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Principled Bakuninism

category international | anarchist movement | opinion / analysis author Tuesday January 05, 2010 07:08author by Larry Gambone Report this post to the editors

When looking for new Latin American Anarchist groups, I happened to find a document I think is of importance. "El Anarquismo Revolucionario: origen, evolucion y vigencia..." was written by a Mexican anarchist group called Organizacion Popular Anarquista Revolucionaria (OPAR) They subscribe to "Principled Bakuninism" (Bakuninismo Principista) The following is a brief examination of this tendency. (My Spanish is not the best, my apologies to OPAR if I am misrepresenting them in some way.)
bakunin.gif


Principled Bakuninism

When looking for new Latin American Anarchist groups, I happened to find a document I think is of importance. "El Anarquismo Revolucionario: origen, evolucion y vigencia..." was written by a Mexican anarchist group called Organizacion Popular Anarquista Revolucionaria (OPAR) [1]. They subscribe to "Principled Bakuninism" (Bakuninismo Principista) The following is a brief examination of this tendency. (My Spanish is not the best, my apologies to OPAR if I am misrepresenting them in some way.)

Bakunin developed revolutionary anarchism from the proto-anarchism of Proudhon. Key elements of Bakunin's anarchism were the need to implant oneself in the popular movements and the organization of the revolutionary minority. This latter entailed the formation of a tight, well organized, international revolutionary organization. The goal of the revolution was to abolish capitalism and the state and introduce what we today call Popular Power. The goal of the revolutionary organization was to encourage the mass movements in that direction. Bakunin's "vanguard" was not authoritarian. It did not boss the worker organizations. Nor was the vanguard to rule once the revolution was made. It was simply composed of the most advanced people and lead by example and persuasion, not coercion.

After Bakunin's death, his followers, Cafiero, Kropotkin and Malatesta tried to continue the revolutionary anarchist tendency. But in doing so, they ignored those two key aspects of Bakunin's revolutionary praxis - involvement with the masses and the revolutionary organization. Instead, they proposed the formation of loose affinity groups. They also sought to encourage attacks against the authorities; the ill-fated tactic known as "propaganda of the deed." Their "revisionism" served only to distance revolutionary anarchism from the peasants and workers, marked anarchists as terrorists and chaotic people (to this very day) and bury the concept of the revolutionary organization. These errors allowed the Social Democrats to go unchallenged and to build powerful organizations that would then deflect the population away from revolution.

It was soon evident that propaganda of the deed was a disaster and within less than a decade, most anarchists had re-entered the labour movement. This new movement was anarcho-syndicalism and gave rise to many working class militants. While anarchist ideas now had a mass appeal, one thing was missing. This was the concept of the revoltionary organization. The lack of this revolutionary minority would prove fatal in 1936 when the CNT-AIT leaders betrayed the Spanish Revolution by joining the government rather than destroying it and instituting Popular Power.

By the time of the Great War, anarchism was split three ways. One group favoured an educational and cultural approach, the second were the syndicalists and the third were the synthesists. This latter group sought to unite all anarchist tendencies in one umbrella group. None of these tendencies followed Bakunin's concept of revolutionary organization.

There were a number of groups and individuals, who, in some manner, did follow in Bakunin's footsteps. These included the Magon Brothers, the Mahknovischina, (and the "Platform") the Friends of Durruti, the FAU (Uruguayan anarchists) and George Fontenis. Contemporary groups are criticized. The present AIT and the groups it influences like Venezuala's "El Libertario", are condemned as ultra sectarians and a "rightist revision" of anarchism. Surprisingly enough, they don't care much for the Neo-platformist or "Especifist" tendencies either, which are denounced for "eclecticism".

From here on, I will attempt to give my evaluation of OPAR's analysis.

The Propaganda of the Deed period has always seemed bizarre to me, a kind of death wish or momentary madness. No contemporary anarchist that I know of supports the tactic, for then or for now, yet there is not a great deal of explanation as to why it happened. (A lot of embarrassed silence though!) What explanations are available relate the tactic to the crushing of the Commune and the resulting Europe-wide repression. But this is only a partial explanation.

Bakunin's "vanguardism" along with that of the Magon Brothers, has been seen by many, if not most, anarchists as an abberation - an "unanarchist" aspect of these otherwise great anarchists. (Sort of like the contradiction of Proudhon's anarchism and his antisemitism.) But what if the concept of revolutionary organization isn't in contradiction with anarchism, but a key missing aspect of it?

We all know that Marx's followers tossed core elements of his theories aside and replaced them with a vulgarized, truncated version that became known as "Orthodox Marxism." We also know that Marx's thought suffered at the hands of his followers, not so much out of visciousness on their part, but out of ignorance. Could it be that anarchism suffered a similar fate?

The vast majority of social anarchists today are in favour of involvement in the mass organizations, or their creation where they don't already exist. But once the populace is in motion, the syndicalist unions, worker and neighborhood councils formed, then what? History has shown us in graphic and bloody detail how the mass organizations can bring us to revolution, but then stop and go no further. From the experience of history, it would seem that a revolutionary minority is needed to encourage that final push, leading to the destruction of the state, the institution of Popular Power and the suppression of reaction.

I do not believe that the "correct program" is a panacea. You can have the best program ever divised, but if conditions are not right, you will remain a minority on the sidelines. But when conditions are right, when the population is in revolt and the question of power is about to be broached, this program and the militants to follow it, can make a crucial difference between success and failure.

Where I part company with the OPAR comrades, is the manner in which they present their case, and their attitude toward other anarchists, rather than the overall analysis itself. I doubt whether Kropotkin or Malatesta deliberately and maliciously chose to revize Bakunin's anarchism. They were seized by the error of ultra-leftism, something not unknown among young militants. They made a mistake, albeit a very serious one. Having made mistakes all my life, and being totally sincere each time I do, and noticing that all my comrades have done the same and are just as sincere, I cannot come down too hard on Kropotkin and Malatesta. Furthermore, after they came to their senses they did as much as anyone ever has to spread the message of anarchism. (a truncated version of anarchism from a Bakuninist perspective.)

While I agree that some AIT groups, or the friends thereof, are sectarian, I think OPAR is a bit guilty of it too. It is a poor tactic to insult the people you are trying to win over. Calling those you disagree with "revisionists", "petty bourgeois", declaring that so and so really isn't an anarchist, only serve to create hostility, diverting people from the real issues at hand. The correct tactic when trying to bring new ideas to a group or to engage in constructive criticism, is to first bring people together on what they have in common. How would I do it? "All social anarchists want to abolish the state and capitalism, all believe in direct action, direct democracy, mutual aid, federalism. But we are not doing our best to enact that program, and the reason why, is that we are missing something very important. What is missing is Bakunin's concept of revolutionary organization..."

Nor is the diversity of anarchism such a bad thing. Today's working population is very diverse in its makeup and what appeals to one sector might not to another. Our diversity can, and sometimes does, mirror that complexity. The important aspect of this is that all anarchists work together on common projects. Not everyone will want to belong to the revolutionary organization and may even be opposed to the idea of having one, but if they are willing to work together in the mass organizations or common fronts, what is the problem?

Neo-Platformist "eclecticism" ? Not sure what that means. What I do know is lack of sectarianism and the willingness to work with others is what has made Neo-platformism appealing to me. The old Platformism was sectarian and did much damage to the general anarchist movement, thus making Synthesist Anarchism seem like the voice of reason. The new Platformism, by working with others and not condemning them for doctrinal crimes, has taken what is best about Synthesism - the common ground approach - but adding what is lacking - a separate coherent revolutionary organization. Just after studying the OPAR document I came across an article by the Federazioni dei Comunisti Anarchici - undoubtedly one of those "eclecticists" - entitled "The Communist Origins of Anarchism."[2] It closely parallels what OPAR has written about the fate of post-Bakunin anarchism. What then are the differences between the new platformists and the Principled Bakuninists?

In summing up, while the OPAR document has a somewhat flawed presentation, it nevertheless is a valuable contribution to anarchist thought. It has certainly made me re-evaluate both the history of anarchism and the organization question.

Larry Gambone
04-01-10




[1] http://opar.ideosferas.org/
[2] http://www.fdca.it/fdcaen/historical/vault/comorig.htm

author by nestor - FdCApublication date Tue Jan 05, 2010 18:58author email nestor_mcnab at yahoo dot co dot ukReport this post to the editors

Thanks for this interesting article, Larry. Just one small point about the article you mentioned, "The communist origins of anarchism". It should correctly be credited to its author Adriana Dadà.

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:19Report this post to the editors

Sorry about that. I guess I read through the article too quickly to notice there was an author's name attached. (Good article though)

author by Ilan S. - AAtW; ainfos; Matzpen;publication date Wed Jan 06, 2010 17:57author address Tel AvivReport this post to the editors

All along history were people who struggled against social practice that contradicted basic human solidarity we all have in our inborn tendencies. Anarchist and other antiauthoritarians focused on the restriction of freedom and equality that are in the base of the infringement of the solidarity principle which are responsible to suffering of human beings.

Lot of kinds of activities were taken along history - according to the limited understanding of the activists, about the roots of these infringements. Last hundreds years many of them under the label/banner of anarchism.

However knowledge of all social processes the activist tried and still trying to influence is still limited. Anarchists tried lot of strategies and tactics based on the limited knowledge, and most of these were often inefficient or even disastrous.

The most up to date strategy and tactics are those of the Platformists/Specifists, but even we are not aware of all the relevant processes involved, thus, it is very often hard or impossible to convince other people with good intentions to adopt this approach.

The main obstacle is the limited understanding of how we can influence the common people that the way society should organize itself. This limitation also influence our dificulties in convicing the other activist that our approach is the best.

Beside other activities we better develop our understanding of how the system of opinions of the common people develop, what are its dynamics and what are the best ways to influence it.

The main aspect we need to understand better is the "Kaleidoscopic" change in the opinion system tha happen when a crisis develop - both for individual people in their usual life and for masses of people in social upheaval.

author by Kevin S.publication date Tue Jan 19, 2010 08:23Report this post to the editors

Hey Larry, this is a great and interesting piece. Thanks much for the summary and the thoughtful evaluation as well. I want to quickly address a couple things you said.

The Propaganda of the Deed period has always seemed bizarre to me, a kind of death wish or momentary madness. No contemporary anarchist that I know of supports the tactic, for then or for now, yet there is not a great deal of explanation as to why it happened. (A lot of embarrassed silence though!) What explanations are available relate the tactic to the crushing of the Commune and the resulting Europe-wide repression. But this is only a partial explanation.

I actually think this is an unfair summation. For one thing, it has to be qualified that not all "propaganda-deeds," or their exponents, are alike: setting off bombs among random civilians, for instance, is not the same as executing an infamous boss, politician or the like. It's hardly fair in that regard to call it a "tactic" -- it's a broad strategy to which many, often starkly different tactics have been applied. Secondly, you have to remember that at the time -- in a context of extreme daily abuse, violence and glaring contrast in class conditions between the workers and the bourgeoisie -- it was believed that the workers were on the edge of exploding, and that the anarchists' daring example of revolt would inspire mass uprisings.

The truth is that belief had a lot truth, and does so even today ... it's just that violent "terrorist" tactics do not do the job. The bottom line, though, remains that written propaganda will never be enough to kick the masses into motion; it requires the example of bold defiance again the bosses, an example which it is the anarchists' basic job to provide.

The old Platformism was sectarian and did much damage to the general anarchist movement, thus making Synthesist Anarchism seem like the voice of reason. The new Platformism, by working with others and not condemning them for doctrinal crimes, has taken what is best about Synthesism - the common ground approach - but adding what is lacking - a separate coherent revolutionary organization.

I am a bit unclear what you mean by this. Being a partisan of the original Platform, obviously I am going to disagree with some of this, but I am genuinely curious about your contrast between the old and new Platformism. It's true, I think, that today's Platformism puts rather less stress on theoretical unity and a lot more on building a broad anarchist organization. I happen to be skeptical of this trend, in part because I don't see much "coherent" in a political organization with so many conflicting tendencies. On the other hand, I would say the new Platformists are every bit as sectarian as the old, if not more so, when it comes factional debates. The main difference I can see is that the original Platform crew had long record of revolutionary experience that guided them, set in the years between the Russian and Spanish revolutions, and in general were a lot more grounded in hard reality than tends to be the case today.

author by Kevin S.publication date Tue Jan 19, 2010 18:15Report this post to the editors

I should step back and qualify, I do not mean to say that "all" the platformists of today match the above description. Obviously, like the movement as whole as you rightly point out, it is a diverse grouping that could hardly be pinned down to a single stereotype. I am only making a personal observation from individual writings, debates etc. It is really not accurate to lump all platformists together, seeing as there is a huge variety of thought in our circles.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Wed Jan 20, 2010 05:52Report this post to the editors

Although I tend to agree with your line of argument Kevin, I think Larry refers to the Latin American organsations that could be labeled in this broad definition of platformists and I have a sense that you refer to the English speaking movement.

But even in relation to the English speaking movement, I don't think it is fair to single out Platformists as the "sectarian" tendency in anarchism. I don't think it is what you are doing with your comment, but it could be read that way. I think that AS A WHOLE anarchism is extremely sectarian, and one of the reasons for this is the lack of significant involvement in mass movements and therefore some inclination to pricipleism. (I would add, in the case of Platformists that being constantly labelled "leninist" by other factions, a groundless claim in any case, some comrades seem to have developed the contrary tendency, that is, to try to prove at all times how much you despise other leftists). I think that a systematic work for years inside of established popular movements in Latin America has done a lot to improve our sectarianism standards to a certain degree.

Now, this taken aside, I think the Platformist tendency is the best from a not so great lot when it comes to sectarianism. If you compare the verbal aggressions and "ideological" attacks of non-platfmormists to platfromists and vice versa, you would realize that there seem to be other anarchists groups that seem to have hardly anything else to do than attack platformism! I think rarely platformists respond with the same level of bitterness. I'd say that platformist sectarianism, at least in the English speaking movement, is more prevalent against non-anarchists than against other anarchists.

author by Kevin S.publication date Wed Jan 20, 2010 09:16Report this post to the editors

Jose.... You are right that I am mainly referring to English-speaking circles, since that is most of my experience. Unfortunately, it also seems to be that the anglophone movement is a lot more vocal than others, even though (indeed perhaps it is the reason) we have a lot less practical achievements to show for it. Which I suppose it a typical phenomenon in our movement, that often goes hand-in-hand with sectarianism. But you are probably right about what Larry is referring to, going by the article, so maybe my comment was slightly out of place....

I don't think it is accurate to lump all non-platformists any more than it is with platformists. I have seen some truly thoughtful work from non-platformists well worth reading (even if I disagree with it, which is a different question anyway) as well some quite bitter and ignorant verbal assaults by platformists against other anarchists. Mostly what I have seen with non-platformists, without wanting to stereotype too much, is these tendencies:
- bitter anti-platformists, those who, as you say, seem to have nothing more to do besides denouncing "closet Leninists"
- the synthesist or "one big happy family types" some of whom are more friendly to platformists, and others who act quite bitter about us, who consider anyone "sectarian" who does not want to be in the same organizations
- non-platformists who nonetheless hold similar views to us and are able to work together closely with us
- anarchists who simply are not aware or interested in debating about platformism, for whatever reason, so are not platformist but not "anti-platformist" either

Now, maybe our experiences are different, but personally I have seen in our circles a lot more bitter condemnations of "anti-organizationalists" (a strawman label used often used with no basis whatsoever) than against non-anarchists. Not to say that is the the case "across the board" so to speak, certainly there are some folks who get along alright with other anarchists while they are extremely ignorant and narrow-minded about anything that does not perfectly work in their anarchist labels. But personally, in my experience, a lot platformists seem to define themselves as such almost purely in opposition to "anti-organizationalists." I even know some "platformists" who are completely ignorant about the original Platform debate, who never read anything by Makhno or Arshinov and read the Platform itself maybe once years ago!

Clearly that kind of mentality is a recipe for empty sectarian labels that no real meaning, and for emotional arguments that have no worthwhile or interesting content. But I could not speak to the situation outside the anglophone and particularly North American scene, except to say my impression from a distance is they are rather more grounded in mass social struggles.

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Sun Jan 31, 2010 01:06Report this post to the editors

Kevin S., In reference to platformists outside of Latin America, I have found the following groups to be congenial - ie they don't spend their time attacking other anarchists and work with them. These are Ontario's Common Cause, Quebec's OCL, the Eastern US NEFAC and France's Alt LibertaIre. Indeed it was my experience with the OCL comrades that started me down the road to Platformism...

author by Kevin S.publication date Sun Jan 31, 2010 05:38Report this post to the editors

Hi Larry, thanks for the note and glad to hear it. I don't want to come off too hard against my comrades here, certainly I do mean to exaggerate the extent and importance of certain attitudes. I happen to be a die-hard Platformist and a harsh critic of many things in our movement. I happen to know too that petty factionalism is not a special trait of anarchism, it permeates the radical left in my experience. So I don't mean to single out anyone in my comments.

Since you are naming groups, my experience for this last year in the WSA (not technically Platformist, but shares many qualities...) has been quite decent.

author by sv - OPARpublication date Sun May 08, 2011 04:10author email redeanarquistai at yahoo dot comauthor address Mexico - BrasilReport this post to the editors

Revolutionary Anarchist International Platform

The Anarchist Popular Union of Brazil, and the Revolutionary Anarchist Popular Organization from Mexico, presents the Revolutionary Anarchist International Platform, wich is an international call claiming for the union of the revolutionary anarchist of the world on the base of the Bakuninism.

We found in the ideology and in Mikhail Bakunin's revolutionary theory the solid bases on which we should build the international fight against the bourgeois imperialism. Only the international fight of the proletariat is capable to destroy the exploration and the global dominance exercised by the capitalists. And in that fight, an Anarchist International Organization has a decisive paper: to drive the proletariat to the revolutionary rupture.

(document can be readed in this time only in spanish and portuguese.brasil, english and frensh translations will be published in a few days)

¡For a revolutionary anarchist international!
International union of the proletariat!!!
¡For a social revolution!
¡Victory to freedom and socialism!

UNIPA – Brasil
www.uniaoanarquista.org

OPAR – México
www.anarquismorevolucionario.wordpress.com

redeanarquistai@yahoo.com

Related Link: http://www.anarquismorevolucionario.wordpress.com
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