(en) Which way to the revolution

Mon, 10 Feb 1997 12:21:00 GMT

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Which way to the revolution first published in Red & Black Revolution No 2 1996 =

but all have gone down to defeat. Anarchists believe they =

understand why previous revolutions have failed, but do =

we know how a successful revolution can be made? Are =

there steps we can take today to prepare and nurture such a =

revolution, or is it a question of waiting for the ripening of =


The first thing to consider is the kind of revolution that we =

are fighting for, because the ends we have in mind will, to a =

large extent, determine the means we use. We are not =

interested in exchanging one set of rulers for another; when =

we speak of revolution we do not mean a coup d'=E9tat. =

Anarchist revolution is a fundamental change in the way =

society is ordered - we want to replace the dictatorship of a =

minority, not with the dictatorship of another, but with =

freedom for all.

What we reject is political revolution. Whether they use =

the ballot box or the Armalite, we know better than to trust =

our would-be leaders. No matter how well-intentioned they =

may be, a minority cannot deliver real change from above. =

Real socialism comes from below, through mass =

participation. As Daniel Webster (American revolutionary) =

said, <I>In every generation, there are those who want to =

rule well - but they mean to rule. They promise to be good =

masters - but they mean to be masters.</I>

A social revolution, on the other hand, is a much broader =

change in society, involving a much greater number of =

people. An anarchist revolution cannot happen without =

both this widespread mood for change, and some idea of =

what change is necessary. The best example of this is the =

revolution in Spain in 1936. http://tigerden.com/~berios/spunk/Spunk336.html

What is striking about the Spanish Revolution, particularly =

in Catalonia and Aragon, is how profoundly life was =

transformed. Certainly, the economic changes were =

amazing enough, with most industries in Barcelona being =

collectivised, run by the workers, as well as many farms in =

Aragon. The revolution was not limited to economic =

change, rather this went hand in hand with social change. =

Of course, the revolution wasn't perfect, and in the end was =

defeated by a combination of Stalinism, fascism, and the =

mistakes that were made1. For a time though, living, =

breathing socialism could be seen , and this in a spirit of =

liberty, with no need for, indeed sometimes contrary to, =

orders from any central authority.

Of course, the whole point of the Spanish Revolution was =

that it took place from the ground up, and the same effects =

could never be produced through seizing government in a =

political revolution (How do you legislate for freedom?). =

But could a similarly far-reaching change take place this way, =

introduced by a caring and progressive party? The historical =

evidence would suggest not (not that we can point to many =

examples where it's been tried). Why is that? To =

understand that, we have to examine those factors that lead =

to a revolution.

<H3>What causes a revolution?</H3>

The simple answer to that is, of course, capitalism. =

Capitalism, as an economic system, and its chief weapon, the =

state, are dedicated to one thing - maintaining the =

ascendancy of a minority over the majority. It is the major =

cause of wars, of famines, of sexism, racism, poverty, =

unemployment and too many other social ills to list, let =

alone describe. All these things mean that most people have =

little stake in keeping society from changing, indeed most =

would welcome change. The problem is that people don't =

see any alternatives, or dismiss those they are presented =

with as utopian and unreachable.

Although this problem is exacerbated by the low level of =

struggle at the moment, this does not mean that people's =

minds are totally closed to radical ideas. Capitalism sows the =

seeds of its own destruction. It brings workers together into =

workplaces, forcing them to organise collectively, and the =

relentless drive for profit constantly reminds workers that =

they have collective interests, diametrically opposed to those =

of the ruling class. This means that, even when the =

confidence of the class as a whole is at its lowest, there will =

still be areas where people are fighting back. For example, in =

the past few years, the WSM has been involved in struggles =

for union recognition, for abortion rights, against racism, =

and against increasing taxation of working class people. =

Even though these campaigns may have started small (and =

some of them stayed small!), people got involved because =

they knew that things had to change. This recognition that =

there are problems in the way society is run, though it may =

be focused on one issue initially, can lead people to realise =

that tinkering with the system isn't enough, real =

improvement requires real change - revolutionary change.

In theoretical terms, the direct cause of a revolution is =

generally expressed in terms of two sets of conditions - =

objective and subjective factors.

Objective Factors are the things outside your head, =

independent (at least directly) from your thoughts and =

emotions. If you get laid off work, if a war starts, if it rains =

on you on your way to the pub, you can't change things by =

closing your eyes and wishing them away. Of course, your =

thoughts may have an indirect effect, when they lead to =

action, like joining a union or remembering your umbrella, =

but generally you don't have much control over what =

happens in the world.

The objective factors in a revolution are events outside the =

control of any individual or small group, such as a stock- market crash or an invasion, which lead people to re- examine their society, and, possibly, act to change it. For =

example, changes in British society at the end of the second =

World War2 were triggered to a certain extent by the =

hardships of war. In Russia, in 1917, rather than lead to =

renewed optimism, the experience of war generated a deep =

anger directed towards the Tsar and the system that was =

causing so much hardship.

Subjective Factors, on the other hand, are the things inside =

your head - your thoughts on life , the universe and =

everything, down to whether you think it will start raining =

while you're on your way to the pub (it will - bring your =

umbrella!). Since the subjective factors in a revolution are =

those that depend on individual people, they are obviously =

the ones that revolutionary groups try to change. Of course, =

there can be no strict division between subjective and =

objective factors - it is the thoughts in your head that decide =

whether or not you will join a union, vote for a strike or =

pass a picket, which side of the barricade you will be on. =

Equally, your decisions, and the actions that result from =

them, will have an effect on the ideas of the people around =


Opportunity for revolution only arises at particular times, =

when both the subjective and objective conditions necessary =

for success are present. In other words, some crisis occurs, =

and the level of consciousness of the people is such that they =

choose revolution. Even though tension is usually building =

for some time beforehand, when the moment comes it can =

come with breathtaking speed, and can be triggered by even =

the smallest events.

For example, in France a massive increase in strikes in 1967 =

was followed in 1968 by student demonstrations which grew =

into a general strike that almost toppled DeGaulle's =

government. In Budapest in 1956, it was a student march =

that started the Hungarian Revolution, which saw, in the =

short weeks before it was crushed by Soviet tanks, over =

twenty independent newspapers set up, and a Parliament of =

Workers' Councils which proclaimed the right of the =

workers themselves to manage their workplaces.

Although these uprisings can sometimes look as if they =

come out of nowhere, this is far from true. Rather it is as if a =

rising tide of militancy reaches some critical point and =

breaks the dam - sudden, yes, but not spontaneous. Before =

the Hungarian Revolution strikes were widespread, before =

the October Revolution in Russia there was a series of =

strikes and struggles, which themselves followed on from =

the unsuccessful revolution in 1905. So with hindsight, =

every revolt can be seen as part of a process, the =

continuation of previous struggles.

<H3>More Than Marking Time</H3>

Anarchism is a very simple and very natural idea, but when =

you're used to capitalism it can seem a little weird just =

because of this simplicity. Although people may want =

change, nearly everybody thinks, at first anyway, that all =

that's really needed are a few adjustments to the system, and =

everything will be fine. Then when you pass that stage, and =

realise that the whole world needs to be 'adjusted', it is easy =

to think that such a jump needs a vastly complicated body of =

theory, and possibly a few great leaders, if it is to succeed.

On the other hand, when anarchism is put into practice, it =

works, and it's always more convincing to point at a house =

than to point at a blueprint. In Spain during the =

Revolution, huge numbers of industries and farms were =

collectivised by their workers, and the militias were run on =

anarchist lines. Would all of this have happened if people =

had not already seen that anarchism worked?

What role then does the revolutionary group have to play =

in the build-up to a revolution? In general where there is =

no established channel through which the desire for =

revolutionary change is expressed, those that arise will tend =

to have a libertarian form3, but sometimes there are =

established 'alternatives'. In France in '68, a potentially =

revolutionary movement got side-tracked into voting for =

the Communist Party, because they were seen as the only =

potential alternative to capitalism. We must remember that =

vanguardist ideas and organisations will not automatically =

become irrelevant. If people have had little prior experience =

in politics, it can take time for them to realise how =

manipulative and deceitful vanguardist groups are, by =

which time it may be too late.

Rather than waiting for the revolution to come, and then =

hoping that people don't go down another initially =

promising dead-end, we have to think about what kind of =

organisation we would like to see arise, and then start laying =

the framework for it today. In Spain we had an example of =

how things could work. For all our problems with anarcho- syndicalism (see last issue), the fact that the <A =

HREF=3Drentrbr2.html><I>CNT was established </I></A> as =

a revolutionary union long before 1936 meant that, when =

people started looking for a different way of doing things, =

they could see that anarchism wasn't just a nice idea, it =

actually worked. Most people, in Catalonia and Aragon at =

least, would have had some experience with the CNT, and =

so would have seen that things could actually be run by the =

workers themselves.

<H3>Our Role Today</H3>

How we can provide examples of anarchism working today, =

and prepare the ground for the development of forms of =

organisation that could play a part in an anarchist =

revolution, is linked to the second main role of an anarchist =

group, to spread the ideas of anarchism.

Earlier in this article, we looked at the objective and =

subjective factors that lead to a revolution, and said that the =

subjective factors were the ideas people had, about =

contemporary society, and about other, different societies. =

Also, we said that, in situations of potentially revolutionary =

change, people can sometimes get drawn into groups and =

organisations which will lead nowhere. These two are =

linked, in that people are more likely to be drawn into dead- ends when they are just looking for something that will =

change their society, but don't know what kind of change =

they want, or what kind of society they would rather live in.

If our aim was just a political revolution, then we would be =

happy to channel general discontent into equally general =

support, not for our ideas, but for us. A social revolution, =

though, has to be a positive revolution, directed towards =

some goal. Therefore, if we are to be successful, we must =

start by informing people about what anarchism means, =

about what an anarchist society would be like, so that, when =

people think of revolution as a real possibility (which, at the =

moment, most don't) they will know what there is to be =

fought for. Producing papers, pamphlets and books is an =

important way of achieving that, but when people don't see =

the relevancy of revolution, they are hardly likely to be =

interested in reading about the kind of society that a =

revolution should create.

This is not always the case, though. When people are =

involved in struggle, even for limited goals, this causes =

them to question wider issues, and become more open to =

new and radical ideas. For anarchists, involvement in these =

struggles means that, as well as getting the chance to spread =

anarchist ideas, by putting forward democratic methods of =

organisation, you also demonstrate how anarchism works in =

practice. When anarchist forms of organisation are shown =

to be effective, they are more likely to be used in other =


We should always be ready to work in campaigns, to add our =

experience and commitment to the struggle, but if people are =

always looking to us to set up campaigns, and to provide the =

ideas, then we are failing as anarchists. Self-activity is the =

key to anarchism, that is the self-confidence to do what =

needs to be done without looking for others to step in and =

take over. For this reason our role is to work with people =

and not for people. It is important that others gain =

experience in organising activities and so in the future will =

institute campaigns themselves. Our aim should not be to =

organise revolutionary activity, but to inspire it in others.

<H3>It's not over yet</H3>

In 1967, George Woodcock said that anarchism, though a =

good idea, had missed its chance, and could now only serve =

as an aspiration, never to be realised. A year later, the =

French government was brought to its knees by a wave of =

strikes, riots and marches that were definitely libertarian in =

their forms of organisation. Though revolution may =

sometimes seem no more than a distant dream, we would =

do well to remember how fast things can change, sometimes =

when we least expect it.

After all, anarchism is a good idea, and an anarchist society =

would fulfil people's needs much more successfully than =

capitalist society ever could. It's not as if we have to =

convince everybody that capitalism is a bad system, it is =

continually creating and recreating the conditions of its own =

downfall. Poverty, starvation, unemployment, alienation - =

everybody's lives are lessened by capitalism, and at some =

stage, people always think, 'There must be a better way'.

At the same time, we are surrounded by examples of how =

life could be, if we were to have the confidence to reach out =

and grab it. Workers who know that they could run their =

workplaces much better than their bosses, and have found =

that, when they stand together, they are stronger. =

Volunteers who, in caring for others prove that there are =

stronger motives than greed. Even any normal group of =

friends, who show that we don't always have to be divided =

into leaders and led, into rulers and ruled.

There will always be revolts, but if they do not have any =

aims, or any idea of how to get there, they will probably end =

up being bribed away by reforms, or led into the blind alley =

of statism. What we can do today, what we must do now, =

before things have already started and it becomes too late, is =

to spread the ideas of anarchism, and, in our campaigns, =

demonstrate how real democracy can be achieved, and how =

well it can work.

Society will change, but even if there were a million =

anarchists we could not set a time and date for this change, =

we can only know that it is coming. We don't want a =

revolution led by anarchists, the revolution doesn't even =

have to call itself anarchist. What is important, and what =

will happen, if we work now (and have a little luck), is that =

it will be anarchist.

<B>Footnotes</B> 1 For more details, see Anarchism in Action, a brief history =

of the Spanish Revolution (available from the WSM =

Bookservice). =

2 i.e. the introduction of the welfare state. =

3 i.e. non-hierarchical, decentralised, controlled by all of =

those involved rather than a select few. A contemporary =

example would be the network of groups organising against =

the Criminal Justice Act in Britain. More consciously =

anarchist, or directly revolutionary examples could be given, =

but this should give you the idea. =

-- =

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