NEFAC Interviews Organizace Revolucnióch Anarchistu – Solidarita (ORAS)
With the collapse of Soviet Communism and growing dissatisfaction with capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe, a new generation of revolutionaries from former Soviet-Bloc countries has come to embrace anarchism. NEFAC has maintained fairly close relations with Organizace Revolucnióch Anarchistu – Solidarita, a relatively young organization with a similar political orientation to ourselves from the Czech Republic. This is an interview with Vadim Barak and Jindrich Lukas, two active militants from ORAS. Part of this interview was originally conducted in 1998, and printed in Red & Black Revolution #4 (theoretical magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement). Additional questions appear here for the first time. Since this interview was published, ORAS has split. The arguments and contradicitions in ORAS that are plainly visible in the interview, have led to a split between those who now identify primary as left communists and council communists, and those who still identify themselves as platformist anarcho-communists. Attached to the end of this interview is a statement from a new group, the Anarcho-Komunist Alternative (AKA), made up of the platformist side of the split.
Interview by Kevin Doyle (WSM-Cork) &
MaRK, Class Against Class (NEFAC-Boston)
WSM/NEFAC: What sort of history do anarchist ideas have in the Czech Republic?
ORAS: Anarchism started here in the 1880s as a youth section of a patriotic and liberal movement against the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. When the Social Democratic Party was established, its left wing was represented by libertarian socialists, but after several years they were forced to break away. Until WWI the most powerful libertarian current was anarcho-syndicalism. A stronghold of Czech anarcho-syndicalism was in the Northern Bohemian mining regions. Anarcho-syndicalists were soon organizing their own union federation, the Czech General Union Federation (the CGUF). Repression by the state strangled the CGUF in 1908, but could not destroy the syndicalist spirit among workers and new syndicalist unions like the Regional Miners Unity were formed.
By 1914, the Federation of Czech Anarcho-Communists (the FCAC) was also well established among Czech workers. Syndicalists and anarchists published a lot of papers such as “The Proletarian”. Anarchists established some consumers’ co-ops. During WW1 there was a general clampdown on the Czech libertarian movement – a lot of militants were either jailed or marched to the front; many were killed. Unlike syndicalism, the FCAC survived the war.
In 1918, on 14th October, the FCAC’s militants, together with left Social Democrats, organized a 24-hour general strike that in fact marked the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s domination of our nation. This event made Czech nationalist politicians, who did not want to break away from the empire until that moment, start negotiations with the empire about our independence. Strikers were demanding our right to national independence and a creation of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. After a day the strike was called off by the Social Democratic leadership. On October 28th, ordinary people – mainly in Prague – rose up again to finish off the decaying Austro-Hungarian authorities.
At that time the leading anarcho-communist intellectuals were already moving towards Leninism. One of them became an MP in the parliament of the new republic and another was a minister of the first government. On the other hand it tells a lot about anarcho-communist influence at the time. In 1918 the anarcho-communists became the left wing of the Czechoslovak Socialist Party (the CSSP). In 1923, anarcho-communists were expelled from the CSSP and their leaders maneuvered them into a last step before an open unification with the Communist Party (CP), which had already been established in 1921 by left Social Democrats and left anarcho-communists, who openly converted to Bolshevism (in fact they were the first here to translate Lenin’s works.) This last step led to the formation of the Independent Socialist Party (the ISP). In 1925 the ISP, despite resistance from the last remnants of syndicalism – the Association of Czechoslovak Miners, which was tied to the anarcho-communists – abandoned federalism and other anarchist principles and joined the CP.
WSM/NEFAC: Was there anarchist activity in Czechoslovakia in the lead up to the Velvet Revolution (1989)?
ORAS: Yes, there was an anarchist minority in an illegal party called the Left Alternative (LA). This party was very small and composed mainly of intellectuals and students who belonged to various currents of democratic and revolutionary socialism. They opposed the Communist regime and pursued a program of socialism based on workers’ self-management and direct democracy. As freedom of speech and association did not exist, the LA remained confined to being a more or less discussion group, not an organization active among working class people.
During the Velvet Revolution the LA gained some credibility among ordinary people, and in Prague – the center of the revolution – it made significant steps to becoming a real working class alternative. In the first local elections, 10,000 people voted for the LA in Prague. But by then the revolution had been usurped by careerist dissident intellectuals and former Communist bureaucrats. They took over a movement of Citizens’ Forums and the state apparatus, and by means of a massive propaganda campaign succeeded in persuading people that we could not have socialism with democracy – that the only way was the western “market economy” idea.
This new situation saw the LA once more in a position of isolated discussion circles. This time it was fatal. Some of its leading figures were moving towards a pro-market position, sectarianism occurred and in the end its internal conflicts destroyed it.
WSM/NEFAC: Tell us a little about your formation. Is Solidarita a completely new organization or did you develop from another organization?
ORAS: Solidarita developed from the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation (ASF), whose roots reach to the LA. After 1990, in a time of the greatest illusions about the market economy and consequently the greatest isolation of the left (no matter whether pro-market or socialist), the ASF sank into a deep sectarianism and dogmatism – which it has not recovered from yet.
But after this interval, there was a change: The first union struggles occurred; students fought back against the introduction of fees for education at universities; there was more and more support among people for environmentalist campaigns; in general the discontent of the working population was growing. A minority in the ASF did its best to be involved in this ferment and tried to translate its experience from those struggles into an internal debate in the ASF. That debate should have changed the ASF into an active and effective libertarian organization. However, the majority in the ASF refused to discuss our proposals and we had to leave. Since that time (1996), Solidarita has been working to build itself. Our theoretical and organizational development is not finished yet. Through continuous involvement in local as well as national struggles of workers and young people, and through discussions, we are accumulating experience and clarifying our ideas. We describe ourselves either as anarcho-syndicalists or libertarian socialists.
WSM/NEFAC: How has “platformism” influenced Solidarita-ORA and informed your group’s activity?
ORAS: In the second half of the 1990s we accepted the platformist tradition of anarcho-communism as the best one offered by anarchism: for both its emphasis on class struggle and pro-organizational direction, as well as for its orientation towards the working class rather than the activists’ ghetto.
However, the self-reflection of our functioning has reminded us that our group lacks deeper, critical discussions which would allow us to look for the most coherent theory/praxis; this self-reflection has influenced further functioning of ORAS.
The discussions, which we have tried to develop since then, concern the fundamental questions such as “What is Capital?”, “What precisely is the fundamental contradiction of capitalism?”, “Are unions possible weapons of the working class for communization of society?”, “What are the possibilities and limits of revolutionary minority in non-revolutionary times?”, “How can we involve ourselves in day-to-day class struggles and still keep our revolutionary attitudes?”. These are practical questions for us, which we – as proletarians within the (libertarian) communist tendency – ask ourselves and which spring from certain experiences of ours – experiences that we gain from the class struggles and workplaces and from the “activist” involvement with the anarchist movement. We believe that not burdening ourselves with difficult critical debate for the benefit of “political realism” and “action in the here and now” does not pay off. However, we also think that becoming “revolutionary” academics would not be the right path to take.
The Platform indeed was not the Bible for us; it meant the beginning and not the end of revolutionary theory (also, we take into account that it is concerned with building mass organization in revolutionary times). We started to search also for another sources of inspiration: we have returned to Marx and have absorbed influences of left communism, Situationism, council communism and autonomist Marxism. We understand them not as some petrified sets of doctrine, one of which we could accept separately or mix them all mechanically, but we regard them as the historical expressions of proletarian movement to which we can relate. And we think that this process has to be continuous. That means that while some of us are inclined rather towards the “pure platformism” and others would rather call themselves simply “communists”. We refuse to blindly adhere to any ideology. On this level we strive for the theoretical reflection of a real movement of the proletariat.
WSM/NEFAC: What is the relationship between Solidarita and other anarchist groups active in the Czech Republic and Slovakia? Is there much collaboration? Are there any formal anarchist networks between the various former Eastern Bloc countries?
ORAS: Our relationship with other anarchist groups seems to be relatively good. On some actions we co-operate with the Czechoslovak Anarchist Federation (CSAF), March 8th Feminist Group (FS8B), Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), Federation of Social Anarchists (FSA), and Reclaim the Streets! (UL!). Also, to various extents, some of our members and supporters collaborate with AFA, and we distribute some of materials of all these groups.
As for the formal anarchist networks between Eastern European countries, there does not seem to be any. Rather it is more of an informal, though organized, exchange of information through mailing lists (alter-EE mailing list, for instance) and occasional visits. Also an international anarchist magazine “Abolishing the Borders From Below” should be meant as a tool for an exchange of information.
WSM/NEFAC: What is Solidarita’s position relative to the unions? Do you favor the formation of new syndicalist unions?
ORAS: Despite all the problems with the present unions, we believe in working inside them. We believe they are real working class organizations. Within them we argue for a syndicalist alternative of combative and democratic unions run ‘by workers for workers’, where all delegates would be immediately recallable so that workers would control their own struggles. Unions should be active not only in a workplace, but also in communities. They should take part in struggle against racism and fascism, in environmental campaigns. Their final goal should be transformation of this society of market dictatorship into a libertarian socialist society of social justice, workers’ self-management and grassroots democracy.
That kind of union can come into existence only through our active participation in present day unions and through a rank and file movement in these unions for control over their organizations and fights.
WSM/NEFAC: How is Solidarita involved in workplace struggles? I have read reports about the “Workers Actions Groups” you have formed in various factories. What is the strategy behind these groups? How effective have they been in advancing militancy and self-organization among workers?
ORAS: Now we are involved in workplace struggles mainly as individuals, who work on a particular job. Thus some of our members practice absenteeism, sabotage, slow work, or occasionally participate in some collective attempts at resistance (for example, an attempt of cleaning workers to fight for shorter hours and higher pay). As ORAS we have occasionally tried to intervene in factories, where mass layoffs have occurred.
Examples of an older forms of this kind of intervention are “Workers Action Groups” (WAG). Actually, we took this idea from striking Czech miners from the Koh-i-noor mine, who spontaneously developed a practice where the most radical workers acted as an informal group, which in some kind started and/or prolonged the struggle. As this was in the time of relatively widespread industrial unrest, in which unions proved to play fully on the side of the capitalists, we tried to voice this particular miner’s tactic (independent of unions, and to some extent even an anti-unionist position) to other workers, who felt that under the leadership of unions they were losing.
In two cases we were to some extent successful, because a kind of WAGs was established and they tried to put up resistance. In the Zetor tractor factory three workers of the 8-member WAG handed out leaflets calling for a general workers assembly to be held at a particular hour. This assembly in front of company headquarters was attended by about 1,000 of their workmates. However, as this idea of the resistance outside and against unions had not organically originated from their previous struggle (as in the case of miners), but had come as a mediated experience from an outside group, they were not able to develop this situation any further. WAG was intimidated by joint efforts of unions and management, and gathered workers were not prepared to do anything themselves. An important factor in this definitely also was that workers themselves sensed that under objective conditions than they have no chance of accomplishing any significant victory. Even the miners were able only to put off the closure of their pit. To some extent (and with the same outcome) WAGs also contributed in the case of Zetor, and an aircraft factory LET Kunovice, where workers self-organization finished after a spontaneous demo.
From these experiences we concluded that although under some conditions a revolutionary group can inspire workers self-organization, it cannot move the particular struggle of workers any further if the workers do not do this themselves, on the basis of their own experience and perception of their own conditions. Thus in a next case of mass layoffs (Flextronics Brno moving its operations to China), we just made a leaflet describing individual forms of a passive resistance against layoffs, explaining them as a latent form of class struggle. We knew that workers themselves realistically do not believe in a possibility to prevent the relocation of the plant and do not even strive for preserving those shit-jobs. That is why we just tried to contribute to their self-awareness and express our own conclusions derived from their experience with multi-national capital.
WSM/NEFAC: What is some of the current activity of Solidarita? Future plans?
ORAS: We have been able to launch discussions and reading groups (most recently around Dauve ‘s “Eclipse and Re-Emergence of Communist Movement”) with relative success. These have aroused the interest of new people, who take part in them along with us and that is positive.
One of our most important contemporary projects is “Alarm: The Internet Magazine of Libertarian Communism”. As we note in the mission statement, its aim “is not to make a counterweight to official newspapers: we just want to express our everyday experience of life in the capitalist society, its reflections and the anarchist-communist tendency, which is an expression of this experience: tendency, which rejects present private capitalism in the same way as state capitalism, which ruled the Eastern bloc before 1989, as arbitrary forms taken by the dictatorship of capital.” “Alarm” contains news from class struggles all over the world and from struggles of the anarchist movement and other anti-capitalist minorities, as well as important contributions to the development of revolutionary theory. Besides this we irregularly publish a paper called “Solidarity” aimed primarily at proletarians, and some pamphlets.
Our Prague collective is also involved with running an info-cafe called “Mole’s Column”, which costs us a lot of energy, time and money. In this way we would like to express our gratitude to all foreign comrades, who have sent contributions for this project, as well as to those who send their press materials to reading room/library, which will be the part of the info-café (Troploin, Loren Goldner, Alternative Libertaire, WSM, NEFAC, ICG, Internationalist Perspectives, etc.). And again I have to mention our comrades, who work with AFA and try to develop an communist critique of anti-fascism and search for communist ways of struggle against fascism.
Recently we were involved in a campaign and protests against NATO summit, which took place in Prague in November 2002. As ORAS, we have not been involved with the organizers’ collective for the whole time, but in accordance with our capacities we helped out with some specific activities. In the Moravian region we made a speaking tour explaining our position towards NATO, refusing capitalist wars and peace and arguing for “No War But The Class War” and in the same spirit we co-organized a smaller anti-NATO gathering in Brno. We also participated in the protests themselves, in the Medical Group and in the self-organization of demonstrators against police provocateurs and capitalist media. We were also bringing topical news from the streets in “Alarm”.
As for the future plans, we are determined to further develop revolutionary theory and search for new modes of intervention in class struggles, although we have no illusions that this will be anything other than a very challenging process.
This interview is from the “The Global Influence of Platformism Today” series in The Northeastern Anarchist #6 (Winter/Spring 2003). Further interviews include platformist-influenced anarchist groups from Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, France, South Africa, Brazil, and Chile. The NEA is the English-language magazine of the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC), covering class struggle anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate and analysis in an effort to further develop anarchist-communist ideas and practice.
AKA – Anarcho-Komunist Alternative
A Founding Declaration
We are a small, newly established group of revolutionary anarchists, who feel the need of further active cooperation after our resignation from the Organization of Revolutionary Anarchists – Solidarity.
Our ascending discontent with the current trends in this organization and interpersonal disagreements prompted our resignation. It is over a year that the issue of revolutionary theory and practice have been discussed in Solidarity and nowadays ORAS is finally leaving the positions of anarcho-communism, which was entirely confirmed at the last ORAS conference in Prague. There several members of ORAS clearly expressed that they no more consider themselves to be anarchists and that they believe the anarchist movement to be antirevolutionary. Such movements as the left communism and the communism rad nowadays inspire ORAS. For that reason a fraction of members from Brno, Uh. Hradiste and Prerovsko left ORAS in protest and founded the Anarchocommunist alternative. We did so for several reasons:
Although the ideas of the left communism or the council communism can be inspiring in many cases, we object to the refusal of the platform tradition in anarchist movement as of the directions to form the tactics of a revolutionary organization, which is being rejected by a number of left communists and said to be contrarevolutionary. Furthermore we disagree with the refusal of political activism and the syndical elements in the worker’s struggle. We still believe the anarchist organization to be an ideological “vanguard” that associates the most libertarian-conscious part of the working class and also to be the helper and the mastermind of the organization of workers in the struggle against capitalism. With our unionization we can contribute to the limitation of the authoritarian ideologies such as bolshevism and its scions, fascism and nationalist socialism.
We don’t reject activism, according to us it has still been one of the best ways to spread revolutionary ideas among workers, but at the same time we don’t think it to be the only way. We will continue to support the trade union struggle, as though with emphasis put on its independence and the promotion of solidarity and autonomy principles. That is because we don’t think the organizing at workplaces has outlived its usefulness. There are still many possibilities of radical trade union activities in both our country and the world. It is true, that these are reformist, but only thanks to the struggle for partial elements the work class can gain revolutionary consciousness and learn self-unionizing.
We don’t feel ourselves to be anarcho-syndicalists, autonoms, eco-primitivists, or anarcho-individualists. We are anarcho-communists and that is why we consider the revolutionary anarchist organization important. Temporarily, we plan this new project as a propagandist collective of the people, who want to spread the ideas of the class struggle with all their forces (by means of brochures, leaflets, magazines and public activities) and to develop theoretical discuss that can later lead to a more profiled anarchist organization based on platformist principles.
We want to continue in everything that we consider positive, which was started in the times of still “anarchist” Solidarity and in which we participated actively.
The founding members of
12 April 2003