Letter to Freedom about the Carmaux strike, Agnes Henry

Dear Comrades,

The Carmaux Strike, as a strike, is, as all the world knows, at an end. Reséguier, the employer, has succeeded in securing the services of the men he required, and has rejected 330, to whom he objects and are still unemployed.

On the other hand, he has not succeeded in crushing their Union, which was his object in forcing the strike, while it (the strike) has been the means of calling forth an enthusiastic manifestation of solidarity on the part of all the Socialists of France. That in itself is a gain in the development of Socialism, but that is not all. Where the politicians have failed, the non-political revolutionary Socialists have come not merely, as we trust, to the rescue of the Carmaux glass-blowers, but to effect a far grander, because more far-reaching purpose.

The French trade unions are composed of real Revolutionary Socialists and they would not support a mere co-operative glassworks. They are opposed to political influence and dictation, and they have learned the futility, for Socialist ends, of merely co-operative concerns. They have, however, set themselves the arduous task of erecting a Workingmen’s Glassworks, which is to belong to the whole body of French Socialist workmen, under the direction of a committee of 45 members of various unions, and the profits of which are to go to the benefit of the Socialist propaganda on purely economic lines.

Never yet has such a Communistic effort, on so large a scale, been attempted in the Socialist movement. Such an example, too, when once successfully carried out, will certainly be followed, and will strike a death-blow at all political Socialism.

There are two methods adopted for collecting the necessary capital: by the sale of tickets at 2d. each (which give the right to all who buy them to attend all meetings and all entertainment free, which may be held on behalf of the factory), and by lottery subscriptions of articles to be drawn for on 30th June next at Paris, or of money towards such articles.

The tickets at 2d. are sent post free in packets of 50. Could not our propagandists speak and collect in their meetings towards buying the tickets and gve entertainments to which the said tickets would give admission? In short, could not our English comrades immediately start a movement of assistance and, at the same time, of propaganda? I trust they will do so, and do it speedily.

Fraternally yours,

A. Henry.

The Issue of Sex, by Hertha Barwich

The Issue of Sex
Hertha Berwich
1929
Der Frauen-Bund

 

At the centre of a truly socialist education will be sexual education, the prevention of sexual debauchery and the development of sensual love. On all these issues, bourgeois education answers with a great silence. The attitude towards gender in the current social order has until now prevented the development of any more emancipated ideas. Women are in every relationship subservient to men. In contrast, men are the lords and owners of women. In this sense, bourgeois education works towards making girls good housewives and maids, and to educate me to be real men. Girls’ games, girls’ company and girls’ tasks are degrading for them. Consciously and unconsciously, the ruling instinct over the female sex is developed in boys. With such an education, marriage can have no meaning for men, they look for their satisfaction in alcohol and brothels. Capitalist exploitation has destroyed not only proletarian marriage, but also petty bourgeois marriage. Socialism demands the equality of the sexes, and workers understand this demand the fastest. Necessity and class interest force them to recognise women as colleagues and comrades. Such comradeship will only be possible if we totally get rid of the bourgeois moral lies about intercourse. The liberation of sexual life holds the danger of unrestrained intercourse. We don’t want to and can’t fight this danger with another system of constraint, complete education will prevent any misunderstanding and any wandering off from the natural way of morality. We refuse the current bourgeois concepts of morality. Natural morality is an egalitarian relationship between the sexes which finds its expression in companionate marriage. Maturing youths find in the anarcho-syndicalist youth movement a community of joyous comradeship, ideal enthusiasm, and serious work. The blooms which flourish in a decaying society cannot thrive in them. The class-struggle organisation is the best system of defence against youthful excesses. The love between man and wife is no longer a forbidden fruit for the socialist youth, it is the fulfilment of true comradeship. The solution to the issue of sex is true community between the sexes on the same work, the same worries, the same fights, joys and victories. Marriage is no longer legally-sanctioned prostitution, but a bond of friendship which is agreed upon with full conscience. In the anarcho-syndicalist youth movement, young men and women find the way to class struggle, to the liberation of their minds and the solution to the issue of sex. Through social revolution, in which men and women stand side by side in true comradeship, we will achieve the economic, moral and mental liberation of everyone and start to build a world of freedom, love and prosperity in common solidarity.

May Day, by Sophie Zaïkowska

May Day
Sophie Zaïkowska
May 1st, 1912

This day was chosen by our fathers so that the proletariat throughout the world protest and demand rights in a global movement. The boldest among them saw there, in a faraway future, the means for the proletarian class to rise up against oppression, to grab social wealth, and to establish a fairer system. In the meantime, to everyone, it was a means to remind the bourgeoisie that workers were tired of being treated like beasts of burden, and that they demanded a few immediate improvements.
The main demand was and still is the 8-hour day: to have 8 hours of work a day, okay, but also 8 hours of leisure and 8 hours of sleep.
Every demand must stem from economic conditions and not from a desire, as justifiable as it can be. The 8-hour day propaganda was intense for a number of years, but, in in the industry, commerce and agriculture, such a reform could only ever be imposed by force. Maybe a firm will of the proletariat acting directly, in a revolutionary capacity, could have succeeded in imposing this demand. But we know how the May Day march was transformed, we know that it was mutated into a delegation to public powers. Some of us have in front of our eyes the painting in which Guesde and a group of Socialist deputies give a man the notebook of worker’s demands in an office.
On May 1st, 1912, there won’t even be a delegation, some Socialists town councils will officially celebrate May Day. And in quite a few places where workers are conscious and organised, after a day’s work, they will attend meetings and parties!
Of course, many workers wish to obtain a shorter working day. But even if we achieve some results to that effect, we can see that it is not as a class that this demand is imposed. Shorter hours are obtained in such and such a trade, then in another by a series of strikes and struggles limited to that industrial branch.
May Day has totally failed. Maybe a small result was obtained in some industries, but that’s all. In the textile industry in Vienna, for example, thanks to the energy of some of our comrades, among whom was Pierre Martin.
May Day has failed like everything that the ignorant, cowardly mass of workers has ever undertaken, as they stop at the first obstacle on their way: even in Vienna, where workers obtained a few improvements in the brutality of their exploitation only thanks to anarchists, when a strike occurred, the women who had especially benefited from past struggles exclaimed: “If anarchists get involved, we are going back to work. We don’t want any more martyrs.”
Women, who sabotage every social movements by their narrow and personal minds, would need to be educated so that they acquire, like many men, some personalities. Unfortunately, this issue is never addressed head-on. People try to lure women, are afraid to scare them. As high as the motives which lead militants to try and win over women may be, they approve women who, like Jacqueline in “La Bataille Syndicaliste” (The Syndicalist Fight) flatter their sisters’ prejudices.
Still, “La Bataille” is truly the best daily paper, the only workers’ paper, but Jacqueline wants her sisters to read it, so she writes:
“Even without being greedy like many of these women are (women of the bourgeoisie) let’s not allow people to steal from us. Let’s keep a watchful eye and tell ourselves that this money which we get from our partner’s sweat and labour must be used in the most intelligent way and in the way that benefits the community the most.”
Proudhon had said: either a courtisane or a housewife; Jacqueline boldly claims: a courtisane and a housewife!
By giving us advice, Jacqueline tells us that when some friends unexpectedly visited, she bought a piece of roast beef which, all things taken into account (parts to be discarded, inaccurate weight and so on) she paid 2,70 franc a pound. She adds, grumbling:

“It is still necessary to have some on the table sometimes, especially in Paris to compensate for the air we don’t get. Workers need food well thought-up: not too much, not too little.”

Later she says: “we must not forget that beef stew is the basis of family food.”
Jacqueline’s main course is always a meat dish! The inevitable beef stew, that workers’ ignorance believes to be a healthy and fortifying food, is, even for the partisans of meat-eating, recognised to be a breeding ground for microbes, in such a way that it acts on our organisms like a real poison.

Ignorant like every courtisane, like every housewife, vegetarianism, dairy products and eggs don’t seem enough for her to feed her man who’s been working all day!

But this poor Jacqueline talks about cooking like Jouhaux talks about workers’ needs. That is because among the militant proletariat there is a unity of opinion on the issue of needs.

Jouhaux, in a study entitled “The Minimum Wage” (its social value), demands a minimum wage which should be indexed on the absolute necessities of the life of a worker’s family, that is: “rents, necessary foods: bread, meat, wine or beer, vegetables, clothes, etc.” And he concludes that “it is for an extension of our needs that the fight for wage increases must go on.”

How do you want a worker to work less while spending more and having to feed his courtisane—his wife—on top of that?

Workers can’t wait to go back to the factory because they are always on the break of terrible misery, despair, thanks to the excellent advice from Comrade Jouhaux, from revolutionaries, who tell them to increase their needs instead of reasoning them.

It is obvious that if consumer demand decreased, working days would be shorter. People will say that the number of unemployed people would increase without the working day getting any shorter. I’ll say that it is possible that unemployment rates would momentarily go up, but it would be such a danger that measures would have to be taken, because revolt would soon threaten. The people is great only when it is hungry, it is like my neighbour’s cow who moos when her hay is late.

People will say that there has been high unemployment rates in some capital cities at some time, and that this did not lead to the revolution. It is easy to reply that this was only momentary, that it was only some economic disturbance. But I believe this disturbance would soon become a chronic condition, if workers reasoned their needs. And then, and only then, would the bourgeoisie be forced to let workers’ demands be imposed by the course of events itself!

Louis Lecoin, by May Picqueray

My enthusiasm for anarchism went in all directions. I was at risk of becoming inefficient, spreading my energies too thin. Chance made me cross paths with Louis Lecoin. It was in 1921 that I first met him. From that moment on, I spent most of my time making war to war.

Louis Lecoin was just out from the prison of Albertville after an eight-year sentence for antimilitarism. What stroke me first were his blue eyes which glistened with intelligence, with a touch of mischievousness, but also his goodness, his energy, and his courage. He even courted me for a short while. But, at 20, I thought this great man was too small. This did not stop us from being good friends all our lives.

I was not disappointed, the legend about him seemed justified. I knew him well from what Sébastien Faure, Pierre Le Meillour and other people had told me, with such warmth, such love! I knew all the things for which he had been imprisoned: his refusal, as a young soldier, to march against train workers on strike, and to shoot at them, defying the military machine of which he was a part. His campaign against the war, in 1914, the thousand leaflets he had distributed, his long years in jail, punctuated with hunger strikes to demand the reestablishment of the status of political prisoners, and for it to be granted to the anarchist comrade Jeanne Morand, injustly suspected of intelligence with the enemy.

Louis Lecoin was to us, young libertarians, young syndicalists, an example to follow. He had proven us that we could be at the same time syndicalists, liertarians, and antimilitarists.

When he got out he became the administrator of Le Libertaire, the newspaper of the Union Anarchiste, which did not prevent him from being a militant in his union (the builders’ union) and to intervene energetically and efficiently at the Lille congress in 1921 and Saint Etienne in 1922.

Like most of us, he felt enthusiastic about the Russian revolution, from which we expected great things, and which only brought us disillusions, but he resisted being enrolled into the Communist Party, unlike some other comrades.

In 1921, he led a campaign to avoid the extradition of three Spanish men: Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover, sentenced in Argentina pretendingly for some robbery, but in fact for being anarchists. Their extradition was imminent: a cruiser was coming to get them. He reached out to the highest political and judiciary figures, and, finally, won their case.

He also worked to avoid the deportations of Camille Berneri and Nestor Makhno and managed to save them.

But his biggest case was the Sacco and Vanzetti affair.

The Sugar Breakers: Notes from a woman on strike, by Séverine

The Sugar Breakers: Notes from a woman on strike
Séverine
1897

To François Coppée
To be on strike without having ever been an industrial worker can seem, at first sight, quite paradoxical. But if I haven’t got a taste of a factory, it is because of the bosses who haven’t hired me the day before yesterday.

I wished to know, technically, the cause and the goal of this strike; to know, through experience rather than hearsay, the bitterness, the harsh realities of this job, the name of which amused Paris; to realise, at last, the sum of endurance, tiredness, which a creature has to provide in order to earn just enough not to die – and start again the next day!

To go there as a “lady”, even as a friend, notebook and pencil in hands, a reporter among reporters, was to risk knowing maybe less than them; in any case, not to be able to do more, to remain parked in the same circle of evolution, in the same order of ideas.

The work of a journalist is, unfortunately, an official position, in such cases; which, without decreasing its interest, often makes it sterile. Whatever the rank of the informer in their professional hierarchy, it is known, it has to be told – hence, inferior. The two opposite sides only tell them what they wish to tell them; only let them see what they wish to let them see.

While the ideal thing would be to be ignored, anonymous, so much like anybody that no-one would suspect you; so mixed into the crowd, so close to its heart that they can truly feel it beat, only by putting their hand on their own chest… a flow incorporated into the Ocean, a sigh mixed in the great breath of humankind!

For labour issues, especially, this seems useful in my opinion. To describe workers’ lives is not enough – you must live it, in order truly to appreciate all its injustice and all its horrors. Then, we know what we are talking about; we are truly the echo of what we heard, the reflection of what we saw; we are soaked to the bone in pity and revolt!

To pretend, even with the best intentions, the most talent in the world, will only ever give this impression of honesty which an uncultured being sometimes obtains when they reproduce barbarously what they witnessed or took part in.

There is no need to spend years, months, weeks, to this study, to this neighbourhood, to this trial, as long as there is no question of studying the subtleties of the job, to become apt to deserve our wage – or, like in Russia, to catechise ignorant souls.

Our workers know how to think without a master; and the iniquities they suffer are so obvious (and, alas, so monotonous) that only a few hours suffice, for whom knows how to see them and hear them, to record them.

This is what I did. For almost a day, among these poor girls, dressed like them, I wandered under the scrutiny of the cops in front of the deserted factory, in the dreary comradeship of unusual idleness. I stopped at their stages; I heard their demands freely formulated; I went into the factories, saw the work of those who were submissive – who had too many children or were too hungry! – and that is why I can now tell you, in full knowledge, what this strike is about, and how much sympathy and interest it deserves.

First of all, the word is misleading: We shouldn’t say “breaker” but “organiser”, since the task consists in layering, in cardboard or wooden boxes, the sugar cut into stronger or less strong morsels, according to their number. In this way, the sugar for the cafés are 50, while the bis, cut into cubes, is especially reserved for use in the Midi. Only the refuse, the powder and shards, sold by weight, does not need to be aligned.
[…]
In ordder to understand what the “cassoir” is, you must imagine a big, very long table, around a metre wide, with parallel drain, like the lines of a music score in relief for blind people. It is between these rails that the sugar is going to go past – as an ingot before the knives, then as morsels – which the six organisers, in a continuous, unceasing, mechanical movement too, pick up a line, turn around, put it in the box placed behind them on some sort of wooden bench; they turn back, start again, forever, eternally, from seven in the morning to six in the evening, without rest, without ever sitting down, apart from ten minutes of break and an hour for lunch.
For example, they circulate. When their box is full, they must carry them to the scales, placed, at Mr. Sommier’s place for example, 20 or 25 metres away. The average number of journeys per day is 40. Pregnant women, young girls carry up to a thousand kilos. Many are injured; the hardiest lose on average two to three days per fortnight, because of faintness, exhaustion, stiffness, aches in their sides, problems with their pregnancy or their puberty.

I am only speaking here of the physical effort of it, because you need to read, as I just did, in medical books, to know which diseases are linked to this unfortunate lot.
They have no more nails, no more teeth; the first were used to the flesh by the handling of the sugar; the latter lost their enamel, fell, broke because of the dust which comes out – this dust which burn their eyelids, their throats; which makes their voices coarse; causes stomach infections, tuberculosis – suffering always, and an early death!
How much do they earn? They used to get 60 centimes per 100 kilos, that is, depending on their courage, from 3 fr. 25 to 4 fr per day. They have been told, almost a fortnight ago: “You will now only receive 50 centimes for 100 kilos. Competition is too harsh; take it or leave it.”
They left; they got out, preferring to starve completely, and quickly, than to slowly die from this. Because this meant a 10 centimes decrease per day – and you realise what 10 centimes a day mean in a workers’ household?
They tried a general strike. The workers from the Lebaudy, Lucas, and François companies first followed the movement started by the Sommier refinery. Then they grew wary… went back. Only the workers from Lucas’s place, men and women, sacrifice 15 centimes a day to support the Sommier’s strikers. But there are less than twenty of them – and there are over 140 people on strike!
A little help arrived, from here and there, sent by plebeian solidarity, or the compassion of some people who were moved by so much distress and so much bravery. They were able to distribute 30 centimes a day; and families of five, six people lived with this on bread and water – but still not giving up!

I went to meet with them on Monday, at dawn, at the top of the rue de Flandre. The day before, three delegates had come to find me, to tell me what I wrote earlier; and as I had mentioned my idea to spend a day there, to get hired if possible, they were enthusiastic at this prospect, if slightly sceptical as to its implementation.
However the “secretary”, Hélène Milani, a tall blond woman with confident eyes, a gallant air, had told me: “See you tomorrow!” But she had added: “You will never manage, Madame,” which had upset me. I am not a wimp, and what I want, I get.
Therefore, there I was, showing up at one of their homes, at the given time. In a second, I took off my gloves, veil, hat, coat, and there I am bare headed, hairs pulled-back – ha, this damn hair! How they rebel! – in a cloth petticoat and blouse, an apron around my waist, a basket in hand, so similar to any of them that they start gushing about it, amused.
We walked down the rue de Flandre, up unto the great building of the Sommier refinery, to see whether they are hiring. I will sneak into the group of renegades, even if I get a bit “pushed around” by the strikers I came to defend.
The street is full of policemen, in and out of uniform. I am only afraid of Granger, the member of parliament for this part of Paris, who is there, with Lhermitte, from the Trade Union Hall, and my colleague Degay, from La Marseillaise. The three of them came because, the other day, the police had been really brutal, and, in case of a repeat offence, Granger would show his credentials.
If they recognised me, maybe they could not contain a sign of surprise, and my cover which should let me come and go as I wish to talk with my friends would be blown.
Gatherings are banned; if there are more than three of us and we are standing still, a policeman intervenes. And as I am lingering in front of the factory gates, observing every brick of it, contemplating the doorman in his pretty, blue uniform with its metal buttons, looking like a grunt, with his terrible white moustache, who seems rather flattered by my examination, a cop gently pushes me:
“On you go, honey! Move away! You shouldn’t stay here.”
I obtemperate and take refuge, with many others, at “our” office, located opposite, at number 122 at the wine seller’s which is called “Let’s go to Charles’s”.
I go to Charles’s. We walk to the bar, where a few workers and many snitches are having a drink, and we meet at the back, in a sort of modest hall lit from above, half dancing-room, half palm game court… like a century ago! Only, thank goodness, no-one is giving a speech; we are simply discussing, without sentences, what would be the best thing to do in our common interest.
The fact that I am new does not alert them – one of the delegates, Mrs. Gasse, vouched for me – and I observe once more, with inexpressible emotion, how much naïve goodness, sweetness, resolve these despised, exploited people have (among its women especially). No, or very few, angered words, only melancholy to see how hard it is to agree on things, and, despite everything, the hope to achieve it.
“We weren’t demanding anything; only to be given back what they took from us… Mr. Sommier is not bad, he will agree: he is so rich!… How boring it is not to work, when you’re not used to it!”
It is true, they are like bodies without souls, these good workers, although, between ther fingers, a bone hook crochets some wool. On a small table, there is an inkwell, some paper, a wooden box, a registrar. From time to time, a striker shows up, signs, gets her 30 centimes – then leaves clutching at them, like a drowning man holds onto a branch! She does not stop, does not talk, runs… people are waiting for her for their food!
These poor emaciated faces, with pale lips, with almost no pink at all In the palor of their flesh; the poor baggy eyes, poor creatures!
One of them, in a corner, has opened her camisole to offer her breast to a child who looks like an old man with such a wrinkly skin and a waxy countenance!
And the meagre breast appears, the speaking weapon of all this race, who is hungry before they have teeth, who is hungry once they have fallen out – who is hungry always!

One of my guides comes to pick me up:
“At lunchtime, François’s place is going to hire people, rue Ricquer. Are you coming with?”

I get up and follow her.

At François’s, for this ten minutes’ break, the staff escapes in a roar. Most of them are young (others being dead or retired), many are dressed in petticoats and camisoles, with light, flowery fabrics, a handkerchief tied around their heads, pointy corners flying in the wind on their hair iced with sugar. At first sight, it is almost pretty, under this clear September sunlight, like a flight of grisettes at the Porcherons.
But the illusion ceases in front of the broken smiles, the parched lips, the narrow shoulders, the sunken throats, the dry little coughs which break out all around. Whet had made these cheeks look red was the fire from a fever. As the droplets of sweat dry on the cheeks, the redness disappears from the cheeks. There they are pale like old dolls…
We have sneaked into the courtyard.
“There you go, here’s the Vésinet,” my friend tells me.
It is a dark cellar in which machines, human shapes, can vaguely be recognised.
“What is this?”
“That’s where we work, but come above it, it’s better.”
Indeed, above a few steps, the room is well-lit, at least. But there’s still this same crushing heat, same steam, same sugar dust, which asphyxiates you, suffocates you…
There are some “cassoirs” there; and the other one gives me a lessons on how it works, on what I would have had to do.
“The only thing is,” she says, “in the evening, your fingers would have pissed blood.”
She indicates me with a glance the women’s hands, rolled in towels, bandages, cuts of linen.
Here comes the foreman. Shyly, she addresses him, asks him her request. Looking away, but very politely, he answers:
“I have enough people for today. Come back tomorrow at six, you will be hired.”
I put the employment book borrowed for the occasion from my stepsister, and we leave, across the courtyard, meeting the workers who are coming back.
At the gate, a striking woman, come to watch for defections, calls out to me:
“You lazy cow!”
Certainly not.

All I have left to do is to attempt to get into Mr. Sommier’s, to catch a glimpse of the building.

“There’s only one way: you have to bring a litre to Barthélémy!”
I don’t mind giving Barthélémy a litre, but I would have to know how.
“Here. Barthélémy is a basin carrier at the refinery, under the place where we usually work. Bassin carriers never come out; they are brought what they need from outside, until three. My man took him his lunch, but we can still bring him a litre.”
“How would I do that?”
“You go under the doorman’s nose without talking to him, walk straight across the courtyard, down a few steps, and there, in the cellar, you’ll find the basin carriers. Then you shout “Hey! Barthélémy!” And you will have seen how hard their job is, too, and how hot it is down there!”
As soon as she said this, I went; the plan was executed step by step. I sneaked past the caretaker, and, presto, stumbled down into the cellar. At the entrance, I almost fainted, because of how high the temperature was. Men in cloth trousers, bare chested, their breasts and stomachs protected by some kind of currier’s apron walk past in a line, with a huge copper container in their arms, which they empty, one after the other, in the machine where the loaf moulds are. It is the molten sugar they are carrying; you must see their bored gestures, when they have versed their charge and go get another one in their metal vases! And these foolish painters who insist on painting the Danaids, while these flesh and blood creatures here give such a spectacle of art, superb and pitiful!
All around, like a huge bombshell factory, the moulds are lined up one against the other, pointing downwards.
However, I daren’t shout “Hey! Barthélémy!”. I inquire instead.
“Don’t know him!” the first one answers.
“Wait a minute…” another one says “But it’s Jughead!”
“Hey! Jughead!” repeats the whole floor in a single voice.
A tall curly haired boy, with a good natured air emerges from the depths.
“Who is calling for me?”
“It’s you girl who’s bringing you a litre.”
“That’s not my girl, but I’ll take the litre anyway.”
I handed it to him with a smile:
“It’s from Eulalie!”
“Tell her I thank her. And you too, miss.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Barthélémy.”
As I left, I wandered a bit. I look at the beautiful layout of the factory, I calculate what source of wealth these buildings, these machines, this powerful organisation of Capital represent.
And I suddenly think back of a visit I paid, a long time ago, to the Vaux-Fouquet castle, this royal residence of a royal superintendent, and which Mr. Sommier now owns. I think of the statues in the bowers, of the freshness of the undergrowth, of the marvellous shade, of all this well-being, all this luxury, all these pleasures as an art collector, turning these ruins in such a home.
Those poor girls are right; people cannot be merciless with such satisfactions in this world.
Outside, the delegates meet me.
“We just went on the last delegation to the boss. Even to split the difference, and give us 55 centimes, he won’t hear of it.”
One of them is crying:
“What’s wrong with you?”
“He was cold as ice… He spoke to us so harshly!”
“And what is the reason for this refusal?”
“Mr. Sommier said like this that ha cannot, that he can’t afford it.”

On the destitution of your master, cry, nymphs of Vaux! It makes many more cry, this poverty which shrinks salaries and moves into palaces; which makes so many young children, old mothers, exhausted women, slowly die in one of our neighbourhoods.

Workers’ Unions and the Social Revolution, by Marie isidine

Workers’ Unions and the Social Revolution
Marie Isidine
Plus Loin
1931

This book, which, according to its author, is the result of a long preparatory work, answers the most pressing need of our time: to know which spirit must animate the great social change which everyone awaits, and which way must everyone follow in their action who wishes to avoid the next attempt of such change to be a failure or a disillusion. This is a serious personal contribution to setting up a programme of action for today’s struggles, and for the constructive work of the “day after” the revolution.

Here is the general plan of this book.

First, the analysis of the current situation and the existing social forces, examining two opposite tendencies: class collaboration and class struggle; a detailed critique of the collaboration policy drives the author to reject it in all the forms and at any scale it may be practised. Then, the fighting methods employed by modern capitalism (collaboration with the opposite class being one of the most dangerous of those) leads to the idea that the working class must, also, modernise and “rationalise” its action.

Contrary to a certain tendency which wishes to make the theory and practice of revolutionary syndicalism as obsolete, in order to replace it with the dictatorship of the party (actually a much older tactic and obsolete in many more ways), Besnard shows the inability of political parties to become actor of social change and the fateful character of a dictatorship, even if it were not exerted by a party but by unions. “In order to be the proletariat’s, a dictatorship would have to be exerted through the channels of the class organisations of the proletariat: the unions… Revolutionary syndicalists reject however this kind of dictatorship. They do not see any more need for an economic dictatorship – which would also be political – than for an exclusively political dictatorship.” (page 104-105) Actually, the idea of the constitution of a new state, whatever it might be, is rejected for both current and historical reasons, in which we can strongly sense the influence from Kropotkin’s ideas. In his whole work, Besnard draws on Bakunin, Kropotkin, and J. Guillaume; his ideal is free communism, or anarchy, which is the “great human demand”; the mode of organisation which he considers possible after a successful revolution is some sort of very loose federalist system, intended to open the way to such an ideal. This system is however not presented as a minimum programme for a transition period, since the author thinks that “it is criminal and, to tell the truth, counter-revolutionary, arbitrarily to set the limit to reach, when this or that stage could easily be reached without obstacles.” (page 332)
What he calls a “transition period” is actually not characterised by this or that preset political and economic regime: it is “the period of time between the destruction of the old regime and the stabilisation of the new regime” (page 268).

It is a state which is no longer the capitalist regime and which is not yet libertarian communism; the evolution toward the latter must be allowed to happen, during this period, naturally, without violent struggle. The “stabilisation” of the revolution happens when “the degree of understanding of individuals and the capacity of realisation of existing organisations do not allow to go any further” (page 273).

On this issue, about the way in which this stabilisation can happen, Comrade Besnard seems to be making a terrible mistake in our opinion, unless he did not express his view clearly enough. The stop in the ascending march of the revolution is a natural and unavoidable phenomenon; can it be the result of a decision made beforehand? Yes, if the revolution is seen as a succession of revolutionary measures taken by some dictatorial power which can, , at any given moment, stop or backtrack. No, if we see the revolution as the spontaneous action of all the people. Yet, Besnard supposes that we can stop “having observed unanimously or with a huge majority… that we cannot go beyond the limits reached without danger” (page 273). This is therefore a decision taken by some organisation for the whole society, which presupposes the existence of such an organisation, which has the right (and the power, as it can meet with some opposition) to pull the brake on the movement. Of the men who would endorse this responsibility, Besnard makes superhuman demands: they “will have to be deep psychologists. They will have to measure, as precisely as possible, the efforts to be made during the hole revolutionary process, during the length of the whole transition period. They will have to know its limits, reach it without crossing it” (page 335).

Are there such men with infailible judgement? And the common mortals who would inherit this task, wouldn’t they risk to act instead according to their own particular doctrinal and practical beliefs, which they would then impose as a minimum programme to everyone else? The illusion which Besnard seems to have on this issue might be linked to an idea which he expressed several times throughout his book. Not to condemn the revolution to failure, the workers’ movement, he says, must direct itself entirely and immediately following a few great lines; if it does, society will be able to be organised in a loose enough fashion for majority decisions always to be enforced willingly, without violence or resistance, for imposed duties always to be fulfilled, etc. We can however emit some doubts about this issue, because during a revolution, ideas move fast and soon burst out of pre-established frames. And then, which means would the leading organisation have to be obeyed in a stateless society? This point remains unclear, and it is lacking in Besnard’s exposé.

Two main ideas – both extremely far-reaching – dominate this book. First of all, a very wide definition of unions and syndicalism. Under the term union, the author really includes any free association created to defend collectively the material and moral interests of its members, from the most primitive human groupings to the different organisations of today. According to him, “federalist syndicalism is a movement of an essentially natural kind, such as packs of wild animals, forests of oak trees, or coal deposits” (page 113); it is the result of the social sentiment which characterises humans.

Current syndicalism is defined as “a movement which groups… the workers from the same town, from the same region, trade, industry, country, from all countries” (page 112). And by “workers”, Besnard does not only mean manual labourers, but also technicians, scientists, and peasants; he insists at length (and rightly so in our opinion) on the need fur unity among all these elements, which he calls class synthesis (see the chapter with this title, from page 257 on).

“Any individual which receives wages or payment, any man who does not exploit anyone, belong, in fact, whatever their situation, to the working class” (page 260). Collaboration between manual and intellectual workers must start right now; during the revolution, it will be a sine qua non condition for the success of its constructive work.

The second leading idea, is the need to give the syndicalist movement such organisational forms as to make them able to give, immediately after the revolution, the framework for the new society, in order to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable period of stoppage and prevent the stranglehold of any new form of power.

We are unable to explain here the proposed mode of organisation (which is the one adopted by the C.G.T.S.R. in its constitutive congress) based at the same time along industrial lines and according to locality; one of the most important tasks for these organisations must be the precise knowledge of the functioning and the situation of the industry, and of the economy in general. That is why such an important place must be given among workers’ demands to the demand for workers’ control. After the revolution, on top of all these economic organisations, from the workshop group of the C.G.T. to the Economic Council of Labour “must be added another symmetrical ensemble, from the town council to the Great Council of Workers” which constitutes the political bone structure of the new society. To both of these are added a series of “social” offices, dealing with exchanges, housing, statistics, hygiene, etc.

Besnard’s book, which attempts to encompass all the issues surrounding the fate of workers’ struggles and the revolution, still has many more interesting chapters, among which we will highlight the programme of immediate workers’ demands (envisioned from the viewpoint of the future) and the analysis of the different possibilities of how the revolution may arise (general strike, political movement from right-wing or left-wing parties).
When we compare Besnard’s exposé to the writings from syndicalist propaganda from the early stages of the movement, the distance crossed is striking: despite contrary appearances, we can feel in it the wind of near-future achievements.

The Need for Women’s Unions, by Milly Witkop-Rocker

The Need for Women’s Unions
Milly Witkop-Rocker
Der Frauen-Bund
1925

That the support of several male comrades for the dissolution of the women’s unions had to cause a storm of protests among our female comrades is natural. The women have come to realise that such organisations are necessary, and there she deals seriously with her issues, so we must not be surprised that she defends her point with energy. It would be very unfortunate if it weren’t the case, it would only prove that women had less interest for their issues. Despite everything, it would be an injustice if those comrades, who are committed to the union of both men and women in the same united organisation, wanted to presume an evil intent. Without a doubt their motives stem from thinking and are perfectly honest in order to help the movement. However, not everything that is done meaning well is also good in practice and desirable, especially not in this case.

Before we called the women’s unions into existence, we had well considered the question, and if we have decided in favour of the unions, it happened mainly because we wanted to reach out first and foremost to housewives and female relatives who are not considered directly as producers. It would be in my opinion a complete waste of time if we brought in these women in the general organisation, where they would have little opportunity to develop their own initiatives and they would end up most of the time playing the role of silent observers. In this way they would not be able to bring anything useful neither to the general movement, nor to themselves.

Some might object that so far women’s unions have only achieved little result and have not brought many advantages to women. On its own, this reproach is not conclusive. Despite the decisions of the Düsseldorf and Erfurt congresses1 which completely recognised the need for these unions and for supporting them, precious little has been done on this issue in the past five years. It would therefore be foolish to want to expect greater results. I do not wish to make a reproach against anyone when I say this, my words are conceived much more as a reminder that in this respect a lot more must be done.

But even so the little that was done did not remain without success. If today we have quite a number of women in the country who are able to represent effectively their own issues as well as the interests of the movement, this is a direct result from the women’s unions that we would hardly have achieved without the existence of the unions. And that women have understood their duty, this comes out of the fact that in quite a few of the groups mutual aid has been practised in a way which could serve as a very good example also for male comrades. This however does not mean that we are content and that we reject any critique. On the contrary, it must be emphasised over and over again that far too little has been done so far and that we must direct all of our power to create new groups and always better to build up and develop the existing ones. It would be however completely wrong if people wanted to reproach the women for not having done their duty, after the comrades have done theirs in their congress and taken resolutions in favour of women’s unions. Could anyone not make the same reproach to the men? Most of them believed that after they put down the need for unions in a particular resolution, the thing would just happen by itself. The means, they took this issue a bit too lightly. Without a doubt it would be desirable the women had shown up in higher numbers, but the same can also be said of the male comrades. From those who are organised as syndicalists we could have expected with full justification that they would have stood by the women who were completely inexperienced in those areas.

Unfortunately, things are not going the way we wished and that’s why we must be patient and not throw in the towel. The fact that something does not make as much progress as we we wish does not say anything at all about its necessity. If that were the case, we should also assess all the work of the pioneers of the syndicalist movement in Germany as very modest, since they also did not get the success which they maybe had expected. And no-one will contest that men, who go every day to their workplaces, are much easier to reach than women who, withdrawn in their families, are much to difficult to influence with new ideas.

If someone talks about the little success of the women’s unions, there is one circumstance they must not fail to mention: it is unfortunately an indisputable fact that a whole number of our comrades are anyway against their wives taking part in the movement. For a long time, especially in Germany, a deeply-ingrained prejudice played the lead role. The fear of having to warm up their evening bread themselves for once, if their wives attended a meeting, or just the dread that she could run away from them if she heard people speak about freedom or – God forbid – free love, often lead to really strange results. How laughable and petty as these objections should be, they nonetheless exist and are making the fight of women for their issues naturally all the harder. If we take all of this into consideration, we must not be surprised if the women’s unions have not managed to reach any major results so far.

That women are realising they need to do something is unquestionable. It is the duty of our comrades to support this inclination and to develop it, instead of nipping it in the bud.

Let’s treat women’s unions not as something trivial, but as a part of the general movement. It would be ridiculous to think that a movement with such goals as the syndicalist movement’s could ever reach those without the practical help of the women. Even the most conservative of men no longer dare to suggest this today. In the area of parliamentary politics, women have today become an important factor, and assuredly a scary reactionary factor, which doesn’t surprise us in the least, as we could predict it. An element which for centuries has been kept in blindness and ignorance, and which is then given full representation to take decisions, even if only in appearance, in public affairs, must logically help to reinforce the ranks of the reaction.

We, on the other hand, who know that the duties of women just as those of men lie in an entirely different area, must use all means of propaganda to lead women onto a new path. We must get the message across to them that their field of action does not lie in the parliamentary area, but that her effectiveness lies first and foremost in cultural affairs and in the economic field, where she comes into consideration especially as a consumer and can serve the good of all through her influence.

Luckily people have also already undertaken other steps in this task elsewhere. Thus the English comrades are now strongly concerned with the issue of organising consumers into women’s guilds, where they are trained and taught in all the issues of economic life.

The best experts are selected for this explanatory work which has shown remarkable results. We always come to the same conclusion that the economy is the most important factor of social life and that, especially in this matter, the involvement of women as consumers is of vital importance. We are therefore following the right path.

It would now be desirable if people also stood by us and not just in theory, but always determined themselves to go over to the work of cultural and economic education, in order to develop a larger work field for the women’s unions, which could make them financially independent.

How would it be if we created, everywhere where there are women’s unions, small consumers’ leagues, which would then acquire bulk buy for their members, and use the profit which would thus be taken from the middleman for the spreading of our propaganda? In this way, the women’s unions need not be a financial burden on the general movement and can at the same time do their propaganda and launch their initiative in these modest beginnings. Such experiments can lead to many consequences, about which I will not go into more details. The main point is that it is a start. To implement this suggestion, our women comrades must above all assemble where the women’s groups are, to be clear on the details of the beginning, and to discover means and ways.
Above all else, we must have the will to do something. Everything else will then fall into place.

Letter to Pierre Monatte, Marie Guillot

Letter to Pierre Monatte1
Marie Guillot
1914

St. Martin d’Auxy, December 29th, 1914

Dear friend,

I just received your manifesto.

I very much agree with you on the mistakes committed by the Confederation Committee. The last one may be the most incredible of all. Do enlightened revolutionaries not know that the working class, more than any other class, are paying for this disaster? Are they not able to understand that a country like Germany cannot be annihilated and that war can only exasperate the faults of its public opinion, supposing that the Germans are more blind than we are? To make the revolution, to free a people from tyranny with cannon fire, this is the whole 1793 ideology which reappears here. We know how this ends. The Germans are good to free themselves; and peace will put better weapons in their hands than war. Let’s do our work which is to develop the organisations of struggle, and let’s leave our neighbours do theirs. People say: “If we do not defeat Germany, we leave it the possibility to take its revenge.” Let’s imagine Germany is defeated (could it be more defeated than France in 1870, and can we prevent a nation which wants to live to be reborn from its ashes?), okay, let’s admit it is. Chances of war will in no way be reduced, they will only be moved: the centre will be at St. Petersburg and London instead of Berlin and Vienna. Capitalist chaos still has bright days to live. And the best, and quickest, despite its extreme slowness, way to avoid wars is to kill capitalist society, to install a social justice regime, where economic rivalries are replaced with international economic calculations.

When I read what L’Humanité makes its readership swallow – but, believe me, they don’t all digest it and people will be held accountable – I moan about this new socialist mentality. It is a return to ancestral brutality: let’s beat them up and kill them to bring them freedom. We can only wonder: is it madness, stupidity, or braggartism?

The duty of workers’ organisation was to do all they could to prepare peace: that will be enough work already. And we shouldn’t have discouraged the neutrals in their effort of working-class humanity and clear-sightedness.
Maybe a neutral who we do not worry about enough, cholera, will come and make everyone agree. And, in the springtime, maybe a peace of cholera will be signed, like the Turks and Bulgarians had to sign. But, then, there won’t be many of our guys left to count.

As for the causes of the war and its responsibilities, it is too soon to tell: they are in the end economic, I know, and each country was carrying its burden. Everything will become clearer after a few years of peace, and our duty will be to inform the working class at large, in order to make people understand that, as always, the awfully tragic joke is on them.

The C.G.T. will need a strong purge. And Merrheim and the others should not follow you; we need, on the inside, some good pilots to parry as best as we can.

Your resignation, as much as it is useful to attract the attention of the groups, must remain an only case; the other comrades will only have to approve your reasons – at least, that’s my advice. Let’s not drown everything, the rescue operation would be impossible.

My best to your wife and yourself. When is this Council? That is the sword of Damocles which just won’t fall…

Marie Guillot

The Issues of Tomorrow, Marie Isidine

The Issues of Tomorrow

Marie Isidine
Les Temps Nouveaux

Part 1: The reasons for our “maximalism” (July 1919)

The old issue of maximalism and minimalism takes on nowadays a completely different aspect than the one it had a few years ago. Partly because of a lack of faith in the realisation of the socialist ideal in a conceivable future, partly for tactical reasons, the socialist parties had then elaborated minimum programmes, and had finally made them the only real content of their everyday action. The anarchists rose up against this reformism and this possibilism, convinced that nothing could replace action towards the whole ideal and that any breaking down of this action could only be harmful. And the conflict between those two views filled the whole history of the socialist movement, from the International to our time.

But now the situation has dramatically changed, because of the revolutions which have broken out in European countries which, only a few years ago, were the most backward. The distinctly social character of these revolutions indicates that the fall of bourgeois domination is no longer a subject of theoretical propaganda or historical predictions: it it tomorrow’s reality. In Russia, Austria, and Germany, the movement drags the great masses; it already makes the bourgeoisie shiver in countries which have not yet been contaminated. Once again, the issue of maximalism and minimalism is raised. Among the militants of the socialist and syndicalist movements, some welcome with joy any attempts at economic emancipation and work to make them spread; others stop, hesitatingly, in front of the hugeness of the task at hand and wonder whether they will be equal to the task; they would like to avoid this responsibility, or even choose a favourable time for the mass movement. They think the masses are not ready, and they would like to gain time, if only a couple of years more, to prepare them, and in order to do so, they need to give the movement a quieter course, to give it as an objective some perfecting of workers’ rights or simple corporatist demands.

In order to choose between these two opposite views, it is not enough to let ourselves be guided by our revolutionary sentiment, or even by our devotion to our ideal. We must look for the teachings from history, we must rein in our feelings by critique, we must reach back to the fundamental principles of our doctrine.

As we start publishing Les Temps Nouveaux again, in these completely new conditions, we must, from the start, from our first issue, give a clear answer to this vital question. On this answer depends our attitude towards future events.

Let’s remind ourselves of our conception of the march of great social movements, a conception which is entirely different from the one which inspires the parties which divide their objectives between a final goal and immediate goals.

How did the great emancipatory movement unfurl in the past? The fight against the existing class order first only starts among a small minority whose circumstances made them feel both their oppression and the hope to put an end to it – more than among the great masses. Among the masses, oppression is too heavy for the number of them who manage to free themselves mentally to be, at first, consequent. But the revolutionary minority fights at its own risks, without wondering about whether others are following. Little by little, it starts to grow; it can be seen, if not in facts, at least in spirit. The brave struggle of some diminishes the fear of others; the spirit of revolt grows. We don’t always understand clearly what is the goal of people in revolt, but we understand against what they are fighting, and this elicits sympathy for them. Then the moment arrives at last when an event, sometimes insignificant in itself, a flagrant act of violence or arbitrary power, sparks the revolutionary explosion. Events are precipitated, new experience is had every day, among the intense agitation of minds, ideas develop in leaps and bounds among the masses. The gap between the mass and the revolutionary minority shrinks.

After the revolutionary period – whether the revolution be victorious or crushed – the general mentality has reached such a level which had never been reached by long years of patient propaganda efforts. The revolutionary minority’s ideal is not fully realised, but what is realised (either in facts or in people’s minds) is getting closer, the more conviction and the less compromise this minority had expressed in its action. What has been realised is part of its programme; what is left will be the inheritance of the new generation, the watchword of the new era opened by the revolution. Because a revolution is not only the conclusion of a preceding evolution, it is also the starting point of the following evolution which will precisely be concerned with the realisation of the ideas which, during the revolution, have not found a wide enough resonance.

Even when a revolution is vanquished, the principles it has put forward never die. Every revolution in the 19th century has been defeated, but each one of them has been a step closer to victory. The 1848 revolution, which betrayed workers’ hopes, definitely dug, in the Days of June, an abyss between workers and the republican bourgeoisie; it also took away the mystical and religious character of socialism and linked it to the actual social movement. The Paris Commune, drowned in blood, blew away the cult of state centralisation and proclaimed the principles of autonomy and federalism. What about the Russian revolution? Whatever the future holds, it will have proclaimed the fall of capitalist domination and the rights of labour; in a country where the oppression on the masses was more revolting than anywhere else, it proclaimed that it is those masses who must now be master of their lives. And whatever the future, nothing will take away this idea from future struggles: the reign of the owning classes has virtually ended.

These general considerations will dictate the answer to the question: do we meet the conditions for social revolution? Every discussion about knowing whether the mass is “ready” or “not yet ready” is always misguided, whether it is pessimistic or optimistic. We have no way to evaluate every factor which determines that a social group is ready. What do we call “being ready”? Would we wait for most people to have become socialists? But we fully know that is impossible in our present condition. If we could create a radical transformation of concepts, feelings and of the whole mentality among the masses by propaganda and education alone, why want a violent revolution, with all its suffering? At any given time, the mass is never “ready” for the future and will never be: a revolutionary uprising will have happened sooner. Revolutionaries don’t have the power to choose their time, to prepare everything and spark the revolution at will, like lighting fireworks.

People who always consider large movements premature usually use the grid of the realisation of some “objective historical conditions”: the degree of capitalist development, state of the industry, development of the productive forces, etc. But they do not see these dogmas crumble before their eyes – just like their minimum programmes crumbled – under the pressure of life. The most confident Marxists have to admit that the social revolution started not in a country where capitalism was advanced, but in a mostly agrarian country where it was poorly developed, and that, consequently, there are other factors at stake than the development of productive forces. And if they had wished to study this issue further, they could have drawn this conclusion from Marxism itself, turning it into its opposite: into a theory of active progress, realised by the efforts of individuals. There is, in Marx, a precious quote: “Mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve”1 In other words, if an ideal is conceived among a community, it is that the necessary conditions to its realisation are there. Following this idea, we will say that from that moment on, from the moment an ideal is formulated by the vanguard minority, its realisation is only a question of a balance of strength between present forces: the past, which has had its time, and an inescapable future. Gradually, at the cost of hard struggle and innumerable sacrifices, the balance tilts towards the future. At present, after a century-old struggle for economic equality, after a century of socialist propaganda, we are witnessing a large-scale attempt at its realisation. It will still know some setbacks, backtracking, both in its fight against is enemies and in its internal development, and we shouldn’t believe that we will find ourselves tomorrow in the anarchist society we wish for. But we can only reach a better life if we try to get it; experiment is the only way which leads to it, and there is no other. Instead of asking: are the conditions ripe? Are the masses ready? We should ask: are we ready? What can we offer as concrete, practical measures “the day after our victory, in order to achieve our socialism, communism, by organising outside and against any state? What are the measures to elaborate, the conditions to study beforehand?” This is where our main preoccupation must lie; what we must do is not be overwhelmed by events, but actively prepare ourselves now, always remembering that an ideal is realisable only insofar as people believe in its realisation and put their energy to it.

Part 2: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

The realisation of socialism has left the realm of dreams and theoretical propaganda; it has approached, and has even become an urgent matter. And if it is important to answer the question of what methods lead to this realisation, and are the most likely to gain victory, it is even more important to get a clear picture of what we need to do after the victory for the revolution to bring the greatest increase in happiness, with the least suffering possible.

The “dictatorship of the proletariat” seems attractive to many people these days. It seems to mean that workers would now be masters of social life, masters of their own destiny, without exploiters, nor oppressors above them. It seems to be the direct and immediate realisation of socialism. In France, especially, where the workers’ movement has not been penetrated by Marxist theory and terminology, this phrase is the cause of misunderstandings. It holds in itself a contradiction: a dictatorship “is always the unlimited power” of one or of a small group; what could be the dictatorship of a whole class? It is obvious that a class can only hold power through its representatives, by someone who it delegated or who, more simply, believes they can act in its name. In the end, a new power is being established, the power of the socialist party or of its most influential faction, and this power takes charge of managing the fate of the working class. And this is not an abuse or a sophistication of the idea of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, it is its essence itself. It follows from Marxist theory, from the way this theory conceives the evolution of societies. Let’s remind ourselves how it goes.

By definition, political power is in every period in the hands of the economically dominant class. The bourgeoisie, after it replaced feudal powers in the economy, also replaced them politically, at least in the most advanced countries in Europe and America. Since then the entire political activity of the bourgeois class aims to safeguard its interests and strengthen its domination. But then during the economic development, proletariat takes the place of the bourgeoisie as the class most apt to develop productive forces; therefore, political power must also be its. The new state, the proletarian state, will then only be preoccupied with the interests of that class, which becomes the dominant class. That is the dictatorship of the proletariat. A natural objection appears: a dominant class supposes a dominated class; however, economic exploitation being abolished by the crowning of the most exploited class, the existence of classes itself becomes impossible. This contradiction is resolved thanks to the Marxist concept of how a transformation towards socialism can be operated. It starts with the socialist party seizing power; what can the socialist government do then?

Marxist literature is not plentiful when it comes to projections into the future: social-democrats have too much of a phobia of utopia for these. But the few things we know about it are enough to let us know that socialism will have to be realised gradually, over a whole historical period. During this period, classes will not have ceased to exist, and capitalist exploitation will not have ended: it will only have been softened, attenuated in favour of the proletariat. It is now the class which is protected by the state, while the situation for the bourgeoisie is made harder and harder. This is how, at the dawn of Marxism, Marx, in the Communist manifesto, listed the gradual measures that the socialist government should adopt: (…)

Putting this programme into effect will be done peacefully or violently, according to the circumstances, and, in any case, thanks to a strong political power. As it defines political power as “the organised power of a class towards the oppression of another”, Marxism therefore envisions, as an ultimate goal, a society which is only a “human association”, without power. It is a path to anarchy cutting through its opposite: an all-powerful state.

50 years later, Kautzky2, in the “Social Revolution”, claims that “the conquest of political power by a class oppressed until then, that is, a political revolution, constitutes the essential aspect of the social revolution.”; he then indicates as series of legislative measures aimed at operating gradually, with or without compensation, the “expropriation of expropriators”: progressive taxes on income and property, anti-unemployment measures, nationalisation of transport and of large estates, etc. What is the possible regime of this “dictatorship of the proletariat”? A stronger state than ever, since it holds in its hands the entire economy of the country; it is master of food distribution and can literally take away bread from any citizen any time it wants. As a way to stifle any opposition, it is very efficient. Workers are employees of this state; it is by the state that they must have their rights recognized. The fight against this gigantic boss becomes very difficult; strikes become political crimes. Maybe some workers’ control can be put in place, but it will only work insofar as the boss-state accepts it. It is possible that workers enjoy, in exchange, other advantages, political ones, such as exclusive voting rights, for example, or privileges in product distribution. But, if we think about it, these advantages are hardly progress, since they bring in their social life no justice, and only serve to feed some hatreds. Instead of abolishing the bourgeoisie as a class and placing each bourgeois in a situation where they could work usefully, they are allowed (be it ‘temporarily’) to live off of others’ work, but they are punished for it by taking away some things they have a right to as human beings.

The bourgeoisie must be put in a situation where they are unable to hurt anyone; it must be deprived of its armed forces and everything which constitutes its economic domination. Repressive measures against individual bourgeois are unnecessary vengeance. It is also a slippery slope: you believe you are doing revolutionary work, while you’re not bringing anything to building a new life. More than that: this civil war against the interior enemy, as an evil which had been removed, leaving the root, makes the prestige of the military grow, of the military group leaders of any kind who are fighting on any side. The fight become solely an issue of military force. Very naturally, the building of tomorrow’s society is pushed back to quieter days. But the moment is gone, the people are tired and the danger of the reaction grows…

That is why, to the method of decrees, we oppose, in order to make socialism a reality, a different method.

The opposition between these two views dates back once again from the International, from the battle between Marx and Bakunin. It is Bakunin who, first, proclaimed in his “Policy of the International” that real socialism differs from “bourgeois socialism” since the first claims that the revolution must be “a direct and immediate application of full social liquidation”, while the latter claims that “political transformation most precede economic transformation”. The faction which followed the tradition of the federalist International – our faction – developed and detailed in the following years this idea of direct economic revolution. In Le Révolté first, then in La Révolte, Kropotkin showed through historical examples that human progress is achieved through the spontaneous action of the people and not through the action of the state; at the same time, he developed a programme for a free communism, since the principle of “to each according to their needs” was alone compatible with a society managing itself without a state. He also showed that the economic revolution cannot be realised little by little and partially, that this only leads to disorganising the economy without allowing it to be rebuilt on a new basis; that communist distribution must be, in the interest of the revolution, started straight after victory. He opposed the “conquest of bread” to the “conquest of power” and showed the necessity, for socialists, to find new ways outside of the old forms.

The whole anarchist movement was inspired by these fundamental ideas. Their field of action mostly spread from the moment when the workers’ movement in France, which had slowed down after the fall of the Commune, started getting a revolutionary spirit. Under the influence of F. Pelloutier first, then of many anarchists who had joined unions, this great revolutionary syndicalist movement was born which, in the early 20th century, carried within it all the hopes of workers’ emancipation. Syndicalism appropriated the idea of immediately taking control of production, and it developed it: the organs which are called to implement it already exist: the trade unions. The general strike, prelude to expropriation, became the final goal of the CGT. Let’s remind ourselves that its preparation seemed at some point such an important and urgent task that La Voix du Peuple opened (around 1902, if I am not mistaken) a column in which unions were invited to write what each one would do after the victory in order to ensure continuous production in their domain, how they would link up with other unions and consumers etc. This initiative, which didn’t get enough feedback, was of great importance; it would be even more important to pick it up again now that we are closer to practical achievements.

That was, from that time until the war, the fundamental character of revolutionary syndicalism. From France, it reached other countries, other workers’ movements. Anarcho-syndicalist ideas reached to the writings of sociologists, lawyers, economists; scientists outside the workers’ movement started to realise that the renewal of economic life based on a free association of producers was maybe not simply a utopia, that it could be the way to overthrow capitalism and inaugurate a new form of political existence, without the state.

The war put an end to this evolution, and changed the course of events. The state was suddenly strengthened, its reach extended; workers’ organisations, on the other hand, were slowed in their action or directed it, because of practical difficulties, towards more immediate achievements. The reformist element became most important.

The revolutionary spirit reappeared throughout the world with the Russian revolution, but under a different form: the form of statist socialism.

The time has not yet come to draw definitive conclusions from the experiment attempted in Russia; there are many things we don’t know and it would be hard to evaluate the role of different factors in successes and failures. But we can say this: what we do know cannot change our fundamental ideas. We do not intend to develop here all the arguments which make us think that the government apparatus is inapt to realise a social revolution, which can only be done by workers’ groups, once they have become producers’ groups. This demonstration has often been made in our literature. However, we deem it useful to repeat their general conclusions.

We believe, as we have always believed, that peasants’ and workers’ organisations taking control of the land and means of production and managing economic life is more likely to ensure the material well-being of society than decrees from the government.

We believe that this mode of transformation is better equipped to disarm conflicts and avoid civil war (because it allows for more freedom and more variety in forms of organisation) than introducing by authority one reform across the board.

We believe that the direct participation of the people in building the new economic forms makes the victories of the revolution more stable and ensures better their defence.

We believe, finally, that this allows us to prepare, on top of economic and political victories, a higher stage of civilisation, both intellectually and morally.

French workers’ communities have inherited enough ideas and experience of struggles to follow the path which leads more directly to complete emancipation. To proclaim the fall of capitalism and the reign of socialism is a great thing, and for that we can thank the Russian socialist government. But we also wish for socialism to be put in practice, for a new era for humankind to dawn and for no weapon to be offered the reaction by the socialists’ faults. For that, we who work on French soil, we must use effectively the time we have to study what workers’ organisations can and should do directly after the revolution.

We consider as something of the greatest importance to have the most serious and most complete discussion possible about the issues of the economy once the workers have conquered it. This is not a debate, or propaganda, but a study. We can no longer just say that something is desirable, nor even try to prove it: we must show practical measures which can be immediately put into practice with the means we have at our disposal.

This is the task we call for our comrades to accomplish.

Part 3: Some milestones in economy

The forms which production and distribution will take are at the front of all our visions of the future: on them will depend the entire character of the society which replaces the capitalist regime. The question is not new, but the answer becomes urgent; also, the experience of the Russian revolution gives us precious information confirming or contradicting concepts formulated previously in a purely theoretical fashion.

To resolve these issues concretely, that is, to organise an economic organisation plan for “the day after”, to indicate the frameworks and the institutions which must be created to put it into practise, is a task which goes way beyond the abilities not only of the author of this article, but in general of such a publication as Les Temps Nouveaux. It is the work of specialists: workers, technicians of all trades, directly preoccupied by production; only their professional organisations and groups can discuss what measures to take, now and in the future, intelligently. But any socialist, any group of propagandists can and should establish for themselves and their comrades a general view, to think about the experience happening in front of their eyes, and to draw some general lines along which they would want to see the more competent thoughts of specialists work. Such considerations make up this article.

Among current ideas on the mode of production and organisation of a socialist society, nationalisation is the most common and accessible. The society’s take-over of the means of production is conceived in the programmes of all the state socialist parties as the state taking over, since society is, by definition, represented by the state. Whatever forms the state takes, be it parliamentarian, soviet, or other: it is always the organisation holding political power which is also the owner of natural resources, means of production and organs of product distribution.

We can see how much the state is strengthened. As well as political power, it holds every source of life. The dependence of its subjects reaches its maximum. The boss-state is a very authoritarian boss, as they all are. He wants to be master in his own business and does not tolerate workers’ meddling if he can avoid it. Where the economy is concerned, the state does not even want to be a constitutional monarch: it always tends to be an autocrat. Jaurès’s3 idea: gradual democratisation, through the state, of the economy, comparable to the political democratisation operated in the past, appears to be only a utopia now more than ever. Under capitalism, state employees and workers are the most dependent of all, and at the other end of the spectrum of social organisation, in the bolsheviks’ collectivist regime, it is still the case: workers gradually lose both their rights of control and their factory committees, even their best means of struggle: their right to strike. And, on top of all that, they are submitted to mobilisation at work, to workers’ “armies” ruled with military discipline. And this is a fatal flaw: no power restricts itself if nothing forces it to, and when people in power follow an idea, when they are convinced it can only be realised through coercion, they will behave even more unflinchingly, even more absolutely in their right to dispose of the citizens’ lives.

It is generally through the need to increase production that suppressing all workers’ individual and collective rights is justified. This is how the bolshevik power explains the compulsory work armies. However, outside any judgement on principle, the issue of the expediture, in labour and in money, demanded by a large bureaucracy – a necessary condition for the extension of state power – shows that this calculation is misguided. In Russia, bureaucratic management of the factories absorbs most of their revenue, not counting the number of people it keeps away from useful work. And the results they wished for is far from being obtained. The boss-state is ill equipped to fight this decrease in productivity in labour which necessarily follows great catastrophes such as war, starvation, lack of resources, etc. Also, the socialist government of the bolsheviks has not found any other solutions to fight these problems than well-known measures, which have long been fought by socialists and workers of all countries: piecework, bonus pay system, Taylorism, etc. This is how across the board, hourly wages become piecework, 12-hour days replace 8-hour days, the age of compulsory work has decreased from 16 to 14. And, lastly, this mobilisation of labour (a measure which, a few years ago, we would have thought any socialist party incapable of) which reminds us of the time of serfdom.

If socialists, who certainly do not aim to degrade workers and only take such measures with a heavy heart, find themselves forced to go so far against all their ideas, it is because in their field of action, which is exclusively framed by the state and can only use the state, there are no other solutions. And yet here is a fact, a small fact in itself, but meaningful. During the harsh struggle led by the soviet government against disorder in the industry, only one measure was taken which was efficient. It was voluntary work on Saturdays.

“The Communist Party made it compulsory for its members to join the Saturday voluntary work scheme… Every Saturday, in different regions of the Soviet republic, barks and carriages of fuel are unloaded, rail tracks repaired, wheat, fuel and other commodities destined to the people and to the front are loaded, carriages and locomotives are repaired, etc. Slowly the great mass of workers starts to join the “Saturday workers”, to help the Soviet government, to contribute through voluntary work to fight the cold, hunger and general economic disorder.”4 From other sources we learnt that productivity in voluntary work far exceeds the productivity of paid work in factories. There is no need to point out how instructive this example is. Among all the measures by which workers where either attracted by high wages, according to the principles of classic capitalism, or submitted to military discipline, only one proved efficient: the call for free and conscious work of people who know they are doing something useful. This is a striking example of the truth that the most “utopian” solutions are also the most practical, and that if we want to obtain “results” nowadays, the surest way is still to start from the final goal.

But these considerations proceed from a state of mind foreign to the idea of the state and of compulsory work in its service.

Here is another formula, at first sight more attractive. It is the companies being taken over by their workers or their corresponding industrial organisations. It is the system which, in France, is expressed by the phrase “the mine to the miners”. During the first year of the Russian revolution, before even the bolsheviks gained power, there were a number of examples of this take-over of factories by workers. It was easy, since the bosses, at that time, wanted nothing better than leave their companies. Later, bolsheviks introduced “workers’ control” in every factory, but this control was only a half measure without practical effect: where the workers were weak and badly organised, it didn’t have any effect; where they were conscious of their rights, they claimed – very logically – that they had no need to leave them to their former owners. And they took them over, claiming them as property of the people working there. But it was still the ownership of a group of people replacing the ownership of a single bourgeois person. This could lead, at most, to a cooperative of production. The collective owner was only preoccupied – like the bourgeois owner used to be – about their own interests; like the other, they tried to get orders from the state, etc. Selfishness and greed, although they were now shared among a group, were still no less strong.

Another consideration, a practical one this time, makes impossible the extension of such a system to the entire society. There are some companies which make a lot of profit: those which produce widely consumed goods, or transport companies; the workers there who become owners are, in this sense, privileged. But there are many others which make no profit at all, although they demand continuous spending: schools, hospitals, road repairs, street cleaning, etc. What would be the situation of people employed in those branches? What would they live off if those companies became their property? What means would they use to keep them working and who would pay their wages? Obviously, the principle of workers’ ownership must be modified for them. We can imagine, it’s true, that consumers would pay; but this would be a step back instead of progress, since one of the best results of economic development is the fact that some conquests of civilisation are free: hospitals, schools, bridges, water pipes, wells, and a few other things. Making them a paid-for service would be adding a few new privileges to the owners and taking away from the non-owners ways to fulfil most essential needs.

All the considerations – and a few others – make such a system not very desirable. In the Russian practice – to which we must always look as the only socialist experiment made at present – the disadvantages of this system, introduced from the start of the bolshevik era, pushed the soviet government to adopt, as the only solution, nationalisation.

A third way should have been sought, by going along a very different path; but bolsheviks were too infused with social-democratic and statist ideas for that, which only pointed to the well-known system of nationalisation. And this is what they chose.

Let’s try, for our part, to look for this third way: a regime which would give the workers the management of economic life, but without the disadvantages of industrial ownership. And, first of all, let’s get back to our fundamental principle: our communism, real communism and not this 1848 communism, already outdated, which bolsheviks recently rediscovered and which they adopted as a name for their party to dispose of the name “social-democrat”, which was too dishonoured by compromises. Let’s try, in the light of this principle, to examine a bit more clearly the issues at hand.

If we do not recognise the nationalisation in the hands of the state nor the formula “the mine to the miners”, what form can this take-over of the means of production by the workers’ organisations (unions, soviets, factory committees or others) take?

First of all, the means of production cannot become the property of these organisations: they must only have the use of them. The wind or the water which make the blades or the wheel of a mill turn are no-one’s property; they are only used for work. In the same way, land must be no-one’s property; the people who cultivate it use it, but it belongs to the collectivity, that is, no-one in particular. In the same way, work instruments built by human hands: they are common property, or collective wealth, used by those who use them at some given time. How, this being accepted, can we envision first the organisation of production, then the organisation of distribution?

Obviously, only the sum of concerned industrial organisations can manage a branch of production; these professional organisations will group indiscriminately the workers themselves and more knowledgeable specialists – engineers, scientists, etc. Each branch of production is closely linked on the one hand with the branches which give it raw materials, and on the other with the organisations or the public who consume its products. And, since, in these relationships, the most important role is to know the needs and possibilities, there must be some groups, committees who will concentrate the necessary statistical teachings. Their role must be strictly limited to that of purveyors of statistical data; the use which will then be made of this data does not concern them. They cannot emit any decree; the decisions belong solely to the professional organisations. The advice of these statistical committees is no more coercive than the information given by an architect, the advice of a dietician, a teacher, etc. As for the different branches of production, the modes of organisation can be very varied depending on the technical peculiarities of each one: some can admit a complete autonomy of particular groups, others can demand a perfectly coordinated action of all. All that is desired is that there is, in each speciality, not just one central organisation managing everything, but a large number of specialised organisations, with clearly delimited tasks. We cannot, obviously, predict the different modalities that this organisation of work might offer. Adapting it to current needs might not be an exceedingly difficult task.

But there are more difficult questions, which demand continuous innovation, since nothing similar has ever been attempted. Who would be the owner of these means of production, which will be managed by the workers’ organisations, and of the objects produced, that is, of all collective wealth? If it is neither the state nor the industrial branches, then who? What does the sentence “the means of production belong to the collectivity” represent concretely? Who will represent this collectivity? Who will dispose of the products and on what ground? Who will gain profit from their sale? Who will pay wages?

This is when we must have our communist idea in mind, our great principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”, and draw all the conclusions from it.

“Who will dispose of the produce of labour?” These products must constitute collective wealth offered for everyone to consume, if they are immediately consumable goods, or offered for the workers’ organisation to use (if they are raw materials or tools). Individuals or organisations will draw from these stocks as they need them, and, in case of insufficient quantities, after an agreement with other consumers and interested organisations. No-one truly owns these products, except the workers in distribution who will try to satisfy orders.

In the same way, the question “who would get the profit from the sale?” is answered. There will be no profit, because there would be no sale, because products are not commodities, but only consumable goods, equally accessible to all. Communism does not recognise the distinction between consumable goods – private property – and the means of production – collective property. It doesn’t even recognise between those any difference in nature; coal, for example, which is it? It is an indispensable element in production, and it also is one of the most needed objects of individual consumption. The aim in communism is to make everything free. Everyone will recognize that housing, food, necessary clothes, heating, etc. must be available to all in the same way as medical care or street lighting, which are even offered in capitalist society. Any human being is entitled to these first necessity objects by the mere fact of their existence, and no-one can deprive them of those. The individual part in social consumption can be determined by many individual and social factors: first, by the needs of each person for everything that is abundant; alas! in modern Europe, instead of an abundance of products, there are shortages, and this will have to be noted. A necessary minimum (calculated as much as possible on average consumption in normal times) will have to be established and rationing put in place, of a common accord. Rations can and must be different according to categories of people. These categories should be based in the difference in needs; age would have to be taken into account, as well as health, endurance, etc. Many considerations will have to be envisioned, also, in the distribution of products: the needs of the community, the need to make reserves for the future and to keep some for exchanges with other communities, etc. There is only one factor we refuse to take into account in these calculations: it is the amount of work expended by each individual.

We can hear some protests. The spectacle of today’s society, where those who produce less consume more, revolts our sense of justice and makes us say first of all: everything to labour and to each proportionally to the work done.

But, despite this natural tendency, we think that it is not along this principle – as legitimate as it appears compared to the obvious injustice of our time – that must be founded the future society. Vengeance exercised by the people against their oppressors at the time of the revolution is fair, too, but it is not on this vengeance that the reign of the people can be based after the victory, but on human solidarity. The same goes for issues of distribution. And let no-one tell us that we first need to repress the bourgeoisie and that the victory of the working class must first lead to a mode of distribution which puts labour in the place it deserves. The class struggle ends with the workers’ victory and the distinction between workers and parasites no longer exists. The possibility of free work in a free society is given to all, and the number of people who refuse it will be so small that it will not be sufficient to create a new class of parasites under the form of a large caste of bureaucrats, and in the next generation the traces of the old parasitism will have disappeared.

To give to each proportionally to their work is, if you wish, a fair principle; but it is a lower type of justice, like the idea of rewarding merit or punishing vice. We won’t go into details about all the philosophical reasons which make us reject this. What would we be adding to the arguments which P. Kropotkin gave when he laid the foundation of anarchist communism? Let’s just say that – for the comrades you wouldn’t know this – at the other end of socialist thought, Marx accepted the same views when he said that only when retribution for work will have been replaced by distribution according to everyone’s needs “can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety”5. We precisely want to go beyond bourgeois rights and bourgeois-inspired justice. Every one is entitled to their existence simply in virtue of being human. Then, and also because they are human, a living being living in a society, they will apply themselves to do their share of work for the common good. This is the only possible guarantee against a new form of exploitation and endless conflicts.

We reject therefore the idea itself of a wage; we dissociate the two issues of production and of consumption, leaving between them only the link which results from the fact that the total quantity of produced goods must be indexed on the consumption needs. This is the only order of things compatible with a regime in which workers’ organisations manage production without being the owners of the means of production. It is also the only one compatible with a free society, freed from the coercive power of a state.

We do not hope, obviously, that, as soon as the next day after the revolution, everything will fall into place nicely without conflict, without a mixture of bourgeois elements from the past. We know that it is very unlikely that this communism, complete and pure, could be realised in one fell swoop. But we also know that it is to the extent that the builders of the future will be inspired by it that their work will be fruitful. That is why it appears so important, so infinitely desirable, that this is the spirit in which the milestones of the future are laid.

Feminism and the Working Class, by Madeleine Pelletier

Feminism and the working class
Madeleine Pelletier
July 1912
La Suffragiste

The working-class will be last to come round to feminism. It is natural: ignorant people only respect brute force and it is a waste of time to try to interest them by showing them female genius crushes by man’s rule.

If I am a Socialist, it is because I passionately love justice. I cannot stand that, as soon as they are born, we draw distinctions between individuals, raising one to lead, and the other to obey. I am in favour of everything: enlightenment, power, well-being being accessible to everyone and of the most worthy being given the highest rank.

But liking the working class as it currently is, no! A thousand times no!

I declare these principles to the readers of “La Suffragiste” because I have just read an article by Pouget1 which I am sure will they won’t like any more than I did. Comrade Pouget, one of the leaders of the CGT, writes about the milliners’ union which was just created. Naturally, he happy about this union victory, but he fears for the future. Female unions, he observes, do not last, they are a short-lived flash in the pan. They are formed around some industrial event or other: a strike, some obviously unfair treatment which managed at some point to raise some indignation. Then, straightaway, they fall. At first, it is the main part of the troops which stops showing up, then it is the militants themselves, discouraged by the absence of members.

Why is that? Pouget observes: it is because of housework. Once the working day over, the male worker is free, while the female worker is not: she must on top of everything do her housewqork, and therefore she has no time to attend union meetings. However, Mr. Pouget would like her to attend union meetings. It is through unions that male workers have gained wages which, although low, allow them to live. If female workers do not earn enough to live independently, it is because they are not organised. So what can we do?

I assure you I would have found the answer straightaway. I would have told male workers: my dear comrades, when you are alone to work to fund your household, it is fair that your wife who does not work takes care of the housework. But when she works all day just like you do, it is your strict duty to help her. She is not your servant, but your equal, just like you, she needs to inform herself, get to know the causes of her poverty, learn to organise to defend herself against the ruling class. She must therefore have time to do so, and therefore you need to do your share of household chores.

That is how I would have solved the problem, and I assure you I take no glory in such a discovery: to reach it, no need for a transcendental intellect, a simple sense of justice is enough.

However, such a simple solution is not mentioned by Mr. Pouget. You don’t say, tell male workers to help their wives with housework, but that would be a crime of lèse-masculinité! And for women to be able to attend union meetings, he demands, guess what… the five-and-a-half-day week. I am not against this reform, mind you. And day and a half of rest a week, Saturday afternoons and Sundays off, is not too much for people who work 10 or even 12 hours a day. But waiting for this fair reform to be granted, Mr. Pouget should have given male workers the advice I indirectly give them.

On top of this, a reduced working week would not be enough to get the result for which Mr. Pouget wishes that is, female union attendance. In half a day, you can wash your floor, do the dishes, clean, you still have the mending of socks, cooking which needs to be done every day; female workers would benefit from the extra half a day, but it won’t give them enough free time to become militants.

My advice, if it was put into effect, would allow them to become militants, since on top of the material reduction of work, women would understand that they are also human beings and social individuals. If they saw their husbands do their share of housework, they would see him no longer as a master, but as an equal. They would then, understanding that they are sincerely invited, do the work of militants of their class. Then, female unions would bloom and we would see, among the mass of female workers, energetic militants appear who would be able to rouse their comrades.

The male worker who denounces injustice within society wants to keep acting unjustly within his own family. Slave to his boss, he wishes to be a master to his wife. Fortunately, the fairness of things punishes him. Women, in their ignorance, soon desert the union which they joined with enthusiasm the day before. And, workers or housewives, they remain, although their hostility is unvoiced, the worst adversaries of the workers’ movement. They are the real strike-breakers. They do more with discouraging words to their husband on strike than socially reactionary ministers can do with the guns of their regiments.

It is only fair, the proletariat only gets the women it deserves.