Monday, July 19, 2010

Syndicalism and National Syndicalism

Although it's frequently overlooked, and its existence even denied by people who wish it didn't happen, National Syndicalism should really be examined as a reminder about some of the limitations of pure syndicalism. National Syndicalism was the nationalist, proto and outright Fascist complement to anarcho-syndicalism, and had strong followings in Italy, France, and somewhat in Spain, where it fought against the CNT. Folks who were in anarcho-syndicalist unions became drawn to increasingly nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric and eventually sided with Fascism over it.

Why did this happen? I think the answer is simple: anarchists, and by extension anarcho-syndicalists, have just assumed that when workers fight for their rights against bosses that they're automatically also in favor of liberal values. Want more power on the job, or higher wages? Surely you're against the Church. The truth is that the automatic correspondence of workers with liberal values is a Marxist invention drawn from an examination of the French experience in the first half of the 19th century. There's no reason why folks concerned about their work should necessarily not be sexist, or racist, not worship the flag or believe in a strong role for the Church and for religion. Which is why liberal values have to be promoted at the same time as syndicalism.

Nestor Makhno, of anarcho-communist fame, once wrote that people know what freedom is, don't need a program to tell them what it is, and that given the chance they'll naturally go for it. Maybe they'll go for something that they consider to be freedom, but the notion that they'll go for a radically democratic and libertarian notion of what freedom is is an extraordinarily unjustified, superficial, and shallow idea. For example, in the Russian Revolution there were pogroms against Jews in some of the more isolated rural areas. Why? Because the people there were told that a revolution against the oppressors was going on, and had been told before by the government and the other powers that be that the Jews were their enemies. So, these people naturally pursuing their idea of freedom, given the chance and without any other sort of input, killed Jewish people in their communities who most likely had nothing to do with their real oppression.

Workers' power is necessary, but workers don't automatically fit into the Marxist mode of being bourgeois liberals just straining to implement free thinking ideals when they get the chance. There are workers who are lefties, liberals, centrists, rightists, and ultra-rightists, and there's been a concerted effort in the United States for several decades now by the Right to court workers and turn them against liberalism.  Which is why liberal values have to be promoted next to workers' power. If not, then you'll get a situation where many of these workers praise the flag and support authoritarianism on top of syndicalism.

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