Global Anarchism and Syndicalism: Theory, History, Resistance (Anarchist Studies 1, Spring 2016)



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Publication date: March 1, 2016

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Lucien van der Walt

The discussion below is a lightly edited transcription of a talk given by the author at the Ay Carmela, Rua das Carmelitas, in São Paulo, Brazil, on 2 November 2010. This article provides a global perspective on the history and theory of anarchism and syndicalism, arguing against views that treat anarchism as simple ‘anti-statism’ or a natural human ‘impulse’, in favour of the argument that the current is a socialist, working class tradition dating to the International Workingmen’s Association (the ‘First International’), 1864-1877. An international movement in intent, conception and membership from the start, it drew on a range of modernist, rationalist socialist ideas, and developed a powerful base in many regions of the world by the 1940s. Spanish anarchism was undoubtedly important, as was the anarchist Spanish Revolution of 1936–1939, but Spain provided but one of a series of mass-based, influential anarchist and syndicalist movements. Barcelona was only one in a chain of red-and-black anar- chist and syndicalist strongholds, and the Spanish Revolution only one of a number of major rebellions, revolutionary rehearsals and actual social revolutions in which anarchism/ syndicalism played a decisive role. Although public attention was drawn by the spectacular actions of the movement’s marginal ‘insurrectionist’ wing, it was the ‘mass’ anarchist approach – based on patient mass organising and education – that predominated. The movement’s immersion in mass movements – especially through syndicalism, peasant and civil rights struggles, fights against racism and women’s oppression, and anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles – can also only be properly appreciated from a global perspective – one in which the movement’s rich history in the colonial and postcolonial world is placed centre-stage. The real history of the movement should not be confused with the mythological, propagandistic history of anarchism that sections of the movement subsequently promoted, centred on claims that ‘anarchism’ existed across all human history, was ‘natural’ etc.