Money: an instrument of revolution

Anarchists receiving rifles during Spanish Revolution

Suggestions for anarchist organising in the US in 2014, from Anarchist Materialism.

The following article assumes that anarchist organization should be broad-based and especifist (a specifically anarchist organization should exist to coordinate strategy among those with similar politics) and that it should build long term (rather than ad hoc and spontaneous) institutions escalating towards a revolution. With this in mind, it argues for a strategic understanding of money usage.

Despite the growth of anarchism into the dominant political philosophy of the US left, there has been little to show for it. The decades long shift towards networks and online organizing has resulted in increasingly insular activity and a reduction if not complete lack of strategically coordinated efforts. Instead,it is easy to blame the lack of Anarchist success on American culture and “Living in the belly of the beast” or on the high level of policing, prisons, and repression of social movements. However, the more likely culprit is the lack of long term projects/commitments and the substantial resources and base building that they require.

As a result, a change in thinking from the spectacle of one-off actions by networks to persisting stratagems is vital to reinvigorating the anarchist struggle and creating popular power. Unfortunately, anarchists in this low period of struggle need to practically start from the beginning–building the physical and personal capacity necessary for relevance.

Leaving aside the eventual insurrectionary needs for money (weapons, ammunition, and supplies.. etc), a relevant organization that hopes to have an impact on the lives of even a minority of the population will need money for simple reasons. Money in the current capitalist structure secures free time, buys space in relevant geographic areas, develops infrastructure and supplies for propaganda, pays funds for strikers and political prisoners, and funds large scale campaigns. To this end, an anarchist organization’s treasury should have a component for public donations (such as honorarium), bank loans, and legal ownership of buildings. This is money that is used for the above ground organizing and for budgets that can and should be transparent.

An underground budget should also exist for emergencies and direct action groups/defense committees (to build the offensive and defensive capacity of the Anarchists). Such funds should be collected from sources that cannot be traced and should be in cash for easy use. While even minor clandestine organization may seem precipitous, the history of any revolutionary movement shows its worth. All armies have quartermaster corps which acquire the needed material to maintain not only the fighting capacity and intelligence gathering, but for basic things: food, clothing, vehicle transport, housing, areas for training, equipment, etc. In many cases, groups have found their above ground organizations under attack and have had to fall back on these structures for survival.

In the current period of anarchist struggle, dues paying is useful, but insufficient for the realistic needs of organizations with revolutionary aspirations. The primary issue with dues is that anarchist organizations are too small to sustain the physical space and infrastructure to reach outside of those already in the know. For example, according to the June 2014 GOB, The IWW is currently making approximately $102k a year ($8500 a month nationally) in dues which accounts for 75% of their budget. Most branches have less than 5 thousand dollars on hand at any given time and lack offices or any public manifestation. If you didn’t know where to look you might not even know that the union exists. A similar situation exists for all anarchist groups in this country.

Obviously organization and an incredible amount of money is needed to build up the anarchist movement to a point where it can be relevant, much less to challenge the state and capital. In this light, acquiring large quantities of money should be seen as an important (but not the only) component in breaking out of small scale actions and increasing the visibility and potency of our struggle. Experience will also result from projects which build organizing skills and radicalization, strategic insertion (jobs in strategic sectors, eventual infiltration of the military, etc) and social connections to the community. Unfortunately, anarchists groups have fallen into a pitfall of spending extensive amounts on travel expenses to conferences, congresses, trainings, and mass mobilizations. While interconnections with other comrades is important (and particularly subsidizing those who don’t have the capacity to attend), travel expenses should be raised on an ad hoc basis (fundraising rather than the main budget) with preference going towards building up local organization.

In contrast, creating strategic plans for utilizing money can alleviate the behavior of activist oriented treasuries and contribute towards forward momentum. Function and strategic orientation will determine organizational structure, though it is suggested that spending should probably prioritize:

1. Defense/Support of comrades- both legal and physical
2. Infrastructure for Propaganda, campaigns, and operating materials
3. Physical space (once the numbers of militants reaches a point where it is necessary)

The following sections will break down some of the ways anarchist federations can spend their money and why a strategic shift is necessary in the US.

Newspapers and Propaganda infrastructure:

Historically, US anarchist organizations have used print publications as a means of propaganda and education to great effect. The Industrial Workers of the World operated approximately 85 different newspapers in the US between 1905 and 1940 alone. Meanwhile, the Yiddish Anarchist paper Fraye Arbeter Shtime had a circulation of 12 to 20 thousand between 1904 and 1920, maintaining several thousand for decades afterwards. Even the US based anti-organizational insurrectionist Italian papers L’ Adunata dei refrattari and Cronaca Sovversiva each had a circulation of approximately 5 thousand. Fortunately, this is not a historical phenomenon and large anarchist orgs continue to reach out and inform people rather than hoping that people opt-in to information.

Currently, there are a number of very successful print anarchist newspapers abroad. The following is just a sample:

Le Monde Libertaire in France (the paper of Fédération Anarchiste) is sold at 2500 news outlets (out of 30k).

Workers Solidarity, the paper of the Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland) has a print run of 8,000 bi-monthly.

Solidaridad Obrera, the official paper of the Spanish CNT has a print run of around 5,000

Solidaridad in Chile has a circulation of approximately 1,000 country-wide including sales at some newspaper stands

Other print publications produced by the Anarchist Federation (UK), FAG and FARJ (Brazil), Alternative Libertaire (France) etc.. also have utilized large scale funding and distribution schemes to make their papers into an organizing tool.

Despite the widespread investment in print distribution, there appears to be two kinds of detractors to newspaper propaganda in the US. The first are those who believe that the only type of propaganda needed is direct action. Essentially a “propaganda of the deed” argument, they feel that actions by themselves will inspire the masses to understanding anarchist concepts and trajectory. However without a way of actually explaining their actions or building up knowledge/experience in the working class, such actions are meaningless. We have to move past the idea that black blocs or symbolic property destruction will build or exert power.

The second argument used against newspapers are those who say that print propaganda is no longer a relevant medium, having been replaced by internet sources. Though anyone who has attempted to reach out to co-workers or community members knows that it more valuable to attempt both, with print being extremely important for reaching new people and those who lack the time or money to browse the internet. Furthermore it is important to move away from political discussions only occurring over facebook or email. Besides insulating political knowledge and participation, the lack of purposeful forethought in such “debates” means such propaganda cannot be used as a tool for organizing.

The unfortunate result result is that selling newspapers among anarchist circles in the US has developed into a serious taboo. Experience with Marxist-Leninist groups aggressively selling at events or befriending you and ending a conversation with “so you want to buy our paper” has obviously reinforced the tendency of avoiding such efforts altogether. Anarchists can counter this behavior with a free paper and a dedicated funding source. This can be done through both subscriptions and single purchases. As an example, Tierra Y Libertad (Newspaper of the CNT) sells for 1 euro an issue to dedicated subscribers and bankrolls the rest of their circulation.

Another way to reduce overall costs and to produce professional materials is for an organization to do its own printing. Despite the savings later, this can be a huge investment and is another reason for organizations to take their funding seriously. Printing presses can cost anywhere from $1000 to $50,000 depending on the specs and age. It is thus important to weigh the costs and benefits. An old soviet or Czechoslovakian era press will probably be cheaper as an antique than a brand new one but the parts are going to be hard to get if it breaks down. Ink and paper can also be fairly expensive but are a necessary cost if an organization wants to produce attractive materials that people will want to read. In addition, industrial cutters and bookbinding equipment would be extremely useful for extending print capacity. Hopefully organizations can also branch out into theoretical journals, posters, books, calendars, etc. Zines can also be a useful tool for education. They are particularly good for introductory pieces on fundamentals (on feminism, labor history, indigenous struggles..etc.) Cataloguing a few pamphlets on important issues/subjects will go a long way in reaching new people. We cannot hope to achieve anarchism without many times our current number and investing in a large propaganda machine is a start in the right direction.


While creating such propaganda and outreach takes significant resources, it pales in comparison to establishing visible infrastructure. Before talking about the need and costs of these spaces, it is important to distinguish them from each other.

Political spaces function as an organizational tool for groups with defined politics and strategy. They are used for meetings, operations (printing, assembling banners, mapping and research, trainings, etc), and giving a public face for the organization. These can include offices, print shops, and other spaces which have a specific function for coordinating anarchist activity in labor and territorial (neighborhood/regional) settings. In many countries, groups with much lower wages and standards of living make efforts at achieving offices. One important example is the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation, which maintains an astounding 8 offices in a population of 3.3 million (including their main office in the center of downtown Montevideo) . This is not paid with dues money as many of the members are from the working class communities outside of the capital center. Instead, it is financed through affiliated worker co-op businesses with strategic uses [The details are intentionally left vague].

In contrast, social spaces are those designed for social insertion into communities and act as cultural and educational centers for the movement. –See a piece by Pepe Antonio for the differences between political and social organizations. Social spaces can also include restaurants, bars, bookstores, theaters, squats, etc. While universities exist for some similar activity, they are not spaces controlled by Anarchists. Content, timing, advertising, size, and equipment are all regulated by the school administration, though militant student movements in the future could change that. Lastly, there will be an eventual need for insurrectionary spaces such as safe-houses, training camps, and weapons caches, but lets not jump ahead of ourselves.

Deciding at what point to acquire spaces should be based on the needs and political objectives of organizations. Social spaces are useful, but they may not always be suitable for a coordinated strategy by themselves.

**So What are the costs?**

Renting can cost anywhere from $1.5 thousand to 5 or 6 thousand a month. Some large cities may surprise you with comparative affordability, such as in LA with an average of $30 per square foot. Whereas, it will be more difficult but not impossible to get space in a location like lower Manhattan (which can cost $200-$1000 per sq ft). Similarly, buying storefront property for an office/bookstore/cafe in a city can cost anywhere from half a million to several million dollars depending on the size and proximity to expensive city property. In order to get the money for buying office space, an organization will need to take out loans (unless in possession of a lot of capital) and will either have to pay through individuals or through a non-profit. Dues money with the current numbers is inadequate by itself to contribute to long term organizational spaces.

Other historical uses for large quantities of money:

Members of the FAUD (German Anarchist-Syndicalist Union) set up the Association for Sexual Hygiene and Life Reform in 1923 which operated offices and distributed free contraceptives and abortion services/advice to working class women. This included high-end training to perform abortions (as few doctors were willing to volunteer to do this) and legal support for members who were convicted for performing illegal abortions.

This might be an interesting idea considering Texas abortion clinics have fallen from 41 to 20 in the last year and are now estimated to be as little as 6 in the whole state. Mississippi has only one abortion clinic in operation.

Mujeres Libres set up facilities for libertarian child care/education, training, and apprenticeship for women in both industrial and agricultural areas. These activities are echoed by the Federación de Organizaciones de Base (FOB) in Argentina who bought several buildings to create social centers in impoverished and immigrant neighborhoods. They have been utilized for job and skill training, education on abortion and contraceptives, distribution of food and supplies, and coordination of piquetero groups.

The Central Organization of the Workers of Sweden (the largest current Anarchist-Syndicalist union in relation to the country’s population) of approximately 8-10 thousand has maintained an unemployment fund since 1954 under the motto “For Mutual Aid Among Comrades”

La Marmite “The Pot” (1868-1871) a 4 building cooperative restaurant in Paris that fed 8,000 workers, most belonging to the First International. It was later utilized to feed indigent people during the Paris Commune.

Casa del Pueblo (1899- early 1900s) was a massive social-political center which combined the efforts of the organizational anarchists of Buenos Aires. It consisted of 2 massive halls, a cafeteria, a library, a stage (which was used by an anarchist orchestra and theater groups), rooms for meetings and research, and a room for the editorial and printing offices of several newspapers and pamphlet groups.

Anarchist Owned/Operated Beer Halls (1880-1914) in lower and then later uptown Manhattan in New York city made up the bulk of meeting and socializing spaces for the German anarchist movement in the US. (More reading on their infrastructure and activities)

The Allerton Coops in the East Bronx (1920s-1940s) was a 700 unit complex built by Eastern European Jewish trade unionists and became a hub of communist activity during the height of the Communist Party in the US.

The Modern School. Based on the Ferer Anarchist free schools in Spain, the movement for libertarian education of children and adults opened up their first school in the village in New York city in 1911 and then a larger one in New Jersey (1933-58’) on 68 acres of purchased land.

Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) was an organization started by students in the southern Chilean city of Concepcion. Their social insertion was extremely effective in two sectors which required substantial planning and resources. Firstly, they developed urban housing communities (campamentos) on expropriated land and financed them through bank expropriations and other means. They were self run, forbade police entrance, and created popular militia. The MIR also help create the Movimiento Campesino Revolucionario which occupied land and helped finance the establishment of approximately 1500 farms between 1970-71 alone.

In Summary:

- Organizations and long lasting social insertion are better than networks and one-off actions
- Much larger quantities of money will be needed than is usually thought to grow to a point of relevancy. Partly this will come from growth (if there are dues and other modes for acquiring it), but also from co-op businesses, and more ambitious schemes.
- Don't fetishize structure–money will be useless without organizational substance and vice versa. (Refer to the previous article on labor organizing for an example of strategy)
- Organizations need to have detailed conversations about money in order to fulfill their ambitions.