I. The origin and development of revolutionary syndicalism in France and its international propagation to 1914
Socialism in France in the 1860’s was dominated by Anarchism, in the first place by Proudhon’s mutualism and federalism and later by Bakunin’s collectivism and subversion theories. The 1870’s represent a kind of vacuum, characterized by the depressive conditions which prevailed after the fall of the Paris Commune and its after-effects. Political Socialism in the 1880’s was divided into a parliamentary and an Anarchist group. The parliamentary Socialists were distinguished by a large organizational split right up to 1905, when a unified party was founded. The Anarchists, who had adopted the teachings of Kropotkin in the 1880’s devoted themselves to the cult of violence right up to 1894. From then on they made a directional change and launched into a powerful campaign within the trade union movement, whose aims they influenced quite considerably.
The first French Trade Union Confederation (Fédération Nationale des Syndicats), FNS, was founded in 1886. It was under the control of the parliamentary-socialistic “Guesdists”. From 1887 onwards, another type of union organization grew up in the form of the so-called “bourse du travail”, FBT. At a joint congress in 1894 of the FNS and FBT, the assembled delegates declared that the general strike constituted the proletariats chief revolutionary weapon. The FNS was dissolved. In 1895 a new Trade Union Confederation was formed, under the name of the Confédération Générale du Travail, CGT, which now emerged as the collective representative of the revolutionary Syndicalist movement.
The ideology of revolutionary Syndicalism comprises a synthesis of Anarchism, Marxism and — subsequently theorized — practical experiences. Syndicalism drew its sources from the materialistic interpretation of history and from Marx’s theory about wage-slavery. The Syndicalists declared their pri- /418/ mary aim to be the elimination of capitalism, the destruction of the state and the take-over of the means of production. In order to achieve this they recommended active class struggle. They rejected determinism and presented the will to take action as a decisive pre-condition for success. The Syndicalists rejected the possibility of parliamentary action’s being able to lead to a victory for the proletariat. However, they adopted an extra-parliamentary, rather than an anti-parliamentary position. They were critical of the majority thinking of the political democracy and emphasized the importance of the energetic minority. The only way of achieving a victory, according to them, was through industrial action undertaken by the workers’ economic (i.e. Trade Union) organisations and not through parliamentary debate. Direct action should be their means of operation. The revolution should be made a reality by means of the social and expropriative general strike, the success of which depended on the effectiveness of the penetration of the Syndicalists’ anti-military propaganda. The new society which was to be created after the general strike was to be built on local organisations which had administrative and distributional functions. The trade unions were to undertake the role of production associations. The coordination of the various affairs of state was to follow the norms of federalism and acquire international scope, since Socialism was not confined to any one particular country. We can state that their aim was to strive towards establishing a state of anarchy in society. Syndicalism was a means towards achieving this end. French Syndicalism, therefore, should be characterized as Anarcho-syndicalism.
The spokesmen for the CGT considered the material profits of the daily struggle to be of secondary importance. The purpose of these struggles was to school and train the workers for the greater goal, i.e. revolution and the Socialist society. Permanent struggle thus produced the biggest profit. The Syndicalists rejected money-raising for both social purposes and the amassing of strike funds. Instead, they emphasized the importance of solidarity and other such tactics. They were opposed to any kind of collective agreement legislation. They put forward the strike, the blockade, the boycott, sabotage, obstruction, passive resist- /419/ ance and public demonstrations as the chief means of struggle involved in direct action.
For two decades, especially the one immediately preceding the outbreak of the first world war, Syndicalist organizations were founded in a great number of countries in the continents of Europe and America. The situation in France served very often as a model. In many cases the newly-founded organizations took the form of independent associations which rivalled the reformist Trade Union Confederations. This was the case in Spain, Portugal, Argentina and other South-American countries, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Germany and the USA. A few of those established organized opposition groups. Such was the case in both Sweden’s neighbouring countries, Denmark and Norway, likewise in England.
A common ground for all the Syndicalist organizations was their preference for economic class struggle, direct action, general strike and revolutionary tactics in the trade union struggle. The majority of them also rejected the party-political fight and favoured either an extra-parliamentary or an anti-parliamentary attitude. Exception to this line was taken between 1905 and 1908, firstly by the IWW in the USA, which advocated a revolutionary struggle composed of a combination of the labour movement’s political and economical sections; secondly, by the USI in Italy whose representatives were active within the Socialist party right up to 1908, when they were expelled, and thirdly, by the NFO in Norway where the leading Syndicalists were active within both the Socialist party and the trade-union movement. The existing Syndicalist organisations can be roughly schematized into two groups: the Anarcho-syndicalistic and the purely Syndicalist. The former category comprises the main part, with the Spanish CNT as its leading exponent. Syndicalism, to these organizations, was the means of realizing an Anarchist society, the elements of which constituted local units, more or less permanently united in federations. The latter category was represented by the American IWW. For it and its supporters, the actual form of society, based on industrial lines, seemed to be standardized. Therefore, the Syndicalist organization had to be given, even then, an industrial-organizational structure of such a kind /420/ as would correspond to the industrial formswhich were to be the basis of the future Socialist society. The syndicalist effort was concentrated in this case, on realizing Syndicalism.
II. The ideological development within Swedish young socialism. The inception of syndicalism
The left wing of the Swedish Social Democratic Worker’s Party, SAP, was composed of the Young Socialists’ League, SUF. Its Policy, generally referred to as Young Socialism, still had, up to 1903, its main roots in Social Democratic principles. That year, by means of a long series of articles by A. Roller, the league’s publication, Brand introduced the theoretical fundamentals of Anarchosyndicalism, at the same time presenting the leading principles within the CGT. This was nevertheless no expression of an ideological change of direction. The debate in the Brand between the years 1903 and 1905, indeed shows that the general strike was preferred to parliamentary discussion, as a means of realizing revolution. At the same time, the Young Socialists attached great importance to the solution of the question of the right to vote and declared that the general strike should be used in order to carry thought this reform. At the SUF Congress in 1905 a declaration on tactics was adopted. In non-categorical terms, the general strike, and not parliamentarianism, was held to be the most effective weapon in the struggle to free the working class.
SUF’s ideological debate during the congress period from 1905 to 1907 was dominated by Einar Håkansson and Albert Jensen. Håkansson perceived that Young Socialism already had strong points of contact with anarchy, but lacked its predominant and constructive principles. He advocated an ideological development towards pure anarchy. Jensen campaigned for an ideological change to Syndicalism. It remained an open question at the 1907 Congress which ideological line SUF would choose. No change was adopted. To a certain extent the delegates’ restraint was probably coloured by consideration of the plight of the Young Socialist editors, Bergegren and Schröder, who had been suspended from SAP in November 1906. Their fate was to be de- /421/ cided at the Party congress in 1908. It must therefore, have seemed to SUF an opportune moment to refrain from any kind of provocative tendencies.
However, in spite of his, the period between the SUF Congresses in 1907 and 1908 was notable for a break-through for Syndicalism. The Young Socialists adopted the theoretical policy of Syndicalism through a pamphlet written by the German, R. Friedeberg and two papers of A. Jensen, plus a number of articles in the Brand. Jensen emerged as the great driving-force. He represented, in 1908, a concept of revolution which concurred with that of the American, Daniel de Leon, together with a futuristic vision of an Anarchist type of society, i.e. an Anarchosyndicalistic basic view.
Bergegren and Schröder were expelled from the SAP at its congress in May 1908, thus creating the precedent of giving the party committee the chance to expel any undesirable persons. Against this background, SUF held an extra congress in August of the same year. The decision was made to break away from SAP and to reconstruct SUF into the Swedish Young Socia/ist Party, SUP. The congress also adopted a new declaration of tactics, in reality a declaration of principles. This gave expression to a decidedly Syndicalist attitude. The inability of parliamentarianism to act as a revolutionary instrument was now laid down. This purpose, it was said, could only be fulfilled by the general strike. Other parts of the declaration included: the dualfunction of the trade unions in their capacity of instrument of struggle in the present and production instrument in the future; new trade-union tactics and the struggle against centralization.
The founding of a new party and change-over to a Syndicalist ideology constituted a consistent realization of the Young Socialists’s orthodox Marxist position and of their reaction against the reformism of Social Democracy. A comparison with the Young Socialist movements in Denmark and Norway show that SUF’s positions were not unique. In 1908, Young Socialism in Sweden, Denmark and Norway represented, more or less the same ideas.
III. The debate from 1906 to 1909 within the Labour movement on the Trade-Union’s aims, form and tactics
From 1906, the Swedish employer’s associations, SAF, was engaged in the promotion of collective agreement and demanded at every settlement that the “freedom of work”, § 32, should be established. SAF also strove to establish a basic agreement and a negotiation procedure with the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, LO. The ambitions of LO were thought to stem, in the first place, from a desire to preserve the positions already won by recognition of the rights of association and by the collective agreement. During the period 1906 to 1909, of which the latter part was marked by depression, the employers took up a widespread struggle with the workers. Their weapon was the lock-out. In the summer of 1908, 220.000 employees were threatened with lock-out. Concessions from the side of LO and an arbitratory intervention from the government averted a big conflict. The controversies continued during the autumn of 1908. The workers were forced into yet more retreats. As a number of problems within the SAF-LO dealings in the spring of 1909 could not be solved by negotiations, SAF staged lock-outs and gave notice to a total of 160.000 men. LO decided to make a partial return to work. During the autumn the first actions were gradually reduced on both sides without their having reached any real settlement.
Developments in the labour market during these years resulted in a widespread debate among the workers, about the various organizational forms of the trade unions, about the relationship of LO to SAP and about trade union tactics and Syndicalism. The aim of the debate was primarily to bring about such reforms which would make the workers better equipped for struggle. The proposal for a transfer to industrial organization occupied a prominent position within the trade union movement and among Social Democrats. Many of the large trades-associations and two of the foremost party newspapers allied themselves to this proposal with motives coloured by fighting tactics. The main body of these also advocated a centralization. Another group of the debaters wanted to retain the trade union structure. /423/ They recommended a centralization of the strike funds, combined with strengthened international connections. A third category of those involved in the debate only dealt with the question of the trade unions’ process of decision-making. To this group belonged prominent names from the party press, who declared themselves to be in favour of centralization. After the general strike, a reform towards decentralization gained a couple of prominent propagandists from the ranks of the wood and iron workers. The debate centred around tactics dealt in the main, only with the question of whether LO should be granted powers of attack. Such a change was recommended by the majority of the party newspapers and many large trades-associations. However a couple of powerful voices were to be heard from amongst the opponents. Three union newspaper voiced the demand that LO should be made party-politically neutral. Thus it can be stated that the spokesmen for both the unions and the Social Democrats were not entirely in agreement on any constructive question.
The Young Socialists took a keen part in the debate about the forms of organization. There was no agreement to be found in their ranks either. One group considered industrial association to be the only realistic alternative, while another group of the same strength, recommended local organizations, amalgamated in one central organization. The question of tactics was of central importance to the Young Socialists. In connection with a detailed newspaper documentation in the middle of 1908, about the theory and practical experiences of French Syndicalism, they adopted a persistent agitation for a change-over to more radical, ruthless tactics. To the degree in which these terms were interpreted, recommendations were made for new strike tactics, a new attitude towards collective agreements and the use of sabotage as a militant weapon. The Young Socialists’ propaganda campaign for a trade-union programme of action, based on syndicalistic alternatives, was refuted, strangely enough, chiefly by the Social Democratic and not the trade-unions paper. They rejected the ideas of Syndicalism and considered them incompatible with conditions in Sweden.
At the LO Congress in November 1909 there were, therefore, a /424/ large number of reform proposals. The entirely overshadowing complex of problems dealt with the questions of form, decisions and tactics. Demands for reform were made in all of the 48 motions, in keeping with the proposals which had earlier pervaded the debate. After prolonged discussion, the congress decided in favour of conducting an enquiry.
IV. The birth of the SAC
The Young Socialists greeted the general strike with delight and enthusiastically took part in the struggle, at the same time agitating for an expansion of the aims of the struggle. When the conflict gradually petered out, they delivered sharp criticism against the leaders. The strike, they said, had been led by Social Democrats, and the tactics had been Social Democratic, primarily with regard to the bourgeoise society. The general strike, according to the Young Socialists, had shown that the economic struggle must be steered in a revolutionary direction in combination with revolutionary methods and means of struggle. The propaganda for this must now be increased. The overall result of the LO congress, with its decisions to conduct an investigation, caused great disappointment among the Young Socialists. They concluded that intensified agitation for revolutionary Syndicalism was essential. However, the Young Socialistic newspapers were opposed to a separation from LO. Industrial organization was proposed as the model for the future.
After an energetic and goal-conscious effort, a group of Young Socialists from Skåne succeeded, under coup-like conditions, at two consecutive trade union meetings in Lund, in being given the task of building a new trade-union confederation, based on local co-associations. The so-called Lund committee worked for this purpose during the spring of 1910. The two leading figures in this group, Gustav Sjöström and Knut Lindström compiled a brochure which was distributed amongst trade unions and Young Socialist clubs together with an invitation to a national congress. The paper contained a condensed version of the Syndicalists’ theory of struggle, and was characterized by the recent years’ conflicts in the Swedish labour market. /425/ A study of the Young Socialistie newpapers’ attitude towards the Lund committee and its intentions shows a divided picture. The Brand adopted a relatively passive attitude, while the Nya Folkviljan greeted the organizational project with joy. There seemed to be a limited interest from within the ranks of the Young Socialist movement. The Social Democratic newspapers did not discuss at all the attempts to found a new organization. A few articles appeared in the trade-union press. All the editorial contributions were categorically negative and labeled the activities then in progress as disruption and treachery.
1910 SAC congress
At the inaugural congress, called by the Lund committee, a group of Young Socialist club delegates advocated the postponement of the new organizational formation. In its place, until further notice, they proposed an unorganized opposition within the existing confederation of trade-unions. These attitudes gained no outstanding hearing among the trade-union delegates. The Swedish Central Labour Organisation (Sveriges Arbetares Centra/-organisation), sac, was created. It was to be based on local co-associations (lokala samorganisationer), LS, and was to be led by a central committee, CK, having an executive council AU, as co-ordinator.
The statement regularly appears, both in Swedish and foreign literature, that the SACwas formed as a reaction to the failure of the general strike in 1909. This interpretation is incorrect. The fundamentals upon which SAC rested were older. The ideological development which Young Socialism underwent had already resulted in a clear Syndicalist set of opinions by 1908. From 1908onwards, the Young Socialists campaigned in the trades-union debate for a method of struggle and a set of tactics which had their foremost origins in the French CGT. The program upon which SACwas founded existed for the most part, in the shape of demands for economic reform as early as the autumn of 1908. The general strike intensified these demands. It was, above all, the result of the 1909LOCongress which constituted the direct beginning of SAC’sgrowth, since the proposals of the Young Socialists/Syndicalists were left without a proper hearing. A group of Young Socialists considered that the time was now ripe and launched into action. /426/ The birth of SAChas often been presented as an isolated Swedish event. This view cannot either be given any credibility. A comparative study gives totally different results. In 1910, entirely independently of each other, came the formation of CNTin Spain, ISELin England, FS in Denmark as well as the appearance of an oppositional group in Norway with its centre around Trondheim. The creation of SACthus constituted part of an international phenomenon and was not a characteristically Swedish occurrence. No single incident or situation which on its own can explain the concurrence of these syndicalistic movements’ appearances seems to be present. Several generally relevant factors with varying degrees of influence can be suggested as possible driving forces in the process: revisionism’s strengthened positions within Social Democracy, more widespread knowledge of Syndicalism, the growth and militant attitude of employers’ organizations and the effect of the depression on the labour market from 1908onwards.
V. The development of membership in SAC and agitation for member-recruitment, 1910-1912
A study of the development of membership in SACindicates that the Syndicalist organization did not receive the large support anticipated from the opposition group within LO. After one year of existence, membership was around 1.000and after five years, around 5.000. Thereafter, there occurred a quicker growth leading to a total membership of 33.000 after ten years’ existence. A ten per-cent decline in 1921was not entirely compensated by a new advance in 1922. At that point, membership lay around the 31.000 mark. The LStotal increased during the first decade at a comparable rate. In 1910there existed 21, in 191594 and in 1920, 396. However, the increase continued. In 1922, 471 LS were members of SAC. The result of a study of established, active LS shows that the growth of SACwas unstable. Out of the total number of LS established during the whole period, about only halfwere in operation during the last quarter of 1922. The size of LS underwent a noticeable increase. After 1917,a typical member /427/ ship-figure lay in the range of 26-50 members. From 1917 onwards, the arithmetical average exceeded 8o. Up to, and including 1914, the main body of all LS was composed of a single trade group. From 1918onwards, the majority of LS were heterogeneous, with membership drawn from different groups of employment. A study of the district distribution of SACmembership indicates that the main body of affiliated members was to be found in a limited number of districts. During the first years, Bohuslån (South-west Sweden) was the region most outstandingly rich in membership. For the greater part of the years to follow, Dalarna (middle Sweden) was to be SAC’s strongest district. Stockholm held this position for a couple of years. A study of the variety of employment amongst SAC membership reveals that more than 8o per-cent of the total membership can be classified as uneducated, not skilled. The stonemasons dominated during the first years of existence. Their place was taken over during the war by the construction workers, especially navies. After the war, the forestry, log-floating and saw-mill sections became SAC ‘smost prominent areas of membership recruitment.
A study of the direction of the agitation for recruitment of new members is only possible to a limited extent. A look at the protocol of AUand CKshows that the central leadership, especially of AU, took the initiative on a great number of occasions to agitate within different geographical areas and employment groups. Neither the choice of region and worker, nor the motives expressed for the actions in question, indicate that agitation occurred with regard to the facility of competing with LOwithin the respective fields. AU’s and CK’sagitation was in the first place general, aimed at all workers, throughout Sweden. The same result is achieved through a survey of the economical support distributed by AUand CK.The few sums of money distributed were given without any evidence of priority. The formulation of SAC’s agitation followed basically the same pattern used within LO, having the extended propaganda tour as the predominate feature. Three characteristic elements of SAC’s agitation have been noted: firstly, the recurring choice of conflict situations at which to conduct agitation; secondly, the so-called third-line’s agitation, whereby unemployed comrades are sent as agitators to orga /428/ nizationally unexplored areas; and thirdly, the function of follower i.e., the systematic following of an LOtour in order to debate and propagate the ideas of Syndicalism. The contents of the Syndicalist agitators’ speeches are thought to have represented the contemporary SAC stand on different matters. The demand for inner instruction appeared as a special characteristic in 1917.By this, is understood a type of agitation which aimed at turning the many newly-won members into conscious Syndicalists. The district, usually the size of a province or a county, served as the organizational unit for SAC’s agitation.
VI. The ideological development within the SAC, 1910-1917. The syndicalistic theory of militancy
In its declaration of principles in 1910, SAC appeared as a militant organization, founded on the basis of the class struggle. SAC wanted to conduct a struggle to destroy capitalism and the state, in order to lay the foundations of a new, free society. By giving its action a directly economic character and making it ruthless and permanent and ultimately letting it culminate in the social general strike, the workers, according to SAC’s intentions, should be able to free themselves from wage slavery. Their declaration of principles is an expression of Anarchosyndicalist attitudes. It restates the theories represented by the French CGT during the first years of the twentieth century.
During the years 1910-1917, SAC’s spokesmen developed and intensified by means of both their newspaper The Syndicalist (Syndikalisten) and brochures, the ideas contained in the declaration of principles made in 1910. A fewnew ones were furthermore added. A study of the debate reveals the dominance of the following main attitudes:
SAC’s writers emphasized the correctness of the materialistic interpretation of history. They pointed out that revolutionary Syndicalism represented none other than the ideas originally put forward by Socialism. Ideologically they did not make any specific comparisons with Marxism. SAC’s ideological debate also contains certain typically Marxist proposals for class-polariza- /429/ tion and determinism. In the discussion about Syndicalism’s relationship to Anarchism, it was stated that Syndicalism was purely a means towards economic liberation and that us aim was anarchy.
In the 1910 declaration of principles SAC proposed an extra parliamentary position, through which the organization refused participation in parliamentary debate and controlled co-operation with the political parties. The debate about parliamentarianism proceeded to concentrate on the reasons for the extra parliamentary position. This led to continually recurring criticism of government actions and of the Social Democrats, which appeared to be founded on a basically anti-parliamentarian view. Because of this, the 1916 Congress expressly declared that SAC was extra- and not anti- parliamentarian. They adopted a declaration made at the Syndicalists’ international Congress in London in 1913. This came to serve as a new declaration of principles for SAC. However, the ideas expressed therein did not imply any new ideology. The Syndicalist criticism of Social Democracy was also directed, to a considerable extent, against the reformist trade union movement. The crucial difference between that and SAC lay, according to the Syndicalists’ way of looking at things, in their aims. The reformists contented themselves with economical reform policy and left the question of the changing of the whole of society in the hands of politicians. The Syndicalists considered, on the contrary, that class-struggle must be conducted at an economic level. The only organizations to the disposal of the workers for the achievement of this aim were the trade unions as representatives of industrial action. They had to carry on the struggle with Syndicalist weapons and tactics and be inspired by the spirit of revolution. Direct action to be undertaken. Strike, blockade, boycott and sabotage constituted the most common forms of action. Their main weapon was the general strike.
The aim of Syndicalism was to be realized by social revolution. It was staged by the workers’ declaration of general strike. During its first, passive stage, society was reduced to a state of chaos. In the second stage, the strike was made expropriative. The workers now overthrew capitalism and the state and took /430/ over the means of production and distribution. Thereafter they carried out a constructive re-organization, whereby the trade-unions were transformed into the very basic organizational units of society. The change intended by the Syndicalists was consequently a one-time revolution. By once delivering a decisive blow, the aim would be reached and Socialism would be a fact.
How did the Syndicalists react to the March events and their aftermath in Russia and to the April events in Sweden 1917? Syndicalists considered the March revolution in Russia to be merely a successful political coup. However, they hoped it would start off a general wave of revolution. The Swedish hunger demonstrations i April 1917 were considered by the Syndicalists mainly as proof of the workers’ having realized the necessity of direct action through a united struggle in the economic field. The internal political situation was considered by the Syndicalists to be favorable for the bringing about of a revolution. However, no direct call for the raising of the revolutionary flag was issued.
An international glance at the Syndicaliti organizations in France, USA and Great Britain shows that they developed in different directions. SAC observed the changes within them. CGT’s close co-operation with the state during the war drew the disapproval of the Swedish Syndicalists. IWW’s decision to act chiefly only as a propaganda organization was criticized. The English Syndicalists’ evolutionary ideas on revolution, involving the gradual take-over of the means of production, were not accepted.
The examination of SAC’s Syndicalism between 1910 and 1917 leads to the following conclusion. Syndicalism, as represented at the time of its appearance in 1910, remained essentially intact in 1917. The period contained no development, if by this concept we mean change. The ideology debate resumed in the intensification and strengthening of the 1910 positions.
A couple of additions, national defense nihilism and internationalism, were incorporated into the set of principles. They were of a purely complementary nature. SAC could be characterized both in 1910 and in 1917 as a militant organization with an Anarchosyndicalist goal. Syndicalism in Sweden in the years 1910 to 1917 was a theory of social construction.
VII. The ideological development within the SAC, 1917-1922:
1. International survey of past revolutions
SAC showed great interest during 1917 and up to 1922 in the development of events in Russia, Finland, Germany, France and England. The Syndicalists presupposed in their survey that the Russian, Finnish and German revolutions aimed at creating Socialist societies. Against this background they found that all these revolutions were complete failures. The reason for this was that the revolutions in question had only been political coups or rebellions. Political power was not followed up by a corresponding economic power. In Russia the Bolsheviks controlled the whole political apparatus, yet they remained socially powerless. The introduction of the NEP illustrated this misbalance very clearly. In Finland the Socialists had political power in a certain part of the country, but any attempts to reform commerce existed only on paper. Despite the fact that in Germany the workers were in power after World War I and that the Social Democrats later became the largest party of the Reichstag, the Social Democratic Government nevertheless functioned as the political executor of the bourgeois economic system.
The attempts to bring about State Socialism by political instruments of power represented a centralistic philosophy. Especially in the case of the Bolsheviks, the Syndicalists held the view that centralism had become too much of a pet theory. The Bolshevik version of proletarian dictatorship demonstrated very forcibly all the disadvantages of centralism. True Dictatorship of the Proletariat had transfigured into a dictatorship over the proletariat, a minority rule where lack of freedom, repression, violence and abuse of power were the main characteristics. The economic disaster in Russia, the up-rising of the peasants and the introduction of NEP were evidence of the impossibility of this system.
If Socialism was to be a viable reality the workers had to rally round the flag of Syndicalism. As opposed to the Social Democrats and the Communists, the Syndicalist representatives stressed in no uncertain terms, that the power of the workers could only be increased through industrial action by the indus- /432/ trial organizations. As was evident from the English example, it was immensely important that this industrial action showed a clear Socialist aim. The experience from England also demonstrated that direct action gave a better return than politico-parliamentary efforts. But action must not be willy-nilly. The result depended on good planning. The French General Strike of 1920 proved this. It lacked sufficient planning and hence it ended in a devastating defeat.
The strategy of the aforementioned revolutions had aimed at first overthrowing the old and thereafter building up something new. Herein lay a grave misconception of the character of social revolution according to the Syndicalists. Socialism could not be realized just by a stroke of the pen. It evolved as the result of an organic process from below. The constructive aspect of revolution was by far the most important. Revolutions must be organized, planned and set in motion perpetually. The old revolutions had failed because they were only an expression of the desire to tear down capitalism. The constructive system of Syndicalism was the only one which could lead to Socialism. Workers’ power could only grow if they geared their struggle towards gaining an ever-increasing control over (and workers’ participation in) industry. Step by step, this struggle would finally lead to the complete take-over of production and distribution, and thereby elimination of all capitalist elements. Parallel with this process workers were to be schooled and trained technically and economically and in matters of “morale” for their future Socialist tasks as citizens. This schooling and training along with the creation of a new production and distribution system were indispensable conditions for a successful social revolution. If these necessary conditions were not at hand the workers would be forced to rely on bourgeois expertise and capitalist means of production, as had been the case in Russia, Finland and Germany.
The thought that Socialism could only be brought to function by gradually increasing workers’ control was heavily propagated by SAC writers as the pattern on which the struggle of “the modern industrial proletariat” should be modeled. Usually such a term referred to the English Working class. In order not to appear ideologically isolated among Syndicalist organizations in /433/ advocating workers’ control, they searched for parallel attitudes in France. They referred i.a. to the new doctrines which Jouhaux had expressed and the declaration of principles that the CGT had accepted in 1919. When the latter appeared to follow an ideological course away from that of SAC, SAC-sympathies were transferred to the CSR/CGTU, with whom similarities in ideology more easily could be found. As the pro-Russian attitude of CRS/CGTU became evident, SAC lost its ideological link with the French trade union movement.
VIII. The ideological development within the SAC, 1917-1922
2. Syndicalism as a theory of revolution and society
The new ideas which began to crop up in SAC’s theoretical discussions during 1918 gained ground and became totally dominating from 1919. They became the foundation of the new Swedish Syndicalist ideology as it developed up to 1922.
In short this meant a modified view of the objectives of Syndicalism, the shape of revolution an nationalization, and the blueprint of the coming Socialist society. The aim of social revolution was not only nationalization but also — and herein lay an extension compared with the preceding period — to build a truly Socialist society. To achieve this, the workers must develop the class struggle in the economic field. The international revolutionary movement had, according to the Syndicalists, made it clear that the revolution must take the form of evolution with a revolutionary character and function as an organic process. The tactics of revolution must according to the English example aim at the workers’ gaining ever-increasing control and influence over their respective factories up to the point where they were in full power. Thereby, a violent confrontation between labour and capital could be avoided. Through national revolutions of this type, a Socialist world would at last ensue. It was thought by SAC-ideologists that the necessary qualifications for a successful social revolution could be acquired by workers through studies and practical experience both at work and in their own organization. Among the specific fields of Socialist action the Syndicalists un- /434/ derlined wage struggle. The workers were encouraged to gain influence over pricing, whereby profits could be reduced.
The national, social revolution seemed to the Syndicalists as a process which in time and space would run parallel within different branches of industry. Among the partial proposals for nationalization presented was the notion that workers should have the possibility to take over — without cost — and run redundant factories. Opinions were divided regarding the desirability of nationalizing individual branches of industry. SAC was opposed to State purchase of nationalized industries. The plans for economic democracy which evolved within the SAP in 1919 and the Guild Socialist ideas which became en vogue in Sweden at this time, were well received by SAC. Both projects, however, were criticized in matters of principle, but SAC-spokesmen found Syndicalist tendencies in both of them, which of course won their approval.
The economic-industrial and politico-administrative principles, structure and function of a Socialist society received much attention. State Socialism was heavily criticized by the Syndicalists. The Socialist economy, in their opinion, must be a decentralized structure, based on self-governing units. The means of production should be owned by society at large and not by the industrial Trades Associations. What is meant by “Society” is not clear. A sub-committee, appointed by the SAC Central Committe in 1920 produced a paper which by Rudolv Holmes’ initiative led to a complete plan for the organization of industry. It was linked directly to SAC conceptions about revolution and nationalization. The plan was to be a prototype on paper for a future society, based on co-associative and federative principles. The organizational connectives ran both horizontally and vertically with international extensions. Basic units consisted of industry wise formed syndicates, federations and departments. The IWW organization plan seems to have served as a model. In 1922 the SAC sub-committee plan was accepted as a framework for internal organization. The principles that the Syndicalists wanted to lay down for the politico-administrative organization of society were of a democratic and decentralistic type. Popular self-determination was to be established. They advocated therefore com- /435/ ated, the necessary co-operation between different regions would thus be assured.
The new ideas were discussed at the SAC Congress in April 1919. A resolution proposed by the CK, in which an evolutionary view dominated, was however rejected. It was evident that SAC as an organization was not as yet prepared to confirm officially the change in ideology which the ideologists as a body favored. At the Scandinavian Revolutionary Workers’ Congress in the autumn of 1919, the SAC as a whole introduced a program which clearly supported the new principles. At the end of 1920 the SAC-CK appointed a committee to revise the declaration of principles then in force. A proposal wich was termed an “interpretation” was published in the beginning of the following year. Most of the main principles which had governed the SAC ideological debate after 1919 were given in this interpretation. The CK accepted the proposal and put to a general vote that it should be accepted as the “Document of the organization”. This decision appears to have been forgotten and no voting took place. At the SAC Congress in 1922 the CK moved that the committee-proposal should be taken. The SAC Secretary then presented a counterproposal that was similar in principle but different in wording and construction. The declaration of principles finally taken by the Congress was a compromise between the two. Content-wise it was a formal confirmation of the new ideology. The Congress also approved an educational plan for theoretical studies in preparation for future Socialist tasks. Through the resolutions regarding the new declaration of principles, the educational plan and the new form of organization, the change in ideological direction — a result of the survey of international revolutions — was completed. After the Congress, Frans Severin, editor of the newly established SAC Daily Arbetaren (The Worker) emphasized to critics within the Swedish Communist Party that Syndicalism firmly rejected the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Later Severin confirmed to correspondents in the Brand that Syndicalism had no use for Anarchism and he was backed in so stating by the Executive Council (AU). The SAC remained nothing but Syndicalist. An international comparison /436/ seems to confirm what the Swedish Syndicalists themselves said at the time, namely that their new concept of revolution emanated from England. Compared with the ideology of CGT in France and FAUD in Germany the SAC-ideology shows marked differences. Of these SAC alone stood for the notion of evolutionary revolution.
My investigation points to the following conclusions. Whilst the ideological debate within SAC 1910 to 1917 did not alter the foundations of Syndicalist ideology, the discussion during the following years led to marked changes. In many respects important principles were reconsidered. New concepts arose about the aims, form and tactics of revolution and about the organization of the new society. Parallel with all this the Syndicalist ideology changed its character. Before 1917, Swedish Syndicalism was a theory of militancy. Swedish Syndicalism of 1922 was in contrast a Socialist theory with an explicit program both for the transition to Socialism and the shape and function of future society.
IX. SAC-tactics, 1910-1922
Collective wage agreements were according to Syndicalist opinion an expression of the balance of power on the labour market and mirrored the existing pattern of superior position for the employers. In the erroneous belief that workers would benefit economically by long, fixed-period agreements, the reformist had accepted these and given up all militant ambitions. The Syndicalists recommended a reversal to simple price-lists without fixed periods of validity. By making these agreements “loose” the organizations could be constantly militant. If workers were forced into fixed agreements, they would be able to break these when the time was ripe without moral considerations. With great satisfaction the Syndicalists noted that reformist breaches of agreements increased during the latter part of the war, and hoped that this tendency would continue. When law proposals regarding collective agreements were presented in 1910 and in 1911 and discussed from 1915 to 1917, the Syndicalists violently opposed them. The slogan of the day was that these proposals for class laws must be countered with all possible means. /437/ An investigation into wage and standard of living developments from 1910 to 1922, confirms the Syndicalist contention that long, fixed period agreements with fixed wage rates could cause considerable reduction in real wages. A study of the duration of the agreements shows that these tended to become shorter — after 1917 usually one year or less.
1922 SAC congress
Whether the agreements made by LS included time clauses or not, cannot definitely be ascertained now. In all likelihood both fixed and “loose” contracts were used by LS. It is also likely that many LS operated without agreements as LS normally speaking was not a contracting party as long as a trade union existed on the spot.
Strikes were held to be the main means of struggle by the Syndicalists at the time of the SAC inception. The debate in the following years was chiefly concerned with the strategy of strikes. The importance of planning before going into action was pointed out again and again. A strike would be planned so that it would not entail payments of relief money. If it did not give results within a reasonable time, it should be called off. From 1918 onwards a new view on strikes developed. The many disadvantages of open conflicts, especially the costs, were stressed. As far as possible, alternative tactics should be used.
Sabotage had no prominent place in the discussions during SAC’s first year. In the resolution on tactics accepted by the 1916 Congress, the importance of sabotage was heavily emphasized. With the new attitude towards strikes, sabotage-propaganda increased. The foremost method of sabotage was work-to-rule which was later termed “obstruction”. The Syndicalists often stated that the type of sabotage that they advocated was of an “intelligent” character and not connected with economic terrorism. Sabotage had the same objectives and was just as legal as strikes.
The term “Register” is used for a specifically Swedish Syndicalist means of struggle. It was peaceful in principle, and should be used industry-wise. “Register” cropped up in 1913 in the construction industry and its primary aim was to obviate internal competition between various work teams. Soon it extended to be an instrument of regulating wages. The first principle of the /438/ “Register” was that the workers themselves should evaluate their own work contributions, on the basis of price-lists which they themselves had created. By having a monopoly on their own labour, they could force the employers to pay the workers’ own wage rates. In this way the workers gained a certain control over their shops. To increase their influence they should also organize their own labour exchange through the “Register” was mentioned as the means of struggle which would contribute to social revolution as such.
What then did the LS-struggle look like in practice? Wage matters dominated the demands raised in more than 8o per-cent of all disputes accounted for. Between 1910 and 1921 account is made of 1272 disputes. Strikes were used in more than 90 per-cent of these. Sabotage is mentioned only in the case of eight conflicts. The actual mode of action does not seem to have followed the re-evaluation of strikes which gained favor in the tactics debate in 1918. The results achieved by LS in their disputes cannot be determined with any degree of accuracy, but LS-strikes were, relatively speaking, numerous. During the years 1917 and 1920, they amounted to roughly one third or even one half of all strikes in Sweden.
The “Register” was put on the agenda by most of the many industrial committees which were formed within SAC from 1916. However it was only among the construction workers and building workers — these two amalgamated in 1918 — that the “Register” gained significant spread. Between 1916 and 1920 it expanded rapidly and in this year it had 6200 reported members. The “Register” was not very successful in is function as a labour exchange, but it did succeed in raising wages. The average hourly wage achieved by SAC construction and building workers in 1920 was among the highest paid to Swedish workers.
X. SAC and LO, 1910-1920. Attitudes and relations
During this period SAC took the initiative on six occasions to suggest to LO organizational co-operation. One of the cases concerned a fundraising campaign, two cases dealt with propaganda /439/ campaigns and in three cases outlined actions due to labour market disputes. The LO-reply was in all cases negative.
The so-called “double-membership” gave the Syndicalists a forced organizational contact with members of LO. This was mainly caused by certain trade unions refusing to let SAC people into their work teams. These Syndicalists therefore had to join both the trade union and LS. The problem was discussed at all SAC congresses. In principle double organization was considered unworthy of an independent body, but was accepted whenever absolutely necessary. In a statement made by the 1916 Congress, double membership was sanctioned in those instances which arose out of a temporary tactical consideration. Thereby a certain recognition was given to the idea of “boring from within”.
At the inception of the SAC many delegates were optimistic regarding the possibilities of co-operation in action with the reformists. This quickly proved to be a grave error of judgment. The well-founded suspicion which early experience gave rise to, marked the resolutions regarding co-operation in action which the SAC Congress made in 1912 and 1916. In these the SAC declared itself willing to collaborate but made several reservations. The most important was that LS was to be treated as an equal party and that the LO organizations in question should give written guarantees of their desire for co-operative action. The fact that the trade unions in many cases clearly had broken Syndicalist actions led to continual criticism from SAC. “Reformist treason” was repeatedly denounced. The Syndicalists stated that this originated in LO’s monopolistic aspirations and, consequently, aimed at the destruction of SAC. It was also a symptom of the ideological fraternization on part of the LO-leaders, i.e. protecting the “legitimate interests” of the bourgeoisie.
Against the behavior of LO, SAC put up solidarity. Time and time again it was reiterated that Syndicalists would always remain solidary. Only through solidarity could the struggle against class rule be successful. Consequently no LS acted as strike-breaker during the period under survey.
SAC played a negligable role in LO’s development membership-wise. Nevertheless, the coming-about of the Syndicalist organization was considered of such importance that some action /440/ was thought necessary. This was especially apparent during the first years of SAC. The publication of pamphlets in 1910 and 1912, the participation in debates in 1910 to 1911 and country-wide agitation — all these measures of counter-propaganda were initiated by the Executive Board of that time. Many of the propaganda campaigns arranged during the following decade had the Syndicalists as their target.
A study of the LO debates in 1912, 1917 and 1922 shows that several of their ideas emanated from Syndicalist circles. In particular, the influence is noticeable in the discussion about the means of struggle in 1922. At that time a large number of trade unions demanded that LO should introduce a “Register”. The LS of SAC seems to have been the model for LO when it created central trade union organizations (FCO) in 1912.
The reasons given by leading LO-bodies for rejecting SAC suggestions for organizational co-operation were veiled up to 1922 in various ad hoc-explanations. In that year, the LO General Council and later also the Congress adopted a declaration of principles in this matter. LO now stated that it had the sole right to act as the central organization for organized workers. Necessary co-operation could be accomplished within the framework of LO. United actions with SAC were out of the question. LO’s attitude towards united action with the Syndicalists such as it can be studied at the level of Trades Associations was clearly negative already from the start of SAC. A special investigation of three big conflicts and the actions taken by the Executive Boards of the Stonernasons’ and General Workers’ and Manufacturing Workers’ Association, show that strike-breaking against the Syndicalists was by no means unusual. The General Council looked into this question in the autumn of 1916 and the spring of 1917. The delegates wanted a resolution of general validity for the entire LO-field, affirming that LO-members disavowed all Syndicalist conflicts. At the request of the Council, the Executive Board lay before the 1917 Congress a motion to this affect. After a long-winded debate which disclosed that the viewpoint taken by the board was not shared by the majority of delegates, the motion was rejected. Thereby the trade union representatives rejected the attempt at officially denouncing Syndicalist conflicts and reserved /441/ the right to side with LS on conditions that all claims for relief were waived in such cases.
The stone industry became the stronghold for SAC during the first years, especially in Bohuslän. After the first years’ of existence, the SAC-share of organized stonemasons was between 20 and 30 per-cent. In Bohuslän LS accounted for a third of the unionized members. The success within this industry, and especially in that of Bohuslän, can in my opinion be explained by the aggressive agitation and by the forward positioning of Young Socialists in Bohuslän in the years prior to 1910.
The Stonemasons’ Association defended itself against the advances of SAC with an energetic counter-propaganda. This took two main forms, firstly a great number of agitation campaigns using both their own people and LO-officials, and secondly the association attempted to build up in 1910 and again in 1913 a specific organization for agitation, based on the regional propaganda centers. By this comprehensive propaganda the Association succeeded already in 1910 to reverse the decline in membership that had taken place in 1909. But in none of the following years did the Association achieve the size it had had in 1908. One of the reasons was of course that a number of members had joined the SAC. Another reason was the organizational disillusion which spread within the stone industry after the General Strike in 1909. In spite of intensive recruitment of members the competitors SAC and the Stonemasons’ Association were not able to reach the figures that the Association alone showed in 1908. Only in such places in Bohuslän where LS came to supplant a trade union or where the two rival organizations worked side by side, could the number of organized workers be increased in comparison with 1909.
Section : Le syndicalisme révolutionnaire en Scandinavie -
Titre : Syndicalism in Sweden, 1903-1922 - Lennart K. Persson
Pour citer cet article : http://www.pelloutier.net/dossiers/dossiers.php?id_dossier=267 (consulté le 26-05-2013)