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GAMBONE, Larry "Syndicalism in Myth and Reality"
Article published on 31 December 2004
last modification on 26 April 2015

by r-c.
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Syndicalism died after WWI. Syndicalism was finished as a revolutionary movement by 1910. Syndicalism was finished off by Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Syndicalism was a primitive millennial movement which evolved into modern social democratic unionism. Or so the academic labour historians will tell you. The purpose of this pamphlet is to show that these conceptions are myths.

Before going any further however, syndicalism should be defined. In France, where the term originated, syndicalism means simply trade unionism and has no particularly radical or anarchistic connotations. French speakers refer to libertarian syndicalism, revolutionary syndicalism or anarcho-syndicalism when distinguishing the radical current from traditional trade unionism.

This pamphlet uses the term in its English sense - libertarian trade unionism - unions stressing direct action rather than parliamentary action and the goal of self-management. Direct democracy and the maximum of local autonomy are also characteristic of the day to day life of a syndicalist organization. While all syndicalists share these attitudes, they are divided ideologically. Those who call themselves anarcho-syndicalists are inspired by anarchist theorists. Those who derive their views from a form of libertarian marxism are often called revolutionary syndicalists. There are also divergent opinions on violence and revolution which stretches all the way from insurrectionists to the moderate followers of P.J. Proudhon.


The oft-stated opinion that syndicalism flourished in the years prior to WWI is a myth of the golden age of syndicalism. As with all myths, a certain grain of truth exists. During the first decade of the 20th Century a form of syndicalism having faith in insurrectional violence dominated in some areas. By 1910 this tendency had run out of steam and continued to be influential only in Spain. In North America and Northern Europe the insurrectionists were never influential.

Nor were the unions particularity large organisations. Membership tended to be small and fluctuating. The CGT which claimed 360,000 members in 1910 may have had as few as 6000 members four years later. By 1913 the Canadian IWW had almost ceased to exist.

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