From revolutionary syndicalism to anarchosyndicalism: The birth of the International Workers Association (IWA) in Berlin, 1922 [Arthur Lehning]


Lecture delivered at the Congress on Anarchosyndicalism organized by the Instituto di Storia Contemporánea del Movimento Opéralo e Contadino, Ferrara, 1977

Before the First World War, revolutionary syndicalism was largely assimilated to that of the French CGT, it considered in some way a model for several organizations in other countries, all of which approved of the neutral or negative attitude towards the political parties and, consequently, of the Second International, founded in 1889. However, when the question of the international organization of revolutionary syndicalism itself arose, important tactical differences appeared between the French CGT and the majority of foreign syndicalists .

Under the ideological influence of anarchism and the direct efforts of anarchists, Pelloutier in particular, French trade unionism exercised, from 1892 to 1895, an anti-authoritarian and autonomous ascendancy, anti-parliamentary, anti-militarist, anti-patriotic. What Pelloutier wanted was to remove the labor movement from the influence and monopolization of political parties. According to Pouget, the editor of the paper “La Voix du Peuple” (The Voice of the People), this anarchist ideological influence prevented the conquest of the unions by the Guesdists[2]. But when, in 1909, Jouhaux became one of the main leaders of the French CGT, the struggle of tendencies took hold there.

The French CGT was affiliated to the Berlin Secretariat. Created in 1903 to facilitate and coordinate international contacts between reformist unions, the said Secretariat was nothing more than a simple information office, including the central office of the Allgemeine Deutsche Gewerkschafts Bund, under the direction of Carl Legien[3], performed the duties. At the international conferences only the leaders of the associated trade unions attended, who only discussed technical questions, setting aside any theoretical problem which might have risked dragging them into the political arena, reserved for the social-democratic parties alone.

Neither the French CGT nor the Nationaal Arbeids Secretariaat (NAS) (the first trade union center in Holland, of trade union tendency, which had been founded in 1893 and of which Christiaan Cornelissen[4] was the main animator), had the slightest influence in the Secretariat.

At the conferences, Legien, the permanent secretary and influential in the organization of the German trade unions, refused to put on the agenda the questions proposed by the French CGT, in particular anti-militarism and the general strike. This is why the French abstained from being represented at the conferences of 1905 and 1907.

At the 1909 conference, the French CGT proposed to organize a real congress, the object of which would be to examine the general questions of the trade union struggle. This proposal was rejected. Despite this new failure, The French CGT continued to adhere to the Berlin office.

When, in February 1913, the NAS – supported by the Industrial Syndicalist Education League of England – proposed to convene an international congress to lay the foundations of a revolutionary Syndicalist International, the French CGT declared itself completely opposed to it. Specifying the reasons for this negative attitude, Pierre Monatte clearly summarized the perspective from which the French CGT would consider the question: “For us, in France, concerned with creating a trade union International holding real international congresses of trade unions, an International in which we know very well that we would be in the minority, but who will be the real Workers’ International – don’t you think that we have some reason to ask ourselves whether our participation in a syndicaliste congress and a syndicalist secretariat will not make us turn our backs on the great goal that we settled ? »[5].

For the other trade union organisations, the question obviously arose in a completely different way. The tendencies which, in France collided in the CGT alone[6], crystallized, in Holland or in Germany, in distinct trade union organizations which were clearly opposed to each other. In 1913, a “revisionist” trade unionist current, for whom the French CGT was essentially an instrument of struggle within the framework of existing society, had already firmly established itself in the Confédération and the example of the powerful German trade unions contributed to strengthening it; and if revolutionary syndicalists such as Monatte rose up against a Syndicalist International, it was also because they feared that its founding would lead to a split in the French CGT, thus endangering the unity of the French working class.

It was therefore without the French CGT that the revolutionary syndicalists met in London from September 27 to October 2, 1913. Among the most important syndicalist centers were the Unione Sindacale Italiana, represented by Alceste De Ambris, by far the strongest organization among the participants[7]; the Sveriges Arbetares Central-organisation, in the person of Albert Jensen; the Dutch NAS and the Freie Vereinigung Deutscher Gewerkschaften, of which Fritz Kater[8] was the delegate. In all, 38 delegates representing 65 syndicalist federations or centers from Argentine, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Cuba, England, Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

In addition to the absence of the CGT – but four local French organizations (the Seine/Paris, Tourcoing-Roubaix, Lille, Vichy), also opposed to the founding of a new International, were represented in London -, let us point out the abstention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The defective preparation of the congress undoubtedly had a lot to do with it, but the Americans were also keen on the fiction of being themselves an International.

Most of the delegates presented reports, in writing or orally, on the state of the syndicalist movement in their respective countries. The congress, which did not pass without incident, did not entirely achieve its goal. However, a kind of declaration of principles was adopted, framed in these terms:

The Congress, recognizing that the working class of every country suffers from the slavery of the capitalist and statist system, declares itself for the class struggle, for international solidarity and for the independent organization of the working classes, based on free association.

This organization aims at the immediate material and intellectual development of the working classes and, in the future, the abolition of this system.

The Congress declares that the class struggle is an inevitable consequence of the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and advocates the socialization of this ownership and the development of the trade unions into productive organizations, capable of assuming the direction of production. and distribution. Recognizing that international unions will achieve this goal only when they cease to be divided by political and religious differences, declares that the struggle is of such an economic character as to exclude any action exercised by governing corporations or by the members of these corporations and depends entirely on the direct action of organized workers. Consequently, the Congress appeals to the workers of all countries to organize themselves into independent industrial unions and to unite on the basis of international solidarity with a view to obtaining their emancipation and freedom from capitalist and statist domination.[9]

This text, of which Alfred Rosmer[10] said that it « is not dazzlingly clear« , nevertheless contains three elements which fall within the 1922’s declaration of principles of the International Workers’ Association, namely:

– The destruction, not only of capitalism, but also of the state;

– the transfer to economic organizations of the administration of production and distribution;

– direct action, which excludes any political action.[11]

The London Congress was the first attempt to give organized form to international revolutionary syndicalism, although the results were limited. The Germans, who proposed the foundation of a syndicalist International, were outvoted despite the support of the NAS. Taking into account also the position of the CGT, they considered that the moment was badly chosen to push for the creation of an organization whose forces would be reduced, and they contented themselves with the foundation of an information office, whose seat would be in Holland. If the congress did not perhaps give all the results that were expected of it, it at least rejected what flowed from the CGT attitude, namely that the syndicalist minorities outside France should, in principle, trying to infiltrate the reform movement in their country.

The congress decided to publish an International Bulletin of the Syndicalist Movement, the first issue of which appeared in April 1914. Its main editor was Cornelissen, one of the best-known participants who had also written the bulletin published by the International Anarchist Congress in 1907, during the special meeting of revolutionary syndicalists. A new trade union congress was planned for 1915, in Amsterdam.

It goes without saying that the war not only prevented the said congress from meeting, but broke all the relations which the Dutch office had been able to establish. The NAS tried in vain to renew international ties; it was not until early 1919 that syndicalist representatives from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, having agreed on the need to convene a new international congress, asked the NAS to organize it in July or August of that same year. But all sorts of difficulties caused this congress to fail and was reduced, so to speak, to an exchange of views between Dutch and Germans.

The latter will then create, at the end of December 1919, the Freie Arbeiter Union Deutschlands (FAUD), of which Rudolf Rocker will be the most listened to spokesperson. The Constituent Congress demanded, once again, the foundation of a Syndicalist International and at the same time declared itself in solidarity with the Russian Soviet Republic. But these two positions will soon become incompatible.

I will be excused for not retracing here in detail the activity of the various trade union organizations during the First World War and the revolutionary period that ensued, although that would have brought many details to my report; I must limit myself to the development of the international relations of these syndicalist organisations. However, let us take a look at the situation facing the revolutionary syndicalists at the beginning of 1920. The revolution was held in check in several European countries, but nothing seemed to be settled yet. In Russia, the new power had remained standing for more than two years. The trade union organizations had known a considerable influx of adherents and formed in certain countries mass organizations which included a large part of the revolutionary proletariat. On the other hand, a regrouping of forces was announced in France, the old CGT was on the point of bursting; elsewhere, a very clear dissimilarity between communists and syndicalists was emerging, sometimes even within the revolutionary unions.

This process, born of a divergent approach to the concrete problems raised by the particular conditions of each country, was accelerated in March 1919 by the founding of the Communist International. In its Platform, it declared that it wanted:

“to achieve a bloc with those elements of the revolutionary workers’ movement which, although they did not previously belong to the socialist party, now place themselves entirely and for all on the terrain of the proletarian dictatorship in its Soviet form, that is- that is to say with the elements of trade unionism.”[12]

This desire was further accentuated when, in July, the reformist unions founded the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), known as the Amsterdam International or the Yellow International.

At that time, syndicalists were not opposed, in principle, to Moscow’s proposals. Revolutionary Russia had all their sympathies. Imagine what the situation in Russia was like in 19191. Although the Bolshevik party was in power, the revolutionary phase had not come to an end. Threatened in the north by the intervention of the Allies, in the east by Kolchak, in the south by Denikin and Wrangel, the Soviet government left a certain freedom to the non-Bolshevik revolutionary organizations, to the left Socialist-Revolutionaries, to the maximalists, to the syndicalists, to anarchists. The sanitary cordon against the new regime made the situation in Russia ill known, and the revolution, struggling with the counter-revolution, found defenders among the revolutionaries of the whole world.

Like the FAUD, the Spanish Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) expressed, in December 1919, at the Comedia Congress, its point of view in the following way:

First: That the CNT of Spain declare itself the firm defender of the principles of the First International upheld by Bakunin. Second: Declares that it adheres provisionally to the Communist International because of its revolutionary character, while waiting for the CNT of Spain to organize and convene the Universal Workers’ Congress which will discuss and fix the principles according to which the true International of the workers shall be governed.[13]

Following the Russian invitation, several trade union delegates attended the Second Congress of the Comintern, which took place from July 19 to August 7, 1920. But for the « leftists » among them, the Congress began under unfavorable auspices: shortly before, Lenin had published his famous pamphlet on « infantile disease« [14]; and the day before the opening of the Congress, the delegates of the German communist left (including Otto Rühle) returned to Berlin, completely disappointed by the talks they had had with the Bolshevik leaders. The German syndicalists had an observer in the person of Augustin Souchy, who was on a study trip to Russia. Of the Spanish delegates, only Angel Pestana managed to reach Moscow; the USI delegate, Armando Borghi, did not arrive until after the closing[15].

As for the resolutions adopted by the Congress, we know that they were little designed to please the revolutionary syndicalists. The one on the role of the Communist Party in the proletarian revolution said in particular:

The Communist International repudiates in the most categorical way the opinion according to which the proletariat can accomplish its revolution without having [a] political party. […]

The propaganda of some revolutionary syndicalists and adherents of the Industrial Workers of The World (IWW) against the need for a self-sufficient political party has helped and does help, speaking objectively, only the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolutionary “social democrats”. In their propaganda against a communist party that they would like to replace by trade unions or by workers’ unions of forms that are not very defined and too vast, the syndicalists and the industrialists have points of contact with avowed opportunists. […] Revolutionary syndicalism and industrialism mark only a step forward only in relation to the old inert and counter-revolutionary ideology of the Second International [social-democrate]; but in relation to revolutionary Marxism, that is to say to communism, syndicalism and industrialism mark a step back.

After noting that the appearance of the soviets « in no way diminishes the leading role of the Communist Party » and that the contrary opinion « is profoundly erroneous and reactionary« , the resolution continued:

The communist party is not only necessary for the working class before and during the conquest of power, but also after it. The history of the Russian Communist Party, which has held power for three years, shows that the role of the Communist Party, far from diminishing since the conquest of power, has considerably increased.

This position seemed to close off the Comintern to revolutionary syndicalist organizations, but the door was once again open to them, however under specific conditions, by article 14 of the statutes voted in Congress. It reads:

The trade unions which place themselves on the ground of communism and which form international groups, under the control of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, constitute a trade union section of the Communist International. Communist trade unions send their representatives to the World Congress of the Communist International through the Communist Party of their country. The trade union section of the Communist International delegates one of its members to the Executive Committee of the Communist International, where he has the right to vote. The Executive Committee has the right to delegate, to the trade union section of the Communist International, a representative who has the right to vote.[16]

This paragraph deserves comment, because its scope is twofold. On the one hand, it marks a stage in the struggle of the Russian Communist Party to completely submit the trade unions which were trying, in Russia, to defend what remained of their autonomy. It was from these unions that, at the end of 1919, came the proposal to create a Red Labor Union Internationale, but for the authors of this proposal, it was an organization existing alongside the Comintern. But the Party leaders were in no way prepared to tolerate this deviation from centralist principles; and at the Third Congress of Russian Trade Unions (April 1920), where the latter announced their adhesion to the Comintern, Zinoviev insisted on the subordination of the future Trade Union International to the Communist International.

On the other hand, article 14 of the statutes was a manifest challenge to the trade union organizations which had had, before the opening of the Congress, a whole series of talks with Alexander Lozovsky and other Russian leaders, from which emerged, on 15 July 1920, the Provisional Council of the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU). During these talks, deep differences had arisen on the subject of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, the infiltration of the reformist trade unions advocated by the Bolsheviks, as well as the relationship between the Comintern and the RILU [also named Profintern]. On this last point, it was clear that the revolutionary syndicalist delegates had voiced deep objections to any leading role for the Communist International. The adoption of the statutes forced them to reconsider their attitude towards an international grouping to which they were, in principle, favourable.

For this purpose, the FAUD and the NAS convened an international syndicalist conference, which took place in Berlin, from December 16 to 21, 1920. It was attended by delegates from the IWW, four Argentine organizations, the French Revolutionary Syndicalist Committee (CSR, the minority of the CGT), FAUD (which also represented a Czech group), English shop stewards, SAC and NAS. As a result of police arrests at the border, the CNT and the USI could not be represented. As for the Norwegian and Danish federations, they sent testimonies of sympathy. Finally, an observer from the Russian trade unions was present; its role, however, was limited to raising doubts about the very reason for the conference, since the Constituent Congress of the RILU, scheduled for May 1921, had to discuss and decide everything.

The Dutch presented theses to specify the character which, according to them, should be given to the new International. They insisted on two points : that the revolutionary organization of production and distribution should be taken over by the unions, and rejected the interference of political parties; it was to have these points included in the statutes that participation at the Moscow Congress seemed advisable to them.

For their part, the French, instructed by Monatte[17], were opposed to anything that could weaken revolutionary unity, according to their point of view: they therefore demanded that syndicalists join the Profintern :

The French revolutionary syndicalist minority – they declare –, organized within the reformist CGT, includes anarchist-syndicalists, syndicalist-revolutionaries and communist syndicalists. We believe that these same elements can enter into the composition of the Trade Union International of Moscow, to which the French revolutionary syndicalist minority has already given its support […] For the moment, it is a question of constituting a trade union international capable of revolutionary action and to set aside all the secondary questions of doctrine, on which we may not agree a priori.[18]

The Germans having recalled the London resolution of 1913, a commission was appointed (composed of the delegate of the IWW and a member of the FAUD and the NAS) to draft a final declaration. After ample discussion – the French delegation no longer being present – the following declaration was adopted unanimously:

1. The Revolutionary Labor International places itself unreservedly on the point of view of the revolutionary class struggle and the power of the working class.

2. The Revolutionary Labor International tends to the destruction and rejection of the economic, political and spiritual regime of the capitalist system and of the State. It tends to the foundation of a free communist society.

3. The Conference finds that only the working class is only in a position to destroy the economic, political and spiritual slavery of capitalism by the most severe application of its means of economic power which find their expression in the revolutionary direct action of the working class to achieve this goal.

4. The Revolutionary Labor International then adopts the point of view that the construction and organization of production and distribution is the task of economic organization in each country.

5. The Revolutionary Labor International is entirely independent of any political party. In the event that the Revolutionary Labor International decides on an action, and that political parties or other organizations declare themselves in agreement with it – and vice-versa -, then the execution of this action can be done in common with these parties and organisations.

6. The Conference urgently appeals to all revolutionary and industrial syndicalist organizations to take part in the congress convened on May 1, 1921, in Moscow by the Provisional Council of the Red International of Labour Unions, in order to found a unified revolutionary Labor International of all revolutionary workers of the world.” [19]

An international syndicalist information office was instructed to confer on this resolution with the interested organizations not represented at the Conference, and to get in touch with the Provisional Council of the RILU This office included Rocker, Jack Tanner (who was in Moscow during the Second Congress of the Comintern) from England and B. Lansink Jr., from Netherlands who acted as secretary.

Thus, when the First Congress of the Profintern opened, almost all the revolutionary trade union organizations were represented there, with the exception of the Confederação Geral do Trabalho of Portugal (CGT-P) and the FAUD, both of which, although favorable to the creation of a syndicaliste International, did not accept the one that was to be founded in Moscow, without real guarantees as to its independence. The USI delegate did not arrive in Moscow in time to participate in the Congress: as in 1920, it was the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro which represented Italian trade unionism. We know how the latter was condemned at the Constituent Congress of the RILU for having maintained its links with the Amsterdam International.

The Congress was held from July 3 to 19, 1921. It had been postponed from May to July to synchronize it with the Third Congress of the Comintern, which opened on June 22. There, faced with the perceptible decline of the European revolution, Trotsky once again stressed the need for revolutionary leadership, that is, for the leading role of the communist parties. The masses had to be taken over, as Radek pointed out, and that meant infiltrating the reformist trade unions more than ever. Zinoviev, for his part, devoted a large part of his report on the trade union question to the trade unionists, among whom he distinguished three currents: the bankrupt reformist, like Jouhaux; the German and Swedish trade unionists whom he harshly criticized; and the tendency represented by the French revolutionary syndicalist minority. These latter elements were invited to reject the neutrality in political matters which condemned them to be, in the decisive struggle, « objectively a counter-revolutionary factor”. Their place was, on the other hand, in the Red Trade Union International.

As for the the Red Trade Union International, it should, for tactical reasons, temporarily enjoy a certain independence vis-à-vis the Comintern, which, while waiting for those two organizations to have merged, would nevertheless keep the political direction. Zinoviev delivered his speech on the very day the Profintern Congress opened. Before talking about its results, it is good to open a parenthesis to explain the context in which the debates took place.

Already during the Second Congress of the Communist International, Russian anarchosyndicalists had had talks with some foreign delegates, Souchy, Pestana, Borghi and Lepetit in particular, to inform them of the persecutions of which the anarchist and syndicalist movements were victims. As the repression increased further after the departure of the delegates, the anarchosyndicalist leaders Grigorij Maximov, Efim Iarchuk and Sergei Markus tried to send a protest to the Comintern through Rosmer. During the talks, in November 1920, several members of the anarchist organization Nabat were arrested and imprisoned in Moscow; among them, Voline and Marc Mratchnyi.

A few days after the outbreak of the Kronstadt uprising, when the Xth Congress of the Russian Communist Party undertook to liquidate the last vestiges of opposition within it (March 8, 1921), they were joined in prison by Maximov and Yarchuk themselves.

When the Constituent Congress of the Profintern opened, the prisoners decided to go on hunger strike. To support them, Alexandre Berkman, Emma Goldman and Alexandre Schapiro brought together a certain number of trade union delegates so that they could report on them at the sessions of Congress. It was then that long talks took place behind the scenes, in which Dzerzhinsky[20] and Lenin were involved, and which ended in a compromise: on July 12, Trotsky signed a document which freed and expelled the anarchists, in exchange for what the fate of the libertarian movement would not be raised in the discussions of the Congress[21].

But paradoxically, it was Bukharin[22] who, shortly before the end of the Congress, put the question back on the table: no doubt to soften the impressions of the European trade union delegates. He tried to make a distinction between Russian anarchism, of a criminal nature, and that of Western countries. It was only with difficulty that the French delegate Sirolle was able to register a refutation of this calumny. The publicized incident highlighted the curious nature of a policy that sought to secure the cooperation of syndicalist abroad, while stopping them at home.

In the meantime, Rosmer – together with Tom Mann, the most prominent of the syndicalist who had converted to Bolshevism – had tried to convince the revolutionary trade unionists present that the close connection between the Comintern and the Profintern could not be interpreted in the sense of submission from this to that. He hardly succeeded, but a majority of the Congress voted the statutes of the RILU where it was said:

Art. XI. [Liaison with the Communist International.] To establish solid links between the Red International Labor Union and the Third Communist International, the Central Council: 1. Sends to the Executive Committee of the Third International three representatives with voting rights. 2. Organizes joint sessions with the Executive Committee of the Third International for the discussion of the most important questions of the international labor movement and for the organization of joint actions. 3. When the situation requires it, it issues proclamations of agreement with the Communist International.[23]

It should be noted that this text represented a step backwards from the Russian leaders: there is no question of the political or ideological direction of the Comintern. This setback was imposed by trade unionists who, supporters of the new grouping, aimed to make possible the adhesion of their respective organizations by eliminating the doubts that persisted among them. This was the case, in the first place, with a few French people, who came up against opposing tendencies within the Comité Syndicaliste Révolutionnaire.

The Dutch delegates – all former anarchists greatly impressed by the Russian Revolution – found themselves in a similar situation within the NAS, where pro-Communist and syndicalist tendencies were beginning to separate. The Spanish delegates (including Andrés Nin, the future secretary of the Profintern) also tried to obtain the maximum independence to convince the majority of the CNT – in vain, as we know, because the latter was going to consider their mandates (obtained at an unrepresentative conference) as worthless and disavow the membership they had given to the Profintern.

However, the altogether formal concessions that emerged from the debates were not enough to reduce the opposition. In his very critical account, George Williams, the delegate of the IWW, recounted how the revolutionary syndicalists went so far as to hold separate conferences, during the last sessions of Congress and in the days that followed, in order to consider the formation of a coherent opposition in RILU[24]. This was only the beginning of a process in which many of these delegates split from the Profintern and condemned its tactics.

We have refrained from analyzing here the debates on the RILU program. They added almost nothing new to the points of view previously expressed by the protagonists, at the Second Congress of the Comintern, and, moreover, the overwhelming majority of Russians ruled out any surprise. Moreover, the Comintern-Profintern connection really summed up the whole problem, because the leading role devolved to the Communist International would, no one doubted, imply the adoption of its political line. Eventually, membership of the Profintern ceased to be a question which merely concerned the international organization of trade unionism: it became more and more a question which determined the attitude to be adopted towards the Russian regime.

From the beginning, there was no shortage of anarchist critics of Bolshevism, notably those of Domela Nieuwenhuis in Holland and Rocker in Germany. In July 1919, Malatesta wrote:

Lenin, Trotsky and their comrades are surely sincere revolutionaries, as we see how they define revolution, and they surely will not betray, but they prepare the governmental cadres who will serve those who will come next to profit from the revolution and to murder the revolution. They will be the first victims of their methods and I fear that with them the revolution will also collapse. The story repeats itself ; Mutatis mutandis, it was the dictatorship of Robespierre that brought Robespierre to the guillotine and prepared the way for Napoleon. [25]

But it was especially in 1921 that exiled or refugee Russian anarchists and anarchosyndicalists could make themselves heard outside Russia. They are now the ones who, supported above all by Rocker and the FAUD, will contribute in a decisive way to the awareness of the revolutionary syndicalists and to the foundation of the Berlin International. In October 1921, the FAUD held its XIIIth Congress, in Düsseldorf, and took the opportunity to organize a conference with the foreign delegates who were present. They realized that the RILU did not represent the Syndicalist International as they envisaged it, and they demanded the convocation of a new International Trade Union Congress, on the basis of the Berlin declaration of December 1920 (less, of course, the last paragraph). Those attending the conference came from organizations in Germany, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Holland and the United States. As for the delegates of these last two countries, it is unlikely that they had mandates giving them the right to make such a decision. So let’s briefly recall what was going on in the different movements.

Among the organizations present in Moscow in summer 1921, the IWW, the Federacion Regional Obrera Agentina, the Federacion Regional Obrera de Uruguay, the trade unionists of the Scandinavian countries, the USI and the CNT will decide in turn not to join the RILU. As we have already said, the FAUD and the Portuguese CGT had given up being represented. It is only in France and Holland that the situation remains complex. Elsewhere, revolutionary syndicalists overwhelmingly rejected the Profintern. Now it’s time to put them together.

Given their particular situation, the French and the Dutch will only play a very limited role in the unification enterprise. In France, the split of the CGT became inevitable from the end of 1921. In June 1922, at the Congress of Saint-Étienne, the CGT-Unitaire (CGTU) was formed, formed by a pro-communist majority and a revolutionary syndicalist minority with anarchosyndicalist tendencies. From the start, the unity of the new CGTU was precarious; to preserve it, the Second Congress of the Profintern will be obliged to openly proclaim its independence vis-à-vis the Comintern; it was only under these conditions that the CGTU could, at the Congress of Bourges, in November 1923, join the RILU. In the following years, the revolutionary syndicalists [of Monatte’s group, after having helped the communists to expel the anarchosyndicalists from the CGTU in 1924] would gradually leave the CGTU [to join the reformist social democratic CGT. The revolutionary syndicalists of the Monatte group acted as a “boring from within” minority, editing a confidential magazine « La Révolution Prolétarienne » (The Proletarian Revolution), undertitled « communist syndicalist magazine » at its inception in 1925, and later from 1930 « revolutionary syndicalist magazine »] On the other hand, it was not until November 1926 that, under the aegis of the IWA in Berlin, the anarchosyndicalists decided to found a separate organization, the third CGT, the Revolutionary Syndicalist CGT (CGT-SR).

In Holland, after the Constituent Congress of the Profintern, the NAS was increasingly divided. A referendum among its members refused, in the middle of 1922, affiliation to the RILU, but the aforementioned decisions of the Second Profintern Congress reopened the question, and the majority of the Dutch Committee decided not to participate to the Constituent Congress of the International Workers Association (AIT) only to try to prevent the foundation of the latter, by appealing to the unity of the syndicalist movement. In 1923, the Congress of the NAS and a new referendum confirmed this trend: the Profintern won, and it was then that the minority separated to create, in June, the Nederlands Syndicalistisch Vakverbond, which joined the AIT in Berlin. . The NAS, for its part, did not finally affiliate with the RILU until December 1925, only to leave it again in 1927, when differences between its leaders and the Dutch Communist Party led to a break.

The International Syndicalist Congress, decided in October 1921, was at first only a conference, which was held in Berlin, from June 16 to 18, 1922. Delegates from the CGTU, the FAUD, the SAC and trade unionists Norwegians, the USI, the Russian Revolutionary Syndicalist Minority (represented by Mratchnyi and Schapiro) and the CNT took part. The Spaniards did not arrive until the last day. An observer from the Union of Sailors, NAS, was present, while the IWW, the Portuguese CGT and the Danish trade unionists had sent messages.

An observer from the Russian trade unions was also there. He came just as the conference was discussing a resolution that harshly condemned the Russian government for its persecution of revolutionary anarchists and syndicalists, and blamed the Comintern and the RILU for remaining silent in the face of this repression.

The arrival of the Bolshevik delegate wrung the following words from Mratchnyi:

These gentlemen who present themselves here as delegates of the red trade unions of Russia – and if they are red, it is the blood of the workers and peasants that they continue to shed in order to retain their power – we consider them to be representatives of the Russian government, of the Cheka – of the one who persecutes and arrests the revolutionary workers, of those who arrested and expelled us.”[26]

The break between the delegates present and Moscow was therefore as obvious as it was clear, and the Russian delegation hastened to leave the conference.

The main tasks the conference set itself included discussing the principles and tactics of revolutionary syndicalism, and defining the attitude to adopt towards the RILU. On the first point, it adopted a motion by Rocker, consisting of ten paragraphs in which he specified the character of revolutionary syndicalism. It is this text which will become, six months later, the declaration of principles of the International Workers Association. Rocker defines, in summary, revolutionary syndicalism:

Revolutionary unionism, based on the class struggle, tends towards the union of all manual and intellectual workers in economic organizations of combat fighting for their emancipation from the yoke of wage labor and the oppression of the State. Its aim consists in the reorganization of social life on the basis of free communism, by means of the revolutionary action of the working class itself. It considers that only the economic organizations of the proletariat are capable of realizing this goal, and therefore addresses the workers as producers and creators of social wealth, in opposition to the modern workers’ political parties which can never be considered from the point of view of economic reorganization.

Revolutionary syndicalism is a convinced enemy of all economic and social monopoly and tends towards their abolition by means of economic communes and administrative organs of field and factory workers on the basis of a free system of Councils freed from any subordination to any power or political party. It erects against the policy of the State and the parties, the economic organization of work; against the government of men, the management of things. Its aim, therefore, is not the conquest of political power, but the abolition of all statist functions in social life. He considers that with the monopoly of property must also disappear the monopoly of domination, and that any form of State, included the form of the « dictatorship of the proletariat », can never be an instrument of emancipation, but will always create new monopolies and new privileges.”

Finally, the statement wrotes: “Only in the revolutionary economic organizations of the working class is there the force capable of achieving its emancipation and the creative energy necessary for the reorganization of society on the basis of free communism.” [27]

We will come back later to the importance of this document which materializes in succinct terms the passage from revolutionary syndicalism to anarchosyndicalism.

As for the Profintern, the more or less general opinion of the conference – with the exception, however, of the French delegation which, while awaiting decisions of the Congress of Saint-Étienne, refrained from speaking – was expressed by Alexandre Schapiro:

Either – he declared – we will lay down elementary conditions [to our membership] which the RILU will be happy to accept, and then we will feel, as soon as we have joined, that we are bound hand and foot, either we will impose conditions so severe that we will know in advance that they will be unacceptable to the RILU. In the first case, it would be either to betray revolutionary syndicalism or either to prepare you to leave the RILU soon as did Spain and Italy. In the second case, it is to act as demagogues, and we can never afford this Bolshevik luxury. It follows that we here at the Conference must simply lay the foundations for an international syndicalist organisation, or at least make the necessary preparations for organizing such an International, and leave it to the Russians to decide whether they agree with our principles or not. We believe the representation of trade unionists at the Second Congress of the RILU illusory and even dangerous. Our duty is to organize our congress and invite the Russians to it – the only ones with whom the conflict exists.

For his part, Rocker clarified: “It is time to ask ourselves what does RILU represent? As long as it does not have the possibility of monopolizing the syndicalists, there will remain, apart from Russia, only Bukhara[28], Palestine and perhaps still Kamtchatka.” [29]

Consequently, the Conference passed a resolution saying that the Profintern “does not represent, in [itself], neither from the point of view of principles, nor from that of statutes, an international organization capable of unifying the worldwide revolutionary proletariat into a single organism of struggle« , and decided to appoint a provisional office responsible for convening, in Berlin, in November 1922, an international congress of revolutionary syndicalists. Entered this office, Rudolf Rocker, Armando Borghi, Angel Pestana, Albert Jensen and Alexandre Schapiro.

From that moment, everything went very quickly: the congress, postponed for a few weeks so that the results of the Second Congress of the RILU would be known, was held from December 25, 1922 to January 2, 1923.

Post card of the Unione Sindacale Italiana (USI) published in 1923 in solidarity with the victims of fascism, showing a group of delegates, during the founding congress of the new IWA in Berlin in December 1922.From left to right – top: Hermann Ritter – Schuster – Armando Borghi – Lindstam – Zelm – Th.J.DisselIn the middle: Orlando – Augustin Souchy- Alexander Schapiro – Rudolf Rocker – Arturo Giovannitti – B. Lansink.Below: Frans Severin – Virgilia d’Andrea Borghi, – Diego Abad de Santillán

Delegates (or written adhesions) were sent there by the revolutionary syndicalist centers of the following countries: Germany, Argentina, Chile, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Czechoslovakia. The German councilist communists of the Allgemeine Arbeiter Union (Einheitsorganisation) were represented there by Franz Pfemfert. There were French observers, notably from the Trade Union Defense Committee (CSR) which had been set up within the CGTU. The Dutch NAS played the role of which we have already spoken. Of Russia, of course, there was only the Anarchosyndicalist Minority.

Post card of the Unione Sindacale Italiana (USI) published in 1923 in solidarity with the victims of fascism, showing a group of delegates, during the founding congress of the new IWA in Berlin in December 1922.
From left to right – top: Hermann Ritter – Schuster – Armando Borghi – Lindstam – Zelm – Th.J.Dissel
In the middle: Orlando – Augustin Souchy- Alexander Schapiro – Rudolf Rocker – Arturo Giovannitti – B. Lansink.
Below: Frans Severin – Virgilia d’Andrea Borghi, – Diego Abad de Santillán

The congress fully confirmed the decisions taken at the conference of June 1922. The modification of the statutes of the Profintern, obtained in Moscow by the CGTU, was considered a « deception » which brought no argument against the foundation of the International Workers Association. The introduction to the statutes of the new International, which preceded the “Principles of Revolutionary Syndicalism” written by Rocker for the June conference, briefly described the characteristic of the Amsterdam and Moscow Internationals:

The Amsterdam International, lost in reformism, considers that the only solution to the social problem lies in class collaboration, in the cohabitation of Labor and Capital and in the revolution patiently awaited and carried out, without violence or struggle, with the consent and approval of the bourgeoisie.

The Moscow International, for its part, considers that the Communist Party is the supreme arbiter of any revolution, and that it is only under the rule of this party that the revolutions to come must be unleashed and consummated. It is to be regretted that in the ranks of the conscious and organized revolutionary proletariat there still exist tendencies supporting what, in theory as in practice, could no longer stand: the organization of the state, that is to say the organization of slavery, of wage labor, of the police, of the army, of the political yoke, in a word, of the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat which can only be a stop to the force of direct expropriation and can only be a suppression of the real sovereignty of the working class, and which thereby becomes the iron dictatorship of a political clique over the proletariat.” [30]

The name given to the new organization, the International Workers’ Association (or Association International des Travailleurs, AIT), obviously referred to that of the First International of which the Berlin International indeed considered itself the continuation, and particularly of its Bakuninist wing. There, perhaps, there was something even fairer than when James Guillaume noted, in 1910: “What is the French CGT if not the continuation of the International? » [31]

But to clear up this question, a separate report would have to be made on Bakunin and the First International. In any case, one can subscribe to this opinion if one assimilates the Bakuninist tendency in the International to the great Spanish and Italian organizations, founded on the principles of Bakuninian federalist collectivism [32].

The only major organization whose absence from Berlin may have been surprising was the American IWW. Founded in Chicago in 1905, the IWW was a truly revolutionary labor organization, which rejected interference from political parties and provided – like the Charter of Amiens – that the institutions of future society would emerge from the present economic organizations of the working class. .

To the union organization of the American Federation of Labor, the IWW opposed their industrial organization. If they did not join the AIT, the reason must once again be sought in the fact that they considered themselves to be an International. Although there were, indeed, IWW organizations in England, Australia, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, the international character of these was mainly based on the fact that they included members of all nationalities of the United States. But the IWWs of Chile did not mind joining the AIT. In short, the Berlin International had succeeded in thwarting the activity of Moscow, the meaning of which a qualified representative, the permanent secretary general of the RILU, Lozovski, summed up in 1930:

From the foundation of the Profintern – he wrote – all the activity of its sections consists in pushing communist policy into the trade union movement, in winning over the masses for the communist parties and the Comintern, and in expanding the influence of communist ideas among ever-new layers of workers. This is the reason for the birth of the RILU; it is this activity that the ISR has carried out during the 10 years of its existence.[33] It couldn’t be said better.

If we examine the whole process which, from 1913 to 1922, preceded the birth of the International Workers Association, AIT, we see that the foundation of a syndicaliste International flowed from a new interpretation of revolutionary syndicalism. The new situation, created by the war and by the revolutionary period that followed, had, on the one hand, somewhat delayed the founding of an international organization and, on the other hand, modified the theoretical content that its adherents would bring. It is in this respect that the anarchosyndicalism advocated by the Berlin International will be distinguished from revolutionary syndicalism while being in some way its extension. Anarchosyndicalism has acquired the conviction that trade unionism cannot be neutral in political matters, as the Charter of Amiens requires. On this point, anarchosyndicalists could even subscribe to what Trotsky wrote on July 13, 1921, to Monatte:

Immense new questions have arisen before us… The Charter of Amiens does not contain an answer to them. When I read La Vie Ouvrière, I find no more answers to the fundamental questions of the revolutionary struggle. Is it possible that in 1921, we have to return to the positions of 1906 and “reconstruct” pre-war unionism… This amorphous position, it is conservative, it risks becoming reactionary.” [34]

But it goes without saying that anarchosyndicalism drew completely opposite conclusions from the situation. For anarchosyndicalism, the process of the years 1914-1921 had highlighted the need to replace the political neutrality of trade unionism with an active struggle against political parties whose constant goal is to conquer state power and not to destroy it:

if therefore syndicalism wants the abolition of the State, it must also want the disappearance of political parties and of parliamentarism.

I would like here to make a remark, in short, a terminological clarification about the term anarchosyndicalism whose vague uses, most of the time, in the literature on the theory and the revolutionary syndicalist movement do not help to clarify either the theory or the facts.

The term anarchosyndicalism should, I think, be applied only to the doctrine and movement of a revolutionary syndicalist character, or industrial unionism, which advocates as a revolutionary and socialist goal the disappearance of the state and of capitalism, the reconstruction of society on the basis of federalism by the economic organizations of the working class, freed from any state power or political party.

Anarchosyndicalism is at the same time an extension of anarchism. Already the French CGT had been under the influence of the anarchists – and first of Fernand Pelloutier – who had imbued it with the anti-authoritarian, anti-militarist, anti-patriotic spirit. The autonomous, apolitical[35] and aparliamentary character of the said CGT had always found among the anarchists fierce defenders; and it suffices to recall the names of a Pouget or a Delesalle to show how important the anarchist contribution to revolutionary syndicalism before the First World War was.

A year after the adoption of the Charter of Amiens, revolutionary syndicalism was the main topic of discussion at the International Anarchist Congress held in Amsterdam in 1907; and this is where the famous debate took place between Pierre Monatte and Errico Malatesta. The latter, as we know, was in no way hostile to anarchists entering the unions, on the contrary: like Kropotkin, Malatesta always approved of this course of action. But he protested against the opinion expressed in the Charter of Amiens, namely that syndicalism is sufficient unto itself. From the anarchist point of view, it was for Malatesta to take the means for the end.

However, the essential problem arising from the Charter of Amiens must be situated elsewhere. This includes two fundamental points: the struggle against capitalism by means of direct action and the conception that makes the unions the organisms that prefigure the future. These two points are totally incompatible with the aims and tactics of political parties. But the political neutrality which ended up in purely and simply denying the existence of these parties, engendered a profound contradiction at the very basis of the CGT program – a contradiction which would become more and more manifest when the CGT transformed itself into a field of battle of the different political tendencies and will end, in 1914, by abandoning its anti-militarist and anti-patriotic positions.

If doubts had remained for an important fraction of the anarchists as to the political neutrality of the unions, the Russian Revolution would have completely dispelled them. It must be recognized that before 1917, the anarchists had in general paid little attention to the concrete economic problems which the revolution was going to pose; but the events in Russia led some of them to this conclusion that Mark Mratchnyi would later draw: « We lost a lot of time in pursuing our own organization, while the fundamental interests of the Revolution required the organization of the masses workers. » [36]

The Russian anarchists were forced to realize the importance of this problem by the application of what the initial resolution of the Provisional Council of the RILU called the « decisive and transitory means of the dictatorship of the proletariat« . Faced with the dictatorship of the Russian Communist Party, the anarchosyndicalists defended conceptions that we will try to summarize.

No one ever thought, they said, that after a social revolution, that is to say after an expropriating and anti-state revolution, a free communist society would be established immediately. Periods of transition will be inevitable – but these transition periods must not degenerate into a system that claims to be temporary while continuing to consolidate. The transitional periods must follow the paths indicated by the fundamental principles which the revolution itself proclaimed in its phase of destruction and reconstruction. What matters is that post-revolutionary acts tend to come closer and closer to the guiding principles of anti-authoritarian federalism, of collectivism.

For the Russian anarchosyndicalists, the consequences had to be drawn from this. There is only one ground field for the practical preparation of the revolution: it is that of the worker’s organization, not to exploit this organization for the benefit of the anarchosyndicalist ideological group, but to make the workers fit to lead the struggle in the direction that anarchists consider the only one capable of leading towards a libertarian society. Since the anarchists refuse to lead the workers, since they do not want to become a political party, there remains a role for them to play: that of cooperating with the workers so that they can lead themselves and jointly manage the economic, political and social life of the country.[37]

The analysis of the anarchosyndicalists was not accepted by all Russians. Perhaps their conclusions should be stated. For the famous Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists, published in 1926 by a group of anarchists emigrated to Paris, also criticizes an anarchism which abstains or even refuses to consider concretely the problems of the revolution. This group, of which Petr Archinov was the best-known spokesman but which also included Nestor Makhno, came to the conclusion that an anarchist leadership of the Revolution must be created. The Platform says: “The whole Union will be responsible for the revolutionary and political activity of each member, each member will be responsible for the revolutionary and political of the whole Union.”[38] What it advocates is an anarchist party.

Criticizing this view, Malatesta again defended the opinion he had already expressed at the Anarchist Congress of 1907, namely that anarchists must be present in the workers’ organizations, not certainly to direct them but to influence them in a libertarian sense. Anarchosyndicalism went even further in its critique of platformism. For anarchosyndicalism, no ideological organization – neither political party nor anarchist group – can assume the task of preparing the social revolution of the working class; and this one will have to fight any attempt to monopolize these autonomous organizations, even for ends qualified libertarian. Anarchists can perfectly organize themselves outside the labor movement, but the latter must nevertheless remain the natural center of their efforts.

In his report, our colleague Elorza spoke of the different currents experienced by the CNT, namely the pure and somewhat statist revolutionary syndicalism of the tendency of Angel Pestana, or the specifically Spanish and very predominant movement of the anarchists, let us rather say the FAI, because there were other anarchists [39].

I especially hear about these other anarchists, who represented a third tendency, less spectacular, but to which belonged anarchists (not affiliated with the FAI) who were militant in the CNT and in the first rank – either as talented orators or editors of organs of the CNT: Solidaridad Obrera from Barcelona, CNT newspaper, from Madrid – men such as Eusebio C. Carbo and Val Orobon Fernandez who were both part of the AIT and defended the principles and anarchosyndicalist tactics that it advocated.

In this context, I will recall that in 1932, the Russian anarchosyndicalist Alexandre Schapiro went to Spain charged by the secretariat of the AIT to study the various currents of the CNT. His very dense and confidential report was presented and discussed at the AIT conference of April 1933, held in Amsterdam, where it was decided to transfer the AIT office, until then in Berlin, to Spain.

Schapiro’s report is a document of great value because of the profound and critical analysis that it makes of the relations between the FAI and the CNT and within the latter itself – a document that is all the more historic in that the conclusions of this analysis were confirmed by the events of 1936 [40].

The ‘platformists‘ – wrote Alexandre Schapiro in 1931 – supporters of an anarchist party, with all that that entails […] and who protest against the petrification (of anarchism) and ‘cooking it in its own juice”, fell […] into the tendency of triumphant Bolshevism, from which they took the tactics, the methods of struggle and the forms of organization. Without realizing it, they sacrificed Bakunin as well as Kropotkin.

By rejecting both the childish and naive ideas of social revolution and the Bolshevization of Bakunin and Kropotkin, anarchosyndicalism prefers to cooperate in the creation of a movement capable of assuming the responsibilities of a new era.

Anarchosyndicalism is the International Workers Association which does not limit its activities to the daily struggle for improvements in detail, but puts first and foremost, as Kropotkin so aptly put it, the question of the reconstruction of the society. » [41]

If I believe appearances, we will soon have the opportunity to hear about the anarchosyndicalist movement again. The ideology of Bakuninian-inspired libertarian socialism has always found its strongest resonance in Spain. It was there that the largest, most efficient, best organized of all the federations of the First International had developed, as indeed of the federations of the Anarchosyndicalist International.

After 38 years of persecution and illegality, the CNT, and with it anarchosyndicalism, has reasserted its presence.

Translation : CNT-AIT France

Posted on line at

The IWA logo in the 1920’s
The IWA logo in the 1960’s

[1] Paul Arthur Müller-Lehning (23 October 1899, in Utrecht – 1 January 2000, in Lys-Saint-Georges) was a Dutch author, historian and anarchist.

He studied economics at the universities of Rotterdam and Berlin. He knew from a young age the trade unionist and anti-militarist ideas. In Berlin he came into contact with the German anarchosyndicalist Rudolf Rocker and the anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. He participated in the Committee for the Defense of Anarchists and Social Revolutionaries, who were beginning to be persecuted by the Bolsheviks in Russia. Also in the German capital he met the doctor, professor and well-known antimilitarist Georg Friedrich Nicolai, becoming in 1922 secretary of the International Anti-Militarist Bureau (IAMB), founded in The Hague a year earlier.

In 1922 he joined the International Workers Association (AIT for its acronym), participating together with Augustin Souchy, Albert de Jong and Helmut Rüdiger between 1927 and 1934 in the press service of the International Anti-Militarist Commission –IAMC / CIAM), a body that emerged after the union of the anti-militarist committee of the AIT and the IAMB. The Committee engaged in arduous propaganda work. Between the years 1932 and 1935 he was part of the secretariat of the IWA, together with Rudolf Rocker and Alexander Shapiro.

He was one of the founders of the Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis (International Institute of Social History) in Amsterdam. Most of his written work is linked to his work at the Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. He would edit Bakunin’s complete works, which were published in French under the title Archives Bakounine.

[2]   Translator’s note |TN] : Followers of Jules GUESDES, leader of the marxist Worker’s Party(Parti ouvrier)

[3]   TN : A former lathe worker, Member of Parliament between 1893 and 1920 and head of the General Commission of German Trade Unions from 1890 until his death, he was the main architect of the centralization and institutionalization of trade unions before the First World War. (Gaël Cheptou, A Contretemps, n° 28, October 2007)

[4] Christiaan Cornelissen (1864-1942), a close collaborator of Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, attended the congresses of the Socialist International in Brussels (1891), Zurich (1893) and London (1896). In 1893 he was one of the founders of the Dutch National Labor Secretariat (NAS). After a disagreement with Domela Nieuwenhuis, especially about the role of the unions, he left for France in 1898. He collaborated with the organ of the CGT,La Voix du Peuple (the Voice of the people) and, in 1911, became editor of the Bataille syndicaliste (The Syndicalist Battle). From 1907 to 1914, he edited the International Bulletin of the Trade Union Movement. In particular, he published a General Treatise on Economic Science (5 vol., Paris, 1926-1944). In Spanish translation, we have from him La Evolucion de la sociedad moderna (Buenos Aires, 1934) and El Comunismo libertario y el régimen de transicion (Valencia, 1936).

[5]   «Le Congrés syndlcaliste inlemational », La Vie Ouvrière, April 5, 19313, p. 407.

[6]   Translator’s note : at this time, the CGT was the only trade-union in France, gathering all the political tendancies inside.

[7]   In addition to De Ambris, this delegation included two other Italians: E. Rossoni, delegate of the Unione Sindicale Milanese and the Camera del Lavoro di Bologna, and Silvio Corio, for the Camera del Lavoro di Parma e Provincia.

[8]   Coming from a modest family, F. Kater was very early on active in the german Socialist Party (SPD), within which his sympathies were with the “youth” (Jungen), the pro-anarchist extreme left of the social-democratic party. Having settled in Berlin, he met G. Kessler in 1897, whom he succeeded as head of the Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften (FvdG, Free Association of German Trade Unions) in 1903.

In 1907, Kater refused a permanent position offered by the Free Trade Unions and the following year left the SPD after more than twenty years of membership in that party. This is the year when the FvdG refused to dissolve and adopted a clearly revolutionary syndicalist orientation.

Kater opposed the 1914 war during which he coordinated the illegal activities of the FVdG. In November 1918, he reorganized his organization which took the name of FAUD in December 1919. President of this anarchosyndicalist organization until 1930, he opposed membership in the Red Internatonal Labor Union (RILU) and participated in the revolutionary congresses of Berlin (June and December 1922), which led to the founding of the AIT.

[9]   Quoted by Alfred Rosmer, “Le Congrès de Londres”, La Vie Ouvrière, October 20, 1913, 455.

[10]   NT : Alfred Rosmer Rosmer (1867-1964), whose real name is Alfred Griot, was born in 1867 near New York. Anarchist student, member of the Socialist Revolutionary Internationalist Students (ESRi) together with Schapiro, he joined the CGT in 1899, where he became lifelong friends with Monatte. Under his influence he moved away from anarchism to become a revolutionary syndicalist. He was one of the founders of the Third International in Moscow and of the Red International Labor Union (RILU). It was under his influence that the French CGTU joined the Moscow( syndicalist  international. Member of the political bureau of the French Communist Party between 1922 and 1924, from which he was expelled in 1924. A friend of Trotsky, he participated in the creation of the first Trotskyist group in France and it was in his house that the IVth International was created in 1938.

[11]   Alexandre Schapiro, “Las Internationales sindicales: Amsterdam, Moscú, Berlin”, La Protesta. Suplemento sernanal, August 24-September 14, 1925.

[12] The Third Communist International. Theses adopted by the First Congress. Official documents for the year 1919-1920, Petrograd, 1920, p. 28.

[13] José Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish revolution, vol. I, Paris, 1971, p. 29.

[14]   Translator’s note : Vladimir Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder. ith this now-classic work, Lenin aimed to encapsulate the lessons the Bolshevik Party had learned from its involvement in three revolutions in 12 years—in a manner that European Communists could relate to, for it was to them he was speaking. He also further develops the theory of what the “dictatorship of the proletariat” means and stresses that the primary danger for the working-class movement in general is opportunism on the one hand, and anti-Marxist ultraleftism on the other.

“Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder was written in April, and the appendix was written on May 12, 1920. It came out on June 8–10 in Russian and in July was published in German, English and French. Lenin gave personal attention to the book’s type-setting and printing schedule so that it would be published before the opening of the Second Congress of the Communist International, each delegate receiving a copy.

[15]   TN : As a atter of fact,  this is not correct. On the other hand, he had to leave hastily because of the outbreak of the general strike in Italy. As soon as he arrived, Borghi met Angel Pestaña of the Spanish CNT who informed him of his impressions. For several months, the Unione Sindicale Italiana had sent a letter to the Bolshevik leaders to let them know that it wished to join the Third International. However, to his great surprise, Borghi realized that apparently no one knew about it. Pestaña went to inquire and was told each time that nothing was known and that therefore the USI could not participate in the work of the International! Hence no doubt Arthur Lehning’s error.
Pestaña adds however: « Later I knew that yes they knew it, but, for reasons unknown to me, they had hidden it.” Asa consequence, the CGL, the Italian reformist central, was there, represented by D’Aragona. Naively, Borghi demanded that the CGL be expelled because of its « reformist and class-collaborative character » and « the preponderant influence within it of the Italian right-wing socialists« , while the USI « kept alive the class spirit, did not collaborate with any representative body of the bourgeoisie, and for the support it gave from the first day to the Russian revolution » (Pestaña, Memorias.) The USI paid the price for the reversal of strategy and the implementation of the strategy of the United Front, which advocated rapprochement with the reformist organizations. (See: Armando Borghi, ½ secolo di anarchia, Esi Napoli, 1954, ch. 17.)

[16]   Le Phare, La Chaux-de-Fonds, December 1920 (special issue. Theses, conditions and statutes of the Communist International), pp. 155-156, 159-211.

[17]   In the International Bulletin of Revolutionary and Industrialist Syndicalists (Berlin, June 16, 7922, p. 17), we read: “The French delegates, Jean Ceppe and V. Godonnèche, played a rather pitiful role at this conference. They presented a written declaration and left the Conference, refusing to participate in its work until the end. Later, at the sessions of the minority trade unionists at the Congress of Lille in 1921, Monatte explained to the representative of the German trade unionists, A. Souchy, that it was he who sent Ceppe and Godonnèche to Berlin with the specific aim of preventing, by all possible means, the creation of a syndicalist International« .

[18]   Communication concerning the International Syndicalist Conference held in Berlin from December 16 to 21, 1920, Amsterdam [1921], p. 4.

[19]   Ibid., p. 7-8.

[20] Felix Dzerzhinsky (1877 – 1926), nicknamed « Iron Felix », was a Bolshevik revolutionary, born into Polish nobility. From 1917 until his death in 1926, Dzerzhinsky is famous for having created and led the Cheka (Extraodinary Commissoin) / OGPU, the secret police of the Soviet regime. He was one of the architects of the Red Terror.

[21] See G.P. Maximov, The Guillotine at Work. Twenty Years of Terror in Russia (Data and Documents), Chicago, 1940, pp. 475-502.

[22] Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin (1888 – 1938) was a Bolshevik revolutionary. Friend of Lenin and Trotsky while in exile, editor of the Pravda newspaper after the Russian revolution. Chief ally of Staline in his plot against Trotsky, Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev after the Lenine death, he has been evicted from the party by Staline in 1929. Arrested in February 1937, after a show trial he was executed in March 1938.

[23] Resolutions and statutes adopted at the First International Congress of Revolutionary Syndicates. Moscow, July 3-19, 1921, Paris, 1921, p. 69.

[24] Georde Williams, The first Congress of the Red Trade Union International at Moscow, 1921. A report of the proceedings, 2nd ed. Review, Chicago, n.d., pp. 27-38.

[25]   Carta de Errico Malatesta a Luigi Fabbri, 30 de Julio de 1919. Fabbri published this letter as a foreword to his book Dittatura e rivoluzione (Ancona 1921); for the Spanish translation, see Luis Fabbri, Dictadura y revolucion, Buenos Aires, 1923.

[26]   Bulletin international des syndicalistes révolutionnaires et industrialistes, Berlin, n° 2-3, août 1922, p.6.

[27]   Ibid, pp. 15-16.

[28]   Translator’s note : The Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic was a short-lived Soviet puppet state during the years immediately following the Russian Revolution, just as Palestine was a British colony and Kamtchaka designs a mysterious and far-away region …

[29]   Ibid, pp. 12-13.

[30]   Bulletin d’information de l’Association internationale des travailleurs, Berlin, n°1,15 janvier 1923, p. 3.

[31]   James Guillaume, L’Internationale. Documents et souvenirs (1864-1878), vol. IV, Paris, 1910, p. VII.

[32]   Bakunin understood very well the character of the AIT (First International), which was to unite all the workers who had decided to resist the employers and, through the practice of real solidarity between workers, through protest struggles and strikes, to bring them to a clearer awareness of their social condition and make them see the path leading to their complete emancipation. It was therefore through practice, through the collective experience of the struggle that the International enabled the workers to develop the seeds of socialist thought that they carried within them, to become aware of what they instinctively wanted, but could not formulate. Bakunin – whether we know it or not – was a man of organization who saw the union struggle as essential. He was the editor of L’Egalité, the organ of the Geneva section of the Internationale, where he wrote numerous articles on strikes, etc. ; and in his letters to militants in Bologna and Romagna he always insisted on the importance of the daily struggle. Advocating the refusal of any participation in bourgeois radicalism, this implied the organization, outside of politics, of the forces of the proletariat. And the basis of this organization is indicated: these are “the workshops of the federation of workshops”.

[33]   « Der zehnjährige  Weg der RGI », Rotes Gewerkschafts Bulletin, Berlin, 26 juillet 1930.

[34]   Syndicalisme révolutionnaire et communisme. Les archives de Pierre Monatte, présentation de Colette Chambelland et de Jean Maitron, Paris, 1968, p. 296.

[35]   Translator’s note : Antipolitical means against political parties when apolitical means only neutrality toward them. The French CGT was apolitical, a position that was always that of the revolutionary syndicalists like Monate, when the anarchosyndicalists evolved towards the anti-political position with the creation of the IWA.

[36]   Mark Mratchnyi, « Selbstgeständnisse und Ergebnisse », Erkenntnis und Befreiung, Vienne, V° année, n°38, 1923.

[37]   See Alexandre Schapiro « L’œuvre des anarchistes dans la révolution », L’Idée anarchiste, 10 juillet 1924 ; and « Les périodes transitoires de la révolution »,La Voix du travail, février 1927.

[38]   Plate-forme d’organisation de l’Union générale des anarchistes (projet), Paris, 1926, p. 30.

[39]   I remember a conversation that in 1931, in Barcelona, I had with Pestaña. As he was criticizing the policy of the FAI, I replied that one could not imagine a CNT without the anarchists. Irritated, he retorted: “Me too, I am an anarchist”.

[40]   This report, which had never been published, recently appeared in German, in extracts: Alexandre Schapiro, “Bericht über die Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) und den Aufstand in Spanien im Januar 1933”, introd. by Jaap Kloosterman, Jahrbuchh Arbeiterbewegung, vol. IV, Frankfurt/M, 1976, pp. 159-194.

[41]   Alexandre Schapiro, “Peter Kropotkin, die Arbeiterbewegung und die internationale Organisierung der Arbeiter”, Die Internationale (FAUD), January 1923.


En Español : Del sindicalismo revolucionario al anarcosindicalismo: El nacimiento de la Asociación Internacional de Trabajadores (AIT)

In French : La Naissance de l’Association internationale des travailleurs de Berlin : du syndicalisme révolutionnaire à l’anarchosyndicalisme (Arthur Lehning)


Text from the pamphlet « From revolutionary syndicalism to anarchosyndicalism: The birth of the International Workers Association (AIT-IWA) »

Table of Contents

Pamphlet, 64 pages. You can download the PDF here:

To receive the paper version send an email to with your address or write to CNT-AIT, 7 rue St Remesy, 31000 TOULOUSE, FRANCE

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