Central European History


Keeping the Faith: The German Syndicalists in the First World War

Wayne Thorpea1

a1 McMaster University

In December 1918, in its first conference since the outbreak of the Great War, the revolutionary syndicalist Free Association of German Trade Unions (Freie Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften — FVdG) noted that it was the only trade union organization in the country that did not have to readjust its program with the return of peace. The syndicalists were alluding to the fact that theirs had been the only German workers' organization to have adopted an internationalist rather than a patriotic response to the war. The FVdG had neither supported the national cause nor endorsed the Burgfrieden, or civil truce, whereby all factional disputes were to be set aside and all sectoral interests subordinated to the higher interests of the imperiled nation. Its opposition to the war, its refusal to cooperate with the state and the employers, moreover, had made the FVdG a beneficiary of the growing radicalization of German workers. In the immediate postwar period it expanded at a rate six times greater than any other labor organization in the country.

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