Karl Marx RIP

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

We have already had the 200th anniversaries of the births of two of the founding figures of modern anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (2009) and Michael Bakunin (2014). Now has come the turn of their younger and more famous contemporary, Karl Marx. Even some of the mainstream media have published articles on Marx’s revolutionary ideas, how prophetic his writings were, and how relevant his politics continue to be. Over the years, I have posted various anarchist critiques of Marx and Marxism, and will continue to do so. The first anarchist to criticize Marx’s approach was Proudhon himself, in a letter that he wrote to Marx in 1846, the year before Marx wrote his scathing (and unfair) critique of Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy. Proudhon sensed even then Marx’s tendency toward intellectual intolerance of conceptions of socialism contrary to his own, an intolerance that came to the fore in the International Workingmen’s Association, where Marx did everything he could to neutralize Proudhon’s followers, and the more explicitly revolutionary federalists and anti-authoritarians associated with Bakunin, engineering the expulsion of Bakunin and his comrade, James Guillaume, from the International in 1872 (something which I cover in more detail in my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’ – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement).

Proudhon (1809-1865)

Proudhon’s Letter to Marx

My dear Monsieur Marx,

I gladly agree to become one of the recipients of your correspondence, whose aims and organization seem to me most useful. Yet I cannot promise to write often or at great length: my varied occupations, combined with a natural idleness, do not favour such epistolary efforts. I must also take the liberty of making certain qualifications which are suggested by various passages of your letter.

First, although my ideas in the matter of organization and realization are at this moment more or less settled, at least as regards principles, I believe it is my duty, as it is the duty of all socialists, to maintain for some time yet the critical or dubitive form; in short, I make profession in public of an almost absolute economic anti-dogmatism.

Let us seek together, if you wish, the laws of society, the manner in which these laws are realized, the process by which we shall succeed in discovering them; but, for God’s sake, after having demolished all the a priori dogmatisms, do not let us in our turn dream of indoctrinating the people; do not let us fall into the contradiction of your compatriot Martin Luther, who, having overthrown Catholic theology, at once set about, with excommunication and anathema, the foundation of a Protestant theology. For the last three centuries Germany has been mainly occupied in undoing Luther’s shoddy work; do not let us leave humanity with a similar mess to clear up as a result of our efforts. I applaud with all my heart your thought of bringing all opinions to light; let us carry on a good and loyal polemic; let us give the world an example of learned and far-sighted tolerance, but let us not, merely because we are at the head of a movement, make ourselves the leaders of a new intolerance, let us not pose as the apostles of a new religion, even if it be the religion of logic, the religion of reason. Let us gather together and encourage all protests, let us brand all exclusiveness, all mysticism; let us never regard a question as exhausted, and when we have used our last argument, let us begin again, if need be, with eloquence and irony. On that condition, I will gladly enter your association. Otherwise — no!

I have also some observations to make on this phrase of your letter: at the moment of action. Perhaps you still retain the opinion that no reform is at present possible without a coup de main, without what was formerly called a revolution and is really nothing but a shock. That opinion, which I understand, which I excuse, and would willingly discuss, having myself shared it for a long time, my most recent studies have made me abandon completely. I believe we have no need of it in order to succeed; and that consequently we should not put forward revolutionary action as a means of social reform, because that pretended means would simply be an appeal to force, to arbitrariness, in brief, a contradiction. I myself put the problem in this way: to bring about the return to society, by an economic combination, of the wealth which was withdrawn from society by another economic combination. In other words, through Political Economy to turn the theory of Property against Property in such a way as to engender what you German socialists call community and what I will limit myself for the moment to calling liberty or equality. But I believe that I know the means of solving this problem with only a short delay; I would therefore prefer to burn Property by a slow fire, rather than give it new strength by making a St Bartholomew’s night of the proprietors …

Your very devoted,

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

May 17, 1846

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Ambrose Cuddon and the Origins of English Anarchism

In my book on the International Workingmen’s Association and the origins of the anarchist movement, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It,’ Ambrose Caston Cuddon (1790 – 1879) made a very brief appearance. He was part of the group of English workers who welcomed Bakunin back to Europe after his escape from Siberia, and he spoke at the 1862 London meeting between English and French workers that led to the founding of the International. I was therefore very happy to see that the latest issue of the Kate Sharpley Library Bulletin included a link to this article by Christoper Draper, where he provides much more biographical detail, demonstrating that Cuddon was likely the first working class anarchist activist in England.

Political Development

[The anarchist historian Max] Nettlau claimed, “the first Anarchist propagandist pamphlet published in England” appeared in October 1853 and accurately identified its anonymous author as Ambrose Caston Cuddon. Produced under the auspices of the “London Confederation of Rational Reformers”, founded two months earlier by Cuddon, and regarded by Nettlau as, “perhaps the first English Anarchist group”.

By then Cuddon had spent over a decade agitating within and without various radical movements before arriving at an anarchist platform. Two prominent threads in his development through the 1830’s and 1840’s were Owenite Socialism and Chartism. Cuddon’s involvement with the former peaked with his 1841 appointment to Secretaryship of the HCS [Robert Owen’s “Home Colonisation Society] whose programme he formally advocated in a leaflet published that year; “A sound education and permanent beneficial employment cannot be given under the present competitive arrangements of society; and the best mode of securing these benefits to the population will be by the establishment of SELF-SUPPORTING HOME COLONIES”. However throughout the forties the HCS grew more centralised, less democratic and ever more dominated by Owen himself. Cuddon correspondingly developed an increasingly radical perception of relations between legislators, capital, labour and freedom.

Keen to promote open discussion of social and radical issues, in 1846 Cuddon was amongst a mixed group of artisans and intellectuals that established London’s Whittington Club. Cuddon escaped the State’s repressive measures of 1848 but supported those less fortunate. In July 1851 Ambrose addressed a large protest meeting at the Dog & Duck Tavern, Soho called to establish a subscription fund to support and defend imprisoned and transported “victims of the spy system of the Whig government”.

Cuddon enthusiastically organised radical groups and meetings described by the press as an, “Attempted Revival of Chartism”. Voted into the chair at an influential gathering at the British Institution in November 1851, to loud cheers Ambrose “attributed all poverty and wretchedness in this country to bad government”. A few months later, at a March 1852 Soho meeting he was again voted into the chair and assured his audience that, “It was morally impossible they (Parliamentarians) would ever legislate for the benefit of the people. It was of far more importance that they should study the proper position and relative connexion of capital and labour than the speeches of ministers” (Northern Star, 6.3.1852).

The Prophet Josiah

 By 1853 Ambrose Cuddon was convinced workers must dispense with all government to secure freedom, equity and justice. Between March 1852 and March 1853 Cuddon had corresponded with Josiah Warren who’d exorcised Cuddon’s last vestiges of O’Brienite faith in land nationalisation with a letter explaining, “Of course with us there can be no such thing as a nation or state. There should only be the family of mankind – each individual managing his own affairs supremely and absolutely, but equitably, with his fellow man. The ownership of the soil for the sake of order and harmony, for the sake of disposing with legislation, must be absolute in the individual, guaranteed by a public sense of justice, the purchases and sales of it being conducted upon the cost principle, which renumerates only the labor in the transaction”.

This “labor cost principle” was a fundamental building block of Warren’s mutualist anarchism demonstrated in the practical success of his “Time Store” where goods were priced solely in terms of the amount of worker-time that went into producing them. Josiah was ideally placed to lead Ambrose from the failed dreams of Owenism, avoiding the rocks of O’Brienite nationalisation onto the sunlit uplands of practical, demonstrable anarchism. Warren was himself a former disciple of Robert Owen who’d learnt from his mistakes. As a member of Owen’s 1825-7 New Harmony experiment in communalism Warren had realised the venture failed because of Owen’s fixation on community at the cost of individual needs. He concluded that the suppression of the individual exacerbated rather than removed social conflict and he’d resolved to come up with a scheme that better balanced individual and communal needs.

From NRL to LCRR

Inspired and emboldened by Warren’s ideas and practical demonstrations in August 1853 Ambrose Caston Cuddon led a small group of libertarian minded “private individuals of the middle and working classes” out of Bronterre O’Brien’s National Reform League to form the London Confederation of Rational Reformers (LCRR). Cuddon and A M Dickey served as Joint Secretaries and the group’s libertarian philosophy was contained in a four page “outline of principles” and explained in a detailed tract, “A Contribution Towards the Elucidation of the Science of Society”, both published before the year end. It is the latter document that Nettlau identifies as, “the first Anarchist propaganda pamphlet published in England” and recognises as CUDDON’s handiwork. Labelled “fundamentally individualist” by Peter Ryley this LCRR statement evidences its Warrenite influence, “Liberty– the sovereignty of the individual – is the highest good of life, for which no artificial substitute, however ingeniously disguised, can ever be made an adequate compensation”.

Class Conscious Individualism

 Cuddon’s essentially anarchist LCRR vision didn’t prompt him to embrace Utopianism but to support advanced alternatives alongside short term labour struggles. At a January 1854 “Trades Conference” organised to discuss “Strikes and Lockouts” and supposedly open to all, “Mr Cuddon of Camden Town, was of the opinion that combinations were objectionable, though necessary; and they were necessary because they were produced by a false and unjust system – the present competition system of trade” but the gathering refused to debate fundamental flaws in the existing system merely the “indiscipline” of labour for it was a “packed” gathering chaired by Lord Robert Grosvenor. As the meeting concluded, Cuddon’s joint LCRR Secretary, “Mr Dickey handed in a protest, amidst laughter and loud cries of NO from the meeting generally; which the Chairman declined to receive”.

The LCRR responded with an open letter published in the press alongside the original 3-part protest. It’s essential reading as it evidences the class conscious dimension of Cuddon’s anarchism. The LCRR protest –

“1. Because the working classes seem not to be really represented at this meeting, whilst it is composed of the representatives of the master and capitalist classes, several of the speakers being members of Parliament, barristers and others, who to my own knowledge do not possess the confidence of the people who are directly inimical to their rights and interests.

2. Because the questions are cunningly deprived of all point – are a delusion; and whether carried one way or the other are equally useless or adverse to the cause of the suffering people.

3. Because it seems to me to be a suicidal act for any honest delegate to allow himself to be entrapped into a decision that hereafter may be used to prejudice the rights and interests of the working classes.”

Cuddon’s “sovereignty of the individual” should be read as a primary, essential ingredient of an equitable, egalitarian anarchist society NOT a macho assertion of rampant capitalist individualism with the Devil left to take the hindmost. He aimed to revolutionise society not simply stimulate individual or communal experiments and proposed revolutionary ideas in every available forum. In July 1855 Cuddon assured a gathering at London’s Freemasons’ Tavern, “it was an absurdity to talk of ever remedying the existing evils by mere administrative reform…he had no confidence in the mercantile and monied (sic) classes, who were a new aristocracy more tyrannical than the older one”.

Modern Times

 Josiah Warren recognised Cuddon as a fellow spirit and invited him to America. In 1857 Ambrose visited Warren at “Modern Times” and was much impressed by the whole enterprise. From Long Island CUDDON wrote, “They (the principles) are comprehensive and of universal application. They cover the whole ground of social economy, extending into all the ramifications of life…they introduce real science with all its requirements into a branch of knowledge generally abandoned to speculative reasoning or unsuspecting credulity.”

 The Inherent Evils of Government

 In the autumn of 1858 Cuddon composed an “Appendix” for Edmund Burke’s, “A Vindication of Natural Society” (1750) which was then republished as “The Inherent Evils of All State Governments demonstrated”. The cover carried Burke’s bold proclamation, “In vain you tell me that artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with its abuse: the thing itself is the abuse!” Cuddon’s appendix opens, “Although Burke, in the preceding Essay has proved that he was fully convinced of the evil consequences of political institutions (or state-craft) upon the happiness of a people, he has not suggested any mode by which such institutions could be abrogated, and Natural Society established. We will endeavour to show how this deficiency could be supplied…” and over the next 18 pages, Ambrose proceeded to do just that.

A Workers’ International

 Aged 71, in February 1861 Cuddon launched a new monthly journal, The Cosmopolitan Review – a Political, Social, Philosophical and Literary Magazine which a century later inspired the title of Albert Meltzer’s magazine. Cuddon’s paper was a forum for discussion of the most advanced ideas of the age. Although generally positively received it didn’t gain universal Cuddonlamation with the South London Chronicle complaining, “The worst article in our opinion is Radical Reform – What is It? by Henry H Wiltshire, whom we should suppose to be an ambitious youth, who just thinks he can write. The article reads like a speech and is diffuse enough to suit the most childish intellect…”

Nevertheless, as James Martin observes, “Cuddon continued to head up the literary front in the London area, publishing articles with a strong anarchist flavour in the Cosmopolitan Review and the Working Man throughout most of 1861-2.” In January 1862 Ambrose chaired a committee welcoming Michael Bakunin to London, following his escape from Siberia, at a reception organised by Alexander Herzen.

In October Cuddon led a welcoming committee of English workers in hosting a reception at Freemasons Hall for a group of about seventy French workers who’d come to London to attend the World’s Fair. A prominent member of the French delegation who’d taken part in the 1848 revolution was [Henri] Tolain who although not actually an anarchist was much influenced by the ideas of Proudhon and actively involved in a variety of working-class mutual aid societies. Cuddon addressed the gathering which, for the first time, proposed the idea of forming an International Workingmen’s Association.

The following year, Josiah Warren published, True Civilization – Being the result and conclusions of thirty-nine years laboring in the study and experiments in civilization as it is and in different enterprises for reconstruction. In the concluding section Warren invited reader’s opinions on his findings, directing correspondents to either himself or, “A C Cuddon, No. 7 Arthur’s Grove, Kentish Town, London, England”.

The True Order and Science of Society

At the end of the decade Cuddon supported the revived Republican movement, contributing both correspondence and money to The Republican newspaper, despite his own increasingly straightened circumstances. Cuddon had by then worked up his political programme into a series of twelve lectures which in 1871 he advertised as, Ready for Publication – A Familiar Treatise on the True Order and Science of Society but sadly, as he subsequently confided to Josiah Warren, “I could not afford to publish” but Ambrose assured Josiah that although he was then 82 he was enjoying life as much as ever. The following year (1874) Cuddon met and impressed Warren’s young protégé, Benjamin Tucker, during his visit to Europe.

Cuddon never did manage to get his comprehensive lecture series published although an undated (c1875?) six page section entitled, What is Education? was by some curious circumstance published and printed in Dunedin, New Zealand by “Mills, Dick & Co”. This pamphlet reveals an anarchism couched, in part, in uncomfortably Catholic language that nonetheless combines a searingly Godwinian indictment of conventional “education” with Marxist materialist analysis; “this dictatorial teaching is not education; at best, it is but instruction, putting into the mind erroneous notions or crochets which interested men or parties of men in assumed and unjust authority may wish toprevail for their own party purposes and views, that they may live in ease and affluence out of the labor of the industrious millions without themselves labouring at all.”

Cuddon’s alternative implicitly looked back to Rousseau and Godwin and forward to Kropotkin and Tolstoy. Ambrose claims real education supports the natural intellectual development of every human being for, “The kingdom of God is within you”. The learner is the subject not the object of real education, not a cistern to be filled, instead, “opening up its own fountain, to draw out from its own resources the immortal spirit that is there – to develop our consciousness and bring into action the intellectual conceptions, the instincts and intuitions of our inward selves, the pure and unperverted tastes, inclinations, propensities and powers of human nature”.

The Roots of English Anarchy

Having outlived two wives, Ambrose Caston Cuddon died at home, 5 Leigh Terrace, Chaucer Road, Acton, West London on 15th April 1879, aged 89. His estate, valued at “less than £200”, was administered by his married daughter Jemima Remington who’d cared for him at home in his final years. Of Ambrose’s other three children, Anna Maria Dugdale had emigrated to America where CUDDON visited her during his trip to meet Josiah Warren. Anna’s son was the pioneering American sociologist, Richard Louis Dugdale (1837-83).

One of Ambrose’s two sons, John (1821-1875) was a devout Catholic who lived in a Belgian monastery, whilst the other, Ambrose junior, died in 1887 in Islington Workhouse. When Henry Seymour boosted England’s embryonic movement in 1885 with publication of The Anarchist he didn’t acknowledge his debt to Cuddon but if you examine the back page of issue two, alongside adverts for Proudhon’s “What is Property?” and Bakunin’s “God and the State” is another for “The Inherent Evils of All State Governments Demonstrated” which is Burke’s “A Vindication of Natural Society” supplemented by Cuddon’s anonymous 18-page appendix. This booklet was advertised and distributed as part of Seymour’s “The Revolutionary Library” for years. On the paper’s demise, further reprints, sales and distribution were taken over and continued by Freedom until well into the twentieth century.

English anarchism has too often been treated as a virgin birth precipitated by the arrival of European anarchists in the 1880’s. Ambrose Caston Cuddon didn’t have the revolutionary dynamism of Johann Most or the charisma and scholarship of Kropotkin but his many decades of political activism conveyed elements of Owenism, Socialism, Chartism, Republicanism along with Warrenite anarchism into an emergent English movement. Nettlau’s identification of Ambrose Caston Cuddon as the First English Anarchist, seems fairly established but there’s far more to be done to unearth and untangle other personal, practical and ideological roots of English anarchism. Nettlau’s pioneering 1905 paper kicked off the process and I trust this modest article might prompt more comrades to get the shovel out of the shed and dig down into early English anarchist history.

Christopher Draper (January 2018)

The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future (1869)

César De Paepe

In 1868, at the Brussels Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association (the “International”), César De Paepe, on behalf of the Belgian section, put forward the idea that the workers’ “societies of resistance,” or trade union organizations, constituted the “embryo” of the future socialist society based on workers’ self-management.  This idea was to have enormous influence in the International, and led to the development of what would now be described as anarcho-syndicalism. In February 1869, the Belgian section published a pamphlet by De Paepe, “The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future,” which developed this idea in more detail, this time focusing on the International’s constitutive workers’ organizations as the building blocks for the society of the future. De Paepe’s pamphlet was reprinted in various Internationalist papers, and translated into Spanish by the Spanish Federation. Similar ideas were expressed and adopted by the French Internationalists, with Eugène Varlin writing that trade union organizations “form the natural elements of the social edifice of the future.” Bakunin agreed with this approach, arguing that the trade union sections “bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old world.” Marx and Engels derided this approach, claiming it would introduce “anarchy,” in the pejorative sense, into the ranks of the workers, rendering them incapable of combatting the counter-revolution (for the details, see my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It” – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement).

It is with great pleasure then that I present Shawn Wilbur’s translation of De Paepe’s pamphlet. It is a welcome antidote to Marcello Musto’s anthology, Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later, from which De Paepe’s pamphlet is notably absent (for an excellent critique of Musto’s book, see Iain McKay’s review essay). Contrary to Musto’s general analysis, De Paepe’s pamphlet illustrates the degree to which Proudhon’s mutualist ideas continued to play an influential role within the debates in the International, despite the declining influence within the International of his more conservative adherents, such as Henri Tolain. De Paepe argues first and foremost for a federalist form of organization, in which higher level committees simply do the bidding of the sections’ members. Whereas Marx supported the General Council of the International having executive powers over the sections, and consistently opposed attempts to comprise the Council as a Council of delegates, subject to imperative mandates and recall, De Paepe, consistent with Proudhon’s federalist ideas, advocates that the General Council should be only an administrative, not a governing, body. De Paepe, as with Proudhon, also supports the creation of a variety of self-managed workers’ organizations separate and apart from existing political institutions, not simply trade unions and societies of resistance, but also mutual aid societies, worker and consumer cooperatives, and worker controlled integral education. It is these workers’ organizations that are to provide the basis for the future socialist society based on worker self-management.

With respect to socialism itself, De Paepe advocates a form of socialism based on Proudhon’s, not Marx’s, conception of socialism. It is a form of socialism based on the exchange between the workers themselves, without any capitalist intermediaries to exploit them, of products and services of equivalent value, with credit being available at “cost-price,” coordinated through a Bank of Exchange. Marx’s derided this form of socialism (exchange without exploitation) in his unfair critique of Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy (see Iain McKay’s essay, “Proudhon’s Constituted Value and the Myth of Labour Notes”). Finally, De Paepe envisages the gradual hollowing out of existing institutions by the workers’ organizations, resulting in the collapse of those institutions “with a sigh,” without the need for a violent revolution, which is also what Proudhon advocated.

The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future

The International Workingmen’s Association bears social regeneration within itself.

There are many who agree that if the Association should realize its program, it will have effectively established the reign of justice, but who believe that certain present institutions of the International are only temporary and are destined to disappear. We want to show that the International already offers the model of the society to come and that its various institutions, with the required modifications, will form the future social order.

So let us examine the structures in which the association currently presents itself, taking its most complete examples, for a great number of sections have still not arrived at a perfect organization.

The section is the model of the commune. There the workers of all trades are gathered without distinction. There we must address the affairs that concern all the workers, whatever their profession.

At the head of the section is an Administrative Committee, which is charged with carrying out the measures decreed by the section. Instead of commanding, like the present administrations, it obeys the citizens.

The Federal Council is composed of the delegates of different worker groups; to it [are assigned] questions of relations between the different trades and of the organization of labor. This is a gap in our present governments, which only represent a confused rabble of individuals instead of representing groups united by interests.

The different societies gathered in the Federal Council are societies of resistance. These societies also belong as much to the future as to the present. Gathering around them the workers of a single trade, teaching them their interests, to calculate the sale price and cost price in order to base their expectations on it, the society of resistance is destined to organize labor in the future, much more than the society of production, which, in the present state, can hardly be expanded. Nothing will be more easy, when the moment comes, than to transform the societies of resistance into cooperative workshops, when the workers have agreed to demand the liquidation of the present society, which bankrupts them perpetually.

The cooperative consumer societies, which are established in the majority of sections, are destined one day to replace the present commerce, full of frauds and pitfalls; they will transform themselves into communal bazaars, where the different products will be displayed with exact indication of the consignments, without any other surcharge but the payment of the costs.

The mutual assistance and provident funds, will take on a wider expansion and become societies of universal insurance. Sickness, disability, old age, widowhood and all these present sources of poverty will be swept away. No more charity office, public assistance dishonored; no more hospitals where one is admitted on charity. All the care that one will receive will have been paid for; there will no longer be doctors for the poor.

Ignorance, that other source of poverty, will disappear in the face of the education given by each section. It is not a question of that training that even our doctrinaires demand in loud cries. We want to make men, and one is only a complete man when one is a laborer and scholar at the same time; and have not all the workers gathered at the Congress of Brussels last September demanded integral education that includes science apprenticeship in the trades. That instruction being presently impossible, as a result of material impediments, the sections compensate as best they can, by organizing meetings and conferences, by founding newspapers, where the workers are taught the rights of man, where they are taught to claim them, where finally we assemble the materials for the edifice of the future society.

The problem of the organization of justice is already resolved within the International. The defense funds will accomplish that aim. They have their current relevance, in the sense that having examined the case, the Defense Committee decides if the affair will be upheld in justice, when a worker has to complain of an injustice committed by their boss. But that institution also looks toward the future, in that it decides contestations between members by means of a jury chosen by election and rapidly renewable. In the future, no more quibblers, judges, prosecutors or attorneys. The same rights for all and justice based, no longer on some more or less muddled text, about which we quarrel, but on reason and rectitude.

The different sections are connected in their turn by federation, by basins, then by country. These federations include not only a grouping by sections, but also by trades, as that exists in the communes. So the relations between the different groups will be facilitated and labor can be organized, not only within the communes, but within the entire country.

Vast institutions of credit will be like the veins and arteries of that organization. Credit will no longer be what it is today, an instrument of death, for it will be based on equal exchange: it will be credit at cost-price.

If the International has not yet been able, in its present state, to establish an institution of this sort, at least it has already discussed its principles and statutes at the Congresses of Lausanne and Brussels. At that latest Congress, a plan for a bank of exchange has been presented by the Brussels section.

Finally, the relations between the different countries are dealt with by an international General Council. Such will be the future diplomacy: no more embassy attachés, no more smartly dressed diplomatic secretaries, no more diplomats, protocols or wars.

A central office of correspondence, information and statistics would be all that is necessary to connect the nations united by a fraternal bond.

We now believe that we have shown that the International contains within itself the seeds of all the institutions of the future. Let a section of the International be established in each commune; the new society will be formed and the old will collapse with a sigh. Thus, when a wound heals, we see a sore form above while the flesh slowly settles itself below. One fine day, the scab falls off, and the flesh appears fresh and ruddy.

César De Paepe

February 1869

Remembering Nathalie Lemel – Revolutionary Communard

Nathalie Lemel

Nathalie Lemel (1827-1921), friend of Eugène Varlin and Louise Michel, was one of the most prominent anti-authoritarian activists in France during the 1860s. She worked tirelessly with Varlin, organizing workers’ resistance societies, strikes, and workers’ co-ops, such as La Marmite, a restaurant for the working poor. She played an active role during the Paris Commune, working in the Association of Women for the Defence of Paris and Aid to the Wounded, and helping to write their manifestos, giving the group’s material a noticeably anarchist tinge. Here I reproduce Shawn Wilbur’s translation of an article from 1921, written by Lucien Descaves (1861-1949), a French novelist, soon after Lemel’s death, which provides some biographical details regarding this extraordinary woman’s revolutionary life. I discuss Lemel’s role in the beginnings of the French anarchist movement in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’ – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

A Friend of Varlin

Last week there died, at the hospice of Ivry, at 95 years of age, an old revolutionary that I have known well and to whom I owe one of my greatest joys as a man of letters.

One day when I was questioning Martelet, the former member of the Commune, about his colleague [Eugène] Varlin, the finest figure of a worker from those heroic times, Martelet said to me: “You have, practically next door, a woman who fought the good fight beside him in the last years of the Empire. She has preserved his memory. It is Nathalie Le Mel, who was deported, in 1871, with Louise Michel, Rochefort and do many others! Do you want to meet her?”

Did I want to!

So one morning in April, Martelet led me to the home of the citoyenne Le Mel. She lived in the Rue des Gobelins, on the ground floor of a squalid house, a dark and damp room, of a single story with a small paved courtyard, where flourished, miraculously, a thin lilac. The room was only furnished with a bed, two chairs and a sticky table, on which remained in place an alcohol lamp, a bottle of milk and a coffee pot. Mama Le Mel nourished herself on milk and coffee. And what could she have added to this frugal menu? She lived on thirty francs from the Assistance to the Elderly. The husband of his late granddaughter, a brave man, killed during the war, regularly paid her modest rent. The walls of the room were decorated with portraits of Varlin, Louise Michel, Rochefort—and the tenant.

We immediately became excellent friends. I often went to drop in on her, in the morning or late in the afternoon, and brought her some books. We chatted. She was born in Brest in 1826. She was the daughter of merchants and was married to a worker, named Duval, a good gilder, but a bad penny. After holding, for some time, a small trade in books at Quimper, she was separated from her husband. She arrived in Paris in 1861, at 35 years old, and started to work to raise her child. She made the acquaintance of Eugène Varlin, at the seat of the Society of Bookbinders, in the home of a wine-merchant on the Rue de l’Ecole-de-Médecine, and was immediately devoted along with him to the emancipation of the proletariat. The strikes of 1864 and 1865, among the bookbinders, had further tightened the pure links of friendship that united them. She had participated in the organization of the first cooperative restaurant opened in the Rue Mazarine and then transferred, under the name of the Marmite, to the Rue Larrey. Other Marmites were established, later, in the Rue des Blancs-Manteaux, the Rue du Château and the Rue Berzélius. The good times! The ardent apostolate! They worked ten hours a day,—happy for the gain of two hours obtained, in 1864, by the strike,—and on often met them, in the evening, here and there, often at Varlin’s home, 33, rue Dauphine, to organize the means of obtaining more and [to] lead the whole working class into the movement.

From 1866, Nathalie Le Mel was affiliated with the International. During the siege of Paris, she took part in the Central Committee of the Union des Femmes, without ceasing to concern herself with the Marmite on the Rue Larrey. May 6, under the Commune, she drafted, with Mme. Dimitrief, a call to arms addressed to the women, and during the bloody week, she cared for the wounded and distributed munitions to the insurgents. Arrested on June 10, she was not held at Saint-Lazare. She remained at Versailles, sick, and appeared, in the month of September, before the 4th council of war, presided over by Lieutenant-colonel Pierre. She was accused of inciting civil war and provoking the construction of barricades.

Here is the impression that she made on the legal reporter of the Corsaire:

“Nathalie Duval, wife of Le Mel, is 46 years of age; she practices the profession of bookbinder. Her appearance is very simple, being that of a worker: a black dress and shawl, and, on her head, a linen cap. The conduct of the accused is as simple as her appearance. However, she expresses herself with a great ease and a truly remarkable purity of language. No grandiloquence, no bravado, no gestures, no cries: truth without pomp.”

Defended by Mr. Albert Joly, Nathalie Le Mel was nevertheless condemned, on September 10, to deportation to a fortified enclosure.

From the prison of Auberive, where she was taken first, she went to rejoin her friends in New Caledonia. On her return, after the amnesty, she worked on the presses of the Intransigeant for Rochefort, who was always fond of her.

All of that interested me, but I stubbornly returned to Varlin; and she had told all that she recalled of him, when one day she spoke to me of his family, originally from Claye, in Seine-et-Marne.

“I do not know,” she added, “if his two brothers are still alive. I knew them well. After the Commune, the younger, who was hemiplegic, was condemned, simply because he was Eugène’s brother, to two years in prison and sent from the prison hulks of Brest to Clairvaux, and from Clairvaux to Embrun.”

I did not have to be told twice! A few days later, I was in Claye, and I found Varlin’s brothers there, in a family house where we affixed a commemorative plaque, on the eve of the war.

Louis and Hippolyte Varlin, Eugène’s brother, have survived that war as well. I returned to see them and speak with them of the hero and martyr whose memory the working class will not fail to glorify on next May 28, the anniversary of his death, under the outrages, as it belongs to an emancipator of men, as well as to their redeemer.

LUCIEN DESCAVES


“A Friend of Varlin,” 45 no. 15998 (May 18, 1921): 1.

Kropotkin on the Russian Revolution

Peter Kropotkin

Continuing on with my posts relating to the 100th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, and in commemoration of Kropotkin’s birthday (December 21, 1842), today I present a relatively unknown letter that Kropotkin wrote in August 1920 about the Russian Revolution, in which he criticizes the centralism and authoritarianism of the Marxists, advocating instead an anarchist social revolution based on voluntary federation, decentralization and workers’ self-management. Kropotkin points out that the differences between the Marxists and the anarchists on these points date back at least to the time of the First International, where the anarchists argued that in order to prevent the creation of a socialist state that would establish new forms of exploitation and domination of the working classes, it was necessary that the workers themselves, through their own organizations, organize production, distribution and public services on a functional and geographical basis. I explore these issues in more detail in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’ – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. I thank Iain McKay for posting Kropotkin’s letter on his Anarcho webpage, and Lee Dugatkin, author of a book on Kropotkin (The Prince of Evolution: Peter Kropotkin’s Adventures in Science and Politics), for first posting it on his Kropotkin webpage. Kropotkin’s letter was originally published in the French anarchist paper, Le Libertaire, in July 1921.

A letter from Kropotkin

Introduction from Le Libertaire, 22 July 1921:

Kropotkin was visited in his residence in the environs of Moscow by numerous foreign delegates. He was often misled as to their quality and many who were just socialists assumed an anarchist label in front of him.

One of these, the Czechoslovak Hugo Sonnenschein, obtained from the great libertarian theorist the following few lines which [Sonnenschein] was to bring to the awareness of the revolutionaries of his country. He was one of those who deceived Kropotkin over their quality; he was a Bolshevik and [so] the letter, by the author of Autour d’une Vie [Kropotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist] and so many other admirable books, [because it] did not sing the praises of the Bolshevik regime was suppressed for more than six months.

We have only known about it for a few days. We publish it in the hope that all our comrades will read it with pleasure and profit.

Comrades and Friends,

The last war has proven, beyond all doubt, that in today’s society it is absolutely mad to hope that a day will come when wars would become impossible as long as the present exploitation of labour by Capital and backward nations by nations more advanced in industry continues to exist. As long as this exploitation lasts, wars will devastate humanity and hinder its development. The four-year war (which still continues) has confirmed once again what socialists of every shade have repeatedly stressed: As long as Capital can buy the strength of Labour and enrich itself by the toil of others, there will be internal wars. And what is true for a nation is also true for the society of peoples. The nation which precedes other nations in its economic development (or else, only believes that they have preceded), will inevitably seek to enrich themselves by force of arms.

Under the present conditions wars will return; and their character, as we have seen recently, will be more and more ferocious, more and more abominable, and more and more disastrous for the generations to come. Under these conditions the need for a profound reconstruction of society upon new bases – that is to say, for a social revolution – becomes more and more obvious. The bourgeoisie itself is beginning to realize it. And that is why it is absolutely essential for those who are most interested in reconstruction to discuss thoroughly the essential features of the changes in the structure of society which it is a question of achieving.

So far, the workers have had little interest in this kind of discussion. They did not believe in the possibility of an impending social revolution. But they must now see that they were wrong. Life itself, and above all the war, has imposed reconstruction. The social revolution knocks at our doors. Furthermore, as you will undoubtedly learn when your delegates return from Russia, the attempt at a Jacobin social revolution which has been taking place on a large scale for nearly three years has not produced the results we were hoping to obtain.

They will explain this failure by the war, which is still on going. But the cause is much deeper.

The Revolution of November 1917 sought to establish in Russia a mixed regime of Babeuf’s highly centralized authoritarian Communism; with [Constantin] Pecqueur’s equally centralized Collectivism, which has been popularized in Europe for forty years under the name of Marxism. And this attempt – it must be acknowledged – has certainly not given the results hoped for.

The attempt to establish a highly centralized power, imposing the communist revolution by decrees and by armies of bureaucrats [employés] did not succeed. The usual vices of every centralized State gnaw away at this administration, the mass of the people is excluded from reconstruction, and the dictatorial powers of the communist bureaucrats [employés], far from alleviating the evils, only aggravate them.

It is therefore obvious that the workers of central and western Europe, particularly the Latin ones, when they know the results of the Revolution in Russia should look for more effective means of reaching their goals. Already in the First International, when they were studying “public services in the future society,” they sought the solution of the social problem by the socialization of production and exchange; but they wanted to get there not by the centralized State but by the federation of free Communes, the decentralization of production and exchange, and the awakening of the local initiative of groups of producers and consumers. In short, they studied the question of how to build the new society not by orders from the centre, but by construction from the simple to the complex, always encouraging local and individual initiative, instead of killing it by armies of functionaries who carry out the will of the centre as best they can.

The experiment conducted in Russia has confirmed the need to develop these tendencies of autonomy and federalism, and it is in this direction that without doubt the efforts of the workers will head, as soon as they delve into the great and difficult questions that confront every revolution, as had been done in the federalist International.

Brothers and friends of Western Europe, history has imposed a formidable task on your generation. It falls upon you to begin to apply the principles of Socialism and to find practical forms. And it is upon you that falls the task of developing the new structures of a society where the exploitation of man by man, as well as classes, will have disappeared and, at the same time, a society where, instead of the centralization which brings us oppression and wars, will develop a thousand centres of life and constructive forces in free Trade Unions and independent Communes.

History pushes us in this direction.

Well, let us courageously get to work!

Let us break with the two prejudices of benefactor-Capital and the providence-State! And in our groups and congresses, in our Trade Unions and in our Communes, we will find the necessary elements to build a new society, the Society of Labour and Liberty, free from Capital and the State, and from the cult of Authority.

Peter Kropotkin, Moscow, August 1920

Syndicalism and the Welfare State: The SAC’s Historical Compromise

Since my post on the origins of anarcho-syndicalism in the First International, particularly through the debates at the 1869 Basle Congress, I have been posting more contemporary pieces that defend various syndicalist approaches in today’s world, from Alex Kolokotronis’ more reformist call for a “municipalist syndicalism” to Graham Purchase’s advocacy of a “green” anarcho-syndicalism. While I included some pieces in Volumes Two and Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas reinterpreting syndicalist approaches to social change in the post-World War II era, I skipped the reformist turn taken by the Swedish syndicalist federation (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation Syndikalisterna – Central Organization of Swedish Workers–the SAC), mainly because that belongs more properly in a documentary history of syndicalism, not a documentary history of anarchist ideas. But that doesn’t stop me from posting this excerpt from the SAC’s 1963 pamphlet in which the Swedish syndicalists advocated a more reformist syndicalism that accepted the reality of the post-War welfare state. One of the biggest problems with this approach is that as the Welfare State came under increasing attack starting with the Reagan and Thatcher governments in the early 1980s, people who had advocated working alongside it now faced the dilemma of whether to defend it against neo-liberal attacks, or whether to return to a more radical approach.

Syndicalism in Modern Society

[…] During the [19]40s Syndicalism went into its fourth and present phase. The new orientation has its origin above all in three things. The experiences of the Spanish Civil War, where the Anarohosyndicalist ideas for the first time could be put into practice on a large scale, the changed society and its new problems, foremost the emergence of the Welfare State but also Bolshevism’s push forward, and thirdly the actualization of certain liberal and anarchist lines of thought. Because of the advanced character of the Swedish Social State and the, from the international point of view, relatively strong position of Swedish Syndicalism after Spanish Anarchosyndicalism had been driven into exile after Franco’s victory, the new course has, in the first hand, been marked out in Sweden.

Modern Libertarian Syndicalism has written off the ”class struggle dogma” of the classical Syndìcalists and stresses very strongly its libertarian character. The old thought of a definitive general strike revolution has been abandoned for being, in today’s society, unrealistic and implying totalitarian risks. The development towards a Libertarian Socialist society is thought as an evolutionary process with trade union struggle, opinion making and other direct social activity as pushing means. On the whole, for modern Syndicalists the end plays a considerably lesser part than the direction, and Libertarian Syndicalism is still more undoctrinaire and pragmatic than older Syndicalism.

Although not constituting (as yet anyhow) a new historical phase something should perhaps be added about the youngest generation of Swedish Syndicalists. They have a somewhat broader perspective, and the young Marx, modern ”Revisionism” and British Anarchist and New Left thinking are new sources of inspiration. Having grown up together with the Anti-Colonial Revolution in Asia and Africa the young Syndicalists base their View of the world on the emergence of these new countries. This new generation is mostly to be found in the ideological groups and in the circle around the ”Journal of Libertarian Socialism”, Zenit.

Syndicalism in Today’s Sweden

The principal organization of Swedish Syndicalism is Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (Central Organization of Swedish Workers) SAC, a Syndicalist trade union movement founded in 1910, organizing all categories of wage and salary earners and having about 20.000 members with its greatest strength among wood- and building-workers. Beside SAC there is a Syndicalist women’s federation and independent ideological and/or propagandistical groups, among others students’ clubs.

The Syndicalist press in Sweden comprises the famous weekly Arbetaren (The Worker), the union organ Industriarbetaren and the ideological and cultural review Zenit.

Internationally, the Swedish Syndicalists cooperate with several Syndicalist and other Libertarian and Socialist organizations all over the world.

The Declaration of Principles of the Central Organization of Swedish Workers (SAC)

1) The Syndicalist movement is emanating from the working class as a safeguard for the interests of the working people and with the purpose of remoulding society into a Libertarian Socialist direction, which implies the greatest possible freedom and economic justice being given to everybody.

2) The world scene is primarily dominated by three systems:
a) The democratic-statist with a mixture of private, state and other collective property together with political democracy and certain rights for individuals and organizations.
b) The statist-totalitarian system, where property as well as power monopoly are entirely in the hands of the state.
e) The politically statist-totalitarian system, where the property monopoly predominantly is in private hands.

3) The SAC is against all these systems but does not equate them. The society which respects the human rights is preferred decidedly. Syndicalism has contributed to the creation of the human liberties and rights which exist in the democratic society and is ready to defend these against the adherents of dictatorship.

4) Where private capitalism is dominating there also exists the private monopoly of supplies of raw materials and of means of production. This monopoly is a bar to continued economic democratization and federative administration. Instead of being objects of speculation for a privileged few the production must, to an equal degree, be put at everybody’s disposal. Thereby the greatest cause for exploitation and economic conflicts between men is removed.

5) In industrialized countries with a political democracy the social security of the property-less masses has become greater through the modern social reforms, but at the same time has the power of the state increased by this policy. Through its organizational strength the working-class must see to it that the carrying through of the social security reforms occur in forms favouring self-administration and being under the control of the popular organizations.

6) Syndicalism opposes the nationalization of the economic, social and cultural life. It appeals to all who are opposed to every form of exploitation, to all who do not defend economic or other privileges and who are ready to participate in a struggle for a social order where all Working people have a chance of getting a coresponsibility in the administration of the means of production by adhesion to cooperative producers’ groups, and where every member of society, on the basis of extended forms of communal and regional autonomy gets the opportunity of actively participating in a decentralized social life.

7) Syndicalism fights against every form of dictatorship and declines all authoritarian forms of organization, which by the centralization of the right of decision, create oppressors and oppressed and which render more difficult the development of self-responsibility which is the prerequisite for autonomy. Since one man does not have a natural right to determine over another and since might in itself is not right, there only rest the voluntarily made agreements as a basis for men’s social cooperation.

From this fact the federative form of organization is derived. Therefore, Syndicalism in the first hand directs its energies towards the building up of organizations on a federative basis, within which it is left to each organizational unit to decide their own affairs, which does not imply that the units have a right to act contrarily to commonly made regulations.

This organization is shaped so, that these locally employed in an enterprise form an operation section; the operation sections from all enterprises in the same branch and at the same place form a syndicate, and all syndicates form together in their turn the local federation, which as regards general and common interests form the unit within the central organization. For the furthering of the activity and special interests of the respective industrial groups the syndicates form country-wide federations, according to expediency are brought together into departments. This organization shall be developed with all vital functions in a free socialist society taken into consideration.

8) The SAC does not participate in party politics. Both in the day-to-day struggle and for the creation of a classless social order the direct, economic, social and cultural activity is regarded as the essential. Syndicalism prepares and follows up the social transformation from below with the place of work as point of departure and with a constructive View of the social upbuilding. The SAC, therefore, organizes all workers — wherein technicians and administrators of all kinds also are included — in their character of producers, in a common organization, which beyond the immediate interest struggle aims at the construction of a Syndicalist society.

The members of the SAC have the right outside the movement to participate in the forms of social activity that corresponds to their political, philosophic and religions views on the condition that this activity does not bring them into a state of open hostility to the Syndicalist movement.

9) Syndicalism contributes to a cooperative economy in a socialist meaning and aims at the forming of international federations of producers’ cooperatives as a first step towards the Libertarian Socialism of the future. Syndicalism regards all forms of cooperative activity, even the cooperation of the farmers and the self-employed, which does not exploit other labour or sets aside social solidarity, as a stage in the development towards e society where everybody is liberated from undue economic dependence and where all appropriate forms of mutual aid are coordinated according to federalist principles. Syndicalism also regards the consumers’ cooperation as an applicable means in the struggle against national and international monopolies.

Syndicalism’s order of production implies the complete realization of Industrial Democracy, so as a striving towards this goal the SAC participates, by direct union-industrial measures in every activity aiming at coinfluence of the workers in private, communal, state or consumer-owned enterprises. Syndicalism therefore also intends to give the partial industrial democracy a socialist direction, bearing in mind that the administration of the means of productions shall he overtaken by all employed.

10) State boundaries’ and national administration unite are contrary to the social structure of Syndicalism, which follows the economic life and is, administrationally, nationless. In consequence of that is the state as a representative of nationalism and war the bitterest enemy of Syndicalism. Syndicalism, therefore, combats militarism and regards the anti-militarist propaganda as one of. its most important civilizational tasks. It moreover works for a joint action against militarism and war by the free popular movements. The methods for the anti-military struggle will be determined by the situation prevailing in each special case.

Instead of the existing system of sovereign states Syndicalism aims at international, regional and universal federations, resting upon economic and cultural unions of both geographic and functional character. Autonomy and suitable forms of control in all social fields must make the guarantee for a democratic development within the frame of a common federalist judicial system which overcomes nationalism and makes militarism superfluent.

In this way Syndicalism wants to further a humanistic view of life and a higher civilization in the spirit of freedom and solidarity with the intent at last to reach a brotherly cooperation between all peoples and races of the earth.

The SAC, 1963

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.”

Bakunin: Letter to “Democracy” (1868)

Here is some more material from Bakunin, translated by Shawn Wilbur, on democracy, socialism and federalism, this time from 1868.  It is in the form of a letter to Charles-Louis Chassin (1831-1901), a French democrat, who was in the process of establishing a political journal, La Démocratie (“Democracy). Chassin appears to have also become a member of the International, as he was one of the signatories to the 1870 appeal of the French Internationalists to the German people and democratic socialists against the Franco-Prussian War. Bakunin would have met Chassin at the September 1867 congress of the League of Peace and Freedom in Geneva, Switzerland, where Bakunin gave a speech in favour of socialist federalism. The League was a group of prominent European writers, republicans and democrats, including Victor Hugo, John Stuart Mill and the Italian revolutionary, Giuseppe Garibaldi, that sought to achieve peace and freedom for Europe. In his speech at the League’s September 1867 Geneva Congress, Bakunin argued that peace could only be secured through the abolition of the nation-state and the creation of federations of socialist communes and associations. He put forth his ideas in more detail in his essay, “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism,” which concluded with Bakunin’s famous declaration that “liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” Bakunin recapitulates these themes in this May 1868 letter to Chassin regarding the proposed program for “Democracy.” It is in this letter that Bakunin describes Proudhon as “the true master of us all.”

On the Program of “Democracy”

Need I say that as far as a foreigner may be allowed to meddle in your affairs, I sympathize with all my heart with your courageous enterprise and that I subscribe completely to your program? You have the noble ambition of restoring the press in your country to the heights from which it should never have descended, whatever the storms that have assailed it, and of once again accustoming is to seek our inspirations there, a habit that we have lost for nearly 19 years.

Be sure that, in all countries, all men to whom liberty and humanity are dear will happily salute the end of the French eclipse, even when they no longer have need of the resplendent sun of France in order to know their way.

The time of the messiah-peoples has passed. Liberty, justice, from now only no longer form the monopoly of any one nation. – The initiative, – to make use of the favorite expression of Mazzini, – that initiative (which, in the case of Dante, he wanted to bestow exclusively upon fair Italy, his homeland) belongs from now on to all the peoples; it is, to different degrees, it is true, divided among them all. This is a true division of labor, proportionate to the intellectual and moral power of each nation; and the last word of that division will be the federal organization of Europe.

All for each and all by each: such must be today our motto, our watchword. But the harmony would be very imperfect, it would be impossible, if the light and the powerful participation of France was lacking. That is the sense in which we all greet happily its reawakening to liberty.

I can only subscribe fully to the principle of decentralization that you set down as one of the principal bases of your program. Seventy-five years of sad, hard experience, passed in a fruitless tossing between a liberty, re-conquered several times, but always lost again, and the despotism of the increasingly triumphant State, have proven to France and that world that in 1793 your Girondins were in the right against your Jacobins. Robespierre, St.-Just, Carnot, Couthon, Cambon and so many other citizens of the Mountain have been great and pure patriots, but it remains no less true that they have organized the governmental machine, that formidable centralization of the State, which has made possible, natural and necessary, the military dictatorship of Napoleon I, which, surviving all the revolutions that have followed, in no way diminished, but on the contrary preserved, caressed and developed, through the Restoration, the July Monarchy and the Republic of 1848, has inevitably led to the destruction of your liberties.

Many of the democrats of the old unitary school – and I should even say Catholic school, although they are that most often without knowing it themselves – still think today that communal autonomy can suffice, and that with emancipated communes on one side, and on the other side a powerful centralization of the State, the organization of Liberty is possible. Such is the belief boldly professed by the illustrious Italian democrat Joseph Mazzini.

Despite the deep and sincere respect that I bear for this great creator of modern Italian unity, the distressing spectacle presented by that same Italy today would suffice by itself to make me doubt the goodness of his doctrine. I do not hesitate to say that Mazzini and all those who think like him fall into a profound error. No, communal autonomy will never be sufficient to establish liberty in any country; to isolated commune will always be too weak to resist the crushing centralization of all the legislative and executive powers in the State. – in order for communal Liberty to be real, an intermediary more powerful than the commune is required between the commune and the State: the autonomous department or province.

We can be certain that where commercial autonomy does not exist, the self-government of the commune will never be anything but a fiction. On the other hand, whatever Mazzini may say, a State powerfully centralized internally will never be anything externally but a war machine, which could enter into a federation of peoples in order to dominate it, but never to submit, on equal conditions with all the other nations, to the supreme law of international justice, that is to say purely human justice and, as such, contrary to the transcendent, theological, political and legal justice of the States.

I am happy to see the flag of anti-theologism bravely displayed in France. A mind enveloped in theological and metaphysical fictions, which bows before any authority whatsoever, other than that of rational and experimental science, can only produce the political and social slavery of a nation. Whatever is said by your representatives of the official morality and your spiritualist democrats, scientific and humanitarian materialism alone is capable of establishing liberty, justice, and consequently also morality on branches truly broad and unshakeable.

Isn’t it indeed a remarkable thing that, while the spiritualists, taking their point of departure in free will, end inevitably at the doctrine of authority, to the more or less open or masked, but always complete negation of liberty, – we materialists, we start from inevitability, both natural and social, in order to proclaim the progressive emancipation of humanity.

You are socialist. One does not have the right to call oneself a democrat today if, alongside the most complete political emancipation, one does not want as fully the economic emancipation of the people. You are a thousand times right to no longer wish to separate those two great questions which make up, in reality, only a single one: the political question and the social question.

Like you, I deplore the blindness of that party–and not too considerable a party, let us hope–of workers in Europe, who imagine that by abstaining from any intervention in the political affairs of their country, they serve that much better their own material interests, and who think that they could attain economic equality and justice, to which the working classes aspire today, by another road than that of liberty.

The unanimous testimony of the history of all times and all countries shows us that justice is never given to those who do not know how to take it themselves; logic confirms, by explaining it to us, that demonstration of history. It is not in the nature of a privilege, of a monopoly, of an existing power to cede or abdicate without being forced to do it; in order for right to triumph, it must become a force in its turn.

This truth is so simple, it is so well proven by the experience of each day, that we have the right to be astonished that people are still found who can doubt it. Equality without liberty is a noxious fiction created by the rogues to fool the sots. Equality without liberty is the despotism of the State, and the despotic State could not exist a single day without having at least an exploiting and privileged class; the bureaucracy, a hereditary power as in Russia and China, or de facto as in Germany and among you.

The great and true master of us all, Proudhon, has written, in his fine book on Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, that the most disastrous combination that could be formed would be that which would join together socialism with absolutism, the tendencies of the people toward economic emancipation and material well being with [the dictatorial] concentration of all political and social powers in the State.

So let the future preserve us from the favors of despotism; but let it save us from the disastrous and mind-numbing consequences of authoritarian, doctrinaire or State socialism. Let us be socialists, but let us never become sheeplike peoples. Let us seek justice, all political, economic and social justice, only on the path of liberty. There can be nothing living and human apart from liberty, and a socialism that would cast it from its bosom or that would not accept it as the unique creative principle and basis would lead us straight to slavery and brutishness.

But if, on the one hand, we must energetically reject [repousser] every socialist system not inspired by the principle of collective and individual liberty, we must separate ourselves with the same energy and frankness from all the parties that declare their wish to remain strangers to the social question, the most formidable but also the greatest of all those questions that occupy the world today.

Your great revolution, which began its sublime work with the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” would only have ended when it had organized – not only in your country, but on the whole surface of the globe – society according to justice: a society that, at the beginning of the life of each of its members, whether of masculine or feminine sex, would have guaranteed equality from the point of departure, as that equality would depend on social organization, setting aside the natural differences between individuals; a society that, in economic and social respects, would offer to each the equally real possibility for all to raise themselves up – in proportion to the energy and individual capacities of each – to the greatest heights of humanity, first through education and instruction, then through the labor or each, freely associated or not associated – labor at once muscular and nervous, manual and intellectual, which, becoming the legitimate source of all individual, but not hereditary, property, would in the end be considered the principal basis of all political and social rights.

Such is, in my opinion, the last word of the revolutionary program. We could protest the difficulties of its realization; but we could not, without renouncing all logic, be unaware of what is there an absolute condition of true justice. And we who have renounced every theological faith in order to have the right and the power to embrace the human faith, we must still maintain the program of justice.

Finally you are persuaded, are you not, that all new wine must be poured in new bottles and that, turning your back on the henceforth exhausted mob of the cripples of theologism, of privilege, of anti-socialist democracy and transcendent politics, we should base all of our hopes on that party of the intelligent and studious, but not doctrinaire youth, who, feeling in themselves the need to merge with the mass of the people, in order to draw a life from it that ostensibly begins to be lacking in the higher regions of society, love, respect the people enough to have the right to instruct them and if necessary that of guiding them; – but especially on the working classes who, moralized by labor and not being exhausted by the abuse of the pleasures of life, are today the bearers and dispensers of every future?

Here is, my dear Chassin, my profession of faith. If it does not displease you too much, accept me among your numerous collaborators. In the meantime, please record me among your subscribers.

Michael Bakunin

La Voix de l’Avenir, May 24, 1868, Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland

Robert Graham: Anarchy and Democracy

My most recent post was from a group of Brazilian anarchists advocating direct democracy in response to the current political crisis in Brazil. Whether anarchists are or should be advocates of direct democracy is a matter of long-standing debate, going back to the origins of anarchism as a political (or anti-political) movement in the 19th century. Previously, I have posted a number of contributions to this debate from both anarchist advocates of direct democracy and those who argue that anarchy dispenses with all forms of government, including directly democratic ones. The Center for a Stateless Society is currently hosting an online symposium on this subject. I have written on this topic over the years, advocating a form of what I call “associational” direct democracy that rejects simple majority rule, drawing on the ideas of the feminist political theorist, Carole Pateman (see for example, “The Role of Contract in Anarchist Ideology,” in For Anarchism (1989), ed. David Goodway). Recently, I contributed a piece to the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, in which I discuss the historical origins of the debate and some of the more theoretical issues, including the development of anarchist conceptions of direct democracy that seek to transcend a simple majoritarian decision-making model.

Anarchy and Democracy

The relationship between anarchy and democracy has always been ambivalent. Both concepts have had many different interpretations, both positive and negative. Anarchy is equated with chaos, a “war of all against all,” and terrorism. Democracy is equated with “mobocracy,” one step away from tyranny, or simply as a sham. But when conceived in a more positive light, anarchy and democracy share some similar characteristics, particularly when democracy is conceived as a form of social organization that gives people the power to participate directly in the making of the decisions regarding their own lives, workplaces and communities, instead of that decision-making power being given to “representatives” who then make those decisions, allegedly on the people’s behalf. Anarchy and direct, as opposed to representative, democracy, both seek to realize a social form of freedom in equality and equality in freedom. Both therefore are subversive of the existing social order.

But the tension between anarchy, which seeks to reject all rule, and even direct democracy, which purports to provide for collective self-rule, remains. And this tension is something that anarchists have grappled with since the time of the 1789 French Revolution.

During the French Revolution, there was open conflict between the supporters of representative government, or “parliamentarianism,” and advocates of direct democracy, and between them and the advocates of revolutionary dictatorship. The proponents of parliamentary democracy advocated a system by which people (usually just male property owners) would elect representatives who would then form a government that would rule over everyone (including those without any right to vote, such as women and workers). The proponents of direct democracy advocated that everyone should be able to directly participate in political decision-making by voting on policy matters in their own assemblies, neighbourhoods, districts and communes. Both groups were inspired by the French political philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

In his book, The Social Contract (1762), Rousseau developed two related arguments which both his later followers, and many of his critics, including anarchists, often conflated. His first purpose in the book was to provide a rational justification for authority by means of the notion of a “social contract” that everyone must be assumed to have entered into in order to create a system of government that would guarantee everyone’s rights and freedoms. Anarchists later denounced this argument on historical and theoretical grounds, because the social contract was entirely hypothetical, and because the system of government that everyone had purportedly agreed to did not and could not guarantee everyone’s rights and freedoms. In reality, governments acted in the interests of the small minority of the rich and powerful, guaranteeing the exploitation and domination of the masses.

But what many anarchists failed to fully appreciate was the second part of Rousseau’s argument, namely what sort of government would guarantee everyone’s rights and freedoms. And in this regard, Rousseau advocated a system of direct, not parliamentary, democracy, despite the claims of many of his so-called followers, including some of the Jacobins during the French Revolution. In a noteworthy passage regarding the English system of parliamentary government, Rousseau wrote that: “The people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the short moments of liberty it enjoys shows indeed that it deserves to lose them.”

However, Rousseau’s notion of direct democracy was unitary, based on his notion of the “general will,” which led him (and his followers) to reject direct democracy conceived as a federation of directly democratic associations, and to the idea that you can “force people to be free,” by forcing them to conform to the “general will,” as expressed by the majority, which purportedly expressed their real wills. The Jacobins used these kinds of arguments to justify banning trade unions in France during the Revolution, and any other kind of association which could challenge their power.

But other people took Rousseau’s ideas in a more libertarian direction. During the French Revolution itself, the people of Paris created the “Commune of Paris,” based on general assemblies in each district, where people would vote directly on political matters. The anarchist communist, Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) later argued that this was an example of “the principles of anarchism” being put into practice. Jean Varlet (1764-1837), a French revolutionary who denounced the Jacobin dictatorship, argued that only the people in their directly democratic assemblies could express the “general will,” and that anyone delegated the task of representing the views of the assemblies must be subject to recall so that they could not substitute their “individual wills” for the will of the people.

Working people in Europe began to create their own nascent trade union organizations, such as mutual aid societies and societies of “resistance,” in order to pool their resources and to coordinate actions against their employers. In France, a practice of direct democracy developed within many of these organizations, with the general members directly voting on policy matters, and any elected officials being subject to recall if they did not act in accordance with the membership’s wishes.

By the 1840s, when Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) first gave explicit expression to anarchist ideas in France, there were numerous workers’ societies and associations that practiced some form of direct democracy. Although Proudhon distinguished anarchy, “no government,” from democracy, “self-government,” when he came to propose alternative forms of social organization as a positive form of “anarchy” to replace existing economic and political institutions, he included directly democratic forms of organization with recallable delegates subject to imperative mandates, such as the “People’s Bank” that was to replace the Bank of France. With respect to large scale enterprises, he advocated a form of workers’ self-management, where the workers would manage their workplaces on a directly democratic basis.

But Proudhon was aware of the problem of adopting a system of simple majority rule, even in directly democratic organizations. In contrast to Rousseau, he advocated voluntary association and federalism. Individual workers (or anyone else) could not be compelled to join an association, and both individuals and groups that federated with other groups would be free to secede from their respective associations and federations. Consequently, someone or some group that found themselves continually in the minority on votes within an association or federation would be able to leave the group and to form or join another one composed of people with more similar views. But a tension remained regarding whether within a particular group the minority could be forced to comply with a decision by the majority.

When followers of Proudhon (many of whom, admittedly, were not anarchists), began trying to organize an international association of workers in the 1850s and early 1860s, culminating in the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864, this practice of working class direct democracy had become well established in France. The Proudhonist members of the International saw it as a voluntary international association of workers’ organizations that should be based on Proudhon’s notion of federation, with no central governing power. The International’s so-called General Council was to be an administrative, not a governing body, and all policy matters were to be decided by recallable delegates subject to imperative mandates at the International’s annual congresses.

Karl Marx (1818-1883), who was on the General Council, fundamentally disagreed with this approach, which eventually led to the split in the International in 1872 between Marx and his supporters, and the “federalists,” “anti-authoritarians,” and “anarchists.” Marx tried to turn the General Council into a governing body that could impose policies on the members and groups belonging to the International, and expel anyone who did not comply with them. He opposed any attempts to turn the General Council into a council of delegates mandated by the member associations, such that the General Council became (at best) a representative body, not a directly democratic one. One of the policies Marx tried to impose, despite the opposition of the majority of the International’s member groups, was the requirement that they create working class political parties that would participate in existing systems of representative government, with the object of “conquering” political power.

It was through the conflict with the Marxist approach to the internal governance of the International, and Marx’s imposition of a policy committing the International’s member groups to participation in parliamentary politics, that many of Marx’s opponents in the International began to identify themselves as anarchists. In the process, they came to develop new, and sometimes diverging, ideas about the relationship between anarchy and democracy.

Michael Bakunin (1814-1876) is a case in point. Prior to joining the International in 1868, Bakunin had sketched out various revolutionary socialist programs advocating an anarchist form of direct democracy. For example, in his 1866 program for the “International Brotherhood” of revolutionary socialists, Bakunin advocated a federation of autonomous communes, within which individuals and groups would enjoy full rights to freedom of association, but envisaged these federations eventually being replaced by federations of workers’ associations “organized according to the requirements not of politics but of production.” These views were very similar to Proudhon’s and the more radical Proudhonist elements in the International, although they did not yet identify themselves as anarchists.

What some of them eventually came to share with Bakunin was a concept of anarchy as a form of what I would describe as “associational” direct democracy – direct democracy conceived as an association (or federation) of associations without any central authority or state above them, with the member groups, each with its own directly democratic decision-making procedures, coordinating their activities through voluntary federation with other associations, using recallable delegates subject to imperative mandates at the higher levels of federation in order to pursue common courses of action.

However, as a result of Marx’s attempts to turn the International into a top-down organization with the General Council acting as its executive power, Bakunin and some other Internationalists began to develop a critique of federalist organization that raised issues regarding associational direct democracy, both in terms of the manner in which the federated groups could coordinate their activities while preserving their autonomy, and in terms of the internal organization and decision-making procedures within the associated groups.

Bakunin and others argued that the only way to prevent a higher level coordinating body, such as the General Council, from being transformed into an executive power, is to do away with such coordinating bodies altogether. Instead, the various associations would communicate directly with each other in order to coordinate their activities, including the organization of policy conferences or congresses, where delegates from the various groups would debate the issues of the day, such as the revolutionary general strike v. the revolutionary commune, anarchist communism or anarchist collectivism, propaganda by the deed and insurrection.

When the anti-authoritarians, federalists and anarchists reconstituted the International, they compromised on this issue, agreeing to have a coordinating correspondence bureau, but the seat of the bureau was to rotate from one federation to another each year. More importantly, the anti-authoritarian International decided that any policies endorsed at an International congress would not be binding on the member groups. It was up to each group, and its members, to ultimately determine which policies they were to adopt. This was meant to ensure that it was the members themselves, through their own directly democratic organizations, who would make the policies they were to follow, rather than delegates at international congresses, even if the latter were supposed to be subject to imperative mandates (which the delegates could violate, as had happened at the 1872 Hague Congress, when some delegates from federalist sections sided with the Marxists, contrary to their mandates).

But if policies endorsed at a congress of delegates subject to imperative mandates, and to recall if they violated their mandates, could not be binding on the member groups, whose own members were to decide these issues, then how could policies adopted by the members of the constitutive groups be binding on other members of these groups who did not vote in favour of them? Bakunin, for one, began to develop a critique of binding policies, or legislation, even if they were decided by a directly democratic vote. This led to the idea that voting should be replaced by “free agreement,” and to the development of anarchist theories of organization based more on notions of voluntary association than on notions of direct democracy. Anarchy and democracy began again to be conceived as distinct, rather than complimentary, concepts, mainly by anarchist communists, such as Elisée Reclus (1830-1905), Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) and Kropotkin.

Writing about the Paris Commune of 1871, Kropotkin suggested that the Commune had no more need for an internal government than for a central government above it, with the people instead forming “themselves freely according to the necessities dictated to them by life itself.” Rather than a formal structure of even directly democratic assemblies federated into a commune or city-wide organization, then regional, national and international federations, there would be “the highest development of voluntary association in all its aspects, in all possible degrees, for all imaginable aims; ever changing, ever modified associations which carry in themselves the elements of their durability and constantly assume new forms which answer to the multiple aspirations of all.”

While some of the anarchists and socialists in the anti-authoritarian International began to move toward a “communalist” position, such as Paul Brousse, Gustave Lefrançais and Adhemar Schwitzguébel, advocating participation in municipal elections and the creation of socialist communes, Elisée Reclus and other anarchist communists rejected that approach, reminding everyone that they were “no more communalists than statists; we are anarchists. Let us not forget that.” As Malatesta later put it, “anarchists do not recognise that the majority as such, even if it were possible to establish beyond doubt what it wanted, has the right to impose itself on the dissident minorities by the use of force.”

In various parts of Europe, some of the anarchist communists opted for small groups of anarchist militants with no formal networks or federations, with decisions being based on the free agreement of each member. In Spain, the majority of the anarchists continued to advocate the use of revolutionary trade unions and to utilize a directly democratic federalist structure with recallable delegates subject to imperative mandates at the higher levels of the federations. According to the anarchist historian Max Nettlau (1865-1944), the anarchist communist groups in France, which today would be described as “affinity groups,” remained isolated from the people; there was a “fine flowering” of anarchist ideas, “but little concern for the fruit that should issue from the flower.”

There was a return to more federalist forms of organization based on directly democratic base groups when anarchists again turned their focus on working class movements for self-emancipation, leading to the rise of revolutionary and anarchist syndicalist movements prior to the First World War. During revolutionary upheavals, workers began to create their own political structures, many of which had directly democratic structures, in opposition to existing governments.

Anarchists participated in the first soviets during the 1905 Russian Revolution, and again in the soviets that arose during the 1917 Russian Revolution. But there were concerns that the soviets functioned more like workers’ parliaments, with many of their members representing the platforms of their respective political parties rather than the views of the workers they were supposed to represent. This led some of the Russian anarcho-syndicalists to advocate a new form of directly democratic organization: the factory committee or council. Anarchists in Italy and Germany also supported the factory and workers’ council movements there. During the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939), yet another directly democratic form of self-governance arose under anarchist impetus, the libertarian “collectives,” in which all members of the community participated regardless of their role in the production and distribution process.

Anarchists critical of the notion of majority rule, even in directly democratic organizations, such as Malatesta, nevertheless participated in these movements, seeking to push them as far as they could go. This was also the approach advocated by Kropotkin. Despite having anarchy as their goal, where social relations and collective decision-making would be based on free agreement and voluntary association, they recognized that directly democratic popular organizations were a step toward that goal.

In the 1960s, Murray Bookchin argued for directly democratic community or neighbourhood assemblies, that would enable everyone to participate directly in policy making, as the political basis for a decentralized ecological form of anarchism. But he also saw a positive role for both affinity groups, which would act as revolutionary “catalysts” and would also form the “cell tissue” of an eco-anarchist society, and factory or workplace councils through which workers would manage their own workplaces. Later he became more narrowly focused on the concept of directly democratic municipal government, which he called “communalism,” and eventually rejected the anarchist label altogether.

During the anti-nuclear movements of the 1970s and 80s, among the more radical “second wave” feminist movements of the same era, and then the so-called “anti-globalization” and “Occupy” movements of more recent years, anarchists have sought to create affinity group based social movements that coalesce into broader networks or webs, creating an amalgam of social forms that combine affinity based small group organization with various forms of direct democracy and voluntary federation, similar to what Bookchin had advocated in the 1960s.

But contemporary anarchists, such as David Graeber, conceive of direct democracy in broader terms than Bookchin, recognizing that there are “Non-Western” forms of direct democracy that are more consensus based, in contrast to systems where decisions are ultimately based on a majority vote. Feminist political theorists, such as Carole Pateman, have also criticized simple majority rule within directly democratic forms of organization, arguing that those in the minority cannot be forced to obey, as this would reintroduce domination within the groups.

Yet the debate about whether anarchy and democracy are compatible continues. One can argue for more sophisticated decision making processes that are more inclusive and which are meant to prevent the domination of directly democratic groups by powerful personalities, or simply by those who are more active or have greater stamina; or one can argue that the concept of “democracy” has become so corrupted that anarchists should no longer make any use of it.

But one could just as well argue that the concept of “anarchy” has become so twisted in the popular imagination that its negative connotations now outweigh the positive to such an extent that the concept should simply be abandoned. It really depends on the concrete circumstances in which you find yourself. Rather than arguing about which labels to adopt or promote, perhaps it would be better to work with others in creating non-hierarchical organizations in which everyone really does have an equal voice, and then see where they can take you.

Robert Graham

Kropotkin on Syndicalism and Anarchism

Happy birthday Kropotkin Claus!

Happy birthday Kropotkin Claus!

It’s that time of year again — no, not Christmas! It’s Kropotkin’s birthday and the Winter Solstice! As in years past, I celebrate this date by posting something by Kropotkin. Given my recent focus on the debates and splits within the International Workers’ Association and the CNT, I thought it might be more useful to present some of Kropotkin’s views on syndicalism and anarchism. The following article was first published in Les Temps Nouveaux, the anarchist paper published by Jean Grave in Paris around the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. This translation was first published by Black Flag in 1997 (a better version is included in Iain McKay’s anthology of Kropotkin’s anarchist writings, Direct Struggle Against Capital). Among other things, Kropotkin discusses the historical development of revolutionary syndicalism, and the role played by the International Workingmen’s Association of the 1860s-1870s, something I deal with in more detail in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. I devoted an entire chapter of Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas to anarcho-syndicalism, and included additional anarcho-syndicalist material in other chapters, and in Volumes Two and Three.

anarcho-syndicalism1

Syndicalism and Anarchism

From all sides, people are always asking us, “What is Syndicalism and what is its relationship to Anarchism?”. Here we will do our best to answer these questions.

Syndicalism is only a new name for an old tactic in which the workers of Great Britain have taken successful refuge for a long time: the tactic of Direct Action, and the fight against Capital in the economic sphere. This tactic, in fact, was their favourite weapon. Not possessing the right to vote, British workers in the first half of the nineteenth century won important economic gains and created a strong trade union organisation through use of this weapon alone, and even forced the ruling classes to acknowledge their demands with legislation (including an extension of the franchise).

Direct Action has proved itself, both in achieving economic results and in extracting political concessions, to be a significant weapon in the economic arena.

In Britain, the influence of this idea was so strong that in the years 1830 to 1831 Robert Owen attempted to found one big national union, and an international workers organisation, which using direct action would struggle against Capital. Early fears of persecution by the British government forced him to abandon this idea.

This was followed by the Chartist movement, which used the powerful, widespread and partly secret worker’s organisations of the time in order to gain considerable political concessions. At this point British workers received their first lesson in politics: very soon they realised that although they backed political agitation with all means at their disposal, this agitation won them no economic advantages other than those they themselves forced the employers and lawgivers to concede through strikes and revolts. They realised how pointless it was to expect serious improvements to their conditions of life to come from parliament.

A Chartist Demonstration

A Chartist Demonstration

French workers came to exactly the same conclusion: the revolution of 1848 which had given France a Republic convinced them of the complete fruitlessness of political agitation and even of political victories; the only fundamental changes to workers conditions of life are those which the ruling classes are forced to concede by Direct Action.

The revolution gave the French another lesson. They saw how completely helpless were their intellectual leaders when it came to finding out about new forms of production which would secure for the workers their share and bring about the end of their exploitation by Capital. They saw this helplessness both in the Luxembourg Commission, which met between April and June 1848, and in the special Chamber chosen to study this question in 1849, on which over 100 Social Democratic Deputies sat. From this, they realised that workers themselves had to work out the main lines of the social revolution, on which they must travel if they are to be successful.

The use of direct action by Labour against Capital, and the necessity for workers themselves to work out the forms of economic organisation with which to eliminate capitalist exploitation: these were the two main lessons received by the workers, especially in the two countries with the most developed industry.

When, then, in the years 1864/66 the old idea of Robert Owen was realised and an international worker’s organisation was set up, this new organisation adopted both of the above fundamental principles. As the International Workers Association (IWA) had been brought into being by representatives of the British trade unions and French workers (mainly followers of Proudhon), who had attended the second World Exhibition in Paris, it proclaimed that the emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves and that from then on the capitalists would have to be fought with mass strikes, supported internationally.

iwma-soiree

Following on from this, the first two acts of the International were two such mass strikes, causing enormous agitation in Europe and a salutary fright for the middle class: a strike in Paris, supported by the British trade unions, the other in the Genoese building trade, supported by French and British workers.

In addition, congresses of the International workers no longer bothered with discussing nonsense with which nations were entertained by their rulers in parliamentary institutions. They discussed the fundamental question of the revolutionary reconstruction of society and set in motion the idea which since then has proved so fruitful; the idea of the General Strike. As to what political form society would take after the social revolution, the federations of the Latin countries openly stood against the idea of centralised states. They emphatically declared themselves in favour of an organisation based on a federation of free communes and farming regions, who in this way would free themselves from capitalist exploitation and on this basis, on the basis of federal combination, form larger territorial and national units.

Both basic principles of modern Syndicalism, of direct action and the careful working out of new forms of social life, are based on trade union federations: from the beginning, both were the leading principles of the IWA.

Even them within the Association, however, there were two differing currents of opinion concerning political activity which divided the workers of different nations: Latin, and German.

The French within the International were mainly supporters of Proudhon, whose leading idea was as follows: The removal of the existing bourgeois state apparatus, to be replaced by the workers own organisation of trade unions, which will regulate and organise everything essential to society. It is the workers who have to organise the production of life’s necessities, the fair and impartial exchange of all products of human labour, and their distribution and consumption. And if they do that, we will see that there will be very little left for the state to do. Production of everything needed, and a more equitable exchange and consumption of products, are problems which only the workers can solve. If they can do all this, what remains to be done by existing governments and their hierarchy of officials? Nothing that workers can’t organise themselves.

But among the French founders of the International there were those who had fought for the Republic and for the Commune. They were insistent that political activity should not be ignored and that it is not unimportant for the proletarian whether they live under a monarchy, a Republic, or a commune. They knew from their own experience that the triumph of conservatives or of imperialists meant repression in all directions, and an enormous weakening of the power of workers to combat the aggressive politics of the capitalists. They were not indifferent to politics, but they refused to see an instrument for the liberation of the working class in electoral politics or successes, or in the whole to-ing and fro-ing of political parties. Accordingly, the French, Spanish, and Italian workers agreed to insert the following words into the statutes of the International: “Every political activity must be secondary to the economic.”

Among British workers there were a number of Chartists who supported political struggle. And the Germans, unlike the French, did not yet have the experience of two republics. They believed in the coming parliament of the German Reich. Even [Ferdinand] Lassalle [1825-1864]– as is now known – had some faith in a socialist Kaiser of the united Germany he saw rising.

Because of this, neither the British nor the Germans wanted to rule out parliamentary action, which they still believed in, and in the English and German texts of the same statutes inserted: “As a means, every political activity must be secondary to the economic.”

Thus was resurrected the old idea of trust in a bourgeois parliament.

paris_commune

After Germany had triumphed over France in the war of 1870-71 and 35,000 proletarians, the cream of the French working class, were murdered after the fall of the Commune by the armies of the bourgeoisie, and when the IWA had been banned in France, Marx and Engels and their supporters tried to re-introduce political activity into the International, in the form of workers candidates.

As a result, a split occurred in the International, which up to then had raised such high hopes among proletarians and caused such fright among the rich.

The federations of the Latin countries, of Italy, Spain, the Jura and East Belgium (and a small group of refugees from France) rejected the new course. They formed their own separated unions and since this time have developed more and more in the direction of revolutionary Syndicalism and Anarchism, while Germany took the lead in the development of the Social Democratic Party, all the more so after Bismarck introduced the universal right to vote in parliamentary elections following the victory in war of the newly established German Reich.

Forty years have now passed since this division in the International and we can judge the result. Later, we will analyse things in more detail but even now we can point to the complete lack of success during these 40 years of those who placed their faith in what they called the conquest of political power within the existing bourgeois state.

Instead of conquering this state, as they believed, they have been conquered by it. They are its tools, helping to maintain the power of the upper and middle class over the workers. They are the loyal tools of the Church, State, Capital and the monopoly economy.

But all across Europe and America we are seeing a new movement among the masses, a new force in the worker’s movement, one which turns to the old principles of the International, of direct action and the direct struggle of the workers against capital, and workers are realising that they alone must free themselves – not parliament.

Obviously, this is still not Anarchism. We go further. We maintain that the workers will only achieve their liberation when they rid themselves of the perception of centralisation and hierarchy, and of the deception of State appointed officials who maintain law and order – law made by the rich directed against the poor, and order meaning the submission of the poor before rich. Until such fantasies and delusions have been thrown overboard, the emancipation of the workers will not be achieved.

But during theses 40 years anarchists, together with these workers who have taken their liberation into their own hands, making use of Direct Action as the preparatory means for the final battle of exploited Labour against – up to the present day – triumphant Capital, have fought against those who entertained the workers with fruitless electoral campaigns. All this time they have been busy among the working masses, to awaken in them the desire for working out the principles for the seizure of the docks, railways, mines, factories, fields and warehouses, by the unions, to be run no longer in the interests of a few capitalists but in the interest of the whole of society.

It has been shown how in England since the years 1820-30, and in France following the unsuccessful political revolution of 1848, the efforts of an important section of the workers were directed at fighting Capital using Direct Action, and with creating the necessary worker’s organisations for this.

It has also been shown how, between 1866 and 1870, this idea was the most important within the newly established International Workers Association but also how, following the defeat of France by Germany in 1871 and the fall of the Paris Commune, political elements took the upper hand within the International through this collapse of its revolutionary forces and temporarily became the decisive factor in the worker’s movement.

Since this time both currents have steadily developed in the direction of their own programmes. Worker’s parties were organised in all constitutional states and did everything in their power to increase the number of their parliamentary representatives as quickly as possible. From the very beginning it could be seen how, with representatives who chased after votes, the economic programme would increasingly become less important; in the end being limited to complete the trivial limitations on the rights of employers, thereby giving the capitalist system new strength and helping to prolong the old order. At the same time, those socialist politicians who competed with the representatives of bourgeois radicalism for the capture of worker’s votes helped, if against their intentions, to smooth the way for a victorious reaction across Europe.

Their whole ideology, the ideas and ideals which they spread among the masses, were focused on the one aim. They were convinced supporters of state centralisation, opposed local autonomy and the independence of small nations and devised a philosophy of history to support their conclusions. They poured cold water on the hopes of the masses while preaching to them, in the name of “historical materialism”, that no fundamental change in a socialist direction would be possible if the number of capitalists did not decrease through mutual competition. Completely outside their observations lay the fact which is so obvious in all industrialised countries today: that British, French, Belgian and other capitalists, by means of the ease with which they exploit countries which themselves have no developed industry, today control the labour of hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The result is that the number of those people in the leading industrialised countries of Europe who live off the work of others doesn’t gradually decrease at all. Far from it. In fact, it increases at a constant and alarming rate. And with the growth of this number, the number of people with an interest in the capitulation of the capitalist state system also increases. Finally, those who speak loudest of political agitation for the conquest of power in the existing states fiercely oppose anything which could damage their chances of achieving political power. Anyone who dared to criticise their parliamentary tactics was expelled from international socialist congresses. They disapproved of strikes and later, when the idea of the General Strike penetrated even their own congresses, they fought the idea fiercely with all means at their disposal.

Such tactics have been pursued for a full 40 years, but only today has it become clear to everyone that workers throughout Europe have had enough. With disgust, many workers have come to reject them. This is the reason we are now hearing so much about “Syndicalism”.

Revolutionary syndicalist CGT paper

Revolutionary syndicalist CGT paper

However, during these 40 years the other current, that which advocates the direct struggle of the working class against Capital, has also grown and developed; it has developed despite government persecution from all directions and in spite of denunciation by capitalist politicians. It would be interesting to plot the steady development of this current and to analyse its intellectual as well as personal connections with the social democratic parties on the one hand, and with the anarchists on the other. But now is not the time for publication of such work, all things given it is perhaps better that it has not yet been written. Attention would be turned to the influence of personalities, when it is to the influence of the major currents of modern thought and the growth of self-confidence among the workers of America and Europe, a self-confidence gained independently of intellectual leaders, to which special attention has to be directed in order to be able to write a real history of Syndicalism.

All that we now have to say about it is the bare facts that completely independently of the teachings of Socialists, where working masses were gathered together in the main industrial centres, that these masses maintained the tradition of their trade organisations from former times, organising both openly and secretly, while all the time growing in strength, to curb the increasing exploitation and arrogance of the employers. At the same time that the organised working masses grew larger and stronger, becoming aware of the main struggle which since the time of the great French revolution has been the true purpose of life of civilised peoples, their anti-capitalist tendencies became clearer and more certain.

During the last 40 years, years in which political leaders in different countries have used the widest possible means to try to prevent all worker’s revolts and to suppress any of a threatening character, we have seen workers’ revolts extend even further, becoming ever more powerful, and workers’ aims expressed more and more clearly. Ever increasingly, they have lost the character of mere acts of despair; whenever we have contact with the workers, more and more we hear the prevailing opinion expressed, which can be summarised in the following few words: “Make room, gentlemen of industry! If you can’t manage to run the Industries so that we can scrape a living and find in them a secure existence, then away with you! Away, if you are so short sighted and incapable of coming to a sensible understanding with one another over each new turn of production which promises you the greatest instant profit, that you must attack without regarding the harmfulness or usefulness of its products like a flock of sheep! Away with you, if you are incapable of building up your wealth other than with the preparation of endless wars, wasting a third of all goods produced by each nation in armaments useful only for robing other robbers! Away. If from all the wonderful discoveries of modern science you have not learnt to gain your riches other than from the poverty to which a third of the population of the big towns and cities of our exceptionally rich countries are condemned! Away, if that is the only way you can run industry and trade! We workers will know better how to organise production, if only first we succeed in eradicating this capitalist pest!”

These were the ideas fought over and discussed in workers’ households throughout the entire civilised world; they provided the fertile ground for the tremendous workers’ revolts we have seen year after year in Europe and in the United States, in the form of strikes by dockers, rail workers, miners and mill workers, etc., until finally taking the form of the General Strike – soon growing into major struggles comparable with the powerful cycles of the force of nature, and next to which small battles in parliaments appear as a children’s game.

While the Germans celebrated their ever growing electoral success with red flags and torchlit possessions, the experienced Western people’s quietly set to work on a much more serious task: that of the internal organisation of the workers. The ideas with which these last peoples occupied themselves were of a much more important nature. They asked themselves, “What will be the result of the inevitable worldwide conflict between Labour and Capital?”, “What new forms of industrial life and social organisation will this conflict create?”.

And that is the true origin of the Syndicalist movement, which today’s ignorant politicians have just discovered as something new to them.

To us anarchists this movement is nothing new. We welcomed the recognition of syndicalist trends in the programme of the International Workers Association. We defended it, when it was attacked within the International by the German political revolutionaries who saw in this movement an obstacle to the capture of political power. We advised the workers of all nations to follow the example of the Spanish who had kept their trade union organisations in close contact with the sections of the International. Since this time we have followed all phases of the worker’s movement with interest and know that whatever the coming clashes between Labour and Capital will be like, it will fall to the syndicalist movement to open the eyes of society towards the tasks owing to the producers of all wealth. It is the only movement which will show to thinking people a way out of the cul-de-sac into which the present development of capitalism has given our generation.

It goes without saying that anarchists have never imagined that it was they who had provided the syndicalist movement with its understanding of its tasks with regard to the reorganisation of society. Never have they absurdly claimed to be the leaders of a great intellectual movement leading humanity in the direction of its progressive evolution. But what we can claim is to have recognised right from the beginning the immense importance of those ideas which today constitute the main aims of Syndicalism, ideas which in Britain have been developed by Godwin, Hodgkin, Grey and their successors, and in France by Proudhon: The idea that workers’ organisations for production, distribution, and exchange, must take the place of existing capitalist exploitation and the state. And that it is the duty and the task of the workers’ organisations to work out the new form of society.

Neither of these two fundamental ideas are our invention; nor anyone else’s. Life itself has dictated them to nineteenth century civilisation. It is now our duty to put them into reality. But we are proud that we understood and defended them in those dark years when social democratic politicians and pseudo-philosophies trampled them underfoot, and we are proud that we stand true to them, today as then.

Peter Kropotkin

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