Chapter 20: Defending the orientation of the IWA


Defending the orientation of the IWA

No one can deny that, once the first alarming news of the developments in Spain had been received, the two sister organizations on both sides of the Río Plata, the FORA and the FORU, affiliates of the International Workingmen’s Association, were filled with enthusiasm and activity in order to reaffirm their moral solidarity with their Spanish comrades. Economic support was contributed in accordance with their means and as the circumstance allowed.

But it is also true that once they became aware of the deviations endorsed by the “majority” of the representatives of the CNT, and subsequently, the pressure exerted by the latter on the IWA to convince the latter to accept and bestow its imprimatur on these deviations, they clearly expressed their disagreements with these developments in both organizations.

This is demonstrated by the resolutions approved on questions pertaining to the CNT which, because of the impossibility of sending delegates in person who would represent both the FORA and the FORU at the Extraordinary Congress of the IWA held in Paris in December 1937, were transmitted in writing. From the texts of these resolutions concerning the problem of the CNT and its “attitude and positions after July 19”, we shall quote some excerpts from a text of the FORU:

“The FORU understands that the Congress of the IWA must clearly set forth its position on the Spanish events. The FORU draws attention to the fact that there is a difference between the terms, WAR and REVOLUTION. With respect to the war, the IWA must affirm its traditional mission of opposing all wars and combating the militarist spirit, understanding by WAR the struggle for the seizure of Power among the various capitalist fractions, represented in the various factions in the government, known as monarchists, republicans, socialists, communists, and any other ‘isms’ that are currently polarized around these two poles, apparently opposed, but both of which are distinctly reactionary, and inveterate enemies of Proletarian emancipation: FASCISM and ANTI-FASCISM.

“With regard to the revolution, on the other hand, that is, with regard to the work carried out from below, outside of and against all governmental institutions, expropriating property without any hesitation at all, abolishing the entire system of exploitation and the regime of wage labor, the IWA must cooperate to the fullest extent of its abilities, for the purpose helping the revolution to advance as far as the circumstances allow.”

Concerning the delicate problem posed by the CNT, which was engendering conflict within the movement of the IWA by engendering circumstantially sympathetic nuclei, given the deviationist position of the CNT, the FORU expressed its views in the following manner:

“With regard to the nuclei that are ‘sympathetic’ to the IWA, which exist in various countries, and which the CNT is currently encouraging to intervene in the Congress (except for those which have maintained a connection with the Association as member organizations), this is not the time to give them rights, when they have forgotten their most essential duties, by combating or sabotaging the organizations that are working among the rank and file of the movement, in their attempt to infect the sections of the IWA with authoritarianism, and which on this occasion, taking advantage of our liberality, maneuvered to form a majority, one that approves of participation in the institutions of the State, whether ‘temporarily’ or permanently, and therefore distorting the principled course of the international movement represented in the IWA. Rather, the attendance at the Congress, like all the acts and labors of the International, of nuclei with an organic character which act, even temporarily, within or outside the countries that are currently experiencing emergency situations, but in conformance with the traditional foundation of anarchist militancy, which confers upon the workers movement its transformative idealism, we consider that they must take a position in the entity, since in most cases their disorganized condition is the result of attacks launched by the reactionaries and the opportunists, often concealed behind reformist or dictatorial workers movements. As a result, and convinced that it is a meeting of delegates of member organizations affiliated with the Association, devoted to the task of elucidating the problems that affect the movement, interested in strengthening and affirming its fundamental principles, with the elevated morality of men who are guided by a higher ideal rather than base passions, capable of admitting an error if they have committed one, we have engaged in an examination of the current position of the CNT, and the points that are proposed as the basis for discussion at the Congress.”

The position of the FORU at the Extraordinary Congress is summarized as follows:

“Concretizing the thoughts of the FORU concerning the points that have come to our attention, which were proposed by the CNT to be included on the agenda for the Congress, and also concerning those whose contents are unknown to us, which were proposed by comrades Galvé and Rudiger, which make reference, according to the synopsis of the Secretariat of the IWA, to a ‘reexamination of the Declaration of Principles and of the Statutes of the Association’, we consider it advisable to set forth a summary of our views, in order to inform the comrade delegates attending this Congress, and concerning which we would very much desire to reach a free agreement. Our views are:

“1. Fraternal acceptance by the CNT of the critiques of its governmentalist activities, reaffirming its adherence to the Declaration of Principles of the IWA and its commitment to act in accordance with them….

“3. A Position Statement by the IWA concerning the Spanish events, expressing the deepest solidarity with the revolutionary achievements, manifested in the armed struggle and in the social experiments that have been carried out, or are in the process of being implemented, based on free agreement and direct action. Reaffirmation of its spirit of rejection of all wars, which essentially involve contention for dominance over systems of government, in the game of political disputes, to obtain hegemony over the ‘res-publica’.

“4. Rejection of any ‘revision’ of the Declaration of Principles of the IWA, and affirmation of the current structure of the Secretariat, proposing that should any changes be contemplated, they must first be submitted to the review of the member organizations, and they must be given enough time to issue their reports.

“For the Federal Council, the Secretary.”

Later, for the Ordinary Congress, also held in Paris in 1938, where particular attention was devoted to debating the topics, “Examination and Clarification of the Principles of the IWA Statutes”, and “International Practical Norms of Anarchosyndicalism”, the FORU condensed its views in the following statements:

“Regarding the Examination of the Statutes and the Declaration of Principles of the IWA, the FORU understands the need to affirm the existing Pact and its Declaration of Principles, its anti-state norms and practices and direct action, and if any modification is appropriate it would be for the purpose of making it more consistent with the federalist character of the movement upon which the International Workingmen’s Association is based and in which the anarchist goal of the IWA is embodied.

“Sixteen years after the founding of the IWA, the heir of the First International that Bakunin, Reclús, Lorenzo and so many other comrades worked to create, and which at the Congress of Saint-Imier in 1872 acquired its own distinctive character with the approval of an anti-statist, anti-political and revolutionary declaration during its proceedings, all of which was reaffirmed at the founding Congress of the current IWA that took place in 1922 in Berlin, which ranged us against the reformism of social democracy, the master of the Amsterdam International, the latter therefore being subordinated to the ebb and flow of its statist and legal action, and also against the Red Trade Union International of Moscow, an obligatory appendage of the Bolshevik Party, victorious in Russia, thus distinguishing the IWA as the only libertarian and emancipatory International, diametrically opposed to the centralizing mechanism of these corporate bodies, which are subject to the directives of political Marxism and to its materialist concept of the struggles of the proletariat, our Association, although it has recently experienced a decline in the number of its adherents, due to the persecutions endured by its affiliated organizations in various countries, its prestige and its possibilities have been greatly increased, because the workers, tired of legal agitation, which only serves to bolster the strength of capitalism and the State, are turning towards the methods and practices advocated by the IWA, and that is why it is so essential to intensify propaganda among all the workers, about the meaning of its tactics of struggle, and the content of its Declaration of Principles, putting more emphasis on its syndicalist dimension to influence their activities, positing Anarchist Communism as the final goal, highlighting the comprehensive human meaning that inspires the member organizations of the Association, to advocate forms of social life based on mutual aid and free agreement, outside of the political and economic systems whose reason for existence is based on capitalist exploitation and on the tyranny of the State, regardless of the form of the latter, bourgeois or proletarian, since both are upheld by the Authority of bayonets.”


The FOR of Argentina sent the following proposed resolutions concerning the question of the CNT mentioned above to the Ordinary Congress of the CNT held in Paris in December 1938:

“FOURTH POINT. Every declaration of principles has, of course, a theoretical meaning, since its purpose is to articulate aspirations or proposals for the fulfillment of any particular movement; declarations of principles, however, no matter how brilliant and relevant they may be, are absolutely worthless if the institution or the movement that adopts them is content to restrict them to an existence on paper but does not seek to realize them to the greatest possible extent, adjusting its development and its tactics to their meaning. It is for this reason that, from the point of view of the FORA, which tries to always remain faithful to the message of its principles, declarations of principles do not represent a purely theoretical exposition, but rather a line, a point of perspective that fixes the course of a movement; a line and a point of perspective from which one cannot deviate without falling into irresponsibility, and to which it is necessary to adapt the meaning of tactics and militancy.

“Without this zeal and this faithfulness to which the declaration of principles appeals, it is to be understood that principles can be set aside and that the militancy and daily activities of the movements would follow the path of possibilism and contingency. When the declaration of principles upheld by the IWA was drafted, the FORA took the opportunity to express its opinions and to make proposals through its delegates, and we can today express with satisfaction that the meaning of the principled positions which informed those opinions and proposals of ours, have not changed in the least. Rather to the contrary, the events of the last few years have contributed to the reaffirmation of the concept advocated by the FORA regarding this matter. This is why, confronted with an invitation like this one that calls for a clarification and examination of the declaration of principles of the IWA, we understand that everything that might be done in this respect can only be accepted when it reaffirms the postulates of emancipation that constitute the direction and goal of our struggles; and also in view of the fact that in this sense there is nothing superior to the declaration of principles of the FORA, or to its methods of struggle and its system of organization, we reject any attempt that is directed in the sense of introducing modifications that would tend to diminish the anti-state, anti-political and anti-collaborationist position that must be the guiding beacon for all the actions and activities of the IWA.

“FIFTH POINT. Considering that every statute is always incompatible with the federalist principle and with the free agreement that we have a duty to practice in all dimensions of our activities in order to enable the workers to exercise these same principles, and also for the purpose that, as a result of this consequence, they will be instilled with the faith in the ideals of the movement, it is our opinion that there should be no other statutes for the IWA other than those agreements and decisions made by its congresses and assemblies.

“SIXTH POINT. With regard to the issue discussed in our Fourth Point, the FORA cannot conceive of a tactic that would not be conditioned by its theory, that is, by its declaration of principles. That is why, since the first meeting of the revolutionary syndicalists that led to the founding of the IWA, the FORA has placed special emphasis on its declaration of principles and on its concept of syndicalism, understanding that the latter must necessarily be conditioned by the former. The FORA set forth its conception concerning this matter in the minutes that it presented to the meeting, and it has reaffirmed this concept at all the congresses or meetings that have taken place since then. Today our opinion has not changed. We still think that working class syndicalism with its tactic of direct struggle, conditioned by a superior declaration of principles, constitutes an invincible weapon in the hands of the proletariat; we think that this weapon cannot be abandoned as long as the regime of exploitation and tyranny that weighs upon the peoples endures; but we consider that, with regard to the interpretation of a regime of equality and social justice, our hopes for working class syndicalism can only be embodied in a declaration of principles such as we advocate, which assures for the future an era of economic equality and freedom of expression through the establishment of Communism and Anarchy. This is the social goal of the FORA and it is also the social goal of the IWA if we take into account the fact that in its declaration of principles Libertarian Communism figures as the leading aspiration of its struggles. We consider that all of this is well known to all those who have had the opportunity to get to know the nature of the FORA within the IWA. We therefore do not think it is necessary to insist on this. We shall only say specifically and even at the price of succumbing to the vice of redundancy, that syndicalism must adapt its tactics of struggle as well as its system of organization to the social goal that has been set forth in its declaration of principles.”