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  • Writer's pictureLaurence Dunn

Red & Black an Explanation

Anarcho-syndicalism is more of an action than a philosophy. Handed down by thinkers like Rudolf Rocker, it continues to both befuddle and excite the traditional left. However, with its emphasis on teamwork and core belief in subverting power, its time is now!

Anarcho-syndicalism can be defined as units of workers forming horizontal, revolutionary unions that unite to overthrow Capitalism.

Syndicalism has a pedigree as strong as any Marxist viewpoint. Developed by European strikers in the late 1800s, it is about forming strong Trade Unions and bonds rather than party monoliths. Is it still enough to fight under the cover of Institutional Unions, or are new, better unions needed?


If power corrupts, the next question becomes, what are the alternatives for workers opposed to servitude and wage slavery? For this matter, it is best to delve into History. In 1848, Europe caught fire. A wave of general strikes ignited across the Industrial World, leading not only to the fall of France’s Second Republic but also to the foundation of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) in 1864, universally recognised as the First International.

By 1866, the IWMA had up to 8 million members, but Communists largely dominated it. A young attendee called Karl Marx favoured the statist solution, namely creating proletarian states dominated by a political vanguard. This rubbed up against the anarchist section of the IWMA. They saw that new States could become authoritarian, even when established in the name of the working class. By the end of the century these ideological tensions would cause a decisive split between communists and anarchists.

The split came down to a question of agency: which groups or individuals had the agency to stir up revolutionary insurrections by workers? And the question of state power.




By the early 1900s, British anarcho-socialism had been supplanted by federations such as the Social Democratic Federation and Keir Hardie’s Independent Labour Party, which replicated Marx’s preoccupation with popular fronts and parliamentary infiltration. These organisations were increasingly reformist and turned their back on the revolutionary overthrow of the class system. However, as industrialism spread into the New World, female workers picked up the anarcho-syndicalism banner.

Across the States, Mexico and Argentina, garment workers and factory hands were too poor to interest the Union Barons. So, they perfected the wildcat strike, walking off the job with little representation other than their self-assembled unions. All this New World radicalism reflected the values of the terrain. In the new republics, issues of freedom and the liberty to withdraw labour mattered more than the edicts of union officials.

In the USA, an influx of radical Jews, fleeing pogroms and persecution, invigorated the Proudhonists and Alexander Berkman with fresh tactics, sometimes violent, sometimes non-violent. In their trail, a radical crop of proto-feminists grew like flowers in the manure of the New York streets.


Emma Goldman is one such feminist and she has been rediscovered. She came to prominence during the 1917 anti-draft campaign and was sentenced to 2 years in US jails culminating in her deportation back to revolutionary Russia in 1919. There, the Lithuanian national knocked heads with the Leninists giving her no choice but to leave for England.

On the eve of the Spanish Civil War, she was to be found in Barcelona, where she had been invited by the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo (CNT) and its rivals (though affiliate), the Federacion Anarquista Iberica (FAI). Typically, by 1939, the workers’ popular front lay in tatters as the CNT began to ally themselves against the anarchists, siding with the Communists to capture the Spanish Army. These alliances, supported by Stalin, became de facto governments in war-torn Iberia. With Europe at war, her ill-health made her seek refuge in Canada where she died in 1940.

But the flowers of democratic Anarchism had been sown in the Hispanic world. During the flower power era, radicals rediscovered anarcho-syndicalism and new groupings sprung up. The names of these utopian organisations mirrored the golden years. There is still much dispute about which faction of the International Workers groups became the Internationale. This led to colloquial talk of the Black and Red International, but in typical anarchist fashion, no one can agree on the preeminent coalition of Anarchists. Ron, an anarchist sympathiser, sums it up, opining, “There are too many anarchies with adjectives.”

Nevertheless, three groups have adopted anarchist strategies in the UK: ecologists, trans activists and 5th-generation intersectional feminists.

To write about their manifestos would be wide of the mark. Crass and Chumbawamba spread Anarchism as far as the UK Top Ten in the 80/90s rave era. A chant grew up “red and green with black in between.'' which unites a raggle-taggle blend of squatters, new age travellers and intellectuals. All these groups reject traditional unions and parliamentary parties.

The only core value is that power belongs to the people, and the people must be seen!!!


by Shona Pollock

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barnesron1
21 באפר׳

If most anarchist writings were as straight to the point as this . Avoiding longwinded explanations. They would be far more digestible. More please

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