Anarcho-syndicalism in America

By Steven Fake

WSA 30 Year Anniversary

Part of a series commemorating 30 years of WSA 

I am a relative newcomer to the WSA. I did not join until 2006. I might have joined some years earlier had I only heard of its existence. WSA is not exactly the most visible political organization in the country. This is unsurprising as anarcho-syndicalism is scarcely known as an ideological tendency in modern America. When I did eventually learn of the WSA it was via the byline of a member writing in a leftist internet publication. The sort of media one finds only if looking for it rather than the kind of rag that can be picked up on a whim at the street corner, perhaps while waiting for the bus.

Discovering the WSA was something of a relief for me – proof that there were living members of a tradition which I felt intuitively to be correct, yet had encountered only in history books. If anarcho-syndicalism is, as Noam Chomsky believes, “the proper mode of organization for a highly complex, advanced industrial society”, then what are we to make of the invisibility of the organized tendency in the U.S.?

In part, the marginalized status of the current is simply a reflection of the left. The thirty years of WSA existence have marked perhaps the weakest period of the political left since the 19th century. The relative marginality of the left has had the concomitant effect of shrinking its aspirations. Radicalism is marked simply by a rejection of hopes for salvation through the Democratic Party. The radicals then, while perhaps of not insubstantial numbers, are very rarely organized in any coherent fashion. Debate on issues like the relative merits of worker self-management or workers’ parties therefore is mired in a small, shallow pond with little room for air.
We are very far from the days when Rudolf Rocker advocated for worker’s power within the wide sea of a militant and quite radically-minded labor movement and immigrant communities; or C Wright Mills extolled the virtues of anarcho-syndicalism from within an intellectual ferment that still asked big questions and did not feel itself to be living after the end of history.
Yet the role of organizations like WSA remains vital. As the Occupy wave reminded us, popular struggle can pick up at any time, and necessarily relies heavily upon the institutional memory of pre-existing political groupings to popularize otherwise forgotten traditions that demand a society self-governed by the workers. Otherwise, the lessons of peoples’ history must be relearned forever anew, usually after it is too late. For three decades, in the hostile terrain of the most influential nation on the planet, WSA has kept that black flame of memory alive.

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