5W V: The "Vanishing Vanguard" Advances Libertarian Communism
history of anarchism |
opinion / analysis
Monday November 07, 2005 20:08 by Michael Schmidt - Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation blackdragon at africamail dot com
Part 5 of a 7-part article on the history of anarchist communism.
The anarchist movement is widely seen as being at its lowest ebb in the 1950s, when capitalism was in post-war boom and the Cold War between the alternate capitalisms of the USA and USSR was at its height.
FIVE WAVES: A BRIEF GLOBAL HISTORY OF REVOLUTIONARY ANARCHIST COMMUNIST MASS ORGANISATIONAL THEORY & PRACTICE
THE "VANISHING VANGUARD" ADVANCES LIBERTARIAN COMMUNISM
The anarchist movement is widely seen as being at its lowest ebb in the 1950s, when capitalism was in post-war boom and the Cold War between the alternate capitalisms of the USA and USSR was at its height. To a large extent this is true: the IWW was at its weakest in 50 years of existence in 1955 and fascism was still in the ascendant in most of Latin America, the Mediterranean and the Far East, with China having been largely lost to Maoist totalitarianism in 1949, and Korea permanently carved into red and blue totalitarian camps by 1953, closing the door on both revolutionary anarchist and libertarian reformist options.
But this view ignores the key role played by the anarchists in the Second Escambray Front, the Revolutionary Directorate (DR) and the clandestine General Confederation of Labour (CGT) in igniting and fighting the Cuban Revolution 1952-1959. Given that the Cuban Revolution remains to this day the touchstone of diverse tendencies that arose from the New Left, the centrality of anarchism to the revolution, and the fraudulent, counter-revolutionary role played by the Castroites cannot be overemphasised.
Also, the suggestion that the Swedish Workers' Central Organisation (SAC) was the sole remaining lighthouse of large-scale anarcho-syndicalism until its withdrawal from the IWA in 1959, ignores the fact that the National Workers' Unity Movement (MUNT) of Chile was flexing its muscles and helped establish the powerful Chilean Workers' Central (CUT) in 1953. The CUT came incredibly close to taking power in the Chilean Revolt of 1956 - before the reformist Stalinists and social democrats prematurely ended a revolutionary general strike - and laid the groundwork for decades of Chilean anarchist militancy.
The view that this period saw the end of anarchist organisation also ignores the massive strike by the anarchist-lead Ship-building Workers' Federation (FTB) in Argentina in 1956 - the country's largest strike in the 20th Century - and the five-month syndicalist resistance by some 100,000 workers on the docks, mines and freezing plants of New Zealand / Aotearoa in 1951. Still, it was a period of hibernation, in which much of the syndicalism in evidence was "spontaneous" and divorced from its anarchist origins.
That started to change with developments like the founding of the hugely influential Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (FAU) in 1956, an organisation that set the scene for non-sectarian Latin American continental resistance in the years to come. And despite operating in the most difficult of conditions, anarchist guerrillas plagued the authorities in Maoist China, Kruschevite Ukraine and Francoist Spain, while there were anarcho-communist resistance organisations in occupied Korea: the Autonomous Workers' League (AWL) and the Autonomous Village Movement (AVM), both creations of the FFSB.
Still, anarchism - and the working class as a whole, with which it has always been closely associated - was in dire straits and was only resuscitated on a global scale by the "jolt" of 1968, which initiated a wave of working class resistance to the various forms of capitalism from France to Senegal, from Mexico to Czechoslovakia, from Germany to Japan, from Pakistan to the USA. The jolt, spurred on by the neo-liberal contraction of capital which started dismantling the West's welfare states and eroded working class conditions in the Soviet bloc still further, unleashed a fourth wave of anarchist organisation and guerrilla warfare, centred primarily in the southern cone of Latin America, but also in the Middle East, a new field of anarchist operations.
Notable anarchist guerrilla organisations of the day in the global south were the Popular Brigades (BP) of Chile, the FAU's Revolutionary Popular Organisation - 33 (OPR-33) of Uruguay, Libertarian Resistance (RL) of Argentina, the unknown Palestinian guerrilla group that trained some RL guerrillas, the Workers' Liberation Group (Shagila) of Iraq and The Scream of The People (CHK) of Iran. The last two are important in that they developed an anarcho-communism virtually in total isolation from the rest of the anarchist movement, giving an indication of the universal validity of anarchist practice, and they participated in the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979, the most recent revolution in which anarchist guerrillas played a role.
In the global north, anarchist guerrilla organisations included the Angry Brigade (AB) of Britain, the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front (EAAAF) of Japan, Direct Action (AD) of France, Direct Action (AD) of Canada, the Anti-capitalist Autonomous Commandos (CAA) of the Basque country, the Iberian Liberation Movement - Autonomous Combat Groups (MIL-GAC), First of May Group (GPM) and the Groups of International Revolutionary Action (GARI) of Western Europe.
During this wave, anarchism and the libertarian strains of autonomism that sprang up in Western Europe in the 1970s usually played second fiddle to Maoism and Trotskyism, with many anarchists influenced by the insurgent doctrines of Guevara, Mao, Marighella and Negri rather than of Sabate, Mechoso, Christie and Bonanno, but it was not exclusively a period of armed struggle.
Other important developments during the fourth wave were the founding of the synthesist International of Anarchist Federations (IAF) in 1968, the re-establishment of the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) in the same year, a mushrooming of anarchist organisations across the world, and the resurgence of revolutionary syndicalism as evidenced by the Authentic Labour Front (FAT) of Mexico or the establishment of a Marine Transport Workers' Industrial Union (MTWIU) section in Sweden. One of the key spurs to the resurgence of anarchism was the end of the fascist regimes in Portugal in 1974, then Spain in 1975, which saw the re-emergence of the CNT with 200,000 members.
In this period, the real harbinger of things to come was the re-emergence of anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism within the Stalinist and Maoist empires: the Movement of Revolutionary Communards (MRC), the Communist League of Anarchists (CLA) and the Free General Workers' Union (SMOT), founded in 1979 in the USSR, the Polish Anarchist Federation (PAF) and the Czechoslovak Anarchist Association (EAS), founded in the 1980s.
Notable also were the 10-million-strong, initially syndicalist, Solidarity (Solidarnosc) in Poland, the unstudied Neutralist Tribunal (NT) in Vietnam, and the Federation of the Provincial Proletariat (Shengwulian), founded in 1968 in China (where an underground Anarchist Federation, AF, was rumoured to operate in the 1970s). Other underground organisations were established in Latin America and Korea, and some, notably in Chile, engaged in guerrilla warfare.
The ideas of the Platform, which were expressed in essence again by the Friends of Durruti have maintained the anarchist hardline time and again, especially when the movement has been in crisis. Following the defeat of the Spanish Revolution in 1939, many anarchist militants were disillusioned and a deathly anti-revolutionary liberalism that focussed on "personal liberation" rather than class struggle crept into the movement.
So in 1953, just after the anarchists had launched the Cuban Revolution, the French anarchist militant George Fontenis wrote the Manifesto of Libertarian Communism for the Libertarian Communist Federation (FCL). The FCL had split from the FAF the previous year, taking the majority of FAF members with it in yet another round of the historical tensions in the French non-syndicalist anarchist movement between platformists and synthesists.
But the FCL's origins were less than honest - with the platformist tendency having arisen within the FAF in 1950 as a secret caucus of which Fontenis was the secretary and called the Thought-Battle Organisation (OPB). The existence of the OPB only became known after the FCL split from the FAF. This unaccountable secrecy and vanguardism, which was apparently designed to attract the left flank of the French Communist Party (PCF) tarnished the debate over the Platform.
As with other platformist-style manifestos, it created quite a few waves, attacking as it did the "synthesis" style of anarchism that included extreme individualism in its mish-mash of libertarian ideas. It also rejected the usual communist theories of the dictatorship of the proletariat (actually the dictatorship of the party) and the two-stage revolution (actually the revolution put on hold forever). It affirmed anarchism as a class-struggle revolutionary theory and practice and called for a disciplined "vanguard" to push the revolution forward. But by vanguard, Fontenis meant not the Marxist-styled, self-appointed "leaders" of the people, which tactic he said "leads to a pessimistic evaluation of the role of the masses, to an aristocratic contempt for their political ability, to concealed direction of revolutionary activity, and so to defeat".
Instead, the Manifesto's "vanguard" was a revolutionary organisation tasked with "developing the direct political responsibility of the masses; it must aim to increase the masses' ability to organise themselves". This group of activists had as its final aim "to disappear in becoming identical with the masses when they reach their highest level of consciousness in achieving the revolution". It would work within established mass organisations like unions, educational groups, mutual aid societies and others, and actively propagate its ideas. Its basic principles would be ideological and tactical unity, collective action and discipline, and a federal rather than centralised structure.
In Italy in the 1950s, hardline "organisationalist" anarchists founded the Proletarian Action Anarchist Groups (GAAP) within the synthesist Italian Anarchist Federation (FAI), and were later expelled. The GAAP did not survive for long on its own, but in its brief existance, the GAAP united with Fontenis' OPB to form a short-lived Libertarian Communist International (ICL). Despite the disappearance of a a specific platformist tendency in Italy, veterans of the GAAP and the memory of its practice formed the backbone of today's Federation of Communist Anarchists (FdCA) when it was founded in 1985.
Fontenis is a controversial character in France because he later took a sharp turn rightwards, becoming a Freemason, running the FCL in the legislative elections of 1956 (the organisation collapsed a year or two later), and recruiting the notorious dissident Stalinist Andre Marty to FCL ranks. As with Arshinov earlier, this reversal of anarcho-communism was crudely claimed by many synthesists to be the logical result of platformism. But the later deviance of the FCL does not of itself invalidate the initial FCL positions or its Manifesto.
Nevertheless, platformism remained a minority tendency within the global anarchist movement, particularly within France where it had the longest history, but its ideas were revived in 1968 with the founding of the Anarchist Revolutionary Organisation (ORA) tendency that split from the FAF in 1970, calling itself "a federation of territorial or trades groups and not a gathering of individuals".
The ORA's Organisational Contract of 1970 stated that "anarchism repudiates all authoritarianism: that of pure individualism with its repudiation of society, and that of pure communism which seeks to ignore the individual. Anarchism is not a synthesis of antagonistic principles, but a juxtaposition of concrete, living realities, the convergence of which must be sought in an equilibrium as elastic as life itself".
While hailing the platformist principles of ideological and tactical unity, collective responsibility, rank-and-file decision-making, and libertarian federalism, the Organisational Contract stated that the ORA "has no pretensions to a rigid ideological unity generating dogmatism [or, what it named 'stodgy uniformity']. But on the other hand, it refuses also to be merely a motley collection of divergent tendencies, the frictions between which would inevitably lead to stagnation".
An Addendum to the Organisational Contract stated that the ORA "is to be the driving force behind mass movements against authoritarian systems" and it appears to have achieved this in part. The ORA inspired the creation of platformist organisations with the same acronym in Denmark in 1973 (apparently still in existence), Britain in the mid-1970s (since dissolved), and in Italy in 1976, the last of which in 1985 became the FdCA of today. The French ORA became today's French/Belgian Libertarian Communist Organisation (OCL) and its Libertarian Alternative (AL) splinter. The longevity of the FdCA and ORA/OCL/AL lines help put paid to the idea that platformism is a disguised intermediary stage in a rightward capitulation towards Stalinism.