No such thing as a decent quality free lunch? Probably not, but A History of Anarcho-syndicalism is both free and (we hope) decent quality. It has been produced by the SelfEd Collective, labour free and at minimal costs. If you have no Internet access and require printed materials, these will be supplied at cost.


A History of Anarcho-syndicalism is designed to;

  • Provide a history of the struggles that led to the emergence of modern anarcho-syndicalism.
  • Develop an alternative view of working class history to accepted historical accounts.
  • Illustrate the critical role of direct action as an idea and culture.
  • Draw out the diversity of working-class ideas and struggle in different countries and contexts.
  • Challenge the idea that "there is nothing we can do".
  • Show that struggle can be a liberating experience, and can get real results.


This course introduces the history of the working-class movement. It looks at the ways in which struggles against oppression have developed in different countries and at different times. By taking it, you can see how it celebrates the endeavours of ‘ordinary' men and women against those who seek to rule and boss over them.

Anarcho-syndicalism is an ever-changing body of ideas and methods of struggle to bring about a society free of states, capitalism and other oppressive institutions and relationships. Since it develops through practical experience, it is a characteristic of anarcho-syndicalism that the development of ideas and strategies is ongoing. It has and will continue to change since the events dealt with in any particular Unit in this course. In other words, anarcho-syndicalism is not about rigid dogma, but principles and practice. The Course aims to illustrate the development of such principles and practice.

A History of Anarcho-syndicalism is not a passive, coffee table affair. It is a means of challenging the existing order by increasing self-knowledge and self-identity. The history of the movement offered here is the result of collective effort, put together by different people with diverse ideas and different backgrounds and knowledge. All of us are activists who see the need to learn about and from history. By taking this course, you can become a part of this history, contribute to its development, and be active in applying the lessons of history to today's struggles.

The SelfEd Collective is based in Britain and the course therefore aims to take a British perspective on world events. English is also the main language of the material accessed in researching the course, although it should be noted that material in other languages does exist.

Since it focuses on working-class struggles, this course is fundamentally different to the sort of history being offered in school. All histories are partial, both in the sense of being ‘partisan' (i.e. biased towards a cause) and ‘partial' (i.e. fragmented). No history is complete, nor is it purely ‘objective'. Unlike most history courses, this one acknowledges the unavoidable ‘incompleteness' of history, and offers this as a version of history which has been put together with more integrity than most histories which claim ‘objectivity'.

The sources used in assembling this course vary between published academic books, histories and polemics, and pamphlets and papers produced by people during the times of the struggle in which they were involved. This is a history of people from different countries, cultures, times and in differing situations. The ideas developed accordingly and in some cases the written ideas were suppressed and often deliberately destroyed. Often, the people involved were also physically killed or imprisoned by the government of the day.

This course is dedicated to all those in our history, who have struggled against oppression, for a better world for all. We owe it to these people not to give up or stand aside while the carnage of modern capitalism and nationalism continues. We owe it to them to find out more about their efforts, learn from them, and take up their struggle today. That is why this course is not aimed at armchair voyeurism. It is about getting ourselves better informed for our collective struggle for a better world. It is just a start, but, we hope, a worthwhile one.



The Course content is divided into 4 main blocks and each Block is then subdivided into Units that analyse separate episodes and events.

  • Block 1 charts the origins of anarcho-syndicalism. It starts with the evolution of the working class in Britain, as feudal society transformed into industrial society over the 13th-18th Centuries. It then explores the radical period of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries in Britain, where the origins of anarcho-syndicalist tools such as the general strike can be traced. At this point, the growth of international working class organisation enters the scene, and we turn our attention to the birth of the 1st International and its development in the late 19th Century, and the theoretical ideas of anarcho-syndicalism, which were developed at this time. This brings us to the first major burst of syndicalist mass-organisation, which started in France, and which had its roots in events in late 18th and 19th Century France. Block 1 ends with the subsequent spread of French syndicalism to Britain in the period 1900-1914.
  • Block 2 is dedicated to case studies from around the world, centred on the spread of syndicalist organisations and activity from France, around the turn of the century. Particular focus is given to North America, and the rise of the Industrial Workers of the World syndicalist movement. Other Units concentrate on the situation in South and Central America, Scandinavia, and southern Europe.
  • Block 3 centres on the inter-war period. In particular, the Russian Revolution is examined, highlighting the struggle between anarcho-syndicalist ideas and those of the Bolsheviks. It then follows the subsequent formation of the International Workers Association (IWA), the anarcho-syndicalist international, in 1922, and its progress into the 1930s. The remainder of Block 3 focuses on the growth of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in the Spanish Revolution, in the period up to 1939. This remains the best example of anarcho-syndicalism being put into practice, with the collective organisation of society on a regional scale across Spain. Units will examine the way in which this anarcho-syndicalist experiment functioned in economic, political and social terms.
  • Block 4 charts the development of modern anarcho-syndicalism since the 1930's. It commences in Spain where Block 3 left off, and goes on to examine the rise of fascism and the Second World War. Post-war history is then studied, with the heyday of social democracy in the western world, and the establishment and stagnation of the social democratic labour movement. From the late 1970's, attention turns to the decline and eventual death of social democracy and the re-birth of rampant market capitalism, recession, labour struggles and social change. Also covered during this period are the death of Franco and re-launch of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT in Spain, and the subsequent emergence of the modern IWA. From here, recent development of anarcho-syndicalism in Britain and the role of these ideas in the wider struggles of 1980s and 1990s are considered.

Format and support

State education structures are designed to prepare you for your role in a divided society. By definition, exams produce mostly failures and only a few real winners. The split is not based on 'intelligence' or hard work, but on privilege and how well young people learn to mimic and copy the techniques needed to progress through the system. This Course has no exams and no trappings of state education structures. The material in the booklets is intended to be in clear, plain English.

Each Unit contains sections at the back to assist with drawing conclusions, checking your understanding of key points, and suggestions for discussion, as well as help get further reading started. Books and pamphlets listed here that cannot be obtained locally can be purchased or borrowed through the SelfEd Collective


Self-education: A revolutionary tool

The anarcho-syndicalist tradition of self-education is deep-rooted, as it has been across the full breadth of labour history. 'Educate, agitate and organise' has long been a central theme of working class struggles. For good reason. Without education in it widest sense, we could not hope to form successful anarcho-syndicalist organisations.

At the heart of anarcho-syndicalism, is the concept of direct democracy. To work in reality, democracy requires everyone to participate equally, and to be aware of each other's views and needs. This in turn requires all to have a basic level of awareness - of knowledge, and of society. The key to this awareness and participation is education. Without knowledge through education, participation in democracy is impossible. Knowledge is power. If we do not share knowledge equally, we cannot hope to share power either. And power sharing is how anarcho-syndicalism functions.

Class is not solely based on economic relations - that one class is rich and another is poor. Historically, the ruling class have been well aware of the power of education, and have therefore deliberately preserved, restricted and distorted education for their own ends. The class system in Britain is therefore underpinned by education. It is through closed, elite schools that the rich perpetuate their power. It is also through the state education system which the rest of us experience, that the same ruling class prepare us for life within the hierarchical society which they control. The continuation of inequality relies on a widespread sense of powerlessness. Thus, much of state education is designed to limit and condition us to accept our position, rather than develop our knowledge and full potential.

We cannot rely on the state to deliver the education we want. In fact, the only way to overcome the sense of powerlessness is through personal development. Self-confidence can only arise from collective self-reliance, self-determination, and self-education. No-one can educate themselves as an individual. Knowledge does not just appear - it is developed by human interaction. In other words, we can only educate ourselves through interaction with each other. Self-education is therefore collective by its very nature. We aim to put self-education theory into practice, and we hope A History of Anarcho-syndicalism is an example of this.