Part 2: Anarcho-syndicalism

Chapter 5: The Revolutionary Years

The global revolutionary wave which started in 1917 in Russia gradually enveloped other countries. Anarchists and syndicalists took an active part in events and were frequently found in the front ranks of revolutionary actions.

The general enthusiasm and mass self-organization of the workers imparted a new impulse to the libertarian workers’ movement.

The Russian anarcho-syndicalists in 1917-1918 were grouped around the newspapers Golos truda and Novy golos truda, and in 1918 they held two All-Russian conferences (in August-September and November-December). In 1920 the Russian Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists (RKAS) was created. In Ukraine the anarcho-syndicalists took part in creating the Confederation of Anarchists of Ukraine – Nabat, which exerted a substantial influence on the Makhnovist movement.

The libertarians enjoyed appreciable support in the factory committees and independent labour unions. At the end of 1917 and beginning of 1918 they were successful in organizing 25-30 thousand miners of Debaltsevo (in the Donbass) on the basis of the platform of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). They were recognized by the miners of Cheremkhovo in Siberia, stevedores and workers in the cement industry in the Kuban and Novorossiysk, railway workers, workers in the perfume industry, and workers in other fields.

In 1918 the anarcho-syndicalists supported bakery workers in Moscow, Kharkov, and Kiev; postal-telegraph workers in Petrograd; river transport workers in the Volga region; etc. Some of these organizations were destroyed by the Whites, others were neutralized by the Bolshevik authorities by means of mergers and outright oppression of activists. As a result, while at the First All-Russia Congress of Trade Unions (1918) the syndicalist and Maximalist delegates represented around 88,000 workers, at the Second Congress (1919) they represented 53,000, and at the Third (1920) 35,000 at most. An attempt by some of the syndicalists to organize a General Confederation of Labour independent of the Bolshevik government was suppressed. By 1922 the unions created by the anarcho-syndicalists had been disbanded, and their publishing operations shut down. The leading activists of the movement were arrested: Vsevolod Volin, Aron Baron, Mark Mrachny, and other anarchists and syndicalists who took part in the Makhnovist movement – in November and December 1920; Grigory Maksimov – in March 1921, etc. After a ten day hunger strike in Tagansk Prison in 1921, and protests by foreign delegations arriving in Moscow in connection with the First Congress of the Profintern, Volin, Maksimov, Mrachny, and several of their comrades were deported from Soviet Russia in January 1922. Another prominent Russian anarcho-syndicalist, Aleksandr Shapiro, was arrested by the Bolshevik authorities after his return from a syndicalist conference in Berlin in the summer of 1922. After numerous protests from abroad he was also deported.

In Germany the anarchists were part of the Council movement; two prominent anarchists (Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam) took part in the executive organs of the Bavarian Soviet Republic. The FVdG resumed its activity soon after the November revolution of 1918 and began to publish its newspaper Der Sindikalist. The FVdG “presented itself as the only organizational alternative at the time for those workers disillusioned with the politics of the official parties and identifying with radical unionism.” Considering themselves the left wing of the Council movement, the syndicalists took the position that these organs were not like political parties, but should take the economic functions of management into their own hands. “Workers Councils must have control over all the revenues and expenditures of enterprises, and actively participate in accepting orders and ordering raw materials. In doing so they are acting in the interests not only of the workers but of the whole of society. In the final analysis, the workers become the sole masters of the means of labour, thereby completing their humanity,” emphasized the FVdG newspaper. The German syndicalists were influential in the Workers’ Council at the Thyssen machine-building plant in Mülheim, in the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council in the same city, played a decisive role in the strike movement in Hamborn, and were represented in the Munich Soviet.

To the extent the Council movement went into decline and was integrated into the system of the Weimar republic (law about Councils of enterprises of February 4, 1920), the FVdG regarded the possibility of the spread and development of Councils within capitalist society as an illusion.

The influence of the syndicalists rose quickly after the armed suppression of a general strike in the Ruhr in April 1919. In December of that year the FVdG was transformed into the Free Workers’ Union of Germany (FAUD); almost 112,000 workers were represented at its founding congress.

This organization called for a general strike to turn back the counterrevolution, but its initiative did not find a response.

In 1919-1920 during the course of radical strikes in the Ruhr, syndicalist methods of direct action were often used. In March 1920 during a general strike against the Kapp putsch, which evolved into armed revolts in a number of regions, branches of the FAUD in many cities led the struggle, despite the cautious stance of the central executive committee of the union which condemned “putschism.” The FAUD took part in Workers’ Councils in Essen, Mülheim, Oberhausen, Duisberg, and Dortmund. In Mülheim and Hamborn Factory Councils followed the advice of the FAUD and took control (“socialized”) the gigantic Thyssen plants. Forty-five percent of the soldiers of the “Red Army of the Ruhr” were members of FAUD. In the Thuringian industrial city of Sömmerda the syndicalists and left communists declared a Soviet republic. Although the movement was harshly suppressed, the popularity of the FAUD in these revolutionary years continued to grow. In 1921 it counted 150,000 members.
In March of that year, despite the negative attitude of the executive committee in Berlin, Thuringian members of the FAUD together with left communists again took part in an armed revolt.

The ebb of the revolutionary wave and government repressions led to a rapid decrease in the membership of the organization. At its congress in 1922, only about 70,000 members were represented. However the FAUD still remained a significant force, especially at the local level (among the miners and metalworkers of the Ruhr and Rhineland, construction workers in Berlin, and workers of Central Germany). In 1923, under conditions of crisis and revolutionary fervour after the occupation of the Ruhr by Franco-Belgian troops, the anarcho-syndicalists supported many strikes and demonstrations by the unemployed, calling for a general strike and social revolution. However the economic catastrophe and mass unemployment undermined the strength of FAUD and its ranks fell to 30,000.

In Italy the revolutionary syndicalist trade union USI already in the summer of 1919, in spite of repression, unleashed a strike movement in La Spezia and a 48-hour general strike in Bologna. The USI endorsed the seizure of factories by the workers. At its third congress in Parma (December 1919), the USI proposed a system of “autonomous and free” Councils “antithetical to the State.” These Councils were seen as organs both for the defense of the workers and for the administration of the future society. The USI supported the initiatives of workers to create Factory Councils and urged that they not be allowed to fall into reformist “degeneration.” In February 1920 metalworkers belonging to the USI seized factories in Sestri-Ponente and neighbouring cities and set up Councils to manage them. In March workers’ unrest spread to Turin, and in April convulsed the whole of Piedmont and Napoli. In Pombino workers organized in the USI rose in revolt to protest the dismissal of 1,500 workers of the Ilva firm and took over the city. The syndicalists were also active as organizers of strikes of farm labourers and anti-militarist demonstrations. In July 1920 the USI called on metalworkers to carry out a wholesale seizure of factories in response to the intransigence of the owners and lockouts. In August – September armed workers created a “Red Guard” which seized around 300 enterprises in Milan; the movement then spread throughout the whole country. Factories were taken over by Councils. However the numerically dominant CGL, controlled by socialists, was content with promises of minimal concessions and, not desiring revolution, put the brakes on the movement, while the USI, with its 500,000 members (several times smaller than the CGL) did not risk continuing the struggle alone. After this the revolutionary wave in Italy went into decline, although in March of the following year the USI was able to conduct a general strike in Milan and a shutdown of the USI-controlled “houses of labour” [labour exchanges] in support of imprisoned members of the organization.

From the winter – spring of 1921 the syndicalists, along with other leftists, became the objects of armed attacks on the part of the fascists, who destroyed the “houses of labour” and interfered with the activities of left-wing trade unionists and parties throughout the whole country. “Faced with attacks by fascist gangs, the USI organized itself on various levels in order to resist the wave of reaction – both by radicalizing the social struggle and by having recourse to arms. In contrast to the indecisiveness of other parties and unions, the USI chose direct action... In order to put an end to the fascist strategy of systematic attacks in areas where level of antifascist and class struggle was high..., the USI encouraged the creation of armed volunteer groups of ‘people’s heroes’... and transformed their main ‘houses of labour’ into small fortresses, capable of withstanding attacks by fascist gangs.” The syndicalists and anarchists responded to the fascist assault with proletarian class action – with strikes – but did not succeed in vanquishing the fascists, who were, for all intents and purposes, supported by the country’s rightwing circles. It’s true the struggle against the “blackshirts” led to an agreement between the Italian trade unions to create an “Alliance of Labour” which, in July 1922, declared a general antifascist strike. In a few cities (Parma, Bari, and others) this developed into an armed revolt. But the reformists also retreated on this occasion. “The fact remains that fascism... was able to become an irresistible force and, with the support of the tried and tested repressive apparatus of the monarchist State, it was able to sweep aside all obstacles in its path. The equivocal actions of the reformist Left, the sectarianism of the Communist Party, and the military and political unpreparedness of the revolutionary forces hastened the defeat of the workers’ movement.” Several months later (in October 1922) a government came to power headed by the fascist leader B. Mussolini. After the new regime was established, naked repression led to a destruction of all the local sections of the USI, and the mass arrest or emigration of the most energetic members of the organization, which was forced to restrict its activities to the underground.

The revolutionary workers’ movement in Spain grew rapidly. New syndicates of the CNT sprang up everywhere.

By a decision taken at a Catalonian regional congress in July 1918, these syndicates were “integrated” at the local level, i.e. they were industrial rather than craft unions. The CNT already had more than one million members. A national conference of anarchists in November 1918 urged all libertarians to join the CNT. In February 1919 as a sign of solidarity with striking workers at the “La Canadiense” company, the anarchist syndicalists launched a general strike – one of the largest and most successful in the history of the Spanish labour movement. It induced panic among the ruling classes. Even the declaration of martial law did not save the owners. The action ended with the complete triumph of the workers. The centre of the workers’ struggle was Barcelona.

Large-scale events included a struggle against a lockout at the end of 1919, a general strike against repression in November 1920, and a strike of transport workers in 1923. The CNT had already started to collect statistical data which would allow it to run the economy smoothly after the forthcoming social revolution.

Then the ruling classes had recourse to a different tactic: they began to create “yellow” trade unions and terrorist gangs of “pistoleros,” murdering activists of the workers’ movement.

In December 1919 in an atmosphere of revolutionary enthusiasm, a congress of the CNT in Madrid announced as its goal the liquidation of the State and the establishing of libertarian (anarchist) communism, in other words, finally and officially rejecting the concept of “neutral syndicalism” and declaring the correctness of the tradition of the Bakuninist wing of the First International. In response to the unceasing wave of strikes the government unleashed systematic repression. The leading activists of the CNT were arrested, including the members of the Confederation’s executive (in March 1921). The organization was deprived of its leadership and forced to go underground. In the spring of 1923 the prominent working class leaders Salvador Segui and F. Comas were murdered. The anarchists and syndicalists answered counterrevolutionary terror with strikes and armed actions. The stand-off continued until the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera was installed in September 1923 and independent trade union activity was prohibited.

In Portugal the UON, in which the revolutionary syndicalists now predominated, organized a successful general strike in the Lisbon region in support of construction workers, offering armed resistance to the police and the national guard. The federation of construction workers called for an armed revolt in the course of a new general strike planned for November 1918 which had been announced by the UON.

The failure of this revolt did not discourage the workers. In 1919 protests of workers against the rising cost of living and unemployment continued. In some sectors of the economy there were breakthroughs in gaining the 8-hour workday. A workers’ congress in September 1919 transformed the UON into a united organization of the Portuguese workers – the General Confederation of Labour (CGT). The principles of revolutionary syndicalism were enshrined in its articles.

All the tendencies in the Confederation were in agreement that pure trade unionism was insufficient. The Portuguese CGT included not only trade unions but, starting from 1922, also students and artists, tenants’ associations, consumer cooperatives, and “groups of syndicalist solidarity.” The number of members of the CGT, which reached 120,000 – 150,000 in 1919, had fallen somewhat by 1922 but the organization as before still united the majority of organized workers in the country. However its activities to a significant degree were spontaneous in character. They consisted usually in the organization of a sudden tide of protest which soon ebbed without being channeled into building a strong organization and solidarity between workers (although many strikes were carried out successfully, and in February 1924 the largest workers’ demonstration in Portuguese history took place with more than 100,000 participants).

A rebirth of the revolutionary workers’ movement began also in France. The dampening of the strike movement by the reformist leadership of the French CGT ignited the trade union opposition grouped around P. Monatte and the newspaper Vie ouvriere. This opposition was strengthened at the congress of the CGT in September 1919, and it formed its own coordinating body and it started setting up “Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees” (CRS), trying to establish its influence in individual unions and “bourses de travail.”

It succeeded in consolidating its position in the union of railway workers. At the beginning of 1920 the country was paralyzed by railroad strikes. The revolutionary syndicalists organized a general strike for May 1, which was joined by metalworkers, construction workers, dockers, and miners.

But the hopes this insurgency would grow into revolution were not realized. In September 1921 at a conference of the opposition in Lyon a Central Committee of the CRS was created, headed by P. Monatte. In December 1921 at a congress in Paris the revolutionary syndicalists announced their split from the CGT and in July 1922 at a congress in Saint-Étienne they created the new “Unitarian CGT” (CGTU).

Anarchists and syndicalists were active in the workers’ movements of some other European countries. The membership of SAC in Sweden reached 32,000 workers in 1920, chiefly bricklayers, construction workers, workers in the forestry and paper industries, and metalworkers. Although it remained small in comparison with the social-democratic union movement, it participated in a broad range of post- war strikes. The syndicalist federation of Norway and Danish syndicalists had close connections with SAC. The Netherlands Labour Secretariat (NAS) strengthened its own position during the war years, thanks to its energetic support of the movement against military service and the high cost of living, and engaged in a wave of strikes and protests in the first post-war years. Its membership grew to 49,000 in 1918 but as before it was smaller than unions of a socialdemocratic or clerical persuasion. The failure of strike actions in 1920-1922 led to a shrinkage in the membership (by the autumn of 1922 the NAS was down to 26,000 members) and favoured the intensification of internal disagreements.

In other regions of Europe, despite the presence of a strong anarchist movement (Bulgaria) or a definite syndicalist tendency in the union movement (Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, Belgium), in the postwar years it did not prove possible to create an anarcho-syndicalist union central.

The revolutionary wave which began in Russia, coupled with the postwar economic difficulties, inspired a powerful expansion in working class actions in Argentina, in which the FORA and its member unions played a leading role. The most important of these actions were the general strike in Buenos Aires in January 1919, which was accompanied by battles at the barricades and harsh repressions (“the tragic week”), a general strike in the capital in May 1920, and a strike and revolt of agricultural labourers in Patagonia (1921) which was suppressed by government troops with great cruelty. The Uruguayan FORU in 1917-1921 virtually headed the strike movement in the country, organizing a series of stubborn general and local strikes. In Brazil the anarchists even during the war period were at the epicentre of the movement against militarism and increases in food prices due to profiteering. Massive general strikes took place in 1917 in São Paulo, Santos, and Rio de Janeiro. In the course of the struggle the workers were able to achieve significant concessions and the adoption of labour legislation. In November 1918 the anarchists of Rio de Janeiro rose in revolt, intending to overthrow the government and proclaim a “communist republic.” The uprising was suppressed, and the government smashed the pro-anarchist workers’ federation of the state, which included as many as 150,000 workers.

However the anarchists still maintained their position in the workers’ movement which was confirmed by the outcome of the 3rd congress of the Brazilian workers’ confederation in 1920. The destruction of the anarchist workers’ movement happened only after the army mutinies of 1924.

In Mexico the anarchists criticized the collaboration of working class leaders with government authorities, and also the pro-government policies of the trade union activists headed by Luis Morones, who founded the Mexican Regional Workers’ Confederation (CROM) in May 1918. Anarchist and syndicalist groups convened a congress in 1921 in Mexico; at it the creation of the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) was announced. It was based on the unions of textile workers, streetcar conductors, telephone operators, oil field workers, etc. During the 1920’s the anarcho-syndicalists led the strike struggle of these categories of wage workers. The confederation, which had a membership of about 60,000 workers, endorsed “libertarian communism.” In Chile the anarchists and syndicalists worked in the Federation of Chilean Workers until 1921, making up its extreme left wing, but then the centre of attraction of anarchists became the Chilean section of the Industrial Workers of the World, formed in 1918-1919, which had a membership of over 25,000 members in 1920 – including dockers, seafarers, construction workers, shoemakers, etc. The Chilean IWW took an active part in actions against the high cost of living and shortages in food supplies. It also supported the student movement and was active until the installation of the military dictatorship of Carlos Ibáñez in 1927.

Anarcho-syndicalist union centrals occupied a leading position in the workers’ movement in a number of other countries of Latin America. The regional workers’ centre of Paraguay headed a strike movement, including a strike of electrical workers and a general strike in Ascención in 1923-1924. In Bolivia the Local Labour Federation of La Paz (founded in 1918) and the syndicalist miners’ union launched a desperate strike struggle. Peruvian anarcho-syndicalists (in particular, stevedores, bakers, textile workers, etc.) continued a stubborn struggle for the inauguration of the 8-hour day and against the rising cost of living. In the midst of a wave of general strikes in 1919, which took on a revolutionary character, a Peruvian regional workers’ federation sprang up; the government was compelled to agree with the demanded reduction in the length of the workday. The movement was destroyed by a military dictatorship in the middle 1930’s, and influence in the trade unions shifted to communist party members and national-reformists. In Ecuador under the influence of anarchists a regional federation of workers appeared in 1922. In October – November of the same year, it organized the largest general strike in the history of the country in Guayaquil, in the course of which the city was for a time under the control of the workers. The harsh suppression of the strike dealt the movement a heavy blow from which it recovered somewhat only in the second half of the 1920’s, when the anarcho-syndicalists were able to revive a number of labour unions.

In Cuba the anarchists and syndicalists predominated in the leadership of the Workers’ Federation of Havana (1921) and the National Federation of Workers of Cuba (1925), up to the point when they were destroyed by the dictatorship of J. Machado in 1925-1927. It was this disaster, as the Cuban communists themselves have admitted, which allowed them to establish their control of the workers’ movement of the country.

In the countries of Central America the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists for a time enjoyed an appreciable influence in organizations of the labour movement, including: the General Confederation of Labour of Costa Rica (1913- 1923), the Workers’ Federation of Panama (1921-1923), the General Labour Union of the Workers of Panama (mid 1920’s), the Regional Federation of Workers of Salvador, the Committee for Trade Union Activity of Guatemala (end of the 1920’s), etc.1

The workers’ movement in Japan became radicalized in a hurry in the first postwar years under the influence of the food riots of 1918 and the wave of strikes of 1919-1921, in the course of which methods of direct action were widely used by the workers. In the most important union central of the country, Yu-Ai-Kai, the influence of the anarchists, revolutionary syndicalists, and adherents of Russian Bolshevism gained strength. At their insistence the congress of Yu-Ai-Kai in 1920 approved the principles of class struggle and direct action; in 1921 the union central was renamed the Japanese Federation of Labour (Sodomei). But already by 1922 a regroupment of forces in the workers’ movement of the country took place. Reformist leaders of the union central and the communists came out in favour of a re-organization of the union movement on a sectoral basis, while the anarchists and the syndicalists who were close to them upheld federalist principles and the autonomy of labour unions. The libertarians left Sodomei, but a number of unions remained under their influence, including the printers, mechanics, metalworkers, electrical workers, and the regional association of unions of Tokyo. [

The association of anarchist unions of Japan was able to impede the repressions after the “great earthquake” of September 1923, in the course of which the leading anarcho- syndicalist Ōsugi Sakae was killed. Only in 1926 did a labour union central appear which approved the principles of anarchist communism – the All-Japanese Libertarian Federation of Trade Unions (Zenkoku Jiren). This federation existed until the mid-1930’s, when it was annihilated by government persecutions.

In China the anarchists were the organizers of the first labour unions of the modern type in Guangzhou in the 1910’s, and also organized the first strikes. At the beginning of the 1920’s the workers’ organizations of this city, being under the influence of anarchists (especially the dockers and service workers), were united in a Workers’ Mutual Aid Society; however, in 1923-1924 it fell apart. In November 1920, on the initiative of anarchists a Society of Workers of the Province of Hunan was formed, uniting the workers of the most varied branches of heavy and light industry. It organized important demonstrations of textile workers, but in January 1922 it was destroyed by the provincial authorities and its leaders executed. In the 1920’s the centre of the anarchist and syndicalist movement shifted to Shanghai, where the anarchists and other non-communist workers’ unions formed a Federation of Labour Unions in March 1924. It participated actively in a strike movement. But in 1927 control of the federation passed into the hands of members of the Guomindang. In 1926 anarchists and anarchosyndicalists formed a Federation of People’s Struggle, which affiliated to the IWA; this organization ceased its existence under conditions of civil war towards the end of the 1920’s.

In the majority of colonial countries of the Far East, where the social struggle was centred on the acquisition of independence for a national state, the anti-statist slogans of the anarchists were not widely disseminated. A group of revolutionary emigrants from India led by M. P. T. Acharya adopted anarcho-syndicalist positions. The group tried to carry on work in Indian labour unions, but its propaganda was suppressed by the British colonial authorities. In Korea and Taiwan the anarchists, strongly influenced by their Japanese comrades, acted in the 1920’s to create a number of unions and underground groups which were soon wiped out. Anarchist unions of Chinese workers were active in the 1920’s in Malaya and in other countries of Southeast Asia.

In the postwar years the activity of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) increased – this was a special variety of the syndicalist movement. Like European syndicalists, its members embraced the idea of unions carrying out the revolution and running things themselves, and they applied the tactics of direct action and were critical of parliamentarism and political parties. However they rejected federalism and were in favour of creating “one big union” of all the workers with divisions according to various branches of industry.

Anarchists did not play a decisive role in the unions of the IWW, in fact activists of various leftist Marxists parties were much in evidence. In the U.S.A. members of the IWW suffered greatly from government repression in 1917-1920. Another industrial unionist labour central – the One Big Union (OBU) – arose in 1919 in Canada and headed a powerful general strike in the western part of the country. The North American IWW and OBU did not develop along the lines of anarcho-syndicalism. In Australia and New Zealand, the initial groups of the IWW carried on work in the existing labour unions, trying to encourage them to associate on an industrial basis and adopt the principles of the IWW. They suffered greatly from repression during the First World War, and then many of their leading activists joined communist parties. In South Africa industrial unionists were grouped around the IWW (1910-1914), the International Socialist League (1915-1921), and the Industrial Socialist League (1918-1921). They acted as organizers of major strikes (including a general strike of miners in 1921-1922) and a number of active unions of “whites,” “blacks,” and Indian workers. But after 1921 the majority of the South African unionists joined communist parties.

  • 1. In Columbia and Venezuela the anarcho-syndicalists tendencies began to have an impact only towards the middle and end of the 1920’s.

Chapter 6: From Revolutionary Syndicalism to Anarcho-syndicalism

The Russian Revolution, it seemed, offered the workers’ movement a revolutionary alternative to social-reformism.

The idea of soviets – not as state organs staffed by party officials but as instruments of non-party self-organization and workers’ self-management of production and of local living arrangements – played an important part in the belief systems of many anarchists and syndicalists.The majority of libertarians were enthralled by events in Russia, seeing in them what they wished to see rather than what was actually transpiring. In the words of Malatesta, they interpreted the dictatorship of the proletariat not as a system of government, but as “a revolutionary action with the help of which the workers would take possession of the land and the means of production, and would attempt to build a society in which there was no place for class, no place for exploitative and oppressive owners. In this case the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ would denote the dictatorship of everyone and therefore would not be a dictatorship at all, the same as a government of everyone is no longer a government in the authoritarian, historical, and practical sense of the word,” the old anarchist noted. A section of the libertarians became convinced that the Bolshevik system of “the dictatorship of the proletariat” is some kind of intermediate stage on the road to the anarchist organization of society (the phenomenon of “anarcho-bolshevism”). It was years before the anarchists and syndicalists grasped that behind the “power of the soviets” was hidden a new party-state dictatorship.

The revolutionary syndicalists were faced with the necessity of choosing between anarchism and Bolshevism. The question of the orientation and goals of the movement was central to the process of its unification on a global scale. At the end of 1918 the Dutch and German syndicalists renewed their appeal for the convening of an international congress, but at a conference in February 1919 in Copenhagen, only the Scandinavian delegates were able to be present. Attempts during 1919-1920 to assemble a congress in the Netherlands and Sweden were unsuccessful. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks, along with Communist parties and groups in a number of European countries, announced the creation of the Communist International. To many anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists it seemed that this new international association could be the centre of attraction not only for the left-radical wing of social-democracy but also for libertarians, as a sort of historical compromise between Marx and Bakunin on the basis of revolutionary principles. Announcements about joining the Comintern were made by the French “Committee of Syndicalist Defense” of R. Péricat (renamed the Communist Party in the spring of 1919, and later – the Communist Federation of Soviets), by the Italian USI (in July 1919 and confirmed at a USI congress in December), and even by – “temporarily” in anticipation of the holding of a congress in Spain to organize a “genuine workers’ International” – the Spanish CNT (at a congress in December 1919). A number of prominent leaders of Anglo-Saxon syndicalism joined communist parties: Bill Haywood (American IWW), T. Mann (the leading British revolutionary syndicalist), and others.

There were some anarchists who spoke out early on with a sharp critique of the Bolsheviks and their dictatorship.

Among them were the Italian Luigi Fabbri and the German Rudolph Rocker. Already in 1919 skepticism regarding the Bolsheviks’ break with the centralism of social-democracy was expressed by the Swedish revolutionary syndicalists (SAC).<fn> In 1922 SAC declared that affiliating to the International being created in Moscow was incompatible with the syndicalist principle of independence from political parties (RGASPI: F.532, Op. 7, D. 624, L. 23, 36, 65-66). </fn> But the centre of resistance to the influence of Bolshevism became the German revolutionary trade union association FAUD.

In December 1918 FAUD called for co-operation with revolutionary socialists. Within its organization there were supporters and even members of the Communist Party.

In the spring of 1919 the prevailing view within its ranks was support for a non-party “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the form of Councils, in contrast to parliamentary activity, although it was maintained that socialization could only be carried out by revolutionary unions. In December 1919 at the 12th congress of the FVdG, which morphed into the FAUD, solidarity was expressed with Soviet Russia. But at this same congress R. Rocker took the floor with a report on the principles of syndicalism. His speech and the resulting “Declaration concerning the Principles of Syndicalism” set forth a synthesis of anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism on which the ideology of the anarcho-syndicalist movement was based. An adherent of the anarcho-communism of P. Kropotkin, Rocker combined the traditional goals of anarchism (doing away with the State, private property, and the system of the division of labour; creation of a federation of free communes and a diversified economy aimed at the satisfaction of the real needs of people – the ethical basis of socialism) with ideas developed by the German anarchist G. Landauer about a new culture and the creation of the elements of a future free society without waiting for a general social upheaval. Rocker was convinced the social revolution could not be carried through spontaneously, that it must be prepared still within the framework of existing capitalist society and that the better it was prepared, the less trouble and pain there would be in carrying it through. Following the revolutionary syndicalists, he considered the unions (syndicates) to be the organs and elements of preparation for the revolution. The unions, in Rocker’s opinion, struggling not only for momentary improvements, but also for revolution, are “not a transitory product of capitalist society, but the cells of the future socialist economic organization.”

Rejecting private property as a “monopoly of possessions” and government as a “monopoly of decision-making,” the syndicalists should strive “for collectivization of land, work tools, raw materials, and all social wealth; for the reorganization of the whole of economic life on the basis of libertarian, i.e. stateless, communism, which finds its expression in the slogan: ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs!’” Rocker criticized not only the bourgeois State, State boundaries, parliamentarism and political parties; but also Bolshevism (party communism) since centralization, preservation of State power, and nationalization (government ownership) of the economy can “lead only to the worst form of exploitation – State capitalism, rather than socialism.” The syndicalists should act not to win political power, but for the eradication of political power generally. As for socialism – in the final analysis this is a question of culture – it cannot be established by any kind of decisions from above. It is only possible in the form of an association of self-managed groups of producers, of workers performing both mental and physical labour. By this means “groups, enterprises, and branches of production” would work as “autonomous members of a general economic organism, which on the basis of mutual and free agreements would systematically carry out production and distribution in the common interest.” As the instruments for such “planning from below” Rocker considered statistics and voluntary agreements. “The organization of enterprises and workshops by economic councils, the organization of the whole of production by industrial and agricultural associations, and the organization of consumption by workers’ exchanges” (i.e. industrial associations of workers at the local level) – he proclaimed.

According to the notion of the German anarcho-syndicalists, in the course of a victorious general strike it was appropriate to carry out the expropriation of private property, enterprises, food stores, real estate, etc. The management of enterprises was to be transferred into the hands of Councils of workers and employees [office workers]; the management of dwellings into the hands of Councils of tenants. Delegates from enterprises and districts would constitute a Commune.

Money and the system of commodity production (for sale) was slated to be abolished: the regulation of consumption (fixed levels in the beginning, later driven by demand) was to be entrusted to “labour exchanges” and tenants’ councils.

The fundamental difference between anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism lay in the fact that syndicalism did not consider direct action to be “selfsufficient” as a means of achieving anarchist communism.

“... Anarcho-syndicalism exists as the organizational force of the social revolution on a libertarian-communist basis; anarcho-communists must be anarcho-syndicalists in order to organize the revolution, and every anarchist who is able to become a member of a trade union should be a member of the anarcho-syndicalist Confederation of Labour,” the general secretary of the anarcho-syndicalist International, A. Shapiro, declared later.

In spite of the openly anti-Bolshevik orientation of the new doctrine, the German anarcho-syndicalists in the beginning still permitted limited co-operation with Communist Party members. Thus, in January 1921, the executive committee of FAUD stated in a letter to the Central Committee of the United Communist Party of Germany that the syndicalists were agreeable to joint actions under the condition that the participating organizations harmonize their demands in advance (including the 6-hour workday, abolition of piece-work, rejection of weapons production) and their tactics, as well as treating participants as equals. But these conditions were unacceptable to State-communists. In 1921 FAUD announced that membership in political parties was incompatible with being in a syndicalist organization.

However in 1920 the possibility of co-operation in practice was still conceivable. At the invitation the Soviets, revolutionary trade union organizations of various countries sent their own representatives to the 2nd Congress of the Comintern in Moscow in the summer of 1920. The FAUD sent its own delegates – the Australian Paul Freeman and the German Augustin Souchy – with a mandate “to study the economic Soviet system in Russia so we have a clear picture of what’s going on and can evaluate the experience of the Russian comrades for our own country.” Freeman later became a supporter of Bolshevism, while A. Souchy returned from Moscow a fervent opponent. The latter described his impressions of the Russian Revolution in a timely book.

Subjecting to a sharp critique the Bolshevist modus operandi of seizing political power, centralization, and dictatorial state socialism, the German syndicalist made this recommendation: “[the Bolshevik method] should not be followed if a revolution should begin in our own country.”

At the 2nd Congress of the Comintern there were also syndicalist delegates or observers from other countries: Spain (Ángel Pestaña), France (Marcel Verge and Berto Lepti), a delegation of British shop stewards led by John Tanner, and representatives of the IWW. Immediately after the Congress the leading activist of the Italian USI, Armando Borghi, arrived in Moscow. In the course of meetings before the Congress, organized by the Executive Committee of the Comintern, the Bolsheviks proposed to create a new revolutionary International of Trade Unions so that in each country trade unions would have to act under the leadership of the Communist Party affiliated with the Comintern. It was envisaged that this project would also involve acceptance of the dictatorship of the proletariat. A. Pestaña, A. Souchy, and J. Tanner rejected the Bolshevist ideas about the necessity of working in reformist trade unions, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the conquest of political power, and the subordination of unions to communist parties. The Spanish delegate, bound by the decision of the CNT about joining the Comintern, agreed to sign the draft plan, but only after the Bolsheviks promised to exclude from it any mention of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the seizure of political power. However it turned out Pestaña was deceived: the text was published in the original form, but with his signature.

During the Congress itself the same disagreements were on display.

Now the revolutionary unions were faced with the decision whether or not to join to the newly created “Red International of Trade Unions” (Profintern). Declarations about affiliating were made by the British shop stewards and the French revolutionary syndicalists (at a conference in September 1920 in Orléans, accompanying this with an affirmation of loyalty to the Charter of Amiens). In December 1920 in Berlin the long-awaited international syndicalist conference convened with the participation of delegates from the FAUD (Germany, but also representing Czechoslovakia), FORA (Argentina), IWW (U.S.A.), CRS (France), NAS (Netherlands), shop stewards’ and workers’ committees (Britain), and SAC (Sweden). Declarations of support for the conference were made by syndicalists from Norway and Denmark, and by the Portuguese CGT. A delegation from Russian trade unions also arrived and urged the participants to endorse the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Profintern, which they insisted was a structure separate from the Comintern. The Swedish and German delegates took the floor with a critique of Moscow and the persecution of anarchists in Russia; the French representatives showed themselves to be solid supporters of the Bolsheviks; the Dutch delegation was split; and other delegates called for spelling out concrete demands for the form to be taken by an international association of revolutionary unions. These demands, approved by all the delegates with the exception of the Russians and French, became known as the “Berlin Declaration.” According to it, the Profintern would have to base itself on class struggle, aiming at the liquidation of the rule of the capitalist system and the creation of a free communist society. In this connection it was noted that the liberation of the working class must be carried out only with the help of economic means of struggle, and that the regulation of production and distribution must become the task of economic organizations of the proletariat. The complete independence of the trade union International from any political party was emphasized, although co-operation with parties and other political organizations was to be allowed.

All the revolutionary syndicalist organizations of the world were urged to take part in the Moscow congress of the Profitern. An international syndicalist information bureau was created in Amsterdam (its secretary was the Dutchman Bernard Lansink and the other members were R. Rocker from Germany and J. Tanner from Great Britain).

The Bolsheviks, the Western European communist parties loyal to them, and the Moscow organizing committee, tried to persuade the revolutionary syndicalists to take part in the new international trade union association under the aegis of the communists. The chief opposition to this was considered to come from the German FAUD. Thus, the section of the Communist Party of Germany which dealt with trade union work in the mining industry issued a directive to district secretaries and party fractions in the unions, ordering them to “struggle and defeat” this organization.

The communists encouraged breakaways from the FAUD in every way possible. The German anarcho-syndicalists did not send delegates to the Moscow congress. In France, where an internal opposition in the CGT existed, the communists distinguished “three tendencies: (1) anarcho-syndicalists, (2) old syndicalists who wanted to return to the Amiens program of 1906, and (3) communist syndicalists.” Moscow was counting on the third tendency for support and hoped to neutralize the first. Nevertheless the secretary of the Central Committee of the CRS, Pierre Besnard, took a position of opposition to Bolshevism. A group of new leaders of the Spanish CNT (Joaquín Maurín, Andrés Nin, and others) aspired to join with Moscow. They moved to the forefront at a plenum in Barcelona in April 1921 after the arrest of the members of the previous Confederational Committee. “In some sections of our Confederation one finds a certain opposition to joining the Red International of Labour Unions. But it is our firm hope that the CNT will join the Profintern,” they wrote to Moscow.

At the congress of the Profintern held in July 1921, the communists succeeded, thanks to a system of representation which favoured them, in assuring themselves a sizeable majority. All the revolutionary syndicalist organizations which took part in the 1920 Berlin conference sent representatives (with the exception of FAUD). But a motion proposed by Albert Lemoine that the Profintern not be subordinate to the Comintern failed, despite being supported by the French syndicalists, FORA, IWW, NAS, SAC, and the German leftcommunist workers’ unions. Also defeated was a proposal by the CNT, USI, NAS, IWW, FORA, the French and Canadian syndicalists, the Uruguayan regional workers federation, and the German unions opposing work in reformist unions.

After this the oppositionist syndicalists, getting together in Moscow, adopted a “Manifesto of the revolutionary syndicalists of the world” and agreed to create an “Association of revolutionary syndicalists elements of the world.” This association would include the CNT, USI, CSR, IWW, SAC, NAS, FORA, the German workers’ organizations, and unions from Denmark, Norway, Canada, and Uruguay giving a total membership of almost 2.8 million. It was proposed to locate the bureau of the new association in Paris. But the organization was not created at this time.

The Bolsheviks succeeded in sundering the united bloc of the syndicalist opposition. The leadership of the Profintern made a deal with the delegation of the Spanish CNT, promising that the communists would facilitate the merger of the socialist trade unions of the UGT with the CNT. The French delegates held meetings with representatives of the Profintern and agreed to join the Red International, but only on condition that the “Charter of Amiens” was observed, namely that the organizational independence of unions from parties would be preserved. In principle none of the syndicalists objected to belonging to the Profintern as long as a number of conditions were met – and only the FORA repudiated its delegate to the Moscow congress.

The situation began to change in an sense unfavourable for Moscow in connection with the repression against the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists in Russia and Ukraine (a delegation of foreign syndicalists in Moscow demanded their release) and also because the Bolsheviks continued to insist on the subordination of the unions to the Comintern.

In October 1921 at an international conference of syndicalists from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and from the IWW, which was held in Düsseldorf on the occasion of the 13th congress of FAUD, a resolution was adopted to consider the founding of an International of trade unions abortive. The participants announced themselves in favour of convening a new international congress in Germany on the basis of the Berlin declaration. The preparation for this meeting was entrusted to an international Information Bureau of revolutionary syndicalists which set about putting out the appropriate international bulletin. The Italian USI also answered the call; at its own 4th congress in March 1922 it turned down a proposal by Nicolo Vecci’s group to join the Profintern until questions about the mutual relations of trade unions with the Comintern had been thrashed out at a new congress outside Soviet territory. The members of the Swedish trade union central SAC in a referendum turned down an amendment to their declaration of principles which would have envisaged the possibility of joining the Comintern and forming links with communist parties. The Spanish CNT at a plenum in August 1921 re-affirmed its independence from political parties and policy of organizing the social revolution and libertarian communism. Its newly elected National Committee was composed of anarchists.

In June 1922 at a plenum in Zaragoza the CNT adopted a resolution about withdrawing from the Comintern as a matter of principle and sending delegates to the conference of syndicalists.

Basically, the demands the syndicalists made to the Profintern reduced to the following points: “(1) cancellation of reciprocal representation between the Comintern and the Profintern in order to preserve the independence of the revolutionary union movement; (2) the second congress of the Profintern must be held abroad, in order to avoid the anticipated harmful influence of Russia on the gathering; (3) non-admission of separate delegations from the labour unions of Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, and similar nations under Russian control; (4) relocation of the residence of the executive committee of the Profintern outside of the Soviet Union; (5) independence of the labour union movement from political parties, i.e. from communist parties, at the national and international levels; (6) denial of the right of representation to revolutionary minorities, which was meant to include communist opposition fractions in labour unions affiliated with the Amsterdam International [the international trade union association controlled by socialdemocracy – V. D.]; (7) voting at international congresses of the Profintern to be conducted on the basis of countries, regardless of the number of members of organizations; (8) restriction of the Profintern to the sphere of international affairs – prohibition of interference in practice and tactics in individual countries.”<fn> SAPMO: Bestand RY1/I2/708, Aktenband No. 53, Bl. 75-78. </fn>

The search for common ground between the Profintern and the syndicalists was initiated by the French Unitary General Confederation of Labour (CGTU). This organization was formed in 1922 by leftist tendencies which had withdrawn from the CGT. In a letter dated March 8 1922 directed to the Executive Office of the Profintern, its syndicalist leadership demanded the strictest observance of the complete independence of national labour union centrals from communist parties and the Comintern – only in this situation were they ready to join the Profintern. In this connection the CGTU was prepared to allow co-operation with communists within the framework of “coalitions of all the revolutionary forces” by means of specially created “Coordinating Committees.” In forwarding this proposal to Moscow, the Spanish communist Hilari Arlandis urged its acceptance, in order “to disarm the libertarians as quickly as possible” since these ideas enjoyed wide popularity among international syndicalist and even partly among communist circles, especially in Latin countries where the Profintern found itself in an “extremely delicate” situation and there was active anti-Bolshevik agitation by Russian anarchists. “If we don’t put an end to this opposition movement once and for all by making a declaration in favour of the complete independence of the Profintern,” he warned, “We shall be at high risk of never seeing an end to this issue; ... if today the non-negotiable demand of the syndicalist opposition is organizational independence with no strings attached, then tomorrow the libertarians will be raising questions about the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The leadership of the Profintern suggested on March 10 that the CGTU send two representatives to Moscow for negotiations in order to “prepare the ground for a second congress in the interests of all tendencies which would be a great benefit for our common interests.” But the syndicalists preferred the idea of negotiations with Moscow on a broader scale. A congress of the Italian USI in March 1922 approved a proposal of the CGTU to convene an international conference to discuss the conditions of agreement.

It was originally scheduled for June 16-18 in Paris. In connection with this, the Administrative Commission of the CGTU at a meeting on April 28 rejected an invitation from the Profintern to send French delegates to Moscow.

It informed the General Secretary of the Red International Lozovsky about the decision to convene a “preliminary conference” in Paris, the purpose of which was “to make the differences disappear” which were preventing the syndicalists from affiliating with the Moscow International. The CGTU asked the USI, which was organizing the conference, to relocate it to Berlin in order to make it easier for delegations from Russian labour unions to attend.

On May 19 1922 the leaders of the USI A. Borghi and A. Giovannetti informed the “secretary of the Russian labour union central” that on June 16-18 in the capital of Germany would take place an “international syndicalist conference for the purpose of studying the differences in views existing between the revolutionary syndicalist movement of all countries and the Red International of Labour Unions, and to agree on the formation of a Revolutionary Labour Union International if the differences with the Red International could not be resolved.” The USI reported that invitations had been extended to labour union associations in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and also to the “syndicalist minorities” of various countries. In the instructions given to delegations of the Profintern to the international syndicalist conference, it was stated that discussions, and even concessions, about contentious issues were possible, with the exclusion of three basic questions – about the independence of labour unions from political parties, about the banning of communist fractions in reformist labour unions, and about non-interference in the internal affairs of individual organizations. “We must take a stand for our positions on these three most important questions and on this basis we are prepared to go all the way to an open rupture...,” the instructions went on to say.

The international syndicalist conference convened in Berlin in June 1922 with the participation of delegations from France, Germany, Norway, Spain, and also Russian anarcho-syndicalists and official Russian labour unions, representing the Profintern. The communist fraction in the USI and labour unions which had split from the German FAUD were not allowed to cast deciding votes. This prompted the Soviet delegates to quit the conference. A majority of the delegates were sharply critical of the repression of the anarchists in Soviet Russia. This was the final break between the syndicalists and the communists. And although the French delegates refrained from voting because of internal differences, the remaining delegates resolved to break with the Profintern and create an international congress of revolutionary labour unions. To prepare for this a bureau was set up in Berlin headed by R. Rocker assisted by A. Borghi (USI), A. Pestaña (CNT), Albert Jensen (from the Scandinavian syndicalists), and A. Shapiro (from the Russian anarcho-syndicalists). A declaration of principles was adopted, based on the corresponding declaration of the FAUD.

It rejected political parties, parliamentarism, militarism, nationalism, and centralism. Its positive program included the complete autonomy of economic organizations of both physical and intellectual labour, and direct action with the general strike being its highest expression, the “prelude to the social revolution.” The goal of this revolution would be the reconstruction of economic and social life, the liquidation of all State functions in the life of society, and the creation of a system of libertarian communism. The dictatorship of the proletariat and Bolshevik methods were decisively condemned. In the words of researcher [URL=/tags/wayne-thorpe] W. Thorpe, the declaration “signified an important advance in syndicalist thought, since it confirmed and made clear what had often only been implied in pre-war European syndicalism.” It enunciated “not simply political neutrality, as expressed in the ‘Charter of Amiens’, but opposition to all political parties, which were regarded as qualitatively different, hostile organizations, inevitably striving to establish their control over labour unions; and also the smashing of the political state... In short, this document, adopted by the delegates in Berlin, elaborated syndicalist principles.”

In a last-ditch attempt to draw at least part of the revolutionary syndicalists to their side, the leaders of the Comintern and Profintern agreed to do away with reciprocal representation of both “red” Internationals, although they continued to insist on the “leading role” of communists in the labour unions. This concession seemed sufficient to the leadership of the French CGTU, which announced its affiliation with the Profintern; its libertarian minority formed a “Committee of Syndicalist Defense” (CDS). Satisfied with the measures taken by Moscow, a majority of the leadership of the Netherlands NAS took a position opposed to the creation of a new syndicalist International. The remaining revolutionary syndicalist unions endorsed an organizational demarcation between themselves and Bolshevism. Thus, at the congress of the Portuguese CGT in October 1922, 55 locals supported the creation of a new International and only 22 were for joining the Profintern.

At the same time, the rupture between the ascendant European anarcho-syndicalism and both the pre-war syndicalism and Bolshevism seemed inadequate to some of the revolutionary unions. Thus, the Argentine FORA, in its “Memorandum” addressed to the upcoming constitutional congress of the syndicalist International, expressed complete agreement with the proposed organizational system and methods of struggle, and endorsed the social goal of the new international organization – libertarian communism.

However it categorically rejected the notion that labour unions – organs which arose under capitalism in response to capitalist conditions and fulfilled a service as the best means of worker resistance against the State and Capital – would be transformed in the course of the revolution into the basis and ruling organs of the new society. “With the liquidation of the capitalist production system and rule of the State, the syndicalist economic organs will end their historical role as the fundamental weapon in the struggle with the system of exploitation and tyranny. Consequently, these organs must give way to free associations and free federations of free producers and consumers.” FORA took a stand against industrial (sectoral) forms of organization, considering that they imitated Capitalism. Finally, FORA categorically rejected any form of a “united front” with labour unions led by communists.

The final formation of the anarcho-syndicalist International (sometimes also known as the “Berlin International of labour unions”) took place at the constitutional congress which took place illegally in Berlin from December 25 1922 to January 2 1923, punctuated by police raids and arrests.

Represented at it were the Argentine FORA, the Italian USI, the German FAUD, the Chilean division of the IWW, the Swedish union central SAC, the Norwegian syndicalist federation, the Union for syndicalist propaganda of Denmark, the Netherlands NAS, and the Mexican General Confederation of Workers. The delegates of the Spanish CNT were arrested before they reached Berlin. The Portuguese CGT sent a written endorsement. Attending with a deliberative vote were representatives of the left-communist German General Workers Union-Unitary Organization (AAUD-E), the German anarcho-syndicalist youth, the French CDS, the French federation of construction workers, the Federation of Youth of the Seine, delegates of the Russian anarcho-syndicalist emigration, the Czechoslovak Free Workers Union, and representatives of the international syndicalist bureaus created in 1920 and 1922 in the Netherlands and Germany.

Altogether these organizations accounted for roughly two million members. The 14th annual convention of the American IWW declared it did not intend to affiliate with either the Profintern or the syndicalist International, since neither one were suitable for it.

All the delegates, except the representatives of the Netherlands NAS, rejected the “concessions” of the Bolsheviks and participation in the Profintern. The creation of a new, anarcho-syndicalist International was announced. By way of a motion proposed by the Italian Alibrando Giovanetti, as a symbol of continuity the new organization took the historical name of the First International – the “International Workers’ Association” (IWA). The declaration of principles of the IWA (“Principles of revolutionary syndicalism”) in essence repeated the basic positions of the Berlin declaration of June 1922. Elected to the Secretariat of the IWA in Berlin were R. Rocker, A. Souchy, and A. Shapiro.

The records of the congress contain harsh condemnations not only of capitalism and the reformism of social-democracy, but also of the Bolshevist “State socialism.” The delegates accused Bolshevism of suppressing revolution in Russia and creating a new state-capitalist system, in which the workers of the USSR remained exploited as wage workers. “Forcibly destroying with relentless consistency all institutions which arose out of the people’s initiative, namely soviets, co-operatives, etc., in order to subject the masses to a newly created class of commissar-rulers, [Bolshevism] paralyzed the creative activity of the masses and gave birth to a new despotism, stifling any kind of free thought and confining the spiritual life of the country to the banal party mold,” according to the appeal “To Working People of All Countries and Nationalities.” The so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat – a fig leaf for Bolshevist reaction – had proven itself able to stabilize the rule of a new upper stratum over the broad masses of the people and condemn to death revolutionaries of all tendencies, but was incapable of guiding the economic and social life of the country on a new path and carrying out really constructive work in the spirit of socialism.”

As R. Rocker explained later, for anarcho-syndicalists the Bolsheviks were the heirs of “the absolutist trend of thought in socialism,” a special kind of “socialist Jacobins,” i.e. essentially they were revolutionaries who were political rather than social, and bourgeois rather than proletarian.

In spite of this harsh critique of Bolshevism, some syndicalists still believed in the possibility of coming to an arrangement with the Profitern about a “united front” of the revolutionary proletariat. A corresponding draft resolution was introduced at the Berlin congress by the French delegation.

A majority of the other participants did not exhibit any great enthusiasm for this project, but went along with this idea so as not to complicate the situation of the French comrades. The FORA emphatically objected to such a compromise and abstained from voting on the resolution.

The creation of the IWA was officially confirmed at congresses or referenda of its sections. In Europe affiliation to the IWA was speedily approved by the FAUD, USI, SAC, and CNT. At a referendum in Norway the creation of the International was approved unanimously, and in Portugal (October 1924) 104 syndicates declared for the IWA, six for the Profintern. In the Netherlands, the communists and other supporters of the Profintern were able to gain a slight majority in a referendum of syndicates, and IWA members organized a new trade union central – the Netherlands Syndicalist Trade Union Federation (NSV). Also declaring its affiliation to the IWA was the Revolutionary-Syndicalist CGT (CGT-SR), finally splitting from the French CGTU.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s sections and groups of adherents of the IWA also appeared in Austria, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Poland, and Rumania.

In America, affiliation with the IWA was also confirmed by a congress of the Mexican General Confederation of Labour (CGT) in December 1923. A congress of the FORA, extremely unhappy with the resolution adopted in Berlin about “revolutionary unity,” decided in March 1923 to join the anarcho-syndicalist International conditionally and to hold a referendum on this matter. But then, after the contentious resolution was repealed, the objection against participation in the IWA was removed. Also joining the IWA were anarcho-syndicalists from Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, Guatemala, Ecuador, Cuba, Costa Rica, and El Salvador (in May 1929 an American continental association of workers was created as a section of the IWA). Sections also sprang up in Japan and China. In the U.S.A. the Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union of the IWW affiliated with the IWA.

Chapter 7: The World Anarcho-Syndicalist Movement in the 1920’s and 1930’s

The International Association of Workers was reconstituted at a moment when the global revolutionary wave had already begun to subside. Many of its sections were soon subjected to harsh repression and were crushed. In Italy after the regime of Mussolini took power, the activity of local branches of the USI was paralyzed already by April 1924.

Going underground, the labour federation re-organized and was able to lead a number of significant strikes (miners in Valdarno and on Elba), marble workers in Carrara, and metalworkers).

But by 1927 the USI had finally been destroyed, its leading activists either arrested or forced to emigrate.

In Portugal after the installation of a military dictatorship, the CGT tried to organize a general strike in February 1927. The strike was suppressed, nearly 100 people were killed, many activists were arrested, and the CGT was outlawed. It succeeded in re-organizing its forces underground and re-established a number of unions and branches of the federation. In 1929-1930 the organization had 32 unions with 15,000-20,000 members, and by 1934 it included seven federations. The Portuguese anarcho-syndicalists continued a tenacious struggle against unemployment and the high cost of living, for the 8-hour day, and the right for unions to exist. In January 1934 decrees of the Salazar government about replacing unions with corporations of the fascist type were greeted by the CGT with a “general revolutionary strike” and an uprising. The revolt suffered defeat. The heroic resistance of the Portuguese workers could not avert the destruction of the CGT.

In Argentina the FORA towards the end of the 1920’s had a membership, according to various sources, somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 and conducted successful general and localized strikes, achieving the implementation of the 6-hour work day. However a military coup in 1930 and the subsequent persecution dealt a heavy blow to the organization, from which it was unable to recover.

In Germany, after the downturn of the revolutionary movement in 1923, the membership of the FAUD began to fall sharply: in 1929 it still had 9,500 members, but under conditions of catastrophic mass unemployment this number decreased to 6,600 in 1931 and 4,300 in 1932. This small organization was no longer able to conduct strikes independently.

It carried on active cultural work and campaigns for the boycotting of elections, and participated in strikes organized by the reformist labour unions in order to impart to them a more radical character. Emphasizing direct action and strikes of solidarity, it tried to oppose the onslaught of Nazism. After Hitler took power, the FAUD continued to resist underground until the second half of the 1930’s.

The headquarters of the IWA in Berlin was seized by the Nazis and the members of the Secretariat barely succeeded in fleeing Germany.

As a result of massive government repression anarchosyndicalist unions were destroyed in Peru, Brazil (after 1930), Columbia, Japan (in the mid 1930’s), Cuba (after 1925-1927), Bulgaria (the Confederation of Labour which appeared at the beginning of the 1930’s had been wiped out by the end of the decade), and the countries of Central America. In Paraguay and Bolivia activities of the anarcho-syndicalist workers’ organizations were banned during the Chaco War (1932- 1935) and subsequently were not able to attain their previous level. The French section was also unable to acquire a mass character. The great crisis of 1929-1933, accompanied by the growth of nationalist and statist sentiments, significantly weakened the movement in the majority of other countries.

In Mexico the leadership of the CGT collaborated with the national-reformist government, accepting the principle of arbitration of labour disputes by the State; the Confederation quit the anarcho-syndicalist International. By the end of the 1930’s legal anarcho-syndicalist trade union associations existed only in Chile (General Confederation of Workers, 1931), Bolivia (Local Federation of La Paz), and Uruguay (FORU); the FORA operated in the underground.

The main stronghold of anarcho-syndicalism remained Spain where, following the fall of the monarchy in 1931, a vigorous growth of the strength and influence of the CNT took place. “From all sides, from Germany, Poland, France, and other countries where there are IWA sections, the Secretariat receives communications about the existing state of mind, which ... it is possible to express in the following form: ‘International fascism has destroyed our revolutionary movement in most countries... Only in one country do we entertain hope that the social revolution can overcome it [fascist reaction, – V. D.] – in Spain’,” – wrote members of the IWA Secretariat in a message to the CNT in June 1934.

At the first legal congress of the labour federation in 1931, more than 500,000 members were represented and a few years later the number of members exceeded one million.

During the first year and a half of the republic’s existence, 30 general and 3,600 localized strikes were organized, mainly by the CNT. The peasantry, organized by the anarcho-syndicalists, seized land from the estate owners, demanding socialization, on a massive scale. In 1932-1933 a wave of local revolutionary uprisings rolled across the country: members of the CNT seized control of population centres and proclaimed libertarian communism. The authorities were able to suppress the movement only with difficulty. Thousands of people were killed or arrested, but the influence of anarchosyndicalism in Spain continued to grow.

Confronted with aggressive reaction, the anarchosyndicalists had to deal with a series of tactical questions. First of all, an IWA plenum at Innsbruck (December 1923) once and for all condemned the actions of the Bolsheviks, repealed the concessions made to the French syndicalists at the constitutional congress, and rejected the possibility of a united front with the communist parties. The second congress of the IWA (1925) confirmed its negative attitude towards all political parties which were regarded as tools in the struggle for power, rather than for freedom. Any long-term alliance with political parties was impossible, for this would contradict the goals of the IWA. Participants at the congress perceived fascism and Bolshevism as “reaction of a new type,” resorting to naked tyranny and massive repression. The congress expressed the conviction that it was necessary to defend civil and union freedoms as conquests of the workers, but not as part of a democratic system which was liable to be overthrown along with capitalism.

Anarcho-syndicalists should act independently and not make official alliances with anyone else even if, in the course of struggling with fascist and military dictatorships, they happened to “cross paths with other political forces.”

In the struggle with Bolshevism any kind of collaboration with other forces was impermissible. It was noted that the liberal bourgeoisie, when confronted with a threat to their own rule, was always prepared to transfer power to dictators.

Therefore the struggle with dictatorship must not be carried on in such way as to strengthen democracy as a system of government. The best means of struggle with dictatorship, according to a resolution of the congress, is the class struggle of the workers. More or less the same tone was displayed in a resolution adopted at the 4th Congress (1931). The IWA was oriented, in the first instance, to working together with other groups with similar views (anarchist federations and groups, anti-militarists, etc.), but also permitted practical co-operation for concrete goals with other labour unions, supporting strikes and conducting solidarity campaigns. The IWA frequently made approaches to Internationals of socialdemocratic and communist labour unions about mutually organizing boycotts of fascist and dictatorial states and the goods produced in them, and trying to stop the delivery of raw materials from other countries in the case of strikes, etc. At the beginning of the 1930’s the struggle with fascist reaction became even more urgent for anarcho-syndicalists, but they endeavoured in dealing with the problem to adhere to their social-revolutionary line. In the appeal issued by the IWA for May 1 1932 it was said that “in a number of countries in the immediate future the question will arise: revolution or fascism?” [158] In 1933 the anarcho-syndicalist International called for a global boycott of Nazi Germany.

The Spanish and Swedish sections worked out plans to avoid handling German goods and vessels, accompanied by consumer boycotts – this idea was also supported in Holland.

But the French section expressed opposition, fearing such actions could be exploited by Hitlerian propaganda. Repression against the CNT at the end of 1933 finally put an end to these plans. In their attempts to oppose international reaction, the anarcho-syndicalists did not put their faith in social-democrats and communists and boycotted their “antifascist” and “anti-militarist” congresses. After the proposal by the communists about the creation of a “United Front,” the Secretariat of the IWA queried the sections, but ended up sharply rejecting the idea (only the FAUD, already being in emigration, supported the notion of a “united front against fascism”). In May 1934, the Secretariat issued a declaration once more rejecting any possibility of organizing a “united front.” A corresponding resolution, proposed by the French section, was passed at the 5th Congress of the IWA in Paris (1935).

Chapter 8: Ideological-Theoretical Discussions in Anarcho-syndicalism in the 1920’s -1930’s

In spite of heavy defeats in a majority of countries, the repressions of dictators, and the politics of communists aimed at subverting the anarcho-syndicalist movement, the period of the 1920’s and 1930’s was a time of lively ideological-theoretical discussions among anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists. The participants in these discussions not only put forth a penetrating analysis of contemporary capitalist society, but also described the contours of a social alternative with great insight.

In all the documents and decisions of the IWA there is emphasis on the basis of unity of anarcho-syndicalists: their common goal (libertarian communism, free socialism) and their common principles and methods of struggle (direct action up to and including social revolution). However within this framework there existed significant divergences within the world anarcho-syndicalist movement. “We are well aware that within organizations and, even more so, within an international association of various national organizations, it is impossible to arrange complete harmony,” said R. Rocker at the 2nd Congress of the IWA in Amsterdam in 1925. “On the other hand, we even consider that different opinions on certain questions within one and the same organization can serve a useful purpose by assisting spiritual development and encouraging independent judgement. We have seen this occurring in the IWA.”

The experience of the Russian Revolution and the outbreaks of revolution after World War I had made a deep impression on the views of libertarians about contemporary society and the alternative to it. It was in this period that so-called “anarchist revisionism” developed. In Italy E. Malatesta and [URL=/tags/camillo-berneri] Camillo Berneri acted as its propagandists.

The former, long known as one of the leading theoreticians of anarcho-communism, while not renouncing his basic ideological principles, now believed as a result of the Russian experience that “for the organization on a broad scale of a communist society one must radically transform the whole of economic life – the means of production, exchange, and consumption – and this can only be done one step at a time.” He believed that during the course of a revolution, anarchists would find themselves in a minority at first and ought not to impose their own ideas and concepts on the whole of society. Revolutions, in his opinion, were liable to lead to the emergence of a pluralistic society, composed of a multitude of communes bound together by communistic, but also commercial, relations.1 Berneri advanced the notion of the coexistence of different economic forms in an anarchist society. “All anarchists are atheists, but I’m an agnostic,” he wrote, “All anarchists are communists, but I’m a liberal, that is, I’m for free competition between co-operative and individual labour and trade.”2

Some anarchists, trying to figure out why the Bolsheviks gained victory in the Russian Revolution, came to the conclusion there was something to be learned from the Bolsheviks in the field of tactics and organization. Thus, the “Platformists” (a group led by [URL=/tags/nestor-makhno] Nestor Makhno and Petr Arshinov) took a position for the acknowledgement of the principle of class struggle in history, and for the creation of a strong organization of anarchists (in fact – a type of party) which could take part as a unitary force in Soviets and in the trade union movement, and play a leading ideological and constructive role in the revolution. Essentially, the “platformists” allowed for stages in the revolutionary process and the fulfilment of governmental functions by soviets. They maintained that in the productive system of the future society decentralization and integration of labour would be technical questions, subject to needs of a unified economy, rather than questions of principle. In fact they adopted the industrial form of organizing production, proposing only to get rid of private ownership and hand over control of production to Factory Committees. A significant number of anarchists (Vsevolod Volin and other Russian emigrants, E. Malatesta, Sebastien Faure) subjected such positions to criticism, considering them a departure from anti-authoritarian principles and the values of libertarian communism.

Another argument against the immediate implementation of anarchist communism is that the notion of a free commune is in contradiction to “the real spirit and tendencies” of the industrial stage of development of society with its striving for universality and increasing specialization. For example, the well known historian of anarchism, Max Nettlau, criticized the “rural-industrial atomization of humanity in anarcho-communism and declared: “Decentralization ... creates something just the opposite to solidarity and multiplies the sources of friction and stress. Our hopes for improvement are based on building solidarity, in federating larger units, and breaking down local barriers and boundaries, and in the collective control of the natural resources and other forms of wealth of our planet.” At the same time, he assumed that the principles of “collectivism” (distribution according to labour) and monetary compensation for labour were more compatible with the industrial form of organizing production.

The heated discussions and quarrels about the trajectories of social revolution which were carried on in the IWA to some extent served as a continuation of the polemics between anarcho-communists and syndicalists at the beginning of the century. One group were in favour not only of the elimination of Capitalism and the State, but also for the demolition of the industrial system itself with its factory despotism, rigid division of labour, and dehumanizing technology. A second group welcomed industrial-technological progress and hoped to construct a socialist society using it as a base.

Their quarrel was closely connected with the analysis of the latest trends in the development of Capitalism itself – its rationalization of production in its Fordist-Taylorist phase.

This stage of industrial development was accompanied by the introduction of mechanization and conveyor technology on a massive scale, dividing the labour process into a series of operations and severely undermining control on the part of the worker, who lost the sense of the integrity and meaning of their own labour, but in exchange acquired the possibility of mass consumption.

The problems of “capitalist rationalization” were first dealt with at the 3rd Congress of the IWA in Liège in 1928.

The delegates declared themselves in favour of “progress in all fields of endeavour,” but considered its manifestations in the sphere of capitalist production to be negative as far as the workers were concerned. The resolution passed by the Congress appraised the ongoing process as the direct result of a new phase of development of society, which was reflected in the transition from the “old private capitalism” to “contemporary collective capitalism” (trusts, cartels), from untrammeled competition to the exploitation of the whole world by a unified system. It was emphasized that rationalization was being carried out in the interest of capitalists, and its implications for workers involved the undermining of their physical and mental health, along with their subordination to the mechanisms of “industrial slavery.” Rationalization condemned working people to the loss of jobs, unemployment, and, consequently, a worsening of living conditions. The Congress declared that it considered such a transformation of the capitalist economy as a precondition not of socialism, but rather of a future state capitalism. The path to socialism, it was noted in the resolution, is defined not by the constant growth of production, but, in the first instance, by clear thinking and firm will on the part of the people. Socialism is not just an economic problem, it is also cultural and psychological; it assumes people believe in their own capabilities and that work is complex and absorbing – and that all this is incompatible with the ongoing rationalization.

The resolution spoke in favour of decentralization rather than centralization of the economy, for the unity rather than specialization and division of labour, and for the integral formation and development of all the abilities of people. In response to the creation of gigantic national and international structures of capital, the workers should strengthen their own international economic organization, enabling them to struggle for everyday demands as well as for the re-organization of society, for the shortening of the work day to six hours, to resist unemployment, organize international strikes and boycott campaigns, etc.

However such a critical stance towards the process of development of the industrial-capitalist system and the demands for a radical break with it encountered objections from a substantial number of anarcho-syndicalists who, following the Marxists, associated socialism with advances in technology and an increase in the productivity of labour.

They did not consider the new forms of technology and the organization of production as incompatible with socialism.

Such an approach logically entailed the centralization of production and the economy as a whole, and the rejection of the notion of federations of decentralized and largely self-sufficient communes, and therefore rejection of the communist principle of distribution. The old ideas of collectivism were considered much more appropriate for the industrial century. Even Rocker began stating at the end of the 1920’s that, although remaining in principle an adherent of anarchist communism, he considered the collectivist principle “to each the full product of his/her labour” to be more realistic in a period of revolutionary transformations and during the first phases of the creation of a new society. He referred to the inevitable economic difficulties accompanying revolution, to the growth of selfish attitudes in contemporary society, and – like the Marxists – he associated the implementation of communist distribution with material “abundance.”

Souchy, debating these problems with Cornelissen, proposed that only “in a pre-industrial society would it be possible, and then only in small communities, to introduce a pure distributive economy. In a contemporary industrial society and with the current interdependence of global economies, from which an individual country cannot withdraw, the exchange of products inevitably determines values. Speaking more precisely, exchange determines prices which in turn determines wages.” The alternative would be to introduce centralized planning, which is contrary to the principles of anarchism. Such a situation, in his opinion, would obtain at least until the epoch of universal abundance.

Lively discussions about the question of industrial development and the nature of the future free society were carried on in the pages of the journal Die Internationale – the de facto organ of the IWA, published by its German section.

If previously FAUD had unequivocally declared itself as the “bearer of communist anarchism” , now many of its leading activists began to oppose the anarcho-communist principle of distribution “according to demand” as a “crazy idea,” calling instead for the study of existing economic categories (Helmut Rüdiger) and adjusting distribution in accordance with the real “productivity” of labour (Gerhard Wartenberg – “Gerhard”). It was even asserted that “rationing” by means of monetary regulation was “fairer” than communist anarchism (Fritz Dettmer). The opinion was expressed that in a “socialist-federative system” there must exist an “industrial interlocking of the productive forces,” a regulated and planned economy, and economic democracy (Fritz Linov). Finally, some found it conceivable that the social functions of the State “should be kept intact” even after revolution (Wartenberg), and a federative system of Councils should be introduced only after a transitional stage, as soon as the revolution managed to put together a “united front” in which the anarcho-syndicalists would be in a minority (Reinhold Busch). On the other hand, a section of the German anarcho-syndicalists continued to insist on the classical anti-industrial principles of anarchocommunism.

Thus, Heinrich Drewes condemned such innovations as “capitalistic thinking” and supported the complete transformation of the existing profit-based economy.

He supported the creation of a non-monetary communist economic system, in which associations of workers would organize planning from below, based on the determination of the people’s real needs. He rejected “gigantomania” and centralization the borrowed from Marxism and was in favour of the re-organization of the economic life based on “agrarianization” as opposed to “industrialization.” In 1932 the leadership of FAUD was almost paralyzed by bitter ideological and theoretical disputes.

The industrialist tendency was strongest in the French section of the IWA – the Revolutionary-Syndicalist CGT. The theoretician and practitioner of French anarcho-syndicalism Pierre Besnard, like many of the syndicalists before the First World War, started from the assumption of the progressiveness of the industrial development of humanity. According to Besnard, technological changes (associated with the production-line, “Fordist-Taylorist” era) opened new, broad perspectives for the social liberation of workers. Workers’ organizations, while carrying on the struggle with capitalism, should arrange their internal structure in imitation of capitalist economic formations, so that immediately after the victorious general revolutionary strike they could take over management of the economy. In other words, the syndicates and their federations emerging within the capitalist structure were destined to become the nervous system of the new society, the organs of economic coordination, planning, etc. The first stage, which Besnard called “libertarian communism,” would involve the preservation of elements of the monetary system and distribution “according to labour.”

Only at the second stage (Besnard named it “free communism”) would it be possible to carry to completion the ideal of a self-managed communist society.

This departure from the principles of anarcho-communism provoked a sharp rejoinder from anarchists in Latin America, above all from those in the Argentine FORA. Its theoreticians set themselves the task of providing a sound basis for their own traditional critique of revolutionary syndicalism (as being semi-Marxist in essence) and European anarcho-syndicalism (as an attempt to synthesize anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism). They raised questions about the conceptions of a syndicalist structure of the postrevolutionary society and about a united class front of the proletariat. Simultaneously they also criticized the notion of “ideological-political” organizations of anarchists separate from the workers’ movement (as proposed by Malatesta, on the one hand, and by the Platformists on the other). FORA countered this by advancing a model of an “anarchist organization of workers,” structured like a syndicate but not limiting itself to strictly economic problems but also taking up issues of solidarity, mutual aid, and anarchist communism.

The theoreticians of the FORA presented a thorough critique of the Marxist-industrial viewpoint on history, contemporary capitalism, and social revolution, one of the first such critiques in the 20th century. Above all, they criticized the theory of linear progress and Marxist historical materialism, affirming (following Kropotkin) that the development of humanity is impelled not just by economic laws, but also by the evolution of ethical concepts and compelling ideas. According, the FORA sharply criticized economic and historical determinism and denied that capitalism and its economic organization were progressive by nature. The theoreticians of the FORA perceived the economic structure of industrial capitalist society (the factory system, sectoral specialization, extreme division of labour, etc.) as an “economic state” – in tandem with the “political state,” i.e. the government. The new, free society should not develop according to the laws of the old society, according to their logic, but represent a decisive, radical break with it. The base of the new society should be the free commune and the free association; their slogan should not be “All Power to the Syndicates!,” but rather “No Power to Anyone!” An anarchist communist system must not under any circumstances be built “within the bowels” of the old social organism, or else it could expect the fate of the Russian Revolution – warned the leading ideologue of the FORA Emilio López Arango. The proletariat was “destined to become the wall which would stem the tide of industrial imperialism. Only by creating ethical values which would enable the proletariat to understand social problems independently from bourgeois civilization would it be possible to arrive at an indestructible basis for an anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist revolution – a revolution which would do away with the regime of large-scale industry and financial, industrial, and commercial trusts.” The purely economic interests of the proletarians within capitalism could be completely fulfilled within the framework of the existing system, mainly at the expense of other proletarians, which was why a united front of the proletariat was an impossibility.

It was important to spread the habits and notions of solidarity and freedom; it was possible to accomplish this in the course of economic direct action, but in doing so the ultimate goal should never be lost sight of. Therefore the anarchist workers’ organization should be not simply “for all the workers,” but, above all for those who share the ideal of anarchist communism.

The most lively debates about tendencies in the development of capitalism and the concomitant changes in the tactics of anarcho-syndicalism unfolded at the 4th Congress of the IWA in Madrid in 1931. This congress took place at the height of the world economic crisis, which the anarchosyndicalist theoreticians understood as a consequence of capitalist rationalization. This rationalization led, on the one hand, to a runaway growth in production but, on the other hand, to a reduction of positions in the workplace and a reduction in the buying power of workers. Two approaches – one industrial and the other anti-industrial, clashed at the congress in a most acrimonious manner. According to Muños Congost, author of historical notes to the publication of materials of the congresses of the IWA, the essence of the discussion reduced to the following. “On one side, the draft of the document about rationalization, prepared by Shapiro and serving as the basis for final editing according to the wishes of the Congress, insisted on the advantages of the new methods of organizing production connected with increasing mechanization. These methods were regarded as fundamental in preparing the consciousness of the working masses, and as the starting point for the future organization of the economic content of the revolution. On the other side, a more anarchist conception was put forward [by Rocker, – V. D.] about the direct responsibility of the producers, who cannot and must not divorce their own productive activities from all the other forms of activity of conscious individuals...

This approach did not oppose rationalization as such, but rather required a balance between the participation of the individuals in social production and the preservation of their own individuality, their personalities.” Rocker “declared that the revolution must transform the slave conception of labour-as-exploitation, as an obligation sanctified by tradition and the church over many centuries, ... into a different form, more compatible with an harmonious organization of human relationships,” on the basis of the integrity of labour. The German anarcho-syndicalist conceded that technical development can humanize life, but not in a capitalist setting, where human beings exist for production. Long before people began talking about alienation and ecological problems, he noted that the production of goods which are harmful to health is “social suicide.” Working according to the monotonous rhythm of a machine destroys a person’s personality. It follows that people must be placed at the centre of the economy, and production – oriented according to the needs of real consumers. He warned: “If the rationalization of labour is preserved in its present form for another 50 years, any hope for socialism will be lost.”

Basing himself on an industrial analysis of the changes which were occurring, although also not agreeing with Shapiro’s proposal about sanctioning the creation of Factory Councils which would take control over the financial management of enterprises, Besnard proposed a “Plan for Reorganizing International Syndicalism.” Since capitalism was now in the throes of “simultaneously carrying out two rationalizations – economic and social,” the syndicalist movement should “position itself on the same level as its opponent” and carry through a “rationalization on a global scale” on its own. He called for a reorganization of the international organization using a model for industrial unions which would be applied in all countries from bottom to top: union Factory Councils joined together in networks up to the national level, and then affiliation to the corresponding international organs. The various structures must be completely independent of enterprises and the State, being the embryo of the economic system of the future. Their task would be the collection of managerial and technical information, the implementation of workers’ control over enterprises, the relocation of work forces, and the preparation of workers for managing production at all levels, including the international level.

Besnard’s conception was the subject of a sharp attack by the Argentine FORA, which went much farther than Rocker in its critique of rationalization. One of the Argentine delegates declared at the congress: “Not only political fascism, but also capitalist industrialism is the most dangerous form of tyranny. Comrades are assuming the economic question alone has decisive significance. However the capitalist apparatus, if it remains as is, even in our hands will never be an instrument for the liberation of humanity, a humanity crushed by a gigantic mechanism. The economic crisis has triggered an enormous growth in machines and rationalization, and this growth is by no means limited to urban industry but has also spread to the rural economy. This is a universal crisis which can only be resolved through social revolution.” Consequently, the Latin American delegates at the congress rejected the plan proposed by the French syndicalists to reorganize the international anarcho-syndicalist movement as a global structure of industrial syndicates, capable of taking over the existing system of industrial production in the case of revolution. “Industrialization is not necessary,” they asserted, “People lived without it for thousands of years; happy lives and well-being do not depend on industrialization.” “It must not be assumed that the impending revolution will decide everything once and for all. The next revolution will not be the last. In the revolutionary upheaval all preparations will be thrown overboard, and the revolution will create for itself its own forms of living.” According to one of the Argentine delegates, the French syndicalists “have committed an error in trying to mechanize the IWA. One should not think exclusively about production, but more about people; the main problem is not the organization of the economic system, but the propagation of anarchist ideology.” He spoke against rationalization, since “the people don’t exist for society, but society for the people” and called for “a pure syndicalism: a return to nature, to agriculture, to communes. Only by following these principles can we surmount production for the market and switch to a system of free distribution.”

The objections of the FORA to the plans of Besnard were supported also by the Uruguayan FORU.

The theoreticians of the Japanese labour federation Zenkoku Jiren criticized syndicalist industrialism even more severely than the Latin American worker-anarchists. Their conception of anarchist revolution, which they expounded in detail, implied a cardinal break with the logic of industrial capitalism. The current system, they said, was based on the division of labour and the consequent hierarchy; this division and its attendant mechanization deprived the workers of any responsibility and required coordinating and administrative authorities which were incompatible with the principles of libertarian communism. Therefore the structure of the future free society could not be compatible with the existing authoritarian and capitalist structure. The new society must surmount industrialism with its soul-destroying division of labour and base itself on a different conception of the interrelation of production and consumption, but with the emphasis on consumption. The fundamental unit of this new society must be the self-sufficient, autonomous commune, uniting industry and agriculture.

The Japanese anarchists acknowledged the class struggle as an historical fact, but refused to see in it the basis for libertarian revolution which, in their opinion, would emerge not from the contradictions of capitalism and not from the material interests of classes, but rather from the desire of humanity for freedom and the liquidation of classes generally.

Since “class struggle and revolution are different things,” “it was a great mistake to claim..., that revolution takes place by means of class struggle,” emphasized the Japanese theoretician of anarchism Hatta Shûzô.

Zenkoku Jiren rejected traditional syndicalism, seeing in it elements of the reproduction of the industrial-capitalist model. The continuation of the division of society into groups according to occupation, the preservation of the factory system and centralization, and the organization of society throughout on the basis of professional and industrial unions, would perpetuate the division of labour and the hierarchy of management. “Syndicalism,” wrote Hatta, “will adopt the capitalist means of production, and will also preserve the system of big factories, and first and foremost it will also retain the division of labour and the mode of economic organization which go together with capitalist means of production.” The structure of the syndicates grows out of the capitalist means of production and creates an organization which serves as a mirror image of industrial-capitalist structures. If the capitalist bosses are simply removed and the mines handed over to the miners, the foundries to the foundry workers, etc., then the contradictions between different branches of production and the inequality between individual groups of workers will be preserved. Consequently some kind of arbitrage or organ for resolving disputes between different sectors and groups is required. This creates a real danger of regenerating classes and leads to the appearance of a new state or government in the form of a union bureaucracy. The Japanese anarchists also considered totally wrong any plans of organizing a new society on the basis of a system of Workers’ Councils. Because they originated in production, such councils also reproduced the capitalist division of labour. Moreover, they would also inevitably be power bases and would discriminate against those who did not take part directly in the production of material wealth or who worked in “secondary” branches of the economy. “No matter how the councils were oriented economically,” emphasized Hatta, “it remains clear that their creation would always be accompanied by the emergence of authoritarian rule.”

Thus a choice was posed: the commune or the industrial union? industrial rationalization or integration of decentralized industrial and rural economies? The majority of the sections of the IWA occupied an intermediate position between these extreme positions. The 1931 congress decided to submit the question about “international re-organization” to a referendum of the sections. In 1935 the regular IWA congress in Paris, meeting at a time when the Latin American organizations had been shattered by government terror, approved the proposal of the French Revolutionary-Syndicalist CGT. But this decision about re-organizing the IWA was not in fact implemented.

The conceptions of the FORA contained a critique of the alien and destructive character of the industrial-capitalist system which was brilliant for its time – the FORA’s proposals anticipated by half a century the recommendations and prescriptions of the contemporary ecological movement.

Nevertheless their critique had a point of vulnerability – a categorical refusal to elaborate more concrete notions about the future society, how to get to it and how to prepare for it.

According to the thinking of the Argentine theoreticians, to do so would be to infringe on revolutionary spontaneity and the improvisations of the masses themselves. The achievement of socialism was not a matter of technical and organizational preparation, but rather the dissemination of feelings of freedom, equality, and solidarity – insisted the Argentine worker-anarchists. Nevertheless, objected the European anarcho-syndicalists, such an approach provides no protection from authoritarianism, and could be conducive to the appropriation of the gains of the Revolution by some kind of elitist “vanguard.” Thus from the Marxist reluctance to imagine the forms and mechanisms of functioning of a socialist society logically ensued the rule of “scientific socialists” over immature and ignorant masses. At the moment of Revolution these masses already know what they don’t want, but don’t yet have an understanding of what is required for a new, liberated life. Instead they end up with the Enlightenment or Jacobin concept of an “educational dictatorship.” “The Social Revolution must be prepared in detail, in order to be crowned with success. It doesn’t make any sense to wish to improvise everything,” argued the Swedish delegate Albert Jensen at the 4th IWA Congress, “Such a position can be exploited by political demagogues in order to get control of the Revolution, restore political power, and establish a dictatorship.” At this moment special attention was focused on the anarcho-syndicalists of Spain – a country where social revolution was soon to become a reality. That is why the delegates of the CNT at the 4th Congress of the IWA supported Besnard’s proposal.3 “It is necessary to nourish the constructive capabilities of the workers. Capitalism won’t die by itself. Constructive action is more important than barricades,” declared Victor Orobón Fernández. “Destruction by itself is not at all creative. The most important day of the Revolution is the second day, when new construction begins.” He referred to the example of Russia, where “the anarchists fought, while the Bolsheviks started building on their own.” The more people are prepared for revolution, the better they will know what to do after the overthrow and expropriation of Capital and the State, the easier and less painful it will be to carry out the Revolution, and the less danger there will be of usurpation by an avant-garde. The significance of the arguments of the European anarcho-syndicalists lay in their insistence on the insufficiency of just spreading libertarian values and ideas.

They maintained it was necessary to prepare people technically and organizationally so their grasp of production was such that they could take over management of production after the Revolution. “It’s quite indisputable: in order for a certain ideal to triumph, it must be ingrained in the heads of those who will defend it. Insufficient preparation of the people leads to vacillations, always fatal for the matter being defended. That’s why we recognize that before proceeding to the anarchist organization of society, it is quite essential that the people be prepared beforehand,” emphasized V. Márquez Sicilia in the theoretical journal of the Spanish anarchists La Revista blanca. He maintained that, although the Revolution will be violent, the main path to the new society is propaganda: “Victory can only be gained as the result of a general effort which, moreover, will be contingent on the support of a majority of the people. And this combined action, this support of the majority of the people, can be achieved only in the course of a prolonged period of ideological propaganda, but propaganda which is competent, serious, deliberate, and responsible...” J. Masgomieri, another author of La Revista blanca indicated it was not a matter of an interminable process of waiting until all the people became anarchists: “In order for the anarchist social revolution to become ... an invincible and triumphant force which embraces the whole population, it is first necessary that everyone knows and understands without any kind of intellectual effort the organizational mechanism of the new order of things. And this clear understanding, this material knowledge of the new system, to a much greater degree than abstract and philosophical studies, will give rise to revolutionary consciousness which will become the surest guarantee of development of the Revolution.” The Spanish anarchists categorically rejected the notion advanced by some syndicalists about the difference between an anarchist society and libertarian communism: vague ideas about Anarchy as the simple removal of any sort of restrictions can only give rise to some kind of “sad state of affairs” which amounts to “unconscious sabotage of one’s own ideal and paves the way for the schemes of newly minted politicians.”

In the Spanish CNT there existed tendencies close both to revolutionary syndicalism with its notion of the “syndicalist construction of society,” and to the conception of “libertarian communism.” The debate was ongoing about what to do after the Revolution triumphed by means of a general strike and insurrection. The communitarians, following the anarcho-communist tradition, believed the basis of the future society should be the libertarian commune (“free municipality”), autonomous and self-sufficient to the maximum degree. Correspondingly, they ascribed less significance to problems of economic linkages and the management of coordinated activities between such communes, assuming that any surpluses could be exchanged on an unpaid basis. The industrialists were partial to the revolutionary syndicalist scheme, according to which after the Revolution centralized factory management structures and forms of organization of the economy would be preserved and transferred from private or State control into the hands of the associated syndicates (labour unions). Their strong point was working out solutions to economic problems according to libertarian planning principles. The best known theoreticians of the communitarians were the writer and publicist Federico Urales (editor of the theoretical and literary magazine La Revista blanca) and the physician Isaac Puente. Urales combined Kropotkin’s reasoning with the traditions of the Spanish village communes, which he considered the most suitable base for realizing the collective principles of solidarity.

He maintained that the Revolution would break out after a phase of capitalist crisis, and result in the regeneration of the communal traditions in the free villages. At the same time, Urales and his supporters counted on the presence of revolutionary spontaneity.

Other anarchists considered it essential to formulate ideas about a free society which could provide guidelines for experiments in workers’ insurgency. (Such was the viewpoint of the activists of the Nosotros group, which was behind many of the anarcho-syndicalist uprisings of 1932-1933.) These ideas were popularized by Puente, one of the leaders of the uprisings, in his book The Goal of the CNT – Libertarian Communism. It contained a plan for the creation of a system of libertarian communism in Spain and arguments in favour of its being put into practice. Similar to Urales, Puente followed Kropotkin’s understanding of the social inclinations of humanity. He rejected the idea of a revolutionary or post-revolutionary elite and a transition period.

He believed that the communitarian movement was in tune with the social instincts of mankind. The author proceeded from the assumption that libertarian communism could be established in Spain which would then withstand the capitalist world. Puente conceded that the commune as a popular organ (general assembly of all inhabitants) could exist only in villages and small cities, and that in large population centres its functions would be carried out by the organs of syndicates (associations of producers). But, in the anarchocommunist tradition, he emphasized the voluntary nature and social-economic self-sufficiency of the communes. He was skeptical of “the architects of the new world,” to managerial planning and industrial development. Social wealth, the means of production, and the products produced with the help of these means, would become the property of everyone; each member of society had an obligation to work to the extent of their own powers and in exchange would receive the possibility to satisfy their own needs. Money in any form whatsoever was not required; wealth would be distributed “in proportion to the demands for it.” Finally, the economy of the country “would be the result of coordination between various localities,” which would make arrangements between themselves at the lowest level about combining their efforts at plenums, congresses, and through industrial federations. [193] The book enjoyed a huge popularity in anarchist circles; it was reprinted and widely discussed. One of the main theoreticians of the industrialists was Diego Abad de Santillan, who arrived in Spain from Argentina and renounced the views of the FORA. His work The Economic Organism of the Revolution embraced contemporary industry and emphasized the necessity of planning and economic coordination. He criticized Kropotkin for economic localism and declared free communes an anachronism, a “reactionary utopia.” Abad de Santillan ascribed great significance to free experimentation, allowing for various forms of a future society. But in principle he favoured a comparatively rigid syndicalist structure for the whole of society, similar to the ideas of Besnard. Moreover, like many of the other industrialists, he interpreted libertarian communism as a sort of transitional society on the way to complete anarchy (communism), in which in the beginning a departure from communist principles of distribution (“according to needs”) was permitted.

These theoretical and tactical differences led to splits, the most important of which was the withdrawal from the organization of supporters of a more reformist and pragmatic syndicalist approach, formulated in 1931 in the “Manifesto of the Thirty” (Juan Peiró, Ángel Pestaña, and others). In the middle of the 1930’s it became clear that Spain was on the verge of a social revolution, and that the CNT was faced with the urgent problem of converting the generalized positions of the anarchist “program” into a real plan for the transformation of society on the bases of free communism.

The congress of the CNT in Zaragoza in May 1936 approved a document which was one of the first in history to set out an anarchist program of concrete measures for social revolution – “The Conception of Libertarian Communism.” It combined the ideas and approaches of both currents, but was heavily dependent on the scheme of Puente. Libertarian communism (principle: from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs within the framework of economic possibility) must be established without any kind of “transition period” immediately after the victory of the social revolution. At the basis of the future free society must lie a dual organization: territorial (free communes and their federations) and industrial (syndicates as association of producers and economic organs of the communes).

The program endorsed decentralized planning from below on the basis of the statistical determination of needs and production possibilities. Money was liable to be abolished and replaced by cards for producers/consumers – the only function of such a card was to show that its possessor was actually working. “Once the violent phase of the Revolution is finished, private property, the State, the principle of authority and, consequently, classes, will be abolished... Wealth will be socialized, organizations of free producers will take the direct management of production and consumption in their own hands. In each locality a Free Commune will be established, which will initiate a new social mechanism. Producers united in labour unions in each industry and profession will freely determine the form of their organizations in their own work places.” It was proposed to entrust the coordination of economic and social life, functions of defense, etc. to communes, syndicates, and their federations. The program emphasized the communist principle of distribution, transformation in relations between the sexes, and education – especially the free development of art and science. The State and permanent army were slated to be abolished and replaced by federations of communes and workers’ militias.

  • 1. E. Malatesta, “Quelques considerations sur le regime de la propriete apres la revolution” in Articles politiques (Paris, 1979), pp. 379-390.
  • 2. Cited by: P. Adamo, “Anarchismo tra ethos e progetto,” A – Rivista anarchica, 1997, no. 1 (233), Febbraio, p. 36.
  • 3. This position was by no means shared by all members of the CNT. At the 3__ Congress of CNT in June 1931 a bitter dispute flared up regarding the plan for rebuilding the organization on the basis of industrial unions, as proposed by the syndicalist wing led by Juan Peiro. The anarchists spoke out against this plan. “Supporters of industrial federations have arrived at this position because they have lost faith in ... the goal, and are pinning their hopes on the efficacy of machines,” declared, for example, the prominent anarchist Jose Alberola. “But I say that a machine cannot create vital forces but rather depletes them, and in this sense we are creating a mentality which contradicts everything that speaks to the initiative of the individual... We need an ideal, and in the final analysis this capitalist machine will sooner or later destroy our ideal.” In the end the draft resolution was adopted by 302,000 votes to 91,000, but in fact was never applied in practice. See: A. Paz, op. cit., pp. 219-222 (n64); J. Peirats, Les anarchistes espagnols..., pp. 63-64 (n46).