Non-compete, who has referred to himself as a “huge theory nerd”, made a video about platformism. Unfortunately, he doesn’t understand what platformism is. According to non-compete platformism is characterised by the following 5 positions.
- Platformism is an idea that was invented in 1926 by Russian anarchists living in exile in France within a text called the Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (draft). It holds that we should build organisations on the foundation of a platform, which is a set of principles, goals and strategies that everyone within the organisation agrees on. The platform will be based on theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism.
- Theoretical unity means that the platform will include specific theoretical positions which everyone who joins the organisation must agree to in order to be a member. An organisation’s platform will by its very nature be inclusive to some people becoming members, whilst excluding others. What theoretical positions should be in an organisation’s platform will vary depending upon its aims and function. An organisation which feeds the homeless, for example, won’t need to include a commitment to the social ownership of the means of production in their points of theoretical unity. As a result, it could have a broad platform which can unite liberals, anarchists and Marxist-Leninists together in order to achieve effective common action at feeding the homeless. In contrast, a trade union could, due to the kind of organisation it is, have a platform which explictly tackles class politics and is narrower than the platform of other organisations. Platformism therefore advocates forming multiple different kinds of organisation which have different platforms that contain different theoretical principles as points of unity.
- Tactical unity means that even if we don’t agree on everything, members of an organisation will agree to work together tactically towards goals that they share. The platform of an organisation will therefore include both the goals members of the organisation share and the strategies they advocate to achieve them. This tactical unity also applies to working with other organisations which have the same goals. If an anarchist organisation’s goal is to feed the homeless then they should have tactical unity with other organisations which also aim to feed the homeless. This applies even if the other organisations are liberal or Marxist-Leninist. Given this, tactical unity is a way for different people who have different ideologies to work together if they share a common goal.
- Collective responsibility means that every member is responsible for the actions of the organisation and the organisation is responsible for the actions of every member acting on behalf of the organisation. Individual members should be aware that what they say is reflective of the organisation and work towards the best interests of the organisation as defined in its platform. The consequence of this is that individuals should put the organisation ahead of themselves as an individual when making decisions. This means that if the organisation makes a decision which I as an individual don’t agree with, I should in general put my ego aside and go along with the rest of the organisation. If my disagreement is significant then I am free to leave the organisation and join a different one or create a new one with a distinct platform.
- Federalism, which is interconnected with tactical unity, means that different groups with different platforms can form coalitions and federate together in order to achieve common goals and work on projects, such as helping the homeless or organising strikes. This is the case even if their platforms don’t agree on everything.
Non-compete then argues that unnecessary conflict and division within the left are a major problem. Given points 1-5 platformism is an effective way of responding to this conflict and division. Different leftists can form distinct organisations with platforms that correspond to their specific ideas. These different organisations can then, despite having different platforms, work together in tactical unity via federations in order to achieve common goals. For example, leftists disagree about Joe Biden a lot and this leads to lots of pointless arguing. Instead of wasting their time arguing with each other, leftists who advocate voting for Joe Biden should form one platformist organisation and leftists who advocate not voting for Joe Biden should form a different platformist organisation. This way instead of achieving nothing through pointless internet arguments, different leftists can take action and build organisations that reflect their own viewpoints. Or leftists could choose to build a platformist organisation which has a very broad and inclusive platform. In so doing it would enable different leftists to work together within the same organisation due to it having a platform which they all agree on and choose to focus on, instead of them focusing on where they disagree and arguing with each other all the time.
In summarising non-compete’s 46 minute video I have as much as possible put things in his own words. I have also watched his video several times in order to make sure that I am accurately representing him. Unfortunately, almost every single thing non-compete says about platformism is false. He is correct about three things. It is true that,
(a) platformism was invented by Russian anarchists in 1926 within a text called the organisational platform of the general union of anarchists (draft)
(b) platformism argues that we should form organisations based on theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism.
(c) collective responsibility means that every member is responsible for the actions of the organisation and the organisation is responsible for the actions of every member acting on behalf of the organisation.
The problem with non-compete’s video is that he doesn’t understand what theoretical unity, tactical unity or federalism mean. To my knowledge nobody in the history of anarchism has interpreted platformism in the way that non-compete has and I don’t understand where he got his ideas from. In this video I’m going to explain what platformism actually is.
Before I do so it is important to clarify some terminology. In his video non-compete refers to Marxism-Leninism. This is a very broad category and means different things to different people, ranging from Lenin’s specific ideas to Trotskyism, Stalinism and Maoism. In order to avoid confusion, and narrow this video’s focus, I shall be using the term ‘Stalinism’ in order to pick out those individuals or movements who seek to implement the version of Marxism-Leninism most strongly associated with Stalin.
Programmes and Organisational Dualism
According to non-compete platformism holds that we should build organisations on the foundation of a platform, which is a set of principles that everyone within the organisation agrees on. As a result, you can have platformist organisations for any political purpose, from voting for Joe Biden to feeding the homeless. These different platformist organisations will have different platforms depending upon their aims and can therefore range from an anarchist only organisation to an organisation which unites liberals, anarchists and Stalinists together.
This is wrong. Platformism is not the idea that organisations in general should have a common programme which every member agrees with. If this was the case, then platformism would be saying nothing new. Socialist groups have had common programmes for as long as socialism has been a thing. This is the case for both Marxism and anarchism. To give a few examples, in 1880 Marx co-wrote the programme of the French Workers’ Party; in 1883 anarchists in the United States adopted the Pittsburgh proclamation at the founding congress of the International Working People’s Association; in 1891 the Social Democratic Party of Germany adopted the Erfurt programme; in 1906 the French General Confederation of Labour, which was a syndicalist trade union that anarchists played a key role in, adopted the Charter of Amiens; in 1919 the Free Workers’ Union of Germany, which was one of the earliest anarcho-syndicalist trade unions, adopted a declaration of principles written by Rudolf Rocker. I could go on and on.
Nor is platformism the idea that different organisations should have different programmes depending upon their aim. In 1872 Bakunin argued that the 1st International should have a broad programme which united as many workers as possible on the basis of their shared class interests, whilst the organisation of dedicated revolutionaries, the Alliance, should have a narrow explictly anarchist programme. He wrote,
the Alliance and the International, although they both seek the same final goals, follow, at one and the same time, different paths. One has a mission to bring together the labour masses – millions of workers – [reaching] across differences of trades or lands, across the frontier of every state into one single compact and immense body. The other, the Alliance has a mission to give a really revolutionary direction to these masses. The programmes of the one and the other, without in any way being opposed, are different, in keeping with the extent of the development of each. That of the International, if it is taken seriously contains in germ – but only in germ – the whole programme of the Alliance. The programme of the Alliance is the elaboration of the programme of the International. (Bakunin 2016, 210)
This strategy of forming a mass organisation, which has a broad programme and is open to all workers, and a specific anarchist organisation, which has a narrower programme and is open only to anarchist militants, is known as organisational dualism. It has been advocated by anarchists since the late 1860s and early 1870s. Platformism is a particular form of organisational dualism. As a result it advocates, just like anarchists did prior to 1926, the formation of both “trade unions” which unite “workers on a basis of production” in their “occupations” and “the anarchist organisation outside the union” which should “enter into revolutionary trade unions as an organised force” in order to “exercise our theoretical influence”. This same strategy of organisational dualism is advocated during the social revolution itself. The platform proposes that,
it is necessary to work in two directions: on the one hand towards the selection and grouping of revolutionary worker and peasant forces on a libertarian communist theoretical basis (a specifically libertarian communist organisation); on the other, towards regrouping revolutionary workers and peasants on an economic base of production and consumption (revolutionary workers and peasants organised around production: workers and free peasants co-operatives).
The authors of the platform make it very clear that their advocacy of theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism only applies to specific anarchist organisations, and not organisations in general. The platform begins by arguing that the Russian anarchist movement suffered from the lack of an effective specific anarchist organisation. In response to this failure, they propose the formation of “an organisation which, having gathered the majority of the participants of the anarchist movement, establishes in anarchism a general and tactical political line which would serve as a guide to the whole movement.” In order to achieve this, different “anarchist militants” must agree upon “a homogeneous programme” which contains “precise positions” on “theoretical, tactical and organisational” questions. They claim that, “[t]he elaboration of such a programme is one of the principal tasks imposed on anarchists by the social struggle of recent years. It is to this task that the group of Russian anarchists in exile dedicates an important part of its efforts.” They continue, “The Organisational Platform published below represents the outlines, the skeleton of such a programme. It must serve as the first step towards rallying libertarian forces into a single, active revolutionary collective capable of struggle: the General Union of Anarchists.”
Several pages later in the paragraphs preceding the advocacy of theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism, the authors of the platform make it very clear that they are only making proposals about how specific anarchist organisations should be structured. They write that the platform aims to “group around itself all the healthy elements of the anarchist movement into one general organisation, active and agitating on a permanent basis: the General Union of Anarchists. The forces of all anarchist militants should be orientated towards the creation of this organisation. The fundamental principles of organisation of a General Union of anarchists should be as follows:” They then list and explain theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism one after the other.
In case anyone listening is confused, when the authors of the platform refer to “the General Union of Anarchists” they mean a specific anarchist organisation and not a trade union. Referring to specific anarchist organisations as a “union of anarchists”, as opposed to a labour union open to all workers, was a normal expression within the anarchist movement at the time. For example, the Italian specific anarchist organisation which adopted Malatesta’s anarchist programme in 1920 was known as the Italian anarchist union. Or in France the main specific anarchist organisation at the time the platform was written was called the Anarchist Union. This language was not confusing to people at the time because they didn’t speak English and so didn’t use the word ‘trade union’. In France, for example, they distinguished between ‘syndicates’ and ‘the anarchist union’.
Given this, non-compete is wrong to argue that platformism is a proposal about organisations in general and that as a result you can have platformist groups composed of liberals, anarchists and Stalinists. The only groups which can be committed to platformism are specific anarchist organisations, which are organisations composed exclusively of anarchists. This fact can be found not only within the platform itself but also every single source I have ever read on the topic. The first sentence of the libcom.org guide to platformism claims that “Platformism is a current within libertarian communism putting forward specific suggestions on the nature which anarchist organisation should take.” Workers Solidarity Movement’s position paper on platformism defines the “platformist model” as “a specific anarchist communist organisation, with high theoretical and tactical unity”. I could keep listing other examples, but I think you get the point.
Theoretical and Tactical Unity
This in turn entails that non-compete is wrong about what theoretical and tactical unity means within platformism. According to non-compete, theoretical unity means that the platform of an organisation should include positions which everyone who joins it must agree to in order to be a member. What positions are in an organisation’s platform will vary depending upon its aims or function such that it’s possible to have theoretical unity between liberals, anarchists and Stalinists within a single organisation. Non-compete similarly describes tactical unity as the position that members of a single organisation and members of different organisations should agree to work tactically towards goals that they share. Tactical unity can, in other words, take the form of liberals, anarchists and Stalinists agreeing on tactics within the same organisation or a specific anarchist organisation and a Stalinist party agreeing to engage in the same tactics towards a shared goal. Given this, theoretical and tactical unity are an effective way to overcome divisions on the left.
This is false. The platform defines theoretical unity as follows,
Theory represents the force which directs the activity of persons and organisations along a defined path towards a determined goal. Naturally it should be common to all the persons and organisations adhering to the General Union. All activity by the General Union, both overall and in its details, should be in perfect concord with the theoretical principles professed by the union.
Non-compete has misunderstood this as merely saying that an organisation should have a programme which everyone that joins the organisation must agree to in order to be a member. This interpretation makes no sense when the platform is located within its historical context. During this period there was a debate within the anarchist movement in France about how broad or narrow the programmes of specific anarchist organisations should be. Advocates of synthesis federations, such as Voline or Sébastien Faure, argued that specific anarchist organisations should unite all anarchists together in order to achieve common action, irrespective of whether or not they were individualist anarchists, anarcho-communists or anarcho-syndicalists, and then synthesize the ideas of different anarchists together into a new form of anarchism which combined the best of each. In response to these ideas the authors of the platform argued that synthesis federations would soon collapse due to internal disagreements over theory and practice. The introduction of the platform argues that,
We reject as theoretically and practically inept the idea of creating an organisation after the recipe of the ‘synthesis’, that is to say re-uniting the representatives of different tendencies of anarchism. Such an organisation, having incorporated heterogeneous theoretical and practical elements, would only be a mechanical assembly of individuals each having a different conception of all the questions of the anarchist movement, an assembly which would inevitably disintegrate on encountering reality.
Platformism was therefore opposed to trying to unite everybody who calls themselves an anarchist into a single organisation. They instead argued that specific anarchist organisations should be committed to theoretical and tactical unity such that they bring anarchists together under a single common programme which enables effective and co-ordinated action. In order for this to occur the common programme has to be much narrower than every member simply agreeing that capitalism should be abolished or that anarchism is good, let alone a position as broad as thinking the homeless should be fed. This interpretation of platformism was understood by anarchists at the time. For example, in 1927 the authors of the platform attempted to establish an international federation of different specific anarchist organisations which would put the ideas of the platform into practice. In response to this the Italian anarchists Luigi Fabbri, Camillo Berneri and Ugo Fedeli, who were members of the Italian Anarchist Union, wrote a letter in which they said,
there exists among you a spirit which is quite distant from that which underlies our way of conceiving an international anarchist organisation, that is one which is open to the greatest number of individuals, groups and federations who agree with the principles of struggle organized in an anarchist way against capitalism and the State, on a permanent national and international basis, but all this without any ideological or tactical exclusivism . . .
These Italian anarchists, in short, agreed with the platform that an international federation of specific anarchist organisations should have a common programme, but disagreed with the platformists that this programme should be narrow and thereby exclude lots of people who call themselves anarchists.
Non-compete is similarly wrong about what tactical unity means. The platform defines tactical unity as follows,
In the same way the tactical methods employed by separate members and groups within the Union should be unitary, that is, be in rigorous concord both with each other and with the general theory and tactic of the Union. A common tactical line in the movement is of decisive importance for the existence of the organisation and the whole movement: it removes the disastrous effect of several tactics in opposition to one another, it concentrates all the forces of the movement, gives them a common direction leading to a fixed objective.
Tactical unity is not the idea that members of a single organisation and members of different organisations should agree to work tactically towards goals that they share. Its instead the position that the individuals and groups which compose a specific anarchist organisation should agree to collectively implement a common set of tactics and strategies that are consistent with one another and thereby act effectively as an organisation. This is in order to avoid a situation where members follow distinct and incompatible strategies which result in wasted effort and goals not being achieved. The idea being that, for example, every group within the specific anarchist organisation agrees to participate in a trade union in order to spread anarchist ideas. Everybody in the specific anarchist organisation following this single tactical line is superior to a situation where five groups support working in trade unions, whilst three groups devote huge amounts of energy to persuading workers to leave trade unions and in so doing undermine the efforts of other anarchists within the same specific anarchist organisation.
Non-compete is not only wrong about what theoretical and tactical unity means. He also doesn’t understand what federalism is. According to non-compete, federalism within the platform means that different groups with different platforms can come together and form coalitions or federate in order to achieve common goals, even if their platforms don’t agree on everything. Such federalism, given non-compete’s previous points about tactical unity, would include anarchist and Stalinist organisations working together on common goals within a coalition or federation. This is false. I think non-compete has got this idea from a line in the platform where it says that, “federation signifies the free agreement of individuals and organisations to work collectively towards common objectives.” Non-compete has then combined this with his other misunderstandings of the platform to arrive at the conclusion that federalism entails fundamentally different kinds of socialist working together within a single federation and thereby overcoming unnecessary conflict on the left.
This interpretation makes no sense when you know anything about the authors of the platform. The platform was written by a group known as the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad who published their ideas within a journal called Dielo Truda (The Cause of Labour). This group included Nestor Makhno and Peter Arshinov. Makhno and Arshinov had participated in the Russian revolution as key members of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine. The history of the Russian revolution is very complex and in this video I’m only going to focus on how the authors of the platform understood it.
In 1923 Arshinov published a history of the Makhnovist movement in which he gave his account of events. According to Arshinov, they initially formed a military alliance with the Bolsheviks against the counter-revolutionary Whites. After the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine refused to be totally absorbed into the hierarchical structure of the Bolshevik one-party state and Red Army, the Bolsheviks took a different approach. During April and May 1919 the Bolsheviks spread misinformation and lies about the anarchists through the press, declared that the councils which had been created by the Ukrainian masses themselves were counter-revolutionary and illegal, attempted to assassinate Makhno and ensured that the anarchist militias did not receive ammunition with which to fight the White army. In June 1919 the Bolshevik Red Army, under the orders of Trotsky, violently disbanded general assemblies which had been created by the Ukrainian masses themselves and shot anarchist militants on the spot.
Several months later in early January 1920, the Bolsheviks ordered the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine to move to the Polish front. The Ukrainian anarchists refused on the grounds that doing so would mean abandoning Ukraine to top-down rule by the Bolsheviks. In response the Bolsheviks declared the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine to be bandits and outlaws and invaded Ukraine. During this invasion the Red Army fought against the anarchists, which was a guerrilla army, by arresting and then shooting large numbers of civilian peasants who were sympathetic with the anarchists. Anarchist fighters and their families, which included their fathers, mothers, wives and relatives, were either shot on the spot or tortured. Their homes were then plundered and destroyed.
The bloody war between the anarchists and the Bolsheviks continued for several months. In October 1920 the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine and the Bolsheviks agreed to a truce in order to focus on defeating the counter-revolutionary White army. This truce did not, however, last long and in November the Bolsheviks launched a co-ordinated surprise attack against the Ukrainian anarchists. As part of this surprise attack the Bolsheviks invited the military commanders of the anarchist army to a meeting and then murdered them in cold blood. Just as had occurred previously, the Bolsheviks war against the anarchists was to a significant extent also a war against the civilian population which supported the anarchist guerrillas. This included not only the mass execution of peasants, but also members of the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, forcing mothers to hold their babies in their arms so that both mother and child could be killed in one blow. Makhno was himself shot and wounded several times during battles against the red army and witnessed or heard of the death of numerous comrades. (Arshinov 2005, 100-14, 123-34, 162-72, 176-80, 185-206)
Throughout the book Arshinov argues that the Bolsheviks established the minority rule of the state socialist intelligentsia over the working classes (ibid 39-41). He described this as a system of “economic slavery” in which the “state” and its “functionaries” are “everything” whilst “the working class is nothing”. He claims that the Bolsheviks turned “all of Russia into an immense prison” via “governmental terror” and that “in the Communist state the workers and peasants are socially enslaved, economically plundered, and politically deprived of all rights”. According to Arshinov, “in the name of the dictatorship of their Party, the Communists militarily crushed all the attempts of workers to realise their own self-direction – the basic goal of the Russian revolution – and thus crushed the revolutionary ferment in the country.” As a result, they “shattered the greatest revolutionary possibility that the workers had ever had in all history. And for this the proletarians of the whole world will forever nail them to the pillory.” (ibid 76-7, 80-1, 254)
Arshinov was not alone in having this attitude. In February 1926, which is a few months before the platform was published, Makhno wrote an article in which he critiqued the Bolsheviks for murdering and imprisoning anarchists. In his conclusion he wrote, “let us hope that the toilers of every country may draw the necessary conclusions and, in turn, finish with the Bolsheviks” who are “exponents of the idea of slavery and oppressors of labour”. (Makhno 1996, 45) Within the platform itself the Bolsheviks are critiqued on three occasions for establishing a state which, as anarchist theory had predicted, resulted in the establishment of a new minority political ruling class which oppressed the working classes, rather than achieving the emancipation of labour.
Given the above, it is very bizarre that non-compete interprets platformism as advocating or entailing anarchists and Stalinists working together within the same organisation or a federation of distinct organisations. To say that the authors of the platform weren’t fans of the Bolsheviks would be a massive understatement. I would go so far as to say that it’s messed up to suggest that platformism means working with Stalinists given that the founders of platformism had numerous friends and comrades who were murdered by the Bolsheviks and viewed Bolshevism as an ideology that would result in the rule of the intelligentsia over the working classes. Things only get worse when you know that Arshinov returned to the USSR in 1933 and was subsequently murdered in 1937 during Stalin’s great terror on the grounds that he had attempted to rebuild anarchism in Russia. (Skirda 2002, 140-1)
If federalism doesn’t mean anarchists and Stalinists working together, then what does it mean? Within anarchist theory federalism refers to a way of structuring organisations. Anarchists oppose centralised organisations, in which a minority at the centre make decisions which everyone else in the organisation has to follow, in favour of decentralised organisations which are networks of autonomous groups. Within this network each group makes their own decisions about how they operate and forms voluntary agreements with other groups in order to co-ordinate their activity over a large scale. This is what the platform is referring to when it says that “federation signifies the free agreement of individuals and organisations to work collectively towards common objectives.” There is, in other words, free agreement between the individuals which compose a local group, free agreement between the groups which compose a federation and free agreement between the federations which compose a confederation.
Within a federation or confederation co-ordination between groups is achieved through congresses which are attended by delegates representing all the groups in a given area. These delegates don’t have the power to independently make decisions and impose them on others. They are instead mandated by the group who elected them on how to vote during a congress. If a delegate does something that the group who elected them oppose, then the group can recall the delegate and elect a new one. Within anarchism there is a disagreement about whether or not congress resolutions should be binding on all groups within a federation or only those groups who voted in favour of the congress resolutions. The authors of the platform argued that in so far as a group is a member of a federation the collectively made decisions of congresses should be binding on them and they are expected to carry out the majority decision. The platform states that,
such an agreement and the federal union based on it, will only become reality, rather than fiction or illusion, on the conditions sine qua non that all the participants in the agreement and the Union fulfil most completely the duties undertaken, and conform to communal decisions. In a social project, however vast the federalist basis on which it is built, there can be no decisions without their execution. It is even less admissible in an anarchist organisation, which exclusively takes on obligations with regard to the workers and their social revolution. Consequently, the federalist type of anarchist organisation, while recognising each member’s rights to independence, free opinion, individual liberty and initiative, requires each member to undertake fixed organisation duties, and demands execution of communal decisions.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a uniquely platformist position. The CNT’s constitution which was printed on each membership card similarly insists that, “we recognise the sovereignty of the individual, but we accept and agree to carry out the collective mandate taken by majority decision. Without this there is no organisation.” (Peirats 1974, 19) Or, to give another example, the 1911 declaration of the 3rd congress of the Workers’ Federation of the Uruguayan Region (FORU) claims that “the accords of this Congress, unless rescinded by a majority of associations party to the compact, are to be binding upon all associations currently affiliated and any which may join hereafter.” (Graham 2005, 202)
Given the above, the platform’s advocacy of federalism is not about different groups with different and incompatible platforms working together. It is about groups of anarchists freely associating to form a specific anarchist organisation which has a single common programme and makes binding decisions via majority vote at congresses attended by mandated delegates. This specific anarchist organisation could form an international federation with specific anarchist organisations in other countries, but were this to occur they would also be bound together by a narrow common programme in order to achieve theoretical and tactical unity. And this is exactly what the authors of the platform unsuccessfully attempted to create in 1927.
In conclusion, non-compete does not understand what theoretical unity, tactical unity or federalism mean within platformism. Platformism is, contrary to what non-compete says, a form of organisational dualism which advocates the formation of a specific anarchist organisation and a mass organisation. Two of the key elements which makes platformism distinct from other forms of organisational dualism is its advocacy of a narrow theoretical and tactical programme and the advocacy of binding congress resolutions. Platformism is not the view that organisations should have a platform. It is not the view that anarchists, liberals and Stalinists could unite together under a common programme. It is not the idea that anarchists, liberals and Stalinists could work together on common aims, such as feeding the homeless, or form a federation in order to do so. Platformism is only a theory and practice about how anarchists should organise and participate in mass movements as an effective force in order to achieve specifically anarchist goals.
I did not make this video in order to attack non-compete as a person but in order to correct his errors. When reading historical anarchist sources, it is important to understand them on their own terms and not impose our distinct ideas onto them. Non-compete may be correct to argue that anarchists and Stalinists should work together within single organisations or federations of organisations that have extremely broad programmes. But this strategy is not platformism and in advocating this non-compete is advocating strategies which are incompatible with platformism.
I do not, however, believe that non-compete’s strategy to achieve social change and overcome leftist infighting is viable. This is because different forms of socialism are largely distinguished from one another by the methods they propose to achieve social change. It is true that anarchists and Stalinists may be able to work together in the short term on occasion, such as both attending an anti-fascist demonstration or participating in the same strike. But any more substantial collaboration would not be possible because we propose incompatible methods of organisation and decision making. Anarchists want to create federations of autonomous groups bonded together through free agreement. Stalinists want to implement democratic centralism and establish a central committee that controls organisations and movements from the top down. Anarchists want trade unions to be independent of all political parties. Stalinists want trade unions to be connected with and subordinate to communist parties. As a result, any organisation composed of both anarchists and Stalinists would not last long. If the anarchists have their way, the Stalinists will be dissatisfied and leave. If the Stalinists have their way, the anarchists will be dissatisfied and leave.
That this would occur is clear from history. After the 1917 Russian revolution, anarcho-syndicalist trade unions initially attempted to join and work within the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU), which was affiliated with the Bolshevik-led Communist International, in order to further the revolutionary cause. Anarcho-syndicalists, however, abandoned this position after they learned of the extent to which anarchist movements were being repressed in Russia and the congresses of the RILU and Comintern declared themselves in favour of core state socialist tenets which anarcho-syndicalists could not subscribe to. This included parliamentarism, the seizure of state power by a communist party, joining reformist unions, centralisation and the subordination of trade unions to communist parties. In response anarcho-syndicalists formed the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) between December 1922 and January 1923 and adopted a declaration of principles which advocated the goal of libertarian communism and rejected the strategy of seizing state power. (Thorpe 1989, chapters 3-7; Graham 2005, 416-8)
The incompatibility between anarchism and Stalinism only becomes more apparent when one considers the topic of revolution. To speak like a 19th century anarchist for a moment, there can be no long-term alliance between those who advocate the achievement of anarchy via the method of freedom and those who are defenders of authority and minority rule by a political ruling class. During a revolutionary situation anarchist will seek to simultaneously destroy capitalism and the state in favour of federations of workplace and community assemblies and federations of workers’ militias. Stalinists, in comparison, will seek to seize state power and establish the rule of the communist party and its leadership. They will tell us that this minority rule is necessary until the abolition of classes has been achieved and the state withers away. We anarchists shall reply that the state cannot be used to abolish classes because the minority who actually wield state power constitute a distinct political ruling class and they will seek to preserve and expand their power over the working class at all costs. The state cannot wither away. It must be forcibly destroyed. The victory of this new minority ruling class shall, just as has already occurred historically, entail the death of the revolution and with it the brutal repression of all those who seek to build a society based on the free association of free producers. As a result, those of us who believe in freedom and the struggle for socialism from below will have no choice but to create whatever anarchist communities we can, refuse to recognise the legitimacy of whatever new state is created and continue to struggle against all forms of authority until we are defeated or emerge victorious. As the Korean anarchist federation wrote in 1928, “no matter what kind of form it takes, government is a tool for the minority with power to oppress the masses, and an obstacle that stands in the way of realising mutual human fraternity. Therefore, we do not allow for its existence . . . “(Graham 2005, 382)
Arshinov, Peter. 2005. History of the Makhnovist Movement: 1918-1921. London: Freedom Press.
Bakunin, Michael. 2016. Selected Texts 1868-1875. Edited by A. W. Zurbrugg. London: Anarres Editions.
Fabbri, Luigi, Camillo Berneri, and Ugo Fedeli. 1927. “Reply by the Pensiero e Volontà Group to an Invitation to Join the International Anarchist Communist Federation”.
Graham, Robert. 2005. Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300 CE to 1939). Montréal: Black Rose Books.
Makhno, Nestor. 1996. The Struggle Against the State and Other Essays. Edited by Alexandre Skirda. San Francisco, CA: AK Press.
Peirats, José. 1974. What is the C.N.T?. London: Simian.
Skirda, Alexandre. 2002. Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organisation from Proudhon to May 1968. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
The Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad. 1926. “The Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)”.
Thorpe, Wayne. 1989. “The Workers Themselves”: Revolutionary Syndicalism and International Labour 1913-1923. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.