Why do some people think syndicalism has some inherent connection to fascism?

Submitted by Agent of the I… on May 12, 2023

I am of the opinion that people who think syndicalism has some aspects of it that link to fascism really have no proper understanding of syndicalism. But I don't really understand what those aspects are and how they got it into their understanding about syndicalism. It just seems so impossible because these two ideas are so opposed to each other, as you already know. Yet, somehow some people think syndicalism is a precursor to fascism. Some even think it sufficient to cite some famous syndicalist leader turning to fascism as an example.

What do you think?


9 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by Fozzie on May 12, 2023

Other people will know the history better than me, but the only time I’ve seen this has been in connection with the early Mussolini in Italy.

Kind of in the same way that idiots try to pretend that Hitler was a socialist - populist fascist movements try latch on parasitically to workers grievances and movements.


9 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by Reddebrek on May 12, 2023

It's a pretty simple and disingenuous argument to discredit syndicalism and often anarchism by extension. I doubt that any of the people pushing it really believe in its merits.


9 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by sherbu-kteer on May 13, 2023

It comes from a lot of places... partially it's just smears from Marxists/liberals etc but these theses have been put forward in a number of more respectable places, eg Zeev Sternhell's "Neither Right nor Left" which launched a major debate about these issues.

The theses are based around a) ex-syndicalists joining fascists, and b) anti-democratic sentiments within revolutionary syndicalism that inspired or influenced fascism.

Generally I do not think the theses are credible. It's telling that the advocates of these theories only point to France and Italy as proof, nowhere else in the world where the syndicalists numbered in the hundreds of thousands...

There were syndicalists who became fascists, but they were generally small in number and the bulk sat at the margins of the revolutionary syndicalist movement. The case of Alceste de Ambris is indicative. He was part of the Italian movement (USI) but occupied a fairly right wing position within it. At the international syndicalist congress in London in 1913 he opposed anti-state sentiments being expressed in its declaration, and eventually left in a huff. He then got elected to parliament back in Italy and led a very small pro-war split from the USI, which joined with Mussolini. Eventually he headed the Fascist's trade union body before splitting and ending his life as an anti-fascist.

Thesis b) is more complicated but even then doesn't really lend itself to a "syndicalism is proto-fascism" viewpoint. When people like Émile Pouget scorned democracy it was because it was a form of bourgeois domination, in that it divided people up into individuals instead of recognising what they were as social classes. The working class did not act as one massive whole either, but was driven by revolutionary minorities – union militants, communists, etc, even the handful of activists in a worksite that may stir the rest into action. A democratic viewpoint based on either parliamentary democracy (obviously bankrupt) or the right of the majority over the minority (more nuanced) was going to result in workers being chained forever. Note: at no point did this anti-democratic viewpoint ever come close to justifying or supporting dictatorship.

People like Sorel *did* make anti-democratic arguments that were less linked to socialism, resting on ideas of cultural and national renewal and so on, but even then they're hard to spin into fascism. Books/articles by Shlomo Sand and Robert Jennings are worth reading on this – some of them are on libcom & libgen but others are harder to find. Sorel himself did wind up seeing Mussolini as a renegade and supporting Lenin instead. And even still, Sorel only had a marginal influence over the syndicalist movement, which was never the intellectual tendency people sometimes think it is. The intellectuals sat on the edge and interacted with some of the union militants, but they never had influence over them.

So on the face of it, the theses can look like they have some credibility, but the more you look the more ridiculous they seem. The vast, vast majority of the revolutionary syndicalist movement was violently anti-fascist.

You'd also be surprised at how often people get confused in English about the word "syndicalism" – in Romance languages it's just the word for plain unionism, when people mean revolutionary syndicalism they say "syndicalisme revolutionnaire" or something similar. I've seen people point to examples of "syndicalists" becoming fascists that in reality are cases of random union officials, maybe of a reformist or Marxist or conservative disposition, becoming fascists.

Pierre Biétry, for instance, is sometimes described as a case of a syndicalist becoming a fascist, but in actual fact he was a Guesdist Marxist before he became a right-winger and yellow unionist, and the Guesdists distinguished themselves in the union arena by being against evolutionary syndicalism, not for. This nuance is lost in English language debates. On wikipedia, he is described as simply being a "syndicalist", implying revolutionary syndicalism.

While most libertarian socialists don't take these ideas seriously, they do have a bit of a chilling effect. The anti-democratic beliefs of revolutionary syndicalists are understudied because people think they're conservative and elitist, when they're anything but.

Sorry that was a longer comment than I thought it would be!


9 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by asn on May 13, 2023

The rise of fascism in the 20's and 30's was also connected with a crisis in the labour movement - a certain layer of workers being alienated from the Social Democratic controlled unions due to the machinations of the union bureaucracy - and also the failure of the resurgent syndicalist movement such as in Germany and Italy to sufficiently expand and wipe out the base of this bureaucratic unionism and go on to carry out the revolutionary objective. In the case of Germany in 1919 the FAUD (Free Workers Union of Germany) achieved its largest membership of over 100,000 stemming from from massive break aways and membership transfers from the Social Democratic Party controlled unions in such sectors as the Ruhr amongst such groups as coal miners and metal workers. Subsequently with the rise of the Communist Party controlled unions supported with Moscow Gold, the Comintern and workers illusions in the early Bolshevik regime following the coup in October 1917, the FAUD was drawn into a cycle of catastrophic splits and then post war recession leading to major membership departures. The FAUD spiraled into marginality in the German labour movement. During the later years of the Weimar Republic - key figures in the FAUD were willing to throw aspects of syndicalism "out the window" such as support for direct action and register with the Weimar Republic industrial relations/industrial bargaining legislation. However the Weimar Govt. wouldn't allow it presumably due to fears of a syndicalist tiger still lurking under the seeming house cat fur. The FAUD in most of Germany became more of a sect and cultural/educational phenomena. With the exception of one small armaments making company town in the Ruhr - where the whole or most of the Social Democratic unions base had gone over to the FAUD, (1) In this context of worsening circumstances one small section of the FAUD involving actual workers became a seed of the Nazis.
Also an important point is that in Germany during WWI - a pro war movement developed amongst mostly sectors of the middle class which later was drawn into ultra rightwing and Fascist movements - the key figures in this movement was particularly worried about sabotage and industrial militancy affecting major railway centres - work shops/marshaling yards affecting troop and munitions transport - and organised amongst a layer of highly skilled patriotic metal workers in these workshops - to counter revolutionary action - they later were drawn into the fascist movement.
(1) See "Revolutionary Syndicalism: An International Perspective edited by Marcel van der Linden and Wayne Thorpe" - see essays on Germany and Italy.

Red Marriott

9 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by Red Marriott on May 15, 2023

An article and long discussion following it where some of the misinformation/smears of kingzog and Reid Ross on the subject are corrected; https://libcom.org/article/anarchosyndicalism-against-fascism-response-recent-insinuations kingzog was later reported to be associating with the far-right and Reid Ross to be working for a far-right think tank; https://libcom.org/news/reid-ross-falls-victim-his-own-absurd-narrative-15032021 [Edit; see RT comment below for correction]

R Totale

9 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by R Totale on May 15, 2023

In the interests of accuracy, I would stress that it was a centrist rather than a far-right think tank that Reid Ross ended up working at, the Matthew Lyons write-up is pretty good on it:

"In addition to Rutgers, the NCRI lists “affiliations” with three entities: the Anti-Defamation League, Open Society Foundations, and Charles Koch Foundation. The ADL is one of the most prominent watchdog groups monitoring the U.S. far right, but it’s no friend of the left. The organization has long misused the charge of antisemitism to attack Palestinians, Palestine solidarity activists, anti-racist activists, and others. In the 1990s, it was revealed that the ADL had spied on a wide range of progressive organizations for decades; as recently as 2017 it publicly urged the FBI to spy on antifa groups, a call it later retracted.

The combination of Open Society and Koch foundations is pivotal to the NCRI brand. Open Society (George Soros’s grant-giving network) figures in countless right-wing conspiracy theories while Koch is one of the most hated capitalist names on the left, so by listing the two together the NCRI declares that it transcends political divisions by bringing together staunch liberals and conservatives. Put slightly differently, the combination of Soros and Koch support evokes an attempt to foster a broad—but anti-Trump—coalition within the ruling class."