Views & Comments Number 31
Anarchism and Political Action by Rudolf Rocker
Can Decent Unions Stay in the AFL-CIO?
The State and/or Society by Colin Ward
In the Struggle for Equality, book review by S.D.
A Look at Latin America by GWR
The Binefar Collective by Gaston Leval
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RUDOLF ROCKER, 1873-1958 2
ANARCHISM AND POLITICAL ACTION by Rudolf Rocker 3
CAN DECENT UNIONS STAY IN THE AFL-CIO? 7
THE STATE AND/OR SOCIETY by Colin Ward 8
FROM OUR PRESS ABROAD 8
IN THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY (book review) 9
A LOOK AT LATIN AMERICA 10
THE BINEFAR COLLECTIVE (fourth of a series on THE SPANISH COLLECTIVES) 14
"LIBERATED" TUNISIA 17
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A biography of Rudolf Rocker's long and remarkable career would encompass more than a half century in the history of the revolutionary movement. His autobiography alone (to say nothing of a mass of other material), consists of three volumes of almost 800 pages each. A comprehensive history of his life and an evaluation of his work and influence await future biographers. Here, we can only offer a very sketchy outline.
On Sept. 10, 1958, Rudolf Rocker died at the age of 86. He was born in Mainz, Germany, March 25, 1873. His father was a music typographer. When he was six years old his parents died and he spent his boyhood in a Catholic orphanage. Rudolf Naumann, his mother's brother, introduced him into the socialist movement. This was the time of Bismarck. The socialist movement was outlawed and functioned underground and imported its literature from abroad.
At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a bookbinder. As was the custom, the journeyman traveled throughout Europe working at his trade. Thus Rocker wandered throughout Europe afoot, absorbing and observing the customs and languages of various countries. During this time, he met and became friends with such outstanding libertarian thinkers and militants as Kropotkin, Elisee Reclus, Errico Malatesta, Domela Niewenhuis, Louise Michel and many others. Rocker was banished from Germany for revolutionary activity and lived in Paris from 1893 to 1895, broadening his libertarian concepts and contacts. Then he went to London and worked at his trade. There he became active in the Jewish labor movement. Although he was a non-Jew, he learned to speak and write Yiddish. He then became editor of two outstanding Yiddish publications: Arbeiter Freund, a weekly, and Germinal, a theoretical and literary monthly to which leading libertarian thinkers contributed. He edited the papers until the outbreak of world war I. Then, for his opposition to the war, he was arrested and interned.
At the end of the war, he returned to Germany and became intensely active in the revolutionary movement. He helped organize the revolutionary syndicalist "Free Workers' Union of Germany" and helped publish the papers Der Syndikalist and Der Frier Arbeiter.
In 1921 he took a major part in the reorganization of the old International Workingmen's Association. When Hitler came to power, Rocker fled, leaving his five thousand volume library which the Nazis burned. He escaped with only the clothes on his back and the manuscript of his distinguished work, Nationalism and Culture.
Since then he has lived in the United States, devoting the rest of his life to writing and speaking. A bibliography of his 'books, pamphlets and articles would make a fair-sized volume. In addition to this he translated into Yiddish Kropotkin's "Words of a Rebel," Elisee Reclus' "Evolution and Revolution" and many other works. He also did translations in other languages. His books include: Nationalism and Culture, The History of the Terrorist Movement in France, Francisco Ferrer and the Free Education of Youth, Johann Most, Michael Bakunin, The tragedy of Spain; Pioneers of American Freedom, Behind Bars and Barbed Wire, and many, many others.
Very few of his works have appeared in English, although they have been translated into many other languages. The following polemical article, which, as far as we know, has never appeared in English, was one of three written in answer to the revisionist ideas of Dr. Maryson, a Jewish anarchist writer of that period. From the Yiddish we translate extracts from that article, which appeared in Germinal of Dec. 1906. It illustrates Rocker's early views and it deals with a fundamental problem which has become even more acute with the passing of the years. The best tribute that we can pay to his memory is to make more of his works known to the English speaking public.
Anarchism and Political Action by Rudolf Rocker
The question of political action has been repeatedly discussed in anarchist circles. Nevertheless, we must continually deal with misunderstandings and false interpretations of our position on this point. In reality the anarchists were never opposed to political activity. Since their ideal, anarchism, is a political doctrine. Their criticism has been directed only against a particular kind of political activity. In order to arrive at a clearer conception, it is necessary to define what we mean by political action. We have no objection to "politics" if it is understood in its original, etymological derivation.
The Greek word "polis" means city, community, association. A "politicus" is anyone who is concerned with the public affairs of the "polis." Although a strike is an economic act, it has at the same time a political character because it concerns and influences the life of the "polis." With the development of parliamentarianism and above all parliamentary tactics in the socialist movement, the meaning of "politics" has been limited so that most people think of politics as being only parliamentary action. But parliamentary action is only a particular form of general political action. It is only against this form that the anarchist directs his criticism. Our modern political parties have constricted the whole of political life within the narrow limits of parliaments. It is precisely parliamentary action that Comrade Maryson regards as the most important propaganda tactic for anarchism. Maryson tries to prove that parliamentary action is only a method, a way to reach a certain objective, which has nothing to do with the principles of anarchism. This is an unwarranted assumption. Principles and tactics are interwoven. We can easily understand why social-democrats participate in parliamentary action. There is an organic harmony between them and all other political parties. The social democrat recognizes the necessity of government. His opposition is only against the existing form of government.
He is not against the principle of government. This is why he strives always to capture political power. He considers the state as the only creator and defender of social life. He ignores direct action of individuals and groups and seeks to combat his opponent by the action of his representatives in parliament.
For the anarchist the problem is different. He is an opponent of every government, regardless of the form it takes. His aim is not the conquest, but the abolition of governmental power. He cannot therefore be an agent or representative of governmental power, a wheel in the State chariot. Anarchism bases all its teachings on the free personality and the tactical expression of this teaching is individual initiative and direct action. The forms of Anarchist tactics may vary according to the circumstances and the tactics of our enemies, but the struggle itself will always be a direct one.
As anarchists we know that modern parliamentarianism, the so-called representative system, is only a new form of the old State principle. The place of the dictator is taken by the deputies. The results are the same. It is immaterial if the laws are made and imposed by the will of one hundred, five hundred or a thousand persons. Experience demonstrates that legislation of parliamentary majorities can sometimes be more despotic than that of a personal dictator. If the people in lands ruled by parliaments enjoy more rights and freedoms than in despotic lands, it is not because the government is better, but because the rulers were forced to adapt themselves to the demands of the masses. As soon as the masses become indifferent to the rights which they or their forefathers won through direct action, then even the most democratic government exposes the essentially despotic and reactionary nature common to all governments. It makes little difference who determines the fate of a nation, whether it is an absolute king or a number of deputies. Proudhon was correct when he stated, "Parliament is nothing more than a king with 600 heads." The anarchists want to make it impossible for one, ten, or a hundred people to rule and tyrannize over their subjects and control their thoughts.
In working for the realization of these ideals we must never forget wherein is found the life source of every authoritarian power. The foundation of every government is not the police, army and other power institutions which protect the state system, but the ignorance, superstition and the respect of the masses for these institutions. These attitudes must be changed. If we ourselves participate in legislative or executive functions and become part of the mechanics of government, this work will be impossible.
In the past man could not conceive of a world without God. To him the center of all his feelings and conceptions was God. Upon this blind fanaticism the church built its power. The pioneers of free thought were forced to struggle bitterly and long against the established institutions to overcome the respect of the masses for the church and other agencies. Direct attack was the only way to break the power of the church.
In the period of absolute monarchy, the king was revered almost as God. He and his court were the center of life. Everything revolved around him and his ministers. At that time a society without a king meant for most people the end of the world. We know how much labor and sacrifice it took to destroy this superstition and to prove to people that the king is only an ordinary man, very often an inferior one at that; that his power rested on the ignorance of his subjects.
Now the great superstition is the worship and belief in the "king with the 600 heads." Parliamentarianism is the most terrible lie of our time. The people expect everything from the state and its laws. Parliament is regarded as the fountain of life. The people cannot conceive of how society can exist without statist executive and legislative institutions. Just as in the past, people could not imagine a world without a God and without a King. The spiritual and cultural nonentities who form parliaments enjoy the same superstitious respect as did the previous nonentities who played the part of anointed despots. The newspapers are full of parliamentary reports as if nothing else existed in the world outside of the few business men and lawyers who regard themselves and are regarded by others as the lords of life. To destroy this superstition is our task. If we were to follow the advice of Dr. Maryson we would not weaken but support and sanction this superstition of the omnipotence of the all powerful parliamentary government, because we ourselves would be taking part in parliamentary action.
Don't tell me that the anarchist deputies would be the opposition to the government. This proves nothing except that the opposition is also a necessary part of the parliamentary system. If there were no opposition it would be necessary to create one. A Parliament without an opposition is impossible and absurd. The fact that we go into a parliament is logical proof that we recognize the moral validity and necessity for this body. We thereby help to perpetuate the belief in the magical powers of parliament. The old saying, "Tell me the company you keep and I will tell you what you are" would also be used against us.
But Comrade Maryson tells us that he is only looking for a platform in parliament. From this tribunal, he can speak to all the people. Should not the anarchists avail themselves of this opportunity? It would be simple. First of all we must agree that it must be done. We nominate in the next election, our candidate, Comrade Yanovsky, (a prominent Jewish anarchist speaker and writer) on the condition that he will not take part in the lawmaking activity of parliament. He would only protest against bad legislation and make propaganda for anarchism, or better said, state our position as anarchists to all problems discussed in parliament.
The realities of the situation are not so simple, my dear Maryson. If you were to suggest that Yanovsky be sent to some congress or convention to explain our position on some specific problem, no one would object. If Yanovsky would correctly present our position we would certainly be pleased. If he did not, no great harm would be done. No one could force us to accept a decision which we did not agree with. However, the situation takes on a different character when we nominate him for parliament. If Yanovsky should be elected he is no longer on equal footing with us. His election gives him a higher power. He is no longer a delegate but a deputy whose voice and vote have an influence in the making of laws. We have not the slightest guarantee that Yanovsky will do everything we ask him. We would have to depend solely on his personal honesty, strength of purpose, energy and so forth. Should he take an opposite position to ours on this or that problem in parliament, we would not be able to stop him. As a delegate to an ordinary gathering, we would just laugh at him, if he failed to represent us. He could do nothing to us. As deputy his personal will supersedes our joint decision. He could force us to accept his decision because he gives his vote for or against a particular piece of legislation. His personal will becomes a legislative and executive power. This is a fact that we observe every day. We know of social-democratic deputies who voted to send troops to crush striking workers, strengthen the police, accept the budget of a government and so forth. In actual fact you will not find a deputy who always carries out the will of his electors. It is true that you can, in the next elections, pick another deputy if the first one did not carry out your decisions. But firstly, you would not be able to correct the harm done by his predecessor and secondly, you would not have the slightest assurance that the second one would behave better than the first. Perhaps you will answer me that our candidate would after all be an anarchist and not a social-democrat. In this respect I am a skeptic. I do not believe that the name will change the fact. Anarchists are, after all, people and not angels and the fault lies not in whether a deputy calls himself an anarchist or a social-democrat, but in the fact that we ourselves give him the power to regulate our lives. And even if we nominated and elected the best anarchist candidate, it would not do away with the incontestable fact that we ourselves placed our fate in the hands of another person who will do with our trust what he pleases.
Whether an anarchist can or should participate in parliamentary action I leave to the reader to decide for himself. As far as I am personally concerned, my opinion is that an anarchist could not and should not do this. If he did he would betray his anarchist principles and convictions.
It is not necessary to explain in detail how elections are rigged, especially in America, where politics is nothing more than open buying and selling on the election market. At no other time is so much appeal made to the lowest and dirtiest passions of the mob as in the election period and if a person cannot stoop to sewer politics he will have no influence in the election. Idealism will never get him elected, for idealism and politics are two different things.
Comrade Maryson assures us that he does not want to compromise in any way. His opinion is that the anarchist deputy need never bypass the anarchist principles. But I ask him if he ever earnestly considered the peculiar role that our anarchist would have to play in the chambers of parliament and the kind of speech he would have to deliver to the voters in the electoral campaign? He would have to tell the voters that it is senseless to expect help from parliament, that social problems will not be solved there since parliamentary government, like all other governments, would be the political instrument of the ruling classes whose purpose is to perpetuate the economic and social slavery of the people. He would have to declare that he could do nothing for them and for this he deserves to be elected as deputy in parliament. As an anarchist, he would have to explain that the representative system is nothing more than a new form of political slavery. He would have to explain that no person can represent another. Just as another person cannot eat, drink and sleep for him, so he cannot think and act for him. This is why, dear voter, I ask you not to vote for me or any other candidate.
What impression would such a speech make? The candidate would be looked upon as a political clown who is not in his right mind.
The proposal of Comrade Maryson to use the parliamentary tribune as a propaganda stage is by no means new. This was the original position of the social-democracy. As early as 1887 the congress of the German social-democrats in St. Galen decided that social democratic deputies should not, under any circumstances, take part in the making of laws and should limit themselves to criticizing and making socialist propaganda. What was the result? Other parties charged that the social-democrats criticize others but do nothing practical or constructive. The social democrats gradually relaxed their original rule and collaborated with other deputies on practical measures, because they did not want to lose influence with the voters. This is understandable. Placed in a similar position, the anarchists would have to do the same. It is not the name but the thing itself which produces definite effects, and even the best intentions of Comrade Maryson would not be able to halt or reverse the process.
Comrade Maryson stresses the great propaganda success which the social-democrats made by parliamentary activity. The question is, how we understand the word success. If success is measured by the number of votes, then the social-democrats have been successful. As a social-democratic party, its success is null and void, for the greater the number of votes it won, the weaker its original socialist principles became. In Germany there are three million social-democratic voters, but how many real socialists will you find among them? You have in Germany 80 daily social-democratic newspapers. If you would not read the line "Social-Democratic Organ" you would never suspect, from their contents, that they are socialist papers. Only the theoretical organ of the party, "Die Neue Ziet," edited by Karl Kautsky, carries from time to time socialist discussion and articles. Although its price is low, it has only seven thousand readers out of three million voters and is always in debt. Bakunin knew what he was talking about when he admonished his Marxist opponents, "You want to conquer political power, but I am much afraid that political power will conquer your socialism." If it were not for the anarchists, socialism would be completely submerged in the swamp of parliamentary action.
Is the parliamentary tribunal really the only place from which we can speak to the people and give our movement a practical importance? I think not. The majority of the people are not interested in politics. The number of those who take the trouble to read the parliamentary reports are very few. Parliament is but the political stock exchange of the ruling classes. This is why the agenda carries the stamp of those classes.
I do not understand how it is that Comrade Maryson comes with his proposal at this time when anarchism is making good progress in most of the European countries. In France we have the revolutionary labor movement whose aims and tactics are closely linked with anarchist demands. They are against the wage system and against every government. They advocate the autonomy of the communes and declare that it is the great historic mission of the unions to organize the coming communistic production and the political administration of every commune. They are anti-parliamentarian and for direct action. Their most important and effective propagandists are outspoken anarchists who influence the entire French labor movement. The same is true in French Switzerland, Italy, Holland and Belgium, to say nothing of Spain, whose labor movement had from the outset an anarchist character. Here is our place, in the union, among the people. Here is the field for our activity, where our words will not be lost.
It is not true, Comrade Maryson, that only through parliament is it possible to interest the people. Here is an example from the history of the first "International Workingmen's Association." This powerful organization had within a short time united two million workers in its ranks, despite the fact that it rejected parliamentary action. Later, when Marx and Engels tried to introduce parliamentary action there came the split, and the International went under.
"Let us consider that arbitrary power has seldom or never been introduced into any country at once. It must be introduced by slow degrees, and as it were step by step, lest the people should see its approach."
Can Decent Unions Stay in the AFL-CIO?
The Mechanics Educational Society of America (MESA) was an independent union. It affiliated to the AFL-CIO on the condition that it would keep its autonomy. It still retains its militancy, its rank and file control, its safeguards against corruption and officialdom and its social idealism. In these respects, it is superior to any of the unions in the AFL-CIO. This is all to the good. But, in urging its members to vote for "labor's friends," we see the beginning of a trend which would nullify these positive values. The failure to see the long-range bad effects of parliamentary action has been one of the main causes for the degeneration of many fine and upstanding unions. However, we are not here concerned with this serious problem, which we have dealt with and will continue to discuss in coming issues of Views and Comments.
What interests us now are the relations between the MESA and the AFL-CIO in general and with the United Auto Workers (UAW) in particular. The Sept. 1958 Mesa Educator tells the sordid story of how the giant UAW stabbed its smaller brother union, the MESA, in the back, and sold out its own members who were working in Grand Rapids, by a secret agreement with the employer, the Kelvinator appliance plant of the American Motors Corporation. The agreement involved the moving of the Kelvinator plant (which was organized in the MESA) from Detroit to Grand Rapids, Michigan. In exchange for jurisdiction over the additional workers in the expanded Grand Rapids plant, the UAW made a secret two-year agreement which was in every respect worse than the old contract. It provided for a wage cut, worsening of working conditions and deprived the workers of many benefits that they had already won. The UAW agreed to this dirty deal on the condition that the corporation would move its plant within six months. The excuse for this betrayal was that the UAW wants to help companies to compete with their more successful rivals—at the expense of the workers.
The MESA Educator names the engineers of this sellout: "Edward L. Cushman, college professor, so-called liberal, ex-New Dealer, Vice President of American Motors, and conspirational pirate friend of Norman Mathews, Vice-President of the UAW!" In the same front-page editorial, the Educator castigates the UAW officialdom and raises a number of vital questions:
"It is certain that seeds of fear and mistrust have been planted in the minds of every UAW member when the UAW and its high officials, such as Norman Mathews, have so lost all understanding of the principles of unionism that they stoop so low as to collude with employers in wage-cutting and forging the shackles of servitude on their workers.
"Is this the brand of dishonorable conduct the President of the UAW meant when he said we have big business and, therefore, must have big unions? Are these "big unions" to be built on the cruel disillusionments and shattered hopes and aspirations of thousands of captive and stolen workers, who have no knowledge of secret sweetheart deals that so adversely effect their lives and the livelihood of their families? Is it the strategy of the UAW that their members working in small plants are expendable pawns in the UAW's drive for power and "bigness?"
"'What profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his own soul?' These facsimiles of men surely sold their souls to the devil when they consummated this avaricious deal in the dark recesses of their rapacious minds."
If this is the way a decent union is treated by one of the most "progressive" unions in America, one of the framers of Labor's "ethical code," we can imagine how things stand with even less "progressive" unions! How long can a smaller honest union stand for the aggression of its rapacious fellow "unions" in the AFL-CIO, who want to swallow it up? How long can it maintain its autonomy? Has it the resources to fight back and win, and if not, does it not risk the danger of contamination if it gives in and is forced to play the same dirty game? One of two things is bound to happen. Either the forces of progress and militant rank and file unionism will unite and smash the reactionary forces within the AFL-CIO and rebuild it on new and different lines, or, failing that, leave the thieves to themselves and build a federation which will win the support of the masses of unorganized and misorganized workers.
Although the MESA does not go as far as this, the last paragraph of an article about the social responsibilities of labor which appeared in the same issue of The Educator indicates serious thinking about the future of the labor movement. This is a healthy sign:
"If the labor movement rejects its responsibility to champion the cause of social progress—if the labor movement persists in playing footsie with those dedicated to keeping the worker in his present status—then it will have waived its jurisdiction and a new form of organization must come forward to carry out this necessary job."
The State and/or Society by Colin Ward
The lives of men and of communities is a continual contest between the tradition of power, State and authority on the one hand, and on the other—society, community and mutual aid. The preponderance of one over the other is the measure of the degree of liberty or slavery in a nation. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, calls these two opposing traditions the Political principle and the Social principle and he sees them as based on the State and on Society respectively. He also makes the very important observation that the strength of the one is equivalent to the weakness of the other, that there is in reality an inverse relation between them.
This manner of viewing human institutions, reinforced by the observations of anthropologists and sociologists, is of great importance for Anarchists. If we wish to weaken the State, we must reinforce Society. The totalitarians know this very well and invariably seek to destroy the social institutions that they cannot dominate. The degree to which the social principle predominates is called by Buber the communitarian content of a society.
The Anarchist, in his effort to transform the daily struggle in the factories and on the land, in urging workers control of industry, in his desire to free education from all religious, nationalistic and authoritarian dogmas, in encouraging spontaneous and voluntary local forms of social organization, stimulating the quality and variety of human life, is strengthening the communitarian content of a society. In doing this he diminishes the sphere of the State, and of the authoritarian interests that the State protects.
Today, the Anarchist sees everywhere a massive society easily manipulated by political demagogues, who are indifferent or apathetic to the revolutionary alternatives. Our task in all aspects of life is to transform the society of masses into a mass of societies.
From our Press Abroad:
BARCELONA, SPAIN—A court martial tried 45 persons, among them nine women, for possession of arms and explosives and reconstituting Anarchist groups. Lazaro Anguera and Gines Moreno, accused of assassinating a police agent in March, 1956, were condemned to death. 16 were freed, and the others were sentenced as follows: 1 to 30 years, 3 to 6 years (among them a woman), one to 7 years, another to 6, another to 2 and 18 to from 3 to 6 months.
LISBON, PORTUGAL—The ministers of the Interior and Justice have issued new decrees increasing penalties for striking. Closing of industrial and commercial establishments, curtailment or suspension of work in any public service or any other economic activity without "legitimate" cause will be punished with prison. Those who help or initiate curtailment or suspension of work will be punished with penalties of from 2 to 8 years imprisonment.
"Government is the outcome of conquest."
—Lester F. Ward (Pure Sociology)
In the Struggle for Equality, book review by S.D.
In the Struggle for Equality: The Story of the Anarchist Red Cross by B. Yelensky. A. Berkman Aid Fund, Chicago. 96 pp., $2.50 (available from VIEWS AND COMMENTS!)
Human beings make events and historians record them for the guidance of coming generations. Both are needed. The honest historian always tries to get information from original records, or if possible from the people who witnessed or took part in the events themselves. All too often the actors in the drama of history leave no written record of the parts they played. Significant pieces in the historical puzzle are lost forever and the missing parts are filled in by outright lies or unintentional distortions. In either case a false picture is projected.
Our fellow worker, Boris Yelensky, understood this and decided to set the record straight. With the help of his friends he has written a provocative little book—In The Struggle for Equality. The title is well chosen. It describes the struggle and the part he played in it. Yelensky tells about his fifty years of unceasing activity to help the victims of oppression and injustice. He dedicated his life and his book "to the Fighters for Freedom, Humanism and Justice, to those who endeavored to help these fighters by applying the principle of mutual aid."
The book begins by sketching the history of the Russian Revolutionary movement and the part played by the Anarchists. Then Yelensky gives the history of the Anarchist Red Cross which was founded in 1905.
In telling why a special Anarchist Relief Organization became necessary he calls attention to a neglected aspect of revolutionary history—the sabotage and discrimination of many social-democrats against their fellow-prisoners and in the outside relief organizations. Of the vast sums collected all over the world, from Czarist times up to the present, very little reached the Anarchist prisoners. Yelensky quotes H. Weinstein who was jailed in Czarist times for radical activity:
"In July or August of 1906 I was placed under arrest in the city of Bialostock. When I arrived at the prison in that city, I met there Jacob Krepleich and a friend of his, a Russian teacher; they likewise informed me that the organization which then existed in Russia, set up by the social-democrats to extend aid to all revolutionary captives regardless of political affiliation was refusing to help the Anarchists; and during the brief period that I remained in the Bialostock prison we received letters from the Grodno jail which gave confirmation of the truth of these statements."
This discrimination still persists. As Yelensky points out in telling about the conduct of the social-democrat relief organization, The Jewish Labor Committee in the United States. It is not a pretty tale, but it had to be told.
The Anarchists have continued relief activities all this time. The bulk of this work is now carried on by the Alexander Berkman Aid Fund, which is not limited to Russian or Jewish prisoners. Aid is being sent to Spanish, Italian, Bulgarian and other prisoners all over the world. The fund also Published a documentary history of Bolshevik terror against revolutionists, The Guillotine At Work, by P.G. Maximov.
In relating the relief activities, Yelensky gives us a picture of the great contribution made by the Eastern European Jews to the radical movement in this country. This book should be read not only for its factual contributions but also because it demonstrates that people of meager means in a strange country, against great obstacles, can carry on great work. It is the people who do the unglamorous but indispensable tasks, who are the true life's blood of every worthwhile movement.
This book was published by the Alexander Berkman Aid Fund, a non-profit organization and all proceeds from its sale "Inure to The Fund For Political Prisoners and Refugees."
A Look at Latin America by GWR
Vice President Nixon's disastrous trip through Latin America has focused public attention on that area in away in which the recent dethroning of several dictators had failed to do. However, the real motives underlying the hatred which he encountered have been deliberately obscured in the indignant splutterings of editorial writers and politicos in this country.
The United States has always been about as popular in Latin America as England was in Africa and India, and for the same reasons. This country has always followed an imperialistic policy, both politically and economically, south of the border. It wasn't so very long ago that U.S. Marines were fighting in Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and elsewhere to impose the will of U.S. big business on the recalcitrant peoples of those countries. The lesson wasn't lost on the Latin Americans, and just in case they should tend to forget, they have the U.S. Government's barefaced intervention in Guatemala to remind them again of this country's real intentions toward them. And worse still, they have seen the United States sending dollars and guns for years to support dictators such as Rojas Pinilla in Colombia, Perez Jimenez in Venezuela, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and Batista in Cuba, to cite only the most notorious examples.
Thus Nixon, who was the symbol of U.S. imperialism when he traveled in Latin America, had to face some hard truths and some harder stones as those peoples gave vent to years of hatred for what this country has done to them. For to them the United States represents dictatorship and slavery, just as surely as Russia represents the same thing in her enslaved satellites. If the people of the United States don't like to be hated and insulted, then they should put an end once and for all to the causes thereof.
A brief rundown on the present situation in a few Latin American countries will lead to a better understanding of the forces at work there. It must be said at the beginning, however, that the various putsches, revolts and revolutions which often seem meaningless at a distance are no comic opera farce but an integral part of a bitter struggle in every country of Latin America against the forces of oppression which will not cease until these peoples enjoy a true freedom. These events are a tribute to the tough, freedom-loving spirit of all Latin America.
The overthrow of Dictator Juan Peron did not usher in a period of tranquility in that country. Quite to the contrary, it merely lifted the lid from an already discontented people. The regime which followed Peron does not have popular support, because the military-bourgeois forces which ousted him did so, not out of love for the people, but because Peron's large-scale robbery was spoiling their own private thievery. The people did not defend Peron, but neither did they support those who opposed him. As soon as the rebels were in power they initiated a series of dictatorial, anti-labor measures of their own, and to break the resistance of democratic, independent unions, they strengthened the mammoth, bureaucratic Confederacion General de Trabajadores, Peron's old labor front. The workers answered with a bitterly-fought dock strike sparked by the anarcho-syndicalist Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina, and local strikes in other parts of the country. Resistance to the present autocratic regime is also growing among the students, who have demonstrated on various occasions their solidarity with the workers.
This country still suffers under the rule of a dictatorial government. The main resistance to this state of affairs comes from the Communist-dominated unions, but all positive efforts toward revolt are hobbled by the Communist Party's customary anti-revolutionary tactics of opportunism and mystification.
A revolutionary situation still exists in this country which was led by a long series of revolts from an autocratic regime to its present weak, left-wing government. The militant miners in Bolivia's rich tin mines are armed and virtually control the country through their unions. However, the revolution lacks direction since the miners, all of whom are Indians who speak little or no Spanish, are inaccessible to any of the existing revolutionary and political groups. At the same time, international capitalism, headed by the United States is attempting to strangle the revolution and restore the expropriated tin barons (Patino et al.) by boycotting Bolivian tin and restricting the country's economic credit abroad. Where this situation may lead has yet to be seen.
This unhappy land has been under dictator's boots during most of its history. However, growing guerrilla and student resistance may indicate the dawn of a better day.
VENEZUELA AND COLOMBIA
The overthrow of dictator Rojas Pinilla and Perez Jiminez led to unstable provisional governments in both countries. It is as yet too early to tell what may develop, but one thing is clear; the hatred of both peoples for the United States. Only a few short months ago they saw their friends and relatives shot down with U.S. arms when they revolted against their respective dictators.
The assassination of strong-man Jose Antonio Remon in 1955 led to no change in the government, which is completely controlled by the U.S. to protect the Canal Zone.
The assassination of dictator Somoza in 1956 likewise led to no change in the state of things in this strongly U.S.—backed dictatorship. His son is now dictator. Nevertheless, the heroic example of the martyred tyrannicide, Rigoberto Lopez, set another example for the enslaved peoples of the world. Incidentally a special team of surgeons dispatched by Eisenhower failed to patch up Somoza, who died of bullet wounds inflicted by Lopez. A similar team of surgeons was sent to Panama to patch up Remon with identical results.
A highly unstable situation resulted from the assassination of dictator Castillo Armas, who had deposed President Arbenz Guzman in 1954 in a U.S. backed revolt. There was undoubtedly considerable Communist influence in the Arbenz regime, but Communist aid to Guatemala was restricted to propaganda. Reports in the U.S. press of Communist arms shipments were proved to be false when the Arbenz regime fell with almost no resistance despite strong popular support due to lack of adequate arms to stop Castillo Armas, who was supplied with the most modern U.S. armament. The real motive behind Arbenz' fall was the extensive confiscations of United Fruit Company land which his government was distributing among the peasants. Castillo Armas' coup considerably strengthened the Communists in Guatemala and created a most unpleasant impression in the rest of Latin America, which saw the bared sword of U.S. military might backing up U.S. economic exploitation when its hegemony was threatened. Despite government decrees to the contrary, 20,000 people marched through the streets of the capital of Guatemala on May Day of this year.
A highly complicated situation has developed in this country with the revolt against Batista. In the opposition to the military dictatorship is, on the one hand, Fidel Castro's 26th of July movement, and on the other the Directorio Revolucionario, a coalition containing student representation through their organization, the F.E.U., and various union tendencies. Also among the anti-Batista forces are several splinter parties, such as ex-President Prio Socarras' Partido Revolucionario Cubano, and the Communist Party. Of all the groups in the opposition, the most powerful seems to be the 26th of July, which, as a strong guerrilla force in the Sierra Maestra in Oriente province, a region which it practically controls due to strong support among the peasants and workers and certain sectors of the middle class in the cities. This party is totalitarian in nature and its leader, Castro, has all the earmarks of being just another political opportunist. For this reason he has been unable to gain any mass support in the rest of Cuba, and particularly in Havana, where his groups nevertheless carry out terrorist activities. His militants are mostly young workers and students disillusioned with the older groups. Both the Communists and the Catholics are trying to infiltrate this movement, the latter with some success. However, if Castro has no widespread popular support, the same is true of the other opposition groups. The bureaucracy of the Cuban Labor Confederation (C.T.C.) has been perverted by years of class collaboration and support of the Batista dictatorship. Therefore, those elements who now wish to overthrow the dictator find that they have no influence among the workers. This was demonstrated by the failure of the general strike called recently. In fact, the Cuban people as a whole are manifestly dissatisfied with their self-appointed leaders and are disillusioned by the uninterrupted series of betrayals they have been subjected to in the past, and see no reason why they should shed their blood to overthrow Batista only to let another little politician climb into his place. However, despite large arms shipments from the U.S., the Batista government is so weak through a total lack of popular support that it may fall at any moment, as did Peron's paper regime. What will come afterwards is impossible to say, but it is certain to be almost as bad, due to the lack of any honorable revolutionary tendency among the opposition which could fill the vacuum Batista will leave.
To end on a somber note we will now consider one of the most tragic cases in Latin America. This little island for more than 20 years has been held in the iron fist of the bloody egomaniac Trujillo, and his dictatorship is probably one of the strongest in the world, not excepting the Communist tyrannies. With the sea on three sides and a weak, terrorized country on the fourth, he has no trouble guarding his borders. With a huge police and military force he has crushed all resistance within his country, and his hired gunmen terrorize Dominican citizens residing in Mexico, Cuba and the United States (the Galindez case was an excellent example of his methods). The amount of aid given him by the U.S. and his extensive connections with the U.S. are now notorious, but matters continue as before, despite complaints by a few brave individuals in the United States.
That is a brief sketch of the Latin American picture, and the reader can draw his own conclusions. However, one last factor must be touched on, and that is the role of the Roman Catholic Church in these affairs. This powerful organization has consistently supported all Latin American dictatorships—supported them, that is, until they were about to fall. In Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia the Church supported these countries' tyrants until it saw that their days were numbered, and then at the last minute made a pretense of opposing them, attempting thereby to take credit both domestically and abroad for their fall. Fortunately this maneuver was not very convincing, especially in the countries where it was pulled. And the spectacle is made all the more nauseating by the Church's unconditional support of the bloodiest butcher of them all, Trujillo. But then, the Church is sure that he isn't going to fall for a long time. And he won't, if the "Black International" has anything to say about it.
"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
The Binefar Collective by Gaston Leval
Fourth of a series on the Spanish Collectives: (reprinted from Resistance)
In the province of Huesca, the town of Binefar was beyond doubt the chief center of collectivization. The qualities of its CNT militants had established them as the guides for a district embracing 32 villages, 28 of them wholly or partly collectivized, In Binefar itself, 700 of the 800 peasant families belonged to the Collective.
There had long been a sizable social movement in Binefar, despite the fact that the small local industries—mills, factories, clothing and shoemaking shops, foundries, farm implement repair shops, etc.—employed only a tenth of the 5,000 inhabitants. In the local CNT syndicate most of the members—whose number had risen to 600 in the first years of the 1931 Republic—were peasants. There were economic facts to account for the peasant predominance. In that part of Aragon nature is favorable, and irrigation well planned, but the land was distributed very unequally. Of the 2,000 hectares of productive land, on which hay, sugar beets, vegetables and olives were grown, all but 800 were held by big landowners. Only about 100 of the small owners were able to make a living from their small plots, and the remainder had to work on the lands of the rich.
The syndicate, founded in 1917, had experienced the typical ups and downs; times of relative quiet, then persecution and suppression and imprisonment of militants. When the fascist threat appeared in July, 1936, our forces were still disorganized from the last persecution. Nevertheless, the CNT-FAI militants rose to meet the danger, and took the initiative in forming a revolutionary committee on July 18th. (The municipal authorities belonged to the Popular Front and did not like fascism, but they were characteristically incapable of action; two Popular Front representatives did serve, however, on the revolutionary committee.) Within two days the barracks where the Civil Guards had retreated in the first fighting were taken by assault, and our victorious comrades departed to help liberate other villages.
The fields of the big land-owners, who fled to Huesca at the first sign of the anti-fascist reaction, had not yet been harvested. The revolutionary committee took possession of the reapers and mowers, and summoned the peasants who had previously worked on these lands as laborers. The peasants decided they would, work in the interests of the whole village. To organize the work they formed groups and elected delegates.
Later, after the harvest, industry was socialized, and eventually commerce was included.
The following are the rules the popular assembly of collectivists approved:
Art. 1. The work shall be carried on in groups of 10, each of which shall name its delegate. ((Later modified to seven groups of 100 members, each with a delegate.)) The delegates shall plan the work, and preserve harmony among the producers, and if necessary shall apply the sanctions voted by the assembly.
Art. 2. The delegates shall furnish to the agricultural commission a daily report on the work done.
Art. 3. A central committee, consisting of one member from each branch of production, shall be named by the general assembly of the Community. The committee shall report monthly on consumption and production, and supply news about other Collectives and events in Spain and abroad.
Art. 5. Directors of labor for the Collective shall be elected by the general assembly of collectivists.
Art. 6. Each member shall be given a receipt for the goods he brings to the Collective.
Art. 7. Each member shall have the same rights and duties. They shall not be compelled to join either union [the socialist UGT or anarcho-syndicalist CNT—V&C editors]. All that is required is that they accept completely the decisions of the Collective.
Art. 8. The capital of the Collective is part of the collective patrimony and may not be divided up. Food shall be rationed, apart being stored away against a bad year.
Art. 9. When needed, as for urgent agricultural work, women may be required to work, and they shall do the work assigned to them. Rigorous control shall be applied to ensure that they contribute their productive efforts to the Community.
Art. 10. No one shall work before the age of 15, or do heavy work before 16.
Art. 11. The general assembly shall determine the organization of the Collective, and arrange periodical elections of the administrative commission.
In Binefar the Collective was all-embracing. Despite its past influence and importance, the syndicate had almost no role: life won out over doctrine. There wasn't even really a municipal organization. As the Soviet was the typical organization of the Russian Revolution, so was the Collective the typical organization of the Spanish Revolution.
It was no longer a matter of fighting employers but of assuring production, and this meant planning and direction and calculation of local needs and exchange needs. Production and enjoyment of goods, labor and distribution of products, are inseparably connected; and they are influenced too by the method of distribution, the moral ideas behind it. Everything is linked as the gears in a machine, In Binefar industry and agriculture had a joint treasury, there was no spirit of craft-separatism, no rivalry, no disparity of wages.
An administrative commission, composed of a president, a treasurer, a secretary and two councilors, supervised all activities and kept daily records. The work-group delegates were in constant touch with two comrades assigned to general supervision of work. Specialized sections—metallurgists, masons, laborers, etc.—met individually to take up their particular problems. These groups, or their delegates, met with the administrative commission as was necessary. Industrial production was unified, with all men's clothes, all shoes, etc., henceforth being made in one shop.
In case of need the peasants' section could call upon industrial workers, including technicians, to work in the fields, and in the July 1937 harvest, when labor was short because of war mobilization and it was necessary to save the wheat, the clothing workers took part. As the rules stated, the women comrades were called to help on the farms. There were lists of married and of single women; the former, particularly mothers, were seldom called, while the young women were called in turn by announcement of the town-crier on the preceding evening.
To plant the beets, groups of young girls gathered at five in the morning and went off singing. Some would have preferred to stay home but they could do so only if they had old people or very young children to look after.
Each day the delegates of the various farm and industrial groups noted his presence at work in each worker's booklet. In this way control was exercised over everyone, and violations could not be repeated without calling down open public disapproval, or the necessary disciplinary measures.
Food and other goods were distributed in municipal Stores. There were wine, bread and oil cooperatives, one for dry goods, three dairy stores, three butcher shops, a hardware store and a furniture store.
Bread, oil, medical care and housing were free. Everything else was bought with wages in local currency. In Binefar, as in many other Communes, the wage scale varied with the number of persons in the family, on the principle that cost per head was less in large families. In Binefar the scale was 24 pesetas a week for a single person, 30 plus 3 for every child over 10 years old for a married couple. A household of three adults, one able to work, plus two children, got 45 pesetas; the maximum was 70 pesetas for a family of 11. The value of the local money did not fluctuate, as it did in other Communes, with the value of the official peseta.
Previously the average wage had been 7 pesetas a day, or 42 a week, but there were always months of unemployment, especially in winter, and only the hired hands had lived half-way decently. Now, bread, oil, medical care and rent did not have to be paid for, each person had a piece of land to raise whatever food he wanted to; and electricity and telephones were installed throughout the region.
As the capital of its district, Binefar centralized trade among its 32 villages. Each informed the office of commerce what surplus food it had. From October to December, 1936, 5 million pesetas worth of goods were exchanged with other collectives in Aragon and Catalonia, including 800 thousand pesetas of sugar and 700 thousand of oil.
These figures are somewhat misleading, because meat was very short in Binefar, and sometimes potatoes were also. For this the war, and not the Collective was to blame. The district was extremely generous. Abandoned by the Government, the militiamen lacked food. Binefar gave everything it could, sending 30 to 40 tons of food to the front every week. On one occasion the district gave Madrid 340 tons, in addition to the regular consignments. In a single day 36 thousand pesetas of oil were sent to the Ortiz, Durruti and Ascaso columns. The generosity of the Collective did not flag.
In June, 1937, I attended a district congress where a grave problem had come up. The harvest was at hand, sacks, wire, gas and machinery were needed to distribute among the villages, and they would cost hundreds of thousands of pesetas that the Collectives did not have. It seemed that the only way to get the money was to sell the foodstuffs normally donated to the soldiers. Either lose a good part of the crop or else not send the free food. The assembly chose unanimously to try to find another solution. They sent a delegation to the Government in Valencia. This effort was foredoomed: the abandonment of the combatants on the Aragon front was a calculated plan of the cabinet majority (Largo Caballero was in power at the time) who hoped that in desperation the militiamen would sack the Collectives.
The machinations of the reactionaries fell through. Solidaridad Obrera of Barcelona published an appeal to the militiamen, advising them of the situation and asking them to send part of their pay to help the peasants. Hundreds of thousands of pesetas were sent to the Collectives, and the harvest was saved.
Though the planting of grain, for example, was increased by 30 per cent, the shortage of some products is not surprising, considering the large number of men mobilized, and the 500 militiamen quartered permanently in Binefar and provisioned by the town.
Solidarity extended to other phases of life. One local doctor had belonged to the CNT, and he was able to persuade the majority of his colleagues in Aragon to go along with him. He put himself at the disposal of the population. The town pharmacy was socialized. A hospital, paid for and maintained by gifts in food and money, was built for the district and equipped with the essentials. Some 40 beds had been installed when I was there. An excellent Catalan surgeon came to help out. They were building a pavilion for general medicine, and one for prevention and hygiene where there were to be pediatric and venereal disease sections. Gynecology was a subject of great interest: til then, births had been attended by women who lacked the technical means for difficult cases. Among his comrades in other Communes, the Catalan surgeon initiated a campaign to have women sent to the hospital when about to give birth, to safeguard the health of mother and child.
The organization of the hospital was, to be sure, the work of the two doctors who dedicated such enthusiasm to it; but it was also the creation of the Collective which took the initiative and supported it financially. Militiamen were cared for the same as civilians—everything was free. The spirit of solidarity extended beyond the district, and sick' people came from all over. There was, in addition, a consultation service which handled some 25 patients daily.
The minority of small land-owners who chose to work their own lands were not hindered. None, however, was allowed to own more land than he could work. Like. the rest, the individualists had a booklet which recorded their receipts and contributions and how much they were still entitled to purchase. In the assembly the individualists discussed the problem of rationing on an equal basis with the collectivists, and thereby convinced themselves that the limits set by the food commission were not invented for their annoyance but were the general rule.
I do not say there were no exceptions to the general spirit of the Collective. I remember a dispute between a woman of 50 and a comrade assigned to control labor and housing. She lived with her husband, their son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. "My daughter-in-law and I can't get along. I want to live separately!" This comrade had the soul of a child, a voice of thunder, and the heart of a lion. He argued his best to persuade her to give up her demand. Finally she left. I asked the delegate why he had refused. He told me that, since the rate of pay diminished as the number in the family increased, some families in which material interest predominated agreed on a feigned separation in order to get more income. The case had already been looked into. In the circumstances, the shortage of houses made it out of the question.
The incident was minor, but there were others like it, The directors of the Collective had to face up to all these troubles, to touch-and-go food problems, to the anti-collectivist minority (UGT, Communist, etc.). It is impossible not to admire these men who gave themselves to the cause with abnegation, and knew how to get so much done in a short time and the best way.
In the article "National Independence Is Not Enough" (Views and Comments, August, 1958), we pointed out that the notion that national independence was synonymous with progress was a dangerous illusion. We tried to explain that it was a reactionary doctrine, anew theology, which perpetuates the greatest enemy of freedom and justice—the religion of the State.
To illustrate the point, we quoted the report of J.P. Finidori, one of the founders of the Tunisian General Confederation of Labor. His remarks have been confirmed by a dispatch from the correspondent of the N.Y. Times, Thomas F. Brady, dated Sept. 11, 1958. Space forbids the insertion of the whole dispatch. Here are. some extracts:
"TUNIS, Sept. 11—The liberal Tunisian newspaper L'Action bowed today to pressure from the country's authoritarian, one-party regime and agreed to suspend publication after a final appearance next Sunday.
"President Bourguiba, effectively the master of Tunisia, is understood to have taken exception to an article published last Sunday by L'Action declaring that prosecution of former Premier Tahar ben Ammar under an ill-gotten gains law was a 'false quarrel' that 'diminishes Tunisia's stature at home and abroad.'
"The affair has deeply disturbed Tunisian liberals who, through national solidarity in the face of external threat, have until now justified the growing authoritarianism of the Bourguiba regime.
"L'Action, French-language newspaper edited by the 'Young Turks' of the party, has been virtual gospel to the younger elements of the party because it has been the most outspoken and best read political newspaper published in nationalist North Africa. It has never attacked Mr. Bourguiba, and indeed has generally given enthusiastic support to his policies, frequently urging vigor rather than moderation."
This should serve as a warning to all liberals, all young revolutionaries everywhere, who, in the interests of a distorted sense of solidarity go back on their principles and support authoritarian practice. This misdirected idealism expedites dictatorship and ends with the liquidation of both the revolution and its misguided supporters.
What We Stand For
Two great power blocs struggle for world domination. Neither of these represents the true interests and welfare of Humanity. Their conflict threatens mankind with atomic destruction. Underlying both of these blocs are institutions that breed exploitation, inequality and oppression.
Without trying to legislate for the future we feel that we can indicate the general lines along which a solution to these problems can be found.
The exploitative societies of today must be replaced by a new libertarian world which will proclaim Equal freedom for all in a free socialist society. "Freedom" without socialism leads to privilege and injustice; "Socialism" without freedom is totalitarian.
The monopoly of power which is the state must be replaced by a world-wide federation of free communities, labor councils and/or cooperatives operating according to the principles of free agreement. The government of men must be replaced by a functional society based on the administration of things.
Centralism, which means regimentation from the top down, must be replaced by federalism, which means cooperation from the bottom up.
THE LIBERTARIAN LEAGUE will not accept the old socio-political cliches, but will boldly explore new roads while examining anew the old movements, drawing from them all that which time and experience has proven to be valid.
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