Template:Anarchism Anarcho-syndicalism is a branch of anarchism which focuses on the labour movement. Syndicalisme is a French word meaning "trade unionism" – 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 and private ownership of the means of production, which they believe lead to class divisions. Anarcho-syndicalism remains a popular and active school of Anarchism today and has many supporters as well as many currently active organizations. Many contemporary anarchists argued that Anarcho-Syndicalism is more of an anarchist organizational structure than an economic system in and of itself. Anarcho-syndicalist trade unionists differ on anarchist economic arrangements from a Collectivist anarchism type economic system to an Anarcho-Communism type economic system.

Features of anarcho-syndicalismEdit

The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are:

  1. Workers’ solidarity
  2. Direct action
  3. Workers' self-management
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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 action — that is, action concentrated on directly attaining a goal, as opposed to indirect action, such as electing a representative to a government position — will allow workers to liberate themselves.

Moreover, anarcho-syndicalists believe that workers’ organizations — the organizations that struggle against the wage system, and which, in anarcho-syndicalist theory, will eventually form the basis of a new society — 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.[1] 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.Template:Citeneeded

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 authoritarian 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 Rosa Luxembourg and 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 explictly anarcho-syndicalist, were informed by developments in the broader revolutionary syndicalist millieu at the turn of the twentieth-century. At its founding congress in 1905, influential memembers 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. 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.

Anarcho-Syndicalism and Party PoliticsEdit

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. [2] This has not always been the case. In 1912, for example, Eugene Debs polled 6% of the popular vote as the Socialist Party presidential candidate. 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.

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.


Rudolf Rocker wrote in Anarcho-Syndicalism:

Political rights do not originate in parliaments; they are rather forced upon them from without. And even their enactment into law has for a long time been no guarantee of their security. They do not exist because they have been legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet with the violent resistance of the populace.



Anarcho-syndicalism is viewed as an anachronism by many contemporary anarchists.[3]


  1. Fermin Rocker retrieved 8 September 2006
  2. Lipset, Seymour Martin and Marks, Gary. It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States. ISBN 0-393-32254-8
  3. Heider, Ulrike. (1994) Anarchism: Left, Right and Green, San Francisco: City Lights Books, p.4


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See alsoEdit


External linksEdit

Some anarcho-syndicalist organizationsEdit

Other linksEdit

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