Posted on January 14, 2009, filed Under Worker Struggle.
(The Methods of Anarcho-Syndicalism)
By Rudolf Rocker. Ed. By Scott R.
Exerpted from: Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism (1938).
People owe all the political rights and privileges which we enjoy today in greater or lesser measure, not to the good will of their governments, but to their own strength. Governments have employed every means that lay in their power to prevent the attainment of these rights or to render them illusory. Great mass movements among the people and whole revolutions have been necessary to wrest these rights from the ruling classes, who would never have consented to them voluntarily. Even the freest ballot cannot do away with the glaring contrast between the possessing and non-possessing classes in society. It can only serve to impart to a system of social injustice the stamp of legal right and to induce the slave to set the stamp of legality on his own servitude. But, most important of all, practical experience has shown that the participation of the workers in parliamentary activity [trusting politicians, political parties, labor law, etc.] cripples their power of resistance and dooms to futility their warfare against the existing system. Parliamentary participation has not brought the workers one iota nearer to their final goal; it has even prevented them from protecting the rights they have won against the attacks of the reaction.
Anarcho-Syndicalists, then, are not in any way opposed to the political struggle, but in their opinion this struggle, too, must take the form of direct action, in which the instruments of economic power which the working class has at its command are the most effective. Every event that affects the life of the community is of a political nature. In this sense, every important economic action is also a political action and, moreover, one of incomparably greater importance than any parliamentary proceeding. Of a political nature is likewise the battle of the Anarcho-Syndicalists against Fascism and the anti-militarist propaganda, a battle which for decades was carried on solely by the Libertarian Socialists [Anarchists] and the Syndicalists. The focal point of the political struggle lies, then, not in the political parties, but in the economic fighting organizations of the workers. It as the recognition of this which impelled the Anarcho-Syndicalists to center all their activity on the Socialist education of the masses and on the utilization of their economic and social power. By direct action the Anarcho-Syndicalists mean every method of immediate warfare by the workers against their economic and political oppressors. Among these the outstanding are: the strike, in all its gradations from the simple wage-struggle to the general strike; the boycott; sabotage in its countless forms; anti-militarist propaganda; and in particularly critical cases, armed resistance of the people for the protection of life and liberty.
Among these fighting techniques THE STRIKE, that is, organized refusal to work, is the most used. In its simplest form it is for the workers an indispensable means of raising their standard of living or defending their attained advantages against the concerted measures of the employers. But the strike is for the workers not only a means for the defense of immediate economic interests, it is also a continuous schooling for their powers of resistance, showing them every day that every least right has to be won by unceasing struggle against the existing system.
One of the most important results of the daily economic struggles is the development of solidarity among the workers. To cherish and strengthen this natural solidarity of the workers and to give to every strike movement a more profoundly social character, is one of the most important tasks which the Anarcho-Syndicalists have set themselves. For this reason the SYMPATHETIC STRIKE is one of their choicest weapons. Through it the economic battle becomes a deliberate action of the workers as a class. The sympathetic strike is the collaboration of related, but also of unrelated, categories of labor, to help the battle of a particular trade to victory by extending the strike to other branches of labor, where this is necessary. In this case the workers are not satisfied with giving fighting assistance to their striking brethren, but go further, and by crippling entire industries cause a break in the whole economic life in order to make their demands effective. Today, when by the formation of national and international cartels capitalism grows more and more into monopoly capitalism, this form of warfare is in most cases the only one by which the workers can still promise themselves success. Just as the employers in their cartels and protective organizations are building an ever broader basis for the defense of their interests, so also the workers must turn their attention to creating for themselves by an ever wider alliance of their national and international economic organizations the required basis for solidaric mass action adequate for the demands of the time.
Direct action by organized labor finds its strongest expression in the GENERAL STRIKE, in the stoppage of work in every branch of production by the organized resistance of the proletariat, with all the consequences arising from it. The general strike can serve various purposes. It can be the last stage of a sympathetic strike. It can as easily be a means by which organized labor tries to enforce some general demand. But the general strike can also have political objectives. In Spain the widespread strike movement among the workers and peasants after the Fascist revolt in July, 1936, developed into a “SOCIAL GENERAL STRIKE” (HUELGA GENERAL) and led to armed resistance, and with this to the abolishment of the capitalist economic order and the reorganization of the economic life by the workers themselves.
Another important fighting device for direct action is the BOYCOTT. It can be employed by the workers both in their character of producers and of consumers. A systematic refusal of consumers to buy from firms that handle goods not produced under conditions approved by the labor unions can often be of decisive importance, especially for those branches of labor engaged in the production of commodities of general use. At the same time the boycott is very well adapted to influencing public opinion in favor of the workers, provided it is accompanied by suitable propaganda. The UNION LABEL is a effective means of facilitating the boycott, at it gives the purchaser the sign by which to distinguish the goods he wants from the spurious. As producers the boycott provides the workers with the means of imposing an embargo on individual plants whose managers show themselves especially hostile to trade unions.
Among the weapons in the Anarcho-Syndicalist armory SABOTAGE is the one most feared by the employer. Sabotage consists in the workers putting every possible obstacle in the way of the ordinary modes of work. For the most part this occurs when the employers try to avail themselves of a bad economic situation or some other favorable occasion to lower the normal conditions of labor by curtailment of wages or by lengthening of the hours of labor. The sabotage of the workers is directed against the employers, never against the consumers.
The English workers were already doing this long before revolutionary Syndicalism was spoken of on the continent. In fact the policy of “CA’ CANNY” (GO SLOW), which, along with the phrase itself, the English workers took over from their Scottish brethren, was the first and most effective form of sabotage.
The railway workers in France and Italy by the use of the so-called GRÈVE PERLÉE (STRING-OF-PEARLS-STRIKE) threw the whole system of transportation into disorder. For this they needed to do nothing more than to adhere to the strict letter of the existing transport laws, and thus made it impossible for any train to arrive at its destination on time.
The so-called SIT DOWN STRIKE, which was transplanted from Europe to America with such supervising rapidity and consists of the workers remaining in the plant day and night without turning a finger in order to prevent the installing of strike-breakers, belongs in the realm of sabotage. Very often sabotage works thus: before a strike the workers put the machines out of order to make the work of possible strike-breakers harder, or even impossible for a considerable time.
Another form of direct action is the SOCIAL STRIKE, which will, without doubt, in the immediate future play a much larger part. It is concerned less with the immediate interests of the producers than with the protection of the community against the most pernicious outgrowths of the present system. The social strike seeks to force upon the employers a responsibility to the public. Primarily it has in view the protection of the consumers, of whom the workers themselves constitute the great majority.
As outspoken opponents of all nationalist ambitions the revolutionary Syndicalists, especially in the Latin countries, have always devoted a very considerable part of their activity to ANTI-MILITARIST PROPAGANDA, seeking to hold the workers in soldiers’ coats loyal to their class and to prevent their turning their weapons against their brethren in time of a strike. The Anarcho-Syndicalists know that wars are only waged in the interest of the ruling classes; they believe, therefore, that any means is justifiable that can prevent the organized murder of peoples.