From: Alexander Berkman, Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism, New York: Vanguard Press, 1929.
What Is Communist Anarchism?
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE
THE main purpose of the social revolution must be the immediate betterment of conditions for the masses. The success of the revolution fundamentally depends on it. This can be achieved only by organizing consumption and production so as to be of real benefit to the populace. In that lies the greatest -- in fact, the only -- security of the social revolution. It was not the Red army which conquered counter-revolution in Russia: it was the peasants holding on for dear life to the land they had taken during the upheaval. The social revolution must be of material gain to the masses if it is to live and grow. The people at large must be sure of actual advantage from their efforts, or at least entertain the hope of such advantage in the near future. The revolution is doomed if it relies for its existence and defense on mechanical means, such as war and armies. The real safety of the revolution is organic; that is, it lies in industry and production.
The object of revolution is to secure greater freedom, to increase the material welfare of the people. The aim of the social revolution, in particular, is to enable the masses by their own efforts to bring about conditions of material and social well-being, to rise to higher moral and spiritual levels.
In other words, it is liberty which is to be established by the social revolution. For true liberty is based on economic opportunity. Without it all liberty is a sham and lie, a mask for exploitation and oppression. In the profoundest sense liberty is the daughter of economic equality.
The main aim of the social revolution is therefore to establish equal liberty on the basis of equal opportunity. The revolutionary reorganization of life must immediately proceed to secure the equality of all, economically, politically, and socially.
That reorganization will depend, first and foremost, on the thorough familiarity of labor with the economic situation of the country: on a complete inventory of the supply, on exact knowledge of the sources of raw material, ant on the proper organization of the labor forces for efficient management.
It means that statistics and intelligent workers' associations are vital needs of the revolution, on the day after the upheaval. The entire problem of production and distribution -- the life of the revolution -- is based on it. It is obvious, as pointed out before, that this knowledge must be acquired by the workers before the revolution if the latter is to accomplish its purposes.
That is why the shop and factory committee, dealt with in the previous chapter, are so important and will play such a decisive rôle in the revolutionary reconstruction.
For a new society is not born suddenly, any more than a child is. New social life gestates in the body of the old just as new individual life does in the mother's womb. Time and certain processes are required to develop it till it becomes a complete organism capable of functioning. When that stage has been reached birth takes place in agony and pain, socially as individually. Revolution, to use a trite but expressive saying, is the midwife of the new social being. This is true in the most literal sense. Capitalism is the parent of the new society; the shop and factory committee, the union of class-conscious labor and revolutionary aims, is the germ of the new life. In that shop committee and union the worker must acquire the knowledge of how to manage his affairs: in the process he will grow to the perception that social life is a matter of proper organization, of united effort, of solidarity. He will come to understand that it is not the bossing and ruling of men but free association and harmonious working together which accomplish things; that it is not government and laws which produce ant create, make the wheat grow and the wheels turn, but concord and cooperation. Experience will teach him to substitute the management of things in place of the government of men. In the daily life and struggles of his shop-committee the worker must learn how to conduct the revolution.
Shop and factory committees, organized locally, by district, region, and State, and federated nationally, will be the bodies best suited to carry on revolutionary production.
Local and State labor councils, federated nationally, will be the form of organization most adapted to manage distribution by means of the people's cooperatives.
These committees, elected by the workers on the job, connect their shop and factory with other shops and factories of the same industry. The Joint Council of an entire industry links that industry with other industries, and thus is formed a federation of labor councils for the entire country.
Coöperative associations are the mediums of exchange between the country and city. The farmers, organized locally and federated regionally and nationally, supply the needs of the cities by means of the coöperatives and receive through the latter in exchange the products of the city industries.
Every revolution is accompanied by a great outburst of popular enthusiasm full of hope and aspiration. It is the spring-board of revolution. This high tide, spontaneous and powerful, opens up the human sources of initiative and activity. The sense of equality liberates the best there is in man and makes him consciously creative. These are the great motors of the social revolution, its moving forces. Their free and unhindered expression signifies the development and deepening of the revolution. Their suppression means decay and death. The revolution is safe, it grows and becomes strong, as long as the masses feel that they are direct participants in it, that they are fashioning their own lives, that they are making the revolution, that they are the revolution. But the moment their activities are usurped by a political party or are centered in some special organization, revolutionary effort becomes limited to a comparatively small circle from which the large masses are practically excluded. The natural result is that popular enthusiasm is dampened, interest gradually weakens, initiative languishes, creativeness wanes, and the revolution becomes the monopoly of a clique which presently turns dictator.
This is fatal to the revolution. The sole prevention of such a catastrophe lies in the continued active interest of the workers through their every-day participation in all matters pertaining to the revolution. The source of this interest and activity is the shop and the union.
The interest of the masses and their loyalty to the revolution depend furthermore on their feeling that the revolution represents justice and fair play. This explains why revolutions have the power of rousing the people to acts of great heroism and devotion. As already pointed out, the masses instinctively see in revolution the enemy of wrong and iniquity and the harbinger of justice. In this sense revolution is a highly ethical factor and an inspiration. Fundamentally it is only great moral principles which can fire the masses and lift them to spiritual heights.
All popular upheavals have shown this to be true; particularly so the Russian Revolution. It was because of that spirit that the Russian masses so strikingly triumphed over all obstacles in the days of February and October. No opposition could conquer their devotion inspired by a great and noble cause. But the Revolution began to decline when it had become emasculated of its high moral values, when it was denuded of its elements of justice, equality, and liberty. Their loss was the doom of the Revolution.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly how essential spiritual values are to the social revolution. These and the consciousness of the masses that the revolution also means material betterment are dynamic influences in the life and growth of the new society. Of the two factors the spiritual values are foremost. The history of previous revolutions proves that the masses were ever willing to suffer and to sacrifice material well-being for the sake of greater liberty and justice. Thus in Russia neither cold nor starvation could induce the peasants and workers to aid counter-revolution. All privation and misery notwithstanding they served heroically the interests of the great cause. It was only when they saw the Revolution monopolized by a political party, the new-won liberties curtailed, a dictatorship established, and injustice and inequality dominant again that they became indifferent to the Revolution, declined to participate in the sham, refused to cooperate, and even turned against it.
To forget ethical values, to introduce practices and methods inconsistent with or opposed to the high moral purposes of the revolution means to invite counter-revolution and disaster.
It is therefore clear that the success of the social revolution primarily depends on liberty and equality. Any deviation from them can only be harmful; indeed, is sure to prove destructive. It follows that all the activities of the revolution must be based on freedom and equal rights. This applies to small things as to great. Any acts or methods tending to limit liberty, to create inequality and injustice, can result only in a popular attitude inimical to the revolution and in best interests.
It is from this angle that all the problems of the revolutionary period must be considered and solved. Among those problems the most important are consumption and housing, production ant exchange.
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