A.5 What are some examples of "Anarchy in Action"?

Anarchism, more than anything else, is about the efforts of millions of revolutionaries changing the world in the last two centuries. Here we will discuss some of the high points of this movement, all of them of a profoundly anti-capitalist nature.

Anarchism is about radically changing the world, not just making the present system less inhuman by encouraging the anarchistic tendencies within it to grow and develop. While no purely anarchist revolution has taken place yet, there have been numerous ones with a highly anarchist character and level of participation. And while these have all been destroyed, in each case it has been at the hands of outside force brought against them (backed either by Communists or Capitalists), not because of any internal problems in anarchism itself. These revolutions, despite their failure to survive in the face of overwhelming force, have been both an inspiration for anarchists and proof that anarchism is a viable social theory and can be practised on a large scale.

What these revolutions share is the fact they are, to use Proudhon's term, a "revolution from below" -- they were examples of "collective activity, of popular spontaneity." It is only a transformation of society from the bottom up by the action of the oppressed themselves that can create a free society. As Proudhon asked, "[w]hat serious and lasting Revolution was not made from below, by the people?" For this reason an anarchist is a "revolutionary from below." Thus the social revolutions and mass movements we discuss in this section are examples of popular self-activity and self-liberation (as Proudhon put it in 1848, "the proletariat must emancipate itself"). [quoted by George Woodcock, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography, p. 143 and p. 125] All anarchists echo Proudhon's idea of revolutionary change from below, the creation of a new society by the actions of the oppressed themselves. Bakunin, for example, argued that anarchists are "foes . . . of all State organisations as such, and believe that the people can only be happy and free, when, organised from below by means of its own autonomous and completely free associations, without the supervision of any guardians, it will create its own life." [Marxism, Freedom and the State, p. 63] In section J.7 we discuss what anarchists think a social revolution is and what it involves.

It is important to point out that these examples are of wide-scale social experiments and do not imply that we ignore the undercurrent of anarchist practice which exists in everyday life, even under capitalism. Both Peter Kropotkin (in Mutual Aid) and Colin Ward (in Anarchy in Action) have documented the many ways in which ordinary people, usually unaware of anarchism, have worked together as equals to meet their common interests. As Colin Ward argues, "an anarchist society, a society which organises itself without authority, is always in existence, like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism." [Anarchy in Action, p. 14]

Anarchism is not only about a future society, it is also about the social struggle happening today. It is not a condition but a process, which we create by our self-activity and self-liberation.

By the 1960's, however, many commentators were writing off the anarchist movement as a thing of the past. Not only had fascism finished off European anarchist movements in the years before and during the war, but in the post-war period these movements were prevented from recovering by the capitalist West on one hand and the Leninist East on the other. Over the same period of time, anarchism had been repressed in the US, Latin America, China, Korea (where a social revolution with anarchist content was put down before the Korean War), and Japan. Even in the one or two countries that escaped the worst of the repression, the combination of the Cold War and international isolation saw libertarian unions like the Swedish SAC become reformist.

But the 60's were a decade of new struggle, and all over the world the 'New Left' looked to anarchism as well as elsewhere for its ideas. Many of the prominent figures of the massive explosion of May 1968 in France considered themselves anarchists. Although these movements themselves degenerated, those coming out of them kept the idea alive and began to construct new movements. The death of Franco in 1975 saw a massive rebirth of anarchism in Spain, with up to 500,000 people attending the CNT's first post-Franco rally. The return to a limited democracy in some South American countries in the late 70's and 80's saw a growth in anarchism there. Finally, in the late 80's it was anarchists who struck the first blows against the Leninist USSR, with the first protest march since 1928 being held in Moscow by anarchists in 1987.

Today the anarchist movement, although still weak, organises tens of thousands of revolutionaries in many countries. Spain, Sweden and Italy all have libertarian union movements organising some 250,000 between them. Most other European countries have several thousand active anarchists. Anarchist groups have appeared for the first time in other countries, including Nigeria and Turkey. In South America the movement has recovered massively. A contact sheet circulated by the Venezuelan anarchist group Corrio A lists over 100 organisations in just about every country.

Perhaps the recovery is slowest in North America, but there, too, all the libertarian organisations seem to be undergoing significant growth. As this growth accelerates, many more examples of anarchy in action will be created and more and more people will take part in anarchist organisations and activities, making this part of the FAQ less and less important.

However, it is essential to highlight mass examples of anarchism working on a large scale in order to avoid the specious accusation of "utopianism." As history is written by the winners, these examples of anarchy in action are often hidden from view in obscure books. Rarely are they mentioned in the schools and universities (or if mentioned, they are distorted). Needless to say, the few examples we give are just that, a few.

Anarchism has a long history in many countries, and we cannot attempt to document every example, just those we consider to be important. We are also sorry if the examples seem Eurocentric. We have, due to space and time considerations, had to ignore the syndicalist revolt (1910 to 1914) and the shop steward movement (1917-21) in Britain, Germany (1919-21), Portugal (1974), the Mexican revolution, anarchists in the Cuban revolution, the struggle in Korea against Japanese (then US and Russian) imperialism during and after the Second World War, Hungary (1956), the "the refusal of work" revolt in the late 1960's (particularly in "the hot Autumn" in Italy, 1969), the UK miner's strike (1984-85), the struggle against the Poll Tax in Britain (1988-92), the strikes in France in 1986 and 1995, the Italian COBAS movement in the 80's and 90's, and numerous other major struggles that have involved anarchist ideas of self-management (ideas that usually develop from the movement themselves, without anarchists necessarily playing a major, or "leading", role).

For anarchists, revolutions and mass struggles are "festivals of the oppressed," when ordinary people start to act for themselves and change both themselves and the world.

A.5.1 The Paris Commune

The Paris Commune of 1871 played an important role in the development of both anarchist ideas and the movement. As Bakunin commented at the time,

"revolutionary socialism [i.e. anarchism] has just attempted its first striking and practical demonstration in the Paris Commune" [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 263].

The Paris Commune was created after France was defeated by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian war. The French government tried to send in troops to regain the Parisian National Guard's cannon to prevent it from falling into the hands of the population. The soldiers refused to fire on the jeering crowd and turned their weapons on their officers. This was March 18th; the Commune had begun.

In the free elections called by the Parisian National Guard, the citizens of Paris elected a council made up of a majority of Jacobins and Republicans and a minority of socialists (mostly Blanquists -- authoritarian socialists -- and followers of the anarchist Proudhon). This council proclaimed Paris autonomous and desired to recreate France as a confederation of communes (i.e. communities). Within the Commune, the elected council people were recallable and paid an average wage. In addition, they had to report back to the people who had elected them and were subject to recall by electors if they did not carry out their mandates.

Why this development caught the imagination of anarchists is clear -- it has strong similarities with anarchist ideas. In fact, the example of the Paris Commune was in many ways similar to how Bakunin had predicted that a revolution would have to occur -- a major city declaring itself autonomous, organising itself, leading by example, and urging the rest of the planet to follow it. (See "Letter to Albert Richards" in Bakunin on Anarchism). The Paris Commune began the process of creating a new society, one organised from the bottom up.

Many anarchists played a role within the Commune -- for example Louise Michel, the Reclus brothers, and Eugene Varlin (the latter murdered in the repression afterwards). As for the reforms initiated by the Commune, such as the re-opening of workplaces as co-operatives, anarchists can see their ideas of associated labour beginning to be realised. By May, 43 workplaces were co-operatively run and the Louvre Museum was a munitions factory run by a workers' council. Echoing Proudhon, a meeting of the Mechanics Union and the Association of Metal Workers argued that "our economic emancipation . . . can only be obtained through the formation of workers' associations, which alone can transform our position from that of wage earners to that of associates." They instructed their delegates to the Commune's Commission on Labour Organisation to support the following objectives:

"The abolition of the exploitation of man by man, the last vestige of slavery;

"The organisation of labour in mutual associations and inalienable capital."

In this way, they hoped to ensure that "equality must not be an empty word" in the Commune. [The Paris Commune of 1871: The View from the Left, Eugene Schulkind (ed.), p. 164] The Engineers Union voted at a meeting on 23rd of April that since the aim of the Commune should be "economic emancipation" it should "organise labour through associations in which there would be joint responsibility" in order "to suppress the exploitation of man by man." [quoted by Stewart Edwards, The Paris Commune 1871, pp. 263-4]

Thus in the commune the theory of associated production expounded by Proudhon and Bakunin became consciously revolutionary practice. In the Commune's call for federalism and autonomy, anarchists see their "future social organisation. . . [being] carried out from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers, starting with associations, then going into the communes, the regions, the nations, and, finally, culminating in a great international and universal federation." [Bakunin, Ibid., p. 270] This can be seen by the Commune's "Declaration to the French People" echoing anarchist ideas. It saw the "political unity" of society as being based on "the voluntary association of all local initiatives, the free and spontaneous concourse of all individual energies for the common aim, the well-being, the liberty and the security of all." [quoted by Edwards, Op. Cit., p. 218] The new society envisioned by the communards was one based on the "absolute autonomy of the Commune. . . assuring to each its integral rights and to each Frenchman the full exercise of his aptitudes, as a man, a citizen and a labourer. The autonomy of the Commune will have for its limits only the equal autonomy of all other communes adhering to the contract; their association must ensure the liberty of France." ["Declaration to the French People", quoted by George Woodcock, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography, pp. 276-7] With its vision of a confederation of communes, Bakunin was correct to assert that the Paris Commune was "a bold, clearly formulated negation of the State." [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 264]

Moreover, the Commune's ideas on federation obviously reflected the influence of Proudhon on French radical ideas. Indeed, the Commune's vision of a communal France based on a federation of delegates bound by imperative mandates issued by their electors and subject to recall at any moment echoes Proudhon's ideas (Proudhon had argued in favour of the "implementation of the binding mandate" in 1848 [No Gods, No Masters, p. 63] and for federation of communes in his work The Principle of Federation). Thus both economically and politically the Paris Commune was heavily influenced by anarchist ideas.

However, for anarchists the Commune did not go far enough. It did not abolish the state within the Commune, as it had abolished it beyond it. The Communards organised themselves "in a Jacobin manner" (to use Bakunin's cutting term). As Peter Kropotkin pointed out, it did not "break with the tradition of the State, of representative government, and it did not attempt to achieve within the Commune that organisation from the simple to the complex it inaugurated by proclaiming the independence and free federation of the Communes." [Fighting the Revolution, vol.2, p. 16] In other words, "if no central government was needed to rule the independent Communes, if the national Government is thrown overboard and national unity is obtained by free federation, then a central municipal Government becomes equally useless and noxious. The same federative principle would do within the Commune." [Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, p. 75] In addition, its attempts at economic reform did not go far enough, making no attempt to turn all workplaces into co-operatives (i.e. to expropriate capital) and forming associations of these co-operatives to co-ordinate and support each other's economic activities. As the city was under constant siege by the French army, it is understandable that the Communards had other things on their minds. However, for Kropotkin such a position was a disaster:

"They treated the economic question as a secondary one, which would be attended to later on, after the triumph of the Commune . . . But the crushing defeat which soon followed, and the blood-thirsty revenge taken by the middle class, proved once more that the triumph of a popular Commune was materially impossible without a parallel triumph of the people in the economic field." [Op. Cit., p. 74]

Instead of abolishing the state within the commune by organising federations of directly democratic mass assemblies, like the Parisian "sections" of the revolution of 1789-93 (see Kropotkin's Great French Revolution for more on these), the Paris Commune kept representative government and suffered for it. "Instead of acting for themselves . . . the people, confiding in their governors, entrusted them the charge of taking the initiative. This was the first consequence of the inevitable result of elections." The council soon became "the greatest obstacle to the revolution" thus proving the "political axiom that a government cannot be revolutionary." [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 240, p. 241 and p. 249]

The council become more and more isolated from the people who elected it, and thus more and more irrelevant. And as its irrelevance grew, so did its authoritarian tendencies, with the Jacobin majority creating a "Committee of Public Safety" to "defend" (by terror) the "revolution." The Committee was opposed by the libertarian socialist minority and was, fortunately, ignored in practice by the people of Paris as they defended their freedom against the French army, which was attacking them in the name of capitalist civilisation and "liberty." On May 21st, government troops entered the city, followed by seven days of bitter street fighting. Squads of soldiers and armed members of the bourgeoisie roamed the streets, killing and maiming at will. Over 25,000 people were killed in the street fighting, many murdered after they had surrendered, and their bodies dumped in mass graves.

For anarchists, the lessons of the Paris Commune were threefold. Firstly, a decentralised confederation of communities is the necessary political form of a free society ("This was the form that the social revolution must take -- the independent commune." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 163]). Secondly, "there is no more reason for a government inside a Commune than for government above the Commune." [Peter Kropotkin, Fighting the Revolution, vol. 2, p. 19] This means that an anarchist community will be based on a confederation of neighbourhood and workplace assemblies freely co-operating together. Thirdly, it is critically important to unify political and economic revolutions into a social revolution. "They tried to consolidate the Commune first and put off the social revolution until later, whereas the only way to proceed was to consolidate the Commune by means of the social revolution!" [Peter Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 19]

For more anarchist perspectives on the Paris Commune see Kropotkin's essay "The Paris Commune" in Words of a Rebel (and The Anarchist Reader) and Bakunin's "The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State" in Bakunin on Anarchism.

A.5.2 The Haymarket Martyrs

May 1st is a day of special significance for the labour movement. While it has been hijacked in the past by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, the labour movement festival of May Day is a day of world-wide solidarity. A time to remember past struggles and demonstrate our hope for a better future. A day to remember that an injury to one is an injury to all.

The history of Mayday is closely linked with the anarchist movement and the struggles of working people for a better world. Indeed, it originated with the execution of four anarchists in Chicago in 1886 for organising workers in the fight for the eight-hour day. Thus May Day is a product of "anarchy in action" -- of the struggle of working people using direct action in labour unions to change the world.

It began in the 1880s in the USA. In 1884, the Federation of Organised Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada (created in 1881, it changed its name in 1886 to the American Federation of Labor) passed a resolution which asserted that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's work from and after May 1, 1886, and that we recommend to labour organisations throughout this district that they so direct their laws as to conform to this resolution." A call for strikes on May 1st, 1886 was made in support of this demand.

In Chicago the anarchists were the main force in the union movement, and partially as a result of their presence, the unions translated this call into strikes on May 1st. The anarchists thought that the eight hour day could only be won through direct action and solidarity. They considered that struggles for reforms, like the eight hour day, were not enough in themselves. They viewed them as only one battle in an ongoing class war that would only end by social revolution and the creation of a free society. It was with these ideas that they organised and fought.

In Chicago alone, 400 000 workers went out and the threat of strike action ensured that more than 45 000 were granted a shorter working day without striking. On May 3, 1886, police fired into a crowd of pickets at the McCormick Harvester Machine Company, killing at least one striker, seriously wounding five or six others, and injuring an undetermined number. Anarchists called for a mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square to protest the brutality. According to the Mayor, "nothing had occurred yet, or looked likely to occur to require interference." However, as the meeting was breaking up a column of 180 police arrived and ordered the meeting to end. At this moment a bomb was thrown into the police ranks, who opened fire on the crowd. How many civilians were wounded or killed by the police was never exactly ascertained.

A reign of terror swept over Chicago. Meeting halls, union offices, printing shops and private homes were raided (usually without warrants). Such raids into working-class areas allowed the police to round up all known anarchists and other socialists. Many suspects were beaten up and some bribed. "Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards" was the public statement of J. Grinnell, the States Attorney, when a question was raised about search warrants. ["Editor's Introduction", The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, p. 7]

Eight anarchists were put on trial for accessory to murder. No pretence was made that any of the accused had carried out or even planned the bomb. Instead the jury were told "Law is on trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the Grand Jury, and indicted because they were leaders. They are no more guilty than the thousands who follow them. Gentlemen of the jury; convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and you save our institutions, our society." [Op. Cit., p. 8] The jury was selected by a special bailiff, nominated by the State's Attorney and was composed of businessmen and the relative of one of the cops killed. The defence was not allowed to present evidence that the special bailiff had publicly claimed "I am managing this case and I know what I am about. These fellows are going to be hanged as certain as death." [Ibid.] Not surprisingly, the accused were convicted. Seven were sentenced to death, one to 15 years' imprisonment.

An international campaign resulted in two of the death sentences being commuted to life, but the world wide protest did not stop the US state. Of the remaining five, one (Louis Lingg) cheated the executioner and killed himself on the eve of the execution. The remaining four (Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fischer) were hanged on November 11th 1887. They are known in Labour history as the Haymarket Martyrs. Between 150,000 and 500,000 lined the route taken by the funeral cortege and between 10,000 to 25,000 were estimated to have watched the burial.

In 1889, the American delegation attending the International Socialist congress in Paris proposed that May 1st be adopted as a workers' holiday. This was to commemorate working class struggle and the "Martyrdom of the Chicago Eight". Since then Mayday has became a day for international solidarity. In 1893, the new Governor of Illinois made official what the working class in Chicago and across the world knew all along and pardoned the Martyrs because of their obvious innocence and because "the trail was not fair".

The authorities had believed at the time of the trial that such persecution would break the back of the labour movement. They were wrong. In the words of August Spies when he addressed the court after he had been sentenced to die:

"If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement . . . the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil in misery and want, expect salvation -- if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread on a spark, but there and there, behind you -- and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out." [Op. Cit., pp. 8-9]

At the time and in the years to come, this defiance of the state and capitalism was to win thousands to anarchism, particularly in the US itself. Since the Haymarket event, anarchists have celebrated May Day (on the 1st of May -- the reformist unions and labour parties moved its marches to the first Sunday of the month). We do so to show our solidarity with other working class people across the world, to celebrate past and present struggles, to show our power and remind the ruling class of their vulnerability. As Nestor Makhno put it:

"That day those American workers attempted, by organising themselves, to give expression to their protest against the iniquitous order of the State and Capital of the propertied . . .

"The workers of Chicago . . . had gathered to resolve, in common, the problems of their lives and their struggles. . .

"Today too . . . the toilers . . . regard the first of May as the occasion of a get-together when they will concern themselves with their own affairs and consider the matter of their emancipation." [The Struggle Against the State and Other Essays, pp. 59-60]

Anarchists stay true to the origins of May Day and celebrate its birth in the direct action of the oppressed. Oppression and exploitation breed resistance and, for anarchists, May Day is an international symbol of that resistance and power -- a power expressed in the last words of August Spies, chiselled in stone on the monument to the Haymarket martyrs in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago:

"The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today."

To understand why the state and business class were so determined to hang the Chicago Anarchists, it is necessary to realise they were considered the "leaders" of a massive radical union movement. In 1884, the Chicago Anarchists produced the world's first daily anarchist newspaper, the Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeiting. This was written, read, owned and published by the German immigrant working class movement. The combined circulation of this daily plus a weekly (Vorbote) and a Sunday edition (Fackel) more than doubled, from 13,000 per issues in 1880 to 26,980 in 1886. Anarchist weekly papers existed for other ethnic groups as well (one English, one Bohemian and one Scandinavian).

Anarchists were very active in the Central Labour Union (which included the eleven largest unions in the city) and aimed to make it, in the words of Albert Parsons (one of the Martyrs), "the embryonic group of the future 'free society.'" The anarchists were also part of the International Working People's Association (also called the "Black International") which had representatives from 26 cities at its founding convention. The I.W.P.A. soon "made headway among trade unions, especially in the mid-west" and its ideas of "direct action of the rank and file" and of trade unions "serv[ing] as the instrument of the working class for the complete destruction of capitalism and the nucleus for the formation of a new society" became known as the "Chicago Idea" (an idea which later inspired the Industrial Workers of the World which was founded in Chicago in 1905). ["Editor's Introduction," The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, p. 4]

This idea was expressed in the manifesto issued at the I.W.P.A.'s Pittsburgh Congress of 1883:

"First -- Destruction of the existing class rule, by all means, i.e. by energetic, relentless, revolutionary and international action.

"Second -- Establishment of a free society based upon co-operative organisation of production.

"Third -- Free exchange of equivalent products by and between the productive organisations without commerce and profit-mongery.

"Fourth -- Organisation of education on a secular, scientific and equal basis for both sexes.

"Fifth -- Equal rights for all without distinction to sex or race.

"Sixth -- Regulation of all public affairs by free contracts between autonomous (independent) communes and associations, resting on a federalistic basis." [Op. Cit., p. 42]

In addition to their union organising, the Chicago anarchist movement also organised social societies, picnics, lectures, dances, libraries and a host of other activities. These all helped to forge a distinctly working-class revolutionary culture in the heart of the "American Dream." The threat to the ruling class and their system was too great to allow it to continue (particularly with memories of the vast uprising of labour in 1877 still fresh. As in 1886, that revolt was also meet by state violence -- see Strike! by J. Brecher for details of this strike movement as well as the Haymarket events). Hence the repression, kangaroo court, and the state murder of those the state and capitalist class considered "leaders" of the movement.

A.5.3 Building the Syndicalist Unions

Just before the turn of the century in Europe, the anarchist movement began to create one of the most successful attempts to apply anarchist organisational ideas in everyday life. This was in response to the disastrous "propaganda by deed" period, in which individual anarchists assassinated government leaders in attempts to provoke a popular uprising and in revenge for the mass murders of the Communards. In response to this failed and counterproductive campaign, anarchists went back to their roots and to the ideas of Bakunin, beginning to build mass revolutionary unions (syndicalism and anarchosyndicalism).

In the period from the 1890's to the outbreak of World War I, anarchists built revolutionary unions in most European countries, which became most widespread in Italy and France. In addition, anarchists in South and North America were also successful in organising syndicalist unions. Almost all industrialised countries had some syndicalist movement, although Europe and South America had the biggest and strongest ones. These unions were organised in a confederal manner, from the bottom up, along anarchist lines. They fought with capitalists on a day-to-day basis around the issue of better wages and working conditions, but they also sought to overthrow capitalism through the revolutionary general strike.

That anarchist organisational techniques encouraged member participation, empowerment and militancy, and that they also successfully fought for reforms and promoted class consciousness, can be seen in the growth of anarcho-syndicalist unions and their impact on the labour movement. The Industrial Workers of the World, for example, still inspires union activists and has, throughout its long history, provided many union songs and slogans.

Most of the syndicalist unions were severely repressed during World War I, but in the immediate post-war years they reached their height. This wave of militancy was known as the "red years" in Italy, where it attained its high point with factory occupations (see section A.5.5). But these years also saw the destruction of these unions in country after county, through two influences. On the one hand, the apparent success of the Russian revolution led many activists to turn to authoritarian politics. The Communist parties deliberately undermined the libertarian unions, encouraging fights and splits. More importantly, however, these years saw capitalism go on the offensive with a new weapon -- fascism. Fascism arose in Italy and Germany as an attempt by capitalism to physically smash the widespread organisations the working class had built. In both these countries, anarchists were forced to flee into exile, vanish from sight, or became victims of assassins or concentration camps. In the USA, the IWW was crushed by a wave of repression backed whole-heartedly by media, the state, and the capitalist class.

In Spain, however, the CNT, the anarcho-syndicalist union, continued to grow, claiming one and a half million members by 1936. The capitalist class embraced fascism to save their power from the dispossessed, who were becoming confident of their power and their right to manage their own lives (see section A.5.6). Elsewhere, capitalists supported authoritarian states in order to crush the labour movement and make their countries safe for capitalism. Only Sweden escaped this trend, where the syndicalist union the SAC is still organising workers (and is, in fact, like many other syndicalist unions, growing as workers turn away from bureaucratic unions whose leaders seem more interested in protecting their privileges and cutting deals with management than defending their members).

A.5.4 Anarchists in the Russian Revolution.

The Russian revolution of 1917 saw a huge growth in anarchism in that country and many experiments in anarchist ideas. However, in popular culture the Russian Revolution is seen not as a mass movement by ordinary people struggling towards freedom but as the means by which Lenin imposed his dictatorship on Russia. The Russian Revolution, like most history, is a good example of the maxim "history is written by those who win." Both capitalist and Leninist histories of the period between 1917 and 1921 ignore what the anarchist Voline called "the unknown revolution" -- the revolution called forth from below by the actions of ordinary people.

The initial overthrow of the Tsar came from the direct action of the masses, and the revolution carried on in this vein until the new, "socialist" state was powerful enough to stop it. For the Left, the end of Tsarism was the culmination of years of effort by socialists and anarchists everywhere, representing the progressive wing of human thought overcoming traditional oppression, and as such was duly praised by leftists around the world.

In the workplaces and streets and on the land, more and more people became convinced that abolishing feudalism politically was not enough. The overthrow of the Tsar made little real difference if feudal exploitation still existed in the economy, so workers started to seize their workplaces and peasants, the land. All across Russia, ordinary people started to build their own organisations, unions, co-operatives, factory committees and councils (or "soviets" in Russian). These organisations were initially organised in anarchist fashion, with recallable delegates and being federated with each other.

The anarchists participated in this movement, encouraging all tendencies to self-management. As Jacques Sadoul (a French officer) noted in early 1918:

"The anarchist party is the most active, the most militant of the opposition groups and probably the most popular. . . .The Bolsheviks are anxious." [quoted by Daniel Guerin, Anarchism, pp. 95-6]

Anarchists were particularly active in the movement for workers self-management of production (see M. Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers Control).

But by early 1918, the authoritarian socialists of the Bolshevik party, once they had seized power, began the physical suppression of their anarchist rivals. Initially, anarchists had supported the Bolsheviks, since the Bolshevik leaders had hidden their state-building ideology behind support for the soviets.

However, this support quickly "withered away" as the Bolsheviks showed that they were, in fact, not seeking true socialism but were instead securing power for themselves and pushing not for collective ownership of land and productive resources but for government ownership. The Bolsheviks, for example, systematically destroyed the workers' control movement, even though it was successfully increasing production in the face of difficult circumstances.

Lenin suppressed workers' control on the spurious grounds that it would reduce the productivity of labour -- an argument that has subsequently been shown to be false by cases where workers' control has been established (see section C.2.4). It's interesting to note that today's capitalist apologists, who often claim workers' control would reduce productivity, are actually using a discredited Leninist argument.

While eliminating the workers' control movement, the Bolsheviks also systematically undermined, arrested, and killed their most vocal opponents, the anarchists, as well as restricting the freedom of the masses they claimed to be protecting. Independent unions, political parties, the right to strike, self-management in the workplace and on the land -- all were destroyed in the name of "socialism." For insiders, the Revolution had died a few months after the Bolsheviks took over. To the outside world, the Bolsheviks and the USSR came to represent "socialism" even as they systematically destroyed the basis of real socialism. The Bolsheviks put down the libertarian socialist elements within their country, the crushing of the uprisings at Kronstadt and in the Ukraine being the final nails in the coffin of socialism and the subjugation of the soviets.

The Kronstadt uprising of February, 1921, was, for anarchists, of immense importance. This is because it was the first major uprising of ordinary people for real socialism.

"Kronstadt was the first entirely independent attempt of the people to free themselves of all control and carry out the social revolution: this attempt was made directly. . . by the working classes themselves, without political shepherds, without leaders, or tutors." [Voline, The Unknown Revolution, quoted by Guerin, Ibid., p. 105]

In the Ukraine, anarchist ideas were most successfully applied. In areas under the protection of the Makhnovist movement, working class people organised their own lives directly, based on their own ideas and needs -- true social self-determination. Under the leadership of Nestor Makhno, a self-educated peasant, the movement not only fought against both Red and White dictatorships but resisted the Ukrainian nationalists.

In opposition to the call for "national self-determination," i.e. a new Ukrainian state, Makhno called instead for working class self-determination in the Ukraine and across the world. The Makhnovists organised worker and peasant conferences (some of which the Bolsheviks tried to ban) as well as free soviets, unions and communes. He became known as the Ukrainian "Robin Hood."

The Makhnovists argued that the "freedom of the workers and peasants is their own, and not subject to any restriction. It is up to the workers and peasants themselves to act, to organise themselves, to agree among themselves in all aspects of their lives, as they see fit and desire. . .The Makhnovists can do no more that give aid and counsel. . .In no circumstances can they, nor do they wish to, govern." [Peter Arshinov, quoted by Guerin, Ibib., p. 99]

In Alexandrovsk, the Bolsheviks proposed to the Makhnovists spheres of action - their Revkom (Revolutionary Committee) would handle political affairs and the Makhnovists military ones. Makhno advised them "to go and take up some honest trade instead of seeking to impose their will on the workers." [Peter Arshinov in The Anarchist Reader, p. 141]

The Makhnovists rejected the Bolshevik corruption of the soviets and instead proposed "the free and completely independent soviet system of working people without authorities and their arbitrary laws." Their proclamations stated that the "working people themselves must freely choose their own soviets, which carry out the will and desires of the working people themselves, that is to say. ADMINISTRATIVE, not ruling soviets." Economically, capitalism would be abolished along with the state - the land and workshops "must belong to the working people themselves, to those who work in them, that is to say, they must be socialised." [The History of the Makhnovist Movement, p. 271 and p. 273]

The anarchist experiment of self-management in the Ukraine came to a bloody end when the Bolsheviks turned on the Makhnovists (their former allies against the "Whites," or pro-Tsarists) when they were no longer needed.

The last anarchist march in Moscow until 1987 took place at the funeral of Kropotkin in 1921, when some 10,000 marched behind his coffin. Many of these had been released from prison for the day and were to be murdered by Leninists in later years. From about 1921 on, anarchists started describing the USSR as a "state-capitalist" nation to indicate that although individual bosses might have been eliminated, the Soviet state bureaucracy played the same role as individual bosses do in the West.

For more information on the Russian Revolution and the role played by anarchists, the following books are recommended: The Unknown Revolution by Voline; The Guillotine at Work by G.P. Maximov; The Bolshevik Myth and The Russian Tragedy, both by Alexander Berkman; The Bolsheviks and Workers Control by M. Brinton; The Kronstadt Uprising by Ida Mett; The History of the Makhnovist Movement by Peter Arshinov. Many of these books were written by anarchists active during the revolution, many imprisoned by the Bolsheviks and deported to the West due to international pressure exerted by anarcho-syndicalist delegates to Moscow who the Bolsheviks were trying to win over to Leninism. The majority of such delegates stayed true to their libertarian politics and convinced their unions to reject Bolshevism and break with Moscow. By the early 1920's all the anarcho-syndicalist union confederations had joined with the anarchists in rejecting the "socialism" in Russia as state capitalism and party dictatorship.

A.5.5 Anarchists in the Italian Factory Occupations

After the end of the First World War there was a massive radicalisation across Europe and the world. Union membership exploded, with strikes, demonstrations and agitation reaching massive levels. This was partly due to the war, partly to the apparent success of the Russian Revolution. This enthusiasm for the Russian Revolution even reached Individualist Anarchists like Joseph Labadie, who like many other anti-capitalists, saw "the red in the east [giving] hope of a brighter day" and the Bolsheviks as making "laudable efforts to at least try some way out of the hell of industrial slavery." [quoted by Carlotta R. Anderson, All-American Anarchist p. 225 and p. 241]

Across Europe, anarchist ideas became more popular and anarcho-syndicalist unions grew in size. For example, in Britain, the ferment produced the shop stewards' movement and the strikes on Clydeside; Germany saw the rise of IWW inspired industrial unionism and a libertarian form of Marxism called "Council Communism"; Spain saw a massive growth in the anarcho-syndicalist CNT. In addition, it also, unfortunately, saw the rise and growth of both social democratic and communist parties. Italy was no exception.

In August, 1920, there were large-scale stay-in strikes in Italy in response to an owner wage cut and lockout. These strikes began in the engineering factories and soon spread to railways, road transport, and other industries, with peasants seizing land. The strikers, however, did more than just occupy their workplaces, they placed them under workers' self-management. Soon over 500 000 "strikers" were at work, producing for themselves. Errico Malatesta, who took part in these events, writes:

"The metal workers started the movement over wage rates. It was a strike of a new kind. Instead of abandoning the factories, the ideas was to remain inside without working . . . Throughout Italy there was a revolutionary fervour among the workers and soon the demands changed their characters. Workers thought that the moment was ripe to take possession once [and] for all the means of production. They armed for defence. . . and began to organise production on their own. . . . It was the right of property abolished in fact . . .; it was a new regime, a new form of social life that was being ushered in. And the government stood by because it felt impotent to offer opposition." [Life and Ideas, p. 134]

During this period the Italian Syndicalist Union (USI) grew in size to nearly one million members and the influence of the Italian Anarchist Union (UAI) with its 20 000 members and daily paper (Umanita Nova) grew correspondingly. As the Welsh Marxist historian Gwyn A. Williams points out "Anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists were the most consistently and totally revolutionary group on the left . . . the most obvious feature of the history of syndicalism and anarchism in 1919-20: rapid and virtually continuous growth. . .The syndicalists above all captured militant working-class opinion which the socialist movement was utterly failing to capture." [Proletarian Order, pp. 194-195]

Daniel Guerin provides a good summary of the extent of the movement:

"The management of the factories . . . [was] conducted by technical and administrative workers' committees. Self-management went quite a long way: in the early period assistance was obtained from the banks, but when it was withdrawn the self-management system issued its own money to pay the workers' wages. Very strict self-discipline was required, the use of alcoholic beverages forbidden, and armed patrols were organised for self-defence. Very close solidarity was established between the factories under self-management. Ores and coal were put into a common pool, and shared out equitably." [Anarchism, p. 109]

Over the occupied factories flew "a forest of red and black flags" as "the council movement outside Turin was essentially anarcho-syndicalist." [Williams, Op. Cit., p. 241, p. 193] Railway workers refused to transport troops, workers went on strike against the orders of the reformist unions and peasants occupied the land. Such activity was "either directly led or indirectly inspired by anarcho-syndicalists." [Ibid., p. 193] Which is unsurprising as the "occupation of the factories and the land suited perfectly our programme of action." [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 135]

However, after four weeks of occupation, the workers decided to leave the factories. This was because of the actions of the socialist party and the reformist trade unions. They opposed the movement and negotiated with the state for a return to "normality" in exchange for a promise to extend workers' control legally, in association with the bosses. This promise was not kept. The lack of independent inter-factory organisation made workers dependent on trade union bureaucrats for information on what was going on in other cities, and they used that power to isolate factories, cities, and factories from each other. This lead to a return to work, "in spite of the opposition of individual anarchists dispersed among the factories." [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 136] The local syndicalist union confederations could not provide the necessary framework for a fully co-ordinated occupation movement as the reformist unions refused to work with them; and although the anarchists were a large minority, they were still a minority.

This period of Italian history explains the growth of Fascism in Italy. As Tobias Abse points out, "the rise of fascism in Italy cannot be detached from the events of the biennio rosso, the two red years of 1919 and 1920, that preceded it. Fascism was a preventive counter-revolution . . . launched as a result of the failed revolution" ["The Rise of Fascism in an Industrial City", p. 54, in Rethinking Italian Fascism, David Forgacs (ed.), pp. 52-81] The term "preventive counter-revolution" was originally coined by the leading anarchist Luigi Fabbri.

As Malatesta argued at the time of the factory occupations, "[i]f we do not carry on to the end, we will pay with tears of blood for the fear we now instil in the bourgeoisie." [quoted by Tobias Abse, Op. Cit., p. 66] Later events proved him right, as the capitalists and rich landowners backed the fascists in order to teach the working class their place. In the words of Tobias Abse:

"The aims of the Fascists and their backers amongst the industrialists and agrarians in 1921-22 were simple: to break the power of the organised workers and peasants as completely as possible, to wipe out, with the bullet and the club, not only the gains of the biennio rosso, but everything that the lower classes had gained . . . between the turn of the century and the outbreak of the First World War." [Op. Cit., p. 54]

The fascist squads attacked and destroyed anarchist and socialist meeting places, social centres, radical presses and Camera del Lavoro (local trade union councils). However, even in the dark days of fascist terror, the anarchists resisted the forces of totalitarianism. "It is no coincidence that the strongest working-class resistance to Fascism was in . . . towns or cities in which there was quite a strong anarchist, syndicalist or anarcho-syndicalist tradition." [Tobias Abse, Op. Cit., p. 56]

The anarchists participated in, and often organised sections of, the Arditi del Popolo, a working-class organisation devoted to the self-defence of workers' interests. The Arditi del Popolo organised and encouraged working-class resistance to fascist squads, often defeating larger fascist forces (for example, "the total humiliation of thousands of Italo Balbo's squadristi by a couple of hundred Arditi del Popolo backed by the inhabitants of the working class districts" in the anarchist stronghold of Parma in August 1922 [Tobias Abse, Op. Cit., p. 56]).

The Arditi del Popolo was the closest Italy got to the idea of a united, revolutionary working-class front against fascism, as had been suggested by Malatesta and the UAI. This movement "developed along anti-bourgeois and anti-fascist lines, and was marked by the independence of its local sections." [Red Years, Black Years: Anarchist Resistance to Fascism in Italy, p. 2] Rather than being just an "anti-fascist" organisation, the Arditi "were not a movement in defence of 'democracy' in the abstract, but an essentially working-class organisation devoted to the defence of the interests of industrial workers, the dockers and large numbers of artisans and craftsmen." [Tobias Abse, Op. Cit., p. 75]

However, both the socialist and communist parties withdrew from the organisation. The socialists signed a "Pact of Pacification" with the Fascists in August 1921. The communists "preferred to withdraw their members from the Arditi del Popolo rather than let them work with the anarchists." [Red Years, Black Years, p. 17] As Abse notes, "it was the withdrawal of support by the Socialist and Communist parties at the national level that crippled" the Arditi [Op. Cit., p. 74]. The leaders of the authoritarian socialists preferred defeat and fascism than risk their followers becoming "infected" by anarchism. Thus "social reformist defeatism and communist sectarianism made impossible an armed opposition that was widespread and therefore effective; and the isolated instances of popular resistance were unable to unite in a successful strategy." [Red Years, Black Years, p. 3]

In the end, fascist violence was successful and capitalist power maintained:

"The anarchists' will and courage were not enough to counter the fascist gangs, powerfully aided with material and arms, backed by the repressive organs of the state. Anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists were decisive in some areas and in some industries, but only a similar choice of direct action on the parts of the Socialist Party and the General Confederation of Labour [the reformist trade union] could have halted fascism." [Op. Cit., pp. 1-2]

After helping to defeat the revolution, the Marxists helped ensure the victory of fascism.

Even after the fascist state was created, anarchists resisted both inside and outside Italy. Many Italians, both anarchist and non-anarchist, travelled to Spain to resist Franco in 1936 (see Umberto Marzochhi's Remembering Spain: Italian Anarchist Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War for details). During the Second World War, anarchists played a major part in the Italian Partisan movement. It was the fact that the anti-fascist movement was dominated by anti-capitalist elements that led the USA and the UK to place known fascists in governmental positions in the places they "liberated" (often where the town had already been taken by the Partisans, resulting in the Allied troops "liberating" the town from its own inhabitants!).

Given this history of resisting fascism in Italy, it is surprising that some claim Italian fascism was a product or form of syndicalism. This is even claimed by some anarchists. According to Bob Black the "Italian syndicalists mostly went over to Fascism" and references David D. Roberts 1979 study The Syndicalist Tradition and Italian Fascism to support his claim [Anarchy after Leftism, p. 64]. Peter Sabatini in a review in Social Anarchism makes a similar statement, saying that syndicalism's "ultimate failure" was "its transformation into a vehicle of fascism." [Social Anarchism, no. 23, p. 99] What is the truth behind these claims?

Looking at Black's reference we discover that, in fact, most of the Italian syndicalists did not go over to fascism, if by syndicalists we mean members of the USI (the Italian Syndicalist Union). Roberts states that:

"The vast majority of the organised workers failed to respond to the syndicalists' appeals and continued to oppose [Italian] intervention [in the First World War], shunning what seemed to be a futile capitalist war. The syndicalists failed to convince even a majority within the USI . . . the majority opted for the neutralism of Armando Borghi, leader of the anarchists within the USI. Schism followed as De Ambris led the interventionist minority out of the confederation." [The Syndicalist Tradition and Italian Fascism, p. 113]

However, if we take "syndicalist" to mean some of the intellectuals and "leaders" of the pre-war movement, it was a case that the "leading syndicalists came out for intervention quickly and almost unanimously" [Roberts, Op. Cit., p. 106] after the First World War started. Many of these pro-war "leading syndicalists" did become fascists. However, to concentrate on a handful of "leaders" (which the majority did not even follow!) and state that this shows that the "Italian syndicalists mostly went over to Fascism" staggers belief. What is even worse, as seen above, the Italian anarchists and syndicalists were the most dedicated and successful fighters against fascism. In effect, Black and Sabatini have slandered a whole movement.

What is also interesting is that these "leading syndicalists" were not anarchists and so not anarcho-syndicalists. As Roberts notes the "syndicalists genuinely desired -- and tried -- to work within the Marxist tradition." [Op. Cit., p. 79] According to Carl Levy, in his account of Italian anarchism, "[u]nlike other syndicalist movements, the Italian variation coalesced inside a Second International party. Supporter were partially drawn from socialist intransigents . . . the southern syndicalist intellectuals pronounced republicanism . . . Another component . . . was the remnant of the Partito Operaio." ["Italian Anarchism: 1870-1926" in For Anarchism: History, Theory, and Practice, David Goodway (Ed.), p. 51]

In other words, the Italian syndicalists who turned to fascism were, firstly, a small minority of intellectuals who could not convince the majority within the syndicalist union to follow them, and, secondly, Marxists and republicans rather than anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists or even revolutionary syndicalists.

According to Carl Levy, Roberts' book "concentrates on the syndicalist intelligentsia" and that "some syndicalist intellectuals . . . helped generate, or sympathetically endorsed, the new Nationalist movement . . . which bore similarities to the populist and republican rhetoric of the southern syndicalist intellectuals." He argues that there "has been far too much emphasis on syndicalist intellectuals and national organisers" and that syndicalism "relied little on its national leadership for its long-term vitality." [Op. Cit., p. 77, p. 53 and p. 51] If we do look at the membership of the USI, rather than finding a group which "mostly went over to fascism," we discover a group of people who fought fascism tooth and nail and were subject to extensive fascist violence.

To summarise, Italian Fascism had nothing to do with syndicalism and, as seen above, the USI fought the Fascists and was destroyed by them along with the UAI, Socialist Party and other radicals. That a handful of pre-war Marxist-syndicalists later became Fascists and called for a "National-Syndicalism" does not mean that syndicalism and fascism are related (any more than some anarchists latter becoming Marxists makes anarchism "a vehicle" for Marxism!).

It is hardly surprising that anarchists were the most consistent and successful opponents of Fascism. The two movements could not be further apart, one standing for total statism in the service of capitalism while the other for a free, non-capitalist society. Neither is it surprising that when their privileges and power were in danger, the capitalists and the landowners turned to fascism to save them. This process is a common feature in history (to list just four examples, Italy, Germany, Spain and Chile).

A.5.6 Anarchism and the Spanish Revolution.

Spain in the 1930's had the largest anarchist movement in the world. At the start of the Spanish "Civil" war, over one and one half million workers and peasants were members of the CNT (the National Confederation of Labour), an anarcho-syndicalist union federation, and 30,000 were members of the FAI (the Anarchist Federation of Iberia). The total population of Spain at this time was 24 million.

The social revolution which met the Fascist coup on July 18th, 1936, is the greatest experiment in libertarian socialism to date. Here the last mass syndicalist union, the CNT, not only held off the fascist rising but encouraged the widespread take-over of land and factories. Over seven million people, including about two million CNT members, put self-management into practise in the most difficult of circumstances and actually improved both working conditions and output.

In the heady days after the 19th of July, the initiative and power truly rested in the hands of the rank-and-file members of the CNT and FAI. It was ordinary people, undoubtedly under the influence of Faistas (members of the FAI) and CNT militants, who, after defeating the fascist uprising, got production, distribution and consumption started again (under more egalitarian arrangements, of course), as well as organising and volunteering (in their tens of thousands) to join the militias, which were to be sent to free those parts of Spain that were under Franco. In every possible way the working class of Spain were creating by their own actions a new world based on their own ideas of social justice and freedom -- ideas inspired, of course, by anarchism and anarchosyndicalism.

George Orwell's eye-witness account of revolutionary Barcelona in late December, 1936, gives a vivid picture of the social transformation that had begun:

"The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workman. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Señor' or 'Don' or even 'Usted'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' or 'Thou', and said 'Salud!' instead of 'Buenos dias'. . . Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine." [Homage to Catalonia, pp. 2-3]

The full extent of this historic revolution cannot be covered here. It will be discussed in more detail in Section I.8 of the FAQ. All that can be done is to highlight a few points of special interest in the hope that these will give some indication of the importance of these events and encourage people to find out more about it.

All industry in Catalonia was placed either under workers' self-management or workers' control (that is, either totally taking over all aspects of management, in the first case, or, in the second, controlling the old management). In some cases, whole town and regional economies were transformed into federations of collectives. The example of the Railway Federation (which was set up to manage the railway lines in Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia) can be given as a typical example. The base of the federation was the local assemblies:

"All the workers of each locality would meet twice a week to examine all that pertained to the work to be done... The local general assembly named a committee to manage the general activity in each station and its annexes. At [these] meetings, the decisions (direccion) of this committee, whose members continued to work [at their previous jobs], would be subjected to the approval or disapproval of the workers, after giving reports and answering questions."

The delegates on the committee could be removed by an assembly at any time and the highest co-ordinating body of the Railway Federation was the "Revolutionary Committee," whose members were elected by union assemblies in the various divisions. The control over the rail lines, according to Gaston Leval, "did not operate from above downwards, as in a statist and centralised system. The Revolutionary Committee had no such powers. . . The members of the. . . committee being content to supervise the general activity and to co-ordinate that of the different routes that made up the network." [Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, p. 255]

On the land, tens of thousands of peasants and rural day workers created voluntary, self-managed collectives. The quality of life improved as Cupertino allowed the introduction of health care, education, machinery and investment in the social infrastructure. As well as increasing production, the collectives increased freedom. As one member puts it, "it was marvelous. . . to live in a collective, a free society where one could say what one thought, where if the village committee seemed unsatisfactory one could say. The committee took no big decisions without calling the whole village together in a general assembly. All this was wonderful." [Ronald Frazer, Blood of Spain, p. 360]

On the social front, anarchist organisations created rational schools, a libertarian health service, social centres, and so on. The Mujeres Libres (free women) combated the traditional role of women in Spanish society, empowering thousands both inside and outside the anarchist movement (see The Free Women of Spain by Martha A. Ackelsberg for more information on this very important organisation). This activity on the social front only built on the work started long before the outbreak of the war; for example, the unions often funded rational schools, workers centres, and so on.

The voluntary militias that went to free the rest of Spain from Franco were organised on anarchist principles and included both men and women. There was no rank, no saluting and no officer class. Everybody was equal. George Orwell, a member of the POUM militia, makes this clear:

"The essential point of the [militia] system was the social equality between officers and men. Everyone from general to private drew the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on terms of complete equality. If you wanted to slap the general commanding the division on the back and ask him for a cigarette, you could do so, and no one thought it curious. In theory at any rate each militia was a democracy and not a hierarchy. It was understood that orders had to be obeyed, but it was also understood that when you gave an order you gave it as comrade to comrade and not as superior to inferior. There were officers and N.C.O.s, but there was no military rank in the ordinary sense; no titles, no badges, no heel-clicking and saluting. They had attempted to produce within the militias a sort of temporary working model of the classless society. Of course there was not perfect equality, but there was a nearer approach to it than I had ever seen or that I would have though conceivable in time of war. . . " [Op. Cit., p. 26]

In Spain, however, as elsewhere, the anarchist movement was smashed between Leninism (the Communist Party) and Capitalism (Franco) on the other. Unfortunately, the anarchists placed anti-fascist unity before the revolution, thus helping their enemies to defeat both them and the revolution. Whether they were forced by circumstances into this position or could have avoided it is still being debated.

Orwell's account of his experiences in the militia's indicates why the Spanish Revolution is so important to anarchists:

"I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites. Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality. In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilised life -- snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. -- had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary class- division of society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned anyone else as his master. . . One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word 'comrade' stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality. I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy 'proving' that Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the 'mystique' of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all . . . In that community where no one was on the make, where there was a shortage of everything but no boot-licking, one got, perhaps, a crude forecast of what the opening stages of Socialism might be like. And, after all, instead of disillusioning me it deeply attracted me. . ." [Op. Cit., pp. 83-84]

For more information on the Spanish Revolution, the following books are recommended: Lessons of the Spanish Revolution by Vernon Richards; Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution by Jose Peirats; Free Women of Spain by Martha A. Ackelsberg; The Anarchist Collectives edited by Sam Dolgoff; "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship" by Noam Chomsky (in The Chomsky Reader); The Anarchists of Casas Viejas by Jerome R. Mintz; and Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell.

A.5.7 The May-June Revolt in France, 1968.

The May-June events in France placed anarchism back on the radical landscape after a period in which many people had written the movement off as dead. This revolt of ten million people grew from humble beginnings. Expelled by the university authorities of Nanterre in Paris for anti-Vietnam War activity, a group of anarchists (including Daniel Cohn-Bendit) promptly called a protest demonstration. The arrival of 80 police enraged many students, who quit their studies to join the battle and drive the police from the university.

Inspired by this support, the anarchists seized the administration building and held a mass debate. The occupation spread, Nanterre was surrounded by police, and the authorities closed the university down. The next day, the Nanterre students gathered at the Sorbonne University in the centre of Paris. Continual police pressure and the arrest of over 500 people caused anger to erupt into five hours of street fighting. The police even attacked passers-by with clubs and tear gas.

A total ban on demonstrations and the closure of the Sorbonne brought thousands of students out onto the streets. Increasing police violence provoked the building of the first barricades. Jean Jacques Lebel, a reporter, wrote that by 1 a.m., "[l]iterally thousands helped build barricades. . . women, workers, bystanders, people in pyjamas, human chains to carry rocks, wood, iron." An entire night of fighting left 350 police injured. On May 7th, a 50,000-strong protest march against the police was transformed into a day-long battle through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter. Police tear gas was answered by molotov cocktails and the chant "Long Live the Paris Commune!"

By May 10th, continuing massive demonstrations forced the Education Minister to start negotiations. But in the streets, 60 barricades had appeared and young workers were joining the students. The trade unions condemned the police violence. Huge demonstrations throughout France culminated on May 13th with one million people on the streets of Paris.

Faced with this massive protest, the police left the Latin Quarter. Students seized the Sorbonne and created a mass assembly to spread the struggle. Occupations soon spread to every French University. From the Sorbonne came a flood of propaganda, leaflets, proclamations, telegrams, and posters. Slogans such as "Everything is Possible," "Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible," "Life without Dead Times," and "It is Forbidden to Forbid" plastered the walls. "All Power to the Imagination" was on everyone's lips. As Murray Bookchin pointed out, "the motive forces of revolution today. . . are not simply scarcity and material need, but also quality of everyday life,.. the attempt to gain control of one's own destiny." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, pp. 249-250]

On May 14th, the Sud-Aviation workers locked the management in its offices and occupied their factory. They were followed by the Cleon-Renault, Lockhead-Beauvais and Mucel-Orleans factories the next day. That night the National Theatre in Paris was seized to become a permanent assembly for mass debate. Next, France's largest factory, Renault-Billancourt, was occupied. Often the decision to go on indefinite strike was taken by the workers without consulting union officials. By May 17th, a hundred Paris Factories were in the hands of their workers. The weekend of the 19th of May saw 122 factories occupied. By May 20th, the strike and occupations were general and involved six million people. Print workers said they did not wish to leave a monopoly of media coverage to TV and radio, and agreed to print newspapers as long as the press "carries out with objectivity the role of providing information which is its duty." In some cases print-workers insisted on changes in headlines or articles before they would print the paper. This happened mostly with the right-wing papers such as 'Le Figaro' or 'La Nation'.

With the Renault occupation, the Sorbonne occupiers immediately prepared to join the Renault strikers, and led by anarchist black and red banners, 4,000 students headed for the occupied factory. The state, bosses, unions and Communist Party were now faced with their greatest nightmare -- a worker-student alliance. Ten thousand police reservists were called up and frantic union officials locked the factory gates. The Communist Party urged their members to crush the revolt. They united with the government and bosses to craft a series of reforms, but once they turned to the factories they were jeered out of them by the workers.

The struggle itself and the activity to spread it was organised by self-governing mass assemblies and co-ordinated by action committees. The strikes were often run by assemblies as well. As Murray Bookchin argues, the "hope [of the revolt] lay in the extension of self-management in all its forms -- the general assemblies and their administrative forms, the action committees, the factory strike committees -- to all areas of the economy, indeed to all areas of life itself" [Ibid., pp. 251-252]. Within the assemblies, "a fever of life gripped millions, a rewaking of senses that people never thought they possessed" [Ibid., p. 251]. It was not a workers' strike or a student strike. It was a peoples' strike that cut across almost all class lines.

On May 24th, anarchists organised a demonstration. Thirty thousand marched towards the Palace de la Bastille. The police had the Ministries protected, using the usual devices of tear gas and batons, but the Bourse (Stock Exchange) was left unprotected and a number of demonstrators set fire to it.

It was at this stage that some left-wing groups lost their nerve. The Trotskyist JCR turned people back into the Latin Quarter. Other groups such as UNEF and Parti Socialiste Unife (United Socialist Party) blocked the taking of the Ministries of Finance and Justice. Cohn-Bendit said of this incident "As for us, we failed to realise how easy it would have been to sweep all these nobodies away. . . .It is now clear that if, on 25 May, Paris had woken to find the most important Ministries occupied, Gaullism would have caved in at once. . . . " Cohn-Bendit was forced into exile later that very night.

As the street demonstrations grew and occupations continued, the state prepared to use overwhelming means to stop the revolt. Secretly, top generals readied 20,000 loyal troops for use on Paris. Police occupied communications centres like TV stations and Post Offices. By Monday, May 27th, the Government had guaranteed an increase of 35% in the industrial minimum wage and an all round-wage increase of 10%. The leaders of the CGT organised a march of 500,000 workers through the streets of Paris two days later. Paris was covered in posters calling for a 'Government of the People.' Unfortunately the majority still thought in terms of changing their rulers rather than taking control for themselves.

By June 5th most of the strikes were over and an air of what passes for normality within capitalism had rolled back over France. Any strikes which continued after this date were crushed in a military-style operation using armoured vehicles and guns. On June 7th, they made an assault on the Flins steelworks which started a four-day running battle which left one worker dead. Three days latter, Renault strikers were gunned down by police, killing two. In isolation, those pockets of militancy stood no chance. On June 12th, demonstrations were banned, radical groups outlawed, and their members arrested. Under attack from all sides, with escalating state violence and trade union sell-outs, the General Strike and occupations crumbled.

So why did this revolt fail? Certainly not because "vanguard" Bolshevik parties were missing. It was infested with them. Fortunately, the traditional authoritarian left sects were isolated and outraged. Those involved in the revolt did not require a vanguard to tell them what to do, and the "workers' vanguards" frantically ran after the movement trying to catch up with it and control it.

No, it was the lack of independent, self-managed confederal organisations to co-ordinate struggle which resulted in occupations being isolated from each other. So divided, they fell. In addition, Murray Bookchin argues that "an awareness among the workers that the factories had to be worked, not merely occupied or struck," was missing [Ibid., p. 269].

This awareness would have been encouraged by the existence of a strong anarchist movement before the revolt. The anti-authoritarian left, though very active, was too weak among striking workers, and so the idea of self-managed organisations and workers self-management was not widespread. However, the May-June revolt shows that events can change very rapidly. The working class, fused by the energy and bravado of the students, raised demands that could not be catered for within the confines of the existing system. The General Strike displays with beautiful clarity the potential power that lies in the hands of the working class. The mass assemblies and occupations give an excellent, if short-lived, example of anarchy in action and how anarchist ideas can quickly spread and be applied in practice.