Anarchism Anarchist Revolution

Anarchism, Revolution

But how is the beautiful dream to be realized? The way thither, from the miserable wilderness wherein we now dwell to the Promised Land of which they have given us a glimpse, lies through Revolution —so the anarchist tells us.

A theory of revolution forms a necessary part of the anarchist doc­trine. In the mind of the public it is too often thought to be the only message which the anarchists have to give. We must content ourselves with a very brief reference to it, for the non-economic ideas of anarchism have already detained us sufficiently long.

Proudhon is soon out of the running. We have already had occasion to refer to his disapproval of violence and revolution. It seemed to him that the anarchic ideal was for ever impossible apart from a change of heart and a reawakening of conscience. But his successors were somewhat less patient. To their minds revolution seemed an unavoidable necessity from which escape was impossible. Even if we could imagine all the privileged individuals of to-day agreeing among themselves on the night of some fourth of August to yield up every privilege which they possess and to enter the ranks of the proletariat of their own free will, such a deed would hardly be desirable. The people, says Reclus, with their usual generosity, would simply let them do as they liked, but would say to their former masters, "Keep your privileges."

It is not because justice should not be done, but things ought to find a natural equilibrium. The oppressed should rise in their own strength, the despoiled seize their own again, and the slaves regain their own liberty. Such things can only really be attained as the result of a bitter struggle.

It is not that Bakunin, Kropotkin, or their disciples revel in blood­shed or welcome outbreaks of violence. Bloodshed, although inevitably and inseparably connected with revolution, is none the less regrettable, and should always be confined within the narrowest limits.

Bloody revolutions are occasionally necessary because of the crass stupidity of mankind; but they are always an evil, an immense evil, and a great misfortune; not only because of their victims, but also because of the pure and perfect character of the aims in view of which they are carried out.

"The question," says Kropotkin, "is not how to avoid revolutions, but how to secure the best results by checking civil war as far as pos­sible, by reducing the number of victims, and by restraining the more dangerous passions." To do this we must rely upon people's instincts, who, far from being sanguinary, "are really too kind at heart not to be very soon disgusted with cruelty." The attack must be directed not against men but against their position, and the aim must be not individuals but their status. Hence Bakunin lays great stress upon setting fire to the national archives, and to papers of all kinds relating to title in property, upon the immediate suppression of all law courts and police, upon the disbanding of the army, and the instant confisca­tion of all instruments of production—factories, mines, etc. Kropotkin in the Conquest of Bread gives us a picture of an insurgent commune laying hold of houses and occupying them, seizing drapers' establish­ments and taking whatever they need, confiscating the land, cultivating it, and distributing its products. If revolutionists only proceeded in this fashion, never respecting the rights of property at all (which was the great mistake made by the Commune in its dealing with the Bank of France during the rising of 1871), the revolution would soon be over and society would speedily reorganize itself on a new and indes­tructible basis and with a minimum of bloodshed.

But the tone is not always equally pacific. Bakunin during at least one period of his life preached a savage and merciless revolution against privilege of every kind. At that time, indeed, he might j'ustly have passed as the inventor of the active propaganda which, strenuously pursued for many years by a few exasperated fanatics, had the effect of rousing public opinion everywhere against anarchism. "We under­stand revolution," some one has remarked, "in the sense of an upheaval of what we call the worst passions, and we can imagine its resulting in the destruction of what we to-day term public order." "Brigandage," it is remarked elsewhere, "is an honourable method of political propa­ganda in Russia, where the brigand is a hero, a defender and saviour of the people." In a kind of proclamation entitled The Principles of Revolution, which, as some writers point out, ought not to be attributed to Bakunin, but which at any rate appears to give a fair representation of his ideas at this period of his life, we meet with the following words: "The present generation should blindly and indiscriminately destroy all that at present exists, with this single thought in mind—to destroy as much and as quickly as possible." The means advocated are of a most varied description: "Poison, the dagger, and the sword . . . revolution makes them all equally sacred. The whole field is free for action." Bakunin had always shown a good deal of sympathy for the role of the conspirator. In the Statutes of the International Brotherhood, which prescribed the rules of conduct for a kind of revolutionary asso­ciation created by Bakunin in 1864, are some passages advocating violence which are as bloodcurdling as anything contained in Netchaieff's famous Revolutionary Catechism. It is difficult to find lines more full of violent revolutionary exasperation than that passage of the Statutes of the International Socialist Alliance which forms the real programme of the anarchists. Since it also seems to us to give a fairly faithful expression of Bakunin's thoughts on the matter, it will afford a fitting close to our exposition.

We want a universal revolution that will shake the social and political, the economic and philosophical basis of society, so that of the present order, which is founded upon property, exploitation, dominion, and authority, and supported either by religion or philo­sophy, by bourgeois economics or by revolutionary Jacobinism, there may not be left, either in Europe or anywhere else, a single stone standing. The workers' prayer for peace we would answer by demanding the freedom of all the oppressed and the death of every one who lords it over them, exploiters and guardians of every kind. Every State and every Church would be destroyed, together with all their various institutions, their religious, political, judicial, and financial regulations; the police system, all university regulations, all social and economic rules whatsoever, so that the millions of poor human beings who are now being cheated and gagged, tormented and exploited, delivered from the cruellest of official directors and officious curates, from all collective and individual tyranny, would for once be able to breathe freely.

A discussion of anarchist doctrine lies beyond our province. More­over, such sweeping generalizations disarm all criticism. Their theories are too often the outbursts of passionate feeling and scarcely need re­futing. Let us, then, try to discover the kind of influence they have had.

We are not going to speak of the criminal outrages which unfor­tunately have resulted from their teaching. Untutored minds already exasperated by want found themselves incapable of resisting the tempta­tions to violence in face of such doctrines. Such deeds, or active propa­ganda as they call it, can have no manner of justification, but find an explanation in the extreme fanaticism of the authors. It is not very easy to attribute such violence to a social doctrine which, according to the circumstances, may on the one hand be considered as the philosophy of outrage and violence, and on the other as an ideal expression of human fraternity and individual progress.

The influence of which we would speak is the influence which anarchy has had upon the working classes in general. Undoubtedly it has led to a revival of individualism and has begotten a reaction against the centralizing socialism of Marx. Its success has been especially great among the Latin nations and in Austria, where it seemed for a time as if it would supplant socialism altogether. Very marked progress has also been made in France, Italy, and Spain. Is it because individuality is stronger in those countries than elsewhere? We think not. The fact is that wherever liberty has only recently been achieved, order and discipline, even when freely accepted, seem little better than intolerable signs of slavery.

An anarchist party came into being between 1880 and 1895. But since 1895 it seems to have declined. This does not mean that the influence of anarchism has been on the wane, but simply that it has changed its character. In France especially many of the older anarchists joined the Trade Union movement, and occasionally managed to get the control of affairs into their own hands, and under their influence the trade unions tried to get rid of the socialist yoke. The Confederation generale du Travail took as its motto two words that are always coupled together in anarchist literature, namely, ' Welfare and liberty.' It also advocated 'direct action'—that is, action which is of a definitely revolutionary character and in defiance of public order. Finally, it betrayed the same impatience with merely political action, and would have the workers concentrate upon the economic struggle. Since the First World War the anarchist movement has practically disappeared.

The prophets of revolutionary syndicalism deny any alliance with anarchy. But, despite their protests, it would be a comparatively easy matter to point to numerous analogies in the writings of Bakunin and Kropotkin. Moreover, they admit that Proudhon, as well as Marx, has contributed something to the syndicalist doctrine; and we have already noted the intimate connexion which exists between Proudhon and the anarchists.

The first resemblance consists in their advocacy of violence as a method of regenerating and purifying social life. "It is to violence," writes M. Sorel, "that socialism owes those great moral victories that have brought salvation to the modern world." The anarchists in a similar fashion liken revolution to the storm that clears the threatening sky of summer, making the air once more pure and calm. Kropotkin longs for a revolution because it would not merely renew the economic order, but would also "stir up society both morally and intellectually, shake it out of its lethargy, and revive its morals. The vile and narrow passion of the moment would be swept aside by the strong breath of a nobler passion, a greater enthusiasm, and a more generous devotion."

In the second place, moral considerations, which find no place in the social philosophy of Marx, are duly recognized by Sorel and by the anarchist authors. Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Proudhon especially demand a due respect for human worth as the condition of every man's liberty. They also proclaim the sovereignty of reason as the only power that can make men really free. M. Sorel, after showing how the new school may be easily distinguished from official socialism by the greater stress which it lays upon the perfection of morals, proceeds to add that on this point he is entirely at one with the anarchists.

Finally, their social and political ideals are the same. In both cases the demand is for the abolition of personal property and the extinction of the State. "The syndicalist hates the State just as much as the anarchist. He sees in the State nothing but an unproductive parasite borne upon the shoulder of the producer and living upon his sub­stance." And Sorel regards socialism as a tool in the hands of the workers which will some day enable them to get rid of the State and abolish the rights of private property. "Free producers working in a factory where there will be no masters"—such is the ideal of syndical­ism, according to Sorel. There is also the same hostility shown towards democracy as at present constituted and its alliance with the State.
But despite many resemblances the two conceptions are really quite distinct. The hope of anarchy is that spontaneous action and universal liberty will somehow regenerate society. Syndicalism builds its faith upon a particular institution, the trade union, which it regards as the most effective instrument of class war. On this basis there would be set up an ideal society of producers founded upon labour, from which intellectualism would be banished. Anarchy, on the other hand, con­tents itself with a vision of a kind of natural society, which the syn­dicalist thinks both illusory and dangerous.

It has not been altogether useless, perhaps, to note the striking analogy that exists between these two currents of thought which have had such a profound influence upon the working-class movement during this century, and which have resulted in a remarkable revival of individualism.