Sunday, May 01, 2016

*For Sacco And Vanzetti -On May Day-The Anarchist Tradition In The International Working Class Movement

Click On Title To Link To BAAM Newsletter (local Boston anarchist collective) site for two good introductory articles about the labor struggles of the 19th century and a biographic sketch of the heroic anarchist (and later American Communist Party member) Lucy Parsons, widow of Haymarket martyr Albert Parson and revolutionary fighter in her own right. While my sympathies are clearly with the communist wing on the left wing continuum, especially the struggles led by Leon Trotsky to save the heritage of the Russian Revolution in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the main points of these articles are made by kindred spirits that all labor militants can stand in solidarity with as part of our common labor history.


Today, May Day, is officially celebrated extensively throughout the world by the international working class to commemorate labor’s struggles, although ironically (and sadly) not in the United States. One of the purposes for its celebration back in the late 1800’s was to highlight the struggle (the continuing struggle, I might add) for an eight hour work day. This day also commemorates Chicago’s Haymarket Martyrs, working class anarchists who were railroaded by the American justice system for being workers while ‘foreign’ and for being workers while “anarchists”.

Although this writer long ago abandoned his flirtation with the anarchist movement that had held some attraction to him in his youth and has become, as a life-long Marxist, a strong political opponent of that movement today seems an appropriate time to look back at its not altogether shabby history. The book reviewed below, Professor Joll’s “The Anarchists”, was the first book that I read when I was moving away from mainstream liberalism and looking for a revolutionary road to change society. As with all such older works (originally written in 1964) additional research is necessary to bring the story up to date (especially as it ends with the anarchist experience in Spain in the 1930’s). Nevertheless this work still stands as a good primer for the early history of the anarchist movement, its various trends and tendencies, its controversies with other working class movements, especially Marxism, and its shortcomings.

Book Review

The Anarchists, James Joll, Little, Brown and Company, Boston 1964

It is rather ironic to be discussing old time communistic working class political tendencies on a day, May Day, that celebrates the struggles of various leftist, anti- capitalist tendencies, especially Marxism and Anarchism the latter whose history is outlined in the book reviewed here, in the international working class movement. The irony is that, sadly, for all intends and purposes, in the main, the international working class movement has abandoned (at least temporarily) the struggle for socialism of any kind as part of its day to day struggles. Nonetheless, for those who seek to break out of the impasse of international capitalism a fresh look at these tendencies is warranted. I have reviewed various Marxist-oriented movements elsewhere in this space. Today Professor Joll's brief look at the history of the early anarchist movement (up to the Spanish Civil War) is a good primer for getting a handle on that political philosophy.

That there has never been a unitary working class response to capitalism and industrialization is a weakness. That there have been various left-wing tendencies fighting for political leadership of the class is not so. During most of the 20th century the great fights were between the various Marxist-oriented reformist Social Democrats and the ostensibly revolutionary Communists. However the great fights in the late 19th century were between the Marxists and anarchists of various persuasions. Those fights are extensively detailed by Professor Joll here. Given the reemergence over the past decade or various, mainly non-working class-centered, anarchist tendencies, especially of the "propaganda of the deed" variety, it is important for today's labor militants looking for some socialist political direction to learn (or learn more) about.

Professor Joll does some yeoman's work here describing the antecedents of the working class movement, especially the key trends that trace their lineage back to the 18th century French Revolution and the Enlightenment. It is the long term reaction to the failure of that revolution, the weakness of its political organization and its aborted libertarian aims to redress plebeian grievances that provided an opening to anarchist thought. Joll details the various plans, blueprints, panaceas and what not that floated thought the pre-1848 European political milieu (from Godwin to Weitling to the "Communist Manifesto") as the industrial form of organization took hold in Western society. In short, the revolutions of 1848 represented a last gasp outer limit that the bourgeoisie was willing to go to establish its rule in alliance with the working class under the sign of the French Revolution. Marx drew one conclusion from that understanding- the need to create independent working class political organization- the various anarchist trends drew others (independent communes, political withdrawal, permanent insurrection, etc.). This is where the great fight starts.

If mid-19th century Europe was a hot bed for various socialist-oriented theories those theories got hashed out through personalities as much as program. This is the age of Marx, Engels and LaSalle but also of the great anarchist thinkers Proudhon and Bakunin whose names are forever associated with the early anarchist movement, for good or ill. Those thinkers also represented, in embryo, the two great trends within anarchy that fought it out, mainly on European soil, for poltical dominance over most of the next century. If socialism has its reformist and revolutionary wings the same is true of the anarchism movement with its break between what I will call "philosophical anarchists" and "deed anarchists" that reflect the different perspectives of Proudhon and Bakunin. As with the socialist movement there is some overlap but one does not have be all that politically sophisticated to be able to distinguish between where the two lines of thought were heading.

With the defeat of the short-lived and bloodily defeated Paris Commune of 1871, an event that is commemorated with reverence in both communist and anarchist movements, although each drew different conclusions from its demise, European bourgeois society went through a period of relative stabilization with a vast expansion of the industrial enterprise. Needless to say such periods try the souls of revolutionaries, great and small. Part of this frustration worked itself out in the anarchist movement with, on the one hand, a `quietist' turn toward intellectual schemes and literary propaganda work (always appropriate, by the way) by the likes of Kropotkin, and on the other, the emergence of an individualist response by, at times, heroic anarchists committed to "propaganda by the deed".

During this period (about twenty years or so) there were some very spectacular assassinations, and attempted assassinations, of various American and European bourgeois political figures, most famously in America Alexander Berkman's (the fiery anarchist polemicist and orator Emma Goldman's companion of the time) attempt on steel magnate Ford Frick and the successful assassination of President McKinley. Also, needless to say, the wheels of bourgeois society continued working with little interruption. I would point out that the best socialists and communists have always defended such heroic, if misguided, actions by the "anarchists of the deed" while pointing out this truth- It's the system that had to go not individual representatives no matter how fitting for such actions, brothers and sisters.

If , as mentioned above, the great political battles within the international working class in the post-World War I period were between reformist socialists and revolutionary communists before that war the great fight was between various anarchist tendencies in the working class, mainly anarcho-syndicalists, and socialists. That fight reached a fever pitch around the question of defense of the Russian Revolution of 1917. In theory, at least, both anarchism and communism posit the replacement of the role of state as a "cop" with a new role as mere administrator of things (at most). The question is how to get there and how long it will take to place that possibility on the historic agenda. Here the Paris Commune experience is instructive. The anarchists, and here I admit complete solidarity with the Marxist side of the argument, apparently learned nothing from the decentralized confusion created in that revolutionary process, including the fundamental question of defense of the revolution. The Marxists, and in the case of the Russian Revolution its Bolshevik wing, took those lessons to heart and created a political/military party, worked through soviets (workers councils) and defended the revolution with a Red Army, arms in hand.

Whatever happened later in the Soviet experience and, as a supporter of the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky I find plenty to discuss, the Russian Revolution was the great test of the pre-war competing socialist political philosophies and that event split the anarchist movement, as well. Some like Victor Serge, Alfred Rosmer in Europe, "Big Bill" Haywood and some elements of the American-based Industrial Workers of The World (IWW) went over to the Communist International. Inside Russia, depending on the time, anarchist supported the revolution by going over to the Bolsheviks or, during the civil war formed independent "black flag" armies like those of Mahkno in the Ukraine that were generally pro-Soviet, or in the latter period became military opponents of the Soviet regime, most notably at Kronstadt in 1921. Professor Joll outlines the details here although one really needs to read more on this by one of the leading Russian anarchists of the time, Voline's "History of The Russian Anarchists". A mere paragraph here can only alert serious pro-labor militants to the need to work through the political differences. That the anarchist position came up short in Russia does not negate the need today to deal politically with the fringe reemergence of these tendencies. I would only add here that when the anarchists are reduced to talking about the "virtues" of Mahkno and of the Kronstadt sailors in 1921 there is something of an impediment to any fruitful discussion. But so be it.

Professor Joll's last and most important section, at least for today's militant's trying to sort through the questions of the state and revolutionary theory, is the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. In the heat of revolution and civil war all theories get thoroughly tested and it was here that the anarchist attitude toward the state, any state, floundered. Although I have discussed the key questions of the Spanish Civil War elsewhere in this space those questions have been centered on the disputes among socialists and communists and the crisis of revolutionary leadership provoked by the civil war. Needless to say, in Spain at least, no discussion is complete without discussing the role of the anarchists, the largest tendency with political authority within the working class and among the landless rural laborers.

While a full discussion is beyond the scope of this book, and of this review, to sum up the anarchist experience in a nutshell- while the anarchists tried to ignore the state the state did not ignore them. When the deal went down they supported the state- the bourgeois state at a time, in the summer of 1936, when they and no other political formation could have taken political power. And made it stick. Instead the anarchist and anarchist-influenced organizations like the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) and CNT (National Federation of Workers) passed the power back to the bourgeoisie (or their agents) and settled for a few (short-lived) ministerial posts. I hope I have provoked some argument here because now in the early 21st century that question of the state is again placed on the agenda for today's anarchists of the second mobilization. It is a question that will not go away for anarchists, socialists or communists alike. Read Professor Joll's book to get a primer on the historical contours of these disputes.


As is always appropriate on international working class holidays and days of remembrance here is the song most closely associated with that movement “The Internationale” in English, French and German. I will not vouch for the closeness of the translations but certainly of the spirit. Workers Of The World Unite!

The Internationale [variant words in square brackets]

Arise ye workers [starvelings] from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant.
Away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise
We'll change henceforth [forthwith] the old tradition [conditions]
And spurn the dust to win the prize.

So comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale unites the human race.
So comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale unites the human race.

No more deluded by reaction
On tyrants only we'll make war
The soldiers too will take strike action
They'll break ranks and fight no more
And if those cannibals keep trying
To sacrifice us to their pride
They soon shall hear the bullets flying
We'll shoot the generals on our own side.

No saviour from on high delivers
No faith have we in prince or peer
Our own right hand the chains must shiver
Chains of hatred, greed and fear
E'er the thieves will out with their booty [give up their booty]
And give to all a happier lot.
Each [those] at the forge must do their duty
And we'll strike while the iron is hot.



Debout les damnés de la terre
Debout les forçats de la faim
La raison tonne en son cratère
C'est l'éruption de la fin
Du passe faisons table rase
Foules, esclaves, debout, debout
Le monde va changer de base
Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout

C'est la lutte finale
Groupons-nous, et demain (bis)
Sera le genre humain

Il n'est pas de sauveurs suprêmes
Ni Dieu, ni César, ni tribun
Producteurs, sauvons-nous nous-mêmes
Décrétons le salut commun
Pour que le voleur rende gorge
Pour tirer l'esprit du cachot
Soufflons nous-mêmes notre forge
Battons le fer quand il est chaud

L'état comprime et la loi triche
L'impôt saigne le malheureux
Nul devoir ne s'impose au riche
Le droit du pauvre est un mot creux
C'est assez, languir en tutelle
L'égalité veut d'autres lois
Pas de droits sans devoirs dit-elle
Egaux, pas de devoirs sans droits

Hideux dans leur apothéose
Les rois de la mine et du rail
Ont-ils jamais fait autre chose
Que dévaliser le travail
Dans les coffres-forts de la bande
Ce qu'il a crée s'est fondu
En décrétant qu'on le lui rende
Le peuple ne veut que son dû.

Les rois nous saoulaient de fumées
Paix entre nous, guerre aux tyrans
Appliquons la grève aux armées
Crosse en l'air, et rompons les rangs
S'ils s'obstinent, ces cannibales
A faire de nous des héros
Ils sauront bientôt que nos balles
Sont pour nos propres généraux

Ouvriers, paysans, nous sommes
Le grand parti des travailleurs
La terre n'appartient qu'aux hommes
L'oisif ira loger ailleurs
Combien, de nos chairs se repaissent
Mais si les corbeaux, les vautours
Un de ces matins disparaissent
Le soleil brillera toujours.


Die Internationale

Wacht auf, Verdammte dieser Erde,
die stets man noch zum Hungern zwingt!
Das Recht wie Glut im Kraterherde
nun mit Macht zum Durchbruch dringt.
Reinen Tisch macht mit dem Bedranger!
Heer der Sklaven, wache auf!
Ein nichts zu sein, tragt es nicht langer
Alles zu werden, stromt zuhauf!

Volker, hort die Signale!
Auf, zum letzten Gefecht!
Die Internationale
Erkampft das Menschenrecht

Es rettet uns kein hoh'res Wesen
kein Gott, kein Kaiser, noch Tribun
Uns aus dem Elend zu erlosen
konnen wir nur selber tun!
Leeres Wort: des armen Rechte,
Leeres Wort: des Reichen Pflicht!
Unmundigt nennt man uns Knechte,
duldet die Schmach langer nicht!

In Stadt und Land, ihr Arbeitsleute,
wir sind die starkste Partei'n
Die Mussigganger schiebt beiseite!
Diese Welt muss unser sein;
Unser Blut sei nicht mehr der Raben
und der machtigen Geier Frass!
Erst wenn wir sie vertrieben haben
dann scheint die Sonn' ohn' Unterlass!

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