( Notes on the early 20th century history of anarcho-syndicalism in China by Vadim Damier.

The history of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism in the East is generally little known outside of the region. The few foreign historians who addressed this topic were unanimous in stressing big difficulties in it study. The main factor here is perhaps the fact that the Eastern libertarians did not fit into the framework of those myths and beliefs by which the “winners of history” in this region of the globe (liberal democracy, on the one hand, and the ideology of the Communist Parties, on the other) sought legitimize their victory (1). However, the studies show that the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists in many Asian countries were at the beginnings of the socialist movement, and they were often not inferior in strength and influence than their Marxist rivals or even sometimes surpassed them. They were able to leaving their specific and very vivid mark on the workers movement in their countries. The reason for this should probably be sought in the special nature of the Eastern societies of the early twentieth century: in the bitter resistance of communitarian social and ideological structures to capitalism and to ruthless invasion of a capitalist – industrialist modernization. Anarchist ideas were here (more than anywhere else) the banner of resistance. “Nul doute que l`aspiration kropotkinienne à un communalisme décentralisé unissant le champ, l`usine et l`atelier sur une base communiste a touché les fibres d`une société asiatique profondément rurale et collective, marquée par les pratiques et valeurs quasi communautaire de la rizi-culture irriguée », F. Pelletier, a French historian noticed. It was a tentative to combine the technical and scientific progress with our own communitarian structures and values, “débarrassée(s) des pesanteurs féodales, patriarcales et bureaucratiques” (2). The psychology and the feelings of rural communes perceiving themselves as “village – State – microcosm” (utilizing the words of the famous Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe) which opposed to the central government and lived according their own rules (3) , were very close to the idea of self-governing and mainly self-sustaining Commune.

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Alternate Tendencies of Anarchism

Uri Gordon (2008). Anarchy Alive!
Michael Schmidt & Lucien van der Walt (2009). Black Flame.

It has been stated by various theorists that there are two main trends in modern anarchism. How they are conceptualized varies with the writer. I will state how I see the two broad tendencies in the anarchist movement, using the above two books to illustrate the two trends (this is particularly not a review of Black Flame). I will describe them as differing on the issues of revolution or reformism, of democracy, of what “prefigurative politics” mean, and of attitudes toward the working class.

Near the beginning of a recent book on anarchism by Uri Gordon (2008), an Israeli anarchist, the author discusses the “most prominent division” among anarchists. He starts with the way this was framed by David Graeber (2002) of the U.S. as between “a minority tendency of ‘sectarian’ or ‘capital-A anarchist groups,’” which have developed, dogmatic, political programs, and “a majority tendency of ‘small-a anarchists’…who ‘are the real locus of historical dynamism right now’” and who are much looser programmatically (Gordon 2008; p.23–24; for my views on Graeber’s anarchism, see Price 2007). The only group Graeber referred to as sectarian, dogmatic, big-A, anarchist, was the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (I am a member of NEFAC, but not an official spokesperson).

Gordon thinks there is “something” to Graeber’s distinction, but that it should be more “subtly” interpreted. First of all, “capital-A groups are hardly a minority tendency …[having] many thousands of members” (p. 24). This is especially true if we include the memberships of the anarchist-syndicalist unions in Europe and elsewhere. Contrary to charges of “sectarianism” and “dogmatism,” Gordon notes that most “platformists” do not regard Makhno’s Organizational Platform of 1926 as a sacred text but treat it as a beginning for discussion. (Often, calling someone “dogmatic” is a writer’s way of saying that someone disagrees with the writer and is stubbornly refusing to accept the writer’s opinion.)

Instead, Gordon sees the distinction between the two tendencies as over “political culture” (this is a non-ideological way of discussing differences). One trend (the capital-A anarchists) identifies with “the traditional political culture of the anarchist movement established before the Second World War” (p.25). He says that they have formal structures with elected officials, and that decisions are often made through votes. They emphasize workplace organizing, anti-war actions, and publishing their ideas. The other (small-a) trend does not care much about anarchist traditions, has only informal groups, makes decisions by consensus, and, he writes, focuses on ecology, identity politics, experimental community, and Eastern spirituality.

“The difference between the two anarchisms is generational — an ‘Old School’ and a ‘New School’” (same). Without wanting to denounce the Old School anarchists, Gordon (like Graeber) is plainly on the side of the New School of anarchism. (He is not always so nonsectarian; later in his book, he angrily denounces my views on Israel/ Palestine — which is not directly related to my topic here; see pp. 149 — 151; responded to in Price 2009).

While I think that Gordon has accurately distinguished the two main trends in current anarchism, I do not think that Old versus New is a useful way to understand the division. Many of the so-called New School views he cites can be found way back in anarchist history, starting with Proudhon and Stirner and others. Gordon specifically cites Gustav Landauer’s concepts from 1911, to illustrate his own views. Many of these ideas were raised by Paul Goodman and Colin Ward, among other anarchists, in the 60s and 70s. Few of the New School’s ideas are all that new.

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(Fuckin Ⓐ) First published in 1929, this book by Alexander Berkman answers some of the charges made against it and presents the case for communist anarchism. Thorough and well stated, it is today regarded as a classic statement of the cause’s goals and methods.

“Our social institutions are founded on certain ideas; as long as the latter are generally believed, the institutions built on them are safe. Government remains strong because people think political authority and legal compulsion are necessary. Capitalism will continue as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just. The weakening of the ideas which support the evil and oppressive present-day conditions means the ultimate breakdown of government and capitalism. Progress consists in abolishing what man has outlived and substituting in its place a more suitable environment.”

Can be read here:

By Leila Shrooms for Tahrir-ICN

Photo from: YallasouriyaOmar Aziz (fondly known by friends as Abu Kamal) was born in Damascus. He returned to Syria from exile in Saudi Arabia and the United States in the early days of the Syrian revolution. An intellectual, economist, anarchist, husband and father, at the age of 63, he committed himself to the revolutionary struggle. He worked together with local activists to collect humanitarian aid and distribute it to suburbs of Damascus that were under attack by the regime. Through his writing and activity he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organization, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the state. Together with comrades, Aziz founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus.The example spread across Syria and with it some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization to have emerged from the countries of the Arab Spring.

In her tribute to Omar Aziz, Budour Hassan says, he “did not wear a Vendetta mask, nor did he form black blocs. He was not obsessed with giving interviews to the press …[Yet] at a time when most anti-imperialists were wailing over the collapse of the Syrian state and the “hijacking” of a revolution they never supported in the first place, Aziz and his comrades were tirelessly striving for unconditional freedom from all forms of despotism and state hegemony.”[1]

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