Revolutionary Unionism: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

by Dan Jakopovich
  1. The terms "industrial unionism" & "syndicalism" or "revolutionary syndicalism" are usually used interchangeably, with the word "syndicalism" basically being an English rendering of the French for "revolutionary trade unionism" ("syndicalisme revolutionaire"). Although it was often expressed through dual unionism (setting up of alternative, more or less explicitly revolutionary or direct democratic unions), it would be wrong to restrict the definition of revolutionary syndicalism solely to dual unionist strategies, as many syndicalists decided to work within existing union structures as well. This is where the distinction between "syndicalism proper" and democratic Marxism becomes quite blurred, but it is not our intention to always clearly delineate between the two, as it would mostly constitute an arbitrary and dogmatic abstraction.
  2. "The workers in the Latin countries, in which the International found its principal support, developed their movement on the basis of economic fighting organizations and Socialist propaganda" (Rudolph Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice [with a preface by Noam Chomsky], Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2004, p. 47).
  3. "Industrial unions themselves were, in the Wobbly vision, to be the building blocks for the future cooperative society. By joining an industrial union, workers could prepare themselves to take over society directly. Working people who understood their own power had the capacity to act upon their fundamental right to expropriate and share with other workers across the world everything that they collectively produced." (Paul Buhle, The Legacy of the IWW," Monthly Review, June, 2005.)
  4. Principles, Goals and Statutes of the International Workers' Association.
  5. "The rise of the IWW in the US was in part a response to the same general tendencies that triggered the rise of revolutionary syndicalism in western Europe: "opportunism, reformism, and parliamentary cretinism." (Lenin's preface to a pamphlet by Voinov (Lunacharsky) on the party's attitude towards the unions, 1907, in International Communist Current, What is Revolutionary Syndicalism
  6. See Gwyn A. Williams, Proletarian Order: Antonio Gramsci, Factory Councils and the Origins of Italian Communism, 1911-1921, London: Pluto Press, 1975.
  7. "Let us be clear as to the function of Industrial Unionism. That function is to build up an industrial republic inside the shell of the political State, in order that when the industrial republic is fully organized it may crack the shell of the political State and step into its scheme of the universe. But in the process of upbuilding, during the period of maturing, the mechanism of the political State can be used to assist in the formation of the embryo Industrial Republic." (James Connolly, Industrial Unionism and Trade Unionism in Selected Writings, London: Pluto Press, 1997, p. 161.)
  8. "The IWW has been called red, but it has never been called yellow" ("What Everyone Should Know About The IWW"). The long-term aim, rather than being merely defensive, is to develop class consciousness and solidarity.
  9. In a somewhat simplistic manner, Connolly wrote: "I feel that we cannot too strongly insist upon this point. Political division is born of industrial division; political scabbery is born of industrial craft scabbery; political weakness keeps even step with industrial weakness. It is an axiom enforced by all the experience of the ages that they who rule industrially will rule politically, and therefore they who are divided industrially will remain impotent politically.(…) To this end those who work for industrial unionism are truly co-operating even when they least care for political activities." (James Connolly, Socialism Made Easy in Selected Political Writings, op. cit., pp. 268-271.)
  10. Iain McKay, "1905: Origins of the Social General Strike," Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, Issue 42/44, winter, 2006, pp. 9-12.
  11. Cedric Durand, For a New Strategic Model, International Socialist Tendency Discussion Bulletin, No. 7, 2006, p. 10.
  12. Rudolf Rocker, op. cit., p. 65.
  13. Jose Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, Hastings: The Meltzer Press, 2001, p. 97. See both volumes of the famous CNT anthology by this distinguished CNT historian. Others have put membership of the CNT during the height of the revolution at 1 million (for instance Murray Bookchin, To Remember Spain, San Francisco: AK Press, 1994) and even 2 million (Gambone, Syndicalism In Myth and Reality, Montreal: Red Lion Press, 1995., p. 5).
  14. The well-known Italian anti-fascist Carlo Rosselli, a professor of economics, stated: "In three months Catalonia has been able to set up a new social order on the ruins of an ancient system. This is chiefly due to the Anarchists, who have revealed a quite remarkable sense of proportion, realistic understanding, and organizing ability…All the revolutionary forces of Catalonia have united in a program of Syndicalist-Socialist character: socialization of large industry; recognition of the small proprietor; workers' control…Anarcho- Syndicalism, hitherto so despised, has revealed itself as a great constructive force…I am not an Anarchist, but I regard it as my duty to express here my opinion of the Anarchists of Catalonia, who have all too often been represented to the world as a destructive, if not as a criminal, element." The statement of Fenner Brockway, secretary of the English Independent Labor Party, was also supportive of the anarchosyndicalists: "There are still some Britishers and Americans who regard the Anarchists of Spain as impossible, undisciplined uncontrollables. This is poles away from the truth. The Anarchists of Spain, through the CNT, are doing one of the biggest constructive jobs ever done by the working-class." (Rudolf Rocker, op. cit., pp. 66-67.)
  15. Sean Matgamna, "Revolution and Betrayal," Workers' Liberty 3/6.
  16. V.I. Lenin, "‘Left Wing' Communism - An Infantile Disorder, London: Bookmarks, 1993, pp. 60-61.
  17. Leon Trotsky, Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, London,: Pathfinder, 1990.
  18. William Z. Foster, Bankruptcy of the American Labor Movement, Trade Union Educational League, 1922).
  19. "For well over a century, various leftists -- orthodox Marxists, Trotskyists, independent socialists, communists -- have all tried to reform the AFL and its successor the AFL-CIO. "Boring from Within" they called their strategy of seeking to transform the organization from within while accepting its authority, obeying its rules, following its protocols, and soaking up its norms and culture. Not surprisingly, like the FBI agent in Donnie Brasco, who infiltrates the Mafia and starts talking trash and beating his wife, the longer they stay, the more they resemble their adversaries rather than vice versa. I call it the roach motel syndrome. The leftists go in but they don't come out." (Robert Fitch, interviewed by Michael D. Yates in What's the Matter with US Organized Labor, Monthly Review Zine.
  20. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The IWW Call to Women in Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall, Words on Fire: The Life and Writing of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1987, p. 108.
  21. Patrick Renshaw, The Wobblies: Story of the IWW and Syndicalism in the United States, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1999, p. 140.
  22. "In 1905-1914 the Marxist left had in most countries been on the fringe of the revolutionary movement, the main body of Marxists had been identified with a de facto non-revolutionary social democracy, while the bulk of the revolutionary left was anarcho- syndicalist, or at least much closer to the ideas and the mood of anarcho-syndicalism than to that of classical Marxism." (Eric Hobsbawm, Bolshevism and the Anarchists, Revolutionaries, New York: Pantheon, 1973, p. 61.)
  23. Alexandre Skirda, Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968, Edinburgh: AK Press, 2002, p. 96.
  24. 1922-Today: The International Workers Association. Stated membership numbers which I have just mentioned should of course be taken with caution.
  25. See for example Bill Haywood, With Drops of Blood the History of the IWW has been Written, and Howard Zinn, "The Socialist Challenge," A People's History of the United States.
  26. L. Gambone, Syndicalism In Myth and Reality, Montreal: Red Lion Press, 1995, pp. 4-8.
  27. Geoffrey Ostergaard, Fabianism and the Managerial Revolution in The Tradition of Workers' Control, London: Freedom Press, 1997, p. 104.
  28. La CGT se consolida como tercera fuerza syndical, Royo y Negro, September 2004, in Gambone, op. cit., p. 15.
  29. See Donato Romito, Anarchist Communists and the Italian 'Base Union' Movement, Northeastern Anarchist, October 2003, as well as "Coba s presentazione versione in inglese."
  30. Towards the Rebirth of the Working Class Trade Union, Il Partito Comunista, no.205, 1992).
  31. Adam Lincoln proposed a model which differs both from the traditional "dual unionist" and "boring from within" approaches (the latter largely having been practiced by the libertarian elements of the British shop-stewards movements in the past, the radicalized workers of the late 60s and early 70s in South Europe etc.) in Adam Lincoln, The IWW and Trade Unions, Bread and Roses, Vol.2, Issue 9, October 2006, pp.10-11.31