Supplement to the Organizational Platform
(Questions & Answers)
Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad
(Delo Truda editorial group)
As was to be expected, the Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists has sparked very lively interest among several militants of the Russian anarchist movement. While some comrades wholeheartedly subscribe to the overall idea and fundamental theses of the "Platform", other comrades frame criticisms and express misgivings about certain of the Platform's theses.
We welcome equally the positive reception of the Platform and the genuine criticism of it. For, in the endeavour to create an overall anarchist programme as well as an overall anarchist organization, honest, serious and substantial criticism is as important as positive creative initiatives.
The "questions" we reprint below emanate from just the sort of serious and necessary criticism, and it is with some satisfaction that we welcome it.
In the accompanying letter, the author of the questions, Maria Isidine (a militant of many year's standing, and well respected in the anarchist movement) writes:
"The Organizational Platform published in Delo Truda is obviously designed to be discussed by all anarchists. Before formulating any final opinion of this 'Platform' and, perhaps, speaking of it in the press, I should like to have an explanation of certain matters which are insufficiently explicit in it. It may well be that other readers will also find in the 'Platform' much that is obscure and that certain objections to it may only be based on misunderstandings. It is for that reason that I should like first of all to put a series of questions to you: it is very important that you reply to these in a clear manner, for it will be your replies that afford a grasp of the general spirit of the 'Platform'. Perhaps you will see a need to reply to these questions in your paper."
In closing her letter, the comrade adds that she "wishes to avert controversy in the columns of Delo Truda". This is why she seeks first to elucidate certain essential points from the Platform.
This sort of approach is very fair. It is all too easy to resort to polemics against a view with which one is, or thinks to be, in disagreement. It is even easier to trouble oneself solely with polemicizing without bothering to frame any positive alternative suggestion, in place of the targeted view. What is infinitely harder is to analyse fully the new proposition, to understand it, so that one may go on to arrive at a well-founded opinion of it. It is exactly this last, most difficult course that the author of the questions below has chosen.
Here are those questions:
1. The central point of the "Platform" is rallying the majority of members of the anarchist movement on the basis of a common tactical and political line: the formation of a general Union. Since you are federalists, obviously the Union will consist of autonomous groups, but you apparently have in mind the existence of an Executive Committee that will be in charge of the "ideological and organizational conduct of the activity of the individual groups". That type of organization is to be found in all parties, but it is possible only if one accepts the majority principle. In your organization, will each group be free to choose its own tactics and establish its own position on each given issue? If the answer is yes, then your unity will be of a purely moral character (as has always been the case in the anarchist movement); but if you seek organizational unity, that unity will of necessity be coerced. And then, if you accept the majority principle within your organization, on what grounds would you repudiate it in social construction?
Further clarification of your conception of federalist liaison, the role of congresses and the majority principle would be desirable.
2. When you speak of the "free system of soviets", what functions do you see these soviets having to perform in order that they become "the first steps of the non-statist construction"? What is to be their remit? Will their decisions be binding?
3. The concept whereby "anarchists should steer events from a theoretical point of view" is not entirely clear. Does it mean simply that anarchists will do their utmost to see that those organizations (trade union, local, cooperative, etc.) that are to build the new order are imbued with anarchist ideas? Or does it mean that anarchists will themselves take charge of this construction? In the latter case, in what way would that state of affairs differ from a "party dictatorship"?
It is very important that this matter be clarified. The same question arises regarding the role of anarchists in the trade unions. What is the meaning of the expression: "enter the unions in an organized manner"? Does it mean merely that the comrades working in the unions should come to some agreement in order to establish a policy line? Or does it mean that the anarchist Executive Committee will prescribe the tactic of the workers' movement, rule on strikes, demonstrations, etc., and that those anarchists active in the unions will strive to capture positions of leadership there and, using their authority, foist these decisions on the ordinary membership? The mention in the "Platform" that the activity of the anarchist groupings active in trade union circles is to be steered by a general anarchist organization raises all sorts of misgivings on this score.
4. In the section on the defence of the revolution, it is stated that the army is to be subordinated to the workers' and peasants' organizations throughout the land, which will be created by the masses and given the task of overseeing the country's economic and social life. In everyday parlance, that is called "civil authority" of the elected. What does it mean to you, though? It is obvious that an organization that in fact directs the whole of life and can call upon an army is nothing other than a State power. This point is so important that the authors of the "Platform" have a duty to dwell longer upon it. If it is a "transitional form", why then does the Platform reject the idea of the "transitional period"? But if it is a definitive form, then what makes the "Platform" anarchist?
5. There are some questions which, while not dealt with in the "Platform", nevertheless play an important part in the disagreements between comrades. Here are several, for example:
Let us suppose that a region finds itself effectively under the influence of the anarchists. What will their attitude be towards the other parties? Do the authors of the "Platform" countenance the possibility of violence against an enemy who has not had recourse to arms? Or do they, in keeping with the anarchist idea, proclaim complete freedom of speech, of the press, of organization, etc., for all? (Some years ago, a similar question would have seemed out of place. But at present certain views of which I am aware prevent me of being completely sure of the answer.)
And, broadly speaking, is it acceptable to have one's decisions implemented by force?
Do the authors of the "Platform" countenance the exercise of authority, even if only for an instant?
Whatever the group's answers to all these questions, I cannot keep silent about one idea in the "Platform" that I find to be openly at odds with the anarchist communism that the "Platform" professes.
You assume that once the wage system and exploitation have been abolished from society, there will nevertheless remain some sort of non-labouring elements, and these you exclude from the common fellowship union of workers: they will have no title to their share of the common product. Now, the principle at the very root of anarchism has always been "to each according to one's needs", and it is in that principle that anarchism has always seen the best guarantee of social solidarity. When faced with the question: "What will you do with the idlers?," anarchists answered: "Better to feed a few idlers for nothing than to introduce, merely on account of their being there, a false and harmful principle into the life of society." Now, you create, for political reasons, a sort of idler category and, by way of repression, you would have them perish of hunger. But apart from the moral aspect of the matter, have you stopped to consider where that would lead? In the case of every person not working, we will have to establish the grounds on which they do not work, we will have to become mind readers and probe their beliefs. Should somebody refuse to perform a given task, we will have to enquire into the grounds for their refusal. We will have to see if it is not sabotage or counter-revolution. The result: spying, forced labour, "labour mobilization" and, to cap it all, the products vital to life are to be the gift of authorities which will be able to starve the opposition to death! Rations as a weapon of political struggle! Can it be that what you have seen in Russia has not persuaded you of the abominable nature of such an arrangement? And I am not talking about the damage that it would do to the destiny of the revolution: such a blatant violation of social solidarity could not help but spawn dangerous enemies.
It is in relation to this problem that they key to the whole anarchist conception of social organization lies. If we were to make concessions on this point, we would quickly be hounded into jettisoning the remaining concepts of anarchism, for your approach to the problem makes any non-statist social organization an impossibility.
It may be that I have to write with regard to the "Platform", but I should prefer to put that off until all these grey areas have been explained.
* * *
Thus, the Organizational Platform spawns a series of basic questions set out in the letter just quoted, notably:
Let us tackle them in order:
1. The question of majority and minority in the anarchist movement is broached by the author linking it to the idea of an Executive Committee of the Union. The author asks if the Union's Executive Committee has, besides other functions of an executive nature, also that of "steering the activity of the individual groups in the union from a theoretical and organizational point of view," and that then must that steering not be coercive? Then, are the groups affiliated to the Union to be free to choose their own tactics and determine their own position with regard to each given matter? Or are they to be subordinated to the overall tactic and the overall positions laid down by the Union's majority?
Let it be said, first of all, that in our view, the Union's Executive Committee cannot be a body endowed with any powers of a coercive nature, as is the case with the centralist political parties. The General Anarchist Union's Executive Committee is a body
performing functions of a general nature in the Union. Instead of "Executive Committee," this body might carry the title of "Chief Union Secretariat". However, the name "Executive Committee" is to be preferred, for it better encapsulates
the idea of the executive function and that of initiative. Without in any way restricting the rights of the individual groups, the Executive Committee will be able to steer their activity in the theoretical and organizational sense. For there will always be groups inside the Union which will have difficulty with various tactical issues, so that ideological or organizational assistance will always be necessary for these groups. It goes without saying that the Executive Committee will be best placed to lend such assistance, for it will be, by virtue of its situation and its functions, imbued with the tactical or organizational line adopted by the Union on a variety of matters.
But if, nevertheless, certain groups should indicate a wish to pursue their own tactical line, will the Executive Committee or the Union as a whole be in a position to prevent them? In other words, is the Union's tactical and policy line to be laid down by the majority, or will every group be entitled to operate as it deems fit, and, will the Union therefore have several lines?
As a rule, we believe that the Union as a whole should have a single tactical and political line. Indeed, the Union is designed for the very purpose of bringing an end to the anarchist movement's dissipation and disorganization, the intention being to lay down, in place of a multiplicity of tactical lines giving rise to intestinal friction, an overall tactical line that will enable all anarchist elements to pursue a common direction and be all the more successful in achieving their goal. In the absence of this the Union loses one of its main raisons d'Ítre.
However, there may be times when opinion within the Union on such and such an issue is divided, giving rise to the emergence of a majority and a minority view. Such cases are commonplace in the life of all organizations and parties and a solution is generally found.
We believe, first of all, that for the sake of unity of the Union, the minority in such cases should make concessions to the majority. This would be readily achievable in cases of the differences of opinion between the minority and majority are minimal. If, though, the minority were to consider sacrificing its viewpoint an impossibility, then there would be the prospect of having two different opinions and tactics within the Union: a majority view and tactic, and a minority view and tactic.
In this case, the question will have to be discussed by the entire Union and if, after discussion, the coexistence of two divergent views on the same issue were to be adjudged feasible, then it would be accepted as an accomplished fact.
And finally, in the event of agreement proving impossible between majority and minority on the tactical and political questions separating them, there would be a split with the minority breaking away from the majority to form a separate organization.
Those are the three possible outcomes in the event of disagreement between the minority and majority. In all such cases, the question will be resolved, not by the Executive Committee which, let us repeat, is to be merely an executive organ of the Union, but by the entire Union as a body - by means of a conference or congress of the Union.
2. The free soviet system. We repudiate the current (bolshevik) soviet system, on the grounds that it represents only a certain political form of the State. The soviets of workers' and peasants' deputies are a State political organization run by a political party.
Against these bodies we offer soviets of workers' and peasants' production and consumption organizations. That is the meaning of the slogan "free system of soviets and factory-workshop committees". We take such a system to mean a social and economic system wherein all branches and functions of economic and social life are concentrated in the hands of the workers' production and consumption organizations, which would perform those functions with an eye to satisfying the needs of the whole working society. A federation of these organizations and their soviets will dispense with the State and the capitalist system and will be the chief pivot of the free soviet system. To be sure, this regime will not instantly represent the full-blooded ideal of the anarchist commune, but it will be the first showing, the first practical essay of the anarchist commune, and it will usher in the age of free, non-statist workers' construction.
We are of the opinion that, with regard to their decisions relating to the various realms of social and economic life, the Soviets of workers' and peasants' organizations or the Commune will see to those, not through violence or decrees but rather through common accord with the working masses, who will be taking a direct hand in the making of those decisions. Those decisions, though, will have to be binding upon all who vote for and endorse them.
3. Steering by anarchists of the masses and events in terms of theory. The action of steering revolutionary elements and the revolutionary movement of the masses in terms of ideas should not and cannot ever be considered as an aspiration on the part of anarchists that they should take the construction of the new society into their own hands. That construction cannot be carried out except by working society as a whole, for that task devolves upon it alone, and any attempt to strip it of that right must be deemed anti-anarchist. The question of the ideological piloting is not a matter of socialist construction, but rather of a theoretical and political influence brought to bear upon the revolutionary march of political events. We would be neither revolutionaries nor fighters were we not to take an interest in the character and direction of the masses' struggle for the social revolution. And since the nature and direction of that struggle are determined not just by objective factors but also by subjective factors, i.e. by the ideological influence of a variety of political groups, we have a duty to do all in our power to see that anarchism's ideological influence upon the march of the revolution is maximized. The current "age of wars and revolutions" poses the dilemma with exceptional acuteness: revolutionary events will evolve either under the sway of statist ideas (even should these be socialist), or else under they sway of anti-statist (anarchist) ideas. And, since we are unshakable in our conviction that the statist direction will lead to the defeat of the revolution and to the masses being once more enslaved, our task follows from that with implacable logic: it is to do all we can to see that the revolution is shaped by the anarchist tendency. Now, our old way of operating, a primitive approach relying on tiny, scattered groups, will not only fail to carry off the task but will, indeed, hinder it. There has to be a new approach to the question. It is essential that the force of anarchism's theoretical influence upon the march of events be organized, and instead of it being an intermittent influence felt through disparate petty actions, it has to be made a powerful, ongoing factor. But that, in our opinion, can scarcely be possible unless anarchism's finest militants, in matters theoretical and practical alike, organize themselves into a single association that is capable of vigorous action and is well-grounded in terms of theory and tactics -the General Union of Anarchists. It is in this same sense that the drive to pilot revolutionary syndicalism in theoretical terms should be understood. Entering the unions in an organized manner means entering as the carriers of a specific theory, with a prescribed work plan, work that will have to be strictly compatible in the case of every anarchist operating within the trade unions. The Anarchist Union neither prescribes tactics for the labour movement nor draws up plans for strikes or demonstrations. But it does have to disseminate within the unions its ideas regarding the revolutionary tactics of the working class and on various events of the moment; that is its inherent right.
However, in the endeavour to spread their ideas, anarchists will have to be closely coordinated, both with each other and with the work of the general anarchist organization to which they belong and in the name of which they will be carrying out ideological and organizational work inside the trade unions. Carrying on anarchist work inside the trade unions in an organized manner and coordinating that work have nothing to do with authoritarian procedure.
4. The author's voiced objection to the programme's thesis regarding the defence of the revolution is, more than any other, rooted in a misunderstanding.
Having stressed the necessity and inevitability in the period of civil war for the workers to create their own revolutionary army, the Platform also asserts that this army must be subordinated to the overall (the highest) worker-peasant production and consumption organizations.
The subordination of the army to these organizations does not in any way imply the idea of an elected civil authority. Indeed, an army, even the most revolutionary and most popular of armies in terms of its mentality and title, cannot, however, exist and operate off its own initiative, but has to be answerable to someone. Being an organ for the defence of the revolutionary rights and revolutionary positions of all the workers, the army must therefore be wholly subordinate to the workers and piloted by them politically speaking (we stress politically, for, when it comes to its military and strategic direction, that could only be handled by military bodies within the ranks of the army itself, answerable to the highest worker-peasant organizations).
But to whom can the army be directly answerable, politically? The workers as a whole are not a united body. They will be represented by various economic organizations. It is to these very same organizations, in the shape of their highest federal agencies, that the army will be subordinated. The character and social functions of these agencies are spelled out in point 2 above.
The notion of a revolutionary army of workers must either be rejected or it must be accepted. But should the army be accepted, then the principle of that army's being subordinate to the worker-peasant organizations likewise has to be accepted. We can see no other possible solution to the matter.
5. On press freedom, the freedom of speech, of organization, etc.
Victorious labour must not tamper either with freedom of speech or of the press, not even those of its erstwhile enemies and oppressors now defeated by the revolution. It is even less acceptable that there be tampering with press freedom and freedom of speech in the context of the revolutionary socialist and anarchist groupings in the ranks of the victorious proletariat.
Free speech and press freedom are essential for the working people, not simply so that they may illuminate and better understand the tasks involved in their social and economic construction efforts, but also with an eye to better discerning the essential traits, arguments, plans and intentions of their enemies.
It is untrue that the capitalist and the opportunist socialist press can lead the revolutionary working people astray. The latter will be quite capable of deciphering and exposing the lying press and giving it the answer it deserves. Press freedom and freedom of speech only scare those like the capitalists and the communists who survive through dirty deeds that they are forced to hide from the eyes of the great working masses. As for the working people, freedom of speech will be a tremendous boon to them. It will enable them to hear about everything, judge things for themselves, and give them greater consciousness and their actions greater efficacy.
Monopolization of the press and the right to speak, or the limitation of these by their being squeezed into the confines of a single party's dogma, put paid to all confidence in those holding the monopoly and in their press. If free speech is stifled, it is because there is a desire to conceal the truth. This is something that was demonstrated sensationally by the bolsheviks, whose press is dependent upon bayonets and is read primarily out of necessity, in the absence of any other.
However, there may be specific circumstances when the press, or rather, abuse of the press, may be restricted on the grounds of revolutionary usefulness. As an example, we might cite one episode from 1919.
Throughout the month of November 1919, Ekaterinoslav was in the hands of the Makhnovist insurgent army. But at the same time, it was surrounded by Denikin's troops who, having dug in along the left bank of the Dniepr in the area around the towns of Amur and Nizhnedneprovsk, were continually shelling Ekaterinoslav with cannon mounted on their armoured trains. And a Denikinist unit headed by General Slashchev was simultaneously advancing on Ekaterinoslav from the north, from the area around Kremenchug.
At the time, the following daily newspapers were appearing in Ekaterinoslav, thanks to freedom of speech: the Makhnovist organ Put' k Svobode ["Road To Freedom"], the Right Social Revolutionaries' Narodovlastie ["Peoples' Power"], the Ukrainian Left Social Revolutionaries' Borot'ba ["Struggle"], and the Bolsheviks' organ Zvezda ["Star"]. Only the Cadets, then spiritual leaders of the Denikinist movement, were without their newspaper. But if the Cadets had at that time wanted to publish in Ekaterinoslav their own newspaper, which would without any doubt have been an accessory to Denikin's operations, would the revolutionary workers of Ekaterinoslav and the insurgents have had to grant the Cadets the right to publish one, even at a time when its military role in events would have been apparent? We think not.
In a civil war context, such cases may arise more than once and in these cases, the workers and peasants will have to be guided not by the broad principle of freedom of press and free speech, but by the role that enemy mouthpieces would enjoy in relation to the ongoing military struggle.
Generally speaking, and with the exception of cases of civil war, victorious labour will have to grant free speech and freedom of the press to left-wing views and right-wing views alike. That freedom will be the pride and joy of the free society of free working people.
Anarchists countenance and urge the use of revolutionary violence in the fight against its class enemies, but they will never agree to wield power, even for a single instant, nor impose their decisions on the masses by force. In this connection their methods are: propaganda, force of argument, and spoken and written persuasion.
6. The proper interpretation of the anarchist principle "from each according to ability, to each according to need".
This principle is without question the cornerstone of Anarchist Communism. No other economic, social or legal precept is as well-suited to the ideal of Anarchist Communism as this one. The Platform also says that: "the social revolution, in tackling the reconstruction of the entire established social order, thereby assumes an obligation to look to everyone's essential needs."
However, it is a broad declaration of principle on the problem of an anarchist society. It has to be distinguished from the practical demands of the early days of the social revolution. As the experiences of the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution have shown, the non-working classes of the existing society are beaten, but not definitively. In the early days a single thought obsesses them: collecting themselves, overthrowing the revolution, and restoring their lost privileges.
That being the case, it would be extremely risky and fatally dangerous for the revolution to share out the products that would be available to the revolutionary zone according to the principle of "to each according to need". It would be doubly dangerous for, aside from the comfort that this might afford the classes that are hostile to the revolution, which would be morally and strategically inadmissible, new classes would immediately arise and these, seeing the revolution supply the needs of every person, would rather be idle than work. Plainly this double danger to the revolution is not something that one can ignore. For it would quickly get the better of the revolution, unless effective measures are taken against it. The best measure would be to put the counter-revolutionary, non-working classes usefully to work. In one sphere or another, to one extent or another, these classes will have to find themselves useful employment of which society has need; and it is their very right to their share in society's output that will force them to do so, for there are no rights that do not carry obligations. And that is the very point that our splendid anarchist principle is making. It proposes that every individual receive in proportion to their needs, provided that every individual places their powers and faculties at the service of society and not that he serve it not at all.
An exception will be made for the children, the elderly, the sick and the infirm. Society will rightly excuse all such categories from the duty of labour, without denying them their entitlement to have all their needs met.
The moral sensibilities of the working people is deeply outraged by the principle of taking from society according to one's needs, while giving to it according to one's discretion or not at all; the working people have suffered too long from the application of that absurd principle and that is why they are unbending on this point. Our feeling for justice and logic is also outraged at this principle.
The position will change completely as soon as the free society of working people entrenches itself and when there are no longer any classes sabotaging the new production for motives of a counter-revolutionary nature, but only a handful of idlers. Then society will have to make a complete reality of the anarchist principle: "From each according to ability, to each according to needs," for only on the basis of that principle will society be assured of its chances to breathe complete freedom and genuine equality.
But even then, the general rule will be that all able-bodied persons, enjoying rights over the material and moral resources of society, incur certain obligations with respect to the production of these resources.
Mikhail Bakunin, analysing this problem in his day, wrote in the maturity of his anarchist thinking and activity (in 1871, comrade Nettlau reckons):
"Everyone will have to work if they are to eat. Anyone who does not wish to work will be free to perish of hunger, unless they find some association or commune prepared to feed them out of pity. But then it will probably be fair to grant them no political rights, since, being capable of work, their shameful situation is of their own choosing and they are living off another's labour: for there will be no other basis for social and political rights than the work performed by each individual."
Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad
2nd November 1926
Translated from Russian to French by Alexandre Skirda and from French to English by Paul Sharkey. English translation revised with reference to the Russian by the Nestor Makhno Archive.
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