Libertarian Communist Review

An archive of Libertarian Communist Review, an irregular theoretical journal produced by the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists/Anarchist Workers Association in the 1970s.

Submitted by R Totale on April 2, 2020

Libertarian Communist Review #1 (Winter 1974)

The first issue of Libertarian Communist Review, with articles on Leninism and the idea of the revolutionary party, the need for "sectarianism" and hostility to the Leninist groups, the economic crisis, Arshinov on the Russian Revolution, notes on Russian state capitalism, and reviews of recent publications including The Tyranny of Structurelessness.

Submitted by R Totale on April 2, 2020

Building the Revolutionary Party? - Geoff Foote

An article by Geoff Foote critically examining the idea of a "revolutionary party". This article was first published by the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists in Libertarian Communist Review #1, and then made available online by the website.

Submitted by R Totale on May 5, 2020

Since the 1917 Russian Revolution, it has been generally accepted on the left that a revolutionary party, in the sense of a 'van-guard', is necessary for a successful revolution. Anarchist criticism has been shrugged off as coming from a numerically insignificant group of purists, who, unlike the Leninists, have never carried out a successful revolution. However, the denunciation of Stalin by Khruschev, and the crushing of the Hungarian revolt in 1956 (among other things) has made it manifestly clear to all but the most blinkered that the revolution in Russia has been a failure. It might have been thought that Leninism would have been completely discredited, but myths about Stalin have been replaced by myths about Mao or Castro, or in the case of the Trotskyists the myth that the revolution could have been successful, if it had the 'correct' leadership. Leninism, in its Stalinist or Trotskyist forms, remains the dominant ideology of the revolutionary left, partly because the emphasis on authority and leadership is more comprehensible to people raised in an authoritarian society than is the Anarchist rejection of authoritarianism. Anarchism has often gained ground after a revolution, when people resent attempts to reimpose authority on them. But though in the present situation in Britain, the Anarchists are numerically even more insignificant than the Trotskyists, our ideas remain important since they not only raise the question of the nature of post revolutionary society, but also the related problem of how to launch a successful revolution. This is seen above all in the Anarchist rejection of the revolutionary party in its Leninist sense.

The main argument of this article is that the party is the reflection of the society it seeks to create. In looking at the major left groupings - social democratic, Stalinist, Leninist, Trotskyist - there is obviously a certain simplification. For instance, I ignore theories put forward by Gramsci and Luxembourg as well as groupings like the left of the Labour Party (a peculiar amalgam of Methodism, Social Democracy and Stalinism). A lack of space does not allow as complete a discussion of the problem as I would like, and certainly people like Gramsci should not be ignored. However, at this time it is necessary to concentrate on the main party groupings.

1. Social democracy

In bourgeois democratic society the structure of these political parties which support the existing social order - conservative or reformist - are mirrors of a hierarchical authoritarian society. In the same way it can be said that those organisations which seek to transform society in the interests of the working class reflect within their structure the type of society they wish to create. The social democratic party, for example, derives its structure from its attitude towards bourgeois authority. Social democrats seek to create a socialist society on behalf of the working class, but fail to challenge the institutions of bourgeois democracy. Since social democrats accept the authority of the bourgeois state and law, they become agents of that authority. They make the mistake of assuming that the state stands above the class conflict, to be captured at elections by the representatives of the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. In fact the State is in the midst of the class struggle, operating as the armed wing of the ruling class. This can be seen not only in this country, but also in other European Social Democratic parties (e.g.. the French socialists under Mollet sent troops on an imperialist expedition to Suez in 1956 - and justified it in Marxist terms. The German social democrats have a long history of acting as instruments of bourgeois authority, from their suppression of the Spartakist revolt to their support for the West German emergency laws). The contradictions of social democracy - a result of its attitude to authority - resolve themselves into the position of undermining the revolutionary potential of the working class.

The social democratic vision of a new society - essentially same as the old one in all respects but with the exception that the people are ruled with a beneficial paternalism which will end inequalities - is mirrored in its organisational structure. The leadership is a small bureaucracy running a mass party. The most important section of the leadership - the parliamentary party - is completely out of control of the mass organisation. Nominations for parliamentary candidature must be approved by the leadership. In Britain, the Labour Party group which draws up policies for the next election (the National Executive Committee) is elected by non mandated conference delegates, and is thus out of control of the membership. When left wing policies are forward they are ignored (e.g.. Gaitskell over CND in 1960 and Wilson during and after government office). The mass membership of the party has all the abstract freedoms of bourgeois society - freedom of speech, freedom to hold radically different ideas etc., - so that Trotskyist 'entrist' groups like the Revolutionary Socialist League can co-exist with rightists like Woodrow Wyatt (and millionaire capitalists like Robert Maxwell) without upsetting the party. The parallels with bourgeois society are made complete by the fact that as soon as 'subversive' groups begin to pose a serious threat, as did the Communist Party in the 20's or the SLL in the 60'; they are expelled en masse. Of course this does not mean that social democratic parties are any more free of mass pressures than are the ruling class. They need to win elections, and are often driven to absurd promises, like calling for a price freeze in a capitalist society caught in the throes of international inflation - a policy made more absurd and phoney by the fact that it is proposed by Wilson and Callaghan, instigators of the 1966 wage freeze. We can see from this that the institutionalised formal democracy of social democratic parties - a form without any substance - is a mirror of the social democrat's vision of socialism as a bourgeois society without the bourgeoisie.

2. The Stalinist parties

Unlike the social democrats the Stalinists (and I do not count the British CP as Stalinist but as left social democrat) seek to challenge bourgeois authority. However, they do not do so in the interests of democratic liberty, but in the interests of an opposing authority which claims to be more efficient than the bourgeoisie. Capitalist 'anarchy' will be replaced by bureaucratic planning which will end bourgeois exploitation and inequality of distribution. The Stalinist view of a socialist society - a bureaucratic State on the model of the USSR, with a monolithic ideology, where a small leadership dictates policy to the masses, - is reflected in the structure of the Stalinist parties. Because of its historic origins in Leninism, the party is committed to democratic centralism but real democracy is absent, because of the banning of factions, and the demand that the membership must submit completely to the policies worked out in the Central Committee. The Stalinists' subjection to the need to defend Russia often leads to a situation where it can be revolutionary (eg. the big strike called by the Communists in France and Italy in 1947/48) or, more usually, counter-revolutionary (eg. Stalinist opposition to the Spanish revolution of 1936, their attitude to the May revolt in France in 1968). The contradictions of Stalinism attempting to change society are no less great than those of social democracy.

3. Lenin's concept of the party

Unlike social democracy and Stalinism, Leninism seeks to challenge bourgeois authority in the name of revolutionary freedom. Lenin in 'State and Revolution' called for a society where the State - defined as an instrument of class oppression - would eventually disappear. The paradox emerges when a Leninist government suppressed freedom and smashed the attempt of the Russian working class to free itself from rulers. This paradox is made clear only if we keep in mind that the revolutionary party is a reflection of the social order it seeks to create. It is significant that Chris Harman should write that: "It is important to note that for Lenin the party is not the embryo of the workers' state."1 , while at the same time attributing the failure of the Russian revolution to the fact that it took place in a non-industrialised country racked by Civil War and international bourgeois intervention, While nobody can underestimate the tremendous consequences of such 'external' factors it would be completely misleading to ignore 'internal' factors such as the Leninist theory of the Party and the relationship between the party and the working class.

Lenin's theory of the party is derived from his view of the nature of revolution and the role of revolutionaries. Revolution, Lenin correctly saw, is of necessity authoritarian. As Engels wrote: "A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is: it is an act whereby one part of the population imposes its will on the other by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon all of which are highly authoritarian means."2 (This does not mean of course that a revolution cannot be the most liberating thing there is). From this arises the idea that a transitional regime - the dictatorship of the proletariat - is needed to smash any attempt by the bourgeoisie to destroy the revolution. The role of the revolutionary party in this situation is the role of political leadership of the working class. "There could not have been social democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without...the working class exclusively by its own efforts is able to develop only trade union consciousness"3 . Lenin later modified this position to take account of the undeniable spontaneity of the class. ("The economists have gone to one extreme. To straighten matters out one had to pull in the other direction, and this is what I have done"4 . Lenin often pointed out that the proletariat was sometimes more revolutionary than the party. But the primary role of creating consciousness lies in the party: "The working class is instinctively, spontaneously social democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by social democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness."5 Leadership is absolutely necessary for revolutionary success because of the fragmentation of consciousness and the organisation of the ruling class. But the nature of this leadership is more than mere persuasion and raising of consciousness. Such leadership is inevitable in any situation where many people are confused because they have never thought about the issues and listen to someone who has - who is in that sense a leader. An organisation which seeks to link local struggles and explain a future course is, whether we like it or not, necessary. But the Leninist party is not only concerned with ideological leadership. It seeks political leadership of the State, since the proletariat, unlike a democratic centralist party, does not necessarily have the 'concrete view' even after a revolution. Even in his most 'libertarian ' text Lenin writes: "By educating the workers' party, Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat, capable of assuming power and leading the whole people to socialism"6 Lenin later explains the reason for this vanguard of the proletariat: "We are not Utopians, we do not dream of disposing at once with all administration, with all subordination.... No, we want the socialist revolution with subordination, control and foremen and accountants."7 Any notion of self emancipation and self education is missing in Lenin. Realising the strength of the authoritarian culture he attacks and underestimates the speed with which many people overthrow authoritarian ideology in a revolutionary situation. He fails to see that ".. if the proletariat itself does not know how to create the necessary prerequisites for the socialist organisation of labour, no one can do this for it and no one can compel it to do this.. Socialism and socialist organisation will be set up by the proletariat itself, or they will not be set up at all. Something else will be set up - State capitalism"8 .

4. Leninist substitutionism

Just as in the transitional regime of 'proletarian' dictatorship the hierarchy of authority and subordination remains, so in the party there is in the Central Committee and its policies. There is a hierarchy of authority. District and factory circles, local and territorial committees are elected and their decisions are then communicated from the top down. Opposition from the subordinates is quashed, or at best tolerated. In Russia the Left Communists were hounded out of existence in 1918. From the Democratic Centralists and the Workers' Opposition were frowned upon, and eventually, in 1921, after a party Congress which oppositionists claimed had rigged delegations, all factions were banned within the party (like most permanent bans, this was 'temporary'). The Cheka was then used against the oppositionists forced to illegally [operate underground?]. Trotsky summed up Leninist ideas vividly in 1924 when he said: "...the Party in the last analysis is always right, because the Party is the single historical instrument given to the proletariat for the solution of its basic problems... I know that one must not be right against the party. One can be right only with the Party, and through the Party for history has no other road for being in the right."9 Ironically it was Trotsky himself who, in 1904 had pointed out the danger of such ideas. Before he became a Leninist he [said?] in a polemic against Leninist views of the Party: " The organisation of the party substitutes itself for the party as a whole, when the central committee itself for the organisation, and finally the dictator substitutes himself for the central committee."10

This substitutionism in the party was reflected in the society the Bolsheviks - created. The rule of the party (or rather, its Central Committee) was substituted for the rule of the proletariat. The workers' committees running industry were castrated in 1917-1918 (before the civil war, the devastating effects of which are the constant excuse for Trotskyist and Stalinist apologists) in preparation for one man management. By the summer of 1918 elections to the Soviets had become a farce. In 1918 the Red Army, originally a democratic militia, was transformed by Trotsky into a non-democratic army on the bourgeois model, with saluting, different living quarters for officers, the death penalty for desertion etc.. In 1920 Trotsky (supported at first by Lenin) called for the militarisaton of labour - labour armies to be used as scabs - and the substitution of Party controlled production unions for genuine Trade Unions. The nature of the Party after 1914 (when it was broadened by many who agreed with Lenin only on the need to turn the imperialist war into a civil war) meant that these proposals came under fire from a significant minority (and in the case of the militarisation of labour possibly a majority). But as we have seen this opposition, and even the right to organise opposition, was effectively ended with the 1921 Party Congress.

Thus the original paradox, that Leninism, a doctrine calling for revolutionary freedom destroyed that freedom, can be seen not to be a paradox at all. Lenin's talk of proletarian democracy, and freedom from authority in 'State and Revolution' remained just that - talk. By removing such notions to a vague future, Lenin banished them to the realm of abstraction. What remained was the immediate task of overthrowing capitalism and establishing a transitional regime. Bourgeois authority was not challenged by the authority of a revolutionary proletariat (which alone would have laid the real preconditions for the abolition of authoritarianism) but by the authority of a political party - self proclaimed 'vanguard of the proletariat'. Precisely because, as one prominent Left Communist proclaimed "socialism and socialist organisation will be set up by the proletariat itself, or they will not he set up at all', the 'transitional' regime of 1917/18 remains with us today, more powerful than ever.

5. The Trotskyist attitude

The Trotskyist never learned anything from failure of the Russian revolution. Trotsky himself was never to make more than a partial break with the USSR., and was led into the contradictory position of defining Russia as a degenerated workers' state. Leninist organisation with its hierarchies, its authoritarianism and its notions of leadership and subordination remained. "The leading cadre plays the same decisive role in relation to party that the party plays in relation to the class"11 writes Cannon, leader of the largest of the American Trotskyist groups, the Socialist Workers' party. There is the same intolerance to opposition: "Those who try to break up the historically created cadre of the Trotskyist parties are in reality aiming to break up the parties and to Iiquidate the Trotskyist movement. They will not succeed. The Trotskyist parties will liquidate the liquidators, and the SWP has the high historic privilege of setting the example."12 These are the madmen that claim to be our leaders! The authoritarian structure of the parties is a reflection of the society they seek to create.

Another Trotskyist leader, Ernest Mandel, writes: "Anyone who believes that the mass of the imperialist countries are ready today to take over the running of the economy at once, without first passing through the school of workers ' control is deceiving himself and others with dangerous illusions."13 More explicitly he writes: "The production relations are not changed so long as the private employer has merely been replaced by the employer state, embodied in some all power manager, technocrat or bureaucrat.... The classical solution is the succession of phases: workers' control (i.e. supervision of the management by the workers), workers participation in the management; and workers self -management."14 Like Lenin, the Trotskyists wish democracy and freedom away to a vague future 'when the workers are ready for it'. They also reduce it to an abstraction.

6. Leninism - the I.S. variant

The one revolutionary group in Britain which seemed to many to have learned the lessons of the failure of the Russian revolution, and attempted to be both Leninist and libertarian, was the International Socialists.[WM note - This group is now the Socialist Workers Party] Their emphasis on democracy within the party is shown in a book by three of their most prominent members - Party and Class. Here Duncan Hallas writes that a revolutionary party cannot possibly be created except on a thoroughly democratic basis, that unless in its internal life vigorous tendencies and shades of opinion are represented, a socialist party cannot rise above the level of a sect. "Internal democracy is not an optional extra. It is fundamental to the relationship between party members and those amongst whom they work."15 In the same book Tony Cliff writes: "because the working class is far from being monolithic, and because the path to socialism is uncharted, wide differences of strategy and tactics can and should exist in the revolutionary party. The alternative is the bureacratised party or the sect with its leader... Scientific socialism must live and thrive on controversy".16 It seems odd that such democratic sentiments should co-exist with a total support for the Bolshevik practice during the Russian revolution. Even those members of I.S. who, like Peter Sedgewick argued that the degeneration of the revolution had occurred by 1918, attribute the decay to the "military depredation and economic ruin which wrought havoc in an already enfeebled Russia."17 No mention of the Leninist view of the Party. Libertarian socialism and Leninism are incompatible - and the I.S. group has remained Leninist, and we have recently begun to see the results.

The stress on democracy within the group has been exposed as hollow. As early as 1971, the I.S. leadership reversed a national conference decision that the group should take a principled abstentionist position on Britain's entry into the E.E.C. Instead, they adopted a position of opposition to entry. The way in which the opposition groups like Workers Fight and the "Right Opposition" were expelled is startling in view of the groups previous emphasis on faction rights. Tony Cliff has abandoned his earlier position in "Party and Class" that "wide differences in strategy and tactics can and should exist in the revolutionary party"18 , and now holds that "I.S. is a voluntary organisation of people who disagree or agree within narrow limits"19 .

The libertarian rhetoric of a society based on workers' councils remains, but it is nothing more than a rhetoric. Certain questions are never raised, let alone answered. Will the factories be under workers' self-management during the 'transitional period"? Will the Workers' State be a federation of workers' councils, under the direct control of the working class (a libertarian idea) or will it be a centralised bureaucracy co-existing with workers councils on the Yugoslav model (a Leninist idea)? What happens if there is a conflict between the centralised authority and the workers' councils? (When such a conflict occurred in Russia in 1917/18 and in Spain 1936/37 it was the councils who lost out). Above all, what will be the relationships of the vanguard party to the State, the Workers' Councils, and the working class? How will it avoid substitutionism? Cliff's argument in 'Party and Class' that substitutionism can be stopped by a diligent leadership is completely inadequate.

7. The Libertarian position

Nobody denies that the condition for revolution in Britain will be different from those that prevailed in Russia. However, the idea of a vanguard party remains, as does the danger that the "transitional period" will prove far from transitional. The idea that the working class can be liberated by a party - no matter how correct its line - is an abstraction. All that would happen would be the creation of a new ruling class, as has been seen in Russia and other "socialist" countries. The working class must liberate itself, as called for by Marx, and in doing so it will create the preconditions for the liberation of all oppressed groups from authority.

Our relationship to Leninist theory must be made clear. Leninism has its strengths as well as its weaknesses. Its recognition that working class consciousness is fragmented and generally under the hold of bourgeois ideology is essentially correct. While he underestimates how quickly workers can free themselves from authoritarian ideology, Lenin did recognise the importance of leadership. Anarchists must overcome their fear of the idea of leadership, and recognise that in any situation where people are confused, an anarchist will provide leadership where he or she advocates libertarian solutions. The difference is that whereas anarchist leadership consists of persuasion and agitation, the Leninist vanguard party seeks to go beyond agitation to actual political leadership through its control of the state. For the purpose of agitation on a national scale some type of organisation is necessary, and here also Leninism should be looked at more carefully. Lenin saw that the organisation of the party was determined by the authoritarian society in which it existed (though he did not see that the structure of a vanguard party determined the society which it created), and tried to solve the problem by adopting democratic centralism. Democratic centralism is suited for a vanguard party, but libertarianism must reject such a form of organisation which usually turns out to be more centralised than democratic. What is needed is an organisation with a high degree of theoretical clarity and a fully developed sense of responsibility towards other comrades, while at the same time maintaining a maximum of political discussion within the organisation. A central co-ordinating body is vital, though there must be complete and absolute control over it by the membership and its task should be minimal and clearly defined. Some anarchists have criticised Lenin for his ruthlessness, but I believe that such a criticism should be rejected. Any successful revolution will be faced with the possibility of civil war and tremendous economic difficulties which it will be forced to meet ruthlessly if the revolution is to survive. In doing this it may be necessary to do some horrifying things such as killing ordinary workers who are fighting for the counter-revolution. But there will be qualitative differences between the libertarian and the Leninist attitudes. We are fighting for different aims, and so must reject policies like creating a secret police, prison camps and "red terror". Such policies would destroy revolutionary freedom. We must be prepared to accept defeat rather than engage in such actions.

Finally, we must recognise with Lenin that authority can only be defeated by authority. Lenin recognised that the State is an instrument of coercion by one class against another, and pointed out that a Workers' State will be necessary in the turmoil of revolution in order to coerce the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, we must differentiate ourselves from Lenin's view of the State. To Lenin the state was a centralised republic co-existing with workers' councils, with the vanguard party controlling the centre. To libertarians, it is a decentralised federation of workers' councils under the direct and absolute control of the working class. Such a state is one that begins to cease being a state almost immediately. It is not the institutionalisation of class oppression like the Leninist state, but the foundations of liberation. Since the concept of a workers' state is now fully associated with Leninism, and it is thereby simplified to become merely class oppression rather than being simultaneously the institutions of liberation, which necessitates the dissolution of the state anarchists reject the [idea that?] revolutionary society will have a state in its initial phase.

One thing we must reject clearly is the notion of a centralised vanguard party. The division of labour between those who rule and those who are ruled has lasted too long, and can only be ended by the self-emancipation of the working class. It is absolutely necessary that anarchists clarify their relationship to this self-emancipation, and the debate on organisation within the libertarian movement must develop in a clear and realistic direction.

by Geoff Foote

  • 1Chris Harman - Party and Class.
  • 2Engels - On Authority.
  • 3Lenin - What is to be done
  • 4Lenin - Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.
  • 5Lenin - The Re-organisation of the Party.
  • 6Lenin - The State and Revolution.
  • 7ibid.
  • 8Osinsky - On the building of Socialism in Kommunist
  • 9Trotsky - Thirteenth Party Congress.
  • 10Trotsky - Our Political Tasks.
  • 11James Cannon - Factional Struggle and Party Leadership, in S.W.P. pamphlet In defence of the Revolutionary Party.
  • 12Ibid
  • 13Mandel - Workers Control and Workers Councils.
  • 14Mandel - Marxist Economic Theory. Vol. 2
  • 15Duncan Hallas Towards a Revolutionary Socialist Party in Party and Class
  • 16Tony Cliff - Trotsky on Substitutionism in Party and Class.
  • 17Peter Sedgwick - Victor Serge on Party and Class in International Socialism 50.
  • 18Tony Cliff - Party and Class.
  • 19Cliff and Nagliaiti - Main features of the programme we need in I.S. Internal Bulletin Jan 1973.



3 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Battlescarred on November 29, 2020

Foote left the ORA and anarchist communist politics behind him and later became Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Teesside, and author of the books The Labour Party’s Political Thought
:A History; A Chronology of Post-war British Politics, 1945-86; and The Republican Transformation of Modern British Politics

The Two Octobers - Peter Arshinov/Piotr Archinov

Peter Arshinov's short history of the Russian Revolution. First published in English by the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists as part of Libertarian Communist Review #1, then made available online at the website.

Submitted by R Totale on May 5, 2020

The Two Octobers (1927)
by Piotr Archinov

The victorious revolution of the workers and peasants in 1917 was legally established in the Bolshevik calendar as the October Revolution. There is sane truth in this, but it is not entirely exact. In October 1917 the workers and peasants of Russia surmounted a colossal obstacle to the development of their Revolution. They abolished the nominal power of the capitalist class, but even before that they achieved something of equal revolutionary importance and perhaps even more fundamental. By taking the economic power from the capitalist class, and the land from the large owners in the countryside, they achieved the right to free and uncontrolled work in the towns, if not the total control of the factories. Consequently, it was well before October that the revolutionary workers destroyed the base of capitalism. All that was left was the superstructure. If there had not been this general expropriation of the capitalists by the workers, the destruction of the bourgeois state machine - the political revolution - would not have succeeded in any way. The resistance of the owners would have been much stronger. On the other hand, the objectives of the social revolution in October were not limited to the overthrow of capitalist power. A long period of practical development in social self-management was before the workers, but it was to fail in the following years.

Therefore, in considering the evolution of the Russian socialist Revolution as a whole, October appears only as a stage - a powerful and decisive stage, it is true. That is why October does not by itself represent the whole social revolution. In thinking of the victorious October days, one must consider that historical circumstance as determined by the Russian social revolution.

Another no less important peculiarity is that October has two meanings - that which the working' masses who participated in the social revolution gave it, and with them the Anarchist-Communists, and that which was given it by the political party that captured power from this aspiration to social revolution, and which betrayed and stifled all further development. An enormous gulf exists between these two interpretations of October. The October of the workers and peasants is the suppression of the power of the parasite classes in the name of equality and self-management. The Bolshevik October is the conquest of power by the party of the revolutionary intelligentsia, the installation of its 'State Socialism' and of its 'socialist' methods of governing the masses.

The workers' October

The February Revolution caught the different revolutionary parties in complete disarray and without any doubt they were considerably surprised by the profound social character of the dawning revolution. At first, no one except the anarchists wanted to believe it. The Bolshevik Party, which made out it always expressed the most radical aspirations of the working-class, could not go beyond the limits of the bourgeois revolution in its aims. It was only at the April conference that they asked themselves what was really happening in Russia. Was it only the overthrow of Tsarism. or was the revolution going further - as far as the. overthrow of capitalism? This last eventually posed to the Bolsheviks the question of what tactics to employ. Lenin became conscious before the other Bolsheviks of the social character of the revolution, and emphasised the necessity of seizing power. He saw a decisive advance in the workers' and peasants' movement which was undermining the industrial and rural bourgeoisie foundations more and more. A unanimous agreement on these questions could not be reached even up to the October days. The Party manoeuvred all this time in between the social slogans of the masses and the conception of a social-democratic revolution, from where they were created and developed. Not opposing the slogan of petit- and grand-bourgeoisie for a Constituent Assembly, the Party did its best to control the masses, striving to keep up with their ever-increasing pace.

During this time, the workers marched impetuously forward, relentlessly running their enemies of left and right into the ground. The big rural landowners began everywhere to evacuate the countryside, fleeing from the insurgent peasantry and seeking protection for their possessions and their persons in the towns. Meanwhile, the peasantry proceeded to a direct re-distribution of land, and did not want to hear of peaceful co-existence with the landlords. In the towns as well a sudden change took place between the workers and the owners of enterprises. Thanks to the efforts of the collective genius of the masses, workers' committees sprang up in every industry, intervening directly in production, putting aside the admonishments of the owners and concentrating on eliminating them from production. Thus in different parts of the country, the workers got down to the socialisation of industry.

Simultaneously, all of revolutionary Russia was covered with a vast network of workers' and peasant soviets, which began to function as organs of self management. They developed, prolonged, and defended the Revolution. Capitalist rule and order still existed nominally in the country, but a vast system of social and economic workers' self-management was being created alongside it. This regime of soviets and factory committees, by the very fact of its appearance, menaced the state system with death . It must be made clear that the birth and development of the soviets and factory committees had nothing do with authoritarian principles. On the contrary, they were in the full sense of the term organs of social and economic self-management of the masses, and in no case the organs of state power. They were opposed to the state machine which sought to direct the masses, and they prepared for a decisive battle against it. "The factories to the workers, the land to the peasants" - these were the slogans by which the revolutionary masses of town and country participated in the defeat of the State machine of the possessing classes in the name of a new social system which was founded on the basic cells of the factory committees and the economic and social soviets. These catch-words circulated from one end of workers' Russia to the other, deeply affecting the direct action against the socialist-bourgeois coalition government.

As was explained above, the workers and peasants had already worked towards the entire reconstruction of the industrial and agrarian system of Russia before October 1917. The agrarian question was virtually solved by the poor peasants as early as June - September 1917. The urban workers, for their part, put into operation organs of social and economic Self-management, having seized from the State and the owners the organisational functions of production. The October Revolution of the workers overthrew the last and the greatest obstacle to their revolution the state power of the owning classes, already defeated and disorganised. This last evolution opened a vast horizon for the achievement of the social revolution putting it onto the creative road to socialist reconstruction of society, already pointed at by the workers in the preceding months. That is the October of the workers and the peasants. It meant a powerful attempt by the exploited manual workers to destroy totally the foundations of capitalist society, and to build a workers' society based on the principles of equality, independence, and self-management by the proletariat of the towns and the countryside. This October did not reach its natural conclusion. It was violently interrupted by the October of the Bolsheviks, who progressively extended their dictatorship throughout the country.

The Bolshevik October

All the statist parties, including the Bolsheviks, limited the boundaries of the Russian Revolution to the installation of a social-democratic regime. It was only when the workers and peasants of all Russia began to shake the agraro-bourgeois order, when the social revolution was proved to be an irreversible historical fact, that the Bolsheviks began discussing the social character of the Revolution, and the consequent necessity of modifying its tactics. There was no unanimity in the Party on questions of the character and orientation of the events which had taken place, even up to October. Furthermore, the October Revolution as well as the events which followed developed while the Central Committee of the Party was divided into two tendencies. Whilst a part of the Central Committee, Lenin at its head, foresaw the inevitable social revolution and proposed preparation for the seizure of power, the other tendency, led by Zinoviev and Kamenev, denounced as adventurist the attempt at social revolution, and went no further than calling for a Constituent Assembly in which the Bolsheviks occupied the seats furthest to the Left. Lenin's point of view prevailed, and the Party began to mobilise its forces in case of a decisive struggle by the masses against the Provisional Government.

The party threw itself into infiltrating the factory committees and the soviets of workers' deputies, doing its best to obtain in these organs of self-management the most mandates possible in order to control their actions. Nevertheless, the Bolshevik conception of, and approach to, the soviets and the factory committees was fundamentally different from that of the masses. While the mass of workers considered them to be the organs of social and economic self-management, the Bolshevik Party looked on them as a means by which it was possible to snatch the power of the sinking bourgeoisie and afterwards to use this power to serve the interests of the Party. Thus an enormous difference was revealed between the revolutionary masses and the Bolshevik Party in their conceptions and perspectives of October. In the first case, it was the question of the defeat of power with the view of reinforcing and enlarging the already constituted organs of workers and peasants self-management. In the second case, it was the question of leaning on these organs in order to seize power and to subordinate all the revolutionary forces to the Party. This divergence played a fatal role in determining the future course of the Russian Revolution.

The success of the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution - that is to say, the fact that they found themselves in power and from there subordinated the whole Revolution to their Party is explained by their ability to substitute the ides of a Soviet power for the social revolution and the social emancipation of the masses. A priori, these two ideas appear as non-contradictory for it was possible to understand Soviet power as the power of the soviets, and this facilitated the substitution of the idea of Soviet power for that of the Revolution. Nevertheless, in their realisation and consequences these ideas were in violent contraction to each other. The conception of Soviet Power incarnated in the Bolshevik state, was transformed into an entirely traditional bourgeois power concentrated in a handful of individuals who subjected to their authority all that was fundamental and most powerful in the life of the people - in this particular case, the social revolution. Therefore, with the help of the "power of the soviets" - in which the Bolsheviks monopolised most of the posts - they effectively attained a total power and could proclaim their dictatorship throughout the revolutionary territory. This furnished them with the possibility of strangling all the revolutionary currents of the workers in disagreement with their doctrine of altering the whole course of the Russian Revolution and of making it adopt a multitude of measures contrary to its essence. One of these measures was the militarisation of labour during the years of War Communism - militarisation of the workers so that millions of swindlers and parasites could live in peace, luxury and idleness. Another measure was the war between town and country, provoked by the policy of the Party in considering peasants as elements unreliable and foreign to the Revolution. There was, finally, the strangling of libertarian thought and of the Anarchist movement whose social ideas and catchwords were the force of the Russian Revolution and orientated towards a social revolution. Other measures consisted of the proscription of the independent workers movement, the smothering of the freedom of speech of workers in general. All was reduced to a single centre, from where all instructions emanated concerning the way of life, of thought, of action of the working masses.

That is the October of the Bolsheviks. In it was incarnated the ideal followed by decades by the revolutionary intelligentsia, initially realised now by the wholesale dictatorship of the All-Russian Communist Party. This ideal satisfies the ruling intelligentsia, despite the catastrophic consequences for the workers; now they can celebrate with pomp the anniversary of ten years of power.

The Anarchists

Revolutionary Anarchism was the only politico social-current to extol the idea of a social revolution by the workers and peasants, as much during the 1905 Revolution as from the first days of the October Revolution. In fact, the role they could have played would have been colossal, and so could have been the means of struggle employed by the masses themselves. Likewise, no politico-social theory could have blended so harmoniously with the spirit and orientation of the Revolution. The interventions of the Anarchist orators in 1917 were listened to with a rare trust and attention by the workers. One could have said that the revolutionary potential of the workers and peasants, together with the ideological and tactical power of Anarchism could have represented a force to which nothing could be opposed. Unhappily, this fusion did not take place. Some isolated anarchists occasionally led intense revolutionary activity among the workers, but there was not an Anarchist organisation of great size to lead more continuous and co-ordinated actions, (outside of the Nabat Confederation and the Makhnovchtina in the Ukraine). Only such an organisation could have united the Anarchists and the millions of workers. During such an important and advantageous revolutionary period, the Anarchists limited themselves to the restricted activities of small groups instead of orientating themselves to mass political action. They preferred to drown themselves in the sea of their internal quarrels, not attempting to pose the problem of a common policy and tactic of Anarchism By this deficiency, they condemned themselves to inaction and sterility during the most important moments of the Revolution.

The causes of this catastrophic state of the Anarchist movement resided in the dispersion, the disorganisation and the absence of a collective tactic - things which have nearly always been raised as principles among Anarchists, preventing them making a single organisational step so that they could orientate the social revolution in a decisive fashion. There is no actual advantage in denouncing those who, by their demagogy, their thoughtlessness, and their irresponsibility, contributed to create this situation. But the tragic experience: which led the working masses to defeat, and Anarchism to the edge of the abyss, should be assimilated as from now. We must combat and pitilessly stigmatise those who in one way or another, continue to perpetuate the chaos and confusion in Anarchism, all those who obstruct its re-establishment or organisation. In other words, those whose actions go against those efforts of the movement for the emancipation of labour and the realisation of the Anarchist-Communist society. The working masses appreciate and are instinctively attracted by Anarchism, but will not work with the Anarchist movement until they are convinced of its theoretical and organisational coherence. It is necessary for everyone of us to try to the maximum to attain this coherence.

Conclusions and Perspectives

The Bolshevik practice of the last ten years shows clearly the counter-revolutionary [role] of their dictatorship of the Party. Every year it restrains a little more the social-and political rights of the workers, and takes their revolutionary conquests away. There is no doubt that the 'historic mission' of the Bolshevik Party is emptied of all meaning and that it will attempt to bring the Russian Revolution to its final objective : State Capitalism of the enslaving salariat, that is to say, of the reinforced power of the exploiters and at the increasing misery of the exploited. In speaking of the Bolshevik Party as part of the socialist intelligentsia, exercising its power over the working masses of town and country, we have in view its central directing nucleus which, by its origins, its formation, and its life-style has nothing in common with the working class, and despite that, rules all the details of life of the Party and of the people. That nucleus will attempt to stay above the proletariat, who have nothing to expect from it. The possibilities for rank and file Party militants, including the Communist youth, appear different. This mass has passively participated in the negative and counter-revolutionary policies of the Party, but having come from the working-class, it is capable of becoming aware of the authentic October of the workers and peasants and of coming towards it. We do not doubt that from this mass will come many fighters for the workers' October. Let us hope that they rapidly assimilate the Anarchist character of this October, and that they come to its aid. On our side, let us indicate this character as much as possible, and help the masses to reconquer and conserve the great revolutionary achievements.

Translated by Nick Heath for
North London Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists
for Libertarian Communist Review
No. 1 Winter 1974


Libertarian Communist Review #2 (1976)

Issue #2 of the Libertarian Communist Review, with articles on Bakunin, the role of a revolutionary organisation, primitive and libertarian forms of communism, and reviews of recent publications including one by John Crump on Marx.

Submitted by R Totale on April 2, 2020

From Primitive to Libertarian Communism - Peter E Newell

An article by Peter E Newell looking at primitive, utopian, and libertarian communism. This article was first published in Libertarian Communist Review #2, and then made available online by the website.

Submitted by R Totale on May 5, 2020

From primitive to libertarian communism

Communism, to many people, is a dirty word. For much of this century, communism has been associated with Russia, a country which, in fact, has as its social system, not communism or socialism, but a particularly vicious and totalitarian form of State capitalism. Genuine socialists and libertarian communists have had an unenviable task of demonstrating that neither communism nor socialism exists - or has ever existed - in such countries as Russia, Cuba or even Yugoslavia. They have also had to explain that communism, in a primitive form, has indeed existed, as a form of society, for much of Humanity's existence on this planet, for perhaps two or more million years.

Since the demise of Primitive Communism, and the advent of private - property society, first of Chattel Slavery, then of Feudalism and, lastly, of Capitalism, "pockets" of peasant communism, have persisted up until present times. Small communistic communities have been established, often by bourgeois and petit-bourgeois "intellectuals", with varying degrees of success. But throughout the centuries, the idea of communism, usually in an utopian or backward - looking form, has been advocated - and sometimes acted upon - by small idealistic sects. It was not until the middle of the last century, however, that individuals and political groups began to advocate communism as a new, advanced, type of society which should, indeed, would, take the place of capitalism; which would be a "higher" form of society; would be in the interest of the whole of the people, and not just a small class as is capitalism and, most importantly, would have to be brought about by the majority of the population - the workers - through a social revolution. Some of the modern advocates of communism, particularly in the earlier decades of the last century, have been dubbed "utopian" communists; others following Marx and Engels, have at least called themselves ''scientific'' communists and socialists, but have been accused of, in fact, being "authoritarian communists" by their anarchist opponents who, in many instances, began to advocate a form of non-authoritarian socialism or collectivism which, later, emerged as Libertarian Communism.

Briefly, I shall discuss, first, the system of Primitive Communism and then the ideas and theories of Utopian Communism, Authoritarian Communism and, lastly, Libertarian Communism as advocated by the more working-class elements within the so-called Anarchist Movement. Some non-anarchist groups also propagate libertarian communism as their objective. Their ideas are mainly based upon those of Morris.

Primitive communism

Rousseau's Noble Savage was largely a figment of his own imagination; nevertheless, the popular conception of the primitive male savage beating "his" wife's brains out with a club is equally false. The savage was neither violent nor competitive.

The basic characteristics of savagery was dependence upon "wild" sources of food supply, with all the disadvantages that this implies. Primitive people often suffered from malnutrition and the fear of starvation. Communities were small. Only at certain periods of the year was food plentiful. Such form of existence, however, gave rise to an embryonic, rudimentary, ethical code. "Private property", writes Grahame Clark in his 'From Savagery to Civilisation', "is limited to such things as weapons, digging sticks, collecting bags and personal trinkets, although in dividing meat, for example, the share of each individual is as a rule socially defined. Communal rights are generally recognised to extend over all the territories required to provide food for the group, territories within which all the seasonal wanderings are confined, and the limits of which are known to neighbouring groups." Of primitive communist, savage, society Peter Kropotkin observes: "Within the tribe everything is shared in common; every morsel of food is divided among all present; and if the savage is alone in the woods, he does not begin eating before he has loudly shouted thrice an invitation to any one who may hear his voice to share his meal". "In short", continues Kropotkin, "within the tribe the rule of 'each for all' is supreme, so long as the separate family has not yet broken up the tribal unity." (Mutual Aid) The Biblical concept of "mine and shine' had not yet emerged

Of Primitive Communism, Paul Lafargue in his 'Evolution of Property from Savagery to Civilisation' comments:

"If the savage is incapable of conceiving the idea of individual possession of objects not incorporated with his person, it is because he has no conception of his individuality as distinct from the consanguine group in which he lives. The savage is envirorened by such perpetual material danger, and compassed round with such constant imaginary terrors, that he cannot exist in a state of isolation; he cannot even form a notion of the possibility of such a thing. To expel a savage from his clan, from his horde, is tantamount to condemning him to death; . . To be divided from his companions, to live alone, seemed a fearful thing to primeval man, accustomed to live in troops . . . Hunting and fishing, those primitive modes of production, are practiced jointly, and the produce is shared in common. . ."

When savages no longer lead a nomadic existence, and begin to build a permanent or semi-permanent dwelling-house, the house is generally not a private one as we understand it. but a common one. In such houses, provisions are held in common. Of a somewhat later period (the lower status of barbarism among some American aborigines), Lewis H. Morgan observes: "The syndasmian family was special and peculiar. Several of them were usually found in one house, forming a communal household, in which the principle of communism in living is practiced". (Ancient Society). Morgan mentions the Iroquois with whom he lived, in particular. Later, with the emergence of the patriarchal family, households become the possession of single families. Nevertheless, throughout this period, land continues to be held in common.

But, continues Lafargue, "Very gradually did the idea of private property, which is so ingrained in and appears so natural to the philistine, dawn upon the human mind. Humanity underwent a long and painful process of development before arriving at private property in land. Indeed, the earliest distribution of the land was into pastures and territories of chase common to the tribe. The development of agriculture was a determining cause of the parcelling of common lands, often into small strips, sometimes on a permanent but usually on an annual, basis. Lafargue notes that generally "landed property on its first establishment among primitive nations, was allotted to women". And regarding women within primitive communism, Frederick Engels wrote: "Communist housekeeping, however, means the supremacy of women in the house, just as the exclusive recognition of the female parent owing to the impossibility of recognising the male parent with certainty, means that the women, ie the mothers, are held in high respect. One of the most absurd notions taken over from Eighteenth-century enlightenment is that in the beginning of society woman was the slave of man. Among all savages and all barbarians of the lower and middle stages, and to a certain extent of the upper stage also, the position of women is not only free, but honourable". (Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State). And Lafargue observes that "Landed property, which was ultimately to constitute for its owner a means of emancipation and of social supremacy was, at its origin, a cause of subjection; the women were condemned to rude labour in the fields, from which they were emancipated only by the introduction of servile labour. Agriculture, which led to private property in land, introduced the servile labour which in the course of centuries has borne the names of slave-labour, bond-labour and wage-labour".

In sum, writes Engels, "At all earlier stages of society production was essentially collective, just as consumption proceeded by direct distribution of the products within larger or smaller communistic communities. This collective production was very limited; but inherent in it was the producers' control over their process of production and their product. They knew what became of their product: they consumed it; it did not leave their hands. And so long as production remains on this basis, it cannot grow above the heads of the producers, nor raise up incorporeal alien powers against them, as in civilisation is always the case."

Thus, in brief, was what has been called Primitive Communism.

Utopian communism

It is, in this short essay, impossible to chronicle all, or even most, of the utopian movements and revolts which included communistic elements and tendencies. Suffice it that we mention one or two. Utopian or backward-looking communist currents can be traced as far back as the great slave revolt of 71 BC. Spartacus is reported as saying: "Whatever we take, we hold in common, and no man shall own anything but his weapons and his clothes. It will be the way it was in the old times". (Spartacus, by Howard Fast).

Class hatred and an utopian form of communism was practiced by many of the early Christians, most of whom were, in the early days of that religion, plebeians or former slaves. The Acts of the Apostles confirmed that "...all had things in common". And in the eleventh homily (sermon) of the Acts, one reads: "Grace was among them, since nobody suffered want, that is since they gave willingly that no one remained poor. For they did not give a part, keeping part for themselves; they gave everything in their possession. They did away with inequality and lived in great abundance... What a man needed was taken from the treasure of the community not from the private property of individuals. Thereby the givers did not become arrogant... All gave all that they have into a common fund..." In his 'Foundations of Christianity', Karl Kautsky comments that in the Gospel of St. John, the communistic life of Jest and the apostles it taken for granted. Such communism however, was mainly a communism of consumption. The Jewish Essenes also practiced a similar form of communism. Christian communism soon declined and disappeared. "Acceptance of slavery, along with increasing restriction of the community of property to common meals, were not the only limitations the Christian community encountered in its effort to put its communistic tendencies into effect", writes Kautsky. Rich sympathisers joined the Church. Money became more important. Concessions were made; and rich men found that they could enter the Kingdom of Heaven - at a price! In sum says Kautsky, "It was the Christian community, not Christian communism, to which the Roman emperors finally bowed. The victory of Christianity did not denote the dictatorship of the proletariat, but the dictatorship of the gentlemen who had grown big in their community. The champions and martyrs of the early communities, who had devoted their possessions, their labour, their lives for the salvation of the poor and miserable, had only laid the groundwork for a new kind of subjection and exploitation". Nevertheless, the ideas and ideals of communism did not completely die. Even within the Christian Church.

Communism is occasionally mentioned during what historians have called the Middle Ages. It is sometimes referred to as "agrarian communism"; but as Frank Ridley points out in his 'The Revolutionary Tradition in England', "The communism of the Middle Ages was essentially and necessarily a religious communism: it took the form of religious heresies in both East and was one of the major forces making for social revolution throughout the entire mediaeval era. Its untiring propagandists were the underground religious heresies, from that little-known subterranean world which was always smouldering beneath the surface of mediaeval society." This communism was, of course, from the nature of the times, an agrarian communism of consumption, and not an industrial communism of production as in modern times. It was also a religious, and as such, a backward-looking communism. What else could it have been? For that matter, all communism and every revolution that had communism for its aim prior to the Industrial Revolution, looked to the past for its models. Of particular interest, however, is the communism of John Ball and the peasants who took part in the great revolt of 1381.

This is not the place to go into the causes of the revolt. They include the Hundred Years War, the shortage of peasant labour due to the Black Death, the terrible miseries of many of the peasants and the religious-agrarian communist propaganda of the Lollards.

Prior to the great revolt, a hedge-priest, whose 'base" was in Colchester, by the name of John Ball, roamed the countryside, speaking to people wherever they gathered. Ball was probably the world's first communist "agitator". His text was a little jingle: "When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman?". After his release from Rochester prison, Ball spoke to an enormous audience of peasants on Blackheath, on June 12th 1381. His exact speech is not known, but Charles Poulson in his 'English Episode', and William Morris in his 'A Dream of John Ball', both give us a very good idea of what he probably said.

Says Poulson's John Ball:

"...In the beginning all men were equal, all men were brothers. How is it that some can say 'I am nobler than you'? How is it that one man delves day-long in the earth, and with all his labour has not enough to feed his babes, and another takes the life from the poor and makes from it a jewelled mantle for his back?... I say to you that in spite of its fine pride and rich clothing, its white hands and perfumes, Nobility is evil... And in truth it is time to cry enough. I see you here before me, my brothers, and not one of you but has lived his life toiling, from the first sun-up till the last rays fade. And you are clothed in rags. The corn and the cattle grow great in your care, but there is little fat on you. A handful of beans is your pottage. All that you grow, all that you make and build, is taken. This in fines, this in dues, this in labour. The noble master drains your blood like a vampire. Would there not be plenty and happiness but for what is taken? So I say, my brothers, let us feed our children before their lordships. Let us make an end to this thieving."

And, according to William Morris, John Ball spoke thus:

"...too many rich men there are in this realm; and yet if there were but one, there would be one too many, for all should be his thralls... And how shall it be when these (masters) are gone, what else shall ye lack when ye lack masters? Ye shall not lack for fields ye have tilled, nor the houses ye have built, nor the cloth ye have woven; all these shall be yours, and whatso ye will of all that the earth beareth; and he that soweth shall reap, and the reaper shall eat in fellowship... then shall no man mow the deep grass for another..."

On other occasions, John Ball remarked that "things cannot go well in England, nor ever will, until everything shall be in common". (See 'A People's History of England', by A.L. Morton. Similar views were expressed elsewhere in Europe, particularly among the French Jacquerie about forty years before. In England they became largely dormant for centuries. It is to the "Great Rebellion" - the English Revolution - of the seventeenth century that we must look next for communistic ideas and experiments.

Utopian communist ideas found champions among the Levellers; but, as yet, communism made no appeal among the people of the towns and cities, which did not possess an industrial proletariat. In his Cromwell and Communism, Eduard Bernstein remarks: "At the most, communistic proposals might have attracted the rural workers at certain times. In fact, there is no instance during the Great Rebellion of an independent class movement of the town workers, although during the zenith of the movement there were several attempts at agrarian communist risings".

An associate of John Liburne, by the name of William Walwyn, attacked "the inequality of the distribution of the things of this life"; and claimed, like John Ball before him, that " the world shall never be well until all things be common". And against objections to communism, he commented: "There would then be less need for Government; for then there would be no thieves, no covetous persons, no deceiving and abuse of one another, and so no need of Government." William Walwyn would appear to have been Britain's first anarchist-communist! There were others who advocated somewhat similar ideas, often with quotations from the Bible.

And there were also others who attempted to put their ideas into practice. Among them were the "True Levellers", as they called themselves; or "diggers", as their contemporaries dubbed them.

On Sunday, April 8th, 1649, there suddenly appeared near Cobham in Surrey, a group of men, armed with spades, who started to dig up uncultivated land at the side of St. George's Hill. Their intention was to grow corn and other produce on it. They explained to the local country-folk that their numbers were, as yet, few but would soon increase to 4,000. They proposed that "the common people ought to dig, plow, plant, and dwell upon the Commons without hiring them, or paying any rent". After they had erected tents, worked the land and prepared to dig on a second hill, also for sowing, (their numbers had increased to about fifty), they were attacked by troops and many were arrested. Winstanley, their leader, was brought before General Fairfax. None of the "diggers" were prepared to defend themselves by force, however. Most were heavily fined. Later, they attempted again to take over common lands, but were again arrested - and fined. They also published pamphlets, some of which were "couched in somewhat mystical phraseology, which", says Bernstein, "serves as a cloak to conceal the revolutionary designs of the authors". One such pamphlet argued that "In the beginning of time the Creator Reason made the earth to be common treasury." They also composed a 'Digger's Song' in a similar vein.

In 1651, Gerrard Winstanley wrote his 'The Law of Freedom on a platform' - in which he said:

"Is not buying and selling a righteous law? No, it is the law of the conqueror, but not righteous law of creation: how can that be righteous which is a cheat?... When mankind began to buy and sell, then did he fall from his innocency; for then he began to oppress and cozen one another of their creation birthright."

He continues that, though Crown and Church lands should be for common use, they were being sold to land-grabbing army officers and speculators of all kinds. He says that there should be neither poor nor rich; that there should be no inequality that the "earth and storehouses be common"; that there should be no buying or selling, and, lastly, no need for any lawyers. Winstanley was not, however, opposed to organisation "All officers in a true Magistrace of the Commonwealth are to be chosen officers. All officers in a Commonwealth are to be chosen new ones every year". "When publique officers remain long", he contended, "they degenerate". Indeed, the "True Levellers" had quite a platform of "articles" and "clauses! Utopians, the Levellers and True Levellers may have been, but at least their ideas and organisation was, indeed, more advanced and practical than some of our own "modern" anarchists! Moreover, far from all the utopian communists of the period were pacifists. Within the Cromwellian army, there were a number of rebellions from 1647 onwards. Unfortunately, the movements of the period seem to have evolved or degenerated into Quakerism, and relative repeatability.


The society of the early savage was Primitive Communism. But a few thousand years ago, with the cultivation of the soil and the subsequent production of a surplus, class divisions became apparent. Warfare became organised; a repressive State emerged and prisoners were taken captive. They were, more often then not, made to toil in the fields or build temples and pyramids for their new masters. Hence the slave empires of antiquity. Wealth tended to accumulate in the hands of a few wealthy people. The fall of the last of the slave empires - that of the decadent Roman Empire - marked the dawn of a new era. About a thousand years ago, in what we call Europe and elsewhere, a new form of private property society, and a new form of slavery for the many, gradually emerged. It has been called feudalism. The slave became the serf. His master owned the land, and the serf toiled on his lord's land, producing wealth for him, and in return he was allowed to work upon tiny strips of land for himself. The wealth he, thus, produced was generally just enough for him to live on. "It had taken several thousands of years of chattel slavery to prepare the way for serfdom. And it took several centuries of feudalism to prepare the way for a new form of society - capitalism - the kernel of which already existed in the feudal society." ('Socialist Manifesto', S.P. of C.).

The wealth and power of the townsmen, or at least a section of them, increased and that of the landowning nobility declined. The nobleman became a complete parasite upon society. Society's new masters - after many struggles and setbacks, as well as revolutions - became the burghers or, as they were later called, the bourgeoisie. Trade and commerce increased. "Once freed from the fetters of feudalism, the onward march of capitalism became a mad, headlong rush . Everywhere mills, factories, and furnaces sprang up. Their smoke and fumes turned fields once fertile and populous into desolate, uninhabitable wastes; their refuse poisoned and polluted the rivers until they stank to Heaven..." (Socialist Manifesto).

A new condition of slavery replaced serfdom. Socialists, both Marxist and non-Marxist, called, and still call, it "wage-slavery" Former serfs and, quite often, free peasants, were driven from the land and herded into the towns, where they were forced (otherwise they would have starved - and often did!) to work in the mills and mines, and the factories, of their new masters, the bourgeoisie, the owners of capital - the capitalists. The workers created, as did the slaves and serfs, a surplus for their masters, over and above what was needed to keep them more or less in working order. Capitalism, as a society, is based upon wage-labour and capital.

With the development of capitalism, economists and others including social reformers and utopian socialist "intellectuals" began to analyse the new and developing society. A new body of ideas began to emerge as to the nature of capitalism. In the main, from about 1844 onwards, they have been associated with two Germans, who, for many years lived in England, the then most advanced capitalist country. They were Karl Marx and Frederick Engels - though both admitted their debt to earlier economists and philosophers. nevertheless, both Marx and Engels were particularly scathing in their attacks on what they considered to be ''unscientific'' socialists and communists as well as those whom called themselves "True Socialists". However, in 1845, Engels was still influenced by utopian communist ideas. In the penultimate paragraph of his The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 he asserts that "communism stands, in principle, above the breach between bourgeoisie and proletariat... Communism is a question of humanity and not of the workers alone... And as Communism stands above the strife between bourgeoisie and proletariat it will be easier for the better elements of the bourgeoisie... to unite with it..." But by 1847, when he drafted Principles of Communism (that is the first draft of the famous Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels), Engels begins by saying that "Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of liberation of the proletariat". Incidentally, Engels in his Principles of Communism says that the workers are propertyless and are obliged to sell their labour to the bourgeoisie; later, after Marx had studied the capitalist mode of production, he asserted that the workers did not sell their labour, but their labour-power, their abilities to work.

In 184S, Marx wrote his German Ideology, in which he deals with and attacks the idealistic thinkers of Germany and, in the second part of the book, such "True" socialists and utopian communists as Saint-Simon, Fourier and Proudhon. He also attacks Proudhon in his Poverty of Philosophy. However, the first great "classic" of "scientific" or what, later on, has been called authoritarian, communism was, of course, the Communist Manifesto. In the main, it has remained so; though Engels writes in his 1872 Preface that parts of the program had "in some details become antiquated".

The Communist Manifesto begins by asserting that "A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism". The history of all hitherto existing (recorded) society, it proclaims, is the history of class struggles. But our society - capitalism - has simplified class antagonisms. "All society is more or less splitting up into two opposing camps, into two great hostile classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat", says the Manifesto. (I quote from the SLP, that is the De Leonist version, though I have four or five different versions and translations, all more or less the same). Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto (which saw the light of day in 1848) openly break with the utopians and the "True" socialists in advocating that it will be the proletarians - albeit through a Communist Party - who must overthrow bourgeois society. Says the Manifesto "All previous historical movements were the movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the conscious movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority". This is, indeed, worth remembering as many so-called latter-day Marxists and all Leninists plug the "vanguard party" line. Marx and Engels emphasise that the workers have no country. They are, to all intents and purposes, propertyless. It is worth noting that, in 1848, and more or less throughout their lives, Marx and Engels combine their propaganda for communism with a list of reforms. Like many others, they felt that one could advocate both the abolition of bourgeois society and reforms of that society at one and the same time! The Manifesto, therefore calls for, among other things, a heavy progressive income tax, abolition of inheritance, confiscation of the property of emigrants and rebels, centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, centralisation of the means of transportation in the hands of the State, organisation of industrial armies and free public education. In other words: state-capitalism!

Their vision of communism of the future, is summed up thus:

"When in the course of development class distinctions have disappeared, and all production is concentrated in the hands of associated individuals, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly speaking, is the organised power of one class for the purpose of oppressing another. If the proletariat, forced in its struggle against the bourgeoisie to organise as a class, makes itself by a revolution the ruling class, and as the ruling class destroys by force the old conditions of production. It destroys along with these conditions of production the conditions of existence of class antagonism, classes in general, and, therewith, its own domination as a class.

In the place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, an association appears in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all".

The Communist Manifesto ends with the now famous: "Workers of all Lands, Unite! "

In his paper addressed to the General Council of the First International (later published as Value, Price and Profit and not Wages, Price and Profit, as has been stated on occasions, particularly in Russia), Marx calls on the working class to abolish the wages system, though as an ultimate, not immediate, aim. This was in 1865. Ten years later, in his 'Critique of the Gotha Program', Marx elaborates on what he considers a communist society would be like. Like the 'Communist Manifesto', the 'Critique of the Gotha Program', is readily available, and should be read by anarchists and libertarian communists. I will, therefore, only quote the main points from the third section. (I use the Workers' Literature Bureau version, published in Melbourne, Australia, in 1946. The other editions are much the same, whether they be the Russian, De Leonist or Lawrence and Wishart editions).

Says Marx:

"Within the co-operative society, based on the common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products... What we are dealing with here is a Communist society, not as it has developed on its own basis, but, on the contrary, as it is just issuing out of capitalist society. Hence a society that still retains, in every respect, economic, moral and intellectual, the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it is issuing". Here, Marx argues that the producer gets back exactly as much as he gives; he receives a community cheque showing that he has done so much labour. "Equal right is here, therefore, still according to the principle capitalist right...". It is still tainted with "a capitalist limitation" It is, therefore, says Marx, "a right of inequality". Nevertheless he argues, "these shortcomings are unavoidable in the first phase of Communist society". But - and here we come to the all important and well-known passage of the 'Critique of the Gotha Program' - "In the higher phase of Communist society after the enslaving subordination of the individual under the division of labour has disappeared, and therewith also the opposition between manual and intellectual labour; after labour has become not only a means of life, but also the highest want of life; when the development of all the faculties of the individual, the productive forces have correspondingly increased, and all the springs of social wealth flow more abundantly - only then may the limited horizon of capitalist right be left behind entirely, and society inscribe on its banners 'From everyone according to his faculties, to everyone according to his needs!' ".

In Section Two of the 'Critique', Marx asks the question: "What then is the change which the institution of the State will undergo in a communist society?". And his answer is: "Between the capitalist and communist systems of society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. This corresponds to a political transition period, whose State can be nothing else but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat". Nowhere in this stage in Marx's thinking does he seem to envisage any sort of dying out or 'withering away' of the State. For such ideas, we have to look - at a somewhat later date - to Engels.

Engels' most important works on the subject of communism/ socialism are his 'Anti-Duhring', first published in 1878, and his 'Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State', first published in 1884. Part of 'Anti-Duhring' has appeared as 'Socialism: Utopian and Scientific', a work much admired by groups such as the SPGB in this country. In Part Three of 'Anti-Duhring', Engels first discusses Robert Owen's communist theories and colonies as well as the ideas of Saint-Simon and Fourier. Such people, Engels dubs as utopians; but remarks that "The utopians...were utopians because they could be nothing else at a time when capitalist production was as yet so little developed". After analysing bourgeois society in the same, but somewhat clearer, manner as did Marx, Engels then outlines what has remained the 'classic' Marxist method of bringing socialism about.

"The proletariat seizes the State power, and transforms the means of production in the first instant into State property. But in doing this, it puts an end to itself as the proletariat, it puts an end to all class differences and class antagonisms, it puts an end to the State as the State." And "When ultimately it (the State) becomes really representative of society as a whole, it makes itself superfluous. As soon as there is no longer any class of society to be held in subjection; as soon as - along with class domination and the struggle for individual existence based on the former anarchy (sic!) of production the collisions and excesses arising from these have also been abolished - there is nothing more to be repressed that would take a special repressive force, a State necessary. The first act in which the State really comes forward as the representative of society as a whole - the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society - is at the same time its last independent act as a State The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. The State is not 'abolished', it withers away." In the 'Socialism: Utopian and Scientific' version it says: "It dies out". In his section on production, Engels argues that production must be revolutionised from "top to bottom"; productive labour will become a pleasure, not a burden, production, utilising modern industry, will be on the basis of "one single vast plan'; and there will also be the abolition of the separation between town and country, as well as the old division of labour.

In his 'Origin of the State', Engels argues that the proletariat must constitute its own Party and vote for its own representatives to Parliament. "Universal suffrage ', he says, "is thus the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more; but that is enough". Of the State, he contends that it has not existed from all eternity. Societies have managed without it. The State will inevitably fall. In fact he says, "The society which organises production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole State machinery where it will then belong - into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze axe".

Before leaving the Marxian view of communism/socialism I think it is worth mentioning that Marx and Engels envisioned a quite authoritarian state of affairs within such a society, at least in the early days. In his essay on Authority, Engels write

"Authority . . . means the imposition of the will of another upon ours; on the other hand, authority presupposes subordination. Now, since these two words sound bad and the relationship which they represent is disagreeable to the subordinated party, the question is to ascertain whether there is any way of dispensing with it, whether - given the conditions of present-day society - we could not create another social system, in which this authority would be given no scope any longer and would consequently have to disappear . . .

. . . Everywhere combined action . . . displaces independent action by individuals; now, is it possible to have organisation without authority?

Supposing a social revolution dethroned the capitalists, who now exercises authority over the production and circulation of wealth. Supposing, to adopt entirely the view of the anti- authoritarians, that the land and the instruments of labour had, become the collective property of the workers who use them. Will authority have disappeared, or will it only have changed its form?"

Engels then instances a factory, a large cotton mill. He says

". . . particular questions arise in each room and at every moment concerning the mode of distribution, production of materials, etc., which must be settled at once at pain of seeing production immediately stopped; whether they are settled by decision of a delegate placed at the head of branch of labour or, if possible, by a majority vote, the will of the single individual will always be subordinate itself, which means that questions are settled in an authoritarian manner".

Engels' conclusions regarding the "delegation of function" are, of course, open to debate; but in fact, he goes much further in his praise of authority. He continues

"But the necessity of authority, and of impervious authority at that, will nowhere be found more evident than on board a ship on the high seas. There, in time of danger, the lives of all depend on the instantaneous and absolute obedience of all to the will of one".

Engels was, of course, wrong then, as he would be now! I have, in fact, dealt with this in an article entitled 'Anarchy in the Navy', in Anarchy 14, instancing the running of much of the Spanish Republican Fleet by rank-and-file sailors during the revolutionary period in 1936.

We will leave Engels to his "impervious authority"; though it may not come amiss to mention here that, surprisingly, even William Morris, who has always been considered something of a libertarian socialist and a quasi-anarchist, also takes a similar line to Engels regarding the running of a ship "in socialist condition", in his essay, 'Communism'.

Lastly, I shall briefly turn to the libertarian or anarchist communist viewpoints, which in the last century were mainly associated with two Russians - Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, though others also espoused similar views.

Libertarian communism

Between 1842 and 1861, Bakunin could best be described as a revolutionary pan-Slavist, though there are indications of libertarian tendencies before 1861. I would say, however, that he could not really be called a libertarian or anarchist before 1866, when he wrote his 'Revolutionary Catechism'.

In his 'Catechism', Bakunin argues that "freedom is the absolute right of every adult man and woman" that "the freedom of each is therefore realisable only in the equality of all". He asserts the absolute rejection of every authority, "including that which sacrifices freedom for the convenience of the State"; "order in society" he says, "must result from the greatest possible realisation of individual liberty, as well as of liberty on all levels of social organisation". He calls for the "establishment of a commonwealth", and the "abolition of classes, ranks and privileges" and, rather surprising, "universal suffrage", though Max Nettlau says that he did not mean in the State, but in the new society. Bakunin also calls for the abolition of the "all-pervasive, regimented, centralised State", and the "internal reorganisation of each country on the basis of the absolute freedom of individuals, of the productive associations and of the communes". Freedom can only be defended by freedom, he says. "The basic unit of all political organisation in each country - must be the completely autonomous commune constituted by the majority vote of all adults of both sexes. No one shall have either the power or the right to interfere in the internal life of the commune..." The nation, continues Bakunin, must be nothing but a federation of autonomous provinces. Without political equality there can, be no real political liberty, but political equality will be possible only when there is social and economic equality. The majority, says Bakunin, live in slavery And "This slavery will last until capitalism is overthrown by the collective action of the workers". Therefore the land, and all the natural resources, are (to be) the common property of everyone..." He concludes his 'Catechism': "The revolution, in short, has this aim: freedom for all, for individuals as well as collective bodies, associations, communes, provinces, regions, and nations, and the mutual guarantee of this freedom by federation".

Later, also in 1866, Bakunin wrote another Catechism on very much the same lines, in which he again asserts that the land is to be the common property of all, and that "The revolution must be made not for, but by, the people, and can never succeed if it does not enthusiastically involve all the masses of the people; that is, in the rural countryside as well as the cities."

In his 'Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theolgism', Bakunin says that socialism means "to organise society in such a manner that every individual endowed with life, man or woman, may find almost equal means for the development of his various faculties . . . to organise a society which, while it makes it impossible for any individual whatsoever to exploit the labour of others, will not allow anyone to share in the enjoyment of social wealth, always produced by labour only, unless he has himself contributed to its creation with his own labour". He thinks that the complete solution - to the problems thrown up by capitalism - "will no doubt be the work of centuries''. Nevertheless, "history has set the problem before us, and we can no longer evade it if we are not to resign ourselves to total impotence".

Bakunin, again and again, asserts that the people must make the revolution themselves, that the State must go first: that society must be "organised from the bottom up by revolutionary delegations . . ."; that the "revolutionary alliance" of the people must exclude any form of dictatorship. But, at least in 1869, Bakunin argued that a well-organised revolutionary "society" can assist "at the birth of the revolution by spreading among the masses ideas which give expression to their instincts. and to organise, not any army of the revolution - the people alone should always be that army - but a sort of revolutionary general staff, composed of dedicated, energetic, intelligent individuals, sincere friends of the people above all . . . capable of serving as intermediaries between the revolutionary idea and the instincts of the people". There need not, says Bakunin, be a great number of such people. Two or three hundred, he suggests, for the organisation in the largest countries. What our British "traditional" anarchists - who it would seem are not traditionalists, or at least Bakuninists - would say to this idea I fear to think!

Bakunin was particularly critical of those whom he called the "State Communists". He was also scathing of those whom he considered wished to impose communism or as he sometimes called it, collectivism, on the peasants. These he considered to be Jacobins. Bakunin and Marx were, of course antagonists. This was partly personal and partly political. In his 'Letter to La Liberte', Bakunin attacks Marx, saying that the popes had, at least, an excuse for considering that they possessed "absolute truth"; but "Mr. Marx has no such excuse''. In Bakunin's view, "the policy of the proletariat. necessarily revolutionary, should have the destruction of the State for its immediate goal". But Bakunin could not understand how Marx and the Marxists wished to preserve, or use the State, as an instrument of emancipation. "State means domination, and any domination presupposes the subjection of the masses and, consequently, their exploitation for the benefit of some ruling minority", asserts Bakunin against Marx. "The Marxists profess quite contrary ideas," argues Bakunin. "Between the Marxists and ourselves there is an abyss. They are the governmentalists; we are the anarchists in spite of it all", he says.

Basically, then, this was the great argument between Bakunin and Marx; it is still the argument between revolutionary anarchists and Marxists; between authoritarian communists and libertarian communists.

(Note: All quotations from Bakunin are taken from 'Bakunin on Anarchy', edited by Sam Dolgoff. Much the same material can also be gleaned from 'Bakunin', edited by Maximoff.)

Of Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin writes: "Bakunin was at heart a Communist; but, in common with his Federalist comrades of the International, and as a concession to the antagonism that the authoritarian Communists had inspired in France, he described himself as a 'collectivist anarchist'. But, of course he was not a 'collectivist' in the sense of Vidal or Pecqueur, or their modern followers, who simply aim at State Capitalism." (Modern Science and Anarchism). Nevertheless, as early as 1869, a number of "Bakuninists" described themselves as Communists.

Kropotkin, to a large degree, developed the ideas put forward, often in a rather unscientific, uncoordinated, form, by Bakunin. Before becoming an anarchist, Kropotkin had a scientific training and background. In his 'Memoirs of a Revolutionist', he sees, as it were, a new form of society germinating within "the civilized nations"; a society that must, one day, take the place of the old one: a society of equals, "who will not be compelled to sell their hands and brains to those who choose to employ them in a haphazard way, who will be able to apply their knowledge and capacities to production, in an organism so constructed as to combine all the efforts for procuring the greatest sum possible of well-being for all, while free scope will be left for every individual initiative". Kropotkin says that such a society will be composed of a multitude of associations, federated for the purposes which require federation - communes of production, communes of, and for, consumption, all kinds of organisations, covering not just one country but many. All of these will combine directly, be means of free agreements between them. "There will be", he says, "full freedom for the development of new forms of production, invention and organisation". People will combine for all sort of work "in common". The tendency towards uniformity and centralisation will be discouraged, remarks Kropotkin. Private ownership and the wages system must go. There will be no need of government; because of the free federation and "free agreement" of organisations, which will take its place. And in his 'Modern Science and Anarchism', Kropotkin particularly attacks the "State Socialists", who under the name of collectivism (we should say nationalisation today), advocated, not communism or socialism, but State Capitalism. This, he says, is nothing new; perhaps just an improved. but still undesirable, form of the wage-system.

Kropotkin, in the same work, refers to "the coming social revolution", which is quite different from that of a Jacobin, dictatorship. And of such a revolution, he remarks: "During a revolution new forms of life will always germinate on the ruin of the old forms, but no government will ever be able to find their expression so long as these forms will not have taken a definite shape during the work of reconstruction itself, which must be going on in a thousand spots at the same time." Such was Kropotkin's federalist - libertarian - communism and socialism.

Since Bakunin and Kropotkin formulated their ideas of free, federalist, anarchist, libertarian, communism, others have, followed and developed them. Malatesta popularised them; and so did Alexander Berkman, particularly in 'What Is Communist Anarchism'. In 1926, Archinov, Makhno, Ida Me and others developed the ideas of libertarian, anarchist communism and organisation in their 'Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists'. I will not discuss the views of Malatesta, Berkman and the "Platformists" here as, no doubt many of you are as, if not more, familiar with them as I am. Naturally, the formulation of libertarian communist and socialist ideas, and forms of organisation, will continue, in the words of Kropotkin, "to germinate". Let us hope so!

February, 1976

Originally published in Libertarian Communist Review by the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists/Anarchist Workers' Association, No. 2, 1976


Putting the Record Straight on Bakunin - Solidarite Ouvriere/ASRAS

This text, originally published by Solidarite Ouvriere, the monthly paper of the Alliance Syndicaliste Revolutionnaire et Anarcho-syndicaliste, was first translated into English in the 1970s and published in Libertarian Communist Review #2, and then made available online by the website.

Submitted by R Totale on May 5, 2020

Putting the record straight on Mikhail Bakunin

Original introduction

The following text is a translation from the French. It comes from Solidarite Ouvriere, the monthly paper of the Alliance Syndicaliste Revolutionnaire et Anarcho-syndicaliste. We have many criticisms of syndicalism, and this includes its anarcho-syndicalist variant.

However, the ASRAS, in its reassessment of the libertarian movement, its commitment to revolutionary class politics and to a materialist dialectic, represents one of the more worthwhile and progressive libertarian groups in France, along with the Organisation Cominuniste Libertaire and the Collectif pour un Union des Travailleurs Communiste Libertaire.

Future issues of LCR will contain critiques of anarcho-syndicalism.

On the eve of the centenary of Bakunin, the return of all the gross stupidities which have been said about Bakunin requires a considerable work. Without hesitation whatsoever, the prize for falsification goes to Jacques Duclos, the former head of the PCF, who has devoted a huge book of several hundred pages to the relationship between Marx and Bakunin, which is a masterpiece of fiction. Now is the time to compile a catalogue of falsifications that surround Bakunin. For if Duclos holds - with Marx himself - the sad privilege of the thought of Bakunin, the anarchists are unrivalled in being his greatest unconscious falsifiers. Of the things in common that the two leaders of the First International have, the foremost is perhaps that their thought has been misrepresented in an identical way by their own disciples. We wish here to follow the development of this misrepresentation of Bakunin's positions. Later, we will explain what we think to be his true theory of revolutionary action.

Bakunin continually moves between the mass action of the proletariat and action of organised revolutionary minorities. Neither of these two aspects of the struggle against capitalism can be separated: however, the libertarian movement after the death of Bakunin divided into two tendencies which emphasised one of the two points while neglecting the other. The same phenomenon can be found in the Marxist movement with the reformist social democrats in Germany and the radical and Jacobin social democrats in Russia.

In the anarchist movement, one current advocates the development of mass organisation, exclusively acting within the structures of the working class, and arrives at a state of a-politicism completely foreign to the ideas of Bakunin; another current refuses the very principle of organisation as this is seen as the beginnings of bureaucracy: they favour the setting up of affinity groups within which individual revolutionary initiative and the action of example will facilitate the passage without transition to an ideal communist society. where everyone will produce according to their his/her ability and will consume according to his/her need: joyful work and taking from the common store.

The first current advocated the action of the mass of workers within a structured organisation, collectivisation of the means of production and the organisation of these into a coherent whole, preparation of the workers for social transformation.

The second current completely refused authority and the discipline of organisation; tactically this is seen as temporisation with capital. This current defines itself in an essentially negative way: against authority, hierarchy, power and legal action. Its political programme is based in the concept of communal autonomy, directly inspired by Kropotkin, in particular 'The Conquest of Bread'. This current triumphed in the Congress of the CNT at Saragossa in 1936, whose resolutions expressed misunderstanding of the economic mechanisms of society, scorn for economic and social reality. The Congress developed in its final report "The confederal concept of libertarian communism", founded on the model of organisational plans of the future society which flourished in socialist literature of the 19th century. The foundation of the future society is the free commune. Each commune is free to do what it wishes. Those which refuse to be integrated outside the agreements of "conviviencia collective" with industrial society could "choose other modes of communal life, like for example, those of naturists and nudists, or they would have the right to have an autonomous administration outside the general agreements"

In today's parlance, one could say that the followers of Bakunin can be divided in one "right wing deviation" which is traditional anarcho-syndicalism, and one "leftist deviation" which is anarchism. The first one emphasises mass action, economic organisation and methodology. The second one hangs on to the objectives. "the programme" quite independent of immediate reality. And each of these currents claims for itself - by the way very frequently - Bakunin.

We have distinguished four principal misrepresentations of Bakunin's thought:

SPONTANEISM: From time to time, Bakunin seems to sing the praises of spontaneity of the masses; at other times he affirms the necessity of mass political direction. In general anarchists have clung to the first aspect of his thought, and completely abandoned the second. In reality, Bakunin said that what the masses lacked in order to emancipate themselves was organisation and science, "precisely the two things which constitute now, and have always constituted the power of governments" (Protest of the Alliance). "At the time of great political and economic crisis when the instinct of the masses, greatly inflamed, opens out to all the happy inspiration, where these herds of slave-men manipulated, crushed, but never resigned, rebel against the yoke, but feel themselves to be disoriented and powerless because they are completely disorganised, ten, twenty or thirty men, well-intentioned and well-organised amongst themselves, and who know where they're going and what they want, can easily carry with them a hundred, two hundred, three hundred or even more" (Oeurres 6, 90).

Later on, he says, similarly, that in order that the minority of IWMA can carry with it the majority, it is necessary that each member should be well versed in the principles of the International.

"It is only on this condition," he says "that in times of peace and calm will he be able to effectively fulfil the mission of propagandist and missionary, and in times of struggle, that of a revolutionary leader."

The instrument for the development of Bakunin's ideas was the Alliance of Socialist Democracy. Its mission was to select revolutionary cadres to guide mass organisations, or to create them where they didn't already exist. It was an ideologically coherent grouping.

"It is a secret society, formed in the heart of the International, to give it a revolutionary organisation, and to transform it and all the popular masses outside it, into a force sufficiently organised to annihilate political, clerical, bourgeois reaction, to destroy all religious, political, judicial institutions of states."

It is difficult to see spontaneism here. Bakunin only said that if the revolutionary minority must act within the masses it must not substitute itself for the masses.

In the last analysis, it is always the masses themselves that must act on their own account. Revolutionary militants must push workers towards organisation, and when circumstances demand it, they must not hesitate to take the lead. This idea contrasts singularly with what anarchism subsequently became

Thus, in 1905, when the Russian anarchist Voline was pressed by the insurgent Russian workers to take on the presidency of the soviet. of St Petersburg, he refused because "he wasn't a worker" and in order not to embrace authority. Finally, the presidency fell to Trotsky, after Nossar, the first President, was arrested.

Mass action and minority revolutionary action are inseparable, according to Bakunin. But the action of revolutionary minorities only has sense when it is linked to mass working class organisation. If they are isolated from the organised working class, revolutionaries are condemned to failure.

"Socialism . . only has a real existence in enlightened revolutionary impulse, in the collective will and in the working class's own mass organisations - and when this impulse, this will, this organisation, falls short, the best books in the world are nothing but theories in a vacuum, impotent dreams."

APOLITICISM: Anarchism has been presented as an apolitical, abstentionist movement by playing with words and giving them a different meaning to that which the Bakuninists gave them.

Political action, at the time, meant parliamentary action. So to be anti-parliamentarian meant to be anti-political. As the marxists at this moment in time could not conceive of any other political action for the proletariat than parliamentary action, the denial of the electoral mystification was understood as opposition to every form of political action.

The Bakuninists replied to the. accusation of abstentionism by pointing out that the term was ambiguous and that it never meant political indifference, but a rejection of bougeois politics in favour of a "politics of work".

Abstention is a radical questioning of the political rules of the bourgeoisie's game.

"The International does not reject politics generally. It will certainly be forced to involve itself insofar as it will be forced to struggle against the bourgeois class. It only rejects bourgeois politics."

Bakunin condemned suffrage as an instrument of proletarian emancipation. He denies the use of putting up candidates. But he didn't elevate abstentionism to the level of an absolute principal. He recognised a degree of interest in local elections.

He even advised Gambuzzi's parliamentary intervention.

Nowhere in Bakunin will you find hysterical, vicious condemnations that became dear to anarchists after his death. Elections are not condemned for moral reasons, but because they risk prolonging the bourgeoisie's game. On this point, Bakunin proved to be right over and above the Marxists, right up to Lenin.

Anti-parliamentarianism was so unfamiliar to Marxists that from the start of the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks - at least at the beginning - passed as Bakuninists in the European workers' movement.

THE REFUSAL OF AUTHORITY: The Bakuninists called themselves "anti-authoritarians". The confusion that arose as a result of the use of this word has been bitterly taken up since Bakunin's death. Authoritarian in the language of the time meant bureaucratic. The anti-authoritarians were simply anti-bureaucratic in opposition to the Marxist tendency.

The question then was not one of morals or character, and attitude to authority influenced by temperament. It was a political standpoint. Anti-authoritarian means "democratic". This last word existed at the time but with a different meaning.

Less than a century after the French Revolution, it described the political practices of the bourgeoisie. It was the Bourgeoisie who were "democrats".

When it was applied to the working class movement, the word 'democrat' was accompanied by 'social' or 'socialist', as in 'social democrat. The worker who was a. 'democrat' was either a 'social-democrat' or anti authoritarian.

Later democracy and proletariat were associated in the expression 'workers democracy'.

The anti-authoritarian tendency of the International was in favour of workers democracy, the tendency qualified a authoritarian was accused of bureaucratic centralisation.

But Bakunin was far from being opposed to all authority. His tendency allowed power if it came directly from the proletariat, and was controlled by it. He opposed the revolutionary government of the Jacobin type with insurrectionary proletarian power through the organisation of the working class.

Strictly speaking, this is not a form of political power but of social power.

After Bakunin's death, anarchists rejected the very idea of power. They only referred to the writings that were critical of power, and to a sort of metaphysical anti-authoritarianism. They abandoned the method of analysis which came from real facts. They abandoned this as far as the foundation of Bakuninist theory based on materialism and historical analysis. And with it they abandoned the field of struggle of the working class in favour of a particular form of radicalised liberalism.

THE CLASS MOVEMENT: Bakunin's political strategy did not depart from his theory of the relations between the classes. This should be established once and for all.

When the proletariat was weak, he advised against indiscriminate struggle against all the fractions of the bourgeoisie.

From the point of view of working class struggle, not all political regimes are equivalent. It is not a matter of indifference whether the struggle is against the dictatorial regime of Bismarck or the Tsar, or against that of a parliamentary democracy.

"The most imperfect of republics is a thousand times better than the most enlightened monarchy."

In 1870, Bakunin recommended using the patriotic reaction of the French proletariat and turning it into revolutionary war. In his 'Letters to a Frenchman' he makes a remarkable analysis of the relationships between different fractions of the bourgeoisie and the working class, and develops some months in advance and prophetically, what were to be the Paris and provincial Communes.

A thorough reading of Bakunin shows that his entire work consisted of constant enquiry, the relationships which could exist between the fractions which make up the dominane class and their opposition with the proletariat. His strategy for the workers movement is intimately linked with his analysis of these relationships.

In no case can it be separated from the historical moment in which these relationships take place. In other words, not every time is ripe for revolution, and a detailed understanding of the relationship of forces between the bourgeoisie and the working class permits one at the same time not to miss suitable occasions and to avoid making tragic mistakes.

Bakunin's successors thought, on one hand, that there existed between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat a sort of immutable and constant relationship; on the other hand, that the relationship between the classes could not in any way enter into the scheme of things to determine revolutionary action. In the first case, they adopted a certain number of basic principles that were considered essential, and they gave themselves the objective of putting them into practice at some time or another in the future, whatever the circumstances of the moment.

Thus, the report of the Saragossa Conference already mentioned could have been written at any period. It stands absolutely outside time.

On the eve of the Spanish Civil War, the military problems for example, and agitation in the heart of the army, are dealt with one phrase: "Thousands of workers have been through the barracks, and are familiar with modern revolutionary warfare."

In the second case, they thought that the relationships of power between the classes were unimportant as the proletariat must act spontaneously. It is not related to any social determinism, but on the contrary to the hazards of exemplary action. The whole problem lies then in creating the right detonator.

The history of the anarchist movement is full of these sensational actions, which were useless and bloody. In the hope of encouraging the revolution, they attacked the town hall by the dozen: they made speeches, they proclaimed - very often in an atmosphere of complete indifference - about libertarian communism. They burnt local archives whilst waiting for the police to arrive.

Attentism or voluntarism, in either case the reference made to Bakunin is insulting. Very often, the libertarian movement has replaced the scientific method of analysis of relations between classes with magical incantations. The scientific and sociological nature of Bakuninist analysis of social relations and political action was completely rejected by the libertarian movement.

The intellectual failure of the libertarian movement can be seen in the accusations of 'marxism' made about every attempt to introduce the slightest notion of scientific method in political analysis.

For example Malatesta said: "Today, I find that Bakunin was in political economy and in the interpretation of history, too Marxist. I find that his philosophy debated without any possibility of resolution, the contradiction between his mechanical conception of the universe and his faith in the effectiveness of free will over the destinies of man and the universe."

The "mechanical conception of the universe", that is in Malatesta's mind, is the dialectical method which makes of the social world a moving whole, about which one can determine general laws of evolution. "The effectiveness of free will" is voluntarist revolutionary action. The problem can therefore be reduced to the relationship of mass action on society and the action of revolutionary minorities.

Malatesta is incapable of understanding the relationship of interdependence which exists between the human race and environment, between the social determinism of the human race and its capacity to transform the environment.

The individual cannot be separated from the environment in which he/she lives. Even though the individual is largely determined by environment, he/she can act upon it and modify it, provided the trouble is taken to understand the laws or evolution.


The action of the working class must be the synthesis of the understanding of the "mechanics of the universe" - the mechanics of society - and "the effectiveness of free will" - conscious revolutionary action. There lies the foundation of Bakunin's theory of revolutionary action.

Two Bakunins do not exist - one which is libertarian, anti-authoritarian and who glorifies the spontaneous action of the masses; the other one 'marxist', authoritarian, who advocates the organisation of the vanguard.

There is only one Bakunin, who applies to different times in diverse circumstances principles of action which flow from a lucid understanding of the dialectic between the masses and the advanced revolutionary minorities.


klas batalo

4 years 1 month ago

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Submitted by klas batalo on May 8, 2020

i'd love to find the critiques they had of AS

R Totale

4 years 1 month ago

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Submitted by R Totale on May 8, 2020

I think that's the last issue of the magazine so there were no future issues, but some of the people involved went on to be part of the A(C)F, so you can find more of their views in Virus/Organise. "The Union makes us Strong? Syndicalism: a Critical Analysis" is probably the best place to start (I could have sworn that was in the library here somewhere, but can't seem to find it).


4 years 1 month ago

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Submitted by Battlescarred on May 9, 2020

Yes, it was me that translated ASRAS article. When I was in Paris in early 70s I regularly attended ASRAS meetings


3 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by rat on September 15, 2020

Thanks for posting this R Totale. Very interesting.


3 years 3 months ago

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Submitted by sherbu-kteer on February 27, 2021

This was collected with two other ASRAS articles (one on Kropotkin, the other on Malatesta) and printed as a pamphlet, I think. I have translated all three and uploaded them here, in case people were interested:

(I only realised that the Bakunin article in the pamphlet was the one here after I had translated it... oh well)

Review: A contribution to the Critique of Marx - Bob Dent

Bob Dent reviews John Crump's A Contribution to the Critique of Marx. This was first published in Libertarian Communist Review #2, and made available online by the website.

Submitted by R Totale on May 5, 2020

Review: A contribution to the Critique of Marx

A CONTRIBUTION TO THE CRITIQUE OF MARX by John Crump (published jointly by Social Revolution/London, c/o 83 Gregory Crescent, London SE9, and Solidarity/London, c/o 123 Lathom Road, London E6.) 10p

The aim of this pamphlet is to trace a connecting line of thought from Marx and Engels to Leninist state capitalism. In this, John Crump succeeds. At least in so far as success is to find quotations and examples from Marx and Engels' writings paralleled in Lenin. So here we have a stick with which to beat the non-Leninist Marxists. (For Marxist-Leninists the argument that Lenin follows Marx is of course already accepted, but with a different interpretation.)

But herein lies my first criticism. The pamphlet is very much in the trend of Marxist exegesis: the "what-Marx-really said/meant" school. My usual response is 'so what?'. The question applies to this pamphlet and I don't think it is answered adequately.

The minor these is more interesting though, unfortunately, not developed in terms of its relevance to us today. John Crump argues that, unlike Lenin Marx did have a view of communism which was not state capitalist. So how come much of Marx's writings lend weight to the state capitalist school? This anomaly is attributed to the fact that Marx was an 'activist' eager to 'get involved'. As he lived for the most part through a non-revolutionary situation, he was obliged to water down his communism to make his ideas more relevant to the actual on-going (capitalist) struggles of the day. The alternative was to remain 'pure' in theory, but impotent in the sense of shying away from day-to-day practice (a la SPGB, a party which, until recently counted the author of this pamphlet among its members). John Crump asserts that the dilemma is still with us today and will not be resolved until the working class gets on the move and develops a communist consciousness.

Here I begin to part company over the view of communist consciousness (not explained - when is it ever? - but implicit throughout). Many times in this short pamphlet there are references to the 'correct' theory of communism, and Marx is criticised for deviating from this. But what is this 'correct theory'? Or, to bring out my point more clearly, whose 'correct theory'? To me, there is something false about a dilemma which counterpoises on the one hand theoretical purity and on the other the theoretically murky areas of activity. It is no use us bemoaning the fact that Marx, Lenin, the working class, or whoever are deviating from 'the correct theory'. The task of revolutionaries (whatever that means!) is to observe and learn from what is already going on in society, what is already revolutionary, and to participate with others in those activities in which we find value. (I know this is begging lots of questions, but for the time being, as they say in Yorkshire - 'nuf said!)

Bob Dent



4 years 1 month ago

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Submitted by Spikymike on May 5, 2020

A better review published by the Social Revolution Group is attached to the pamphlet in the library here via the link below the title above.