Anarchism: How Not to Make a Revolution

D'Amato, Paul
Publisher:  International Socialist Review
Year Published:  1997
Pages:  7pp   Resource Type:  Pamphlet
Cx Number:  CX19287

Some see anarchims as the most radical of doctrines. Lenin called it "the politics of despair." Who is rights? Paul D'Amato looks at anarchism -- its theory and practice -- and finds that it falls far short of its professed ideals.


Proudhon and Bakunin held views which were unmistakeably reactionary and extremely "authoritarian." As Proudhon put it, "democracy disgusts me." Proudhon, a provincial printer who hated urban life, depised working-class self-activity. He opposed strikes and supported the police breaking them up. He also opposed working-class revolution. As a member of the French legislative assembly in 1848, he supported the crushing of the June uprising of Pakistan workers (though he did later apologize for this "mistake"), and later supported the presidential candidacy of General Cavaignac, the man responsible for violently putting down the June uprising ("[T]he state is a bourgeois institution," he opined, "therefore its chief in good logic should be a bourgeois"). Later, Proudhon wrote a pamphlet in support of the future dictator Louis Napoleon Bonaparte III, and was an apologist for Russian Tsarism ("Do not forget that the despotism of the Tsar is necessary to civilization"). Proudhon was a bigoted racist who justified slavery on grounds that Blacks were an inferior race. He used anarchist arguments for federalism to justify support for the slave South during the Civil War. Moreover, Proudhon was, in addition to being a French national chauvinist, a reactionary sexist. "Man's primary condition," he wrote, "is to dominate his wife and be the master."


Bakunin proposed that the "spontaneous" revolutionary action of the masses should be supplemented by the invisible direction of a handful of self-selected revolutionaries - Bakunin's own secret "alliance":

But for the very establishment of the...triumph of revolution over reaction, the unity of revolutionary thought and action must find an agent in the thick of the popular anarchy.... That agent must be the secret universal association of international brothers.

Bakunin's program then goes on to argue that this secret society will become "a kind of revolutionary general staff" that need only consist of a small group: "A hundred powerfully and seriously allied revolutionaries are enough for the international organization of the whole of Europe." Like "invisible pilots in the thick of the popular tempest," Bakunin wrote to a supporter, "we must steer it [the revolution] not by any open power but by the collective dictatorship of all the allies - a dictatorship without insignia, titles, or official rights, and all the stronger for having none of the paraphernalia of power."

Authoritarian indeed! - a tiny handful of self-selected initiates secretly, and therefore completely unaccountably, steering the "spontaneous" revolution from behind the scenes. Yet the anarchists extol Bakunin as a libertarian and denounce Marx, who introduced as Rule #1 of the International "the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves."


...The response of anarchists to their failure in Spain is that "exceptional" circumstances forced them into impossible choices.
But revolutions are precisely "exceptional circumstances."


.if a mass movement or organization aimed at concerted action does not operate on the democratic method of open debate and discussion, followed by majority rule and centralized implementation, how does a movement go forward? There are two possible outcomes: either there is no concerted action because the participants are each "doing their own thing," and the movement therefore dissolves or collapses in defeat; or decisions are made, but by individuals who are not elected and not accountable to anyone.

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