After reading this article you will learn about Syndicalism:- 1. Origin and Definition of Syndicalism 2. Various Aspects of Syndicalism 3. Contribution of Georges Sorel.
Origin and Definition of Syndicalism:
Joad defines Syndicalism in the following way:
“Syndicalism may be defined as that form of social thought which regards the Trade Union organisations as at once the foundation of the new society and the instrument whereby it is to be brought into being. It is frankly socialistic in the sense that it adopts the general socialist view of capital as theft, endorses, or rather extends the notion of class war as fundamental in capitalist society and proposes to abolish the private ownership of the means of production and to substitute ownership by the community”.
According to CEM Joad, Syndicalism as a form of non-Marxian socialism is a type of social theory because it aims at ‘radical’ change of society through the machination of trade union movement. That is, at the centre of social change there shall work trade union. It does not talk about political party or any other organisation. Syndicalism is least interested in various theoretical analyses.
It is chiefly concerned with action. In a precise way COD has defined it in this way it is a movement for transferring the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. So far as content is concerned there is practically no difference between Joad’s definition and the definition given by COD.
The main difference is Joad calls it a special form of social theory, COD feels that it is type or instrument for changing the society or structure of society. It is also to be noted that it has double manifestation. In the first place it is a theory of social organisation and a plan of action. Of course most of the theories about society or social change fall within this category.
Various Aspects of Syndicalism:
In an article published in Bottomore edited A Dictionary of Marxist Thought we find that Syndicalism is simply the English rendering of the French word unionism. The pro-pounders of the concept were primarily associated with the trade unionism or trade union movement.
Most of the leaders of Syndicalism were trade union leaders. These leaders lost their faith in Marxian socialism. They- felt that only through extensive trade union movement and militant activities the financial conditions of the poor people and especially of the workers can be radically changed.
It has been asserted that Syndicalism is closely connected with the French trade union organisation Syndicalisme Revolutionaire whose chief organizer was Fernand Pelloutier (1867-1901). Before 1914, Syndicalism was the official position of the militant trade union movement of a number of industrialised countries of Western Europe.
There is a close relationship between Syndicalism and anarchism. It is observed that Syndicalism found its roots and ways or means of development in countries where anarchism or anarchist philosophy flourished abundantly.
France is a state which falls within this category. Syndicalism is opposed to socialism because it fully endorses the collective methods. It is also against communism. Because in these two forms of social theories the state is the central figure.
The state organizes the structure of the society and simultaneously determines the procedure how socialism will function. Syndicalism draws its inspiration mainly from Proudhon.
He propagated a new doctrine popularly known as Associative Communism. In such type of communism there is no place of the role of any central organisation including the state.
Let us quote few lines from Produhon:
“To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, taxed admonished, prevented, forbidden… That is government that is its justice that is its morality”.
This view of Proudhon enormously influenced and inspired the Syndicalists and they were determined to do away with everything the state possesses. In a word, the Syndicalists wanted to set up a socialist society minus state interference.
We therefore, find that in Syndicalist thought system and action plan voluntariness occupies the central position. It believes that only through voluntary action can socialism, in its full form, be achieved. In the trade union system there is no place of compulsion imposed by higher authority.
So both Syndicalism and anarchism strongly argue for complete emancipation of working class through voluntary means where trade unions will have final say. Because of the striking similarity between anarchism and Syndicalism a new word has been coined by political scientists. Which is commonly called Anarcho Syndicalism.
The faith of the Syndicalists on voluntary organisations, particularly on trade unions, was so deep and extensive that they did not think of forming any socialist party. According to the Syndicalist, the political or socialist parties are corrupt and bureaucratic and engrossed with parliamentarism. According to syndicalism these are the characteristic features of state-controlled socialism.
Let us now turn to the policy and strategy of Syndicalism. The main emphasis of Syndicalists was not on theory but on action, because they believed that only action and direct action could help them to achieve their objective.
The rank and file would be imbued with the feeling of spontaneity. Besides this, if required, the Syndicalists will resort to sabotage and militancy. This is called direct action.
Apart from this the Syndicalists have suggested a general strike as a weapon to achieve success. Several Syndicalists have strongly favoured general strike on the ground that it is highly effective because it creates pressure on the authority. The sabotage and general strike are regarded by the Syndicalists as strategy. But time and situation must be carefully chosen.
There are various forms of sabotage such as “doing bad work, breaking machinery and spoiling work which has already been done to obeying letters of the rules exactly and literally in such a way as to prevent industry from being carried on”. The workers may also adopt the policy of boycott.
The purpose of all these forms of direct action is to put maximum pressure upon the state so that it can accept the demands of the trade union Syndicalism prefers general strike to only simple type of strike. Explaining the stand of the Syndicalist, Joad says that general strike is always more effective. Ordinary or partial strike cannot exert adequate pressure upon the authority.
Again, a general strike can be called generally in key or important industries. Such a step will paralyse the whole capitalist system and syndicalism wants that.
The noted French author, Blanqui, has suggested that a general strike is quite effective to paralyse the capitalist system Blanqui has further observed that all the modern industries are closely connected and, for that reason, general strikes are necessary.
Contribution of Georges Sorel to Syndicalism:
For a balanced analysis of Syndicalism proper mention about Sorel must be made Georges Sorel was born on 2 November 1847 and expired on 28 August 1922. He was an engineer employed in government service. At the age of 46 or 47 Sorel began to write about Marxism.
He paid his tribute to Marx by saying that Marx was the first thinker who fully understood the nature of capitalism. But later on the contradicted and rather challenged many of the basic ideas or concepts of Marx.
It is said that in the first decade of the twentieth century he began to reformulate his thesis or ideas about socialism, fate and sorrows of working class. For the emancipation of the working class Marx talked a lot about class struggle and the withering away of state.
But subsequently his thought remarkably tilted towards Syndicalism and in this field his remarkable work is Reflections on Violence (1906) Sorel propagated (or emphasised) that only through continuous struggle the working class would finally be able to emancipate itself. But it is to be remembered here that Sorel’s struggle of the working class cannot be equated with Marx’s class struggle.
Sorel said that the working class will have to launch a fierce fight against the capitalists and this fight would be done through the trade unions. The workers will call a general strike, or partial strike, and they also would seriously think about sabotage and other destructive methods. He has said that the sole objective of the working class would be to destroy the ill-designs of the capitalists.
In Sorel’s opinion, to fight against the capitalists, organizational strength of the working class is not enough, their moral strength and attachment to socialism must be exceptionally high. Only through a general strike or any other militant method workers can achieve their coveted goal.
Explaining Sorel’s stand on general strike Joad says: “In Sorel’s language the general strike is to be a “myth” to the workers, a myth being an idea which fills men with ardour. But any attempt to rationalize the myth is bound to be misleading”.
In other words the workers must be convinced that only through a general strike they would be able to defeat the capitalists. He was fully convinced that only a call of general strike would be able to bring all workers having different faith and ideologies under one umbrella. This would be enough to defeat the capitalists. In this way Sorel strengthened the very foundation of Syndicalism.
Sorel had full faith on workers’ ability to change the capitalist society, but in order to achieve that the workers must be prepared to fight. He was sure that only socialism can change their fate or emancipate them from all sorts of exploitation.
Maxey says, “To ensure real proletarian rule, the workers must replace the state with a social system adapted to the special qualities of their own class”.
To achieve this goal Sorel suggested that on the basis of economic functions the workers must be grouped together.
“Workers in each category of economic enterprise should be affiliated in self-governing Syndicates or unions”. These Syndicates or unions will play the leading role in fight against the capitalists.
Again, the Syndicates or unions will play the key role in struggle against the capitalists. The Syndicates will shoulder the full responsibility of the management of industry. This process, according to Sorel, would eliminate completely the dictatorial role of capitalists or any central organisation under the management of the state.
He believed that the capitalists would not normally allow the workers to take the management of industry. But through concerted effort and struggle the capitalists must be defeated.
The relationship between syndicalism (with special reference to Sorel) and Marxism may now be explained briefly. Maxey says that the political ideas of the twentieth century is considerably influenced by many streams of thought and the important of them are Syndicalism, Guild Socialism, Marxism, Fabian socialism and revisionism.
Sorel came under the influence of Marxism because of its scientific character. Sorel put Marxism and Syndicalism in the same category.
His firm belief was that Marxism could not be understood without Syndicalism. “He took the position that Marxism could not be understood without Syndicalism and that Syndicalism was meaningless without a clear comprehension of Marxism”. Both Marx and Syndicalists put maximum emphasis upon the workers and especially on their fighting mentality. Marx said that the determination of the workers to continue a long and relentness struggle against the capitalists could emancipate them from exploitation.
The Syndicalists propagated the almost same thing in a different way. The workers must organise themselves in the form of syndicates or trade unions (in French syndicat being a labour union) and they must tahlish self-government in industries. This would eradicate the control of capitalists Marx called for a class struggle against the bourgeois state and advised them to capture state power and establish dictatorship of the proletariat.
On the contrary, Sorel called for a revolution of the working class, struggle against the industrialists as well as government and finally set up a self-management or government in all industries. The Syndicalists and particularly Sorel have called it self-government in industrial sector.
This will bring an end not only of state control political and economic system but also of all types of exploitation. We thus find that ultimately there no difference between Marxism and Syndicalism as regards the ends.