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How I Became an Anarchist when Anarchist Parents raised me

Nina's blog - Tue, 08/07/2014 - 10:01am

It sounds obvious right? But like any belief you have to feel it for yourself or it’s not real. My parents understood this, as they were both raised Catholic and had to find their own way to something they could believe in. They realized that when it came to raising their own children they could do as generations before them have done and simply ram dictum down our throats or they could teach us to think for ourselves. They taught us to be strong in our own ideas, to respect other humans, respect and love nature, to have an interest in the world around us, to challenge authority and to never give up on what we believe in and what we want from life. They taught us to believe in equality for all, to have sympathy, and more importantly to have empathy. I learnt that woman can be as strong or stronger than men through positive example. One of the many political posters in our home read “Real women don’t have hot flushes, they have Power Surges!” And granted this might have been there more for my Mamma than for me, it still had its power! We also grew up hearing names like Noam Chomsky (who I assumed to be one of my Papa’s friends), Emma Goldman and Bakunin. I heard stories of my Mamma’s time working in a Women’s Refuge, funny, moving and sad stories. This might sound to you like they were teaching us to be anarchists but really they were just teaching us to be decent human beings.

It took me until I was 11 or 12 years old before I realised I didn’t know what the word ‘anarchism’ meant. I was at school one day and someone had made a joke about anarchists (I went to a very alternative school) maybe something about bomb throwing or chaos. Anyway I laughed dismissively and haughtily pronounced them to be an idiot for not knowing what anarchism really was. The next thing to happen, which is quite reasonable and even obvious, was that I was asked to explain myself. Well it certainly came as a shock to realize I had no words to explain myself. None. I got as far as “Anarchism is an idea...” before petering out and making some crap up to cover my ass.

When I got home I asked my Papa to please explain what anarchism meant. I hope I sounded as humble as I felt in that moment. Having grown up under the table of Jura Books meeting1, I had assumed I had imbibed the knowledge around me in real words. I think perhaps my Papa would have been quite proud of that moment as it showed that their parenting technique had worked; I had come seeking the knowledge myself.

Even so I still went through the same stages of thinking I have seen in others, the good and the bad until I learnt that you can’t force anarchism on the world. At age 13 I went ahead with blithe ignorance and the destructive habits of teenage-hood such as shopping at Westfield’s and rebelliously drinking the devil Coke while eating some form of fast food as I tried to be like everyone else. I never went so far as to buy MacDonald’s, which had always been out of the question under a strong campaign from my Mamma. In 2003 I wanted to go to the Anti-War rallies, so did my Mamma and we went together. At 15 I formed a plan to brainwash the entire world leaving only a select and trustworthy few to teach and ‘rule’ everyone else. I am now amused and slightly ashamed that I ever thought this, which was the reaction I got from my parents when I pronounced this plan to them. For my year 12 HSC Extension History project I wrote a paper asking the question ‘Why did Anarchism fail in the Spanish Revolution?’ concluding that it did not in fact fail but was betrayed by the Communists and killed by the Fascists. I thought I was very original, until I discovered several other projects on the same subject. However I did learn wonderful amounts of anarchist history and theory in the process. At 17 I became very pessimistic about humans and their capacity to care for others after spending too much time on the Blue Mountains trains during the day as I traveled to school for late starting classes and so retreated somewhat into books. At 18 I struggled with a severe sense of impending doom of the apocalyptic kind where I wondered how it would ever be possible to fix what we have broken and thought it would be better to just let us all die so Nature could start the slow process of rebuilding the world. I think this also coincided with AL Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.

But all these processes helped me progress and form as a person. During my apocalyptic stage I chose my line of study and future work. I felt I needed to achieve something practical within three or four years so that when the Climate Crisis hit I would have something to offer in the rebuilding of society. So I chose to become a jeweller. I know this sounds counter intuitive at first as jewellery can be such a frivolous and commercial trade but I wanted to be an artist. Artists are the keepers of culture but I also wanted practical skills. I had visited an artisan blacksmith collective in Hobart and loved everything I saw, both the work they did and they way they ran their space as they shared recourses, workshops and working in the shop. I found a course that would teach me Jewellery and Object  - meaning metal-smithing, cutlery making, and tool making, with ceramics and glass blowing as elective options. So that was everything rolled into one creative ball. And I haven’t looked back since even though I now know the crisis won’t hit all at once and like frogs in slowly heating water, we haven’t jumped out.

Honestly I still find it hard to put anarchism into words. For me it is feelings, it is a way of life, it is a all that is right in the world even if you don’t know it or name it. It is optimism and faith in humanity. I know now that the ‘technical’ words for this are ‘mutual aid’ and that equality, feminism and collectivism are the strong backbone of my beliefs but ‘isms’ don’t really cut it when anarchism is simply life to me. I feel the rage that every left-thinking person feels when I look at the world and our government, but I also feel hope because I think we can change and we can grow as individuals and a society. I learnt from my parents the art of critical thinking but more importantly they taught me to love life and to me that means anarchism.

 

AnarchismFeminismJura BooksJura History
Categories: Blog

Interview: anarchism and the meaning of freedom

Jeremy's blog - Wed, 02/07/2014 - 1:15pm
Anarchism and the meaning of freedom

Jeremy is interviewed by Daisy, a Blacktown high-school student.

"Hi Daisy, I've done my best to answer your questions properly, but briefly. It was very difficult! You've asked lots of interesting and challenging questions which we anarchists think deserve thorough consideration. In fact, that's exactly why we at Jura run a bookshop and library filled with thousands of books dealing with these questions and issues! I hope you will come in and check them out – you'll find much more thorough answers than the ones I've given below.

"Jura Books is an anarchist bookshop, library and organising space that has been going for 37 years. We hold regular events such as talks, film screenings, and gigs and we're located at 440 Parramatta Road, Petersham.

"I've been an anarchist for 16 years and a member of the Jura Collective for the last 9 years. I'm also involved in wider social movements, including workers, tenants and environmental movements and organisations."

 

1. Why are you an anarchist?

The world is in crisis. Many people just accept this crisis as a way of life. Here in Sydney, the rich live their luxurious lives with their boats and waterfront mansions over in Vaucluse, while in Blacktown (where my sister lives and you go to school) workers struggle to pay the bills, and people without jobs struggle to survive. Across Australia, Aborigines continue to suffer because of stolen land, stolen children and stolen wages. Women live in fear of male violence. A bit further away (but not much really) refugees are fleeing wars made by our government and then being locked up and tortured by that same government. Meanwhile climate change threatens the existence of all civilisations on the planet. Everyone has constant feelings of anxiety, fear and alienation – an understandable response to living within this stupid system of capitalism, patriarchy, government and corporate media.

Any person with their eyes open can see that this world needs big change. The question is: how do we make that change? How do we solve those massive problems?

I'm an anarchist because I believe the change we need can only be made by the people, from below. If you look at history, things have only changed for the better when people have organised and taken action in social movements. Workers won the weekend and the 8 hour day through being organised in unions. Women and Aborigines won many rights by forming movements like the Suffragettes and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. These struggles still have a long way to go to achieve true justice, but they show us what is possible.

Politicians, political parties and parliamentary politics don't make positive change. At best they are a distraction and at worst they are parasites on social movements. Some individual politicians are good people, but they either become corrupted by power or are prevented from making real change by the nature of the whole system. We don't need new leaders; we need to take the lead ourselves. The Australian Labor Party came out of the workers movement, but it is now a hopeless millstone around our necks, with policies almost indistinguishable from those of the Liberal Party: anti-worker and pro-business. I predict that the Greens will either be similarly corrupted by the dirty game of parliamentary politics, or be crushed by it. The Bolsheviks in Russia and the Communist Party in China appointed themselves the leaders of people's revolutions; they soon became oppressive governments that exploited and oppressed the people. I think it's clear that neither parliamentary parties, nor revolutionary parties are able to solve the world's problems. Voting once every few years, or blindly obeying 'revolutionary' leaders will never fix the mess we're in.

Instead, we need everyday people to get together, make real democracy, and take direct action. Anarchism is a guide to how that might happen.

 

2. What does ‘freedom’ mean for you?

For me, freedom means the ability to realise our potential – as individual human beings and as a society. It means being free from irrational constraints such as prison walls, artificial scarcity or ignorance. (By 'artificial scarcity' I mean an unnatural lack in things – for example food. There is more than enough food to feed everyone in our world, but our absurd economic system makes it scarce for some people.)

Freedom means having the capacity and the resources to make good decisions and live a good life. Those resources might include material things (food, shelter, health) and more abstract social things (such as education, friendship, respect).

So freedom, as I understand it, can only be realised together with other people. For me, every person's freedom is directly related to everyone else's freedom. I can never be truly free while there are other people in jail or starving. Equally, one person's freedom ends where another person's begins. A person who sees it as their 'freedom' to hurt or exploit another is wrong – they have mistaken freedom for privilege. The first person hasn't taking into account the second person's right to be free from harm and exploitation. The first person has claimed an unfair entitlement, not true freedom. This is why anarchists see freedom and equality as fundamentally connected. Both are necessary. Hence the famous quote by anarchist Mikhail Bakunin:
'Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice;
socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.'

There is no way of knowing how beautiful each of us could be or how wonderful our society could be if we were able to realise our potential free from irrational constraints and properly use all the resources that are currently wasted. For me, expanding our freedom is the path to that beautiful world.

 

3. What are you currently restricted by?

You and I are restricted by all sorts of things. Some of them are more illogical, unnecessary and dangerous than others. For example, the capitalist system forces most of us to work for more than 8 hours a day doing silly tasks like filling in forms, learning irrelevant information, or making plastic rubbish in a factory, so we can get enough money to pay bills. Some workers die on the job due to poor safety or too much pressure. Most of us have to pay rent or mortgage payments to a person or bank who owns our house but didn't build it. Many of us walk in fear at night that we'll be attacked or robbed by someone who is so desperate and poor or has such ignorant ideas that they're willing to hurt people just like them. These are all unnecessary and illogical restrictions on our freedom.

However these restrictions are also quite useful for some people – the rich and powerful – and the system as a whole. The work we do and the rent we pay makes a nice profit for our bosses and landlords. It makes their lives easier. The fear women feel, benefits and empowers men.

The artificial idea of private property allows some people to get rich just because they own something, while other people do the work. Anarchists see private property as an anathema to freedom. If things like land, houses, factories etc were commonly owned, we would be free to do useful work and pursue our own interests, instead of being restricted to working for the owners and bosses.

Of course you and I are also 'restricted' by other, more natural constraints. For example, the laws of physics. Gravity means we can't jump up and fly. The nature of our bodies mean that we will grow old and die. These 'restrictions' may be frustrating; philosophers will always ponder them, and scientists will work on interesting ways to defy them. But as an anarchist I'm not too worried about them. Instead I'm outraged and opposed to the aforementioned, unnecessary and destructive constraints which our social system creates and recreates. It would be absolutely possible for everyone on the planet to work only 6 hours a day, have enough food and shelter, and stop destroying the climate, if we had a rationally-organised, anarchist or libertarian socialist economic system.

 

4. What emotion would you connect to freedom and why?

Hope. An expansive feeling, optimistically open to possibilities and liberation.

 

5. Is it better to be happy or free? (In relation to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley)

Well, I don't see happiness and freedom as mutually exclusive, but rather connected. I think freedom for all is a necessary ingredient for real happiness. I think the sort of ghastly 'happiness' described in Brave New World is one based on brain-washing, drugs, and authoritarian hierarchy. Certainly there are some similarities with the way people in our society accept ignorance and obedience, and use alcohol and other drugs to cover-up their problems. But I wouldn't call that true happiness. Similarly, people who have the sort of 'freedom' which I've referred to already as 'privilege', and which exists separately to other people's lack of freedom, are often miserable. So what I'm saying is that we all need to be free, if we want to be a truly happy society.

While we're talking about dystopian fiction, I recommend George Orwell's 1984 if you haven't already read it. It captures other aspects that exist in our unfree society – the more violent, 'hard' power of the police and military for example. Orwell was sympathetic to anarchism and fought alongside the anarchists during the Spanish Revolution. He also wrote an excellent memoir of this time, Homage to Catalonia, which I also recommend to you.

 

6. Do you believe there are negative aspects of freedom?

As I said earlier, when someone uses the idea of 'freedom' to justify their privilege or violence that is indeed a problem. I don't think freedom means 'do what you want and stuff the consequences' – that's just selfishness. Many privileged groups in our society are guilty of using this corrupted, selfish notion of freedom. For example, when capitalists and bosses talk about the 'free' market, and 'freedom to enter into contracts' they really mean very unfair markets and very unfair contracts which can only exist because the State protects them with the threat of violence against anyone who disagrees. When a mining company comes along and asserts their 'freedom' to dig up coal seam gas, and pollute the water supply, they are ignoring the freedom of the community to live safe and healthy lives. Luckily, sometimes the community is able to stand up to that and assert their own freedom, solidarity and equality – as happened recently at the Bentley Blockade in Northern NSW.

 

7. Is conformity dangerous?

Yes.

Of course there's nothing wrong with doing some things in the same way that other people do them (in fact it's quite sensible to learn from others), but the notion of 'conformity' tends to imply a mindless obedience to the crowd or to some authority figure. This is never a good idea. Some of the worst atrocities are perpetrated by ordinary people 'just following orders' or 'doing what everyone else was doing'.

The extreme version of the conformist way of thinking is fascism. The Nazis were fascist, as you probably know. Unfortunately, fascism still exists in our world today; in Australia, the Australia First Party is one group that is pretty openly fascist. They recently held an anti-immigrant, anti-refugee meeting in Doonside. We anarchists and other radicals were there to protest. Anarchists have always been strong opponents of fascism and nationalism (which usually go together). Fascism must always be opposed. Unfortunately, many mainstream Australian politicians have also used racist, nationalist and fascist ideas to mislead people.

We should always question authority, discuss things with a range of people, and think critically about 'common sense' and other socially accepted values. Sometimes we might accept that an authority is justified – for example a parent stopping their child running into the road, or a teacher explaining something they know more about to their students. We might decide that the current hipster fashion of skinny jeans, ironic tops, thick- rimmed glasses, reading classics and riding a bike is totally cool (and harmless). We might accept the commonly held belief that caring for other people is a noble activity. On the other hand, if someone commands us to hate and kill someone else because of their race or religion, we should reject that order, even if many of our friends are doing it! Authority and the crowd mentality should always be evaluated critically, and can be very dangerous indeed.

 

8. Where did your desire to rebel against social constructs or circumstantial destiny derive from? (E.g. The legal system and authorities in Australia)

Hmmm, this is a few questions in one. First of all I think the desire to rebel against the sort of arbitrary, irrational constraints that I've been talking about is a very natural human desire. It makes sense that people want to live good lives, without interference by others who would dominate, control and exploit us. On the other hand, the desire to conform has to be drummed into us from an early age through systems of discipline and punishment at home and at school that I'm sure you're familiar with.

As for social constructs, well I think they have to be critically evaluated in the same way as I talked about authority above. Some 'social constructs' are undeniably useful and I would have no wish to rebel against them (and most anarchists would agree with me) – for example language, and music, and useful inventions like the bicycle or solar power. Other social constructs are not useful, except to serve the rich and powerful. For example the atom bomb, private property and the construction of gender as a hierarchy where women are inferior and have to do more work than men. We should destroy those social constructs.

The legal system is a complex beast. In our society it generally serves the rich and powerful. It protects their 'freedom' to exploit us much better than it protects our right to be free of exploitation. However social movements have been able to force some changes on the legal system and win some rights – such as the right to be free from discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, disability, age or religion. In some ways the legal system reflects broader social values, although it is usually decades or more behind people's real feelings. I think the legal system is a tool (perhaps you could compare it to a knife) which could be used for useful purposes, but is often abused in the hands of the powerful. In a better world I would still want some sort of system of justice, but it would be so different to today's legal system as to be almost unrecognisable. I would want it to be truly fair and to genuinely protect the rights and freedoms of all, especially the most vulnerable. (I talk a bit more about anarchist notions of justice in Question 10 below.)

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by circumstantial destiny, but I'll take it as the idea that our circumstances exert some sort of determining force on our lives. Well, it's quite a philosophical question, and I usually focus on everyday politics, but I'll do my best. Clearly there are some things that shape who we are and are beyond our control: where and when we're born, how wealthy our family is, the sort of education we have, our genetics, quantum physics etc. These things have an undeniable impact on our lives. But I do not think they are all-determining. I also don't believe in any mystical/magical forces of 'destiny' or 'fate'. I think most people would agree that we have some level of control over how we react to our circumstances and the choices we make about our lives. I believe that we have some agency. There is an interplay between agency and structure, and I feel that we have some room to move. We certainly can't control everything in our lives, but we can take small actions that may ultimately produce large effects. These actions can be multiplied if many people do them together. We can look for the cracks and slip through them, to open up unlikely possibilities. And to return to your question, and where the desire to rebel in this way might come from, well, I guess I would return to the idea of hope. I have hope that if we take action, if we resist the negative forces that try to control and limit us, if we slip through the cracks, we might be able to open up a new world on the other side.

 

9. How would hysteria and fear be resolved in a free society and other human needs such as safety and belonging?

Well, first of all, anarchists usually make the point that we don't have a blueprint for the future free society. We can't say how people in a free future will meet all the various human needs that exist (which may well be somewhat different to the needs which exist now). We argue that the people of that society should make their own decisions about the workings of their own society – not only is that an anarchist principle, but we're also sure they would be much better equipped to make these decisions than we are! However, we can suggest that in a free, anarchist society, decisions about how to meet human needs will be based on certain fundamental principles. Among others, these principles would include:

  • recognition of both the value of the individual and the collective;
  • recognition of minorities and vulnerable groups;
  • solidarity and mutual aid (which basically mean looking out for each other and helping each other)
  • direct democracy.

There are also anarchists who are trying to put some of these principles into practice today – even in our unfree society. So for example, (and here I'm going to approach the notions of fear and 'hysteria' that you raised as mental health issues) anarchists have set up co-counselling groups, and other forms of radical therapy organised by ourselves, for ourselves. These models break away from traditional, authoritarian models of mental health, and instead enact the principle of mutual aid in order to deal with human needs. See for example The Icarus Project.

In relation to safety and belonging, I hope you'll agree that the sort of freedom I've been describing (bound up as it is with mutual aid) would actually make us all feel a greater sense of safety and belonging than exists in our current authoritarian society. Like other human needs, I think the need for safety and belonging would be best met through mutual care, rather than for profit as often is the case in our capitalist society.

 

10. Would punishment exist in a free society if someone were interfering with another’s freedom? (E.g. murder or rape)

Again, anarchists support the principle that people should work out this sort of question for themselves in their own communities. In general, we hope that there would be dramatically less violence in an anarchist society. Once every person was properly cared for, sheltered, and educated, we believe there would be far fewer acts of violence between people.

In relation to rape, most anarchists would argue that rape is an act of violence that is a product of our authoritarian patriarchal society. We hope when society becomes properly equal and pro-feminist, women and men will respect each other and share power as equals, and far fewer men would commit rape than today.

However, that said, we recognise that this is a fairly utopian vision, and that in the here and now we need to deal with rape and other acts of violence. Our approach at Jura Books has been similar to that of other anarchist collectives. First of all we try to create a Safer Space. This means a space in which women and other oppressed people in particular, are empowered and do not have to fear violence. In order to do this we have regular discussions about what it means to be pro-feminist and be a safer space; we have a written policy; and we try to explain and promote this policy to people who use our space. We have a survivor-centred approach to dealing with cases of sexual violence. Unfortunately, there have been a few instances of rape within the anarchist community. (Since we live in a patriarchal society, unfortunately there is no community where women are completely safe.) We have tried to respond to these instances of violence and rape in a pro-feminist and survivor-centred way. This means that we do not interrogate or put the burden of proof on the rape survivor (as often happens in mainstream media and law courts). Instead we expect the rape perpetrator to show that he has recognised the act he committed, and has gone through a lengthy and extensive process of change (usually including getting counselling and making amends in some way). If he is not willing or able to show that he has fully changed, or if the survivor is not happy with his progress, then he is not welcome at Jura. To my knowledge, in the last five years, two men have been banned from anarchist spaces in Sydney, and have been publicly shamed, because of their actions. This is a form of punishment. We also support the right of the survivor to take her case to the police, although in general we do not think the police or the State offer good solutions to these problems.

As a rule, anarchists are opposed to prisons and the other forms of punishment common in our society. We believe that prisons are places of torture and extermination which disproportionately target poor people and Aborigines. If you look at the data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, you'll see that the majority of prisoners are locked up for relatively minor crimes relating to property or drugs, not violence. And Aborigines represent 3% of the total population in Australia, but more than 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal. This is unacceptable. Prisons are not places which help people. They are places where already disadvantaged people are further brutalised. Prisons are part of the problem, not the solution to the violence in our society.

 

11. Control can be used in other ways apart from politics, for example moral control. In a free society could jailed ways of thinking, in relation to stereotypes and gender roles be demolished or is it impossible to remove them because they are apart of human nature?

You're right that 'control' can refer to many things. One fundamental distinction I would make is between self-control based on your own choices and ethics, and control imposed from outside (usually by a violent, illogical authority like the State). I'm totally in favour of the former – where a person develops her or his own ethics and exerts self-control over herself or himself; it's a great part of being human that we have the capacity to do this.

I think we should base our beliefs on logic, reason and ethical principles which have been worked out, debated, tested and agreed upon with a wide range of other people in our community. I support people's freedom to work out their own beliefs, and to have different beliefs to other people – up to the point where those beliefs lead to oppression of others. So for example, I support a person's right to freely choose to believe in God, or a Goddess, or many gods for that matter, even though I don't believe in those things. However I do not support any person or Church who tries to impose these beliefs on other people, or oppress people who think differently.

I also don't support beliefs which are inherently oppressive to others, or 'jailed ways of thinking' as you put it nicely, such as racism, sexism, homophobia etc. I hope that in a better world, where everyone has enough to eat and is fully educated about history, science and all the rest of human knowledge, people would reach more logical, ethical views by themselves. I hope that people would realise that certain ideas are wrong and oppressive. Already, many educated people are rejecting stupid ideas such as gender stereotypes, or the belief that one religion or bible contains the absolute truth.

'Human nature' is another big topic. The short answer is that anarchists usually see 'human nature' as a broad and changeable thing – a suite of possibilities rather than one defined rule. As humans we clearly have the capacity to be kind or cruel, generous or stingy, cooperative or competitive. In certain contexts, our good qualities come out more easily – for example parents' love of their children. In other contexts, the bad parts of human nature come out – for example soldiers killing each other at war, or high school students competing ruthlessly with each other for a small number of university places. As anarchists we are working towards a society where the whole system will bring out people's capacity for mutual aid and support, instead of competition and violence.

 

12. Human instinct and human nature also have their own physical and mental limitations. Is absolute freedom an illusion?

I think I covered some of this in Question 3 above. Certainly there are physical and mental limits to what we can achieve as humans. However it's equally certain that we
haven't reached those limits yet. Most of the barriers to reaching our potential are imposed upon us by the authoritarian systems of capitalism, patriarchy, racism etc. Once we do away with those barriers, I feel sure that the freedom that we have will be extremely fulfilling and powerful, and that the natural barriers which exist will seem more like acceptable parts of life, or perhaps fun challenges, rather than unfair and oppressive restrictions.

 

13. According to Anarchy, humans are born free. Do you believe we possess free will or are all human actions determined by external causes (i.e. Determinism)?

See question 8.

 

14. How would social order be created in a free society?

You probably won't be surprised to hear that I believe that anarchism is highest form of social order. You might be more surprised to learn that the famous symbol of anarchy – the A with the circle around it, is used by anarchists to refer to Pierre Joseph Proudhon's aphorism: 'Anarchy is Order'. I think other forms of 'social order', for example those imposed from above like fascism, are pretty terrible. At best they are inefficient: like in a workplace where a boss gives orders which are usually either obvious or illogical. At worst, those systems of 'social order' are horrific and violent: the whole point of the army is to create a system in which a soldier will obey an order to kill another boy just like him, without even thinking about it (this point is made eloquently in Ursula LeGuin's anarchist sci-fi classic The Dispossessed, which is one of my favourite anarchist books).

A much better form of social order is one that is based on free agreements between free people or groups, for mutual benefit. That's what anarchism is about. There are some examples which might help to illustrate how this sort of anarchistic social order might work. One is the international postal system: it works by agreement and for mutual benefit – there is no-one in charge but everyone collaborates because it makes sense to do so. Another more everyday example is a dinner party at your house where your friends come round and share cooking and cleaning up and take turns talking and listening to each other. No-one needs to order your friends to behave; they work it out for themselves. A final example can be found in the many co-operatives that exist in the world. These are organisations where people choose to come together to get things done. They share the risks and the rewards equally and there isn't one boss in control. Workers co-operatives can produce things that their community really needs, rather than things which make a profit for the owner. There's an organic food co-operative in Enmore called Alfalfa House, where I sometimes volunteer. There's also the Earthworker Cooperative based in Victoria. They have a worker-owned factory in Morwell which manufactures high-quality solar hot water systems. All of these examples are very ordered, and also free. In fact I would argue that they are much more orderly, efficient and natural than the sort of inefficient, corrupt, hierarchical 'order' imposed by the State or the army. Wikipedia is another, newer form of organisation that has some anarchistic elements to how it works to create an ordered, useful information resource.

 

 

Workers controlAnarchismAnti-racismCapitalismEnviroFascismFeminismIndigenousLibertarian socialismMichael BakuninPierre-Joseph Proudhon
Categories: Blog

Reflections on Sydney's first-ever Anarchist Bookfair

Jay's blog - Wed, 23/04/2014 - 6:22pm

This article was originally written for Anarcho-Syndicalist Review. By Jay Kerr & Sid Parissi.

A collective of anarchists organised a significant political event in March 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Although initiated by the Jura Collective that operates a long running bookshop, events and organising centre, it quickly grew into an autonomous collective of various groups and individuals. Previous bookfairs had been held in Melbourne, a city some 900km to the south, but none had been held elsewhere in the country. This article is an account of the preparation for the event by Jay, one of the organising collective and impressions of the day by Sid, a member of the Jura Collective.

In the Conquest of Bread, Kropotkin discussed the notion that everything we enjoy in the present is because of the combined efforts of people in the past and people in the present; these words ring true in organising the first Sydney Anarchist Bookfair.

Over six months of preparation boiled down to a one day event that took place in March this year at Addison Road Community Centre, building on the work of anarchists around the world who have been organising anarchist bookfairs for decades and the encompassing the efforts of a dynamic anarchist movement in Sydney.

From the early days in London some thirty years ago, when the first Anarchist Bookfair was launched, the idea has spread across the globe. It was with that in mind that a few members of Jura Books got to thinking that Sydney, being the largest city in Australia, really should have its own.

A call out was made to anarchists across the city and before too long a collective was formed comprising of members from Jura and the Black Rose Social Centre in Newtown as well as independent, non-aligned anarchists. True to Australia’s composition as a ‘nation of immigrants’, several of the collective members were migrant workers from Europe; anarchists passing through or long term residents, working collectively alongside Australian born anarchists in establishing the parameters of this new addition to the tapestry of global anarchist bookfairs.

From the first collective meeting important decisions were made on the structure of the group, the desired limits in the size of the collective, and the inclusion of other groups. The collective aimed at being a nucleus, making consensus-based decisions with input and support from the wider anarchist community.  Practicalities of the event were debated and discussed ranging from who should be invited to hold a stall or give a talk; should the collective define themes for the Bookfair talks or invite topic suggestions from potential speakers; should there be childcare and how should it be run, where is the best space to hold such an event? Some tough choices had to be made.

Acknowledging the past work of comrades around the globe, emails were sent to London and Dublin for their advice. A range of suggestions were given, practical advice that stood us in good stead, indicating the importance of setting deadlines, defining the parameters and highlighting some issues that have arisen for them over the years. Who knew that the decline in fist fights at the London Bookfair over the years corresponds directly with the decline of alcohol sales?

Organising an event of this size and trying to satisfy all requests and desires of anarchists and activists in the movement is a tough job. Stress hit hard at times and in the collective tensions became frayed, while at other times consensus decision making itself was put to the test as divisions on what and, more importantly, who the Bookfair should include brought differences over anarchist politics to the fore. Where no consensus was viable the default fell to the negative with no action taken, a situation that can (and did) hit proactive organising hard and raises issues for organising on a wider scale.

But, in general, the experience of organising the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair was positive as cool heads tended to prevail.  Sydney’s anarchist community rallied to support the event with positive suggestions and contributions, promoting far and wide, from emails and online posts to flyering and poster distribution across the city; a vital part of the success of any event, especially an anarchist bookfair.

Our combined efforts were duly rewarded when between 500 and 700 people turned out to Addison Road Community Centre, browsing the stalls inside Gumbramorra Hall, and attending talks and discussions in the Latin American hut next door or over at Speakers Corner on the lawn. Anarchist Bookfairs promote anarchist ideas through attraction, offering a relaxed, non-partisan atmosphere for people to engage with others in discussing new ideas. The success of the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair, a collective effort built on the work of people from around the world, on the work of years past, offers hope for the future. Anarchist Bookfairs are worth spreading.

... 

Impressions of the day.

Anarchists take over a former military base! Well, not quite but we did manage to fill out a large and smaller hall and a large grassed area of a former military base that had been handed over for community use. The place is now a busy community-use area and the site of a weekly market and two reuse/recycle outfits in addition to many of its other functions. Think of a mini Christiania, but not squatted. We had a great start to the day with an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ that was given by Aboriginal Elder Ray Jackson.

Wow, what a day! Everyone smiling, talking, laughing, discussing.... 30 different stalls in the big hall, anarchist, Wobbly, union, and the largest number from community groups who each paid $50 for a table – and everyone I talked to thought it was well worth it, in fact, excited about the opportunity. It was an opportunity to spread knowledge about their group, network with other groups and generally have an anti-authoritarian festival. So, Jura ran a number of tables, including ones for PM Press and AK Press, and general anarchist books. In addition, other stalls were organised by Black Rose, Melbourne anarchists, Wobblies from Sydney and Melbourne, anti-nuclear, vegan, leftist T-shirts for sale... and many more.

Besides the stalls there was vegan food and drink, and free apples and water available from the information centre, music from individual troubadours and also from the anarchist Riff Raff Marching Band, physical stuff like yoga and women’s self defence, a join-in singing group, an open ‘DIY’ area and a ‘tune-up-your-bike’ space. One of the organisers sorted out the child care, with a certified child care worker on site – They were dressed as pirates! Then there were the discussion meetings on a variety of topics. These included: Oppression of Australia’s Indigenous People, a discussion on a university strike, on Bakunin’s 200th Birthday, the Spanish Revolution, two on feminist and anarcha-feminist topics, environmental issues, and one by Michael Schmidt on ‘Global Fire: The lmpact of Revolutionary Anarchism’.

It was great to see such a variety of people attending, from babies to an anarchist elder Jack Granchoff in his ‘80s. Most were younger, in their 20’s and 30’s, with, at a guess, a good gender balance, and perhaps even more women than men. The young children running around having fun and the range of participants demonstrated that, in many ways, this was an evolving, maturing and culturally-richer anarchist and near-anarchist milieu than in the past. From a book-sales point of view, it was really encouraging to get so many books, pamphlets and other material out to people who don’t often get to the shop. So, yes, it was a bookfair, but it was much more than just that.

This writer didn’t get to the after party, but those who went said it was a blast. And everyone’s keen to build on this year’s strengths and lessons learned, and have another next year.

Categories: Blog

Marx's economics for anarchists?

Guest blog contributions - Wed, 23/04/2014 - 11:50am

A review of Wayne Price, The Value of Radical Theory: an anarchist introduction to Marx's critique of political economy AK Press, 2013.

By Paul Rubnero, guest contributor.

Anarchists have generally been cautious about endorsing any part of Marxism – with good reason, considering the fractious and sometimes bloody history of relations between these two rival political traditions. However, despite deep political differences with Marxism, there are some anarchists who recognise the value of Marx’s critique of political economy and his approach to economic theory. Wayne Price is one of them.

In this handy, pocket-sized volume -- itself a revised, expanded and much improved version of his Marx’s Economics for Anarchists1 -- Wayne Price takes up the challenge of attempting to convince anarchists of the value of this particular part of Marx’s writings. At the very least, this involves showing that Marx’s critique of political economy is relevant to our times, is a solid basis for explaining the basic mechanisms of the capitalist system, and is compatible with libertarian forms of socialism -- more specifically, with anarchism. Price tackles each of these tasks in turn.

Although, as the title suggests, the book is addressed specifically to anarchists, it is also directed to a general audience interested in radical theory. In introducing Marx’s critique of political economy, the book outlines and explains Marx’s basic concepts, indicating some of their different interpretations, and shows the relevance of Marx’s ideas to understanding developments in today’s globalised capitalist system. In the course of his exposition, rather than attempting an exhaustive and impartial overview of Marx’s concepts and economic theories, Price opts for certain interpretations over others, and then uses these to present his own analysis of current economic developments.
   
Price notes that in Marx’s Capital and other writings, one of Marx’s main concerns is to develop a critical assessment of what was then known as “political economy”. In seeing the bourgeois political economists, e.g. Adam Smith, as apologists for capitalism, Marx was not only providing a critique of their writings, but was also opposing the capitalist system itself. It is out of this critique that Marx’s analysis of capitalism emerges, an analysis which Price regards as the best explanation available of how capitalism actually works.
  
However, despite his belief in the value of Marx’s economic theories, Price is definitely no Marxist. This book is not, and nor should be seen as, an attempt to persuade anarchists to become Marxists. A long-time activist, writer and theorist, Wayne Price is author of two other books: The Abolition of the State: Anarchist & Marxist Perspectives (2007) and Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution (3rd ed., 2010). He is a frequent contributor to anarchist websites, e.g., anarkismo.org., and his political orientation is towards the platformist-inspired current within revolutionary class-struggle anarchism. 

Although, as the title suggests, the book is addressed specifically to anarchists, it is also directed to a general audience interested in radical theory. In marking out his position, Price is careful to distinguish Marx’s critique of political economy from those elements in Marx and the Marxist tradition he considers incompatible with anarchism. He takes a revolutionary position, arguing against the reformist varieties of anarchism, as represented, e.g., in the ideas of Paul Goodman, and in the Parecom program; as an anarchist, he endorses e.g., federalism against Marxist centralism, and direct action against electoral politics. The book criticises Marx’s state-oriented strategy (even as modified in the later writings), the poverty of Marx’s vision of post-capitalist society, and the lack of an explicitly ethical or moral dimension in Marx’s writings. While he notes a significant overlap in the views of libertarian Marxists and class-struggle anarchists, Price definitely believes the central issues of revolutionary politics are more adequately addressed from an anarchist perspective.

At the same time, Price contests the relevance of certain commonly-held anarchist attitudes in approaching Marx’s economic writings, attitudes coloured by the anarchist memory of the conflict between Marx and Bakunin in the Workers’ International, and between Marxists and anarchists in the Russian and Spanish Revolutions. Although we need to keep alive the memory of these historical experiences, the disputes involved have little direct bearing on assessing the current relevance and validity of Marx’s economic theories. 

On the whole, Price’s book succeeds in making accessible Marx’s basic concepts and economic theories. With a minimum of jargon, it sketches the main outlines of Capital, Marx’s three-volume magnum opus, and covers difficult topics in Marx’s economic writings, such as the organic composition of capital, the falling rate of profit, fictitious capital, etc., clearly and straightforwardly. Building on this basic foundation, Price broadens the discussion to focus on current economic problems, bringing in contemporary anarchist and Marxist writers. However, I cannot agree with his apparent endorsement of decadence theory – the view that capitalism has passed its zenith and is in irreversible decline – a theory which is problematic not least because of capitalism’s continued global expansion.2 Also problematic is the commonly-held claim, shared by Price, that Marx’s works lack a moral or ethical dimension. Admittedly, Marx nowhere presents an explicit theory of ethics, but the moral and ethical dimension of Marx’s ideas is implicit in his humanism: the view that human beings and their human potential are systematically deformed by capitalism. Price seems to dismiss the ethical significance of the humanist dimension in Marx’s writings because of the cynical ideological use of these ideas by “Stalinist totalitarians” to disguise a “monstrous reality”.3

Perhaps the most important limitations of Price’s book relate to aspects of its account of Marx’s method, and to what Price calls Marx’s “inevitabilism”. In relation to Marx’s method, Price’s emphasis on the role of abstraction to the exclusion of other aspects amounts to a one-sided and rather misleading interpretation which leaves out the equally important dialectical dimension. In Capital and the Grundrisse, Marx’s method is nothing if not dialectical. That Price does not bring out this aspect of Marx’s method is surprising, especially given that he explicitly acknowledges as one source of his knowledge of Marx’s economics, the Johnson-Forest Tendency (C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya), in whose version of Marxism ‘the dialectic’ is all-important. Perhaps a discussion of dialectics was considered out of place in an introductory work of this kind. Whatever the reason, this is an unfortunate omission, given the importance of the topic.

Marx developed his version of the dialectic from a critique of Hegel’s philosophical system and method.4 It differs from the Hegelian dialectic in important respects. But Marx never got to write his desired outline of the dialectical method.5 Probably the closest he came to doing this occurs in the Introduction to the Grundrisse,6 with its comments on what he regards as the preferable method of investigating political economy. In the absence of a definitive explication, Marx’s version of the dialectic has to be reconstructed from disparate passages in his work; however, its precise interpretation and role in Marx’s writings, remain highly controversial.

The one place where Price explicitly brings in ‘the dialectic’ is in relation to what he interprets as Marx’s “inevitabilism” – the thesis that capitalism necessarily leads to socialism. Price’s view that Marx’s “inevitabilism” is based on Hegel’s dialectic of history fails to recognise the important differences between Hegel’s view of history, and Marx’s. Despite material in both Marx’s early and mature writings supporting Price’s claim of Marx’s “inevitabilism”, the evidence is not as straightforward as Price suggests. So, e.g., while Marx and Engels declare in The Communist Manifesto that the bourgeoisie’s “fall, and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable”,7 there is the contention, attributed to Engels and later popularised by Rosa Luxemburg, that the ultimate outcome of the class struggle will be either “socialism or barbarism”. This implies an affirmation of the possibility of historical alternatives, rather than a dogmatic belief in the inevitability of socialism. It seems to me that whatever Marx (&/or Engels) actually believed, Marx’s “inevitabilism” boils down to at least an expression of triumphalism, i.e., a bullish faith in the eventual triumph of the socialist cause. Whatever the “correct” interpretation, if we have to say anything is inevitable, it is that capitalist exploitation usually evokes some form of worker resistance – whether active or passive, open or clandestine, etc. -- depending on circumstances and social-historical conditions. On this view, class struggle and worker resistance are to be understood as tendencies, intrinsic to both corporate and state capitalism – an interpretation consistent with Price’s recognition earlier in the book that when Marx speaks of economic “laws”, they are to be understood as tendencies, open to being “interfered with, mediated, and countered by other forces”.8 (How far working-class resistance and class struggle, as tendencies, can develop towards achieving socialism, is an open question; inevitability has little to do with it.) 

Similarly, in relation to decadence theory, quite apart from the fact of a still-expanding capitalism, when Marx in Capital, vol. 3 speaks of “counteracting factors” affecting the “laws” relating to capitalist decline, he is not so much speaking of strict laws operating in capitalism’s development, but rather of historical tendencies. This has serious implications for the cogency of decadence theory in that it challenges both our ability to determine both capitalism’s decline, and the point at which such decline is irreversible. 

In this review I have concentrated on a critical assessment of some of the more important points in Price’s account of Marx’s ideas. However, it would be misleading to see this book as solely concerned with Marx’s theories; the latter part of the book concentrates on the anarchist dimension. Here, Price focuses on anarchist critiques of Marx’s economic theories, citing the views of, among others, Kropotkin, and especially Malatesta, to whose views he devotes the appendix.

In the face of the ongoing anti-democratic bourgeois revolution and its accompanying massive increases in state surveillance and control, the need for cooperation and solidarity among left-libertarian radicals has become increasingly urgent. Wayne Price’s book, in integrating Marx’s economic critique and theories into a class-struggle anarchist position, can be seen as part of the growing recognition of this need. Price’s view that Marx’s critique of political economy, plus anarchist methods and post-capitalist vision constitute the basis for a viable radical theory, should provide a much-needed stimulus to the dialogue between class-struggle anarchists and libertarian Marxists.9

  1. Wayne Price, Marx’s Economics for Anarchists: An Anarchist’s Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. Zabalaza Books, (orig. published on www.anarkismo.net/article/20585)
  2. See the Aufheben series in libcom.org for a critical Marxist analysis of decadence theory. See below for further critical remarks on problems with decadence theory.
  3. Wayne Price, The Value of Radical Theory, p. 6.
  4. See Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, final section, 3rd MS.
  5. “I should very much like to make accessible to the ordinary human intelligence – in two or three printer’s sheets – what is rational in the method Hegel discovered but at the same time enveloped in mysticism… .” Karl Marx  to Engels, 14 Jan., 1858. Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence. For Marx’s indication in the Postface to the Second Edition of Capital, of how his version of the dialectic differed from Hegel’s, see Capital, vol.1, (Penguin), p.102-103.
  6. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, (Penguin) p. 100 ff.
  7. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Ch. 1.
  8. Wayne Price, The Value of Radical Theory, p. 17.
  9. For recent material exploring themes of dialogue between sympathetic Marxists and anarchists, see, e.g., Alex Prichard et al., Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Red and Black, and the writings of Christos Memos. For Price’s view of the differences between anarchism and libertarian Marxism, see Wayne Price’s pamphlet, Libertarian Marxism’s Relation to Anarchism (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/wayne-price-libertarian-marxism-s...)

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Blog

How I became an anarchist - Nic

Nic Neven's blog - Tue, 22/04/2014 - 8:29am

Like many comrades, my road to anarchism was a long, circuitous one. A commitment to anarchism, or indeed any philosophy is the culmination of many small internal and external events; disappointments, realisations, books read and people met along the way.

My journey began as a teenager, when I became absorbed with certain questions I had about life; such as why it was that people were born free but seemed to become less and less so as they got older? Why were some people less free than others? Why was power and authority invested in those who seemed the least deserving and the most unwilling to create real social change?

I bothered my parents, teachers and friends with these questions constantly.

I was particularly concerned about the prevalence of social and environmental injustice. I could see it everywhere, yet to my surprise and disappointment, the majority of people I knew barely acknowledged this state of affairs and tolerated it as just the Way Things Are. Eventually, like many idealistic young people I was recruited to join Resistance, the youth chapter of the Socialist Alliance, on a street corner by one of their paper-sellers. Soon I was also standing on street corners around the city, attempting to flog Direct Action, (now Green Left Weekly), to disinterested passers-by. It was hard work but I was thrilled that I had found a group who seemed to have answers to some of my questions.

Unfortunately, I found the meetings a bit of a chore, mainly because they were consumed by discussions that were barely relevant to current social issues. Two themes predominated: which of the two Great Men was the Greatest - Lenin or Trotsky; and, Trotsky, was he Good or Bad? The majority who thought Trotsky was Good, attempted to convince those who thought he was Bad for the sake of ideological accord. Somehow, the urgency to create social change was lost in all this talk and I started to feel that my socialism was just an intellectual bauble. In addition, the structure of the meetings was quite authoritarian and we younger members felt alienated because our contribution was limited.

During this time I picked up a copy of Emma Goldman’s, My Disillusionment in Russia, probably because it reflected my own feelings on the subject. In it, she criticised the Bolsheviks from a non-statist perspective. The Bolsheviks had repeated many of the mistakes of the capitalist social order by creating a hierarchical, centralised communist state. I was impressed by this book and discussed it with some comrades. They conceded that the Bolshevik revolution had failed in its revolutionary aims in Russia, but were at pains to point out that communism had 'succeeded' in Cuba.

They also told me that Emma Goldman was an anarchist and that anarchists were a sloppy, lazy lot who couldn’t organise their way out of a paper bag. Moreover, Goldman was an opponent of the Great Man, Trotsky (gasp)! In spite of this, I was excited that I had found one more way to make sense of the world. Surreptitiously, I continued to read up about anarchism as I fell deeper and deeper into ennui with socialism. Yes, it was boredom that finally drove me from the Resistance League.

For many years afterward, I passively objected to the system by refusing to exercise my ‘right’ to vote but didn’t engage in radical political activism, reasoning that most forms of resistance were ineffectual if not futile. If anyone mentioned politics to me, my eyes would glaze over. Over these years, I barely came into contact with anarchism, largely because anarchists don’t normally stand on street corners and proselytise to the public. The few individuals I met who styled themselves as anarchists were non-affiliated and as disengaged as I was.

Then one day, I was walking down Parramatta Road and a beautiful rainbow appeared over one of the shops, (trumpets blare). I had found Jura, a group of real, live, sweaty anarchists! Just kidding.

On a more serious note however, I want to stress the importance of spaces such as Black Rose Books and Jura for providing physical contact points for those interested to get involved in anarchism and centres to organise from. Without them, anarchist culture will not flourish!
To cut a long story shorter, I found a genuine willingness to engage in social change and to revise old ideological dogmas at Jura, and for that I am grateful.  

Categories: Blog

What role did the Anarchists play in the Spanish Revolution during 1936?

Guest blog contributions - Fri, 18/04/2014 - 8:44pm

By Oliver, Sydney

I wrote the following essay for my HSC History Extension Major Work in 2012. The History Extension course in New South Wales allows students to devise their own question, do all their own research and their answer the question in 2500 words. Already identifying as an Anarchist for about a year and reading of its theory from the likes of Kropotkin, Chomsky, Goldman and Berkman, I decided that exploring the practical side to Anarchism would be a good way to approach my Major Work. This essay, a research logbook and annotated bibliography contributed 40% to my overall HSC mark in History Extension, all of which I received full marks for.

The Anarchists played a leading role in the Spanish Revolution, despite their varying backgrounds as urban workers, rural peasants or ‘leaders’ of the influential CNT-FAI Anarcho-Syndicalist union. In 1936 they were responsible for the organisation of defence, collectivisation and bringing the benefits of socialisation to Spain, particularly in the areas of social welfare, education and medical aid. Later that year, however, the roles polarised between those played by the CNT-FAI leaders and those of the Anarchist workers. The leaders entered the Left-Wing government in the name of anti-Fascist union, whilst the general populace maintained their grassroots, traditional Anarchist values and direct action.

In 1868, Anarchism found support among the agricultural population of Spain, establishing a strong tradition and belief in the ideology that prevails even today. Brought to Spain by Giuseppe Fanelli, the ideology appealed especially to the 70% of Spaniards working the land, two thirds of which was in the hands of 2% of landowners1. In 1869, two representatives from Spain met with the International Workingmen’s Association, or First International, at The Basle Congress. In subsequent years, a branch of this ideology, Anarcho-Syndicalism, emerged, leading to the formation of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labour), or CNT, in 1911 and the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation), or FAI, in 1927.

In the years prior to 1936, Spain underwent tumultuous political and social changes. The Second Spanish Republic, founded in 1931, inspired workers and peasants who, believing a republic would represent their interests better than the former monarchy, expected their living and working conditions to improve. However, little changed, even after the democratically elected left-wing Popular Front government took power in February 1936. Consequently, civil disobedience increased and prompted the Fascist general, Francisco Franco, to stage a coup d’état, in part a reaction to the growing revolutionary attitude. The result was a Civil War, ultimately between the people, led by the Anarchists, and Franco’s Fascist military.

Despite the significant role undertaken by the Anarchists in the Revolution, few historians have documented their part in the Revolution, or even the Civil War. Edward Conlon, writes that the Anarchists’ participation is a “hidden history”, which “has been either totally ignored or reduced to a few footnotes … often composed of blatant lies or generalised slander”. George Orwell attributes this disregard to Spanish History from this time being recorded primarily by Left-Wing historians highly unsympathetic to Anarchism. Due to their ideological differences or political concern, few foreign historians highlighted the role of Anarchists in the Revolution. Conlon and others, such as Noam Chomsky, record the part played by Anarchists as principally an organisational one in all areas of society, most significantly “the formation of militias, the expropriation and reorganisation of the land, and the seizures in industry”2.

An early role of the Anarchists was the coordination of resistance against Franco’s forces. This involved arming the people, after acquiring 40,000 weapons, largely rifles and cannons, seized from army barracks3. Combat led to the formation of barricades throughout cities to protect the Anarchist workers fighting in the streets. Anarchist historian, Peter Marshall, writes that due to the Anarchists’ rapid resistance against the army’s coup, “by the end of July, [Franco] was left in control of only half the country”4 after he had organised a rising across all of Spain. It is estimated that 150 000 workers joined the Anarchist militias from Barcelona in the first two weeks of the emerging Civil War 5. The Anarchists’ military skill is commended by the German historian, Augustin Souchy, who writes, “where Anarchists were dominant, the Rightist insurrection was smashed in a few days”6. Popular resistance was a leading role embraced by the Anarchists in July 1936. Without their quick organisation and direct action, Franco would have taken over Spain in short order due to the naivety and ineptitude of the Government.
 
The subsequent formation of voluntary military Columns, based on Anarchist principles, to defend the Revolution, was ultimately another primary role of the Anarchists. The largest and most successful of these was the Durruti Column, led by Buenaventura Durruti, until his death in late 1936. British author George Orwell comments on these Columns in his memoir, writing, “the Anarchists … were the backbone of the resistance”7. Later, he elaborates, “the Anarchist militia, in spite of their indiscipline, were notoriously the best fighters among the purely Spanish forces”8. Without the noteworthy role of the Anarchist forces in continued resistance, Spain would have fallen comparatively quickly to the Fascists.

Extensive agricultural collectivisation exemplifies the role of the CNT-FAI, with two-thirds of all land in the anti-fascist zone collectivised. The most detailed study lists a total of 1,700 agrarian collectives9 established during the Revolution. French author Daniel Guérin records that “90 percent of land workers chose to join collectives from the very beginning”10. Aragon was arguably the greatest example of agricultural collectives, with more than three-quarters of the land socialised. As the Anarchist Columns made their way to the various military fronts, they would assist those peasants who wished to establish Anarchists collectives. Juan Giménez, a member of the Durruti Column, provides a first hand account of how, with his comrades’ help, they “transformed society with self-management and a series of collective activities”11. The success of widespread collectivisation resulted in half a million members joining 450 collectives in Aragon alone12. By the end of 1936, a recorded three million people were living in collectives throughout rural Spain13. Collectivised agriculture produced yields significantly higher than before the Revolution, despite the many who left to volunteer for the Columns. Souchy, who visited over a hundred Spanish collectives, writes of the increased production in his account of agricultural collectives during the Revolution, A Journey Through Aragon. For example, “production of potatoes increased 50 percent … and the production of sugar beets and feed for livestock doubled”. He concludes that during the Revolution, “the yield per hectare was 50 percent greater on collective property than on individually worked land” 14.

Mutual aid is a core principle of Anarchism and is highlighted through their role in cooperation between collectives. José Sauces, the CNT Delegate of Provisions, describes the mutual aid organised between the collectives of each region. He gives the example of the Levante region being richer in wheat than others, and as such, any excess not needed for consumption would be sent to other regions with depleted supplies. In return, regions with larger yields of sugar, for example, would distribute their surplus to Levante. A key role of the Anarchists was their focus on maintaining mutual aid, seen in the CNT-FAI’s establishment of The Federation of Collectives. It comprised democratically elected representatives, facilitating communication between collectives, so that the supplies of each could be distributed to those in need.

The Anarchists also strove to create a more efficient system by ‘socialising’ industry in areas over which they held influence, becoming a crucial role in raising production levels, as well as bringing greater equality. This was most evident in Anarchist controlled Catalonia, which had 70 percent of all Spain’s industry and 50 percent of its industrial workers. 3,000 enterprises were collectivised by the CNT-FAI in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia,15 so that “80 percent of companies [were] collectivised and all services managed by the workers”16. Yet the Anarchists did not simply ‘seize’ urban workplaces from their bourgeoisie oppressors; they sought to create a more successful system throughout Spain. “Extensive reorganisation took place to make industry more efficient”17, in an effort by the proletariat “to fulfil their collective dreams of social and economic justice”18. The success of industry under the influence of the CNT-FAI spread with the Revolution, “forming a more or less solid block from Malaga to the French frontier, with considerable power also in Asturias and Madrid”19.

The extremely high level of unemployment in Spain prior to the Revolution, with one third of the reported working population jobless20, was targeted by the Anarchists. Right-libertarian Bryan Caplan, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, argues, “Unemployment by all accounts was correspondingly high” throughout the Revolution, and he criticises the CNT-FAI for their negligence. However, Caplan only references British Marxists Hugh Thomas and Ronald Fraser, lacking any first hand sources. He then writes unemployment fell by 10 percent between 1936 and 1937, yet he considers this a “truly abysmal performance”21. Conversely, Juan Romero, who was working in Spain at the time, explains, “The rich said there were 500 workers too many, the workers said there were five too many. When those five disappeared, there was work for everyone.”22 Without the bourgeoisie, Anarchists were able to play a leading role in the running of industry and their workplaces, allowing them to concentrate on communal needs, such as full employment.

One major role undertaken by the CNT-FAI was the closure of those workplaces deemed inefficient and uneconomic. This allowed production to be concentrated where the best equipment and conditions were available. In Barcelona, over 70 unsanitary milk pasteurising plants were shut down. Emma Goldman records that before the Revolution, this same milk industry “had a working capacity to produce 7,000 litres of milk daily”, yet after being socialised, “it could handle 100,000”. This massive improvement in production coincided with the closing of plants and reduction of employees from 350 to 200, allowing workers to seek jobs in areas where needed urgently or to volunteer for the Columns.

Industrial productivity doubled by the end of the Revolution due to the significant role played by the anarchists23. Edward Conlon writes that the unsympathetic Left-wing government even “admitted that the war industry of Catalonia produced ten times more than the rest of Spanish industry put together, and that this output could have been quadrupled if Catalonia had the access to necessary means of purchasing raw materials”, which had been withheld from Anarchist controlled industry by the government.

The Anarchists aimed to increase equality across the socialised nation. Benefits from the collectivisation of both agriculture and industry included social service, education and medical aid. It has been noted, “even hostile sources acknowledged that the Revolution brought an increase in social services”24. One such source is José Palou Garí’s Thirty-Two Months Of Slavery In The Red Zone Of Spain, which, although generally condemning Anarchism and the Revolution, praises the work in areas of community service.

An important role of the Anarchists was to establish public service organisations across the country, dealing for example with food distribution and housing for refugees of the Civil War. During the general strike that accompanied the beginning of the Revolution, Anarchists formed committees to organise food distribution throughout the barris, the working class quarters. After the resumption of work, this system was restructured, and ‘communal eating houses’ were instituted, which provided meals for members of the militia and urban workers. These were commonly in buildings previously exclusive to the bourgeois, such as the CNT-FAI controlled Hotel Gastronómico No. 1, formerly the Barcelona Ritz. Similarly, the office of the Barcelonan employers’ association and some previous homes of the bourgeoisie were converted into either public restaurants or housing for those left homeless by the Civil War25. Goldman describes associations, such as the Durruti-Ascaso Colony, founded to accommodate orphans produced by the Civil War. 200 children were looked after by “our comrades of the CNT-FAI [who] are doing their utmost to give to all children the necessities and care of life”26.

The Anarchists’ strong commitment to education was displayed throughout the Revolution, and observed firsthand by Goldman in her description of the La Escuela Nueva Unificada (the Council for the New Unified School) formed on 27 July 1936. Chris Ealham, a specialist in Spanish labour history and movements writes of the education boom created by the Anarchist pedagogues, which in the early months of the Revolution caused the number of schoolchildren in l’Hospitalet to double, rising to 8,000. He goes on to record, “during the same period, over 20,000 new school places were established in Barcelona alone, creating a right to education that had never existed previously”. The CNT-FAI also extended their programme to include classes for adults through neighbourhood councils, as many were illiterate and wished to gain a level of education already established in other European nations. Caplan argues, however, that “the Anarchists’ much-praised focus on education seems far more malevolent”, representing a form of indoctrination. In reply, Iain McKay criticises this, explaining that Spanish Anarchist schooling was based on the system of ‘Free Schooling’, which gives Caplan’s denouncement “no basis in fact”27. Either way, there is no doubt that greater levels of education in Spain resulted from the active role of the Anarchists, who were able to create a suitable educational network, especially in Catalonia.

In response to the public’s anxieties surrounding the lack of medical care for wounded soldiers, the Anarchists also played a significant role in developing a programme to both educate personnel and establish care centres. This initially led to the creation of ‘transitory hospitals’, set up to administer to the wounded street fighters repelling Franco’s troops from the cities. By the end of 1936, the medical standard had risen, and “for the first time in Spain, many workers had the benefit of a health service, organised by the CNT Federation of Health Workers”, allied with the various Anarchist collectives28. Ealham describes how “in addition to the many local medical centres located in houses once owned by the rich, six new hospitals had been established” in Barcelona alone. The nationwide Federation of Health Workers consisted of 40,000 health workers; its scale and work a testament to the Anarchists. Goldman describes how through the Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista (International Anti-Fascist Solidarity) organisation, the Spanish Anarchists were able to develop their social relief and medical aid scheme, creating greater “care for disabled militias, a hospital and dispensary treating an average of 80 patients daily, and an ambulance”.

The role played by the Anarchists was instrumental from the origin and beginning of the Spanish Revolution, to its organisation and progression throughout 1936. They undertook significant roles in creating voluntary militias, collectivising both agriculture and industry, and endeavoured to bring equality to the nation in areas such as social aid and education. Yet, in late 1936, a division between the CNT-FAI leaders and the Anarchist workers who supported the union was created, when several leaders entered Francisco Largo Caballero’s Left-Wing government in the name of anti-fascist unity. Despite its later suppression and demise, the Spanish Revolution in 1936, “put into practice Anarchist ideas … production increased, work conditions improved, and there was greater social equality, whilst the economy functioned more rationally”29. As stated by Concha Liaño, “we were able to show that the collectives worked, everything worked”. However, this divide would prompt Leon Trotsky to observe that the CNT-FAI had become the “fifth wheel on the cart of bourgeois democracy”30. Their decision to join the government ultimately marked the beginning of the demise in Anarchist influence and control in anti-Fascist Spain.

Footnotes

  1. ‘Anarchists In The Spanish Civil War’, Geoff Bailey
  2. ‘The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism In Action’, Edward Conlon
  3. ‘Living Utopia’, Directed by Juan Gamero, Anarchist Film Channel, 1997 (English Subtitles)
  4. Demanding The Impossible: A History Of Anarchism, page 460, Peter Marshall, 2008
  5. ‘Two Weeks That Shook Spain’ – Andrew Flood
  6. Beware! Anarchist: A Life For Freedom, Augustin Souchy, 1992 (English Translation)
  7. Homage To Catalonia, page 200, George Orwell, 1989
  8. Homage To Catalonia, page 211
  9. Collectives In The Spanish Revolution, Gaston Leval, 1975
  10. Anarchism: From Theory To Practice, page 131, Daniel Guérin, 1970
  11. ‘Living Utopia’, Juan Gamero
  12. Anarchism: From Theory To Practice, page 134
  13. Demanding The Impossible: A History Of Anarchism, page 462
  14. Beware! Anarchist: A Life For Freedom, Augustin Souchy
  15. ‘The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism In Action’, Edward Conlon
  16. ‘Living Utopia’, Juan Gamero
  17. ‘The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism In Action’, Edward Conlon
  18. Anarchism And The City, Chris Ealham, 2010
  19. ‘The Anarchist Revolution In Spain’, Cyril Connolly, 1936
  20. ‘The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism In Action’, Edward Conlon
  21. ‘The Anarcho-Statists Of Spain’, Bryan Caplan, 1996
  22. ‘Living Utopia’, Juan Gamero
  23. ‘Living Utopia’, Juan Gamero
  24. Anarchism And The City, page 181
  25. Anarchism And The City, pages 180-182
  26. Vision On Fire: Emma Goldman On The Spanish Revolution, page 87-88
  27. ‘Objectivity And Right-Libertarian Scholarship’, Iain McKay, 1997
  28. ‘The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism In Action’, Edward Conlon
  29. ‘Living Utopia’, Juan Gamero
  30. Lessons Of Spain: The Last Warning, Leon Trotsky, Socialist Appeal Press 1937

Bibliography

  • Bailey, Geoff. ‘Anarchists In The Spanish Civil War’, International Socialist Review, No. 24, July 2002.
  • Caplan, Bryan. ‘The Anarcho-Statists Of Spain’, 1996.
  • Chomsky, Noam. Chomsky On Anarchism, AK Press, 2009.
  • Conlon, Edward. ‘The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism In Action’, 1993.
  • Connolly, Cyril. ‘The Anarchist Revolution In Spain’, New Statesman, 21st Novermber 1936.
  • Cunningham, Ray. ‘Which Way To The Revolution?’, Red And Black Revolution, Number 1, 2001, pg 13-16.
  • Dolgoff, Sam. ‘Anarchists In The Spanish Revolution’, ( From Fragments: A Memoir) Refract Publications, 1986.
  • Ealham, Chris. Anarchism And The City, AK Press, 2010.
  • Flood, Andrew. ‘Two Weeks That Shook Spain’, Workers Solidarity, Number 49, 1996.
  • Fontenis, George. ‘The Revolutionary Message Of The Friends Of Durruti’, 2000. (English Translation)
  • Gamero, Juan. ‘Living Utopia’, Anarchist Film Channel, 1997.
  • Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War, Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism: From Theory To Practice, Monthly Review Press, 1970.
  • Hogan, Deirdre. ‘Industrial Collectivisation During The Spanish Revolution’,  Red And Black Revolution, Number 7, 2003, pg 16-21.
  • Leval, Gaston. Collectives In The Spanish Revolution, Freedom Press, 1975.
  • McKay, Iain. ‘Objectivity And Right-Libertarian Scholarship’, 1997.
  • Marshall, Peter.     Demanding The Impossible: A History Of Anarchism, Harper Perennial, 2007.
  • Mompo, Enric. ‘Was There A Spanish Revolution?’, Razón y Revolución, Number 3, January 1997.
  • Orwell, George. Homage To Catalonia, Penguin Books, 1989.
  • ‘Spilling The Spanish Beans’, 1937.
  • Porter, David. Vision On Fire: Emma Goldman On The Spanish Revolution, AK Press, 2006.
  • Souchy, Augustin. Beware! Anarchist: A Life For Freedom, Charles H. Kerr, 1992. (English Translation)
  • ‘A Journey Through Aragon’, (From The Anarchist Collectives) Free Life Editions, 1974.
  • Trotsky, Leon. Lessons Of Spain: The Last Warning, Socialist Appeal Press, 1937.

 

 

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