Anarcho-Syndicalism and the anti-capitalist movement

Brief Introduction:

The Syndicalist Solidarity Network, a recently established Anarcho-Syndicalist propaganda group, has been involved locally in recent anti-capitalist activity and is encouraged by the development of the growing anti-capitalist movement across the globe. We took part - in Ireland and in Prague - in the S26 world-wide day of action against capitalism, taking part in the S26 Collective in Belfast, activities on S26 in Belfast and on September 30th our banner made its first appearance as we attended the anti-capitalist march and rally in Dublin in solidarity with the S26 protests in Prague.


On New Years day 1994 four towns in the south eastern state of Chiapas, Mexico, had been taken over by a group calling itself the Zapatista National Liberation Army. They captured the former Governor of Chiapas, General Abslon Castellanos, initially took San Cristobal de Las Casas then Oxchuc a town 36km away. they ransacked 10 government offices. They freed 179 prisoners from the prison in San Christobal and attacked the army garrison on January 2nd.

They stated:

"We have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing, no decent roof over our heads, no land, no work, poor health, no food, no education, no right to freely and democratically choose our leaders, no independence from foreign interests, and no justice for ourselves or our children. But we say enough is enough! We are the descendants of those who truly built this nation, we are millions of dispossessed, and we call upon all our brethren to join our crusade, the only option to avoid dying of starvation!"(1)

And so the call went out, from a state of Mexico suffering devastating poverty, timed to coincide with the first day of the implementation of the capitalist, neo-liberal, assault on the living standards of ordinary people that is NAFTA in Mexico.

In part the history of the anti-capitalist movement has its origins in the First Encounter for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism held in Zapatista camps in Chiapas in 1996. This meeting, of 3,000 people from 43 countries resolved to:

" ...make a collective network of all our particular struggle's and resistance's. An intercontinental network of resistance against neo-liberalism, an intercontinental network of resistance for humanity.

This intercontinental network of resistance, recognising differences and acknowledging similarities, will search to find itself with other resistance's around the world. this intercontinental network of resistance is not an organising structure; it doesn't have a central head or decision maker; it has no central command or hierarchies. we are the network, all of us who resist".

The Second Encounter for Humanity And Against Neo-Liberalism took place the following year in Spain, the practical task of co-ordinating this network of resistance produced the 'People's Global Alliance', which played an important role in later mobilisations including those for Seattle.

The Zapatista's, the Encounters and what grew out of them were in themselves significant, but they only provide us with a significant part of a broader anti-capitalist 'movement' which, prompted by the worst excesses of global capital, poverty, starvation, environmental destruction and war, has started to come together across the globe.

This 'movement' has thrown up non and specifically anti - party forms of organisation based on the principles of direct democracy, federation and opposition to hierarchy. Many on the party political left do not understand it, or deliberately misinterpret it as disorganisation, while they try and latch onto the movement and provide the necessary 'leadership' that we need. They don't, or don't want to, understand that this movement was built on a rejection of the building of "A new number in the useless enumeration of the numerous international orders". The Anti-Capitalist protests lack the guiding hand of the party not because that movement has not realised the need for one but rather, in common with Anarcho-Syndicalists, many making up this movement have explicitly rejected this authoritarian method of organisation.

More than simply rejecting hierarchical organisation we organise ourselves in a non-hierarchical manner. Anarcho-Syndicalism combines the Anarchist vision of a non-hierarchical society with the organisational strategies of syndicalism. As Anarcho-Syndicalists we believe that society should and can function without government. This does not mean chaos and disorder, these are what capitalism and governments bring us now. We are fighting for a form of social organisation in which nobody is in a position to oppress anyone else, in which all the means to achieve maximum material and intellectual development are available to everyone - equally. Ours is a vision of how society can work: without poverty, hunger or greed; a society that will embrace everyone equally. Anarcho-Syndicalism has been anti-capitalist since its inception at the start of the century, when Anarchists following the disaster that was 'propaganda by deed' returned to their roots in the working class and began the task of building revolutionary and libertarian unions. Anarcho-Syndicalism is not just anti-capitalist, it also provides a framework on which to build an alternative to the capitalism which we oppose.

Before such a society can be realised the means of production and distribution must be under the direct democratic control of the workers and geared towards the needs of society - not the profit of the few. Present day society is capitalist society, it is driven by the ruthless desire for profit for the few at the top, the IMF, World Bank and the WTO are capitalist organisations, instruments of the capitalists not capitalism itself. It is capitalism itself which is rotten to the core and which we as workers, as Anarcho-Syndicalists are seeking to abolish.

Capitalism is a global system which subordinates human and environmental existence to money making. It is the exploitation of workers and of the planet by bosses in order to further fatten themselves on profits while in the north we face massive reductions in Welfare spending, the creation of a more 'flexible' labour market, tougher restrictions on claiming state benefit and increased job insecurity, - in effect the building of a low wage economy.

Job losses at Harland and Wolff and the decimation of the local textile industry, with the untold damage and suffering that causes working class communities are both directly linked to the neo-liberal policies which the IMF and the World Bank impose.

Policies which are responsible for Third World debt, economic devastation in eastern Europe and attacks on workers in Western countries. The impact on the environment of World Bank and IMF projects has been devastating, destroying many local eco-systerms and resulting in the enforced relocation of millions of people.

Organisations such as the World Bank, IMF, World Trade Organisation are instruments of capitalism, calling for them to be reformed or modified to make then less distasteful, more green, more 'accountable' or whatever is a waste of time. As the institutions of capitalism they are already accountable to be people they need to be - the rich and powerful capitalists whose interests they serve.

As the institutions of a system which places people before profit the IMF, WTO, World Bank must, like capitalism itself, be destroyed. The only place to effectively take on this task is at the workplace, the point of production, the protests against global capitalism are welcome, but events such as the Battle of Seattle, May Day in London, S11 in Melbourne and S26 Prague are, despite the victory of packing off the IMF a day early in Prague, no more than protests, than spectacles. Very welcome spectacles in so far as they show that many of us are not prepared to accept the end of history and that many of us are still prepared to resist but nevertheless completely unsuited to the task of really taking on capitalism and building a new world in its place.

While the non and anti - party forms of organisation and processes associated with the Anti-Capitalist movement are to be welcomed and encouraged the Anti-Capitalist movement does not replace the very real need to oppose capitalism at the only place where we have the power to change it - at the point of production - in the fields, factories and workshops.

As Anarcho-Syndicalists we see the need for working class unity not only to win improvements for workers but ultimately to do away with capitalism through the Social General Strike and social revolution. To achieve this we need to build revolutionary industrial unions, in opposition to the notions of social partnership of the trades union bureaucracy and cutting across the sectionalism of those unions in order to unite all the workers in a given industry.

Workers can and should control their own unions, their own workplaces and ultimately society as a whole, replacing capitalism, following the expropriation of the means of production, with a society based on solidarity and need as opposed to individual avarice and greed.

Railing and raging against the symptoms of capitalist rule while neglecting, or in some cases failing to see altogether, the causes is perhaps good enough for middle class revolutionary tourists but it woefully inadequate for workers who seriously want and need to take on and replace capitalism. While needing to remain active in the Anti-Capitalist movement, as many Anarcho-Syndicalist groups and unions are, we must not be blind to that movements shortcomings.


To the Syndicalist Solidarity Network