The International Anarchist Congress
Amsterdam, 26-31 August 1907
Anarchism and/or Syndicalism
The revolutionary socialist Congress in London (July 1881), which gathered together the few remaining anti-authoritarian elements of the International who were spread around the world (1), was the last anarchist attempt to "get the old International back on its feet in some way" (2). There would be no further efforts, thanks to the fact that the choice of "illegality" as the only possible method of struggle (justified as it may have been by the circumstances) removed any possibility for the revolutionary minorities, who were more and more convinced of the imminence of a direct clash, to maintain organic links with the mass organizations that were consolidating themselves throughout most parts of Europe.
"The deliberations in London", wrote Gino Cerrito (3), "... officially inaugurated the era of anarchist terrorism, which (...) completed the transformation of groups into sectarian organizations, at times being reduced to individuals having casual contact with each other, and moving the Anarchist Movement away from the masses of the people, who therefore remained under the exclusive leadership of the legalitarians".
Within the space of a few years, and partly as a result of harsh government repression (which indeed had been the principal reason for the London decisions), the anarchist movement had practically signed its own death warrant as an organized movement. Though anarchism did maintain an unarguable vitality in many countries, almost everywhere - except for Spain - "the sense of organizational continuity, of international relations (...), of a coherent revolutionary strategy" (4) had been lost. Neither did certain isolated attempts, such as the one by Malatesta in 1884 (5), seem able to change this tendency and re-launch an internationalist movement closer to the original one.
When, in the late 1880s and early 1890s - and not without some perplexity, contradictions and clashes - a new International did finally give form to the "nostalgia" for the old IWMA which was so prevalent in European socialist circles, anarchists were reduced to the role of more onlookers. To the extent that, having put aside every alternative hope, the only solution that could be seen - at least by those fringes that had survived the anti-organizationalist storm and tenaciously hung on to the Saint Imier tradition - seemed to be that of carving out a place in the new organizations by making the most of its still decidedly "mixed" nature.
As is well known, the various attempts - Brussels (1891), Zurich (1893) and London (1896) - came to no good. The majority at these congresses voted for the exclusion of the anarchists, though with sizeable minorities and for various reasons. However, despite the lack of success as far as the objective was concerned, these efforts to return to the international circuit were not without positive results. Contacts were renewed, debate was stimulated, ideas, discussion points and forms of struggle circulated (a typical example being the general strike) and the possibility was mooted of alliance with other revolutionary forces. As Christiaan Cornelissen recalled years later (6), Zurich and London had not just meant defeat for anarchists, they were also an opportunity to meet up, "dans l'ombre du Congrès ouvrier socialiste".
That was no small matter, especially if one considers that those were the years of the height of the terrorist boom and of illegalism, and anarchism was caught in the grip of a massive government counter-offensive that culminated in the International Anti-Anarchist Conference in Rome in 1898 which saw the participation of Europe's main powers, with the exception of Great Britain and Switzerland.
In fact, notwithstanding the "terrorist" nature of the period - and this was the idea that bourgeois (and not only) public opinion had of anarchism - it was in the 1890s that the first symptoms of a change within the movement began to be seen. There began to be felt the "need" for a programmatic and operational agreement among socialist anarchists (7) in order to "put an end to the isolation which anarchists in certain countries [had] placed themselves and to the separation from the masses of the people" (8). Not only in France, but also in Italy and the Netherlands, there was a growing tendency towards a constant, non-instrumental presence in the rapidly-growing labour organizations.
It is not easy to establish the reasons for this evolution. Perhaps it was the repeated exclusion from the Congresses of the International (9), the urgent need to counteract the rebellious, anti-organizationalist wave with something more solid (10), the heightening social and political tension in many countries, perhaps one or other (or all) of these had sparked off the desire to recompose the movement and, at the same time, to develop a project for it.
In 1900, when Bresci's assassination of Italy's King Humbert I brought to a close (at least in Europe) the "classic" phase of the individualist act, the turning point had been reached. The clearest sign was the calling by French libertarians with syndicalist leanings of an International Revolutionary Workers' Congress in Paris, from 19-23 September 1900. As the organizing committee's circular-letter clarified, "there is a general revolutionary and anti-parliamentary tendency developing among the workers, and it seems useful that the trade unions which are rejected by social democracy can debate the questions which affect the proletariat in general" (11). Despite the general tone and the assurances of the "worker" nature of the initiative, which was not - as Delesalle (12) said - an attempt to hold "a little anarchist parliament", the congress had a definite anarchist flavour, both in its agenda and in its participants (13). But the Paris of the International Exposition was due to host a great many events that year: from 5-8 September, the Congress of the Fédération des Bourses; from 10-14 September, the National Corporative Congress (CGT); from 17-18 September, an International Corporative Congress promoted by the Fédération des Bourses and the CGT in open contrast to the Socialist International, whose congress was due to open in Paris on 24 September.
And it was not by chance that the Revolutionary Workers' Congress (later known as the International Anti-Parliamentary Congress, lest there be any doubt about its nature) was set to occur between the International Corporative Congress and the Congress of the International. The aim was clear, at least as far as the organizers were concerned: to involve the delegates of the first Congress and to boycott the second, or at the very least to raise the "anarchist" question again under another guise - that of the autonomy of the labour organization from political organizations. However, only a few days before it was due to open, the Anti-Parliamentary Congress had to be called off as a result of the ban placed on it by the Waldeck-Rousseau government.
We have no way of knowing what the effects of the congress would have been, though leaving aside the intended participation of elements from Romania, Belgium, Bohemia and so on, it would most likely have been limited to France and the emigrant groups there (Italians, Russians, etc.). In any event, the International Corporative Congress, attended by only a few English, French, Italian and Swiss delegates, did not appear to meet with any great success either.
But apart form the outcome, even the will to get together for a wide debate on a "worker" basis was in itself an important fact. It was evidence that, on the one hand, the isolation was coming to an end and, on the other hand, wide sectors of the anarchist movement were rapidly moving back to class-struggle positions.
The failed Paris congress appeared not to have produced any effect, seeming only to act as an indication of a developing tendency. But it is extremely difficult to follow the lines of propagation within the movement of certain impulses and to establish exactly who or what was responsible for it. It is clear, though, that powerful ideas such as the general strike, which was to have been the focus of one particular debate in Paris (we are in possession, in fact, of the report which was to be presented)(14), were beginning to spread and take root among libertarian circles both in France and elsewhere. As early as 1900-01, through emigrant channels and the best-known newspapers, numerous anarchist groups (some of whom were often declaredly anti-organizationalist) throughout Europe and the Americas were starting to focus their attention on an objective which the notable expansion of labour organizations, added to a new aggressiveness, appeared to put within easier reach than the traditional insurrectional explosion.
In any event, the new century (at least from 1902-03 on) did seem to offer anarchists objective possibilities for a revival on an international level, though there were variances in the speed of growth in the various national movements as each had to adapt to the peculiarities of its own context. Undoubtedly the stimulus of greater homogeneity in the policies of the socialist parties produced, by way of response, a homogeneous opposition within those forces who were not prepared to accept those policies. It was above all, however, the beginning of a cycle of struggles involving almost all of Europe which, despite rapidly fluctuating fortunes, influenced the composition of the anarchist movement. A movement which, by the way, had never divided itself according to geographic location. But due to its very instability - a result of government repression, internal fluctuations and the continually-changing militant personnel - it had split into factions, currents which regularly appeared in various places, sometimes due to external influences, but which at other times had developed spontaneously.
This is not the place to deal with the internationalization of the anarchist movement. To this day we lack the means with which to do so, there are gaps which are too great to fill, and thus far there have been no comparative studies on the matter. Nonetheless, it is certain that in those years the conditions for such a phenomenon were developing, modest as it may have been in size (given the non-central role played by anarchism); it could by no means be compared to the period of the First International.
It is, though, legitimate to think that in 1906, when the idea of building an Anarchist International was once again gaining ground, it was not simply a coincidence or the fancy of a few groups who felt like taking a risk.
The first proposal to create a Libertarian International, which would be able to connect and coordinate the movements in the various countries, was put forward during the second congress of the Groupement Communiste Libertaire in Belgium, held at Stockel-Bois on 22 July 1906 (15). The idea was immediately adopted on the following 23 September, during the second general assembly (in Utrecht) of the Federatie van Vrijheidlievende Kommunisten in the Netherlands, which proposed an international congress, to be held in Amsterdam the following year (16).
In order to prepare the way for such an initiative, publication of a "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire" was commenced in Herstal, near Liege, under the editorship of Georges Thonar, secretary of the Groupement. The appeal launched in the first issue in October (17) confirms our previous impression:
"Although a large number of libertarians have been thinking about the creation of an international organization for quite some time now, it cannot be denied that this tendency - at least in certain countries - is currently stronger than ever before.
We are firm believers in the idea and we rejoice to see the progress it is making each day. We have decided that discussions are no longer enough, that we will not be content with the purely theoretical propaganda of the ideal, that we will resolutely plant the embryo of this International which will surely develop into something good - that much we can say. So it is settled; the Libertarian International will be created within a few months."
The timescale involved left little room for manoeuvre. A month later, the Dutch federation announced that the congress would take place the following July or August (the choice was to fall on August) and made it quite clear that their objective (their main, if not only, one) was the "organization of an international libertarian association" (18).
But why was the drive to "create" an International coming from the Belgians and the Dutch (other than it being a sort of "vocation" for the Belgians, who were also heavily involved in the early days of the Second International)? Why were movements in places which most historians had always considered peripheral to anarchism's epicentre, not to mention the fact that they were countries with huge social democratic tendencies, the first to do anything concrete regarding international organization? The answer is not a simple one and would require a thorough analysis of the anarchist movement of the two countries, something which is not possible. But it must be said, contrary to what is commonly thought, that both Belgium and the Netherlands - and above all the Netherlands - were in reality anything but peripheral at the time, when compared to the "classical" zone of anarchism - Spain, France and Italy.
We can hazard one or two hypotheses. In both countries, the libertarian tradition had deep roots going back to the early years of the old International. In both countries anarchist federalism had a long history of local and regional autonomy. Both contained some of the most important ports in Europe and the importance of sailors in the spreading of propaganda cannot be underestimated. Both countries formed a cushion between great powers and were home to a deep pacifist tradition which was the basis for active anarchist anti-militarism. Neither should it be forgotten that Amsterdam was the seat of the International Anti-Militarist Association (Internationaal Anti-militaristische Vereeniging), formed in 1904 thanks to the drive and untiring activity of Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, one of the few European social democratic leaders to pass over to anarchism. Nor that in Belgium, the natural place of refuge for French deserters, anti-militarist agitation in 1906 had reached intense levels, above all in the pages of the aggressive "L'action directe" newssheet, directed by Henri Fuss-Amoré (19).
Belgium and the Netherlands, indeed, were among the first countries to have national anarchist federations (a decidedly relevant fact, even though they were never huge) and to organize union opposition to reformism through separate organizations - the old Nationaal-Arbeids-Sekretariaat (founded in 1893 by Cornelissen and formerly the only union in the country, but later abandoned by the reformists) and the "tiny" CGT of the Liege region. Yet again, it was the Dutch who proposed, first in 1909 and again in 1913, the formation of a revolutionary syndicalist International.
Naturally, the importance of the Belgian and Dutch movements must not be exaggerated. By force of things, they operated on a rather limited level, both in their physical range of action and in their "political wavelength", and they were in reality dependent, ideologically speaking, on the French movement. But they must have reached a level of de-provincialization and maturity which would allow them to organize successfully such an initiative (something which would have been unthinkable, for example, for the Italians).
The proposal, nonetheless, was greeted with a crescendo of adherents and neither the isolated reservation of individualists and anti-organizationalists nor the scepticism of other (such as Jean Grave) were enough to throw the validity of the initiative into crisis. It was a tangible sign of the extent to which anarchist circles felt the pressing need to bring back an international dimension to anarchism. Above all, the need was felt to do away with the isolation of groups, to have an exchange of information, to find out how the movements in the various countries were getting on. "With our brothers beyond our borders", complained one anonymous piece in "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire" (20), "we have only purely theoretical relations. We barely know that they exist".
But obviously, this was not the only problem. It was not just a "letterbox" that was needed. There was also a need for a motor, something which would be able to stimulate growth in the movement, to launch and coordinate initiatives in the struggle, to facilitate widespread agitation, solidarity campaigns and, why not, the spark of revolution.
In the space of a few weeks the Amsterdam congress became a reality. The first to announce their participation were the Bohemians (the Česká Anarchistická Federace and its journal "Nova Omladine", the Czech section of the Anti-Militarist International and the journal "Matice Svobody"), closely followed by the Anarchistische Föderation Deutschlands and numerous German-language journals ("Der Revolutionär", "Der freie Arbeiter", "Der Anarchist", "Die freie Generation"). These were followed by the Jiddisch-Sprechende Anarchistische Föderation and the newly-constituted Fédération Communiste-Anarchiste de la Suisse Romande. Italian groups like the Federazione socialista anarchica del Lazio and the journals "Il Pensiero", "La Gioventù Libertaria" and "La Vita Operaia" announced their intention to attend. Finally, there were adhesions from various periodicals and individuals from Algeria, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, the USA, Great Britain, France, Greece, Argentina, Russia, Tunisia, Spain Portugal, Brazil and elsewhere.
In early 1907, Amédée Dunois set up a propaganda group for the congress (21) in Paris. In April, the "Bulletin" recorded nine other such groups, in Amsterdam, Portalegre (Portugal), Bari and Naples (Italy), New York, London, Porto Alegre (Brazil), Buenos Aires, Berlin and Notre-Dame de Lourdes (Canada) (22).
The initiative of the congress also seemed to elicit a new pro-organization drive in several countries. The Italians in the Federazione socialista anarchica del Lazio met in Rome on 25 March 1907 and called a national congress for the following June in order to create an organization with a wider territorial reach (23). The Portuguese group, Conquista do Pão, announced in the same period a congress to be held in Lisbon following the Amsterdam congress (24). The Russians, too, were planning the formation of an Anarchist Federation, according to "Der freie Arbeiter" (25).
The quick reaction from large sectors of international anarchism was not, however, matched by an adequate liveliness and wealth of debate in preparation for the congress. This was perhaps what Georg Herzig was referring to on the eve of the congress, when he spoke of a lack of enthusiasm and of "émulation préliminaire" (26). In fact, while most libertarian newspapers provided news on the preparatory phase, publishing appeals and messages from the organizing committee, very few printed articles which dealt specifically with the questions that the congress would deal with.
In fact, it was limited to constant, but never more than superficial, worries of a practical nature. From the very start, the Dutch made it clear that they wanted to address "practical matters" (27), while the Brazilians of "A Terra livre" expressed their fear that there would be a slide into academe "without addressing anything concrete and practical" (28). This was also the view of the Italians from "La Gioventù Libertaria", who underlined the need to "discuss the best form of action, instead of wasting time on theoretical speechifying and word-mongering" (29), and of the Belgians who, in the words of Henri Fuss-Amoré, repeated that they were "coming to Amsterdam not just to talk but to organize" (30).
But mostly it was a matter of general will to do something, never going beyond a certain point. In effect, the circular sent out by the organizing committee at the end of 1906, signed by Lodewijk, Thonar, Frauböse, Vohryzek and Knotek, Shapiro - in other words the secretaries of the main (and only) national organizations - already outlined a precise discussion plan: "In recent years, libertarian and anarchist communist principles and tactics have taken on a new light. Without wishing to anticipate the agenda, which is yet to be finally decided by the groups, we wish to say that direct action has been so strongly and consciously adopted in so many countries, by reason of the influence of our comrades, testimony to the progress our ideas are making within workers' circles, that discussion of the problems it raises would already of itself justify the calling of an international congress" (31). Basically what they were saying was that if a congress was being seen as a good idea, it was because anarchism in recent years had re-discovered its vitality thanks to its use of direct action and therefore, in the terminology of the times, thanks to revolutionary syndicalism and syndicalist practice. Thus, Herzig was not wrong to speak of a circular promoting "syndicalist propaganda" (32). The problem of syndicalism, therefore, was already looking like it would be the major point of the Congress.
And yet, despite this one gets the impression reading the anarchist press during the period leading up to the congress that there was some reticence on the question. Perhaps it was the fear of influencing the outcome of the initiative, by colouring it too much, that led a prominent "syndicalist anarchist" like Fuss-Amoré to insist on the "anarchist" rather than the "workerist" nature (unlike Delesalle in 1900) of the congress (where "workerist" simply meant syndicalist)(33)? Why did Cornelissen, who had even tried to bring Pouget and Yvetot to Amsterdam and had then "fallen back" on Monatte (34), also seem to be minimizing the problem (35)? Why then did the polemic that was to emerge during the congress, and even more so after the congress, not also emerge beforehand? The fact that Herzig caught a whiff of "syndicalist propaganda" in the initial call for the congress and that the Fédération Communiste-Anarchiste de la Suisse Romande interpreted the new International being set up as an "Anarchist Syndicalist" International (36) was not entirely insignificant.
The only one to intervene on this subject, and who did so with great clarity, was Amédée Dunois, between December 1906 and July 1907. Dunois' argument began with the awareness of the existence of two distinct currents within anarchism: "a certain type of theoretical anarchism, dealing in abstract generalizations" - the sort of anarchism that, for example, in the spring of 1906 opposed the fight for the eight-hour day (37) - that he described as "pure", and the "workerist anarchism" which, "without ever abandoning the firm ground of concrete reality, devoted itself consistently to the organization of the proletariat in the light of the economic revolt, otherwise known as the class struggle". This second sort, though, was not, in Dunois' eyes, simply one of the varieties that anarchism seemed to have split into, but the true and authentic interpretation of "revolutionary anti-authoritarian communism", the continuation of the collectivism of the Bakuninist International which, lost in the reactionary storm that followed the Commune and the "individualist" wave of the Nineties, had reappeared at the time of the first showings of revolutionary syndicalism, the "practical" aspect of anarchism (38).
It was therefore necessary to push aside all those non-genuine (not to mention anachronistic) forms of anarchism, and ensure that anarchism could root itself solidly in the class organizations and become a vanguard for the workers' movement, whose task would not be to direct the movement, "but to understand it, to inspire it and to light up the darkness of its future" (39).
All this did not mean that it would be superfluous for there to be "an opinion group", "a particularly ideological movement", in other words a specific movement, distinct from the workers' organizations. On the contrary. Dunois was convinced that syndicalism in itself was not sufficient, and was proposing the setting-up of a network of anarchist groups (and therefore with a precise ideological position) which would be able to fulfil the particular function of the vanguard without in any way damaging the autonomy of the workers' organizations (40).
Dunois' articles were forceful enough to be seen even as being somewhat provocative. But even they did not elicit any response. But then, apart from a certain exclusivist tone, there was nothing in them that was not shared by a large part of the movement. For some time already, both in Italy (above all through the work of Luigi Fabbri) and in France (Caughi, Pierrot, Goldsmith), the continuity between the Bakuninist International and revolutionary syndicalism was being openly stated (41). Even Kropotkin had supported this idea (42) just before the Congress opened. If anything, the polemics were centred on those forms of syndicalism of Marxist origin (Leone, Labriola, etc. in Italy and Lagardelle in France) that denied any connection between syndicalism and anarchism. Certainly, Dunois seemed to give great priority to union organization over specific organization, but then even Fabbri agreed (43) and Bertoni and Pierrot were not far off sharing the notion (44).
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can make out a series of differences in the various trends, which existed not so much in what was said, but in what was not said. If we take into account his later development, Dunois probably considered it of secondary importance, even though he did not question the ideological aspect, whose continuity and survival was a matter for the opinion groups. What, then, was responsible - above all in France - for that revival of anarchist "spirit" on which everyone was agreed? Certainly not the simple, but consistent, input of those "historic" militants. More than anything else, it was the fact that an increasing number of workers' organizations were adopting libertarian practices in the struggles (rejection of mediation, class autonomy, anti-institutionalism, and so on), and what was known as direct action. Basically, anarchism could only bring about anarchy if it became an essential element of the workers' condition and behaviour and not because of any intrinsic value. At this point it was difficult to think that someone like Fabbri, or Bertoni, or even Kropotkin, could be in agreement.
In reality, a position like Dunois' found its justification in a precise reading of the political situation at the time, even though it was perhaps overly reliant on this. Why was anarchism in those years apparently going through a renaissance? For a series of reasons, but above all because of the general international situation, which saw what was basically a favourable economic situation with a working class on the attack matched by an increasingly unstable political situation.
As a matter of fact, with the new century and in particular after 1902-03, the quality of the workers' struggles became markedly bitter. Maybe it was the awareness of a new strength (the massive expansion of the unions) that had sparked off a wave of demands that was without precedent. This wave affected almost every European nation over a period of time with general strikes and mass strikes. Whether the strikes were for universal suffrage (as in Belgium and Sweden), or to defend civil servants' freedom to strike (as in the Netherlands), or in order to protest outrages against the proletariat (as in Italy), such strikes soon ended up turning into direct clashes with the State. This was to lead to a progressive increase in antagonism between the workers and the State.
Then, in 1905, with the events in Russia reminding everyone in Europe that something which seemed to have survived only in the hearts of the few - revolution - was, after all, possible and with the rising risk of war in the wake of the first Moroccan crisis, the level of the clash rose precipitously. Anti-militarism, too, became an increasing element of the agitation. Once again the State was seen as one and the same thing as the class enemy.
This explains the spread of that anarchist "spirit" we mentioned earlier, and of the recovery in pro-organization anarchism. Indeed it was no coincidence that the German, Czech, Belgian and Dutch national federations were born after the Russian Revolution in 1905 and that, generally speaking, the revolutionary syndicalist organizations (the Česká Federace Všech odboru, the Belgian CGT and the Fédération des Unions Ouvrières de la Suisse Romande) were established before these.
From all this, it could be deduced that the growth of the anarchist movement was in some way dependent on the general situation. It was the radicalization of the workers' movement that had given anarchism a breath of life and not vice versa. But such a radicalization took place also (not only, obviously) thanks to the instruments of struggle that syndicalist practice offered, in particular the general strike, whose enormous charge of spontaneity - only barely controllable by the centralist type of organization - was able to throw Second-Internationalist socialist strategy into crisis. This led to the conclusion drawn by certain sectors of the movement, that anarchism had to be syndicalist or else risked extinction.
As we said before, however, none of this came to light before the Congress, which opened in a climate of apparent unity.
It is pointless to deal here with everything that was said at the Congress, documented as it is in the following report. We will limit ourselves to the matter of syndicalism.
It is well-known from contemporary historiography, in particular French, from Maitron's by now classic work (45) to the recent "Colloque du Creuzot" (46), that the Amsterdam Congress marked the decisive separation between "orthodox" anarchism and a syndicalism that no longer had anything anarchist about it. This vision allowed Rolande Trempé to imagine Malatesta of all people saying to Monatte: "You are no longer an anarchist" (47).
It is an interpretation which in reality provides little comfort. Monatte's speech was certainly entirely wrapped up in the question of syndicalism, a sort of hymn to syndicalism and the CGT. But it was the same Monatte who, during the next debate, stated "Like everyone else here, our final goal is anarchism" and who several times reaffirmed the validity of "his" anarchism. As for Malatesta, he actually declared in an article that was published in various journals and appended as a preface to Fabbri's congressional report (48): "I am convinced, ..., that Monatte and the ‘young' group are sincerely and profoundly anarchist as much as any ‘bearded old comrade'".
But, more so than Monatte's speech, which often avoided the problem, it was Dunois' report on organization that was fundamental. In fact, it should not be forgotten that he was on the receiving end of most of the pre-congress attacks and the post-congress polemics. With regard to the problem of specific organization (a central element, as would become clear later, too), Dunois went on from what had been said in previous articles. But he did introduce a new element by speaking of "syndicalists" who were "hostile - or at least indifferent - to all organization based on an identity of aspirations, sentiment and organizations" and of "syndicalist anarchists", amongst whom he included himself, "who willingly assigned first place in the field of action to the workers' movement" (without however rejecting a "specifically anarchist movement") with "its own action, to be carried out directly". It is true that he then tried to reduce the difference to a misunderstanding by the former of the latter ("This is how the syndicalists talk. But I do not see where their objections are valid against our project to organize ourselves. On the contrary, I see that if they were valid, they would also be against anarchism itself, as a doctrine that seeks to distinguish itself from syndicalism and refuses to allow itself to be absorbed"). But it is equally true that his position was not an isolated case. In fact, it was just what Fabbri had been sustaining for some time (Fabbri had often republished Dunois' articles in "Il Pensiero" and was alone in publishing Dunois' report, again in "Il Pensiero"). Neither was it far from the thinking of Bertoni and Wintsch, who in 1913-14 were to be syndicalism's harshest critics (49).
In fact, we can say that the viewpoints of the French syndicalist anarchists, the Fédération Communiste-Anarchiste from francophone Switzerland and the Italians from the Federazione Socialista anarchica were to all intents and purposes identical.
If anyone's position could be described as somewhat "anomalous" it was Malatesta, who was closer to the English-speaking comrades. On the problem not so much of organization as of the attitude to take towards the anti-organizationalists, Malatesta differed sharply from the syndicalist anarchists and those favourable to syndicalism. As a dyed-in-the-wool pluralist, he fought hard for the "party", combating the strictest forms of individualism, but he was prepared to accept a certain opening towards the anti-organizationalist communists. This was demonstrated by one of his speeches, where he sought to minimize the differences as being misunderstandings caused by words ("Enough arguing; let us stick to deeds! Words divide but action unites"), something with which Fabbri, for example, declared himself to be in disagreement (50).
The simple fact is that while Malatesta tried above all to protect the unity of the anarchist movement, others were more than willing to do without certain elements if it meant saving the unity of the revolutionary workers' movement. The unifying power of action was something that the syndicalists too could see, but who to unify - anarchists? Why not the proletariat instead?
And just what was the basic difference between Malatesta and Monatte? Malatesta was by no means anti-syndicalist. He declared that he was (and, in fact, had always been) "a supporter of the unions" and he constantly encouraged anarchists to join the workers' organizations. Neither had he ever dreamed of "damaging" the autonomy of the labour organizations (another point on which he agreed with the syndicalists). Certainly, Malatesta was insistent that the general strike was insufficient as the definitive weapon and underlined the need for an insurrection, for armed defence, which would run parallel to and continue after any eventual paralysis of the production. But, after the Russian Revolution and the various other experiences of general strikes, was there anyone who thought that "downing tools" would be enough to achieve a social revolution?
Nor were the dangers of corporativism minimized by Dunois or by Monatte. In fact, it was in order to limit them, to neutralize them, that the organic participation of anarchists was required. It is true that "syndicalist anarchists" seemed inclined not to reject so-called fonctionnarisme, or at least not to reject it a priori, whereas Malatesta was, on that point, rigidly intransigent (but then so was Bertoni...). But was this enough to divide the two sides?
Undoubtedly there was a difference, and a deep one at that. And to some extent we have already established what it was. It lay not so much in the choice between syndicalism as an end or means, which was later to become an integral part of the polemics within the anarchist movement. Monatte, while refusing to see "in the organized proletariat merely a fertile terrain for propaganda" and reducing it "to a simple means" (Malatesta was clearly referring to the practice of syndicalism, not to the organized proletariat, though not if it meant merely a mass to be manoeuvred), was by no means questioning anarchy as an end, as we stressed above.
The nub of the matter lay elsewhere. Malatesta could not share the idea that anarchism had to be practically reborn continually within the process of the workers' emancipation, that it was in other words "stuck" to the history of the class struggle. The terrain of the class struggle, as understood by the syndicalist anarchists, seemed too narrow to him. And anyway, as he himself explained, he did not believe in the existence of classes "in the proper sense of the term", nor in the existence of "class interests". The starting point of the struggle of the exploited must not and could not be shared class interests, even "ideal" identity with the aim of a "complete liberation of humanity, at present in servitude, from the economic, political and moral point of view". Whereas the basis of the anarcho-syndicalist vision was production, society tied to the factory and the working class as a world of its own with its own specific existence, Malatesta based his own political vision on the mechanism for the reproduction of power, on the choice between freedom and authority.
It has to be said, though, that such complexity escaped most of the participants at the congress. Some saw in the Malatesta-Monatte clash nothing but the re-emergence of traditional insurrectionalism over the general strike. Others crystallized their attention on the problem of ends and means, emphasizing that it was anarchism which had to gather syndicalism within it and not the other way around. Yet others limited themselves to seeing only Malatesta's criticism of corporativism, of the potential "conservatism" of the unions. Few understood the true nature of the clash. Malatesta himself confirmed this impression (51): "On these questions, as expounded by Monatte and I, there followed a debate which was most interesting, however much smothered by a lack of time and by the tiresome need for translation into many languages. It ended with the proposal of various resolution, but I do not believe that the differences in the tendencies were well defined; in fact, a great deal of penetration is required to understand them and, indeed, most of those present did not do so and voted nonetheless on the various resolutions. Which, of course, does not deny the fact that two quite real tendencies have appeared, however much the difference exists for the most part in predicted future developments rather than in the present intentions of the comrades".
Fabbri, too, contributed at the time by way of a letter of clarification to "La Protesta Umana" (52), minimizing the divergence and reporting how Malatesta believed that "if two tendencies did emerge from the congress on syndicalism, it was so barely perceptible that it would be hard to define them concretely into two agendas; and that in any event the difference lay in a diversity of theoretical appreciation and not in any real difference".
If we believe what Malatesta says then that was clearly not the case. But that is not what matters. The essential point is that the difference struggled to come to light and perhaps some would have preferred it not to. If proof be needed, we only have to see the attitude of Bertoni, who was later to become one of the fiercest "Malatestans". In a long article of his serialized in "Le Réveil socialiste-anarchiste" (53), Bertoni (who was from the Italian-speaking Ticino canton in Switzerland) confessed that he did not understand Malatesta's position on the reformist nature of trade unions and saw it as being dangerously close to that of the "politicians of socialism", tending to exploit the trade union for the good of the party.
The situation would probably have remained static if, on the part of the anarcho-syndicalists, Dunois (who else?) had not pushed the matter. Despite the series of misunderstandings that we have just seen, the syndicalist anarchists had clearly understood that they had been unable to steer the Congress towards "workerist anarchism". The bloc which formed around Malatesta was, all told, decidedly in the majority. It was at this point that the attack on "traditional" anarchism took a much harsher turn.
One month after the Congress, while "Les Temps Nouveaux" was publishing Malatesta's first article, a long piece by Dunois appeared in "Le Réveil socialiste-anarchiste" in which he pulled no punches in his criticism of Malatesta (though he did admit: "Malatesta is infinitely closer to us syndicalists than many of those who gave him their votes"), he repeated quite explicitly that anarchism and syndicalism were one and the same thing, and indicated the road anarchism should take: "It must, finally, stop trying to divide itself ‘between the bourgeois sky and the working-class earth', to paraphrase Bakunin's neat expression, and become once again what, frankly, it should never have ceased being. In other words, it must become workerist anarchism again (...) It is from within that anarchism will be able to clarify, to enliven, to fertilize the workers' movement, the workers' practice. I do not see it going so far as to direct it, nor even to influence it from without (...) Anarchism must boldly penetrate the workers' movement, mingle closely with its life, its daily activity, with its struggles, defeats or victories -, let it take its share of tasks and common responsibilities, let it impregnate the whole spirit and feelings of the working class, - and thus, only thus, will it find the strength to achieve all its revolutionary mission" (54).
And Dunois did not stop there. In a later article in the "Pages Libres" journal (55), he spoke openly of a crisis within anarchism, due to the fact that "so many vainly cling to old formulae", while "the minority (has) boldly allied itself to revolutionary syndicalism", defined as a new philosophy, "a launching platform for a whole army of brilliant thinkers and intellectuals, but... merrily unencumbered with the experience and consciousness of a proletariat eager for well-being and freedom" (56).
It was not a question, though, of changing opinion and moving from anarchism to revolutionary syndicalism, since "revolutionary syndicalism is anarchism - but a regenerated anarchism, refreshed by the breeze of proletarian thought, a realistic and concrete anarchism which is no longer satisfied, as was the old anarchism, with abstract negations and statements, a workerist anarchism which trusts in a working class strengthened by the struggle over the years, and no longer solely in its initiates, for the realization of its dreams".
While Malatesta, linear and consistent in his defence of the anarchist movement's unity, had sought not to worsen the divide when noting the divergence, Dunois preferred not to "camouflage" the "theoretical and practical conflict". "In Amsterdam, traditional anarchism saw workerist anarchism ranged against it for the first time. And there will be other occasions to follow this first meeting. But traditional anarchism, enveloped in its mantle of idealism which tomorrow will be its shroud, is as half-dead as the other is alive".
As we can see, there were no half measures. For Dunois, the anarchist movement was at a crossroads: either it must accept the positions of "workerist anarchism" or it would die, or at the very least vegetate in a state of continual crisis. But at the very same time, Malatesta was exploring the question of anarchism and/or syndicalism in an article published in "Freedom" and again in "Les Temps Nouveaux" and other papers (57), going so far as to state: "The fault of having abandoned the workers' movement was most damaging for anarchism, but at least it was left with its distinctive characteristics. The error of confusing the anarchist movement with syndicalism will prove to be a serious one. In other words, the "purity" of the ideal first and foremost.
In late 1907 and early 1908, the respective positions seemed to have been clearly laid out. And yet it can be said that they provoked no particular reaction in anarchist circles. The problem of "syndicalism" continued to be discussed more or less everywhere, but without anything much new being said. The articles by Malatesta and Dunois did not seem to have exerted much influence, or rather, they did not seem to have moved the debate on to any extent. In France, Charles-Albert and Jean Grave recommenced their old criticism of syndicalism (58), whereas in Italy, various articles in "L'Alleanza Libertaria" (a new journal which emerged from the Congress of Rome) mostly followed the pre-Amsterdam line (59) of prudent, if open, support for syndicalism. The same could be said for French-speaking Switzerland, where "Le Réveil socialiste-anarchiste" firmly placed itself half-way between Dunois and Malatesta (60). In Germany, "Der Revolutionär" hosted a reasoned debate between certain elements for and against syndicalism (61). In Russian emigrant circles the clash between the tendencies went on as openly as before (62).
So, no exaggerated responses. In fact, even the distancing of the French syndicalist anarchists (but not all) was gradual. Their main worry was not so much clashing with other anarchists as trying to form a unitary front with the other tendencies within syndicalism. In early 1908, there appeared in Paris "L'action directe", designed as an attempt to bring together elements of varying origin - pure syndicalists, syndicalist socialists, syndicalist anarchists, as Monatte himself wrote (apart from him, the other collaborators included Griffuelhes, Merrheim, Pouget, Delesalle, Lagardelle, Dunois and Cornelissen)(63). Then, towards the end of 1908, Dunois contributed to the "Bulletin de l'Internationale Anarchiste" in his capacity as member of the International itself, though by this stage, as he himself confessed, he was increasingly led to believe that specific groups were "pointless and superfluous" (64).
By 1909-10, the process of breaking away could be said to be complete. Most of the anarcho-syndicalists, apart from some isolated cases, had either returned to positions close to those of Malatesta (Fabbri or Bertoni, for example) or had definitively opted for syndicalism without any further specification. When, in 1909, Monatte founded "La Vie Ouvrière", amongst the initial nucleus of the journal were Dunois, Fuss-Amoré and Léon Clément, to name just those who participated in the Amsterdam Congress (in effect, Clément had only sent in his report). Cornelissen was by now thoroughly occupied with editing the "Bulletin international du movement syndicaliste". Only later, after the First World War, would anarcho-syndicalism once again be spoken of as a phenomenon at international level.
Despite all the contradictions, the misunderstandings, the silences and the incomprehension that we have highlighted, the Amsterdam event had, and still has, important repercussions (repercussions which were not as immediate as Malatesta had predicted) on the anarchist movement. Amsterdam did not lead to the definitive liquidation of "traditional" anarchism as the syndicalist anarchists had hoped, in order that anarchism could regain its leading role in the process of the proletariat's emancipation.
Establishing whether their alternative would have met with greater success, or at least attempting to establish it, would be outside the scope of this work. One thing, though, does emerge from a close analysis of the goings on which provide the backdrop to the Amsterdam Congress: it is no longer possible to limit ourselves to accepting uncritically the lines of the Monatte-Malatesta clash, on the basis of what is frequently distorted tradition or historiography. If we look as Amsterdam in its true context, taking into consideration the situation at the time this initiative came about, we can find many answers to the questions that the history of the anarchist movement continues to throw up.
Translation by Nestor McNab, 2007.
1. The only organization represented
at the London Congress was the Jura Federation. Germans, Austrians, Spaniards,
Russians and Swiss-Germans were represented by emigrants living in London (Vera
Zasulič for the Russians; Malatesta and Merlino for the Italians).
2. P.C. MASINI, Storia degli anarchici italiani da Bakunin a Malatesta, Rizzoli, Milan 1969, p. 203.
3. G. CERRITO, Dall'insurrezionalismo alla settimana rossa, CP Editrice, Florence 1977, p. 13.
4. P.C. MASINI, op. cit., p. 220.
5. See G. CERRITO, op. cit., p.34 and following; P.C. MASINI, op. cit., p.215 and following.
6. C. CORNELISSEN, Le Congrès Ouvrier Révolutionnaire et Libertaire d'Amsterdam (1907), in Almanach de la Révolution pour 1907, La Publication Sociale, Paris undated (1907).
7. See F.S. MERLINO, Nécessité et bases d'une entente, Impr. A. Longfils, Brussels 1892.
8. From E. Malatesta's preface to the Italian edition of Merlino's above-mentioned pamphlet (Necessità e basi di un accordo, La Popolare ed., Prato 1892).
9. This is also the opinion, though limited to France, of R. BRECY, Le Mouvement syndical en France 1871-1921, Mouton & Co., Paris - La Haye 1963, p. XII.
10. Readers should need no reminder of the "syndicalist" choice of Pelloutier and Pouget in reaction to "individual...dynamite", and Malatesta's attempts to contain the rise of illegalism by seeking to promote the usefulness of the "anarchist party".
11. Le Congrès ouvrier révolutionnaire international de Paris 1900, in "Les Temps Nouveaux" du 31 mars au 6 avril 1900.
12. P. DELASALLE, Le Congrès révolutionnaire, in "Les Temps Nouveaux" du 21 au 27 juillet 1900.
13. The principal questions discussed were: communism and anarchism; communism and individualism; the general strike; the attitude of anarchists towards cooperatives, anti-militarism, Semitism, Zionism, Tolstoyism; the question of women; the various means of propaganda; organization between revolutionary communist groups from the same country or from different countries; the attitude of anarchists in the case of war, uprising or insurrection; the organization of solidarity; aid funds; publication of an international journal. Participants included the Étudiants Socialistes Revolutionnaires Internationalistes, many French libertarian libraries and study groups, some local trade unions, the newspapers "Le Père Peinard", "le Libertaire", "Les Temps Nouveaux", the Parisian anti-militarist group, the Parisian Italian group, Bulgarians, Czechs and Belgians.
14. "Les Temps Nouveaux" published a special issue with all the reports.
15. See "Het Volksdagblad", 26 juli 1906, for the report on the congress. Also "Grond en Vrijheid", august 1906 (Een nieuwe Internationaal).
16. See "Grond en Vrijheid", oktober 1906 (Mededeelingen van de Federatie van Vrijheidlievende Kommunisten).
17. Aux Anarchistes, in "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire", octobre 1906.
18. Le Congrès d'Amsterdam, in "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire", novembre 1906.
19. "L'action directe", edited by Gilly (Hainaut) was noted for its "workerist anti-militarism". See "Les Temps Nouveaux", 7 avril 1906.
20. Vers l'Internationale, in "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire", octobre 1906.
21. See "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire", février 1907.
22. Ibid, avril 1907.
23. Un Congresso Anarchico Italiano. Appello agli anarchici d'Italia, in "La Gioventù Libertaria", 30 marzo 1907.
24. See "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire", mai 1907.
25. See "Der freie Arbeiter", den 20. April 1907.
26. G. HERZIG, Le Congrès d'Amsterdam, in "Le Réveil socialiste-anarchiste", 20 juillet 1907.
27. Le Congrès d'Amsterdam, cit.
28. L'Internationale Libertaire, in "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire", février 1907.
29. LA G.L., Riflessioni (A proposito del Congresso Internazionale Libertario di Amsterdam), in "La Gioventù Libertaria", 23 febbraio 1907.
30. H. FUSS-AMORÉ, Groupement Comuniste Libertarie, in "Les Temps Nouveaux", 26 janvier 1907.
31. The circular appeared in most of the anarchist press in January/February 1907.
32. G. HERZIG, cit.
33. H. FUSS-AMORÉ, Le Congrès d'Amsterdam, in "Les Temps Nouveaux", 9 mars 1907.
34. According to what Monatte wrote, in a long article which dealt with the founding and life of "La Vie Ouvrière", in "La Révolution prolétarienne", octobre 1959 - janvier 1960 (the comment that interests us is in the October issue).
35. C. CORNELISSEN, cit.
36. See the note to Rapport sur le movement anarchiste en Suisse Romande, in "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire", 29 février 1908.
37. The reference is to the famous strikes of April-May 1906, promoted by the CGT in demand of an 8-hour working day.
38. A. DUNOIS, Les anarchistes et le movement ouvrier en France, in "Bulletin de l'Internationale Libertaire", juillet 1907 (also published in "Der Freie Arbeiter", den 31. August 1907).
39. A. DUNOIS, Un Congrès anarchiste, in "Les Temps Nouveaux", 1 décembre 1906 (also published in "Il Pensiero", 16 gennaio 1907).
40. A. DUNOIS, Sur le Congrès d'Amsterdam, in "Les Temps Nouveaux", 16 février 1907.
41. In this regard, see my Bakunin tra sindacalismo rivoluzionario e anarchismo, in Bakunin cent'anni dopo, L'Antistato, Milan 1977, pp. 70-71.
42. P. KROPOTKIN, Les Anarchistes et les Syndicats, in "Les Temps Nouveaux", 25 mai 1907.
43. With regard to Fabbri, see my introduction to L. FABBRI, L'organizzazione operaia e l'anarchia, Crescita Politica Editrice, Florence 1975.
44. See for example by Pierrot, Le syndicalisme, in "Les Temps Nouveaux", 11 mai 1907 and by Bretoni, Gli anarchici e l'organizzazione operaia (extract from the report sent to the Rome anarchist congress), in "Il Pensiero", 16 giugno 1907.
45. J. MAITRON, Histoire du movement anarchiste en France (1880-1914), SELI, Paris 1951, p. 306.
46. See "Le Mouvement social", avril-juin 1977.
48. Resoconto generale del Congresso Internazionale Anarchico di Amsterdam, Libreria Sociologica, Paterson 1907, p. 5.
49. See Bakunin tra sindacalismo rivoluzionario e anarchismo, already cited.
50. L. FABBRI, A proposito del Congresso di Amsterdam. Due parole di schiarimento, in "La Protesta Umana", 28 settembre 1907.
51. See Resoconto generale ..., cit., p.5.
52. L. FABBRI, op. cit.
53. L. BERTONI, Anarchisme et syndicalisme, in "Le Réveil socialiste-anarchiste", 30 novembre 1907 (the article was concluded in the following 8th August issue).
54. A. DUNOIS, Le Congrès d'Amsterdam, in "Le Réveil socialiste-anarchiste", 21 septembre - 2 novembre 1907.
55. A. DUNOIS, Le Congrès d'Amsterdam et l'anarchisme, in "Pages libres", 23 novembre 1907.
56. "Bien-être et liberté" was the motto of the Confédération Générale du Travail.
57. E. MALATESTA, Anarchisme et syndicalisme, in "Les Temps Nouveaux", 28 décembre 1908.
58. CHARLES-ALBERT, Après le Congrès, in "Les Temps Nouveaux", 7 décembre 1907. J. GRAVE, Syndicalisme et anarchie, in "Les Temps Nouveaux", 1, 8, 15 février 1908. There is a curious comment by Malato in "La Guerre Sociale", du 28 août au 3 septembre 1907, where he talks about two tendencies, one "objective" and one "subjective", the former seeking to change the environment in order to transform the individual, the latter aiming to perfect the individual. The two tendencies that appeared, however, do not seem to us to be distinguished in this way.
59. See for example A. BORGHI, Anarchismo e sindacalismo, in "L'Alleanza Libertaria", 1 e 8 maggio 1908; E. SOTTOVIA, L'influenza sindacalista nel movimento anarchico, ivi, 17 luglio 1908; L. FABBRI, Come e perché siamo sindacalisti, ivi, 28 agosto 1908, etc.
60. See L. BERTONI, Anarchisme et syndicalisme, cit.; J. W(INTSCH), Idéologie du syndicalisme, in "Le Réveil socialiste-anarchiste", 13 juin 1908.
61. See the debate entitled Syndikalismus und Anarchismus, between Luigi (Fabbri) and Karl Holfmann and G. Stine in "Der Revolutionär", in the issues of 16 and 20 November and 7 and 21 December 1907.
62. See P. AVRICH, The Russian Anarchists, University Press, Princeton 1967, p. 81 and following.
63. The first issue of "L'action directe" came out on 15 January 1908, the last issue coming out on 3 October of the same year.
64. See "Bulletin de l'Internationale Anarchiste", décembre 1908.