The Minimum Programme in the History of Anarchist Communists


To explain what Anarchist Communists mean by a minimum programme, let us begin by looking at the "Minimum Programme" of the Italian anarchists, published in "Umanità Nova" on 30th December 1944 by the Federazione Comunista Libertaria Laziale [Lazio Libertarian Communist Federation]. (1) 

"I. The fall of the monarchy and the proclamation of a Socialist Federalist Republic of Free Italian Communes.
II. Total and absolute suppression of fascism.
III. The arrest, trial and sentencing of all those responsible for causing, supporting and profiteering from the war and fascism: the King, the Heir to the Throne, the Savoy Princes, the Ministers of the Fascist regime, the squadristi.
IV. The seeking out and punishment of all war criminals, Nazi and Fascist collaborators.
V. The seeking out and punishment of all volunteers on the anti-revolutionary side in the war in Spain.
VI. The suppression of the army and the State's armed police corps. The constitution of an armed nation and a Civic Republican Guard.
VII. The expropriation and socialization of all large industrial and territorial property to be assigned to the workers' cooperatives.
IX. The socialization of all public services: water, electricity, gas, transport, telephones and postal services.
X. The removal of all rubble and a start to the work of reconstruction.
XI The nationalization of housing and the provision of housing to workers' families.
XII Wage rises to meet the cost of living.
XIII. Tax reform, with an increase in the tax burden on capital and the total suppression of the burden on labour.
XIV. The direct participation of workers in the administrative managing of local council areas, which must become autonomous and independent of all State authority.
XV. The total and energetic repression of the black market and crime, with no discrimination and no extenuating circumstances.

Long live freedom! Long live anarchy!

October 1944 - The Anarchists"

For those "purist" anarchists who were shortly to take control of the Federazione Anarchica Italiana [Italian Anarchist Federation], this programme seemed so minimum and so little anarchist, that it would disappear from all later historical accounts of the period, accounts which tended to glorify and illustrate the "anarchist idea" in its purest and most uncontaminated form, also by means of a long series of public meeting and "oral propaganda" initiatives, which for the official historians of anarchism such as Fedeli were the fundamental feature of anarchism in the post-War period. Sacchetti himself, somewhat surprised, commented on this "minimum programme", saying that "its content shows a certain contiguity with the Republican, "Azionista" (2) and Liberal-Socialist sectors of the anti-fascist coalition".

The stupor with which this programme is met even today derives from ignorance (often to the point of the deliberate ignoring) of anarchist history over the previous two decades, and not only in Italy.

For its authors, this was indeed a "minimum" programme, by which they intended to show that behind it there was a more complex and better-articulated programme. It was in effect a sort of "What is to be done?" which the anarchists had elaborated throughout years of confinement, prison, reflection on the experiences in Spain and on the less recent defeats at the hands of the reaction which had gripped Europe.

In confinement, for example, it was not a case of just keeping "the flame of anarchy alive" as Fedeli's writings would seem to suggest. There was debate and reflection on the defeat suffered at the hands of fascism, on what had gone wrong. This was on a par with the debate that was involving the most advanced and attentive elements of international anarchism. Just think of the Russian emigrants in France and the debate which led French anarchism in the 1920s to decidedly anarchist communist, almost platformist, positions. In the debates which took place in those places where anarchists in Italy were in confinement, individualist positions were the minority, as they had been before despite all the noise. And they would remain so until 1943-44 when some of the faithful from "L'Adunata dei Refrattari" returned, parachuted into Italy by the Intelligence Service and the Allies. The majority of anarchists in confinement did not question the need for action among the masses, nor agreement with other forces and revolutionary parties, as established by the Bologna Congress of the Unione Anarchica Italiana [Italian Anarchist Union] in 1920, known as the strategy of the Single Revolutionary Front (FUR).

In order to simplify, it is sufficient to read a short extract from Nino Malara's book "Antifascismo anarchico al confine, 1919-1945", whose simple, clear style succinctly clarifies the level to which the Italian anarchists had come, both "those who stayed on" and those who had been forced into exile:

"The Unione Anarchica Italiana, as the organization of all anarchists, had been too pluralist in Binazzi's opinion, because it is often the case that 'even the best can make mistakes'. Malatesta (it was he who was being affectionately referred to) had wanted to keep everyone together at all costs and despite the many profound differences. The freedom to experiment should not mean that everyone does whatever they want. Instead, that was exactly what happened and the result was that our forces were spread out and ended up neutralizing each other."

Binazzi had been the main supporter of the birth of the Unione Comunista Anarchica d'Italia [Anarchist Communist Union of Italy] in 1919 and was among the promoters (despite the advanced age of 72) of the Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici Italiani [Federation of Italian Anarchist Communists] in 1943. His influence on the debate in confinement was very strong and his views matched the experience acquired by the many Italian anarchists who had been in Spain. They had not all felt let down, as the "purists" did, by the compromises needed to make a revolution while the reactionary forces were launching a major war. Even Claudio Venza in an article in "Rivista Storica dell'Anarchismo" (Anno 2, No.1) on Umberto Marzocchi - a well-known anarchist militant and one of the leading figures in the FAI after the war - noted how the debate among anarchists was well developed and "purist" positions did not prevail, and how the positions that Marzocchi expressed in his writings in 1937 were much closer to the positions of the Spanish anarchists than were his writings in the '50s and '60s. Notwithstanding all the contradictions in which anarchists were trapped as a result of the war after 1937, with the need for the re-organization of the army and the centralization of command. "In the final analysis", Marzocchi says, "one could not but collaborate with the other anti-fascist forces or participate in the government for the simple reason that 'when the enemy is at the door, you don't talk: you fight'. In the immediate future (and remember he was writing around March or April 1937) the lines he was suggesting do not differ greatly from those already suggested; it was therefore not a change in direction but a case of having to 'march to the end with the people', at the cost of making further concessions as urgent conditions may require. All this was justified by the possibility of 'maintaining our own character' in the dangers of war, maintaining the full awareness of the libertarian goal to be realized as soon as the situation would allow it". This long quotation from Venza and the preceding words on the anarchist experiences during the fascist "ventennio" allow us to understand that for the anarchists of the time, the distinction between strategy, tactics and elements of the anarchist programme was very clear. The revolutionary single front was seen as a strategy to obtain mass approval for a change, which the anarchists would then, through their organization, have to direct towards anarchist communist objectives. Remember Maurizio Garino, a leading figure in the Factory Councils in Turin who, during the UAI Congress in Bologna in 1920, presented a report on the Factory Councils as point b on the agenda dealing with relations with the workers' movement:

4) relations with the workers' movement
a) the organization of resistance
b) the factory councils
c) the soviets.

The general agenda for the Congress was as follows:

  1. Report by the Correspondence Commission
  2. a) Declaration of principles [theory, strategy]
    b) Internal organization of the union
  3. Relations with the other proletarian, revolutionary and subversive movements
  4. Relations with the workers' movement [see above]
  5. Press and propaganda
    a) Umanità Nova
    b) Periodicals and various other publications
    c) Oral propaganda
  6. International Relations
  7. Agitation for political victims
  8. Nomination of a new national council and new Correspondence Commission
  9. Other business.

Emerging from this agenda is the breadth of the strategic and tactical debate (parts of the reports are published in Adriana Dadà's book, "L'anarchismo italiano tra movimento e partito" published by Teti, Milan 1984). The best-known document of the Congress, the Programme (also known as Malatesta's Programme for reasons which we will see later), is incomprehensible unless one understands that it originated in a debate which, descending from the "principles" (that is to say, what we in the FdCA would call our Theory and Basic Strategy), it articulates a political strategy which was appropriate for the times. And how much more appropriate for the times than discussing the relations with the other proletarian, revolutionary and subversive movements and relations with the factory councils and soviets, the products of the workers' movement at the time? The programme would emerge from the strategic analysis and the adaptation of tactics necessary for the evolution of events and of the organizational structures of the proletarian movements and the workers' movement! It is misleading to present the Programme (as Cerrito did) as the best of anarchist thought, simply because it was a further development of Malatesta's ideas, and of re-adopting it in 1965 in order to remove the individualist elements from the FAI!

For all that the Programme of 1920 was in effect marked by Malatesta's influence which watered it down, often mixing it with political strategy, it was certainly not suitable for use in other times. What distinguishes anarchists in Anarchist Communist theory, political strategy and the fact that this strategy descends from a method of work and analysis that allows for the elaboration of a programme which can even unify (with the necessary tactical variety) movements in different countries with similar conditions. [See for example the Ruesta programme: the minimum programme of the European Anarchist Communists.]

The international libertarian meeting in Ruesta was an opportunity for militants, supporters, libertarian communists, anarchist communists, libertarian socialists, anarcho-syndicalists and revolutionary syndicalists to compare their analyses and strategies for working in the social movements (the struggle against unemployment, syndicalism, anti-sexism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism, etc.). At the same time there were constructive discussions, with many different points of view, on the war in ex-Yugoslavia and the struggles in Chiapas. The debates effectively shoed agreement on values, practices, and a will to transform radically a world dominated by oppression, capitalist, imperialist and sexist exploitation. There were, however, differences in analysis and strategy. These differences, though, do open the way forward for further debate. We believe that this meeting allowed everyone to understand the level of analysis and the practices of each organization, and an important step in the development of a new, internationalist political culture, which is both revolutionary and libertarian. It is a political culture which must be made known to the greatest possible number of exploited workers so that future revolts and struggles can be better coordinated. The effects of the meeting do not stop here today: we have already come up with a number of proposals for the future:

  1. To hold a political meeting during 1996, hosted by our organization, in order to strengthen our international coordination and the collectivisation of our theory and practice.
  2. To make a concerted effort to translate our political texts into French, English, Spanish and Italian, and publish them in booklet format.
  3. To prepare together a large mobilization, a libertarian initiative like a counter-summit, with demonstrations and meetings, to mark the week of mobilization and protest in June 1996 in Lyons against the summit meeting of the world's 7 richest countries.
  4. We will coordinate the anti-sexist struggles. We will organize solidarity actions with our Irish comrades in the struggle for the right to abortion and contraception, and a campaign aimed at the women of the Third World and immigrant women, to build up to a joint initiative to be held on 8th march 1996.
  5. To work together to strengthen international mobilization against nuclear testing by China and also against the recommencement by France of its nuclear testing programme. To lead a more general campaign on the question of nuclear arms.
  6. To support actively the march against unemployment called for the autumn of 1995 by sectors of the labour movement and unemployed workers' associations in Spain.
  7. To work towards a follow-up to this meeting in two years' time, in the form of an even bigger international libertarian meeting.

Everything that has been said so far is not a distortion of anarchist principle on the part of what the individualists would describe as the "platformist" wing. And if proof be required, it is enough to go back to Bakunin and to his concept of programme.

To do this, let us examine a document by Bakunin - the "Letter to Celso Ceretti", written in March 1872. The letter was much admired by contemporaries but later "disappeared" until it was re-discovered and reprinted by "L'Impulso" in 1955 under the significant title "Letter to the comrades in Italy". It is one of Bakunin's more precise and clearer works of the time, and one which even Lehning, editor of all Bakunin's writings, considered a high point of Bakunin's work. It merits comment in order to understand how he came to propose a "plan and programme" for the "forthcoming national insurrection" to his Italian comrades.

Bakunin starts with an analysis of the political situation after the death of Mazzini and the debacle of his supporters, a situation which objectively provided the anti-authoritarian wing of the International with more room for manoeuvre. Bakunin then recalls the basic ideas (theory) of anarchism: 

"the true emancipation of the people can only be won by means of a social revolution" and "the destruction of the State and the financial monopoly - this, then, is the task of the social revolution. What will be the limit of this revolution? In theory it goes very far indeed. But practice is always behind theory because it is dependant on a complex set of social conditions, which add up to the objective situation of a country, and which naturally affects every truly popular revolution. The duty of leaders is not to impose their own fantasies on the masses, but to go as far as the people's instinct and aspirations will allow them and force them to go. The positive task of the social revolution will be the new organization of a more or less emancipated society. Even under this relationship the ideal is quite clearly based in theory. As political organization, it is the spontaneous, absolutely free federation of communes and workers' associations. As social organization, it is the collective appropriation of capital and of the earth by the workers' associations. In practice, it will be what every section, every province, every commune, every workers' association can do and will do, on condition that it is truly the real wish of the masses that decides and not the whim, fantasy or repugnance of the leaders. One of the most important tasks of those who lead the revolutionary socialist movement in Italy today is, in my opinion, to establish, as much as is possible today, at least the basic points of the plan and above all the programme for the forthcoming revolutionary insurrection. Without ever losing sight of the ideal that must guide us as the north star once guided sailors (and with the word ideal I mean complete justice, the most total freedom, the fullest economic and social equality, universal solidarity and human brotherhood), in order to formulate a practical, achievable programme it is necessary to take account of the varying situation in each province and of the state of certain classes which make up your society."

Going on to examine the "basic points of the plan and above all the programme of the forthcoming revolutionary insurrection", Bakunin dives into an analysis of the social classes, immediately excluding as enemies "the nobility, the high financial, commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, all large landowners and holders of capital, and most of the middle bourgeoisie". He then sets out a possible alliance for the national insurrection between the central nucleus of the class (made up of the urban proletariat, the rural proletariat, factory workers and peasants) and other social groups, who are allied but who must remain outside the class organizations (rural petit-bourgeoisie and small landowners). From an analysis of the political situation at the time and the establishment of possible class alliances there comes an achievable programme of action which for Bakunin would consist of all those actions both demonstrative and effective designed to "expropriate the owners of capital and transform the capital into the collective property of the workers' associations; to organize general solidarity (…) total local freedom and the expropriation of all land by all the workers of the land (…), these two ideals are fully compatible with the principle of the free federation of communes and workers' associations". The letter ends with a section dedicated to the need for an organization of "nuclei made up of the best, most faithful, most intelligent and most energetic, in a word, the most intimate members: the general staff, a well-organized and well-oriented network of the leaders of the popular movement" which is distinguished by its quality not its quantity, as "you want a popular revolution: you thus have no need to recruit an army because your army is the people".



Anarchists (or rather, anarchist communists, given that the former term has come to include so much more than was the case in Bakunin's time) can say today that if we are able to establish a minimum programme, as we did in Ruesta, it is because we are supported in this by our shared theory and strategy. It is no longer possible to confuse a programme with theory or strategy, or the "sacred principles" (theory) with tactical flexibility and the flexibility of the programme. Bakunin would turn in his grave if he were to hear the debate on municipalism that Italian anarchists are currently engaged in. For him, it was a strategic objective to be reached during the phase of the revolutionary insurrection, but today it is regularly confused with programmatic objectives, theoretical principles and the programme, forgetting the fact that it is impossible to assign it to one element or another useless the various elements are clearly defined.

(Adopted by the 5th FdCA Congress, Florence 13-14 December 1997)

(1) Included in Giorgio Sacchetti's "Gli anarchici nella Resistenza", in BFS, "L'Antifascismo rivoluzionario", Pisa, 1993.

(2) Members and supporters of the liberal, republican and anti-fascist party, Partito d'Azione