the situation exists for a broad libertarian socialist movement which has decentralist, autonomist and self-managerial aims. Such a movement could not be created by, nor reduced to, the Green Party, the libertarian municipalist movement, the IWW or an anarchist federation, but could encompass all of these.
Our central problem is not the need to create some magic strategy, but to get people to see they all have something in common - the implicit desire to get the State and the corporations off their backs. The best place to start this process would be to get the various libertarian/anarchist groups to begin seeing themselves as part of a movement and stop sniping and bickering. The fact that all agree on the goals (getting rid of the state and capitalism) and the means to achieve them (a mass popular movement ) tends to get lost in all the sectarian hot air. Before we can start thinking of a larger movement, we must get our own act together, unite around common aims and leave secondary issues to friendly discussions. 1988

Anarchism as Common Sense

The majority of people today wish to preserve the environment. Environmentalism has become “common sense”, but this was not the case 50 years ago. At that time, the environment was the concern of a small minority, ridiculed in the media when mentioned at all. Gender and racial equality are two more examples of ideas once considered “fringe” that are now common sense. Go back farther and the abolition of slavery, child labour and the torture of animals become examples. Once ideas become widespread among the people and therefore regarded as common sense, government and business are forced to adapt to the new reality. In this manner, change occurs from bottom to top in society. I would like to suggest that our task as anarchists is to make anarchist ideas become regarded as common sense like environmentalism and gender equality are today.
To accomplish this task, we don’t need an elite propagandizing a set of new ideas, but rather a means of bringing out that which already exists in embryonic or unconscious form. Nor would there be much use in talking about what happened 100 years ago, 5,000 miles away, or some during alleged future revolution, but the ordinary and the here and now.
Environmentalism and gender equality, once again, are good examples. While not one person in 10,000 heard of ecology in 1960, no one found pollution or the sight of clear-cut logging enjoyable. People did not like environmental destruction, but accepted it as “the inevitable price of progress.” Most people probably agreed “a woman’s place was in the home”, but women went to school and many were in the workplace. There was also the legacy of one hundred years of struggle for the rights of women which lay beneath the calm, patriarchal surface. Environmentalists and women’s liberationists merely brought into conscious awareness what was already there in an unconscious form. They also made people aware that nothing was inevitable and that change was possible. Liken this process to dropping a tiny seed crystal into a supersaturated solution. Do this and the liquid immediately crystallizes.
What are some potentially anarchist ideas in a “supersaturated solution”? Few people any longer longer think more government is the answer. There is a general dislike of bureaucrats and politicians. Many people are suspicious of corporations, and anything else “big”, for that matter. Most workers consider management over-paid and incompetent. Few people “trust the experts.” In a more concise and conscious form these feelings and sentiments become: 1. Preference for the voluntary over the forced. 2. Horizontal rather than vertical relationships or “bottom-up” control rather than top-down. 3. The small and local preferred to the large and centralized. 4. Self management and direct democracy.
Millions of people belong to voluntary associations and cooperatives. Most of these function well, or at least far better than government or corporate institutions. We have to ask the question; “If voluntarism and democratic control work well for the volunteer fire brigade, the credit union and co-op store, why couldn’t these methods be extended to the whole society?” 2001

De-Legitimizing the Dominators
Cannibalism, head hunting, and human sacrifice were once thought normal. Go back two hundred years or even less, and you find a general acceptance of public executions, floggings, torture of animals, beating of children and wives, humiliation of the handicapped, brutal sexual repression and “scientific” racism. Any one of these behaviors today would get you marked as someone with serious mental problems. Take up head hunting and you end up in an institution for the criminally insane. Child abuse means a magistrate and mandatory therapy. If behaviors once deemed acceptable are now seen as unhealthy, surely authoritarian behavior in general could become so regarded?
As old Hegel said, people act out of a desire for recognition. One can acquire this recognition through merit or force. A healthy person acquires recognition by what she does or how she is as a person, and has no need to force anyone to agree that she is a valuable human being. Such a person has developed talents and a personality that naturally attract others. People with weak, insecure egos need the bolstering brought by power and authority since they cannot achieve recognition on their own. Domination allows them to have a sense of self. One way to power is through politics, and if that avenue is not open, there is wealth. Money can’t buy you love, but it can sure as hell buy you power. The “greedy capitalist” is only an insecure individual seeking power, and thus a sense of self, through the accumulation of wealth. Is it also not true that almost everyone in a position of illegitimate authority is a mediocrity and got where they are through deceit, ruthlessness and skulduggery? Think only of Tony Blair and George W. Bush.
Bureaucracies attract unbalanced personalities – yes men, ass kissers, bullies, and sadists who get their sense of self from tormenting those underneath them. Authoritarian structures; schools, churches, corporations, government bureaucracies, police and military, are full of people who thrive on using their little crumbs of power to the maximum. Heinrich Himmler is the archetypal “bureaupath.” Bureaucracies also develop cult-like tendencies forcing otherwise normal individuals into accepting insane beliefs or immoral behavior. Only one example of this is “police tribalism”, where police officers are forced to cover for each other, regardless of the corrupt or brutal acts that might have committed by members of the force.
Fanatical, totalitarian ideologies are a magnet for the unbalanced. Left sectarian, fascist, extreme nationalist, religious “fundamentalist” and terrorist groups are full of lunatics who think they have the right to impose their ideas upon the rest of us, whether we want it or not. They may well be miserable wretches, but by God they possess The Truth and long for the day they assuage their insecurity by becoming commissars or gauleiters.
This authoritarian madness, whether of political, corporate, bureaucratic or ideological origin, is very dangerous and may mean the extinction of the human race. Power-mad crazies killed 170 million people in the 20th Century with their wars, man-made famines and extermination camps. What else might they do? Social evolution has to marginalize this personality type and the behavior attached to it, in the same way other harmful behaviors were marginalized in the past. Of course, it is not just a matter of authoritarian personalities. It goes without saying, that authoritarian structures must be abolished or replaced with libertarian forms.
In order marginalize this illness, every authoritarian law, regulation, ideology and action must be held up to examination and ridicule, as the results of insecure, unhealthy individuals forcing their fantasies upon the rest of us. The ordinary person, already suspicious of politicians, bureaucrats and corporate CEO’s, must say when confronted by such people, Only loonies want power! 2004

French Anarchists in the 1930's

Years ago, I came across something that Jean Maitron wrote which aroused my curiosity. Maitron said that France had as many anarchists in the mid-1930's as the 'classical' period of anarchism. (1890-1910) I would have loved to research this further and discover what lessons, if any, our 1930's comrades might have for us, but this entailed spending a lot of time in Switzerland at the CIRA (International Center for Anarchist Research) in Lausanne.
Imagine my surprise and pleasure upon discovering David Berry's ANARCHISM IN FRANCE 1917-1945. Imagine my displeasure that Greenwood would charge $75 for it. But I had to have the book and so shelled out. Expensive but worth it. Berry did all that research, in a most exhausting manner too, going through hundreds of papers, pamphlets, letters and so forth. He showed that Maitron was right, anarchism took a nose-dive in the 20's and revived to pre-war levels or even greater in the mid-1930's. At this time there were literally 'tens of thousands' of anarchist activists and supporters. Perhaps as many as 200,000 people in France had some level of sympathy for anarchism. This non-party, was in fact the third largest 'party' of the Left.
The largest and most influential organization, the Union Anarchiste (UA), formed in 1920, had 3000 members and their paper Le Libertaire, had press runs of 20,000, on one occasion 100,000. Nor was anarchism just Parisian. Even Nice had a UA group of 300 members. It should be pointed out that most anarchists did not belong to the two main organizations, the UA and the Federation Anarchiste Francaise (FAF) (1) , so their numbers were even greater than formal memberships would indicate.
Berry also explores the social make up of the anarchist movement. The common Marxist put-down has always been that anarchism attracted only artisans - a 'dying breed' and therefore anarchism was a primitive form of socialism. What he finds is that most 1930's anarchists were blue and white collar workers. In fact there was no difference in social composition between the anarchists and Communist Party (CP) members.
Anarchists were active in the strikes of 1936 and CP members were deserting the party for the UA. Anarchists led the support for the labour movement in Spain, in one year sending 100 truckloads of supplies to the CNT-FAI (2) and holding meetings of up to 15,000 people in the red banlieus of Paris. According to veteran anarchist Sebastian Faure, there had never been as many anarchists in France as in 1936-38.
The UA organized an anti-Stalinist, anti-fascist, Revolutionary Front composed of left-wing members of the Socialist Party, Trotskyists, the Socialist Workers and Peasants Party, the Groupe Revolutionaire, 'moderate' syndicalists of the CGT, revolutionary syndicalists like Monatte, cooperators, and radical pacifists. Many anarchists, it turns out, were already active in the CGT, the cooperative movement, and yes, even the Socialist Party. The anarchist movement had begun to re-established itself as the revolutionary movement, just like in the period 1890-1910. The Stalinists counter-attacked, excluding anarchists from trade union work, slandering and harassing them wherever possible.
The momentary success of the CNT-FAI was a real shot in the arm. Spain provided a living example and the Spanish comrades (esp. Durrutti and the FAI) exerted strong pressure to overcome sectarian splits within the anarchist and syndicalist movements and to work towards the Revolutionary Front. The UA outreach to non-anarchists in its 'common ground' approach paid off, as Socialists and trade union members became attracted to anarchism.
However by 1939, all this positive energy was gone, and so too most of the organizational efforts. What happened? The defeat of the Spanish Revolution by Franco and Stalin took a heavy toll on morale. Sectarian infighting drove away scores of new members. The problem here was that the FAF considered the UA to be 'revisionist' because it cooperated with non-anarchists and 'traitors' like the Jouhaux's 'reformist' CGT, as in the Revolutionary Front and Spanish support work. To add to the misery, Leon Blum's Popular Front government was defeated and the right-wing Daladier regime installed. The new government wasted no time attacking the anarchists and persecuting the Spanish exiles. The 1938 General Strike called by the CGT to protest Deladier's reactionary policies failed, due in large measure to the aforementioned demoralization. Overall, the long-term tendency did not favor libertarianism. Everywhere, centralization, big government and corporatism were advancing at a gallop. The last chance to turn this around was 1936.
Berry concludes that French anarchism attracted people during periods of 'revisionism', that is, when worn-out dogmas were being challenged and new ideas were coming to the fore. One such period was the late 1890's, when the self-defeating dogmas of 'propaganda of the deed' and insurrectionism were confronted by the new concept - syndicalism. The 1930's saw the UA challenge the sectarian isolationism and hostility to organization that plagued the 1920's movement with a 'common ground' approach. Indeed, the 20's were a sectarian hell-broth. Anarchists were split into a dozen broad factions; pro and anti-Bolshevik, a minority (Grave, Pouget) who had supported the War and the majority who didn't, individualist and non-individualist, Platformist and antiplatformist, (3) militants and 'moderates' and two different, and mutually hostile, revolutionary syndicalist factions. (4) Note that few of these disputes had much to do with the essential content of anarchism such as anti-authoritarianism, federalism, and direct action.
One of the problems never fully resolved (even by the UA) was that most anarchists were not part of any specific anarchist group and thus tended to get lost to the movement within the various coops, unions, women’s, or rationalist groups they belonged to. Many preferred to join the Socialist Party. This made the anarchist movement seem a lot weaker than it actually was, and tended to discourage militants from becoming anarchists. A strong federation would have been a pole of attraction to many people who joined the Communist or Socialist parties instead.
The UA 'common ground' concept had its origins in the pre-war writings of Sebastien Faure who saw the 'revolutionary forces' consisting of not just the anarchists but also syndicalists, left-socialists, the coop movement and the rationalists. In 1917, the anarchist known as 'Mauricius' wrote that anarchists themselves needed to unite around a few clear principles, "the greatest number of people possible." That same year the anarcho-syndicalist Raymond Pericat proposed an international composed of left-socialists, syndicalists and anarchists.
UA theory was further advanced in the late 1930's. Up until then, revolutionary anarchists had a naive view of the revolution; that it would be quick and total. The events in Spain showed this would not be the case and that some sort of transition period was required, the state would have to be dismantled, rather than abolished in one glorious stroke. The state would have to be replaced by decentralized federal and direct democratic structures, a procedure the speed of which would depend upon the consciousness of the population. Unfortunately the collapse of the movement and WWII prevented any further development along this line. And as one might expect, the idea of a transition period was considered treasonous by the sectarian dreamers.
What lessons do I draw from the French experience? For one, there is nothing automatic to history, nor was the decline of our movement a result of some 'social evolution.' Had the CNT-FAI-POUM alliance in Spain even partially succeeded, the French movement would have continued growing and the pressure for anarchist unity and the Revolutionary Front would have been ever stronger. Stalin knew exactly what he was doing, he had to destroy the anarchists and their left-socialist allies (POUM) otherwise these tendencies would eventually threaten his direction of the Communist Party.
Secondly, the correctness of the 'broad-church', common ground approach and the utter futility of sectarianism. The UA, was in certain senses the spiritual ancestor of today's non-sectarian anarchism. We can see from their momentary, partial success what we need to do.
Thirdly, organization. Eventually, and we are certainly not at that point yet, we will need a federation that great numbers of anarchists and sympathizers can belong to. This would need to be based upon a few common principles and not the usual programmatic diarrhea of the sectarian groups. Something to pull people together, make them realize they are part of something greater than their own local coop, union or whatever project they are involved in.
Fourthly, the international perspective. One group pushing ahead helps all the rest. If this was true in 1936, imagine now with our airliners and instant communication. 2004

1. Not to be confused with the contemporary French Anarchist Federation. The Second World War broke any organizational continuity.
2. The CNT was the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist federation, the FAI the Iberian Anarchist Federation. In 1936 the CNT had 2 million members, the FAI had 30,000 members.
3. The Platformists wanted a disciplined organization united around a program. (the Platform) This was overwhelming rejected by other anarchists during this period.
4. The Monatte group which had members in all the trade unions and the Besnard group formed a small separate union federation (CGT-SR) in opposition to all the others. The FAF was aligned with the CGT-SR while the UA worked with the other anarcho-syndicalists.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

Blogging Change
BCBloggers Code: Progressive Bloggers Site Meter