The Truth about Kronstadt: An attempt at a Libertarian Soviet Revolution, by Marie Isidine

The Truth about Kronstadt: An attempt at a Libertarian Soviet Revolution
Marie Isidine
1921
Les Temps Nouveaux

At last, we have reliable information which allows us to understand the true character of the Kronstadt movement, which the bolshevik government has just crushed. And we can affirm, without hesitation, that this movement was shamefully slandered: it has absolutely nothing in common with the Whites, generals, Monarchists, agents of the Entente, etc. It is also not a movement of dupes, led without their knowing by reactionaries.

It is an absolutely spontaneous movement, without preparation, without conspiracy, without outside guidance; it was only led by the sailors of Kronstadt themselves, who knew full well what they wanted. And what they wanted is in no way a counter-revolution, but change which will allow on the contrary the Russian revolution to move forward, towards real equality and a real management of the people by themselves. They took the defence of the soviets – a creation of the Russian workers’ masses – against a government which has, in effect, suppressed them, and replaced them by a dictatorship of civil servants.

What may have confused the Western public and give credence to the slander, was the joy shown at the news of the Kronstadt uprising by the bourgeois press and the Russian reactionary parties. But isn’t that always the case? If there was an attempt at a revolution in France, wouldn’t the Royalists try to fish in troubled waters? And, during the war, didn’t the German government encourage the Irish movement, and even the Russian bolshevik movement, to further its own interests? Did this prevent those movements from being clearly revolutionary? “Reactionary manoeuvrings” are always an easy argument by which we shouldn’t be fooled. When we think that, in 1893-94, Jaurès1 thought the Jesuits were responsible for anarchist assassinations and talked about some red silk shirts which had allegedly been found at all the homes searched and which had certainly been given to them by people from the Church!

In Kronstadt, like everywhere else, reactionaries, if they were more intelligent, should have, from the start, seen that they had nothing to gain from it. In their Izvestia (paper of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee), the revolted sailors vividly rejected the slander and clearly stated that they had nothing in common with White generals.

By their action, the Kronstadt insurrection showed its complete independence. Completely destitute, they still refused supplies from the Entente. They even refused the financial help, almost 500 000 francs, which Russian financiers in Paris offered to send. From Paris also, a hundred Russian officers from reactionary armies offered their service to Kronstadt, by radio; they were told:
“Stay where you are, we do not need you.”

Everyone who knows the Russian revolutionary movement knew, from the start, what to think. Kronstadt sailors were already, during the first revolution, in 1906, at the front of the movement; their role was very important in the 1917 revolution. They have proved themselves to be of an absolute intransigence and an extreme fighting spirit; under the Kerensky government2, they proclaimed the Kronstadt commune and claimed their autonomy. At the time, the government felt reluctant to use repression and an agreement was reached. Trotsky said at that time, answering some arguments: “Yes, the Kronstadt sailors are anarchists. But, when the moment of the decisive fight for the revolution comes, those who are now calling for repression will be soaping some ropes to hang us all, while the Kronstadt sailors will give their lives to defend us.” – Later, when the bolsheviks were the spokespeople for popular demands (“peace, land and all the power to the workers’ and peasants’ soviets”), the Kronstadt sailors did more than their fair share to grant them their victory. And, during the past few years, they were again Petrograd’s rampart against reactionary armies. And they would have suddenly become agents of the Whites? Kronstadt, a nest of reaction? Impossible.

Information, documents from over there, have now confirmed what we had felt until now. Let’s say a few words about the march of events themselves.

At the end of February, troubles erupted among Petrograd’s workers; it was an issue of supplies. There were strikes, and, as always, strikers were arrested. Kronstadt, where discontentment against the government was already rife, was moved and decided to support the Petrograd comrades. The movement already took a political turn. The powers of the Kronstadt soviet had long expired, but the government refused to allow new elections, in order to preserve the power of the old, bolshevik soviet. This was actually only one of the manifestations of the dictatorship of the communist party, from which the Kronstadt sailors had to suffer more than once.

A delegation was sent by the sailors to Petrograd, to study the situation there and design a plan for common action. When it came back, the following agenda was voted, on March 1st, by an assembly of the crews of battleships:

“Having heard the reports of the representatives sent by the General Assembly of the Fleet to find out about the situation in Petrograd, the sailors demand:
1. Immediate new elections to the Soviets. The present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda.
2. Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.
3. The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant organisations.
4. The organisation, at the latest on 10th March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, solders and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
5. The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organisations.
6. The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
7. The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces. No political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In the place of the political sections various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
8. The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
9. The equalisation of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
10. The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups. The abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
11. The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.
12. We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
13. We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.
14. We demand the institution of mobile workers’ control groups.
15. We demand that handicraft production be authorised provided it does not utilise wage labour.”3

The same resolution was then proposed at the Kronstadt citizens’ general assembly, which comprised around 16.000 people, and unanimously adopted. It then became a sort of charter for the movement. On March 2nd, at the Kronstadt delegates’ meeting of the ships, military units, workshops and workers’ unions (300 people in total), a “Provisional Revolutionary Committee” was appointed and put in charge of organising new elections, free this time, for the local soviet; this Committee made a daily newspaper appear, the Izvestia, and that is what gives us information on the goals and character of the movement4. […]

A note-worthy fact: everything which we said of the character of the Kronstadt movement was confirmed by the bolsheviks themselves. A Russian bolshevik paper published in Riga, the Novyi Pout, while propagating the fantasy of a reactionary Kronstadt, carelessly published, in its March 19th issue, the following lines:
“The Kronstadt sailors are, generally, anarchists. They are not to the right, but, on the contrary, to the left of communists. In their latest radio broadcasts, they claim: “Long live the power of the soviets!” Not once did they exclaim “Long live the Constitutional Assembly!” Why did they rise up against the soviet government? Because they don’t think it is soviet enough! They proclaim the same half-anarchist, half-communist slogans which the bolsheviks themselves had shouted three years and a half ago, right after the October revolution.

In their fight against the soviet government, the Kronstadt insurrectionists talk about their deep hatred for the “bourgeoisie”, and everything that goes with it. They say: the soviet government has become “bourgeois”, Zinoviev is “stuffed”. Here, we are facing a rebellion from the left, and not a rebellion from the right.”

The Kronstadt insurrection had been – for the moment at least – vanquished. We do not know what impact it had in Russia, although we feel a community of spirit between this and all these peasants’ and workers’ revolts which, at the same time, were or are taking place around the vast Russia. But a definite conclusion can be drawn for us. Revolutionary Russia is making rapid progress: it hardly lingered on a purely political emancipation and on the cult of universal suffrage, but asked the great social question straight away. Now, it is the social-democrat centralising statism which is falling apart.

The soviets, as they are imagined in the minds of the masses, represent an extreme decentralisation and autonomy. The great, the hardest, the most important question remains: the question of production not by the state, but by the producers themselves.

Workers’ Unions and the Social Revolution, by Marie isidine

Workers’ Unions and the Social Revolution
Marie Isidine
Plus Loin
1931

This book, which, according to its author, is the result of a long preparatory work, answers the most pressing need of our time: to know which spirit must animate the great social change which everyone awaits, and which way must everyone follow in their action who wishes to avoid the next attempt of such change to be a failure or a disillusion. This is a serious personal contribution to setting up a programme of action for today’s struggles, and for the constructive work of the “day after” the revolution.

Here is the general plan of this book.

First, the analysis of the current situation and the existing social forces, examining two opposite tendencies: class collaboration and class struggle; a detailed critique of the collaboration policy drives the author to reject it in all the forms and at any scale it may be practised. Then, the fighting methods employed by modern capitalism (collaboration with the opposite class being one of the most dangerous of those) leads to the idea that the working class must, also, modernise and “rationalise” its action.

Contrary to a certain tendency which wishes to make the theory and practice of revolutionary syndicalism as obsolete, in order to replace it with the dictatorship of the party (actually a much older tactic and obsolete in many more ways), Besnard shows the inability of political parties to become actor of social change and the fateful character of a dictatorship, even if it were not exerted by a party but by unions. “In order to be the proletariat’s, a dictatorship would have to be exerted through the channels of the class organisations of the proletariat: the unions… Revolutionary syndicalists reject however this kind of dictatorship. They do not see any more need for an economic dictatorship – which would also be political – than for an exclusively political dictatorship.” (page 104-105) Actually, the idea of the constitution of a new state, whatever it might be, is rejected for both current and historical reasons, in which we can strongly sense the influence from Kropotkin’s ideas. In his whole work, Besnard draws on Bakunin, Kropotkin, and J. Guillaume; his ideal is free communism, or anarchy, which is the “great human demand”; the mode of organisation which he considers possible after a successful revolution is some sort of very loose federalist system, intended to open the way to such an ideal. This system is however not presented as a minimum programme for a transition period, since the author thinks that “it is criminal and, to tell the truth, counter-revolutionary, arbitrarily to set the limit to reach, when this or that stage could easily be reached without obstacles.” (page 332)
What he calls a “transition period” is actually not characterised by this or that preset political and economic regime: it is “the period of time between the destruction of the old regime and the stabilisation of the new regime” (page 268).

It is a state which is no longer the capitalist regime and which is not yet libertarian communism; the evolution toward the latter must be allowed to happen, during this period, naturally, without violent struggle. The “stabilisation” of the revolution happens when “the degree of understanding of individuals and the capacity of realisation of existing organisations do not allow to go any further” (page 273).

On this issue, about the way in which this stabilisation can happen, Comrade Besnard seems to be making a terrible mistake in our opinion, unless he did not express his view clearly enough. The stop in the ascending march of the revolution is a natural and unavoidable phenomenon; can it be the result of a decision made beforehand? Yes, if the revolution is seen as a succession of revolutionary measures taken by some dictatorial power which can, , at any given moment, stop or backtrack. No, if we see the revolution as the spontaneous action of all the people. Yet, Besnard supposes that we can stop “having observed unanimously or with a huge majority… that we cannot go beyond the limits reached without danger” (page 273). This is therefore a decision taken by some organisation for the whole society, which presupposes the existence of such an organisation, which has the right (and the power, as it can meet with some opposition) to pull the brake on the movement. Of the men who would endorse this responsibility, Besnard makes superhuman demands: they “will have to be deep psychologists. They will have to measure, as precisely as possible, the efforts to be made during the hole revolutionary process, during the length of the whole transition period. They will have to know its limits, reach it without crossing it” (page 335).

Are there such men with infailible judgement? And the common mortals who would inherit this task, wouldn’t they risk to act instead according to their own particular doctrinal and practical beliefs, which they would then impose as a minimum programme to everyone else? The illusion which Besnard seems to have on this issue might be linked to an idea which he expressed several times throughout his book. Not to condemn the revolution to failure, the workers’ movement, he says, must direct itself entirely and immediately following a few great lines; if it does, society will be able to be organised in a loose enough fashion for majority decisions always to be enforced willingly, without violence or resistance, for imposed duties always to be fulfilled, etc. We can however emit some doubts about this issue, because during a revolution, ideas move fast and soon burst out of pre-established frames. And then, which means would the leading organisation have to be obeyed in a stateless society? This point remains unclear, and it is lacking in Besnard’s exposé.

Two main ideas – both extremely far-reaching – dominate this book. First of all, a very wide definition of unions and syndicalism. Under the term union, the author really includes any free association created to defend collectively the material and moral interests of its members, from the most primitive human groupings to the different organisations of today. According to him, “federalist syndicalism is a movement of an essentially natural kind, such as packs of wild animals, forests of oak trees, or coal deposits” (page 113); it is the result of the social sentiment which characterises humans.

Current syndicalism is defined as “a movement which groups… the workers from the same town, from the same region, trade, industry, country, from all countries” (page 112). And by “workers”, Besnard does not only mean manual labourers, but also technicians, scientists, and peasants; he insists at length (and rightly so in our opinion) on the need fur unity among all these elements, which he calls class synthesis (see the chapter with this title, from page 257 on).

“Any individual which receives wages or payment, any man who does not exploit anyone, belong, in fact, whatever their situation, to the working class” (page 260). Collaboration between manual and intellectual workers must start right now; during the revolution, it will be a sine qua non condition for the success of its constructive work.

The second leading idea, is the need to give the syndicalist movement such organisational forms as to make them able to give, immediately after the revolution, the framework for the new society, in order to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable period of stoppage and prevent the stranglehold of any new form of power.

We are unable to explain here the proposed mode of organisation (which is the one adopted by the C.G.T.S.R. in its constitutive congress) based at the same time along industrial lines and according to locality; one of the most important tasks for these organisations must be the precise knowledge of the functioning and the situation of the industry, and of the economy in general. That is why such an important place must be given among workers’ demands to the demand for workers’ control. After the revolution, on top of all these economic organisations, from the workshop group of the C.G.T. to the Economic Council of Labour “must be added another symmetrical ensemble, from the town council to the Great Council of Workers” which constitutes the political bone structure of the new society. To both of these are added a series of “social” offices, dealing with exchanges, housing, statistics, hygiene, etc.

Besnard’s book, which attempts to encompass all the issues surrounding the fate of workers’ struggles and the revolution, still has many more interesting chapters, among which we will highlight the programme of immediate workers’ demands (envisioned from the viewpoint of the future) and the analysis of the different possibilities of how the revolution may arise (general strike, political movement from right-wing or left-wing parties).
When we compare Besnard’s exposé to the writings from syndicalist propaganda from the early stages of the movement, the distance crossed is striking: despite contrary appearances, we can feel in it the wind of near-future achievements.

The Moral Face of the Revolution, Marie Isidine

The Moral Face of the Revolution
Marie Isidine
Plus Loin
1925

Among all the questions currently in the minds of those who predict coming deep social change, there is one which is extremely painful for human consciousness: the issue of violence, of the rightfulness, for the leaders of the revolution, to impose their decisions by force onto the masses, of revolutionary dictatorship and terror. This issue is discussed everywhere; but there is one country where it has already passed from the realm of ideas into the realm of realisations, where a social revolution using dictatorship as a weapon has already taken place – that is Russia.

That is why anything which can tell us about the material and moral results of this experiment deserves our fullest attention, such as also all the opinions expressed on this subject, under the influence of living among the militants of the Russian revolution. They have infinitely more authority than anything we could say here, as we have never lived through this experiment with a Socialist dictatorship.

That is why we believed it useful to advertise in France a recently published book, but written for the most part in 1920, the author of which is a member of the Left Socialist Revolutionary party1, I. Steinberg. This book’s title is The Moral Face Of The Revolution and its dedication indicates its sympathies: “To the Kronstadt sailors of 1921, who, on the icy plains of the Finnish Gulf, defended the October revolution, enaged in a mortal combat and did not dishonour it by a terror of revenge, – I dedicate this book.”

The author shows us the great disillusionment which the revolution brought the workers. “Never,” he writes, “was the contradiction between what the people had perceived in the red blaze of the revolution, and this heavy, leaden weight which now oppresses them in their daily lives, been so obvious and so dire.” This atrocious misery kills the intellectual and moral life of the masses, who have only just awakened; the bonds of solidarity between people are loosened, the feelings of hatred and mistrust develop and paralyse any creative work. The horrors of the foreign war and the civil war, the material poverty are not enough to explain this state of affairs: there is a deeper, moral cause. “The soul of the revolutionary people is seriously ill”; it is prey to an anguish which compromises the whole future of the revolution, as it kills faith and enthusiasm. And the cause of it is that the people feel outraged by the methods used by the leaders of this revolution in which they had put all their hopes.

The author gives on this issue an analysis which completely agrees with what we never stopped saying about the distinctions made in the programmes of different political parties between “political revolution” and “economic revolution”, between “minimum programme” and “final goal”. Like us, he considers the popular revolution as a phenomenon which cannot be dissected like this. The revolution is of course the result of material conditions, but it represents something else. The people bring to it their need for justice, their moral ideal, – certainly vague and imprecise, but striving towards a new life, absolutely different from the old one. This is why their revolutionary action extends to every domain of life and spirit: political and economic regimes, religious and moral ideas, family life. And if, instead of making justice real, revolutionary practices reveal themselves to be unjust, immoral, oppressive, the people feel troubled and lose interest in the revolution. This is precisely what happened when, in 1918, systematic violence, which we can call terror, entered the revolutionary habits and anchored itself there so well that its contagion is now reaching almost every revolutionary milieu in other countries.

In his critique of Bolshevik terror, Steinberg does not take a purely moral view which would condemn any violence; he accepts violence in some cases and in certain limits. But he criticises the system of terror because of the prejudice it causes to the goal for which it strives. Socialism, he says (and in this we once again agree with him), is not only an economic idea; it aims at a certain organisation of production, but also at a fairer mode of existence for humankind. It must chose the means it uses in consequence. Marxists, following Jesuits and Jacobins, say the end justifies the means. This might be true when we only think about exterior victory, but this victory in no way proves that the goal was reached; for it to be truly reached, it demands certain means, and the exclusion of others.

Socialism wants the happiness not of an abstract “humanity”, but of real, concrete people, and no formula can justify crushing those individual people. “We are fighting, not for the proletarian or the peasant, but for oppressed people. We are fighting, in consequence, not the land owner or the bourgeois, but the regime of exploitation.”

And what were the consequences of forgetting these truths? Government centralisation and political oppression ensured that “everywhere the people’s masses have remained indifferent; the workers don’t create: they do their chores”. That is why nothing works for the government: all its economic and political measures fail2.

Labour productivity depends on both economic and moral causes; the system of terror dealt it a fatal blow. Instead of an emulation at work, it feeds fear, fraud, selfishness. “Not one among the millions of inhabitants is interested in creating in the long-term something socially useful or precious”. In the measure that it is allowed for a revolutionary power to call on personal interest, it must show the advantages of solidarity and cooperation; if not, misery causes the fight of everyone against everyone, which is the most deplorable economic system; and conflicts between the different categories of unfortunates.

On the moral level, the same failure is seen. Systematic terror leads to the reign of the police, provokes perpetual revolts, make people hate the government. And if the reaction failed in Russia despite all the armies raised with the help of the Allies, it is thanks to the hostility of the people in cities and in the countryside to everything which tended to restore the old regime, especialy purely thanks to terror.

To defend revolutionary terror, several arguments are put forward, which the author refutes one by one. People invoke the will of the people’s masses themselves. First of all, even if it were the case, it wouldn’t be an obligation for us, but it is actually false. At the start of the Russian revolution, as early as February-March 1917, and also after October, there were some acts of popular violence directed against the representatives of the old regime: police officers, gendarmes, army officers. But this popular anger was short-lived and, as soon as the people felt their oppressors were vanquished for good, they only showed them contempt or pity. If the ruling party had used this lack of vengefulness in the people’s soul to direct the revolution towards concordance, the events would have unfolded differently. But it thought good, on the contrary, to stir up hatred, to give the example of acts of revenge; as early as 1918, terror became an official system with its Cheka, its shootings, its armed expeditions against peasants, etc. From then on, terror only came from the top, while workers more than once showed their humanity (for example when they were judges in Popular Trials). Making them responsible for so much bloodshed is to slander the Russian people.

Until this point we were fully in agreement with the Russian author. But there is a weak point in his argument: he fails to find any criterion to distinguish acceptable violence from non-acceptable violence. He admits so himself. As long as there is proper civil war or barricade fighting, violence is justified by the fact that both enemies, armed, fight as equals. It’s the same thing for a terrorist act against a representative of the regime: even without taking into account that revolutionaries only ever use this means as a last resort, the fact that the murderer, by killing, gives deliberately their life, does not allow us to drawn any comparison at all between them and the executioner. But there are other cases. Steinberg’s party does not refuse the use of power and doesn’t deny governmental violence, while imposing on it rather strict limits. That is how the author accepts that the bourgeois be denied political rights, and, if he absolutely opposes the death penalty, he accepts that political enemies can be imprisoned or banished. However, where will we stop in political repression, if we don’t oppose it all in principle? And wouldn’t these persecutions, while less ferocious, have the same demoralising effect? He doesn’t and can’t answer these questions. Yet it is absolutely necessary to find a criterion which allows us to justify or condemn this or that method of action.

No social change was obtained without a fight; no step forward was made without sacrifices. Violence had been, in history, a necessary evil; it must be considered as such, and nothing more. What makes it necessary is that the ruling and exploiting classes have always defended their privileges with all the might which the power of the state granted them. But, once the road cleared, once the armed domination of the old order of things is destroyed by insurrection, violence ceases to be a necessary evil and becomes just evil. It can exert no creative action; the best social regime, if it is introduced and maintained by coercion, rapidly degenerates and becomes the worst. Once it used force, it becomes unable to stop using it.

Whether violence is exerted by power in the name of god-given rights, or of majority rule, or of the working-class – the result is the same. That is why we’d rather not wonder: in whose hands is the weapon? But: against whom is it pointing?

If it is against armed forces, there is a right to self-defence which cannot be denied to anyone; if it is against yesterday’s enemy, now disarmed, or against an opponent of ideas, we refuse to recognise any right to violence.

A dangerous confusion often arises here. We are told: “Revolution cannot be made without bloodshed; you cannot prevent acts of revenge by the oppressed. By condemning “red terror”, you condemn the revolution itself”. We shouldn’t play on words. Popular anger is one thing, government terror another. A government, as scrupulously as it wishes to represent the people, will only ever represent its interests, or maybe its opinions, but never its feelings, its despair, its anger. Whatever the price we place on human life, we excuse the popular mass in what is called its “excesses” – because of accumulated past sufferings among its ranks. But there is no excuse for the cold, well-thought-out, calculated violence of a government.

From this we find this criterion, the only acceptable one in our opinion: violence can only ever be justified in the hands of the weak, of the oppressed, of those who are facing superior armed forces; it has no excuse and is detrimental to the cause it serves the day after the victory.

Transition period: A few words on a fuzzy notion, Marie Isidine

Transition period: A few words on a fuzzy notion

Marie Isidine

Les Temps Nouveaux

1922

In the innumerable discussions which the Russian revolution sparked in the socialist and revolutionary milieus, the idea of a “transition period”, succeeding the victorious revolution, always appears; it might be the notion most commonly abused in order to justify indefensible behaviours and betrayals. It is generally thought that even the most advanced countries are not ready for an integral realisation of socialism (and, even more, of anarchist socialism); from this, some advocate half-socialist, half-radical blocs, or a “workers’ government” which, instead of socialism, will only realise the minimum programme of the congress; others advocate a forceful strike which will give the revolutionaries dictatorial power, which they will use to serve the interests of the working-class, mainly by terrorising the bourgeoisie. Bolsheviks, in particular, (and those of the anarchists who followed them) tell us: “Do you really believe in the possibility of achieving anarchist communism right now? The masses are not ready and socialism still has too many enemies; as long as they remain, the state will be necessary. You must accept a transitory period of dictatorship.”

As long as we accept discussion on those terms, making our opinion depend on our – optimistic or pessimistic – appreciation of the degree of readiness of the workers, it will be impossible to answer the question clearly and in accordance with our principles. And this is understandable: the question must be asked completely differently. Whether our ideal is or isn’t realisable “straight away” can in no way influence our actions. We know that only the historian, considering, after the facts, the acquired results, will one day establish for which achievements our times were ripe; as for our contemporaries, they always get this wrong, depending on their mentality. We do not believe in predetermined phases of evolution, identical for every people. We know that the general march of human development leads mankind better to use the strengths of nature and better to ensure within its ranks the liberation of individuals and social solidarity. On this path, there can be stops, and even retreats, but no definitive backtracking. And the closer the communion between different peoples is achieved, the faster the ones which are further engaged on this path will help the latecomers. Everything else, the rapidity of the movement, its peaceful or violent forms, what conquests are gained where and when, all of that depends on a number of factors and cannot be predicted. Among these factors, one of the most decisive has always been and always will be the action of individuals and their groups. The ideas which will inspire the most energetic action will have the most chances of being put into practice; life will follow the net force of forces applied. In consequence, the more efforts we will make towards our ideal without any compromise, the closest to our ideal the result will be.

In discussions in which we talk about a “transitional period”, people usually swim in a sea of confusion and understand each other poorly, since it refers to two very different notions. On the one hand, any time is a time of transition towards a higher stage of evolution, since, as some hopes are realised, new ones emerge. Always, there are some dominant problems which preoccupy everyone who is able to think, and others, future ones, which only preoccupy an advanced minority. This is the socialist dilemma: on the one hand, how to abolish capitalist exploitation and organise an egalitarian economic society is in our times on the agenda of immediate realisation; but how to give this society a libertarian form and ensure a real development of human beings remains an ideal shared by a small number of people, the anarchists. When will this ideal in turn come to the front of the stage, and lead the majority? Only the future will tell; it is certain that until it is realised as we conceive it, we will go through a series of transitional stages.

But people also mean something else by transitional period: it is the time immediately following a revolution, where old forms have not yet fully disappeared, the enemies, the defenders of the past are still to be feared, and the new order of things is being born in the middle of the fight and of the worst difficulties. And then, by considering only that moment, separated from the past and, especially, from the future, people end up, like the bolsheviks, justifying any odd means, even the most dangerous, generally borrowed from the old world, among which dictatorship comes first to mind. Or else people propose, like Kautsky and the other social-democrats, a temporary regime, in which socialists hold the power, but will push back to an indeterminate time the realisation of their socialist programme. Our conception of things is totally different from either of those: we refuse to be hypnotised by this idea of transition. That progressive victories, partial realisations, must precede the total realisation of our ideal, is possible, even probable, but for these successive stages to be accepted by us as positive, they must lead us towards this ideal, and not in the diametrically opposed direction. The path towards a society free of any constraint by the state and founded on the free grouping of individuals can only go through social forms in which the part of free initiative increases and the part of authority decreases. But if, under the guise of a transitional period towards a free community, we are offered a complete annihilation of any freedom, we answer that this is no transition, but a step back. We were not brought up on Hegelian dialectics, which envision the transformation of something into its opposite as a natural phenomenon; our minds are imprinted much more strongly by the principle of evolution, which says that each stage of development not only is not opposed to the last, but also proceeds from it. Anarchist society will never proceed from dictatorship; it will only be born from the elements of freedom which will have subsisted and will have spread despite any state constraint. For a social form to be considered as a step toward an ideal, it must contain more elements of this ideal and never less; if not, it is a step back and not progress.

The Paris Commune, for example, was not aiming at an anarchist society; but anarchists of all countries highly appreciate it for its large-scale federalism. In the same way, during the Russian revolution, anarchists have welcomed with sympathy the institution of free soviets, in the way they emerged from popular thought, of course, and not from the official organs which, nowadays, are a mere caricature; they saw there a form of political organisation preferable to classic parliamentarianism, which allowed more development of collective initiative and action among the people.

A sympathetic attitude towards everything which gets us closer to our ideal is something natural; the notion of a “transitional period” cannot add anything to it. It only serves the purpose of obscuring the discussion and giving an excuse for some minds to “revise” our ideas, which means, in truth, to abandon what is essential to them. The revolutionary moment is really the time when prudence, the fear of utopia, of the ‘impossible’ are less necessary; it sweeps away, on the contrary, the limits of all hope. Let us not be intimidated by the advice based on fake historical wisdom which is contradicted by all the experience of history.

The Issues of Tomorrow, Marie Isidine

The Issues of Tomorrow

Marie Isidine
Les Temps Nouveaux

Part 1: The reasons for our “maximalism” (July 1919)

The old issue of maximalism and minimalism takes on nowadays a completely different aspect than the one it had a few years ago. Partly because of a lack of faith in the realisation of the socialist ideal in a conceivable future, partly for tactical reasons, the socialist parties had then elaborated minimum programmes, and had finally made them the only real content of their everyday action. The anarchists rose up against this reformism and this possibilism, convinced that nothing could replace action towards the whole ideal and that any breaking down of this action could only be harmful. And the conflict between those two views filled the whole history of the socialist movement, from the International to our time.

But now the situation has dramatically changed, because of the revolutions which have broken out in European countries which, only a few years ago, were the most backward. The distinctly social character of these revolutions indicates that the fall of bourgeois domination is no longer a subject of theoretical propaganda or historical predictions: it it tomorrow’s reality. In Russia, Austria, and Germany, the movement drags the great masses; it already makes the bourgeoisie shiver in countries which have not yet been contaminated. Once again, the issue of maximalism and minimalism is raised. Among the militants of the socialist and syndicalist movements, some welcome with joy any attempts at economic emancipation and work to make them spread; others stop, hesitatingly, in front of the hugeness of the task at hand and wonder whether they will be equal to the task; they would like to avoid this responsibility, or even choose a favourable time for the mass movement. They think the masses are not ready, and they would like to gain time, if only a couple of years more, to prepare them, and in order to do so, they need to give the movement a quieter course, to give it as an objective some perfecting of workers’ rights or simple corporatist demands.

In order to choose between these two opposite views, it is not enough to let ourselves be guided by our revolutionary sentiment, or even by our devotion to our ideal. We must look for the teachings from history, we must rein in our feelings by critique, we must reach back to the fundamental principles of our doctrine.

As we start publishing Les Temps Nouveaux again, in these completely new conditions, we must, from the start, from our first issue, give a clear answer to this vital question. On this answer depends our attitude towards future events.

Let’s remind ourselves of our conception of the march of great social movements, a conception which is entirely different from the one which inspires the parties which divide their objectives between a final goal and immediate goals.

How did the great emancipatory movement unfurl in the past? The fight against the existing class order first only starts among a small minority whose circumstances made them feel both their oppression and the hope to put an end to it – more than among the great masses. Among the masses, oppression is too heavy for the number of them who manage to free themselves mentally to be, at first, consequent. But the revolutionary minority fights at its own risks, without wondering about whether others are following. Little by little, it starts to grow; it can be seen, if not in facts, at least in spirit. The brave struggle of some diminishes the fear of others; the spirit of revolt grows. We don’t always understand clearly what is the goal of people in revolt, but we understand against what they are fighting, and this elicits sympathy for them. Then the moment arrives at last when an event, sometimes insignificant in itself, a flagrant act of violence or arbitrary power, sparks the revolutionary explosion. Events are precipitated, new experience is had every day, among the intense agitation of minds, ideas develop in leaps and bounds among the masses. The gap between the mass and the revolutionary minority shrinks.

After the revolutionary period – whether the revolution be victorious or crushed – the general mentality has reached such a level which had never been reached by long years of patient propaganda efforts. The revolutionary minority’s ideal is not fully realised, but what is realised (either in facts or in people’s minds) is getting closer, the more conviction and the less compromise this minority had expressed in its action. What has been realised is part of its programme; what is left will be the inheritance of the new generation, the watchword of the new era opened by the revolution. Because a revolution is not only the conclusion of a preceding evolution, it is also the starting point of the following evolution which will precisely be concerned with the realisation of the ideas which, during the revolution, have not found a wide enough resonance.

Even when a revolution is vanquished, the principles it has put forward never die. Every revolution in the 19th century has been defeated, but each one of them has been a step closer to victory. The 1848 revolution, which betrayed workers’ hopes, definitely dug, in the Days of June, an abyss between workers and the republican bourgeoisie; it also took away the mystical and religious character of socialism and linked it to the actual social movement. The Paris Commune, drowned in blood, blew away the cult of state centralisation and proclaimed the principles of autonomy and federalism. What about the Russian revolution? Whatever the future holds, it will have proclaimed the fall of capitalist domination and the rights of labour; in a country where the oppression on the masses was more revolting than anywhere else, it proclaimed that it is those masses who must now be master of their lives. And whatever the future, nothing will take away this idea from future struggles: the reign of the owning classes has virtually ended.

These general considerations will dictate the answer to the question: do we meet the conditions for social revolution? Every discussion about knowing whether the mass is “ready” or “not yet ready” is always misguided, whether it is pessimistic or optimistic. We have no way to evaluate every factor which determines that a social group is ready. What do we call “being ready”? Would we wait for most people to have become socialists? But we fully know that is impossible in our present condition. If we could create a radical transformation of concepts, feelings and of the whole mentality among the masses by propaganda and education alone, why want a violent revolution, with all its suffering? At any given time, the mass is never “ready” for the future and will never be: a revolutionary uprising will have happened sooner. Revolutionaries don’t have the power to choose their time, to prepare everything and spark the revolution at will, like lighting fireworks.

People who always consider large movements premature usually use the grid of the realisation of some “objective historical conditions”: the degree of capitalist development, state of the industry, development of the productive forces, etc. But they do not see these dogmas crumble before their eyes – just like their minimum programmes crumbled – under the pressure of life. The most confident Marxists have to admit that the social revolution started not in a country where capitalism was advanced, but in a mostly agrarian country where it was poorly developed, and that, consequently, there are other factors at stake than the development of productive forces. And if they had wished to study this issue further, they could have drawn this conclusion from Marxism itself, turning it into its opposite: into a theory of active progress, realised by the efforts of individuals. There is, in Marx, a precious quote: “Mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve”1 In other words, if an ideal is conceived among a community, it is that the necessary conditions to its realisation are there. Following this idea, we will say that from that moment on, from the moment an ideal is formulated by the vanguard minority, its realisation is only a question of a balance of strength between present forces: the past, which has had its time, and an inescapable future. Gradually, at the cost of hard struggle and innumerable sacrifices, the balance tilts towards the future. At present, after a century-old struggle for economic equality, after a century of socialist propaganda, we are witnessing a large-scale attempt at its realisation. It will still know some setbacks, backtracking, both in its fight against is enemies and in its internal development, and we shouldn’t believe that we will find ourselves tomorrow in the anarchist society we wish for. But we can only reach a better life if we try to get it; experiment is the only way which leads to it, and there is no other. Instead of asking: are the conditions ripe? Are the masses ready? We should ask: are we ready? What can we offer as concrete, practical measures “the day after our victory, in order to achieve our socialism, communism, by organising outside and against any state? What are the measures to elaborate, the conditions to study beforehand?” This is where our main preoccupation must lie; what we must do is not be overwhelmed by events, but actively prepare ourselves now, always remembering that an ideal is realisable only insofar as people believe in its realisation and put their energy to it.

Part 2: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

The realisation of socialism has left the realm of dreams and theoretical propaganda; it has approached, and has even become an urgent matter. And if it is important to answer the question of what methods lead to this realisation, and are the most likely to gain victory, it is even more important to get a clear picture of what we need to do after the victory for the revolution to bring the greatest increase in happiness, with the least suffering possible.

The “dictatorship of the proletariat” seems attractive to many people these days. It seems to mean that workers would now be masters of social life, masters of their own destiny, without exploiters, nor oppressors above them. It seems to be the direct and immediate realisation of socialism. In France, especially, where the workers’ movement has not been penetrated by Marxist theory and terminology, this phrase is the cause of misunderstandings. It holds in itself a contradiction: a dictatorship “is always the unlimited power” of one or of a small group; what could be the dictatorship of a whole class? It is obvious that a class can only hold power through its representatives, by someone who it delegated or who, more simply, believes they can act in its name. In the end, a new power is being established, the power of the socialist party or of its most influential faction, and this power takes charge of managing the fate of the working class. And this is not an abuse or a sophistication of the idea of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, it is its essence itself. It follows from Marxist theory, from the way this theory conceives the evolution of societies. Let’s remind ourselves how it goes.

By definition, political power is in every period in the hands of the economically dominant class. The bourgeoisie, after it replaced feudal powers in the economy, also replaced them politically, at least in the most advanced countries in Europe and America. Since then the entire political activity of the bourgeois class aims to safeguard its interests and strengthen its domination. But then during the economic development, proletariat takes the place of the bourgeoisie as the class most apt to develop productive forces; therefore, political power must also be its. The new state, the proletarian state, will then only be preoccupied with the interests of that class, which becomes the dominant class. That is the dictatorship of the proletariat. A natural objection appears: a dominant class supposes a dominated class; however, economic exploitation being abolished by the crowning of the most exploited class, the existence of classes itself becomes impossible. This contradiction is resolved thanks to the Marxist concept of how a transformation towards socialism can be operated. It starts with the socialist party seizing power; what can the socialist government do then?

Marxist literature is not plentiful when it comes to projections into the future: social-democrats have too much of a phobia of utopia for these. But the few things we know about it are enough to let us know that socialism will have to be realised gradually, over a whole historical period. During this period, classes will not have ceased to exist, and capitalist exploitation will not have ended: it will only have been softened, attenuated in favour of the proletariat. It is now the class which is protected by the state, while the situation for the bourgeoisie is made harder and harder. This is how, at the dawn of Marxism, Marx, in the Communist manifesto, listed the gradual measures that the socialist government should adopt: (…)

Putting this programme into effect will be done peacefully or violently, according to the circumstances, and, in any case, thanks to a strong political power. As it defines political power as “the organised power of a class towards the oppression of another”, Marxism therefore envisions, as an ultimate goal, a society which is only a “human association”, without power. It is a path to anarchy cutting through its opposite: an all-powerful state.

50 years later, Kautzky2, in the “Social Revolution”, claims that “the conquest of political power by a class oppressed until then, that is, a political revolution, constitutes the essential aspect of the social revolution.”; he then indicates as series of legislative measures aimed at operating gradually, with or without compensation, the “expropriation of expropriators”: progressive taxes on income and property, anti-unemployment measures, nationalisation of transport and of large estates, etc. What is the possible regime of this “dictatorship of the proletariat”? A stronger state than ever, since it holds in its hands the entire economy of the country; it is master of food distribution and can literally take away bread from any citizen any time it wants. As a way to stifle any opposition, it is very efficient. Workers are employees of this state; it is by the state that they must have their rights recognized. The fight against this gigantic boss becomes very difficult; strikes become political crimes. Maybe some workers’ control can be put in place, but it will only work insofar as the boss-state accepts it. It is possible that workers enjoy, in exchange, other advantages, political ones, such as exclusive voting rights, for example, or privileges in product distribution. But, if we think about it, these advantages are hardly progress, since they bring in their social life no justice, and only serve to feed some hatreds. Instead of abolishing the bourgeoisie as a class and placing each bourgeois in a situation where they could work usefully, they are allowed (be it ‘temporarily’) to live off of others’ work, but they are punished for it by taking away some things they have a right to as human beings.

The bourgeoisie must be put in a situation where they are unable to hurt anyone; it must be deprived of its armed forces and everything which constitutes its economic domination. Repressive measures against individual bourgeois are unnecessary vengeance. It is also a slippery slope: you believe you are doing revolutionary work, while you’re not bringing anything to building a new life. More than that: this civil war against the interior enemy, as an evil which had been removed, leaving the root, makes the prestige of the military grow, of the military group leaders of any kind who are fighting on any side. The fight become solely an issue of military force. Very naturally, the building of tomorrow’s society is pushed back to quieter days. But the moment is gone, the people are tired and the danger of the reaction grows…

That is why, to the method of decrees, we oppose, in order to make socialism a reality, a different method.

The opposition between these two views dates back once again from the International, from the battle between Marx and Bakunin. It is Bakunin who, first, proclaimed in his “Policy of the International” that real socialism differs from “bourgeois socialism” since the first claims that the revolution must be “a direct and immediate application of full social liquidation”, while the latter claims that “political transformation most precede economic transformation”. The faction which followed the tradition of the federalist International – our faction – developed and detailed in the following years this idea of direct economic revolution. In Le Révolté first, then in La Révolte, Kropotkin showed through historical examples that human progress is achieved through the spontaneous action of the people and not through the action of the state; at the same time, he developed a programme for a free communism, since the principle of “to each according to their needs” was alone compatible with a society managing itself without a state. He also showed that the economic revolution cannot be realised little by little and partially, that this only leads to disorganising the economy without allowing it to be rebuilt on a new basis; that communist distribution must be, in the interest of the revolution, started straight after victory. He opposed the “conquest of bread” to the “conquest of power” and showed the necessity, for socialists, to find new ways outside of the old forms.

The whole anarchist movement was inspired by these fundamental ideas. Their field of action mostly spread from the moment when the workers’ movement in France, which had slowed down after the fall of the Commune, started getting a revolutionary spirit. Under the influence of F. Pelloutier first, then of many anarchists who had joined unions, this great revolutionary syndicalist movement was born which, in the early 20th century, carried within it all the hopes of workers’ emancipation. Syndicalism appropriated the idea of immediately taking control of production, and it developed it: the organs which are called to implement it already exist: the trade unions. The general strike, prelude to expropriation, became the final goal of the CGT. Let’s remind ourselves that its preparation seemed at some point such an important and urgent task that La Voix du Peuple opened (around 1902, if I am not mistaken) a column in which unions were invited to write what each one would do after the victory in order to ensure continuous production in their domain, how they would link up with other unions and consumers etc. This initiative, which didn’t get enough feedback, was of great importance; it would be even more important to pick it up again now that we are closer to practical achievements.

That was, from that time until the war, the fundamental character of revolutionary syndicalism. From France, it reached other countries, other workers’ movements. Anarcho-syndicalist ideas reached to the writings of sociologists, lawyers, economists; scientists outside the workers’ movement started to realise that the renewal of economic life based on a free association of producers was maybe not simply a utopia, that it could be the way to overthrow capitalism and inaugurate a new form of political existence, without the state.

The war put an end to this evolution, and changed the course of events. The state was suddenly strengthened, its reach extended; workers’ organisations, on the other hand, were slowed in their action or directed it, because of practical difficulties, towards more immediate achievements. The reformist element became most important.

The revolutionary spirit reappeared throughout the world with the Russian revolution, but under a different form: the form of statist socialism.

The time has not yet come to draw definitive conclusions from the experiment attempted in Russia; there are many things we don’t know and it would be hard to evaluate the role of different factors in successes and failures. But we can say this: what we do know cannot change our fundamental ideas. We do not intend to develop here all the arguments which make us think that the government apparatus is inapt to realise a social revolution, which can only be done by workers’ groups, once they have become producers’ groups. This demonstration has often been made in our literature. However, we deem it useful to repeat their general conclusions.

We believe, as we have always believed, that peasants’ and workers’ organisations taking control of the land and means of production and managing economic life is more likely to ensure the material well-being of society than decrees from the government.

We believe that this mode of transformation is better equipped to disarm conflicts and avoid civil war (because it allows for more freedom and more variety in forms of organisation) than introducing by authority one reform across the board.

We believe that the direct participation of the people in building the new economic forms makes the victories of the revolution more stable and ensures better their defence.

We believe, finally, that this allows us to prepare, on top of economic and political victories, a higher stage of civilisation, both intellectually and morally.

French workers’ communities have inherited enough ideas and experience of struggles to follow the path which leads more directly to complete emancipation. To proclaim the fall of capitalism and the reign of socialism is a great thing, and for that we can thank the Russian socialist government. But we also wish for socialism to be put in practice, for a new era for humankind to dawn and for no weapon to be offered the reaction by the socialists’ faults. For that, we who work on French soil, we must use effectively the time we have to study what workers’ organisations can and should do directly after the revolution.

We consider as something of the greatest importance to have the most serious and most complete discussion possible about the issues of the economy once the workers have conquered it. This is not a debate, or propaganda, but a study. We can no longer just say that something is desirable, nor even try to prove it: we must show practical measures which can be immediately put into practice with the means we have at our disposal.

This is the task we call for our comrades to accomplish.

Part 3: Some milestones in economy

The forms which production and distribution will take are at the front of all our visions of the future: on them will depend the entire character of the society which replaces the capitalist regime. The question is not new, but the answer becomes urgent; also, the experience of the Russian revolution gives us precious information confirming or contradicting concepts formulated previously in a purely theoretical fashion.

To resolve these issues concretely, that is, to organise an economic organisation plan for “the day after”, to indicate the frameworks and the institutions which must be created to put it into practise, is a task which goes way beyond the abilities not only of the author of this article, but in general of such a publication as Les Temps Nouveaux. It is the work of specialists: workers, technicians of all trades, directly preoccupied by production; only their professional organisations and groups can discuss what measures to take, now and in the future, intelligently. But any socialist, any group of propagandists can and should establish for themselves and their comrades a general view, to think about the experience happening in front of their eyes, and to draw some general lines along which they would want to see the more competent thoughts of specialists work. Such considerations make up this article.

Among current ideas on the mode of production and organisation of a socialist society, nationalisation is the most common and accessible. The society’s take-over of the means of production is conceived in the programmes of all the state socialist parties as the state taking over, since society is, by definition, represented by the state. Whatever forms the state takes, be it parliamentarian, soviet, or other: it is always the organisation holding political power which is also the owner of natural resources, means of production and organs of product distribution.

We can see how much the state is strengthened. As well as political power, it holds every source of life. The dependence of its subjects reaches its maximum. The boss-state is a very authoritarian boss, as they all are. He wants to be master in his own business and does not tolerate workers’ meddling if he can avoid it. Where the economy is concerned, the state does not even want to be a constitutional monarch: it always tends to be an autocrat. Jaurès’s3 idea: gradual democratisation, through the state, of the economy, comparable to the political democratisation operated in the past, appears to be only a utopia now more than ever. Under capitalism, state employees and workers are the most dependent of all, and at the other end of the spectrum of social organisation, in the bolsheviks’ collectivist regime, it is still the case: workers gradually lose both their rights of control and their factory committees, even their best means of struggle: their right to strike. And, on top of all that, they are submitted to mobilisation at work, to workers’ “armies” ruled with military discipline. And this is a fatal flaw: no power restricts itself if nothing forces it to, and when people in power follow an idea, when they are convinced it can only be realised through coercion, they will behave even more unflinchingly, even more absolutely in their right to dispose of the citizens’ lives.

It is generally through the need to increase production that suppressing all workers’ individual and collective rights is justified. This is how the bolshevik power explains the compulsory work armies. However, outside any judgement on principle, the issue of the expediture, in labour and in money, demanded by a large bureaucracy – a necessary condition for the extension of state power – shows that this calculation is misguided. In Russia, bureaucratic management of the factories absorbs most of their revenue, not counting the number of people it keeps away from useful work. And the results they wished for is far from being obtained. The boss-state is ill equipped to fight this decrease in productivity in labour which necessarily follows great catastrophes such as war, starvation, lack of resources, etc. Also, the socialist government of the bolsheviks has not found any other solutions to fight these problems than well-known measures, which have long been fought by socialists and workers of all countries: piecework, bonus pay system, Taylorism, etc. This is how across the board, hourly wages become piecework, 12-hour days replace 8-hour days, the age of compulsory work has decreased from 16 to 14. And, lastly, this mobilisation of labour (a measure which, a few years ago, we would have thought any socialist party incapable of) which reminds us of the time of serfdom.

If socialists, who certainly do not aim to degrade workers and only take such measures with a heavy heart, find themselves forced to go so far against all their ideas, it is because in their field of action, which is exclusively framed by the state and can only use the state, there are no other solutions. And yet here is a fact, a small fact in itself, but meaningful. During the harsh struggle led by the soviet government against disorder in the industry, only one measure was taken which was efficient. It was voluntary work on Saturdays.

“The Communist Party made it compulsory for its members to join the Saturday voluntary work scheme… Every Saturday, in different regions of the Soviet republic, barks and carriages of fuel are unloaded, rail tracks repaired, wheat, fuel and other commodities destined to the people and to the front are loaded, carriages and locomotives are repaired, etc. Slowly the great mass of workers starts to join the “Saturday workers”, to help the Soviet government, to contribute through voluntary work to fight the cold, hunger and general economic disorder.”4 From other sources we learnt that productivity in voluntary work far exceeds the productivity of paid work in factories. There is no need to point out how instructive this example is. Among all the measures by which workers where either attracted by high wages, according to the principles of classic capitalism, or submitted to military discipline, only one proved efficient: the call for free and conscious work of people who know they are doing something useful. This is a striking example of the truth that the most “utopian” solutions are also the most practical, and that if we want to obtain “results” nowadays, the surest way is still to start from the final goal.

But these considerations proceed from a state of mind foreign to the idea of the state and of compulsory work in its service.

Here is another formula, at first sight more attractive. It is the companies being taken over by their workers or their corresponding industrial organisations. It is the system which, in France, is expressed by the phrase “the mine to the miners”. During the first year of the Russian revolution, before even the bolsheviks gained power, there were a number of examples of this take-over of factories by workers. It was easy, since the bosses, at that time, wanted nothing better than leave their companies. Later, bolsheviks introduced “workers’ control” in every factory, but this control was only a half measure without practical effect: where the workers were weak and badly organised, it didn’t have any effect; where they were conscious of their rights, they claimed – very logically – that they had no need to leave them to their former owners. And they took them over, claiming them as property of the people working there. But it was still the ownership of a group of people replacing the ownership of a single bourgeois person. This could lead, at most, to a cooperative of production. The collective owner was only preoccupied – like the bourgeois owner used to be – about their own interests; like the other, they tried to get orders from the state, etc. Selfishness and greed, although they were now shared among a group, were still no less strong.

Another consideration, a practical one this time, makes impossible the extension of such a system to the entire society. There are some companies which make a lot of profit: those which produce widely consumed goods, or transport companies; the workers there who become owners are, in this sense, privileged. But there are many others which make no profit at all, although they demand continuous spending: schools, hospitals, road repairs, street cleaning, etc. What would be the situation of people employed in those branches? What would they live off if those companies became their property? What means would they use to keep them working and who would pay their wages? Obviously, the principle of workers’ ownership must be modified for them. We can imagine, it’s true, that consumers would pay; but this would be a step back instead of progress, since one of the best results of economic development is the fact that some conquests of civilisation are free: hospitals, schools, bridges, water pipes, wells, and a few other things. Making them a paid-for service would be adding a few new privileges to the owners and taking away from the non-owners ways to fulfil most essential needs.

All the considerations – and a few others – make such a system not very desirable. In the Russian practice – to which we must always look as the only socialist experiment made at present – the disadvantages of this system, introduced from the start of the bolshevik era, pushed the soviet government to adopt, as the only solution, nationalisation.

A third way should have been sought, by going along a very different path; but bolsheviks were too infused with social-democratic and statist ideas for that, which only pointed to the well-known system of nationalisation. And this is what they chose.

Let’s try, for our part, to look for this third way: a regime which would give the workers the management of economic life, but without the disadvantages of industrial ownership. And, first of all, let’s get back to our fundamental principle: our communism, real communism and not this 1848 communism, already outdated, which bolsheviks recently rediscovered and which they adopted as a name for their party to dispose of the name “social-democrat”, which was too dishonoured by compromises. Let’s try, in the light of this principle, to examine a bit more clearly the issues at hand.

If we do not recognise the nationalisation in the hands of the state nor the formula “the mine to the miners”, what form can this take-over of the means of production by the workers’ organisations (unions, soviets, factory committees or others) take?

First of all, the means of production cannot become the property of these organisations: they must only have the use of them. The wind or the water which make the blades or the wheel of a mill turn are no-one’s property; they are only used for work. In the same way, land must be no-one’s property; the people who cultivate it use it, but it belongs to the collectivity, that is, no-one in particular. In the same way, work instruments built by human hands: they are common property, or collective wealth, used by those who use them at some given time. How, this being accepted, can we envision first the organisation of production, then the organisation of distribution?

Obviously, only the sum of concerned industrial organisations can manage a branch of production; these professional organisations will group indiscriminately the workers themselves and more knowledgeable specialists – engineers, scientists, etc. Each branch of production is closely linked on the one hand with the branches which give it raw materials, and on the other with the organisations or the public who consume its products. And, since, in these relationships, the most important role is to know the needs and possibilities, there must be some groups, committees who will concentrate the necessary statistical teachings. Their role must be strictly limited to that of purveyors of statistical data; the use which will then be made of this data does not concern them. They cannot emit any decree; the decisions belong solely to the professional organisations. The advice of these statistical committees is no more coercive than the information given by an architect, the advice of a dietician, a teacher, etc. As for the different branches of production, the modes of organisation can be very varied depending on the technical peculiarities of each one: some can admit a complete autonomy of particular groups, others can demand a perfectly coordinated action of all. All that is desired is that there is, in each speciality, not just one central organisation managing everything, but a large number of specialised organisations, with clearly delimited tasks. We cannot, obviously, predict the different modalities that this organisation of work might offer. Adapting it to current needs might not be an exceedingly difficult task.

But there are more difficult questions, which demand continuous innovation, since nothing similar has ever been attempted. Who would be the owner of these means of production, which will be managed by the workers’ organisations, and of the objects produced, that is, of all collective wealth? If it is neither the state nor the industrial branches, then who? What does the sentence “the means of production belong to the collectivity” represent concretely? Who will represent this collectivity? Who will dispose of the products and on what ground? Who will gain profit from their sale? Who will pay wages?

This is when we must have our communist idea in mind, our great principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”, and draw all the conclusions from it.

“Who will dispose of the produce of labour?” These products must constitute collective wealth offered for everyone to consume, if they are immediately consumable goods, or offered for the workers’ organisation to use (if they are raw materials or tools). Individuals or organisations will draw from these stocks as they need them, and, in case of insufficient quantities, after an agreement with other consumers and interested organisations. No-one truly owns these products, except the workers in distribution who will try to satisfy orders.

In the same way, the question “who would get the profit from the sale?” is answered. There will be no profit, because there would be no sale, because products are not commodities, but only consumable goods, equally accessible to all. Communism does not recognise the distinction between consumable goods – private property – and the means of production – collective property. It doesn’t even recognise between those any difference in nature; coal, for example, which is it? It is an indispensable element in production, and it also is one of the most needed objects of individual consumption. The aim in communism is to make everything free. Everyone will recognize that housing, food, necessary clothes, heating, etc. must be available to all in the same way as medical care or street lighting, which are even offered in capitalist society. Any human being is entitled to these first necessity objects by the mere fact of their existence, and no-one can deprive them of those. The individual part in social consumption can be determined by many individual and social factors: first, by the needs of each person for everything that is abundant; alas! in modern Europe, instead of an abundance of products, there are shortages, and this will have to be noted. A necessary minimum (calculated as much as possible on average consumption in normal times) will have to be established and rationing put in place, of a common accord. Rations can and must be different according to categories of people. These categories should be based in the difference in needs; age would have to be taken into account, as well as health, endurance, etc. Many considerations will have to be envisioned, also, in the distribution of products: the needs of the community, the need to make reserves for the future and to keep some for exchanges with other communities, etc. There is only one factor we refuse to take into account in these calculations: it is the amount of work expended by each individual.

We can hear some protests. The spectacle of today’s society, where those who produce less consume more, revolts our sense of justice and makes us say first of all: everything to labour and to each proportionally to the work done.

But, despite this natural tendency, we think that it is not along this principle – as legitimate as it appears compared to the obvious injustice of our time – that must be founded the future society. Vengeance exercised by the people against their oppressors at the time of the revolution is fair, too, but it is not on this vengeance that the reign of the people can be based after the victory, but on human solidarity. The same goes for issues of distribution. And let no-one tell us that we first need to repress the bourgeoisie and that the victory of the working class must first lead to a mode of distribution which puts labour in the place it deserves. The class struggle ends with the workers’ victory and the distinction between workers and parasites no longer exists. The possibility of free work in a free society is given to all, and the number of people who refuse it will be so small that it will not be sufficient to create a new class of parasites under the form of a large caste of bureaucrats, and in the next generation the traces of the old parasitism will have disappeared.

To give to each proportionally to their work is, if you wish, a fair principle; but it is a lower type of justice, like the idea of rewarding merit or punishing vice. We won’t go into details about all the philosophical reasons which make us reject this. What would we be adding to the arguments which P. Kropotkin gave when he laid the foundation of anarchist communism? Let’s just say that – for the comrades you wouldn’t know this – at the other end of socialist thought, Marx accepted the same views when he said that only when retribution for work will have been replaced by distribution according to everyone’s needs “can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety”5. We precisely want to go beyond bourgeois rights and bourgeois-inspired justice. Every one is entitled to their existence simply in virtue of being human. Then, and also because they are human, a living being living in a society, they will apply themselves to do their share of work for the common good. This is the only possible guarantee against a new form of exploitation and endless conflicts.

We reject therefore the idea itself of a wage; we dissociate the two issues of production and of consumption, leaving between them only the link which results from the fact that the total quantity of produced goods must be indexed on the consumption needs. This is the only order of things compatible with a regime in which workers’ organisations manage production without being the owners of the means of production. It is also the only one compatible with a free society, freed from the coercive power of a state.

We do not hope, obviously, that, as soon as the next day after the revolution, everything will fall into place nicely without conflict, without a mixture of bourgeois elements from the past. We know that it is very unlikely that this communism, complete and pure, could be realised in one fell swoop. But we also know that it is to the extent that the builders of the future will be inspired by it that their work will be fruitful. That is why it appears so important, so infinitely desirable, that this is the spirit in which the milestones of the future are laid.

On the Manifesto of the 16, Marie Isidine

On the Manifesto of the Sixteen
Marie Isidine
Plus Loin

To the series of considerations on this subject from comrades in the columns of Plus Loin, I would like to add a few words. For several years now this disagreement endured in the anarchist milieu, and neither time, nor events seem to teach anything to either side. Every time we broach the issue, angers flare up again with renewed strength. And yet, wasn’t the importance of this disagreement exaggerated? Do we not amplify it through some kind of self-suggestion, through the habit of arguments, always the same? Let’s remind ourselves of how many of those who later called the signatories of the “Manifesto of the Sixteen” renegades were, in the first days of the war, staunch supporters of resistance against the German army marching on Paris. Let’s recall also that when, in 1912, during the Balkan war, Les Temps Nouveaux published articles by Kropotkin and Tcherkesoff expressing broadly similar opinions to those which were later to raise so much outrage, no one thought of crying treason. It is obvious that it is only much later, and progressively, that the divergence of opinions grew to gigantic proportions in the eyes of comrades.

Can we claim that the outcome of any war – civil wars excepted – is indifferent to us? There are wars the outcomes of which decides the political or national independence of peoples; there are wars in which the victory of an adversary can bring about a strong general reactionary movement. Lastly, here is a very clear example nearer to us: suppose that a power or a coalition of powers now declare war on Russia. Whatever our opinion on the current internal regime of Russia, the Russian revolution, in itself, is of such value that a danger which threatens its conquests cannot leave us indifferent. However, it cannot be contested that such a war would oppose the old world to the beginnings of a new life, although under the form of a conflict between two states and two armies.

Our attitude towards a war therefore varies according to circumstances; we can discuss whether such and such a fighting side is worth defending, if such and such an outcome would be a step forward or backward for humankind, but we must not turn an issue of appreciation or prediction of events into an issue of principle of first importance.

There is yet another aspect of the issue which seems to have been overlooked until now. Yes, there is indubitably a contradiction in the attitude of anarchists who, during the great war, sided with one of the opponents. We should not close our eyes on this. We cannot deny that taking part in a war is a violation of pacifist and anti-militarist principles, that the fact of joining an army and to submit to discipline is an important concession. But isn’t this lack of logic inherent to life itself? Could anarchists escape this contradiction? And didn’t those who held the opposite view fall into as obvious a contradiction, although in the opposite direction? Actually, no one could escape it, since, if taking part in the war violates pacifist and anti-militarist principles, non-resistance to invading armies constitutes at least as great a violation of the principle of resistance to oppression, and at least as great an abandonment of the spirit of revolt. These conflicts are the work of life itself. The most serious one is the one which is faced by the conscience of each revolutionary: on the one hand, the principle of the inviolability of human beings; on the other, the right to insurrection and revolutionary struggle in the name of the emancipation of these same human beings. We must choose, just as we had to choose at the time of the war. And even abstention, inaction are no solution: non-resistance to evil is always, in reality, a service to the stronger side. In one way or another, anarchists were forced to throw their opinion onto the scales. And which one of the two conflicting principles is more general, deeper, more precious: the pacifist and anti-militarist principle or the principle of resistance to oppression? Indubitably, the latter. Anti-militarism is only one particular form of opposition to the state, like war is only one particular manifestation of the capitalist and hierarchical organisation of society. On the contrary, the idea of resistance, of a struggle against a strong power, of the defence of rights and liberties of every social group, of the struggle against reaction in all its forms, is the fundamental idea of the anarchist movement; but it is not under this abnormal aspect that we must picture them in a serious discussion.

Nowadays, actually, it seems that the issue has slightly changed: we mainly focus on the considerations on the results of the war, we discuss on the issue of knowing whether the reaction has grown stronger or weaker, on what things would look like if Germany had won, etc. The current reaction supports the thesis of the opponents to the participation in the war, that is a fact; but if events had gone differently, the reaction which would have followed the victory of Germany would have also supported the opposite view and would therefore have changed the opinion of the anarchist milieu.

In the conditions, the issue loses its importance: it is no longer a matter of the anarchist principles of the authors of the Manifesto, but of their political perspicacity: were they wrong when they thought the game was worth it? But can the question asked this way preserve the importance that we gave it and prevent comrades to work together when they are only kept apart by a different appreciation of the political situation at a given time?