Anarchists in the USSR


By K. ten Broke

Anarchists, in the opinion of Anatoly Lukyanov, president of the Supreme Soviet, are one of the few political forces to be taken seriously in the USSR. That was certainly not meant as a compliment for the various anarchist organisations, associations and dozens of smaller groups, but rather as a kind of warning and appeal to politicians and party bureaucrats.

Although the anarchist movement in the USSR is not on par numerically with the democrats, Social Democrats, liberals and other forces, it makes up for this with its active membership.

According to Mikhail Tsmova, international secretary of the Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists (KAS), the roots of modern Soviet anarchism are to be found in the Komsomol, the party youth organisation.

In the early 1980s, socialist groups and discussion circles arose in almost all parts of the country. Many of them were Marxist in orientation.

In 1985-6 some young people at the Teachers College in Moscow began looking at the relations between Marx and Bakunin and soon developed an anarchist leaning. Andrei Isavev, Alexandr Shubin and others founded the club Obshina in 1987.

Obshina went public with a discussion meeting on May 9, 1987, and in September 1987 it published the first edition of the magazine Obshina, the first anarchist publication in the Soviet Union for almost 70 years.

Together with similar discussion circles and Marxist and Social Democrat groups, the anarchists and independent socialists launched the Alliance of Socialist Federalists and the Federation of Socialist Social Clubs. From the latter, the first specifically anarchist organisation was formed in January 1989 — the KAS, which is today the largest and most significant anarchist organisation in the country.

KAS saw itself as "an independent political organisation of the non-party type, standing for stateless socialism on the basis of collective/employee property in the workplaces, industrial and regional self-management, federalism and demilitarisation" (from its first congress program).

KAS united a broad spectrum of libertarian tendencies: anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists, individualists, pacifists and socialist federalists.

It has both individual and group members; the structure is loose, with no binding statutes and no formal membership; there are no fixed membership dues. In this way KAS hopes to avoid "paper members" and the development of authoritarian tendencies.

After the first congress in May 1989, two congresses were held in 1990 at which substantial disagreements emerged about the direction and future of KAS. The third congress, in March 1990, led to the resignation of a sizeable minority.

A major bone of contention was the majority's position in favour of market economics. Direct action, violence as a method of political struggle, and cooperation with the Greens and the left of the Social Democratic Party were also hotly debated.

The standing of several KAS members in the Moscow city soviet elections was also contentious, although now there is unanimous rejection of such participation in the future.

At the Kronstadt congress in March 1991, previous members repeated their heavy criticism of KAS' economic platform. KAS was accused of reformism and "libertarian liberalism".

KAS members themselves, however, put their differences down mainly to pragmatic issues like commitment and level of involvement.

Although nobody has a monopoly on the truth, as they put it, many KAS members are said to have a rather vague understanding of anarchism.

Today KAS encompasses 500 to 1000 activists in around 60 cities of the USSR.

One year ago, as a broad labour movement began to take shape, KAS adopted a double strategy. On the one hand, it took part in the activities of the Confederation of Labour, a broad umbrella organisation made up largely of free trade unions, strike committees, workers' clubs and associations which represented a very broad spectrum, from bourgeois and Marxist forces to anarcho-syndicalists.

At the same time, KAS in Moscow set up a union called Resistance, which was to stick to a clearly anarcho-syndicalist model. This has since floundered, which led to KAS taking on a more active role in the Confederation of Labour.

In summer 1990, the labour movement Information and Consultation Centre was set up. Information from the union and labour movement is sent to it and then disseminated in weekly bulletins and on radio by KAS-KOR, KAS' news service.

KAS-KOR has a national network of correspondents who report on all that happens and is newsworthy in the labour movement. A workers university is in the planning stages.

Alongside its syndicalist work, KAS also devotes itself to cultural and economic topics. For example, a range of exhibitions is under preparation on "The Life and Work of Bakunin", "Russian Anarchism Past and Present", "The Labour Movement and Syndicalism in Russia" and "Makhno — Myth and Reality".

KAS' economic platform does not go uncriticised from within, but seems to be in keeping with the opinion of a majority of the members. KAS envisages a system of stateless market socialism with mixed forms of property. It goes by the assumption that the market is the only possible form of economic circulation where the economy does not gain power over people.

Economic planning is seen as being directed against the people and producing nothing but bureaucracy.

At the same time, KAS strictly rejects both state and private property. Private property even contradicts market principles, says Alexandr Shubin, because it carries in itself a strong tendency towards monopolisation, which by its very nature destroys market economic relations.

Instead KAS espouses collective and community property within a system of local self-management. The property of a business should belong solely to the workers of that business. In such a system, the circulation of goods should be based on competition, which is indispensable in any functioning economy.

Autonomous, self-managed municipalities would run the system of welfare institutions and would be responsible for the socially weaker members of society.

A congress has been arranged to flesh out this economic platform in detail.
[Abridged from the May-June issue of the German anarcho-syndicalist paper Direkte Aktion. Translated by Will Firth.]