Revolution or War n°23

(January 2023)

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Fight against the Introduction of Anarchism in the Proletarian Camp

For several years, there has been a tendency within groups claiming to be part of the Communist Left to put the Marxist and the Anarchist currents on the same level. Both would be equally traversed by an authentic revolutionary current and a counter-revolutionary - often presented as “reformist” - current. The opportunist ICC of today has been particularly distinguished in this approach to Anarchism. Its main argument is that a distinction must be made between internationalist and non-internationalist Anarchism. For it, the Anarchist movement or specifically “internationalist Anarchism” is part of the proletarian camp: “Concretely, our organisation, which is Marxist, considers that it is fighting for the proletariat on the same side as the internationalist anarchist militants.” [1] Even worse, according to it, the Marxist and Anarchist currents would be influenced by the same contradictions and political errors. In a 2010 article with a title provocative to any consistent Marxist, Communist Left and Internationalist Anarchism: What We Have in Common (Révolution internationale #414), the ICC proclaims that “under the same label ’Marxist’, hide organizations that are authentically bourgeois and reactionary. The same is true of the label ’anarchist’”. Throwing in the dustbin the historical struggle of principle and politics of Marxism against Anarchism, and in the name of anti-sectarianism (!), it affirms that “it is necessary therefore also to struggle against the still too great tendency to the defense of one’s ’chapel’, of one’s ’family’ (Anarchist or Marxist) and against the spirit of shopkeeper (poor Marx and Engels reduced to petty proprieters because of their fight against the Bakunin faction within the 1st International! ) which has nothing to do in the camp of the working class (...) and to know how to distinguish the revolutionaries (...) from the reactionaries, without focusing on the only label ’Marxism’ or ’anarchism’.” Thus, defining in the clearest possible way the class character of the Anarchist political current is of primary importance for us, including more generally for the new generation of revolutionaries of today.
It is precisely for this purpose that we publish the following text on the specific case of Makhno and the “Makhnovishina”. It was written by one of our sympathizers, now a member of our group, following discussions and confrontations within the North American milieu on this question.

The Editorial Team

The Non-Proletarian Class Character of the Makhno Movement

In the proletarian camp in general, there has often been a confusion about the nature of the Anarchist movement especially the Makhnovist movement. Some even assert that the Makhnovist movement was a genuine proletarian movement. Let us examine the experience of the Makhnovschina, how they actually treated the proletariat and the economic situation under Makhno’s rule.

Even though the anarchists claim that the Makhnovist movement was a workers’ movement, Voline, one of the comrades of Makhno who was actively participating in the insurrection has said that one of the “disadvantages of the movement” was “The absence of a vigorous organised workers’ movement, which could support that of the peasant insurgents.” [2] This led to the Makhnovist movement openly taking the side of the peasantry, which lacked the political leadership of the proletariat and its class party. We will explain this further when we come back to the Makhnovists’ experience.

Moreover, Peter Arshinov, a Ukrainian anarchist and chronicler of Makhno’s uprising, in his work about the Makhnovists stated that the workers and masses were behind the Communists (Bolsheviks). “(...) the difference between the Communists and Wrangel was that the Communists had the support of the masses with faith in the revolution [3]. However, according to Alexandre Skirda, an anarchist historian, Makhno’s own understanding of the working class after seeing the workers’ side with the Bolsheviks and Left-SRs [4] was that “The working class was less radical than the poor peasantry. Makhno grasped that well enough when he occupied Ekaterinoslav for one-and-one-half months from November 9, 1919” [5]

Such statements are not the words of the Stalinists or Trotskyists but of the anarchist comrades of Nestor Makhno and of anarchist historians. Any group in the proletarian camp attempting to show the Makhnovist movement as a proletarian movement with the ability to abolish capitalist relations has fallen into opportunism and should be criticized.

Equally false is the comparison made between the Anarchist principle of federalism and democratic centralism of Marxism or claiming that these theoretical positions are merely a terminological difference, or that “they do not demarcate between bourgoise or proletarian camp” [6] ,a comparison that is theoretically incoherent with communism and anti-Marxist in nature.

The Anarchist “Makhnovist” Organisational Platform of 1926

It is interesting to note that, for the ICC, the Organizational Platform of 1926 [7] (henceforth referred to as Platform), “had rightly argued that one of the reasons for the crushing of the resistance to the counter-revolution in Russia was that those who resisted, and in particular the anarchists, lacked any organizational and programmatic coherence. It was basically a healthy class response to the problem of opposition to the degeneration of the revolution.”

A healthy response to the Stalinist counter-revolution? What exactly was this response? It openly talks about the production system of anarchist society, in which every production unit would directly trade with others without any centralized organ coordinating them. Indeed, they only talk about the local administrations. A change of scale in this mercantilistic economy with commodity production in no way changes the basic structure of the society from the present capitalist one.

“The intermediary class which in modern capitalist society performs intermediary functions (commerce, etc.), as well as the bourgeoisie, will have to play its part in the new system of production on the very same footing as everyone else… In the new system of production, the functions of organization will devolve upon specially-created agencies, purpose-built by the working masses: workers’ councils, workplace committees or workers’ administrations of factories and plants. These agencies, liaising with one another at the level of municipality, province and then country, will make up the municipal, provincial and thereafter general (federal) institutions for the management and administration of production.” [8]

The ICC tries to find a Marxist influence on the Platform, mentioning that the awareness of the Platform of class society and the class antagonism rooted in its core indicates they have been influenced by Marx and Engels.

Such an assertion is incorrect, as Marx has stated in a letter to J. Weydemeyer that:

"...And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society." [9]

So, acknowledging the existence of a class society is not something special and unique to Marxist theory. However, it is the class dictatorship of the proletariat as a means of transition to a classless society that is advanced by the Marxist method.

For the Platform itself the “transitional period” is nothing like the historical materialist (ie Marxist) position of a “newborn society with the birthmark of the old” [10]. The very notion of a transitional period would be anti-Anarchist in its essence as the Platform says.

“The idea of the transition period, according to which the social revolution should culminate not in an anarchist society, but in some other form of system retaining elements and relics of the old capitalist system, is anti-anarchist in its essence.”

There are many examples of an idealistic and anti-Marxist method in the Platform. The approach and the formulations were not influenced by the Communist Manifesto but by the utopian socialists and petty-bourgeois Anarchists. For example:

"At the same time, the structure of present society automatically keeps the working masses in a state of ignorance and mental stagnation; it forcibly prevents their education and enlightenment so that they will be easier to control."
"On all these and many other issues, the masses will demand clear and precise answers from the anarchists. And once anarchists bring the concept of anarchist revolution and of an anarchist structure of society to public attention, they will have to present a precise answer to all such questions, link the resolution of these problems to the general concept of anarchism and commit all their resources to its effective realization.
Only thus can the General Anarchist Union and the anarchist movement successfully perform their role as a leading force of ideas in the social revolution."

or "Anarchists, in fact, look upon the State as the chief obstacle, since it usurps all the rights of the masses and divests them of all their functions in social and economic life. The State must wither away, but not one fine day in the society of the future. It must be destroyed by the workers on day one of their victory and must not be restored in any other guise whatsoever. Its place will be taken by a system of self-managed workers’ organizations of producers and consumers, unified on a federative basis. This system rules out both the organization of State power and the dictatorship of any party whatsoever." (idem. Emphasis added by us).

These statements are idealistic to their core. As Marx and Engels in The German Ideology have shown us, "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas."

“Why do the anti-authoritarians not confine themselves to crying out against political authority, the state? All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society. But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?
Therefore, either one of two things: either the anti-authoritarians don’t know what they’re talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction.”

By reducing the class struggle to the position of the struggle of ideas or by their position on the transitional period and their stance on the structure of the future society, the Anarchist Platform is a clear example of the petty-bourgeois nature of Anarchism. There is nothing Materialist and Historical about the Anarchist method and their theories. As the concept of class has never been the center of their theoretical positions, it has been treated merely as an accessory.

Anarchism in Theory and Practice

As far as the usage of Marxist theory for the Anarchist current goes, we can see that they tend to take whatever part of it suits their moralistic outlook while rejecting both the parts that do not suit them as well as the method as a whole. For instance, they would take the understanding of wage labor to pronounce it exploitative and therefore against their notion of morality, yet they do not understand the necessity of centralization and removal of autonomous production units as well as the mercantilism and trade between them, which has been part of the Marxist theory since the First International and its theoretical contributions.

In the proletarian camp these opportunistic writings and the attempt to ignore the real, class, difference between the Communist movement and the Anarchist movement should be criticized. Throughout the working class struggle and the struggle inside the First International, Anarchism as such [12] has directly or indirectly taken sides against the proletariat and its centralized revolutionary party and in no way can it be considered revolutionary and internationalist as a political current with its apoliticism and economistic practice.

There are many historical examples of the fundamentally anti-working class character of Anarchism, up to the present day, including their support for the bourgeois state in Spain 1936-1939, them taking sides in the imperialist war of 1914 [13], or the present situation of the imperialist war between Ukraine and Russia where the overwhelming majority of the anarchists have either supported one of the sides or joined their armed forces. Ever since quite early in the development of the workers’ movement, anarchist militants could remain faithful to proletarian internationalism to the extent that they have ceased to be anarchists. This was the case of many anarchists who participated in the Russian Revolution and became members of the Bolshevik party or adherents of the Communist International, such as Victor Serge, Andres Nin, and so many others, precisely because they broke politically with anarchism.

There are other instances where Makhno and his armed forces directly attacked and executed Communist sympathizers, Bolsheviks and the workers’ who supported them. For example, Michael Malet (an anarchist at the time when he wrote the book) talks about a Communist called Polonsky in the ranks of the Black Army. The unfortunate Polonsky attended a provincial Bolshevik party meeting and Makhno ordered his counterintelligence force to execute them all.

“Polonsky’s activities in Nykopil, and his comings and goings to Katerynoslav, even though some of them were on army business, must have been noticed. A conference of command staff was held in Katerynoslav on 4 December. In addition to Polonsky, other Nykopil communists came up for a meeting of the provincial party committee, where he was unwise enough to give a report on his activities. After the end of the conference, at midnight, Polonsky invited Makhno and other close friends back for supper. An hour later, Karetnyk, Chubenko, and Vasylivsky tied up Polonsky and some of the Nykopil and Katerynoslav Bolsheviks. If they were sentenced to death, this was a mere formality before being handed over to and disposed of by the kontrrazvedka (counter-intelligence). They were taken down to the river and shot.” [14]

In the same work, Malet mentions a conflict between the workers in the region occupied by Makhno’s peasant insurgency in which the workers were robbed by Makhno and suffered the consequences of the utopian understanding of economics that Makhno had put into practice. The goal of Makhno was to establish a form of bartering relationship between the peasant communes and the workers in the cities.

“The Makhnovists (in Olexandrivske) organised two workers’ conferences, at which the workers were urged to restart production under their own control, and establish direct relations with the peasants. The workers were not very keen, and wanted wages… A typical misunderstanding occurred when the Makhnovists sent some captured White guns to the big Bryansk engineering works for repair to the locks. The work was done, so the workers asked for payment. Not surprisingly, they felt insulted at the offer of a small payment in kind. Angered in turn by this seeming ingratitude, Makhno ordered the guns to be taken without any payment at all. (...) he followed this up with an article in the insurgent paper in which he attacked the Bryansk workers as ’Scum, self-seekers and blackmailers, trying to increase their prosperity at the expense of the blood and heroism of their front-line fighters’ “ [15]

The Makhnovist movement was far from being a workers’ movement or even an exception. It was the exact consequence of the Anarchist method and its petty bourgeois nature. There is no need to try to purify these experiences of the Anarchists and by doing so fall into opportunism. Rather than trying to reconcile two very divergent traditions, we should note how Engels saw the Anarchist movement both by their activities in the Spanish Revolt of 1873 and their adventurism in the First International.

“The anarchists put the thing upside down. They declare that the proletarian revolution must begin by doing away with the political organisation of the state. But after its victory the sole organisation which the proletariat finds already in existence is precisely the state. This state may require very considerable alterations before it can fulfill its new functions. But to destroy it at such a moment would be to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious proletariat can assert its newly-conquered power, hold down its capitalist adversaries and carry out that economic revolution of society without which the whole victory must end in a new defeat and in a mass slaughter of the workers similar to those after the Paris Commune.” [16]

Historically anarchists have been disorganized and inconstant, not only in their tactics but also in their theoretical understanding. From their support of the bourgeois republican state in the Spanish civil war, first, they shouted ’death to the state’ but later on said that:

"The government (the republican state) in this hour, as a regulating instrument of the organisms of the State, has ceased to be an oppressive force against the working class, just as the State no longer represents the organism which divides society into classes. And both will tend even less to oppress the people as a result of the intervention of the CNT" [17]

Alternatively, their support of the bolsheviks in the Russian civil war, which they later on turned against and started theorizing and calling the Bolshevik movement a bourgeois movement from the start, without even trying to understand the Russian revolution as an international revolution and the necessity of such an International revolution for forming a communist society. This change of theory in the anarchists was taken not only by the anarchists who took sides in WWI but also by the ones who rejected the Manifesto of The Sixteen and took an “internationalist” position. Their Internationalism is only in name and not in theory or even action as an internationalist revolution was never a necessity for them to achieve the disappearance of the classes.

This tendency of apoliticism shows that the Anarchist current cannot understand the material necessities of a revolution, leading to their abandoning of the revolution even when the proletariat has taken a single backward but necessary step. Even to the point of calling for the formation of labour camps – at the time also called concentration camps – under the aegis of the Republican state in Spain and using nationalist propaganda to get more people to their cause. [18] This practice may seem at odds with their concept of authority and hierarchy but in the context of their alliance with the bourgeois state and the oppression of the workers in their regions they control, they become “necessary” acts.

Federalism: Preservation of Capitalism

As we have shown above, Proudhonian economic utopianism is something innate in Anarchism. The economic structure of federalism or decentralization and self-management are constantly being upheld in different anarchist theoretical works.

As the IGCL and ICT comrades have shown in their works about the Spanish civil war [19], the social structure favored by Anarchism, with the independent and autonomous islands of power bartering and exchanging goods directly with each other, will lead to the preservation of exchange value and, therefore, commodity production and wage labor.

With this way of bartering exchange, a monetary system will make the equivalence of commodities for exchange easier, and this equivalence of commodities means the strengthening of commodity production and not its extinction. Therefore, capitalism and the exploitation of the labor force will continue, not be extinguished.

"As medium of exchange, money appears in the role of necessary mediator between production and consumption. In the developed money system, one produces only in order to exchange, or, one produces only by exchanging. Strike out money, and one would thereby either be thrown back to a lower stage of production (corresponding to that of auxiliary barter), or one would proceed to a higher stage, in which exchange value would no longer be the principal aspect of the commodity, because social labour, whose representative it is, would no longer appear merely as socially mediated private labour." [20]

All of this shows that, in practice, Anarchism is nothing more than the petty-bourgeoisie’s dream of free exchange and the continuation of the free market and therefore capitalist social and economic relations. Its focus is on the individual as the main driver of society and of changes in it (in most cases without even considering the collective). A good example of how idealistic and non-historical can be is the practice of propaganda by the deed and the individual terroristic acts that did not change any specific part of capitalist relations.

Even at the time of Marx and Engels, federalism was being upheld by the anarchists, which they got from Proudhon and other Utopian Socialists’ theories. Something that Engels, on the 20th anniversary of the Paris Commune, by stating the economic situation of the Commune, characterized as obsolete.

“By 1871, even in Paris, the centre of handicrafts, large-scale industry had already so much ceased to be an exceptional case that by far the most important decree of the Commune instituted an organization of large-scale industry and even of manufacture which was not based only on the association of workers in each factory, but also aimed at combining all these associations in one great union; in short an organization which, as Marx quite rightly says in The Civil War, must necessarily have led in the end to communism, that is to say, the direct antithesis of the Proudhon doctrine. And, therefore, the Commune was also the grave of the Proudhon school of socialism. Today this school has vanished from French working class circles; among them now, among the Possibilists no less than among the “Marxists”, Marx’s theory rules unchallenged. Only among the “radical” bourgeoisie are there still Proudhonists.” [21]

As we can see, the Makhnovist support of Federalism is similar to the Federalism of the Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War and the Federalism of Proudhonian economics.

This is not just a repetition of the terminology of the revolutionaries of the past but the legacy of their historical experiences with the Anarchist movement and their relation to the international proletarian struggle. These experiences prove the leftist, therefore the bourgeois, nature of the Anarchist movement not so different from the nature of the Stalinists and Trotskyists. By identifying the Anarchist movement as leftist – left wing of capital – we would understand how to treat it not as a revolutionary and militant current of the proletarian camp, but as full force of the capitalist class.

In the end, to the groups of comrades in the proletarian camp that are justifying their support or recognition of the Anarchist movement as authentically revolutionary and proletarian with excuses such as “workers unity” or “gaining the attention of the anarchists”, we can only say:

“One had obviously had a desire to stifle all criticism and to give one’s own party no opportunity for reflection. One knows that the mere fact of unification is satisfying to the workers, but it is a mistake to believe that this momentary success is not bought too dearly.” [22]

Daron, October 2022



[3. Peter Arshinov, History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918–1921)

[4. The SRs were “agrarian socialists” and supporters of a democratic socialist Russian republic. The ideological heirs of the Narodniks, the SRs won a mass following among the Russian peasantry by endorsing the overthrow of the Tsar and the redistribution of land to the peasants. The Left wing of this organization had better relationship with the Bolsheviks and Anarchists than the rest of them

[5. Alexandre Skirda, Paul Sharkey - Nestor Makhno Anarchy’s Cossack The Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine (1917-1921)

[8. “In 1926 a group of exiled Russian anarchists in France, the Dielo Trouda (Workers’ Cause) group, published this pamphlet (also known as the ’Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists’) on organisation based on their experiences in the 1917 Russian revolution.” (

[9. Marx’s letter to J. Wydemeyer, March 5th 1852.

[10. Critique of the Gotha Programme by Marx

[12. That is to say as a political current. We do not take into account the approach of the individual anarchist militants , as we do not for trotskyists or leftists, who, in the case of some, can be and certainly are honestly convinced they are fighting for proletarian revolution. However, precisely for these individuals, the best we can do for them is to denounce through clear and direct argumentation the historically petty-bourgeois class character of Anarchism as well as its complete integration into the left or capital today, which is to say into its political apparatus. Moreover, we certainly must not leave them with any illusions about the class character of Anarchism or Trotskyism as political currents. (Note added by the editorial team).

[13. “The Manifesto of the Sixteen (French: Manifeste des seize), or Proclamation of the Sixteen, was a document drafted in 1916 by eminent anarchists Peter Kropotkin and Jean Grave which advocated an Allied victory over Germany and the Central Powers during the First World War.” (wikipedia)

[16. Engels letter to Philipp Van Patten - 1883

[17. Solidaridad Obrera, Anarchist daily of the CNT, quoted by the ICT pamphlet Spain 1934-39: From Working Class Struggle to Imperialist War (