Sociology Index


Syndicalism is a political doctrine which advocates worker's ownership and control. Syndicalism which emerged in France was influential in Europe. Syndicalisme is a French word meaning trade unionism. Syndicalism 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 economics. Syndicalism envisaged 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.

Syndicalism 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 under syndicalism would be highly decentralized with each industry and service being owned and directed by the workers involved within it.


Proposed Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism. Russell, Bertrand, F.R.S. 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, came to be known as Syndicalism. The movement 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 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.

Syndicalism and Anarchism

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 movement" in preparation for the revolutionary general strike.

Bercuson, David Jay (1990), "Syndicalism Sidetracked: Canada's One Big Union", in van der Linden, Marcel; Thorpe, Wayne,

Revolutionary Syndicalism: an International Perspective, Aldershot.