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Especifismo: Anarchist Organisation, Historical Perspectives and Influences

category brazil/guyana/suriname/fguiana | anarchist movement | policy statement author Monday March 05, 2012 17:11author by Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro - FARJ Report this post to the editors
Since the term ‘especifismo’ arrived in Brazil in the mid-1990s there has been a series of polemics or even confusions around it. There were, and unfortunately still are people who say that especifismo is not anarchism; they accuse especifista organisations of being political parties, among other absurdities. When we identify the FARJ as a specific anarchist organisation we are seeking, more than anything else, to locate within the discussion about anarchist organisation what the positions that we espouse are.



The lack of visible organisation, normal and accepted
by each one of its members makes possible the
establishment of arbitrary,
less libertarian organisations.

Luigi Fabbri

Since the term ‘especifismo’ arrived in Brazil in the mid-1990s there has been a series of polemics or even confusions around it. There were, and unfortunately still are people who say that especifismo is not anarchism; they accuse especifista organisations of being political parties, among other absurdities. When we identify the FARJ as a specific anarchist organisation we are seeking, more than anything else, to locate within the discussion about anarchist organisation what the positions that we espouse are.

The term especifismo was created by the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (Federación Anarquista Uruguaya - FAU) and, by it, we refer to a conception of anarchist organisation that has two fundamental axes: organisation and social work/insertion. These two axes are based on the classical concepts of differentiated actuation of anarchism in the social and political levels (Bakuninist concept) and specific anarchist organisation (Malatestan concept). Therefore, the term especifismo, besides having been recently conceived, refers to anarchist organisational practices that have existed since the nineteenth century. In addition to these two axes, there is a series of other organisational questions that are defined within especifismo and that we seek to develop next. Therefore, the two main classical references of especifismo are Bakunin and Malatesta. This does not mean that we disregard other important theorists such as Proudhon and Kropotkin – we have used many of their theoretical references in this text – but we believe that, for the discussion on anarchist organisation, Bakunin and Malatesta have proposals more suitable for our work.

In the following paragraphs we intend to briefly resume some discussions that we’ve had throughout this text, and especially this last chapter, and locate them and compare them with other positions that exist within anarchism. We believe that more than affirming the positions we advocate – what we’ve done so far – it is fitting to realise a few fraternal critiques of other conceptions of organisation (or disorganisation) present within anarchism and, based on a few selected points, to compare our conceptions with others.

Perhaps the best contrast with the especifista model of organisation would be what we call the synthesis model, or synthesism. This model was theoretically formalised in two homonymous documents called ‘The Anarchist Synthesis’, one by Sebastièn Faure and the other by Volin. Historically and globally it was the Platform of Dielo Trouda that established this contrast. We intend to resume part of this debate about anarchist organisation although, in our view, especifismo is broader that Platformism – even though it [the latter] possesses a significant influence.

Synthesis advocates a model of anarchist organisation in which are all the anarchists (anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-individualists etc.) and, therefore, it presents many of the characteristics that we criticise below. We know that some of these characteristics are not necessarily linked to the synthesist model of organisation. However, it is undeniable that many of them are reproduced in organisations of this type, primarily through the influence of individualism, but not only this. We recognise that within synthesist organisations there are also serious militants committed to social anarchism and, therefore, we do not want the criticisms to seem generalised. Although we never question whether these organisations are anarchist (for us, they all are), they do not, in most cases, converge with our way of conceiving anarchist organisation.

First of all, when dealing in this text with the “specific anarchist organisation” from this particular perspective, we are not speaking about any anarchist organisation. There are diverse anarchist organisations that are not especifista. Therefore, especifismo implies much more than to advocate anarchist organisation.

The first difference is in the way of understanding anarchism itself. As we noted at the beginning of this text we understand anarchism as an ideology, that is, a “set of ideas, motivations, aspirations, values, a structure or system of concepts that have a direct connection with action – that which we call political practice”. In this case we seek to differentiate this understanding of anarchism from another, purely abstract and theoretical, which only encourages free thinking, without necessarily conceiving a model of social transformation. Anarchism, thought of only from this model of critical observation of life, offers an aesthetic freedom and endless possibilities. However, if so conceived, it does not offer real possibilities of social transformation, since it is not put into practice, into action. It does not have the political practice that seeks the final objectives.

Especifismo advocates an anarchism that, as an ideology, seeks to conceive a model of performance that transforms the society of today into libertarian socialism by means of the social revolution. This process necessarily involves the organisation of the exploited classes into a popular organisation and demands the use of violence, understood primarily as a response to the violence of the current system. Other anarchist currents are against violence and believe that social transformation can take place in other ways.

Another difference is around the very question of organisation. For us, organisation is an absolutely central question when dealing with anarchism. Without it, we believe it to be impossible to conceive any serious political project which has the objective of arriving at the social revolution and libertarian socialism.

There are anarchist currents that support “anti-organisational” or even spontaneist positions, and believe that any form of organisation is authoritarian or averse to anarchism. For these currents, the formation of a desk to co-ordinate an assembly is authoritarian. Anyway, for these anarchists the struggle must take place spontaneously. The gains, if they come, must come spontaneously. The connection between struggles must be spontaneous and even capitalism and the state, if overthrown, would be done so by a spontaneous mobilisation. Perhaps, even after an eventual social revolution, things will evolve on their own, falling into place effortlessly. These anarchists believe that prior organisation is not necessary, others think that it is not even desirable.

Some anarchist individuals that defend these points of view and who are willing to do social work cannot deal with the authoritarian forces and, without the proper organisation, end up being labourers and “sleeves” for authoritarian projects or they leave frustrated because they cannot obtain spaces in social movements.

We noted earlier that we conceive of the specific anarchist organisation as an organisation of active minority. Thus, it is an organisation of anarchists that group themselves together at the political and ideological level and that carry out their main activity at the social level, which is broader, aiming to be the ferment of struggle. In the especifista model there is necessarily this differentiation between the political and social levels of activity.

Differently, there are anarchists who conceive of the anarchist organisation as a broad grouping that federates all those who call themselves anarchists, serving as a convergence space for the realisation of actions with complete autonomy. In anarchism, broadly speaking, this division between the social and political levels is also not accepted by all the currents, which understand the anarchist organisation in a diffuse manner, it being able to be a social movement, an organisation, an affinity group, a study group, a community, a co-operative etc.

Even the concept of anarcho-syndicalism, at various times, sought to suppress this difference between levels of activity, blending anarchist ideology with trade unionism. These and other attempts to ideologise social movements, in our understanding, weaken both the social movements – which no longer operate around concrete issues like land, housing, employment etc. – as well as anarchism itself, since it does not allow for the deepening of ideological struggles, which occur in the midst of the social movement. It also weakens, since the goal of these anarchists to turn all the militants of the social movements into anarchists is impossible, unless they significantly reduce and weaken the movements. In this way, or even on seeing that it is natural to find people of different ideologies in social movements that will never be anarchists, these anarchists get frustrated, and often shy away from struggles. As a consequence of this anarchism is often confined to itself.

The anarchist organisation of active minority is often understood, by other anarchist currents, as similar to the authoritarian vanguard organisation. As we have made sure to point out, when we conceive this separation between the social and political level we do not mean to say by this that we wish to be in front of the social movements, nor that the political level has any hierarchy or domination in relation to the social level.

There is also a difference in relation to the preferred space for the practice of anarchism. We especifistas believe that this space is the class struggle. Primarily because we consider that we live not only in a society, but in a class society. Regardless of how we think of the differences of these classes, it seems impossible to us to deny that domination and exploitation take place at different levels in our society and that the economic factor has a lot of influence on this. For us, anarchism was born among the people and that’s where it should be, taking a clear position in favour of the exploited classes that are in permanent conflict in the class struggle. Therefore, when we talk about “where to sow the seeds of anarchism”, for us it is clear that it has to be within the class struggle; in the spaces in which the contradictions of capitalism are most evident.

There are anarchists that do not support this class struggle bias of anarchism and, what is worse, there are those that accuse it of being assistencialist*, or of wanting “to apologise for the poor”. Denying the class struggle, most of these anarchists believe that as the classic definition of bourgeois and proletarian classes does not take today’s society into account, then one could say that classes no longer exist; or that this would be an anachronistic concept. We fundamentally disagree with these positions and believe that, regardless of how we define classes – whether we put more or less emphasis on the economic character etc. – it is undeniable that there are contexts and circumstances in which people suffer more from the effects of capitalism. And it is in these contexts and these circumstances that we want to prioritise our work.

When we seek to apply anarchism to the class struggle we assert what we call social work, and which we defined earlier as “the activity that the anarchist organisation performs in the midst of the class struggle, causing anarchism to interact with the exploited classes”. As we also said, for us, this should be the main activity of the specific anarchist organisation. We argue that, through social work, the anarchist organisation should seek social insertion, “the process of influencing social movements through anarchist practice”.

There are anarchists who do not defend this work with a view to social insertion. Part do not believe that it is a priority, and the other part, which is more complicated, believe that it is authoritarian. For anarchists who think that social work/ insertion is not a priority, it seems that other activities would be more effective in the development of anarchism – however it is often not stated. Besides, at least apparently, not having a strategic formulation what happens in practice is that these anarchists seek to work with propaganda, very restricted to publications, events and culture. As we have already emphasised, this propaganda is also central for us, but it is not enough if done without the backing of social work and insertion. With this support propaganda is much more effective. Therefore, propaganda, in especifismo, should be performed with these two biases: educational/ cultural and struggle with social movements.

Anarchists who do not believe that social work/ insertion are, nor should be a priority prefer to work in other mediums, far away from the class struggle, from social movements, from people of different ideologies. Some say that as members of society they already have social insertion. Often, they become sectarian, managing to get along only with their peers, and “ghettoising” anarchism. This explains the sectarianism of some anarchists, which occurs in much smaller proportion with specific organisations.

Much more complicated than the above position is the position advocated by anarchists that are against social work and insertion. These anarchists believe that as they are often not poor, as they are often not in social movements (they are not landless, for example) it is authoritarian to work with a poor community or even with social movements, since “they are from outside this reality”. For them it is authoritarian for a person who has somewhere to live to support the struggle of the homeless; it is authoritarian to frequent a community movement without being from the community; it is authoritarian to support the waste-pickers’ struggle if you are not one of them. For these anarchists there is only legitimacy in working with popular movements if you are a “popular”, and if you are part of the reality of the movement. As these anarchists are generally not in these conditions, they do not approximate themselves to social movements nor to the class struggle. They end up making of their anarchism a “movement in itself”, which is characterised by being essentially of the middle class and intellectuals, by not seeking contact with social and popular struggles, by not being in contact with people of different ideology. Indeed, this anarchism of the intellectual and middle class, when not seeking social work and insertion necessarily ends up in one of two ways. Either it abandon the proposal for social transformation, or constitute itself into a group that fights for the people, not with the people – assuming the position of vanguard and not of active minority.

Social work, for these militants, is often compared to the “entryism” of the authoritarian left – people that enter into social movements to make them work in their favour. In most cases they advocate spontaneity since “to come from outside”, “to put anarchism within social movements” is authoritarian. According to them ideas should arise spontaneously. They denounce discussion, persuasion, convincing, exchange, influence as external to social movements and, therefore, authoritarian.

We especifistas also radically disagree with this position against social work and insertion. As we explained, for us anarchism should not be confined to itself, nor shy away from social movements and people of different ideologies. It should serve as a tool, like yeast, as the engine of the struggle of our time. For this, anarchism, instead of hiding, should confront reality and seek to transform it. For this transformation it is useless “to preach to the converted”; we have, necessarily, to interact with non-anarchists.

Since we understand that class is not defined by origin but by the position that you advocate in the struggle, we believe that to support social movements, to assist mobilisations and organisations different to the reality in which you are included is an ethical obligation for any militant committed to the end of class society. Finally, we believe that social work brings necessary practice to anarchism, which has an immense contribution in the development of the theoretical and ideological line of the organisation. This activity is for us extremely important in our theoretical development, since it means that we theorise while having knowledge of reality and the practical application of anarchism in struggles. Groups and organisations that do not have social work tend to radicalise a discourse that does not have support in practice. When this happens, the tendency is for an ultra-radical and revolutionary discourse to exist – often accusing others of being reformists etc. – but that does not go beyond theory.

As we have seen, in especifismo there is ideological and theoretical unity, an alignment in relation to the theoretical and ideological aspects of anarchism. This political line is collectively constructed and everyone in the organisation is obliged to follow it. Because we consider anarchism something very broad, with very different or even contradictory positions, it appears necessary to us that, between all these positions, we must extract an ideological and theoretical line to be advocated and developed by the organisation. As we have emphasised this line must, necessarily, be linked to practice since we believe that “to theorise effectively it is essential to act”.

For anarchists that do not advocate this unity the anarchist organisation could work with different ideological and theoretical lines. Each anarchist or group of anarchists may have their interpretation of anarchism and their own theory. This is motive for various conflicts and splits in organisations with this conception. As their is no agreement on initial questions the fights are frequent, as some think that anarchist should do work with social movements, others find this authoritarian and a “Marxist thing”; some think that the function of anarchism is to enhance the ego of individuals, others are radically against this, and so on. For us, there is no way to have an effective practice or even constitute an organisation without agreeing on some “initial questions”. In organisations that do not work with ideological and theoretical unity there is no development in this direction, since with so many problems on the simplest questions, the most complex don’t even come to be discussed. Bakunin was right when we said, “who embraces much, tightens little” [185]. It is important

to understand that the division that exists between anarchists on this point is much deeper than is commonly believed, and that it equally implies an irreconcilable theoretical disagreement. I say this to respond to my good friends, who favouring an agreement at any price, claim: “We should not create problems of method! The idea is one alone and the goal is the same; we therefore remain united without being torn apart by a small disagreement over tactics”. I, on the contrary, realised long ago that we are torn apart precisely because we’re very close, because we are artificially close. Under the apparent veneer of the community of three or four ideas – abolition of the state, abolition of private property, revolution, anti-parliamentarianism – there is an enormous difference in the conception of each one of these theoretical statements. The difference is so great that it prevents us from taking the same path without prosecuting us and without reciprocally neutralising our work or, if we wanted to, remaining in peace without renouncing what we believe to be true. I repeat: there is not only a difference of method, but a big difference of ideas. [186]
Besides ideological and theoretical unity, especifistas advocate strategic and tactical unity. To act with strategy, as we have seen, implies taking into account a plan of all the practical actions performed by the organisation, seeking to verify where you are, where you want to go and how. Anarchism that works with strategic and tactical unity makes of planning and its alignment in practical application a strong organisational pillar. This because we believe that lack of strategy disperses efforts, causing many of them to be lost. We advocate a model in which a way forward is collectively discussed, and together with this path, we have established priorities and responsibilities assigned to militants. The priorities and responsibilities mean that everyone is not going to be able to do what passes through their head, whenever they want. Each one will have an obligation to the organisation to accomplish that which they undertook and that which was defined as a priority. Obviously we seek to reconcile the activities that each one likes to do with the priorities set by the organisation, but we don’t always have to do only what we like to do. An especifista model implies that we have to do things that we don’t like very much or to cease doing some things that we like a lot. This is to ensure that the organisation proceeds with strategy, with everyone rowing the boat in the same direction.

We criticise with emphasis organisations that do not work with strategy. For us it is not possible to work in an organisation in which each militant or group does what they think best, or simply that which they like to do, believing themselves to be contributing to a common whole. Generally, when anarchists of all types are grouped in an organisation, without having strategic affinities, there is no agreement on how to act. That is, it is not possible to establish a way of proceeding, and there is only one agreement: that things must keep going.

How do you conceive an organisation in which you seek to reconcile a group that believes it should act as a specific organisation in a social movement with a group that thinks that the priority should be social interaction among friends, group therapy or even the exaltation of the individual, considering work with social movements as authoritarian (or even Marxist or assistencialist)? There are two ways of managing these differences: either you discuss the issues, and live between fights and stress which consume a large part of the time; or you simply do not touch on the issues. Most organisations of this type opt for the second form.

In order to establish a degree of co-ordination in action, necessary co-ordination, I believe, among people who tend toward the same goal, certain conditions are imposed: a number of rules linking each one to all, certain frequently revised pacts and agreements – if missing all this, if each one works as they please, the more serious people will find themselves in a situation where the efforts of some will be neutralised by those of others. From this will result disharmony and not the harmony and serene confidence to which we tend. [187]
Ideological and theoretical unity and strategic and tactical unity are attained through the collective decision-making process adopted by specific organisations, which is an attempt at consensus and, if this is not possible, the vote – the majority winning. As we have also emphasised, in this case the whole organisation adopts the winning decision. Differently, there are organisations that only work with consensus, often allowing one or other person to have an exacerbated influence on a decision-making process that involves a much larger number of people. Seeking consensus at any cost, and afraid of splitting, these organisations allow for one or another person to have a disproportionate weight in decisions, only in order to achieve consensus. Other times, they spend hours on discussions of little importance only to seek consensus. We have in mind that the decision-making process is a means and not an end in itself.

The obligation of everyone to follow the same path – which is a rule in especifismo – is a commitment that the organisation has to its strategy, because, if every time a decision taken does not please some of the militants, and this party refuses to perform the work, it will be impossible for the organisation to move forward. In the case of voting it is important to bear in mind that, at one time, some will win the vote and work on their proposal; at another time they will lose and work on the proposal of other comrades. With this form of decision-making it gives more importance to collective deliberations than to individual points of view.

There is a difference, even, on the central points that favour the specific organisation: the commitment, responsibility and self-discipline of militants within the organisation. In the especifista model there is a high level of this militant commitment. Thus, it is essential that the militants assume commitments before the organisation and implement them. Militant commitment imprints a link between militant and organisation, which is a mutual relationship in which the organisation is responsible for the militant, as well as the militant being responsible for the organisation. As well as the organisation owing satisfaction to the militant, the militant owes satisfaction to the organisation.

Lack of commitment, responsibility and self-discipline constitutes a major problem in many anarchist groups and organisations. It is very common for people to come together and to more-or-less participate in activities, doing only that which interests them, often participating in decisions, assuming commitments and not fulfilling them or, simply, not assuming commitments. There are lots of organisations that are compliant with this lack of militant commitment. It is undeniable that, for this reason, these organisations are “cooler” to be part of, however, they are not very effective from a militant point of view. As militancy, for us, is something necessary in the struggle for a free and egalitarian society we do not believe that it will always be “cool”. If we had to choose between a more effective model of militancy and another more “cool”, we would have to opt for effectiveness.

For work with militant commitment especifismo maintains an organisation with levels of commitment. As we have explained, we advocate the logic of concentric circles in which all militants have a well-defined space in the organisation, a space which is determined by the level of commitment that the militant wants to assume. The more they want to commit themselves, the more inside the organisation they will be and the greater will be their deliberating power. Therefore, both at the political level as well as the social level there are well-defined entrance criteria, from the instances of supporter or groupings of tendency to the specific anarchist organisation. Only militants with ideological affinity with the organisation are inside the specific anarchist organisation.

Contrary to the especifista model, there are other organisations whose only criteria for the entrance of militants is their definition as anarchists, regardless of what conception of anarchism they have. Some people participate a bit in the organisation, others are more committed; some assume more responsibilities than others and all have the same power of deliberation. Thus, many deliberate on activities that they are not going to perform, that is, they determine what others will do. When an organisation allows for someone to deliberate something and not assume responsibilities, or that they assume responsibilities and do not meet them it allows for an authoritarianism of those who deliberate and put work on the backs of other comrades. Finally, in this other model, each one involves themselves in the way they perceive best, appearing when they think they should, and there is little emphasis on the question of militant commitment. Many, when they are questioned, claim themselves victims of authoritarianism. As we have explained, for us this model of organisation, besides overloading the more responsible militants, ends up by allowing this discrepancy of people who do not deliberate and work in the same proportion.

Therefore, we do not want to be this great “umbrella” that covers all types of anarchists. These broad (in)definitions apparently group more anarchists in the organisation, however, we believe that we should not opt for the criterion of quantity, but the quality of militants.

There is no doubt that if we avoid properly specifying our true character the number of our adherents could become greater. [...] It is evident, on the other hand, that if we proclaim loudly our principles the number of our adherents will be less, but at least they will be serious adherents on whom we can count. [188]
A relevant difference also occurs around the issue of anarchist individualism. Especifismo means a complete and absolute rejection of anarchist individualism. For this reason it differs from other organisations that are willing to work with individualists. For us, there are two types of individualists in anarchism. One type, which was more common in the past, of people that prefer to work alone, but that have in mind the same project as us. In these people we only have to criticise the fact that, being disorganised, they cannot potentialise the results of their work. Another type, more in evidence today, renounces the socialist project. Based on the anarchist critique of the state they have little critique of capitalism, and no activity in the direction of socially transforming the reality in which we live. Putting themselves in the condition of simple critical observers of society, they construct an anarchism from secondary thinkers and references, simply around criticism. They don’t have any societal project, much less coherent action that points towards this new society. We might ask:
what then remains for us of anarchist individualism? The denial of class struggle, the denial of the principle of an anarchist organisation, whose purpose is the free society of equal workers: and even more, empty quackery encouraging workers unhappy with their existence to take part by resorting to personal solutions, supposedly open to them as liberated individuals. [189]
Thus they exacerbate the role of individual freedom, which, removed from collective freedom becomes merely an egotistical pleasure for the delight of a few who can, through their privileges within capitalism, afford it. In reality, individual freedom can only exist in collective freedom, for the slavery of others limits the freedom of each, and full individual freedom can only be realised at the moment in which, collectively, all are free. We agree with Bakunin when he said:
I can only consider and feel myself free in the presence and in relation to other men. [...] I am only truly free when all human beings around me, men and women, are equally free. The other’s freedom, far from being a limitation or denial of my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary condition and confirmation. Only the freedom of others makes me truly free, in such a way that, the more numerous are the free men that surround me, and the more extensive and broad their freedom, the greater and deeper will become my freedom. [...] My personal freedom thus confirmed by the freedom of all extends to infinity. [190]
For us it is impossible to seek individual freedom in a society like ours, in which millions do not have access to the most basic necessities of a human being. One cannot think of a purely individual anarchism as a way of positioning yourself in the world, of having a different lifestyle. For individualists, in most cases, to be an anarchist means to be an artist, a bohemian, to promote the sexual freedom of having open relationships or with more than one partner, to wear different clothes, to have a radical haircut, to behave extravagantly, to eat different foods, to define yourself personally, to fulfill yourself personally, to be against revolution (?!), to be against socialism (?!), to have a discourse without rhyme or reason – enjoying the freedom of aesthetics – in short, becoming apolitical. We disagree fundamentally with this position and believe that the influences in this direction are disastrous to anarchism, deterring serious and committed militants. Finally, we agree with Malatesta when he stressed:
It is true we would like, all of us, to be in agreement and to unite into a single, powerful beam all the forces of anarchism. But we do not believe in the soundness of organisations made by the force of concessions and restrictions, where there is no real sympathy and agreement among members. It is better to be disunited than badly united. [191]
For us choosing the most appropriate model of anarchist organisation is crucial so that we have the most appropriate means, consistent with the ends we seek to achieve. If we advocate especifismo, which is a form of anarchist organisation, it is because we believe that it is today more suitable for the work we intend to perform. We understand that there are anarchists who do not agree with especifismo, and we do not think that they are less anarchist because of it. We only demand respect for our choice, such as we respect those who have made other choices.


We now turn, briefly, to especifismo's historical perspective and influences. As we have seen the term especifismo was developed by the FAU and only arrived in Brazil in the late twentieth century. Nevertheless, this term, more than creating a new conception of anarchist organisation sought to group a series of already existing anarchist organisational conceptions, which took shape starting from the nineteenth century. The especifismo of the FAU asserts the influence of Bakunin and Malatesta, of the class struggle of anarcho-syndicalism, of expropriator anarchism; all this within a Latin American context. We will attempt to explain in the following paragraphs, from our own conception, how we understand the historic experience of especifismo: the main past experiences, in terms of anarchist organisation, which influence us today.

Especifismo's first historic reference is Bakunin, from the organisational conceptions that constituted the activity of the libertarians within the International Workers’ Association (IWA), and which gave body to anarchism.

The IWA was articulated from the visits of the representatives of the French workers’ associations to England, where they contacted English and exiled German union leaders – amongst the latter, Karl Marx. Politically, the composition of the IWA appeared heterogeneous: Marxists, Blanquists, republicans, trade unionists and Proudhonian federalists. The Marxists ended up by forming a majority in decision-making in the Central Committee, aligning themselves with members of other currents and taking control of that body. This situation persisted even after the substitution of the Central Committee by the General Council in the 1866 Geneva Congress. There one saw that the anarchists, be they inspired by Proudhon or followers of Bakunin, did not have any force in the central executive of the association. They were more influential through the grassroots, showing this in the congresses.

Two tendencies developed within the IWA: one centralist and one federalist. Among the authoritarian centralists stood out the communists, theoretically and politically guided by Marx, who counted on the IWA as an instrument to bring the proletariat into political power. They sought to constitute a workers’ state apparatus for the transformation of capitalist society into communism through an intermediate period of re-organisation, necessarily to be undertaken under a dictatorship. Among the libertarian federalists were the anarchists, who advocated social revolution with the immediate abolition of all bodies of authority and the formation of a new society based on the free and federative organisation of workers, according to their occupations, problems and interests.

This basic divergence had been present from the beginning and was already clearly visible at the Geneva Congress, the first plenary meeting of the International. Against the authoritarians were the Proudhonian mutualists, who led the debate supported by collectivists that already belonged to the IWA before Bakunin had affiliated himself to it. In the Lausanne (1867) and Brussels (1868) Congresses collectivism had rapidly come to gain ground in relation to mutualism, and in Basel (1869) the collectivist attendance was in strong predominance among those averse to authority, and strengthened by the presence of Bakunin. In the competing camp Marx, while avoiding to make a personal commitment in the congresses, made his interventions through programmes, reports, newsletters and proposals of the Council. In Basel, Bakunin presented a proposal against the right of inheritance. Marx opposed him, but the proposal was approved.

Still in the context of the IWA Bakunin, together with other anarchist militants, formed the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, which would be accepted as a section of the IWA in 1869. We understand the Alliance as a specific anarchist organisation (political level) that operated within the IWA (social level). The Alliance was an organisation of active minority composed of the “most secure, most dedicated, most intelligent and most energetic members, in a word, by the closest” [192]. It was formed to act secretly in order to address the issues that one could not publicly address and to act as a catalyst in the labour movement. The Alliance defined the relation between the social and political levels:

The Alliance is the necessary complement of the International... – But the International and the Alliance, while tending towards the same final objective, pursue different goals at the same time. One has as its mission to unite the labouring masses, the millions of workers, across the differences of nations and of countries, across the borders of all states, into one immense and compact body; the other, the Alliance, has as its mission to give to the masses a truly revolutionary direction. The programmes of the one and the other, without being opposites at all, are different by the degree of their respective development. That of the International, if we take it seriously, is also in germ, but only in germ, the whole programme of the Alliance. The programme of the Alliance is the ultimate explanation of the programme of the International. [193]
The practice of the Alliance within the IWA caused the authoritarian tendency to seek to isolate and discredit the practice of the libertarians. After the Basel Congress attacks on the collectivist group intensified. In 1870 Marx directed two private communications of the General Council to the IWA sections, with severe criticisms of the Bakuninist positions. With this he prepared the climate for the London Conference of the following year, during which the Marxist group attempted to impose the doctrine of the conquest of state power, and for the Hague Congress of 1872. In this plenary, he urged for the expulsion of Bakunin from the IWA, which he obtained. By 1874 the International was defunct.

The second historical reference of especifismo is Malatesta, a militant who came to join the Bakuninist Alliance and who was a representative of the organisationalist current of anarchist communism. Following the collectivist tradition of the anarchism of Bakunin’s time – which advocated, in the future society, distribution to each according to their work – was born the anarchist communist current – which has since then advocated distribution to each according to their needs. Malatesta was characterised by defending, within this current, positions against evolutionism and scientism present in a large part of the socialist movement. For Malatesta, the future would not be necessarily determined and could only be modified by will, by a voluntarist intervention in events in order to provide the desired social transformation.

Outspoken critic of individualism, Malatesta advocated an anarchism based completely on organisation, an anarchism that we could call “organisationalist”, and that, like the anarchism of Bakunin, maintained a distinct role at the social and political level. At the political level, Malatesta developed his conception of the specific anarchist organisation, which he called the anarchist party [194]: “by anarchist party we understand all those who want to contribute to achieving anarchy, and that, consequently, they need to set an objective to be achieved and a road to travel”[195]. This organisation should act in the so-called “mass movements” of the time and influence them as much as possible, and the unions were the preferred terrain chosen for anarchist activity. Malatesta clearly pointed out the differences between the political level of anarchism and the social level, the space of insertion which was constituted, at the time, by syndicalism:

In my opinion, the labour movement is no more than a means – though there is no doubt that it is the best means we have. But I refuse to accept this means as an end [...]. Syndicalists, on the other hand, have a certain propensity to transform the means into ends and consider the parts as a whole. And, in this way, for some of us syndicalism begins to be transformed into a new doctrine that threatens the very existence of anarchism. [...] I lamented, in the past, that comrades isolated themselves from the labour movement. I lament today that, at the other extreme, many of us allow ourselves to be swallowed by the same movement. Once again, the organisation of the working class, the strike, direct action, boycott, sabotage and armed insurrection itself are only the means; anarchy is the end. [196]
Advocating an anarchism that seeks social transformation from will, Malatesta believed, as we believe today, that the specific anarchist organisation should act within the class struggle, in the midst of the social movements and, with them, reach the social revolution and libertarian socialism – which he called anarchy. For this Malatesta sought to create both specific anarchist organisations, as in the case of the Italian Anarchist Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Italian Anarchist Union; as well as organisations that acted at the social level, as in the cases of the Italian Syndical Union (USI), the Labour Alliance, and the unions in Argentina. The positions of Malatesta were widely disseminated by Luigi Fabbri, another Italian anarchist communist, who also made significant contribution to especifismo.

An important experience for especifismo, in our conception, was also that of Magonismo in the radical phase of the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM). Ricardo Flores Magón, its most active militant, joined the PLM in 1901 – it having been founded a year earlier. During the Porfírio Diaz dictatorship both the PLM and the journal Regeneración were major opponents of the regime. From the second half of the 1900s the PLM radicalised, taking a more combative discourse and creating an internal tension within the party, which removed the less radical elements. The PLM did not compete in elections and served only as a space for the political and horizontal articulation of the libertarian revolutionaries of the time – without objectives of taking the state and establishing a dictatorship – to put an end to the Diaz government, establishing libertarian communism in turn. The PLM became clandestine and organised more than 40 armed resistance groups throughout Mexico and also had indigenous members, known for their struggle for community rights and against capitalist property. After the radicalisation, Francisco Madero disagreed that peaceful means to take Diaz’s power would be exhausted.

The electoral fraud of 1910 led by Diaz would initiate the explosion of the Mexican Revolution. With the arrest of Madero his opponent in the elections managed to get himself re-elected. Exiled in San Antonio, Texas, Madero drew up the San Luis Plan, calling for an armed uprising, besides declaring null the 1910 elections, rejecting the election of Diaz and instituting himself as provisional president. Many rebels responded to the revolutionary call; among them Emiliano Zapata, who played an important role in the organisation of the indigenous people of the Morelos region, and Pancho Villa, a former cattle thief and bank robber, long recognised by the humble of the Durango and Chihuahua regions. They were united in an anti-re-electionist front, which gave each group a relative degree of autonomy and independence. In 1911, in the midst of the revolution and with the support of the North American Industrial Worker of the World (IWW) union the anarchists, with Magón at the fore, occupied the region of Baja California, taking important cities like Mexicali. At the end of January they constituted the Socialist Republic of Baja California, the first socialist republic in the world. The Magonistas also had victories in cities such as Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Sonora, Guadalupe and Casas Grandes; spaces that would be lost after the repression occasioned by the Madero government.

The revolts organised by Zapata in Morelos and the Ayala Plan constituted themselves as instruments of the peasants’ struggle for the revolution, always inspired by the slogan, “Land and Freedom”, first sung by Praxédis Guerrero and spread by the Magonistas. Fruit of this important relationship between Zapatistas and Magonistas was Zapata’s invitation for Magón to bring Regeneración to Morelos.

After that Mexico sank into a period of civil war and tried to establish a Convention at the end of 1914. The events that took place in sequence, like the attempted taking of Mexico City by Villa and Zapata, the convening of the Constituent Assembly by Carranza, who would later be elected president and then be assassinated; and the conflicts that followed in the country eventually ended up forming the backdrop of the decline of the revolutionary period in the country.

Another important historic reference to especifismo is the anarchist participation in the Russian Revolution. In early 1917 several regiments mutinied in St. Petersburg, a provisional government arose acclaimed by parliament and the soviets of 1905 were reborn. The slogan, “all power to the soviets” was evident. In the field, in southern Ukraine the peasants of Gulyai-Polye, a village that since the 1905 revolution had had strong anarchist organisation, founded the Peasants Union; which decided to fight for the social revolution independent of the government, seeking self-management of the means of production. In Petrograd it claimed workers’ control in the factories and Kronstadt sailors, carrying red and black flags, marched on the city with the goal of instituting a soviet and self-managed republic. In October anarchist and Bolshevik soldiers acting in concert were able to take the Winter Palace, then came a divide between the authoritarian and libertarian revolutionary elements. The former were for seizing the state apparatus and moving towards the dictatorship of the (Bolshevik) Party, directed by an all-powerful central committee; the latter for libertarian and self-managed communism in the form of councils of soviets of workers, peasants and the people in arms.

Progressively, the Bolsheviks began to deny, suppress, impede and, finally, prohibit the spread of libertarian ideas and practices. As early as 1918 the Bolsheviks positioned themselves against the workers’ control of factories, encouraging the blind discipline of workers to the party, and were gradually consolidating the prohibition of opposition to the party. They militarised labour, expelled elected leaders from the soviets, forced these [the soviets] to submit to the central power of the party and prohibited strikes.

In the struggle against the White Army the insurrectionary army of Makhno in the Ukraine allied with the Bolsheviks more than once. On defeating the White threat the Makhnovist army was attacked and persecuted by the Red Army, forcing the survivors to take refuge in other countries. It was the end of the process of self-managed socialisation in the Ukraine, repressively reversed by the Bolsheviks in favour of statist and totalitarian forms of organisation and social control under a new ruling class. The Kronstadt sailors – who demanded that the delegates to the soviets go back to being chosen by election; freedom for anarchists and other leftist groups; that unions and peasant organisations return to being united; the release of political prisoners; the abolition of political officers; and the same food for all – were killed by the Bolsheviks.

Despite this proletarian and libertarian revolution having been usurped and dominated by the Bolsheviks, as from their seizure of the state apparatus, the anarchists sinned by omission on the matter of organisation. This reflection was formalised years later by Russian immigrants who were in Europe, in a document called the Organisational Platform of Libertarian Communists. Makhno, Arshinov and others formalised in this document their considerations on anarchist organisation, informed by the experiences of the Russian Revolution. This document brought forward important insights about the importance of the involvement of anarchists in the class struggle, the need for a violent social revolution that overthrows capitalism and the state and that establishes libertarian communism. There is also an important contribution on the question of the transition from capitalism to libertarian communism and on the defence of the revolution. The Platform advocates an anarchist organisation, at the political level, that acts in the midst of social movements, a social level, and emphasises the role of active minority of the anarchist organisation. Moreover, it makes important contributions on the model of organisation of the political level of the anarchists. For these reasons, it is an important document and has considerable influence in especifismo.

However, we do not believe that especifismo is the same thing as Platformism. As we have been trying to show throughout this text, for us, especifismo is much broader than Platformism and has its theoretical basis in the organisational conceptions of Bakunin and Malatesta. For us, the Platform both draws from these authors and brings new contributions and should therefore be considered as a contribution to especifismo, but not the most important contribution. Another factor to be taken into account is that the Platform was written about an experience of the military action of anarchists in the midst of a revolutionary process, and should not be removed from this context. We understand that this form of organisation, as expressed in the Platform, should not be applied in all its details in non-revolutionary situations. It is more a contribution to the discussion of anarchist military action than a document to discuss anarchist organisation in all different contexts.

As with the Russian Revolution, we also consider the Spanish Revolution of 1936 a reference. During those years a social revolution was effectively carried out. A revolution under fire that wanted to reach all sectors, from unjust economic structures to the daily life of the population; from the decrepit notions of hierarchy to the historic inequalities between men and women. And all this was the work of the anarchists.

The influences of anarchism were brought to Spain by Giuseppe Fanelli, alliancist and militant very close to Bakunin. Founded in 1910, the National Confederation of Labour (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo - CNT) was the greatest expression of anarcho-syndicalism in Spain and lived, until the 1920s, between moments of ebb and flow with constant repression, of which it was victim. Founded in 1927, the Iberian Anarchist Federation (Federación Anarquista Ibérica - FAI) was a clandestine organisation dedicated to revolutionary activity which, among its objectives, sought to oppose the reformist currents in the CNT. The action achieved success, and the revolutionary anarchists obtained hegemony in the CNT.

In 1936 the Popular Front (bringing together the parties of the left) was able to win at the polls. The anarchists of the CNT ended up tactically supporting the Front because this would mean the release of imprisoned comrades. With the endorsement of the CNT the victory of the Popular Front was made possible. However, the fascists did not accept the defeat. On July 18,1936, the Phalangist coup movement breaks out, among which Francisco Franco stood out. Thus began the revolutionary explosion that would throw the country into three years of civil war. In the first phase (July 1936 to early 1937) the anarchists are among the most prominent groups. The action of militants in areas such as Catalonia was exemplary. The republican structures turned into popular organisations in an intense and successful process of collectivisation. Factories were occupied and immediate social measures put into practice, such as: equal pay between men and women, free medical service, permanent salary in case of sickness, reduced working hours and increased pay. Metallurgical, timber industry, transport, food, health, media and entertainment services and rural properties were collectivised. In order to combat the fascist forces they set up militias that advanced on some fronts, especially the column headed by Buenaventura Durruti.

In the second phase (1937 to 1939) the progress of the counter-revolution was devastating. The Phalangists had massive support from Hitler and Mussolini. The resistance was poorly armed and outnumbered. The International Brigades, formed to halt the Nazi-Fascist advance, had few fighters. Furthermore there was no help from the liberal nations (France and England), which once again washed their hands. The “support” from the USSR proved to be a true “Trojan Horse”. Within the struggle against fascism a parallel hunt – promoted by the Stalinists – for the anarchists and unorthodox Labour Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) was taking place. The advances made by the CNT/FAI were destroyed by those who sought to re-establish the foundations of the state (moderate sectors of the Republic, Communists and Socialists). The Communists began to gain key positions in the government. The anarchists had to give in once more to unfavourable circumstances: some members of the CNT ended up participating in the government.

In Brazil we can say that, since the especifista current was not in fact realised in its fullness, our ideological references relate to some initiatives of the past and others we think signatories of the same current in the country’s more recent history. We understand that from the earliest years of the twentieth century anarchists linked to “organisationalism”, in particular followers of Malatesta, struggled to organise a possible number of comrades with a view to forming an organisation with common strategies and tactics, based on tactical agreements and clear group understanding.

It was these who were responsible for conducting the First Congress of Brazilian Workers in 1906, through the initiatives of the most breathtaking of the national anarchism. These anarchists prepared the conditions that allowed for the full insertion of anarchists in the unions and in social life, with the formation of schools and theatre groups, besides a reasonable written production. It was also, to a large extent, the “organisationalist” current that eventually helped in the preparation of the Anarchist Insurrection of 1918, the creation of the Anarchist Alliance of Rio de Janeiro, in the formation of the Brazilian Communist Party, libertarian in feature, and in the events that distinguished the anarchists from the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.

In this first phase the names of Neno Vasco, José Oiticica, Domingos Passos, Juan Peres Bouzas, Astrojildo Pereira (until 1920) and Fábio Luz stand out. Later, after social anarchism had been in slumber for almost two decades, part of the organisationalist tradition resurfaced in the journal Ação Direta (Direct Action) and then, with the consummation of the 1964 military coup we again lose our main force in this camp, represented by Ideal Peres and the students of the Libertarian Student Movement (Movimento Estudantil Libertário - MEL).

Finally, another Latin influence on especifismo that we advocate is the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (Federación Anarquista Uruguyaya - FAU), formed in 1956 of class struggle and anarcho-syndicalist influences, of the organisational models of Bakunin and Malatesta, and of the expropriator anarchism from the Plate River region. Seeking to develop an anarchism that confronts Latino problems the FAU has, since its creation, performed work in various fronts. It participated in the trade union activities of the National Convention of Workers (CNT), which had a non-bureaucratic model with internal democracy and class struggle tendencies. Direct action associations were established within the so-called Combative Tendency. With its illegality being enacted in 1967 the FAU went underground.

Even during this period of clandestinity, with a lot of repression and the arrest of militants, the FAU managed to maintain their union activity in the CNT, in the student movement and in the struggle against the collaborationism of the Communist Party (CP). It circulated its publication Cartas de la FAU (Letters from the FAU). In 1968 Workers-Student Resistance (ROE) was founded, a mass organisation body which adopted a confrontational strategy, with factory occupations with student participation and trade unionists in student demonstrations. At the end of the 1960s, parallel to the mass organisation, the FAU developed the organisation of its “armed wing”, the People’s Revolutionary Organisation - 33 (Organización Popular Revolucionaria - 33, OPR-33), which realised a series of sabotage actions, economic expropriations, kidnappings of politicians and/ or bosses particularly hated by the people, armed support for strikes and workplace occupations etc. The FAU abandoned focalism as a paradigm of armed struggle, avoiding militarisation while possessing social insertion in the population. With the dictatorship of 1973 the FAU directed its efforts towards a general strike that paralysed the country for nearly a month. It carried out clandestine work and had several militants arrested, tortured and killed. With the political opening it re-articulated itself and developed its work on the especifista model which we advocate today, with three fronts of insertion: union, student, and community.

In short, our conception of the historical references of especifismo is not dogmatic. We have broad ideas that start with the ideas of Bakunin and the alliancists in the IWA, go through the conceptions of Malatesta and his practical experiences at the social and political levels, as well as the experiences of Magón and the PLM in the Mexican Revolution. We are also influenced by the experiences of the anarchists in the Russian Revolution, with emphasis on the Makhnovists in the Ukraine and the organisational reflections made by the Russians in exile, as well as the experiences of the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution around the CNT-FAI. In Brazil, we have influences from anarchist “organisationalism”, highlighting the experiences of the 1918 Anarchist Alliance of Rio de Janeiro and the 1919 (libertarian) Communist Party. Finally, the influences of the FAU, both in their struggle against the dictatorship, as in their activity in fronts with unions, community and student movements. This whole set of conceptions and experiences contributes today to our conception of especifismo. Currently, especifismo is advocated by various Latin American organisations and developed in practice, even if not by this name, in other parts of the world.


185. Mikhail Bakunin. "Programa Revolucionário e Programa Liberal". In: Conceito de Liberdade, p. 189.

186. Luigi Fabbri. "A Organização Anarquista". In: Anarco-Comunismo Italiano, pp. 104-105.

187. Mikhail Bakunin. "Táctica e Disciplina do Partido Revolucionário". In: Conceito de Liberdade, pp. 197-198.

188. Idem. "Programa Revolucionário e Programa Liberal". In: Conceito de Liberdade, pp. 188-189.

189. Dielo Trouda. "El Problema de la Organización y la Noción de Síntesis".

190. Mikhail Bakunin. Império Knuto-Germânico. Cited in Daniel Guérin (org.). Textos Anarquistas (trechos de Ni Dieu, Ni Maître). Porto Alegre: LP&M, 2002, pp. 47-48.

191. Errico Malatesta. "A Organização II". In: Escritos Revolucionários, p. 62.

192. Mikhail Bakunin. "Educação Militante". In: Conceito de Liberdade, p. 154.

193. Ibid. pp. 151-152.

194. Do not confuse the term party used here with the parties that compete in elections or that seek to take the state through revolution. As we have already stressed, “anarchist party” for Malatesta is the same thing as specific anarchist organisation.

195. Errico Malatesta. "A Organização II". In: Escritos Revolucionários, p. 56.

196. Idem. "Sindicalismo: a crítica de um anarquista". In: George Woodcock. Op. Cit. pp. 208; 212.

* In Brazilian political terminology assistencialist (assistencialista) is a term to denote someone that does things like, for example, NGOs when they distribute food to the poor. It is linked with charity.

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author by Michael Schmidt - ex-ZACFpublication date Fri Mar 23, 2012 22:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi all

In this part, I suggest "Greek gift" is better translated as "Trojan Horse".

I suggest "Prata River" is better translated as "River Plate".

Otherwise a great translation!

Red & Black Regards

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