user preferences

Anarchist Communists: A Question of Class - Section 5

category international | anarchist movement | policy statement author Friday October 21, 2005 17:47author by Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici - FdCAauthor email internazionale at fdca dot it Report this post to the editors

This fifth section of "Anarchist Communists: A Question of Class" deals with anarchist communism, organization and organizational dualism, the role and functions of the mass organization and the political organization, our methods and programme.

Anarchist Communists: A Question of Class

Section 5

Why Anarchist Communist: what distinguishes us from anarchists

Throughout its evolution, anarchism has taken on many forms, an enormous quantity of different roles. Anarchist Communism is clearly distinct from these various incarnations, and this chapter will set out its distinguishing features and point out the differences from the other schools of thought. Of these, we will not be considering two - the Educationalists and the pure Individualists, as neither can be considered revolutionary currents.

The former, as Malatesta noted, hold that education can suffice to change man's nature, even before changing the material conditions of existence. Obviously, by arguing against this, we are not saying that the educational problem is not essential; we simply believe that a good programme of education is not enough to arrive at communism, simply by dint of the fact that everyone becomes convinced that it is the only rational system of social organization.

The evolution of Individualism merits brief treatment as it is most instructive. Its prime theoretician, Johann Kaspar Schmidt (better known as Max Stirner), was a mild-mannered teacher in a secondary school for girls and his explosiveness existed only in the radicalness of his writings. He was harshly criticized by Marx and Engels in the Saint Max chapter of their book "The German Ideology", together with the rest of the Hegelian left. The basic idea, later developed philosophically by Friedrich Nietzsche and which became the standard of Individualist Anarchists, was that the measure of freedom was equal to the amount of the individual's independence, which showed a total lack of regard for the fact that Man is a social animal. All Man's achievements (including those which made it possible for abstract thought, and therefore Stirner's fantasies, to develop) were obtained only thanks to human society. They are the fruit of billions upon billions of anonymous contributions to the creation of the well-being and evolution of the species. Humankind today lives in such a thick web of relations between all its past and present members, that the total freedom of one isolated being as a single individual is a philosophical category which is totally removed from reality. Starting with this improbable supposition, the individualists began to cut themselves off from all social groupings and to despise the masses (whom they thought slavishly obeyed power) and ended up considering Anarchism as a fight against authority and the State and not as a struggle for a egalitarian society. Social equality disappeared from their theories in favour of a furious search for the liberty of the individual which often broke out into a struggle of each against the other, something which had previously been theorized by that founder of Social Liberalism, Thomas Hobbes, and is so dear to the aggressive capitalists of the period in which we now live. It is not by chance that theoreticians of extreme liberalism and competition as the only font of social progress, such as the early 20th century Austrians Friedrich August von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, are classified as Anarchists. Neither is it by chance that in the United States there has developed a current of so-called Anarcho-Capitalists (Friedmann) whose only enemy is State centralization which is perhaps guilty in their eyes of limiting the possibilities for enterprise by the most unscrupulous individuals (thereby damaging the vast majority of their equals), who see the solution to every social problem in entrusting to the private sector (lured by profit) every economic initiative, every form of collective service, every aspect of human existence. Individualists, or rather a majority of them, end up fighting not against the exploitation by one over another, but against any obstacle placed in the path of this exploitation. Others, albeit few, have remained actively militant among the proletariat and despite their lack of structure have contributed and continue to contribute much.

5.1. Organization

Let us move on to those Anarchists who, at least in word, remain true to the struggle for the emancipation of the exploited. The first big distinction is between those who do not believe it is necessary for there to be organization of the class struggle and those like the Anarchist Communists who believe that it is indispensable. There are, in fact, spontaneist fringes in the Anarchist movement who do not believe that any form of planning is required, given that an anarchist society will inevitably come into existence as a necessary result of the evolution of human society. Giovanni Bovio, a Socialist parliamentarian and freemason with strong anarchist leanings, once said: "Thought is anarchist and history is marching towards anarchy", echoing that faith in the inevitability of the development of history towards anarchy. This optimism originates in the vision of the anarchist Prince Pëtr Kropotkin, the founder of Anarcho-Communism, on the basis of his own scientific knowledge. Kropotkin was a geographer of some standing, bettered only in professionalism among Anarchists by Elisée Reclus. On the basis of his own scientific knowledge and the study of social insect communities and, wholly imbued with positivism and the consequent sure belief that science could solve every problem, Kropotkin came to the idea that libertarian communism was a necessary and inevitable result for the organization of the collective life of humanity.

Thus, Anarchism was no longer the goal of the conscious efforts on the part of men and women to organize themselves for their collective happiness, but only the final and teleologically predetermined stage in historical development (as we shall see, somewhat like the dialectic materialism of Stalinist orthodoxy which stemmed from the same positivist vein). The result of all this, and his followers acted accordingly, was that all forms of organization are not only unnecessary (given that the course of events cannot be seriously influenced) but actually dangerous, as they represent an obstruction for the free flow of the process' spontaneity and impede the appearance of the final stage in the development of humanity.

On the other hand, Anarchist Communists (and others, besides) believe that the various stages of history are not written in stone and that the collective intervention of humans can influence events. This influence may be minor at first, but with the passage of time it can be directed at ever-greater goals. And collective means organized. As a result of their deterministic vision, Anarcho-Communists place no importance in the class struggle. Furthermore, they consider even the existence of classes to be an unproven fact, if not some Marxist invention. It is the man or woman, as a single individual, who must tend towards becoming a member of the anarchist society. For Anarchist Communists, society is dramatically divided into classes (something which the recent wave of rampant liberalism has made abundantly clear by widening the gaps between the haves and the have-nots, between rich countries and poor - in other words, between the exploiters and the exploited), and only the emancipation of the weakest by means of a resolute class war will lead to a society of free equals, the product of a conscious programmed project which can fulfil the proletariat's aspirations. The class struggle exists and it is the only hope to obtain a more just society. But if it is to be successful, it must be organized.

5.2. Organizational Dualism

The feature which best distinguishes Anarchist Communists from all other schools of thought within Anarchism is what we call "organizational dualism". This means that apart from the general organization of the entire proletariat (as outlined in Chapter 1.2, dedicated to Fabbri), there is also the political organization of Anarchist Communists, or, to use the usual terms adopted in the movement's debates, beside the Mass Organization there must also be the Specific Organization. As already indicated, the other trends in Anarchism reject either or both of these.

It is clear that Individualists recognize no role for the movement of the exploited who are seen as a humble flock of individuals unworthy of any personal realization as they have no ambitions. But the Individualists lie completely outside class-struggle Anarchism. The Kropotkinist Anarcho-Communists (not for nothing known as anti-organizationalists) believe that any work among the masses apart from pure and simple propaganda of the "right" ideas, is useless. This is the origin of their lack of interest in the daily struggles of the working class which are seen as pointless and counterproductive. Pointless in that every gain made under the present social system is held to be short-lived and counterproductive as the syndicalist approach only encourages the habit of gradual conquests with a consequent loss of sight of the revolutionary goal. We have already seen how Bakunin threw himself into the struggle which began with the First International and how both Fabbri and Malatesta considered that any gains towards the well-being of the masses in the present were nothing to be looked down on. Anarchist Communists believe that it is essential to be involved on a day-to-day basis in the workers' organizations (to which, as workers, we belong). We believe that the existence of these organizations is necessary as a barrier to the powerful whims of the exploiter class. For Anarcho-Communists, instead, their abandoning of all attention to the proletariat's immediate demands results in the specific organization being relegated to a role of propaganda of the ideal, the recruiting of new members, in other words something like the function of a religious sect.

Basing themselves on similar premises to those of the Kropotkinists, Insurrectionalist Anarchists also deny the value of work within the labour movement. After all, Kropotkin was present at the International Congress in London in 1881 which approved the strategy of propaganda by the deed. Disappointed by the late arrival of the revolution, unable to enjoy a useful relationship with the masses thanks to the spread of special anti-anarchist legislation all over Europe, the anarchists chose to act according to their times in order to extricate themselves from the corner they found themselves in. The hope was that the spread of violent acts directed at the pompous bourgeoisie of the period would provide an example which would rapidly be imitated thereby transforming the insurrectionary spark into an immense revolutionary blaze. This was the period of the bloody acts of the likes of François-Claudius Köhingstein (better known as Ravachol), Bonnot, Émile Henry and many others. France, in fact, though at the centre of the insurrectionalist wave was also the place where class-struggle Anarchist militants (Émile Pouget, Fernand Pelloutier, Pierre Monatte, and others) found a way out through the formation of the "Bourses du Travail" and the syndicates and thereby brought Anarchism back to its natural element, the proletariat, which led to a new and profound method of struggle and organization. Despite this, there are still today those who as a result of a childish theoretical simplification, hold that gains made by the unions are ephemeral and who continue to preach the idea of propaganda by the deed. They are mistaken twice over. Firstly, when they think that syllogisms can cancel history - in other words they believe, with purely abstract reasoning, that as long as capitalism exists there can be no improvement in the living conditions of the masses even where there have been labour struggles. Secondly, they are under the illusion that some external example can be more attractive and convincing than long, tiring educational activity within the day-to-day struggles.

Then there are those Anarchists who deny the need for a Specific Organization. Anarcho-Syndicalists of various types and Revolutionary Syndicalists lay their trust in the spontaneous evolution of the proletarian masses and that accordingly if the labour unions are left alone, sooner or later they will arrive at the decisive clash with the boss class. Malatesta already opposed this idea, held by Monatte, in 1907 at the International Congress of Amsterdam. He clarified how the proletariat's associations for resistance would inevitably slide into reformism, thus blurring sight of the goals. This was the economicism which Lenin pointed out, though he wanted to fight it by instilling class consciousness into the masses from without, but which Anarchist Communists fight by acting as a critical conscience from within. The historically proven decline of all unions which were born revolutionary (starting with Monatte's own CGT), has led some Anarcho-Syndicalists to seek the answer not in political organization, but in the creation of unions which are based on a pre-determined revolutionary idea. In other words, to create unions which are exclusively composed of conscious, revolutionary elements. The result is a strange mix of mass organization and political organization which is basically an organization of anarchists who set themselves up to do union work. In this way the obstacle has not been removed, but avoided, as the link which connects the masses to the revolutionary strategy is missing, unless of course it happens to be the resurrection of the idea of an external example which contaminates the masses by some process of osmosis.

For Anarchist Communists these theoretical problems are resolved with organizational dualism, assigning precise tasks and separate functions to the two organizations.

5.2.1. The Mass Organization is not a carbon copy of the political organization

For Anarchist Communists, the mass Organization (labour union) does not need to mimic their particular expectations of combativeness or opposition to capital to the point that if the union were not to meet their standards, they would not participate in the unions' struggles. They do not expect the union to be born revolutionary nor to continually carry on a fierce level of combat against the bosses. Unions are born out of a need for the proletariat to defend itself. They aim to wring as much as possible out of the bosses in order to win greater wealth for the exploited classes they represent. They try to satisfy the needs of the workers who are being continually squeezed by their adversary, the bosses. As long as the union exists, it will produce within it a managing class which more often than not acts in its own interests rather than in the interests of those it claims to represent. This is all an inevitable, naturally-occurring state of affairs and something which has yet to be avoided throughout the course of history.

From the capitalists' point of view, the unions' economic fight is not only an attempt to demand improvements in the (always unequal) division of the goods provided by the system of production, it is a permanent need to re-organize according to the fluctuations in the workers' demands. The unions therefore, linked with the phases of the class war, genetically take on the double role of answering the proletariat's interests and being one of the sources of the development of capitalism. And that is without taking into consideration the bad faith of its managing class who view their role as answering their own needs for a better life, or worse still as a trampoline for their careers in the bourgeois State's administrative ranks.

One fundamental requisite for an egalitarian revolution is that it be the work of those who wish to find within the new society the benefits of the happy life they are denied under the present social system. "The emancipation of the workers will be at the hands of the workers themselves" is not simply a slogan for Anarchist Communists, as it is for Marxists - it is a profound conviction. It is the proletariat, acting on its own initiative, which will liberate not only itself but all others too, heralding the end of class society. It follows therefore that the most united and conscious proletariat possible should face the bosses in the final clash if it is to avoid falling prey to an intellectual class which might "offer" to manage society on its behalf and supposedly for its benefit. But if it is to avoid every form of substitution, be it imposed or produced in all apparent naturalness, and if it is to prevent the handing over of power in any way which might end up being permanent and damaging to the final goal of establishing a free and equal society, the proletariat itself must be able to take on immediately the management of the various phases of the revolution and the subsequent reconstruction. This is why workers' unity is indispensable. And it can only be reached through collective struggle and not through the marvellous example of exemplary struggles which the masses should watch, admire and imitate. The nub of the problem is the link between the economic condition of the class and consciousness of the historical ends which the class must necessarily pursue for its own emancipation. Or, in other words, how does the link between class and class consciousness come about?

We have already seen how the Leninists consider class consciousness to be external to the proletariat and must be brought to the proletariat, even through authoritarian means. In direct opposition to this, Revolutionary Syndicalists hold that class consciousness is born spontaneously and gradually among the masses, the more they engage in the clash with capitalism. This is a vision which is clearly descended from economic determinism and the inevitable explosion of the internal contradictions in the capitalist system, while the Leninist vision is a product of bourgeois Jacobinism. Marxism has not remained immune from either. For many Anarchists who side with the struggle of the exploited, there is no automatic link between the class and class consciousness, while there is also a rejection of the Leninist methods. As we have already seen, Anarcho-Syndicalists (though admittedly not all of them) avoid the problem rather than face it, with their theory of example designed to infect the proletariat, who otherwise tend to bow down to the reformists. Their vision is for well-organized revolutionary unions to engage in radical, victorious struggles which serve as a magnet for the great mass of the exploited. Therefore, they hold that the union organization should, from day one, take an ideal form - even if this damages class unity. Theoretically, class consciousness comes before the condition of the class and the union becomes a carbon copy of the political organization.

Anarchist Communists consider this to be wrong (indeed Fabbri drew attention to this). Though we are fully aware that there will always be differing levels of consciousness among the workers and are convinced of the fact that unity does not mean homogeneity, we believe that the class comes before the consciousness, that unity comes before radicalness and that therefore the relationship between the class and class consciousness needs to be resolved in another way.

5.2.2. The Political Organization is not only for propaganda

If the running of the phase of revolutionary struggle and the society which follows must be firmly in the hands of the workers, as we have said already, then class unity is a necessary prerequisite as is the proletariat's consciousness of its historic needs, which are much greater than its immediate economic needs. How to grasp the horns of this dilemma is something which has been hotly debated for a long time and various solutions have been proposed, as we have seen. For class-struggle Anarchists, the solution has been clear since the days of Bakunin and requires two things: direct action and political organization.

The practice of direct action, in other words the first-hand running of the struggles, is a training ground for the acquisition of consciousness by the proletariat, which independently evaluates its victories and the methods adopted to win them on the one hand, and on the other, the bitterness of the conflict and the strength of the opponents. The progression from self-management of the day-to-day struggles to self-management of the revolutionary conflict is thereby more natural, without doubt. We must, however, be careful not to confuse direct action with just any action carried out by those concerned. Direct action is not just a group of people (however big or small, well-organized or conscious) self-managing their own struggles. This is something that every political grouping does in the course of its activities, but it does not add even one ounce of consciousness to the masses. Direct action can only be carried out by economically or territorially (and not politically) homogeneous groups in order to achieve even a modest objective, because it is only in this way that individuals with varying degrees of social consciousness can engage with each other against an external obstacle. They thereby acquire an awareness both of the momentary limitation of that struggle's aims, together with the skills (including technical skills, too) which will be needed to widen the scope of objectives they can aim for and ensure the long-lasting nature of their gains.

And it is precisely within the process of direct action that the irreplaceable role of the "party" (to use Malatesta's expression) of Anarchist Communists can be seen. Pushing forward the terms of the clash; enabling others to become conscious of how fruitful the gains made in economic struggle can be and how quickly and easily what has been won can be taken back by the enemy; placing the immediate aim within an ever-greater context of aspirations. These are the specific tasks of Anarchist Communist militants in the class struggle. In other words, the conscious members of the mass organization must work towards spreading the practice of direct action and use the struggles of today to enable a consciousness of the objectives of tomorrow to develop. Anarchist Communist militants find strength for their activities in the co-ordination of their efforts which takes place through their work in their political organizations. The political organization is therefore the much sought-after link between the class and class consciousness. Its activities as a part of general class organization are the enzyme which sparks off fermentation of the economic condition of the class in the full awareness of the proletariat's historical ends. But in order for that to happen there must be workers' unity, independent of their level of class consciousness and direct action. The mass organization, therefore, does not subject prospective members to entrance exams but simply groups together all the exploited unconditionally, in the way envisaged by Bakunin's project for the International Working Men's Association. The conflict with capital and the constant actions of the political organization (in Bakunin's plan, the Alliance for Socialist Democracy) within it, will ensure the struggles will gradually become more radical until such times as the decisive clash arrives.

The goal of the Anarchist Communist political organization is thus to remain a part of the class struggle in order to radicalize it and promote consciousness of its final objectives. The organization cannot limit itself to making propaganda (abstract propaganda, out of sight of the proletariat) but must descend to the level of consciousness expressed by the proletariat in any given moment and constantly seek to raise it. To do this it must produce analyses, strategies and credible proposals. Its members must gain the trust of the workers and distinguish themselves by the clarity of their ideas and their ability to promote convincing struggles which should, if conditions so permit, be victorious. However, they must not become a new leader class, separate from their comrades in struggle, but simply a point of reference which can point the way at any time and not lose their sense of direction during the ups and downs.

As it is obvious that not all proletarians will have reached the same level of consciousness when the revolution breaks out (what is required is unity, not an identical state of consciousness), it follows that "leading groups" will naturally evolve, if the reader will forgive the expression. But this does not mean that a Leninist-style dictatorship necessarily follows, if three fundamental points are adhered to. First of all if the gap between the "vanguard" (Bakunin's "active minority") and the masses, in terms of consciousness, is not too great. In this way it will be possible to maintain the maximum level of grassroots control over the former's actions by the great mass of the proletariat. Obviously, what is referred to here is the level of consciousness regarding ideas for struggle and not strategic awareness that members of the specific organization need to possess. Secondly, the "vanguard" needs to remain physically alongside its comrades in the struggle. It must not expect or demand a directing role for itself even if this were to be justifiable by the need to guarantee a successful outcome of the revolution. Finally, all power will have to be invested in the workplaces and in the proletariat's associations and, from there, proceed upwards from below, without ever being delegated to higher organs, allowing them carte blanche, not even with the excuse of greater scientific or technical competence. The organization of Anarchist Communists will have to be vigilant in order to ensure that none of these three potential deviations occurs.

5.3. On the State and Collectivity

Having lived in a period when the bourgeois State ferociously fulfilled its role of protecting the interests of the ruling class, Anarchists have developed a deep and justified hatred for this institution. Furthermore, their direst predictions regarding the oppressive nature of the State as an institution were borne out by the revolutions controlled by Marxists and in particular by the history of the Soviet Union. The point that Anarchist Communists challenge other Anarchist tendencies on is not the need to abolish the State right from the first moment of the revolution, but the fact that the great majority of Anarchists from other tendencies have acquired such an aversion to the State that they become blind to other facts.

Many Anarchists have developed a strange inversion of priorities. The State, which is a tool of the bourgeoisie that the bourgeoisie uses in order to exploit and appropriate the lion's share of available wealth, has become the prime enemy, even greater than the bourgeoisie which uses that tool. But partly as a result of the effects of the proletariat's struggle, the State has taken on other roles apart from that of policeman and these roles, known by the general term "welfare state", have some very complex facets. On the one hand they have allowed the bosses to offload onto taxpayers (and thus mostly the workers themselves) part of the costs deriving from the greater security and well-being of those less well-off; a burden created through pressure from the workers has been offloaded onto the collectivity, which otherwise would form part of the cost of labour. On the other hand, though, these functions have enabled a minimum redistribution of wealth in favour of the workers; as the result of decades of struggles they have allowed the conflict to be regulated for the protection of the weakest, they have produced social institutions, such as education, healthcare and social insurance, with a high element of solidarity.

It is not a surprise, therefore, if capitalism (which has now reached another phase of its historical development, where fierce international competition demands that costs be slashed) tends towards reducing social provisions (which are partly financed by business) and to reduce the tasks of the State to that of being an armed guardian of Capital's interests. And it is the inverted point of view of many Anarchists which prevents them from analyzing the phenomenon, from seeing that our principal enemy is the same as ever, and from realizing that what the "light State" would like to get rid of is the very thing that the proletariat have an interest in maintaining. The reduction in the State's functions involves a lowering of the fiscal burden on the rich but not on the poor, the maintenance of the State's role as policeman and the destruction of all social insurance, guarantees and protection.

The dropping of areas such as the above by the State and their replacement by equivalents on the market (and therefore their transformation into a source of profit) involves an increase in cost for services which workers will only rarely be able to afford, and will result in a noticeable reduction in their living standards. By not defending these tasks of the State, we also risk losing sight of another important aspect: the role of collectivity. Anarchist Communist society will not be able to do without a system of "taxation", in the sense that a part of the wealth will be set aside in order to sustain those who cannot contribute to the production which is essential for their needs - children, the old, the ill, etc. State management of areas such as education, healthcare and social insurance is much closer to the collective management of these services in a future society than would be the case under private management, subject to the laws of profit. The transport workers in revolutionary Spain in 1936, who were organized in a union, lost little time in organizing the service. Would the same happen today with the same rapidity and naturalness in the case of the workers on the privatized railways in Britain? Consider also the case of pensions, where under the current system there is an automatic link (and corresponding sense of solidarity) between workers of different generations.

Anarchist Communists therefore believe that the struggle against the survival of the State at the time of the revolution does not preclude recognition of the various functions of today's bourgeois State: those that serve to guarantee the continuing class domination (which, not surprisingly, capitalists seek to preserve and strengthen) and those born from compromises in the clash between the classes and which provide a modicum of well-being for the oppressed classes (again, not surprisingly, the very functions which capitalists seek to eliminate today). If the bourgeoisie is seeking to reform the State, it is doing so out of its own interests, interests which do not coincide with those of the workers.

5.4. The Methods

It is commonly said within the Anarchist movement that there is a close link between the means of the struggle and its ends. If by this is meant that certain methods must be excluded because they are inappropriate for the ends, then we have no objection. We have already seen, for example, that any suggestion of using the State in the march towards communism is out of the question, if we are to promote its extinction. There are means which are theoretically and practically incompatible with the ends of the struggle.

This does not automatically signify that there is a strict relationship between the means and the ends, something which many Anarchists claim, particularly the pacifist elements and the anti-organizationalists, with some grotesque consequences. To make an example, if this were indeed the case, Anarchists would have to behave in the here and now by acting out the rules of solidarity and social living that they are trying to create for the future society. This would mean living in some sort of collective such as a commune, but would have two unfortunate consequences - one practical and one theoretical. On a practical level, communes have always failed miserably (for example the famous 19th-century Cecilia commune in Brazil), as the members carry with them certain weaknesses and defects, inherited from the present bourgeois social organization where they were born, grew up and schooled, which have a negative effect on the life of the community and eventually ruin it. Neither can the commune remain isolated from the rest of the world: it is often therefore contaminated by its relationships (often of a commercial nature) with surrounding societies. Thus it follows that communist society must cover a vast area and increasingly include the rest of humanity and that a period of transition would be required in order to eliminate individuals from those vices which are part and parcel of their character. The theoretical consequence is that the new society would be born out of the example offered by small groups, like small spots of communism which spread throughout the social fabric, thus kissing goodbye to the revolution and welcoming a vision of the future make-up of society which can be realized by degrees in a new form of reformism.

We would have to be non-violent because (according to the axiom of ends and means) a society of peace and solidarity could not come from a violent act such as a revolution. Anarchist Communists do not love violence, but we know that the bosses will not voluntarily give up their privileges as a result of simply reasoning with them that communism is the most rational social structure possible.

It follows that, for Anarchist Communists, the means must not contradict the pre-established ends, but once the obviously incompatible means have been discarded there remain a wide range of methods of struggle which should be considered only on the basis of their effectiveness. Above all, we believe that certain means, far from advancing the struggle towards its goal, serve to distance it and make it impractical. This is the case with criticism of the political organization and its internal structure by some confusionists of anarchism, who see the internal discipline of militants with regard to the decisions taken collectively as a violation of the individual's freedom and in effect a negation of anarchist ends. This belief impedes any serious work within the masses and therefore delays the social revolution.

5.5. The evidence

If the political organization of Anarchist Communists is not to limit itself to simple propaganda of sacred principles, its work in the struggles of the exploited must be incisive, effective and recognizable. For this reason the political and strategic line which the organization follows must be seen outside the organization as being united, capable of representing a solid reference point for the proletariat in its process of acquiring consciousness. The functional principle which allows this is known as "collective responsibility" and was outlined by the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad in France (Delo Truda), in the "Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists - Project". The definition of this function sparked off a great scandal within the Anarchist movement, to the extent that the word "Platformist" is still used as an insult against Anarchist Communists. However, it is based on a misunderstanding which we will now seek to clear up.

The confusionists of Anarchism mistakenly identified the collective responsibility of the Anarchist Communist political organization with the democratic centralism of Leninism. But it is a facetious comparison. In democratic centralism, a group of leaders take decisions which the members are then obliged to apply. As membership of the party is voluntary, at least in those places where it is not in power, this is perfectly legitimate as those who agree to join the organization agree with its way of functioning. All this, however, has absolutely nothing to do with collective responsibility, which instead provides for the maximum democracy in decision-making (at the Congress, where each member counts as much as any other). But once decisions have been accepted by the majority, the entire organization is bound by them. The minority can always decide not to apply the decision, but they cannot block the work of the organization or damage the external image of the organization by working against the decision. At the following Congress it will be able to make its case once more and try to convince a majority of members, either should the previous line have clearly failed or else through greater success in setting out their case.

The Anarchist Communist organization has four basic principles on which it bases its work: theoretical unity, strategic unity, tactical homogeneity and collective responsibility. Theoretical unity means that all members must share the general principles which inspire the organization - in other words, the principles outlined in this work. If this were not the case they would be working for different causes and should therefore belong to different organizations. Strategic unity means that all members must share the common path which the organization establishes to the social revolution - in other words, those guidelines which all agree on regarding the organization's actions from now until (it is hoped) a not-too-distant future. Without a common strategy, the actions of members or groups of members would follow different paths and the organization per se would be unable to play any meaningful role in the struggles of the masses. Tactical homogeneity means that the daily, local activities of the various members and groups must tend to agree with the general strategic line, though there can be some diversification according to the varying local situations. If the tactics of the various components of the organization did not run along similar lines, the organization's actions would be confused and incoherent.

The Anarchist movement has known two types of organization: organizations of synthesis and organizations of tendency. Synthesist organizations accept members who declare themselves to be Anarchists, without any further specification. It is possible, therefore, for members to be Educationalists, Communists, Syndicalists, Insurrectionalists and even Individualists. The range is not always quite so wide and the level of theoretical unity required can vary from one organization to another. For example, in 1965 the class-struggle wing of the Federazione Anarchica Italiana succeeded in having Malatesta's 1920 programme adopted by the organization, thereby provoking a split with the anti-organizationalist and individualist elements. Whatever the level of theoretical unity may be (and it is never complete), the absence of any strategic unity means that any decisions taken need be observed only by those who agree with them, leaving the others to do as they please. This means that the decisions are of little value, that Congresses can make no effective resolutions, that internal debate is unproductive (as everyone maintains their own positions) and that the organization goes through the motions of its internal rites without presenting a common face outside the organization. The absence of any formal structure not only does not guarantee greater internal democracy but can permit the creation of informal groups of hidden leaders. These groups come together on the basis of affinity, they can co-opt new adherents and they can generate an uncontrolled and uncontrollable leadership, hard to identify but nonetheless effective.

Organizations of tendency gather their members on the basis of a shared theory (there are also organizations of anti-organizationalists!). This was the case in 1919 with Fabbri's Unione Comunista Anarchica d'Italia (Anarchist Communist Union of Italy) before Malatesta, with his Programme, transformed it into the synthesist Unione Anarchica Italiana (Italian Anarchist Union) out of a desire for unanimity and maybe in the hope of dragging towards class-struggle positions those who did not want to know anything about the class struggle. Obviously, Anarchist Communists organizations are organizations of tendency. The strong tendency towards homogeneity which is accepted by members when they join places a great limit on the apparently coercive nature of the principle of collective responsibility. Indeed, when a known member of any party takes a certain position, it inevitably reflects (even if they do not intend it to) on their organization in the eyes of the public. For this reason it can be even more dangerous for members to speak "different tongues", just because they do not wish to accept a single method of communication, than it is when the communicative vocabulary to be adopted is previously agreed on.

5.6. The Programme

The basic element which distinguishes Anarchist Communists from all other Anarchist currents may be organizational dualism, but what marks them out in particular from the rest of the Anarchist movement (even with regard to the Libertarian Communists - see Appendix 2) is the existence of a programme. This is the collection of the short-term and mid-term objectives which the political organization establishes for itself. It is approved by Congress and reviewed at each successive Congress. What has been achieved and what has not been achieved is studied and explained. Objectives can be considered no longer important and can be removed, and in general the strategy is adapted to the times. The programme as such is a set of strategic and tactical elements which guides the political organization's actions in the mid-term. The fusion of strategic elements and tactical elements enables the programme to change with the changing economic and social situation. The function which the Anarchist Communist political organization assigns the various parts of the programme are one of its characteristics, seeing that objectives which may be purely tactical for some may be strategic for others, and vice versa. For this very reason the programme is a platform for collaboration with other political organizations, where each one retains the right to establish strategically common objectives which are then pursued in collaboration with other organizations.

The existence of a programme (often called a minimum programme) may initially seem to be an unimportant detail. On the contrary, its consequences are of the utmost importance, as its existence provokes a certain mentality and disposition for political work. This is something which characterizes to a great extent the Anarchist Communist political organization and determines some very important aspects.

5.6.1. Phase Analysis

These traits are all contained in the short definition of programme which we have just given. They do, however, merit a little detailed examination. As we have said, the programme is the workplan which the political organization provides for itself at every Congress, and is therefore valid for several years. As it contains tactical and strategic elements, it needs to place the organization's political action within a dimension which is adequate in order to progress towards the ends. In order to do this, the programme (which is established in a particular historical context) must set out the correct steps for the times concerned. It therefore requires knowledge of the current situation and this implies that accurate political and economic analysis of the current phase be made beforehand.

For decades, Anarchists had abandoned the field of economic analysis, judging it to be unnecessary to know the class enemy's strategy in order to spread Anarchist ideas. The result is action without time or place, a vision of the world in which everything is grey and where the cutting edge of militants has become progressively blunter and the survivors sit around nostalgically agreeing that they are right.

The rediscovery of Anarchist Communism sparked off a rediscovery of the joys of study, knowledge and analysis. In consequence, certain dogmas previously considered untouchable were put to the test, something Berneri had already done. Above all, it made it possible once more for there to be dialogue with those common women and men who slave away to earn a few crumbs of wealth without having to wait for a messianic salvation in some distant future. In other words, Anarchism came back to live in the open, among the masses and within the labour struggles.

5.6.2. Gradualism

As we have seen, a sect-like spirit dominated the Anarchist movement in Italy after World War II. This derived from the opinion that only the realization of a free and egalitarian society after the social revolution could improve the condition of a humanity which was bowed by exploitation: any other progress, any other conquest, any improvement was considered impossible under the current capitalist system or even as a trap to ensnare the masses and stop them reaching their final goal. Any compromise with the needs for today was seen as giving in and would result in putting off further the glorious future which was the sole objective worth fighting for.

The re-discovery of Anarchist Communism once again brought to the fore the gradualism which Malatesta spoke of and the programme is a visible manifestation of this. Intermediate objectives are not reformist sops which are designed to build the future society piecemeal (something which Anarchist Communists would never dream of). They are merely vital responses to the daily needs of the exploited which, far from dulling their ambitions for a just, egalitarian society, give them a taste for struggle and for conquest. The more they eat, the hungrier they get. Anyone who has to resolve the immediate problem of their primary needs will only with difficulty be able to conceive a long struggle for their historical needs and only with enormous difficulty will be able to acquire the necessary consciousness to transform themselves into the agents of their own emancipation.

Ultimately, if we do not propose solutions to the problems of the day, it will be practically impossible to provide credible proposals for the realization of a paradise which is lost in the mists of a distant future. The struggle to satisfy the immediate needs, to snatch even a minimum of wealth from our class adversary, to limit his unbounded power and total control over the workforce, was called "revolutionary gymnastics" by Malatesta and Fabbri. For this reason, their Anarchism, like ours, was not reformist but reforming, because it kept its eye firmly fixed on the revolutionary objective, without nonetheless renouncing the gains made in the here and now. Obviously these gains are fleeting and the to's and fro's of the class struggle can all too easily render them useless (something we have in fact been witnessing in recent decades), but they need to be obtained nevertheless, for two reasons. Firstly, the acquired consciousness that they are not permanent will sooner or later make it clear to the proletariat that only the final victory can guarantee peace and well-being for ever and for everyone. Secondly, a look back at the last two hundred years of history will make it quite clear that generally there has been some real progress in the living standards of workers in those countries where there has been an active labour movement.

5.6.3. Alliances

We have spoken about the sect-like spirit which dominated the Italian Anarchist movement for decades. It really could not have been otherwise. As the only possible objective to aim for is the social revolution (about which Anarchists have their own very precise ideas), then no alliance with other revolutionary forces is possible, in fact it could even represent a betrayal of the ideal. But Anarchist Communists have their programme with its partial and immediate goals, and as far as this is concerned it is possible to find companions, in other words to form alliances in order to obtain success for that particular piece of the programme. Thanks to the programme, this possibility is an important element in the history of the Anarchist movement which, thanks also to the influence of Malatesta in 1921, proposed an alliance with other leftists (known as the Fronte Unico Rivoluzionario, or Revolutionary Single Front) to respond to the growing Fascist reaction.

Anarchist Communists are so sure of their historical ends, of their strategy for obtaining them and of the steps they must take today, that they do not fear any impure contact contaminating them. On the contrary, they believe that they can contaminate others. In particular, they feel that they can spread their ideas and proposals among the great mass of the proletariat which is still fooled by the promise that the system is reformable or by the hope that an authoritative, illuminated leader will guide them towards a society without classes.

The next section, "Historical materialism and dialectic materialism", will be published shortly.

Return to the Index

"Anarchist Communists: A Question of Class" can also be downloaded in PDF format from the FdCA website:

Related Link:
This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch
Employees at the Zarfati Garage in Mishur Adumim vote to strike on July 22, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Ma’an workers union)

Front page

Reseña del libro de José Luis Carretero Miramar “Eduardo Barriobero: Las Luchas de un Jabalí” (Queimada Ediciones, 2017)

Análise da crise política do início da queda do governo Temer

Dès maintenant, passons de la défiance à la résistance sociale !

17 maggio, giornata internazionale contro l’omofobia.

Los Mártires de Chicago: historia de un crimen de clase en la tierra de la “democracia y la libertad”

Strike in Cachoeirinha

(Bielorrusia) ¡Libertad inmediata a nuestro compañero Mikola Dziadok!

DAF’ın Referandum Üzerine Birinci Bildirisi:

Cajamarca, Tolima: consulta popular y disputa por el territorio

Statement on the Schmidt Case and Proposed Commission of Inquiry

Aodhan Ó Ríordáin: Playing The Big Man in America

Nós anarquistas saudamos o 8 de março: dia internacional de luta e resistência das mulheres!

Özgürlüğümüz Mücadelemizdedir

IWD 2017: Celebrating a new revolution

Solidarité avec Théo et toutes les victimes des violences policières ! Non à la loi « Sécurité Publique » !

Solidaridad y Defensa de las Comunidades Frente al Avance del Paramilitarismo en el Cauca

A Conservative Threat Offers New Opportunities for Working Class Feminism

De las colectivizaciones al 15M: 80 años de lucha por la autogestión en España

False hope, broken promises: Obama’s belligerent legacy

Primer encuentro feminista Solidaridad – Federación Comunista Libertaria

Devrimci Anarşist Tutsak Umut Fırat Süvarioğulları Açlık Grevinin 39 Gününde

The Fall of Aleppo

Italia - Ricostruire opposizione sociale organizzata dal basso. Costruire un progetto collettivo per l’alternativa libertaria.

Recordando a César Roa, luchador de la caña

© 2005-2017 Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]