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Social Anarchism, Class Struggle and Centre-Periphery Relations

category brazil/guyana/suriname/fguiana | anarchist movement | policy statement author Wednesday February 08, 2012 22:12author by Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro - FARJ Report this post to the editors
Anarchism is, for us, an ideology; this being a set of ideas, motivations, aspirations, values, a structure or system of concepts that has a direct connection with action – that which we call political practice.



[...] because anarchism is an ideology
which refuses to create new central systems
with new peripheral areas.

Rudolf de Jong

Anarchism is, for us, an ideology; this being a set of ideas, motivations, aspirations, values, a structure or system of concepts that has a direct connection with action – that which we call political practice. Ideology requires the formulation of final objectives (long term, future perspectives), the interpretation of the reality in which we live and a more or less approximate prognosis about the transformation of this reality. From this analysis ideology is not a set of abstract values and ideas, dissociated from practice with a purely reflective character, but rather a system of concepts that exist in the way in which it is conceived together with practice and returns to it. Thus, ideology requires voluntary and conscious action with the objective of imprinting the desire for social transformation on society.

We understand anarchism as an ideology that provides orientation for action to replace capitalism, the state and its institutions with libertarian socialism – a system based on self-management and federalism – without any scientific or prophetic pretensions.

Like other ideologies, anarchism has a history and specific context. It does not arise from intellectuals or thinkers detached from practice, who pursued only abstract reflection. Anarchism has a history which developed within the great class struggles of the nineteenth century, when it was theorised by Proudhon and took shape in the midst of the International Workers Association (IWA), with the work of Bakunin, Guillaume, Reclus and others who advocated revolutionary socialism in opposition to reformist, legalist or statist socialism. This tendency of the IWA was later known as “federalist” or “anti-authoritarian” and found its continuity in the militancy of Kropotkin, Malatesta and others.

Thus it was within the IWA that anarchism took shape, “in the direct struggle of the workers against capitalism, from the needs of the workers, from their aspirations to freedom and equality that lived, particularly, in the masses of workers in the most heroic times” [1]. The work of theorising anarchism was done by thinkers and workers who were directly involved in social struggles and who helped to formalise and disseminate the sentiment that was latent in what they called the “mass movement”. Thus Over the years anarchism developed theoretically and practically. One the one hand it contributed in a unique way to episodes of social transformation, maintaining its ideological character such as, for example, in the Mexican Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Revolution or even in Brazilian episodes, like the General Strike of 1917 and the Insurrection of 1918. On the other hand in certain contexts anarchism assumed certain characteristics that retreated from the ideological character, transforming it into an abstract concept which became merely a form of critical observation of society. Over the years this model of anarchism assumed its own identity, finding references in history and at the same time losing its character of the struggle for social transformation. This was more strikingly evident in the second half of the twentieth century. Thought of from this perspective anarchism ceases to be a tool of the exploited in their struggle for emancipation and functions as a hobby, a curiosity, a theme for intellectual debate, an academic niche, an identity, a group of friends, etc. For us, this view seriously threatens the very meaning of anarchism.

This disastrous influence on anarchism was noted and criticised by various anarchists from Malatesta, when he polemicised with the individualists that were against organisation, to Luigi Fabbri, who made his critique of the bourgeois influences on anarchism already in the early twentieth century [3], up to Murray Bookchin who, in the mid-1990s, noted this phenomenon and tried to warn:

Unless I am very wrong – and I hope to be – the social and revolutionary objectives of anarchism are suffering the attrition of reaching a point where the word anarchy becomes part of the elegant bourgeois vocabulary of the next century – disobedient, rebellious, carefree, but delightfully harmless [4].
We advocate that anarchism recaptures its original ideological character, or as we previously defined it, a “system of concepts that has a direct connection with action, [...] of political practice”. Seeking to recapture this ideological character and to differentiate ourselves from other currents in the broad camp of contemporary anarchism, we advocate social anarchism and therefore corroborate the criticisms of Malatesta and Fabbri and affirm the dichotomy identified by Bookchin; that there is today a social anarchism returning to struggles with the objective of social transformation, and a lifestyle anarchism that renounces the proposal for social transformation and involvement in the social struggles of our time.

For us social anarchism is a type of anarchism that, as an ideology, seeks to be a tool of social movements and the popular organisation with the objective of overthrowing capitalism and the state and of building libertarian socialism – self-managed and federalist. To this end it promotes the organised return of anarchists to the class struggle, with the goal of recapturing what we call the social vector of anarchism. We believe that it is among the exploited classes – the main victims of capitalism – that anarchism is able to flourish. If, as Neno Vasco put it, we have to throw the seeds of anarchism on the most fertile terrain, this terrain is for us the class struggle that takes place in popular mobilisations and in social struggles. Seeking to oppose social anarchism with lifestyle anarchism, Bookchin asserted that

social anarchism is radically at odds with an anarchism which focuses on lifestyle, the neo-situationist invocation of ecstasy and the increasingly contradictory sovereignty of the petty bourgeois ego. The two diverge completely in their defining principles – socialism or individualism. [5]
Commenting on the title of his book Anarquismo Social (Social Anarchism) Frank Mintz, another contemporary militant and thinker emphasised: “this title should be useless, because the two terms are implicitly linked. It is likewise misleading because it suggests that there may be a non-social anarchism, outside of struggles” [6]. In this way we understand that social anarchism is necessarily implicated in the class struggle.

Within our vision of social anarchism, as “a fundamental tool for the support of daily struggles” [7], we also need to clarify our definition of class. While considering the class struggle as central and absolutely relevant in society today we understand that the Marxists, by choosing the factory worker as the unique and historic subject of the revolution, despise all other categories of the exploited classes, while also potentially revolutionary subjects. The authoritarians’ conception of the working class, which is restricted only to the category of industrial workers, does not cover the reality of the relations of domination and exploitation that have occurred throughout history and even the relationships that occur in this society. Just as it does not cover the identification of revolutionary subjects of the past and present.

Starting from the need to clarify this conception of class, we include in the camp of the exploited classes – which can and should contribute to the process of social transformation by means of class struggle – other categories that have in large part received the attention of anarchists throughout history. This definition of the conception of class does not change the class struggle as the main terrain for the action of social anarchism, but offers a different way of seeing our goal: the transformation of centre-periphery relations, or more specifically, the transformation of the relations of domination of the peripheries by the centres. Based on the classification of Rudolf de Jong [8] and on our own recent history of struggle, we conceptualise all the exploited classes starting from the centre-periphery relations. Thus, taking part in this group are:

a. Cultures and societies completely estranged and distanced from the centre; not at all “integrated”, and “savage” in the eyes of the centre. For example, the Indians of the Amazon.

b. Peripheral areas related to the centre and belonging to its socio-economic and political structures that attempt, at the same time, to maintain their identities. They are dominated by the centre, threatened in their existence by the economic expansion thereof. By the standards of the centre they are “backwards” and underdeveloped. For example, the indigenous communities of Mexico and the Andean countries. Other examples in this category – perhaps we should talk of a subgroup b.1 – are small farmers, skilled workers and peasants threatened in their social and economic existence by the progress of the centre and who still struggle for their independence.

c. Economic classes or socio-economic systems that used to belong to the centre, but returned to a peripheral position after technological innovations and socio-economic developments in the centre. For example, the lumpen proletariat, precarious informal workers and the permanent army of the unemployed.

d. Social classes and groups that take part in the centre in an economic sense, but that are peripheral in a social, cultural and/ or political sense: the working classes, the proletariat in emerging industrial societies, women, blacks, homosexuals.

e. Centre-periphery relations of a political nature, whether between states or within them: colonial or imperialist relations, capital* versus provincial relations etc. Such relations in the capitalist system are developed in parallel with the economic relations mentioned above – or, group e.1: neo-capitalist domination, internal colonisation and exploitation.

Accepting this classification, and being conscious of its limitations, we define the category of exploited classes as the peripheral areas that are dominated by the centre. It is important to stress that we do not consider as part of this set of exploited classes individuals who are in theory in peripheral areas, but that in practice establish relations of domination over others, thus becoming new centres. Hence the need for all the struggles of the exploited classes to have a revolutionary perspective, in order that they do not seek simply to make parts of the peripheral areas constituted into new centres.

Proceeding from this definition, there are two ways of thinking about social transformation: one, authoritarian, historically used by the heirs of Marxism (revolutionary or reformist) and another, libertarian, used by the anarchists.

Authoritarians, including some who call themselves anarchists, think of the centre as a means, and orientate their politics towards it. For them, the centre – considering this to be the state, the party, the army, the position of control – is an instrument for the emancipation of society, and “the revolution means in first place the capturing of the centre and its power structure, or the creation of a new centre” [9]. The authoritarians’ very conception of class is based on the centre, when defining the industrial proletariat as a historical subject – which is described in the letter “d” in the definition cited above – and excludes and marginalises other categories of the exploited classes that are in the periphery like, for example, the peasantry.

Libertarians do not think of the centre as a means, and struggle permanently against it, building their revolutionary model and their strategy of struggle in the direction of all the peripheries – explained by the letters that go from “a” to “e” in the definition above. That is, in its activity in the class struggle anarchism considers as elements of the exploited classes traditional communities, peasants, unemployed, underemployed, homeless and other categories frequently overlooked by the authoritarians. “Thus the struggle would be taken up by someone who really [feels] the effects of the system, and therefore [needs] urgently to abolish it” [10]. Anarchists stimulate social movements in the periphery from the grassroots and seek to build a popular organisation in order to combat – in solidarity – the existing order and create a new society that would be based on equality and freedom, and in which classes would no longer make sense. In this struggle anarchists utilise the means that contain, within themselves, the germs of the future society.

The anarchist conception of the social forces behind social change is much more general [...] than the Marxist formula. Unlike Marxism, it does not afford a specific role to the industrialised proletariat. In anarchist writings we find all kinds of workers and poor, all the oppressed, all those that somehow belong to peripheral groups or areas and are therefore potential factors in the revolutionary struggle for social change [11].
With this conception of revolutionary forces, we affirm that “everything indicates that it is in the periphery, in the ‘margins’, that the revolution keeps its flame alight” [12]. Therefore, our conclusion is that anarchism has to be in permanent contact with the peripheries in order to seek out its project of social transformation.


1. Dielo Trouda "Plataforma organizativa por una Unión General de Anarquistas". Translation to Spanish, revised and corrected by Frank Mintz. We use quotes from this translation made directly from the Russian, as the versions available to us in Portuguese and Spanish, both translated from the French, have several differences from the Russian original. Although the title of the document here is Spanish, we are referring to the same document translated into English as “The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists”.

2. Errico Malatesta, “Anarquismo y Anarquia”. Excerpt from Pensiero and Volontà, May 16, 1925. In: Vernon Richar

3. Luigi Fabbri, “Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism”

4. Murray Bookchin, “Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: an unbridgeable chasm”.

5. Ibid.

6. Frank Mintz, Anarquismo Social. São Paulo: Imaginário/Faísca/FARJ/CATL, 2006, p. 7.

7. FARJ. "A Propriedade é um Roubo". In: Protesta! 4. Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo: FARJ/CATL, 2007, p. 11.

8. As the author states, this classification is not intended to exhaust the relations and there are categories that overlap. The term "area", also according to the author, refers more to a social than a geographical concept. Rudolf de Jong. "Algumas Observações sobre a Concepção Libertária de Mudança Social". In: Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. “O Estado Autoritário e Movimentos Populares”. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1980, pp. 305-353. The original classification is on pages 309 and 310 of the book. This text was reissued in 2008 by Faísca Publications, in co-edition with the FARJ, with the title “A Concepção Libertária da Transformação Social Revolucionária”.

9. Ibid. p. 312

10. FARJ. "Por um Novo Paradigma de Análise do Panorama Internacional". In: Protesta! 4!, p. 31.

11. Rudolf de Jong. Op. Cit. p. 324.

12. FARJ. "Por um Novo Paradigma...". In: Protesta! 4!, p. 31.

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author by Hammer - Humboldt Grassrootspublication date Tue Mar 13, 2012 16:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As always is proving its usefulness in promoting international anarchist organization and cooperation. Thanks much all of you have been an inspiration and a great help.

I was wondering, where could a pamphlet version of this article be found (or purchased as the case may be). I was hoping there may have been a PDF link that I missed.

It would be a great have this pamphlet to pass around.

with Humboldt

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author by Jonathan - ZACFpublication date Wed Mar 14, 2012 21:50author email zacf at riseup dot netauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hammer, Zabalaza Books will probably be producing a PDF pamphlet of this in the next little while. It will be announced somewhere here, on Anarkismo, otherwise check out the ZB website from time to time.

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author by Zabalaza Books - ZACFpublication date Thu Mar 22, 2012 14:55author email zacf at riseup dot netauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Here's a link to the PDF

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