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
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
(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 under syndicalism
would be highly decentralized with each industry and service being owned and directed by
the workers involved within it.
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
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
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.
What is practically the
Syndicalist program was advocated by a French delegate to the Congress of the
International at Bāle in that same year.
The Origins of
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" in preparation for the revolutionary general strike.
Syndicalists do not create revolutionary political organisations. They want to creates
industrial unions. 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.