Anarchism and syndicalism - Edouard Berth

Anarchism and syndicalism - Edouard Berth

Édouard Berth’s "Anarchism and Syndicalism" (1908) is a remarkable document in the history of revolutionary syndicalism, with its productivism, its emphasis on syndicalism’s mission to “prevent social decline and to save civilization”, its straw-man anarchism, lampooned as solipsism, its praise for the capitalist discipline of the factory and its scorn for the lazy savage and for sybaritic, “rootless cosmopolitans”, peace-loving businessmen and effete intellectuals and their libertinism derived from atomistic and anti-social 18th century bourgeois ideals of freedom, its paean to war and its manifest contempt for the “chatterbox citizen” of “political democracy” and a liberal education.

Anarchism and Syndicalism – Edouard Berth

Socialism, i.e., revolutionary syndicalism, is a philosophy of the producers. It conceives society in accordance with the model of a progressive workshop without employers; in its view, everything that does not play a role in this workshop must disappear. Therefore, the first thing that must disappear is the State, which is the most outstanding representative of non-productive, parasitic Society. One could say that for socialism, what is most important is the categorical imperative of production. A form of production that is constantly being improved; such is the goal it pursues and the fundamental postulate of its philosophy of life. In this respect it exhibits the same spirit as capitalism, and this is a result of the fact that syndicalism is the legitimate offspring of capitalism: from capitalism it will inherit this progressive workshop and that love of an increasingly more advanced and comprehensive capacity for production. Everyone knows the apology for capitalism set forth by Marx in The Communist Manifesto; and it has often been observed that the Manchester School and the Marxists are in basic agreement regarding the essential trend of economic development; for one could say that these two schools have professed the same horror for protectionism, statism and anything that could present an obstacle for that high level of productivity which is their shared ideal. Thus, while Marxism is the theory that is most appropriate for a truly revolutionary workers movement, that is, it is the theory which represents the most economical, most advanced and most accelerated pace of development of modern production, the Manchester School is for its part the theory that conforms most closely to the most highly developed forms of capitalism.

But if syndicalism considers itself to be the heir of capitalism, upon what premises are its hopes for a possible transition from the capitalist workshop to the socialist workshop based, and what features distinguish the capitalist workshop from the socialist workshop? The capitalist workshop may be defined and characterized briefly by the words, forced cooperation, based on coercion, while the socialist workshop can be characterized by saying that it will be free cooperation. The transition from one to the other is the transition from a regime of coercion to a regime of freedom, the famous leap from necessity to freedom that is mentioned in The Communist Manifesto. The question that arises is thus to understand how such a leap will be possible and upon what premises the hopes for such a challenging and profound transformation are based. Syndicalism responds that this transformation is already prepared by capitalism itself; that within the very entrails of capitalism there is an developmental process underway that is causing it to evolve from its commercial and usurious form into increasingly more industrial forms; that in the most modern industrial plant, it is in the process of replacing at an ever increasing pace the discipline of mindless labor, which recalls more or less that which takes place in a workhouse and demands a totally passive form of obedience, with another more voluntary kind of labor, which is based on the sense of duty; a discipline that is therefore not external to the workers, but internal; and that this evolution may be summed up by saying that the requirements of technical skill are assuming more and more predominance over those of command and hierarchy and that there is a growing degree of autonomy manifested by labor with regard to authority, production with regard to the State, and economics with regard to politics. Syndicalism is nothing but the transition to the culminating point of this evolution; this workshop without employers will not be created overnight, any more than it can be just taken as it is from the hands of the capitalists; to the ineluctable process of capitalist economic development, we must add only a process based on conscious participation, by means of which the workers will prepare themselves to accept their inheritance. For, according to syndicalism, it is only by fighting hand to hand with capitalism that the working class can be trained, and only in this way can it emerge from its passivity and become active and acquire all the necessary qualities for its self-rule, without tutelage, over the great progressive workshop that capitalism has created and must bequeath to it.

In any event, syndicalism does not concern itself, as can be seen, with an abstract opposition between authority and freedom, or between the State and the individual: it is exclusively concerned with a real evolutionary process, one that is engendering an increasingly acute opposition between the demands of a constantly improved system of production and a coercive system of organization, an organizational form that rests on the principles of hierarchical authority. And it is so evident that there is no question, for syndicalism, of an abstract opposition between authority and freedom that it expressly acknowledges that authority has been necessary until now, that it has been the spur thanks to which civilization has been able to advance and extract from human labor all the marvels that it has produced and that, as Hegel said, obedience is the school of command. The recognition that syndicalism grants to capitalism is not just limited to the material wealth the latter has created, but also and even more importantly to the moral and spiritual transformations it has impressed upon the working class masses, who, thanks to its iron discipline, have left their primitive laziness and their individualist anarchism behind them in order to take part in an increasingly more highly advanced form of collective labor. Syndicalism unequivocally acknowledges that civilization began and had to begin under conditions of coercion, and that this coercion was salutary, beneficial and creative, and that if it is possible to hope for a regime of freedom, without entrepreneurial or State guardianship, then this possibility only exists by virtue of that same coercive regime that has disciplined humanity, gradually rendering it capable of participating in free and voluntary labor.

But is there anything more remote from these syndicalist points of view than the anarchist perspective? It could be said that, in opposition to this coercive regime, anarchism has stood for a permanent protest, it has endlessly denounced the civilization that requires such efforts in order to deliver so little happiness, and that this anarchist protest and denunciation originate in the revolt of the lazy individual, the primitive savage, the man in a state of nature who rebels against an iron-fisted regime that seeks to force him to submit to the discipline of work and to leave behind his primitive leisure, inactivity and freedom. One may analyze the writings of all the anarchist authors; one will find this same hatred of civilization, understood as a coercive regime, as a system of discipline that compels man to work, to follow some other inclination than that of nature, creating what are in their view barbarous institutions, because all of them demand an effort from man in order to tame his instincts, his passions and his innate laziness.

Read Rousseau, for instance; his vagrant humor, his love of independence (an entirely natural independence), his misanthropy, and the horror that society inspires in him, are well known. Man, he proclaims, is naturally good, at the moment that he leaves the hands of his Creator; it is civilization that causes him to be depraved. All of anarchist thought is already contained here; a naïve optimism, an ingenuous belief in man’s good instincts, the idea that one can leave human nature alone and allow it to be abandoned to its instincts, that all social institutions have done nothing but corrupt it, and that, in order to return men to their state of primitive goodness, it is necessary to unburden them of that whole collection of demoralizing institutions that go by the name of family, property and State; marriage must be replaced by free unions; property by each person taking what he wants; the State by each person doing what is advantageous for him.

It has often been observed that the anarchists come from artisanal, peasant or aristocratic backgrounds. Rousseau clearly represents the artisanal anarchism; his Republic is a small Republic of free and independent artisans that can only be conceived on such an economic basis. In Proudhon, his individualist anarchism—we must point out that there is more to his ideas than just this aspect, which we shall presently see—is indisputably of a peasant origin; Proudhon is a peasant at heart and it is unfair to call him petit-bourgeois. And if, finally, we consider Tolstoy, we discover in his works an anarchism of an elite or aristocratic stamp. Tolstoy is a weary aristocrat, displeased with civilization, because he had his fill of its enjoyments, which led him to experience the stoical and peace-loving emotions of a primitive nature; to him, all of civilization seemed to be without any meaning, a monstrosity that only creates poverty and crime, which gives birth to war, violence, and cruel hatreds, when the only reality is love. Tolstoy’s thought is verily the thought of a primitive, of a world-weary person who, in an entirely natural reaction, returns to the simplistic thought of primitive man. The jaded spectator of a spectacle that he has seen too many times, he seeks happiness and the meaning of life in every discipline, in science, in philosophy, in civilization as a whole; and it is a simple muzhik who is the only one who responds in a way that he finds valid: To live is to love, to have simple pleasures, to lead a peaceful and God-fearing life. Here we can observe a case of mental regression, a kind of intellectual degeneration that reflects fatigue and exhaustion, natural in an aristocrat; the denizens of high society live in a fictitious world, distant from the real world, alien to all real creation and all productive activity; gamblers, who soon grow tired of their way of life, soon long for a kind of state of nature, the way a sick person looks forward to recover his health in the countryside.

Regardless, however, of whether anarchism is derived from an artisanal, peasant or aristocratic origin, it is always a protest against capitalist civilization, which is considered to be a barbarous and monstrous regime of violence and oppression. And the nature of this protest consists in its purely negative and even reactionary character; it is the protest of the classes on the fringe of capitalism, for whom capitalism has disrupted their way of life, done away with their customs, and constituted an insult to their deepest and most traditional feelings. The syndicalist protest is very different. Syndicalism, as we have pointed out, considers itself to be the direct heir of capitalism and admires the latter’s creative abilities; far from harboring towards it that feeling of revulsion that a savage experiences (I employ this term, savage, as a synonym for solitary, for an individual for whom, given his way of life, there is no social life, so that according to this definition an artisan, a peasant and even a worldly gentleman are savages, because society is a coordination of efforts that are mutually reinforced by the efforts of various individuals, and not just a juxtaposition of egoisms in search of pleasure), syndicalism considers capitalism to be a marvelous wizard who knew how, thanks to audacity combined with individual initiative and cooperation, to conjure all the infinite human productive forces and make them emerge from the depths of social labor, where they had previously slumbered. But it also thinks that the historical role of capitalism, which has awakened the social genie from its sleep, which has rescued the worker from his isolation, and which has subjected men to collective labor, has now come to an end; the workers, now that they have been constituted as production groups and after they have acquired over the course of their long struggles against their employers the spirit of audacity and initiative along with the taste for free association, can carry on with the mission of capitalism without any more need of its tutelage or its compulsion. There is a transfusion of the spirit of initiative and responsibility from the contemporary private manager of an enterprise to the body of the productive group; and at the same time, the power of the workers collective, now its own master, is no longer recruited or alienated for the benefit of just one person.

But it is precisely this social character of freedom that is denied by anarchism; and one can justly say that, in a certain sense, anarchism is nothing but an exaggerated form of bourgeois ideology. Nor are we referring here to anarchism in its early anti-capitalist form, if one can call it that, but to its ultra-capitalist form. This is expressed, above all, in Stirner’s book, The Ego and Its Own. We have said that bourgeois society is divided into two poles: on the one side, individuals, free competitors on a free market; on the other side, the State, administrative centralization. Let us assume that this historical passage has reached the extreme to which we have referred; let us assume that civil society has rid itself of the State, and that all that remains is the individual, the ego and its own. In The Jewish Question, Marx, discussing the rights of man, says that these rights are the rights of the egoist man, because man is considered as an isolated monad, because each man sees in his neighbor not the realization but the limitation of his personal freedom, and because these rights do not extend beyond the individual man, barricaded behind his particular interests and his personal whims, separated from the life and activity of the community. Compared to this egoist man, the member of civil society, the political man is nothing but an artificial man, an abstract man, an allegorical personage. And Marx goes on to quote the following important words of Rousseau: “He who dares to undertake the making of a people's institutions ought to feel himself capable, so to speak, of changing human nature, of transforming each individual, who is by himself a complete and solitary whole, into part of a greater whole from which he in a manner receives his life and being; of altering man's constitution for the purpose of strengthening it; and of substituting a partial and moral existence for the physical and independent existence nature has conferred on us all. He must, in a word, take away from man his own resources and give him instead new ones alien to him, and incapable of being made use of without the help of other men” (The Social Contract).

Stirner’s anarchist is simply the egoist man of civil society, who rejects all the abstract and artificial superstructure of political society, and who does not want to have anything to do with that abstract man, that allegorical personage, as Marx called him, known as the citizen. And it should be pointed out that, in the practical sense, anarchism is reduced to not using the right to vote, or not carrying out the duties of the citizen, and rejecting any participation in the abstract life of democratic society. It is well known that the whole metaphysical system of Stirner is based on the negation of the ideas—which are, according to him, chimeras—which confiscate individual freedom and whose despotic and fabulous rule must be overthrown. Stirner claimed to represent the opposition to Hegel; his book is particularly intended to be an attack on the absolute idealism that is for him synonymous with absolute despotism, and he is undoubtedly at least partly correct: did Hegel not make the State the actualization of the Idea? Marxism, however, as everyone knows, reacted no less violently than Stirner against such a divinization of the State; but whereas Stirner, from an extreme simplicity, was content, in order to free the individual, with a pure and simple rejection of the abstract superstructure of political society so as to preserve nothing but the egoist individual of civil society, Marx, who was just as aware as Stirner was of the abstract character of political life, employs a much more concrete and positive procedure to simultaneously overcome both the particularist character of bourgeois civil society and the abstract character of political society, which are resolved into the trade union society. Political emancipation—as Marx wrote in The Jewish Question—is the reduction of man to a member of bourgeois society or the egoistic and independent individual, on the one hand; and, on the other, to a political citizen, a moral and allegorical personage. Therefore, true human emancipation will only be achieved when the real individual man, by reabsorbing the abstract citizen, will be transformed into a social being, in his everyday life, in his work, in his individual affairs; when man, consciously and thoroughly organizing his own powers as social powers, will no longer be separated from social power in the form of political power.

This is the Marxist solution: we need not belabor the fact that it is also the syndicalist solution. The latter rejects the political abstraction, which was considered by Marx, as well as by Stirner, as oppressive; but while Stirner rejected this oppression only to retreat to the palpable particularity of civil society and only becomes free of the yoke of abstract thought by falling prey to pure and simple empiricism, Marx was able to simultaneously supersede both concrete particularity and abstract universality in order to discover the concrete universal; and this concrete universal is precisely the life of the trade unions, in which social forces, without allowing themselves to be either absorbed or transformed by political forces, organize autonomously and freely, where man becomes a social being in his everyday existence, in his individual efforts: the abstract citizen of the political city is reabsorbed and the egoist man of civil society is transformed into the multifaceted and concrete personality of the social trade union worker, in the working class collectivity which, master of the workshop, scientifically and politically qualified, eliminates by way of absorption (aufheben, an untranslatable German term) every kind of parasite, the State such as it exists and Hegel’s thinking State. This also amounts to the end of those ideologies whose chimeras Stirner sought to dispel, as well as that civil anarchy into which his individualism is completely submerged.

But anarchist metaphysics is incapable of understanding this Marxist and syndicalist revolution because, in its view, society does not have an independent existence and is only manifested as a restriction, an abstract repression of individual independence. The metaphysics for which society is nothing but a juxtaposition of individual units is a monadological or atomistic metaphysics; for such a metaphysics, only the individual is real; everything else is only a fantasy, a chimera or an illusion. Anarchism transforms the individual into an absolute, incapable of joining any social combination without having a sense of being arbitrarily oppressed and stifled, and if we recall the economic origins of anarchism—artisanal, agricultural or aristocratic—this is just how anarchism had to conceive of the individual and his relations with society. Socialism has a completely different conception, and in its view society does not mean the arbitrary juxtaposition or sum of individuals who are absolutes and do not join a system of that kind without simultaneously experiencing a mutual restriction and diminution, but rather the contrary, it views society as a system of cooperation in which the cumulative efforts of all its members multiply in such a way that for the individual there is not loss, but a net gain, from his participation in these efforts, because solitude is equivalent to impotence, poverty, and disability, while association means power, wealth and capabilities that are multiplied a thousand-fold; in a word, for socialism, society is the true reality, and the individual is nothing, so to speak, but an abstraction, that is, a part; social existence possesses a reality of which the individual is only one aspect, one phenomenon—which is just what anarchism denies, and instead posits the individual as the only reality.

No one has expounded this theory of the reality of the social being as magnificently as Proudhon, the so-called father of anarchism. Proudhon, of course—according to Marx and Engels—was nothing but a preposterous petit bourgeois who hated association from the bottom of his heart. Nonetheless, this petit bourgeois, this man who hated association, this anarchist, has admirably described the reality of social existence; if you have any doubt of this, just read his Justice in the Revolution and the Church, or his Philosophy of Progress: in these works you will find a theory of collective power and a presentation of a metaphysical doctrine of existence, essentially conceived in the form of the group. More generally, it would not be futile, to cap off this study of anarchism and syndicalism, to take a look at Proudhonian anarchism. We shall see that this alleged anarchism is actually what we call syndicalism. Not exactly, of course, but with regard to its spirit and its most typical tendency. Yes, it is true: Proudhon is, along with Marx, the most authentic theoretical precursor of revolutionary syndicalism; and after demonstrating why his thought has almost nothing in common with traditional anarchism and instead approximates syndicalism, we shall then proceed, in an eminently useful manner, in our opinion, to show how anarchism differs from syndicalism. We shall start by examining this essential theory of the reality of social existence; then we shall see how Proudhon’s ideas about those social institutions that go by the names of the family, the State, and property, or concerning those social realities known as love, war and production, are a thousand miles from anarchist ideas.

We shall therefore introduce a few decisive quotations into the debate. In his admirable First Letter on Progress, we read: “With the idea of movement or progress, all these systems, founded on the categories of substance, causality, subject, object, spirit, matter, etc., fall, or rather explain themselves away, never to reappear again. The notion of being can no longer be sought in an invisible something, whether spirit, body, atom, monad, or what-have-you. It ceases to be simplistic and become synthetic: it is no longer the conception, the fiction of an indivisible, unmodifiable, intransmutable (etc.) je ne sais quoi: intelligence, which first posits a synthesis, before attacking it by analysis, admits nothing of the sort a priori. It knows what substance and force are, in themselves; it does not take its elements for realities, since, by the law of the constitution of the mind, the reality disappears, while it seeks to resolve it into its elements. All that reason knows and affirms is that the being, as well as the idea, is a GROUP…. Everything that exists is grouped; everything that forms a group is one. Consequently, it is perceptible, and, consequently, it is. The more numerous and varied the elements and relations which combine in the formation of the group, the more centralizing power will be found there, and the more reality the being will obtain. Apart from the group there are only abstractions and phantoms…. It is following that conception of being in general, and in particular of the human self, that I believe it possible to prove the positive reality, and up to a certain point to demonstrate the ideas (the laws) of the social self or humanitary group, and to ascertain and show, above and beyond our individual existence, the existence of a superior individuality of the collective man…. According to some, society is the juxtaposition of similar individuals, each sacrificing a part of their liberty, so as to be able, without harming one another, to remain juxtaposed, and live side by side in peace. Such is the theory of Rousseau: it is the system of governmental arbitrariness, not, it is true, as that arbitrariness is the deed of a prince or tyrant, but, what is much more serious, in that it is the deed of the multitude, the product of universal suffrage. Depending on whether it suits the multitude, or those who prompt it, to tighten more or less the social ties, to give more or less development to local and individual liberties, the alleged Social Contract can go from the direct and fragmented government of the people all the way to caesarism, from relations of simple proximity to the community of goods and gains, women and children. All that history and the imagination can suggest of extreme license and extreme servitude is deduced with an ease and logical rigor equal to the societary theory of Rousseau.”

“According to others, and these despite their scientific appearance seem to me hardly more advanced, society, the moral person, reasoning being, pure fiction, is only the development, among the masses, of the phenomena of individual organization, so that knowledge of the individual gives immediately knowledge of society, and politics resolves itself into physiology and hygiene. But what is social hygiene? It is apparently, for each member of society, a liberal education, a varied instruction, a lucrative function, a moderate labor, a comfortable regime: now, the question is precisely how to procure for ourselves all of that!”

“For me, following the notions of movement, progress, series and group, of which ontology is compelled from now on to take account, and the various findings that economics and history furnish on the question, I regard society, the human group, as a being sui generis, constituted by the fluid relations and economic solidarity of all the individuals, of the nation, of the locality or corporation, or of the entire species; which individuals circulate freely among one another, approaching one another, joining together, dispersing in turn in all directions; — a being which has its own functions, alien to our individuality, its own ideas which it communicates to us, its judgments which do not at all resemble ours, its will in diametrical opposition with our instincts, its life, which is not that of the animal or the plant, although it finds analogies there; — a being, finally, who, starting from nature, seems the God of nature, the powers and laws of which it expresses to a superior (supernatural) degree.”

Please forgive the length of these quotations, but they are needed to set the record straight concerning so many prejudices about Proudhon, which so often take the form of a cavalier dismissal of him as an anarchist or petit bourgeois. And I dare to ask anyone who carefully reads this magnificent depiction of the reality of social existence whether it is possible to define Proudhon as an anarchist. Here we touch upon the heart of the matter; here we see the profound difference between the socialist philosophy and the anarchist metaphysics displayed in all its splendor. The basis of all anarchism is, as we have seen, the individual, the ego, considered as a simple thing, as an absolute, as a kind of monad which, following Leibniz, has neither doors nor windows connecting it to the outside, and which, as a result, is incommensurable and unsociable by its very nature. Upon such a basis there is no need to say that it is utterly impossible to undertake any reconstruction of society and the idea of the social, because its starting point is the radical denial of such a possibility, and it would be just as absurd to seek to rebuild society using unsociable and isolated units as it would be chimerical to expect to set unmovable objects in motion; it is first necessary to consider the movement, and to insert oneself in it; then one may conceive of stasis as a kind of arrested development. Likewise, one must take society into consideration, insert oneself into it, and then conceive of the individual as a kind of paralysis. The individual in society, like stasis within movement, are nothing but provisional and temporarily useful abstractions; to construct these abstractions as realities, to transform them into the only realities, is to radically turn your back on life and truth, it is to collapse and lose oneself in the simplistic idea of a false abstract rationalism. This is, however, the essential error of anarchist metaphysics, an error in which socialism is not implicated, and to which Proudhon did not succumb, who, as we just saw, begins by establishing, above all else, the reality of social existence. Socialism gives its primary consideration to society; its starting point is not the individual who is set in abstract opposition to society, but the workshop, the social laborer.

Plekhanov, at the end of his study, Anarchism and Socialism, asserts that in the final accounting the anarchists are nothing but decadent bourgeois. But what does decadent mean in this context? What feature indicates that a society is in decline? Is it not precisely the fact that the social idea loses all of its meaning and the individual is raised to the highest level and is abstractly proclaimed as the final and absolute end, and by means of his formidable egocentrism everything is reduced to the individual? The individual isolated in his private enjoyment: this is the cardinal feature of all decadence. And this enjoyment can take the most varied forms, the most spiritual as well as the most material; egocentrism can call itself art for art’s sake or assume another disguise, more subtle and moralistic: humanitarianism; it can be epicurean or stoic, Christian or pagan, it can invoke Conscience, Science, Freedom or Beauty, but it is always, in the final analysis, the denial of the social idea, the refusal on the part of the individual to devote himself to any collective effort of any kind. It hardly matters that this refusal is concealed under moral, idealist or even humanitarian reasons: for egoism, the love of humanity and the religion of suffering are very comfortable garments and more pleasing than any others. And one of the most profound theses of Proudhon’s moral philosophy is that idealism leads to corruption and that the ideal is itself the origin of evil. What is an ideal? Any ideal whatsoever. It is an aspect of reality, separated from reality and raised to the status of an absolute; it is what Proudhon calls a speculative simplicity—substance, cause, monad, atom, mind or matter—which replaces the essentially synthetic idea of existence. Reality is mobile, it is movement or progress; but the idealist attempts to replace this fluid reality with something immutable, his ideal, and to freeze the whole flow of things into the boundaries of this ideal; it withdraws from movement, it establishes an alleged superior vantage point, and from there it seeks to govern, that is, stabilize and arrest life. Idealism is doomed to end up, then, in immobilism, in stasis, that is, in corruption and decadence; for if, as Proudhon also puts it most admirably, movement is the natural state of matter, then justice is the natural state of humanity. Therefore, justice is nothing but movement in society; it is humanity in a dynamic and progressive state, humanity fighting or producing, whose powers tend towards a continuous adaptation to an always changing reality; corruption or decadence is, on the other hand, the attempt to immobilize oneself in enjoyment outside the social movement, which is the indefatigable creator of new social forms.

Anarchism is a form of idealism or intellectualism; it consists in the transformation of the idea of freedom into an absolute, and we have already seen how it was the ideal of individuals who belong to classes that seek to resist the movement of capitalism and to freeze conditions so they can preserve the economic status quo, or else of individuals who want to destroy bourgeois society and reduce it to one single element: the particularistic egoism of civil society. Anarchism therefore constitutes a response on the part of the resistance against progress, or it is the dissolution of this progress. Syndicalism, on the other hand, not only has nothing to do with resistance to capitalist progress, but currently is acting to spur it on and drive it forward, and thus preventing it from stopping its forward movement and freezing in place, and looks forward to a future where its own productive potential will grow even more than capitalism’s. Syndicalism therefore represents, from a dual motivation, the movement and the progress of today’s society; it is the new and vigorous power which, embodying the new social ideal, fights to prevent social decline and to save civilization.

The fact that the anarchists only represent bourgeois social decadence emerges with complete clarity if, disregarding for the moment the metaphysical theses concerning the reality or the non-reality of social existence, we examine their way of addressing the question of the family, that primary manifestation and unmediated form of social life. Here, too, we notice the same fundamental incompatibility between Proudhon and anarchism. For everyone knows that anarchism conceives of the sexual partnership as a free, temporary and ephemeral union; and that, as a result, love is reduced to a volatile passion and marriage to a revocable ad libitum contract, a civil contract of the same nature as other contracts, lacking any sacred or religious character. And everyone also knows that, on the other hand, for Proudhon, the sexual union is an irrevocable and indissoluble union; that, for him, love is subordinated to justice by marriage, because the very symbol of justice is the androgynous couple. As you can see, you cannot imagine a more fundamental opposition on such an essential question of such primary significance, a question whose answer will depend entirely on the respondent’s orientation with regard to social morality. Anarchism, then, puts its denial of the social idea into practice; the idea of freedom, raised to the status of an absolute by anarchism, dissolves the family; nothing remains but the individual with his ephemeral passions and his disordered romanticism. And who would dare to deny that this is a frantic and decadent bourgeoisism? It will be objected that Proudhon’s ideas about marriage are ultra-reactionary ideas and that both the socialists and the anarchists have adopted, with regard to this issue, the extravagant ideas of Fourier. In any event, this is not to the credit of socialism, which in regard to this as to so many other questions has deplorably followed in the footsteps of the bourgeois tradition rather than the working class tradition and has sought to inoculate—as Jaurés said—the emerging proletariat with the corruption of the moribund bourgeoisie.

But now let us examine the ideas of Proudhon and the anarchists, respectively, on a no less crucial issue: war. Everyone is familiar with the anarchist abhorrence for war and militarism, as well as the magnificent praise Proudhon bestows upon war in his book, War and Peace. Never before was such a brilliant and exalted panegyric pronounced; you would have to go all the way back to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus to find its equal. We shall not discuss Hegel, because Proudhonian thought displays in this context such obvious evidence of its Hegelian origin that we may dispense with any further mention of this. Is it not significant, by the way, that the two great socialist philosophers, the two great theoreticians of the class struggle—Marx and Proudhon—are Hegelians, in the broadest sense of the word? But what is the main idea of War and Peace? That since conflict is the fundamental law of the universe, peace, if it is ever possible, must be conceived otherwise than as a negation of war; that peace will be nothing but a transformation of war, a new form of that eternal conflict which is the law of the world, both the social world as well as the natural world: that the tranquil and pacifist peace, the universal embrace that all our decadent bourgeoisie, our parliamentary socialists and our humanitarian anarchists dream of, is impossible or, even if it were possible, it would for mankind be synonymous with stagnation, with immobility, with a complete relaxation of the nervous system and death. War will disappear some day; Proudhon announces and proclaims the end of the cycle of wars; but this conclusion will only give way to a warlike peace that will demand of men virtues that are no less great or heroic than those demanded by war itself. For industry is also a battlefield, where the combatants must demonstrate no less bravery, no less scorn for pleasure, and no less indifference to death than in the campaigns of real war; in industry, too, victory will go to the bravest, the most energetic, the most bold and the cowardly, the pusillanimous, and the egotistical will be defeated. But industry is superior to war because, while the latter is a pure destruction of forces, the former repairs any harm that it may cause. Listen to Proudhon: “The objective of war is to determine which of two parties to a dispute has the supremacy of force. It is a struggle between forces, not their destruction; a struggle between men, not their extermination. It must abstain, outside of combat and the succeeding political annexation, from any attack on persons or property. Wherever it can be deduced that we accept the law of humanity and of nature as laws of conflict, this conflict does not essentially consist of a fistfight or a hand-to-hand struggle between men. It could also be a struggle for industry and progress which, in the final analysis, given the spirit of the war and the elevated civilized goals that it pursues, amount to the same thing. The Empire goes to the bravest—that is what war says. But Labor, Industry and Economics respond: Maybe; but whence is the bravery of a man, or a nation derived? Is it not from his resourcefulness, his virtue, his character, his science, his industry, his labor, his wealth, his sobriety, his freedom, and his love for his country? Didn’t the Gran Capitán say that in war moral force is to physical force as 3 is to 1? Don’t they teach us, furthermore, about the laws of war and of the honor of gentlemen, that in combat we must maintain our dignity and abstain from any wanton harm, treason, looting and pillage? So we shall fight; we shall attack each other with the bayonet and will shoot at each other…. In these new battles, we shall have to provide the same proofs of resolve, of sacrifice, of scorn for life and pleasure; the dead and wounded will be no less numerous; and all that is cowardly, weak, coarse, everything that is lacking strength and spirit, must expect contempt, misery…. Thus, the transformation of conflict results from its very definition, from its movement, from its law; hence also from its purpose. For conflict does not have the object of pure and simple destruction, an unproductive consumption, extermination for the sake of extermination; its object is the production of an always-higher order, of an endless improvement. In this respect, it must be acknowledged that labor offers conflict a vast and fertile field of operations that is different from the theater of war. We must note, above all, that on this industrial field, the opposed forces wage a struggle that is no less passionate than the one waged on the battlefield; here, too, there is mutual destruction and assimilation. In labor as in war, the raw material of combat, its primary expenditure, is human blood. In a sense that is by no means metaphorical, we live on our own substance and on that of our brothers. But with the enormous difference that, in the industrial struggles, defeat is really inflicted only on those who have not fought at all or who have only done so in a cowardly fashion, so that as a result labor returns to its armies all that it consumes, something that war does not do, which is capable of creating nothing. In labor, production follows destruction; the forces consumed re-arise from their dissolution more energetic than every. The purpose of the conflict, the advantage sought from it, demands that this take place. If anything else were to take place, the world would sink into chaos; a negation of the fact that, thanks to war, the world is not the way it was at the dawn of creation, nothing but atoms and the void: Terra autem erat inanis et vacua” (“Now the world was formless and empty.” Genesis 1:2 [translator’s note]) (Proudhon, War and Peace).

As you can see, the Proudhon’s essential idea is that labor is the replacement for war: the worker replaces the soldier; industrial struggles succeed military campaigns. Already, in his General Idea of the Revolution, Proudhon had written: “In place of public force, we will put collective force. In place of standing armies, we will put industrial associations.” Concerning these industrial associations, he previously said: “Finally appear the workingmen’s associations, regular armies of the revolution, in which the worker, like the soldier in the battalion, manoeuvres with the precision of his machines; in which thousands of wills, intelligent and proud, submit themselves to a superior will, as the hands controlled by them engender, by their concerted action, a collective force greater than even their number”. This constantly recurring parallel drawn between labor and war, between the working class virtues and military virtues, between the industrial associations (today we would call them Syndicates) and the standing armies; is it not curious and suggestive? Revolutionary syndicalism has taken a clear stand against the army, militarism and patriotism; but if we examine the basis of working class anti-militarism, we find something else behind it, ideas and feelings that are different from those of bourgeois anti-militarism. For there is, as everyone knows, a bourgeois anti-militarism, a bourgeois pacifism, and a bourgeois anti-patriotism, that is, a bourgeois cosmopolitanism. The businessmen and the intellectuals—the two essential categories into which the bourgeoisie is divided—have always been distinguished by their pious horror of war; within each bourgeois lives a Panurge and Panurge does not like to receive blows. War is, furthermore, quite expensive and for the businessman, for whom everything is reduced to a question of debit and credit, the resort to the ruinous solution of war seems absurd when there is an opportunity for a diplomatic solution or arbitration, which are so much less burdensome; the bourgeois does not understand honor, a feeling that does not circulate on the market, a value which is not quoted on the Stock Exchange. As for the intellectual, it seems just as absurd to him to fight when it is so easy to reason, and in the market of ideas, where he is a broker, the feeling of honor circulates no more than in the market of financial values; the intellectual is at bottom nothing but a businessman and we cannot ask him to understand the concept of warlike heroism.

But the feelings inspired by war in the businessman and the intellectual are also inspired by the strike. Whenever a strike breaks out, you can read in the bourgeois newspapers reliable statistics which depict the losses suffered by the workers. The strike, like war, appears to our bourgeois to be the very height of stupidity, and our socialists do not know what to do to prevent the workers from indulging in this progressive deterioration, as Jaurés calls it. It would be preferable to accept fair arbitration, even arbitration that is systematic and compulsory! So that reason, law, order and civilization will replace barbarism, anarchy and chaos! Our parliamentary socialists, like good bourgeois, are fervent social pacifists, as well as fervent internationalist pacifists.

The bourgeois does not know what a national or a working class collectivity is, nor can he, without any doubt, understand that the honor of this collectivity is something that is superior to a calculus of profit and loss. The bourgeois is a true individualist anarchist; for him nothing exists except his ego; he is rootless, a cosmopolitan, for whom there are no countries or classes: do not ask him to sacrifice his precious person for anything; he has no social idea, and the words self-abnegation and sacrifice have lost all meaning for him.

Working class anti-militarism is something completely different. This anti-militarism does not originate in an abstract or sentimental horror of war and the army; it originates in the class struggle, it was born in the experience of strikes and trade union struggles, where the worker always faces the army, the guardian of capital and of order, for which reason he has always viewed it as a simple extension of the capitalist workshop and, as a result, as the living symbol of his servitude. Precisely for this reason, however, his anti-militarism is no longer an individual protest against the barracks in the name of more or less abstract principles; nor is it the simple separation of individuals who withdraw from the national collectivity in order to recover an entirely egotistical independence; nor is it mere individual desertion, which can be interpreted as cowardice; it is, rather, the separation of individuals who withdraw from the national collectivity in order to join the workers collectivity and to adopt a new fatherland, to which they pledge themselves forever in body and soul. Working class anti-militarism thus derives its merit and purpose from its close connection with the idea of the class struggle; separate anti-militarism from this idea, and it will be nothing but an expression of individual horror for what the strong spirits call the brutalization of the barracks. The freethinking, democratic, Jacobin, Masonic bourgeois, member of the League of the Rights of Man, is incapable of rising to such a level of thought or feeling: the social idea can only be either military or working class; there are only two noble qualities: that of the sword and that of labor; the bourgeois, the man of business, of banking, of gold and the stock exchange, the tradesman, the intermediary and his colleague the intellectual, who is also an intermediary, all of them strangers to the world of the army as well as to the world of labor, are condemned to an irremediable mediocrity of thought and of spirit.

Anarchist anti-militarism is thus nothing but a derivative of bourgeois anti-militarism. And now, more than ever, we can say that anarchism is only an exasperated bourgeoisism, because this abstract or sentimental revulsion towards the barracks, militarism and war professed by the anarchists, does not arise among them as a result of the class struggle; the anarchists have no idea of class, they only possess the idea of individual rebellion against all servitude and authority, which they present on an abstract and purely ideological terrain and merely take the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and the philosophy of the 18th century to their logical conclusions, with their rejection of the army (as with their rejection of marriage), which proceed from the same atomist, materialist and simplistic metaphysics, by virtue of which they turn their backs on the entire reality of social existence, in order to leave nothing standing but the individual who is naturally good but who is depraved by social institutions, the individual who is born free but is weighted down by civilization with a thousand chains, the individual who comes into the world bursting with happiness but is made wretched by society. War is the clearest and most striking expression of that reality of social existence that Proudhon told us about in such magnificent terms in the passage quoted above. Please allow us to quote him once more: “War is the most profound and sublime phenomenon of our moral life. Nothing else can compare with it: neither the interesting ceremonial of worship, nor the actions of monarchical power, nor the gigantic creations of industry. In the harmonies of nature and humanity, war sounds the most powerful note; its works sweep over the soul like thunder, like the voice of the hurricane. A mixture of genius and boldness, of poetry and passion, of the highest justice and tragic heroism … its majesty dazzles us, and the more we contemplate it, the more our hearts are filled with enthusiasm. War, perceived by a false philosophy and an even falser philanthropy as nothing but a horrible scourge, an outburst of our innate evil and a manifestation of heavenly anger, is the most incorruptible expression of our conscience, the act that confers the most honor on us in the light of creation and Eternity. The idea of war is equivalent to its phenomenology. It is one of those ideas that, from the very first moment of their appearance, absorb all one’s attention, that make us confess, so to speak, with full knowledge and with full feeling, and to which, by virtue of their universality, logic gives the name of categories. For war is both unitary and triune like God, it is the unity in one nature of these three roots: force, the principle of movement and of life, which is found in the ideas of cause, soul, will, freedom and spirit; conflict, action-reaction, the universal law of the world and, like force, one of Kant’s twelve categories; and justice, the sovereign faculty of the soul, the principle of our practical reason, which is manifested in nature by equilibrium. If we pass from the phenomenology and the idea of war to its object, it forfeits none of our admiration. The purpose of war, its role in humanity, consists in encouraging all the human faculties and thus creating, in the center of and above these faculties, law, and making it universal and, with the help of this universalization of law, in defining and forming society” (War and Peace).

Here, when speaking of war, Proudhon uses the language of poetry or mysticism; as if he were dealing with a supernatural phenomenon that gives birth to supernatural events. This stands in total opposition to anarchist philosophy, which, in the final analysis, advocates that we return to the state of nature and rejects anything that obliges man to emerge from this state, imagined as one of perfect bliss. Man is a being that must be surpassed, the philosopher of The Will to Power says, who is mistakenly identified by some people as an anarchist; and man only overcomes his condition, he only becomes a hero, by participating in the great struggles in which the heroic or divine accomplishments of history are embodied. And it is in this aspect that the greatness of war resides, in that it elevates everything to sublime heights and causes man, as Proudhon also said, to rise above himself. War created law; it created the State; it created the citizen; it has defined and molded society, that supernatural being.

And the Revolution does not owe its heroic prestige to the proceedings of Assemblies, or even to International Congresses; it lived in the heart of the people as a military epic for many years, and the wars of the Republic and the Empire provided the raw material for popular poetry throughout the 18th century.

Today it is notorious that revolutionary patriotism is dead; something else has arisen to take its place, a new feeling: the class idea which has replaced the idea of the fatherland, defining the split between the people on the one side and the State and democracy on the other. For with the appearance of revolutionary syndicalism a strange opposition has arisen between democracy and socialism, between the citizen and the producer, an opposition that has assumed its crudest as well as its most abstract form in the resolute rejection of the idea of the fatherland, which is identified with the idea of the State. And the strikes, which are becoming increasingly more powerful, more widespread and more frequent, are revealing to a surprised world the collective power of the workers, who are becoming more class conscious and more self-controlled with each passing day. These strikes are assuming the form of the social phenomenon par excellence; through their abruptness, their audacity, and the marvelous discipline they impose on the army of the workers, they are acquiring increasingly more martial features, and comprise, on the social terrain, a veritable war on another level, and the words that Proudhon pronounced concerning war can also be applied to the strikes. These strikes are what today sound, in the songs of nature and of humanity, the most powerful note; they affect the soul like the sound of thunder and the voice of the hurricane. They combine genius with boldness, poetry and passion, the highest justice and tragic heroism … their majesty dazzles us.

What kind of birth process are we witnessing? In the face of these volcanic tremors that the world of labor is periodically causing modern society to undergo, we see all the disoriented parties, we see all the decomposing ideologies, all the prudent timidity. What is happening? Something that is at once both simple and formidable: labor is proceeding to occupy the first rank, driving out all parasites, from the most obvious and crude to the most subtle and refined; the workshop is coming into its own, making everything that is not a function of labor disappear; all of social life is being rebuilt on the plane of production, becoming, as was previously the case with regard to war’s impact on the ancient city, the cement of the modern city; in short, what is happening is that labor is creating a new civilization, in which life, once labor has reabsorbed all the transcendent intellectual powers into the world of production and thus put an end to the sterile divorce between theory and practice—in which life, I say, will recover its health, unity and balance. “What neither gymnastics, nor politics, nor music, nor philosophy, bringing together their efforts, knew how to do,” Proudhon writes, “Labor will accomplish. As in the ancient ages the initiation to beauty came by way of the gods, so, in a remote posterity, beauty will be revealed anew by the laborer, the true ascetic, and it is from the innumerable forms of industry that it will demand its changing expression, always new and always true. Then, finally, the Logos will be manifested, and the human laborers, more beautiful and more free than ever were the Greeks, without nobles and without slaves, without magistrates and without priests, will form all together, on the cultivated earth, one family of heroes, thinkers and artists….” (The Philosophy of Progress). At the sites of strikes, our new battlefields, the workers are conquering their titles of nobility and are founding a new order, just as it was on the battlefields of Valmy, Jemmapes, and Fleurus that the citizen-soldiers of Year 2 of the First Republic won democracy and the right to exist. But pay close attention; I will once again refer to these very important words of Proudhon: “What neither gymnastics, nor politics, nor music, nor philosophy, bringing together their efforts, knew how to do Labor will accomplish.” A few lines before this passage, Proudhon, discussing Plato, said: “Divine Plato, these gods that you dreamed do not exist. There is nothing in the world greater and more beautiful than man. But man, rising from the hands of nature, is miserable and ugly; he can only become sublime and beautiful through gymnastics, politics, philosophy, music, and especially, something which you hardly appear to doubt, the ascetic” (The Philosophy of Progress). And Proudhon explains, in a footnote, what he means by the ascetic, i.e., industrial labor or work, which were viewed as servile and ignoble among the ancients.

Here we have, marvelously highlighted, the opposition between education understood in the classical manner (the way it has always been understood by ancient or modern democracy), and education as understood in the socialist manner. We shall repeat: socialism is a philosophy of the producers; it reduces society to the level of the workshop, and recognizes no right to existence that is not a direct or indirect function of the workshop. Naturally, education, in its view, must not be oriented to the training of a chatterbox citizen, a dilettante who knows a little about a lot of things, as the operation of political democracy requires, but of a producer who knows his trade inside and out and is capable of participating in the collective labor of a progressive modern workshop, such as would be required by the organization of a system of production that is free of all tutelage and parasitism. It is well known that Proudhon, once again in agreement with Marx and in opposition to anarchism, always conceived of education as intimately bound to the workshop, to productive labor, as he maintains in his The General Idea of the Revolution and The Political Capacity of the Working Classes. Against this idea anarchism advocates, as is well known, the anarchist ideal of integral education, that is, an encyclopedic and therefore superficial, mundane, and bourgeois general education; in this respect, as well, anarchism is undoubtedly nothing but a simple echo of the 18th century, the great bourgeois century, as Sorel has justly called it. Was it not natural, on the other hand, that anarchism, nourished on abstractions, just as foreign to economic preoccupations as democracy itself, and granting reality solely to the individual, the abstract, solitary, monadic individual, who is self-sufficient, was it not natural that anarchism would end up by conceiving of education as a kind of universal mechanical transfer of the totality of human knowledge into the mind of this atom-individual? This is yet another manifestation of the metaphysical simple mindedness of our anarchists. They do not transcend the bourgeois horizon any more than our democrats; which is logical, because if our deputies, our masters, have to know everything, since they have to deal with everything in our stead, the anarchist individual must be possessed of an equally comprehensive knowledge, since he must by himself constitute all of society. With respect to both these approaches, there is a denial of society conceived as free cooperation in which productive activities mutually condition and multiply each other.

As one can see, whether we consider the problem of war or that of production, Proudhon and anarchism are totally incompatible. And because we consider Proudhon to be the most authentic theoretician of the past—alongside Marx—whom syndicalism can invoke as a precursor, I think I have the right to conclude that there are profound differences between anarchism and syndicalism. It is quite obvious, furthermore, that the syndicalists must confront not only the open opposition of Socialism, where the remnants of the old Guesdism are still trying to stammer a few words, but also the opposition of Les Temps Nouveaux, where the remnants of the old anarchism are attempting to resist their increasing absorption into revolutionary syndicalism. But even more importantly: the theoretical pretensions of individuals have only a minimal historical value; men rarely have an exact account of what is taking place before their eyes. Revolutionary syndicalism has arisen, it has grown, it is a social movement whose profundity escapes the narrow perspectives of theoreticians who vainly cling to their old ideas. This is enough; syndicalism can say, adopting the motto Marx cited:

Segui il tuo corso e lascia dir le genti!1

Edouard Berth

Published as “Anarchisme et syndicalisme”, Chapter 2 in Édouard Berth, Nouveaux aspects du Socialisme, M. Rivière, Paris, 1908.

French original available online at:

Translated from the Spanish translation at:

  • 1. “Follow your own road, and let the people talk!” (Dante’s Purgatorio, 5:13; quoted by Marx in his 1867 Preface to Capital) [Translator’s note].


Mar 27 2012 09:45

Thanks very much for translating and posting this up!