Anti-capitalism Economy Syndicalism

Unemployment: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Critique and Program

by Jake Tompkins

The way the current capitalist world system is arranged there is a high level of unemployment across the world, especially because of the crises which has seen no recovery for anyone, but the richest of the rich. Unemployment is one of the worst parts of capitalist despotism. It means losing your ability to survive in this system, to just exist. This will be an attempt at asserting an Anarcho-Syndicalist political program for tackling the issue of unemployment. First, this article will lay out an analysis of unemployment as a phenomena, being unique to capitalism and a basic part of it’s functioning. The article will go on to outline how Anarcho-Syndicalists can approach the issue of unemployment in our movement for a libertarian communist society in the real world.

The Nature of Unemployment

To understand unemployment in capitalist society we have to understand three core concepts; 1: The Organic Composition of Capital, 2: Surplus Populations, 3: The Reserve Army of Labor.

Capital’s Organic Composition:

Capitalist production is based on maximizing profit for those who own it. The capitalist class owns production so it can make a profit off of those who take part in it. The surplus that these people (the working class) produces, above and beyond their need to subsist, goes to the owners of production (the capitalist class) in the form of profit. This profit is what drives capitalist production as part of it forms the consumption that the capitalist class undertakes to reproduce itself and part of it forms the capital that is invested back into production to keep the firm going. Capitalists naturally want to make as much profit off of labor as they can which means that they have to get labor to produce the biggest surplus possible. To do this they have to invest as little in the production process as possible while also keeping the production process going and producing as much output as possible. As such the capitalist class will automate a certain amount of labor which means that they have to pay for the reproduction of the lives of less workers. This forms the basic pretext for class struggle in capitalism. The capitalist class seeks to squeeze labor as much as possible to procure as much profit as possible. The working class thus fights back against this producing a struggle between the laboring and owning classes.  Right now the organic composition of capital is at a point where there is high unemployment all over the globe, even in third world countries where industrial jobs have been outsourced to.

The Reserve Army of Labor:

In each new cycle of accumulation capital has to spit out a certain amount of living labor (workers). This means that workers are tossed out without jobs and serve as a reserve resource for capital. They are not currently implored in the process of production, they are hung up like an old coat. They will only be re-integrated into capitalist production when capital once again finds a use for them, just like the old coat which may only be worn when it’s owner sees fit to where it, hand it down, or sell it. The unemployed thus serve as a reserve army of laborers who may at one point be integrated back into the process of capitalist production.

The Surplus Population:

The reserve army of labor is at the same time the surplus population. The reserve army, not being exploited to generate profit for the capitalist class until it is brought into capitalist production is thus in the meantime excluded from capitalist production. In Marx’s time this was largely the disabled, the sick, and out of work child laborers. Today any one of us may be thrown into the reserve army of labor at any time and thus become part of the surplus population. With the current level of capital’s organic composition and the world crises of capitalist production many of us are already there.

Unemployment Sucks:

When you are unemployed you have been excluded from capital, made dispensable, and thus slowly lose access to a decent standard of living, have to become dependent on family/friends, or have nobody to turn to in your time of incredible need. The employed are always threatened with the prospect of becoming the unemployed and thus must be on their best behavior, licking the boots of their boss. Who could blame them, this is their very life and livelihood at stake. Unemployment is just one oppressive aspect of the capitalist mode of production.

Program; Class Struggle

Unemployment is a natural product of capital’s organic composition. Capital, going through cycles of accumulation must expel a certain about of the labor force each cycle. We had close to full employment in the United States after the second world war and many people think going back to the Keynesian policies of that time will produce a similar result. Keynesian policy however, is not the reason for the long period of stability until 74/73 after the second world war. The second world war was. It allowed the American military to destroy other countries and thus take control of their production for the benefit of American capitalists. That cycle of capital accumulation has now come to a close and capital is now in a different cycle of accumulation. There is no going back to the post-war boom and Keynesian policy has not been helping matters. State spending (a main tenet of Keynesian policy) has not helped the growth of any countries since the crises with the countries seeing the most growth having the least state spending. In the United States state spending has only drained the the state’s financial resources and indebted it to the private companies that made the crises in the first place.

Capitalism always produces unemployment which means we need to change the system of production if we want to end unemployment. This needs to be a system of production that provides for human needs. This would be a communist, or socialist system of production. That is one where production is owned by the collective human community and operated in that human community’s collective interest. This implies a libertarian social arrangement where each person has a say in the social systems that affect their lives and where property is distributed on the basis of equal social relations. This is a society without any oppressive social systems. This is a libertarian communist society.


Anarcho-syndicalism is a strategy to achieve such a social set up. It is the strategy of those oppressed by capitalism developing a self-organized struggle against the system that is oppressing them. We, as Anarcho-syndicalists, advocate this strategy because we understand that only the oppressed can liberate themselves. As such Anarcho-syndicalists think that workers, as the oppressed class in the capitalist system, should organize their own struggle against capitalism by creating organs of power they control to wage class warfare against the bosses, the capitalists, and repressive, reactionary bodies that seek to defend them (such as the police, the army, and the state in general). The unemployed are themselves workers, they are capital’s reserve army of exploitable labor. As such said organs of power (what Anarcho-syndicalists would call “revolutionary unions”) need to be organs of both employed and unemployed workers. Revolutionary unions thus have to be formed by and represent the unemployed just as much as the employed. Solidarity networks, or federated organizations, member controlled, that represent the oppressed legally and provide for them materially, will likely prove useful in defending the unemployed in the here and now. This is one reason why Anarcho-syndicalists need to be active in and form solidarity networks.

The bottom line is that Anarcho-syndicalists want to change the world, the oppressed have nothing to lose, but their chains. Organize for a better world, a libertarian communist world.


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