Saturday 14 July 2018

Deepest Black: Defending the Anarchist Mass-line

By the end of this year I should be ready to publish Deepest Black: Defending the Anarchist Mass-line, a book centred on four case studies of anarchist-communist organisations that built mass popular organistions hundreds of thousands strong and defended them by force of arms: the Anarcho-Communist Group (GAK) of the Ukraine over 1918-1921, the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation (FAKB) over 1919-1948, the Korean Anarchist Communist Federation (HMYG) over 1929-1945, and the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (FAU) over 1956-1976. This is my draft introduction.

INTRODUCTION: On Anarchist-Communist Mass Organisations under Conditions of Armed Struggle

From the 19th Century stereotype of the anarchist as “a ragged, unwashed, long-haired, wild-eyed fiend, armed with smoking revolver and bomb,” to the 21st Century trope of the anarchist as a black-ski-masked, army-booted punk in torn denims, sporting multi-hued hair and hurling a Molotov cocktail, anarchism has always been presumed to be armed and dangerous – not to mention an individualistic revolt against the bourgeois order. But as innumerable studies have shown, although extreme individualists over the past 15 decades since its emergence as a distinct political trend did stretch the truth by identifying as anarchist, and the broad anarchist movement did include a virulent minority insurrectionist tendency – dedicated to precipitating the revolution though catalytic armed actions – by far the larger majority of anarchists built mass organisations of the oppressed classes, from rent-strike committees, neighbourhood assemblies, and resistance societies, to rank-and-file worker networks, directly-democratic consultative bodies, and huge syndicalist trade unions. Such mass movements developed dense networks of interlocking social and industrial initiatives that ran the gamut from theatre troupes, newspapers, and universities, to prisoner-support groups, collective farms, and city-administering councils. And because mass anarchist organisations – numbering in the tens of thousands to the millions – posed the most implacable assault on imperialist capitalism and all its hierarchy of social ills, such as sexism and racism; in other words, because it directly contested vertical bourgeois power with its own horizontal proletarian counter-power, these diverse and multi-layered movements at some point had to develop their own armed forces to defend their ranks and to take the fight to capital and the state. 

The topic of this book is thus mass anarchist organisations, often centred on a key initiating organisation, but rapidly diversified into a plurality of organisations, that formed their own armed forces. I have selected organisations that self-identified as “anarchist-communist” – a designation that is somewhat meaningless in that it has shifted over time, but which here is taken to mean the fundamental economics of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” the political expression of which is Mikhail Bakunin’s statement that “liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice… [yet] socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” I have also selected four key struggles of the anarchist movement, only one of which is readily known by historians and anarchists themselves, that of Ukraine: I have included Bulgaria, Manchuria, and Uruguay. The movements in Ukraine and Manchuria managed to establish large-scale revolutionary projects encompassing millions of people and huge swathes of territory, and fought vanguard actions against imperialism, and bolshevism, while the movements in Bulgaria and Uruguay operated in sub-revolutionary conditions, lived “within the shell of the old” state, and fought rearguard actions against imperialism, and fascism. In terms of geographic spread, one example comes from the Far East, two from Eastern Europe, and one from Latin America – regions hosting significant anti-imperialist contestations – while the time period extends from the 1903 Macedonian Revolt, well beyond the defeat of the Spanish Revolution in 1939, to the rise of a fascist dictatorship in Argentina in 1976.

The kernel of this text originated in a pamphlet I wrote in 2008, which was published in English in Johannesburg, South Africa, as Bulgarian Anarchism Armed, and which the following year was more professionally published by comrades in São Paulo, Brazil, in Brazilian Portuguese. Originally intended as a series, it fell onto the back-burner as I threw my efforts into other anarchist initiatives, especially into researching and writing In the Shadow of a Hurricane, which has taken 18 years so far and which, when published, will be the most comprehensive overview in any language of anarchist movement history globally since the 1860s. So when the time came to update and complete the series, I had become aware of so much new information that had become available via key new academic papers, especially regarding the sorely understudied cases of Manchuria and Uruguay, that it made sense to consolidate the whole into a single book – and so to draw collective conclusions from all four of these fascinating examples of mass anarchism in action, establishing and defending the gains of a proletariat under its own free-associative, horizontally confederal self-management.