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Anarchist Responses When Elected Governments are Overturned

category international | the left | feature author Tuesday November 28, 2006 20:30author by Wayne Price - NEFACauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

Firmness in Principles, Flexibility in Tactics

What should anarchists do when an elected government is overturned by a right-wing coup, as happened in Venezuela or Nepal? It is typical of capitalism that its gains of political democracy are shaky at best. Countries go through cycles of democracy and dictatorship and back again

How should anarchists deal with such situations? The issue points to a historic weakness in anarchism. Despite its excellent goals and great ideas, anarchism has repeatedly been defeated, crushed by fascist or Leninist forces, or merely marginalized. A major reason for this, I strongly believe, has been its rigidity and its tactical and strategic clumsiness. The anarchist movement has consistently failed to maneuver tactically in an effective fashion. Our approach should be FIRMNESS IN PRINCIPLES, FLEXIBILITY IN TACTICS.

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Firmness in Principles, Flexibility in Tactics

Anarchist Responses When Elected Governments are Overturned

What should revolutionary anarchists do when an elected government is overturned by a right-wing coup? I am thinking, for example, of the 2002 coup in Venezuela against President Hugo Chavez. This was carried out by a section of the military forces together with most of the capitalist class. It was backed by the U.S. government and other U.S. institutions. Some of the U.S. support was overt (immediate recognition of the new regime) and some covert (channeling money to the plotters beforehand). However the coup was soon reversed due to several factors: pressure from Venezuelan workers and the poor, support for Chavez by many lower-level military, and international pressure by other South American governments. Chavez was helped by the knowledge of many governments and businesspeople that he was not really anti-capitalist, despite his radical rhetoric.

Another recent example was the 2005 coup in Nepal, where King Gyanendra dismissed the elected government and ruled directly, relying mainly on his military forces (parliament having been suspended three years earlier). He was opposed by very widespread street demonstrations and strikes, organized into a Popular Front of bourgeois parties, other popular organizations, and the Maoist forces in the countryside. In April, this coup, too, was reversed. The king turned power over to the elected parliament. The Maoists had gained a lot of popular credit for their participation in the struggle. They have just signed a peace agreement with the reform government and are posed to run their leader in the next elections.

Very many other examples could be recalled. It is typical of capitalism that its gains of political democracy are shaky at best. Countries go through cycles of democracy and dictatorship and back again. I need only mention the history of European fascism. Even, for example, in the U.S.A., the current administration stoled the 2000 election. Since then it has been steadily curtailing political liberties.

How should anarchists deal with such situations? The issue points to a historic weakness in anarchism. Despite its excellent goals and great ideas, anarchism has repeatedly been defeated, crushed by fascist or Leninist forces, or merely marginalized. A major reason for this, I strongly believe, has been its rigidity and its tactical and strategic clumsiness. The anarchist movement has consistently failed to maneuver tactically in an effective fashion. This was, I believe, the cause for its disastrous failure in the Spanish revolution of the 1930s. Instead, our approach should be FIRMNESS IN PRINCIPLES, FLEXIBILITY IN TACTICS.

Anarchist Views on Elections

As a general principle, anarchists have opposed participation in elections. Under capitalism, for all its promises of democracy and freedom, in fact a minority of the population, the capitalist class, rules the economy, and therefore the state. This is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, whether or not in an overtly democratic form. Anarchists do not seek to manage the capitalist state nor to elect people to do so. That is not what we are about. Instead, we seek to organize labor unions, community associations, antiwar movements, and so on. We engage in militant nonelectoral action from below against the state and the capitalist class.

Anarchists do not believe in choosing leaders to be political in our place, for us, as our representatives. The interests, opinions, and desires of tens of millions of citizens cannot be packaged into two parties or embodied by two candidates. “Mass democracy” is a contradiction in terms. We want direct, face-to-face, democracy, in workplace and community assemblies, in a cooperative economy (libertarian socialism). We want as much participatory democracy as possible and only as much representation and delegation as is minimally necessary for federation.

The issue of electoralism was the main practical issue in the original split between Karl Marx and the anarchists. Marx advocated the formation of working class political parties which would, he hoped, break the workers from reliance on capitalist parties. History has not supported his electoralist strategy, if we consider the dismal record of the Social Democratic or Communist Parties or even the recent Green Parties. In any case, Marx was completely against voting for capitalist parties or politicians. (Today in the U.S., most so-called socialists are either for voting for the capitalist Democratic Party or for liberal, capitalist, third parties such as the Green Party or Nader’s operations. They reject both anarchist and Marxist principles.)

While rejecting participation in elections, anarchists have usually believed that capitalist democracies are better for the workers and other oppressed people than are capitalist political dictatorships (military juntas, police states, monarchies, fascisms, etc.) It is not that we think that the workers could control the state through elections--the myth of bourgeois democracy. But it is easier for workers to organize unions, for oppressed peoples to organize popular resistance, and for radicals to publish political literature, to hold meetings, and to spread their ideas. There is repression, but not the same as in a totalitarian state. A popular sentiment arises in favor of free speech and freedom of association, which anarchists use to protect ourselves from government repression. The capitalists do not want to give us these rights, but they must if they are to have them for themselves, let alone to give the workers the (false) impression that the people rule.

Errico Malatesta, the Italian anarchist, wrote, “...The worst of democracies is always preferable, if only from an educational point of view, [to] the best of dictatorships.... Democracy is a lie, it is...government by the few to the advantage of a privileged class. But we can still fight it in the name of freedom and equality....” (1995. The Anarchist Revolution; p. 77) That is, bourgeois democracies claim to stand for “freedom and equality” and therefore can be challenged to live up to their claims.

In my opinion, an anarchist set of tactics for dealing with right-wing coups is based on this evaluation of bourgeois democracy as more useful for the working and oppressed population. If this is rejected, then my argument falls down. (I am not discussing the issue of coups by the authoritarian left; this has differences which I will not go into here.)

There is another issue. Most situations in which antidemocratic coups take place are in oppressed nations--the so-called Third World. The coup-makers are often backed by foreign imperialists, as the U.S. backed the Venezuelan forces. This raises the question of the right of the oppressed nation to self-determination, of its people to determine their own future and their own government --or nongovernment-- without imperialist domination. This is also one of my premises, although it is not essential to the argument.

The fundamental principle is FREEDOM. Working people should have the freedom to choose their system of governance and to chose who to have as their leader, if they want a leader. People have the right to be wrong. In fact, a class or a nation only learns by making mistakes. Anarchists are the strongest supporters of freedom. We should always support the right of the people to make their own decisions, even when we disagree with what they decide. Of course, we must never give up our right to raise our politics and to patiently explain our opinions. This is part of the process of their learning by experience.

A Lesson from the Russian Revolution

When a coup happens or is threatened and masses of people are in the streets in protest, it is the task of anarchists to find their way to the people. We must find a way to participate in the popular struggle, without for a moment giving up our anarchist principles. We cannot endorse the government nor vote for even the best of presidents (let alone authoritarian bourgeois politicians). Anarchists can give absolutely no political support to bourgeois politicians or the state. These are principled positions. However, anarchists can join in opposing the coup. In doing this, we are supporting the people, not the state. Within the popular movement, anarchists can cooperate practically and concretely with the bourgeois politicians and Stalinist forces, agreeing on immediate, short-term goals, without any agreement on long-term goals.

In the popular movement, anarchists warn the people that they cannot rely on the bourgeois politicians. Anarchists can call for councils to be formed in neighborhoods and in workplaces in order to out-organize the coup. Anarchists should demand distribution of arms to the working class, rather than reliance on the military. An armed, self-organized, people is the most effective way to smash a coup -- and, we argue, go further than the limits of bourgeois democracy.

The approach advocated here has been learned from the experiences of the Russian and Spanish revolutions, among other experiences. During the Russian revolution, there was a not-very liberal Provisional Government, headed by Kerensky. This government was persecuting the left, anarchists and Bolsheviks, jailing as many as it could. However an even more right-wing force was led by the Cossack general Kornilov. He sought to overturn the liberal regime, smash the workers’ and peasants’ councils (soviets), and wipe out all the socialist parties, even the most moderate. In short, Kornilov intended to be a proto-fascist dictator and advanced on the capital to carry out this program.

What should the Bolsheviks do? (I do not know about discussions among the anarchists at this time.) A group of sailors visited Trotsky and other Bolsheviks in their prison and asked, “Isn’t it time to arrest the government?” “No, not yet,” was the answer. “Use Kerensky as a gun-rest to shoot Kornilov. Afterward we will settle with Kerensky.” (Trotsky, 1967, History of the Russian Revolution, vol. II, p. 227)

Bolsheviks and anarchists, along with activists from other socialist parties worked with rank-and-file workers to set up large numbers of committees for defense of the revolution. These spread throughout the Russian empire. They distributed arms among the workers, mobilized reliable military forces, and organized workers to sabotage the advancing Kornilov forces (so that railroad troop trains got thoroughly lost and telegraph messages never got through). Workers and soldiers from Petrograd were sent out to meet the advancing forces, to talk to them and persuade them to turn around. These methods were highly successful. The military advance dissipated like water poured on hot sand, almost nonviolently (some officers were shot). This led to a big upswing in the influence of the far left and a discrediting of the moderate socialists. It was only a matter of time until the Kerensky regime was overthrown by a coalition of the Bolsheviks, Left Social Revolutionaries (peasant-populists) and anarchists.

Throughout the Kornilov affair, the Bolsheviks did not join the Provisional Government (and certainly the anarchists did not). In fact they politically criticized the Kerensky regime for its waffling and weakness in defending democracy. They maintained contact with other parties for purposes of practical coordination only. In later years, Trotsky often cited this incident as a guide to action. Trotsky summarized it, “Support them technically but not politically.” (p. 305) Lenin was even clearer about not supporting the liberal government. At the time, he wrote (“To the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.”),

Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing line here....We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference.” (Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 222)

A Lesson from the Spanish Revolution

Similar lessons may be learned from the 1936 to 1939 Spanish revolution. Usually recognized as the two main sides were the legally elected Popular Front government (the “Loyalists” or “Republicans”) versus the fascist military forces which intended to overthrow it (and eventually did, with military aid from Hitler). The Popular Front was a coalition of working class parties (including the Communists and the Socialists), and pro-capitalist parties. The mass of the workers was divided in half between those in the unions affiliated with the Spanish Socialist Party and those in the anarchist-led unions. When the military attempted its coup, the workers beat it back. Voluntary armed forces (militias) were created by the anarchists and various socialists.

Given the outbreak of the civil war, what should revolutionary anarchists and other socialists do? Just like some anarchists today, there were some (Bordigists and others) who thought that revolutionaries should not support either side. As one declared, “No political or material support to the bourgeois Loyalist government!” (quoted in Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution, 1973, Pathfinder, p. 422) After all, the Popular Front republic was a capitalist, imperialist, state, with a colony in Morocco, and which had jailed thousands of workers and leftists. In practice, this was an unrealistic position, since the workers were not ready to overthrow the republic in the face of fascism. The leaders of the Spanish left felt (correctly) that the republic was clearly a lesser evil to the fascists. The leading anarchists, however, drew the conclusion from this that they should enter the Popular Front government, in alliance with the reformist Socialists, Communists, and out-and-out capitalist politicians. They subordinated their struggle to the capitalist state.

There was, however, a third possible position. This was for the anarchist and left socialist militias to focus their forces against the fascists--until they were strong enough to overthrow the Republican state. Until that day, they should give military-technical support to the republic but no political support. Revolutionary workers must not give up their political independence from the class enemy. They should not join the Popular Front government, nor vote for its candidates, nor vote for its programs. The revolutionaries would be in political opposition. They should expose the vacillations and betrayals of the Popular Front (which, in fact, led to the defeat of the Republic). They would persuade the workers, peasants, and little people of the need for a revolution, replacing the bureaucratic-military state with an association of workers’ and popular councils--with internal democracy so that different parties and organizations could compete for influence. In fact, this could have been demonstrated in one region of Spain (Catalonia) where the anarchist unions had the support of the big majority of the local workers.

This approach was raised by a revolutionary minority of anarchists, the Friends of Durruti Group. Fed up with the class compromises of the anarchist union leadership, they called for completing the revolution by overthrowing the republican capitalist state and replacing it with a national defense committee elected through the mass unions. In their 1938 Towards a Fresh Revolution, they denounced the political support of the Popular Front: “We are opposed to collaboration with bourgeois groups. We do not believe that the class approach can be abandoned. Revolutionary workers must not shoulder official posts, nor establish themselves in the ministries....That would be tantamount to strengthening our enemies and tightening the noose of capitalism.” (p. 38)

However, the Friends of Durrutti accepted practical, material, cooperation with the bourgeois state, until they were able to overthrow it: “For as long as the war lasts, collaboration is permissible -- on the battlefield, in the trenches, on the parapets, and in productive labor in the rearguard.” (same) Anarchists could not hope to win over the workers who were fooled by the liberals, the Communist Party, the Socialists, and so on, unless they were willing to engage in practical, concrete, cooperation against fascism. Unfortunately, the Friends of Durruti organized too late to be effective in changing the course of the war.

Even in the U.S.A.

It is not the job of anarchists to find ways of staying out of popular struggles, in order to be pure. Yet we must not surrender our principles in order to be popular for a time (as the Spanish anarchists did when they joined the Popular Front government, or as most of the world’s socialists do when they embrace Hugo Chavez).

For example, right after the 2000 presidential election in the U.S., it became obvious that the election had been full of fraud, trickery, and racism. In particular, African-Americans were furious about many of them being denied the vote, after so many had struggled and died for the right to vote. All this was widely reported, yet no one organized protests about this -- not the Democrats nor Nader. I think that anarchists, if at all possible, should have organized mass protests against the fraudulence and racism of the vote counting, explicitly exposing the Democrats as unwilling to defend the people’s rights. This would go side-by-side with our explaining our criticisms of electoralism overall (even when you try to vote, they do not let you!).

Today it is literally a life or death matter for revolutionary anarchists to find ways of participating in popular struggles while sticking to our principles and telling the truth to working people. Given the world’s economic, military, and ecological crises, we simply cannot afford to let anarchism be defeated or marginalized again.

author by Kim Keyser - Anarkismopublication date Sat Nov 25, 2006 19:42author address Oslo, NorwayReport this post to the editors

This was both a good and important article. I broadly agree with it. However, I want to point out that it's not always possible to distinguish between political and technical issues. I.e. we might only be able to cooperate on their terms. For instance they might set as a premise that in order to cooperate we must join the army and put our lives under control of an authoritarian officer. Or they might demand that factories under workers control must conform to one-man-rule in sake of fake "efficiency". (Neither of these was the case in Spain in 36).

This is because the (hypocratic-)democratic leaders might prefer being overthrown by a dictator, rather than seeing flowering of workers control. So for instance, various anti-baathist forces attacked the revolt by workers in 1991 in Kurdish Iraq, because they wanted to control the premises of the anti-baathist fight.

That's why I feel such matters need to be analysed in each case, and why it can't be reduced or generalised to an abstract principle.

Whether or not we can fight on our own terms is a matter of how strong we are, in relation to how strong our potential collaborators are.

This is as much the case in all sorts of situations - supporting a corrupt unions strike even though we are against wage slavery per se, supporting the peace demonstrations arranged by large non-democratic peace organisations, even though we believe capitalism needs to be crushed in order to achieve lasting piece, and so on, and so on.

Sometimes it's tactical to cooperate technically (but on our own terms), sometimes it might even be tactical to cooperate even if it's on their terms (if we're weak, but still can push our case in this way), and even other times, it might be tactical to not cooperate as the technical aspect can't be distinguished from the politcal aspect (those cases we have to submit to an untolerable authority that lead to defeat any way).

To conlude, I'm thought the article was good and important, and I broadly agree with it, even though I thought this point was missing, for the sake of clarity.

Does Wayne agree with this?

author by Waynepublication date Sun Nov 26, 2006 17:48Report this post to the editors

I completely agree with Kim's comments, which elaborate on my point about the need to be flexible in tactics.

author by John C - NYMAA, NEFAC, IWW, SDSpublication date Mon Nov 27, 2006 16:38author email classwar55 at yahoo dot comReport this post to the editors

Hey Wayne, good piece. I just wanted to throw this out to see what you thought, and what others might think as well.

In the highly globalized world that we live in, measures like the nationalization of oil or gas (or other natural resources) could mean a lot in terms of defending an oppressed people in an underdeveloped nation from foreign corporations. Therefore, would it be principly acceptable to tactically vote for a "leftist" borgeouis politician, who promises to nationalize resoursce and such, in the face of a possible far right electoral take over?

If this question strays too far from the issue of a coup at hand, just let me know.

author by Waynepublication date Mon Nov 27, 2006 16:59Report this post to the editors

John C. asks, "would it be principly acceptable to tactically vote for a "leftist" borgeouis politician, who promises to nationalize resoursce and such, in the face of a possible far right electoral take over?" It is an important question. Perhaps he is thinking of Mossedagh of Iran, who did just that and was overthrown by a CIA-organized coup which put the Shah in power. I assume we are not discussing a national referendum, which is a different matter (referenda do not require electing someone to run the state).

(1) It would be wrong to support, endorse, or vote for our class enemy, even if he or she is a radical nationalist, standing up to the imperialists. Instead, we should push them from the left by organizing, say, oil workers and the poor to strike and demonstrate against the foreign owners and to demand nationalization...under control of the workers, not the state! We know that at the very best, the regime would still have to sell its oil (or whatever) on the world market, that is, still be subordinate to international imperialism. At worst, it would be overthrown by the right. There is no solution except internationalist anarchist-communist revolution.

(2) but we must defend the regime against imperialist plots, destabilization, undermining or invasion. Against invasion, obviously. And against "a possible far right electoral take over" we would defend it by calling for strikes and demonstrations, mass mobilizations, occupations of the factories and neighborhoods, etc.

author by Kim Keyser - Anarkismopublication date Mon Nov 27, 2006 21:01author address Oslo, NorwayReport this post to the editors

Even though anarchists want a communist society, ushered in by a libertarian revolution, we want reforms as well. And nationalization of petroleum might be a reform in it self (it depends though), as well as providing a left leaning government economic resources to be used on more reforms.

However, left leaning governments are not to be trusted, and some reforms migth be difficult to implement, due to the fact that it's the privileged rulers of the economy and the military that controls society (regardless of there being a leftwing or rightwing government).

Thus, we have to put on the pressure not via votes, but through strikes, occupations, etc.

An example of this is the reign of the socialdemocratic Workers Party (AP) in Norway in the post-WWII era. They had an economic framework which allowed for the reforms they wanted. However, most of these reforms were only implemented when workers put pressure on the government (i.e. when people went home from work after eight hours, instead of waiting for the perfect governmental laws legalising the eight hour day).

Now, we have a different situation in Norway. A left leaning coaliton of the Socialist Left Party (SV), Workers Party (AP) and Center Party (SP) has promised all sorts of things, but has implemented very few of them (in fact, going the opposite way in a lot of issues). This is due to the lack of popular pressure from below.

But even if this would've been a right wing coalition, it would be possible to put on pressure from below. The vote achieves little, but illusions.

author by HPWombat - Arawak Citypublication date Thu Nov 30, 2006 09:11author email hpwombat at yahoo dot comReport this post to the editors

Hey Wayne,

I posted some of this on in response to your article and noticed that you were here, so figured I'd goto the source.

How far can we extend the idea of firmness in principle and a flexibility in tactics? Does this justify feeder marches and participation in coalitions with the left? Does firmness in principle mean others can just take it or leave it? How can we apply the lessons of yesterday today? How can the context of Venezuela today and Russia and Spain yesterday relate to America's context in how we are to apply your suggested 'flexibility of tactics'?

If you could give a healthy response, it would help me better understand what you are suggesting.

Related Link:
author by Gackypublication date Sat Dec 02, 2006 07:57author address Romanmontero@sbcglobal.netReport this post to the editors

Could'nt it be argued that by supporting "Leftist" or Progressive Goverments over Authoritarian and/or Capitalist, you are working against the anarchist cuase, which is the abolition of the State and Capitalism. Because with those governments in power the general public is more relaxed and less aware of their oppression, and much less likely to support an Anarchist Uprising? So to avoid Supporting so-called Progressive Capitalist Governments, would'nt it be better to only resist the coup as Anarchists, not at all supporting the Progressive or Democratic Government, even if that means the Authoritarian governernment gains power?

author by Laure Akai - FA Pragapublication date Sat Dec 02, 2006 09:58Report this post to the editors

I have to agree with most of what you said and the arguments you present. A few comments:

1. The situation of popular resistance during a coup is nowadays being somewhat mirrored by the scenario of “orange revolutions”. Sometimes, but not always, such popular movements are triggered by “coups on democracy”, for example acts of electoral fraud or repeating repression of some opposition movement.

In this case also it is important to find a voice amongst the people but also to be able to look critically at the “alternatives” which are being promoted and inject an anarchist perspective into the scenario.

In recent cases, some groups did quite a good job of this, while others perhaps went more with the popular flow, concentrating on the perceived gains. In such cases, they missed rare opportunities.

2. In cases where there have been coups or orange revolutions and anarchists have not gone in with a critical position but have instead just served in the “anti-coup” or “pro-democracy” ranks, it may provide us with insights to study both the argumentation used at the time and to see the results.

Russian anarchists, who were in the position to experience coups in 1991 and then 1993 where in fact in a good position to apply experience from the first coup to the second. However, historical memory is sometimes short and many first-hand lessons from these events later were rejected by some others by the reasoning the “the situation is totally different” or the feeling that this time the results would be different. So it is also a great challenge for anarchists to combine historical experience and current critical analysis in a way that is relevant.

Additionally, sometimes we face the challenge of overcoming a strong, anti-intellectual, “actionismo” ideology which cannot seem to connect the dots. Some are strongly disturbed by a perception that some others are “living in the past”, busy studying history and not “doing things” – a criticism that sometimes indeed is legitimately justified. But sometimes part and parcel of this mindset comes an uncritical glorification of all types of popular movements, including ones which have little to do with our vision. This is not to say that such anti-intellectuals are more prone to tactical mistakes than intellectuals, some of whom fall into inaction due to the imperfection of the situation, distrust the masses or themselves misjudge the situation. Part of long-term anarchist strategy thus must be the building of popular education, knowledge and analytical criticism which does not resemble the negative aspects of hollow intellectual pursuit and creating a healthy balance between theory and practice.

3. Coups may not happen that often in some countries of those reading this article – but other attacks on democracy occur regularly, as in your example of the evident vote rigging and disenfranchisement which occurred (and has been repeatedly occurring) in the US, most notably in the case of the Florida Bush-Gore case. As I recall, anarchists were able to make a good analysis of the situation and to tie it in to the deceptions of authoritarian representative democracy and government – but perhaps you (and others) were not satisfied with the scale of reaction and mobilization. Perhaps there is a widespread feeling that social protest is always co-opted and is bankrupt. So a serious question which we all face is how to keep mass movements expanding without being co-opted by other forces.

Here I would have to take the position that the practice of falling into reformist baby steps and single issues, sometimes undertaken with the sincere intention of getting the idea our there to those who would otherwise be uninterested, can leave us prone to easier co-option if our core ideas are yielded to the ideal of creating a “better form of democracy” in which to work in.

4. Moving slightly off-topic, attacks on democracy affect wide segments of the population, but we may also encounter more localized attacks on workers’ or human rights. Although much may be different in such situations than in coups (which themselves have a quite variable combination of factors), there are some similar principles to be considered.

While some of the readers of this article might not imagine facing a coup, they may imagine a wide range of popular struggles. One area I am interested in is workers’ struggles and anarchist responses to them. Real debates I’ve been recently involved in revolve around issues of whether workers’ are better off in corrupt and exploitative state capitalism or in corrupt or exploitative private capitalism and whether we should “support” certain struggles which lean towards one or the other option. There are many factors to take into account but in general this is no choice and other options can be presented.

5. Now perhaps even more off-topic but worth considering, in addition to coups, wars, especially civil wars, present interesting challenges. Of course much depends on the level of killing involved. The different experiences and tactics of Yugoslav anarchists would perhaps be interesting to consider. This situation was extremely different from the civil war in Spain which was accompanied by a revolutionary movement. Significantly, their numbers were quite minute at the time. Despite this, they took a variety of tactics, from running and trying to concentrate on helping refugees, to going to the UN and asking them to send peacekeepers, to active agitation at very high risk.

6. Finally, if I have any slight criticism of your article, it might be with the wording here:
“The fundamental principle is FREEDOM. Working people should have the freedom to choose their system of governance and to chose who to have as their leader, if they want a leader. People have the right to be wrong. In fact, a class or a nation only learns by making mistakes. Anarchists are the strongest supporters of freedom. We should always support the right of the people to make their own decisions, even when we disagree with what they decide. Of course, we must never give up our right to raise our politics and to patiently explain our opinions. This is part of the process of their learning by experience.”

This is not at all to suggest that I would argue against popular self-determination in favour of revolutionary vanguardism. However this argument seems to be over-simplified and may be equally used by those who promote theories such as TAZ and who have even argued that Anarchy implies the right of every autonomous group of people to form whatever society they want, even , for example, Aryan nations. (Such ideas are in no way implied in your text and nothing in it supports such ideology, but I am addressing this idea independently.)

The problem you have with such an idea is that once any generation of “free-choosers” have reproduced, their children are born into a system and indoctrinated, including being indoctrination into un-freedom. If, arguably, a generation “chooses” to live in a totalitarian state (which of course probably requires specific pre-conditions which influence this “free choice”), that what freedom to choose are their children given? Can we demand that fascists give their children “free choice”?

I would argue that “freedom” is a complicated concept and that straightforward conceptions of it and a simplified “right to choose” is one of those ideas or slogans that actually prop up capitalism and representative democracy. Perhaps anarchists have to be more careful in combining the ideas of “freedom” with other ideas such equality and fairness (which themselves need careful explanation). Perhaps, if the balance of priorities was more on those latter ideas, especially when the main struggle is simply for “freedom”, then we can be much clearer with our message.

I assume the question you wanted to present is whether it is preferable that a population has, for example, the right to vote or not – and this is clear. It is also correct that, when we apply democracy, representative or direct, mistakes will be made and this is part of the process. But it would always be wise not to fade behind the ideas of watered-down participatory democracy. (This has happened in some places where people decided that this was the least scary slogan to offer to people and additionally decided to avoid “divisive issues” such as capitalism --- because after all, the main point should be collecting all the votes.) Perhaps we should avoid making only one of the many elements of anarchism our “fundamental principle”, especially when it’s the one so naively used to justify making really bad choices.

author by Wayne - NEFACpublication date Sat Dec 02, 2006 15:09Report this post to the editors

Wombat asks: " How far can we extend the idea of firmness in principle and a flexibility in tactics?" I answer, All the way to revolution. "Does this justify feeder marches and participation in coalitions with the left?" You bet. When there were mass marches against the Iraqi war, we participated. We had a de facto, practical, "agreement" with the liberal and Stalinist march organizers: (1) we were against the war and wanted immediate withdrawal, and (2) we were for a large number of people walking down the street in demonstrate popular opposition to the war. On this basis, we supported the march. At the march, we put out our own literature, which denounced the liberal and Stalinist program of supporting the Democratic party, etc. Since you ask this question, you may think that anarchists should have stayed away from a demonstration of thousands against the war; I do not.

Wombat asks, "How can the context of Venezuela today and Russia and Spain yesterday relate to America's context in how we are to apply your suggested 'flexibility of tactics'?" I thought I gave an example how this applied to the U.S., namely in the 2000 presidential election.

Gacky asks, "Could'nt it be argued that by supporting "Leftist" or Progressive Goverments over Authoritarian and/or Capitalist, you are working against the anarchist cause?" But the whole point of my essay was that anarchists should NOT support Leftists or Progressive governments. We should OPPOSE attempts at coups by right wing forces, I wrote, but never endorse, politically support, or vote for Leftist or Progressive governments. Look again at the quotations from Lenin and the Friends of Durruti in the examples from the Russian and Spanish revolutions. I repeated this point above in responding to John C.

Laure Akai agrees with most of what I wrote, but thinks that I was too simplistic when saying that my basic principle was "freedom." This is true, given the limits of a brief essay. But as we can see from the responses I got, some readers think that I am not being simple enough. They want an answer, Are you for or against the state? (I am against it) and think that this answers all questions without further thinking or tactical planning.

author by HPWombat - Arawak Citypublication date Sat Dec 02, 2006 16:06author email hpwombat at yahoo dot comReport this post to the editors

When I said extended, I should of said "how far are the parameters of flexibility in tactics?" My concerns about American context goes beyond a protest date, though I applaud your efforts. We are organizing a couple of protests in Columbus within a few months. An answer to my question may be found by expanding this section.

"Today it is literally a life or death matter for revolutionary anarchists to find ways of participating in popular struggles while sticking to our principles and telling the truth to working people. Given the world’s economic, military, and ecological crises, we simply cannot afford to let anarchism be defeated or marginalized again."

author by Laure Akai - FA Pragapublication date Sun Dec 03, 2006 02:14Report this post to the editors

John C. asks whether nationalization of industry can protect the working class from foreign capitalists.

As anti-capitalists, I think we have to break out of the illusions that nationalists often try to sell - that national control over resources is somehow a "better form of capitalism".

There may be different cases to consider, different pluses in minuses, but overall, this attempted division between foreign exploitation and local exploitation is usually nothing more than a gross manipulation of consciousness.

We can look at examples - I can ask you concretely if nationalization done by Putin has helped the average Russian person or if it has helped those with control of the industries. This is just one well-known example - we can think of many more. State-owned industries, as well as some public-sector branches, may be weighed downed with levels of bureacrats, mismanaged and treated as a personal trust fund for those who are in charge.

One example we are dealing with now is the Polish Post, where the workers were on strike and where we are agitating for them to take up new demands. We argued that the unions would not be able to gain more than 80 zloties (26 dollars) monthly raise for them because that would mean cutting their expenses above - and we were right. (The workers were offered 87 zloties - 29 dollars per month raise.) In the meanwhile, we keep pointing out that the last manager of the party creating over 100 new mangerial posts - just one month before he was to be replaced - for his party colleagues, with enormous contracts and severance payouts, and that to fit all the new managers, they decided to build a new building at the (estimated) cost of 250 million dollars. That's just the tip of the misspending. This is the kind of thing we are dealing with.

At the time, the postal service is being opened up to competitors, including foreign companies, and some left groups argue that the postal service must be protected and most always be run by the state - that this is the only possible alternative to (foreign) capitalism. But we want to throw out other options - for example self-management. And the far-off social revolution.

Despite the fact that we reject the idea of the nation-state, the idea of 'nationalization' simply cannot be beneficial in situations where the 'state" is not strictly controlled in what it does from below. It is painfully obvious that, although some states are more transparent in their actions than others, the idea of the people controlling the state is a utopian myth.
About the question of feeder marches, etc., I think a lot depends on the situation, what you gain and what you lose.

Certainly, we can all agree that we can always go places and try to talk to people about our point of view.

About coalitions and marches though, it's not always about being visible at all costs. For example, I don't think, if you have a Stalinist group as the main organizer of something, that it makes sense to co-organize things with them officially because you tie your organization with Stalinism in the public mind. Of course, different demos look differently - sometimes there is quite a wide coalition and it is beneficial to be among the official organizers for some reason.

Again, a lot depends on how it looks locally. For example, if you have a sect of 10 authoritarian communists, I don't think it makes sense to go with them because they are very happy to take their photos and show that 30 people came instead of ten, and they use it to promote their organization. But unfortunately, in certain movements - like the anti-war movement, certain socialist groups have been very efficient at the tactic of building front coalitions. In some countries, these are so developed that in fact big demos are always organized by them and the anarchists just go along and try to meet reasonable people. In others these movements are not completely dominated, or only recently became dominated by such groups.

In Poland anarchists, in my opinion, made quite bad tactical mistakes when they started which anti-war actions, and more recently actions against the Minister of Education, which the local Workers' Democracy then tried to take over under their fake coalitions. If in fact you are capable of organizing events to a similar level (or better) than such authoritarian leftists, than there's no reason to go en-masse to those demos.

Of course one has to ask about whether or not certain movements, like the anti-war movement, didn't get the way they are now because too many people decided to cooperate with them.

In any case, I suppose if a march ultimately looks disgusting - for example if most people have outrageous demands that you cannot agree with - it may be better for you not to be seen there. A good example from recent debates would be at the last G8 summit when anarchists argued about whether to join in with the nationalists or have their own march. Most (if not all) felt that it would be a tremendous mistake to join in a march dominated by xenophobes and fascists.
Finally, I have reconsidered slightly the wording of one of my former opinions, about "freedom". I suppose my proposal can just as easily be misunderstood given the fact that there are those who put "equality" over "freedom" - for example, authoritarian communists. So "freedom" cannot be underestimated, but we have to be clear about what it is - and what it isn't - and also point out that this is not the only goal.

author by Jopublication date Sun Dec 03, 2006 07:23Report this post to the editors

I think we need to keep in mind there's a difference between elections and civil liberties. More civil liberties are good, but elections in and of themselves don't matter. Modern dictatorships usually have elections, too. Coups often result in a reduction of civil liberties as well as invalidating the elections, but not always.

Also, there were many demonstrations about the 2000 elections. I participated in local demonstrations against it, and I had friends who went to DC to participate in the largish demonstrations against Bush's inaugeration.

author by donato romitopublication date Mon Dec 04, 2006 04:23author email donatoromito at tiscalinet dot itReport this post to the editors

See also in Italy the political proposal made by Malatesta and UAI for an antifascist front composed by anarchists, socialists, republicans and so on, and the armed movement known as Ardiiti del Popolo who fought against the black squads and tried to prevent their violence.
See also anarchists in the Resistance between 1943 and 1945, when anarchists entered mixed brigades (some of them as commander in chief) or build anarchist brigades.
See also the minimum program written by exiled anarchists in 1945 for the post-war period (about these questions see
Just one last thing:
between principles (theory) and tactics there's room for strategy (long and short term strategy) and it's better that tactical choices
may respond to this strategy than to supreme principles.

if we think that democracy (its historical form as we know it) is in peril, anarchists should state in their present strategy if democracy has to be defended against its enemies; if yes, our tactical choices are consequent.
(every reference to Italy under Berlusconi's government is not casual at all).
thanks Wayne

author by Latinoamericanopublication date Fri Dec 15, 2006 05:40Report this post to the editors

He llegado a este texto gracias a la referencia de José Gutierrez en su texto: "Notas Sobre el Artículo "Anarquismo, Insurrecciones e Insurreccionalismo" y me pregunto si acaso alguien ha traducido este texto al español para poder seguir el hilo de la discusión. Muchas gracias.

author by Grupo Editorial de Anarkismopublication date Fri Dec 15, 2006 17:27Report this post to the editors

Estamos viendo traducirlo.... si alguien pudiera colaborar con esa labor, joya. Si no, toca esperar un poquitico, pero seguro que lo traducimos.

author by libertario - chilenapublication date Wed Dec 20, 2006 00:45Report this post to the editors



author by CNTistapublication date Sat Dec 23, 2006 05:02Report this post to the editors

Me sumo a las peticiones de traducción.

author by Chacalón - Anarkismo Editorial Grouppublication date Tue Dec 26, 2006 22:10Report this post to the editors

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