What Is an Anarcho-Syndicalist?

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Key Takeaways

  • Anarcho-syndicalism is a political ideology that uses revolutionary industrial unionism to empower workers.
  • It aims to abolish wage slavery and hierarchies through worker solidarity and direct action.
  • Anarcho-syndicalists want to replace capitalism and the state with a self-managed society.
  • They see labor unions as a force for revolutionary change led by workers themselves.
  • Solidarity, direct action, and self-management are core principles of anarcho-syndicalism.

What is anarcho-syndicalism??

Anarcho-syndicalism is a political philosophy and anarchist school of thought that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and influence in broader society.

The end goal of syndicalism is to abolish the wage system, which it regards as wage slavery. Anarcho-syndicalist theory focuses on the labor movement and is centered on the idea that power corrupts. It believes any hierarchy that cannot be ethically justified must be dismantled.

The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are solidarity, direct action, and workers’ self-management.

How does anarcho-syndicalism view society??

Anarcho-syndicalism is a form of collectivist anarchism. It shares anarchism’s positive view of human nature, but places greater emphasis on people’s capacity for social solidarity.

It sees syndicalism as a method of industrial organization that moves away from traditional conceptions of authority, government, capitalism and the state. While communism abolishes individual capitalism, anarcho-syndicalism believes it creates state oppression in its place.

Instead, anarcho-syndicalism wants to build an organizational form based on human needs, not ruling class interests. It favors voluntary cooperation of free individuals rather than the dictates of authority.

What methods does anarcho-syndicalism use??

Anarcho-syndicalism uses revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism to empower workers. Syndicalism aims to transfer control of the economy from owners to workers, who would manage it democratically.

Anarcho-syndicalists utilize unions to educate workers and organize them into a cohesive force. They engage in industrial action like strikes, boycotts and sabotage. The goal is to build enough solidarity and leverage to overthrow capitalism and the state.

Direct action without third party intervention is a key strategy. Anarcho-syndicalists also embrace workers’ self-management, with workers controlling their own organizations.

How do anarcho-syndicalists view labor unions?

Anarcho-syndicalists view labor unions as a potential force for revolutionary social change, not just worker representation.

They see unions as the embryonic form of future organizations that can democratically self-manage production and communities. Unions serve to undermine capitalist principles and prepare workers to manage a post-capitalist society.

Anarcho-syndicalists work within existing unions to push their revolutionary agenda. They aim to organize all workers by industry into one big union, abandoning craft union divides. The general strike to overthrow capitalism is a key objective.

What are the core principles of anarcho-syndicalism?

The main principles of anarcho-syndicalism are solidarity, direct action and workers’ self-management.

Solidarity means uniting all workers in a spirit of mutual support and cooperation. Building solidarity is key to developing the collective power to challenge capitalism.

Direct action refers to economic or political action done by workers themselves, not through intermediaries. This includes industrial action like strikes, occupations and sabotage.

Self-management means democratic control of workplaces and organizations by workers themselves. This principle develops the capacity to manage a post-capitalist society.

What are the key thinkers and examples of anarcho-syndicalism?

Key anarcho-syndicalist thinkers include Rudolf Rocker and Noam Chomsky. They argue that natural human instincts of mutual aid and solidarity can form the basis of a cooperative society without domination.

Historic examples include the Spanish CNT union federation, which played a major role in the 1936 Spanish revolution. CNT unions took over workplaces and distributed goods fairly.

In the 1950s-60s, the Situationist International called for workers’ councils in France to directly manage production and govern society.

Contemporary examples are the IWW and ZSP unions which uphold anarcho-syndicalist principles of rank-and-file democracy and direct action.

What does anarcho-syndicalism aim to achieve?

The long-term aim of anarcho-syndicalism is to completely abolish capitalism and the state, replacing them with a democratically self-managed libertarian socialist system free from economic and political coercion.

Workers themselves would manage the economy through their own grassroots organizations. Resources would be allocated according to principles of mutual aid and the maxim “from each according to ability, to each according to need”.

Governance would be carried out through decentralized worker and community assemblies practicing participatory democracy without hierarchy.

This economic and political system would be based on voluntary cooperation, mutual aid, and complete social and economic equality.

How does anarcho-syndicalism differ from state socialism?

Anarcho-syndicalism differs sharply from state socialism like Marxist-Leninism in the way it conceives transitioning from capitalism.

State socialists support using the state machinery and political parties to implement socialism. Anarcho-syndicalists only see change coming through direct action by the working class itself, not through top-down state control.

Critically, the anarcho-syndicalist model of potential post-capitalist society is also starkly different from state socialism. Anarcho-syndicalism favors bottom-up direct democracy and worker self-management rather than rule by an authoritarian party.

What critiques does anarcho-syndicalism face?

Some common critiques are that anarcho-syndicalism is impractical or utopian. Its revolutionary vision is dismissed as unrealistic and doomed to failure by Marxist critics.

Others argue it wrongly fetishizes the economic sphere and workplace struggles over political activity. An over-focus on union activism is said to risk economic parochialism dominating politics and governance.

Questions also persist around how syndicalist unions could manage complex modern economies, and whether their structures could support mass participation. Issues of coordination between industries and regions have been raised too.

Why is anarcho-syndicalism significant today?

Anarcho-syndicalist ideas have seen some revival recently. This is linked to the limitations of state socialism, and the perceived issues of centralized bureaucratic coordination under state planning.

The Zapatistas’ autonomous municipalities in Mexico and Murray Bookchin’s idea of libertarian municipalism are seen as evolved forms of anarcho-syndicalism. They retain its anti-authoritarian spirit but placed in local political structures.

With the decline of organized labor in advanced economies, anarcho-syndicalism also provides inspiration for new approaches to worker empowerment apart from traditional unions.


In summary, anarcho-syndicalism applies fundamental anarchist principles like anti-authoritarianism and anti-statism to the collective action of workers. It uses revolutionary unionism to build worker solidarity. The aim is a socialist society based on voluntary cooperation and participatory self-governance, not centralized state control.

While largely marginalized in the 20th century, anarcho-syndicalism’s core vision retains contemporary relevance. It continues to inspire radical political thought and labor activism directed against the state-capital nexus. Even as traditional unionism declines, the quest for alternative approaches to empower workers along horizontalist lines also endures.

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