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[publié le 31/10/2006 - Lu 3392 fois]

Anarchism, Syndicalism and the Bolshevik Challenge in France, 1918-1926
Part III : Syndicalism and the anarchist diaspora
David Berry
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Towards a third confederation (1923-26)

At the IWMA’s second congress, held in Innsbruck in December 1923, strong criticisms were voiced of the conciliatory, ‘unitaire’ approach adopted so stubbornly by the French CDS, an approach put down to “the indecision and lack of ideologial clarity of our French comrades”. The resolution went on:

"The vain longing to want to fuse revolutionary syndicalism, in the name of an abstract ideal of unity, with the reformist aspirations of Amsterdam or with the vehement dictatorial desires of the Muscovite tendency, or to wish to reconcile them, must lead to the abandonment of the ideas and methods of revolutionary syndicalism, as the bitter experiences of the last years have demonstrated."[1]
After a year as secretary of the CDS, in June 1923, Besnard had resigned from his post. At the same time, he had also stepped down as a delegate to the Executive Bureau of the IWMA.This may have been a genuine wish to avoid ‘fonctionnarisme’.[2] It was doubtless also caused by frustration at his inability to bring other leading members of the CDS around to his way of thinking. It must equally have been linked to approaches to the Administrative Committee of the CGT which he would make secretly during the winter of 1923-24. His aim was to persuade the CGT to agree to a congress of all trade union organizations - the CGT, the CGTU and independent unions - on the basis of an acceptance by all participating organizations of the principles of trade union autonomy enshrined in the Amiens Charter. This, Besnard hoped, would be enough to isolate the Communists, even if it meant going back to the Amsterdam International.[3] The CGT refused.

The failure of Besnard’s overtures to the CGT early in 1924, coupled no doubt with the serious deterioration of relations with the Communists in the CGTU (symbolized by the shooting dead of Poncet and Clot in January of that year) was what finally persuaded Besnard to work for a third confederation. Since the 1923 Bourges congress, some trade unions had left the CGTU, as had the Buildingworkers’ Federation and certain UDs (including the Rhône and the Oise, for instance).[4] Besnard decided to organize a meeting of the minority within the CGTU in November 1924, and the outcome was the creation of an Union fédérative des syndicats autonomes de France (UFSA, Federal Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of France), with a Commission Exécutive of which Besnard was a member. At its first congress at Saint-Ouen in July 1925, Besnard was elected secretary general. The declared aim of the UFSA was to highlight the widespread disaffection among militants in both the CGT and the CGTU, to encourage the two CGTs to abandon their sectarianism and to lead them to reconsider the unity of the labour movement.

But the reunification envisaged was to be strictly on the basis of the complete autonomy of the unions. A leaflet put out by the UFSA’s provisonal Commission Exécutive thus rejected the CGTU’s subsequent unity campaign, arguing that the aim of the Profintern was the total domination of French syndicalism by the SFIC, “pour les fins d’un Parti exerçant despotiquement sa dictature sur le prolétariat...”.[5] The Syndicat Autonome des Ouvriers Métallurgistes de la Seine was similarly uncompromising in its rejection of the Comintern and the Profintern whose fundamental belief was, it claimed, that:

"...seuls les Politiciens Communistes possédaient les qualités requises pour conseiller, diriger, et imposer aux syndicalistes [...] les tactiques, les méthodes d’action, les revendications et les grèves, jugées par eux nécessaires à leur politique, ayant pour objectif la prise du Pouvoir - soi-disant Prolétarien - en réalité, tout comme en Russie, contre le Prolétariat, par l’application de la dictature sur le Prolétariat de ce pays."[6]
By 1926, it was becoming clear that the UFSA was not achieving its aims, and on top of that it was actually losing members rather than gaining them. In August 1926, la Voix du Travail, a new monthly paper, was launched by an IWMA Action Committee in Paris as an organ for those in the UFSA who shared the IWMA’s view, namely that the quest for unity at all costs would mean the destruction of syndicalism.[7] In Lyon in September-October 1926, an autonomous building-workers’ federation was created, the Syndicat Unique du Bâtiment (SUB) with the anarchist Koch as its secretary.[8] Just weeks later, 31 October-1 November, the congress of the Union des syndicats autonomes du Rhône, chaired by Besnard, passed a resolution calling for a new CGT which would be “revolutionary syndicalist, federalist and anti-statist”.[9] A fortnight later, the new Building-workers’ Federation held an extraordinary national congress, also in Lyon, at which delegates rejected an appeal in person from the CGTU’s Racamond and, after hearing Lucien Huart on behalf of the UFSA and the IWMA’s Lansink, voted by 52 to 3 (with 2 abstentions) to create a third confederation to rival the CGT and CGTU.[10] Immediately after this SUB congress, a further congress in Lyon, this time called by the UFSA, the SUB and the Autonomous Barbers’ Union, brought together 69 delegates representing 89 unions. This congress voted by 84 votes to 3 with 2 abstentions to found the Confédération Générale du Travail Syndicaliste Révolutionnaire, to be based in Lyon and affiliated to the Berlin IWMA. The statutes of the CGTSR, presented by Huart on the second day of the congress, were adopted unanimously, and were characterized by strict limits imposed on the functions and powers of each office-holder and of each part of the organization, with no officer of the union having the right to be re-elected or to hold two posts concurrently. On the third day of the congress, a revolutionary syndicalist manifesto produced by Besnard was adopted, although some 30 delegates expressed reservations.[11]

Thus established, the new confederation launched a membership campaign, with speaking tours by Huart and Fourcade. Conflict with the local CGTU was inevitable. Having failed to seduce Allegré, secretary of the Lyon Bourse du Travail since 1924 and now a member of the CGTSR, the CGTU began a press campaign in an attempt to discredit him. In December 1926, there was a serious fight between CGTU and CGTSR syndicalists during which the latter were attacked with iron bars, wooden benches and a still lit iron stove. When a CGTSR delegation went to speak about this to the CGTU UD secretary, Révol, the next day, he greeted them with a revolver in his hand. Such violent confrontations continued right up until 1934.[12]

Eighty unions had joined the CGTSR at its founding congress, and it had support primarily in ‘la petite industrie’, in industries with artisanal traditions, especially among the building-workers and in some metal-working trades, but also in leather, clothing, hair-dressing and in transport. Geographically speaking it was strongest in the Seine, Seine-et-Oise and Seine-et-Marne, and its most important centres were Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Clermont-Ferrand, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Limoges, Trélazé and Marseille.[13] A year after the CGTSR’s creation, a reformist paper commented: “Up until now, not much has been heard of the CGTSR. It is doubtful whether much will be heard of it in the future.”[14] In November 1928, Besnard had informed the CGTSR’s second congress that membership had not increased since 1926, but that it had not declined either.[15] The only exception to this stagnation would be the general upturn in militancy of 1936: according to the prominent anarchist and CGTSR militant Paul Lapeyre, membership of the CGTSR rose from 3,000 to 5,000 at the time of the Popular Front and the Spanish revolution.[16] Other estimates of CGTSR membership have varied between 1,000 and 20,000.[17] The print-run of le Combat Syndicaliste, the confederation’s organ launched in 1928, hovered around 6,000, but the paper may have actually been read by two or three times that number.[18] 

A new doctrine: ‘anarcho-syndicalism’

The ‘Lyon Charter’ of 1926 was seen by Besnard as the updating of the ‘Amiens Charter’ and includes references to fascism (“nouvelle doctrine de gouvernement des puissances d’argent, qui commandent à tout le système capitaliste, pose lui-même le problème social sous le même angle économique et entend utiliser le syndicalisme en l’adaptant à ses vues particulières pour réaliser ses desseins”[19]) and discussion of scientific and technological changes and the concomitant need to integrate the new castes of scientists and technicians into the labour movement in preparation for the revolution.[20] It is also very insistent on the need to bring together urban workers and their peasant “brothers” (a lesson of the Russian revolution often emphasized in the post-war years).[21] The Charter reasserts the traditional idea of the self-sufficiency of syndicalism, whilst emphasizing that the movement is fully aware of “l’extrême complexité des problèmes qui seront posés par la disparition du capitalisme”.[22] Whereas these points could be seen as a ‘modernization’ of Amiens, the Lyon Charter differs fundamentally from Amiens in its emphatic and repeated assertions that political parties are harmful and to be actively opposed, rather than merely ignored and excluded from the life of the trade unions; and that not only political parties but also the other trade union organizations have aims which are “fundamentally opposed” to those of the CGTSR.[23] Co-operation with the CGT or CGTU was thus only to be envisaged in the case of limited demands and campaigns around wages and working-conditions. Anything beyond that was “vain and useless”.[24]

The demands around which the CGTSR campaigned over the coming years differed relatively little from those pursued by the other two confederations. A great deal of importance was attached to questions such as working hours (the IWMA wanted a six hour day, both to improve workers’ quality of life and to reduce unemployment), wages, full pay during absence due to accidents at work, the right of workers of all nationalities and all ethnic origins to join a union, the involvement of workers’ representatives in overseeing health and safety at work, the control of hiring and firing by works committees, and some form of trade union supervision of the employment of immigrant workers. More generally, the CGTSR also campaigned for the abolition of the military tribunals and a total amnesty, and for the repeal of the 1920 laws against contraception and abortion. The only campaign which was distinctive of the CGTSR was for the ‘salaire unique’, an egalitarian single wage.[25]

Colson has pointed out that until 1937 the CGTSR always referred to itself as ‘syndicaliste révolutionnaire’ (often qualified with ‘fédéraliste et antiétatique’), not ‘anarcho-syndicaliste’. Nor was the term ever used by Besnard in any of his books.[26] The term ‘anarcho-syndicalist’ only came into wide use in 1921-22 when it was applied as a pejorative, polemical term by communists to any syndicalists - even members of the SFIC - who opposed increased control of syndicalism by the Communist Parties.[27] Although the label began to be taken up and used positively of their own position by some revolutionary syndicalists from 1922, Besnard himself first used the term to describe the ideology of the CGTSR and IWMA in his planned address to the international anarchist congress of 1937: anarcho-syndicalism “tient sa doctrine de l’anarchisme et sa forme d’organisation du syndicalisme révolutionnaire”.[28] As Colson remarks: “Contre tous les découpages historiques qui se sont imposés depuis, on peut affirmer que l’anarcho-syndicalisme, comme courant idéologique ouvrier repérable, est postérieur au communisme censé prendre sa succession.”[29]

Pre-war ‘revolutionary syndicalism’ was itself a theorization, after the event, of a set of attitudes and practices shared by a very large proportion of the labour movement during the vigorous growth years of the labour movement around the turn of the century. By the time of the vote on strategy at the CGT’s Amiens Congress of 1906 and by the time of the creation of Monatte’s la Vie ouvrière three years later, these attitudes and practices were already in decline and the CGT’s ‘crisis’ had already begun. A similar process occurred in the early 1920s, as this crisis was aggravated - but not initiated - by the Great War and the bolshevik revolution. The CGT Syndicaliste Révolutionnaire founded in 1926 bore little resemblance to the CGT in its ‘heroic’ revolutionary syndicalist days. ‘Revolutionary syndicalism’ had been a very vague and general reference and one to which syndicalists of all or no political allegiance could rally, even moderates and reformists: the Amiens congress vote, it is worth reminding ourselves, had been passed virtually unanimously. At the 1907 international anarchist conference in Amsterdam, Monatte put revolutionary syndicalism on the same plane as socialism and anarchism, but he nevertheless went on immediately to point out the difference: namely that socialism and anarchism were theories, doctrines, ideologies, whereas revolutionary syndicalism defined itself “in action”.[30] The whole point of revolutionary syndicalism and Amiens was that they were inclusive, they were based on the felt reality of shared class interests, not on ideological positioning. Only in 1920, with the creation of the CSRs, did ‘revolutionary syndicalist’ become a label attached to a specific organization, and even then it was an organization which attempted to rally to itself all those - whether anarchist, communist or whatever - who were opposed to the CGT leadership. By the time the CGTSR was created, the label was being used of a minority organization with a very specific and therefore exclusive ideological orientation and at a time when, as Mercier-Vega has emphasized, its explicitly anti-political stance was becoming less attractive amongst unionized workers.[31] Any pretension on the part of the CGTSR to provide the ‘syndicat unique’ - the single, all-inclusive union per trade or industry or locality (as opposed to the fragmentation of the trade union movement into ‘syndicats d’opinion’) - deemed so essential by both Monatte and Malatesta in their famous confrontation in 1907, was rather ironic.



Those most strongly in favour of creating a third confederation at the 1926 Lyon congress were those militants closest to Besnard: Huart (Shoemakers’ Union, Paris), Henri Fourcade (Rhône UD), Clément (Pipe-makers, Saint-Claude), Raitzon (Lyon metal-workers), Boisson (Building-workers’ Federation), Boudoux (Paris SUB), Leroy (Hairdressers, Paris), Aigueperse (Leatherworkers, Saint-Etienne), Garros (Lyon electricity industry workers) and Demonsais (Toulon Council workers).[32] Many others were, however, less enthusiastic. Some preferred to stay in the CGTU in spite of everything, some returned to the CGT, others preferred to remain independent. The two main arguments against a third confederation were firstly that the labour movement would be even more divided and weakened; and secondly that the CGTSR, although not linked to a political party as such, was none the less ‘politicized’ through its very close connections with a particular ideology (anarchism), and would therefore alienate many non-anarchist workers who nevertheless remained revolutionary syndicalist. Several prominent activists, including Bastien (Syndicats autonomes d’Amiens), Albert Guigui (Métaux de Paris) and Le Pen (Syndicat Unique du Bâtiment) spoke out against the creation of the CGTSR. As the latter put it, “If we have a third confederation, we’ll have two too many”.[33] For Guigui, it was, by 1926, simply too late to create a third confederation with any hope of success. 

In certain towns, then, some trade unions dominated by anarchists ignored the CGTSR, created an Union des syndicats autonomes and remained independent until the reunification of the CGT in 1936.[34] As Georges Bastien argued:

"Une fois devenus autonomes, les syndicats feront bien d’y rester et, quand ils réorganiseront les liens à titre de solidarité, de renseignements, d’aide mutuelle, etc., qu’on ne reconstitue plus, sous n’importe quelle forme, une CGT, copie d’un Etat dans l’autre Etat."[35]

Decentralization and autonomy

Indeed it was about this time (between 1922 and 1926) that Bastien produced a pamphlet which was published by the Syndicat autonome des Tisseurs d’Amiens (Amiens Autonomous Weavers’ Union) of which he was the secretary: Pour la Rénovation du Syndicalisme.[36] His autonomist argument goes far beyond the critique of the rôle of the industrial federations (as compared to that of the UDs) which we have already discussed. Contrary to the many personal attacks directed by revolutionary syndicalists at Jouhaux, Bastien argued that “the present crisis of syndicalism” was not due to the bad leadership of a few individuals. If the syndicalist movement had fallen prey to the “manoeuvres” of such individuals, it was because the movement no longer had any vitality: “c’est surtout parce que l’ensemble des adhérents a perdu l’habitude de prendre lui-même ses propres directives”.[37] This he put down to the fact that ordinary grass-roots members had lost the habit of thinking and acting for themselves, because everything was done for them by “a caste of functionaries”.[38] Bastien drew a distinction between ‘revolutionary syndicalism’ (which, without spurning piecemeal improvements within the existing capitalist system, recognizes that only the destruction of capitalism will provide a profound, meaningful and long-term improvement of the worker’s lot) and ‘syndicalisme d’adaptation’ (which, whether it be the increasingly reformist CGT or the anti-strike, social-catholic CFTC, trumpets minor gains without realizing that such reforms ultimately consolidate the existing system without producing any qualitative improvement for workers). The two problems which had led to this state of affairs in the CGT were, Bastien argued, centralism and sectionalism.

Centralism, ‘fonctionnarisme’, bureaucratization, even parliamentarism are all curses which were laid by Bastien at the door of the structural reforms of the CGT. Lamenting the eclipse of the Bourse du Travail and the Local Union “qui étaient pourtant à l’origine du mouvement syndicaliste”, he accused the Federations and UDs of being expensive, over-staffed, inefficient, complicated and distant from ordinary members: “99% des syndiqués ne comprennent rien à ces rouages et ignorent même ce qu’on fait de leurs cotisations.”[39] The effect was to alienate workers in the same way as bourgeois parliamentary democracy alienates and produces apathy amongst the working class. The corollary of such alienation at the grass-roots was a flourishing cast of professional functionaries at the top - and this, according to Bastien, was all that was seen of the life of the CGT by those who were not familiar with life at the bottom of the hierarchy:

"Au lieu d’avoir un esprit de lutte, une volonté d’émancipation animant tous les cerveaux ouvriers, on est tombé dans les plus basses pratiques: combinaisons électorales, manoeuvres de Congrès, recherche de la majorité par tous les moyens, propres ou non, en un mot conquête du pouvoir départemental, fédéral ou national.
Où est, là-dedans, le large esprit d’initiative et de combativité que le syndicalisme devait développer au sein des masses ouvrières? Remplacé par la politicaillerie, la chicane, les luttes de tendances ou plutôt de personnalités à la recherche des postes, et des partis voulant conquérir une influence."[40]

Inevitably, such a system gravitates against revolutionary action, creating a leadership which prefers to negotiate with employers and politicians rather than do anything to rock the boat:

"Sauf quelques exceptions honorables, le fonctionnaire n’aime pas les histoires, qui peuvent porter tort à l’organisme et, par répercussion, à sa place. Il tâche donc “d’aplatir les difficultés” automatiquement. Le fonctionnarisme, et le centralisme font dévier le syndicalisme révolutionnaire et l’amènent à composer avec la société actuelle."[41]


The only solution, according to Bastien, was to decentralize the trade union movement as much as possible, but it was also necessary to tackle the problem of sectionalism encouraged by the industrial federations. The latter, he argued, tended to develop egocentrism, the defence of privileges, anti-egalitarianism, conflict between different groups of workers even in the same workplace. Bastien suggested that such sectionalism, by encouraging craft corporatism, hindered the modernization of work processes:

"Les ouvriers cantonnés toute leur vie dans un métier unique sont maintenant l’exception. Le machinisme tend à remplacer les techniciens par des manoeuvres spécialisés. Très peu de prolétaires à l’heure actuelle n’ont pas changé plusieurs fois de métier."[42]
This was not necessarily a bad thing, though, since it would make the workers’ revolutionary self-management easier.

"Et puis, à quoi rime cette division? Dans une même usine textile, il y a des syndiqués tisseurs, des syndiqués teinturiers, des syndiqués métallurgistes, des syndiqués employés, des syndiqués chauffeurs d’autos. Et un seul patron."

Thus for Bastien, whether we are thinking in terms of the present-day organization of syndicalist action and solidarity or in terms of the self-managing post-revolutionary society, it makes more sense for all workers to rub shoulders in one organization. It makes particularly good sense as a means of ensuring the integration of agricultural workers, otherwise dispersed and isolated, into the rest of the working class: “Une transformation sociale ne se fera pas [...] sans eux.”

Furthermore, Bastien insisted, if the CGT - in its new, centralized form - were to attempt to fulfil what had always been, according to syndicalist doctrine, its rôle in the revolutionary period, the result would be a centralizing dictatorship:

"La confédération, les fédérations organiseront la production, dirigeant de haut l‘industrie, l’agriculture, les transports? Comment? [...] Ça ressemble bougrement aux affirmations des partisans de la dictature. Qu’elle s’étiquette communiste ou syndicaliste, ça reviendrait au même."[43]
Hence the importance of the “organisation intercorporative locale” (the Local Union or the Bourse du Travail, whatever the label[44]), with the emphasis on the involvement of grass-roots activists, direct control, mandated delegation, transparency, the fostering of working-class solidarity, the ‘social and technical education’ of each worker to make of them “an emancipated individual” - all in contrast with the “poor copies of the parliamentary regime that are the CGT and CGTU.”[45]

Such ‘localism’, as Amdur’s study of the movement in the Loire and Haute-Vienne has shown, was inherent in the attitude of many syndicalists - not necessarily anarchists - who were suspicious of central bureaucracies, who in the early to mid-1920s rejected all outside control, whether by Paris or by Moscow, and who put the emphasis on the needs of the unions’ local members. A rejection of the CGT and of the CGTU thus often derived not from an absence of a wider political or ideological consciousness, not from an absence of revolutionism, but nevertheless simultaneously from a concern with bread-and-butter issues which, it was felt, could best be handled by local militants familiar with local needs and preoccupations: “Anarchist theory seemed at most to reinforce a sense of localism that most syndicalists had reached on other, more practical grounds.”[46]


Anarchism and syndicalism after 1922

According to Amdur, speaking of those workers who persisted in an ‘apolitical’ or ‘antipolitical’ syndicalism:

"The record of the syndicalist movement in the mid- to late 1920s shows both how far it was able to adapt to altered circumstances and how far it sought to remain true to its prewar goals and methods. If the movement continued to find support, at least in certain regions and certain industries, it was precisely because it continued to fill a perceived need of many workers, unsatisfied by the centralization and the partisan politics of both the CGTU and the CGT."[47]

Throughout the decade after Saint-Etienne, the autonomous and CGTSR unions had a relatively successful strike record, in terms of frequency, participation and duration (although this was generally a period of relatively modest strike activity).[48] Such revolutionary syndicalists did not reject entirely the proposition that syndicalism needed to adapt to a changing society, and they adapted their tactics accordingly: circumstantial ties with parties of the left, practical ‘unity of action’ with reformist unions, promotion of factory committees and a new goal of occupation with workers’ control.[49] But they did reject the idea that ‘modernization’ necessarily required them to be tied to the coat-tails of centralized parties which were neither wholly proletarian nor reliably revolutionary and whose interests were not always the interests of the unions’ grass-roots members. Though limited in numbers, these anti-reformist, anti-bolshevik syndicalists remained influential in various industrial and geographic contexts, and were no less successful than their Socialist or Communist rivals in rallying mass support.[50]

By the end of 1926 not only was the labour movement divided between three national confederations, with many unions remaining independent, but anarchist syndicalists were to be found in all three confederations as well as in independent unions. The UA and le Libertaire were to remain very reserved towards the third confederation and as we shall see, the hostility (at least at the level of the national leaderships) would be fully reciprocated, and would contribute to later disunity within the anarchist movement. At the 1930 Paris congress of the UA, only 2 out of 22 groups represented voted in support of a motion in favour of the CGTSR. At the following year’s Toulouse congress, a similar motion of support for the CGTSR was supported by only 4 out of the 21 groups represented. The congress declared:

"En l’état actuel du mouvement syndical français, il peut être aussi nécessaire pour les anarchistes de lutter dans les centrales syndicales encore sous l’influence des politiciens que d’adhérer à la CGTSR."[51]

Trade unions continued to be regarded by anarchists as a primary site for revolutionary activism, however much they might disapprove of the programmes of their confederations. As Lecoin said of the 1920 strikes, one of whose major aims was the nationalization of the railways:

"Les anarchistes qui se mêlent à la foule à chaque occasion, et appuient toujours toute manifestation pouvant devenir dangereuse pour l’ordre établi, ont suivi avec sympathie ce mouvement de grève et y ont participé du mieux qu’ils ont pu. Ce n’est pas pourtant qu’ils aient été enthousiasmé pour le but assigné aux efforts des grévistes."[52]

But if for a majority of anarchists the labour movement was their natural focus, the struggle would nevertheless be a difficult one in more ways than one. Speaking of the 1930s, Mercier-Vega pointed out that the situation was desperate for those anarchists involved in setting up factory groups and the various oppositional communists who with them formed the Cercles syndicalistes lutte de classe (Class Struggle Syndicalist Groups); they were faced with “a hard struggle, squeezed between Jouhaux’ reformists on the one hand, and Thorez’ stalinists on the other. La lucidité est alors un luxe, et les conséquences dans les entreprises et les services se paient souvent par le renvoi”.[53] Despite all this, for the UA, class solidarity had its obligations:

"Nous ne devons pas oublier, camarades anarchistes, que nous sommes aussi des syndiqués et que malgré notre sens critique qui doit s’exercer partout parce qu’anarchistes d’abord, nous devons être en étroite communauté d’intérêts avec le monde des travailleurs organisés contre toute exploitation capitaliste."[54]


[1] Quoted in Thorpe, The Workers Themselves, p.263.

[2] Besnard, ‘A bas le fonctionnarisme!’, le Libertaire, 8 June 1923: “J’ai trop lutté contre la plaie purulente que représente le ‘fonctionnarisme syndical’ pour tolérer à cet égard une violation de l’esprit très net de nos statuts”.

[3] Maitron, Mouvement anarchiste, vol.II, pp.66-9. Maitron reproduces the text of a letter sent by Besnard to Argence outlining his plans. Besnard seems to have been supported in this venture by Fourcade and Monier.

[4] For a detailed examination of the complex and often messy processes by which particular unions came to affiliate to the CGT, the CGTU or the CGTSR or to remain independent, see Amdur, Syndicalist Legacy, ch.9.

[5] UFSA leaflet, ‘Le Chantage de l’Unité’ - IISG, Fedeli Archive.

[6] ‘Manifeste - Aux Métallurgistes!’ - IISG, Fedeli Archive. This leaflet is a good example of the way in which the killings of 11 January 1924 - “conséquence de l’immixtion de la politique dans les Syndicats” - were already attaining the status of an unhappy milestone in French labour history and contributed to the widening gap between communists and anarchists.

[7] 15 nos. would appear: no.1 in August 1926, no.15 in October 1927. From April 1927 it would become the bulletin of the CGTSR.

[8] On the SUB, see Claire Auzias, ‘La CGTSR, 1926-1928; un épisode de décentralisation syndicale’ in Mouvement social, supplement to no.144 (October-November 1988), special no.: ‘Avec Jean Maitron’, pp.55-65; Stéphane Sirot, ‘Les syndicalistes du bâtiment entre les deux guerres: origines et trajectoires’ in Michel Dreyfus, Claude Pennetier & Nathalie Viet-Depaule (eds.), La Part des militants. Biographie et mouvement ouvrier: Autour du Maitron, Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français (Paris: Edns. de l’Atelier/Edns. ouvrières, 1996), pp.145-56; and Paul Sharkey, ‘French Anarchist Syndicalists and Federal Syndicalism, and the Supercession of Revolutionary Syndicalism in the French General Confederation of Labour between 1919 and 1926, as reflected in the columns of Le Libertaire’ (unpublished MA Dissertation, University of Belfast, 1994), 140pp. The Lyon buiding-workers were to be the mainstay of anarchist syndicalism in the region, and after the CGTSR’s national headquarters were moved from Lyon to Paris at the end of 1928, it was the only CGTSR union in the area whose membership did not go into a slow decline.

[9] Auzias, ‘La CGTSR’, pp.57-7.

[10] They also passed resolutions saluting Sacco and Vanzetti and appealing for insurrectionary general strike if necessary to counter the fascist threat. Auzias, ‘La CGTSR’, p.58.

[11] The manifesto was reproduced as an appendix to Besnard’s L’Ethique du syndicalisme (Paris: CGTSR, 1938; republished by Edition CNT Région parisienne, 1990), pp.127-39. Prefatory remarks by Besnard include an interesting history of the ‘Lyon Charter’, as this document became known. The first version of the Charter was apparently written by Victor Griffuelhes (author of the Amiens Charter) and given to Besnard in 1921, in order to help protect syndicalism “against invasion by the Communist Party”. The Charter, however, remained secret until 1922, when it provided the basis of Besnard’s motion to the Saint-Etienne congress. This “charter of the minority” then became the manifesto of the second CDS and, re-drafted yet again, of the UFSA. Rewritten once more by Besnard, it finally came to be presented to the CGTSR’s constitutive congress of 1926 in Lyon.

[12] Auzias, ‘La CGTSR’, p.61.

[13] Maitron, Mouvement anarchiste, vol.II, p.72, Jacques Kergoat; La France du Front Populaire (Paris: La Découverte, 1986), p.167; Jérémie Berthuin, De l’espoir à la désillusion. La CGT-SR et la Révolution espagnole, Juillet 1936 - décembre 1937 (Paris: CNT-Région parisienne, 2000), p.25; Samuel Jospin, ‘La CGTSR à travers son journal Le Combat Syndicaliste (1926-1937)’ (Mémoire de Maîtrise, Paris I, 1974), pp.117-21.

[14] L’Information ouvrière et sociale, 20 January 1927, quoted in Berthuin, La CGT-SR, p.27.
[15] Auzias, ‘La CGTSR’, p.63.
[16] Letter to the author, 3 February 1986.

[17] Kergoat claims that the CGTSR had barely 1,000 members at the time of the 1936 strikes, but gives no source - La France du Front Populaire, p.167. Jospin suggests figures between 1,000 and 6,000, but gives no source - ‘La CGTSR’, p.116. Berthuin says at first 8,000 in 1936-7, then 8,000-10,000, but gives no source on either occasion - La CGT-SR, pp.21 & 25. Jean Rabaut suggests 4,000-20,000 - Tout est possible! Les ‘gauchistes’ français, 1929-1944 (Paris: Denoël/Gonthier, 1974), p.224. Claire Auzias says 5,000-6,000 - Mémoires libertaires: Lyon 1919-1939 (Doctoral thesis, University of Lyon, 1980), p.158. The CGTSR and the autonomous unions did not publish national membership figures.

[18]Le Combat Syndicaliste [...] assurait sa vente par ses syndicats et par souci d’équilibre financier limitait le bouillonnage. Tout exemplaire commandé était payé. Un petit éditeur de nos amis acceptait de revoir le tirage chaque semaine, à la centaine près. Ce tirage variait de 5.700 à 6.200. [...] Vu le chômage, deux ou trois militants se groupaient pour acheter un journal...” Lapeyre, letter to the author, 3 February 1986.

[19] Besnard, Ethique, p.130.

[20] This was a theme developed by Besnard previously. See, for instance, the proposed resolutions of the Executive Commission of the CGTR to the minority’s December 1921 congress: “La guerre a révolutionné toutes les théories considérées comme intangibles. La CGTR tient à leur faire savoir, à eux savants, techniciens, que les prolétaires n’ignorent pas les changements profonds survenus dans les grandes lois de la science, de la mécanique et de la technique, et que, préoccupés des transformations en cours que demain réalisera, ils ont à coeur d’en être, à leur rang, les bons ouvriers.” - Maitron & Chambelland (eds.), Archives de Pierre Monatte, p.283. Besnard was not the only supposedly backward-looking, ‘anarcho-syndicalist’ who embraced modern technology and industrial rationalization. See also, for example, Péricat, ‘La Surproduction’ in Le Journal du Peuple, 7 December 1918, in favour of ‘machinisme’ and rationalization, but opposed to its making human work harder. See also Besnard’s speech on the ‘programme technique’ of the minority at the CGT’s Lille congress (which surprized the majority, as they thought only they had one), in Le Journal du Peuple, 30 July 1921.

[21] Besnard, Ethique, p.132.

[22] Besnard, Ethique, p.131.

[23] Besnard, Ethique, p.136-7.

[24] Besnard, Ethique, p.137.

[25] For a more detailed examination of the doctrine of ‘anarcho-syndicalism’, see Wayne Thorpe, ‘Anarcho-syndicalism in Inter-War France: The Vision of Pierre Besnard’ in European History Quarterly vol.26, no.4 (1996), pp.559-90. Thorpe shows clearly that Besnard’s views in no way conformed to the stereotypical representation of revolutionary syndicalism as anachronistic, defensive and backward-looking.

[26] Pierre Besnard, Les syndicats ouvriers et la révolution sociale (Paris: Le Monde nouveau, 1930); Le Monde nouveau (Paris: CGTSR, 1936); L’Ethique du syndicalisme (Paris: CGTSR, 1938).

[27] Thorpe and Mercier-Vega both provide examples of the use of the label ‘anarcho-syndicaliste’ around the time of the debate over syndicalist strategy and the crisis of the CGT (1907-8) - ‘The Vision of P. Besnard’, p.589, note 74; Le Syndicalisme révolutionnaire, p.9. Colson seems nevertheless to be right in saying that the term only came to be used widely from the 1920s.

[28] Pierre Besnard, L’Anarcho-Syndicalisme et l’Anarchisme, Rapport de Pierre Besnard, Secretaire de l’A.I.T. au Congrès Anarchiste International de 1937 (dated 30 May 1937; Republished as supplement to le Monde Libertaire, 1963; Preface by A. Schapiro), p.3.

[29] Colson, Anarcho-syndicalisme, p.20; see ch.2, ‘Le mythe de l’anarcho-syndicalisme’, pp.19-27.

[30] Colson, Anarcho-syndicalisme, p.30. Monatte’s speech, as well as the responses by Cornelissen and Malatesta, are reproduced by Louis Mercier-Vega in Le syndicalisme révolutionnaire: Une pratique qui cherche une doctrine, pp.17-31; published in L. Mercier-Vega & V. Griffuelhes, Anarcho-syndicalisme et syndicalisme révolutionnaire (Paris: Cahiers Spartacus, Série B, no.97, September-October 1978), pp.5-86.

[31] See Mercier-Vega, Le Syndicalisme révolutionnaire, pp.39-47, on the CGTSR and IWMA. Cf. the account given by the communist-syndicalist Victor Godonnèche of a discussion he had had with Besnard in a letter to ‘Krebs’ (the Comintern’s Mikhaïl Kreps?), 19 February 1922: “Besnard et ses amis, dans leurs conceptions néo-syndicalistes, faisaient du syndicat un véritable groupement politique, sapant ainsi, sans s’en rendre compte, la base même dont ils se réclament (la Charte d’Amiens).” Reproduced in Charles, ‘La CGTU’, p.128.5

[32] Auzias, ‘La CGTSR’, p.59.
[33] Quoted in Auzias, ‘La CGTSR’, p.57.

[34] This included, for example, in Limoges, the syndicats de la céramique (pottery), de la chaussure, de l’ameublement, de l’habillement. Maitron, Mouvement anarchiste, vol.II, p.70. Most unions that went independent in the early 1920s stayed independent into the 1930s, when many rejoined the CGT or went to the CGTSR - Amdur, Syndicalist Legacy, pp.238-9.

[35] Georges Bastien, Pour la Rénovation du Syndicalisme (Amiens: Syndicat autonome des Tisseurs d’Amiens, n.d. [1922-26]), p.6. One is reminded of Fernand Pelloutier’s stance: “La CGT ne saurait être autre chose à ses yeux que la rencontre temporaire, chaque fois que les circonstances l’exigeront, du Comité national corporatif (formé à partir des corporations de métier) et du Comité fédéral des Bourses du travail: organisme souple, n’exigeant ni budget, ni structures permanentes: l’une, le Comité national corporatif, chargé tout spécialement de la structuration des fédérations et de l’action revendicative; l’autre, le Comité des Bourses, chargé de tâches d’organisation, et surtout de l’éducation morale, économique et révolutionnaire du prolétariat.” - Jacques Julliard Fernand Pelloutier et les origines du syndicalisme d’action directe (Paris: Seuil, 1971), pp.144.

[36] Bastien, Rénovation.

[37] Bastien, Rénovation, p.1. Cf. Sébastien Faure’s remark in a speech on syndicalism reported in le Libertaire, 4 February 1921: “Ce n’est pas le personnel qui est à changer, ce sont les méthodes. Le syndicalisme est arrivé à un centralisme qui le tue”.

[38] Cf. the comments made by Malatesta at the Amsterdam conference of 1907 in his debate with Monatte: “Je suis convaincu en effet que Monatte et le groupe des ‘jeunes’ sont aussi sincèrement et foncièrement anarchistes et révolutionnaires que n’importe quelle ‘vieille barbe’. Ils regretteraient avec nous les défaillances qui se produiraient parmi les fonctionnaires syndicalistes; seulement ils les attribuent à des faiblesses individuelles. C’est là l’erreur; s’il s’agissait de fautes imputables à des individus, le mal ne serait pas grand: les faibles disparaissent bientôt et les traîtres sont bientôt connus et mis dans l’impuissance de nuire. Mais ce qui rend le mal sérieux, c’est qu’il dépend des circonstances dans lesquelles les fonctionnaires syndicalistes se trouvent. J’engage nos amis les anarchistes syndicalistes à y réfléchir, et à étudier les positions respectives du socialiste qui devient député et de l’anarchiste qui devient fonctionnaire de syndicat; peut-être la comparaison ne sera pas inutile.” Quoted in Marcier-Vega, Le Syndicalisme révolutionnaire, pp.18-9. I know of little that has been published on this question, but see Rolande Trempé et al, ‘Sur le permanent dans le mouvement ouvrier français’ in Mouvement social no.99 (April-June 1977), pp.39-46.

[39] Bastien, Rénovation, p.4.

[40] Bastien, Rénovation, p.5.

[41] Bastien, Rénovation, p.6.

[42] Bastien, Rénovation, p.8.

[43] Bastien, Rénovation, p.9.

[44] The CGT decided to replace the ‘Bourses du Travail’ with a network of ‘Unions Locales’ - which tended to be intermediaries or representatives of the UD, rather than the autonomous organization of the grass-roots - in December 1921. This was a continuation of the process of organizational ‘integration’ launched by the CGT before the war.

[45] Bastien, Rénovation, p.16.

[46] Amdur, Syndicalist Legacy, p.233. Amdur writes that a big proportion of Limoges syndicalists were “ardent localists” - p.232.

[47] Amdur, Syndicalist Legacy, p.213.

[48] Amdur, Syndicalist Legacy, p.253.

[49] The anarchist syndicalist Auguste Herclet even replaced the idea of ‘la grève générale expropriatrice’ with ‘la Grande Occupation Générale pour la Révolution’. La Vie ouvrière, 31 December 1920, quoted in Amdur, Syndicalist Legacy, p.182.

[50] Amdur, Syndicalist Legacy, p.262.

[51] Le Libertaire, 23 October 1931.
[52] Léonic [ie. Louis Lecoin], ‘Les Provocateurs’, le Libertaire, 6 June 1920.

[53] Mercier-Vega, Le Syndicalisme révolutionnaire, p.45. Mercier-Vega was, in the 1930s, known as Charles Ridel.

[54] Le Libertaire, 17 January 1914.
Section : Le syndicalisme révolutionnaire en France - Etudes : Entre-deux-guerres
Titre : Anarchism, Syndicalism and the Bolshevik Challenge in France, 1918-1926 - Part III : Syndicalism and the anarchist diaspora
David Berry
Pour citer cet article : http://www.pelloutier.net/dossiers/dossiers.php?id_dossier=193 (consulté le 21-12-2014)

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