Notes on Anarchism
In Daniel Guérin, Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, 1970
|A French writer, sympathetic to anarchism, wrote
in the 1890s that "anarchism has a broad back, like paper it endures
anything" -- including, he noted those whose acts are such that "a
mortal enemy of anarchism could not have done better."1
There have been many styles of thought and action that have been
referred to as "anarchist." It would be hopeless to try to encompass
all of these conflicting tendencies in some general theory or
ideology. And even if we proceed to extract from the history of
libertarian thought a living, evolving tradition, as Daniel Guérin
does in Anarchism, it remains difficult to formulate its
doctrines as a specific and determinate theory of society and social
change. The anarchist historian Rudolph Rocker, who presents a
systematic conception of the development of anarchist thought towards
anarchosyndicalism, along lines that bear comparison to Guérins work,
puts the matter well when he writes that anarchism is not
One might ask what value there is in studying a "definite trend in the historic development of mankind" that does not articulate a specific and detailed social theory. Indeed, many commentators dismiss anarchism as utopian, formless, primitive, or otherwise incompatible with the realities of a complex society. One might, however, argue rather differently: that at every stage of history our concern must be to dismantle those forms of authority and oppression that survive from an era when they might have been justified in terms of the need for security or survival or economic development, but that now contribute to -- rather than alleviate -- material and cultural deficit. If so, there will be no doctrine of social change fixed for the present and future, nor even, necessarily, a specific and unchanging concept of the goals towards which social change should tend. Surely our understanding of the nature of man or of the range of viable social forms is so rudimentary that any far-reaching doctrine must be treated with great skepticism, just as skepticism is in order when we hear that "human nature" or "the demands of efficiency" or "the complexity of modern life" requires this or that form of oppression and autocratic rule.
Nevertheless, at a particular time there is every reason to develop, insofar as our understanding permits, a specific realization of this definite trend in the historic development of mankind, appropriate to the tasks of the moment. For Rocker, "the problem that is set for our time is that of freeing man from the curse of economic exploitation and political and social enslavement"; and the method is not the conquest and exercise of state power, nor stultifying parliamentarianism, but rather "to reconstruct the economic life of the peoples from the ground up and build it up in the spirit of Socialism."
As a socialist, Rocker would take for granted "that the serious, final, complete liberation of the workers is possible only upon one condition: that of the appropriation of capital, that is, of raw material and all the tools of labor, including land, by the whole body of the workers."3 As an anarchosyndicalist, he insists, further, that the workers' organizations create "not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself" in the prerevolutionary period, that they embody in themselves the structure of the future society -- and he looks forward to a social revolution that will dismantle the state apparatus as well as expropriate the expropriators. "What we put in place of the government is industrial organization."
Rocker was writing at a moment when such ideas had been put into practice in a dramatic way in the Spanish Revolution. Just prior to the outbreak of the revolution, the anarchosyndicalist economist Diego Abad de Santillan had written:
Engels, in a letter of 1883, expressed his disagreement with this conception as follows:
In contrast, the anarchists -- most eloquently Bakunin -- warned of the dangers of the "red bureaucracy," which would prove to be "the most vile and terrible lie that our century has created."6 The anarchosyndicalist Fernand Pelloutier asked: "Must even the transitory state to which we have to submit necessarily and fatally be a collectivist jail? Can't it consist in a free organization limited exclusively by the needs of production and consumption, all political institutions having disappeared?"7
I do not pretend to know the answers to this question. But it seems clear that unless there is, in some form, a positive answer, the chances for a truly democratic revolution that will achieve the humanistic ideals of the left are not great. Martin Buber put the problem succinctly when he wrote: "One cannot in the nature of things expect a little tree that has been turned into a club to put forth leaves."8 The question of conquest or destruction of state power is what Bakunin regarded as the primary issue dividing him from Marx.9 In one form or another, the problem has arisen repeatedly in the century since, dividing "libertarian" from "authoritarian" socialists.
Despite Bakunin's warnings about the red bureaucracy, and their fulfillment under Stalin's dictatorship, it would obviously be a gross error in interpreting the debates of a century ago to rely on the claims of contemporary social movements as to their historical origins. In particular, it is perverse to regard Bolshevism as "Marxism in practice." Rather, the left-wing critique of Bolshevism, taking account of the historical circumstances surrounding the Russian Revolution, is far more to the point.10
If one were to seek a single leading idea within the anarchist tradition, it should, I believe, be that expressed by Bakunin when, in writing on the Paris Commune, he identified himself as follows:
These ideas grew out of the Enlightenment; their roots are in Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality, Humboldt's Limits of State Action, Kant's insistence, in his defense of the French Revolution, that freedom is the precondition for acquiring the maturity for freedom, not a gift to be granted when such maturity is achieved. With the development of industrial capitalism, a new and unanticipated system of injustice, it is libertarian socialism that has preserved and extended the radical humanist message of the Enlightenment and the classical liberal ideals that were perverted into an ideology to sustain the emerging social order. In fact, on the very same assumptions that led classical liberalism to oppose the intervention of the state in social life, capitalist social relations are also intolerable. This is clear, for example, from the classic work of Humboldt, The Limits of State Action, which anticipated and perhaps inspired Mill. This classic of liberal thought, completed in 1792, is in its essence profoundly, though prematurely, anticapitalist. Its ideas must be attenuated beyond recognition to be transmuted into an ideology of industrial capitalism.
Humboldt's vision of a society in which social fetters are replaced by social bonds and labor is freely undertaken suggests the early Marx., with his discussion of the "alienation of labor when work is external to the worker...not part of his nature...[so that] he does not fulfill himself in his work but denies himself...[and is] physically exhausted and mentally debased," alienated labor that "casts some of the workers back into a barbarous kind of work and turns others into machines," thus depriving man of his "species character" of "free conscious activity" and "productive life." Similarly, Marx conceives of "a new type of human being who needs his fellow men....[The workers' association becomes] the real constructive effort to create the social texture of future human relations."13 It is true that classical libertarian thought is opposed to state intervention in social life, as a consequence of deeper assumptions about the human need for liberty, diversity, and free association. On the same assumptions, capitalist relations of production, wage labor, competitiveness, the ideology of "possessive individualism" -- all must be regarded as fundamentally antihuman. Libertarian socialism is properly to be regarded as the inheritor of the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment.
Rudolf Rocker describes modern anarchism as "the confluence of the two great currents which during and since the French revolution have found such characteristic expression in the intellectual life of Europe: Socialism and Liberalism." The classical liberal ideals, he argues, were wrecked on the realities of capitalist economic forms. Anarchism is necessarily anticapitalist in that it "opposes the exploitation of man by man." But anarchism also opposes "the dominion of man over man." It insists that "socialism will be free or it will not be at all. In its recognition of this lies the genuine and profound justification for the existence of anarchism."14 From this point of view, anarchism may be regarded as the libertarian wing of socialism. It is in this spirit that Daniel Guérin has approached the study of anarchism in Anarchism and other works.15 Guérin quotes Adolph Fischer, who said that "every anarchist is a socialist but not every socialist is necessarily an anarchist." Similarly Bakunin, in his "anarchist manifesto" of 1865, the program of his projected international revolutionary fraternity, laid down the principle that each member must be, to begin with, a socialist.
A consistent anarchist must oppose private ownership of the means of production and the wage slavery which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer. As Marx put it, socialists look forward to a society in which labor will "become not only a means of life, but also the highest want in life,"16 an impossibility when the worker is driven by external authority or need rather than inner impulse: "no form of wage-labor, even though one may be less obnoxious that another, can do away with the misery of wage-labor itself."17 A consistent anarchist must oppose not only alienated labor but also the stupefying specialization of labor that takes place when the means for developing production
Marx saw this not as an inevitable concomitant of industrialization, but rather as a feature of capitalist relations of production. The society of the future must be concerned to "replace the detail-worker of today...reduced to a mere fragment of a man, by the fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labours...to whom the different social functions...are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural powers."19 The prerequisite is the abolition of capital and wage labor as social categories (not to speak of the industrial armies of the "labor state" or the various modern forms of totalitarianism since capitalism). The reduction of man to an appurtenance of the machine, a specialized tool of production, might in principle be overcome, rather than enhanced, with the proper development and use of technology, but not under the conditions of autocratic control of production by those who make man an instrument to serve their ends, overlooking his individual purposes, in Humboldt's phrase.
Anarchosyndicalists sought, even under capitalism, to create "free associations of free producers" that would engage in militant struggle and prepare to take over the organization of production on a democratic basis. These associations would serve as "a practical school of anarchism."20 If private ownership of the means of production is, in Proudhon's often quoted phrase, merely a form of "theft" -- "the exploitation of the weak by the strong"21 -- control of production by a state bureaucracy, no matter how benevolent its intentions, also does not create the conditions under which labor, manual and intellectual, can become the highest want in life. Both, then, must be overcome.
In his attack on the right of private or bureaucratic control over the means of production,, the anarchist takes his stand with those who struggle to bring about "the third and last emancipatory phase of history," the first having made serfs out of slaves, the second having made wage earners out of serfs, and the third which abolishes the proletariat in a final act of liberation that places control over the economy in the hands of free and voluntary associations of producers (Fourier, 1848).22 The imminent danger to "civilization" was noted by de Tocqueville, also in 1848:
The workers of Paris, in 1871, broke the silence, and proceeded
The Commune, of course, was drowned in blood. The nature of the "civilization" that the workers of Paris sought to overcome in their attack on "the very foundations of society itself" was revealed, once again, when the troops of the Versailles government reconquered Paris from its population. As Marx wrote, bitterly but accurately:
Despite the violent destruction of the Commune, Bakunin wrote that Paris opens a new era, "that of the definitive and complete emancipation of the popular masses and their future true solidarity, across and despite state boundaries...the next revolution of man, international in solidarity, will be the resurrection of Paris" -- a revolution that the world still awaits.
The consistent anarchist, then, should be a socialist, but a socialist of a particular sort. He will not only oppose alienated and specialized labor and look forward to the appropriation of capital by the whole body of workers, but he will also insist that this appropriation be direct, not exercised by some elite force acting in the name of the proletariat. He will, in short, oppose
These remarks are taken from "Five Theses on the Class Struggle" by the left-wing Marxist Anton Pannekoek, one of the outstanding left theorists of the council communist movement. And in fact, radical Marxism merges with anarchist currents.
As a further illustration, consider the following characterization of "revolutionary Socialism":
This programmatic statement appears in William Paul's The State, its Origins and Functions, written in early 1917 -- shortly before Lenin's State and Revolution, perhaps his most libertarian work (see note 9). Paul was a member of the Marxist-De Leonist Socialist Labor Party and later one of the founders of the British Communist Party.25 His critique of state socialism resembles the libertarian doctrine of the anarchists in its principle that since state ownership and management will lead to bureaucratic despotism, the social revolution must replace it by the industrial organization of society with direct workers' control. Many similar statements can be cited.
What is far more important is that these ideas have been realized in spontaneous revolutionary action, for example in Germany and Italy after World War I and in Spain (not only in the agricultural countryside, but also in industrial Barcelona) in 1936. One might argue that some form of council communism is the natural form of revolutionary socialism in an industrial society. It reflects the intuitive understanding that democracy is severely limited when the industrial system is controlled by any form of autocratic elite, whether of owners, managers and technocrats, a "vanguard" party, or a state bureaucracy. Under these conditions of authoritarian domination the classical libertarian ideals developed further by Marx and Bakunin and all true revolutionaries cannot be realized; man will not be free to develop his own potentialities to their fullest, and the producer will remain "a fragment of a human being," degraded, a tool in the productive process directed from above.
The phrase "spontaneous revolutionary action" can be misleading. The anarchosyndicalists, at least, took very seriously Bakunin's remark that the workers' organizations must create "not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself" in the prerevolutionary period. The accomplishments of the popular revolution in Spain, in particular, were based on the patient work of many years of organization and education, one component of a long tradition of commitment and militancy. The resolutions of the Madrid Congress of June 1931 and the Saragossa Congress in May 1936 foreshadowed in many ways the acts of the revolution, as did the somewhat different ideas sketched by Santillan (see note 4) in his fairly specific account of the social and economic organization to be instituted by the revolution. Guérin writes "The Spanish revolution was relatively mature in the minds of libertarian thinkers, as in the popular consciousness." And workers' organizations existed with the structure, the experience, and the understanding to undertake the task of social reconstruction when, with the Franco coup, the turmoil of early 1936 exploded into social revolution. In his introduction to a collection of documents on collectivization in Spain, the anarchist Augustin Souchy writes:
All of this lies behind the spontaneous achievements, the constructive work of the Spanish Revolution.
The ideas of libertarian socialism, in the sense described, have been submerged in the industrial societies of the past half-century. The dominant ideologies have been those of state socialism or state capitalism (of increasingly militarized character in the United States, for reasons that are not obscure).27 But there has been a rekindling of interest in the past few years. The theses I quoted by Anton Pannekoek were taken from a recent pamphlet of a radical French workers' group (Informations Correspondance Ouvrière). The remarks by William Paul on revolutionary socialism are cited in a paper by Walter Kendall given at the National Conference on Workers' Control in Sheffield, England, in March 1969. The workers' control movement has become a significant force in England in the past few years. It has organized several conferences and has produced a substantial pamphlet literature, and counts among its active adherents representatives of some of the most important trade unions. The Amalgamated Engineering and Foundryworkers' Union, for example, has adopted, as official policy, the program of nationalization of basic industries under "workers' control at all levels."28 On the Continent, there are similar developments. May 1968 of course accelerated the growing interest in council communism and related ideas in France and Germany, as it did in England.
Given the highly conservative cast of our highly ideological society, it is not too surprising that the United States has been relatively untouched by these developments. But that too may change. The erosion of cold-war mythology at least makes it possible to raise these questions in fairly broad circles. If the present wave of repression can be beaten back, if the left can overcome its more suicidal tendencies and build upon what has been accomplished in the past decade, then the problem of how to organize industrial society on truly democratic lines, with democratic control in the workplace and in the community, should become a dominant intellectual issue for those who are alive to the problems of contemporary society, and, as a mass movement for libertarian socialism develops, speculation should proceed to action.
In his manifesto of 1865, Bakunin predicted that one element in the social revolution will be "that intelligent and truly noble part of youth which, though belonging by birth to the privileged classes, in its generous convictions and ardent aspirations, adopts the cause of the people." Perhaps in the rise of the student movement of the 1960s one sees steps towards a fulfillment of this prophecy.
Daniel Guérin has undertaken what he has described as a "process of rehabilitation" of anarchism. He argues, convincingly I believe, that "the constructive ideas of anarchism retain their vitality, that they may, when re-examined and sifted, assist contemporary socialist thought to undertake a new departure...[and] contribute to enriching Marxism."29 From the "broad back" of anarchism he has selected for more intensive scrutiny those ideas and actions that can be described as libertarian socialist. This is natural and proper. This framework accommodates the major anarchist spokesmen as well as the mass actions that have been animated by anarchist sentiments and ideals. Guérin is concerned not only with anarchist thought but also with the spontaneous actions of popular revolutionary struggle. He is concerned with social as well as intellectual creativity. Furthermore, he attempts to draw from the constructive achievements of the past lessons that will enrich the theory of social liberation. For those who wish not only to understand the world, but also to change it, this is the proper way to study the history of anarchism.
Guérin describes the anarchism of the nineteenth century as essentially doctrinal, while the twentieth century, for the anarchists, has been a time of "revolutionary practice."30 Anarchism reflects that judgment. His interpretation of anarchism consciously points toward the future. Arthur Rosenberg once pointed out that popular revolutions characteristically seek to replace "a feudal or centralized authority ruling by force" with some form of communal system which "implies the destruction and disappearance of the old form of State." Such a system will be either socialist or an "extreme form of democracy...[which is] the preliminary condition for Socialism inasmuch as Socialism can only be realized in a world enjoying the highest possible measure of individual freedom." This ideal, he notes, was common to Marx and the anarchists.31 This natural struggle for liberation runs counter to the prevailing tendency towards centralization in economic and political life.
A century ago Marx wrote that the workers of Paris "felt there was but one alternative -- the Commune, or the empire -- under whatever name it might reappear."
The miserable Second Empire "was the only form of government possible at a time when the bourgeoisie had already lost, and the working class had not yet acquired, the faculty of ruling the nation."
It is not very difficult to rephrase these remarks so that they become appropriate to the imperial systems of 1970. The problem of "freeing man from the curse of economic exploitation and political and social enslavement" remains the problem of our time. As long as this is so, the doctrines and the revolutionary practice of libertarian socialism will serve as an inspiration and guide.
This essay is a revised version of the introduction to Daniel Guérin's Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. In a slightly different version, it appeared in the New York Review of Books, May 21, 1970.
1 Octave Mirbeau, quoted in James Joll, The Anarchists, pp. 145-6.
2 Rudolf Rocker, Anarchosyndicalism, p. 31.
3 Cited by Rocker, ibid., p. 77. This quotation and that in the next sentence are from Michael Bakunin, "The Program of the Alliance," in Sam Dolgoff, ed. and trans., Bakunin on Anarchy, p. 255.
4 Diego Abad de Santillan, After the Revolution, p. 86. In the last chapter, written several months after the revolution had begun, he expresses his dissatisfaction with what had so far been achieved along these lines. On the accomplishments of the social revolution in Spain, see my American Power and the New Mandarins, chap. 1, and references cited there; the important study by Broué and Témime has since been translated into English. Several other important studies have appeared since, in particular: Frank Mintz, L'Autogestion dans l'Espagne révolutionaire (Paris: Editions Bélibaste, 1971); César M. Lorenzo, Les Anarchistes espagnols et le pouvoir, 1868-1969 (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1969); Gaston Leval, Espagne libertaire, 1936-1939: L'Oeuvre constructive de la Révolution espagnole (Paris: Editions du Cercle, 1971). See also Vernon Richards, Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, enlarged 1972 edition.
5 Cited by Robert C. Tucker, The Marxian Revolutionary Idea, in his discussion of Marxism and anarchism.
6 Bakunin, in a letter to Herzen and Ogareff, 1866. Cited by Daniel Guérin, Jeunesse du socialisme libertaire, p. 119.
7 Fernand Pelloutier, cited in Joll, Anarchists. The source is "L'Anarchisme et les syndicats ouvriers," Les Temps nouveaux, 1895. The full text appears in Daniel Guérin, ed., Ni Dieu, ni Maître, an excellent historical anthology of anarchism.
8 Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia, p. 127.
9 "No state, however democratic," Bakunin wrote, "not even the reddest republic -- can ever give the people what they really want, i.e., the free self-organization and administration of their own affairs from the bottom upward, without any interference or violence from above, because every state, even the pseudo-People's State concocted by Mr. Marx, is in essence only a machine ruling the masses from above, from a privileged minority of conceited intellectuals, who imagine that they know what the people need and want better than do the people themselves...." "But the people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labeled `the people's stick' " (Statism and Anarchy , in Dolgoff, Bakunin on Anarchy, p. 338) -- "the people's stick" being the democratic Republic.
Marx, of course, saw the matter differently.
For discussion of the impact of the Paris Commune on this dispute, see Daniel Guérin's comments in Ni Dieu, ni Maître; these also appear, slightly extended, in his Pour un marxisme libertaire. See also note 24.
10 On Lenin's "intellectual deviation" to the left during 1917, see Robert Vincent Daniels, "The State and Revolution: a Case Study in the Genesis and Transformation of Communist Ideology," American Slavic and East European Review, vol. 12, no. 1 (1953).
11 Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes, p. 295.
12 Michael Bakunin, "La Commune de Paris et la notion de l'état," reprinted in Guérin, Ni Dieu, ni Maître. Bakunin's final remark on the laws of individual nature as the condition of freedom can be compared to the creative thought developed in the rationalist and romantic traditions. See my Cartesian Linguistics and Language and Mind.
13 Shlomo Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx, p. 142, referring to comments in The Holy Family. Avineri states that within the socialist movement only the Israeli kibbutzim "have perceived that the modes and forms of present social organization will determine the structure of future society." This, however, was a characteristic position of anarchosyndicalism, as noted earlier.
14 Rocker, Anarchosyndicalism, p. 28.
15 See Guérin's works cited earlier.
16 Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme.
17 Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, cited by Mattick, Marx and Keynes, p. 306. In this connection, see also Mattick's essay "Workers' Control," in Priscilla Long, ed., The New Left; and Avineri, Social and Political Thought of Marx.
18 Karl Marx, Capital, quoted by Robert Tucker, who rightly emphasizes that Marx sees the revolutionary more as a "frustrated producer" than a "dissatisfied consumer" (The Marxian Revolutionary Idea). This more radical critique of capitalist relations of production is a direct outgrowth of the libertarian thought of the Enlightenment.
19 Marx, Capital, cited by Avineri, Social and Political Thought of Marx, p. 83.
20 Pelloutier, "L'Anarchisme."
21 "Qu'est-ce que la propriété?" The phrase "property is theft" displeased Marx, who saw in its use a logical problem, theft presupposing the legitimate existence of property. See Avineri, Social and Political Thought of Marx.
22 Cited in Buber's Paths in Utopia, p. 19.
23 Cited in J. Hampden Jackson, Marx, Proudhon and European Socialism, p. 60.
24 Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, p. 24. Avineri observes that this and other comments of Marx about the Commune refer pointedly to intentions and plans. As Marx made plain elsewhere, his considered assessment was more critical than in this address.
25 For some background, see Walter Kendall, The Revolutionary Movement in Britain.
26 Collectivisations: L'Oeuvre constructive de la Révolution espagnole, p. 8.
27 For discussion, see Mattick, Marx and Keynes, and Michael Kidron, Western Capitalism Since the War. See also discussion and references cited in my At War With Asia, chap. 1, pp. 23-6.
28 See Hugh Scanlon, The Way Forward for Workers' Control. Scanlon is the president of the AEF, one of Britain's largest trade unions. The institute was established as a result of the sixth Conference on Workers' Control, March 1968, and serves as a center for disseminating information and encouraging research.
29 Guérin, Ni Dieu, ni Maître, introduction.
31 Arthur Rosenberg, A History of Bolshevism, p. 88.
32 Marx, Civil War in France, pp. 62-3.
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