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How anarchists, syndicalists, socialists and IWW militants were drawn to Bolshevism: four case studies

William Dudley (Big Bill) Haywood, US labour movement leader, marching with strikers in Lowell, Massachusetts, circa 1912.

Read more on the IWW, Gramsci and Victor Serge.

By Doug Enaa Greene

“The unity of thought and action gave Bolshevism its original power; without entering into doctrinal questions we can define Bolshevism as a movement to the left of socialism -- which brought it closer to anarchism -- inspired by the will to achieve the revolution immediately.”[1]

These words of Victor Serge sum up a whole new wave of thinking that came over many anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, and socialists with the onset of the Russian Revolution. Many anarchists, syndicalists, and socialists who had been hostile to the practices of organized socialist parties for decades found themselves drawn to the example of the Bolshevik Revolution and joined the emerging Communist Parties, providing them with valuable cadres. One of these men was Victor Serge, a Russian exile most noted for his later work as a novelist. Another was Bill Haywood, an American trade unionist active in both the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World. A third was James P. Cannon, another trade union militant in the USA. A fourth was Antonio Gramsci, an Italian journalist and political activist.

On the surface though, it seems that Bolshevism has little in common with anarcho-syndicalism. Bolsheviks were committed to political action, whereas syndicalists focused wholly on trade unions. The Bolsheviks were dedicated revolutionary Marxists, syndicalists on the other hand came out of an anarchist milieu in reaction to the reformism of the socialists and rarely had coherent doctrines. Syndicalists were also outside of the Socialist International, seeing the organization as elitist, while the Bolsheviks were proud members. Furthermore, the socialists were used to merely spouting revolutionary rhetoric while the Bolsheviks acted on it.

It seems that with all these differences that Bolsheviks could never come to any form of unity with syndicalists or socialists. However, during World War One and carrying over to the Bolshevik Revolution, many syndicalists and socialists joined up with the emerging Communist Parties. This union of syndicalists and socialists with communists is an example of what Michael Lowy calls elective affinity. Elective affinity is a relationship between two social trends that starts “from a certain structural analogy, the relationship consists of a convergence, a mutual attraction, an active confluence, a combination that can go as far as a fusion.”[2] For the most part, the relationship between anarcho-syndicalists and Bolsheviks has been viewed as one of distrust, if not of hatred. Socialist Parties would later try to paint the Bolsheviks as hotheads, while they were practical. Yet in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, none of this was true. Syndicalists and socialists such as Victor Serge, Bill Haywood, James Cannon and Antonio Gramsci found themselves drawn to the Bolsheviks based on the failure of syndicalists and socialists to confront the First World War; they were drawn to the success of the Bolsheviks, which was based on its concept of the party, revolutionary praxis and the example of soviets.

I. The World Capitalist Economy and the Second International

The emergence of Bolshevism and syndicalism took place in the shadow of Europe and the USA’s expansion on the eve of the First World War. This was the era of monopoly capitalism and imperialism. The European powers and the USA were expanding across the globe and industrial concerns were concentrating in fewer and fewer hands. For instance, in the USA, “in 1908, the seven largest trusts controlled 1,638 companies.”[3] These trends were similar in France, Britain, and Germany, albeit not quite as marked. The increase in monopolies led to the export of capital and imperial expansion across the globe. Capital investments in 1914 came primarily from only three countries, Britain, Germany and France. For example, in 1914 “43 percent [of capital investment came] from Britain alone, 20 percent from France, 13 percent from Germany.”[4] The expansion of capitalism abroad led to hundreds of millions of people in Africa and Asia being brought under the colonial jackboot. Protecting these investments brought with it a ballooning of militarism with each imperial power ready to defend with arms its capital investments. The inevitable clash between the European powers would come in 1914.[5]

However, the mushrooming of capitalism in Europe and America didn’t just lead to profits and imperial glory. Greater concentrations of capital led to an expansion and greater concentrations of the proletariat. In Germany, from 1895 to 1907, the number of workers increased from 5.9 million to 8.6 million. In France, the working class increased from 3 million workers circa 1900 to 5 million in 1914. In the USA workers in factories went from 2 million in 1870 to 8.4 million in 1919.[6] In these countries, the concentration of capital led to the concentration of more workers. For example, “France in 1906 one-tenth of the wage-earning labor force was employed in companies having more than 500 wage earners; in the United States the average number of wage earners for each industrial company rose from twenty-two in 1899 to forty in 1919.”[7] These trends were less marked in some countries, but in general the proletariat across Europe and the USA was growing.

The working class was not merely growing in terms of economics. The proletariat was also building unions and parties that counted the allegiance of millions. The major workers Marxist movement was the Second (or Socialist) International formed in 1889 which included parties across Europe and the world. The Second International had millions of members and profound influence across Europe and the USA.[8] As capitalism grew across Europe, the parties of the Second International held aloft a different vision of the future, promising a revolutionary socialist tomorrow.

While the socialist parties claimed to uphold a revolutionary program, their actions were decidedly conservative. However, the Second International adhered to a fatalistic view of Marxism on the question of the inevitability of socialism. This type of Marxism took away revolutionary praxis, replacing it “with a certainty, akin to that once given by religion, that science demonstrated the historical inevitability of their [workers] eventual triumph.”[9] If socialism was inevitable because of certain historical laws, then there was no need to engage in revolutionary action to bring about socialism.[10]

However, if socialism wasn’t to be brought about by revolutionary action then what was the role of the socialist parties? These parties were rapidly expanding in the early 1900s, capturing significant numbers of the electorate and bringing them close to state power. For example, the largest and most influential socialist party was to be found in Germany. In the early 1900s, the party “went from triumph to triumph. In 1890 the party sent thirty-five delegates to the Reichstag. Twenty-two years later almost one fourth of the members of the national parliament, 110 in all, were Social Democrats.”[11] The success of socialist parties at the ballot box seemed to pose a contradiction. If the socialist party was “a revolutionary party, but it is not a party that makes revolutions,” what was it to do? [12]

One of the potential answers to this question was provided by German Socialist leader Eduard Bernstein. From 1896-8, Bernstein wrote a series of articles (later collected into a book Evolutionary Socialism) which called for a major revision of Marxist theory. Bernstein believed “that capitalism was becoming prone less to economic crises because cartels and monopolies, the increased speed of communication, and the growth of the credit system all weakened the anarchic tendencies of the market.”[13] If capitalism wasn’t prone to collapse, according to orthodox theory, what role then for the socialist party? Bernstein believed that in light of these new conditions the socialist party should “amend its theory so that it aligned with its practice and could declare itself a democratic party of social reform.”[14] Bernstein argued ultimately for ditching Marxism and concentrating on piecemeal reforms.[15]

Although, Bernstein’s ideas were voted down by the Socialist leadership on several occasions, that was not the end of the matter.[16] Despite the verbal commitment of the socialist party to revolution, its practice seemed to be in accord with Bernstein’s theory (both in Germany and internationally). According to David Renton, “the SPD settled for a means of operating that emphasized parliament as the main place where change would happen. Ironically, then, the result of Eduard Bernstein’s seeming defeat was that his ideas triumphed.”[17] The International’s adopting Bernstein’s theories of reform in practice led to “compromise, passivity, the refusal to order the mobilized armies of labor into action, and the suppression of the struggles which spontaneously welled up among the masses, in the miserable name of organizational discipline.”[18] The end result of Bernstein’s theories and the Second International’s fatalistic view of Marxism was capitulation to the capitalist state and support for the slaughter of World War One.[19]

II. The Syndicalist Challenge to the Second International in France and Spain

Although the reformist practice of the official Socialist parties was the dominant trend, two opposition movements developed. One of these groups were the antirevisionist leftists that existed within the parties of the Second International.[20] However, the largest opposition were revolutionaries known as syndicalists (coming from the French word for trade unions) who developed outside of the official Second International and were dedicated to radical practice.

Syndicalists developed out of anarchism and believed that “direct action by the working class outside parliament could achieve the revolution; and such action could only be undertaken by genuine workers…the way in which such a movement could express itself was by the means of the general strike.”[21] This idea spread across Europe and the USA in the late 1890s and early 1900s. A French anarchist named Fernand Peloutier argued for turning unions into “practical schools of anarchism.”[22] A major French theorist named Geoges Sorel advocated the syndicalist tactics. In 1908, Sorel put down his definitive views on syndicalism in a work entitled, Reflections on Violence. Sorel’s work would prove to be a major influence on syndicalism. In Reflections, Sorel argued that general strikes should be seen as a myth which “more easily than by any other method, men can reform their desires, passions, and mental activity.”[23] Rather than accepting a fatalistic view of history, Sorel was calling for revolutionary action. Sorel also believed that the violence of strikes and class struggle “may engender the elements of a new civilization suited to a people of producers…this philosophy is closely bound up with the apology for violence.”[24] In other words, if the general strike is the mobilizing myth designed to bring on the social revolution, then the struggle and violence will forge the working class for socialism.[25] Suffice it to say, this view is sharply opposed to any reformist road to socialism.

The views on syndicalism of the dominant socialist parties were decidedly negative. For example, Sorel criticizes the hypocrisy of the parliamentary socialists, “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the workers themselves-their newspapers repeat this everyday-but real emancipation consists in voting for a professional politician, in securing for him the means of obtaining a comfortable situation in the world, in subjecting oneself to a leader.”[26] Another syndicalist in the US, William Foster sarcastically criticized socialists officeholders who “once in office these politicians fritter away their time with various vote-catching schemes, such as the reduction of taxes, ‘clean government,’ ‘social peace,’ etc., while the working class is starving.”[27] Instead, Foster and Sorel urged some form of direct action on the trade union front rather than political action.

For the revolutionary Victor Serge, he was shaped heavily by the experiences of syndicalists and socialists of France and Spain. It will be useful to look at the leftist movements of these two countries before turning to how Serge responded to them. In France, syndicalism took root in the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) in 1906. The syndicalist takeover of the CGT came about amidst a rise in labor unrest and disgust among the reformist socialists. French socialism had been wracked by controversy when one of its members, Alexander Millerand joined a left-center cabinet during the Dreyfus Affair. The French Socialist movement had been fragmented for decades and the Millerand appointment was a new cause to draw swords.[28] The government was meant to restore republican unity during the Dreyfus years, however it “remained a bourgeois government. When the Chalons workers went on strike, it too called in the army.”[29] The idea of a socialist in a government that shot down workers was revolting to many revolutionaries.

Industrial unrest grew in France, leading to a growth in syndicalist influence. France’s main labor federation, the General Confederation of Workers, was taken over by syndicalists in 1906, believing that “the proletariat must refuse all support from the opposing class.”[30] The syndicalist takeover coincided in the years after 1907 with “a postal strike, a railway strike, and numerous others, shook the bourgeoisie, though without producing many effective benefits for the working class.”[31] There may’ve been benefits from the syndicalist strikes, but there was not a revolution.

When World War One broke out in 1914, the major syndicalist union CGT proved to be impotent in fomenting revolution. For one thing, there were seven million workers in France and only 600,000 were part of the CGT. The failure of the syndicalists to act is attributed in part by the historian James Joll to the reading that “in the SFIO [French Socialist Party] and CGT there were strong minorities opposed to the general strike against war.”[32] Furthermore, the moderates in both the unions and party were looking for immediate benefits and “if the Sorelian myth of the general strike was to operate successfully, it must produce a unanimous and simultaneous élan in which nobody felt any inhibitions.”[33] The divisions in the CGT led to a collapse of any revolutionary opposition and soon the leader of the organization, Leon Jouhaux was supporting the tricolor. According to Eric Hobsbawm, “many of them (e.g. among ‘revolutionary syndicalists’) joined the bulk of Marxist social democrats in the rush to the patriotic banners.”[34] So little was the French government scared of antiwar disruptions among the syndicalists that the “Minister of the Interior, Malvy, decided to pay no attention to the Carnet B., i.e. to leave at liberty the very men who, in the government’s opinion, had convincingly established their intention to oppose war by all means.”[35] In short, the revolutionaries of the CGT had more bark than bite.[36]

South of France, Spain was another country where syndicalism took root. Unlike many other countries in Europe, Spain was not a developed capitalist society but had a powerful landowning class and a monarchy. Spain was burdened with a large landowning class, a small bourgeoisie, and a large peasantry.[37] Since capitalist development was delayed in Spain, its working class was small but highly combative and influenced heavily by anarchist and syndicalist ideas.[38] Spain did have a small socialist party, but it believed that “the class struggle should be waged in a moderate and evolutionary manner (the PSOE did not formally repudiate the monarchy until 1914).”[39] Needless to say such a moderate course did not find too many adherents among the militant workers of Spain. Following major labor strife in Barcelona in 1908-9, a national workers federation was founded in 1910. The National Confederation of Labor (CNT) was dominated by anarchists from the beginning and influenced by “ideas from France, the articulate leaders of whose working class were in the full flood of enthusiasm for ‘syndicalism’ and the idea of economic warfare to the death.”[40] The CNT pursued a revolutionary strategy of strikes, riots, and sabotage that they hoped would lead to a new society.

The CNT expanded rapidly over the next several years, engaging in desperate struggles on behalf of the working class. However, it was the outbreak of World War One that saw the CNT make a bid for power. Spain was neutral during the war, supplying vast amounts of raw materials to the allies. The consequence was a vast enrichment of industrialists and stagnation for the wages and conditions of the working class. Following the conclusion of the war, exports to the Allies suddenly dropped off and unemployment swelled. People were swarming into the cities, but there was no work to be found. The established politicians offered no solutions. Protests largely came from the Anarchist trade unions (CNT) which staged major protests in Barcelona and Andalucia from 1917-1920. The government sent in the police to crush strikes and assassinate union leaders. The Russian Revolution also inspired great hope in the left.[41] Radicalized elements in both anarchist and socialist movements took the Russian example as the wave of the future and broke with their organizations.

III. Victor Serge

It was in this environment that Victor Serge was forged. Serge was one of the most famous anarchists (and semi-syndicalists) who went over to the Bolshevik revolution. Serge (Kibalchich) was born in 1891 in Belgium to exiled Russian revolutionaries.[42] Serge grew up in poverty, suffering hunger at an early age. Serge’s father passed on his revolutionary beliefs to his son. Serge entered the workforce during his fifteenth year, laboring for ten hours or more. During his adolescence, Serge befriended a group of young rebels. Serge describes his friends as “lean young wolves, full of pride and thought: dangerous types. We had a certain fear of becoming careerists, as we considered many of our elders to be who had made some show of being revolutionary, and afterwards…”[43] Suffice to say, Serge and his friends were not inclined toward the gradualist methods that were taking hold in the socialist parties.

Despite Serge’s revolutionary temperament, he entered into the Belgian Socialist Youth. Serge had a different view of socialism than the party though. He believed that “socialism gave a meaning to life, and that was: struggle.”[44] This revolutionary edge put him in conflict with the party, “we had satisfied ourselves with a Socialism of battle, and it was the great age of reformism.”[45] Serge later left the party, when its leader Vandervelde “advocated the annexation of the Congo.”[46] Following his departure from the socialist party, Serge became an active anarchist. Serge did not turn to syndicalism, but towards a form of anarchist individualism that involved “vegetarianism, and participating in illegalist activity.”[47] Illegalist anarchism believed that “the ballot revealed itself to be a paper rag.”[48] The individualists believed that they had the choice between “wage earners or bandits. We can’t do much about this.”[49] In such a situation, Serge decided that he was “with the bandits…The bandits demonstrate their determination to live.”[50] Following these convictions, Serge moved to France and became a supporter of the Bonnot gang, a group of anarchists involved in bank robberies and shootouts.

Serge was arrested in France in 1911 for a connection to a shoot-out. However, Serge was not involved in the shootout, but he was a journalist who was “singled out as the intellectual author of the Bonnot band’s crimes.”[51] Serge was sentenced to a prison term that lasted from 1913 to 1917, where he reflected on his worldview. Serge turned from his anarchist individualist philosophy, believing that the Bonnot gang “was like a collective suicide.”[52] Serge’s imprisonment coincided with the outbreak of World War One. To Serge, the behavior of socialist parties and syndicalists supporting the war “was incomprehensible to us. Did they then believe nothing of what they preached yesterday?”[53] Serge was caught up in the despair that had gripped many revolutionaries with the outbreak of war.

Serge was released from jail in early 1917 and told to leave France by the authorities. If he returned to the country, Serge would once more by interned. Following his release from prison, Serge made his way to Spain where he became involved with the anarcho-syndicalist CNT, the largest union in the country. Serge’s involvement with the CNT marked a definite change in his thinking. In 1910, Serge was dismissive of syndicalism, believing that “organizing the working class in view of social transformation means wasting time and energy.”[54] However, his break with the individualists due to prison brought a change in his thinking.

Serge was alive to the possibilities that Spain offered to a revolutionary. He discussed all sorts of issues with the syndicalists, “we examined the various problems: the Russian revolution, the coming general strike…the ingrained anarchist hostility to any fresh forms of organization.”[55] In a letter to a friend around this time, Serge reflected on this change in his thinking, “I have lost the sectarian intransigence of the past. I now attribute less importance to words than ideas…I feel myself capable of working with all those who, animated by the same desire for a better life…even by different roads than mine and even if they give our common goal in reality different names that I don’t know.”[56] What we have is Serge claiming to be for the same goals as the past, namely a new society, but trying new means to reach them. One of those means would be the CNT and the general strike.

However, despite Serge’s protestations that he was “still one of you” to the individualists, this was hardly the case.[57] Serge declared to the individualists that “you people are no longer good for anything. You’re at the end of your tether: you won’t march for anything any more-because you yourselves are not worth marching for.”[58] Serge was animated by the atmosphere of the workers in Barcelona, which “stimulated the workers to press their immediate demands.”[59] Serge saw that “violent hopes were coming to birth.”[60] Serge threw himself into the CNT and actively prepared for a general strike.

However, in the end the rising was crushed and Serge had to flee the country.[61] Serge had to reflect upon the failure of the syndicalists, so soon after his experience with the individualists. Serge believed that the CNT “did not ask any fundamental questions. It entered battle without knowing its ultimate purpose or assessing the consequences of its action.”[62] Serge felt that the militants were no more than “big children.”[63] However, at the same time as the uprising in Spain, the Russian Revolution was unfolding. Serge was growing increasingly attracted to this Revolution which he believed “would not stop half-way.”[64] Serge’s attitude toward the Bolsheviks is summed up with this comparison to the anarchists during 1917 written many years later. For Serge, “what they [workers and peasants] want, then the party expresses at a conscious level and carries out. The party reveals to them what they have been thinking. It is the bond which unites them from one end of the country to the other. The party is their consciousness, their organization.”[65] At this point, the Russian Revolution was quickly passing from its initial bourgeois phase to the rising of the proletariat.

Like millions of others, Serge was electrified by the Bolshevik triumph at the end of 1917. Serge had fled Spain and now tried to reach Russia. Yet he suffered another bout in a French prison from 1917-9 for breaking his deportation orders. Serge reflected on this period in both his memoirs and the autobiographical novel, Birth of Our Power. During this period, Serge argued passionately for the Bolshevik cause and “was ‘on the [party] line’ advocated by Lenin.”[66] Serge argued with fellow prisoners, believing that “this victory is definitive, as fragile and uncertain as it may be.”[67] To him, “the basic theory is very clear: when the peasants have taken the land, no power on earth will be able to pry it away from [them].”[68] Serge was part of a small study circle that was entranced with Bolshevik ideas. A sea change had come over the left with the Bolshevik revolution. To Serge, “there is a technique of revolution, which demands organization, discipline, watchwords, order. Persuasion before the conquest of power, yes: the competition between false ideologies and the correct political line, the latter winning over the masses because it best expresses their true aspirations (hence its correctness).”[69] This new wave extended over to the new society on the morrow of victory. Now Serge believed in “Jacobin centralization…”[70] Serge’s abrupt change in thinking was also influenced by his reading of Marx’s Civil War in France. Marx’s work dealt with the failure of the Paris Commune and Serge believed that “a firm offensive by the Communards against Versailles could probably have changed the course of history…”[71] Where the Commune had failed, Serge now wanted the Bolsheviks to succeed.

Despite Serge’s embrace of what power meant for revolutionaries, that was not his only thinking on the Russian Revolution. Serge desired “a libertarian, democratic revolution, without the hypocrisy and flabbiness of the bourgeois democracies-egalitarian and tolerant toward ideas and people, which would employ terror if it was necessary, but would abolish the death penalty.”[72] Serge’s new society rested on the “power of the Soviets the realization of our deepest hopes.”[73] It was on these convictions that Serge embraced Bolshevism. After the conclusion of the war in 1918, Serge and other suspected Bolshevik prisoners in France were exchanged for French prisoners in Russia. In 1919, Serge arrived in Russia for the first time in his life and joined the Bolshevik Party.

In Serge’s transition, his anarchist beliefs give way to a commitment to Marxism. Several important factors attracted Serge to Bolshevism. Serge emphasized these factors in pamphlets arguing with anarchists. On the one hand, the Bolsheviks were Marxists who took “revolutionary theory [and] put [it] into practice.”[74] The Revolution was also an example for workers in Europe, swept up in the war, to follow. To Serge, “it gave them more than an example to follow, more than a boundless source of hope; it gave them a body of doctrine, methods of struggle, an education; it gave them leaders.”[75] Since Serge believed that the Russian Revolution had based its theory on reality, he criticized the anarchists (and syndicalists) for being “utopian, it should be brought back to the reality of class struggle and its practical necessities, though without losing anything of its ethical value for the individual or for the social movement.”[76] Serge believed that the Bolsheviks had accomplished what all shades of anarchism had failed to do, bring about the revolution. The anarchists and syndicalists had also failed their tests, whether in France in 1914 or in Spain three years later.

Serge had now come away from his earlier disdain of organization to a passionate embrace of political organization. This was clearly shown in a later historical work on the Bolshevik Revolution, where Serge stated “that the party fulfilled within the working class the functions of a brain and of a nervous system…Without it the mass would have been no more than a heap of human dust, experiencing confused aspirations shot through by flashes of intelligence--these, in the absence of a mechanism capable of leading to large-scale action-doomed to waste themselves--and experiencing more insistently the pangs of suffering.”[77] This was a long journey for a man who had spent the formative years of his youth decrying socialist organization. Now Serge saw socialist organization as exemplified by the Bolsheviks as the only path toward revolution.

He admonished anarchists who shrank from the harshness of the revolution, “that is how the revolution is. It is a fact. It is not how we dreamed of it, nor what we wanted it to be. Here it is. Are you against it-or with it?”[78] Despite Serge’s seeming absolutist position, he urged anarchists who joined communist parties to “preserve the spirit of liberty, which will give them a greater critical spirit and a clearer awareness of their long term goals.”[79] This was a vision of Leninism that Serge would remain faithful to for the rest of his life despite his subsequent persecution.[80]

Former IWW militants James P. Cannon (centre) and Big Bill Haywood (right) at the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International, in Moscow in 1922.

IV. William “Big Bill” Haywood and the US Labor Movement

In the United States, William “Big Bill” Haywood made the transition from syndicalism to Bolshevism. Haywood was born in 1869 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Haywood’s father, a Civil War veteran and pony express rider, died around his third birthday. When Haywood was seven, his mother remarried and he moved to the mining camp of Ophir. It was in Ophir that Haywood encountered two things that would follow him throughout the rest of his life: violence and mining. Shortly after moving to Ophir, Haywood saw a shootout first hand where a man’s face was blown off. Another time, two of Haywood’s classmates were killed by playing with a pistol. According to Haywood, all this violence was “a natural part of life.”[81] A young Haywood seemed to get used to this environment and admitted, “I used to like to fight.”[82] Haywood would later fight by other means once he entered politics and the labor movement.

Haywood took a variety of jobs as a young boy, working as a farm hand and in a family store. Despite Haywood’s eagerness to fight, he did not approve of mob violence. At the age of twelve, a black man who was accused of killing two men was being escorted to jail by the police. Haywood witnessed a crowd gather and the police handed over their prisoner to the mob. The mob hung the man with blood lust. Haywood said this “was my first realization of what the insane cruelty of a mob could mean.”[83] Later in life, Haywood was himself to be the victim of the actions of a mob.

Shortly thereafter, Haywood left school and by the age of fifteen, he was working in the mines of Nevada. At the mining camp of Rebel Creek, Haywood experienced long hours and harsh conditions in a fairly isolated region. Yet Haywood said that the miners “were all great readers.”[84] Haywood formed close friendships with some of the men including Pat Reynolds, a member of the Knights of Labor. Reynolds explained to the young Haywood the need for workers to organize “for mutual protection.”[85] Furthermore, Haywood was also deeply affected by news of the Haymarket bombing in Chicago in 1886. Haywood described this as a “turning point in my life.”[86]

Before continuing with Haywood’s development, it is necessary to explain the events that Haywood believed were a turning point in his life. The Haymarket Affair and the rise of the Knights of Labor were indeed turning points for the US proletariat. The Knights of Labor, founded in 1871 was growing. For example, since 1881 the Knights had grown from a membership low of roughly 20,000 to nearly 730,000 by 1886 despite a major depression.[87] The Knights of Labor also had a unique organizational structure for labor unions in the US. The Knights “were open to workers in all occupations, of all nationalities and races, and of both sexes.”[88] The Knights also advocated a changing of the class system toward a “voluntary cooperative order.”[89] However, despite the Knight’s vague socialist ideology, they were quite moderate in their tactics. Leaders of the Knights such as Terence Powderly “usually disapproved of strikes as futile and harmful to hopes of social reconciliation.”[90] The Knights peak and its subsequent fall came with the eight-hour movement and the Haymarket bombing.

In 1886, workers across the country were gripped with a fever for an eight hour day. The hours for most workers were long and hard, leaving little time for leisure. However, in 1886 labor organizations across the USA pushed for an eight hour day that was argued “would serve as a first step toward reducing unemployment and inducing a desire for a higher standard of living among tradesmen with more leisure and more desire to consume.”[91] The strike for the eight hour day culminated on May 1, 1886 with more than 150,000 workers on strike across the USA. The strike fell short of expectations of organizers but was still the largest nationwide strike in the USA up to that time.[92] Yet the May 1st strike was to be the peak of radical labor for quite sometime. The Chicago strike wave was marked by violence against strikers and the organization of a powerful anarchist movement. At a protest against police brutality organized by the anarchists, the police charged the demonstration after a bomb was thrown. The leaders of the anarchist movement in Chicago were arrested and four were later executed.[93]

At the same time, the Knights of Labor were also hitting a wall. During 1886, the Knights had their organization on the railroads crushed. In the aftermath of the Haymarket Affair, the employers and all levels of the US government began a concerted counteroffensive against the Knights. According to historian Paul Buhle, the Knights “leaders’ collective nerve failed. Badly shaken, calling off key strikes despite workers’ determination to hold out, denouncing courageous leaders as unfit to even be Knights, they sabotaged their own movement at its moment of truth.”[94] However, the Haymarket Affair also led to “a new wave of anti-labor legislation” from state legislatures and “new efforts to strengthen local police, militia and US armed forces.”[95] State repression along with a failure of Knight leadership led to a decline of radical labor and the rise of the conservative AFL.[96]

Following the Haymarket events, the American labor movement was dominated by the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a craft union founded in 1886 that disdained politics. The AFL founder Samuel Gompers believed that “whatever benefits wage earners gained they would have to get within the capitalist system. Taking up with radical movements would only alienate the middle class.”[97] The focus on craft organization caused the AFL to ignore the unskilled, women and minorities who were left without union protection. This is a position that Haywood would come to despise; he later took up the cause of the Knights and the Chicago anarchists.[98]

Although Haywood was influenced by the Knight Member Pat Reynolds and news from back east, he would not take the plunge into radical labor for another decade. Haywood spent his time working in various mines and trying to make it on a homestead. In 1896, after his arm was injured on the job and he was unable to work, Haywood attended a meeting of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM). Haywood heard the WFM’s President Edward Boyce speak to the assembled miners. Haywood describes being interested in hearing about the 1892 strike at Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho. After listening to descriptions of the strike and repressions of labor, Haywood joined the WFM.[99]

Very quickly, Haywood was thrown into the maelstrom of the WFM’s struggle against the mine owners. Out west, “miners were working for corporate organizations under a whole new set of restrictions and regulations, and piling up profits for absentee owners in what was easily the most dangerous of America’s major industries.”[100] The WFM owed its foundation to the 1892 D’Alene strike. Only a year before, the miners had won a major wage increase. However, “in January 1892, the mine owners shut down their mines and…announced a new wage scale that would wipe out many of the gains won by the unions.”[101] The local union refused the wage cut and declared a strike. Strikebreakers brought in were persuaded by fellow workers to join the picket line. The union’s success in mobilizing support led to the companies bringing in armed strikebreakers and open fighting. Later even Federal troops were brought in to keep the mines in operation. However, the suppression of the strike caused a major scandal leading to a Congressional investigation and a release of the men. In early 1893, the strike was won. However, the workers realized that they needed to protect their gains so they pushed for a union that would guarantee “better organization and more complete unity among the workers.”[102] Out of this came the WFM.

However, D’Alene was only the beginning of a major strike wave across the West that pitted worker against capitalist. The WFM was originally part of the craft AFL, despite being an industrial union. Initially the WFM “espoused only typical business union goals, but repeated repression drove the WFM toward increasingly revolutionary postures.”[103] A major strike in 1896 at Leadville Colorado was broken by the state governor and the use of the militia.

It was after the Leadville defeat that the WFM moved toward the left. “In 1897, the WFM withdrew from the AFL, and…President Edward Boyce advocated the miners’ ownership of the mines.”[104] By 1903, the WFM was reaching the peak of its strength and militancy along with promoting “socialism and demanded a ‘complete revolution of present social and economic conditions.’”[105] During this period, Haywood rose rapidly through the WFM hierarchy.

Haywood was a fierce advocate of industrial unionism and a hostile critic of the AFL, particularly its leader Samuel Gompers. According to Haywood, Gompers’ goal in life as highlighted by his half-hearted defense of the Haymarket anarchists and the Knights of Labor “was to prevent the growth of the revolutionary working class movement.”[106] Haywood also singled out the AFL for failing to support the Leadville strike. Haywood summed up the AFL role in the labor movement as “a record of treason, treachery, and avarice that must not be forgotten.”[107] In contrast to this, Haywood advocated “the importance of the revolutionary labor movement, and now had a deeper understanding of the struggles that had been made and the sacrifices demanded of the workers in their efforts to emancipate themselves from wage-slavery.”[108] Haywood was for a union of all workers to bring down capitalism, which brought him in opposition to the craft unionism of the AFL.

Haywood’s involvement with the WFM and its struggles led to an instinctive syndicalism. Haywood was “never satisfied that the problems of labor could be solved by trade unionism, and parliamentary socialism was no remedy.”[109] Haywood had contempt for the law changing things in favor of the workers “unless we had the economic power-the strength of our union-to enforce them.”[110] Haywood was also a proponent of the general strike, believing that “all they [workers] have to do is to put their hands in their pockets and they have got the capitalist class whipped.”[111] Haywood’s quest for that economic power would lead to the foundation of an organization that he hoped could strike a fatal blow against capital: the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

In the early 1900s, “the use of the militia, the declaration of marital law in numerous areas of Colorado and mass deportations broke the power of the WFM.”[112] The continuing repression led the WFM to decide “that the organization could not stand alone against the concentrated power of the state and big business.”[113] From this decision came the foundation of the IWW in 1905. The IWW was supposed to fight for “immediate gains as steps designed to lead to a general strike (sooner rather than later) by the entire working class that would bring the entire capitalist economy and government to an absolute halt. With power in the hands of the working class majority, the economy would be owned, organized and run by and for the working class.”[114] Haywood was one of the key speakers at the IWW convention in Chicago, declaring that “this is the Continental Congress of the Working Class, We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement in possession of the economic powers, the means of life, in control of the machinery of production without regard to capitalist masters.”[115] Although the IWW was not founded as an explicitly syndicalist organization, many of the theories associated with syndicalism were influential in its ranks. Despite the presence of many Socialist Party members, “there was a strong feeling among the delegates against political action.”[116] Although not developed theoretically, the IWW was definitely influenced by syndicalist ideas circulating in Europe. Following its foundation, the IWW engaged in organizing many of the workers neglected by the AFL and engaged in many famous strikes over the next decade such as the famous Lawrence textile strike in 1912 (more below).[117]

At the IWW’s founding convention Haywood noted that none of the major leaders of the conservative wing of the Socialist Party, “Berger, Hilliquit, Spargo or Hayes took part.”[118] The US Socialist Party (SPUSA) was rapidly growing during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Haywood himself was a founding member of the SPUSA. However, it was divided just like the European parties with openly reformist and revolutionary wings. The rightwing of the Socialist Party was more interested in pursuing social reform, anti-corruption campaigns and currying favor with the AFL than revolutionary action. By 1912, the right had enough control within the party to recall Haywood, only recently elevated to the Central Committee (more below).[119] There was a significantly large left wing in the Socialist Party that advocated class struggle and was involved in the founding of the IWW among them was Party leader Eugene Debs.[120] Many of the syndicalist-inclined members of the party advocated direct industrial action and were against running candidates for political office. However, these leftist didn’t have control of the Party machine and were often sectarian in their politics.[121]

However, Haywood was not given the opportunity to participate in an IWW organizing drive or SP politics. In December 1905, the former anti-union governor of Idaho was murdered and Haywood (along with two other WFM leaders) was brought to Idaho to stand trial for conspiracy to kill the governor. The evidence against Haywood and the others was coerced from the actual killer in an effort to break the WFM. Haywood was declared an undesirable citizen by President Teddy Roosevelt and was expected to receive the death penalty. However, Haywood’s arrest prompted a massive defense campaign by the labor movement and resulted in his acquittal in 1907 to wide acclaim.[122]

Upon his release, Haywood again took up his activities in the IWW and SPUSA. Haywood tried to maintain a balance of political and economic action. For political action, Haywood attended the 1908 SPUSA convention and was “in favor of Eugene Debs, who was nominated by the convention as the party’s candidate for President.”[123] Haywood also spoke approvingly of the SP 1908 political program where “the class struggle was its foundation.”[124] At the same time, Haywood said that the IWW actions did show the significance of political action. The IWW had fought “one battle after another for free speech. They have fought against vagrancy laws, against criminal syndicalism laws and to establish the right of workers to organize.”[125] For instance, Haywood believed that industrial organization should be the backbone of political organization, saying “that the broadest interpretation of political power comes through the industrial organization; that the industrial organization is capable not only of the general strike, but prevents the capitalists from disenfranchising the worker.”[126] It would be safe to say that Haywood’s primary focus was on economic action as opposed to politics. However, he was willing to support political action so long as it had a revolutionary edge.

Haywood continued as chief organizer for the IWW after the WFM bolted from the IWW over continued factional fighting.[127] Haywood participated in some of the most famous IWW strikes, including the 1912 strike in Lawrence Massachusetts and the following year in Patterson New Jersey. The Lawrence strike involved a largely immigrant work force who protested wretched working conditions and brought national attention on the conditions of the workers.[128]

It was around this same time that Haywood developed a decidedly negative impression of the Socialist Party during their convention. The 1912 convention was coming on the heels of the successful Lawrence strike of the IWW. Haywood’s view of the delegates was that they “were of an altogether different caliber than those who went to make up the convention of 1908. The class struggle meant nothing to many who were there supposedly representing the workers.”[129] It was at the convention that Haywood found himself in confrontation with the party machine as represented by Berger and Hilliquit. The party passed a motion that “a member of the party who opposes political action or advocates crime, sabotage or other weapons of violence…shall be expelled from membership in the party.”[130] Haywood believed that the party statute was similar to criminal syndicalism laws that banned the IWW. For upholding this statute, Haywood believed the party “began to retrograde from the date of the Indianapolis convention.”[131] Haywood was removed from the Central Committee in response and turned his focus to the IWW.

Only a few years later, both the SPUSA and IWW, despite their differences, would find themselves battered down by the same foe. In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, the Socialist Party opposed entry into the war. The Socialist Party was hit hard by the repression visited upon them by the federal government. The IWW position toward the war was that “we openly declared ourselves the determined opponents of all nationalistic sectionalism, or patriotism, and the militarism preached and supported by our one enemy, the capitalist class.”[132] The Federal government effectively made the IWW impotent with the outbreak of war. Its members were imprisoned or killed, funds seized, and speech stifled. The ending of the war in 1918 did little to stop the onslaught against the IWW. The Red Scare and Palmer Raids made sure that the IWW did not recover in the postwar period. There was also a major wave of strikes in 1919 such as the Chicago steel strike and a General Strike in Seattle, to name only two. However, all these strikes ultimately went down in defeat.[133] The US left in general was effectively crushed for a decade.[134] Although the SP and IWW were effectively routed, the Communist Party was founded in 1919. Many of those active in the IWW and SP left would find their way to the new party, including William Haywood.[135]

Haywood’s move toward the Communist Party did not take place out of the blue. Once the US became involved in the war, Haywood supported the IWW anti-war position. Haywood was blunt on his views, “all class conscious members of the industrial workers of the world are conscientiously opposed to spilling the blood of human beings…because we believe that the interests and welfare of the working class of all countries are identical.”[136] Despite this position, Haywood was “convinced that the IWW could not stop the war, he was determined that it adopt a low profile on the issue simply for its own self-preservation.”[137] Haywood had the IWW change focus “from the urban factory workers of the East to the vast armies of itinerant laborers in the West.”[138] By 1917, this strategy proved successful to the IWW, which “continued to press its organizational efforts across the organizers enrolled enough recruits to double the previous year’s membership of forty thousand.”[139] Haywood and the IWW paid for their anti-war stand and union charges with the onset of wartime sedition laws and mob violence. Haywood pressed on and was brought to court on sedition charges in 1918. Rather than accept a long prison sentence, Haywood fled to Soviet Russia as a devoted Communist in 1920. He also had to watch as the prewar radical movement was crushed by the state. In this atmosphere, Haywood looked for new answers.

Although Haywood had favored the 1917 Russian Revolution, he was too caught up with government repression to think through the implications of Bolshevik doctrine.[140] It was in 1920 that Haywood read a document published by the Comintern (Communist International) that convinced him of the rightness of the Bolshevik course. The document in question was an open letter to the IWW explaining the doctrines of communism and contrasting them to the IWW. Upon reading this, Haywood declared “here is what we have been dreaming about; here is the IWW all feathered out!”[141] What exactly was it about this document that convinced Haywood to become a Communist? Even Haywood’s biographer, Peter Carlson says that the document just said that “the Bolsheviks intended to ‘put the workers in control and eventually eliminate the state.’”[142] Yet if that was all it said, we should conclude that Haywood’s embrace of Bolshevism was rather shallow. However, the Comintern letter gives a simple and extended defense of Bolshevism. In analyzing this letter, we can see what might have attracted Haywood to Bolshevism.

The letter boldly proclaimed that “history does not ask whether we like it or not, whether the workers are ready or not. Here is the opportunity. Take it – and the world will belong to the workers; leave it – there may not be another for generations.”[143] The article was saying that the revolution was now and those interested had to take up the banner. The letter said that the IWW should follow the Bolsheviks because the “Revolution has taken the factories, mills, mines, land and financial institutions out of the hands of the capitalists and transferred them to the WHOLE WORKING CLASS.”[144] Furthermore, the Bolsheviks condemned parliamentary socialists who “have discredited the very name of Socialism.”[145] The letter proclaimed that the only way for the workers to accomplish the revolution was to “overthrow the capitalist Governments and set up a Government of the working class, which shall destroy the institution of capitalist private property and make all wealth the property of all the workers in common.”[146] The letter declared that the IWW should understand the oppressive nature of the state and organize to overthrow it and “in place of the capitalist State the workers must build their own WORKERS’ STATE, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”[147] The workers’ state was necessary to put down the resistance of the capitalists. The form of the workers’ state was the soviet where “nobody who employs labor for profit can vote.”[148] The soviet system was centralized, unlike the IWW which saw centralization as anti-democratic. However, the letter said that centralization was necessary “To overthrow capitalism the workers must be a military force, with its General Staff – but this General Staff elected and controlled by the workers.”[149] In regards to political action, the Communists say they agree with the IWW critique of reformist socialists. The letter says “So far the Communists and the I.W.W. are in accord. The capitalist State must be attacked by DIRECT ACTION.” While the Communists agree with the use of a general strike, “but they add that it must turn into ARMED INSURRECTION. Both the General Strike and the insurrection are forms of POLITICAL ACTION.”[150] In regards to participation in the current system, the letter says, “Communists elected to Congress or the legislatures have as their function to make propaganda; to ceaselessly expose the real nature of the capitalist State, to obstruct the operations of capitalist government and show their class character, to explain the futility of all capitalist reform measures, etc.”[151] This open letter provided a clear exposition of Bolshevik thinking which Haywood quickly adhered to.

V. James P. Cannon

A man who followed a similar trajectory to Haywood was James P. Cannon. Cannon was born in 1890 in Kansas to an Irish family. Cannon came from a working class Irish Republican family. Cannon’s father was also active in the socialist movement and was “one of those many stalwarts who used their spare time for ‘talking socialism’ and their spare change to subsidize the movement.”[152] James Cannon was also influenced by his mother’s devout Catholicism and considered himself “a ‘Christian socialist’ up to the age of twenty-one.”[153] However, Cannon’s steady immersion into socialist literature and philosophical questions eventually caused Cannon to become an atheist. Cannon was caught up in the labor defense campaigns and the socialist press, joining the party in 1908.

However, Cannon saw the party as rife with contradiction, there was a middle class reformist element in control and “the revolutionary workers in the ranks were repelled by this middle-class invasion, as well as the policy that induced it.”[154] Cannon joined the IWW in 1911, considering the organization to have answers he was looking for. Cannon summed up the ideas of the IWW succinctly as “get the workers into one big union and put an end to this whole capitalist claptrap. Make a society run by the workers and fit to live in.”[155] Cannon became “a traveling organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World and a follower of Vincent St. John.”[156] Cannon participated in strikes in Akron Ohio and Duluth Minnesota, and soapboxed around the country.

However, Cannon’s active time in the IWW came to an end when he married in 1913. He went back to his hometown and began to raise a family, but still remained a dedicated socialist and largely inactive Wobbly. However, his ideas began to change as World War One broke out and the USA moved closer to entry. Cannon believed that the IWW’s attitude toward the war was to “ignore it.”[157] Cannon was also eager to organize factory workers, but the IWW wanted to focus more on agricultural workers.[158] Cannon found himself growing more critical of the IWW, believing that the organization led many strikes but “whether won or lost, stable union organization was not maintained.”[159] Cannon was also critical of the IWW’s response to the political oppression of the war years. To Cannon, “the ‘political state’ which the industrial union movement had done its best to ignore, ‘was revealed as the centralized power of the ruling class…The political action of the capitalist state broke the back of the IWW as a union.’”[160] Despite recognizing the strengths of the IWW, Cannon saw the organization as deficient in many ways.

However, the Bolshevik revolution changed Cannon’s perspective immensely. To Cannon, the IWW’s disavowal of political action had let it be crushed by the US government. However, political action “was demonstrated positively by the Russian Revolution. The Russian workers took the state power into their own hands and used that power to expropriate the capitalists and suppress all attempts at counterrevolution.”[161] Cannon’s positive view of the political action of the Bolsheviks meant in the US, “direct political action that lived in its concrete accomplishments as well as in its wide-reaching implications for the theory of the revolutionary movement.”[162] Cannon’s views led him to see the need for a political party of the working class modeled on the Bolsheviks. In 1919, Cannon along with others in the IWW and Socialist Left organized the Communist Party. Years later, Cannon summed up the transition on the US Left from the IWW to the Communist Party. These words could very well describe his transformation in thinking. “They [IWW] had not adjusted their ideology to the lessons of war and the Russian revolution. They had not acquired a sufficient respect for doctrine, for theory.”[163] Cannon was to maintain this position for the rest of his life.

VI. Antonio Gramsci

A fourth person, Antonio Gramsci, offers an example of a leftist within the Socialist Party who came to Bolshevism without passing through a syndicalist organization. Before touching on Gramsci’s evolution, it would be useful to layout the state of Italy and its radical movement. Italy had a powerful socialist and syndicalist movement on the eve of World War I. Italy entered the twentieth century at breakneck speed. Since unification in 1870, industrial capitalism with massive factories had been developing quickly in Italy, centered on the Northern cities of Turin, Milan and Genoa. For instance, “the industrial work-force was also highly concentrated: over 58% of workers in companies employing ten or more people were in the North-West (the so-called ‘industrial triangle’ formed by Milan, Genoa and Turin). The same area contained nearly 50% of the total mechanized power in Italy (measured in hp), but hardly more than 20% of the total population.”[164] Despite this great expansion of capitalism in the north in 1900, “nearly 40% of Italy’s active population were still engaged in agriculture, which provided almost 50% Of Gross National Product; by 1913 agriculture’s share of GNP had only fallen to 45%, in contrast to 27% from industry and 30% from services.”[165] Modern industry mushroomed in Turin and the city was dominated by Fiat and Olivetti.

Industrial expansion led in “the ten years before the war, Italian industrial production, in large measure based on the most recent technology, increased by 87 percent against a European average of 56 percent.”[166] The expansion of industry brought with it not only a modern working class, but a bourgeoisie. However, Italian development was uneven and the south remained a largely agricultural backwater mired in stagnation.[167] This uneven industrial growth was supported by the government at every turn. “At every stage, that capitalism was powered by the state and the unusually fecund banking and financial system, which tended to absorb the agrarians and provide a focus of class solidarity, transcending sectional conflicts of interest.”[168] While the Italian state was encouraging capitalist growth, it dealt with the socialist and labor movements through a combination of repression and accommodation.

During the 1890s and early, Prime Minister Giolitti “advocated the state’s neutrality in disputes between capital and labor, and greater state intervention to provide minimum welfare support for the working classes.”[169] Furthermore, the electoral franchise in Italy increased from barely 2% of the population in 1870 to universal male suffrage by 1914. However, welfare plans and expansion of the franchise did not change the fact that the Italian proletariat’s move to improve its standard of living was met by state violence. The Italian Socialist Party (PSI) formed in 1892 had its leaders arrested barely two years later. Re-legalized the following year, the party “played a leading part in the struggle against repression, was suppressed in the mass insurrections of 1898.”[170] In the industrial city of Turin from 1900, the workers “began to develop a fierce militancy.”[171] Turin would experience general strikes in 1902, 1904, 1907, 1909, 1912-3, and 1915.[172] It was in this atmosphere of coercion and consent that the PSI would grow.

The Italian Socialist Party was formed in 1892 from a fusion of various socialist groups from across Italy. The party was founded on the model of the German SPD with “its emphasis on the need for organized political action through and under the leadership of the Party.”[173] The PSI’s dominant tendency “saw the struggle for socialism in evolutionary rather than revolutionary terms, and they believed that the class struggle should be fought through the institutions of the bourgeoisie state.”[174] Despite the reformist tendency in the PSI, there was no outright conflict with them. State repression, as mentioned earlier fell on the PSI and increased cohesion within its ranks and spread its message. From 1892 to 1900, the PSI increased its representation in parliament from 6 representatives to 32.[175] In 1901, labor militancy brought the reformist leadership under attack. Party leader Turati advocated the party’s minimum program and advocated “a temporary alliance with the more progressive liberals and with the democrats and radicals…”[176] In 1903, with strikes spreading “the syndicalist and revolutionary socialists successfully challenged Turati and gained control over the Party and its newspaper L’Avanti.”[177] There would be a constant jockeying by reformists and revolutionaries for control of the PSI until 1920.

Although, the PSI was “steeped in reformist practice, thinking-and perhaps more important, reformist instincts.”[178] The Italian state under Giolitti made repeated attempts to integrate the PSI with its welfare plans. The party leadership took advantage of municipal power after “Giolitti introduced legislation which permitted the municipalization of local services and opened the way for a rapid expansion in the range of services run by the council.”[179] In order for the PSI to hold onto municipal power, this “necessarily involved alliances with other political groups and labor organizations that made it anathema to the opponents of reformism within the Party.”[180] This local reformist practice extended all the way up to the parliament itself. Despite revolutionary rhetoric from the PSI at intervals from 1903 on, the Directorate’s leadership repeated reaction [to reformism] was a reaffirmation of the maximum and revolutionary programme of the party to curb the reformists, a shuffle leftwards to embrace the mutinous in a revolutionary recuperation which did not in fact seriously affect the parliamentary, trade-union and reformist reality of party practice…an indication of its structural character.[181]

Indeed it would be safe to say that the party was very much like the SPD or others in the Second International, expecting socialism in an almost fatalistic fashion. Even a left party leader, Giacinto Serrati said “we, as Marxists, interpret history; we do not make it.”[182] What was missing here was an affirmation of revolutionary praxis needed to bring about socialism.

Despite the deficiencies of the PSI, these were seemingly submerged from 1911 onward. After Italy invaded Libya in 1911, there was a revolt within the PSI. Reformists in the PSI backed the conquest, leading to a near fracturing of the party. Party maximalists (or revolutionaries) from 1911-2 managed to regain control of the central directorate of the PSI and gained control.[183] Indeed, when Italy entered World War I in 1915, the PSI would refuse to back the government in its venture.[184] Furthermore, when Party Leader Mussolini called for support for intervention he was promptly expelled.[185]

Although Italy had a large and powerful syndicalist movement with centers among the farmers of the Po Valley, and influence in major influence on railroads and maritime unions and a union federation (USI) of 100,000 in 1912.[186] However, many leading syndicalists (although many rank-and-file syndicalists opposed the war) in contrast to many of their comrades in Europe and the USA supported the war.[187] Italy offers an example of where the revolutionary character of the PSI was still up for grabs and seemed to be settled in 1915 when the Party remained true to its principles.

It was in this environment that Antonio Gramsci entered the Socialist movement. Gramsci was born in 1891 on the island of Sardina. His early life was marked by grinding poverty and a visible hunchback from a childhood accident. Gramsci lived his early life in Sardina, an Italian island that was little removed from feudalism and suffering heavily after unification.[188] Gramsci developed an early passion for reading and the effects of poverty led to him “to wish that life would change, that somehow…his family rich and respected…”[189] Gramsci was a brilliant student, who despite missing several years of school was recognized as possessing a keen mind. The interrupted schooling led Gramsci to develop “an instinct of rebellion against the rich.”[190] They were going to school while he was forced to work for his family, it didn’t seem fair.

By 1908 Gramsci’s academic talents eventually led him to school in Cagliari where his Sardinian identity led to “dislike of all ‘continentals’, on whom with some justice all Sardina’s inequities could be blamed.”[191] The injustices in Sardina led Gramsci to write in a school essay that “social privileges and differences, being products of society and not of nature, can be overcome.”[192] However, Gramsci was still thinking through how to overcome social inequality. In 1911, Gramsci was accepted on a scholarship to the University of Turin on the Italian mainland.

As discussed above, Turin was the center of the Italian labor movement. While as University, Gramsci was confronted with a modern industrial world that contrasted greatly with peasant Sardina. During his early period in Turin, Gramsci focused more on his studies than politics. However, Gramsci was interested in the intellectual currents of the left. Yet Gramsci did not approve of PSI policy that threw in its support to the Giolitti and called the south (including Sardina), “the Vendee of Italy.”[193] Gramsci read various journals of the intelligentsia and was influenced greatly by his teachers. Gramsci’s professors introduced him to thinkers such as Hegel and Croce, idealist philosophers. Gramsci’s professors “preached idealism and a cult of personal ethical responsibility…with an adhesion to socialism and a rejection of the semi-racism which had characterized the Italian socialist party since 1900.”[194] Gramsci was also associating with a crowd of socialists that included future Communist Party leaders Palmiro Togliatti and Angelo Tasca.

During the 1913 elections (the first with universal male suffrage), Gramsci watched as “the property-owners of Sardina rapidly made common cause with the ruling class on the mainland and subordinated their erstwhile Sard nationalism to their class interests because they feared a threat to property by the socialists…were all continentials responsible for Sardina’s ills, or merely the property-owning class and their class-allies on the island?”[195] Shortly thereafter, Gramsci entered the socialist party.

Gramsci was not initially active in the PSI. He was still trying to make an academic career, preferably as a linguist. However, Gramsci devoted himself to activism as Italy moved into World War One. During this period, Gramsci was influenced by Mussolini, leader of the revolutionary faction of the PSI after 1911. When Mussolini called for Italian intervention in the war, Gramsci offered support in one of his earliest articles. Gramsci believed that neutral position of the PSI should advocate “active and operative neutrality.”[196] This active neutrality would allow the party to put “the class struggle back at the center of the nation’s life.”[197] Active neutrality and the class struggle would allow the PSI to lead the workers against the bourgeois “which will signal the transition of civilization from an imperfect to alternative, more perfect form.”[198] However, as Mussolini moved farther away from the PSI to an open break, Gramsci remained in the party. It also wasn’t long before Gramsci himself became an antiwar militant.

Yet his article in support of Mussolini shows some traits of Gramsci’s conception and praxis that would figure prominently in his later thinking. Gramsci’s emphasis on class struggle and an active neutrality shows his nearly voluntarist streak. Gramsci wants the socialist party to make a revolution, not just wait for one to happen. This thinking carries over to 1916 where Gramsci says, “to know oneself means to be oneself, to free oneself from a state of chaos, to exist as an element of order-but of one’s own order and one’s own discipline in striving for an ideal.”[199] For Gramsci this ideal was socialism and he earnestly worked for it while in Turin as a journalist. Yet Gramsci was not just an ordinary writer, he immersed himself in the Turin labor movement. Gramsci “rapidly earned the reputation for being an intellectual to whom the workers could speak without fear…he used to speak and he had a great gift of knowing how to speak to everyone.”[200] Gramsci wasn’t just interested in the conditions of the proletariat, but to raise their consciousness and culture. For Gramsci, culture “is organization, discipline of one’s inner self, a coming to terms with one’s own personality; it is the attainment of a higher awareness, with the aid of which one succeeds in understanding one’s own historical value, one’s own function in life, one’s own rights and obligations.”[201] Clearly for Gramsci, a maturing Marxist, he wanted the working class to understand the world so that they could change it.

A spur to Gramsci’s ideas was the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the developing condition of Italy under the strains of war. Gramsci hailed the Russian Revolution in a provocative article called, “The Revolution Against Kapital.” To Gramsci, the Bolshevik “conquest bears witness that the canons of historical materialism are not so rigid as might have been and has been thought.”[202] The Bolsheviks “live Marxist thought…this thought sees as the dominant factor in history, not raw economic facts, but men…men coming to understand economic facts, judging them and adapting them to their will until this becomes the driving force of the economy and molds objective reality…”[203] Thus in direct contrast to Turati who said that Marxists can’t make history, Gramsci believes they can and should.

Yet aside from the Bolshevik praxis of breaking with a rigid interpretation of Marx and taking power, what else did Gramsci learn from their seizure of power? Gramsci was attracted to the Soviet form as a democratic basis of a new socialist order. The Soviet was seen as an “organ in a continuous state of development…All workers can take part in the Soviets, and all workers can exert their influence in modifying the Soviets and bringing them closer into line with what is wanted and needed.”[204] Gramsci summed the soviet form as “the vital élan of the new Russian history.”[205] For Gramsci, a revolutionary praxis and the soviet were key components of the Russian experience.

However, they were not just isolated to Russia. As the war was coming to an end, Italy was fast approaching a revolutionary explosion. In Italy, “the cost of living climbed from 100 to 624 between 1913 and 1920.”[206] Wages stagnated in comparison “the index for daily earnings rose from 3.54 lire to 6.04 lire over the same period [1915 to 1918].”[207] Yet the capitalist class made out like bandits from the war. Just to take the example of automobiles, the prominent industry in Turin, the profit rates from 1914 to 1917 “were said to have risen from 8.2 to 30.5 percent.”[208] To top it all off, Italy gained little new territory from the war at the cost of a half million dead and an equal number maimed.

Furthermore, tens of thousands of workers and peasants flocked to the left. From 1919 to 1920, Italy was awash in “social confrontation-massive strike waves in industry and agriculture, direct action in the factories, local food and price actions, land occupations, and constant displays of collective strength in rallies, marches, and processions.”[209] To take just the example of direct action in the factories, this shows how the thinking of soviets functioned in Gramsci’s thinking. In Turin, internal committees were prominent in automobile factories. Internal committees had first been formed in 1906 at a Fiat plant and was “roughly comparable to the shop steward in the United States-was not regarded as a permanent institution by the industrialists; the idea was to choose a new committee for each dispute.”[210] However, Gramsci wanted to make the internal committees not merely permanent but to transform them into soviets.

Many of the committees in Turin in 1919 “were chosen from those acceptable to management, but later they were often selected from members of the socialist party. Thus internal committees were not democratically elected bodies that actually represented the views of all the workers.”[211] Gramsci believed that “the workshop commissions are organs of worker democracy which must be freed from the constraints imposed on them by the bosses and infused with a new life and energy.” Once the commissions were freed from capitalist control, then they would “be the organs of proletariat power, replacing the capitalist in all his useful managerial and administrative functions.”[212] So Gramsci was advocating worker control and democracy at the very point of production.

Gramsci continued with his educational activities, working closely with worker activists throughout Turin. In the heated atmosphere of postwar Italy, it didn’t take long for the idea of soviets to catch on and spread throughout much of the north. Internal Committees or rechristened Factory Councils spread across Turin and other cities in 1919 and 1920. However, factory councils and strong unions threatened capitalist power in a fundamental way. Things came to a head in Turin in 1920 in April when a general strike spread across the province of Piedmont. The strike involved, “half a million industrial and agricultural workers and affected a population of about four million.”[213] The strike was ultimately defeated, but labor flared up a few months later in August. This time, workers in Turin occupied their factories and “the actual management of the plants lay in the hands of the factory councils.”[214] A situation of dual power was developing with some workers “enrolled in Red Guards organized at first to protect the plants against assault, later used to maintain discipline among those workers whose enthusiasm began to wane.”[215] By mid-September, the industrialists signed an agreement with the workers that brought a major pay raises, overtime pay, holiday pay, and no lay-offs. Furthermore, even workers control was accepted on principle. Workers returned factories to their owners, but “within a year most of these gains were obliterated.”[216] Workers control became an “investigation to determine whether the conditions of industry really required the reduction of wages that the industrialists declared to be necessary.”[217] In other words, the capitalists were still calling the shots.

The response of Gramsci to the Turin strike in April was that:

revolutionary energies in our city have been intensifying over the past few months., tending at all costs to expand and seek an outlet. And this outlet must not for the moment be localized bloodletting that would be dangerous and perhaps even fatal, but rather a stepping up of the campaign of preparation all over the country, an extension of our forces and a general acceleration of the process of development of the elements which must all come together in a common enterprise.[218]

In other words, make the Italian revolution. The instrument that should’ve spearheaded this revolution was the PSI. However, the PSI did nothing to extend the revolution in Italy. In April, the PSI congress in Milan approved a “motion sanctioning a project for the construction of councils was again approved by a large majority; but while the party leaders chattered about theoretical projects at Milan, they were permitting the real thing to be destroyed at Turin.”[219] In September, the PSI actually put up the question of revolution on its agenda, the results “the question of converting the factory occupations into a national revolutionary challenge was referred by the PSI leadership to the CGL[union] National Council, which rejected the idea by only 591,245 to 409, 569 votes.”[220] What’s more, the PSI had by 1919 decided to adhere to the Comintern and was proclaiming revolutionary action. Yet at the moment of decision, the PSI faltered. The PSI Maximalists “fed expectations without resolving them. They fanned a mood of revolutionary excitement but refused to shape it into a revolutionary challenge…But when the masses took them at their word and acted, they counseled discipline and patience.”[221] The PSI said in words that they were adhering to the Comintern and a new revolutionary path, but in deeds they failed.

Gramsci’s opinion of the PSI soured accordingly. He said that the “Socialist Party watches the course of events like a spectator, it never has an opinion of its own to express, based on the revolutionary theses of Marxism and the Communist International; it never launches slogans that can be interpreted by the masses, lay down a general line and unify or concentrate revolutionary action.”[222] The PSI was not living up to its professed program as a communist vanguard. Furthermore, the PSI “needs to be in a position to be in a position to give real leadership to the movement as a whole and to impress upon the masses the conviction that there is an order within the terrible disorder of the present, an order that, when systemized, will regenerate society and adapt the instruments of labor to make them satisfy the basic needs of life and civil progress.”[223] Finally, the PSI must reformists “must be eliminated from the Party, and its leadership must devote all its efforts to putting the workers’ forces on a war footing…and organize the setting up of Factory Councils to exercise control over industrial and agricultural production.”[224] The Party needed to purge the reformists, assume a Bolshevik form and press for the formation of Soviets and/or Factory Councils.

However, the PSI split over the questions that Gramsci was raising a year later, leading to the formation of the Italian Communist Party. For Gramsci, one of key aspects of the Bolshevik experience was a decidedly revolutionary praxis as opposed to fatalism. Revolutionary praxis by the proletariat meant democratic control by the Soviets. However in order to spread the Soviets across Italy, a disciplined Communist Party was necessary to agitate and organize them.

VII. Bolshevik Theory and Practice

In 1914, the two major trends of the left (syndicalism and the socialist parties) had proven to be utterly incapable of opposing the war by revolutionary means. In 1914, the Second International, “when hostilities commenced in 1914, one after another the socialist parties of the European nations came to the support of their national governments. Socialist internationalism proved to be hollow indeed.”[225] For the next four years, the socialist parties became active supporters of their respective national governments in the general slaughter of World War One. Those parties that tried to remain true to their principles were ineffective or crushed. The syndicalists were either crushed or joined in the patriotic fervor for war. The prewar syndicalist movement was thus a spent force even in neutral countries such as Spain.

Before coming to conclusions about Serge, Haywood, Cannon and Gramsci it is necessary to lay out a brief view of the Bolshevik movement itself and those features that would be most attractive for would-be revolutionaries. This analysis of Bolshevism will be done largely through the writings of Vladimir Lenin, the principle leader and theorist of the party. Bolshevism as presented here is not the caricature drawn by Cold Warriors and Stalinists. Rather the portrait of Bolshevism that emerges is of a dynamic and profoundly democratic movement dedicated to revolution. [226]

Russia, unlike Western Europe, was still marred deeply by absolutist and feudal structures. Russia was ruled by an absolutist dynasty of Tsars known as the Romanovs supported by a powerful nobility. The peasantry was mired in abject poverty and hungry for land. The forces of capitalism were as yet underdeveloped in Russia. However, at the dawn of the twentieth century, the bourgeoisie were developing industry with modern technology from the West. A proletariat was developing in Russia’s highly concentrated industry which lived in abject poverty and was exceedingly militant.[227]

It was in this environment that Lenin was born in 1870 to a mildly prosperous family in Imperial Russia. Following the execution of his elder brother in 1887 who had been implicated in a plot to assassinate the Tsar, Lenin turned toward revolution and Marxism. Within a few years, Lenin became a Marxist and rose to a commanding position through his theoretical and organizational gifts.[228]

Lenin became a prominent leader in the emerging Social Democratic Party. Following a dispute over Party rules and membership, Lenin led a group (known as the Bolsheviks) and set up his own organization. It was Lenin’s organization that would ultimately prove to be the guiding light of Russia’s Revolution of October 1917.

Lenin’s Bolsheviks were not like the syndicalists, separate from the Second International. Rather, the Bolsheviks were among the most enthusiastic champions of the International. When the Bolshevik Party was founded in 1903, Lenin was an orthodox Marxist who looked to the German SPD as his model. As will become clear shortly, despite Lenin’s attempt to mimic the SPD in Russia, what he ended up creating was something far different.[229]

Holding the traditional stagiest theory of Marxism that Russia was not ready for socialism, but on the verge of capitalism, Lenin wrote the Development of Capitalism in Russia in 1895. In this work, Lenin sought to show that market relations were taking hold in the countryside. He believed that this entailed the creation of a market that was spawning an impoverished proletariat. Lenin believed that the creation of the new proletariat in Russia would be capable of leading Russia’s democratic (not socialist) revolution against the Tsarist regime.[230]

Traditionally, Marxists had (such as George Plekhanov) d believed in a stagiest theory that Russia was ripe only for an anti-Tsarist revolution that would lead to the development of capitalism. This revolution was to be led by the bourgeois. Lenin on the contrary believed that the revolution in Russia (still bourgeois) would be led by the proletariat.[231]

To lead this anti-Tsarist revolution, Lenin believed that what was needed was a party modeled on the SPD. Lars Lih believes that Lenin viewed the SPD through idealized lenses and that “the Party’s job was to teach the workers not only how to carry out their mission [the revolution] but, more fundamentally, that they had a mission.”[232] Thus Lenin’s party was not going to wait patiently for the revolution like the more fatalistic reformists in the West. Rather, Lenin urged Social Democrats to fight for “the struggle for reforms. But it [Social Democracy] uses economic agitation to present to the government not only the demand for this or that measure but also (and first of all) the demand to cease being an autocratic government.”[233] Thus Lenin’s ideal of the party was not to struggle for mere reforms, but to be a revolutionary instrument pushing for the overthrow of the Tsarist regime.

Despite the common misconception that Lenin didn’t believe that workers could reach socialist consciousness, Lenin’s work What is to Be Done? written in 1902 praises the workers for their bold actions. Lenin believed that revolutionaries by trade were needed to expand the party and the revolutionary movement. Lenin’s ideal for a Social Democrat was quite different than what was found in the West. Rather, a

Social-Democrat's ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.[234]

What emerges from Lenin’s view of the party is that the organization consists of dedicated Marxists, who organize against all the injustices of society for revolution. The party was supposed to bring the good news of socialism to the workers to inspire them for the mission of socialism.[235]

The Bolsheviks were active during the failed 1905 Revolution and the brief upsurge of 1912-4.[236] However, the Bolsheviks remained a part of the Second International until the outbreak of war. Unlike the majority of socialist parties, the Bolsheviks did not rush to the national colors. Lenin broke with the pro-war socialists and believed that the war was caused by imperialism, a concept he developed theoretically after long study. Lenin believed that the war had revealed the bankruptcy of capitalism and that the time was ripe for revolution.[237] In his own words, “it would be a shame to call oneself a Social-Democrat and not to advise the workers to break with the opportunists and exert all their efforts to strengthen, deepen, extend and sharpen the incipient revolutionary movement and demonstrations.”[238] Lenin, in short, wanted to turn the world war into a world revolution.

Lenin was active in the Zimmerald Movement that sought an end to World War One. Lenin also believed that it was necessary to split the Second International, creating a new revolutionary International. It was under the pressure of the war that Lenin developed his theory of imperialism that would provide the foundation for his changeover to pushing for a socialist revolution in Russia in 1917.[239]

In 1917, the Tsarist regime collapsed from exhaustion due to the strains of the war. In its place was an inept Provisional government composed of nobles and capitalists on one side and Soviets (Council) made up of workers and soldiers on the other side. The population was eager for change with the workers demanding rights and greater control on the job. Peasants were demanding land and antiwar agitation was spreading in the armed forces.

The other leftist parties rallied to the provisional government, believing that Russia was not ripe for socialism. However, Lenin and the Bolsheviks pushed for “a republic of Soviets of Workers', Agricultural Labourers' and Peasants' Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom”[240] which would lead the way to worldwide revolution. The Bolsheviks were able to act on the discontent of the masses and build support in the soviets and popular organizations with their uncompromising stance. The Bolshevik desire to push for the socialist revolution attracted many anarchists to their ranks especially during the July Days and even afterward.[241] In November 1917, the Bolsheviks were able to seize power based on the Soviets and to begin a socialist reconstruction of Russia.[242]

It would be useful at this juncture to stop and look at Lenin’s theories in 1917. Rather than supporting the model of a bourgeoisie republic, Lenin advocated a state based on the Paris Commune. To Lenin, the Paris “Commune[243], therefore, appears to have replaced the smashed state machine "only" by fuller democracy: abolition of the standing army; all officials to be elected and subject to recall.”[244] This analysis was supported by Marx, and Lenin believed that the Soviet was a form of organization like that of the Commune type that could serve as the basis for socialist power.[245]

In the State and Revolution, Lenin also summed up the differences between Marxists and anarchists. He criticized the anarchists for believing that the state could be abolished overnight; anarchists had a vague idea of what would replace capitalism while Marxists advocated Communes; anarchists didn’t want to utilize the present state for revolutionary ends.[246] Lenin says, “the tactics of the anarchist become the tactics of despair instead of a ruthlessly bold revolutionary effort to solve concrete problems while taking into account the practical conditions of the mass movement.”[247] In other words, Lenin believed that because of the deficiencies in anarchist praxis and the lack of an organization such as he elaborated in What is to be Done, the anarchists were unable to be effective revolutionaries. Lenin’s theory and practice, as evidenced by the Bolshevik Party was able to lead a revolution that established Soviet democracy (albeit brief).[248]

VIII. Conclusion

To many of those influenced by syndicalism and the socialist parties, Lenin’s bold theories and actions provided a bold new way to succeed at revolution after their failures during the war. Serge, Haywood, Cannon and Gramsci came from different countries and backgrounds. Victor Serge was a journalist. Bill Haywood and James Cannon were working class organizers. Gramsci was a socialist activist, journalist and proletariat organizer. They were separated by different countries and cultures. Yet each passed through anarchism/syndicalism or socialism and came to embrace Bolshevism. It is now that we return to the idea of elective affinity. In the case of syndicalism and Bolshevism, both had much in common; they were profoundly revolutionary and didn’t fit the mold of the Second International. Both doctrines were profoundly internationalist and sought a way to bring about the overthrow of capitalism.

However, it was the failure of the syndicalists to live up to their revolutionary beliefs during World War One that caused Serge and Haywood’s shift toward Bolshevism. In contrast, the Bolsheviks succeeded in overthrowing capitalism in Russia and establishing a revolutionary socialist regime. Those syndicalists who remained revolutionary had to take stock of what it was that allowed Bolshevism to be successful.

All saw in the Bolshevik Party the effective instrument to carry out the revolution. In a sense, the syndicalists were focused on the economic sphere and tended to ignore the state. As Sidney Hook points out, “it was clear that the state could not be snubbed out of existence because the syndicalist theory and program refused to recognize the necessity of fighting it on the political front.”[249] In reaction to the integration of the Second International into their respective parliaments, the syndicalists decided to focus on the economic sphere. This left them ill-equipped to deal with the outbreak of World War One.

For socialists and the Bolsheviks, there was indeed much in common. Both were members of the Second International. Both adhered to Marxism as a theory and practice. Both were committed to the establishment of socialism. Yet the Socialist Parties commitment was more rhetorical than real, as became apparent in 1914. However, the Second International remained stuck in the institutions of the capitalist state, while the Bolsheviks embraced the Soviet as a way to transcend the old order. In Italy, the PSI’s anti-war stance and revolutionary programme was not well-thought out. When the proletariat upsurge came, they lagged behind. For Gramsci, the PSI had failed to follow the Russian Road in their actions. The Bolsheviks spoke what they believed and believed what they spoke.

In contrast to both syndicalism and socialism, the Bolsheviks built a revolutionary political party that fought on the economic and political fronts. The Bolsheviks in seeking to imitate the SPD had built a revolutionary organization that was able to take state power while remaining true to their socialist principles (unlike the Second International). The syndicalist reliance on trade unions failed to cope with state repression and bring on a successful revolution.

Serge, Haywood, Cannon and Gramsci saw the Bolshevik’s refusal to compromise socialist principles and their realism as a major factor in convincing them to sign up. Whereas syndicalists and socialists had succumbed to the war or repression, the Bolsheviks triumphed. The Bolsheviks were also seen as facing the reality of revolution, not just spinning theories of what should happen. These theories were linked to the concrete practices of Bolshevik power. Georg Lukacs thought that a guiding tenet of Lenin was “that revolution was already on the agenda.”[250] The Bolshevik merger of theory and practice proved to be a powerful enticement to prospective revolutionaries. The merging of theory and practice took place in the institution of the political party, which was shown vividly in 1917.

The Bolshevik ability to be guided by revolutionary theory in their practice proved to be a better mechanism of change than the Sorelian general strike. The theory of the general strike as formulated by Sorel to destroy capitalism was “a highly abstract conception…It was taken as an isolated single economic act instead of a phase of a political revolutionary process.”[251] The general strike was divorced from concrete activities and perceived as a single apocalyptic act. The apocalypse never came. Instead, it was the greater realism and practice of the Bolsheviks that produced the revolution.

What in the end was the elective affinity between the Bolsheviks and syndicalists/socialists? What was combined? To be honest, it was really the syndicalists/socialists who merged with the Bolsheviks. The syndicalists did not abandon their hostility to the established socialist parties or their revolutionary intransigence. They developed an appreciation of Marxist theory as a guide to action rather than the general strike. The syndicalists also moved away from an apolitical reliance on trade unions to a belief in a revolutionary party that could take over state power. However, they combined that commitment with the revolutionary praxis of the Bolsheviks and the Soviet form. The socialists maintained their allegiance to the political action and Marxism. However, they combined that commitment with the revolutionary praxis of the Bolsheviks and the Soviet form. Serge, Haywood, Cannon and Gramsci were comrades who saw the actuality of revolution around them. Embracing the theory and practice of Bolshevism came naturally out of their experiences in the prewar revolutionary movement.


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[1] Victor Serge, Revolution in Danger: Writings from Russia 1919-1921 (London: Redwords, 1997), 90.

[2] Michael Lowy, Redemption and Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 6.

[3] Michel Beaud, A History of Capitalism: 1500-2000 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 156 for more detailed statistics on the USA. Also see ibid. 156-7 for the increasing growth of monopoly capitalism in France, Germany, and Britain.

[4] Beaud, 2000, 158. A more detailed view of the trends in European capitalism from 1875 to 1914 can be found in Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire: 1875-1914 (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), 34-55.

[5] For statistics on colonial and military spending of Europe and the USA see Beaud, 2000, 160-1. For an overview of 19th century imperialism see Hobsbawm, 1987, 56-83.

[6] The statistics for workers in Germany, France and the USA can be found in Beaud, 2000, 145-6.

[7] Ibid. 156.

[8] Hobsbawm, 1987, 116-8.

[9] See Hobsbawm, 1987, 132 This challenge to Marxism as a fatalistic doctrine is effectively refuted in Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution Vol. 2: The Politics of Social Classes (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978), John Molyneux, What is the Real Marxist Tradition? (London: Bookmarks, 1985), and John Rees, The Algebra of Revolution: The Dialectic and the Classical Marxist Tradition. (New York: Routledge, 1998). “Marxism, as the theory and practice of the proletariat revolution, also had to be the theory and practice of the self-emancipation of the proletariat.” Hal Draper, Socialism from Below, ed. E. Haberkern (Alameda: Center for Socialist History, 2005), 321-2. It is beyond the scope of this essay to consider the profoundly democratic view of Marxism as the self-emancipation of the working class. Those interested should consult Michel Lowy, Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx (Chicago: Haymarket, 2005) and Sidney Hook, Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx: A Revolutionary Interpretation (Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 2002). For a good overview of Marx’s profoundly democratic vision see August Nimtz, Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000). My position is that Marxism is an inherently democratic doctrine premised on the self-emancipation of the proletariat through dialectical analysis of capitalism.

[10] For an overview of the divisions of the Second International over reform and revolution see Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 86-93.

[11] Dietrich Orlow, A History of Modern Germany 1871 to the Present (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002), 46. The success of the party was not just to be found in electoral results, but also in how the party embraced all aspects of proletariat life. See Hobsbawm, 1987, 131.

[12] Massimo Salvadori, Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution 1880-1938 (New York: Verso Books, 1979), 40. See Karl Kautsky, The Road to Power (Alameda: Center for Socialist History, 2007), 41.

[13] Rees, 1998, 129.

[14] Ibid. 130.

[15] Bernstein’s view can be summed up in this phrase “What is generally taken as the goal of socialism is nothing to me, the movement is everything.”

[16] David Renton, Classical Marxism: Socialist Theory and the Second International (Cheltenham: New Clarion Press, 2002), 21. For the Marxist response to Bernstein by Rosa Luxemburg see Reform and Revolution found in Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, edited by Mary-Alice Waters (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), 33-90. For more on the Bernstein controversy see Paul Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg (London: Pluto Press, 1994), 55-76.

[17] See Renton,2002, 21. See also James Joll, The Second International 1889-1914 (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1966), 77-105 for the extended debates in the International over Bernstein’s revisionism.

[18] Hobsbawm, 1987, 134.

[19] The capitulation of the Second International to nationalist hysteria and defending ‘their’ countries during WWI can be found in Joll, 1966, 158-183. See also R. Craig Nation, War on War: Lenin, The Zimmerwald Left and the Origins of Communist Internationalism (Chicago: Haymarket Press, 2009), 10-25 for the changing attitudes of socialist parties toward supporting their respective nations and armies in 1914.

[20] See Frolich, 1994 for the life and activism of Rosa Luxemburg, one of the most important antirevisionist revolutionaries in Europe in the early 20th century.

[21] Joll, 1966, 59.

[22] Daniel Guerin, Anarchism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), 78.

[23] Georges Sorel, Reflections on Violence (Mineola: Dover Publications Inc., 2004), 125. For an elaboration on the concept of myths, see ibid. 126-8.

[24] Sorel, 2004, 175.

[25] The General Strike was also embraced by Marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg under the influence of the 1905 Russian Revolution see Mass Strike, Party and Trade Unions found in Rosa Luxemburg, 1970, 153-218 and Frolich, 1994, 136-56 for more context on the development of Luxemburg’s ideas on the mass strike.

[26] Sorel, 1994, 121.

[27] Earl C. Ford and William Z. Foster, Syndicalism (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1990), 21.

[28] For divisions among French socialists see Joll, 1966, 85-7, 94-99. Also see Eley, 2002, 97-9 for an overview of syndicalism.

[29] Wolfgang Abendroth, A Short History of the European Working Class (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 62. For the controversies among the French socialists in the Dreyfus Affair see Gary Steenson, After Marx, Before Lenin: Marxism and Socialist Working Class Parties in Europe, 1884-1914 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991), 135-7.

[30] Abendroth, 1972, 81.

[31] Joll, 1966, 131. For a skeptical view of the revolutionary influence of the CGT see Gerald C. Freidman, “Revolutionary Unions and French Labor: The Rebels Behind the Cause; Or, Why Did Revolutionary Syndicalism Fail?” French Historical Studies 20 (Spring 1997): 155-81.

[32] Joll, 1966, 149.

[33] Ibid. 149.

[34] Eric Hobsbawm, Revolutionaries (New York: New Press, 2001), 71.

[35] Ibid. 72

[36] During the war, there was resistance among the socialists and CGT to France’s participation see Craig Nation, 2009, 119. Also see Eley, 2002, 130, and 135-6 for left-wing resolutions in the French Party and the growth of strikes.

[37] See Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1974), 8-16 for the backward nature of Spanish capitalism.

[38] For a brief history of anarchism in Spain see Gerald Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth: The Social and Political Background of the Spanish Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 131-69.

[39] Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-9 (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 12. Socialist strategy was also hampered by the corrupt voting practices and lack of effective representative institutions found in Spain. See Brenan, 2008, 217-8.

[40] Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (New York: Modern Library, 2001), 63.

[41] For a much more detailed analysis of the ‘three years of Bolshevism’ see Beevor, 2006, 13-16.

[42] See Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002), 1-2. Serge’s father sympathized with the anarchist-influenced People’s Will and later joined up with an underground group before entering exile.

[43] Serge, 2002, 9.

[44] Ibid. 10.

[45] Ibid. 11.

[46] Ibid. 12.

[47] Susan Weissman, Victor Serge: The Course is Set on Hope (New York: Verso Books, 2001), 16.

[48] Victor Serge, “The Revolutionary Illusion,” Marxists Internet Archive, [accessed February 3, 2009].

[49] Victor Serge, “Expedients,” Marxists Internet Archive, [accessed February 3, 2009].

[50] Victor Serge, “The Bandits,” Marxists Internet Archive, [accessed February 3, 2009].

[51] Weissman, 2001, 18.

[52] Serge, 2002, 34. Serge was later more charitable in one of his novels, Victor Serge, Men in Prison (London: Writers and Readers, 1972), 250. Saying “we wanted to be revolutionaries; we were only rebels.”

[53] Serge, 2002, 47. For Serge’s view of the nature of WWI as capitalist see ibid. 48.

[54] Victor Serge, “Our Anti-Syndicalism,” Marxists Internet Archive, [accessed February 3, 2009].

[55] Serge, 2002, 55.

[56] Victor Serge, “I have lost the sectarian intransigence of the past. Letter to Emile Armand,” Marxists Internet Archive, [accessed February 3, 2009].

[57] Ibid.

[58] Serge, 2002, 53.

[59] Ibid. 54.

[60] Ibid.

[61] See Ibid. 52-9. Also Beevor, 2006, 14-6 for this period.

[62] Serge, 2002, 55.

[63] Ibid. 58.

[64] Serge, 2002, 55.

[65] Serge 1972, 56. See also Serge’s long article Lenin In 1917 in Serge, 1994, 3-53.

[66] Serge, 2002, 60.

[67] Victor Serge, Birth of Our Power (London: Writers and Readers, 1970), 180.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid. 206.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid. 203.

[72] Serge, 2002, 64.

[73] Ibid. 64

[74] Weissman, 2001, 13.

[75] Serge, 1997, 36. In another pamphlet written to argue with anarchists to embrace Bolshevism, Serge believed that anarchists needed to absorb the following theoretical concepts from the Bolshevik experience: dictatorship of the proletariat, soviets, terror, inevitability of a war of revolutionary defense, the necessity of powerful revolutionary organizations. See ibid ibid. 90-5.

[76] Ibid. 84.

[77] Serge, 1972, 366. See also David Renton, Dissident Marxism: Past Voices for Present Times (New York: Zed Books 2004), 54.

[78] Serge, 1997, 96.

[79] Ibid. 117. For an elaboration of Serge’s view of Leninism as libertarian, see Susan Weissman, ed., Ideas of Victor Serge: A Life as a Work of Art (Glasgow: Critique Books, 1997), 135-159.

[80] See Serge, 2002, 371-82 for Serge at the end of his life, still unbowed in his convictions. For Serge’s plea to rethink Marxism in the 1930s from a revolutionary perspective see David Cotterill ed., Serge-Trotsky Papers (London: Pluto Press, 1994), 176-83.

[81] William D. Haywood, The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood (New York: International Publishers, 1969), 12. For the early part of Haywood’s life in Ophir see Ibid. 11-12. There has been controversy about Haywood’s autobiography, if it was ghost-written, meant to serve propaganda purposes or heavily edited. The controversy has not been settled one way or the other. However, Haywood’s biographer Robert Carlson believes that the book speaks in Haywood’s voice. See Peter Carlson, Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983), 328.

[82] Haywood, 1969, 12.

[83] Ibid. 17.

[84] Ibid. 23.

[85] Ibid. 31.

[86] Ibid. 31. Haywood’s discussions with Reynolds, his embrace of the Knights and reflections on Haymarket can be found in Carlson, 1983, 35-6.

[87] Figures found in Robert Justin, Political Repression in Modern America: From 1870 to 1876 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 34.

[88] Ibid. 35.

[89] Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), 36.

[90] Ibid. 36

[91] James Green, Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, The First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America (New York: Anchor Books, 2006), 157.

[92] For May 1st in Chicago, the strike’s epicenter, see Ibid. 160-5. For a nationwide overview see Goldstein, 2001, 36-8.

[93] It is beyond the scope of this paper to explore the Haymarket Affair and the frame-up of the accused, an excellent source is Green, 2006 especially 173-91 for the bombing itself. See also David Roediger and Franklin Rosemont, ed., Haymarket Scrapbook (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1986) for a sympathetic look at the Haymarket Anarchists and many details on the frame-up of the anarchists along with their worldwide influence.

[94] Buhle, 1999, 37.

[95] All quotes on Goldstein, 2001, 41.

[96] For Knight member figures see Goldstein, 2001, 43. The organization went from a high of 730,000 in 1886 to barely 220,000 in 1889.

[97] David Burner, Virginia Bernhard, and Stanley Kutler, Firsthand America: A History of the United States: Volume Two (St. James NY: Brandyeine Press, 2002), 530.

[98] Haywood, 1969, 73-7 for Haywood’s views on Haymarket.

[99] For a description of Haywood’s introduction to the WFM see ibid, 62-70.

[100] Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States Volume 2: From the Founding of the AFL to the Emergence of American Imperialism (New York: International Publishers, 1998), 230.

[101] Foner, 1998, 231.

[102] Ibid. 234.

[103] Goldstein, 2001, 70.

[104] Ibid. 71.

[105] Ibid. 71

[106] Haywood, 1969, 77.

[107] Ibid. 79. Haywood said that the AFL’s insistence on craft unionism meant “it isn’t a working class organization. It’s a craft organization. They form a little job trust. It’s a system of slavery from which free people ought to break away. And they will soon.” Joyce L. Kornbluh, ed. Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1998), 50. Needless to say, Haywood thought his organizations whether WFM or IWW provided the way forward.

[108] Haywood, 1969, 79. Haywood’s radicalization is also described in Carlson, 1983, 51-2.

[109] Haywood, 1969, 154.

[110] Ibid. 154.

[111] Kornbluh, 1998, 49.

[112] Goldstein, 2001, 72.

[113] Ibid. 73.

[114] Paul LeBlanc, A Short History of the US Working Class: From Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century (Amherst: Humanity Books, 1999), 64.

[115] See Haywood, 1969, 181 and Kornbluh, 1998, 1. There is no mention of political action found in the Preamble to the IWW Constitution found on ibid. 12-3 after its revision in 1908.

[116] Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States Volume 4: The Industrial Workers of the World 1905-1917 (New York: International Publishers, 1997), 76. Debs left the IWW in 1906 because the group wasn’t putting enough emphasis on political action see Ira Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement 1897-1912 (Chicago: Haymarket Press, 2004) 197.

[117] For IWW history see Foner 1997, Fred W. Thompson and Jon Bekken. The Industrial Workers of the World: Its First Hundred Years 1905-2005 (Cincinnati: Industrial Workers of the World, 2006), especially chapters 3-9. Also Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 253-76. See also Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States (New York: Verso, 1991), 97-101 for the background to the founding of the IWW, its activities and influence in US life.

[118] Haywood, 1969, 182.

[119] Primarily from Kipnis, 2004. For influence of rightwing in SP leadership see ibid. 214-42. For the issues surrounding the expulsion of Haywood see ibid. 391-420.

[120] Debs was the Left’s most vocal voice in the SP, however he supported the expulsion of Haywood in 1912 see Bernard J. Brommel, Eugene V. Debs: Spokesman for Labor and Socialism (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1978), 143-5. See also Ray Ginger, The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene V. Debs (New York: Rutgers University Press, 1947), 307-8.

[121] See Kipnis, 2004, 111 for class struggle emphasis of left, for political action and SP left see ibid. 118, IWW support by SP left see ibid. 190-191. For the influence of economic determinism on the socialist left see ibid. 108. For the views of a contemporary of Haywood in the IWW on the SP, decidedly mixed, see James P. Cannon, First Ten Years of American Communism (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1962), 245-276.

[122] For events surrounding the Haywood trial see Foner, 1998, esp 41-6 for how the Idaho prosecution tried to build a case against Haywood. For undesirable citizens remark see 54. For working class protest at Haywood’s arrest and the subsequent trial see 51-9. For Deb’s energetic response to the Haywood arrest see Ginger, 1947, 247 where he says that “if they [Idaho government] attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood and their brothers, a million revolutionists will meet them with guns.”

[123] Haywood, 1969, 230. Kipnis for more on Haywood favoring political action in 1904 for SP see 192 and for Haywood urging workers to join the SP see 417. In 1906 Haywood ran for governor of Colorado as the SP candidate see 197.

[124] Haywood, 1969, 230. Haywood on political action in 1912: “I have likewise urged that every worker that has a ballot should use that ballot to advance his economic interest.” See also blunt statement “I do believe in political action because it gives us control of the policeman’s club.” Kipnis, 2004, 414 and 415.

[125] Haywood, 1969, 222.

[126] Kornbluh, 1998, 45.

[127] Foner, 1998, 78-9.

[128] For a short version of the Lawrence strike see Zinn 335-7, Haywood’s involvement mentioned. For issues surrounding Lawrence see Foner, 1998, 329-35. For a fellow IWW organizer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and her role in Lawrence, see Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Rebel Girl, An Autobiography: My First Life (1906-1926) (New York: International Publishers, 1994), 127-151. For Gurley’s impression of Haywood at Lawrence see esp. 130-33. Haywood came to replace arrested strike leaders. Gurley praises Haywood’s speaking style, organization, and involvement of women workers. Once Haywood took over strike, violence largely came to an end see Kipnis, 2004, 414. For the Patterson strike, see Foner, 1997, 351-372.

[129] Haywood, 1969, 257. No doubt Haywood would attribute this change in focus on the SP to the fact that a large majority of delegates to the 1912 convention were not workers, of the 293 delegates, fewer than 30 were workers. The largest occupations represented were 32 newspapermen, 21 lecturers and 20 lawyers see Kipnis 396-7. On Haywood’s recall, sources are primarily from Ira Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement 1897-1912 (Chicago: Haymarket Press, 2004) For influence of rightwing in SP leadership see ibid. 214-42. For the issues surrounding the expulsion of Haywood see ibid. 391-420.

[130] Haywood, 1969, 258. Haywood was accused of advocating sabotages and direct action during a rally in support of IWW organizers in New York. Haywood is reported to have said that direct action and sabotage were “the shortest way home” for disenfranchised workers. Haywood also said that US jails were filled by socialists of the IWW, not the political socialists. However this quote is only a rough estimate of Haywood’s words in New York, no transcript exists of Haywood’s speech. See Kipnis, 2004, 413-4. Indeed Sabotage did not necessarily mean advocacy of murder, for example see Salvatore Salerno ed., Direct Action and Sabotage: Three Classic IWW Pamphlets from the 1910s (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1997) where sabotage is described as “the destruction of profits to gain a definite, revolutionary, economic end. It may take many forms.” Such as damaging raw materials, machine breaking, working slowly. However “sabotage does not seek nor desire to take human life,” ibid. 60. The SPUSA rescinded section 6 in 1917 see Thompson, 2006, 78. For protests of Haywood recall by SP members see Theodore Draper, Roots of American Communism (New York: Viking Press, 1957), 1957, 47-8.

[131] Haywood, 1969, 260.

[132] Thompson, 2006, 102.

[133] For a description of the strikes in 1919-1920 and the crushing of labor see Le Blanc, 1999, 70.

[134] For a general history of the repression of the IWW and the left in general during and after World War One see Goldstein, 2001, 123-7 and 146-162.

[135] It is beyond the scope of this essay to trace the myriad factors leading the emergence of the Communist Party of the USA. Those interested in the topic should consult Buhle, 1991, 107-120 which looks at bohemians, immigrants, and trade unionists attracted to Bolshevism. See also Theodore Draper, 1957, 148-175.

[136] Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States Volume 7: Labor and World War I (New York: International Publishers, 1987), 109.

[137] Carlson, 1983, 242.

[138] Ibid. 229.

[139] Ibid. 244.

[140] Haywood was attracted to the revolution and its soviets through reading John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World, but remained initially suspicious of Bolshevik politicians. See Carlson, 1983, 309-10. Reed also wrote articles on the Russian Revolution, popularizing its ideas and urging socialists to adopt them. In one article that Haywood may’ve read, Reed asked this question about the Soviet system-“Is this despotism? It is the real democracy, it is the workers themselves making the government. By means of such a government the workers are able to realize freedom, industrial freedom, industrial democracy and the control of their own lives in their own way.” Philip S. Foner, ed., The Bolshevik Revolution: Its Impact of American Radicals, Liberals, and Labor (New York: International Publishers, 1967), 131. Haywood read Reed’s work and was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, but it wasn’t until 1920 that he embraced Bolshevism.

[141] Haywood, 1969, 360.

[142] Carlson, 1983, 310.

[143] “To the IWW: A Special Message from the Communist International,” Marxists Internet Archive, [accessed December 30, 2009].

[144] Ibid. All caps in the original.

[145] Ibid.

[146] Ibid.

[147] Ibid.

[148] Ibid.

[149] Ibid.

[150] Ibid.

[151] Ibid. The points about parliamentary action by Communists are resoundingly similar to those made earlier by Lenin. See V.I. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder (New York: International Publishers, 1989), 39-48.

[152] Bryan D. Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left 1890-1928 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 42.

[153] Palmer, 2007, 44.

[154] James P. Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1962), 65. At the same time that Cannon had a negative view of the Socialist Party, he still maintained an admiration of Debs that would last for the rest of his life see Ibid. 267-73. To Cannon Debs had several weaknesses including an aversion to fighting the reformists for control of the party and seeking an all-inclusive party of reformists and revolutionaries. Cannon saw Lenin’s strength as seeking an all-revolutionary party.

[155] Palmer, 2007, 52.

[156] Alan M. Wald, The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Amti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 169.Vincent St. John was head of IWW.

[157] Palmer, 2007, 78.

[158] Cannon, 1962, 79.

[159] Palmer, 2007, 85.

[160] Ibid. 89. Cannon also believed that the IWW as exemplified by Vincent St. John had many good qualities such as a revolutionary spirit/action and hostility to reformism, but that a blanket rejection of all political action was a mistake for the IWW see Cannon, 1962, 288-92.

[161] Palmer, 2007, 90.

[162] Jack Barnes ed., James P. Cannon: As We Knew Him (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1976), 91. Cannon was said to have commented later in life that “Trotskyists were Wobblies who had learned something from the Russian Revolution--the necessity of a revolutionary working class party.” See Ibid. 130.

[163] Cannon, 1979, 21.

[164] Dick Geary, ed., Labour and Socialist Movements in Europe Before 1914 (Providence: Berg Publishers, 1989), 210-11.

[165] Geary, 1989, 207-8.

[166] Gwyn A. Williams, Proletariat Order: Antonio Gramsci, Factory Councils and the Origins of Communism in Italy 1911-1921 (London: Pluto Press, 1975), 14.

[167] For figures on Italian agriculture including class structure, land ownership figures, see Williams, 1975, 16-7.

[168] Ibid. 19.

[169] Geary, 1989, 191. For Gilotti’s accommodation and welfare plan and response of PSI see Ibid. 191-4 with the reformist push for a coalition with Gilotti.

[170] Williams, 1975, 25. For an extended discussion of the labor strife of Italy in Italy from the 1880s through 1900 and the PSI’s response, see Geary, 1989, 185-190. The party emerged from the repression strengthened and gained a great deal of publicity. Party conflicts were submerged in the face of a common enemy.

[171] John M. Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969), 24.

[172] For a more general exposition of Turin labor and its strikes from 1902-13 see Cammett, 1969, 23-31. Ibid. discusses the 1915 strike which opposed Italian intervention in World War I on 36. The issues on the 1915 strike are more fully discussed in Williams, 1975, 51-55.

[173] Geary, 1989, 188-9.

[174] Ibid. 188.

[175] PSI votes and deputies in parliament and comparison to other parties see ibid. 190.

[176] Ibid. 192.

[177] Ibid. 193.

[178] Williams, 1975, 28. Williams singles out the middle class leadership of the party and its low ideological training see also Ibid. 28-9.

[179] Geary, 1989, 223.

[180] Ibid. 222. For a brief summary of PSI alliance with Gilotti in 1911 see Williams, 1975, 36.

[181] Williams, 1975, 33.

[182] Eley, 2002, 172.

[183] Geary, 2002, 37-9. For the influence of the revolutionary take-over of the PSI on the young Gramsci, the best analysis is provided by Alastair Davidson, Antonio Gramsci: Towards an Intellectual Biography (London: Merlin Press, 1977), 65-7 For a look at the new generation of intellectuals (Borgdia and Gramsci) and worker militants who joined the PSI or gained influence from 1911 onward see Williams, 1975, 40-51.

[184] However it should be noted that the PSI position was summarized as neither support nor sabotage. This was not quite the same as Lenin’s position that can summarized as turn the world war into a civil war for socialism.

[185] Zeev Sternhell, The Birth of Fascist Ideology (Princeton University Press, 1994), 195-214 for an overview on the evolution of Mussolini’s thinking from leftist to support for the war/proto-fascist.

[186] For syndicalist strength in Po Valley see Geary, 1989, 209 and USI numbers ibid. 212-3. For syndicalist yndicalists strengths see Ibid. 27-8.

[187] Geary, 1989, for syndicalists who rallied to Mussolini see 53-4. Also Ibid. 195. By far the best discussion of the syndicalist embrace of nationalism and the development of the idea of a revolutionary war that would benefit the nation and its relation to emerging fascism can be found in Sternhell, 1994, 160-194.

[188] See Davidson, 1977, 7-12 for a description of the introduction to capitalism in Sardina and the incorporation of Sardina into the Italian state.

[189] Davidson, 1977, 48.

[190] Cammett, 1969, 7.

[191] Davidson, 1977, 49.

[192] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Political Writings 1910-1920 (New York: International Publishers, 1977), 5.

[193] Davidson, 1977, 54. The phrase Vendee of Italy was uttered by PSI leader Turati. The Vendee refers to peasant counterrevolution uprising led by preists and royalists against the French Revolution in the 1790s.

[194] Ibid. 61.

[195] Ibid. 63.

[196] Gramsci, 1977, 7.

[197] Ibid. 7.

[198] Ibid. 8.

[199] Ibid. 13.

[200] Davidson, 1977, 73.

[201] Gramsci, 1977, 11. Davidson, 1977, 72-81 for Gramsci and his work with the Turin proletariat and views on culture.

[202] Gramsci, 1977, 34.

[203] Ibid. 34-5.

[204] Ibid. 54.

[205] Ibid. 54.

[206] Cammett, 1969, 65.

[207] Williams, 1975, 56.

[208] Ibid. 57.

[209] Eley, 2002, 170.

[210] Cammett, 1969, 26.

[211] Ibid. 75.

[212] Antonio Gramci, Gramsci: Pre-Prison Writings (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 98.

[213] Cammett, 1969, 100.

[214] Ibid. 115.

[215] Ibid. 115.

[216] Ibid. 120.

[217] Ibid. 121

[218] Gramsci, 1977, 183.

[219] Cammett, 1969, 102.

[220] Eley, 2002, 171.

[221] Ibid. 172.

[222] Gramsci, 1977, 191.

[223] Ibid. 192.

[224] Ibid. 195.

[225] William H. McNeil A History of Western Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 616. For the outbreak of war and the reaction of the socialist parties see Abendorth, 1972, 65-8. For a very general description of the effects of voting for war on the SPD in Germany and he growth of dissidence see Orlow, 2002, 89-90. For some samples of the embrace of the SPD to vulgar forms of nationalism see Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 91. See also Nation, 2009, 20-5 for the capitulation of socialists to their own respective governments.

[226] A traditional and negative view of Bolshevism can be found in the work of Adam Ulam, The Bolsheviks (New York: Macmillian 1965). Some works that give a contrary view are Neil Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought Volume 1: Theory and Practice in the Democratic Revolution (Chicago: Haymarket, 2009a) and Neil Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought Volume 2: Theory and Practice in the Socialist Revolution (Chicago: Haymarket, 2009b), Lars T. Lih, Lenin Rediscovered: What is to Be Done? In Context (Chicago: Haymarket, 2008), Tony Cliff, Lenin Building the Party 1896-1914 (London: Pluto Press: 1975) and Paul LeBlanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party (Amherst: Humanity Books, 1990). One of the best backgrounds of Lenin’s early development and his embrace of Marxism that is not a hagiography, yet sympathetic is Leon Trotsky, The Young Lenin (New York: DoubleDay, 1972).

[227] It is beyond the scope of this essay to dwell on the development of Russia before WWI; however those interested should consult Marcel Liebman, Russian Revolution (New York: Vintage Books. 1970), especially chapters 1 and 2 that provide a detailed account of Tsarism and the revolutionary opposition. Hobsbawm, 1987, also has a good overview on Russia looking at the peasantry; industrialization and the growth of unrest see 292-301. I am also indebted to the view of Trotsky who provides the framework of uneven and combined development that forms this interpretation of Russia see Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967) 3-16. A very good summary of Russian society on the eve of WWI can be found in Robert Service, A History of Modern Russia: From Nicholas II to Vladimir Putin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 1-23.

[228] Again see Trotsky 1972. An excellent short summary of the young Lenin can be found in Neil Harding, Leninism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), 15-23. Harding also deals a great deal with Marxist debates over what the nature of the coming Russian Revolution was going to be: bourgeoisie or socialist.

[229] The debate over Lenin and the Party encompasses many views that range from those who see Lenin as a proto-dictator to a great democrat. For a critical view see Harding, 1996, 23-7. For a major challenge, looking at Lenin as seeking to create a democratic party based on the German SPD see Lih 2008. Lih is challenged in some respects by August Nimtz, “Lenin-Without Marx and Engels?” Science and Society 73 (October 2009): 452-473 who believes Lenin was following in Marx’s footsteps of creating a democratic orientation rather than the SPD. For a good overview of democratic centralism see also LeBlanc, 1990, 127-141.

[230] Development of Capitalism in Russia can be found in Vladimir I. Lenin, Collected Works Volume 3 (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1960) and V. I. Lenin, “Development of Capitalism in Russia,” Marxists Internet Archive, [accessed November 1, 2009]. See Harding, 1996, 21-3. See also Harding, 2009a, 79-108 for the background of Lenin’s views in Development of Capitalism in Russia. Also Le Blanc, 1990, 29-30 and 102-8 for Lenin’s views on the Russian economy and coming revolution and how the proletariat and not the bourgeoisie were going to play a leading role. See also Lenin’s views on the nature of the Russian Revolution written circa 1905. Vladimir I. Lenin, Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1989), 16-22, also 82-5.

[231] Lenin, 1989, 82-5 sums up Lenin’s views nicely. For the change in Lenin’s views on the Russian Revolution would be socialist not bourgeoisie see Michael Lowy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development (London: Verso Books, 1981), 58-64. Lowy adheres to Trotsky’s view of the Permanent Revolution.

[232] Lih, 2008, 66.

[233] See Lih, 2008, 730 and Vladimir I. Lenin, What is to be Done? (Peking: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1973), 76.

[234] Lih, 2008, 746 and Lenin, 1973, 99-100.

[235] This view of Lenin is at variance with that traditionally advanced by scholars. I am indebted to Lars T Lih’s work for this profoundly democratic interpretation of Lenin. Lih’s work is a major challenge to the Cold War and Stalinist interpretations of Lenin. For an effective answer to the charge that Lenin believed that workers couldn’t achieve socialist consciousness see Lih, 2008, 613-67. Also see Harding, 2009a, 161-96. LeBlanc has written extensively on Lenin and the Party in his work, What is to be Done is covered in LeBlanc 1990, 58-68. For a shorter account by Lih that sums up the basic view of Lenin found here see Sebastian Budgen, Stathis Kouvelakis, and Slavoj Zizek, ed. Lenin Reloaded: Towards a Politics of Truth (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 283-96. See also Cliff 1975 for a corrective.

[236] LeBlanc sums up the Bolsheviks well during the period of 1905 see LeBlanc, 1990, 101-126 and 1912-4 see ibid. 189-208.

[237] This analysis is indebted to the work of Harding 2009b, 41-70

[238] V. I. Lenin, “Opportunism, and the Collapse of the Second International,” Marxists Internet Archive, [accessed November 1, 2009].

[239] For Lenin and the Zimmerwald Movement see Nation. 2009, 63-168. For Lenin’s views specifically on imperialism see ibid. 143-8. For a view that there is a break in Lenin’s thought in 1914 that led to his works on Imperialism, the State and the Revolution and April Thesis see Michael Lowy, On Changing the World: Essays in Political Philosophy, From Karl Marx to Walter Benjamin (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1993), 77-90.

[240] V. I. Lenin, “The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution aka. April Theses,” Marxists Internet Archive, [accessed November 1, 2009].Lenin’s advocacy of immediate socialist revolution in Russia led him to being condemned as an anarchist in some quarters see Victor Serge, Victor Serge: The Century of the Unexpected, Essays on Revolution and Counterrevolution, ed. Al Richardson (London: Socialist Platform, 1994), 8-14.

[241] See Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution: The Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising (Indianapolis. Indiana University Press 1968), 62-4, 100-2, and 138-46. For how the Bolsheviks and anarchists largely cooperated during the Russian Revolution of 1917 see Marcel Liebman, Leninism Under Lenin (London: Merlin Press, 1975), 196-8.

[242] This process is admirably described by Alexander Rabinowitch, Bolsheviks Come to Power: Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd (New York. W.W. Norton and Company 1978) and Trotsky 1967. Also Liebman, 1970 especially 161-86 and 257-92.

[243] The Paris Commune was an experiment in direct democracy under workers control that existed for two months in 1871. See Karl Marx, Civil War in France (New York International Publishers, 1993).

[244] Vladimir I. Lenin, State and Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1998), 37.

[245] See Harding, 2009b, 118-23. For the positive influence of the State and Revolution on anarchists see Alfred Rosmer, Moscow Under Lenin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 46-50.

[246] For a fuller account see Lenin, 1998, 94-5.

[247] Ibid. 98.

[248] It is beyond the scope of this essay to consider the degeneration of the Russian Revolution from its Leninist beginnings to Stalinist counterrevolution. Suffice to mention here that the subsequent civil war with the massive destruction of the proletariat, alienation of peasantry, militarization of Soviet life and isolation of the revolution led to the development of a bureaucratic caste of Stalin. This process is described admirably in Leon Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going? (New York Pathfinder Press, 1972). See also Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972), Liebman 1975. Also Paul LeBlanc 1990, 289-340, Harding, 2009b, 275-308. A recent contribution is Alexander Rabinowitch, Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007). For the Purges and culmination of Stalin’s counterrevolution see Vadim Z. Rogovin, 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror (Greenfield Park: Mehring Books, 1998) and Vadim Z. Rogovin, Stalin’s Terror of 1937-8: Political Genocide in the USSR (Greenfield Park: Mehring Books, 2009).

[249] Hook, 2002, 124-5.

[250] Georg Lukacs, Lenin: A Study in the Unity of his Thought (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971), 12.

[251] Hook, 2002, 123-124.


Bolsheviks and the general strike

The Bolshevik ability to be guided by revolutionary theory in their practice proved to be a better mechanism of change than the Sorelian general strike. The theory of the general strike as formulated by Sorel to destroy capitalism was “a highly abstract conception…It was taken as an isolated single economic act instead of a phase of a political revolutionary process.”[251] The general strike was divorced from concrete activities and perceived as a single apocalyptic act. The apocalypse never came. Instead, it was the greater realism and practice of the Bolsheviks that produced the revolution.

What in the end was the elective affinity between the Bolsheviks and syndicalists/socialists? What was combined? To be honest, it was really the syndicalists/socialists who merged with the Bolsheviks. The syndicalists did not abandon their hostility to the established socialist parties or their revolutionary intransigence. They developed an appreciation of Marxist theory as a guide to action rather than the general strike. The syndicalists also moved away from an apolitical reliance on trade unions to a belief in a revolutionary party that could take over state power. However, they combined that commitment with the revolutionary praxis of the Bolsheviks and the Soviet form. The socialists maintained their allegiance to the political action and Marxism. However, they combined that commitment with the revolutionary praxis of the Bolsheviks and the Soviet form. Serge, Haywood, Cannon and Gramsci were comrades who saw the actuality of revolution around them. Embracing the theory and practice of Bolshevism came naturally out of their experiences in the prewar revolutionary movement.

This is a superb essay. It really helps to understand the dilemma that we are facing today. And what needs to be done.

Today we have the same ideological struggles under different names.

Two-way street

"The syndicalists did not abandon their hostility to the established socialist parties or their revolutionary intransigence."

It wasn't a one-way street. The right wing of the Socialist Party was hostile to the IWW concept of direct action. They kicked Haywood out of the party, he didn't leave of his own volition

IWW was itself a mix of all the tendencies

The IWW was itself a mix of all the tendencies. Out of that experience we got Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, William Z. Foster, and others becoming leaders of the US Communist Party, Ralph Chaplin as an anti-capitalist etc. The IWW had their own publication on their relationship to the Bolshevik revolution:>

Socialists debate born-again Wobblies on IWW history

One Big Union? The IWW in Australia

By Daniel Lopez

This is an edited transcript of a talk presented at the Marxism 2012 conference.

One hundred years ago, the majority of socialists believed that political action should be focused on parliamentary politics. They wanted to fight capitalism but agreed to play by its rules. They were reformists. And there were perks: for the parliamentarians themselves, flattery and comfort, and the occasional invite to an exclusive party. For the union leaders, legal protection – in return, of course, for assurances against immoderate strikes. If the workers were lucky, they got a few concessions. But mostly they weren’t lucky.

In many countries, syndicalism was the response to the sorry state in which the mainstream socialist moment had ended up. Syndicalism put forward three related answers to the problem of capitalist politics.

Firstly, they remembered Marx’s advice: “That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”. They were for working class revolution, and to their enormous credit, they defended the idea that workers could and would achieve this.

Secondly, they advocated the organisation of the working class into “One Big Union”. In other words, in place of political organisation, they were for industrial organisation – and this industrial organisation would eventually unite the working class to smash capitalism.

Thirdly, the syndicalists imbued a deep disgust among their members toward parliamentarians, academics, philanthropists, union bureaucrats and other would-be saviours of the class.

And of all the syndicalists who were disgusted with reformism none were as disgusted as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The Australian IWW

The IWW called Billy Hughes, the WW1-era Labor prime minister who was expelled from his own party over conscription,

a blackleg little scoundrel who has done more to break strikes and keep the workers bound to the masters’ treadmill for the past ten years, than all the straight-out capitalist politicians and the influence of the whole capitalist press of Australia combined.

And, of political action (i.e. reform), they wrote:

Reform of politics is useless. The elector, instead of bolting like sheep at bogeys, should clear his brain of deep-rooted prejudices (and) become a conscious person... why support a gigantic system of charlatanism and oppression? A conscious abstentionist (someone who refuses to vote) counts for far more socially than a gullible voter.

The IWW (the “Wobblies”) stood for revolution. The preamble to their constitution read:

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common... Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organise as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.

The Wobblies believed that workers had to be convinced or cajoled into joining “One Big Union”. This union would be different to the mass of old, small craft unions that covered tiny professional subdivisions. Rather, the IWW stood for industrial unionism – they would organise the workers into 6 industrial divisions, which would be federated. Citing a simplified form of historical materialism, they argued that this form of organisation was in line with economic progress and was the “scientific” means of uniting the working class.

Superficially, there is affinity between IWW-ism and anarcho-syndicalist ideology. But this is not how the IWW saw itself at all. They were at pains to distinguish themselves from the Australian anarchist scene, which existed on the far fringes of society, and was highly individualistic. Moreover, references to Marx abound in their paper, Direct Action. They saw themselves as applying and extending Marx’s ideas. The IWW mail-order library would gladly supply Marxist classics for a few shillings, including 3 volumes of Capital, Wages, Price and Profits and the Communist Manifesto. Other favourites included pamphlets on sabotage and The Right to Be Lazy, by Paul Lafargue. Some anarchists, like Kropotkin or Bakunin were occasionally cited, but not so much in defence of worked out anarchist concepts, rather for their general exhortations to revolution or cautions against the state. They didn’t sell anarchist literature. This marks the IWW out specifically from European syndicalism which was always more influenced by classical anarchism.

The IWW clearly understood and took seriously many of Marx’s economic arguments. Time and again, they explained that workers produce all the value, and yet receive only a paltry fraction of it. They also admired Marx’s revolutionary intransigence and insistence on working class self-activity. But their understanding of revolution was vague. Sometimes they conceded that defensive violence would be necessary, at other times they attempted to find a peaceful road to revolution. Some Direct Action articles advocated the dictatorship of the proletariat and an “industrial state” to oppose the capitalist state, whereas others simply envisioned the IWW leading a mass strike and taking over production.

Their approach relied heavily on propaganda. A typical week’s activity for the Wobblies saw an educational meeting on Monday or Tuesday night, usually on economics, a business meeting on Wednesday, an advertised public meeting on Friday or Saturday and on Sunday, a big (often with hundreds of attendees) outdoor meeting in Sydney’s Domain or by Melbourne’s Yarra. IWW locals often maintained workers’ libraries, and they held regular programs training speakers and educators who would travel the country, spreading the truth and supporting themselves through collections and selling literature.

Of course, at work, IWW members were encouraged to take action. This action varied from go-slows (the IWW was fond of saying “fast workers die young”) to sabotage, to direct action in pursuit of higher wages. Much of the time IWW members didn’t last long on a particular job – they weren’t employee of the month material. But when they did, or when they found themselves in concentrations at a given workplace, they could lead and participate in important struggles.

One such action was the 1915 mining strike in Broken Hill. Alongside revolutionary socialists, IWW members used direct action (in this case, relaxing on Saturday afternoons) in order to win the 44 hour week. They used on the job organising, including underground (literally) meetings, and defied the arbitration courts, the union bureaucracy and the war time patriotic furore. Broken Hill was the one place in Australia where an IWW card was regarded in the same light as any other union membership.

Just as their opposition to parliamentary politics did not make the IWW apolitical, their insistence on direct action did not preclude political campaigning. The most important and heroic struggle the IWW were involved in was against WW1 and conscription. The fact that they opposed WW1 without hesitation is worthy of commendation in itself: all over the world, socialist parties, syndicalists and anarchists capitulated to the pro-war fervour. Even the US IWW hesitated before opposing the war.

The Australian IWW came out swinging at their vitriolic best. At the outbreak of war, the IWW covered the town with posters reading: “TO ARMS, Capitalists, Parsons, Politicians, Landlords, Newspaper Editors and Other Stay-at-home Patriots. Your country needs YOU in the trenches! Workers, follow your masters!” When Direct Action editor, Tom Barker was charged with prejudicing recruitment, he defended himself arguing that the poster was a sincere attempt to support the war effort!

During this campaign, IWW activists spoke at hundreds of meetings, to crowds of thousands and to rallies of tens of thousands. They carried motions in union meetings around the country. They simultaneously cooperated with and criticised mercilessly those to their right who only opposed conscription without opposing the war, and in so doing, they drew the whole campaign to the left. Much more could be said about their fight against conscription, but suffice to say, it stands as a model of revolutionary campaigning. They earned the shrill ire of the entire capitalist establishment, from parliament down, while winning thousands of members and tens of thousands of supporters.

Yet, by the time the war was over, and despite their burgeoning popularity, the IWW were wrecked. Essentially, Labor governments, both state and federal, conspired with the capitalist press to mercilessly persecute the organisation. Twelve Wobblies were framed on arson charges, one of whom received a maximum of 15 years. The case was shonky from beginning to end. The prosecution relied on the testimony of one scab that was so unreliable that he was later beaten to death by police who were afraid he would go public with the truth. Yet the case set the tone. Labor banned the IWW. All over the country, Wobblies lost their jobs, were imprisoned or charged and were otherwise intimidated out of membership.

In the end, the IWW did not make it into the 1920s in any recognisable form. Some of their members, but not too many, joined the Communist Party. Others simply continued to be committed union militants.

Criticisms of IWW politics

It is important to account for why the IWW was wrecked. Doing so is effectively the only way to save the effort of thousands of dedicated revolutionaries from historical waste. But before this, it’s important to look at some of the limitations of their approach to politics.

Firstly, while their militant hostility to the trade union bureaucracy was positive, their criticism of it was couched in organisational terms rather than political ones. The union bureaucracy is an inevitable by-product of any union organisation under capitalism – industrial unions are no more immune than craft unions or general unions. This is for a few reasons.

So long as capitalism is stable, unions of any size are going to accept industrial legality. Either this, or be de-registered and wrecked, as with the Builders Labourers Federation. This legality means that a layer of bureaucrats will inevitably emerge whose role is to mediate between workers and capital. To put it more critically, they haggle with the capitalist class over the price of wage slaves.

The other side of the problem is that so long as capitalism is powerful, capitalist ideology and the basic alienation and disempowerment of working class life will prevent large numbers from becoming revolutionary. In the final analysis, the best and only guard against union bureaucrats are revolutionary workers, yet for a majority of workers in a given industry to be revolutionary is unthinkable outside of a revolutionary situation.

The IWW’s organisational answer to a political problem led them to support the formation of a separate union. They disdained the idea of building rank and file networks within the existing unions. Describing the conservatism and corruption of the unions, they wrote: “How can anyone who is honestly fighting for the betterment of his class bore on in such a heart-breaking and degrading environment?”

Organising a separate, radical union in opposition to the mainstream ones is a mistaken tactic 95 percent of the time. It was especially mad in Australia – at the time one of the best unionised countries in the world. The reality was, most workers had a loyalty to their unions and could not be persuaded to leave them for another tiny one, even if they sympathised with IWW ideas. As such, the IWW never came close to realising its goal. Worse still, “red unionism” can be a left wing form of capitulation to the union bureaucracy. Rather than take the fight to the bureaucrats, constantly organising within the unions against them, it leaves them unchallenged within their own organisations, and has the effect of separating the best militants.

Pragmatically, most IWW members did work within the existing unions. Yet the strategy confused them. It meant that more often than not, their approach was sectarian: they actively counter-posed themselves to the existing working class parties and unions. Their approach was like an ultimatum: join the IWW or be damned. This, combined with some of their emphasis on sabotage, isolated them from thousands of serious working class militants who were, at the time, moving very rapidly towards revolutionary ideas.

The alternative tactic to this is what was carried out by Communists (for all their Stalinist limitations) in the Builders Labourers Federation through the 1950s and 60s. They did careful, patient, detailed rank and file organising. When necessary, they proved to workers in practice – through strikes and other actions – that the Communists were the best militants. Eventually they wrestled control of the BLF away from its right wing leadership. In so doing, they built the most radical union this country has seen.

We need to go further in criticism. The IWW’s syndicalism meant that they misunderstood themselves and their role. The IWW were, for all intents and purposes, a revolutionary party. They functioned exactly like one. They recruited to a high level of politics and demanded a high level of activity from their members. They used political propaganda expertly and intervened in campaigns and struggles to win people to a revolutionary perspective.

Yet they didn’t have a perspective for building a party. Such a perspective can anticipate and cope with periods of illegality. When confronted by state repression they reacted with semi-suicidal bravado. They threatened to fill the jails with Wobblies, and in Broken Hill challenged the authorities to arrest their members by plastering their membership lists to the doors of their meeting hall.

The state made good on its threat and wrecked the organisation. There was a massive defence campaign for the 12 arrested IWW members, which eventually saw them released. This campaign drew in leftists, unionists and even Labor party branches. Yet the IWW never recovered. They were too broken; too demoralised. Their perspective hadn’t prepared them for what happened. This was a huge setback for working class politics. Had the IWW been able to weather the repression, they could have emerged in the early 1920s strengthened. As it happened the immense ambition of the IWW and their ultra-radical disdain for the union movement had the effect of limiting the organisation. These problems were undoubtedly partly borne of their syndicalism.


The IWW were trail-blazers. They were also fighting to work out a revolutionary working class strategy before the experience of the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution and subsequent 20th century revolutions had decisively resolved most of the questions they were struggling with. And their victories were victories for the whole class – not least of all, their victory against conscription. So whatever we have to say about the IWW’s politics, we can also say that this was a first rate organisation of fighters from whose spirit and courage we can learn a huge amount from.


A Reply to ‘One Big Union? The IWW in Australia’

In April, an edited transcript of a talk given by Daniel Lopez at Marxism 2012 entitled ‘One Big Union? The IWW in Australia’ appeared on the Socialist Alternative website. This article, in offering a discussion and critique of the IWW and of syndicalism more generally, appeared to present the historical Industrial Workers of the World primarily as a syndicalist response to attempts to reform class society that took its cues primarily from Marxism. However, just as the IWW ‘remembered Marx’s advice: “That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves,”’ Lopez contended, so too were they ‘at pains to distinguish themselves from the Australian anarchist scene, which existed on the far fringes of society, and was highly individualistic.’

As such, Lopez argued, the Wobblies were ‘trail-blazers’ who ‘were also fighting to work out a revolutionary working class strategy before the experience of the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution and subsequent 20th century revolutions had decisively resolved most of the questions they were struggling with.’ In order however to ‘to save the effort of thousands of dedicated revolutionaries from historical waste, it was also necessary to understand their limitations—and, paradoxically perhaps given that they were ‘trail-blazers,’ the folly of their syndicalist ways. This appeared to be revealed in the state repression inflicted on the Wobblies, who, in not having ‘perspective for building a party’ that could ‘anticipate and cope with periods of illegality’ inevitably found themselves unable to recover.

While the issue of state repression is certainly a pertinent one to consider given the history of its use against the IWW in Australia, whether this of necessity negates revolutionary or anarcho-syndicalist strategies and forms of organisation as such is arguably much less clear-cut than Daniel Lopez would have us believe. The fact that Lopez’s argument against the IWW’s approach to class struggle appears to centre on the issue of responses to state repression would also appear to put the cart before the horse in terms of the kinds of basic democratic assumptions that function to defend the freedom of the individual against the workings of arbitrary, coercive power structures.

What we are talking about here of course is putting the onus on power structures to justify themselves to the individual rather than the other way around; where we place the onus on power structures to justify themselves to the individual, we can arguably be said to be defending the cause of freedom, but where we place the onus on the individual (or on organisations such as the IWW that seek to defend the freedom of the individual against, in this instance, the autocratic hierarchies inherent to capitalist relations of production) to justify their opposition to power, we can in contradistinction arguably be said to be defending oppressive power structures at the expense of the freedom of all individuals. It is the argument of the present text that this is very much manifest in the article by Daniel Lopez.

Thus we find in Lopez’s article no mention of the basic rationales informing the development of revolutionary or anarcho-syndicalism, though these are readily available. The same is also true of the historical evidence supporting arguments against the traditional vanguardist modes of organisation upon which organisations such as Socialist Alternative operate. It would appear to be worth noting that Lopez’s critique of the syndicalism of the IWW appears to take for granted the legitimacy of the vanguardist model. In not even holding the concept of vanguardism open to comparison or scrutiny would appear to beg the question as to what the author fears from presenting both sides of the debate honestly and straightforwardly and allowing his readers to make up their own mind. This would in turn seem to support the observation made above to the effect that putting the onus on individuals to justify their opposition to power tends to support oppressive power structures at the expense of individuals insofar as it reflects a desire to make people’s minds up for them, which would appear to be a facet of the kind of things it would be nice to rid ourselves of in pursuit of a basically sane and just society.

In contrast to the claims Lopez makes about the Wobblies’ rejection of anarchism as ‘individualistic’ (an odd claim considering the oft-sectarian behaviour of many members of Socialist Alternative), we find that the syndicalism of the IWW evolved in the first place from the conjoining of classical liberal critiques of arbitrary statist autocracy, particularly in terms of their negative effects on the dignity of the individual, and Marxist critiques of the aforementioned autocratic hierarchies defining capitalist relations of production, to produce a libertarian socialist critique of the state as a class institution whose primary function, to borrow from James Madison, is to ‘protect the minority of the opulent from the majority.’ The appearance of revolutionary or anarcho-syndicalism in particular came about as individuals such as the French anarchist and unionists Fernand Pelloutier recognised in the unions a means of developing a ‘practical school of socialism’ and ‘the seeds of the future society’ based on an economically democratic regime of workers’ control wherein production and distribution were run through unions based on collective decision-making and industrial federations and confederations within which decision-making power flowed from the bottom up.

Through these ‘facts of the future,’ syndicalists such as Pelloutier argued, workers could build on their day-to-day experience at the point of production to build solidarity and organise on the basis of libertarian strategies that acknowledged the axiomatic importance of maintaining a basic harmony between mean and ends, given the fact that the means we employ tend to determine our outcomes. The basic justification for syndicalism thus resulted from the need to avoid perpetuating in the workers organisations precisely those hierarchical and autocratic constraints on the freedom of the individual that appeared to necessitate their formation in the first place. In seeking to avoid replicating the forms of oppression that they sought to overcome the aim of revolutionary syndicalists such as Pelloutier was of course to avoid becoming what they claimed to oppose, and thereby to realise Marx’s maxim that ‘the emancipation of the working class will be carried out by the workers themselves’—in this case directly, by actual wage workers, and not by professional revolutionaries who claimed to speak in their name while apparently having little or no involvement in the process of production.

This brings us back again to the issue of placing the onus on power to justify itself to the individual, particularly where the issue of the vanguard model of organisation is concerned. While Lopez argues that the IWW failed by virtue of the fact that we were delayed in our project of resistance to the injustice and general insanity of class society thanks to the state repression inflicted on the historical Wobblies, thereby apparently demonstrating the validity of the vanguardist model, he ignores many of the more obvious historical examples that would seem to demonstrate the much greater failures of vanguardism. One need only think about for example the way Stalin used the assassination of Sergei Kirov by what many historians now agree were agents of the NKVD as a pretext to crack down on the last of the internal opposition to his despotism within the Russian Communist Party in the name of defending the workers’ revolution from counter-revolutionary terrorists, petit-bourgeois Trotskyist elements, etc.

Here the grave potential for abuse implicit in the vanguardist argument in favour of the need for a workers’ state to defend the gains of the workers’ revolution from counter-revolutionary elements seemed fairly clear; as Stalin’s actions demonstrated it was no difficult task to demonise anyone who failed to worship the ground he walked on with the requisite level of awe by accusing them of plotting to overthrow the revolutionary workers’ state and restore capitalism. In this way it appeared to be no difficult task at all for Stalin to blame the victims of the Red Terror for his unconscionable power grab, just as it was no difficult task at all for him to play the victim of sinister outside forces said to be threatening the Revolutionary Socialist way of life in a manner that should ring alarm bells for anyone who lived through the Terror Scare of 2001 or is perhaps otherwise familiar with such things as the Red Scares of the 20th Century, the Nazi treatment of German Jews, the Israeli treatment of Palestinians (attempting to overcome the historical legacy of fascism by adoping it, etc.) the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages or Arthur Miller’s fantastic stage play The Crucible. There are of course other notorious historical examples associated with the Russian Revolution (eg. the suppression of the Kronstadt Rebellion) that would seem to raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the vanguardist model of organisation, but they are surely too familiar to anyone likely to read this article to merit discussion.

In placing the onus on power to justify itself to the individual in the manner appropriate to anyone who would defend individual freedom from state or economic autocracy (instead of attempting to save the latter from the former), serious questions might conceivably be raised then about the history of the vanguardist model that appears to be Daniel Lopez’s preferred alternative to the revolutionary syndicalism of the IWW. This being the case, it would seem somewhat anachronistic then to argue in favour of a vanguardist model of organisation in the name of defending the revolutionary movement from state repression if the end result is a purportedly revolutionary state that represses dissent and any other manifestations of independent thought and action in the name of defending the workers’ revolution from evil bogeymen in a manner that has already been demonstrated historically to be a device for establishing and perpetuating tyranny at the great expense of any attempts to resist the aforementioned injustices and general insanity characteristic of class society, if not to say the good name of the concept of socialism as such. If the means we employ determine our outcomes as was implicit in the notions of the early syndicalists, then organising on the basis of hierarchical vanguards in the name of saving the revolutionary movement from state repression would appear then to amount to its own certain defeat to the extent that the it reproduced that which it was attempting to overcome and in so doing became what it claimed to oppose.

This is of course not to suggest that the issue of how we respond to the certain state repression to come as soon as the threat of democracy begins to weigh on the minds of James Madison’s “opulent few” merits no further attention; quite the contrary. If history clearly illustrates the class nature of the state as it certainly does, then it also similarly demonstrates that the ‘minority of the opulent’ whom the state protects ‘from the majority’ will stop at nothing to protect their economic privileges and the lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed, no matter how socially, economically or environmentally unsustainable they may be, from any and all attempts to establish a classless society that involves any real measure of control over the course of their own destiny or material justice for human beings writ large.

Such reactions of the future will no doubt appear either in the form of further Terror Scares that seek to establish further pretexts for state terrorism and autocratic crackdowns on dissent and other manifestations of independent thought in the name of fighting non-state terrorism, or simply as some kind of corporatist police state invoked in the name of fighting terrorism and maintaining order while perpetuating state terror and laying the groundwork for social, economic, environmental and indeed psychological chaos. Anticipating these will of course necessitate developing appropriate organisational forms, though Daniel Lopez appears to provide no argument why these of necessity must follow the vanguardism that seems to the preferred model of Socialist Alternative. Indeed, if we take a cursory look at the history of syndicalism, we can find examples of libertarian organising against dictatorship and state repression from which syndicalists emerged relatively unscathed, such as the three months of martial law that the Spanish CNT was subjected to following the ‘Tragic Week’ of 1909, and the entire Primo De Rivera dictatorship of 1923-30. Here the affinity group model of the Federacion Anarquista Iberica (FAI) appeared to offer plenty of potential for combining organisation against state repression with libertarian strategies that maintained a basic harmony between means and ends and allowed for the resumption of union organising activities in periods of relative openness.

In critiquing the IWW on the basis of the argument that the historical Wobblies were unable to respond effectively to the state repression visited on them, and that this somehow apparently constitutes evidence for the supposed failure of syndicalism as such, Lopez refers only to the historical IWW and not the present IWW, which in experiencing a marked resurgence in the last year especially would appear to call into question the notion of our inability to recover. A similar failure to acknowledge the activities of the present IWW in the name of defending the vanguardist or party form of organisation also seems to inspire other fairly predictable objections to of our structure and strategies, primary amongst which being the old chestnut about the Wobblies being class reductionists who don’t care about non-economic issues such as fighting racism, sexism and homophobia and defending the natural environment. Nothing of course could be further from the truth, and in fact the present-day IWW is very proactive about recognising that a multitude of different forms of oppression exist and that the mentality that sees the worker primarily as an objectified resource whose value resides primarily in its exploitability is very much similar to and comes from much the same place as the mentality that sees women and the natural environment the same way.

Admittedly we haven’t yet regained the crowning heights of our former glory, much less to say formed anything much in the way of a credible threat to the pervasive injustices, general insanity and increasingly overt chaos of the class society that we are obliged to navigate, though by the same token this would not appear to be something that is unique to us. The fact that Daniel Lopez appears to feel the need to form such a critique at this time would appear to suggest a tacit acknowledgement of the resurgence of the Australian IWW, which in and of itself would seem to contradict its own basic assumptions.

Ben D. x368045


Replying to the IWW on the IWW

By Daniel Lopez

I was delighted to see that the Melbourne branch of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) had taken the time to write a response to my article on the historic IWW in Australia. By the end, my delight had turned to despair. In 2,500 words Ben D managed to simultaneously ignore the main arguments running through my article and wheel out the usual, tired anarchist clichés about revolutionary socialism. I would have appreciated an in depth debate about the historic IWW in Australia. Ben treats the historical issues perfunctorily, preferring to grind a much worn old axe.

Anarcho-syndicalism, individualism and the IWW

Ben accuses me of failing to give an account of the development of anarcho syndicalism out of the anarchist tradition. This would no doubt be a failing in an article on anarcho syndicalism. But my article was on the IWW. They didn’t see themselves as either anarchists or anarcho syndicalists. In fact the IWW explicitly rejected anarchism. Norman Rancie, the one-time editor of Direct Action, had this to say:

Anarchists believe in complete individual freedom and each man a law unto himself. They refuse to recognise any form of organisation or authority. This is the very antithesis of the principles of the IWW which believes in organisation, discipline, and not ‘every man a law unto himself’, but every member responsible to his organisation which has a book of rules and a constitution which of course is the very negation of anarchism.1

This is not an isolated quote. Numerous Direct Action articles directly criticised anarchism, as well as European Syndicalism.2 The anarchists of the day agreed, criticising the IWW in turn.3 The IWW regularly advertised literature for sale, and organised reading groups and study sessions on this literature. There is very little on their list that could be considered classically anarchist. The closest is Paul Lafargue’s classic The Right to be Lazy, which the astute browser will notice is also for sale in Socialist Alternative’s bookshop. The overwhelming bulk of IWW literature is classically Marxist, or written by and for the IWW.

Moreover, on a number of political grounds, they differed from classical anarchism. While opposing parliamentary action, they were not apolitical or anti-political.4 There was not a trace of Emma Goldman’s scorn towards the masses in IWW material, although they did despise the “blockhead” Labor Party adherent. While an atheist organisation, they did not make anti-religious propaganda a point of honour, preferring to unite workers above religious divides. Indeed, the only people at the time who seriously argued that the IWW was anarchist or anarcho syndicalist were Labour Party politicians and journalists.

Of course, in flavour, the IWW has some similarity with anarcho-syndicalism. The IWW held some positions which some anarchists or anarcho syndicalists also hold. But then again, revolutionary socialists hold some positions that anarcho syndicalists hold. In the same way, a few individuals that had been associated with the Melbourne Anarchist Club in the late 1800s, such as the impressive Monty Miller, joined the IWW. But then, some European anarchists became Bolsheviks.

You could draw a Venn diagram if you wanted. But the main point stands: the IWW was by no sensible measure part of the anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist tradition. This is not the case today, and has not been since the 1970s.5 But then, I was not talking about the present day IWW. I was writing an article about labour history. Regrettably, the IWW today doesn’t have much to do with organised labour and certainly hasn’t made any history.

Vanguardism, statism, and other anarchist swear-words.

Ben accuses me of arguing in a way that reinforces state power. He writes:

What we are talking about here of course is putting the onus on power structures to justify themselves to the individual rather than the other way around… but where we place the onus on the individual (or on organisations such as the IWW that seek to defend the freedom of the individual against, in this instance, the autocratic hierarchies inherent to capitalist relations of production) to justify their opposition to power, we can in contradistinction arguably be said to be defending oppressive power structures at the expense of the freedom of all individuals. It is the argument of the present text that this is very much manifest in the article by Daniel Lopez.

This argument is a centrepiece in Ben’s response. But let’s look at it in more detail. He is saying that by criticising the IWW’s failure to anticipate and cope with state repression, I am defending the state. Yet, the whole point of my argument is that an organisation dedicated to overthrowing capitalism should be able to resist the state! This wasn’t my main argument, but that’s beside the point. I wonder if Ben extends this logic to other issues. For instance, if I criticise union officials for their failure to beat an employer, say, by not anticipating the use of scab labour, am I defending the employer? Or if I criticise state repression in the USSR, am I siding with US imperialism? This type of logic only serves to shut down discussion.

A revolutionary organisation needs to be able to endure periods of illegality. The IWW was patently unprepared for this. In some areas, they defied the ban on their organisation by publishing membership lists and defying the authorities to fill the prisons.6 The authorities obliged. The strategy did not work. In other words, it is quite clear that some of the actions and perspectives of the IWW contributed towards their destruction, and at the very least, rendered them incapable of enduring repression.

I wish this had not been the case! Understanding what limited the IWW therefore involves a degree of criticism. Yet, according to Ben, doing this is “defending oppressive power structures at the expense of the freedom of all individuals”. This approach prevents us learning from past revolutionary attempts and as such it needs to be completely rejected. As I’ve said before, a certain amount of humility is required in criticising the IWW: no organisation on the Australian far left has had to endure state repression in recent history. But, this said, is perfectly valid to criticise the IWW on this ground, and Ben is profoundly wrong to accuse me of statism for doing so.

Ben also accuses me of stealthily assuming the validity of “vanguardism”, so as to hoodwink my audience into agreeing. In his mind, this is a “facet” of my proclivity for demanding that individuals justify themselves to power. I am told that “it reflects a desire to make people’s minds up for them”. All this would be bad enough, but Ben goes further. He writes:

Here [in the persecution of Stalin’s rivals] the grave potential for abuse implicit in the vanguardist argument in favour of the need for a workers’ state to defend the gains of the workers’ revolution from counter-revolutionary elements seemed fairly clear; as Stalin’s actions demonstrated it was no difficult task to demonise anyone who failed to worship the ground he walked on with the requisite level of awe by accusing them of plotting to overthrow the revolutionary workers’ state and restore capitalism.

So, there you have it. It’s a short trip from implicit “vanguardism” to the gulag. Never mind that Stalin had to murder, imprison or drive to suicide almost every Bolshevik party member who had been active in 1917. Never mind that Stalin’s regime was state capitalist and destroyed working class resistance mercilessly. It was vanguardism what done it! In the same paragraph, Ben manages to mention Nazism, the repression of the Palestinians and the War on Terror as related phenomena. This is too much! Here I was thinking that imperialism and capitalism were responsible for those things, but turns out it was “vanguardism” the whole time.

It should go without saying that this is all idealist nonsense. Classes make history. Ruling classes unleash oppression. They may use arguments to justify this (and rarely do these arguments have anything to do with “vanguardism” which has more currency as an anarchist bogey than anything else). But to blame the argument used to justify the abuse, rather than the class committing the abuse is a grave mistake. And to accuse me of implicit vanguardism, and then to link this to Stalinism, Nazism, etc. is not a very helpful way to conduct debate.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said about “vanguardism”. The term is much abused. A vanguard, in the classic Marxist understanding, is simply an advanced section of the working class – advanced in terms of politics and militancy. For instance, with reference to the Egyptian revolution, you can say that the Mahalla workers are clearly the in the vanguard. They are the most militant workers, and have led the way for other struggles a number of times. This leading section of the working class – the vanguard - may or may not be organised in a political party.

For much of the 20th century, the vanguard of the Australian working class was organised by the Communist Party. This is very different to “vanguardism”. “Vanguardism” has come to refer to the bankrupt, sectarian politics of tiny orthodox Trotskyist sects who proclaim themselves to be the vanguard of the working class. This is elitism, and is a total corruption of Marxism. Neither I nor Socialist Alternative have anything in common with this approach: we do not consider ourselves to be the vanguard of anything much, let alone the Australian working class.

The IWW itself functioned in a manner not unlike the self-proclaimed “vanguard party” that Ben imagines me advocating. The IWW recruited only revolutionary workers and denounced those who hadn’t seen the light of One Big Union. It disdained and scorned activity in the mainstream unions. The idea that it was even possible for the IWW to organise the majority of the working class, as they envisaged, was utopian. So, the IWW was left organising the most revolutionary workers in the name of the whole working class. This blurred the distinction between revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries, tending to cut these workers off from their more reformist comrades.

In other words, the IWW’s politics and practice were effectively a form of sectarian “vanguardism”. This was reflected in a number of the IWW’s positions. Sabotage, while justifiable from an abstract, ethical point of view, is hardly a tactic designed to win over waverers. Their hostility to parliamentary politics, while borne of a healthy hatred of Laborism, (which according to Lenin is the “beginning of all wisdom“) was hardly intended to challenge bourgeois politics in order to win over those with illusions in parliamentarism.

This is not to say that they got everything wrong: my original article spent a long time praising the IWW, especially for their work at Broken Hill and during World War One. And these are just two examples. They had both guts and principles! Moreover, at the time, their mistakes were more understandable. Given the low political level of the Australian workers movement, they represented a step forward.

In many ways, the IWW was grappling with an issue that confronts all revolutionaries: how to relate to the majority of the working class that is not yet revolutionary? The IWW answered this question in a novel way: they attributed the failure of the union movement to challenge capitalism to the structure of the union movement. So they advocated an all new union, with a more democratic, modern, industrial structure, and with revolutionary politics. The problem with this answer is, as I said above, that it tended to reinforce differences between IWW workers and the rest of the working class.

Socialists, on the other hand, believe that revolutionary workers should form a democratic mass party, dedicated to revolutionary principles. We believe that this party should organise within the unions, and engage with the broadest layers of workers possible. This party should fight openly for revolutionary politics in the workplaces, in the streets and in every forum available to us. But, we do not expect to convince people through preaching, nor by pretending that we are the whole working class. We believe that struggle educates, and that in struggle we can prove the worth of revolutionary politics.

So, while upholding our politics, we won’t allow our politics to become a barrier to unity in struggle. Socialist Alternative doesn’t claim to be a revolutionary party, but this is the logic guiding our intervention into political campaigns, such as in the Refugee Action Collective, and the strike support work we do, such as that we are currently doing at the Toll strike in Melbourne. This is a very different logic to that espoused by the historic IWW.

Ben finished his criticism by suggesting, somewhat self-flatteringly, that I was motivated to write my initial talk and article by the “resurgence” of the IWW today. What can I say? I got 99 problems, but the IWW ain’t one. Rather, I believe that revolutionaries can learn a lot by studying the historic IWW. Similarly, we both stand to learn something in a debate – so here’s to hoping that future Wobbly contributions to the debate do more justice to the tradition and bite of the historic IWW.

1Burgmann, Verity. Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia.
Cambridge University press, 1995, p. 43

2Direct Actions 13/5/16, p.5; 15/12/14, p.4, 15/5/15, p.2

3Burgmann, Verity. Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia.
Cambridge University press, 1995, p. 43

4Direct Action 15/11/14, p.3

5Burgmann, Verity. Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia.
Cambridge University press, 1995, p. 274

6Ibid, p.221

Marxism, anarchism, WWI, and the Internationals

One of the most interesting and useful things I learned from reading Enaa's essay is the parallel between the collapse of the Second International and an almost identical development among the anarchist/syndicalist trends with the onset of World War One who explicitly spurned social democracy's reformism and opportunism. For all their revolutionary rhetoric, they too failed to rally against World War One.

This thoroughly undermines the notion that the Second International's collapse had anything to do with reformism and Bernstein's revisionism either in practice or in theory since anarchist/syndicalist practice was nothing like the German Social Democratic Party's (they hated parliament with a passion).

On a related note, I take issue with the view that not only did Lenin in practice create a "party of a new type" in Russia but also "Marxism of a new type," which is the orthodox view among Marxists regarding Lenin's "break" with the Second International in 1914 and creation of the Third International in 1919. This epistemological break was first asserted in the writings of Lukacs and Gramsci in the 1920s but has little or no factual basis. The more time passed, the greater, deeper, and more profound Lenin's "break with social democracy" became, until finally Lars Lih's indisputable contention that Lenin was an orthodox social democrat for his entire political career has led to great controversy among Marxists.

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