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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation Organise! #78 - Letters

Date Sat, 08 Sep 2012 10:21:15 +0300

On Jo Freeman ---- Dear Organise! folks, ---- I noticed that you referred to Jo Freeman's article on "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" in the article "25 years of the AFED reviewing the last 5 years of the Anarchist Federation" in Organise! magazine Issue 77 Winter 2011. It is very saddening for me to see Freeman's article referred to again and again by anarchists, when she was never really interested in or involved in the anti-authoritarian social movement, never involved in the anarchist movement or the anarchist women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s that I participated in. ---- When the issue of how to organize anti-authoritarian social movement groups comes up, and people start to think about Jo Freeman's article, I think that anarchists should definitely read Cathy Levine's article "The Tyranny of Tyranny" 1979. It would also be worthwhile to read: "A Review of The “Tyranny of Structurelessness”: An organizationalist repudiation of anarchism" by Jason McQuinn from Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, Issue #54/Winter 2002-2003, Vol. 20, no.2, pp. 22-23. (Both publications are in The Anarchist Library: http://theanarchistlibrary.org ).

Freeman was and is probably a sincere leftish liberal
politico, and she may have been one of the founders
of the women's liberation movement, as she claims,
but, she was not part of the anti-authoritarian ten-
dency, and she was not grappling with the problems
of how to organize social movement groups from an
anti-authoritarian perspective. You can read a biog-
raphy of her on her web site: by Jennifer Scanlon

From this biography you can learn some things
about her history which I will quickly note and ex-
cerpt here: You can learn that she attended the Uni-
versity of California at Berkeley from 1961 through
1965, where she was active in the Young Democrats
(a group interested in helping the Democratic Party
to improve), and in SLATE, a campus political group,
lobbying to remove the campus ban on controver-
sial speakers and to promote educational reform,
writing for the SLATE Supplement, which evaluated
teachers and courses from a student perspective,
and working in local "fair housing" campaigns. In
1963 through 1964, Freeman was involved in the
Bay Area Civil Rights Movement, organizing and
participating in demonstrations demanding that
local employers hire more African-Americans. She
attended the Democratic Convention in Atlantic
City to join the vigil of the Mississippi Freedom
Democratic Party, which was demanding represen-
tation for black Democrats in the party convention.
She was also involved in the Berkeley Free Speech
Movement, often as a critic of the radicals in the

Freeman helped start the Chicago chapter of the
National Organization of Women (NOW, a decidedly
mainstream organization). She worked on various
NOW committees, participated in NOW demonstra-
tions, and was active in chapters in various other cit-
ies. In 1976, Freeman went to both the Democratic
and Republican Conventions as a reporter for Ms.

After Freeman graduated from college she went to
Atlanta to work for the Southern Christian Leader-
ship Conference (SCLC), headed by Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. Beginning as a summer volunteer, and
joining the SCLC field staff and for a year and a half
worked in various southern counties, doing voter
registration, political education and community

In 1972 she ran for Delegate to the Democratic
Convention committed to Presidential candidate
Shirley Chisholm. As a result she attended the 1972
Convention as an Alternate with the Chicago Chal-
lenge that unseated Mayor Daley's machine delega-
tion. Freeman sought to understand and analyze
what she saw as the usual rivalries, jealousies,
manipulation and undermining she experienced
and witnessed in three papers she wrote under her
movement name, Joreen. "The BITCH Manifesto"
(1969), "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" (1970),
and "Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood" (1975).

Freeman became a lawyer in 1982 and currently is
in private practice in New York City where she has
served as counsel to pro-choice demonstrators and
to women running for elected office. She also dab-
bles in local politics.

While Freeman may present some good criticism
about the functioning of informal groupings in the
kinds of political organizations she has experienced,
she does not address the broader issues of how to
overcome entrenched hierarchies being established
and reestablished that anti-authoritarians need to
deal with.

For a new and better social world, Sylvie Kashdan
Organise! reponse: The Leeds Women's Group of
the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists (ORA)
first published a British edition of Tyranny of Struc-
turelessness in 1972, and the Kingston Group of the
Anarchist Workers' Association (AWA) brought it out
as a pamphlet later in the decade. The edition of
Freeman most easily available in print to Anarchists
since is Untying the Knot, which we ourselves use
and have published, which contains Levine’s ‘Tyran-
ny of Tyranny’ as well as ‘Tyranny of Structureless-

It has been regularly re-published by anarchist
presses so it is disingenuous to think that this has
not been raised before within the anarchist move-
ment. We are less concerned with Freeman's tra-
jectory than with the ideas contained within the
pamphlet. Anarchists already had a pretty profound
critique of the tyranny of formal structures. It was
those informal structures that now concerned us,
especially when we are arguing for organisation and
formal structure within the movement. We feel that
Freeman's insights into how informal elites exer-
cised undue influence within a movement (be it the
women's movement or the anarchist movement)
are still relevant and we continue to see this undue
influence within the movement of today. We always
look towards ways that guarantee effectiveness and
at the same time avoid or lessen the influences of
both informal elites and bureaucratisation within
formal structures.

Two letters from Richard Roberts: Dear Organise On ‘UK Un-masked’

The publication asks the reader to make known if
they find the content thought-provoking or other-
wise so here goes:

First of all I would like to say that I felt that the
article was a very useful attempt to address some
of the issues arising from the TUC organised protest
against the cuts held in March and succeeded, I
believe, in its aim of ‘making anarchist views of the
events of the day more understandable to other
sorts of people on the march...’ It was also correct
to counter the accusation that an ‘otherwise peace-
ful protest’ as the coverage of the day portrayed it,
was in some way hi-jacked by a wantonly violent

As the article suggests, responsibility for the cov-
erage of the events lay with the editors. Peaceful
protest is not a story and therefore undue focus of
the coverage was on the occupation of Fortnum
and Mason and the other damage done to Private
Property. Why do we get no news coverage of
the takeover of Lambeth Town Hall and the many
Peoples Assemblies events that have been a recur-
rent theme over the past 3 months? Your analysis is
correct, it is not a story if it is a peaceful event and if
not then the vested interests of the state and press
do not want a story that suggests continuing opposi-
tion to the actions of the coalition government. In-
stead they wish to portray that all those people who
still feel angry are just isolated groups or individuals
who are powerless to change anything.

The State narrative is that peaceful protest is good,
it goes something along the lines of “what a good
government we are to allow you to protest peace-
fully. You have had your say, now just go home.
Look everyone – all over, now back to work.” And
the state remains ‘defiantly indifferent’ and ignores
protest just as it did the anti-war protests. Nor did
Vince Cable have any compunction on the 27th
about making clear that protest will have no effect.

As for violence, for me the issue is one that is cen-
tral to parliamentary democracy. It was an issue
dear to Carlo Pisacane, the translation of whose
essay on revolution is reviewed elsewhere in the
publication. Parliamentary democracy is merely a
front for the real power relationships which control
society and protect the interests of capital, namely
those dependent upon economics. Without trans-
forming the economic basis of society and its inter-
relationships, there is no point in political reform.
Universal suffrage is a sham. However, even if, for
the sake of discussion, one accepts the validity of
parliamentary democracy, surely it is based upon
an implicit contract between government and voter.

The government contracts with the electorate that
it will carry out those promises it made prior to
the election on which basis the electorate cast its
votes. Whilst we have a history of so-called majority
governments with less than 50% of the votes cast
(let alone of those eligible to vote) and therefore
illegitimate, and a catalogue of broken promises to
varying degrees of cynicism, the election of 2010 is
particularly striking in its illegitimacy. It’s only claim
to relative legitimacy, even on a par with previous
governments, is that it has interpreted the will of
the people in a way that suits its own purposes. In
truth the only feasibly legitimate government even
on the flawed basis of our electoral system, would
have been a minority Conservative Government.

However, with their obvious(?) superhuman abilites,
Clegg and Cameron were able to rise above it all and
fashion the government in their own image, having
been able to interpret the meaning of the totality
of the millions of votes cast. One can hear the very
strong echo of Pisacane’s ridiculing of Mazzini’s
religiosity and urging of the Italian nationalists un-
der the slogan of God and the People as if he could
interpret both.

The other party to this electoral contract, the elec-
torate, promises in return to accept the view of
the majority. This acceptance is evidenced by their
agreement to abide by the law. They are allowed
to protest, but this must be peaceful protest, even
in the face of unreasonable behaviour of those in
attendance to protect and ensure the safety of all.
Without going too far off piste, it is of course of
the utmost importance to protect Property, since
in a capitalist system we have come to be defined
by and very closely identified with our Property. As
shown by Quentin Skinner in his ‘Essay on Classical
Liberty and the Coming of the English Civil War’ as
quoted in my book on Pisacane, since the struggles
between Parliament and King Charles any attack on
Property has been seen as tantamount to an at-
tack on a man’s person. However, with the breaking
of this contract at the heart of our Parliamentary
democracy, then in theory the electorate is released
from its agreement to protest without violence.

Three subordinate issues come to mind at this point:
firstly it is important to differentiate, as is done
elsewhere in the magazine, between individual
property as a means to provide oneself with the
wherwithal to meet basic human needs and ‘Capi-
talist Property’ the ownership and control of which
enables the Capitalist to exploit his fellow humans
and enables him, to paraphrase Pisacane’s iteration
of Malthus and Beccaria, to take several places at
life’s banquet to the exclusion of many who have
no place; secondly, there is, as quite rightly pointed
out, a difference between violence against Capitalist
Property and gratuitous violence against individuals.

The gratuitous bombs used against people in the
late nineteenth century were, according to some
sources (e.g. Pernicone: Italian Anarchism), as likely
to have been thrown by the security forces with
the aim of discrediting the anarchists. The accept-
ance of violence against a form of Property which
has been appropriated from the ownership of all is
worthy of debate. Thirdly, even the State’s attitude
towards violence is ambivalent at best and hypo-
critical at worst. The Western (and Eastern) Powers
have a history of supporting armed risings provided
the anticipated result is considered likely to be
beneficial to their own interests. A good example
of this is the support for and part funding of armed
uprisings in Italy against Austrian and Bourbon rule
providing it was under control of the monarchic
Piedmont, whereas a socialist or even merely repub-
lican revolution was not acceptable. The attitude of
France and Britain is well documented by Pisacane
in letters, articles and books. More recently we have
good examples of Statist ambivalence in Tunisia and
Egypt and hypocrisy with regard to violence in Libya.
As usual with history, the winner (or more powerful)
writes it. Whether violence is good or bad depends
upon context – an issue Pisacane also deals with in
his essay La Rivoluzione.

You article points out the bad press anarchism
has with respect to violence and we have briefly
touched upon it above. It is important to reiterate
the differentiation between violence against people
and violence against Capital and gratuitous violence
of any kind. The reviewer of the book on Pisacane
mentions Piscane’s identification with Propaganda
of the Deed as an early proponent thereof whose
words were used by Cafiero to encourage violent
activity. Pisacane’s philosophy is most appropriate
as part of the discussion that is to be had about
violence. The reviewer perhaps slightly misinter-
prets Pisacane’s view: at the basis of his insistence
on action was the belief that ideas and books do not
make revolutions; it is the reality of suffering, the
deeds and actions of others which create revolu-
tions. To rise up against authority shows what can
be done and acts as an example for others to follow.
Whilst he supported the actions of Agesilao Milano
in his attempted assassination of King Ferdinand
and fought against the armed militia in Padula, he
ordered his men not to fire at the mob of locals who
in launching a frenzied attack on his band at Sanza,
believing them to be brigands and murderers rather
than liberators, brought an end to the Sapri expedi-
tion and his life in 1857. Departing from Proudhon’s
influence Pisacane did not believe that revolution
was possible without violence.

The piece suggests that violence for the purpose of
terror is counterproductive, whilst not expressed in
those terms, I believe that Pisacane’s actions and
beliefs would support that contention.

Richard Roberts

On review of Richard Roberts’ book Carlo Pisacane’s
La Rivoluzione’

The reviewer of my book ‘Carlo Pisacane’s La Riv-
oluzione’ (Organise! #76) makes an interesting com-
ment in the penultimate paragraph of his review:
“Pisacane’s ideas appear to have had no effect on
younger republicans and had nothing to do with the
welcoming reception given to the anarchist ideas of
Bakunin from 1864 onwards.” It is a comment that I
certainly recognise from my following of the histori-
ographical debate which commenced with a disa-
greement between Max Nettlau and Aldo Romano
over Pisacane’s political influence. To summarise, I
think subsequent writers, particularly non Italians,
have tended towards the view expressed by your
reviewer. Quentin Skinner humorously shows us the
consequences of trying too hard to establish ‘causal’
links between political ideas and I tend to agree
with authors such as Ravindranathan and Rosselli
who followed Nettlau’s line that Pisacane’s influence
on Bakunin was non existent. On the other hand I
question their suggestion at the other end of the
scale that his contemporaries were unaware of his
political ideas. Garibaldi for one would have been
very aware of Pisacane’s opposition to any form of
dictatorship, an opposition which Gramsci was later
to criticise.

Having read Piscane’s letters to a number of political
friends, his political ideas were very clear, nor was
the knowledge of those thoughts confined to the
addressee of the letters. Political correspondence of
the age shows how such letters tended to be shared
between trusted groups. Fanelli, the organiser of
the local secret committee with whom the Sapri
expedition was orchestrated could not have been
unaware of Piscane’s political ideas, albeit second-
ary to the nationalist aspects. Further, it was Fanelli
who was active in the Libertà e Giustizia group and
who worked closely with Bakunin after his arrival in

There is no question that Pisacane, if only through
his example and sacrifice, was influential along
with other martyrs for the cause, in the fight for an
independent Italy, as recognised by Garibaldi in his
visit to the scene of Piscane’s demise. There are also
a couple of recent Italian authors who suggest that
Piscane’s influence was rather more substantial and
who therefore act as a counterbalance to the argu-
ment most recently found in Pernicone’s recent well
constructed and very readable work ‘Italian Anar-
chism’ and summarised by the reviewer.

Firstly I refer to Leonardo La Puma who said in
the Foreword to his ‘il pensiero politico di Carlo
Pisacane (1995) "In the final part of this book I have
tried to make a modest contribution to an historio-
graphical problem of not secondary importance:
the reluctance, notwithstanding some recent works,
with which those in the field persist in not recognis-
ing the true importance of Pisacane in the history of
Italian socialism and political thought." Next, more
recently Italia Cannataro (2002) says in his ’Carlo
Pisacane e il federalismo dei comuni’: "In the pages
of a Roman daily newspaper, in August 1857, one
reads: 'Today, groups of anarchists from Rome and
the Provinces come to Rome for this gathering in or-
der to commemorate Carlo Pisacane, to whom the
Socialists as well as the Republicans lay claim and
whom the Anarchists call their own'."

Whilst all authors have recognised the rediscovery
of Pisacane in the evolution of Italian anarchism
by such as Cafiero and Merlino, certainly La Puma
suggests that the issue is not entirely resolved and
Cannataro that even prior to the arrival of Bakunin,
Piscane was known and respected for his political
ideas by groups including the anarchists.

My research continues.

Richard Roberts

Organise! response: We welcome your further
research on the influence of Pisacane on emerging
Italian anarchism. We based our own views on Per-
nicone's book. We welcome research into anarchist
history where it can clarify any misconceptions or fill
any gaps and notice that this research is developing
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