After months of rumours and false starts, there is now reliable information that Golden Dawn MEP Giorgos Epitideios will be in Australia and holding events in Melbourne and Sydney, 16-20 November.
SEE: The Guardian, Golden Dawn: far right Greek party members pay ‘stealth visit’ to Australia, “Two members plan to raise money and meet local supporters in Sydney and Melbourne this week”.
Golden Dawn is a violent fascist organisation in Greece, that has attempted to build support in the Greek diaspora community in Australia and around the world. This tour of Australia comes at a key time for Golden Dawn, and opposing them now is critical.
As a fascist organisation Golden Dawn has its roots in the military dictatorship of 1967-1974, but until recently they have been at most a marginal political force. In 2012 they capitalised on the the waves of anger and discontent at mainstream Greek politics in 2012 to win 18 seats in the Greek Parliament. Their violent apparatus has close links with the repressive apparatus of the Greek state, and is renowned for it’s violent attacks on immigrants, the workers movement, anarchists, left groups, and the queer community.
The Greek state has subsequently turned on Golden Dawn:
Golden Dawn (GD), as we knew it, is over. Their leader N. Michaloliakos is behind bars, along with other prominent members, while those who survived the first purge are facing added charges that emerged a few days after the first arrests. While this was happening, a number of their offices around Greece have closed down, the state funding they received has been stopped, and reports indicate that many of their members (ex or current) are forming lines outside the High Court to testify against the organization.
For an analysis of the how and why check out When the state turns antifa.
Golden Dawn is on the defensive in Greece, and as such is seeking support abroad. Golden Dawn MEP Giorgos Epitideios, a former general, is in Australia as part of a respectability campaign.
Within Greece, Golden Dawn want to be able to claim that they have support from the Greek diaspora, and that they’re seen as respectable internationally.
Within Australia they want to pitch to the Greek community, in particular to organise funding to offset the losses they have suffered following the attacks on their organisation in Greece.
A solid, public and overwhelming rejection of these fascists in Australia would send a strong message of support to anti-fascists in Greece, would harm fascist propaganda in Greece, and would prevent these violent thugs organising among the fringes of the diaspora community.
A Welcoming Committee
Information is being disseminated through the No to Golden Dawn in Melbourne facebook page and twitter account. The event page Disrupt and Dismantle Welcome Collective will be updated to the address and dates of Golden Dawn events in Australia as information comes to hand.
A statement condemning Golden Dawn has been signed by ten Australian trade unions including the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, the Communications Workers Unions, the Community and Public Sector Union, the Construction and General Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Maritime Union of Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union, the National Union of Workers and the Textile, and the Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.
A call to action will be issued by the No to Golden Dawn in Melbourne group in the coming days.
What Needs to Happen
The Golden Dawn events in Melbourne are already appropriately infiltrated. The time and location of the planned events is expected to be released at very short notice, at some point between 16 and 20 November.
Anyone who cares about opposing fascists in Australia and in Greece should prepare to respond in this time frame. In order to oppose and disrupt Golden Dawn in Australia, we need to muster hundreds of opponents of fascism at a particular location in the Melbourne area at short notice.
Make ready in your organisations, unions, and community groups. Keep an active watch on the No to Golden Dawn events and facebook page. Tell everyone you know about this, spread the word that these dimwits are coming and we are going to drive them away. When Golden Dawn attempt to show their heads in our city, let’s drown them out, break them up, and drive them out.
Renters in Victoria are being wrung dry by rising rents and insecure tenancies. One million of us rent. 24% of us experience “housing stress”; we fall in the bottom 40% of households by income and we’re spending more than 30% of what little we have on keeping a roof over our heads (link).
And it keeps getting worse. Every six months landlords and real estate agents hit us with “pay more or we’ll inflict the cost and trauma of seeking new accomodation on you”.
Ben Schneiders writes in today’s Sunday Age:
The forgotten people, Victoria’s 1 million renters
There are about 1 million Victorians who rent in a system that is heavily weighted towards the interests of landlords and has become steadily less affordable …
The interests of renters are unlikely to attract much attention in this state election campaign. When housing has received a mention in recent state and federal campaigns it has tended to focus on the woes of first home buyers – not renters.
For the working class in Victoria, every tenancy is precarious. For the landlords and real estate agent scum, any working class tenant who is not in housing stress should be paying more.
But The Greens reckon they haven’t overlooked housing. Trent McCarthy was quick to get a media release out this morning, “The Greens haven’t forgotten Northcote’s renters“:
The Greens introduced legislation into Parliament only a few months back that would have removed the ability for landlords to evict tenants without giving a lawful reason. And it would have required all rental properties to pass a ‘roadworthy’ – to meet basic standards in relation to repair, comfort, safety, facilities and energy efficiency.
It’s piss weak rubbish.
The Greens are not credible on housing. A “house roadworthy” and energy efficient requirements will not lower rents. On the contrary, these measures would drive rent increases and do little if anything to improve the quality of housing stock. They would create a lovely little market in house roadworthy certification.
Removing the ability of landlords to evict renters without cause would be a minor step in the right direction, but it is rendered meaningless in a world of six month leases. The six month lease cycle is a key weapon in the landlords campaign to squeeze the working class.
When it comes to affordability, it seems the only people The Greens are serious about are artists, their Arts and Culture policy calls for:
The provision of low rent working spaces for practising artists in under-utilised buildings.
If The Greens took renters seriously they’d have some serious housing policy. Security of housing in rental is abysmal. A real demand would be that once leased, tenants should be secure from eviction indefinitely.
Once you’re in a house, price increases are the real bastard. A real demand would be for serious price controls and strict limitation on increases during tenancy.
But neither price controls nor greater security of tenancy address the fact that housing is a basic human need. Access to housing should hostage to private landlords, who operating through a few real estate agents are practically a cartel arraigned against the working class.
As workers and renters we should demand a right to secure, cheap and comfortable housing. We should demand the kind of investment in social housing, democratically self-controlled social housing, that could give the working class a bloody alternative to the cutthroat antics of the private rental market.
Bonus! Lets Hang the Landlord!
He spun us a tale of a dwindling number of older, less educated, and unemployed white males, duped by a billionaire’s extravagant advertising spend. The Palmer vote in 2013 was an outlier, after a poor showing in the Tasmanian state election it was clear that the Palmer United Party would struggle to make 4%. The not so subtle message was that the Palmer voters who remained where dupes, unemployed, under educated, older and angry.
Last night the Palmer United Party won 12.49% of the vote, 7.48% more than in the federal election last year.
Seccombe’s article is fascinating, largely because of where it appears. The Saturday Paper is has been marketed as “a newspaper without the Murdoch”. The assumption that underlies it is that the failure of the social democratic left in this country has been due to the nefarious influence of an all-powerful Rupert Murdoch, and a working class stupid enough to believe him.
What passes for Australian social democracy has a convenient scapegoat in Murdoch. Why did Labor rush to the right? Murdoch. Why do governments torment refugees? They’re appealing to stupid racists who believe Murdoch. Why did the Gillard government fail? Murdoch and stupid people. Why haven’t the Greens broken through into the mainstream? The evil Murdoch monster tells lies.
When confronted with a phenomena like Clive Palmer, how does this “left” understand him? He’s a rich man duping stupid people, and there is nothing else going on that we have to understand.
There is something else going on. The failures of Australian social democracy are not due to some all-powerful media baron, or that Australians are simply too stupid to understand that the left are correct. Rather, Australian social democracy fails because of its total disconnect from the reality of the Australian working class, and its own lack of political content.
Clive Palmer’s success yesterday means something, and explaining it is important to understanding what is going on. The two explanations that the mainstream left will offer are wrong. Clive Palmer did not buy the vote, advertising spend does not determine the course of an election, if it did he would have won far more than 12.49% of the vote. And the Australian working class is not stupid. Formal tertiary education is not some indicator of intelligence (especially when you look at what the Australian edufactory produces), and the Australian working class did not somehow acquire some form of stupidity recently that it did not have when those darlings of the current left, Whitlam, Hawke and Keating, were elected.
Don’t get me wrong, Clive Palmer is a joke. He is a self-interested dinosaur-building Titanic-raising coal-mining billionaire. But this isn’t some secret. 12.49% of Western Australians voted for him even though he is a joke. The vote for Clive Palmer is an indication of growing disillusionment. When faced with the vacuous circus that is Australian politics, 12.49% of Western Australians consider a joke like Clive Palmer the better alternative.
The mainstream left will nash their teeth. But for the radical left, this is actually a good sign. Parliament is a farce. Our democracy is a sham. The parliamentary process does not serve the interests of the Australian working class. Evidence that the legitimacy of authority of the official political process is being slowly eroded should be welcomed.
Tad Tietze at Left Flank:
The rise of PUP in WA, winning 12.5 percent of the vote has again wrong-footed mainstream and Left observers. Most still seem to think that attacking Palmer’s economically undeliverable promises will expose him as a fraud. Or that damning him for using (his own) corporate cash to win votes will reveal him to have no real support. Or that his erratic anti-politician persona, complete with scathing vitriol directed at the established parties, will simply show he is not to be taken seriously. Or, finally, that his status as a member of the business elite will repel people, as soon as people wake up to it. All these views miss what is happening, because in fact political attacks only increase the anti-political appeal of operators like Palmer. It confirms to voters that the insular, self-obsessed political class and its media lapdogs are simply trying to shore up their own interests against the threat he poses. After all, these same politicos don’t blink when the established parties makes promises they don’t intend to keep, amass corporate money for their campaigns, ridicule their opponents, and get entitled about their entitlements. Palmer’s success is a reflection of the disdain for politics that is the defining feature of the political situation today, and his nasty anti-democratic side matters little when voters see the sick state of actually existing democracy.
I have a pair of articles in issue 1 of The Platform, this on Transfield Services’ links to the Biennale of Sydney, and this on the rights fresh assault on Medicare, in particular the proposed $6 copayment.
Both articles have been reasonable well received, but totally eclipsed by Rebecca Winter’s fantastic article, Silent No Longer: Confronting Sexual Violence in the Left.
We’ve just published an initial position piece, a Statement of Principles. It’s not perfect. It’s not final. There will be changes, and subsequent position statements. But it’s where we are at now.
I wanted to take a few moments to highlight some bits of it, explain a couple of things, and point to the ideas that inform it.
1. As anarchists we fight to create a self-managed, socialist and stateless society, in which all contribute freely according to ability, and through which all have full access to the material basis for pursing their individual and collective fulfilment. In this libertarian socialist society, individual freedom is harmonised with communal obligations through cooperation, directly democratic decision making and social and economic equality. We believe such a society is both desirable and possible, and we actively work toward overcoming the hierarchies, exploitation and systems of oppression that stand in its way.
The bulk of paragraph one, in particular the words “individual freedom is harmonised with communal obligations through cooperation, directly democratic decision making and social and economic equality”, is blatantly plagiarised from Schmidt and Van der walt (2009), ‘Socialism from Below: defining Anarchism’, from Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. I believe that chapter of Black Flame is still available online at the Fantin Reading Group.
2. To confront oppression in all its forms, the self-organised activity of all persons experiencing oppression is necessary. Systems of oppression manifest both as structures in the economic system and in the ideology of the dominant culture. Within the dominant culture of our society, intertwined oppressive systems include (but are not limited to) sexism, racism, queerphobia, transphobia and ableism. These oppressive systems, whilst occurring within the context of capitalism and shaped to serve its purpose, are not reducible to capitalism. Unless we actively struggle against all oppressive power systems, these hierarchies will be reproduced both within our own organisations and in any post-capitalist society. We see fighting against these forms of oppression as just as important to the creation of an anarchist society as fighting capitalism and the state. Only by working to eliminate oppressive power relations within the working classes will we be able to create a revolutionary movement capable of genuinely transforming society.
Oh imperfect attempt! Where do we stand on feminism? Is sexism merely a division of the working class, a product of class society, and an idea that will evaporate is a post-capitalist society?
I happen to think that an understanding of sexism is one dimensional if it doesn’t also integrate an understanding of capitalism. That said sexism is not reducible to capitalism, ideas are not merely products of material circumstances and economic structures, they also shape material circumstances, and oppressive ideas can also take on a life well beyond the material circumstances which created them.
If ignored sexism will not simply be washed aside by anti-capitalist struggle. If not specifically combatted, there is no reason sexism would not continue to be an oppressive structure in a post capitalist society.
We want to integrate an understanding of capitalism and sexism, that does not merely reduce one to the other. We’re not there yet. This paragraph was an attempt, it’s an imperfect snapshot of our thinking at one point in time. As anarchists we hope to be feminists and anti-racists as well as anti-capitalists.
For further reading on the topic I’d recommend Insurrections at the intersections: feminism, intersectionality and anarchism, it’s a chapter by Abbey Volcano and J Rogue that was included in AK Press’s new edition of Quiet Rumours: An anarcho-feminist reader.
3. Australian capitalism is founded on an act of genocide – the murder and dispossession of this continent’s indigenous people. Capitalism on this continent was built on the seizure and exploitation of indigenous land, and continued attacks on indigenous communities are perpetrated by Australian capitalism and its racist state in the pursuit of what lands and resources that remain. We unequivocally support the ongoing struggle for indigenous self-determination in Australia, and recognise that indigenous sovereignty over the Australian landmass was never ceded.
Australian capitalism has genocidal origins… surely this is stating the obvious? To consistently oppose capitalism in Australia, we have to support the struggle for indigenous self-determination. To support indigenous self-determination is to oppose capitalism.
4. Capitalism is a social system based on the private ownership of the means of production (land, factories, workplaces, machinery and access to raw materials). A tiny minority own the means of production and profit from the productive labour of the working class. The working class consists of all whose access to the means of existence requires that they place their ability to labour at the service of capital. This includes all who labour for a wage, all who are presently unemployed, and all who labour in the reproduction of the working class (domestic labour). Workers are paid the minimum the capitalist can get away with in a given situation, and the capitalist steals the rest. The private property owned by capitalists is the wealth stolen from past generations of workers. Capitalism denies the vast majority their economic and social inheritance through recourse to violence and coercion. Any incursion into private property is punished by the state. This system, capitalism, the state and the oppressive ideologies that support it, must be abolished in their entirety.
Anarchism critically appropriates Marx’s analysis of capitalism, Marx in turn owes much to Proudon.
From Schmidt and Van der Walt, (2006) ‘Proudon, Marx, and Anarchist Social Analysis‘, in Black Flame:
The imprint of Marx’s economic analysis can clearly be seen in the thinking of the anarchists. Bakunin’s only quibble with Marx’s Capital was that it was written in a style quite incomprehensible to the average worker, and he began a Russian translation of the book. Kropotkin despised Marx, but his understanding of class struggle, exploitation, and capitalist crisis was deeply imprinted with Marxist economics. Malatesta, who complained that anarchism had been too “impregnated with Marxism”, did not develop an alternative economic analysis, and … his close associate Carlo Cafiero even published a summary of Marx’s Capital.
Check out Wayne Price’s Marx’s Economics for Anarchists: An Anarchist’s Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy.
5. The state is a centralised structure in which a small number of people, through their control of the police, military and courts (a monopoly on ‘legitimate’ violence), impose decisions on the vast majority. The state is not simply a “body of armed men” in service of the dominant class, it is also an institution that develops its own interest and that seeks to perpetuate its existence and expand its power. As anarchists we wholly reject the state, and instead we aim for “the most complete realisation of democracy—democracy in the fields, factories, and neighbourhoods.”
An attempt at differentiating between anarchist and Leninist understandings of the state…
6. Capitalism reaches across the entire globe. Military and economic imperialism (so-called globalisation) continue to subordinate most of the globe to the capitalist system, securing access to resources, labour and markets for the capitalist core. As capitalism is global, the struggle against capitalism must also be global, and we must act in solidarity and support for the struggles of oppressed people wherever they occur.
A commitment to internationalism, but also a wiff of world-systems analysis. Capitalism does not exist in discrete nation-state entities, it is constituted as a world-system, and that system now traverses the entire globe.
We’re not slavish followers of Immanuel Wallerstein (far from it!), but the method of analysis he advances is a useful tool.
7. Capitalism has wrought upon our planet a global ecological crisis that now threatens the basis of existence for the majority of humanity. Capitalist entities grow or perish, whenever capital is not growing it is in crisis. Capitalism, as the effective cause the present environmental crisis, cannot effectively solve or even lessen the extent of environmental degradation. Capitalism’s demand for continued growth on our finite planet is at odds with human survival as a species, and therefore as a matter of necessity, and not just desirability, it must be abolished.
Prosperity without Growth makes the case, without realising it. Tim Jackson’s belief that we can somehow change capitalism to operate in a steady state is of course farcical, but the argument he makes for the necessity of doing so is compelling. The obvious conclusion, unintended by the author, is that capitalism must be abolished if human survival is to be assured.
8. The role of anarchists is to build the capacity of oppressed peoples as a whole to struggle for our collective emancipation. It is only when the collective and conscious social force of the mass of oppressed people exceeds the power of capitalism and the state, that a revolution with truly libertarian socialist potential be possible.
9. We believe that revolutionary unionism, or syndicalism, is an essential strategy to build the collective power of the working class. We seek to build rank and file organisations that unite workers across existing unions, and advocate for directly democratic structures and militant strategy.
Platformists are syndicalists. This is often lost in debates about whether revolutionary unions are sufficient in and of themselves, or whether anarchists also require specific political organisations.
We favour organisational dualism, we organise politically as anarchists, whilst also seeking to build mass organisations of the whole (and not just explicitly anarchist) working class.
10. We unite as a specific anarchist organisation on the basis of theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism. By theoretical unity we mean developing and organising around a shared understanding of anarchism, capitalism and the context in which we operate. By tactical unity we mean developing and collectively implementing a common strategy for achieving our goals. By collective responsibility we mean agreeing to act collectively – rather than individually in the pursuit of our common strategy. By federalism we mean organising on a directly democratic “grass roots up” basis, rejecting any “top down” command structure.
If this seems similiar to the anarkismo editorial statement, well it is.
If that in turn bears resemblance to the Organisational Part of the Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (draft), well, you get the drift.
I am convinced that if anarchism is to be anything other than a fringe phenomina on the far left in Australia, that anarchists must organise on a political basis. If we truly are libertarian communists, and not liberal individualists, then we need to learn to act collectively, to theorise collectively, to plan collectively, and to engage in struggle collectively.
To theorise and act collectively requires some degree of political agreement. That’s what this document is intended to be for the small group I participate in. If your political outlook accords with ours, and you’re in the mood to smash capitalism and the state, then get in touch.
- We’re realists ↩
This week I have a couple of pieces for your perusal.
Last week I published an article from issue 6 of Red and Black, Russia 1917: Why not Anarchism. Unfortunately the first page of that article was missing. Thanks to Dimitri, I now have a copy of page 1, and it’s been typed up and added to last weeks post.
The following couple of pieces are from the National Library of Australia’s trove collection. I stumbled across these articles whilst looking for information about the Australian Labor Army.
I first read mention of the Australian Labor Army in Wendy Lowenstein’s excellent Weevils in the Flour.
The first article is a lovely SMH beatup following an ALA meeting in Newcastle. The second piece is more interesting politically, which I stumbled across whilst following up on one of the far left rivals to the ALA, the Workers’ Defence Corps.
From the Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1931, page 9:
Speaks of the King Insultingly.
WILD LABOUR ARMY SPEECHES
The miners’ northern president (Mr T. Hoare), in the course of an address at a meeting held in Islington Park this afternoon, to form a Newcastle division of the Australian Labour Army, spoke in insulting terms of his Majesty the King.
Mr. Hoare declared that he always remained seated when “God Save the King” was played at picture shows. Some people, he said, looked at him as if he were ignorant. The position was the reverse.
After thus defining his attitude towards the British Crown, Mr. Hoare went on to make some remarks about religion. He said there were those who offer to people in return for lives well lived a promise of a harp and a pair of wings hereafter. That return would be better made on earth. Rather than be in heaven with some hypocrites he knew, who were certain they were going there, he wanted to be in hell with investigators and scientists, who had been ridiculed down the corridors of time by those who were leading other men along the straight and narrow path to salvation.
Mr. Hoare gave the Labour Army the blessing of the Northern branches of the Miners’ Federation, and spoke bitterly of propaganda against the army by people who claimed to be revolutionaries, but were simply resolutionaires. He said that if the workers could get together there could only be one issue – a fight between them and the other section of the community, which made up only 20 precent of the total population of Australia.
“This system cannot be mended,” Mr. Hoare declared. “It must be ended, but with the least possible flow of blood.”
“The Australian Labour army will become what the Red army became in Russia,” said Mr. James Kidd. Mr. Kidd further declared that the Labour army was being formed for the definite purpose of combatting the All For Australia League. Irrespective of what other speakers might say, the army was formed to fight.
“The Australian Labour army is necessarily a revolutionary movement,” Mr Kidd continued. “The working-class must realise that if they are going to fight, it will not be by the medium of ballot boxes, but of machine-guns. I believe the crisis will become more and more violent until there is a revolution brought about by the working-class rising against economic conditions.
Mr. F. C. Hutt, secretary of the Labour army, told the meeting that if Labour was ever to have a mobile force which could be thrown into action, it would have to be organised on military lines. The proposal was that each Federal electorate should constitute a division of the Labour army to which everybody on the side of the workers could belong, and that then there should be organisation into brigades, and, if numbers permitted, into battalions. A grand council would control the operations of the army from Sydney.
Mr. Donald Grant said that it was his chief desire to persuade the members of the All For Australia League present to turn over and join the Australian Labour army. It was the business of the Australian Labour army to defend Mr. Lang against the attacks of his enemies. But if the army had to fight it would also fight for the overthrow of the capitalist system.
A resolution was passed affirming the Newcastle district’s sympathy with the objects of the Australian Labour army. An unsuccessful attempt was made to hold a meeting in support of the militant “Workers’ Defence Corps” alongside the Labour army meeting.
from The Mercury, 25 December 1930, p9:
MOBILISING THE UNEMPLOYED.
“WORKERS’ DEFENCE CORPS.”
ATTACKS ON POLICE FAMILIES.
Plans for mobilising the unemployed were made at a conference at the Temperance Hall, in Melbourne, when many revolutionary proposals were adopted. The conference was (says the “Argus”) organised by the Unemployed Workers Movement, which is a creation of the Communist party, and State branches in Melbourne and Sydney have now been established. Although the conference was discountenanced by the Trades Hall Council, a number of trade unions, particularly the waterside organisations, timber workers, carpenters, and others, as well as branches of the Labour party, were represented. More than 100 delegates attended, including representatives from most of the suburban unemployed groups. The proceedings lasted throughout Saturday, and it was significant that leading communists were the most conspicuous in the discussion, while delegates who were opposed to the plan of operation outlined were frequently heckled. Mr J. Aide presided.
The methods to be adopted in giving effect to the proposed demands led to a long debate. It was suggested that mass demonstrations be held in all districts to compel the granting of the demands, to resist the eviction of workers from their homes and the seizer of furnitures for rent, or attempts to shut off supplies of gas or electricity. One clause proposed the “mobilisation of the children and other members of working class families against the families and members of the police force on account of their participation in attacks upon the working class.” Both the Preston and Footscray delegates strongly opposed the adoption of this clause, declaring that the unemployed had received great assistance from the police in those districts. “It is absolutely ridiculous, and the persons who compiled it could not have been responsible for their actions,” declared Mr. R. Lyons (Seamen’s Union). He said that they might as well include the Army, Navy, and Air Forces, as they all had relatives in some of those institutions.
Mr. Molloy: The capitalist classes wages war on our children, who are dying in the slums. I would be sorry if the children suffered, but we will not stop at killing anyone in the interest of the working class. If those scoundrels who baton the workers knew that their children could not attend school they would hesitate before they used the baton on the workers.
Mr. Lyons: Ninety per cent of the unemployed will not accept it. It will take a lot of explaining.
A proposal that the clause be deleted was negatived by 38 votes to 21.
STRIKES TO REPLACE ARBRITATION
When a clause for the abolition of the Arbitration Courts was being discussed several delegates asked what was to take the place of the courts. Mr. Molloy declared that “palliatives were thrown to the workers to prevent them from going on strike.” Direct action should be substituted. “If we cannot get what we want we should take it” he added.
Mr. T. Le Huray (Bricklayers’ Union) said that the alternative for the courts was “direct action” under rank and file leadership.
Mr. C. Monson said that they could only gain their objective by fighting. The right to vote was won only through rivers of blood. “We will have to train the workers to fight. That is the only way.”
The clause was adopted.
Another proposal was that a “Workiers’ Defence Corps” be established. Much secrecy, however, was observed respecting the methods to be followed in forming this corps. It was ascertained that it was to be on the lines of a leaflet issued recently by the Communist party. When the clause was submitted for consideration Mr G. W. Bodsworth (Timber Workers’ Union) moved that the question be referred to the incoming executive to deal with. This was agreed to, and the details were therefore not disclosed to the conference. Resolutions were also passed containing demands on behalf of unemployed women, and also to “organise the youth along class lines.” Mr. C Monson was elected president of the new organisation, and Mr J. Aide secretary.
Among the “demands” adopted by the conference were the following:-
Work or Wages – That the Government guarantee every worker, irrespective of race, creed, colour, or sex, a job at a living wage, or, if unemployed, insurance compensation equal to full wages. Workers partially unemployed shall receive from the unemployed insurance sufficient to bring their wages up to the full amount. This fund to be a charge on industry and to be non-contributory by the workers. This unemployed insurance shall not be administered by Government bureaucrats or charity fakirs, but by committees elected directly by the workers in the shops, and the unemployed through the unemployed workers’ movement.
Emergency Unemployment Relief – Until the unemployment insurance is operative the Government shall make an emergency appropriation for emergency relief work, equal to insurance or full wages.
Housing – All evictions of unemployed, and seizures of furniture to pay rend must be prohibited. In every city public buildings must be made available, rent free, for shelter of homeless unemployed. A special fund for the building of workers’ homes must be set aside by every municipality and construction begun at once. Preference to be given to homeless unemployed in the use of such houses, rent free.
Seven-hour Day and Five-day Week – The seven-hour day and five-day week must be established in every industry without reduction in wages, and those places suffering a reduction in wages the higher rate must be restored. In the mining industry and other hazardous occupations the six-hour day and five-day week must prevail.
Free employment agencies, established under the control of worker’ committees and unemployed councils. Abolition of private employment agencies, and employers compelled to apply only to workers’ committees for workers.
Free lunches for all school children in schools, and Government maintenance on the higher rate for all children.
The right to strike and picket.
Abolition of the use of police against strikes, unemployed, and working class demonstrations, and no arrests of unemployed and other workers for vagrancy.
Social insurance against sickness, invalidity, accidence and old age.
Resistance to attempts to transport troops, munitions, and provisions to British forces in Egypt, or elsewhere, and also against other imperialist forces in all parts of the world.
Immediate release of all working-class prisoners in gaol for their working-class activities.
Abolition of the system of working for rations, and full rates to paid for all work performed.
I would normally prefer to present something that wasn’t already availible online, but other committments kept me away from libraries this weekend.
Next week I am heading to the State Library to follow up on some leads, stay tuned.
This week’s entry is the feature article from issue no. 6 of Red & Black: An Anarchist Journal, published Autumn 1975 by Jack Grancharoff*. It’s a fascinating argument on why anarchism failed, and indeed could never have succeeded in the circumstances in Russia in 1917.
I post this with a big sic, there is a fair deal of male pronoun to refer to the whole of humanity, as well as elements referring to the “Russian character” that come off sounding oddly racist on first pass. The argument and the conclusions are interesting, but whether I agree with either the premise or the conclusions is another matter entirely.
I wish I knew who wrote this article, unfortunately due to a missing page I cannot determine the authorship. The authors do refer to “we” a bit, perhaps suggesting it is the position of a group.
The journal is a 45 page A5 zine, located in an unmarked box in the MAC library. Page 2 is missing (the first article seems to begin mid flow, and the first listed footnote is “3”) and a number of pages have hand pasted corrections stuck over errors, or at the top of pages where some text appears to have been left off in the printing process. Several of these have since fallen off, leading to various missing lines, I have noted these.
UPDATE: A big thanks to Dimitri, I now have a copy of page one of the article! It’s now availible below.
*Initiatlly I could not identify the publisher due to smuding on the cover page. A huge thank you to ablokeimet for information on the publisher of Red and Black, Jack Grancharoff. I am amazed to discover that Jack still publishes Red and Black all these years later! I have written to him in the hope of obtaining a less damaged copy of Issue 6.
Russia 1917: Why Not Anarchism?
Russia in 1917 was a hybrid society. Whilst there were free peasant farmers out-side European Russia the majority of its peasants represented the serfs partially emancipated in 1981 (1). These latter were not independent farmers who might be expected to have developed rapidly to at least a petty bourgeois level of conciousness, but were rather on a medieval plane of consciousness – traditionalist, parochial and xenophobic – and continued to live and work within the confines of the traditional Russian commune or mir. This latter, from which the slavophiles expected the salvation not only of Russia but of the whole world, was not the germ cell of the future socialist commonwealth but rather absolutism’s latest and most efficient device for controlling the countryside (2). The terms of the 1861 emancipation made the villages rather than the individual peasants the owners of the land and the villages rather than the individual the responsible agent for the payment of taxes to the government and the of redemption dues to the now completely functionless nobility. Nor had the peasantry received all the land; the settlement had given them too little to live on at a time of rising population and to pay their taxes and redemption dues the peasants had to work on the estates of the nobility and the few capitalist famers.
Industrialisation in Russia did not have the revolutionising effect on the countryside that theories of modernisation usually attribute to it. The surplus needed for capital investment was not obtained by the exchange of consumer and light industrial goods for the products of the countryside but rather the grain surplus was extracted through the system of taxes and redemption payments which forced peasants to continue to work noble estates and sell some of their own product for money. The grain was then sold abroad (even in times of famine) to provide the equipment needed for heavy industry. Thus the effect was an intensification of the feudal/absolutist exploitation of the peasantry rather than an encounter with a new type of society that would foster individualist and non-traditional attitudes. A partial consequence of this – and of the antiquated system of land tenure and redistribution – was the continuing low level of agricultural technique. When it was seen that this threatened the programme of modernisation and capital accumulation deemed necessary for defence reasons, the government changed its agricultural policies but it was too late and the war and revolution re-established the mir stronger (and more reactionary) than ever.
Since industrialisation had only taken place in isolated areas and there was no unified capitalist market – commodity production for domestic use being predominantly still in the hands of artisans – the social relations of the majority of the Russians had remained unchanged. It is no surprise then that it was in Petrograd with its industrial barracks of proletarianised former peasants that the revolutionary impetus was centred. The change in social relationships can be seen in terms of the alteration of a world-view. The peasants in Russia in 1917, or for that matter in 1560, could only be described as xenophobic and ethnocentric. It was the workers, whose peasant world-view had been transformed by urbanisation and proletarianisation, who were capable of attempting a revolution but whether they were capable of succeeding is another question entirely.
Quite evidently Russia was far from a society described by Marx as one where “…the concentration of the means of production and the socialisation of the tools of labour has reached the point where they can no longer be contained within their capitalist shell. The shell bursts…”(3). The explosion occurred in Russia certainly, but not as the result of the internal contradictions of capitalism. Russian society may have limped along to a complete social and economic stagnation punctuated by peasant revolts; Stolypin’s “wager on the strong” may have succeeded in abolishing rural backwardness after several decades; but what Russia could not do was play the great power in a world increasingly dominated by the capitalist West. Technology, efficiency and organisation inevitably triumphed over asiatic backwardness and aristocratic decadence.
The 1917 Revolution catapulted Russia out of the middle ages into the twentieth century. Psychologically the Russian peasant had remained medieval, i.e. paraochial and xenophobic; the outside world (including capitalism) was seen as both evil and undesirable because it challenged their security, a security not material but rather intimately bound up with the ideological legitimations of the tsarist regime. Neother the revolutionaries who wanted to liberate the peasants nor the liberals who wanted to ameliorate their conditions ever really struck a sympathetic chord in the peasant mind. The former they turned over to the police; the latter were suspect as jews and foreigners. As late as 1920 Red Cross workers and volunteers were attacked and some killed while attempting to distribute food to starving peasants.(4)
Good and evil were quite clear-cut: the Tsar was good as was the Church and all official authority; Jews, Germans, intellectuals, an city people were all bad both because they were alien and because they represented change and changed threatened tradition. Tradition was the basis of Russian authority; overtime legitimacy had become synonymous with it. From the Tsar to the village, patriarchy stood as the basis of all authority. In between Russian society was a complex wed of rank and class clearly defined and determined from birth. One’s rank in society carried with it a set of expectations, world-view, self-image and ideology. Change of any description in this society challenged this intricate and, by 1917, fragile balance of social relationships. Russian society was total; liberalism was synonymous with revolution.
Tsarism could not have been changed; it had to be overthrown. It was too much of a liberal institution to become liberal anyway. Its rationale was tradition, absolutism and repression; after hundreds of years of ruthless oppression one couldn’t lift the lid even lightly or it would explode – which was eventually bound to happen anyway. Just as Vorster cannot as this stage liberalise South Africa without facilitating revolution, tsarist Russia too was paralysed. It was doomed, whilst its institutions and authority were crumbling visibly, to cling to its belief in these as being God-given.
Along with the Tsars, the world of the peasantry was crumbling too. A disastrous economic crisis coupled with the war made it impossible for them to continue their traditional way of life. The mass conscriptions and desertions were creating an enormous rural crisis. While many were moving to the cities because of the famine in the countryside many more were returning to their native villages because their was no food in the towns. They had no understanding of or wish to comprehend what was going on. A couple of issues, however, stood out clearly as the sentiments of the peasantry: land reform, food, an end to the war, and a desire for society to be reorganised as to allow the peasant farmer to return to his village and live unhindered by “politics”.
Anarchist was the anti-thesis of the whole world-view of the peasantry. the basis of a libertarian society is a complete lack of oppression, total self-awareness, lack of xenophobia and break with patriarchy and religion. It can only function with fully free and responsible individuals who are morally accountable for their actions. none of these elements were present in the world-view of the peasants in 1917. contrary to a popular belief in the anarchic tendencies of the peasantry they were not libertarian. Outbursts against authority are meaningless unless there is an analysis be8bd the political action that negates the legitimacy of the power it is rebelling against. Burning down the landlord’s castle may seem to be a step in the right direction but only if the aim behind the action is to abolish private property. If the aim of the outburst is merely to transfer ownership of land the libertarian and social … (glued line missing here) because it could not be easily divided among private individuals. Wolf(5) seems to think that the fact that such explosions against authority occur c9nfirms the anarchy innate in the peasantry. What is more likely is that these outbursts confirm the impotence of the peasant to change his circumstances, all he can perceive are his short-term interests. When the peasant has no land all he wants is land; when he has land he wants to keep it. His outbursts are more an expression of desperation and frustration than a revolutionary manifestation against authority or the state. A distrust of government is not necessarily anarchistic; the John Birch society wants to limit government as much as possible, probably though much the same motivations as the peasants, it is rather an awareness of the individual and communal needs of society and a confidence that they can be met by the people themselves that is anarchism.
The limitations of the Russians are well expressed by Gorky: “The character of the Russian people, moulded both by resistance to despotism and submission to it, engenders an ‘anti-authoritarian complex’, that is to say a potent element of spontaneous anarchism which has generated periodic explosions throughout history” (6). This “chaotist” trend within the Russian peasantry that is frequently equated with anarchism has historically been the full extent of Russian peasant revolutions. The peasantry after enduring such monstrous oppression eventually rebelled without any comprehensive political theory or any real rise in their own level of consciousness: they attacked the local land lord but never questioned the institution of tsarism as a whole.
The belief that the Russian people were capable of the massive leap in consciousness from the middle ages to libertarian socialism was an illusion that all anarchists shared but what ground was their to it? This would have been an enormous feat; after centuries of servile oppression by tsarism and Russian orthodox Christianity one could not expect the Russian people to be capable of approaching political liberty in an intelligent and creative way. What was happening in Petrograd was seen as largely irrelevant by the peasants once they had got their land, indeed it was irrelevant to them until the breakdown of the tax and market mechanism for extracting grant to feed the cities forced the Bolsheviks to send armed detachments to requisition food. Freedom and individuality were irrelevant to the peasant who derived his security and socioeconomic status from membership in a patriarchal village community presided over by a council of elders, individualism was not part of the peasant world view except in the obvious sense that each was out for what he could get in the existing framework For the workers and soldiers who were really politically conscious it had been a major transformation to step out of their peasant role into one with a far more definite image of themselves as individuals and as citizens.
The anarchists believed they were appealing to a people crying out for liberty and self expression. If this was so why was it that the Bolsheviks succeeded and not the anarchists? If one compares what they Bolsheviks were prepared to offer with what the anarchists could offer ne can see what bolshevism was a logical response to the situation. Had the Bolsheviks not gained power (and it was touch and go for a while in 1917) then another “total” answer would have succeeded. The measures that needed to be taken for the survival of Russia in 1917 could only be carried out by a power that was efficient to the point of ruthlessness and absolutely confident in the correctness of its actions. What bolshevism was offering was very attractive. They were prepared to take control of the situation which is something the anarchists would never do even though the situation plainly called out for someone to do so. They were going t carr out long awaited changes: land reform; withdrawal from the war; marriage reform; modernisation of the economy; improvements in public health and education etc.(7) They were prepared to take Russia out of the middle ages into the twentieth century; this they did and this is exactly what was needed.
Bolshevism looked like a doctrine that had all the answers. The Bolsheviks inspired confidence. From the outset Lenin convinced the workers he would look after their interests; he believed it and so did they; who was the Patriarch now? The tight organisations of the Bolsheviks enabled the leadership to be in contact with what was happening in the factories and garrisons and have a plan of strategy that worked out for taking command in any situation this was the purpose of its military organisation and factory branches; in practice up to October 1917 they tended to push the party leaders forward. June and July 1917 showed this quite clearly. Not only were the Bolsheviks not directing the upsurge of radicalism among the workers and soldiers in Petrograd, they too were being forced into pursuing a much more radical stance because of pressure from below. The military organisation and the Petrograd central committee were being pushed further and further to the left merely to keep up with the soldiers and workers. the Bolsheviks survived the purges that followed the June and Jul days but the anarchists did not. The failure of such an armed and militant mass of people to overthrow the government must have confirmed to Lenin the need for central organisation to turn the spontaneous outburst into a revolution. The masses were plainly not yet self-directed; no social revolution had occurred which could make them capable of concretely visualising and achieving their class aims,
But why should anything have changed? How much had the Bolsheviks themselves achieved a new consciousness? The Marxist attempts to challenge accepted conditioning were largely made on the fringes of the Bolsheviks by individuals such as Gorky, Lunacharsky and Balabanoff. On issues such as the role of women thre were forward-thinking members such as Kollontai who had a more astute grasp of the problems of a social revolution yet on the whole such problems were pushed into pigeon holes for future reference. Lenin’s own views on such matters as free love are classic: who indeed “would drink water from a dirty glass soiled with many lips?”(8). The Bolsheviks’ minds were a product of historical development, of the values of western bourgeois respectability overlaying those of Russian patriarchal autocracy; not surprisingly they abolished one form of government to set up another more efficient but no less tyrannical than tsarism. Their goals were clear cut and traditional: they would alter the economic basis of society and modernise Russia, that was what was needed. As Lenin said to Berkman, “it is impossible to speak of liberty as this stage of economic development”(9)> He should have added “psychological development” which would have been more to the point.
Bolshevism was an authoritarian voluntaristic doctrine. A strong belief that leadership and will were capable of overcoming the results of centuries of tsarism was a fundamental tenet. Marriage and the family were never challenged to the extent that their survival was imperilled. Despite legal equalisation of the sexes there was little improvement in the status of women. The attitude of male communists may be gauged from the following quotation: “it is not surprising that increasing numbers of communists are refusing to marry party comrades, and prefer to marry women outside the party who will remain at home and manage the household… if they married communists they would go about in rags and see their children die” (10). The Bolsheviks were and remained blind to the paradox of their situation; they did not see that in overthrowing the old society and constructing the new that the way 8n wh8ch they built the new society was in a sense predetermined by the old. insofar as they considered this they could only see it in terms of objective economic conditions and not in terms of personality and conditioning.
In many ways the anarchists had a deeper understanding of what was happening and saw that an all-embracing revolution was essential for any real change, They realised that a total social and political reorganisation could not come from above but for real change it had to come from the people without coercion and direction from above. It was obvious to them that there was no point in banning religion; if the peasants or workers had not transcended a religious world-view for themselves then one could not force them to. Either they would refuse or substitute for religion a secular dogma providing the same feelings of security (11). The anarchist critique of the Bolsheviks was perceptive and astute but it offered no real alternative. Most anarchists, and particularly the anarchist-communists, were ideologically committed to the idea that when the revolution came the masses would spontaneously seize power and organise revolutionary communes and factory committees. Yet just as the end of the world never came for the millenarians the masses never abolished the state for the anarchists and the latter were left without any role in the revolution.
Although most anarchists were precarious allies of the Bolsheviks up to October both parties were aware of the irreconcilable antagonism between them. After the Bolsheviks seized power in October it was obvious they would not tolerate any threat to their power. The anarchists responded to this in quite diverse ways: many considered the plea for unity in the face of counter revolution justified and cooperated with the bolsheviks until 1921 or else as did Shatov and Roschin, submerged themselves in the Bolshevik party because they considered being part of a bad revolution better than inaction. The syndicalists kept on organising under their unions were banned and they were arrested and exiled; some individualists and anarcho-communists joined the left social-revolutionaries in underground revolutionary terrorist activities and either fled or were eventually shop. Although most of them had a theoretical awareness of what would happen if the Bolsheviks succeeded, they were still stunned by the cheka raids, the mass arrests of anarchists, the military … (one pasted line missing here) … le protest they watched themselves and the revolution being destroyed. They were limited by the belief, so aptly put by Bakunin, that “social change does not depend on a gradual maturation of objective historical facts” but that on the contrary men shape their own destiny, every man already possessed “the impulse for liberty, the passion for equality, the holy instinct for revolt”(12). Their role as anarchist intellectuals was, as Voline put it, to be “radio transmitters disseminating libertarian ideas to be rejected or put into practice by autonomous workers, councils and peasant communes” (13).
When these autonomous communes failed to arise on any large scale the anarchists were helpless. They did not see why these organisations did not just spring up an they certainly had no intention of organising them themselves. Overemphasizing the power of an idea, the believed that one merely had to want freedom and independence in order to achieve it. It was a naïve analysis of human nature and did not account for the fact that spontaneous outbursts never succeeded in revolution.
In the above criticism one is speaking mainly of the individualists and the anarchist-communists. The distinction between the two becomes blurred in terms with how in touch with reality they were. Anarcho-individualists such as Brovoi and the Gorodin brothers seem to have had a rather mystical view of the revolution. They felt that there was in Russia a throbbing mass ready to overthrow all authority and build a free society. They were influenced by western thought – Stirner an Tucker – but retained a populist faith in the masses who thy considered to be innately free and consequently to desire anarchy. Not surprisingly (and although their rhetoric was completely removed reality and could not have been further removed from the concerns of the masses) they were anti-intellectuals.
Whilst sharing the apocalyptic rhetoric of the individualists the anarcho-communists had real links with the working class. Centered in the Vyborg district they were a leading influence on the workers in that area and at Kronstadt. Unlike the individualists they were aware of the necessity of organisation and of direct links with the working class and consequently could compete with the Bolsheviks on a more realistic level. There were also, of course, “chaotist” elements amongst them such as the “black bands” that would attack bourgeois houses at night, yet overall they were closer to rank and file bolsheviks and workers than were the Bolshevik leaders.
The syndicalists too had real links with industry and a comprehensive organisational prescription for revolution. Their principle drawback was that they were too western. Voline, Maximoff and Shapiro had all lived abroad and been influenced by either French syndicalism or by the IWW but as a revolutionary doctrine syndicalism could only appear to the small proletarian sector of Russian society within which Bolshevism was already quite well entrenched (although the leadership of the trade unions was mainly Menshevik). Thus the syndicalists success in gaining seven unions was impressive in itself but irrelevant to the great issues of the revolution. The anarcho-communists criticised the syndicalists as western elitists. They argued that the latter, by their concentration on the numerically insignificant proletariat and neglect of the peasants, vagabonds and marginal workers, divided rather than united the revolutionary elements.
The main problem with the anarchists as a whole was that they were relating not to the revolution as it was in reality but rather to the idealist form it assumed in their own minds (14). They were sure that the Russian people were capable of libertarian socialism and they believed that the revolution was a popular attempt in this direction. Thus when the desired outcome failed to materialise they blamed the Bolsheviks rather than trying to discover why bolshevism rather than anarchism succeeded. there were of course quite good organisational reasons for the Bolsheviks gaining power than the anarchists smashing it. When Voline arrived in Russia in mid-1917 he was amazed to see Petrograd covered in Bolshevik propaganda and not one anarchist poster in sight (15), yet for all that the relinquishing of revolutionary freedom by the people to the Bolsheviks demonstrates more than the inadequacies o the anarchists.
Why would a people who had fought heroically in a revolution for freedom and had overthrown tsarism give in so easily to yet another authoritarian government? Why did the Petrograd workers only produce a stifled protest when Trotsky massacred their “little brothers” in Kronstadt for their demands? Why would the Red Army, whilst refusing to fire on Kronstadt, allow themselves to be severely disciplined while non-political garrisons massacred the erstwhile revolutionary heroes of “red” Kronstadt?(16) Soldiers were shot by the Red Army for surrendering to Kronstad. (17) Why? The workers were aware thy had legitimate claims and that the small gains made by the revolution – factory committees, legal unions, the right to strike, freedom of speech, autonomous soviets etc. – were being negated by the Bolsheviks in the name of the workers’ state. Surely the Cheka must have demonstrated a reversion to the old ways of despotism and terror just as the reinstitution of army officers and military discipline must have been familiar to any who had experienced tsarist military despotism.
The complete reversion to despotism is indicative of more than incidental historical factors; it points the justice of those earlier commentators who saw in the Russian “soul” a chaotist tendency and an inability to produce anything new without external authority and control. A faith in leadership, lack of confidence, insecurity and inability to take responsibility for initiating new departures were deeply ingrained in the Russian character as a consequence of centuries of patriarchal and autocratic oppression. Solzhenitsyn expresses the situation quite well in his account of how when in Yaraslav in 1921 representatives of a trade union attempted to persuade workers of the necessity of a union to protect their rights against the administration, the workers were apathetic but when the party representative spoke and rebuked them for their laziness and demanded overtime without pay and other such sacrifices for the revolution they were elated.(18)
Solzhenistyn says that “we spent ourselves in one unrestricted outburst in 1917 and then we hurried to submit. We submitted with pleasure”! (19) but it was not so much masochism as a conditioned incapacity to handle freedom. Of course all the examples of submission to the will of the Party can be explained by various specific and isolated determining factors, for example, the massic propaganda campaign against Kronstadt and the massive violence the Bolsheviks were prepared to use against their oponents, but there are too many such incidents not to point to something deeply rooted in the character of the Russian people.
The reality of the situation in 1917 was that there was not a deep cry for liberty from within all men for if there had been the workers would not so quickly have handed over their newly won liberty to the Bolsheviks. What the situation in 1917 really called for was the gratification of immediate and pressing material needs. In such a complex situation of internal turmoil, external war and economic breakdown, the workers and peasantry had neither the skill, initiative or confidence to meet the demands of the situation. The Bolsheviks did.
Before October when the tide of radicalism was running high and Lenin was writing State and Revolution, the former Bolshevik Goldenberg had charged that Lenin was proposing himself as candidate for the long vacant throne of Bakunin. After October when the problem was no longer to secure power but to hold onto it, and when the Bolsheviks had either to reintroduce order and stability or go under, Lenin quite easily abandoned his anarchist image (which had never deceived the anarchists) and centralised power and authority to meet the overwhelming problems facing both the survival of his government and of Russian society as a whole. The point here is that Lenin was a pragmatist, he consistently responded to the demands of the situation, not directing them or setting the pace insofar as his actions were directed towards retaining power for the Bolsheviks. Opposition had to be crushed if they were to retain power and the workers would not have allowed such despotism as the Check to rule had they not also felt it to be their right at the time.
For the anarchists responsibility lay with the workers and peasants. Power had to be won over by them and then destroyed. Anarchism failed because the call for total freedom was far from the more pressing concerns moving the majority of the workers and peasants, but the fundamental error of the anarchists was that they did not see that this had to be so. Libertarian society was an impossibility in Russia in 1917. Whilst the anarchists correctly perceived that bolshevism meant authoritarianism and there was no freedom under any state they lacked the perception to see that we are all products of our historical and cultural background and that unless there can develop a movement that challenges the totality of the old society (as Spanish anarchism might be thought to have done) revolutions can only continue the old society in the shell of the new.
Yet even if the anarchists had perceived this they would still have been trapped into inaction. They could not support lenninism without jettisoning anarchism and so they had to oppose the Bolsheviks with the tragic result of absolute elimination. Their valiant attempts to expose bolshevism fell on deaf ears because there was no alternative to offer. The Russian people were not equipped or prepared to assume control of their own lives and it was not so hard to surrender something so abstract as liberty for psychological security and the fulfilment of material needs.
The burden of the argument above is that the specific character of the Russian peasantry precluded a libertarian solution in 1917. The deficiencies of the anarchists – quantitative, qualitative and organisational – were also important but these are susceptible of a similar analysis. (Russian peasants and Russian anarchists were afterall both products of Russian history). In order to give such an analysis we have broken with the peculiarly Russian and anarchist conception of all men everywhere and at all times being equally capable of freedom and have proceeded from the viewpoint that what people are capable of is a function of their total history. For dealing with questions of classes and peoples this means that the socio-economic structure of a society, its history and culture are the determinants of mass consciousness and that this consciousness can only be changed by the impact of ideas external to the society or by the unification and generalisation of individual oppositional viewpoints arising from the specific life histories of individuals (which may well differ within the society). Both of these processes of consciousness change will be slow except in periods of rapid socio-economic-political change which disrupt traditional patterns of thought. It seems to us that one of the many failings of Russian anarchism was that it was anti-enlightenment and anti-intellectual. For this reason it did not constitute a challenge to the popular mentality and hence could not form a component of a development towards a libertarian and socialist consciousness. By identifying… (pasted line missing)… development of a genuine revolutionary consciousness. At most they encouraged chaotist tendencies.
In this Russian anarchism contrasts sharply with Spanish anarchism. Spanish anarchism was the enlightenment on Spanish soil despite the fact that it was purest Bakuninism and hence had other tendencies as well. Spanish anarchism stood for literacy, science and popular education; it looked forward to the modern world and was not adverse to spelling out its social program and organising to implement it. Spanish anarchism was at worst insurrectional but never chaotist. The Spaniards revolted for an idea; they did not rebel through accumulated resentment and oppression.
The Spanish peasant also differed from the Russian peasant. At the time that Russia was making the transition from feudalism to an Asiatic absolutism, Spain was already an insipid bourgeois society. Its economy was ruined in the price revolution caused by the discovery of gold in Spanish America but this also gave its people a very different history to the Russian one. It is impossible to give a detailed analysis here but several facts relevant to an analysis of Spanish anarchism – which is usually dismissed as a peasant phenomenon – should be mentioned. Firstly certain rural and fishing communities had maintained cooperative economics since the middle ages. (The Russian mir held land in common but was a private economy.) Secondly even in rural Spain anarchism seems to have been based on towns – although villages also had resident propagandists and on occasions were totally anarchist. Thirdly, and probably as a result of continuous propaganda, rural anarchism transformed the countryside in a collectivist direction in 1936 wherever it was powerful. This was a very different thing from what happened in 1917 in Russia.
There were also differences between the Russian and Spanish proletariats. In part these stemmed from their formation from different peasantries but in part also from the effect of anarchist propaganda and organisation. For anarchist writers the high point of the Russian revolution is often the formation of the factory committees and the seizure of the factories from below in 1917-18. What should be noted here is that as well as being the form of industrial organisation closest to the revolutionary workers the factory committee was also the most primitive one. One suspects that in many cases the seizure of the factory by the workers corresponded to the seizure of land by the peasants in being the end point of their action rather than the first stage in a social reorganisation. Certainly one hears little of inter-factory or industry organisation from below except among the syndicalists. The factory committees either didn’t think of it or were leaving it to the state. Here again one has a striking contrast with Spain where the unions seized industries through their local committees. The problem in Spain was the avoidance of autonomist, i.e capitalist, tendencies in industries rather than in individual plants and this was much more susceptible of a solution by the revolutionary organs involved.
We hope that anarchists will reflect on these difference and come to see firstly, the necessity of comprehensive organisational(20) and constructive propaganda work, and secondly, the complete falsity of the received anarchist doctrine that 1917 was a libertarian revolution aborted by the authoritarians.
1. Most of the free peasants other than special ethnic groups represented the descendants of serfs who had emigrated eastwards to escape the pressure of the state and nobility.
2. It is worth quoting Bakunin’s letter of 1866 to Herzan on the character of the Great-Russian commune (and hence the peasantry composing it) “Why has this commune, from which you expect such wonders in the future, failed to bring about, in the course of ten centuries of its existence, anything but heinous slavery? The odious putridity and the complete injustice of patriarchal habits, the absence of freedom for the individual in the face of the mir, the stifling pressure which the mir exercises, killing every possibility of personal initiative, depriving its members not only of juridical rights but of single justice in its decisions… the ruthless severity of its attitudes towards every weak and poor member, its systematic oppression of those members who display the slightest independence, and its readiness to sell out truth and justice for a pail of vodka.” (Quoted in Lampert Studies in Rebellion. p. 147)
3. Berkman quoted in Maximoff The Guillotine at Work. p. 670
4. In 1921 after Kronstadt and the state of the New Economic Policy, Victor Serge and some friend who were at loss to know what to do found a large estate north of Petrograd near Lake Lagada of several hundred acres with a landlords residence. The estate had been abandoned because the peasants would not agree to run it collectively; they demanded it be shared out amongst them. Two chairmen of the short-lived commune had been murdered there in 8 months. The village boycotted Serge’s group when they came there. Everything they had was stolen and the peasants refused to sell anything to the “jews” and “antichrists”. The blockade was broken when one of the group, a tolstoyan doctor, wearing a gold cross on his breast, went to the village and bought eggs from one of the villagers, saying “we are Christians too little sister”. After that they were accepted. (Serge Memoirs of a Revolutionary. p. 149).
5. In Shanin Peasants and Peasant Society. p. 272
6. Quoted in Serge Memoirs of a Revolutionary. P. 121
7. The degree to which reform was needed may be illustrated by Luacharsky’s remark to Goldman that some teachers still favoured prison for mental defectives. See Living My Life. P. 758
8. See his letter to Klara Zetlin in T. Deutscher Not by Politics Alone. Pp 222-3
9. Avrich (ed) The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution. p. 130. Bukharin also made this point. “Proletarian compulsion in all its forms, beginning with summary execution and ending with compulsory labour is, however paradoxical it might seem, a method of reworking the human material of the capitalist epoch into communist humanity” See Berkman in Anarchy 2
10. Fuelop-Miller The Mind and Face of Bolshevism. p. 217. (Quoted from an unnamed Bolshevik.)
11. “Only a few versts from Moscow in Ivar government region a woman found a bit of wood with possessed the peculiar property of shining all night. She immediately imagined this chip to be a sign of God, nay God itself, she prayed to the wood and as the news spread other peasants began to worship the new God. On receiving information of this from the priest the Government finally sent 300 soldiers, who attacked the village with a machine gun in an attempt to deprive the peasants of this piece of wood. But the peasants armed themselves, repulsed the attack and captured the gun, and it cost the authorities a great deal of trouble before they finally got possession of this peculiar ‘God’. It now adorns a glass case in a museum in North Russia”. Feuler-Miller, Op. cit., p.218. Museums of atheism could hardly have any impact on this sort of peasantry – particularly since they would never see a museum.
12. Quoted in Avrich The Russian Anarchists. Pp. 21-2
13. Voline Nineteen Seventeen. p. 16.
14. The problem with the anarchists was that they tended to see the revolution as a unified phenomenon: a massive and popular libertarian upsurge. Despite their considerable talent for ideological self-deception the Bolshevik leaders did not and if they had they could not possibly have seized and held power. In his 1916 article “The results of the discussion on self-determination” Lenin polemicized against the idea that there would ever be a “pure” social revolution and stressed that without the participation of petty bourgeois and “backward” workers mass struggle and revolution (i.e the seizure of power) were impossible.
15. Voline Nineteen Seventeen. p. 14.
16. Ida Mett The Kronstadt Commune. p. 22.
17. ibid. p. 14
18. Solzhenitsyn Gulag Archipelago. p. 13
19. ibid. p. 14.
20. Not of course that we are partisans of the lenninist view – later adopted by Makhno and others in exile – that organisation overcomes all material obstacles.
Stay tuned for the next instalment. In other news, I’ll be speaking at this on October 3.
Update: Jack Grancharoff spoke at Jura books earlier this year, the conversation was recorded by a WSM member presently in Sydney.
From the Archives: ‘Communists vs. Syndicalists in the Japanese Anarchist Movement’, Bulletin of Anarchist Research, May 1989
This weeks entry is an article by Jon Crump, ‘Communists vs. Syndicalists in the Japanese Anarchist Movement’, published in issue 17 of the Bulletin of Anarchist Research, May 1989.
BAR has since evolved into the journal Anarchist Studies.
COMMUNISTS VS. SYNDICALISTS IN THE JAPANESE ANARCHIST MOVEMENT
Recently I have been doing some work on the Japanese ‘pure anarchists’ of the 1920s and 1930s and in particular their ablest theoretician, Hatta Shuzo (1). This not has two purposes. First, to provide some basic information on Hatta and his comrades, who are largely unknown outside Japan. Second, to ask those with similar research interests to get in touch with me. It may be that I am the inly reader of the BAR who is currently working on Japanese anarchism, but I fancy there must be others whose research touches on the debates which have taken place in other parts of the world between anarchist-communists and anarcho-syndicalists. It would be interesting to compare the forms which these debates have taken, the historical junctures at which they occurred and their varying outcomes in different countries.
‘Pure anarchism’ appeared in Japan during the 1920s as a reaction against the tendency of some syndicalist-inclined anarchists to immerse themselves in trade union activity because they saw unions as offering the best organisational alternative to the party-building efforts of the social democrats and the Bolsheviks. The reason why this ‘pure anarchist’ reaction occurred at this time was that in earlier years trade unions had be suppressed by the state. When certain groups of Japanese wage earners had taken the first tentative steps towards organising trade unions at the end of the 19th century, the Japanese state had reacted by enacting the ‘Police Peace Preservation Law’ in 1900. This legitimated the police’s routine intimidation of workers who sought to improve their wages and working conditions and the situation did not appreciably change until the period towards the end of the First World War. As a result, when modern anarchism first took on an organised existence in Japan from about 1906, it was inevitably a movement that was forced to concentrate it’s efforts on theory and propaganda. As the noose of state repression progressively tightened, the only form of activity that was open to early anarchists in Japan was terrorism. Yet when a few militants took the first preliminary steps in that direction, it precipitated the disaster of the ‘High Treason case’ of 1910. The state proved far more adept at terrorism that were any of the anarchists and it used the rather inept plotting of a handful to round up many more who had no connection with plans to launch an armed struggle. The outcome was that eleven men and one woman were executed in 1911 and other disappeared into prison, sometimes for decades on end. Amongst those executed was Kotoku Shusui, the foremost anarchist theoretician of this earliest period and the man who first introduced Kropotkin’s ideas to Japan.
The ‘Police Peace Preservation Law’ remained on the statute books until 1925, when it was replaced by an updated piece of repressive legislation to coincide with the introduction of universal manhood suffrage. yet although at the end 9f the First World War trade union activity was still technically illegal, wage earners were in face starting to organise in their thousands. It was against this background that syndicalist theory proved a rationale for those anarchists who focused their attention on the labour movement. Although a number of these anarcho-syndicalists subsequently passed into the Bolshevik camp, others remained committed to anarchism and ensured that anarchists had a sizeable influence within the union movement. Just as Kotoku Shusi had been the most prominent anarchist thinker up till his execution in 1911, it was Osugi Sakae who had much the same stature in this second period in the development of Japanese anarchism. Significantly, Osugi was an outspoken champion of syndicalism until he, in his turn, was murdered by the military police in 1923.
Despite the fact that few books and articles have been published in the Western languages on Japanese anarchism,, both Kotoku Shusui and Osugi Sakae have biographies written on them by American academics (2). It is true that neither is dealt with sympathetically by his biographer, but even a hostile account is perhaps better than nothing. By way of contrast, up till now Hatta Shuzo does not seem to have been considered worthy of attention by any Western scholar. This oversight seems strange since Hatta was probably a more fertile thinker that either Kotoku or Osugi. Kotoku and Osugi are among the giants of Japanese anarchism, They both played an important role in introducing anarchist theories and applying them in a Japanese context. Nethertheless, most of the key ideas were derived from others, from Kropotkin in Kotoku’s case (Kotoku habitually referred to Kropotkin as sensei i.e., ‘master’ or ‘teacher’) and from Sorei and others in Osugi’s. Although Hatta located himself within the tradition of Kropotkin’s anarchist-communism, he was not a writer who was content to echo anybody else. Some of Hatta’s writings attained the level of genuine developments of anarchist-communism, taking it well beyond the theoretical frontiers established by Kropotkin. The fact that Hatta was able to break theoretical ground in this fashion was partly due to his audacity and strong character, but also reflected the maturity of the Japanese anarchist movement in the late 1920s relative to those earlier periods when Kotoku and Osugi had been active. By the late 1920s the Japanese anarchist movement attracted the support of thousands of militants and Hatta’s writings expressed the determination of many of these collectively to devise their own methods of overcoming capitalism and the militarist state, rather than relying 9n ready-made formulae lifted from the imported classics of anarchism. What makes this theoretical innovation on the part of the Japanese ‘pure anarchists’ particularly noteworthy is that it coincided with the qualitative decline in the level of anarchist-communist theorising in Europe following Kropotkin’s death in 1921 (3).
Hatta Shuzo was born in 1886 and drank himself to an early death in 1934. Like many Japanese intellectuals of this period as a young man he was attracted by the ‘modern’ and ‘Western’ aura that Christianity had acquired in Japan. with characteristic total commitment to whatever he believed in, Hatta studied theology and became a clergyman. However, after several years working as an evangelist in various parts of Japan, he became increasingly disillusioned with Christianity and was attracted to anarchism instead. Abandoning his church and his Christian wife, he moved to Tokyo in 1924 and spent the last ten years of his life in a whirlwind of activity for anarchism. as his comrades recalled in later years:
(Hatta) was a person fired with passion, You could say he was a model revolutionary, burning for the ideal of anarchism, and always with young people gathered around him (4).
Hatta put forward his anarchist-communist theories in a stream of articles and pamphlets, and also found time to translate suck works of Kropotkin’s as Modern Science and Anarchism, Anarchist Morality and Ethics: Origin and Development and Bakunin’s God and the State. Much of Hatta’s output was concerned with demolishing syndicalist theories and elaborating an alternative communist theory of how a stateless society could be achieved. These were not random concerns that Hatta had settled on by chance, but reflected major developments that occurred within the Japanese anarchist movement in the late 1920’s. In May 1926 the Zenkoku Jiren (All-Japan Liberation Federation of Labour Unions) was formed, comprised of more than 8000 workers organised in 25 separate unions. Zenkoku Jiren soon took a ‘pure anarchist’ coloration and, according to Hagiwara Shintaro’s rather unsympathetic account, ‘gradually became more like an ideological organisation than a labour organisation’ (5). This resulted in its syndicalist minority breaking away and setting up in 1929 their own rival union federation, the Nihon Jikyo (Japanese Libertarian United Conference of Labour Unions). Despite the fact that the syndicalists withdrew from its ranks, Zenkoku Jiren expanded and, at its peak in 1931, had 16,30 members, compared to Nihon Jikyo‘s 3000. For a brief period this organisational split was accompanied by a flowering of anarchist theory, only to be snuffed out as the state marched steadily towards total war with it’s imperialist rivals, crushing all internal opposition in the process. The roundup of many anarchists in 1935/6 led to the disbandment of Zenkoku Jiren, but over the years previous to it’s suppression some of Hatta’s most important writings had appeared in the columns of its journal, the Libertarian Federation Newspaper. Another vehicle for Hatta’s writings was Black Flag, an organ of Kokuren (the Black Youth League). Although its name gives the impression that it was exclusively a youth movement, Kokuren was, to borrow Akiyama Kioshi’s expression, the ‘link organ’ of the various anarchist groups of this period. As Akiuama has also put it, ‘pure anarchism… became the backbone of Kokuren‘s activity’ too (6).
If I were to attempt to summarise the principle strands in Hatta Shuzo’s ‘pure anarchism’, they would be as follows. For Hatta, the root cause of capitalism’s problems was the division of labour which it involves. human beings are compartmentalised into rival companies or different industries, with only the inhuman and authoritarian mechanisms of the market and the state to synchronise their activities imperfectly. As Hatta often wrote, under such circumstances people in one compartment have neither an interest in, nor an understanding of, nor a sense of responsibility for, what goes on elsewhere. If tis is the case for capitalism as a whole, it is equally the case for the working class as one of the constituent elements of capitalism. The structure of the ‘labour movement’ reflects this, with (shall we say) railway workers and coal miners locked into different organisations (unions) just as rigidly as their class enemies are locked into their (companies, nation-states).
This was the reason why one could never proceed from the class struggle to anarchist-communism. Even if the class struggle were fought to an apparently successful conclusion, with workers organisations such as unions or soviets (councils) taking over the administration of society, the division of labour would persist since these organisations were themselves expressions of it. Workers would continue to identify primarily with ‘their’ industry and ‘their’ union or soviet and the only way to solve this problem would be to devise some kind of coordinating machinery to mediate between the different branches of production and the different administrative bodies. However, this would be a solution worse that the problem itself, since such a coordinating machinery would be nothing other than the re-emergent state.
Arguing along these lines, Hatta maintained that class struggle and the revolution are in conflict rather than complementing one another. Classes struggle within capitalism by means of organisations (unions, soviets, parties, states) which are part and parcel of the social division of labour. In order to achieve a revolution against capitalism, a movement is required that transcends the social division of labour rather than being rooted in it. Thus it is not the working class, defined in terms of its insertion into the capitalist production process, which can revolutionise society. Rather, the overthrow of existing society has to be the act of the ‘revolutionary masses’, defined in terms of their ideological hostility to capitalism.
In contrast to unions or soviets taking over existing industries and preserving the social division of labour, albeit in a collectivised form, Hatta Shuzo and his comrades envisages restructuring society as to achieve a decentralised communism. The unit of social organisation was not to be the enterprise engaged in specialised production, even if one black flag fluttered on the roof and a workers committee in the boardroom. Instead, the basic social unit had to be a free commune engaged in generalised production, both industrial and agricultural, and largely self-sufficient. Clearly Hatta took as his model for such a commune the traditional Asian village, remote from the centres of state power and largely self-supporting, even if he expected it to be modified by the diffusion of scientific knowledge and small scale industry. The society resulting from the aggregation of free communes was to be anarchist and communist. State power and authoritarian relationships were to be eliminated and production and distribution were to depend on people working voluntarily and taking freely from the common wealth.
While there was nothing very original about envisaging communist production and distribution as conforming with the norms laid down in the slogan ‘from each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her self-determined needs’, Hatta did attempt to think through some of the implications of such well worn phrases in a refreshingly independent fashion. For example, he argued that to say that people would freely contribute according to their abilities meant that, in effect, people would engage in whatever production they regarded as essential. In some areas o production, an individuals view of what was essential would very likely coincide with that of all members of the commune, but in other cases this would not be so. Where a single individual regarded a certain product as essential, he or she would take steps to produce it alone. A more likely occurrence would be to have groups of like-minded individuals within a commune cooperating to produce goods or services which they, but not other members of the commune, considered essential. Hatta expected much ‘cultural production’ to fall into this category, resulting from the efforts of spontaneously organised associations of artists, scientists and so on.
To focus briefly on an area of production which it would be reasonable to expect the entire commune to regard as essential, an appropriate example in the case of Japan could well be the rice crop. Since virtually every member of the commune would probably eat rice, everyone would take an interest in its production. ‘Pure anarchists’ like Hatta Shuzo were not implying that every last individual would engage in every single stage of rice production. Growing rice is a complicated process involving a variety of distinct operations (Planting, transplanting, maintaining the irrigation system, harvesting, servicing the machinery, to name a few). Hence, at any one time, there might well be a ‘division of work’ (tewake in Japanese) with different individuals engaged in different operations for which they had a particular liking or aptitude. Hatta distinguished, however, between a division of work, which he regarded as natural and harmless, and a division of labour (bungyo in Japanese), which it was communisms purpose to transcend. People might v=busy themselves with different facets of rice production, but there would be no specialist ‘rice producers’ within the commune, concentrating solely on growing rice to the exclusion of others. Similarly within society as a whole, there would be no specialist rice-producing communes with a monopolistic interest in rice production. Since virtually everyone would regard rice as an essential foodstuff, everyone would quite naturally, in the course of growing up in a communist society, would become familiar with its overall production process and would take constant interest in the current year’s crop. Thus although individuals might insert themselves into that production process at different points and in different fashions, the problems associated with a division of labour – where specialists in one field have neither an interest in, nor an understanding of, nor a sense of responsibility for, other fields – would not arise.
This is not the place to explore further the many interesting features of Japanese ‘pure-anarchism’. I hope enough has been said to demonstrate that Hatta Shuzo made some original contributions to the theory of anarchist-communism, particularly in his criticisms of syndicalism and his discussions of how a community society would be organised. Would anyone whose research interests overlap with any of the above kindly get in touch with me, addressing correspondence as follows:
1. Japanese names are given in the customary East Asian fashion of family name (Hatta) first and personal name (Shuzo) second. The macrons over Shuzo indicate that the vowels are pronounced long. Hence the Shu in shuzo is roughly as in ‘shoe'; so rhymes with ‘saw’.
2. P.G. Noteheifer, Kotoku Shusi: Portrait of a Japanese Radical (Cambridge U.P., 1971); Thomas A. Stanley, Osugi Sakne: Anarchist in Taisho Japan (Harvard U.P., 1982).
3. See Alain Pengam’s chapter on ‘Anarcho-communism’ in Maximilien Rubel and John crump, Non-market Socialism in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Macmillan, 1987) pp.60-79
4. Musifushugi Undoi, November 1963.
5. Hagiwara Shintaro, Nihon Anakizumu Rodo Undo Shi (Tokyo, 1969) P. 138.
6. Kondo Kenji, Watashi no Mita Nihon Anakizumu Undu Shi (Tokyo, 1969) P. 91.
On an aside, I have decided to rename this feature to “From the Archives”, as “Something from the Archives” was a bit cumbersome.
Issue 8 to issue 22 of BAR can be found in an unmarked box in MAC‘s library. Sorry I can’t be more precise.
I am particularly keen to get hold of any materials produced by the Brisbane Self-Management Group.