The Decline of Anarchism in the 20th Century

No Gods, No Masters – Part 3

Directed by Tancrede Ramonet (2017)

Film Review

Part 3 covers 1917-1939 and uses the terms anarchist and libertarian interchangeably.

For fifty years prior to World War I (see Why Social Studies Never Made Sense in School: The History of Anarchism and The Vital Role of Anarchists in the Russian Revolution) anarchism was the backbone of social change, not only in Europe, the US, China and Japan, but throughout Latin America.

The decline of the anarchist movement would start with World War I, which killed one-third of working men in the countries that participated. Brutal crackdowns against anarchists (mainly in the Soviet Union and the US) in the final years of the war would further decimate their numbers. The US wars against the trade union movement (carried out by the Department of Justice with the help of the Italian Mafia) were unprecedented in global history.

The birth of Bolshevism during the Russian Revolution would also serve to displace anarchism. Not only did Lenin brutally suppress Soviet anarchists, but he would appropriate the anarchist anthem (the Internationale) and many anarchist slogans and teachings. In the US and Western Europe, growing numbers of trade union organizers turned to communism for inspiration, rather than anarchism.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Mussolini and other European fascists also appropriated anarchist symbol – as they simultaneously gunned down and imprisoned members of the anarchist resistance.*

With the crackdown against anarchism in their own countries, many US and Soviet anarchists emigrated to France, where they formed a new international collective under the leadership of Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno. This collective focused most of its energy on Spain, where more than a million** anarchists had been organizing for revolution for 70-80 years.

In addition to covering the tragedy of the US government frame-up and execution of Italian-born anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, most of Part 3 covers the Spanish Revolution (aka the Spanish Civil War).

This documentary provides a comprehensive outline of the role of Stalin, Spanish communists and Spain’s so-called republican government in launching the counterrevolution that would hand the last remnants of the Spanish republic over to fascist dictator Ferdinand Franco.

A worker-run film company filmed much of the actual Spanish Revolution, offering rare insight into what a true worker-run revolution looks like.


*In the US, the right wing also appropriated the term libertarian.

**See Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War