1970s Councilist take on anarchism

This is a pamphlet written by Greg George of the Brisbane Self-Management Group (SMG) in about the mid-1970s.  It is a detailed look at anarchism as a praxis from a councilist viewpoint, which is unusual, as most councilist takes on anarchism tended to consist of short denunciations (while often borrowing from anarchism its anti-hierarchical analysis, and then confusing anti-hierarchical analysis with class analysis). The SMG were a councilist/libertarian socialist group in the tradition of Solidarity (UK) and Socialisme ou Barbarie (France). They were a very large group by Australasian standards; some claim that over 200 people passed through the group. George went on to originally pen the ‘You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship’ article for the SMG’s magazine, which was later edited and produced as pamphlet by a variety of Australian anarchist and councilist groups (here). It became quite well-known outside Australia. Note: this pamphlet was originally a university essay; it did not have a proper title; it was cyclostyled (?) and distributed through the SMG’s Red and Black bookshop . The original page numbers are included. Thanks to Greg for letting me put it up.

I plan to put up a range of rare-ish historical material (councilist, situ and anarchist) from Australasia on this blog, so keep an eye out.



The common view of anarchism as a social philosophy has been repeated ad nauseum in the plethora of books by or edited by academics (who have “never said boo to a goose”). Horowitz expresses it thus:

It was from the productive base of society that the need emanated for certain consonant changes in the human administration of the productive process.  The anarchist never confronted the problems of a vast technology and ignored them by trying to find his way back to a system of production that was satisfying to the individual producer rather than feasible for a growing mass society.  The Marxist regards the present technological level, mass production, as fettered by individualistic (petty-bourgeois and capitalist) modes of control and presses for a type of social ownership that is in keeping with a mass and highly rationalized machinery of production.  The anarchist is pressing for social reorganization in terms of a work integration principle of human relations.  He could never comprehend “readiness” for revolution as readiness for the rationalization of technological necessities and ultimately for the smooth governance of humanity over the instruments of gaining its livelihood.  That is why anarchism appears unconcerned with technology and indeed, antitechnological.  The anarchist literature contains a strong element of nostalgia. (I. Horowitz The Anarchists Dell NY 1964 p. 590.)

And Woodcock claims that the social ideas of anarchism are obsolete and “the real social revolution of the modern age has in fact been this process of centralization, toward which every development of scientific and technological progress has contributed”, G. Woodcock Anarchism Penguin, Harmondsworth 1962 p. 444, and “the anarchist movement failed to present an alternative to the state or the capitalist economy”, ibid p.,447. Even Paul Avrich, a far superior historian than many of the others repeats similar formulae.  All these views are more sophisticated and pious instances of the common, narrow and ignorant prejudices that anarchism is Utopian, anti-organizational, anti-expertise, impractical, believes in “man’s innate perfectibility” – in short, that anarchism is a romantic throwing of a gauntlet in the face of inevitability.

To clarify these matters it is first necessary to point out that anarchism is no ordinary social philosophy. It is “the only true doctrine of freedom” (as Woodcock says) not because of its purified removal from reality but because of its alignment with the only true means of freedom – the methods of democracy thrown up by the spontaneous, creativity of millions of people in revolutionary situations.  These revolts were not necessarily the result of anarchist activity or any political group but of social situations.  But all other political groups have seen these revolts with hostility or as a means of their own coming to power whereupon follows the suppression of the organs which represented the bid of the people for their power.  In contrast to this view anarchists have championed these creations making them the first principle of their concept of future society. When historians, of the right and non-libertarian left, have dismissed or misrepresented these events it is the anarchists who have mostly saved their memory for posterity and carried them back to the masses of new countries and new historical periods.  The crucial events are: the sans culottes, the so-called mob, the enrages, (Jacques Roux, Jean Varlet and others amongst the enrage’s are the first real anarchists) in the Parisian sections of the early 1790’s during the Great French Revolution, the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the factory committees movement in the Russian Revolution, and in military revolt against the bolsheviks – the Kronstadt Commune, the Ukrainian peasants and the Antonovites in the Tambov region, the Italian factory councils of 1919, 1920, the soldier’s, sailor’s and worker’s councils in the German Revolution of 1918, Spain 1936-39, Hungary 1956, Poland 1956, 1970-71, and France 1968.

Of course, in many of these struggles specific anarchist organizations and mass movements did take part. As well there have been major anarchist movements in Uruguay, France, Argentina, Bulgaria and Korea and anarchists have been strong in China, Scandinavia, the United States. Elsewhere they have been influential. But it is the mass events mentioned before which have been seen as mast significant by anarchists and have enriched their ideas, pushing them on to new viewpoints and raising new issues, maturing their theory and finally, in some areas, outstripping them.  The Great French Revolution by Kropotkin, The Unknown Revolution by Voline, History of the Makhno Movement by Arshinov, The Anarchist Collectives by Dolgoff, Diego Abad de Santillan, Peirats, Gaston Leval, Isaac Puente, Augustin Souchy (all on Spain), Kropotkin and Bakunin on the Commune and so on are some of the works in which anarchists have recorded the constructive aspects of these events.

Anarchists are not the only group who have aligned with these movements and libertarian socialists, libertarian communists and council communists (which all mean the same thing) have developed quite separately from anarchism.  Many have gone through the process of splitting from marxist-leninist organizations on the question of workers’ power as defined in the events mentioned above and then the sloughing of their marxism by a logical process, others linking with those council communist ideas in Gorter and Pannekoek, both Dutch marxists. Harinus Van der Lubbe, who set the Reichstag ablaze, was a member of this group. Though the act was foolish, he was not a tool of the Nazis as the Stalinists claimed in their “Brown Books” hut desperately disappointed by the German workers’ passivity.’) Since the Spanish Revolution no major


theoretical advances have been made by anarchism. Council communists have provided most of the new energy and new analysis of modern society in the general libertarian movement. Some of these points will be taken up later.

To say anarchism is dead, then, is absurd not just because of the revival of interest in anarchism during the new left period but because of the inextricable link of anarchist social philosophy with the future of the mass revolutions for libertarian goals.

One final clarification has to be made before going on to deal with the substance of the quotes above. This deals with those elements of anarchism which do conform to the pattern of “narrow, and ignorant prejudices” mentioned before.  (One prejudice that was omitted was the “bomb thrower” idea.  However the equating of anarchism with terrorism has basically ceased.  The only periods of real terrorism, involving incidents of violence against the public were in France in the 1890s and again in pre-World War I, Russia pre-World War I, and Spain after World War I. Other incidents involved the defensive pistol wars against right wing assassinations in Spain after World War I, or various assassinations in different countries in the latter case almost always involving the isolated acts of individuals.)  Anarchism can be divided into three streams, anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-individualism.  It is the latter to which I refer here (the other two will be dealt with later).  These ideas were originally identified with Stirner followed by Lev Chernyi, the Gordins, Armand etc (and Nietzsche though he was no anarchist) but found their best exponents, S.P. Andrews, W, Greene, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker in combination with individualistic capitalist ideas in the United States. The former tradition was notable for its confusion of society or organization of any formal kind with repression of the individual and saw all good originating in the individual apart, while, the latter tradition might grudgingly accept society but did not accept socialism, that is cooperation and equality, preferring to see competition as the progressive and liberating force and believing the basic moral principle was to mind one’s own business.  Bakunin’s statement applies here to both.

No man can recognise his own human worth, or in consequence realise his full development, if he does not recognise the worth of his fellow-men and, in co-operation with them, realise his own development through them.  No man can emancipate himself unless at the same time he emancipates those around him.  My freedom, is the freedom of all, for 1 am not really free – free not only in thought, but also in deed – if my freedom and my right do not find their confirmation and sanction in the liberty and right of all men, my equals. It matters much to me what all other men are, for however independent 1 may seem, or may believe myself to be, by virtue of my social position, whether as Pope, Tsar, Emperor or Prime Minister, I am all the while the product of those who are the least among men.  If these are ignorant, miserable, or enslaved, ray existence is limited by their ignorance, misery or slavery.  I, though an intelligent and enlightened man, am made stupid by their stupidity; though brave, am enslaved by their slavery; though rich, tremble before their poverty; though privileged grow pale at the thought of possible justice for them.  I who wish to be free, cannot be so, because around me are men who do not yet desire freedom, and, not desiring it, become, as opposed to me, the instruments of my oppression.  (E. Malatesta Anarchy Strawberry Press, Melbourne 1974 p.19)

Malatesta’s prediction that the “aspiration towards unlimited freedom, if not tempered by love of mankind and by the desire that all should enjoy equal freedom, may well create rebels who if they are strong enough, soon become exploiters and tyrants, but never anarchists”(V. Richards (ed) Malatesta – Life and Ideas, Freedom Press, London 1965 p. 24) proved itself again and again in reality.  Anarcho-individualists were escapists, terrorists, elitists, fatalists, spontaneists, anti-organizational, associated with drop-out mentalities egocentric personalities and lifestyles, criminal, did not participate in the main events, remained apart and were justly attacked by mainstream anarchists.  In his memoirs Victor Serge narrates how some of the “ego-anarchists” even followed their ideas to the extreme of turning their comrades in to the police. Anarchism without socialism is a useless ideal and a “utopian” dream, easy for academic chroniclers of anarchism to digest and suitable for those given to inert aspiration.  (Unfortunately many of the young people attracted to anarchism nowadays are drawn exactly by some of these myths about anarchism which they find appropriate to many of their own attitudes if not clearly articulated at least as a mode of personal behaviour.  Thus the myth will become reality.  This happens in many areas in Australia and the same is probably true elsewhere.)  All the faults of anarchism cannot be laid at the feet of individualism and it has undoubtedly made a contribution to others by emphasizing the individual but it has done more harm than good


The first error in the kind of attack made by Horowitz and Woodcock is very much the case of the old “beam in your eye” problem.  Anarchism does offer a solution to the bureaucratised world.  The alternative is there (its starting points have already been mentioned) and it is the disbelief of those such as Horowitz which makes it seem irrational.  Anarchism is far more real in dealing with the social problems of our time, bureaucratisation and powerlessness, than those “realistic” liberals who have for years been placing “curbs” and “restraints” on excessive political power or those marxists whose ideas lead to the expansion of the state into new areas.  The first have ignored monopolies in the economy and tried to limit the state – both have expanded. The second have used the state to end monopoly in the economy – now the state is the economic monopoly as well as all else.  Anarchism transcended both these illusions.

Kropotkin writes

“The State is an institution which was developed for the very purpose of establishing monopolies in favour of the slave and serf owners, the landed proprietors, canonic and laic, the merchant guilds and the money-lenders, the kings, the military commanders, the noblemen, and finally, in the nineteenth century, the industrial capitalist, whom the state supplied with “hands” driven away from the land”(R. Baldwin (ed) Kropotkin’s Revolution Pamphlets Dover N.Y. 1970 p. 166)

Bakunin concludes this logic:

“So long as universal suffrage is exercised in a society where the people, the mass of workers, are ECONOMICALLY (original emphasis) dominated by a minority holding in exclusive possession the property and the capital of the country, free or independent though the people may be otherwise, or as they may appear to be from a political aspect, these elections held under conditions of universal suffrage can only be illusory, anti-democratic in their results” (G.P. Maximoff (ed) The Political Philosophy of Bakunin The Free Press Toronto 1964 p. 21)

Liberalism cannot solve the problem of bureaucratisation for the class system and inequality which they support will always feed the growth of the state:

“And, indeed, what do we see throughout history? The State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class: the sacerdotal class, the nobility, the bourgeois – and finally, when all the other classes have exhausted themselves, the class of bureaucracy enters upon the stage and then the State falls, or rises, if you please, to the position of a machine. But for the salvation of the State it is absolutely necessary that there be some privileged class interested in maintaining its existence”, ibid. p. 208.

Bakunin’s remark about bureaucracy above is a characteristic bit of prophecy which we have seen realized which brings us now to the marxists (to state socialists in general but the Saint-Simons, Lassalles, etc., have been swamped by marxism).  Bakunin’s “Critique of the Marxist Theory of the State” led one marxist to comment in 1968

“it is most uncomfortable for a devout socialist to look over the argument exchanged between Marx and Bakunin and reflect that maybe it was Bakunin who was right all the time… not only because of the accuracy of his prediction as to what socialism would look like…but even more to the point because the reasoning on which he based his prediction, reinforced by historical evidence of the past half century, seems almost unanswerably persuasive” (S. Dolgoff (ed) Bakunin on Anarchy Allen & Unwin London 1973 p. 323.)

This is not surprising as Bakunin’s mentor, Proudhon, described the future of a

“governmental dictatorial, authoritarian, doctrinaire, communist system” as “A compact democracy apparently based on the dictatorship of the masses, but in which the masses have only power enough to insure universal servitude, according to the following prescription.

The indivisibility of power

All absorbing centralism The systematic destruction of all individual, corporate, or local thought believed to be subversive;

An inquisitorial police force:  (D. Guerin Anarchism Monthly Review Press N.Y. 1970 p.22)

(Even earlier Jean Varlet analysed his experience as one of the few enrages who escaped the Jacobins’ guillotine “Despotism has passed from the palace of kings to the circle of a committee … In my country there has only been a change of dress.., What a social monstrosity, what a masterpiece of Machiavellianism, this revolutionary government is in fact.  For any reasoning being, Government and Revolution are incompatible, at least unless the people wish to constitute the organs of power in permanent insurrection against themselves, which is too absurd to believe.)”

In “Statism and Anarchy” Bakunin attacks Marx for advocating that

“the people should not only not abolish the state, but on the contrary, they must strengthen and enlarge it, and turn it over to the full disposition of their benefactors, guardians and teachers – the leaders of the communist party, meaning Mr. Marx and his friends – who will then liberate them in their own way.  They will concentrate all administrative power in their own strong hands, because the ignorant people are in need of a strong guardianship; and they will create a central state bank which will also control all the commerce, industry, agriculture and even science.  The mass of the people will be divided into two armies, the agricultural and the industrial, under the direct command of the state engineers, who will constitute the new privileged political-scientific class” (Dolgoff (ed) op. cit. pp,332-333


The ambiguities in Marx on these primary questions were developed by the Bolsheviks in the directions Bakunin described.  State capitalism was created.  Maksimov, the anarcho-syndicalist, asked in their paper in 1918

“Will state capitalism lead us to the gate of socialise?  Of this we see not the slightest evidence, Will the new government not contrive artificially to concentrate property in its hands?…Will it not complete the class stratification of the country, which capitalism could not accomplish ‘naturally’? And will the emergence of a single owner really ease the task of achieving socialism?  (If the workers revolt) the class of administrators wielding the powerful state apparatus, will be a far from weak opponent”; (P. Avrich (ed) The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution Thames and Hudson London 1973 p. 124.)

Thus was created “the vilest and most dangerous lie of our century…Red Bureaucracy”; (Guerin op. cit. p.25) and “the very word ‘socialism’ became a curse, as happened in France with the idea of equality forty years after the rule of the Jacobins”; (Avrich op. cit, p,148) – two predictions of Bakunin and Kropotkin which eventuated.

Two final points which were made by Bakunin refer to two developments of the state which, (though he wrote all his anarchist pamphlets between 1864 and 1376) came to fruition in the twentieth century.  They both derive from his realization that the state is more than just “the executive committee of the capitalist class”.  In Serbia after the Turks were expelled he observed that

“there are no nobles, no landowners, no industrialists, and no very wealthy merchants…yet in spite of this a new bureaucratic aristocracy com­posed of young men educated at state expense (and though they were distinguished by their love of the people, liberalism and democratic and socialistic inclinations in the fight against the Turk) they became State functionaries and became members of the only aristocracy in the country, the bureaucratic class…  It is worth noting that Turkish Serbia differs from other states, in this principle aspect:  there is only one class in control of government, the bureaucracy…(which) exploits the Serbian people in order to provide the bureaucrats with all the comforts of life:”  (Dolgoff (ed) op, cit. pp. 343—344)

He thus describes the process of many modern nationalities fighting the colonial master only to establish the kind of state we see throughout Africa today.  Secondly, Bakunin realized that the state in capitalist society would rapidly expand and take more areas under its control.

“Modern capitalist production and bank speculation inexorably demand enormous centralization of the State, which alone can subject millions of workers to capitalist exploitat­ion.  Federalist organizations from the bottom upwards; – worker’s associations, groups, communes, cantons, regions and finally whole people, is the sole condition for true, non-fictitious freedom, but such freedom violates the interests and convictions of the ruling classes, just as economic determination is incompatible with their methods of organization.  Representative democracy, however harmonizes marvelously with the capitalist economic system.  This new statist system… incorporates the two principal and necessary conditions for the progress of capitalism:  state centralization, and the actual submissions of the sovereign people to the intellectual governing minority.”  Ibid pp. 336-337: State power demands centralization”; ibid p.340

(He also goes on to point out “the modern State must strive to be a huge and powerful State” and outlines the competition that will occur between states and engulfing and controlling of small and medium states by “universal” states that will result).  Malatesta also shows his awareness of the increased role of the state

“We must also remember that on one hand the bourgeoisie, that is, the proprietary class, make war, among themselves, and destroy one another continually, and that, on the other hand, the government, although composed of the bourgeoisie and acting as their servant and protector, is still, like every servant and protector, continually striving to emancipate-itself and domineer over its charge.  Thus, this see-saw game, this swaying between conceding and withdrawing, this seeking allies among the people and against the classes, and among the classes against the masses, forms the science of the governors, and blinds the ingenuous and phlegmatic, who are always expecting that salvation is coming to them from on high”.  (Malatesta op. cit p.15)

Therefore in view of all the above, if Woodcock is correct in saying chat “the anarchist movement failed to present an alternative to the state or the capitalist economy” at least it can be said that the anarchists have proven that no other political stream will provide an alternative to these systems.  State socialists’ and liberals are bankrupt and have contributed to the growth of bureaucracy and powerlessness.

In summary “anarchism is not just a mixture of liberalism and socialism; that is social democracy, or welfare capitalism, the system which prevails in this country.  Whatever we owe to and however close we are to liberals and socialists we differ fundamentally from them – and from social democrats – in rejecting the institution of government.  Both liberals and socialists depend on government – liberals ostensibly to preserve freedom but actually to prevent equality, socialists ostensibly to preserve equality but actually to prevent freedom.  Even the most extreme liberals and socialists cannot do without government, the


exercise of authority by some people over other people.  The essence of anarchism, the one thing without which it is not anarchism, is the negation of authority over anyone by anyone.”  (N. Walter About Anarchism Freedom Press London 1969 p.8) As Bakunin said – liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice, socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.

Now, all the other political views do not rely on the state and authoritarian relationships by accident. They all have in common several basic assumptions (which are another example of common prejudices as the basis for sophisticated views). These are things like – “the state is the agent of progress”, “experts have responsibilities and therefore need power and more money”, “Industry and technology require centralization which means the state”, “the complexity of modern society demands strong central authority”, “democracy is unfeasible in mass society”, “people cannot run their own lives”, “the growth of bureaucracy is historically inevitable”, etc. etc. (See appendix for discussion of this question viz. Marx & Engels.) In the conclusion to his book Guerin talks of the historians like Maitron, Joll and Woodcock who analyse anarchism in these terms as quoted on Page 1. He says

“in the preceding pages I have tried to show that this is not a true picture of anarchism.  Bakunin’s works best express the nature of constructive anarchism, which depends on organization, on self-discipline, on federalist and noncoercive centralization. It rests upon large-scale modern industry up-to-date techniques, the modern proletariat, and internationalism on a world scale. In this regard it is of our times, and belongs to the twentieth century. It may well be state communism, and not anarchism, which is out of step with the needs of the contemporary world”; (Guerin op, cit. pp. 153-154.)

Complex societies demand anarchism.  It really is too much when people who constantly recognize the evils of this society fail to see that they are a function of the inability of the society to satisfy peoples needs, to respond to requirements, to fulfill tasks to see what should be done, to take account of variety both in what people need and in what they offer.  Anarchists realize this and have long pointed out that capitalist (and even more so for state capitalist) society can only bring itself to deal with the manifold needs of people by denying the range of needs that exist.  Bureaucracy does not efficiently deal with complexity.  Instead it tries to simplify, rationalize, constrict, deny both in consumption and in the methods of production.  Because it imposes a monolithic unity in production it stifles people and fails to gain their commitment to work.  It does not galvanize their latent energies but causes resistance to production. It attempts to run production through managers who are so disassociated from the real process of production that they do not understand it.  It is an inherently inefficient system.  This has its impact on consumption because what is produced has to be simplified, unified, constricted to enable production to be as narrow as it is.  The world of advertising not only attempts to create false needs, it spends equally as much time creating an impression of choice, diversity and competition which thinly disguises duplication and conformity of products.

“In all production there arise daily thousands of difficulties which no government can solve or foresee. It is certainly impossible to foresee everything.  Only the efforts of thousands of Intelligences working on the problems can cooperate in the development of a new social system and find the best solution for the thousands of local needs”. (Baldwin (ed) Kropotkin’s Rev. Pamphlets, op, cit. pp. 76,77.)

This realization is what drove anarchists to organization created by the people and under their day to day control.

“The economic change which will result from the social revolution will be so immense and so profound, it must so change all the relations based today on property and exchange, that it is impossible for one or any individual to elaborate the different social forms which must spring up in the society of the future. This elaboration of new social forms can only be made by the collective work of the masses. To satisfy the immense variety of conditions and needs which will spring up as soon as private property shall be abolished, it is necessary to have the collective suppleness of mind of the whole people. Any authority external to it will only be an obstacle, and beside that a source of discord and hatred”; (Baldwin (ed) op. cit. pp. 248-249)

As John B. McEwan, a cybernetics mathematician, says

“Libertarian socialists, especially Kropotkin and Landauer, showed an early grasp of the complex structure of society, as a complex network of changing relationships involving many structures of correlated activity and mutual aid, independent of authoritarian coercion.  It was against this background that they developed their theories of social organization”; (Quoted by S. Dolgoff in “The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society” Libertarian Analysis Volume 1 No. 4, 1971, p. 10 (for example P, Avrich (ed) Anarchists in the Russian Revolution Thames and Hudson, London 1973, P.152))

The struggle in production in modern capitalist society has led to the growth of the kind of job organization that Kropotkin wished to see.  Since his time democratic organs of power have matured by fits and starts but the most instructive and well developed example were those of Spain and Hungary, now in France throughout 1967, 1968 and still today with events like the Lip occupation and the “new unionism”, in Italy with the


growing autonomous factory committees movement and elsewhere these possibilities are being restated.

In this contemporary struggle lies the whole future of industry and therefore of society.  Control of the national economy offers certain “technical” advantages to those who control.  This was known not only to Lenin but to Marx and Engels. But the Russian state plan can deal only with the crudest of approximations such as total input of steel and total output of cars.  This had its uses in the Stalinist era, but in modern industry the only cost accounting that has any serious value is the cost accounting of the workers on the line, of the thousand and one details of production, constantly organized, checked, modified, discarded and reorganized. This is the only rational production and it can be done only by freely associated men.  It is totally beyond state planners of any kind, whether with or without parliamentary democracy.  For the moment the enormous creative potentialities of production in these, shop organizations are dissipated and even reversed by their use as a defence mechanism against an outmoded managerial class and its political adjuncts”; (Preface to C. L. R. James, State Capitalism and World Revolution, Facing Reality Detroit 1969 pp, 9-10.)

Then there is the issue of centralization.  The anarchists are proponents of direct democracy. One must decide for oneself not decide who will do the deciding.  Thus power will be brought back to basic social units (as will be explained later there are differences as to what these units should be – industrial or geographical). But the anarchists were usually aware that there was no contradiction between the basic units of direct democracy and the need for centralization because they saw the functions of autonomy and centralization as both being the task of these same direct democratic bodies.  Thus the anarchists were federalists.  The basic bodies would discuss matters and decide on a viewpoint which would be communicated to a federal assembly by delegates over whom the basic bodies had right of recall.  This is merely to state the principle not to go into details.  But in the Spanish revolution anarchism showed just how well such a principle could be applied to combine the needs of autonomy and centralization in the economy (see Dolgoff The Anarchist Collectives) a task which they had foreseen for years, as Bakunin shows.

“It will be contended that economic centralization can only be attained by political centralization, that onevimplies the other, and that both are necessary and beneficial to the same extent.  Not at all, we say. Economic centralization, the essential condition of civilization, creates liberty; but political centralization kills it, destroying for the benefit of the government and the governing classes the life and spontaneous action of the population.  Concentration of political power can produce only slavery, for freedom and power are mutually exclusive.  Every government, even the most democratic one, is the natural enemy of freedom, and the stronger it is, the more concentrated its power, the more offensive it becomes” (Maximoff (ed) op. cit p.256).

Guerin makes the same point with Proudhon, “At all events, Proudhon was aware that management by workers’ associations would have to cover large units.  He stressed the “need for centralization and large units” and asked “Do not workers’ associations for the operation of heavy industry mean large units?”  “We put economic centralization in the place of political centralization”.  (Guerin op cit p.54.)

Thus, they saw the evil in bureaucratic centralization by the state and monopoly capitalism not in centralization itself. (Though examples can be found especially amongst the anarcho-communists, where centralization is identified with bureaucracy which is only to be expected in a movement like anarchism). The problems occur when centralization is seen as the specific function of a separate apparatus above and independent of the people. The state smashes independent unities between local groups and basic bodies in society as Proudhon saw, “All that would be achieved (by the conquest) of these bodies by the state would be the creation of an irreconcilable antagonism between the general sovereignty and each of ‘the separate sovereignties, setting authority against authority; in other words, while supposedly developing unity one would be organizing division”; Guerin op cit p.64.

The state then proclaims its function as reuniting what it has itself destroyed and co-ordinating what it constantly keeps apart.  Instead Bakunin proposes real unity and co-ordination,

“When the accursed power of the State is no longer there to constrain individuals, associations, communes, provinces or regions to live together, they will be much more closely bound, will constitute a far more viable, real and powerful whole than what they are at present forced into by the power of the State, equally oppressive to them all (the authoritarians) are always confusing…formal dogmatic and governmental unity with a real and living unity which can only derive from the freest development of all individuals and groups, and from a federal and absolutely voluntary alliance…of the workers’ associations in the communes and, beyond the communes, in the regions, beyond the regions, in the nations.”;  Guerin op cit.p.65.

As part of this co-ordination Bakunin foresees the use of economic planning.  A vast economic federation with “world wide statistics, giving data as comprehensive as they are detailed and precise”.  He foresaw, says Guerin, that such planning “would balance supply and


demand direct distribute and share out world industrial production among the different countries so that crises in trade and employment, enforced stagnation, economic disaster, and loss of capital would almost certainly entirely disappear” Guerin op cit p.55.  Proudhon also showed the same awareness.  The anarchist organizational principle of autonomy and federalist, non-coercive centralization are not separate.  One is impossible without the other.  “For a nation to manifest itself in unity, this unity must be centralized   in all its functions and faculties;  centralization must be created from the bottom up, from the periphery to the centre, and all functions must be independent and self-governing.  The more numerous its foci, the stronger the centralization will be”; Guerin op cit. p.64.

But the anarchists also foresaw the need for decentralization in the physical arrangement of the economy and of urban life.  Even in the anarcho-communists who undoubtedly expected too much of such measures, this concern was more often prompted by practical understanding of the wrongs of this society than by a backward looking desire to recapture the feudal past. Kropotkin spent a whole book Fields, Factories and Workshops, going into the technological, agricultural, economic (including patterns of world trade), scientific and industrial background to future possibilities. A reading of the last two chapters of Conquest of Bread (on “The Decentralization of Industry and Agriculture”) will show how steeped he was in concern for real practical possibilities.  It will also show that many of his concerns then are now the prevalent demands of the ecology movement. Kropotkin made too much of small industrial facilities and of completely integrated economic combinations (he wished to see every country satisfying most of its own demands across the full range of production) and he sometimes idealized small scale units as good in themselves but he came to conclusions on the basis of available evidence which now, in this polluted, wasteful world, are even more incumbent upon us.  (In Conquest of Bread, he even predicts the need for solar energy devices and is confident of its possibility. A new annotated edition of Fields, Factories and Workshops has come out, comparing his ideas with the latest in science and technology. I have not seen it yet.) Murray Bookchin is very much in the strict anarcho-communist tradition (its faults will be dealt with later) but in Post-Scarcity Anarchism, particularly in the essays on ecology and on liberatory technology, he provides much to support the practicality of anarchist ideas particularly on the survival issues of decentralizing and reorganizing agriculture and industry.  Following the point already made in this essay, that bureaucratic society simplifies and constricts he outlines the need for experiment, variety and complexity, on the basis of ecological, biological etc., evidence and says that only anarchism fulfills these requirements.

He makes these conclusions.

“Until recently, attempts to resolve the contradictions created by urbanization, centralization, bureaucratic growth and stratification were viewed as a vain counterdrift to ‘progress”…The anarchist…yearnings for a decentralized society and for a humanistic community at one with nature and the needs of the individual…were viewed as the reactions of a romantic, of a declassed craftsman…liberals, rightists and authoritarian “leftists” argued that they were voices of historic reality, that their statist and centralist notions were rooted in the objective practical world.

Time is not kind to the conflict of ideas, Whatever may have been the validity of libertarian and non-libertarian views a few years ago, historical development has rendered virtually all objections to anarchist thought meaningless today. (the methods of modern society) are regressive not only because they erode the human spirit and drain the community of all its cohesiveness, solidarity and ethico-cultural standards;  they are regressive from an objective standpoint, from an ecological standpoint. For they undermine not only the human spirit and the human community but also the viability of the planet and all living things on it”; M. Bookchin Post-Scarcity Anarchy Wildwood House London, 1971, pp.68,69. (In the essay by S. Dolgoff (op. cit. pp.11-12) he cites various bourgeois economists, sociologists and administrators talking of the need for decentralization.

This point about regressive features of the institutions of this society has been much discussed by anarchists, particularly in relation to the state. The state has long been credited with organizing and carrying through human progress throughout history both in the sense of evolution and also in the periods of revolution.  As has already been said anarchists pointed out that it was the people who made these revolutions, often at the same time developing organs through which they hoped to rule, the state that was then established was always the creation of various “leaders” and “leading organizations” not the people – they were in mortal antagonism. But anarchists have also pointed out the role of the people in the evolution of the human world.  For example, the first chapter of Conquest of Bread, “Our Riches”, reminds us who did all the building, growing, and producing upon which the level of our present existence was established. More importantly in Mutual Aid,(P. Kropotkin Mutual Aid, Allen Lane, Penguin),and the fascinating pamphlet The State:  Its Historic Role,(P. Kropotkin, Miller (ed), Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution MIT Press, Cambridge, 1970 p.210, he argues that the communes


of the Middle ages, the free cities, (twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries) with their guilds developed Europe so that by the sixteenth century

“Europe was covered with rich cities, whose artisans, masons, weavers and engravers produced marvellous works of art;  their Universities established the foundations of modern science, their caravans covered the continents, their vessels plowed the seas and the rivers,…towns… had a greater proportion of schools and in the communal hospitals, beds in relation to the population than in the case with the most favoured towns today”;  Miller (ed) ibid pp.245-246.

But some of the families who made the revolutions in the twelfth century restricted the young arts and guilds and the old guilds became middlemen in trade and grew rich causing a split in the cities which was exploited by the growing statism of country lords based on serfdom (whom the cities sometimes tried to free) and the Church and as a result city lords were created who became nascent kings.  Ideas were changed by teachings of Roman Law and Christianity.  “And the sixteenth century – a century of carnage and wars – can be summed up quite simply by this struggle of the nascent state against the free towns and their federations.  The towns were besieged, stormed and sacked their inhabitants decimated or deported”; Miller (ed) ibid p.245.  Kropotkin argues that the following period and all periods of statism (like that, following the Greek period of free cities) held back development.

“The role of the nascent state in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in relation to the urban centres was to destroy the independence of the cities; to pillage the rich guilds of merchants and artisans, to concentrate in its hands the external commerce of the cities and ruin it; to lay its hands on the internal administration of the guilds and subject internal commerce as well as all manufacturers totally to the control of a host of officials – and in this way to kill industry and the arts; by taking over the local militias and the whole municipal administration, crushing the weak in the interest of the strong by taxation, and ruining the countries by wars. Obviously the same tactic was applied to the villagers and peasants. Once the state felt strong enough it eagerly set about destroying the village commune” Miller (ed) ibid pp.246,247,

and re-establishing serfdom openly or in various guises.  This only outlines one point of this essay of Kropotkin’s and it is not essential for accepting their view of the state. While not having the familiarity with these periods of history to be able to judge Kropotkin’s viewpoint, it seems highly likely that it provides a corrective to the prevalent opinion on the sources of progress in the western world.  What seems definitely true in their view is the point made by Malatesta quoting Sismondi

“The State is always a conservative power which authorises, regulates and organises the conquests of progress (and history testifies that it applies them to the profit of its own and the other privileged classes) but never does it inaugurate them. New ideas always originate from beneath, are conceived in the foundations of society, and then when divulged, they become opinion and grow.  But they must always meet on their path, and combat the constituted powers of tradition, custom, privilege and error”; Malatesta, ibid, p.28.

Elsewhere he says “far from creating energy, government by its methods wastes, paralyzes, and destroys enormous potential”;  Guerin op. cit. p.16. Kropotkin gives us an example of this “Men never worked in France as they did in 1793, after the soil was snatched from the hands of the nobles” says the historian Michelet.  Never have men worked as they will on the day when labour becomes free and everything accomplished by the worker will be a source of well-being to the whole commune”; Miller (ed) op. cit. p.129.

This leads us to a point to be made about anarchism’s views on alienation and class. The liberals and marxists for whom ‘Horowitz et al’ have sympathy can never offer a solution to alienation for, the anarchists argue, they cannot end class society.  Liberals are not opposed to class, Marx was ultimately opposed to class.  But since the marxist definition of class is based on property not power, it is not hard to see why marxists could see a socialist society could consist merely of a state monopoly in the economy and the “expropriation of the expropriators”; still conceive of political relationships in a socialist society (as opposed to social relationships) and could retain the principle of authority in work situations and still expect their long term aims to be satisfied. The anarchists understood class in terms of power – relationships of order given/order taker, dominance/submission in politics and economic life, in state and capital (It is a good question as to whether such an analysis can be strictly called a class analysis rather than, say, hierarchical analysis.  They always considered it a class analysis), as Bakunin shows, “The doctrinaire philosophers, as well as the jurists and economists always assume that property came into existence before the rise of the State, whereas it is clear that the juridical idea of property, as well as family law, could arise historically only in the Sate, the first inevitable act of which was the establishment of this law and of property”; Maximoff (ed) op. cit, p.179.  They saw property and privilege arising from power.  This did not lead them to disagree with the marxists that the State played a role suitable to the interests of a ruling class largely based on economic property, but this economic ownership was none other than a relationship of power.  It did allow the anarchists


a much more flexible view which enabled them to see that the relationship of the State to capital and to society as a whole could change.  We have already pointed out some of their insights as a result of this flexibility (pp.3-4).  The Anarchists saw authority relations as the central problem.  It is wrong to assume, as the marxists would have us believe, that this merely constituted a fetishism of the state (‘abolish the state and all else will follow’).  In fact it forced anarchists into a far profounder consideration of social relationships in all spheres of life which is why anarchists’ writings of distant years past on penal reform and crime, on education, on sexual life and the family etc. have often said all that the most recent and radical views are now saying, and often more, and are confirmed now by current research.  Throughout Marx’s writings concepts of alienation became increasingly less important. Most of the recent vogue for marxist alienation refers to the early “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts”.  But for anarchists concern with alienation (in their terms with apathy, passivity, indifference etc.) was primary. They relied on the release of energy of the people which would follow the gaining control of their lives (see Appendix on Marxism & Statism).

Despite the impressions current historians would give, the applicability of anarchism in these areas has only increased with modern society.  Society has not clearly stratified as Marx believed but has become more hierarchical. The industrial proletariat, to which strictly defined group the Marxists gave to total task of liberation, has rarely been a majority of the population but this is even less so today. Most people work in education institutions, white collar labour, in scientific technological research and other institutions which are not strictly industrial.  In these areas an analysis based on power is just as applicable as it is in industry.  The description of alienation consequent upon powerlessness and lack of control is sometimes even more applicable, whereas descriptions of class division based upon relationship to property must be strained. Furthermore the growth of managers, functionaries, bureaucrats and apparatchiks of all kinds, and in all areas has rendered analysis based on wage labour difficult.  It also becomes increasingly difficult to place the label ruling class upon capitalists and capitalists alone.

To all these factors anarchist views can adapt, and as has been indicated they have even foreseen some of them. More importantly, the anarchist solution – addressed to problems of powerlessness, appealing to all sections of the populace, putting primacy on freedom and creative work immediately, and so on – is more relevant. In France in 1968 the action of people and the use of slogans like “Those without power are the workers” proved that these are the real issues for modern society. Their concern with establishing bodies of “autogestion” reflects anarchist concern with constructing alternatives rather than seizing the state, though no political group can claim responsibility for the events.

Part of the belief that anarchism is anti-organizational and impractical stems from the belief that it is anti-science, anti-expertise and anti-intellectual.  This belief in turn originates from the irrational idea that science and expertise in general must be paid for in privilege and authority, a cynicism which discounts the possibility of experts and non-experts co-operating.  In fact, the system wherein experts are given power and privilege, which is applied in all modern societies, has proved itself inefficient, anti-human and irrational and has held up progress in applying science and technology- to the solution of the problems of mankind. Knowledge associated with power provides an inherent tendency for defensiveness and self-justification since claims for the accuracy of one’s scientific viewpoint become the basis of one’s mystique and prestige.  Thus, scientific motivation then involves irrationality as well as plain truth seeking.  Furthermore scientists who have been bought off by money and power will tend to be conservative and rigid attitudes are bound to stultify genuine research.  Scientists and intellectuals readily become elitists.  These tendencies coalesce to produce people whose work defends the existing order.  It also produces people who are socially irresponsible and become, in reality, tools of the establishment producing what it requires aside from any humanist consideration.  This conservatism and irresponsibility is then wrapped up in exclusivist and elitist claims based on awe for knowledge rather than critical respect amongst the populace.  The physical sciences then produce a technology for war, for corporations, for an irrational economy, for social control and control of workers in production.  The social sciences then produce doctrines which shroud the status quo in permanency and rationality and provide workers who man the institutions of social control. All this represents a monumental, wasteful and perverse misdirection of the true function of science.  It produces a situation in which every new discovery is to be feared for the new areas of social control it may open up.  This is because in this society scientists gain their social position and right to work at the behest of the State or of monopoly corporations.  Anarchists have long repudiated this trend.  Bakunin claimed that if scientists were given “full power…they will begin performing on human beings the same experiments that the scientists are now performing on dogs and rabbits”; Dolgoff (ed) op. cit. p.326.


In general they attacked the separation of specialists and experts from other workers and feared the same results everywhere, fears which have proved well grounded in reality.  In fact this trend has become associated with the development of whole elitist theories of the management of society, a narrow rationalist faith in the ability of select groups of experts, managers, economists, social scientists etc., to provide the most satisfactory direction for society.

This elitist rationalism is reflected most clearly in parliamentary democracies by the dynamic technocratic reformism of the social democratic parties like the A.L.P. [Australian Labor Party] who believe they will solve societies’ problems through royal commissions, committees, state management and bureaucratic expansion.  It is also represented by the pressure groups of experts and specialists, throughout the institutions of society who press for these measures.  The various recent “democratic” theorists who have cited apathy and political non-involvement by the masses as good since it reflects satisfaction and stability and allows the managers to get on with the job, are another example.  The ultimate in this trend of welfare capitalism is, of course, the 1984 model.  This trend is at its worst in the state capitalist societies.  “Stalinist totalitarianism is merely the material expression of the elite philosophy of rationalism carried to its ultimate conclusion.  Its philosophy of the Party is the philosophy of the organized elite,” (This development is intimately linked with the nature of the bolshevik party. Lenin’s “What is to be Done“? stated the elitist view and this culminated in his recommendation, after the revolution, of the Taylor system which was then being applied in the capitalist world.)

“Its philosophy of the Plan is the philosophy of the organizing intellect.  It is the attempt to take what was living, creative dynamic, adventurous in the early days of science and industry and make it into a blueprint to regulate the infinitely complex life of modern society.  Its conception of the masses of the people is that they are the means by whose Labour and sacrifice are to be achieved ends which only the elite can visualize clearly. Hence the blindness, the moral degradation, the dehumanization which overtakes those who today practice the philosophy of rationalism.  Two philosophies, the philosophy of man’s mastery over men and the philosophy of man’s mastery over things, have met face to face”;  C. L. R. James, Radical America Special Issue, p.34.

Bakunin made this point:

“Human science is always and necessarily Imperfect, and comparing what it has discovered with what remains to be discovered, we may say it is still in its cradle.  This is true to such an extent that were we to force the practical life of men, collective as well as individual into strict and exclusive conformity with the latest data of science we should condemn society as well as individuals to suffer martyrdom on a Procrustean bed, which would soon end by dislocating and stifling them, life always remaining an infinitely greater thing than science”; Maximoff (ed) op. cit. p.250.

But the anarchist reply to all this is not anti-intellectualism or anti-scientific attitudes.  (one doesn’t need to emphasize Kropotkin’s commitment to science.  Indeed he can justly be criticized for mechanistic determinism and scientism.  But these elements must he separated from his legitimate desire to scientifically understand human nature.  The fatalism which should logically follow determinism was resisted by Kropotkin’s concern with human morality, with ideas of freedom, justice, responsibility etc.  This should be seen as a conflict in his ideas which does not invalidate his quest for rooting human morality in the realm of human possibility through a scientific understanding of mankind.  See Richards (ed) op. cit. pp.257-263 for Malatesta’s comments on these points.)  Though various groups of anarchists have been anti-intellectual (the Russian pan-anarchists and anarcho-futurists for example) it is absurd of Paul Avrich to attack the anarchists as anti-intellectual for their opposition to socialist leaders and bolsheviks in the labour movement ; (Paul Avrich The Russian Anarchists Princeton Uni. Press, 1967, pp.107-112} or to quote of work of Bakunin’s which is plainly contradicted in a later article (1873) when he says “Anyone who thinks that after a social revolution everybody will be equally educated is very much mistaken.  Science then, as now, will remain one of the many specialized fields, though it will cease to be accessible only to a very few of the privileged class”; Dolgoff (ed) op. cit. p.327.  The anarcho-syndicalists were constantly recommending and organizing education programs for workers (in their local organizations modelled on the bourses de travail) in economics etc.  The fruits of such programs was born in the maturity of the libertarian economic organization in Spain in 1936.  Bookchin says; “The myth, so widely disseminated by the current sociological literature on the subject, that agrarian anarchism in Spain was anti-technological in spirit and atavistically sought to restore a neolithic “Golden Age” can be quite effectively refuted by a close study of the unique educational role they played in the countryside.  It was the anarchists, with inexpensive, simply written brochures, who brought the French enlightenment and modern scientific theory to the peasantry, not the arrogant liberals or the disdainful socialists.  Together with pamphlets on Bakunin and Kropotkin, the anarchist press published simple accounts of the theories of natural selection and social evolution and elementary introduction to the secular culture of Europe.  They tried to instruct the peasants in advanced techniques of land management and earnestly favoured the use of agricultural machinery to lighten


the burdens of toil and provide more leisure for self-development. Far from being an atavistic trend, as Hobsbawn and even Brenan would have us believe, I can say with certainty from a careful review of the issue that anarchism more closely approximated a radical popular ‘enlightenment”; Bookchin ‘Reflections on Spanish Anarchism” op. cit. p.34. Avrich himself points out that the Polish anarchist Machajski was heavily criticized by other anarchists for seeing everything as a plot of the intelligentsia in his “The Mental Worker”. As a whole anarchists would accept Bakunin’s view.

“We must respect scientists for their merits and achievements but in order to prevent them corrupting their own moral and intellectual standards they should be granted no special privileges and no rights other than those possessed by everyone – for example the liberty to express their convictions, thought and knowledge; Neither they nor any other special group should be given power over others. He who is given power will inevitably become an oppressor and exploiter of society”; Dolgoff (ed) op. cit. p.326, 327.

“Does it follow that I reject all authority? No, far be it from me to entertain such thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the bootmaker. When it is a question of houses, canals, or railroads, I consult the authority of the architect or engineer. For each special type of knowledge I apply to the scientist of that respective branch. I listen to them freely, and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character and their knowledge, though always reserving my indisputable right of criticism and control. I do not content myse1f with a single specialist (I compare and choose)…I am aware of the fact that I can embrace in all its details and positive developments only a very small part of human knowledge…Hence there results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of division and association of labour” Dolgoff (ed) op. cit. p.326,327.

This anarchist solution to the problem will lead to social control of knowledge, responsibility of experts and creative co-operation in production. It subverts the elite rationalism which associated with power may yet destroy the world, without destroying science, technology or intellectual life. (The number of anarchists who are scientists is quite large, e.g., Kropotkin and both the Reclus brothers, Malatesta (medicine), Alex Comfort, Noam Chomsky, Bookchin and others.)

As has been said anarchists are supposed to have conceived a naive romanticism of human nature to back up their beliefs. Their conception of society is supposed to depend on mankind’s perfectibility. They are then dismissed as idealists. Anarchists have certainly opposed the tendency which could be called religious and secular Jansenism. This is the doctrine of the inherent perverseness and inability for good of the natural human will. The Christian concept of “original sin”, the Victorian concept of “innate depravity”, the social darwinist dogmas, and nowadays the instinctivists (Lorenz, Ardrey, Morris, Tiger etc.), have satisfied (and stimulated) the cravings of people for an explanation of their worst behaviour which divests them of all responsibility, all blame, all obligation to change and substitutes the excuse of “the fall” or “nature”. Needless to say it provides a rationale for the hierarchy and its law and order on the basis of the need to control and repress “the dangerous” in ourselves and others. Possibly more important is its function in providing people with a rationalisation, an escape, for people cannot stand to face their own slavery, as Malatesta points out.

“The workman…has ended believing it is his master who gives him his food, and asks ingenuously how it wou1d be possible to live, if there were no master over him? In the same way a man whose limbs had been bound from birth, but who had nevertheless found out how to hobble about, might attribute to the very bonds that bound him his ability to move, while on the contrary, they would diminish and paralyse the muscular energy of his limbs. If then we add to the natural effect of habit the, education given him by his master, the parson, the teacher, etc., who are all interested in teaching that the employer, and the government are necessary, if we add the judge and the policeman to force those who think differently – and might try to propagate their opinion – to keep silence, we shall understand how the prejudice as to the utility and necessity of masters and governments has become established. Suppose a doctor brought forth a complete theory, with a thousand ably invented illustrations, to persuade the man with bound limbs that, if his limbs were freed, he could not wa1k or even live. The man would defend his bonds furiously, and consider anyone his enemy who tried to tear them off”; Malatesta Op. cit. p.8.

Just so, the anarchists saw the importance of socialization. They believed that certain social situations could emphasize and draw out the good in human nature, as others could the bad. Those who argue from the “badness” of mankind to defend power are thinking badly. Anarchists have always pointed out that it is because people can be so bad that control over others must be kept from us all (“no man is good enough to be another man’s master”). They believe that power corrupts both those exercising it and those who submit to them.

All his life Kropotkin was a Darwinist. As a young scientist in Siberia he looked for confirmation of Darwin’s theories but was struck by the amount of co-operation amongst animals. Later he responded to T. H. Huxley’s propounding of social darwinism in an English journal by writing a series of articles for the journal which


were later gathered together as Mutual Aid; Allen Lane, London 1972, in which he made two points:- mutual aid was an important factor in animal life (Darwin himself acknowledged the importance of mutuality), and it was important in the history of man, being responsible for his most progressive social institutions.  To make his points about human mutual aid (which is the bulk of the book) he uses history, anthropology etc., not crude anthropomorphic analogies as did the social darwinists (and as the instinctivists do today). He agreed “no naturalist will doubt that the idea of struggle for life carried on through organic nature is the greatest generalization of our century.  Life is struggle; and in that struggle the fittest survive”; ibid p. 71.  But the question is “‘Who are the fittest:  those continually at war with each other or those who support one another?’ we at once see that those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest” ibid p.30 (Such ideas had been argued by others at the time) Kropotkin corrects Rousseau for “excluding the beak-and-claw fight from his thoughts, and Huxley committed the opposite error; but ‘neither Rousseau’s optimism nor Huxley’s pessimism can be accepted as an impartial interpretation of nature” ibid. p.30. Therefore Malatesta is wrong when he says the Kropotkinite view is that the Law of Mature is Harmony and offers the corrective”. “Would one not be closer to the truth in saying that anarchy is the struggle, in human society, against the disharmonies of Nature?” Richards (ed) op. cit, p.267. Kropotkin needed no such corrective. Most anarchists saw themselves as struggling for arrangements which would assert the best potential in human nature and effectively control the worst.  (For Bakunin see Maximoff (ed) op. cit. p.248-250.  For modern continuations of Kropotkin’s disagreement with secular Jansenism see Ashley Montagu Man and Aggression OUP N.Y, 2nd ed 1973 and chapters 1-8 in E. Fromm The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness Holt, Reinhart & Winston N.Y. 1973.  For similar continuations in pre-history see R. Bigelow The Dawn Warriors Hutchinson, London 1970 and follow up references in Fromm & Montagu.)

To sum up – the identification of progress with centralization by the state, an uncritical allegiance to science and technology as such, a belief in the necessity of the present features of the industrial system, a determinist belief that “progress” under these conditions is the basis of a revolutionary alternative or even a reformist amelioration of “excesses”, and an elitist, technocratic rationalism which demands that we put our faith in experts (either the old ones or new saviours from above) are the very attitudes which are outmoded, obsolete, backward looking, and a threat to our survival. No one holding such attitudes can contribute to the liberation of mankind and yet it is just such attitudes which dominate the political spectrum from right to left, from liberalism to marxist socialism and their welfare capitalist and social democratic amalgams. The very inefficiency of bureaucratic planning in the East and keynesian state intervention in the west, of administrations by functionaries, politicians and experts throughout the world has even come across to some of the exponents of these attitudes. After various crises the U.S.S.R. has made various attempts at decentralization and administration through regions.  This has occurred in France, Many of the residents of Eastern bloc gaols are advocates of “polycentrism” for Stalinist society an advocacy which will probably meet with some success eventually.  They believe they will solve the problems by organising social life through Political Parties, Trade Unions, Worker’s Councils, the State Parliament etc., – that is through several centres.  Even if such a scheme could be put into practice beside the dominance of a totalitarian state ruled by a party through its secret police and army, it would merely be a complication of the problem, creating new areas of inefficiency and waste which could combine with the old to produce an invidious amalgam.  Such “decentralization” would only create new bodies out of the control of people while at the same time masking the situation by giving people partial control in a number of different areas.  Such partial control divided up throughout society would increase the number of areas in which people experienced the apathy of being “Abstract citizens” deciding who will decide for them on the matters which provide the direction of society while perhaps deciding directly the minutia which are totally subject to the direction of society as a whole.  Decentralization without equal power and co-operation could not take society out of its bind for it challenges none of the attitudes listed above – no, not even the belief in centralization by the state because a centre will emerge from this polycentralism.

Like a law of nature society must have a centre, and polycentrism by breaking down unities and separating functions (Trade unions, parties, state etc,,) will create an enhanced need for centralization which will, of course, fall to the state.  But under polycentralism the centralising drive of the state will be out of the reach of the people, tied up as they will be in their increasingly meaningless trade unions, worker’s councils, parties etc.  We have quoted Proudhon before (page 6) on the state’s “creation of an irreconcilable antagonism between the general sovereignty and each of the separate sovereignties” and on its “organizing division”.  The State then proclaims its function as reuniting what it has itself destroyed.  Such a view would be a good objective description of what would happen under polycentrism.  “The reason is obvious:  if one fragments any


institution accomplishing a significant or vital function one only creates an enhanced need for some other institution to reassemble the fragments.  Similarly, if one merely advocates an extension of the powers of local councils, one is thereby handing them over to dominations by a central bureaucracy which alone would ‘know’ or ‘understand’ how to make the economy function as a whole (and modern economics, whether one likes it or not, do function as a whole).  For libertarian revolutions not to face up to the question of central power is tantamount to leaving the solution of these problems to some bureaucracy or other.” Worker’s Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society Solidarity London p.15 1972. China is a good example. Dolgoff’s essay mentions Drucker, Myrdal, Galbraith, David Bell as bourgeois theorists advocating decentralization, the same points apply to them.  In Germany, Sweden and South Australia we see expanding demands for worker’s participation and an increasing practice of these methods.  Such moves, while they might buy off working class militancy for a period, do not bear the comment that decentralization caused.  Even if they express a trend in industrial organizations within factories and achieve increases in productivity (which they must do) they refer to such limited areas of control as to be meaningless in the social context.

Finally all these attempted solutions ignore the demand of equality in the distribution of the nation’s wealth which can only lead to corruption and competitiveness.  In the state capitalist situation, they retain a competitive market based on each enterprise of workers competing for greater profits and risking loss. They reintroduced the likelihood of inflation and unemployment. The way to limit these developments is centralization under the control of the people organised in their economic units. But if Yugoslavia is any indication, in state capitalist societies they would tend to “solve” this problem by bureaucratic central planning. Yugoslavia wavers constantly between the excess of ordinary capitalism and those of state capitalism.

The only way to solve these problems is to get outside the whole system of attitudes mentioned above.  This is what anarchism has tried to do, and that is why anarchism is practical and relevant to modern society.  It offers complexity and variety rather than bureaucratic narrowness, it offers organization, self-discipline, federalist and non-coercive centralization, efficient and humane use of large-scale modern industry and up-to-date technology, it offers ecologically responsible decentralization, it offers self-activity, initiative and autonomy balanced by co-operation and responsibility, it offers real democracy and an end to alienation, it offers socially responsible science and technology through equality between specialists and experts and others, and it offers equal sharing of our riches.

It has already been stated that anarchism divides into anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism and anarcho-individualism. The latter has been dismissed. The discussion of the failures of anarchism will take the form of comparing the two remaining.  (Originally I hoped to precede this discussion by pointing out the particular faults of Bakunin, Kropotkin and Proudhon – the first’s populist career up to 1864, his authoritarian love of conspiracies, his “insurrectionism”, Kropotkin’s anti-German chauvinism, support for the allies, his determinism and ignoring of questions of individualism in writings on the middle-ages, and Proudhon’s conservatism, racism, sexism and reliance on economic evolution for example – but I haven’t the time and the other discussion is more important.) The politics of the anarchists in the First International (except those who called themselves mutualists, though many of these went over to collectivism), influenced strongly by Bakunin, were predominantly a precursor to anarcho-syndicalism.  They called themselves collectivists in reaction to marxist communism. They were concerned with organization in large scale industry particularly in mass trade unions, they saw future society as organised, in general, on the basis of working units, and in particular, on the basis of trade union structures.  They did not foresee the immediate application of the rule of exchange “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” but instead argued for payment by hours worked and even by nature of the job.  Bakunin asked the question.

“What is the natural organization of the masses?  It is one based on the different occupations of their actual daily life, on their various kinds of work, organization according to their occupations, trade organization. When all industries, including the various branches of agriculture, are represented in the International the organization of the toiling masses of people, will be finished”; R. Rocker “Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism” in P. Eltzbacher Anarchism Libertarian Book Club, N.Y. 1960.

But the International was destroyed (by the European reaction after the Paris Commune and by Marx, who was prepared to transfer the council to New York where it was useless, rather than see the anarchists gain control).  In the following period of parliamentary activity and reformism social democrats won control of the labour movement.  Anarchists were in the wilderness.  The terrorism of the 1890s was a delayed expression of this. Meanwhile anarcho-communism became a clear position- and Kropotkin’s identification with it gave it a spokesman.  They argued for immediate institution of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” through the free storehouse and the abolition of money.  They emphasized decentralization believing it to express part of the essence of democracy.  They put primacy on communes and regional units as bodies for future society and they did not see work in the mass trade unions as primary preferring work amongst the population


as a whole (peasants, declassed and poverty stricken elements for example) and were even critical of its value at all.

Anarcho-communism was the dominant anarchism but in the early part of this century a steady drift to anarcho-syndicalism occurred with the growth of working class militancy and the consequent Irresistible attraction of the trade unions, which seemed, except in England, in a life and death struggle with capitalist society.  Anarcho-communism did not have a good enough alternative.  It had been unable to get out of the impasse of isolation. It had no program of alternative constructive organization building relying instead on the spontaneous, creativity of an insurrectionary people.  This naturally meant a certain amount of spontaneism amongst the anarcho-communists which led to “waiting for insurrection” fatalism in some quarters.  Furthermore their ideas of future society were faulty.  They relied oh a belief in great stored wealth in the towns which could be converted into an abundance for the free storehouse system, immediately after the revolution. When Malatesta, an anarcho-communist of a different stamp challenged Kropotkin to see if their assumptions were real, he found that in London there was not enough food for more than two days if the wheels were not kept turning.  (He then relied on the increased production that control over work would bring about.)  Council communists would go even further in their critique of this concept, and say that there never will be abundance for given today’s division in the world abundance would be immoral and, given the issues of ecology and the evils of a wasteful consumer society, abundance is impossible. Without abundance, so that all can take what they wish without needing to think of the needs of others, “from each etc….” cannot work except by a strict rationing system which would be inefficient, bureaucratic and restrictive of individual freedom.  As well the anarcho-communist faith in decentralization in itself is subject to the same criticisms we have made (on pages 12,13), though it is not based on naive or anti-technological reasoning since the technological possibilities (some of which we now see to be necessities) were well considered,  Another aspect of anarcho-communism has its disadvantages and impossibilities.  While all anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists included, were opposed to the dehumanizing mechanization of work brought about by capitalism in its mass industrial development anarcho-communists extended the principles of integration and creativity in work to argue against any division of labour. They wished to see rotation of many jobs amongst all people.  This certainly applies in relation to “the dirty work” or any inherently boring work that cannot be automated but as a whole sharing of all types of work is founded on the erroneous belief that variety is everything.  In fact concentrated effort and concentrated expertise can be just as satisfying.  A division of labour between real areas of work, rather than between areas of meaningless repetition would be satisfying and efficient,  nevertheless the anarcho-communists have something to teach in this matter.

Further, there is a tendency to see small, informal, temporary and specifically functional organization as necessarily superior to structured, determined, permanent organization providing a total basis for all functions in an area of concern.  They were not anti-organizational or individualistic.  But there is a tendency to optimistic vagueness about their program, a kind of spontaneism which would leave it to future society to recreate many of its functions anew each day so to speak.

They recommended that anarchists organize as specific groups of anarchists and that they maintain this unity. If they had had a better program this method may well have proved successful.  Nevertheless they were not purists in a self defeating sense.  They tried to adapt to the growth of syndicalism and influence its direction for the better.  They offered qualified support for unions and saw them as natural for struggle and even for a future order.  They even said that the general strike was a good weapon.  However, every one of their doubts, reluctances, qualifications and criticisms of anarcho-syndicalism proved justified.

No attempt will be made to give an account of anarcho-syndicalism’s growth.  Suffice it is to say that it grew in France from the 1880’s, led to the formation of the C.G.T. in 1895 and by 1902 involved a complex structure combining geographic organizations through local labour councils (bourses de travail – a union of local unions) with educational etc. functions and a national federation, combining these with trade organizations in which unions are linked to others in the same industry or related trades into a national organization with the main struggle functions and the task of organizing common action and with a national federation of all these agricultural and industrial alliances.  The Federation of local councils and the Federation of trade alliances constituted the whole body – in France the C.G.T. When the revolutionary changeover occurs Rocker describes what would happen.

“In such a situation the Labour Chambers would take over the administration of existing social capital in each community, determine the needs of the inhabitants of their districts and organize local consumption. Through the agency of the Federation of Labour Chambers it would be possible to calculate the total requirements of the whole country and adjust the work of production accordingly.  On the other hand it would be the task of the Industrial and Agricultural Alliances to take control of all the instruments of production, transportation, etc., and provide the separate producing groups with what they need.  In a word:


“1.  Organization of the total production of the country by the Federation of the Industrial Alliances and direction of work by the Labour councils elected by the workers themselves; 2. Organization of social contribution by the Federation of the Labour Chambers”; Rocker ibid. p.254.

A group of theorists of anarcho-syndicalism grew up – mostly French Monatte, Delesalle, Pouget, Pelloutier, then with the development of the CN.T. Spanish Pestana, Sequi, Peiro but also including Russians (Maksimov et al grouped around “Golos Truda”) and others like Rudolf Rocker.  They saw these structures as the day to day fighting organs through which the workers would learn anarchism.  The unions were to be built on the basis of trade with workers of all politics joining.  A “conscious minority” would attempt to influence all members toward anarchism.  Then struggle would lead to a general strike when all workers would down tools and leave the factories and “starve out” the bosses.  This would constitute the revolution.

For a start the anarcho-syndicalist ideas on future society were faulty at points.  Though as has been said, the anarcho-communists did not have the solution to the problem of exchange their attack on the collectivist wages system was fully justified.  Attempting to judge pay by hours worked and nature of work ignores that each person makes a contribution to society which cannot be estimated least of all in the exact terms required for such a wages system, because one hour of Jack’s labour may be worth three hours of Jim’s, (see chapter in Conquest of Bread on “the Collectivist Wages System”.) What is worse is that a giant bureaucracy would be required to carry out such administrative work with all the boredom and danger consequent upon such an institution. Without equality, moreover, real unity and co-operativeness would never be built. Council communists would point to an alternative to both these methods of exchange – namely equal wages for all members of the community including children and those not working, sick, or old.  This has been applied only rarely. The Spanish collectives in 1936 used a variety of methods but those applying anarcho-communist methods either constituted a rationing system that led to the taking of control over leisure out of the hands of the individual or fell back on the Bakuninist system.  Often however, a “family wage” was introduced in which there was equality estimated according to the number of members of a family but this was exercised through the working member of the family, usually, of course, a man.  (This whole issue of women’s liberation was not solved see Temma E. Kaplun Spanish Anarchism and Women’s Liberation “Contemporary History” pp.101-107.)

Anarcho-communist criticism came1 to a head at the Congress of Amsterdam (1907) in a debate between Malatesta and Monatte.  He pointed out that they had too narrow and Marxist a concept of revolution relying exclusively on the proletariat (strictly defined) and therefore the revolution was in danger of not being anarchist as it would not involve a majority or at least would sweep over whole segments of the population causing enormous post-revolutionary divisions.  He criticized the idea of the general strike as a substitute for insurrections. Firstly, he said, it would be the workers, not the bosses, who would starve.  Secondly, armed struggle against the ruling class would have to occur because of the nature of capitalism and also because their defeat would have to be’ quick if production was to begin again. Malatesta always emphasized the importance of not causing starvation and economic dislocation.  Most importantly unions were inherently reformist and bureaucratic since they were made up of reformist and revolutionary workers they were bound to succumb to the machinations of politicians and union officials especially state socialists.  This is in fact what happened. Rocker himself says “Moreover the C.G.T. was not composed exclusively of revolutionary syndicates; certainly half of its members were of reformist tendency”; Rocker ibid p,250.  The C.G.T. was taken over by the French Communist Party in the 1920’s. Malatesta said

“Trade Unionism is not, and never will be, anything but a legalistic and conservative movement, unable to aim beyond – if that far! – the improvement of working conditions….One should not ask workers to strike; but rather to continue working, for their own advantage…In the industrial movement the official is a danger comparable only to parliamentarianism. Any anarchist who has agreed to become a permanent and salaried official of a trade union is lost to anarchism” Guerin op, cit. p.79.

However, Monatte appealed to the anarchists, “If, instead of criticizing the past, present or even future mistakes of trade unionism from above, the anarchists would concern themselves more intimately with its work, the dangers that lurk in trade unionism would be averted forever” Guerin ibid, p,80.

The attraction of this appeal, combined with the inability of the anarcho-communists to present a better-strategy was perhaps the main contribution of anarchism to its own defeat.  In the 1890s anarcho-syndicalists set out on a rescue operation to save unions from the social democrats or (in Spain) to help workers build their unions.  They became involved in capitalist institutions which had not fully found their place in capitalist society.  If they had looked to England they would have seen the future.  Those anarcho-communists who went on, after Amsterdam, to broaden the critique and “dismissed the notion that the trade unions as ‘offspring of the


capitalist system’ were fated to be swept away by social revolution”;  P. Avrich The Russian Anarchists Princeton Uni. Press 1967, p.84, were correct.  They could have continued to point out that if the trade unions were not “swept away” then the social revolution would be flawed.  Kropotkin, in particular, while allowing that anarchists should only build purely anarchist unions or work only in non-party unions to win over the members, saw enormous dangers in the “revolutionary minority” theory of the syndicalists.  This minority was supposedly only to galvanize others into action but in reality given their positions as officials (even though they were not paid or only paid workman’s wages), given the heterogeneous make up of the rank and file and given the distance between delegates and their electorates in the Trade affiliations, this minority inevitably became leaders and eventually bureaucrats.  In the C.N.T, they rationalized this by referring to what were actually leaders as “influential militants”.  The absence -of right of recall did not help matters at all.  Furthermore the role of the F.A.I, accentuated this division.  In the Spanish anarchist movement there was a division between the syndicalists in the C.N.T. and the anarcho-communists organized around newspapers like the “Tierra y Libertad”. The founding of the F.A.I. (1927) was aimed at uniting them – the faistas had to join the C.N.T, and in return their long desired “specifically anarchist organization” was established nationally.  But it was established “for the express purpose of controlling the C.N.T. or, at least, to keep it from falling into the hands of reformists or infiltrators from the newly founded Spanish Communist Party, the anarcho-syndicalists had essentially enveloped the anarcho-communists in syndicalist activity;” Bookchin “Reflection on Spanish Anarchism” op. cit. p.21. They set about working amongst the officials to purge reformists and Stalinists.  Thus they came from above into the C.N.T.  For the libertarians “coming from above” is a death trap.  The closeness of the affinity groups on which the F.A.I, was based accentuated this. An organization like the F.A.I. could have done much more outside the C.N.T.  Instead they became accustomed to leadership and this made their entry into the governments in Catalonia and Madrid after the 1936 revolution all the more easy.

The outline Rocker presents (on page 14) is also a source of error in anarcho-syndicalism. Unfortunately it was an error to which anarcho-communists had no alternative. Libertarians had long been aware of an issue which they had not resolved.  In 1880 the Jura federation said “Is it to be a general assembly of all inhabitants or delegation from the trades…which will draw up the constitution of the commune?”…The conclusion was that there were two possible systems to be considered.  Should the trade union on the commune have priority? Later, especially in Russia and Spain, this question divided the anarcho-communists from the anarcho-syndicalists” Guerin op. cit. pp.58-59.  While the combination of local chambers and trade federations of the anarcho-syndicalists may have seemed on the surface to have resolved this problem it did not.  The trade federations represented narrow divisive interests even within one factory;  and did not represent direct control by the workers over their organizations.  They became the chief body for bureaucratization. More importantly, they do not represent a rational arrangement for future society.  Since links between related factories (for example one supplying raw materials to another, or the link between this factory and the distribution centre for its finished product) or links between trades (information exchange between engineers for example) will not be primary links in a libertarian society.  They will merely be functional links for specific purposes and to some extent very routine.  They are not based on a vital daily community of association and interests.  This is to be found in the work institutions of society – factories, educational centres, health centres, agricultural concerns etc.  Direct democracy requires direct relationships such as are found here – organic social units.

“They are units based on medium – sized and larger enterprises and are to be found in industry, transport, building, commerce, the banks, public administration etc., where people in hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands spend the main part of their life harnessed to common work, coming up against society in its concrete form.  A place of work is not only a unit of production:  it has become the primary unit of social life for the vast majority of people.  Instead of basing itself on geographical units, which economic development has often rendered highly artificial, the political structure of socialism will, be largely based on collectivities involved in similar work.  Such collectivities will prove the fertile soil on which direct democracy can flourish as they did (for similar reasons) in the ancient city or in the democratic communities of farmers in the United States in the 19th Century.” Workers Councils p.14 op. cit.

On the basis of these units, delegation to regional assemblies can occur to take care of the needs of the communities in which they are situated and larger geographical units.  Where people do not work and live in the same area, separate community councils will be necessary.  But more important from these basic units delegation to federal bodies will occur to determine the general economic direction of society.  The example of Hungary 1956 has been influential in leading council communists to understand these points as the anarchists of either stamp did not, in fact, as shall be seen, anarchists came into conflict with bodies representing the quest for this form.  “The Hungarian working class did not require separate instruments to control other sections of society.  Farmers, office workers, technicians, civil servants, – all created their own equivalent of Worker’s Councils to manage their own affairs in the name of the revolution as a whole”;  C. L. R. James, State Capitalism and World Revolution op. cit. p.2.


The local chambers Rocker described more accurately resembled this form.(Bookchin, who takes a strong anarcho-communist position wishing to see communities, geographically divided, as the basis for democracy, nevertheless
carries on their tradition of accurate criticism of anarcho-syndicalists.  In the following he makes my point in relation to the C.N.T.)

“But the structure of the C.N.T. as a syndicalist union and that of the F.A.I, as an anarchist federation was in many respects admirable.  The C.N.T. almost from the outset, organized its locals as factory rather than craft unions and the nationwide occupational federations [the Unions de Oficio or Industrial alliances in the quote from Rocker] which emerged with the I.W.M.A. [the Bakuninist period mentioned on page 13] were abandoned for local federations [the Federaciones locales or Local Chambers in the quote from Rocker].  This structure situated the factory in the community [I would rather say “situated the community in the factory”] where it really belonged if the “commune” concept was to be realistic, rather than an easily manipulatable industrial that so easily lent itself to statist nationalization.  The restoration of the Uniones de Oficio in the early thirties was a distinct setback:  as Garcia Oliver was to point out, ironically enough, it fostered the (bureaucratic centralization) of the C.N.T.,,confusion developed over the crucial problem of the locus for making policy decisions.

The real place for this process should have been shop assemblies, regular congresses, or, when events and circumstances dictated, conferences of clearly mandated and recallable delegates elected for this purpose by the membership.  The sole responsibility of the regional and national committees should have been administrative – that is, the co-ordination and execution of policy decisions formulated by membership meetings and conference or congress delegates.  Instead, both the policy decision-making process and the administrative process were often preempted by plenums of regional committees, the National Committees and at times even the cliques in the Catalan regional committee…(The correction of these abuses) ultimately depended on the members consciousness”.

The failure in consciousness was not due, as Bookchin goes on to say, to inherent faults in the workers but to the fact that they did not make the C.N.T. themselves. As has already been outlined, these syndicates were built by recruiting workers as workers not as libertarians with a consciousness of the necessity of their role in their own liberation.  The activities of conscious minorities and the experience of class struggle through the C.N.T. did not alter this (in fact, the C.N.T. experienced large fluctuations of membership according to the degree of repression it was meeting). Meanwhile workers had been creating their own organizations in the form of factory committees or workers’ councils.

In the 1905 Russian Revolution it was factory committees which set up the Soviet.  Unfortunately, this was a reflection of the low role the workers gave to their committees for the Soviets were governmental bodies which fell out of their hands.  In 1917 they quickly fell to the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks then used them to capture the trade unions. But the factory committees fought on as independent bodies of workers’ power. Some anarcho-syndicalists, like Maksimov, transferred allegiance to them but anarchists lagged behind this development. A whole section of anarcho-syndicalists around “Golos Truda” stuck with unionism when Maksimov and others threw their weight behind the committees. A split occurred as a result.  Though they usually supported them (those “anarchists” who went over to the Bolsheviks did not) they did not see their exclusive significance. The committees, after a number of federal assemblies, were finally defeated in the general crushing of all libertarian and left-wing marxist-leninist elements in 1921.

In Italy the factory committees reappeared.  (As they did in Germany in 1918 with the workers’ council movement.) The anarchists supported them (see bibliography page 1) but once again lagged behind, failing to see their significance once more.  If Guerin is right Gramsci saw their “newness” first though this unfortunately led to a new theory of leninist integration of working class power (unlike marxists like Gorter and Pannekoek who adopted libertarian ideas and became engaged in hostile polemics with Lenin). Gramsci’s identification of the factory councils with Soviets may have caused the anarchists concern for they knew the truth about “free Soviets” in Russia, and they were right in saying that the councils could degenerate as well as unions.  But they did not see the crucial difference between organs created by the workers and instituting direct democracy, and unions with all the faults already mentioned. (Since it was Malatesta who was so well known for describing these faults, and since while subject to the general drift to anarcho-syndicalism, he had still maintained critical independence it would be interesting to know his role in detail.  Some new books on him have come out which might reveal this but I have not seen them.) They were very concerned to defend the viability of their Italian Syndicalist Union against the suggestion that it be superseded by the councils.


In Spain from 1933 revolts of worker’s and peasants occurred in which factory committees and agricultural collectives sprang up. This led to a period of furious discussions in the C.N.T. – F.A.I. Up until the actual revolutions of July, 1936 more and more books and pamphlets and meetings dwelt on post – revolutionary re­construction.  The existence of both anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-communists in the C.N.T. – F.A.I., and the widespread popularity of Kropotkin’s and Bakunin’s works led to a rich and fruitful mixture of the two streams in Spain.  Bakunin had always placed great importance on work amongst the peasants and given the strongly Bakuninist background of Spanish anarchism they were well entrenched in the countryside.  So throughout Spain libertarian ideas were influential.  It would not do to ignore the enormous contribution that the anarchists made to the revolution in 1936 by this preliminary activity.  Spontaneist conclusions on the basis of the Spanish experience cannot be made for the very maturity of this revolution over all others in the twentieth century can be attributed to the stimulus the anarchists provided to discussion about social reconstruction. Only in Spain was the economy under libertarian control in most areas for any length of time (though it is obviously not the fault of the Hungarians in 1956 that Russian military might was invincible or that the revolution in Poland was contained by the national bureaucracy preventing the spread of insurrection to Czechoslovakia and other Warsaw Pact countries).  But to a large degree the C.N.T. – F.A.I, ended up on the other side of the barricades to the committees and collectives.  On the basis of the already established leadership a series of what can only be called betrayals occurred and despite the enormous creative effort and self-activity the people had shown they sat back while this occurred until they revolted again in May, 1937 against the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Republican areas.  Even here they once again followed the anarchist leaders and while hesitating and procrastinating they were convinced not to push the revolt into a repeat seizure of power and instead retreated.  The anarchist group “Friends of Durruti” plastered Barcelona with leaflets and posters advocating a revolution against the Stalinist authorities but they lacked the influence to change events.  The C.N.T. stopped anarchist militiamen from the front from entering the city to defend the revolution.  Had the anarcho-communists stayed out of the C.N.T. – F.A.I. they might well have been the decisive force for revolution in these Maydays. But they were habituated to power and from the beginning F.A.I, militants were the most notable in government positions.

The argument they used to control their rank and file was “first the war, then the revolution”.  But it was widely known that the Republicans and particularly the Stalinists who increasingly controlled republican governments, were equally or more afraid of revolution than they were of fascism.  The lifeblood of the war  ™ was the revolution from the first days when, against the resistance of the Republican governments, the people seized arms and defeated the generals’ revolt in days.  The people then seized the factories and land and restarted the economy.  While they had this control they had enthusiasm and will. When it was removed, they were apathetic (for example see Orwell’s description of the difference between Barcelona when he arrived and later in the Homage to Catalonia).  When members of the anarcho-syndicalist international made these points from France, the C.N.T. forced the dismissal of one of them.  In a recent publication “What is the C.N.T.” by Peirats he apologizes revealingly “The top cadres….had to act the unwelcome part of a brake on the inexperienced revolutionary impulses of their comrades. They had to take on an ungrateful task for which they were neither prepared nor felt a vocation”.  This statement is full of elitism which is all the more infuriating since the “inexperienced” revolutionaries were right.  Inside Spain the Italian Berneri made this point in an open letter to one of the ‘anarchists’ in the government.

” The dilemma, war or revolution, no longer has any meaning.  The only dilemma is this:  either victory over Franco through revolutionary war or defeat.  The problem for you and the other comrades is to choose between the Versailles of Thiers and the Paris of the Commune, before Thiers and Bismarck make their holy union”: Point Blank, Self-Management and the Spanish Revolution, 1936-7 San Francisco, p.78.

The collectives and committees were independent creations of the people though informed and strengthened by the anarchist’s propaganda as we said.  The C.N.T. saw their independence – “revolutionary committees created by the people in order to make their revolution”.  (C.N.T., 20th December, 1936) ibid. p.75.  They superseded the syndicalist structures in many ways.  But the C.N.T. in the government aided in their defeat consenting to government municipal councils, with extra-proportional representation for the U.G.T. and the communist party, which were established to replace the revolutionary committees. Worse still, anarchists assisted in drafting the Degree of collectivization of October 24, 1936, which while “ostensibly legalizing the conquests of the Revolution actually established the power of the Generalidad, (The regional government of Catalonia) to regulate and eventually to liquidate the collectivised industries and rural collectives of Catalonia”; Dolgoff (ed) The Anarchists Collectives op. cit. p.42.  This established a demoralizing kind of workers’ control and subverted self-management in industry, while in agriculture led to raids by republican troops and tanks against the rural collectives, with arrests etc, by Stalinist controlled police.


Guerin says in his Preface to his Anarchism

“the histories and bibliographies of anarchism already published (were) mainly concerned with omitting no names and fascinated by superficial similarities, they discovered numerous forerunners of anarchism.  They gave almost equal weight to the genius and to his most minor follower, and presented an excess of biographical details rather than making a profound study of ideas. The learned tomes leave the reader with a feeling of diffusion, almost incoherence, still asking himself what anarchism really is” pp.5,6.

Also Vernon Richards says in his postscript to his edited selection of Malatesta (pp.302,303).

“The writers of all recently published histories of anarchism are unanimous in declaring that the anarchist movement is dead…I criticize the modern historian of anarchism because it seems to me that they have either started work with an idee fixe and selected their facts to prove their thesis, or have started with no preconceived ideas but neither with any burning desire to get to the root of the anarchist dilemma, if such it is.”

The best answer to this problem is to be found in too books which together constitute the superior introduction to anarchism.  The first is D. Guerin Anarchism, Monthly Review Press N.Y. 1971 which answers each of these problems.  Naturally it has faults of its own especially the anarcho-syndicalist bias of the author in dismissing and almost excluding Kropotkin and exaggerating Stirner but also in concluding with too much on Algeria and Yugoslavia which are peripheral and not expanding the postscript on-May, 1968 and linking it with the events in Hungary and Czechoslovakia or sufficiently answering his own questions about false interpretations of anarchism on matters to do with centralization, complexity etc.

The other book is:

S. Dolgoff (ed) The Anarchist Collectives – Workers’ Self Management in the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939 Free Life Editions, N.Y. 1974

This book fulfills its own task perfectly.

M. Bookchin Post-Scarcity Anarchism Wildwood House, London 1974

This is also valuable in establishing the relevance of anarchism (particularly in the essays on ecology and technology) to modern society.

V. Richards (ed) Errico Malatesta His Life and Ideas Freedom Press, London 1965

This goes some way to correcting the bias of Guerin’s section on Italy with its emphasis on Gramsci (who, after all, was simply a marxist-leninist, if more inventive in his marxism and his tactics for Integrating the autonomous workers’ organizations under the leadership of the leninist party) and insufficient detail on the Italian anarchists and Malatesta.  For example

“The occupations of the factories and the land in (1920) suited perfectly our programme of action. We did all we could, through our paper(s) and by personal action in the factories for the movement to grow and spread.  We warned the workers what would happen to them if they abandoned the factories; we helped in the preparation of armed resistance…We did not succeed, and the movement collapsed because there were too few of us and the masses were insufficiently prepared.  When (the reformist union and the government) concocted the farce of workers’ control with the acquiescence of the socialist party, which was at that time under communist leadership, we put the workers on their guard against the wicked betrayal…. though (the workers) had always received us and called for us with enthusiasm….(they) obeyed the order (to leave the factories).” pp.135,136 Richards,

S. Dolgoff (ed) Bakunin on Anarchy Allen and Unwin, London 1973

This is much superior to the more commonly used G. P. Maximoff The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, The Free Press N.Y, 1964, which is just edited selections which are so disassociated as to be difficult to read.

N. Walter About Anarchism Freedom Press London, 1969.

This reprint of Anarchy 100 is a clear, concise introduction to the terminology if not the content though it is a little too relativistic about the splits in anarchism.

R. Baldwin (ed) Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets Dover, N.Y. 1970 Unfortunately Baldwin has abridged the articles, but this book is essential,

M.A. Miller (ed) Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution, P.A. Kropotkin M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, 1970 Includes “The State:  Its Historic Role”

Peter Kropotkin: Mutual Aid Allen Lane, London, 1972

Peter Kropotkin:  The Conquest of Bread Allen Lane, London 1972

Errico Malatesta: Anarchy Strawberry Press, Melbourne, 1974

P. Avrich: The Russian Anarchists Princeton Uni. Press, 1967

P. Avrich (ed) The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution

P. Eltzbacher Anarchism Libertarian Book Club N.Y., 1960

Valuable for its concise selections from seven major theorists but on limited themes only.  The value of Eltzbacher’s own commentaries before and after his selections is debatable and certainly idiosyncratic.

Includes Rudolf Rocker’s essay “Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism”

G. Woodcock Anarchism Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1962  ;”

Necessary and reasonably thorough.  Vernon Richards (op. cit.) points out a number of errors historically.

I. Horowitz The Anarchists Dell N.Y. 1964 Limited value.

Marx, Engels, Lenin – Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism, International (i.e. Stalinist) N.Y. 1972 Convenient.

S. Dolgoff “The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern SocietyLibertarian Analysis Vol. 1, No. 4 Winter, 1971

M. Bookchin “Reflections on Spanish Anarchism” This essay is present as the introduction to Dolgoff’s The Anarchist Collectives Contemporary History??? pp.8-36 (Distributed at a recent conference)

Point Blank “Self-Management and the Spanish Revolution 1936-7Point Blank Journal San Francisco


As Hal Draper points out in his article on Marx on the State, and as Tucker points out in his section on Marx and anarchism (Socialist Register 1970, “The Marxian Revolutionary Idea” respectively) Marx and Engels believed that the chief reason for their opposition to the anarchists was the anarchist fetishism of the state – that one only needed to abolish the state and all else would follow.  This was a gross misreading (or mis­representation) of anarchism.  The anarchists were overwhelmingly concerned with the social content – the relationships and structure – of the movement which would abolish the state.  For all their mouthing of phrases about the “authoritarianism” of “blueprints” they constantly came back to this issue,-  (In Kropotkin’s essay entitled “Must He Occupy Ourselves with an Examination of the Ideal of a Future System?” the first line is “I believe we must” Miller (ed) Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution MIT Press, 1970, p.47),as they realized the need for a consistency in ends and means and sought to see the future in the kind of organizations they built now and in the kind of organization thrown up by revolutionary peoples.  The most widely read book amongst anarchists in ail countries would probably be Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread which is about this issue of future society and its forms and in books like Maximoff’s Constructive Anarchism, Santillan’s After the Revolution, Laval’s –Ne Franco ne Stalin, Puente’s El Communismo Anarquico they kept returning to the same concern.  In their demand to abolish the state they did not leave the kind of vacuum which followed Marx’s declaration of the need to seize the state – a vacuum that was filled by the bolsheviks. Marx did not fill this vacuum by declaring that the Paris Commune was the political form “at last discovered” under which economic emancipation could be accomplished.  In “Revolutionary Government” (Baldwin (ed) Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, Dover 1970 p. 236) and “The Commune of Paris”;  Miller op. cit. p,118 Kropotkin pointed out that while the Commune established several principles -recall, armed people, autonomous units, greater wage equality etc. — the commune did not answer the major questions (which were to be more satisfactorily answered later in Russia, Italy, Spain etc.) about how autonomous units of future society would federate, how the economic units would be run, how would economic and political co-ordination occur, how, in fact, equal relationships would be established. Marx’s ultimate commitment to a communist society, in a real sense, was probably genuine.  However he did not root his understanding of the contradictions in capitalist society in real human relationships in the institutions of society but in economic abstractions (which were almost metaphysical at times).  The formulae of workers’ state and dictatorship of the proletariat could satisfy him as transitional to communism, rather than in conflict with communism, because he was not forced to examine the nature of the relationships that would thereby, be established.  His economic determinism (which was based on his historical materialism) could satisfy him that “all else would follow” the dispossession of capitalists.  (It is even possible, that he Imagined this dispossession to consist in the “socialization” by declaration of the state.)  Clearly, Marx was the simplifier with the fetish not the anarchists.

When Marx and Engels did discuss what appealed to them about the changing relationships in capitalist society, it is even more disturbing.  Their economic determinism seems to exactly prefigure that of Lenin when he “explained” that one-man management of factories was necessitated by “large scale machine industry”. “For Marx and Engels, organizational forms to change the behavioural patterns of the proletariat were not a problem.  This could be postponed until “after the revolution”, indeed, Marx viewed the authoritarian impact of the factory (“the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself”) as a positive factor in producing a “disciplined, united” proletariat.  Engels, in an atrocious diatribe against the anarchists titled “On Authority” explicitly used the factory structure – its hierarchical forms and the obedience it demanded to justify his commitment to authority and centralization in working class organizations. What is of interest here, is not whether Marx and Engels were “authoritarians” but the way in which they thought out the problem of proletarian organization – the extent to which the matrix for their organizational concepts was the very economy which the social revolution was meant to revolutionize” Bookchin “Reflections on Spanish Anarchism” Contemporary History p.35.(In “On Authority”; Writings on Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism – Marx Engels Lenin, international Press M.Y. 1972, Engels also misrepresents the anarchist position as one in opposition to delegation of responsibility, representation and co-ordination.) Tucker suggests that Marx should not be damned by Engel’s commitment to hierarchical relationships in “On Authority” and he may be right. But Marx showed the same economic determinism again and again as Bookchin suggests. He hoped for a Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian war because it would lead to the centralization and strengthening of the German proletariat and strengthen the marxist position against the “proudhonists” in the International. His contributions to the most militant worker’s newspaper in England (that of the Chartists) dealt almost exclusively with advocating that workers put pressure on the Government to wage a more vigorous campaign in the Crimea because he believed progressive capitalism should not be held up by Russia. He consistently supported imperialism for similar reasons (U.S. vs. Mexicans, French vs. Algerians, British vs. Indians, Anyone vs. Slavs etc.).

The anarchists had the virtue of applying themselves to developing organizational forms that would cause behavioural and personal change amongst people, believing that this would place a real revolution on the agenda. Marxism had no understanding of the crucial relevance of human self-activity, morality and choice leading to alternative structures, subjected all working class organization solely to the requirement of seizing the state, not replacing it, and was dominated by the determinist politics of inevitabilities which only made counter-revolution inevitable.


~ by vomitingdiamonds on 26/09/2010.

2 Responses to “1970s Councilist take on anarchism”

  1. amazing blog, bookmarked!!!

  2. […] The SMG were councilists. You can see how they took the famous councilist manifesto of the Solidarity (UK) group ‘As we see it‘ and added a few points of their own. I think the SMG shared the problems of councilism, such as their belief that the primary division in society was between order-takers and order-givers (rather than the capitalist and working class), their fetishisation of decision-making form over communist content, and their retention of the market and wage-system which would most probably lead to inequality if not class conflict. Yet there is still much to learn from the SMG, such as their stress on self-activity from below and especially if you have a soft spot for workers’ councils like I do. Importantly, the SMG wasn’t a theoretical group, but had many workplace and community ‘cells’ which had some influence in various disputes. You can read a member of the SMG’s criticism of anarchism here. […]

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