Anarcho-syndicalism faces a change in epoch: the CGT up to 1914

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"In Western Europe revolutionary syndicalism in many countries was a direct and inevitable result of opportunism, reformism, and parliamentary cretinism. In our country, too, the first steps of "Duma activity" increased opportunism to a tremendous extent and reduced the Mensheviks to servility before the Cadets (...) Syndicalism cannot help developing on Russian soil as a reaction against this shameful conduct of 'distinguished' Social-Democrats".[1] These words of Lenin's, which we quoted in the previous article in this series, are wholly applicable to the situation in France at the beginning of the 20th century. For many militants, disgusted by "opportunism, reformism, and parliamentary cretinism", the French Confédération générale du Travail (General Confederation of Labour - CGT) served as a beacon for the new "self-sufficient" (to use the words of Pierre Monatte[2]) and "revolutionary" syndicalism. But whereas the development of "revolutionary syndicalism" was an international phenomenon within the proletariat of the time, the specific social and political situation in France made it possible for anarchism to play a particularly important role in the development of the CGT. This conjunction between a real proletarian reaction against the opportunism of the 2nd International and the old unions on the one hand, and the influence of anarchist ideas typical of the artisan petty bourgeoisie on the other, formed the basis of what has since become known as anarcho-syndicalism.

The role played by the CGT as a concrete example of anarcho-syndicalist ideas has since been eclipsed by that played during the so-called "Spanish revolution" by the Confederación Nacional de Trabajadores (CNT), which can be considered as the veritablem prototype of an anarcho-syndicalist organisation.[3] Nonetheless, the CGT, founded fifteen years before the Spanish CNT, was heavily influenced, if not dominated, by the anarcho-syndicalist current. In this sense, the experience of the struggles led by the CGT during this period, and above all of the attitude adopted by the CGT at the outbreak of the first great imperialist slaughter in 1914, thus constitutes the first great theoretical and practical test for anarcho-syndicalism.

This article (the second in the series begun in the last issue of this Review) will thus examine the period from the foundation of the CGT at the 1895 Limoges congress, up to the catastrophic betrayal of 1914 which saw the vast majority of trades unions in the belligerent countries give their unswerving support to the war effort of the bourgeois state.

What do we mean by the "anarcho-syndicalism" of the CGT? Let us recall that the previous article in this series (see International Review n°118) made several important distinctions between revolutionary syndicalism properly so called, and anarcho-syndicalism:

On the question of internationalism: the two major organisations to be dominated by anarcho-syndicalism (the French CGT and the Spanish CNT) both sank with the defence of the "Union sacree"[4] in 1914 and 1936 respectively, whereas the revolutionary syndicalists (notably the Industrial Workers of the World, violently suppressed precisely because of their internationalist opposition to the war in 1914) remained - despite their weaknesses - on a class terrain. As we shall see, the CGT's opposition to militarism and war prior to 1914 was more akin to pacifism than to proletarian internationalism for which "the workers have no country": the anarcho-syndicalists of the CGT were to "discover" in 1914 that French workers did in fact have a duty to defend the fatherland of the French revolution of 1789 against the yoke of Prussian militarism.

On the level of political action, revolutionary syndicalism remained open to the activity of political organisations (Socialist Party of America and Socialist Labor Party in the US, the SLP and - after the war - the Communist International in Britain).

On the level of centralisation, anarcho-syndicalism is by principle federalist: each union remains independent of the others, whereas revolutionary syndicalism favours the growing political and organisational unity of the class.

This distinction was not at all clear to the protagonists of the time: up to a point, they shared a common language and common ideas. However, the same words did not always have the same meaning, nor imply the same practice, depending on who used them. Moreover, unlike the socialist movement, there was no syndicalist international where disagreements could be confronted and clarified. To be schematic, we can say that revolutionary syndicalism represented a real effort within the proletariat to find an answer to the opportunism of the socialist parties and unions, while anarcho-syndicalism represented the influence of anarchism within this movement. It is no accident that anarcho-syndicalism developed in two countries relatively less developed industrially, and more deeply marked by the weight of the small artisans and peasantry: France and Spain. It is obviously impossible, in the space of one article, to give a detailed account of such a complex and turbulent moment in history, and one should always beware of the danger of schematism. That said, the distinction remains valid in its main outline, and our intention here is therefore to see whether or not the principles of anarcho-syndicalism, as they were expressed in the CGT before 1914, proved adequate in the face of events.[5]

The Commune and the IWA

The workers' movement during this period was profoundly marked by an event, and a historical tradition: le Paris Commune, and the International Workingmen's Association (IWA, also known as the First International). The experience of the Commune, the first attempt by the working class to seize power, drowned in blood by the Versailles government in 1871, left French workers with a deep distrust of the bourgeois state. As for IWA, the CGT explicitly claimed a direct descent from the International, as for example in this text by Emile Pouget:[6] "The Party of Labour finds its organic expression in the CGT (...) the Party of Labour descends in direct line from the International Workingmen's Association, of which it is the historical prolongation".[7] More specifically, for Pouget, one of the CGT's main propagandists, the Confederation found its inspiration in the federalist wing of the IWA (ie, the supporters of Bakunin), and in the slogan "the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves", against the "authoritarian" supporters of Marx. The irony inherent in this affiliation completely escaped Pouget, as indeed it has escaped the anarchists ever since. The famous expression that we have just cited comes, not from the anarchist Bakunin, but from the opening paragraph of the IWA's statutes, drawn up by none other than that dreadful authoritarian Karl Marx, several years before Bakunin joined the International. Bakunin, by contrast, whom the anarchists of the CGT took as their reference, preferred the secret dictatorship of the revolutionary organisation, supposed to be the "revolutionary general staff":[8] "Rejecting any power, by what power or rather by what force shall we direct the people's revolution? An invisible force--recognised by no one, imposed by no one--through which the collective dictatorship of our organization will be all the mightier, the more it remains invisible and unacknowledged?".[9] We should insist here on the difference between the marxist view of class organisation, and that of the anarchist Bakunin: it is the difference between the open organisation of proletarian power by the mass of workers themselves, and the vision the "people" as an amorphous mass, which needs the guidance of the invisible hand of the "secret dictatorship" of revolutionaries.

The historical context

Anarcho-syndicalism developed in France against a very specific historical background. The 20th century before 1914 is a watershed, where capitalism reached its apogee, only to plunge into the appalling massacre of the First World War which marked capitalism's definitive decadence as a social system. From the Fashoda incident of 1898 (where British and French troops faced off in the Sudan, in a competition for the domination of Africa), to the Agadir incident 1911 (when Germany sent the gunboat Panther to Agadir in an attempt to profit from France's difficulties in Morocco), and to the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, generalised European war became an ever more present and more alarming danger. When war finally broke out in 1914, it came as a surprise to nobody: neither for the ruling class, which had for years been engaged in a frantic arms race, nor for the workers' movement (resolutions against the danger of war had been voted by the Second International's congresses of Basel and Stuttgart, as well as by the congresses of the CGT).

Generalised imperialist war raises capitalist competition to a higher level, and it demands nothing less than the organisation of the entire strength of the nation for victory. The bourgeoisie was obliged to undertake a fundamental modification of its social organisation: state capitalism, where the state directs all the nation's economic and social resources in a fight to the death against the opposing imperialism (nationalisation of key industries, industrial regulation, militarisation of labour, etc.). Labour power must be organised to run war industries, and the workers must be ready to accept the resulting sacrifices. Above all, it is necessary to attach the working class to the defence of the nation and to national unity.[10] The result is an enormous swelling in the apparatus of social control, and the integration of the trades unions into this apparatus. This development of state capitalism represents a qualitative mutation of capitalist society which is one of the fundamental characteristics of its decadence. Needless to say, the bourgeoisie did not understand that the change in epoch that appeared in broad daylight in 1914 represented a critical moment for its social system. However, it understood very well - especially the French bourgeoisie with the experience of the Paris Commune behind it - that before it could launch a military adventure, it was necessary first to tame the workers' organisations. The years preceding 1914 thus saw the preparation for the integration of the unions into the state.

The period before the war was thus an ambiguous one: on the one hand, an apparent increase in the power and the success of the proletarian movement, crowned by reforms voted in parliament supposedly to improve the workers' condition; on the other, these reforms had the aim of attaching the working class to the state, in particular by incorporating the trades unions into the management of these reforms.

For their part, the defeat of the Commune left the workers with a deep distrust towards any attempt by the state to involve itself in their affairs. The first union congress held after 1871 (the Paris congress of 1876) refused to accept the offer of a 100,000 franc government subsidy; the delegate Calvinhac declared: "Oh! Let us learn to do without this support, typical of the bourgeoisie for whom governmentalism is an ideal. It is our enemy. Its purpose in our affairs can only be to regulate; and you can be sure that the regulation will always be to the benefit of the rulers. Let us demand only complete freedom, and our dreams will be realised when we decide to look after our affairs ourselves" (quoted in Pelloutier's L'histoire des Bourses..., p86).

In principle, this position should have met with the steadfast support of the anarcho-syndicalists, violently opposed as they were to anything resembling "political" (ie., in their view, parliamentary or municipal) action. Reality, however, was more nuanced. The first of the Labour Exchanges,[11] in whose development Fernand Pelloutier[12] and the anarcho-syndicalists were to play such an important part, and whose Federation was to become a component of the CGT, was founded in Paris in 1886 following a report, not by the workers' organisations but by the city council (Mesureur report of 5th November 1886). Throughout their existence, until they merged completely with the CGT, the Exchanges maintained a turbulent relationship with local municipal councils: they might be supported, even financed, by the state at one moment, only to be suppressed at another (the Paris Labour Exchange was closed by the army in 1893, for example). Georges Yvetot[13] (who succeeded Pelloutier after the latter's death) even admitted that part of his salary as secretary of the Fédération nationale des Bourses was partly subsidised by the state.

This ambiguity in the anarcho-syndicalists' attitude towards the state appeared even more sharply during the debate within the CGT on the attitude to adopt towards the new law, voted by Parliament in 1910, on workers' and peasants' pensions (the law on the "Retraite ouvrière et paysanne", known as the ROP). Two tendencies appeared: one rejected the ROP because it objected in principle to any state interference in the affairs of the working class, including retirement and pensions, while the other was in favour of winning an immediate reform by making a compromise with the state. The CGT's difficulties in taking position on this law prefigured the rout of 1914. For many militants of the CGT, the real symbol of betrayal was not so much the call to defend France and its revolutionary tradition, but the participation of the "revolutionary" Jouhaux,[14] and even, despite his doubts, of the internationalist Merrheim,[15] in the "Standing committee for the study and prevention of unemployment" set up by the government to deal with the economic disorganisation caused by the mobilisation of French industry for war production.

Given that anarcho-syndicalist principles were so strong within it, how did the CGT switch from its fierce defence of its own independence from the bourgeois state, to participation in the same bourgeois state in order to drag the workers into the imperialist war?

The role of the anarchists in the CGT

Although the CGT was considered a "beacon" by other revolutionary syndicalists, it should be said that the organisation was not "anarcho-syndicalist" as such. Whereas in Spain, the CNT was closely linked to the FAI (Federación Anarquista Ibérica), and competed with the Socialist Party and its union the UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores), in France the CGT was the only national organisation to bring together several hundred union federations. Amongst the latter, some were frankly reformist (in particular the book-workers' union led by Auguste Keufer, who was to be the CGT's first treasurer), or strongly influenced by the Guesdist[16] revolutionary militants of the POF (or of the SFIO[17] after the unification of French socialist parties in 1905). There were also some major unions (such as the reformist "old miners' union" led by Emile Basly) which remained outside the Confederation.

One can even say that the anarchists played only a minor role in the reawakening of the workers' movement in France after the defeat of the Commune. To begin with, the working class was suspicious of anything resembling a supposedly "utopian" vision, as we can see in these words of the founding committee of the 1876 workers' congress: "We wanted the congress to be exclusively working class (...) We should not forget that all the systems, all the utopias, that workers have ever been accused of never came from them; they all came from doubtless well-intentioned bourgeois, who sought remedies for our misfortunes in ideas and fine phrases, rather than seeking advice from our needs and from reality" (quoted in Pelloutier, op.cit., p77). It was doubtless this lack of radicalism in the working class which pushed the anarchists (with some exceptions such as Pelloutier himself) to abandon the workers' organisations in favour of the propaganda of the "exemplary act": bombings, bank raids, and assassinations (the anarchist Ravachol[18] is a classic example).

During the twenty years that followed the 1876 congress, it was not the anarchists but the socialists, in particular the militants of Jules Guesde's POF, who played the most important political role within the French workers movement. The workers' congresses of Marseilles and Lyon saw the victory of the POF's revolutionary theses against the "pro-government" tendency of Barberet, and in 1886 it was again the POF which proposed the creation of the Fédération nationale des Syndicats (FNS). Our intention here is certainly not to sing the praises of Guesde and the POF. Guesde's rigidity - allied to a poor understanding of what the workers' movement really is, and a strong dose of opportunism - meant that the POF tried to limit the role of the FNS to support for the Party's parliamentary campaigns. Moreover, it was against the will of the party leaders that its militants supported - despite their reservations as to the class' level of organisation and so ability to carry it out - the resolutions, at the congresses of Bouscat, Calais, and Marseilles (1888/89/90), declaring that "the general strike, in other words the complete cessation of all work, can lead the workers towards their emancipation". It is thus clear that the resurgence of the workers' movement after the Commune owes a good deal more to the marxists, with all their faults, than to the anarchists. Another example in the same vein (though without in the least belittling Pelloutier's tremendous efforts) is the creation of the FNB, which also owed much to the socialists: the first two secretaries of the FNB were members of Edouard Vaillant's[19] Central Revolutionary Committee.

Until 1894, and the assassination of the French president Sadi-Carnot by the anarchist Caserio, most anarchist militants paid little attention to the trades unions, being much more preoccupied with their "propaganda by the deed" approved by the 1881 international anarchist congress in London. Pelloutier himself recognised this in his famous "letter to the anarchists"[20] of 1899: "Up to now, we anarchists have carried out what I would call our practical propaganda (...) without the slightest unity of viewpoint. Most of us have fluttered from one method to another, without much forethought and without following anything up, at the whim of circumstances. Someone who talked about art yesterday, will be giving a conference on economic action today and thinking about an anti-militarist campaign for tomorrow. Very few have been able to determine a systematic line of action and to hold to it, to obtain a maximum of clear and evident results in a given direction through a continuity of effort. Thus although our written propaganda is marvellous and has no equal in any collectivity - unless it be the Christian collectivity at the dawn of our epoch - our practical propaganda is extremely mediocre (...)

I propose (...) neither a new method, nor unanimous agreement with this method. I only think that, in order to hasten on the 'social revolution' and bring the proletariat to the point where it is able to benefit fully from it, we should not only preach to the four corners of the horizon the individual's mastery of himself and his action, but also prove experimentally to the working masses, within their own institutions, that such a self-government is possible, and also arm them, educate them in the necessity of the revolution against the enervating suggestions of capitalism (...)

For several years, the unions have had a very high and noble ambition. They believe that they have a social mission to fulfil, and instead of considering themselves as purely instruments for resisting economic depression, or merely as officers in the revolutionary army, they intend amongst other things to sow within capitalist society the seeds of those free producers' groups which seem destined to give shape to our communist and anarchist conception. Should we then abstain from their task, and run the risk of seeing them one day discouraged by their difficulties and falling into the arms of the political parties?".

Emile Pouget expressed the same concern much more crudely in 1897, in his Père Peinard: "If there is one grouping that we should stuff with anarchos, then it's obviously the union (...) we made a big mistake in sticking to affinity groups".[21]

These passages reveal the profound difference between anarchism and marxism. For the marxists, there is no separation between the working class and the communists. The latter are part of the proletariat and express the interests of the proletariat as a distinct class in society. As the Communist Manifesto already put it in 1848: "The Communists (...) have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement (…) The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes". Communism[22] is inseparable from the proletariat's existence within capitalism: first because communism only becomes a material possibility from the moment that capitalism has unified the planet in a single world market, secondly because capitalism has created the only class capable of overthrowing the old order and building a new society on the basis of world wide associated labour.

For the anarchists, it is their ideas that count, and these are not anchored in any particular class. For them, the proletariat is only useful inasmuch as the anarchists can use it to give their ideas form, and influence its action. But if the proletariat appears momentarily to be out of the picture, then any other group will suit just as well: the peasantry of course, but also craftsmen, students, "oppressed nations", women, minorities... or simply "the people" in general, who are to be galvanised into action thanks to the "propaganda of the deed".

This anarchist view of the proletariat as a mere "means", made many anarchists view the rise of revolutionary syndicalism with some suspicion. Hence Errico Malatesta's reply to Monatte's theorisation of revolutionary syndicalism, in 1907 at the international anarchist Congress in Amsterdam: "The workers' movement is to me nothing more than a means - the best of all the means that are offered to us (...) the syndicalists are trying to make the means into an end (...) and so syndicalism is becoming a new doctrine and threatening the very existence of anarchism (...) Even if it adorns itself with the thoroughly useless adjective 'revolutionary', syndicalism is not and never will be anything other than a legalist and conservative movement - without any other attainable goal -and even that is not sure! - than the improvement of labour conditions (...) I repeat: the anarchists muct join the workers' unions. First of all to conduct anarchist propaganda, and secondly because it is the only way, when the time comes, for us to have at our disposal groups capable of directing the productive process".[23]

The anarchists' return to the trades unions, and so the development of what came to be called anarcho-syndicalism, was contemporaneous with a growing dissatisfaction in the workers' ranks at the parliamentary opportunism of the socialist parties, and the latter's inability to work effectively for the unification of the union organisations in the class struggle. There thus appeared within the ranks of the of the FNS itself, up to then largely under the wing of Guesde's POF, a desire to create a real unitary organisation which could act independently of any party tutelage: so the CGT was founded at the congress of Limoges in 1895. Over the years, the influence of anarcho-syndicalism grew: by 1901, Victor Griffuelhes[24] became secretary of the CGT, while Emile Pouget was press secretary in charge of the CGT's new weekly, La voix du peuple. The CGT's other two main papers were La Vie ouvrière, started by Monatte in 1909, and La Bataille syndicaliste, launched with much greater difficulty and much less success by Griffuelhes in 1911. We can thus say that the influence of anarcho-syndicalism was preponderant in the leading bodies of the CGT.

Let us now take a look at anarcho-syndicalist theory and practice at work in the CGT.

How did anarcho-syndicalism appear in the CGT?

The anarcho-syndicalists in the CGT considered themselves as the partisans of action, as opposed to academic theorising. Here is Emile Pouget in Le parti du travail: "What distinguishes syndicalism from the various schools of socialism - and this is its superiority - is its doctrinal sobriety. There is little philosophising in the unions. We do better. We act! On the neutral economic terrain, elements come together, soaked in the teachings of this or that philosophical, religious, or political school, and by rubbing together they lose their rough edges, retaining only the principals which are common to all: the will for improvements in their lot, and complete emancipation". Pierre Monatte intervened in much the same terms at the Amsterdam anarchist congress: "My aim is not so much to give you a theoretical explanation of revolutionary syndicalism, as to show it you at work, and so to let the facts speak for themselves. Revolutionary syndicalism, unlike the socialism and anarchism which preceded it, has asserted itself less in theory than in action, and it is in action rather than in books that we should look for it".[25]

In his pamphlet on Revolutionary syndicalism, Victor Griffuelhes sums up thus his vision of union action: "syndicalism procalims the duty of the worker to act by himself, to struggle by himself, to fight by himself, these being the only conditions whereby the worker can achieve his complete liberation. Just as the peasant only reaps the fruit of his labour at the cost of his personal efforts (...) Syndicalism, we repeat, is the movement, the action of the working class; it is not the working class itself. That is to say that the producer, by organising together with other producers like himself for the struggle against a common enemy - the boss - by fighting for the union and in the union for the conquest of improvements, creates the action and the form of the workers' movement (...)

[For the Socialist Party] the union is the organ which can only stammer the workers' aspirations, whereas it is the Party which formulates, translates and defends them. For the Party, economic life is concentrated in parliament; everything must converge towards and start from parliament (...)

Since syndicalism is the movement of the working class (...) in other words the groupings that emerge from it can only be made up of wage earners (...) as a result, these groupings exclude those whose economic condition is different from that of the worker".

In his intervention at the Amsterdam congress, Pierre Monatte suggests that the union eradicates political disagreements within the working class: "In the union, differences of opinion which are often so subtle and artificial, fade into the background; as a result, it is possible to reach an understanding. In practical life, interests are more important than ideas: and all the quarrels between different schools and sects cannot prevent the workers from having identical interests, just as they are all equally subject to the same laws of wage labour. And this is the secret of the understanding that has been established between them, this is what gives syndicalism its strength, and which allowed it, at last year's Amiens Congress [in 1906] to assert proudly its self-sufficiency".[26] It should be noted here that Monatte lumps the anarchists together with the socialists.

What can we draw from these quotations? There are four key ideas that we want to emphasise here.

There are no political tendencies in the union, it is politically "neutral". This comes up constantly in anarcho-syndicalist texts from the CGT: the idea that politics is nothing but "the squabbles of rival schools and sects", and that union work, the association of workers in the union struggle, was oblivious to the struggles between tendencies - in other words, "politics". In fact, this idea is far removed from reality. There is nothing automatic in the workers' movement, which is necessarily made of decisions, and of action on the basis of these decisions: these decisions are political acts. And this is even more true for the workers' struggle than for the struggles of all history's previous revolutionary classes. Since the proletarian revolution must be the conscious act of the great mass of the working class, taking decisions must constantly call on the working class' capacity for reflexion and debate every bit as much as on its capacity for action: the two are indissociable. The history of the CGT itself witnessed incessant struggles between different tendencies. First, there was the struggle against the socialists who wanted to tie the CGT more closely to the SFIO, which ended with the defeat of the socialists at the Amiens Congress. Moreover, in order to ensure the union's independence from the party, the anarcho-syndicalists did not hesitate to make an alliance with the reformists, who insisted not only on the federation's independence from the party, but also on the independence of each union within the national federation in order to maintain their own reformist policies within the unions that they dominated. Then there were the struggles between the reformists and the revolutionaries over the succession to Griffuelhes, who had resigned in 1909 and been replaced by the refomist Niel, himself replaced a few months later by the revolutionary candidate Jouhaux who was to bear such a heavy responsibility for the betrayal in 1914.

Politics means parliamentary politics. This idea, for which the incurable parliamentary cretinism (to use Lenin's phrase) of the French socialists was in great part responsible, has absolutely nothing to do with marxism. In 1872, Marx and Engels had already drawn this lesson from the Paris Commune, “where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months”: “the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes”.[27] In the Second International, the beginning of the 20th century was marked by a political struggle within the socialist parties and unions, between the reformists on the one hand, who wanted to integrate the workers' movement into capitalist society, and the left on the other, who defended the movement's revolutionary goal, on the basis of the lessons drawn from the experience of the mass strikes in Holland in 1903, and in Russia in 1905.

Non-workers should be banned from the struggle. This idea was also put forward by Pouget in Le Parti du travail: "This work of social reorganisation can only be elaborated and carried out in a milieu untouched by any bourgeois contamination (...) [the Party of Labour is] the only organism which, by its very constitution, eliminates all the social dross from within itself". This idea is pure nonsense: history is full of examples both of workers who betrayed their class (starting with several anarcho-syndicalist leaders of the CGT), and of those who, though not workers themselves, remained fatihful to the proletariat, and paid for their loyalty with their lives (the lawyer Karl Liebknecht and the intellectual Rosa Luxemburg to name but two).

The essence of the struggle lies in action not "philosophy". We should say first of all that the marxists did not wait for the anarchists to declare that "Philosophers have so far only interpreted the world, the point however is to change it".[28] What is specific about anarcho-syndicalism is not the fact that it "acts", but the idea that action has no need to be based on theoretical reflection; that it is enough, so to say, to eliminate all "foreign" elements from the workers organisations for the "right" action to emerge spontaneously. This ideology is summed up in one of revolutionary syndicalism's most typical slogans: "direct action".

Direct action or the political mass strike?

This is how Pouget describes "The methods of union action" in Le Parti du travail: "[they] are not the expression of majority agreement expressed by the empirical procedure of universal suffrage: they are inspired by the means whereby live is expressed and develops in nature, in its numerous forms and aspects. Just as life began with a point, a cell, so in time it has always been the cell that is the element of fermentation; similarly, in the union milieu, things are always started by the conscious minorities which, through their example and their elan (and not through authoritarian orders) bring under their influence and plus into action the more frigid masses" (op.cit., p227).

We can see here the old anarchist refrain: revolutionary activity happens thanks to the example of the "conscious minority", the mass of the working class being relegated to the status of sheep. This is even clearer in Pouget's book on the CGT: "were the democratic mechanism to be applied by the workers' organisations, the non-will of the unconscious, non-unionised majority would paralyse all action. But the is not disposed to give up its demands and its aspirations before the inertia of the mass not yet animated and vitalised by the spirit of revolt. Consequently, the conscious minority has the obligation to act, without taking account of the refractory (CHECK translation) mass, if it is not to be forced into the spineless condition of the unconscious mass" (op.cit.,p165). It is of course that the working class does not develop the same consciousness all at once: there are always some elements of the class who see further than their comrades. And this is why the communists insist on the need to organise and regroup the vanguard minority into a political organisation capable of intervening in the struggle, of taking part in the development of consciousness throughout the class, and so to create the conditions for the whole class to act consciously and unitedly, in short, to create the conditions whereby "the emancipation of the working class" should really be "conquered by the working classes themselves". But this ability to "see further" does not come from an individual "spirit of revolt" which appears out of the blue for no apparent reason; it is part of the very nature of the historic and international working class, the only class in capitalist society which is obliged to raise itself to an understanding of capitalism and of its own nature as the gravedigger of the old society. A profound reflection on the action of the working class in order to learn the lessons of its victories and - far more often - of its defeats, is obviously a part of this understanding, but it is not its only component: the class which is to undertake the most radical revolution that humanity has ever known, the destruction of class rule and its replacement by the first world wide classless society, needs a consciousness of itself and of its historic mission which goes far beyond mere immediate experience.

This vision is light-years away from the anarchist Pouget's contempt for the "refractory mass": "Who could incriminate the disinterested initiative of the minority? Not the unconscious, whom the militants have barely considered as human zeroes, who have only the numerical value of a zero added to a number, when it is placed to its right" (op.cit.,p166). The anarchist "theory" of direct action thus descends directly from Bakunin's view of the masses as an elemental, but above all as an unconscious force, which consequently needs a "secret general staff" to direct its "revolt".

Other militants insisted on the independent action of the workers themselves: Griffuelhes thus writes that "the wage worker, master of his action at every hour and every minute, exercising his action whenever it seems good to him, never giving up to anyone the right to decide instead of him, preserving as an inestimable possession the possibility and the ability to utter the word which opens or closes an action, takes his inspiration from that ancient and decried conception called direct action; this direct action is nothing other than syndicalism's specific means of fighting and acting". Elsewhere, Griffuelhes compares direct action to a "tool" that workers must learn to use. This vision of workers' action is not marked by Pouget's haughty disdain for the "human zeroes"; nonetheless, it is far from satisfactory. First of all, Griffuelhes expresses a clear individualist tendency, which sees the action of a class as simply the sum of the individual actions of each worker. Consequently, and logically, he has no understanding that the there exists a balance of forces not between individuals, but between social classes. The possibility of successfully undertaking a large-scale action - still more a revolution - depends not on the mere apprenticeship of a "tool", but on the global balance of forces between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Griffuelhes, and revolutionary syndicalism in general, failed utterly to see that the beginning of the 20th century was a watershed period, where the historical context of the workers' struggle was being completely changed. At the apogee of capitalism, between 1870 and 1900, it was still possible for workers to win lasting victories trade by trade, or even factory by factory, on the one hand because capitalism's unprecedented expansion made it possible, and on the other because of the ruling class itself had not yet taken the form of state capitalism.[29] The militants of the CGT gained their experience during this period, which had made possible an ever greater development of union organisations on the basis of economic struggles. Revolutionary syndicalism, strongly influenced by anarchism in the case of the CGT, was the theorisation of the conditions and experience of a period which had already come to an end. It was inappropriate to the new period that was opening, in which the proletariat would find itself confronted by the choice between war and revolution, and would have to struggle on a terrain that went far beyond that of the economic struggle.

In this new period of capitalism's decadence, reality changed. First of all, the proletariat is not in a position to decide whether or not to struggle for this or that improvement, quite the contrary: 99 times out of 100, the workers enter into struggle in order to defend themselves against an attack (redundancies, wage cuts, factory closures, attacks on the social wage). Moreover, the proletariat is not confronted with a raw material that it can work as if with a tool. On the contrary, the enemy class will as far as possible take the initiative itself, and do all it can to fight on its own terrain, with its own weapons: provocation, violence, deception, untruthful promises, etc. Direct action provides no magic antidote to immunise the proletariat against such methods. What is vital, however, for success in the class struggle, is a political understanding of the whole environment that determines the conditions of the class struggle: what is the situation of capitalism, and of the class struggle world wide, how will the changes in the context within with the proletariat develops its struggle determine the changes in its methods of struggle. Developing this understanding is the task that falls specifically to the class' revolutionary minority, and it was all the more necessary in the period which was to see not a more or less linear rise in the development of the trades unions, but on the contrary a bourgeois offensive which would stop at nothing to crush the proletariat, corrupt its organisations, and drag the class into the imperialist war. And anarcho-syndicalism in the CGT proved absolutely incapable of carrying out this task.

The fundamental reason for this inability was that despite the importance that the anarcho-syndicalists that we have quoted attributed to the workers' experience, the theory of direct action limits this experience to the immediate lessons that each worker or group of workers can draw from his own experience. They thus proved absolutely incapable of drawing the lessons from what was undoubtedly the most important experience of struggle in this period: the Russian revolution of 1905. This is not the place for us to deal with the way that the marxists examined this enormous experience in order to draw from it the maximum number of lessons for the workers' movement. What we can say, however, is that the CGT paid it almost no attention, and on the rare occasions that the anarcho-syndicalists took notice of it, they completely failed to understand it. To take one example, Pouget and Pataud[30] in their novel Comment nous ferons la revolution only refer to 1905 in terms of the bosses unions: "whenever the bourgeoisie (...) has encouraged the emergence of workers groupings, in the hope of holding them on a leash and using them as instruments, it has come a cropper. The most typical example was the formation, in Russia, under the influence of the police and the leadership of the priest Gapone, of scab unions which quickly evolved from conservatism to the class struggle. It was these unions which, in January 1905, took the initiative of a demonstration before the Winter Palace in St Petersburg - which was the starting point for the revolution, which although it failed to overthrow Tsarism nonetheless succeeded in diluting the autocracy". To read these lines, one would think that the strike was launched thanks to the scab unions. In reality, the demonstration led by the priest Gapone came humbly to ask the "little father of the peoples", the Tsar, for an improvement in their living conditions: it was brutal response by the Tsar's troops which provoked the outbreak of a spontaneous uprising in which the major role in the dynamic and the organisation of the workers' action was played, not by the unions but by a new organism, the soviet (the workers' council).

Towards the general strike?

As we have already seen, the notion of the general strike did not come from the anarcho-syndicalists as such, since it had already existed since the beginning of the workers' movement[31] and had been put forward by the Guesdist FNS even before the creation of the CGT. In itself, the general strike might seem to be a natural extrapolation from a situation where the struggles were developing little by little (what could be more logical than to suppose that the workers would become more and more conscious?), the strikes would become larger, to end in the general strike of the whole working class. And this is indeed the vision of the CGT as it is expressed by Griffuelhes: "The general strike (...) is the logical conclusion of the constant action of the proletariat in need of emancipation; it is the multiplication of the struggles undertaken against the bosses. It implies, in the final act, a highly developed sense of the struggle, and a higher practice of action. It is a stage in an evolution both marked and precipitated by sudden upheavals, which (...) will be the general strikes at the level of a trade.

These latter are the necessary gymnastics [of the general strike], just as military manoeuvres are the gymnastics of war".[32]

Another logical conclusion to the reasoning of the revolutionary syndicalists, is that once the strike becomes a general strike, it cannot be anything other than a revolutionary movement. Griffuelhes quotes La Voix du Peuple of 8th May 1904: "the general strike cannot be anything other than the Revolution itself, since otherwise it would be nothing but a new confidence trick. General strikes by trade or by region will precede and prepare it" (ibid.).

Of course, not everything that the revolutionary syndicalists had to say about the rise in struggles towards revolutionary action was false.[33] But the fact is that the syndicalist perspective of an almost linear development in workers' struggles towards a seizure of power by the active minority grouped in the unions, does not correspond to reality. Nor is this any accident. Even if we leave to one side the fact that - in reality - the unions passed over to the ruling class and revealed themselves to be the worst enemies of the working class in its attempts at revolution (Russia 1917 and Germany 1919), there is a fundamental contradiction between the unions and revolutionary power. The unions exist within capitalist society and are inevitably marked by the struggle within capitalism, whereas the revolution stands against capitalist society. The trades unions in particular were organised by trade or by industry, and in the anarcho-syndicalist view, each union jealously guards its own prerogatives and its right to organise as it sees fit to defend the specific interests of the trade. There is thus an obvious incoherence in the idea that the union allows all the workers to unite irrespective of their political affiliation and that therefore the union makes it possible to unite the whole working class, while at the same time the unions maintain the workers' division by trade or by industry.

The revolution by contrast, is not only the work of the most advanced minorities, it rouses to action the whole working class, including those fractions whose consciousness has up to then been most backward. It must allow workers to see and act beyond the divisions imposed on them by the organisation of the capitalist economy; it must discover the organisational means which allow all sectors of the class, from the most advanced to the most backward, to express themselves, to decide, to act. The revolutionary workers' power is thus something very different from the union organisation. Trotsky, elected president of the Petrograd soviet in 1905, expressed it thus: “The soviet organised the masses, directed the political strikes and the demonstrations, and armed the workers…

But other revolutionary organisations had already done this before, did as much at the same time, and continued to do so after the dissolution of the soviets. The difference is that the soviet was, or aspired to be, an organ of power (…)

If the soviet led various strikes to victory, if it successfully settled conflicts between the workers and the bosses, this was absolutely not it existed for this purpose – on the contrary wherever there was a powerful union it often proved better able than the soviet to lead the union struggle. The intervention of the soviet had weight because of the universal authority that it enjoyed. And this authority was due to the fact that it accomplished its fundamental tasks, the tasks of the revolution, which went far beyond the limits of each trade and each town and gave the proletariat as a class a place in the front ranks of the fighters”.[34]

These lines were written at a time when the unions could still be considered as the organs of the working class: but the lessons that they draw from the workers' experience are still valid to this day. If we examine the most important movement that the working class has known since the end of the counter-revolution in 1968 - the mass strike in Poland 1980 - then we can see immediately that the workers, far from using the "scab union" (the unions in Poland were entirely subordinated to the Stalinist state), adopted a quite different organisational form, which prefigured the revolutionary soviets: the assembly of elected and revocable delegates.[35]

1906: the general strike is put to the test

The theory of the general strike according to the anarcho-syndicalists of the CGT was put to the test when the Confederation decided to launch a major campaign for the reduction of the working day, using the general strike.[36] The CGT called on the workers, starting on 1st May 1906, to impose a new working day by stopping work after eight hours.[37] The membership of the CGT was still a small minority of the working class: out of a total potential membership of 13 million workers in 1912,[38] only 108,000 belonged to the CGT in 1902, rising to 331,000 in 1910.[39] The movement would thus be a real test for the anarcho-syndicalist viewpoint: the minority would give the example and so draw the whole working class into a generalised confrontation with the bourgeoisie thanks to the apparently simple method (a “tool” as Griffuelhes would put it) at stopping work at a time decided by the worker and not by the employer. In 1905, the CGT set up a special propaganda commission, which published leaflets, pamphlets, and newspapers, and organised propaganda meetings (over 250 meetings in Paris alone!).

All this preparation was upset by an unexpected event: the terrible disaster of Courrières (10th March 1906), when more than 1,200 miners were killed in an enormous explosion underground. The workers’ anger boiled over and by 16th March 40,000 miners had walked out in a strike that had been neither planned nor desired either by the reformist “old union” led by Emile Basly, or by the revolutionary “young union” led by Benoît Broutchoux.[40] The social situation was explosive: as the miners returned to work after a bitter struggle marked by violent confrontations with the army, other sectors entered the fight and by April 200,000 workers were on strike. In an atmosphere of virtual civil war, Interior Minister Clémenceau prepared the 1st May with a mixture of provocation and repression, including the arrest of Griffuelhes and Lévy, the CGT’s treasurer. The strike met with little support in the provinces, and the 250,000 Parisian strikers found themselves isolated and forced to return to work after two weeks, without having reached their goal. The history of the strikes gives the clear impression that the CGT was in fact ill-prepared to conduct a strike where neither government nor workers acted as expected. In the end, the 1906 strike demonstrated in the negative what the 1905 strike demonstrated in the positive: “If, therefore, the Russian Revolution teaches us anything, it teaches above all that the mass strike is not artificially "made," not "decided" at random, not "propagated," but that it is a historical phenomenon which, at a given moment, results from social conditions with historical inevitability. It is not, therefore, by abstract speculations on the possibility or impossibility, the utility or the injuriousness of the mass strike, but only by an examination of those factors and social conditions out of which the mass strike grows in the present phase of the class struggle–in other words, it is not by subjective criticism of the mass strike from the standpoint of what is desirable, but only by objective investigation of the sources of the mass strike from the standpoint of what is historically inevitable, that the problem can be grasped or even discussed”.[41]

It is the height of irony that when the CGT, which was supposed to allow workers to learn from their experience and to ignore politics, held its Amiens Congress in 1906, far from discussing the experience of the previous months, it spent the greater part of its time dealing with the eminently political question of the relationship between the Confederation and the SFIO!

The CGT and war: a hesitant internationalism

We have already said that nobody was surprised by the outbreak of war in 1914: neither the bourgeoisie of the great imperialist powers, which had been preparing for war in a frantic arms race, nor the workers’ organisations. Like the Second International at its Basel and Stuttgart congresses, the CGT adopted several resolutions against war, notably at the Marseille Congress in 1908, which “declares it necessary, from the international standpoint, to educate the workers so that in the case of war between the powers, the workers will answer the declaration of war by declaring the revolutionary general strike”.[42] And yet, when war broke out, Griffuelhes’ Bataille syndicaliste evoked Bakunin to call workers to arms to “Save France from fifty years of slavery (…) in adopting patriotism, we will save universal freedom, while Jouhaux, the once “revolutionary” secretary of the CGT, declared at Jaurès’ funeral that “it is not hatred of the German people that will send us to battle, but hatred of German imperialism!”.[43] The treachery of the anarcho-syndicalist CGT was thus every bit as abject as that of the socialists it had once attacked so violently, and the one-time anarchist Jouhuax could even say of the socialist leader Jaurès that “he was our living doctrine”. [44]

How could this happen to the CGT? In reality, and despite its appeals to internationalism, the CGT was more anti-militarist than internationalist, in other words it saw the problem more from the standpoint of the workers’ immediate experience faced with an army that the French bourgeoisie did not hesitate to use for strike-breaking: its way of posing the problem remained French and national, and war was considered as “a distraction to counter the rising demands of the proletariat”.[45] Despite its revolutionary appearance, the CGT’s anti-militarism was in fact closer to pacifism, as we can see in this declaration by the Amiens Congress in 1906: “The intention is to oblige the people to march to war, on the pretext of national honour, of a war that is inevitable because it is defensive (…) the working class wants peace at any price”.[46] This creates an amalgam – typical of anarchism – between the working class and the “people”, and in seeking “peace at any price”, the CGT prepared to throw itself into the arms of a government that maintained the pretence of seeking peace in all good faith: it is just in this way that pacifists become the worst warmongers, when the time comes to call for defence against the militarism… of the enemy.[47]

The book by Pouget and Pataud, which we have already quoted (Comment nous ferons la revolution), is very instructive in this respect, since the revolution that it describes is in fact purely national. The two anarcho-syndicalist authors did not wait for Stalin to envisage the construction of “anarchism in a single country”: once the revolution has been successful in France, a whole chapter of the book is devoted to describing the system of foreign trade, which is to continue commercial operations abroad while production is organised on communist principles within French borders. For marxists, the assertion that “the workers have no country” is not a moral principle, but an expression of the proletariat’s very being as long as capitalism has not been destroyed world wide. For anarchists, it is nothing but a pious hope. This national vision of the revolution is strongly linked to French history and to a tendency common among French anarchists, and even socialists, to consider themselves as the heirs of the bourgeois revolution of 1789: it is therefore hardly surprising that Pouget and Pataud draw their inspiration, not from the Russian experience of 1905, but above all from the French experience of 1789, from the revolutionary armies of 1792, and from the struggle of the French “people” against the reactionary German invader. In this novel of the future, there is a striking contrast between the imagined strategy of a victorious revolutionary France, and the real strategy adopted by the Bolsheviks after the seizure of power in 1917. For the Bolsheviks, the essential tasks were propaganda abroad (for example, in the first days of the revolution, the publication by radio of the secret treaties signed by Russian diplomacy), and winning as much time as possible for fraternisation at the front between Russian and German troops. The new trade-union power in France, on the contrary, has little concern for what is going on abroad, and prepares to repel the invasion by capitalist armies, not by fraternisation and propaganda, but by threats followed by the use of the equivalent (for early 20th century science fiction) of nuclear and bacteriological weapons.

This lack of interest for anything happening outside France can be seen, not just in a future-fiction novel, but also in the CGT’s lack of enthusiasm for building international links. The CGT joined the international secretariat of trades unions, but hardly took it seriously: when Griffuelhes was sent as a delegate to the 1902 union congress in Stuttgart, he was incapable of following the debates, held for the most part in German, or even of finding out whether his motion had been translated. In 1905, the CGT proposed to the German unions the organisation of demonstrations against the danger of war as a result of the Moroccan crisis. But the Germans insisted that any action should be undertaken jointly with the French and German socialist parties; since this went against syndicalist doctrine, the CGT abandoned its initiative. Shortly before the war, an attempt was made to form a revolutionary syndicalist international, but the CGT failed even to send a delegate.

The failure of anarcho-syndicalism

The bankruptcy of the CGT, its betrayal of its own principles and of the working class, and its participation in National Unity in 1914, were no less abject than those of the German or British unions, and we will not recount them here. French anarcho-syndicalism proved no more capable of keeping faith with its principles and resisting the war which all had seen looming, than the German unions tied to the socialist party, or than the British unions, which had just created a political party under their own control.[48] Within the CGT, nonetheless, there emerged – with immense difficulty in the face of state repression – a tiny internationalist minority, one of whose principal members was Pierre Monatte. What is significant, however, is that when Monatte resigned from the Confederation Committee in December 1914[49] in protest at the CGT’s attitude towards the war, he cites among the reasons for his resignation the CGT’s refusal to respond to the appeal by neutral countries’ socialist parties for a peace conference in Copenhagen. He called on the CGT to follow the example of Keir Hardie[50] in Britain, and Karl Liebknecht in Germany.[51] In other words, Monatte found no internationalist revolutionary syndicalist reference point on which to take his stand. At the onset of war, he could only associate himself with for the most part centrist socialists.

Faced with its first great test, anarcho-syndicalism failed doubly: the union as a whole foundered in the patriotic fervour of national unity. For the first time, but not the last, the anarchist anti-militarists of yesteryear pushed the working class into the butchery of the trenches. As for the internationalist minority, it found no support in the international anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist movement. At first, it could only turn towards the centrist socialists of the “neutral” countries; later, it would ally itself with the revolutionary internationalism expressed in the left of the socialist parties, which was to emerge in the conferences of Zimmerwald and then, more strongly, Kienthal, to work towards the creation of the Communist International.


Jens, 30/09/2004


[1] Lenin's preface to a pamphlet by Voinov (Lunacharsky) on the party's attitude towards the unions (1907). In reality, syndicalism developed very little in Russia, and for one reason: the Russian workers turned towards a truly revolutionary marxist political party, the Bolsheviks. See

[2]Pierre Monatte: born in 1860, he entered political life as a "dreyfusard" and socialist, later to become a synidcalist. Although he defined himself as an anarchist, he belonged rather the new generation of revolutionary syndicalists. He founded the paper La Vie ouvrière in 1909. He was an internationalist in 1914, and to took part in the work of regroupment launched by the Zimmerwald conference. He joined the Communist Party after the war, only to be expelled in 1924 as the Communist International degenerated following the isolation and defeat of the Russian revolution.

[3] We will look more closely at the CNT in a future article in this series.

[4] This French expression has no exact equivalent in English. It means the political alliance for social peace between the bourgeoisie and the organisations representing, or claiming to represent, the working class, especially in times of war.

[5]For the chronology of the period, we refer the interested reader to L'histoire des Bourses de Travail by Fernand Pelloutier (pub. Gramma), to L'histoire de la CGT by Michel Dreyfus (pub. Complexe), and also to the remarkable work by Alfred Rosmer (himself a member of the CGT and close to Monatte), unfortunately very difficult to find today, Le mouvement ouvrier pendant la Première Guerre mondiale (pub. Avron).

[6]Emile Pouget: born in 1860, a contemporary of Monatte, Pouget worked first as a shop employee and in 1879 took part in the creation of the first shop and office workers union. Close to the Bakuninists, he was arrested in a demonstration in 1883 and condemned to eight years prison (of which he served three). He turned to journalism and founded Le père peinard, which gained a great notoriety, especially for its "popular" style. He became editorial secretary of the CGT paper, La voix du peuple, and could thus be considered responsible for the positions officially adopted by the union. He left the CGT for private life in 1909, turned patriot during the war, and contributed patriotic articles to the bourgeois press during this period.

[7] See Emile Pouget's La Confédération générale du Travail (republished by the CNT, Paris)

[8]See the 1869 Programme of the international brotherhood

[9]Bakunin, Letter to Nechaev, 2nd June 1870.

[10]The French term coined at the beginning of World War I, the "Union sacrée" (holy union between the social classes), does not have an exact equivalent in English, and we have consequently chosen "national unity" to render the same meaning.

[11]The Labour Exchanges ("Bourses de Travail") were partly inspired by the old guild traditions, and aimed to help workers find work, educate, and organise themselves. In them, a worker could find a library, meeting rooms for the union organisations, information about job offers, and also about struggles in progress so that a worker would not run the risk of scabbing without realising it. They also organised the viaticum, a system of aid to workers travelling in search of employment. In 1902, the national federation of labour exchanges ("Fédération nationale des Bourses de Travail", FNB) merged with the CGT at the congress of Montpellier, while craft labour was on the decline as a result of the development of large-scale industry. The Labour Exchange as a separate organisation had less and less of a role to play, and the dual structure of the CGT (unions and labour exchanges) came to an end in 1914.

[12]Fernand Pelloutier (1867-1901): born into a monarchist family, Pelloutier discovered very early a talent for journalism and a critical spirit. In 1892, he joined the Parti ouvrier français (POF, see note below) and founded its first section at St Nazaire. He co-authored, with Aristide Briand, a pamphlet titled De la révolution par la grève générale ("revolution by the general strike"), which envisaged a non-violent triumph of the workers by the mere withdrawal of their labour from the ruling class. But Pelloutier was soon won over by anarchist ideas, and on his return to Paris he plunged into the work of propaganda and organisation. Elected secretary of the FNB (see note above) in 1895, he had no time for the "irresponsible gesticulation of the Ravachol sect", any more than for the "byzantine" discussions of the anarchist groups. For the rest of his life he worked unremittingly, and with a devotion to the proletarian cause which demands our admiration, to develop the FNB. He died prematurely in 1901, after a long and painful illness.

[13]Georges Yvetot (1868-1942): a typesetter, and an anarchist, he succeeded Pelloutier as secretary of the FNB from 1901 to 1918. He played a part in the anti-militarist movement before 1914, but disappeared from the scene at the outbreak of war, much to Merrheim's disgust (letter from Merrheim to Monatte, December 1914: "Yvetot has gone to Etretat and never gives any sign of life. It's nauseating, I can tell you! And what a coward!").

[14]Léon Jouhaux (1879-1954): born in Paris, the son of a "communard" (a participant in the Commune), Jouhaux started work in a match factory in Aubervilliers (the Paris suburbs), and joined the union. Linked to the anarchists, he entered the CGT national committee as representative for the Angers Labour Exchange in 1905. Considered as Griffuelhes' spokesman, he was the candidate of the revolutionary tendency at the election of the new secretary after Griffuelhes' resignation in 1909. In 1914, he accepted the title of "National commissioner" at the request of Jules Guesde who had just joined the government. Jouhaux remained secretary of the CGT until 1947.

[15]Alphonse Merrheim (1871-1925): boilermaker, from a working-class family. He was a Guesdist, then an Allemanist, before becoming a revolutionary syndicalist. He moved to Paris in 1904 and became secretary of the engineers' federation, which made him one of the most important leaders of the CGT. Although hostile to national unity in 1914, unlike Monatte he did not resign from the CGT, considering it necessary to continue the fight for his ideas within the CGT's central committee ("Comité confédéral"). He took part in the Zimmerwald movement, but moved away from the revolutionaries from 1916 onwards, to end up supporting Jouhaux against the latter in 1918.

[16]Jules Guesde (1845-1922) was a supporter of the Commune, and was forced into exile first in Switzerland and then in Italy, moving from radical republicanism, to anarchism and then to socialism. On his return to France, he founded the paper L'Egalité, and made contact with Marx, who drew up the theoretical preamble for the Parti ouvrier français (POF - French Workers' Party) founded in November 1880. Guesde presented himself on the French political scene as the defender of the marxist "revolutionary line", to the point where he was the only SFIO member of parliament to vote against the ROP (pensions law). This pretension was hardly justified, as we can see from Engels' letter to Bernstein (25th October 1881): "Guesde certainly came here when it was necessary to work out the programme for the Parti ouvrier français. In the presence of Lafargue and myself, Marx dictated the preamble for this programme, with Guesde writing it down (...) Then we discussed the content of the programme that followed: we introduced or removed certain points, but how little Guesde was the spokesman for Marx can be seen in the fact that he introduced his senseless theory of the 'minimum wage'. Since it was the French, not us, who were responsible for it, we finally let him put it in (...) [We] have the same attitude towards the French as towards the other national movements. We are constantly in touch with them, inasmuch as it is worthwhile and when the opportunity arises, but any attempt to influence people against their will could only do harm and ruin the old confidence that dates from the time of the International" (quoted in Le mouvement ouvrier français, vol II, pub. Maspero, our translation from the French). Guesde ended up by joining the National Unity government in 1914.

[17]Section Française de l'Internationale Ouvrière (in other words, the Second International).

[18]François Koenigstein, aka Ravachol (1859-1892): A dynamiter who became first anti-religious, then an anarchist, in revolt against social injustice. Refusing to accept the poverty into which he was born, he decided to steal. On 18th June 1891, at Chambles, he robbed an old, wealthy hermit, killing him when he resisted the theft. Ravachol fled to Paris, after pretending to have committed suicide. Revolted by the sentences handed down to the anarchists Decamps and Dardare, he decided to avenge them. With the help of his comrades, he stole dynamite from a quarry and on 11th March 1892, blew up the house of Judge Benoît. He was arrested as a result of an indiscreet discussion in a restaurant. He greeted his death sentence with the cry "long live anarchy", and was guillotined at Montbrison on 11th July 1892.

[19]Edouard Vaillant (1840-1915): doctor, Blanquist under the Second Empire, exiled in London after the Commune where he served as Delegate for Education. He was a member of the First International's General Council, but left the IWA after the Hague Congress of 1872. On his return to France, he founded the Central Revolutionary Committee, which was to be an important component of the socialist left at the end of the 19th century, notably during the Millerand affair (see the previous article in this series). He supported National Unity in 1914.

[20]See for the original French version. The translation is ours.

[21] Quoted in the presentation to Comment nous ferons la révolution (pub. Syllepse).

[22] We are talking here about communism as a material possibility, and not in the much more limited sense of the "dreams" of oppressed classes in pre-capitalist societies (see our series on "Communis m is not just a nice idea" , in particular the first article in International Review n°68.

[23] In Anarcho-syndicalisme et syndicalisme révolutionnaire (pub. Spartacus), our emphasis.

[24] Politically, Griffuelhes came not from anarchism, but from Edouard Vaillant's Parti socialiste révolutionnaire. He was a militant in the Alliance communiste révolutionnaire, and stood at the May 1900 municipal elections. At the same time, he was an active militant in the general cobblers' union of the Seine (he was himself a cobbler), became secretary of the federation of trades unions of the Seine in 1899, and secretary of the national federation of skins and leather trades in 1900, at the age of 26. Griffuelhes was to remain secretary of the CGT until 1909. In 1914, Griffuelhes accepted, with Jouhaux, the post of "national commissionner" and so joined the Union Sacrée. The contrasting lives of Griffuelhes and Monatte are indicative of the danger of too rigid a classification. Although Griffuelhes did not come from anarchism, his political ideas remained impregnated with a strong strain of individualism typical of the small craftsmen who provided the breeding ground for anarchism, and he ended up alongside the anarchist Jouhaux in 1914. Monatte on the other hand, although he considered himself an anarchist, had a political vision which often seems closer to that of the communists: La Vie ouvrière, of which he was one of the leading figures, was principally intended to educate militants, and its spirit is far removed from Pouget's anarchist elitism. It was doubtless no accident that Monatte, in part through his friendship with Rosmer, was close to Trotsky and the Russian social-democrats in exile, remained internationalist in 1914, and joined the CI after the war.

[25] In Anarcho-syndicalisme et syndicalisme révolutionnaire (pub. Spartacus), our emphasis.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Preface to the 1872 German edition of the Communist Manifesto.

[28] Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, 1845.

[29] See our articles on workers ' struggles in the periods of capitalism's ascendancy and decadence in International Review n°28-26.

[30] Emile Pataud (1869-1935): born in Paris, he had to abandon his studies at the age of 15 to find work in the factory. He joined the navy, only to become an anti-militarist by the time he left. From 1902 onwards, he plunged into union activity, especially as an employee of the Compagnie parisienne d'Electricite. On 8th-9th March 1907 he organised a highly publicised strike which plunged Paris into darkness. An attempted strike in 1908 was broken by the army. In 1911 he took part in an anti-semitic meeting, having moved towards the proto-fascist Action francaise. In 1913 he was excluded from the CGT for physically attacking the editors of La Bataille syndicaliste. From then on he worked as a foreman.

When the social-fiction novel Comment nous ferons la révolution ("How we will make the revolution") was published in 1909, its two authors were amongst the CGT's best-known leaders, and the ideas expressed in the book are an excellent illustration of the way in which the anarcho-syndicalists saw the world.

[31] We have already cited, in the previous article, the example of the Grand National Consolidated Union in Britain at the beginning of the 19th century.

[33] Any marxist, for example, would agree that the strike "is for us necessary because it strikes at the enemy, stimulates, educates and tempers the worker, strengthens him thanks to the effort given and undertaken, teaches him the practice of solidarity and prepares for general movements involving a whole or part of the working class" (Griffuelhes).

[34] Text published in the Neue Zeit in 1907. This text formed the basis for the conclusion to Trotsky’s book 1905. The emphasis is ours.

[35] See our different articles on the struggles in Poland in the International Review, especially "Mass strike in Poland, a new breach is opened" in n°23, "The international dimension of the workers' struggles in Poalnd" in n°24, "One year of workers' struggles in Poland", and "Notes on the mass strike" in n°27.

[36] We should point out that Keufer, of the book workers' union, was opposed to a movement for a demand which he considered unrealistic, and preferred to limit the demand to nine hours rather than eight.

[37] This of course was not an original invention of the anarchists, since the idea of a struggle by means of annual international demonstrations on the 1st May was launched by the Second International at its foundation in 1889.


[38] Including farm workers and small peasant farmers.

[39] The figures are drawn from Dreyfus.

[40] Neither union was part of the CGT at the time.

[41] Rosa Luxemburg, The mass strike, the political party, and the trade unions, see

[42] Quoted in Rosmer, Le mouvement ouvrier pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, vol.1, p.27.

[43] Quoted in Hirou, Parti socialiste ou CGT ?, p.270.

[44] Quote from Jouhaux’s speech at Jaurès funeral. The funeral train was accompanied by immense demonstration, an dit was here that the leaders of the CGT and the SFIO came out for the first time in favour of the Union Sacrée. Jaurès was assassinated on Friday 31st July 1914, only days before the outbreak of war. Rosmer wrote of his assassination: “…rumour had it that the article that he [Jaurès] was to write on the Saturday would be a new ‘I accuse!’ ,denouncing the intrigues and lies which had brought the world to the brink of war. In the evening, he made one more attempt to reason with the President of the Council, to which he led a delegation of the Socialist Party… The delegation was received by the Under-Secretary of State Abel Ferry. After hearing Jaurès out, he asked what the socialists planned to do in view of the situation: ‘Continue our campaign against the war’ Jaurès replied. To which Abel Ferry answered: ‘That you will never dare to do, for you will be killed at the next street corner!’. Two hours later, as Jaurès was returning to his office at L’Humanité to write the feared article, the assassin Raoul Villain struck him down…” (op.cit., vol.1, p.91). Raoul Villain was brought to trial in April 1919. He was acquitted and Jaurès’ wife had to pay the costs of the trial.

[45] Bourges Congress, 1904, on the Russo-Japanese war, quoted by Rosmer.

[46] Quoted in Hirou, p.247.

[47] It is evident that the CGT’s justifications for taking part in the war against “German militarism” are almost identical to those used a quarter-century later to draw the workers into war against “fascism”.

[48] The Labour Party in Britain emerged from the Labour Representation Committee created in 1900.

[49] The full text of his resignation letter can be found in an anthology of Monatte’s writing, La lutte syndicale, and on the web at

[50] Keir Hardie (1856-1915) : born in Scotland, he went to work as a baker’s apprentice at the age of 8, then as a miner at the age of 11. he entered the trade union struggle, and in 1881 led the first strike by the Lanarkshire miners. In 1893, he was one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party (not to be confused with the Labour Party created by the British trades unions). Elected as MP for Merthyr Tydfil in 1900, he took position against the war in 1914 and, although seriously ill, joined the demonstrations against the war. He died in 1915. His opposition to war was founded more on Christian pacifism than on revolutionary internationalism.

[51] There is, of course, a fundamental difference between the pacifist Hardie and Liebknecht, who died fighting for the German and the world revolution.




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