I have been an anarchist for over 25 years. During this time I have encountered many other anarchists who have ideas about the world and anarchy that are quite different from mine. This variety of opinions and preferences has always been one of the appeals of the libertarian movement for me. I enjoy the discussion and debate such differences encourage and produce. If we all agreed with each other, life, especially life in oppositional movements, would be incredibly dull.
Throughout the history of the anarchist movement there have been frictions between those who advocate different forms of economic and social relations. But there have also been friendships and working relationships that have transcended these differences. Individualists and communists have managed to engage in joint efforts around specific campaigns and issues, and writings that have come out of both of these camps have dealt sympathetically and tolerantly with the anarchists with whom they disagree, realizing that being an anarchist does not require us to share the same ideas about everything.
However, this appreciation of dissent is not universal among anarchists. There are those libertarians who believe this traditional range of opinions is, in fact, detrimental to the movement and imperils our prospects for success. They talk of the need for unity among anarchists, but not in the sense of the unity of people in opposition to the state who work together against authority despite their differences. Their vision, instead, is one of a federation of disciplined hierarchical organizations, based on ideological and tactical unity, that excludes those anarchists whom they consider beyond the pale, primarily anyone they believe to be individualist. While many of these same anarchists never miss a chance to declare their passion for ethnic, sexual, and whatever other kind of group-based “diversity” is currently popular in progressive circles, they reject the most important kind of diversity: diversity of ideas.
Anarchists of this persuasion commonly trace the origins of their point of view to a document called the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists (available at www.zabalaza.net/pdfs/varpams/platform.pdf), published in June 1926, along with a supplement (available at www.nestormakhno. info/english/supporg.htm), put out later the same year. These documents were written by the Dielo Truda organization, which included among its members Nestor Makhno, Piotr Arshinov, and Ida Mett. Not only did these “platformists” advocate a decidedly unlibertarian form of anarchist organization, they also argued in favor of hierarchical “revolutionary” armed forces and “temporary” suppression of press freedom as acceptable forms of anarchist practice. Although their attempts to set up an international movement based on the Platform during the 1920s failed, there was a resurgence of platformism in europe in the 1950s, and there are now platformist organizations around the world, including in the united states. Besides the platform, these groups often look to Makhno’s “anarchist” army in ukraine and the Friends of Durruti in spain for inspiration as well.
At the time of its publication, the Platform was sharply criticized by a number of other anarchists, including Errico Malatesta, Mollie Steimer, Camillo Berneri, and Max Nettlau. In this issue of anchorage anarchy, I am reprinting a critique of the Platform that was co-written by Steimer. Though this critique and the Platform itself are nearly 80 years old, what motivated me to publish Concerning the Platform, and what makes it worth reading still, is that some of the most authoritarian strains within anarchist history are being put forward again as guides for achieving a free world. As it did to its contemporary critics, the approach of the platformists, both in 1926 and now, reminds me of nothing so much as leninism, with its talk of party lines, and “revolutionary” armies, individuals’ service to society, obligations with respect to production, guiding the “masses,” and so on.
No army or party or masses, “anarchist” or otherwise, will ever produce a free society. Only freedom-loving individuals, working together voluntarily, can do that.
While I do not expect that Concerning the Platform will change the mind of any committed platformist, I hope that those new to anarchist ideas and movements will consider the following critique when reading or listening to someone from the platformist tradition.
(Another critical assessment of the Platform, which includes an exchange of letters between Makhno and Malatesta, is How Anarchist is the Platform?, available from Venomous Butterfly Publications, 818 SW 3rd Avenue, PMB 12237, Portland, OR 97204.)