The International Anarchist Congress
held at the Plancius Hall in Amsterdam, 26-31August 1907
Tenth session – Thursday 29 August – Morning session
The session opens at nine-thirty. It is decided that the chairman shall remain unchanged until the end of the Congress. After the translations of Monatte’s speech into Dutch and German, Friedeberg speaks to observe that all the main European papers have published reports on the Anarchist Congress with the exception of the social-democrat papers. These papers, most notably “Vorwärts”, have observed the most religious silence; they undoubtedly prefer to entertain their readers with the diplomatic farce currently being played out in the Hague!
MALATESTA: Rather than regret this unanimous silence, I would be happy about it, personally speaking. In the past, every time the social-democratic press has dealt with anarchists it has been to slander them. Now it says nothing: that at least is a step forward.
But Monatte did not want "L'Humanité", the French socialist paper, and "Vorwärts", the rich and powerful "central organ" of German social democracy, to be placed on the same level. "L'Humanité" was poor and had no correspondents in Amsterdam. Monatte was convinced that this was the only reason for the silence on the part of "L'Humanitè" (78).
MALATESTA: Time is passing and we are still far from having got through our too-full agenda. We still have three important problems to discuss: "Syndicalism and Anarchism"; "The economic general strike and the political general strike"; "Anti-militarism and Anarchism", not to mention many questions of secondary importance. As it is difficult to separate syndicalism from the general strike, I would ask that in order to save time, they be discussed together.
It is decided that the questions of syndicalism and the general strike be unified under the title "Syndicalism and the General Strike" and that the discussion take place in the afternoon.
Comrade Nikolai Rogdaev takes the floor to speak about "The Russian Revolution". Rogdaev speaks in Russian and most people attending the Congress do not understand him (79). Everyone's eyes, however, are fixed on that pale youth in whose eyes burn a strange flame. And everyone can guess at what he is saying. He speaks about the struggle in which Russian anarchists (including himself) are engaged against murderous czarism; he recalls the revolts and the martyrs, the suffering and the executions, all the enormous drama that is being played out in Russia only to be met with the indifference of Europe.
At this point, Siegfried Nacht raised an incident. He accused comrade Croiset of having given information to some bourgeois journalists from Amsterdam the previous evening on yesterday's private session. He suggested that Croiset give some public explanation.
Nacht's words provoked great emotion throughout the assembly. It was not known what information Croiset had provided and it was feared that it could possibly be damaging to some delegates (in particular the Germans) once they returned to their countries.
But Croiset rose and asked to speak. He was pale. His defence, alternately in Dutch, German and French, was listened to in silence.
CROISET: What Nacht says is in effect true, I realize that with deep regret. I am worthy of your reproach, and I accept it a priori, a result of my guilty thoughtlessness. I wish only to protest vehemently one expression used by Nacht. He says that he "surprised" me. Only one who hides can be surprised. However, it was during the course of yesterday's public meeting that I spoke to the journalists. I would add that the information given cannot compromise any of our comrades.
MALATESTA: While I deplore comrade Croiset's thoughtlessness, I would ask Congress to continue with the agenda before it.
The majority shared Malatesta's point of view and formally reproached Croiset. It should be added that some of those present, represented by Chapelier, were contrary to this reproach, given Croiset's apology and the practically inexistent damage.
Eleventh session – Thursday 29 August – Afternoon session
As soon as the session opened, Emma Goldman read out a resolution in support of the Russian Revolution proposed by comrades Rogdaev and Vladimir Zabrezhnev together with Goldman, Cornelissen, Baginsky, Pëtr Munžič, Luigi Fabbri and Malatesta. The resolution was unanimously passed.
Discussion of the general strike and syndicalism then resumed. The first to speak was Christiaan Cornelissen.
CORNELISSEN: I do not believe that any anarchist could object to Monatte's speech. However, it should be agreed that he spoke solely from the point of view of a syndicalist militant and that from an anarchist viewpoint his speech requires completion.
Anarchists, we must support both syndicalism and direct action, but on one condition: that their goal be revolutionary and that they do not cease to aim at transforming today's society into a communist and libertarian society.
We cannot hide from the fact that neither syndicalism nor direct action are always, necessarily revolutionary. It is possible to use them for conservative, even reactionary, ends. Thus the diamond workers of Amsterdam and Antwerp have greatly improved their working conditions without resorting to parliamentary means, by the sole use of direct syndicalist action. And what do we see now? The diamond cutters have made a sort of closed caste of their corporation, around which they have built a Chinese wall. They have limited the number of apprentices and they oppose ex-cutters returning to the trade once they have left. Certainly we cannot approve of such practices!
And neither is this a Dutch speciality. In England and in the United States, the unions have often practised direct action. They have used direct action to create a state of privilege for their members; they prevent foreign workers from working even when they are members of unions; and lastly, being made up of "qualified" workers, they have at times opposed the movements of manual labourers, of "unqualified" workers. We can approve of none of this.
Similarly, we cannot approve of the attitude of the French and Swiss typographers who refuse to work with women. There is at present a threat of war between the United States and Japan, but the fault lies not with the American capitalists and bourgeoisie, who would draw even greater benefit from exploiting Japanese workers than American workers. No, it is the American workers themselves who are sparking off the war by violently opposing the importation of Japanese manpower.
Finally, there are also other forms of direct action that we must never cease to combat: for example, those that seek to oppose the introduction of machinery (linotypes, hoists, etc.), in other words the improvement of production through the improvement of the tools of production.
I intend to condense these ideas into the form of a motion that will set out which forms of syndicalism and direct action anarchists can support.
Comrade Malatesta immediately takes the floor and replies to Monatte with one of his most vigorous speeches. From the moment the old revolutionary begins to speak, with the down-to-earth eloquence and frankness so appreciated by all, silence falls on the hall.
MALATESTA: I wish to state straight away that I will only deal here with those areas in which I am in disagreement with the previous speakers, and in particular Monatte. Otherwise I would be needlessly inflicting you with pointless repetition, something which we can allow ourselves to do at a rally, for example, faced with a hostile or indifferent audience. But here we are amongst comrades and I am sure that on hearing me criticize what there is to be criticized in syndicalism none of you will be tempted to take me for an enemy of organization and workers' action; were that to happen it would mean you do not know me very well!
The conclusion arrived at by Monatte is that syndicalism is a necessary and sufficient means for social revolution. In other words, Monatte has declared that syndicalism is sufficient unto itself. And this is, in my opinion, a radically erroneous doctrine. The aim of my speech is to counter this doctrine.
Syndicalism, and more precisely the workers' movement (the workers' movement is a fact that no-one can ignore, whereas syndicalism is a doctrine, a system, and we must avoid confusing them), the workers' movement, I repeat, has always found in me a staunch, but not blind, defender. It is because I see it as a particularly favourable terrain for our revolutionary propaganda and at the same time a point of contact between the masses and ourselves. I do not need to insist on this point. It must be admitted that I have never been one of those anarchist intellectuals who benevolently walled themselves up in the ivory tower of pure speculation once the old International disappeared; that I have never stopped fighting that attitude of haughty isolation wherever I have found it, be it in England, Italy, France, or elsewhere, nor pushing comrades back to the path that the syndicalists, forgetting a glorious past, call new, but that the first anarchists had already established and followed within the international.
I want anarchists to enter the workers' movement today, as they did in the past. I am a syndicalist, in the sense of being a supporter of the syndicates, today as I was in the past. I do not demand anarchist syndicates that would immediately justify social-democratic syndicates, or republican, or royalist or others which would at best be able to divide the working class more than ever. I do not even want red syndicates, because I do not want yellow syndicates. On the contrary, I want syndicates that are open to all workers without distinction of opinions, absolutely neutral syndicates.
So then, I am for the greatest possible participation in the workers' movement. But I am for it above all in the interest of our propaganda, whose range of action would be considerably increased. It is just that this participation cannot result in our renouncing our dearest ideas. In the syndicates we must remain as anarchists, with all the force and breadth of the term. The workers' movement is nothing more than a means – albeit obviously the best of all the means at our disposition. But I refuse to take this means as an end, and I would reject it if it were to make us lose sight of the other elements of our anarchist ideas, or more simply our other means of propaganda and action.
The syndicalists on the other hand teach us to make an end of the means, to take the partial for the whole. That is how in the minds of some of our comrades syndicalism is about to become a new doctrine, threatening the very existence of anarchism.
Now, even if it is reinforced by the pointless use of the adjective revolutionary, syndicalism is and always will be a legalitarian, conservative movement with no other possible goal – at best – than the improvement of working conditions. I need go no further for proof than the example offered by the great North American unions. Having presented themselves as radically revolutionary, at a time when they were still weak, once they grew in size and wealth these unions these unions became markedly conservative organizations, solely occupied with creating privileges for their members in the factory, workshop or mine, and are much less hostile to the bosses' capitalism than the non-organized workers, that ragged proletariat so maligned by the social democrats! Now, this continually-growing proletariat of the unemployed, which counts for nothing with syndicalism, or rather which counts only as an obstacle, cannot be forgotten by us anarchists and we must defend it because it is subjected to the worst sufferings.
Let me repeat: anarchists must enter the workers' syndicates. Firstly, in order to carry out anarchist propaganda; secondly, because it is the only means that can provide us with groups that will be in a position to take over the running of production come the day; furthermore, we must join in order to counteract to the best of our abilities that detestable state of mind that leads the unions to defend only particular interests.
The basic error of Monatte and of all revolutionary syndicalists, in my opinion, derives from an overly simplistic conception of the class struggle. It is a conception whereby the economic interests of all workers – of the working class – are held to be equal, whereby it is enough for workers to set about defending their own particular interests in order for the interests of the whole proletariat against the bosses to be defended.
The reality is very different, in my view. The workers, like the bourgeoisie, like everyone, are subject to the law of universal competition that derives from the system of private property and that will only be extinguished together with that system.
There are therefore no classes, in the proper sense of the term, because there are no class interests. There exists competition and struggle within the working "class", just as there does among the bourgeoisie. The economic interests of one category of worker are implacably in contrast with those of another category. And indeed we sometimes see some workers much closer, economically and mentally, to the bourgeoisie than to the proletariat. Cornelissen gave us some examples of this fact here in Holland. And there are others. I need no remind you that workers very often use violence during their strikes... against the police or the bosses? No, against the scabs who too are exploited and even more unfortunate, while the workers' true enemies, the only real obstacle to social equality, are the police and the bosses.
However, moral solidarity between proletarians is possible, if economic solidarity is not. Workers who limit themselves to the defence of their corporative interests will not know what it is, but there will come the day when the shared will to transform society will make new men of them. In today's society, solidarity can only be the result of sharing a common ideal. It is the task of anarchists to incite the syndicates to the ideal, guiding them little by little towards the social revolution – at the risk of damaging those "immediate gains" which they are so fond of today.
One can no longer deny that union action carries risks. The greatest of these risks certainly lies in militants accepting official positions in the unions, above all when they are paid positions. As a general rule, the anarchist who accepts permanent, paid office within a union is lost to propaganda, and lost to anarchism! He becomes indebted to those who pay him and, as they are not anarchists, the paid official who finds himself torn between his own conscience and his own interests will either follow his conscience and lose his position or else follow his interests and so, goodbye anarchism!
The official is a danger to the workers' movement, comparable only to parliamentarianism: both lead to corruption and from corruption to death it is only a short step.
Now, let us move on to the general strike. As far as I am concerned, I accept the principle and promote it as much as I can, and have done so for several years. The general strike has always struck me as an excellent means to set off the social revolution. However, let us take care to avoid falling under the dangerous illusion that the general strike can make the revolution superfluous.
We are expected to believe that by suddenly halting production the workers will starve the bourgeoisie into submission within a few days. Personally speaking, I can think of nothing more absurd. The first to starve to death during a general strike will not be the bourgeoisie who have all the accumulated produce at their disposal, but the workers, who only have their labour to live on.
The general strike as it is described to us is a pure utopia. Either the workers, starving after three days of striking, will go back to work with his tail between his legs and we add yet another defeat to the list, or he will decide to take the products into his own hands by force. And who will try to stop him? Soldiers, gendarmes, the bourgeoisie itself, and the whole matter will be necessarily decided with rifles and bombs. It will be an insurrection and victory will lie with the strongest.
So then, let us prepare for this inevitable insurrection instead of limiting ourselves to exalting the general strike as if it were a panacea for all evils. And please do not raise the objection that the government is armed to the teeth and will always be stronger than the insurgents. In Barcelona in 1902, the army was not so numerous (80). But there had been no preparation for armed struggle and the workers, who did not understand that political power was their real enemy, sent delegates to the governor to ask him to get the bosses to give in.
Furthermore, the general strike, even taken on the level of what it really is, is still a two-edged sword that must be used with prudence. The subsistence services would not be able to cope with a prolonged stoppage. It will be necessary to take control of food supplies by force, and straight away – without waiting for the strike to turn into insurrection.
Rather than inviting the workers to stop working, what we should be doing is asking them to go on working, but for their own benefit. Unless that happens, the general strike will soon become a general famine, even if we were strong enough to commandeer all the produce in the warehouses straight away. The idea of the general strike has its origins in a completely erroneous conviction: the conviction that humanity could consume the produce accumulated by the bourgeoisie for months and years without having to produce anything. This conviction inspired the authors of two propaganda pamphlets published about twenty years ago: "Les produits de la Terre" and "Les produits de l'Industrie" (81), pamphlets that have done more harm than good in my opinion. Today's society is not as rich as is thought. In one piece, Kropotkin showed that if there were to be a sudden interruption in production, England would survive for only one month, and London no more than three days. I am fully aware of the phenomenon of overproduction. But every overproduction is immediately corrected by crises that quickly restore order to industry. Overproduction is always temporary and relative.
But it is time to conclude. I used to deplore the fact that comrades isolated themselves from the workers' movement. Today, I deplore the fact that many of us are going to the opposite extreme and allowing ourselves to be absorbed by that movement. Once again I repeat, workers' organization, the strike, the general strike, direct action, the boycott, sabotage and armed insurrection are all simply means. Anarchy is the goal. The anarchist revolution that we want goes far beyond the interests of one class: what is proposed is the complete liberation of humanity, which is currently in a state of servitude, from an economic, political and mental point of view. So, let us be wary of any unilateral, simplistic means of action. Syndicalism, an excellent means of action because of the worker forces it places at our disposal, cannot be our only goal. And even less so should it allow us to lose sight of the only goal that is worth the effort: Anarchy.
Twelfth session – Thursday 29 August – Evening session
The session begins towards nine o'clock with the Dutch translation of Malatesta's speech, after which the discussion continues.
FRIEDEBERG: As I agree with Malatesta on the question of the relationship between anarchism on the one hand and syndicalism and the general strike on the other, I would be wasting Congress' time if I spoke at any length.
Like Malatesta, I do not believe that anarchism gives itself the sole objective of emancipating one class, however interesting it may be, but the whole of humanity, without distinction of class, sex, nationality or race. Keeping all anarchist action within the boundaries of the working-class movement means, in my opinion, doing grave injustice to the essential and profound characteristic of anarchism.
I set before the chair a motion inspired by this idea and submit it to the approval of Congress.
FUSS: I would point out to Malatesta that there are still some anarchists who, for all their involvement in the workers' movement, remain no less faithful, and declaredly so, to their convictions. The truth is that they find it impossible to view the organized proletariat as merely fertile terrain for propaganda. Far from considering it a simple means, they attribute to it its own value and wish for nothing more than to be the vanguard of the army of labour on the march towards emancipation.
We struggle against the bourgeoisie, that is to say against capital and against authority. This is the class struggle; but unlike political struggles, it takes place essentially on the economic terrain, around those factories which will one day have to be taken over. We are no longer living in times when the revolution means taking over a few town halls and decreeing the new society from a balcony. The social revolution we are working towards will mean the expropriation of a class. The combat unit is therefore not as in the past an opinion group, but a trade group, workers' union or syndicate. The latter is the most appropriate organ of the class struggle. But it is essential that it be progressively guided towards the appropriating general strike and that is what we invite comrades in every country to do.
SAMSON: Among the means of workers' action recommended both by syndicalists and anarchists, sabotage occupies a leading role. However, I feel obliged to point out certain reservation in its regard. Sabotage does not fulfil its aim; it seeks to damage the boss, but instead it damages those who use it and, at the same time, sets the public against the workers.
We must seek to perfect the working class with all our strength; but I believe that sabotage works against this objective; if it only damaged machinery, it would not be such a bad thing, but it damages above all the professional morality of the worker and for this reason I am against it.
BROUTCHOUX: I am far from sharing Malatesta's fears regarding syndicalism and the workers' movement. As I have already said, I belong to a miners' union which is totally won over to revolutionary ideas and methods. This union has supported energetic, violent strikes which have not been forgotten – and will support others in the future; in our union we know only too well what the hypocritical tactics of conciliation and arbitration preached by the apostles of social peace lead to, and we believe only in struggle, in violent demands and in revolt. The evolution taking place amongst us in workers' circles seems to me to give lie formally to Malatesta's theories.
VOHRYZEK: I am hoping to propose a specific motion on the political general strike to Congress. The idea of this general strike is gaining ground day by day in the German countries, especially since the social democrats have made it their own, no doubt believing they can thus damage the economic general strike supported by the anarchists.
Anarchist must oppose the propaganda in favour of a strike destined not to put an end to the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, but to safeguard the institution of universal suffrage under threat from the government or to conquer political power.
Nonetheless, if such a strike broke out, anarchists would have to take part in order to push the workers firmly in the direction of revolution and to instil the movement with the goal of economic demands.
RAMUS: While comrade Monatte may have justified in advance all the reserves that Malatesta later expressed by speaking from an exclusively revolutionary syndicalist point of view, I can only associate myself fully with Malatesta.
It seems absolutely essential to me that we never lose sight of the fact that syndicalism, the general strike and direct action with all its various forms cannot be considered as anything but truly anarchist means of action. Syndicalism can be said to be contained within anarchism; but it would be wrong to say that syndicalism contains anarchism.
The great merit of syndicalism, of union action, essentially consists in opposing bourgeois parliamentarianism in practice, something which is evident. But just as I cannot look at the general strike as a surrogate of the social revolution, I cannot admit that syndicalism is sufficient unto itself, as the syndicalists do. Anarchism has already provided it with all its weapons of war; when it has also received a philosophy and an ideal only then will we admit that syndicalism is sufficient unto itself. And it will be sufficient unto itself because it will have become... anarchism!
In closing let me say this: we are anarchists first and foremost, then syndicalists. But never the opposite.
It is past midnight when comrade Ramus finishes his speech. Those present at the Congress are very tired and the atmosphere in the hall has gradually become more and more heated and agitated. There is a general desire to bring the debate on syndicalism to a close at any cost and Dunois vainly requests that Monatte's reply be postponed to the next day.
MONATTE: Listening to Malatesta this evening as he bitterly criticized new revolutionary ideas, I thought I was hearing an echo from the distant past. Malatesta's best response to the new ideas, whose brutal realism frightens him, is to drag up the old ideas of Blanquism that once led us to believe that the world could be renewed by means of a triumphant armed insurrection.
Furthermore, the revolutionary syndicalists here this evening have been widely reproached for sacrificing anarchism and the revolution to syndicalism and the general strike. Well then, I can personally tell you that our anarchism is worth just as much as yours and we have no intention whatsoever of hauling down our flag, just like you. Like everyone else here, anarchism is our final goal. It is just that as the times have changed, we too have changed our conception of the movement and the revolution. Revolution can no longer be carried out as it was in '48. As for syndicalism, while it may in practice have given rise to errors and deviations in some countries, experience will stop us from repeating them. Instead of criticizing syndicalism's past, present and even future defeats from on high, if anarchists became more closely involved with its work, the dangers that syndicalism can hide will be averted for ever.
THONAR: Despite what Monatte says, there are no young or old people here defending new ideas or old ideas. Many young people, and I am one of them, glory in not abandoning one iota of anarchist ideas, which are safely sheltered from the ravages of the storm.
If anything, I believe that there are simply differences of judgement between the "young" on one side and the "old" on the other, differences which are not enough to divide the anarchist army into two rival camps.
The session came to a close at one o'clock in the morning.
78. In actual fact, "L'Humanité"
did carry news from the agencies in its 28 and 29 August issues.
79. Cf. Appendix to Dibattito sul sindacalismo. Atti del Congresso Internazionale anarchico di Amsterdam (1907), edited by Maurizio Antonioli, Florence 1978.
80. Malatesta was referring to the general strike which broke out in Barcelona that year.
81. M. Nettlau (Bibliographie de l'anarchie, Brussels-Paris, 1897, p. 70) attributes both pamphlets, which came out in 1885 in Geneva and 1887 in Paris respectively, to Élisée Reclus and an anonymous helper. In the report carried by "Publication Sociale" a note attributes them only to Reclus' helper.
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