The Anarcho-Syndicalist Answer to Corporate Globalization

by Brian Oliver Sheppard Saturday, Aug. 11, 2001 at 7:56 AM

Anarcho-syndicalism is the point at which the anarchist and radical labor movements intersect.

Recently, local Industrial Workers of the World distributed a flyer that exclaimed: "Globalize worker self-management, not corporate rule!" In a nutshell, this is precisely what the anarchosyndicalist answer to corporate globalization is.

The internationalization of the Western capitalist economic model is nothing new, however. Colonialism, which one socialist writer of the past claimed was a cousin to the stock exchange, was one era's "globalization" problem.

Capitalism thrived perfectly well in an environment characterized by subordinate nation-states that served as titanic supply depots of natural resources and labor for their colonial master states.

In the middle of the 19th century, Marx and Engels observed in _The Communist Manifesto_ that the "need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe." The bourgeoisie "must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere." The _Manifesto_ claimed furthermore that "modern industry has established the world market" and that this global market "compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production;

it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves." Regrettably, "it creates a world after its own image."

Mikhail Bakunin, writing in "The Immorality of the State," traced the same problem to the nature of nation-states:

"Every State, whether it is of a federative or non federative character, must seek, under the penalty of utter ruin, to become the most powerful of States. It has to devour others in order not to be devoured in turn, to

conquer in order not to be conquered, to enslave in order not to be enslaved - for two similar and at the same

time alien powers cannot co-exist

without destroying each other."

Commenting on this same phenomenon, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky gave an

interview in which he said that the "state system is a very artificial

system. In its modern form it developed in Europe, and you can see how

artificial it is just by looking at European history for the last hundreds

of years, a history of massacre,

violence, terror, destruction, most of which has to do with trying to impose

a state system on a society to which it has very little relation."

He continues:

"As Europe expanded over the rest of the world, pretty much the same thing

happened - you look at Africa, India, Asia, any place you go, they've got

these boundaries which are the result of coloring different colors on the

map that usually have to do with European colonization. They cut across all

kinds of communities and interests and they bring people together who have

nothing to do with each other. The result is constant warfare and struggle

and oppression and so on. Furthermore, within each of these

artificial systems, imposed usually by force, you have some kind of usually

very sharply skewed distribution of power internally. The concentration of

power inside usually takes over the state for its own good. It suppresses

other people, suppresses people outside, etc."

The system of nation-states "cut[s] across all kinds of communities and

interests and ... bring[s] people together who have nothing to do with each

other," creating the perfect precondition for global corporate rule. Markets

can be laid across dissimilar cultures and traditions under a

uniform system of laws and regulation. The groundwork laid by the

globalization of nation-states has made corporate globalization possible.


The increasingly global nature of capitalist exploitation led to the

creation of the International Workingmen's Association, an organization that

Marx, Engels, and Bakunin belonged to. The professed purpose of the

International was to coordinate global working class resistance against a

system that was replicating itself

across the planet at a frightening pace. The market system threatened to

swallow whole continents, like a cancer multiplying arithmetically, and int

he process would overtake workers and their communities before they were

organized to fend off the approaching onslaught.

Even after the famous split of the International, when Marx in effect

excised Bakunin - thus exacerbating rivalry between anarchists and statist

socialists - anarchists still attempted to organize internationally.

In 1907, the International Anarchist Congress in France declared "unions

both as combat units in the class struggle for better working conditions,

and as associations of producers which can serve to transform capitalist

society into an anarcho-communist society." The French syndicalist Fernand

Pelloutier asked

if a federation of unions organized along non-hierarchical lines "would ...

not be an almost libertarian organization, ready to succeed the existing

order, thus effectively abolishing all political authority; each of its


controlling the means of production, managing its own affairs, sovereign

over itself by the free consent of its members?"

According to the anarchist historian Daniel Guerin, Bakunin had foreseen

"that self-management would open perspectives for [economic] planning on a

world-wide scale." To be precise, Bakunin and other anarchists felt that

capitalist exploitation would become so globally unbearable that an

international class of

subject-workers would arise, and would forge the shape of the new global

society through organizations rooted in necessity and practicality. The new

international class of workers would not have the privilege to make

distinctions of nationality or culture; they would all be thrust into the

same lot through the tyranny of capital. The workers would then collectively

organize to chase the bosses out of the factories, establish lines of supply

and production across borders, and render the authority of leaders,

politicians, and company owners moot.

Bakunin wrote:

"Workers' cooperative associations are a new historical phenomenon; today as

we witness their birth we cannot foresee their future, but only guess at the

immense development which surely awaits them and the new political and

social conditions they will generate. It is not only possible but probable

that they will, in time, outgrow the limits of today's countries, provinces,

and even states to transform the whole structure of human society, which

will no longer be divided into nations but into industrial units."

It was a given that capitalism tended to globalize, and that, in turn,

resistance would also have to become globalized. In light of this, it only

made sense to anarchists and syndicalists that the post-revolutionary

society would be a global society, having transcended the limitations of

nation-states and the constraints of competition.


The contemporary impetus towards "globalization" is but the newest phase of

this continuing phenomenon. However, unlike the helter skelter, unplanned

globalization trend of the past, the modern era of globalization is being

planned and managed consciously. What Noam Chomsky calls "the de facto

world government" - namely, institutions like the WTO, the G8, the OECD, the

World Bank Group, and others - enforce the globalization of Western

corporate power through a legal, rational process that nonetheless wreaks

devastation upon working people everywhere.

Bakunin, Pelloutier, and other anarchists might not have ever imagined a

world in which companies were more financially powerful than entire

nation-states. These large economic institutions, structured internally

according to what could only be called fascist lines, rely upon a

continuing supply of human labor to produce wealth for them - wealth that is

immediately put back into play to expand the enterprise somewhere else,

preferably where workers can be paid even less to do the same sort of work

that higher paid workers do. These corporations mercilessly crush attempts

by their own workers to collectively organize, which is something that

workers are often

compelled to do as a defense against the tendency of bosses to lower wages

and submit employees to dangerous working conditions. When workers become

too uppity, the shop doors are simply closed and reopened where workers

aren't such a nuisance; they are reopened where workers would accept

subhuman conditions, conditions that workers are driven to accept if only it

means to the workers that they might eat for a few days.

People across the globe thus find themselves bridled to jobs where they mine

the resources of their native lands and ship them off to be sold across the

sea, to foreign markets. Generally, this flow of resources travels from the

poor Global South to the wealthier Global North. As Juliette Majot wrote in

"Brave New World Bank: 50 Years is Enough," from 1982 to 1990 alone "debt

service remittances ... from poor countries to rich countries totaled 45


while at the same time _total_ resource flows from rich to poor countries

totaled 7


As their resources deplete, workers' living conditions grow worse - but,

they can say to themselves, at least they are getting a paycheck. However,

even that runs out, and they are finally laid off when their living

standards become too high for the corporation to continue to support. The

government of the country that hosts the corporation promises to slash

minimum wage laws, hand over schools and hospitals, whatever the companies

want - so long as they stay, and continue to give business and job

opportunities to citizens. This sort of process, which is being played out

in countries across the planet today, simply ensures that workers work for

their own continued subjugation, and for their own eventual undoing.

Corporations have succeeded in using the World Bank and IMF to strong-arm

foreign nations into letting them onto their soil, to take advantage of

depressed labor markets and harvest whatever resources might be available.

The deals that the World Bank makes to allow this to happen may be with

corrupt governments, despotic and

unelected, or they may be with elected, popularly chosen officials of a

country. Either way, once the decision is made by these elites to borrow

money, or to eliminate laws unfriendly to corporations, the entire

population pays the costs, and accepts the consequences. If people try to

resist the fate their leaders have consigned them to, intervention by

foreign armies and repression by their own armed

forces have generally been what they receive.

Often what happens is a country's elite will borrow excessively from the

World Bank Group, and make poor investments with the money, or simply use

the money to prepare certain agricultural or industrial sectors for foreign

investment and ownership. Then, when the country is

called to repay the loan, the debt is shifted to the public, who must be

taxed to pay it off. As the interest becomes unbearable, more previously

publicly owned assets are sold off to foreign interests to meet the payment

schedules of the Western financiers. Social services, health care, welfare

programs - all shift to the private

sector, as advised by Western bankers. Soon the country is unstable, with no

guaranteed minimum standard of living, pervasive job insecurity, massive

inflation, and perpetually poor citizens. Perpetually poor citizens mean

perpetually cheap labor, which is what corporations prefer.

In February, 2001, South Korean autoworkers employed by Daewoo, and

represented by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), occupied

factories near Seoul and engaged in physical skirmishes with police. Due to

corporate globalization pressures, many workers were laid off; the entire


would be laid off unless the company could be put into foreign (US) hands.

Dan Byung-ho,

President of the KCTU, claimed, "Two years of structural adjustment programs

of the government, guided by the IMF, saw a senseless bargain sale of

national assets to foreign concerns. In the process, the rich have taken

over most of the benefits, becoming even richer."

With no jobs, no resources that are public domain or not owned by groups of

foreign investors, workers everywhere are often not even guaranteed the

means with which they might try to survive.


The nature of the current phase of the globalization of capitalist power is

not to be framed as a competition between private sector and public sector

power, as has often been mistakenly done. Some articles have suggested that

the nation-state is shrinking in significance to the power of transnational

corporations, or that these corporations want to do away with nation-states

altogether, in

the drive to globalize their power. The corporation is jealous of the power

of the nation-state, such writers say, and seeks to replace it.

But nation-states have proved enormously useful to corporations seeking to

internationalize their markets. States themselves are nothing but economic

arrangements that secure the integrity of an exploitative system that

benefits elites.

The State is the guarantor of the capitalist system; as guarantors - as

institutions that

publicly subsidize the exploitative processes that the public is subjected

to - they cannot be eliminated by corporations, but are needed now more than

ever. States have helped corporations craft enormous economic blocs like

NAFTA, the European Union, the FTAA, and others. These economic blocs do not

usurp the

power of States; rather, they subject States to market rule, and make the

still-necessary States subject to the dictates of bodies of foreign

investors who will continue to need States to carry out their will.

The international economic bodies through which corporate capitalism

engineers its globalization - the WTO, World Bank, and others - do insist

upon pruning the State apparatus of programs that were previously public. It

either turns these programs into private, capitalist

schemes - as in replacing public pensions or retirement insurance with

corporate insurance plans - or it eliminates them altogether, as when it

eliminates environmental regulations that might prevent logging or anything

else. But this is not eliminating the State. The armies of these States, the

police forces, the jails, the property laws that protect corporate assets,

the hierarchical system of governance that allows corporations to make deals

with a minority of "leaders" that ostensibly represent the entire nation -

these integral functions of the State are still useful. The most violent


of nation-states are retained as corporate power becomes globalized; the

ones that get in the way are eliminated.

Many of the corporations that are seeking globalized markets were themselves

benefactors of highly protectionist States, such as those corporations that

reside and were founded in the US. The US has a highly protective system of

patents, tariffs, and regulations that shield domestic industry from the


of foreigners. The State itself even gives outright subsidy to various

segments of industry and to the productive process. This is surely a

violation of free market principles - but it is a violation that benefits

corporations, so it is acceptable.

However, the same protectionist luxuries are out of the question for foreign

countries. Protectionist laws are assailed by IMF ministers as barriers to

free trade, as unfair competitive advantages that do not allow the greatest

product to come forth, etc. The IMF ministers are right: it isn't consistent

free trade to demand free, unfettered competition for others while

maintaining tariffs and other protective measures for oneself. But corporate

elites have never wanted consistent free market capitalism for themselves.

They have wanted an ensemble of market advantages and State protectionism

that benefits their class, or the integrity of the system in general. This

is part of the reason that States exist and are important to their

globalization process.


The program of anarchosyndicalists, to the extent that one has ever been

cohesively formulated, draws from the toolbox of radical labor and anarchist

organizing, and applies these tools to contemporary bourgeois society.

Capital - by which anarchosyndicalists mean workplaces, factories,

equipment, and the wealth used to buy these things - must be wrested

mercilessly from the control of their owners, who

constitute the ruling class of our era. It is the ownership of these things,

sanctioned and guaranteed with the violence of the State, that has led to

the current inequality of wealth and living conditions across the globe.

Anarchosyndicalists exist at the point where the labor and anarchist

movements intersect. Workers who hate the system, who recognize how they are

exploited, bossed around, regimented and treated as drones, only to be used

up, disposed, thrown away like garbage, and treated as inferiors every day

of their

working lives, constitute the strength of the anarchosyndicalist movement.

The wealthy men

that push for the globalization of corporate power are men who depend upon

the eternally continuing subjection of a global class of wage slaves to

generate their wealth for them. Anarchosyndicalists are those whose

bitterness and desperation have driven them beyond the point of simply

talking about how bad things are; anarchosyndicalism is comprised of the

ideas of workers

willing to act to ensure a swift, immediate remedy to the problems of

authoritarianism and economic subjugation.

Veteran anarchosyndicalist organizer Sam Dolgoff stated that "the

revolutionary libertarian concepts of class-struggle, federalism, direct

economic action, local autonomy and mutual aid -- are all deeply rooted in

American labor traditions." Historically, direct action was the only choice

of workers who had no say in the affairs of society through either political

or economic means. Direct action is the only refuge, and the most democratic

expression, of powerless workers to exact change over the material

conditions of their

own lives.

Phillip Randolph, an African-American socialist and writer from the early

part of the 20th century, saw direct action as the only viable means for

black workers in the US to take their lives back:

"The Negro must engage in direct action. He is forced to do this by the

Government. When the whites speak of direct action, they are told to use

their political power. But with the Negro it is different. He has no

political power. Therefore the only recourse the Negro has is industrial

action, and since he

must combine with those forces which draw no line against him, it is simply

logical for

him to draw his lot with the Industrial Workers of the World."

The IWW is the closest thing to a large anarchosyndicalist organization that

the USA has ever had.

The capitalist class, through corporate globalization, can disempower

workers, and settle in areas where workers have no political voice to affect

change. Already the WTO is set to meet in the remote desert nation of Qatar,

which is ruled by a monarchy, and where rival political factions and freedom

of speech are illegal. In the USA, corporations increasingly rely on the

easily exploitable labor of illegal aliens and prison workforces, two

segments of the labor force that have no real rights. Direct action is their

only recourse. Likewise, oppressed workers in other lands often have no

political say. What else can they do but act directly upon what is

immediately oppressing them?

As to what it is that direct action should achieve, Rudolf Rocker spoke

clearly on the subject when he stated:

"Anarcho-Syndicalists are convinced that a Socialist economic order cannot

be created by the decrees and statutes of a government, but only by the

solidaric collaboration of the workers with hand or brain in each special

branch of

production; that is, through the taking over of the management of all plants

by the producers

[workers] themselves under such form that the separate groups, plants and

branches of

industry are independent members of the general economic organism and


carry on production and the distribution of the products in the interest of

the community on the basis of free mutual agreements."

Rocker saw that this would have to be characterized by three things: "1.

Organisation of the plants by the producers [employees] themselves and

direction of the work by labor councils elected by them. 2. Organisation of

the total

production of the country by the industrial and agricultural alliances. 3.

Organisation of

consumption by the Labour Cartels [affiliated workers' syndicates]." Such a

society is

realizable because its points of germination already exist. The

organizations that would carry

these things out, that is, already exist, if only in nascent form: labor

unions, collectives, and cooperatives of various kinds. Incidentally, these

are the sorts of organizations corporations are always trying to eliminate.

In a 1979 interview, Noam Chomsky reaffirmed that "for advanced industrial

countries at least, an organization in the manner that has been developed in

anarchosyndicalist theories is exactly correct; it would be the best form of

organization for an industrial society and possibly for any society."

Chomsky went on to say

that "a very reasonable position to take is that all forms of centralized

domination, including the highly concentrated centers of corporate power,

which with state power forms the two major functioning, closely related

centers of power in Western capitalism [sic]. Both of these things are, in

my view,

historical anachronisms, inconsistent with any fundamental commitment to

democracy." "The true aim of

a social revolution," he continues, "should be to dissolve these centers of


leading to a social organization based on such principles as workers'

control of industry, local

control of communities, federal interaction, interchange, and so on."

The hard, day to day work of anarchosyndicalists is simply this: to organize

workplaces along radically democratic, non-hierarchical lines to wrest

control of industry from its managers. There can be no single act by any

single person that will bring about an anarchosyndicalist society. It is

dependent, for better

or worse, upon the massive coordination of laboring people the world over to


capitalist encroachments internationally, and to strike back to expropriate

the expropriators. No true revolutionary has ever claimed such a monumental

feat was easy, or that results would come swiftly. The basic building blocks

of a society worth living in can only be created by the persistent, hard

work of dedicated activists willing to organize in their industry, so that

industry may ultimately be seized and operated in accord with the public's


As Thomas Skidmore wrote of various new inventions in the 1830s, "the steam

engine is not injurious to the poor when they can have the benefit of it . .

. instead of being looked on as a curse, it could be hailed as a blessing .

. . let the poor lay hold of it and make it their own . . . let them also in

the same way appropriate the iron foundries, the cotton factories, the

rolling mills, houses, churches, ships, goods, steamboats, trades of

agriculture: as is their right."

So it is that the global poor should lay hold of all the wealth, all the

equipment and all the productive apparatus of the globally privileged, and

make it their own. Let

the poor, the workers, and disenfranchised of the world linger no more in

their subjection

and misery; let them instead claim what is rightfully theirs, and transfer

to the whole

population of the earth what all the peoples of the earth have made.


Copyright (c) 2001

[Feel free to redistribute, but please leave author and author's contact

information intact. If unsure, contact author. If you are a profit-driven

business or exist to make money, you must secure permission to reprint from

author. ]

Original: The Anarcho-Syndicalist Answer to Corporate Globalization