A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Català_ Deutsch_ Nederlands_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ The.Supplement
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) Organization And Party by Maria Isidine

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 31 Aug 2003 11:40:48 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
News about and of interest to anarchists
http://ainfos.ca/ http://ainfos.ca/index24.html

Maria Isidine [aka Maria Isidorovna Goldsmith],
responds to the 'Organizational Platform of Libertarian
Communists'; originally printed in the French anarchist
paper 'Plus loin' #36 (March 1928), and #37 (April 1928)
> The problem of the organization of the anarchist forces is of
the order of the day. Many comrades explain the fact that,
in the Russian Revolution, the anarchists, despite being at
all times in the forefront of the revolutionary battles,
wielded only slight influence over the march of events, due
in large part to the lack of solid organization. Thus they
posit the creation of such an organization, an anarchist
party, as the premier requirement for more fruitful efforts in
the future. The word "party" of itself triggers controversy;
can there be such a thing as an anarchist "party"? It all
depends on the meaning which one invests the word.

The term "party" can be applied simply to the community of
persons of like minds, agreed with one and other on the
aims to be achieved and the means to be employed, even if
they are bound by no formal link, even if they do not know
each other. The more united their thinking, the more the
devise a similar solution to the particular issues that arise,
and the more apt the use of the term "party" in relation to
them. It is in this sense that the First International
[International Workingmen's Association] talks about the
"great party of the toilers," and also in that sense that
Kropotkin, Malatesta, and other militants from our
movement, especially from the older generation of its
founding fathers, talk about the "anarchist party". In that
sense, the "anarchist party" has always been with us;
furthermore, in the anarchist movement, we have always
had organizations, well-defined organizations indeed, such
as federations of groups, embracing all the groups in a
town, region or country. Such federations have always been
the customary form of anarchist organization across the

In this respect, neither the scheme spelled out in the
'Platform' of our Russian comrades, nor the mode of
organization adopted by the Union Anarchiste at its last
congress imply anything novel. But there is one novelty and
it is this. The 'Platform' aims to amend the essential
character of the bond which has hitherto bound anarchist
groups together, and to change this unspoken "constitution"
that has always obtained in our ranks and which,
uncontroversially, like something self-evident, lay at the
root of every anarchist organization. In their yearning to
tighten the bonds between militants, the authors of the
'Platform' propose to launch a new model of anarchist
"party" along lines espoused by other parties, with binding
decisions made by majority vote, a central leadership
committee, etc. Such a party ought, as they see it, to cure
the anarchist movement of most of the ills that beset it.

It is surprising to see that the experience of the Russian
Revolution, which has demonstrated with spectacularity the
inappropriateness of a party dictatorship as the pilot of
social life, has not just led these comrades to ask: what
other organizations should have pride of place in the work
of the revolution, but, on the other hand, has inspired in
them an aspiration to a strong, centralized party. And the
same goes for our French comrades. We know that the
Union Anarchiste at it's congress in Orleans has adopted a
declaration of principles by which it plainly broke ranks with
the anarchists of the individualist school and proclaimed a
series of basic propositions regarding both anarchism's
social ideal and its campaign methods. At the most recent
congress, the declaration has been endorsed as the
foundation character of the Union. That was not enough for
the congress, and it saw fit to draw up statutes, and it is
here that the centralizing tendency at odds not just with
anarchist principles in general, but also with the text of the
very "charter" that had just been adopted, showed itself.

From the outset, the Orleans declaration announces that
the authority principle is the root of all social ills, that
centralism has manifestly failed, politically and
economically, and that the free commune and free
federation of communes must form the basis of the society
of the future; for its part, the commune should be simply the
gamut of the various associations existing in the same area.
All centralism is, as a matter of principle, stricken from
social organization, which should be supple enough for each
individual inside the association, and each association
inside the federation to enjoy complete freedom. All of
which is unanimously accepted by all anarchists, and, if the
authors of the Orleans declaration have seen fit to
enunciate these truths yet again, it was for propaganda
purposes. And we were entitled to expect "statutes"
consonant with these principles. But that was not the case.
Thinking to create something new, our comrades have
ventured on the beaten tracks of other parties.

For a start, in the Union, decisions are reached by majority
vote. This question of majority is sometimes regarded as a
mere detail, a handy way of resolving issues. Now, it is of
capital importance, for it is inseparably bound up with the
very notion of a society without power. In their critique of
all forms of the State, even the most democratic, anarchists
operate from the principle that decisions taken by one group
of individuals cannot be binding upon others, who have not
reached them and who are not in agreement with them --
and it is of no matter whether they are reached by a
majority or by a minority. It is of course pointless to enter
here into a rehearsal of all the arguments, with which our
literature is awash, against the majority principle; all
comrades are conversant with these, especially as they
make daily use of them to expose the fictitious character of
popular representation under parliamentary regime. How
come then, that this principle, whose absurdity and
unfairness are so plain where the future society is
concerned, turns beneficial and fair when it is to be applied
to our own circles? Either the majority is always entitled to
prevail, or we should drop this arithmetic of truthfulness
and look around for another one.

In their infatuation with organization, our comrades
overlook the fact that, instead of strengthening the union,
the overruling of the minority will merely give rise to fresh
intestinal struggles; instead of working productively,
energies will be squandered on winning a majority in
congresses, committees, etc. And understandably so. Life
inside the party is, in these conditions, easy only for the
members of the prevailing majority. The others are stymied
when it comes to their action. Moreover, the resolution from
the congress of the Union states this very bluntly, by
proclaiming that, while entitled to criticize the resolutions
tabled, the minority ought not, once these had been passed,
to impede their implementation. That means that the
minority has to hold its peace or quit the party, and then,
instead of a single party, we have two, usually more
venomous with each other than with the common enemy.
Another resolution from the congress states that there
should be no criticism voiced outside of the organization
and that nobody has the right to make use of the columns of
'Le Libertaire' to criticize the decisions reached. Now, 'Le
Libertaire' is the official organ of the Union, and as such,
should reflect the views existing within the latter. It
occupies a quite different position from that of an organ
founded by a group of comrades pretty well agreed upon
propagation of their views; these comrades are perfectly
entitled not to accommodate opposing voices in their organ,
in that they claim to represent no one but themselves. That
is how things were in the old 'Le Libertaire', in 'Les Temps
Nouveaux' and virtually all the organs of the anarchist
press. But whenever a newspaper styles itself the organ of
the Union of the anarchist federations of the whole of
France, all the members of that Union have that
entitlement. Now, the resolution passed plainly shows that
such an entitlement is acknowledged only where the
majority is concerned.

Although our anarchist movement may be open to reproach
on several counts, we have to give it its due: it has always
been free of congressional intrigues, electoral chicanery,
the artificial cultivation of majorities, etc. And that thanks
solely to the principle that has prevailed within it up to now,
to wit, that decisions are binding only upon those who have
taken them, and may not be imposed upon those unwilling to
accept them. The force of such decisions and the
commitment given are all the greater for that, in that each
individual is more sensible of a decision taken by
themselves than of some decision reached without their
input and very often contrary to their wishes.

We may perhaps be told: "if comrades band together on a
properly thought out and wellspring program, accepted by
everybody, differences of opinion will relate only to details
and the sacrifice asked of the minority will be minimal."
This is far from always being the case. Everyday life poses
fresh problems, sometimes very important ones, but which
were not forseeable at the time when the compact was
entered into; differing replies may perhaps be forthcoming
to such problems. Thus, in the days gone by, the anarchists
of France were split over the trade union movement, more
recently over the war, and the anarchists in Russia -- over
the Makhnovist movement, the attitude to be adopted
regarding Bolshevism, etc. If, at those points, anarchists
had been "banded together into a real party," would a
congress decision upon questions of that gravity have been
accepted by everyone? These matters are for the individual
conscience and its conception of the revolution; in which
case, can a mechanical decision taken by a majority

Still another tendency is emerging, with regard to the
introduction of the majority principle and the limitation of
the autonomy of the groups: it would like to see all
anarchist initiatives overseen by a single organization of
the hierarchical type, headed by a single Executive
Committee. The statuses adopted by the most recent Union
congress contain a series of propositions that sound
peculiar to our ears. Take, say, groups belonging to the
minority, which is to say, not accepting some resolution
passed by the congress. That minority's right to criticize is
indeed acknowledged (so far, at any rate) but its criticisms
must be addressed exclusively to the Federation to which
the group belongs (and to which it is obliged to belong if it
wishes to be apart of the Union) or to the central steering
commission "which alone has the competence to give them
a hearing and satisfaction." In other words, the minority is
not entitled simply and openly to peddle its views among
the comrades (not to mention the public); it has to address
itself to the bodies named, following hierarchical procedure.
Likewise, the unfettered initiative of groups tends
everywhere to be replaced by the principles of election and
delegation; no one must attempt anything at all unless the
have the authorization from the competent organization. A
newspaper, a review, say, may not spring into life through
the decision of a group or individual, they can only be
published by Anarchist Federation delegates and must
reflect only the thinking endorsed at its congresses. The
same holds true for the publication of books or pamphlets,
for lectures, clubs, even aid funds for imprisoned comrades.
At first glance, this "organization" appears to certain minds
to be a highly practical thing. But in point of fact such rules
(if anarchist circles proved capable of abiding by them)
would end up killing off the movement completely. Take a
group of comrades intending to set up a propaganda
newspaper and possessed of the wherewithal to do so.
They have no right to do so; they must first seek the
approval of the existing organization as a body and invite
the latter to take charge of publication. Let us suppose that
the latter agrees and appoints its delegates to that end.
Fortunately the ideas of the instigators are in tune with
those of the organization's majority; then they need only
yield possession of the planned publication and pass it on to
others' hands (which is not always a good move either). But
what if those delegates, speaking for the majority, are not
of the same mind as the instigating group? Then the latter
has but one option: to disown the publication. And the
newspaper never sees the light of day. Instead, whenever a
group embarks upon a publication at its own risk and peril,
those whose aspirations it meets rally around it,
disseminate it, and magnify its scope for expansion. Others,
of differing views, set up other organs, and such variety of
the anarchist press, far from harming propaganda, simply
works to its benefit.

Take a group of comrades who want to publish books or
organize lectures. "On whose authority?" they are asked.
"We first of all must find out if the existing agree to place
you in charge of this and they endorse your program." Work
grinds to a halt. Discussion begins inside the groups on the
drafting of a number of programs. In the end, as there is no
way to keep everybody happy, the venture is aborted and its
instigators are for a long time rid of their appetite for
launching anything at all.

Only utter ignorance of the history ad life of the anarchist
movement could explain the eruption of such schemes for
"organization". Everything valuable and lasting ever created
in our movement has been the handiwork of groups and
individuals well endowed with the initiative to press on
without waiting for authorization from anybody. That is the
way the finest organs of the anarchist press have been
created; the way that propaganda began in the trade unions
that led on to the creation of revolutionary syndicalism; the
way that the anarchist idea has survived, in its purity and
its logic, inside certain groups of staunch convictions, in
spite of all the desertions and betrayals. It does not lie
within the power of any mechanical organization to replace
this initiative. The role of an organization is to facilitate the
work of individuals and not to hinder it; this is all the more
true in the anarchist movement, which is not string enough
numerically to indulge in hindering the actions of its
members and squander precious resources. Which is how
the tendency that emerged at the latest Union Anarchiste
congress will inevitably end up.

What the anarchist movement needs right now, is not so
much new organizational formulas as a concrete,
well-defined program of work to be undertaken, just as
soon, in the wake of the successful revolution, there will be
scope for every initiative in the endeavor to create the new
society. Only familiarity with what they are to propose at
that crucial point will guarantee anarchists the influence to
which their ideas entitle them. For this, initiatives must not
be stifled and minds snuffed out, but instead, a free and
lively exchange of all views is to be encouraged. Otherwise,
energies will be squandered on the pettiness of internal
frictions and the movement will not be advanced by a single

It is always easy to criticize, some comrades may perhaps
object; it is a lot harder -- and more useful -- to put forward
a practical mode of organization that would help rid our
movement of what keeps it weak. Certain comrades seek to
do that by creating a more or less centralized party, based
on the majority principle; others -- and the writer of these
lines is one of them -- believe that such a party would be
more harmful than useful. Of course, they do not deny either
the need for anarchists to generally get organized, or the
need to rid the movement of the flaws that stop if from
acquiring the social influence to which its ideas entitle it.
But what form of organization have they to offer in place of
the one suggested by the 'Platform,' and upon what
principles are they going to found that organization, which
they would argue is more free, in order to achieve the same
outcomes: agreement on principles, a prescribed policy of
practical action, and appreciation by each individual of their
duties towards the movement?

The fundemental error of those of our comrades who are
supporters of the 'Platform' resides perhaps in the fact that
they look to a union of groups and even to a directing center
for the rehabilitation of our movement, instead of looking to
groups themselves. It is not of the federation by rather of
the groups which make it up that we can require such and
such a policy line: the movement's center of gravity lies
there, the federation will be whatever its component groups
are. And whenever issues are broached and debated, not at
the level of the federation, but at group level, solution of
them will be greatly facilitated: a group can readily do what
a huge organization cannot. The devising of a single policy
line for a complete federation presents insuperable
difficulties, for it presupposes decisions taken by a majority
vote and thus, inevitably, involves internal frictions.
Recruitment of members and the elimination of undesirables
whose presence compromises the movement, is a task that
the federation's leadership body is incapable of carrying out
with success. Any more than it is capable of ensuring that
the action of all its members conforms to anarchist
principles. But all of that can be easily and naturally
accomplished by each group within its ranks. So the premier
issue to be resolved is this one: what are the fundamental
principles upon which an anarchist group can base its

There is no way that a sweeping answer, good for all
groups, can be given to that, for the answer might vary
greatly according to the goals pursued by the group and the
context in which it operates, depending whether the group
was set up to tackle a particular practical task or general
propaganda, whether it operates in a period of calm or a
time of revolution, whether it operates openly or in
clandestine fashion, etc. But, even so, a few general
considerations can be framed.

Take this first question: is it desirable that the group should
comprise of comrades with a common conception of the
anarchist ideas, or can anarchists of varying persuasions
(communists, individualists, etc.) really work in concert
within it? This issue was raised at the most recent
anarchist congress. Certain comrades reckon that, since
each of the existing anarchist tendencies contains a kernel
of truth, it would be better not to dwell upon their
discrepancies but instead to "synthesize" everything that
looks worthwhile, so as to arrive at a basis for joint activity.
At first sight, this approach seems very logical and
perfectly practical, but upon reflection, it transpires that
unity taken in that sense would be merely formal. Of
course, circumstances may arise in which anarchists of
differing shades of opinion will act in concert, but the same
goes for all revolutionaries in general: the anarchists in fact
collaborated with the Bolsheviks in the fight against the
White armies. Such instances will always be frequent in
times of revolution; such arrangements, most often tacit,
are thus quite natural and necessary, but when it comes
down to lasting activity is a period of calm, agreement upon
basic principles is not enough. Suppose that an individualist
anarchist, and anarchist communist and an
anarcho-syndicalist reach agreement upon declaring their
opposition to the State and their approval of the communist
form of property (assuming that the individualist agrees to
it); of what practical significance would this be, since they
immediately go their separate ways afterwards? The
individualist is preoccupied with liberating the individual
this very day, in the existing social context (colonies, living
in nature, free love, etc.), contemptuous of the masses and
their movements, they are not going to identify with them.
So what could they undertake in common with their
communist colleague? Then again, a pure syndicalist
comrade will place store only by labor movement tasks and
will collaborate only with certain of their communist
colleagues; they may even find themselves at odds with
them, on the issue of relations between the trade unions
and the anarchist groups for instance. And so it all goes. In
day to day action, the methods proper to such and such a
tendency play such a significant role that agreement upon
general principles acknowledged by all is far from
sufficient. When disagreements inside a group are
substantial and do not relate merely to the use of certain
labels, they hinder the action of the group, for the members,
being united neither in their propaganda nor in their chosen
methods, expend alot of energy upon internal wrangling. A
truly united group, though, made up of comrades who have
no need for further debate about the most essential points
and who, come what may, are as one on propaganda and
action, that sort of group can become highly influential,
even if it may not be numerically large. By comparison,
other groups of a different mentality will founder; not that
there is any loss in that, for there is nothing useful about
trying to enfold the largest possible number of comrades
within the same organization.

Random recruitment of members is, perhaps, the prime
cause of the defects of most groups. Very often, people
become anarchists all too easily and all too quickly, without
having familiarized themselves with other schools of
socialism, nor indeed with anarchism in the essentials of its
theories. That way, in the future, for oneself and for
comrades, lie sore disappointments, for, as one's knowledge
expands and one's horizon widens, it may perhaps be found
that one has gone astray and that one professed to be an
anarchist only out of ignorance of everything else. One day,
a Russian Social Revolutionary was asked, in my presence,
at what point in his life he had ceased to be a Marxist:
"When I began to read something other than Marx" was the

Things may be alot more serious if it is not just a matter of
some theory that one accepts or rejects, but at a cause to
which one has devoted part of one's life and which one at
some point feels incapable of championing because one had
never given prior consideration to the criticisms of
adversaries. Then again, the life of groups is often made
difficult by an excess of practical mentality; one accepts
such and such a comrade on account of the services he may
render (as speaker, theoretician, administrator, etc.)
without taking care to ensure that their overall moral or
intellectual profile meets the groups requirements.

Plainly, such close scrutiny in the selection of members can
be maintained only by the group and not by the federation,
and no federal statute will ever be able to guarantee it. But,
if it is implemented in the federation's component groups,
the federation will find that many thorny questions resolve

In our conception, the bond between the various groupings
is absolutely free and arises from their needs alone; there is
no center, no secretariat entitled to dictate to the groups
with which, in some shape and on some basis, they must
unite. Links may be established for a wide variety of
reasons: likemindedness, concerted action, territorial
contiguity, etc. Generally, the rule is that groups from the
same region are in touch with one and other, but it can
happen (and we have seen examples of this) that a Paris
group has closer bonds of solidarity with a London or
Geneva group than with a group in the next district. Broadly
speaking, set frameworks, where each group is obliged to
belong to such and such a federation, and each federation to
maintain links with its neighbor through the obligatory
mediation of such and such a committee can be a very
useful agency in the facilitation of communications, but it is
merely a tool to be used when one feels it necessary.

The anarchist movement has always had congresses; they
can be of very great importance if they arise from the
activity of pre-existing groups which feel the need to share
their work and their ideas. Certain especial features of our
congresses relate to the very principle of anarchism. Thus,
up to the present, comrades assembling for a congress did
not necessarily have to be delegated by the groups; they
could participate in an individual capacity. Contrary to the
practice in other parties, where delegates take away from
the congress resolutions to which their mandataries have
merely to submit, anarchist delegates bring to the congress
the resolutions, opinions and tendencies of their respective
groups. Congress is free to express an opinion of them --
but that is all. The counting of the votes (should that be
judged useful) is merely a statistical exercise; it may be
interesting to know how many comrades, belonging to
which grouping, come down on this side of the other. The
importance of congresses is in no way diminished, and their
work only grows more serious. Instead of furnishing an
arena for gambits designed to win a majority, they can
devote themselves to making known the movement's status
in different localities, its successes and failures, its
different tendencies, etc. The resolutions cannot be
anything more than indications, expressions of opinion, for
the delegates to impart to their groups, which may adopt or
reject them.

In short, this schema merely rehearses that which is
familiar, things that might even seem too self-evident to
need mention; but the present confusion of minds is such
that one sometimes feels compelled to reiterate old truths.
The formal connection between organizations is extremely
loose here, because all of the emphasis is upon the
intellectual and moral internal bonds. Furthermore, in this
schema, the individual or group is formally free; the less
subordination to anything, the more extensive and grave the
moral responsibility. Here each member of the group is
answerable for the action of the entire group -- all the more
responsible in that the resolutions are reached by common
accord and not mechanically by any majority vote.
Moreover, the entire group is answerable for the deeds of
each member of it, all the more so, also, in that it has
recruited its members only discriminatingly, accepting only
those who suited it. Then the federation as a body answers
for the actions of each of its component groups -- precisely
because there is nothing to make the liaison engaged in
anyway binding, and because the groups know in advance
with whom and for what purpose to join forces. And each
group is answerable for the whole federation -- precisely
because the latter cannot do a thing without its assent.

There is more. Every anarchist, whether they wish it or not,
bears the moral responsibility for the actions of their
comrades, even if no formal connections bind them; every
act contrary to the anarchist idea, every contradictory
posture, has repercussions for the movement as a body, and
this extends the responsibility beyond the individual,
beyond even their immediate group. And it is this
consciousness of their responsibility that should by the
great spur capable of maintaining the solidarity in anarchist
circles. Maybe this is not always properly understood, and
maybe that is the source of many of our movements
shortcomings, shortcomings that some would remedy by
means of new forms of organization. We are not persuaded
of the efficacy of these measures; our confidence is vested
instead in other means, of quite different nature, only a few
of which we have touched upon here.


Maria Isidine [aka Maria Isidorovna Goldsmith] was an
anarchist and scientist of Russian and French decent, born
in Zurich, Switzerland in 1873; she was a close friend of
Kropotkin, and a prolific contributor to the French and
Russian anarchist press of her day. She committed suicide
in Paris, January 1933.

****** The A-Infos News Service ******
News about and of interest to anarchists
INFO: http://ainfos.ca/org http://ainfos.ca/org/faq.html
HELP: a-infos-org@ainfos.ca
SUBSCRIPTION: send mail to lists@ainfos.ca with command in
body of mail "subscribe (or unsubscribe) listname your@address".

Full list of list options at http://www.ainfos.ca/options.html

A-Infos Information Center