Anarcho-syndicalism, I.W.W.

Tom Condit tomcondit at
Fri Sep 22 10:47:10 MDT 1995

On 19 September, Jamal posted a quote from Daniel Guerin which said
in part:

"North American syndicalism appeared 1904-1905 in the form of a
militant unionism known as the Industrial Workers of the World
(IWW). ... Internal squabbles soon split the IWW, and for a time
there existed anarchist and socialist versions."

As a former member of the General Executive Board (G.E.B.) of the
I.W.W., I can assure you that it is not and never was an
"anarchist" organization, although many anarchists have been active
members.  The split Guerin refers to was between, on the one hand,
Daniel De Leon and the Socialist Labor Party, and on the other just
about everyone else.  The main leader of "the Bummery" as DeLeon
arrogantly called his foes, was the anarchosyndicalist Vincent St.
John, but it also included Eugene Debs, Big Bill Haywood (a member
of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party),
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, James Connolly, and a host of other well-
known socialists, many of them future Communists.  At the time I
served on the G.E.B. (1965-66), there was only one anarchist on
that body (Carlos Cortez).  It's important to realize that
revolutionary industrial unionism, North American style, was a very
different animal from syndicalism, French style.

Guerin also refers to the founding in 1883 of the International
Working Men's Association in the United States, implies that it was
a totally anarchist organization and states that it "took the lead
in a huge mass movement concentrated on winning an eight-hour day."
Actually, the Chicago Revolutionary Socialists, a section of the
IWA took that lead, with little or no support from Johann Most et
al., who were disinterested in class questions and took a
Bakuninesque stance of urging action upon the (ill-defined)
"masses."  The Chicago group were labor leaders first of all, and
didn't go along with most of the rhetoric from the East Coast.

Here's Albert Parsons, one of the Haymarket martyrs:

"The I.W.P.A. was not founded by Bakounine.  In 1883 delegates from
socialistic societies in the United States, Canada and Mexico,
assembled in Pittsburgh, Pa., and revived the I.W.P.A. as part of
the original International, founded by the World's Labor Congress,
held in London, England, in 1864.  The distinctive feature of the
manifesto of the Pittsburgh Labor Congress, was opposition to
centralized power, abolition of authoritative, compulsory or force
government in any form. That why we were, and are, designated
anarchists ...

"The I.W.P.A. is *not* in opposition to Marx.  So far from it that
one 'group' in this city as elsewhere, is called by his name.  The
first publication ever issued by the I.W.P.A. was written by Marx
and Engels in English-German."
(Parsons, in _Knights of Labor_, quoted by Carolyn Ashbaugh in
_Lucy Parsons, American Revolutionary_ (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr,

It's important to realize that many rank-and-file militants of
revolutionary organizations aren't interested in the theoretical
distinctions which preoccupy intellectuals.  19th North American
socialists felt free to quote Marx, Kropotkin or Fourier as it
suited them.  I'm not saying that the majority of the Chicago
leaders weren't anarchists--they were--but that it's a mistake to
conflate their anarchism with that of Bakunin, and a total error to
conflate the revolutionary industrial unionism of the I.W.W. with

Tom Condit

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