Paedagogica historica (1999) 35 (1) pp. 24-39.
The two decades before the first world war were the ’heroic’ period for French syndicalism, one that saw it emerge as a major workers’ movement pledged to revolution. Syndicalists were highly conscious of their class identity, seeing in class consciousness an essential element of a revolutionary movement. And so they rejected parliamentary politics as a means to the new socialist society that would be organized by a working class they regarded as sufficient in its own right for this task. For syndicalists, then, the spheres of daily life and of political activism tended to coincide, leading the movement to politicize every aspect of French culture. Few aspects of this contested cultural terrain were as important to syndicalists as education. This article explores the wide range of the syndicalist movement’s educational project, which encompassed the Bourses du Travail, its most enduring institutional embodiment, as well as student-worker groups, teachers’ syndicates, apprenticeship training and model schools. Finally, the article analyzes the question whether this project was an effective means to syndicalist political goals while also considering whether efforts in popular education, teacher unionization and school reform were valuable in their own right.