In 1926 a group of exiled Russian anarchists in France, the Dielo Trouda (Workers' Cause) group, published this pamphlet. It arose not from some academic study but from their experiences in the 1917 Russian revolution. They had taken part in the overthrow of the old ruling class, had been part of the blossoming of workers' and peasants' self- management, had shared the widespread optimism about a new world of socialism and freedom . . . and had seen its bloody replacement by State Capitalism and the Bolshevik Party dictatorship.
The Russian anarchist movement had played a far from negligible part in the revolution. At the time there were about 10,000 active anarchists in Russia, not including the movement in the Ukraine led by Nestor Makhno. There were at least four anarchists on the Bolshevik dominated Military Revolutionary Committee which engineered the seizure of power in October. More importantly, anarchists were involved in the factory committees which had sprung up after the February revolution. These were based in workplaces, elected by mass assemblies of the workers and given the role of overseeing the running of the factory and co-ordinating with other workplaces in the same industry or region. Anarchists were particularly influential among the miners, dockers, postal workers, bakers and played an important role in the All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees which met in Petrograd on the eve of the revolution. It was to these committees that the anarchists looked as a basis for a new self-management which would be ushered in after the revolution.
However the revolutionary spirit and unity of October 1917 did not last long. The Bolsheviks were eager to suppress all those forces on the left that they saw as obstacles blocking their way to "one party" power. The anarchists and some others on the left believed that the working class were capable of exercising power through their own committees and soviets (councils of elected delegates). The Bolsheviks did not. They put forward the proposition that the workers were not yet able to take control of their destiny and therefore the Bolsheviks would take power themselves as an "interim measure" during the "transitional period". This lack of confidence in the abilities of ordinary people and the authoritarian seizure of power was to lead to the betrayal of the interests of the working class, and all its hopes and dreams.
In April 1918 the anarchist centres in Moscow were attacked, 600 anarchists jailed and dozens killed. The excuse was that the anarchists were "uncontrollable", whatever that may have meant unless it was simply that they refused to obey the Bolshevik leaders. The real reason was the formation of the Black Guards which had been set up to fight the brutal provocation's and abuses of the Cheka (the forerunners of today's KGB).
Anarchists had to decide where they stood. One section worked with the Bolsheviks, and went on to join them, though a concern for efficiency and unity against reaction - Another section fought hard to defend the gains of the revolution against what they correctly saw would develop into a new ruling class. The Makhnovist movement in the Ukraine and the Kronstadt uprising were the last important battles. By 1921 the anti-authoritarian revolution was dead. This defeat has had deep and lasting effects on the international workers' movement.
It was the hope of the authors that such a disaster would not happen again. As a contribution they wrote what has become known as "The Platform". It looks at the lessons of the Russian anarchist movement, its failure to build up a presence within the working class movement big enough and effective enough to counteract the tendency of the Bolsheviks and other political groups to substitute themselves for the working class. It sets out a rough guide suggesting how anarchists should organise, in short how we can be effective.
It stated very simple truths such as it being ludicrous to have an organisation which contains groups that have mutually antagonistic and contradictory definitions of anarchism. It pointed out that we need formal agreed structures covering written policies, the role of officers, the need for membership dues and so on; the sort of structures that allow for large and effective democratic organisation.
When first published it came under attack from some of the best known anarchist personalities of the time such as Errico Malatesta and Alexander Berkman. They accused it of being "Just one step away from Bolshevism" and an attempt to "Bolshevize anarchism". This reaction was over the top but may have partly resulted from the proposal for a General Union of Anarchists. The authors did not spell out clearly what the relationship would be between this organisation and other groups of anarchists outside it. It goes without saying that there should be no problem about separate anarchist organisations working together on issues where they share a common outlook and strategy.
Neither, as has been said by both its detractors and some of its latter day supporters, is it a programme for "moving away from anarchism towards libertarian communism". The two terms are completely interchangeable. It was written to pinpoint the failure of the Russian anarchists in their theoretical confusion; and thus lack of national co- ordination, disorganisation and political uncertainty. In other words, ineffectiveness. It was written to open a debate within the anarchist movement. It points, not towards any compromise with authoritarian politics, but to the vital necessity to create an organisation that will combine effective revolutionary activity with fundamental anarchist principles.
It is not a perfect programme now, and neither was it back in 1926. It has its weaknesses. It does not explain some of its ideas in enough depth, it may be argued that it does not cover some important issues at all. But remember that it is a small pamphlet and not a 26 volume encyclopaedia. The authors make it very clear in their own introduction that it is not any kind of "bible". It is not a completed analysis or programme, it is a contribution to necessary debate - a good starting point.
Lest anyone doubt its relevance today, it must be said that the basic ideas of "The Platform" are still in advance of the prevailing ideas in the anarchist movement internationally. Anarchists seek to change the world for the better, this pamphlet points us in the direction of some of the tools we need for that task.
Alan MacSimoin, 1989
On to Historical Introduction
Back to Index
Source: Workers Solidarity Movement
Return to The Nestor Makhno Archive
Other pages connected to this site:
Anarchist Groups & Organizations
An Anarchist Reader
L@ Pagin@ di nestor mcnab