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(en) Britain, *Organise! #62 - BOOKS: FRENCH CONNECTIONS

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 7 Mar 2005 09:22:38 +0100 (CET)


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A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917-1945 - David
Berry. Greenwood Press. 323p. Hardback.
"Distinguishing itself clearly from other movements by its refusal
to have anything to do with the putrescence which is bourgeois
democracy, anarchism represents, in the eyes of thousands of
revolutionary workers, the Barbarian who will raze to the ground
the old society collapsing in blood and chaos and guarded by its
mercenaries and its corrupt morality, in order to replace it with a
higher form of civilization". Charles Ridel, 1938.

This extremely valuable book tells the
story of the French anarchist movement's
struggles with both organisation and the
lack of it. As such, it should be read for its
lessons for all anarchist movements, in
whatever country they are organising.
Along with a recent work on the Siberian
anarchist movement (see separate article)
the work underlines the crying need for
organisation. All serious anarchists should
get hold of a copy of this (try and get it
from a library because of the high cost of
this hardback) and use it as ammunition in
the fight against disorganisation, lack of
unity and collective action, fixation on
localism to the detriment of a more global
approach, and "spontaneity" and anti-
organisation elevated to theory.
Both the Russian and Spanish revolutions
presented great challenges for the anarchist
movement, as did the Second World War
and the Occupation. David Berry goes into
these problems in detail. He also
demolishes the myth much put about by
academics and Marxists (sometimes one
and the same) that support for anarchism
came primarily from one or all of the
following categories: the bohemian fringe,
intellectuals, the petty bourgeoisie or the
lumpenproletariat. Marxists saw anarchism
as a political current that was looking
backwards, that it represented the interests
of a primarily artisanal working class that
was being superceded by a proletariat
concentrated in factories. Berry shows that
whilst it may be true that anarchism was
supported in France in the last part of the
19th century by workers in traditional,
highly skilled jobs, this was because French
working-class consciousness had its roots
in these social categories and not among
factory workers. He demonstrates that this
had changed by the 1890s and anarchists
in the artisanal trades were in sharp
decline with an increasing number among
the concentrated mass industries. His own
studies point to a clear majority of blue-
collar workers. He also points out that the
"petty bourgeois" occupations of some
anarchists- café proprietors, market-stall
holders, peddlers and small shop-keepers
was because many of these had been
troublesome workers blacklisted by the
bosses. For them these occupations were a
last resort. He asserts that there was no
great difference in term of class between
members of the Communist Party and the
organisation the Anarchist Union (UA) in
the 1920s. Furthermore, by the time of the
Popular Front the anarchist movement was
significantly more "proletarian" than the
Socialist Party.

Organisation

Berry is ­rightly- scathing about the
damaging effects that individualist
anarchism had on the anarchist movement
in France.This influence decreased in the
years after the end of the First world War
and the movement was increasingly
dominated by anarchist communism.
Many anarchists saw the Russian
revolution as a libertarian one, and they
interpreted the soviets in an anarchist
fashion. A member of the French
Anarchist Federation, Lebourg, stated in
1920 that a new revolutionary tradition was
emerging. Indeed, he and other anarchists
were involved in setting up the Communist
Federation of Soviets(FCS). This was the
transformation of the first French
Communist Party, created in 1919, into
something organised on a federal basis.It
should be noted that this first Communist
Party sought to unite those anarchists,
syndicalists and socialists who had adopted
an anti-war and class struggle position.
Lebourg justified this regroupment by
talking about "the antagonisms which have
always divided the revolutionary proletariat
into two groups: the centralists and the
federalists, those who favour political
action and those who favour direct class
action, the authoritarian communists and
the libertarian communists. We are at
present witnessing a regrouping, within the
Communist International, of the partisans
of these two tendencies".
The regrouping was a brittle one and soon
fell apart. Nevertheless, as Berry notes, the
sovietism developed in the FCS by
anarchists and others called for tighter
organization, structured in a libertarian
and federalist manner, with a high degree
of ideological and practical cohesion. It
was anti-parliamentarian and revolutionary
and based itself on the working class. It
criticised the individualism and idealism of
some currents within anarchism.It was
inspired by German councilism and
Russian sovietism.By mid-1920 the FCS
had developed criticisms of the Russian
Bolsheviks, whilst defending the Russian
revolution as a libertarian one.
Meanwhile the Anarchist Federation and
the Federation Communiste Libertaire du
Nord ­ organised around the paper
Germinal in northern France- were re-
asserting anarchist communism and
developing their criticisms of Bolshevism.
The paper of the Anarchist Federation, Le
Libertaire, increased its print run to
20,000 and Germinal went from irregular
to 3 regional editions on a weekly basis.
Germinal/FCL also called for tactical and
strategic unity. Here too, a clear break with
any admiration for Bolshevism came in
1920. The Anarchist Federation's
honeymoon with Bolshevism, on the other
hand, only really lasted 4 months. The
Anarchist Federation transformed itself
into the Union Anarchiste in 1920, and
criticisms of Bolshevism became more
acute, in particular as more news and
information reached them from Russia.
Antagonisms between anarchists and the
official Communist Party broke out into
the open in a violent and spectacular way
in 1924. At a meeting at the Maison des
Syndicats ( the House of the Unions) an
argument between anarchists and
Communists ended with the shooting dead
of two apparently unarmed anarchists.
The period of 1924-1934 was a period of
crisis for French anarchism. The UA
turned itself to the question of
organisation. At its 1921 Congress Bastien
stated that the removal of both "the
elements of extreme individualism" and
"the supporters of confusionism" had
strengthened anarchist communism.
Unfortunately, attempts by him and others
to develop more effective organization
were to be thwarted. The debate about
organization did not really crystallise until
1926, however, with the appearance of the
Organisational Platform of the Libertarian
Communists, written by Russian and
Ukrainian anarchists in exile in France.
For those French anarchists arguing for
more effective organisation and action, this
document seemed to be a distillation and
clarification of all their ideas.
There was fierce argument in the UA and
in the wider movement about the
Platform. The platformist position
triumphed at the 1927 Congress of the UA
and part of the opposition left to found
their own organisation. However
platformist influence was not complete,
and the UA- now the Union Anarchiste
Communiste revolutionnaire- was to be
the battlefield for supporters and
opponents of the Platform for several
years to come.
By 1934-36 those who supported the
Platform were once again in a position to
dominate the UA and this coincided with
the Popular Front government, the threat
of fascism and the Spanish Revolution.
Sales of le Libertaire rose sharply as did
membership of the UA.- a quadrupling.
Indeed one May Day 1937 run of le
Libertaire was 100,000! The UA was able
to announce in autumn 1937 that it was
"the only force having the authority and
influence necessary to lead the
revolutionary movement". However,
despite this resurgence, new recruits were
not always retained and compared to the
Socialists and the Communists, the
movement was still weak.

Spain

Response to the Spanish revolution and
the decision by some anarchists to enter
the government also divided the
movement. The UA mobilised for
maximum support for the Spanish
revolution as did the anarchosyndicalist
union the CGT-SR and the split from the
UA, the Federation Anarchiste (FAF).
However, there were severe criticisms by
the latter two of the stance of he mass
Spanish anarchosyndicalist union, the
CNT. The UA, on the other hand, was
unwilling to criticise the Spanish anarchist
movement. In fact, the entry of CNT
notables into the Catalan government and
the national government, were not met
with indignation but with a reserved
disquiet. There were arguments in the
pages of le Libertaire that these
governments were not the normal sort,
they were more like anti-fascist fronts!
Furthermore, such participation showed
how important the CNT and the specific
anarchist organisation, the FAI, were, and
should be greeted with enthusiasm!
Internally, there were debates in the UA
about this question., but it was agreed that
any criticism "that may weaken ...solidarity
is to be banished from our ranks". The
differences between the UA on one hand,
and the CGTSR and FAF , on the other,
were exacerbated as a result of this. While
it is true that the CGTSR/FAF couched
their criticisms in a harshly purist and
sectarian way, "anti-fascist unity" seems to
have blinkered the UA, and gagged them
when it came to expressing criticism of
CNT-FAI "ministerialism"

Second World War

The Second World War caused the
disintegration of the anarchist movement.
The UA stated ; " The only just war the
workers can make is the social war, class
war". In the months leading up to the
outbreak, anarchists, demoralised already
after their differences over Spain, were
under continuous attack from the State.
Prudhommeaux of the FAF noted:"
Armed revolutionary struggle on a world
scale is out of the question in the present
situation and given the parlous state of our
forces. The retreat has been too
generalised since July 1936 for us to have
any chance of fighting effectively for our
cause, and while we still have so many
wounds to heal and are still suffering from
so many losses. As for getting ourselves
killed for capitalism, too many of our
comrades have already fallen in Spain and
elsewhere".
The UA decided : " In the event of war,
comrades should first of all save their lives
in order to be able to create a clandestine
organisation which will allow them to
remain in contact, even if all propaganda is
impossible.." Sauliere, a stalwart of the
underground movement in southern
France wrote that the group he helped
create in Marseilles was "doubly
clandestine" because "our propaganda
attacked not only fascism, but all those
responsible for the war, including
capitalism and the Stalinist dictatorship".
Sauliere's group produced a poster calling
on working class conscripts of all countries
to turn their bayonets not on each other
but on their own leaders, whether they
wear the swastika, the red star, the Order
of the Garter, the Cross of Lorraine or the
Frankish axe".
It was thanks to Sauliere and those like
him, that a post-war anarchist movement
was slowly reconstructed, although the old
questions and quarrels of the inter-war
years, on organisation, on how to relate to
the masses, and a whole number of other
matters, were to continue to plague that
movement. Berry's history is important,
and it should be read and learnt from.

> The Fountain at the Centre of the World - Robert Newman. Verso, 2003. ISBN 1859845438
This, the third novel by Robert Newman,
comedian and activist, is that rarest of things: an explicitly
political, indeed openly partisan novel that doesn't make
you cringe.
An adventure and misadventure story set against the
background of capitalist globalisation and
the struggle against it, The Fountain at the
Centre of the World is, above all else, a
book, the humanity of whose central
characters, rapidly engage the reader.
If one of the signs of a good book is that,
soon after meeting the characters, you care
deeply about what happens to them, then
this is a very good book indeed. The
challenges faced by Daniel in the search
for his father, challenges which he faces on
two continents and in three alien cultures,
are soon those of the reader. The final
chapters assault senses and emotions
equally as a reunion, amidst the chaos of
the Seattle protests of 1999, appears
possible at last.
Newman has refused to reduce his
protagonists to cartoon heroes and villains
whilst making no pretence at objectivity or
detachment. We are not subjected to any
attempt to devalue the actions of the
characters through exposing their deep
psychological flaws, a popular device used
by cynical hacks to explain the motivations
of revolutionaries. Values are at work
here and they are the values of people who
believe not just that another world is
possible, but that another way achieving it,
beyond NGOs, Union bureaucracies and
progressive politicians, is possible too.
A few negatives though. Sometimes the
book appears to have reached the shelves
in note form, like the author was pushed
for time or was writing a screenplay. And
in a book that is so obviously meticulously
researched and, therefor convincing, it's a
pity the Mexican Frente Autentico Trabajo
is described as "anarcho-syndicalist". It
isn't. Other than these criticisms (the latter
one that only an anarcho-trainspotter
could make!), this is a remarkable book.
Go and order it from your library.
Unsurprizingly, it couldn't find a
mainstream fiction publisher so it's out on
Verso at the inflated price of 10.99 for a
paperback.

> Louis Lecoin: An Anarchist Life - Sylvain Garel.
Kate Sharpley Library. 25p. £1.50
Louis Lecoin came to Paris from the
Cher department in 1905.at the age of 16.
Here he got a job as a nurseryman. He
took part in a gardeners' strike and
glasshouses and cold frames suffered as a
result of direct action taken by him and
others! He was later arrested during a
gardeners' demonstration. Because he had
attended an anarchist public meeting the
night before, his pockets were stuffed with
pamphlets and handbills he had picked up
there. The judge took him to be an
anarchist, and he spent 3 months in jail.
On his release he did start moving in an
anarchist direction. Called up in 1910, he
began to resist commands. When a rail
strike broke out, Lecoin refused to be
used as a strike-breaker. For this he
received 6 months prison. When he came
out of the army he joined a group of the
Anarchist Communist Federation (FCA)
in a working class quarter of Paris,
Belleville. The FCA had a membership of
400 and the young Lecoin became its
secretary in 1912. He launched himself
into anti-militarist activity, and was
sentenced to 5 years prison for having
printed a poster inciting desertion.
Released in 1916, he refused to answer the
draft and was again imprisoned! From
here he edited an underground edition of
le Libertaire, the FCA's paper ( although
the FCA itself had disintegrated). Lecoin
was not released until 1920, by which time
he had become a famous militant.
Lecoin's release coincided with the
founding of the UA, (see above) which had
replaced the FCA. Lecoin became
administrator of le Libertaire.In 1922, for
personal reasons, he resigned this post. He
assisted le Libertaire when it became a
daily at the end of 1923 for a time, but his
major efforts were now concentrated on
providing support to Sacco and Vanzetti,
two Italian-American anarchists under
sentence of death in the States, and to the
Spanish anarchists Jover, Ascaso and
Durruti under threat of extradition to
Spain from France. He set up the Right to
Asylum Committee and launched the
Sacco-Vanzetti Committee.
In the struggle between opponents and
supporters of the Platform in the UA,
Lecoin was one of those who rejected its
proposals but stayed in the UA. Lecoin
and his associates pushed for the
organisation's congress of 1930 to be open
to subscribers to le Libertaire as well as to
the breakaway group. The result was a
defeat for the platformists. Lecoin now
took a back seat, involving himself in
humanitarian campaigns involving support
from many celebrities for his Right to
Asylum Committee. Many UA members
criticised him for his activities whose
principles and methods were "at odds with
anarchism's overall principles.
Lecoin was involved in intense activity
around support for Spain from 1936
onwards and the UA charged him and a
few others with setting up the Free Spain
Committee.
Lecoin attempted to stop the looming
World War by propaganda. Ten days after
war broke out, he helped issue 100,000
copies of a leaflet "Immediate peace".
This was a vague humanitarian appeal that
failed to refer to class struggle, that
assumed that either the French or German
states could be persuaded to give up their
war plans. Nevertheless, Lecoin was
arrested and remained inprison until 1941.
Drained physically and psychologically, he
kept his head down for the rest of the war.
He was later criticised for his passivity in
this period. He was not one of those who
was at the foundation meetings of the
Anarchist Federation(FA) in 1945. He
remained outside of the FA., producing
his own review, which was influenced
strongly by individualism and humanism.
He was involved in a whole series of
campaigns based around celebrities. One
of them, around conscientious objection in
1958, included a Protestant pastor and a
Catholic abbot. Lecoin carried on in this
fashion until his death in 1971, often being
arrested and imprisoned, and sometimes
going on hunger strike. Alongside this was
his activity in the workplace ( he had been
a proof-reader on and off since 1928).
Lecoin was a brave individual, willing to
risk imprisonment and often mobilising
against injustice and attacks on anarchism.
Witness his interventions around the
expulsion of Daniel Cohn-Bendit from
France in 1968, and the murder of the
anarchist Pinelli by the Italian state in
1970., as well as the significant sum of
money he collected for the FA's premises
in 1962 when it was bombed by the far-
right OAS. Set against this is the misgivings
felt by many in the anarchist movement
about Lecoin's reputation as a loose
cannon and the dubious nature of his
campaigns.
In David Berry's book reviewed above,
space is given to the Revision Group,
which produced a theoretical magazine of
the same name. This group had many
trenchant criticisms of the anarchist
movement in France.One of its militants,
Charles Ridel was scathing in his criticisms
of "supposedly anarchist campaigns void
of any revolutionary content and headed
by committees full of `independents'
"hams and posers with a tear always at the
ready"". For Ridel, any campaign, any
movement, any action which was not
anchored in the class struggle lost all
validity for a revolutionary anarchist and
resulted in the anarchist organisation
becoming a "mere annexe of the political
`left'". This is aimed at some of the
campaigns the UA was involved in, and in
particular those that Lecoin initiated.

The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo - Noam Chomsky
Pluto Press, London. www.plutobooks.com. ISBN 0-7453-1633-6 1999
You may be wondering why, after September 11 and war
with Afghanistan and Iraq, we didn't choose to review one of
Chomsky's more recent offerings, such is the pace he is able
to churn them out.
But it's right now that parts of the left are
being challenged to take a hard look back
at Kosovo and wondering if they got it
wrong. Alongside a US under Clinton, this
was Tony Blair's (and Foreign Secretary
Robin Cook's) so-called humanitarian war
that is now understood for what it really
was - a media manipulating dupe by
NATO - a dupe made all the more
powerful by the support of left-leaning UK
papers like the Guardian and
Independent, and worse still by the
disarray in the radical left and even some
of the anarchist press (see Organise! 52 -
Confusion over Kosovo). Whilst we
managed a couple of articles, Chomsky
was already there with this book barely
months after the bombing commenced on
March 24 in 1999, dismantling the moral
justification and exposing the lies by his
analysis of contemporary texts and press
out puts.
Much of the first part of the book, looking
at the NATO allies' past record in warfare,
will be preaching to the converted for
many Organise! readers, but this should
not put anyone off. The book contains a
step-by-step review of events before and
immediately leading up to the bombing,
including diplomatic manoeuvrings.
NATO wanted to bomb, and ensured that
diplomacy to avoid war would fail, but also
deliberately misinterpreted post-war peace
agreements over who would be in military
command (helping to explain the
`surprise` take-over of Pristina airport by
Russian troops - remember that?).
Chomsky also shows how the low-level
conflict in the previous year was distorted
(with three quarters of 2000 recorded
deaths actually being attributable to the
Albanian KLA, a quarter to the Serbian
Army) and that the results of the bombing
\endash the Serbian Army retributions and
mass exodus of the huge numbers of
people we saw on our TV screens - was
completely anticipated by the allies, all
from NATO's own analysis!
Rounding up, Chomsky sees a US further
out of control of international law and in
its own words taking a post-Cold War
strategic posture that benefits it to have an
"irrational and vindictive" edge, for
example outside of the Nuclear
Proliferation Treaty towards first use of
mini-nukes that can be used against
multiple smaller `rogue` targets. All of
this is intended to give credibility to US
power that is mirrored in the main reason
for the Kosovo war, according to
Chomsky: NATO's credibility. We are
also reminded how our own George
Robertson, British Defence Minister, was
rewarded with leadership of NATO for
toeing the US line.
Now we've had the Iraq occupation, but
also a little reported upsurge in violence by
nationalists in Kosovo this March and a
swing to the far right in Serbia (something
we predicted in Organise! 51 - Kicked in
the Balkans Again. It's not NATO vs. UN
any more - Europe is too divided on the
Iraq war for that - it's US vs. UN, although
before we get too rosy-eyed about the UN
we can also turn to this book to remind us
of the terrible effects of sanctions. If you're
looking for more up to date material
making the link with today's Iraq, you can
read Chomsky's `Hegemony or Survival`
(2003), or MediaLens' David Edwards'
article `Kosovo and Iraq - Same Bombs,
Different Lies` (April 6, 2004) that is
easily found on the Web with lots more
references. But, being 5 years older, The
New Military Humanism helps greatly in
cutting through the smokescreen raised by
September 11 and the `war on terrorism,`
revealing a US foreign policy that has
remained for the most part constant,
irrespective of political party.
---------------------------------------------
If you have a book you would like us to review,
please send it to: AF, c/o 84b Whitechapel
High Street, London, E1 7QX

======================================
* Buletin of AF - Anarchist Federation - Britain


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