Revolutionary Syndicalism

This series of articles examines the history of some of the principle revolutionary syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist organisations, notably the French Confédération Générale du Travail, the Spanish Confederacion Nacional de Trabajadores, the American Industrial Workers of the World, the early British shop-stewards movement, and others. Its aim is to examine from historical experience what value the "syndicalist" tradition has for the working class today.

The revolutionary syndicalist movement in the German revolution, 1918-19

The previous article gave an overview of the efforts of the revolutionary syndicalist current in Germany to defend an internationalist position against the war of 1914-18. The Free Union of German Trade Unions (Freie Vereinigung Deutscher Gewerkschaften - FVDG) had survived the war with only a few hundred members in hiding who, under conditions of brutal repression, were, like other revolutionaries, most of the time condemned to silence. But late in 1918 events came to a head in Germany. When the struggles broke out in November 1918, the spark from the Russian revolution of October 1917 ignited the mass action of the proletariat in Germany.

Revolutionary syndicalism in Germany (III)

In the two previous articles we showed that from the 1890s a proletarian opposition developed within the German unions. At the beginning it was against reducing the workers’ struggle to purely economic questions as the general confederations of the unions were doing. It then went on to oppose illusions in parliament and the SPD’s increasing confidence in the state.

The Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG) on the road to revolutionary syndicalism

In the first part of this article looked at the controversy within the German trade union movement and the SPD (Social Democratic Party) that led to the creation of the Free Association of German Trade Unions (Freie Vereinigung Deutscher Gewerkschaften, FVDG), the organization that would be the precursor of German revolutionary syndicalism.

The birth of revolutionary syndicalism in the German workers’ movement

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 structur...

Anti-fascism: the road to the betrayal of the CNT

In the previous articles in this series we have shown how the FAI tried to stop the definitive integration of the CNT into the structures of capitalism. 

In 1934 however there was a fundamental change: the PSOE made a spectacular about face and, led by Largo Caballero, along with its companion union , the UGT, raised the flag of the "revolutionary struggle" pushing the workers of Asturias into the dreadful trap of the October insurrection. The Republican state used a new orgy of death, torture and prison deportations, which matched the savage repression meted out in previous years, to liquidate this movement.


Anarchism fails to prevent the CNT's integration into the bourgeois state (1931-34)

Anarchism took the lead in this resistance to the integration of the CNT into the bourgeois state apparatus as a tool to control the class struggle, when the majority of anarchists in the CNT regrouped to form the Iberian Anarchist Federation (Federacion Anarquista Iberica - FAI) in 1927. The aim of this article is to assess this attempt to preserve the CNT for the proletariat.

The CNT's contribution to the constitution of the Spanish Republic (1921-31)

In this fourth article in the series on the CNT we will show how syndicalism weakened the revolutionary currents within the CNT (those with a Marxist orientation, which were in favour of joining the Third International, as well as those oriented towards anarchism).

History of the CNT (1919-23): The CNT's syndicalist orientation wrecks its revolutionary impetus

The CNT, alongside the IWW,was one of the very few union organisations to maintain its loyalty to the proletariat at that time. Nevertheless, in the period we are going to look at, it is clear that the syndicalist component dominated the actions of the organisation and put an end to the revolutionary tendency that existed within it.

History of the CNT (1914-19): The CNT faced with war and revolution

The first 14 years of the 20th century, known as the Belle Époque, marked capitalism’s high-point. An atmosphere of optimism pervaded society as the economy endlessly prospered and inventions and scientific discoveries followed one upon the other. The workers’ movement was infected with this atmosphere, accentuating tendencies towards reformism and illusions about to the possibility of reaching socialism peacefully through a series of gradual conquests...

History of the CNT (1910-13): The birth of revolutionary syndicalism in Spain

In continuity with the series on revolutionary syndicalism which we began in International Review n°118, the article below is the first in a series of articles on the experience of the Spanish CNT. Today, a new generation of workers are gradually getting involved in the class struggle against capitalism. This confrontation raises a great many questions, one of the most frequent of which is the union question.

The IWW and the failure of revolutionary syndicalism in the USA, part ii

In this article, the second in the series, we will see how far the IWW’s theory and practice allowed it to live up to its own goals, and to the greatest challenge yet faced by the workers’ movement world wide: the outbreak of history’s first great inter-imperialist conflict in 1914.

Anarcho-syndicalism faces a change in epoch: the CGT up to 1914

"In Western Europe revolutionary syndicalism in many countries was a direct and inevitable result of opportunism, reformism, and parliamentary cretinism. In our country, too, the first steps of "Duma activity" increased opportunism to a tremendous extent and reduced the Mensheviks to servility before the Cadets (...) Syndicalism cannot help developing on Russian soil as a reaction against this shameful conduct of 'distinguished' Social-Democrats". These words of Lenin's, which we quoted in the previous article in this series, are wholly applicable to the situation in France at the beginning of the 20th century. For many militants, disgusted by "opportunism, reformism, and parliamentary cretinism", the French Confédération générale du Travail (General Confederation of Labour - CGT) served as a beacon for the new "self-sufficient" (to use the words of Pierre Monatte) and "revolutionary" syndicalism.

What is revolutionary syndicalism?

Ever since 1968, and especially since the collapse of the Eastern bloc, many of those who want to work for the revolution have turned their backs on the experience of the Russian revolution and the 3rd International, to look for lessons for the proletariat's struggle and organisation in another tradition: “revolutionary syndicalism” (sometimes known as “anarcho-syndicalism”).

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