Free Association of German Trade Unions

The Free Association of German Trade Unions (German: Freie Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften ; abbreviated FVdG; sometimes also translated as Free Association of German Unions[3] or Free Alliance of German Trade Unions)[4] was a trade union federation in Imperial and early Weimar Germany. It was founded in 1897 in Halle under the name Representatives' Centralization of Germany as the national umbrella organization of the localist current of the German labor movement. The localists rejected the centralization in the labor movement following the sunset of the Anti-Socialist Laws in 1890 and preferred grassroots democratic structures. The lack of a strike code soon led to conflict within the organization. Various ways of providing financial support for strikes were tested before a system of voluntary solidarity was agreed upon in 1903, the same year that the name Free Association of German Trade Unions was adopted.

During the years following its formation, the FVdG began to adopt increasingly radical positions. During the German socialist movement's debate over the use of mass strikes, the FVdG advanced the view that the general strike must be a weapon in the hands of the working class. The federation believed the mass strike was the last step before a socialist revolution and became increasingly critical of parliamentary action. Disputes with the mainstream labor movement finally led to the expulsion of FVdG members from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 1908 and the complete severing of relations between the two organizations. Anarchist and especially syndicalist positions became increasingly popular within the FVdG. During World War I, the FVdG rejected the SPD's and mainstream labor movement's cooperation with the German state—known as the Burgfrieden—but was unable to organize any significant resistance to or continue its regular activities during the war. Immediately after the November Revolution, the FVdG very quickly became a mass organization. It was particularly attractive to miners from the Ruhr area opposed to the mainstream unions' reformist policies. In December 1919, the federation merged with several minor left communist unions to become the Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD).

Die Einigkeit, organ of the FVdG
Full nameFree Association of German Trade Unions
Native nameFreie Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften
Date dissolved1919
Re-founded asFree Workers' Union of Germany
Members1897: 6,803
1900: 19,752
1903: 17,061
1906: 16,662
1910: 6,454
1914: 6,000[1]
August 1919: 60,000
December 1919: 111,675[2]
Key people
Office locationBerlin


According to Angela Vogel and Hartmut Rübner, Carl Hillmann, a typesetter and prominent trade unionist in the 1870s, was the "intellectual father" of the localist and anarcho-syndicalist movement. Vogel's and Rübner's claim is based on the fact that Hillmann was the first in Germany to consider unions' primary role to be the creation of the conditions for a socialist revolution, not simply to improve workers' living conditions. He also advocated a de-centralized trade union federation structure. Many of the later anarcho-syndicalists including Rudolf Rocker agree with this notion. Hans Manfred Bock, on the other hand, sees no evidence for Hillmann's influence on the FVdG.[5]

Reichsgesetzblatt34 1878
Official publication of the first Anti-Socialist Law, 1878

From 1878 to 1890, the Anti-Socialist Laws forbade all socialist trade unions. Only small local organizations, which communicated via intermediaries such as stewards, who worked illegally or semi-legally, survived. This form of organization was easier to protect against state repression.[6] After the laws were sunset in 1890, the General Commission of the Trade Unions of Germany was founded on November 17 at a conference in Berlin to centralize the socialist labor movement. In 1892, the Trade Union Congress of Halberstadt was held to organize the many local unions under the committee.[7] The localists, 31,000 of whom were represented at the congress,[8] wanted to retain many of the changes that had been adopted during the repressive period. For example, they opposed separate organizations for political and economic matters, such as the party and the trade union.[9] They especially wanted to keep their grassroots democratic structures. They also advocated local trade unions being networked by delegates rather than ruled centrally, and were wary of bureaucratic structures.[10] The localists' proposals were rejected at the Halberstadt congress, so they refused to join the centralized trade unions, which became known as the Free Trade Unions. They did not renounce social democracy, but rather considered themselves to be an avant-garde within the social democratic movement in Germany.[11]

The localists' main stronghold was in Berlin, although localist unions existed in the rest of the Empire as well. Masons, carpenters, and some metal-working professions—especially those requiring a higher degree of qualification like coppersmiths or gold and silver workers—were represented in large numbers. By 1891, there were at least 20,000 metal workers in localist trade unions, just as many as in the centralized German Metal Workers' Union.[12]


Fritz Kater

At a congress in 1897 in Halle, the localists founded a national organization of their own, the Representatives' Centralization of Germany (Vertrauensmänner-Zentralisation Deutschlands). The congress was originally supposed to take place a year earlier, but a lack of interest forced it to be postponed. There were 37 delegates at the congress representing 6,803 union members. Nearly two-thirds of the delegates came from Berlin or Halle. Almost half the delegates worked in the construction industry, while 14 delegates came from highly specialized professions. The congress decided to establish a five-person Business Commission seated in Berlin to organize political actions, aid in communication between local organizations, and raise financial support for strikes. Fritz Kater became the chairman of the commission. A newspaper, Solidarität (Solidarity), was founded, but the name was changed to Die Einigkeit (Unity) the following year. It initially appeared fortnightly, but was published on a weekly basis beginning in 1898.[13]

FVdG Membership
Number of members in the FVdG before WWI

The decision to found a national organization was likely the result of several factors. First, the mainstream trade unions were increasingly reformist and centralized. Second, the localists gained confidence from their involvement in the dock workers' strike in Hamburg in late 1896 and early 1897.[14] Third, loss of membership (for example, the Berlin metal workers rejoined the DMV in 1897) convinced the localists of the need for action.[15]

Protokoll des Parteitages der SPD in Erfurt (14. bis 20. Oktober 1891)
Cover of the Erfurt Program

The Representatives' Centralization's relationship to the SPD was ambivalent. The organization was allied with the SPD and supported the Erfurt Program.[16] At the same time, the party mostly opposed the founding of the Representatives' Centralization and called upon its members to rejoin the centralized trade unions. The FVdG remained affiliated with the SPD, which in turn tolerated it because the SPD was afraid a split would lead to a large loss of members. The FVdG stated it would rejoin the centralized trade unions like the SPD leadership desired only if the centralized unions accepted the FVdG's organizational principles.[14]

Early years

The early years of the Representatives' Centralization of Germany were dominated by a discussion on how to finance strikes by individual local trade unions. The issue was how local unions could retain their autonomy when receiving financial assistance. Originally, all support between local organizations had been voluntary. But this system became more and more impractical, especially after the turn of the 20th century saw numerous large strikes in which employers reacted more aggressively — often by locking out workers. In 1899, the Business Committee felt it had to support a strike in Braunschweig. It took out a loan, which was paid off with dues income and from donations by Berlin unions. The following year, the Business Committee incurred 8,000 Marks in debt by supporting strikes. Part of the debt was paid off by the SPD, while the rest was apportioned among the local unions.[17]

This practice was replaced in 1900 by a far more complex system of assessments and donations designed to raise the money to support strikes. This system was replaced in 1901 because it was impractical. The 1901 system required every local union and the central committee to create strike funds. Local unions would receive support for strikes from Berlin under certain circumstances, and the central Business Committee's fund would be replenished by all member organizations in amounts proportional to their membership and the average wage of their members. This system, too, proved problematic because it penalized the larger, wealthier unions — especially the construction workers in Berlin who had higher wages but also higher costs of living. From 1901 to 1903, many small organizations joined the federation, yet the FVdG's membership fell as the punitive strike support system drove some larger unions out. In 1903, the federation not only changed its name to the Free Association of German Trade Unions but also decided to return to the old system of voluntary contributions. This system remained in place until 1914. The Business Committee worked to ensure that unions contributed as much as they could. Often the committee resorted to threatening unions with expulsion in order to raise funds for a strike. Fritz Kater called this a dictatorship necessary for the movement, but local organizations still had far more autonomy than their counterparts in other German labor federations.[18]

Radicalization and expulsion from the SPD

During the first decade of the 20th century, the FVdG was transformed from a localist union federation into a syndicalist labor organization with anarchist tendencies. The process was initiated by the death of Gustav Keßler, the most important ideologue in the FVdG, in 1903. His role was largely assumed by the physician Raphael Friedeberg.[19]

In 1903, a dispute between the FVdG and the Free Trade Unions in Berlin led the party commission to intervene and to sponsor talks aimed at re-unification of the two wings of the German labor movement. At the meeting, the FVdG made a number of compromises, which led to member protests. Soon, over one-third of the members left the union. The 1903 FVdG congress elected a panel to continue negotiations with the Free Trade Unions. This panel demanded that the Free Trade Unions adopt localist organizational principles as a prerequisite for re-unification. The FVdG panel realized this demand was unrealistic, but hoped the expulsion of revisionists from the SPD during the debate on Eduard Bernstein's theses would strengthen their position. The impossibility of a reconciliation between the two became obvious by March 1904, since the re-unification envisioned by both the leadership of the SPD and the Free Trade Unions was more along the lines of an integration of the FVdG into the Free Trade Unions.[20]

The FVdG's disillusionment with the social democratic movement deepened during the mass strike debate. The role of the general strike for the socialist movement was first discussed within the FVdG in 1901.[21] At the SPD's 1903 congress in Dresden, Raphael Friedeberg proposed discussing the topic, but his proposal was rejected by the congress.[22] The following year, a proposal by Wilhelm Liebknecht and Eduard Bernstein to initiate debate on the topic was accepted, since they had distanced themselves from Friedeberg's positions.[23]

Liebknecht and Bernstein, like the left wing of the party, felt the general strike should not be used to provoke the state but rather to defend political rights (especially the right to vote) should the state seek to abolish them. The more conservative faction in the party was opposed to this concept. In 1904, Friedeberg, speaking for the FVdG, advanced the view that the general strike must be a weapon in the hands of the proletariat and would be the last step before the socialist revolution. In 1905, his speech on the topic was even more radical. He claimed that historical materialism, a pillar of Marxism, was to blame for social democracy's alleged powerlessness, and introduced the alternative concept of historical psychism—which held that human psychology was more significant for social development than material conditions.[24] He also recommended the anarchist literature especially Kropotkin's writings rather than Marx's works, which were most influential in the SPD.[25]

August Bebel 3
August Bebel, proposed the resolution to expel FVdG members from the SPD

The position that the general strike could be used, but only as a last resort, became dominant in the party during the mass strike debate. This caused much concern among the conservatives in the party, especially among many trade unionists. At a meeting in February 1906, the trade unionists were placated by party leaders, who said they would attempt to prevent a general strike at all costs. The FVdG reacted by publishing the secret protocols from the meeting in Die Einigkeit, greatly angering the party leadership.[26]

At the 1905 party convention, August Bebel, who had always favored a stronger role for the SPD-affiliated unions, proposed a resolution requiring all members of the party to join the centralized trade unions for their respective professions. This would have forced all FVdG members to either leave the party or the trade union. The resolution was adopted, and implemented in 1907. An FVdG survey returned a vote of twenty-two to eight opposing rejoining the centralized unions. This led some of the masons, carpenters, and construction workers in the union to leave the FVdG in 1907 to avoid being expelled from the SPD, saying the organization was "taking a path, which would certainly lead to strife with the SPD and to syndicalism and anarchism." In 1908, the SPD's Nuremberg congress finally voted to make SPD and FVdG membership incompatible.[27]

In addition to causing about two-thirds of its members to quit between 1906 and 1910, the radicalization of the FVdG also correlates to a slight change in the milieu, industries, and regions from which the organization drew its members. Many metal and construction workers, who had a localist tradition, left as a result of the syndicalist and anarchist tendencies in the FVdG. Miners, who worked mostly in the Ruhr area, did not have this tradition but developed a certain skepticism of bureaucratic structures. About 450 of them joined the FVdG before World War I, a sign of what was to come after the war.[28]

Pre-war period

Following the split from the SPD, the FVdG was increasingly influenced by French syndicalism and anarchism. In 1908, Kater called the Charter of Amiens, the platform of the French General Confederation of Labor (CGT), the earliest and largest syndicalist union worldwide, "a new revelation".[29] Although there was no contact between German "intellectual anarchists" (like Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam) and the FVdG, it did have influential anarchist members, most notably Andreas Kleinlein and Fritz Köster. Kleinlein and Köster increasingly influenced the federation from 1908 on,[30] and this led to the founding of Der Pionier in 1911. This newspaper, which was edited by Köster, had a much more aggressive tone than Die Einigkeit.[31] Despite these developments, the influence of the anarchists in the pre-World War I FVdG remained quantitatively minute, especially as leading members like Kater were at the time very skeptical of the anarchist ideology.[32]

After both the British Industrial Syndicalist Education League (ISEL), a short-lived syndicalist organization heavily involved in the strike wave in Britain from 1910, and the Dutch syndicalist union National Labor Secretariat (NAS) published proposals for an international syndicalist congress in 1913, the FVdG was the first to express support. There were difficulties in organizing the congress, and the largest syndicalist union worldwide — the CGT — refused to participate because it was already affiliated with the social democratic International Federation of Trade Unions. Despite these challenges, the First International Syndicalist Congress took place at Holborn Town Hall in London from September 27 to October 2. British, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Belgian, French, Spanish, Italian, Cuban, Brazilian, and Argentine organizations—both labor unions and political groups — had delegates in London in addition to the FVdG, which was represented by Karl Roche, Carl Windhoff, and Fritz Kater. There were also links with Norwegian, Polish, and American groups. Kater was elected co-president of the congress alongside Jack Wills. After Wills was forced to resign, Kater served as co-president with Jack Tanner. The congress had difficulty agreeing on many issues, the main source of conflict being whether further schisms in the European labor movement (as had occurred in Germany and the Netherlands) should be risked. The FVdG generally agreed with their Dutch comrades in calling on other unions to decide between syndicalism and socialism, while their Italian, French, and Spanish counterparts, most notably Alceste De Ambris of the Italian USI, were more intent on preventing further division. Accordingly, the congress was divided on the question of whether its purpose was to simply pave the way for deeper relations between the syndicalist unions or whether a Syndicalist International was to be founded. The opponents of a new organization prevailed, but the congress agreed to establish an Information Bureau. The Information Bureau was based in Amsterdam and published the Bulletin international du mouvement syndicaliste. The congress was considered a success by most who attended, with the notable exception of De Ambris. A second congress was scheduled to take place in two years' time in Amsterdam. Due to the outbreak of World War I, the congress did not take place. The Bulletin only published for eighteen issues before the war caused it to cease publication.[33]

World War I

During the buildup to World War I, the FVdG denounced the SPD's anti-war rhetoric as "complete humbug".[34] With the start of war, the SPD and the mainstream labor movement entered into the Burgfrieden (or civil truce) with the German state. Under this agreement, the unions' structures remained intact and the government did not cut wages during the war. For their part, the unions did not support new strikes, ended current ones, and mobilized support for the war effort. The 1916 Auxiliary War Service Law established further cooperation between employers, unions, and the state by creating workers' committees in the factories and joint management-union arbitration courts.[35]

German infantry 1914 HD-SN-99-02296.JPEG
German infantry in 1914; the FVdG was the only German trade union not to support the German effort in World War I.

The FVdG, on the other hand, was the only labor organization in the country which refused to participate in the Burgfrieden.[36] The union held that war-time patriotism was incompatible with proletarian internationalism and that war could only bring greater exploitation of labor. (Indeed, the average real wage fell by 55 percent during the war.) While the mainstream labor movement was quick to agree with the state that Russia and the United Kingdom were to blame for igniting the war, the FVdG held that the cause for the war was imperialism and that no blame could be assigned until after the conflict ended. The federation strongly criticized hostility towards foreigners working in Germany, especially Poles and Italians. It also rejected the concepts of the "nation" and national identity invoked in support of the war, claiming that common language, origin and culture (the foundations of a nation) did not exist in Germany. The FVdG's newspapers also declared that the war refuted historical materialism, since the masses had gone to war against their own material interests.[37]

Der pionier
The last issue of Der Pionier

After Fritz Kater and Max Winkler reaffirmed syndicalist antimilitarism in the August 5, 1914 Der Pionier edition, the newspaper was banned. Three days later, Die Einigkeit criticized the SPD's stance on the war. It was then suppressed as well. The FVdG promptly responded by founding the weekly Mitteilungsblatt. After it was banned in June 1915, the federation founded the bi-weekly Rundschreiben, which survived until May 1917. Social Democratic publications on the other hand were allowed by Prussian War Minister Erich von Falkenhayn to be distributed even in the army. In the first days of the war, about 30 FVdG activists in Cologne, Elberfeld, Düsseldorf, Krefeld and other cities were arrested—some remaining under house arrest for two years. The government repression against the FVdG was heavy. While bans were often placed on the union's regular meetings, authorities in Düsseldorf even banned meetings of the syndicalist choir.[38] Another problem for the union was that many of its members were conscripted. Half of the Berlin construction workers, the federation's largest union, were forced to serve in the army. In some places, all FVdG members were called into service.[39]

Although the FVdG insisted that the "goal is everything and ... must be everything" (a play on Bernstein's formula that "the final goal, whatever it may be, is nothing to me: the movement is everything"), it was unable to do much more than keep its own structures alive during World War I. Immediately after the declaration of war, FVdG tried to continue its antiwar demonstrations to no avail. Although it constantly criticized the Burgfrieden and militarism in general, industrial action was not possible except for a few minor cases (most notably resistance by the carpenters' union to Sunday work).[40] The FVdG also received support from abroad. The faction in the Italian USI led by Armando Borghi, an antimilitarist minority in the French CGT, the Dutch NAS, as well as Spanish, Swedish, and Danish syndicalists were all united with the FVdG in their opposition to the war.[41]

As the Great War progressed, war exhaustion in Germany grew. The first strikes in the country since the start of the war broke out in 1915, steadily increasing in frequency and magnitude. The unions' role as troubleshooter between the employers and the workers soon led to conflict between the membership and union officials, and the Free Trade Unions steadily lost members. Correspondingly, the Reichstag faction of the SPD split over continued support for the war.[42] The 1917 February Revolution in Russia was seen by the FVdG as an expression of the people's desire for peace. The syndicalists paid special attention to the role the general strike (which they had been advocating for years) played in the revolution. They were unable to comment on the October Revolution as the Rundschreiben had been banned by the time it broke out.[43]

November Revolution and re-founding as FAUD

Some claim that the FVdG influenced strikes in the arms industry as early as February or March 1918,[44] but the organization was not re-established on a national level until December 1918. On December 14, Fritz Kater started publishing Der Syndikalist (The Syndicalist) in Berlin as a replacement for Die Einigkeit. On December 26 and 27, a conference organized by Kater and attended by 33 delegates from 43 local unions took place in Berlin. The delegates reflected upon the difficult times during the war and proudly noted that the FVdG was the only trade union which did not have to adjust its program to the new political conditions because it had remained loyal to its anti-state and internationalist principles.[36] The delegates reaffirmed their rejection of parliamentarianism and refused to participate in the National Assembly.[45]

In Spring 1919, Karl Roche wrote a new platform for the FVdG entitled "Was wollen die Syndikalisten? Programm, Ziele und Wege der 'Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften'" ("What Do the Syndicalists Want? The Program, Goals, and Means of the 'Free Association of German Trade Unions'"). In addition to reiterating pre-war ideas and slogans, it went further by criticizing participation in electoral democracy, claiming that this handicapped and confused proletarian class struggle. The platform also called for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat,[46] a position which was designed to reach out to the newly formed Communist Party (KPD) and International Communists of Germany.[47] In late 1918 and early 1919, the FVdG became an important player in the strike movement in the Ruhr region (which mostly involved miners). Its organizers, most notably Carl Windhoff, became regular speakers at workers' demonstrations. On April 1, a general strike supported by the FVdG, the KPD and the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) began. The strike eventually involved up to 75 percent of the region's miners until it was violently suppressed in late April by the SPD-led government.[48] After the strike and the ensuing collapse of the General Miners' Union, the FVdG expanded its unions rapidly and independently of the aforementioned political parties, especially in the Ruhr region. This led to a massive expansion in FVdG membership. The FVdG's criticism of the bureaucratic centralized trade unions, its advocation of direct action, and its low membership dues were received well by the workers in the Ruhr region. By August 1919, the federation had around 60,000 members throughout Germany. However, its Ruhr miners' unions left the craft unionist scheme the FVdG had traditionally been organized by behind, preferring simpler industrial structures.[49]

The end of cooperation between the FVdG and the political parties in the Ruhr region was part of a nationwide trend after Paul Levi, an anti-syndicalist, became chairman of the KPD in March. Moreover, Rudolf Rocker, a communist anarchist and follower of Kropotkin, joined the FVdG in March 1919. He returned via The Netherlands in November 1918 after living in exile in London, where he had been active in the Jewish anarchist scene. Augustin Souchy, more of a Landauer-esque anarchist, also joined the federation in 1919. Both rapidly gained influence in the organization and—as anti-Marxists—were opposed to close collaboration with communists.[50]

Nevertheless, the FVdG's Rhineland and Westphalia section merged with left communist unions to form the Free Workers' Union (FAU) in September 1919. Syndicalists from the FVdG were the biggest and most dominant faction in the FAU. The FAU's statutes mostly reflected compromises by the federation's member unions, but also reflected the FVdG's significant influence.[51]

Soon it was decided to complete the merger in Rhineland and Westphalia on a national level. The FVdG's 12th congress, held December 27 to 30, became the Free Workers' Union of Germany's (FAUD) founding congress. Most left communists (including the influential veteran member Karl Roche) had already quit or were in the process of leaving the FAU in Rhineland and Westphalia by this point. The majority of them would join the General Workers' Union of Germany (AAUD), which was founded in February 1920. Without the left communists to oppose its adoption, Rocker's thoroughly anarchist "Prinzipienerklärung des Syndikalismus" ("Declaration of Syndicalist Principles"), which the Business Commission had charged him with drafting, became the FAUD's platform without much controversy. The FAUD also rejected the dictatorship of the proletariat and other Marxist terms and ideas. According to the Business Commission, the congress was attended by 109 delegates representing 111,675 workers, twice as many as were claimed just four and a half months earlier.[52]


  1. ^ Figures from before World War I taken from Müller 1985a, p. 344.
  2. ^ Figures from 1919 taken from Bock 1969, p. 134 and 156 respectively.
  3. ^ Bock 1990 (translated by Wayne Thorpe) uses this translation.
  4. ^ Müller 1985b uses this variant.
  5. ^ Rübner 1994, p. 23; Bock 1989, p. 296; Vogel 1977, p. 33–37.
  6. ^ Vogel 1977, p. 39 and Schönhoven 1985, p. 220.
  7. ^ Schuster 2000.
  8. ^ Fricke 1976, p. 746.
  9. ^ Vogel 1977, p. 46–47.
  10. ^ Bock 1989, p. 299–300.
  11. ^ Vogel 1977, p. 47.
  12. ^ Bock 1989, p. 298–299
  13. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 140–145, 148; Bock 1990, p. 60; Müller 1985b, p. 245.
  14. ^ a b Vogel 1977, p. 53–55.
  15. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 140–141.
  16. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 141.
  17. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 146–147
  18. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 151–155
  19. ^ Müller 1985b, p. 246.
  20. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 170–172.
  21. ^ Vogel 1977, p. 56.
  22. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 173–174.
  23. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 179–180.
  24. ^ Vogel 1977, p. 56–57 and Müller 1985a p. 179–181.
  25. ^ Bock 1969, p. 29 and Pierson 1993, p. 188.
  26. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 183–185.
  27. ^ Müller 1985a, p. 186–187 and Vogel 1977, p. 59–60; quote according to Vogel 1977, p. 60, German original: "einen Weg einschlage, der mit Sicherheit zum Kampf mit der SPD und zum Syndikalismus und Anarchismus führe." (own translation).
  28. ^ Bock 1989, p. 301–302.
  29. ^ Bock 1969, p. 31–32.
  30. ^ Bock 1989, p. 306.
  31. ^ Bock 1969, p. 33–37.
  32. ^ Rübner 1994, p. 46–47.
  33. ^ Westergard-Thorpe 1978, p. 35–37, 55, 57–59, 65–66, 70, 74.
  34. ^ Thorpe 2000, p. 197.
  35. ^ Thorpe 2000, p. 200.
  36. ^ a b Thorpe 2000, p. 195.
  37. ^ Thorpe 2000, p. 199–200, 205–206.
  38. ^ Thorpe 2000, p. 197–198 and Thorpe 2001, p. 6.
  39. ^ Thorpe 2000, p. 202.
  40. ^ Thorpe 2000, p. 197–202.
  41. ^ Thorpe 2000, p. 207–208 and Thorpe 2001.
  42. ^ Thorpe 2000, 202–204.
  43. ^ Thorpe 2000, p. 208–209.
  44. ^ Bock 1969, p. 85.
  45. ^ Bock 1969, p. 103–104.
  46. ^ Rübner 1994, p. 35.
  47. ^ Bock 1969, p. 104–105.
  48. ^ Bock 1969, p. 119–120.
  49. ^ Bock 1969, p. 134 and Bock 1990, p. 69.
  50. ^ Bock 1969, p. 118–120.
  51. ^ Bock 1969, p. 134.
  52. ^ Bock 1969, p. 105–107.


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  • Westergard-Thorpe, Wayne (1978). "Towards a Syndicalist International: The 1913 London Congress". International Review of Social History. 13: 33–78. doi:10.1017/S0020859000005691. ISSN 0020-8590.
Andreas Kleinlein

Andreas Kleinlein (1864–1925) was a German anarchist. He came into contact with anarchist ideas through his travels to France. He was active in the musical instrument-maker union in Berlin and a founding member of the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG), one of the most influential anarchists in the organization.

Bulletin international du mouvement syndicaliste

Bulletin international du mouvement syndicaliste (English: International Bulletin of the Syndicalist Movement) was a syndicalist periodical published from 1907 by Christiaan Cornelissen and from 1913 by the International Syndicalist Bureau in Amsterdam.

Cornelissen, a Dutch syndicalist living in Paris, was inspired to publish the bulletin after attending the 1907 Anarchist Congress in Amerdam. He published it until 1913 almost singlehandedly. In 1913, Cornelissen attended the First International Syndicalist Congress in London. The congress decided to create an international correspondence bureau in Amsterdam. Cornelissen, who not only attended the congress, but helped organize it, edited the bulletin in the name of the bureau from there on. Most of the organizations represented at the congress, including the Free Association of German Trade Unions, the Dutch National Labor Secretariat, the Italian Workers' Union, and the Spanish National Confederation of Labor both subscribed and contributed to the bulletin. In July 1914, however, the last regular issue was published. The January 1915 edition only declared the end of the bulletin's publication as a result of World War I.


Burgfriedenspolitik (German: [ˈbʊʁkfʁiːdn̩s.poliˌtiːk])—literally "castle peace politics" but more accurately a political policy of "party truce" — is a German term used for the political truce the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the other political parties agreed to during World War I. The trade unions refrained from striking, the SPD voted for war credits in the Reichstag and the parties agreed not to criticize the government and its war. There were several reasons for the Burgfrieden politics: the Social Democrats believed it was their patriotic duty to support the government in war; they were afraid of government repression should they protest against the war; they feared living under an autocratic Russian Czar more than the German constitutional monarchy and its Kaiser; and they hoped to achieve political reforms after the war, including the abrogation of the inequitable three-class voting system, by cooperating with the government.

The only member of parliament of any party to vote against war credits in the second session was Karl Liebknecht. In the third session on 20 March 1915, Otto Rühle joined him. Over the course of the war the number of SPD politicians opposed to the war steadily increased. Their resistance against the Burgfrieden politics led to the expulsion of Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, and others from the SPD. These went on to found the Spartacist League, the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

The only trade union to refuse the Burgfrieden was the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG), which would later become the Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD).

Carl Windhoff

Carl Windhoff (1882-1940) was a German syndicalist trade unionist.

He joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 1890. He was one of the most important SPD leaders Düsseldorf until he left the party in 1901. He then joined the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG) and become one of its most prominent members in the Rhineland. In 1913, Fritz Kater, Karl Roche, and he were the FVdG's delegates at the First International Syndicalist Congress in London. After World War I, he was one of the leaders of the FVdG in the Ruhr region and helped re-build the organization. He became the head of the agitation committee of the Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD), the follow-up organization of the FVdG, in 1922. After the Nazi Machtergreifung in 1933, he was arrested in 1937 and convicted to three years in prison. He died three years later.

Der Pionier

Der Pionier (English: The Pioneer) was one of two official organs of the radical socialist Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG).

With its founding in 1897, the FVdG also started the newspaper Einigkeit (Unity) as its official organ. As the FVdG, came into conflict with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) more and more from 1903 on, anarchists, especially Fritz Köster and Andreas Kleinlein gained influence in the union federation. After the SPD and the FVdG completely severed relations in 1908, the founding of another organ directed against the press of the SPD to convince workers to leave the party and join the FVdG was considered. The question was discussed at the FVdG congresses in 1908 and 1910 and the unionists decided to start Der Pionier.The first issue appeared in the fall of 1911 and the newspaper was published on a weekly basis from there on. As it was edited by the anarchist Fritz Köster, Der Pionier used a much more aggressive tone than Einigkeit. By 1912, it had a circulation of 4,500 copies.During World War I, which the FVdG rejected, both Einigkeit and Der Pionier were suppressed. On August 5, 1914, Der Pionier published article written by Max Winkler and Fritz Kater, the head of the FVdG. This article reaffirmed the FVdG's antimilitarism in the face of the SPD-affiliated unions' collaboration with the German state. This became Der Pionier's last issue.

Die Einigkeit

Die Einigkeit (German for The Unity) was a German newspaper, which appeared from June 19, 1897 to August 8, 1914. It was the organ of the radical socialist Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG). Its original editor was Gustav Kessler, but he was replaced by Fritz Kater after his death in 1904.

The FVdG's founding congress in Halle in 1897 decided to publish a newspaper fortnightly under the name Solidarität (Solidarity). Some trade unions in the federation required their members to subscribe to Einigkeit, while most did not. A year later the title was changed to Die Einigkeit. Organ der lokalorganisierten und durch Vertrauensmänner zentralisierten Gewerkschaften Deutschlands, which was changed to Einigkeit. Organ der Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften in 1901, the year the federation was renamed to Free Association of German Trade Unions. On April 1, 1898 the newspaper started being published on a weekly basis. In 1897, the newspaper had a circulation of 2,650, a number, which steadily increased, reaching over 10,000 in 1900, and a peak circulation of over 13,500 in 1906. A loss of members of the FVdG decreased Die Einigkeit's popularity after that.

In 1911, the FVdG started publishing a second weekly newspaper, Der Pionier, which had a circulation of 4,500 in 1912.

During World War I, both Die Einigkeit and Der Pionier were banned by the German authorities.

Direkte Aktion

The Direkte Aktion (German for Direct Action, pronounced [diˈʁɛktə ʔakˈtsi̯oːn]) is a German bimonthly newspaper by the anarcho-syndicalist Free Workers' Union. It has existed since the union's formation in 1977.In line with anarcho-syndicalist principles, the editors are elected by the national convention of the Free Workers' Union and can be recalled at any time. They do not receive any royalties for their work. Notably, the Direkte Aktion does not have a central office, instead it is created decentrally in the editors' flats and the union's establishments.Since DA 170 (July/August 2005), a full online edition of the newspaper as well as a PDF version of the print issue are available. The PDF version, however, only covers the first page of the issue until the next one has been published.Its predecessors were the Einigkeit of the Free Association of German Trade Unions, the Der Syndikalist of the Free Workers' Union of Germany and Die Freie Gesellschaft of the Federation of Libertarian Socialists (FFS).

First International Syndicalist Congress

The First International Syndicalist Congress was a meeting of European and Latin American syndicalist organizations at Holborn Town Hall in London from September 27 to October 2, 1913. Upon a proposal by the Dutch National Labor Secretariat (NAS) and the British Industrial Syndicalist Education League (ISEL), most European syndicalist groups, both trade unions and advocacy groups, agreed to congregate at a meeting in London. The only exception was the biggest syndicalist organization worldwide, the French General Confederation of Labor (CGT). Nevertheless, the congress was held with organizations from twelve countries participating. It was marked by heated debate and constant disagreements over both tactics and principles. Yet, it succeeded in creating the International Syndicalist Information Bureau as a vehicle of exchange and solidarity between the various organizations and the Bulletin international du mouvement syndicaliste as a means of communication. It would be viewed as a success by almost all who participated.

Free Workers' Union of Germany

The Free Workers' Union of Germany (German: Freie Arbeiter Union Deutschlands; FAUD) was an anarcho-syndicalist trade union in Germany. It stemmed from the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FDVG) which combined with the Ruhr region's Freie Arbeiter Union on September 15, 1919. The FAUD was involved in the revolution in Germany from 1918–1923, and continued to be involved in the German labor movement after the FAUD began to decline in 1923. After 1921, the FAUD added an "AS" to their name, signifying a full transition from simple syndicalism to anarcho-syndicalism. This also led to further difficulties between the intellectual elites of the FAUD (AS), such as Rudolf Rocker, and the rank and file workers, mostly in the Ruhr, who were more worried about "bread and butter" issues than anarchist political activities. These workers, the majority of the FAUD-(AS) members, formed the Gelsenkircherichtung (Gelsenkirche tendency) within the movement, and given the movements federalist structure, began to drift away from the FAUD-(AS) intellectually and organizationally. Eventually, those workers who had joined during the revolution left the movement and the remaining FAUD-(AS) members came from the FDVG's original constituencies of the building trades and specialized textile workers. The Nazis suppressed the FAUD in January 1933 after coming to power. However, many of its members continued to do political work illegally and organized resistance against the Nazi regime, both in Germany and elsewhere (see: Gruppe DAS and the revolution in Spain, 1936–1939). The International Workers Association, of which the FAUD was a member, was founded upon the initiative of the German organization in 1922. The Free Workers' Union (FAU), which was founded in 1977, sees itself in the tradition of the FAUD. At its peak, the FAUD had 150,000 members. The primary organ of the FAUD was the newspaper Der Syndikalist, which was first published in December 1918, and continued until the groups suppression by the Nazis.

Fritz Kater

Fritz Kater (12 December 1861 – 20 May 1945) was a German trade unionist active in the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG) and its successor organization, the Free Workers' Union of Germany. He was the editor of the FVdG's organ Einigkeit and—after World War I—owner of the publishing houses Fritz Kater Verlag and Syndikalist.

The son of a farmhand, Kater was born in 1861 in Barleben. His mother died when he was two years old. From the age of five, he had to work on the farm or at home in order to support his family. During his final two years in school, he also worked in a local sugar factory during the winter. Even after Kater started an apprenticeship as a mason, he still had to help his father on the farm as the elderly man was frequently ill. Only during the winter did Kater have spare time to read and educate himself. Fritz Reuter, a humorous poet who wrote in Low German, was his favorite writer.

Kater joined the mason's trade union in Magdeburg in 1883 at a time when the Anti-Socialist Laws forbade most union activities. He came into contact with socialists from Berlin and Hamburg soon becoming a socialist himself under their influence. Kater soon began spending much of his spare time reading illegal socialist literature, and became active in the union's clandestine activities.

In 1887, Kater joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In the same year he also founded a masons' union in Barleben, becoming the organization's first chairman. His unionist activities, which included trying to organize workers from the sugar factory he had worked in his youth, attracted resentment from the local authorities, especially from the head of the district authority, an extremely conservative Junker. In 1889 he was sentenced to a two-month prison term for holding an illegal meeting and in the following year he served even more time in jail for giving a speech held to be seditious.

After the expiration of the Anti-Socialist Laws in 1890, Kater had close contacts with the opposition political movement Die Jungen, which was influenced by anarchist ideas. Kater was one of the founders of the Magdeburger Volksstimme, a social democratic newspaper started soon after the sunset of the Anti-Socialist Laws. The editors of the newspaper included several adherents of Die Jungen. At the 1891 Social Democratic Party (SPD) congress, Kater voted against the expelling Die Jungen movement from the party. Nevertheless, he remained in the party and did not join the new organization formed by Die Jungen, the Association of Independent Socialists.

In 1892, Kater moved to Berlin. There he worked as a mason, was elected a delegate for the city masons' union, and became an agitator. During the debates over the organisational structure of the union, he supported the "localist" concept as well as the creation of the Representatives Centralization of Germany in 1897 (which renamed itself the FVdG in 1903). He became the first chairman of the federation's Business Commission.

In 1907, after Kater refused a staff job with the centralized trade unions and declined to run as a delegate to the Reichstag delegate, he left the SPD. Though critical toward anarchism and syndicalism at first, Kater soon became a leading anarchosyndicalist figure in Germany. During a speech at the 1908 FVdG congress, Kater openly professed syndicalism for the first time. In 1913, he was a delegate at the First International Syndicalist Congress at Holborn Town Hall, London.

Fritz Kater was instrumental in sustaining the FVdG's structures during World War I and was one of the founders of the Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD) after the war. He worked for the FAUD as a speaker and author, representing the trade union at various congresses of the International Workers Association. In 1930, he resigned as chairman of the FAUD because of his age.

On May 8, 1945, Kater attempted to defuse a dud bazooka shell. The shell exploded, causing burns to his face and chest. Kater died twelve days later in the hospital.

Fritz Köster

Fritz Köster (2 February 1855 – 1934) was a German anarchist editor and trade unionist.

Born in Rodenberg, Hesse (now in Lower Saxony), Köster was active in the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) starting in the early 1880s. He moved to Groß Ottersleben, near Magdeburg, where he participated in the socialist movement, which was illegal at the time because of the Anti-Socialist Laws, and was a leader in the trade union of the town. For these activities he was sentenced to prison multiple times, most notably in 1886 for three months for libel, and in 1887 for eighteen months for the dissemination of illegal literature. After the sunset of the Anti-Socialist Laws in 1890, he was part of the left-wing opposition known as Die Jungen in the SPD, as the delegate of Wanzleben at the party convention. In the same year, he became editor of the Magdeburger Volkstimme. His articles for this newspaper led to several convictions, which he avoided by fleeing to Switzerland. In Zurich, he joined the Association of Independent Socialists founded by members of Die Jungen, who were expelled from the SPD. He was active in various unions and in the Swiss anarchist movement throughout the 1890s. Police reports call him the "leader of the Zurich anarchists". He returned to Groß Ottersleben in January 1910, after he could no longer be punished for his crimes because of the statute of limitations. Pressured by friends of his, Köster re-joined the SPD and Gustav Landauer and he tried to convince rural workers to join the anarchist movement. Soon, he led a farm workers' strike. In June 1910, he was going to be expelled from the SPD along with several other anarchists, but he left the party first. In 1911, he moved to Berlin, where he started working for the weekly newspaper Die Tribüne. In the same year he became the chief editor of Der Pionier, the theoretical organ of the syndicalist Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG), but in 1912, after having spent three months in various prisons, he quit this role and moved to Dresden. He then became a leader in the syndicalist construction workers' union in Dresden and travelled Germany as a lecturer. In 1920, he became a member of the Business Commission of the FVdG-follow-up organization, the Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD). He also contributed to Der Syndikalist, the organ of the FAUD, and Die Schöpfung.

Köster's wife Aimée contributed to the syndicalist women's magazine Die schaffende Frau and was a member of the Syndicalist Women's Federation (SFB).

German labour law

German labour law refers to the regulation of employment relationships and industrial partnerships in Germany.

Gustav Kessler

Gustav Kessler (German spelling: Keßler) (1832–1904) was a German trade unionist.

In his early life he had been apprenticed as a carpenter before qualifying as a state registered architect (German: Regierungsbaumeister).

He became a social democrat after 1883 having previously been a supporter of the Progressive Liberal Party. He was the editor of Der Bauhandwerker, a construction workers' unionist journal from 1884 to 1886. In the aftermath of the Berlin bricklayers' strike of 1885, he and the strike's leader, Karl Behrend, with another bricklayer trade unionist, Fritz Wilke, were expelled from Berlin in June 1886 under the Anti-Socialist Law. He settled in Brunswick from where he edited Der Baugewerkschafter and Das Vereinsblatt before returning to Berlin in 1890. In 1889, he was a delegate at the Second International's founding congress in Paris. He was editor of the socialist newspaper Volksblatt für Teltow-Beeskow-Storkow-Charlottenburg after 1890. In 1890 and 1891, he was the SPD party delegate from Calbe-Aschersleben. He ran for the Reichstag repeatedly. An important figure in the localist current of the German labor movement, he was one of the leading founders of the Free Association of German Trade Unions in 1897 and the editor of its organ Einigkeit until his death in 1904.

Karl Roche

Karl Roche (1862–1931) was a German syndicalist and left communist trade unionist. Roche joined the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG) around 1900 as a seaman. He became a prominent member of the organization.

In 1913, Carl Windhoff, Fritz Kater, and he were the FVdG delegates at the First International Syndicalist Congress in London. In 1919, he wrote the FVdG's first post-World War I platform Was wollen die Syndikalisten? Programm, Ziele und Wege der "Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften" (What do the Syndicalists want? Program, Goals, and Means of the "Free Association of German Trade Unions"). The program summarized the FVdG's theory: a reaffirmation of the importance of strikes as a vehicle for emancipation and a rejection of the centralized mainstream labor unions. Roche was also a resolute proponent of collaboration with left communists.

In late 1918, Rudolf Rocker returned to Germany, in March 1919 he joined the FVdG and started gaining influence. An avowed communist anarchist and follower of Kropotkin, Rocker rejected such close collaboration with Marxists. His growing influence led Roche to leave the Free Workers' Union of Germany, as the FVdG was now known, in 1920 and join the General Workers' Union of Germany (AAUD). He became the leader of the AAUD in Hamburg. In the mid-1920s he left the AAUD for the Federation of Communist Anarchists of Germany and then re-joined the FAUD.

Luise Kähler

Luise Kähler (1869 – September 1955) was a German socialist, trade union leader and politician.

Milly Witkop

Milly Witkop(-Rocker) (March 3, 1877 – November 23, 1955) was a Ukrainian-born Jewish anarcho-syndicalist, feminist writer and activist. She was the common-law wife of the prominent anarcho-syndicalist leader Rudolf Rocker. The couple's son, Fermin Rocker, was an artist.

Raphael Friedeberg

Raphael Friedeberg (14 March 1863 – 16 August 1940) was a German physician, socialist, and later anarchist.

Syndicalist League of North America

The Syndicalist League of North America was an organization led by William Z. Foster that aimed to "bore from within" the American Federation of Labor to win that trade union center over to the ideals of Revolutionary syndicalism.

Theodor Leipart

Theodor Leipart (17 May 1867 - 23 March 1947) was a leading German trades unionist.

Syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism in Germany

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