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Keeping the Faith: The German Syndicalists in the First World War

  • Wayne Thorpe (a1)
Extract

In December 1918, in its first conference since the outbreak of the Great War, the revolutionary syndicalist Free Association of German Trade Unions (Freie Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften — FVdG) noted that it was the only trade union organization in the country that did not have to readjust its program with the return of peace. The syndicalists were alluding to the fact that theirs had been the only German workers' organization to have adopted an internationalist rather than a patriotic response to the war. The FVdG had neither supported the national cause nor endorsed the Burgfrieden, or civil truce, whereby all factional disputes were to be set aside and all sectoral interests subordinated to the higher interests of the imperiled nation. Its opposition to the war, its refusal to cooperate with the state and the employers, moreover, had made the FVdG a beneficiary of the growing radicalization of German workers. In the immediate postwar period it expanded at a rate six times greater than any other labor organization in the country.

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1. Der Syndikalist, 4 January 1919.

2. Der Pionier, 15 October 1913.

3. The 1914 membership figure is from the FvdG, Protokoll über die Verhandlungen vom 11. Kongress, (Berlin, 1914), 20 (congress proceedings cited hereafter as Protokoll FVdG, with congress year); 1907 figure: Protokoll FVdG 1908 (Berlin, 1908), 24. There has been little published on the syndicalists during the war, but on the pre- and postwar period, see Bock, Hans Manfred, Syndikalismus und Linkskommunismus 1918 bis 1923 (Meisenheim/Glan, 1969); Vogel, Angela, Der deutsche Anarcho-Syndikalismus (Berlin, 1977); Müller, Dirk H., Gewerkschaftliche Versammlungsdemokratie und Arbeiterdelegierte vor 1918 (Berlin, 1985); Rübner, Hartmut, Freiheit und Brot: Die Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands (Berlin, 1994).

4. Der Pionier, 13 May 1914.

5. Jung, Franz, Der Weg nach unten (Neuwied am Rhein, 1961), 96.

6. Die Einigkeit, 8 August 1914.

7. Mitteilungsblatt der Geschäftskommission der Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften (hereafter Mitteilungsblatt), 2 January 1915.

8. Der Pionier, 5 August 1914; Die Einigkeit, 8 August 1914.

9. Dokumente und Materiallen zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (Berlin, 1958), 1:28.

10. Protokoll FVdG 1914, 17–19.

11. Protokoll FVdG 1919 (Berlin, 1920), 19.

12. Rundschreiben an die Vorstände und Mitglieder aller der Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften angeschlossenen Vereine (hereafter Rundschreiben), 16 January, 27 February 1915.

13. Mitteilungsblatt, 15 August 1914.

14. David, cited in Liebknecht, Karl, Klassenkampf gegen den Krieg (Berlin, 1919?), 14; Rundschreiben, 15 June 1915; 1 February, 15 November 1916.

15. See Bieber, Hans-Joachim, Gewerkschaften in Krieg und Revolution: Arbeiterbewegung, Industrie, Staat und Militär 1914–1920 (Hamburg, 1981), 1:7778.

16. See Weber, Hermann et al. , eds., Quellen zur Geschichte der deutschen Gewerkschaftsbewegung im 20. Jahrhundert, vol. 1, ed. Klaus Schönhoven, Die Gewerkschaften in Weltkrieg und Revolution 1914–1919, (Cologne, 1985), 301–2.

17. Mitteilungsblatt, 21 November 1914.

18. Rundschreiben, 1 August 1916; see also Mitteilungsblatt, 21 November 1914.

19. Mitteilungsblatt, 21 November 1914.

20. For example on stereotypes: Mitteilungsblatt, 17 October 1914; on atrocities: Mitteilungsblatt, 31 October 1914; on foreign workers: Rundschreiben, 1 September 1916.

21. Moses, John, Trade Unionism in Germany from Bismarck to Hitler 1869–1933 (Totowa, 1982). 1:177–78.

22. See Bieber, , Gewerkschaften, chaps. 9–10; Feldman, Gerald D., Army, Industry, and Labor in Germany, 1914–1918 (Princeton, 1966), 197249.

23. Metallarbeiter-Zeitung, 25 November 1916.

24. Mitteilungsblatt, 15 August 1914.

25. Correspondenzblatt. 5 September 1914.

26. Mitteilungsblatt, 19 December 1914; Rudschreiben, 1 February 1916.

27. See for example Rundschreiben, 15 June 1915, 1 September 1916, 1 February 1917.

28. Rundschreiben, 15 June 1915.

29. Protokoll FVdG 1914, 21.

30. As of October 1914: Mitteilungsblatt, 27 March 1915.

31. Rundschreiben. 15 November 1916, 1 February 1917; metalworkers: Mitteilungsblatt, 6 February 1915.

32. See for example Rundschreiben, 1 October 1916 (woodworkers); Mitteilungsblatt, 21 November 1914, 20 February 1915 (carpenters); Mitteilungsblatt, 30 January 1915.

33. Some examples of the campaign against collective bargaining: Mitteilungsblatt, 5 June 1915; Rundschreiben, 15 December 1915; 1 October, 15 November 1916.

34. Mitteilungsblatt, 6 March 1915. See also Rundschreiben, 15 February 1917.

35. Carpenters: Rundschreiben, 15 January 1916; construction workers: Mitteilungsblatt, 16 January 1915; tilelayers: Rundschreiben, 1 February 1916; all: Rundschreiben, 1 August 1916.

36. Rübner, , Freiheit und Brot, 33.

37. Geary, Dick, European Labour Protest 1848–1939 (London, 1981), 137.

38. Klaus, Schönhoven, “Die Gewerkschaften als Massenbewegung im Wilhelminischen Kaiserreich 1890 bis 1918,” part II of Klaus Tenfelde, Klaus Schönhoven, et al., Geschichte der deutschen Gewerkschaften von den Anfängen bis 1945 (Cologne, 1987), 274.

39. See Jürgen, Kocka, Klassengesellschaft im Krieg 1914–1918 (Göttingen, 1973), 5557.

40. Schönhoven, , “Die Gewerkschaften als Massenbewegung,” 277.

41. Die neue Zeit, 19 March 1915, 754.

42. Die neue Zeit, 27 August 1915.

43. Quoted in Rundschreiben, 1 June 1916.

44. Mitteilungsblatt, 19 December 1914.

45. Mitteilungsblatt, 24 April 1915.

46. Vorwärts, 9 January 1917; Rundschreiben, 15 March 1917.

47. Mitteilungsblatt, 21 November 1914.

48. Mitteilungsblatt, 19 September 1914.

49. Sombart, Werner, Händler und Helden (Munich, 1915), 94 (Rundschreiben, 15 July 1916, notes Sombart's book): Oerter: Mitteilungsblatt, 16 January 1915.

50. See “Nation,” Mitteilungsblatt, 15 May 1915. See also Rundschreiben, 1 May 1917.

51. Mitteilungsblatt, 5 June 1915; see also Rundschreiben, 15 September 1915.

52. Mitteilungsblatt 5 June 1915.

53. Mitteilungsblatt, 21 November 1914.

54. Friedeberg, , Parlamentarismus und Generalstreik (Berlin, 1904), 25. Friedeberg reiterated his views in a series of articles in Die Einigkeit, 16 September–7 October 1905. On Friedeberg's influence on the FVdG, see especially Müller, , Gewerkschaftliche Versammhungsdemokratie. 173–82; also Rübner, , Freiheit und Brot, 2830; Vogel, , Der deutsche Anarcho-Syndikalismus, 5758.

55. Mitteilungsblatt, 21 November 1914.

56. Ibid.

57. Of many examples, see on Vandervelde, , Mitteilungsblatt, 12 September 1914; on Legien, , Rundschreiben, 13 February 1917. But the syndicalists also noted those Social Democrats, in the Russian Duma (Mitteilungsblatt, 31 October 1914) and in the Italian Socialist Party (Rundschreiben, 1 May 1917), who declined to support their government's war effort.

58. Mitteilungsblatt, 10 October 1914.

59. On the CGT response to war see Becker, Jean-Jacques, 1914: Comment les français sont entrés dans la guerre (Paris, 1977); Kriegel, Annie and Jean-Jacques, Becker, 1914: La guerre et le mouvement ouvrier français (Paris, 1964), 6374 ff.; on Parisian workers and war, see Robert, Jean-Louis, Les ouvriers, la patrie et la révolution: Paris 1914–1919 (Paris, 1995).

60. Mitteilungsblatt, 10 October 1914.

61. On the split in the USI, see Bertrand, Charles, “Italian Revolutionary Syndicalism and the Crisis of Intervention: August-December 1914,” Canadian Journal of History 10 (12 1975): 349–67. From the sidelines of a divided international anarchist movement, moreover, the FVdG applauded those, notably the Italian Errico Malatesta, who rejected the interventionism urged by Europe's preeminent anarchist, Peter Kropotkin. See Freedom [London], October, November 1914; Mitteilungsblatt, 20 February 1915; Rundschreiben, 1 May 1917.

62. Brendel, : Rundschreiben, 1 May 1917; “Cyclop”: Rundschreiben, 15 April 1917.

63. Haenisch, , Krieg und Sozialdemokratie (Hamburg, 1915), 9, 11.

64. Mitteilungsblatt, 9 January 1915.

65. Mitteilungsblatt, 6 March 1915; Rundschreiben, 1 January, 15 February, 1917.

66. Rundschreiben, 15 November 1915; 15 February 1917.

67. See for example Syndikalisten (Stockholm), 18 October 1913; La Protesta (Buenos Aires), 5 November 1913; Solidaridad Obrera (Barcelona), 16 October 1913; De Arbeid (Amsterdam), 13 October 1913.

68. Die Einigkeit, 18 October 1913; 25 July 1914.

69. Rundschreiben 15 October 1915.

70. De Arbeid, 15 December 1915; 1 January, 6 February 1916; Rundschreiben 15 March 1916.

71. Rundschreiben, 1 October 1916.

72. Kater, to Meledandri, E., Guerra di classe (Milan), 21 10 1916.

73. De Arbeid, 20 January 1917; Rundschreiben, 1, 15 February 1917. Cyclop: Rundschreiben, 15 March 1917.

74. See the annual reports of the NAS: Jaarverslagen 1916 en 1917, 60, 63; Jaarverslagen over 1918 en 1919, 74.

75. Figures for social democratic, liberal, and Christian trade unions adapted from Moses, Trade Unionism in Germany. 1:211; figures for syndicalists adapted from Manfred Bock, Hans, “Anarchosyndicalism in the German Labour Movement: A Rediscovered Minority Tradition,” in Revolutionary Syndicalism: An international Perspective, ed. Marcel van der, Linden and Thorpe, Wayne (Aldershot, 1990), 61, 68.

76. Bock, . “Anarchosyndicalism” 6263. Bock puts the postwar apex of FAUD membership at 111, 675 in 1919, Rübner (Freiheit und Brot, 22) at 150.000 in 1921.

77. Figures calculated from Bock, . “Anarchosyndicalism,” 68. For a brief account of the FVdG/FAUD in the immediate postwar period, see Ibid., 63–79; Rübner, 33–45: and Kater's remarks at the 1919 congress, Protokoll FVdG 1919, 21–23.

78. Wienand, Peter. Der ‘geborene’ Rebell. Rudolf Rocker Leben und Werk (Berlin. 1981). 295–96.

79. Der Syndikalist. 4 January 1919. For the Dutch appeal, see NAS to the Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (SAC, the Swedish syndicalist labor organization), 23 November 1918. SAC Archive. Serie EXIII–I, 1918–1930, Arbetarrörelsens Arkiv, Stockholm.

80. See the NAS-SAC correspondence. 24 June to 20 November 1919, SAC Archive, EXIII–l; Diego Abad de Santillan. “La Asociacion Internacional de los Trabajadores: su historia, sus ideas, su porvenir.” La Revista Internacional Anarquista, 15 January 1925.

81. Die internationale Gewerkschaftsbewegung: Organ des internationalen Gewerkschaftsbundes, July 1921, 29, 54–55.

82. Bericht über die Internationale Syndikalistische Konferenz gehalten zu Berlin vom 16. bis 20. Dezember 1920 (Amsterdam, 1921); Der Syndikalist, no. 51/52 (1920); De Arbeid, 1 January 1921; La vie ouvrière (Paris). 14 January 1921.

83. On the 1920 and 1922 Berlin gatherings, see Thorpe, Wayne. “The Workers Themselves”: Revolutionary Syndicalism and International Labour, 1913–1923 (Dordrecht, 1989), 149–60, 244–56.

84. Syndicalist resistance continued after 1933. Nearly ninety syndicalists appeared in a Ruhr court in 1938. for example, charged with acts “preparatory to the commission of high treason,” and as late as 1940 FAUD members were smuggling endangered dissidents over the Dutch border. Bock, “Anarchosyndicalism,” 75. See also, Klan, Ulrich and Nelles, Dieter. Es lebt noch eine Flamme: Rheinische Anarcho-Syndikalisten/-innen in der Weimarer Republik und im Faschismus (Grafenau-Döffingen. 1986); Theissen, R. et al. , Der Anarcho-Syndikalistische Widerstand an Rhein und Ruhr (Meppens-Ems, 1980). On exiled German syndicalists in the Spanish Civil War, see Souchy, Augustin. Anarcho-Syndikalisten über Bürgerkrieg und Revolution in Spanien (Darmstadt, 1969); Degen, Hans Jürgen and Ahreus, Helmut, eds., Wir sind es leid, die Ketten zu tragen …: Antifaschisten im Spanischen Bürgerkrieg (Berlin, 1979).

85. Moses, , Trade Unionism in Germany, 1:190. This criticism of the Free Union leaders did not come only from “Marxist-Leninist critics” looking back on August 1914, as Moses suggests, but from contemporary German syndicalists.

86. van der Linden, Marcel, “The National Integration of European Working Classes (1871–1914): Exploring the Causal Configuration,” International Review of Social History 33 (1988): 285311.

87. The French CGT, which had no social democratic trade union rival, and in which revolutionaries and reformists mingled, supported the war, although even within it an antiwar minority soon emerged.

88. See Roth, Guenther. The Social Democrats in Imperial Germany: A Study in Working-Class Isolation and National Integration (Totowa, 1963); Groh, Dieter, Negative Integration und revolutionärer Atteutismus: Die deutsche Sozialdemokratie am Vorabend des Ersten Weltkrieges (Frankfurt am Main, 1973): Lidtke, Vernon, The Alternative Culture: Socialist Labor in Imperial Germany (Oxford, 1985).

89. There are, to my knowledge, no specific studies of syndicalist associational life in wartime such as Rübner (Freiheit und Brot) provides for the Weimar period.

90. Die Einigkeit, 25 July 1914.

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