The birth of revolutionary syndicalism in the German workers’ movement

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The main characteristic of revolutionary syndicalism is the conception that the unions are the ideal form of working class organisation on the one hand and, on the other, that after the revolution in the form of a victorious general strike, they will be the basis for a new social structure.

The trade union opposition by the "Localists" and, after 1897, the foundation of the Freie Vereinigung Deutscher Gewerkschaften (FVDG, the Free Association of German Trade Unions) formed the basis for the birth of organised syndicalism in the German workers' movement. In a manner comparable to the more important syndicalist tendencies in France, Spain and the USA, syndicalism was in its origins a healthy proletarian reaction within the German workers' movement against the increasingly reformist politics of the leadership of a powerful social democracy and its trade unions.

After the First World War, the Frei Arbeiter Union Deutschlands (FAUD, the Free Workers' Union of Germany) was founded in September 1919. As an explicitly "anarcho-syndicalist" organisation, the FAUD saw itself as the direct heir of the syndicalist movement prior to the war.

Today there are a number of anarcho-syndicalist groups who lay claim to the tradition of the FVDG and the later anarcho-syndicalism of the FAUD in the 1920s. Rudolf Rocker, as the best known "theoretician" of German anarcho-syndicalism from 1919 onwards is often seen as its political reference point.

However, syndicalism in Germany undoubtedly went through many changes following its birth. For us, the central issue is to examine whether the syndicalist movement in Germany was able to defend the interests of the working class, to provide political answers to the burning questions posed to it and to remain loyal to proletarian internationalism.

It is worth beginning by looking at the most serious challenge faced by the working class in the last decades of the 19th century in Germany: reformism. Without doing this, there is a danger of seeing syndicalism in Germany simply as a particularly radical trade union strategy or as no more than a set of ideas imported from the Latin countries like Spain or France, where syndicalism always played a more important role than in Germany.  

The degeneration of social democracy and the appearance of syndicalism's "ancestors"

The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) was part of the Second International (1889-1914) and the most powerful proletarian organisation of the day. It served as a political compass for the international workers' movement. But the SPD is also the symbol of a tragic experience: it is the typical example of an organisation which, having been situated for years on the proletarian terrain, went through an insidious process of degeneration and ended up, during the years of the First World War, passing once and for all into the camp of the ruling class. The leadership of the SPD pushed the working class into the slaughter of war in 1914 and took on a central role in the defence of German imperialist interests. 

In 1878 Bismarck imposed the "anti-socialist law" which remained in force for 12 years - up until 1890. This law suppressed the activities and meetings of proletarian organisations, and was aimed above all at any organisational links between proletarian groupings. But the "anti-socialist law" was not merely an expression of blind repression against the working class. The ruling class also tried to attract the leadership of the SPD to the idea of placing participation in the bourgeois parliament at the centre of its activities. It thus subtly encouraged the growth of the reformist tendency within social democracy.

These reformist conceptions found early expression in the "Zurich Manifesto" in 1879 and developed around the figure of Edward Bernstein. They called for parliamentary work to be the main vehicle for gradually conquering power within the bourgeois state. This thus marked an abandonment of the perspective of a proletarian revolution that destroys the bourgeois state, in favour of reforming capitalism. Bernstein and his followers wanted the SPD to be transformed from a workers' party into an organisation capable of winning the ruling class to the idea of converting private capital into a collective form of capital. The ruling class was thus to be the main instrument for going beyond its own system - a total absurdity. These conceptions amounted to a frontal attack on the proletarian character of the SPD. But more than this: the Bernstein wing was openly making propaganda in favour of supporting German imperialism in its colonial policy, approving the building of powerful ocean warships for example. At the time of the Zurich Manifesto, Bernstein's reformist ideas were clearly fought by the majority of the social democratic leadership and had not found much echo in the rank and file of the party. But history showed tragically in the decades that followed that this had been the first expression of a cancer that would gradually and relentlessly invade large parts of the SPD. It is not surprising therefore that this open capitulation to the capitalist system, which Bernstein symbolically represented in a more isolated manner but which was to gain a growing influence in German social democracy, unleashed a reaction of indignation within the working class. It is also not astonishing that in this situation a particular reaction developed precisely among the more combative workers organised in the unions. 

Carl Hillmann's trade union theory

However, even before the Zurich Manifesto, at the beginning of the 1870s, there were signs in the German workers' movement that an independent "trade union theory" was developing around Carl Hillmann. The syndicalist movement just before the First World War and above all anarcho-syndicalism afterwards continued to take him as a reference. From May 1873 there appeared a series of articles under the heading "Practical indications for emancipation" in the review Der Volkstaat,[1] where Hillmann wrote:  "... the great mass of workers show a distrust towards all the purely political parties, because they are often betrayed and abused by them, and because these parties' ignorance of social movements leads them to hide the importance of the latter's political side; at the same time, the workers show a greater understanding of and a practical sense for questions about matters that are closer to their interests: a shorter working day, the elimination of offensive factory rules, etc. The permanent trade union organisation exerts a lasting pressure on lawmaking and governments, and as a result the workers' movement in this form of its expression is also political, even if only in the second place (...) The efforts of effective trade union organisations give rise to thoughts about the emancipation of the working class, and this is why these natural organisations must be put at the same rank as purely political agitation, and can be seen neither as a reactionary formation nor as a political movement".

Behind Hillmann's desire in the 1870s to defend the role of the trade unions as central organisations for the struggle of the working class, there was no intention of  introducing a line of separation between the economic struggle and the political struggle, or even of rejecting the political struggle. Hillmann's "trade union theory" was mainly a sensible reaction to the tendencies emerging within the leadership of social democracy that wanted to subordinate the trade unions, and the class struggle in general, to parliamentary activities.

Engels, in the time of Hillmann, March 1875, made the same criticism of the draft programme for the unification congress of the two socialist parties at Gotha, which he considered to be "without sap or vigour"

"Fifthly, there is absolutely no mention of the organisation of the working class as a class through the medium of trade unions. And that is a point of the utmost importance, this being the proletariat's true class organisation in which it fights its daily battles with capital, in which it trains itself and which nowadays can no longer simply be smashed, even with reaction at its worst (as presently in Paris). Considering the importance this organisation is likewise assuming in Germany, it would in our view be indispensable to accord it some mention in the programme and, possibly, to leave some room for it in the organisation of the party".[2]

In effect, the trade unions in a period in which capitalism was in full development were an important instrument for going beyond the isolation of the workers and assisting them to become conscious of themselves as a class. They were a school of class struggle. The way was still open for the working class to obtain lasting reforms from an expanding capitalism.[3]

Contrary to the historiography written by certain parts of the anarcho-syndicalist milieu, it was not Hillmann's intention to resist the marxists who supposedly had always underestimated the trade unions. This is an assertion you find very often but it does not correspond to reality. Hillmann linked his general conceptions to those of the International Working Men's Association, in which Marx and Engels were also active. His criticisms, at root, were directed against those who were aiming to subordinate social democracy's field of activity to the parliamentary struggle - the same elements Marx and Engels opposed in their criticisms of the Gotha programme. To talk about an "independent trade unionism" in the German workers' movement as early as the 1870s is clearly wrong. As a tangible movement within the working class in Germany it only began to form gradually around 20 years later.

But although Hillmann had a healthy and precocious proletarian reaction to the parliamentary cretinism that was slowly emerging in the German workers' movement, there is an essential difference between his approach and that of Marx and Engels: Hillmann put the whole stress on the autonomy of the unions and the workers' "sense for questions about matters that are closer to their interests". Marx, on the other hand, had already in the 1860s warned against reducing the class struggle to the struggle for higher wages: "Too exclusively bent upon the local and immediate struggles with capital, the Trades' Unions have not yet fully understood their power of acting against the system of wage slavery itself. They therefore kept too much aloof from general social and political movements".[4]

As we have already seen, Marx and Engels insisted on the unity between the economic and political struggle of the working class, even if these had to be waged by different organisations. The ideas of Hillmann showed a great weakness in not consistently engaging in the political struggle against that wing of the SPD which was oriented exclusively towards parliament, and in withdrawing into trade union activity, thus conceding the terrain to reformism almost without a fight. This played into the hands of his enemies, since the restriction of the workers to the purely economic struggle is precisely what characterised the development of reformism within the trade union movement.

Did syndicalism in Germany come out of the anarchist movement?

In the summer of 1890. a small opposition was formed within the SPD, the "Jungen" - the "Youngsters". What characterised its best-known representatives, Wille, Wildberger, Kapfneyer, Werner and Baginski was their call for "greater freedom" within the party and their anti-parliamentary attitude. With a very localist approach, they also rejected the necessity for a central organ for the SPD.

The Jungen were a very heterogeneous opposition; it is probably more appropriate to define them as a conglomeration of discontented elements in the SPD. However there was a real justification for their discontent, since the reformist tendency in social democracy had in no way disappeared after the abolition of the anti-socialist law in 1890. Reformism gradually grew in weight. But the criticisms made by the Jungen were not really able to identify the real problems and the ideological roots of reformism. Instead of a politically based struggle against the reformist idea of a peaceful transformation of capitalism into a classless socialist society, the Jungen simply waged a violent and very personal campaign against the various heads of the SPD. Their explanation for reformism was based on an immature and reductionist argument which focused on the problem of "the search for personal profit and celebrity" and on the "psychology of the SPD leaders". This conflict ended in the simultaneous departure and exclusion of the Jungen at the Erfurt Congress of the SPD in 1891, which led in turn to the formation, in November 1891, of the Anarchist Union of Independent Socialists (VUS). The ephemeral VUS, a completely heterogeneous grouping formed mainly by former SPD malcontents and prey to strong personal tensions, quickly fell under the control of the anarchist Gustav Landauer and disappeared three years later, in 1894.

When you read the writings of contemporary anarcho-syndicalists and the best-known books about the birth of syndicalism in Germany, what's striking is the often tortuous attempt to trace a red thread linking past organisations to the anarcho-syndicalism of the FAUD of 1919. Most of the time these writers simply juxtapose the various opposition currents inside the German workers' organisations, from Hillmann to Johann Most, the Jungen and the "Localists", then the FVDG and finally the FAUD. The mere existence of a conflict against the respective leaderships of social democracy and the trade unions is considered as a decisive point in common. But the existence of a conflict with the leadership either of the unions or the party does not in itself constitute a political continuity; if you look at things more closely, there is in fact little continuity between these organisations. With Hillmann, Most and the Jungen you can see that there is a shared aversion for the illusions in parliament which were spreading around them. But while Hillmann always remained part of the First International and of the living struggle of the working class, Most, along with Hasselmann, soon slid towards the petty bourgeois, isolated, desperate activity of "propaganda by the deed", in short, terrorism. The Jungen, with their personal attacks, lacked the political quality of Hillmann who had made a serious effort to push forward the class struggle. The Localists, and the FVDG which came out of them, also represented a real movement within the working class. In the trade union opposition which gave rise to German syndicalism, anarchist ideas prior to 1908 had a weak influence. That said, anarchism left a real mark on the German syndicalism which developed outside the framework of the social democratic unions following World War I.   

The "Localists": a proletarian reaction against the political emasculation of the working class

An organised opposition in the ranks of the social democratic trade unions in Germany was formed in March 1892 in Halberstadt at the time of the first trade union congress after the abolition of the anti-socialist law. The General Commission of the trade union centre under the leadership of Karl Legien decreed at this congress an absolute separation between the political struggle and the economic struggle. The working class organised in the trade unions, according to this point of view, should limit itself exclusively to economic struggles while only social democracy - and above all its deputies in parliament - could be competent in political matters.  

But because of the conditions imposed by 12 years of the anti-socialist law, the workers organised in professional unions were used to the fusion inside the same organisation of political and economic discussions and aspirations, and this had also developed under the constraints of illegality.

The relations between the economic struggle and the political struggle were thus already the object of one of the major debates within the international working class - and this has no doubt remained the case to this day!

At a time when the conditions for the world revolution were maturing as capitalism headed towards its phase of decadence, it became clearer and clearer to the proletariat that it had to answer political questions, in particular the question of war.

In 1892, the leadership of the German trade union movement, after being scattered into isolated professional unions for a number of years as a result of its illegal status, set up the central union confederation - but at the tragic price of the restriction of unions to the economic struggle. This was not because the years of repression under the anti-socialist law had made it necessary to give up freedom of speech and assembly on political questions, but on the basis of reformist visions and huge and spreading illusions in parliamentarism. As a healthy proletarian reaction to this policy of the union leadership around Legien the trade union opposition current known as the Localists was formed. Gustav Kessler played a key role. He had worked in the 1880s on the task of coordinating the professional unions around a system of "trusted delegates" and had participated very actively in the publication of the trade union organ Der Bauhandwerker.

To appreciate the true worth of the Localists, it is first necessary to rectify a very widespread error: the name "Localists" makes it seem at first sight that this was an opposition whose main aim was to concentrate exclusively on regional affairs and to reject any organisational relationship with the working class in other sectors or regions. This impression is often given when you read the current literature, especially that produced by today's anarcho-syndicalists.

For the most part it is difficult to judge whether this is the result of a desire to retrospectively make the Localists and the FVDG organisations mirror today's localist anarcho-syndicalism, or whether it is just the product of an ignorance of history.

The same goes for the very schematic use of the invaluable descriptions by marxists of the beginnings of syndicalism in Germany. When Anton Pannekoek wrote in 1913: "according to their practice, they describe themselves as ‘Localists' and thus express an opposition to the centralisation of the large federations their main principle of agitation",[5] he was describing a development which only took place in the German workers' movement after 1904 through the rapprochement with the idea of the "Bourses de Travail" enshrined in the French CGT's Amiens Charter of 1906.[6] But this does not apply to the period in the 1890s when the Localists first appeared.

The Localists were not formed because they saw their trade union opposition to the policies of Legien first and foremost as being based on a federalist method of waging the class struggle in a locally dispersed manner.  The leading elements in the unions made use of sonorous phrases about the "strict centralisation" of the class struggle while at the same time imposing a strict political abstinence on the workers organised in the unions. To note the existence of this situation, which did gradually push parts of the Localist current towards federalist and anti-centralising ideas, is a rather different matter.

A centralisation in the sense of a common struggle of the working class, of solidarity going beyond trades, sectors and nations, was absolutely necessary. The idea of centralisation as embodied by the trade union centres, however, gave many workers the impression that it meant having organs of control in the hands of the reformist leaders. And at the heart of the approach of the Localist opposition in the mid-1890s was indignation against the decree on political abstinence for the workers.

With regard to the birth of syndicalism in Germany, it seems to us important to set the record straight on the false and sometime exclusive fixation on the question of "federalism versus centralism", by looking at the words of Fritz Kater, one of the leading members of the FVDG and the FAUD: "The effort to organise the trade unions in Germany into central confederations went along with the abandonment of any clarification in the meetings of questions of political and public affairs, and in particular of any attempt by the union to exercise any influence in this sphere, engaging solely in the day to day struggle for better wages and working conditions. It was this point which was the main reason for those who called themselves ‘Localists' to reject and combat the centralism of the confederation. As revolutionary social democrats and members of the party they had the very correct idea that the so-called trade union struggle for the improvement of workers' conditions could not be waged without affecting in an incisive manner the relationship between the workers and the state and its organs of legislation and administration"[7] (our emphasis).

Through this false representation of the Localists as a symbol of absolute federalism, the Stalinist and Trotskyist historiographers sit curiously with certain neo-syndicalist writings for whom federalism is the nec plus ultra.

Even Rudolf Rocker, who lived in Paris and London between 1893 and 1919, and who made federalism a central theoretical principle in the FAUD during the 1920s, honestly and pertinently describes the "federalism" of the Localists of 1892: "However, this federalism was not at all the product of a political and social notion as it was with Pisacane in Italy, Proudhon in France and Pi y Margall in Spain, which was later taken up by the anarchist movement in this country: it was above all the result of an attempt to get round the workings of the Prussian laws on association which were in force at that time. These laws allowed purely local trade unions to discuss political questions but denied this right to members of central confederations."[8]

In the condition of the anti-socialist laws, having grown used to a method of coordination (which can also be called centralisation) through a network of trusted delegates, it was very difficult for the Localists to take up another form of coordination which corresponded to the change in conditions after 1890. A federalist tendency was undoubtedly germinating in 1892. But the federalism of the Localists of this period can be more accurately described as an attempt to make a virtue of the system of trusted delegates. However, the Localists still remained for nearly five years in the big trade union confederations with the aim of representing a combative vanguard inside the social democratic trade unions, and were clearly understood to be a part of social democracy. 

The foundation of the FVDG

In the second half of the 1890s, and above all during strikes, open conflicts broke out more and more between the adherents of the "Localist" professional unions and the central confederations. The most violent expressions of this was among the building workers of Berlin and during the port workers' strike in Hamburg in 1896-97. In these disputes, the central question was generally the one of going on strike: could the professional unions take this decision off their own bat or did this have to have the consent of the central confederation? It is striking that the Localists drew their support from the skilled building workers (masons, tilers, carpenters, among whom there was a strong feeling of "professional pride"), and proportionally much less among the industrial workers.

Parallel to this, the social democratic leadership was, from the end of the 1890s on, inclined to accept the apolitical model of the "neutrality" of the trade unions around Legien's General Commission. With regard to the quarrels between the unions, the SPD, for different reasons, evaded the issue and only expressed itself with some reserve. Even if the Localists at the time of the Halberstadt congress in 1892 only represented a comparatively small minority of around 10,000 members (only about 3% of all the workers organised in trade unions in Germany), among them were numerous combative and experienced trade unionists with close links to the SPD. From fear of antagonising these comrades by taking up a unilateral position on the trade union debates, but above all through lack of clarity about the relationship between the economic and political struggles of the working class, the social democratic leadership stayed on the fence for a long time. It was only in 1908 that the members of the FVDG were definitely dropped by the SPD leadership.

In May 1897, with 68,000 members,[9] the first declared and independently organised precursor of the future syndicalism in Germany was born. Or, put more precisely: the organisation which in the years that followed was to take the path of syndicalism in Germany. With the foundation of this national trade union body, a historic split in the social democratic union movement had taken place. At the "first congress of locally organised trade unions in Germany" at Halle, the Localists proclaimed their organisational independence. The name "Free Association of German Trade Unions"[10] was only adopted in September 1901. Its newly founded press organ Die Einigkeit appeared up until the banning of the FVDG at the outbreak of war in 1914.

Still hand in hand with social democracy?

The resolution of the 1897 congress proposed by Gustav Kessler expressed most clearly the FVDG's understanding of the political struggle of the working class and its relations with social democracy:

"1. Any separation between the trade union movement and consciously social democratic politics is impossible without putting at risk the struggle for the improvement of the situation of the workers in the context of the present order;

2. Any effort, whatever its origin, aimed at weakening or breaking relations with social democracy must be seen as hostile to the working class;

3. Those forms of organisation of the trade union movement that are an obstacle to political objectives must be seen as erroneous and should be condemned. The congress sees the forms of organisation adopted by the Social Democratic Party at the Halle Congress of 1890, taking into account the existence of the law on association, as the most appropriate for pursuing all the objectives of the trade union movement".[11]

Here we see a defence of the political needs of the working class and a strong attachment to social democracy as a "sister organisation". Relations with social democracy were still seen as a bridge to politics. The foundation of the FVDG was thus, at the programmatic level, not a rejection of the spirit of the class struggle defended by Marx, or a rejection of marxism in general, but on the contrary an attempt to keep this spirit alive. The FVDG's desire to keep the "struggle for political objectives" in the workers' hands still constituted its essential strength in the years it was founded. 

The debates at the "4th Congress of centralisation through trusted delegates" in May 1900 showed how firm this political attachment to social democracy was. The FVDG then had around 20,000 members. Kessler even raised the call for a possible fusion between trade unions and party, which was accepted in a resolution: "the political and trade union organisations should unify. This cannot take place immediately, since the historic circumstances for this have to be right; but we probably have the duty to prepare for this unification, by making the unions fit to be bearers of socialist thought. Whoever is convinced that the trade union and political struggle are both the class struggle, and that this can only be fought by the proletariat itself, that person is our comrade and is in the same boat as us".[12]

Despite this healthy desire to avoid being limited exclusively to the economic struggle and to maintain links with the main political organisation of the German working class, the SPD, the seeds of later confusions about syndicalism and the "unified organisation" - an idea that was to appear in Germany after 1919, not only in syndicalism but above all in the "Workers' Unions" - are nonetheless clearly visible. However, the aspiration for a common struggle between social democracy and the FVDG contained in the resolution of 1900 was to be put through a tough trial in that same year.

The "Trade union conflict in Hamburg"

In 1900 the central trade union confederation in Hamburg signed an agreement with the bosses on the abolition of piece work. Some of the stonemasons were opposed to this. They went back to work, were accused of strikebreaking, and expelled from the central trade union confederation. Then these stonemasons joined the FVDG. The Hamburg SPD immediately called for the expulsion of these workers from the party, a decision that was however rejected by an SPD arbitration jury.

Not out of political proximity to the FVDG, but as part of her struggle against reformism and in particular the effort to clarify the relationship between the economic and political struggle of the working class, Rosa Luxemburg defended the jury's decision not to expel the FVDG stonemasons from the SPD. She certainly called for "a severe admonition to the stonemasons"[13] for having broken the strike, but vigorously rejected the formalist and bureaucratic viewpoint that strikebreaking was a reason for immediate exclusion from the party. The central confederation of social democratic unions had, in a number of disputes with the FVDG, also resorted to breaking strikes! The SPD should not in Luxemburg's view become a terrain for conflict between the unions. The party was not the judge of the working class. 

Rosa Luxemburg understood that behind this violent dispute about the Hamburg stonemasons there were much more important questions. The same as those presented in the reports made by the FVDG regarding the "unification" between the party and the mass trade union organisation: the distinction between, on the one hand, a revolutionary political organisation and, on the other hand, the organisational form the working class needed to create in moments of open class struggle: "In practice this would lead to an amalgam between the political and economic organisation of the working class, a confusion in which the two forms of combat would lose their external separation, which would be a backward step for the division of labour which has been engendered by historical conditions".[14]

If the Rosa Luxemburg of 1900, like the workers' movement as a whole, could not at that point go beyond the horizon of the traditional trade union organisation of the working class and saw the unions as mighty organisations of the economic class struggle, this was because it was only in the years that followed that the working class would itself engage in the mass strike and create the workers' councils - a revolutionary laboratory which merged the economic and the political struggle.

The unification of the workers' class struggle, which in Germany was dispersed into all sorts of trade unions, was indeed historically necessary. But this goal could not be reached through the formal application of the party's authority, with the aim of disciplining the workers, which is what the big union confederations wanted. Neither could it be done through the idea of "unitary organisations" which underestimated the necessity for a political party, an idea that was beginning to gain ground in the ranks of the FVDG. Nor could the problem be resolved through "one big union" but only through the unification of the working class in the class struggle itself. The SPD congress at Lübeck in 1901, no doubt under pressure from Luxemburg, and probably in a formal manner, refused to play the role of arbitrating between the central union confederation and the FVDG. However it did adopt Bernstein's "Sonderbund resolution" which threatened any future union split with exclusion from the party. The SPD thus clearly began to take its distance from the FVDG.

In 1900-01, the FVDG experienced growing internal tensions, mainly turning around the question of mutual financial support for a unitary strike fund, There were very strong particularist tendencies and a lack of a sprit of solidarity in its own ranks. A characteristic example of this was the case of the union of cutlery workers and metal stampers in Solingen, who for a long time received financial support from the FVDG's administrative commission only to threaten to leave the FVDG as soon as it was itself asked to give aid to other strikes.

From January 1903 to March 1904, on the initiative of and under pressure from the SPD, secret negotiations were held between the FVDG and the central union confederation with the aim of reintegrating the FVDG into the central confederation. The negotiations broke down. Within the FVDG's commercial commission itself, these negotiations provoked violent tensions between Fritz Kater, who represented the openly syndicalist tendency that would develop later on, and Hinrichsen, who was simply giving way to pressure from the central confederations. This resulted in a great deal of confusion among the organised workers. Around 4,400 FVDG members (more than 25%) left for the central confederation in 1903-04. The failed unification negotiations had taken place in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, resulting in a tangible decline in the FVDG's numbers and represented the first chapter in its break with the SPD.      


Up till 1903, the Localists and the FVDG had the merit of expressing the healthy need of the workers not to see political questions as something exclusively for the party. They thus clearly opposed reformism and the delegation of politics to the parliamentarians. The FVDG was a proletarian movement that was strongly motivated politically and very combative, but also very heterogeneous and completely restricted to the union terrain. As a loose conglomeration of small professional union organisations, it was obviously impossible for it to play the role of a political organisation of the working class. To satisfy its push towards politics, it would have had to move much more strongly towards the revolutionary left within the SPD

Furthermore, the history of the Localists and the FVGD shows that it is vain to search for the "exact hour" of the birth of German syndicalism. This was rather a process that took place over a number of years in which a proletarian minority detached itself from the orbit of social democracy and the social democratic unions.

The challenge of the question of the mass strike when posed directly to syndicalism was to open another stage in its development in Germany. The next article will look at the debates around the mass strikes and the history of the FVDG, from the latter's definitive break with the SPD in 1908 until the outbreak of the First World War.

Mario 27.10.2008

[1] Der Volkstaat was the organ of the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany, the so-called Eisenach tendency led by Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel.


[2]. Letter by Engels to A Bebel, 18/28 March.


[3]. See our pamphlet Trade Unions against the Working Class


[4]. Resolution (written by Marx) of the IWMA, Geneva 1866: "Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council".


[5]. Anton Pannekoek, "German Syndicalism", 1913, our translation.


[6]. Confédération Générale du Travail (General Labour Confederation). See our article in International Review n°120.


[7]. Cited by W Kulemann, Die Berufvereine, vol 2, Lena 1908 (our translation).


[8]. Rudolf Rocker, Aus den memoiren eines deutschen Anarchisten, Ed Suhrkamp p288 (our translation).


[9]. See also


[10]. The big central confederation of trade unions was also officially called "free trade unions" The similarity with the name "Free Association" often created confusion


[11]. Cited by W Kulemann, Die Berufvereine, volume 2, 1908, p46 (our translation).


[12]. Proceedings of the FVDG, cited by D H Muller, Gewerkschaftliche Versammlungsdemokratie und Arbeiterdelegierte, 1985, p 159. (our translation).


[13]. Rosa Luxemburg, Der Parteitag und di hamburger Gewerkschaftstrit, Gesammelle Werke, vol. 1/2, p117 (our translation).


[14]. Ibid, p 116.



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