Chapter 18: Anarcho-syndicalism in contemporary Russia

Submitted by Steven. on June 15, 2011

The panorama of world anarcho-syndicalism at the beginning of 21st century would be incomplete without a brief mention of analogous initiatives in contemporary Russia. The revival of the libertarian movement in the Soviet Union began in the era of perestroika at the end of the 1980’s. However the views of the first activists were often quite muddled, which can be explained to a large extent by the decades of isolation of self-educated oppositionists from the rest of the world. In 1989 the Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists (KAS) was formed, which for a short time united almost all the existing libertarian groups with the participation of several hundred activists. But, despite its name, Proudhonist views and notions of “stateless market socialism” predominated in KAS, quite far removed from the world anarcho-syndicalist tradition. Changes in the social-political situation, the break-up of the USSR, and the transition to market capitalism deepened the ideological and tactical contradictions in the organization, and in the beginning of the 1990’s KAS, in essence, disintegrated. Some of its individual members tried to put into practice a model of syndicalist labour unions within the framework of an independent regional union central – the Siberian Confederation of Labour.

The first libertarian group to return to the classical ideas of anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism was the Moscow-based Initiative of Revolutionary Anarchists (IREAN), which sprang up in March 1991. In 1995 its activists, together with representatives of a number of other anarcho-communist groups, created the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-syndicalists (KRAS), which at the 20th Congress of the IWA (1996) was accepted into the anarcho-syndicalist International as its Russian section. KRAS regarded itself as a labour union initiative (profinitsiativa), a transitional stage on the road to creating anarcho-syndicalist labour unions. Its development over the past few years has been an up-and-down process, usually in sync with the general dynamic of social movements and protests in Russia. At various times groups or members of KRAS-IWA have acted in Moscow, Baikalsk, Gomel, Yaroslavl, Rostov-on-Don, St. Petersburg, and other cities; in Moscow it created, besides intersectoral initiatives, also groups of workers in education, science, and techology. An important part of the activities of the Russian anarchosyndicalists continues to be agitational work in the form of holding meetings and publishing (the newspaper Прямое действие [Direct Action], the magazineЛибертарная мысль[Libertarian Thought], brochures, etc.). In Baikal members of KRAS were involved in founding the Industrial Labour Union which, in the middle of the 1990’s, organized a strike in a cellulose-paper complex which was smashed by government repression. Activists of KRAS rendered support and technical assistance to participants of strikes and worker demonstrations: to teachers of the Moscow suburbs (1995), workers at the “Rostselmash” plant in Rostov-on-Don (1998), workers of the Yasnogorsky machine tool plant (1999: a strike directed by a general assembly of workers and accompanied by a plant occupation), imported construction workers in Moscow (1999), workers at the Ford plant in Vsevolozhsk (2007), etc. In rendering assistance to strikers, they have tried to disseminate in the workers’ movement anarchosyndicalist methods of self-organization, direct action, and independence from political parties and the structures of bureaucratic labour unions. The members of KRAS actively carry on anti-militarism agitation, and took part in actions against the war in Chechnya (1994-1996 and from 1999 on) and the Trans-Caucasus (2008), and other anti-war actions; in ecological campaigns, demonstrations against pension “reforms” for seniors (2005), in the movement against ZhKR (Housing and Communal Services Reform) and elite home construction in Moscow (in 2007 until the issue was taken over by political parties), against the rising cost of rail transport, etc.