Red and Black Revolution 04 - 1998

Issue 4 of Red & Black Revolution from 1998.

Submitted by R Totale on December 31, 2021

Contents:

Anarchism with a future - The Czech Republic

Kevin Doyle talks to Vadim Barák of the Solidarita organisation in the Czech Republic about the problems and possibilities facing anarchists in the process of rebuilding a revolutionary movement.

Anarchism & Environmental Survival

Anarchism is often seen as being broadly linked with the radical wing of the Environmental movement. Ray Cunningham in reviewing 'Anarchism and Environmental Survival' considers these links and the influence of these movements on each other.

- Meat 'n' Veg 'n' Microlivestock
- Cities of the future?

Racism: Where it comes from, How we should fight it?

With racism on the rise in Ireland, it has become more important than ever for anti-racist activists to examine where such ideas come from and how they can be fought. In this article, the South African anarchist organisation, the WSF, puts forward its view that the fight against racism and the class-struggle are inextricably linked.

The Life, Times & Confessions of Victor Serge

One time anarchist Victor Serge joined the Bolsheviks in 1918 and is often quoted by Leninists today to justify their repression of the left. Dermot Sreenan looks at his later writings and finds a Serge unhappy with many aspects of Bolshevik rule but unable to break with them because of the apparent success of the Russian Revolution.

The 1798 Rebellion

In June of 1795 several Irish Protestants gathered on top of Cave Hill, overlooking Belfast. They swore " never to desist in our efforts until we had subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted our independence". Three years later 100,000 rose against Britain in the first Irish republican insurrection. Andrew Flood examines what they were fighting for and how they influenced modern Irish nationalism. [In Spanish] [As a PDF file]

Letters on Cane Nero

Readers views on some controversy generated with the last issue

The Friends of Durruti

The Friends of Durruti organisation, which arose from the ranks of anarchist militants during the Spanish Civil War, condemned the CNT and FAI members who joined the anti-Franco government. For their pains they were accused of wanting to establish an "anarchist dictatorship". Alan MacSimóin reviews the first English language book about them, and looks at the lessons to be learnt from Spain.

The Platform

So you want to change the world? What next? Unsurprisingly this simple question has provoked much discussion among anarchists. Aileen O'Carroll and Alan MacSimóin look at the answer provided by some Russians.

- The Platform: What's in it?
- Platformist groups today

Hobson's choice: The "Good Friday Agreement" & the Irish Left

The "Good Friday Agreement" was passed by an overwhelming majority of voters North and South. The agreement presented something of a Hobson's Choice for the Irish working-class - which route to an entrenchment of sectarianism do you want to take? Here Gregor Kerr looks at the reactions to the agreement of the Irish left.

Files

rbr4.pdf (2.15 MB)

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Platformist groups in the year 2000

An overview of the platformist tradition from the year 2000.

Submitted by R Totale on January 17, 2022

Anarchist organisations that have been influenced by the Platform are well aware that it is no Bible full of absolute truths. There is no grouping anywhere that would be so stupid to treat it as one. Anarchists have no need of such things. It is just one of the signposts pointing us in what we believe is the direction of making anarchism the most realistic and desirable alternative to both the present set-up and the authoritarian alternatives served up by most of the left. Its ideas have been developed and modified in the light of experience over the years. Two other relatively well known documents are Towards A Fresh Revolution by the Friends of Durruti (which arose from the experience of the Spanish revolution) and the Manifesto of Libertarian Communism by Georges Fontenis (which arose from French experiences in the post-World War II years). The WSM stands in this tradition because it is the best one we have found, but it is a continually developing, modifying and growing one. We have no tablets carved in stone, and we don't want or need any.

Organisations which are influenced, to varying degrees, by this tradition can be found in countries where anarchism has sunk deep roots, like France (Libertarian Alternative), Switzerland (Libertarian Socialist Organisation) and Italy (Federation of Anarchist Communists); and also in countries where anarchism is a fairly new force, like the Lebanon (Al Badil al Taharouri) and South Africa (Workers Solidarity Federation). In the last year new translations of the Platform have appeared in Polish and Turkish.

In the English speaking world, however, many anarchists are either unaware of what is in the Platform, or are hostile to it. Why? The authors drew a distinction between real federalism, the free agreement to work together in a spirit of free debate for agreed goals; and what they describe as "the right, above all, to manifest one's 'ego', without obligation to account for duties as regards the organisation". As they point out, there is no point making decisions if members will not carry them out.

However, when they went on to talk about a General Union of Anarchists they found themselves under attack from prominent anarchists such as Voline, Fabbri, Malatesta and Camilo Berneri who accused them of trying to "Bolshevise anarchism". I believe that this criticism was wrong. On one hand Voline and his fellow thinkers were opposed because they saw no problem with organisations which were a pick 'n' mix of anarcho-syndicalism, anarchist-communism and individualism with all the incoherence and ineffectiveness that implies. On the other hand many anarchists saw the proposed General Union of Anarchists as some sort of monopoly organisation that would incorporate all anarchists. It is a fault of the authors that they did not say explicitly that the General Union would, as all anarchists should, work with others when it is in the interests of the class struggle.

Neither did they spell out that all the decisions, the policies and the direction of the organisation would be taken by the members after full and free debate. It should not have had to be spelled out when addressing other anarchists but seemingly it did, and the 'Platform' was misunderstood by many as a result of this omission. Further signs of authoritarianism were seen in the proposal for an executive committee. Maybe if they had called it a working collective or something similar the same threat would not have been seen.

The tasks of this executive committee were listed as

"the execution of decisions taken by the Union with which it is entrusted, the theoretical and organisational orientation of isolated organisations consistent with the theoretical positions and general tactical line of the Union, the monitoring of the general state of the movement, the maintenance of working and organisational links between all the organisations in the union, and with other organisations. The rights, responsibilities and practical tasks of the executive committee are fixed by the congress of the Union".

The last sentence of the document talks about the aim of the Union to become the "organised vanguard of the emancipating process". It appears that what is being talked about is winning the best militants, the most class conscious and revolutionary workers to the Union. But it is not clearly spelled out. A doubt could exist. Did they mean a more Leninist type of vanguard? When read as part of the entire pamphlet I don't think so, but even if this is not the case it still does not invalidate the rest of the work. It would be very stupid to throw away the whole document because of one less than clear sentence.

Two arguments get used again and again against the Platform. Firstly we are told that it is Arshinov's 'Platform' as if the other four authors were just dupes, but then it would be far less credible to throw the same accusation at Nestor Makhno. It is done because in 1934 Arshinov returned to Russia, where three years later he was murdered in Stalin's purges. What Arshinov did eight years after helping to write the 'Platform' surely does no more to invalidate what was written in 1926 any more than Kropotkin's support for Allied imperialism in the First World War invalidated all his previous anarchist writings.

The other reason is the experience in Britain where the Anarchist Workers Association in the 1970s and the Anarchist Workers Group of the early 1990s both claimed the 'Platform' as an inspiration. Both groups - after very promising starts - declined, degenerated, died and then saw their remnants disappear into the Leninist milieu. This has been held up as some sort of proof that the basic ideas of the Platform inevitably lead to an abandonment of anarchism.

Of course, even the briefest look at the movement beyond the shores of Britain shows that this is clearly not the case at all. But what did go wrong with both the AWA and the AWG? After all, mistakes that are not understood can easily be repeated.

One factor shared by both organisations was that they were formed by people who were already anarchists and who saw the need for an alternative to the loose organisation and lack of theoretical clarity so prevalent in British anarchism. Or to put it simply: they saw a movement with great ideas but a very poor ability to promote them. They started off by concentrating too much on what was wrong with the movement; they lost sight of all that is sensible and inspiring, and increasingly only saw the problems.

In so far as there was regular internal education and discussion it tended to be about strategies and tactics. New members were recruited on the basis of activity in strikes and campaigns, and often had little understanding of basic anarchist ideas. These people had, however, come from a background where anarchists were presented as a group of clowns without two ideas to rub together or as dropouts, incapable of dealing with modern society and wishing for a return to living on the land. There were no formal educationals on the anarchist tradition but a fair few slagging off other anarchists.

At the last conference of the AWG one observer was shocked to discover that someone who had been in that organisation for over a year knew, by his own admission, virtually nothing about the biggest ever practical anarchist experiment - the Spanish revolution. Not surprisingly many of these new members came to believe that the AWG must be a radical departure from anarchism for it seemed radically different from what they had been told anarchism was. This, in turn, strengthened a feeling that there was little to learn from the anarchist tradition.

The result of this was that, as the anarchists got demoralised and drifted away, the remaining members felt they had to move 'beyond anarchism'. In both cases the surviving rumps ended up moving into authoritarian politics. We cannot be surprised when organisations where the majority of members have little understanding of anarchist ideas cease to be anarchist organisations. To expect anything else would be crazy.

The ideas of the Platform can aid anarchists to organise more effectively, but this is meaningless if we have not first ensured that those in the anarchist organisations have a good grasp of anarchist ideas, are confident enough to disagree and debate, and are united by the common cause of making anarchism a reality.

Comments

Battlescarred

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Battlescarred on January 18, 2022

This is just plain wrong. The rump of the AWA didn't join a Leninist group , it became the Libertarian Communist Group, which then later joined Big Flame. There might have been people in there who described themselves as Leninist but there were many libertarians in it the organisation self-described as libertarian socialist.

The Platform: What's in it?

A guide to 'The Organisational Platform of the libertarian communists'.

Submitted by R Totale on January 17, 2022

The introduction is brief, it describes the poor state of the anarchist movement and explains why they felt it necessary to formulate a new approach to organisation. The authors then describe the following two sections as the "minimum to which it is necessary and urgent to rally all the militants of the anarchist movement". These are the basic issues on which they believe it is important to have agreement, in order to have an organisation which can co-operate and work together in practice.

General Section

This section outlines what they saw as the basic anarchist beliefs. They look at what is meant by class struggle, what is meant by anarchism and libertarian communism. They explain why they oppose the state and centralised authority. The role of the masses and of anarchists in the social struggle and social revolution is also explained. They criticise the Bolshevik strategy of obtaining control of the state. Finally they look at the relationship between anarchism and the trade unions.

The Constructive Section

This outlines how a future anarchist society would be organised, they look at how the factories would operate and how food would be produced. They warn that the revolution will have to be defended, and talk a little about how this might be done.

The Organisational Section

This is the shortest and most contentious section of The Platform. Here the authors sketch their idea of how an anarchist organisation should be structured. They call this the General Union of Anarchists.

By this they seem to mean one umbrella organistion, which is made up of different groups and individuals. Here we would disagree with them. We don't believe there will ever be one organisation which encompasses everything, neither do we see it as necessary. Instead we envisage the existence of a number of organisations, each internally unified, each co-operating with each other where possible. This is what we call the Anarchist movement, it is a much more amorphous and fluid entity than a General Union of Anarchists.

However, what we do agree on are the fundamental principles by which any anarchist organisation should operate.

- Theoretical Unity, that there is a commitment to come to agreement on theory. By theory they don't mean abstract musings on the meaning of life. By theory they mean the knowledge we have about how the world operates. Theory answers the question 'why?', for example 'why is there poverty?' 'why haven't Labour Parties provided a fairer society?' and so on and so on. By theoretical unity they mean that members of the organisation must agree on a certain number of basics. There isn't much an organisation can do if half their members believe in class struggle and the other half in making polite appeals to politicians, or one in which some people believe union struggles are important and others think they are a waste of time. Of course, not everybody is going to agree with everybody else on every single point. If there was total agreement there would be no debate, and our politics would grow stale and sterile. Accepting this however, there is a common recognition that it is important to reach as much agreement as possible, and to translate this agreement into action, to work together, which brings us to ...
- Tactical Unity, that the members of the organisation agree to struggle together as an organisation, rather than struggle as individuals in opposition to each other. So for example in Ireland, the WSM identified the anti-water charges campaign (see R&BR3 for more details) as an issue of great importance. Once it was prioritised, all of our members committed themselves to work for the campaign, where possible. The tactics and potential of the campaign were discussed at length at our meetings. It became the major focus of our activity.
- Collective Responsibility, by this they mean that each member will support the decisions made by the collective, and each member will be part of the collective decision making process. Without this, any decisions made will be paper decisions only. Through this the strength of all the individuals that make up the group is magnified and collectively applied. The Platform doesn't go into detail about how collective responsibility works in practice. There are issues it leaves untouched such as the question of people who oppose the majority view. We would argue that obviously people who oppose the view of the majority have a right to express their own views, however in doing so they must make clear that they don't represent the view of the organisation. If a group of people within the organisation oppose the majority decision they have the right to organise and distribute information so that their arguments can be heard within the organisation as a whole. Part of our anarchism is the belief that debate and disagreement, freedom and openness strengthens both the individual and the group to which she or he belongs.
- Federalism, which they define as "the free agreement of individuals and organisations to work collectively towards common objectives".

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