“Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle“ (Bonanno) – ARM / 1994 South African edition

“Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle” (Bonanno) – ARM / 1994 South African edition

Continuing with the series of materials published by the class struggle wing of the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) in Johannesburg … This was the 1994 South African edition of Alfredo Bonanno’s 1977 Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle, which had been reissued as part of the “Bratach Dubh” anarchist pamphlets series produced by Jean Weir.  It included a South African introduction by “L.V.” and map of then-current national liberation struggles from the New Nation newspaper.

The core value of this very influential pamphlet to the class struggle ARM group was its central arguments that anarchists “refuse to participate in national liberation fronts” that unite opposing classes, but instead “participate in class fronts which may or may not be involved in national liberation struggles, “in order to “establish economic, political and social structures in the liberated territories, based on federalist and libertarian organisations.”

Effectively this meant anarchists should participate in national liberation struggles, but must oppose the nationalist politics of cross-class alliances and statism. It was compared very favourably to what was seen as the ultra-left position of groups like Britain’s Anarchist Communist Federation (ACF) in their paper Organise! for revolutionary anarchism: their position dismissed “national liberation” movements as intrinsically multi-class struggles that invariably sought merely to replace one state with another (on the ACF’s impact, also see  here).

Given South Africa’s history, this had very concrete practical implications…these were drawn out partially in the 1994 edition’s South African introduction of  three pages. Bonanno’s view that national liberation struggles could be merged with revolutionary class struggle for anarchism converged the general shift that the class struggle wing of ARM was making from ultra-left positions towards a more practical politics of immersion in the working class, of which more here.  (Other examples included the adoption of the view of the holding of non-racial elections in 1994, after years of apartheid, as a “massive victory” for the working class – notwithstanding its criticisms of capitalist elections as such: see editorial in the first issue of Workers Solidarity ).

Lastly: it is worth noting that the ARM class struggle militants activists were largely unaware of Bonanno’s insurrectionist anarchist line, which rejected unions and apparently, all formal organisation; this approach would have definitely been rejected, to judge from other materials the tendency published at the time.

Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle (ARM)

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).