Trot Guide 2008 #1.0

    First, The Scoreboard:

A) Dead Parrots

1) Committee for a Revolutionary Communist Party in Australia;
2) Communist Left Discussion Circle;
3) Communist Party Advocate(s) [i];
4) International Socialist Organisation (ISO) [ii];
5) Marxist Initiative;
6) Marxist Solidarity Network [iii];
7) National Preparatory Committee of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Australia;
EIGHT) New Era Communist Party of Australia;
9) Socialist Action Group [ii];
10) Socialist Appeal;
11) Socialist Democracy;
12) Socialist Labor Party of Australia;
13) Solidarity [ii];
14) Workers’ League;
15) Workers’ Power [iv].

B) Twilight Zone

1) October Seventh Socialist Movement;
2) Permanent Revolution [iv];
3) Trotskyist Platform;
4) World Socialist Party of Australia.

C) Hail Satan!

1) Communist League;
2) Communist Party of Australia (CPA);
3) Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) (CPA-ML);
4) Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP);
5) Freedom Socialist Party (FSP);
6) Progressive Labour Party (PLP);
7) Radical Women (see FSP);
EIGHT) Resistance (see DSP);
9) Socialist Alliance (SA; see DSP);
10) Socialist Alternative (SAlt);
11) Socialist Equality Party (SEP);
12) Socialist Party (SP);
13) Solidarity;
14) Spartacist League of Australia [v];
15) Workers’ Liberty (AWL).

    Now, The Devil:

[i] Communist Party Labor Tribune Advocates of the World Unite and Take Over!

“Labor Tribune promotes analysis from a Marxist perspective. Our supporters are predominantly members of the Austalian Labor Party (ALP)”; the brainchild of Marcus Strom, Labor Tribune represents one of the last gasps of the Left in the ALP, and has replaced (May 2006) the more ominously titled Communist Party Advocates.

[ii] Solidarity is dead! Long live Solidarity!

Perhaps the most exciting spotting news of recent times is the announcement by the remnants of the post-Socialist Alliance ISO, a breakaway from Socialist Alternative in Brisbane called the Socialist Action Group and another, Sydney-based breakaway from the ISO called Solidarity to merge into the one organisation, called Solidarity. This took place at a conference in Sydney on the first weekend of February 2008.

[iii] Maybe if we changed our name…

A minor split from the DSP a few years ago (July 2006), the Marxist Solidarity Network (nee Leninist Party Faction) has changed its name (but not its spots) twice: first to ‘Workers & Community First’, latterly to ‘Direct Action’. Its leading spokesperson, Jorge Jorquera, stood for the seat of Derrimuit in the 2006 Victorian state election. Unfortunately, Jorquera came last, garnering just 275 votes or 1.0% of the total. Worse yet, a member of the DSP’s arch-rivals in the CEC, Rod Doel, gained 330 votes, or 1.2% of the total.

[iv] What Do You All Think About A Sixth International Then?

One of the more entertaining stories concerning the Revolutionary Left is the saga of Workers’ Power. In July 2006, the five members of the Australian franchise dissolved, along with a small group of others, into another mob called permanentrevolution. However, “While the Australian section of Revolution [Workers’ Power yoof branch] was also thrown out of its organisation, Permanent Revolution Australia continues to support the ideals of a revolutionary youth international, and supports the iRevo tendency of Revolution in its fight to win Revolution back to political and organisational independence”. But wait! There’s more! “At the Revolution International Delegates Confere[n]ce, Prague 2006 (the highest decision making body of Revolution internationally), Revolution Australia was deemed to not be a section of Revolution anymore.”

[v] “I know you are but what am I?”

ISO, SAlt: Anti-Communists to the Core! scream the Spartacists:

Two groups in Australia who don’t claim capitalism has recently been restored in China are the International Socialists (ISO) and Socialist Alternative. These Laborite reformists consider the 1949 Chinese Revolution merely a step sideways to “state capitalism,” with the Chinese bureaucracy a new ruling class. This anti-Marxist “state capitalist” “theory” serves as a justification for their abiding hostility to the workers’ states and siding with “democratic” capitalism. Here they stand in the traditions of their British parent group, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of the late Tony Cliff…

A w e s o m e.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2023 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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43 Responses to Trot Guide 2008 #1.0

  1. grumpy cat says:

    to be followed by a list of successful and ongoing anarchist initiated projects I assume…

    [Attack of the Anarchoids from Neptune! (June 1, 2008)]

  2. juancastro says:

    @ grumpy cat:

    Exactly. That ultra-sectarian response is similar to one I got from some dickhead yesterday while we were doing the stall. “I’m an anarchist” he yelled out as I asked him if he wanted to sign an anti-war petition, strolling past the stall with a contemptuous look on his face.

    If I (as a socialist with anarchist tendencies) saw an anarchist stall somewhere, or met an anarchist anywhere doing something political, I would cling on to them for dear life, express solidarity, and try find out more about what they’re doing; their campaigns etc.. I’m not sure that all the members of SAlt would be the same, but I have commented to a number of members the importance of solidarity with the (non-Stalinist) revolutionary left, and I will continue to make those arguments.

    I’m sad to say @ndy that you have no credibility when it comes to putting down other organisations if this blog and the anti-nazi website are the centres of your regular political activity.

    If you want to be a sideline theoretician, stick to critiquing theories; making snide remarks about other organisations doesn’t help your cause.

  3. juancastro says:

    Shit, that anarchist convention is on the same weekend as the Marxism conference and as my cousin’s wedding. How bloody annoying.

  4. Adam says:

    Juan Castro as far as solidarity with SAlt or even just acceptance of SAlt as a genuine socialist group goes i’d have to say fuck no… this is not out of mindless sectarianism as while i’d identify myself if asked as an anarchist i’m quite happy and willing to work with socialist groups and have many marxist friends (a significant proportion actually) and am myself a reformed marxist. i just can’t take seriously a personality cult/friendship circle mainly centralized around rich uni brats/high school students who have no idea how to fucking live and frankly come across as slumming it and playing revolution.

    while i don’t know you and you may very well be an honest hard-working revolutionary who honestly wants to make a change you’ve aligned yourself with people who in my mind share the same level of credibility and deserve the same respect as the sparts.

    (and i dare say many of the others who tell your crappy magazine pushing brethren to fuck off! would sympathize)

  5. Lumpen says:

    Petitions stop wars now?

    Where do the signatures go?

  6. juancastro says:

    @ Lumpen

    I think we send them in every few months. The point is just to talk to people, give them a reason to stop.

    @ Adam…

    So far I haven’t come across any of the personalty cult stuff you’re talking about, and I’m not really interested finding out more about that shit. Rich uni brats/high school students? I think there is one high school student, and I have no idea about the wealth of my comrades. None of those are attacks that make me think twice about the organisation to be honest.

    All I know is that most of the comrades I’ve spoken to are serious about revolution, have read a shitload of stuff, know very little about union work, and are open about their strengths and weaknesses, and have a theory to explain why union work at the moment is not going to be the source of growth of the movement. I’m not sure if I totally agree with either analysis (SAlt’s focus on students or the ISO’s rejection of students), but when it comes down to it, the ISO forced the split, not the other way around.

    I’m (sincerely) sure you have political issues with the group, how about you explain those?


  7. Lumpen says:

    At Juan: Where do you send them?

  8. grumpy cat says:

    Hi juancastro (and others)

    SAlt for me is beyond the pale (or is it pail?) because of their activities after the G20. Without an official apology / public withdrawal of their statements they are the one organisation I want nothing to do with – I can not even bring my self to talk to members I am still so angry about it all… and I’ll talk to almost anyone about anything any time.

    rebel love

  9. @ndy says:

    In the meantime, let’s have some music.

  10. juancastro says:

    I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t at the G20 rallies as I was in Alice Springs at the time… I was NOT happy to hear Mick’s denouncement of the actions taken by the Arterial Bloc. I’ve taken up the argument many times with people on the national exec and the melbourne exec… anybody who will listen basically. I think it was a bullshit decision that totally lost touch with the reality of our position as a minority of revolutionaries that need to support each other publicly.

    I’ve got to say that I disagree with the politics behind the actions of the Arterial Bloc, but when push comes to shove, anarchists are our comrades, while the state will always be our enemy. Propaganda points come a distant [second] IMO.

  11. juancastro says:

    Wow, that was a hastily written post, with no editing at all, and it shows. Sorry.

    I think the signatures go to the Greens to submit in parliament.

  12. @ndy says:

    Oh dear…


    In terms of “ultra-sectarian” responses, I’m unsure what you’re referring to, but it must be either the post itself (Trot Guide 2008 #1.0) or my very brief comment (“Oceania / South/East Asia Directory // Watch this space!”) following Dave’s virtual eye-rolling. In either case, your comment doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

    In any case, I’ll assume that what you’re actually describing as being “ultra-sectarian” is my assessment of the state of the Marxist left in contemporary Australia (or at least insofar as its formal political expressions are concerned). To respond to your accusation, it would need to have some substance. Unfortunately, you provide none, instead recounting an incident involving an ‘anarchist’ which occurred when you were running a SAlt stall. Apparently, this person was rude: he yelled and had a ‘contemptuous’ look on his face. You, by contrast, would assuredly behave in a polite and respectful manner in the event you encountered an anarchist stall (say, at this year’s BDO).

    Obviously, I’ve no idea who this person was. But let’s assume that they were, in fact, an anarchist. What — apart form sheer belligerence — might explain their behaviour? One possibility which occurs to me is the bad reputation SAlt has. That is, leaving aside the political differences that exist between anarchists and Trotskyists — and the violent repression of anarchism and anarchists by Trotsky himself and Bolsheviks, of one sort or another, the world over — I suggest this hostility may have something to do with the position adopted by SAlt following the G20 demonstrations in Melbourne in November, 2006. In case you were not aware of this, here’s what Mick Armstrong, the central figure and leading ideologue in SAlt, had to say about the matter (November 19, 2006):

    I was one of the organisers of the G20 demo from the [Melbourne?] Stop the War Coalition and I am also in Socialist Alternative.

    The anarchist crazies involved in the ultra-violence were in no serious sense part of the demo. Just like their black bloc mates in Europe they simply exploited the demo for their own purposes.

    Right throughout the lead-up to the demo they made clear their hostility to and contempt [for] other protestors. On the day they did all they could to disrupt the demonstration and were hostile, abusive, threatening [and] ultra-sectarian towards people on the demo.

    Australia[,] fortunately[,] has not previously been blighted by the sort of black bloc anarchist activities which [have] had such a disastrous impact on demonstrations in Europe. These people are simply provocateurs that open up protests to police repression. In Europe their ranks have been riddled by police agents and fascists.

    What gave them a certain critical mass at the G20 was the presence of considerable numbers of anarchists from overseas. One of our members from New Zealand said he recognised at least 40 NZ anarchists. He knew at least 20 of them by name. There were also a considerable number of black [bloc] anarchists from Europe. We know of people from Sweden, Germany and England. These people are like football hooligans who travel the world looking for violence.

    On top of that there were also a considerable number of anarchists from interstate.

    Because of the behaviour of these provocateurs the media [and…] the law and order brigade are having a field day.

    The left should offer no comfort to these crazies. We should do whatever we can to isolate them. They are wreckers. If they grow in Australia it will simply make it harder to build future protests and movements.

    Keep in mind that as a result of the protests, several dozen people are facing serious charges, including those of riot and affray. As I write, one person, Akin Sari (a dark-skinned “foreigner”) is sitting in jail. Also keep in mind that in 1992, Mick himself, along with a number of other Trots, faced similar charges as a result of a student demonstration. The rhetoric Mick employs now is an echo of the propaganda produced by corporate media at the time regarding those events, and the ‘anarchist crazies’ deemed responsible.

    In my view, it would be hard to find a better example of ‘sectarianism’ — placing the interests of one’s own sect ahead of that of the movement as a whole. More than this, the tone of the response is not only alarmist and hysterical, but offensive.

    I’m sad to say @ndy that you have no credibility when it comes to putting down other organisations if this blog and the anti-nazi website are the centres of your regular political activity. If you want to be a sideline theoretician, stick to critiquing theories; making snide remarks about other organisations doesn’t help your cause.

    Now you’re just being silly.

    My purpose in blogging or responding to your comments hardly centres around establishing, to your satisfaction, my bona fides as a revolutionary. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. Nor am I interested in entering into a dick-measuring competition. Suffice it to say that my ‘political activities’ extend beyond FDB! and blogging, and have done for some years.

    With regards “putting down” other organisations, as far as I’m aware, none care, but if they do, they’re welcome, as you are, to comment. In general, however — with one or two exceptions — Trots avoid my blog like the plague. As to the production of critical theory and my ’cause’, excuse me if I prefer to reserve my own judgment.

  13. Adam says:

    “I’m (sincerely) sure you have political issues with the group, how about you explain those?”

    yes i have issues to do with the politics of socialist alternative but it’s nothing really that ground breaking or note worthy, i don’t agree with scientific socialism … which is to say i don’t think it’s a science and don’t believe that it represents a desirable model for society. that said i’ll happily work with socialists on campaigns. my main problems with socialist alternative other than getting the distinct impression from all that i have met (and it’s a lot) that they are not serious and that they are interested more in the game than the ideals and that it’s akin to an extra curricular activity for them … is the extreme isolationist attitude about new members and sectarianism they displayed when i used to deal with them regularly (about 4 years ago). things like senior members like bloodworth running up and hurling abuse at you if you were from another group and talked to a new member; the complete refusal of SAlt members especially new members to read the opinions of outside groups but still have the stones to suggest they should read the SAlt magazine (which at last and only read sucked some major arse … i’m so glad i didn’t part with $2 for that thing); or the closed door policy of “open meetings” if you’re identified as being from another group or recruiting being pretty much only through friend’s circles or social events and not openly on the issues; or discouragement of people like a friend of mine who briefly joined from socializing with people not in SAlt … members asking a different friend of mine (not political) about socialism and when she said she knew about socialism and knew quite a few commies in the dsp/res being told by this group of SAlt members that dsp/res are not really socialists only SAlt are

    so yeah i guess my main problem with SAlt is that it is a self righteous political closed minded ULTRA sectarian cultish bunch of little rich kids telling me and other poor people what will improve our lives when they have no idea what our lives are like and will be over this fashion trend before i can get so much as stable housing

    that said not everyone in SAlt is necessarily bad or a moron but as a group it is indefensible

    oh and as far as the iso causing the split i honestly don’t know the exact circumstances but to blame it on the iso i don’t think is entirely fair when i can’t see SAlt accepting a permanent faction inside their group actively criticizing the upper management … it’s an issue indicative of most socialist groups around OZ they hate their competition and they hate competition in their own party more

  14. juancastro says:


    I’m not sure if you read my subsequent post, but I was and remain appalled by the decision made by Mick Armstrong and the organisation more generally to publicly denounce the Arterial Bloc.

    Also, your extreme defensiveness is a bit boring. I’m honestly not here to pick a fight at all, but your persistently disparaging remarks towards every non-anarchist organisation on the left makes it difficult to maintain an open dialogue, and puts someone like myself on the back foot before we even begin to talk. Obviously you can continue to scoff at the actions of the non-anarchist left if you want, but it comes off as immature and ultra-sectarian IMO, and does little to build solidarity and inter-organisation relationships.

    On that note, I’m wondering why it is that so many people are rabidly anti-SAlt, aside from personality clashes and bizarre anti-school/uni student elitism. I will bring that up next meeting I’m at, as obviously it is a concern for me as someone who feels sympathetic to both socialist and anarchist (specifically, anarcho-communism or syndicalism) movements.

    BTW Having cancelled my cousin’s wedding invite, I’m hoping to make it to the final day of the anarchist convergence over the easter weekend. I would’ve gone to the whole thing but it coincides with the Marxism conference held by SAlt. Although by the sounds of it, I’m going to have to be wearing riot gear when people find out where I’m from. Maybe I’ll see you there on the sunday anyway.

  15. Lumpen says:

    I will bring that up next meeting I’m at, as obviously it is a concern for me as someone who feels sympathetic to both socialist and anarchist (specifically, anarcho-communism or syndicalism) movements.

    Let us know how that one goes.

    From what I understand, the only thing on the agenda for the anarcho thing is a convergence of existing groups to discuss federation. You may not get a lot out of it in that case. Someone else might be able to confirm what’s on.

    And who is having personality clashes or is bizarrely elite?

  16. @ndy says:

    1) Mick makes absolutely no reference to the Arterial Bloc in his statement. Instead, he refers to: anarchist crazies; ultra-violence; a hostile, contemptuous, abusive, threatening, ultra-sectarian blight of black bloc anarchists; provocateurs, riddled by police agents and fascists; the presence of considerable numbers of anarchists from overseas; at least 40 NZ anarchists of which at least 20 were known by name; people from Sweden, Germany and England, football hooligans who travel the world looking for violence…

    2) Since then — over a year ago now — there has been no acknowledgment or apology from Mick or SAlt. I did, however, note Mick and SAlt’s presence at a rally in solidarity with the Urewera accused: the man is utterly shameless.

    3) A further statement by SAlt — since removed from their site — was released on November 21, The left must take a stand against the elitist violence of the “Arterial Bloc”.

    4) In June last year Mick treated us boys and grrls to ‘Is there anything radical about anarchism?’ (Socialist Alternative, No.117, June 2007). As I’ve already indicated, I wrote a lengthy reply to Mick. Last September, I even invited a SAlt member to respond. This was her reply:

    i beg[a]n this reply by re[s]ponding to your individual points, but what’s the point? you are clearly a type who is deeply engrossed in your redbaiting. what’s the point in even asking for my opinion when you see me as a mindless brainwashed trot anyway? for you to write off socialist alternative’s membership as ‘ignorant’ is thoroughly patronizing, & i find it ironic that your initial argument about mick’s apparent gross caricature of anarchism is followed by a complete caricature of socialism. i’m sick of anarchists like you who have nothing constructive to offer, but rather devote most of your time [to] slagging off socialist alternative.

    furthermore, who the fuck are you? i have never heard of an ‘andy’ at any of the activism i’ve been involved in for the past 5 years. i don’t remember ever meeting you at stop the war meetings, or palestine solidarity network, or student cross campus meetings. am i mistaken, or are you just another one of those armchair activists who spend all their time on the net slagging off socialism instead of actually putting this energy into building mass movements like the rest of us? but i guess you wouldn’t want to waste your time with building protests or anything like that, you’re probably more busy wrapped up in your lifestylism which, i must have forgotten, is ‘part of the struggle against an exploitative system’ as you said in your blog.


    A typical reaction, it seems. First, an inability to engage with the issues, followed by a ridiculously self-centred questioning of my ‘credentials’. It honestly doesn’t occur to such interlocutors that I may be engaged in political activities outside their ken. Finally, there is an obsessive pre-occupation with the construction industry, based on a spectacularly simple-minded approach to society and social change, social movement, culture and politics.

    “pffft”, as they say.

    5) I don’t regard what I write as being extremely defensive (or, alternatively, as being overly aggressive). Instead, I’ve gone to some lengths to reply to your commentary, both on issues to do with my own political activities, the local radical political milieu, and radical social theory generally. In short, I take you seriously. Perhaps I shouldn’t. Perhaps I should ignore you when you write that I am ultra-sectarian (for no apparent reason), compare me to a “dickhead”, opine that I have no credibility and should stick to being a sideline theoretician.


    Honestly though, if you’d prefer I dismissed you, I will.

    5) If you wish to know more about the anarchist hostility towards the contemporary legacy of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, you may wish to consider studying the origins of Bolshevism, and the repression of anarchism by the Bolshevik Party under the direction of Lenin and Trotsky. A sample:

    On the night of April 12 [1918], an armed force, acting upon government orders, smashed the Anarchist organizations of Moscow. Against those organizations the government forces threw in action not only rifles and machine guns, but also cannons. This “military expedition” resulted, according to M. Y. Latzis, “in 30 casualties–killed and wounded–on our part–12″[.] All that was done under the slogan of fighting “banditry in the Anarchist ranks”, but the real cause lies elsewhere. It was laid open by Lenin in his, “A letter to the Comrades” (issued September, 1917) in which he wrote that: “All agree in characterizing the prevailing mood of the masses of people as one nearing despair and as one giving rise to the generally acknowledged fact of growing Anarchist influence”.

    In addition to the eighteen killed and wounded Anarchists, it is rather difficult to ascertain the exact number, the Che-Ka killed the arrested Anarchist Khodounov, during an alleged “attempt to escape”. From that time on persecutions of Anarchists continued at an ever growing rate and by the use of all kinds of means and methods.

    ~ Gregory Petrovich Maximoff, The Guillotine At Work, Vol 1: The Leninist Counter-Revolution, Cienfuegos Press, 1979 (1940), p.57.


    A new wave of arrests swept the country in 1921 & thousands died or disappeared in the ‘revolutionary tribunals’ that year. 8,000 Kronstadters fled over the ice to Finland following the Kronstadt Revolt & 15,000 sailors were kicked out of the fleet.

    The anarchists were scattered to the prison camps, where they died of illness, hard labor or Cheka (Bolshevik Secret Police) executioners (Lev Chernyi was shot by the Cheka on September 21, 1921). Those who evaded the net fled their homeland to a life of exile. Among them were Emma Goldman, & Alexander Berkman who wrote:

    ‘Grey are the passing days. One by one the embers of hope have died out. Terror & despotism have crushed the life born on October. The slogans of the revolution are foresworn, its ideals stifled in the blood of the people. The breath of yesterday is dooming millions to death; the shadow of today hangs like a black pall over the country.

    Dictatorship is trampling the masses underfoot. The revolution is dead; its spirit cries in the wilderness . . . I have decided to leave Russia.’

    On September 29 the Cheka executed Fanya Baron, & nine other anarchist prisoners. Emma Goldman, a friend & fellow anarchist, was so outraged that friends had to dissuade her from chaining herself to a bench in the hall where the Third International was meeting to shout her protests to the delegates.

    “It seems unbelievable that even today, after everything that has happened & is happening in Russia, there are people who still imagine that the difference between socialists & anarchists is only that of wanting revolution gradually or quickly.” ~ Errico Malatesta, Umanita Nova, September 3, 1921

    To put it another way:

    The Slow Burning Fuse : A Personal Introduction (John Quail, 1978)

    Some years ago I was talking to a friend of mine in Leeds who was doing a thesis on British labour history. He asked me if I had ever heard of a group of people who had been arrested for a bomb conspiracy in 1892, a group known as the Walsall Anarchists. What ? British Anarchists ? I had never heard anything like it. I had cut my eye teeth as an Anarchist arguing with Trotskyists and Communists over Spain and Russia. I had wondered why left-wing politics always had to do with foreign parts, though I had found much disputarional mileage in the events in Barcelona in 1936 ( ‘the capacity of the proletariat for spontaneous self-activity’ ) and Kronstadt in 1921 ( ‘the Bolsheviks were not fighting the counter-revolution, they were the counter-revolution’ ). But passionate denunciations of Leon ‘Shoot them like partridges’ Trotsky over many pints of beer left much to be desired. There was too much dreaming in our transference of the heady days of past revolutions in other places to the sooty backstreets and Arndale centres of Leeds. It was our own place and time we should have been talking about. Had Leeds no history of its own which made sense of the present ? Its people were descendants of Luddites and Chartists, millburners and loom-wreckers. There had been no revolutions, we were sure of that; but perhaps there had been revolutionaries whose successes and failures it would pay us better to learn from. So when my friend asked me if I had heard of Anarchists in prosaic Walsall my mind did a somersault which it had been prepared for, more or less. My intention to write a book on the British Anarchists was formed that afternoon in Leeds during a cigarette break outside the University library.

    A lot of things got in the way, earning a living for one thing, not to mention various agitations. Eventually the book was written. As so many authors have remarked, if I had known what was involved before I started the book might not have been written. I suppose, however, that this makes about as much sense as someone saying that if they had known what a difficult business life was they would not have bothered to be born. Anyway, when the book reached the publishers it was greeted with cautious optimism but I was told that I had described the British Anarchist movement without explaining the general philosophy on which it was based. I thought this was a bit rough; there seemed enough passing references and inferences to make it clear. On reflection, however, I began to feel that they might have a point – Anarchism has been represented too often as the philosophical creed of a bunch of bomb-carrying nutters in big black hats and cloaks, providing a general justification for causing chaos for the sake of it. But if I was to try and correct this impression how was I to do it without being balls-achingly boring ? For it is an unfortunate fact that political theory, no matter how worthy or perceptive, is curiously disembodied; it gives no clues to the passions, the heroisms or the squalid conflicts that it inspired.

    I could begin by saying something like ‘Anarchism is a political philosophy which states that it is both possible and desirable to live in a society based on cooperation, not coercion, organized without hierarchy with no element of the principle of authority.’ I could add that as a human aspiration in various guises it is as old as authority itself, though as a politically self-conscious, self-defined movement it emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century. It seems to have been one response to the treatment of socialists at the hands of bourgeois revolutionaries in the 1830-48 period of revolutions. More specifically it marks a rejection of the political structure which the bourgeoisie sought to establish – parliamentary democracy. From the earliest times when the odd socialist might take executive office, through to the development of mass Social Democratic parties, the Anarchists developed their criticisms and their alternatives in parallel : from the cooperatives and staunch artisan individualism advocated by Proudhon, through the decentralist revolutionary activism of Bakunin and the simultaneously intense idealism and finely detailed practicality of Kropotkin to the entwining of all these strands with insurgent trades unionism in Anarcho-Syndicalism. And it hardly needs to be added that an expansion of this theme would fill – and has filled – many volumes. There is much in the writings of the Anarchist sages worth reading; yet they wrote for times and to concerns which only loosely approximate to our own. Should anyone wish to read theoretical works of more contemporary relevance, the works of Murray Bookchin, Paul Cardan and the Situationists are recommended.

    But once all this is said, perhaps the most important part remains unsaid. Political convictions involve an analysis of a situation with suggestions for change; yet they differ qualitatively from the emotionally neutral attitudes of, say, car mechanics. Political attitudes are to do with the totality of social being – which can only be seen as a series of mere technical problems at the risk of madness. Political convictions involve much more than the logical faculties; they involve a strong emotional commitment. Perhaps one reason why I have written a book about the Anarchist movement is that in the lives of the people who made it I find a sense of community of emotional commitment that I cannot find in a history of theoretical development. We understand theoretical convictions more easily, it seems to me, when they are presented as a particular personal commitment. Thus, rather than expand the themes of the previous paragraph, it might be better to explain Anarchism ‘from the inside’, as it were, by describing how I became an Anarchist. I have no way of knowing how typical I am, though, and I apologize to anyone in the movement who thinks my own case is wildly untypical.

    Some time ago I was thrown out of Leeds University for failing an examination. I wanted to change subjects anyway. The result was that I spent two years working in assorted jobs and going to night school to get more relevant ‘A’-Levels. One of these jobs had been as an unqualified teacher. The school had been quite a tough one, I was too young and inexperienced and the whole business turned out to be something of a disaster. The most depressing thing was the incredible ease with which I became a parody of the authoritarian teacher. I bellowed at the kids, I hit them, I demanded an obedience I found ridiculous, I preached values that were not my own. I had started the job an unthinking socialist with a rebellious streak and ended up sounding and acting like a prison warder – if not a particularly effective one. So when I was readmitted to the University and was spending the summer beforehand working at the far more congenial job of cleaning railway carriages I had a lot of thinking to do.

    In the house where I had a room there were two Anarchists. Quiet and friendly themselves, though perhaps a little too un-uproarious for my taste, their conversation and their bookshelves were a revelation. For the first time I began to see what systems of order-givers and order-takers did to people, how authoritarian roles were enforced from the outside and then more readily accepted through chronic personal insecurity. I also found examples of men and women who had not only opposed arbitrary authority but had formulated – and lived – alternatives to it. Almost immediately I began to call myself an Anarchist, though it is probably true to say that it takes a lifetime to be one. It was certainly the case that some time passed before the unique combination of personal morality, political analysis, strategy and tactics fully came home to me. In the years of agitation that followed I began to put practical flesh on the simple bones of the idea that mankind can live without authority. And though the problems in the way of progress towards that happy society have proved more deep-rooted than my first enthusiasm might have allowed, I have found no reason to suppose that it is neither possible nor desirable. For every Anarchist, in the present book or out of it, there has been some process similar to this. Whether through personal experience or personal observation of oppression or exploitation, someone jumps from considerations of despair or piecemeal defence to the conception that the whole world can be made again. And not with ‘a new boss same as the old boss’ but a world without elites, hierarchy or privilege. Without some understanding of this one cannot understand what makes Anarchists tick and their ways will be as strange to the unpolitical reader as the ways of Martians.

    In the present book I have tried to describe the British Anarchist movement from its origins in 1880 or thereabouts to its more or less total eclipse by about 1930. ( Though it is worth pointing out that the movement did pick up again rapidly in the later 1930s, mainly through the influence of the Anarchist contribution to the Spanish Civil War and Revolution of 1936-9. This later period is still a matter of living reminiscence rather than history. ) That the British Anarchist movement was a small one compared to the mass movements of Spain or France cannot be denied. Yet though never a mass movement, when it was in tune with its times it had periods of quite extraordinary growth. These periods of growth raise some interesting queries as to how histories of the ‘common people’ or the ‘working class’ have been related. For the conventional wisdom of ‘people’s history’ over the greater part of our period has seen the significant developments in the emergence of institutions, most particularly the trades unions and the Labour Party. ( A smaller group have rather concentrated on a smaller institution, the Communist Party. ) There is no point in Anarchist historians trying to fabricate Anarchist institutions in opposition to these – there is no evidence that any existed. Anarchism in Britain had as its high spots the two periods of great working-class unrest that occurred in our period – 1889-94 and 1910-19. Outside these periods, institutions formed and transformed in them represent a tide-mark round the bath of history after the waters of revolt have subsided. The Anarchists, on the other hand, were of the moment, a part of that revolt, sustained by it, feeding ideas into it, growing and subsiding with it. The forms of the movement were shifting and decentralized, making it rather difficult to pin down numbers, events and the particular activists involved and forcing the historian to rely on a myriad snippets of information. Nevertheless it is possible to say that the Anarchist movement emerges in its moments of strength as of at least equal importance to that of the Marxist groupings. More importantly, it calls into question the validity of a history which considers only the institutional superstructure of working-class activity with little or no attention given to the ebb and flow of that activity itself. Anarchism, so often called ‘utopian’ or ‘unrealistic’, would seem to emerge as a practical creed when the masses move and suddenly feel their power.

    It is as a movement in relation to the ebb and flow of popular revolt that this book concerns itself with the British Anarchists. Only in relation to this does it consider Anarchist philosophy and its philosophers. It concerns itself with the Anarchist ideas taken up by people trying to seize some control over their own lives. Recent years have seen the re-issue of many of the Anarchist ‘classics’ of our period, together with assorted attempts to assess Anarchist ideas of a rather patchy quality. I have no wish to enter this field. This book is concerned with the active spreading of Anarchist propaganda and the nature of day-to-day Anarchist activity. Thus there is little about Kropotkin after 1890, though his major theoretical output was after this date. There is barely a mention of literati of the Oscar Wilde type who have connected themselves or have been gratuitously connected with the movement. This was not my intention when I started the book; yet as I fossicked through the literature and other material connected with the movement I found little to encourage their inclusion. This is significant because as Kropotkin remarks :

      Socialistic literature has never been rich in books. It is written for workers for whom one penny is money, and its main force lies in its small pamphlets and its newspapers. Moreover, he who seeks for information about socialism finds in books little of what he requires most. They contain the theories or the scientific arguments in favour of socialist aspirations, but they give no idea how the workers accept socialist ideals and how they could put them into practice. There remains nothing but to take collections of papers and read them all through – the news as well as the leading articles – the former, perhaps, even more than the latter. Quite a new world of social relations and methods of thought and action is revealed by this reading, which gives an insight into what cannot be found anywhere else – namely, the depth and the moral force of the movement, the degree to which men are imbued with the new theories, their readiness to carry them out in their daily life and to suffer for them.

    My experience in writing this book absolutely confirmed Kropotkin’s judgement. In this ‘new world of social relations and methods of thought and action’ I found numbers of unsung demi-heroes ( and, of course, not a few unreviled villains ) whose story is considerably more gripping and important than a catalogue of contributions to the more progressive reviews. Such a catalogue, however, would be easier to write. As has been said, the sources for the Anarchist movement are extremely scattered – no central committee minutes exist because there was never a central committee; even quite large circulation papers can only be read in sequence by following fugitive odd copies from library to library. The result of research is a large ragged jigsaw with lots of pieces missing, most convincingly lifelike in its confusion. Inevitably selections have to be made, loose ends ignored or chopped off short to present some semblance of a rounded-out story. It is true that there are dangers to an over-cut-and-dried history; it is probably true to say too that any history of any social movement suffers from too much structure. Yet when the raw documentary stuff of history is confronted, a welter of fragments, stories, biographies, movements, concerns and events burst over the historian. And I, like all the rest, have selected and structured and for all my attempted objectivity have doubtless constructed a piece of the past in my own image. The only way interested readers correct this is to fossick through the libraries, etc., in order to construct a version of their own. Of one thing, however, I am certain : there will never be a final version.

  17. Darren says:

    Fair enough to chuck the World Socialist Party of Australia into the Twilight Zone category, but there’s a smattering of them here and there in Australia.

    Don’t know what they actually do in terms of activity, tbh, or how organised or connected to each other they are but I’ve seen them pop up in correspondence and/or the World Socialist Forum yahoogroup in recent months.


    PS – spotted the link via the Leftist Trainspotter list

  18. @ndy says:

    Hola Darren,

    Yeah, the WSPA occupies the Twilight Zone. I don’t know of any recent activity, but there is a PO Box, which is definitely a start. The October Seventh mob probably belong with the other Dead Parrots, but I have some kinda vague recollection of seeing a flyer or some kinda document promoting their cause in the last year or two so… afaik, there’s still a few geriatric Stalinists hanging out at Victorian Trades Hall Council who are pinning their hopes on its resurgence. I may also be being a little unfair with regards Permanent Revolution (see also: Revo) — their website is still up and about and I’m not sure but I may have encountered a few of their members quite recently, so no disrespect.

    As for Trotskyist Platform, I think it may be deceased. It’s exceedingly difficult to tell, as its occupant appears to have been just one person, that person being the former editor of the Australasian Spartacist, who defected (the cur!) in May 2005.

    The other mob I haven’t discussed is the remnants of the Maoist groups of the late 60s / early 70s (that is, assembled outside of the CPA/ML). A number have gathered at and — not surprisingly given the course of events — are very very cranky as they enter their twilight years.

    The pseudo-Left opposes modernity, development, globalisation, technology and progress. It embraces obscurantism, relativism, romanticism and even nature worship. At May Day rallies, the pseudo-Left whines about how things aren’t what they used to be.


  19. @ndy says:

    grumpy cat
    Feb 6th, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    to be followed by a list of successful and ongoing anarchist initiated projects I assume…

    Australia. 1975…



    Far from the Second World War having produced a stable system of great power blocs secure in their heartlands and held in frozen equilibrium by the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation, the three decades since the war have witnessed major convulsions in all the great powers, together with endless violence on the periphery of the world system.

    In the East the last act of the Bolshevik Revolution is being played out: the conversion of ‘Soviet’ Russia into a gigantic authoritarian welfare state – with or without the restoration of private property. In the West the international currency and energy crises, the ‘great inflation’ and the current turn into recession clearly show the bankruptcy of the Keynesian liberal state and throughout the advanced countries the attempted synthesis of all classes and groups in the parliamentary reformist state is breaking down. If it is true that in almost all countries, labour has accepted the bourgeois state and become merely one sectional interest among others in the existing society, it is also true that it is in conflict with these other sectional interests and the field of conflict is widening.

    A century after the foundation of the modern worker’s movement, anarchism’s main competitors stand condemned by history. Both party dictatorship and parliamentary reformism have had their chance and as the libertarian wing of the International Workingmen’s Association predicted, they have both failed when measured against the aim common to both wings of the classical workers movement. Moreover with them also lies a large share of the responsibility for the twentieth century holocaust. If today various micro-factions of ‘left’ labourites and ‘revolutionary’ Leninists rehearse doctrines that were already out of date in 1920, it is because they have learnt nothing from the last fifty years; nothing from Berlin, Kronstad, Budapest and Prague; nothing from Belsen, and Workuta; nothing from Stalin and Hitler.

    Anarchism suffered the fate of any doctrine ahead of its time. It made the proletarian revolution its central concept at a time when the bourgeois revolution had not yet happened for the bulk of mankind. It was only the beginning of this century that saw a steady world-wide growth of anarchist and syndicalist organisations; a rise against which all factions of the so-called ‘socialist’ International closed their ranks.

    The world historical significance of the Russian Revolution was that it split the revolutionary left and crippled the anarchist and syndicalist movements.

    In terms of its effects the Third, or Communist, International was a profoundly counter- revolutionary organisation. It destroyed its revolutionary competitors – the anarchists and syndicalists – but it put nothing in their place. The Industrial Workers of the World in America, the Shop Stewards Movement in England, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards in Germany – all were destroyed, they have yet to rise again. Nor was this destruction purely organisational; by the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact, when Stalin gave Hitler several hundred foreign communist refugees for execution, the Gestapo and G.P.U. were gunning down anarchist militants all over Europe and America.

    Whilst modern anarchism recognises its descent from the revolutionary libertarian wing of the first workers’ International, and its kinship with those libertarian militants who survived the onslaught of Stalinism and fascism in the twenties and thirties and the general destruction of the Second World War, it arises principally from a critical reflection on the experience of the socialist bloc and on the irrelevance of labour, socialist and communist parties in the advanced West. Of the proletarian revolutions this century – Russia 1905, 1917; Kronstadt 1921; Asturias 1934; Spain 1936; East Berlin 1953; Poznan 1953; Hungary 1956; France 1968 – all except one started independently of the socialist and communist parties, only three gained the support of such parties and the majority were suppressed by socialist and communist parties. Such treachery, covering as it does a whole historical epoch, cannot be blamed on the characteristics of this or that individual leader; it is an essential characteristic of such parties…

  20. Soviet Man says:


    Some comments on your list.

    Firstly it is good to see a begrudging acknowledgment of the existence of the CL.

    Few in the left acknowledge the existence of the CL. Despite us being the ONLY communist grouping to stand a candidate in the 2007 and 2004 elections. The CPA has not even fielded an election candidate of any type in nearly 7 years.

    As for the Twilight Zone list, I haven’t seen a cadre from any of those groups in a number of years. Certainly not in Sydney anyhow. Name names and I will see if it rings a bell.

  21. Ben Griffin says:


    Thanks for the lengthy quotes in the next to last post. i needed a bit of a pick me up tonight, and this really hit the spot.

    I also thoroughly enjoyed your very civilised responses to the SAlt-er who appears to be a perfectly decent sort of guy… i’ve tried to deal with SAlt, and with the SEP in the past, and found myself feeling like i’d spent my time organising for something that would turn it’s back on me (and in the SEP’s case did— my expulsion letter from the SEP was positively hilarious.)

    It’s left me with a kind of emptiness though … This was positively inspirational, and i have to thank you.

    “Russia 1905, 1917; Kronstadt 1921; Asturias 1934; Spain 1936; East Berlin 1953; Poznan 1953; Hungary 1956; France 1968 – all except one started independently of the socialist and communist parties, only three gained the support of such parties and the majority were suppressed by socialist and communist parties. Such treachery, covering as it does a whole historical epoch, cannot be blamed on the characteristics of this or that individual leader; it is an essential characteristic of such parties…”


    I’m looking forward to reading around in here some more.

    keep up the fantastic work,

  22. @ndy says:

    G’day Ben,


    The last encounter I had with SAlt was several years ago now, when I attended a meeting of theirs on the subject of… anarchism. It went pretty much as you might expect.

    You can read Slow Burning Fuse on the web; I thought it was ace. The text from the FAA was likely authored or co-authored by Andrew Giles-Peters, an Australian anarchist academic. He’s written quite a lot on anarchism and Marxism, and his essay on Karl Korsch is pretty interesting:

    A.R. Giles-Peters
    First appeared in RED AND BLACK #5 (Australia)

    Karl Korsch (1886-1961), who is today being rediscovered by the “new left,” was one of the major theoreticians of left communism. Of the three major theoreticians of 1920’s Marxism – Gramsci, Lukacs and Korsch – Korsch is at once the one of most interest to anarchists and also, I believe, the superior Marxist…

    Red & Black, incidentally, has been published for the better part of 40 years, by the Bulgarian/Australian anarchist Jack Grancharoff. His story is also v interesting.


  23. juancastro says:

    The thing about those meetings (and I made this mistake recently, when I undermined the organisation a bit!) is that they are propaganda for getting people involved in the organisation. With this in mind, the cheap and shallow critique of anarchism is understandable, though not at all laudable.

    To be honest, people are so scared that I (and others) will defect that most times anarchism is brought up it seems to be dismissed in ways which are clearly rubbish. The problem is that I struggle to engage with the anarchist side of the debate because I struggle to meet anarchists.

    For example I have massive problems with the post-revolutionary era in Russia, yet the argument made by Trotskyists in which the failure of the international revolution meant the inevitable failure of the Russian one seems sound to me. How does an incredibly backward country without a surplus even in food (a prerequisite for socialism according to most theorists) create any sort of socialism when being invaded by 15 other nations? I am yet to get a response to you on the question that I (and Dave) have asked a few times: what would class-conscious anarchists have done differently in 1917 and beyond?

    BTW nobody in our organisation would disagree with your quote of recent history, and in fact we argue that the reason these things all failed (barring Russia, which failed a bit later) was that we WEREN’T a key player in the uprisings. I think the fact that Russia (1917) was by far the most successful of these shows the importance of having a decent socialist group involved.

    I take MASSIVE umbrage with that author’s conflation of socialism and communism as if we’re all the same. Of course every uprising since 1924 has been quashed by the Communist Party! They’ve all been Stalinist! That would be like dismissing anarchism with the sell-out of the CNT in the Spanish Revolution.

  24. @ndy says:

    Re meetings: I’m not naive, and I understand the purpose of such meetings, which are never intended to be genuine forums for debate. As it happens, I went with (was dragged along by) a bunch of mates, and besides the SAlt members, I think there may have been only one other person present (although there may have been none, or even two or three — I don’t remember). The critique of anarchism that was presented was the standard one, to which I have the same, routine objections.

    Re meeting with anarchists: Hopefully, there will be more opportunities to meet local anarchists when the new social centre officially opens.

    Re post-1917 Russia: Obviously attempts by the 15 (?) foreign armies to invade and occupy Russia in the early years of the Bolshevik government presented difficulties. Following the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (between Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other) in March 1918, in exchange for a cessation in hostilities, Russia renounced claims of control over the future Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine (while the Ottoman Empire assumed control of other territories).

    The US, under Wilson, sent 8,000 troops to Siberia, in July, 1918. Part of the justification for the sending of US troops — in addition to securing armaments and other materials left along the route of the Trans-Siberia railway — was to assist the Czech Legion leave Russia. The Czech Legion, which with something like 40–60,000 men, was one of the largest concentration of foreign troops on Russian soil. According to the BBC:

    “Between 1918 and 1920, 60,000 Czech soldiers, stranded by the fortunes of war, travelled over four thousand miles through enemy territory, inflicted defeat after defeat on the Red Army, took control of the longest railway line in the world, formed a free Siberian republic and ‘liberated’ a fair chunk of Russia’s gold reserves along the way.

    They were just trying to get home.”

    The Japanese troop presence appears to have been the largest, with something like 70,000, concentrated on the east coast (aka ‘the Siberian Intervention’ of 1918–1922).

    The Polar Bear Expedition to northern Russia consisted of c.5,000 men:

    “A winter of fighting Bolsheviks and wondering why they were still in combat when the war with Germany had ended led to severe morale problems among the American troops, including an alleged mutiny in March 1919 by members of one company in Archangel, and the presentation of an antiwar petition by members of another company in the same month. The troops were ready for the new American commander who arrived at Archangel in April 1919 with orders to withdraw. As soon as navigation opened in June, the American forces left northern Russia. British troops withdrew a few months later, but the anti-Bolshevik government they left behind held the city until February 1920.”

    According to Wikipedia, in addition to the Czech Legion and the Japanese, the other major forces intervening in Russia consisted of:

    24,000 Greeks (in Crimea);
    13,000 Americans (in Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok regions);
    4,000 Canadians (in Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok regions);
    4,000 Serbs (in Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok regions);
    4,000 Romanians (in Arkhangelsk region);
    2,000 Italians (in Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok regions);
    1,600 British (in Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok regions) and;
    760 French (mostly in Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok regions).

    More later… In the meantime:

    Andrew Flood (Workers’ Solidarity, No.59, July 2000):

    …in April of 1917 “big rural landowners began everywhere to evacuate the countryside, fleeing from the insurgent peasantry and seeking protection for their possessions”. Through direct action “the agrarian question was virtually solved by the poor peasants as early as June – September 1917”. As the landlords fled the peasants took over the land and “all of revolutionary Russia was covered with a vast network of workers’ and peasant soviets, which began to function as organs of self-management”.

    The decrees passed by the Bolshevik government in the months after October ‘legalised’ these takeovers. This was part of the process by which the Bolsheviks got rid of the power of independent organs of workers’ self-management like the Soviets (elected workers’ councils) and the Factory Committees. ‘Legalising’ what the workers had already achieved was one way of promoting the right of the central state to have the final say over the working class.

    The Bolshevik attitude towards the working class is perhaps best demonstrated by Trotsky’s speech to the 1920 9th Party Congress when he declared “The working class cannot be left wandering all over Russia. They must be thrown here and there, appointed, commanded, just like soldiers”. “Compulsion of labour will reach the highest degree of intensity during the transition from capitalism to socialism”. “Deserters from labour ought to be formed into punitive battalions or put into concentration camps”.

    These quotes demonstrate the thinking when the Bolsheviks dissolved Soviets, broke up factory committees or jailed and even executed strikers. But if this is how they saw the worker in the factory, how about the ‘worker in uniform’ in the Red Army?

    In 1917 the Czarist Army had fallen apart. Far from the army opposing the revolution, military units were often at the heart of its defence. Not of course the officers, they were for the most part opposed to the revolution. But in 1917 traditional military discipline had disintegrated as soldiers deserted the front, refused to obey orders and elected soldiers’ committees. If the soldiers had obeyed their officers in October or February then the revolution would probably have been defeated. So the ending of top down (or ‘bourgeois’) military discipline was essential to the revolution.

    This break down of the old discipline may have been essential to the revolution but once the Bolsheviks were in power it worked against them. They didn’t want an army where units might refuse to carry out an order like the crushing of a peasant rebellion or the breaking up of a strike. So, in July 1918 Trotsky (the Bolshevik commander of the Red Army) re-introduced all the old methods of the bourgeois army. He even re-appointed old Czarist officers.

    Alongside this the death penalty for disobedience under fire was reintroduced; as were saluting, special forms of address, separate living quarters and privileges for officers. Officers were appointed rather than elected. Trotsky argued that “the elective basis is politically pointless and technically inexpedient and has already been set aside by decree”.

    These changes were deeply unpopular to the rank and file of the army. This, along with the Bolshevik suppression of the revolution, meant the Red Army had one of the highest rates of desertion of any army in history.

    Large scale executions and ‘Punishment Battalions’ were used to compel soldiers to obey orders. In addition the Red Army’s relationship with the local peasants and workers was that of an army of occupation. It seized the supplies it needed and was often used to put down local strikes and insurrections.

  25. @ndy says:

    What was my point? Oh yeah…


    1) The anarchist critique of Bolshevism concerns not only the nature of ‘post-revolutionary Russia’, but the nature of the revolutionary regime itself. In this context, what’s crucial to understanding this critique is the fact that repressive measures aimed at first curtailing and then crushing workers’ self-management — in particular the soviets, but other associations as well — began before the outbreak of Civil War. See Brinton for more details.

    2) The failure of the revolution in Germany (1918–1919) was indeed to have a crucial impact on the Bolshevik regime. The SPD’s capitulation at the beginning of WWI, however, had already sent shockwaves through the Marxist movement. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Marxists (including Vlad the Impaler) could point to the success of German Social Democracy in establishing itself as a mass party of the working class as evidence of the correctness of their analyses… although these of course, were long-disputed. B. Traven / Ret Marut, in the early 1920s wrote:

    That all this would happen if ever the Social Democrats came to power, I told Social Democratic workers as long ago as the year 1905. That the Social Democrats, once in power, would be a hundred times more brutal than the fathers of the Anti-Socialist Laws, I told Social Democratic workers in 1907. 1 told them this not out of political understanding (which I did not have then and do not have today, that being the reason I have been able to retain my feeling for human beings); rather I told it to them out of the feeling that Social Democracy was breeding a popery worse than that of the Catholic Church. And so today it has, in fact, come to pass: Social Democracy, which asserts that it is based on the materialist conception of history, is totally blind with regard to the inevitable and logical course of historical developments. Social Democracy believed that it alone was the revolutionary party; it believed that it alone represented the interests of the workers; it believed that it was the be-all and end-all of all political development. And yet, apparent to all who were willing to see there came into being even many years before World War I the successor to Social Democracy: the Communist Party.

    So, now, as a result, the Social Democratic Party has become the conservative party in this country, because with astonishment and fright it realizes that it is constantly being driven from positions on the left, ever further toward positions on the right. And we must surely keep our eyes wide open, because the Communist Party has at its left its extremely strong successor; and it may be that the Communist Party, once in power, will perhaps persecute the supporters of its successor party just as today the Communists are persecuted by the Social Democrats.

    On the relationship between Russian and German Social Democracy, ‘Kautskyism’ and ‘Leninism’, see ‘The “Renegade” Kautsky and his Disciple Lenin’ by Gilles Dauvé.

  26. grumpy cat says:

    Hi All
    @ndy, since you are so into ideological branding I think it is only fair that you point out that Dauve is not an anarchist but a communist and, yes, a Marxist.

    rebel love

  27. @ndy says:

    Dave, I am attempting to break away from the chains that bind me.

    You’re not helping.

  28. grumpy cat says:

    Damn, because you have a world to win! Sorry.

  29. juancastro says:

    I dig that critique of Leninism… I’ve felt a bit uneasy with the proposed and/or actual relationship to the WC as well. Also shared his concerns with the Bolsheviks in 1917… It definitely seems to me that Lenin (via the proletariat, far to the left of Lenin not to mention the rest of the Bolsheviks) alone spared the party from heading the wrong way totally. The party’s leadership seemed to be made up almost exclusively of relatively conservative figures who were consistently overruled by Lenin and Trotsky. I’m very uncomfortable with an organisation structured in such a way that people like Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc. are able to reach the top.

    On the other hand, I don’t think having a ‘top’ is necessarily evil. Two reasons: a) some people are better than others at analysing, making decisions, speaking, persuading, etc. and b) some decisions need to be made quickly. Having said that, I think b) applies very rarely, so until the next revolutionary situation, a) can be incorporated via the leadership having roles more like “experts” who inject/clarify ideas, analyses, perspectives etc. in meetings, rather than dictate from on high. Not that they do that, per se.

    It’s a tough balance. I feel the left Marxist position is vindicated somewhat by the decision by Russian anarchists during the RR to adopt a more centralised structure (the platform stuff). Is there somewhat of an overlap between platformist anarcho-communism and left Marxism? I find myself (and my idea of practical AND principled revolutionary practice) somewhere in that ideological space…

  30. lumpnboy says:

    Slightly off-topic, but if you haven’t seen it I thought you might find this “Interview with Howard Zinn on Anarchism” of some interest.

  31. @ndy says:

    Thanks for the link. Pretty straight-forward, as Zinn usually is. Never heard of Transcendentalism before…

  32. Dr. Cam says:


    Even I’ve heard of Transcendentalism, Andy!

  33. Dr. Cam says:

    I don’t know what it is, but I’ve heard of it.

  34. @ndy says:


    I disagree with you regarding the positive direction in which Lenin led the Bolsheviks. From my perspective, Lenin — like any good politician — simply had an ability to see which way the wind was blowing, and responded accordingly. Hence The Fantabulous Contraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel, aka the April Theses, aka ‘The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution’. (Comrade Trotsky, incidentally, on the subject of the Soviets of 1905, supposedly remarked that these were the organisations of anarchy.) The emergence of figures like Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev within the Bolshevik Party/State may be troublesome, but it’s hardly inexplicable: all were long-term Party members, followers and close comrades of Lenin, capable, obedient and ruthless.

    Regarding whether or not to go topless, I think the answer is ‘yes’. But this is also really, I think, a question regarding the need for hierarchy. Within the orthodox Marxist tradition, I think Engels may have made the clearest statement regarding the need for various forms of hierarchy in ‘On Authority’ (1872). His essential argument is that the economic conditions necessary to industrial production mandates that there be ‘authority’ (the three examples he employs are the cotton mill, railway and a ship at sea). He concludes that “Wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself, to destroy the power loom in order to return to the spinning wheel”; some critics of mass technics would agree, but that’s another question.

    On my reading, Engels confuses power with authority. Thus he defines ‘authority’ as being “the imposition of the will of another upon ours”, which is an exercise in power, not authority. ‘Authority’ asserts the right to command; ‘power’ is the ability to compel compliance. ‘Authority’ is not necessarily obtained through the ability to employ power, it may in fact be freely and voluntarily submitted to. Further, while a particular individual or group may assert its authority in specific realms, to do so doesn’t require the assertion of such in all, many, most or even some areas. The most obvious example of this is in the area of technical expertise, which expresses an underlying inequality between two parties with regards a common concern.

    Following on from this problematic definition is Engels’ eliding the distinction between ‘political’ authority and ‘authority’ as an economic and social principle (of the kind which, it might be guessed, his unknown Socialist critics may have been referring to in their apparent denunciation of ‘authoritarianism’). In any case, the trump card, for Engels, is ‘revolution’:

    Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?

    In this statement, I think Engels is again confusing resistance to bourgeois authority and power with the establishment of new forms of power. He also manages to avoid the essential point of a social ‘revolution’, which consists not of people shooting, bayoneting and bombarding one another, but the transformation of social relations, including but not limited to overturning the rule of factory owners such as himself.

    Btw, the ‘Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists’ was developed following the Revolution, in 1926, not during it. The Nestor Makhno Archive contains both the Platform and the subsequent debate which immediately followed its publication, and which involved a number of key anarchist thinkers at the time.

    Regarding the relationship between proponents of the Platform and ‘left Marxism’ (Left Communism is another matter), I dunno, but there’s a small number of contemporary anarchist groups which are Platformist — WSM in Ireland, FdCA in Italy, ZACF in southern Africa, et al — links to which are also on the Makhno site.

    Finally, some of Knabb’s thoughts on such matters:

    Decentralization and coordination

    There will be a strong tendency toward decentralization and local autonomy. Small communities promote habits of cooperation, facilitate direct democracy, and make possible the richest social experimentation: if a local experiment fails, only a small group is hurt (and others can help out); if it succeeds it will be imitated and the advantage will spread. A decentralized system is also less vulnerable to accidental disruption or to sabotage. (The latter danger, however, will probably be negligible in any case: it’s unlikely that a liberated society will have anywhere near the immense number of bitter enemies that are constantly produced by the present one.)

    But decentralization can also foster hierarchical control by isolating people from each other. And some things can best be organized on a large scale. One big steel factory is more energy-efficient and less damaging to the environment than a smelting furnace in every community. Capitalism has tended to overcentralize in some areas where greater diversity and self-sufficiency would make more sense, but its irrational competition has also fragmented many things that could more sensibly be standardized or centrally coordinated. As Paul Goodman [see Edgar Z. Friedenberg, ‘Paul Goodman (1911-1972)’, Prospects, Vol. XXIII, No. 3/4, June 1994, pp. 575-95 (PDF)] notes in People or Personnel (which is full of interesting examples of the pros and cons of decentralization in various present-day contexts), where, how and how much to decentralize are empirical questions that will require experimentation. About all we can say is that the new society will probably decentralize as much as possible, but without making a fetish of it. Most things can be taken care of by small groups or local communities; regional and global councils will be limited to matters with broad ramifications or significant efficiencies of scale, such as environmental restoration, space exploration, dispute resolution, epidemic control, coordination of global production, distribution, transportation and communication, and maintenance of certain specialized facilities (e.g. hightech hospitals or research centers).

    It is often said that direct democracy may have worked well enough in the old-fashioned town meeting, but that the size and complexity of modern societies make it impossible. How can millions of people each express their own viewpoint on every issue?

    They don’t need to. Most practical matters ultimately come down to a limited number of options; once these have been stated and the most significant arguments have been advanced, a decision can be reached without further ado. Observers of the 1905 soviets and the 1956 Hungarian workers councils were struck by the brevity of people’s statements and the rapidity with which decisions were arrived at. Those who spoke to the point tended to get delegated; those who spouted hot air got flak for wasting people’s time.

    For more complicated matters, committees can be elected to look into various possibilities and report back to the assemblies about the ramifications of different options. Once a plan is adopted, smaller committees can continue to monitor developments, notifying the assemblies of any relevant new factors that might suggest modifying it. On controversial issues multiple committees reflecting opposing perspectives (e.g. protech versus antitech) might be set up to facilitate the formulation of alternative proposals and dissenting viewpoints. As always, delegates will not impose any decisions (except regarding the organization of their own work) and will be elected on a rotating and recallable basis, so as to ensure both that they do a good job and that their temporary responsibilities don’t go to their heads. Their work will be open to public scrutiny and final decisions will always revert to the assemblies.

    Modern computer and telecommunication technologies will make it possible for anyone to instantly check data and projections for themselves, as well as to widely communicate their own proposals. Despite current hype, such technologies do not automatically promote democratic participation; but they have the potential to facilitate it if they are appropriately modified and put under popular control.

    Telecommunications will also render delegates less necessary than during previous radical movements, when they functioned to a great extent as mere bearers of information back and forth. Diverse proposals could be circulated and discussed ahead of time, and if an issue was of sufficient interest council meetings could be hooked up live with local assemblies, enabling the latter to immediately confirm, modify or repudiate delegate decisions.

    But when the issues are not particularly controversial, mandating will probably be fairly loose. Having arrived at some general decision (e.g. “This building should be remodeled to serve as a daycare center”), an assembly might simply call for volunteers or elect a committee to implement it without bothering with detailed accountability.

    Safeguards against abuses

    Idle purists can always envision possible abuses. “Aha! Who knows what subtle elitist maneuvers these delegates and technocratic specialists may pull off!” The fact remains that large numbers of people cannot directly oversee every detail at every moment. Any society has to rely to some extent on people’s good will and common sense. The point is that abuses are far less possible under generalized self-management than under any other form of social organization.

    People who have been autonomous enough to inaugurate a self-managed society will naturally be alert to any reemergence of hierarchy. They will note how delegates carry out their mandates, and rotate them as often as practicable. For some purposes they may, like the ancient Athenians, choose delegates by lot so as to eliminate the popularity-contest and deal-making aspects of elections. In matters requiring technical expertise they will keep a wary eye on the experts until the necessary knowledge is more widely disseminated or the technology in question is simplified or phased out. Skeptical observers will be designated to sound the alarm at the first sign of chicanery. A specialist who provides false information will be quickly found out and publicly discredited. The slightest hint of any hierarchical plot or of any exploitive or monopolistic practice will arouse universal outrage and be eliminated by ostracism, confiscation, physical repression or whatever other means are found necessary.

    These and other safeguards will always be available to those worried about potential abuses, but I doubt if they will often be necessary. On any serious issue people can insist on as much mandating or monitoring as they want to bother with. But in most cases they will probably give delegates a reasonable amount of leeway to use their own judgment and creativity.

    Generalized self-management avoids both the hierarchical forms of the traditional left and the more simplistic forms of anarchism. It is not bound to any ideology, even an “antiauthoritarian” one. If a problem turns out to require some specialized expertise or some degree of “leadership,” the people involved will soon find this out and take whatever steps they consider appropriate to deal with it, without worrying about whether present-day radical dogmatists would approve. For certain uncontroversial functions they might find it most convenient to appoint specialists for indefinite periods of time, removing them only in the unlikely event that they abuse their position. In certain emergency situations in which quick, authoritative decisions are essential (e.g. fire-fighting) they will naturally grant to designated persons whatever temporary authoritarian powers are needed.

    Consensus, majority rule and unavoidable hierarchies

    But such cases will be exceptional. The general rule will be consensus when practicable, majority decision when necessary. A character in William Morris’s News from Nowhere (one of the most sensible, easygoing and down-to-earth utopias) gives the example of whether a metal bridge should be replaced by a stone one. At the next Mote (community assembly) this is proposed. If there is a clear consensus, the issue is settled and they proceed to work out the details of implementation. But

      if a few of the neighbors disagree to it, if they think that the beastly iron bridge will serve a little longer and they don’t want to be bothered with building a new one just then, they don’t count heads that time, but put off the formal discussion to the next Mote; and meantime arguments pro and con are flying about, and some get printed, so that everybody knows what is going on; and when the Mote comes together again there is a regular discussion and at last a vote by show of hands. If the division is a close one, the question is again put off for further discussion; if the division is a wide one, the minority are asked if they will yield to the more general opinion, which they often, nay, most commonly do. If they refuse, the question is debated a third time, when, if the minority has not perceptibly grown, they always give way; though I believe there is some half-forgotten rule by which they might still carry it on further; but I say, what always happens is that they are convinced, not perhaps that their view is the wrong one, but they cannot persuade or force the community to adopt it.

    Note that what enormously simplifies cases like this is that there are no longer any conflicting economic interests — no one has any means or any motive to bribe or bamboozle people into voting one way or the other because he happens to have a lot of money, or to control the media, or to own a construction company or a parcel of land near a proposed site. Without such conflicts of interest, people will naturally incline to cooperation and compromise, if only to placate opponents and make life easier for themselves. Some communities might have formal provisions to accommodate minorities (e.g. if, instead of merely voting no, 20% express a “vehement objection” to some proposal, it must pass by a 60% majority); but neither side will be likely to abuse such formal powers lest it be treated likewise when the situations are reversed. The main solution for repeated irreconcilable conflicts will lie in the wide diversity of cultures: if people who prefer metal bridges, etc., constantly find themselves outvoted by Morris-type arts-and-crafts traditionalists, they can always move to some neighboring community where more congenial tastes prevail.

    Insistence on total consensus makes sense only when the number of people involved is relatively small and the issue is not urgent. Among any large number of people complete unanimity is rarely possible. It is absurd, out of worry over possible majority tyranny, to uphold a minority’s right to constantly obstruct a majority; or to imagine that such problems will go away if we leave things “unstructured.”

    As was pointed out in a well-known article many years ago (Jo Freeman’s “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”), there’s no such thing as a structureless group, there are simply different types of structures. An unstructured group generally ends up being dominated by a clique that does have some effective structure. The unorganized members have no means of controlling such an elite, especially when their antiauthoritarian ideology prevents them from admitting that it exists.

    Failing to acknowledge majority rule as a backup when unanimity is not attainable, anarchists and consensists are often unable to arrive at practical decisions except by following those de facto leaders who are skilled at maneuvering people into unanimity (if only by their capacity to endure interminable meetings until all the opposition has got bored and gone home). Fastidiously rejecting workers councils or anything else with any taint of coercion, they themselves usually end up settling for far less radical lowest-common-denominator projects.

    It’s easy to point out shortcomings in the workers councils of the past, which were, after all, just hurried improvisations by people involved in desperate struggles. But if those brief efforts were not perfect models to blindly imitate, they nevertheless represent the most practical step in the right direction that anyone has come up with so far. Riesel’s article on councils (SI Anthology, pp. 270-282 [Revised Edition pp. 348-362]) discusses the limitations of these old movements, and rightly stresses that council power should be understood as the sovereignty of the popular assemblies as a whole, not merely of the councils of delegates they have elected. Some groups of radical workers in Spain, wishing to avoid any ambiguity on this latter point, have referred to themselves as “assemblyists” rather than “councilists.” One of the CMDO leaflets (SI Anthology, p. 351 [Revised Edition p. 444] [Address to All Workers]) specifies the following essential features of councilist democracy:

      * Dissolution of all external power
      * Direct and total democracy
      * Practical unification of decision and execution
      * Delegates who can be revoked at any moment by those who have mandated them
      * Abolition of hierarchy and independent specializations
      * Conscious management and transformation of all the conditions of liberated life
      * Permanent creative mass participation
      * Internationalist extension and coordination

    Once these features are recognized and implemented, it will make little difference whether people refer to the new form of social organization as “anarchy,” “communalism,” “communist anarchism,” “council communism,” “libertarian communism,” “libertarian socialism,” “participatory democracy” or “generalized self-management,” or whether its various overlapping components are termed “workers councils,” “antiwork councils,” “revolutionary councils,” “revolutionary assemblies,” “popular assemblies,” “popular committees,” “communes,” “collectives,” “kibbutzes,” “bolos,” “motes,” “affinity groups,” or anything else. (“Generalized self-management” is unfortunately not very catchy, but it has the advantage of referring to both means and goal while being free of the misleading connotations of terms like “anarchy” or “communism.”)

    In any case, it’s important to remember that large-scale formal organization will be the exception. Most local matters can be handled directly and informally. Individuals or small groups will simply go ahead and do what seems appropriate in any given situation (“adhocracy”). Majority rule will merely be a last resort in the progressively diminishing number of cases in which conflicts of interest cannot otherwise be resolved.

    A nonhierarchical society does not mean that everyone magically becomes equally talented or must participate equally in everything; it simply means that materially based and reinforced hierarchies have been eliminated. Although differences of abilities will undoubtedly diminish when everyone is encouraged to develop their fullest potentials, the point is that whatever differences remain will no longer be transformed into differences of wealth or power.

    People will be able to take part in a far wider range of activities than they do now, but they won’t have to rotate all positions all the time if they don’t feel like it. If someone has a special taste and knack for a certain task, others will probably be happy to let her do it as much as she wants — at least until someone else wants a shot at it. “Independent specializations” (monopolistic control over socially vital information or technologies) will be abolished; open, nondominating specializations will flourish. People will still ask more knowledgeable persons for advice when they feel the need for it (though if they are curious or suspicious they will always be encouraged to investigate for themselves). They will still be free to voluntarily submit themselves as students to a teacher, apprentices to a master, players to a coach or performers to a director — remaining equally free to discontinue the relation at any time. In some activities, such as group folksinging, anyone can join right in; others, such as performing a classical concerto, may require rigorous training and coherent direction, with some people taking leading roles, others following, and others being happy just to listen. There should be plenty of opportunity for both types. The situationist critique of the spectacle is a critique of an excessive tendency in present society; it does not imply that everyone must be an “active participant” twenty-four hours a day.

    Apart from the care necessary for mental incompetents, the only unavoidable enforced hierarchy will be the temporary one involved in raising children until they are capable of managing their own affairs. But in a safer and saner world children could be given considerably more freedom and autonomy than they are now. When it comes to openness to the new playful possibilities of life, adults may learn as much from them as vice versa. Here as elsewhere, the general rule will be to let people find their own level: a ten-year-old who takes part in some project might have as much say in it as her adult co-participants, while a nonparticipating adult will have none.

    Self-management does not require that everyone be geniuses, merely that most people not be total morons. It’s the present system that makes unrealistic demands — pretending that the people it systematically imbecilizes are capable of judging between the programs of rival politicians or the advertising claims of rival commodities, or of engaging in such complex and consequential activities as raising a child or driving a car on a busy freeway. With the supersession of all the political and economic pseudoissues that are now intentionally kept incomprehensible, most matters will turn out not to be all that complicated.

    When people first get a chance to run their own lives they will undoubtedly make lots of mistakes; but they will soon discover and correct them because, unlike hierarchs, they will have no interest in covering them up. Self-management does not guarantee that people will always make the right decisions; but any other form of social organization guarantees that someone else will make the decisions for them.

  35. grumpy cat says:

    Hi All

    And here we see the “overlap”. Leninists argue that the ‘success’ of revolution was due to the steeled intervention of the party and the brilliance of its Leadership – especially Vlad’s actions. Anarchists argue the ‘failure’ of the revolution was due to the diabolical interference of the ruthless party, especially that vile cur Lenin. Perhaps the Leninists might argue that the success of the revolution was assured by the party’s rigorous application of Marxism. Whilst anarchists might argue that it was Marxism’s statist and deterministic paradigm that allowed the Bolsheviks to seize control.

    In other words both assign the fate of the revolution to the presence of the subjective factor of self-styled revolutionaries. This battle is then played out again and again across cyber space and in meeting rooms.

    Both miss the point: the self-activity of the multitude.

    Rebel love

  36. @ndy says:

    “Overlap” — is that a ref to some other post or comment?

    “Leninists argue that the ’success’ of revolution was due to the steeled intervention of the party and the brilliance of its Leadership – especially Vlad’s actions.”

    Pretty much, with some minor criticism. I’m not aware of too many Leninist critiques of Lenin as Leader of the Revolution; if they do exist (and they likely do) I don’t imagine they’re substantial. If they were, it would likely create a desire to abandon Leninism.

    “Anarchists argue the ‘failure’ of the revolution was due to the diabolical interference of the ruthless party, especially that vile cur Lenin. Perhaps the Leninists might argue that the success of the revolution was assured by the party’s rigorous application of Marxism. Whilst anarchists might argue that it was Marxism’s statist and deterministic paradigm that allowed the Bolsheviks to seize control.”

    Maybe. In most of the anarchist literature I’ve read on the subject, most of which is fairly dated (I’m unaware of any recent substantial anarchist accounts of the Russian Revolution), the writers almost invariably make a distinction between two revolutions: one popular, the other elite (‘The Bolshevik Revolution’). In which context, it’s certainly the case that anarchists argue that the Bolsheviks played a counter-revolutionary role. That is, the party aimed to, and succeeded in establishing, a one-party dictatorship in Russia (and neighbouring territories including, of course, Ukraine). Beyond this, anarchist analyses generally identify Bolshevik success as depending upon its program and philosophy, then-recent Russian history, and other factors relating to the nature of Russian society at the time. To what extent Lenin was a ‘good Marxist’ is disputed, but most anarchists sources I’ve read proclaim him to have been very capable of ushering in the tyranny Bakunin had denounced some years earlier as the logical consequence of the application of Marxist theory (perhaps the strongest or alternatively most vociferous proponent of this thesis is Gregory Maximoff in The Guillotine @ Work).

    “In other words both assign the fate of the revolution to the presence of the subjective factor of self-styled revolutionaries. This battle is then played out again and again across cyber space and in meeting rooms.

    Both miss the point: the self-activity of the multitude.”

    Not surprisingly perhaps, I disagree. Well, kinda sorta. Certainly, most anarchist writings on the subject that I’m aware of agree that the ‘self-styled revolutionaries’ played an important role in determining the course of events. In which context, it’s important to understand that ‘self-styled revolutionaries’ actually consisted of a rather large segment of the population, or at least that segment of the population inhabiting the major cities.

    Russia’s population reached 135.6 million at the end of the century – compared to 41.1 million for Britain, 56 million for Germany, and 75.9 million for the United States. Its armed forces had 1,162,000 personnel, compared to Germany’s 524,000 and 96,000 for the United States. But Russia remained predominately rural. Approximately 80 percent of Russia’s working population was associated with agriculture. Its per capita manufacturing output was only 15 percent of Britain’s – compared to the 65 percent of Britain’s per capita output in the United States.

    By the time of WWI, the Russian Army was multitudinous:

    Russia entered the first world war with the largest army in the world, standing at 1,400,000 soldiers; when fully mobilized the Russian army expanded to over 5,000,000 soldiers (though at the outset of war Russia could not arm all its soldiers, having a supply of 4.6 million rifles).


    The losses Russia suffered in the world war were catastrophic. Between 900,000 and 2,500,000 Russians were killed. At least 1,500,000 Russians and possibly up to more than 5 million Russians were wounded. Nearly 4,000,000 Russian soldiers were held as POWs (Britain, France and Germany had 1.3 million POWs combined).

    Economically Russia was devastated. 8,000,000,000 rubles in war debts were outstanding, strangling the national economy of its breath. Inflation soared; the gold reserves (then backing the currency) were nearly empty, revenues were exceedingly low while reconstruction costs were huge. Russia was on the verge of complete collapse.

    The above facts indicate, I suggest, that Russian society was on the point of collapse in 1917. Further, that, coupled with many decades of political agitation, ‘self-styled revolutionaries’ had in fact a mass audience. Consequently:

    In Russia, the faith that people had in their tsar, Nicholas, was fading. The public, with its usual inclination toward fanciful notions, took note that Nicholas’ wife, Alexandra, was a German princess, and many believed that she was passing secrets to the Germans. Russia had increased its production of armaments and its over-all industrial output since the beginning of the war, but this had put a strain on an already inadequate system of transportation, and war material was piling up miles from the front. Like the other belligerents, Russia was financing the war with inflation, and people in its cities were suffering from prices four times what they had been at the beginning of the war. Strikes were breaking out as workers demanded more money with which to buy food. To replace the men already lost in the war, Russia had begun ordering into the military the sole breadwinning males of families, and this produced peasant unrest and brought into the military bitter conscripts. More soldiers were deserting. And unknown to Nicholas and most others, discontent was at the point of undermining tsarist rule. Nicholas, the commander-in-chief of Russia’s armies, was laying the ground for turning the Great War into a great revolution…

    The Bolshevik Coup

    The rising was scheduled to coincide with a meeting in Petrograd of the All Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Trotsky, as Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, was determined to make the coup appear as a defense of the revolution that overthrew the tsar and as a defense against an attempt by the Provisional Government to disperse the Congress of Soviets then in session.

    The coup occurred in the early morning hours on November 7. Red Guards (Bolshevik soldiers) tried to take control of the city’s biggest newspapers, but they failed, finding the offices well guarded by armed men. At one o’clock in the morning, armed revolutionary soldiers and sailors – the latter from the Kronstadt naval base – occupied without difficulty the city’s telegraph exchange. At 1:35 in the morning, revolutionaries occupied the post office. At 5 a.m., a revolutionary force took control of the telephone exchange. At dawn, a Bolshevik force surrounded the state bank. At 10 o’clock armed revolutionaries surrounded what had been the tsar’s Winter Palace, which held the offices of the Provisional Government – the biggest target for the revolutionaries. And the revolutionaries took control of the local train station.

    So far, hardly any blood had been shed. Life in the city during the day was limping along as it had during previous days, with people in their homes and in the street taking little notice of the coup. But Kerensky noticed, and he fled to the front in search of an army. It was the first of the ten days that was said to shake the world.

    The All Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies opened that day in Petrograd with the declaration that the Provisional Government was deposed and that all power now belonged to the Soviets. Moderate socialists (Mensheviks) at the congress spoke against the coup, demanded negotiations with the Provisional Government and accused the Bolsheviks of a conspiracy and of failing to consult with other factions and parties in the Soviets. They were hooted down, and they walked out, with Trotsky announcing from the podium that they belonged to the garbage heap of history.

    People in Petrograd whose opinions were not represented in the Petrograd Soviet appeared indifferent, believing perhaps that matters as they were before the coup could hardly get worse. It is estimated that about 10,000 armed men in Petrograd supported the Bolsheviks and that the rest of the soldiers in Petrograd – perhaps 230,000 – were neutral. In Petrograd were also 15,000 or so military officers who had withdrawn from military affairs, largely for their own protection. Also organizing no challenge to the Bolshevik coup were the moderate Socialist-Revolutionaries (SRs), whose party represented peasants. They had been a part of the coalition that made up the Provisional Government and were, for the time being, without influence.

    On November 8, Lenin gave his keynote address to the Soviet delegates. “We shall now proceed to the construction of the socialist order” he stated, and he was wildly applauded. He announced that Russia was now out of the war, and the delegates roared their approval. Rather than the old Bolshevik position that all land should be socialized, Lenin announced a land decree that suited the Left SR delegates: peasant proprietorship.

    Then the Congress of Soviets put forth resolutions that Lenin had had a hand in creating. No compensation was to be given to landowners whose lands were confiscated. All private ownership of land was abolished in the sense that rich peasants, industrialists, churches and monasteries could no longer consider land, livestock or buildings as theirs by law. A resolution was put forward that defended “soldier’s rights” and enforced “complete democratization of the army.” Industry was put under “workers’ control.” It was decreed that necessary means were to be taken to supply bread to the cities and articles of necessity to the villages. All local power would be transferred to workers’ and peasants’ councils – the soviets – which were to have the responsibility of enforcing “revolutionary order.” Anti-Jewish pogroms or incidents were declared illegal. And all nationalities that had been under tsarist rule were to enjoy the freedom of self-determination.

    The Congress of Soviets called upon the soldiers in the trenches to be “watchful and steadfast.” It called upon the nations still at war to make peace. And, in an attack on imperialism, it called on the nations of the world to abolish secret diplomacy. It promised that the Soviet government would conduct all negotiations in the light of day before the people. And it promised to publish all of the secret treaties to which Russia had been a party. The Congress voted on these declarations and passed them unanimously. Lenin assured the delegates that democracy would reign: that all decisions would be subject to the approval or modification of the Constituent Assembly, scheduled to open in a few weeks.

    The Congress of Soviets remained in session four more days, during which the eight-hour work-day was decreed. And it was decreed that all newspapers hostile to the revolution would be closed – because, it was said, newspapers were under the control of wealthy persons who should be prevented from “poisoning and confusing” the minds of the masses. Meanwhile, on November 9, Moscow had come under the control of its soviet, and revolutionaries were beginning to take power in the name of the soviets in other Russian cities.

    And now came the showdown with Kerensky. Kerensky had had a difficult time finding troops at the front who would support the Provisional Government, but he did find support from the Cossack general P. N. Krasnov, who, with 700 Cossacks, was advancing on Petrograd as the Congress of Soviets was coming to a close. A battle between the revolutionaries and Kransov’s forces was fought on November 11, ten miles from Petrograd – a crucial turning point for the twentieth century.

    The Bolsheviks defeated the forces under General Krasnov. For the time being the Bolshevik revolution was secure. But opposition to the Bolshevik takeover was organizing. Pockets of hostility to the Bolsheviks remained, some in Cossack areas. And Latvia, Estonia and Finland declared their independence. Leaders of the Petrograd Soviet, dominated by Lenin, continued to rule by decree, in the name of “the people.” The Petrograd Soviet ordered postal employees, telegraph operators and railway employees back to work. Postal and telegraph workers who did not recognize the authority of the new Soviet government were to be dismissed from their positions without benefit of their pensions.

    Hearing that for Russia the war was over, desertions at the front increased. With what seemed to be the fall of authority, criminal activity was rising. Roaming the countryside were bands of anarchists, reveling in what to them seemed a new freedom. On November 20, a regime of moderate socialists in the Ukraine announced the independence of a new Ukraine republic.

    On November 23, the Petrograd Soviet decreed that all “class distinctions, class privileges and class limitations, class organizations and institutions, as well as all civil ranks” were abolished. And the Petrograd Soviet decreed that the property of the nobility was to be confiscated. Where Soviets were in control, especially in Petrograd, the wealthy were giving up space in their homes to members of the “working class,” and moving into their attics or basements.

    November 25 was the day that had been scheduled for the election of delegates to the Constituent Assembly. Lenin favored postponing these elections. He was opposed by comrades who observed that the Bolsheviks had often attacked the Provisional Government for its postponement of the elections, and they argued that hope for the elections was too widespread to ignore and that the credibility of the Bolsheviks had to be maintained. Bolsheviks, moreover, were looking forward to the Constituent Assembly as a means of legitimizing their revolution.

    Elections for seats in the Constituent Assembly were held, and they were a disappointment for the Bolsheviks. Bolsheviks won only 25 percent of the vote. With most Russians being peasants, SR candidates won a majority of the seats. The majority of the delegates elected to the Constituent Assembly were sympathetic with socialism, but not necessarily in support of the Bolsheviks. The Constituent Assembly was scheduled to open on December 11, but the Bolsheviks postponed the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly to January.

    Meanwhile, the tsar’s old empire continued to break apart, and the chance of civil war was rising. On November 28, Estonia proclaimed its independence. In the Don region – near Rostov, a seaport on the Black Sea – an anti-Bolshevik army was forming. On December 2, General Kornilov and other officers escaped from prison, and with 400 Cossack soldiers they began making their way toward Rostov. On December 7, Trotsky ordered a force against Kornilov, and after the battle Kornilov was left with just a few men, with whom he escaped, reaching Rostov on December 19.

    The Soviet regime issued a decree that replaced the old court system with “People’s Courts,” its judges to be elected. Originally Lenin had believed that leadership of a communist revolution after acquiring power could turn the revolution over to the masses. But Lenin was not about to try this. He still saw the need for organization and his leadership. Lenin was swamped with practical considerations. He stopped the vengeance of factory workers putting engineers and other skilled white-collar men to cleaning latrines, but he had to take action against managers who were sabotaging what had been their factories. And he faced a strike by teachers, engineers and other white-collar workers. Rather than leave matters to the spontaneity of the masses, a decree was issued establishing a Supreme Economic Council to manage the entire economy. In Russia’s cities, meanwhile, hunger had worsened. Grain supplies had dropped to new lows. So Lenin sent armed detachments of workers and poor peasants to confiscate food that peasants had stored, and armed clashes occurred between resisting peasants and the requisition teams.

    Fearing counter-revolution and sabotage, the Bolsheviks created a commission to be known by its acronym, CHEKA (the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage). And to combat “counter revolution” in the Ukraine and bring the Ukraine into the Soviet camp, the Bolsheviks mobilized an army.

    Russian money, the ruble, was falling precipitously in value on the world currency market, and, rather than adopt the anarchist dream of abolishing money, the Bolsheviks nationalized all banking institutions. Also there were negotiations with Germany that could not be left to the spontaneity of the masses, and, on December 22, the Bolsheviks began negotiating with representatives of Germany at a town of Brest-Litovsk(Brest), approximately 150 kilometers on the other side of the German frontline – a line that ran from a few miles east of the city of Riga in the north, a little west of Minsk, a few miles east of Czernowitz and to the border of Romania and the Russian Empire at the town of Vylkove, by the Black Sea.

    In reality, Russia was in tumult: the masses were, quite literally, revolting. The literature produced by Russian anarchists — a sample of which is reproduced in Paul Avrich’s The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution (Thames & Hudson, 1973) — acknowledges this fact, and encourages it, sometimes in sober language, at other times in the most lurid (and captivating) of terms. Maybe I’ll reproduce some of the texts here. In any event, the point is that, rather than “assign[ing] the fate of the revolution to the presence of the subjective factor of self-styled revolutionaries”, anarchists both now but, of vastly more importance, then, assigned the ‘fate’ of the revolution precisely where it belonged: in the hands of the Russian masses. And in terms of documenting “the self-activity of the multitude”, the Russian anarchists — that is, those who weren’t butchered or imprisoned by the Bolsheviks — and numerous other anarchists since that time, have probably done more than anyone else to preserve this history.

  37. juancastro says:


    IMO the fuckups seem to begin when Bolsheviks become a government in their own right, and not simply an organisation committed to bringing down the state by harnessing and focussing the masses.

    Originally Lenin had believed that leadership of a communist revolution after acquiring power could turn the revolution over to the masses. But Lenin was not about to try this. He still saw the need for organization and his leadership.

    This is where questions of leadership, the ‘injection’ of revolutionary consciousness, etc. really come to a point…

    I feel that there IS a need for a clear, well-organised (in some form) party to work out what needs to be done during the build up to the revolution, but that afterwards it should essentially become a group that is just one part of the radically democratic forums created/strengthened during the revolution.

    One thing about calling the October revolution a coup, taking power in this way was always a key part of the Bolsheviks’ platform, and so when they achieved a majority vote, they did it. They merely fulfilled their ‘election promise’ if you will. Also, I see no real problem with acting to break the system of dual power that existed to that point.

    What was the real problem was the subsequent decision to transform the party into a technocratic ruling party.

  38. grumpy cat says:

    Hi comrades. Shit it has been a long time since I have got involved in argument about Russia. Almost 8 years! Damn I am old… and I have to run off to the Goldie for dinner with the folks so I will be quick.

    I guess my argument is the one that we seemed to be always having @ndy: what form should emancipatory politics take today. I see both Leninist and anarchist (a broad term, so here I mean the more pro-federation platformist-esque anarcho-commie types) suggestions as focusing on either the need for some kind of ideological cohered group to either win leadership, or at least the win ‘the battle of ideas’ (as a comrade from ADA put it recently at the anarchist federation conference).

    I am being drawn in three different/related directions

    1) Negri: the possibility for autonomous self-rule of the multitude already exists. Meaningful activity is the formation of spaces that join together diverse rebellions in the creation of non-representative, non-state democracy (exodus). At some point this hits a ‘moment’ where the accumulation of communisms erupts in the creation of communism proper.

    2) Badiou: The need for politics without a party. Politics is driven by the specific struggles of a specific situation – which is premised on an the possibility of an event: again something happens that transforms us and the social context, we remain faithful to these imperatives. Political organisation (or the l’organisation politique) exists to reflect on these processes

    3) Zapatistas: We form organisations. They aim to engage in building collective autonomy, and a politics of the ‘word’. This is the creating spaces of communication and alliances where different heterogeneous struggles can communicate. This is ‘the revolution so we can make a revolution’: the struggle necessary to compose a political subject.

    rebel love (I am going to the beach!)

  39. Dr. Cam says:

    This is not exactly beach weather that we are enjoying, Dave. What are you really up to?

  40. grumpy cat says:

    It is in Qld.

  41. Dr. Cam says:

    Very suspicious.

  42. Pingback: SP v SB | slackbastard

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