Syndicalism and the strike: French and Italian revolutionary syndicalism and their introduction into Spain - Pere Gabriel

Arturo Labriola

An essay on the relative influence exercised by the First International (the Spanish Regional Federation of the IWA), the Second International, French revolutionary syndicalism (the CGT and the Bourses du Travail), and Italian syndicalism (the USI), respectively, on the origin and development of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism, with extensive discussion of the internal debates that took place between 1880 and 1920 in the European anarchist milieu on the general strike and the nature and purpose of trade unionism.

Syndicalism and the Strike: French and Italian Revolutionary Syndicalism and their Introduction into Spain – Pere Gabriel

1. The Idea of the General Strike

From the very first, the idea of the general strike accompanied the development of the workers movement throughout the 19th century. In 1894, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and then later, in 1911, Alexandre Zévaès, chronicled how, in England between 1833 and 1834, the Society for Promoting National Regeneration and the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union, inspired by Owen and his followers, demanded the eight hour day and threatened to call a general strike of all trades and workers associations, the Grand National Holiday.1 Their argument was based fundamentally on two ideas. On the one hand, they proclaimed the possibility that all the workers could cease work at a particular moment, more or less simultaneously. It also magnified the decisive importance of the labor of the workers in the new industrial capitalism. These ideas undoubtedly influenced, in terms of their argumentation, the spread of the first theories of labor value (that hold that labor is the source of all wealth and that the latter must be attributed, correctly, to the efforts of the workers), as well as the popularization of the famous Parabola published in 1819 by Saint-Simon:

“Let us assume that France would lose … its fifty leading physicists, its fifty leading chemists … its fifty leading typographers, its fifty leading engravers, its fifty leading gold- and silver-smiths and other metal workers, its fifty leading construction workers…. These men are the most necessary producers for France, they are the ones who provide the most important goods and articles, the ones who perform the most useful labor….” 2

The general strike was proposed in relation to four great objectives, which often overlapped. It was on occasion seen as an instrument to be used for the attainment of specific job-related demands of the workers. Sometimes it was given a more extensive and political meaning, and the call for a general strike was understood as the means to attain a particular important political demand and would at least also be a show of force on the part of the workers. And the general strike also appeared to be a good way to put pressure on the governments to prevent wars. Finally, the general strike was also sometimes understood as the signal event of the social revolution. It is not hard to find examples of all of these ideas throughout the 19th century.

At the Brussels Congress of the First International, in September 1868, the delegates resolved that the working class (“who are almost all subject to military service”) could fight against the outbreak of wars by “a legal and immediately realizable practical measure: the social body cannot live if production were to cease for a certain period … it would therefore be enough for the producers to stop producing in order to foil the plans of despots and kings.” Finally, the Congress recommended that the workers cease all work when a war breaks out in their respective countries.3 The Belgian delegates did the most to elaborate the idea of the general strike in the First International, and they understood it as a basic means to carry out the social revolution. Thus, in March 1869, the Brussels journal L’Internationale announced:

“… lorsque les greves s’etendent, se communiquent de proche en proche, c’est que’elles sont bien près de devenir une grève générale; et une grève générale, avec les idées d’affanchissement qui regnent aujourd’hui dans le proletariat, ne peut aboutir qu’à un grand cataclysme qui ferait faire peau neuve à la société.” 4

Years later, in the United States, the old idea of combining the general strike with the demand for the eight hour day, originally proposed, as we have already mentioned, in England in 1833-1834, was once again discussed. At the Fourth Congress of the American Federation of Labor, meeting in Chicago in November 1884, the slogan of the general strike was endorsed as a means to achieve the eight hour day, and the date of May 1, 1886, as everyone knows, was set as the date when the strike was scheduled to begin.5

In any event, it was at the end of the century, in France, when the idea of the general strike would acquire a greater and more intense resonance. One of its first apostles in France was the anarcho-syndicalist carpenter Joseph Tortelier, who constantly and repeatedly supported the slogan beginning in 1887. Soon the question was debated at all the major trade union and socialist congresses and became one of the main dividing lines that differentiated the strategies and political orientations of the workers movement. At first, up until the founding of the CGT in 1895, the debates were based on two basic frameworks of reasoning. On the one hand, on a basically trade union terrain, the general strike appeared as an alternative to the systematic failure of partial strikes, strikes that were restricted to only one locality or industry. In this case, the general strike was seen as the generalization of conflict in order to bring about a victory for what were basically job-related demands. On the other hand, especially within the Workers Party and in the debates among the socialists, the general strike was presented as the alternative to the electoral road of social democracy, an idea that originated from a lack of confidence in the viability of bringing about the profound transformation of the bourgeois state on the basis of electoral struggles. Within this dual framework, the main supporters of the idea of the general strike were undoubtedly the Bretons, descended from families of petty shopkeepers, Fernand Pelloutier and Aristide Briand, both of whom were contributors to La Démocratie de L’Ouest published in Saint Nazaire.

Pelloutier,6 especially in his speech at the regional socialist congress of the West, held in Tours in early September 1892, defended, in opposition to Jules Guesde, the general strike, which he understood as “la suspension universelle et simultanée de la force productrice … qui, méme limitée à une période relativement restreinte, conduirait infailliblement le parti ouvrier au triomphe des revendications formulées dans son programme.” At the same time, Briand succeeded in passing a resolution at the Fifth Congress of the Federation National des Syndicats, meeting in Marseilles later that same month of September 1892, in favor of the idea of a general strike of all trades. Shortly afterwards, at a first combined congress that united trade union federations and Bourses du Travail, held in Paris in July 1893, the only resolution approved was in favor of the general strike and the formation of an organizing committee devoted to making preparations for the general strike, and this committee would soon thereafter publish, as its official journal, La Grève Générale, edited by the Allemanist Henri Girard. Despite the bitter opposition of the Guesdists, Pelloutier, Briand and Girard succeeded in obtaining the approval of another combined congress for the idea of the general strike; this congress, held in Nantes in September 1894, was much more representative and broad-based than the previous one held in Paris. The congress marked the end of the dominance of Guesde’s Workers Party in the trade union movement and provided a powerful impulse to the supporters of creating a new central trade union federation, one that would be formed strictly for the purpose of the victory of the idea of the general strike. Finally, the Nantes congress was responsible for the eventual publication of the first pamphlet that systematically addressed the new strategy, which included the reports and speeches that Girard, Briand and Pelloutier delivered at the congress, Qu’est ce que la Grève Générale?, published in 1895.

The Confederation Générale du Travail, as the new confederal body formed in Limoges in September 1895 was called, thus arose in opposition to Guesdism and embraced the thesis that the general strike was a basic component of the assertion of the independence of the trade union from the political struggle of the parliamentary and electoral type. In any event, it is important to note that only a few people had proposed the general strike as the sole means to achieve the emancipation of the proletariat. In particular, for the Allemanists it was a good weapon, but not the only one, and in any case it had to be planned as an insurrectional action on an international scale. For the Blanquists the question of the general strike was not a central concern, it was a complementary means and had to assume a basically political character for the achievement of specific demands. Only for some anarcho-syndicalists, notably for Pelloutier (who had broken with the Guesdist socialists and had moved closer to the anarchists), Paul Delesalle and Emile Pouget,7 did the general strike constitute a complete and fundamental revolutionary alternative, as opposed to not just electoralism and parliamentarism, but also the conspiratorial insurrectionism of the Bakuninist type that was advocated by many anarchists. It should be noted that, in Limoges, both the general strike of all trades and the solidarity strike for specific labor demands were approved as the most ambitious and all-embracing principles. Significantly, La Grève Générale became the official journal of the new confederal organization from the start. In every possible way, the idea was disseminated at all subsequent congresses and, to its impatient supporters, the general strike was seen more as a strategic element of propaganda and doctrinal differentiation, and only secondarily as a goal to be attained in the short-term.

The idea of the general strike underwent a wave of new support in 1899-1902. At that time, during the Dreyfus Affair, and at a time when debates were underway concerning the unification of the various socialist groups, the question of the general strike once again reassumed its previous role as an important dividing line for debate and political orientation for all the groups. At this stage, the role of champion for the general strike devolved upon Briand, especially at the general congress of socialist organizations, which met in December 1899 in Paris, where the ministerial participation of Millerand was condemned. At this congress Briand named the general strike as one of the means of propaganda and action that must be used by the socialist party alongside other instruments such as economic action, electoral action and revolutionary action or the boycott:

"Allez à la bataille avec le bulletin de vote, si vous le jugez bon, je n’y vois rien à redire. Allez-y avec des piques, des pistolets et des fusils: je me ferai un devoir, le cas échéant, de prendre place dans vos rangs…. Mais ne découragez pas les Travailleurs, quand ils tentent de s’unir por une action qui leur est proper et à l’efficacité de laquelle ils croient fermement. Puis la grève générale présente au militant cet avantage, elle a ceci de séduisant, qu’elle est en somme l’exercise d’un droit incontestable. C’est une revolution qui commenee dans la légalité. En se refusant au eollier de misère, l’ouvrier se révolte dans la plénitude de son droit.” 8

Briand’s speech was to form the basis for an emblematic text, La grève générale et la revolution, published in Paris in 1900. Other books and pamphlets soon followed: La grève générale, in 1901; Vers la grève générale, by Georges Yvetot, in 1902; and La grève générale reformiste et la grève générale révolutionnaire, in 1902, which featured the response to a series of articles by Jean Jaurès, who only accepted the general strike as a demonstration of workers power, and held that it should only be used for specific and clearly defined political goals and only under certain circumstances.

Once again, beginning in 1899, there were many nuanced positions and a great deal of ambiguity in relation to the general strike: a means to achieve specific goals, a political strike to put pressure on the government, an opportunity to unleash an insurrectional movement…. And, in another sense, its preparation and propaganda could both be seen as action complementary to the action of the socialist party, as—and this is how Pelloutier and other anarcho-syndicalists conceived it9--the principle instrument of affirmation of the unity of the workers, complementary to more narrowly defined trade union and mutualist action. The CGT tended to accept the most ambiguous formulations, in the sense of Briand’s positions; the general strike was a means of action that, on the economic terrain, heralded the emancipation of the workers, which did not exclude the use of other means on other terrains. Significantly, the general strike could now rely on its own press organ, La Voix du Peuple, and La grève générale ceased publication. La Voix du Peuple was also edited by an anarcho-syndicalist defender of the general strike, Emile Pouget. The CGT’s Lyon Congress, held in September 1901, identified the general strike with the social revolution and asserted that, now that the public powers and the reformist panaceas had failed, it was the only hope left for the workers. But a motion to call a general strike in support of the miners strike was defeated. A stage thus began where the general strike, theoretically victorious, would prove to be powerless in practice.

Under the leadership of Victor Griffuelhes, the CGT embraced the general strike as its effective everyday strategy. The Congress of Bourges, held in September 1904, launched an intensive propaganda campaign to convince the workers to refuse to work more than eight hours, beginning in May 1906. The campaign was a propaganda success, inspired in part by the activity of Paul Delesalle, but, when the time for action came, the strike movement, although significant, was far from being a general strike and, worse yet, few knew how to respond to the employers’ refusal to concede the eight-hour day. In any case, that strike was merely the first in a series of important general strikes affecting various industries in France: public education, in 1907; the post office, in 1909; and railroads, in 1910; every one of these strikes featured clear demands of a trade union nature. As Griffuelhes himself said at the time, the romantic period of the advocacy of the general strike had come to an end and a new phase had begun.10 At the same time, this shift implied for the anarcho-syndicalists, Emile Pataud and Emile Pouget, for example,11 an explicit realization that the general strike was a perspective, the idea of a utopia that would allow the workers’ power to unfold and develop. In any event, in October 1906, the so-called Charter of Amiens formally endorsed the idea of the general strike in the programmatic definition of the CGT:

“In daily protest work the union pursues the coordination of working class efforts, and the growth of the well being of workers, through the carrying out of immediate improvements, such as the diminution in work hours, the increase in salaries, etc. But this task is only one side of the work of syndicalism: it prepares complete emancipation, which can only be fulfilled by expropriation of the capitalists; it advocates as a method of action the general strike; and it considers that the union, today a resistance group will be, in the future, a group for production and redistribution, the basis of social reorganization.”12

Throughout this period, the general strike was also advocated as a means to prevent war and anti-militarism was above all one of the principle fields of activity for the anarchists.13 With regard to this aspect of anarchist propaganda, Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, in Holland, played a leading role, and had already advocated the general strike against war at the international congresses of 1891 and 1893, and was later to become the leader of the International Anti-Militarist Association formed at the Anti-militarist Congress held in Amsterdam in 1904. Anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists from Spain and France, among others, also participated in this movement. In 1886, Joseph Tortellier, mentioned above, delivered a speech at the founding congress of the ephemeral Ligue des Antipatriotes. Later, Georges Yvetot played a leading role in the founding of a Ligue Anti-militariste (December 1902), which was to later become the French section of the IWA. The group aroused a great deal of controversy and created a scandal due to its publication of certain inflammatory leaflets that advocated that the soldiers turn their guns on their officers and respond to mobilization with a strike and insurrection.

The CGT itself addressed the question of anti-militarism at the Congress of Marseilles in October 1908, when it called upon the workers to respond to a hypothetical declaration of war with the revolutionary general strike. It had previously devoted a great deal of effort, without success, to have the question officially entered on the agendas of various international trade union conferences and, finally, it broke with the International Secretariat led by the Germans, in early 1906. The Marseilles Accord was ratified by each CGT Congress up until 1914. The CGT even celebrated an extraordinary Congress from November 24-25 in 1912 specifically to discuss opposition to war. There, once again, the revolutionary general strike against war was ratified. As a demonstration of force and a means of pressure the CGT proclaimed, for December 16, 1912, a one day general strike accompanied by street demonstrations that mobilized some six hundred thousand workers in France.

This is not the place to address in detail the long and complex history of the ambiguities and failures of anarchists, syndicalists and socialists in their opposition to war. We need only mention the power exercised by the idea of the general strike with relation to this issue, even among certain French socialist tendencies such as the one led by Vaillant, who, after the experience of the Russian Revolution of 1905, did not hesitate to propose the combination of the slogans of general strike, insurrection and anti-militarism. Even Jaurès endorsed the general strike as one of the possible means of opposition and anti-militarist political pressure.

The formulation and discussion of the idea of the general strike was, to a great extent, a major part of the everyday activity of political and trade union militants. There was, however, a more theoretical variety of reflection, with major interpretive scope and less important immediate implications. A major role in this theoretical labor was played by Hubert Lagardelle and his magazine, Le Mouvement Socialiste, published in Paris between 1899 and 1914, as well as, most importantly, Georges Sorel. Lagardelle distributed an extensive survey to the main working class leaders of the time, both European and American, with questions concerning the general strike and revolutionary syndicalism, in August-September 1904. The responses to this survey would trigger an important debate about concepts and doctrines.14

Lagardelle had a major impact on the theoretical differentiation, no longer between revolutionary syndicalism and social democracy, but, more incisively, between revolutionary syndicalism and anarchism. His activity in this regard took place at precisely the moment when the disappointment of most anarchists with syndicalism, and also with the idea of the general strike, was beginning to become apparent and was being explicitly expressed. Many anarchists, besides the individualist anarchists, were now returning to the old idea of the insurrection and violence as much more decisive instruments than the general strike. In the anti-militarist movement referred to above anarchism was tending to abandon the theory of the general strike in order to advocate instead sabotage, insurrection, insubordination and desertion. In the more specifically anarchist movement, especially as it was represented at the Amsterdam Congress of 1907, Malatesta, in opposition to the syndicalist Monatte, obtained the support of the Congress majority for his theses against revolutionary syndicalism, which were especially hostile to the general strike: in his view, the idea that the workers would only have to fold their arms in order to make the bourgeoisie capitulate was absurd.15

It was in Le Mouvement Socialiste, in 1906, that Sorel16 published a preliminary version of his famous Reflections on Violence, a text that would soon become the touchstone for all theoretical considerations of the general strike. This work, and more generally all of Sorel’s works from this period, constituted an important bridge between French and Italian syndicalism and, at the same time, between the world of the working class militants and the more intellectual world of the universities. Sorel, who had written extensively on social democracy and the Second International, had made the transition to revolutionary syndicalism. In his Reflections Sorel harshly criticized the political strike (to which he opposed the virtues of the syndicalist general strike) because it detracted from the centrality of the class struggle in order to situate it on an ambiguous terrain of formal democratic demands, because it was clearly a policy that originated in the party and marginalized the impact of the trade unions, because it assumed a degree of confidence in the state and, finally, because it necessarily involved a predetermined view of the characteristics of the future society. In any case, the main contribution of Sorel’s text was his analysis of the positively mythical character of the idea of the general strike:

“… the general strike is indeed what I have said: the myth in which Socialism is wholly comprised, i.e. a body of images capable of evoking instinctively all the sentiments which correspond to the different manifestations of the war undertaken by Socialism against modern society. Strikes have engendered in the proletariat the noblest, deepest, and most moving sentiments that they possess; the general strike groups them all in a co-ordinated picture, and, by bringing them together, gives to each one of them its maximum of intensity; appealing to their painful memories of particular conflicts, it colours with an intense life all the details of the composition presented to consciousness. We thus obtain that intuition of Socialism which language cannot give us with perfect clearness—and we obtain it as a whole, perceived instantaneously.”17

Throughout the world, the French debates on the general strike became points of reference, especially in Italy and Spain. In Italy, the debate was conducted within the framework of the peculiar revolutionary syndicalism that had arisen within the Italian Socialist Party, rather than within the trade unions or among the anarcho-syndicalists, a kind of pro-syndicalism that was cultivated as an internal alternative to the electoralism and ministerialism of the official reformist leadership of the party. Its first theoreticians were the southern professors, Arturo Labriola and Enrico Leone.18

Labriola introduced and disseminated the French and Sorelian version of the general strike as a basic element of the economic struggle, and direct action as opposed to what he referred to as the illusion of the electoral struggle. For the most part, however, the best analyses of the general strike were produced after the strike movement of September 1904, waged to protest a long series of bloody attacks by the police and the army against working class demonstrations. This general strike affected two-thirds of Italy, and was particularly intense in the major cities of the north as well as the south. The strike was, according to Labriola and the syndicalists, an important instrument of articulation for the Italian working class by uniting the agrarian masses of the south with the working class of the north in one action. It also helped to rid the workers of any illusions concerning reformist parliamentarism and compelled the re-absorption of the socialist party into the class organizations, trade unions, and labor centers. These analyses, however, did not claim that the moment had arrived for unleashing the final revolutionary solution, since the latter required a long process of preparation. In any event, the general strike was only one means among others: this was demonstrated by the experience of the Russian Revolution of 1905.

Enrico Leone, for his part, conferred much more importance than Labriola on the necessary development of the trade union organizations and was explicitly opposed to what he called spontaneist conceptions of the general strike. He advocated the watchword of the general strike, to the contrary, as a way to help build the structure of the trade union struggle, to intensify the conscious discipline and collective organization of the workers. On the other hand, Leone still thought that the general strike as a means of action that should be combined with a certain amount of parliamentary action, although the latter was conceived as partial and supplemental to the more trade unionist and economic-oriented action.

2. The memory and persistence of internationalist syndicalism

As we have seen, for a long time the general strike was the war cry of European revolutionary syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism.

At the turn of the century, working class leaders and propagandists and some intellectuals believed they had discovered a plausible way to bring about the social revolution, one that was opposed to the electoral model of the gradual conquest of the liberal bourgeois state that was then being elaborated by German social democracy. It should be noted that, from this perspective, the slogan of the general strike was only a manifestation of the renewed force of trade unionism as the basic axis of articulation for the workers movement as a whole.

It was in the milieu of the trade union and the trade union struggle that, in fact, the most important debates and actions of the workers movement were carried out during both the first decade of the century—in the golden years of French revolutionary syndicalism—as well as in the 1880s and 1890s. Although historiography has on occasion overlooked this fact, the topic of the general strike was also of fundamental importance within the Second International. Here, the spectacular and famous confrontations between parliamentary socialist militants and anarchists during the first several congresses of the Second International were unable to conceal a more basic reality: the victory of the organizational and strategic model of German social democracy was no longer opposed to a hypothetical alternative anarchist model, but, basically, to a syndicalist model. During the period of the First International the organizational battle lines were drawn between the heterogeneous representation of various groups and associations versus the trade union-based structure. In the Second International there was also a struggle of this kind against the multiplicity of groups but, in addition, and in the most pronounced manner, there was also a struggle against trade union representation in favor of party representation. As everyone knows, the Second International ultimately became an international of socialist parties, but the process was a long one and ultimately took its toll on the very definition of the working class and the socialist political party. We need only recall that the first socialist and social democratic parties included organizations of diverse types, especially cooperatives and working class societies of resistance that had generally proclaimed their support for some form of political action.19

Syndicalism also underwent an extensive process of conceptual redefinition and did not display a uniform development in the various European countries. It is no simple matter to force the different situations to conform to a handful of hypothetical reference points such as British trade unionism, German social democracy or the Belgian model. It is instead much more justifiable to attribute a large number of the European trade union movements of the 1880s and 1890s to the concepts heralded, in one way or another, by the First International. Its characteristics may seem simple and, in any event, very basic. To begin with, the need for workers associations of resistance and the effectiveness of the latter as opposed to the old mutualist and cooperative forms. That is, the initial definition of trade unionism fundamentally as a movement of resistance and struggle against the employers, which accepted, it is true, a subordinate role for both mutualism and the cooperatives. Secondly, the hope placed in the ability of the movement to anticipate the structure of the future society, the latter being based on labor—not on capital—and on the social ownership of the means of production. Furthermore, the advisability of situating syndicalism outside the more institutionalized political struggle and the self-definition of the movement itself, at least, as apolitical and somewhat critical of parliamentarism. Finally, and to put an end to the ambiguous aspects of the older forms of workers struggle, its self-affirmation as a more radical workers movement than the other contemporary organizational and strategic proposals.

As one may see, these views summarize, in broad outlines, the heart of the basic constitutive ideas of the French revolutionary syndicalism of the turn of the century, although the latter reworked and re-elaborated these ideas and provided them with greater clarity and an industrial emphasis, surpassing the more trade- and skill-focused character of the First International. In any case, it is important to emphasize the many debts owed by the new syndicalism, especially if we intend to undertake an accurate discussion of the influence of the French—and Italian—experience on Spain.

In Spain, the legacy of the First International was overwhelming and, undoubtedly, much more influential and persistent than in France. In France, at the end of the century, there was a rediscovery of the trade union model that had obtained majority support in the congresses of the First International. In Spain, this rediscovery was not necessary. This was basically because, unlike what took place in France, in Spain a trade union central federation had been established—the Spanish Regional Federation of the IWA—which acted, to the greatest extent possible, insofar as it was capable, although this was only temporarily in 1872-1873, to unite almost all the existing trade union and working class organizations and groups. In this sense, the Spanish situation displayed a somewhat exceptional character within the First International, one that was perhaps only comparable—in the context of other logical parameters—with the Belgian and Italian situations.20

In doctrinal terms, one of the main internationalist conquests in Spain was the victory of syndicalism over the cooperative and mutualist movements. But the victory of 1870 was by no means definitive. During the Restoration it was necessary (a constantly renewed necessity) to affirm the primacy of the trade union organization and struggle against more mutualist and cooperative forms of association, which, furthermore, were gradually losing the revolutionary spirit they displayed in the past. It was thus necessary to repeat and to recall, again and again, the arguments and the ideas of the old internationalist syndicalism. One may easily discern the important and central character of the propaganda of the proletarian press, especially during this period, which no longer consisted of general appeals to organize but instead much more specific appeals to organize trade unions as opposed to exclusively mutualist organizations. A particularly significant example is that of Jaime Bisbe, a painter and future editor of Solidaridad Obrera, who, in the first writings by him that I have located, from December 1900, tried to convince his comrades again and again to abandon their exclusive faith in producers cooperatives and embrace the need for a trade unionism of resistance. This example may be read from various perspectives: besides the persistence of the influence of cooperativism that we have already mentioned, the fact that, on various occasions, the creation of small cooperatives was only a form of acting for oneself, as Bisbe said, that is, of setting up on one’s own by creating a small workshop or business.21

The importance of the syndicalist heritage of the First International also affected the socialists. There were many starting points and shared assumptions held by working class militants of all types, especially if we consider the latter in their full scope and do not merely restrict our attention to the analysis of a handful of outstanding leaders and their antagonistic positions. For many people, for example, the differences between the UGT and the Federation of Resistance to Capital or the Spanish Regional Federation of Societies of Resistance, which held anarcho-syndicalist positions, tend to be situated, rather than in major doctrinal or strategic questions, in the context of themes relating to greater or lesser moderation in the leadership of the movement, greater or lesser possibility of being accepted by the regime, the greater or lesser ability to lead and control the strike movement, etc. The major doctrinal reference points and reflections were, to a great extent, theoretical and appeared in practice as very harmonized. The parliamentarism of the social democratic model, given the reality of the regime, necessarily possessed a highly tactical character that was oriented towards taking advantage of the legal loopholes for propaganda. The hypothetical readiness that was most open to looking towards social legislation often came to nothing, given the slight or nonexistent inclination of the public powers and the employers to implement social reforms. The entire discussion about a hypothetical subordination of the trade union movement of the UGT to the political struggle of the PSOE came to grief in the face of the obvious reality of the poor electoral results achieved by the party.22 Finally, and not to overextend this part of our analysis, the alleged differences between the socialists and the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarchists, with respect to the role assigned to cooperation and mutualism, as the former were supporters of the famous multiple foundation, unlike the latter, was often reduced to attempts to obtain, in the one case, an established and continuous system of assistance to strengthen the trade union, and, in the case of the latter, a kind of support that was just as real, but not so structured and rigid.

It was not just a matter of the continuity in efforts to impose the associationism of resistance and minimizing the role of the most reformist cooperation and mutualism. The influence of the trade unionist ideas of the First International was also revealed by the reiteration of the idea that the trade unions would be prefigurations of the society of the future. It was, certainly, a theme that would end up being endorsed almost exclusively by the anarcho-syndicalists and syndicalists, and much less by the anarchists and socialists, but this fact did not prevent the idea from continuing to exercise extensive influence on the movement. It is easy, for example, to find in the workers press the records and copies of the reports of the Belgian internationalists that foresaw the structure of the society of the future as a simple extension and further development of the trade union structure. Therefore, and obviously outside of any hypothetical influence of French revolutionary syndicalism, when El Grito del Pueblo inaugurated its famous campaign for the eight hour day in 1886, it included, as a matter of course, the reprinting of a series of the most important reports presented by the Belgians at Basel in 1869.23

3. Spanish anarcho-syndicalism and the Second International

We could ask ourselves to what extent the existence of the Second International and the dissemination of reports of its debates in Spain affected the syndicalist tradition we have been discussing. With regard to this question we must begin by saying that the paucity of information on this subject is most striking, especially in relation to the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists. In fact, in Spain the Second International was not really of any importance in political discussions until 1910-1912. This was not just the result of a lack of information. In contemporary Spanish discussions the Second International was usually presented as simply a place for debates and confrontations between militant minorities—anarchists and socialists—and the most theoretical and doctrinal debates were the object of the least attention. Soon, the anarchists in Spain came to ignore the Second International, as they were more concerned with an internal debate whose purpose was to distance the movement from parliamentary socialism and also to rid the movement of what some called the associational obstacle, that is, syndicalism.

At first there were a few timid attempts to participate in the Second International that came to fruition, in fact, only at the Brussels Congress in 1891. In the congresses of 1889 the Spanish delegation, as is known, was split. The largest number of delegates attended the Congress on Rue Lancry, the possibilist congress: Fernando Fulgueroso, Baldomero Oller, José Camps and Eudaldo Xuriguera, a delegation dominated by the traditional Catalan syndicalism of Tres Clases de Vapor and El Obrero. On the other hand, Pablo Iglesias and José Mesa attended the Congress at Petrelle. Furthermore, there was another delegation, often overlooked, composed of anarchists who attended a self-styled International Anarchist Conference. His attendance sponsored by El Productor of Barcelona, Fernando Tarrida del Mármol appeared for the first time on the same platform with French anarchism.24

In 1891, in Brussels, it was El Productor and Tramontana, both of Barcelona, as well as La Anarquía, of Madrid, that were most adamant in their defense of anarcho-syndicalism.25 It was at the Brussels Congress that the first efforts to limit the anarchist presence as well as to exercise control over the trade union delegations began. The Spanish delegates, besides Pablo Iglesias, were, at first, Pedro Esteve and Fernando Tarrida, who represented forty-two workers societies integrated into the Federation of Resistance (also called the Pact of Unity and Solidarity). Iglesias clearly supported the German positions and played a decisive role in excluding the Spanish anarchists; he claimed that they had opposed the peaceful celebration of May 1 and that they did not acknowledge the viability of labor legislation, one of the fundamental points on the Congress agenda. Iglesias thus succeeded in obtaining for himself and indirectly for the UGT the official Spanish representation to the Second International, a role that the socialists would never relinquish. From then on, the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists remained outside the Second International. They did not bother to attend the Zurich Congress in 1893. They did, however, participate in the battle of London in 1896.26 At the latter Congress, which would mark a serious defeat for the anarchists and a clear victory for German social democracy, Malatesta had engineered, from London, where he was in exile, an extensive propaganda campaign to allow the anarchists to attend the congress and, if they were not allowed to do so, he would expose the sectarian character of the new international organization. He gained the support of militant Spanish anarchism, first from La Idea Libre of Madrid, and then from Barcelona, where a commission of delegates of the workers societies was formed to defend the criteria proposed by Malatesta’s London Anarchist Committee. Its members were imprisoned as a result of the attack that led to the famous trial of Montjuic. Finally, at the Congress, Malatesta, among many other mandates, introduced the delegation of forty-two workers societies—which was not recognized by the credentials committee because it failed to meet the technical requirements—and it must be noted that Francisco Ferrer y Guardia attempted—from Paris—to attend as well, in the name of a so-called Sociedad Demófilo de San Vicente de Alcántara, which the Congress organizers declared that they had never heard of. Once again, therefore, the Spanish delegation was limited to the socialist and UGT representatives: Iglesias, Vera, Muñoz, Carcía Quejido, Balaguer—representing the Sociedad de Peluqueros de Barcelona—and Fornemont—representing the Federación de Agricultores de Cataluña.

Without going into details, we may point out that this exclusion took place at the same time that the anarchist movement was beginning to distance itself from the Second International. The presence of anarchist delegates in 1891 could still be considered as a real attempt to contribute to the debate on the more or less trade unionist and more or less broad-based character of the reorganized International but, with the events at the London congress, anarchist propaganda took on a clear propagandistic and critical goal. The fact is that the Spanish anarchists appeared—not without internal debates—much more prepared to try to establish some kind of specifically anarchist international links, and had abandoned any interest in establishing such links between trade unions. They were present in Chicago in 1893, with Pedro Esteve, who was living in New York at the time.27 Ricardo Mella, however, was named as the Spanish delegate, along with Francisco Tomás and José López Montenegro. Previously, his frustrated attempt to participate in the Brussels Congress was followed by Esteve’s participation in the new international anarchist conference held in Brussels immediately following the Congress of the Second International.28 And despite the fact that the repression unleashed in Spain in 1896 prevented the attendance of the Spanish delegates at the London conference and the new parallel anarchist organization, the road towards a specific and separate anarchist organization had now become clear.

Doctrinally, although it was not directly criticized, the impact of these first congresses of the Second International was very limited, despite the fact that they represented a first step towards open discussion concerning the direction and characteristics that the movement should take. This may have been because, in a situation where the Spanish anarchists displayed very little enthusiasm for trade union activity after the failure of the FTRE and the movement that was reconstructed on the basis of the May Day demonstrations, they did not seem to have very much interest in defending a reconstruction of the International. In the libertarian camp, the only important contribution that originated, even though in an indirect way, from the debates of the Second International, was the discussion concerning the concept of socialism. An attempt was made to reestablish the socialist nature of anarchism, and to avoid the identification of the socialist label exclusively with the version imposed by German social democracy through the International. This theme was notably taken up by the heterogeneous group that published Ciencia Social in Barcelona: Prat, Corominas, Brossa, etc. This group accepted and disseminated the thesis of Augustin Hamon, who was determined to present the anarchists as a fraction of international socialism.29 It is significant that, by taking this path, many Spanish anarchists also rediscovered an old theme of the First International: to stress, as a fundamental element of socialist thought, the faith in a society where the means of production will be socialized.

4. The limited dissemination of French revolutionary syndicalism in Spain

We need only recall a few dates in order to establish a meaningful chronology with respect to French revolutionary syndicalism.30 Beginning in 1887, discussions about the general strike in association with the campaign for the eight-hour day and the May Day demonstrations were initiated by Joseph Tortelier, Arístide Briand and Fernand Pelloutier, successively. In 1892, inspired by Pelloutier, the National Federation of the Bourses du Travail was formed. In the following year the Organizing Committee for the General Strike was created by various elements of the Bourses du Travail and a few trade unions, and this Committee published the first issue of its journal, La Grève Générale. Within the Fédération Nationale des Syndicats, meanwhile, the anti-Guesdists were gaining ground and the majority voted in favor of founding, in September 1895, at the Congress of Limoges, the famous Confédération Générale du Travail. The Confederation would not really expand until it combined with the movement of the Bourses du Travail in 1902. Then, under the leadership of Victor Griffuelhes (Georges Yvetot was the secretary of the Federation of the Bourses du Travail, which was now integrated into the CGT), the golden age of the CGT began and, more generally, the golden age of French revolutionary syndicalism. The so-called Charter of Amiens, approved in October 1906, became its fundamental programmatic text. It is during this period, until maybe around 1909-1910, that the stage of the most significant theoretical production must be situated. In addition to texts on the general strike by Pelloutier (1895), Briand (1899), Lagardelle (1905), Sorel (with his famous Reflections on Violence, published in 1908), Berth (1908), etc., texts devoted to an explanation and definition of syndicalism itself were also published, with works by Pelloutier (1897, 1900, 1902), Sorel (1898, 1906, 1908), Delesalle (1905, 1907), Pouget (1905, 1906, 1908, 1909, 1910), Yvetot (1908), Griffuelhes (1908), Lagardelle (1911), Jouhaux (1911), etc., not to forget the panoramic treatments contributed by such authors as Challaje (1909) and Leroy (1913).31 Finally, the press played an important theoretical role, especially La Père Peinard (1889, 1894-1896), edited by Emile Pouget; La Voix du Peuple, the journal of the CGT, edited from 1900 to 1909 by Pouget; and Le Mouvement Socialiste (1899-1914), edited by Hubert Lagardelle.

In my view, the direct and immediate influence of this French revolutionary syndicalism in Spain has often been exaggerated,32 perhaps because no precise chronology has been established for it. Its influence was undoubtedly significant, over the long term, but it was greater in the years after 1919 and much less before that, in the years that we are examining here. At the turn of the century, the availability of books and articles by the principal French theoreticians was quite limited in Spain. Furthermore, the information that did reach Spain was largely filtered through the lens, often critical and in any case reticent, of the anarchists.

The list of translations of revolutionary syndicalist French books and pamphlets published in Spain during the first decade or so of the century is a short one, and almost all of them were published on the initiative of the Ferrer Guardia’s group by way of the publications of La Huelga General and The Modern School:33

1902 El trabajador y la huelga general (The Worker and the General Strike)
1903 Por qué la huelga general. Su objeto. Sus medios. El dia siguiente. La actitud de los partidos politicos (Why the General Strike: Its Purpose; Its Methods; The Day after the Strike; The Attitude of the Political Parties) (a text by the CGT and the General Strike Committee)

1904 A. Briand, La huelga general y la revolución (discurso integro pronunciado por A. Briand en el congreso general del PSF en 1899) (The General Strike and the Revolution—Complete Text of a Speech by A. Briand Delivered at the General Congress of the PSF in 1899)
E. Pouget, Las bases del sindicalismo (The Basis of Trade Unionism)
E. Pouget, El sindicato (The Trade Union)

1906 La jornada de ocho horas (texto de la CGT en Francia) (The Eight-Hour Day—Text published by the French CGT)

1908 E. Pouget, La CGT en Francia (The CGT in France)

1908-1909 G. Sorel, El porvenir de los sindicatos obreros (The Future of the Workers Trade Unions)
G. Sorel, La ruina del mundo antiguo (The Ruin of the Ancient World)

1909 G. Yvetot, ABC Sindicalista
1911 E. Pataud and E. Pouget, Cómo haremos la revolución (2 Vols.) (How We Shall Bring About the Revolution)
V. Griffuelhes, El sindicalismo revolucionario (Revolutionary Syndicalism)

1912 E. Pouget, El sindicalismo (Trade Unionism)

As you can see, the translations were of works that addressed the topic of the general strike at first and, after 1904, they displayed a more general interest in the questions of trade unionism.34 Many of these translations are mere pamphlets. All together, there were thirteen titles translated between 1902 and 1912, the period before 1914 under consideration here. Nothing by Delasalle was translated. Nothing by Lagardelle. The works of these authors would not be translated and published until the twenties by the Biblioteca Nueva in Madrid. Nothing by Pelloutier was translated during the first decade of the century. His pamphlet, El arte y la rebeldía (Art and Revolt) would be translated and published in 1917; an extract from his Histoire des Bourses du Travail, under the title of Autonomía y federalismo, was translated and published in 1922. Few works by the other authors of French syndicalism would ever be translated and published, with the possible exception of Pouget.

This information is actually quite uninformative taken in isolation. It must be compared, for example, not with the translations of the major figures of anarchism (Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Reclus), but with the Spanish translations of the major French anarchists of the period. In this case, apart from the special case of Reclus (at least twenty-three works, some of them quite long, translated prior to 1914), we must mention the publication of twelve different texts by Jean Grave, eleven by Charles Malato, ten by Augustin Hamon, eight by Sébastian Faure, five by Paraf-Javal, three by André Girard, etc.

Nor would the picture be substantially different if we include review articles in the Spanish anarchist press in our survey. Here and there one may encounter a series of articles or feature stories translated in the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist press of Spain, but there was no avalanche of such articles and they were rather few in number. For instance, articles on Pelloutier in Ciencia Nueva, from 1895-1896, and, later, in Acción Libertaria (Gijón), in 1910-1911. There was a piece about Delasalle in La Revista Blanca at the turn of the century. And some articles about Pouget in El Trabajo (Sabadell), between 1904 and 1910. And an article about Griffuelhes in Solidaridad Obrera, for example, in 1913.

Logically, the influence of French syndicalism in Spain should not be evaluated exclusively on the basis of the number of translations. There were other channels of dissemination, such as the more or less regular reports that arrived by way of the French press. Contact with La Voix du Peuple was quite regular during this period, but never rivaled the privileged relation established with Les Temps Nouveaux, edited by Jean Grave. In any event, what was perhaps most significant, in the long run, was not so much the relative lack of awareness of the most complex theoretical efforts of French revolutionary syndicalism, as the analyses of the scale of their dissemination, especially with regard to the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist press. In this connection, the importance of the Paris correspondents and journalists is clear. We can take it for granted that none of them was enthusiastic about syndicalism. Those whose contributions were most frequent and well known were Charles Malato, Pedro Vallina, Juan Cortada and Acracio Progreso.35 Furthermore, the least that can be said is that they were always reticent with regard to syndicalism, and were more interested in the discussion of anarchist doctrinal problems than in the dissemination of the new syndicalist theories. More or less the same can be said of the anarchist propagandists living in Spain. In this case, generally, we may point out a certain division between a small group of anarcho-syndicalist theorists, who were devoted to presenting the new French syndicalism as the product of an anarchist current that was in favor of trade union action, and a majority of anarchists who were open to the most spectacular and exciting aspects of the French experience (especially the slogan of the general strike and anti-militarist propaganda), but who were also very wary of the more narrowly trade unionist and mutualist aspects of the movement.

José Prat and Ricardo Mella are to be situated among the former, especially, as we shall see, after 1909-1910, but most Spanish anarchists, I would maintain, were situated, with slight variations, among the latter faction. This does not rule out a certain degree of support for syndicalism, but the latter was always justified with respect to the goals and struggles of others. Syndicalism, in the words of Leopoldo Bonafulla,36 was at the turn of the century a weapon of struggle, a method of propaganda, and that is why the anarchists must support it. The anarchists’ argument in favor of the trade unions (and not necessarily the revolutionary syndicalism formulated by the French) was as follows: if the anarchists remain aloof from the trade unions, the latter will fall into the hands of the parliamentary socialists and reformists; whereas, if the anarchists get involved in the trade unions—in this case they could avail themselves of the French example—the latter will be easily persuaded to abandon parliamentarism and their expectations with regard to statist reformism. In any event, they must make it clear that syndicalism in itself is not sufficient. They should only attempt to support and aid the revolutionary struggle and the general strike, a revolutionary general strike that would necessarily be accompanied by violence and would enhance the capabilities and organizational structures of the trade unions. Syndicalism could prepare the terrain for the revolution, but nothing more.

We could provide many examples of this kind of reasoning. There were the impatient ones, like López Montenegro, and, for a while, Tarrida del Mármol, who were always expecting the outbreak of the mass revolt. There were other more prudent individuals, like Anselmo Lorenzo. And the experience of the general strike in Barcelona in 1902 could only lend support to the more cautious position. In either case, however, each side stood by its arguments and we may point out that it was not necessary to enter into a deep debate about the general strike, nor was it necessary to expound at length about the great themes related to revolutionary syndicalism and its aspirations in order to intervene decisively in the political training and articulation of the working class.

A good example of all this may be the campaign, initiated by the Federation of the Bourses du Travail and the CGT, to force the adoption of the eight-hour day beginning on May 1, 1906, by way of the refusal of the workers to work more than eight hours. The news of this campaign quickly reached Spain. Already in May 1905, El Productor had been apprised of the news. But its Paris correspondent, E. Contreras, submitted the following commentary:

“Some anarchists, without adjectives, also called attention to other views, saying that the supporters of the eight-hour day would be miserably wasting their time, that what we desire is the abolition of all useless labor. When all the individuals in society, they tell us, are working at useful jobs, then we will be able to work, not eight hours, but each according to his needs.”37

Despite this caveat, the fact is that the French appeal encountered a great deal of support in the Spanish workers movement, especially in the Catalonian movement. The Unión Local de Sociedades Obreras of Barcelona made this theme its leading campaign and, in fact, the campaign served as the preparation for the creation, in 1907, of the movement of Solidaridad Obrera. Furthermore, on the basis of anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist propaganda, the campaign would be seen as the opportunity to resume propaganda for the general strike. This was how it was presented by Tierra y Libertad, in Madrid, and El Productor, in Barcelona. It was then, during the most intensive stage of the propaganda campaign, that Anselmo Lorenzo felt obliged to intervene and published the article entitled, “After the Strike” in Tierra y Libertad in December 1905. According to Lorenzo, we must ask ourselves this question: “What must the proletariat do on the day after the victory of the general strike?”. And he reminded his readers that syndicalism—created for the defense of the wage laborers—would immediately lose its reason for existence “on the day after the strike, when wage labor will have disappeared.”38

In this first stage, the Spanish anarchists were fundamentally resolved to engage in the search for a suitable doctrinal configuration and a specific structure and dynamic. For this reason they were more likely to focus on the more generic and cosmopolitan anarchism of Paris than on the syndicalist experience. The course laid down during the 1890s, with the participation and obvious interest of the main Spanish theoreticians and propagandists in the international meetings of the anarchists, was still followed. This course was reaffirmed at the International Anarchist Congress of 1900, after intense debates and discussions about the nature of anarchism.39 There was also a strong anarchist presence and enthusiasm at the anti-militarist congress at Amsterdam in 1904.40 And the recent denunciations directed at the inquisitorial Spain of 1905-1906, during the repression unleashed after the failed assassination attempt aimed at Alfonso XIII in Paris, only served to further immerse Spanish anarchism in the cosmopolitan anarchism of the major figures and celebrities.

Another manifestation of the Spanish anarchists’ reluctance to endorse French syndicalism was their reaction to the International Anarchist Congress of Amsterdam in 1907. It was at this congress that the famous debate between Errico Malatesta and Pierre Monatte took place, concerning the implications of revolutionary syndicalism and whether or not anarchists should support it. The anarchists in Barcelona attempted to send a delegation. The Centro de Estudios Sociales wanted to send a delegate. They could not and instead asked Tarrida del Mármol to attend on their behalf. Tarrida del Mármol, however, was unable to arrive at the congress before it was adjourned. In any event, there was a significant dissemination of the texts of the debates and the resolutions of the congress. We hardly need to mention that Tierra y Libertad, the main press outlet that reported on the Amsterdam Congress, as well as all the anarchist groups that expressed their opinions on the Congress, enthusiastically praised Malatesta’s intervention, which only reaffirmed the long-held positions of Spanish anarchism with regard to syndicalism, especially the French variety.41

The initial success of Solidaridad Obrera and the creation of the CNT appeared to alter the picture that we have sketched up to this point. It was then that a real theoretical elaboration with regard to syndicalism began, one that took the French experience into account—and to some extent, the Italian experience as well. The most important contributors to this debate were José Prat (with La burguesía y el proletariado (1909) and his widely distributed speech, Sindicalismo y socialismo (1910)) and Ricardo Mella (the latter, particularly, by way of his contributions to Acción Libertaria, in Gijón, beginning in 1910-1911). Even Anselmo Lorenzo accepted, with fewer reservations, the new syndicalism (especially in his Hacía la emancipación (1914)). All of them stood on the basis, of course, of the syndicalist and internationalist tradition of the 19th century.

However, this opening to French revolutionary syndicalism would soon experience a setback in the decline in the revolutionary fervor of the French CGT itself and in the disappointment that followed in the wake of International Trade Union Congress held in London in September-October 1913.42 At first it seemed that this congress could present the alternative of revolutionary syndicalism as opposed to the Trade Union Secretariat of the Second International, which was dominated by the German trade unions and Karl Legien. In any event, it could have revealed the degree to which the movement had become international. As it turned out, however, the meeting was dominated almost exclusively by anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, with a rather sparse trade union attendance. The CGT did not want to participate and even the French revolutionary syndicalists turned their backs on the congress. Furthermore, the presence of the Unione Sindicale Italiana—the only organization with any significant membership that attended the Congress—was only marginal. Even the Industrial Workers of the World did not send a delegation. The incipient CNT, still illegal, did not yet have either numerical weight or political force. Ultimately, taken as a whole, the thirty-three delegates representing twelve countries only represented about 200,000 trade union members, and about half of them were from the Italian federation. Shortly before the congress opened, it was reported that Legien’s Secretariat represented more than nine million trade union members. The London Congress was dominated by debates between the Dutch and the Germans, especially between Cornelissen and the German Kater. Discussions about credentials for admittance to the Congress and about whether or not to allow the attendance of delegates sent by organizations that were not, strictly speaking, trade unions, as well as about how formalized the international organization they sought to form should be, monopolized almost all the time of the Congress. It was resolved to leave the programmatic and tactical definitions for later determination. The only positive resolution that was approved was a manifesto in which anarchist rather than syndicalist accents predominated. Spain was represented by Rodríguez Romero, the delegate of various peasant organizations; Suárez Duque, from the Workers Confederation of La Coruña; and José Negre, who represented many Catalonian workers organizations. Pedro Vallina, in exile at that time in London, was also present at the Congress. After the Congress, Negre and Solidaridad Obrera in particular attempted to rely on their experiences at the Congress to help elaborate the definition and programmatic structure of the CNT and, even though they did so only implicitly, their explanations revealed bitter recriminations directed at the French CGT. Thus, in the end, the Congress had done nothing but register the weakness of the revolutionary syndicalist movement on an international scale. The years of war that would follow were to alter this situation.

5. Italy

Revolutionary syndicalism in Italy assumed some very peculiar characteristics.43 To begin with, it was—quite unlike the situation in France, Spain and other countries—an alternative generated within the Italian Socialist Party itself. It therefore affected, at least initially, a particular fraction of the political elite and leadership elements of the party and had much less influence on trade union structures. It thus played a role, during the first years of its existence, within the framework of debates concerning the viability of the political struggle and the policy of party alliances; and assertions about the development of actual trade union affairs and the defense, for example, of direct action or the general strike, always appeared to be subordinated to these themes that were considered to be more fundamental. The initial impulse in favor of revolutionary syndicalism was provided by Arturo Labriola and Avanguardia socialista in Milan (1902-1907) and Enrico Leone and his journal Il Divenire social in Rome (1905-1919). Other sources included the tribune of the left known as Pagine libere in Lugano (1907-1911), edited by Angelo Alighiero Olivetti. Once the ideas of revolutionary syndicalism failed to make headway in the party, a more strictly syndicalist propaganda and activity were initiated. A congress of the various syndicalist groups, held in Ferrara in July 1907, approved a resolution to break with the PSI and immediately proclaimed its intention to spearhead a campaign within the CGL to replace the reformist leadership of the recently founded confederation. Shortly afterwards, a Comitato Nazionale dell’Azione Diretta was formed in November 1907, for the purpose of establishing an institution that would facilitate relations among the trade unions—especially the railroad workers—and the local labor centers that were hostile to the leadership of the General Confederation. At that time the leading role in revolutionary syndicalist propaganda passed to Alceste DeAmbris and L’Internazionale in Parma, particularly because of the powerful strike movement that had arisen among the peasants around Parma in 1908. DeAmbris sought to establish very close relations with the French CGT and especially with La Vie Ouvriere, edited by Monatte, which had replaced La Voix du Peuple as the confederation’s official journal. Henceforth, the more specifically trade union-oriented aspects of the movement were developed: direct action, legitimization of the boycott and sabotage, strengthening inter-trade solidarity and the role of local groups in opposition to the centralized leadership groups of the industrial federations, advocacy of the strike weapon, etc. The loss of the battle in the CGL, which came to a head in 1911 during the Libya crisis, made a split inevitable. Finally, in November 1912, at the Congress of Modena, the Unione Sindicale Italiana was formed, which had fewer than 100,000 members in December 1913, as compared to the 350,000 workers who belonged to the CGL.

The new USI contained syndicalists, anarchists and republicans. Up until the foundation of the USI the anarchists had played a rather marginal role in the debates in Italy about revolutionary syndicalism, in part because they had been deeply absorbed in diverse organizational efforts of their own, always under the inspiration of Malatesta, who was practically always in exile.44 Only Luigi Fabbri, in Il Pensiero in Rome (1903-1911) made any effort to participate in the debate. In any event, it would be in relation to the newly formed USI that Italian anarcho-syndicalism would develop, and DeAmbris was soon replaced by Armando Borghi as leader of the federation.

As one would expect, the relation between Spanish anarcho-syndicalism and Italian revolutionary syndicalism was, compared to the relation of the former and the French movement, very tenuous. Nonetheless, there was such a relation, although it has been systematically ignored. The Spaniards who were most strictly anarcho-syndicalist and favorable to syndicalism, especially José Prat, kept informed of events in Italy and made an effort to analyze and comment on both French syndicalism and the technical elaborations of the Italians. In order to confirm this we need only peruse, for example, the books and articles by Prat, with quotations, often quite explicit, from Leone, Labriola and—from a different perspective—Enrico Ferri. For its part, anarchism, somewhat reticent with regard to getting involved with revolutionary syndicalism, magnified its relation with Fabbri and thus, for example, El Productor (Barcelona) gave regular reports on the articles and contents of Il Pensiero. We may make this observation: it is clear that the anarchists who were most critical with regard to the French experience were also those who were most influenced by Malatesta. Later, the strikes in Parma and the movement of DeAmbris would be explicitly featured as exemplary in the pages of Solidaridad Obrera.

The volume of works by Italian anarchist and syndicalist authors that were translated into Spanish during the period we are examining was considerable. A list of these translations, with the exception of the works of Malatesta, follows:45

1897 L. Fabbri, Influencias burguesas sobre el anarquismo (Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism)
P. Gori, El 1 de mayo

1900 F. S. Merlino, Lo que quieren los libertarios (What the Libertarians Want)

1904 C. Cafiero, Anarquía y comunismo
S. Merlino, Por qué somos anarquistas? (Why Are We Anarchists?)

1905 P. Gori, La anarquía ante los tribunals (Anarchy on Trial)
1906 P. Gori, Ciencia y religion

1908 P. Gori, Bases morales y sociológicos de la anarquía (Moral and Sociological Bases of Anarchy)
L. Fabbri, Sindicalismo y anarquismo

1909-1910 A. Labriola, Reforma y revolución social
A. Labriola, El sindicalismo revolucionario
A. Labriola, Las diosas de la vida (The Goddesses of Life)
E. Leone, El sindicalismo
F. S. Merlino, Socialismo o monopolismo?

1912 L. Fabbri, El ideal de la libertad
A. Labriola, Los limites del sindicalismo revolucionario

We must point out that in many cases, with regard to the pamphlets, many editions were printed and many copies were distributed. But this is true for the most part only with regard to the texts by Gori, Merlino and Cafiero, and in some cases those by Fabbri. This should be contrasted with the fact of the relative abundance of books, rather than mere pamphlets, by Labriola, Leone and Fabbri. For his part, Malatesta, between 1889 and 1914, saw at least six different works translated, almost all of them being propaganda pamphlets: Entre campesinos, En el café, La Anarquía, El sufragio universal, etc., all of which underwent numerous printings and were distributed in large numbers.

6. By way of conclusion

In this text, I have been especially interested in shedding light on two questions. First of all, to inquire about the impact in Spain of the trade union model that had been elaborated in the orbit of the First International. Secondly, the limitations of the direct presence of French revolutionary syndicalism in Spain, at least at first, as well as the reticence of Spanish anarchism to embrace it. Along with, incidentally, the relative importance of the prevailing knowledge of the Italian situation, a topic that has been extremely marginalized by the historiography of the workers movement in Spain. This is not intended to deny the importance of what we shall call Spanish revolutionary syndicalism even as early as 1910-1912 and, as is well known, especially since 1918-1919. We simply want to present a series of considerations that should be quite elementary: the CNT was derived from neither the implementation of anarchism at the beginning of the century, nor was it, in terms of doctrine, the product of French revolutionary syndicalism. This is true despite the convergence of the latter with some of the anarcho-syndicalist attitudes expressed by such people as José Prat and Ricardo Mella. The CNT was built on the foundations of a new militant generation that would embrace anarcho-syndicalism as a result of the trade union experiences in the years of acute political crisis and structural changes in the working class population. Spanish revolutionary syndicalism was only to a very minor degree the product of theoretical reflections or doctrinal influences and instead was very much more the result of the situation in which the trade union movement, due to a lack of other options, would acquire the highest degree of militancy as the fundamental articulating axis of the working class.

We must, in addition, and this involves something quite distinct, grant a great deal of importance to the working class culture of the trade union rank and file, built upon the basis of fundamentally nineteenth-century conceptual elements: affirmation of class identity; confidence in their own capabilities of self-assertion without any outside help; cooperativism and mutualism, which are intended to assure the stability and continuity of the movement; and finally, education and self-education in order to connect with a broader republican and secular culture.

The spread of the slogan of the general strike in Spain did not change anything drastically. It was seen as one form of agitation to mobilize action and in Spain it underwent very few important theoretical developments. It was, as we said, a slogan and, only to a very minor extent, a concept that was to be explained or debated. In France, first a relation had been established, perhaps an elementary one, between the general strike and the social revolution (Tortellier); later, in a much more complicated way, the connection between the mutualist culture and the creation of a new man became a topic for discussion and debate (Pelloutier), as well as the possibility of being an alternative, over the long term, to the electoral struggle advocated by the socialist parties (Pouget, Griffuelhes); there was also an attempt to re-elaborate the concept in a more ordered and controlled way (Jaurès) and, finally, the explanation of its mythical features, with its ability to bring about the unification of the working class (Sorel). Evidently, none of these permutations can be discovered in Spain. Here, in practice, the general strike became the usual way in which a form and a perspective was imposed on disorderly and isolated social explosions. At the same time, in many other cases, it helped the anarchists to overcome their unease with everyday trade union activities.

Pere Gabriel

Translated from the Spanish original:

Pere Gabriel, “Sindicalismo y huelga. Sindicalismo revolucionario francés e italiano. Su introducción en España”, Ayer, no. 4, 1991, pp. 15-45.

  • 1. See: Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The History of Trade Unionism, 1666-1920, Madrid, 1990, Chapter 3. Originally published in London in 1894. And see also: Alexandre Zévaès, Le syndicalisme contemporain, Paris, no date, Appendix VIII.
  • 2. See, for example, the excerpts included in D. DeSanti, Los socialistas utópicos, Barcelona, 1973, pp. 110 et seq.
  • 3. L. Freymond: La Primera Internacional, Vol. I, Madrid, 1973, pp. 564-565.
  • 4. Quoted by R. Brécy: La grève générale en France, Paris, 1969, p. 14. L’Internationale, Brussels, March 27, 1869, “Nouvelles de l’exterieur”.

    We could provide many more such examples. Especially after the Commune, many exiled communards insisted on it, as well as significant sectors of the Spanish Bakuninism, although for the latter, in 1873, after the insurrection of Alcoy, the revolutionary general strike would be explicitly embraced as a long-term goal.See A. Zévaès: op. cit., pp. 348 et seq. and J. Termes: Anarquismo en España. La Primera Internacional, 1864-1881. Barcelona, 1972, pp. 216 et seq. and 404 et seq.

  • 5. See, for example, T. Pellinc: American Labor, Chicago, 1960, Chapter III.
  • 6. See, in particular, L. Julliard: Fernand Pelloutier et les origins du syndicalisme d’action directe, Paris, 1985. For the biographies of the workers leaders in France, it is always useful to consult J. Maitron: Diccionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier française, Paris, 1964-1984.
  • 7. Concerning Delesalle, see the classic book by J. Maitron: Le syndicalisme révolutionnaire: Paul Delesalle, Paris, 1952. Concerning Pouget, see Ch. Degoustine: Pouget. Les matins noirs du syndicalisme, Paris, 1972.
  • 8. See the transcript of this speech included in A. Aubert: Briand. So vie politique…., Paris, 1928, p. 36.
  • 9. See R. Brécy: op. cit., p. 73.
  • 10. V. Griffuelhes: L’action syndicaliste, Paris, 1908.
  • 11. Comment nous ferons la Révolution, Paris, n.d. (1909).
  • 12. An English translation of the Charter of Amiens can be found online at:
  • 13. A good source for this period is J. Maitron: op. cit., and T. Abelló: Les relacions internacionals de l’anarquisme catalá (1881-1914), Barcelona, 1987.
  • 14. H. Lagardelle: La grève générale et le socialisme, Paris, 1905. See also: Syndicalisme et socialisme, Paris, 1908, and Le socialisme ouvrier, Paris, 1911.
  • 15. Congres anarchiste tenu a Amsterdam. Aout 1907. Paris, 1908, quoted by H. Dubief, op. cit.
  • 16. Concerning Sorel, see especially G. Sorel: Scritti politici e filosofici, Giovanna Cavallari, ed., Turin, 1975; S. Sand: L’illusion du politique: Georges Sorel et le débat intellectuel. Paris, 1984; J. Julliard and S. Sand: G. Sorel en son temps. Paris, 1985.
  • 17. Georges Sorel, Reflections on Violence, tr. T. E. Hulme, Collier Books, New York, 1972, pp. 127-128.
  • 18. The classic work on Labriola is D. Maricco: Arturo Labriola e il sindicalismo rívoluzionario in Italia, Turin, 1970. The following work should also be consulted: A. Labriola: Storia di dieci anni, 1899-1909, Milan, 1975 (the first edition was published in 1910). Concerning Leone, see W. Cianinazzi: L’itinerario di Enrico Leone, Milan, 1989.
  • 19. This is not the place to include an extensive bibliography on the Second International. It is enough to cite the studies and classic works of G. Haupt, particularly La Deuxième Internationale, 1889-1914, Paris, 1964, and the collection of documents of the Bureau Socialiste Internationale, Paris, 1969.
  • 20. In order to realize the powerful trade union dimension assumed by the First International in many countries, one may consult, in particular, E. Labrousse (ed.): La 1 Internationale. L’Institution, l’implantation, le rayonnement, Paris, 1969. For Spain, L. Termes: Anarquismo y sindicalismo en España (1868-1888), Dordrecht, 1969. For Italy, A. Romano: Storia del movimento socialista in Italia, 1861-1882, 3 Vols., Bari, 1966-1967. Also, A. Bonifazi and G. Salvarini, Dalla parte dei lavoratorio Storia del movimento sindicale italiano, Vol. I, Milan, 1976.
  • 21. “Imposibilidad moral y material”, in the Supplement to La Revista Blanca, December 8, 1900.
  • 22. See, particularly, M. Pérez Ledesma: El obrero consciente, Madrid, 1987; A. Elorza and M. Ralle: La formación del PSOE, Barcelona, 1989; S. Juliá (ed.): El socialismo en España, Madrid, 1986 and El socialismo en las nacionalidades y regions, Madrid, 1988.
  • 23. See El Grito del Pueblo, September 2, 1886.
  • 24. There are abundant references in the bibliography concerning Spanish socialism at the congress of Petrelle. For references with regard to the Rue Lancry congress, see M. Izard: Revolució industrial i obrerismo, Barcelona, 1970. And see also, A. Elorza and M. Ralle: op. cit. Most outstanding, however, is the more specific analysis of T. Abelló: Les relaciones internacionals de l’anarquisme catalan (1881-1914), Barcelona, 1987.
  • 25. See, in particular, La Anarquía, October 16 and 30, and November 6, 1891; El Productor, September 1, 1891; and La Tramontana, September 4, 1891.
  • 26. Regarding the Congresses of Zurich and London, see T. Abelló: op. cit., pp. 91 et seq.
  • 27. See P. Esteve: Memoria de la Conferencia Anarquista Internacional celebrada en Chicago. A los anarquistas de España y Cuba, New York, 1900.
  • 28. Held on August 23 and 24, 1891; see La Tramontana, September 4, 1891.
  • 29. See “El socialismo en Francia”, in Ciencia Social, October-December 1895, and “Un anarquismo, fracción del socialismo?”, Ciencia Social, February-June 1896.
  • 30. Among the many works on French revolutionary syndicalism, the following stand out as general treatments of the topic: N. Dubief: Le syndicalisme révolutionnaire, Paris, 1969; F. Ridley: Revolutionary Syndicalism in France, Cambridge, 1970; T. Julliard: Autonomie ouvrière. Etudes sur le syndicalisme d’action directe, Paris, 1988; J. Maitron: Le mouvement anarchiste en France, Paris, 1975; R. Brécy: La grève générale, Paris, 1969; M. Perrot: Les ouvriers en grève, Paris, 1973. For studies of particular authors and leaders, see J. Maitron: Le syndicalisme révolutionnaire: Paul Delesalle, Paris, 1952; T. Julliard: Fernand Pelloutier et les origenes du syndicalisme d’action directe, Paris, 1985; Ch. Degoustine: Pouget. Les matins noirs du syndicalisme, Paris, 1972. For Sorel, see T. Julliard and S. Sand (eds.): Georges Sorel en son temps, Paris, 1985; and M. Charzat: Georges Sorel et la Révolution a XX siècle, Paris, 1977.
  • 31. For works on the general strike, see Pelloutier and Girard: Qu’est-ce que la grève générale (1895); Briand: Discours sur la grève générale (1899); Lagardelle: La grève générale et le socialisme (1905); Berth: Les nouveaux aspects du socialisme (1908); and also Sorel’s Reflections on Violence, cited above. Definitions of syndicalism are provided by Pelloutier: Les syndicats en France (1897); La vie ouvriére en France (1900); Histoire des Bourses du Travail (1902); and by Sorel: L’avenir socialiste des syndicats (1898); Les illusions du progrés (1906); La décomposition du marxisme (1908). By Delesalle: Les deux métodes du syndicalisme (1905); La CGT (1907). By Pataud: Le syndicat (1903); Les bases du syndicalisme (1904); La CGT (1908); Comment nous ferons la revolution (1909). By Pouget: Le sabotage (1910). By Yvetot: ABC Syndicaliste (1908). By Griffuelhes: L’action syndicaliste (1908). By Lagardelle: Le socialisme ouvrier (1911). By Jouhaux: Le syndicalisme français (1911). For books that convey a general depiction of the movement, see F. Challave: Syndicalisme révolutionnaire et syndicalisme réformiste (1909) and M. Leroy: La coutume ouvriere (1913).
  • 32. The basic text for revolutionary syndicalism in Spain is J. Alvarez-Tunico: La ideología política del anarquismo español (1868-1910), Madrid, 1976. See also, X. Cuadrat: Socialismo y anarquismo en Cataluña. Los orígines de la CNT, Madrid, 1976; and A. Bar: La CNT en los años rojos, Madrid, 1981.
  • 33. Any account of these details is bound to be incomplete. I have attempted, in any event, to consult many different kinds of catalogs and I have undertaken an exhaustive review of the basic anarchist press for the years in question. I have included only the first translation I encountered in my sources. I must nonetheless warn the reader that I have made a rigorous selection of the texts according to whether or not they deal with revolutionary syndicalism. All the texts listed above were published by La Huelga General or the Modern School except for: those by Sorel, which were published by Sempere in Valencia; the book by Griffuelhes, published by the group Amor y Odio in La Felguera; El sindicalismo, by Pouget, which was published by the group Acción in Barcelona; the pamphlet, “El trabajador y la huelga general” was published by La Revista Blanca; “Por qué la huelga general…” was published by El Productor; and “La jornada de ocho horas” was published by El Trabajo, in Sabadell.
  • 34. I have not included the abundant translations of anti-militarist texts, such as, for example, G. Hervé: El manual del soldado (1903) (The Soldier’s Handbook); Pensamientos antimilitaristas (1903) (Anti-militarist Reflections); Antimilitarismo reivindicativo (1904) (Anti-militarist Dissent); Antipatriotismo (1907), etc.
  • 35. Malato was a regular contributor to the publications of Urales, in the Suplemento de La Revista Blanca, Tierra y Libertad and La Revista Blanca itself. In 1905 he also wrote some articles for El Productor, although this journal regularly featured the articles of Cortada, Vallina and Progreso.
  • 36. See “Acratas y demócratas”, in the Supplement to La Revista Blanca, February 17, 1900.
  • 37. See “From Paris”, in El Productor, May 20, 1905.
  • 38. See Tierra y Libertad, December 21, 1905.
  • 39. See, in particular, the account provided by Baúl (Mella) in the Supplement to La Revista Blanca, November 3, 1900. And see also, El congreso Revolucionario internacional de París, Buenos Aires, 1902.
  • 40. The question of anti-militarism had been discussed at the Paris congress in 1900. Antonio Apolo summarized the attitude of Spanish anarchism at the time regarding this issue with the following words: “And who knows? Is it not possible that the day will come when the civil guards will not shoot, not because of prudence, but because the civil guard and the soldiers will go on strike?” Supplement to La Revista Blanca, April 14, 1900. Extensive reports on the congress of 1900 may be found in El Productor and Tierra y Libertad.
  • 41. See, in particular, Tierra y Libertad, November 14 and 21, 1907. And see also, M. Antonioli: Dibattito sul sindicalismo. Atti del Congresso Internazionale anarchico di Amsterdam (1907), Florence, 1978.
  • 42. This congress has attracted very little attention in Spain despite the importance attached to it by the anarcho-syndicalist leaders of the CNT of that period. See, especially, the account and subsequent commentaries of I. Negre, in Solidaridad Obrera, September 25, 1913; and see also, M. Antonioli: “Sindacalismo rivoluzionario italiano e sindacalismo internazionale: da Marsiglia a Londra (1908-1913),” in Ricerche Storiche, January-April 1981.
  • 43. We call the reader’s attention to, especially, A. Rosa: Il sindacalismo rivoluzionario in Italia e la lotta politica nel Partito Socialista dell’eta giolittiana, Bari, 1976; G. B. Fuhiozzi: Il sindacalismo rivoluzionario italiano, Milan, 1977; A. DeClementi: Politica e società nel sindacalismo rivoluzionario, 1900-1915, Rome, 1983. And see also E. Santahelli: La revisione del marxismo in Italia, Milan, 1977; as well as the special issues of the journal, Ricerche Storiche, January-June 1975 and January-April 1981, dedicated to the theme of revolutionary syndicalism in Italy. Important monographs on local history are those of A. Roveri: Dal sindacalismo rivoluzionario al fascismo. Capitalismo agrario e socialismo nel ferrarese (1870-1920), Florence, 1972; G. Ahagno: Socialismo e sindacalismo rivoluzionario a Napoli in età giolittiana, Rome, 1980. On the principal leaders we must refer to R. DeFelice: Sindacalismo rivoluzionario e fiumanesimo nel carteggio DeAmbris-D’Annunzio, Brescia, 1966; D. Marriocco: Arturo Labriola e il sindacalismo rivoluzionario in Italia, Turin, 1970; A. O. Olivetti: Dal sindacalismo rivoluzionario al corporativismo, Bologna, 1989; and W. Gianinazzi: L’itinerario di Enrico Leone, Milan, 1989.
  • 44. Concerning the relations between Italian anarchism and Italian syndicalism, see, among other works, E. Santarelli: Il socialismo anarchico in Italia, Milan, 1977; and P.C. Masini: Storia degli anarchici Italiana, Milan, 1972 and Storia degli anarchici Italiana nell’epoca degli allenlati, Milan, 1981.
  • 45. See the observations made in Note 15 with reference to the criteria of inclusion for the translations of the works of French authors. Here, however, for the Italian case, I have included as well texts and authors that are strictly anarchist, regardless of their attitude to trade union action. Many of the pamphlets were published in many different editions. Semperc, in Valencia, published versions of the book by Fabbri, Sindicalismo…, the texts of Labriola, with the exception of Las diosas… and Los límites…, both of which were published in Barcelona. Sernpere also published the works by Leone and the book by Merlino, Socialismo o monopolismo?