Daniel Guerin Archive
Source: Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, first published in French in 1965, the 1970 English translation is Guérin's best-known work, describing the intellectual substance and actual practice of anarchism. The English translation by Mary Klopper includes a foreword by Noam Chomsky, who describes it as an attempt "to extract from the history of libertarian thought a living, evolving tradition".
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021
The defeat of the Spanish Revolution deprived anarchism of its only foot in the world. It came out of this trial crushed, dispersed, and, to some extent, discredited. History condemned it severely and, in certain respects, unjustly. It was not in fact, or at any rate alone, responsible for the victory of the Franco forces. What remained from the experience of the rural and industrial collectives, set up in tragically unfavorable conditions, was on the whole to their credit. This experience was, however, underestimated, calumniated, and denied recognition. Authoritarian socialism had at last got rid of undesirable libertarian competition and, for years, remained master of the field. For a time it seemed as though state socialism was to be justified by the military victory of the U.S.S.R. against Nazism in 1945 and by undeniable, and even imposing, successes in the technical field.
However, the very excesses of this system soon began to generate their own negation. They engendered the idea that paralyzing state centralization should be loosened up, that production units should have more autonomy, that workers would do more and better work if they had some say in the management of enterprises. What medicine calls "antibodies" were generated in one of the countries brought into servitude by Stalin. Tito's Yugoslavia freed itself from the too heavy yoke which was making it into a sort of colony. It then proceeded to reevaluate the dogmas which could now so clearly be seen as anti-economic. It went back to school under the masters of the past, discovering and discreetly reading Proudhon. It bubbled in anticipation. It explored the too-little-known libertarian areas of thinking in the works of Marx and Lenin. Among other things it dug out the concept of the withering away of the State, which had not, it is true, been altogether eliminated from the political vocabulary, but had certainly become no more than a ritual formula quite empty of substance. Going back to the short period during which Bolshevism had identified itself with proletarian democracy from below, with the soviets, Yugoslavia gleaned a word which had been enunciated by the leaders of the October Revolution and then quickly forgotten: self-management. Attention was also fumed to the embryonic factory councils which had arisen at the same time, through revolutionary contagion, in Germany and Italy and, much later, Hungary. As reported in the French review Arguments by the Italian, Roberto Guiducci, the question arose whether "the idea of the councils, which had been suppressed by Stalinism for obvious reasons," could not "be taken up again in modern terms."
When Algeria was decolonized and became independent its new leaders sought to institutionalize the spontaneous occupations of abandoned European property by peasants and workers. They drew their inspiration from the Yugoslav precedent and took its legislation in this matter as a model.
If its wings are not clipped, self-management is undoubtedly an institution with democratic, even libertarian tendencies. Following the example of the Spanish collectives of 193~1937, self-management seeks to place the economy under the management of the producers themselves. To this end a three-tier workers' representation is set up in each enterprise, by means of elections: the sovereign general assembly; the workers' council, a smaller deliberative body; and, finally, the management committee, which is the executive organ. The legislation provides certain safeguards against the threat of bureaucratization: representatives cannot stand for reelection too often, must be directly involved in production, etc. In Yugoslavia the workers can be consulted by referendum as an alternative to general assemblies, while in very large enterprises general assemblies take place in work sections.
Both in Yugoslavia and in Algeria' at least in theory, or as a promise for the future, great importance is attributed to the commune, and much is made of the fact that self-managing workers will be represented there. In theory, again, the management of public affairs should tend to become decentralized, and to be carried out more and more at the local level.
These good intentions are far from being carried out in practice. In these countries self-management is coming into being in the framework of a dictatorial, military, police state whose skeleton is formed by a single party. At the helm there is an authoritarian and paternalistic authority which is beyond control and above criticism. The authoritarian principles of the political administration and the libertarian principles of the management of the economy are thus quite incompatible.
Moreover, a certain degree of bureaucratization tends to show itself even within the enterprises, in spite of the precautions of the legislators. The majority of the workers are not yet mature enough to participate effectively in self-management. They lack education and technical knowledge, have not got rid of the old wage-earning mentality, and too willingly put all their powers into the hands of their delegates. This enables a small minority to be the real managers of the enterprise, to arrogate to themselves all sorts of privileges and do exactly as they like. They also perpetuate themselves in directorial positions, governing without control from below, losing contact with reality and cutting themselves off from the rank-and-file workers, whom they often treat with arrogance and contempt. All this demoralizes the workers and turns them against self-management. Finally, state control is often exercised so indiscreetly and so oppressively that the "self-managers" do not really manage at all. The state appoints directors to the organs of self-management without much caring whether the latter agree or not, although, according to the law, they should be consulted. These bureaucrats often interfere excessively in management, and sometimes behave in the same arbitrary way as the former employers. In very large Yugoslav enterprises directors are nominated entirely by the State; these posts are handed out to his old guard by Marshall Tito.
Moreover, Yugoslavian self-management is extremely dependent on the State for finance. It lives on credits accorded to it by the State and is free to dispose of only a small part of its profits, the rest being paid to the treasury in the form of a tax. Revenue derived from the self-management sector is used by the State not only to develop the backward sectors of the economy, which is no more than just, but also to pay for the heavily bureaucratized government apparatus, the army, the police forces, and for prestige expenditure, which is sometimes quite excessive. When the members of self-managed enterprises are inadequately paid, this blunts the enthusiasm for self-management and is in conflict with its principles.
The freedom of action of each enterprise, moreover, is fairly strictly limited, since it is subject to the economic plans of the central authority, which are drawn up arbitrarily without consultation of the rank and file. In Algeria the self-managed enterprises are also obliged to cede to the State the commercial handling of a considerable portion of their products. In addition, they are placed under the supervision of "organs to supply disinterested technical of tutelage," which are supposed and bookkeeping assistance but, in practice, tend to replace the organs of self-management and take over their functions.
In general, the bureaucracy of the totalitarian State is unsympathetic to the claims of self-management to autonomy. As Proudhon foresaw, it finds it hard to tolerate any authority external to itself. It dislikes socialization and longs for nationalization, that is to say, the direct management by officials of the State. Its object is to infringe upon self-management, reduce its powers, and in fact absorb it.
The single party is no less suspicious of self-management, and likewise finds it hard to tolerate a rival. If it embraces self-management, it does so to stifle it more effectively. The party has cells in most of the enterprises and is strongly tempted to take part in management, to duplicate the organs elected by the workers or reduce them to the role of docile instruments, by falsifying elections and setting out lists of candidates in advance. The party tries to induce the workers' councils to endorse decisions already taken in advance, and to manipulate and shape the national congresses of the workers.
Some enterprises under self-management react to authoritarian and centralizing tendencies by becoming isolationist, behaving as though they were an association of small proprietors, and trying to operate for the sole benefit of the workers involved. They tend to reduce their manpower so as to divide the cake into larger portions. They also seek to produce as little of everything instead of specializing. They devote time and energy to getting around plans or regulations designed to serve the interests of the community as a whole. In Yugoslavia free competition between enterprises has been allowed, both as a stimulant and to protect the consumer, but in practice the tendency to autonomy has led to flagrant inequalities output and to economic irrationalities.
Thus self-management itself incorporates a pendulum-like movement which makes it swing constantly between two extremes: excessive autonomy or excessive centralization; authority or anarchy; control from below or control from above. Through the years Yugoslavia, in particular, has corrected centralization by autonomy, then autonomy by centralization, constantly remodeling its institutions without so far successfully attaining a "happy medium."
Most of the weaknesses of self-management could be avoided or corrected if there were an authentic trade-union movement, independent of authority and of the single party, springing from the workers themselves and at the same time organizing them, and animated by the spirit characteristic of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism. In Yugoslavia and in Algeria, however, trade unionism is either subsidiary or supernumerary, or is subject to the State, to the single party. It cannot, therefore, adequately furfill the task of conciliator between autonomy and centralization which it should undertake, and could perform much better than totalitarian political organs. In fact, a trade unionism which genuinely issued from the workers, who saw in it their own reflection, would be the most effective organ for harmonizing the centrifugal and centripetal forces, for "creating an equilibrium" as Proudhon put it, between the contradictions of self-management.
The picture, however, must not be seen as entirely black. Selfmanagement certainly has powerful and tenacious opponents, who have not given up hope of making it fail. But it has, in fact, shown itself quite dynamic in the countries where experiments are being carried on. It has opened up new perspectives for the workers and restored to them some pleasure in their work. It has opened their minds to the rudiments of authentic socialism, which involves the progressive disappearance of wages, the disalienation of the producer who will become a free and self-determining being. Selfmanagement has in this way increased productivity and registered considerable positive results, even during the trials and errors of the initial period.
From rather too far away, small circles of anarchists follow the development of Yugoslav and Algerian self-management with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief. They feel that it is bringing some fragments of their ideal into reality, but the experiment is not developing along the idealistic lines foreseen by libertarian communism. On the contrary it is being tried in an authoritarian framework which is repugnant to anarchism. There is no doubt that this framework makes self-management fragile: there is always a danger that it will be devoured by the cancer of authoritarianism. However, a close and unprejudiced look at self-management seems to reveal rather encouraging signs.
In Yugoslavia self-management is a factor favoring the democratization of the regime. It has created a healthier basis for recruitment in working-class circles. The party is beginning to act as an inspiration rather than a director, its cadres are becoming better spokesmen for the masses, more sensitive to their problems and aspirations. As Albert Meister, a young Swiss sociologist who set himself the task of studying this phenomenon on the spot, comments, self-management contains a "democratic virus" which, in the long run, invades the single party itself. He regards it as a "tonic." It welds the lower party echelons to the working masses. This development is so clear that it is bringing Yugoslav theoreticians to use language which would not disgrace a libertarian. For example, one of them, Stane Kavcic, states: "In future the striking force of socialism in Yugoslavia cannot be a political party and the State acting from the top down, but the people, the citizens, with constitutional rights which enable them to act from the base up." He continues bravely that self-management is increasingly loosening up "the rigid discipline and subordination which are characteristic of all political parties."
The trend is not so clear in Algeria, for the experiment is of more recent origin and still in danger of being called into question. A clue may be found in the fact that at the end of 1964, Hocine Zahouane, then head of orientation of the National Liberation Front, publicly condemned the tendency of the "organs of guidance" to place themselves above the members of the self-management groups and to adopt an authoritarian attitude toward them. He went on: "When this happens, socialism no longer exists. There remains only a change in the form of exploitation of the workers." This official concluded by asking that the producers "should be truly masters of their production" and no longer be "manipulated for ends which are foreign to socialism." It must be admitted that Hocine Zahouane has since been removed from office by a military coup d'e'tat and has become the leading spirit of a clandestine socialist opposition. He is for the time being in compulsory residence in a torrid area of the Sahara.
To sum up, self-management meets with all kinds of difficulties and contradictions, yet, even now, it appears in practice to have the merit of enabling the masses to pass through an apprenticeship in direct democracy acting from the bottom upward; the merit of developing, encouraging, and stimulating their free initiative, of imbuing them with a sense of responsibility instead of perpetuating age-old habits of passivity, submission, and the inferiority complex left to them by past oppression, as is the case under state communism. This apprenticeship is sometimes laborious, progresses rather slowly, loads society with extra burdens and may, possibly, be carried out only at the cost of some "disorder." Many observers think, however, that these difficulties, delays, extra burdens, and growing pains are less harmful than the false order, the false luster, the false "efficiency" of state communism which reduces man to nothing, kills the initiative of the people, paralyzes production, and, in spite of material advances obtained at a high price, discredits the very idea of socialism.
The U.S.S.R. itself is reevaluating its methods of economic management, and will continue to do so unless the present tendency to liberalization is canceled by a regression to authoritarianism. Before he fell, on October 15, 1964, Khrushchev seemed to have understood, however timidly and belatedly, the need for industrial decentralization. In December 1964 Pravda published a long article entitled "The State of the Whole People" which sought to define the changes of structure that differentiate the form of State "said to be of the whole people" from that of the "dictatorship of the proletariat"; namely, progress toward democratization, participation of the masses in the direction of society through self-management, and the revitalization of the soviets, the trade unions, etc.
The French daily Le Monde of February 16, 1965, published an article by Michel Tatu, entitled "A Major Problem: The Liberation of the Economy," exposing the most serious evils "affecting the whole Soviet bureaucratic machine, especially the economy." The high technical level this economy has attained makes the rule of bureaucracy over management even more unacceptable. As things are at present, directors of enterprises cannot make decisions on any subject without referring to at least one office, and more often to half a dozen. "No one disputes the remarkable technical, scientific, and economic progress which has been made in thirty years of Stalinist planning. The result, however, is precisely that this economy is now in the class of developed economies, and that the old structures which enabled it to reach this level are now totally, and ever more alarmingly, unsuitable." "Much more would be needed than detailed reforms; a spectacular change of thought and method, a sort of new de-Stalinization would be required to bring to an end the enormous inertia which permeates the machine at every level." As Ernest Mandel has pointed out, however, in an article in the French review Les Temps Modernes, decentralization cannot stop at giving autonomy to the directors of enterprises, it must lead to real workers' self-management.
The late Georges Gurvitch, a left-wing sociologist, came to a similar conclusion. He considers that tendencies to decentralization and workers' self-management have only just begun in the U.S.S.R., and that their success would show "that Proudhon was more right than one might have thought."
In Cuba the late state socialist Che Guevara had to quit the direction of industry, which he had run unsuccessfully owing to overcentralization. In Cuba: Socialism and Development, Rene Dumont, a French specialist in the Castro economy, deplores its "hypercentralization" and bureaucratization. He particularly emphasized the "authoritarian" errors of a ministerial department which tries to manage the factories itself and ends up with exactly the opposite results: "By trying to bring about a strongly centralized organization one ends up in practice . . . by letting any kind of thing be done, because one cannot maintain control over what is essential." He makes the same criticism of the state monopoly of distribution: the paralyzes which it produces could have been avoided "if each production unit had preserved the function of supplying itself directly." "Cuba is beginning all over again the useless cycle of economic errors of the socialist countries," a Polish colleague in a very good position to know confided to Rene Dumont. The author concludes by abjuring the Cuban regime to turn to autonomous production units and, in agriculture, to federations of small farm-production cooperatives. He is not afraid to give the remedy a name, self-management, which could perfectly well be reconciled with planning. Unfortunately, the voice of Rene Dumont has not yet been heard in Havana.
The libertarian idea has recently come out of the shadow to which its detractors had relegated it. In a large part of the world the man of today has been the guinea pig of state communism, and is only now emerging, reeling, from the experience. Suddenly he is turning, with lively curiosity and often with profit, to the rough drafts for a new self-management society which the pioneers of anarchism were putting forward in the last century. He is not swallowing them whole, of course, but drawing lessons from them, and inspiration to try to complete the task presented by the second half of this century: to break the fetters, both economic and political, of what has been too simply called "Stalinism"; and this, without renouncing the fundamental principles of socialism: on the contrary, thereby discovering - or rediscovering - the forms of a real, authentic socialism, that is to say, socialism combined with liberty.
Proudhon, in the midst of the 1848 Revolution, wisely thought that it would have been asking too much of his artisans to go, immediately, all the way to "anarchy." In default of this maximum program, he sketched out a minimum libertarian program: progressive reduction in the power of the State, parallel development of the power of the people from below, through what he called clubs, and which the man of the twentieth century would call councils. It seems to be the more or less conscious purpose of many contemporary socialists to seek out such a program.
Although a possibility of revival is thus opened up for anarchism, it will not succeed in fully rehabilitating itself unless it is able to belie, both in theory and in practice, the false interpretations to which it has so long been subject. As we saw, in 1924 Joaqum Maurin was impatient to finish with it in Spain, and suggested that it would never be able to maintain itself except in a few "backward countries" where the masses would "cling" to it because they are entirely without "socialist education," and have been "left to their natural instincts." He concluded: "Any anarchist who succeeds in improving himself, in learning, and in seeing clearly, automatically ceases to be an anarchist."
The French historian of anarchism, Jean Maitron, simply confused "anarchy" and disorganization. A few years ago he imagined that anarchism had died with the nineteenth century, for our epoch is one of "plans, organization, and discipline." More recently the British writer George Woodcock saw fit to accuse the anarchists of being idealists swimming against the dominant current of history, feeding on an idyllic vision of the future while clinging to the most attractive features of a dying past. Another English specialist on the subject, James Joll, insists that the anarchists are out-of-date, for their ideas are opposed to the development of large-scale industry, to mass production and consumption, and depend on a retrograde romantic vision of an idealized society of artisans and peasants, and on a total rejection of the realities of the twentieth century and of economic organization. 
In the preceding pages I have tried to show that this is not a true picture of anarchism. Bakunin's works best express the nature of constructive anarchism, which depends on organization, on selfdiscipline, on integration, on federalist and noncoercive centralization. It rests upon large-scale modern industry, up-to-date techniques, the modern proletariat, and internationalism on a world scale. In this regard it is of our times, and belongs to the twentieth century. It may well be state communism, and not anarchism, which is out of step with the needs of the contemporary world.
In 1924 Joaquin Maurin reluctantly admitted that throughout the history of anarchism "symptoms of decline" had been "followed by sudden revival." The future may show that only in this reluctant admission was the Spanish Marxist a good prophet.