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(en) Italian Involvement in the Debate on the ‘Organizational Platform': "About a project for anarchist organization" by Luigi Fabbri

From Nestor Makhno Archive <makhno_archive@yahoo.com>
Date Sat, 4 Sep 2004 07:23:46 +0200 (CEST)


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It was with a strong sense of goodwill that I read the project for an
anarchist "Organizational Platform" which a group of Russian comrades
published last year in Paris and which has been the cause of
impassioned debate recently between anarchists from various countries.
My first impression was that I was not in disagreement with many
points, in fact I found the project to contain many painful, unarguable
truths. The whole project breathes such an ardent desire to do
something, to work for the good of the cause, that it is quite seductive.
All this is certainly of no little merit for the authors of the
"Platform", whose great value is due to another reason – it places
under discussion a number of problems inherent to the anarchist
movement, to the place of anarchists in the revolution, to anarchist
organization in the struggle, and so on. These need to be resolved if
anarchism is to continue to provide answers to the growing needs of the
struggle and of present-day social life.

Despite these favourable observations, however, and unless I am much
mistaken, I do not think that the project proposed by the Russian
comrades can be accepted by any anarchist organization of any
importance since, in my opinion, it contains errors which are of little
import should they remain within the realm of the personal (and
debatable) opinion of a few comrades, but which could become the cause
of serious deviations in the anarchist movement if accepted by the
organization and acquire any programmatic value.

As a programmatic basis for an organization, the "Platform" is too
ideological and too impractical. On a number of problems (such as the
class struggle, democracy, the State, the revolutionary transitional
period, syndicalism, etc.) it establishes axiomatic points of view,
some correct, others not, though opinion on these may be said to vary
from comrade to comrade. Unanimous agreement or even wide agreement on
these points may be almost impossible (and indeed pointless, as far as
practical effects on the organization are concerned). What is important
are the concrete and positive objectives of Anarchism which must be
realized. The important thing is what we must and what we want to
achieve as regards action, independent of the doctrines and ideologies
with which our actions can be justified or evaluated. It seems to me
that not enough space is dedicated in the “Platform” to this realistic,
voluntarist part, if it is to be considered a real programmatic
project.

But I do not wish to dwell too long on criticism of the "Platform" as a
programmatic basis for an organization. I believe that its proponents
themselves do not insist on it and are prepared to lay it aside in
order to seek a more concrete basis which is better able to unite.
Among other things, in fact, one consequence of the "Platform" would be
a tendency to exclude from the anarchist organization not only
individualists and anti-organizationalists, who could not join for
reasons of the very contradiction in terms, but also not a few
anarchist-communists and organizationalists, including some (such as
myself) who have for many years supported the need for an anarchist
organization and have been working towards that goal.

There is much in the "Platform" which I find good and which I approve
of completely, above all as it seeks to demonstrate the need for
anarchist organization and the need to leave this vague and
indeterminate terrain in order to realize the organization as concrete,
permanent and wide-reaching on the largest possible scale. Correct,
too, are the many criticisms of our movement past and present and the
many painful observations. Likewise the important presentation of some
of the problems of anarchist organization in the here and now. On this
part, given that there is agreement, there is no need to dwell. Neither
do I wish to deal with certain aspects of the "Platform" with which I
personally agree, but with which many comrades disagree, as they are
not essential for the practical movement of Anarchism.

I will, however, only examine those parts of the "Platform" which seem
to me to be in error or which I believe contain the seeds of error. My
approach will be to consider it, not as a simple exposition of ideas,
personal or of a group, as if I were simply dealing with one of our
many pamphlets regarding theory or propaganda.

UNITY AND VARIETY

The departure point of the "Platform", as expounded in comrade
Arshinov’s introduction, is sound. It establishes that the anarchist
movement has devastated itself, sterilized for the most part by the
"yellow fever of disorganization". The experience during the Russian
Revolution was decisive from this point of view.

An Italian friend of ours who lived for some time in Germany and in
Russia immediately after the revolutionary period, was telling me that
it is impossible to continue being anti-organizationalist and
individualist once one has experienced the situation in those places.
He, himself, who had once belonged to the individualist current of
anarchism, became personally convinced of this.

Arshinov, in fact, notes that during the Russian Revolution, the
libertarian movement demonstrated a certain confusion and fractioning
of its forces; this is what is supposed to have driven some anarchist
militants into the arms of the Bolsheviks. And it is the same reason
which has caused a certain passivity among some others... And the
conclusion of the need for an anarchist organization is fully justified
and correct in every way.

Nonetheless, one can note from the Introduction that the spirit which
pervades the “Platform” is in effect excessively exclusivist, tending
to place outside the anarchist movement all those, not only practical
but ideological, currents which do not agree with it. There are also
some statements in it which merit greater development, for as they are,
they give an unfavourable impression, for example when it demands the
“rigorous unity” of a party, unity of ideology and of “strategy”.

It is true, among other things, that the anarcho-syndicalist method
does not resolve the question of anarchist organization, and I too am
contrary to the letter and the concept intended by the term
"anarcho-syndicalism", which is still widespread in Russia, Germany and
(in a somewhat different form) in South America. If I am not mistaken,
excluding this current of anarchism from a general anarchist
organization would be a serious mistake: it would result in
transforming it into an extraneous, adversarial movement, when in fact
it is an internal current which can easily co-exist with ours, which
prefers to call itself simply "anarchist".

We witnessed this in Italy in 1919-20 and within the Unione Anarchica
Italiana, where the anarchist elements tending towards syndicalism were
perfectly at home and co-operated actively and usefully in the movement
of the whole Union, despite disagreement on some particular questions
referring to syndical action and the place assigned to this in the
general movement. It was, generally speaking, discussed in the press
and in congress, but in the end some print of agreement was always
found to enable us to continue to fight together as part of the same
organization.

While it is very true that it is not possible to live practically in
the same organization as the individualists, who are much farther from
us than the anarcho-syndicalists, the individualist ideology should not
be completely discarded just for that reason. On the contrary, some
principles regarding the demands for the rights of the individual, the
autonomy of the individual and the group, are held in common with us,
the organizationalists, and not to recognize this would be the start of
a deviation. So in affirming the need for organization and being, in
effect, separate from all those who refuse a general, permanent
organization, considering this anarchism to be somewhat defective from
the point of view of principles, we must guard against letting
ourselves judge its proponents as un-anarchist, nor should it stop us
(when the occasion presents itself) from possible reciprocal solidarity
and co-operation with them.

I do not really know the programme of that group of Russian comrades
who speak to us about an anarchist "synthesis". However, if it
conceives that anarchism will also, in some way, be individualist and
syndicalist, not in an exclusivist doctrinaire sense, but in the
practical sense that anarchists believe syndicalist action to be useful
and the defence of the freedom of the individual to be necessary in
order to arrive at the maximum possible autonomy in harmony with the
freedom of all other individuals, then such a conception seems to me to
be entirely right and near enough to our own conception, despite
defective formulation.

When we speak about a "General Union of Anarchists", we must not be
afraid of the words, but rather of the ideas they express, which do not
seem to us to be good. On condition, however, that it cannot be
expected that an organization which has given itself such a name can
represent the entire "generality" of anarchists, and exclude from its
generality those who do not belong to the organization, which would
then in effect be “particular” and not general.

We, who want to organize as many anarchists as possible for propaganda
and struggle, anarchists who agree on determinate aims and determinate
forms of action, we must distance ourselves from the danger of thinking
of our “area” as being the whole, of acting unjustly towards others who
do not agree with us and of imagining that we (who are only a part,
albeit the largest part of Anarchism) represent the whole of Anarchism.
We must avoid this exclusivist error which has afflicted the socialist
and authoritarian revolutionary parties who, once they established a
programme and their own organization, dogmatized that they alone shall
be saved, in other words that there is no other possible socialism or
revolutionarism.

If there were just one dissenting anarchist outside our organization,
then it could not represent all anarchists. To whatever extent this may
be of little importance, it is a question of principle which we
anarchists should not forget, we who do not believe in any intrinsic
virtue of the majority or the minority simply for what they are, or
deny either the right to subordinate to their own ends the will of all
those, be they few or many, who do not agree.

SOME ERRORS: WORKER'S ORGANIZATIONS AND ANARCHIST GROUPS

One part of the "Platform" that I believe is wrong is the section which
would have "class struggle" as practically the main characteristic of
anarchism, reducing to a minimum the human element and the humanitarian
objective.

The expression "class struggle" includes a nucleus of theories which
can of course be shared by anarchists but which are not necessarily
anarchist. They are, in fact, common to certain other schools of
socialism, in particular to Marxism and bolshevism. This is not the
place to argue whether or not it is true that human history is
determined by the class struggle – it is a scientific question or a
question regarding the philosophy of history which does not impinge
excessively on anarchism. Anarchism follows its own path whether that
theory be true or false. The main characteristic of Anarchism is the
refusal of all imposed authority, of all government; it is the
affirmation of individual and social life, organized on a libertarian
basis.

But anarchism is above all human, inasmuch as it seeks to realize (to
use Bakunin’s expression) Humanity upon the destruction of class and
state divisions, and to realize it in the individual as much as in
society. The class struggle is a fact which can be denied neither by
anarchists nor by anyone with a head on their shoulders, and in this
struggle the anarchists will stand with the oppressed and exploited
classes against the dominant and exploiting classes. For this reason,
the workers’ class war against capitalism corresponds with the methods
and forms of revolutionary action of anarchism, having the aim of
expropriating the capitalist class. This expropriation must be to the
benefit of everyone, so that the exploited may cease being exploited
and the exploiters may cease being exploiters, and everyone voluntarily
agrees to produce in common and consume the fruits of their common
labour together, according to their needs.

In this sense it could be argued that anarchists are "against the class
struggle", given that they bring to this struggle of the workers
against capitalism the objective of ending the class struggle in order
to substitute it with human cooperation. It is better, too, not to
clutter our propaganda with formulae that can lead to misunderstandings
and could, given the use made of them today, be interpreted in a sense
which is contrary to Anarchism.

Historically speaking, it seems inexact to me to speak of Anarchism as
a "class ideal". The working class more than anyone else has every
interest in the triumph of liberty in the anarchist sense, and
consequently we anarchists address ourselves especially to our brother
workers, amongst whom we know we can find the most comrades. Indeed,
most anarchists, we can even say almost all anarchists, are themselves
workers. But neither does this mean that the aim of anarchism is
exclusively workerist, or that the triumph of the working class should
necessarily lead to Anarchy. We do well to persuade ourselves that,
unless I am mistaken, there is among the proletariat even a tiny,
unhealthy part which is prey to overbearing, authoritarian or servile
ways such as can be found among the bourgeoisie. Unless our anarchist
will is able to prevent it, the victory of these elements could end up
in new forms of domination which would in no way be desirable. The
example of Russia can teach us something.

Anarchism is also a human idea, the idea of all those, without
exception, who want to destroy every form of violent and coercive
authority of one man over another. By subordinating this idea to any
class bias whatsoever, be it the old bourgeois bias or the more recent
workerist bias – we would diminish it and in fact prepare the way for a
dangerous psychology which would facilitate the formation (through
revolution) of a new class domination.

The working masses, the vast majority of whom are not anarchists,
contain many tendencies, some good and some bad, some authoritarian and
some libertarian, some servile and some rebellious. They do not in
themselves constitute a creative force in any determinate, let alone
libertarian, sense. This they can be inasmuch as the individuals which
make up the masses can consciously become anarchists and anarchist
propaganda can develop in them and increase their libertarian
tendencies, combating and weakening the other tendencies. Therefore,
the masses are a "creative and liberating force" inasmuch as they are
anarchist and to the extent they are anarchist and not because they are
workers.

Amongst anarchists there may be differing opinions on this (which is
only natural), but as we are dealing with a debatable theoretical and
historical judgement, it is perfectly useless to dogmatize on it one
way or another. As far as the effects of anarchist struggle and its
results are concerned, let it suffice to say that anarchists
participate in the fight of the exploited classes against capitalism,
for the demolishing of its power and for its complete expropriation. On
this much we agree, without distinction. Everything else can be argued
over, but let us not make of it the cause of a real split in the party.

What I really have not understood in the "Platform" is the matter of
the relationship between the anarchist movement and the workers’
movement, between the anarchist organization on the basis of ideas and
the labour organization on the basis of economic interests. A certain
anarchist organization of the masses, it is said, must be effected, and
in order for this to happen there needs to be, on the one hand, a
select grouping of revolutionary workers and peasants on the basis of
anarchist ideas, and, on the other hand, a grouping of the
revolutionary workers and peasants on the basis of production and
consumption, this too, however, "imbued with revolutionary anarchist
ideology". But does that not mean useless duplication?

Either one supports a labour organization open to all workers, and
thereby having no particular ideological programme, within which the
anarchists carry out their function as animators and driving force (in
the libertarian sense) the workers with the aim of rendering it ever
more libertarian and revolutionary but without expecting it to adopt
our credo officially and a priori. In that case, there is room for a
specific movement of anarchists alongside it. Or, to follow the example
of the anarchists in the Argentine republic and the
anarcho-syndicalists in Germany and Russia, all the functions of the
movement and of anarchist propaganda lie within the one labour
organization which has an anarchist programme, tactics and ideology. In
this case the existence of specific anarchist groupings would be a
pointless duplication with no precise mission.

The fact that here and there in the "Platform" there is talk of a
"leading position" or a "leading function" of anarchists within the
proletarian movement could be interpreted as something else – in other
words that anarchists must in some way create a sort of leading caste
which would remain more or less cocooned above the workers’ movement in
a similar way to the social-democratic parties of western Europe and
America or to the Bolshevik party in Russia. This, in my opinion, would
be something else which would constitute a deviation from anarchism,
though it may appear to benefit the anarchist party. In other words, it
would be a more or less concealed sort of anarchist dictatorship over
the non-anarchist or only tendentially libertarian proletariat.

A REAL CONTRADICTION IN TERMS

It is true that the authors of the "Platform" say that this leadership
would be one of ideas only. But in order to exert this influence, there
is no need for a third conception of the relationship between anarchism
and the militant proletariat. The two conceptions specified above allow
for it and make it possible to the same degree. The conception proposed
by the “Platform” would not add anything – and indeed it would be a
mistake; one might be led to think that the spiritual leadership could
be interpreted as and could take on the form of a factual leadership
which would dare to attempt an anti-anarchist division between the
leading elements who are in the minority and the led mass which is in
the majority. The masses would have every right to be wary, despite the
denials of those who wish to function as leaders, almost as their
"combined staff".

It is not possible to explain in any other way the difference which the
"Platform" establishes between the mass organization imbued with
anarchist ideology and the anarchist organization itself. It is a
difference which in practice could not be quantified, as nothing can
establish the degree to which the former is anarchist in comparison
with the latter, nor sanction the legitimacy of the "leadership" or the
superiority of the latter over the former.

It may be that the intention of the authors of the "Platform" is not
that expressed above. It may be that at times, I repeat, I have not
fully understood what the authors were thinking. The language often
gives the reader this impression. And, on the other hand, if we exclude
the sense indicated above, its conception has nothing original and
could happily fit with that of the supporters of a labour organization
which is open to all, as with that of the anarcho-syndicalists, but
closer to the former than the latter.

A certain amount of the misunderstanding and misinterpretation lies in
the adoption of the expressions "class struggle" and "syndicalism"
which the authors of the "Platform" fail to put to one side, defective
and confusional though they be.

I have spoken already of class struggle. As for syndicalism, although
they do not give this word anything but the meaning of class-struggle
revolutionary workers’ movement, where the various forms of
revolutionary struggle are concerned, it is impossible (if I am not
mistaken) to make abstractions on all that this word has signified over
the last 25 years, especially in Italy: from reformist to fascist
syndicalism, through all the deviations and errors of theoretical or
practical revolutionary syndicalism itself, and not only in Italy.

Luigi Fabbri


Original article (in Italian) first published in "Il Martello", New
York, 17-24 September 1927. Translation by Nestor McNab.



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