Archive for Anarchist

Bob Black

Posted in Anarchist with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2009 by blackeyepress


When I was eight a psychiatrist diagnosed me as “a bright psychoneurotic child with marked acting out behavior and possibly some mild encephalopathy which inhibits impulse control.” I was kicked out of third, sixth, eighth and twelfth grades. With the educational edge this gave me over the docile I went on to get a B.A., M.A. and J.D. During the mid-1970’s I went from Yippie-tinged New Leftism to something like whatever it is I am now. In 1977 I started my poster project, The Last International, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I put up thousands of posters but even though she had to have seen them Madonna didn’t write in. It was an ideal format for me. I could play with words and ideas of the finest intransigence without answering to any editor, and I could rebound a shot off a telephone pole and right into the face of somebody who’d have assumed it was unspeakable until I said it.


Anarchism And Other Impediments To Anarchy

The abolition of work

Anarchy after leftism


Bob Black: Anarchism And Other Impediments To Anarchy

There is no need at present to produce new definitions of anarchism – it would be hard to improve on those long since devised by various eminent dead foreigners. Nor need we linger over the familiar hyphenated anarchisms, communist- and individualist- and so forth; the textbooks cover all that. More to the point is why we are no closer to anarchy today than were Godwin and Proudhon and Kropotkin and Goldman in their times. There are lots of reasons, but the ones that most need to be thought about are the ones that the anarchists engender themselves, since it is these obstacles – if any – it should be possible to remove. Possible, but not probable.

My considered judgment, after years of scrutiny of, and sometimes harrowing activity in the anarchist milieu, is that anarchists are a main reason – I suspect, a sufficient reason – why anarchy remains an epithet without a prayer of a chance to be realized. Most anarchists are, frankly, incapable of living in an autonomous cooperative manner. A lot of them aren’t very bright. They tend to peruse their own classics and insider literature to the exclusion of broader knowledge of the world we live in. Essentially timid, they associate with others like themselves with the tacit understanding that nobody will measure anybody elses opinions and actions against any standard of practical critical intelligence; that no one by his or her individual achievements will rise too far above the prevalent level; and, above all, that nobody challenges the shibboleths of anarchist ideology.

Anarchism as a milieu is not so much a challenge to the existing order as it is one highly specialized form of accommodation to it. It is a way of life, or an adjunct of one, with its own particular mix of rewards and sacrifices. Poverty is obligatory, but for that very reason forecloses the question whether this or that anarchist could have been anything but a failure regardless of ideology. The history of anarchism is a history of unparalleled defeat and martyrdom, yet anarchists venerate their victimized forebears with a morbid devotion which occasions suspicion that the anarchists, like everybody else, think that the only good anarchist is a dead one. Revolution–defeated revolution–is glorious, but it belongs in books and pamphlets. In this century–Spain in 1936 and France in 1968 are especially clear cases–the revolutionary upsurge caught the official, organized anarchists flat-footed and initially non-supportive or worse. The reason is not far to seek. It’s not that all these ideologues were hypocrites (some were). Rather, they had worked out a daily routine of anarchist militancy, one they unconsciously counted on to endure indefinitely since revolution isn’t really imaginable in the here-and-now, and they reacted with fear and defensiveness when events outdistanced their rhetoric.

In other words, given a choice between anarchism and anarchy, most anarchists would go for the anarchism ideology and subculture rather than take a dangerous leap into the unknown, into a world of stateless liberty. But since anarchists are almost the only avowed critics of the state as such, these freedom-fearing folk would inevitably assume prominent or at least publicized places in any insurgency which was genuinely anti-statist. Themselves follower-types, they would find themselves the leaders of a revolution which threatened their settled status no less than that of the politicians and proprietors. The anarchists would sabotage the revolution, consciously or otherwise, which without them might have dispensed with the state without even pausing to replay the ancient Marx/Bakunin tussle.

In truth the anarchists who assume the name have done nothing to challenge the state, not with windy unread jargon-filled writings, but with the contagious example of another way to relate to other people. Anarchists as they conduct the anarchism business are the best refutation of anarchist pretensions. True, in North America at least the top-heavy “federations” of workerist organizers have collapsed in ennui and acrimony, and a good thing too, but the informal social structure of anarchism is still hierachic through and through. The anarchists placidly submit to what Bakunin called an “invisible government” which in their case consists of the editors (in fact if not in name) of a handful of the larger and longer-lasting anarchist publications.

These publications, despite seemingly profound ideological differences, have similar “father-knows-best” stances vis-a-vis their readers as well as a gentlemen’s agreement not to permit attacks upon each other which would expose inconsistencies and otherwise undermine their common class interest in hegemony over the anarchist rank-and-file. Oddly enough, you can more readily criticize the Fifth Estate or Kick It Over in their own pages than you can there criticize, say, Processed World. Every organization has more in common with every other organization than it does with any of the unorganized. The anarchist critique of the state, if only the anarchists understood it, is but a special case of the critique of organization. And, at some level, even anarchist organizations sense this.

Anti-anarchists may well conclude that if there is to be hierachy and coercion, let it be out in the open, clearly labeled as such. Unlike these pundits (the right-wing “libertarians”, the minarchists, for instance) I stubbornly persist in my opposition to the state. But not because, as anarchists so often thoughtlessly declaim, the state is not “necessary”. Ordinary people dismiss this anarchist assertion as ludicrous, and so they should. Obviously, in an industrialized class society like ours, the state is necessary. The point is that the state has created the conditions in which it is indeed necessary, by stripping individuals and face-to-face voluntary associations of their powers. More fundamentally, the state’s underpinnings (work, moralism, industrial technology, hierarchic organizations) are not necessary but rather antithetical to the satisfactions of real needs and desires. Unfortunately, most brands of anarchism endorse all these premises yet balk at their logical conclusion: the state.

If there were no anarchists, the state would have had to invent them. We know that on several occasions it has done just that. We need anarchists unencumbered by anarchism. Then, and only then, we can begin to get serious about fomenting anarchy.

Bob Black: The abolition of work

No one should ever work.

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

That doesn’t mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child’s play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn’t passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us want to act. Oblomovism and Stakhanovism are two sides of the same debased coin.

The ludic life is totally incompatible with existing reality. So much the worse for “reality,” the gravity hole that sucks the vitality from the little in life that still distinguishes it from mere survival. Curiously — or maybe not — all the old ideologies are conservative because they believe in work. Some of them, like Marxism and most brands of anarchism, believe in work all the more fiercely because they believe in so little else.

Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marx’s wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists — except that I’m not kidding — I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry. But if all the ideologues (as they do) advocate work — and not only because they plan to make other people do theirs — they are strangely reluctant to say so. They will carry on endlessly about wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity, profitability. They’ll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don’t care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.

You may be wondering if I’m joking or serious. I’m joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn’t have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn’t triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I’d like life to be a game — but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.

The alternative to work isn’t just idleness. To be ludic is not to be quaaludic. As much as I treasure the pleasure of torpor, it’s never more rewarding than when it punctuates other pleasures and pastimes. Nor am I promoting the managed time-disciplined safety-valve called “leisure”; far from it. Leisure is nonwork for the sake of work. Leisure is the time spent recovering from work and in the frenzied but hopeless attempt to forget about work. Many people return from vacation so beat that they look forward to returning to work so they can rest up. The main difference between work and leisure is that work at least you get paid for your alienation and enervation.

I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimum definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it’s done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist of “Communist,” work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.

Usually — and this is even more true in “Communist” than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee — work is employment, i. e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In the USSR or Cuba or Yugoslavia or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions — Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey — temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millenia, the payment of taxes (= ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.

But modern work has worse implications. People don’t just work, they have “jobs.” One person does one productive task all the time on an or-else basis. Even if the task has a quantum of intrinsic interest (as increasingly many jobs don’t) the monotony of its obligatory exclusivity drains its ludic potential. A “job” that might engage the energies of some people, for a reasonably limited time, for the fun of it, is just a burden on those who have to do it for forty hours a week with no say in how it should be done, for the profit of owners who contribute nothing to the project, and with no opportunity for sharing tasks or spreading the work among those who actually have to do it. This is the real world of work: a world of bureaucratic blundering, of sexual harassment and discrimination, of bonehead bosses exploiting and scapegoating their subordinates who — by any rational-technical criteria — should be calling the shots. But capitalism in the real world subordinates the rational maximization of productivity and profit to the exigencies of organizational control.

The degradation which most workers experience on the job is the sum of assorted indignities which can be denominated as “discipline.” Foucault has complexified this phenomenon but it is simple enough. Discipline consists of the totality of totalitarian controls at the workplace — surveillance, rotework, imposed work tempos, production quotas, punching -in and -out, etc. Discipline is what the factory and the office and the store share with the prison and the school and the mental hospital. It is something historically original and horrible. It was beyond the capacities of such demonic dictators of yore as Nero and Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible. For all their bad intentions they just didn’t have the machinery to control their subjects as thoroughly as modern despots do. Discipline is the distinctively diabolical modern mode of control, it is an innovative intrusion which must be interdicted at the earliest opportunity.

Such is “work.” Play is just the opposite. Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it’s forced. This is axiomatic. Bernie de Koven has defined play as the “suspension of consequences.” This is unacceptable if it implies that play is inconsequential. The point is not that play is without consequences. This is to demean play. The point is that the consequences, if any, are gratuitous. Playing and giving are closely related, they are the behavioral and transactional facets of the same impulse, the play-instinct. They share an aristocratic disdain for results. The player gets something out of playing; that’s why he plays. But the core reward is the experience of the activity itself (whatever it is). Some otherwise attentive students of play, like Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens), define it as game-playing or following rules. I respect Huizinga’s erudition but emphatically reject his constraints. There are many good games (chess, baseball, Monopoly, bridge) which are rule-governed but there is much more to play than game-playing. Conversation, sex, dancing, travel — these practices aren’t rule-governed but they are surely play if anything is. And rules can be played with at least as readily as anything else.

Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren’t free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or-else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.

And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately deStalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each others control techniques. A worker is a par-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors, he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called “insubordination,” just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation. Without necessarily endorsing it for them either, it is noteworthy that children at home and in school receive much the same treatment, justified in their case by their supposed immaturity. What does this say about their parents and teachers who work?

The demeaning system of domination I’ve described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain purposes it’s not too misleading to call our system democracy or capitalism or — better still — industrialism, but its real names are factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are “free” is lying or stupid. You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to heirarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they’ll likely submit to hierarchy and expertise in everything. They’re used to it.

We are so close to the world of work that we can’t see what it does to us. We have to rely on outside observers from other times or other cultures to appreciate the extremity and the pathology of our present position. There was a time in our own past when the “work ethic” would have been incomprehensible, and perhaps Weber was on to something when he tied its appearance to a religion, Calvinism, which if it emerged today instead of four centuries ago would immediately and appropriately be labeled a cult. Be that as it may, we have only to draw upon the wisdom of antiquity to put work in perspective. The ancients saw work for what it is, and their view prevailed, the Calvinist cranks notwithstanding, until overthrown by industrialism — but not before receiving the endorsement of its prophets.

Let’s pretend for a moment that work doesn’t turn people into stultified submissives. Let’s pretend, in defiance of any plausible psychology and the ideology of its boosters, that it has no effect on the formation of character. And let’s pretend that work isn’t as boring and tiring and humiliating as we all know it really is. Even then, work would still make a mockery of all humanistic and democratic aspirations, just because it usurps so much of our time. Socrates said that manual laborers make bad friends and bad citizens because they have no time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship. He was right. Because of work, no matter what we do we keep looking at out watches. The only thing “free” about so-called free time is that it doesn’t cost the boss anything. Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work. Free time is a euphemism for the peculiar way labor as a factor of production not only transports itself at its own expense to and from the workplace but assumes primary responsibility for its own maintenance and repair. Coal and steel don’t do that. Lathes and typewriters don’t do that. But workers do. No wonder Edward G. Robinson in one of his gangster movies exclaimed, “Work is for saps!”

Both Plato and Xenophon attribute to Socrates and obviously share with him an awareness of the destructive effects of work on the worker as a citizen and a human being. Herodotus identified contempt for work as an attribute of the classical Greeks at the zenith of their culture. To take only one Roman example, Cicero said that “whoever gives his labor for money sells himself and puts himself in the rank of slaves.” His candor is now rare, but contemporary primitive societies which we are wont to look down upon have provided spokesmen who have enlightened Western anthropologists. The Kapauku of West Irian, according to Posposil, have a conception of balance in life and accordingly work only every other day, the day of rest designed “to regain the lost power and health.” Our ancestors, even as late as the eighteenth century when they were far along the path to our present predicament, at least were aware of what we have forgotten, the underside of industrialization. Their religious devotion to “St. Monday” — thus establishing a de facto five-day week 150-200 years before its legal consecration — was the despair of the earliest factory owners. They took a long time in submitting to the tyranny of the bell, predecessor of the time clock. In fact it was necessary for a generation or two to replace adult males with women accustomed to obedience and children who could be molded to fit industrial needs. Even the exploited peasants of the ancien regime wrested substantial time back from their landlord’s work. According to Lafargue, a fourth of the French peasants’ calendar was devoted to Sundays and holidays, and Chayanov’s figures from villages in Czarist Russia — hardly a progressive society — likewise show a fourth or fifth of peasants’ days devoted to repose. Controlling for productivity, we are obviously far behind these backward societies. The exploited muzhiks would wonder why any of us are working at all. So should we.

To grasp the full enormity of our deterioration, however, consider the earliest condition of humanity, without government or property, when we wandered as hunter-gatherers. Hobbes surmised that life was then nasty, brutish and short. Others assume that life was a desperate unremitting struggle for subsistence, a war waged against a harsh Nature with death and disaster awaiting the unlucky or anyone who was unequal to the challenge of the struggle for existence. Actually, that was all a projection of fears for the collapse of government authority over communities unaccustomed to doing without it, like the England of Hobbes during the Civil War. Hobbes’ compatriots had already encountered alternative forms of society which illustrated other ways of life — in North America, particularly — but already these were too remote from their experience to be understandable. (The lower orders, closer to the condition of the Indians, understood it better and often found it attractive. Throughout the seventeenth century, English settlers defected to Indian tribes or, captured in war, refused to return. But the Indians no more defected to white settlements than Germans climb the Berlin Wall from the west.) The “survival of the fittest” version — the Thomas Huxley version — of Darwinism was a better account of economic conditions in Victorian England than it was of natural selection, as the anarchist Kropotkin showed in his book Mutual Aid,A Factor of Evolution. (Kropotkin was a scientist — a geographer — who’d had ample involuntary opportunity for fieldwork whilst exiled in Siberia: he knew what he was talking about.) Like most social and political theory, the story Hobbes and his successors told was really unacknowledged autobiography.

The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, surveying the data on contemporary hunter-gatherers, exploded the Hobbesian myth in an article entitled “The Original Affluent Society.” They work a lot less than we do, and their work is hard to distinguish from what we regard as play. Sahlins concluded that “hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.” They worked an average of four hours a day, assuming they were “working” at all. Their “labor,” as it appears to us, was skilled labor which exercised their physical and intellectual capacities; unskilled labor on any large scale, as Sahlins says, is impossible except under industrialism. Thus it satisfied Friedrich Schiller’s definition of play, the only occasion on which man realizes his complete humanity by giving full “play” to both sides of his twofold nature, thinking and feeling. As he put it: “The animal works when deprivation is the mainspring of its activity, and it plays when the fullness of its strength is this mainspring, when superabundant life is its own stimulus to activity.” (A modern version — dubiously developmental — is Abraham Maslow’s counterposition of “deficiency” and “growth” motivation.) Play and freedom are, as regards production, coextensive. Even Marx, who belongs (for all his good intentions) in the productivist pantheon, observed that “the realm of freedom does not commence until the point is passed where labor under the compulsion of necessity and external utility is required.” He never could quite bring himself to identify this happy circumstance as what it is, the abolition of work — it’s rather anomalous, after all, to be pro-worker and anti-work — but we can.

The aspiration to go backwards or forwards to a life without work is evident in every serious social or cultural history of pre-industrial Europe, among them M. Dorothy George’s England In Transition and Peter Burke’s Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. Also pertinent is Daniel Bell’s essay, “Work and its Discontents,” the first text, I believe, to refer to the “revolt against work” in so many words and, had it been understood, an important correction to the complacency ordinarily associated with the volume in which it was collected, The End of Ideology. Neither critics nor celebrants have noticed that Bell’s end-of-ideology thesis signaled not the end of social unrest but the beginning of a new, uncharted phase unconstrained and uninformed by ideology. It was Seymour Lipset (in Political Man), not Bell, who announced at the same time that “the fundamental problems of the Industrial Revolution have been solved,” only a few years before the post- or meta-industrial discontents of college students drove Lipset from UC Berkeley to the relative (and temporary) tranquility of Harvard.

As Bell notes, Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, for all his enthusiasm for the market and the division of labor, was more alert to (and more honest about) the seamy side of work than Ayn Rand or the Chicago economists or any of Smith’s modern epigones. As Smith observed: “The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations… has no occasion to exert his understanding… He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” Here, in a few blunt words, is my critique of work. Bell, writing in 1956, the Golden Age of Eisenhower imbecility and American self-satisfaction, identified the unorganized, unorganizable malaise of the 1970’s and since, the one no political tendency is able to harness, the one identified in HEW’s report Work in America, the one which cannot be exploited and so is ignored. That problem is the revolt against work. It does not figure in any text by any laissez-faire economist — Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Richard Posner — because, in their terms, as they used to say on Star Trek, “it does not compute.”

If these objections, informed by the love of liberty, fail to persuade humanists of a utilitarian or even paternalist turn, there are others which they cannot disregard. Work is hazardous to your health, to borrow a book title. In fact, work is mass murder or genocide. Directly or indirectly, work will kill most of the people who read these words. Between 14,000 and 25,000 workers are killed annually in this country on the job. Over two million are disabled. Twenty to twenty-five million are injured every year. And these figures are based on a very conservative estimation of what constitutes a work-related injury. Thus they don’t count the half million cases of occupational disease every year. I looked at one medical textbook on occupational diseases which was 1,200 pages long. Even this barely scratches the surface. The available statistics count the obvious cases like the 100,000 miners who have black lung disease, of whom 4,000 die every year, a much higher fatality rate than for AIDS, for instance, which gets so much media attention. This reflects the unvoiced assumption that AIDS afflicts perverts who could control their depravity whereas coal-mining is a sacrosanct activity beyond question. What the statistics don’t show is that tens of millions of people have heir lifespans shortened by work — which is all that homicide means, after all. Consider the doctors who work themselves to death in their 50’s. Consider all the other workaholics.

Even if you aren’t killed or crippled while actually working, you very well might be while going to work, coming from work, looking for work, or trying to forget about work. The vast majority of victims of the automobile are either doing one of these work-obligatory activities or else fall afoul of those who do them. To this augmented body-count must be added the victims of auto-industrial pollution and work-induced alcoholism and drug addiction. Both cancer and heart disease are modern afflictions normally traceable, directly, or indirectly, to work.

Work, then, institutionalizes homicide as a way of life. People think the Cambodians were crazy for exterminating themselves, but are we any different? The Pol Pot regime at least had a vision, however blurred, of an egalitarian society. We kill people in the six-figure range (at least) in order to sell Big Macs and Cadillacs to the survivors. Our forty or fifty thousand annual highway fatalities are victims, not martyrs. They died for nothing — or rather, they died for work. But work is nothing to die for.

Bad news for liberals: regulatory tinkering is useless in this life-and-death context. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration was designed to police the core part of the problem, workplace safety. Even before Reagan and the Supreme Court stifled it, OSHA was a farce. At previous and (by current standards) generous Carter-era funding levels, a workplace could expect a random visit from an OSHA inspector once every 46 years.

State control of the economy is no solution. Work is, if anything, more dangerous in the state-socialist countries than it is here. Thousands of Russian workers were killed or injured building the Moscow subway. Stories reverberate about covered-up Soviet nuclear disasters which make Times Beach and Three-Mile Island look like elementary-school air-raid drills. On the other hand, deregulation, currently fashionable, won’t help and will probably hurt. From a health and safety standpoint, among others, work was at its worst in the days when the economy most closely approximated laissez-faire.

Historians like Eugene Genovese have argued persuasively that — as antebellum slavery apologists insisted — factory wage-workers in the Northern American states and in Europe were worse off than Southern plantation slaves. No rearrangement of relations among bureaucrats and businessmen seems to make much difference at the point of production. Serious enforcement of even the rather vague standards enforceable in theory by OSHA would probably bring the economy to a standstill. The enforcers apparently appreciate this, since they don’t even try to crack down on most malefactors.

What I’ve said so far ought not to be controversial. Many workers are fed up with work. There are high and rising rates of absenteeism, turnover, employee theft and sabotage, wildcat strikes, and overall goldbricking on the job. There may be some movement toward a conscious and not just visceral rejection of work. And yet the prevalent feeling, universal among bosses and their agents and also widespread among workers themselves is that work itself is inevitable and necessary.

I disagree. It is now possible to abolish work and replace it, insofar as it serves useful purposes, with a multitude of new kinds of free activities. To abolish work requires going at it from two directions, quantitative and qualitative. On the one hand, on the quantitative side, we have to cut down massively on the amount of work being done. At present most work is useless or worse and we should simply get rid of it. On the other hand — and I think this the crux of the matter and the revolutionary new departure — we have to take what useful work remains and transform it into a pleasing variety of game-like and craft-like pastimes, indistinguishable from other pleasurable pastimes, except that they happen to yield useful end-products. Surely that shouldn’t make them less enticing to do. Then all the artificial barriers of power and property could come down. Creation could become recreation. And we could all stop being afraid of each other.

I don’t suggest that most work is salvageable in this way. But then most work isn’t worth trying to save. Only a small and diminishing fraction of work serves any useful purpose independent of the defense and reproduction of the work-system and its political and legal appendages. Twenty years ago, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just five percent of the work then being done — presumably the figure, if accurate, is lower now — would satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Theirs was only an educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control. Right off the bat we can liberate tens of millions of salesmen, soldiers, managers, cops, stockbrokers, clergymen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, landlords, security guards, ad-men and everyone who works for them. There is a snowball effect since every time you idle some bigshot you liberate his flunkeys and underlings also. Thus the economy implodes.

Forty percent of the workforce are white-collar workers, most of whom have some of the most tedious and idiotic jobs ever concocted. Entire industries, insurance and banking and real estate for instance, consist of nothing but useless paper-shuffling. It is no accident that the “tertiary sector,” the service sector, is growing while the “secondary sector” (industry) stagnates and the “primary sector” (agriculture) nearly disappears. Because work is unnecessary except to those whose power it secures, workers are shifted from relatively useful to relatively useless occupations as a measure to assure public order. Anything is better than nothing. That’s why you can’t go home just because you finish early. They want your time, enough of it to make you theirs, even if they have no use for most of it. Otherwise why hasn’t the average work week gone down by more than a few minutes in the past fifty years?

Next we can take a meat-cleaver to production work itself. No more war production, nuclear power, junk food, feminine hygiene deodorant — and above all, no more auto industry to speak of. An occasional Stanley Steamer or Model-T might be all right, but the auto-eroticism on which such pestholes as Detroit and Los Angeles depend on is out of the question. Already, without even trying, we’ve virtually solved the energy crisis, the environmental crisis and assorted other insoluble social problems.

Finally, we must do away with far and away the largest occupation, the one with the longest hours, the lowest pay and some of the most tedious tasks around. I refer to “housewives” doing housework and child-rearing. By abolishing wage-labor and achieving full unemployment we undermine the sexual division of labor. The nuclear family as we know it is an inevitable adaptation to the division of labor imposed by modern wage-work. Like it or not, as things have been for the last century or two it is economically rational for the man to bring home the bacon, for the woman to do the shitwork to provide him with a haven in a heartless world, and for the children to be marched off to youth concentration camps called “schools,” primarily to keep them out of Mom’s hair but still under control, but incidentally to acquire the habits of obedience and punctuality so necessary for workers. If you would be rid of patriarchy, get rid of the nuclear family whose unpaid “shadow work,” as Ivan Illich says, makes possible the work-system that makes it necessary. Bound up with this no-nukes strategy is the abolition of childhood and the closing of the schools. There are more full-time students than full-time workers in this country. We need children as teachers, not students. They have a lot to contribute to the ludic revolution because they’re better at playing than grown-ups are. Adults and children are not identical but they will become equal through interdependence. Only play can bridge the generation gap.

I haven’t as yet even mentioned the possibility of cutting way down on the little work that remains by automating and cybernizing it. All the scientists and engineers and technicians freed from bothering with war research and planned obsolescence would have a good time devising means to eliminate fatigue and tedium and danger from activities like mining. Undoubtedly they’ll find other projects to amuse themselves with. Perhaps they’ll set up world-wide all-inclusive multi-media communications systems or found space colonies. Perhaps. I myself am no gadget freak. I wouldn’t care to live in a pushbutton paradise. I don’t what robot slaves to do everything; I want to do things myself. There is, I think, a place for labor-saving technology, but a modest place. The historical and pre-historical record is not encouraging. When productive technology went from hunting-gathering to agriculture and on to industry, work increased while skills and self-determination diminished. The further evolution of industrialism has accentuated what Harry Braverman called the degradation of work. Intelligent observers have always been aware of this. John Stuart Mill wrote that all the labor-saving inventions ever devised haven’t saved a moment’s labor. Karl Marx wrote that “it would be possible to write a history of the inventions, made since 1830, for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working class.” The enthusiastic technophiles — Saint-Simon, Comte, Lenin, B. F. Skinner — have always been unabashed authoritarians also; which is to say, technocrats. We should be more than sceptical about the promises of the computer mystics. They work like dogs; chances are, if they have their way, so will the rest of us. But if they have any particularized contributions more readily subordinated to human purposes than the run of high tech, let’s give them a hearing.

What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a “job” and an “occupation.” Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their air-conditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won’t be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.

The secret of turning work into play, as Charles Fourier demonstrated, is to arrange useful activities to take advantage of whatever it is that various people at various times in fact enjoy doing. To make it possible for some people to do the things they could enjoy it will be enough just to eradicate the irrationalities and distortions which afflict these activities when they are reduced to work. I, for instance, would enjoy doing some (not too much) teaching, but I don’t want coerced students and I don’t care to suck up to pathetic pedants for tenure.

Second, there are some things that people like to do from time to time, but not for too long, and certainly not all the time. You might enjoy baby-sitting for a few hours in order to share the company of kids, but not as much as their parents do. The parents meanwhile, profoundly appreciate the time to themselves that you free up for them, although they’d get fretful if parted from their progeny for too long. These differences among individuals are what make a life of free play possible. The same principle applies to many other areas of activity, especially the primal ones. Thus many people enjoy cooking when they can practice it seriously at their leisure, but not when they’re just fueling up human bodies for work.

Third — other things being equal — some things that are unsatisfying if done by yourself or in unpleasant surroundings or at the orders of an overlord are enjoyable, at least for a while, if these circumstances are changed. This is probably true, to some extent, of all work. People deploy their otherwise wasted ingenuity to make a game of the least inviting drudge-jobs as best they can. Activities that appeal to some people don’t always appeal to all others, but everyone at least potentially has a variety of interests and an interest in variety. As the saying goes, “anything once.” Fourier was the master at speculating how aberrant and perverse penchants could be put to use in post-civilized society, what he called Harmony. He thought the Emperor Nero would have turned out all right if as a child he could have indulged his taste for bloodshed by working in a slaughterhouse. Small children who notoriously relish wallowing in filth could be organized in “Little Hordes” to clean toilets and empty the garbage, with medals awarded to the outstanding. I am not arguing for these precise examples but for the underlying principle, which I think makes perfect sense as one dimension of an overall revolutionary transformation. Bear in mind that we don’t have to take today’s work just as we find it and match it up with the proper people, some of whom would have to be perverse indeed. If technology has a role in all this it is less to automate work out of existence than to open up new realms for re/creation. To some extent we may want to return to handicrafts, which William Morris considered a probable and desirable upshot of communist revolution. Art would be taken back from the snobs and collectors, abolished as a specialized department catering to an elite audience, and its qualities of beauty and creation restored to integral life from which they were stolen by work. It’s a sobering thought that the grecian urns we write odes about and showcase in museums were used in their own time to store olive oil. I doubt our everyday artifacts will fare as well in the future, if there is one. The point is that there’s no such thing as progress in the world of work; if anything it’s just the opposite. We shouldn’t hesitate to pilfer the past for what it has to offer, the ancients lose nothing yet we are enriched.

The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps. There is, it is true, more suggestive speculation than most people suspect. Besides Fourier and Morris — and even a hint, here and there, in Marx — there are the writings of Kropotkin, the syndicalists Pataud and Pouget, anarcho-communists old (Berkman) and new (Bookchin). The Goodman brothers’ Communitas
is exemplary for illustrating what forms follow from given functions (purposes), and there is something to be gleaned from the often hazy heralds of alternative/appropriate/intermediate/convivial technology, like Schumacher and especially Illich, once you disconnect their fog machines. The situationists — as represented by Vaneigem’s Revolution of Daily Life and in the Situationist International Anthology — are so ruthlessly lucid as to be exhilarating, even if they never did quite square the endorsement of the rule of the worker’s councils with the abolition of work. Better their incongruity, though than any extant version of leftism, whose devotees look to be the last champions of work, for if there were no work there would be no workers, and without workers, who would the left have to organize?

So the abolitionists would be largely on their own. No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen. The tiresome debater’s problem of freedom vs. necessity, with its theological overtones, resolves itself practically once the production of use-values is coextensive with the consumption of delightful play-activity.

Life will become a game, or rather many games, but not — as it is now – — a zero/sum game. An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play, The participants potentiate each other’s pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins. The more you give, the more you get. In the ludic life, the best of sex will diffuse into the better part of daily life. Generalized play leads to the libidinization of life. Sex, in turn, can become less urgent and desperate, more playful. If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.

No one should ever work. Workers of the world… relax!

Compiled by Romano Krauth
Published by which went offline in 2006

Camillo Berneri

Posted in Anarchist with tags , , , , on March 11, 2009 by blackeyepress

Camillo Berneri, anarchico

Born 1897, Camillo Berneri spent his childhood at Reggio Emilia and was active in a Socialist youth group.

In 1917 he was drafted.

After the war he finished his studies while very actively involved in the anarchist press. He became a humanities teacher in a high school. The coming of the Fascist regime and his refusal to give any loyalty as a civil servant to this regime meant that he had to go into exile.

Thus began a long series of arrests and expulsions from France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland.

Despite these physical and moral obstacles, Berneri was intellectually fully active. He wrote numerous articles and anti-religious leaflets on the emancipation of women. He also put forward a theory which was published as The Anti-Semitic Jew in which he studied the compulsory or voluntary assimilation of the Jews. His most important writings were Fascist Espionage Abroad and Mussolini and the Conquest of the Balearic Islands.

At the news of the uprising in Spain, Berneri and the majority of the Italian antifascists made their way there immediately. They formed a column which was to be integrated in the Ascaso Column on the Aragon Front, organised by Berneri and Carlo Rosselli (a left-wing Socialist). Berneri took part in the battle of Monte Pelado (1936).

He ended up devoting himself mainly to propaganda. He ran the magazine Guerra di Classe. Berneri’s last two works were Us and the POUM and a Speech of 3rd May 1937 on the CNT/FAI radio to Italy on the occasion of the death of Gramsci.

Camillo Berneri Bibliography

Neo-malthusianesimo ed anarchismo

Religione e critica

Bolscevismo e sovietismo

Guerra di classe

Pietro Kropotkin

L’emancipazione della donna


Camillo Berneri: The Wisdom of a Proverb

The Swiss Federal Council was the first to inaugurate in the name of ‘neutrality’ a regime of persecution against the friends of Free Spain, desiring by this servile and reactionary attitude to pay homage to the ogres of Berlin and Rome.

An outcry of scandal then arose from the synagogues of Social-Democracy. And Stalin’s admirers protested vehemently.

Soon after, the Belgian government, which is composed of Social Democratic ministers, expelled Canon Gallegos and Father Lobo, Catholic priests guilty merely of having declared at private meetings their solidarity with the legal government of Spain.

Then there was the British government dragging out from the dust of centuries a law of 1870 which punishes the enrolment of British citizens in foreign militias.

The United States in their turn brought up for discussion a law of 1811 forbidding North American citizens enrolling abroad.

Finally, the French government obtained from the Chamber of Deputies full powers to surround Republican Spain with a ‘cordon sanitaire’ against the influx of foreign volunteers. And these powers, it received them from the Communist and Socialist groups in parliament. There is nothing surprising in the attitude of the Socialists. It coincides with that of ‘Populaire’ and only serves to confirm it. But the attitude of the Communists constitutes a scandalous change of policy. The English Communists had protested at the blockade of volunteers. Ted Barnales, head of the London section of the English Communist Party had declared in one of his speeches on 11th November last, “For or each German soldier in Spain, we will send a seasoned English fighter. This is our reply to the decision taken by the government to prevent volunteers departing for Spain.”

And ‘Humanite’ at the news that the French government intended to forbid the enrolment of volunteers burst out in repeated protests. A platonic gesture on the part of the French Social Democrat and Stalinist leaders, bound up to the very end with the wet-blanket government and the human ostrich.

The ‘Petit Parisien’ of 15th December announced a ‘strengthening of control’ on the part of France, and Gabriel Peri wrote in ‘Humanite’

“Petit Parisien is the unofficial monitor of the Quai d’Orsay. We would like to know whether the plan which it is announcing has, as the Petit Petit Parisien indicates, the approval of M. Delbos. We would like to know if it has the approval of the President of the Council. If not we would like to read a denial as soon as possible.”

Instead of a prompt denial, the ‘Populaire’ of 8th January wrote, “We believe that there would be no difficulty in adopting the advice of the German government which is proposing, in its reply, to remove from Spain, all foreigners taking part in the fighting including the political agitators and propagandists. with the aim of re-establishing the state of affairs existing in August 1936.”

And it concluded,

“We must not lose any time in useless investigation of their intentions by trying to discover the ‘traps’ which there may be in the replies of Berlin and Rome. There is a certain way of overcoming all difficulties. It is by applying and making all others apply a policy of non-intervention in Spain; by eliminating from Spain all combatants who are not Spanish. We must do it at and do it quickly.”

With Peri, Cachin, Vaillant – Couturier and company protested. But Moscow took the helm. And who would associate themselves directly in the name of the Communist group in parliament with the Blumist ‘faction?’ Peri was the very man, he who had maintained with the greatest obstinacy and vehemence that France should have a policy overtly in favour of the Spanish Republic. The buffoons and idiots of Bolshevism are as bad as the buffoons and idiots of Social Democracy. The Socialist parliamentary group trampled on the last resolution of the executive committees of the IOS and the FSI which declares, “that the maintenance of peace, which is the supreme asset of the workers of ail countries and, consequently, the primary concern of governments under Socialist control or with Socialist participation, can only be assured on the condition that Democracy opposes an attitude bent on blackmail or fascist menaces.”

The Communist parliamentary group, for its part, completely denied an infinite number of explicit declarations against French ‘neutrality’ declarations made at its meetings and published in its papers, mainly in ‘Humanite.’

Non-intervention plays into the hands of Hitler and Mussolini, arid thus of Franco. The English Memorandum and the French moratorium proposing to the German and Italian governments that they stop sending volunteers to Spain go back to 3rd December 1936. The Italo – German reply came on 7th January. Thirty-five days of . . . meditation, thirty-five days of massive dispatch of men and military equipment to Franco.

The Italian government recruited ‘volunteers’ by means of orders sent through the military districts; it directed towards Spain by means of force, men recruited to work in Ethiopia, it concentrated volunteers for Spain in the barracks. it even used common law convicts to swell the ranks of the volunteers: it created concentrations of expeditionary forces in la Speziz, Eboli, Salerno and Cagliari: and it transported them in the State ships as far as Spanish Morocco.

After the bombings carried out over Spanish territory by Italian planes, using for their base the airfield of Elmas after the occupation of Majorca, we have all the elements of proof to show that Italy has intervened militarily in the Spanish Civil War. Mussolini has no intention of renouncing Spain. ‘Roma Fascista’ does not hesitate to declare. “We are fighting and we shall win in Spain.” ‘Il Giornale d’ltalia’ implies that French control of access routes to Spain on land will be virtual. Hitler and Mussolini are demanding the impossible of the English and French governments: like, for example, suppressing propaganda in favour of Spain and removing from Spain all foreign anti-fascists.

The bad faith of Mussolini and Hitler appears with as much clarity as the over careful stupidity of Blum. Mussolini, in contempt for all international law, has sent at least 20,000 men to Spain, and there are besides (according to ‘Ami du Peuple’) at least 30,000 German soldiers in Spain. The Italian government and the German government will continue to send men, arms and ammunition whatever promises they make.

The Anglo – French neutrality has been is and will always be a hypocritical intervention in favour of Spanish, German and Italian Fascism.

To accept the supervisory blockade, is the same as putting on the same place the loyal government and an army of rebels, it is the same as putting Europe in the dilemma: war or the triumph of fascism. And the triumph of fascism is the inevitable war of the very near future.

The Blumist policy has never had a clear and coherent line of action because it is dominated by fear and a tendency to compromise. It is a Social Democratic policy.

The French Communist Party, by adhering to this policy, has erased one of the few fine pages in its history, The international repercussions will have profound consequences. As will the repercussions on French internal politics. But the most important thing for us is, for the moment, to examine the needs of our struggle in Spain in relation to the new situation. We will deal with that elsewhere. Today we are experiencing an agonising and troubling emotion as we see the wisdom of the popular proverb being confirmed: “May God guard me from my friends. I can take care of my enemies.”

Spain, surrounded by declared enemies and false friends will not continue on its own path any less because of them. We wish with all our filial love for this magnificent people that this path will lead to the shining heights of triumph. But even if it leads us to the deepest abyss of defeat, we would always have the consolation of having wanted to be with the innocent victims and not with the murderers of unarmed people; of having defended the sacred cause of liberty and justice and not the return to tyranny and feudal privilege; of having taken part in the melee, choosing our side decisively, and having rejected the degrading share of cowardly and stupid compromises.

Camillo Berneri: State and Revolution : The Abolition and Extinction of the State

Whereas we anarchists desire the extinction of the state through the social revolution and the constitution of an autonomist federal order, the Leninists desire the destruction of the bourgeois state and moreover the conquest of the state by the ‘proletariat.’ The ‘proletarian’ state. they say, is a semi-state since the complete state is the bourgeois one destroyed by the social revolution. And even this semi-state would die, according to the Marxists, a natural death.

This theory of the extinction of the state which is the basis of Lenin’s book State and Revolution has been derived by him from Engels who in Anti-Duhring says,

“The proletariat seizes the power of the state and first of all transforms the means of production into the property of the state. But by achieving this it does away with itself as proletariat, it does away with all class differences and all class antagonisms and consequently also with the state as the state. Society as it was and as it is at present which is actuated by the antagonisms between the classes, needed the state, that is to say an organisation of the exploiting class with a view to maintaining the outward conditions of production, more particularly with a view to maintaining by force the exploited class in the oppressive conditions demanded by the existing mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage labour). The state was the official representative of the entire society, its synthesis in visible form, but it was only this to the extent that it was the state of the class which itself represented in its time the entire society: the state of citizens who owned slaves in antiquity, the state of the feudal nobility in the Middle Ages, the state of the bourgeoisie in our time. But by becoming at last the true representative of the whole society, it renders itself superfluous. As soon as there is no longer a social class to maintain in oppression; as soon as the clashes of interest and the excesses are abolished at the same time as class domination and the struggle for individual existence which is founded in the old anarchy of production from which they result, there is nothing more to repress, and a special force for repression, the state, ceases to be necessary. The first act by which the state confirms itself in reality as the representative of the entire society – taking possession of the means of production in the name of society – is at the same time the last proper act of the state. The intervention of the power of the state in social relations becomes superfluous in one area after another, and eventually dies away of its own accord. Government of people is replaced by administration of things and control of the process of production. The state is not ‘abolished’; it withers away. It is from this point of view that one must appraise the expression: ‘a free popular state’ as much for its short-lived interest for discussion as for its definitive scientific inadequacy; from this point of view also must the claims of those who are called anarchists and who desire that the state should be abolished overnight be appraised.”

Between the State – Today and the Anarchy – Tomorrow there would be the semi-state. The state which dies is the ‘state as the state’ that is to say, the bourgeois state. It is in this sense that one must take the phrase which at first sight seems to contradict the proposition of the socialist state. “The first act by which the state confirms itself in reality as the representative of the entire society – taking possession of the means of production in the name of society – is at the same time the last proper act of the state.” Taken literally and out of context, this phrase would signify the temporal simultaneity of economic socialisation and the extinction of the state. In the same way also, taken literally and out of context, the phrases relating to the proletariat destroying itself as proletariat in the act of seizing the power of the state would indicate the lack of need for the ‘Proletarian State.’ In reality, Engels under the influence of ‘didactic style’ expresses himself in an unfortunate manner. Between the bourgeois state today and the socialist-anarchist tomorrow, Engels recognises a chain of successive eras during which the state and the proletariat remain. It is to throw some light on the dialectical obscurity that he adds the final allusion to the anarchists “who desire that the state should be abolished overnight” that is to say, who do not allow the transitory period as regards the state, whose intervention according to Engels becomes superfluous, “in one area after another” that is to say, gradually.

It seems to me that the Leninist position on the problem of the state coincides exactly with that taken by Marx and Engels when one interprets the spirit of the writings of these latter without letting oneself be deceived by the ambiguity of certain turns of phrase.

The state is, in Marxist – Leninist political thought, the temporary political instrument of socialisation, temporary in the very essence of the state, which is that of an organism for the domination of one class by another. The socialist state, by abolishing classes, commits suicide. Marx and Engels were metaphysicians who frequently came to schematise historical processes from love of system.

‘The Proletariat’ which seizes the state, bestowing on it the complete ownership of the means of production and destroying itself as proletariat and the state ‘as the state’ is a metaphysical fantasy, a political hypothesis of social abstractions.

It is not the Russian proletariat that has seized the power of the state, but rather the Bolshevik Party which has not destroyed the proletariat at all and which has on the other hand created a State Capitalism, a new bourgeois class, a set of interests bound to the Bolshevik state which tend to preserve themselves by preserving the state.

The extinction of the state is further away than ever in the USSR where static interventionism is ever more immense and oppressive, and where classes are not disappearing.

The Leninist programme for 1917 included these points: the discontinuance of the police and the standing army, abolition of the professional bureaucracy, elections for all public positions and offices, revocability of all officials, equality of bureaucratic wages with workers’ wages, the maximum of democracy, peaceful competition among the parties within the soviets, abolition of the death penalty. Not a single one of the points in this programme has been achieved.

We have the USSR a government, a dictatorial oligarchy. The Central Committee (19 members) dominates the Russian Communist Party which in turn dominates the USSR.

All those who are not ‘loyal subjects’ are charged with being counter-revolutionaries. The Bolshevik revolution has engendered a saturnal government, which deports Riazano founder of the Marx Engels institute, at the time when he is preparing the complete and original edition of Das Kapital; which condemns to death Zinoviev, president of the Communist International, Kamenev and many others among the best propagators of Leninism, which excludes from the party, then exiles, then expels from the USSR a ‘duce’ like Trotsky, which in short is dead set against 80% of the supporters of Leninism.

In 1920 Lenin was speaking very highly of self-criticism within the lap of the Communist Party and spoke of ‘mistakes’ recognised by the ‘Party’ and not of the right of the citizen to denounce these mistakes, or those things which seemed to him to be such of the party in government. When Lenin was dictator, whoever caused a stir in denouncing the same mistakes which Lenin himself recognised in retrospect risked or underwent ostracism, prison or death. Bolshevik Sovietism was an atrocious joke even for Lenin who vaunted the god-like power of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party over all the USSR in saying: “No important question be it one of political discipline or relating to organisation, is decided on by a state institution in our Republic without a directive emanating from the Central Committee of the Party.”

Whoever says ‘proletarian State’ says ‘State Capitalism’ whoever says ‘dictatorship of the Proletariat’ says ‘Dictatorship of the Communist Party;’ whoever says ‘strong government’ says ‘Tsarist oligarchy of politicians.’

Leninists, Trotskyists, Bordighists, Centrists are only divided by different tactical ideas. All Bolsheviks, to whatever stream or faction they belong are supporters of political dictatorship and State Socialism. All are united by the formula: ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ an ambiguous phrase which corresponds to ‘The People Sovereign’ of Jacobinism. Whatever Jacobinism is, it is certain to cause the Social Revolution to deviate. And when it deviates, ‘the shadow of a Bonaparte’ is cast across it.

One would have to be blind not to see that the Bonapartism of Stalin is merely the horrible and living shadow of Leninist Dictatorialism.

Compiled by Romano Krauth
First published by, which went offline in 2006

Frances Wright

Posted in Anarchist with tags , , on March 9, 2009 by blackeyepress

Frances Wright


Frances Wright was born in 1795 in Scotland but had an early interest in America. After educating herself from a college library, she visited the United States when she was 23. During her travels, she wrote Views of Society and Manners in America. This travelogue hails American life as progressive in contrast to the backwardness of the Old World.

In later travels, her enthusiasm faded as did her naiveté. While traveling down the Mississippi, Wright was appalled by the practice of slavery and began to theorize about ways that slavery could be abolished. In addition to writing a treatise, Wright decided to establish a settlement in which slaves could be emancipated. In 1825 she established such a community, Nashoba, which focused on communal living with the help of soon-to-be emancipated slaves. This venture did not fare well despite her persistent efforts. She tried a more mainstream approach by stating her views in the Memphis Advocate with attacks on racially segregated schools, organized religion, racial taboos in sex relations, and marriage.

After the settlement collapsed altogether, she emancipated the slaves and paid for their transportation to Haiti as she promised. Her outspoken political rhetoric and her attempt at such a progressive community left Wright on the fringes of mainstream society. She then focused her social reform on the urban areas. Wright condemned capital punishment and demanded improvements in the status of women, including equal education, legal rights for married women, liberal divorce laws, and birth control. After allying with Robert Owen, founder of another utopian community called New Harmony, she focused these concerns on education reform. They advocated a system of free state boarding schools in which children would be educated without religious doctrine but receive training in traditional subjects as well as industrial skills. Fanny Wright saw this system as relieving families of the “burden” of raising children.

From her desire to see these educational proposals enacted, Frances Wright moved in the political sphere and became a central figure in the workingmen`s movement. She differed in some technical aspects from the workingmen`s movement, which consisted of activism by small farmers, artisans, and workers in early factories, Wright became synonymous with their protests. Those opposing the workingmen`s movement referred to the movement as the Fanny Wright party.

After marrying a French physician, Guillayme D`Arusmont, Frances Wright moved to France and spent time out of the public eye. When she returned to the States she resumed a political platform with a historical perspective narrating the ills of contemporary society. After the midterm campaign of 1838, Frances Wright suffered from a variety of health problems. She died in 1852.


Views of Society and Manners in America

New Harmony Gazette (edit.)

Free Enquirer (edit.)

Course of Popular Lectures


Frances Wright: Address I : Delivered in the New Harmony Hall on the Fourth of July, 1823

The custom which commemorates in rejoicing the anniversary of the national independence of these states, has its origin in a human feeling, amiable in its nature, and beneficial, under proper direction, in its indulgence.

From the era which dates the national existence of the American people, dates also a mighty step in the march of human knowledge. And it is consistent with that principle in our conformation which leads us to rejoice in the good which befals our species, and to sorrow for the evil, that our hearts should expand on this day; — on this day, which calls to memory the conquest achieved by knowledge over ignorance, willing co-operation over blind obedience, opinion over prejudice, new ways over old ways, when, fifty-two years ago, America declared her national independence, and associated it with her republican federation. Reasonable is it to rejoice on this day, and useful to reflect thereon; so that we rejoice for the real, and not for any imaginary good, we reflect on the positive advantages obtained, and on those which it is ours farther to acquire.

Dating, as we justly may, a new era in the history of man from the Fourth of July, 1776, it would be well, that is, it would be useful, if on each anniversary we examined the progress made by our species in just knowledge and just practice. Each Fourth of July would then stand as a tide mark in the flood of time, by which to note the rise and fall of each successive error, the discovery of each important truth, the gradual melioration in our public institutions, social arrangements, and, above all, in our moral feelings and mental views. Let such a review as this engage annually our attention, and sacred, doubly sacred, shall be this day: and that not to one nation only, but to all nations capable of reflection.

The political dismemberment of these once British colonies from the parent island, though involving a valuable principle, and many possible results, would scarcely merit a yearly commemoration, even in this country, had it not been accompanied by other occurrences more novel, and far more important. I allude to the seal then set to the system of representative government, till then imperfectly know in Europe, and insecurely practised in America, and to the crown then placed on this system by the novel experiment of political federation. The frame of federative government that sprung out of the articles signed in ’76, is one of the most beautiful inventions of the human intellect. It has been in government what the steam engine has been in mechanics, and the printing press in the dissemination of knowledge.

But it needs not that we should now pause to analyse what all must have considered. It is to one particular feature in our political institutions that I would call a attention, and this, because it is at once the most deserving of notice, and the least noticed. Are our institutions better than those of other countries? Upon fair examination most men will answer yes. But why will they so answer? It is because they are republican, instead of monarchical? Democratic, rather than aristocratic? In so far as the republican principle shall have been proved more conducive to the general good than the monarchical, and the democratic than the aristocratic — in so far will the reasons be good. But there is another and a better reason than these. There is, in the institutions of this country, one principle, which, had they no other excellence, would secure to them the preference over those of all other countries. I mean — and some devout patriots will start — I mean the principle of change.

I have used a word to which is attached an obnoxious meaning. Speak of change, and the world is in alarm. And yet where do we not see change? What is there in the physical world but change? And what would there be in the moral world without change? The flower blossoms, the fruit ripens, the seed is received and germinates in the earth, and and we behold the tree. The aliment we eat to satisfy our hunger incorporates with our frame, and the atoms composing our existence to day, are exhaled to morrow. In like manner our feelings and opinions are moulded by circumstance, and matured by observation and experience. All is change. Within and about us no one thing is as it was, or will be as it is. Strange, then, that we should start at a word used to signify a thing so familiar? Stranger yet that we should fail to appreciate a principle which, inherent in all matter, is no less inherent in ourselves; and which as it has tracked our mental progress heretofore, so will it track our progress through time to come.

But will it be said change has a bad, as well as a good sense? It may be for the better, and it may be for the worse? In the physical world it can be neither the one nor the other. It can be simply such as it is. But in the moral world — that is, in the thoughts, and feelings, and inventions of men, change may certainly be either for the better or for the worse, or it may be for neither. Changes that are neither bad nor good can have regard only to trivial matters, and can be as little worthy of observation as of censure. Changes that are from better to worse can originate only in ignorance, and are ever amended so soon as experience has substantiated their mischief. Where men then are free to consult experience they will correct their practice, and make changes for the better. It follows, therefore, that the more free men are, the more changes they will make. In the beginning, possibly, for the worse; but most certainly in time for the better; until their knowledge enlarging by observation, and their judgment strengthening by exercise, they will find themselves in the straight, broad, fair road of improvement. Out of change, therefore, springs improvement; and the people who shall have imagined a peaceable mode of changing their institutions, hold a surety for their melioration. This surety is worth all other excellences. Better were the prospects of a people under the influence of the worst government who should hold the power of changing it, that those of a people under the best who should hold no such power. Here, then is the great beauty of American government. The simple machinery of representation carried through all its parts, gives facility for its being moulded at will to fit with the knowledge of the age. If imperfect in any or all of its parts, it bears within it a perfect principle — the principle of improvement. And, let us observe, that this principle is all that we can ever know of perfection. Knowledge, and all the blessings which spring out of knowledge, can never be more than progressive; and whatsoever sets open the door does all for us — does every thing.

The clear-sighted provision in the national constitution, as in the constitutions of the different states, by which the frame of government can be moulded at will by the public voice, and so made to keep pace in progress with the public mind, is the master-stroke in constitutional law. Were our institutions far less enlightened and well digested than they are — were every other regulation erroneous, every other ordinance defective — nay, even tyrannous — this single provision would counterbalance all. Let but the door be opened, and be fixed open, for improvement to hold on her unimpeded course, and vices, however flagrant are but the evils of an hour. Once lauch the animal man in the road of iniquity, and he shall — he must — hold a forward career. He may be sometimes checked; he may seem occasionally to retrograde; but his retreat is only that of the receding wave in the inning tide. His master movement is always in advance. By this do we distinguish man from all other existences within the range of our observation. By this does he stand pre-eminent over all known animals. By this — by his capability of improvement; by his tendency to improve whenever scope is allowed for the development of his faculties. To hold him still, he must be chained. Snap the chain, and he springs forward.

But will it be said, that the chains which bind him are more than one? That political bonds are much, but not all; and that when broken, we may still be slaves? I know not, my friends. We tax our ingenuity to draw nice distinctions. We are told of political liberty — of religious liberty — of moral liberty. Yet, after all, is there more than one liberty; and these divisions, are they not the more and the less of the same thing? The provision we have referred to in our political institutions, as frame din accordance with the principle inherent in ourselves, insures to us all of free action that statues can insure. Supposing that our laws, constitutional, civil, or penal, should in any thing cripple us at the present, the power will be with us to amend or annul them so soon (and how might it be sooner?) as our enlarged knowledge shall enable us to see in what they err. All the liberty therefore that we yet lack will gradually spring up — there, where our bondage is — in our minds. To be free we have but to see our chains. Are we disappointed — are we sometimes angry, because the crowd or any part of the crowd around us bows submissively to mischievous usages or unjust laws? Let us remember, that they do so in ignorance of their mischief and injustice, and that when they see these, as in the course of man’s progressive state they must see them, these and other evils will be corrected.

Unappreciable is this advantage that we hold (unfortunately) above other nations? The great national and political revolution of ’76 set the seal to the liberties of North America. And but for one evil, and that of immense magnitude, which the constitutional provision we have been considering does not fairly reach — I allude to negro slavery and the degradation of our coloured citizens — we could foresee for the whole of this magnificent country a certain future of uniform and peaceful improvement. While other nations have still to win reform at the sword’s point, we have only to will it. While in Europe men have still to fight, we have only to learn. While there they have to cope with ignorance armed cap-a-pee, encircled with armies and powerful with gold, we have only peacefully to collect knowledge, and to frame our institutions and actions in accordance with it.

It is true, that we have much knowledge to collect, and consequently much to amend in our opinions and our practice. It is also true that we are often ignorant of what has been done, and quite unaware that there is yet any thing to do. The very nature of the national institutions is frequently mistaken, and the devotion exhibited for them as frequently based on a wrong principle. Here, as in other countries, we hear of patriotism; that is, of love of country in an exclusive sense; of love of our countrymen in contradistinction to the love of our fellow-creatures; of love of the constitution, instead of love or appreciation of those principles upon which the constitution is, or ought to be, based, and upon which, if it should be found not to be based, it would merit no attachment at all.

The sentiment here adverted to involves much of importance to us in our double character of human beings and citizens. That double character it will be also useful that we examine, as much confusion prevails in the vulgar ideas on the subject.

It will be conceded, that we do not cease to be human beings when we become citizens; and farther, that our happy existence as human beings is of more importance to us than our artificial existence as member of a nation or subjects of a government. Indeed, the only rational purpose for which we can suppose men congregated into what are called nations, is the increase of happiness-the insuring of some advantage, real or imagined. The only rational purpose for which we can suppose governments organized, the same. If, upon examination, we should find the object not gained, the experiment, so far as it went, would have failed, and we should then act rationally to break up such national congregations, and to change or annul such governments. Our character as citizens, therefore, must ever depend upon our finding it for our interest as human beings to stand in that relation. What then is patriotism, or the fulfilment of our duties as citizens, but the acting consistently in that way which we conceive it for our interest that we should act? Or what reason might be offered for our consulting the interests of a government, unless its interests are in unison with our own?

The great error of the wisest known nations of antiquity, the Greeks and Romans, was the preference invariable given to the imagined interests of an imaginary existence called the state or country, and the real interests of the real existences, or human beings, upon whom, individually and collectively, their laws could alone operate. Another error was the opposition in which they invariably placed the interests of their own nation tot he interests of all other nations; and a third and greater error, was the elevating into a virtue this selfish preference of their own national interests, under the name of patriotism. The moderns are growing a little wise on these matters, but they are still very ignorant. The least ignorant are the people of this country; but they have much to learn. Americans no longer argue on the propriety of making all men soldiers, in order that their nation may be an object of terror to the rest of the world. They understand that the happiness of a people is the only rational object of a government, and the only object for which a people, free to choose, can have a government at all. They have, farther, almost excluded war as a profession, and reduced it from a system of robbery to one of simple defence. In so doing, they ought also to have laid aside all show of military parade, and all ideas of military glory. If they have not done so, it is that their reform in this matter is yet imperfect, and their ideas respecting it are confused.

Who among us but has heard, and, perhaps echoed eulogiums on the patriotism of statesmen and soldiers — not because they have upheld some strict principle of justice, which should rather merit the name of virtue, but because they have flattered the vanity of their countrymen in a public speech, defended their own interests, and the national interest, in some foreign treaty, or their own possessions, and the national possessions, in a siege or a pitched battle? It is not that some of these actions may not e just and proper; but are they justly and properly estimated? It is virtuous in a man if a pistol be presented to his breast, to knock down the assailant? The action is perfectly warrantable; but does it call forth admiration? Should the attack be made made on another, and should he defend the life of that other at the risk of his own; the action, though not exceedingly meritorious, might excite a moderate admiration, as involving a forgetfulness of self in the service rendered.

Does not the defence of country afford a parallel case to the first supposition? Insomuch as it be ours, we defend our own. We do what it is fair and proper that we should du, but we do nothing more. What, then, is patriotism, of which we hear so much, and understand so little? If it mean only a proper attention to our own interests, and the interests of the people with whom we stand connected, and of the government instituted for our protection, it is a rational sentiment, and one appertaining to our organization. It is one, in short, with the love of self, and the principle of self-defence and self-preservation. Again; are we to understand by it an attachment to the soil we tread, because we tread it; the language we speak, because we speak it; the government that rules us, merely because it rules us? It means nothing, or it means nonsense. Again; are we to understand by patriotism a preference for the interests of our own nation under all circumstances, even to the sacrifice of those of other nations — it is a vice.

In continental Europe, of late years, the words patriotism and patriot have been used in a more enlarged sense than it is usual here to attribute to them, or than is attached to them in Great Britain. Since the political struggles of France, Italy, Spain, and Greece, the word patriotism has been employed, throughout continental Europe, to express a love of the public good; a preference for the interests of the many to those of the few; a desire for the emancipation of the human race from the thrall of despotism, religious and of the human race from the thrall of despotism, religious and civil; in short, patriotism there is used rather to express the interest felt in the human race in general, than that felt for any country, or inhabitants of a country, in particular. And patriot, in like manner, is employed to signify a lover of human liberty and human improvement, rather than a mere lover of the country in which he lives, or the tribe to which he belongs. Used in this sense, patriotism is a virtue, and a patriot a virtuous man. With such an interpretation, a patriot is a useful member of society, capable of enlarging all minds, and bettering all hearts with which he comes in contact; a useful member of the human family, capable of establishing fundamental principles, and of merging his own interests, those of his associates, and those of his nation, in the interests of the human race. Laurels and statues are vain things, and mischievous as they are childish; but, could we imagine them of use, on such a patriot alone could they be with any reason bestowed.

Is there a thought can fill the human mind
More pure, more vast, more generous, more refined
Than that which guides the enlightened patriot’s toll;
Not he, whose view is bounded by his soil;
Not he, whose narrow heart can only shrine
The land-the people that he calleth mine;
Not he, who to set up that land on high,
Will make whole nations bleed, whole nations die;
Not he, who, calling that land’s rights his pride
Trampleth the rights of all the earth beside’
No: — He it is, the just, the generous soul!
Who owneth brotherhood with either pole,
Stretches from realm to realm his spacious mind,
And guards the weal of all the human kind,
Holds freedom’s banner o’er the earth unfurl’d
And stands the guardian patriot of a world!

If such a patriotism as we have last considered should seem likely to obtain in any country, it should be certainly in this. In this, which is truly the home of all nations, and in the veins of whose citizens flows the blood of every people on the globe. Patriotism, in the exclusive meaning, is surely not made for American. Mischievous every where, it were here both mischievous and absurd. The very origin of the people is opposed to it. The institutions, in their principle, militate against it. The day we are celebrating protests against it. It is for Americans, more especially to nourish a nobler sentiment; one more consistent with their origin, and more conducive to their future improvement. It is for them more especially to know why they love their country, but because it is the palladium of human liberty — the favoured scene of human improvement. It is for them more especially, to know why they honour their institutions, and feel that they honour them because they are based on just principles. It is for them, more especially, to examine their institutions, because they have the means of improving them; to examine their laws, because at will they can alter them. It si for them to lay aside luxury, whose wealth is in industry; idle parade, whose strength is in knowledge; ambitious distinction, whose principle is equality. It is for them not to rest satisfied with words, who can seize upon things; and to remember, that equality means, not the mere equality of political rights, however valuable, but equality of instruction, and equality in virtue; and that liberty means, not the mere voting at elections, but the free and fearless exercise of the mental faculties, and that self-possession which springs out of well-reasoned opinions and consistent practice. It is for them to honour principles rather than men — to commemorate events rather than days; when they rejoice, to know for what they rejoice, and to rejoice only for what has brought, and what brings, peace and happiness to men. The event we commemorate this day has procured much of both, and shall procure, in the onward course of human improvement, more than we can now conceive of. For this — for the good obtained, and yet in store for our race — let us rejoice! But let us rejoice as men, not as children — as human beings, rather than as Americans — as reasoning beings, not as ignorants. So shall we rejoice to good purpose and in good feeling; so shall we improve the victory once on this day achieved, until all mankind hold with us the jubilee of independence.

Compiled by Romano Krauth
Frances Wright

Peter Arshinov

Posted in Anarchist with tags , , on March 5, 2009 by blackeyepress


Peter Arshinov was a metal worker from the Ukraine who in 1904 joined the Bolshevik Party, turning to anarchism after the 1905-6 revolution. He was involved in terrorist acts, was imprisoned, and escaped to France, returning to Russia in 1909; having been caught transporting arms from Austria, he was imprisoned in Moscow, where he met Nestor Makhno. Both men were released early in the 1917 revolution, and in 1919 Arshinov joined Makhno in the Ukraine and became involved in cultural and educational work in the area controlled by the Makhnovite insurrectionary army. In 1921 Arshinov left the Ukraine, and, hiding in Moscow, wrote his History of the Makhnovist Movement.


History of the Makhnovist Movement

The Two Octobers

The Old and New in Anarchism


Peter Arshinov: History of the Makhnovist Movement (excerpt)

It is necessary to emphasize the historic fact that the honor of having annihilated the Denikinist counter-revolution in the autumn of 1919 belongs almost entirely to the Makhnovists.

If the insurgents had not won the decisive victory at Peregonovka, and had not destroyed the Denikinist supply lines for artillery, food and ammunition, the Whites would probably have entered Moscow in December 1919. The battle between the Whites and the Reds near Orel was relatively insignificant. In fact, Denikin’s southern retreat had already begun before this battle, having been provoked precisely by the defeat of his rearguard. All the subsequent military operations of the Denikinists had the sole purpose of protecting their rear and evacuating their munitions and supplies. Along the whole length of the route from Orel through Kursk to the shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, the Red Army advanced almost without resistance. Its entry into the Ukraine and the Caucasus was carried out in exactly the same way as its entry had been carried out a year earlier, at the time of the fall of the Hetman- along paths that were already cleared.

Purely military concerns absorbed nearly all the forces of the Makhnovists at this time. The state of war in the region was absolutely unfavorable to internal creative activities. Even so, the Makhnovists demonstrated the necessary initiative and diligence in this domain as well. First of all, wherever they went they undertook to prevent an important misunderstanding: the possibility of being taken for a new power or party. As soon as they entered a city, they declared that they did not represent any kind of authority, that their armed forces obliged no one to any sort of obligation and had no other aim than to protect the freedom of the working people. The freedom of the peasants and workers, said the Makhnovists, resided in the peasants and workers themselves and might not be restricted. In all fields of their lives it was up to the workers and peasants to construct what they considered necessary. As for the Makhnovists, they could only assist them with advice, and by putting at their disposal the intellectual or military forces they needed, but under no circumstances could the Makhnovists in any way prescribe for them.

Alexandrovsk and the surrounding region were the first places where the Makhnovists remained for a fairly long time. They immediately invited the working population to participate in a general conference of the workers of the city. When the conference met, a detailed report was given on the military situation in the region and it was proposed that the workers organize the life of the city and the functioning of the factories with their own forces and their own organizations, basing themselves on the principles of labour and equality. The workers enthusiastically acclaimed all these suggestions; but they hesitated to carry them out, troubled by their novelty, and troubled mainly by the nearness of the front, which made them fear that the situation of the city was uncertain and unstable. The first conference was followed by a second. The problems of organizing life according to the principles of self-management by the workers were examined and discussed with animation by the masses of workers, who all welcomed this idea with the greatest enthusiasm, but who only with difficulty succeeded in giving it concrete forms. Railroad workers took the first step in this direction. They formed a committee charged with organizing the railway network of the region, establishing a detailed plan for the movement of trains, the transport of passengers, the system of payments, etc. From this point on, the proletariat of Alexandrovsk began to turn systematically to the problem of creating organs of self-management.

Shortly after the workers’ meetings, a regional congress of peasants and workers was called at Alexandrovsk for October 20 1919. More than 200 delegates took part, among whom 180 were peasants, and the rest workers. The congress dealt with: a) military questions (the struggle against Denikin; reinforcement and maintenance of the insurrectionary army); b)) questions dealing with the constructive activity in the region.

Congress continued for nearly a week and was characterized by a remarkable spirit on the part of those present. This was largely due to specific circumstances. First of all, the return of the victorious Makhnovist army to its own region was an extremely important event for the peasants, since nearly every family bad one or two of its members among the insurgents. But still more important was the fact that the congress met in conditions of absolute freedom. There was no influence emanating from above. Besides all this, the congress had an excellent militant and speaker in the anarchist Voline, who, to the amazement of the peasants, lucidly expressed their own thoughts and wishes. The idea of free Soviets genuinely functioning in the interests of the working population; the question of direct relations between peasants and city workers, based on mutual exchange of the products of their labor, the launching of a stateless and egalitarian social organization in the cities and the country – all these ideas which Voline developed in his lectures, represented the very ideas of the peasantry. This was precisely the way the peasants conceived the revolution and creative revolutionary work …

“When the peasants left, they emphasized the need to put the decisions of the congress into practice. The delegates took away with them copies of the resolutions in order to make them known all over the countryside . . . Unfortunately, the freedom of the working masses is continually threatened by its worst enemy-authority. The delegates hardly had time to return to their homes when many of their villages were again occupied by Denikin’s troops, coming by forced marches from the northern front. To be sure, this time the invasion was only of short duration; it was the death agony of a dying enemy. But it halted the constructive work of the peasants at the most vital moment, and since another authority, equally hostile to the freedom of the masses – Bolshevism -was approaching from the north, this invasion did irreparable harm to the workers* cause: not only was it impossible to assemble a new congress, but even the decisions of the first could not be put into practice.

In the city of Ekaterinoslav, which was occupied by the insurgent army at the time of the congress, conditions were even less favorable for constructive activity in the economic sphere. Denikin’s troops, who were driven out of the city, managed to dig in on the left bank of the Dnieper River. Daily, for a whole month, they bombarded the city from their numerous armored trains. Each time the cultural section of the insurrectionary army managed to call a meeting of the city’s workers, the Denikinists, who were well informed, fired great numbers of shells, especially in the places where the sessions were held. No serious work, no systematic organization was possible. It was possible to hold only a few meetings in the center and in the suburbs of the city. The Makhnovists did, however, succeed in publishing their daily newspaper…

Throughout the liberated region, the Makhnovists were the only organization powerful enough to impose its will on the enemy. But they never used this power for the purpose of domination or even to gain political influence; they never used it against their purely political or ideological opponents. The military opponents, the conspirators against the freedom of action of the workers and peasants, the state apparatus, the prisons – these were the elements against which the efforts of the Makhnovist army were directed.

Prisons are the symbol of the servitude of the people. They are always built to subjugate the people, the workers and peasants. Throughout the centuries, the bourgeoisie in all countries crushed the spirit of rebellion or resistance of the masses by means of execution and imprisonment. And in our time, in the Communist and Socialist State, prisons devour mainly the proletariat of the city and the countryside. Free people have no use for prisons. Wherever prisons exist, the people are not free. Prisons represent a constant threat to the workers, an encroachment on their consciousness and will, and a visible sign of their servitude. This is how the Makhnovists defined their relationship to prisons. In keeping with this attitude, they demolished prisons wherever they went. In Berdyansk the prison was dynamited in the presence of an enormous crowd, which took an active part in its destruction. At Alexandrovsk, Krivoi-Rog, Ekaterinoslav and elsewhere, prisons were demolished or burned by the Makhnovists. Everywhere the workers cheered this act.

“It gives us great satisfaction to be able to state that the Makhnovists fully applied the revolutionary principles of freedom of speech, of thought, of the Press, and of political association. In all the cities and towns occupied by the Makhnovists, they began by lifting all the prohibitions and repealing all the restrictions imposed on the Press and on political organizations by one or another power. Complete freedom of speech. Press, assembly, and association of any kind and for everyone were immediately proclaimed. During the few weeks that the Makhnovists spent at Ekaterinoslav, five or six newspapers of various political orientations appeared: the right Socialist-Revolutionary paper, Narodovlastie (The People’s Power), the left Socialist-Revolutionary paper, Znamya Vosstanya (The Standard of Revolt), the Bolshevik Zvezda (Star), and others. However, the Bolsheviks hardly had the right to freedom of the Press and association because they had destroyed, wherever they had been able to, the freedom of the Press and association of the working class, and also because their organization at Ekaterinoslav had taken a direct part in the criminal invasion of the Gulyai-Polye region in June 1919; it would only have been just to inflict a severe punishment on them. But, in order not to injure the great principles of freedom of speech and assembly, the Bolsheviks were not disturbed and could enjoy, along with all the other political tendencies, all the rights inscribed on the banner of the proletarian revolution.

The only restriction that the Makhnovists considered necessary to impose on the Bolsheviks, the left-Socialist-Revolutionaries, and other statists was a prohibition on the formation of those ‘revolutionary committees’ which sought to impose a dictatorship over the people. In Alexandrovsk, right after the occupation of these cities by the Makhnovists, the Bolsheviks hastened to organize Revkoms (Revolutionary Committees), seeking through them to establish their political power and govern the population. At Alexandrovsk, the members of the Revkom went so far as to propose to Makhno a division of spheres of action, leaving Makhno the military power and reserving for the Committee full freedom of action and all political and civil authority. Makhno advised them to go and take up some honest trade instead of seeking to impose their will on the workers; he even threatened to put to death the members of the Revkom if they undertook any authoritarian measures against the working population. At Ekaterinoslav, a similar Revkom was dissolved in the same way. In this context the Makhnovists attitude was completely justified and consistent. To protect the full freedom of speech, Press organization, they had to take measures against formations which sought to stifle this freedom, to suppress other organizations, and to impose their will and dictatorial authority on the workers. And when, in November, 1919, the commander of the Makhnovist Third (Crimean) insurrectional Regiment, Polonsky, was implicated in the activities of an authoritarian organization of this type, he was executed along with other members of the organization.

Here is the Makhnovists’ text regarding freedom of the Press and of association:

All socialist political parties, organizations and tendencies have the right to propagate their ideas, theories, views and opinions freely, both orally and in writing. No restriction of socialist freedom of speech and Press will be allowed, and no persecution will take place in this domain.

Remark. Military communiques may not be printed unless they are supplied by the editors of the central organ of the revolutionary insurgents. Put’ k Svobode.

In allowing all political parties and organizations full and complete freedom to propagate their ideas, the Makhnovist insurgent army wishes to inform all the parties that any attempt to prepare, organize and impose a political authority over the working people will not be permitted by the revolutionary insurgents, such an act having nothing in common with the free dissemination of ideas. Ekaterinoslav, November 5, 1919. Revolutionary Military Council of the Makhnovist Insurgent Army.

In the course of the whole Russian Revolution, the period of the Makhnovschina was the only period in which the freedom of the working masses found full expression. However painful and unstable the situation in Alexandrovsk, and especially in Ekaterinoslav, where shells from the armored trains of Denikin’s army fell daily, the workers of these two cities could for the first time in their history say and do anything they wanted, and as they wanted. In addition, they at last held in their own hands the tremendous possibility to organize their life and their work themselves, according to their own judgments and their own understanding of justice and truth.

At the end of the month, the Makhnovists were forced to leave Ekaterinoslav. But they had time to demonstrate to the working masses that true freedom resides in the hands of the workers themselves, and that it begins to radiate and develop as soon as statelessness and equality are established among them.

Peter Arshinov: The Old and New in Anarchism

In the anarchist organ Le Reveil of Geneva, in the form of a leaflet, comrade Errico Malatesta has published a critical article on the project of the Organisational platform edited by the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad.

This article has provoked perplexity and regret in us. We very much expected, and we still expect, that the idea of organised anarchism would meet an obstinate resistance among the partisans of chaos, so numerous in the anarchist milieu, because that idea obliges all anarchists who participate in the movement to be responsible and poses the notions of duty and constancy. For up to now the favourite principle in which most anarchists are educated can be explained by the following axiom: “I do what I want, I take account of nothing”. It is very natural that anarchists of this species, impregnated by such principles, are violently hostile to all ideas of organized anarchism and of collective responsibility.

Comrade Malatesta is foreign to this principle, and it is for this reason that his text provokes this reaction in us. Perplexity, because he is a veteran of international anarchism, and if he has not grasped the spirit of the Platform, its vital character and its topicality, which derives from the requirements of our revolutionary epoch. Regret, because, to be faithful to the dogma inherent in the cult of individuality, he has put himself against (let us hope this is only temporary) the work which appears as an indispensable stage in the extension and external development of the anarchist movement.

Right at the start of his article, Malatesta says that he shares a number of theses of the Platform or even backs them up by the ideas he expounds. He would agree in noting that the anarchists did not and do not have influence on social and political events, because of a lack of serious and active organization.

The principles taken up by comrade Malatesta correspond to the principal positions of the Platform. One would have expected that he would have as equally examined, understood and accepted a number of other principles developed in our project, because there is a link of coherence and logic between all the theses of the Platform. However, Malatesta goes on to explain in a trenchant manner his difference of opinion with the Platform. He asks whether the General Union of Anarchists projected by the Platform can resolve the problem of the education of the working masses. He replies in the negative. He gives as reason the pretended authoritarian character of the Union, which according to him, would develop the idea of submission to directors and leaders.

On what basis can such a serious accusation repose? It is in the idea of collective responsibility, recommended by the Platform,that he sees the principal reason for formulating such an accusation. He cannot admit the principle that the entire Union would be responsible for every member, and that inversely each member would be responsible for the political line of all the Union. This signifies that Malatesta does not precisely accept the principle of organization which appears to us to be the most essential, in order that the anarchist movement can continue to develop.

Nowhere up to here has the anarchist movement attained the stage of a popular organized movement as such. Not in the least does the cause of this reside in objective conditions, for example because the working masses do not understand anarchism or are not interested in it outside of revolutionary periods;no, the cause of the weakness of the anarchist movement resides essentially in the anarchists themselves. Not one time yet have they attempted to carry on in an organised manner either the propaganda of their ideas or their practical activity among the working masses.

If that appears strange to comrade Malatesta, we strongly affirm that the activity of the most active anarchists-which includes himself-assume, by necessity, an individualist character; even if this activity is distinguished by a high personal responsibility, it concerns only an individual and not an organization. In the past, when our movement was just being born as a national or international movement, it could not be otherwise; the first stones of the mass anarchist movement had to be laid; an appeal had to be launched to the working masses to invite them to engage in the anarchist way of struggle. That was necessary, even if it was only the work of isolated individuals with limited means. These militants of anarchism fulfilled their mission; they attracted the most active workers towards anarchist ideas. However, that was only half of the job.. At the moment where the number of anarchist elements coming from the working masses increased considerably, it became impossible to restrict oneself to carrying on an isolated propaganda and practice, individually or in scattered groups. To continue this would be like running on the spot. We have to go beyond so as not to be left behind. The general decadence of the anarchist movement is exactly explained thus: we have accomplished the first step without going further.

This second step consisted and still consists in the grouping of anarchist elements, coming from the working masses, in an active collective capable of leading the organized struggle of the workers with the aim of realizing the anarchist ideas.

The question for anarchists of all countries is the following: can our movement content itself with subsisting on the base of old forms of organization, of local groups having no organic link between them, and each acting on their side according to its particular ideology and particular practice? Or, just fancy, must our movement have recourse to new forms of organization which will help it develop and root it amongst the broad masses of workers?

The experience of the last 20 years, and more particularly that of the two Russian revolutions-1905 and 1917-19- suggests to us the reply to this question better than all the “theoretical considerations”.

During the Russian Revolution, the working masses were won to anarchist ideas; nevertheless anarchism, as an organized movement suffered a complete setback whilst from the beginning of the revolution, we were at the most advanced positions of struggle, from the beginning of the constructive phase we found ourselves irremediably apart from the said constructive phase, and consequently outside the masses. This was not pure chance: such an attitude inevitably flowed from our own impotence, as much from an organisational point of view as from our ideological confusion.

This setback was caused by the fact that, throughout the revolution,the anarchists did not know how to put over their social and political programme and only approached the masses with a fragmented and contradictory propaganda; we had no stable organization. Our movement was represented by organizations of encounter, springing up here, springing up there, not seeking what they wanted in a firm fashion, and which most often vanished at the end of a little time without leaving a trace. It would be desperately naive and stupid to believe that workers could support and participate in such “organizations”, from the moment of the social struggle and communist construction.

We have taken the habit of attributing the defeat of the anarchist movement of 1917-19 in Russia to the statist repression of the Bolshevik Party; this is a big mistake. The Bolshevik repression impeded the extension of the anarchist movement during the revolution but it wasn’t the only obstacle. It’s rather the internal impotence of the movement itself which was one of the principal causes of this defeat, an impotence proceeding from the vagueness and indecision which characterized different political affirmations concerning organization and tactics.

Anarchism had no firm and concrete opinion on the essential problems of the social revolution; an opinion indispensable to satisfy the seeking after of the masses who created the revolution. The anarchists praised the communist principle of: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” but they never concerned themselves with applying this principle to reality, although they allowed certain suspect elements to transform this great principle into a caricature of anarchism – just remember how many con-men benefited by seizing for their personal profit the assets of the collectivity. The anarchists talked a lot about revolutionary activity of the workers, but they could not help them, even in indicating approximately the forms that this activity should take; they did not know how to sort out the reciprocal relations between the masses and their center of ideological inspiration. They pushed the workers to shake off the yoke of Authority, but they did not indicate the means of consolidating and defending the conquests of the Revolution. They lacked clear and precise conceptions , of a programme of action on many other problems. It was this that distanced them from the activity of the masses and condemned them to social and historical impotence. It is in this that we must seek the primordial cause of their defeat in the Russian revolution.

And we do not doubt that, if the revolution broke out in several European countries, anarchists would suffer the same defeat because they are no less-if not even more so-divided on the plan of ideas and organization.

The present epoch, when, by millions, workers engaged on the battlefield of social struggle, demanded direct and precise responses from the anarchists concerning this struggle and the communist construction which must follow it; it demanded of the same, the , the collective responsibility of the anarchists regarding these responses and anarchist propaganda in general.If they did not assume this responsibility the anarchists like anyone else in this case, do not have the right to propagandize in an inconsequent manner among the working masses, who struggled in agreeing to heavy sacrifices and lost numberless victims.

At this level, it it not a question of a game or the object of an experiment. That is how, if we do not have a General Union of Anarchists, we cannot furnish common responses on all those vital questions.

At the start of his article, comrade Malatesta appears to salute the idea of the creation of a vast anarchist organization, however, in categorically repudiating collective responsibility, he renders impossible the realization of such an organization. For that will not only not be possible if there exists no theoretical and organizational agreement, constituting a common platform where numerous militants can meet. In the measure to which they accept this platform, that must be obligatory for all. Those who do not recognize these basic principles, cannot become, and besides would themselves not want to,become a member of the organization.

In this fashion, this organization will be the union of those who will have a common conception of a theoretical, tactical and political line to be realized.

Consequently, the practical activity of a member of the organisation will be naturally in full harmony with the general activity, and inversely the activity of all the organization will not know how to be in contradiction with the conscience and activity of each of its members, if they accept the programme on which the organization is founded.

It is this that characterizes collective responsibility: the entire Union is responsible for the activity of each member, knowing that they will accomplish their political and revolutionary work in the political spirit of the Union. At the same time, each member is fully responsible for the entire Union, seeing that his activity will not be contrary to that elaborated by all its members. This does not signify in the least any authoritarianism, as comrade Malatesta wrongly affirms, it is the expression of a conscientious and responsible understanding of militant work.

It is obvious that in calling on anarchists to organize on the basis of a definite programme, we are not taking away as such the right of anarchists of other tendencies to organize as they think fit. However, we are persuaded that, from the moment that anarchists create an important organization, the hollowness and vanity of the traditional organizations will be revealed.

The principle of responsibility is understood by comrade Malatesta in the sense of a moral responsibility of individuals and of groups.This is why he only grants to conferences and their resolutions the role of a sort of conversation between friends, which in sum pronounce only platonic wishes.

This traditional manner of representing the role of conferences does not stand up to the test of life. In effect, what would be the value of a conference if it only had “opinions” and did not charge itself with realizing them in life? None. In a vast movement, a uniquely moral and non-organizational responsibility loses all its value.

Let us come to the question concerning majority and minority. we think that all discussion on this subject is superfluous. In practice, it has been resolved a long time ago. Always and everywhere among us, practical problems have been resolved by a majority of votes. It is completely understandable, because there is no other way of resolving these problems inside an organization that wants to act.

in all the objections raised against the Platform, there is lacking up to the moment the understanding of the most important thesis that it contains; the understanding of our approach to the organizational problem and to the method of its resolution. In effect, an understanding of these is extremely important and possesses a decisive significance with the idea of a precise appreciation of the Platform and all the organizational activity of the Dielo Trouda group.

The only way to move away from chaos and revive the anarchist movement is a theoretical and organizational clarification of our milieu, leading to a differentiation and to the selection of an active core of militants, on the basis of a homogeneous theoretical and practical programme. It is in this that resides one of the principle objectives of our text.

What does our clarification represent and what must it lead to ? The absence of a homogeneous general programme has always been a very noticeable failing in the anarchist movement, and has contributed to making it very often very vulnerable, its propaganda not ever having been coherent and consistent in relation to the ideas professed and the practical principles defended. Very much to the contrary, it often happens that what is propagated by one group is elsewhere denigrated by another group. And that not solely in tactical applications, but also in fundamental theses.

Certain people defend such a state of play in saying that in such a way is explained the variety of anarchist ideas. Well, let us admit it, but what interest can this variety represent to the workers?

They struggle and suffer today and now and immediately need a precise conception of the revolution, which can lead them to their emancipation right away; they don’t need an abstract conception, but a living conception, real , elaborated and responding to their demands. Whilst the anarchists often proposed, in practice, numerous contradictory ideas, systems and programmes, where the most important was neighbor to the insignificant, or just as much again, contradicted each other. In such conditions, it is easily understandable that anarchism cannot and will not ever in the future, impregnate the masses and be one with them, so as to inspire its emancipatory movement.

For the masses sense the futility of contradictory notions and avoid them instinctively; in spite of this, in a revolutionary period, they act and live in a libertarian fashion.

To conclude, comrade Malatesta thinks that the success of the Bolsheviks in their country stops Russian anarchists who have edited the Platform from getting a good night’s sleep. The error of Malatesta is that he does not take account of the extremely important circumstances of which the Organizational Platform is the product, not solely of the Russian revolution but equally of the anarchist movement in this revolution. Now, it is impossible not to take account of this circumstance so that one can resolve the problem of anarchist organization, of its form and its theoretical basis. It is indispensable to look at the place occupied by anarchism in the great social upheaval in 1917. What was the attitude of the insurgent masses with regard to anarchism and the anarchists? What did they appreciate in them? Why, despite this, did anarchism receive a setback in this revolution? What lessons are to be drawn? All these questions, and many others still, must inevitably put themselves to those who tackle the questions raised by the Platform. Comrade Malatesta has not done this. He has taken up the current problem of organization in dogmatic abstraction.It is pretty incomprehensible for us, who have got used to seeing in him, not an ideologue but a practician of real and active anarchism. He is content to examine in what measure this or that thesis of the Platform is or is not in agreement with traditional points of view of anarchism, then he refutes them, in finding them opposed to those old conceptions. Hecannot bring himself to thinking that this might be the opposite, that it is precisely these that could be erroneous, and that this has necessitated the appearance of the Platform. It is thus that can be explained all the series of errors and contradictions raised above.

Let us note in him a grave neglect; he does not deal at all with the theoretical basis, nor with the constructive section of the Platform, but uniquely with the project of organization. Our text has not solely refuted the idea of the Synthesis, as well as that of anarcho-syndicalism as inapplicable and bankrupt, it has also advanced the project of a grouping of active militants of anarchism on the basis of a more or less homogeneous programme. Comrade Malatesta should have dwelt with precision on this method; however,he has passed over it in silence, as well as the constructive section, although his conclusions apparently apply to the entirety of the Platform. This gives his article a contradictory and unstable character.

Libertarian communism cannot linger in the impasse of the past, it must go beyond it, in combating and surmounting its faults. The original aspect of the Platform and of the Dielo Trouda group consists precisely in that they are strangers to out of date dogmas, to ready made ideas, and that, quite the contrary, they endeavor to carry on their activity starting from real and present facts.This approach constitutes the first attempt to fuse anarchism with real life and to create an anarchist activity on this basis. It is only thus that libertarian communism can tear itself free of a superannuated dogma and boost the living movement of the masses.

Compiled by Romano Krauth
Originally published by which went offline in 2006

Gustave Courbet

Posted in Anarchist with tags , , , on March 2, 2009 by blackeyepress

Gustave Courbet


Gustave Courbet, a self-declared Realist, rejected the inherent sentimentality of the earlier Romantics. Courbet’s interest in portraying things as they really appear, together with his non-academic orientation, place him in the front rank of the quest for realism that was the premise for much of the artistic activity during the second half of the nineteenth century. Abandoning the study of law for art, Courbet arrived in Paris from his native Ornans in 1840. Essentially self-taught, he learned the rudiments of his profession from studying the works of Caravaggio in the Louvre. In 1847 Courbet made a trip to Holland, which strengthened his belief that painters should work from the life around them, as Rembrandt, Hals, and the other Dutch masters had done.

Courbet, like his contemporary Jean-François Millet, was affected by the events of 1848. Courbet himself later asserted that from 1848 on, he concentrated on “realistic” subjects. His efforts were more consciously designed to arouse controversy than Millet’s had been. He coined the term realism to define his interest in the actual circumstances of his day. Despite his realism, however, Courbet controlled his images, underscoring the dramatic and symbolic nature of his subjects so that his paintings had an intellectual as well as a visual component.

Exhibiting The Stonebreakers in the Salon of 1850-51, together with a portrayal of a family funeral at Ornans and a scene of peasants returning from a fair, Courbet achieved the notoriety he so desired. He openly declared his socialist ideals but also affirmed that his subject matter had as much to do with his interest in “real and existing things” as with politics.


Criticized for deliberately adopting a cult of ugliness and for attacking the established social standards, he was also praised by such social reformers as his friend the social theorist Pierre Joseph Proudhon, who saw in The Stonebreakers a visual condemnation of capitalism and its potential for greed. When Courbet’s work was rejected for the Paris International Exhibition in 1855, he took the novel approach of opening his own pavilion.

Still at the center of political activity in the 1870s, he was arrested and imprisoned in 1871 when the Commune he supported fell. The following year he was released, and he moved to Switzerland, spending the remainder of his life in exile and painting the rough Swiss terrain in new, experimental ways.

Political and social radicalism

Courbet’s early attempts at recognition were none too successful. Between 1841 and 1847, only three of the 25 works he submitted were passed by the selection committee. And for the first 10 years he sold almost nothing, remaining almost entirely dependent on his family sending him money. During this period he also met Virginia Binet, about whom little is known except that she became his mistress and bore him a son in 1847.

One of the works Courbet exhibited at the Salon caught the eye of a Dutch dealer, who invited him to Holland and commissioned a portrait. In addition, he had the support of the new friends he had made in Paris. In January 1848 he wrote enthusiastically to his parents that he was very close to making a breakthrough. Influential people, he assured them, were impressed by his work and were forming a new school, with him at the head.


The friends in question came from the circle which gathered at the Brasserie Andler (or the “Temple of Realism” as it was soon to be nicknamed). Among them were the poet Charles Baudelaire, anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Jules Champfleury, the Realist author and critic; and his cousin and childhood friend Max Buchon.

It was at the Brasserie that the term “Realism” was first coined to describe not only a style of art and literature which presented life as it was, but also a philosophy committed to contemporary social issues. The Brasserie Andler was just down the road from Courbet’s studio, and he was often to be seen in the crowed cafe. His larger-than-life personality soon made him the center of the animated discussions which went on there nightly. He preserved his provincial Jura accent and smoked old-fashioned pipes; he was a great eater, a great drinker and above all a great talker. But he had adopted his role of semi-literate peasant for a reason – both to distance himself from the bourgeois world of Paris and to gain acceptance in avant-garde society. It also concealed an inner loneliness. He later wrote: “Behind this laughing mask of mine which you know, I conceal grief and bitterness, and a sadness which clings to my heart like a vampire. In the society in which we live, it doesn’t take much to reach the void”.

In February 1848 that society was violently shaken, when rioting broke out on the streets of Paris. Louis Philippe abdicated and a provisional Republican government took control. Courbet sided with the popular insurrection, although he took little part in the fighting. In the uneasy political atmosphere, the Salon still opened, but this time without a selection committee. Courbet, who had suffered so many rejections in the past, now had ten works displayed.

Although the Second Republic survived for less than four years until Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’etat, Courbet’s name was made. His Salon entries of 1848 were greeted enthusiastically by the critics and the following year his large painting After Dinner at Ornans won a gold medal and was purchased by the government. The medal was particularly important, since it exempted Courbet from the selection procedure at future Salons.

The timing of this privilege was most fortuitous, as the storm of protest against the Realist movement was about to break. Probably on the advice of Champfleury, Courbet had been steadily abandoning his early Romantic subject-matter in favor of scenes of his beloved Ornans – which he visited regularly – containing portraits of his family, friends and neighbors. The most striking example of this was Burial at Ornans which went on show at the 1850-1851 Salon. Courbet had embarked on this huge painting in the summer of 1849, with virtually everyone in the district clamoring to be included. The result was a vast, frieze-like composition, designed to catch the eye. The critics hated it. It was too big; the figures were too ugly; the beadles looked drunk; it was too individual. From now on every picture Courbet exhibited provoked a furor.

Not all the hostility which Courbet aroused can be attributed to purely artistic factors, however. In the aftermath of the Revolution, pictures of unidealized and uncompromising peasants, portrayed on a heroic scale, must have seemed deeply threatening to the new regime and its supporters. These fears were increased by friends such as Proudhon, who interpreted the works as political statements in a way that the artist had probably never intended.

Courbet did not bother to deny such claims. He was rarely averse to provoking those in authority and took great pleasure in the vicarious radicalism of his reputation. So in 1853, when the government offered him an olive branch, Courbet was swift to rebuff it. This attempt at appeasement came when the Comte de Nieuwerkerke, the Director of Fine Arts, proposed to Courbet that he should produce a major painting for the forthcoming World Exhibition, provided only that he submit a sketch in advance. Courbet rejected the overture indignantly, as a breach of his intellectual liberty. Needless to say, three of his most significant contributions to the exhibition were eventually rejected. The artist was disappointed, but not disheartened. And in 1855, in an unprecedented show of artistic independence, he staged his own one-man exhibition alongside the official displays.

The show was advertised under the banner of REALISM and contained a representative selection of Courbet’s work dating back to the early 1840’s. The centerpiece was his most original and ambitious canvas, The Painter’s Studio – a monumental depiction of the artist’s studio, peopled with a mixture of close friends and symbolic figures.

This private exhibition marked a watershed in Courbet’s life, separating him from many of his most formative influences. Proudhon had been jailed and Buchon exiled for their activities during the Revolution, while Champfleury gradually dissociated himself from his friend’s socialist leanings. There were upheavals in Courbet’s personal life, too. His longstanding mistress, Virginia Binet, left him in the early 1850s, taking their young son with her. Courbet was surprisingly philosophical about this, writing to a friend that his art was keeping him busy and that in any case a married man was a reactionary.

Increasing recognition outside Paris made Courbet less reliant on success at the Salon and he traveled extensively after 1855. In Frankfurt, he was treated as a celebrity, with the local Academy placing a studio at his disposal. In Trouville, on the Normandy coast, he met up with James Whistler and plied a profitable trade in seascapes and portraits of the local beauties; in Etretat he painted with the youthful Monet. He exhibited in Germany, Holland, Belgium and England, and decorations were showered on him, culminating in a gold medal from Leopold II of Belgium and the Order of St. Michael from Ludwig II of Bavaria, both awarded in 1869.

Undoubtedly, part of the reason that Courbet traveled so widely during the late 1850s and 1860s was to enjoy such accolades, but it was also partly to distance himself from a government that he still believed was hostile to him. When he was finally offered the Legion of Honor in 1870, on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War, it was already too late. Courbet declined the decoration grandly, as an example of state interference in art.

Courbet caricature

The gesture was remembered when the government fell, and Courbet was elected chairman of the republican Arts Commission. The following year, he narrowly missed election to the National Assembly, but was accepted as a counselor, which in turn made him a member of the Commune. Tenure of these posts implicated Courbet in the destruction of the column in the Place Vendome, a monument to Napoleon’s victories, and when the Commune failed, he was arrested and condemned to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500 francs.

Courbet began his sentence at Sainte-Pelagie prison in September 1871. But illness cut short his stay, and he soon was removed to a clinic at Neuilly. Misfortune dogged him: his son died in 1872, and throughout the following winter Courbet was plagued with rheumatism and liver problems. Worse was to follow. In May 1873, the new government ordered him to pay for the reconstruction of the Vendome Column. The cost of this – later confirmed at over 300,000 francs – was prohibitive, and Courbet was obliged to flee from France. He chose Switzerland, where he felt at home among the French-speaking community and the familiar Jura mountains. The exiled artist settled at La Tour de Peilz, where he remained in touch with French dissidents and – despite heavy drinking – was able to continue painting. He never gave up hope of returning to France, but the chance of a reprieve never came. Courbet contracted dropsy and died on the last day of 1877. He was buried locally but it was not until 1919, that his remains were finally transferred to the cemetery at Ornans.

Compiled by Romano Krauth
Published by which went offline in 2006

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Posted in Anarchist with tags , , on March 1, 2009 by blackeyepress

Henry David Thoreau


Born in Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau returned there after he received his degree at Harvard in 1837, and apart from occasional excursions into other parts of New England, this small, quiet town of the Transcendentalists remained the microcosmic center of his life, thought an writing. His most famous book, Walden, was an essay in withdrawal from the over-complications of modern life as Thoreau saw them in the 1840s. Apart from the period at Walden Pool which inspired his book, the principal event in Thoreau’s life was probably the imprisonment for a single night incurred for refusing to pay his taxes as a protest against the American war against Mexico, with its territorial motivations. It was a small martyrdom, but out of it emerged the essay on Civil Disobedience which inspired not only later generations of American rebels but also the great Indian liberationist M. K. Gandhi. For his elevation of the individual reason against reasons of state and of the individual conscience against national loyalties, Thoreau ranks among the true anarchists.

Thoreau manuscript Bibliography


Walden and Other Writings


Henry David Thoreau: Resistance to Civil Government (excerpt)

I heartily accept the motto – ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe – ‘That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will nave. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is the only mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be ‘abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few ‘individuals using the standing government as their tool’ for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.

This American government – what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves. But it is not the less necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow. Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way…

But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long time continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? – in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterwards. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, as much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more Just; and by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for the law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart…

The mass of men serves the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the Judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed as good citizens…

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now. But such was the case, they think, in the Revolution of ’75. If one were to tell me that this was a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make an ado about it, for I can do without them. All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country is not our own, but ours is the invading army.

Paley, a common authority with many on moral questions, in his chapter on the ‘Duty of Submission to Civil Government’, resolves all civil obligation into expediency; and he proceeds to say, ‘that so long as the interest of the whole society requires it, that is, so long as the established govern meat be obeyed, and no longer . . . This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other.’ Of this, he says, every man shall judge for himself. But Paley appears never to have contemplated those cases to which the rule of expediency does not apply, in which a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what it may. If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it to him though I drown myself. This, according to Paley, would be inconvenient. But he that would save his life, in such a case, shall lose it. Thus people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people…

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.

I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore, or elsewhere, for the selection of a candidate for the Presidency, made up chiefly of editors, and men who are politicians by profession; but I think, what is it to any independent, intelligent and respectable man what decision they may come to? Shall we not have the advantages of his wisdom and honesty nevertheless? Can we not count upon some independent votes? Are there not many individuals in the country who do not attend conventions? But no: I find that the respectable man, so called, has immediately drifted from his position, and despairs of his country, when his country has more reason to despair of him. He forthwith adopts one of the candidates thus selected as the only available one, thus proving that he is himself available for any purpose of the demagogue. His vote is of no more worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native, who may have been bought. 0 for a man who is a man, and, as my neighbour says, has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand through! Our statistics are at fault: the population has been returned too large. How many men are there to a square thousand miles in this country? Hardly one. Does not America offer any inducement for men to settle here? The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow-one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming into this world, is to see that the almshouses are in good repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund for the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in short, ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance Company, which has promised to bury him decently.

It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue him, sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get him off first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, ‘I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico; – see if I would go’; and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were penitent but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment. Thus, under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at least to pay homage to and support our own meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and quite unnecessary to that life which we have made.

The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it. The slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur. Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform. Some are petitioning that state to dissolve the Union, to disregard the requisitions of the President. Why do they not dissolve it themselves – the union between themselves and the state – and refuse to pay their quota into its treasury? Do not they stand in the same relation to the state that the state does to the Union? And have not the same reasons prevented the state from resisting the Union which have prevented them from resisting the state?

How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbour, you do not rest satisfied with knowing that you are cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, and see that you are never cheated again. Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual’, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.

Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavour to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes It worse. Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

One would think, that a deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only offense never contemplated by government; else, why has it not assigned its definite, its suitable and proportionate penalty? If a man who has no property refuses but once to earn nine shillings for the state, he is put in prison for a period unlimited by any law that I know, and determined only by the discretion of those who placed him there; but if he should steal ninety times nine shillings from the state, he is soon permitted to go at large again.

If the injustice is part of the necessary fiction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth – certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong, which I condemn.

As for adopting the ways which the state has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man’s life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong. It is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition, what should I do then? But in this case the state has provided no way: its very constitution is the evil. This may seem to be harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory; but it is to treat with the utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit that can appreciate or deserves it. So is all change for the better, like birth or death, which convulses the body.

I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.

Compiled by George Woodcock

Diego Abad de Santillan (1897-1983)

Posted in Anarchist with tags , , , , , on February 28, 2009 by blackeyepress


Diego Abad de Santillan — pseudonym of Sinesio García Hernández. Born in Reyero, Spain 1897, died in Barcelona 1983. Author, editor and one of the leading figures of the Spanish and Argentinian anarchist movement.

Raised in Argentina and studied in Madrid. Imprisoned after the general strike of 1917., returned to Argentina in 1918. Active in the anarcho-syndicalist Federación Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA) and editor of its newspaper La Protesta.

Representative of the FORA during the formation of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) in Berlin 1922. Went to Mexico to assist the Confederación General de Trabajadores (CGT) and then back to Argentina. Expelled from Argentina, he returned to Spain in 1931. and became an active member of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI); editor of Tierra y Libertad and Tiempos Nuevos (1935-1936) Secretary of the FAI in 1935. After July 19, 1936. he organized as a member of the Comité de Milicias Antifascistas the militias in Catalonia. Minister of Economy of Catalonia.

Returned to Argentina in 1939. and resumed his scholarly career. From 1977. back in Spain. Author of El organismo económico de la revolución (1937) and many other books.


After the Revolution


Diego Abad de Santillan: After the Revolution (excerpt)

Society of Producers and Consumers

The idea of the suppression of economic and political parasitism is or should be sufficiently ripe in the minds of the people, for its immediate realization. Those who work cannot be very happy to see the best part of their production deviated, and if it were not for the armed forces of the State, surely the slogan of justice, “he who does not work should not eat,” would be instantly realised. But the workers of the factories and the land still live subjected to a regime of oppression and servitude. The only difference is that modern wage-earners in the so-called democracies have the freedom to choose their masters, a very relative freedom to say the least.

Out of ten million persons able to work in Spain, only 4 1/2 to 5 million are actually employed in productive labor. The Revolution would suppress this parasitism and by this fact alone, its mission would be justified. With the disappearance of parasitism would be eliminated abundance alongside of privation, ostentation of great luxury alongside of penury. If there were not enough of any particular product to satisfy the needs of all, it would be rationed so that no one remained without his share, on the basis of equitable distribution. Clothing, housing and education would be attended to in the general interest. For the first time in the history of the world there would be no brains or muscles on forced strike.

We do not believe that there would be any real resistance to work, even on the part of the class known as the idle rich. There would be the natural initial difficulties in the adequate proportioning of a large population in respective trades and industries. The chief difficulty, however, would be in the eventuality of an international blockade.

Spain lacks cotton and without this raw material about 200,000 workers would be left jobless. Without petroleum transportation would be seriously affected. Even paper is lacking and the deficiency of same would result in the unemployment of thousands of printers, journalists and writers. The Revolution must therefore concern itself, right from the beginning, in assuring supplies of cotton; it must solve the problem of a synthetic petroleum by the distillation of mineral coals. There are no insuperable technical difficulties which science could not conquer and if the Revolution would not bring society to lower standards, but on the contrary, elevate the general well-being, it must produce sufficient commodities to take care of the general requirements. Of course, these problems would be less urgent if the world blockade would not take place and Spain could obtain petroleum from Russia and cotton from America in exchange for copper and iron ore.

Of the large amount of ore extracted in the mines only a very small part is refined. The greatest part is exported and returns to Spain in the form of machinery, instruments, etc. The Revolution should make of the metallurgical industries a reality and increase the foundries, plants, and substitute motor traction for horsepower. It should electrify railroads and factories, utilise natural resources of water power for irrigation and electricity, replant the forests and prepare new territory for agriculture. In a word, the Revolution should realise in a few years what capitalism is already impotent to create: a Spain capable of feeding, clothing and housing a population which will not take long in arriving at the figure of 30,000,000 inhabitants.

We don’t need a postulate of God to build up our society of workers. Nor do we need the hypothesis of a State. We don’t wish everyone to dance to the same step; we even admit the possibility of different organisms, some more and some less revolutionary, some more and some less friendly to the new situation. The important thing is, that all Spaniards have a minimum of necessities which must be satisfied and to which we must contribute through the process of production. The same as we work today and consider our comrades more as good-working companions regardless of their political ideas; so tomorrow we will rub elbows with people who will not think as we do and who may be even hostile to our ideology. These we must conquer by the example of our labor and by the efficacy of our plans. There are different workers’ organizations in Spain; all should contribute to the economic reconstruction and to all should be given a place. The Revolution does not reject any contribution in this respect.

Afterwards, outside of the equitable distribution of production — the work of all and for all each one can adopt the form of social life most pleasing to him. Nor will we deny the right of religious faith to those who wish to practice same. We would not deny the expression of other social concepts; nor their defense and practice; always with the condition that these are not aggressive and respect the same right for us. Otherwise there would be hostility and civil war.

We can even foresee that the friends of the Russian system might institute their own experiments and the political socialists could have their parliament and continue making speeches. We will not be the least affected and will be content with the prevention of any manifest aggression of one faction against another and maintain the productive and distributive apparatus in the hands of the producers and distributors themselves.

In other words, we wish absolute liberty in the political order of things; coordination of all the forces in the economic order. What objection can there be to a society organised in this way? We believe that such a Revolution would harm no one and benefit all. What does it matter if a lot of people who are enjoying too many privileges have to forgo them and learn a little of what it means to earn their crust of bread? For them, the change will be a moral and physical benefit. But the middle class and the proletariat have nothing to lose and a whole world to gain in fraternal productive cooperation, thanks to which everyone will be able to obtain a secure standard of living. There will be no worries for tomorrow and no more of the continual tragedies of unemployment of people who yesterday had relative comfort and today are plunged in utter misery. All this will disappear because work will be available for all without any other aim than the satisfaction of social necessities.

Timid people suppose that the Revolution is inspired by vengeance. This is an error. On the contrary it is to be feared that a triumphant Revolution might sin by excessive generosity. The Spanish workers are not revengeful. Quite the contrary, on the day they take possession of the social wealth, they will have forgotten their long Calvary.

We need not have any illusions about the men and women who are not used to work. It will be necessary to adapt their parasitic generation to the less important tasks. But on the other hand a number of small industrialists and even capitalists who began on the same level with workers will have a valuable and sure place as technicians and experts in their respective branches of industry. They will not be the masters, but they will be indispensable members of the new social structure and they will be able to develop much more freely and much more completely all their initiative of enterprise and plans for general improvements.

We could go through all the categories of society and demonstrate that no one should have any fear of the inevitable social change. There will be no royal gentries, there will be no people bursting with excessive wealth, sick with the gout and boredom through vicious living. There are less than a 100,000 homes in Spain which would feel their situation lowered by the revolutionary process. We refer to the 100,000 persons whose wealth is secure from all risk of depletion. On the other hand for the 23 or 24 million other Spaniards the Revolution will be liberating and will bring an incomparably higher standard of living than they have known under capitalism.

Economy and Liberty

Anarchism, meaning Liberty, is compatible with the most diverse economic conditions, on the premise that these cannot imply, as under capitalist monopoly, the negation of liberty. Anarchism is an attitude of the spirit towards life and in any and all economic situations not monopolistic, man can be master of himself and should exercise the control of his own will) rejecting imposition from without.

The negation of the principle of authority of man over man is not bound up with the realization of a predetermined economic level. It is opposed to Marxism, which desires to attain a system, as a corollary of capitalist evolution. To be an anarchist, one has to attain a certain level of culture, consciousness of power and capacity for self-government. Idiots cannot become anarchists; they must be cared for by society, along with the weak and the incapacitated. We are cognizant of the fact that the grade of economic development and material conditions of life influence powerfully human psychology. Faced with starvation, the individual becomes an egoist; with abundance he may become generous, friendly and socially disposed. All periods of privation and penury produce brutality, moral regression and a fierce struggle of all against all, for daily bread. Consequently, it is plain that economics influences seriously the spiritual life of the individual and his social relations. That is precisely why we are aiming to establish the best possible economic conditions, which will act as a guarantee of equal and solid relationships among men. We will not stop being anarchists, on an empty stomach, but we do not exactly like to have empty stomachs. We wish an economic regime in which abundance, well-being and enjoyment will be available to all. This aspiration does not distinguish us as revolutionaries. The ideal of well-being is shared by all social movements. What distinguishes us is our condition as anarchists, which we place even before well-being. At least as individuals, we prefer freedom with hunger to satiation alongside of slavery and subjection. If we are in favor of communism, it is not because this system is identical with anarchism. Communism can be realized in a multiformity of economic arrangements, individual and collective. Proudhon advocated mutualism; Bakunin, collectivism; Kropotkin, communism. Malatesta has conceived the possibility of mixed agreements, especially during the first period. Tarrida del Marmol y Mella advocated pure anarchism without any economic qualifications, which supposes the freedom of experimenting or establishing on trial, that which every period and locality judges most convenient. What we can say is that we must aim for an economic system of equal rights and justice, in which abundance will be possible. That is, the proper satisfaction of material needs, which alone will create a favorable social disposition and thus constitute a solid guarantee of liberty and solidarity. Man pitted against man is a wolf and he can never become a real brother to man, unless he has material security. If anarchism for the anarchists can exist with abundance as well as with misery, communism must have as its basis, abundance. In communism there is a certain generosity, and this generosity in a time of want is replaced little by little by egoism, distrust, competition; in a word, the struggle for bread. We repeat, therefore: abundance is indispensable to assure a progressive collective life. We face, therefore, economic reorganization of the future, free from any preconceived notions, fixed system or dogma. Communism will be the natural result of abundance, without which it will remain only an ideal. In each locality the degree of communism, collectivism or mutualism will depend on the conditions prevailing. Why dictate rules? We who make freedom our banner, cannot deny it in economy. Therefore there must be free experimentation, free show of initiative and suggestions, as well as the freedom of organization. To make possible this freedom, we must insist on the prerequisite of abundance which we can attain by the thorough use of industrial technique, modern agriculture and scientific development. But modern industry as well as modern agriculture has its own limits and possesses its own rhythm. The human rhythm does not make its mark on the machine; it is the rhythm of the machine which determines human progress. With the Revolution, private property is suppressed; but the factory must go on and follow the same methods and development of production. What changes, is the distribution of the product; which, instead of obeying the laws of interest and profit, must satisfy the general needs on an equitable basis. The factory is not an isolated organism, nor can it function independently. It is part of a complicated network, spreading throughout the locality, region and nation, and beyond all frontiers. The writer knew economic localism in his own native town, a little hidden valley out of all contact with civilization, only thirty years ago. The wool was spun from sheep, shoes were made from wood, the wheat was cultivated and made into bread; the herbs of the surrounding hills made the import of medicines from the outside unnecessary. We knew that somewhere beyond our valley there was some kind of superior power, which sent out tax collectors and police forces. This little town, thirty or forty years ago, lived autonomously. But today everything is changed, fortunately. The townsfolk wear clothes woven in Barcelona or Lancashire, made from Argentine or Australian wool, or from Indian or American cotton. They have radios manufactured in England or France, they drink coffee from Brazil. Would it be desirable to return to economic localism? No one would consent to it voluntarily; everyone wishes to enjoy all the good that intelligence and labor have produced. It is plain: a thousand ties unite the most insignificant locality with national and world economy. We are not interested how the workers, employees and technicians of a factory will organize themselves. That is their affair. But what is fundamental is that from the first moment of Revolution there exist a proper cohesion of all the productive and distributive forces. This means that the producers of every locality must come to an understanding with all other localities of the province and country, which must have an international direct entente between the producers of the world. This cohesion is imperious and indispensable for the very function of all the factors of production. The interdependence of the factory and the electrical plant; the foundries in Bilbo and the production of the mines; the railroads, agriculture, building and a thousand and one trades and activities, all make for an inevitable highest maximum coordination of production and distribution. We believe there is a little confusion in some libertarian circles between social conviviality, group affinities and the economic function. Visions of happy Arcadias or free communes were imagined by the poets: of the past; for the future, conditions appear quite different. In the factory we do not seek the affinity of friendship but the affinity of work. It is not an affinity; of character, except on the basis of professional capacity and quality of work, which is the basis of conviviality in the factory. The “free commune” is the logical product of the concept of group affinity, but there are n o such free communes in economy, because that would presuppose independence, and there are no independent communes. One thing is the free commune from the political or social standpoint and quite another, from an economic point of view. In the latter, our ideal is the federated commune, integrated in the economic total network of the country or countries in revolution. Economic communism is also a relic of old juristic concepts of communal property and we who advocate the suppression of all private property do not wish that, in the place of the old individual owner, should appear a new proprietor with many heads. Our work on the land and in the factory does not make of us individual or collective proprietors of the land or of the factory; but it makes of us contributors to the general welfare. Everything belongs to everybody and the product of all labor must be distributed as equitably as the human efforts themselves. We cannot realize our economic revolution in a local sense; for economy on a localist basis, can only cause collective privation and scarcity of goods. Economy is today, a vast organism and all isolation must prove detrimental. Only with the suppression of specialized labor can we imagine the free commune as an economic ideal. This, needless to add, is quite impossible. We must work with a social criterion, considering the interests of the whole country and if possible, of the whole world.

The Libertarian Revolution

We have said that anarchism is the expression of our will for a free life. We have affirmed that anarchism can exist in penury or in abundance, under one or another form of economy. We will now dwell on another phase of libertarian thought.

Our chief distinction as individuals and as a movement is represented in our position on the principle of authority, in our perennial affirmation of respect for the liberty of all and of each. Apart from the method, we can coincide in economic solutions with other social forces. In the political solution, we substitute for the principle of authority and its maximum incarnation, the State and its oppressive institutions, the free accord of social groups. In this position, we anarchists are more isolated, and even in a victorious revolution we would still be set off by ourselves. We believe that a great number of people are not with us through ignorance; but the majority have been influenced negatively by their systematic education. Besides, they do not understand our aspirations, not having the same sensitiveness, nor a sufficient development of the sense of liberty, in, dependence and justice. The revolution may awake in many men the forces of liberation, held in lethargy by daily routine and by a hostile environment. But it cannot by art or magic convert the anarchist minority into an absolute social majority. And even if tomorrow we were to become a majority, there would still remain a dissident minority which would suspect and oppose our innovations, fearing our experimental audacity. However, if today we do not renounce violence in order to fight enslaving forces, in the new economic and social order of things we can follow only the line of persuasion and practical experience. We can oppose with force those who try to subjugate us in behalf of their interests or concepts, but we cannot resort to force against those who do not share our points of view, and who do not desire to live as we attempt to. Here, our respect for liberty must encompass the liberty of our adversaries to live their own life, always on the condition that they are not aggressive and do not deny the freedom of others. If, in the social revolution, in spite of all the obstacles, we were to become a majority, the practical work of economic reconstruction would be enormously facilitated, because we could immediately count on the good will and support of the great masses. But even so, we would have to respect the experiments of different minorities, and reach an understanding with them in the exchange of products and services. Surely, as an historical minority, we anarchists have the right of revindicating this same liberty of experimentation and to defend it with all our might against any individual party or class which would attempt to crush it. Any totalitarian solution is of fascist tailoring, even though it may be defended in the | name of the proletariat and the revolution. The new mode of life is a social hypothesis, which only practical experience should evaluate. We are convinced that right and justice are on our side, although at the same time we recognize the rights of other social tendencies, methods and aspirations. We believe that the truth is nearer our concepts but we do not consider ourselves infallible, nor do we deny the sincerity and good faith of other doctrines. Which is to be the method to prove these or other social hypotheses: our own or some other revolutionary program? In the Middle Ages, one inclined to the judgment of God. Later men would resolve their dispute by a duel. The one who crushed the head of the other would be the victor of justice and truth. Do we wish in our day, in place of the judgment of God, to accept force as the sole means of resolving the truth between different revolutionary tendencies? We reflect back to anarchism in Russia: has its practical extermination by the new dictatorship proved that it had no right to exist? If we condemn this procedure in demonstrating the superiority of a given revolutionary party, we do not do so because it was practiced in Russia, but we would have to condemn it even were it attempted in Spain by ourselves. We want, first of all, to recognize the right of free experimentation for all social tendencies in our revolution; for this reason, it will not be a new tyranny, but the entrance into a reign of freedom and well being, in which all forces can show themselves, all initiative be tried out and all progress be put in practice. Violence is justified in the destruction of the old world of violence, but it is counterrevolutionary and antisocial when it is employed as a reconstructive method. In Asturias, during the October revolution, two well-defined tendencies came into relief — in some localities a socialist republic was proclaimed and in others, libertarian communism. If the revolution had had a different outcome, what would have been the consequence? Unfortunately the respect for free experimentation would have had to depend on the force our tendency had at its disposal, in defense against contrary pretensions of a totalitarian regime. The anarchists would have had no objection to the innovation in Oviedo of the methods of labor and distribution proposed by the Socialists, while in Gijon and La Felguera, libertarian communism was put into practice. Perhaps the Socialist and Communist tendencies not being identical, on the day following the triumph over the bourgeoisie and the State, a Civil War might have broken out, to determine whether the future would be social, democratic, bolshevist or libertarian, a war between brothers, which would have annihilated the spirit and the promises of the revolution. We do not know if our friends in Asturias would have been able to defend their right of existence against a socialist or communist totalitarianism. Perhaps there, they would have found themselves in minority. But in the rest of Spain, in the event of a revolution, we would have been an indisputable majority, as manifested in Aragon, Rioja and Navarre, in Andalusia, in Catalonia and in Levante. Imagine the disaster and the death of the revolution, were we to affirm the same totalitarian criterion maintained by socialists and bolshevists. In the political aspect, naturally, we must renounce; the hegemony of a committee, of a party, of a given tendency; that is, we must renounce the State as an institution which demands obedience from all with or without their consent. Without this renunciation of a State dictating the law for all, there can be no true revolution or social well-being, because the maintenance of the State is the maintenance of the largest source of exploitation of human labor. This does not imply that the economic order would exclude solidarity, mutual aid and agreement. On the contrary, where economic localism is impossible, libertarian communist Gijon needs socialist Oviedo. Just as in the question of economic organization, what is most important is reciprocal good will between the parties to a pact. Assuming this good will, agreement must follow, notwithstanding political and social divergences, which might separate the interested parties. In this way, it is possible to organize a magnificent network of relations and exchanges, on an entire national scale, without the precondition of a sole regime regulating life and production on a monopolistic basis.

For over half a century, Marxism has produced division in the ranks of the workers by its dogmatic embrace of the totalitarian state concept. We aim for the unity of the workers; for, without unity, they will continue to serve as cannon fodder, or as beasts of burden, for the benefit of the privileged class in power. But we want this unity to emerge from the common interests of all and to guarantee the freedom of the individual within the collective organism. There is a common basis of accord, and it is the sincere recognition of differences of character, temperament and education, and the solemn promise of mutual understanding, through mutual respect, in our common aspiration: the suppression of capitalism and the totalitarian state, towards the triumph of the Revolution.

Compiled by Romano Krauth
Originally published by, which went offline in 2006