WSM Points of Unity Explained: 3 - Platformism (1)


'3. We identify ourselves as anarchists and with the "platformist", anarchist-communist or especifista tradition of anarchism. We broadly identify with the theoretical base of this tradition and the organisational practice it argues for, but not necessarily everything else it has done or said, so it is a starting point for our politics and not an end point.’

Sometimes a person associates anarchism with chaos, with a complete disinterest in organisation, system building, and regularity. This is a critical misunderstanding of the anarchist project. The WSM practices a form of anarchism which strives to be highly organised and coherent, learning as much as we can from attempts in the past to create a free world.

The 1917 October revolution took the world by storm, it was the first great anti-capitalist revolution which survived capitalist repression long-term, and the fact that it degenerated into such miserable despotism disappointed hopeful millions. Following the Bolshevik take-over and counter-revolution in the wake of this revolution, exiled Russian and Ukrainian anarchists asked themselves what went wrong. Two strains of thought emerged on the perceived failures of the anarchist movement in those countries. For the Dielo Truda group (Workers' Cause), which included Nestor Makhno, a lack of organisational principles had led to the general weakness and insignificant influence of anarchist ideas despite not insignificant numbers of anarchists. They wrote a pamphlet on this topic - what is informally called 'the Platform'.

The main contribution of the Platform document was, therefore, to stress the importance of a shared understanding of theory and goals across any future anarchist organisation, and a commitment to discipline and co-operation, so that anarchists could work as a coherent force for change.

The reality is that there is no perfect or pure struggle. Everywhere anarchists will face reformists and authoritarians (from the left and right) who will attempt to control or subdue struggles. Individuals involved in these struggles will also often exhibit contradictory ideas, or have ideas that may seem to conflict with those we wish to advocate (many people are nationalist for example).

Against this, platformists argue that we need to be well organised, we need to have confidence in our own ideas and we need to act on a common programme. Being an organised anarchist means being able to put forward a coherent strategy and enacting a common set of ideals that inspires others to do the same. If this appears to be common sense, that is not unusual, but these ideas remain controversial among many anarchists who prefer looser, informal, methods.

The authors of the Platform encouraged criticism of established positions to avoid a stagnant and conservative political culture. In other words, they argued that dissident and minority positions are to be considered as valuable as, and not necessarily in conflict with, the overarching aims of an organisation that strives for unity.

The Platform is a historical document – in fact it was actually the draft of a text meant for discussion. The WSM does not exactly follow it due to the nature of the circumstances it arose from (1910s and 1920s Russia and Ukraine, civil war) and gaps in its analysis (for example, feminism, anti-racism, intersectionality). Anarchist organisation and politics in Ireland must take its own course dependent upon our own particular history and conditions. Moreover, anarchists should not want or need a socialist holy book to quote scripture from. So for us the Platform is a rough starting point, and that’s it - however, its basic principles remain vital and relevant.

The especifismo tradition of anarchism (think of the word ‘specific’), which arose within the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (FAU) came to similar conclusions for the need of a specific, political anarchist organisation and, in practice, working in an organised fashion within mass movements. Although the WSM does not follow this exact line of action (for similar reasons we don't exactly follow the Platform) it is a tradition worth learning from and aligning with.

The Platform was largely an urgent re-statement of ideas as old as modern anarchism itself. The WSM draws upon a long history of organised and anarchist communist politics, from well before the Platform, right back to the formulation of these politics in the anarchist international of St. Imier in 1872. There formed an international workers' organisation after the anarchists and the Marxists split in the First International over the use of state force. Also, we acknowledge the lessons of the Friends of Durruti (in particular 'Towards a Fresh Revolution'), an anarchist group established in 1937 when the Spanish Revolution was in peril due to collaboration with the government.

The WSM is a member of Anarkismo, a network of anarchist organisations inspired by the platformist and especifist traditions - living revolutionary traditions which continue to develop and change as the situation requires.

This is one in a series of short articles explaining the WSM Points of Unity.
To listen to all these pieces together, click here.
To read all the WSM Points of Unity, click here.
To read about the next Point of Unity - Platformism (2) - click here.