The piece below is from the D.i.Y.CULTURE#10 | The Anarchist Revolution – Then And Now edition
PLEASE NOTE – For the best viewing experience, we recommend that you download the PDF of DiY Culture No.9 from DropBox to your PC/laptop/phone.
By Martin Wright AKA The Whitechapel Anarchist
To the outside observer, much of what erroneously passes for the UK anarchist movement might look like middle-class ‘identity’ or ‘life-style’ activists. None of which bears any relation, or pays any respect to revolutionary working class anarchist politics. It is the realm of a handful of cranks and cultists and appeals to an exclusive minority of ‘leftists’ who are far removed from the world of struggle against state, capitalism and authority. These individuals are usually born into privileged circumstances, ‘well educated’, far removed from the bitter realities of class conflict and blanketed from the cold machinations of the state. This ‘life-style’ posturing, makes it almost impossible to have any idea of overthrowing that state – in fact, they are beneficiaries, in the long and the short term. These people would do well to study the history of our movement and to see that when it explodes across society, anarchism is the ultimate politics of freedom, rights and choice – but those freedoms and choices must be applied on a mass scale or they are as good as meaningless.
Make a direct comparison to the Spanish anarchist movement of the 1920s and 30s – a classic example of a long-lived, ultra-revolutionary mass-movement that survived generations of extreme repression from church and state. This movement consisted overwhelmingly of workers, landless labourers and impoverished peasants. From this dynamic movement, a real proletarian counter-culture evolved.
Defying and challenging the Catholic church in an ultra-Catholic country, a church that was inseparable from the state and funded Franco, the anarchists were renown for so-called ‘free-love’ – this had nothing to do with modern day polyamory, but that partners, lovers and those with babies, refused the medieval sanction of the Church for marriage, funerals, baptisms and refused the order of the state to impose a warped version of morality.
The anarchists were totally atheistic – a revolutionary mentality that broke with centuries of oppression, punishment and brain-washing by the Catholic Church. The men of God and Brides of Christ, were nearly always a fascist supporting interest group.
Spanish anarchism has sometimes been described, even dismissed as ‘puritanical’ by historians, as many abstained from alcohol, smoking or eating meat – this was more likely to have been through personal choice and that these commodities were expensive. As much as possible, funds and any surplus cash was diverted into the movement by committed anarchists – people also risked their lives and liberty by robbing banks to fund the cause of liberation.
A vital part of the anarchist lifestyle, was self and mutual education – once again, breaking with tradition, people made great sacrifices to set up their own schools, publish their own literature, periodicals and newspapers, create mobile film-units to take to the collectives. This anarchist education programme, targeted literally millions of people – by 1936, there were more than 1.5 million members of the Anarchist union, the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo). The Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) were anarchist militants active within affinity groups inside the CNT to keep a strong anarchist ethos alive within the union. It is often abbreviated as CNT-FAI because of the close relationship between the two organizations.
These FAI Affinity Groups, were the backbone of the anarchist movement – embedded in the neighbourhoods, in agriculture and in workplaces, this gave strength to anti-eviction actions, rent-strikes and guerilla warfare against the bosses-gunmen, scabs, politicians and cops during heightened periods of strikes and insurrection. The affinity groups enabled communities to survive extreme state repression but also to establish and sink deep roots into the working class. In 1933, there were over 30,000 anarchist prisoners that required a vast network of support – mostly from the impoverished sections of society via the CNT/FAI. Those prisoners became some of the fiercest fighters in the Anarchist Columns when they were broken out of jail in the run-up to the revolution.
These few words are barely scratching the surface of a momentous event and movement that every anarchist should study – avowedly class based. Here are a couple of book recommendations that vividly describe the spirit of that age and how we might bring that spirit to our movement today.
The Anarchists Of Casas Viejas by Jerome R Mintz – for a rural perspective and Anarchism And The City – Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Barcelona, 1898 -1937 by Chris Ealham.
We need revolutionary, working class anarchism – not vapid life-style politics.