1950s >> 1955 >> no-616-december-1955

The A.B.C. of Anarchism

What is Anarchism?
Anarchists say that [it] is the negation of governmental authority and State interference in the life of the individual and of the community as a whole. Anarchists claim that anarchism is a condition of society where all live “in freedom”—a “free” society. As we shall see later this “free” society envisaged by anarchists can mean almost anything.

To the anarchist the cause of most of the evils that beset us today is the existence of government and a coercive state apparatus. The anarchist does not seem to see the State as part of a private property society; as something that has come into existence with the emergence of private property relationships; as an (undesirable and coercive) effect of present-day society. .

The State and Government are THE CAUSE of all our troubles, they say.

Many, but not all anarchists hold that forms of parental, educational and religious authority cause or contribute to the problems of general—and particularly sexual—neurosis. Most, but not all anarchists oppose all forms of external authority—although there are a number of Catholic anarchists in America, and possibly elsewhere, who accept the authority of Rome.

Many kinds of Anarchists
Although most anarchists envisage and desire a future state of society which they call Anarchism (from the Greek word Anarkia, “a condition of being without government”) there are many schools of anarchist thought —almost as many as there are anarchists

Some anarchists are Pacifists, whilst others are advocates or defenders of various kinds of violence. Thus, Alexander Berkman in his A.B.C. of Anarchism (first published in America as What Is Communist Anarchism?):—

  “Yes, Anarchists have thrown bombs and have resorted to violence . . . under certain conditions a man may have to resort to violence.” (p. 11).

In all fairness tojthe anarchists, bomb-throwing is now no longer popular among anarchists—particularly the British ones.

Many anarchists combine anarchism with syndicalism—the theory of the General Strike and industrial action as a revolutionary method. They are known as anarcho-syndicalists. Whilst followers of Peter Kropotkin—the “Anarchist Prince” (there are no anarchist princes in this country, only Knights!)—and later Alexander Berkman, both Russians, are usually known as “Communist- anarchists” as they also advocate the common or collective ownership of the land and the means and factors of production. Their method of achieving their object is usually through the general strike. It is syndicalist in method, and Communist in objective.

The anarcho-syndicalists advocate the workers’ control of the factories and workshops in which they work, i.e. the coalmines would be controlled and run, and owned, by the coalminers, the railways by the railway men. etc.

As stated above, there are very many kinds and varieties of anarchists and anarchism. Not all anarchists are Communists or Syndicalists. Some are Individualists, other Mutualists. Even today Max Stirner has his advocates, and Proudhon is not yet forgotten.

Whilst Communist-anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists advocate the general strike, or the overthrow or smashing-up of the State, the Individualists and Mutualists do not believe in revolution. They think that our present society will gradually develop into anarchy—almost like the Fabians! The Individualists also uphold the right of the individual to own private property. They advocate “free” competition—truly an utopian bourgeois concept!

Practice what they Preach?
Although all anarchists claim to be opposed to government, the use of the ballot, and the so-called Western and Eastern ways of life, this does not prevent them, when they think fit, supporting these governments, institutions, or “ ways of life.”

For example, the well-known Belgian anarchist. G. Emestan. writing in Freedom (1/3/52). said:—

  “The rearmament of Western Europe it necessary. and victory of the West in case of war it desirable: let us be frankly and sincerely with Truman.”

Or more important, the support that the anarchists gave to the Russian Revolution and the Bolsheviks.

From the beginning the Socialist Party said that the Russian Revolution was a “bourgeois” revolution; that it would not and could not emancipate the workers and peasants of Russia from poverty and exploitation; but that it would result in a new class society—a society of new rulers and oppressors. But not the anarchists.

Most of the anarchists all over the world supported both the February and October “revolutions” of 1917.

Nowadays, like the followers of the late Leon Trotsky, they say that the revolution was “betrayed”; it failed. Alexander Berkman, in his A.B.C. of Anarchism, supported both the 1917 revolutions but admitted that “ the masses lacked both consciousness and definite purpose”! But. the following admission of Emma Goldman, another well- known Russian anarchist, should damn the anarchists for all time. In “Trotsky Protests Too Much” (published in Glasgow by the “Anarchist-Communist Federation ”) she wrote:—

   ‘‘During the four years’ civil war in Russia the Anarchists almost to a man stood by the Bolsheviki, though they grew more daily conscious of the impending collapse of the Revolution. They felt in duty bound to keep silent and to avoid everything that would bring aid and comfort to the enemies of the Revolution.” (p. 15).

When it suits them anarchists will support any movement or form of government, democratic or totalitarian.

But it was not only during the first few years of the Communist Government in Soviet Russia that some of the anarchists supported its leaders. Writing in 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, Felix Morrow in his book, “Revolution and Counter-revolution in Spain,” shows us how low anarchists can sink:—

  “Currying favour with Stalin, the Anarchist leaders had been guilty of such statements as that of Montseny: ‘Lenin was not the true builder of Russia, but rather Stalin, with his practical realism.’ The Anarchist press had preserved a dead silence about the Moscow trials and purges, publishing only the official news reports. The C.N.T. (Anarchist ‘trade unions’) leaders even ceased to defend their Anarchist comrades in Russia when the Anarchist, Erich Muehson, was murdered by Hitler, and his wife sought refuge in the Soviet Union, only to be imprisoned shortly after her arrival, the C.N.T leadership stifled the protest movement in the C.N.T. ranks. Even when the Red generals were shot, the C.N.T. organs published only the official bulletins.” (pp. 127-8).

At this time prominent anarchist leaders in Spain were helping the Republican Government in its war with Franco and the German and Italian Interventionists. Anarchist leaders, like Montseny, were either—or had recently been—members of the Central Madrid or Catalan Governments. And the Government had, for some time past, been receiving war supplies from the Soviet Government.

Anarchists in Spain
Ever since the days of Bakounine and the break-up of the first Working Men’s International, the anarchists have been most numerous in Spain—probably the most backward nation in Europe; which, perhaps, explains why the anarchists are so strong there.

The majority of anarchists in Spain were also members of the C.N.T. (Confederación Nacional de Trabajo— the National Confederation of Labour). Its leaders were also often prominent members of the F.A.I. (Federación Anarquista Iberia—the Anarchist Federation of Iberia).

According to Felix Morrow the C.N.T. leadership was sympathetic to the Russian Revolution, and in fact sent a delegate to the Comintern Congress in 1921. Although supposedly opposed to politics and political parties, Spanish anarchism had, in the F.A.I., a highly centralised Party apparatus, through which it could maintain control of the C.N.T.

In the February, 1936, election in Spain the anarchists, who had in the past, abstained (anarchists are supposed to be opposed to any form of voting) voted for the Popular Front. The “left” parties increased their vote by about a million over the 1933 election. D. A. Santillan admits that this can, to a great extent, be put down to the anarchist vote. Santillan was a leading member of the F.A.I., organiser of the anti-Fascist militias in Catalonia, and later an anarchist minister in the Catalan Government. In his book, “Porque Perdimos la Guerra,” he says:—

  “We gave power to the Left parties, convinced that in the circumstances they represented a lesser evil.”

We seem to have heard this “lesser evil” argument before somewhere!

Afterwards anarchists entered both the Madrid and Catalan Governments. On November 4th, 1936, four members of the C.N.T. entered the Caballero Government.

Supposed opponents of war, government, the ballot box and “ democracy,” the anarchists in Spain—and elsewhere—have supported all these things.

They are neither consistent nor logical. They are both opportunist and utopian.

In Britain, unlike Spain and elsewhere, they are of little consequence, but their views are similar. Their groups afford a welcome to frustrated “intellectuals” who are tired of government interference and State authority; (the continual docketing, the red-tape, and conscription, that is part of our lives under present-day Capitalism.

Unlike the Socialist the anarchists do not have a definite set of principles—in fact they are governed by expediency—or a practical objective—socialism.

Peter E. Newell