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(en) Anarkismo.net Editorial: Anarchism Without Adjectives: From Yesterday To Today, by Floreal Castilla [ca]

Date Tue, 23 Jan 2007 16:24:44 +0200


Fernando Tarrida del Mármol (1861-1915), was a 19th-century Spanish-Cuban anarchist intellectual who wrote about libertarian tactics in a letter sent to "La Révolte", a French anarchist journal. In it, he states: "I would like to explain more clearly the idea that I have of the revolutionary tactics of French anarchists; therefore, being unable to write a series of articles as should be necessary, I send this letter to you, hoping you will extract what you believe to be worthy of publication in it. Revolutionary decisiveness has never been lacking in the French character, and anarchists have demonstrated, on an infinite number of circumstances, that they do not lack propagandists and revolutionaries. The number of militants is quite large but - with its great thinkers, determined propagandists and adept enthusiasts - France, in truth, is the country where the fewest important actions for the good of Anarchy take place. This makes me think. This is why I have said that I do not believe your revolutionary tactics to be sound. Nothing fundamental divides the French anarchists from the Spanish anarchists but nevertheless we are, in effect, at a great distance from each other.

We all accept Anarchy as the integration of all liberties and its only
guarantee as the impulse and sum of human well-being. No more laws nor
repression; spontaneous, natural development in all actions. Neither superior
nor inferior, neither governors nor governed. The cancellation of all
distinction of rank; only conscious beings that look for each other, attract
each other, discuss with each other, resolve together, produce together, love
each other, without any other aim than the well-being of all. This is how we
all conceive Anarchy, how we all conceive the society of the future; and it is
for the accomplishment of this idea that we all work. Where, then, are the
differences?

In my opinion, enraptured by contemplation of the ideal, you have drawn up a
line of ideal conduct, an unproductive puritanism in which you squander a good
deal of your forces, forces that could destroy the strongest organisms and
that, thus badly used, produce nothing. You forget that you are not surrounded
by free beings, jealous of their freedom and their dignity, but by slaves who
hope for release. You forget that our enemies are organized and every day seek
to grow stronger in order that their reign may continue. You forget, in short,
that even those that work for good live in the present social disorganization
and are full of vices and prejudices.

>From all this it can be deduced that you accept absolute freedom and expect it
all to come from individual initiative, taken to the level that no pact or
agreement can be possible.

No agreements, no meetings at which decisions are made: what is important and
essential is only that each one does as he pleases.

The result? Someone would like to do something good but lacks the means to join
up with others who think as he does, in order to carry out their initiative, to
listen to their advice and accept their assistance; he is forced to do it all
alone, or not at all.

Creating commissions for administrative tasks, fixing dues so as to be able to
face certain needs, is an imposition. And this way, if a comrade or a group
wants to get together with all the other anarchists in France or throughout the
world for such-and-such an initiative, they will not have the means to do it
and must resign themselves to the idea. Everything that is not The Social
Revolution is a triviality. But should it not matter to anarchists that wages
become even more insufficient, that the working day is being extended, that
workers in the factories are insulted or that women are prostituting themselves
for the bosses? While the bourgeois regime lasts those things will always
happen, and we need only worry ourselves about the final goal. But in the
meanwhile, the masses of proletarians who suffer and who do not believe in the
coming liberation, do not listen to the anarchists.

If I were to continue along these lines, there would be countless examples,
each one with the same result: impotence. Not because they lack anything, but
because they are scattered, with no link between them.

In Spain we have followed a completely different tactic. Certainly, for you it
will be a heresy worthy of excommunication at the highest level, a deceptive
practice that must be separated from the anarchist field of action; but
nevertheless we think that only thus can we ensure our ideas penetrate the
proletariat and destroy the bourgeois world. Like you, we long for the purity
of the anarchist programme. There is nothing so intransigent and categorical as
Ideas, and we admit no middle ground or any sort of extenuating circumstance.
We have therefore tried to be as explicit as we can in our writings. Our pole
star is Anarchy, the goal we seek to reach and towards which we direct our
steps. But our path is blocked by all classes of obstacles and if we are to
demolish them we must use the means that seem best to us. If we cannot adapt
our conduct to our ideas, we let it be known, and seek to come as close as
possible to the ideal. We do what a traveller would do when he wishes to go to
a country with a temperate climate but who, in order to reach it, has to go
through tropical and glacial zones: he would go well-furnished with furs and
light clothes that he would get rid of once he arrived at his destination. It
would be stupid and also ridiculous to want to fist-fight against such a
well-armed enemy.

Our tactics derive from what has been said. We are anarchists and we preach
Anarchy without adjectives. Anarchy is an axiom and the economic question
something secondary. Some will say to us that it is because of the economic
question that Anarchy is a truth; but we believe that to be anarchist means
being the enemy of all authority and imposition and, by consequence, whatever
system is proposed must be considered the best defence of Anarchy, not wishing
to impose it on those who do not accept it.

This does not mean that we ignore the economic question. On the contrary, we
are pleased to discuss it, but only as a contribution to the definitive
solution or solutions. Many excellent things have been said by Cabet, Saint
Simon, Fourier, Robert Owen and others; but all their systems have disappeared
because they wanted to lock Society up in the conceptions of their brains,
despite having done much to elucidate the great question.

Remember that from the moment in which you set about drawing up the general
lines of the Future Society, on the one hand there arise objections and
questions from one's adversaries; and on the other hand, the natural desire to
produce a complete and perfect work will lead one to invent and draw up a
system that, we are sure, will disappear like the others.

There is a huge distance between the anarchist individualism of Spencer and
other bourgeois thinkers and the individualist-socialist anarchists (I can find
no other expression), as there is between Spanish collectivists from one region
to another, among the English and North American mutualists, or among the
libertarian communists. Kropotkin, for example, speaks to us of the "industrial
town", reducing its system, or if one prefers its concept, to the coming
together of small communities that produce what they want, thus making a
reality, so to speak, of the biblical heaven-on-earth out of the present state
of civilization. Whereas Malatesta, who is also a libertarian communist, points
to the constitution of large organizations who exchange their products between
them and who will increase this creative power even more, this amazing activity
that is unfolded by the 19th century, purged of all injurious action.

Each powerful intelligence gives its indications and creates new roads to the
Future Society, winning supporters through some hypnotic power (if we can say
so), suggesting these ideas to others', with everyone in general formulating
their own particular plan.

Let us agree then, as almost all of us in Spain have done, to call ourselves
simply anarchists. In our conversations, in our conferences and our press, we
do discuss economic questions, but these questions should never become the
cause of division between anarchists.

For our propaganda to be successful, for the conservation of the idea, we need
to know each other and see each other, and for this reason we have to set up
groups. In Spain these groups exist in every locality where there are
anarchists and they are the driving force of the whole revolutionary movement.
Anarchists do not have money, nor easy means to find it. To get around this,
most of us voluntarily make a small weekly or monthly contribution, so that we
can maintain the relations necessary between every member. We could maintain
relations with the whole World, if other countries had an organization like
ours.

There is no authority in the group: one comrade is appointed to act as
treasurer, another as secretary to deal with correspondence, etc. Ordinary
meetings are held every week or fortnight; extraordinary meetings whenever they
are necessary. In order to save on expenses and work, and also as a measure of
prudence in case of persecution, a commission of relations is created on a
national level. But it does not take any initiative: its members must go to
their groups if they wish to make proposals. Its mission is to communicate the
resolutions and proposals that are communicated to it from one group to all
groups, to keep lists of contacts and provide these to any group that should
ask for them, and to make direct contact with other groups.

Such are the general lines of the organization that were accepted at the
congress of Valencia and about which you spoke in "La Révolte". The benefits
that are produced are immense - and that is what stokes the fire of anarchist
ideas. But rest assured that if we reduced action to anarchist organization, we
would obtain very little. We would end up transforming it into an organization
of thinkers who discuss ideas and which would certainly degenerate into a
society of metaphysicists debating words. And this is not unlike the situation
you find yourselves in. Using your activity only to discuss the ideal, you end
up debating words. The ones are called "egoists" and the others "altruists",
though both want the same thing; some are called "libertarian communists" and
others "individualists", but at the root they express the same ideas.

We should not forget that the great mass of proletarians is forced to work an
excessive number of hours, that they live in poverty and that consequently they
cannot buy the books of Buchner, Darwin, Spencer, Lombroso, Max Nordau, etc.,
whose names they will hardly even have heard. And even if the proletarian could
obtain these books, he lacks the preparatory studies in physics, chemistry,
natural history and mathematics that would be necessary to understand what he
is reading well. He has no time to study with method, nor is his brain
exercised enough to be able to assimilate these studies. There are exceptions
like the case of Esteban in "Germinal", those whose thirst for knowledge drives
them to devour whatever falls into their hands, though often little or nothing
is retained.

Our field of action, then, lies not within these groups, but among the
proletarian masses.

It is in the societies of resistance where we study and we prepare our plan of
struggle. These societies will exist under the bourgeois regime. Workers are
not writers and care little whether there is freedom of the press; workers are
not orators, and care little for the freedom to hold public meetings; they
consider political liberties to be secondary things, but they all seek to
improve their economic condition and they all seek to shake off the yoke of the
bourgeoisie. For this reason there will be labour unions and societies of
resistance even while there still exists the exploitation of one man by
another. This is our place. By abandoning them, as you have done, they will
become the meeting places of charlatans who speak to the workers of "scientific
socialism" or practicism, possibilism, cooperation, accumulation of capital to
maintain peaceful strikes, requests for aid and the support of the authorities,
etc., in such a way that will send the workers to sleep and restrain their
revolutionary urges. If anarchists were part of these societies, at least they
would prevent the “sedators” from carrying out propaganda against us. And
furthermore, if, as is the case in Spain, the anarchists are the most active
members of these societies, those that carry out whatever work is needed for no
reward, unlike the deceivers who exploit them, then these societies will always
be on our side. In Spain it is these societies who buy large amounts of
anarchist newspapers every week to distribute free of charge to their members.
It is these societies who give money towards supporting our publications and
aiding prisoners and others who are persecuted. We have shown by our work in
these societies that we fight for the sake of our ideas. In addition, we go
everywhere there are workers, and even where there are not, if we think that
our presence there can be useful to the cause of Anarchy. Thus is the situation
in Catalonia (and increasingly so in other regions of Spain), where there is
hardly a municipality where we have not created or at least helped to create
groups - be they called circles, literary society, workers' centres, etc. -
which sympathize with our ideas without describing themselves as anarchist or
even being really anarchist. In these places we carry out purely anarchist
conferences, mixing our revolutionary work together with the various musical
and literary meetings. There, seated at a coffee table, we debate, we meet
every evening, or we study in the library.

This is where our newspapers have their editorial offices, and where we send
the newspapers we in turn receive to the reading room; and all this is freely
organized and almost without expense. For example, in the Barcelona circle it
is not even required to become a member; those who so wish can become members
and the monthly contribution of 25 centimas is also voluntary. Of the two or
three thousand workers who frequent the circle, only three hundred are members.
We could say that these places are the focal point of our ideas. Nevertheless,
although the government has always sought pretexts to close them down, it has
never come up with anything, because they do not describe themselves as
anarchist and private meetings are not held there. Nothing is done there that
could not be done in any public café; but because all the active elements go
there, great things often arise over a cup of coffee or a glass of cognac.

We nearly forgot the cooperative societies for consumption. In almost every
town of Catalonia - except Barcelona, where it is impossible due to the great
distances involved and the way of life - consumption cooperatives have been
created where the workers can find foodstuffs that are cheaper and of better
quality than at the retailers, where none of the members considers the
cooperative to be an end in itself, but a means to be taken advantage of. There
are societies that make large purchases and that have credit of fifty or sixty
thousand pesetas, that have been very useful in strikes, giving credit to
workers. In the literary societies of the "gentlemen" (or wise men, as they are
often known), they discuss socialism; two comrades then register as members (if
they do not have the money, the corporation will see to it) and go to stand up
for our ideas.

The same happens with our press. It never leaves aside anarchist ideas; but it
gives room to manifestos, statements and news which, although they may seem of
little importance, serve nonetheless to allow our newspaper - and with it our
ideas - to penetrate into towns or areas that know little of our ideas. These
are our tactics and I believe that if they were adopted in other countries,
anarchists would soon see their field of action widen.

Remember that in Spain most people cannot read; but despite this, six anarchist
periodicals, pamphlets, books and a great many leaflets are published. There
are continually meetings and, even without any great propagandists, very
important results are achieved.

In Spain, the bourgeoisie is ruthless and rancorous, and will not allow one of
its class to sympathize with us. When some man of position takes our side, all
manner of means are unleashed against him to force him into abandoning us in
such a way that he can only support us in private. On the contrary, the
bourgeoisie gives him whatever he wishes, if he moves away from us. Therefore,
all the work in favour of Anarchy rests on the shoulders of the manual workers,
who must sacrifice their hours of rest for it.

While there are a great many fine elements in France, Britain, Italy,
Switzerland, Belgium and North America, think of the progress we could make
with a change of tactics!

I think I have said enough for my ideas to be understood.

Yours, for the Social Revolution,

Barcelona, 7th August 1890"

(Translated from French to Spanish by Vladimiro Muñoz)


In this memorable letter, Tarrida del Mármol successfully sets out the problem
of how anarchists can become an influence on the mass movements and stop being
small groups of individuals who have inherited the Bakuninist principles of the
1877 International without regressing, of course, into the "propaganda by the
deed".

The matter is of the utmost relevance today, at the start of the 21st century.
However, it must be stressed that syndicalism today is no longer what it was at
the end of the 19th century, with French revolutionary syndicalism and the
period leading up to the foundation of the Spanish CNT in 1910.

A series of other observations also needs to be made. The practice of
"anarchist terrorism" (1880-1910) did not lead to anything and was in fact
counter-productive for the anarchist movement. Then, after the defeat of
Russian anarchism in the revolutionary process in the land of the Urals, an
attempt was made to present the emergence of platformism (1926) as a
"deviation", when it was in fact nothing less than a landmark in the
organizational evolution of anarchism. In reality, platformism had already been
practiced in Spain, which had produced the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI)
in 1923, though it can also be traced back to the syndicalist defence groups
that faced the terrorism of the bosses in the 1920s.

The libertarian concept of discipline or "organic responsibility", was already
practiced by anarchist organizations albeit implicitly rather than explicitly:
delegates adopted resolutions that the membership accepted, adopted and
implemented, even when it did not agree with them. When Buenacasa tells
Francisco Ascaso that his opinion differs from that of the organization, the
impetuous Ascaso replies: "that's as may be, but although the organization says
the opposite to me, I am the one that is right". And so "organic
responsibility" came to be adopted in the Spanish CNT in Exile at a time when
the development of conspiratorial activity against Francoism required it. For
that reason, Gino Cerrito (b. 1922), the Italian historian, attacked the
concept of "organic responsibility", stating that anarchism was not the theory
of a social class but an individualist philosophy. But Cerrito was wrong.
Anarchism is a philosophy that is individualist and associative at one and the
same time. It is individuals who associate, and this is true even there where
anarchism was an influential mass movement, as was the case with the port
workers of Buenos Aires, the Dutch Provo movement, the Catalan textile workers
or the Ukrainian farmers: associative individuals, that is the key to
anarchism.

That is why the idea of a hierarchical "party" is rejected by anarchists,
because it is nothing less than a hierarchical replica of State apparatuses. In
reality, the anarchist party is the confederation or federation. And it has
always been so. Federations confederate, affinity groups federate and, to a
great extent, the affinity group is a federation of individuals as well as the
local union federation is an association of unions. For the anarchist
organization, the federal principle replaces the executive principle.

But treatment of the legislative principle is more delicate. One assumes that,
in groupings where there are natural inequalities of whatever origin,
anarchists accept the principle of the majority, as in the unions for example.
But what distinguishes platformism is that while the legislative principle is
not adopted within the anarchist organization, it must be adopted in the mass
organizations in the interests of public anarchist politics. Such a thing would
be totally unacceptable for any hardened anarchist individualist. Nevertheless,
this cannot allow us to forget the rights of the minorities, who Malatesta
tried to save by proposing that agreements of the federation of associates be
adopted only by those who were in favour of them but not by those who were
against. This, though, would go against the principle of organic
responsibility.

Platformism developed in the years following 1926, becoming greatly enriched
with the contributions of many people: Fontenis, Guérin, etc. But at heart, it
is a means whereby anarchism can leave its own imaginary universe and make
contact with the people in the street, with a large part of the population,
with "the masses".

Nowadays, platformism is an alternative to the insurrectionalism that instead
seeks to vindicate 19th-century nihilist, gang-ridden, mafia-like "anarchist
terrorism". It is also an alternative to the visible and extraordinary
disorganization that permeates "other-worldist" anarchism, that continues to
announce that we are partisans of chaos, disorder, vandalism and violence. That
is, of course, untrue; but similar actions could be carried on if they are
accepted by “the masses”. And by accepted we also mean directed, coordinated
and decided by them. The key, in my opinion, is to stop being a minority and
become the majority or the best possible majority. Otherwise, defeats always
lead to dark rooms and ivory towers.

Platformism has become a specific element within today's broad anarchist
movement. The adoption of "historical materialism" by sectors within anarchism
is nothing new: it was common during the development of the movement over seven
decades, at least since its foundation. Bakunin was a historical materialist
and not, indeed, in the restricted sense.

Only the crisis of 1940, with the world war and the appearance of McCarthyist
anti-communism - which also spread within the anarchist movement - gave a
foothold to certain influences of the old individualist liberalism which was
then able to colonize certain sectors of anarchism, as was the case with
anarchism in Italy, in the River Plate area and in several other places.

But those influences are returning, as can be seen even in Spanish
anarcho-syndicalism today. What is happening is that the influence of North
American anarchism - based mainly on a strange mixture of old-fashioned
insurrectionalism and incurable Yankee liberalism - is being used by certain
elements who are specialized in the subject, to intensify the general
confusion.

The word "libertarian", for example, no longer means what it did when it was
coined by Sébastian Faure, for the very simple reason that French culture does
not have the influence it once had for over a century; what is influential now
is North American culture, in which "libertarian" stands for both the anarchist
sense and for those who are in favour of the "free market". Hence
"anarcho-capitalism", the very negation of anarchism, which has always been
anti-capitalist. This confusion is also to be seen within the anarchist
movement. Murray Rothbard (1926-1995), the father of anarcho-capitalism, an
enemy of the State but a supporter of the "free market", really is the
ideologist of many so-called "anarchists" or "libertarians" around the world.

Clearly Rothbard was also against the multinationals, like all liberal
radicals: he was against private monopolies that prevent the free operation of
the market. But the anti-capitalism of anarchists does not stop with the fight
against the multinationals. By no means. Nor in the social-democratic or
unionist method of expropriating the capital gains that the bosses snatch from
the workers, be it through laws or dictatorships, or even agreements. No.
Anarchist anti-capitalism is based on the belief that nobody can sell their
labour to create capital gain, for the State or for private industrialists.
That is the point.

For anarchists, the creation of capital gain by means of work is related to the
contribution to the collective wealth of the communist association. That is to
say, of the communist society. For that reason, anarchists have never accepted
the idea of wage-slaving, be it in a "free" or "planned" market. In other
words, anarchism does not accept capitalist profit, be it private or public.
Neither does it accept "universal suffrage" (in the words of Kropoktin), not
because this suffrage was non-viable, but because it is not our masters we
should be choosing but our rotating and recallable delegates.

So, Anarchism without adjectives. We do need to re-read - and remember - the
classics from time to time, including Tarrida del Mármol.

Floreal Castilla
Venezuela, 31st December 2006

Translation by Nestor McNab
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