ANARCHIST COMMUNISTS: A QUESTION OF CLASS

 

5.2. Organizational Dualism
 

The feature which best distinguishes Anarchist Communists from all other schools of thought within Anarchism is what we call "organizational dualism". This means that apart from the general organization of the entire proletariat (as outlined in Chapter 1.2, dedicated to Fabbri), there is also the political organization of Anarchist Communists, or, to use the usual terms adopted in the movement's debates, beside the Mass Organization there must also be the Specific Organization. As already indicated, the other trends in Anarchism reject either or both of these.

It is clear that Individualists recognize no role for the movement of the exploited who are seen as a humble flock of individuals unworthy of any personal realization as they have no ambitions. But the Individualists lie completely outside class-struggle Anarchism. The Kropotkinist Anarcho-Communists (not for nothing known as anti-organizationalists) believe that any work among the masses apart from pure and simple propaganda of the "right" ideas, is useless. This is the origin of their lack of interest in the daily struggles of the working class which are seen as pointless and counterproductive. Pointless in that every gain made under the present social system is held to be short-lived and counterproductive as the syndicalist approach only encourages the habit of gradual conquests with a consequent loss of sight of the revolutionary goal. We have already seen how Bakunin threw himself into the struggle which began with the First International and how both Fabbri and Malatesta considered that any gains towards the well-being of the masses in the present were nothing to be looked down on. Anarchist Communists believe that it is essential to be involved on a day-to-day basis in the workers' organizations (to which, as workers, we belong). We believe that the existence of these organizations is necessary as a barrier to the powerful whims of the exploiter class. For Anarcho-Communists, instead, their abandoning of all attention to the proletariat's immediate demands results in the specific organization being relegated to a role of propaganda of the ideal, the recruiting of new members, in other words something like the function of a religious sect.

Basing themselves on similar premises to those of the Kropotkinists, Insurrectionalist Anarchists also deny the value of work within the labour movement. After all, Kropotkin was present at the International Congress in London in 1881 which approved the strategy of propaganda by the deed. Disappointed by the late arrival of the revolution, unable to enjoy a useful relationship with the masses thanks to the spread of special anti-anarchist legislation all over Europe, the anarchists chose to act according to their times in order to extricate themselves from the corner they found themselves in. The hope was that the spread of violent acts directed at the pompous bourgeoisie of the period would provide an example which would rapidly be imitated thereby transforming the insurrectionary spark into an immense revolutionary blaze. This was the period of the bloody acts of the likes of Franšois-Claudius K÷hingstein (better known as Ravachol), Bonnot, ╔mile Henry and many others. France, in fact, though at the centre of the insurrectionalist wave was also the place where class-struggle Anarchist militants (╔mile Pouget, Fernand Pelloutier, Pierre Monatte, and others) found a way out through the formation of the "Bourses du Travail" and the syndicates and thereby brought Anarchism back to its natural element, the proletariat, which led to a new and profound method of struggle and organization. Despite this, there are still today those who as a result of a childish theoretical simplification, hold that gains made by the unions are ephemeral and who continue to preach the idea of propaganda by the deed. They are mistaken twice over. Firstly, when they think that syllogisms can cancel history - in other words they believe, with purely abstract reasoning, that as long as capitalism exists there can be no improvement in the living conditions of the masses even where there have been labour struggles. Secondly, they are under the illusion that some external example can be more attractive and convincing than long, tiring educational activity within the day-to-day struggles.

Then there are those Anarchists who deny the need for a Specific Organization. Anarcho-Syndicalists of various types and Revolutionary Syndicalists lay their trust in the spontaneous evolution of the proletarian masses and that accordingly if the labour unions are left alone, sooner or later they will arrive at the decisive clash with the boss class. Malatesta already opposed this idea, held by Monatte, in 1907 at the International Congress of Amsterdam. He clarified how the proletariat's associations for resistance would inevitably slide into reformism, thus blurring sight of the goals. This was the economicism which Lenin pointed out, though he wanted to fight it by instilling class consciousness into the masses from without, but which Anarchist Communists fight by acting as a critical conscience from within. The historically proven decline of all unions which were born revolutionary (starting with Monatte's own CGT), has led some Anarcho-Syndicalists to seek the answer not in political organization, but in the creation of unions which are based on a pre-determined revolutionary idea. In other words, to create unions which are exclusively composed of conscious, revolutionary elements. The result is a strange mix of mass organization and political organization which is basically an organization of anarchists who set themselves up to do union work. In this way the obstacle has not been removed, but avoided, as the link which connects the masses to the revolutionary strategy is missing, unless of course it happens to be the resurrection of the idea of an external example which contaminates the masses by some process of osmosis.

For Anarchist Communists these theoretical problems are resolved with organizational dualism, assigning precise tasks and separate functions to the two organizations.

 

5.2.1. The Mass Organization is not a carbon copy of the political organization

For Anarchist Communists, the mass Organization (labour union) does not need to mimic their particular expectations of combativeness or opposition to capital to the point that if the union were not to meet their standards, they would not participate in the unions' struggles. They do not expect the union to be born revolutionary nor to continually carry on a fierce level of combat against the bosses. Unions are born out of a need for the proletariat to defend itself. They aim to wring as much as possible out of the bosses in order to win greater wealth for the exploited classes they represent. They try to satisfy the needs of the workers who are being continually squeezed by their adversary, the bosses. As long as the union exists, it will produce within it a managing class which more often than not acts in its own interests rather than in the interests of those it claims to represent. This is all an inevitable, naturally-occurring state of affairs and something which has yet to be avoided throughout the course of history.

From the capitalists' point of view, the unions' economic fight is not only an attempt to demand improvements in the (always unequal) division of the goods provided by the system of production, it is a permanent need to re-organize according to the fluctuations in the workers' demands. The unions therefore, linked with the phases of the class war, genetically take on the double role of answering the proletariat's interests and being one of the sources of the development of capitalism. And that is without taking into consideration the bad faith of its managing class who view their role as answering their own needs for a better life, or worse still as a trampoline for their careers in the bourgeois State's administrative ranks.

One fundamental requisite for an egalitarian revolution is that it be the work of those who wish to find within the new society the benefits of the happy life they are denied under the present social system. "The emancipation of the workers will be at the hands of the workers themselves" is not simply a slogan for Anarchist Communists, as it is for Marxists - it is a profound conviction. It is the proletariat, acting on its own initiative, which will liberate not only itself but all others too, heralding the end of class society. It follows therefore that the most united and conscious proletariat possible should face the bosses in the final clash if it is to avoid falling prey to an intellectual class which might "offer" to manage society on its behalf and supposedly for its benefit. But if it is to avoid every form of substitution, be it imposed or produced in all apparent naturalness, and if it is to prevent the handing over of power in any way which might end up being permanent and damaging to the final goal of establishing a free and equal society, the proletariat itself must be able to take on immediately the management of the various phases of the revolution and the subsequent reconstruction. This is why workers' unity is indispensable. And it can only be reached through collective struggle and not through the marvellous example of exemplary struggles which the masses should watch, admire and imitate. The nub of the problem is the link between the economic condition of the class and consciousness of the historical ends which the class must necessarily pursue for its own emancipation. Or, in other words, how does the link between class and class consciousness come about?

We have already seen how the Leninists consider class consciousness to be external to the proletariat and must be brought to the proletariat, even through authoritarian means. In direct opposition to this, Revolutionary Syndicalists hold that class consciousness is born spontaneously and gradually among the masses, the more they engage in the clash with capitalism. This is a vision which is clearly descended from economic determinism and the inevitable explosion of the internal contradictions in the capitalist system, while the Leninist vision is a product of bourgeois Jacobinism. Marxism has not remained immune from either. For many Anarchists who side with the struggle of the exploited, there is no automatic link between the class and class consciousness, while there is also a rejection of the Leninist methods. As we have already seen, Anarcho-Syndicalists (though admittedly not all of them) avoid the problem rather than face it, with their theory of example designed to infect the proletariat, who otherwise tend to bow down to the reformists. Their vision is for well-organized revolutionary unions to engage in radical, victorious struggles which serve as a magnet for the great mass of the exploited. Therefore, they hold that the union organization should, from day one, take an ideal form - even if this damages class unity. Theoretically, class consciousness comes before the condition of the class and the union becomes a carbon copy of the political organization.

Anarchist Communists consider this to be wrong (indeed Fabbri drew attention to this). Though we are fully aware that there will always be differing levels of consciousness among the workers and are convinced of the fact that unity does not mean homogeneity, we believe that the class comes before the consciousness, that unity comes before radicalness and that therefore the relationship between the class and class consciousness needs to be resolved in another way.

 

5.2.2. The Political Organization is not only for propaganda

If the running of the phase of revolutionary struggle and the society which follows must be firmly in the hands of the workers, as we have said already, then class unity is a necessary prerequisite as is the proletariat's consciousness of its historic needs, which are much greater than its immediate economic needs. How to grasp the horns of this dilemma is something which has been hotly debated for a long time and various solutions have been proposed, as we have seen. For class-struggle Anarchists, the solution has been clear since the days of Bakunin and requires two things: direct action and political organization.

The practice of direct action, in other words the first-hand running of the struggles, is a training ground for the acquisition of consciousness by the proletariat, which independently evaluates its victories and the methods adopted to win them on the one hand, and on the other, the bitterness of the conflict and the strength of the opponents. The progression from self-management of the day-to-day struggles to self-management of the revolutionary conflict is thereby more natural, without doubt. We must, however, be careful not to confuse direct action with just any action carried out by those concerned. Direct action is not just a group of people (however big or small, well-organized or conscious) self-managing their own struggles. This is something that every political grouping does in the course of its activities, but it does not add even one ounce of consciousness to the masses. Direct action can only be carried out by economically or territorially (and not politically) homogeneous groups in order to achieve even a modest objective, because it is only in this way that individuals with varying degrees of social consciousness can engage with each other against an external obstacle. They thereby acquire an awareness both of the momentary limitation of that struggle's aims, together with the skills (including technical skills, too) which will be needed to widen the scope of objectives they can aim for and ensure the long-lasting nature of their gains.

And it is precisely within the process of direct action that the irreplaceable role of the "party" (to use Malatesta's expression) of Anarchist Communists can be seen. Pushing forward the terms of the clash; enabling others to become conscious of how fruitful the gains made in economic struggle can be and how quickly and easily what has been won can be taken back by the enemy; placing the immediate aim within an ever-greater context of aspirations. These are the specific tasks of Anarchist Communist militants in the class struggle. In other words, the conscious members of the mass organization must work towards spreading the practice of direct action and use the struggles of today to enable a consciousness of the objectives of tomorrow to develop. Anarchist Communist militants find strength for their activities in the co-ordination of their efforts which takes place through their work in their political organizations. The political organization is therefore the much sought-after link between the class and class consciousness. Its activities as a part of general class organization are the enzyme which sparks off fermentation of the economic condition of the class in the full awareness of the proletariat's historical ends. But in order for that to happen there must be workers' unity, independent of their level of class consciousness and direct action. The mass organization, therefore, does not subject prospective members to entrance exams but simply groups together all the exploited unconditionally, in the way envisaged by Bakunin's project for the International Working Men's Association. The conflict with capital and the constant actions of the political organization (in Bakunin's plan, the Alliance for Socialist Democracy) within it, will ensure the struggles will gradually become more radical until such times as the decisive clash arrives.

The goal of the Anarchist Communist political organization is thus to remain a part of the class struggle in order to radicalize it and promote consciousness of its final objectives. The organization cannot limit itself to making propaganda (abstract propaganda, out of sight of the proletariat) but must descend to the level of consciousness expressed by the proletariat in any given moment and constantly seek to raise it. To do this it must produce analyses, strategies and credible proposals. Its members must gain the trust of the workers and distinguish themselves by the clarity of their ideas and their ability to promote convincing struggles which should, if conditions so permit, be victorious. However, they must not become a new leader class, separate from their comrades in struggle, but simply a point of reference which can point the way at any time and not lose their sense of direction during the ups and downs.

As it is obvious that not all proletarians will have reached the same level of consciousness when the revolution breaks out (what is required is unity, not an identical state of consciousness), it follows that "leading groups" will naturally evolve, if the reader will forgive the expression. But this does not mean that a Leninist-style dictatorship necessarily follows, if three fundamental points are adhered to. First of all if the gap between the "vanguard" (Bakunin's "active minority") and the masses, in terms of consciousness, is not too great. In this way it will be possible to maintain the maximum level of grassroots control over the former's actions by the great mass of the proletariat. Obviously, what is referred to here is the level of consciousness regarding ideas for struggle and not strategic awareness that members of the specific organization need to possess. Secondly, the "vanguard" needs to remain physically alongside its comrades in the struggle. It must not expect or demand a directing role for itself even if this were to be justifiable by the need to guarantee a successful outcome of the revolution. Finally, all power will have to be invested in the workplaces and in the proletariat's associations and, from there, proceed upwards from below, without ever being delegated to higher organs, allowing them carte blanche, not even with the excuse of greater scientific or technical competence. The organization of Anarchist Communists will have to be vigilant in order to ensure that none of these three potential deviations occurs.


5.3. On the State and Collectivity

Index