Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index

Modern Approaches to Anarchism (1966-7?)

Anarchism is the theory and practice of stateless organisation. That is to say it is socialism in its pure form and until about 1920 its history was that of the leftwing of the socialist movement for although the left and right trends had parted with invective and mutual expulsions there was not as yet open warfare between them. However with the revolutions and civil wars in Russia, Germany and Spain the gulf between those who would seek a solution for, and those who would seek it with, the people opened irrevocably with more militants escaping the Falange than the Cheka.

The few anarchists who escaped the ruins of Catalonia, Munich and the Ukraine settled in scattered emigre colonies out of touch with the people around them. The blanket of "socialist" propaganda kept the name and significance of anarchism hidden since, like Mussolini, Lenin knew who his main enemies were. Soon anarchism was an historical oddity forgotten by all save a few ageing militants and academics - the latter nearly universally misunderstanding it.

The renaissance came as people in different countries came to realise the truth of anarchist ideas of up to 150 years standing. The former militants - now frustrated idealists - had gathered into groups which mainly discussed sterile questions such as the form of post-revolutionary society; others however went in for more fertile studies: the general theory of organisation, the meaning of social and ethical theories, the application of the anarchist attitude in criticism of existing society and its ideologies.

At this juncture there grew out of the a-politicism of the masses, who had become disillusioned with all governments and ideologies, a new "anti-politicism" which expressed itself in mass anti-war and anti-nuclear arms movements, civil rights and anti-censorship movements. Although quite often started or influenced by the more cynical groups on the left the mass base of such movements was usually young and anti-political. In countries with propagandist anarchist groups this unconscious anarchism became conscious; in Britain, Holland and Sweden the old groups grew again, in the USA a renaissance seems likely. In New Zealand completely new group sprang up. New publications appeared: a new monthly in England and a new IWW monthly in Chicago, a periodical in Sydney, a pamphlet series and crop of peace movement journals of radical left inclination in Britain. Some older journals under went a modernisation and changed their line to a more socially relevant one. These started to offer, instead of old theoretical discussions, current comment and analyses; to preach the ideas of mutual aid (solidarity if you are worker), direct action (self-help to the middle-class) and fluid organisation (anarchy to everyone), The libertarian idea of the emancipation of the people by their own efforts was restated against the background of labour governments incapable of doing more than making capitalism efficient and of communist governments being incapable of doing less than creating a new privileged "technocratic class". The uncompromising anarchist stand against war and racism was restated.

As yet no anarchist movement has grown back to the point of having social influence but in England the movement is large enough for the anarchists to form a definite faction within YCND and play an important part in demonstrations and they may soon start to influence the rank and file in trade unions. If anarchist movements are to become socially significant they will have to undertake social projects: set up housing co-operatives, libertarian schools and "factories for peace". They must become the major rank and file influence in the unions as advocates of worker control on the shop floor, joint consultation under existing society and complete worker/consumer control in any re-organisation of society.

They must fight for factory committees against craft unionism and the trade union bureaucracy and develop new forms of "creative" sabotage to supplement and/or reply the traditional strike, "go-slow" and "wooden shoe." Similarly they must be prepared to espouse direct action in their antimilitarism campaigns; to use sediti and sabotage to subvert the "warfare" state. They must be prepared to live their anarchism.

On this basis a modern anarchist movement would consist of a group of creative and critical theoreticians publishing both newspapers and theoretical journals associated with, on the one hand, a wider circle of activists and propagandists working in trade union, anti-war, civil rights and mutual aid organisations and, on the other, with groups of people involved in communes and co-operative enterprises with all living as far as possible in an anarchist way: ignoring the state, practising mutual aid and have free (non-coercive) associations and socio-economic relations.

The relationship of this sort of anarchism to the revolutionary movements of Spain and - to a lesser extent - of France and Italy have yet to be worked out. The future of the Spanish movement with its large disorganised underground and exiles in France, Italy and England is not clear; certainly new theories and modus of organisation will be necessary. There may indeed be a future for revolutionary anarchism, Hungary showed that socialists when throwing off a "socialist" dictatorship spontaneously organise in libertarian socialist, i.e. anarchist, nodes. Certainly no revolution or revolt in an Eastern bloc country would want bourgeois democracy although under the influence of socialists and communists a revolution in a country like Spain would return to the republican form of government.

Whatever may happen it is obvious that the chances for socialism have not yet all vanished and future theoretical developments will depend largely on the public reaction to the world political situation.

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