The russian revolution of 1917: Carlos Taibo

We close our series – without for a moment suggesting that this is the last word – on the russian revolution of 1917 with an interview with Carlos Taibo, author of the recent work, in spanish, Anarquismo y revolución en Rusia (1917-1921).  Though the interview focuses on Taibo’s concern with calling attention to the role of anarchists and libertarians in the events of the russian revolution, it takes us beyond the past; the revolution remains a lens through which to think through our political present.

Originally published in Contexto y acción, we present the essay below in translation.

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The russian revolution of 1917: Cornelius Castoriadis

The autonomous activity of the masses belongs by definition to what is repressed in history.

Cornelius Castoriadis

Cornelius Castoriadis’ saw in the Bolshevik seizure of power the beginning of the end of the russian revolution; an end marked by the administrative dispossession of the autonomy of the soviets and the factory committees by a nascent bureaucracy grounded in a vanguardist political ideology.  Castoriadis’ reading of the destruction of the revolution – and a revolution there was – remains pertinent, not only for the understanding of the events of the time, but also because it raises a fundamental question: what institutional form can autonomy assume?  Castoriadis’ question remains ours.

A further contribution to our series on the russian revolution of 1917.

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The russian revolution of 1917: Rosa Luxemburg

In 1917 there were more than twelve million members of the Russian consumers’ Cooperative societies; and the Soviets themselves are a wonderful demonstration of their organising genius. Moreover, there is probably not a people in the world so well educated in Socialist theory and its practical application. 

John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World

It is sometimes those from within who see best, if they allow themselves to see.  Rosa Luxemburg, if critical of anarchism and the anarchists in russia, would nevertheless be among the first marxists to also criticise the direction of the Bolsheviks in the country.  As one more contribution to our series on the russian revolution, we publish below two chapters of Luxemburg’s The Russian Revolution (1918).

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The russian revolution of 1917: Max Nettlau

… Anarchism does not preach anything contrary to the principles which have always inspired men to strive for freedom and right. It would indeed be absurd to try and impose something new upon mankind. No! Anarchism is nothing but the full acknowledgment of the realisation of the principle that freedom is at the root of sound natural development. Nature knows no outside laws, no external powers, and only follows her own inward forces of attraction or repulsion. Everything is the result of the existing forces and tendencies, and this result becomes again in turn the cause of the next thing following.

Max Nettlau, An Anarchist Manifesto

Max Nettlau is arguably anarchisms first historian.  Militant and gatherer of memories, he could not but comment as well on the events of his time, including the russian revolution of 1917.  As part of our series on the revolution, we publish below Nettlau’s After Six Years of Authoritarian Revolution (anarchist library).

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capitalism is death

I’ve seen the future, brother: it is murder.

Leonard Cohen, The Future

In the time of our disaster, our waste directly kills us by the millions (i) and extinguishes the flora and fauna of all environments upon which all life depends.(ii)  And those who seek to protect the later are murdered.(iii)

In the time of our disaster, the living earth slips away, and what we inflict upon the creatures of this world turns back upon us in the man-made “natural” catastrophes and the violence of racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, religion: every one of them, our murderous children.  And to forget, to escape, we sever and separate emotion, thought, reality, so that by the end, nothing makes sense except the senseless flow of spectacles.

In the time of our disaster, when reality is replaced or becomes what is measurable, profitable; when the commodity becomes our master and our utility is measured by our ability to serve it, the majority of humanity falls into irrelevance. (iv)

In the time of our disaster, we have become and have been made superfluous, disposable, in a desert world ruled by objects.

In writing from the charred landscapes and cemeteries of carbonised bodies of once forested hills and villages in Portugal, one might be forgiven the tendency to apocalyptic ramblings; but then in greek and latin, apocalypse referred to revelation, illumination, a kind of sight not possible in “normal” circumstances.  In this sense, our disaster is also the time of seeing.  And it is in this context that we must think and act.

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Autonomy as societies in movement: Raúl Zibechi

Autonomy and difference go hand in hand, because autonomy implies that people have the right to govern themselves completely, “to determine their own form of government, their own sociocultural practices, and their own economic organization” (Díaz Polanco and Sánchez 2002, 45).

This point is extremely important because autonomy is often reduced to the function of government—this is how the powerful often receive the peoples’ demands for autonomy. In contrast, the Zapatista experience teaches us that autonomy is comprehensive and strategic—ranging from the smallest cooperative, to a school or a health center in the jungle—reflecting the form and manner in which each projects is carried out, in whom sovereignty resides, how they make decisions, and how they organize themselves.

Autonomy and heterogeneity are also related. If we are truly autonomous, each collective will do things as they decide. This enormous diversity is what the Zapatistas call “another world in which many worlds fit” and it shows us that “it is possible to act uniformly without suppressing diversity.” In that sense, the Good Government councils “are an instance of unified action rather than a mechanism of uniformity, to the extent that they do not centralize powers or dictate the terms of the base” (Ornelas 2004, 10). In this way, the Zapatistas cannot help but to undermine the homogenizing and excluding practices of capital. The political left replicates these modes of capitalism by seeking the cohesion and uniformity of anti-systemic forces, while, for the Zapatistas, “the multiplication of the subject of social transformation is the alternative to the mechanisms of power that characterize the capitalist system” (Ornelas 2004, 11).

Raúl Zibechi, Territories in Resistance

We often imagine autonomy as the aim of social movements, falling then into the inevitable debates about political means and ends, assuming throughout that these are distinct, that the movement must have a predefined subject-identity (e.g., worker, woman, black, etc), that they have demands to address to power or power to take.  And at whatever step in this process, so conceived, “autonomy” is constantly coerced into pre-established moulds.

If then we imagine autonomy as the creation of societies in movement, then then the theoretical and practical ground shifts from beneath our feet: means and ends are bound together in ways of being, political subjects become unstable, and rather than seeking to address or control power, ways of life are generated that may reach out, unpredictably, beyond capitalist social relations and modes of reproduction.

Raúl Zibechi so reads the contemporary politics of anti-capitalism in south america, and we share below a review of his collection essays entitled “Territories in Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements”, (AK Press, 2012) as well as a link to an online-pdf version of an earlier collection of essays with the title “Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces”. (AK Press, 2010)

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Creating autonomies in greece: Voices from the capitalist wilderness

Theodoros Karyotis’ essay “The Right to the City in an Age of Austerity”, focusing on greek urban-political struggles in the period of 2008 and after, allows us to conceive of what a radical politics might look like beyond the indigenous-capitalist fracture exemplified in territoriality and ethnically based social movements (Chiapas, Rojava, Kabylia, etc.).

With attention to greece, but with broader implications, the radical social movements which have marked the country may be characterised as efforts to create and “re-ground” social relations in increasingly privatised and fragmented spaces.  The many anonymous of the December 2008 revolt and of the “occupy” movement of 2011 have given birth to a plethora of experiments in social constitution outside traditional political forms and generic capitalist relations.  And the experiments have resonated beyond any strictly defined militant or activist base, filtering into peoples everday as they try to piece together forms of life in the midst of permanent crisis.

The question of the sustainability, and not just political, of these many expressions of self-managed autonomy is real.  (Here, perhaps, the absence of the “land” rears its head again) However, we have serious reservations about the municipalist direction that Karyotis’ seems to want to impress upon the movements (following on the spanish example).  It would seem that another path remains, and one which is largely unexplored today in urban spaces, namely, the federation of city based collectives that share at least the common ideal of autonomy (always to be redefined in the process) and who could work together for the creation of larger and more intense forms of cooperation, what one can call, using a different language, “institutions of commoning”.

With this said, we share Karyotis’ essay (originally published with roarmag and also posted on autonomias.net).

We also post, in succession, a video recording of a lecture by Stavros Stavrides at the conference “The Right to the (New) City: Art, New Towns and The Commons”, held at the MK Gallery in London, in the summer of 2016.  Stravides intervention continues his reflection on and theorisation of commoning in urban spaces, from the political starting point of the collapse of the State and the social-ethical starting point of the commons as a way of life (rather than a thing, or object, or relationship to property).

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The situationists in algeria

Without any suggestion that the Situationist texts posted below offer a complete understanding of the algerian struggle for national liberation, without any idolatry of words, but solely with the intent of complementing our last post on traditions of autonomy in the Kalylia region of the country, we go back back to a time (echoes of which can still be heard in the present), when national independence was taken by many for revolution …

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Traditions of autonomy: Kabylia

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro speaks of the indigenous as those who are still “tied” to a land for their well-being, as peoples whose “economy” is still significantly “local”; or indeed, who have no “economy”, as a separate and and dominate sphere of social life.

It is not that such peoples are completely severed from capitalist social relations.  They are rather as of yet not fully colonised, not only materially (in production and consumption), but consciously-corporeally.  And in many instances they resist/escape/create against, in different ways, that colonisation; perhaps not fully, but in part, and thereby keeping alive other forms of life, as well as keeping open the possibility of worlds beyond capitalism.  

These forms of resistance-creation are rarely the children of ideologies and political organisation.  They are rather, and have always been, the warp and woof of all “indigenous” human communities that have stood against centralising and appropriating State authorities.  If they have more often than not been ignored by the grande ideologies of revolution, these same revolutions were nurtured by these same subterranean flows of life that largely escaped control.

These traditions of autonomy echo James Scott‘s “vernacular anarchism” and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s “indian” subjects, or Peter Kropotkin’s mutual aid.  They are not timeless, pure and inexhaustible sources of resistance-creativity, somehow lying outside history; indeed, they are often formed in and through their engagement with and/or escape from what they contest.  But they have been constant throughout State-made history and come to the fore when we reveal the underside of the chronicles of power through Scott’s anarchist “squint”.

It may be said that one of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism has been the need to control to the greatest degree possible the traditions of autonomy, not only for the extraction of profit, but to assure the conditions for its re-production.  In its permanent “primitive accumulation“, in its unrelenting expansion, it manifests a drive towards death, that is, the destruction of the very conditions of social reproduction.  The permanent ecological crises are testimony to this.  But the complete destruction of “traditional autonomies” will also effectively destroy human life.

Capitalism cuts us from land, from waters, even air, except that which can be exploited; from all manner of flora and fauna, except the domesticated and engineered; from all of those with whom we may share and give, care for, except those for whom we can pay.  Capitalism, in the proliferation of spectacle, separates us from life, thereby eradicating still undomesticated subjects.

What remains of resistance to capitalism when all of the “indians” have been massacred?  When we no longer know what land is?  When what remains are but disembodied consumers in a sea of superfluous humans?  Can autonomies be created after they have been wiped out, when we know longer know it tastes or smells like?  And if so, how? Should we turn to the “indigenous”, to the examples of the Zapatistas, of Rojava and/or are we to start anew amidst the ruins of the disaster, in the seemingly impossible life of cities or in the abused and abandoned countryside?

But then perhaps the point of encounter is to be found here: in both the city and the countryside (increasingly fictional categories), populations are ever more rendered superfluous by plunder and extraction.  Space comes to be inhabited by non-subjects, those who because they have nothing to lose, gather together to create new forms of meaningful life.

If “traditional autonomies” do not to become the new ideology of resistance, then there is no doubt great wealth that can be shared from and with their struggles.  We therefore share from the Crimethinc collective (02/11/2017) a less well known story of autonomy, from the kabylia region of algeria.  If anarchists may hesitate before certain expressions of such movements, they can also learn to hesitate before the exigencies of their own ideology.  

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The russian revolution of 1917: Maria Nikiforova

The anarchists are not promising anything to anyone. The anarchists only want people to be conscious of their owns situation and seize freedom for themselves.

Maria Nikiforova

In memory of the many who made the russian revolution of 1917, a memory not just to mourn, but to rebel against political erasure, to learn of and sustain possibilities.

For our series dedicated to the russian revolution, a brief history of the anarchist Maria Nikiforova: Atamansha, The Life of Marusya Nikiforova, by Malcolm Archibald (Published by Black Cat Press, Edmonton 2007). 

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