Criminal syndicalism Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A philosophy calling for workers to organize and seize control of economic organizations and politics through illegal use of force.

Between 1906 and 1916 the Industrial Workers of the WorldIndustrial Workers of the World (IWW) embraced syndicalism and conducted a “free speech” campaign to propagate the idea of a worker’s rebellion. Although local officials suppressed IWW speakers, between 1917 and 1920, twenty-one state and two territorial legislatures passed laws that criminalized syndicalist associations and the advocacy of syndicalism and other ideologies promoting revolutionary change.Criminal syndicalism

The Supreme Court’s opinions on the constitutionality of the state criminal syndicalism laws greatly affected the protection of speech and association. In Whitney v. California[case]Whitney v. California[Whitney v. California] (1927), the justices sanctioned criminal prosecution of Socialist Party member and activist Charlotte Anita Whitney for association with a syndicalist organization with a program that potentially threatened public order. Dissenting, Justice Louis D. Brandeis argued that Whitney’s association with a syndicalist political party fell short of being a clear and present danger to the public because no “immediate serious violence was to be expected or was advocated.” In subsequent cases, including DeJonge v. Oregon[case]DeJonge v. Oregon[DeJonge v. Oregon] (1937), the justices gradually adopted Brandeis’s standard and constricted the circumstances in which criminal syndicalism laws could be used to penalize speech and association. Finally, in Brandenburg v. Ohio[case]Brandenburg v. Ohio[Brandenburg v. Ohio] (1969), the justices overruled the Whitney decision to protect advocacy “except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” By 2000, only six states retained laws against criminal syndicalism.

Brandeis, Louis D.

Brandenburg v. Ohio

DeJonge v. Oregon

First Amendment speech tests

Whitney v. California

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