Anarchy and Organization: The Debate at the 1907 International Anarchist Congress

Authors: Amédée Dunois, Emma Goldman, Errico Malatesta, Max Baginski
Translations by Nestor McNab are taken from Studies for a Libertarian Alternative: The International Anarchist Congress, Amsterdam, 1907, published by the Anarchist Communist Federation in Italy (Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici — FdCA); paperback edition available from AK Press.

Amédée Dunois: Anarchism and Organization

It is not long since our comrades were almost unanimous in their clear hostility towards any idea of organization. The question we are dealing with today would, then, have raised endless protests from them, and its supporters would have been vehemently accused of a hidden agenda and authoritarianism.

They were times when anarchists, isolated from each other and even more so from the working class, seemed to have lost all social feeling; in which anarchists, with their unceasing appeals for the spiritual liberation of the individual, were seen as the supreme manifestation of the old individualism of the great bourgeois theoreticians of the past.

Individual actions and individual initiative were thought to suffice for everything; and they applauded [Ibsen’s play] “An Enemy of the People” when it declared that a man alone is the most powerful of all. But they did not think of one thing: that Ibsen’s concept was never that of a revolutionary, in the sense that we give this word, but of a moralist primarily concerned with establishing a new moral elite within the very breast of the old society. Continue reading “Anarchy and Organization: The Debate at the 1907 International Anarchist Congress”

A Second Letter To Malatesta

In response to A Reply to Nestor Makhno. Published in Le Libertaire, 9 August 1930.

Dear comrade,

I waited to read a Russian translation of your letter before replying to you in turn.  In your letter you say that before getting into an argument, something I might say I had not thought to do, you would like me to set out my ideas on anarchism.  I will therefore explain these ideas and, at the same time, the causes to which I attribute the weakness of our movement.

As any anarchist, I reject authority in general, I am an adversary of all organisation based on centralism, I recognize neither the State nor its legislative apparatus, I am a convinced enemy of bourgeois democracy and parliamentarianism – considering this social form to be an obstacle to the liberation of the workers – in a word, I rise up against any regime based on the exploitation of the workers.

So, anarchism for me is a revolutionary social doctrine that must inspire the exploited and oppressed.  However, in my opinion, anarchism does not at present possess all the means it requires to carry out even one social action; hence the swamp in which we find ourselves.  And we will not be able to remedy the situation by remaining as we are now. Continue reading “A Second Letter To Malatesta”

On Collective Responsibility

Written in March/April 1930 and published in Studi Sociali, 10th July 1930. Studi sociali was an Italian-language anarchist journal based in Montevideo, Uruguay and founded by the expatriate Luigi Fabbri.

I have seen a statement by the Group of the 18e where, in agreement with the Russians’ “Platform” and with comrade Makhno, it is held that the “principle of collective responsibility” is the basis of every serious organisation.

I have already, in my criticism of the “Platform” and in my reply to the open letter directed to me by Makhno, indicated my opinion on this supposed principle. But as there is some insistence on an idea or at least an expression which would seem to me to be more at home in a military barracks than among anarchist groups, I hope I will be permitted to say another few words on the question.

The comrades of the 18e say that “communist anarchists must work in such a way that their influence has the greatest probabilities for success and that this result will not come about unless their propaganda can develop collectively, permanently and homogeneously”. I agree! But it seems that that is not the case; since those comrades complain that “in the name of the same organisation, in every corner of France, the most diverse, and even contrary theories are spreading”. That is most deplorable, but it simply means that that organisation has no clear and precise programme which is understood and accepted by all its members, and that within the party, confused by a common label, are men who do not have the same ideas and who should group together in separate organisations or remain unattached if they are unable to find others who think as they do. Continue reading “On Collective Responsibility”

A Reply to Nestor Makhno

A reply to “About the Platform”. Published in Il Risveglio (Geneva), December 1929

Dear Comrade

I have finally seen the letter you sent me more than a year ago, about my criticism of the Project for organising a General Union of anarchists, published by a group of Russian anarchists abroad and known in our movement by the name of ‘Platform’.

Knowing my situation as you do, you will certainly have understood why I did not reply.

I cannot take part as I would like in discussion of the questions which interest us most, because censorship prevents me from receiving either the publications that are considered subversive or the letters which deal with political and social topics, and only after long intervals and by fortunate chance do I hear the dying echo of what the comrades say and do.  Thus, I knew that the ‘Platform’ and my criticism of it had been widely discussed, but I knew little or nothing about what had been said; and your letter is the first written document on the subject that I have managed to see.

If we could correspond freely, I would ask you, before entering into the discussion, to clarify your views which, perhaps owing to an imperfect translation of the Russian into French, seem to me to be in part somewhat obscure.  But things being as they are, I will reply to what I have understood, and hope that I shall then be able to see your response. Continue reading “A Reply to Nestor Makhno”

A Response to Malatesta on the Platform

Unknown author’s reply to Malatesta, Delo Truda, No. 30, May 1928, pages 4-11.

The present epoch, when, by millions, workers engaged on the battlefield of social struggle, demanded direct and precise responses from the anarchists concerning this struggle and the communist construction which must follow it; it demanded of the same, the collective responsibility of the anarchists regarding these responses and anarchist propaganda in general. If they did not assume this responsibility the anarchists like anyone else in this case, do not have the right to propagandise in an inconsequent manner among the working masses, who struggled in agreeing to heavy sacrifices and lost numberless victims.

At this level, it is not a question of a game or the object of an experiment. That is how, if we do not have a General Union of Anarchists, we cannot furnish common responses on all those vital questions.

At the start of his article, comrade Malatesta appears to salute the idea of the creation of a vast anarchist organisation, however, in categorically repudiating collective responsibility, he renders impossible the realisation of such an organisation. For that will not only not be possible if there exists no theoretical and organisational agreement, constituting a common platform where numerous militants can meet. In the measure to which they accept this platform, that must be obligatory for all. Those who do not recognise these basic principles, cannot become, and besides would themselves not want to, become a member of the organisation. Continue reading “A Response to Malatesta on the Platform”

The Old and New in Anarchism: A Reply to Comrade Malatesta

Piotr Arshinov’s reply to Malatesta, Delo Truda, No. 30, May 1928, pages 4-11.

In the anarchist organ Le Reveil of Geneva, in the form of a leaflet, comrade Errico Malatesta has published a critical article on the project of the Organisational Platform edited by the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad.

This article has provoked perplexity and regret in us.  We very much expected, and we still expect, that the idea of organised anarchism would meet an obstinate resistance among the partisans of chaos, so numerous in the anarchist milieu, because that idea obliges all anarchists who participate in the movement to be responsible and poses the notions of duty and constancy.  For up to now the favourite principle in which most anarchists are educated can be explained by the following axiom: “I do what I want, I take account of nothing”.  It is very natural that anarchists of this species, impregnated by such principles, are violently hostile to all ideas of organised anarchism and of collective responsibility. Continue reading “The Old and New in Anarchism: A Reply to Comrade Malatesta”

About the “Platform”

Nestor Makhno’s reply to A Project of Anarchist Organisation, 1928

Dear Comrade Malatesta,

I have read your response to the project for an “Organisational Platform of a General Union of Anarchists”, a project published by the group of Russian anarchists abroad.

My impression is that either you have misunderstood the project for the “Platform” or your refusal to recognise collective responsibility in revolutionary action and the directional function that the anarchist forces must take up, stems from a deep conviction about anarchism that leads you to disregard that principle of responsibility.

Yet, it is a fundamental principle, which guides each one of us in our way of understanding the anarchist idea, in our determination that it should penetrate to the masses, in its spirit of sacrifice.  It is thanks to this that a man can choose the revolutionary way and ignore others.  Without it no revolutionary could have the necessary strength or will or intelligence to bear the spectacle of social misery, and even less fight against it.  It is through the inspiration of collective responsibility that the revolutionaries of all epochs and all schools have united their forces; it is upon this that they based their hope that their partial revolts – revolts which opened the path for the oppressed – were not in vain, that the exploited would understand their aspirations, would extract from them the applications suitable for the time and would use them to find new paths toward their emancipation. Continue reading “About the “Platform””