Voluntaryism in the European Anarchist Tradition

Carl Watner


Voluntaryism, the doctrine that the State should be abolished through peaceful, non-electoral means, has been advocated by anarchists both in Europe and America. My earlier pamphlets, Voluntaryism in the Libertarian Tradition and A Voluntaryist Bibliography, Annotated generally dealt with the roots of the anti-electoral, voluntaryist tradition and its manifestations in the United States and England. This essay, however, deals primarily with the expression of this tradition by European anarchists. The picture presented here is not an exaggerated view of the anti-political nature of European anarchism, but it is one seen through a single lens. There are many other aspects and elements of European anarchism, which, although not examined here, are still important. Nevertheless, any historical judgment will credit anti-parliamentarianism as one of the most important and long-lasting aspects of the anarchist tradition, both in Europe and North America.

Although Emma Goldman was a naturalized U.S. citizen, her roots were European and many of the activities and debates she engaged in involved European affairs. Her appearance in this essay also epitomizes the difference in emphasis between individualist-anarchists and collectivist-anarchists. The former have approached libertarian history from the perspective of the self-ownership principle; that is anarchists and libertarians were usually defined by their adherence to the axiom that each person is a self-owner and should control his own person and justly owned property. Within the context of English and American history this primarily meant dealing with the radical individualists and radical abolitionists from the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries. However, the European anarchist tradition never fully developed this principle of self-ownership in the same manner as the individualist-anarchists in the English speaking world. It was always anti-authoritarian and had a more collectivist orientation towards property ownership than did the individualist tradition.

Anarchists of whatever persuasion always have and always will view the State as a criminal institution, as a band of thieves and robbers who violate the person and property rights of their victims. It is this anarchist insight into the nature of the State – that the State is inherently and necessarily an invasive institution – which distinctly identifies the anarchist, whether individualist or collectivist. What unites them is their commonly shared view of the State as a criminal gang and as the chief enemy and most dangerous enemy of all people in society. Where they differ is in their expectations regarding the form a future anarchist society will take. Since anarchism is the doctrine that all the affairs of the people should be conducted on a voluntary basis, it is up to the people who compose such a society to arrange their affairs as suits them. Many European anarchists anticipated a communal, or collectivist organization of society, once the State was abolished. However, as much as their future expectations differed from those of the individualists, their approach to social change was voluntaryist and anti-political. Although the European anarchist tradition was often looked upon as fraught with the violence of terrorists and war, it included many nonviolent revolutionaries among its ranks. As we shall see, the European experiences offer a rich buffet of historical lessons for all voluntaryists today.


Although one of the earliest popularizers of the term “anarchism” was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), another Frenchman, Anselme Bellegarrigue, his contemporary, was the first to publish a periodical with an explicitly anarchist title. His L’Anarchie: Journal De L’Ordre, first appeared in April, 1850. Bellegarrigue was even more anti-electoral than Proudhon and was explicitly nonviolent. According to him, the task of abolishing governments “must be carried out neither by political parties, which will always seek to dominate, nor by violent revolution, which needs leaders like any other military operation. The people once enlightened will act for itself.” The people will make its own revolution, by the sole strength of right, the force of inertia, “the refusal to co-operate.” From the refusal to co-operate stems the abrogation of the laws that legalize murder and the proclamation of equity.

Both Bellegarrigue and Proudhon stressed the basic freedom and spontaneity of anarchism and saw that these elements precluded the use of rigid organizations, particularly anything like a political party, which sought to seize and hold power, for creating the future society. “All parties without exception, in so far as they seek for power, are varieties of absolutism”, said Proudhon, and none of his followers have departed from this position. From his own personal experiences in parliamentary affairs, Proudhon came to reject parliamentary institutions because “they mean that the individual abdicates his sovereignty by handing it over to a representative; once he has done this, decisions may be reached in his name over which he no longer has any control.” Proudhon opposed democratic parliaments as well as monarchs, such as Emperor Napoleon III, when he proudly declared: “Whoever puts his hand on me to govern me is an usurper and a tyrant; I declare him my enemy.”

Proudhon did not begin his “political” career with a rejection of electoral activity, however. In April 1848, he narrowly missed being elected to the Constituent Assembly, and in June of that same year he actually was elected. There is some speculation that he ran for office with the idea of gathering support for his People’s Bank, since he had already approached a government cabinet minister for assistance in promoting the project. His experience was disillusioning: “As soon as I set foot in the Parliamentary Sinai, … I ceased to be in touch with the masses; because I was absorbed by my legislative work. I entirely lost sight of the current of events.” It was soon clear that, he was completely out of place in the Assembly. As he recalled his election of 1848, a year afterwards Proudhon remarked with some justification:

When I think of all I have written and published for ten years on the role of the state in society, on the subordination of power and the revolutionary incapacity of government, I am tempted to believe that my election was the effect of a misunderstanding on the part of the people.

His biographer, George Woodcock, adds, “it seems to have been the effect of a misunderstanding on his own part as well.”

While still in Parliament, Proudhon was charged with sedition when he denounced Louis-Napoleon. His parliamentary immunity was waived by his colleagues, and he was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 3000 francs. Thus ended his first involvement in real politics. Years later, in 1863, when the Bonapartist government held elections, Proudhon became the center of an anti-voting movement. Committees of Abstention were set up in Paris and Bourdeaux and Proudhon penned a detailed exposition of his abstentionist arguments, which appeared in April 1863, under the title Les Democrates Assermentes et les Refractaires (Oath-Taking Democrats and Non-Jurors). Despite some little success, the Committee of Abstention disbanded after the election. “Yet it bequeathed to the movements that followed it, and particularly to anarchism and syndicalism, at least two important elements – the rejection of expediency as a dominant element in political behaviour, and the rejection of the democratic myth of the vote as a universal political panacea.”

Although Proudhon may not have totally rejected all forms of parliamentarism and voting, he believed that political parties were designed to serve the ruling classes. It is certain that his own political experiences “hardened his distrust of political methods and helped to create the anti-parliamentartianism that marked his last years and was inherited by the anarchist movement in general.” Besides Proudhon, there were several other European anarchists with similar electoral experiences. Karl Grun, one of the most ardent German converts of Proudhon, served “a short disillusioning period as a parliamentarian – in the Prussian National Assembly in 1849, …” Another anarchist with similar experience was the Dutchman, Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, who was also an extreme anti-militarist. He was elected to parliament in 1888, as a Socialist and he remained there for three years. Like Proudhon and Grun, he found it a saddening experience, and emerged a convinced anti-parliamentarian and began turning towards anarchism. (This also recalls to mind the British member of Parliament, Auberon Herbert, who evolved into a voluntaryist.)

The anarchist dissatisfaction with electoral politics was not totally a one way street. There were prominent anarchists who turned towards parliamentary socialism, as they became disillusioned with the possibilities of achieving the “anarchist revolution”. Paul Brousse (1844-1912) was one such personality. He had fallen under the influence of Bakunin in the early 1870’s and became one of the leading exponents of the anarchist “propaganda by deed” (acts of violent terrorism). After 1877, he became mainly concerned with the revival of the French socialist movement. “This revival, combined with the growing isolation and ineffectiveness of the anarchists, led Brousse to change his ideas on political tactics, and when he returned to France in 1880, he had abandoned the central tenet of anarchism, abstention from the use of the vote, although he continued to believe in the ideal of anarcho-communist society.”

In Brousse’s own case, he became disillusioned with the possibility of terror tactics winning a majority of the masses over to anarchism and thus became willing to experiment with electoral tactics instead. However previous to his “political” conversion, in 1875, he had written a pamphlet critical of universal suffrage, attacking it both on the basis of the French experience, as well as criticizing its theoretical shortcomings. In the words of his biographer, Brousse illustrated “how universal suffrage had been used throughout the century as an instrument of the bourgeoisie, while posturing as an expression of the will of the people.” Brousse concluded that electoral agitation would only confirm the bourgeoisie in power.

Despite his anti-electoral outpourings, Brousse swallowed his pride and turned to electoral action, when his anarchist strategies failed to bring about any immediate results. He joined with the socialists and became founder of a political party identified with the term “possibilism”. The “possibilists” had as their aim “to achieve as soon as possible the organization of public services for the immediate needs of the working class. One of the ways this could be achieved was through municipal action” and politics. The choice he made was a way out of the dilemma faced by anarchists in the late 1870’s and 1880’s. For many saw the dogma of electoral abstention only as a tactic and when it proved ineffective they were ready to resort to electoral efforts or trade unionism.


The failure of terror tactics during the 1880’s and early 1890’s created a disillusionment in anarchist ranks, as we have seen. This resulted in large numbers of French anarchists becoming syndicalists and entering workers unions. Revolutionary trade unionism, or syndicalism as it became known, was premised upon the class struggle between wage earners (the proletariat) and the State, represented by property owners and the bourgeoisie. The outcome of the class struggle would result in a social revolution and the establishment of a socialist society, in which autonomous syndicates would control each industry. The syndicates in turn would be controlled by the workers of that particular branch of industry and would unite in general national federations. Syndicalists thus combined the Marxian elements of class struggle and distribution according to need with the collectivist concept of property and the anarchist idea of statelessness. Syndicates were unique in that they placed a distinctive emphasis on the role of the labor union in the struggle against the State and opposed parliamentary democracy and political weapons in the class struggle.

It was from the two makers of the anarchist tradition, Proudhon, and Michael Bakunin (1814-1876) that the French syndicalists inherited their “over-powering hatred of the centralized state, a sharp distrust of politicians, and a rudimentary conception of workers’ control in industry.” Imbued with strong anarchist tendencies, many of these unions came to regard the State with hostile eyes and to reject the conquest of political power. The general strike, comprising workers in all trade unions, rather than political parties, was to be the primary means of achieving the social revolution.

Many anarchists participated in syndicalist unions, and in fact it was their participation which largely prevented these unions from becoming subsidiary to the political parties in their respective countries. There was a clear distinction between parliamentary socialism and anarcho-syndicalism. The anarchists believed that the State could never become an instrument of emancipation even in the hands of a socialist government. These anarchists denounced parliamentary action as a “pellmell of compromise, of corruption, of charlatanism and of absurdities, which does no constructive work.” On the other hand, most European socialists called for the workingman to participate in parliamentary life. They didn’t think that political abstention was helpful or possible. The anarcho-syndicalists responded that “Politics can never be the way of emancipation for the workers. … You can change the form of political state, …, but it will still be coercive.”

There was always a danger of these anarchist unions being co-opted by political parties, socialist or Marxist. In 1907, a leading Italian anarchist, Errico Malatesta, (whose life and ideas will be examined in greater detail) cautioned anarchists “against entering unions infested with socialist politicians, lest they lose sight of the ultimate goal of a classless society. Fearful that syndicalism would sink into the morass of trade-unionist reformism and ‘bureaucratism’, Malatesta warned his anarchist comrades not to become union officials.” The distrust of parliamentary methods, particularly by the French syndicalists, was reinforced by the sell-outs performed by their top leaders. Many French anarcho-syndicalists felt that they were sold out when in 1899, Alexander Millerand accepted the post of Minister of Commerce.

This anti-political bias was the confirmed policy of nearly all the syndicalist unions all over Europe. Syndicalism was best known for its advocacy of direct action and the general strike. Workmen were warned against even accepting beneficial labor legislation since they would be reinforcing a power they wanted to destroy. Labor reform could only be obtained independently of parliamentarism.

The Italian Debate

From their very beginning, anarchists had argued that parliamentary activity by socialists would corrupt their principles, and that socialists in bourgeoisie legislatures could not sincerely and effectively work for the abolition of the State. In Italy, where Bakunin had spawned an active anarchist movement, there were echoes of this dispute for many decades. Much of the Italian working class was reluctant to participate in any kind of disciplined party activity and was against any kind of parliamentary life, for the very reasons cited by the anarchists. Workers elected to office soon became renegades to their cause.

These ideas and the defense of the anarchist abstentionist position were promoted by all of the prominent Italian anarchists during the last decade of the 19th Century. One of them, Luigi Galleani, in his recently translated The End of Anarchism?, wrote:

The anarchists’ electoral abstentionism implies not only a conception that is opposed to the principle of representation (which is totally rejected by anarchism), it implies above all an absolute lack of confidence in the State. And this distrust, which is instinctive … is for the anarchists the result of their historical experience with the State and its function. … Furthermore, abstentionism has consequences which are much less superficial than the inert apathy ascribed to it. It strips the State of the constitutional fraud with which it presents itself to the gullible as the true representative of the whole nation, and in so doing, exposes its essential character as representative, procurer, and policeman of the ruling classes.

Galleani’s book was written as a rebuttal to Saverio Merlino. At one time a very prominent Italian anarchist and lawyer, Merlino became dissatisfied with anarchism in the late 1890’s, and moved closer and closer to parliamentary socialism. He eventually became a politician himself. Merlino’s defection was a source of concern to those remaining within the Italian anarchist movement and some of its leading theoreticians, like Galleani and Errico Malatesta, engaged in long polemical discussions in order to counter the effect of Merlino’s defection.

Merlino had been living outside Italy until 1894, and when he returned to Naples he was arrested and imprisoned there to serve out an old sentence. He was freed in late 1896 or early 1897, and soon thereafter informed the conservative newspaper, Il Messaggero, that his political opinions had changed. This provoked a debate with Errico Malatesta, which continued until 1898, when Malatesta was arrested. Merlino concluded that he no longer considered himself an anarchist, and would rather define himself as a ‘libertarian socialist’.

Furthermore, he now approved of parliamentary action, so much so, that, in agreement with other friends, he proposed to present Galleani (who was then also confined as a political prisoner) as a candidate for Parliament on the Socialist Party ticket as a protest against political detention and as a means to set him free by popular request. Galleani refused the offer. He and other anarchist prisoners published a special newspaper, in which they rejected the use of electoral means, even as a way of freeing themselves. As anarchists they wished to assert, “once and for all their firm refusal to compromise, or in any way distort their opposition to the State – a fundamental tenet of their convictions.” The front page of their paper carried an editorial, signed by Galleani, titled, “The faith remains unshaken”. The hostages were determined to save the dignity of their principles and would rather remain in the squalor of their jails or their islands of confinement, at peace with themselves, “than return to the so-called free world by bowing down to their jailers – whom they despised with concessions they knew to be false and shameful.”

The debate between Merlino and Malatesta received wide-spread attention both in Italy and abroad. Emma Goldman summarized it years later when she stated her position that anarchists should not cooperate with communists in elections. She wrote to Alexander Berkman, that

You probably remember the controversy between Malatesta and Merlino. Of course fascism wasn’t known then. But black reaction was. And it was Merlino who argued that anarchists by joining the socialists during elections would help defeat the reactionary gang. I don’t know whether you remember Malatesta’s reply. It was to the effect that the anarchists would, as they had always done, merely get the chestnuts out of the fire for the socialists and liberals. And they would injure their ideas beyond repair.

Merlino’s basic thesis was that the struggle for liberty must be fought on all fronts, including electoral politics. Although he recognized that anarchists do not aspire to political power, he did not consider it contrary to their principles to participate in electoral struggles against reactionary regimes. It was better to support a republican or socialist candidate than a conservative one who was likely to impose martial law. Merlino looked with disfavor on the anarchist abstentionist position because he thought it had brought about two negative results: 1) the separation of the abstentionist anarchists from the most active and militant part of the populace; and 2) their abstention served to weaken them in front of the government.

In practice, Merlino saw nothing contrary to anarchist principles in the electoral struggle. He did refuse, however, to condone anarchists serving as ministers in the government. This did not preclude the election of deputies to parliament, who would probably always remain in the minority. Their election would be a method of popular agitation against a reactionary government; it would be their duty to speak out against the existing government, denouncing its arbitrariness. Finally Merlino conceded, that although parliamentary methods, as all things of this world, had their draw backs, it was a perfectly valid method of agitation and propaganda, suitable to be used by anarchists.

Malatesta bitterly opposed Merlino’s ideas. One of his main themes was that by getting people accustomed to voting and delegating authority they are made powerless in handling their own communal affairs. Since anarchists don’t aspire to power, there was no motive for them to assist those who do. Both Galleani and Malatesta rejected the use of protest candidates because they took away the unity of the struggle which constituted the characteristic opposition of anarchism to politics. For Malatesta, the essence of parliamentarism was that parliaments can make and impose laws. Contrary to Merlino, Malatesta thought that all anarchists had to fight this idea, as anarchists do not grant to others the ability to bind them. As Malatesta stated, “Parliamentarism is a form of government and government means legislative power, judicial and executive powers; it means violence and coercion, and the imposition of force and the will of the governors on the governed.” Thus it must always and firmly be rejected by anarchists.

Malatesta also argued that even if anarchists could win at electoral politics they would still not want to hold positions of power. “We are against the principle of government and we do not believe that participating in it is the way to renounce power.” Furthermore, he recognized that abstentionism, although a question of tactics, was integrally related to the question of anarchist principles. “When one renounces it [abstentionism] one ends with renouncing also the principles involved. And that happens because of the natural connection between means and ends.” Finally he argued that instead of legitimizing parliamentary government, anarchists should stand for its abolition. He wrote:

Our mission, as anarchists, instead is showing to the people that parliamentary government, although it is the least bad of the types of government, is still a government. THE REMEDY WILL NOT BE IN CHANGING THE FORM OF GOVERNMENT BUT IN ABOLISHING IT.

The Merlino-Malatesta debate foreshadowed the problems that 20th Century anarchists were to encounter in their efforts at political collaboration. We will find this true both in the case of the Russian and Spanish anarchists which will now be examined.

Anarchists And The Russian Revolution

The historian, Paul Avrich has noted that the anarchists in Russia had always set themselves apart from other radical groups by their “implacable opposition to the state in any form. Faithfully they cleaved to Bakunin’s dictum that every government, no matter who controls it, is an instrument of oppression. Nor did they exclude the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ from this indictment, …” Years before Bakunin had predicted the anarchists’ differences with Marx, when he had written in Statehood and Anarchy that the dictatorship of the proletariat would be “the most autocratic, the most despotic, the most arrogant, and the most contemptuous of all regimes.” Though the anarchists desired, along with Lenin, to destroy the Provisional Government, Bakunin’s warnings about the power hungry communists lingered in their minds.

When the Czar abdicated in mid-March, 1917, a Provisional Government was set up under Prince Lvov, who was superseded by Alexander Kerensky in July. When Kropotkin returned to Russia that summer, he was well received by the masses and the government. Kerensky offered the well-known libertarian a cabinet post as Minister of Education as well as a state pension, both of which Kropotkin declined. Kerensky certainly had had in mind capitalizing on the popularity of Kropotkin if he could.

Much to the dismay of the anarchists, the downfall of the Czar fell far short of their principal objective, which was the social revolution and abolition of the Russian government. Although the February revolution had overthrown the monarchy, it failed to eliminate the State. Some anarchists compared the February rising to a game of musical chairs, in which one ruler took the seat of another. Thus the immediate aims of both the Bolsheviks and the anarchists came to coincide since both desired the elimination of the Provisional Government. As the noted historian of this era, Paul Avrich, has written, this “was all they shared in common, however. Collaboration on this end, ultimately resulted in the destruction of anarchism in Russia.”

Kerensky’s Provisional Government had elections scheduled for October, and as the time drew near for the Constituent Assembly to be selected, “anarchist spokesmen poured forth a veritable torrent of invective on the subject of representative government.” Alexander Shapiro, whom we shall meet again in Spain, wrote that “no parliament can break the path toward liberty, that the good society can be realized only through ‘the abolition of all power’ … Bill Shatov, another Russian emigre anarchist, declared that political power in any shape … was not worth a rotten egg” and that “political power can give us nothing.”

When Lenin seized power in the November 1917 coup, he was readily assisted by the anarchists. The latter blindly hoped that no new government would take the place of the Provisional one. “Disregarding the preachments of Bakunin and Kropotkin against political ‘coups’, they had taken part in a seizure of power in the belief that power, once captured, could somehow be diffused and eliminated.” With the establishment of the Bolshevik government, they found that it was impossible to eliminate political power by capturing it. This … marriage of convenience” (as Paul Avrich termed it), between the anarchists and Lenin, lasted only as long as Lenin wanted it to. Lenin had used the anarchists to his own advantage and when he was finished with them, there was nothing more to do than to eliminate them, since they were truly a threat to the Communist Party.

The antagonism between the Soviets and the anarchists was further heightened when Lenin opened peace talks at Brest-Litovsk in the Spring of 1918. Many anarchists had become so disillusioned with Lenin, that they sought a complete break with him. The Bolsheviks, for their part, began to contemplate the suppression of their former allies, who had outlived their usefulness. A contemporary anarchist critique of Bolshevik power argued that it had offered abundant proof that “state power possessed inalienable characteristics; it can change its label, its theory, and its servitors, but in essence it merely remains power and despotism in new forms.”

Finally in April 1918, armed violence broke out between the Bolsheviks and anarchists when the government conducted a raid against 26 anarchist centers in Moscow. A dozen Cheka agents were slaughtered, about 40 anarchists were killed or wounded, and more than 500 were taken prisoner. Practically all the anarchist presses and periodicals were closed down and shortly afterwards, the Cheka conducted similar raids in Petrograd and the provinces.

The anarchists reacted by accusing the Bolsheviks of having acted as “Judases” and betrayers. They also turned to violence to defend themselves and counter-attack. Anarchist groups bombed the office of the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party while it was in session during 1919. Shortly before the bombing they had described the Bolshevik dictatorship as the worst tyranny in human history. The violence was denounced by most prominent anarchist leaders, but nevertheless the Soviet government used this violence as an excuse to make massive new arrests from anarchist ranks. “Bolshevik spokesmen maintained that with the survival of the revolution at stake, it was imperative to snuff out violent opposition from every quarter. No anarchists, they insisted, were being arrested for their beliefs, but only for their criminal deeds.”

Paul Avrich has written that, “The deepening of the Civil War of 1918-1921 threw the anarchists into a quandary over whether to assist the Bolsheviks in their internecine with the Whites. Ardent libertarians, the anarchists found the repressive policies of the Soviet government utterly reprehensible; yet the prospect of a White victory seemed even worse.” The anarchists realized that by refusing to come to the assistance of the Bolsheviks, they might help tip the scales in favor of the Whites. The anarchists were split apart by this issue opinions ranged all across the spectrum; from eager collaboration with the Communist Party to active, violent resistance against them. Some anarchists even became Communist Party members. In the end, a great many gave varying degrees of support to the regime. Nevertheless there there were a few anarchist stalwarts and die-hards who had utmost contempt for their renegade colleagues. They contemptuously labeled them “Soviet anarchists” and claimed they had succumbed to the blandishments of politics. “Again and again, they warned that political power is evil, that it corrupts all who wield it, that government of any kind stifles the revolutionary spirit of the people and robs them of their freedom.”

Lenin was impressed with the support provided by some of his “Soviet anarchists” and in 1919, he commented that many anarchists were becoming dedicated supporters of Soviet power. Bill Shatov was an outstanding example. Shatov, whose comments against political power we read earlier, served Lenin’s government as a military officer during 1919 (he took on a significant part of organizing the defense of Petrograd) and then as Minister of Transport in the Far Eastern Republic in 1920. Several years later he was sent to the East to supervise the construction of the Turk-Sib Railroad. (Perhaps it was poetic justice that Shatov was exiled to Siberia and was believed to have been shot during the purges of the late 1930’s.) Shatov justified his participation in the government by citing the danger of a reactionary takeover. Nevertheless, he admitted to Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, after their arrival in Russia in January 1920, that “the Communist State in action is exactly what we anarchists have always claimed it would be – a tightly centralized power still more strengthened by the dangers of Revolution.”

When Kropotkin died in February 1921, his funeral represented the last great anarchist gathering in Russia. Certain important anarchist political prisoners were released from Cheka prisons for the day and public support for the deceased “anarchist prince” was overwhelming. However, the following month, March 1921 witnessed the climax of the Soviet atrocities against the anarchists. The sailors and civilian population of Kronstadt, an island base in the Gulf of Finland, revolted against the Soviets. The rebels were suppressed by the Red Army, under the direction of Trotsky. Following the climax of the revolt, new raids against the anarchists swept the country. Few anarchists were left at large, their book stores were closed, and even the followers of the pacifist Tolstoy were imprisoned or banished. A number of pacifists had already been shot during the Civil War for refusing to serve in the Red Army.

It was at this time that Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and other foreign-born anarchists were in Russia, hoping to witness the revolution in practice. Their expectations were sorely disappointed. Emma Goldman threatened to stage a personal protest in order to call to Lenin’s attention the persecution of the anarchists in Russia. Many of them were already in jail (where they had participated in at least one prolonged hunger strike) and many others had been shot. Finally the Soviets granted amnesty to many of the better known anarchist prisoners who had no record of violent opposition to the Soviet government. These freed prisoners had to leave the country at once. Meanwhile, “Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and Sanya [Alexander] Schapiro, profoundly disheartened by the turn the revolution had taken, had made up their minds to emigrate also.”

Emma Goldman: On Revolution And Elections

Goldman and Berkman had been in Russia for nearly two years (January 1920 to December 1921) and had seen the revolution in action. Emma Goldman’s reaction to that experience was recorded in her two books, My Disillusionment in Russia and in My Further Disillusionment in Russia. By the time of her departure from Russia she had become highly critical of Lenin and his regime. She knew that power corrupts anarchists and communists, just as it corrupted their opponents. Her outlook on social revolution had been refined as a result of her experiences. No longer did she look upon the violent destruction of an existing regime and the social revolution as synonymous. The failure of the Russian Revolution was that it took superficial political changes (the replacement of the Czar by Lenin) for an indication of systemic change. Nothing could have been further from the truth. As Emma Goldman wrote,

[In] its mad passion for power, the Communist State even sought to strengthen and deepen the very ideas and conceptions which the Revolution had come to destroy. … With the concept that the Revolution was only a means of securing political power, it was inevitable that all revolutionary values should be subordinated to the needs of the Socialist State; indeed exploited to further the security of the newly acquired governmental power.

The perversion of the revolution was crystallized for Emma Goldman by the “all-dominating slogan” of the Communist Party: “THE END JUSTIFIES ALL MEANS.” In a brilliant analysis of means and ends, Goldman asserted that,

There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another. This conception is a potent menace to social regeneration. All human experience teaches that means cannot be separated from the ultimate aims. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they modify it, and presently the aims and means, become identical. From the day of my arrival in Russia I felt it, at first vaguely, then ever more consciously and clearly. … The whole history of man is continuous proof of the maxim that to divest one’s methods of ethical concepts means to sink into the depths of utter demoralization. In that lies the tragedy of the Bolshevik philosophy as applied to the Russian Revolution.

One of her final comments on her Russian experience was summed up in 1936, at the time of the Stalinist purges, when she claimed that the anarchist criticism of Russia had been vindicated. “Our position,” she wrote, “as regards power and dictatorship has been strengthened by the events in Russia.” All the people being purged began their lives with an ideal for which they suffered prison and exile. “No sooner did they ascend to power than their past was wiped out and they became as savage in their persecution of their opponents as the enemies they came to destroy.” She concluded, “For nothing so corrupts and disintegrates as power itself.” The whole essence of the question about Russia was for her the fact that “you cannot educate men for liberty by making them slaves,” and this is what the Bolsheviks had tried to do.

During the mid-1930’s Emma Goldman was concerned not only with the direction of events in Stalinist Russia but also with the direction taken by the anarchist movement in Spain. She was to some extent intimately connected with the events in Spain, because of her contacts in the international anarchist movement, as well as her two visits to Spain during the Civil War. Evidence of her concern is found in her correspondence and published articles, particularly in her discussion of “anarchists and elections”. In an article by this title appearing in the June-July 1936 Vanguard, she proposed and answered the following questions:

1. [The] question as to whether the abstention from participation in elections is for Anarchists a matter of principle? I certainly think it is, and should be for all anarchists.
2. … [It] is but logical for Anarchists not to consider political participation as a “simple question of tactics.” Such tactics are not only incompatible with Anarchist thought and principles, but they also injure the stand of Anarchism as the one and only true revolutionary philosophy.
3. Can Anarchists, without scruple, and in the face of certain circumstances exercise power during a transition period? … I cannot understand how they can possibly aspire to power.

For Emma Goldman, it was “not the abuse of power” which corrupted everybody, but rather “the thing itself, namely power which is evil and which takes the very spirit and revolutionary fighting strength out of everybody who wields it.” Collaboration and cooperation in elections and with the Communists (as the anarchists were doing in Spain) did not meet with her approval.

I cannot agree with the suggestion that anarchists should in grave times co-operate with communists in elections. … I myself consider it not only inconsistent with our views of vesting power to politicians by means of voting for them. I also consider it highly dangerous. We insist, do we not, … that the means must harmonize as far as possible with the end. And our end being anarchism, I do not see how we can very well unite with any political party. … (With our past experience with socialists and communists, it seems folly to join them. But more important is my firm belief that we would be spitting ourselves in the face, if we approved participation in elections. Fighting ALL POWER AND ALL GOVERNMENT AS WE DO, how can we help by putting anyone into positions of power? … WE SIMPLY CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT MAKE THE PLUNGE. … We can only state our own position towards the fundamentals of anarchism. And that has always been opposition to the slick political machine that has ever corrupted the best of people or has paralyzed their efforts.

Anarchists and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)

Though Emma Goldman aided the Spanish anarchist movement during the Spanish Civil War, as her statements make clear, she disagreed with their participation in the Republican government. However, she stood behind them because they were fighting with their backs to the wall against the whole world. Their struggle was her second chance to see the revolution at last. She was in Spain from September 1936 until January 1937, at which time she went to London to help publicize the republican cause. She was continually embroiled in disputes over anarchist principles and their collaboration in Spain. Her appointment as a collector of relief funds for the Catalan government somehow seemed to show her complicity, however much she denied it. She was sickened by the farcical comedy of anarchist leaders defending government property, which occurred in the aftermath of the May crisis in Barcelona. She agreed with her former companion in Russia, Alexander Shapiro, who complained that “Anarchists in government will and ‘must’ act like all government officials and ministers.”

The important point about the Spanish Civil War is that for the first and only time in modern political history there were anarchist ministers serving in both provincial and federal cabinets. Nothing like this had ever transpired in anarchist history. The Spanish anarchists had caused a terrible breach among both their international comrades and their principles. It is important to understand what motivated the Spaniards into holding office and participating in governments, and what, if any lessons, are to be learned from their experiences.

The anarchist tradition in Spain has a long and rich history, mostly embroidered with violence and terrorism. By the first two decades of the 20th Century, the anarchist presence in Spain was a significant element, particularly among the working classes and their syndical trade unions. The CNT (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo or National Confederation of Labor) had been founded in 1910 and was a national trade union. The influence of the anarchists saved it on various occasions from falling into the hands of other political organizations. In 1927, the anarchists founded their own trade union, the FAI (Federacion Anarquista Iberica or Anarchist Federation of Iberia) in an effort to radicalize their own movement. It was hoped that the FAI would act as a “radical” watchdog to correct the deviationist tendencies present within the CNT.

The CNT and FAI shunned parliamentary activity and in contrast to other labor parties, held no seats in the central or local government and refrained from nominating candidates for parliament. They followed a syndicalist line, believing that direct action and strikes were necessary to accomplish the social revolution. The FAI, the more radical organization of the two, made no distinction between governments of the right or the left, just as they made no distinction between individual politicians. For them, all politicians were equally bad.

Post-World War I Spain had suffered a series of military coups and rebellions and experienced continual struggle against the monarchy. In December 1931, a new constitution was adopted after the dissolution of the royal throne. The Republican government of Azana was hard pressed by discontent, especially in the autonomous province of Catalan, which was granted home rule in late 1932. In early 1933, there was a large uprising in Barcelona, sparked by anarchist and syndicalist unrest with the progress of social reform. In November of that year the first regular elections for the Cortes were held.

The anarcho-syndicalists generally took a hard line, abstentionist approach to this election. Both the CNT and FAI had urged their members not to vote. Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty) declared a month before the elections in November: “Our revolution is not made in Parliament, but in the streets.” “We are not interested in changing governments,” Isaac Puente, an influential anarcho- syndicalist, had written at the same time: “What we want is to suppress them. … Whatever side wins, whether the right or the left will be our enemy, … and will have at its disposal the truncheons of the assault guards.” A few days before the election, Tierra y Libertad editorialized:

Workers! Do not vote! The vote is a negation of your personality. Turn your backs on those who ask you to vote for them. They are your enemies. … As far as we are concerned they are all the same; all politicians are our enemies whether they be Republicans, monarchists, Communists, or Socialists. … Parliament … is a filthy house of prostitution toying with the interests of the country and the people.

The November 1933 election for the Cortes resulted in giving the Parties of the Right 44% of the seats. Throughout 1934 and 1935, social and political unrest continued to plague Spain. Catalan sovereignty was proclaimed and its independence suppressed by military efforts. Finally in January 1936, the Cortes was dissolved and new elections were called for February. These elections were lukewarmly endorsed by many Spanish anarchists, after the Popular Front coalition promised to free all political prisoners. It was largely the support of the anarchists and syndicalists which enabled the Popular Front to come to power. This combination of Republicans, Socialists, Syndicalists, Communists and anarchists won a decisive victory over their political opponents.

The new Popular Front government which took power proclaimed an amnesty as it had promised, but soon faced the Civil War, which broke out on July 18, 1936, as the result of a rebellion by military chiefs in Morocco. The Popular Front government held its own in Madrid and Barcelona but the nationalist forces made advances in other parts of the country. Catalan, which had already previously regained autonomous status, immediately sought anarchist participation in the existing provincial government, the Generalitat.

The CNT had its largest following in Catalan and it was logical that the existing provincial government would want to take advantage of its presence. Luis Companys, President of the Generalitat, summoned representatives of the CNT-FAI to his office as soon as the uprising had been defeated (July 20, 1936) in order to obtain anarchist and syndicalist legitimization of his rule. Garcia Oliver and Diego Abad de Santillan became ministers in the government of the Catalan Generalitat. Santillan saw no other choice than for anarchists to share the administrative power with the Companys government in Catalan. Paralysis of the federal government in Madrid and continued advances by the nationalist forces threatened to envelop Spain in fascism. It was up to the anarchists to transform the militia committee of Catalan into a truly revolutionary body. Regarding his experience as a minister in the Catalan government, Santillan, in 1938, wrote: “Simply as governors we [the anarchists] were no better than anyone else, and we have already proved that our intervention in governments served only to reinforce governmentalism.”

Meanwhile, the rebel, nationalist forces had made further advances into Republican Spain and on September 4, 1936, the Popular Front formed a new government under the leadership of Largo Caballero, a former socialist minister. If the Caballero government was to be more than a government in name, it would have to “assume control of all the elements of state power. … The work of reconstructing state power could not be achieved or at least would be extremely difficult to achieve without the participation in the government of the extreme wing of the libertarian movement, …” This part of the movement was represented by the anarchist oriented CNT and FAI.

Although views differed, most of Caballero’s colleagues advised his seeking the participation of the libertarians in the government. The advantages of having them share the responsibility for its measures would be indubitable. “The entry of representatives of the CNT into the present Council of Ministers would certainly endow the directive organ of the nation with fresh energy and authority,” wrote Claridad, one of Largo Caballero’s journals on October 25, 1936, especially “in view of the fact that a considerable segment of the working class, now absent from its deliberations, would feel bound by its measures and authority.” What Caballero’s advisers could not guess was whether or not the anarcho-syndicalists would wish to become ministers in the government and share in the reconstruction of the State. This was questionable even though quite recently they had violated their principles by joining the Catalan regional government. Furthermore, Largo Caballero had tried, when forming his cabinet in September 1936, to secure the participation of the anarcho-syndicalists by offering them a single ministerial seat without portfolio. Burnett Bolloten has noted that, Caballero “needed their participation in the belief that they would feel themselves bound by his government measures and authority.” However at that time, they rejected his offer based on their traditional anti-governmental stand and their personal distrust. (Caballero had been responsible for persecution of anarchists, earlier in his political career.)

The CNT had not been ready to enter the Madrid government in September but in October 1936 a plenary session of the regional federations of the CNT was held for the purpose of discussing the matter further. The result was that the CNT authorized its representatives to “conduct negotiations for bringing the CNT into the government.” The CNT justified its position by stating: “… in order to win the war and to save our people and the world, it is ready to collaborate with any one in a directive organ, whether this organ be called a council or a government.” In their negotiations with Caballero, the CNT representatives asked for five ministries including war and finance, but he rejected their demand. Finally, on November 3, (1936), they accepted four: justice, industry, commerce, and health, none of which, however, was vital. Furthermore, the portfolios of industry and commerce had previously been held by one minister. The four CNT members named to the government were: Juan Garcia Oliver (justice), Juan Lopez (commerce), Federica Montseny (health and public assistance), and Juan Peiro (industry).

As we have seen, Caballero was partly motivated by his desire to invest his government with greater authority. President Azana, who had to sign the decrees appointing the anarchist ministers, was hesitant to do so. Caballero claimed that Azana did not see the significance of getting the anarchists into office. “From terrorism and direct action, it [Spanish anarchism] had moved to collaboration and to sharing the responsibilities of power. … It was a unique event in the world and would not be sterile. I [Caballero] told him [Azana] that if he did not sign the decrees, I would resign.”

The Communists also had a similar, ulterior motive in drawing the anarchists into the government. They hoped to bolster their own power. The Communists were concerned with world opinion, particularly in France, Britain, and America. They wished to give an appearance of legality to the Spanish Republic. Thus they hoped that the participation of the anarcho-syndicalists in the government would placate foreign opinion and enhance their prospects of receiving military assistance from these Western powers. Furthermore, after the war, it was revealed that the Communists hoped to create a breach in the ranks of the anarchists and syndicalists by drawing the CNT into government collaboration.

In fact, there was a discord in the ranks of the anarchists and syndicalists because nearly everyone was unhappy with what they recognized to be a compromise. Their justification was simply that if the anarchists did not take a role in the Republican government, a dictatorship worse than Russia would result and that trip prospects of a fascist regime were more unacceptable to them than the act of collaboration with the existing government.

Reluctant criticism, both within Spain and outside Spain, was immediately forthcoming from anarchists. Emma Goldman, who had argued with Federica Montseny for hours against collaboration, “believed that the anarchists had abandoned political principle to save Spain from further foreign intervention. Such a course was not surprising in the context of Spanish history, but the real tragedy of the anarchists was that they were pulled further and further into the mire of compromise.” The December 1936 Vanguard carried remarks on the Spanish situation, translated from a French anarchist journal. The author, Luigi Bertoni, wrote, partly in justification and partly in recognition of the anarchists departure from principle.

The present Spanish government does, indeed, differ considerably from any ordinary government; that is especially evident from the hostility shown towards it on the part of governments all over the world. But it is still essentially and practically a government, and must therefore contain to a considerable extent the faults inherent in it. Thus it is not without apprehension that I view the discharging of ministerial functions on the part of our four comrades, despite the complete confidence we have in them. … Rather than ‘governmental anarchists’, I should call them ‘revolutionary anarchists’.

Another outspoken critic of anarchist collaboration was Camillo Berneri, an Italian anarchist living in Barcelona. Robert Kern, a historian of this era, has noted that beginning October 1936, Berneri wrote “vitriolic articles in his Guerra Di Classes demanding, among other things, development of an international revolutionary campaign as the prime defense of the republic. He also attacked the mood of anarchist collaboration. Difficulties in Aragon did not necessitate a total capitulation to the Communists. Membership in the Popular Front cabinet, far from solving anything, would only put anarchists under extreme coercion to maintain unanimity in Madrid. All differences of ideology would eventually be extinguished and Stalinist statism imposed – a tragic end to a long anarchist tradition.” Before Berneri was assassinated in 1937 (for his anticommunist attacks), he wrote an “Open Letter to Federica Montseny” in which he claimed that the acceptance of the ministerial posts had no direct bearing on the war effort or upon the problems that the anarchists hoped to solve by joining the cabinet. In his open letter Berneri asked, “The hour has come to enquire whether the Anarchists are in the Government for the purpose of being the vestals to serve as a Phrygian Cap for some of the politicians flirting with the enemy or with the forces anxious to restore ‘The Republic of all Classes’.”

Federica Montseny, one of the four who had accepted ministerial positions in the Madrid government of Caballero, was one of their most outspoken defenders. She and her family represented several generations of radical anarchist activism in Spain.

Federica was born in 1905, the daughter of Federico Urales, who was one of the most well-respected anarchist theoreticians and journalists in Spain during the first two decades of the century. In the early 1920’s, she and her father renewed publication of a famous anarchist journal, La Revista Blanca. Federica was editor of the journal and an author of many novels. By the Fall of 1936, she was one of the most popular anarchist leaders and theoreticians in Spain. At the age of 31, she accepted the ministerial post for health and public assistance, becoming the first woman ever to hold a ministerial office in a Spanish national government.

There is little doubt that Montseny was a purist, at least in principle. In a 1934 article in La Revista Blanca, she wrote that all governments are evil: “It became obvious that no theory justified the existence of any state. Be it socialist, communistic, democratic, or fascistic, they were all the same – they were states. Each kind of state possessed the same purpose: the promotion of friends, the suppression of the workers by keeping them submissive, and the exploitation of the many by the few.” A state in all places and at all times represented “oppression and the annihilation of man. … [A state was] incarnated in armed organisms which sustain through the method of terror and force, the Power which dominates, robs, and which kills.”

As her biographer adds, “Montseny insisted” that her view of the State applied not only to traditional governments, but to revolutionary ones as well. So it is clear that Montseny understood that ALL governments were evil even though she became a minister in one.

The underlying justification for her action was that she saw the Nationalists as a greater threat to anarchist ideals than any liberal republican government. She felt it foolish to allow oneself to be drowned by the tide of fascism. The retrograde nature of fascism demanded a new approach. Anarchists were among the first to realize that the struggle against fascism was of utmost importance. In a 1937 talk, she said, “We think [by cooperating with Caballero] we will avoid a repetition of the fate of the anarchist movements in other countries where Communists assumed direction of the revolution.”

It was not without trepidation that she entered the government in November 1936. In a speech she made in France in 1945, she reportedly said of her doubts about becoming a governmental minister: “I asked for twenty-four hours to think over the matter. I consulted my father who, thoughtfully, said, ‘You know what this means. In fact it is the liquidation of anarchism and of the CNT. Once in power you will not rid yourselves of power.’ …” After she resigned from the cabinet in mid-1937, she declared: “As a daughter of veteran anarchists, … I regarded my entry into the government, my acceptance of the post to which the CNT had assigned me, as having more significance than the mere appointment of a minister. … What inhibitions, what doubts, what anguish I had personally to overcome in order to accept the post! … [For] me it implied a break with my life’s work, with a whole past linked to the ideals of my parents. It meant a tremendous effort, an effort made at the cost of many tears.” She also noted that the complicity of anarchists in government would, as she put it, “ruin many of us morally.” Its safe to conclude that ultimately she regretted her departure from principle and her involvement in the government. She had not accomplished anything lasting by her efforts.

The Caballero government managed to sustain itself in power until May 1937, at which time it was succeeded by that of Negrin which excluded the anarcho-syndicalists from participation. The four anarchist ministers had done little to strengthen the position of the anarchist movement during their time in office and had irreparably injured anarchist ideas. This realization burst upon the libertarian movement in 1938, as Franco came nearer and nearer to total victory.

During the last two weeks of October 1938, national plenary meetings of the regional federations of the libertarian movement were held in Barcelona. Three major divisions of opinion were to be found among those present. A majority held that the libertarian movement should participate in politics, as they had already done. Two minority views existed: 1) that the FAI should be converted into a political party of the CNT and attempt to represent the libertarian movement in the government once again, and 2) the view, represented rather feebly by the Young Libertarians of Catalan, “that all participation in government should be renounced.” During one of the sessions of the Young Libertarians, their views came across rather picturesquely. “To try to join the State in order to destroy it is like taking your wives and sisters to brothels in order to abolish prostitution.”

The result of the plenary meetings were resolutions in favor of political participation. One resolution read: “Our direct participation in the administrative bodies of political, economic, and military life … was motivated by our high sense of responsibility and the need for co-operation in the fight against fascism … in order to facilitate a victory. … [This participation] has not been a correction of our tactics but rather an intelligent addition to our methods in accord with the circumstances and in response to an abnormal situation in the life of the people.” However, in an effort to purify their intentions, another resolution read: “The Libertarian Movement, having taken part in politics in violation of its tradition, declares: the political Power, the State, will always be the antithesis of Anarchism, and [our] circumstancial participation in Power has been … for the purpose of opposing to the greatest possible extent, from a position in Power and from everywhere else, the strangulation of the revolution.”

Many historians agree that the collaboration of the CNT and FAI in the republican government failed to improve the military situation during the their time in power. Vernon Richards, another historian of this era, concluded that “it certainly added prestige to the Government.” In his opinion, there is little question that the anarchists were “out-witted and outmaneuvered by the politicians on every issue. Equally significant is that their contact with politicians had no ideological influence on the politicians whereas a number of leading members of the CNT were in the end won over to the very principles of government and centralize authority, …” They became victims of the false belief that “power was only evil when in the ‘wrong hands’, and for a ‘wrong cause’, and not that ‘power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, …”

If we had measured the number of anarchists in Spain by their refusal to collaborate in electoral politics, then we would probably have found very few of them there. Moreover, it seems that few of them understood the implications of their philosophy, which was not only anti-electoral but anti-war. One of the most basic contradictions faced by the Spanish anarchists was the fact, as John Brademas put it, that they “sought to make war and social revolution at the same time.” This was impossible in theory and contradictory in practice. The choice between fighting the forces of Franco, on the one hand, and fighting for the revolution, on the other hand, seemed to be answered by violence, no matter which way they turned. Before the Civil War broke out, there had been interest (by some Spanish anarchists) in the ideas of the French anarchist, Sebastien Faure, who was strongly anti-nationalist and anti-militaristic. Faure’s non-violence … attracted Spaniards fighting a military dictatorship. Faure believed that organizing masses of everyday people into a Gandhi-like campaign of public non-violence would render military power useless.” However, Faure’s ideas were not followed up and here lies at least part of the real tragedy of Spanish anarchism.

The Spaniards did not see the incongruity of trying to wage war on the basis of anarchist principles. War and anarchism are simply repugnant; one is destruction and extermination, and the other is mutualistic voluntaryism. The anarcho-militias, manned by anarchists during the Civil War, were full of problems, for the simple reason that the individual anarchist soldier refused to recognize any authority. He took a dim outlook on rank, military titles, and regimentation. As one anarchist commentator on the Civil War noted, “War has always been a tomb, never a means of revolution.”

The ultimate problem of violence and social revolution facing the Spanish anarchists was that an anarchist society could not be established and maintained on the basis of coercion. Recourse to violence was always an indication of weakness not strength. The revolution with the greatest possibility of success would be the one which was brought about peacefully. Only then would there be any valid sign of unanimity among the population on the objectives of the revolution.

One of the chief justifications of the Spanish anarchist participation in government and war was that they were choosing the lesser of two evils. During the events leading up to the elections of February 1936, Diego Abad de Santillan observed this very thing, that:

“participation in the elections was advisable. We gave power to the leftists, convinced that under the circumstances they were the lesser evil.”

In an astute analysis of this justification, Murray Bookchin observed:

This could be construed as a reasonable and honest statement if action based on the “lesser evil” was seen for what it really was – a distinct departure from principle, openly admitted to be such, a bitter pill to be swallowed to deal with an acute illness. … But after this has been said, one must emphasize that it would have been preposterous to expect a “lesser evil” to behave with a noble virtue. … The best the CNT and FAI could have hoped for from the newly elected state would have been neutrality; to base one iota of their policy on active state support was not only absurd, but marked the initial steps toward the “politicalization” of the Spanish anarchist movement and its eventual conversion into a political party. … The Anarchists … were slowly becoming clients of the creature they most professed to oppose: the state power itself. … Having taken to the vote, they began to take to politics.

Concluding Remarks

This review of the European anarchist tradition has offered many reasons for the rejection of electoral participation and political power by voluntaryists today. Malatesta was the best spokesman for the non-electoral anarchists, having defended that position against Merlino, as early as 1897. Malatesta saw not only the dangers of electoral politics, but he foresaw the dangers of war and revolutionary violence years before they developed in Spain. In 1930, regarding anarchism and revolutions, he wrote:

I incline to the view that the complete triumph of anarchy will come by evolution, gradually rather than by violent revolution. … In any case, if we take into account our sparse numbers and the prevalent attitudes among the masses, and if we do not wish to confuse our wishes with the reality, we must expect that the next revolution will not be an anarchist one, and therefore what is more pressing, is to think of what we can and must do in a revolution in which we will be a relatively small and badly armed minority. … But we must, however, beware of ourselves becoming less anarchist because the masses are not ready for anarchy. If they want a government, it is unlikely that we will be able to prevent a new government being formed, but this is no reason for our not trying to persuade people that government is useless and harmful or of preventing the government from also imposing on us and others like us who don’t want it. … If we are unable to prevent the constitution of a new government, if we are unable to destroy it immediately, we should in either case refuse to support it in any shape or form. Disobedience on principle, resistance to the bitter end against every imposition by the authorities, and an absolute refusal to accept any position of command. … In this way we shall not achieve anarchy, which cannot be imposed against the wishes of the people, but at least we shall be preparing the way for it.

And again in 1932, he wrote:

The primary concern of every government is to ensure its continuance in power, irrespective of the men who form it. If they are bad, they want to remain in power in order to enrich themselves and to satisfy their lust for authority; and if they are honest and sincere they believe that it is their duty to remain in power for the people. … The anarchists … could never, even if they were strong enough, form a government without contradicting themselves and repudiating their entire doctrine; and, should they do so, it would be no different from any other government; perhaps it would even be worse.

Wherever and whenever anarchists have engaged in war and/or electoral politics they have inevitably failed both militarily and politically. One cannot remain an anarchist and take part in war or government. By compromising one’s anarchism this way, one does not make failure less certain; only more humiliating. That is the lesson of anarchist history.


Carl Watner, Voluntaryism in the Libertarian Tradition, Baltimore: The Voluntaryists, 1982.
Carl Watner, A Voluntaryist Bibliography: Annotated, Baltimore: The Voluntaryists, 1982.Proudhon:
George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, Cleveland: Meridan Books,1970.
George Woodcock, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: His Life and Work, New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Louis Levine, Syndicalism in France, New York: Columbia University Press, 1914.
Lewis Lorwin, “Syndicalism,” in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 13, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1959.
J. Ramsay MacDonald, Syndicalism: A Critical Examination, London: Constable & Co., 1913.
David Stafford, From Anarchism to Reformism: A Study of the Political Activities of Paul Brousse With the First International and the French Socialist Movement 1870-1890. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971.

The Italian Debate:
Luigi Galleani, The End of Anarchism?, Orkney: Cienfuegos Press, 1982.
Richard Hostetter, The Italian Socialist Movement, Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1958.
Errico Malatesta and Francesco Saverio Merlino, “Anarchismo e Democracia,” in Collana “La Rivolta” No. 27, Ragusa, November, 1974.
David Roberts, The Syndicalist Tradition and Italian Fascism, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

Anarchists and the Russian Revolution:
Paul Avrich, The Russian – Anarchists, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.
Emma Goldman, Living My Life, Garden City: Garden City Publishing Co., one volume edition, 1934.

Emma Goldman: On Revolution and Elections:
Richard and Anna Marie Drinnon, Nowhere at Home, Letters from Exile of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, New York: Schocken Books, 1975.
Emma Goldman, MY Further Disillusionment in Russia, Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1924.
Emma Goldman, “Anarchists and Elections, Vanguard, June-July 1936, pp. 19-20.
Emma Goldman, “The Soviet Executions,” Vanguard, Oct.-Nov. 1936, p. 10.

Anarchists and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939):
Camillo Berneri, “An Open Letter to Federica Montseny,” Spain and the World, June 1937, pp. 1-4.
L. Bertoni from “Le Reveil Anarchists,” Nov. 28, reprinted in Vanguard, Dec. 1936, p. 12.
Burnett Bolloten, The Spanish Civil War: The Left and the Struggle for Power During the Civil War, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1979.
Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936, New York: Free Life Editions, 1977.
John Brademas, “A Note on the Anarcho-Syndicalists and the Spanish Civil War,” II Occidente No. 2 (Torino) 1955, p. 128.
Shirley Fredericks, “Social and Political Thought of Federica Montseny, Spanish Anarchist 1923-1937,” PhD. dissertation, May 1972, University of New Mexico.
Robert Kern, Red Years / Black Years, A Political History of Spanish Anarchism 1911-1937, Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human issues, 1978.
Robert Kern,”Anarchist Principles and Spanish Reality: Emma Goldman as a Participant in the Civil War 1936-1939,” 11 Journal of Contemporary History (1976) pp. 237-259.
Jose Peirats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, Toronto: Solidarity Books, 1974?.
Vernon Richards, Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, London: Freedom Press, 1972.

Concluding Remarks:
Marcus Graham, “Behind the Lines in Spain,” Man, Oct.-Nov. 1936, p. 2.
Vernon Richards (Ed.), Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, London: Freedom Press,1965.

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