Chapter 6. Workers’ Organization

“Against the workers’ organizations, also?”

It is not a question of pro or con. The anarchist movement and the labour movement follow two parallel lines, and it has been geometrically proven that parallels never meet.

It is presumed that through experience, research, learning, meditation, the anarchist, at least, has reached the conviction that the social malaise, in general and, in particular, poverty, serfdom and the involuntary, imposed ignorance of the working people who produce everything that gives life its fullness and the splendour they will never enjoy, but which is and will be enjoyed by those who have never done a day’s work anywhere) derive from a primitive and fundamental monopoly — from the hoarding, by a greedy and cunning minority, of the land, fields and mines and their products; of the factories and forges, where the earth’s products are transformed into the elements of life, security, and pleasure; of the railroads and ships, carrying such products to all parts of the world, there to be exchanged for other goods or shining gold, which is the tool of the wealth, power, and of the tyranny which the privileged minority practices with impunity over the rest of mankind. The church consecrates this usurpation as a special blessing of god; the State legitimizes it in its parliaments, codes, tribunals, protected by its laws, police and armies. And hypocritical morality surrounds this thievish hoarding with religious devotion.

The anarchist impugns this monopoly, but since a mere denial is of no use, he strikes with all his might at the roots of the accursed tree, trying to cut it down and destroy it together with its branches and its fruits: everything belongs to everybody. No more private ownership of means of production and exchange, nor of any other institution that guards the injustice and the inequality, which are the inevitable issue of that initial privilege.

And since our good burghers, even those who pretend philanthropy redeems usury, will never stop being exploiters or give back what they have unjustly taken; the anarchists, including those who abhor violence and bloodshed, are compelled to conclude that the expropriation of the ruling class will have to be accomplished by the violent social revolution. And they dedicate themselves to this, seeking to prepare the proletariat with every means of education, propaganda and action at their disposal.

Do not forget and do not delude yourselves! The proletariat is still a mass, not a class. If it were a class, if it had a clear, full consciousness of its rights, of its function, of its strength, the egalitarian revolution would be a thing of the past, freeing us from these melancholy and bitter musings.

The great mass is bourgeois non natione sed moribus [not by birth but by custom] — not by origin, for nothing was found in its cradle, but by habit, superstition, prejudice and by interest, too, because it feels its own interests are tied to and dependent upon the masters’, who, therefore, become providence itself, providing job, wages, bread, life for father and children. And for job, life and security, the great mass is grateful to the master who has always existed and will exist forever: blessed be he — and blessed be the institutions, the laws, the policemen who defend and protect him.

In other words, while the anarchist makes a sharp, severe positive diagnosis, and sinks the scalpel deep to remove the main source of the social malaise at its root (not hiding the long and painful duration of the treatment) the great mass remains empirical. It does not contest property, let alone reject it; it wishes only it were less greedy. It does not repudiate the master; it desires only that he be better. It does not reject the State, law, tribunals and the police; it wants only a fatherly State, just laws and honest courts, police that are more humane.

We do not argue about whether property is greedy or not, if masters are good or bad, if the State is paternal or despotic, if laws are just or unjust, if courts are fair or unfair, if the police are merciful or brutal. When we talk about property, State, masters, government, laws, courts and police, we say only that we don’t want any of them. And we pursue with passion, patience and faith, a society incompatible with these monstrosities. And meanwhile, with all the means we can muster, we contest and oppose their arbitrary and atrocious functions, quite often sacrificing our freedom, our well-being, even our loved ones for many long years, sometimes forever. As you can see, we follow different roads, and it is unlikely that we will ever meet.

* * *

However, labour organizations are a fact; they exist. And even it their rusty and blind conservatism is an obstacle and oftentimes a danger, they deserve our consideration and careful attention.

If we find ourselves facing an ignorant child, a devout woman, or a blockhead who doesn’t see, or doesn’t want to see, we do not react with derision or contempt to the immaturity of one, the ingenuousness of the other, nor to the blindness of most.

We treat them with the same kindness and assist them all with care, because we are proud to uncover the shining metal hidden beneath the rude and rash exterior, to transform a primitive being into a person who has value, individually and socially, because we know above all the task we have chosen is too important to neglect any energy that might contribute to the success of our ideal and, finally, because we know that our own freedom, security, and individual well-being would be precarious and ephemeral — even in an egalitarian society — if they did not find their basis and protection in the freedom and welfare of those around us. If freedom is knowledge, if well-being is solidarity; then the educational work to be performed among proletarians, organized or not appears not only as a pressing need but one which cannot be delayed

“Well then, would you be willing to join any organizations? To remain outside them prevents you from exerting any influence or action ”

Certainly! We should enrol in labour organizations whenever we find it useful to our struggle and wherever it is possible to do so under well defined pledges and reservations.

Pledge number one! As we were anarchists outside the organization so we shall remain anarchists inside it. First reservation! We shall never be part of the leadership; we shall be always in the opposition and never assume any responsibility in running the union.

This is for us an elementary position of coherence.

It has been firmly established that the labour organizations, those that are managed by somnolent conservatives, as well as the red ones led by the so-called revolutionary syndicalists, recognize and consent to the existing economic system in all its manifestations and relations. They limit their demands to immediate and partial improvements, high salaries, shorter hours, old-age pensions, unemployment benefits, social security, laws protecting women’s and children’s working conditions, factory inspections, etc, etc . . . They are the main purpose for which the organization was established, and it is clear that an anarchist cannot assume the responsibility for sponsoring aspirations of this kind. He knows that every conquest of such improvements is deceitful and inconsistent, since, in the increased cost of food, rent and clothes, the worker, as a consumer will pay more to live no matter how much more he earns as a producer. No comrade of ours, therefore, can assume the management of such an organization, nor any role implying any solidarity whatever with its programme or action, without denying all his anarchist and revolutionary convictions, without aligning himself with the reformist crowds whose spearhead he pretends to be.

Our place is in opposition, continually demonstrating with all possible vigilance and criticism the vanity of such aims, the futility of such efforts, the disappointing results; relentlessly pointing out, in contrast, the concrete and integral emancipation that could be achieved quickly and easily with different ways and other means.

The outcome of every agitation, of every union struggle would confirm the foresight and the fairness of our criticism. Even if it is not easy to hope that an organization might soon follow our suggestions, it is nevertheless believable that the more intelligent and bold among its members would be inclined to favour our point of view. They would form a nucleus ready to fight with passion in the struggles of the future, attracting their fellow workers to shake the authority of their union leaders.

“If you join an organization with ideas like this and mean to keep them, you’ll be gagged and expelled as a provocateur at the first opportunity. That is something you have had occasion to see not long ago.”[42]

That is why those of our comrades who undertake such an arduous task must possess the qualities of seriousness, coherence, humility and great patience that are required to gain, first the liking, then the esteem and finally the trust of the best of their fellow workers. They must be in the front line where there is danger; last in line always, where there is ambition or persona] gain; they must be bitter opponents when faced with deals and compromises that are inconsistent with their faith and dignity as workers and revolutionists.

And if they fail, if they have to pack up and go, there will be no regrets. They will have sown the good seed of independence, of consciousness and of courage. Their work will be remembered and invoked whenever leaders waver or manoeuver, whenever the hard, fruitless struggle is followed by renewed pain and disillusionment, whenever the fortunes of battle end in disaster for want of the boldness and self-denial they always practiced.

The sympathy and the trust that go beyond the personal, into the action and the ideal which inspired it; the sympathy and trust in revolutionary action and in the anarchist ideal; the sympathy and trust which will end by transforming themselves into passionate and persistent co-operation; isn’t this all that we can expect from our modest but earnest work of propaganda, education, and renovation?

We have no dogmatic pretence whatsoever. Modestly, we have said what we think about a controversial question, conscious of the fact it has the consent of a considerable number of comrades — and we have expressed it in all sincerity without hate or contempt.

Furthermore, hate and contempt would be misplaced, since action, either within or without a labour organization, should imply neither merit nor demerit. Everyone should choose the ways, means, and field more suited to his ability and preference.[43] In any case, it doesn’t seem to me that this question involves elements of such disparity as to make Merlino foresee the agony of anarchism.
We shall have to look for it elsewhere