Archive for the 'Anarchism' Category

Jason Adams, “Nonwestern Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context” (2001)

“The future of anarchism must be appraised within a global context; any attempt to localize it is bound to yield a distorted outcome. The obstacles to anarchism are, in the main, global; only their specifics are determined by local circumstances.”
– Sam Mbah

“To the reactionists of today we are revolutionists, but to the revolutionists of tomorrow our acts will have been those of conservatives”
– Ricardo Flores Magon



The purpose of this paper is to help anarchist / anti-authoritarian movements active today to reconceptualize the history and theory of first-wave anarchism on the global level, and to reconsider its relevance to the continuing anarchist project. In order to truly understand the full complexity and interconnectedness of anarchism as a worldwide movement however, a specific focus on the uniqueness and agency of movements amongst the “people without history” is a deeply needed change. This is because the historiography of anarchism has focused almost entirely on these movements as they have pertained to the peoples of the West and the North, while movements amongst the peoples of the East and the South have been widely neglected. As a result, the appearance has been that anarchist movements have arisen primarily within the context of the more privileged countries. Ironically, the truth is that anarchism has primarily been a movement of the most exploited regions and peoples of the world. That most available anarchist literature does not tell this history speaks not to a necessarily malicious disregard of non-Western anarchist movements but rather to the fact that even in the context of radical publishing, centuries of engrained eurocentrism has not really been overcome. This has been changing to an extent however, as there here have been several attempts in just the past decade to re-examine this history in detail in specific non-Western countries and regions, with works such as Arif Dirlik’s Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution, Sam Mbah’s African Anarchism and Frank Fernandez’ Cuban Anarchism. It is within the footsteps of this recent tradition that this paper treads further into the relatively new ground of systematically assessing, comparing and synthesizing the findings of all of these studies combined with original investigation in order to develop a more wholly global understanding of anarchism and its history. To begin our inquiry we first must make clear what it is that is actually meant by the term “Western anarchism.” Going back to the debates within the First International, it quickly becomes apparent that this term is a misnomer, as it is actually the opposite case that is true; anarchism has always been derived more of the East / South than of the West / North. As Edward Krebs has noted “Marx (and Engels) saw Russianness in Bakunin’s ideas and behavior” while “Bakunin expressed his fears that the social revolution would become characterized by ‘pan-Germanism’ and ‘statism.’” This debate has led some to characterize it as largely between Western and Eastern versions of socialism; one marked by a fundamental commitment to order and the other marked by a fundamental commitment to freedom (1998, p. 19). So in this sense anarchism can be understood as an “Eastern” understanding of socialism, rather than as a fully Western tradition in the usual sense of the term. At the same time it should be remembered that there also developed an extremely contentious North / South split between the more highly developed nations of England and Germany and the less developed semi-peripheral nations of Spain, Italy and others. This split was based on differences of material reality but developed largely along ideological lines, with the northern Anglo-Saxon nations siding primarily with Karl Marx and the southern Latin nations siding with Mikhail Bakunin (Mbah, p. 20). So in both the East / West and the North / South sense, anarchism has often been the theory of choice for the most oppressed peoples; particularly in those societies whose primarily feudal nature writes them out of historical agency in the Marxist understanding of the world. This may explain a good deal of why anarchism became so popular throughout Latin America, and why immigrating anarchists from the Latin nations of Europe were so well received in country after country that they visited, attempting to spread the anarchist vision.

Continue reading ‘Jason Adams, “Nonwestern Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context” (2001)’


Bakunin: the “reactionary” consequences of national liberation movements (1866)

“Today no revolution can succeed in any country if it is not at the same time both a political and a social revolution. Every exclusively political revolution – be it in defense of national independence or for internal change, or even for the establishment of a republic – that does not aim at the immediate and real political and economic emancipation of people will be a false revolution. Its objectives will be unattainable and its consequences reactionary.”

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from Mikhail Bakunin, “National Catechism,” 1866. In Bakunin on Anarchism, edited by Sam Dolgoff (Montreal: Black Rose, 1972/2002), page 99. The entire essay is online here.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: There are is shortage of workerist anarchists who wish to turn Bakunin and classical anarchism into a bottom-up version of the Marxist-Leninism that many of these workerists are strongly influenced by. One of the more outrageous claims they attempt to marshall evidence for, usually by selective quotations of Bakunin’s work on federalism, is that he supported national liberation movements (eg after his pan-Slavist period). Since Bakunin made explicit denunciations of national liberation struggles that were not also thoroughly and completely radical struggles, these writers are clearly banking on most anarchists’ ignorance of their own tradition.

Bakunin in Paris, February 1848

At last the February revolution burst forth. No sooner had I learned that they were fighting in Paris than, taking an acquaintance’s passport against any contingency, I set out again for France. But the passport was not necessary; the first word that greeted us at the border was: “La Republique est proclamee a Paris.”* [“The Republic is proclaimed in Paris.”] Chills ran up my spine when I heard this news. I arrived in Valenciennes on foot because the railroad had been cut. Everywhere there were crowds, wild shouts, red banners in all the streets and squares and on all public buildings. I had to go a roundabout way; the railroad was cut in many places. I arrived in Paris on 26 February, the third day after the proclamation of the republic. I enjoyed the trip. Now what shall I say to you, Sire, of the impression produced on me by Paris! This huge city, the center of European enlightenment, had suddenly been turned into the wild Caucasus: on every street, almost everywhere, barricades had been piled up like mountains, reaching the roofs, and on them, among rocks and broken furniture, like Lezghians* [A tribe of the Caucasus Mountains] in ravines, workers in their colorful blouses, blackened from powder and armed from head to foot. Fat shopkeepers,  épiciers*  [Grocers] with faces stupid from terror, timidly looked out of the windows. On the streets and boulevards not a single carriage. And the dandies, young and old, all the hated social lions with their walking sticks and lorgnettes, had disappeared and in their place MY NOBLE OUVRIERS in rejoicing, exulting crowds, with red banners and patriotic songs, reveling in their victory! And in the midst of this unlimited freedom, this mad rapture, all were so forgiving, sympathetic, loving of their fellow man—upright, modest, courteous, amiable, witty—that only in France, and in France only in Paris, could one see such a thing! Later I lived for more than a week with some workers in the Caserne de Tournon, two steps from the Luxembourg Palace. These barracks were formerly the barracks of the Municipal Guard; at this time they with many others were turned into a red republican fortress, into barracks for Caussidiere’s guard. Now I lived in them at the invitation of an acquaintance, a democrat who commanded a detachment of five hundred workers. Thus I had an opportunity to see and study these last from morning till night. Sire! I assure you, in no class, never, and nowhere have I found so much noble selflessness, so much truly touching integrity, such sincerely considerate good manners, and so much amiable gaiety combined with such heroism as I found in these simple, uneducated people, who always were and always will be a thousand times better than all their leaders! What is so striking about them is their deep instinct for discipline; in their barracks no established regimen, no Jaws, no compulsion could exist, but God grant that any disciplined soldier could so precisely obey, anticipate the wishes of his officers, and observe order as religiously as these free men. They demanded orders, they demanded leadership, they obeyed with punctiliousness, with fevor; they would perform heavy work for twenty-four hours at a stretch without eating and never grow despondent, but were always cheerful and amiable. If these people, if the French workers in general, found a leader worthy of them, one who was able to understand and love them, he could work wonders with them.

Sire! I am in no condition to give you a clear account of the month I spent in Paris, for it was a month of spiritual intoxication. Not only I but everyone was intoxicated: some from reckless fear, others from reckless rapture, from reckless hopes. I got up at five or even four in the morning and went to bed at two. I was on my feet all day, participated vigorously in all the meetings, gatherings, clubs, processions, outings, demonstrations; in a word, I imbibed with all my senses, through all my pores, the ecstatic atmosphere of revolution. It was a feast without beginning and without end. Here I saw everyone and saw no one because all were lost in one infinite, aimless crowd. I spoke with everyone, but I do not remember either what I said to them or what they said to me because at every step there were new topics, new adventures, new information. News that was arriving continually from the rest of Europe also helped no little to maintain and strengthen the general delirium. One constantly heard such things as, “On se bat a Berlin; Ie roi a pris Ia fuite, apres avoir prononce un discours! On s’est battu a Vienne, Metternich s’est enfui, Ia Republique y est proclamee! Toute l’Allemagne se souleve. Les italiens ont triomphe a Milan, a Venise; les autrichiens ont subi une honteuse defaite! La Republique y est proclamee; toute !’Europe devient Republique. Vive Ia Republique!”* [“They are fighting in Berlin; the King has taken flight after having made a speech! They have fought in Vienna, Metternich has fled, the Republic has been proclaimed there! All Germany is rising. The Italians have triumphed  in Milan, in Venice; the Austrians have suffered a shameful defeat! The Republic has been proclaimed there; all Europe is becoming a republic. Long live the Republic!”] It seemed that the whole world had been turned upside down.

The inconceivable had become the usual, the impossible possible, and the possible and the usual unthinkable. In a word, minds were in such a state that if someone had arrived and said, “le bon Dieu vient d’etre chasse du ciel, Ia Republique y est proclamee!”* [“The good Lord has just been chased out of heaven, the Republic has been proclaimed there!”] then everyone would have believed him and no one would have been amazed. And it was not only the democrats who were in such a state of intoxication; on the contrary, the democrats were the first to become sober, for they had to get down to work and secure the power that had fallen into their hands by some unexpected miracle. The conservative party and the dynastic opposition, which in one day had become more conservative than the conservatives themselves—in a word, people of the old order believed in all miracles and all impossibilities more than did the democrats. They really thought that two times two had ceased to be four, and Thiers himself announced that “il ne nous reste plus qu’une chose, c’est de nous faire oublier.”* [“Only one thing remains for us: to make ourselves forgotten.”]  This alone explains the haste and unanimity with which all cities, provinces, and classes in France accepted the republic. (46)

endnote 46: The anarchist and Bakunin scholar Max Nettlau, commenting on the preceding pages, maintained that “This veritable poem to Paris of the February barricades…, sung in the face of the Tsar” should put to rest the insinuations that Bakunin had abased himself before the Tsar and compromised himself by writing the Confession (notes to the French edition of the Confession [1932; reprint Paris, 1974], p. 218….)

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From The Confession of Mikhail Bakunin, with marginal comments of Tsar Nicholas I, trans. Robert C. Howes, introduction and notes by Lawrence D. Orton (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1977), pp. 54–57. Written by Bakunin in 1851 while imprisoned in Tsarist Russia after the failure of the democractic revolts in the West, and before his political transformation to anarchism.

Mina Graur: Rudolf Rocker debates Otto Strasser

In 1930 the FAUD [the anarcho-syndicalist Free Workers’ Union of Germany] accepted an invitation from Otto Strasser, an activist in the National Socialist Party [e.g., the Nazi party], to a series of debates. It was an interesting challenge for the syndicalists, and Fritz Kater suggested that Rocker should represent their camp. (fn90) Otto Strasser belonged to a faction within the National Socialist Party that differed in many respects from Hitler’s mainstream. Indeed, Strasser’s disagreements with Hitler led to his expulsion from the party in June 1930. After his expulsion, he founded the “Revolutionary National Socialists” organization, later known as the “Black Front.” (fn91) The debate was conducted, therefore, just before Strasser was driven out of the Nazi party.

Three meetings were arranged, each dedicated to a different topic. At the first, Rocker debated Strasser on the issue of nationalism and race, and the role they play in the shaping of history. Rocker claimed that since nationality is not known to be an inherited trait, it follows that the idea of nationality is enforced on men by their surroundings. (fn92) The second session was dedicated to the meaning of socialism. Since Strasser could not attend the meeting due to illness, his place was taken by Dr. Herbert Blank. Blank argued that the historical importance of the National Socialist Party was that it had discovered the true foundations of socialism, since what passed until then as socialism was only the Marxist interpretation. Rocker ridiculed the argument, pointing to the obvious fact that the Nazis had probably never heard of libertarian socialism and its many thinkers, who were in no way connected to Marx and his followers, and who rejected Marxism altogether. At the third debate, Rocker was replaced by Erich Mühsam at the request of Strasser, who felt threatened by Rocker’s rhetorical tactics. Rocker, however, was asked to deliver the closing remarks. Although both camps knew that the differences between them were too wide to be bridged over, and that no side was going to win new converts, the series of debates constituted an interesting experience. The debates were the only time that the anarchists aired their opinions freely in front of a Nazi audience. After the National Socialists came to power, the anarchist movement was extinguished, its members exiled, imprisoned, or sent to concentration camps.


90. Rocker dated the event at around 1928 or later. According to the articles in Fanal reporting the event, it occurred in 1930.
91. Allan Bullock, Hitler, A Study in Tyranny (New York: Harper, 1964), pp. 156-158.
92. Rocker, Revolutsie un Regresie, Vol. 2, p. 29. The issue is elaborated upon in Nationalism and Culture.

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from Mina Graur, An Anarchist “Rabbi”: The Life and Teachings of Rudolf Rocker (New York: St. Martins Press / Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1997), pp. 174-75.

Murray Bookchin: Anarchism vs Syndicalism (1992)

[Graham] Purchase [in “Social Ecology, Anarchism and Trades Unionism”] not only ignores these momentous developments and the analyses that I and others have advanced; he grossly misinterprets and demagogically redefines any criticism of syndicalism, indeed, trade-unionism, as an expression of hostility toward anarchism as such. Assuming that Purchase knows very much about the history of anarchism and syndicalism, this line of argument is manipulative and an outright distortion; but to be generous, I will say that it reveals a degree of ignorance and intolerance that deserves vigorous reproval. In fact, in the late nineteenth century, when syndicalism emerged as an issue among anarchists, it was furiously debated. The outstanding luminaries of the anarchist movement at the the turn of the century — such as Errico Malatesta, Elisee Reclus, Emma Goldman, Sebastian Faure, and others — initially opposed syndicalism for a variety of reasons, many of which show a great deal of prescience on their part. And in time, when they came to accept it, many of them did so in a highly prudent manner. Malatesta, in his fundamental criticism of syndicalism, argued that the generation of a revolutionary spirit ‘cannot be the normal, natural definition of the Trade Union’s function’. Although he eventually accepted anarchosyndicalism with apparent reluctance, he continued to call for a far more expansive form of anarchist organization and practice than many syndicalists were prepared to accept.

In practice, anarchist groups often came into outright conflict with anarchosyndicalist organizations — not to speak of syndicalist organizations, many of which eschewed anarchism. Early in the century, the Spanish anarchocommunists, influenced primarily by Juan Baron and Francisco Cardinal, the editors of Tierra y Libertad, furiously denounced the anarchosyndicalists who were later to form the CNT as ‘deserters’ and ‘reformists’. Similar conflicts developed in Italy, France, and the United States, and perhaps not without reason. The record of the anarchosyndicalist movement has been one of the most abysmal in the history of anarchism generally. In the Mexican Revolution, for example, the anarchosyndicalist leaders of the Casa del Obrero Mundial shamefully placed their proletarian ‘Red Battalions’ at the service of Carranza, one of the revolution’s most bloodthirsty thugs, to fight the truly revolutionary militia of Zapata — all to gain a few paltry reforms, which Carranza withdrew once the Zapatista challenge had been broken with their collaboration. The great Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon justly denounced their behaviour as a betrayal.

Nor can much be said in defence of the leaders of the CNT in Spain. They swallowed their libertarian principles by becoming ‘ministers’ in the Madrid government late in 1936, not without the support of many of their followers, I should add, and in May 1937 they used their prestige to disarm the Barcelona proletariat when it tried to resist the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Catalan capital. In the United States, lest present-day anarchosyndicalists get carried away by legendary movements like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), they should be advised that this syndicalist movement, like others elsewhere, was by no means committed to anarchism. ‘Big Bill’ Haywood, its most renowned leader, was never an anarchist. Still other IWW leaders, many of whom tilted toward an anarchist outlook, not only became Communists in the 1920s but became ardent Stalinists in the 1930s and later. It is worth noting that serious Spanish anarchists, even those who joined the CNT, regarded the influence of the CNT’s trade-unionist mentality on the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) as deleterious and ultimately disastrous. Toward the end of the civil war, it was questionable whether the FAI controlled the CNT or, more likely, whether the CNT, with its strong trade-union mentality, had essentially diluted the FAI’s anarchist principles. As Malatesta had so perceptively declared, even as he cautiously accepted the amalgamation of anarchist with syndicalist principles under the pressure of a growing syndicalist movement in Europe, ‘trade unions are, by their nature, reformist and never revolutionary’ (emphasis added). For an oaf like Graham Purchase to bombastically equate syndicalism with anarchism — an act of arrogance that is as fatuous as it is ignorant — and then to go on and essentially equate trade unionism with syndicalism deserves only disdain.

The authentic locus of anarchists in the past was the commune or municipality, not the factory, which was generally conceived as only part of a broader communal structure, not its decisive component. Syndicalism, to the extent that it narrowed this broader outlook by singling out the proletariat and its industrial environment as its locus, also crucially narrowed the more sweeping social and moral landscape that traditional anarchism had created. In large part, this ideological retreat reflected the rise of the factory system in the closing years of the last century in France and Spain, but it also echoed the ascendancy of a particularly vulgar form of economistic Marxism (Marx, to his credit, did not place much stock in trade unionism), to which many naive anarchists and nonpolitical trade unionists succumbed. After the Revolution by Abad de Santillan, one of the movers and shakers of Spanish anarchosyndicalism, reflects this shift toward a pragmatic economism in such a way that makes his views almost indistinguishable from those of the Spanish socialists — and, of course, that brought him into collusion with the Catalan government, literally one of the grave-diggers of Spanish anarchism. Syndicalism — be it anarchosyndicalism or its less libertarian variants — has probably done more to denature the ethical content of anarchism than any other single factor in the history of the movement, apart from anarchism’s largely marginal and ineffectual individualist tendencies. Indeed, until anarchism shakes off this syndicalist heritage and expands its communalistic and communistic heritage, it will be little more than a rhetorical and mindless echo of vulgar Marxism and the ghost of an era that has long passed into history.

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from “Deep Ecology, Anarcho-Syndicalism and the Future of Anarchist Thought,” 1992. Full text of both Bookchin’s piece and the Purchase article he is replying to, is available here in the Freedom Press book Deep Ecology & Anarchism: A Polemic.

Anti-Authoritarians Anonymous – Adventures in Subversion: Flyers and Posters, 1981-85

This classic booklet of post-Situ flyers was made by John Zerzan and Dan Todd, probably in 1985. The version this is made from lists the publisher as Oh! Press in San Francisco.

6 MB version

14 MB version

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Malatesta on Bakunin as “too marxist”

“Today I find that Bakunin in political economy and in interpretation of history, was too marxist; I find that his philosophy was conducted without possible issue in the contradiction between the mechanical concept of the universe and the faith in will over the fate of mankind.”

“Though none of us had read Marx, we were still too Marxist.'” [ie in the period of the First International]

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from “Notes for a Biography” in Errico Malatesta’s Life and Ideas, edited by Vernon Richards (London: Freedom Press, 1977), page 209.