6. The Revolution: The Problem of Power, the Problem of State

Submitted by libcom on April 4, 2005

The Libertarian Communist Programme
(3) The Revolution: The Problem of Power, the Problem of State

Now that we have looked in broad outline at the forms in which the power of the ruling class is expressed, and set out the essential characteristics of libertarian communism, it remains for us to say in detail how we see the passage of Revolution. Here we touch on a crucial aspect of anarchism and one which differentiates it most clearly from all other currents of socialism.

What is the Revolution?
Should the Revolution, that is the transition from the class society to the classless libertarian communist society, be thought of as a slow process of transformation or as an insurrection?

The foundations of the communist society are laid within the society based on exploitation; new technical and economic conditions, new relations between classes, new ideas, all come into conflict with the old institutions and bring about a crisis which demands a quick and decisive resolution. This brings a transformation which has long been prepared for within the old society. The Revolution is the moment when the new society is born as it smashes the framework of the old: State capitalism and bourgeois ideologies. it is a real and concrete passage between two worlds. So the Revolution can only happen in objective conditions: the final crisis of the class regime.

This conception has nothing in common with the old romantic idea of the insurrection, of change brought about from one day to the next without any preparation. Nor has it anything to do with the gradualist, purely evolutionary conception of the reformists or of the believers in revolution as process.

Our conception of revolution, equally removed from insurrectionalism and from gradualism, can be described by the idea of the revolutionary act prepared over a long period from within the bourgeoisie and at its end by the seizure and administration of the means of production and exchange by the organisations of the people. And it is this result of the revolutionary act which draws a clear line of demarcation between the old society and the new.

So the Revolution destroys the economic and political power of the bourgeoisie. This means that the Revolution does not limit itself to physically suppressing the old rulers or to immobilising the machinery of government but that it succeeds in destroying the legal institutions of the State: its laws and custom, hierarchical methods and privileges, tradition and the cult of the State as a collective psychological reality.

The Period of Transition
This much being granted what meaning can we give to the commonly used expression 'period of transition' which is so often seen as linked to the idea of revolution? If it is the passage between class society and classless society then it is being confused with the act of Revolution. If it is the passage from the lower stage of communism to the higher then the expression is inaccurate because the whole post-revolutionary era constitutes a slow continuous progression, a transformation without social upheavals, and communist society will continue to evolve.

All that can be said is what we have already made clear in connection with libertarian communism: the act of Revolution brings an immediate transformation in the sense that the foundations of society are radically changed, but a progressive transformation in the sense that communism is a constant development.

Indeed for the socialist parties and statist communists the 'transitory period' represents a society which breaks with the old order of things but keeps some elements and survivals from the capitalist an statist system. It is therefore the negation of true revolution, since it maintains elements of the exploitative system whose tendency is to grow strong and expand.

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat
The formula 'dictatorship of the proletariat' has been used to mean many different things. If for no other reason it should be condemned as a cause of confusion. With Marx it can just as easily mean the centralised dictatorship of the party which claims to represent the proletariat as it can the federalist conception of the Commune.

Can it mean the exercise of political power by the victorious working class? No, because the exercise of political power in the recognised sense of the term can only take place through the agency of an exclusive group practising a monopoly of power, separating itself from the class and oppressing it. And this is how the attempt to use a State apparatus can reduce the dictatorship of the proletariat to the dictatorship of the party over the masses.

But if by dictatorship of the proletariat is understood collective and direct exercise of 'political power', this would mean the disappearance of 'political power' since its distinctive characteristics are supremacy exclusivity and monopoly. It is no longer a question of exercising or seizing political power, it is about doing away with it all together!

If by dictatorship is meant the domination of the majority by a minority, then it is not a question of giving power to the proletariat but to a party, a distinct political group. If by dictatorship is meant the domination of a minority by the majority (domination by the victorious proletariat of the remnants of a bourgeoisie that has been defeated as a class) then the setting up of dictatorship means nothing but the need for the majority to efficiently arrange for its defence its own social Organisation.

But in that case the expression is inaccurate, imprecise and a cause of misunderstandings. If 'dictatorship of the proletariat' is intended to mean the supremacy of the working class over other exploited groups in society (poor small owners, artisans, peasants, etc.) then the term does not at all correspond to a reality which in fact has nothing to do with mechanical relations between leaders and led such as the term dictatorship implies.

To speak of 'dictatorship of the proletariat' is to express a mechanical reversal of the situation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Now, if the bourgeois class tends through power to maintain its class character, to identify itself with the State and to become separated from society as a whole, it is not at all the same as the subordinate class, which tends to leave off its class character and to merge with the classless society. If class rule and the State represent the organised and codified power of a group which oppresses subordinate groups they do not account in any way for the violent force exercised directly by the proletariat.

The terms 'domination', 'dictatorship' and 'state' are as little appropriate as the expression 'taking power' for the revolutionary act of the seizure of the factories by the workers.

We reject then as inaccurate and causes of confusion the expressions 'dictatorship of the proletariat', 'taking political power', 'workers state', 'socialist state' and 'proletarian state'.

It remains for us to examine how we see the resolution of the problems of struggles posed by the Revolution and by its defence.

Direct Workers Power
Through rejecting the idea of a State, which implies the existence and rule of a exploiter class tending to continue as such, and rejecting the idea of dictatorship, which implies mechanical relations between leaders and led, we concede the need for coordination in revolutionary direct action. (The means of production and exchange must be seized along with the centres of administration, the revolution must be protected from counter-revolutionary groups, from the undecided, and indeed from backward exploited social groups (certain peasant categories for example).

It certainly is then about exercising power but it is the rule of the majority, of the proletariat in motion, of the armed people organising effectively for attack and defence, establishing universal vigilance. The experience of the Russian Revolution, of the machnovchina, of 1936 Spain is there as witness. And we cannot do better than go along with the opinion of Camillo Berneri, who wrote from the thick of the Spanish Revolution, refuting the Bolshevik idea of the State:

'Anarchists acknowledge the use of direct power by the proletariat but they see the instrument of this power as constituted by the sum total of modes of communist Organisation - corporative bodies and communal institutions, both regional and national - freely set up outside of and opposed to any political monopoly by party, and endeavouring to reduce organisational centralisation to a minimum.'

And so against the idea of State, where power is exercised by a specialised group isolated from the masses, we put the idea of direct workers power, where accountable and controlled elected delegates (who can be recalled at any time and are remunerated at the same rate as other workers) replace hierarchical, specialised and privileged bureaucracy; where militias, controlled by adminstrative bodies such as soviets, unions and communes, with no special privileges for military technicians, realising the idea of the armed people, replace an army cut off from the body of Society and subordinated to the arbitrary power of a State or government; where peoples juries responsible for setting disputes that arise in regard to the fulfillment of agreements and obligations replace the judicial.

Defence of the Revolution
As far as defence of the Revolution of concerned we must make clear that our theoretical conception of the Revolution is of an international phenomenon destroying all basis for counter-attack by the bourgeoisie. It is when the international Organisation of capitalism has exhausted all its possibilities of survival, when it has reached its final crisis point, that we find the optimum conditions for a successful international revolution. In this case the problem of its defence only arises as the problem of the complete disappearance of the bourgeoisie. Totally cut off from its economic and political power this no longer exists as a class. Once routed, its various elements are kept under control by the armed organs of the proletariat then absorbed by a society which will be moving towards the highest degree of homogeneity. And this last job must be taken care of directly, without the help of any special bureaucratic body.

The problem of delinquency may be linked up during the revolutionary period with that of defence of the Revolution. The disappearance of bourgeois law and of the judicial and prison systems of class society should not make us forget that there remain asocial people (however few compared to the appalling number of prisoners in bourgeois society, produced in the main by the conditions they live under - social injustice, poverty and exploitation) and that there is the problem of some bourgeois who cannot in any way be assimilated. The agencies of popular direct power which we have defined earlier are obliged to prevent them doing harm.

With a murderer, a dangerous maniac or a saboteur you cannot on the pretext of freedom let them run off and commit the same crime again. But their putting out of harms way by the peoples security services has nothing in common with class society's degrading prison system. The individual who is deprived of freedom should be treated more medically than judicially until they can be safely returned into society.

However, the Revolution may not inevitably be realised everywhere at once and there could actually be successive revolutions which will only come together to make the universal revolution if they are spread abroad, if the revolutionary infection catches hold, if at very least the proletariat fights internationally for the defence and extension of revolutionary which are at the outset limited.

Then, as well as internal defence of the Revolution, external defence becomes necessary, but this can only take place if based on an armed populace organised into militias and, we must emphasize, with the support of the international proletariat and possibilities for the revolution to expand. The Revolution dies if it lets itself be limited and if on the pretext of defending itself it falls into restoring the State and so class society.

But the best defence for the new society lies in it asserting its revolutionary character because this quickly creates conditions in which no attempt at a restoration of the bourgeoisie will find a solid base. The total affirmation by the revolutionary territory of its socialist character is in fact its best weapon because it creates energy and enthusiasm at home and infection and solidarity abroad. It was perhaps one of the most fatal errors of the Spanish Revolution that it played down its achievements so as to devote itself above all else to the military tasks of its defence.

Revolutionary Power and Freedom
The revolutionary struggle itself and then the consolidation of the transformation created by the revolution both raise the question of the freedom of political tendencies which lean towards the maintenance or the restoration of exploitation. It is one of the aspects of the direct power of the masses and of the defence of the Revolution.

It cannot be a question here of freedom as properly defined which (till now existing only as something to be striven for) is precisely what the Revolution brings about: the doing away with of exploitation and alienation, government by everyone, and so active participation in social life and true democracy for all. It cannot be a question either of the right for all the partisan currents of classes (and so Stateless) society to put forward their particular solutions and express their differences of opinion. All that goes without saying.

But it is not at all the same when it's a matter of groups and organisations which are more or less openly opposing workers control an the exercise of power by the masses' organisations. And this problem is just as, if not more, likely to come from bureaucratic pseudo-socialist groups as from groups of the defeated bourgeoisie.

A distinction must be made. At first, during the violent phase of the struggle, those structures and tendencies which are defending or seeking to restore the exploitative society must be forcibly crushed. And the enemy must not be allowed to artfully organise itself, either to demoralise or to spy. That would be negation of the fight, surrender in fact. Makhno and also the Spanish libertarians found themselves faced with these problems and resolved them by suppressing the enemy's propaganda. But in cases where the expression of reactionary ideologies can have no consequence for the outcome of the Revolution, as for example when its achievements have been consolidated, these ideologies can be expressed if they are still found interesting or if they retain their power. They are then nothing more than a topic of curiosity and the commitment of the people to the Revolution takes away any poison left in them. If they are only expressed on the ideological level then they can only be fought on that level, and not by prohibition. Total freedom of expression, within a conscious, aware populace, can only be creative of culture.

It remains to be made clear that the responsibility for judging and deciding, on this question as on all others, rests with the peoples own organisations, with the armed proletariat.

And it is in this sense that the essential freedom, that for which the Revolution is made, is maintained and protected.