The role of Pierre Besnard in revolutionary syndicalism

Source : "Reflexões sobre sindicalismo, anarquismo e correntes libertarias de pensamento",

Article mis en ligne le 4 juin 2020

par Eric Vilain

Pierre Besnard, born in 1886, is not part of the first generation of revolutionary syndicalism. After the Great War, he was an active militant in the CGT railway workers’ federation where he held important mandates in the Paris region. He was dismissed from his job in May 1920 for going on strike. On 20 May 1921, Besnard replaced Monatte as general secretary of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary syndicalist Committees (Comités syndicalistes révolutionnaires) which brought together the opponents of the reformist line of the confederal leadership of the CGT. In the CSR were communist militants (who followed the recommendations of the Communist International), anarchists, and revolutionary syndicalists (anarcho-syndicalism strictly speaking did not exist as a movement yet). The CSR had been created after the Lyon congress of the CGT (1919) and were at the origin of the division that constituted the CGTU ("U" for "Unified"). Besnard is undoubtedly the figure who expresses in the most significant way the transition between revolutionary syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism.

When the Russian revolution broke out, revolutionary syndicalism, which was the dominant revolutionary current in the world labor movement, enthusiastically supported the revolution. But little by little, as information began to leak out and activists became aware that the Soviet regime was repressing the working class and all those who raised a discordant voice, the revolutionary syndicalist current split into two : one current, with Pierre Besnard, who refused to support such a regime, and one current, with Pierre Monatte, who chose to remain deaf to the tragic news coming from Russia.