Counter-Community: An Aspect of Anarchist Political Culture Author(s): Sharif Gemie Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 29, No.

2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 349-367 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: Accessed: 09/04/2010 09:16
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Sharif Gemie

An Counter-Community: Aspect of Anarchist PoliticalCulture

Anarchistpolitical theory, it has been argued, is based on a simplistic polarization between good and bad. An example of this diagnosis can be found in the works of Karl Mannheim who, discussing the political philosophy of Gustav Landauer, the German anarchistsocialist, observed:
We perceive in Landauer what is characteristic of all anarchists, namely the antithesis between the 'authoritarian' and the 'libertarian' a contrast which simplifies everything and blurs all practical differences, which lumps together as authoritarian everything ranging from the police state through the democraticrepublican to the socialistic state, while only anarchism is regarded as libertarian.'

One would expect writers sympathetic to the anarchist cause to deny or at least to debate such criticisms. Surprisingly, Peter Marshall in his recent study of anarchism, proposes a similar simple characterization of anarchist politics. 'While society is invariably a blessing ... all [anarchists] accept that the State is an artificial superstructure separate from society.'2 One can easily cite other works, also written by writers sympathetic to anarchism, whose very titles suggest the same simple polarity: for example, James Martin's Men Against the State (1953) or Pierre Clastres's Society against the State (1977). Is it correct to say that anarchism is based on this simple sense of polarization? Or is there evidence of a more subtle and complex appreciation of the interplay of forces in anarchist thinking? This article will introduce and debate the anarchists' concept of 'counter-community'. Through understanding this concept, the anarchists' seemingly polarized, rigid thinking, their apparently erratic political record, their frequent shifts in political strategies and tactics will become, if not more convincing as political arguments, then at least more comprehensible as historical phenomena.
Journal of ContemporaryHistory (SAGE, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi), Vol. 29 (1994), 349-367.


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

Furthermore, a discussion of the concept of counter-community will allow us to identify some key differences between the Marxist and anarchist traditions. Evidence will be drawn from a wide range of sources written in the period c.1790 to c.1940, from the first articulate expression of the anarchist political philosophy in Godwin's Political Justice, to the collapse of anarcho-syndicalism following the nationalists' victory in the Spanish Civil War. Some primacy will be given to French anarchist culture, for it was arguably in this country that anarchist ideas were voiced with the greatest clarity, and some special attention will be paid to the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, for their movement was the largest anarchist movement in history. However, this article is not intended to provide a detailed investigation of either particular thinkers or countries. Too often works on anarchism have reduced the subject to the biographies of a few celebrated writers, or to the experience of particular moments of revolt.3While this article does not claim to present a full social history of anarchist political culture, by drawing on a wide range of sources, it does represent a move away from the now standard Godwin-StirnerProudhon-Bakunin-Kropotkin approach. Points of consensus will be identified among a broad range of writers, and common aspects of anarchist political culture thereby established which could be ignored by an over-concentration of analysis on prominent works, or by the in-depth examination of single events. In other words, the approach will be synchronic, investigating development over a longue duree of experience, rather than a chronological narrative of political events; and synthetic, drawing together the experience of several countries. The anarchists were not alone in their fascination with the process of polarization. Within Marx's writing one can find similar images. However, in his case, social polarization was constructed around the development of a particular social class.
In the formation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, a class which is the dissolution of all classes ... a sphere which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from - and thereby emancipating - all other spheres of society, which is, in a word, the total loss of humanity and which can therefore redeem itself only through the total redemption of humanity. This dissolution of society as a particular class is the proletariat.4

In such passages Marx assigned to the industrial proletariat a unique power to destroy the capitalist economy. While, with the benefit of

Gemie: An Aspect of Anarchist Political Culture


some hundred and fifty years' hindsight, we may well wish to challenge such observations, the breadth, clarity and precision with which Marx wrote ensures that his arguments retain an appealing quality. The issues are clear: the key loci of change are the mode of production and the class struggle; the key agent of change is the industrial proletariat. Such clarity is often absent from anarchist writing. However, the relative imprecision of their sociology was often compensated for by their more acute sense of possibility, tactical opportunity and of the ethics of revolt. Let us now investigate this theme of polarization in more detail. The title of Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy epitomizes the tendency of anarchist writers to present images of stark polarization, and within this work can be found many examples of descriptions of deep opposition. Bakunin argued that between
these two worlds of ... the destitute proletariat and cultivated society ... no compromise is possible ... On the one hand, the State; on the other hand, the social revolution: these are the two poles whose antagonism forms the real essence of all societies.5

One could pedantically insist that Bakunin has actually described three not two poles: the proletariat, the state . . . and cultivated society. For Bakunin, there was no such contradiction: 'cultivated society' and 'the state' could safely be fused into the same category. One can find further examples of similar stark dichotomies in other anarchist works. For example in 1935, Santillan, a member of the anarchist FAI,considered that 'there will only be a revolution in Spain through the CNT. Either you are with us or you are with fascism! There is no other choice.'6 His compatriot, Montseny, observed in similar terms:
What a clear difference there is between, on the one hand, Marxism as realized in Russia, the fascism of Mussolini, the renegade Marxist, the mass theory of Hitlerian National-Socialism and the uniform, disciplined concepts of pure tradeunionism and, on the other hand, the real anarchism of the crowds: based on the individual, libertarian, anti-authoritarian, anti-directive concept of eternal anarchism, the instinct and aspiration of men who search to be free and who fight for real liberty, inalienable and integral!7

So far, Mannheim's critique of anarchist thinking seems to be validated: these writers certainly present simplistic and even naive images of extreme dichotomies, based on a sense of for and against.


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

However, when one examines anarchist works in more detail, one also finds elements of a critique of mass politics which seems to contradict this simple sense of opposition between state and society. During the Dreyfus Affair, the anarchist novelist and journalist Octave Mirbeau caricatured the easy, aggressive xenophobia of the crowds who persecuted and victimized outcasts in French society.8 During the years which saw the rise of nazism, Rudolf Rocker, the German anarcho-syndicalist, warned of the danger of the 'mob'. 'Where the people become the mob, the time is favourable for the growth of the "Great Man", of the "recognized Master Man".'9 Gustav Landauer, criticized by Mannheim for his simplification of the social situation, actually made a careful distinction between 'the masses' and 'the people'. 'The masses, who are called the people ... are only a heap of uprooted, betrayed men."' Landauer's words introduce an important distinction into our discussion of anarchist political culture: while anarchists were certainly consistent in their deep hostility to the established authority structures grouped round the state, they did not simply assert the validity of society against the state. Instead, anarchist political culture debated at length forms of opposition to the state. At first sight, it is hard to be certain whether anarchist writers considered that this opposition would take the form of an individual or a collective self-realization, for anarchist thinkers have debated both themes in an apparently contradictory manner. For some anarchist writers, the Crusoe-esque individual of liberal thought was an illusory and deceptive construction. Thus Bakunin wrote of the fiction of the 'isolated individual', which he contrasted with society's 'eternal reality'."l Kropotkin seemed to agree: he argued that 'man did not create society; society existed before man'.'2 However, for other anarchist theorists it was precisely society or community which was the fiction. For Godwin, 'society is nothing more than an aggregation of individuals', and according to Wilde suggested a Malatesta 'the real thing is man, the individual'.13 more dialectical approach: he approved of 'socialism' (by which he meant an anarchist form of socialism) for it would lead to 'individualism'.'4 Curiously, it is Stirner, famed for his 'egoism', who reveals himself to be one the few anarchists prepared to recognize the strength of both concepts: while he clearly proclaimed the values of individual fulfilment in proclamations such as 'I want to be all and have all that I can be and have', he also recognized that 'society is our state of nature'.'5

Gemie: An Aspect of Anarchist Political Culture


There are several possible responses to this apparent confusion. One is to accept the contradiction at face-value, and possibly then to divide anarchist theories into 'social' and 'individualistic' anarchisms. Secondly, one could investigate the context in which these statements were made, and perhaps develop a more nuanced approach which might show that there was an essentially coherent core of anarchist theory, critical of an illusory, state-orientated community, while also rejecting a competitive, market-orientated individualism. However, rather than further dissecting the already battered body of anarchist theory, it seems simpler, and probably more useful, if we emphasize some concerns which were common to all these writers. The case put forward by all anarchist theorists differed notably from most other political philosophies which developed during the nineteenth century. Most modern political theorists have developed a three-tier model of society. For example, Hegel's political thought rested on the framework provided by three concepts: the private sphere (that is the family), civil society (the economy) and, ultimately, the State.16 Even Marx, who so vigorously criticized the hierarchy of values proposed by Hegel in this framework, did not challenge this triadic cataloguing of experience. As Mannheim noted, the anarchists seem unique among political theorists in that they obstinately cling to their dualistic, two-tier models of society, whether it be the individual and the state, or society and the state.'7 This stark dichotomy, based on irreconcilably antagonistic categories, forms the foundation of a consensus within anarchist thinking. Whether the 'individual' or the 'community' is stressed, anarchist theorists still base their ideas on the concept of a 'grouping' of antistatist forces, sometimes brought together as much by their common sense of victimization as by any political project. No anarchist writes of a profound opposition between individual and community. Whichever concept is stressed, it is understood that its principal opposition, its main struggle is against the state. Moreover, most anarchists can then argue that the division which seems to separate the categories 'individual' and 'community' will be overcome through revolutionary action.'8 (In the passages which follow, the 'counter community' will continue to be referred to as the principal category used by the anarchists, but it should be remembered that, for many of the writers concerned, this 'community' would have been understood in the sense of a loose grouping of individuals.) Perhaps the most articulate expression of the anarchists' approach


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to the concept of counter-community was produced by Kropotkin in his work, Mutual Aid (1902). Kropotkin challenged nineteenthcentury Darwinist ideologies rather than Darwin's thought itself. He suggested a radical reformulation - rather than refutation - of the Darwinian concept of 'the survival of the fittest'. While the dominant interpretations of Darwin saw this as a biological equivalent of the Hobbesian 'war of all against all', Kropotkin argued that an essential part of 'the struggle for life' was the ability of each group and even each species - to co-operate with the others. Therefore, the healthiest lifeforms, even in Darwinian terms, might well be the most co-operative rather than the most aggressive. Kropotkin termed this instinct to co-operate 'Mutual Aid' and found evidence that this instinct was still shaping human life even in the context of the technologically advanced and intellectually sophisticated societies of the early twentieth century.
Neither the crushing powers of the centralized State nor the teachings of mutual hatred and pitiless struggle which came, adorned with the attributes of science, from obliging philosophers and sociologists, could weed out the feeling of human solidarity, deeply lodged in men's understanding and heart, because it has been nurtured by all our previous evolution.'9

At times, Kropotkin's arguments seemed to suggest a timeless anthropological struggle between two different lifestyles. However, within his work there was the suggestion that his ideas had a more direct contemporary relevance. He found that practices of mutual aid were carried out more fully in working-class neighbourhoods than in those of the middle classes. His concentration on the zone of the 'neighbourhood' rather than the factory, mine or workshop is significant: Kropotkin did not share Marx's perspective that production was the dominant factor in determining the forms of human life. He was a communitarian in the fullest sense of the word, using the concept of 'community' as a means to understand and analyse society. As an anarchist, he saw certain communities as both leading the revolt against the state's authoritarian rule and as providing at least a meaningful sketch, if not a full working model, of how society might be organized without the state. Kropotkin's ideas, while articulate and of interest in their own right, should not necessarily be seen as typical of anarchism. Over the past two centuries of anarchist writing there seems to have been a cyclical movement in the identification of certain communities as playing central political roles. The first major anarchist writers -

Gemie: An Aspect of Anarchist Political Culture


Godwin and Stirner- avoided giving a precise sociological identity to the loose groupings which they saw as opposing the state. Godwin makes references to 'the wise' in his work, Political Justice, but it is hard to see this as signifying a social community. Stirnerdeliberately and explicitly refuses to make use of such collective categories, invoking instead the 'egotist's' revolt against authority. This type of identification of revolutionaries by ethical categories is continued by Reclus, who wrote simply of 'the better', and explicitly criticized the focus on the working class as the agent of change.20 By the late nineteenth century, such arguments were becoming less typical of anarchist thinking. The development of Proudhon's work is a good illustration of the wider development of anarchist thought. His political allegiances were notoriously changeable: while his first work, What is Property?, often seems to assume agrarian peasant labour as an economic and ethical norm, by 1848 he is writing in more all-inclusive terms of 'the People', in 1851 he (provocatively?) dedicates his General Idea of Revolution to 'the bourgeoisie', and in his last work, The Political Capacity of the Working Classes (1864), he seems to be moving closer to a more typical socialist stress on working-class action. This shift in Proudhon's thought is clearly linked to the growth of radical social movements espousing - or at least inspired by - anarchist principles. In contexts where there seems a real possibility that anarchism might form the basis of a mass opposition, anarchist thinkers tend to write of solidly-rooted social communities. In other contexts, where anarchism has most significance as a cultural or intellectual current, the communities proposed by its thinkers are vaguer, looser and more ethically defined. Some anarchist writers of the late nineteenth century - for example, Pouget or Bakunin - echoed the Marxist emphasis on the industrial proletariat's specific role, and such attitudes became almost orthodox within anarchist thinking at that time. But even during this period other ideas were considered. For example, anarchists active in artistic avant-gardes could look to their creative practices as a model for a future libertarian lifestyle. Fernand Pelloutier, a pioneering organizer of French anarcho-syndicalism, made a direct comparison between the lives of 'the people', and the 'social artists'. The two were linked
by the community of their suffering and their feelings, by their equal thirst for revolt against oppression, by their same desire for a social condition in which each


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

being, having taken possession of themselves, will find the satisfaction of their needs in the satisfaction of their fellows' needs.2'

Wilde also took artistic work as a model for the anarchist project, arguing that the only milieu in which 'we have ever seen the full expressions of the human personality' was in 'the imaginative field of art'.22 Other anarchists chose to stress the potential of revolutionaction by social classes other than the industrial proletariat. ary Montseny considered that the blunt social polarization of the rural towns and villages was more likely to produce a revolutionary movement than the struggles which developed in the more policed context of the city.23 On the other hand, certain anarchists actually objected to this 'privileging' of particular social groups. This point was the subject of an intense theoretical debate within the ranks of Spanish anarchists during the 1920s with, for example, Santillan presenting a perspective based on an anarchism which represented a revolution by the whole of society, not simply by a single class.24Since the 1960s, there has been a move in anarchist thought away from both a political concentration on the role of a narrowly defined 'proletariat' and class-based analyses of hierarchy. Anarchists have considered other groups -for example, youth, women, squatters or other socially marginalized groups -as constituting revolutionary communities. Recent historical research is starting to uncover the 'milieu', rather than the class, as a likely focus for anarchist-inspired political activity, and the work of Murray Bookchin suggests a deliberate return of anarchist thought to the idea of 'ethical' rather than sociological communities.25 Once again, the researcher is faced with a dilemma. Confronted with this variety of models, one can simply and dismissively note the incoherence of anarchist thought. Or one can painstakingly dissect the various types of anarchism (peasant Proudhonism, populist Proudhonism, petit-bourgeois Proudhonism, working-class Proudhonism, and so on). Or one can stress the feature which unites this seemingly disparate list: all the writers mentioned do develop some concept of a counter-community, even if it is as nebulous as Godwin's 'wise' or Stirner's 'egoists', which functions in some partial but meaningful way as a model of anarchism in action. The difference between the anarchists' analysis of their countercommunities and the Marxist concept of the proletariat is worth stressing: for Marx, the proletariat's ultimate role was to abolish

Gemie: An Aspect of Anarchist Political Culture


itself.26For the anarchists, the counter-community's condition is one which institutionalizes a meaningful degree of liberty and equality: it was to be generalized, not abolished. This group is then assigned a unique revolutionary potential, and so plays a key role in the construction of anarchist discourse, for it allows the central formulation of the stark antagonism between state and opposition. However, it is important to distinguish between the rhetorical exaggerations produced by anarchist propaganda and the historical experience of anarchist movements. While anarchists did frequently write in terms of a simple, binary polarization, their analyses and experiences also suggest a more nuanced, dialectical approach. Only certain communities were capable of functioning as counter-communities: a simple populism would never have permitted the anarchists' critiques of the mob and mass culture. Having established the centrality of this concept to all types of anarchist thought, let us now examine the counter-community's cultural identity. The sociological imprecision of anarchist thinking can be explained by the anarchists' stress on their counter-communities'moral status. Frequently they seem to acquire their absolute value by virtue of their degradation and exploitation: a value which transcended the arguments and evidence produced by right-wing and liberal sociologists. Pouget, instead of writing of the 'proletariat'or using other sociologically coherent terms, often chose to use the phrase 'pauvres bougres' (or 'poor folk') to identify his audience, and described the bosses as 'vermin', 'vampires' and 'werewolves', who fed off the workers. 'The factories are ours', he wrote, 'each brick in their walls is cemented with our sweat; each cog in the machines is greased with our blood.'27 In the propagandistic short stories produced by Spanish anarchists, the figure of the working-class girl, raped by a bourgeois, was presented as the symbol of the fate of workers and peasants in capitalist society.28'The vehicle for modern thought is that part of society which suffers, which works and which is oppressed', wrote Reclus in a statement which significantly links the concepts of suffering, labour and revolt.29This suffering, this victimization of a subject community - whether defined as workers, peasants, artisans or artists -set the basis for the anarchists' political philosophy. In a genuinely revolutionary gesture, the anarchists reversed the poles of the now familiar duality, 'self and other'. For the dominant


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currents of political culture of the nineteenth century, the state, in Matthew Arnold's words, was 'our best self, and all forms of opposition to it were defined as immoral 'others'.30The anarchists asserted a different logic. They identified their 'selves' with the 'other', that of the subordinate, victimized, exploited group. For the anarchists, the future lay with the 'other' as it transformed itself into a revolutionary community, and they sought to assist this process. This idea of the value of an 'other' sense of reality, generated by the lifestyle of a particular counter-community, is an important theme which was rehearsed in different forms by many anarchist thinkers. 'It is the people', wrote Proudhon, 'who ... without theories, by their spontaneous actions, modify, reform, and absorb politicians' projects and philosophers' doctrines and who, in constantly creating a new reality, unceasingly change the basis of politics and philosophy.'31Some fifty years later, Sorel was to make a similar observation about the role of intellectuals in the development of anarcho-syndicalist theory.
We have not invented anything at all, and we would even argue that there is nothing to invent: all that we have done is to recognize the historical significance of the idea of the general strike; we have tried to show that a new culture can emerge from the struggles undertaken by revolutionary trade unions against the bosses and against the State.32

Similar points were made by Kropotkin, who argued that anarchism came from 'the people', not the universities, and Montseny, for whom the people 'is, have been and will be the force behind the course of history, dictating to their supposed directors the course to take'.33This type of anti-intellectual, but not irrational, thinking shows how anarchists understood their political culture: it allowed them to see and to understand another reality, one which was invisible to the state and to bourgeois sociologists. Having realized the potential of this other reality, they were then immune to their opponents' arguments. The anarchists understood revolutionary struggle as the process of demystification through which the counter-community finally asserted itself against the state. Bakunin drew attention to this process in 1870, when he wrote of 'the official France of the bourgeoisie' as presiding over France's ruin, and against them were the exploited 'who carry within them modern society's life, power and future'. The struggle between the two forces was bitter: 'The pseudo-nation, the political nation with its so-called representation

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by the State, stifles and will continue to stifle the real, living, people.'34Some sixty years later, Sender described a similar struggle between anarchism and the state's culture. 'When we see the theatres empty, the libraries deserted, the editorial rooms unmanned, the museums abandoned, then we will see a true, healthy reality, which will fulfil our hopes and promises.'35In these passages it can be seen that the community identified is not simply poverty-stricken, despised, oppressed and unrepresentedby orthodox political structures; nor is it simply the brute force of an inevitable revolutionary transformation. It is believed to be the source of a sense of reality, and so provides a more convincing, a more reliable 'self than the 'other' represented - in anarchist discourse -by the state. The anarchists' day-to-day political tactics, such as the development of co-operatives or the organization of strikes and other forms of protest activity, were designed to strengthen the counter community's sense of its identity and power, for they provided 'a continuous Anarchists did not aim schooling [and] a university of experience'.36 simply to 'mobilize' a designated group in the service of a political cause. According to their conception of society, a polarized struggle had already developed between a social group and their arch-enemy, the state, without their intervention. Different tactics were recommended. For example, Sorel stressed the creative role of collective violence in forming a distinctive, unitary proletarian culture which would create the basis for a new world of 'producers working freely in a workshop without masters'.37Pelloutier's description of the manner in which a general strike would develop provides a good illustration of how this tactic was integrated into a wider anarchist strategy.
The general strike must be a revolution from everywhere and nowhere, the seizure of the instruments of production must operate in the quarters, the streets and the houses, so there will be no possible constitution of an 'insurrectionary government', no 'proletarian dictatorship'; no 'headquarters'for the rising, no centre for resistance. [Instead] the free association of all butchers in every butchers' shop, of all lock-makers in every lock-makers' workshop; in a word, free production.38

Anarchism was to serve as an assertion of the counter-community's 'real' values, as a demand for the liberation of its reality from the hold of the state's fiction. From this posture there developed the apparently negative, destructive aspects of anarchist activism. San-


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tillan discussed precisely such criticisms about the anarchists' call for abstention at parliamentary elections.
For us, abstention is not simply negative for, if on the one hand, such tactics express our hostility to the continuation of this fraud [of elections], on the other hand, they sustain our programme of action, our solution, our road.39

Such activities were to lead finally to a revolution which, in anarchist discourse, was understood as the insurrectionary moment which would serve to release this hitherto contained creative ability of the counter-community. Anarchist writers often made use of images such as 'the new world' to suggest their desired society. These at once gave powerful expression to their desire totally to remodel existing society but, more importantly, could also suggest that their world was already present within and against the existing state-orientated world. Anarchist accounts of the Paris Commune of 1871 in particular revealed this type of thinking: Louise Michel recorded that 'it was something like living ahead of your time - that joy of feeling yourself to be in your element, in the centre of a ferocious struggle for liberty'. In these circumstances, sexual equality was instituted without difficulty. 'The new world will reunite us in a free humanity in which each will have their place.' Significantly, she later recalled her weeks in the Commune as her 'real existence'.40Although she was writing some sixty-five years after the event, Montseny also referred to the Commune in similar terms: 'Two months of life, and what two months, comrades!' The suggestion here is that the days of the Commune were somehow worth more than an ordinary two months in a state-dominated society. In 1936 she made use of the same type of imagery to describe the social transformation which she saw happening before her. It was 'a new era', 'a new Spain ... a new world' created in 'Barcelona, glorious Barcelona'.41 Similar images were also used by British syndicalists. They saw their proposals as bringing about 'real democracy in real life, making for real manhood and womanhood'.42These writers understood revolutionary activity as the open emergence of a reality which had previously been developing in a covert fashion and which, while suffering from the state's repression, had never been destroyed. The anarchists' faith in their counter-communities' inherent virtues often led them to show a greater respect for spontaneous actions than many of their Marxist rivals, and to speak of an 'instinct' of rebellion. For Reclus, even in towns where no anarchist

Gemie: An Aspect of Anarchist Political Culture


group was organized, the workers were spontaneously adopting a 'more or less conscious' anarchist strategy.43Stirner, with his clear desire to move away from a structured sociology of revolt, stressed the existence of a native spirit of revolt in all individual psychologies. 'Every ego', he wrote, 'is from birth a criminal ... against the people [and] against the State.'4 Berneri, in an open letter to Montseny, However, this 'instincpraised 'the natural anarchism' of her spirit.45 tive' revolt, while it was clearly an important assertion of a countercommunity's power against the state, was usually not seen as able in itself to make a revolution. It could result in a blind, unthinking flight into modes of thought hostile to the free society which the anarchists wished to create. Significantly, even Bakunin was aware of the dangers of an uncritical cult of spontaneous action. He noted that religion was also based on an 'instinctive and passionate protest'.46Godwin, perhaps the coolest and most rational of the anarchist theorists, explicitly warned against 'wild schemes' and voiced scepticism about the creative potential of revolutions, while Reclus argued that the period of purely instinctive revolt had passed.47The anarchists saw the revolutionary process not so much as the return of a repressed, subconscious urge, but as a constructive assertion of a mode of life which had already existed in embryo in their counter-communities, which had been studied and understood via a communal process of anarchist education and agitation, and which would undergo radical development during the process of revolution. Why had the counter-community not yet achieved power? In the first instance, anarchists could respond to this question by referring to the actions of the state and other forms of authority which actively blocked their designated communities' development. The example of the combined forces of communist and Francoist organizations which worked to crush the anarchists' social experiments during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-37 is an eloquent reminder of the force of this argument. However, in considering this question further, many of the weaker features of anarchist theory become apparent. In the last analysis, the anarchists' stance often came to resemble the positivist certainties elaborated by the leaders of the German SPD, whose speakers at congresses would shelve awkward political problems by proposing almost meaningless compromise resolutions which pushed dilemmas into an unproblematic post-revolutionary future.48The anarchists acted in a similar manner: history seemed to be on their side, and if their counter-


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communities were as yet unable to realize their full potential, there could be no doubt that their time would soon come. Sorel's argument that political ideologies worked as mobilizing 'myths' makes sense in this context. Anarchist ideas worked to mobilize groups, to express their discontent and anger, and even to assert their dignity and integrity. Arguably, anarchism performed such tasks well, possibly even better than other contemporary radical ideologies. However, in practice, the symbiosis between anarchism's ideas and counter community's practice never seemed to reach the moment when it would go critical - with the possible exception of the Spanish Revolution of 1936-37. Anarchism functioned as a 'myth', which served to express deep discontent in the present, but which did not lead to a new society in the future. Were such ideas so different from those presented by the Marxist tradition? For instance, Trotsky proclaimed in 1905 that 'all who were oppressed, dispossessed, honest, life-affirming ... were consciously or instinctively drawn towards the Soviet'.49Gramsci described the Turin workers' councils as 'the anti-State'.
Now if it is truethat the new societywill be basedon workand on co-ordination wherethe producers of the producers' energies,then tomorrowthe work-places and will liveand functiontogether be thecentresof the socialorganism, will have bodiesof present-day to take the placeof the directive society.50

Such ideas seem to resemble those of the anarchists. The question of the difference between the anarchist and communist approaches to revolution was a subject of heated debate during the years immediately after the Russian Revolution. In many countries, syndicalists and anarchists felt an automatic sympathy and identification with the new communist regime, which they initially understood as a form of working-class power.51 Many syndicalists joined the new Communist Parties. But, as the nature of the new regime became clearer, the political differences between the two traditions also became more obvious. As we draw toward our conclusion, it may be useful to stress these. Firstly the communist authors, following Marx, placed a clear emphasis on the industrial proletariat's unique capacity. According to Lukacs, 'every proletarian is an orthodox Marxist by nature of his very class position'.52The soviets, or workers' councils, were essentially the creation of their activities and struggles, they were 'the organized expression of the class will of the proletariat'. As has been seen, the anarchists were more open to arguments concerning the

Gemie: An Aspect of Anarchist Political Culture


revolutionary potential of other social groups. Alongside this stress on working-class power was a continuing emphasis on the need for party leadership. In 1905, the then Social-Democratic Party (Bolshevik) 'succeeded almost without effort in transforming the Soviet formally a non-party organization - into the organizational instrument of its own influence'.53 Perhaps one should credit Trotsky and Lukacs for at least considering the relationship between class and party - the anarchists noticeably failed to discuss this topic, assuming that counter-community and anarchist grouping were effectively indistinguishable. Within the Marxist discourse, there was a sense that the soviets were simply a means to an end. This is most noticeable in the persistent sub-current of references to the proletariat's abolishing itself.54For the anarchists, the counter-community's self-assertion seemed an end in itself: it was certainly not intended as a base for a rigid course of social development led by a political elite. So far, we have briefly compared anarchism with a selection of Marxist texts relating to soviets or councils. However, it is vital to note how short this moment was: by 1920, when Lukacs came to write his essay on 'The Moral Mission of the Communist Party', all reference to the soviets had been dropped, and instead he argued that 'the Communist Party', not the Soviet, 'is the organizational expression of the revolutionary will of the proletariat'.55The Party had replaced the Soviet as the key focus of communist strategy, and the moment when Marxism and anarchism seemed to meet had ended. Anarchist works were marked by a sense of urgency: their purpose was to rouse the ignorant and the apathetic to action, to show them the necessity of revolt. While some writers, such as Godwin and Kropotkin, took time to debate their case, to provide evidence and to counter critical arguments put forward by opponents, the majority wrote in a harder, more polemical style which recalls the description of Impressionist painting by Felix Feneon, the anarchist art critic. 'The painter ignores all photography ... [he] seeks only to grasp, in as few lines and as few colours as possible, the interior reality, the essence of the object.'56A consequence of this posture was a strong tendency to simplify; nuances, qualifications tended to be ruled out. The anarchists' propagandist stress on polarization often had unexpected consequences. Because the counter-community was supposed to provide a model of 'anarchism in action', if only in


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

potential rather than in full practice, anarchists were frequently unwilling to acknowledge or even to perceive the existence of within the designated group. At its weakest, the oppressive practicest anarchist attitude could develop into a 'reverential'attitude, proposOne example of ing the defence of an idealized proletarian purity.57 this type of blindness was Pouget's ambivalent attitude to workingclass anti-semitism. Another obvious example is the failure by many anarchist writers to recognize unequal sexual relations within their counter-communities. Proudhon's notorious misogyny is often cited, but it is only a symptom of a wider inability to recognize that sexual relations within working-class communities could create oppressive authoritarian structures which were as tyrannical as the state oppression so often denounced by the anarchists. This problem also marked the writings and words of aesthetic anarchists of the finde-siecle, who often spoke in the language of sexual liberation, but whose paintings and books unwittingly contributed to the development of pornography and the commodification of female sexuality. Such problems were largely ignored by anarchist writers. Proudhon noted simply that the revolution could not be wrong.58Through a process of revolution these apparently minor problems, which sometimes seemed to tax and prevent the counter-community realizing its full potential, would simply be eradicated. In an act of revolutionary assertion, the power of the oppressed community would replace the state's authority. Was Mannheim correct to see anarchism as substituting a simplistic polarization of social forces for a more demanding analysis? Our answer must be yes and no. For many anarchist writers, clear, sharp polarization represented a type of ideal political situation, within which anarchism would begin to function as a commanding political force. However, such situations rarely existed. Anarchists were, instead, required to take stock of processes, tendencies and evolutions. They had to analyse social movements: just as Kropotkin based his research on a long-term perspective on the workings of mutual aid within different human communities, so all anarchists worked to identify similar trends. While the point was rarely stressed in their propagandistic writings, the anarchists clearly had some sense of what might be termed the 'proto-anarchist' community, whether urban quarter, factory, artisans' workshop, artists' milieu or peasant village, which was neither an insurrectionary force nor a tool of the state. Their forceful agitational writing aimed to make

Gemie: An Aspect of Anarchist Political Culture


these communities more conscious of their potential - yet, simply by making them the target of their writings, the anarchists were acknowledging that the situation of stark polarization had not yet arrived.

1. Ideology and Utopia (London 1966 [1936]), 178. 2. Demand the Impossible: A History of Anarchism(London 1993), 18. 3. On the issues of anarchism and historical methodology, see David Goodway, 'Introduction' in his For Anarchism (London 1989). 4. Karl Marx, 'A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right' in Lucio Colletti (ed.), Early Writings, translated by R. Livingstone and G. Benton (Harmondsworth 1977), 243-58, at 256. 5. Michel Bakounine, Etatisme et Anarchie translated by M. Rody (Leiden 1967 [1873]), 217. 6. Deigo Abad de Santillan, El anarquismoy la revoluci6n en Espara (Madrid 1976), 230. 7. Frederica Montseny, Escrits politics, edited by P. Gabriel (Barcelona nd), 147. 8. See, for example, his short story 'Paysage de foule', contained in P. Michel and J.-F. Nivet (eds), Contes cruels, vol. I (Paris 1990), 503-7. 9. Rudolf Rocker, Nationalism and Culture(Los Angeles 1947 [1937]), translated by R.E. Chase, 99. 10. Gustav Landauer, For Socialism, translated by D. Parent (St Louis 1978 [1911]), 34. 11. 'Dieu et l'Etat' in Oeuvres II (Paris 1895), 330, 318. 12. M. Miller (ed.), Selected Writings(London 1970), 215. 13. William Godwin, Enquiry ConcerningPolitical Justice (Harmondsworth 1976 [1797]), 176; Erico Malatesta, Anarchy translated by V. Richards (London 1974 [1891]), 36. 14. 'The Soul of Man under Socialism' in De Profundis and Other Writings (Harmondsworth 1980), 17-54, at 20. 15. The Ego and his Own (New York 1963 [1844]), 138 and 305-6. 16. See The Philosophy of Right translated by T. Knox (Oxford 1979). For a useful analysis of Hegel's thought, see Jiirgen Habermas's essay 'Hegel's Concept of Modernity' in his The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures (Cambridge 1985). 17. On this point, see April Carter, The Political Theory of Anarchism (London 1971), 25-7. 18. This debate is thoroughly analysed in Jose Alvarez Junco, La ideologica politica del anarquismoespanol (1868-1910) (Madrid 1977). See also Michael Taylor, Community,Anarchy and Liberty (Cambridge 1989). Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years (New York 1977), 56, makes use of the term 'countersociety' to describe the anarchist movement. 19. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (Boston, MA nd [1902]), 292. On anarchist


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

reading of Darwin, see Lily Lidvak, Musa libertaria;Arte, literaturay vidaculturaldel anarquismoespanol (1880-1913) (Barcelona 1981), 1-24. 20. Elisee Reclus, L'evolution, la revolutionet l'ideal anarchique(Paris 1898), 45. 21. Fernand Pelloutier, Les origines du syndicalisme d'action directe edited by J. Julliard (Paris 1971), 502. On anarchism and the literary or artistic avant-gardes, see Richard Sonn, Anarchism and Cultural Politics (Lincoln, Nebraska 1989); and Joan Halperin, Felix Feneon: Anarchist and Aesthete (Yale 1988). 22. 'Soul of Man', 26. 23. Escrits politics, 81. For a perceptive study of rural Spanish anarchism, see Temma Kaplan, Anarchists of Andalusia, 1868-1903 (Princeton 1977). 24. See Juan Gomez Casas, Historia de la FAI (Madrid 1977), 86. 25. See, for example, J. Scott Haine, ' "Cafe Friend"; Friendship and Fraternity in Parisian Working-Class Cafes, 1850-1914', Journal of ContemporaryHistory, 27, 4 (October 1992), 607-26. For a more detailed consideration of these points see Murray Bookchin's important essay 'Listen, Marxist!' in his Post-Scarcity Anarchism (London 1974); his analysis of the respective roles played by peasants and proletarians in The Spanish Anarchists; and his The Ecology of Freedom (Palo Alto 1982). 26. Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, The Holy Family translated by R. Dixon and C. Dutt (Moscow 1980 [1844]), 46-7. 27. Emile Pouget, Le pere Peinard, edited by Roger Langlais (Paris 1976), 40, 54, 122. See also records of workers' images of bosses in Michelle Perrot, Workers on Strike; France, 1871-1890 (Leamington Spa 1987), 213-14 and Litvak, Musa libertaria, 29-58. 28. Litvak, Musa libertaria, 90-2. 29. L'evolution, 168. 30. Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (London 1973 [1869]), 56. 31. Confessions d'un revolutionnairein Oeuvres completes, vol. 8 (Paris 1929), 76. 32. Reflexions sur la violence (Paris 1972 [1908]), 43. 33. Pierre Kropotkin, Revolutionary Pamphlets edited by R. Baldwin (New York 1970), 146; and Montseny, Escrits politics, 48. 34. Etatisme et anarchie, 204-5, 219. 35. R. Sender, 'La Cultura y los hechos econ6micas' [1932], reprinted in Christopher Cobb (ed.), La Culturay elpueblo; Espaia, 1930-1939 (Barcelona 1981), 191-6, at 193. 36. Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism(London 1989 [1938]), 117. 37. Reflexions, 312. 38. Les origines, 327. 39. Anarquismo,303. 40. La Commune(Paris 1978 [1898]), 111, 152 and 221. 41. Escrits politics, 221, 180, 188. 42. Unofficial Reform Committee, The Miners' Next Step (London 1973 [1912]), 32. 43. L'evolution, 189. 44. The Ego and His Own, 200. 45. Camillo Berneri, Guerra de clases en Espana (Barcelona 1977), 222. 46. 'God and the State' in A Lehning (ed.), Selected Writings, 123. 47. Godwin, Political Justice, 257-75; Reclus, L'evolution, 57. 48. On the SPD's political culture, see Carl Schorske, German Social Democracy (New York 1970 [1955]).

Gemie: An Aspect of Anarchist Political Culture


49. Leon Trotsky, 1905, translated A. Bostock (Harmondsworth 1973), 269. 50. Antonio Gramsci, Selectionsfrom the Political Writings1910-1920, translated by John Mathews (London 1977), 95 and 80. 51. For accounts of the reception of the Bolshevik Revolution see Gerald Meaker, The Revolutionary Left in Spain, 1914-1923 (Stanford, California 1974) and Annie Kriegel, Aux Origines du communismefrancais (Paris 1969). 52. Tactics and Ethics; Political Writings, 1919-1929, translated by M. McColgan (London 1972), 35. 53. Trotsky, 1905, 266-7. See also Lukacs's essay 'Party and Class' in Tactics and Ethics, 28-36. 54. See, for example, Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness; Studies in Marxist Dialectics (London 1967), 80. 55. Tactics and Ethics, 66. For a useful analysis of the shift in communist tactics, see Wolfgang Mommsen, 'The German Revolution 1918-1920' in R. Bessel and E. Feuchtwanger (eds), Social Change and Political Development in Weimar Germany (London 1981), 21-54. 56. Oeuvres (Paris 1948), 55. 57. See the perceptive comments made by Christopher Cobb in his introduction to his La Culturay el Pueblo, 13-15. 58. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Idee generale de la Revolution au XIXe siecle (Paris 1979 [1851]), 6.

SharifGemie is a lecturer in European History at the University of Glamorgan, Wales, and Associate Editor of Anarchist Studies. His is currently working on two projects: a social history of French female teachers, and a cultural history of European anarchism.

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