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Syndicalism, France

Stephen Leberstein

Subject Social History » Labor History
Sociology » Social Movements

Place Western Europe » France

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics education, labor movements, labor unions, revolution, rights

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.01434.x


The two decades before World War I were the “heroic” period for French syndicalism, one that saw it emerge as a major workers' movement pledged to revolution. Syndicalists were highly conscious of their class identity. Seeing in class consciousness an essential element of a revolutionary movement, they rejected parliamentary politics as a means to the new socialist society that would be organized by a working class they regarded as sufficient in its own right for this task. Their emphasis on working-class autonomy and self-sufficiency made syndicalists particularly interested in culture in the totality of workers' experience. Culture and education in particular assumed a political burden. While syndicalists generally claimed they were anti-political, they tended to politicize every aspect of their lives in the effort to define a specifically working-class agenda. The educational activities of French syndicates were, in this sense, always elements of political struggle. For the left wing of the French labor movement in the two decades leading up to World War I, then, every kind of labor organization would become a “school of revolt,” a way to educate workers. In the political ferment of the period, anarchists, syndicalists, and revolutionary socialists all agreed on the need to educate workers, on the importance of training them in “la science de son malheur,” as the secretary of ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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