The object of the following article is to outline the various political movements, events and current ideas and individuals which have in one way or another, served as influences upon the development of the Anarchist Communist Federation and subsequently the Anarchist Federation.
First of a 5 part serial.
This article is neither a family tree nor a systematic overview of revolutionary politics over the last 150 years, but rather an attempt to give recognition to those who have contributed to our political understanding. An authentic revolutionary theory is always in a state of development, building upon what has gone before it and trying to make a contribution to a core of ideas and practice which remains at the very centre of any revolutionary project. Theory, our understanding of the world, hasn't evolved in a straight line, but has rather developed in fits and starts relative to the class struggle itself. Often lessons learned appear to be 'lost' and then 'found' again years later. Revolutionaries appear to have sometimes spent time repeatedly re-inventing the wheel. Events in one country may remain almost unknown in others for linguistic and other reasons. Groups and individuals may be approaching similar conclusions from different starting points, unaware of each other's efforts. Ideological animosities often with barely rational bases may mean such efforts never benefit from the cross-pollination of ideas.
The ACF emerged in 1985/86 (as the Libertarian Communist Discussion Group) as an attempt to remedy the lack of coherent class politics and organisation amongst British anarchists. Beyond that objective the ACF had to defend an undogmatic approach, whilst rejecting a haphazard eclecticism which would guarantee political paralysis.
The First International
"The emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself"
This motto of the IWMA, probably penned by Karl Marx, defined the difference between the revolutionaries who viewed the working class to be the agent of revolutionary change (Marx, Bakunin) and those who saw the liberation of the working class as the task of other forces (The Utopian Socialists, Proudhonists and the Blanquists). The division in the International between the 'communists' (the Marxists) and the revolutionary socialists (anarchists) created two 'wings' of socialism. The vast majority of Marxists (social democrats, Leninists) have paid lip service to the motto of the First International whilst acting to negate it in practice. Despite all manners of confusions, tactical dead-ends and betrayals, the revolutionary anarchists have remained loyal to it.
The Anarchist Communists
No AF bookstall is complete without at least a few of the classics of what might be termed traditional anarchist communist thought.
Although Bakunin,unable to envisage a communism without the state, had been a collectivist and had defended a form of exchange economy, by the 1880s the anarchist movement had rejected Proudhonistic economics in favour of communism. Peter Kropotkin is rightly considered the leading exponent of anarchist communism either side of the turn of the 19th Century and his book, The Conquest of bread (1888) is generally regarded as the most cogent work of insurrectionary, anarchist communism. Kropotkin argued that any revolution which failed to immediately communise social relations, expropriate the bourgeoisie and abolish the wages system was bound to recreate a form of private property based, exploitative society. The anarchist communists attacked the notion of a transitional period characterised by the continuation of the money system, even if cash had been replaced by labour vouchers or other tokens. Unlike the social democratic movement, for whom the continuation of wage labour, under state control, was considered a central feature of 'socialism', the anarchist communists argued for a society based upon the idea of 'From each according to ability, to each according to need'.
The International movement
Anarchist communism had its partisans in most parts of the world. It would be impossible to list even a fraction of who made an important contribution to the early theory and movement but notable are Carlo Cafiero, Sebastien Faure, Ricardo Flores Magon and Kotoku Shusui. Within the movement there existed various tactical differences. At a deeper level there were divisions between pro-organisation currents, such as those around the former social democrat MP Johann Most and Errico Malatesta and anti-organisation currents, such as those around Luigi Galleani. On the question of trade unionism and syndicalism there were also divisions. Although a majority of anarchist communists supported, critically or otherwise, the syndicalist movement, the early critics of any identification of anarchism with syndicalism, such as Malatesta, had a profound influence upon the early ACF as we looked at anarchist criticisms of trade unionism. Indeed, Malatesta's pragmatic anarchism has been important to the AF in many areas.
The Socialist League
The domination of reformist social democracy in the labour movement wasn't only challenged by anarchists. In many countries anti-parliamentarist oppositions developed and in Britain a section of the Socialist League, a split from the Social Democratic Federation defended an anti-statist communist position, rejecting equally the policy of nationalisation put forward by social democracy. They condemned "State socialism, by whatever name it is called, whose aim it would be to make concessions to the working class while leaving the present system of capital and wages still in operation." Manifesto of the Socialist League 1885.
The Anti-statist communists, who included William Morris and Joseph Lane, were amongst the earliest critics of trade unionism, which they likened to the grease that oils the 'machine of exploitation'. In his 'anti-statist communist manifesto' of 1887 Lane described the trade unions as "becoming little better than benefit societies " and rejected the campaign for the 8 hour day as a 'palliative measure'. For the likes of Morris, socialism or communism wasn't about shorter working hours, welfare relief or better wages, but was about creating the conditions in which people could live differently. The desire to live differently is central to, for example, our Manifesto for the Millennium.
The Russian Revolution
The Russian Revolutions, February and October 1917, shook the world and sparked a wave of struggles across the globe. These events were inspirational to the working class and to anarchists and socialists who had opposed the slaughter of the 'Great War'. The soviets (councils) and the factory committees, which emerged as organs of working class power in the workplace and in society as a whole, represented a break with parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy. The Bolshevik seizure of power, which had the tacit support of the most active working class militants, quickly revealed itself as an usurpation of power from the working class and the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' emerged as actually a dictatorship over the proletariat as the Bolshevik government developed capitalism in Russia.
The opposition to the usurpation of power wasn't long in coming from the workers and from revolutionaries, including some within the Bolshevik party itself. The factory committees which workers has organised to run industry co-ordinated resistance and advocated 'workers control' against the introduction of 'one-man management'. The workers hoped to keep decision making at the grass-roots level. Whilst not the same as communisation, these attempts at workers self-management were, at least examples of self-activity and attempts at establishing autonomous working class organisation against the state and the imposition of one-man management as advocated by Lenin.
The Russian anarcho-syndicalists attacked the bureaucratisation of the revolutionary process begun in February 1917, calling for the "immediate abolition of the state capitalist system and its replacement by a socialist system on anarchist communist lines". Considering the trade unions (which were dominated by Menshevik social democrats and Bolsheviks) "dead organisations" they described the factory committees as the "fighting organisational form of the entire workers' movement" upon whose shoulders "the revolution has placed the task of reconstructing economic life along communist lines". Programme of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Conference, Moscow August 1918.
Earlier that year within the Bolshevik Party, the so-called 'Left' communists, criticised the policy of the party which smothered the initiative of the workers saying "socialism and the socialist organisation of work will either be built by the proletariat itself, or it will not be built at all; but then something else will be erected, namely state capitalism." Kommunist No.2, April 1918.
The Makhnovist movement
In the Ukraine from 1918-1921 the imposition of state capitalism was resisted gun in hand by the Makhnovists, the Ukrainian Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army led by the anarchist communist Nestor Makhno. When not engaged in combat with the land owners, German adventurers, Ukrainian nationalists or the 'Red' army, the Makhnovists encouraged the establishment of voluntary "working" communes of peasants and workers. Although these, like the factory committees, were expressions of working class self-activity they were unable to attempt a total communisation of social relations prior to their destruction by the Bolsheviks. If socialism in one country is impossible, socialism in one region is likewise. Nonetheless, the Russian and Ukrainian revolutions remain an inspiration for us as they show the potentiality of working class self-organisation.
The German Revolution and Council Communism
The German revolution (1918-23) saw repeated attempts by workers to set up organs of counter-power such as territorial councils and workplace committees. Communists and anarchists involved themselves in these class movements, trying to push them as far as they would go. The councils were, however, dominated in most areas by social democrats whose aim was to establish a (capitalist) republic and put themselves into power. Where things got out of control the 'socialists' had no hesitation in using the most reactionary militarist elements to murder the rebels and crush the incipient revolution.
The experience of the Russian and German councils led some revolutionaries to view workers councils as the highest expression of workers self-organisation. Most of these advocates of council revolution had been on the extreme left of the social democratic parties of Germany and Holland (people like Otto Ruhle, a former social democrat MP) or in small groups in opposition to social democracy and to the world war (such as the International Communists of Germany (IKD)). Originally defining themselves as left communists, they were loyal to the Bolshevik revolution and the new Communist international but critical of the parliamentary and trade union policy of the Leninists. Against electoralism they pronounced "All power to the workers councils" and encouraged workers to abandon the trade unions and form 'industrial organisations' that would be explicitly anti-capitalist.
Hard as Steel, Clear as Glass
The left communists, despite being in a majority, were expelled from the fledgling Communist Party in 1920 and founded their own Communist Workers Party, with around 40,000 members. The new party vowed to be "As hard as steel, as clear as glass", consisting of only the most resolute communists. Simultaneously, it rejected the idea of 'leadership politics', called for the dictatorship of the proletariat, not the party, and opposed the idea of 'injecting' consciousness into the working class from the outside. All of this earned Lenin's ire and his 'Left Wing Communism; An Infantile Disorder' spends much time attacking the left communists' "anarchist" deviations.
Some left communists, who after a definitive break with the Communist International, became known as council communists, rejected the idea of separate political and economic organisations and created a 'unitary' industrial organisation to parallel that of the Communist Workers Party. Others rejected anything but the loosest form of organisation and ended up being little more than individualists.
Most of the Council Communists considered themselves Marxists and many shared a common contempt for anarchism, considering it a 'petit-bourgeois' ideology. The German class struggle anarchists at this time were very strong, though often divided. After 1925, sections of the Council Communist movement worked together with the anarchists in 'anti-authoritarian blocs'.
The positive legacy of the left /Council Communists must be their theoretical breakthroughs in their analysis of the Trade Unions and parliamentary democracy and in their understanding of the centrality of working class self-organisation in the revolutionary project. Their negative legacy can be summed up in the fetishisation of the council form, at the expense of its actual content at any given time. This led to the ideology of 'councilism', which tended to see the councils as the answer to all problems, a mirror image of the Leninist fetishisation of the Party form. Despite their failings, the experience of the workers' councils and of Council Communist theory are very important for the subsequent development of revolutionary politics.
The 'British' contribution to the council communist tradition is mainly the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation (APCF), which from 1921 until the mid-1940s defended similar politics to those described above. The APCF, however, described itself as "anarcho-marxian" and attempted to utilise what it saw as the best in both 'traditions'.
During the inter-war years it was the most consistent amongst a small number of groups and individuals who defended a libertarian communist politics and was one of the few currents to oppose World War Two on revolutionary internationalist grounds, describing all the belligerent states, including the Soviet Union, as imperialist.
'There is no single humanity, there is a humanity, of classes, slaves and masters'. The 1926 Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists was without doubt the most remarkable contribution to anarchist politics and practice for perhaps a quarter of a century. Written by Piotr Arshinov, Nestor Makhno, Ida Mett and other revolutionary refugees from the Bolshevik regime, the Platform was uncompromising, coherent and tightly argued. It constituted a turning point in anarchism, a break with the anti-organisational tendencies, which had plagued the movement like a "yellow fever". The Platform argued that the anarchists had to be organised in order to carry out their task as the "organised vanguard" of the working class! Whilst the AF has never described itself as a Platformist organisation, the Platform has served to inoculate us from the "yellow fever" and we endorse its call for theoretical and tactical unity.
"There can be absolutely no common ground between exploiters and exploited which shall prevail, only battle can decide. Bourgeoisie or workers. Certainly not both of them at once". The Friends of Durruti, Barcelona, 1938.
The Spanish Civil War and revolution illuminated two facts. One, that apolitical anarchism is bound to fail. Two, that anti-fascism is used by part of the ruling class to unite the working class in defence of democratic capitalism.
The state of 'dual power' which existed following the early part of the Civil War between the revolutionary working class and peasantry and the Popular Front government in the Republic zone, inevitably gave way to the domination of the Republican-Stalinist-Social Democrat bourgeoisie. The opportunity to crush the republican and nationalist bourgeoisie was a real one for armed workers and peasants but the power of the state remained intact and the initiatives of the anarchists rapidly undermined. The last attempt to re-assert the interests of the working masses took place during the Maydays of 1937. The CNT and FAI, with its 'anarchist' ministers to the fore, called off the escalating class war and the Spanish revolution was dead. The dissident CNT-FAI militants, the Friends of Durutti, summed it up saying that 'democracy defeated the Spanish people, not fascism'. Antifascist Spain had destroyed the Spanish revolution and paved the way for World War II.
Next Organise!: Socialisme ou Barbarie, Hungary '56, Solidarity, Noir et Rouge, May '68.......
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