International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam

The following is a selection from the proceedings of the Congress (August 24-31, 1907) that is directly related to syndicalism, with the lengthy speeches (by Monatte, Cornelissen, and Malatesta) that preceded discussion and motions separated out as individual texts.

The text here is taken from the English translation by Nestor McNab (Black Cat Press, 2009) of the Italian translation by Maurizio Antonioli (1978) of the French publication in 1908 of the proceedings of the Congress. As noted in Antonioli's introduction, although reports and resolutions had been printed in various languages soon after the Congress, the 1908 French publication "is the most complete of all and forms the basis for this edition" (p. 26 of the McNab translation).

Antonioli's introduction contains a signficant amount of historical context related to the Congress, including how the Congress came to be and the debate on anarchism and syndicalism that continued after it was adjourned. This selection represents but a small portion of the entire proceedings of the Congress - you should probably go buy the book from Black Cat if you are interested in learning more about it.

See Iain McKay's review of the book here.

See Emma Goldman's contemporary report on the Congress here.

Ninth session — Wednesday 28 August, Evening session

At 9 o'clock the large hall in the Plancius is literally packed. [Rudolf] Lange declares the session open. On the agenda is the discussion of the following point: Syndicalism and Anarchism. Comrade Pierre Monatte from Paris, a committee member of the Confédération Générale du Travail, takes the floor as the first speaker.

[Syndicalism and Anarchism, by Pierre Monatte]

Tenth session — Thursday 29 August, Morning session

The session opens at nine-thirty. It is decided that the chairman shall remain unchanged until the end of the Congress. After the translations of Monatte's speech into Dutch and German, [Raphaël] Friedeberg speaks to observe that all the main European papers have published reports on the Anarchist Congress with the exception of the social-democrat papers. [...]

Eleventh session — Thursday 29 August, Afternoon session

As soon as the session opens, Emma Goldman reads out a resolution in support of the Russian Revolution [...]


Discussion of the general strike and syndicalism then resumed. The first to speak was Christiaan Cornelissen.

[Reply to Monatte, by Christiaan Cornelissen]

Comrade Malatesta immediately takes the floor and replies to Monatte with one of his most vigorous speeches. From the moment the old revolutionary begins to speak, with the down-to-earth eloquence and frankness so appreciated by all, silence falls on the hall.

[Syndicalism: An Anarchist Critique, by Errico Malatesta]

Twelfth session — Thursday 29 August, Evening session

The session begins towards nine o'clock with the Dutch translation of Malatesta's speech, after which the discussion continues.

FRIEDEBERG: As I agree with Malatesta on the question of the relationship between anarchism on the one hand and syndicalism and the general strike on the other, I would be wasting Congress' time if I spoke at any length.

Like Malatesta, I do not believe that anarchism gives itself the sole objective of emancipating one class, however interesting it may be, but the whole of humanity, without distinction of class, sex, nationality or race. Keeping all anarchist action within the boundaries of the working-class movement means, in my opinion, doing grave injustice to the essential and profound characteristic of anarchism.

I set before the chair a motion inspired by this idea and submit it to the approval of Congress.

[HENRI] FUSS: I would point out to Malatesta that there are still some anarchists who, for all their involvement in the workers' movement, remain no less faithful, and declaredly so, to their convictions. The truth is that they find it impossible to view the organized proletariat as merely fertile terrain for propaganda. Far from considering it a simple means, they attribute to it its own value and wish for nothing more than to be the vanguard of the army of labour on the march towards emancipation.

We struggle against the bourgeoisie, that is to say against capital and against authority. This is the class struggle; but unlike political struggles, it takes place essentially on the economic terrain, around those factories which will one day have to be taken over. We are no longer living in times when the revolution means taking over a few town halls and decreeing the new society from a balcony. The social revolution we are working towards will mean the expropriation of a class. The combat unit is therefore not as in the past an opinion group, but a trade group, workers' union or syndicate. The latter is the most appropriate organ of the class struggle. But it is essential that it be progressively guided towards the appropriating general strike and that is what we invite comrades in every country to do.

SAMSON: Among the means of workers' action recommended both by syndicalists and anarchists, sabotage occupies a leading role. However, I feel obliged to point out certain reservations in its regard. Sabotage does not fulfil its aim; it seeks to damage the boss, but instead it damages those who use it and, at the same time, sets the public against the workers.

We must seek to perfect the working class with all our strength; but I believe that sabotage works against this objective; if it only damaged machinery, it would not be such a bad thing, but it damages above all the professional morality of the worker and for this reason I am against it.

[BENOÎT] BROUTCHOUX: I am far from sharing Malatesta's fears regarding syndicalism and the workers' movement. As I have already said, I belong to a miners' union which is totally won over to revolutionary ideas and methods. This union has supported energetic, forceful strikes which have not been forgotten — and will support others in the future; in our union we know only too well what the hypocritical tactics of conciliation and arbitration preached by the apostles of social peace lead to, and we believe only in struggle, in forceful demands and in revolt. The evolution taking place amongst us in workers' circles seems to me to give lie formally to Malatesta's theories.

[KAREL] VOHRYZEK: I am hoping to propose a specific motion on the political general strike to Congress. The idea of this general strike is gaining ground day by day in the German countries, especially since the social democrats have made it their own, no doubt believing they can thus damage the economic general strike supported by the anarchists.

Anarchist[s] must oppose the propaganda in favour of a strike destined not to put an end to the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, but to safeguard the institution of universal suffrage under threat from the government or to conquer political power.

Nonetheless, if such a strike broke out, anarchists would have to take part in order to push the workers firmly in the direction of revolution and to instil the movement with the goal of economic demands.

[PIERRE] RAMUS: While comrade Monatte may have justified in advance all the reserves that Malatesta later expressed by speaking from an exclusively revolutionary syndicalist point of view, I can only associate myself fully with Malatesta.

It seems absolutely essential to me that we never lose sight of the fact that syndicalism, the general strike and direct action with all its various forms cannot be considered as anything but truly anarchist means of action. Syndicalism can be said to be contained within anarchism; but it would be wrong to say that syndicalism contains anarchism.

The great merit of syndicalism, of union action, essentially consists in opposing bourgeois parliamentarianism in practice, something that is evident. But just as I cannot look at the general strike as a surrogate of the social revolution, I cannot admit that syndicalism is sufficient unto itself, as the syndicalists do. Anarchism has already provided it with all its weapons of war; when it has also received a philosophy and an ideal only then will we admit that syndicalism is sufficient unto itself. And it will be sufficient unto itself because it will have become... anarchism!

In closing let me say this: we are anarchists first and foremost, then syndicalists. Never the opposite.

It is past midnight when comrade Ramus finishes his speech. Those present at the Congress are very tired and the atmosphere in the hall has gradually become more and more heated and agitated. There is a general desire to bring the debate on syndicalism to a close at any cost and Dunois vainly requests that Monatte's reply be postponed to the next day.

MONATTE: Listening to Malatesta this evening as he bitterly criticized new revolutionary ideas, I thought I was hearing an echo from the distant past. Malatesta's best response to the new ideas, whose brutal realism frightens him, is to drag up the old ideas of Blanquism that once led us to believe that the world could be renewed by means of a triumphant armed insurrection.

Furthermore, the revolutionary syndicalists here this evening have been widely reproached for sacrificing anarchism and the revolution to syndicalism and the general strike. Well then, I can personally tell you that our anarchism is worth just as much as yours and we have no intention whatsoever of hauling down our flag, just like you. Like everyone else here, anarchism is our final goal. It is just that as the times have changed, we too have changed our conception of the movement and the revolution. Revolution can no longer be carried out as it was in '48. As for syndicalism, while it may in practice have given rise to errors and deviations in some countries, experience will stop us from repeating them. Instead of criticizing syndicalism's past, present and even future defeats from on high, if anarchists became more closely involved with its work, the dangers that syndicalism can hide will be averted forever.

[GEORGES] THONAR: Despite what Monatte says, there are no young or old people here defending new ideas or old ideas. Many young people, and I am one of them, glory in not abandoning one iota of anarchist ideas, which are safely sheltered from the ravages of the storm.

If anything, I believe that there are simply differences of judgement between the "young" on one side and the "old" on the other, differences which are not enough to divide the anarchist army into two rival camps.

The session came to a close at one o'clock in the morning.

Thirteenth session — Friday 30 August, Morning session

It is nine o'clock when Lange, who has remained as chairman, declares the session open. The debate on syndicalism and the general strike is finished and there remains only to vote on the various motions that have been presented, before moving on to the subject of anti-militarism. Comrade Aristide Ceccarelli, though, asks to say a few words on the Argentinean workers' and anarchist movement. He takes the floor.

ARISTIDE CECCARELLI: For some years now in Argentina a strong workers' movement has been developing. There exists a group of militants who describe themselves as syndicalist. But, like the Italian syndicalists whom they greatly resemble, they have not renounced the methods of parliamentarianism; the only ones to carry out any serious work within the working class along revolutionary lines are the anarchists. It can be said that almost all the organizations in the Federación Obrera Regional Argentina show libertarian tendencies; and many of these carry out anarchist propaganda directly. The recent Argentine workers' congress, described as a unification congress, approved with a large majority the proposal made to the unions to contribute to the propaganda of anarchist communism.

Ceccarelli goes on to outline the miserable state of the Argentine workers and end by declaring that he is authorized to propose the anarchist congress vote on a resolution aimed at impeding as much as possible European emigration to a country where, as much if not more than any other, there is neither bread nor freedom.

Errico Malatesta and several other delegates then observe that the resolution proposed by Aristide Ceccarelli merits special discussion, which congress cannot engage in at the moment as it must first finish dealing with the matter of syndicalism.

Without deliberating on the problem raised by Ceccarelli, it is decided to move on to the vote on the motions relating to syndicalism and the general strike, of which there are four.


"The International Anarchist Congress considers the Syndicates as organizations fighting in the class war for the amelioration of the conditions of labour, and as unions of productive workers which can help in the transformation of capitalist society into Anarchist Communist society.

The Congress also, while admitting the eventual necessity of the formation of special revolutionary Syndicalist groups, recommends the comrades to support the general Syndicalist movement.

But the Congress considers it the duty of Anarchists to constitute the revolutionary element in these organizations, and to advocate and support only those forms of direct action that have in themselves a revolutionary character, and tend in that manner to alter the conditions of society.

The Anarchists consider the Syndicalist movement as a powerful means of revolution, but not as a substitute for revolution.

They recommend the comrades to take part in a General Strike even if proclaimed with the aim of capturing the political power, and do all they possibly can to make their Syndicates put forward questions of economic rights.

The Anarchists further think that the destruction of capitalist and authoritarian society can only be realized through armed insurrection and expropriation by force, and that the use of the General Strike and Syndicalist tactics ought not to make us forget other means of direct action against the military power of governments."

This motion is signed not only by its authors, but also by comrades [Jean] Wilquet, Goldman, [Réné] de Marmande, [Nikolai] Rogdaev and [Ladislav] Knotek, and is passed with 33 votes for and 10 against.


"The class struggle and the economic emancipation of the proletariat are not identical to the ideas and aspirations of Anarchism, which go beyond the immediate aspirations of classes and are aimed at the economic and moral liberation of all humans, at an environment free from authority and not at a new power, that of the majority over the minority.

Anarchism, however, sees in the elimination of class oppression, in the disappearance of economic inequalities, an absolutely necessary and essential stage towards the achievement of its final goal. Anarchism must oppose the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat being waged with means that contradict anarchist ideas and impede the true goal of Anarchism. Anarchists therefore refuse to wage the struggle according to the methods of Marxist socialism, that is to say parliamentarianism and a corporative union movement whose only goal is the betterment of the proletariat's conditions, means that imply the consequential development of a new bureaucracy, of an approved or unapproved intellectual authority, and the oppression of the minority by the majority. Anarchist means for the abolition of class oppression can only be those that arise directly from the affirmation of the individual person: 'direct action' and 'individual disobedience' — that is to say active and passive individualism, both by one person and by a mass, moving with a collective will.

The Libertarian Community Congress therefore rejects the strike for political rights (politischer Massenstreik), whose goal is unacceptable to Anarchism, but recognizes the economic and revolutionary general Strike, that is to say the refusal of the whole proletariat as a class to work, as a fitting means for the disorganization of the economic structure of today's society and for the emancipation of the proletariat from the slavery of the wage system. In order to achieve this general strike it is essential that the anarchist ideal penetrate the Syndicates. A Syndicalist movement that is animated by an Anarchist spirit can, through the revolutionary General Strike, destroy class domination and open the path to Anarchism's final goal: the realization of a society without authority."

This motion is passed with 36 votes for and 6 against.


Seconded by Monatte, Fuss, [Siegfried] Nacht, Zielińska, [Luigi] Fabbri, [Karl] Walter.

"The Anarchists assembled at Amsterdam, considering:

That the present condition of society is characterized by the exploitation and slavery of the producing masses, thus causing an unavoidable antagonism of interests between them and those who profit by their labour;

That the Syndicalist organization founded on the basis of economic resistance and revolt, all questions of political doctrine put aside, is the specific and fundamental organ of this conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and all bourgeois institutions;

That it is desirable for a revolutionary spirit to be infused into this organization in order to guide it towards the expropriation of the capitalists and the suppression of all authority;

That none but the workers themselves being able to expropriate and take collective possession of the instruments and produce of labour, the Syndicate will eventually transform itself into a productive group, thus having in itself the living germ of the society of tomorrow;

Advise the comrades in all countries, without forgetting that Anarchist action cannot be entirely contained within the limits of the Syndicate, to take an active part in the independent movement of the working classes, and to develop inside the Syndicates the ideas of revolt, individual initiative and solidarity, which are the essence of Anarchism."

This motion is passed with 28 votes for and 7 against. As it contained nothing regarding the general strike, it was completed by the following motion:


Seconded by Fuss, Dunois, Fabbri, Zielińska and Walter.

"The Anarchists assembled at Amsterdam declare that the General Strike with Expropriation is a remarkable stimulus to organization and the spirit of revolt when advocated as the manner in which the total emancipation of the proletariat can be accomplished.

The General Strike is not to be confounded with the political General Strike (politischer Massenstreik), which idea is nothing but an attempt of the politicians to use the General Strike for their own ends.

By the extension of strikes to whole localities, districts or trades, the working class moves towards the General Strike with Expropriation, which will mean the destruction of society as it now exists and the expropriation of all the instruments and means of production."

This last motion obtains 25 votes and is consequently passed.

The reader may be rather surprised that these four motions could have all been passed, given the evident contradictions between them. It defies the parliamentary norm, but it is a conscious transgression. In order that the opinion of the majority not suffocate, or seem to suffocate, that of the minority, the majority presented the single motions one by one for vote. All four had a majority of votes for. In consequence, all four were approved.

At this stage it appears that the subject of syndicalism and the general strike are finally exhausted.