Syndicalism has been derived from the French word “Syndicat” which means labour union. That is why the word ‘syndical- I ism’ has been used in France for trade unionism. This philosophy contains gleanings from other doctrines that developed out of the main stream of socialism. This doctrine is principally a fusion of anarchism and revolutionary socialism.
C.E.M. Joad defines syndicalism “as that form of social theory which regards the trade union organization as at once the foundation of the new society and the instrument whereby it is to be brought into being.” The encyclopedic writer Larwin says that it combines both trade-unionism and the socialist doctrine. In ultimate » analysis, trade unionism is the beginning and end of syndicalism.
The Syndicalist movement arose in France because the workers of France were not allowed by law to form their own trade unions up to the middle of the 19thcentury.
Thus they felt helpless to play any role to carry out the programme advocated by Marx. The frequent constitutional breakdowns and changes in the government machinery tended to arouse a sense of scepticism towards politics as a method of reform. Later, the French labourers became strong and they
rejected both trade-unionism and political socialism as effective weapons for their salvation. In spite of various restrictions, the workers organized, themselves in several secret societies which propagated radical proletarian ideas. It was in 1864 that the right to strike was recognized in France.
But after the collapse of Paris Commune in 1871, restrictions began to be imposed again. Political parties were, in general, weak. The militant labour leadership expressed the urge for a revolutionary change in the political and economic conditions of the country.
In 1884, law again recognized the right to form labour unions and strikes. In 1886 national federation of all labour Unions of France was formed but it could not satisfy the aspirations of the French working classes.
In 1893 national federation of ‘labour exchanges’ was formed and in 1895, General Federation of labour was formed which became the centre of labour movement. It advocated violence to end the capitalist employers and their ally, the state and to take over the management of the industry and control the social life of the community.
Belief in the Fundamentals of Socialism:
Syndicalism is at one with socialism in its belief about class struggle and the final crash of the capitalist society. Like the socialists, the syndicalists also consider capital as theft. They also believe in the class struggle between the haves and have-notes. They are out to abolish the private ownership of all means of production and substitute their ownership by the community.
They agree with Marx that capitalism would dig its own grave because of its own inner contradictions. Following the Marxist principle, the syndicalist leaders regarded the state their enemy, because it was the bulwark of the capitalists. Thus, revolutionary syndicalism which developed in France towards the end of the 19th century, and later spread to Italy, was born out of the philosophy of Marxism and unrest among the workers.
C.E.M. Joad is of the view that as opposed to collectivist socialists and communists, syndicalists draw their inspiration from the works of Proudan rather than from that of Marx. It is the peculiar extension of French Trade Unionism, as it regards the trade union as the type of voluntary association which is to succeed the capitalist state.
The anarchist movement, which regarded all political authority as evil and a means of oppression, influenced syndicalist movement so strongly, that the latter came to be known as anarcho-syndicalists.
General strike as their chief method of struggle:
Assuming class-war as the fundamental character of capitalism, the syndicalists want to give the workers the control of conditions under which they work and live. They have no faith in political action.
They want to wrest the ownership of property from the hands of the private owners by means of a direct action. They regard the trade unions as inherently revolutionary bodies. Their chief differences from other socialists lies in the special prominence they attach to the trade unions.
They claim that the future society will emerge out of the grand climacteric called the General strike. As a preparation for the final event, the workers should practise the ordinary methods like strikes, sabotage, etc. The trade unions by practising these methods for their day to day struggles for higher wages, and improved working conditions etc. make the working class conscious of their revolutionary role and drill them in the maneuvering tactics of the class struggle.
They educate the workers in the feeling of class solidarity, train them in the art of disciplined collective action and harden their will for victory over their opponents. The General strike will finally sound the death-knell of the capitalist organization. Smaller strikes, called to gain temporary gains, are but preparation for this ultimate end. The syndicalists emphasize the dignity of human labour and glorify labour as the noblest expression of human personality.
Syndicalists’ Objections against the State:
The syndicalists are hostile to the state as a bourgeoisie and middle class institution. They point out that the state aids and assists the capitalists in their exploitation of working classes on one hand and protects the interests of middle classes on the other hand.
It is further pointed out that the services of the State, make men bureaucratic and unsympathetic to the needs and aspiration of those who are engaged in the actual work of production. They point out that central organization of the state tends to create dead uniformity and routine in the life of the people.
It kills imagination and initiative on the part of the workers. State control of industries as advocated by the socialists is inimical to progress. Bureaucracy representing the middle classes cannot in any way understand the needs of the manual workers.
They further, assert that all the theories of socialism have emanated from the brains of clever middle class intellectuals who want to safeguard the interests of their class and ignore the specific needs of the industrial workers. The syndicalists claim to be the only school of socialism which is the product of working class itself.The syndicalists point out that since the state is a middle class organization, it is unsympathetic to the needs and aspirations of those who are actually engaged in the work of production.
They feel that even benevolent or a welfare state if left in the control of industry will be inimical to progress. Yet another objection of the syndicalists against the state is that it generally represents the interests of the consumers and willfully ignores the specific interests of the workers who are the produces of wealth.
They assert that state in a modern capitalist society is dedicated to work of protecting and defending the interests of the property holders and capitalists. Rival groups of capitalists seek to capture the power of state during general elections through political parties financed by them. The political parties, therefore, are paid agents of the capitalists.
The syndicalists, therefore, aim at the elimination of political parties along with the institution of state. Lastly, they point out that the state as such embodies an impossible ideal of social unity. In their opinion, society is pluralistic and no political institution can make it otherwise. On the basis of arguments listed above, the syndicalists would like to destroy capitalism, the state and the political parties in one stroke and replace them by a voluntary federation of trade unions of workers.
Methods of Struggle:
Anti-state bias of the syndicalists appears in their methods of struggle. They are against the organization of a political party for the achievement of their ends. They do not believe in parliamentary methods and peaceful reforms. Experience shows that the representatives sent to parliament by the workers, do not represent their interests adequately. Besides the workers may differ politically but they observe strike as one solid piece.
As already stated, the syndicalists distrust political methods to achieve their ends. They contend that the workers must rely solely upon economic struggle to achieve their ends through the strength of their trade unions and not through their chosen representatives in the legislatures, who lose revolutionary fervor by adopting the policy of constitutional reforms.
The workers can have solidarity only in the industrial sphere owing to their having similar economic interests. They will strike together while they will not vote together.
The Syndicalists encourage strikes, which are both good in themselves and good as a means to something beyond themselves. Even when the strikes fail, they create in workers a sense of solidarity and give them a lesson in self-discipline and self-reliance. They are good as a means because they tend to bring nearer toe day of General Strike. The syndicalists pin their faith in the myth value of the General Strike.
Myth Value of General Strike:
The doctrine of General Strike is toe ultimate weapon to bring about a general economic and social revolution. It is not necessarily the strike of all the workers. What is wanted is a strike on the part of a sufficient number of the class-conscious workers in key industries to secure the paralysis of capitalism. By means of the General Strike, the instruments of production would be seized, which will be the end of capitalism.
During the transitional stage, it will be necessary for the minority to seize the reins of powers and guide the rest of the workers towards their salvation. The syndicalists brush aside the majority rule as a mere bourgeoisie superstition.
Syndicalists do not agree with Marx that capitalism would collapse on account of its own inner contradictions and that the workers would naturally rise and dispossess their masters. They are of the view that the capitalists would bargain and buy off the workers.
Although the strike is the strongest weapon of the syndicalists, there arc also various other forms of sabotage like doing bad work, spoiling or clogging the machinery, working to rule literally, adopting wasteful and sluggish methods, cacanny, i.e., the practice of doing a minute quantity of work with scrupulous care, damaging machines resulting in loss of time and costly repairs.
Final Shape of Syndicalist Society:
The fact of the matter is that the syndicalists have not given any definite picture of the future society they visualized. They are rather opposed to any predetermined structure being imposed from above. In their opinion, the new society will take shape according to the nature of the movement.
Nevertheless, it is possible to draw an outline picture of the syndicalist society if we keep in view the working of the trade unions in France where the idea of syndicalism has been developed and nourished.
The ideal society of syndicalists is to be based upon the organization of Trade Unions in every industrial unit. The local Syndicates or Unions will be united loosely in a confederation which will act both as an employment agency for the district and as a centre of the Trade Union activities.
It will remain in touch with the economic needs of the locality. In this respect, it will determine the nature and extent of production in the industries in the area under its control. In cooperation with other industrial confederations of other districts, it will manage for the imports and exports of products to and from these districts.
Though the Syndicalists do not think it worthwhile to present a comprehensive picture of the future organization of society yet one thing is clear that ideal society, as visualized by the Syndicalists will be classless and stateless wherein the place of the state will be occupied by the local and national organization of trade unions.