ANARCHIST COMMUNISTS: A QUESTION OF CLASS
Anarchist communism and libertarian communism
6.2.1. Historical Materialism as an instrument of analysis
Any activity designed to transform the present society with the aim of organizing social life so that everyone, as individuals and as a collective, can live free from need presupposes that there is a method of analysis of the current situation.
For us, that method is historical materialism.
Historical materialism as a way to analyse historical facts, according to Marx, Engels and also Bakunin, is the common heritage of the exploited all over the world. Chapter 3.1 contained an effective summary, made on the basis of experience gained by the exploited in their struggles mainly since the Industrial Revolution. It is from that period that the proletariat as a class was created thanks to formation of large urban concentrations, the expulsion of poor peasants from the countryside and the destruction of crafts due to the changing production processes. However, it is on the analysis of the classes that we find among the exploited the first division between the two principal tendencies: the Anarchist tendency and the Marxist tendency.
The former took account of the continual change in social relationships and realized that the mass of the urban proletariat and the poor peasants (expropriated by the development of capitalism) would be willing to effect a radical and egalitarian transformation of society in order to find an answer to their material needs.
The latter saw the proletariat in the factories as the sole enemy of Capital and the development of productive forces as a progressive proletarization of the exploited; it followed that once Capital were to reach its maximum stage of development there would be a corresponding stage of development of the proletariat.
This profound antagonistic contradiction would necessarily resolve itself in the revolution, a moment of synthesis of the process of historical development.
Finally, we must consider the problem of the relationship between structure and superstructure as it divides the Marxist interpretation of the situation from the historical materialist interpretation of Anarchist Communists. Marx only vaguely defines this relationship, prompting a wide range of interpretations from his followers, who for the most part consider that the relationship is one of absolute dependence of superstructure on structure.
The most obvious consequence of such a differentiation can be seen in the conception of the State.
The State is considered by Marxists as a superstructure generated by the structure of the capitalist economic system. As such the State must be conquered and transformed, placing it at the service of the working class as a tool for the construction of Socialism. This State, controlled by the party, must be used against any attempted resurgence of the bourgeoisie and to create the conditions necessary for the successful development of Socialism and then Communism. As the State gradually transforms its economic structure, the conditions will be created for its disappearance. It is this conception of the historical process that gives rise to the Marxist separation of economic struggle and political struggle.
Anarchist Communists reject the clear separation between structure and superstructure and consider the State as a superstructure in continual transformation due to the evolving nature of capitalism itself. We also consider the superstructure as a producer itself of relevant effects on the structure. It follows that we believe that the use of the State is incompatible with the end of destroying it. As firm supporters of historical materialism, we believe that the way Marxism overcomes the means-ends contradiction is merely a dialectic trick. Throughout our history, Anarchist Communists have held that the instrument of the transition to Socialism is the very act of revolution, the people in arms and the widespread practice of self-organization.
For Anarchist Communists, this means that there is no separation between economic struggle and political struggle and that we should constantly strive to unite the two and thus recompose the contradiction on the terrain of the defence of the material and historic needs of the exploited.
6.2.2. Organizational Dualism
The relationship between the masses and their most conscious elements (the vanguard) is one of the fundamental problems regarding the formulation of a revolutionary strategy. The absence of a solution to this problem, or incorrect solutions to it, lie behind every historical failure of each revolutionary project or else are the basis of the failures in those countries where revolutions enjoyed some initial success. No school of Marxism has yet clarified that relationship in its essence, while on the part of Anarchists, the rejection a priori of the concept of a vanguard (a word which evokes an unwarranted idea of authority) has long impeded any detailed explanation. The only clear thinking on the matter remains, even after over a century, Bakunin.
A correct theory on historically and socially determined material needs shows us that the satisfaction of them is in contradiction with the capitalist system and that therefore seeking their satisfaction is the basis for the definition of a revolutionary strategy and the organization of the proletariat in the workplace (the mass organization). The capitalist system has perfected a series of instruments with which it can recover what it loses to workers' demands, so it is perfectly utopistic to claim that the material needs and their satisfaction can automatically provoke the end of capitalism, ruined by its internal contradictions. The struggle for material needs must also be the seed for class consciousness and the basis on which a detailed strategy for attacking the capitalist system can be grounded. It must also be a revolutionary strategy, which can be a point of reference for the political growth of the proletariat in the struggle and ensure an increase in those struggles as part of a strategic process which will direct them towards the goal of the revolution. An organization is therefore required for the development of strategy and this organization (the specific organization) of revolutionary proletarians must be based on a common theory. This is organizational dualism.
22.214.171.124 The Mass Organization
By mass organization we mean the organization which the masses build for the defence of their interests. We can better explain by trying to define the mass organization par excellence: the labour union. It is formed in the workplace due to the precise material needs of the working masses who make up its membership and who control it directly. Its distinguishing features are:
In all this, it must be remembered that the emancipation of the workers is the fruit of constant struggle and not so much of propaganda or ideological convictions. It must also be remembered that direct action, an essential practice in the struggle for our needs, is a guarantee that the union does not become the plaything of this or that party, and that decision-making never becomes independent of the assembly of workers. From this it derives that:
"the workers' organization must have a final goal and an immediate goal. The final goal must be the expropriation of capital by the associated workers, in other words restitution to the producers, and for them to their associations, of all that the labour of the working classes has produced, of everything that would have no value without the labour of the workers. The immediate goal is to develop increasingly the spirit of solidarity between the oppressed and resistance against the oppressors, to keep the proletariat in practice with the continual gymnastics of workers' struggle in all its various forms, to conquer from capitalism today all that it is possible to grab in terms of well-being and freedom, however little it may be." (Fabbri)
126.96.36.199 The Specific Organization
The specific organization, instead, is made up of the members of the mass organization who share the same theory, the same strategy and similar ideas on tactics. The task of this organization is, on the one hand, to be the depository for the class memory and, on the other hand, to elaborate a common strategy which can ensure the linking of all the struggles by the class and which can stimulate and guide. Having said this, we can easily establish the errors which led both to the Leninist conception of the party (a political organization which lies above the masses) and to the idea that the specific organization is merely a connector between the various struggles and is without a strategy or a revolutionary plan of its own. In the former case, the party-guide is formed of elements which are not necessarily part of the mass organization and so are external to it. It establishes a political line which is then transmitted to the organizations, like a drive belt. In the second case, it is the fear of a degeneration into authoritarianism which causes the essential role of elaborating a revolutionary strategy to be lost from sight. The specific organization's members must bring this strategy with them into the heart of the organizations of the working class if the specific organization's actions are to be effective.
The need for the existence of the specific organization, its tasks and its roles, has already been clearly set out by Bakunin:
"[...] to organize the masses, to firmly establish the beneficial action of the International Workingmen's' Association on them, is would be sufficient for even one out of every ten workers in the same occupation to be a member of the appropriate section. This is clear. In moments of great economic crisis, when the instinct of the masses, inflamed to boiling point, opens up to every joyful inspiration, when these hordes of men, enslaved, bowed, crushed but never broken, finally revolt against their yoke, but feel disoriented and impotent as they are completely disorganized, ten or twenty or thirty men in close agreement and well connected to each other, who know where they are going and what they want, will easily be able to bring along one, two or three hundred or more. We saw it recently during the Paris Commune. The real organization which had only begun during the siege was not enough to create a formidable capacity for resistance."
"[...] one could object that this manner of organizing the influence of the International over the popular masses seems to wish to establish on the ruins of the old authorities and existing governments a new system of authority and a new government. But this would be a grave error. The government of the international, if indeed there is a government, or rather its organized action on the masses, will always be different from every government and from the action of every State because of this essential property. It is nothing more than the organization of action (not official and non invested with any authority or any political force, but absolutely natural) of a more or less numerous group of individuals guided by the same principle and working towards the same goal, first on the action of the masses and only later, through the more or less modified opinion by the international's propaganda, on their wishes and on their actions."
Here then are the characteristics of the specific organization:
188.8.131.52 Relationship between Vanguard and Mass
What relationship should develop between the specific organization and the mass organization, between the vanguard and the mass, between the anarchist party and the labour union? It is not sufficient to impose the formula of the dialectic relationship, since that could serve to hide a division between the economic and the political, between class consciousness and the class. Let us straight away state that as the members of the specific organization are at the same time members of the mass organization, non-separation is guaranteed. It cannot be imagined in Second-Internationalist terms because it is obvious that the economic struggle is also political, something that strikes at the heart of capitalist exploitation, and its conquests need to be defended by including them as part of a strategy for action (which is not necessarily the strategy of the specific organization, but is more likely to be so the more the level of class consciousness has grown in the masses and the better and more expert is the work of the members of the specific organization within the mass organization). It is also a guarantee that conquest of the State is not proposed as a way to spark off the transition to socialism, thereby privileging political and party struggle over economic demands. The mass organization therefore loses its function as a drive belt of the specific organization and instead becomes the site of debate on the strategy defined by the specific organization against the strategies proposed by other parties, but above all confronting that strategy with the demands of action, the level of growth of the masses and of their real needs.
The role of the specific organization is not recognized in any official way within the mass organization. It is not, and must not be, a recognized, institutionalized leadership which, as such, could impose solutions and pretend (in the manner of the Leninists) to represent the real interests of the proletariat. It is only a point of debate and elaboration of politically homogeneous comrades who prepare and finalize their work and their proposals on the basis of their analysis and their ideology, without expecting it to be accepted on the basis of delegation, but only by virtue of it being freely accepted through debate within the mass organization. Any acceptance of Anarchist Communist ideas is only further proof of their correctness. Any refusal to accept them indicates an error of analysis on the part of the Anarchist Communists and requires them to revise the strategy or the tactic.
One last point remains to be clarified. The mass organization is not built by the specific organization in its likeness, a toy for it to influence or a place reserved for revolutionary proletarians. In other words, it is not the revolutionary mass organization. Such an organization would be a half-way house between party and mass. Firstly, it would only represent a closing in on itself by the specific organization, which would thus be idealistic, waiting for the proletariat to accept its ideology simply because it is the best and the most revolutionary - a form of politically impotent doctrinaire simplisticism. Secondly, it would be a talking-shop for the vanguard, reducing and sterilizing its internal debate and hiding within it a vision of the masses needing to be civilized, masses who are incapable of revolutionary action, a pure and simple army to be manoeuvred by the winner of the dialectic clash between the politicized elements. Debate must take place on the widest possible level, not at the highest possible level; only at this level can there be proper evaluation of the lines adopted by the various specific organizations.
6.2.3. Anarchist Communism and Libertarian Communism today
The experience of Spain also left its mark on the Italian Anarchist movement even with the strict limits on its activity imposed as a result of Fascist repression.
The heritage of the short-lived but fruitful Unione Comunista Anarchica Italiana (later known as the Unione Anarchica Italiana) was embraced in 1943 by groups which came together as the Federazione Comunista Anarchica Italiana (Italian Anarchist Communist Federation).
Together with this historic part of the Italian Anarchist movement which benefited from the various experiences of Italian Anarchist Communists, in the period following World War II there were also two other tendencies (although all would later merge to form an organization of synthesis, the Federazione Anarchica Italiana):
This defeat which the Anarchist Communist movement suffered during the post-war period and whose effects continued right up to the early Seventies, was responded to by a sector of militants who in their youth had been involved in the Resistance, who believed in the watchwords launched after the war. After analysing the causes of the nihilist positions which had come to the fore, they came to understand that apart from the link with the class on the basis of defence of the material and historical needs of the class, the movement had failed to reconstruct those theoretical principles and a tradition of elaboration which could bind the movement to Anarchist tradition (from the First International through Anarcho-Syndicalism to the struggle during the Spanish Revolution).
The experience of the Gruppi Anarchici di Azione Proletaria (Proletarian Action Anarchist Groups -GAAP) was very important for the Anarchist and proletarian movement and produced theoretical and other material which was worthy of attention. On an international level, the GAAP linked up with the Organisation Pensée et Bataille (OPB) which was developing along similar lines in France. The two organizations also founded a short-lived Libertarian Communist International.
The fundamental error of these comrades was that they did not understand the need for ideological, methodological and practical links with the historical heritage of Anarchist Communism. Believing themselves to be something new, something different, was responsible for their failure to accept the benefits of a history rich in experience and analysis, which could have ensured a link with the masses as an essential historical component of the workers' and peasants' movements. By allowing others a monopoly of and domination over this area and by allowing the revisionists of Anarchism free rein, they committed their greatest historical and political mistake. The progressive loss of political identity was simply a direct consequence of this choice. Their eventual enfeeblement as revolutionary militants was a consequence of having lost sight of every link with Anarchism and with the Anarchist Communist heritage of culture and struggle. Inevitably, their progressive isolation produced sterility within the organization which, surrounded on either side by revisionist Anarchism and an equally revisionist Marxism, produced that Libertarian Communism (a synthesis of Anarchism and Marxism) that we know today.
The reply of the GAAP to this situation in 1956 was to join together with other Marxist groups to form Azione Comunista (Communist Action), a political area that was to survive as the only leftist faction of the Partito Comunista Italiana (Italian Communist Party - PCI) until 1961 when the first Marxist-Leninist groups appeared in Italy. From that year on, the extra-parliamentary area left of the PCI became stronger and stronger. A group of intellectuals and syndicalists founded a new journal, Quaderni Rossi. Under the firm leadership of Raniero Panieri, it would re-discover the experiences of class spontaneity. The Partito Socialista di Unità Proletaria (Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity), born from a left-wing split in the Partito Socialista Italiana (Italian Socialist Party), occupied itself mainly with collecting and guiding this experience, giving certain intellectuals and syndicalists the opportunity to publish Classe Operaia (1964-66). This marks a period of unity between some Marxists who by now were aware of the shortcomings of traditional Marxism in dealing with the problems posed by the class struggle and comrades who had previously been part of the Syndicalist or Anarchist Communist movement.
In 1968, the events of May in France began to produce their effects in Italy, which until then had had a separate development. The political actors mentioned above began to make their mark as basically they were the only ones in any way ready for the clash. In Pisa, Potere Operaio was born and, following a split within its ranks, Potere Operaio, Lotta Continua and the Centro Carlo Marx. In these organizations (except for the Centro Carlo Marx which merged with the PCI in 1975 becoming its far right wing), there was a most deleterious mixture of Leninism and spontaneism.
The crisis in these organizations and in others which had formed to the left of the PCI together with the inability of the Anarchist movement in general to rediscover its genuine origins in Anarchist Communism with regard to theory and political practice, gave rise to a mass of political activists who understood the spontaneous behaviour of the masses to be the key to revolution. The new "autonomous" movement attracted ex-members of the old Potere Operaio, refugees from a number of neo-Leninist political organizations and a good number of Anarchist groups (the Kronstadt Group from Naples, the FCL in Rome, etc.) who had attempted to re-discover Anarchist Communism by examining the ideas of the Organization Platform but who quickly abandoned (like the GAAP) the terrain of Anarchism and ended up becoming part of the hybrid world of Libertarian Communism.
At this stage, the term "Libertarian Communism" was no longer synonymous with "Anarchist Communism" (as it had been until the 1940s) and had taken on a new meaning. By now it indicated a theory in which analysis of the role of the specific organization, the mass organization and the relationship between the two, no longer coincided with Anarchist Communist theory and practice. Elements of Marxist analysis were introduced, such as the inevitability of the fall of capitalism once it reached its highest stage of development, the automatic nature of the struggles with regard to the economic phase, and a view of the current crisis as being Capital's final crisis.
Having said all that, it is clear that we need to avoid the mistakes which have been made up to now. Leaving aside how the various organizations are named, we need to examine their content continuously. We need to maintain our links with the heritage of Anarchist Communist analysis. Together, we must define the various stages in the organizational process which can allow Anarchist Communists to ensure that every territorial group can make an impact on the struggles by means of a strategy which is firmly based on a common theory.
7. Further reading