Translator's introduction

Submitted by Steven. on June 8, 2011

In the first decade of the 21st century many labour unions and labour federations worldwide celebrated their 100th anniversaries. This was an occasion for reflecting on the past century of working class history. Mainstream labour organizations typically understand their own histories as never-ending struggles for better working conditions and a higher standard of living for their members – as the wresting of piecemeal concessions from capitalists and the State.

But there is another current of the labour movement which aims somewhat higher. The anarcho-syndicalists set as their goal no less than seizing control of society from Capitalists and the State and instituting worker self-management in the spheres of production, distribution, and consumption.

The standard work in English on anarcho-syndicalism has long been a translation of [URL=/tags/rudolf-rocker] Rudolf Rocker’s slim book on the subject,1 written over 70 years ago by a key figure in the movement. Since Rocker’s book was written, there have been many limited studies of the movement but nothing much in the way of an attempt to grasp the movement as a whole or cover the entire sweep of its history.

Anarcho-syndicalism has always been a global movement embraced by many different cultures and indeed modes of production. Its appearance in so many different settings has created a daunting task for historians who would do justice to its scope and diversity. The source materials are found in many different languages and in widely scattered archives which have not always been accessible. The Russian historian V. Damier, author of a monumental history of the anarcho- syndicalist International in the 1920’s - 1930’s,2 has tackled this task with great skill and the mastery of an enormous variety of material. Even in this brief survey of the history of the movement, he has had to refer to archival sources since the secondary literature is inadequate on many vital aspects of the movement.

Anarcho-syndicalism in the 20th Century was first published in Moscow in 2000. For the English edition the author has provided additional material: an historiographic essay, more in-depth coverage of the Spanish Revolution, an update on contemporary Russia, etc. As a result, the English edition is at least twice as long as the original Russian book.

Although addressed primarily to a Russian readership by someone active in the Russian anarcho-syndicalist movement, it is hoped that with this English edition the book will find the global audience it deserves.

To assist the reader in tracking down references, where a footnote refers to previous documentation (by means of “op. cit.” or some other device), the number X of the previous note is given in brackets “(nX).”

I would like to thank Vadim Damier for his generous assistance in preparing this edition; also Gail Silvius for expert editorial work.
Malcolm Archibald
September 2009

  • 1 R. Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice (AK Press, 2004). This work is in print in a number of English editions with slightly different titles, including electronic versions. The work was originally written in German.
  • 2 Vadim Damier, Забытый Интернационал. Международное анархо- синдикалистское движение между двумя мировыми войнами. [The Forgotten International. The international anarcho-syndicalist movement between the two world wars.]: Vol. 1. От революционного синдикализма к анархо- синдикализму. 1918-1930. [From revolutionary syndicalism to anarchosyndicalism. 1918-1930.] (Moscow, 2006), 904 pp., ill.; Vol. 2. Международный анархо-синдикализм в условиях “Великого кризиса” и наступления фашизма. 1930-1939. [International anarcho-syndicalism faces the “Great Crisis” and fascist aggression. 1930-1939.] (Moscow, 2007), 736 pp., ill.