Book Review

The Struggle Against the State and other Essays

by Nestor Makhno, AK Press;

The Short Cut Solution Syndrome

A frequently proposed short cut solution to exerting anarchist influence amongst diverse social sectors is the organisation of all self proclaimed "anarchist" forces/tendencies into one body. Particularly, following the Bolshevik Party Coup in October 1917 during the Russian Revolution, discussion of such formulae was a major feature of debate in Anarchist circles in Europe, particularly amongst the Russian anarchist exile diaspora. Associated with such anarchist organisation building schemes is the neglect of creating workers economic combative organisations and the elaboration and pursuit of an industrial policy to achieve such bodies.

This intellectual ferment amongst anarchists crystalised into two currents - adherents of the Arshinov programme who subscribed to a centralised anarchist party and the "Syntheticists" who sought a looser formation, to organise all anarchist tendencies/groupings. Both currents exacerbated anarchism's marginality to the workers movement already ensured by the rise of Leninism/Stalinism.

An important theme of Makhno's essays in this volume under review is his emphasis upon "organising" the "anarchist" movement ignoring the necessity of building workers self managed economic combative organisations and their organs of self, defence and education.

The Anarcho-Syndicalist Task

Associated with the formation of such bodies must be the crystalisation and development of the anarcho-syndicalist current in the form of propaganda and agitational groupings. The central task of such organised units being to assist workers to self-organise and pursue direct action on the job via such activity as raising worker morale, facilitating communication amongst workers, exposing the role of management collaborators, fighting speedups/harassment, etc.

Progress in this work outside revolutionary periods must be the result of long term activity via gradual, educational work, the building of industrial papers, networks and groups.

Rather than offering a short cut to long term serious work, Makhno's proposal and that of other Arshinov programme adherents, of uniting all differing anarchist tendencies in one centralised organisation would certainly produce a nursery of schisms/endless infighting ensuring the impossibility of the pursuit of any coherent industrial policy. Certainly any such "anarchist" vanguard party would be no match for the Stalinist parties of the 1920's and 1930's during which the Arshinov Programme was discussed.

Revolutionary Discipline

A key aspect of Makhno's concept of an anarchist party is its practice of "revolutionary discipline". For anarchists, the basis of self discipline so important for revolutionary initiatives and effective long term work, should stem from self-education and associated strategic and policy agreement. For Makhno, in his essay on this topic, collective discipline is an important requirement, apparently given his vanguard party enthusiasm and the necessity of the party elite who hold the party executive positions to have their directives implemented

The Role of the Soviets/Syndicates

Important deficiencies are also apparent in Makhno's discussion of the revolutionary economy and the defence of the revolution. In his essay, "The ABC of the Revolutionary Anarchist", he sees the soviets which sprung up throughout Russia during the revolution as the means of co-ordinating industrial self-management. Within a few weeks of the revolution, these bodies in the larger towns and cities were transformed from meetings of delegates from factories/barracks and neighbourhoods to co-ordinate the general strike against Czarism, into mini-parliaments, through the infiltration of political parties. Apart from such a process affecting important sectors of soviets in a future revolution, given the different geographic locations between sites of raw materials, production, distribution and consumption, the soviets as local organisations would be inappropriate for co-ordinating the functioning of industries.A much more appropriate co-ordinative strategy would be syndicalisation - the federation of factory committees within industries, given the absence of anarcho-syndicalist unions.

In Makhno's essay, "The Defense of the Revolution", he shows a lack of appreciation for workers' militias and their relationship to workers economic combative organisations ie the organic linkage of militia coloumns/units to syndicates . Geographically recruited/based armed forces like Makhno's forces are prone to parochial and localist loyalties and are limited in their strategic effectiveness and have the potential to act autonomously and opposed to workers organisations.Certainly a factor limiting the effectiveness of Makhno's forces was the unreliability of many partisan units which spontaneously joined Makhno's forces.

In conclusion, certainly the unique circumstances of the Russian Revolution - the relative undevelopment of the syndicalist movement, and anarchism generally, due to late industrialisation, inadequate outside support, czarist repression, etc, and the disarray of revolutionary anarchism/syndicalism in much of the West during the years of Makhno's exile in the 20's, 30's, given the rise of Leninism/Stalinism, explain his enthusiasm for the anarchist party panacea. On another level, his own peasant background and the peasant basis of his movement, illuminate his neglect of syndicalist organisation in his writings. Whilst the biting rhetoric of essays which no doubt was so important in inspiring his forces during the Russian Revolution, blur the misconceptions he spreads which can only add to the confusion of activists and their departure into organisational blind alleys.

Mark McGuire