Anarchists and social revolution: the transition period - André Prudhommeaux

André Prudhommeaux
André Prudhommeaux

A 1932 text calling upon anarchists to give serious consideration to the practical question of the “transition period”, in opposition to what the author characterizes as the idealism, reformism, passivity or bolshevism of the majority of the world anarchist movement.

Submitted by Alias Recluse on January 16, 2017

Anarchists and Social Revolution: The Transition Period – André Prudhommeaux1

1. Some anarchists deny that there is any point of contact between present-day reality and their supreme dream of freedom and integral harmony. They must therefore acknowledge that a very long historical period will precede the fulfillment of their desires; they conceive of this period as an extension of the capitalist-democratic era. In short, the transition period, from the very moment that they refuse to consider it as a violent and revolutionary phase, takes the form in their view of an almost endless peaceful and liberal development of today’s society. Meanwhile, their immediate program is limited to propaganda, educating trade unionists and members of cooperatives, cultural activities, etc. One might call this kind of anarchism idealist-reformist anarchism, and as a tendency it is almost totally dominant in the countries that are socially most stable—France, first of all.

2. Some anarchists, however, are aware of the fact that the liberal, prosperous and democratic period of capitalism has already come to an end; that economic crisis, war, fascism, and social repression in all of its forms threaten the whole world; that the struggle is inevitable, in the short-term, between the destructive tendencies of bourgeois rule and the will to live and the desire for progress of the working class masses; and that this struggle—whether we like it or not—takes the form of a struggle for power. Their own experiences of revolutionary periods, usually as the playthings of events that a traditionally-interpreted theory did not allow them to foresee or to understand, forced them to engage in a systematic reconsideration of that theory. They were obliged to accept the idea of a catastrophic transition period, during which anarchists should wage a revolutionary struggle for a certain minimum program. However, there is not yet any general agreement concerning this minimum program, or the methods that should be applied to realize it.

a) Sometimes the minimum program is conceived as a program of economic struggles (for the six-hour working day, equal pay for equal work, control over production) led by “revolutionary trade unions” whose goal is trade union rule over the economy. This is the syndicalist anarchism of Besnard and his friends. It has had a major impact on the International Workingmen’s Association, and its supporters represent the most extreme expression of the idea reflected in the purely syndicalist formula of Alfonso Miguel: “ All power to the trade unions.”

b) Other elements conceive of this minimum program as a predominantly political program, which implies the formation of a real anarchist party. This party is supposed to compete with the other parties to impose its hegemony on the revolution, and it will be necessary to make temporary agreements with them in order to assure the success of convergent demands. This is the position of the Russian “platformists” and the Italian-Americans associated with the group, “Eresia” [Heresy]. The logical consequence of this attitude is apparent in the near-Bolshevism of Arshinov and in the 100% Bolshevism of people like Ernest Girault and Ghislain. That is why we shall refer to this tendency as Bolshevoid Anarchism.

3. Finally, there is a third major current that is based on the following considerations:

a) Anarcho-reformism denies the crisis and revolutionary perspectives. Its tendency is to preserve democratic capitalism, and by proceeding in parallel with the latter, it then merges with bourgeois liberalism. Sometimes it is accompanied on this terrain by the anarchosyndicalist left wing, which declares that it is purely educationist and economic and therefore indifferent to political struggle. As if every directly economic struggle and all subversive propaganda did not have a concretely, socially revolutionary character in every domain!

b) Anarchosyndicalism claims to possess a “purely economic” character, and in this sense it has a tendency to allow the reactionary political apparatus of the bourgeoisie to subsist without fighting against it. Its supporters must admit, however, that this political apparatus might suddenly collapse before it can be driven from its positions by the integral organization of the masses. In such a case, they maintain that political power would quite naturally fall into the hands of the “purely economic” institutions of a supposedly all-embracing, monolithic, and ideologically anarchist syndicalism. This hypothesis, however, is utterly unfounded: such a syndicalism does not exist, nor has it ever existed anywhere, and this fact alone suffices to prove that you cannot carry out a revolution with institutions whose purpose is adaptation to the internal conditions of democratic capitalism on a corporative or professional basis.

c) Anarcho-bolshevism is also constituted on monolithic and authoritarian bases, but with the express purpose of utilizing a leadership politics (alliances, splits, etc.) to compete with the other parties and to emerge victorious from this competition. This kind of politics can be used to suffocate or “stabilize” the revolution, but it is by no means capable of driving it forward. Like anarchosyndicalism, and even more so, anarcho-bolshevism is an authoritarian utopia.

Thus, regardless of the fact that their advocates may be inspired by the best intentions, the anarchists of all the tendencies outlined above have failed in their search for a really anarchist and revolutionary minimum program.

As for those elements that could be called anarchist-realists or direct action anarchists, they formulate, to one degree or another, the following general proposals:

I. Anarchism in action is manifested at the present time in the most advanced and most disinterested elements of the class struggle, who uphold on every terrain, against all the bosses of the workers movement, the principle of direct action and of the revolutionary autonomy of individuals and masses.

II. This does not imply a destructive competition with the existing workers organizations by confronting them with permanent, exclusive organizations dominated by anarchists, but instead calls for the emancipation of the workers by their own efforts in transitional institutions spontaneously created outside of the bureaucratic organizations, open to entire groups of workers on the basis of an immediate practical program of direct struggle.

III. Its purpose is to accentuate, by way of propaganda and example, the initiative and audacity of the working class collectives that are formed in the struggle. By extending their field of action to all social functions, they will uproot the parliamentary and bureaucratic institutions of the old society and will replace bourgeois rule with the self-government of the working class masses in production and in the revolution.

IV. The transition period that we will have to traverse, which stands between us and the regime of complete freedom and peaceful harmony, is a period of class struggles and permanent revolution; a continuous insurrection of the masses against the deadly pressure of capitalism, the state, and the caste regime. It is the decisive period of the struggle between working class humanity and the age-old system of privileges, a painful and difficult birth, out of poverty and social chaos, for the extermination of capitalism.

I do not think that I have misrepresented the views of such comrades as Mühsam (Germany), Constandse (Holland), Aldred (England), Berneri (Italy), Michaud (France) and Mahni (Belgium) in my attempt to give a common expression to their aspirations, regardless of their differences of opinion on other issues. And I shall immediately add that, on this terrain that I am trying to define here, I am prepared to count myself as one of them, because I think that they are not defending the interests of a sect, but the more general interests of the working classes and of humanity. In fact, this terrain is not that of a doctrine, but that of the revolutionary interests of the masses. This is why I call upon the readers of this journal, syndicalists, communists, socialists, anarchists of all tendencies, and I invite them to fraternally discuss the famous question of the transition period that is being presented as an insuperable obstacle to the unity of the proletarian revolutionaries of the various schools, but which nonetheless can only be resolved by the practical unity of all of them in the final struggle against capitalism.

A.P. (France)

Translated in November 2016 from the Spanish translation entitled, “Los anarquistas y la revolución social, el periodo de transición”.

Source of the Spanish translation:

The original French text:

  • 1 André Prudhommeaux, “Les anarchistes et la révolution sociale, la période de transition”, Correspondance internationale ouvrière, n°1, September 25, 1932.