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Anarcho-syndicalism is a political philosophy and anarchist school of thought that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and thus control influence in broader society. The goal of syndicalism is to abolish the wage system, regarding it as wage slavery. Anarcho-syndicalist theory generally focuses on the labour movement. Reflecting the anarchist philosophy from which it draws its primary inspiration, anarcho-syndicalism is centred on the idea that power corrupts and that any hierarchy that cannot be ethically justified must be dismantled.[1]

The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are solidarity, direct action (action undertaken without the intervention of third parties such as politicians, bureaucrats and arbitrators), and workers' self-management. Anarcho-syndicalists believe their economic theories constitute a strategy for facilitating proletarian self-activity and creating an alternative cooperative economic system with democratic values and production centred on meeting human needs. Anarcho-syndicalists perceive the primary purpose of the state as the defence of private property in the forms of capital goods and thereby of economic, social and political power. In maintaining this status quo, the state denies most of its citizens the ability to enjoy material independence and the social autonomy that springs from it.[1]



The roots of anarcho-syndicalism lie in the anarchist faction of the International Workingmen's Association (IWA), which upheld the central role of trade unions in the class struggle and called for a general strike to replace the state with a free association of producers. This was in opposition to the Marxist faction, which proposed the seizure of state power by a political party.[2] The IWA's largest section was the Spanish Regional Federation (FRE), which adopted the anarchist platform of revolutionary trade unionism and organised itself according to a structure that anticipated syndicalism.[3] The FRE was driven underground following the suppression of the FRE-led Petroleum Revolution in 1873, after which they were succeeded by a series of unions such as the Federation of Workers of the Spanish Region (FTRE) and the Union and Solidarity Pact (PUS). The FRE's model was also taken up by Cuban anarchists, who established their own union federations to organise Cuban workers and recently-emancipated slaves.[4]

In the United States, the anarchists of the International Working People's Association (IWPA) also adopted the proto-syndicalist platform of Albert Parsons and established a large trade union federation in Chicago.[5] Despite its suppression after the Haymarket affair, the IWPA was strongly influential on the development of syndicalism (described as "anarchism made practical") and left behind a legacy commemorated in International Workers' Day.[6] Anarchists also participated in the trade union movement in Mexico, where they established the Mexican Workers' General Congress (CGOM) and dedicated it towards using unions as their vehicle for social revolution.[7] While the influence of the anarchists was strong in the Spanish and American labour movements, most of Europe's trade unions fell under the control of social-democratic political parties.[8] During the 1880s, a period of economic growth had encouraged the development of reformist tendencies such as social democracy, resulting in the sidelining of the anarchists, who had largely neglected labour organisation in favour of individual acts of "propaganda of the deed".[9]

But the technological innovations achieved during the Second Industrial Revolution also preceded a simultaneous rise in profits and decline of wages, while new management strategies resulted in the increase of both workload and working time.[10] Increasing levels of the division of labour brought with it a rise in alienation among workers, which led to the development of calls for workers' self-management and workers' control over the means of production.[11] Even as strike actions became more common around the world, social-democratic union leaders remained largely reluctant to engage in strikes and limited the decision-making power of individual members through internal bureaucracy.[12] Despite protests by the membership, these centralised trade unions often preferred to form compromised "wage agreements" with their employers rather than risk opening their accumulated strike fund.[13] The moderate tendencies of the union leadership eventually provoked widespread dissillusionment among the rank-and-file union members, with some such as Karl Roche coming to characterise paid union officials as a new upper class.[14]

Increasing tensions between the union leadership and membership led to the development of a current that had by now become known as syndicalism, which called for workers themselves to take direct action in order to improve their own material conditions.[15] Anarchists also began to move away from insurrectionism and back towards the labour movement, increasingly promoting syndicalism as a "practical form of organisation for the realisation of anarchist-communism" and even beginning to capture some unions from the social-democrats.[16]

Growth of syndicalism[edit]

Fernand Pelloutier, a leading figure within the Bourse du Travail movement

The birth of the revolutionary syndicalist movement took place in France, at the end of the 19th century.[17] After the French state's suppression of the Paris Commune and the First International, trade unions were left disorganised and many fell under the control of republican and socialist political parties.[18] At this time, workers began to establish the Bourses du Travail (English: Labour Exchanges), which provided mutual aid, encouraged the self-organisation of independent trade unions and organised strike actions.[19] These institutions were established outside of political party control by a broad coalition of rank-and-file trade union members, revolutionary socialists and anarchists.[20] Led by Fernand Pelloutier,[21] the anarchists saw the bourses as an embryo for the formation of a stateless society,[22] conceiving of them as a means for workers to negotiate short-term gains while preparing for a revolutionary general strike.[23] By the turn of the 20th century, the bourses had joined together with other independent trade unions to form the General Confederation of Labour (CGT),[24] which eventually came to include 60% of French workers across all economic sectors within its ranks.[25] Holding to the principles of revolutionary syndicalism, in 1905, the CGT launched a campaign for workers themselves to institute the eight-hour day. On International Workers' Day of 1906, this campaign culminated in a general strike, which secured a reduction in working time and workload, an increase in wages and the introduction of the weekend.[26] But the years that followed brought increased state repression against the CGT, eventually forcing it to turn towards reformism.[27]

By this time, revolutionary syndicalism had already spread throughout Europe.[28] In the Netherlands, the National Labor Secretariat moved away from social democracy and adopted syndicalism.[29] In Italy, a series of syndicalist-led general strikes brought about the establishment of the Italian Syndicalist Union (USI),[30] which itself led a further series of general strikes that culminated in the Red Week.[31] In Portugal, the repression that followed the 1910 Revolution, during which a syndicalist-led general strike had briefly brought Lisbon under workers' control, forced the socialists and anarchists to join together within the National Workers' Union [pt] (UON).[32] In Germany, syndicalists established the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG) outside the control of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).[33] In Sweden, the defeat of a general strike accelerated the split of syndicalists from the social-democratic unions, with the formation of the Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden (SAC).[34] Syndicalism also experienced a growth in Norway and Denmark,[35] after the negotiated end to a series of lockouts by social-democratic union leadership pushed radicals to establish their own syndicalist unions.[36]

In contrast to the spread of French-style syndicalism throughout Europe, the English-speaking world saw the development of a tendency known as industrial unionism, which upheld the concept of "One Big Union".[37] This movement was led by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW),[38] which spread from the United States to Australia, the United Kingdom and South Africa.[39] The only development of syndicalism in Anglophone countries was in Britain, where in 1910, the Industrial Syndicalist Education League (ISEL) was founded by Tom Mann and began to organise workers in the mining and transportation industries.[40] The ISEL organised the 1911 Liverpool general transport strike, which managed to receive significant international support, and convinced the South Wales Miners' Federation to reorganise along syndicalist lines, before going on to participate in the 1912 United Kingdom national coal strike.[41] By the 1910s, syndicalism had spread throughout every country in Europe and anarchist tendencies started to develop within the movement.[42]

Development of anarchist syndicalism[edit]

Christiaan Cornelissen, an early leader of the anarcho-syndicalist movement following the International Anarchist Congress of Amsterdam

Despite their shared commitment to trade union action, revolutionary syndicalists lacked a coherent ideology. The Dutch syndicalist Christiaan Cornelissen found that the movement was divided into three main groups: socialists, who saw syndicalism as a means to break away from parliamentary politics; trade unionists, who saw it as a distinct ideology of class conflict; and anarchists.[43] In 1906, the CGT attempted to find a compromise between these different syndicalist tendencies by creating a unified declaration of syndicalist principles: the Charter of Amiens.[44] The Charter declared that the CGT was to be a class-based organisation, not an ideological one, and would welcome workers of all political tendencies so long as they agreed with the abolition of wage labour and capitalism. It stated that the "dual purpose" of syndicalism was to work towards immediate improvements of working conditions, and to prepare for a general strike in which trade unions would take over production and distribution. Ideological convictions outside of these aims were requested to be left outside the union.[45]

Although sympathetic to the revolutionary syndicalist program, many within the anarchist movement remained skeptical towards the syndicalist movement.[46] When the International Anarchist Congress of Amsterdam was convened by the anarcho-syndicalist Christiaan Cornelissen in 1907, a conflict between the two tendencies broke out.[47] While the CGT's Pierre Monatte attempted to highlight the shared similarities between anarchism and syndicalism, he insisted that the latter was "self-sufficient".[48] Monatte's claims were the target of vocal criticism from Errico Malatesta, who, although not denying trade unionism as a means of revolutionary struggle for workers' self-management, considered trade unions to exist primarily as way to protect workers' interests within the existing system. He also rejected the possibility that a general strike could replace insurrection as the principle means for a social revolution, although he believed it could serve as the igniting incident for one.[49] He ended by calling on anarchists to transform trade unions into anarchist organisations; Amédée Dunois followed up by laying the groundwork for an anarchist syndicalism, calling for the replacement of abstract "pure anarchism" with a concrete "workers' anarchism."[50] When the Congress created a bureau for an Anarchist International, it included syndicalists such as the Russian Alexander Schapiro, the English John Turner and the German Rudolf Rocker. However, the bureau was short-lived and had already dissolved by 1911.[51]

Founding congress of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT)

In spite of the tensions between syndicalism and anarchism in Western Europe, the anarchist workers' movements in Spain and Latin America continued to be influenced by revolutionary syndicalism. In 1907, Spanish workers' organisations that had succeeded the FRE and FTRE once again came together into the federation Workers' Solidarity (SO), which aimed to replace capitalism with a socialist workers' economy. It soon grew highly influential in the industrial region of Catalonia, where in 1909, it organised a general strike against the Spanish invasion of Morocco, although it would be violently suppressed during the "Tragic Week".[52] In 1910, workers' organisations throughout Spain united into the National Confederation of Labour (CNT),[53] which was based on the syndicalist model of the French CGT. It adopted syndicalist aims for the eight-hour day, minimum wage and a revolutionary general strike,[54] upheld the anarchist principle of rejecting political parties,[53] and affirmed that syndicalism was a means by which workers could liberate themselves.[54] Driven forward by this characteristically anarchist form of syndicalism, within a year, the CNT grew to count 30,000 members and organised large strikes in major cities throughout Spain. The organisation was banned in 1911, but continued its activities underground, organising several general strikes throughout the country until its public reemergence in 1914.[55]

Demonstration by the Argentine Regional Workers' Federation (FORA) in 1915

By this time, anarchist workers' movements had also risen to prominence throughout Latin America. In 1901, the Argentine Regional Workers' Federation (FORA) was established, and by 1905, it had adopted anarchist communism as its political philosophy, rejecting the political neutrality (or "self-sufficiency") of syndicalist trade unions.[56] The FORA organised a series of general strikes in Rosario and Buenos Aires, often resulting in harsh police repression, but also winning material improvements in working conditions. Spanish anarchists reported that, during that period in Argentina, "almost all the workers are anarchists".[57] Nevertheless, by 1916, the issue of "neutral syndicalism" would end up splitting the FORA into anarchist and moderate factions.[58] The FORA would also provide the model for the establishment of other organisations, including: the Uruguayan Regional Workers' Federation (FORU), which organised a series of general strikes in various sectors of the Uruguayan economy, resulting in the achievement of the eight-hour day; and the Paraguayan Regional Workers' Federation (FORP).[59] During the Mexican Revolution, anarchists collaborated in the overthrow of the Porfiriato and established the syndicalist union House of the World Worker (COM). The COM formed an alliance with the Constitutionalists against the revolutionary forces of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, but by 1916, were themselves repressed by the constitutional government.[60] Anarchist trade unionists also achieved significant levels of influence in Cuba and Brazil, where in the latter they established the Brazilian Workers' Confederation (COB).[61] In Chile, anarchist Resistance Societies and "Mancomunales" organised a series of strikes, but were violently repressed by the government. In Peru, anarchist trade unions organised a number of general strikes which achieved the eight-hour day. Anarchist trade unions were also established in Bolivia, Ecuador and Panama, among other countries.[62]

As the anarchist and syndicalist movements gained ground throughout the world, syndicalists that had participated in the 1907 Amsterdam Congress (led by Christiaan Cornelissen) established an International Syndicalist Bulletin,[63] through which they aimed to form links between syndicalist organisations and further develop the movement.[64] Revolutionary syndicalists in Western Europe called for the CGT to convoke an international trade union congress, which would also allow the participation of reformist unions, in order to promote working-class unity.[65] The International Secretariat of National Trade Union Centres (ISNTUC) was established under the leadership of the German social democrats, who blocked resolutions for general strikes and anti-militarism from congress agendas.[66] The CGT initially boycotted the conferences, but eventually decided to participate, despite its inability to further its goals within the organisation.[67] Setting themselves apart from the ISNTUC, the British ISEL decided to take the initiative for holding an international syndicalist congress, which would invite any syndicalists that supported revolutionary class struggle and rejected political parties.[68] In September 1913, the congress was convened at Holborn Town Hall in London, bringing together delegates of syndicalist organisations from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.[69] With Christiaan Cornelissen as its secretary and Alexander Schapiro providing translation, the congress discussed a series of issues.[70] Differences emerged between the supporters of revolutionary syndicalism, and those like Alceste De Ambris, who attempted to downplay anti-capitalist and anti-statist resolutions.[71] The Congress ended up adopting a revolutionary syndicalist declaration of class struggle and direct action against capitalism and the state; it called for the formation of independent trade unions that could organise both for immediate improvements to working conditions and for the eventual overthrow of capitalism and the state, after which the unions would take over production and distribution.[72] The Congress closed by establishing an International Syndicalist Information Bureau, which would coordinate the international syndicalist movement and organise future conferences. Despite protests from De Ambris, the Bureau came under the effective control of the Dutch NAS, with Gerrit van Erkel as its chair, and began its work on 1 January 1914.[73] But the international unification of anarchists and syndicalists was brought to a halt that same year, with the outbreak of World War I.[74]

International Workers' Association[edit]

From 1918 on, the CNT grew more substantial and had an outstanding role in the events of the La Canadiense general strike, which paralyzed 70% of the industry in Catalonia in 1919, that year the CNT reached a membership of 700,000.[75] Around that time, panic spread among employers, giving rise to the practice of pistolerismo (employing thugs to intimidate active unionists), causing a spiral of violence that significantly affected the trade union. These pistoleros are credited with killing 21 union leaders in 48 hours.[76]

Émile Pouget

In 1922, the International Workers' Association (IWA) was founded in Berlin, and the CNT joined immediately, but with the rise of Miguel Primo de Rivera's dictatorship, the labour union was outlawed again the following year.[77] However, with the workers' movement resurgent following the Russian Revolution, what was to become the modern IWA was formed, billing itself as the "true heir" of the original International.[78][page needed] The successful Bolshevik-led revolution of 1917 in Russia was mirrored by a wave of syndicalist successes worldwide, including the struggle of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the United States alongside the creation of mass anarchist unions across Latin America and massive syndicalist-led strikes in Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy and France, where it was noted that "neutral (economic, but not political) syndicalism had been swept away".[79] The final formation of this new international, then known as the International Workingmen's Association, took place at an illegal conference in Berlin in December 1922, marking an irrevocable break between the international syndicalist movement and the Bolsheviks.[80] The IWA included the Italian Syndicalist Union (500,000 members), the Argentine Workers Regional Organisation (200,000 members), the General Confederation of Workers in Portugal (150,000 members), the Free Workers' Union of Germany (120,000 members), the Committee for the Defense of Revolutionary Syndicalism in France (100,000 members), the Federation du Combattant from Paris (32,000 members), the Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden (32,000 members), the National Labor Secretariat of the Netherlands (22,500 members), the Industrial Workers of the World in Chile (20,000 members) and the Union for Syndicalist Propaganda in Denmark (600 members).[81][better source needed]

The first secretaries of the International included the famed writer and activist Rudolph Rocker, along with Augustin Souchy and Alexander Schapiro. Following the first congress, other groups from France, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania were affiliated. Later, a bloc of unions in the United States, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Cuba, Costa Rica and El Salvador also shared the IWA's statutes. The IWW, biggest syndicalist union in the United States, considered joining but eventually ruled out affiliation in 1936 based on the IWA's religious and political affiliation policies.[82][page needed] Although not anarcho-syndicalist, the IWW was informed by developments in the broader revolutionary syndicalist milieu at the turn of the 20th century. At its founding congress in 1905, influential members with strong anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist sympathies like Thomas J. Hagerty, William Trautmann and Lucy Parsons contributed to the union's overall revolutionary syndicalist orientation.[83][page needed] Although the terms anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism are often used interchangeably, the anarcho-syndicalist label was not widely used until the early 1920s: "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".[84] Translations of the original statement of aims and principles of the IWA (drafted in 1922) refer not to anarcho-syndicalism but revolutionary syndicalism or revolutionary unionism.[85][86]

Flag of the CNT-FAI

The Biennio Rosso (English: "Red Biennium") was a two-year period between 1919 and 1920 of intense social conflict in Italy following World War I.[87] The Biennio Rosso took place in a context of economic crisis at the war's end, with high unemployment and political instability. It was characterized by mass strikes, worker manifestations, and self-management experiments through land and factory occupations.[87] In Turin and Milan, workers' councils were formed, and many factory occupations took place under the leadership of anarcho-syndicalists. The agitations also extended to the agricultural areas of the Padan plain and were accompanied by peasant strikes, rural unrest, and guerilla conflicts between left-wing and right-wing militias. According to libcom.org, the anarcho-syndicalist trade union Unione Sindacale Italiana (USI) "grew to 800,000 members and the influence of the Italian Anarchist Union (20,000 members plus Umanita Nova, its daily paper) grew accordingly [...] Anarchists were the first to suggest occupying workplaces".[88][better source needed]

Many of the most prominent members of the IWA were broken, driven underground or wiped out in the 1920s–1930s as fascists came to power in states across Europe, and workers switched away from anarchism towards the seeming success of the Bolshevik model of socialism. In Argentina, the FORA had already begun to decline by the time it joined the IWA, having split in 1915 into pro and anti-Bolshevik factions. From 1922, the anarchist movement there lost most of its membership, exacerbated by further splits, most notably around the Severino Di Giovanni affair. It was crushed by General Uriburu's military coup in 1930.[89] Germany's FAUD struggled throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s as the Brownshirts took control of the streets. Its last national congress in Erfurt in March 1932 saw the union attempt to form an underground bureau to combat Adolf Hitler's fascists; a measure never implemented as mass arrests decimated the conspirators' ranks.[90][better source needed] The editor of the FAUD organ Der Syndikalist, Gerhard Wartenberg, was killed in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Karl Windhoff, delegate to the IWA Madrid congress of 1931, was driven out of his mind and also died in a Nazi death camp. There were also mass trials of FAUD members held in Wuppertal and Rhenanie; many of these never survived the death camps.[81][better source needed] Italian IWA union USI, which had claimed a membership of up to 600,000 people in 1922, was waning due to murders and repression from Benito Mussolini's fascists.[91][better source needed] It had been driven underground by 1924, and although it could still lead significant strikes by miners, metalworkers and marble workers, Mussolini's ascent to power in 1925 sealed its fate. By 1927, its leading activists had been arrested or exiled.[92]

Portugal's CGT was driven underground after an unsuccessful attempt to break the newly installed dictatorship of Gomes da Costa with a general strike in 1927 that led to nearly 100 deaths. It survived underground with 15–20,000 members until January 1934, when it called a general revolutionary strike against plans to replace trade unions with fascist corporations, which failed. It continued in a much-reduced state until World War II but was effectively finished as a fighting union.[93][better source needed] Massive government repression repeated such defeats worldwide as anarcho-syndicalist unions were destroyed in Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, Cuba, Bulgaria, Paraguay and Bolivia. By the end of the 1930s, legal anarcho-syndicalist trade unions existed only in Chile, Bolivia, Sweden and Uruguay.[94] However, perhaps the most tremendous blow was struck in the Spanish Civil War, which saw the CNT, then claiming a membership of 1.58 million, driven underground with the defeat of the Spanish Republic by Francisco Franco. The sixth IWA congress took place in 1936, shortly after the Spanish Revolution had begun, but was unable to provide serious material support for the section. The IWA held its last pre-war congress in Paris in 1938; with months to go before the German invasion of Poland, it received an application from ZZZ,[95][better source needed] a syndicalist union in the country claiming up to 130,000 workers—ZZZ members went on to form a core part of the resistance against the Nazis and participated in the Warsaw uprising. However, the International was not to meet again until 1951, six years after World War II had ended. During the war, only one member of the IWA could continue to function as a revolutionary union, the SAC in Sweden.[81][better source needed] In 1927, with the "moderate" positioning of some cenetistas (CNT members), the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), an association of anarchist affinity groups, was created in Valencia. The FAI would play an essential role during the following years through the so-called trabazón (connection) with the CNT; that is, the presence of FAI elements in the CNT, encouraging the labour union not to move away from its anarchist principles, an influence that continues today.[96]

Post-war decline[edit]

Anarcho-syndicalism experienced a decline in the wake of World War II, as social corporatism took root in the Western Bloc and political repression increased in the Eastern Bloc, with the anarcho-syndicalist organisations in Bulgaria, East Germany, Poland and Hungary all being broken up.[97] Anarcho-syndicalists faced fierce repression in Francoist Spain, with the CNT attempting to continue its anarcho-syndicalist activities underground.[98] In 1946, the organisation experienced a split over whether or not to support a united front with other anti-fascist forces, in a schism that persisted until the CNT's reunification in 1960. Most of the CNT's work took place in exile in France, where they maintained at least 30,000 active members. The Portuguese CGT was likewise repressed by the Estado Novo, with its underground activity ceasing by the 1960s.[99] Political repression also hit anarcho-syndicalists in Latin America. The Argentine FORA attempted to resist the government of Juan Perón through strikes and demonstrations, but by the 1950s, their independent trade unions and publications had been shut down and its membership declined. Anarcho-syndicalist federations in Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia also dissolved in the early 1950s, with many of them merging into mainstream trade union federations.[100] Anarcho-syndicalists would continue to play leading roles within Latin American trade unions until the 1960s.[101]

Dutch historian Marcel van der Linden, who provided a materialist explanation for the decline of anarcho-syndicalism in the late-20th century

Although anarcho-syndicalists had space to pursue legal activity in Western Europe, no substantial revival of the movement took place. In France, the Confederation nationale du travail (CNT) managed to bring together tens of thousands of workers in major cities, but it lacked material and organisational strength, so its members soon left for more mainstream trade unions. The Italian USI was likewise reorganised, but failed to become a major force. In Sweden, the SAC managed to retain a relatively large membership, but also experienced a decline in numbers during the 1950s. Anarchists in France and Italy came to consider anarcho-syndicalism to be a divisive force in the workers movement, and instead began to favour small-scale activities within existing trade unions.[102] According to historians Marcel van der Linden and Wayne Thorpe, changes within the western capitalist system, such as the exacerbation of the division of labour through an increasing rationalisation and automation of production, contributed to this decline in the anarcho-syndicalist movement and the wider radical workers' movement.[103] Keynesian economics also drove an increase in state intervention in the economy, leading to the rise of welfare states, which improved the living conditions of workers and gave them a stake in the functioning of their economic systems.[104] To van der Linden and Thorpe, these new material realities confronted the anarcho-syndicalist movement with three possibilities: to hold firm to its principles, at risk of marginalisation; to revise some of its principles, in order to adjust to the new material conditions; or to dissolve entirely and merge into the reformist trade union movement.[105]

Members of the Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden, marching on May Day in Malmö

The first path was followed by the IWA, which in the 1950s adopted a series of resolutions to reaffirm its anarcho-syndicalist principles, rejecting collaboration with statist forces and renouncing its previously held position of "tactical autonomy". This caused a split in the IWA, with the Dutch and Swedish sections leaving the international in 1958.[106] The second path was taken by the SAC, which decided to revise its principles in order to keep up with modernisation, while continuing to call itself anarcho-syndicalist.[107] This revisionist tendency was influenced by the German syndicalist Helmut Rüdiger, who argued against the "orthodoxy" of anti-statism. Rüdiger posited that new social conditions meant that the abolition of the state would not only abolish the apparatus of oppression but also the new systems of welfare, the latter of which he believed workers would never consent to. He instead proposed that anarcho-syndicalists, rather than waiting for a future social revolution, ought to act within the existing system in order to reform it towards increased democratisation, which he felt justified working within united fronts and participating in local elections.[108] With this new outlook, the SAC began to participate in the Swedish welfare state, taking a key role in the administration of unemployment insurance funds.[109] In 1952, members of the SAC approved a declaration that its goal was to establish an industrial democracy by progressively transferring control over private and public enterprises from shareholders to workers. The organisation renounced what Evert Arvidsson [sv] described as the "magic wand of revolution", instead taking the role of the left-wing opposition within the Swedish welfare system.[110] The SAC's establishment of unemployment insurance funds worked to bring more workers into its ranks, but also made it a target of criticism from the international anarcho-syndicalist movement, which denounced it for reformism and collaborationism.[111]

By the 1960s, the IWA had declined to its lowest point, as anarcho-syndicalists became largely preoccupied with providing theoretical analyses of new developments in both capitalist and socialist states.[112] It was only after the protests of 1968 and the Spanish transition to democracy that the anarcho-syndicalist movement began to experience a revival. The CNT once again rose to prominence in Spain,[113] growing to represent 300,000 members by the end of the 1970s, but it ultimately failed to become a leading force in the post-Francoist period.[114] Meanwhile, new anarcho-syndicalist organisations were established in countries throughout Europe.[112] During the 1980s, globalisation and neoliberalism led to the dismantling of welfare states in the West, while the Eastern Bloc collapsed in the Revolutions of 1989.[115] This caused a crisis in left-wing politics, as social-democratic parties adopted neoliberalism and mainstream trade unions were unable to prevent the worsening of living and working conditions, with many workers facing increased precarity.[116] Anarcho-syndicalists considered this to be a moment that demonstrated the problems inherent to capitalism and the state,[117] and once again began to present libertarian socialism as a necessary alternative to the existing system.[118]

Contemporary revival[edit]

By the turn of the 21st century, anarcho-syndicalism had experienced a revival, as anarcho-syndicalist organisations re-emerged throughout the globe. In Europe and the Americas, pre-existing and dormant organisations were revitalised,[119] while entirely new organisations were established in Africa and Asia.[120] The FORA was reestablished in Argentina, while the Spanish CNT, French CNT and Italian USI became more active.[121] Anarcho-syndicalist groups were established in Indonesia, Nigeria and Syria, and a branch of the IWW was founded in Sierra Leone.[120] This also coincided with the revival of the agrarian socialist movement, as organisations affiliated with the Via Campesina began coordinating indigenous and peasant resistance to neoliberalism and globalisation.[122]

Members of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist trade union CNT marching in Madrid in 2010

Although they remained relatively small, these organisations reoriented themselves towards radicalising existing initiatives of workers' self-management and self-organisation, rather than trying to take the leadership in the workers' movement.[121] Anarcho-syndicalists became more present in social conflicts, with the Spanish CNT growing to count 10,000 members and participating in some of the country's most radical strike actions.[123] In Puerto Real, workers' assemblies spearheaded by the CNT organised a mass strike and took forms of direct action against the closure of the local shipyard.[124] Striking workers erected barricades throughout the city, clashed with the police in street battles and sabotaged infrastructure, eventually securing the maintenance of the port.[125]

Anarcho-syndicalists in Russia

Into the 2000s, the CNT organised a series of mass strikes in cities throughout Spain, while the USI participated in a number of general strikes in Italy.[126] In post-communist Russia, anarcho-syndicalism was revived by the Revolutionary Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists (KRAS), which has participated a series of strike actions, distributed anarchist propaganda and engaged in anti-militarist activism.[127] By 2007, the IWA had grown to included 16 affiliate sections, representing organisations from throughout the world. That same year, a revolutionary syndicalist summit brought together 250 delegates from throughout the world, with African unions representing the largest delegation.[128]

The contemporary anarcho-syndicalist revival also brought with it a new wave of splits, as new syndicates were formed with the intention of seeking a mass base, participating in works councils and achieving social reforms.[126] These new organisations included the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), which broke off from the Spanish CNT in 1984; the CNT-F, which separated from the French CNT in 1995;[129] and the Italian COBAS [it]. Within decades, the CGT had grown to become Spain's third-largest union, representing over two million workers, while the COBAS counted hundreds of thousands of workers in its ranks. Together, these organisations founded a new international, the European Federation of Alternative Syndicalism [it], in 2003.[128]

Theory and politics[edit]

Basic outline of syndicalism as an economic system

Anarcho-syndicalists believe that direct action carried out by workers as opposed to indirect action, such as electing a representative to a government position, would allow workers to liberate themselves.[130]

Anarcho-syndicalists believe that workers' organisations that oppose the wage system will eventually form the basis of a new society and should be self-managing. They should not have bosses or "business agents"; instead, the workers alone should decide on what affects them.[131] Rudolf Rocker is one of the most influential figures in the anarcho-syndicalist movement.

Noam Chomsky, influenced by Rocker, wrote the introduction to a modern edition of Anarcho-syndicalism: Theory and Practice. A member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Chomsky is a self-described anarcho-syndicalist, a position that he sees as the appropriate application of classical liberal political theory to contemporary industrial society:

Now a federated, decentralised system of free associations, incorporating economic as well as other social institutions, would be what I refer to as anarcho-syndicalism; and it seems to me that this is the appropriate form of social organisation for an advanced technological society in which human beings do not have to be forced into the position of tools, of cogs in the machine. There is no longer any social necessity for human beings to be treated as mechanical elements in the productive process; that can be overcome and we must overcome it to be a society of freedom and free association, in which the creative urge that I consider intrinsic to human nature will in fact be able to realize itself in whatever way it will.[132]

CNT's offices in Barcelona

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]