The Emergence of Anarcho-Syndicalism and the Association of Free German Unions

To get back to the central theme of this introduction, what was the FAUD? Its roots lie in the German social democracy that was formed under the Kaiser. The centralized organizational structure of the Party left it vulnerable to the restrictive measures of Bismarck’s (anti-)Socialist Law, which easily dissolved executive organizations. After the Socialist Law was repealed some of the members of the various local social-democratic organizations were reluctant to maintain centralized organizations, and were termed “localists.” The “localists” comprised a small minority within the social-democratic movement, but one that enjoyed considerable support in the capital, Berlin. At first they held fast to their party mentality and to their own Marxist interpretations, but the “revisionist” resolutions of the SPD’s Erfurt Congress in 1891 strengthened localist aspirations for the formation of a separate organization. The very next year the General Commission of the SPD organized a Congress in Halberstadt, where calls were made for the extirpation of the localist faction. In 1897 this element responded by joining in the “centralization of German shop-stewards” and in 1901 reorganized itself into the “Free Association of German Unions” (FVDG).

In the following years the social-democratic leadership struggled in vain to fully reintegrate the localist groups, which, according to Party functionary and future Chancellor Friedrich Ebert, were self-described social democrats and not to be compared with the anarchist milieu. Finally an ultimatum was set forth: the localists could accept the leadership of the central unions or be fully expelled from the SPD. The FVDG, which had by this time grown to about 16,000 members, lost half of them by 1908. For the remaining members this effectively cut the umbilical cord from the SPD. The localist movement now developed its own concepts of how to overthrow the present social system and construct a new one. During this process the localists were influenced in part by the “Bourses du travail” of the French syndicalist movement and by the worldview of Rapael Friedebergs, who likewise rejected both state and party as centralized organizations. At the same time, the “Young Opposition” under Paul Kampffmeyer was pushing in the same direction within the SPD. In this way the term “syndicalist” came to replace “localist.”

From this time until the First World War the FVDG maintained a rather insignificant membership of about 8,000 and published two organizational periodicals, “Einigkeit” [Unity] and “Pionier.” Starting around this time the members of the FVDG were also exposed to the multifaceted antagonism of their former comrades, who even joined forces with company managers to force syndicalists from their jobs and nip the possibility of a “competing union” in the bud. As a result, the localist/syndicalists found themselves faced with yet another powerful opponent, in addition to the capitalists. While the central unions made great displays of patriotic readiness and commitment, the syndicalists were persecuted by state officials and opposed by social democrats for their vehement anti-war stance. Meanwhile, anarchist theory, personified by Proudhon, Kropotkin and Gustav Landauer, gained traction in Germany.