First issue of the theoretical journal of the Anarchist Communist Group. From issue 2, the journal was renamed Stormy Petrel.
Virus #1 (2019)
The Year 1919
A short account of the revolutionary events of the year 1919
The Year 1919
In this issue of Virus, we highlight important events that happened one hundred years ago. We have articles on little known events like the soviets in Ireland, the Seattle and Winnipeg general strikes, and the unrest in Britain, including the Luton riot, the police strike and mutinies in the armed forces. But 1919 was more than those events. There were uprisings all over the world.
In Mexico, the Revolution that had started in 1910 rumbled on until 1920 but in 1919 one of the most important revolutionaries, Emiliano Zapata, was murdered on April 10th by the forces of President Carranza. The United States took the opportunity of the attack by the revolutionary forces of Pancho Villa on the border town of Ciudad Juarez to send its troops into Mexico, to repulse Villa’s forces.
In Malta, began the Sette Giugno (Seventh of June) uprising. This was triggered by food shortages and a massive rise in the cost of living, including rent rises, brought on by the results of the First World War. Malta had become highly militarised during that war, and the mass of the population had suffered whilst a few made enormous profits out of military spending. In the aftermath of the war, many working in war-related industries like the dockyards lost their jobs. Workers protested, whilst university students held demonstrations over changes to their courses. Rising tensions resulted in riots breaking out on 7th June 1919. British soldiers fired on the crowd, killing three people. The Maltese nationalists seized control of the unrest to demand greater autonomy for Malta and the establishment of a Parliament.
In early 1919 in Hungary, conflict increased between workers and the coalition government. The number of demonstrations increased and there were seizures of land by peasants. Estate workers and servants set up cooperatives and workers councils. Factories were occupied, whilst soldiers’ councils took over control of many arms depots. On February 20th unemployed workers marched to the offices of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party newspaper, Nepszava. The police responded brutally and anarchist self-defence squads retaliated by killing four cops. 68 anarchists and Communists were arrested and beaten. This resulted in a wave of protest which led to the dropping of the most serious charges. The tempo of the unrest increased with a workers’ council being created in the city of Szeged. On 20th March print workers refused to print Nepszava, triggering a general strike that demanded the release of the prisoners. On March 21st 1919, the Hungarian Council Republic was established. The Bolshevik Bela Kun engineered the amalgamation of the Social Democratic Party and the newly emergent Communist Party. Opposition to this move came from the left opposition including many anarchists. Some of the anarchists who had been in the left of the Communist Party left to form the Anarchist Union, allying with anarcho-syndicalists. The Hungarian Council Republic called for the abolition of the police and army, the socialisation of banks and transport, the confiscation of assets, the abolition of bureaucracy and the secularisation of society. The Communist Party attempted to increase its hold over the developing Revolution and re-appointed the old estate managers as commissars for production, sabotaging the revolution in the countryside.
Meanwhile the Romanian army marched against the Revolution, resulting in the mobilisation of workers in the Hungarian cities. This force of 50,000 defeated the Romanians and their allies and sent them reeling back to Romania. In the course of these actions a Republic of Councils was set up in Slovakia. However, the Revolution was now being undermined by the Bolsheviks in the Communist Party on one side and the plots of right-wing socialists on the other. Kun began secret negotiations with the reactionary governments of the Entente, resulting in a peace treaty similar to the one negotiated by the Russian Bolsheviks at Brest-Litovsk and the giving up of the Slovak Councils, leading to the incorporation of south east Slovakia into the state of Czechoslovakia. This led to demoralisation and the defeat of the revolutionaries by the Romanians on July 20th. The inept and bungling Kun was forced to resign. The Council Republic came to an end on August 1st. The Romanians installed the reactionary Admiral Horthy and a White Terror began, with the torture and murder of many revolutionaries whilst Kun and his Bolshevik associates negotiated a safe passage out of Hungary in a sealed train. Anarchists and left communists were deliberately excluded from this, and suffered terribly in the aftermath. The Revolution had been destroyed.
The Revolution that had begun in Germany in 1918 continued into the following year. The revolutionaries grouped around the Spartacists joined with other groups to found the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) on January 1st 1919. Rosa Luxemburg, on the right of the Spartacists wanted the KPD to run in the forthcoming elections but was outvoted by the majority, who wanted to concentrate on agitation in the workplaces and the streets.
A new wave of agitation began on January 4th when the chief constable of Berlin, Emil Eichhorn, a member of the left socialist party, the United Social Democrats (USPD) was sacked by the government led by the Social Democrats (SPD). He had refused to use the police to attack workers’ demonstrations. The USPD, the KPD and the group of Revolutionary Shop Stewards called a demonstration the following day, which to their surprise became a huge show of strength of the working class, as hundreds of thousands turned out, many of them armed. The train stations and the offices of the bourgeois newspapers and the SPD paper were occupied. The so- called Spartacist uprising that followed was initiated by the working class and groups to the left of the KPD and KPD members were a minority.
The KPD leader Karl Liebknecht, together with a newly formed Revolutionary Committee called for the overthrow of the SPD government led by Ebert. Luxemburg and the majority of KPD leaders spoke against an armed uprising.
However, the armed forces failed to support the uprising and remained loyal to the government. The SPD with the aid of the Freikorps, which had been set up by reactionary nationalist officers, and acted as death squads, attacked the uprising and brutally crushed it. Following this, both Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered by the Freikorps.
The Berlin uprising was followed by others throughout Germany, The SPD government now decided to move against the Council Republic that had been set up in Bremen. It used the Freikorps to put a bloody end to the Council Republic. 400 were summarily shot, including the leading members of the Council.
This triggered mass strikes in the Ruhr, the Rhineland and Saxony. Street fighting began again in Berlin and this time the SPD again deployed the Freikorps, who murdered more than 1200 people.
The Munich Council Republic, which had been set up in April was the last to fall when the Freikorps and the Prussian army units again acted brutally. The Council Republic was smashed on May 6th with the killing of between 1, 000 to 1,200 anarchists and Communists. The Social Democratic leaders, Ebert, Scheidemann and Noske had joined with the forces of outright reaction to crush the German Revolution, and they now led a new coalition which administered the Weimar Republic.
In Italy, the Biennio Rosso (Red Two Years) began. Facing the same conditions as elsewhere in the world, with rising costs of living, food shortages and low wages, the working class responded by creating factory councils in Milan and Turin, centres of metal production and occupying the factories. On the land, there were many land seizures and peasant strikes. The membership of the anarchist organisations and the anarcho-syndicalist union USI increased massively. A million industrial workers went out on strike in that year. On July 20th-21st, a general strike was called in solidarity with the Russian Revolution.
In the USA, apart from the Seattle General Strike, there was the strike of women telephone operators in April. Concerned by the rising cost of living, they demanded a pay rise which was rejected. 9,000 went on strike. The company hired university students as strike-breakers but they were attacked by supporters of the strike. The company gave in after a few days and the strike was won.
The union confederation, the American Federation of Labour, called strikes in the meat industry, steel and other industries. The bosses replied that strikes were controlled by Communists whose aim was the overthrow of capitalism. They used the patriotic card to undermine the strikes, which were defeated with workers being forced back to conditions similar to those in 1910.
The miners went out on strike on November 1st, to continue the wage agreement that had been signed at the start of the First World War. The new Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, invoked the Lever Act, also introduced during the war, which made it illegal to disrupt the production and transportation of necessities. Nevertheless, 400,000 miners came out on strike. The coal bosses used the same campaign of Reds under the Beds as during the AFL strikes, saying Lenin and Trotsky had ordered miners to strike! The leader of the United Mine Workers union (UMW), John L. Lewis, now called for the strike to end, but was ignored by many miners. The strike went on for 5 weeks, with the miners eventually getting a 14% pay rise, far lower than they had demanded.
On Aril 13th, the socialist Eugene V. Debs was sent to prison for having spoken against the war. This sparked the May Day Riots in Cleveland where a May Day parade in support of Debs was organised. The police and “patriots” attacked the march, and captured German tanks and mounted police were deployed against the demonstrators. Two people were killed, and 130 were sentenced to prison or fined. The Cleveland administration passed laws to restrict demonstrations and banned the display of red flags.
On September 9th police officers in Boston, in a union affiliated to the AFL, went out on strike to gain recognition and for better conditions and higher wages. Again the anti-radical card was used, with strikers being called “agents of Lenin” and “deserters”. The AFL leader Samuel Gompers, called for the cops to return to work. They did so on September 13th. None of them were re-hired. They were replaced by 1,500 new officers, who received higher wages.
Throughout 1919 there were mass trials of members of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) on charges of being opposed to the draft, vagrancy, and “criminal syndicalism”. IWW halls were burnt down by “patriots” of the American Legion. The worst incident was the lynching of IWW organiser Wesley Everest on November 11th. Despite the repression, the IWW helped organise strikes of orange pickers in California and silk weavers in Paterson.
The First World War had created a call for jobs in the North, and many black workers took advantage of this to leave the South and go North for factory work. Those left behind took advantage of the more favourable labour situation and made demands. Black orange pickers in Crescent City, Florida, went on strike, demanding 10 cents per box for oranges picked. Other black workers in the potato fields near Palatka also organised. Many growers’ associations were forced to grant wage increases. This brought down police repression and the Ku Klux Klan murdered several black activists.
Attorney General Palmer instigated the first ‘Palmer Raid’ on the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution in November. Aided by the young J. Edgar Hoover, future head of the FBI, 10,000 anarchists, socialists and Communists were arrested in 23 different cities. The Red Scare which had been employed against the Seattle strikers, the miners and the AFL strikers, and the Boston cops, was now used to justify the deportation to Russia of 249 radicals, including the notable anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman on December 21st. Thus ended this year of unrest in the USA.
This article first appeared in Virus No.1 (2019) magazine of the Anarchist Communist Group
Unrest in Britain in 1919
A short account of unrest in Britain during the year 1919
In Britain in 1919 the level of unrest could be gauged by the number of strike days that year, 35 million compared to six million in 1918.
Soldiers returning from the War were dissatisfied, often facing unemployment, and bad housing and work conditions.
In January of that year, 2,000 troops at Folkestone refused to go on ships to be sent abroad, fearing that they would be used to put down revolutions on the continent, and fed up with the way they were treated by the arrogant officers. They were joined by other soldiers and then 10,000 of them marched through the town.
The next day there was another demonstration and at nearby Dover, 2,000 soldiers also mutinied. A soldiers’ union was set up with a committee made up from the rank and file. On 9th January the revolt spread to camps around London. 1,500 soldiers based at Park Royal marched to Downing Street. The military authorities , terrified by this, agreed to their demands, the end of the draft to Russia and better conditions.
At Calais, British soldiers organised a mass meeting at the end of January and a mutiny broke out with the demand for demobilisation. Soldiers broke into a prison and released a soldier who had agitated for demobilisation. Soldiers’ Councils were set up in various regiments. At nearby Vendreux, 2,000 soldiers mutinied and marched to Calais. These combined mutineers then marched to Arnmy headquarters and demanded the release of the re-arrested agitator. By now 20,000 had joined the mutiny. French troops now began to fraternise with the mutineers. The soldiers set up a committee, with each group electing delegates to camp committees, which then sent delegates to a Central Area Committee. At Dunkirk soldiers were sympathetic to the Calais Mutiny, General Byng surrounded the Calais mutineers on January 29th, but his troops also started to fraternise. Again the government backed down, with no one being punished for involvement with the mutiny.
The mutinies spread through both the Army and Navy with the patrol boat HMS Kilbride running up a red flag. For this one sailor received a 2 year prison sentence, three served a year in prison and another 90 days. In far away Archangel in North Russia, British troops of the Yorkshire Light Infantry, sent there to intervene in the Russian Revolution, mutinied and set up a soviet.
On February 8th, 3,000 soldiers marched to Whitehall, protesting over the bad food they were given and poor sleeping arrangements. They were met by a battalion of Grenadier Guards with fixed bayonets and were forced back. The authorities now acted quickly and started speeding up demobilisation from February onwards.
Also in late January strikes broke out in both Glasgow and Belfast, involving 100,000 engineering workers. They demanded the reduction of the 54 hours a week that they were working to 40 hours. Mass meetings took place every day. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers(ASE) , the official union, sabotaged the strike by infiltrating the workers committees that had been set up.
The strike committee called for all trams to be stopped in Glasgow. When the transport authorities refused to do this, workers cut tram cables and used the immobile trams to block roads. Police were beaten off. In one instance two cops who were intervening to stop the sabotage of a tram, were stripped of all their clothes and ran away naked!
However now the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) , the official union, sabotaged the strike by infiltrating the workers committees that had been set up. On January 31st, strikers assembled in George Square were brutally attacked by the police in what became known as Bloody Friday. The following day, troops marched into Glasgow, supported by tanks, field guns, machine guns and planes. The State were scared to use local troops, in case they went over to the strikers. Faced with this armed might, the strikers were defeated, although later in the year 100,000 Glasgow workers came out on May 1st.
The government was concerned that the movement in Scotland would merge with the wage demands of miners, rail and transport workers, who all had national wage claims. Projected strikes were sabotaged by union officials like Robert Smillie, the miners’ leader, and Jimmy Thomas, the railworkers union leader. Thomas managed to halt a strike on 27th March but when the Government ordered wage cuts, 100,000 rail workers came out on strike and got better wages for the lower grades.
During summer of that year cotton workers went out on strike for 18 days, involving 450,000 workers. As well as this was the police strike that year (see separate article).
The burned out shell of Luton Town Hall - summer 1919
Unrest manifested itself in other ways apart from strikes and mutinies. In July in Luton, the local council made preparations for a lavish celebration of the Armistice. They were prepared to spend large sums on this at a time of unemployment and poverty, which disgusted many in the town. There was also the question of unsatisfactory allowances made to discharged soldiers and their dependents. In addition, it was believed that the Mayor and members of the Corporation Food Control Committee had made large profits by raising food prices during the War and that they were now responsible for food shortages and continuing high prices. On 19th July on a public holiday declared Peace Day, thousands gathered outside Luton Town Hall. An expensive banquet was going on inside. It was so expensive that no ex-soldier could afford to go. As a result the town hall was stormed and then burnt down.
The rioting went on for three days. Pitched battles with the police took place and the Food Office was also burnt to the ground. The crowd sarcastically sang the pro-war tune “Keep The Home Fires Burning”. A large body of troops and police was brought in from nearby Bedford to put down the uprising.
Similar riots broke out in Swindon, where a flagstaff erected outside the town hall at considerable expense was burned down. The police station and several businesses were also attacked. At Bilston near Wolverhampton a riot was set off by the arrest of two soldiers by the police. Several thousands marched on the police station, demolished a brick wall and then used the bricks to bombard the building, breaking all the windows. They then attempted to set fire to it with petrol but were driven off by police reinforcements.
Also on Peace Day, riots broke out in Coventry involving 3,000 people. The immediate cause of this was the exclusion of ex-soldiers and munitions workers from the celebratory parade. The riots lasted 3 days, with windows smashed in the city centre, and the looting of shops.
In nearby Birmingham there was also unrest on the streets during the Peace Day and its aftermath.
Also in July, 400 Canadian troops in Epsom rioted after two of their number were arrested by police. The troops attacked the police station and a police sergeant was hit with an iron bar and killed.
In August in Liverpool, there was rioting and looting in Liverpool following the police strike there. 2,600 troops with 4 tanks were brought in to quell the disturbances and the battleship Valiant and two destroyers were brought up the Mersey to menace the city.
The above article first appeared in Virus No. 1 (2019), the magazine of the Anarchist Communist Group.
Soviets in Ireland
A detailed account of the spread of soviets in Ireland from 1919 to 1922
"The whole of Europe is filled with the spirit of revolution. There is a deep sense not only of discontent but anger and revolt amongst the workmen against pre-war conditions. The whole existing order in its political, social and economic aspects is questioned by the masses of the population from one end of Europe to the other". David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, 1919.
The revolutionary wave that swept across the world as a result of the revolutions in Russia and Germany towards the end of the First World War reached Ireland in 1919. Ireland was living in the aftermath of the 1916 Easter uprising, when the socialist and syndicalist James Connolly had thrown in his lot with the Irish nationalists of Padraic Pearse and formed a cross-class alliance against British imperialism. In such a way the Irish working class movement became allied with the Irish national bourgeoisie.
Sinn Fein had been created as an organisation of a section of the Irish national bourgeoisie in 1905. It clearly showed its anti-working class positions from the start. It stood against higher wages for workers, and indeed strikes by them, as this would harm the interests of Irish business. During the Dublin Lockout of 1913, its leader, Arthur Griffith, called for strikers to be bayoneted. Its membership was based on shopkeepers, employers and large farmers.
The Irish Citizen Army which had been created as a defence corps for the 1913 strikers was led into the Easter Uprising by Connolly, alongside part of the nationalist Irish Volunteers led by Pearse. The playwright Sean O’Casey described the Irish Volunteers as “streaked with employers who had openly tried to starve the women and children of the workers, followed meekly by scabs and blacklegs from the lower elements among the workers themselves, and many of them saw in this agitation a plumrose path to good jobs, now held in Ireland by the younger sons of the English well-to-do.”
The Irish Republican Army in direct line of descent from the Irish Volunteers was founded in 1919 and indeed some members of the ICA joined it.
But alongside these developments was the growing influence of the revolutionary wave, that affected even an Irish working class seemingly disorientated by nationalism. There were an increasing number of strikes, and these were reinforced by well-organised pickets, solidarity action from other workers and even the creation of defence units called Red Guards after the worker squads of 1917 revolutionary Russia, as in Naas and Tralee.
The economic context
The Irish capitalists did well out of the boom caused by the First World War. Both manufacturing and agriculture were boosted, as was trade. However the Irish working class saw few of the benefits from this boom. Wages fell behind rising prices caused by inflation. Between 1914 and 1918 the prices of many staples rose by 250-300 per cent. As agriculture was booming, this affected urban workers far more, with an increase of emigration, primarily to munitions factories in England and Scotland. Housing conditions in urban areas were appalling, whilst rents were high. T
The Monaghan Soviet
Peadar O’Donnell was an active militant in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union of Jim Larkin and James Connolly. He had tried to set up a unit of the ICA in Derry in 1919. When this failed he joined the IRA. When workers at the Monaghan Lunatic Asylum went on strike in February 1919 O’Donnell and the strikers occupied the building, and ran up a red flag and declared a soviet. Staff had been working a 93 hour week and had to remain on the premises between shifts. The medical superintendent thought that this was reasonable, as they “get off every 13th day and every fourth Sunday from 10 O’clock”. The occupation (in fact O’Donnell is credited with using the term “occupation” for the first time in Ireland in the sense of seizing a workplace) was met with the arrival of armed police. The workers responded by barricading the building. A 48 hour week was introduced by the strikers. When the authorities offered a pay rise that left out female workers, the soviet pushed for pay equality. In fact, the women strikers proved to be the most determined. The patients themselves aided the strike by exchanging clothes with them to help with the smuggling in of supplies.
The strike was won by February 20th, with a pay rise for both women and men, a 56 hour week, and the right of married workers to go home after shifts.
The Limerick Soviet
Two months later, a soviet was declared in the city of Limerick. Robert Byrne had been active in the workers’ movement and as a member of the Irish Volunteers. In January 1919 he was sentenced by a British military court to a year in prison. He went on hunger strike and subsequently was transferred to Limerick hospital. A rescue attempt resulted in the death of Byrne and a resulting military lockdown of the city. Anyone who wished to enter the area under martial law had to have permits issued by the British Army. No exceptions were made for workers commuting to and from their jobs. As a result the workers at the Condensed Milk Company’s Lansdowne plant went out on strike on 12th April. The Limerick Trades Council threatened to call a general strike and transformed itself into a strike committee. It took over a printing press and produced placards explaining the strike. The strike was successful with 15,000 workers taking part. A daily Workers’ Bulletin was produced which maintained publication throughout the stoppage.
The British Army brought in an extra 100 police and was equipped with an armoured car and a tank, and put up barbed wire along the route to the restricted area. But a Scots regiment had to be sent home quickly when it was discovered that its soldiers were letting workers go in and out of the military area without permits. The rail workers had refused to handle freight in Limerick, except when permitted by the strike committee or where it was under military guard. It was expected that this action would soon become a full scale railway strike. However the national executive of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress –ILPTUC (in fact one single organisation) made no recommendation to broaden the strike. On 21st April, H.R. Stockman speaking for the British TUC in London declared the Limerick strike to be a political strike and instructed the unions whose members were striking, to refuse them strike pay. This was backed up by the executive of the National Union of Railwaymen, which ordered its Irish members to stop any action.
Meanwhile the strike committee were under pressure from the workers themselves. 500 people refused to show their permits on the evening of 21st April. The British army stopped them entering the area, with the support of 500 police and two armoured cars. Most of the defiant crowd stayed the night at a dance hall. They boarded a train next day and avoided the Army by getting out on the side of the station opposite to where the soldiers were waiting. During the following days, soldiers fired shots at a fair when people again refused to show permits. William O’Brien and
Thomas Foran, leading lights in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) and the executive of the ILPTUC, arrived on 20th April, followed over the next two days by the other members of the executive. They told the strike committee that they had no power to call a general strike without the approval of a special conference of the ILPTUC. Instead they proposed that Limerick city should be evacuated by its population. This was clearly to avoid any confrontation with the British Army. This was rejected by the strike committee. Whilst William O’Brien constantly paid lip service to James Connolly, in fact he was a leading advocate of the integration of Labour and the unions into the emerging Republic. As early as 1918, in a speech to fellow ITGWU officials, he talked about strengthening the assets of the unions and integrating the ILPTUC into an independent Ireland. Not only did he exert influence through the ILPTUC, but through domination of the Socialist Party of Ireland, for which Connolly had been an organiser.
The mayor and bishop of Limerick in negotiations with the military appeared to have parleyed an offer that if the Limerick soviet ended, and if for one week there was no trouble, then the military restricted area would be abolished. The strike committee backed down and said that strike notices were withdrawn for workers within the restricted area. This was met with disgust by many, some calling for a second soviet. Some attempted to stop permit holders crossing a bridge but were dispersed by the police. However only half of the strikers returned to work but on 27th April a Catholic priest denounced the strike from the pulpit. The committee caved in, and the general strike ended on 26th April. The following day workers returned to work, except those diehard strikers in the bacon factories. The Limerick Soviet had based itself on a cross-class alliance with shopkeepers, the Limerick Chamber of Commerce, Sinn Fein and the local mayor and elements of the Catholic Church. This had proved its undoing, as had the sabotage by the union and Labour Party leaders, and as had the hold of the Catholic Church over many workers. A potentially revolutionary situation had been undermined.
The Knocklong Soviet
The Limerick soviet was followed a month later by the Knocklong soviet. Creameries owned by the Cleeve family were occupied near Knocklong in County Limerick. The Cleeve family were AngloCanadian supporters of the British Empire and employed more than 3,000 workers and 5,000 farmers in their dairy industries. They were strong recruiters for the British Army in Limerick during the First World War, in the process supplying food to the British Army and making a profit of £1m by the end of 1918. At the same time they were one of the lowest paying employers in Ireland, with average unskilled workers in their plants earning only seventeen shillings a week. Workers seized the creameries and began running them themselves. A red flag was run up over the main building as well as a banner reading: Knocklong Soviet creamery: We Make Butter Not Profits. After 5 days of occupation, the Cleeves agreed to a wage rise, a 48 hour week, 14 days paid holiday, and improved ventilation systems.
The agitation within the Cleeve creameries was led by John Dowling, a socialist and associate of Connolly, along with Sean McGrath and Jack Hedley. The Cleeves responded by trying to lay off workers using a national general strike by the ITGWU against handling British munitions as resulting in a knock-on effect of a “lack of work”. The workers responded by forming a strike committee. The Cleeves now insured the creamery at Knocklong against an outbreak of fire on 24th August, and it so happened that a squad of Black and Tans (British irregular troops) turned up and burnt down the creamery! Soviets spread There were further soviets the following year in Waterford in April. Here the short-lived soviet was set up during a national general strike against the imprisonment of Republican hunger strikers. This strike began on April 13th.
An indication of what was to come was seen on the eve of the strike when a large crowd gathered outside Mountjoy prison in Dublin. This was reinforced by organised groups of dockers and postal workers, whilst leaflets were distributed to the British soldiers appealing to them not to attack the crowd. Then a Sinn Fein member of Dublin Corporation, John O’Mahony arrived with a group of priests, formed a cordon between the crowd and the soldiers, and drove the demonstrators back, with the cry of ”In the name of the Irish Republic, go away”. The Ministry of Home Affairs was to state in 1921: “1920 was no ordinary outbreak…an immense rise in the value of land and farm products threw into more vivid relief than ever before the high profits of ranchers, and the hopeless outlook of the landless men and uneconomic holders…All this was a grave menace to the Republic. The mind of the people was being diverted from the struggle for freedom by a class war, and there was every likelihood that this class war might be carried into the ranks of the republican army itself which was drawn in the main from the agricultural population and was largely officered by farmers’ sons…the republican police had been established just in time to grapple with the growing disorder and withstood the strain upon its own discipline.”
The Bruree Soviet
Another Soviet emerged in County Limerick at the bakery and mills owned by the Cleeves at Bruree. In August 1921 the workers occupied the plant, hoisted the red flag and a banner proclaiming the ‘Bruree Soviet Workers Mill’ and stated that they were now running the mill and would sell at a lower price. The Countess Markievicz, who was now Sinn Fein’s Minister of Labour, did a deal with the Cleeves and threatened to send the IRA against the Bruree Soviet if they did not accept the results of arbitration. The soviet ended on September 3rd 1921. In fact Markievicz was to go on record to later state: “the unemployed are already looking to us to do something towards providing work…one has to face the fact that complaints have come to this office of men of the I.R.A. taking part in labour disputes. Evidence has also come to me that in some areas the workers are not willing to submit to the authority of their Executive and are beginning to get out of hand. What is to be feared in the near future is:- small local outbreaks growing more and more frequent and violent, the immediate result of which will be, destruction of property and much misery which will tend to disrupt the Republican cause”.
Finally at Cork Harbour in September 1921, workers fighting for a pay rise seized the Cork Custom House, again ran up a red flag and declared a soviet. The New York Times was to write: “Cork is a Sinn Fein city, and the strike interested the city not so much from the point of view of the wage war but from the effect it might have on the present national peace negotiations. It was said openly that the act of the strikes amounted to treachery to the nation and it was urged that unless negotiations between the Harbour Board and the strikers were at once resumed, the Irish Republican Army should clear the building of strikers and reinstate the Harbour Board. However, the intervention of the Labour Ministry of the Dail Eireann altered the situation, and the negotiations between the Harbour Board and the strikers were reopened, as a result of which it is expected that a settlement will be arrived at. The men are to resume work pending a decision.”
Other soviets emerged between 1921-1922. The North Cork railway, the quarry and the fishing boats at Castleconnell, a coachbuilding plant and the local gas works in Tipperary (the latter of which was under workers control for 6 weeks), a clothing factory in Rathmines, Dublin, sawmills in Killarney and Ballinacourtie, an iron foundry at Drogheda, Gasworks at Waterford, and mines at Arigna in County Roscommon, Ballingaray in South Tipperary, all saw occupations and declarations of soviets. In addition there was a soviet at Broadford in County Clare, and soviets in Whitechurch, County Dublin, Youghal and Fermoy where the IRA moved in to break them up. At the end of 1921 the Cleeves stated that they were £100,000 in debt and that they had sustained £275,000 losses during the year. On 12th May 1922 they declared a lockout of their workers, putting 3,000 out of work. In response almost 100 creameries were seized and soviets created, the principal ones being at Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Bansha, Kilmallock, Knocklong, Bruree, Athlacca, Tankardstown, Ballingady and Aherlow, Bruff, Dromin, Tipperary town, Galtymore, and Mallow.
The Irish Farmers Union now organised a campaign to boycott the occupied creameries and stated that it would "forbid our members to supply under the Red Flag, which is the flag of Anarchy and revolution". At the same time the press began a campaign against the soviets, the Irish Times writing that the occupying workers had “neither allegiance to the Irish free State, nor the Irish Republic, but only to Soviet Russia. In addition Sinn Fein, at the illegally established Irish parliament Dail Eireann denounced the class struggle, saying that it was “ill chosen for the stirring up of strife among our fellow countrymen”. It was known that the leading Free Stater Michael Collins was extremely opposed to the Soviets.
The farmers’ boycott dealt a death blow to many of the soviets. In addition the soviets were now under attack by both the Free State National Army of De Valera and the Anti-Treaty Republicans. There was a shootout between the Tipperary soviet and the anti-treaty forces, who also destroyed the gasworks there. For their part the National Army began destroying the Soviets. The newly established Free State was pressurised by the British government to restore order, to crush both the Anti-Treaty nationalists and the soviets. When the Free State National Army entered a town or village, it arrested leading members of soviets, and tore down signs of radicalism like the red flags.
The Munster News reported in 1922 that martial law had been declared in the Kilmallock area with the presence of 200 IRA volunteers. On 4th March 1922, the IRA arrested Dowling, McGrath and striking workers, accusing them of burning the hay of a Kilmallock farmer. Dowling was severely beaten and kicked whilst on the ground, carrying a permanent scar on his face as a result. Immediately hundreds of workers came out on a general strike in Kilmallock and Dowling and his associates were released a week later. The soviets had been defeated, with the dispersal of the soviets by the Free State and with the ITGWU leaders saying virtually nothing about this. The final phase of this period of heightened class struggle in Irish history began with the “autumn crisis” of 1923 when 20,000 workers went on strike or were locked out. This led to defeat. The ITGWU forced out militant workers, replacing them with careerists and increasing the number of bureaucrats. Dowling, McGrath and Hedley were sacked from their positions in the ITGWU.
The revolutionary wave of 1919 to 1923 had a profound effect on a supposedly backward and rural country like Ireland. The soviets were defeated by a combination of the British Army in occupation, the different nationalist forces whether pro- or anti-Treaty, the employers and big farmers and the Catholic Church, and the ILPTUC. Despite all the odds against them, they had written a page in working class history, a history that is now being re-discovered. The lessons are obvious, the working class can only rely on themselves, and must shun the various nationalist gangs and the clerical obscurantists.
Published in the Anarchist Communist Group theoretical journal Virus 2019.
Subsequent issues are named Stormy Petrel.
To order or download back issues and to order the current Issue 4, see
The Seattle General Strike of 1919
A short account of the Seattle General Strike of 1919
On February 6, 1919 Seattle workers became the first workers in United States history to take part in an official general strike One hundred thousand workers went out on strike for 6 days and paralysed the city. This event has been hidden from history.
Seattle came to prominence with the gold rush in Alaska to its north, with miners stopping there on their way to seek their fortune. In addition the lumber industry began to take off and Seattle became an important port for the transportation of timber.
Many workers in North West America in the lumber industry and other industries were migratory and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the revolutionary unionist organisation founded in 1905 did much organisational work among them. They agitated against the bosses’ organisations which attempted to counter organising among workers, keep wages low and working conditions cheap.
The First World War brought further prosperity to Seattle with the expansion of the ship building industry. With the USA’s entry into the War in 1917, the American Federation of Labour (AFL) unions were given permission to organise among workers, as long as their leaders squashed any chances of strike during the war. At the same time repression began against the IWW, the only union which had opposed the War, the anarchist movement and anti-war members of the Socialist Party of America like Eugene V. Debs.
The membership of the IWW rose to 150,000 in 1917 with Seattle as one of its main bases. There was great sympathy among Seattle workers for the Russian Revolution of 1917 and it should be remembered that many Russian ships docked at Seattle and so there was contact between Russian and American workers. The Socialist Party in Seattle, seen as on the left of the party nationally,, had 4,000 members.
Sympathy for the Russian Revolution and growing sentiment against the War merged with discontent over wages and conditions to create a volatile situation. In Tacoma, 32 miles south of Seattle, A Soldiers, Sailors and Workmens’ Council was set up and talked about the overthrow of the government and the takeover of industries by the workers. In Seattle itself there was a mass meeting at which speakers called for a general strike to stop supplies being sent to Siberia to help the White armies there.
The AFL had 110 craft unions in Seattle, with 65,000 members. IWW membership was much smaller, but there was quite a lot of dual carding, where IWWers took out AFL membership, to gain entry in to jobs. Unlike the IWW, the AFL banned white workers organising alongside black, Asian and Hispanic workers and there were a few segregated black unions.
The AFL unions created a coordinating body, the Central Labor Council(CLC). Membership of the CLC was composed of radical workers.
On 21st January 21st , 1919, 35,000 shipyard workers went out on strike to demand higher wages. The following day they approached the CLC to demand a city wide strike to support their cause. This was agreed and a ballot was started in the 110 unions to support the strike.
Only a small number of unions voted not to support strike action, with the result that 100,000 workers came out on strike. The CLC voted on January 29th to set up a General Strike Committee.This would combine the CLC and grassroots delegates from the unions.
In reaction to this, reactionary union leaders in the craft unions set up a Committee of 15 to stop the strike.
Between February 3rd and 6th food kitchens and child care were organised, as well as communications -the publication of newspapers and press releases, and the removal of rubbish from the streets. Conservative union leaders and their supporters were worried about the radical nature of the strike and the propsed slogan ‘Workers, You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Chains’ was replaced by ‘Together We Win’. They also attempted to set an end date for the strike but this was defeated.
The establishment press in the city now began a vicious campaign against the strike. The Seattle Star appealed to the ‘Americanism’ of the workers and talked about Bolshevik agitators who were preparing a revolution.
The rich began to stockpile food. Ole Hansen, Seattle’s Mayor, ordered in State and Federal troops. These were linked with the city police and the anti-strike volunteers made up of university students and members of the middle class.
In response to this , Anna Louise Strong wrote the following in the CLC paper Union Record on February 4th:
“We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by LABOR in this country, a move which will lead—NO ONE KNOWS WHERE! Labor will feed the people. Labor will care for the babies and the sick. Labor will preserve order. Labor will not only SHUT DOWN the industries, but Labor will REOPEN, under the management of the appropriate trades, such activities as are needed to preserve public health and public peace. If the strike continues, Labor may feel led to avoid public suffering by reopening more and more activities. UNDER ITS OWN MANAGEMENT. And that is why we say that we are starting on a road that leads—NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!”
On the 6th 65,000 members of the AFL unions went out on strike, as well as 3,500 in the IWW unions, and black and Japanese workers in their segregated unions, as well as many non-unionised workers. Pickets a put up by the strikers blocked 40,000 others from going to work.
The supply of food to strikers and their families was very efficient. An unarmed War Veterans Guard was also set up by the CLC to protect the strikers against attacks by cops, troops and anti-strike militias.
However, the Committee of 15 had exempted telephone operators, government workers and food market workers from the strike, hindering its effectiveness.
On the third day of the strike the Committee of 15 attempted to end the strike but were defeated on the floor of the assembly of the General Strike Committee.
Hansen began to up the ante on the threat of armed attacks on the strikers. This resulted in the return to work of street car workers, as well as some restaurant workers, barbers and shop workers.
The Committee of 15 again attempted, on Saturday February 8th, to end the strike the following day. This was again rejected. However, on Sunday, there were meetings within union branches to end the strike on February 11th. Under pressure, workers reluctantly ended the strike on that day. None of the demands of the strike had been won.
Now the backlash began. The Union Record was shut down by federal agents and there were raids on the halls of the IWW and the Socialist Party. 39 IWW members were arrested in connection with the strike. The CLC to their credit supported the arrestees.
This repression was to escalate with the murder 9 months later of 5 IWW members at Centralia and the Palmer Raids, where many anarchists, socialists and IWWS were arrested and deported from the USA.
The Seattle General Strike illustrates the power of the working class and how it can successfully run society. At the same time it illustrates the nature of trade union leaderships and their sabotage of workers struggles.
The example of Seattle needs to be resurrected to show that the working class can paralyse the workings of capitalist society and prepare for a new world and that this is still possible in the USA and throughout the world.
The above appeared in Virus, No. 1 (2019) magazine of the Anarchist Communist Group
The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919
A short account of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919
Far to the east of Seattle at Winnipeg, Manitoba in central Canada, another general strike took place. Whilst the general strike in Seattle lasted 6 days, that in Winnipeg went on for 6 weeks. In 1918 there had been the first general strike in Canadian history in Vancouver, after the murder of Albert Goodwin, who had called for a general strike if anyone was drafted into the Armed Forces against their will. This one day strike was met with violence by soldiers, who beat strikers. The strike leaders promptly resigned their position but all were mostly re-elected following a ballot, showing widespread support among workers for the strike.
Due to the War, prices has risen considerably in Winnipeg, with wages not keeping up with. Housing conditions were poor and deteriorating. There was resentment about the huge profits some bosses had made from the War. Unemployment was rising, and soldiers returning from the War found few jobs.
Metal workers and building workers in Winnipeg decided to take action. They had tried to negotiate contracts with the employers, who promptly rejected any collective bargaining. At meetings of the Trades and Labour Council, representing various union bodies, it was decided to call for a vote for a general strike.. There was an overwhelming yes vote to this idea.
At 11a.m on May 15th 35,000 metal workers and building workers went out on strike, as well as other workers in both the public and private sectors. Only a third of these striking workers were unionised. In fact, the first group to come out, female telephone operators, were not in any union. In addition most of the local organisations of returned soldiers agreed to support the strike.
Women played a key role in the strike. There were 2 women on the Strike Committee, and there were appeals to women workers via streetcorner and indoor public meetings. The Women’s Labour League raised money to help women workers pay rent.
Local businessmen and professionals grouped together in the Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand to produce an anti-strike newspaper The Winnipeg Citizen. Government ministers threatened striking postal workers that they should return to work or be sacked. The Immigration Act was amended so that anyone not born in Canada could be deported for “seditious activities”.
On June 5th the Winnipeg mayor banned public demonstrations. Meanwhile workers in other urban centres went out on strike in solidarity, realising that if Winnipeg workers won, this could be repeated nationally. In Edmonton and Calgary, strikes started onn May 15th and ran through until June 15th. This involved 2,000 workers in Edmonton and 1,500 in Calgary. In Lethbridge and Medicine Hat workers voted to strike but union leaders obstructed this. Miners in Alberta and elsewhere also went out on strike. Thirty cities were effected by strike movements.
On June 17th 7 strike leaders were arrested, with the arrest of another strike leader in Calgary. In addition several foreign-born socialists were arrested.
On June 21st a demonstration called by returned soldiers in protests against the arrests. This was attacked by Mounted Police wielding clubs. Facing resistance the Mounties then fired on the crowd with their revolvers. Two strikers were killed, many injured, and there were 80 arrests. Two editors of the Strike Bulletin were then arrested. This violence broke the confidence of the strike leaders and there was a return to work on the 26th June.
In the aftermath the arrested strike leaders were put on trial for seditious conspiracy. Most received one year sentences, with one receiving two years in prison and another 6 months imprisonment. Two of the arrested foreign-born socialists were deported.
The miners in Alberta continued their strike to the end of August. Eventually after attacks by thugs hired by the mining bosses and threats by the government the miners were starved into submission.
Thus ended a key moment in Canadian working class history with the biggest strike movement recorded so far.
The above article appeared in Virus no.1 (2019) the magazine of the Anarchist Communist Group.
The Socialism of The Intellectuals: Jan Waclaw Machajski
The following article on Jan Waclaw Machajski appeared in issue 1 of Virus, the magazine of the Anarchist Communist Group
Mikhail Bakunin was the first to predict that a new elite could emerge from the socialist movement. The late Colin Parker, writing on Bakunin in the Anarchist Communist Federation pamphlet Basic Bakunin stated:
”Once the role of government was taken out of the hands of the masses, a new class of experts, scientists and professional politicians would arise. This new elite would be far more secure in its domination over the workers by means of the mystification and legitimacy granted by the claim to acting in accordance with scientific laws (a major claim by Marxists). Furthermore, given that the new state could masquerade as the true expression of the people’s will, the institutionalising of political power gives rise to a new group of governors with the same selfseeking interests and the same cover-ups of its dubious dealings.” In a letter to Albert Richard in 1870, Bakunin wrote: “There must be anarchy, there must be — if the revolution is to become and remain alive, real, and powerful — the greatest possible awakening of all the local passions and aspirations; a tremendous awakening of spontaneous life everywhere. After the initial revolutionary victory the political revolutionaries, those advocates of brazen dictatorship, will try to squelch the popular passions. They appeal for order, for trust in, for submission to those who, in the course and in the name of the Revolution, seized and legalized their own dictatorial powers; this is how such political revolutionaries reconstitute the State.”In his Statism and Anarchy Bakunin wrote: “Idealists of all kinds – metaphysicians, positivists, those who support the rule of science over life, doctrinaire revolutionists – all defend the idea of state and state power with equal eloquence, because they see in it, as a consequence of their own systems, the only salvation for society. Quite logically, since they have accepted the basic premise (which we consider completely mistaken) that thought precedes life, that theory is prior to social experience, and, therefore, that social science has to be the starting point for all social upheavals and reconstructions. They then arrive unavoidably at the conclusion that because thought, theory, and science, at least in our times, are in the possession of very few, these few ought to be the leaders of social life, not only the initiators, but also the leaders of all popular movements. On the day following the revolution the new social order should not be organized by the free association of people’s organizations or unions, local and regional, from the bottom up, in accordance with the demands and instincts of the people, but only by the dictatorial power of this learned minority, which presumes to express the will of the people.
This fiction of a pseudo-representative government serves to conceal the domination of the masses by a handful of privileged elite; an elite elected by hordes of people who are rounded up and do not know for whom or for what they vote. Upon this artificial and abstract expression of what they falsely imagine to be the will of the people and of which the real living people have not the least idea, they construct both the theory of statism as well as the theory of so-called revolutionary dictatorship.
The differences between revolutionary dictatorship and statism are superficial. Fundamentally they both represent the same principle of minority rule over the majority in the name of the alleged “stupidity” of the latter and the alleged “intelligence” of the former. Therefore they are both equally reactionary since both directly and inevitably must preserve and perpetuate the political and economic privileges of the ruling minority and the political and economic subjugation of the masses of the people.
Now it is clear why the dictatorial revolutionists, who aim to overthrow the existing powers and social structures in order to erect upon their ruins their own dictatorships, never were or will be the enemies of government, but, to the contrary, always will be the most ardent promoters of the government idea. They are the enemies only of contemporary governments, because they wish to replace them. They are the enemies of the present governmental structure, because it excludes the possibility of their dictatorship. At the same time they are the most devoted friends of governmental power. For if the revolution destroyed this power by actually freeing the masses, it would deprive this pseudo-revolutionary minority of any hope to harness the masses in order to make them the beneficiaries of their own government policy.”
The Polish revolutionary Jan Waclaw Machajski was to develop this idea of a new revolutionary elite. Born at Pintzov(now Brusko Zdroj) in Russian Poland (that part of Poland then ruled by the Russian Tsar, other parts being ruled by Austria and Germany) on 15th December 1866, he was the son of a clerk, whose sudden death threw the family into destitution. His mother ran a pension for students at Kielce High School. A gifted pupil, he entered Warsaw University and took courses in natural sciences and medicine. At first attracted briefly by Polish nationalism, he moved towards revolutionary socialism and Marxism. He was first arrested in 1891 for distributing revolutionary literature and served a four month sentence at Cracow. He was then allowed to emigrate to Zurich. There he lost any illusions he had about Polish socialists who he saw were not fighting to liberate the working class, but to establish an independent Polish state. He was arrested again in 1892 following a strike in Lodz as a result of his writing an appeal to the workers to fight both the Tsar and the bosses.
He now served a three year sentence, first at Cracow and then at Saint Petersburg. After this he was sent to exile in Siberia for 5 years.
In exile Machajski met social democrats and narodniks (populists) who debated what was the way to socialism for Russia, an European model or a transition directly to a new society founded on the rural commune and cooperatives of workers. He had access to the well-stocked library of another exile, where he read both Russian texts and those German social democrat texts that were only then circulating in Russia.
The result of this was a pamphlet that he self-published in 1898, The Evolution of Social Democracy. This was a critique of the reformism and opportunism of German Social Democracy and its increasing integration into the State apparatus. This meant a collaboration of the Social Democratic MPs, elected by the working class, in the conduct of the affairs of the bourgeoisie. This critique did not mean a break with Marxism, it was an attempt to correct its practice. It came before the appearence of the revisionism of Bernstein within German social democracy, which confirmed his theses.
Machajski now began to look for reasons for the development of opportunism and reformism, examining both the late writings of Engels and the early writings of Marx.
Trotsky met Machajski in exile and felt that the latter, in his rejection of the political struggle, was influenced by anarchism, and in particular by anarcho-syndicalism. But Machajski was as unsparing of his criticisms of anarchism as he was of Marxism.
He began to posit the idea that not only the capitalists and the big landlords but a “democratic fraction” of the bourgeoisie were the enemies of the working class. He believed that the development of industry under capitalism led to the emergence of a new layer of qualified workers-technicians, scientists, engineers, managerial and administrative staff. In conjunction with the already established intelligentsia-lawyers, journalists, professors and literati- this group had an important role in the running of capitalism, but without the command structures that industrial and financial capital, big landowners and the military leadership had. “A larger and larger part of bourgeois society receives the funds for its parasitic existence as an intelligentsia, an army of intellectual workers which does not personally possess the means of production but continually increases and multiplies its income, which it obtains as the hereditary owner of all knowledge, culture and civilisation.”
This new class, Machajski thought, was in a vulnerable position, trapped as it was between the old ruling class and the working class. Sometimes it spoke in favour of the working class, sometimes it actively defending its
cause, but only to attempt to control the working class, and at the same time to substitute themselves for the old working class. Thus Machajski developed an early theory of state capitalism, that is, that “ the socialisation of the means of production signifies only the suppression of the private right of property and management of factories and the land”. Further, “The expropriation of the capitalist class still in no way signifies the expropriation of all of bourgeois society. By the suppression of private capitalists, the modern working class, the contemporary slaves, do not stop being condemned to manual labour for all their lives; consequently the national surplus value created by them does not disappear, but passes into the hands of the democratic State, in as much as funds of maintenance of the parasitic existence of all the plunderers, of all of bourgeois society. This last, after the suppression of of the capitalists, continues to be a society dominating all as before, that of the cultivated directors and managers, of the world of “white hands…”.
From an orthodox Marxist position Machajski progressed to seeing Marx as the prophet of this new dominant class. His reading of Das Kapital lead him to believe that Marx privileged this new class. So for Machajski, the “first task of Marxism is to mask the class interest of cultivated society,at the time of the development of big industry; the class interest of privileged mercenaries, of intellectual workers in the capitalist State”.
As a counter measure to this, Machajski posed the revolt of the “horny handed”. In many ways he proposed an apolitical economism similar to some forms of revolutionary syndicalism. In place of social democracy and anarchism, there would be an epoch of international workers’ conspiracies, imposing through world general strikes, their demands on the State. This would eventually lead, through a series of insurrections, to the expropriation not solely of the capitalists, but also of all cultured society, of all the consumers of revenues exceeding that of the worker.
After his five years of exile, Machajski was again arrested and eventually assigned to live in the far east of the Russian empire, at Irkutsk. Here a group of workers gathered around him and produced a leaflet calling for the 1st of May 1902 into a day of economic struggle. He was again arrested and sentenced to 7 years exile in deepest Siberia at Kolyma. He managed to escape to Geneva in Switzerland in autumn 1903. Here he republished his The Intellectual Worker, followed by 2 more pamphlets, The Bankruptcy of Socialism in the 19th Century, and The Bourgeois Revolution and the Workers Cause.
His taste for pure alcohol and his exile and imprisonments had aged him and he appeared to be fifty years old rather than forty.
Meanwhile a workers’ group based on his ideas was formed at Odessa. The 1905 Revolution led to similar groups being formed at Ekaterinoslav, Vilnius, Bialystok, Warsaw and St Petersburg. Machajski himself returned to St Petersburg in 1906 and took part in the Workers Conspiracy group there. Here he reedited his works, now rejecting the idea of progress as sketched by Marx. He refused to call the actions of certain classes revolutionary, rejecting fatalistic economic laws, under the guise of progress. For him the motor of historic change was not the dialectical contradiction between the development of productive forces and social relations, but the antagonism between the elite and the masses, between the order giver and order taker, between the intellectuals and the manual workers.
Whilst denouncing anarchism as part of the intellectual plot against the masses, in many ways his ideas came close to anarchist positions. It should be remembered that he read Bakunin whilst in exile, although he never acknowledged his debt to him. He remarked that the destruction of the State would lead to the suppression of secular pillage, and that whatever regime was in place, bourgeois or socialist, reactionary or progressive, it would matter little if the situation of the workers remained the same. Like the anarchists, he grouped the peasantry together with the proletariat as part of the toiling masses, and added the lumpenproletariat to these categories, meanwhile regarding self-educated workers who had integrated into the system as privileged intellectuals.
Machajski fled Russia in 1907, returning to Switzerland and then moving on to Poland. After fresh persecution he moved to France The outbreak of the Russian Revolution saw his return to Russia. Like many others he welcomed the Bolshevik seizure of power, but criticised the new regime for its timidity in not fully expropriating the bourgeoisie. He soon realised that the new regime was not a friend of the masses and that the intelligentsia was filling all the bureaucratic posts created by it. Thus a new “people’s” bureaucracy was created. Machajski finished by asserting: ”the working masses must lead their revolution themselves, despite the socialist hypnotists. The workers' revolution goes further than all the socialist plans and problems. The emancipation of the workers, the overthrow of the oppression they undergo, are much stronger causes than that of socialism. The latter brings forces for the sole overthrow of the capitalists, but then wants to replace them with the class of hereditary "white-collar" workers, while leaving the class of manual workers and their families in servitude.”
Machajski was obviously not viewed favourably by the new authorities, and the magazine in which his criticisms appeared, The Workers
Revolution, was closed down by them in 1918, after one issue. His health took a turn for the worse, and he survived by acting as a technical proof reader for an official economic magazine. He died of a heart attack on February 19th, 1926.
The anarchist communist Piotr Arshinov writing in the exile anarchist magazine Dielo Trouda in Paris, remarked after the death of Machajski that "From the dawn of the Russian emancipatory movement (1900-1905), Machajski had warned the Russian working class against the belief in democracy, against the so-called "popular power", declaring that behind all these slogans was the offensive of a new dominant group seeking to attack the freedom and independence of the slaves of manual labour, and he called those to fight for their own class interests. " Arshinov noted the extreme hostility that Machajski’s ideas were received in the socialist parties. He delineated the differences between the ideas of anarchism and those of Machajski, who had ended up rejecting all ideologies, whereas anarchism had developed its own ideology based on the daily struggle against capital. All the same, the experiences of the Russian Revolution had confirmed Machajski’s theses as being essentially correct about the character of the current regime in Russia. The movement around Machajski, the Makhaevschtina, had in practice according to Arshinov, been closely allied to the Russian anarchist movement.
Indeed leading anarchists like Olga Taratuta and Vladimir Striga worked closely with Makhaevists in Odessa. Similarly the anarchosyndicalist Novomirski echoed Machajski’s ideas when he wrote in 1905 "Which clan does contemporary socialism serve in fact and not in words? We answer at once and without beating about the bush: Socialism is not the expression of the interests of the working class, but of the so-called raznochintsy, or declasse intelligentsia”. Machajski’s ideas also heavily influenced the Social-Revolutionary Maximalists, a party whose ideas were close to those of revolutionary anarchism.
What criticisms could be made of Machajski? To begin with, at the time some anarchists criticised him for his lack of ideology, and that he ended merely as a revolutionary syndicalist with economistic ideas. Machajski saw demands for higher wages and shorter hours as the fulcrum for revolutionary social change. As Max Nomad wrote:” Under the system of government ownership, the workers, in Machajski's opinion, would still continue their revolutionary struggle. Not in order to "abolish the State," which would be childish, for the State as an instrument of class domination will exist as long as there is a separate class of educated managers and organizers of all branches of economic and public life, as opposed to the mass of uneducated manual workers. Neither would that
struggle have to aim at changing the government, which would be an idle pastime and only lead to the substitution of a new set of intellectuals, or self-taught ex-workers, for the old ones. The only aim of the workers' struggle would be to force the State to raise wages until the manual workers had equalized their standard of living with that of their educated masters. Equality of incomes would create equal educational opportunities for the offspring of technician and menial alike, thus ushering in a classless, and consequently stateless, society.”
Furthermore, in actual fact, if the Bolshevik leadership was primarily made up of intellectuals, as can be seen from a questionnaire put out and answered at a conference of the central committee in 1917,(1) it represented only a fraction of that grouping, as intellectuals in the Cadets, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were to see their parties harassed and banned by the Bolsheviks.
We also have a problem with Machajski’s definition of the term intelligentsia. The intelligentsia (intelligentsiya) in Russia was used to describe a grouping- artists, professors, some teachers,lawyers, engineers, writers, journalists, men of letters, philosophers and sociologists. The intelligentsia had been created by the modernising and Westernising Tsar Peter the Great and as such were imbued with ideas of “progress”. Later Tsars frowned on the concept of “Progress” which accounted for the large number of intellectuals that entered the Narodnik movement. As Isaiah Berlin was to write: "The phenomenon, itself, with its historical and literally revolutionary consequences, is, I suppose, the largest, single Russian contribution to social change in the world. The concept of intelligentsia must not be confused with the notion of intellectuals. Its members thought of themselves as united, by something more than mere interest in ideas; they conceived themselves as being a dedicated order, almost a secular priesthood, devoted to the spreading of a specific attitude to life(in A Remarkable Decade in Russian Thinkers, Penguin 2013). However Machajski meant it in a different way, applying it to all those who had a higher education, and including self-educated workers and peasants who had somehow risen out of their class.
We also have the problem of the Bolsheviks’ attitude to the intelligentsia. Lenin was to write in a letter to the writer Maxim Gorky: “The intellectual forces of the workers and peasants are growing and getting stronger in their fight to overthrow the bourgeoisie and their accomplices, the educated classes, the lackeys of capital, who consider themselves the brains of the nation. In fact they are not its brains but its shit…” So whilst Lenin was himself a member of that intelligentsia, he had a very low opinion of it.
Not only was the Russian intelligentsia divided and decimated by emigration after the 1917 Revolution but it was divided between the Whites and the different left parties. In addition Lenin and the Bolsheviks led a campaign against the intelligentsia, including mass arrests of professors and scientists identified with the Cadets. He deported intellectuals from the Cadets, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and the various nationalist parties to Germany on the so-called Philosophers’ Ships in 1922.
So it can be argued that the development of state capitalism in Russia and with it the development of a new bureaucratic class, was not so much due to the incipient need of the intelligentsia to become a new ruling class, but to the politics and ideology of the Bolsheviks, their centralisation and increasing bureaucracy, their separation from the working class and their antipathy towards the peasants. In fact a purge of the revolutionary intelligentsia was initiated by Stalin in the late 1920s and early 1930s, resulting in the imprisonment of at least 2,000 of them and the deaths of 1,500 of these in jails and labour camps.
So whilst Machajski’s ideas on the subject of socialism and the intellectuals are thought provoking, it can be demonstrated that socialism was never the universal ideology of the Russian intelligentsia, which remained divided on many levels. At best, it was a fraction of the radical intelligentsia that led the Bolshevik seizure of power.
Finally there was the paradox that Machajski was himself from the intelligentsia, and his rather ineffectual Workers Conspiracy groups included other intellectuals.
Nevertheless his most important theses point to the centrality of the working class the motor of revolution and that intellectuals should not be allowed to form a leadership elite within that revolutionary movement. As we wrote when we were members of the Anarchist Communist Federation in the pamphlet Role of the Revolutionary Organisation (1991 edition): “The intellectual has a role to play in helping to clarify positions inside the organisation, but he/she should never have a privileged position inside it. In fact the practicality of working class people very often outstrips the intellectual in theory and practice. Workers must be the vast majority inside a revolutionary organisation.”
Nomad, Max. White Collars & Horny Hands: the revolutionary thought of Waclaw Machajski
Skirda. A. Le Socialisme des Intellectuels. Paris (1979)
Shatz, Marshall S. Jan Waclaw Machajski: A R
What Is Fully Automated Luxury Communism?
Article on Fully Automated Luxury Communism from VIrus issue 1, (winter 2019-20, magazine of the Anarchist Communist Group
Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC) has been much in vogue lately, especially with the publication of Aaron Bastani’s book of the same name by Verso this year. It was originally a slogan/meme developed by people around the group Plan C. They began using the expression “Luxury for All” and this was backed up by a Tumblr called Luxury Communism. Plan C members spotted the slogan “Luxury For All” on a demonstration in Berlin, and at first adopted it as a tongue in cheek joke but they then started taking it seriously. They believe it had its origins in the science fiction Red Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, where a socialist utopia is established on Mars, and in A Pattern Language written by three architects, Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein in 1977 which describes a similar utopia. We also have the book written by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Erik Brynjofflsson and James McAfee, The Second Machine Age, who envisage an increasingly robotised world where work has been abolished.
The expression has picked up traction among the “woke” generation, who seem also inspired by Corbynism. In some ways it has recuperated the concept of communism, originally more or less the reserve of anarchist communists before being seized as a label by the Bolsheviks with the resulting discrediting of the idea.
Both Plan C and Bastani seem to think that the development of technology under capitalism will lead to the end of work and the end of capitalism itself. In this scenario somehow capitalism assists at its own death, it voluntarily places a gun against its own temple and pulls the trigger.
Technology, rather than being seen at the moment as an instrument of capitalism to further itself, is seen as an agent of radical change.
Marx too thought that advances in technology would bring about the conditions for communism. Bastani says that this was flawed, that capitalism had to reach a higher stage that Marx could not foresee. He thinks we have now arrived at this higher stage, further, he locates this to the year 2008 with its financial crisis.
Like another predictor of the future, Paul Mason, Bastani believes that advancing technology will lead to widespread unemployment. This cannot be answered by the creation of new jobs, which Bastani believes are impossible to create. At the same time the development of technology will replace scarcity with abundance, “extreme supply” as Bastani calls it. The capitalists will respond to this with artificial scarcities, because abundance leads to a fall in prices and of markets.
This new abundance will be facilitated by the development of solar technology and the mining of asteroids! (Bastani says: “More speculatively, asteroid mining — whose technical barriers are presently being surmounted — could provide us with not only more energy than we can ever imagine but also more iron, gold, platinum and nickel. Resource scarcity would be a thing of the past.”) But who would control this asteroid mining? The State? Whoever would be responsible would gain enormous power and there is the problem. In addition all of this would require a huge expansion of space technology and as with all Bastani’s ideas on technology, this would require the use of resources and energy hardly compatible with zero emissions.
During the course of the book, the whole concept of class struggle is rarely touched upon, as is the nature and role of the State. The working class is not seen as the agent of social change and instead Bastani envisages a scenario that would find favour with the Corbynists of Momentum. He believes that at the national level, outsourcing would end immediately and privatised industries like rail would return to the State and the public sector would wipe out outside contractors. On the local level, there would be “municipal protectionism” where public sector organisations would spend as much of their budgets locally, to keep money circulating in the local economy. He bases this scenario on what he calls the Preston model after the town which carried out such a plan.
Furthermore, local businesses would be favoured, being those which operated within ten kilometres of the locality, were a worker-owned cooperative, or offered organic products and renewable energy. Central banks, too, would move “away from low inflation” and instead relate to “rising wages, high productivity and affordable house prices”. National energy investment banks would invest in sustainable energy and housing with the result that by 2030 “the world’s wealthier countries would see their CO2 emissions fall to virtually zero”.
The State would create a network of regional and local banks and credit unions, with the same aims as above. They would encourage the growth of worker-owned businesses.
In addition, there would be a system of Universal Basic Services (UBS) which would provide the necessities of life- for example, education, housing, transport- free to all at the point of use. This in a society heavily dominated by the State.
It is unclear how Bastani sees this plan being activated. Which government would do that? It is not openly stated but is implied that this would be brought about by a reformist government. How would such a government come to power? Would it not seem logical that such a government would need mass support (but see later for Bastani’s views on mass engagement). What would elements within the State and among the capitalist class resist such developments? Bastani talks vaguely about a “workers’ party against work” but he fails to elaborate on this party and what its role would be in this transformation to a new society. And indeed, there is no indication about what would develop after this State-heavy economy as envisaged by Bastani. As noted earlier, the working class itself would have no serious role in this Brave New Utopia of Bastani. To us, anarchist communism, libertarian communism, free socialism, call it what you will, has to come about through the involvement of the mass of the population. But for Bastani “the majority of people are only able to be politically active for brief periods of time”. He uses this false scenario to advocate engagement in “mainstream, electoral politics”.
Unfortunately, capitalism CAN deal with abundance. There are many products now that were expensive, that are now cheap like some mobile phones and many other electrical appliances, not to mention the various pound stores. Capitalism can adapt very easily and indeed big capitalist outfits like Facebook and Google are free at point of use. They obtain their profits in other ways. The whole history of capitalism indicates that it can, time and time again, turn scarcity into “extreme abundance”.
Capitalism has indeed destroyed many old industries and services, but it has replaced them with others. Certainly, certain industrial sectors are threatened, have disappeared or are in the process of disappearing, not least the high street as we know it but the capitalist system itself is not threatened, it continues to find ways of renewing itself, as witness the rise of the online market. The continuing tooth and claw eradication of various industries is part and parcel of the capitalist system.
Bastani is enamoured by the idea of “accelerationism”, that is that the “rate of historical change is accelerating” and will very soon bring about the changes that he envisages. This is debatable, as various commentators have noted economic stagnation and technological slowdown. Tyler Cowen, for example, posits a “great stagnation”. In addition, we could counter the ideas of degrowth (decroissance in French) which are gaining traction which argue strongly against production for production’s sake (productivism) and which clash with the eco-modernist ideas of Bastani and Mason. Accelerationism believes technology can be used for progressive purposes, whereas degrowth argues that certain types of technology need to be limited and must relate to availability of resources. Some eco-modernists still believe in the use of nuclear power, although Bastani, to his credit, rejects this.
Bastani is aware that he will be accused of technological determinism and admits that “technology matters, but so do the ideas, social relations and politics which accompany it”. However he uses an unhappy example. He believes the emergence of mass veganism and vegetarianism has lead to the development of synthetic technology. This is worrying for two reasons, first he appears to think that demand leads supply, as any common or garden theorist of capitalism believes rather than the reverse views of revolutionaries that supply leads demand. Companies are producing vegan products like never before because they can create very highly processed products to make substantial profits. And, do we really want to eat these highly processed foodstuffs grown in vats that Bastani has enthusiasm for, when evidence points to processed foods being dangerous to health? It has been established that there is enough food to feed the world adequately, and if an unequal society was replaced by communism it would be able to provide for all and it would be unnecessary to manufacture these vat-grown synthetic foods.
Bastani is also enthusiastic about electric driverless cars in this new world of his. He envisages electricity being able to be supplied 100% from renewable sources which will fuel these cars. But this still fails to deal with traffic congestion, with roads still being dangerous for children and the aged and disabled, and communities bisected and blighted by highways. We should reject these ideas and instead look towards environmentally friendly free public transport.
Bastani talks about the eradication of work and describes a 10 hour week. We in the anarchist communist movement have long argued against the ideas of work, and certainly a 10 hour week would be an improvement on the 40 hour and rising week that many have to suffer now. But it would be still 10 hours a week in the same unsatisfying and boring work for many. Again when he refers to the abolition of work he means in the workplace, whilst the work of social reproduction and care in the home, looking after children, elderly parents, the disabled and infirm, and housework in general, mostly undertaken by women, is ignored, again revealing Bastani’s blindness on gender oppression and his failure to include this in his ‘utopia’.
He waxes lyrical about genome sequencing being able to eradicate “nearly all forms of disease” in the near future with little evidence for this. He talks about “Cartier for everyone, MontBlanc for the masses and Chloe for all.” But are these not prestige goods spectacularly exhibited by the rich precisely because they are expensive and do we really, really, want these items? Many under the goad of the looming environmental devastation are increasingly turning away from consumerism in the light of limited natural resources and the damage that a productivist capitalism is dealing to the planet. Degrowth and sustainability have to be key factors in the construction of a new society but instead Bastani talks about a luxury communism which would result from an increase in production.
What is also disturbing is Bastani’s vaunting of the “seven-decade survival” of the USSR as “one of the great political achievements of the last century” which brings him a tad too close to a minority of “woke” hipsters who have turned to praising Stalinism as with for example, the Red London group.
Bastani turns a blind eye to the environmental and social consequences of previous advances in technology under capitalism. He believes that the technological breakthrough that he foresees will solve the problems created by a capitalism that is inherently environmentally destructive. But who makes and who controls this technology, who decides how it is used? What about the glaring problems of limited natural resources, what about the continuing environmental damage that further growth would continue to perpetuate?
We remember Bastani from the 2010 student movement when he attended Royal Holloway College and when he described himself as a libertarian communist. Like many of his associates in that particular student movement, he gravitated towards Corbynism. Indeed his Novara Media organisation quickly transformed itself into an engine for the building of Corbynism. Ultimately Bastani’s vision of a new society is a narrow and dull vision. It does not address itself to the oppressions of class, race and gender, and fails to envisage blueprints for their eradication. It’s the Attlee government of 1945 with new added technology. Far from being revolutionary, it is a tame social democratic and reformist programme that any Corbynist would be proud of. To call this communism is a travesty.
What about Plan C’s conception of FALC? To their credit, they have been critical of technological determinism and are also considering the ideas of degrowth and are aware of the ignoring of the agency of the working class in bringing about these technological utopias. It appears that their concept of FALC is more nuanced than Bastani’s and is still a work in progress. We await a fuller development of their ideas on the subject. . Nevertheless, their connections to Corbynism are causes for concern.
Final thoughts. Whist FALC envisages a fully automated society where work is eradicated or at a minimum, do we really want a world where robots wait on us while we lounge in luxury, like ‘today’s billionaires’ to quote Bastani? Of course drudgery and toil should be minimised as much as possible, but don’t we want a society where the creative powers of all human beings are liberated, where we all develop practical AND artistic skills and are able to create beautiful objects built to last? We should equally reject the idea of a return to primitivism as we do FALC and we need to develop other conceptions of a future communist society, one neither based on a po-faced hair shirt economy nor on a billionaire playboy way of life a la FALC, but one where all the creative abilities of all will be realised.
Before FALC, there was Post-Scarcity Anarchism as developed by Murray Bookchin. Like Bastani, Bookchin talks about the positive aspects of technology as enablers of a new society: "The seeds for the destruction of bourgeois society lie in the very means it employs for self-preservation: a technology of abundance that is capable of providing for the first time in history the material basis for liberation." Again the question has to be asked, how can this technology become liberatory? Certainly Bookchin’s views of a post-scarcity society are far more imaginative and far-reaching than Bastani’s and are in stark contrast to Bastani’s pawky and miserable Statist utopia. Whilst Bastani is blind to a mass movement as an agent of social change, Bookchin emphasises it.