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(en) australia, sydney, Rebel Worker - 30/11/2002 Review of "Facing The Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organisation"

From dr.woooo@nomasters.org
Date Sat, 30 Nov 2002 03:33:22 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

>From Rebel Worker <rworker@chaos.apana.org.au> 
30/11/2002 Review of "Facing The Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organisation" 

Facing The Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organisation from Proudhon to May 
1968, by Alexandre Skirda, published by AK Press, Price; Jura Books: $26. 
 From Rebel Worker Vol.21 No.5 (179) Nov.-Dec.2002
Paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network. Subs: $12 pa in Australia
and overseas airmail $25 pa.
The Labyrinth of the Left Subculture
A common tendency in much of the English speaking  anarchist milieux in 
recent years has been its transformation from largely subcultures to 
congeries of sects. Self absorbed  groupings often unconsciously 
influenced  by the elitism and vanguardism of the surrounding left 
subculture, heavily  influenced by the Leninist/Stalinist legacies. The 
recent mushrooming in North America of various Anarchist Communist 
Federations is the latest expression of this tendency. Certainly these 
groupings appear to have strong tendencies to becoming sects. Their 
&#8220;anarchist communist&#8221; ideology being essentially a theology. Whilst their 
practice is heavily informed by the particularly exotic left sub cultural 
codes of behaviour  predominant in North America  a fascination with 
identity politics, an unquenchable thirst for participation in 
anti-globalist protest spectacles,  an unwholesome attraction to navel 
gazing organisational formalities eg gender dynamics and involvement in all 
manner of causes/issues fashionable in the leftist milieu. Currently, they 
certainly lack any strategy and the associated long term program of work 
which would be decisive in assisting the emergence of an alternative 
revolutionary labour movement in North America.Involving the prioritising 
of long term work in strategic industries.  Apart from these hazards of the 
left subculture in  precluding within these groupings the flourishing of a 
climate favourable for scientific analysis and debate necessary for the 
developing an effective strategy, the basis of these formations being 
&#8220;affinity groups&#8221; is also likely to be an obstructive  factor.  Given 
personal loyalties which feature so much in such groups being likely to get 
in the way of rational analysis and  discussion.
An important explanation of the dysfunctional character of these 
groupings  formally anarchist &#8220;organisations&#8221; but in fact lost in the 
leftist jungle of micro vanguard parties must be seen as the absence of 
generations of militant anarchist workers who could transmit anarchism as a 
revolutionary practice within the class struggle. Due to the rise of 
Fascism and Stalinism in the 20th Century and dictatorships and waves of 
state repression combined with ever tightening labour legislation and the 
development of Welfare States/Social Democratic Unionism which destroyed 
and marginalised anarcho-syndicalist labour movements throughout the world.
The book under review is basically a survey of the quest for  explicit 
anarchist organisation with particular reference to Europe and France, in 
particular. The author&#8217;s discussion of this quest does throw important 
light on the particularly malicious phenomena of the &#8220;left subculture&#8221; 
which today poses  such a serious threat to international anarchism and the 
workers control project.
Following a brief discussion of the anti-social individualism of Max 
Stirner and the mutualist individualism of Pierre Proudhon, the author 
proceeds to look at the Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin&#8217;s contribution to 
anarchist organisation, particular his programs for the &#8220;Alliance of Social 
Democracy&#8221; and  the &#8220;International Brotherhood&#8221;. The former 
was to draw as many labour organisations into the International Working Men's 
Association(IWMA) so that the Alliance's work &#8220;may be confined to the 
political and revolutionary development of said Association&#8221;. The latter 
was to prepare for the revolution and substitute its strictly concerted and 
covert collective action for &#8220;any government or formal dictatorship&#8230;&#8230;which 
is to say a new bourgeois rule. It was to act as an unseen general 
staff&#8221;.  A sort of dictatorship by the clandestine anarchist party which 
Bakunin thought necessary given his lack of consideration  of  such 
political structures as  workers and community councils. A  concept, likely 
to be influenced by Blanquism with its conspiratorial elitist 
schemes   which contradicts basic anarchist principles which  the author 
has no problems.
The author proceeds to a discussion of the conflict between the Marxist and 
Bakuninist wings of the IWMA  over the issue of  support for activity on 
political party and parliamentary lines. This factional struggle  which 
resulted in a split in the IWMA in 1872 leading to the formation of the 
Federalist IWMA which opposed collaboration with political parties and had 
many features associated with the anarcho-syndicalist tradition. The author 
fails to recognise that the decline of this organisation was associated 
with its move away from being a labour movement into largely a federation 
of anarchist groups. The author sees the decline purely due to 
organisational deficiencies.
&#8220;Propaganda of the Deed&#8221;
  The author then sketches out the character of the anarchist movement in 
the decades prior to WWI. He throws some fascinating light on its largely 
informal character and its intoxication with &#8220;propaganda of the deed&#8221; 
by  anarchist groups and the involvement by some sectors with terrorism. 
The author graphically shows how this orientation played into the hands of 
police infiltration and provocation&#8217;s.  However, the author fails to 
discuss important ideological reasons for this phenomena.  Particularly 
following the death of Bakunin, the rise into prominence of the 
spontaneist  revolution is around the corner  current  associated with new 
anarchist theorists Errico Malatesta and Peter Kropotkin. Practical 
activity associated with this version of anarchism oscillated between the 
distribution of abstract propaganda and armed/insurrectionary action to 
inspire revolutionary action.
&#8220;Revolutionary Syndicalist Upsurge&#8221;
The author goes on to show that the predominance of this version anarchism 
was curtailed with the emergence of revolutionary syndicalism and the work 
of the anarchist Fernand Pelloutier. His propaganda on behalf of anarchists 
becoming involved in the emerging labour movement proved quite influential 
following the merger of the Federation Bourses Du Travail with the General 
Confederation of Labour (CGT).  Most anarchists in France and subsequently 
other countries adopted this new orientation but not as part of some 
anarchist party building exercise. The author shows in graphic detail that 
a minority of those identifying with &#8220;anarchism&#8221; didn&#8217;t adopt the 
syndicalist option and composed an &#8220;individualist tendency&#8221;.   Some of 
these elements became engaged in spectacular criminal activity such as 
Ravachol and the Bonnot Gang, encouraged by &#8220;individualist 
theoreticians&#8221;  discrediting all identifying with the anarchist 
label.  This illegalist behaviour of elements of the individualist current 
led to a major reaction amongst the predominant syndicalist current 
resulting in the formation in 1913 of the Anarchist Revolutionary Communist 
Federation (FCRA) which condemned individualism, and emphasised syndicalism.
The next major crisis affecting the labour and anarchist movements in 
France and elsewhere was the outbreak of WWI in 1914. The author shows how 
the outbreak of the war had a disastrous impact on the CGT with its senior 
officials being drawn into close collaboration with the French Capitalist 
set up and its war effort in the shape of the &#8220;Sacred Union&#8221;. Whilst the 
CGT officials refused to call a General Strike to oppose the war, which had 
always been CGT policy during its syndicalist/anti-militarist phase. The 
author mainly focuses on such factors as the likelihood of savage state 
repression against CGT militants in the event of such a General Strike and 
the overwhelming influence of jingoism amongst the French working class at 
the outbreak of WWI, in explaining this somersault by the top committees of 
the CGT. A more important factor which the author fails to adequately 
discuss is the predominance of the &#8220;reformist&#8221; current within the CGT prior 
to WWI and the failure of syndicalist militants to transform the unions 
associated with this reformist tendency into revolutionary bodies through 
encouraging participation in militant action.
&#8220;Anarchism in Crisis&#8221;
The successful Bolshevik coup in Russia in 1917 and the subsequent crushing 
of the anarchist movement in Russia by the Soviet State caused a 
major  crisis amongst those in France and elsewhere who adopted &#8220;anarchist 
and syndicalist labels&#8221;. The author shows the how the rise of Leninism in 
the shape of the newly formed French Communist Party seriously divided the 
revolutionary movement and contributed to a disastrous splitting of the 
labour movement which caused a severe marginalisation of the anarchist and 
syndicalist current. This process was particularly manifest in the CGT. 
During the war an opposition to the Sacred Union and the layer of union 
officials who supported it grew associated with the Revolutionary 
Syndicalist Committees (RSC). The author sketches the role of Pierre 
Besnard and a secret coterie of CGT militants involved in the  RSC&#8217;s who 
played a crucial role in this splitting process. These militants hoped to 
takeover the various important committees of the CGT to win the 
organisation back to the syndicalist fold by installing revolutionary 
militants in these bodies. They helped initiate a major split from the CGT 
to form the CGTU (General Confederation of Labour United). Following the 
success of the early Communist Party with its cell network taking over the 
CGTU and curtailing syndicalist influence, Besnard helped spark a schism in 
the CGTU to form the CGTSR (General Confederation Revolutionary 
Syndicalist). This final split consisted largely of artisans, members 
of  small craft unions. The CGTSR remained quite small with at its peak 
some 6,000 or so members and declining in size in its final years before 
the outbreak of WWII.
&#8220;Arshinov Platform Controversy&#8221;
The most important controversy in the interwar international anarchist 
movement focused on the &#8220;Arshinov Platform&#8221;. This controversy and its 
subsequent ramifications provides a major focus of this volume. The author 
takes a fairly sympathetic view of this initiative. The basic thrust of the 
Platform was to inspire the merging of the so called &#8220;anarchist movement&#8221; 
in various countries into a non-parliamentary &#8220;party&#8221; to compete  with and 
out manoeuvre  Leninist inspired parties in various arenas.
The author  provides quite a bit of new detail in regard to the background 
and publication of the Platform. The authors of the Platform were the Group 
of Russian Anarchists Abroad  a group of Russian anarchist exiles who had 
fled the repression of the Bolshevik state. Particularly prominent in the 
group and  in the drafting of the Platform was Peter Arshinov.  Initially 
during his revolutionary career he had been a Bolshevik, but had 
subsequently moved toward a spontaneous style anarchist  position. During 
the Russian Revolution of 1917-21, Arshinov had been very active in the 
anarchist influenced Makhnovist partisan movement in the Ukraine and had 
become its historian. The Platform caused quite a storm of hostile 
criticism and debate.  In the case of the residual anarchist movement in 
the USSR the author shows the disastrous impact of  some its members 
participation in the controversy. Following a group letter by Moscow 
anarchists endorsing the Platform, a major wave of state repression struck 
what remained of organised anarchism in the USSR effectively destroying it. 
In regard to the author&#8217;s discussion of the international debate concerning 
the Platform, there is a major gap. As the author fails to refer to the 
particularly effective contribution of George Maximoff, veteran Russian 
anarcho-syndicalist  exile with his book  &#8220;Constructive Anarchism&#8221;. In this 
book, Maximoff criticised the Platform&#8217;s very crude and confused economic 
and social ideas for revolutionary transformation and emphasised the 
Bolshevik and vanguardist tendencies of the Platform. Particularly, the 
vanguardist  notion of  labour organisations being subordinated to the 
&#8220;anarchist party&#8221;  via its cell structure. Instead of this party building, 
Maximoff argues on behalf of fostering anarcho-syndicalist unionism.  The 
author argues that the failure of the so called &#8220;international anarchist 
movement&#8221; of the time to adopt the Platform and hostile criticism received 
from its prominent figures, encouraged Arshinov to  come out in support of 
co-operating with the Stalinist regime and return to the USSR, where he was 
killed in the purges of the late 1930&#8217;s.
&#8220;Blood of Spain&#8221;
An anarchist movement which mostly ignored the Platform was the Spanish. 
Although one of its largest groupings seems to have been heavily informed 
in certain sectors by the vanguardist tendencies implicit in the Platform. 
In particular, the Barcelona based FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation). The 
author does a fairly shoddy job in discussing the activity of those 
associated with this particular organisation. He has little say about the 
destructive behaviour of important sections of the FAI in the late 1920&#8217;s 
and 30&#8217;s which led to the purging from the CNT (National Confederation of 
Labour) - mass anarcho-syndicalist union confederation of more coherent 
anarcho-syndicalist tendencies. Such as the Revolutionary Syndicalist 
Committees, later known as the BOC  (Worker Peasant Bloc) and the 
Treintistas. The hysterical atmosphere associated with these purges based 
on slanders spread by FAI activists and the massive state repression 
affecting the CNT during the insurrectionary cycle encouraged by sectors of 
the FAI in the early 1930&#8217;s, must be seen as very hostile for the 
consideration and discussion of revolutionary political strategies  within 
the CNT. The author ignores this unfortunate development and how lacking 
such a political strategy  a workers/peasants councils state, the CNT and 
FAI incorporation in the Popular Front Govt. during the Civil War was a 
very strong possibility.  The author&#8217;s discussion of the CNT&#8217;s history is 
also somewhat inaccurate. He fails to grasp  that the CNT when it formed in 
1910 was in fact a loose alliance of labour organisations of different 
tendencies with those associated with anarchism being just one current. It 
was only later during WWI that that anarchist influence became predominant.
&#8220;Anarchist Resurgence in Post WWII France & Renewed Crisis&#8221;
The author provides quite a lot of fascinating information about the 
resurgent anarchist and syndicalist movement  in France following the end 
of WWII. France being one of the few countries which experienced such a 
major resurgence. On the level of propaganda, anarchist publications had 
relatively large print runs such as the French Anarchist 
Federation&#8217;s  weekly Le Libertaire with 50,000 copies. The 
anarcho-syndicalist union CNT-F had aprox. 40,000 members with bases in 
some strategic sectors such as in the auto industry at Citroen. The author 
looks at various reasons for the subsequent marginalisation of the 
anarchist movement a few years later. A major reason, the author considers 
for this decline are internal developments in the French Anarchist 
Federation. In particular, a notorious grouping called the OPB 
(Thought-Battle Organisation) whose members considered themselves very much 
inspired by the Arshinov Program. The author sketches the changing role of 
this clandestine group from rearguard charged with combating provocateurs 
and spies to a sect with a strong entryist and vanguardist orientation. 
This group was able to capture control of the French Anarchist Federation 
via Bolshevik style manipulative tactics and changed its name to the FCL 
(Libertarian Communist Federation). The author tells the sorry tale of the 
FCL and how it sought to imitate  the French Communist Party in many 
respects, but lacking the resources of the FCP failed to win away its base. 
However, in competing with the FCP in regard to the Algerian War it faced 
severe State attacks depriving it of premises and faced massive fines. The 
increasing Stalinist character of the FCL led also to the  departure of 
many anarchist militants, who went on to re-form the FAF. After the late 
1950&#8217;s, it became the predominant explicit anarchist &#8220;organisation&#8221;. An 
important factor which the author fails to adequately discuss in explaining 
the decline of French anarchism is the impact of the formation of the FO, a 
major  split instigated by the CIA in the CGT. With the formation of the 
FO, large sections of the CNT-F&#8217;s key bases went over to the new union 
centre encouraging strong sect tendencies in anarchist groupings.
&#8220;Post 1968 French Anarchism&#8221;
The author proceeds to discuss the post  1968 development of French 
Anarchism. The  impression given is of  a largely propaganda movement 
characterised by a range of different groupings with strong left 
subcultural tendencies, with little  influence as an industrial 
movement.  The most significant grouping was the revived French Anarchist 
Federation influenced by the &#8220;Syntheticist Anarchism&#8221; of the Russian 
anarchist Voline, composed of different tendencies, but having a general 
support for syndicalism. The author shows how it has developed significant 
propaganda  organs and infrastructure.
  The other key grouping is the ORA/OCL (Organisation of Revolutionary 
Anarchists)  heavily influenced  by the Arshinov Platform  and according to 
the author possessing a &#8220;hidden policy leadership&#8221; and generally heavily 
affected by the surrounding leftist subculture.
In conclusion, the book under review certainly provides a detailed survey 
of the development of anarchist groupings since the 19th Century. However, 
the author gives the false impression that the key task of anarchists  is 
the building of specific anarchist organisations informed by the Arshinov 
Program, which the volume provides ample evidence can often take on 
features of the Leninist/Stalinist legacy which informs the Left Subculture 
in many countries. Rather than assisting  workers&#8217; militant self 
organisation  and facilitating workers&#8217; control directed activity. As the 
emancipation of the working class can only be achieved by workers 
Mark McGuire

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