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(en) Alt. Media, Anarchy Magazine, Iain Mckay Letter to to the editors about onslought on "Platformism".

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 24 Apr 2003 08:08:34 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

> Dear Anarchy
I was deeply disappointed by the last issue of Anarchy. The
reason is simple. While denouncing what it considers the
"repeated pronouncements of contempt for many (often even
most) anarchists" and those who present "no hint . . . that
the people denounced might have genuinely radical and
intelligent reasons for thinking and acting as they do," we
were subjected to exactly this as regards "Platformism."

In the various articles bashing the Platform, at no time
was there any attempt to explain why some anarchists have
felt an affinity to that document and the tradition is
created (and, yes, it does have a tradition and influence
even if some contributors to Anarchy may want to deny it).
This seems strange, considering the claim that Anarchy
thinks that other anarchists should be doing that. What are
we to conclude from this? That "workerist,
organisationalist" anarchists have to apply one set of
standards while the contributors of Anarchy another? I get
that impression. Even the review of NorthEastern Anarchist
magazine failed to meet the exacting standards Anarchy set
for others. I re-read both Alieen O'Carroll's article on
the Russian Revolution and Brian Sheppard's one on the
labour movement and I have to say that Anarchy's "review"
of both was simply a distortion of what was contained in

I am not going to reply to every point raised in the
numerous articles produced. That would be impossible.
Likewise, as I am not a Platformist I will not defend it. I
will say this, Malatesta's critique of the Platform was
substantially correct and, moreover, exactly the kind of
critique Anarchy promised but failed to deliver. Malatesta
understood the motivations of the original Platformists and
had a dialogue with Makhno without questioning his
anarchism. Unlike Anarchy's contributors, he did not
slander Makhno as being a crypto-Leninist but rather an
anarchist whose position should be constructively
discussed. But, then again, Malatesta was an
"organisationalist" anarchist (maybe even a "workerist" one
as well) and so, presumably, "one step" from Platformism
and so two steps from Leninism.

I will, however, make a few comments.

Firstly, I need correct one of Bob Black's inaccuracies. He
states that the WSM "without so indicating, omits several
interesting passages from the Platform." Presumably this is
part of some plan to hide the Leninist aims of that
document and so, presumably, the WSM itself. Sadly for
Black, his comments are simply not true. These "interesting
passages" are not, in fact, from the Platform. They are
from a later document (which is reprinted as "document no.
3" in Skirda's Facing the Enemy). Skirda's translation of
one passage simply states that "decisions, though, will
have to be binding upon all who vote for and endorse them."
No mention of "sanctions." Ignoring the question of which
translation is correct, is Black suggesting that abiding by
collective decisions you took part in making equates to
"the state"? If so, then any organisation becomes "the
state" and so anarchy becomes an impossible dream. If not,
then surely abiding, in general, by group decisions you
help make is an example of the "responsible individualism"
he contrasts to the Platform?

Secondly, I find it ironic that while Black accuses the
Platform of Leninism, his critique of it rests, in part, on
the basic idea of Leninism, namely the false notion that
working class people cannot develop socialist ideas by
their own effort. He is at pains to mock the Platform for
arguing that anarchism was born in the class struggle.
"This is of course untrue," he states. It appears to be a
case of "class political consciousness can be brought to
the workers only from without, that is, only outside of the
economic struggle, outside the sphere of relations between
workers and employers"? Black again? No, Lenin (from What
is to be Done?). Or, in other words, "socialism and the
class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the
other" (to quote, as Lenin did, Social Democratic leader
Karl Kautsky).

It seems strange that Black seemingly subscribes to Lenin's
maxim that "there can be no talk of an independent ideology
being developed by the masses of the workers in the process
of their movement." Where does that leave working class
spontaneity and autonomy? Lenin was clear, "there is a lot
of talk about spontaneity, but the spontaneous development
of the labour movement leads to its becoming subordinated
to bourgeois ideology." Which, from his perspective, makes
perfect sense. But where does it leave Black?

Not only can Black's argument be faulted logically, it can
be faulted factually. Echoing Lenin and Kautsky, Black
argues that anarchism comes from Proudhon. Yet was Proudhon
somehow separate from the experiences of the class he was
part of? He was not, of course. Proudhon got many of his
ideas (and the term Mutualism itself) from the artisans in
Lyon who had developed their ideas independently of
bourgeois intellectuals and had practised class struggle
for some time (rising the Black Flag in insurrection many
times in the 1830s). In 1848, Proudhon stressed that his
ideas were not abstract concepts divorced from working
class life. As he put it, "the proof" of his mutualist
ideas lay in the "current practice, revolutionary practice"
of "those labour associations . . . which have
spontaneously . . . been formed in Paris and Lyon . . .
[show that the] organisation of credit and organisation of
labour amount to one and the same." But, then again, the
likes of Proudhon, according to Lenin, contribute to
socialist ideas "not as workers, but as socialist
theoreticians." Black seems to share that perspective.

Similarly, Bakunin's anarchism seems, for Black, to have
popped into his head from some unspecified place. However,
the facts are that the ideas championed by Bakunin had been
developed independently within the First International by
workers before he joined. This, in part, explains his
success in the International. He was a focus for ideas that
had already been developed by workers as part of their
struggles and experiences, ideas he of course add to and

Then there is Kropotkin. While Black uses him to discredit
the Platform on this issue, the fact is that Kropotkin
expressed the same ideas as that document. In "Modern
Science and Anarchism", for example, he notes that
"Anarchism originated among the people" and, indeed, that
it "originated in everyday struggles." In his "Great French
Revolution" he argues that "the principles of anarchism . .
. already dated from 1789, and that they had their origin,
not in theoretical speculations, but in the deeds of the
Great French Revolution." The Platform, clearly, follows
Kropotkin in this. Personally, I'll side with Kropotkin
against Black and Lenin on this issue.

All this is not surprising, given a basic knowledge of
anarchist theory and history. What is surprising is that
someone like Black should make such an argument. I expected
better from him, but I'm unfortunately getting used to
being disappointed by his (often sloppy) assertions against
"workerist" and "organisationalist" anarchists.

Thirdly, I have to question why Black feels the necessity
of mentioning Makhno's drinking in his account of the
Platform. Given that Makhno had seen non-stop combat for
four years, I'm not surprised that he turned to drink to
dull the pain (both mental and physical). And,
incidentally, why mention Arshinov's return to Russia when
discussing the Platform? I suppose it is to suggest that
Platformists were (and are) just hidden Leninists. But,
then, how can be explain the fact that Makhno and Mett
remained anarchists to the end? Mentioning Arshinov's
return seems as petty as mentioning Makhno's drinking.
Equally, to compare the Platform's arguments for a
revolutionary army with "the counter-revolutionary People's
Army" in Spain is incredible. Looking at its suggestions on
this matter surely shows that the CNT's "revolutionary
militias" were a close approximation to what was desired.
Given the similarities between the CNT militias and the
Makhnovist movement, I am surprised that anyone could claim

Fourthly, the whole "dual power" article seems flawed.
After all, Lenin and Trotsky were simply describing
situations that arose in the process of class struggle. As
such, it is not about "how to create a set of institutions
that can pull the allegiance of the governed away from the
existing state" (as Lawrence Jarach states) but rather
institutions which the governed create themselves to
counter the power of the existing state. That the
Bolsheviks used the soviets to seize power should not blind
us to their origins and initial function as a strike
committee created in 1905 to co-ordinate struggle against
the Tsarist state. Significantly, anarchist support for the
soviets as both a means of fighting the state/capital and
as the framework of a socialist society predates Bolshevik
lip-service to this idea by twelve years (and can be traced
back to Bakunin, even Proudhon).

As such, the idea of "anarchist dual power" (if you want to
use that term) simply means the idea that the embryo of the
new world must be created while fighting the current one.
Rather than signify a desire for "loyalty" to "a state-in-
formation" it means encouraging organs of self-management
by which the oppressed exercise their autonomy and restrict
the power of boss and government until such time as they
can abolish both. Kropotkin expressed this idea as follows
in 1909: "To make a revolution it is not . . . enough that
there should be . . . [popular] risings . . . It is
necessary that after the risings there should be something
new in the institutions [that make up society], which would
permit new forms of life to be elaborated and established."

That the Bolsheviks used such organs to take power does not
mean we should eschew support for such bodies. Quite the
reverse, as such bodies are the only means by which working
class people can manage their own affairs directly. The
task of anarchists is, in part, to stop vanguards turning
these bodies into hierarchical institutions, into the
structures of a new state. As noted, the idea of building
such "societies of resistance" within capitalism is an old
one within anarchism, one which predates the birth of Lenin
and Trotsky (never mind their descriptive expression "dual

Fifthly, it seems to me that the only people who take the
Platform as a bible are the anti-Platformists. All the
Platformists I have meet argue that they see the Platform
as a flawed guide, not a blueprint. No "Platformist" I know
subscribes to the organisational schema outlined in it. The
principles of federalism, tactical and theoretical unity,
and so on are generally supported, of course, but the
system of secretariats is not applied. Even "tactical and
theoretical unity" is generally used to signify co-
operation and sticking by collective decisions once they
have been made. As such, to attack the Platform without
considering how it is applied seems a pointless task. It
smacks more of an ideological approach than a theoretical
one. Perhaps, as argued in reply to a letter, it would make
more sense for the Platformists to call themselves neo-
Platformists to avoid confusion on this matter but, then
again, perhaps the "post-left" anarchists could take this
as read and move onto concrete critiques of current
Platformist ideas and practice?

Finally, on a totally different subject, I would like to
make a few comments on (I)An-ok Ta Chai's letter calling
for unity between anarchists and "right anarchists." As
there is no such thing as "right anarchists" it would be
impossible to work with them. By "right anarchists" I
assume it is meant right-wing libertarian capitalists who
falsely call themselves anarchists. Given that these people
are in favour of private police, property (and so theft),
obedience (to private power by wage slaves), private rulers
and have blind faith in both private property and the
capitalist market, it seems that they and anarchists do
not, in fact, share much in common in terms of what we are
against. In terms of what we are for, they are against free
association, free speech, autonomy, and independent thought
if the property owner so decrees. They may be against state
power, but they are in total favour of private power and
the means of defending it (e.g. by means of private
police). I think its obvious that little in common and we
should resist their attempts to appropriate the anarchist
name for their authoritarian ideology.

Ultimately, I feel that the whole "post-left" argument is
flawed simply because anarchism already rejects everything
which is labelled "leftist" by Anarchy contributors. It
seems to me a case of semantics, over which much pointless
arguing past each other will result. I also find it strange
to see anarchists influenced by Platformism arguing for
diversity of tactics and organisation while "post-left"
anarchists denounce all those who organise and act in non-
approved ways as "workerists," "organisationalists" and
"leftists." But in these times I've come to expect such

Hopefully comrades in North America will realise that the
mistakes made by a real revolutionary movement will always
be more important than a thousand articles. After all, only
practice will see who is right. Sadly Anarchy's
contributors singularly failed to appreciate that many
anarchists are influenced by the Platform precisely because
of their negative experiences of current forms of anarchist
organising and activity. If some anarchists are organising
into a specific organisation (and I think it is good that
they are) then, surely, this is due the failure of the
"anti-organisationalism" which seems to dominate North
American anarchism. I hope that anarchists everywhere will
avoid the problems of both "anti-organisationalism" and
Platformism and embrace a truly anarchist approach to
organising together to spread our ideas within the struggle
against hierarchy in order to turn it into a struggle for
freedom. Reading Malatesta's critique of the Platform would
be a good first step.

Yours in solidarity


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