The three articles by Tosstorff, Darlington and Morgan in this issue examine syndicalism from its origins in the nineteenth century through its encounter with Bolshevism to its current manifestations. They were originally presented as papers to a one-day conference at the University of Glamorgan in the autumn of 2007. (1)
Reiner Tosstorff's paper is one of the few articles of its kind available in English. It is the product of extensive research in several languages, notably communicating the former secrets of the Soviet archives to readers. Its focus is the discussions held between the Bolsheviks and foreign syndicalist organisations to set up a new, revolutionary communist-dominated Red International of Trade Unions in the aftermath of the 1917 revolution. Of course, this encounter was far from harmonious. What attracted syndicalists to talk to the communists was as compelling as it became problematic: the Bolsheviks had made a successful revolution, sweeping away 'capitalism' (if this is a suitable definition of Russian society) in a seeming 'red dawn'. It comes as no surprise that the discussions between syndicalists, Bolsheviks and their supporters in the West were laden with tensions and disagreement. The fault lines ran along well established grooves, between the Leninist conception of the 'leading role' of the party and political activism as the means to the revolutionary end; and the syndicalists' prioritisation of economic and industrial struggle. Unlike the Bolsheviks, syndicalists were largely opposed to working within the established, social-democratic dominated 'reformist' unions. Yet, as Tosstorff reminds us, we should not forget the significance of disunity between and within the fissiparous syndicalist organisations.
Those breaking off the dialogue with the Bolsheviks at the beginning of the 1920s emphasised syndicalism's anarchist ideological inheritance in a development marking the birth of Anarcho-syndicalism. Yet, even those syndicalists joining ranks with Bolshevism--most famously, Andreu Nin and Alfred Rosmer--were among the first and most vocal opponents of the Bolshevisation and ensuing Stalinisation of international communism. Importantly, this political flirtation reminds us that communism's pre-1917 roots were not only in social democracy, but also in revolutionary syndicalism. In Germany--home to the largest communist movement outside Soviet Russia until the Nazi 'seizure of power' in 1933-the breakaway syndicalist-type Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD) outnumbered the 'official' Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in Berlin, and in several heavy-industrial centres, until its unification with the Independent Socialist Party (USPD)--through the aegis of the Comintern--at the end of 1920.
Internationally, many social democrats and trade unionists visited Russia after the end of the Civil War in 1920 and wrote positively of what they had seen (or, more precisely, what they had been shown). In South Wales, S.O. Davies visited Soviet Russia as a miners' union official in 1920, and was so impressed that he remained more communist in political orientation than Labourite, despite being the long-serving Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil. Indeed, during the early years of the Cold War, he was the only British MP to speak in Parliament in support...