A. Grachev

Anarchy is not utopia





Source: A. Grachev, 'Anarkhicheskii kommunizm', Golos Truda (Petrograd), 15 September 1917, pp. 3-4, in, Paul Avrich, ed., The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, 1973.



Their opponents reproach the anarchists with Utopianism, with abstractness. The anarchist ideal is depicted by its enemies as a Utopia based on the return to handicrafts production and a natural economy. One must admit that the occasion for such attacks is often provided by the anarchists themselves, anarchists who have not clearly mastered the social and economic principles on which a libertarian society is to be built. Of the winged words of the rebel Bakunin - that the urge to destroy is also a creative urge - many present-day anarchists have only a superficial or two-dimensional understanding. In the opinion of such anarchists, contemporary production with its giant industry and millions of workers - servants of the machine - must be destroyed and refashioned anew. However, they provide no precise idea of the extent to which mechanized production, concentrated in the cities, must be eliminated and what will replace it in the future. We shall try to shed some light on these questions.

In the realm of political ideals anarchism means simply anarchy, that is, the absence of authority. In the social and economic realm this stateless ideal rests in communism. The basic social and economic cell of the anarchist society is the free, independent commune. But what is meant by the commune as the basic cell of the future society? The first and most important misconception one encounters when raising this question, even among the anarchists themselves, is the linking of the notion of a 'commune' with the idea of a social unit tied to a definite territory and strictly defined territorially. Here the commune coincides with the rural village, with a specific agricultural or other economic unit run by a group of people on communist lines.

The second misconception, closely related to the first, is that such a territorially distinct commune is viewed as an independent and self-sufficient economic organism, satisfying by itself (so far as possible) all the needs of its members.

The result of these two misconceptions is an image of the anarchist society as one in which humanity is divided - depending on the individual peculiarities of separate peoples - into greater or smaller communities, entirely independent of one another and, so far as possible, serving their own particular needs. Such a conception of the anarchist ideal, however, implies the negation of existing forms of production and exchange, the revival of a natural economy and scattered handicrafts production, and the cessation of the distribution of manufactured goods throughout the whole society.

It is hardly necessary to say that such a conception of the anarchist society is completely erroneous. Indeed, it is precisely this conception of anarchism that its opponents have in mind when they reproach anarchists with Utopian and even petty bourgeois beliefs. Yet it cannot be denied that the above interpretation of anarchist society is partly the fault of theorists of anarchism themselves, who have insufficiently worked out the position of anarchists on the legacy which survives from capitalism. A particularly inaccurate appraisal of the significance of the capitalist legacy for the future society has been fostered by the works of Kropotkin, in which he strongly emphasizes the tendency towards decentralization in contemporary production. What one merely desires has been accepted as fact. A tendency towards decentralization in industry has been prematurely discerned and exaggerated, creating the impression that in the future society everything that is needed by members of a commune will be produced on the spot by the efforts of the commune itself.

The first misconception - tying the commune to a given area - has been widely disseminated in anarchist theoretical works. Yet the commune, which forms the basis of the future society, is not necessarily tied to a particular territory. The commune is simply a union of people for joint work to attain common goals. Any such union, for whatever purpose it may be founded and however great or insignificant it may be, however broad or limited its activities, constitutes a commune. Such a commune not tied to a given territorial framework is called an extraterritorial commune. And it is this extraterritorial commune which forms the social and economic base of the anarchist society. The relations of such communes with one another for the purpose of satisfying mutual needs are complex and closely intertwined, so that the communes are interrelated in all spheres, thereby constituting a single, indivisible social fabric.

The second misconception which has given ammunition to the superficial critics of anarchism - the link between the anarchist social idea and the handicrafts mode of production - is closely tied to the first, but for a full clarification it must be explored from a slightly different angle. To elucidate this question we must discuss openly and distinctly the question of our attitude towards authority after the passing of contemporary capitalism. Is it true that by destroying the bourgeois system the anarchists will also tamper with the industrial system of contemporary society? On the day after their victory will the anarchists preserve the legacy of capitalism, or will they turn their backs on it and begin to create new and different economic forms? Will the anarchists leave untouched those human ant-hills, the giant factories and plants? Will there possibly be, in the anarchist society, enterprises in which tens of thousands of men will work tog under the same roof? Will these urban giants retain their powers of attraction and draw the populace into their magnetic tentacles? Will we preserve in the anarchist society the division of labour and large-scale mechanized production?

Here are the questions whose answers will provide an accurate conception of the future society. Let us say in advance that to reject out of hand everything that capitalism has created in the realm of production and distribution would be a harmful Utopia, fatal for anarchism. In the realm of production and exchange we must be the perpetuators of capitalism. We must not reject the capitalist heritage but clasp it whole to ourselves. In the system of production created by capitalism there are many positive features, progressive from the standpoint of human development. We shall not use our victory to return mankind to a primitive condition. Taking production in our hands, we shall destroy not a single machine nor damage a single lever. We shall not abandon our factories and plants nor replace them with an idyllic life in huts in fields and forests under the open sky.

On the contrary, we shall bring our liberated energy to the factory. We shall imbue our machines with new power. We shall build as yet unheard-of giants from concrete, glass and steel. We shall raise industry to new and untouched heights. Our cities shall not be broken up and dispersed. Rather they will blossom with gardens, and additional millions of people will joyously fill their sunlit streets.

The anarchist society will not disperse production but consolidate it even further. With steel rails and steamship lines we shall link together the remotest corners of the earth and vastly expand and revitalize trade. We shall build new workshops, but such as can be filled by many thousands of workmen together.

It is thus that the future society must be envisaged by those who have correctly grasped the trends of the present and who have escaped the clutches of obsolescence. But what place will the commune occupy in this future society? What will it become? What sort of organizations will assume the task of fulfilling the needs of such a society? Is it not obvious that a decisive role in the life of such a society, marching forward and not backward from the present, will belong to the unions which handle production? The whole society will rest on powerful producers' unions linked together by economic ties dictated by production itself.

The vague conception of the commune as the social and economic basis of society thus acquires a well-defined content. The commune of the future society is the workers' union of production or distribution. Thus Anarchist-Communists, in their work, must not lose sight of the fact that the workers' unions in the realm of production are in essence those very communes on which the future edifice of anarchist communism will be built.


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