5W II: Anarchism in the period of the International Working Men's Association
history of anarchism |
opinion / analysis
Friday October 21, 2005 16:02 by Michael Schmidt - Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation blackdragon at africamail dot com
Part 2 of a 7-part article on the history of anarchist communism.
The Pan-European Revolt of 1848 saw a distinct socialist current, containing contradictory strands, branch out from radical republicanism, the contradictions coming to a head in 1868 with the separation of distinct anarchist communist majority and Marxist minority strands within the First International. By 1877, a German-language Anarcho-Communist Party (AKP) was founded in Berne, Switzerland.
FIVE WAVES: A BRIEF GLOBAL HISTORY OF REVOLUTIONARY ANARCHIST COMMUNIST MASS ORGANISATIONAL THEORY & PRACTICE
THE "INVISIBLE PILOTS" STEER THE SECRET REVOLUTIONARY ORGANISATION
To look at the family tree of anarchism, very roughly, with reference to watershed dates, one saw the French Revolution 1793 give rise to radical republicanism which embraced both Jacobin authoritarianism on the "right" and Enrage libertarianism on the "left". The Pan-European Revolt of 1848 saw a distinct socialist current, still containing these contradictory strands, branch out from radical republicanism, the contradictions coming to a head in 1868 with the separation of distinct anarchist communist majority and Marxist minority strands within the First International.
Marxism would further divide into rightist social-democratic and leftist Leninist strands in the Russian Revolt of 1905-1906. Earlier, in 1881, an anarcho-insurrectionary minority that favoured armed struggle had branched off to the left of the anarcho-communist working class majority, approximating in many respects the tiny "left communist" and "council communist" tendencies that split to the left of Leninism in about 1918-1923.
But the mass tendency of anarchism arose during an expansive phase of mercantile-fiscal capitalism in the 1860s, when imperialist pioneers began their surge into the unconquered half of North America, and turned their greedy eyes towards the material - and human - resources of Africa, Central America, China and elsewhere. It arose from the ghettos of the newly-industrialised proletariat in the heartland of imperialism and its key raw material producing nations, and its first decades infused everyone from Bohemian intellectuals to Mexican peasants with its raw self-empowerment.
The founding in 1864 of the International Working Men's Association (IWMA), or First International, saw all of the pre-conditions for revolutionary anarchist communism realised: important sections of the working class had achieved an internationalist, revolutionary consciousness, and had created a transnational federation of their own organisations, primarily based on organised labour.
The proto-anarchist "libertarian mutualism" of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, son of a barrel-maker, rapidly established itself as the major current in the IWMA, but was just as swiftly supplanted by its natural matured expression: anarcho-communism. The main wellsprings of anarcho-communism within the IWMA were the IWMA's worker organisations themselves, aided and abetted by the International Brotherhood (IB) established by Mikhail Bakunin in 1868 as the clandestine counterpart to the public International Alliance of Socialist Democracy (IASD).
So it was that a first wave of syndicalist organisation sprang up: the Spanish Regional Federation (FRE) founded in 1868 by IB agent Guiseppe Finelli; followed by the Proletarian Circle (CP) in Mexico in 1869; the Regional Federation of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay (FRREU) in 1872; the Northern Union of Russian Workers (NURW) in 1878; the Artisan's Central Council (JAC) in Cuba in 1883; and the Central Labour Union (CLU) in the USA in 1883.
These organisations were each significant in their environs: the Spanish FRE soared to 60,000 members within four years, while the Big Circle of Workers (CGO), which developed out of the CP in Mexico, attained a membership of perhaps 15,000 within six years. The significance of this first wave needs to be underlined.
Firstly, it is important to note that of the six main countries where this first wave entrenched itself, four were later to experience revolutions with significant anarchist involvement. In the case of Cuba, the anarcho-syndicalist movement there dominated the working class from that period until the late 1920s, with a significant revival in the late 1930s through its leading role in the Cuban Revolution of 1952-1959.
In Mexico, the movement dominated the organised working class in the 1910s and was the primary engine behind the revolutionary peak of 1916, while in Spain it became the most important revolutionary player in the 1930s, but in Russia and the USA, it never rose to be more than a militant minority tendency. In Uruguay, the movement remained a strong enough minority current to engage in guerrilla warfare with the state from 1968-1976.
Secondly, the presence of non-European organisations in this first wave undermines the convention that anarcho-syndicalism was a French invention of the 1890s, and emphasises its adaptability and applicability to countries as industrialised as the USA or as backward as Russia. In other words, it arose both in the global north and in the global south, but always in concentrations of expansive industrial growth - not among the declining artisanal class.
Its social vectors were those of intense upheaval created by both a massive and constant movement of workers around the world to satisfy this new growth, and by the loss of political control the old landed oligarchies experienced as a result of the rise of a modernising bourgeoisie, the unintended corollary of which was the rise of a militant industrial proletariat. Politically, anarchism rose during this first-wave period in response to the insufficiencies, authoritarianism and reformism of both radical republicanism and Marxist socialism, and as an organised, mass-based corrective to the vanguard adventurism of narodnik populism.
The first wave broke on the shore of the destruction of the Paris Commune 1871 - itself anticipated by the earlier Bakuninist uprising in Lyons - which saw the driving underground of most revolutionary organisations, and with the split the following year of the First International into an anarchist majority and short-lived Marxist rump which dissolved in practice after only a year. But the anarchists also gained experience in running their own "communes" of Granada, Seville, Malagar, Alcoy and San Lucar de Barramed in Spain during the Cantonalist Revolt of 1873-1874.
The final collapse of the anarchist IWMA in 1877 ended the first genuinely international attempt to organise the socially-conscious working class. Although its torch was soon taken up by the synthesist Anti-Authoritarian International (AAI) or "Black International", in 1881, the year of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by narodniks. The Black International, which lasted until about 1893, was dominated by the minority anarcho-insurrectionist tendency.
Generally, the radical working class movement entered a period of defeat that saw an anarchist retreat from mass organisation, while terrorism became vogue for all revolutionary tendencies as capitalism contracted with two great depressions, the last in 1893. The Black International took on an attitude of dangerous clandestinity and although the CLU, for example, continued to operate until 1909, the main anarchist "highlight" was the 1886 state murder of the Haymarket Martyrs, the militants recalled worldwide each year today in the commemoration of May Day.
In 1868, Bakunin wrote his seminal Programme and Object of the Secret Revolutionary Organisation of the International Brotherhood. In it, Bakunin laid out the ground-rules for the IB that was founded that year. The Programme reflected Bakunin's rejection of an authoritarian statist solution to the social revolution - "revolutionary in the Jacobin sense", as he put it - an indication of rising tensions between anarchists and Marxists in the IWMA at that time.
After spelling out the principles of the anarchist revolution, the Programme went on to address organisational matters following the dissolution of the nation-state and its armed forces, bureaucracy, courts, clergy and private property. Anticipating the anarcho-syndicalist replacement of the state with a decentralised administration of material, the Programme said that all church and state properties would be put at the disposal of the "federated Alliance of all labour associations, which Alliance will constitute the Commune."
A "Revolutionary Communal Council" based on a "federation of standing barricades", comprised of mandated, accountable and revocable delegates from each defensive barricade, would "choose separate executive committees from among its membership for each branch of the Commune's revolutionary administration." This administration would be, according to anarchist principles, of public services, not of people. It would be spread by revolutionary propagandists across all old statist boundaries in order to build "the alliance of the world revolution against all reactionaries combined", the organisation of which "precludes any notion of dictatorship and supervisory leadership authority."
The Programme then went on to discuss the specific role of the anarchist revolutionary organisation in advancing the social revolution: "But if that revolutionary alliance is to be established and if the revolution is to get the better of the reaction, then, amid the popular anarchy that is to represent the very life-blood and energy of the revolution, an agency must be found to articulate this singularity of thought and of revolutionary action."
"That agency should be the secret worldwide association of the International Brotherhood. That association starts from the basis that revolutions are never made by individuals, nor even by secret societies. They are, so to speak, self-made, produced by the logic of things, by the trend of events and actions. They are a long time hatching in the deepest recesses of the popular masses' instinctive consciousness, and then they explode, often seeming to have been detonated by trivialities."
"All that a well-organised [secret] society can do is, first, to play midwife to the revolution by spreading among the masses ideas appropriate to the masses' instincts, and to organise, not the Revolution's army - for the people must at all times be the army - but a sort of revolutionary general staff made up of committed, energetic and intelligent individuals who are above all else true friends of the people and not presumptuous braggarts, with a capacity for acting as intermediaries between the revolutionary idea and the people's instincts."
So, in the view of the IB, the anarchist revolutionary organisation is little more than an intermediary, a midwife and an enabler of mass social revolution, but is clearly constituted as a distinct organisation, albeit submerged within the social struggle.
In his earlier International Revolutionary Society or Brotherhood (1865), Bakunin had spelled out the internal dynamics of such an organisation, then in practice only in embryo, and the duties of members - after having given an exhaustive account of the revolutionary's understanding and practical application of equality.
"He [sic] must understand that an association with a revolutionary purpose must necessarily take the form of a secret society, and every secret society, for the sake of the cause it serves and for effectiveness of action, as well as in the interests of the security of every one of its members, has to be subject to strict discipline, which is in any case merely the distillation and pure product of the reciprocal commitment made by all of the membership to one another, and that, as a result, it is a point of honour and a duty that each of them should abide by it."
This discipline was entered into, Bakunin stressed, by the "free assent" of the members, whose first duty was to society and only secondly to the organisation. Bakunin, who called in one of his letters for anarchists to be "invisible pilots in the centre of the popular storm", has subsequently been much-criticised for the clandestine nature of his plottings, which have been presumed by some anarchists to be authoritarian because of their secretive operations and requirements of discipline.
But it must firstly be recognised that repressive conditions required secrecy, secondly that the discipline written of was not an externally imposed one, but a self-discipline to freely abide by commonly-agreed commitments, and thirdly that Bakunin's IB had the practical result of helping to generate the first anarchist mass-based revolutionary organisations among the working class from Russia to Uruguay: the anarcho-syndicalist unions.
Influenced by Bakunin's arguments, in 1877, a German-language Anarcho-Communist Party (AKP) was founded in Berne, Switzerland, the first of scores of anarcho-communist organisations around the world. The key question raised by Bakunin, that of the role of the anarchist communist revolutionary organisation, was to remain a core debate within the anarchist movement for the following 140 years.