Organizational Platform of Libertarian Communists: History and Analysis

A new history and analysis of the 'Organizational Platform of Libertarian Communists" and the early pro-organizational tendencies influenced by this document written by Hungarian comrades from the Barikad Collective.

Organizational Platform of Libertarian Communists: History and Analysis

After the repression of the worldwide revolutionary wave in 1917-23, thousands of proletarian militants had to flee the areas where they actively took part in the revolts, because the terror of the capitalists was not able to kill every
revolutionary, though that was its intention. Apparently, the revolutionary movement has suffered a great blow: the triumphant counter-revolution had almost completely destroyed the structures which the proletariat had already
conquered while it was organizing itself as a class.

The proletarian organizations, which, as the prefigurations of the communist world party were organizing the centralization of the struggle, were destroyed or distorted into the counter-revolutionary caricatures of themselves. Bolshevik social democracy, which called itself "communist", together with the traditional Social Democrats, tried to disintegrate and to falsify one of the foundations of its class-being, the class memory of the proletariat.

In fact these tendencies imply the objective negation of the class as such, because their definitions of the class, just like their practical activity, disguises the basic antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat, by serving concepts like the Leninist theory of "socialism in one country", the "peaceful adjacency" of socialism and capitalism, the Bersteinian line of the socialist evolution of capitalism etc. These ideologies are the reflections of the negation of classes - the objective life condition of capitalism, which actively helped the bourgeoisie to absorb the class conflict and to reinforce the atomisation of
the proletariat.

But still, the counter-revolutionary period was unable to completely destroy the proletariat. That was practically impossible - and it will be so for the bourgeoisie that be - because the revolution is not the consequence of personal will, but the production and inevitable accompaniment of the
capitalist system. Many have tried to interpret, to laborate the lessons of the revolution (and of the defeat) directly after the defeat - and to carry on on the basis of these lessons. One thing seemed to be obvious for conscious
proletarians, the preparers of the new revolutionary wave: social democracy (both its Bolshevik and traditional forms) had denounced itself as the tool of counter-revolution.

Actually, it is important to show that social democracy was
not a revolutionary movement, what later (according to the public opinion: in 1914) became the traitor of the proletariat. It has been the tool of capital ever since, in its every manifestation. In reality its goal has never been the communist class struggle against the State, value and the dictatorship of capitalism, but the reformation of capitalism, the achieving of compromises, the maintenance of the State of exploited for the workers by some superficial
help. Naturally this does not appertain to those millions of proletarians who were - due to the lack of the break, counter-revolutionary propaganda etc. - organizing themselves in the parties of the Second International; this is about organisation itself, the representative of the historical socialdemocracy - which is the answer, and the alternative against the class struggle, offered by
Capitalism. The leadership of the Second International had already at its founding congress started its struggle for the elimination of revolutionary elements; and in every important question it committed against the elements
entitled "anarchist".

About the end of the revolutionary wave, in 1923-24 the counter-revolutionary tendency of Bolshevism also became apparent for most proletarians. Although only the more important news got out from the Soviet Union itself, the world still could see the tendency of the consequencing steps:

The signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, and in connection with this, the repression of the Left SR revolt (1918), the repression of the Makhnovshchina (about 1918-21), Kronstadt (1921), and last but not least the NEP, when the triumphant comeback of every characteristic the capitalism was announced (1921) meant the more important turning points. The "center" of the Bolshevik Party (Lenin, Trotsky) abolished every revolutionary protest (either inside or
outside the party), and consequently followed the policy of maintaining Capitalism and the dictatorship of value. As early as 1918 they attacked the Moscow Anarchist Center by the force of arms: 600 militants were imprisoned and
many of them killed. The reason was that the anarchists had organized their own armed force, the Black Guard, which was preparing for a cruel showdown with the class enemy. And there is nothing more frightening for capitalism than an armed proletariat. So in Bolshevism, the proletarian factions, which were confronting the State power of a re-painted capitalism for the sake of the revolution, were
called "anarchist", "leftist divergent" again, or they were treated like criminals and bandits, by this denying their political role.

So, at the beginning of the twenties, anarchism and "left-wing" communism seemed to be the only heir to the revolution - and social democracy came after them by all possible means. Besides the already-mentioned Russian and Ukrainian Anarchists, on one hand the German and the Netherlands Council Communists were those who belonged here - their party, the German Communist Workers' Party (KAPD) played an important role in clarifying the lessons of the revolutionary wave, and in deepening the break with the capitalist system. On the other hand, the left wing of newly-formed Communist parties, especially in England (Sylvia Pankhurst's newspaper, "The Workers' Dreadnought", and the "anarcho-marxists") and in Italy (the internationalist Communists grouping around Amadeo Bordiga),
the German Anarcho-Syndicalists, whose organisation, the German Union of the Free Workers (FAUD), after revolutionary dynamism at the beginning, under the direction of Rudolf Rocker was becoming more and more a withholding force; and
the countless "anarchist" tendencies all around the world.

In many cases we can only mention people like Errico Malatesta, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, who were in themselves manifesting tendencies. In England there was a powerful anarchist movement beside the radical communists, just like in Spain. But the foreign - especially Russian - anarchists fleeing from the counter-revolution found asylum mainly in France. (Here we only deal with Europe - we are just mentioning that in this period the center of revolutionary activity had already been placed outside of Europe, mainly in Latin-America.)

The phenomenon called "anarchism" at that time meant very diverse and controversial groups and tendencies. On the whole it was not revolutionary, moreover, its counter-revolutionary essence was due to the fact that in many elements it was really struggling for the revolution, but it regarded anarchism as a big family or community where the different tendencies want the same thing on an ethereal level. But this was not true. The majority of the "anarchist" groups used bourgeois words and their activity was only the completion of Social Democracy: they denied the centralization of the class struggle, they declared the cult of the individual, they rejected the dictatorial form of the
revolution and the proletariat. Most of them praised the self-government of the producers, so instead of changing the base - the dictatorship of value on the human needs - they stressed a completely technical question, the ways of
controlling. Others - first and foremost the council communists and many of the anarchist communists - formed a truly communist minority and continued their revolutionary struggle.

There were all kinds of people in the French exile. Everybody was talking about Anarchism and they gave the most narrow-minded bourgeois phantasms this adjective. But essentially this process had the same goal (only to a smaller extent) which Bolshevism had on the "other side": to cloud the essence of the class struggle. They hashed the old position about "the abyss between Anarchism and Communism" - emasculating both sides which are in fact one and the same.
The Bolshevik printing-houses were pouring out pamphlets against the Anarchists, calumnies about the Makhnovshchina, and Lenin's brochure, "Left-wing communism, an infantile disorder" in which the author pronouncedly condemns every revolutionary tendency, and holds brief for the elite party,
parliamentarianism and the trade-union struggle. But the "anarchist" side was also quick to answer back - the "leaders", first and foremost Berkman and Malatesta enumerated some untoward arguments against "authoritarian socialism", i.e. "marxian" communism. The most characteristic product of the era was a pamphlet entitled "Bakunin vs Marx" whose unknown anarchist author analyzed the "antagonism" of the two tendencies in a tone more suitable for tabloid newspapers. This is an adequate "anarchist" pair to Lenin's "communist" pamphlet.

In 1926, the biggest organization of French anarchists, the Anarchist Union (UA) started a great debate about a manifestation whose goal was to harmonize the positions of the individualists, revolutionary anarchism and syndicalism.
The debate grew more and more acrimonious, and the anarcho-communists stated that they had nothing in common with the individualists and other bourgeois "anarchists", so they left the organization and founded the Anarchist-Communist Union (UAC). The new organization stated that "the only possible means of struggle is revolutionary anarchism, the only possible goal is communism; the two are one and the same". They marked as a goal the "break with the Big Family of anarchism" which tried to unify the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary tendencies into one pseudo-community. The majority of the UAC was for the centralization of the struggle and the use of dictatorial means, insofar as in 1927 the founding of an anarchist party was put forward ("party", i.e. centralised fighting organization - not a political party). Then a tendency - the "synthesists" - left the UAC, and following the lead of Sebastian Faure and the ex-Makhnovist Volin, fell back upon the old theory of the popular front, the "synthesis" of the many kinds of anarchism - while the revolutionary anarchists reinforced their organization under the name Revolutionary Anarchist Communist Union (UACR), which operated until 1930.

The Russian Anarchists (who were mainly revolutionaries) also participated in these struggles. Already in 1925 they founded the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad, which ran a newspaper called "Workers’ Truth" (Delo Truda) - whose
editors were Nestor Makhno, Ida Mett and Piotr Arshinov. That was the organ where they published the programmatic text of the group, the "Organizational Platform of Libertarian Communism", which later became famous simply under the name "The Platform".

The appearance of the Platform instantly initiated heated debates. Led by Volin, the synthesists started an attack in their newspaper "Union". "The claim that the anarchism is simply the theory of class struggle, leads to a unilateral position", stated Volin.

The platformists summoned a meeting on 5th February 1927, whose goal was to organize an international conference of revolutionaries. A Temporary Comittee was set up, with the participaiton of Makhno, the Chinese Chen and the Polish
Ranko. The participiants who were from 6 different countries worked out the main issues of the future conference:

1) The class struggle as the most important element of Anarchism
2) Anarchist Communism as the foundation of the movement
3) Syndicalism as an important method of struggle
4) The necessity of establishing a General Union of Anarchists, an organisation to be based on ideological and tactical unity and collective responsibility
5) The necessity of a positive programme in order to achieve the social revolution.

This was a very revolutionary programme on the level of the period, though it contains some strange elements too - e.g. the acceptance of a kind of participation in the trade unions - the 1918-21 elements had clearly shown the
impossibility of this. The debate about the suggestion could not be finished because the police raided the assembly and everyone was arrested. Makhno was saved from death only by the campaign of the French Anarchists.

In the end the "International Federation of Revolutionary Anarchist-Communists" remained a plan and many of the participiants turned against it (e.g. Camillo Berneri, the great Italian Anarcho-Communist, who was later killed by Erno Gero in Barcelona, 1937). The individualist side led by Malatesta also started a great attack against the Platform. Makhno and his comrades on 18th August 1927 published the "Reply to the Anarchist-Communist". In this they explained their views about the necessity of the revolutionary leadership:

"It is obvious that the revolution will be accomplished by the masses themselves, but the revolutionary mass always produces the minority which will push the masses forward."

This point of view was a big mote in the platformists' eye in the opinion of the "anarchists" praising the freedom of the "individual" and the unlimited individualism. The article wrote the following about these people:

"The whole company of individualists who call themselves anarchist, are in fact not anarchist at all. The fact that this many people who gather (but on what foundation?) and claim that 'we are one family', and they call this whole
mixture an 'anarchist organization' is not just inept, but pronouncedly hostile."

Although the international organisation couldn't be formed, the Platform had a great effect on revolutionary anarchists of many countries. In France, the platformists took many organizations under their control for a while, but in the end they always had to leave them. This was an important lesson for them that the obsolete, counter-revolutionary organizations should not be cobbled and reformed, because it is completely useless, but instead of that they should
again and again, through many break-ups, concretize the class programme of the proletariat. Organizations were founded in Italy and in Bulgaria, just like in Poland - though that just adopted the general principles, rejecting the Platform as authoritarian.

The 1935-45 war dissolved the ranks of anarchism but since the capitalist peace has not brought much change compared to the capitalist war, the class struggle activity toned up again. By this time the Bolsheviks (including the Trotskyites) have already played their role and could not make any effect to the really class struggling proletarian elements. The revolutionary movement in many cases reached back to the Platform and created, somewhat controversial but in any case revolutionary organizations like the Libertarian Communist Federation (FCL) in France and the Anarchist Proletarian Action Groups (GAAP) in Italy at the beginning of the fifties, and later the Revolutionary Anarchist Federations in different countries.

The text itself, as we have seen before, was written in a period when the counter-revolution (after the abolition of the 1917-23 revolutionary wave) was in the full flush of health. So the most emphasized point of the text was to
point out the disorganisation and confusion of the movement, the complete lack of centralization and united practice. It is doubtless that against the powers of the extremely centralized and at least against the proletarians unified
capital one has to use similar methods in order to win. But pseudo-anarchism was attacking the anti-democratic and dictatorial essence of the proletarian struggle with full force. So the desired unity only without them and against
them could be achieved.

The Platform correctly states that anarchism is "not a beautiful utopia, nor an abstract philosophical idea, it is a social movement of the labouring masses".

Instead of the bourgeois duality of practice and theory, this is an organic unity, the process of the abolition of capital in its every manifestation. The Platform always proceeds from the active reality and tries to react in
accordance with this; it does not concern itself with the theoretical "problems" constantly debated by the "anarchologists" (Did Kropotkin wear flowered underpants? Will there be weather forecast in the anarchist society?
etc.).

Above all, the text urges the creation of a powerful, all-in anarchist organization. Maybe today this seems to be obvious, but in that situation it was not. Many pseudo-anarchists denied even the necessity of organization
itself. Others said if an organization exists, it must be something nominal, just for the purposes of coordination, within which the individual persons and subgroups have inner autonomy. This democratic pseudo-organization has in each
case proven to be completely unable to produce any revolutionary activity.

Hence the creators of the Platform were for the unitary (revolutionary) tendency and for organized collective activity. This was a very important step for anarchists, because they challenged those taboos which were a real barrier for anarchism to really effective struggle. The Platform stresses the absurdity of the pseudo-organization established on the basis of such a synthesis.

The goal of the text is no other than to provide the programme for an international anarchist-revolutionary organisation in formation, namely the programme of the worldwide communist proletarian party - the programme of the
proletariat organized into a class. This task was beyond the means of the text. In general, this is the revolutionary programme of the proletariat - though it is an existing and effective historical reality, it is no other than the
revolutionary process: nobody, no group will ever be able to put them down exactly. But this is not necessary, because in the course of the concretizations of the class struggle (which contains the written documents, too) this programme will always be realized to some extent.

From these events, and the lessons from them, one can abstract and deduce some of its characteristics. These are principally the break with democracy, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the struggle against parliamentarianism and
the trade unions, the struggle against political parties and the tasks of the anarcho-communist revolutionary core (with an inappropriate word, the "vanguard"). These points have no clear appearance in the Platform either.

The poorest parts of the text are those dealing with the concrete task which should be completed in the course of the revolution, which try to give a picture about the organization of the production, consumption, army etc. It
must be laid down that the Platform (which went quite far in the break with pseudo-anarchism and in other crucial questions of the proletarian revolution) here falls into the trap of making up utopias. The main problem with these
utopias is that they can be realised as well: they do not solve the antagonism between human activity and work, means and ware, use-value and exchange-value. The exchange between cities and villages (though with great simplification) nowadays goes the same way as well...

The platformists did not see the complete subversiveness of the proletarian revolution - its characteristics that must profoundly change the relations. The antagonisms mentioned before should be destroyed in the first minutes of the
revolution, and there cannot be any transitional, half-capitalist/half-communist State.

Although the text itself lays this down in a whole chapter, exposing how counter-revolutionary the conceptions about transition are, however, the second part the text itself drafts such a state... The form of the dictatorship of the
proletariat (which is not "the organ of the transition" but the nature of the revolutionary struggle, the proletarian class) is the counter-state, which is the complete and active negation of the existing order - just as the
proletariat is the negation of the bourgeoisie in itself. The creators of the text fall into the error that they talk about the "freedom" and the "independence" of the proletarians (in their terminology, the workers - which
means the same here).

Here are two anarchist fetishes which the text could not surpass. These two terms only have sense in capitalism. From what is a worker free and independent? From capitalism? It is obvious that this is not the case, because that determines his existence (as a worker and as a social creature, too). Thus it is his class that he is free and independent from, from the force whose goal is no other than the complete abolishment of this system - including the
freedom and independence of the "worker".

The interesting thing is that the text has many times settled its account with these illusions because it argues the necessity of centralization and a unified organization. It was attacked many times by the champions of freedom...

As we have mentioned before, its position on the trade unions is quite confused as well. While elsewhere it is clearly shown that the revolutionary struggle is no other than anarchist communism, in this question the authors draw several levels, and they indicate syndicalism as a means of struggle. On the one hand they see the counter-revolutionary role of the trade unions (which the majority of syndicalists saw too during the revolution), while on the other hand they
believe in the possibility that they can be improved.

The anticipation explained here is in fact about a trade union under anarchist influence. This is a contradiction, though: an organization which tries to ameliorate (because it is a trade union) society which it wants to completely
destroy (because it is anarchist).

The historical programme of the proletariat does not contain wage struggles (?), declared strikes (?), trade union maydays. Conversely, it does contain the abolition of wage labour, violent wildcat strikes, the ecstatic joy of struggle and the dictatorial oppression of hostile interests.

We do not want to deal with the part on production and distribution, the army etc. These are desipient, sometimes dangerous daydreaming about self-management and voluntariness etc. - a kind of a democratic heaven which is in complete discordance with the expectations of the general part. But we should add that anyone who tries to describe the communist society within the circumstances of
the current society, cannot go further than daydreaming.

At the end of the text, the authors have to fight another pseudo-anarchist phantom, which seems to be quite dangerous: federalism. Although the text is, in fact, about organizing ourselves into a class and about centralizing the struggle (and this is obvious to the pseudo-anarchist whimperers), the authors are too shy to admit the necessity of centralization verbally. They try to avoid this by making difference between "bad" and "good" federalism. The "bad"
one emphasizes the importance of the ego and it is the means of the individualist, while the "good" one is, as it is revealed, not federalism but centralism... Exactly the vagueness of the question, the lack of breaking-up in
this question leads the authors to put down that entirely bourgeois rubbish about the Federal Executive Committee. Well, this is not the "organized vanguard"...

Shortly, we will mention another critical point: the text keeps separating the peasantry and the proletariat - though this latter does not only refer to the "oily-handed workers". The peasantry is not a social class, it is a layer
created by the division of labour. There are bourgeoisies as well in their ranks, not only proletarians (and this also refers to the workers, though there are obviously more peasant bourgeoises...). But still, it is an important
lesson that the peasantry in the modern revolutionary movement in Europe and in the areas where a real owner of its lands (unlike in Russia!) played a more counter-revolutionary role. The overestimating of the revolutionary potential of the peasantry is due to the group's (a bit too over-emphasized) Russian point of view. The importance of labour is also over-emphasized. They fall into the old workerist trap, which is the oldest weapon social democracy has against us: let's be proud of our work, let's be proud to be workers, unlike the bourgeois "drones", let's struggle for the "society of labour"...! But communism is no more than the complete negation of labour, every kind of work, the realisation of human activity against alienated activity. It is not just we are not proud to be workers, but that's why were are revolting, we are revolting against labour!

"What is the difference between the social democrat and the communist?" - was the question posed by the Situationist International at the beginning of the seventies: "The social democrats want full employment, the communists want full
unemployment."

We want to stress once more that the Platform is not a holy text and it is not without errors. It wasn't like that in 1926, either. But its goal was (as the authors claim) not to create a bible, but a way to start a debate which would
result in common revolutionary activity among the really revolutionary elements. We cannot say anything more either but let it nowadays do a similar task as well.

Barricade Collective
February, 2005

http://www.anarcom.lapja.hu

English text revised by the Nestor Makhno Archive
http://www.nestormakhno.info