Friday, September 27, 2019

Blast From the Past: Syndicalism Stands Out


A radical alternative to capitalism, communism, and garden-variety socialism made serious waves way back when. 

SYNDICALISM, a political and industrial doctrine which demands that the means of production, distribution and government shall be turned over to all those workers who are actively useful and necessary in the community. There are many different views on the subject, held by opponents and believers in the movement, but a general description is aimed at here. It is antagonistic to every other form of control, whether by government, existing labor unions or by capital. The motivating and regenerating force of syndicalism is to come from the enthusiasm of the workers themselves. It distrusts organization, delegates and all forms of leadership except that of the propagandists. Force is the basis of society, and this weapon is to reform the world. 

The first objective aim is to eliminate the present owners of production. The means to accomplish this vary in the theories of different exponents of the doctrine, but they may be generally outlined here. Sabotage, boycotting, strikes (qq.v.) and disturbances of all kinds are legitimate. They propose first, by anti-militarist propaganda, to avert the possibility of armed suppression, and then to use their ultimate weapon, "the general strike." This demands the stoppage of every activity and the consequent crippling of the entire government, which, bereft of armed force, will be compelled to capitulate to the working class. This having been accomplished, they then propose to abolish property and masters; level the reward of all work; and carry on trade, production and education by trade unions and local organizations. 
Syndicalism differs from socialism in that the former demands social revolution through incited labor to abolish capital; whereas the latter expects to work reform through political agitation by gaining majorities in existing governments. Furthermore, Socialism aims at further centralization of government control and depends on rich unions with capable leaders, while Syndicalism prefers poor unions and actual leveling of authority. It differs from the I. W. W. movement in that in its constructive policy it aims at decentralization of trade power, instead of one tremendous all-embracing union of workers, modeled on the lines of capitalistic organization. 
The movement began in France in 1892, where prior to the European War there were 600,000 avowed Syndicalists. From France it spread to Italy where it was taken over chiefly by the agriculturists who at the same period owned 200,000 acres of tillable lands farmed on the co-operative plan; and the entire railway system was under the influence of Syndicalists.
The movement has a large following in England, some 60,000 being present at a conference held before the war. In America a similar movement began under the direction of the I. W. W. Russia has many different classes of labor agitators,— the Bolsheviki embody many Syndicalist principles. Traces of it are found also in Spain, Greece and Latin America.
Encyclopedia Americana, 1920