What is anarcho-syndicalism?

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WHAT IS ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM?

« All economy to the unions!
All social administration to the communes!’

Pierre Besnard in  »Le Monde Nouveau » (1936)

The historical origins

Anarcho-syndicalism is born from direct action in the workers movement going back to the end of the 19th century in the antiauthoritarian wing of the first International Workingmen’s Association (IWA). After being expelled by Marx, this tendency created with the influence of Bakunin, the Jurassian Federation in Switzerland, a genuine antiauthoritarian international. Later on, with Fernand Pelloutier in France, anarchists started to get involved in the workers movement within the Bourses du Travail (types of Workers’ Halls) and the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT). At that time, it was not a question of anarcho-syndicalism, it was rather a matter of revolutionary unionism. This current gathered both anarchists and marxists.

The term  »anarcho-syndicalism » itself appeared in Russia in 1907 in the writing of Novomirsky who was inspired by France’s CGT experience. This word was later on used in 1922 as an insult within the Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire (CGT-U) by a Bolshevik called Lozovski to denigrate the minority that didn’t want their union to join the Profintern, Moscow’s controlled Red International of Labor Unions (RILU).

It’s in opposition to RILU that the International Workers Association (the anarcho-syndicalist IWA – emblem is displayed to the right) was created in 1922 in Berlin. In its founding documents  »revolutionary unionism » is still the official reference for the movement. It’s only when Pierre Besnard served as secretary that the IWA started to call itself as anarcho-syndicalist. Since then, many organisations and groups started referring to themselves as anarcho-syndicalists however, they have not all been part of the anarcho-syndicalist IWA.

What is it in practice?

Anarcho-syndicalism is about getting organized as an economically exploited class (the working class) to fight against the State, capitalism and all oppressions.

It is a matter of struggling to improve our existing conditions day-to-day in a society dominated by capitalism and the state. A wide variety of tactics have been used by the working class and the oppressed to improve their lives based on direct action and solidarity. For example, workplace and rent strikes, boycotts, occupations, work-to-rule and sabotage.

However, it is not enough to simply fight for immediate gains through practicing a neutral or pure unionism. Indeed, politically  »neutral » unionism (influenced by Samuel Gomper among others) tends to create a union bureaucracy of paid officials that act against the interests of rank and file members. They also tend to collaboration with the bosses and capitalism. It is then needed to get organised for a revolutionary final goal. However even some « revolutionary unionist » anti-bureaucratic unions tend to keep politics out of the union (with agreements such the CGT’s  »Amiens Charter » being a classic example). Anarcho-syndicalists are opposed to bureaucracy, class collaboration, reformism, but also struggle day-to-day also for a revolutionary project.

A constructive program

In the society anarcho-syndicalists openly advocate for, there would no free market capitalist economy or so called  »socialism » where the government manages the capitalist economy. Production, demand, distribution and social administration of things would be organised by both federations of self-managed workplaces and by free and autonomous territorial committees, the free communes. Economy would be at the service of human needs rather than profit in a real direct democracy. Therefore, anarcho-syndicalism has as an end: anarchist communism.

Since means determine ends, it is a question of getting organized here and now in concordance with the society we wish to see tomorrow: direct democracy with revocable mandate, federalism, free association, mutual aid, internationalism, etc. Likewise authoritarian approaches will only reproduce a hierarchical and unequal society.

Today

In the past, anarcho-syndicalist organisations could be influenced by different tendencies going from the  »revolutionary finalism » of Emilio López Arango (FORA – Argentina) to anarchist reformism of Evert Arvidsonn (SAC – Sweden). To this day, anarcho-syndicalist organisations have different approaches. At the end of the day, what matters is our practice in the present.

Beyond the fight for increasing the real wage (relative to buying power) we also need to organise in the interests of the whole of the working class: housing and neighborhoods, consumption, unemployment, reduction of the working time without loss of income/buying power, education, health care, migration and legal status, house work, etc.

In the same way, workers can fight against systematic oppressions such as colonialism, sexism, ecological destruction, LGBTQ+ oppression, militarism, nationalism, etc. If we take the example of the impending environmental catastrophe in the next fifty years. It’s not enough to simply assume that without capitalism this will be averted. However, through struggling with direct action to protect the environment now, workers can sow the seeds for a future society capable of restoring the planet’s living conditions with  »Green unionism ». This isn’t just abstract theory, in the 1970s unionized Australian builders employed “Green Bans” to this very end by refusing to work on environmentally detrimental projects. After a revolutionary upheaval, anarcho-syndicalists would hope to continue these efforts through ensuring that production does not reach unsustainable levels.

Popular education

The Anarcho-Syndicalist Collective for Education and Diffusion wishes to propagate the ideas and practice of anarcho-syndicalism as widely as possible in the spirit of popular education. Currently our efforts have been focused on translating, researching, writing and distributing written material, organizing conferences, etc. If you are interested in those ideas, we encourage you to subscribe to our blog, form your own autonomous anarcho-syndicalist groups or to get in touch with us so that we can collectively create a change in the practice and revolutionary theories of our class.

Download and print it on a legal paper (8½ x 14).

If this text interests you, you can learn more online with this video.

WHAT IS ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM?

« All economy to the unions!
All social administration to the communes!’

Pierre Besnard in  »Le Monde Nouveau » (1936)

The historical origins

Anarcho-syndicalism is born from direct action in the workers movement going back to the end of the 19th century in the antiauthoritarian wing of the first International Workingmen’s Association (IWA). After being expelled by Marx, this tendency created with the influence of Bakunin, the Jurassian Federation in Switzerland, a genuine antiauthoritarian international. Later on, with Fernand Pelloutier in France, anarchists started to get involved in the workers movement within the Bourses du Travail (types of Workers’ Halls) and the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT). At that time, it was not a question of anarcho-syndicalism, it was rather a matter of revolutionary unionism. This current gathered both anarchists and marxists.

The term  »anarcho-syndicalism » itself appeared in Russia in 1907 in the writing of Novomirsky who was inspired by France’s CGT experience. This word was later on used in 1922 as an insult within the Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire (CGT-U) by a Bolshevik called Lozovski to denigrate the minority that didn’t want their union to join the Profintern, Moscow’s controlled Red International of Labor Unions (RILU).

It’s in opposition to RILU that the International Workers Association (the anarcho-syndicalist IWA – emblem is displayed to the right) was created in 1922 in Berlin. In its founding documents  »revolutionary unionism » is still the official reference for the movement. It’s only when Pierre Besnard served as secretary that the IWA started to call itself as anarcho-syndicalist. Since then, many organisations and groups started referring to themselves as anarcho-syndicalists however, they have not all been part of the anarcho-syndicalist IWA.

What is it in practice?

Anarcho-syndicalism is about getting organized as an economically exploited class (the working class) to fight against the State, capitalism and all oppressions.

It is a matter of struggling to improve our existing conditions day-to-day in a society dominated by capitalism and the state. A wide variety of tactics have been used by the working class and the oppressed to improve their lives based on direct action and solidarity. For example, workplace and rent strikes, boycotts, occupations, work-to-rule and sabotage.

However, it is not enough to simply fight for immediate gains through practicing a neutral or pure unionism. Indeed, politically  »neutral » unionism (influenced by Samuel Gomper among others) tends to create a union bureaucracy of paid officials that act against the interests of rank and file members. They also tend to collaboration with the bosses and capitalism. It is then needed to get organised for a revolutionary final goal. However even some « revolutionary unionist » anti-bureaucratic unions tend to keep politics out of the union (with agreements such the CGT’s  »Amiens Charter » being a classic example). Anarcho-syndicalists are opposed to bureaucracy, class collaboration, reformism, but also struggle day-to-day also for a revolutionary project.

A constructive program

In the society anarcho-syndicalists openly advocate for, there would no free market capitalist economy or so called  »socialism » where the government manages the capitalist economy. Production, demand, distribution and social administration of things would be organised by both federations of self-managed workplaces and by free and autonomous territorial committees, the free communes. Economy would be at the service of human needs rather than profit in a real direct democracy. Therefore, anarcho-syndicalism has as an end: anarchist communism.

Since means determine ends, it is a question of getting organized here and now in concordance with the society we wish to see tomorrow: direct democracy with revocable mandate, federalism, free association, mutual aid, internationalism, etc. Likewise authoritarian approaches will only reproduce a hierarchical and unequal society.

Today

In the past, anarcho-syndicalist organisations could be influenced by different tendencies going from the  »revolutionary finalism » of Emilio López Arango (FORA – Argentina) to anarchist reformism of Evert Arvidsonn (SAC – Sweden). To this day, anarcho-syndicalist organisations have different approaches. At the end of the day, what matters is our practice in the present.

Beyond the fight for increasing the real wage (relative to buying power) we also need to organise in the interests of the whole of the working class: housing and neighborhoods, consumption, unemployment, reduction of the working time without loss of income/buying power, education, health care, migration and legal status, house work, etc.

In the same way, workers can fight against systematic oppressions such as colonialism, sexism, ecological destruction, LGBTQ+ oppression, militarism, nationalism, etc. If we take the example of the impending environmental catastrophe in the next fifty years. It’s not enough to simply assume that without capitalism this will be averted. However, through struggling with direct action to protect the environment now, workers can sow the seeds for a future society capable of restoring the planet’s living conditions with  »Green unionism ». This isn’t just abstract theory, in the 1970s unionized Australian builders employed “Green Bans” to this very end by refusing to work on environmentally detrimental projects. After a revolutionary upheaval, anarcho-syndicalists would hope to continue these efforts through ensuring that production does not reach unsustainable levels.

Popular education

The Anarcho-Syndicalist Collective for Education and Diffusion wishes to propagate the ideas and practice of anarcho-syndicalism as widely as possible in the spirit of popular education. Currently our efforts have been focused on translating, researching, writing and distributing written material, organizing conferences, etc. If you are interested in those ideas, we encourage you to subscribe to our blog, form your own autonomous anarcho-syndicalist groups or to get in touch with us so that we can collectively create a change in the practice and revolutionary theories of our class.

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