Anarcho-syndicalism is a branch of anarchism which focuses on the labour movement. [Sorel, Georges. 'Political Theorists in Context' Routledge (2004) p. 248] "Syndicalisme" is a French word meaning "trade unionism"ndash hence, the "syndicalism" qualification. Anarcho-syndicalists view labour unions as a potential force for revolutionary social change, replacing capitalism and the State with a new society democratically self-managed by workers. Anarcho-syndicalists seek to abolish the wage system, regarding it as "wage slavery," and state or private ownership of the means of production, which they believe lead to class divisions. Not all seek to abolish money per se. Ralph Chaplin states that "the ultimate aim of the General Strike as regards wages is to give to each producer the full product of his labor. The demand for better wages becomes revolutionary only when it is coupled with the demand that the exploitation of labor must cease." [Chaplin, Ralph, 1933, "The General Strike for Industrial Freedom", p. 6.]

Anarcho-syndicalism remains a popular and active school of anarchism today and has many supporters as well as many currently active organizations. Anarcho-syndicalist trade unionists differ on anarchist economic arrangements from a collectivist anarchism type economic system to an anarcho-communist economic system. [cite book |editor=Iain Mckay |chapter=What types of anarchism are there? |chapterurl= |title=An Anarchist FAQ |publisher=AK Press |location=Stirling |year=2008 |isbn=1902593901 |oclc=182529204] Historically most anarcho-syndicalists have identified as anarcho-communists (such as Lucy Parsons) or anarcho-collectivists (such as Buenaventura Durruti).


The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are workers' solidarity, direct action, and workers' self-management. Workers’ solidarity means that anarcho-syndicalists believe all workers, no matter what their gender or ethnic group, are in a similar situation in regard to their bosses (class consciousness). Furthermore, it means that, in a capitalist system, any gains or losses made by some workers from or to bosses will eventually affect all workers. Therefore, to liberate themselves, all workers must support one another in their class conflict. Anarcho-syndicalists believe that only direct actionndash that is, action concentrated on directly attaining a goal, as opposed to indirect action, such as electing a representative to a government positionndash will allow workers to liberate themselves. [Rocker, Rudolf. 'Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice' AK Press (2004) p. 73 ] Moreover, anarcho-syndicalists believe that workers’ organizationsndash the organizations that struggle against the wage system, and which, in anarcho-syndicalist theory, will eventually form the basis of a new societyndash should be self-managing. They should not have bosses or "business agents"; rather, the workers should be able to make all the decisions that affect them themselves.

Rudolf Rocker was one of the most popular voices in the anarcho-syndicalist movement. He dedicated himself to the organisation of Jewish immigrant workers in London's East End and led the 1912 garment workers strike. [ [ Fermin Rocker] "retrieved 8 September 2006"] He outlined a view of the origins of the movement, what it sought, and why it was important to the future of labour in his 1938 pamphlet "Anarcho-Syndicalism".

In his article "Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism", Rocker points out that the anarcho-syndicalist union has a dual purpose, "1. To enforce the demands of the producers for the safeguarding and raising of their standard of living; 2. To acquaint the workers with the technical management of production and economic life in general and prepare them to take the socio-economic organism into their own hands and shape it according to socialist principles." In short, laying the foundations of the new society "within the shell of the old." Up to the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution, anarcho-syndicalist unions and organizations were the dominant actors in the revolutionary left.


Hubert Lagardelle wrote that Pierre-Joseph Proudhon laid out the fundamental theories of anarcho-syndicalism, through his repudiation of both capitalism and the state, his flouting of political government, his idea of free, autonomous economic groups, and his view of struggle, not pacifism, as the core of humanity. [Jameson, J. F. 'The American Historical Review' American Historical Association (1895) p. 731]

The earliest expressions of anarcho-syndicalist structure and methods were formulated in the International Workingmen's Association or First International, particularly in the Jura federation. The First International, however, split between two main tendencies within the organization over the question of political, parliamentary action; the libertarian wing represented by Mikhail Bakunin and the statist wing represented by Karl Marx. Adherents of the former would go on to influence the development of the labour movement in Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Latin America (see anarchism in Brazil and anarchism in Mexico), while orthodox Marxists would form mass-based labour and social democratic parties throughout Europe (initially grouped around the Second International), with major strongholds in Germany and England. Some Marxists, notably Anton Pannekoek, would formulate positions remarkably close to anarcho-syndicalism through council communism (see main article Anarchism and Marxism).

In 1895, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) in France expressed fully the organizational structure and methods of revolutionary syndicalism influencing labour movements the world over. The CGT was modelled on the development of the Bourse de Travail (labour exchange), a workers' central organization which would encourage self-education and mutual aid, and facilitate communication with local workers' syndicates. Through a general strike, workers would take control of industry and services and self-manage society and facilitate production and consumption through the labour exchanges. The Charter of Amiens, adopted by the CGT in 1906, represents a key text in the development of revolutionary syndicalism rejecting parliamentarianism and political action in favour of revolutionary class struggle. The Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden (SAC) (in Swedish the Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation), formed in 1910, are a notable example of an anarcho-syndicalist union influenced by the CGT. Today, the SAC is one the largest anarcho-syndicalist unions in the world in proportion to the population, with some strongholds in the public sector.

The International Workers Association, formed in 1922, is an international anarcho-syndicalist federation of various labour unions from different countries. At its peak, the International Workers Association represented millions of workers and competed directly for the hearts and minds of the working class with social democratic unions and parties. The Spanish Confederación Nacional del Trabajo played and still plays a major role in the Spanish labour movement. It was also an important force in the Spanish Civil War, organizing worker militias and facilitating the collectivization of vast sections of the industrial, logistical, and communications infrastructure, principally in Catalonia. Another Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union, the Confederacion General del Trabajo de España, is now the third largest union in Spain and the largest anarchist union with tens of thousands of members.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), although not explicitly anarcho-syndicalist, were informed by developments in the broader revolutionary syndicalist milieu at the turn of the twentieth-century. At its founding congress in 1905, influential members with strong anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist sympathies like Thomas J. Haggerty, William Trautmann, and Lucy Parsons contributed to the union's overall revolutionary syndicalist orientation [Salvatore Salerno "Red November, Black November: Culture and Community in the Industrial Workers of the World, pp. 69-90] . Lucy Parsons, in particular, was a veteran anarchist union organizer in Chicago from a previous generation, having participated in the struggle for the 8-hour day in Chicago and subsequent series of events which came to be known as the Haymarket Affair in 1886.

Emergence from revolutionary syndicalism

Although the terms anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism are often used interchangeably, the anarcho-syndicalist label was not widely used until the early 1920s (some credit Sam Mainwaring with coining the term [ [ Mainwaring, Sam, 1841-1907 | ] ] ). “The term ‘anarcho-syndicalist’ only came into wide use in 1921-1922 when it was applied polemically as a pejorative term by communists to any syndicalists…who opposed increased control of syndicalism by the communist parties.” [Berry, David, A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917-1945 p.134] In fact, the original statement of aims and principles of the International Workers Association (drafted in 1922) refers not to anarcho-syndicalism, but to revolutionary unionism or revolutionary syndicalism [ [ About Us ] ] [ [ IWA-AIT- Documents ] ] , depending on the translation.

The use of the term "anarcho-syndicalist" signifies the increasing gap between proponents of orthodox, political Marxism and unionists who advocated complete independence from political parties following the Russian Revolution, and the shift to a more politically doctrinaire version of syndicalism. As a broad ideological heading, prior to the First World War and the Bolshevik seizure of state power in Russia, revolutionary syndicalism grouped numerous left-wing tendencies together united on a class basis with no official party affiliation, as outlined in the Charter of Amiens.

Relationship with party politics

The anarcho-syndicalist orientation of many early American labour unions arguably played an important role in the formation of the American political spectrum, most significantly of the Industrial Workers of the World. The United States is the only industrialized ("first world") country that does not have a major labour-based political party. [Lipset, Seymour Martin and Marks, Gary. "It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States". ISBN 0-393-32254-8 ] This has not always been the case. In 1912, for example, Eugene Debs (a founding member of the IWW) polled 6% of the popular vote as the Socialist Party presidential candidate - a significant portion of the popular vote considering that this was 8 years before the adoption of universal suffrage in the U.S. Some political scientists would, in part, attribute the lack of an American labour party to the single member plurality electoral system, which tends to favour a two-party system. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as Duverger's law.

Controversially, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo participated in the Spanish Republican Popular Front government in the Spanish Civil War. In November 1936, four anarchist ministers—Garcia Oliver, Frederica Montseny, Joan Peiró, and Juan López—accepted positions in the government. This move was criticized by rank-and-file groups like the Friends of Durruti.

Criticisms and responses

Anarcho-syndicalism is viewed as an anachronism by many contemporary anarchists. [Heider, Ulrike. (1994) "Anarchism: Left, Right and Green", San Francisco: City Lights Books, p.4] Anarcho-syndicalism is criticized by other anarchists as an "anachronism" because anarcho-syndicalists often deny the importance of anarchist groups and federations, arguing that revolutionary industrial and community unions are enough in themselves. Many anarchists see anarcho-syndicalism as "self-managed capitalism", or as the Anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan describes it, the "self-management of alienation."

Syndicalists think that the anarchist and union movements can be fused into one while most other anarchists would disagree. Anarcho-syndicalist Eugene Varlin defended anarcho-syndicalism, arguing "the enormous advantage of making people accustomed to group life and thus preparing them for a more extended social organisation. They accustom people not only to get along with one another and to understand one another, but also to organise themselves, to discuss, and to reason from a collective perspective." and that unions "form the natural elements of the social edifice of the future; it is they who can be easily transformed into producers associations; it is they who can make the social ingredients and the organisation of production work." [quoted by Julian P. W. Archer, The First International in France, 1864-1872, p. 196]

Few anarcho-syndicalists deny the need for political organization and many today believe that union activity would lead to federation activity amongst free workers,

Direct action, being one of the main staples of anarcho-syndicalism, would extend into the political sphere according to its supporters, famous examples being the French French Confederation Generale du Travail (General Confederation of Labour) and the Spanish CNT/FAI (Confederation Nacional de Trabajo/Federacion Anarquista Iberica, the Popular Front Libertarian movements in Spain which included the Mujeres Libres). To them, the labour council is the federation of all workplace branches of all industries in a geographical area "territorial basis of organisation linkage brought all the workers from one area together and fomented working-class solidarity over and before corporate solidarity." [. Romero Maura, "The Spanish Case", contained in Anarchism Today, D. Apter and J. Joll (eds.), p. 75] Rudolf Rocker argues,

Thus, anarcho-syndicalism is not apolitical but instead sees political and economic activity as being one in the same. And, unlike some critics propose, anarcho-syndicalism is different from reformist union activity in that it aims to completely obliterate capitalism "(Anarcho-syndicalism) has a double aim: with tireless persistence, it must pursue betterment of the working class's current conditions. But, without letting themselves become obsessed with this passing concern, the workers should take care to make possible and imminent the essential act of comprehensive emancipation: the expropriation of capital." [Emile Pouget, No Gods, No Masters, p. 71]

While collectivist and communist anarchists criticize syndicalism as having the potential to exclude the voices of citizens and consumers outside of the union, anarcho-syndicalists argue that labor councils will work outside of the workplace and within the community to encourage community and consumer participation in economic and political activity (even workers and consumers outside of the union or nation) and will work to form and maintain the institutions necessary in any society such as schools, libraries, homes, etc. Murray Bookchin argues " [a] t the same time that syndicalism exerts this unrelenting pressure on capitalism, it tries to build the new social order within the old. The unions and the 'labour councils' are not merely means of struggle and instruments of social revolution; they are also the very structure around which to build a free society. The workers are to be educated [by their own activity within the union] in the job of destroying the old propertied order and in the task of reconstructing a stateless, libertarian society. The two go together." [Murray Bookchin, No Gods, No Masters, p. 121]

Proudhon and the labor movement

Mutualist anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon believed that worker-owned cooperatives would replace capitalist workplaces and mutual banks would replace capitalist institutions, and gave fierce support to labor union movements, arguing that "every worker employed in the association [must have] an undivided share in the property of the company". [quoted by James J. Martin. Men Against the State, p. 223] Mutualist William Kline believed that labor union movements and cooperative movements would form federations to allow social groups to interconnect with one another for decision-making for the common good "industries are sisters; they are parts of the same body; one cannot suffer without the others sharing in its suffering. They should therefore federate, not to be absorbed and confused together, but in order to guarantee mutually the conditions of common prosperity . . . Making such an agreement will not detract from their liberty; it will simply give their liberty more security and force." [Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. The Principle of Federation, p. 70, p. 67 and p. 72]


* International Workers Association (IWA-AIT)
* Associação Internacional dos Trabalhadores - Secção Portuguesa (AIT-SP) Portugal
* Anarho-sindikalisticka inicijativa (ASI-MUR) Serbia
* Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT-AIT) Spain
* Confédération Nationale du Travail (CNT-AIT & CNT-F) France
* Direct! Switzerland
* Federace Sociálních Anarchistù (FSA-MAP) Czech Rep
* Federação Operária do Río Grande do Sul - Confederação Operária Brasileira (FORGS-COB-AIT) Brazil
* Federación Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA-AIT) Argentina
* Freie Arbeiterinnen- und Arbeiter-Union (FAU) Germany
* Konfederatsiya Revolyutsionnikh Anarkho-Sindikalistov (KRAS-IWA) Russia
* Mreža anarhosindikalista i anarhosindikalistkinja (MASA) Croatia
* Norsk Syndikalistisk Forbund (NSF-IAA) Norway
* Priama Akcia (PA-IWA) Slovakia
* Solidarity Federation (SF-IWA) Britain
* Unione Sindacale Italiana (USI) Italy
* Workers Solidarity Alliance USA
* FESAL (European Federation of Alternative Syndicalism)
* Confederación General del Trabajo de España (CGT) Spain
* Ελευθεριακή Συνδικαλιστική Ένωση (ESE) Greece
* Freie ArbeiterInnen Union Schweiz (FAUCH) Switzerland
* Industrial Workers of the World (not explicitly "anarcho"-syndicalist: see above)
* SKT Siberian Confederation of Labour
* Swedish Anarcho-syndicalist Youth Federation (Syndikalistiska Ungdomsförbundet, SUF) Sweden
* Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation, SAC) Sweden
* Antiauthoritarian Movement (Αντιεξουσιαστίκή Κίνηση) (ΑΚ) Greece
* Courant Syndicaliste Revolutionnaire (CSR) France
* Workers' Solidarity Federation (WSF) South Africa
* Awareness League (AL) Nigeria
* Inicjatywa Pracownicza (IP) Poland []

ee also

*Participatory Economics
*General strike
*Green Syndicalism
*Council Communism
*Libertarian socialism
*Trade unions in South Africa
*List of federations of trade unions
*Workers' self-management
*Kronstadt Rebellion
*The Dispossessed

Further reading

* Rocker, Rudolf, [ "Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism"]
*Rocker, Rudolf, [ "Anarcho-Syndicalism"]
*Lenny Flank (ed), "IWW: A Documentary History", Red and Black Publishers, St Petersburg, Florida, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9791813-5-1


External links

* [ A comprehensive list of Anarcho-syndicalist organizations]
* [ What is revolutionary syndicalism?] An on-going historical series on anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism from a communist perspective
* [ Anarcho-Syndicalism 101]
* [ Anarcho-Syndicalist Review]
* [ Syndicalism: Myth and Reality]
* [ "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism"] A criticism by Murray Bookchin
* [ "Revolutionary Unionism: Yesterday, Today, Tommorrow"] by Dan Jakopovich
* [ "The Bourgeois Roots of Anarcho-syndicalism"] by Feral Faun
* [ "What is anarcho-syndicalism?"] A support by An Anarchist FAQ

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