Anarchism and imperialist war (part 3): From the end of the Second World War to the end of the counter-revolution

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Since the collapse of the Stalinist regimes andthe eastern bloc, the organisations of official anarchism have prided themselveson keeping their hands clean in the confrontation of the east and western blocsfrom 1945 to 1989 and fostered the legend of an unshakeable opposition to themilitary blocs: "The anarchists vary on the problems of the blocs. Themajority decided to oppose both east and west..."[1].

Anarchism faced with imperialist blocs

In reality, during the Cold War after1945, some of the anarchist organisations officially took a position in favourof the defence of the ‘free world', such as the SAC (Sveriges ArbetaresCentralorganisation) in Sweden. At the time of the direct confrontation betweenthe armed forces of the eastern bloc and the American and UNO forces in Korea,1950-53, some, like members of the Révolution Prolétarienne group, in the nameof choosing the ‘lesser evil' and the defence of democracy, took an openlypro-American position. This was the case with A. Prudommeaux, N. Lazarevitch,and G. Leval but also of Spanish and Bulgarian militants: "There are twoimperialisms but I know of one that's particularly dangerous and totalitarianwith slavery as the key. The other is a lesser danger... I am not for thewithdrawal of American troops from Korea... In Korea, I only see one warcriminal and that is Stalin. He is directly responsible for the strategicbombardments that are decimating the Korean population..."[2] Conversely, others brandedAmerican imperialism as the principal warmonger.

For those anarchists, such as the FédérationAnarchiste, who said they rejected all the camps involved and had the slogan "againstStalin, without being for Truman, against Truman without being for Stalin",they didn't at all act like internationalists and they didn't escape the logicof choosing one imperialist camp against the other. Thus, when the USSRlaunched itself into the arms race to keep up with the Americans, the ‘combatfor the 3rd front' "led the FA to denounce German rearmament by supportingthe pacifists of this country and participating in the ‘Ridgeway[3]Go Home' campaign[4]"animated by the PCF. Through the critical endorsement that it gave to thiscampaign, the FA acted as a tail-end to the PCF; it fulfilled the function ofrallying workers behind the PCF and into the unconditional defence of theRussian imperialist bloc!

On the other hand, provocative protestactions played the same role in touting for bourgeois state institutions: the‘really anti-imperialist' struggle of the ‘3rd revolutionary front' put forwardby the FA was concretised at the time of the legislative elections of 1951 "infavour of voting lists being drawn up: No eastern dictatorship, no westerndictatorship, I want peace"[5], or else by undertakingspectacular stunts, such as the trespass in 1952 "in the great room of thePalais de Chaillot where a plenary session of the UN  was taking place. A number of leafletsentitled ‘3rd Front, Down with War' was thrown into the room and the Americanand Russian delegates were met with inoffensive projectiles."[6]

Far from helping the working class tostrengthen itself politically, this type of action, while seemingly innocuous,serves to maintain the illusion in the working class that such methods could bea step towards the revolutionary confrontation. On the contrary, it onlyreinforces the submission of the working class to democratic mystifications.

Meanwhile the Fédération CommunisteLibertaire presented candidates to the legislative elections of 1956! At thetime of the liquidation of the 4th Republic and the summons of De Gaulle topower in 1958 in order to settle the colonial problem, "there was agreementin all the appeals in the libertarian press to save the threatened Republic(...) The great majority of anarchists chose the Republic and the politics ofthe lesser evil..."[7] In April 1961, faced withthe putsch in Algiers by generals who opposed Algerian independence, "the FAparticipated in different committees regrouping several organisations of theleft (...) the anarchists were among the first to defend democratic liberties,and this despite subsequent denials."[8]

Above all, the constant support given toso-called national liberation struggles concretised the choice of oneimperialist camp against another. In the words of the FA: "Anarchists demandfor the overseas population the right to liberty, to work in independence, theright of their own destiny outside of the rivalries now tearing the worldapart; they assure them of their solidarity in the struggle that they mustundertake against the oppression of all the imperialisms..."[9] The anarchists thus tooktheir place among the best servants of the mystification of the right of peopleto self-determination. They found themselves in unison with the officialideology of each of the blocs, as much the Zhdanov doctrine of the eastern blocwhich affirmed itself as "the real defender of liberty and independence ofall nations, an adversary of national oppression and colonial exploitation inall its forms"[10], as well as the Americandoctrine that stipulated "in these key zones everything must be done toencourage democratic forms and access to their independence". Thesetheories were developed so that one bloc could militarily destabilise the otherin the merciless imperialist wars between the Soviet and Western blocs.

Thus, the French anarchistsmisrepresented the war in Indo-China as a "revolutionary episode" (FA in1952) where one could see a "class war" (FCL in 1954) and proclaimed thelegitimacy of "the struggle of the Indochinese proletariat" and thenecessity for "workers' solidarity with the Viet-Minh".

This political support for nationalliberation struggles even went as far as physical involvement. During the warin Algeria, numerous libertarians joined the ‘bag carriers', the network ofsupport for the FLN[11]. "The position ofcritical support in favour of a socialist and self-managed Algeria" of theFCL in the name of solidarity "with oppressed peoples, against imperialism"was concretised in material, active support to the Algerian nationalist partiesof the MNA, then of the FLN when the latter became all-powerful after 1956. "TheMaquis of the ALN (Army of National Liberation) divide themselves upbetween the two authorities. We know this because we have amongst us, in theFCL, Algerian comrades of the FLN tendency; but we have provided services tothe MNA maquis by playing the role of intermediaries in order to obtain‘supplies' (ie, arms) for their combatants."[12]

These positions of the anarchists infavour of national liberation struggles, however critical, directly served toensure the submission of the masses to imperialism. Anarchism bears a heavypart of the responsibility for subjecting the proletariat and the exploitedclasses to the barbarity of the military conflicts that have covered the planetwith blood. A prisoner of the logic of establishing a distinction between thedifferent imperialist gangsters (in the name of the rights of the weakest) isthe common trait of the whole thieves' kitchen of official anarchism and itdirectly turned anarchists into recruiting agents for imperialist war. Decadesof spreading these mystifications, to which anarchists had systematically contributed,greatly delayed the proletariat from emerging from the counter-revolutionfighting for its own objectives.

In fact, the official anarchist currentsthat dominated the anarchist movement after the Second World War up until theend of the counter-revolution, and even afterwards, helped to sterilise thegrowing reflection about the ‘communist' reality of the Stalinist regimes.These currents made use of a sentiment of revulsion towards the hideous lieabout ‘communism' in the eastern countries, and turned it towards ideas like anti-militarismand pacifism. Instead of contributing to the development of a historicalunderstanding of class relations, these currents encouraged the development ofindividualist, activist and immediatist responses. Many of those who rejectedthe Stalinist ‘model' were thus steered towards the defence of democracy, andthus towards the defence of the other imperialist camp.

The end of the counter-revolution

However, after 1968, with the end of thecounter-revolution and the return of the proletariat to the scene of history,we saw the reappearance of a phenomenon that had already been seen in otherhistorical moments: politicised elements who were really trying to find arevolutionary direction on the basis of anarchism

The development in the United States andthe western countries of the student revolts of the 60s, taking as their keytheme the opposition to the US war in Vietnam, indicated that the ideologicalweight of Stalinism was beginning to crack. In fact the official Stalinistparties had little influence on these movements when they denounced USintervention in Vietnam against the military forces supported by the so-calledanti-capitalist Soviet bloc. Above all, the lie of a ‘communist andrevolutionary' Stalinism broke up with the outbreak of struggle of a newgeneration of young workers in the general strike of 1968 in France and thenvarious massive working class movements throughout the world. It was the end ofthe counter-revolution and the idea of a communist revolution was back on theagenda.

Through their anti-Stalinism, theanarchist organisations, especially after the repression of the movement inHungary 1956, exercised a certain attraction, essentially among students. Whilethey strengthened themselves numerically, the old existing organisations didnot really satisfy the new generation, who saw them as sclerotic. The whole ofthe milieu recomposed itself.[13]

In the heat of the resurgentinternational class struggle, there were within the anarchist milieu minoritiesand elements looking for class positions, and trying to obtain a revolutionarycoherence from anarchism. Thus a part of the new, libertarian milieu opened upto organisations that had developed certain class positions (Socialisme ouBarbarie), or even to the proletarian political milieu, in particular itsorganised councilist pole, embodied in Informations et CorrespondancesOuvrieres. In this way, the group Noir et Rouge for example, demarcated itselffrom the FA and, recognising "the primacy of the class struggle",proposed "bringing anarchism up to date and an adaptation of anarchistprinciples." The group affirmed the necessity for debate and defended "contactwith other comrades who do not necessarily claim to be anarchist". Itdenounced the kind of sanctification of the "Spanish revolution" that "forbadeall criticism".[14] In its quest for genuinelyworking class forms of struggle, the group turned towards the politicalcontribution of the German-Dutch communist left and of Pannekoek. Itparticipated in the international meeting organised by ICO in Brussels in 1969along with Paul Mattick, an old militant of the German Communist Left andémigré to the United States, and Cajo Brendel, the animator of the Dutchcouncilist group Daad en Gedacht.

This decantation of the anarchist milieuaround the methods of proletarian class struggle was politically veryimportant, but it was limited in its scope. In effect, since this decantationtook place around the organised councilist pole of the proletarian milieu,which weakened and disappeared in the 1970s, the group Noir et Rouge wasdragged into this shipwreck and dissolved itself in the crush, bringing aboutan important waste of militant energies. The general context of the period,with its widespread illusions in the possibility for the capitalist system tofind its way out of its economic crisis, as well as the difficulties of theproletariat in politicising its combat, in affirming the perspective ofrevolution, was exploited to the hilt by leftists of all types in order toblock any emerging revolutionary consciousness.

However, a small part of these newelements coming from anarchism did trace out a path towards a new proletarianpolitical milieu that had been reborn with the return of the proletariat ontothe scene of history.

Scott 31/8/9.

see also

Anarchism and imperialist war (part 1): Anarchists faced with the First World War

Anarchism and imperialist war (part 2): Anarchist participation in the Second World War

Anarchism and imperialist war (part 4): Internationalism, a crucial question in today's debates


[1] Afterwordby M. Zemliak to the book of Max Nettlau, History of Anarchy, Artefact,p.279.

[2] Letter ofS. Ninn 24.08.50, cited by G. Fontenis, L'Autre Communisme (The OtherCommunism), Acritie, p.134.

[3] When the Commander-in-Chief of NATO forces, Ridgeway, cameto France in May 1952, the French Communist Party led its troops in fighting inthe streets against formidable police forces, resulting in one worker's deathand 17 wounded.

[4] G. Fontenis, L'Autre Communisme, p.149.

[5] G. Fontenis, L'Autre Communisme, p.134.

[6] G. Fontenis, L'Autre Communisme, p.149.

[7] Sylvain Boulouque, The French anarchists faced withcolonial war (1945-1962), Atelier de Creation Libertaire, p.61.

[8] Ibid, p.65.

[9] Resolution of the Congress of the FA, October 1945, onincrevablesanarchistes.org.

[10] Joukov, Crisis and the colonial system, Moscow, 1949.

[11] As Alternative Libertaire claimed: "One very oftenforgets that the network of ‘bag carriers' who supported Algerian independenceduring the war didn't begin their existence in 1957 with the action of P.Jeanson, then H. Curiel. After the Toussaint insurrection in 1954 in fact, theonly organisations supporting Algerian independence were situated on theextreme left - the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI-Trotksyist) and theFCL. In Algeria itself, the Mouvement Libertaire Nord-Africain (MLNA), linkedto the FCL, joined the struggle against the French state, for the independenceof the country, from Toussaient 1954. The French police liquidated the MLNAthen the FCL between 1956 and 1957. The libertarians nevertheless pursued thestruggle against colonialism within the Groupes Anarchistes d'ActionRévolutionnaires (GAAR) or, for the survivors of the FCL, within the VoieCommuniste."

[12] G. Fontenis, L'Autre Communisme, p.209.

[13] For example, in 1965, in Italy, the Anarchist InitiativeGroups left the FAI: the youth of the north of Italy detached themselves fromthe FAGI to constitute the Federated Anarchist Groups. In France,l'Organisation Révolutionanaire Anarchiste separated from the FA in 1970 inorder to approach extreme left, non-libertarian organisations. It later becamel'Organisation Communiste Libertaire.

[14] Quotes in Cedric Guerin, Pensee et action de anarchists enFrance: 1950-1970, raforum.apinc.org.

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