Should Anarchists… Organize?


Fernand Pelloutier seems to be the first one who to have said, “Anarchy boils down to the individual recourse to dynamite.”  I assume it was meant then as it is understood now… as a joke derogatory toward Anarchists (who by the way have suffered terrible press over the last 150 years– not fully undeserved, of course).

But the joke brings up a good point.  If the main theme running through all the different strands of Anarchism is a rejection of Authority– can the adherents to Anarchism ever organize?  Can they ever discipline themselves enough to become a real and lasting alternative to the institutions of Authority and Property against which they declaim (and sometimes actually fight)?

Judging by history… Nuh-uh.  Nope.  At the end of the day, the Anarchist becomes the punchline to his own sad joke.  It is the Anarchistic catch-22… How can a movement which detests hierarchy and structure ever organize enough to fight back?  Sure, a couple of times, in Catalonia and in Paris, Anarchists clamored to power for a short time, but these were both times of great destabilization in the surrounding political system.  As soon as any semblance of power returns, it blows over a collectivized town or commune as easily as a puff of wind pushes a leaf down a sidewalk.

Voline, writing in The Unknown Revolution, stated that the point between grass-roots stirrings and actual government-overthrow marks a vital inflection point in outlook which the revolution must navigate almost instantaneously…  “Immediately following the spontaneous eruption, the organizing principle has to intervene in a revolution.”

Without post-Revolution organization, Reactionaries will begin launching counter-attacks which will easily knock from the crib the infant Revolution.  During and immediately after a Revolution, warned Malatesta, will come “the uneasiness descending upon the masses, and the inevitable disappointment that comes in the wake of the unduly high hopes, and probably errors and failings of men.”  At this important time, Counter-Revolutionaries will “manage to found a power which, sustained by an army of conscripts or mercenaries, lays down the law and halts the movement in its tracks.”  Revolutionaries must organize themselves to face this fierce and inevitable backlash.

Anarchists themselves have been split on whether they should organize into political parties or labor unions or any other such groups.  As with any group, there are the purists who would never sacrifice principle for actual efficacy– and at the other end of the spectrum are those willing to condone movement astray from cherished ideals– telling themselves (as it is rumored the Clintons did) that they can at least get SOMETHING done, however ideologically impure, if they can obtain some real-world power, but they can accomplish NOTHING if they insist on purity).

I feel the most eloquent spokesman that the Anarchists had in favor of greater organization was Malatesta, whom I quoted earlier.  He pointed out that the argument over to organize or not to organize (which was actually quite heated in its day, in that way that only arguments on fine-points of doctrine between people of the same fundamental beliefs can be) was moot.  Everybody was, to different levels, already organizing.   “Organizers or anti-organizers… they are all organizing,” he said, going on to make the brilliant point that if Anarchists did not organize, they would BE organized– by the victorious opposition.   Anti-organizers were afraid of losing their individual freedoms.  Yet, lack of organization, said Malatesta, certainly does not guarantee freedom, and in fact… “all the evidence indicates otherwise.”

For Malatesta, Man is a naturally social being who “cannot even become truly a man and meet his material and moral requirements other than in society and cooperation with his fellows.”  Aristotle said largely the same thing two millennia earlier.  To insist that Man not cooperate with each other is simply ludicrous.  It is in Man’s very nature to cooperate.  “Organization is only the practice of cooperation and solidarity,” argued Malatesta.

Max Stirner agreed that humans are made for community… “Man’s primitive condition is not isolation or solitary existence, but life in society.”  And don’t forget, adds Stirner (and I can see the twinkle in his eye)… our lives open with sharing our mother’s existence.  It is manifestly not healthy for a man to exist in a state of isolation.

Going farther, Stirner condones the formation of political coalitions between groups which do not even share the same values.  If, he says, a man… “may be of use to me, then of course I am going to come to an accommodation and enter into association with him, in order to bolster my power, and with the aid of our combined might, to accomplish more than either of us might in isolation.”

Other Anarchists argued vehemently against organizing, especially politically.  A political party has a platform, and a party with an established platform will be a party which will pass judgment on what is the true faith according to that platform and what is heretical.  And a party condemning heresy will need to have someone sitting in judgment of his fellows, and those judges will naturally accrue power and prestige.  With the advent of such authority, the days of freedom will, inevitably, be numbered.

Even Stirner  –who as we read, advocated forming political coalitions–  was himself fearful of political parties.  “The Party,” he said sagely, “is only a State within the State.”  He bemoaned the fact that… “the very people who clamor loudest for there to be an opposition within the State thunder against the slightest quibble inside the Party.”

Lastly, Emile Pouget believed that Anarchists must join labor unions.  He felt that unions, by the “offering of constant resistance,” served several, Anarchism-friendly purposes, including…

– forcing the “Exploiter” to actually honor the improvements in conditions once such are promised, even as the particular situation falls of the radar of hot button issues

– keeping the pressure on Exploiters to continually make even partial improvements in working conditions



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