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[publié le 30/08/2007 - Lu 10890 fois]

Towards a Syndicalist International : the 1913 London Congress
Wayne Thorpe
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Couverture de The Workers themselvesCet article est originellement paru dans l'International review of social history, vol. XXIII, 1978, part 1, pp. 33-78. Nous tenons à remercier la rédaction et l'Internationaal Instituut voor sociale Geschiedenis d'Amsterdam, éditrice de la revue, qui nous ont autorisé à publier ce travail. Nos remerciements chaleureux à Wayne Thorpe, qui a non seulement accepté la publication sur pelloutier.net de son travail novateur, mais nous a grandement facilité le travail d'édition.
Les intertitres, qui n'existaient pas dans la version papier, sont de Wayne Thorpe. Nous avons conservé la pagination originale qui apparait ainsi : /34/.
Consacré au congrès syndicaliste révolutionnaire international qui s'est tenu à Londres en 1913, cet article est une version longue du chapitre consacré au même sujet dans le livre de Wayne Thorpe, "The Workers Themselves" : Revolutionary Syndicalism and International Labour, 1913-1923, Dordrecht/Boston/London : Kluwer Academic Publishers, Amsterdam : International Institute of Social History, 1989, XVIII-352 p. Ce livre retrace les diverses tentatives d’unification du mouvement syndicaliste révolutionnaire de la 1ère Internationale à l’AIT de Berlin fondée en 1922.

NB : Toutes les dates citées renvoient à l'année 1913, sauf indication contraire = All dates cited refer to the year 1913, unless otherwise specified.


Sommaire :


Although identified above all with the French Confédération Générale du Travail prior to the First World War, revolutionary syndicalism had become an international movement by 1914, when various labour organizations in Europe, North and South America, and Australasia espoused its doctrines or the kindred doctrines of industrial unionism. The desire to establish durable international bonds between these revolutionary organizations had grown steadily, especially in Europe, where by 1912 organized syndicalist bodies existed in France, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Britain, Belgium, Spain and Italy. The congress held in London in the autumn of 1913 represented the first effort to create a vehicle of syndicalist internationalism. But the congress and the debate surrounding it demonstrated not only that syndicalists were not in accord on international tactics, nor on national tactics, but also that the deepest cleavage on the question of international strategy was that dividing the CGT from most syndicalist organizations in other countries.

The Syndicalists and Labour Internationalism

Because they insisted upon the autonomy of labour, the international ideal of the syndicalists remained that of the First International, which they viewed as a genuinely revolutionary International imbued with a libertarian spirit. They placed no faith in the Second International, which had early imposed a pledge of political action and in 1896 had expelled the anarchists. The International Secretariat of National Trade Union Centres, on the other hand, was a strictly labour organization. Its exclusivist and reformist character, however, led many syndicalists to view the ISNTUC’s contribution to proletarian progress as more pernicious than beneficial.

The Secretariat assumed a practical and moderate character from the beginning. In deference to the Second International, the Germans of the /34/ social-democratic Freie Gewerkschaften consented only to a meeting of the leading officers of the national trade-union organizations in the conferences preceding the creation of the ISNTUC, the first of which was held in Copenhagen, where Scandinavian, British, French, Belgian and German officials assembled in 1901. This system of representation was carried over into the biennial conferences of the Secretariat when it was formally created in 1903. Between 1902 and 1903 the Freie Gewerkschaften had acted at their own expense as an informal international union centre. German initiative was rewarded in 1903, when Berlin was selected as the seat of the new organization and Carl Legien appointed international secretary, a position he held throughout the pre-war period. The ideal of union organization which the ISNTUC soon came to reflect — that of a highly centralized, dues-conscious national centre working closely with the socialist party — was that which the German organization embodied par excellence. Most affiliates shared this ideal. The ISNTUC grew steadily from a membership of two million in 1905 to over seven million in 1913, when nineteen countries adhered.

The practical and reformist commitment of the new organization was underscored as early as 1904. Legien opposed the request of the CGT that antimilitarism and the general strike be placed on the agenda of the Amsterdam conference scheduled for 1905, replying that such questions lay beyond the province of the conference. The majority of the trade-union centrals supported him. The response to this disagreement was two-fold: on the one hand, the CGT boycotted the 1905 conference; on the other, the ISNTUC adopted a German resolution in Amsterdam whereby it excluded from its consideration “all theoretical questions and those which concern the tendencies and tactics of the trade-union movement in the individual countries”.[1] It declared its concerns to be the more practical ones of fostering relations between national union centres, collecting uniform labour statistics, and facilitating mutual support. When the French boycotted the 1907 Christiania conference because their agenda submissions had again been refused, the ISNTUC demonstrated its orientation even more clearly by unanimously accepting a resolution indicating its own support for the Second International and, in effect, formally censuring the anti-political attitude of the French. Following the Christiania conference the CGT altered its tactics. Its delegates attended the 1909 conference, where they advocated transforming the ISNTUC conferences of a few select delegates into trade-union congresses in which unionists /35/ could discuss not only the practical questions of organized labour, but the larger issues barred from the ISNTUC meetings as well. This constituted a return to the policy unsuccessfully advocated by the Dutch of the Nationaal Arbeids-Secretariaat, with French support, at the 1902 Stuttgart conference. The proposal of the CGT was turned back in 1909, as it was in Budapest in 1911.

By then the Secretariat’s exclusive devotion to reformist concerns and its support for the Second International had brought it into disrepute with many of the syndicalists of Europe. Its character could be altered only if its structure were altered, but this the ISNTUC steadfastly refused to do. By admitting a single trade-union central from each country, the national syndicalist organizations as minority movements were barred from membership, and their nation represented exclusively by their reformist rivals. By 1907 the only revolutionary member was the CGT, the NAS having withdrawn in protest. The libertarian organizations were not merely barred, for the Secretariat employed its conferences and its annual report to hurl accusations at them. In terms of the spread of syndicalist organizations, by 1912 the syndicalists could view the preceding years as a period of international progress. But those organizations were confronted by hostile reformist unions within their frontiers, and were without ties abroad. Already in 1909 the NAS had called attention to the isolation of the revolutionary unions, and had asked how long it could be permitted to continue. “We are waiting for France, we know that, but that may well go on so long that in the mean time major interests are neglected.”[2] By 1913 the syndicalists were ready to act.

The appeal for an international syndicalist congress came simultaneously from Britain and Holland. The November 1912 London and Manchester conferences of the Industrial Syndicalist Education League instructed the League to organize an international congress. The NAS had created a committee charged with the same task, which in February 1913 issued a circular over the signature of Gerrit van Erkel calling for a syndicalist congress. The secretary of the ISEL, Guy Bowman, published the British invitation the same month. The thrust of the two appeals was nearly identical. Both lamented the lack of effective supra-national solidarity occasioned by the absence of an international syndicalist organization. Both damned existing international bodies as antithetical to the interests and goals of syndicalists. Of the Second International the British invitation declared:

We cannot be rendered impotent by having our international relations /36/ conducted through a body that exacts a pledge of parliamentarism and is composed of glib-tongued politicians who promise to do things for us, but cannot even if they wanted to. We must meet as Syndicalists and Direct Actionists to prepare and develop our own movement for economic emancipation free from the tutelage of all politicians.

Both rejected the ISNTUC, from which, van Erkel asserted, “toute propagande révolutionnaire [...] est exclue systématiquement”. Bowman observed that it would make little difference if the ISNTUC permitted the presentation of resolutions on such questions as industrial sabotage and antimilitarism, “for the whole of the permanent officials are politicians; most of the delegates are conservative if not absolute reactionaries; and the whole business is controlled by Social Democrats”.[3] While the British called for a congress to be held in London in May, the Dutch circular initiated a canvass of opinion on whether an assembly should be convened in the autumn and, if so, where.

The responses were not long in coming. The Germans of the Freie Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften (FVDG) expressed ardent support; the summonses were warmly received elsewhere as well, including Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Italy and Spain.[4] A number of organizations, however, shared the opinion of Christiaan Cornelissen, the editor of the Bulletin /37/ international du mouvement syndicaliste, that the May date proposed by the British was impractical. While he viewed the congress as urgently required, Cornelissen cautioned that an assembly too hastily convened would not benefit the syndicalists, but would squander their efforts and possibly give rise to the charge that “dans notre mouvement révolutionnaire, l’esprit organisateur fait trop défaut pour la préparation matérielle d’un congrès”.[5]



[1] Quoted in Joh. Sassenbach, Fünfundzwanzig Jahre internationale Gewerkschaftsbewegung (Amsterdam, I926), pp. I7-I8.

[2] De Arbeid, 27 November 1909.

[3] Bowman in The Syndicalist and Amalgamation News (hereafter SAN), February; van Erkel in Bulletin International du Mouvement Syndicaliste, 16 February. This issue of the Bulletin reproduced much of the Dutch circular and the whole of the British invitation. The entire Dutch circular appeared in De Nederlandsche Zeeman, 1 March.

[4] Die Einigkeit (Germany), 22 February; Wohlstand für Alle (Austria), 26 February; Syndikalisten (Sweden), 1 March; Solidaritet (Denmark), 1 March; L’Internazionale (Italy), 1 March; Tierra y Libertad (Spain), 24 February. In the United States both the Industrial Workers of the World and the Syndicalist League of North America welcomed the congress proposal. William Z. Foster’s SLNA identified with the CGT, tended to favour craft unionism, and opposed the dual unionism of the IWW, with which Foster had broken in 1912. Foster promoted the congress, in which he hoped the SLNA would be represented. The Syndicalist (Chicago), 1 February. But the SLNA was short-lived and The Syndicalist itself disappeared in September I913. The IWW’s Industrial Worker (Spokane, Wash.) identified syndicalism above all with craft unionism and contrasted with it the IWW’s industrialism: “The I.W.W. is not a syndicalist organization, though many regard it as such. It is an industrial union. [...] In international affiliations the I.W.W. is more closely allied with the revolutionary syndicalists than any other body. [...] still it is well to understand from the outset that the I.W.W. represents a higher type of revolutionary labor organization than that proposed by the syndicalists.” (9 January) Taking note of the congress proposal, the Industrial Worker on 3 April again remarked upon the superiority of the IWW’s industrialism, but recommended the congress, adding: “let its most important work be the formation of a connecting link between the revolutionary syndicalists and industrialists of all countries.” The Industrial Worker dismissed the ISNTUC as a “farce”, but observed that the official position of the IWW on the London congress would have to await its annual convention in September.

[5] Bulletin, 16 February. At the International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam in 1907 the merits of revolutionary syndicalism had been discussed in a lively debate between the veteran Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta and the young French militant Pierre Monatte. The congress gave rise both to a short-lived anarchist bulletin and to the more durable Bulletin of Cornelissen, a Dutch militant also active in the French movement.


 

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