Platformism & Bolshevism
Pamphlet published by the International Bolshevik Tendency in April 2002.
A polemic against platformist anarchism.
“The most authoritative group [of anarchists in 1917], in the sense that it was the only one to possess any semblance of doctrine, a valuable collection of militants and a widely distributed journal, Golos Truda, which at one time competed with Pravda in the factories of Petrograd, two or three days before the October Revolution published a declaration which…foresaw that the uprising could only end in the formation of a new power. Since they were opponents of any power, they would abstain to begin with. But if the toiling masses followed the movement, they themselves would follow the toiling masses.…A more complete and pitiful political abdication would be hard to imagine.”
–Victor Serge, “Lenin in 1917”(1)
The Bolshevik Revolution showed the world that the working class, with a disciplined revolutionary organization at its head, could overthrow capitalism and establish its own rule. Like the earlier experience of the Paris Commune, October 1917 demonstrated that it was not enough to smash the old order and its repressive apparatus. New organs for exercising workers’ rule (i.e., a new, proletarian state apparatus) had to be created. This did not square with anarchist “anti-authoritarian” notions and, as a result, many of the best Russian anarchists joined the Bolsheviks, and many who did not nonetheless supported the revolution.
To retain a semblance of libertarian orthodoxy some anarchist theorists attempted to draw a distinction between the social revolution, on the one hand, and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks on the other. The 6 November 1917 issue of Golos Truda (“Labor’s Voice”—edited by Vsevolod Eikhenbaum, aka Voline or Volin) advised workers that “the ‘seizure of power’ and the social revolution are diametrically opposed. The basic position of anarchism is thus confirmed: the action of parties is no substitute for the social revolution.”(2) However, the vast majority of Russian workers drew a different conclusion. Far from confirming the doctrine of “anti-authoritarianism,” the experience of the October Revolution definitively refuted it. The civil war against the Whites (whose victory would pose a deadly threat to every leftist and working-class militant) left little space for a “third camp.”
In the second volume of his monumental study of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky identified the fundamental contradiction of anarchism:
“The principles of liberalism can have a real existence only in conjunction with a police system. Anarchism is an attempt to cleanse liberalism of the police. But just as pure oxygen is impossible to breathe, so liberalism without the police-principle means the death of society. Being a shadow-caricature of liberalism, anarchism as a whole has shared its fate. Having killed liberalism, the development of class contradictions has also killed anarchism. Like every sect which founds its teaching not upon the actual development of human society, but upon the reduction to absurdity of one of its features, anarchism explodes like a soap bubble at that moment when the social contradictions arrive at the point of war or revolution.”(3)
Today, almost 85 years after the October Revolution and more than a decade since the destruction of the Soviet Union, many anarchists are happy to disavow the entire experience of the Russian Revolution. The passage of time combined with the betrayals and brutality of Stalinism have made this all too easy. Yet in order to create a revolutionary movement, it is necessary to carefully study the past, and in particular to draw the lessons of the Soviet experience. The awesome power unleashed by the Russian proletariat under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party “shook the world” and won the hearts and minds of tens of millions. It was a world-historic event that cannot simply be dismissed by anyone serious about getting rid of capitalism.
“Platformism,” one of the more left-wing currents within contemporary anarchism, originated as a response to the collapse of Russian anarchism in the wake of the October Revolution. The original “Platform” was published in Paris in 1926 by a group of Russian anarchist émigrés associated with the newspaper Dielo Truda (Labor’s Cause) and signed by Nestor Makhno(4), Peter Arshinov(5), Ida Mett(6) and two others, Valevsky and Linsky.
The 1926 Platform begins by tracing “the miserable state in which the anarchist movement vegetates” to “the absence of organisational principles and practices in the anarchist movement” which had led to a state of “chronic general disorganisation.” The authors of the document proposed to remedy this by regrouping serious libertarian communists in an organization based on a revolutionary “platform.” But over the years attempts to define a common program on which to organize have proved difficult. Voline, who would today be identified as a “synthesist,” quickly rejected Platformism and, according to Paul Avrich, wrote a scathing reply charging that:
“Their call for a central committee not only clashed with the basic anarchist principle of local initiative, but was a clear reflection of their leader’s ‘party spirit.’…What the Delo Truda group sought to create, in short, was an anarchist party whose mission was to lead the masses rather than to assist them in preparing their own revolution.”(7)
Arshinov brushed off Voline’s criticisms as sterile squabbling, and his ally Mahkno suggested that Voline might in fact be a Bolshevik agent. This prompted Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman and Errico Malatesta to enter the fray against the Platformists. Berkman lamented that the Platformists “will not see that Bolshevik methods cannot lead to liberty, that methods and issues are in essence and effects identical.”(8)
If there was some overlap in “methods,” there was also a political chasm between the 1926 Platform and Bolshevism. This is immediately obvious from the “equal stress” on peasants and workers:
“Extolling the social revolution, and further, being an anti-authoritarian organisation which aspires to the abolition of class society, the General Union of Anarchists depends equally on the two fundamental classes of society: the workers and the peasants. It lays equal stress on the work of emancipating these two classes.
“As regards the workers trade unions and revolutionary organisations in the towns, the General Union of Anarchists will have to devote all its efforts to becoming their pioneer and theoretical guide.
“It adopts the same tasks with regard to the exploited peasant masses. As bases playing the same role as the revolutionary workers’ trade unions, the Union strives to realise a network of revolutionary peasant economic organisations, furthermore, a specific peasants’ union, founded on anti-authoritarian principles.”(9)
In the real world, the interests of workers and the petty bourgeoisie (which includes farmers and peasants) frequently diverge. Workers have an interest in cheap food, whereas farmers want high prices for their produce. Farmers want cheap transportation, cheap labor and low prices for manufactured goods, whereas workers (including agricultural laborers) want higher wages and shorter hours. The contradiction between these two social classes can become particularly acute in situations where, for example, railway or grain terminal workers go on strike at harvest time. While the Bolsheviks made major concessions to the peasantry and recognized the critical importance of winning the support (or at least neutrality) of the middle and poor peasants, they were always clear that the interests of the proletariat came first.
There were aspects of the 1926 Platform which represented a departure from the traditional positions of anarchism, in particular the call for the creation of a “revolutionary army” characterized by “unity in the plan of operations and unity of common command”:
“[The] organ of the defence of the revolution, responsible for combating the counter-revolution, on major military fronts as well as on an internal front (bourgeois plots, preparation for counter-revolutionary action), will be entirely under the jurisdiction of the productive organisations of workers and peasants, to which it will submit, and by which it will receive its political direction.”(10)
The Platform also projected that food and resources should be distributed by workers’ and peasants’ co-operatives that would “be transformed into permanent organs for provisioning towns and countryside.” Platformists insist that such “workers’ self-management” is anti-statist, but that depends on whether the projected provisioning committees, workers’ councils and revolutionary army have the authority to enforce their decisions. A “revolutionary army” capable of suppressing the bourgeoisie would, in fact, represent the embryo of a new state power, whatever terminological sleight of hand its leaders might employ. Conversely, if the organs of working-class power cannot feed the cities, suppress counterrevolution and organize production, a spontaneously regenerated bourgeoisie will soon fill the vacuum.
Platformists thus find themselves in an awkward and ultimately untenable position: too anarchist for Bolsheviks, too “Bolshevik” for many anarchists. While the extent of the Platformists’ break from their libertarian heritage is often overestimated by their anarchist critics, there is a grain of truth in the accusation that they are out to “Bolshevize anarchism,” just as there was a grain of truth in the accusations of “anarchism” hurled at Lenin by the tame “Marxists” of the Second International who were uncomfortable with the Bolsheviks’ manifest hostility to the bourgeoisie.
Platformism & the Necessity for Revolutionary Leadership
Platformist anarchism can easily be distinguished from “individualist” and “lifestylist” anarchism, as well as from that of the “primitivists,” who envision humanity somehow returning to a pre-industrial existence. Platformists are also clearly demarcated from “synthesists,” who believe in a sort of family of anarchism, and from anarcho-syndicalists with their focus on workplace activity. Platformists are “political” anarchists, but not electoralists. They recognize the necessity of ideological struggle in order to win working and oppressed people to a revolutionary worldview. The Italian Platformist group, Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici, describes itself as a representative of the “historical memory and revolutionary consciousness”(11) of the working class.
The Irish Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM), currently the most influential English-language Platformist group, is not afraid to “recognise our role within the class as being a ‘leadership of ideas’” and asserts:
“The role of the anarchist organisation and the anarchist idea in [a revolution] is obvious. Anarchist ideas link a criticism of Capitalist society with a vision of a new way of organising human society. This link involves practical understanding of the means necessary and acceptable to achieve results but also to help build the confidence of the class in its own abilities and decision-making power. Clearly our role is to spread the influence of our ideas as [far] and wide as possible.”(12)
Many of the Platformists’ anarchist critics have noted that such conceptions bear a striking resemblance to that of the Leninist vanguard party, an impression reinforced by the fact that modern Platformists, unlike synthesists, do not want to bring all anarchists together, but rather seek to organize an exclusively revolutionary tendency. This parallels Lenin’s rejection of Karl Kautsky’s notion of a “party of the whole class.”
To fend off anarchist critics who denounce Platformism as “one step from Bolshevism,” the WSM resorts to caricature:
“We have no wish to be what the Leninists call ‘The Revolutionary Leadership’. That implies their party has reached a stage where it has the ‘right’ to take decisions for the class (whether they like it or not). We reject this sort of leadership as authoritarian and destructive of workers’ democracy.”(13)
Leninists do not seek “to take decisions for the class,” but neither do they forget that “the class” contains all shades of political opinion, from pro-capitalist to ultra-leftist. Bolsheviks openly declare their intent to win the allegiance of the most class-conscious elements through political struggle against both open and concealed purveyors of bourgeois ideology within the left and workers’ movement. This process of political differentiation is an essential precondition for the transformation of the proletariat from a class in itself to a class for itself.
A recent issue of the publication of North America’s foremost Platformist group, the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), contains an article by Wayne Price which notes that as some workers will inevitably come to recognize the necessity of revolutionary change in advance of the majority, it makes sense for this layer “to organize itself to further the process of others changing their consciousness.” Comrade Price observes:
“This is consistent with Lenin’s concept of the vanguard party, but it also fits in with the pro-organizational tendency within anarchism. That includes the early Bakuninists, the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, the Spanish FAI with its federation of affinity groups, and the current Platformist tendency within international anarchism.”(14)
Price offers the following description of an anarchist approach to workers’ councils:
“the anarchist political organization exists only to promote the mass organizations. Its members may be elected to union or council positions, but it does not aim to be elected to a bourgeois parliament nor to seize power during a revolution – that is, it is not a party.”(15)
Why shouldn’t revolutionaries seek to win the leadership of mass workers’ organizations? And if they succeed, why should they not collaborate with other revolutionaries to utilize these positions to advance the struggle for the revolutionary seizure of power from the capitalists? These are not abstract questions. In periods of pre-revolutionary turmoil, workers’ councils have often arisen more or less spontaneously. The WSM suggests:
“Within [the workers’ councils] members of the revolutionary organisation must be the ‘driving force’. This means winning the battle of ideas. It does NOT mean capturing the leading positions, vesting them with undue authority and then dishonestly interpreting this as a mandate for giving orders.”(16)
No Leninist would argue for “undue authority” or “dishonest interpretation,” but does the WSM propose to act as a “driving force” for revolution without leading the workers’ councils in struggle against the capitalists and their agents? Does the WSM imagine that the repressive machine of the capitalists can be shattered by something other than an organized (i.e., disciplined) counterforce–or that such formations should not be led by revolutionaries? To take such a view would be to practically guarantee the victory of the exploiters.
If the WSM is trying to suggest that workers’ power should be based on soviets and not a single party, this is unobjectionable, at least in principle. But we do not criticize the Bolsheviks for pursuing victory over the Whites in the civil war, despite the fact that in large areas of the country they could no longer claim the support of the majority of the population, or even of the working class.
‘All that was energetic…’
Three years of civil war and blockade, following almost four years of world war, devastated Russian society. Hunger was rampant as agricultural output stood at roughly a third of its pre-war level, while industrial production (except for munitions) was less than a fifth. The peasantry had tolerated the forced requisitioning of their crops in order to feed the Red Army and the cities only because they knew that the victory of the Whites would mean the return of the landowners. The industrial working class, which had made the revolution, had been decimated. The most class-conscious elements had either been killed fighting the Whites or absorbed into the military or civilian apparatus where they worked alongside large numbers of displaced petty bourgeois elements, including many former Tsarist functionaries.
The success of the October Revolution impelled many leftists, including Mensheviks, anarchists and left Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) to join the Bolsheviks. During the course of the Civil War, the Communists gradually imposed tighter restrictions, and eventually outright bans on oppositional political formations. In most cases these were occasioned by their opponents’ involvement in armed resistance to the fledgling workers’ state. Finally, in 1921, factions were “temporarily” banned within the Bolshevik party itself. These were desperate measures necessitated by a desperate situation. In 1938, Victor Serge, an anarchist who became a partisan of the October Revolution, recalled what things were like during the Civil War:
“In reality, a little direct contact with the people was enough to get an idea of the drama which, in the revolution, separated the communist party (and with it the dust of the other revolutionary groups) from the masses. At no time did the revolutionary workers form more than a trifling percentage of the masses themselves. In 1920-21, all that was energetic, militant, ever-so-little socialistic in the labor population and among the advanced elements of the countryside had already been drained by the communist party, which did not, for four years of civil war, stop its constant mobilization of the willing—down to the most vacillating….And since, in order to continue the revolution, it is necessary to continue the sacrifices, it comes about that the party enters into conflict with that rank and file. It is not the conflict of the bureaucracy and the revolutionary workers, it is the conflict of the organization of the revolutionists—and the backward ones, the laggards, the least conscious elements of the toiling masses. Under cover of this conflict and of the danger, the bureaucracy fortifies itself, no doubt.”(17)
Truth is always concrete and the necessary tactics for revolutionaries at any stage in the struggle must accord with the real possibilities that exist. In Russia in 1920 there were only two options—the victory of the Reds or the Whites. New elections to the Soviets would have produced a majority for parties that would have immediately taken steps to reintroduce capitalism. As Serge, and many other former anarchists, recognized, the maintenance of the rule of the Communist Party was the only alternative to the restoration of the Russian bourgeoisie.
Revolution & Repression
The WSM, in introducing the 1926 Platform, complains that the Bolsheviks persecuted the anarchists:
“In April 1918 the anarchist centres in Moscow were attacked, 600 anarchists jailed and dozens killed. The excuse was that the anarchists were ‘uncontrollable’, whatever that may have meant unless it was simply that they refused to obey the Bolshevik leaders. The real reason was the formation of the Black Guards which had been set up to fight the brutal provocations and abuses of the Cheka (the forerunners of today’s KGB).
“Anarchists had to decide where they stood. One section worked with the Bolsheviks, and went on to join them, through a concern for efficiency and unity against reaction. Another section fought hard to defend the gains of the revolution against what they correctly saw would develop into a new ruling class.”(18)
The October 1917 insurrection was led by the Bolsheviks, but anarchists and left SRs also participated:
“In the second week of October, the Petrograd Soviet established a Military-Revolutionary Committee, which, under Trotsky’s able leadership, was soon to engineer the overthrow of the Provisional Government. Although the Bolsheviks, with 48 members, predominated, 14 left SR’s, and 4 anarchists—Shatov among them—were energetic participants. One of the anarchist members, a worker from the Obukhov Steel Plant, reiterated the familiar demand for ‘deeds and not words,’ deeds that would sweep away the capitalists ‘like scum from the face of the earth.’ Action was not long in coming.”(19)
A few months later, relations between the Bolsheviks and the left-SRs and anarchists were severely strained by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (signed in March 1918), which ceded a huge swath of the former Russian empire’s most productive territory to Germany.(20) Lenin, Trotsky and the majority of the Bolshevik leadership insisted that this was necessary to gain a breathing space to consolidate the infant workers’ state, but the anarchists, Left Socialist Revolutionaries and a leftist Bolshevik minority faction, considered it a shameful capitulation. According to Avrich:
“To Lenin’s contention that the Russian Army was too exhausted to fight any longer, the anarchists replied that professional armies were obsolete in any case and that the defense of the revolution was now the mission of the popular masses organized in partisan detachments.”
“The anarchists, moreover, beyond their irritating verbal assaults, were beginning to present a more tangible danger. Partly in preparation for the anticipated guerrilla war against the Germans, and partly to discourage hostile maneuvers by the Soviet government, the local clubs of the Moscow Federation of Anarchists had been organizing detachments of ‘Black Guards’ (the black banner was the anarchist emblem), arming them with rifles, pistols and grenades. From their headquarters in the House of Anarchy, the leaders of the Federation tried to impose a measure of discipline on the Black Guardsmen and to limit the activities of the local clubs to the distribution of propaganda and the ‘requisitioning’ of private residences. This proved to be an impossible task; once armed, a number of groups and isolated individuals succumbed to the temptation of carrying out ‘expropriations’….
“After the stubborn anarchist campaign against the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the formation of armed guards and their underworld excursions came as the last straw. The Bolshevik leadership decided to act. A convenient pretext was provided on 9 April, when a band of Moscow anarchists stole an automobile belonging to Colonel Raymond Robins, the representative of the American Red Cross and a sympathetic contact with the United States government.”(21)
On the night of 11-12 April, the Cheka (the Soviet security service) raided the anarchist headquarters and a furious gun battle broke out. According to Avrich, “A dozen Cheka agents were slain in the struggle, about 40 anarchists were killed or wounded, and more than 500 were taken prisoner.”(22) In the months that followed, the SRs and anarchists sought revenge through assassinations and bombings. Lenin was shot and seriously wounded. On 25 September 1918, a joint left SR-anarchist squad blew up the headquarters of the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party during a leadership plenary. Twelve Committee members were killed, and 55 others were wounded.(23)
The Bolsheviks ultimately succeeded in repressing the anarchists and SRs and hanging on to power, but they were well aware that the revolution could not triumph through police measures. Economic production had to be revived and the direct political rule of the workers’ councils restored. Yet this could not be achieved through any conceivable policy within the borders of backward, exhausted, war-ravaged Russia. It was only possible through revolutionary breakthroughs internationally, particularly in Western Europe, as Lenin, Trotsky and the rest of the Bolshevik leadership were acutely aware. For them the Russian Revolution was not solely a Russian event, but rather the first in an international chain of proletarian revolutions. Lenin concluded his speech to the Petrograd Soviet proclaiming the birth of soviet power on 7 November 1917 with: “Long live the world socialist revolution!”
The victory of the Stalinist faction in 1924 was organized under the autarkic nationalist banner of “Socialism in One Country.” This signaled the end of the Bolshevik Party as a revolutionary instrument. The bureaucratic political counterrevolution was, in the final analysis, a product of the ebbing of the post-war revolutionary wave in Europe and the defeats suffered by the left internationally, particularly in Germany in October 1923.
‘Authority Can Only be Defeated by Authority’
Even if we abstract from the historical experience of the Russian Revolution, it is a fact that power doesn’t exercise itself. If there are workers’ councils, representatives of one program or another will win political hegemony. In situations of dual power, the reformists will always act to restabilize bourgeois rule, usually in the name of classless, abstract democracy. In such situations revolutionaries must seek to resolve the question of which class shall rule through the expropriation of the capitalists, the dissolution of their praetorian guard and the creation of armed bodies loyal to the workers’ organizations. This was the policy pursued by the Bolsheviks (supported by the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and many anarchists) in October 1917. Where would the Platformists have stood?
In pre-revolutionary situations, workers tend to look first to their old, established leaderships (whether social-democratic, Stalinist or business unionist). In Russia in 1917 had the Platformist “vanguard of ideas” won the support of the majority of the working class and been elected to leading positions in the workers’ organizations, would it not have been their duty to use all their moral and political authority to win support for the measures they judged necessary to further the revolution?
In posing its “fundamental difference with Leninism,” the WSM writes:
“We agree with Lenin that authority can only be defeated by authority, that the authority of the bosses will be destroyed by the authority of the workers. We agree on the need for a lead to be given within the class, but while our leadership is one of persuasion and education, the Leninist party goes way beyond this and tries to grab power through control of the state. It seeks to exercise the authority of the party over the workers. In doing this it prepares the way for the growth of a new oppressive ruling class.”(24)
In a revolutionary situation the working class can only “exercise its authority” over those who support the old order through the agency of a revolutionary organization.
The reason the Bolsheviks had majority support in October 1917 was because they were openly campaigning for “all power to the soviets.” They did not seek to gain control of the capitalist state, but to destroy it, and replace it with organs capable of asserting the authority of the workers over the bourgeoisie. Under normal circumstances in bourgeois society only a tiny minority of workers regard the overthrow of the exploiters as possible, or even desirable. But when this sentiment grips the mass of the proletariat, revolutionaries do not shrink from imposing the will of the radicalized majority on the petty bourgeoisie and more backward layers of the working class.
Platformism & Syndicalism
Platformists are critical of anarcho-syndicalist notions that capitalist rule can be ended through workplace struggles:
“Syndicalism in itself does not create a revolutionary political organisation. It creates industrial unions. It is apolitical, arguing all that is necessary to make the revolution is for the workers to seize the factories and the land. After that it believes that the state and all the other institutions of the ruling class will come toppling down. They do not accept that the working class must take political power. For them all power has to be immediately abolished on day one of the revolution….The limits of syndicalism [are] rooted in its view of why workers are tied to capitalism, and its view of what is necessary to make the revolution.”(25)
The WSM cites the abject political capitulation of the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and the allied Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) in the Spanish Revolution:
“Spain in 1936/7 represented the highest point in anarcho-syndicalist organisation and achievement. Because of their apoliticism they were unable to develop a programme for workers’ power, to wage a political battle against other currents in the workers’ movement (such as reformism and Stalinism), and to give a lead to the entire class by fighting for complete workers’ power.
“Instead they got sucked into support for the Popular Front government, which in turn led to their silence and complicity when the Republican state moved against the collectives and militias.”(26)
Rejecting the CNT/FAI, Platformists identify with the left-anarchist “Friends of Durruti” (FoD), named after Buenaventura Durruti, a heroic anarchist militia leader killed defending Madrid against Franco’s troops in 1936. The FoD denounced the CNT/FAI leadership’s participation in the bourgeois popular-front government in similar terms to those used by the Spanish Trotskyists when criticizing Andres Nin’s pseudo-Leninist Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), which had also joined the popular front.
The FoD excoriated the CNT leadership for its political capitulation in July 1936.(27) In the May 1937 struggle in Barcelona to stop the Stalinists’ attempts to extinguish the final sparks of revolutionary resistance to capitalist rule, the Friends of Durruti and the Spanish Trotskyists cooperated closely on the barricades. The chief lesson the FoD drew from their experience was that it is necessary to smash the bourgeois state and replace it with a revolutionary proletarian “junta”–a position many anarchists consider tantamount to Leninism. A book featured on the WSM’s website offers the following explanation of this “slight variation in anarchism”:
“You may be surprised by the idea of anarchists calling for a ‘junta’, but what was meant by it? In their pamphlet Towards a Fresh Revolution issued in mid-1938, the FoD explained what the junta would be. They described it as a slight variation in anarchism. ‘The body will be organised as follows: members of the revolutionary Junta will be elected by democratic vote in the union organisations. Account is to be taken of the number of comrades away at the front. These comrades must have a right to representation … Posts are to come up for re-election so as to prevent anyone growing attached to them. And the trade union assemblies will exercise control over the junta’s activities.’
“These were no self-appointed group of leaders, but a democratic organ through which workers could run society and complete the revolution. There was no representation for non-working class organisations or political parties. This was a far cry from Lenin’s idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat (read Party) which had such disastrous consequences in Russia.”(28)
The Friends of Durruti’s sketchy description of the mechanics of their projected “junta” clearly suggested a body willing and able to impose its decisions on class enemies, traitors and even backward elements of the working class. It is very much to their credit that, like the best of the Russian anarchists, when confronted with a choice between the victory of the capitalists and the necessity for revolutionary authority, the Friends of Durruti chose the latter. In their major political statement, “Towards a Fresh Revolution,” the FoD advocated the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in everything but name:
“When an organization’s whole existence has been spent preaching revolution, it has an obligation to act whenever a favorable set of circumstances arises. And in July  the occasion did present itself. The CNT ought to have leapt into the driver’s seat in the country, delivering a severe coup de grace to all that is outmoded and archaic. In this way, we would have won the war and saved the revolution.
“But it did the opposite. It collaborated with the bourgeoisie in the affairs of the state, precisely when the State was crumbling away on all sides. It bolstered up Companys and company. It breathed a lungful of oxygen into an anemic, terror-stricken bourgeoisie. One of the most direct reasons why the revolution has been asphyxiated and the CNT displaced, is that it behaved like a minority group, even though it had a majority in the streets….
“On the other hand, we would assert that revolutions are totalitarian, no matter who says otherwise. What happens is that the various aspects of revolution are progressively dealt with, but with the proviso that the class which represents the new order of things is the one with the most responsibility. And when things are done by halves, we have what presently concerns us, the disaster of July.”(29)
Platformism & Organization
Platformism represents a step forward from the undifferentiated individualism of classical anarchism. NEFAC, for example, bases membership on political agreement:
“the Federation identifies with anarchist communist principles and organizes on the basis of this specific tradition and program. The document entitled ‘Aims and Principles’ constitutes the basis of our theoretical and tactical unity.”(30)
The WSM says it expects a serious level of commitment from its members:
“It is not enough to build a small organisation with many sympathisers. Where there is no clear line between members and supporters a massive central apparatus is needed to hold together a mass of half-politicised people in a series of political activities. Political discussion gets toned down, a lack of seriousness creeps in. This in turn reduces the capacity of members to make independent political evaluations and provides the basis for a dependence on a central bureaucracy. This would be in absolute contradiction to our anarchist values.”(31)
This parallels Lenin’s position in 1903 at the time of the split with the Mensheviks in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. The Mensheviks advocated a broader, all-inclusive organization, but Lenin argued for a group composed entirely of committed revolutionaries and for excluding those who would not agree to carry out the directives of the organization. Contemporary Platformist groups generally require their members to fulfill assignments and adhere to majority decisions. The WSM, for example, makes it clear that:
“Anyone who joins the WSM is taking on a responsibility to attend meetings, be involved in activities, and pay the required subs to the organisation (currently 5% of gross income).
“Similarly, as we identify with the ‘Platformist’ tradition within anarchism, this means members of the Workers Solidarity Movement agree to implement and argue for the policies in our ‘position papers’ and policy statements in their political work. Any members may propose amendments to these papers at National Conference but until they are amended s/he is expected to implement them.”(32)
NEFAC has similar expectations of its members and affiliated collectives. “Revolutionary politics, not being a hobby but a life choice,” requires disciplined functioning:
“In accepting collective political positions and a determined line of action, it is evident that each member applies them in his or her political work. It is also evident that no member may act in the name of NEFAC without Federal agreement. If we have agreed on work to be done and on a way to do it, we become responsible, to each other, for its execution. This collective responsibility is nothing more than the collective method of action.”(33)
Those who fail to abide by the rules can be dropped from membership.
It is not hard to see why some anarchists accuse Platformists of abandoning the libertarian traditions of anarchism to embrace “Authority.” Platformism is, in fact, a sort of halfway house between Leninism and anarchism. Platformist practice appears to vary from one group to another, and some Platformist groups appear less tolerant of internal dissent than Leninist ones. The Irish Workers Solidarity Movement, for example, states clearly its intention to rid itself of those who disagree with the group’s political line:
“[If] members were to find themselves in major disagreement on several major areas of policy we would encourage them to leave. We are not an organisation which attempts to hold together people of widely differing ideas.”(34)
What is not spelled out is the method for determining when someone’s disagreements are too numerous or too serious to allow them to remain in the group. Healthy Leninist organizations, by contrast, do not try to set limits on the number or depth of internal criticisms. Rather than exclude those who develop differences with the majority, a Bolshevik organization gives dissidents the opportunity to struggle internally to win a majority to their views. The only condition is that in the meantime they must uphold the majority position. While the WSM proposes to get rid of those with “major disagreements,” it also permits less serious dissidents to “act as they see fit” within the vaguely defined limits of the group’s constitution:
“Minorities who disagree with any policy or members who wish to act on an issue for which no policy exists, have the right to act as they see fit as long as they make it clear that their position does not reflect that of the organisation, and as long as such a position does not take them outside the constitution of the WSM.”
Organizations in which everyone is free to do as they feel, without taking direction from the collective, have limited revolutionary capacity, as Platformists correctly recognize. Conversely, highly bureaucratized ostensibly Leninist groups (e.g., the Spartacist League) are often quite good at training their members to carry out instructions, but are generally unable to create politically self-confident cadres able to think on their feet.
Unlike individualist anarchists, Platformists do not shrink from an explicit leadership structure. The WSM’s national conference has the ultimate authority, with a delegated national committee that is entrusted to make decisions between conferences and, if necessary, recall the group’s officers (national secretary, treasurer, international secretaries). NEFAC has an elected “General Secretariat” that is part of its “Coordinating Committee,” and also a “Federation Council.” These structures roughly approximate those mandated by the early Communist International for its national sections.
State Capitalism & Counterrevolution
Platformists consider the Soviet Union to have been “state capitalist” practically from its inception:
“Since the early 1920’s anarchists have recognised that the Russian economy is capitalist because it maintains the separation of producers from their means of production and undervalues their labour to extract surplus value for a ruling class as in all Capitalist countries.
“By 1921 the emerging bureaucratic class (Bolsheviks and the remains of the Tsarist middle class) had wrested power from the workers. This process was completed in essence by 1918 and accelerated by ‘war communism’ during the civil war and Trotsky’s ‘Militarisation of labour’ just after. The civil war decimated the workers and left them powerless to resist and hang on to the gains of the revolution.”(35)
Unlike the WSM, the international bourgeoisie understood that the expropriation of foreign and domestic capital, and the creation of a collectivized economy represented a radical break with capitalism—a system essentially characterized by generalized commodity production, i.e., production for profit. The Soviet economy (like China and Cuba today) was run on the basis of bureaucratic commandism. Capitalist rule and the supremacy of the market were only restored in the former USSR through the social counterrevolution spearheaded by Boris Yeltsin’s triumph over the remnants of the Stalinist kleptocracy in August 1991.(36) The Platformist characterization of the Soviet Union as “state capitalist” is both an expression of disapproval of the repressive, anti-working class Stalinist ruling caste and a rationalization for its refusal to defend the bureaucratized workers’ state against capitalist counterrevolution.
The failure to distinguish between bureaucratically collectivized economies and capitalism has blinded Platformists to the qualitative difference between the heroic, pro-socialist working-class revolts against Stalinism in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary three years later, and the reactionary machinations of the CIA-connected, clericalist Solidarnosc in Poland circa 1981. The French Platformists claim:
“We have every reason to rejoice at the collapse of that really existing communism! For some eighty years now, libertarians have been denouncing the so-called communist regimes as bloody dictatorships, run on a state capitalist basis with private property replaced by the domination of a class of bureaucrats who ran production and exchange for their benefit.”(37)
Yet, like various “Trotskyist” renegades who also hailed the destruction of the degenerated and deformed workers’ states, Platformists are also aware that capitalist restoration has been a catastrophe for working people. For example, a member of the Czech Platformist group, Solidarita, observed:
“The market economy has not fulfilled any of people’s hopes for a decent and free life. Sure we can buy more products and now there are no shortages of essential goods like bread or toilet paper, but everything is very expensive. Generally our living standard is worse than it was under the Communist dictatorship.”(38)
Democratic Rights & the Capitalist State
While anarchists have historically tended to be indifferent to issues of capitalist legality, Platformists have a record of participating in struggles to extend and defend democratic rights. For example, in Ireland, the WSM supports the struggle for equal legal rights for all regardless of sexual orientation, while warning against liberal illusions and pointing out that the leaders of the homosexual rights campaign:
“have failed to challenge the ‘right’ of the state to intervene in peoples’ private lives, and they have failed to bring significant numbers of gays/lesbians/bisexuals and supporters of equality into active campaigning. This has led to them seeing the achievement of anti-discrimination legislation as providing far more solutions than reality would suggest….While such legislation would be a step forward it must be pointed out that [the] judges and police, who have often proved themselves antagonistic to gays/lesbians, will be the people charged with its implementation.”(39)
This demonstrates a relatively sophisticated understanding of the operation of the capitalist state and is congruent with Lenin’s conception of the role of revolutionaries as “tribunes of the people” prepared to fight every manifestation of social oppression.(40) While all anarchists oppose the criminalization of prostitution and abortion, most generally make it a principle not to participate in capitalist elections. It is therefore worth noting that the WSM recently called for workers to vote “no” in a referendum on abortion in Ireland.(41)
Revolutionaries & Imperialist Attacks on Neo-Colonies
The Platformist response to recent instances of imperialist attacks on neo-colonies has had the same liberal/pacifist character as that of the mainstream anarchists. During the 1991 U.S.-led assault on Iraq, for example, the WSM wrote: “We take no side between the major imperialists led by the U.S. and the would-be mini-imperialists led by Saddam Hussein.”(42) When the U.S. recently attacked Afghanistan, the WSM assumed a position of neutrality and absurdly equated Bush Jr. and bin Laden as two evil “millionaires.” While declaring its opposition to “the war being organised by Bush and Blair,” the WSM refused to call for the defense of Afghanistan, despite acknowledging that “tens or hundreds of thousands of Afghans”(43) could well be killed. No serious anti-imperialist organization can be neutral in such conflicts. Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein et al. are tyrants who should be overthrown, but they cannot be equated with the imperialist mass murderers. Indeed all of them are former imperialist stooges whose real “crime” in the eyes of the imperialists is insubordination.
When imperialist countries attack neo-colonies, it is the duty of the international workers’ movement to do everything possible to defend the victims. In the 1930s, when Italy attacked Ethiopia (known as Abyssinia at the time), Trotskyists sided militarily with Haile Selassie against Mussolini despite the existence of chattel slavery under the rule of the Negus.
Rebel Instincts & Disciplined Organization
Platformism, or “anarcho-Bolshevism,” is an unsuccessful attempt to sit on the fence. Platformists who are serious about creating the kind of disciplined organization necessary to lead a successful struggle to overthrow capitalist tyranny can only realize this objective by embracing Leninism. There is no other road to revolution.
James P. Cannon, a prominent leader of the anarcho-syndicalist IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) prior to World War I, who went on to become the central leader of American Trotskyism, looked back fondly on his experience as a Wobbly after a half century and observed:
“Anarchism is all right when it is under the control of organization. This may seem a contradiction in terms, but if it were not for the anarchism in us as individuals we wouldn’t need the discipline of organization. The revolutionary party represents a dialectical unity of opposites. In one sense it is, in effect, the fusion of the rebel instincts of individuals with the intellectual recognition that their rebellion can be effective only when they are combined and united into a single striking force which only a disciplined organization can supply.”(44)
reproduced from the Irish Workers Solidarity Movement website, http://struggle.ws/platform/plat_intro.html
It is very significant that, in spite of the strength and incontestably positive character of libertarian ideas, and in spite of the forthrightness and integrity of anarchist positions in the facing up to the social revolution, and finally the heroism and innumerable sacrifices borne by the anarchists in the struggle for libertarian communism, the anarchist movement remains weak despite everything, and has appeared, very often, in the history of working class struggles as a small event, an episode, and not an important factor.
This contradiction between the positive and incontestable substance of libertarian ideas, and the miserable state in which the anarchist movement vegetates, has its explanation in a number of causes, of which the most important, the principal, is the absence of organisational principles and practices in the anarchist movement.
In all countries, the anarchist movement is represented by several local organisations advocating contradictory theories and practices, having no perspectives for the future, nor of a continuity in militant work, and habitually disappearing, hardly leaving the slightest trace behind them.
Taken as a whole, such a state of revolutionary anarchism can only be described as ‘chronic general disorganisation’.
Like yellow fever, this disease of disorganisation introduced itself into the organism of the anarchist movement and has shaken it for dozens of years.
It is nevertheless beyond doubt that this disorganisation derives from some defects of theory: notably from a false interpretation of the principle of individuality in anarchism: this theory being too often confused with the absence of all responsibility. The lovers of assertion of ‘self’, solely with a view to personal pleasure, obstinately cling to the chaotic state of the anarchist movement, and refer in its defence to the immutable principles of anarchism and its teachers.
But the immutable principles and teachers have shown exactly the opposite.
Dispersion and scattering are ruinous: a close-knit union is a sign of life and development. This lax of social struggle applies as much to classes as to organisations.
Anarchism is not a beautiful utopia, nor an abstract philosophical idea, it is a social movement of the labouring masses. For this reason it must gather its forces in one organisation, constantly agitating, as demanded by reality and the strategy of class struggle.
“We are persuaded”, said Kropotkin, “that the formation of an anarchist organisation in Russia, far from being prejudicial to the common revolutionary task, on the contrary it is desirable and useful to the very greatest degree.” (Preface to The Paris Commune by Bakunin, 1892 edition.)
Nor did Bakunin ever oppose himself to the concept of a general anarchist organisation. On the contrary, his aspirations concerning organisations, as well as his activity in the 1st IWMA, give us every right to view him as an active partisan of just such an organisation.
In general, practically all active anarchist militants fought against all dispersed activity, and desired an anarchist movement welded by unity of ends and means.
It was during the Russian revolution of 1917 that the need for a general organisation was felt most deeply and most urgently. It was during this revolution that the libertarian movement showed the greatest degree of sectionalism and confusion. The absence of a general organisation led many active anarchist militants into the ranks of the Bolsheviks. This absence is also the cause of many other present day militants remaining passive, impeding all use of their strength, which is often quite considerable.
We have an immense need for an organisation which, having gathered the majority of the participants of the anarchist movement, establishes in anarchism a general and tactical political line which would serve as a guide to the whole movement.
It is time for anarchism to leave the swamp of disorganisation, to put an end to endless vacillations on the most important tactical and theoretical questions, to resolutely move towards a clearly recognised goal, and to operate an organised collective practice.
It is not enough, however, to establish the vital need of such an organisation: it is also necessary to establish the method of its creation.
We reject as theoretically and practically inept the idea of creating an organisation after the recipe of the ‘synthesis’, that is to say re-uniting the representatives of different tendencies of anarchism. Such an organisation, having incorporated heterogeneous theoretical and practical elements, would only be a mechanical assembly of individuals each having a different conception of all the questions of the anarchist movement, an assembly which would inevitably disintegrate on encountering reality.
The anarcho-syndicalist method does not resolve the problem of anarchist organisation, for it does not give priority to this problem, interesting itself solely in penetrating and gaining strength in the industrial proletariat.
However, a great deal cannot be achieved in this area, even in gaining a footing, unless there is a general anarchist organisation.
The only method leading to the solution of the problem of general organisation is, in our view, to rally active anarchist militants to a base of precise positions: theoretical, tactical and organisational, i.e. the more or less perfect base of a homogeneous programme.
The elaboration of such a programme is one of the principal tasks imposed on anarchists by the social struggle of recent years. It is to this task that the group of Russian anarchists in exile dedicates an important part of its efforts.
The Organisational Platform published below represents the outlines, the skeleton of such a programme. It must serve as the first step towards rallying libertarian forces into a single, active revolutionary collective capable of struggle: the General Union of Anarchists.
We have no doubts that there are gaps in the present platform. It has gaps, as do all new, practical steps of any importance. It is possible that certain important positions have been missed, or that others are inadequately treated, or that still others are too detailed or repetitive. All this is possible, but not of vital importance. What is important is to lay the foundations of a general organisation, and it is this end which is attained, to a necessary degree, by the present platform.
It is up to the entire collective, the General Union of Anarchists, to enlarge it, to later give it depth, to make of it a definite platform for the whole anarchist movement.
On another level also we have doubts. We foresee that several representatives of self-styled individualism and chaotic anarchism will attack us, foaming at the mouth, and accuse us of breaking anarchist principles. However, we know that the individualist and chaotic elements understand by the title ‘anarchist principles’ political indifference, negligence and absence of all responsibility, which have caused in our movement almost incurable splits, and against which we are struggling with all our energy and passion. This is why we can calmly ignore the attacks from this camp.
We base our hope on other militants: on those who remain faithful to anarchism, having experienced and suffered the tragedy of the anarchist movement, and are painfully searching for a solution.
Further, we place great hopes on the young anarchists who, born in the breath of the Russian revolution, and placed from the start in the midst of constructive problems, will certainly demand the realisation of positive and organisational principles in anarchism.
We invite all the Russian anarchist organisations dispersed in various countries of the world, and also isolated militants, to unite on the basis of a common organisational platform.
Let this platform serve as the revolutionary backbone, the rallying point of all the militants of the Russian anarchist movement! Let it form the foundations for the General Union of Anarchists!
Long Live the Social Revolution of the Workers of the World!
The DIELO TROUDA GROUP Paris. 20.6.1926
reproduced from the Irish Workers Solidarity Movement website, http://struggle.ws/platform/plat_organise.html
The general, constructive positions expressed above constitute the organisational platform of the revolutionary forces of anarchism.
This platform, containing a definite tactical and theoretical orientation, appears to be the minimum to which it is necessary and urgent to rally all the militants of the organised anarchist movement.
Its task is to group around itself all the healthy elements of the anarchist movement into one general organisation, active and agitating on a permanent basis: the General Union of Anarchists. The forces of all anarchist militants should be orientated towards the creation of this organisation.
The fundamental principles of organisation of a General Union of anarchists should be as follows:
1. Theoretical Unity:
Theory represents the force which directs the activity of persons and organisations along a defined path towards a determined goal. Naturally it should be common to all the persons and organisations adhering to the General Union. All activity by the General Union, both overall and in its details, should be in perfect concord with the theoretical principles professed by the union.
2. Tactical Unity or the Collective Method of Action:
In the same way the tactical methods employed by separate members and groups within the Union should be unitary, that is, be in rigorous concord both with each other and with the general theory and tactic of the Union.
A common tactical line in the movement is of decisive importance for the existence of the organisation and the whole movement: it removes the disastrous effect of several tactics in opposition to one another, it concentrates all the forces of the movement, gives them a common direction leading to a fixed objective.
3. Collective Responsibility:
The practice of acting on one’s personal responsibility should be decisively condemned and rejected in the ranks of the anarchist movement. The areas of revolutionary life, social and political, are above all profoundly collective by nature. Social revolutionary activity in these areas cannot be based on the personal responsibility of individual militants.
The executive organ of the general anarchist movement, the Anarchist Union, taking a firm line against the tactic of irresponsible individualism, introduces in its ranks the principle of collective responsibility: the entire Union will be responsible for the political and revolutionary activity of each member; in the same way, each member will be responsible for the political and revolutionary activity of the Union as a whole.
Anarchism has always denied centralised organisation, both in the area of the social life of the masses and in its political action. The centralised system relies on the diminution of the critical spirit, initiative and independence of each individual and on the blind submission of the masses to the ‘centre’. The natural and inevitable consequences of this system are the enslavement and mechanisation of social life and the life of the organisation.
Against centralism, anarchism has always professed and defended the principle of federalism, which reconciles the independence and initiative of individuals and the organisation with service to the common cause.
In reconciling the idea of the independence and high degree of rights of each individual with the service of social needs and necessities, federalism opens the doors to every healthy manifestation of the faculties of every individual.
But quite often, the federalist principle has been deformed in anarchist ranks: it has too often been understood as the right, above all, to manifest one’s ‘ego’, without obligation to account for duties as regards the organisation.
This false interpretation disorganised our movement in the past. It is time to put an end to it in a firm and irreversible manner.
Federation signifies the free agreement of individuals and organisations to work collectively towards common objectives.
However, such an agreement and the federal union based on it, will only become reality, rather than fiction or illusion, on the conditions sine qua non that all the participants in the agreement and the Union fulfil most completely the duties undertaken, and conform to communal decisions. In a social project, however vast the federalist basis on which it is built, there can be no decisions without their execution. It is even less admissible in an anarchist organisation, which exclusively takes on obligations with regard to the workers and their social revolution. Consequently, the federalist type of anarchist organisation, while recognising each member’s rights to independence, free opinion, individual liberty and initiative, requires each member to undertake fixed organisation duties, and demands execution of communal decisions.
On this condition alone will the federalist principle find life, and the anarchist organisation function correctly, and steer itself towards the defined objective.
The idea of the General Union of Anarchists poses the problem of the co-ordination and concurrence of the activities of all the forces of the anarchist movement.
Every organisation adhering to the Union represents a vital cell of the common organism. Every cell should have its secretariat, executing and guiding theoretically the political and technical work of the organisation.
With a view to the co-ordination of the activity of all the Union’s adherent organisations, a special organ will be created: the executive committee of the Union. The committee will be in charge of the following functions: the execution of decisions taken by the Union with which it is entrusted; the theoretical and organisational orientation of the activity of isolated organisations consistent with the theoretical positions and the general tactical line of the Union; the monitoring of the general state of the movement; the maintenance of working and organisational links between all the organisations in the Union; and with other organisations.
The rights, responsibilities and practical tasks of the executive committee are fixed by the congress of the Union.
The General Union of Anarchists has a concrete and determined goal. In the name of the success of the social revolution it must above all attract and absorb the most revolutionary and strongly critical elements among the workers and peasants.
Extolling the social revolution, and further, being an anti- authoritarian organisation which aspires to the abolition of class society, the General Union of Anarchists depends equally on the two fundamental classes of society: the workers and the peasants. It lays equal stress on the work of emancipating these two classes.
As regards the workers trade unions and revolutionary organisations in the towns, the General Union of Anarchists will have to devote all its efforts to becoming their pioneer and their theoretical guide.
It adopts the same tasks with regard to the exploited peasant masses. As bases playing the same role as the revolutionary workers’ trade unions, the Union strives to realise a network of revolutionary peasant economic organisations, furthermore, a specific peasants’ union, founded on anti-authoritarian principles.
Born out of the mass of the labour people, the General Union must take part in all the manifestations of their life, bringing to them on every occasion the spirit of organisation, perseverance and offensive. Only in this way can it fulfil its task, its theoretical and historical mission in the social revolution of labour, and become the organised vanguard of their emancipating process.
(signed) Nestor Makhno, Ida Mett, Piotr Archinov, Valevsky, Linsky, 1926
A Workers Solidarity Movement Position Paper
reproduced from the Irish Workers Solidarity Movement website, http://struggle.ws/ppapers/role.html
1. The role of the Anarchist organisation is to popularise and fight for the creation of a society based on the principles of anarchism, i.e. individual freedom, collective management of society by its workers, participatory democracy.
2. We recognise that such a society can only be built by a conscious movement of the working class using its industrial power.
3. A successful revolutionary transformation is dependent on two essential criteria being present in the working class:
a)Widespread revolutionary consciousness. This has to consist of the following:
i) a rejection of both the exploitation and authoritarianism of Capitalism .
ii) an aspiration in the class to reorganise society in a new and better way around its own direct needs and interests.
iii) recognition in the class of the tenet that only the working class itself can make and secure the revolutionary transformation of society and that following from that only the councils created by the class in the workplaces and communities represent any authority on these matters in the new society. No other power centres in society to be allowable.
b) Industrial organisation and solidarity in the class to be sufficiently developed such that physical control over the means of production and distribution can be achieved and all remnants of the state be abolished.
4. The role of the anarchist organisation and the anarchist idea in this is obvious. Anarchist ideas link a criticism of Capitalist society with a vision of a new way of organising human society. This link involves practical understanding of the means necessary and acceptable to achieve results but also to help build the confidence of the class in its own abilities and decision making power. Clearly our role is to spread the influence of our ideas as [far] and wide as possible.
The organisation of the class
5. The anarchist organisation sees itself as part of the working-class, its anarchist ideas a historical development of the experiences of workers who as an exploited class seek to create a new world free of tyranny and exploitation of any form.
6. We wish to win the most widespread understanding and influence for our anarchist ideas and methods in the class and in society, primarily because we believe that these alone will expedite a successful revolutionary transformation of society. In this sense we recognise our role within the class as being a “leadership of ideas”.
7. We reject the notion that the organisation is a vanguard in the class because of its “leadership of ideas”. Such terminology, particularly because of its historical associations has anti-anarchist connotations which cannot be accommodated by a revolutionary organisation. We recognise that a vanguard does exist within the class but that its central characteristic is that its politics are derived from the concrete experience of fighting Capitalism on the shop floor.
8. While recognising the presence of a vanguard within the class which most obviously reflects its uneven development, our aim as an organisation will always be to minimise such unevenness without compromising political content. We recognise and will always fight against that influence in our class that seeks to promote the need for a permanent, unelected leadership no matter what context, explanation or excuse is used.
9. We seek influence for our ideas in all class organisations. In real terms that means WSM will go forward for all positions in the unions and other bodies where there is the possibility of mandating and recall. We will never accept any position that is not under the control of the members of that body. Such positions are not ends in themselves. The struggle to win them must be bound up with a fight for more democracy, more mandating, more control. We are striving for the self-activity of the many.
10. We have to be able to explain and clarify what is happening in society. We have to be capable of combating false ideas such as Social democracy and Leninism. We aim to be a ‘collective memory’ for the class, both in terms of the above and of keeping alive and developing the traditions of the labour movement and anarchism.
11. Unlike a certain tendency within the anarchist movement we do not fight against the state as if it were some abstraction unrelated to the division of society into classes. The state, in itself, is not the real enemy – states are the product of this division into exploiting and exploited classes. To treat it as something that exists independently of society leads into a swamp of muddle-headed liberal politics. We stand for the “abolition of the state” because we are totally opposed to authoritarianism and to any form of society that needs a state; i.e.,…a society where a minority rules.
12. Our role is that of educators and instigators. In so far as we are leaders it is because we are a “leadership” of ideas. We have no time for the leadership of personalities or that of a higher committee of a party. We have no wish to be what the Leninists call “The Revolutionary Leadership”. That implies their party has reached a stage where it has the “right” to take decisions for the class (whether they like it or not). We reject this sort of leadership as authoritarian and destructive of workers’ democracy.
13. History teaches us that organisations like ours can experience a rapid growth in membership and support for its ideas during a revolutionary situation…but also that a certain size is necessary for this to happen. So it is important that we recruit but this will be worthless unless we ensure that people are joining us because they understand and agree with anarchism and share our libertarian values.
It is not enough to build an small organisation with many sympathisers. Where there is no clear line between members and supporters a massive central apparatus is needed to hold together a mass of half-politicised people in a series of political activities. Political discussion gets toned down, a lack of seriousness creeps in. This in turn reduces the capacity of members to make independent political evaluations and provides the basis for a dependence on a central bureaucracy. This would be in absolute contradiction to our anarchist values.
14. “Only the truth is revolutionary”. Whoever first said this was spot on. We do not raise as immediate demands those that are impossible at the time because of the balance of forces. We do not play at politics. We do not fool, intimidate or manipulate workers towards anarchism. We aim to win the arguments for change and anarchism. It is not part of our programme to try to take power “in the name of the workers”. Anarchism will either be the creation of a free and politically aware working class….or it will not be anarchism.
15. We understand the centrality of struggle and organisation in the workplace because that is where we have real power. But this does not mean that we neglect or ignore the struggles that take place in other areas of life. We don’t. We support all struggles that can improve the conditions we live under. At every opportunity we seek to bring these struggles into the union and workplaces, we try to bring the potential strength of organised workers to bear in their favour….to link up the different struggles into an understanding of their common roots in capitalism, and to establish the legitimacy of political issues being taken up on the shopfloor.
16. We support all progressive struggles both for their own aims and for the increased confidence that campaigning can give people.
17. In all modern revolutionary situations workers have thrown up their own organs in the form of workers’ councils. They may have gone under different names – revolutionary committees, soviets, etc. – but the essential form has remained the same whether it was in Russia 1917, Spain 1936, or Hungary 1956.
18. These councils act not just as the best means of mobilising the class against the bosses but also lay the basis for the administration of the new society. Within them revolutionaries have to fight the ideas of authoritarian tendencies and continually argue that the new workers’ democracy must not delegate away its power to any elite, or allow any minority to seize that power. Within them members of the revolutionary organisation must be the “driving force”. This means winning the battle of ideas. It does NOT mean capturing the leading positions, vesting them with undue authority and then dishonestly interpreting this as a mandate for giving orders.
19. We oppose all ideas of power in the post-revolutionary period being wielded by “the party of the working class”. The division of labour between those who rule and those who are ruled has lasted too long. It can only be ended by the “self-emancipation” of the working-class. All power must be exercised by the workers council…..and by nobody else. Such power shall be compatible with the libertarian slogan that individual freedom will know no limit except that it does not take away the freedom of others .
20. This is not to deny the need for efficient co-ordination and decision making in all spheres of life. The point is that the ultimate authority will be the democratic, mass organs of the class. Let there be no talk of the state co-existing with the workers councils….the councils would be co-existed out of existence! Instead of the state there will be the federation of workers councils .
21. It is on this issue that our fundamental difference with Leninism is made clear. We agree with Lenin that authority can only be defeated by authority, that the authority of the bosses will be destroyed by the authority of the workers. We agree on the need for a lead to be given within the class, but while our leadership is one of persuasion and education, the Leninist party goes way beyond this and tries to grab power through control of the state. It seeks to exercise the authority of the party over the workers. In doing this it prepares the way for the growth of a new oppressive ruling class.
22. After the initial stage of the revolution when the ruling class are dispossessed of their wealth and power, the revolutionary organisation will continue to grow. There will be a massive surge of workers into its ranks because its politics will seem all the more concrete and realistic. In the transitional period (that time between the overthrow of the old order and consolidation of the new) the main task will be [to] further anarchist ideas and values, and fighting for all power to be taken by workers councils. As the revolution consolidates its gains and begins the reconstruction of society the task is to help the class towards the anarchist ideal. As this ideal becomes more and more established and the obstacles to its achievement fade away, the revolutionary organisation becomes less necessary and eventually vanishes completely.
⇑ (1) Revolutionary History, vol. 5 no. 3, 1994
⇑ (2) The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, Paul Avrich ed., Ithaca, 1973, p 96.
⇑ (3) Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, London, 1985, p 688
⇑ (4) Makhno was the former leader of a powerful insurrectionary army that battled both Whites and Reds in Ukraine during the civil war.
⇑ (5) Arshinov, a former Bolshevik who converted to anarchism in 1906, first met Makhno in a Tsarist prison in 1910. He, like Voline, later joined Makhno’s movement in Ukraine. In 1924 he published The History of the Makhnoist Movement, long regarded as an anarchist classic. In the 1930s Arshinov became disillusioned with squabbling among émigré anarchists in Paris and returned to Stalin’s Russia where he perished in the Great Purges.
⇑ (6) Ida Mett’s 1938 text The Kronstadt Commune is popular with anarchists of every stripe.
⇑ (7) Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, Princeton, 1967, pp 241-42
⇑ (8) Ibid., pp 242-43
⇑ (9) “Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists”
⇑ (10) Ibid.
⇑ (11) “Statuto della Federazione dei Comunisi Anarchichi”
⇑ (12) “The Role of the Anarchist Organisation,” WSM position paper
⇑ (13) Ibid.
⇑ (14) “Comments on Gordon and Klassen’s Anarchism, Marxism, and Renewing Socialism From Below,” The Northeastern Anarchist, No. 3, Fall/Winter 2001
⇑ (15) Ibid.
⇑ (16) “The Role of the Anarchist Organisation,” WSM
⇑ (17) Victor Serge, “Reply to Ciliga,” The New International, February 1939
⇑ (18) Alan McSimon, in WSM’s preface to the Platform.
⇑ (19) Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, p 158
⇑ (20) In his biography of Stalin, Trotsky wrote:
“But the Left Essars resigned from the government in protest against the Peace of Brest-Litovsk in March, 1918, and in July they stabbed the Soviet government in the back by confronting it with the fait accompli of the assassination of the German Ambassador Mirbach and an attempted coup d’état. What would the Messieurs Liberals have had us do under the circumstances: let the October Revolution, the country and ourselves be devastated by our treacherous former partners in the coalition government and be trampled under the marching boots of the German Imperial Army? Facts are stubborn things. History records that the Party of the Left Essars crumbled to dust under the impact of impending events and many of its bravest members became stalwart Bolsheviks, among them Blumkin, the assassin of Count von Mirbach. Were the Bolsheviks merely vengeful or were they ‘liberal’ when they perceived the revolutionary motivation behind Blumkin’s stupidly disastrous act of provocation and admitted him to full-fledged membership in the Party and to highly responsible work?”
—Stalin, pp 337-38
⇑ (21) Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, pp 182-84
⇑ (22) Ibid. p 184
⇑ (23) Ibid. p 188
⇑ (24) “The Role of Anarchist Organisation,” WSM, emphasis added.
⇑ (25) “The Trade Unions,” WSM, August 2001
⇑ (26) WSM, “The Trade Unions,” WSM, August 2001
⇑ (27) On 21 July 1936, after the working class had defeated the army’s attempt to seize power, leaders of the CNT/FAI were summoned to the palace by Catalonia’s president. Diego Abad de Santillán, a prominent FAI leader, reported that President Companys, who had no military or police apparatus, told them:
“You are masters of the town and of Catalonia, because you defeated the Fascist soldiers on your own….You have won and everything is in your power. If you do not need me, if you do not want me as president, say so now, and I shall become just another soldier in the antifascist struggle. If, on the other hand, you believe me…then perhaps with my party comrades, my name, and my prestige, I can be of use to you…”
–cited in The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, Pierre Broué and Emile Témime, p 130
Santillán provided the following timeless example of the logic of “apolitical” anarchism:
“We could have remained alone, imposed our absolute will, declared the Generalidad null and void, and imposed the true power of the people in its place, but we did not believe in dictatorship when it was being exercised against us, and we did not want it when we could exercise it ourselves only at the expense of others. The Generalidad would remain in force with President Companys at its head….”
—Ibid., p 131
Santillán was rewarded with the post of Minister of Economy in the Catalan government.
⇑ (28) Eddie Conlon, The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism in Action, WSM website
⇑ (29) quoted in Agustin Guillamón, The Friends of Durruti Group, emphasis added
⇑ (30) “Constitution of the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists,” no date
⇑ (31) “The Role of the Anarchist Organization,” WSM
⇑ (32) “Why You Should Join the Workers Solidarity Movement,” WSM
⇑ (33) NEFAC Constitution
⇑ (34) WSM web page, “Welcome to the current ‘position papers’ of the Workers Solidarity Movement”
⇑ (35) “State Capitalism in Russia,” WSM position paper, January 1991. Contrary to the WSM, “labor” is not “undervalued” in capitalist society. Labor power, or the capacity to work, is a commodity which, other things being equal, is sold at its own value. Labor power is a unique commodity in that it can create more value than it costs, as individuals can work longer than is necessary to reproduce their ability to labor. The social surplus produced by the working class under capitalism supports all the “non-productive” members of society, including ruling class speculators, idlers and parasites. (Under capitalism, the surplus extracted takes the form of surplus value and is concealed by the fact that labor power is not undervalued.) Under socialism each worker will not receive the equivalent of what they produce because a portion of the surplus product will be invested in socially useful ways—like industrializing the former neo-colonies, protecting the environment, providing housing, healthcare, education, childcare, etc.
⇑ (36) For a discussion of the course of capitalist restoration in the USSR after Boris Yeltsin’s triumph in August 1991, see 1917 No. 24.
⇑ (37) Organisation Communiste Libertaire, “What We Stand For”
⇑ (38) “Anarchism With A Future – The Czech Republic,” 1998
⇑ (39) ”Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Oppression,” WSM position paper
⇑ (40) In a famous passage from his 1902 work, What Is To Be Done?, Lenin commented:
“the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
⇑ (41) See Aileen O’Carroll, “Vote No in Government’s Anti-Choice Referendum,” January 2002
⇑ (42) “The Gulf War,” WSM policy statement
⇑ (43) “Against Capitalist War and Terror,” Anarchist News, No. 26, September 2001
⇑ (44) James P. Cannon, First Ten Years of American Communism, New York, 1973, p 100