Anarcho-syndicalism is a branch of anarchism which focuses on the labor movement. Anarcho-syndicalists view labor unions as a potential force for revolutionary social change, replacing capitalism and the state with a new society democratically self-managed by workers.
The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are:
- workers’ solidarity
Workers’ solidarity means that anarcho-syndicalists believe all workers, no matter their race, gender, or ethnic group, are in a similar situation in regard to their bosses (class consciousness). Furthermore, it means that, within capitalism, 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, 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 outlined a view of the origins of the movement, what it sought, and why it was important to the future of labor in his 1938 pamphlet Anarcho-Syndicalism.
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 man.
The International Workers Association is an international anarcho-syndicalist federation of various labor unions from different countries. The Spanish Confederación Nacional del Trabajo played and still plays a major role in the Spanish labor movement. It was also an important force in the Spanish Civil War.
The Industrial Workers of the World is a once powerful and still active union which advocates a "One Big Union" approach to revolutionary organizing. Founded as an explicitly revolutionary industrial union by a collection of socialists and anarchists, the IWW pursues the abolition of wage labour and the establishment of an Industrial Commonwealth . Today, most IWW members are anarcho-syndicalists. The IWW's decision-making and organizing methods -- in addition to its few formal statements of political ideology -- have strong parallels with syndicalist unions in Europe.
The anarcho-syndicalist orientation of many early American labor unions played an important role in the formation of the American political spectrum. The United States is the only industrialized ("first world") country that does not have a major labor-based political party. See It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks, ISBN 0-39-332254-8.
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”
See also: general strike, syndicalism
Anarcho-Syndicalism also served as a short, and also famous, gag for Monty Python in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). In the scene, a peasant speaks of the people in the community being an autononomous collective as part of an anarcho-syndicalist commune, while King Arthur (played by Graham Chapman) insists that he is their king.
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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04