Rethinking Anarchism

“We, the Anarchists! A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927-1937” by Stuart Christie
March 30, 2009, 6:58 pm
Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

we-coverI just finished Stuart Christie’s (yes, the guy who tried to assassinate Franco) study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation. The book not only attempts to “set the record straight” about what the FAI was and wasn’t, it uses the story of the FAI in the Spanish Revolution to look at the critical question of power and co-optation in revolutionary movements. The story is both inspiring and heartbreaking. In 1936, the workers of the Spanish National Confederation of Labor (CNT) thwarted a fascist uprising intended to topple the liberal state. In crushing the military coup attempt, they seized control of their neighborhoods and workplaces. Armed workers patrolled the streets. The revolution was an accomplished fact.

The revolutionary leaders were overwhelmed by their own success. Cracks immediately began to emerge in their own belief in the ability of the working class to emancipate itself. Most of the “notables” of the CNT and FAI sold out the membership, agreeing to the establishment of a provisional state apparatus and the repression of the anarchist movement’s own “uncontrollables.” Before long, the Stalinists and liberals had outmaneuvered the Anarchists in the government, leading to a collapse in revolutionary morale, and eventually, a fascist victory.

According to Christie, the fate of the FAI should serve as a cautionary tale to anarchists in struggle. As it turns out, we are our own worst enemies. We are not exempt from what has been termed the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” in social groupings. A permanent leadership tends to emerge, which eventually becomes more invested in its own survival as an elite than in the success of the struggle.

This question is not merely theoretical navel-gazing. The dynamics of “oligarchization” play out every day in our organizations. How do we build a truly libertarian mass organization? Our ability to make a revolution depends on our ability to answer this question.


3 Comments so far
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Yo Erik,

I’ve been meaning to respond to this post for a long time but haven’t found anything really profound to offer, so I’ve put it off.

Here’s what I have come up with: One of the things about the CNT and the FAI was that they were unitary organizations, or so it seems. My Spanish rev. knowledge isn’t that expansive I guess. I know there were other crews like Mujeres Libres and probably other anarchist organizations that we don’t know about today. But one of the things with having one organization for the whole class is that it allows oligarchy to work way more quickly. For obvious proof, look at every one-party “socialist” state ever. So part of the answer, or part of an answer, might be to make sure that there isn’t just one organization for the whole class. That doesn’t preclude an OBU, but it also suggests that perhaps the IWW (or whatever other radical union) needn’t also be the same organization fighting for squatter’s rights, against police brutality, for urban agriculture, for better transportation etc. Not to say that it couldn’t support those struggles tactically, but that a diverse and complementary series of WC organizations could actually be more strategic than just one, insofar as they could maximize their efficiency in one arena, as well as fighting against the development of internal hierarchies.

I dunno, that’s what I’ve got.

Comment by Brendan

That sounds pretty right-on to me. I don’t know how one organization would coordinate all that stuff anyway.

What does “WC” mean, btw?

Comment by erik

Working class. Sorry, old SDS lingo dies hard.

Comment by Brendan

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