No Gods No Masters: The History of Anarchism – Part 1
Icarus Films (2017)
This three-part documentary series provides an eye opening look into the history of anarchism and its pivotal role in the development in the development of Marxism, communism and the trade union movement. The powers that be would have you believe that Karl Marx simply dreamed communism up sitting on his lonesome in the British Library.
Part 1 covers the period 1840, when Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (the father of anarchism) published What is Property, to 1906. Like socialism, anarchism grew directly out of the abject misery (eg starvation, malnutrition, epidemics, workplace injuries, alcoholism, etc) of early industrial capitalism. When French scholar and activist Jean-Pierre Proudhon first declared himself an “anarchist” in 1840, the life expectancy of an industrial worker was 30 years.
I was previously unaware that the global anarchist movement organized the First International (aka The First International Workingmen’s Association) in 1964. In fact, anarchists comprised the vast majority of the First International before Karl Marx and his Russian follower Mikhail Bakunin conspired to expel them. The anarchists, who disagreed with the call by Marx and Bakunin for a centrally run revolutionary political party, subsequently formed the Anarchist International Workingmen’s Association.
Prior to watching this film, I was also unaware that the anarchist movement initially came up with the strategy of the general strike, nor that it was first tried in the US. On May 1 1886, 340,00 workers came out on strike to demand an 8 hour day. The violent police reaction (and extreme government corruption it exposed) led to extreme disillusionment with the notion of worker organizing as a route to reform. The result was a brief period “propaganda of the deed”* activism in which a handful of anarchists tried to trigger mass insurrections though a series of bombings and assassinations of world political leaders (including US President William McKinley and Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand**).
With the turn of the century, international anarchist groups abandoned violence (which Proudhon had expressly opposed) to return to trade union organizing. This would give birth to “anarchosyndicalism”***, which promotes the general strike as the principal means of accomplishing revolutionary change nonviolently.
Their efforts would bear fruit in 1905-06, with political revolutions in Russia and Persia, and mass insurrections in France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Chile, India, Japan, Mongolia.
1905 would see the formation of the International Workers of the World (IWW), the first anarchosyndicalist movement in the US.
*”Propaganda of the deed,” refers to violent direct action meant to serve as an example for other oppressed peoples and a catalyst for revolution.
**This assassination of the heir to the Austrian Hungarian throne would be used as a pretext for the launch of World War I, when Serbia rejected an ultimatum by the Austro-Hungarian government to extradite one of the Serbian assassins.
***Anarcho-syndicalism is a theory of anarchism that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of the economy and, with that control, influence broader society.