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.

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To the Brink

Insurrection in Greece. Riots in China. Factory occupation in Chicago.

The pace of things seems to be quickening. A friend of mine says, this is our time. Which of course raises the question, what do we do?

Fortunately, we don’t really need to answer this question ourselves. People already are doing something, it’s up to us to support them, and perhaps, draw out the most radical content of the struggle.

As moments of resistance multiply, the radical lessons become clearer. We don’t need capital and the state. If workers can occupy the factory, workers can run the factory. If workers can run the factory, workers can run the world.

This is the syllogism of direct action. Direct action is not only a tactic to be used to win victories within a larger strategy based on a diversity of tactics. Direct action is inherently revolutionary in that it points beyond itself. Within direct action are the seeds of a new social order, an order without bosses or bureaucrats, capital or the state.

As long as reformist trade union bureaucrats or politicians remain the ideological leaders of the working class, they will seek to stifle the potential of the working class and obscure the meaning of direct action. Workers will take society to the brink, and the reformists will coax them back down.

It’s our job to push the world over the edge.

So how do we do this? How can we act to realize the radical potential of mass struggle?

Here’s a few ideas I’ve some up with based on thinking about how I would act if I lived in Greece, or Chicago, or China. In the abstract,:

-Prefiguration. In a revolutionary situation, the struggle is final. In this sense, the struggle does not prefigure the future. The struggle is the future. The seizure of capitalist assets does not prefigure the seize of capitalist assets in a future revolution; the seizure of capitalist assets is the revolution. There is no turning back. For this reason, the struggle must create the kind of society we want to live in: non-hieararchical, non-oppressive.

-Polarization. Without the support of broad strata of the people of this planet, any alternative will be unable to expand, and will be crushed. It is necessary to polarize the world against the enemy to ensure the safety of liberated areas and enable future expansion. We should act to bring the broad masses to the side of the insurgent workers, even if this means making compromises on the public message in the media.

-Dual Power/Reclamation. Any challenge to capital or the state must endeavor to not only hold territory or assets hostage to win demands, but actually establish a permanent base, linked to other bases in a network of counterpower. The goal should not just be to win isolated struggles, but to hold on to assets, neighborhoods, and constituencies. In the decisive moment, assets should be seized rapidly, then set into motion to create more resources to use in the war against capital. For example, media installations should be taken over permanently in order to spread news of the revolution. This will help maintain and deepen social polarization.

-Generalization. Support is not enough. If the revolution does not expand, it will collapse. The struggle must be generalized, or globalized, in order to stretch out the forces of the enemy (at minimum) or establish a sustainable counterpower culminating in revolution (at maximum). This requires global solidarity and organization.

-Defense. Polarization will only go so far. The working class must build the capacity to defend liberated areas from capitalist attack– by any means necessary. Defense organization should also be ‘prefigurative,’ in other words, democratic. The militant defense of spaces from attack will reinforce popular support for the struggle and prepare the workers forces for future battles.

-Offense. The power of the state must eventually be destroyed. We will not be able to reach certain areas through “generalization.” We will need to either invade or isolate these areas. It’s worth remembering that the capitalist class has no right to exist. Although armed struggle should not be a primary tactic in the struggle, we must build the military power of the working class to defend the revolution.

Concretely:

-Organization. We can’t wait for things to happen. We must organize locally now in order to be able to effectively support struggles as they intensify across the globe. This means building up democratic union organization in the workplace, and solidarity organization in neighborhoods as well. This will help build a revolutionary social bloc.

-the Revolutionary Social Bloc. Through organization, we need to build a social majority that is opposed to capitalism in its concrete manifestations of cutbacks and wage slavery, as well as its domination as a social form. We must polarize society against corporations specifically, and capitalism in general.

-Globalism. We must link all struggles as widely as possible geographically. Currently, there are very weak links between the Middle East, China, and the “West.” This is unfortunate, since China and the Middle East are currently central to capitalist globalization. It would make sense to make a concerted effort to build ties to workers organizations in those regions.

-Subversion. Radicals should consider careers in the military and law enforcement. We need to undermine the repressive apparatus as much as possible, and if possible, bring it to the side of the workers.

-Armed Struggle. This is a failure as a revolutionary strategy, but may have its place as a tactic of defense and offense. It would make sense to start building up armed workers organizations right now.

These are some ideas that have crossed my mind as I have watched Greece burn. The pace of change will probably quicken again over the next year. This is our time. Let’s not waste it.