It’s clear that the great defenders of Anarchism and the writers of the modern anarchist movement, the ones that never got tired of stating the social character of their ideas, could not be against organization. And in fact were never so. They fought against the centralized structure for organization of the State and Church, but all of them recognized the absolute need for an organized union of forces and found in federalism the most adequate structure for it. Proudhon’s influence over the French worker’s associations is widely known. This is not the place to occupy oneself with the detailed history of that highly interesting movement, which without a doubt represents one of the most admirable chapters of the grand struggle of Labor against the exploitation of the Capitalist regime. Here we’re solely interested in respect to comradely organizations. Proudhon strongly criticized, in his periodical, the original idea for the association and attempted to influence it with his conclusions. With the endless work of his friends inside the associations, he managed to break State Socialist Luis Blanc’s influence on the community and to conduct in them a great spiritual transformation. At all times wherever he was he would incite in his comrades the struggle against the government, and they stayed by his side in all of his struggles. With the help of the association the ideas of the great French thinker beneficially penetrated worker’s circles, thus acquiring a practical form. His famous project, the Banque du peuple, was supposed to be the natural means for the coalition between associations all over the country and at the same time take ground away from Capital. It is not our intention to make a critic of value and the significance of that project, born in the specific conditions of the time. We only intend to point out that Proudhon and his adherents were strong supporters of organization. The project of the Banque du peuble was a grand scale operation and Proudhon himself thought that the bank in its first year would have over two million participants.
We just need to observe the conclusions of Proudhon over the essence and object of forming organizations, that can be found frequently in all his works and periodicals he put out, to recognize how deeply and detailed the French thinker defined the attributes and substance of all social forms of organization: the principle of Federation and the political capacity of all the working classes.
The countless admirers that Proudhon captivated among the working class were all staunch defenders of organization. They were the most important element for the foundation of the International Workers Association and the first evolution phases of the great union of workers were completely under his spiritual influence.
But all these efforts that expressed themselves with the organizations of the Mutualists, how the adherents to Proudhon’s ideas were called, can be considered as the precursors and the beginning of the anarchist movement which initiated in the International’s period, especially since the influence of Bakunin and his friends is more recognized in the federations of Latin countries. Bakunin was always a staunch supporter of the idea of organization and the most important part of his activity in Europe consisted in his unstoppable desire to organize the revolutionary and libertarian elements and to prepare them for action. His activity in Italy, the foundation of his Alliance, his powerful propaganda in the ranks of the International had always as a goal that finality. He always defended that position in a series of admirable articles, that showed up in Geneva’s L’égalité, and that deal specially with the organization of the International as a co-fusion of economical federations in opposition to all political parties. In his work On the Policy of the International Workingmen's Association, which was published in the aforementioned periodical, in 1869 in the issues of August 8th and 28th, Bakunin warns the workers against Politics, under any shape, which fundamentally seeks a sole purpose: sustaining the domination of the bourgeoisie and at the same time the slavery of the proletariat. As such one should not attempt the participation in bourgeois politics, in the hope of managing to improve his situation, as all attempts would lead to cruel deceptions and would delay the emancipation of work from Capitalism to a distant future. The only way to emancipate the proletariat is the union of workers in fighting economical organizations, as the International. The solitary worker, even with extraordinary skills and energy, is nothing against the forces of Capital. Only within organizations the strengths of all are developed and concentrated towards common goals.
Bakunin was a staunch defender of organization and its necessity until his last breath. I don’t hesitate to remember once again in his resignation letter to his Comrades of the Jura Federation, shortly after the 1873 Geneva Congress. A letter which can be considered a testament to his friends and collaborators:
This is not the time for ideas, but for action, for deeds. Today, the essential is the organization of the proletariat forces. But this organization must be the task of the proletariat itself. If I was still young, I would live among the workers and share their life of toil, all the while participating with them in the grand work of proletarian organization.
At the end of this goodbye letter he summarizes again those two conclusions that, according to his opinion, are at conditions to by themselves guarantee the triumph of their work, in the following words:
(1) Adhere firmly to the great and all-embracing principle of the people’s liberty, in which equality and solidarity are not lies, (2) Organize ever more strongly the International and the practical solidarity of the workers of all trades in all countries, and always remember that even though you’re weak on your own, or in local or national organizations, you will find a colossal strength and an irresistible power universal collective.
Bakunin, the great prophet of individual freedom, but that always conceived it within the marks of the interests of the community, fully recognized the need for a certain subordination of the individual towards, voluntarily conceived, resolutions and general lines of conduct, is at the foundation of the essence of organization. He didn’t see in that a violation of personal freedom, unlike certain servile dogmatists drunk in a few banal phrases that never penetrated the real origin of anarchist ideology, despite always declaring themselves the true holders of the anarchist principles. As he declares, for example, in his great work The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution, written under the influence of the still fresh events of the Paris Commune:
As hostile as I am to what is called discipline in France, I must however recognize, that certain non automatic discipline, but voluntary and reasoned is and always will be necessary where several Man voluntarily gather for a common struggle or desire a common action to establish a movement. This discipline is no more than a voluntary agreement reasoned upon towards a common purpose and the unification of all individual energies towards a common goal.
In this sense the anarchist of Bakunin’s period conceived the organization and verified the practical expression of the concept. In this sense they worked in federations and sections of the International, enriching it with their ideas. They organized the workers in local propaganda sections and in groups in accordance to their trade. The local groups and societies were part of the regional Unions and these were part of the national organizations, which in turn were connected to each other in the great union of the International.
If you want to have an exact painting of the extraordinary organizing activity that anarchists carried out at the time you only have to see the information presented by the Federación Nacional Española in the Sixth International Congress in Geneva in 1873. This is especially important, because the International in Spain had been guided by anarchist principles since its beginning. Anarchism till today has been a decisive factor in the Spanish workers movement in general, and was capable of successfully refusing social-democratic attempts, mainly because the Spanish anarchists have remained above all else strict to their primitive principles and methods, despite the horrible persecutions that they suffered and still suffer today. They never got affected by the superman ailments and the stupid obsession with the “Me”, whose unfortunate victims are always submerged in a mute admiration for themselves. And they never feared that organization would hurt their insignificant figure. Spanish anarchists were always deeply rooted in the workers movement, whose spiritual and organizational efficiency they always attempted to accelerate with all their strength and in whose struggles they were always in the frontlines.
In the report of the Federación Nacional de España we can read the following:
The Federación Nacional de España, in the 20th of August 1872 had 65 local federations, with 224 trade associations and 49 mixed trade sections. Besides that, it had 11 cities with individual adherents. In the 20th of August 1873 the Federación Nacional de España had 162 local federations, 454 trade sections and 77 mixed trade sections.
By aggregating the aforementioned local federations and the federations that are forming (that is, the existing sections which are uniting into federations), one reaches this result: the Federación Nacional de España had up to the 20th of August 1872, 204, existing and under formation, local federations, 571 trade sections and 114 mixed trade sections, it also has 11 cities, where there is no organization, but there are individual adherents.
The 20th of August of 1873 the Federación Nacional de España had 270 local federations, existing and under formation, 557 trade sections and 117 mixed trade sections.
I could also bring extracts from several reports from the Federazione Italiana, the Jura Fédération, etc., that refer to their organizing activities, but I would be overextending myself. All literature in periodicals and pamphlets of the time is filled with indications on the need for organization and in the anarchist ranks of the time there was nobody that represented a tendency in an opposite direction. All stated the social character of the conception of anarchism and they were all convinced that social liberation would only be possible through the education and organization of the masses, and that the organization is the first condition towards common actions.