Italy and the Platform

Italian Involvement in the Debate on the 'Organizational Platform'

by Nestor McNab (FdCA)

The debate which surrounded the publication of the "Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists - Project" between June and October 1926 was lively and widespread, involving a great number of anarchists both in France, where it had been published, and abroad. However, as Paris in those days was a sort of magnet for anarchists who had been forced to flee their countries of origin or who were drawn there by the great activity of others already present, a large part of the debate regarding the proposals of the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad (GRAZ)[1] was centered on Paris.

Publication of the "Platform" itself was preceded by a series of articles regarding anarchist organization in Delo Truda, notably the GRAZ article "The Problem of Organization and the Notion of Synthesis" in March 1926. The notion of a synthesis of the three main strands of anarchism (anarchist communism, anarcho-syndicalism and individualism) had been proposed by Sébastien Faure and was supported by figures such as Volin. Itself a controversial idea, "synthesism" was to prove to be, in the years that followed, the counterpart to the "platformist" idea of organization and the organized movement was destined to be polarized over the years into federations based on a synthesis and those based on a tendency.

The debate accompanied the piecemeal publication of the Platform and took place in the pages of various anarchist journals, including the promoter group's own Russian-language paper, Delo Truda, and the French paper Le Libertaire. Following comments by some comrades, the GRAZ published a "Supplement to the Organizational Platform" in November 1926, which addressed certain points which had been raised by Maria Korn Isidine.

A series of meetings and conventions were also held. The meeting of February 12, 1927, presided over by the Italian anarchist Ugo Fedeli, who had worked with Makhno and who initially supported the project, reached a decision to appoint a Provisional Secretariat which would call an International Conference, leading to the foundation of a Revolutionary Anarchist Communist International.

The International Conference took place on March 20, 1927 in Paris and discussed the proposal presented by the Provisional Secretariat which succinctly summarized the debate of the previous months:

As a basis for the union of homogeneous forces and as the ideal logical and tactical minimum upon which comrades should agree, we propose the following points:

(1) Recognition of the class struggle, being the most important factor in the anarchist system.
(2) Recognition of Communist Anarchism as the basis of our movement.
(3) Recognition of Syndicalism as one of the principal methods of struggle of communist anarchism.
(4) The need for a General Union of Anarchists in every country basing itself on ideological and tactical unity and collective responsibility.
(5) The need for a positive programme which can create the social revolution.

The conference, however was interrupted by the French police, who arrested the participants, later expelling many from the country. However, before the meeting was broken up, one of the two Italian groups present, the "Pensiero e Volontà" Group (represented by Luigi Fabbri, Camillo Berneri and Ugo Fedeli), succeeded in having the first point changed into:

(1) Recognition of the struggle of all the exploited and the oppressed against the authority of the State and capital, being the most important factor in the anarchist system.

This group had also prepared alternative versions of three of the other four points, which due to the police action were not decided upon:

(3) Recognition of the workers' and union struggle as one of the important methods of anarchists' revolutionary action.
(4) The need for the most General possible Union in every country of Anarchists having the same final goal and the same practical tactics, based also on collective responsibility.
(5) The need for a positive programme of action with which anarchists can realize the social revolution.

In the months to follow, debate on the "Platform" raged on. In April, Volin and a group of other Russian anarchist exiles including Mollie Steimer and her husband Senya Fleshin, published a fierce, lengthy attack on the Platform"[2]. This elicited a stinging collective response in August of that year from the GRAZ[3], who accused Volin and his group of deliberately misrepresenting the spirit of the draft Organizational Platform. In May 1927, the Provisional Secretariat, composed of Nestor Makhno, Maxim Ranko and Chen (Yen-Nian?) issued invitations to join the new Revolutionary Anarchist Communist International, or International Anarchist Communist Federation, based on the original five points above (but not including the counter-proposals of the Italians, a fact which would certainly not have been appreciated by Fabbri's group).

The meetings and articles continued, with contributions from Faure, Volin, Linsky, Ranko, Isidine, Grave and Chernyakov amongst others, not forgetting Arshinov and Makhno. In October that year, Errico Malatesta, the éminence grise of Italian anarchism who was living in enforced isolation in Italy, responded to the proposed "Platform" in a letter[4] which was replied to several months later both by Pëtr Arshinov[5] and Makhno[6]. In the meantime, there had also been important interventions by Luigi Fabbri[7] and Maria Korn Isidine[8], to whom Arshinov replied with another article[9]. It was not until a year later in late 1929 that Malatesta was able to reply to Makhno's letter[10] and it has to be said that many of his doubts about the project had by that time been cleared up, though there did remain serious problems regarding the concept of collective responsibility. Malatesta would, in fact, write once again on that subject in the pages of the French journal Le Libertaire as late as April 1930[11] stating, however, that he was quite prepared to believe that the difficulty could simply be a result of linguistic differences. (It should at this point be remembered that the version of the text used as a basis for consideration by non-Russians was Volin's French translation and, in fact, Alexandre Skirda has since drawn attention to the somewhat biased nature of this translation. Indeed, there was an exchange of articles around the question of the faithfulness of the translation in Le Libertaire in the spring of 1927.) By that stage, however, the impetus had evaporated and support for the "Platform" was restricted to only a few groups such as the Union Anarchiste Communiste Révolutionnaire. Arshinov had been expelled to Belgium in January and one of Makhno's last public acts was his speech at the UACR Congress.

The two Italian groups present at the 1927 meetings went their separate ways. The group represented by Giuseppe Bifolchi, "had already begun their own process of criticism in the search for a new revolutionary strategy, [and] lent their support to the Platform's programme […]. Believing that the concept of internationalism was the real basis for the existence of every anarchist organization, they joined the International Anarchist Communist Federation as its First Italian Section"[12]. The Manifesto of this group has now been translated into English for the first time[13]. Bifolchi was forced to leave France in April 1928 and went to Belgium. There, he founded the monthly journal Bandiera Nera (Black Flag) before moving on to Spain during the years of the Spanish Revolution, where he fought as a commander in the Italian Column. Fedeli had edited the Italian version of the trilingual International Anarchist Review from November 1924 to June 1925, when it merged with two other journals into La Tempra. He was expelled from France in 1929 and was repatriated to Italy in 1933 to face prison and confinement after spells in Belgium, Argentina and Uruguay.

Naturally, the strong anti-organizationalist element in Italian anarchism was not interested in the project of the Platform. Neither were the Italian comrades who had made the choice to remain in fascist Italy (with all the difficulties that entailed). Those held in confinement were fighting to stay alive, while the few remaining in liberty were engaged in anti-fascist activity and trying to keep anarchist ideas alive among the Italian workers.

If the short-lived First Italian Section of the Anarchist Communist International failed to amount to much, it was partly as a result of the Fascist repression in Italy but also due to the fact that both Malatesta and the prestigious "Pensiero e Volontà" Group eventually distanced themselves from the "Platform". Despite apparent differences within this latter group, they eventually sent a reply to the invitation of the Provisional Secretariat in which they politely refused the offer to join the initiative as they considered that for the time being "the best road to follow is the one which, in four years of public life, the UAI has laid out for itself"[14].

It is interesting to note that while Malatesta's disinclination to endorse the Platform stems mostly from his doubts regarding "collective responsibility", the letter from the "Pensiero e Volontà" Group seems to indicate reservations regarding the principles of theoretical and tactical unity ("exclusivism"), whereas their proposals to the International Conference actually endorsed the need both for unity of tactics and for collective responsibility.

But the Unione Anarchica Italiana[15], was already dead. The fascist regime in Italy, which had in preceding years forced anarchist groups, newspapers (such as Umanità Nova) and the anarchist-dominated revolutionary trade union USI[16] to disband, made public life so impossible for Italian anarchists that the UAI convention of January 1926 was to be its last.

The UAI, born in 1919 as the Unione Comunista Anarchica Italiana (UCAI)[17], had been a somewhat inefficient organization and in fact for several years before its demise there had been attempts to form a federation which did not include the individualist and anti-organizational elements which were seen by many, Malatesta and Fabbri included, to be responsible for much of the organization's inability to achieve concrete results. In the years following the rise to power of the fascists, Italy's anarchists became sorely divided, some militants remaining in Italy (most of whom would be kept in confinement in remote parts of the country for over a decade), while many others were to emigrate, often first to other European countries, later on to the Americas. It was from this point on that the anti-organizationalist element was to become dominant among Italian anarchists, both in Italy and abroad (partly thanks to the influence and hegemony exercised by journals with a strongly anti-organizationalist line, such as l'Adunata dei Refrattari, published in New York).

In 1930, the Unione Comunista Anarchica dei Profughi Italiani[18], an organization of tendency, was created in Paris. However, three years later it was renamed the Federazione Anarchica dei Profughi Italiani[19] and in November 1935 completed the process of transformation into a federation based on synthesis, becoming the Comitato Anarchico d'Azione Rivoluzionaria[20].

Things went somewhat better (for a while) for the "Platform" in France and in Bulgaria, where the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation actually adopted the "Platform" as its constitution. The principles of the "Platform" were accepted (albeit in an excessively rigorous way) by the French federation, the Union Anarchiste (founded in 1920 by Faure as a synthesist organization) at its congress in November 1927 when it changed name to the Union Anarchiste Communiste Révolutionnaire[21], recalling the name of the proposed International. Those members who were against the change left to set up the Association des Fédéralistes Anarchistes[22], whose theoretical and organizational ethos was summed up by Faure's "La Synthèse Anarchiste.”

By 1930, however, a group of syndicalists who had remained within the UACR on purpose had managed to gain a majority within the federation which resulted in the name being changed back to Union Anarchiste and a return to a more synthesist approach. Eventually, the Fédération Communiste Libertaire[23] was set up by supporters of the "Platform" in 1935, but this too would disappear during the war years.

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Footnotes

[1] Gruppa Russkikh Anarkhistov Zagranitseii.
[2] 'Reply to the Platform' by "some Russian anarchists" (Sobol, Schwartz, Steimer, Volin, Lia, Roman, Ervantian, Fleshin), April 1927.
[3] 'Reply to Anarchism's Confusionists: A Response to the "Reply to the Platform" by Several Russian Anarchists', Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad, August 18, 1927.
[4] 'A Project Of Anarchist Organization', in Il Risveglio (Geneva), October 1927.
[5] 'The Old And New In Anarchism', in Delo Truda N°30, May 1928.
[6] 'About The Organizational Platform', in Il Risveglio, December 1929.
[7] 'Su un progetto di organizzazione anarchica', in Il Martello (New York), 17/24 September 1927.
[8] 'Organization And Party', in Plus loin N°s 36 - 37, March/April 1928.
[9] Elements Old & New In Anarchism, in Delo Truda N°30/31, November/December 1928.
[10] 'Reply to Nestor Makhno,' in Il Risveglio, December 1929.
[11] 'A proposito della responsabilità collettiva', in Le Libertaire N°252, 19th April 1930. English translation under the title "On Collective Responsibility" available on the Nestor Makhno Archive.
[12] A. Dadà, L'anarchismo in Italia: fra movimento e partito, Milan 1984.
[13] Manifesto of the First Section of the International Anarchist Communist Federation. The original Italian version of the manifesto is in IISG, Fondo U. Fedeli, b. 175, and now also in A. Dadà, op.cit.
[14] Letter from the "Pensiero e Volontà" Group to the Provisional Secretariat of the International Anarchist Communist Federation. Italian original in A. Dadà, Ugo Fedeli dalla Russia alla Francia: un anarchico italiano nel dibattito dell'anarchismo internazionale (1921-1927), Università di Firenze, Facoltà di Magistero, "Annali dell'Istituto di Storia" vol.III, 1982/84, Florence, 1985.
[15] Italian Anarchist Union.
[16] Unione Sindacale Italiana [Italian Syndical Union].
[17] The UCAI Congress at Bologna in 1921 had decided to drop the term "Communist" from the name so as to avoid confusion with the Bolsheviks.
[18] Anarchist Communist Union of Italian Refugees.
[19] Anarchist Federation of Italian Refugees.
[20] Anarchist Revolutionary Action Committee.
[21] Revolutionary Anarchist Communist Union.
[22] Association of Anarchist Federalists.
[23] Libertarian Communist Federation.

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Nestor McNab is a member of the Federazione dei Communisti Anarchici (FdCA), and the Italian editor for the international
A-Infos Collective

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** APPENDIX **

Anarchist Communist Manifesto
(Italy, 1927)

Anarchist-communists are unanimous in affirming that the principle of authority which today's institutions are based on is the fundamental cause of all social ills, and it is therefore for this reason that they are today, and always will be, unyielding enemies of political authority (the State), economic authority (Capital), and moral and intellectual authority (Religion and Official Morality).

In short: anarchist-communists are against all dictatorships of political, economic, scientific or religious derivation; on the other hand, they are sincere partisans of a form of social organization which is based on the free association of producers and consumers with the aim of better satisfying the various needs of the new society.

They are communists, because having carefully examined the social question in all its facets they are of the opinion that only a society based on libertarian communism will be able to guarantee every one of its members the greatest well-being and freedom.

They are revolutionaries, not because of any fanaticism for blood and glory, but because they have observed that reforms are illusory and at the mercy of the whim of the ruling powers. These powers, even if they are democratic, are moved by reactionary despotic financial forces, evident or hidden, and only an Anarchist Revolution can put an end to government and the exploitation of man by man.

They are individualists, not in the sense of an exaggerated respect for the individual which, however it may be disguised, is a form of authoritarianism, but because they are supporters of communism for the very reason that it guarantees every individual the greatest physical, intellectual and moral development. They are educationalists, because they believe that the best chance that the Revolution has of arriving sooner and having greater effect is directly linked to the level of the revolutionary social education of every individual. They are convinced that the Revolution will be the logical natural product of the large-scale explosion of collective revolt, rendered conscious by a widespread understanding of the injustice of the present capitalist social system. Education of this type excludes that contemplative, fatalist, passive sort of education that is an end in itself.

Social Programme

Anarchist communism, which is indispensable if we are to see a society without exploiters or exploited, is based on the free cooperation of individuals in order to satisfy each other's economic, intellectual, and moral needs, since it is only right that the organizations born from within the working class should regulate social functioning after the Revolution. Inspired by the formation and development of an ever-growing number of associations in all fields of human activity, anarchist-communists have seen that the spirit of association and federalism is ever more predominant due to the fact that political and economic centralism is providing ever more mediocre answers to the new needs of technical, scientific, and social progress.

Encouraged by a similar libertarian tendency, anarchist-communists continue to be supporters of a form of social organization which will develop into the Commune, a local demographic agglomeration which is large enough to be able to practise social solidarity effectively by organizing production in a rational way, taking into account in its every act the inviolable liberty of individuals and associations.

The libertarian Commune, in the way anarchist-communists understand it, is not a version of present-day municipal councils nor is it a representation in miniature of any government, but a moral and material pact which unites the inhabitants of a given area in a common project in the economic, intellectual, and moral field to allow every individual of whatever sex and age to enjoy the right to freedom and to well-being, as far as the possibilities of production permit, naturally.

Relations between different Communes can be managed without useless, even dangerous, interference from central, national and international powers, in the knowledge that federalism is a basic condition for the safeguarding of the principle of freedom upon which the new communalist society will rest. Without wishing to go into long, bothersome detail which is almost always rendered null by tomorrow's reality, anarchist-communists, as a large part of their pre-Revolutionary programme, consider it sufficient to hold to the general lines of the libertarian Commune based on federalist or sovietist cooperation, sovietist in the sense of decentralization and as a spontaneous, conscious emanation of the technical and political capacity of the working class.

Organization

The proletarian coalitions for defense and attack against the constituted powers which have as their specific aim the continuance of the present state of exploitation and oppression are not recent creations. They are the natural result of a painful centuries-long experience, given that individual revolt, though always appreciable for its courage, nobility and the spirit of sacrifice of the iconoclast, can never affect the organisms of oppression which are solidly organized and can never come close to effecting any social improvement or transformation. It is for this reason that anarchist-communists are not content with proclaiming the goodness of their libertarian principles, but rather they unite in groups, in federations, in national unions and in the international union, in order to better resist and bring about a single moral and material front against the powers of repression and exploitation. It is in this way that they can provoke in the near future a vast, tragic and painful epilogue to this uninterrupted class war, a libertarian Revolution which will bring about a definitive end to the existence of all classes.

History brims with examples of the repression of such unions in every place and time by governments of all types, but the sole fact that they have constituted a single, constant target which is stronger than the capitalist violence (and will continue to do so), encourages anarchist-communists to persist in their path, the only one capable of channeling the forces of exploitation towards the emancipating Revolution. With regard to organization, the present generation of anarchist-communists are certainly unanimous in recognizing that, thus far, their predecessors have done precious little to realise it, given the bitter, continuous reaction they were victims of and anarchism's lack of an ideological unity which could permit their physical unity without which, and despite popular disgust with the parliamentary farce and the undeniable decomposition of Bolshevism, anarchism will be unable to find its way into the hearts of the working masses, the only ones who can bring about the Revolution.

But after the war, fascism and above all the painful lessons of the Russian Revolution of 1917-1919 (where anarchism only played a secondary role from the social point of view, despite its considerable intellectual development and its innumerable sacrifices and owing to chronic disorganization, both in its constructive and often in its destructive programmes according to the most involved libertarians in the Russian movement), there arose amongst anarchist-communists from all countries a concrete idea of the necessity and the aims of anarchist organization, based on a single, universal ideological and tactical principle, excluding the reluctance that smells of Byzantinism and certain ideological and tactical reservations which are the most marked characteristics of bourgeois socialist democracy.

Let this tendency develop and triumph, since, if we seek further development of anarchism as a current of popular liberation and emancipation, it is right to wait until anarchist-communists are able to oppose the authoritarian coalitions with a strong, tenacious libertarian coalition with a homogeneous programme of destruction and reconstruction and homogeneous tactics. Only in this way can there be the full participation in society of all those among the working masses who have been fooled by the daily lies of the bourgeois press and by certain revolutionary demagoguery and who continue to be ignorant of, misunderstand and even scorn the ideal for which so many have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice their lives, their freedom and a happy life.

-- First Italian Section of the International Anarchist Communist Federation

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This essay is from 'The Northeastern Anarchist' #9 (Summer/Fall 2004)... which includes essays on the Iraq war and military recruitment, anarchist arguments against electoralism, wages for housework, prisons and fascism, revolutionary organization, a history of anarchism and anti-imperialism, the Quebec general strike of 1972, and much more!

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