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(en) Elements Old And New In Anarchism: A Reply To Maria Isidine by Peter Arshinov

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 3 Sep 2003 08:14:32 +0200 (CEST)

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Peter Arshinov replies to Maria Isidine's essay 'Organization and Party' (a critique
of the 'Organizational Platform of Libertarian Communists'); published in:
Comrade Isidine counters our conception of a revolutionary anarchist organization
with the old conception corresponding to an age when anarchists had no real
organization, but, by means of mutual understanding, came to agreement upon goals
and the means of achieving them. In fact, the old party was confined to analogous
ideas and was bereft of authentic organizational format; it corresponded above all
to the birth of the anarchist movement, when its pioneers were groping their way
forward, not having been tempered by the harsh experience of life.

Socialism too, in its day, had a difficult gestation. However,
as the masses' social struggle evolved and became acute,
all the tendencies that were vying to influence the outcome
took on more precise political and organizational forms.
Those tendencies which failed to keep in step with this
evolution lagged far behind life. We Russian anarchists
were especially sensible of this during the two revolutions
of 1905 and 1917. Whereas, at their outset, we were in the
forefront of the fighting, as soon as the constructive phase
began, we found ourselves sidelined beyond recovery and,
ultimately, remote from the masses.

This was not the result of chance. Such an attitude flowed
inescapably from our impotence, from the organizational
point of view as well as from the vantage point of our
ideological confusion. The current, of this decisive age,
requires of us something more than a "party" devoid of
organizational format and erected solely upon the notion of
a beautiful idea. These times require that the anarchist
movement, as a whole, supply answers to a whole host of
issues of the utmost importance, whether relating to the
social struggle or to communist construction. They require
that we feel a responsibility towards our objectives.
However, until such time as we have a real and significant
organization, it is not going to be possible for us to supply
those answers, nor to shoulder those responsibilities.
Indeed, the consistently distinctive feature of our
movement is that it does not have a unity of views on these
fundamental issues. There are as many views as there are
persons and groups.

Certain anarchist regard this situation as reflective of the
multifariousness of anarchist thinking. Struggling labor has
no idea what to make of this mixed bag, which strikes it as
absurd. So, in order to rise above the morass of absurdity in
which the anarchist movement has got bogged down, by
loitering in the first stage of organization despite its
numerical expansion, it is vital that a strenuous and
decisive effort should be made. It must adopt the
organizational formats for which it has long since been ripe;
otherwise, it will lose its ability to hold its natural place in
the fight for a new world. The urgent necessity of this new
step is acknowledged by many comrades, the ones for
whom the fate of libertarian communism is bound up with
the fate of struggling labor. Comrade Isidine, if we
understand her right, is not to be numbered among the
anarchists of whom we spoke earlier, but she is not a
participant in our movement either; she takes part only in
debate, in a critical way, and, to be sure, she helps its
progress in doing so.

Let us now tackle the various critical points indicated by
comrade Isidine. Everybody knows that any wholesome
principle can, once denatured, serve a cause contrary to the
one to which it was originally assigned.

In our ranks, this holds true for federalism. Sheltering
behind that cover, lots of groups and certain individuals
perpetuated acts, the results of which fell on the movement
as a whole. All intervention in such cases came to nothing,
because the perpetrators of these acts of infamy sought
refuge in their autonomy, invoking the federalism that
allowed them to do as they saw fit. Obviously, that was
merely a crass misrepresentation of federalism. The same
might be said of other principles, and especially, of the
principle of organizing a General Union of Anarchists,
should it fall into the clutches of witless or unscrupulous

Comrade Isidine disagrees profoundly with the principle of
majority. We, on the other hand, reckon that on this point
debate is scarcely necessary. In practice, this matter has
long been resolved. Almost always and almost everywhere,
our movement's practical problems are resolved by majority
vote. At the same time, the minority can cling to its own
views, but does not obstruct the decision; generally, and of
its own volition, it makes concessions. This is perfectly
understandable as there cannot be any other way of
resolving problems for organizations that engage in
practical activity. There is, anyway, no alternative if one
really wants to act.

In the event of differences of opinion between the majority
and the minority being due to factors so important that
neither side can give ground, a split comes about,
regardless of the principles and positions espoused by the
organization prior to that moment.

Nor do we agree with comrade Isidine when she says that
the mouthpiece of an isolated group can work out a policy
line of its own, and that, in this way, according to her, the
organ of the General Union of Anarchists should mirror all
of the views and tendencies existing inside the union. In
fact, the mouthpiece of a particular group is not the concern
merely of its editorial team, but also of all who lend it
material and ideological backing. Since, in spite of this, a
well-determined policy line is needed by that, say, local
organ, it is all the more essential for the mouthpiece of the
Union which carries a lot more responsibilities with regard
to the anarchist movement as a whole than that particular

To be sure, the Union mouthpiece must afford the minority a
platform for its views, for otherwise the latter would be
denied its right of free expression; however, while allowing
it to set out its point of view, the Union mouthpiece must
simultaneously have its own well-defined policy line and not
just mirror the motley views and states of mind arising
within the Union. In order to illustrate the example of a
decision made by the Union as a body, but not enjoying
unanimous backing, comrade Isidine cites the Makhnovist
movement, anarchists having been divided in their attitudes
towards it. That example, though, rather underlines the
argument in favor of the ongoing necessity of a libertarian
communist organization. The differing views expressed
then are explicable primarily in terms of many libertarians'
utter ignorance of that movement during its development;
many of them were later powerless to analyze it and adopt
a policy line with regard to a movement as huge and original
as the Makhnovists. They needed a solid organization. Had
they had one at the time, it would have considered itself
obliged to scrutinize that movement minutely and then, on
the basis of that scrutiny, it would have laid down the
stance of to be adopted with regard to it. Which would have
served libertarian communism and the Makhnovist
movement better than the chaotic, disorganized stance
adopted by the anarchists with regard to the latter during its
lifetime. The same goes for the problem of war.

It comes to pass that differences arise in organizations
over such matters, and in such cases splits are frequently
the outcome. However, there is the argument for taking it
as a rule that in such situations, the point of departure
should be, not the individual conscience and tactics of
every single anarchist, but rather the essential import of the
theory, policy and tactics of the Union as a body. Only thus
will the movement be able to preserve its policy line and its
liaison with the masses.

Organization and the principle of delegation are not such
impediments to the display of initiative as comrade Isidine
believes. Quite the contrary. All wholesome initiative will
always enjoy the backing of organization; the principles
spelled out are not designed to stifle initiative, but to
replace the fitful activity of individuals operating randomly
and occasionally with the consistent and organized work of
a collective body. It could not be otherwise. A movement
that survived only thanks to the initiative and creativity of
various groups and individuals, and which had no specific
overall activity would run out of steam and go into decline.

For that very reason one of the fundamental tasks of our
movement consists of contriving the circumstances that
allow every militant not merely to demonstrate initiative,
but to seize upon and develop it, making it an asset to the
entire movement.

Thus far, and for want of an overall organization, our
movement has not had such circumstances, thanks to
which every authentic militant might find and outlet for their
energies. It is common knowledge that certain of the
movement's militants have given up the fight and thrown in
their lot with the Bolsheviks, simply because they were not
able to find an outlet for their efforts in the anarchist ranks.
Moreover, it is beyond the question that many revolutionary
workers, who find themselves in the ranks of the
Communist Party of the USSR, have no illusions left
regarding Bolshevik rule and might switch their allegiances
to anarchism, but do not do so because there is no overall
organization offering precise guidance.

Comrade Isidine stresses one of the merits of the Platform,
in that it has broached the principle of collective
responsibility in the movement.

However, she thinks of this principle solely in terms of the
moral responsibility. Whereas, in a large, organized
movement, responsibility can only find expression in the
form of an organization's collective responsibility.

A moral responsibility that does not accommodate
organizational responsibility is bereft of all value in
collective endeavors, and turns into a mere formality devoid
of all content.

What we need, comrade Isidine tells us, is not so much an
organization as a definite practical policy line and a hard
and fast immediate program. But each of those is
unthinkable in the absence of prior organization. If only to
raise issues of the program and its implementation, there
would have to be an organization in place that might
undertake to struggle towards their resolution.

At present, the 'Dyelo Truda Group of Russian Anarchists
Abroad' has given that undertaking, and enjoys the support
in this of several anarchist toilers' organizations in North
America, and by comrades remaining in Russia.

In the pioneering work carried out by these organizations,
there may well be certain errors and gaps. These must be
pointed out and help given in the repairing of them, but there
must be no lingering doubt as to the basis and principle
upon which these organizations operate and struggle: the
drafting of a definite program, a well-determined policy and
tactical line for libertarian communism, creation of an
organization representing and spearheading the whole
anarchist movement. This is vitally necessary to it.

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