Anarchism in the Rear-View Mirror

Our Journey in Search of Revolutionary Practice

"Anarchism is the punishment for the opportunist sins of the labor movement" Lenin

We must begin this text with a word of caution, this is not an attack on the militancy of our libertarian comrades. Their revolutionary commitment is more than sincere and we have nothing but respect for the courage they have shown in the struggles where we opposed the attacks of the bourgeoisie. This text is an attempt to clarify our practices to avoid repeating the historical mistakes of the labor movement, and although we are hard and incisive, this review aims to be as constructive as possible.

The authors of this text are both ex-anarchists, or more precisely, two ex-libertarian communists in the platformist tradition. We have been active in this tendency (in NEFAC and UCL) which tried to ''change'' anarchism into a revolutionary movement with the aim of overthrowing capitalism. Our commitment as anarchists in the period (1998-2010) when it finally became possible for class struggle currents to criticize the individualistic and liberal hegemony of North American anarchism which had dominated for 30 years or more. The failure of these initiatives led us to the Communist (known as the “Italian") Left, one of the historical and critical trends of the communist movement. We believe that our journey is not random and could be shared by other comrades who experienced the same or similar experiences. We have noticed many pronouncements that go in this direction for several years, including on where serious trends critical of anarchism and Marxism meet. We aim, although modestly, to spare others a long and arduous journey and to spare them from our heavily scarred experience of disappointments and cul-de-sacs. Our balance sheet shows us that the postmodernist deformations of anarchism are not accidental, but form an integral part of this movement and even those libertarian communists apparently going in the opposite direction to anarchist liberalism remain locked in a theory devoid of revolutionary potential.

This document will therefore not be yet another critique of lifestyle activism or insurrectionalism. Those criticisms were made internally and we are not making a priority of adding to them here. Anyway, this text is not for those who believe that the world will change through dumpsterdiving(1) and "self-managed life-spaces" This text addresses the comrades who are beginning to make a synthesis between Marxism and anarchism. Our angles of attack will be numerous - They develop through four sections - and we do not spare our criticism because, as Rosa Luxembourg "Ruthless criticism is not only vital or the working class, it is also a supreme duty.”

A (Great) Penchant for Liberalism, Despite the Communist Label

Initially, one of the main objectives of the NEFAC was to bring the essence of anarchism back to its origins, i.e. into the proletarian camp and a product of the class struggle. This stance, which is nothing more than a historical observation, had already drawn the ire of those anarchists who defended the liberal tradition within anarchism. To speak of a struggle between two opposing classes required a reflection on power, who held it and how to take it. To talk of a revolutionary subject, a social class with the potential to act for-itself to advance its interests and social project, had to exclude the nebulous multitude and scattered specific struggles. In sum, it was perceived as being authoritarian.

The militants of the founding group made ​​the mistake of trying to initiate a "battle of ideas" within anarchism instead of rejecting it. While a dialogue should have begun with the proletariat in the struggles over labour, housing and migration, most of our work was devoted to convince other anarchists to be less ... anarchist. Too much energy was deployed to defend the libertarian

communist tradition within anarchism. Classic authors like Malatesta, the Dyelo Truda Group and Fontenis were at best supposed to counter Stirner, Proudhon and Black or at worst simply placed alongside them. Historical organizations such as the FCL , the FORA and the CNT-FAI were used as beacons to remind people that anarchism once gathered thousands of workers in one structure. It was the stuff of dreams when contemporary meetings were attracting 50 people and demonstrations involved 500.

The "battle of ideas" did not take place within social movements (as expected) and neither did it take place at the theoretical level within the anarchist movement . Where did it happen then? It took place mainly informally from one event to another in relations between individuals and groups, with a desire to defend its own tendency without breaking the facade of unity. It was to lead for better or worse to an unhealthy relationship between an emerging strategic and programmatic approach (neo-platformism) with the eternal immutable principles and values ​​of the liberal tradition within anarchism. It was doomed to failure.

What is the liberal trend in anarchism? It is first, like classical liberalism, a philosophy that puts great emphasis on individual freedoms and individual conduct in a more or less restricted group. On the other hand, it is the acceptance that rival and damaging tendencies to any political project can coexist under the guise of a false pluralism in the same "movement" . The classic example is the cohabitation between primitivists and class struggle anarchists (as in the bookshop Insoumise), but there are many others. Pushed to the extreme liberal anarchist thought leads to positions such as "in the future society we accept the existence of a capitalist micro-society, as long as its territory, its organization and its productive activity do not violate ours." Its political project becomes then the flowering of multiple and diverse free spaces, forgetting that a single class dominates the world, and it has to be defeated and all social classes abolished. Ultimately the dictatorship of the proletariat is abandoned in favor of the disparate opportunities which liberal tolerance offers. The concept of "democracy", which vacillates between direct democracy and bourgeois democracy triumphs over communism.

An Organization Constantly Rebuilding

Initially, it was a good idea to form a libertarian communist organization to develop revolutionary theory, to share our experiences in social struggles and to develop a group strategy group. We thought we had laid the foundation on which new and emerging militants could add their contributions. This was rarely the case. The organization was constantly remade and if membership waves in 2003 and 2007 brought energy to the group, they also disorganized it.

The structure was at the time hyper-horizontal while resting on the political will and clarity of some secretaries (internal, campaigns, publications, etc.). The arrival of new members posed the painful question of political training, but also systematically redefined the priorities of our activity. New projects, initiatives that appeared original and alliances hitherto rejected suddenly arrived one after another at meetings. Not surprisingly, most of these ideas resulted in moving us closer to the "militant" community of Montreal, to make us more acceptable to proponents of a synthesis of liberalism and anarchism. Browsing through the history of NEFAC -UCL in Montreal, we can identify, with difficulty, at most two or three "joint campaigns" such as the renewal of a fighting union of the "youth", an anti-militarist campaign, episodic abstentionist campaigns and some sporadic interventions in the student movement.

Yet it was not new projects that we needed it was the power to carry them out. This power should have been based on a strong organization that was in dialogue with elements of a class movement, but this was not the case. Transmission of knowledge and experience was inadequate, and the same mistakes were repeated. Instead of making a critical assessment of our activities, we simply recognized them and this allowed their multiplication in a climate of laissez-faire and confusion. If we became year on year more numerous and more appreciated in the anarchist synthesis, we became more distant from the real movement of the class struggle. We were then also far from Marx, who said in 1851, "Men make their own history, but they do not do it arbitrarily, under the conditions chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past." The more the organization became “ideal", respectable and powerful, the more it distanced from its original goals.

Anti-Theoretical Attitudes and a Practical Dead-End

Among the things that led us to break with anarchism was the disdain that this movement has for theoretical rigor and the consequences this has on everyday militant practice was one of the most important. The UCL case is a good example of this because there was no common theoretical training process in an organization that advocated theoretical unity as one of its organizing principles. This meant the UCL went in all directions. Through constant theoretical clash on basic questions the organization was crippled by self-regarding discussions on its internal forum. The sense of continuity with NEFAC was weak or almost absent in the Montreal collective. The history of the Workers’ Solidarity Network, the relations with Ontario and U.S. collectives, the experience of the paper, Le Trouble, none of this was transmitted to the next generation. The lack of theoretical and programmatic clarity spread, debates between a line of entryism into social movements, another of semi-autonomous insurrectional activity, another on counter-culture and frankly postmodern identity politics undermined the organization, which began to fall apart no more than two years after its formation. The feeling of belonging to a common organization was undermined due to the falsely democratic localist decentralization sharpening tensions between Montreal and the other collectives. Membership in the organization was social and personal, nothing uniting us except a certain penchant for organization and a bias for this anarchist-communism that was not intended to be something for punks or academics.

The lack of political training led to a desire to have concrete results in the short term at any price. Campaigns were quickly abandoned if they did not give quick results, the lack of historical perspective preventing learning lessons in the medium and long term. One of the most harmful effects of this short-termism was wanting to recruit militants of ‘'experience'', militants who knew anarchism and even more the workings of the activist scene. By contrast, in addition to failing to integrate the latter, this recruitment model prevented any real attempt to go to the proletariat, as the culture of the group was based on the accumulation of anarchist militant experiences and not on elements of the working class movement. This was what made the UCL-Montreal collective where new members and supporters came and went, without anything changing much. The history of the organization was one of rapid development followed by a more or less immediate disintegration, ending what has been, after all, a disappointing experience and an insignificant page in the history of the extreme left in Quebec. Its originality lies in the fact that it was carried out by libertarians, coming from nowhere to fill the vacuum left by the Marxist-Leninists of the '70s, but no more. The fact that the extreme left’s most numerically important organization of the past 25 years has had no significant impact on one of the largest social movements in Quebec ( Spring 2012) is the best sign of its failure.

This rejection of theory is not trivial nor confined to the Montreal anarchist milieu. Worldwide , anarchism has little or no theoretical coherence. If Marxist groups with completely different political lines can be identified by a common core, anarchism is generally a black mishmash within which anyone can build his system of thought, based on a combination of rebellion, individualism, liberalism and ouvrierism.

This problem is in the ''supposedly anti-authoritarian' attitude of anarchism which sees any training process as authoritarian, criticising the experience as a relationship of domination. Revolutionary theory is the accumulation of experience of the proletarian movement. To cut out theory means having to start from scratch. In its refusal to accept the transmission of experience, the libertarian movement is systematically trying to forget its past and relearn what wasted generations of militants have learned before them. It is with great cynicism that we can see that the only libertarians who manage to have a theoretical construct that makes sense are those who find themselves in a synthesis between anarchism and Marxism. In most cases, they say they are Marxists when it is time to make an economic analysis, but politically anarchists. This separation of economics and politics is misguided.

Review and Perspectives v. Principles and Values

It would be useful to recall the difference between anarchism and Marxism. It is about method and praxis. Anarchists base themselves on ethics, on the strict application of principles at any time, separated from context and without reference to history. Their defeats are only explicable by the non-compliance with the code of conduct of some libertarians, and especially by the action of other revolutionaries. This leads to a fetishizing of forms. Recently, we were surprised to see anarchists applaud the riots in Ukraine because of the their spontaneity and ''mass'' content, but this phenomenon is not confined to the riot fantasies of some insurrectionalists. The fetish of democracy, especially if it is “direct”, 'horizontal'' forms, spontaneity, are all part of this veneration of confused forms of organization

We know, as communists, that the proletariat has its own forms of organization: autonomous assemblies, strike committees and councils... They are not in themselves revolutionary. Many historical events prove this, one example being the massive support of the German workers' councils for social democracy in 1918-1919. As Bordiga said: “There are therefore no bodies which are revolutionary because of their form; there are only social forces that are revolutionary through the direction in which they act, and these forces are organized in a party that fights with a program.”

This fetishism of form finds its most outstanding expression in the two great proletarian movements that crystallized opposition between Marxists and anarchists: the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. As part of the revolution the Bolsheviks are alleged to have carried out the ''authoritarian'' destruction of the bourgeois provisional government, while the libertarian government’s collaboration with the Spanish republic is excused because elements of bourgeois democracy are preferred to revolutionary dictatorship. The vanguard ''coup'' of October is denigrated for its meticulous planning, despite the fact that it swept aside the bourgeois state, while the spontaneous uprising of the masses in defense of a bourgeois form of governance (Republic) is described as a revolutionary apotheosis. Attempts to transform the relations of production as a whole in Russia are rejected out of hand, while self-management largely paralyzed by the capitalist market is presented as the ultimate revolutionary transformation.

Even the causes of the defeat of the two revolutions in question follow this pattern. If we Marxists see the failures of the movement of the proletariat in Russia as a result of its international isolation and the inevitable degeneration that this entails, and the failure of the Spanish proletariat in 1936-1937 in its inability to attack the bourgeois state, the majority of anarchists only see the action of the rival Leninist tendencies as the cause of these defeats.

Where anarchists see principles to apply even more purely, we see lessons to learn, where they see a departure from the code of honor, we see an organizational or hardware failure. If the communist left has attempted to review and identify prospects for a 150 years of struggle of the proletariat , anarchism has as objective to replicate the same experience, but miraculously get a different result.

Conclusion: a Double or Quits Bet on an Organizational and Programmatic Approach

This text is more than a simple text of rupture, a simple response to the theoretical and organizational shortcomings, to the liberalism and weaknesses of anarchism. If one day, we waved the red and black flag, it is because we had a goal. A goal that had nothing to do with the murderous social peace of the Social Democrats or capitalist development with red sauce of a Stalin, Mao or Castro. This goal has always been communism, a society without classes, without a state, without domination, an egalitarian and just society. If our black banner frankly turned scarlet, it is because a minority and misunderstood tradition of the labor movement that gave us a path on which to move forward. The Italian Communist Left, systematically refusing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, knew how to make a critique of the struggles of our class, its many defeats as well as its brief and limited successes. If it is this tradition that we agree, it is to put an end to our time in the wilderness, with the inability to act with what too many anti-capitalists excuse as a kind of purity. If the Internationalist Communist Tendency has us in its ranks, it is because it gives us the opportunity to regroup the most conscious elements of the proletariat to build the revolutionary tool we need: an international proletarian party, forged in the fire of the class war on the anvil of revolutionary theory. An organization capable of defending the political autonomy of our class, able to carry the communist program to the heart of its struggles for an international, social and libertarian revolution.

Liam and Maximilian, May 2014

(1) ...or “skipping” as it is called on this side of the Atlantic meaning going through rubbish bins to get stuff to use.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Thank you comrades Liam and Maximilian for this critique of your times in the thralls of anarchism. Your account comes across as frank and honest. But then you are now left communists!

Thanks Charlie, in hindsight and based on the comments on the french version of this text. We might have been better to choose a more sober approach to the topic and focused more on our contemporary exprience within NEFAC-UCL, while leaving out references to the revolutionnary beginings of Russia (1917) or Spain (1936). I think it is possible to point towards other, more complete, ICT documents on those same subjects. Still, we're glad we wrote the text and we're somwhat hoping for more formal responses from anarchist-communists fellow travellers beyond the (interesting, but limited) bickering going on on Facebook.

-Liam (IWG supporter, Montreal, Canada)

Leaping from the opening quote from Lenin, somewhere or other I think that he described anarchism as 'tinsel and fuss', which today might not be all that should be said about it. Some anarchists in the London of the mid fifties were actively interested in opposition to National Service. The Malatesta Club had discussions. The Freedom Bookshop in Red Lion Square, run by Lilian Wolf, sold 'Freedom' and a range of international anarchist papers. My long-standing question is, if an anarchist freely chooses to attack someone without apparent justification, what specifically anarchist reason is there against that ? In fairness to anarchists, or at least to one I knew, Sid responded to someone who threatened him by saying "Get back to your psychopathic ward !" He published something called 'Minus One'. The editor of Freedom, Philip Sansom, and his Scottish partner, used to speak regularly at Marble Arch. The dialectical interrelationship between individual (not necessarily individualist) thoughts and collective agreements runs and runs. I am well aware that this comment is by no means a full comment on the main article, but hope that it is of some use as evidence of anarchism having been made partially apparent to a teenager at one time, who attended an election rally at which heckling anarchists urged those present to 'Vote for Joe Soap'!

Interesting perspective from this historic text;

Anarchy and Scientific Communism- Nikolai Bukharin

Two lengthy quotes from that text

Let's begin with our own "final objective" and that of the anarchists. According to the way the problem is posed at present, communism and socialism presuppose the conservation of the state, whereas "anarchy", eliminates the state. "Advocates", of the state, as against "adversaries" of the state: that is how the "contrast", between marxists and anarchists is usually depicted.

One must recognise that such an impression of the "contrast" is not the work of the anarchists alone. The social democrats are also very much to blame for it. Talk about "the state of the future" and "the people's state" has had widespread currency in the realm of ideas and the phraseology of democracy. Furthermore, some social democrat parties always strive to lay special emphasis on their "statist" nature. The catchphrase of Austrian social democracy used to be "We are the true representatives of the state". That sort of thinking was spread by others, too, apart from the Austrian party. In a way, it was a commonplace at an international level, and still is to this day, insofar as the old parties have not yet been thoroughly liquidated. And of course this "state learning", has nothing to do with the revolutionary communist teachings of Marx.

Scientific communism sees the state as the organisation of the ruling class, an instrument of oppression and violence, and it is on these grounds that it does not countenance a "state of the future". In the future there will be no classes, there will be no class oppression, and thus no instrument of that oppression, no state of violence. The "classless state" - a notion that turns the heads of social democrats - is a contradiction in terms, a nonsense, an abuse of language, and if this notion is the spiritual nourishment of the social democracy it is really no fault of the great revolutionaries Marx and Engels.

Communist society is, as such, a STATELESS society. If this is the case - and there is no doubt that it is - then what, in reality, does the distinction between anarchists and marxist communists consist of? Does the distinction, as such, vanish at least when it comes to examining the problem of the society to come and the "ultimate goal"?

No, the distinction does exist; but it is to be found elsewhere; and can be defined as a distinction between production centralised under large trusts and small, decentralised production.

The second essential issue that divides communists and anarchists is their attitude to the dictatorship of the proletariat. In between capitalism and "the society of the future" lies a whole period of class struggles, the period during which the last remains of bourgeois society will be rooted out, and the class attacks provoked by the bourgeoisie - already fallen, but still resisting - fought off. The experience of the October revolution [1] has shown that, even after it has been "thrown on its back on the ground", the bourgeoisie still uses what resources remain to it, to go on fighting against the workers; and that, ultimately, it relies on international reaction in such a way that the final victory of the workers will be possible only when the proletariat has freed the whole world of the capitalist rabble and completely suffocated the bourgeoisie.

For this reason, it is quite natural that the proletariat makes use of an organisation for its struggle. The bigger, the stronger and the more solid this organisation is, the more rapidly will the final victory be won. Such a transitional organisation is the proletarian state, the power and the rule of the workers, their dictatorship.

Like all power, the power of the proletarians is likewise organised violence. Like all states, the proletarian state is likewise an instrument of oppression. Of course, there is no need to be so circumspect about the question of violence. Such circumspection is best left to the good christian or the tolstoyan, not the revolutionary. In coming down for or against violence, there is a need to see who it is directed against. Revolution and counter-revolution are acts of violence in equal measure, but to renounce revolution for that reason would be nonsensical.

Note I do not say that this text is accepted or not by the ICT, I simply post what I regard as a relevant text

It is useful (especially the second paragraph) and poses the issue well but it does not answer the question of how we have a dictatorship of the proletariat which has to carry out a statist function (supression of the bourgeoisie) without in itself creating a new state. Bukharin very neatly frames the problem but gives no answer for us today. He does not even mention soviets or any other class wide body.