[reference points]:”Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle” (Alfredo Bonanno)

The text below was another important influence on the position taken by the main South African anarchist groups from the 1990s on the question of national liberation struggles: critical engagement and intervention, in solidarity and in order to influence, national liberation struggles. More on this issue here. For another key text, here.

The text below is Alfredo M. Bonanno’s Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle, which was first published in Anarchismo in 1976, then published in English in 1981, with an introduction  by Jean Weir, then in a South African edition in 1994 by the class-struggle wing of the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM).

To copy from an earlier post on this text and its impact, here:

‘… the 1994 South African edition of Alfredo Bonanno’s 1977 Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle… 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.’


[reference points]: “Against Imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance” (Endless Struggle #12, 1990, Vancouver)

The text below was an important influence on the position taken by the main South African anarchist groups from the 1990s on the question of national liberation struggles: critical engagement and intervention, in solidarity and in order to influence, national liberation struggles. More on this issue here.

Against Imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance

A Discussion on Anti-Imperialism, National Liberation Struggles, & Extending Social Struggles to an International Level of Resistance

Endless Struggle #12, Spring/Summer 1990, Vancouver, pp. 13-15, 24

PDF here, text below.

(Credit for text mark-up: SB, JF).

“It is our opinion that our failing to have any significant presence in the reality of present day struggles is largely due to complacency & lack of up to date analysis of problems in an increasingly complex social structure” (Bratach Dubh collective, intro. to Anarchism & the National Liberation Struggle, by Alfredo Bonanno)

The following article was part of a discussion on International Solidarity & Revolutionary Resistance presented at the Regional Anarchist Gathering held in Jan.26-29/90 in Vancouver, Canada.

The first half of this article is a brief introduction to the historical development of imperialism, including the rise to dominance of US capital in the global economic order. The second half discusses national liberation struggles, their contradictions & limitations, & an anarchist perspective to these struggles. It certainly isn’t definitive in total, but we hope it provides a starting point for discussion. A lot hasn’t been analysed, such as the present global economic thrust towards mobility in production, significant changes in capitalist production (i.e. technology, flexibility), & the relationship between these factors & the class struggle in the advanced capitalist countries corresponding with the national liberation struggles. It is beyond the scope of this article to fully address these, nevertheless, if anarchist or autonomist struggles are to have any impact, a complete re-assessment of our analysis & methods is necessary. Developing this means addressing ourselves to an analysis against capital- something which this article also mentions.

 Anarchists tend to reduce anarchism to mere anti-statism or opposition to authority, a superficial & all encompassing “anti-authoritarian blanket” draped over all social struggles. Instead of extending an analysis to patriarchal & capitalist exploitation, which by its nature demands an international struggle, anarchists have restricted their perspective (if at all) to the most blatant products of this: sometimes in the “life-stylist” approach by boycotting multinationals, at other times in the pursuit of “alternative economic communities”. Capitalism is acknowledged, but only as some kind of background setting with no specific structures or conditions. When the Economic Summit of the G-7 (the seven leading industrial countries consisting of the US, Canada, Japan, W. Germany, Britain, France & Italy) was held in Toronto in June /88, the movements lack of anti-capitalist analysis was clear: “Protesting the 7 leaders is somewhat of a red herring, seeing as it’s not just these 7 who are the problem, but all leaders & capitalism itself” (from Ecomedia Toronto, our emphasis). In this, the world economic order, dominated primarily by US capitalism, & its structures the IMF & World Bank, in which the G7 maintain dominant positions, is reduced to a problem of “leaders” & “capitalism” remains as something lurking in the background. The article continues on, making the point of resistance a question of who controls the streets rather than one of who maintains the levels of exploitation: “But many anarchists came out to support the days actions because the issue turned from one of protesting the leaders to… reclaiming the streets of our city, which have been blocked off for us for the length of the Summit”.

This is a reflection of the fact that most anarchists don’t see various social struggles (ecological, anti-sexism, anti-racism) as having a basis in class struggle. But this isn’t to say that these social struggles are irrelevant or secondary to the class struggle, as some Marxists (as well as some anarchists) do, but rather the opposite: these social struggles make up the basis of the class struggle. In the minds of those who delegate these social struggles to a secondary position it is commonly argued that capital Continue reading

A few notes on the question of national liberation struggle in 1990s South African anarchism and syndicalism

One of the key issues that the re-emergent anarchist and syndicalist current in South Africa in the early 1990s had to face was the fact of national liberation struggle against apartheid. This was no “pure” class struggle. How should it relate? Two views were present in the English-speaking anarchist milieu of the time, then dominated by US and UK publications.

One was purism, which basically rejected all national liberation struggles as basically “capitalist” since they generally got controlled by elite classes, and often ended up with capitalist outcomes — witness almost all cases of decolonisation in Africa. This line of argument would stress failings, and ignore aspects that did not fit the analysis; national liberation would be conflated with  nationalism, which is a multi-class movement aiming at state power.  Often the argument would become one of presenting a given national liberation movement as just as bad as the oppressor it fought. Impressive aspects of these struggles, like massive rebellions in 1980s South Africa, were — when noted — set up as something distinct from — and threatened by — the national liberation struggle and the nationalists, rather than seen as part of the complexity and class contradictions in national liberation movements.

This line was evident in the Anarchist Communist Federation in the UK,  in its paper, Organise!, which was read locally: it was completely against imperialism, but it also consistently rejected the main form that anti-imperialism then took, national liberation movements, as capitalist. But the fact that a movement might end up in capitalism surely does not prove that is its inevitable outcome; and a move from a capitalism based on overt imperial rule, white supremacy and anti-black racism (like British Kenya) to a capitalism with an independent state that rejected these, was no small thing, even if “capitalism” continued. Thus, the issue of how to engage with reforms and non-anarchist movements arose. This  posed the question of daily practice: where would the forces against capitalism emerge? How might daily work by anarchists — beyond statements — concretely contribute to anti-capitalism and the building of a specific anarchist current and for an anarchist revolution?

The other common approach was uncritical support, or liquidationism, where (some) national liberation movements were endorsed without real reservations. This was evident in Arm the Spirit (North America), which mainly consisted of news about various armed Marxist-Leninist and nationalist groups, usually the most radical; and Love and Rage (USA), which tended to celebrate various movements, and individuals, and endorse or absorb some of their views. Thus, when a global revival of interest in African-American radical, Malcolm X, ensued with the 1992 film Malcolm X (Spike Lee, with Denzel Washington etc.),  Love and Rage confined itself to a short article praising X’s militancy and refusal to compromise. No real discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of his politics, his strategy, was provided; nor of what anarchism might contribute to the question of black liberation in the US, beyond being militant.

So, where the purist approach tended to highlight failings, and set up a neat boundary between the masses and the national liberation movement and the nationalists, this more celebratory approach had at least the value of recognising the attraction of national liberation movements, their often heroic actions, and their attraction for many people. implicitly, it was also a recognition that anarchists were often outside of these struggles. But beyond this, there was not much in the way of critical evaluation: while the purist approach tended to one-sided and often misleading polemic, this approach tended to fairly superficial engagement and limited commentary and analysis. Again, the question of how daily work by anarchists — beyond statements — would concretely contribute to anti-capitalism and the building of a specific anarchist current and the possibility of an anarchist revolution was left vague.

A third approach — critical engagement and intervention in national liberation struggles — was adopted by the class-struggle current in the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) and its successor, Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), forebears of today’s Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF).  This argued that national liberation movements were progressive, in comparison to imperialist or colonial forces; that they were contested by different classes, and should not be read off elite agendas; that while nationalism, seen as the class project of local elites in te oppressed group e.g. the emergent black bourgeoisie and state elite under apartheid, would certainly lead to statist and capitalist outcomes that would frustrate the mass of the nationality, it was also possible to build class-struggle, revolutionary currents within national liberation movements that would potentially lead to more radical outcomes closer to anarchism; and that, therefore, it was important that anarchists participate in national liberation struggles, as a distinct current, cooperating in actions where possible, even with nationalists, rather than engaging in purism, and resolutely putting forward their own positions, including a serious critique of nationalist and other rival positions, rather than liquidation.

There is no doubt that this third approach was influenced by a body of thinking on these issues, including the rediscovery of the earlier South African anarchist and syndicalist tradition, like the Industrial Workers of Africa and the International Socialist League, as well as by texts in the Canadian paper, Endless Struggle [link to follow], and the Italian anarchist Alfredo Bonanno’s Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle [link to follow]. Some of these texts will be posted soon.

ARM – March 1995 – march and “Forward with the Student Struggle”

On the 23 March 1995 ARM joined big protest at Wits with large banner, alongside the South African Students Congress (SASCO) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA). It plastered a statement “Forward with the Student Struggle” across the campus as a poster, as well as handed out. A poster Join the All-Students March” was also issued.

Get the “Forward with the Student Struggle” poster in pdf here (2 pages).

ARM – April 1995 – “ARM on the Wits Crisis”

This was a public statement issued as a poster at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) outlining the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) position on the struggle in the universities at this time.  ARM was renamed the Workers Solidarity (WSF) a little later in the year.

Get the PDF here.