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(en) The Northeastern Anarchist (NEA) #9 Italian Involvement in the Debate on the 'Organizational Platform' by Nestor McNab (FdCA)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 11 Oct 2004 19:18:35 +0200 (CEST)


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The debate which surrounded the publication of the "Organizational
Platform of the General Union of Anarchists - Project" between June and
October 1926 was lively and widespread, involving a great number of
anarchists both in France, where it had been published, and abroad.
However, as Paris in those days was a sort of magnet for anarchists who
had been forced to flee their countries of origin or who were drawn there
by the great activity of others already present, a large part of the debate
regarding the proposals of the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad
(GRAZ)1 was centered on Paris.

Publication of the "Platform" itself was preceded by a series of articles
regarding anarchist organization in Delo Truda, notably the GRAZ article
"The Problem of Organization and the Notion of Synthesis" in March
1926. The notion of a synthesis of the three main strands of anarchism
(anarchist communism, anarcho-syndicalism and individualism) had
been proposed by Sébastien Faure and was supported by figures such
as Volin. Itself a controversial idea, "synthesism" was to prove to be, in
the years that followed, the counterpart to the "platformist" idea of
organization and the organized movement was destined to be polarized
over the years into federations based on a synthesis and those based on a
tendency.

The debate accompanied the piecemeal publication of the Platform and
took place in the pages of various anarchist journals, including the
promoter group's own Russian-language paper, Delo Truda, and the
French paper Le Libertaire. Following comments by some comrades, the
GRAZ published a "Supplement to the Organizational Platform" in
November 1926, which addressed certain points which had been raised by
Maria Korn Isidine.

A series of meetings and conventions were also held. The meeting of
February 12, 1927, presided over by the Italian anarchist Ugo Fedeli, who
had worked with Makhno and who initially supported the project, reached
a decision to appoint a Provisional Secretariat which would call an
International Conference, leading to the foundation of a Revolutionary
Anarchist Communist International.

The International Conference took place on March 20, 1927 in Paris and
discussed the proposal presented by the Provisional Secretariat which
succinctly summarized the debate of the previous months:

As a basis for the union of homogeneous forces and as the ideal logical
and tactical minimum upon which comrades should agree, we propose
the following points:

(1) Recognition of the class struggle, being the most important factor in
the anarchist system.
(2) Recognition of Communist Anarchism as the basis of our movement.
(3) Recognition of Syndicalism as one of the principal methods of struggle
of communist anarchism.
(4) The need for a General Union of Anarchists in every country basing
itself on ideological and tactical unity and collective responsibility.
(5) The need for a positive programme which can create the social
revolution.

The conference, however was interrupted by the French police, who
arrested the participants, later expelling many from the country.
However, before the meeting was broken up, one of the two Italian
groups present, the "Pensiero e VolontĂ " Group (represented by Luigi
Fabbri, Camillo Berneri and Ugo Fedeli), succeeded in having the first
point changed into:

(1) Recognition of the struggle of all the exploited and the oppressed
against the authority of the State and capital, being the most important
factor in the anarchist system.

This group had also prepared alternative versions of three of the other
four points, which due to the police action were not decided upon:

(3) Recognition of the workers' and union struggle as one of the
important methods of anarchists' revolutionary action.
(4) The need for the most General possible Union in every country of
Anarchists having the same final goal and the same practical tactics,
based also on collective responsibility.
(5) The need for a positive programme of action with which anarchists
can realize the social revolution.

In the months to follow, debate on the "Platform" raged on. In April,
Volin and a group of other Russian anarchist exiles including Mollie
Steimer and her husband Senya Fleshin, published a fierce, lengthy attack
on the Platform"2. This elicited a stinging collective response in August
of that year from the GRAZ3, who accused Volin and his group of
deliberately misrepresenting the spirit of the draft Organizational
Platform. In May 1927, the Provisional Secretariat, composed of Nestor
Makhno, Maxim Ranko and Chen (Yen-Nian?) issued invitations to join
the new Revolutionary Anarchist Communist International, or
International Anarchist Communist Federation, based on the original five
points above (but not including the counter-proposals of the Italians, a
fact which would certainly not have been appreciated by Fabbri's group).

The meetings and articles continued, with contributions from Faure,
Volin, Linsky, Ranko, Isidine, Grave and Chernyakov amongst others,
not forgetting Arshinov and Makhno. In October that year, Errico
Malatesta, the Ă©minence grise of Italian anarchism who was living in
enforced isolation in Italy, responded to the proposed "Platform" in a
letter4 which was replied to several months later both by PĂ«tr Arshinov5
and Makhno6. In the meantime, there had also been important
interventions by Luigi Fabbri7 and Maria Korn Isidine8, to whom
Arshinov replied with another article9. It was not until a year later in late
1929 that Malatesta was able to reply to Makhno's letter10 and it has to
be said that many of his doubts about the project had by that time been
cleared up, though there did remain serious problems regarding the
concept of collective responsibility. Malatesta would, in fact, write once
again on that subject in the pages of the French journal Le Libertaire as
late as April 193011 stating, however, that he was quite prepared to
believe that the difficulty could simply be a result of linguistic differences.
(It should at this point be remembered that the version of the text used as
a basis for consideration by non-Russians was Volin's French translation
and, in fact, Alexandre Skirda has since drawn attention to the somewhat
biased nature of this translation. Indeed, there was an exchange of articles
around the question of the faithfulness of the translation in Le Libertaire
in the spring of 1927.) By that stage, however, the impetus had
evaporated and support for the "Platform" was restricted to only a few
groups such as the Union Anarchiste Communiste RĂ©volutionnaire.
Arshinov had been expelled to Belgium in January and one of Makhno's
last public acts was his speech at the UACR Congress.

The two Italian groups present at the 1927 meetings went their separate
ways. The group represented by Giuseppe Bifolchi, "had already begun
their own process of criticism in the search for a new revolutionary
strategy, and lent their support to the Platform's programme â?¦.
Believing that the concept of internationalism was the real basis for the
existence of every anarchist organization, they joined the International
Anarchist Communist Federation as its First Italian Section"12. The
Manifesto of this group has now been translated into English for the first
time13. Bifolchi was forced to leave France in April 1928 and went to
Belgium. There, he founded the monthly journal Bandiera Nera (Black
Flag) before moving on to Spain during the years of the Spanish
Revolution, where he fought as a commander in the Italian Column.
Fedeli had edited the Italian version of the trilingual International
Anarchist Review from November 1924 to June 1925, when it merged
with two other journals into La Tempra. He was expelled from France in
1929 and was repatriated to Italy in 1933 to face prison and confinement
after spells in Belgium, Argentina and Uruguay.

Naturally, the strong anti-organizationalist element in Italian anarchism
was not interested in the project of the Platform. Neither were the Italian
comrades who had made the choice to remain in fascist Italy (with all the
difficulties that entailed). Those held in confinement were fighting to stay
alive, while the few remaining in liberty were engaged in anti-fascist
activity and trying to keep anarchist ideas alive among the Italian workers.

If the short-lived First Italian Section of the Anarchist Communist
International failed to amount to much, it was partly as a result of the
Fascist repression in Italy but also due to the fact that both Malatesta and
the prestigious "Pensiero e VolontĂ " Group eventually distanced
themselves from the "Platform". Despite apparent differences within this
latter group, they eventually sent a reply to the invitation of the
Provisional Secretariat in which they politely refused the offer to join the
initiative as they considered that for the time being "the best road to
follow is the one which, in four years of public life, the UAI has laid out
for itself"14.

It is interesting to note that while Malatesta's disinclination to endorse the
Platform stems mostly from his doubts regarding "collective
responsibility", the letter from the "Pensiero e VolontĂ " Group seems to
indicate reservations regarding the principles of theoretical and tactical
unity ("exclusivism"), whereas their proposals to the International
Conference actually endorsed the need both for unity of tactics and for
collective responsibility.

But the Unione Anarchica Italiana15, was already dead. The fascist
regime in Italy, which had in preceding years forced anarchist groups,
newspapers (such as UmanitĂ Nova) and the anarchist-dominated
revolutionary trade union USI16 to disband, made public life so
impossible for Italian anarchists that the UAI convention of January 1926
was to be its last.

The UAI, born in 1919 as the Unione Comunista Anarchica Italiana
(UCAI)17, had been a somewhat inefficient organization and in fact for
several years before its demise there had been attempts to form a
federation which did not include the individualist and anti-organizational
elements which were seen by many, Malatesta and Fabbri included, to be
responsible for much of the organization's inability to achieve concrete
results. In the years following the rise to power of the fascists, Italy's
anarchists became sorely divided, some militants remaining in Italy (most
of whom would be kept in confinement in remote parts of the country for
over a decade), while many others were to emigrate, often first to other
European countries, later on to the Americas. It was from this point on
that the anti-organizationalist element was to become dominant among
Italian anarchists, both in Italy and abroad (partly thanks to the influence
and hegemony exercised by journals with a strongly anti-organizationalist
line, such as l'Adunata dei Refrattari, published in New York).

In 1930, the Unione Comunista Anarchica dei Profughi Italiani18, an
organization of tendency, was created in Paris. However, three years later
it was renamed the Federazione Anarchica dei Profughi Italiani19 and in
November 1935 completed the process of transformation into a federation
based on synthesis, becoming the Comitato Anarchico d'Azione
Rivoluzionaria20.

Things went somewhat better (for a while) for the "Platform" in France
and in Bulgaria, where the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation
actually adopted the "Platform" as its constitution. The principles of the
"Platform" were accepted (albeit in an excessively rigorous way) by the
French federation, the Union Anarchiste (founded in 1920 by Faure as a
synthesist organization) at its congress in November 1927 when it
changed name to the Union Anarchiste Communiste
RĂ©volutionnaire21, recalling the name of the proposed International.
Those members who were against the change left to set up the
Association des Fédéralistes Anarchistes22, whose theoretical and
organizational ethos was summed up by Faure's "La Synthèse
Anarchiste.â?ť

By 1930, however, a group of syndicalists who had remained within the
UACR on purpose had managed to gain a majority within the federation
which resulted in the name being changed back to Union Anarchiste and
a return to a more synthesist approach. Eventually, the Fédération
Communiste Libertaire23 was set up by supporters of the "Platform" in
1935, but this too would disappear during the war years.


============

Footnotes

1 Gruppa Russkikh Anarkhistov Zagranitseii.
2 'Reply to the Platform' by "some Russian anarchists" (Sobol, Schwartz,
Steimer, Volin, Lia, Roman, Ervantian, Fleshin), April 1927.
3 'Reply to Anarchism's Confusionists: A Response to the "Reply to the
Platform" by Several Russian Anarchists', Group of Russian Anarchists
Abroad, August 18, 1927.
4 'A Project Of Anarchist Organization', in Il Risveglio (Geneva), October
1927.
5 'The Old And New In Anarchism', in Delo Truda N°30, May 1928.
6 'About The Organizational Platform', in Il Risveglio, December 1929.
7 'Su un progetto di organizzazione anarchica', in Il Martello (New York),
17/24 September 1927.
8 'Organization And Party', in Plus loin N°s 36 - 37, March/April 1928.
9 Elements Old & New In Anarchism, in Delo Truda N°30/31,
November/December 1928.
10 'Reply to Nestor Makhno,' in Il Risveglio, December 1929.
11 'A proposito della responsabilità collettiva', in Le Libertaire N°252,
19th April 1930. English translation under the title "On Collective
Responsibility" available on the Nestor Makhno Archive.
12 A. DadĂ , L'anarchismo in Italia: fra movimento e partito, Milan 1984.
13 Manifesto of the First Section of the International Anarchist
Communist Federation. The original Italian version of the manifesto is in
IISG, Fondo U. Fedeli, b. 175, and now also in A. DadĂ , op.cit.
14 Letter from the "Pensiero e VolontĂ " Group to the Provisional
Secretariat of the International Anarchist Communist Federation. Italian
original in A. DadĂ , Ugo Fedeli dalla Russia alla Francia: un anarchico
italiano nel dibattito dell'anarchismo internazionale (1921-1927),
UniversitĂ di Firenze, FacoltĂ di Magistero, "Annali dell'Istituto di
Storia" vol.III, 1982/84, Florence, 1985.
15 Italian Anarchist Union.
16 Unione Sindacale Italiana Italian Syndical Union.
17 The UCAI Congress at Bologna in 1921 had decided to drop the term
"Communist" from the name so as to avoid confusion with the
Bolsheviks.
18 Anarchist Communist Union of Italian Refugees.
19 Anarchist Federation of Italian Refugees.
20 Anarchist Revolutionary Action Committee.
21 Revolutionary Anarchist Communist Union.
22 Association of Anarchist Federalists.
23 Libertarian Communist Federation.


============

Nestor McNab is a member of the Federazione dei Communisti Anarchici
(FdCA), and the Italian editor for the international
A-Infos Collective

============


** APPENDIX **

Anarchist Communist Manifesto
(Italy, 1927)

Anarchist-communists are unanimous in affirming that the principle of
authority which today's institutions are based on is the fundamental cause
of all social ills, and it is therefore for this reason that they are today, and
always will be, unyielding enemies of political authority (the State),
economic authority (Capital), and moral and intellectual authority
(Religion and Official Morality).

In short: anarchist-communists are against all dictatorships of political,
economic, scientific or religious derivation; on the other hand, they are
sincere partisans of a form of social organization which is based on the
free association of producers and consumers with the aim of better
satisfying the various needs of the new society.

They are communists, because having carefully examined the social
question in all its facets they are of the opinion that only a society based
on libertarian communism will be able to guarantee every one of its
members the greatest well-being and freedom.

They are revolutionaries, not because of any fanaticism for blood and
glory, but because they have observed that reforms are illusory and at the
mercy of the whim of the ruling powers. These powers, even if they are
democratic, are moved by reactionary despotic financial forces, evident or
hidden, and only an Anarchist Revolution can put an end to government
and the exploitation of man by man.

They are individualists, not in the sense of an exaggerated respect for the
individual which, however it may be disguised, is a form of
authoritarianism, but because they are supporters of communism for the
very reason that it guarantees every individual the greatest physical,
intellectual and moral development. They are educationalists, because
they believe that the best chance that the Revolution has of arriving
sooner and having greater effect is directly linked to the level of the
revolutionary social education of every individual. They are convinced
that the Revolution will be the logical natural product of the large-scale
explosion of collective revolt, rendered conscious by a widespread
understanding of the injustice of the present capitalist social system.
Education of this type excludes that contemplative, fatalist, passive sort of
education that is an end in itself.

Social Programme

Anarchist communism, which is indispensable if we are to see a society
without exploiters or exploited, is based on the free cooperation of
individuals in order to satisfy each other's economic, intellectual, and
moral needs, since it is only right that the organizations born from within
the working class should regulate social functioning after the Revolution.
Inspired by the formation and development of an ever-growing number of
associations in all fields of human activity, anarchist-communists have
seen that the spirit of association and federalism is ever more
predominant due to the fact that political and economic centralism is
providing ever more mediocre answers to the new needs of technical,
scientific, and social progress.

Encouraged by a similar libertarian tendency, anarchist-communists
continue to be supporters of a form of social organization which will
develop into the Commune, a local demographic agglomeration which is
large enough to be able to practise social solidarity effectively by
organizing production in a rational way, taking into account in its every
act the inviolable liberty of individuals and associations.

The libertarian Commune, in the way anarchist-communists understand
it, is not a version of present-day municipal councils nor is it a
representation in miniature of any government, but a moral and material
pact which unites the inhabitants of a given area in a common project in
the economic, intellectual, and moral field to allow every individual of
whatever sex and age to enjoy the right to freedom and to well-being, as
far as the possibilities of production permit, naturally.

Relations between different Communes can be managed without useless,
even dangerous, interference from central, national and international
powers, in the knowledge that federalism is a basic condition for the
safeguarding of the principle of freedom upon which the new
communalist society will rest. Without wishing to go into long,
bothersome detail which is almost always rendered null by tomorrow's
reality, anarchist-communists, as a large part of their pre-Revolutionary
programme, consider it sufficient to hold to the general lines of the
libertarian Commune based on federalist or sovietist cooperation, sovietist
in the sense of decentralization and as a spontaneous, conscious
emanation of the technical and political capacity of the working class.

Organization

The proletarian coalitions for defense and attack against the constituted
powers which have as their specific aim the continuance of the present
state of exploitation and oppression are not recent creations. They are the
natural result of a painful centuries-long experience, given that individual
revolt, though always appreciable for its courage, nobility and the spirit of
sacrifice of the iconoclast, can never affect the organisms of oppression
which are solidly organized and can never come close to effecting any
social improvement or transformation. It is for this reason that
anarchist-communists are not content with proclaiming the goodness of
their libertarian principles, but rather they unite in groups, in federations,
in national unions and in the international union, in order to better resist
and bring about a single moral and material front against the powers of
repression and exploitation. It is in this way that they can provoke in the
near future a vast, tragic and painful epilogue to this uninterrupted class
war, a libertarian Revolution which will bring about a definitive end to the
existence of all classes.

History brims with examples of the repression of such unions in every
place and time by governments of all types, but the sole fact that they
have constituted a single, constant target which is stronger than the
capitalist violence (and will continue to do so), encourages
anarchist-communists to persist in their path, the only one capable of
channeling the forces of exploitation towards the emancipating
Revolution. With regard to organization, the present generation of
anarchist-communists are certainly unanimous in recognizing that, thus
far, their predecessors have done precious little to realise it, given the
bitter, continuous reaction they were victims of and anarchism's lack of
an ideological unity which could permit their physical unity without
which, and despite popular disgust with the parliamentary farce and the
undeniable decomposition of Bolshevism, anarchism will be unable to
find its way into the hearts of the working masses, the only ones who can
bring about the Revolution.

But after the war, fascism and above all the painful lessons of the Russian
Revolution of 1917-1919 (where anarchism only played a secondary role
from the social point of view, despite its considerable intellectual
development and its innumerable sacrifices and owing to chronic
disorganization, both in its constructive and often in its destructive
programmes according to the most involved libertarians in the Russian
movement), there arose amongst anarchist-communists from all
countries a concrete idea of the necessity and the aims of anarchist
organization, based on a single, universal ideological and tactical
principle, excluding the reluctance that smells of Byzantinism and certain
ideological and tactical reservations which are the most marked
characteristics of bourgeois socialist democracy.

Let this tendency develop and triumph, since, if we seek further
development of anarchism as a current of popular liberation and
emancipation, it is right to wait until anarchist-communists are able to
oppose the authoritarian coalitions with a strong, tenacious libertarian
coalition with a homogeneous programme of destruction and
reconstruction and homogeneous tactics. Only in this way can there be
the full participation in society of all those among the working masses
who have been fooled by the daily lies of the bourgeois press and by
certain revolutionary demagoguery and who continue to be ignorant of,
misunderstand and even scorn the ideal for which so many have
sacrificed and continue to sacrifice their lives, their freedom and a happy
life.

-- First Italian Section of the International Anarchist Communist
Federation


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