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James Guillaume (1844-1916) & the birth of syndicalism, anarchist communism

category international | history of anarchism | opinion / analysis author Friday May 29, 2015 08:02author by Lucien van der Walt Report this post to the editors

From Mother Earth volume 12, number 1, March 1917: OBITUARY : James Guillaume (1844-1916
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Mother Earth volume 12, number 1, March 1917

OBITUARY: James Guillaume (1844-1916) & the birth of syndicalism, anarchist communism

The international labor movement, the anarchists and syndicalists, have lost one of their earliest pioneers. James Guillaume, the friend and co-worker of Bakunin, has died in Switzerland.

He witnessed the first awakening of the militant international spirit in the laboring classes of all countries governed by capitalism and its servant, statecraft.

When on the 28th of September, 1864, at a meeting in St. Martin's Hall, London, the International Workingmen's Association came to life a new dawn flamed up on the horizon and created strong hopes and visions all leading up to the future, when the barriers and prejudices between peoples would fall, and knowledge, solidarity, courage, would enable the working people of the earth to throw down the yoke of oppression and servitude.

It was to this spirit, these convictions that the life of James Guillaume was consecrated. To the very last he remained their noble knight, whom neither disappointment with individuals nor impatience with the slow growth of freedom's true army could lure from the right path.

When in the Internationale unavoidable clash between revolutionists and politicians, between authoritarians and anti-authoritarians occurred, James Guillaume stood with Bakunin, and others against Karl Marx and his followers. They contended that political socialism as Marx and Engels expounded it would inevitably lead to the surrender of the interests of the proletariat to the state and to a new deception and enslavement under the political machinery of the ruling classes. The history of the labor movement of the last fifty years as far as it followed the lead of parliamentary socialism has proved this contention to be only too true.

Out of these travails in the ranks of the Internationale, Anarchist Communism, and the anti-political principles of syndicalism, direct action, anti-militarism, general strike were born. James Guillaume was one of the most clear-sighted early propagandists of these principles, which later were more elaborated by the writings of thinkers and authors like Peter Kropotkin, Elisee Reclus, Errico Malatesta, Domela Nieuwenhuis, Emile Pouget.

While Bakunin expounded the philosophy of the revolutionary movement, James Guillaume was its practical counsellor and organizer. Later he also became the historian of the Internationale. His grand masterly work L'Internationale, documents et souvenirs, is so rich in material that it has become the one great source for the writers and students who want to gain insight and knowledge as to the beginnings of the modern international labor movement.

In spite of world-wide slaughter [this was written during the First World War - ed.] there are hundreds of men and women in all of the belligerent countries who will at least in spirit assemble and join hands around the grave of James Guillaume to renew the pledge never to give up the noble fight for solidarity, international co-operation between individuals, groups, and countries.

author by Wayne Pricepublication date Mon Jun 01, 2015 05:37author email drwdprice at aol dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

In Sam Dolgoff's compilation, "Bakunin on Anarchism" (Montreal: Black Rose, 1980), he reprints Guillame's "On Building the New Social Order." This is described as "the closest we can come to a clear outline of Bakunin's own version of the constructive tasks ahead after the revolution." (p. 357) It is particularly interesting because it claims that Bakunin believed in a final stage of libertarian communism.

However, I recall reading somewhere that Guillame stood with Kropotkin in giving all-out, uncritical, support to the Allies in World War I. Is this true?

author by Lucien van der Waltpublication date Tue Aug 11, 2015 22:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yes, he (JG) did take sides in the war. Peter Ryley has an interesting take on the debates around WW1, arguing Kropotkin etal had a position, not of uncritical support, but of lesser-evilism. It was they argued, too late to stop the war, and a German defeat was to be preferred, would open more space for struggles etc. From this reading it is not so different to those who felt an Allied victory in WW2 was preferable to an Axis one, although they would have preferred something more radical than either option. Malatesta's response was directed against this slippery pragmatism, which is why it was centred on issues of principle. Davide Turcato has also revisited the debate in an interesting paper.Ruth Kinna is editing a volume, due later this year, which should carry some of these debates.

 
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