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What Is The 'Platform'?

What is the 'Platform'?

The Platform is a current within anarcho-communism which has specific suggestions on the nature and form which an anarchist federation takes. Its roots lie in the Russian anarchist movement, a section of which published "The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists" when in exile from the Bolshevik dictatorship in Paris, in 1926. The authors of the work included Nestor Makhno, Peter Archinov and Ida Mett. At the time it provoked intense debate (and still does in most anarchist) circles between supporters of the Platform (usually called "Platformists") and those who oppose it (which includes other communist-anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and supporters of the "synthesis"). We will discuss why many anarchists oppose the Platform in the next section. Here we discuss what the Platform argued for.

Like the "synthesis" federation (see last section), the Platform was created in response to the experiences of the Russian Revolution. The authors of the Platform (like Voline and other supporters of the "synthesis") had participated in that Revolution and saw all their work, hopes and dreams fail as the Bolshevik state triumphed and destroyed any chances of socialism by undermining soviet democracy, workers' self-management of production, trade union democracy as well as fundamental individual freedoms and rights (see section H for details). Moreover, the authors of the Platform had been leading activists in the Makhnovist movement in the Ukraine, which had successfully resisted both White and Red armies in the name of working class self-determination and anarchism. Facing the same problems of the Bolshevik government, the Makhnovists had actively encouraged popular self-management and organisation, freedom of speech and of association, and so on, whereas the Bolsheviks had not. Thus they were aware that anarchist ideas not only worked in practice, but that the arguments of Leninists who maintained that Bolshevism (and the policies it introduced at the time) was the only "practical" response to the problems facing a revolution were false.

They wrote the pamphlet in order to examine why the anarchist movement had failed to build on their successes in gaining influence within the working class. As can be seen from their work in the factory committees, where workers organised their own workforces and had began to build a society based on both freedom and equality, anarchist ideas had proven to be both popular and practical. While repression by the Bolsheviks (as documented by Voline in his classic history of the Russian Revolution, The Unknown Revolution, for example) did play a part in this failure, it did not explain everything. Also important, in the eyes of the Platform authors, was the lack of anarchist organisation before the revolution. In the first paragraph they state:

"It is very significant that, in spite of the strength and incontestably positive character of libertarian ideas, and in spite of the facing up to the social revolution, and finally the heroism and innumerable sacrifices borne by the anarchists in the struggle for anarchist communism, the anarchist movement remains weak despite everything, and has appeared, very often, in the history of working class struggles as a small event, an episode, and not an important factor." [Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, p. 11]

This weakness in the movement derived from a number of causes, the main one being "the absence of organisational principles and practices" within the anarchist movement. Indeed, they argued, "the anarchist movement is represented by several local organisations advocating contradictory theories and practices, having no perspectives for the future, nor of a continuity in militant work, and habitually disappearing, hardly leaving the slightest trace behind them." This explained the "contradiction between the positive and incontestable substance of libertarian ideas, and the miserable state in which the anarchist movement vegetates." [Ibid.] For anyone familiar with the anarchist movement in many countries, these words will still strike home. Thus the Platform still appears to many anarchists a relevant and important document, even if they are not Platformists.

The author's of the Platform proposed a solution to this problem, namely the creation of certain type of anarchist organisation. This organisation would be based upon communist-anarchist ideas exclusively, while recognising syndicalism as a principal method of struggle. Like most anarchists, the Platform placed class and class struggle as the centre of their analysis, recognising that the "social and political regime of all states is above all the product of class struggle. . . The slightest change in the course of the battle of classes, in the relative locations of the forces of the class struggle, produces continuous modifications in the fabric and structure of society." [Op. Cit., p. 14] And, again, like most anarchists, the Platform aimed to "transform the present bourgeois capitalist society into a society which assures the workers the products of the labours, their liberty, independence, and social and political equality," one based on a "federalist system of workers organisations of production and consumption, united federatively and self-administering." In addition, they argued that the "birth, the blossoming, and the realisation of anarchist ideas have their roots in the life and the struggle of the working masses and are inseparable bound to their fate." [Op. Cit., p. 15, p. 19 and p. 15] Again, most anarchists (particularly social anarchists) would agree -- anarchist ideas will (and have) wither when isolated from working class life since only working class people, the vast majority, can create a free society and anarchist ideas are expressions of working class experience (remove the experience and the ideas do not develop as they should).

In order to create such a free society it is necessary, argue the Plaformists, "to work in two directions: on the one hand towards the selection and grouping of revolutionary worker and peasant forces on a libertarian communist theoretical basis (a specifically libertarian communist organisation); on the other hand, towards regrouping revolutionary workers and peasants on an economic base of production and consumption (revolutionary workers and peasants organised around production [i.e. syndicalism, unionism]; workers and free peasants co-operatives)" [Op. Cit., p. 20] Again, most anarchists would agree with this along with the argument that "anarchism should become the leading concept of revolution. . . The leading position of anarchist ideas in the revolution suggests an orientation of events after anarchist theory. However, this theoretical driving force should not be confused with the political leadership of the statist parties which leads finally to State Power." [Op. Cit., p. 21] The "synthesis" critics of the Platform also recognised the importance of spreading anarchist ideas within popular and revolutionary movements and supporting the class struggle, for example, although they expressed the concept in a different way.

This "leadership of ideas" (see also section J.3.6 for more on this) would aim at developing and co-ordinating libertarian feelings already existing within social struggle. "Although the masses," explains the Platform, "express themselves profoundly in social movements in terms of anarchist tendencies and tenets, these . . . do however remain dispersed, being uncoordinated, and consequently do not lead to the . . . preserving [of] the anarchist orientation of the social revolution." [p. 21] The Platform argued that a specific anarchist organisation was required to ensure that the libertarian tendencies initially expressed in any social revolution or movement (for example, free federation, self-management in mass assemblies, mandating of delegates, decentralisation, etc.) do not get undermined by statists and authoritarians who have their own agendas.

However, these principles do not, in themselves, determine a Platformist organisation. After all, most anarcho-syndicalists and non-Platformist communist-anarchists would agree with these positions. The main point which distinguishes the Platform is its position on how an anarchist organisation should be structured and work. This is sketched in the "Organisational Section," the shortest and most contentious section of the whole work. They call this the General Union of Anarchists. This is where they introduce the concepts of "Theoretical and Tactical Unity" and "Collective Responsibility," concepts which are unique to the Platform.

The first concept, obviously, has two parts. Firstly the members of these organisations are in theoretical agreement with each other. Secondly they agree that if a certain type of work is prioritised, all should take part. Even today within the anarchist movement these are contentious ideas so it is worth exploring them in a little more detail.

By "Theoretical Unity" the Platform meant any anarchist organisation must come to an agreement on the theory upon which it is based. In other words, that members of the organisation must agree on a certain number of basic points, such as class struggle, anti-capitalism and anti-statism, and so on. An organisation in which half the members thought that union struggles were important and the other half that they were a waste of time would not be effective as the membership would spend all their time arguing with themselves. While most Platformists agreed that everyone will not agree with everything, they think its important to reach as much agreement as possible, and to translate this into action. Once a theoretical position is reached, the members have to argue it in public (even if they initially opposed it within the organisation but they do have the right to get the decision of the organisation changed by internal discussion).

Which brings us to "Tactical Unity." By "Tactical Unity" the Platform meant that the members of an organisation should struggle together as an organised force rather than as individuals. Once a strategy has been agreed by the Union, all members would work towards ensuring its success (even if they initially opposed it). In this way resources and time are concentrated in a common direction, towards an agreed objective.

Thus "Theoretical and Tactical Unity" means an anarchist organisation that agrees specific ideas and the means of applying those ideas. The Platform's basic assumption is that there is a link between coherency and efficiency. By increasing the coherency of the organisation by making collective decisions and applying them, the Platform argues that this will increase the influence of anarchist ideas. Without this, they argue, better organised groups (such as Leninist ones) would be in a better position to have their arguments heard and listened to than anarchists would. Anarchists cannot be complacent, and rely on the hope that the obvious strength and rightness of our ideas will shine through and win the day. As history shows, this rarely happens and when it does, the authoritarians are usually in positions of power to crush the emerging anarchist influence (this was the case in Russia, for example). Platformists argue that the world we live in is the product of struggles between competing ideas of how society should be organised and if the anarchist voice is weak, quiet and disorganised, it will not be heard, and other arguments, other perspectives will win the day.

Which brings us to "Collective Responsibility," which the Platform defines as "the entire Union will be responsible for the political and revolutionary activity of each member; in the same way, each member will be responsible for the political and revolutionary activity of the Union." [Op. Cit., p. 32]

By this term, the Platform meant that each member should support the decisions made by the organisation and that each member should take part in the process of collective decision making process. Without this, argue Platformists, any decisions made will be paper decisions only as individuals and groups would ignore the agreements made by the federation (the Platform calls this "the tactic of irresponsible individualism" [Ibid.]). However, with "Collective Responsibility," the strength of all the individuals that make up the group is magnified and collectively applied. However, as one supporter of the Platform notes:

"The Platform doesn't go into detail about how collective responsibility works in practice. There are issues it leaves untouched such as the question of people who oppose the majority view. We would argue that obviously people who oppose the view of the majority have a right to express their own views, however in doing so they must make clear that they don't represent the view of the organisation. If a group of people within the organisation oppose the majority decision they have the right to organise and distribute information so that their arguments can be heard within the organisation as a whole. Part of our anarchism is the belief that debate and disagreement, freedom and openness strengthens both the individual and the group to which she or he belongs." [Red and Black Revolution, no. 4, p. 30]

The last principle in the "Organisational Section" of the Platform is "Federalism," which it defines as "the free agreement of individuals and organisations to work collectively towards a common objective" and allows the "reconcil[ing] the independence and initiative of individuals and the organisation with service to the common cause." [Op. Cit., p. 33] However, the Platform argues that this principle has been "deformed" within the movement to mean the "right" to "manifest one's 'ego,' without obligation to account for duties as regards the organisation" one is a member of. [Ibid.] In order to overcome this problem, they stress that "the federalist type of anarchist organisation, while recognising each member's rights to independence, free opinion, individual liberty and initiative, requires each member to undertake fixed organisation duties, and demands execution of communal decisions." [Op. Cit., pp. 33-4]

As part of their solution to the problem of anarchist organisation, the Platform suggested that each group would have "its secretariat, executing and guiding theoretically the political and technical work of the organisation." [Op. Cit., p. 34] Moreover, the Platform suggests that "a special organ [must] be created: the executive committee of the Union" which would "be in charge" of "the execution of decisions taken by the Union with which it is entrusted; the theoretical and organisational orientation of the activity of isolated organisations consistent with the theoretical positions and the general tactical lines of the Union; the monitoring of the general state of the movement; the maintenance of working and organisational links between all the organisations in the Union; and with other organisation." The rights, responsibilities and practical tasks of the executive committee are fixed by the congress of the Union. [Ibid.] This suggestion, unsurprisingly, meet with strong disapproval by most anarchists, as we will see in the next section, who argued that this would turn the anarchist movement into a centralised, hierarchical party similar to the Bolsheviks. Needless to say, supporters of the Platform reject this argument and point out that the Platform itself is not written in stone and needs to be discussed fully and modified as required. In fact, few, if any, Platformist groups, do have this "secretariat" structure (it could, in fact, be argued that there are no actual "Platformist" groups, rather groups influenced by the Platform, namely on the issues of "Theoretical and Tactical Unity" and "Collective Responsibility").

Similarly, most modern day Platformists reject the idea of gathering all anarchists into one organisation. The original Platform seemed to imply that the General Union would be an umbrella organisation, which is made up of different groups and individuals. Most Platformists would argue that not only will there never be one organisation which encompasses everyone, they do not think it necessary. Instead they envisage the existence of a number of organisations, each internally unified, each co-operating with each other where possible, a much more amorphous and fluid entity than a General Union of Anarchists.

As well as the original Platform, most Platformists place the Manifesto of Libertarian Communism by Georges Fontenis and Towards a Fresh Revolution by the "Friends of Durruti" as landmark texts in the Platformist tradition. A few anarcho-syndicalists question this last claim, arguing that the "Friends of Durruti" manifesto has strong similarities with the CNTs pre-1936 position on revolution and thus is an anarcho-syndicalist document, going back to the position the CNT ignored after July 19th, 1936.

There are numerous Platformist and Platformist influenced organisations in the world today. These include the Irish based Workers Solidarity Movement, the British Anarchist Communist Federation, the French Libertarian Alternative, the Swiss Libertarian Socialist Organisation, the Italian Federation of Anarchist Communists and the South African Workers Solidarity Federation.

In the next section we discuss the objections that most anarchists have towards the Platform.