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Rooms C, D, E, F, G and H (H only on Saturday): slide projector (framed slides, carrousel. There are extra carrousels available to set up your presentation in advance)
Rooms C, D, M, N, O, U and Committee Room 2: beamer to connect your laptop. You have to bring you own laptop. (If you want to use your Apple notebook, please contact us, as it may be incompatible.)
Rooms C, T and U: VCR
|Revolutionary Syndicalist Opposition to the First World War: A Comparative Assessment|
|In an important recent contribution to our understanding of the labour movement’s opposition to war, Wayne Thorpe has argued that European revolutionary syndicalist organisations, viewed internationally, were unique during the First World War in not supporting the imperialist ventures of their respective governments. Evidence is provided to suggest that support for the war by the important French syndicalist organisation, the CGT, has obscured the fact that the remaining five national syndicalist organisations – in belligerent Germany and Italy, and in neutral Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands – remained faithful to their professed workers’ internationalism. On this basis, it is argued, syndicalists beyond France, more than any other ideological persuasion within the organised trade union movement in immediate pre-war and wartime Europe, can be seen to have constituted an authentic movement of opposition to the war, refusing to subordinate class interests to those of the state, to endorse policies of ‘defencism’, or to abandon the rhetoric of class conflict.
To a large extent the substantive thrust of Thorpe’s argument is undeniable. Certainly, unlike syndicalists in many countries, the overwhelming majority of the social democratic parties affiliated to the Second International renounced their prior internationalist pledges and rushed to support their respective governments’ war drive. By contrast, in a number of countries the syndicalists took a principled position of opposition to the war on the basis that it was a purely capitalist struggle for economic leverage that no worker should support.
However, it will be the contention of this paper that Thorpe’s emphasis on the distinctive nature of the syndicalist response to the First World War suffers from a number of serious limitations which fail to reveal the complexities, ambiguities and weaknesses that were also involved. In particular it tends to:
• underestimate the significance of the collapse into patriotism of the CGT in France (unquestionably the most important syndicalist organisation in Europe) as well as a sizeable ‘interventionist’ minority inside the Italian syndicalist movement, the USI.
• overestimate the ideological homogeneity of the syndicalist response towards war generally in most countries.
• downplay the tensions involved in translating formal ideological commitments against the war into practical measures of intervention inside the working class movement.
• ignore the internationalist (and in some cases revolutionary defeatist) position against war taken by revolutionary Marxist individuals and groups in other countries (notably the Russian Bolsheviks).
In critically examining some of the implications drawn from Thorpe’s analysis, the paper seeks to explore both the strengths and the limitations of the syndicalist response to the First World War by looking not only at countries such as France, Italy and Spain (that Thorpe’s work comments on) but also Britain, Ireland and the United States. In the process, the study reveals a rather more nuanced, complex and ambigious picture to the one presented by Thorpe. The research draws primarily on two sources, an extensive range of existing secondary literature and a variety of primary sources