For several years, a charismatic man dressed entirely in black terrorized the established order of Buenos Aires with his suitcases packed with explosiFor several years, a charismatic man dressed entirely in black terrorized the established order of Buenos Aires with his suitcases packed with explosives. Remarkably, he put out a regular newspaper filled with his opinions at the same time, and even published fine editions of books by Reclus (with money from bank heists). The military officer appointed for his defense at trial felt compelled to make an eloquent apology on his behalf (he then had to flee the country). The exceptional story of Di Giovanni is one of the wildest episodes in anarchism's history....more
"We did not come to be vanquished, but to win, to destroy a world of crimes and miseries and to re-build with its freed atoms a new world."
Gentle, fri"We did not come to be vanquished, but to win, to destroy a world of crimes and miseries and to re-build with its freed atoms a new world."
Gentle, friendly, lovers of animals and children, hard workers, one with a family and good relations with his boss, Sacco and Vanzetti also had very strong ties to an ultra-militant group of Italian anarchist terrorists in the US that carried out a series of audacious bombings as revenge for the killings and deportations of radicals and immigrants during the Red Scare of the First World War. Avrich follows this group's single-minded determination as they gather in cities and towns along the East Coast, following Galleani's incendiary newspaper and holding to their implacable code of honor above all else. The wealth of everyday detail in the book is impressive....more
"Wherever the working masses do not let themselves be subjugated, wherever they cultivate the love of independence, wherever they concentrate their cl"Wherever the working masses do not let themselves be subjugated, wherever they cultivate the love of independence, wherever they concentrate their class will, they will always create their own historical social movement, they will act on their own. This is the essence of the Makhnovshchina."
There have been few attempts in the modern era to create a stateless society, on a large scale and defended with arms. The Makhnovshchina represents one of the most impressive, lasting three years. Engaged in bloody struggle with Austro-German invaders, "Petliurists" (national bourgeois movement), the White generals Denikin and Wrangel, as well as the Red Army headed up by Trotsky, the anarchist-Makhnovists had little opportunity for creative social experiments, and much of this is military history. But whether they were dynamiting prisons, facilitating peasant congresses, executing landlords, or putting on theater for the people, the Ukrainian insurgents everywhere planted the idea of social revolution and a "free soviet system." Exhausted by war, the Black Army was finally doomed by Trotsky's final betrayal in Crimea, and the Cheka and commissars imposed murderous dictatorship in the name of their "scientific socialism."...more
A young sailor and participant in the German revolution of 1918-1919 and the lesser-known Hamburg uprising of October 1923 becomes an agent of the ComA young sailor and participant in the German revolution of 1918-1919 and the lesser-known Hamburg uprising of October 1923 becomes an agent of the Comintern, rising to high-level positions in the Maritime Division. The sordidness of international communism is made painfully clear: already in the 1920s it meant nothing but the foreign policy of a totalitarian Russian state. Driven by belief in world revolution, Valtin crisscrosses the globe and takes part in endless adventures and conspiracies, his faith challenged only by his love for his companion Firelei. The Bolsheviks find themselves rivalled by their own children, the Nazis who copy Bolshevik methods of terror and discipline and whose Gestapo mirrors the GPU. Both parties work together against democracy and socialism before contending with each other.
Valtin learns that "The Party knows no friends." Deceit and thuggery run rampant. At the same time, one has to respect how seriously the communist militants took themselves, and feel nostalgic for a time when inciting strikes, sabotage, mutiny and even bloody insurrection was considered the natural and constant tool of the anti-capitalist. There's nothing about blogging, pop culture criticism, art installations or teaching at bourgeois universities. There is only a twisted commitment, and endless tragedy as the Nazis devour rank-and-file communists and Valtin, who survives long, hellish months of torture in Gestapo prisons, comes into conflict with the head of the Western Secretariat over its cynical methods and disdain for human life and love. "It is fruitless to dream of peace as long as one is alive."...more
As a radical thinker, Castoriadis has some immense advantages over others, as he looks some cold realities in the face: that there is no revolutionaryAs a radical thinker, Castoriadis has some immense advantages over others, as he looks some cold realities in the face: that there is no revolutionary workers' movement, and no privileged class that could carry the weight of revolution on its shoulders; that as "material realities," communist societies and the Russian and Chinese regimes were a disaster that ruined the highest hopes for a classless society, making liberal capitalism look appealing. After 2008 it seems Marxism is making something of a comeback in intellectual circles, and the long decades of Marxism as totalitarian state ideology are conveniently forgotten.
Castoriadis' attempts to find a project of autonomy in "Greco-Western" culture look quixotic, even dangerous after all the theoretical decenterings that have taken place. His bold thesis that the period of creativity around 1800-1950 is over, and that we're living through an age of pure conformism and insignificance, seems a little exaggerated. Especially since in one interview, he's discussing politics with Octavio Paz in 1996 but neither one thinks to mention the Zapatistas. (Apparently Paz didn't like them. Castoriadis was an intellectual and spent a fair amount of time interacting with liberals.)
Perhaps anticipating a bit of mathematical wishful thinking, Castoriadis claims that only 3% of society really has an interest in keeping things going. He gives us the tautology that the only way out of our contemporary nightmare is a mass outpouring of activity and creativity. Of course, from a militant point of view, we can't be satisfied with this - the question is how to best prepare and provoke such outpourings, since we can't simply wait for them....more
"We are rebels and we keep the banner of rebellion flying high. . . . We are vilified and denounced as heretics. But our heresy honors us, dignifies u"We are rebels and we keep the banner of rebellion flying high. . . . We are vilified and denounced as heretics. But our heresy honors us, dignifies us, and raises us up to the very summit of truth. We are the true light of the new life, because we were born for liberation. We are the immense legion looking for completeness, so that all may love one another. We have no pay to offer other than the path of light and brotherhood."
A fascinating study of the Iron Column, based out of Valencia, denounced as uncontrollables and provocateurs by all sides, including the bureaucratized committees of the CNT and even the FAI. When the Column opened the doors of the Modelo prison, many of the inmates joined the anarchists. Unlike the Durruti Column, the Iron Column not only fought at the front and assisted agricultural collectives, but returned to the rearguard to shake things up, burning police archives, expropriating jewelry stores to buy weapons, disarming government troops, and fighting the communist counterrevolution.
It's interesting to see the extent to which, by early 1937, the Iron Column actually represented mainstream "confederal" opinion, opposing the CNT National Committee for its entrance into government, and refusing to "militarize," i.e. become a regular army unit with officers. Boycotted and deprived of arms and ammunition by the government and even the CNT, the Column was forced into tragic decisions....more
A nice statement of pure, "insurrectionary" anarchism (is there any other kind?). Somewhat marred by Galleani's rhetorical insistence on referring toA nice statement of pure, "insurrectionary" anarchism (is there any other kind?). Somewhat marred by Galleani's rhetorical insistence on referring to an evolutionary, developmental perspective that most students of history can't take seriously nowadays, this oddity is compensated for by the clear outlines of socialism vs. anarchism, collectivism vs. communism, the lucid understanding of the relationship between anarchy and the worker's movement ("The anarchist movement and the labour movement follow two parallel lines, and it has been geometrically proven that parallels never meet."), etc. Although the text is now quite old (1925), the uncompromising spirit, vision, and principles still have power. Galleani expounds the germ that "proclaims a new idea, revealing also in the ethical and the political field, the new trait, the plus missing until most recently, which will be the embryo of the new revolutionary period that will assert the ungovernability of man, autonomy and anarchy." He reminds us that the revolution begins right away, with each one of us, and that no act of rebellion is useless. As much as ideas and propaganda are one inevitable aspect and phase, so are individual acts of expropriation and revenge, leading up to a series of repeated and accelerated insurrections and the social revolution. The logic is ferocious and difficult to evade....more
"We have nothing new to say." So begins Malatesta's "Anarchist Programme" of 1899. Although ideas, and especially tactics, are in Malatesta's hands fl"We have nothing new to say." So begins Malatesta's "Anarchist Programme" of 1899. Although ideas, and especially tactics, are in Malatesta's hands fluid and mobile, adapting to events, the underlying sentiment - of love, solidarity, and voluntary agreement - is a foundation of steel. Hatred, ressentiment, the illusion of absolute truth, intellectual systems, science-worship, determinism and the denial of passion and will: these lead down authoritarian paths.
It's fantastic to have this collection of complete articles, although I wonder if the selection doesn't give a particular picture? The editor even insists on calling Malatesta a "pragmatist" and "gradualist" - which he may have been in relation to the extremists of his day, but today these terms are misleading. Malatesta didn't think we should immediately stockpile guns always and everywhere, but he did think we should do it as soon as possible. Anarchists will operate as a minority in a revolution that may be anarchistic at best, and their mission is to drive it as far as possible, changing conditions so that "the masses" may eventually become anarchist, and trying to sap the strength of any new government.
At the center is collective expropriation of the "means of life and freedom" (not just "production"), and their placement at the disposal of all. It is what we must do now, not an empty phrase or far-off daydream - to act like an anarchist is to fight for expropriation. "Of course," anarchists today say - but do they really mean it? In the last popular North American movement with anti-systemic potential - Occupy - virtually no one spoke in these terms, despite the small leap from occupation to expropriation. Much more time was spent discussing whether "occupy" was an offensive word to Palestinians or indigenous peoples, or adding it as a tag to anything and everything - "occupy money," "occupy Sandy," "occupy art," etc.
These articles - maybe especially the ones written under fascism - speak to us today, as anarchists in a tiny minority, with few weapons, in a situation where insurrections are sure to break out, at least outside the overdeveloped world, but ones not necessarily leading in a liberatory direction. If one chooses to speak and act as an anarchist, Malatesta's analysis and sense of judgement are a valuable guide....more
In 1868, the "Idea" (as they called it) was planted in Spain by someone on a mission from Bakunin, one Fanelli who spoke no Spanish but whose passionIn 1868, the "Idea" (as they called it) was planted in Spain by someone on a mission from Bakunin, one Fanelli who spoke no Spanish but whose passion was enough to convince the dedicated militants who began the anarchist movement in Spain, which would become the most significant in the world and help carry out the most far-reaching revolution of modern times.
Today it seems like we inhabit a different planet. The days are long gone when a union could be formed, dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism, and grow to tens of thousands of members in a few months and organize violent general strikes in major cities.
Bookchin's history seems well-balanced and obviously sympathetic, written as it was in the '60s and '70s before he became a crotchety anarchist-hater. He makes a general division between the mountain peasant anarchists of Andalucia, given to terrorism and jacqueries, and the industrial anarcho-syndicalists headquartered in Catalunya. The shadowy FAI with its organic affinity groups based on close personal friendships is of course covered, although here perhaps Bookchin's more moderate style shows through. He's not a big fan of the dramatic "cycle of insurrections" the FAI initiated in 1932-33, when pueblos would seize or blow up the town hall, raise the black flag, abolish money, and declare libertarian communism. Bookchin also finds some excuses for the CNT's blunder in 1936, when it allowed its members to vote for the left, although he also sees that this was the road that led the syndicalist union to open collaboration with the bourgeois state. The union that refused to accumulate strike funds because drawn-out strikes reduce workers' revolutionary fury in lightning strikes, was drawn down the path to co-optation.
Ultimately, Bookchin perhaps gives too much space to the CNT, as though it were a strictly anarchist organization, or as though all anarchist activities were concentrated there. He even admits this in his Preface written in the early '90s. Today I think an historian would have to look more closely into the FAI, or even other, more obscure groups. Bookchin finds the CNT's diversity of tactics impressive: "The general strike was combined with local uprisings, a steady barrage of propaganda, direct action by individuals or small groups, and dogged union organizing, each flexibly deployed to reinforce the others." This multiplicity of balanced methods was certainly key, but perhaps combining them all into one CNT with a National Committee was an error the anarchists would regret....more
History begins with the riot, says Badiou. Fair enough. It's a phenomenon of intensification, contraction, and localization. A universal truth emergesHistory begins with the riot, says Badiou. Fair enough. It's a phenomenon of intensification, contraction, and localization. A universal truth emerges, dissolving identitarian labels and exclusions. There's something to all of this. But perhaps Badiou has too much fidelity to his concept of fidelity - some of his favorite Events didn't have much truth to them when you look more closely, and someone who maintains fidelity to Lenin, Mao and the idea of "dictatorship" will have a hard time squaring that with the idea of the state withering away. It's not enough to say the party-form is "obsolete," as Badiou does, since it was never the presentation of communism but always a hierarchy of representation....more
An amazing book that made me think and opened new perspectives more than any I've read in a while. In the US, when people talk about counter-institutiAn amazing book that made me think and opened new perspectives more than any I've read in a while. In the US, when people talk about counter-institutions, building a new world within the old, "exodus," prefiguring post-capitalism, etc., the concrete results can be disappointing: with little autonomy and caught in the web of the capitalist market, interfered with by the state in a thousand ways, sometimes these experiments - the volunteer-run bookstore, the stereotypical collectively-run bike repair shop - seem little more than small businesses. At most you might have a collection of squats.
Events in West Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe have been grabbing headlines, but Zibechi reminds us that the Latin American struggles have been and are still absolutely vital, even if their anti-systemic character is threatened by the "pink tide" of left-wing governments that champagne socialists like to promote. Latin America shows that there do exist immense possibilities for creating the new within, alongside and against the old. Zibechi argues that a new world (or really, worlds), a different "society in movement" already exists in remote rural areas of Latin America, but also in the peripheries of large cities, among the indigenous and various marginalized social sectors (the Zapatistas being the best example, but Zibechi finds many others). New social subjects, whose power comes from their fragmentation, difference and dispersion, have challenged neo-liberalism and constructed their own material autonomy, rooting themselves in spatial territories and creating their own forms of education, health care, transportation, food production, decision-making, conflict resolution, etc. Outside of institutions, invisible to the spotlight of media and academics, in the sphere of everyday life and "reproduction," these societies in movement continue to unevenly destabilize the region. Of course they've also been connected to massive social protest, uprisings, factory occupations, road blockades, general strikes, riots, the bringing down of numerous governments, etc. Even within a single country, they value and affirm their differences and spurn centralization: "Unity is achieved through other means: in the act of insurrection, in rebellion, or in sharing horizontalities." These "new" struggles may be traced back to the Caracazo of 1989, the world revolution of 1968, or perhaps even the battle against colonization that has lasted 500 years.
For Zibechi these movements express a different cosmovision, emerging from "pre-capitalist" (or rather, non-capitalist, since the cosmovision itself rejects any linear view of history) cultures, deconstructing patriarchy and often protagonized by women, youth, peasants, the poor - not the traditional working class: "Another world exists in the spaces and times of this different society: feminine, based on use value, communitarian, centered on autonomy, spontaneous in the deepest sense of the term, natural, and self-determined. This world did not grow in opposition to the state/masculine world, one based in exchange values, polarization, institutions (political parties and associations) that are regulated by binary relations of order and obedience, cause and effect (planning). Its own internal dynamics prompted its birth and growth, and if it is unable to survive, by expanding and displacing the state/masculine world, the survival of humanity will be in danger."
These movements are now threatened by a new form of governance, personified by the NGO functionaries and academics who carry out the "social plans" of the progressive governments who were lifted into power by the movements and now seek to co-opt them and divide their leaders from the base.
The long book, which covers almost every country in Latin America, ends with an interview with Michael Hardt (and Alvaro Reyes) that is kind of amusing and shows the limits of his politics. Trying to get Zibechi to endorse Chavez and democracy, Zibechi gently says that the extractivist model continues in Venezuela and rejects democracy as Eurocentric....more
From 1999 to 2001, anarchists appeared at international summits with their black flags, attacking the symbols of the powerful. The result was a lot ofFrom 1999 to 2001, anarchists appeared at international summits with their black flags, attacking the symbols of the powerful. The result was a lot of broken glass, and some sneered that what was needed instead was local community organizing. The call was heeded and there appeared community gardens, sandwich shops were organized, vegan potlucks were had, etc.
Here we are five years into a deep economic depression with unprecedented inequality, even longer fighting wars in the outlands of Empire, universal surveillance and anyone who doesn't like it is a terrorist . . . yet Occupy aside, there is still no massive rush to radical ideas. It would seem that there is no magical formula.
But there can be no doubt that meeting needs and connecting with people are important, and for those who like to emphasize voluntary co-operation and the anarchism of the everyday, Colin Ward is a pretty good read. When it comes to housing, architecture, landscape and environment, education and leisure, he has plenty of good stories to tell, even though this collection of articles is a bit repetitive and has too many obscure references to British locales and personalities for my taste. The fire and apocalypticism one associates with anarchism are absent, as on the level of big ideas Ward doesn't hold with revolution and believes in an eternal "conflict between the authoritarian tradition and the libertarian tradition." It's always a matter of carving out more autonomy, bringing decisions back to the local level and making things more bottom-up. It gives one hope to see all these small, or sometimes not so small, squats and co-operatives, self-organized schools and playgrounds, etc. Sometimes Ward seems to indulge a little too much in quaint Britishness. But one would have to be a total cynic not to find some inspiration here....more