The moulding of Anarcho-Syndicalism after the First World War

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 23, 2010

Following the First World War the FVDG reconstituted itself. Large numbers of workers, disappointed by the SPD’s support for the war, flocked to alternative organizations, among them the FVDG, which increased its numbers ten-fold within a year, reaching approximately 60,000. This organization offered a real form of worker self-management, which was perceived by the central trade unions as a threat to their aims of social partnership. Syndicalists, along with council communists, were the bogeymen of social democracy, not just because they attracted large numbers of new members (up to 150,000 by 1922), but also because they developed a more concrete concept of their organization and theory. This manifested itself in the “Prinzipienerklärung des Syndikalismus,” [Declaration of the principles of syndicalism] written by the then up-and-coming theorist Rudolf Rocker and presented in 1919 to the 12th Congress of the FVDG, which adopted it with few alterations.

In contrast to social democracy, which imposed the mediating structure of the party upon the workplace organizations, the syndicalists recognized the dangers that could result from such dualism. Consequently, they put aside the theoretical division of economics and politics with the aim of enabling the proletariat to govern itself on all levels. In accordance with these claims the syndicalists had to organize themselves in all realms of life. Society was to both rule and carry all responsibility for itself, for “freedom exists only where it is carried forth with the spirit of personal responsibility,” as Rudolf Rocker put it. In concurrence with Marxist theory, the syndicalists held that economics represented the essential foundation of social life, and that organizing efforts needed to concentrate on the two main actors within the economic sphere: producers and consumers.