Felipe Corrêa and Rafael Viana da Silva – Bakunin, Malatesta and the Platform Debate
The Anarchist Library
Title: Bakunin, Malatesta and the Platform Debate
Subtitle: The question of anarchist political organization
Notes: Translated by Enrique Guerrero-López. Joint authorship with Rafael Viana da Silva.
Source: Original article: “Bakunin, Malatesta e o Debate da Plataforma: a questão da organização política anarquista.” First published in 2015 at the Institute for Anarchist Theory and History and, after, as a chapter of the book A Plataforma Organizacional (Dielo Trudá), by Faísca Publicações (São Paulo, Brazil, 2017).
The present text —the core of which was taken from the introduction that we wrote for the French edition of Social Anarchism and Organization, by the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro (FARJ)— aims to discuss the question of the specific anarchist political organization, based on the contributions of Mikhail Bakunin, Errico Malatesta and the Organizational Platform for a General Union of Anarchists, written by militants organized around the magazine Dielo Trudá, among whom were Nestor Makhno and Piotr Archinov.
We are going to take up the contributions of Bakunin and Malatesta to establish a dialogue between them and the Platform, trace the similarities and differences between the proposals of anarchists who advocate an organizational dualism and those of the Bolsheviks, and we will see the proximity of Malatesta with the Synthesis, as well as the historical impact of the Platform, which will make it possible to elucidate the positions that have been disseminated about this debate.
Anarchism is a political-doctrinal ideology that emerged in the nineteenth century, with a hegemony of mass oriented strategies, especially syndicalism (revolutionary syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism). Among the fundamental positions of “mass anarchism” are the defense of organization, of reforms as a possible path to revolution (provided they are properly conquered through class struggle) and of violence when associated with previously organized popular movements. Such positions are distinguished from other minority positions characterized by their anti-organizationism, their opposition to the struggle for reforms and their defense of violence as a trigger for popular mobilization (“propaganda by the deed”).
Those who have taken part in mass anarchism and defend organizational dualism—concomitant organization on two levels, one political/anarchist and the other mass/social—are not the majority, but among them there are relevant authors with significant positions and, above all, a solid historical experience, supported by the theoretical and practical construction of anarchist organizations.
Despite the fact that, after important attempts to compile them, Bakunin’s complete works have finally been published in French, his writings on the so-called “Fraternity” of 1864 and “Alliance” of 1868 —to use the terminology proposed by Max Nettlau— are very little known.
Bakunin’s mass strategy has been thoroughly discussed in relevant texts such as Bakunin: Founder of Revolutionary Syndicalism, by Gaston Leval, and several others by René Berthier. Not so much his theory of political organization—which he addresses extensively in different documents—which is his attempt to base the political-organizational proposals he had in terms of principles, program, strategy and organization.
There seems to be some shame around these writings, especially among French anarchists. It is as if they belonged to an authoritarian heritage, perhaps of Blanquist and Jacobin inspiration, which remains in the author and should not be brought to light.
We believe that Bakunin’s positions on anarchist political organization, from 1868 onwards, are fully reconciled with his mass strategy, which he proposed to the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), and should be recognized as a relevant part of his anarchism. Today, such positions seem to carry weight as a pillar for fruitful reflections on the most suitable organizational model for anarchist intervention.
Bakunin argued that the Alliance should have a dual objective: on the one hand, to stimulate the growth of and strengthen the IWA; on the other, to bring together all those who had political-ideological affinities with anarchism—or, as it was generically called in that period, revolutionary socialism or collectivism— around principles, a program and a common strategy. In sum, create and strengthen both political organization and a mass movement, which has been called organizational dualism:
They [Alliance militants] will form the inspiring and vivifying soul of that immense body that we call the International Workers’ Association […]; then they will deal with issues that are impossible to discuss publicly; they will form the necessary bridge between the propaganda of socialist theories and revolutionary practice.
For Bakunin, it was not necessary for the Alliance to have a large number of militants: “The number of these individuals should not, therefore, be immense.” The Alliance had to constitute a political organization, public and secret, with an active minority and collective responsibility among the members, to bring together “the most safe, the most committed, the smartest and the most energetic, in a word the most intimate,” with groups in various countries and the ability to decisively influence the working masses. The organization had to be based on internal regulations and a strategic program to establish, respectively, its organic functioning and its political-ideological and programmatic-strategic bases, forging a common axis for anarchist action.