Chapter 7 The Growth of the Anarchist Movement

THE BEGINNING OF the anarchist movement was Bakunin’s secret International Brotherhood, which he founded in Italy in 1864. The Brotherhood consisted mostly of his Italian followers, with a few Poles, Russians, French and Spaniards. It was intended as a closely-knit organisation of conspirators who would initiate and lead the revolution, and it represented a period when Bakunin was still to an extent influenced by the methods, if not by the ideologies, of the national revolutionaries of his early days. (It resembled in some ways the Italian conspiratorial society of the early nineteenth century known as the Carbonari). In later years, as we have seen, Bakunin himself, in the light of his revolutionary experience, was to declare that revolutions can never be made by secret societies, but can spring only from the revolutionary urges of the people themselves.

Later, in 1868, Bakunin founded the International Alliance of Social Democracy, in which was merged the membership of the secret Brotherhood. The Alliance was an open organisation for furthering the aims of anarchism, which were expressed clearly in its programme, drawn up by Bakunin

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“The Alliance declares itself atheist; it desires the definitive and entire abolition of classes, and the political equality and social equalisation of individuals of both sexes. It desires that the earth, the instruments of labour, like all other capital, becoming the collective property of society as a whole, shall be no longer able to be utilised except by the workers, that is to say, by agricultural and industrial associations. It recognises that all actually existing political and authoritarian States, reducing themselves more and more to the mere administrative functions of the public services in their respective countries, must disappear in the universal union of free associations, both agricultural and industrial.”

The Alliance rapidly gained several thousand members, mostly in Italy, Spain and France and among the Russian refugees in Switzerland. It was, as we have seen in the chapter on Bakunin, dissolved as a body in order that its constituent sections might join the First International, and for the next few years, until 1872; anarchist activities were mostly continued within the various sections of the International in the effort to further the aims of that body. Anarchist influence in the International increased rapidly in all the Latin countries, and particularly Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Jura districts of France and the French-speaking parts of Switzerland. When, in 1872, the irreconcilable ideological differences between anarchist and Marxist social philosophies came to a head at the Hague conference and Bakunin and Guillaume were expelled by a packed assembly on a framed-up charge presented by Marx, the anarchists denounced the Marxist sections of the International, and the Spanish, Italian and Swiss sections, together with a considerable body of the French, Russian and Belgian membership, set up their own organisation and held the first congress at St. Imier immediately after the fraudulent Hague conference. The Anarchist International had in reality the better title to be called the true continuation of the first International, for the methods to which Marx had to resort to obtain Bakunin’s expulsion proved, as Max Nomad has said, that the anarchists “were no longer a scheming minority but the actual majority within that organisation.”

The International existed as an open body holding its public conferences, until 1878, when the reaction following the Paris Commune had reached such proportion’s in the Latin countries that for a period of some years it had become virtually impossible to carry on open activities.

The Anarchist International was reorganised in London in 1881, largely on the initiative of Kropotkin. The conference at Geneva in 1882 adopted a manifesto that expresses in outline the policy maintained by the main stream of the anarchist movement since that day:

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“Our ruler, is our enemy. We Anarchists, i.e., men without any rulers, fight against all those who have usurped any power, or who wish to usurp it. Our enemy is the owner who keeps the land for himself and makes the peasant work for his disadvantage. Our enemy is the manufacturer who fills his factory with wage-slaves; our enemy is the State, whether monarchical, oligarchical, or democratic, with its officials and staff of officers, magistrates, and police spies. Our enemy is every thought of authority, whether men call it God or devil, in whose name the priests have so long ruled honest people. Our enemy is the law, which always oppressed the weak by the strong, to the justification and apotheosis of crime. But if the landowners, the manufacturers, the heads of the State, the priests, and the law are our enemies, we are also theirs, and we boldly oppose them. We intend to reconquer the land and the factory from the landowner and the manufacturer; we mean to annihilate the State, under whatever name it may be concealed; and we mean to regain our freedom in spite of priest or law. According to our strength, we will work for the annihilation of all legal institutions, and we are in accord with everyone who defies the law by a revolutionary act. We despise all legal means because they are the negation of our rights; we do not want so-called universal suffrage, since we cannot get away from our own personal sovereignty, and cannot make ourselves accomplices in the crimes committed by our so-called representatives. Between us and all political parties, whether Conservatives or Moderates, whether they fight for freedom or recognise it by their admissions, a deep gulf is fixed. We wish to remain our own masters and he among us who strives to become a chief or a leader is a traitor to our cause. Of course we know that individual freedom cannot exist without a union with other free associates. We all live by the support one of another, that is the social life that has created us, that is the work of all that gives to each the consciousness of his rights and the power to defend them. Every social product is the work of the whole community to which all have claim in equal manner. For we are Communists, we recognise that unless patrimonial, communal, provincial and national limits are abolished, the work must be begun anew. It is ours to conquer and defend common property and to overthrow governments by whatever name they may be called.”

From the time of the split in the International and the early 1890’s, the tendency of the anarchists was to organise themselves into small autonomous groups for the purpose of conducting propaganda activities. This pattern of organisation was dictated at the time, to a great extent, by the persecution that anarchists suffered, particularly in Russia and Latin Europe; it has persisted in countries, such as England, where no large syndicalist movement has arisen to give a mass basis to anarchist activities.

During the 1870’s and the 1880’s there was a tendency among certain groups, particularly in Russia and the Latin countries, to supplement “propaganda of the word” by “propaganda of the deed”, which consisted of terrorist acts against representatives of the state, capitalists and landlords. These acts were calculated to display in a spectacular form the anarchist hatred of authority and to bring to a symbolic reckoning the figureheads of tyranny. In Russia these terrorist acts were committed on a wide scale, by both the anarchists and the People’s Will groups, but there was hardly a country in which leading figures of the state were not assassinated by anarchists. By the early years of the 1890’s however, the propaganda value of these exploits began to appear problematical, and, except in Russia and Spain, the number of assassinations dwindled almost to nothing.

It was not merely the apparent ineffectiveness of terrorism in itself that precipitated a change in anarchist methods and organisation round about 1890. The principal reason was that with the rise of the syndicalist movement in Europe an opportunity came for anarchism to operate on a mass scale which had never before been possible, and the early years of the 1890’s found the anarchists abandoning the struggle of small propaganda groups for the struggle to turn the new syndicates into effective instruments for the social revolution. This is described in the following chapter, after which I shall trace the development of anarchism in three countries America, Spain and Russia - in whose social life it has been a particularly significant influence.