Syndicalism is a
political doctrine which advocates worker's ownership and control. Syndicalism emerged in
France in the late 19th century and was influential in Europe. Syndicalisme is
a French word meaning "trade unionism".
Syndicalists envisages a
revolutionary and non-violent overthrow of private property in which the workers seize
ownership and control of the productive resources of a society. Along with
socialism and communism, syndicalism is one of the common ideologies of co-operative
(syndicat is a Latin-French term for union) was founded on the
idea that organizations of workers within any particular industry or service provided the
organizational basis for the direction and administration of the means of production on
collective and co-operative principles.
The resulting power
structure would be highly decentralized with each industry and service being owned and
directed by the workers involved within it.
social revolution being achieved by the complete unification of workers within each sector
of the economy and thus they opposed the craft-specific structure of traditional labour
unions and advocated industrial unionism that would bring all workers within each industry
into a one collective organization .
THE SYNDICALIST REVOLT
Russell, Bertrand, F.R.S. . Proposed Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and
Syndicalism [Extract from Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library]
Syndicalism arose in France as a revolt against political Socialism, and in order to
understand it we must trace in brief outline the positions attained by Socialist parties
in the various countries.
In France a new movement, originally known as Revolutionary Syndicalism -- and afterward
simply as Syndicalism -- kept alive the vigor of the original impulse, and remained true
to the spirit of the older Socialists, while departing from the letter. Syndicalism,
unlike Socialism and Anarchism, began from an existing organization and developed the
ideas appropriate to it, whereas Socialism and Anarchism began with the ideas and only
afterward developed the organizations which were their vehicle.
In order to understand Syndicalism, we have first to
describe Trade Union organization in France, and its political environment. The ideas of
Syndicalism will then appear as the natural outcome of the political and economic
situation. Hardly any of these ideas are new; almost all are derived from the Bakunist
section of the old International.
The old International had considerable success in France
before the Franco-Prussian War; indeed, in 1869, it is estimated to have had a French
membership of a quarter of a million. What is practically the Syndicalist program was
advocated by a French delegate to the Congress of the International at Bâle in that same
The Origins of Anarcho-Syndicalism
Many anarchists spent a great part of their activities in the labour movement, especially
in the Latin countries, where in later years the movement of Anarcho-Syndicalism was born.
Its theoretical assumptions were based on the teachings of libertarian or anarchist
Socialism, while its form of organisation was taken from the movement of Revolutionary
Syndicalism which in the years from 1895 to 1910 experienced a marked upswing,
particularly in France, Italy and Spain. Its ideas and methods, however, were not new.
They had already found a deep resonance in the ranks of the First International when the
great association had reached the zenith of its intellectual development. This was plainly
revealed in the debates at its fourth congress in Basel (1869) concerning the importance
of the economic organisations of the workers. In his report upon this question which
Eugene Hins laid before the congress in the name of the Belgian Federation, there was
presented for the first time a wholly new point of view which had an unmistakable
resemblance to certain ideas of Robert Owen and the English labour movement of the 1830s.
Syndicalism and Anarchism
[Extract from talk by Alan MacSimóin at WSM Dublin branch meeting, November 18th 1993 -
By the turn of the century many anarchists were convinced that a new approach was needed.
They called for a return to open and public militant activity among workers. The strategy
they developed was syndicalism. Its basic ideas revolve around organising all workers into
the "one big union", keeping control in the hands of the rank and file, and
opposing all attempts to create a bureaucracy of unaccountable full-time officials. Unlike
other unions their belief is that the union can be used not only to win reforms from the
bosses but also to overthrow the capitalist system. They hold that most workers are not
revolutionaries because the structure of their unions is such that it takes the initiative
away from the rank and file. Their alternative is to organise all workers into the
"one big union" in preparation for the revolutionary general strike.
Syndicalists do not create revolutionary political organisations. They want to creates
industrial unions. Their stategy is a-political, in the sense that they argue that all
that's essential to make the revolution is for workers to sieze the factories and the
land. After that it believes that the state and all the other institutions of the ruling
class will come toppling down. They do not accept that the working class must take
political power. For them all power has to be immediately abolished on day one of the
Because the syndicalist organisation is the union, it organises all workers regardless of
their politics. Historically many workers have joined, not because they were anarchists,
but because the syndicalist union was the most militant and got the best results.
Despite our criticisms we should recognise that the syndicalist unions, where they still
exist, are far more progressive than any other union. Not only do they create democratic
unions and create an atmosphere where anarchist ideas are listened to with respect but
they also organise and fight in a way that breaks down the divisions into leaders and led,
doers and watchers.