By Lucien van der Walt
Examining the theory and practice of ‘mass’ anarchism and syndicalism, this paper argues against Daryl Glaser’s views that workers’ council democracy fails basic democratic benchmarks and that, envisaged as a simple instrument of a revolution imagined in utopian ‘year zero’ terms, it will probably collapse or end in ‘Stalinist’ authoritarianism—Glaser also argues instead for parliaments, supplemented by participatory experiments.
While agreeing with Glaser on the necessity of a ‘democratic minimum’ of pluralism, rights, and open-ended outcomes, I demonstrate, in contrast, that this ‘minimum’ is perfectly compatible with bottom-up council democracy and self-management, as envisaged in anarchist/syndicalist theory, and as implemented by anarchist revolutions in Manchuria, Spain and Ukraine.
This approach seeks to maximise individual freedom through an egalitarian, democratic, participatory order, developed as both means and outcome of revolution; it consistently insists that attempts to ‘save’ revolutions by suspending freedoms, instead destroy both. Parliament, again in contrast to Glaser, from this perspective, meets no ‘democratic minimum’, being part of the state, a centralized, unaccountable institutional nexus essential to domination and exploitation by a ruling class of state managers and capitalists. Rather than participate in parliaments, ‘mass’ anarchism argues for popular class autonomy from, and struggle against, the existing order as a means of winning economic and political reforms while—avoiding ‘year zero’ thinking—also building the new society, within and against, the old, through a prefigurative project of revolutionary counter-power and counter-culture. Revolution here means the complete expansion of a bottom-up democracy, built through a class struggle for economic and social equality, and requiring the defeat of the ruling class, which is itself the outcome of widespread, free acceptance of anarchism, and of a pluralistic council democracy and self-management system.