in Freedom, Vol. 35, No. 43 (October 26, 1974): p. 4; Vol. 35, No. 44 (November 2, 1974): p. 6.
Syndicalism & Anarchism
THE MONATTE-MALATESTA DEBATE FROM THE AMSTERDAM INTERNATIONAL ANARCHIST CONGRESS, AUGUST, 1907
PART 1 THE CASE FOR SYNDICALISM PUT BY MONATTE
It is not my desire, so much, to give a theoretical expose of revolutionary syndicalism, but to show you how it works, and to let its deeds speak for themselves. Revolutionary syndicalism, contrary to both socialism and anarchism, which preceded it, has affirmed itself less by theories than by deeds, and it is in action more than in books that we must look for it.
One would be blind not to see the things in common between anarchism and syndicalism. Both want the complete eradication of capitalism and the wage system, by means of the social revolution. Syndicalism, which is the proof of an awakening of the working class movement, has recalled anarchism to the awareness of its working class origins; on the other hand, the anarchists have contributed not a little towards leading the working class movement onto the revolutionary path and to popularizing the idea of direct action. In this way syndicalism and anarchism have reacted one on the other, to the greatest benefit of both.
It was in France, within the framework of the C.G.T., that the ideas of revolutionary syndicalism were born and developed. The confederation occupies an absolutely unique position within the international working class movement. It is the only organization which, while declaring itself clearly revolutionary, does not attach Itself to any political party, even the most advanced. In most countries other than France, social democracy plays the leading role. But in France, the C.G.T. leaves the socialist party far behind, both in numerical strength and in the influence it exerts. The C.G.T. lays claim to being the only representative of the working class, and has rebuffed all the advances made to it over the years. Autonomy has made it strong and it intends to remain autonomous.
This aspiration of the C.G.T. and its refusal to work with any political party has earned it the name anarchist from its many exasperated adversaries. No name could be more false. The C.G.T., wide grouping of syndicates and workers unions, has no official doctrine; rather, many doctrines are represented in it and are equally tolerated. There is in the confederal committee a number of anarchists, who within it meet and work with socialists -- of whom the majority, it should be noted, are as hostile as the anarchists to the idea of any entente between the syndicate and the socialist party. . .
In the 1890s a number of anarchists, realising at last that philosophy was not enough to make a revolution, went into the working class movement which was giving rise, amongst those with eyes to see, to high hopes. Fernand Pellontier was the man who best personifies this development amongst the anarchists.
All the congresses which followed that at Nantes in 1894 stressed even more the divorce between the organised working class and politics. At Toulouse in 1897 our comrades Delesalle and Pouget had the tactics of boycott and sabotage adopted. In 1900 the newspaper Voix du Peuple was founded, with Pouget as principal editor. At this time also, the C.G.T., just overcoming the difficult times of its birth, day by day give proof of its growing strength. It became a power which the government on the one hand and the socialist party on the other would have to reckon with.
As for the government, supported by the reformist socialists, it made a terrible assault on our new movement. Millerand, who had become a minister, tried to governmentalise the union, by making each Bourse a branch of his ministry. Agents in his pay were working within the organisation and tried to corrupt faithful militants. The danger was very great. It was averted by the entente which arose between all the revolutionary fractions, between anarchists, Geusdistes and Blanquistes. This entente held together when the danger was over. The Confederation -- fortified since 1902 by the entry of the Federation of Bourses by which working class unity was achieved -- today draws its strength from within; and it was from this entente that revolutionary syndicalism was born; the doctrine which makes the union the organ, and the general strike the means, of social transformation.
But -- and I emphasize this point to non-French comrades because of its extreme importance -- neither the attainment of working-class unity nor the coalition of revolutionaries could have brought the C.G.T. to its present level of prosperity and influence if we had not remained faithful, in union practice, to this fundamental principle, which excludes unions of political opinions: only one union by profession and by town. The consequence of this principal is the political neutrality of the syndicate, which cannot and must not be anarchist, Guestist, Allemanist or Blanquist but simply working class. In the syndicate, divergences of opinion, often so subtle and artificial, are pushed into the background; so the entente is possible. In practical life, economic interests come before ideas; all the disagreements between schools and sects will not make workers have different economic interests as they are all subject to the same law of wage earning. This is the secret of the entente which reigns among us, which makes the strength of syndicalism, and which allowed it, last year at the Congress of Amiens, to proudly affirm that it was self-sufficient. . .
But, if I am to consider syndicalism as a whole rather than talk further on its particularities, what compliments should I not pay it! The revolutionary spirit of France was dying, or at least becoming more apathetic year by year. The revolutionism of Guesde was, for example, only verbal, or worse, electoral and parliamentarian; the revolutionism of Jaures was simply and frankly ministerial and governmental. As for the anarchists, their revolutionism was hiding superbly in the ivory tower of philosophical speculation. Among so many failings, and even by the effect of these, Syndicalism was born. The revolutionary spirit was reanimated and, for the first time since the anarchists' dynamite, the bourgeoisie trembled.
It is important that the proletariat of every country profits from the experience of the French proletariat. And it is the duty of anarchists to recreate this experience wherever there is a working class working for its emancipation. . . It belongs to the anarchists to form unions in the French way, a neutral union, or more exactly, independent. As there is only one working class there must be no more than one organisation of each trade, in each town. Only thus will the class struggle, at last free from little divergences and rival schools or sects, be able to develop its strength and make its maximum impact.
Syndicalism, proclaimed the Congress of Amiens in 1906, is self-sufficient. I know this has not been understood very well even by anarchists. What does it mean, however, if not that the working class, having come of age, intends to be self-sufficient and no longer to depend on anyone else for its emancipation. What anarchist could speak against a will to act so nobly asserted?
Syndicalism does not loiter in promising the workers an earthly paradise. It asks them to go and get it for themselves, assuring them that their actions will never be in vain. It is a school of will power, of energy, of fertile thought. It opens up to anarchism, too long looking in on itself, new perspectives and new hopes. All anarchists must come to syndicalism: their work will bscome more fruitful, their blow against the social regime more decisive. . .
PART II MALATESTA'S REPLY TO MONATTE
Syndicalism, or more precisely the workers movement (this is a fact that nobody can ignore, because syndicalism is a theory, a system, and we must avoid taking one for the other), the workers movement, I say, has always found in me a resolved, but not a blind defender. And this was because I saw in it a particularly favourable field for our revolutionary propaganda, as well as a point of contact between the masses and ourselves. I have no need to stress this. It is only just to say that I have never been one of those intellectual anarchists, who when the old International was dissolved, willingly shut themselves up in the ivory tower of pure speculation. I have never ceased to fight this attitude of haughty isolation wherever I came across it, whether in Italy, France, England or any other country; nor to direct comrades back onto that path which the syndicalists, forgetting a glorious past, call new, but which had been foreseen and followed by the first anarchists in the International.
I want anarchists today, as yesterday, to go into the workers movement. I am today, as yesterday, a syndicalist in the sense that I am in favour of syndicates. Yet I do not ask for anarchist syndicates because they would then legitimise republican syndicates, social democratic syndicates, royalist syndicates and others, and would divide the working class more than ever. I do not want syndicates called red because I do not want others called yellow. I want, on the contrary, syndicates to be open for all workers without distinction of their political opinion, in other words syndicates absolutely neutral.
Therefore I am for the greatest possible active participation in the workers movement. But I am for this primarily in the interest of our propaganda, whose field would be then considerably enlarged. Yet this participation is not the same as the renunciation of our dearest ideals. In the syndicates we must remain anarchists in every meaning of the term. The workers movement for me is only a means -- the best, evidently, of all the means offered to us. I refuse to take this means as a final aim, and I would have nothing to do with it if it meant that we would lose sight of our anarchist conceptions, or more simply our other means of propaganda and agitation.
The syndicalists, on the contrary, tend to make an end of a means, and to take a part for a whole. And this is how, in the minds of some of our comrades, syndicalism is becoming a new doctrine and menacing anarchism in its very existence.
So, even with the word revolutionary added to it, syndicalism is only, and will only be, but a legalitarian and conservative movement, without any other accessible aim than getting better conditions of work. I need not look for proof further than the example offered by the North American syndicates. Having shown themselves radically revolutionary in the times when they were still weak, these syndicates have become, as they grew stronger, and richer, merely conservative organisations, uniquely preoccupied with helping their members to gain privileges in the factories, workshops and mines, and far less hostile to the bosses' capitalism than to non-organised workers. As anarchists it is our duty to defend this ever growing proletariat of unemployed, because they suffer most. They do not count for syndicalism, or rather they only count when they become an obstacle.
I repeat: anarchists must join workers syndicates. First, to make anarchist propaganda; then, because it is the only means we have at our disposal, when the occasion arises, to have groups capable to take the direction of production into their own hands. We must join it to energetically react against this detestable state of mind which inclines the syndicalists to defend only their own particular interests.
The fundamental error of Monatte, and of all the revolutionary syndicalists, arises, in my opinion, from a far too simplistic conception of the class struggle. It is the conception according to which the economic interests of all the workers -- of the working class -- would be tied together, a conception according to which it is sufficient for workers to take into their own hands the defence of their own interests, and to defend at the same time the interests of all the proletariat against the bosses. . .
. . .And now to conclude. In former days I deplored the comrades who stayed apart from the workers movement. Now I deplore those of us who go to the opposite excess, and let themselves be swallowed up by the same movement. The workers organisations, the strike, the general strike, direct action, the boycott, sabotage and the armed insurrection are merely means. Anarchy is the aim. The anarchist revolution that we want goes beyond the interests of only one class. It proposes the complete liberation of all humanity, who are enslaved economically, politically and intellectually. Let us keep away from onesided and simplistic means of action. Syndicalism, while an excellent means of action because of the working power that it puts at our disposal, cannot be our only means. Still less must it let us lose from sight the only aim still worth the effort: Anarchy.