Emma Goldman, witness of the IWA founding Congress in Berlin in december 1922

A letter from Goldman to Carl Newlander, 12 January 1923, in the IISG archives https://search.iisg.amsterdam/Record/ARCH00520. Wayne Thorpe writes beautifully about this in more detail in « The Workers Themselves ». It content a fascinating account by Emma Goldman of how the Berlin police interrupted meetings and arrested several foreign anarchists at the founding of the IWA (@IWAAIT http://iwa-ait.org) in December 1922.


Januray 12, 1923

My dear Carl

I have been planning to send you a long letter with Severin, with whom I sent fifty Kronen to be forwarded to you. I wonder, have they reached you. I wrote you only a few lines with the money. The Congress and several things that happened here made it impossible for me to write. The I am out of use of the pen and whenever I write on the typewriter for a few hours I have such terrific neck aches, so I waited until our friend who did my book would get the time to  take my letters.

The Congress was most interesing. I suppose that you know already that the revolutionnary Syndicalist International was formed at the Congress. It has a small beginning, only about one million and a half gathered in the new organization. There were delegates from Argentine, France, Italy, Holland, Sweden Norway, Denmark, and the Spanish as well as Chili workers were represented through mandates, the delegates having been unable to get there. I am preparin a report for some of our papers which I hope to have ready next week. I will send you a copy, so will not take up the time with a detailed account now.

There was some excitement at two sessions of the Congress. Socialist police came to verify all passeports and papers. We had four people among us who were without papers, some of them facing a stiff sentence in Italy and Spain. The first time of the German comrades so confused the police that they managed to get rid of them. The next day the Congress moved to another hall. Unfortunately they didn’t repeat the same process on the last day of the sessoin. By that time the police has managed to learn of our hereabouts and came down reinforced. Two italians and a little French comrade, a girl, were arrested. The former are still held and Therese is out on bonds.

The delegate had some finishing work to attend to so I asked them to come to my place for the Tuesday following. Imagine my amazement when at ten o’clock Tuesday morning I was visited by two detectives, just like in the dear old days in America. They asked all sorts of questions. Of course S had to be here, but you know how cold bloodedly brazen he can be in time of trouble. He managed to bluff them. In the end the detectives said there had been complaints from our neighbors. Now comes the joke. The neighbors reported that I am a dangerous Bolshevik agent, that my apartment is used for conspiratory purposes and that I have a secret printing shop. The latter is the typewriter which is a bit antediluvian in the noise that it makes; however, all has ended peacefully. But I thought that you would be very amused to know that I am a bolshevik agitator.

Dear carl, I am feeling very terrible about your condition. But for the present, I am unable to be of much help to you. I am hoping that when Dr. Michael Cohen comes in May to interest him in your case. Perhaps he will extend you a loan of several hundred dollars to get you to Canada and from there to the States.

I am going to try awfully hard to induce him. He has announced his coming for the first part of May and may also bring Fitzy along.

I hope, dear boy, that you can hold our somehow untill then.

Thanks to Olef Birk Laursen for the finding !

Some of the participants of the IWA founding Congress in Berlin in 1922 :

De izquierda a derecha – arriba: Hermann Ritter – Schuster – Armando Borghi – Lindstam – Zelm – Th.J. Dissel

En el medio: Orlando – Augustin Souchy-  Alexander Schapiro – Rudolf Rocker – Arturo Giovannitti – B. Lansink.

Abajo: Frans Severin – Virgilia  d’Andrea Borghi, – Diego Abad de Santillán,.


Berlin 1922: IWA’s founding congress twice interrupted by German police


When the syndicalist international, IWMA (now IWA) held its foundation congress at the turn of the years 1922-1923, it was against a background of great upheavals. World War I had ended a few years earlier, a war which was immediately followed by widespread revolutionary movements in a number of countries, setting lasting trends in the development of the world.

During the war the social democratic international collapsed, and its affiliated parties threw their internationalism overboard. Under the leadership of especially their Belgian chairman Emilie Vandervelde, they gave active support to the war in the name of their respective countries. The reformist trade union international collapsed at about the same time.

After the end of the war, attempts began to re-build the international organizations. The Communist international was organized at a congress in Moscow i 1919, as a continuation of the so-called Zimmerwald international which has been etstablished already during the war. The trade union international was re-established the same year at a congress in Amsterdam. The social democratic international was formed in 1921 at a congress in Vienna, with the Austrian Friedrich Adler as its prime mover. This organization merged with the social democratic international in 1923.

On communist initiativ a congress in Moscow in 1921 founded the so-called Red trade union international. This organization made great efforts to get the syndicalists as members, but the syndicalist organizations refused, being unwilling to be involved in a union international led by a political movement, in this case the communists.

During the days 25.12.1922 to 02.01.1923 delegates from 10 countries representing about 2 million organized workers held a congress in Berlin.It was at this congress that the syndicalist international IWMA was founded.

The congress was certainly not able to work undisturbed. Care was needed because some of the delegates had to get there illegally, without the knowledge of the police. The first day of the congress was held in a building in the outskirts of Berlin. The plan was to continue the congress the next day at another place, but the police were on the trail so the delegates had to be given a secret message to meet at the third place, in Nieder-Schönweide, another area in Berlin. Work went on ok until during the afternoon, when a police patrol suddenly entered the building and wanted to see the delegates’ identity papers. The German comrades protested powerfully, and demanded that the police show documentation that they had orders for this action. They had no such orders, so the patrol withdrew, leaving two policemen behind to watch. The congress delegates then crowded out through the door into the street, pushed the policemen aside, and disappeared.

The congress met again the next day, this time near Alexanderplatz in the centre of Berlin, not far from the police headquarters.

In this building the congress proceeded without interruption for some days. But then one day before noon came a new police attack. The whole building was surrounded by policemen carrying rifles and with revolvers and grenades on their belts. They forced their way into the meeting room, where the delegates raised an uproar and protested powerfully. One delegate lacking proper papers jumped out of the window but was caught by the police outside. A Polish delegate lacking papers resisted the police but was knocked down. A French woman delegate then rushed foreward and hit the police officer in the face with her clenched fist. She was arrested and transported with some other comrades to the prison in Moabit. Every delegate was thoroughly searched. Among the delegates were Emil Manus who represented Denmark and Norway, and Edvind Lindstam and Frans Severin who represented the SAC. Two other SAC members were also present, not as delegates, but as individual members passing through Berlin on a journey to Paris. They were the later well-known authors Eyvind Johnsson and Viktor Vinde, the latter to later become editor of Stockholmstidningen.

After all this, the police left the meeting alone and the congress continued. It founded the International Workers Association AIT (IWA in english). The Syndicalist International kept going during the Second World War, when the other internationals collapsed, and continues its activity today.

John Andersson
from ”Solidaritet” Aug-sept 1959

Translation : NSF-IWA

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