Sébastien Faure, “The Anarchist Synthesis” (1928)

THE ANARCHIST SYNTHESIS

by Sébastien FAURE

The Three Great Anarchist Currents

In France, as in the majority of other countries, we distinguish three great anarchist currents, which can be designated in this way:

Anarcho-syndicalism;
Libertarian communism;
Anarchist individualism.

It was natural and inevitable that, having reached a certain development, an idea as vast as anarchism would result in this triple manifestation of life.

A philosophical and social movement, a movement of ideas and action, intending to make a clean break with all authoritarian institutions, must inevitably give rise to these distinctions necessarily determined by the variety of the situations, milieus and temperaments, as well as the diversity of the sources by which the countless individual formations and the tremendous multiplicity of events are fueled.

Anarcho-syndicalism; libertarian communism; anarchist individualism: these three currents exist and nothing nor any person can prevent this from being the case. Each of them represents a force—a force that it is neither possible nor desirable to strike down. To convince ourselves of this, it is enough place ourselves—as simply anarchists, full stop—at the very heart of the gigantic effort that must be carried out in order to shatter the principle of authority. Then, you will be conscious of the indispensable boost furnished by each of these three current in the battle to be given.

These three currents are distinct, but not opposed.

Now, I have three questions to pose:

The first is addressed from the anarcho-syndicalists to the libertarian communists and anarchist individualists;

The second is addressed from the libertarian communists to the anarcho-syndicalists and anarchist individualists;

The second is addressed from the anarchist individualists to the anarcho-syndicalists and libertarian communists.

Here is the first:

“If anarchism, considered as a social and popular action, contemplates the hour when, inevitably, it will make the decisive assault on the capitalist, authoritarian world that we express by the phrase “the Social Revolution,” can it do without the support of the imposing masses that group within their midst, in the field of labor, the trade-union organizations?”

I think that it would be madness to hope for victory without the participation in the liberating upheaval — and a participation that is active, efficient, brutal and persistent — by these working masses, who, en bloc, have a greater interest than anyone in social transformation.

I am not saying, and I do not think that, in anticipation of the necessary collaboration between the syndicalist and anarchist forces in the period of revolutionary ferment and action, both must, right now, unite, associate, merge and form just one homogenous and compact whole. But I do think and will say, with my old friend Malatesta:

Anarchists much recognize the utility and importance of the trade-union movement, they must favor its development and make it one of the levers of their action, striving to make the cooperation of syndicalism and other progressive forces lead to a social revolution that includes the suppression of classes, total liberty, equality, peace and solidarity among all human beings. But it would be a macabre illusion to believe, as many do, that the workers’ movement will lead to such a revolution by itself, by virtue of its very nature. Quite the contrary: in all the movements based on immediate and material interests (and a broad workers’ movement can be built on no other foundations), there is a need for ferment, pressure, the concerted work of men of ideas who struggle and sacrifice themselves in the service of a future ideal. Without this lever, every movement inevitably tends to adapt itself to the circumstances, giving rise to the conservative spirit, the fear of change among those who succeed in obtaining better conditions. Often, new privileged classes are created, who strive to support, to reinforce the state of things that we wish to bring down.

From this arising the pressing necessity of properly anarchist organizations that, within or outside the syndicates, struggle for the full realization of anarchism and seek to sterilize all the germs of corruption and reaction. — “A Project of Anarchist Organization”

We see it: it is no more a question of organically linking the anarchist movement to the syndicalist movement than [of linking] syndicalism to anarchism; it is only a question of acting, within or outside of the syndicates, for the full realization of the anarchist ideal.

And I ask the libertarian communists and the anarchist individualists what reasons of principle or fact, what essential, fundamental reasons, they can oppose to an anarcho-syndicalism conceived and practiced in this manner?

Here is the second question:

“Intransigent enemy of the exploitation of man by man, engendered by the capitalist regime, and of the domination of man by man, birthed by the State, can anarchism conceive of the actual and total suppression of the first without the suppression of the capitalist regime and placing in common (libertarian communism) of the means of production, transport and exchange? And can it conceive of the actual and total abolition effective of the second without the permanent abolition of the State and of all the institutions that result from it?”

And I ask the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarchist individualists (1) what reasons of principle or fact, what essential, fundamental reasons, they can oppose to a libertarian communism conceived and practiced in this manner?

Here is the third and last question:

“Anarchism being, on the one hand, the highest and clearest expression of the reaction of the individual the political, economic and moral oppression that all the authoritarian institutions cause to weigh on them and, on the other hand, the firmest and most precise affirmation of the right of every individual to their full flourishing through the satisfaction of their needs in all domains, can anarchism conceive of the actual and total realization of that reaction and that affirmation by a better means that that of an individual culture pushed as far as possible in the direction of a social transformation, breaking all the machinery of constraint and repression?”

And I ask the anarcho-syndicalists and the libertarian communists, what reasons of principle or fact, what essential, fundamental reasons they can oppose to an anarchist individualism conceived and practiced in this way?

These three currents are called to combine: the anarchist synthesis.

From all that has come before and, particularly, from the three questions above, it follows:

1° that these three currents: anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism et anarchist individualism, currents that are distinct, but not contradictory; there is nothing about them that renders them irreconcilable, nothing that essentially, fundamentally opposes them, nothing that proclaims their incompatibility, nothing that prevents them from coexisting peacefully, or indeed from acting together toward a common propaganda and action;

2° that the existence of these three currents not only could not, in any way and to any degree, harm the total force of anarchism,—a philosophical and social movement considered, as is appropriate, in all its breadth,—but still can and, logically, must contribute to the combined force of anarchism;

3° that each of these currents has its indicated place, its role, its mission in the heart of the broad, deep social movement that, under the name of “Anarchism,” aims at the establishment of a social milieu that will insure to each and all the maximum well-being and liberty;

4° that, under these conditions, anarchism can be understood as what we call, in chemistry, a composite or mixed body, a body formed by the combination of several elements.

This mixed body is composed by the combination of these three elements: anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism.

Its chemical formula could be S. 2 C. 2 I. 2.

According to the events, the milieus, the multiple sources from which the currents that make up anarchism spring, the mixture of the three elements must vary. It is up to analysis and experimentation to reveal this dosage; through synthesis, the composite body is reassembled and if, here, one element predominates, it is possible that, there, it will be some other.

S. 3 C. 2 I. 1; or else: S. 2 C. 3 I. 1; or, again: S. 1 C. 2 I. 3; the formula can attester des proportions variables, locally, regionally, nationally or internationally. But always there three elements—anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian communist and anarchist individualist (S. C. I.)—are made to combine and to create, by amalgamating, what I call “the anarchist synthesis.”

How is it that the existence of these three currents could have weakened the anarchist movement?

At this point in my demonstration, it is necessary to ask how it has happened that, especially in recent years and very particularly in France, the existence of these three anarchist elements, for from having strengthened the libertarian movement, has resulted in its weakening.

And have posed this problem in clear terms, it is important that it be studied and resolved in an equally crystalline manner.

The response is easy; but it demands from all, without exception, a great steadfastness.

I say that it is not the existence itself of these three elements—anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism—that has caused the weakness or, more precisely, the relative weakening of anarchist thought and action, but only the position that they have taken in relation to one another: a position of open, relentless, implacable war.

In the course of these harmful divisions each faction has employed an equal malice. Each has done their best to misrepresent the theses of the two others, to reduce their affirmations and negations to absurdity, to puff up or deflate their essential lines until they make an odious caricature of them.

Each tendency has directed against the others the most treacherous maneuvers and made use of the most murderous arms.

If, lacking an understanding between them, these three tendencies had been less rabid to make war against one another; if the activity used to struggle, within or outside of the various groupings, had been used to battle, even separately, against the common enemy, the anarchist movement of this country would have gained, as a result of the circumstances, a considerable breadth and a surprising strength.

But the intestine war of tendency against tendency, often even of personality against personality, has poisoned, corrupted, tainted, sterilized everything; even to the countryside, which should have been able to group around our precious ideas the hearts and minds enamored of Liberty and Justice, which are, especially in the popular milieus, much less rare than we like to pretend.

Each current has spit, drooled, vomited on the neighboring currents, in order to sully them and suggest that it alone is clean.

And, before the lamentable spectacle of these divisions and of the horrible machinations that they provoke on all sides, all our groupings are little by little emptied of the best of there content and our forces are exhausted against one another, instead of united in the battle to be waged against the common enemy: the principle of authority. That is the truth.

The evil and the remedy

The evil is great; it can, it must only be short-lived and the remedy is within reach of our hands.

Those who have read these lines attentively and without prejudice will work it out without effort: the remedy consists of drinking in the idea of the anarchist synthesis and applying that synthesis as soon and as well as possible. (2)

From what does the anarchist movement suffer? — From the war to the knife made by the three elements of which it is composed.

If, according to their origin, their character, their methods of propaganda, organization and action, these elements are condemned rise up against one another, the remedy that I propose is worth nothing; it is inapplicable; it would be ineffective; let us abstain from its use and seek something else.

On the contrary, if the aforementioned oppositions do not exist and, in particular, if the elements—anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian communist and anarchist individualist—are made in order to combine and form a sort of anarchist synthesis, it is necessary—not tomorrow, but today—attempt the realization of that synthesis.

I have discovered nothing and I propose nothing new: Luigi Fabbri and some Russian comrades (Voline, Fléchine, Mollie Steimer), with whom I have talked extensively these days, have confirmed to me that realization has been attempted in Italy, in the Italian Anarchist Union and, in Ukraine, within Nabat and that these two attempts have given the best results, that they alone have broken the triumph of fascism in Italy and the victory of bolshevism in Ukraine.

There exists, in France, as pretty much everywhere, numerous groups having already applied and currently applying the elements of the anarchist synthesis (I wish to cite none of them, in order not to omit any), groups in which anarcho-syndicalists, libertarian communists and anarchist individualists work in harmony; and these groups are neither the least numerous nor the least active.

These few facts (and I could cite others) demonstrate that the application of the synthesis is possible. I do not say, I do not think that it will be done without delay or difficulty. Like everything that is still new, it will encounter incomprehension, resistance, even hostility. If we must remain imperturbable, we will remain so; if we must resist critiques and malice, we will resist. We are conscious that salvation lies there and we are certain that, sooner or later, the anarchists will reach it. That is why we do not let ourselves become discouraged.

What was done, in memorable circumstances, in Italy, in Spain, in the Ukraine; what was done in many localities in France, can be done and, under the pressure of events, will be done in all countries.


An appeal to all the comrades, whatever their country of origin, residing in France.

The debate on the anarchist synthesis, as the basis of an entirely not anarchist organization in France, is and remains open. There is no question of stifling it. In order that it be fruitful, it is indispensable that it is se carried on in an atmosphere of candidness, faithfulness and camaraderie. If not, far from healing the wound, it would only inflame it.

But I know that there exist a considerable number of comrades who, weary of our intestine quarrels and understanding the incalculable harm that they do to our propaganda, hope to put an end to them.

It is to them that I address myself, without further ado, in the name of that individual initiative that was so honored, not so long ago, in libertarian circles.

And I say to all these comrades, without distinction of tendency: “Let us not allow the evil to worsen. Let us not wait until it has so ravaged the Anarchist Movement that it would require years of effort and struggle to bring it back to the point where it should be today. Doubling our efforts is in vain; the lost time is not recaptured. So do not put off until tomorrow what we can and should due this very day.

Let us act straightaway.

Let us refrain from seeking to establish the balance of individual or collective responsibilities. Let us recognize sincerely and courageously that each of us has their share of responsibility. Let us wipe clean our reciprocal wrongs and make a commitment to no longer stir up these sorrows.

To the great Idea that unites us all, anarcho-syndicalists, libertarian communists or anarchist individualists, let us make the sacrifice — an easy sacrifice, after all — of our resentments and our pride. Once and for all, sincerely, truly, let us chase all irritation from our minds, and all bitterness from our hearts.

Never has the strengthening of our forces been more indispensable, and it has never been more urgent; to the difficulties of the formidable battle that we have to lead alone against the world of enemies that we obstinately wish to cut down, is added the triple menace, as pressing as it is terrible, of fascism, bolshevism and war.

Let us make haste. Let us not lose one more day.

*
*   *

Circumstances require that, presently, the heart of worldwide anarchism and the center of its activity is found in France. Let us consider that dozens and dozens of comrades of foreign origin are refugees in this country. Let us not forget that they place their hopes and confidence in us; let us quit presenting them the unsettling spectacle of our fratricidal struggles.

Let us reestablish, as soon as possible, the immense family in which, while waiting for the borders of their countries of origin to once again become accessible to them, these exiles could again warm their hearts and preserve, blazing, the torch of their convictions.

Let us be aware that to quarrel is, in the present circumstances, almost treason to the Cause of which international events and the abominable repression that is its sequel have entrusted to us the sacred defense.

The more divided we are, the weaker we are; the more we regain unity and solidarity, the more we regain our strength.

This banal truth, let us not forget it; let us no longer forget it. May it from now on, to the extent it is possible, plot for each of us our line of conduct!


A word to our dear friends of the Association of Anarchist Federalists (AFA)

My dear friends,

I know nearly all of you personally and I know your state of mind.

I have the feeling that all of you would approve of the initiative that I am taking and that any one of you would have taken, if you had thought of it.

So you will appreciate that, on one hand, it is suitable to spread profusely this idea of the “Anarchist Synthesis,” serving as the basis for an entirely new regrouping of anarchist forces and that, on the other hand, it is an urgent necessity to give that idea a practical form, a positive application.

Our organization (the AFA) is quite new. That extreme youth brings it the precious advantage of not having been mixed up — as a group — in the regrettable conflicts that weaken and eat away at our movement.

I entrust to you the task of spreading the good news of the “anarchist synthesis” everywhere. It is to you that circumstances confer the right and impose the duty to group together the anarchist forces residing in France on the basis of that synthesis, faithfully and fraternally applied. Quickly, quickly, take, in your turn, the initiative in this regrouping.

Summon, as soon as possible, all the comrades of your locality or quarter — without distinction of tendency — that you know or suppose to be inclined to group or regroup in order to give more cohesion, influence and effectiveness to our dear propaganda.

Put into practice this paragraph of our plan of organization: “Each group will decide itself the methods of recruitment and internal organization.”

Beware of asking anyone to surrender any of there individual preferences. On the contrary, let each remain faithful to the fraction that best suits their temperament, to their libertarian development, their idea of anarchism, the means of propaganda to which they are inclined, the methods of combat in which they are most capable, the environment, for labor or agitation, to which they belong, the type of life that they lead, their professional occupations, etc., etc.

There is no question of fabricating a sort of model anarchist, reproduced in some thousands of copes, and consequently devoid of any personality, character or originality.

It is simply a question of gathering, in an atmosphere of openness and good friendship, all those who struggle actively against the exploitation and domination endured, individually and collectively, by all those who work toward the positive conquest of well-being and liberty for each and for all.

The field is vast. Let each one choose their place there. But so many efforts can be associated!

Anti-parliamentary, anti-capitalist, anti-religious, anti-statist, anti-militarist; is there an anarchist, just one, who is not all of that?

Appeal to them all.

Confidence, momentum and enthusiasm will be reborn. What great and powerful actions we could undertake and what fine and noble campaigns would could begin and complete successfully, fraternal hearts and arms joined!…

Dear comrades!

They will not fail to sneer, here and there, and to indulge in easy banter about this call to a general embrace.

You will not let yourself be moved by these jeers.

Wouldn’t it be better, among anarchists, to embrace than to bite, to work together rather than against one another, to live in peace rather than make war?

We are, at once, full of hatred and full of love.

Our hatred, let us direct all of its strength against the disciples and henchmen of Authority.

As for our love, let us preserve all its powerful springs in order to associate them with those of the anarchists who, like us, love liberty and struggle for it.

Let all the comrades, with the exception of those who, resistant to the very idea of organization, prefer to campaign in isolation, become members of our association. Let them join already existing groups. In the localities where there are no groups, let them form one and then work to make it large and active.

Let us set ourselves to the work. Let us devote ourselves to it with passion and perseverance.

Sébastien FAURE


(1) It being well understood, as the libertarian communists have explicitly declared at Orléans (at the congress held in that town July 12-14, 1926), that, in the heart of the libertarian Commune, as they conceive it, “all the forms of association will be free, from the integral colony to individual labor and consumption.

(2) The phrase anarchist synthesis must be taken, here, in the sense of gathering, association, organization and understanding of all the human elements who align themselves with the anarchist ideal.

Speaking of association and studying whether it is possible and desirable that all these elements should assemble, I could only call anarchist synthesis, this assembly, this basis of organization.

The synthesis of the anarchist theories is another matter, an extremely important subject that I propose to address when my health and circumstances allow.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 1961 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.