The Origins of Anarcho-Syndicalism: the 1869 Basle Congress

This month marks the 148th anniversary of the September 5 – 12, 1869 Basle Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association (the so-called “First International”). This was the most representative congress held by the International, with around 78 delegates from the United States, England France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. It is noteworthy then that it was at this Congress that the delegates endorsed an essentially anarcho-syndicalist program for the International. Rather than relying on political parties to achieve their emancipation, the workers, through their own organizations, such as resistance societies (trade unions), and the International itself, would replace capitalism and the state, with these working class organizations providing the basis for the organization of a socialist society, “the free federation of free producers.” I discuss the Basle Congress in more detail in We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. Here, I present the speech by one of the French delegates, Jean-Louis Pindy (1840-1917), in which he argues in favour of a dual struggle, that of the trade unions and that of the communes, or municipalities, which together would form the socialist workers’ federation of the future. Pindy played an active role in the Paris Commune, narrowly escaping with his life, and supported the anarchists after the International was split in two by Marx’s expulsion of Bakunin and James Guillaume from the International at the 1872 Hague Congress.

Jean-Louis Pindy

Jean-Louis Pindy: Toward the Society of the Future

We anticipate the workers organizing in two ways: first, a local grouping which allows the workers in the same area to liaise on a day-to-day basis: then, a linking up of various localities, fields, regions, etc.

The first mode: This grouping is in keeping with the political relations of the existing society which it replaces to advantage: thus far, it has been the approach adopted by the International Working Men’s Association. Implicit in this state of affairs, where mutual societies are concerned, is federation of the local societies, helping one another out by means of money loans, organizing meetings to discuss social issues and, in concert, taking steps of mutual interest.

But as industry expands, another style of organization alongside the former becomes necessary. In every country, the workers sense that their interests are interlinked, and that they are being ground down one by one. For another thing, the future requires an organization that reaches beyond the precincts of the towns and, ignoring frontiers, establishes a sweeping reallocation of work around the globe: for this dual purpose, trades societies must be organized internationally: each trades body should maintain an exchange of correspondence and information within the country and with other countries (…)

This sort of association becomes a factor for decentralization, for no longer is it a matter of founding within each country a center common to all industries, but each one of them will be centered upon the locality where it is most developed: for example, in the case of France, while the colliers will be federated around Saint-Etienne, the silk workers will be federated around Lyon and the luxury industries around Paris. Once these two types of association have been established, labor organizes for present and future by doing away with wage slavery (…)

Association of the different corporations on the basis of town or country (…) leads to the commune of the future, just as the other mode of organization leads to the labor representation of the future. Government is replaced by the assembled councils of the trades bodies, and by a committee of their respective delegates, overseeing the labor relations which are to take the place of politics. (…) We propose the following resolution:

“Congress is of the view that all workers should actively engage in the creation of strike funds in the various trades bodies.

“As these societies take shape, it invites sections, federal groups and central councils to keep societies from the same corporation informed, so that they may proceed to formation of national associations of trades bodies.

“Such federations are to have charge of gathering all information regarding their respective industry, overseeing the steps to be taken in concert, regulating strikes and working actively towards their success, until such time as wage slavery may be replaced by the federation of free producers.”