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The term Syndicalism has been derived from the French syndicats, associations of workingmen uniting members of the same trade or industry for the furtherance of common economic interests. Syndicalism should therefore be synonymous with Industrial or Trades Unionism; but like "Socialism" the word has come to be used almost exclusively in a restricted sense and implies the principles expressed in theory and practice by French syndicates united in the Confédération Générale du Travail (General Confederation of Labour). Three influences have combined in the formation of this new system: revolutionary unionism, Anarchism, and Socialism. The theories of Proudhon together with those of Marx and Bakounine are here combined in a new form of industrial agitation which has received the name of "direct action". There has been no scientific or purposeful adaptation of the various doctrines. The mere cooperation in the same syndicats by followers of these often most antagonistic leaders has gradually brought about an agreement upon fundamental principles of revolutionary action to which all could subscribe, while free divergence of opinion might still find its individual expression outside the Syndicalist movement. While Syndicalism has but recently forced itself into popular notice, it is not new in its doctrines, which had almost all been accepted by the old "International" of Paepe, Marx, and Bakounine. When this was finally swept away during the revolutionary period of 1870-71, the present syndicats were gradually constructed, and after countless vicissitudes the Socialistic and Anarchistic elements were at last consolidated in the Confédération Générale du Travail.

The primary object of revolutionary Syndicalism is common to the various groups of which it is composed and consists in the destruction of the existing order of society, the expropriation and abolition of capital, and the elimination of the entire system of wages. Its basic doctrine is the teaching of the class struggle, while, like Socialism and Anarchism, it sees in patriotism one of its worst enemies. The State is to be violently combatted even when it enacts measures beneficial to the labourer, since all reforms are said to be deceptive unless forced from it by the syndicalist workers themselves. There are but two divisions of mankind, the employers and the employed, and anything which can foment bitterness and disagreement between these two is a triumph for the worker. All this is pure Marxian doctrine. The method by which revolutionary Syndicalism would bring about its purpose is known as direct action, i.e. the absolute rejection of all intermediary influences between the worker and his intended revolution. It disregards politics and parliamentary activity, repudiates intellectualism, and refuses to employ any agency except that of the workingman alone. Although direct action does not in itself imply violence, yet the employment of physical force is considered inseparable from its successful application. The particular form in which direct action is to find its adequate expression is the general strike. Each strike now takes on the nature of a skirmish preceding the great battle and becomes an end in itself independently of its success or failure. It calls for the support of the entire working class, and the more severe the conflict the greater the class-consciousness that is developed. The culmination of these minor conflicts is to be the great battle which is proposed as the immediate object of Syndicalism, the general strike. This idea had already been clearly formulated by the "International". Success by the ballot is considered illusory because of its demoralizing influence upon the leaders, while Street barricading and fighting seem useless against modern armaments. Nothing therefore is said to remain for the worker except the general strike of all industries at the same time. This will distribute the army over every section of the entire country and so render it helpless. The business and industrial sections of the cities will thus fall into the possession of the syndicats, who are at present to be prepared by education and class morality to take instant and successful control of all productive enterprises. The struggle itself is to be brief, but intense.

Two special theories are connected with the general strike. They are known as the minority and the myth theories. The syndicalists are only a small proportion of the French workingmen and without financial resources to sustain a prolonged strike. To answer the difficulties which this condition naturally suggests it is taught that their lack of resources will beget a spirit of recklessness, while their revolutionary education will infuse enthusiasm into the comrades, whose leaders they are destined to become. Thus the "conscious or bold" minority will suffice for the victory. The second theory was first proposed by Sorel in his "Réflexions sur la violence". Myths are defined by him as "artificial combinations invented to give the appearance of reality to hopes that inspire men in their present activity". Such a myth, he says, was for the early Christians the second coming of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven; such for the syndicalist revolutionists is the myth of the general strike which has no objective reality in the present.

We have hitherto advisedly spoken of "revolutionary" Syndicalism, since there is likewise a "reformist" element in the Syndicalist movement, or as it is more appropriately called, a "reformist revolutionary" group. It consists of a certain portion of the socialist following, whose ultimate object is identical with that of their comrades, the general strike and the social revolution; but who are opposed to the practice of violence, as inexpedient, and for the same reason likewise exercise greater precaution in dealing with other critical questions, such as patriotism and militarism. They believe likewise in securing a safe financial status for the syndicats and in fighting for present reforms. These reforms, however, are to be understood in a purely Socialistic and Syndicalistic sense. Nothing that does not actually weaken the capitalistic class and prepare for its destruction is to be accounted of any value; while no concession that can ever be gained is to be considered final. It is difficult to ascertain the exact strength of this reformist element. Although it is in nowise inconsiderable; yet the Confédération Générale du Travail has hitherto sailed under exclusively revolutionary colours. The ultimate aim of Syndicalism, as far as this can be ascertained, is the establishment of an "economic federalism" in which the Bourses du Travail, or Labour Exchanges, which are affiliated with the Confédération Générale du Travail, are meant to play an important rôle. The units of society are to be the syndicats united in the trade federations, which in turn are to be centralized in the general confederation. The supreme thought of the present is, however, the general strike, and the syndicats united for this purpose are known as the syndicats rouges in distinction to the syndicats jaunes, who are opposed to Syndicalism and favour the strike only as an extreme measure.

The term Syndicalism has not as yet been officially applied to any labour association in the United States; nevertheless the movement itself exists in the organization of the "Industrial Workers of the World" and is likewise widely agitated under the form of industrial unionism by leading American socialists. In England a strong Syndicalist movement has sprung up since 1910, in which year Tom Mann issued the first number of his "Industrial Syndicalist". While radical Socialists have been obliged to construct a new labour union in the United States their fellows in England have striven to develop the existing unions in the direction of solidarity and "direct action".


LEVINE, The Labour Movement in France (New York, 1912) ; CLAY, Syndicalism and Labour (New York, 1911); ACHT, Der Moderne Französische Syndikalismus (Jena, 1911); CORNÉLISSEN, Ueber den internationalen Syndilcalismus (Tübingen, 1910); CHALLATE, Syndicalisme révolutionnaire et Syndicalisme réformiste (Paris, 1909); SOREL, Réflexions sur la Violence (Paris, 1910, 2nd ed.); YVETOT, A.B.C. Syndicaliste (Paris), The Times (London), 25 March, 16 April, 1912; GRIFFUELHES AND KEUFER, Le Mouvement Socialiste (Jan.-April, 1905), l.

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APA citation. Husslein, J. (1912). Syndicalism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Husslein, Joseph. "Syndicalism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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