Daniel Guerin

May 19, 1904 - April 14, 1988


Source: Wikipedia


Daniel Guérin was a French anarcho-communist author, best known for his work Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, as well as his collection No Gods No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism in which he collected writings on the idea and movement it inspired, from the first writings of Max Stirner in the mid-19th century through the first half of the 20th century. He is also known for his opposition to Nazismfascism and colonialism, in addition to his support for the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) during the Spanish Civil War, and his revolutionary defence of free love and homosexuality (see Anarchism and LGBT rights).

CGT, PSOP, and Libertarian Marxism

Guérin was born in a liberal Parisian family. Early on, he started political activism in the revolutionary syndicalist magazine La Révolution prolétarienne of Pierre Monatte. He abandoned university and a literary career in 1926, traveling to Lebanon (1927–1929) and French Indochina (1929–1930) and became a passionate opponent of colonial ventures. In 1932, he joined the Confédération Générale du Travail, a syndicalist trade union; in the mid-1930s, he entered Marceau Pivert's movement Gauche Révolutionnaire ("Revolutionary Left"), a current of the SFIO Party. When the Gauche was excluded from the SFIO, he became one of the leaders of the new Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan (PSOP - "Workers and Peasants Socialist Party"), and was at that time quite close to Leon Trotsky.

In 1933, he traveled to Nazi Germany, an experience which inspired him to author Fascism and Big Business, in which he detailed the roots of Nazi ideology and its ties to capitalism. Gradually, his ethos edged further left, eventually developing into a combination of Marxism and anarchism. In his essay Libertarian Marxism?, he stated a belief that Karl Marx's philosophy should be judged complete at the Paris Commune, in which he appended his original plans for a two-step revolution, first abolishing class, then abolishing government, into a more immediate, libertarian process. A brief summary of his ideas can be found in his own words:

"To call oneself a libertarian marxist today is not to look backwards but to be committed to the future. The libertarian marxist is not an academic but a militant. He is well aware that it is up to him to change the world - no more, no less. History throws him on the brink. Everywhere the hour of the socialist revolution has sounded. Revolution - like landing on the moon - has entered the realm of the immediate and possible. Precise definition of the forms of a socialist society is no longer a utopian scheme. The only utopians are those who close their eyes to these realities." (Why Libertarian Marxism, 1969)

Spanish Civil War and the 1940s

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, he was quick to support the Republican side but within a year, after internal rifts in the Republican armed forces erupted into actual combat — the Stalinist Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia on one side, and the Trotskyist Workers' Party of Marxist Unification(POUM) [the POUM was friendly toward Trotsky but he did not support it, and it is incorrect to call the POUM a Trotskyist party] and anarchist CNT on the other, he had lost a great deal of faith in the Soviet-supported factions.

In 1946, Guérin went to the United States, and was appalled at the treatment of African Americans, and their lack of equality with their White counterparts. He witnessed the Civil Rights Movement, and chronicled his experience in his book Negroes On the March, an important text in the doctrine of revolutionary integrationism, which argues that the struggle for equality by African Americans in the U.S. is their primary struggle, that it can be won only via the struggle by the entire working class for socialism, and that it is essential to that larger struggle. The same year he published his in-depth study of the French RevolutionLa lutte de classes sous la première République : Bourgeois et 'bras nus' (1793-1797) ("Class struggle in the First RepublicBourgeoisie and the people") in which, unlike many leftist historians, he was very critical of the Jacobins.

Later life

In 1959, by publishing Youth of Libertarian Socialism he began his involvement with anarchism. Guérin belonged to several anarchist-communist organizations: the ORA (Anarchist Revolutionary Organization), from 1971 to 1977, the UTCL (Union of the Libertarian Communist Workers), from 1979 to his death in 1988 (in 1991, the UTCL became Alternative libertaire).

He also participated in the events of May 1968 in Paris, as well as his calls for Algerian independence from France. Guérin's writings were prolific in France, but English translations are rare. Guérin was the subject of the French film Daniel Guérin, Combats Dans le Siècle (1904-1988), made by Patrice Spadoni and Laurent Mulheisen. In 1969 Guerin published an essay called "Libertarian Marxism?" in which he dealt with the debate between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin at the First International and afterwards he suggested that "Libertarian marxism rejects determinism and fatalism, giving the greater place to individual will, intuition, imagination, reflex speeds, and to the deep instincts of the masses, which are more far-seeing in hours of crisis than the reasonings of the ‘elites’; libertarian marxism thinks of the effects of surprise, provocation and boldness, refuses to be cluttered and paralysed by a heavy ‘scientific’ apparatus, doesn’t equivocate or bluff, and guards itself from adventurism as much as from fear of the unknown."

LGBTI activism

The writings of the French bisexual anarchist Daniel Guérin offer an insight into the tension sexual minorities among the Left have often felt. He was a leading figure in the French Left from the 1930s until his death in 1988. He contributed to the homophile journal Arcadie. In 1954, Guérin was widely attacked for his study of the Kinsey Reports in which he also detailed the oppression of homosexuals in France. "The harshest [criticisms] came from Marxists, who tend seriously to underestimate the form of oppression which is antisexual terrorism. I expected it, of course, and I knew that in publishing my book I was running the risk of being attacked by those to whom I feel closest on a political level."  After coming out in 1965, Guérin was abandoned by the Left, and his papers on sexual liberation were censored or refused publication in left-wing journals. Guérin was involved in the uprising of May 1968, and was a part of the French Gay Liberation movement that emerged after the events. Decades later, Frédéric Martel described Guérin as the "grandfather of the French homosexual movement."  Guérin spoke about the extreme hostility toward homosexuality that permeated the left throughout much of the 20th century. "Not so many years ago, to declare oneself a revolutionary and to confess to being homosexual were incompatible," Guérin wrote in 1975. Guerin saw homosexuality as a form of "class treason" like many contemporaries.



Quotes by Daniel Guerin

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“Anarchists have always kept themselves pure and remain the revolutionary party par excellence, the party of the future, because they have been able to resist the siren song of elections.” 
Daniel Guerin

Books by Daniel Guerin

Photo: Unsplash / Joao Silas / CC0


  • Anarchism: From Theory to Practice (with Mary Klopper)

  • No Gods No Masters (with Paul Sharkey)

  • Fascism and Big Business (with Francis Merrill)

  • For a Libertarian Cummunism (with David Berry)

  • The Brown Plague (with Robert Schwartzwald)

  • 100 Years of Labor in the United States (with A. Adler)

  • Anarchism and Marxism

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