LUMPENPROLETARIAT Today on free speech radio, anarchist scholar David Berry, a co-editor of the 2012 Palgrave volume entitled Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red, discussed the French libertarian communism of Daniel Guérin. Listen (or download) here.
AGAINST THE GRAIN—[4 NOV 2015] Marxists and anarchists have frequently been at odds, at least since the split between [Karl] Marx and [Mikhail] Bakunin in the First International, through the Bolshevik repression of sailors in Kronstadt, to the communist attacks on anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, and beyond.
“But do the two traditions have more in common than traditional history would indicate? An affirmation of that sentiment informed the work of French writer and activist, Daniel Guérin, who was a Marxist in his early years, later becoming an anarchist, and then, finally, creating a synthesis of the two.
“The avowedly anti-sectarian Guérin, who was born in 1904 and died in 1988, wrote many works of history and analysis, including Class Struggle and the First Republic and Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. He was also a pioneer of French gay liberation.
“Anarchist scholar Dave Berry has written extensively about Guérin. He is co-editor of the volume, Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red. And he teaches in the Department of Politics, History, and International Relations at Loughborough University in the UK, where he joins me now.
“Dave Berry, I wonder if you could give us a sense of Guérin’s origins.” (c. 7:03)
DAVID BERRY: “Well, Guérin, perhaps surprisingly, came from a very, very wealthy background. I don’t know how many people in your audience will have heard of Hachette , which is one of the biggest publishing houses in France. You go in any railway station, any airports in France and there will be an Hachette shop. And Guérin is, actually, the heir to the Hachette empire. So, he came from this very, very wealthy family from the  bourgeoisie, the haute bourgeoisie in Paris, which sort of made its money in the sort of last decades of the 19th century and the start of the 20th. And, so, he actually came from a very, very privileged family. And some branches of his family were clearly very reactionary; but, actually, his branch of the family, certainly his parents and some of his closer relatives, were also very liberal, very cultured, for their class in some respects quite progressive. His parents had been very much, at the time of the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s, his branch of the family had been very much pro-Dreyfus.” [c. 8:40]
‘Then, Daniel Guérin moved away from Trotskyism to a non-orthodox Marxism  to try and separate Marxism from Bolshevism. 
DAVID BERRY: ‘In postwar decades, the French Communist Party was completely dominant on the Left, intellectually. It was in all the publications.  It was the biggest single political party in France.  Guérin wasn’t alone in this. There were networks of people, some of who were critical Trotskyists, or ex-Trotskyists, who were involved in a number of journals, which linked many people 
‘A lot of these journals were focused on trying to rethink Marxism, or move beyond Marxism.  The intellectual circles were going through a period of questioning, what is anarchism, or what is socialism.  It manifested itself in the process of decolonisation, which was one of the most important aspects of the period.  And the Algerian War of Independence  was incredibly important.  The Communist Party had been very equivocal in the position it had adopted on the war in Algeria.  And it’s at that point that these two currents established much more close links.  It accepted historical materialism, for example, and was much keener on  without necessarily being a centralised type of Marxist organisation.  You can see his move away from Marxism toward Anarcho-Syndicalism.’
SASHA LILLEY: ‘Workers setting up councils  indication of the workers being able to organise themselves in any meaningful way.’
DAVID BERRY: ‘It also coincided with Guérin’s discovery of the complete works of Bakunin.  The discovery of Bakunin was like a cataract operation  Guérin had already had contacts with a number of other non-orthodox Marxists, like for example, Marcuse.  Proudhon, who was often referred to as the father of anarchism 
SASHA LILLEY: “Well, that strong anti-sectarian tendency within Guérin’s writing and his practice, his attitude toward other activists throughout his life, really runs counter to so much of the history of anarchism and Marxism, where the divisions, at times, have even been violent, often with anarchists on the receiving end in the Soviet Union, during the Spanish Revolution.
“And I wonder if, in looking at Guérin and also in thinking about the places where Marxism and anarchism overlap that you and your co-authors and co-editors have considered in the book, Libertarian Socialism, is there, in fact, more overlap than we tend to think when we look at the history of the Left in the 20th century through that narrowly sectarian lens?”
DAVID BERRY: “I think so. I think, if you read the authors who contributed to that collection, Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red, and even, actually, probably if you compare the opinions of the four editors, we don’t all necessarily agree. I mean, clearly, you mentioned the treatment of anarchists in Spain in ’37 and later, or in Russia from 1919 onwards or even earlier. You know, there have been very real episodes where the differences in strategy, the differences in analysis of situations have led to some very, very real disagreements, which have had often tragic consequences.
“So, there’s no point trying to sweep some real disagreements, real differences under the carpet, as it were. But I think it’s certainly true that there are more overlaps. I think there’s much greater convergence between different kinds of socialists than is often assumed. I should add, actually, in passing, really, having said that different kinds of socialism: Guérin was adamant that anarchism was, for him, a kind of socialism.
“And I think the kind of thinking, which talks about anarchism in the singular and Marxism in the singular is fundamentally flawed, really. There has never been one kind of anarchism. There has never been only one kind of Marxism. There have always been anarchisms. There have always been Marxisms. There have always been organisations, movements, tendencies, groups, who have explicitly or implicitly been inspired by, both, Marxism and anarchism. But there has been, for some time now, a tendency to create essentialist, if you like, political identities with very clear boundaries between them. And I think that’s a big mistake. Theoretically, I think it’s a mistake. And I also think, in practical terms, for any socialist, it’s a tactical or a strategic mistake as well. It weakens the movement.” [c. 55:17]
SASHA LILLEY: “Well, important words for us to end on. Dave Berry, thank you so much.”
DAVID BERRY: “I’m honoured.”
SASHA LILLEY: “I’ve been speaking with David Berry. He is the author of a number of books, including A History of the French Anarchist Movement: 1917-1945. He’s an editor of the journal Anarchist Studies and co-editor of the collection Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red published by Palgrave. And that includes an essay by him on the French libertarian communist Daniel Guérin, who we have been discussing in this hour.
“You’ve been listening to Against the Grain. I’m Sasha Lilley. Thanks for listening. And please tune in again next time.”
Learn more at AGAINST THE GRAIN (on KPFA).
[Transcript by Messina]
AGAINST THE GRAIN—[4 NOV 2015] A revolutionary socialist, fervent opponent of colonialism, staunch anti-sectarian, and maverick champion of gay liberation — the French writer and activist Daniel Guérin’s life spanned many of the key radical movements of the 20th century, with an unusual twist: he was in turn a Marxist, then an anarchist, and then synthesized the two traditions. Scholar Dave Berry reflects on Guérin’s life and legacy.
Learn more at AGAINST THE GRAIN.
[*] Also see: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2007/08/marx-a24.html
 Rhymes with ash-ette.
[This article is currently under construction.]
[Last modified 4 NOV 2015 14:39 PDT]