Rudolf Rocker (1873-1958) was born in Mainz, in the German Rhineland, into a Catholic family of skilled workers with liberal views. His parents died young, and he was sent to a Catholic orphanage. He was apprenticed as a bookbinder, and followed the trade as a travelling journeyman for several years. He became a socialist in his youth, and joined the Social Democratic Party; but he supported the left-wing opposition group of Die Jungen (The Young), was expelled in 1890, and soon moved towards anarchism. He visited several parts of Western Europe, following his trade and his political interests. He observed the second congress of the Second International in Brussels in 1891, began contributing to the anarchist press in 1892, and left Germany to escape police harassment in 1892. He lived for a couple of years in Paris, and then settled permanently in Britain in 1895.

Although Rocker was a Gentile, he became involved in the Jewish anarchist movement. He learnt Yiddish, lived in the Jewish community, and became the lifelong companion of Milly Witcop (1877-1953). He quickly became a prominent speaker and writer, on cultural as well as political topics, and for 20 years he was the most liked and respected person in the movement. In 1898 he edited Dos Fraye Vort (The Free Word), a new Yiddish weekly paper in Liverpool, for a couple of months, and then became editor of Der Arbeter Fraint (The Workers' Friend), a revived Yiddish weekly paper in London, and in 1900 also of Germinal, a new Yiddish monthly.

The Jewish anarchist movement became larger than the native movement in Britain. A federation of Jewish anarchist groups was formed in 1902, the circulation of the papers and other publications increased, and a thriving social club was opened in Jubilee Street in East London in 1906. Rocker was the most influential figure in the movement, representing it at the International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam in 1907, and becoming a member of the International Anarchist Bureau established there. The Jewish anarchists were very active in the growing trade union movement, and Rocker favoured the development of anarcho-syndicalism as a new form of anarchist theory and practice.

In 1914 Rocker vigorously opposed both sides in the First World War, and after a few months he was interned as an enemy alien. Soon afterwards the Arbeter Fraint was suppressed and the Jubilee Street club closed. The Jewish anarchist movement in Britain never really recovered, and most of its members were later attracted to Zionism or Communism.

In 1918 Rocker was deported from Britain to the Netherlands, and soon after he returned to his native country, Germany. He become a leading figure in the German and indeed the international anarcho-syndicalist movement. He was an active member of the Freie Vereinigung Deutscher Gewerkschaften (Free Association of German Trade Unions) and then a main founder of the Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands (Free Workers' Union of Germany) and editor of its paper, Der Syndikalist. He was the moving spirit of the International Congress in Berlin in 1922 which led to the formation of the International Working Men's Association, and acted as one of its secretaries. He used his influence to oppose anarchist support for the Bolshevik Revolution after 1917 or for Peter Arshinov's Organisational Platform (which advocated reforming the anarchist movement as a virtual political party) after 1926, and he led the libertarian opposition to the rising Nazi movement.

In 1933 Rocker had to leave Germany again to escape persecution by the new Nazi regime. He settled in the United States, which he had previously visited for lecture tours, and he continued to work as a speaker and writer, directing his efforts against the twin evils of Fascism and Communism. He spent the last 20 years of his life as a leading figure in the Mohegan community at Crompond, New York, and was the best-known anarchist in the country until his death. He supported the Allies in the Second World War, which caused a breach with some old comrades, but he continued to receive more admiration and affection than any veteran of the movement since Kropotkin or Malatesta. Rocker was a prolific speaker and writer in both Yiddish and German, and he produced a great many articles and pamphlets and several books -- especially a libertarian study of the conflict between nationalism and culture, biographies of the anarchist leaders Johann Most and Max Nettlau, and a long autobiography. Many of his writings were translated into Spanish and widely circulated in Latin America, but not many appeared in English. Apart from a few pamphlets, three books were published in the United States -- the ambitious study of Nationalism and Culture (1937), an essay in literary criticism called The Six (1938) and a popular survey of Pioneers of American Freedom (1949). Two more were published in Britain -- a popular survey of Anarcho-Syndicalism (1938), and the section of his autobiography covering The London Years (1956). Some others were translated into English but not published -- especially Behind Barbed Wire and Bars, an account of his internment during the First World War.

The most accessible of Rocker's books is Anarcho-Syndicalism. This arose from the Civil War and Revolution in Spain, which broke out in 1936 and brought anarchism and syndicalism back on to the political stage for the first time since the First World War and the Russian Revolution. It was also in 1936 that Fredric Warburg took over the publishing business of Martin Seeker and made the new company of Seeker & Warburg one of the main London publishers. He specialised in good fiction, especially by leading foreign writers, and in political books by unorthodox writers, whom he described in the second volume of his memoirs, All Authors are Equal (1973), as 'a miscellaneous collection of socialists, anarchists, radicals, independent socialists . . . pacifists and eccentrics', and among whom were several who later contributed to the anarchist press (such as Jomo Kenyatta, Ethel Mannin, George Orwell, Reginald Reynolds and F. A. Ridley). He took a particular interest in Spain, commenting in the first volume of his memoirs, An Occupation for Gentlemen (1959), that 'it was the Spanish Civil War that obsessed me in the first months of the infant firm and dominated its policy for the next three years', and he published several books on the subject (the best known being George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia). A salient feature of the Spanish situation was of course the existence of a mass movement of revolutionary syndicalists led by militant anarchists, and Warburg decided to publish a book on the ideology which inspired them.

In April 1937 -- at a time of growing confrontation between the Nationalist rebels and their Falangist allies on one side and the Republican regime and its left-wing allies on the other, and also between the libertarian movement and the Socialist and Communist authorities within the Republic -- Warburg approached Spain and the World, the new leading anarchist paper in Britain, with a proposal for a short book on anarchism. The suggestion was passed on to Emma Goldman (1869-1940), the best-known anarchist in Europe, who was then working for the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists in London; but, knowing that she had neither the time nor the capacity to produce such a work, she decided to approach someone else instead.

As it happened, there was actually already in existence such a book, or at least the basis for one. This was a long introduction to the subject by Emma Goldman's lifelong friend and colleague Alexander Berkman (1870-1936), which had been written a decade earlier and published in the United States in 1929 in two simultaneous editions as What is Communist Anarchism? and as Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism. Emma Goldman herself wrote the introduction for a new posthumous edition which was published in the United States in August 1937, so she was well aware of its existence. Moreover, it hadn't yet appeared in Britain, and could easily have been published in a revised form as a new book -- indeed a shortened version did appear as a pamphlet a few years later (ABC of Anarchism, Freedom Press, 1942, frequently reprinted). But it was much too long for Warburg's purpose, it concentrated on anarchist communism rather than anarcho-syndicalism, and it contained much material on the Russian rather than the Spanish Revolution. Rather than trying to adapt or abridge Berkman's old book, Emma Goldman approached Rudolf Rocker in the United States for a new one.

She wrote telling him about Warburg's proposal and asking him to accept it, and commented:

. . . A work on Syndicalism in the English language is desperately needed now. It would do tremendous good. The very fact that a publisher asks for such a book shows that he too realises the importance of it ... Rudolf dear you really should do the book. And you should do it as quickly as possible. After all a short work on Anarcho-Syndicalism is not a work of science or deep philosophy. To reach large masses it must be kept in a light tone. Anyhow you and no one else are the man to do it. And I hope you will undertake it. It will be a real disgrace to refuse such an opportunity to present our ideas before a large public in England and America. Do you not think so? ... Of course you must write it in English. If need be it can be revised here ... I feel certain if you made up your mind you could do it in a month ... Please, please dear Rudolf say Yes ... (4 May 1937)

Rocker liked the idea but he was very busy. He had only recently managed to get his magnum opus, Nationalism and Culture, translated into Spanish and then into English (the latter work being started by Alexander Berkman and completed by Ray E. Chase, a retired academic in Los Angeles), and he was at this time involved in the details of its publication in the United States. He, too, was much concerned with Spain; at the beginning of the Civil War he had written a pamphlet on The Truth about Spain (1936), and now he was writing another one on The Tragedy of Spain (1937). He was also trying to earn his living. He therefore replied after a few days that he would be able to start work on the new book in a few months (23 May 1937).

Meanwhile, since he still wrote in German, he had written to ask Chase whether he would be able to translate it into English. Chase replied favourably: 'Of course I'll be glad to do it for you, if you are sure that I am really the man for the task' (23 May 1937); and he returned to the subject in further letters: 'What of the essay on Anarcho-Syndicalism? Are you going on with it? Am I to translate it?' (15 June 1937); 'I should be very glad to have the job' (30 July 1937).

Emma Goldman replied to Rocker in characteristic style:

I wish I had you here. Believe me I would spank you ... Don't you realise old dear that we never had such a golden opportunity as the offer of the London publisher to get our ideas before a large section of the British workers? And that there never was a more propitious moment than now to make Anarcho-Syndicalism known in this country? ... It's you my dear and you cannot get away from it. Please please set to work on it as quickly as possible. After all you even need no material on the subject. You have got it at your finger tips. You should therefore be able to do it quickly. Won't you try? ... (10 June 1937)

Milly Rocker replied a few days later:

... Believe me that he realise what it means to publish a book on Syndicalism by a publisher, where we could reach quite a different circle of readers, and important it is, it is just wonderful. He will do it with great pleasure, and will do it well, as soon as he is through with the work in hands, and just have one or two swims. Is that good enough darling? Say yes, and smile, do, please. (24 June 1937)

Emma Goldman passed the news of Rocker's acceptance on to Warburg, and sent his contract on to Rocker, who signed and returned it at once -- though he changed the delivery date from August to September. She wrote several more letters during the next few months, suggesting what he should write and urging that he should write quickly (23 July and 11 September 1937), and then discussing the progress of the production and publication of the book (19 November and 30 December 1937, 4 January and 22 February 1938).

He wrote the 45,000-word text in German between July and October 1937, sending successive instalments to Chase, who rapidly translated them and sent them on to London, reporting progress back to Rocker: 'I am working on your Anarchism ...' (13 September 1937); 'It's going to be hard to make the deadline you said had been set -- but I have kept up with you ...' (14 October 1937). The job was finished in December 1937, the book was set up in proof by January 1938, and published in London in March 1938. On the cover and title-page it was called simply Anarcho-Syndicalism; but on the red jacket it was described in more detail as 'Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory & Practice -- An introduction to a subject which the Spanish War has brought into overwhelming prominence'.

There were some private misgivings about the result. Emma Goldman wrote telling Rocker that she had complained about 'the numerous mistakes' to Warburg, who had blamed the proof-readers (29 March 1938). And Chase wrote telling Rocker that he had received his copy of the book, and commented sadly: 'I have had time merely to glance into it. I note that there is no mention of a translator. That, of course, is unimportant, but it seems a trifle odd ...' (5 May 1938).

But the public reception was good, and the reviews were generally favourable. The most authoritative independent one appeared in the Times Literary Supplement on 23 April 1938 (unsigned, but written by E. H. Carr):

Anarcho-Syndicalism, as presented in this earnest but somewhat heavily written little book, is on the one hand a restatement of essential Liberal doctrine in modern terms and on the other a reaction against the form which the Socialist movement has assumed. It is anarchist in so far as it aims at freeing mankind from the coercion of the State, which is to be replaced by a federation of communities, and it is syndicalist in so far as it proposes to free the workers in industry from employers' control and to place economic power in the hands of the trade unions. Mr Rocker, who is the philosopher of the movement, traces back its beginnings to Godwin and Proudhon and finds its modern inspiration in Bakunin and Kropotkin. It is interesting to note how many modern thinkers find in Kropotkin's study of what may be called collective security in the animal world the answer to the cruder political inferences drawn from the doctrine of the survival of the fittest.

Having set out his principles, Mr Rocker fortifies them by an account of England under industrialism in which all the shadows are energetically inked in. The narrative overstates the influence of Socialistic ideas in the England of the 'thirties and 'forties, just as it overstates the influence of the First International on the Continent a few years later. The present phase of the movement, we learn, is represented by the various national branches of the International Workingmen's Association. The most important of them is the Spanish Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), to whose work in freeing Catalonia from Fascist reaction Mr Rocker pays a whole-hearted tribute on which recent events have passed their commentary.

All this part of the argument is directed against political socialism which in Russia has led to the re-establishment of the coercive State in a strengthened form. The workman's power, Mr Rocker insists, is economic and its weapon is the strike. In this connexion we are told that 'the great general strike of the English workers in 1926 was the result of a planned attempt by the employers to lower the general standard of living by cutting wages.' The value of the book is much diminished by the exaggerations, of which this sentence is a flagrant example.

The book was warmly welcomed by the anarchist movement. A Spanish translation by the leading libertarian intellectual Diego Abad de Santillan was published in Barcelona during 1938. In Britain the leading libertarian intellectual Herbert Read wrote a long joint review of Anarcho-Syndicalism and Nationalism and Culture in The Criterion (July 1938). But the most authoritative review appeared, as might be expected, in Spain and the World, on 18 March 1938, being printed in bold type and written by the editor, 'V. R.' (Vernon Richards). He began by describing the interest in anarchism created by events in Spain and mentioning some of the books already published on various aspects of the subject, and continued:

But what was really needed was a complete work on Anarcho-Syndicalism, in which the subject would be dealt with in all its aspects. In Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker we at last have the book. It has no pretension of being complete in detail; that would need a much longer book. However it is as well that the book is short, for by its brevity it succeeds more successfully in its aim: to briefly explain Anarcho-Syndicalism to the uninitiated -- and the initiated.

After a summary of the book, he concluded:

The above is but a brief account of Rudolf Rocker's excellent book. It is impossible, in the space available to bring out all the detail which it contains. Anarcho-Syndicalism should be read by all who wish to become acquainted with the subject, for an understanding of Anarcho-Syndicalism. So far the few books which have been written during the past two years have been generous in their distortion of the objectives and the work carried on by the Anarchists for the achievement of true Socialism; this is understandable, for the authors have been communists! Anarcho-Syndicalism on the other hand is written by one whose life has been dedicated to the Anarchist ideal and struggle, both in Germany and in America.

In fact the book wasn't a commercial success at all (nor was Homage to Catalonia). Within a couple of years the Freedom Press acquired the remaindered stock (as of several other Warburg books), and sold it at a reduced price. It wasn't reprinted in Britain or published in the United States at that time, but after the war a new edition appeared in India.

Arya Bhavan, an elderly Bombay journalist who had first contacted Rocker and read the book in 1938, moved from socialism towards anarchism, founded a libertarian publishing house, and produced a series of reprints of anarchist classics. During 1947 he wrote several letters to Rocker. He told him that he wanted to publish Anarcho-Syndicalism, and added: 'Can you not send an epilogue to it as that will increase the value of the book in this changed circumstances' (14 April 1947). He wrote again a few weeks later: 'I am printing here your Anarcho-Syndicalism. It will be out in a couple of months. Can you not oblige me with an epilogue from you' (9 May 1947). When Rocker agreed, he replied that he was 'indebted to you for writing an epilogue for Anarcho-Syndicalism. The book is almost complete ... Much water has flowed under the bridge since you wrote Anarcho-Syndicalism and your epilogue will bring it to date' (1 June 1947). And when he received the epilogue, dated June 1947, he wrote again: 'I am trying to see if it can be added at the end' (24 July 1947). The book was published by Modern Publishers in Indore in August, and did include Rocker's epilogue, as well as a publisher's introduction (and many more misprints).

Incidentally, Rocker never made any money from the book. His small advance royalty from Warburg (25) just covered the translation fee for Chase ($100); he received nothing from India.

In 1946 Rocker wrote an abridged version of the book as an essay with the title Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism for Feliks Gross's American symposium European Ideologies (1948), consisting of slightly revised passages from different parts of the book and amounting to nearly one-third of the text. This was reprinted in James J. Martin's edition of Paul Eltzbacher's Anarchism (1960), extracts were included in two American anthologies -- Irving Louis Horowitz's The Anarchists (1964) and Priscilla Long's The New Left (1969) -- and it was later published as a pamphlet. Extracts from the original book were also included in another American anthology -- Leonard I. Krimerman's and Lewis Perry's Patterns of Anarchy (1966) -- and various extracts and versions have appeared in different forms from time to time.

During recent years there have been an expensive American reprint of the Indian edition (Gordon Press, 1972) and a cheap (slightly abridged) British reprint of the British one (Phoenix Press, 1987). The present edition gives a full photographic reprint of the text of the original British edition of 1938, together with a corrected verbatim transcript of the epilogue to the Indian edition of 1947, with the addition of Noam Chomsky's new preface and this new introduction. Rocker's account of anarchism and especially of its syndicalist variety is inevitably dated in its general emphasis and in some particular points, and it does include several minor errors (especially in proper names and quotations), but after half a century it remains valuable as a short and clear view of a significant ideology by one of its best-known and best-informed adherents.

A convenient summary of the later history of the international anarcho-syndicalist movement is given by C. Longmore's pamphlet The IWA Today: A Short Account of the International Workers Association and Its Sections (South London Direct Action Movement, 1985). This describes the formation and early development of the International Working Men's Association, and the crisis of the Second World War, as discussed in more detail by Rocker, and then takes up the story from the first post-war congress in Toulouse in 1951. The International Workers Association -- the original English title was amended for anti-sexist reasons -- declined to its lowest point during the 1960s, under the double pressure this time of Communism and capitalism. It revived during the early 1980s, following the revival of libertarian rebellion around the world during the late 1960s and especially the revival of the Spanish movement during the late 1970s; at the congress of Madrid in 1984 it comprised a dozen national or regional sections.

In Britain, which was rather neglected by Rocker, there was a vigorous syndicalist movement before the First World War with strong libertarian tendencies -- especially among the Jewish workers in East London, where Rocker himself was so influential -- and there were several attempts to form a specifically anarcho-syndicalist organisation during the 1930s. The Anarchist Federation of Britain turned towards syndicalism after the Second World War and became the Syndicalist Workers Federation in 1950, but this too declined. However it was later revived as the Anarchist Syndicalist Alliance and then in 1979 as the Direct Action Movement, which has been involved in several industrial struggles. However, the basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism -- self-management, autonomy, direct action, spontaneity, mutual aid, libertarianism in general -- are nowadays represented not so much by the militant working-class movement as by other social and political movements which transcend class loyalties. Obvious examples include peace and green movements, youth and student movements, women's and gay movements, communalist and cooperative movements, and the informal manifestations of the spirit of revolt which have revived the old attitudes of nihilism and bohemianism in the alternative and underground culture. If the traditionalist concept of anarchism expounded by Rocker has been continued in the International Workers Association and by such writers as Daniel Guerin and Noam Chomsky, more revisionist concepts which were pioneered by many libertarians during the nineteenth century, and which have been expounded and developed by several writers down to Murray Bookchin and Colin Ward in our own day, should also be taken into consideration in any attempt at a balanced account of anarchism. Nevertheless Rocker, in seeing anarchism primarily as a product of libertarian tendencies in the labour movement and anarcho-syndicalism as the final result of this process, was giving a true picture of the emergence first of the historical anarchist movement during the late nineteenth century and then of one of its most important forms during the early twentieth century (though he himself had increasing doubts about the value of syndicalism, especially towards the end of his life). So his exposition of anarcho-syndicalism at the peak of its influence is both a precious document of its time and a valuable reminder in our time of the continuing importance of an essential element in the complex ideology of anarchism.

Nicolas Walter London, 1988

Further Reading

Rudolf Rocker's writings were published mainly in German and Yiddish, and also in Spanish, and few were ever translated into English; similarly, there is no proper account of his life or study of his work in English. The English translation of the relevant section of his memoirs, The London Years (1956), has long been out of print. British editions of several works -- Rocker's Nationalism and Culture (1937, 1947, 1978), Paul Eltzbacher's Anarchism (1960) and Rocker's Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism (1973, 1988) -- have been produced or distributed by the Freedom Press.

Anarcho-syndicalist organisations have produced many introductory pamphlets which are obtainable from them or from sympathetic bookshops. There is no scholarly account in English of anarcho-syndicalism as such, but there is useful material in some books on anarchism in general and there are some studies of the syndicalist movements in various countries. Rocker's own bibliography (pages 155-8), which contains a fair selection of works published before 1938, may be supplemented as follows.

Bertrand Russell's Roads to Freedom (first published in 1918), which is included in Rocker's list, appeared in many later editions and is still an excellent short analysis of socialism, anarchism and syndicalism. J. A. Estey's Revolutionary Syndicalism (1913), which was omitted from Rocker's list, is a detailed account of the theory at that time. Among the many English-language histories and anthologies of anarchism, the most widely read are George Woodcock's Anarchism (first published in 1962) and The Anarchist Reader (first published in 1977), paperback editions being available respectively from Penguin Books and Fontana Books. A more penetrating study is Daniel Guerin's Anarchism: From Theory to Practice (1970), Mary Klopper's translation of a book first published in France in 1965, with an introduction by Noam Chomsky; unfortunately Guerin's enormous anthology, Ni dieu, ni maitre, also first published in France in 1965, has never been translated into English. There is some relevant material in my pamphlet About Anarchism (first published in 1969), and in Anarchism Today (1971), a symposium edited by David E. Apter and James Joll.

The French movement is described in F. F. Ridley, Revolutionary Syndicalism in France (1970). There is no single study of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism, but particularly useful books are Gerald Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth (1943); Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years, 1868-1936 (1977); Juan Gomez Casas, Anarchist Organisation: The History of the FAI (1986); Pierre Broue and Emile Temime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain (1972); Jose Peirats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution (1977). Material on anarcho-syndicalism in various parts of Latin America appears in Victor Alba, Politics and the Labour Movement in Latin America (1968), and in books on particular countries: Ronaldo Munck, Argentina: From Anarchism to Peronism (1987); John W. F. Dulles, Anarchists and Communists in Brazil, 1900-1935 (1973); John M. Hart, Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class, 1860-1931 (1978). The Russian movement is described in Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists (1967).

The American movement is described in Patrick Renshaw, The Wobblies (1967), and Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All (1969), and in Joyce Kornbluh's anthology, Rebel Voices (1964). The British movement is described in Bob Holton, British Syndicalism, 1900-1914 (1976) and John Quail, The Slow Burning Fuse (1977). The Jewish movement in Britain is described in W. J. Fishman's East End Jewish Radicals (1975).


Thanks are due to: Fermin Rocker, the younger son and literary executor of Rudolf Rocker, for giving permission to make use of his father's writings and for helpful comments; the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, for the use of its resources and for permission to make use of unpublished material in its possession (the Rudolf Rocker Collection contains manuscripts of several of his books and letters to him, and the Emma Goldman Collection contains letters to and from her); and Paul Avrich, Heiner Becker, David Goodway, Vernon Richards and Christine Walter for help of various kinds. An earlier version of this introduction appeared in The Raven 4 (February 1988).

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