The Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-71 )

The Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune of 1870-1871 had a significant impact on emerging anarchist movements. Bakunin argued that the War should be turned into a mass uprising by the French workers and peasants against their domestic and foreign masters. To bring the peasants over to the side of the social revolution, Bakunin urged his fellow revolutionaries to incite the peasantry “to destroy, by direct action, every political, judicial, civil and military institution,” to “throw out those landlords who live by the labour of others” and to seize the land. He rejected any notion of revolutionary dictatorship, warning that any attempt “to impose communism or collectivism on the peasants… would spark an armed rebellion” that would only strengthen counter-revolutionary tendencies.

Although it was Proudhon who had first proposed an alliance between the workers and peasants, it was Bakunin who saw the peasantry as a potentially revolutionary force. Bakunin and subsequent anarchists did not believe that a social revolution was only possible in advanced capitalist societies with a large industrial proletariat, as Marxists claimed, but rather looked to the broad masses of the exploited and downtrodden to overthrow their oppressors. Consequently, anarchists supported the efforts of indigenous peoples to liberate themselves from colonial domination and the local elites which benefitted from colonialism at their expense, particularly in Latin America with its feudalist latifundia system which concentrated ownership of the land in the hands of a few . In Russia, Italy, Spain and Mexico, anarchists sought to incite the peasants to rebellion with the battle cry of “Land and Liberty”, while anarchists in China, Japan and Korea sought the liberation of the peasant masses from their feudal overlords.

Bakunin argued that the best way to incite the masses to revolt was “not with words but with deeds, for this is the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda”. In Mexico, the anarchist Julio Chavez Lopez led a peasant uprising in 1868-1869, in which the insurgents would occupy a village or town, burn the land titles and redistribute the land among the peasants (Hart: 39). In September 1870, Bakunin participated in a short-lived attempt to create a revolutionary Commune in Lyon, proclaiming the abolition of mortgages and the judicial system (Leier: 258). He made a similar attempt with his anarchist comrades in Bologna in 1874.

In 1877, Bakunin’s associates, Carlo Cafiero (1846-1892), Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) and a small group of anarchists tried to provoke a peasant uprising in Benevento, Italy, by burning the local land titles, giving the villagers back their tax moneys and handing out whatever weapons they could find. Paul Brousse (1844-1912) described this as “propaganda by the deed,” by which he did not mean individual acts of terrorism but putting anarchist ideas into action by seizing a commune, placing “the instruments of production… in the hands of the workers,” and instituting anarchist communism.
The inspiration for this form of propaganda by the deed was the Paris Commune of 1871, when the people of Paris proclaimed the revolutionary Commune, throwing out their national government. Varlin and other Internationalists took an active part in the Commune. After its bloody suppression by the Versailles government, during which Varlin was killed, several Communards were to adopt an explicitly anarchist position, including Elisée Reclus and Louise Michel.

Paris commune journal

The anti-authoritarian sections of the First International supported the Commune and provided refuge for exiled Communards. Bakunin commended the Communards for believing that the social revolution “could neither be made nor brought to its full development except by the spontaneous and continued action of the masses”. James Guillaume thought that the Commune represented the revolutionary federalist negation of the nation State that “the great socialist Proudhon” had been advocating for years. By 1873, the Jura Federation of the International was describing the Commune as the first practical realization of the anarchist program of the proletariat. However, as David Stafford points out, the “massacre of the Communards and the savage measures which followed it (it has been estimated that 30,000 people were killed or executed by the Versailles forces)” helped turn anarchists further away from Proudhon’s pacifist mutualism, which was seen as completely unable to deal with counter-revolutionary violence (Stafford: 20).

Louise Michel (1830-1905) had fought on the barricades when the French government sent in its troops to put down the Commune. The Union of Women for the Defence of Paris and the Care of the Wounded issued a manifesto calling for “the annihilation of all existing social and legal relations, the suppression of all special privileges, the end of all exploitation, the substitution of the reign of work for the reign of capital”.At Michel’s trial after the suppression of the Commune, she declared that she belonged “completely to the Social Revolution,” vowing that if her life were spared by the military tribunal, she would “not stop crying for vengeance,” daring the tribunal, if they were not cowards, to kill her.

Anarchists drew a number of lessons from the Commune. Kropotkin argued that the only way to have consolidated the Commune was “by means of the social revolution”, with “expropriation” being its “guiding word.” The “coming revolution,” Kropotkin wrote, would “fail in its historic mission” without “the complete expropriation of all those who have the means of exploiting human beings; [and] the return to the community… of everything that in the hands of anyone can be used to exploit others”.

With respect to the internal organization of the Commune, Kropotkin noted that there “is no more reason for a government inside a commune than for a government above the commune.” Instead of giving themselves a “revolutionary” government, isolating the revolutionaries from the people and paralyzing popular initiative, the task is to abolish “property, government, and the state,” so that the people can “themselves take possession of all social wealth so as to put it in common,” and “form themselves freely according to the necessities dictated to them by life itself”

Malatesta, Anarchism and Organization (1897)

Organization which is, after all, only the practice of cooperation and solidarity, is a natural and necessary condition of social life; it is an inescapable fact which forces itself on everybody, as much on human society in general as on any group of people who are working towards a common objective. Since humanity neither wishes to, nor can, live in isolation it is inevitable that those people who have neither the means, nor a sufficiently developed social conscience to permit them to associate freely with those of a like mind and with common interests, are subjected to the organization by others, generally constituted in a class or as a ruling group, with the aim of exploiting the labor of others for their personal advantage. And the agelong oppression of the masses by a small privileged group has always been the result of the inability of the oppressed to agree among themselves to organize with others for production, for enjoyment and for the possible needs of defense against whoever might wish to exploit and oppress them. Anarchism exists to remedy this state of affairs …

Now, it seems to us that organization, that is to say, association for a specific purpose and with the structure and means required to attain it, is a necessary aspect of social life. A human being in isolation cannot even live the life of a beast, for they would be unable to obtain nourishment for themselves, except perhaps in tropical regions or when the population is exceptionally sparse; and they would be, without exception, unable to rise much above the level of an animal. Having therefore to join with other humans, or more accurately, finding themselves united to them as a consequence of the evolutionary antecedents of the species, they must submit to the will of others (be enslaved) or subject others to his/her will (be in authority) or live with others in fraternal agreement in the interests of the greatest good of all (be an associate). Nobody can escape from this necessity.

Admitting as a possibility the existence of a community organized without authority, that is without compulsion – and anarchists must admit the possibility, or anarchism would have no meaning – let us pass on to discuss the organization of the anarchist movement.

In this case too, organization seems useful and necessary. If a movement means the whole – individuals with a common objective which they exert themselves to attain – it is natural that they should agree among themselves, join forces, share out the tasks and take all those steps which they think will lead to the achievement of those objectives. To remain isolated, each individual acting or seeking to act on their own without coordination, without preparation, without their modest efforts to a strong group, means condemning oneself to impotence, wasting oneís efforts in small ineffectual action, and to lose faith very soon in oneís aims and possibly being reduced to complete inactivity.

A mathematician, a chemist, a psychologist or a sociologist may say they have no programme or are concerned only with establishing the truth. They seek knowledge, they are not seeking to do something. But anarchism and socialism are not sciences; they are proposals, projects, that anarchists and socialists seek to realize and which, therefore need to be formulated as definite programs.

If it is true that organization creates leaders; if it is true that anarchists are unable to come together and arrive at an agreement without submitting themselves to an authority, this means that they are not yet very good anarchists, and before thinking of establishing an anarchist society within the world they must think of making themselves able to live anarchistiaclly. The remedy does not lie in the abolition of organization but in the growing consciousness of each individual member. In small as well as large societies, apart from brute force, of which it cannot be a question for us, the origin and justification for authority lies in social disorganization.

When a community has needs and its members do not know how to organize spontaneously to provide them, someone comes forward, an authority who satisfies those needs by utilizing the services of all and directing them to their liking. If the roads are unsafe and the people do not know what measures to take, a police force emerges which in return for whatever services it renders expects to be supported and paid, as well as imposing itself and throwing its weight around; if some article is needed, and the community does not know how to arrange with the distant producers to supply it in exchange for goods produced locally, the merchant will appear who will profit by dealing with the needs of one section to sell and of the other to buy, and impose his/her own prices both on the producer and the consumer. This is what has happened in our midst; the less organized we have been, the more prone are we to be imposed on by a few individuals. And this is understandable. So much so that organization, far from creating authority, is the only cure for it and the only means whereby each one of us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in the collective work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders.

But an organization, it is argued, presupposes an obligation to coordinate oneís own activities with those of others; thus it violates liberty and fetters initiative. As we see it, what really takes away liberty and makes initiative impossible is the isolation which renders it powerless. Freedom is not an abstract right but the possibility of acting; this is true among ourselves as well as society as a whole. And it is by cooperation with our fellow human beings that we find the means to express our activity and our power of initiative.

An anarchist organization must allow for complete autonomy, and independence, and therefore full responsibility, to individuals and groups; free agreement between those who think it useful to come together for cooperative action, for common aims; a moral duty to fulfill oneís pledges and to take no action which is contrary to the accepted programme. On such bases one then introduces practical forms and suitable instruments to give real life to the organization. Thus the groups, the federation of groups, the federations of federations, meetings, congresses, correspondence committees and so on. But this also must be done freely, in such a way as not to restrict the thought and the initiative of individual members, but only to give greater scope to the efforts which in isolation would be impossible or ineffective. Thus for an anarchist organization congress, in spite of all the disadvantages from which they suffer as representative bodies, are free from authoritarianism in any shape or form because they do not legislate and do not impose their deliberations on others. They serve to maintain and increase personal contacts among the most active comrades, to summarize and encourage programmatic studies on the ways and means for action; to acquaint everybody with the situation in the regions and the kind of action most urgently needed; to summarize the various currents of anarchist opinions at the time and to prepare some kind of statistics therefrom. And their decisions are not binding, but simply suggestions, advice and proposals to submit to all concerned, and they do not become binding and executive except for those who accept them and for as long as they accept them. The administrative organs they nominate – Correspondence Commissions, etc. – have no directive powers, do not take initiatives except for those who specifically solicit and approve of them, and have no authority to impose their own views, which they can certainly hold and propagate as groups of comrades, but which cannot be presented as the official views of the organization. They publish the resolutions of the congresses and the opinions and proposals communicated to them by groups and individuals; and they act for those who want to make use of them, to facilitate relations between groups, and cooperation between those who are in agreement on various initiatives; each is free to correspond with whoever he/she likes direct, or make use of the other committees nominated by specific groupings.

In an anarchist organization individual members can express any opinion and use every tactic which is not in contradiction with the accepted principles and does not interfere with the activities of others. In every case a particular organization last so long as the reasons for union are superior to those for dissension; otherwise it disbands and makes way for other, more homogenous groupings. Certainly the life and permanence of an organization is a condition for success in the long struggle before us, and besides, it is natural that every institution should by instinct aim at lasting indefinitely. But the duration of a libertarian organization must be the result of the spiritual affinity of its members and of the adaptability of its constitution to the continually changing circumstances. When it can no longer serve a useful purpose it is better that it should die.

We would certainly be happy if we could all get along well together and unite all the forces of anarchism in a strong movement; but we do not believe in the solidity of organizations which are built on concessions and assumptions and in which there is no real agreement and sympathy between members. Better disunited than badly united. But we would wish that each individual joined their friends and that there should be no isolated forces, or lost forces.

It remains for us to speak of the organization of the working and oppressed masses for resistance against both the government and the employers. Workers will never be able to emancipate themselves so long as they do not find in union the moral, economic and physical strength that is needed to subdue the organized might of the oppressors.

There have been anarchists, and there still are some, who while recognizing the need to organize today for propaganda and action, are hostile to all organizations which do not have anarchism as their goal or which do not follow anarchist methods of struggle. To those comrades it seemed that all organized forces for an objective less than radically revolutionary, were forces that the revolution was being deprived of. It seems to us instead, and experience has surely already confirmed our view, that their approach would condemn the anarchist movement to a state of perpetual sterility. To make propaganda we must be amongst the people, and it is in the workersí associations that workers find their comrades and especially those who are most disposed to understand and accept our ideas. But even when it is possible to do as much propaganda as we wished outside the associations, this could not have a noticeable effect on the working masses. Apart from a small number of individuals more educated and capable of abstract thought and theoretical enthusiasms, the worker cannot arrive at anarchism in one leap. To become an convinced anarchist, and not in name only, they must begin to feel the solidarity that joins them to their comrades, and to learn to cooperate with others in defense of common interests and that, by struggling against the bosses and against the government that supports them, should realize that bosses and governments are useless parasites and that the workers could manage the domestic economy by their own efforts. And when the worker has understood this, he or she is an anarchist even if they do not refer to themselves as such.

Furthermore, to encourage popular organizations of all kinds is the logical consequence of our basic ideas, and should therefore be an integral part of our programme. An authoritarian party, which aims at capturing power to impose its ideas, has an interest in the people remaining an amorphous mass, unable to act for themselves and therefore always easily dominated. And it follows, logically, that it cannot desire more than that much organization, and of the kind it needs to attain power: Electoral organizations if it hopes to achieve it by legal means; Military organization if it relies on violent action. But we anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves. We do not believe in the good that comes from above and imposed by force; we want the new way of life to emerge from the body of the people and correspond to the state of their development and advance as they advance. It matters to us therefore that all interests and opinions should find their expression in a conscious organization and should influence communal life in proportion to their importance.

We have undertaken the task of struggling against existing social organization, and of overcoming the obstacles to the advent of a new society in which freedom and well being would be assured to everybody. To achieve this objective we organize ourselves and seek to become as numerous and as strong as possible. But if it were only our anarchist groupings that were organized; if the workers were to remain isolated like so many units unconcerned about each other and only linked by the common chain; if we ourselves besides being organized as anarchists in a federation, were not as workers organized with other workers, we could achieve nothing at all, or at most, we might be able to impose ourselves … and then it would not be the triumph of anarchism, but our triumph. We could then go on calling ourselves anarchists, but in reality we should simply be rulers, and as impotent as all rulers are where the general good is concerned.

Joseph Dejacque (1821-1864)

joseph dejacque

Joseph Déjacque (1821-1864), the first person to use the word “libertarian” as a synonym for “anarchist,” conceived of anarchy as the “complete, boundless, utter freedom to do anything and everything that is in human nature”. Exiled from France after the 1848 Revolution, he called for the abolition of religion, private property, the patriarchal nuclear family, all authority and privilege, and for the “liberation of woman, the emancipation of the child.”

Déjacque’s Critique of Proudhon

Déjacque’s anarchist critique was much broader than Proudhon’s. Proudhon saw the patriarchal nuclear family as the basis of society, and argued that woman’s place was in the home. He did not advocate the complete abolition of property, arguing instead for a fairer distribution of wealth based on individual contribution and equivalent exchange.

Déjacque took Proudhon to task on both points, arguing for the complete abolition of “property and authority in every guise”. He rejected Proudhon’s mutualism as a “system of contracts” for determining each person’s “allotted measure” of things instead of everyone having access to whatever their “nature or temperament requires.” Déjacque believed that everyone should be “free to consume and to produce as they see fit,” advocating a form of anarchist communism twenty years before similar views were to be adopted by anarchists associated with the anti-authoritarian wing of the First International.

Rejecting Proudhon’s views on women, Déjacque argued that “the issue of woman’s emancipation” must be placed “on the same footing as the issue of emancipation of the proletarian”. He looked forward to “man and woman striding with the same step and heart… towards their natural destiny, the anarchic community; with all despotism annihilated, all social inequalities banished.”


Latin American Anarchism: Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Cuba

The development of anarchism in Latin America was a process shaped by the unique nature of each country within the region, as well as by those factors which many of them had in common. One thing they all had in common was their subordinate relation to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine which held “the Americas” under the tutelage of the one country that arrogantly refers to itself as the only “America” — that is, the United States. As such, shortly after independence was achieved from Spain and Portugal, the Western Hemisphere was promptly re-colonized — unofficially – in the name of U.S. interests. It was in this subordinate context that the first anarchist movements in Latin America arose, all too often under the iron fist of dictators imposed from above, in El Norte. In addition, it is important to note that the Latin American governmental context was far more influenced by the thinking of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas than it was by liberalism, the largest philosophical influence in the Anglo-Saxon democracies (Erickson, 1977, p. 3). Here, corporatism was the major philosophical force, espousing a view of the state as “organically” reflecting the moral will of the people, rather than as a “referee” for different political forces in society as in North America. The ironic result of this was that all oppositional forces would be seen by much of society as essentially anti-liberatory. The ideological process of corporatism involved a sly combination of officialistic cooptation of revolutionary movements and violent repression of those who would not accept such moves. The prevalent role of the Roman Catholic Church in society combined with the tradition of Roman law made up the other two primary factors that set Latin American societies apart from much of the North. This meant of course, that the anarchisms that developed there were qualitatively different as they arose in a significantly different political environment.

In Latin America, the anarchist movement was without a doubt strongest in South America; and in South America, anarchism was without a doubt strongest in the “southern cone” countries of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. It was the largest social movement in Argentina from around 1885 until around 1917 when state-socialists took control of the large union federations (Joll, 1971, p. 218). The movement was extremely contentious due to the prevalence of the latifundia system in which a very few families controlled almost all of the land. This extreme social stratification set the stage for Peronism, a system in which the old elite families ruled with impunity over the masses of newly arrived immigrants in an extreme aristocratic fashion. Since the only legal means of affecting change in this society was voting, the fact that up to 70% of the urban population was legally disenfranchised did not endear many to the system; in fact, it created a social situation ripe for the development of anarchism.

Anarchism was most popular amongst Argentina’s working class sectors: it really never attained a high degree of organization amongst the peasantry. However, there were some attempts to organize anarchist student unions in addition to anarchist labor unions (Joll, p. 222). Stirnerist individualist anarchism never found much audience here and so as in many countries around the world, the movement was a balance between anarchist-communists in the tradition of Kropotkin and anarchist-collectivists in the tradition of Bakunin; however there was very little conflict between the two streams. The Italian anarchist-communist Erricco Malatesta immigrated in 1885 and within two years had organized the country’s first Baker’s Union in 1887. This move helped to set the stage for the organizing of the Resistance Societies, an affinity-group form of worker organization that was the backbone of the FOA, which in 1904 became the FORA.

From 1905 — 1910 the anarchist movement exploded in popularity, generalizing into the popular movements and pulling off general strikes in Buenos Aires and other places. Society became so unstable that martial law was routinely imposed for short periods of time. Workers were shot at Mayday demonstrations, others imprisoned at Tierra Del Fuego, and torture was rampant. Simon Radowitsky, a youth who threw a bomb at the Chief of Police’ car quickly became a well-known martyr when he was sentenced to life in prison. In fact he was so popular that eventually determined comrades organized to a plan to successfully break him out of jail (p. 219).

La Semana Tragica— the Tragic Week — was an important event that occurred in 1919 when a general strike was declared but was brutally put down by Colonel Varela, resulting quickly in his assassination. By 1931, the military had taken over and the anarchist movement was suppressed through a combination of death squads, prison sentences and general intimidation. When martial law was finally lifted nearly two years later, all the anarchist newpapers and organizations that had previously been at odds discarded with the past and published a joint declaration called Eighteen Months of Military Terror. The intense repression in Argentina had resulted in a great deal of solidarity and mutual aid amongst different types of anarchists, leading to a number of joint publications and actions that transcended diverse ideologies. It was from this new solidarity that both the FORA and other anarchist organizations sent delegations to the International Brigades for the Spanish Civil War against Franco. But soon Argentina would have it’s own fascist government to contend with. General Peron officially seized power in 1943, forcing the FORA to go underground again, along with La Protesta Humana. When the Peron regime finally fell, another joint publication involving all anarchist tendencies was issued called Agitacion. Other publications included El Descamisado, La Battallaand La Protesta Humana, the paper with which Max Nettlau and Erricco Malatesta were involved. In the face of such repression, much of the population had accepted the strategic cooptation of popular movements by the Peronist state; those who didn’t accept it often looked to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia as proof that anarchism was no longer a viable idea. The eventual failure of the Spanish Civil War didn’t help matters either, and eventually anarchism became of marginal influence (p. 230).

As in Argentina, Uruguay’s anarchist movement was largely composed of immigrant European workers who had come from industrialized societies, this meant that anarchism was in the early years primarily a working class rather than a peasant movement. Here too, it was the largest revolutionary movement in the first quarter of the 20th Century. The movement was largely based on affinity group based Resistance Societies affiliated to the FORU, which formed in 1905. Malatesta soon became involved in the FORU as well, influencing it away from Bakuninist collectivist anarchism and towards Kropotkinist communist anarchism. The FORU worked on a wide variety of issues, well outside the scope of the business unions. For instance, a major campaign against alcoholism was initiated, as well as initiatives to set up cooperative schools and libraries. These developments came largely due to the anarchist focus on the importance of creating a parallel anarchist culture. While much of this came out of the FORU, most anarchist culture, including plays, poetry readings and other events of the time, came out of those affiliated with the Center for International Social Studies (CIES) in Montevideo (p. 224). The CIES was heavily involved as well in the anarchist press, with such publications as La Batalla – presumably named after the earlier Argentine paper of the same name — which was published continuously for over fifteen years.

Dynamic in many ways that other anarchist movements were not, the Uruguayan anarchists were very internationalist in scope as well; some would say too much so. When the Mexican revolution erupted onto the global stage in 1910, Uruguay’s anarchist movement sent delegations to help the Magonistas; they likewise aided the CNT-FAI with International Brigade soldiers in the thick of the Spanish Civil War (p. 226). The eventual decline of anarchism in Uruguay stemmed primarily from the successful Bolshevik revolution and the enormous ideological loyalty-based splits that emerged in the movement between the FORU and the USU as a result.

The final anarchist movement of the southern cone countries we will examine that which developed within the massive nation-state of Brazil. Within the context of Brazilian latifundia, corporatism and authoritarianism in which large landholders held great sway over the destiny of the vast majority of the population with the backing of the military and the state, mutual aid societies and cooperatives were the only recognized legal form of organization. But as in Argentina and Uruguay, clandestine affinity-group based Resistance Leagues formed the backbone of militant Brazilian unionism, protecting anarchists from repression. However, this anarchist unionism was limited largely to skilled artisans and other workers, leaving the majority of other types of workers such as immigrants and women without union representation.

As in China and South Africa, the Brazilian communist party, the PCB, grew out of the ruins of the once-volatile anarchist movement (Chilcote, p. 11, 1974). However, anarchism had the greatest influence in Brazil primarily from 1906 to 1920, mostly amongst urban immigrant workers. It was in this context it became the predominant stream within the labor movement by 1906, far more important in fact, than state-socialism (p. 19). Anarchist labor militants, active in the Congresso Operario do Brasil (COB) are remembered for helping the Brazilian working class to win the eight-hour day as well as significant wage increases across the board. The Sao Paolo General Strike of 1917 marked the first of three years of militant anarchist activity within the labor movement. During these years, a strategy of repression combined with cooptation became the strategy of the corporative state. Anarchists did not initially call the General Strike, rather it was initiated by those masses of female textile workers whom anarchist organizers had ignored. At first this self-activity of working women and other sections of the industrial working class put male anarchist leaders on the defensive. But ultimately the anarchists accepted female leadership and chose to work with them rather than against them (Wolfe, 1993, p. 25).

The anarchist movement in Brazil began its decline for several reasons; one was that it often failed to adequately reach out to the rural majority population. Another is that the success of the Bolshevik revolution spelt the beginning of the end anarchist ideological hegemony. As in Argentina and Uruguay, anarchist movement split evenly into two camps: pro-Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik. Many of the most active anarchists would soon move on to become heavily involved in the activities of the PCB as a result of this split. The party shunned those who did not do so, and internal purges eventually ousted those who retained some anarchist sympathies (p. 33). The final nail in Brazilian anarchism’s coffin was the Revolution of 1930, which marked the beginning of a new era of the officialistic, paternalistic, cooptative system of “corporatism.”

While anarchism in the southern cone countries impacted the global movement to an extent, the anarchist movement that most affected and influenced the direction of anarchism throughout Latin America and much of the rest of the word as well was that which developed in Mexico. This began in 1863, when a Mexico City philosophy professor of Greek descent named Plotino Rhodakanaty formed the first anarchist organization in the country, a coalition of students and professors called the Club Socialista de Estudiantes (CSE). The CSE proceeded to spread their ideas through organizing anarchist labor unions amongst the urban working class; shortly this lead to the first strike in Mexican history, to organizing amongst Indian populations in southern Mexico and eventually to a new organization called La Social, which featured activists from the Paris Commune in exile, eventually reaching a peak level of 62 member organizations nationwide (p. 9). For all of this considerable activity, Rhodakanaty and many of his comrades were eventually executed at the hand of Porfirio Diaz.

As elsewhere in Latin America, the postcolonial period had been marked by dictatorship after dictatorship and then finally a major social revolution in 1910. In this revolution, the cause of the Mexican worker and peasant was taken up by a temporary alliance between Ricardo Flores Magon, Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa and Pascal Orozco. Of these, Magon can be characterized most accurately as being an anarchist; his brother Enrique and he published a popular anarchist newspaper called Regeneracion beginning in 1900. Of Zapotec Indian background, the two were driven largely by a determination to ensure the autonomy of Indian peoples in whatever social arrangement would arise out of the revolution (Poole, 1977, p. 5). By 1905, they had formed the anarchist-communist oriented Mexican Liberal Party (PLM); named as such in order to not drive people away, while still remaining thoroughly anarchist in demands. This strategy worked well eventually leading to two armed uprisings that involved members of the IWW as well as anarchists from Italy (p. 22).

Activists with the PLM crossed borders freely to relocate to Los Angeles, San Antonio and St. Louis, several cities in Canada, as well as numerous cities throughout Mexico. In doing so, a loose network of anarchists from all over the world participated in the project of building an anarchist contingent within the Mexican Revolution. Yet this relationship was not always healthy: at one point Magon was even forced to write an angry anti-racist essay in response to a statement by Eugene Debs that Mexicans were “too ignorant to fight for freedom” and that they would surely lose any attempt to rise up (p. 88). The essay pleaded with North American anarchists to take the PLM seriously; “Throughout the world the Latin races are sparing neither time nor money to assist what they recognized immediately as the common cause. We are satisfied that the great Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic branches of the army of labor will not lag behind; we are satisfied ignorance due to language difficulties alone is causing a temporary delay” (p. 90) Then in 1910, Francisco Madero published his “Plan de San Luis Potosi” which called for an uprising starting November 20 of that year; the uprising spread quickly until it became a nationwide revolt led by Magon, Zapata, Villa and Orozco.

Amidst the uprising, one of the few honest elections ever to occur in Mexico took place, which Madero won easily. Before the election occurred, however, Magon, Zapata and their followers had already broken sharply with Madero over the issue of land reform and Indian autonomy and as a result had published their own Plan de Alaya. The Zapatistas and Magonistas took up arms together, bound by a common southern Mexican tribal background that within a few years had lead to the successful encirclement of Mexico City. Huerta’s dictatorship continued as the revolution continued to grow, then, when Huerta resigned and Venustiano Carranza became president in 1917, the Mexican Constitution also came into effect. Due to the influence of Zapata and Magon, many extremely progressive features were included such as the right to an education free of charge, the right of Indians to collectively run farms (ejidos), and other social and land reforms. Unfortunately, Carranza exploited the divisions between anarchist-syndicalists and anarchist-communists and successfully bribed the anarchist-syndicalist Casa del Obero Mundial to organize “Red Battalions” to fight against Zapata and Villa. By 1919, Mexican Col. Jesus Guajardo had ambushed and murdered Zapata, ridding the Carranza regime of their main populist enemy. But once Carranza had been overthrown, Obregon, Calles, as well as a long line of other centrists came to power, opposing the domination of the clergy but supporting foreign investment into Mexico; this development marked the beginnings of the PRI dictatorship and the end of first wave anarchism.

Cuban anarchism developed in the mid-19th Century due to the early intellectual influence of Proudhonian mutualism in the workers movement. By the late 1800s it had reached a higher level of maturity with the rise of the anarchist leader Roig San Martin, the paper he edited El Productor, and the national anarchist organization Alianza Obrera (Fernandez, 2001, p. 20). As with Chinese, Indian and Mexican anarchism however, Cuban anarchism cannot be properly understood solely within the confines of the Cuban nation-state; much important activity occurred in Cuban immigrant communities in Key West, Merida (Mexico) and Tampa as well. In fact, in October 1889 a general strike broke out in Key West with solidarity and support from Cuban workers in Havana, Tampa and Ybor City. Just months before this historic strike, San Martin had died of a diabetic coma, with over 10,000 Cubans coming from all over the island to attend the funeral.

By the turn of the century, the fight for Cuban independence had become a major source of division within the anarchist movement; the working class anarchists accused the independentistas of “taking money from tobacco capitalism” (p. 30). Eventually however, most anarchists rallied around Jose Marti and his Partido Revolucionario Cubano (PRC) which was analogous in its advocacy of democracy and decentralization to Mexico’s PLM. In Europe, anarchists such as Elisee Reclus helped to helped to form international solidarity organizations to support the independence movement. But shortly after independence the United States occupied the island; Errico Malatesta decided to move from New Jersey to Havana to help the anarchist movement there. The Mexican Revolution deeply impacted Cuba’s anarchist movement, and the Magon brothers found their way over to Cuba several times both in the pages of Regeneracion and in person. But the Cuban anarchist movement finally fell into a period of steep decline with the rise of the October Revolution (p. 51). It is remembered however, that it was the anarchists who paved the way in Cuba for both the trade union movement and the socialist revolution that occurred later.

Social Context of the Russian Revolution

Marxists often accuse anarchists of failing to place the quotations and actions of, say, the Bolsheviks into the circumstances which generated them. By this they mean that Bolshevik authoritarianism can be explained purely in terms of the massive problems facing them (i.e. the rigours of the Civil War, the economic collapse and chaos in Russia and so on). We will simply summarise the anarchist reply by noting that this argument has three major problems with it.
Firstly, there is the problem that Bolshevik authoritarianism started before the start of the Civil War and, moreover, intensified after its end. As such, the Civil War cannot be blamed.
The second problem is simply that Lenin continually stressed that civil war and economic chaos was inevitable during a revolution. If Leninist politics cannot handle the inevitable then they are to be avoided. Equally, if Leninists blame what they should know is inevitable for the degeneration of the Bolshevik revolution it would suggest their understanding of what revolution entails is deeply flawed.
The last problem is simply that the Bolsheviks did not care. As Samuel Farber notes, “there is no evidence indicating that Lenin or any of the mainstream Bolshevik leaders lamented the loss of workers’ control or of democracy in the soviets, or at least referred to these losses as a retreat, as Lenin declared with the replacement of War Communism by NEP in 1921. In fact . . . the very opposite is the case.” [Before Stalinism, p. 44]

Hence the continuation (indeed, intensification) of Bolshevik authoritarianism after their victory in the civil war. To argue, therefore, that “social context” explains the politics and actions of the Bolsheviks seems incredulous.

The people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labelled ‘the people’s stick’

“And the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors, cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags, the dictatorship of the proletariat imposes a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists. We must suppress them in order to free humanity from wage slavery, their resistance must be crushed by force; it is clear that there is no freedom and no democracy where there is suppression and where there is violence.

Engels expressed this splendidly in his letter to Bebel when he said, as the reader will remember, that “the proletariat needs the state, not in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist”.

Democracy for the vast majority of the people, and suppression by force, i.e., exclusion from democracy, of the exploiters and oppressors of the people–this is the change democracy undergoes during the transition from capitalism to communism.

Only in communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e., when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relation to the social means of production), only then “the state… ceases to exist”, and “it becomes possible to speak of freedom”. Only then will a truly complete democracy become possible and be realized, a democracy without any exceptions whatever. And only then will democracy begin to wither away, owing to the simple fact that, freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities, and infamies of capitalist exploitation, people will gradually become accustomed to observing the elementary rules of social intercourse that have been known for centuries and repeated for thousands of years in all copy-book maxims. They will become accustomed to observing them without force, without coercion, without subordination, without the special apparatus for coercion called the state.
The expression “the state withers away” is very well-chosen, for it indicates both the gradual and the spontaneous nature of the process. Only habit can, and undoubtedly will, have such an effect; for we see around us on millions of occassions how readily people become accustomed to observing the necessary rules of social intercourse when there is no exploitation, when there is nothing that arouses indignation, evokes protest and revolt, and creates the need for suppression.

And so in capitalist society we have a democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false, a democracy only for the rich, for the minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the period of transition to communism, will for the first time create democracy for the people, for the majority, along with the necessary suppression of the exploiters, of the minority. Communism alone is capable of providing really complete democracy, and the more complete it is, the sooner it will become unnecessary and wither away of its own accord”

-Lenin, State and Revolution

Lenin, to the Cheka (1920)

“Without revolutionary coercion directed against the avowed enemies of the workers and peasants, it is impossible to break down the resistance of these exploiters. On the other hand, revolutionary coercion is bound to be employed towards the wavering and unstable elements among the masses themselves.”

It could be argued that this position was forced on Lenin by the problems facing the Bolsheviks in the Civil War, but such an argument is flawed. This is for two main reasons.
Firstly, according to Lenin himself civil war was inevitable and so, unsurprisingly, Lenin considered his comments as universally applicable. Secondly, this position fits in well with the idea of pressure “from above” exercised by the “revolutionary” government against the masses (and nothing to do with any sort of “socialism from below”). Indeed, “wavering” and “unstable” elements is just another way of saying “pressure from below,” the attempts by those subject to the “revolutionary” government to influence its policies. It was in this period (1919 and 1920) that the Bolsheviks openly argued that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” was, in fact, the “dictatorship of the party”. Rather than the result of the problems facing Russia at the time, Lenin’s comments simply reflect the unfolding of certain aspects of his ideology when his party held power.

Engels, Introduction to Karl Marx’s The Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1850

We, the “revolutionaries”, the “overthrowers” — we are thriving far better on legal methods than on illegal methods and overthrow. The parties of order, as they call themselves, are perishing under the legal conditions created by themselves. They cry despairingly with Odilon Barrot: la légalité nous tue, legality is the death of us; whereas we, under this legality, get firm muscles and rosy cheeks and look like life eternal. And if we are not so crazy as to let ourselves be driven to street fighting in order to please them, then in the end there is nothing left for them to do but themselves break through this dire legality.

-Engels, Introduction to

Federation, Ian Mckay

While the atomised voting to nominate representatives (who, in reality, held the real power in society) may be more than adequate to ensure bourgeois, i.e. minority, power, could it be used for working class, i.e. majority, power?

This seems highly unlikely because such institutions are designed to place policy-making in the hands of representatives and were created explicitly to exclude mass participation in order to ensure bourgeois control. They do not (indeed, cannot) constitute a “proletariat organised as a ruling class.” If public policy, as distinguished from administrative activities, is not made by the people themselves, in federations of self-managed assemblies, then a movement of the vast majority does not, cannot, exist. For people to acquire real power over their lives and society, they must establish institutions organised and run, as Bakunin constantly stressed, from below. This would necessitate that they themselves directly manage their own affairs, communities and workplaces and, for co-ordination, mandate federal assemblies of revocable and strictly controllable delegates, who will execute their decisions. Only in this sense can a majority class, especially one committed to the abolition of all classes, organise as a class to manage society.

Ian McKay