Pano Vassilev: The Idea of the Soviets (1933)

pano vassilev

The Kate Sharpley Library is seeking help typing a handwritten manuscript of an English translation of the 1933 work of the Bulgarian anarchist, Pano Vassilev, The Soviets Idea (or “The Idea of the Soviets”), in order to prepare it for publication. Pano Vassilev (1901-1933) was a prominent Bulgarian anarcho-syndicalist. He worked in Argentina for a few years and became acquainted with anarcho-syndicalism through the anarchist trade union federation, the FORA. He then spent some time in France, where he came into contact with Pierre Besnard and other French anarcho-syndicalists. Upon his return to Bulgaria, he became a leading advocate for anarcho-syndicalism within the Bulgarian anarchist movement. He was assassinated by the Bulgarian police in April 1933 as he was preparing to launch an anarchist appeal to Bulgarian workers on the eve of May Day demonstrations. In Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a 1945 manifesto from the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation, which melded together anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist communist approaches. The BACF, as with Vassilev, rejected both dictatorship and parliamentarianism. Below, I set forth some passages from Chapter One of Vassilev’s book, which focuses on the Bolsheviks’ antipathy toward council forms of working class self-organization, and then their cooptation of the soviets during the Russian Revolution. I have omitted the footnotes, which can be found here

Soviets lenin

Chapter One : The Soviets Idea not a Bolshevik Notion 

The theory of soviets has no connection with the soviet system of government, despite what most people believe. On the contrary, we are entitled to argue the very opposite, namely, that the soviets idea, the idea of social life being organized along the lines of a new, free, communist system, with the production and distribution of goods in the society of the future being regulated through the good offices of meetings and working encounters between direct delegates, subject to replacement at all times and possessed of no authority, from trade union organizations and distribution agencies… this idea has nothing in common with the characteristic peculiar to the Bolsheviks, their statist inclinations and their dictatorial system in the regimentation of social life.

If, in spite of that, the soviets idea is still identified (especially in Bulgaria) with Bolshevism and with the current Soviet system, with their statist dictatorship, this is due primarily to the fact that the Bolshevik Party, for a variety of reasons, has managed to impose and to consolidate its dictatorial authority in Russia. In the very place where the proletariat first attempted to implement the soviets system in practice and on a huge scale.

And if one adds to this, simple ignorance of the history of the labour movement and more especially of its left wing, the confusion is the more readily understandable. Even in our own circles, there are anarchists who look upon soviets as a purely Bolshevik invention and do not distinguish them from Bolshevik dictatorship.

It is not hard to demonstrate that, fundamentally, Bolshevism and the soviets idea in its proper and original sense, are utterly unconnected.

Above all, one has to remember that, according to its own supporters, Bolshevism is the “true”, “the only properly understood marxism”. Marx and Engels, the founding fathers of the marxist ideology, never pronounced themselves in favour of soviets. They wrote numerous books in which they expounded in detail not only the theoretical and philosophical principles, but also the constructive program of what they themselves dubbed “ scientific socialism”. But in none of their works (whether these be books, pamphlets, programs, letters or critical notes) will one discover a single line on the basis of which it might be argued that “the great teachers of the proletariat” envisaged “workers’ councils” as organs which might be used by the proletariat in its struggle so as to marshal its efforts, or in some future  socialist order, to organize production, distribution and social life in general, or even in the so-called ‘transitional’ period.

Likewise, it is impossible to discover one single word to the effect that workers’ councils are organs of struggle in the works of marxism’s students and publicists who have thought and put pen to paper since Marx and Engels. This is quite natural, since marxism was conceived, formed and evolved precisely as a parliamentary, statist variant of socialism. Such it was, and such essentially, it remains, despite the soviet backdrop erected by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

The split which took place in the first international in 1872 was the logical outcome of the incompatible and profoundly antagonistic views of the marxists and the bakuninists on the very issue of the relationship between workers’ movements and the modern bourgeois state generally, and its legislative organ, parliament in particular. The marxists, led by Karl Marx himself, clearly and categorically described themselves as parliamentarians and statists. And the bakuninists were dubbed anarchists because they pronounced themselves against all forms of parliamentarianism.

In the view of Marx, Engels and their disciples, the social revolution is still regarded as a series of social reforms effected by a political party, describing itself as socialist or proletarian, which has taken power. This is to say that, that political party has achieved mastery of the State’s legislative and executive arms, parliament, the police, the army and the courts. The so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, as conceived by the founders of marxism and their supporters, is the dictatorship of a parliament in which the “representatives of the proletariat” have managed to secure a majority. This notion is spelled out in the Communist Manifesto wherein there is mention of conquest of the machinery of State and of “centralization of credit by means of the State.” In Anti-Dühring, Engels writes: “The proletariat takes charge of state power and transforms the major means of production into State property” and “The State emerges truly representative of the whole of society”.  In their immediate aims the marxists have always employed the expression “People’s State” (Volkstaat) complete with a legislative assembly, i.e. a parliament wherein the majority is held by the “people’s representatives”.

In the 12 June 1845 issue of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Marx even wrote bluntly that, “following the proletariat’s victory” a constituent assembly with dictatorial powers would have to be summoned. And in his mind this was “dictatorship of the proletariat”.

For marxists, this “dictatorship of the proletariat” has always meant the dictatorship of the “people’s representatives” in parliament, in the present bourgeois State and this is especially clear in the commentary of Marx’s friend, Engels, upon the Critique of the Erfurt Programme. “One absolutely certain point is that our party and the working class can only accede to power in the form of the democratic republic. Indeed, as the Great French Revolution has shown, that is the specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

From this we may conclude that for Engels and so for Marx and for Marxists, the bourgeois democratic republic is the political form of socialism on the morrow of the Revolution. There is no other form in which the proletariat’s dictatorship may be expressed, because the Great French Revolution has shown (!)that the democratic republic is its specific form.

Up until the October 1917 Revolution and even for two months after that, the Russian Bolsheviks – who, like all marxists at the time called themselves social-democrats – depicted the famed “dictatorship of the proletariat” exclusively as the dictatorship of a constituent assembly. And it was towards just that dictatorship that they had bent all their efforts right up to the last breath of the Russian Constituent Assembly of 1917. There are facts and documents galore to confirm this, including those drawn from Bolshevik sources. For instance, the very program of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in which the Bolsheviks were the majority, is quite clear about its hostility to the soviet and its advocacy of parliamentarianism. That program was still in force in 1917. In this programme, which the Bolsheviks and Lenin subscribed to, until the Kronstadt sailors dismissed the Constituent Assembly in October 1917, one may read:

     “That is why the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party deems it its most urgent task to abolish the absolutism of the Tsar and its replacement by a democratic republic whose constitution must guarantee:

i.    The sovereignty of the people, which is to say, the concentration of the entire supreme power of the State in the hands of a legislative assembly made up of the people’s representatives.

ii.    The right of eligibility (general, equal and direct, for all citizens aged more than 20 years) to the Constituent Assembly and to the organs of local power; and the entitlement of every person elected to be appointed to any parliamentary position.
While pursuing its immediate objectives, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party supports any revolutionary opposition movement directed at a radical political change, and categorically repudiates any schedule of reforms that would reinforce the police and administrative surveillance of the labouring classes.

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party is firmly convinced that the implementation of political and social reforms is feasible only through the abolition of the authoritarianism of the tsars, and the summoning of a constituent assembly freely elected by the entire people.”

As this extract indicates, this program did not look beyond a democratic republic, a constituent assembly elected by the whole citizenry. And as we have said, this program was still extant, unchanged, in 1917, and enjoying the support of the Mensheviks and of the Bolsheviks together with Lenin. The program had not altered following the attempted revolution of 1905-1906 when the Russian workers had set up their soviets which then played a highly significant role in the struggle. And, not merely did the Bolsheviks not amend the program in the wake of the “general repetition” of 1905-1906… they stressed that they opposed the soviets, the workers’ experiment. Thus at the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party congress held in London from 13 May to 1 June 1907, the Bolshevik Party (at that time only a faction) moved and (becoming the majority) ensured the adoption of a resolution on the issue of soviets, of which the following are some excerpts :

“Resolution on the matter of the party’s relations with the Duma (the Russian Parliament): the people must be given an explanation of the impossibility of achieving political freedom by the parliamentary route, as long as power remains in the hands of the tsarist government; the necessity of an open struggle by the masses of the people against the armed might of absolutism, as the only chance for the revolution to assure itself of a total victory; the transfer of power into the hands of the people’s deputies and the summoning of a constituent assembly with equal, direct and secret ballot.
“Resolution vis-à-vis the labour congress [the Bolsheviks’ draft which was adopted]: Given 1) that the Social Democratic Labour Party is the only organization unifying the conscious element of the proletariat as a vanguard and which directs the working class’s struggles for a socialist society and the conditions crucial for its          introduction:

“That at the moment of revolutionary eruption, it seems possible (!) to organize or to employ for the ends of the social democracy the workers’ non-party formations, such as, say, the soviets of workers’ representatives, etc.
“That the idea of a labour congress leads in fact to the replacement of the social democracy by the workers’ organizations lacking any party of a lasting nature, and that the organization and preparation through propaganda for that labour congress inevitably culminates in the disorganization of the party and leaves broad masses of workers under the tutelage and influence of bourgeois democracy.”

“The congress acknowledges that… The Party’s participation in these organizations is a possibility in the event of necessity, provided that the party develops and strengthens its aims; the idea of a partyless labour congress backed by the anarcho-syndicalists in their struggle against the influence of social democrats over the         labouring masses, is absolutely harmful for the proletariat’s class development; as regards the need for free discussion of the labour congress issue in the party press, congress takes the view that there should be no propaganda geared to the organization of the labour congress, neither by members individually nor among the party’s organizations.”

These quotations from the program of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (in which the Bolsheviks were the majority) and the resolutions regarding that party’s attitude to the Duma and the projected non-party “congress of workers” indicate that the Russian “Marxist – Leninists”, even after the 1905-1906 experience, kept the faith with the teachings of Marx and Engels and went on regarding as their own the “specific formula” according to which “the dictatorship of the proletariat” was to be a democratic, parliamentary republic and not the workers and peasants’ soviets.

And if, after the October uprising (1917) they jettisoned their old parliamentarian and non-revolutionary democratic standpoint vis-à-vis the constituent assembly and became “pro-soviets”, this was purely and simply under compulsion and because they could not do otherwise.

All information concerning the conduct of the Bolsheviks during this period is of tremendous historical importance and shows that up until the dismissal of the Constituent Assembly, they were its champions and placed their hopes in it so as to secure a majority, no matter how, and, thanks to that majority to proclaim the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Hence their hesitant and confused stance vis-à-vis the soviets even when the labouring masses had begun openly to ventilate the slogans  “Down with the Constituent Assembly”…  “All power to the soviets of the workers, soldiers and peasants!”

Quite by contrast the anarchists, or rather those of their number who were for the soviets, looked upon them as “executive organs of the will of the labouring people” From June or July 1917 on, they placed themselves at the head of the monthly assemblies which had rallied around the councils of the proletariat and against the Constituent Assembly. As for the Bolsheviks, they persisted in regarding as possible a “revolutionary overhaul” of the national assembly and adopted no clear and definite stance on the question of the soviets’ role and mission in the proletarian revolution.

So, for instance, when the masses of Petrograd and Kronstadt, disgusted by the Constituent Assembly and the machinations of the “people’s representatives” sitting in it, openly lined up behind the watchword “All power to the soviets!,” first launched by anarchists, “then…” as Efim Yarchuk writes… “The Bolsheviks took up the cudgels for the Constituent Assembly and in order to defend it, introduced into the soviets the idea of their being metamorphosed to a certain extent, into organs of the central authority”. “And whenever the Bolshevik Roshal at a meeting in Kronstadt on 3 July 1917 spoke to the masses of an armed demonstration under the slogan of “All power to the soviets!”, the other members of the party met with Raskolnikov to await the decision of the party’s central committee which was based in Petrograd. And when Roshal asked Raskolnikov the question “What do we do if the party decides not to support anything?”, the latter replied “That doesn’t matter! From here we will force their hand.”

It is well known and the Bulgarian Bolsheviks concede this, that up to the very last minute before the October rising, the majority of the party’s central committee opposed it, and that Zinoviev, Kamanev and others played the dismal role of typical opportunists and counter-revolutionaries during those decisive days. Those gentlemen who subsequently pronounced themselves “authentic” and patent  revolutionaries and who during the Kronstadt Revolt of 1921 against the Bolshevik authorities whom they represented dared label the Kronstadt sailors as “counter-revolutionaries”, these gentlemen funked the fight at the crucial moment for the real proletarian revolution.

That the Bolshevik Party was truly, up to the last moment before the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, in favour of it and that it was compelled to amend its anti-soviet stance and moreover, to embrace the watchword “All power to the soviets!” as soon as it was confronted by the fait accompli of the dismissal of the Constituent Assembly, is evidenced by the testimony of Leon Trotsky : “ Our party did not reject democracy, taking account of the certain priorities of political agitation in this lawful transition towards the new regime. Out of this came our attempt to convene the Constituent Assembly… The constituent assembly proved an obstacle to the revolutionary movement and was swept aside”.

Trotsky does not say, of course, how and by whom precisely the constituent assembly was “swept aside”, because we may be sure he has no “political agitation” interest in doing so. Nor is he in a position to describe this revolutionary act on the part of the Bolshevik Party which, as he himself admits, did its utmost to attain “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, i.e. the Constituent Assembly. Trotsky merely hints that the Constituent Assembly was “swept aside” because it was an obstacle in the path of the revolutionary movement. But anyone who bothers to reflect upon this for a moment will infer from this  cautious phrasing that… “1) The revolutionary movement at that point was assuredly not led by the Bolshevik Party and 2) The Bolshevik Party of the day with its preference, obvious up to the last minute, for the Constituent Assembly was one of the factors hampering the development of the revolution.”

Anatol Gorelik without concealing the reality for considerations of “political agitation” has this to say of the events of those days… “Still hesitant, torn between the soviets and the Constituent Assembly, they were in any case determined to ensconce themselves firmly in the Winter Palace. It was only in January 1918 (two months on from 25 October!) that, having failed to win a majority of votes in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, and faced with the fait accompli of the latter having been dismissed by a detachment of sailors under the command of the anarchist Zhelezniakov, they repudiated that Constituent Assembly”. “On that day, comrade Zhelezniakov was commander of the guard of the Constituent Assembly. Later, that afternoon, he calmly strode up to the father of the house, the Social Revolutionary Chernov and suggested to all of the Constituent Assembly’s members that they remove themselves for folk had had enough of their palaver and their ‘work’ (and that the sailors wanted to get to their beds). The existence of the Constituent Assembly was terminated as straight-forwardly as that. The Bolsheviks had no hand in dismissing the Constituent Assembly; they merely ‘legalized’ the fait accompli”. “Even then, as now, the Bolshevik’s policy hinged upon the balance of forces.”

And, truth to tell, one can only understand the about turn in terms of the need to readjust to the facts. The Bolshevik Party suddenly did a somersault a propos of the soviets and the Constituent Assembly in 1917-1918, under pressure from the astute and far-sighted Lenin. An exposition of the facts shows that, faced with the  choice of being faithful to Marxism and parliamentarianism by clinging stubbornly, come what may, to the Constituent Assembly and opposing the transfer of power implicit in ‘All power to the soviets!’, with the risk of being “swept aside” by the labouring masses from the theatre of the social struggle as a political party identified with the Constituent Assembly (as befell all the other ‘socialist’, ‘worker’ and ‘labour’ parties), the Bolsheviks repudiated the Constituent Assembly and temporarily fell into line with the  surge from the masses by swimming with the current so as  to await  the opportune  moment to annihilate the  ‘soviets,’ to strip them of their ‘power’ and to concentrate power by a round-about route into their own  hands, no longer through the Constituent Assembly plan of course but rather through the agency of a central executive committee of the soviets.

And despite the prevailing consensus in the party’s central committee – that there be no surrender to the enthusiasm of the masses – Lenin, though in the minority, correctly grasped with his expansive mind the dismal fate which lay in store for the party unless it fell into line with the inclinations of the masses. Lenin announced that the party was with the movement of the workers and peasants and with its outlook. He announced that he was taking the majority on the central committee to task for it was at odds with the wishes of the masses and defaulting upon its revolutionary duty. He unreservedly embraced the slogan of ‘All power to the soviets!’ and, by decree, changed the party’s name to ‘communist’ and for the time being, toed the communist line.

But this did not last long. After it had been announced that the counter-revolution had been defeated, and thanks to Lenin’s bold stratagem, the Bolshevik Party managed to secure a majority in the Pan-Russian Congress of Soviets and on the central executive committee of the soviets. This signalled the start of centralization within that institution (in which the Bolsheviks always retained the upper hand) of initiative and rights. Indeed “by a round-about route” there was a homecoming to the old attitude: all of the soviets’ rights had been cancelled “temporarily” to begin with, and then for good and were now soviets in name only.

“But as long as a country is governed by the dictatorship of one party, the workers’ and peasants’ councils obviously lose all their meaning. They are reduced to the passive role played in by-gone days by the States-General and parliaments when these were summoned by the monarch and had to contend with an all-powerful King’s Council”.

Once ensconced in power and masters of the situation, the Bolsheviks could hardly have acted otherwise. Indeed “The Bolsheviks have never been supporters of an authentic council system. In 1905, Lenin for instance explained to the chairman of the St. Petersburg soviet that ‘his party could not sympathize with the obsolete institution of the councils arrangement.’ But as the early stages of the Russian Revolution had evolved precisely on the basis of just that councils arrangement, the Bolsheviks, whenever they took power, had to seek an accommodation, willy nilly with this inheritance, a very dubious one in their  eyes. Then all of their actions were designed gradually to divest them of all power and to subordinate them to the central government. That they were successful in this is, in our view, the tremendous tragedy of the Russian Revolution.”

Pano Vassilev, Bulgaria 1933


From Posts to Pages

Only a few posts on this blog are listed under “Recent Posts,” and up to ten are listed under “Authors“. In order to make earlier posts more accessible, I am converting them into Pages, sometimes including longer extracts. For example, my post of Neno Vasco‘s writings on anarcho-syndicalism and anarchist communism has been converted into a lengthier page with extracts from the same source, and I have created one page for Alexander Schapiro and Pierre Besnard‘s pamphlet on anarcho-syndicalism and anarchism.

Pierre Besnard – Anarchosyndicalism and Anarchism

The following excerpts, translated by Paul Sharkey and appearing in English for the first time, are taken from Pierre Besnard’s address to the June 1937 Paris Congress of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association (IWA), L’Anarcho-Syndicalisme et l’Anarchisme, Rapport de Pierre Besnard, Secretaire de l’A.I.T. au Congrès Anarchiste International de 1937 (dated 30 May 1937; republished as a supplement to le Monde Libertaire, 1963), for which Alexander Schapiro wrote the (previously posted) introduction.

The IWA held a special congress in Paris, June 11-13, 1937, to debate the relationship between the anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist movements, and to deal with the participation of the Spanish CNT in the Republican government in Spain as part of its fight against fascism. In July 1937, the well respected French anarchist, Sebastien Faure [Anarchism, Volume 1, Selection 66] published a stinging rebuke of the Spanish anarchists in the French anarchist paper, Le Libertaire, in a series of articles entitled “The Fatal Slope,” castigating them for joining the government. The CNT was furious, and forced Besnard to resign as general secretary of the IWA.

Besnard (1886-1947) was very active in the French anarcho-syndicalist movement from the end of the First World War until the Second World War. He contributed to Faure’s Encyclopédie anarchiste, and wrote several books on the theory and practice of revolutionary syndicalism, including Les syndicats ouvriers et la révolution sociale (Paris: Le Monde nouveau, 1930); Le Monde nouveau (Paris: CGTSR, 1936); and L’Ethique du syndicalisme (Paris: CGTSR, 1938). He tried to modernize anarcho-syndicalism, and to persuade other anarchists to support anarcho-syndicalist trade unions without derogating from their independence and autonomy. Nevertheless, Besnard sought to achieve ideological unity among anarchists, taking a position somewhat similar to the Platformists associated with the Russian anarchist, Peter Arshinov, and the Ukrainian anarchist partisan, Nestor Makhno (Anarchism, Volume 1, Selection 115). For more on Besnard, see Wayne Thorpe, “Anarchosyndicalism in Inter-War France: The Vision of Pierre Besnard,” European History Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4, 559-590 (1996).

Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarchism

I. What is Revolutionary Anarchism?

Revolutionary Anarchism is a movement whose doctrine is designed to institute an individual and collective existence from which the State, Government and Authority will be barred.

Incontrovertibly, the foundation of that society will be man.

So Anarchism is the affirmation of an ongoing social demand in the here-and-now and into the infinite future, into the indefinite future.

It implies an economic, administrative and social project and has to begin right now…

Historically, Revolutionary Anarchism is the third branch of traditional socialism.

By contrast with the other two branches, Socialism and Communism — both of them political, authoritarian and statist — it is a-political, anti-parliamentary and anti-statist.

Its essential feature is freedom in a context of accountability, individual and collective alike.

Its chief tasks at present are: propaganda, popularization and social education of the labouring masses today and, tomorrow, the administration of society.

II. What is Anarcho-Syndicalism?

Anarcho-Syndicalism is an organizational and organized movement. It draws its doctrine form Anarchism and its organizational format from Revolutionary Syndicalism.

It is the contemporary expression of the anarchist doctrine as regards matters economic and social.

In terms of the revolution, it is also, as the Spanish experience itself has demonstrated, the essential agent of realization.

At the world level, it is represented by the IWA and its National Centres.

Its doctrine has been defined by the founding Congress of the 2nd IWA (25-31 December 1922 [Anarchism, Volume 1, Selection 114]), by succeeding congresses, and by the works and writings of its militants.

In Spain, the CNT stands for the Anarcho-Syndicalism of the IWA.

Practically and no less historically, Anarcho-Syndicalism is the organizational format assumed by Anarchy for the purposes of the fight against capitalism. It is fundamentally at odds with political and reformist trade unionism.

Anarcho-Syndicalism’s substitution of the idea of Class for the notion of Party makes it an essential tool for workers obliged to defend their living conditions in their preparation for economic and social liberation.

The Anarcho-Syndicalist movement makes possible a yoking together of action in pursuit of day-to-day demands and the loftiest aspirations of the workers.

It achieves an amalgamation of the two in terms of material, moral, short-term and future interests.

Out of a commonality of interests, it brings forth an identity of aims and, as a logical and natural consequence, a reconciliation of doctrines.

Anarcho-Syndicalism: a movement of trial and error

Like any truly social doctrine, Anarcho-Syndicalism is essentially a matter of trial and error.

Proof of this is the fact that, today, in Spain, its doctrine, having been consecrated and confirmed by the facts, is achievable in the short-term.

Based on trial and error? Just like every social movement and all the sciences.

In sociology as in physics or chemistry or mechanics, the idea springs from the act and returns to it.

The fact always predates the idea and conjures up the doctrine, the philosophy from which the realization is to sprout.

The doctrine, the idea, the yearning for further experiment as a means to the end, follow from the phenomena recorded which give rise to laws acknowledged by all and authenticated by experience.

Historical Comments

Down through the ages, what has social experience in every country and in the modern world in particular taught us?

1. That within their own class, individuals are more and more sure to band together on the firm ground of their interests.

2. That antagonistic classes seek, through elimination of their own contradictions, to realize their common interest; capitalists by means of the establishment of state capitalism, of which fascism is the most distinct expression; the workers, through expropriation of capital, abolition of wage slavery, abolition of the state and establishment of libertarian communism.

3. That, like their adversaries — and unfortunately, after them — workers try to achieve unity and a pooling of all their resources, because they have come to realize, at last, that the crucial battles taking place require methodical organization, coordination and massive, orderly deployment of these forces; because they have learnt the lesson taught by facts and experience, which plainly indicates that action should be well-prepared, direct, widespread and synchronized.

4. That the age of political revolutions is over; that everywhere the social revolution has come into its own; that no specially class-based, proletarian party or group can, by opposing the disparate interests of its heterogeneous membership, serve as a revolutionary spearhead, a class organization; that, whereas an employer might profess to be a socialist, communist or anarchist — they exist — and while he might see eye to eye with his worker ideologically within the group, he in fact has no class interest in common with him, once they both return to the factory, yard, workshop, office, etc. In real life, they are and remain: in the case of one, an employer, and, in the case of the other, a worker, with all of the antagonisms that their circumstances imply.

5. That the only genuinely class group with the potential, by virtue of its name, power and the resources at its disposal — which it alone can set in motion — simultaneously to destroy capitalism and make a reality of libertarian communism, is the Trade Union. Even now it brings manual, technical and scientific operatives together organizationally — and this is something it will take further tomorrow — ensuring that the life of society is sustained throughout. The Trade Union is also the typical grouping, the free and concrete model of association that can furnish libertarian communist society with the sound economic foundations vital to the new order that will spring from the revolution.

Revolutionary Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism Share a Common Objective

The IWA Charter has extracted from all these historical considerations that which is common to all of the world’s anarcho-syndicalists. In concert with the FAI, the CNT is even now striving to put this into effect.

This notion does not at all imply that anarcho-syndicalism — which is, remember, against the State and federalist — means and aims to be everything and that nothing else should exist alongside it.

Instead, anarcho-syndicalism is of the view that men, while they cannot refrain from producing in order to survive, ought not to have production as their sole aim. It very candidly admits and has no hesitation in announcing that man has and rightly should have other aspirations — the highest ones at that — toward the good, the beautiful, the better, and this in every realm to which his faculties afford him access; that administrative and social agencies are called for equal to all the demands of a full, rounded, complete life, operating with the enlightened assistance and under the watchful, constant and unrelenting supervision of all.

It accepts without question that individuals are entitled — or rather, have a duty — to administer themselves. It formally invites them to do just that, right here and now.

Likewise, it fervently wants communes to federate on a regional basis, confederate with one another nationwide and for the confederations to link arms internationally, after the pattern of the unions and the CGT [Confédération Générale du Travail].

It is even convinced that this is crucial and it stands ready to add its efforts and the efforts of its trade unions to the efforts of individuals operating as such and to the efforts of the federated, confederated and combined communes in making a reality of that genuine libertarian communism which cannot but be anarchism’s handiwork…

Of necessity, agreement between anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-communists on libertarian communism as the objective is complete, permanent and absolute.

So it is clear and self-evident that the place of the workers, the exploited of whatever sort, whose ideal is anarcho-communism, cannot be other than in the anarcho-syndicalist unions and nowhere else.

Their doctrine makes this an imperious, specific and ineluctable duty.

Moreover, it is their best practical means of actually achieving that unity of action so necessary for the modern revolutionary anarchist movement.

It is only in action and through action that anarchists will discover their real unity of thought; that the anarcho-syndicalist movement, out of kilter for the past 30 years, will also rediscover its equilibrium and its vigour; that all anarchists will at last come to look upon the social revolution as an imminent event and a feasible proposition.

The Role of the Anarchist Groups and the Unions

All of the above leads naturally and logically to consideration of the role of the anarchist groups and the trade unions.

Anarcho-syndicalists have no difficulty in agreeing that anarcho-communist groups, being more mobile than the trade union organizations, should go prospecting among the labouring masses; that they should seek out recruits and temper militants; that they should carry out active propaganda and intensive pioneering work with an eye to winning the greatest possible number of workers hitherto deceived and gulled by all the political parties, without exception, over to their side and thus to the anarcho-syndicalist trade unions.

This wholly ideological undertaking, this psychological-type propaganda drive falls, without question, within the purview of the anarcho-communist groups, on the express condition that they identify with the work of the anarcho-syndicalist trade unions which they complement and reinforce, for the greater good of libertarian communism.

But let me state bluntly that the decision-making responsibility, action and supervision of the latter should reside in the here-and-now with the trade unions as the executive agents and operatives carrying out revolutionary tasks.

I am also of the opinion that it is incumbent upon these unions to prepare all such undertakings of an economic, defensive or offensive order.

Finally, in my view, the economic, administrative and social system ought to be homogeneous, harmonious, etc., and the basis of that system, if it is to be real, sound and lasting, cannot but be economic.

On behalf of the trade unions, I claim the right to handle revolutionary and post-revolutionary economic tasks because the organization of production is the true calling of the workers.

On the other hand, logic dictates that the communes, administrative agencies and their technical and social services, should handle distribution of goods: interpreting the wishes of men in social terms, organizing life in all its manifestations. Starting right now, the anarchist groups have a duty to lay the groundwork for these revolutionary accomplishments.

The task of every one of these bodies is therefore extremely clear-cut and perfectly defined. Broadly speaking, it will be enough to welcome everyone‘s acting and making an effort in every sphere of activity, depending on the individual’s actual abilities.

At no time, and let me offer you the most formal guarantees here, at no point will the anarcho-syndicalist trade unions be able to constitute an obstacle to the onward march of revolutionary communism.

And at no point, either, will they be able to turn reformist, because they are and will remain revolutionary, federalist and anti-statist, because, like the anarcho-communist groups, their purpose is to establish libertarian communism.

To conclude this part of my address, let me affirm:

1. The anarcho-syndicalist movement cannot deviate, because of the close and unrelenting supervision exercised over its organizations and militants.

2. That, in current terms, in the realm of revolution, the anarcho-syndicalist movement represents the means whereby libertarian communism can be achieved. That it is up to the anarcho-communist groups, operating exclusively on ideological terrain, to take propaganda as far as it will go.

3. That the anarcho-communist movement should concern itself primarily with propaganda and education tasks: the study of society and the popularization thereof.

4. That the best ongoing contact achievable will be achieved, as in Spain, through the unrestricted recruitment into the anarcho-syndicalist trade unions charged with preparing for and carrying out action (they being the only ones capable of bringing this to a successful conclusion, having the requisite membership and resources) of all anarcho-communists in every country; that anarcho-syndicalism’s trial-and-error doctrine, which is the doctrine of anarchism itself, is sound and solid enough not to incur the risk of any infringement, attenuation or deviation.

5. That anarcho-communism, the real face of socialism, was spawned by the utter inadequacy of all the political parties; that anarcho-syndicalism, that movement’s modern, active form, deriving from anarchism, currently caters to all of the positive tasks of anarcho-communism and paves the way for libertarian communism, of which it will be the chief midwife; that anarcho-communism’s tasks — like anarcho-syndicalism’s tasks — will be accomplished in the post-revolutionary period when men, due to the evolution and development of their capacity for understanding, will be capable of acceding to free communism, anarchy’s goal.

In short, anarcho-syndicalism is the force required for the struggle under the existing regime and the agent of the economic construction of libertarian communism in the post-revolutionary period.

Anarchism assists the anarcho-syndicalist movement, without supplanting it.

The activities of its militants blend in with those of anarcho-syndicalist militants within the trade unions.

The two movements therefore owe each other ongoing mutual aid.

And later, come the peace, harmony and concord, anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, amalgamating into a single movement, will pursue the achievement of libertarian communism, anarchy’s ultimate aim.

Anarcho-syndicalism’s most pressing task today is to organize the workers under its aegis with an eye to the decisive battle against capitalism; to make technical preparations for that battle, to bind the forces of production together for the revolutionary construction of the libertarian communist order; and, tomorrow, to organize the economy until such time as free communism is established; and finally, to defend the revolution.

That of revolutionary anarchism consists of deploying all of the resources at its disposal to help bring this about.

Relationship between Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism

Self-evidently, there must be a relationship between anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, nationally as well as at the international level. Moreover, the IWA, at its founding congress, anticipated just such an eventuality.

Relations between them should be founded upon each movement’s independence and autonomy of the other and they must remain on a footing of the completest equality.

Besides the cross-fertilization of the two movements through the actions of their militants, it is to be wished that in every locality, region and country, contacts may be established between anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist organizations.

If these relations are to be fruitful and lasting, they will have to rest on the groundwork of mutual toleration, facilitated by doctrinal common ground in every realm and a precise understanding of the tasks incumbent upon the two movements…

But those relations can only be established on two conditions:

1. Anarchists in each country be of one mind, doctrinally.

2. The unification of the anarchist groupings within each country on the basis of a single doctrine of revolutionary anarchism.

General Conclusions

Whatever the wishes of Congress and of the IWA may be with regard to practical realization of these relations, they can only achieve this, as circumstances require that they do, if those two conditions are met beforehand by the anarchist movements in each country.

It would have been infinitely preferable, as well as consistent with our known principles, namely, federalist principles, had that doctrinal unity and unification of anarchist forces taken place prior to the meeting of the Congress that is due to give birth to the Anarchist International.

On behalf of the anarcho-syndicalists who achieved that double objective through the launching of the present IWA back in 1922, I call upon all our revolutionary anarchist comrades to follow suit.

If they all agree, the International that emerges from this Congress will deserve the title with which they will surely endow it and which cannot be other than: The Revolutionary Anarchist International — and I say again — they will accomplish this without a hitch.

It is sufficient but it is necessary that they all agree to break once and for all with the so-called forces of democracy, be they political or trade unionist; that they affirm that revolutionary anarchism, by dint of its goals, its methodology and its doctrine, has nothing and can have nothing in common with these so-called “democratic” forces which are, in every country, capitalism’s finest servants.

If, taking this to its limits, the revolutionary anarchist movement also breaks with all of the dissenters from the authoritarian political parties who, like their parties of origin, have but one ambition — to seize or to seize back power — the revolutionary anarchist movement and the anarcho-syndicalist movement will be able to stride fearlessly and in step toward their common goal: revolutionary social change through the establishment of libertarian communism, a necessary step along the road to free communism.

Pierre Besnard, IWA General Secretary

May 30, 1937