Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor: a Cause without Rebels

By Peter N. Stearns | Go to book overview

1
Syndicalism: Its Development and Symptoms

Origins and Ideology

Syndicalism was never a very clearly defined doctrine. It stressed three key points: complete hostility to the existing system; a belief that the only way to attack this system was by economic rather than political means, notably a great general strike; and a vague indication that the future society would be organized without a central political structure, on the basis of local economic units directed by producers themselves. The haziness about the nature of the ultimate goals was common to many revolutionary doctrines of course, including Marxism.

Syndicalist hostility to capitalist society was just as vigorous as Marxist hostility, though it lacked elaborate historical or economic arguments as a buttress. In the syndicalist view, capitalism meant exploitation of man by man, fat profits for a few drawn from the sweat of the many. Capitalism tainted everything. The state, in particular, was nothing more than a tool of capitalist dominion. All this had to be swept away; the need for revolution was unquestionable. But the revolutionary tactic had to be new; the old idea of capturing the state was no longer valid. Hence the stress on a general strike, which would paralyze the economy and bring down the state.

This concept, one of the hallmarks of syndicalism, clearly distinguishing it from Marxism, resulted from several considerations. The weapons the state possessed, with its big armies and police forces, doomed any frontal attack to failure. The lessons of the Paris Commune, which influenced syndicalist thinking strongly, showed that even a vigorous politi

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Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor: a Cause without Rebels
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Abbreviations of Commonly Cited References viii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Syndicalism: Its Development and Symptoms 9
  • 2 - The Moderation of French Workers 35
  • 3 - The Failure of Syndicalism 73
  • 4 - Conclusion 103
  • Appendices 109
  • Appendix A: Real Wages and Strikes 111
  • Appendix B: Statistical Characteristics of Strikes and Their Evolution 121
  • Notes 137
  • Bibliography 159
  • Index 165
  • About the Author *
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