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(en) Australia, Book Reviews From Rebel Worker Paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network Vol.35 No.2 (229) Aug.-Sept. 2017

Date Thu, 7 Sep 2017 17:23:59 +0300

Anarchists, Syndicalists and the First World War by Vadim Damier Published by Black Cat Press. Reassessing The Transnational Turn: Scales of Analysis in Anarchist and Syndicalist Studies Edited by Constance Bantman and Bert Altena Published by PM Press 2017. ---- Today we are threatened as never before by the spectre of the eruption of global war. Stemming from major pushes by key sections of the US ruling class for war with China and Russia. Whilst US President Trump is coveting the rare earths and rich mineral wealth of North Korea on behalf of US based mining companies. Tensions between other nuclear weapons equipped powers are increasing elsewhere. ---- "Revolutionary Unionism Today" ---- The state of what passes as "revolutionary unionism" is currently in many former heart lands such as France, Spain and Italy in a very poor state. In these countries revolutionary unionism has the look of "micro" allegedly democratic versions of the "corporate-business unions" which wage little in the way of direct action and work within the framework of industrial relations systems often relying on lawyers. Whilst attracted to "red and black" colour schemes and have a nostalgia for long distant mass revolutionary heritages.

In other countries in Europe, and elsewhere there is the problem of weird sects and cults fascinated with red and black iconography and often manipulated by the notorious "politicos" heavily influenced by the Stalinist/Trotskyist legacies. Obsessed with political correctness displays and identity politics. Encouraging students/middle class elements to play at activoid superheroes/pseudo social workers. Whilst on occasion they do win microscopic victories for tiny handfuls of workers, this activity has no significant impact on the class struggle or challenges the tempo of the employer offensive. They also get drawn into the "smoke and mirrors" performances orchestrated by the union bureaucracy to sell out workers' struggles. They are also often unwholesomely engrossed in organisng so called unions which have largish phone booths as union halls or are completely imaginary. In 3rd World labour movements there maybe new mass syndicalist formations emerging, but so far it is unclear. (1) Certainly this movement or milieu is incapable of facilitating the internationally coordinated workers direct action and anti-war activity which would meet the new challenge of the path toward war of key forces in global capitalism. Radical measures need to be taken to tackle the problem. In the shape of moving away
from the sects and allegedly micro democratic versions of the corporate business unions into cultivating syndicalist catalysts and associated informal militant networks focusing on key arteries of capitalist economies to facilitate workers large scale direct action and self organisation and turning the tide against the employer offensive and neo-liberal push.

A Dozen Diamonds to Turn the Tide

In contrast to the politicos and sect/cult gurus, the catalyst militant would be heavily drawn into the practicalities of assisting militant workers in the day to day class struggle. Each key militant could potentially be the editor of 2 to 3 workplace papers. So even a dozen could produce quite a network of publications and militants drawn into the work on the job and outside the job. Such media is vital to breaking through atomisation on the job and facilitating collective action. Internet based media would mainly play a supplementary role. Particularly given the atomisation caused by looking at your individual computer. Whilst such militants would encourage scientific processes and research to assist militant activity on the job. This "yeast" will be a key factor in the rise of a syndicalist labour movement in the new time of today.

The "Corporate Unions"

Like the bureaucratic/reformist unions which supported the war effort of various warring states during WWI, today's "corporate" unions such as the affiliates of the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) and its counterparts in other Western countries are certain, to be heavily behind the new war drive. The Corporate unions in Australia like their overseas counterparts are interwoven with the international capitalist "deep state" of the CIA, ASIO, MI5, MI6, etc and local industrial relations rackets and social democratic/Labor Party bureaucracies. Aiding the employer offensive. and supporting the constant strengthening of the neo-liberal strong state which will play a key role in repressing workers resistance to the outbreak of war.

Anarchists, Syndicalists and the First World War by Vadim Damier, provides a lot of new and interesting information on revolutionary tendencies in the WWI period. In the years prior to the cataclysm, there were mass syndicalist union movements with tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of members in many countries which actually did wage direct action on a major scale. Whilst there also existed a significant revolutionary anarchist movement based in the working class. In sharp contrast to the largely lower middle class and student milieu of today. This movement was interwoven with a revolutionary mass media which in certain countries rivalled the circulation of the bourgeois press. Despite this media and influence it was unable to counter the patriotic upsurge in many countries.

The author particularly focuses on one of the most important syndicalist union movements in this era, the French CGT (General Confederation of Labour) with 600,000 to 700,000 members. The author examines how it backed away from launching the General Strike to oppose the war and became drawn into support of the war effort via the "Sacred Union". However, he fails to adequately discuss the internal factional situation in the CGT, with the "revolutionaries" only ever being a minority of the membership but in the early years exerting wide influence via quirks of the COT constitution.

In the years immediately prior to WWI, the "reformists" which controlled the largest affiliates downplaying direct action and emphasising the "negotiations" game become predominant, but maintaining "neutrality" from political parties. (2) In this discussion he also throws light on the origins of today's "Corporate Unions". Another major reason for this trajectory was the massive patriotic fervour associated with the outbreak of war affecting France, the other Entente powers and the "Central Powers". The author ably outlines how the outbreak of war and the associated jingoist upsurge together with state repression made anti-war organising very difficult and caused significant splits in the syndicalist/anarchist movements. It certainly emphasises the profound impact the bourgeois media and cultural/educational set up had in those days, despite a vibrant anti-capitalist workers mass media existing in many countries. The author goes on to outline how massive new grass roots workers' movements mushroomed based on shop steward committees in the UK and Germany later during the conflict due to grievances over conscription and deskilling, and opposition to the union hierarchy's collaboration in the war effort. The author goes on to sketch various generally unsuccessful attempts by resurgent syndicalist and anarchist groups to conduct general strikes and uprisings against the war.

The pamphlet concludes by looking at how alliances developed between Leftwing Anti-War Socialists and Syndicalists, particularly associated with the Zimmerwald Anti-War conference and movement which led to the emergence of the Moscow dominated Communist Parties in the post WWI period. Whilst significant nationalist/patriotic splits erupted in syndicalist and anarchist movements, encouraging syndicalist movements to develop more explicit revolutionary platforms.

Reassessing The Transnational Turn Edited by Constance Bantman and Bert Altena.
This book particularly focuses on the contradictory politics of various syndicalist and anarchist movements and key militants up until the late 1930's and the international networks linking them. Whilst supporting internationalism and the class war in early phases, often sliding into support for nationalism and racialist identity politics informed conceptions in different phases.

One of the most interesting and disturbing essays in the volume is "Mother Spain, We Love You!" Nationalism and Racism in Anarchist Literature during the Spanish Civil (1936-1939) by Martin Baxmeyer. He focuses on the tremendous shift toward nationalism in anarchist literature and racial identity politics during the Civil War. Despite in the pre war years, anarchist-nationalism being a very tiny
current. The author refers to the cases of Progres Autonimista which tried to link anarchism to nationalism (Catalan) to oppose the Central Spanish State and Savador Canovas Cervantes another anarchist nationalist who became a staff member of the CNT( National Confederation of Labour - anarcho-syndicalist union movement) mass circulation "Solidaridad Obrera" daily newspaper during the Civil War . The author sees this nationalist orientation associated with the anarchist/syndicalist movement e.g. the CNT and the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) in Spain being drawn into defence of the Republican/Popular Front State and war effort. Moving sharply away from its traditional commitment to the revolutionary project and class war. He fails to examine how this trajectory was connected with the failure of the CNT to develop a revolutionary political strategy based on a workers councils state in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. Stemming from it being swept up in an insurrectionary cycle encouraged by ultra radical militants associated with the Barcelona based FAI and suffering massive state repression. Consequently the CNT/FAI were drawn into collaboration with the Republican State. Whilst he sees a possible major contributory factor requiring further research being the impact of the curriculum of the rationalist/anarchist school movement in encouraging nationalist conceptions. (3)

Other essays of less interest are "A Networking Historian": The Transnational, the National, and the Patriotic in and around Max Nettlau's Geschlchte der Anarchie by Bert Altena. The authors examines the contradictions which developed in Nettlau's views. Whilst he supported cosmopolitan anarchism and collaborated with a range of militants on the international scale with his historical research. In his later years he moved toward supporting a Greater Germany.
Another interesting essay is "Dangerous Liaisons of Belle Epoque": Anarchist Internationalism and Nationalism in the
French Anarchist Movement (1880-1914) by Constance Bantman. It discusses a small group of prominent militants such as Louise Michel, Jean Grave, Emile Pouget and Charles Molarto. Probably the most important being Pouget who as a journalist and editor played an important role in encouraging many anarchists to move toward promoting syndicalism in the French labour movement. All these militants were drawn into positions which contradicted basic anarchist principles of internationalism. The outbreak of WWI and the associated upsurge in patriotic fervour encouraged by the bourgeois media particularly played an important role in the disorientation of Jean Grave and Charles Molarto resulting in their support of the Entente powers.
Another key figure in international anarchism in the years leading up to WWI and onwards discussed in the volume is Peter Kropotkin in "Kropotkin's Theory of the State": A Transnational Approach by Ruth Kinna. Like the above two militants he was also drawn into support of the Entente Powers during WWI. Kinna examines Kropotkin's analysis of the State particularly focusing on its monopolising role and link to capitalist patterns of ownership. The instability of the international state system he saw as encouraging a popular anti-state movement, however in the years after the outbreak of WWI, a renewed nationalist upsurge occurred. His support for the Entente powers the author argues particularly stemmed from his opposition to Prussian militarism.
In conclusion, the pamphlet and book under review certainly show the great problems and opportunities for, organising presented by the outbreak of major war. Particularly the difficulty in combating the impact of the capitalist media/cultural and educational set ups in encouraging patriotic upsurges, spreading disorientation amongst key militants and departure from the class struggle orientation. Whilst the hazards of waves of state repression during war time are highlighted. These publications certainly emphasise the importance of building an internationally coordinated mass syndicalist union movement to oppose the current war drive and fight international capitalism generally.
Mark McGuire

1. See "Revolutionary Syndicalism in France: The Direct Action of Its Time" by F.F.Ridley
2. See Review of "Unruly Equality: US Anarchism in the 20th Century" by Andrew Cornell published by University of California Press in RW Vol.34 No.2 (226) July - Aug. 2016 in web site www.rebelworker.org
3. See "Red Barcelona" Edited by Angel Smith and "The Agony of Modernisation" by Benjamin Martin
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