Note:  Because Guerin’s work here encompasses a lot- especially within the confines of a mere 159 pages- I’m offering my review of this text in several parts, mostly to coincide with the format of the book (Part 1: The Basic Ideas of Anarchism, Part 2: In Search of a New Society, Part 3: Anarchism in Revolutionary Practice, and a final Part, which would cover Guerin’s “By Way of Conclusion” plus his post-script “May 1968″).  In fact, Part 3 is making its way into being so long that I’m going to end at the Russian Revolution of 1917 and pick back up next time with the anarchist experiences in the Urkaine, Kronstadt, and then move on to Italy and Spain.  Breaking the text down into four parts will give me the added luxury of fleshing more out of each one, and expanding and interjecting my own views where they agree or differ.

Having gone through the basic tenets of what the anarchist believes in (continually expanding and completely unhindered liberty for both the individual and society) and what such a society would need to include in order to maintain unhindered freedom, part 3 of Guerin’s Anarchism takes a look at several points from the beginning to middle of the Twentieth Century where anarchists, as a legitimate political pole, have found their ideas and methods on the front lines of actual revolution.  Interestingly, before Guerin brings us to the moment where revolution is happening, he steps back to pre-revolutionary times in  Europe (1880-1914 is the chunk he specifically calls out in a section titled “Anarchism Becomes Isolated From the Working-Class Movement).  

Proudhon had taken a negative attitude to the 1848 revolution even before its outbreak.  He attacked it as a political revolution, , a bourgeois booby trap, and, indeed, much of this was true…. As for the Paris Commune, while it is true that it spontaneously broke away from “traditional statist centralization,” it was the product of a “compromise,” as Henri Lefebvre has noted, a sort of “united front” between the Proudhonists and Bakuninites on the one hand and the Jacobins and Blanquists on the other.  It “boldly repudiated” the State, but Bakunin had to admit that the internationalist anarchists were a “tiny minority” in its ranks.

(Anarchism had) succeeded in grafting itself onto the First International- a proletarian, internationalist, apolitical, mass movement.  But sometime around 1880 the anarchists began to deride “the timid International of the first period,” and sought to set up in its place what Malatesta in 1884 described as the “redoubtable International” which was to be anarchist, communist, anti-religious, anti-parliamentarian, and revolutionary, all at the same time. (p. 73-74)

As for the idea of this explicitly anarchist International, Guerin calls it a “scarecrow” which is “very flimsy”, and I think his point on this matter shouldn’t be overlooked.  For the first time, really, anarchists had intentionally made a strategic move to organize explicitly along ideological lines (as anarchists) rather than as a political pole within a class-based organization.  By divorcing themselves from the larger working class movement they effectively removed libertarian ideas from it, and left those who did not come to anarchism ideologically on their own.  Guerin points out that the result as “that it deteriorated and lost its way in sectarianism and minority activism”, a state of affairs that plagues most anarchists today, over 100 years later.

When they found themselves a small minority (rather than part of the larger class struggle), the anarchists abandoned the idea of militancy within large popular movements.  Free rein was given to utopian doctrines…. Kropotkin, Malatesta, and their friends turned their backs on the road opened by Bakunin on the pretext of keeping their doctrine pure…. The anarchists turned in on themselves, organized themselves for direct action in small clandestine groups which were easily infiltrated by police informers. (p. 74)

In my mind, a drastic turning point in the evolution of anarchism that essentially put the movement to sleep for most of the Twentieth Century.  In separating themselves from mass movements for ideological and doctrinal reasons, rather than tactical, social, or political ones, anarchism became an idea divorced from people’s lives, and as merely an idea it became open to adoption by thinkers whose imaginations ran wild but whose practical application was neither apparent nor reality-based, and in the terms of integral theory, a pathology which more often than not elevated pre-conventional society to post-conventional status (the pre/trans fallacy I mentioned in Part 2).  When Bakunin “retired” and eventually passed away, anarchism- and most importantly, its most prominent thinkers whose writings and speeches served to push it as a believe system throughout the masses of Europe- went wild into a world of fantasy.

The Berne Congress launched the slogan of “propaganda by the deed.”  (In 1877) a band of some thirty armed militants who suddenly appeared in the mountains of the Italian province of Benevento, burned the parish records of a small village, distributed the funds in the tax collector’s safe to the poor, and tried to install libertarian communism… In the end they were tracked down numb and cold, and yielded without resistance. (p. 74)

Note, tellingly, the term “tried to install”- as an ideology rather than pole within the mass movement, anarchism had turned into it’s very antithesis– something which could be imposed on a population from above or beyond.  Today, this perversion of anarchism is rampant, especially in the U.S., and brings us ELF and ALF and Zerzan and the primitivists; brings us summit hopping rioters able to articulate (perhaps) what they’re against but not what they’re for; and most absurdly, brings us “anarchism” as a look, a fashion, and a lifestyle.  Of the later, the self-righteous mob of conformity and social-stigmas based on “proper” dress, tattoos, kind of labor, economic stability, and even musical preference defines for the public anarchism as a “bohemian” and “alternative” lifestyle rather than a political or social belief system.  In the hands of a lifestyle, anarchism is a DIY ethic with zero chance (and about that much interest) in building a popular movement for the emancipation of all of humanity with a commitment towards the uninhibited liberty for all; it is a self-serving, self-aggrandized, and self-righteous world view which seeks the destruction of social life and serves only to make it’s believers feel better about themselves.

In 1880 Kropotkin called for 

Permanent revolt in speech, writing, by the dagger and the gun, or by dynamite… anything suites us that is alien to legality. (p. 75)

A sentiment that leads Guerin to note that between “propaganda by deed” and all-out attacks by anarchists against individuals who didn’t share their libertarian ideology, the working class had entirely abandoned the ideas of anarchism and libertarian socialism “lest he seem to opt for isolated revolt as against collective action.  The social democrats were not slow to use the weapons against the anarchists furnished by the combination of bombs and Kropotkinist utopias.” (p. 75)  But by the 1890’s 

the anarchists had reached a dead end and they were cut off from the world of the workers which had become the monopoly of the social democrats.  They snuggled into little sects, barricaded themselves into ivory towers where they polished up increasingly unrealistic dogmas; or else they performed and applauded acts of individual terrorism, and let themselves be caught in a net of repression and reprisal.

Kropotkin deserves credit for being one of the first to confess his errors and to recognize the sterility of “propaganda by deed.”  In a series of articles… he affirmed “that one must be with the people, who no longer want isolated acts, but want men of action inside their ranks.”  He warned his readers against “the illusion that one can defeat the coalition of exploiters with a few pounds of explosives.”  He proposed a return to mass trade unionism like that of which the First International had been the embryo and propagator: “Monster unions embracing millions of proletarians.” (p. 78)

Having momentarily returned to its senses, anarchism and libertarian socialism exploded in the early 1900’s.  Those unfamiliar with the actualities of the Russian Revolution of 1917 may be inclined to think it was the result of the Bolsheviks and Lenin.  But:

The Russian Revolution was, in fact, a great mass movement, a wave rising from the people which passed over and submerged ideological formations.  It belonged to no one, unless to the people.  In so far as it was an authentic revolution, taking its impulse from the bottom upward and spontaneously producing the organs of direct democracy, it presented all the characteristics of a social revolution with libertarian tendencies.  However, the relative weakness of the Russian anarchists prevented them from exploiting situations which were exceptionally favorable to the triumph of their ideas.

The Revolution was ultimately confiscated and distorted by the mastery, according to some- the cunning, according to others- of the professional revolutionary team grouped around Lenin…. According to Kropotkin, and echoed by Voline, it taught (the anarchists), should they ever need to know, how not to make a revolution.  Far from proving that libertarian socialism is impracticable, the Soviet experience, on the contrary, broadly confirmed the prophetic correctness of the views of the founders of anarchism and, in particular, their critique of authoritarian socialism. (p. 82-83)

I’ll let Guerin continue to tell the story:

The point of departure of the Revolution of 1917 was that of 1905, during which a new kind of revolutionary organ had come into being: the soviets.  They were born in the factories of St Petersburg during a spontaneous general strike.  In the almost complete absence of a trade-union movement and tradition, the soviets filled a vacuum by coordinating the struggle of the factories on strike.  The anarchist Voline was one of the small group which had the idea of setting up the first soviet, in close liaison with the workers and at their suggestion.  In (Trotsky’s account), without any pejorative intent- quite the contrary: The activity of the soviet represented the organization of anarchy.  Its existence and its subsequent development marked the consolidation of anarchy.”

This experience had made a permanent mark upon working-class consciousness and, when the second Russian Revolution broke out in February 1917, its leaders did not have to invent anything.  The workers took over the factories spontaneously.  The soviets revived on their own initiative.  Once again, they took the professional revolutionaries by surprise.  On Lenin’s own admission, the masses of peasants and workers were “a hundred times further to the left” than the Bolsheviks.  The prestige of the soviets was such that it was only in their name and at their behest that the October insurrection could be launched. (p. 83)

Which was exactly how Lenin and his Bolshevik Party took power and installed themselves at the top of an authoritarian system- by co-opting the name and intent of the soviets (“worker’s councils”).  From here, Guerin goes on at length to outline just exactly how authoritarian and counter-revolutionary Lenin’s program was, and the deftness with which he both credited and took as his own key anarchist and libertarian terms, but used them as window-dressing on his not at all masked desire to build an authoritarian, State-run capitalist system.

While Bakunin and other highly influential anarchists were in fact Russian, they had become so and done almost all of their work outside of Russia.  In fact, Russia was one of the last places in Europe which came to industrialism, and as such, class-consciousness and mass organization in the country was infantile at best.  The lack of political ideology throughout the Russian population, given the tremendous revolt that was staged first in 1905 and again in 1917, is fair proof that there exists an inherent and natural inclination towards libertarian self-organization amongst the people.  Faced with the mass poverty and suffering of Russia as its ruling class tried to “modernize” the country and bring it into the newfound profits of industrial capitalism, the Russian people spontaneously and organically staged a libertarian-socialist revolution.  Though the lack of political awareness by the masses and the nearly complete lack of organization amongst the few anarchists that did reside there made the situation ripe for co-option by a political party and the promises of “leadership”, which Lenin and the Bolsheviks easily seized upon.  As we’ll see in the next part though, the rural population of Ukraine and industrial island-city of Kronstadt were slow to give-up their libertarian leanings to the newly formed “Soviet” State of Lenin.