A clear alternative to authoritarian Communism: The Free Workers’ Union of Germany

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 23, 2010

As a result of its theoretical outlook, the FVDG was renamed the Free Workers’ Union of Germany in 1919 and reorganized into Industrial Federations on one hand and Workers’ Communities (Arbeitsbörsen) on the other. The Industrial Federations, in which all local workers in the same industry were organized, were responsible for matters relating to the workplace and the daily struggles that occurred there. The Workers’ Communities represented the local organizations in the realm of popular education and cultural affairs and was responsible for defining and disseminating the Anarcho-syndicalist worldview. Here the fundamentally federalist principals of syndicalism were given full expression, as each local union had the right to participate equally in internal elections and enjoyed equal access to the economic resources of the organizations.

The means of struggle were largely economic in character, but the FAUD as a union was not content to lead struggles in this realm only to cede to the political and military force of the parties and the state. Once the proletariat had attained power through a general strike it was never again to give it up. Parliamentarianism and the use of state forms played no role in the considerations of the syndicalists--the existing political order was to be replaced with free associations of producers and consumers.

In order to effect the transition in the economic sector as smoothly as possible following the revolutionary phase, the FAUD was to constitute these forms before the general strike, and thereby guarantee control of the factories for the workers. The Workers’ Communities would be reformed into a type of “statistical office” for the purpose of coordinating this process. The syndicalists made this vision concrete and thereby offered a realistic prospect for a free, socialist society while other workers’ organizations followed the ‘state capitalist’ example of the Soviet Union, sought peace with the private sector or presented no possibilities for a socialist society. This perspective alone justifies a closer examination of the syndicalist movement.
In contrast to council communists the syndicalists placed great importance on the political questions of the day rather than waiting for conditions favourable to a revolution. The self-administration of society required that the skills and abilities necessary to this task be rehearsed and exercised. The workers’ participation in daily struggles was to keep them in shape for the class struggle at large. Moreover, small victories could raise the profile of the organization. In fact, after the ebbing of the revolutionary period of 1918-1923 council communist organizations dissolved, being unable to present a relevant perspective, and many groups turned to the FAUD.

In the struggles of the Weimar Republic’s infancy the syndicalists played leading roles in some regions. The FAUD grew into a mass organization and its local unions spread to almost every corner of the country, encompassing cities and villages. People of all ages found representation [in the organization]. Of the 12 sectors of industry identified by the FAUD only 5 could be covered by industrial federations, however: construction, mining, transportation, metal-working and textiles. In locales unable to gather together the mandatory 25 members for a branch organization a “Union of all Trades” was founded. The local unions were transparently and thoroughly structured: a chairperson, a representative, an auditor and two treasurers were elected to organize the tasks associated with the group’s finances, correspondence and agitational activities. The Geschäftskommission in Berlin under Fritz Kater remained the executive coordinating body and was elected approximately every two years at the FAUD Congress, which also took place in Berlin until 1933. This congress was the highest decision-making body in the organization, and comprised the delegates of all the local unions.

The primary periodical organ of the FAUD was Der Syndikalist [The Syndicalist], which was published every week and was subscribed to by every member as a matter of obligation, which tied its distribution very closely to the numerical level of membership. Alongside this newspaper existed other periodicals, which were either produced on a regional level or were the organs of the industrial federations.

The local unions of the FAUD were influential in only a few areas, among them Düsseldorf (chiefly tilers), Berlin (boxmakers), or in the Ruhr region (mining). Still, the central and ‘christian’ trade unions showed that they had the upper hand.