A glimpse of Anarchist-Communism in the 1930’s USA

A glimpse of Anarchist-Communism in the 1930’s USA by Mike Harris

Reprint of article from Vanguard with footnotes

An activity report from the anarchist publication the Vanguard in 1933. It gives a good insight into that time. Also includes extracts from their declaration of principles including We want to revive here, in America, the great anarchist idea of a revolutionary Vanguard, the anarchist idea of the role and place of an active revolutionary minority in the great mass struggle of today and in the near future. …

By way of history, I share with you this interesting activity report from the anarchist publication the Vanguard. While reporting on long past events, I think it gives comrades both a good insight into that time, gives a sense of connect and shows that what folks are going through today is, for better or worse, an age old process—and an age old challenge!

My extensive footnote at the end provides a glimpse at another tradition of anarchist- communism. A tradition that we also tried to carry forth in the Anarchist Communist Federation of North America (ACF). And a tradition that is still held by some within the movement today.

“The Libertarian Groups

The activity of various libertarian groups of the younger generation throughout the country seems to be increasing. Prospects for organization in Boston was reported by comrade Weiner* who recently came back from a trip during which he spoke at Wellesley College, East Boston and Needham. With a little effort the New England states could be dotted with groups…. The South Side Libertarian Group of Chicago has been carrying on work among the students of University of Chicago which is bound to tell in future growth of the group…. The Toronto Libertarian Group is unfolding a series of activities. They have printed a manifesto “Against War and Fascism” which they distributed at the May Day parades in that city. They have also started a campaign to reprint Alexander Berkman’s “A.B.C. of Communist Anarchism”, for which they are collecting funds…. Back in New York the Vanguard Group,** besides concentrating almost all of its energies in raising funds for, and publishing a magazine which it hopes to make an outstanding publication, has been conducting programmatic discussions with many outsiders regularly attending. It has been sending speakers to various places out of town and in the city. An increase of membership proves such activity to be of value….

These reports of activities are, indeed small. But they show a beginning. It is up to the younger generation of anarchists to carry on their work untiringly, to restore the movement to that place it held some years ago and carry it forward to its revolutionary goal. Through activity and a proper realization of the problems of our movement, the youth can rebuild the meager forces which have been left to us.”

Vanguard, Volume 1 #3, May-June 1933

* Sam Dolgoff

** In April of 1932, the New York City Vanguard group began a new public chapter in the history of the north american anarchist movement. Primarily an english speaking “youth group”, they set out to advance the anarchist communist and anarcho-syndicalist program. Aside from the “synthesis” “Road to Freedom”, most anarchist publications and movements was Russian, Italian, Spanish or Yiddish speaking. I don’t believe there was a native Quebecois movement, so bi-lingual French/English was not an option. By “youth”, many of the founders and early supporters were in their 20’s. The “ethnic” (immigrant) anarchists were mostly middle aged and older.

After starting out as a cheap mimeograph newsletter, the Vanguard developed in a professional and world renowned publication. Such writers as Emma Goldman, Rudolph Rocker, Armando Borghi, Piere Besnard and countless others contributed to the pages of this publication. It published interesting articles about the Spanish Revolution and various points of view about the Revolution. It was a wonderful source for an anarchist views on the CIO and the AFL.

While there were many writers for the publication it appears to me that Sam Dolgoff (S.Weiner) wrote many of the statements and editorials. I am only basing this on my personal conversations with Sam and the style in which they are written

In the premier issue, the comrades, in part, stated in their “Declaration of Policy”:

… “A higher degree of unanimity must be reached as the fundamental principles underlying its activity. The members of such a group must agree upon the general tenants of anarchist philosophy as well as upon its concrete form of expression in the field of social action: upon the general tactical line coming on as a crystallized experience of the anarchist movement as a whole, as well as upon the local strategy, evolved in accordance with the specific needs of each and every place and historical moment. … It becomes the primary task in each and every group to become an effective force in the life of our movement. Not as a heterogeneous collection of individuals, agreeing upon vague generalities ….We want to become a power in the life of the struggling masses…

“We are an anarchist-communist group. We are of the opinion that the great struggle for the liberation of the individual from all forms of authority cannot be divorced from the struggle for a socialized economy based upon the principles of human solidarity. …

“We call ourselves a Vanguard group. We want to revive here, in America, the great anarchist idea of a revolutionary Vanguard, the anarchist idea of the role and place of an active revolutionary minority in the great mass struggle of today and in the near future. …

“It is upon these perspectives that we orient our work, perspectives giving us the hope of building up a genuine libertarian movement closely related to the realities of American life.”

In an unsigned article in Volume 1 # 8, May-June 1933 issue of the Vanguard,the comrades wrote a brief, yet instructive, self-reflection and laying out the practical tasks ahead.

“About a year and a half ago, a small group of young Anarchist-Communists—members of the defunct Road to Freedom and Friends of Freedom groups–realizing the necessity of responsibility, organization and clarity, agreed to constitute themselves into a new group named “vanguard”. They realized, as the first step in building up a movement, it would be necessary to formulate a clear revolutionary program, based upon the principles of Anarchist-Communism. …”

They spelled out an initial 7 point agenda for the work and activities they sought to immediately engage in (press, educational; building up a youth federation; closer ties with anarcho-syndicalists and wobblies; establishment of an anarchist school “for the “studying [of] our philosophy and tactics”; forming “cultural clubs” and” revolutionary program for action”.

By 1939 the Vanguard group while still active, still publishing and continuing to argue for concerted actions, a defined point of view this effort was was soon to fold.

Originally appeared on anarkismo:http://www.anarkismo.net/article/1606

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