Exchange with NEFAC Open City Anarchists

Trotskyism vs. Anarchism on the State and Revolution

Reprinted from Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard No. 811, 10 October 2003.

2 July 2003

To Workers Vanguard:

In your May 9, 2003 issue you have a discussion of our leaflet Anarchists Against the War, which was produced for the February 15 antiwar demonstrations. We are the Open City Anarchist Collective of NEFAC (Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists) in New York City. You accuse us of Pressure Politics in Militant Clothing. This is our response.

Taking your last argument first, you say that the workers movement needs to be organized and led, specifically by your type of party. NEFAC is part of the tendency within international anarchism which believes that anarchists should build an organization around a revolutionary program. This is called Platformism. We are a democratic federation of collectives. We are working to increase our unity in action on the basis of programmatic and theoretical agreement and collective responsibility of each to all. We believe that such a revolutionary organization should work inside broader, mass, organizations to fight for a working class anarchist program. Our aim, however, is not to become the new rulers but to call on workers to form mass organizations (federation of councils) to replace the state (which is what should have been done in the Spanish Revolution of the thirties). This was explained in our leaflet.

What we are against is a centralized, bureaucratic, topdown party machine, whose form prefigures a new centralized, bureaucratic, state. Following Lenin and Trotsky, your aim is to create a centralized party which will rule a centralized state which will manage a centralized economy. The result must be, and has been, monstrous state-capitalisms, economically inefficient in the extreme, which have murdered tens of millions of workers and peasants.

You seek to defend the former Soviet Union by pointing out the suffering which has fallen on its people since its collapse. That suffering is real, but why did it collapse? Was it overthrown by a US invasion or a CIA plot? No, while Western pressure was continuous, Russian state capitalism collapsed from its own, internal, weaknesses, its decades of economic stagnation and decay. It was the Stalinist state capitalism of the Soviet Union which has resulted in the present stage of mass misery. To return to that system, as you wish, would be no solution.

You charge that we are merely for pressure politics, as in our participation in the Feb. 15 antiwar demonstration. As you say, revolutionaries cannot work out a common program with nonrevolutionaries against war. But, of course, we did no such thing. After all, our only agreement with the liberal and Stalinist leadership of the demonstration was a negative one, that we were against the war, and, following this, that we were for a demonstration against the war. This is not exactly a common program against war. It was a temporary, limited, and practical de facto agreement for one day. What we did, in New York City, was to organize a Red-and-Black contingent of pro-working class anarchists which marched within the labor contingent. We put out the leaflet you cite, which denounced the Democrats and the union bureaucrats, called for revolution against capitalism and the state, explained what anarchism was, and advocated increased class struggle and unrest by the military ranks. To call this a common program with liberals is bizarre.

What did the Spartacists do which was different from what we did? According to your statement, you also organized contingents to march in the demonstrations, under your slogans. By building a part of the demonstrations (your so-called Revolutionary Internationalist Contingents) you were building the demonstration. You urged people to participate in the demonstration by joining your contingent. Whatever you were doing in your sectarian heads, in material reality (in your actual behavior) you were participating in and building the antiwar demonstrations in a de facto coalition with everyone else who was marching—while raising your own program. This was the right thing to do, and is what we did also.

We wrote, “To limit their wars, we must put pressure on these states. To end their wars, we must end all states.” You call this a “two-stage program” and fly off into never-never land by saying that this means “an appeal to the good conscience of the capitalists.” Actually it says the exact opposite: the only way to win even limited reforms is to build a militant mass movement from below which threatens the capitalists with revolution. In fact, the memory of the anti-Vietnam war movement (combined with the Vietnamese struggle) had limited the ability of the US to wage war due to what they call the Vietnam Syndrome (popular hatred of war). This was, they hope, finally eroded by September 11. Your criticism sounds like you do not think that it is possible to win even temporary and limited reforms, which of course is not what you believe.

Our leaflet said, “We hope the US is defeated in its aggression.” You agree with this and try to counterpose it to the NEFAC slogan, “No War Between Nations, No Peace Between Classes!” Actually there is no contradiction between support for the workers and peasants of Iraq fighting against the US capitalists and a class struggle, anti-nationalist, position (granted that slogans cannot express all the complexities of a political analysis). We called for the defeat of the US (which implies the victory of the Iraqis), but did not use the explicit slogan of Victory to Iraq. As an immediate slogan, this would not have made much sense when the mass of Iraqis hated Hussein’s dictatorship, for good reasons, and did not want to fight for it. The Kurds in the north were actually fighting on the side of the US (unfortunately) and the Shiites in the south were holding off largely because they feared that the US would not overthrow Hussein, as it had not in 1991. (But now that Saddam Hussein is gone, we can expect increased conflict between the Iraqi workers and peasants and the US state.) In any case, our primary job in the US was to make crystal clear our opposition to US imperialism—which NEFAC has done.

Open City Anarchist Collective of NEFAC-NYC

Young Spartacus replies:

We welcome the opportunity to continue the exchange with the Open City Anarchist Collective because it has provoked broader interest among anarchists and at its heart is the question: what methods will lead to the abolition of the state and creation of an egalitarian, classless society?

Anarchists view revolution as a transcendent act that in one stroke does away with all the material inequalities and cultural rubbish inherited from the past. Marxists understand that a classless society cannot be willed into being; it has to be prepared through eliminating material scarcity. We fight to mobilize the working class—the revolutionary class created by capitalism—to smash the bourgeois state, with the recognition that workers revolution will only open the road to a classless society; it cannot in and of itself achieve it. That’s why we seek to replace bourgeois class rule with workers rule, i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The socialist revolution wrests industry, banks, transportation, etc. from the bourgeoisie and places them in the hands of society as a whole. Through eliminating the anarchy of production for profit, economic planning under a workers state will raise the level of productive forces and eliminate the basis for social inequality. This must be the joint enterprise of the world proletariat and is the only way to eliminate the state and create a society based on “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” We advocate a state that is different from any previous state in history in that it is an instrument of the toiling masses and, from its inception, begins to wither away.

All modern experience shows that it is fatuous to expect the capitalist class and its partisans—be they reformist, liberal or reactionary—to give up their tremendous power and wealth without a bitter fight. For the bourgeoisie, expropriation signals the loss of its “right” to extort profit, interest and rent through the blood and sweat of working people. The working class needs its own state to defeat the inevitable attempts at counterrevolution and to effect the economic transformation of society. As the revolutionary Marxist Rosa Luxemburg observed:

“It is impossible to imagine that a transformation as formidable as the passage from capitalist society to socialist society can be realized in one happy act.... The socialist transformation supposes a long and stubborn struggle, in the course of which, it is quite probable, the proletariat will be repulsed more than once.”

— Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution (1900)

Open City’s letter drips with hostility to the Soviet degenerated workers state. It is inconsequential for the anarchists that the destruction of the world’s first workers state was a historic disaster for working people all over the world, not least for the suffering masses in Russia and the other former Soviet republics. The world is now a far more dangerous place; no longer challenged by Soviet military might, the U.S. imperialists run roughshod over semicolonial peoples from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf.

Open City sees in the Soviet Union only a “centralized, bureaucratic, state” and “monstrous state-capitalism.” In this, Open City follows in the footsteps of the late, nominally Trotskyist (but actually New Leftist) Revolutionary Socialist League, some of whose former members are now in Open City. From Karl Kautsky in Lenin’s time to the reformist International Socialist Organization today, “theories” of state capitalism have proven to be vehicles for a fraudulent neutrality behind which lurks the appetite to support one’s “own” bourgeoisie in its crusade against the workers states.

Decentralization: Recipe for Disaster

Open City condemns the “centralized, bureaucratic, state” and sneers at the Bolshevik party as a “centralized, bureaucratic, topdown party machine.” They see “centralism” as an evil in itself, irrespective of the class forces involved. This is an old debate between Marxism and anarchism which has gone under the rubric of different terms in different periods: authority vs. autonomy, leadership vs. spontaneity, centralism vs. federalism.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who first coined the term “anarchy” in 1840, envisaged a society of more or less equal small-scale property owners, reflecting the views of the artisan layer which was then being ruined by large-scale industrial capitalism. Anarchists believe that communist society can be based on inherent human goodwill (see Spartacist pamphlet, Marxism vs. Anarchism). But as Marx noted in his classic polemic, The Poverty of Philosophy (1847): “Proudhon does not know that all history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature.” A socialist transformation becomes possible only with the emergence of an industrial economy, originally a product of capitalist development. In order for the proletariat in power to eliminate scarcity, centralism is essential, as Friedrich Engels explained in his polemic against anarchism, “On Authority” (1873):

“On examining the economic, industrial and agricultural conditions which form the basis of present-day bourgeois society, we find that they tend more and more to replace isolated action by combined action of individuals. Modern industry with its big factories and mills, where hundreds of workers supervise complicated machines driven by steam, has superseded the small workshops of the separate producers; the carriages and wagons of the highways have been substituted by railway trains.... Everywhere combined action, the complication of processes dependent upon each other, displaces independent action by individuals. But whoever mentions combined action speaks of organisation; now, is it possible to have organisation without authority?...

“Wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself, to destroy the power loom in order to return to the spinning wheel.”

In its original leaflet, “Anarchists Against the War,” Open City advocates replacing capitalism with “networks of self-governing worker and consumer cooperatives.” But such “networks” are utterly incapable of running a modern world economy, which is much more complex and integrated than when Engels was writing. Who is going to coordinate, control and make decisions about the power grid, water supply, telecommunications, air transport, etc.? Anarchists should contemplate the recent power failure in the northeastern U.S., which occurred because the bourgeoisie’s irrational campaign to privatize public utilities means that there is no central authority in charge of the power grid. Open City’s program is utopian, i.e., incapable of being realized. But if it were, the absence of centralized planning would in all likelihood trigger the collapse of the world economy and a reversion of human civilization to pre-capitalist forms of exploitation. At best, competition between various cooperatives would eventually lead to the reintroduction of the capitalist mode of production.

Open City does not subscribe to the revolting views of the Primitivist anarchists. But the Primitivists at least have the courage of their convictions and take the shared anarchist prejudice against “centralism” to its logical conclusion. Their program to abolish all technology and “authoritarian” civilization means a return to a hunting and gathering society and could only be achieved by the death of most human beings on the planet.

Many youth in recent years have sought to fight the glaring inequalities of the imperialist world order by protesting “globalization.” Some of these youth identify themselves as anarchists. But the anarchist economic program of decentralization can only perpetuate the division between the imperialist countries and the neocolonial Third World. Only centralized planning on an international scale, based on global exchange terms favorable to underdeveloped nations, can narrow and eventually overcome the divide that separates rural Peru from the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

While anarchists cling to the dogma of “decentralization,” Marxists do not fetishize “centralism” for its own sake. As Engels noted in “On Authority”:

“It is absurd to speak of the principle of authority as being absolutely evil, and of the principle of autonomy as being absolutely good. Authority and autonomy are relative things whose spheres vary with the various phases of the development of society. If the autonomists confined themselves to saying that the social organisation of the future would restrict authority solely to the limits within which the conditions of production render it inevitable, we could understand each other; but they are blind to all facts that make the thing necessary and they passionately fight the word.”

In the end, the real issue is not the degree of centralization but which class holds state power.

The Degeneration of the Russian Revolution

The 1917 Russian Revolution took Marxism out of the realm of theory and gave it flesh and blood. The experience of October won many anarchists to its banner. The dictatorship of the proletariat in practice proved vital to the consolidation of the social revolution. In mid 1918, the counterrevolutionary White armies, supported, armed and financed by the imperialist powers, launched a savage Civil War against the fledgling workers state. There were anarchists who actively fought in the Red Army to defeat the forces of reaction. One such was Vladimir Shatov, who nevertheless remained an anarchist throughout the Civil War. According to Emma Goldman:

“The Russian experience had taught him [Shatov] that we anarchists had been the romanticists of revolution, forgetful of the cost it would entail, the frightful price the enemies of the Revolution would exact, the fiendish methods they would resort to in order to destroy its gains. One cannot fight fire and sword with only logic and justice of one’s ideal. The counterrevolutionists had combined to isolate and starve Russia, and the blockade was taking a frightful toll of human life. The [imperialist] intervention and the destruction in its wake, the numerous White attacks, costing oceans of blood, the hordes of [White military chiefs] Denikin, Kolchak and Yudenich; their pogroms, bestial revenge, and the general havoc wrought had imposed on the Revolution a warfare that its most far-sighted exponents had never dreamed about.”

— quoted in Paul Avrich, The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution (1973)

Lenin, Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders viewed the Russian victory as the opening chapter in the international workers revolution. The only way the workers state could survive in the economically backward old tsarist empire was through the extension of the revolution, especially to the advanced capitalist countries. By the end of the Civil War, Russia was exhausted and devastated. Famine and pestilence claimed millions of victims. Agricultural output had dropped precipitously. Industry and transport were in shambles. Many of the militant, class-conscious proletariat had sacrificed their lives in defense of their state. The lengthy isolation of Soviet Russia, its material privation and the devastation of the Civil War gave rise to the bureaucratic layer headed by Stalin.

The genuine Bolsheviks—led by Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition—waged a life-and-death struggle against the Stalinist bureaucratic caste, which usurped political power and began to consolidate its position of privilege atop the workers state in early 1924. While the Left Opposition fought to maintain the revolutionary internationalist program that had animated the early years of the revolution, the Stalinists proclaimed their dogma of “socialism in one country.” For its part, anarchism shares common ground with Stalinism. Open City’s “networks of self-governing worker and consumer cooperatives” sounds a lot like socialism in one region to us.

Stalin’s political counterrevolution was only accomplished by the destruction of the Leninist vanguard. By 1939, Stalin and his narrow clique were left at the head of a party membership of some 1.5 million, a full 70 percent of which had joined after 1929. The only human continuity with Lenin and Trotsky’s party was Stalin and his cohorts. Open City must ignore these facts to assert that the “centralized, bureaucratic, topdown party machine” supposedly created by Lenin was the cause of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Stalinism was not the product of Bolshevism but rather its political negation.

The Class Nature of the Soviet Union

The consolidation of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union was not a social counterrevolution, but a political one—the socialized and collectivized property forms remained. The Soviet Union uniquely did not suffer the tremendous falloff in industrial production suffered by the capitalist world during the Great Depression; instead the Soviet economy expanded significantly. The USSR’s rapid economic development established as historical fact the superiority of a centralized, planned economy. Although the Soviet economy was terribly mismanaged by the bureaucracy and the Soviet Union lost over 20 million people and a great deal of its industrial base in defeating Hitler in WW II, the Soviet Union was the only country in the 20th century to build itself up from a largely peasant, agrarian economy to an advanced industrial power. It provided full employment, housing and free health care and education for its entire population, made possible only because capitalism was overturned.

Trotskyists unconditionally militarily defended the Soviet Union against the forces of capitalist restoration, whether imperialist armies or internal counterrevolution, and today defend the deformed workers states of Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea and China. Our call for political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies and establish a regime of democratically elected workers councils constitutes the most effective defense of these states and is part of the strategy of world revolution against imperialism. The International Communist League (of which the Spartacist League is the U.S. section) fought to mobilize the East German and Soviet proletariats against the capitalist counterrevolutions that destroyed these workers states between 1989 and 1992.

Trotsky made an analogy between the Soviet Union under Stalin and a highly bureaucratized trade union. Unlike some anarchists, Open City does not equate the mass organizations of the working class with the bureaucratic misleaders. It advocates that revolutionaries work within the trade unions and defend them against bourgeois repression. Yet in the case of the Soviet Union, it insists that there was nothing to defend. It is in the crucible of class struggle that misleaders are exposed and revolutionaries acquire the confidence of the working masses; to abstain, to not defend gains already won, is to cede the field to the class traitors and make new conquests impossible.

With the USSR isolated from the world economy and hampered by bureaucratic mismanagement and inefficiency, the productivity of labor within the Soviet Union did not surpass that of modern imperialist capitalism. The relentless military pressure of U.S. imperialism also took its toll. The collapse of the Soviet bureaucracy is graphic confirmation of Trotsky’s understanding: the bureaucracy was not a ruling class but a bureaucratic excrescence resting on the planned, collectivized economy.

Open City does not and cannot explain why the Soviet bureaucracy collapsed. What ruling class in history has exited the historical stage without a fight? Capitalism does not collapse of its own internal contradictions—even Open City recognizes that “an organization around a revolutionary program” is required to overthrow it. Why should “state capitalism” be any different?

Open City admits that the collapse of the USSR has brought untold misery to post-Soviet Russia. Implicit in its position is that there are two fundamentally different kinds of capitalisms, one more beneficial to working people than the other. Is this what the members of Open City actually believe?

Platformism and Program

Open City identifies not with the anarchists who fought to defend the Russian Revolution but with those who actively sided against it. The “Platformist” trend in anarchism (which also calls itself anarcho-communist and libertarian communist) takes its name from the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, issued in Paris in 1926. Associated with the newspaper Dielo Truda, the Platform was signed by Nestor Makhno and four other émigré anarchists. Makhno had led a peasant army in the Ukraine in 1918-21. It initially worked with the Soviet Red Army during the Civil War but later polarized as its anti-Bolshevik core attacked the workers’ Red Army and carried out anti-Semitic pogroms (a documented fact denied by most anarchists today—see “An Exchange on Nestor Makhno: Peasant ‘Anarchism,’ Pogroms and the Russian Revolution,” WV No. 656, 22 November 1996). Peter Arshinov (a cosigner of the Platform) and the anarchist historian Voline joined Makhno’s forces. But as Arshinov (in History of the Makhnovist Movement, 1918-1921) and Voline (in The Unknown Revolution) both recount, very few other anarchists followed them. The partisan army led by Makhno was composed overwhelmingly of Ukrainian smallholding peasants, who were motivated not by anarchist theory, but by their own material interests as petty proprietors.

The Platform represented in the first instance an attempt to come to terms with the fact that the Bolsheviks, not the anarchists, had the support of the toiling masses and had led the Russian Revolution. Makhno’s forces had consisted of wealthier peasants and smallholders and had no base in the Ukrainian working class or in the cities. This, along with the anarchist lack of collective organization, Makhno recognized in hindsight was a crucial weakness:

“It was during the Russian revolution of 1917 that the need for a general organisation was felt most deeply and most urgently. It was during this revolution that the libertarian movement showed the greatest decree [sic] of sectionalism and confusion. The absence of a general organisation led many active anarchist militants into the ranks of the Bolsheviks. This absence is also the cause of many other present day militants remaining passive.”

Organisational Platform of Libertarian Communism, reprinted by Workers Solidarity Movement (2001)

The Platform advocates that anarchists participate in the mass organizations of the working class and that they organize themselves into a “General Union of Anarchists” based on “precise positions: theoretical, tactical and organisational.” The Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), to which Open City belongs, is based on a set of “principles” broad enough to encompass different, and even counterposed, political programs. Open City claims there is no contradiction between the NEFAC slogan “No War Between Nations, No Peace Between Classes!” and Open City’s statement that “we hope the U.S. is defeated in its aggression [against Iraq].” But the first represents their program of neutrality in the conflict between U.S. imperialism and neocolonial Iraq, and the second clearly takes a side. Who has the final say on the organization’s program?

Open City calls NEFAC a “democratic federation of collectives.” A federated organization by its nature gives rise to amorphous ruling cliques not subject to any definite political accountability. Open City follows the Platform in criticizing classical anarchism for lacking any provision for the political accountability of its membership and calls for an organization based on the “collective responsibility of each to all.” This is only so much verbiage in the absence of real programmatic agreement and leadership bodies.

Class Collaboration and the Antiwar Movement

As Open City acknowledges, war can only be eliminated by abolishing capitalism. The brokers of the antiwar coalitions perpetuate the illusion that war can be stopped by pressuring the capitalist state or the United Nations for “peace.” The entire purpose of limiting the program of these coalitions to “stop the war” or other pacifist slogans is to not go beyond the framework of bourgeois politics. Thus, Democratic Party “doves” like Barbara Lee and Jesse Jackson have spoken from coalition platforms. These politicians hold a place should the ruling class decide it necessary to co-opt growing social discontent.

In its original leaflet, Open City glowed about the Iraq antiwar movement:

“Along with established left groups and peace organizations, the new movement includes neighborhood and church groups. It includes working people, as well as a growing representation from within organized labor. It includes Black and Latino groups and women’s organizations....

“A large movement is necessary, including a wide range of viewpoints and methods, operating in a democratic and pluralistic fashion.”

Open City thought it necessary to be a part of an antiwar “movement” that was based on a bourgeois program and includes bourgeois politicians. This, simply put, is class collaboration, even though Open City looks to act as left-anarchist critics within this “movement.”

In its current letter, Open City wants to disappear what it originally advocated. Now it insists that it did nothing different than the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs by building contingents in big antiwar demonstrations. We built our contingents around the demands: All U.S. troops out of the Near East now! Down with U.S. imperialism! Defend Iraq! For class struggle against U.S. capitalist rulers! We appealed to the working class and explained that opposition to the war had to be based on political opposition to, and independence from, the “antiwar” Democratic Party liberals and the left-reformist organizers behind the coalitions. We sought to polarize the antiwar movement along class lines and to address militant youth and others who were genuinely looking for answers as to how to fight imperialist war. Open City sought to build the “movement,” whose leaders made sure it was nothing other than an obstacle to mobilizing the working class in its own struggle against the war.

Open City says that “the only way to win even limited reforms is to build a militant mass movement from below which threatens the capitalists with revolution,” citing the Vietnam antiwar movement. But the Vietnam antiwar movement did not threaten capitalism. While many youth who protested the war identified with the Vietnamese social revolution, the reformist misleaders like the Socialist Workers Party were able to contain protest within the fold of Democratic Party liberalism and student-based protest politics. They built coalitions based on the single issue of opposition to the war and including bourgeois politicians. As a result, U.S. imperialism was able to recover fairly quickly from its humiliating defeat on the battlefield in Vietnam.

The SL intervened into the Vietnam antiwar protests to win a section to revolutionary working-class politics. We fought for the international proletariat to take a side with the Vietnamese social revolution, raising the slogan “All Indochina Must Go Communist!” This slogan was aimed not only against the imperialists but also against the Vietnamese and other Stalinists, whose advocacy of “peaceful coexistence” threatened to betray the social revolution in favor of a negotiated deal. We agitated for labor strikes against the war, which by 1970 had become a real possibility.

The social discontent that pervaded U.S. society at the time spilled over into the U.S. Army in Vietnam, contributing to the decision by the American imperialists to cut their losses and withdraw. Open City gives equal weight to the antiwar movement and “the Vietnamese struggle.” This belittles the heroic workers and peasants of Vietnam, who inflicted a humiliating military defeat on the U.S. in the course of fighting for a social revolution against capitalist exploitation and imperialist depredation. The defeat of U.S. imperialism on the battlefield was made possible only because the Vietnamese Stalinists already held state power in the North of the country, had a centralized military command structure, received military hardware and aid from the Soviet Union (though not enough) and had the implied protection of the Soviet nuclear shield. The Vietnamese victory is a powerful example of the benefits of a centralized workers state, even one that is bureaucratically deformed.

For a Revolutionary Vanguard Party!

Unlike the bourgeoisie, which had significant economic resources within society before it took state power, the only weapons the proletariat has are its organization and consciousness. For these weapons to be wielded, it is essential that the most conscious and self-sacrificing workers combine with declassed intellectuals and organize themselves into a party. The revolutionary proletarian party expresses in its program the long-term interests of the working class and fights for them, in constant battle against agents of the bourgeoisie in the workers movement. Unlike the trade unions, the economic defense organizations of the working class which demand the greatest possible unity, the vanguard party must be based on a revolutionary program and the selection and testing of dedicated militants.

If the history of proletarian struggle in the 20th century has proved anything, it is that the indispensable condition for victorious proletarian revolution is the existence of a revolutionary vanguard party. One of the best examples is the Spanish Civil War, the most promising proletarian revolutionary opportunity in Europe in the 1930s. Spain is one of the few countries where anarchism did have a historic mass base, and Open City says nothing about the National Confederation of Labor (CNT), which was led by the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI). These anarchists played a despicable role, acting every bit like any reformist social democrat sitting atop a mass workers organization.

Open City argues that the workers in Spain did not form “mass organizations (federation of councils) to replace the state.” But there did exist factory councils and peasant councils linked to anarchist-organized workers militias. Spreading these committees and consolidating them into an embryonic proletarian state to fight for power was the central task for proletarian revolution. There was no revolutionary party to undertake this task.

The CNT-FAI leaders joined with the bourgeois liberals and Stalinists in a capitalist Popular Front government. They told the workers not to fight for their own state but instead to defend the “democratic” capitalist Republican state against Franco’s fascistic forces. The Workers Party of Marxist Unification, the POUM (often mis-identified as Trotskyist), also signed on to the Popular Front. The genuine Trotskyist forces, who formed blocs at times with the left-anarchist Friends of Durruti, were initially too small and then destroyed by the victory of the right-wing Republican and Stalinist forces in Barcelona in 1937.

The leaders of the CNT-FAI were crucial to demobilizing and disarming the proletariat, paving the way for Franco’s victory. Yet NEFAC has carried CNT-FAI banners in Boston antiwar demonstrations. Open City may not agree with their Boston comrades on this practice. But they are in the same organization with them.

On one level, the entry of the CNT-FAI into the bourgeois government may appear to be a gross violation of anarchist principles. But such idealist “principles” explode at that moment when social contradictions arrive at the point of war or revolution. As then-Trotskyist Felix Morrow noted in his history of the Spanish Civil War:

“Class collaboration, indeed, lies concealed in the heart of anarchist philosophy. It is hidden, during periods of reaction, by anarchist hatred of capitalist oppression. But, in a revolutionary period of dual power, it must come to the surface. For then the capitalist smilingly offers to share in building the new world. And the anarchist, being opposed to ‘all dictatorships,’ including dictatorship of the proletariat, will require of the capitalist merely that he throw off the capitalist outlook, to which he agrees, naturally, the better to prepare the crushing of the workers.”

Revolution & Counterrevolution in Spain (1938)

In the end, anarchism is no guide even on the elementary question of telling the difference between revolution and counterrevolution. The exploited and oppressed of the world need a Marxist-led workers revolution as the first step toward an egalitarian socialist society.

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