For those who can read Russian, Vadim Damier’s two-volume study of the International Workers’ Association (IWA) is a comprehensive history of the worldwide anarchist labour movement in the early 20th Century. For the rest of us, Malcom Archibald has translated what is essentially a streamlined version of Damier’s larger work into English. Anarcho-syndicalism in the 20th Century is a broad survey of a movement often marginalised by Marxist academics, and is a welcome addition to the existing literature on anarcho-syndicalism. As Damier illustrates, anarcho-syndicalism was far from a outmoded, ineffective or petty-bourgeois movement — the practice of direct action and revolutionary struggle controlled and self-managed by the workers themselves extended to all countries of the world.
Damier: “Its appearance in so many settings has created a daunting task for historians who would do justice to its scope and diversity.” Exploring this diversity and its development from revolutionary syndicalism, its theoretical and tactical differences as it was practiced worldwide, and historical examples of anarcho-syndicalism in action, the reader gets a sense of how hundreds of thousands — indeed millions — of workers embraced the ideology of anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian communism, and put those ideas into practice.
The actions of anarchist-influenced workers and their struggle for freedom truly was an international movement. Although Europe is often the focus for historians, Damier does a great job in showing that stronger and numerically larger movements existed in Latin America — not to mention Japan, Korea and China, Africa, Eastern European nations and even Australasia.