General principles and means of struggle of the American Continental Association of Workers

General principles and means of struggle of the American Continental Association of Workers

This is an excerpt from the declarations of the American Continental Association of Workers IWA-AIT from 1929. It consists of the principles and tactics adopted by the constitutive organizations drawn from Latin America at that time, and is translated into English with an introduction by the translator, SN Nappalos.

Preface and Background by the translator

The American Continental Association of Workers was a short lived continental organization of the IWA-AIT in the Americas that was convened by the FORA (Federacion Obrera Regional de Argentina, the argentine anarchist communist workers organization) before the dictatorship wave that was spreading across the Southern Cone suppressed the abilities of many such organizations to coordinate internationally. Beginning in 1920, the FORA rose the intention of such a coordination in its congress. It wasn’t until the middle of the decade that steps were taken in that direction. In 1925 the CGT (Confederacion General de Trabajadores, an anarchosyndicalist organization) of Mexico organized a first portion of the meetings in Panama, followed by a second part in Buenos Aires in 1927 organized by the FORA. Both were unable to cohere sufficient energy and momentum to organize such a large task. Later in 1927, the Federal Council and Secretary of International Relations of the FORA began preparations for the continental congress.

In May of 1929, the congress was organized and passed a document, which has been excerpted and translated into English perhaps for the first time below. Rudolph Rocker reported on the proceedings briefly in his text, Anarchosyndicalism: in theory and practice.

“At this congress, besides the F.O.R.A of Argentina, there were represented:
Paraguay by the Centro Obrero del Paraguay; Bolivia by the Federacion Local de la Pas, La Antorcha, and Luz y Libertad; Mexico by the Confederacion General de Trabajadores; Guatemala by the Comite pro Accion Sindical; Uruguay by the Federacion Regional Uruguaya; From Brazil trade unions from seven of the ten constituent states were represented, Costa Rica was represented by the organisation, Hacia la Libertad. Even the Chilean I.W.W. sent representatives, although since the dictatorship of Ibanez it had been able to carry on only underground activities. At this congress the Continental American Workingmen's Association was brought into existence, constituting the American division of the I.W.M.A. The seat of this organisation was at first in Buenos Aires, but later, because of the dictatorship, it had to be transferred to Uruguay.” [1]

The organization was ill fated as a wave of dictatorships and repression were sweeping the world, including Latin America. Perhaps more importantly, anarchism came under attack from numerous angles. Argentina for example attained institutional forms of leftism and unionism earlier than many countries. The reformist currents that would become a dominant feature of Argentinian politics from the Radicals through the Peronists, undermined anarchism through its incorporation of militancy and reform into the State, something which the anarchists had failed to fully appreciate. From a different angle the rise of revolutionary Marxist currents (which previously had been merely electoral social democratic movements largely) would increase contestation of the world of the anarchist communist workers groups at a time when they were under attack from the State with both the carrot and the stick. Marxism in Latin America ironically would return to its social democratic past in the following decades, before being revived by the Cuban revolution and its offering of Blanquist style insurrectionism as coup. In spite of this, anarchosyndicalism continued to have an impact in the countries of the ACAT through the 1950s, in some cases even the 1970s, however it was replaced by left (and right) nationalists and Leninist labor movements as the dominant forces in the workplace.

Still, there are lessons to be had in these documents. For one, it shows a clear statement born from mature anarchist intervention into workplaces at a time of transition, when institutional unionism was first arising. The breadth of movements and countries represented here, at a weak point of the movement, gives a sense of the panorama that is hard to find for readers in English.

The Chilean IWW was a participant here, and demonstrates the breadth of IWW politics globally including anarchist communism in an overt form. This under appreciated aspect of the IWW beyond its English language sections is rarely studied, and even less frequently do we have a clear exposition of non-english speaking IWWs in print.

Questions should arise when looking over this history. For example, why was it only then that such a proposal should arise? What were the impediments to international coordination? What role did these ideas play? What should our orientation to the issues of coordination, left integration into the state, and revolutionary ideology in the workers movement be?

At the level of ideas there are a number of interesting features to note. First there is a clear rejection of institutional legalistic means of settling labor disputes. Second, the word union is essentially avoided throughout the text, and only appears a couple times under federalism, preferred instead organization of workers or proletarian organization. The text also avoids any connection between organizations and means of struggle under capitalism and a communist future. Likewise though it rejects class collaboration and endorses the struggle against the ruling class, class struggle itself and the working class are absent from the declarations, instead advocating as a positive framework of humanity as a whole with the resistance of those dominated and exploited. These three things stand out as theoretical foresights by workers in Latin America, which received the most refinement in the FORA. The FORA V of the 1920s rejected any role for unions after the revolution (insisting that communism demanded the transformation of industry, rendering unions a reactionary role after revolution), emphasized the abolition of classes and castes rather than their reinforcement, and implemented a model of anarchist communist workers organization that refused to mediate relationships or bargaining between workers and capital. These are practices and concepts which only our present generation have begun to grapple with after historical interruptions. The vast unexplored history of anarchist communist workers groups in Latin America here offers a deep resource that is both inspiring and largely unearthed by revolutionaries in the English-speaking world.


American Continental Association of Workers (ACAT)*

Agreements and Resolutions of the Constitutive Congress Enacted in Buenos Aires 11-16th of May 1929

Declaration of Principles

General Declarations

SOCIAL ORGANIZATION- There are two proposed roads for socialist and proletarian movements to overcome the present situation: the conquest of the state to enact the political transformation of society by means of decrees, and the organization of economic life through the base of the work of each and all. The first resolution intends to realize a new social organization from top down; the second aspires to do it from below upwards; one has the norms of conduct of authority, the other liberty.

The American Continental Association of Workers, [La Asociacion Continental Americana de los Trabajadores, ACAT] recognizing the experiences of the last era of struggles and has taken into account the lessons of reality and life, repudiates the conquest of the political State as a means of proletarian emancipation and concentrates all its hopes in the organization of labor through the cornerstones of liberty and solidarity.

In consequence, it aspires to a social regime where labor will be the base and guarantee of liberty and justice for all.

ABOLITION OF THE STATE- Against the State, which has always been an instrument of domination of a parasitic class or caste in the detriment to the masses of producers and which lacks a reason to exist at the economic level, we call for a social regime based on common work of free associations of producers. The expropriation of the expropriators establishes the equality of all as human beings for living, for the means of labor, and for the enjoyment of its products.

ACAT, through support for the interests of those who produce and not the exploiters of labor and beneficiaries of alienated production, wants a free and equal society; therefore an anarchist society.

SUPPRESSION OF MONOPOLIES- Capitalism, which is the economic form most unjust that one can imagine, and not merely the most rich and profitable from the point of view of its own production, has as its deepest roots the recognition and defense of monopolist property, exclusive and hereditary.

The ACAT rejects all monopolist concepts in the usufruct of the rich, and demand the full right of present and future humanity to benefit equally according to necessity from the goods and nature of the work of humanity. Without recognizing a specific form of organization of future economic relations, it recommends communism as this condition that promotes the broadest guarantee of social welfare and individual liberty.

THE FREE PERSON IN FREE SOCIETY- The ideals of dominant capitalism and statism consist in slavery and increasing oppression of the largest masses for the benefit of the privileged minority of monopoly. The ACAT has as its supreme ideal the free person in free society, and spreads its realization through the revolutionary suppression of the state apparatus and capitalist economic organization simultaneously, with the conviction that the abolition of the one and the maintenance of the other will lead inevitably, in thought and experience, to the restoration of the order of things that we’re trying to destroy.

Libertarian socialism cannot be realized except by social revolution. In consequence, the revolutionary workers should prepare intellectually and practically in the sense of taking possession of the means of production, distribution, and transportation within our grasp to use them the first day of the revolution, as well as develop the means of relating the various groups of production or local, a necessary mark of our unique form of revolutionary coexistence and which conserves the fundamental principles stated in our ends.

Means of Struggle

10. The object of the workers organization consists in associating the waged for the fight against the exploiting class in accord with the slogan of the 1st international “the emancipation of the workers will be the work of the workers themselves”.

20. So that it will meet this objective, the method of action should be in agreement with revolutionary doctrine. In accordance, the practices of struggle of ACAT and the organizations that join will include the partial or general strike, sabotage and boycott in the cases in which it is necessary to practice the solidarity beyond the respective national planes.

30. It rejects official arbitration and official interventions to settle conflicts between labor and capital. In consequence, there must be combat against the politics of class collaborationism, committing the adhering workers organizations of this pact to fight legislative projects that, in the respective countries, tend to convert into obligations of the intervention of the State in strikes and other social conflicts.

40. The base of the libertarian workers organizations is federalism. Individuals associate voluntarily into the union [sindicato], the unions form the federations, and together constitute the national organism. From below to the top it establishes the union [unión] of the proletariat, conserving the individual as the group, associated for autonomy within the International of the Workers [IWA-AIT].

Organization by trade, by industrial branch, or by factory in the modern rationalized businesses, should be left to those effected the most. Federalism is a converging line of organizational conception that is not destroyed so long as it's built out of immediate concreteness of interests on the field of a factory, village, or region, though taking into account that a human must first come to the environment in which they live as social being, and only after their role as producer.

50. The ACAT declares opposition to all politics and rejects all compromise and alliances with the parties that accept class collaboration and the unions that work within the State, whether parliamentary or dictatorial.
60. ACAT manifests its sympathy to all attempts of proletarian revolutionaries to attain complete political, economic, and social emancipation through armed insurrection.

70. As a future aspiration, ACAT recommends anarchocommunism, understanding that the propagation of philosophical ideas of anarchism should be the constant preoccupation of all revolutionaries that aspire to overcome the economic tyranny of capital, the tyranny of politics, and law of the State.

*Excerpted from Anarquismo en America Latina. (1990). ed. Ángel J. Cappelletti y Carlos M. Rama. Prólogo, edición y cronología, traducción: Ángel J. Cappelletti. Available through the Venezuelan government website.

[1] Rocker, R. (1938). Anarchosyndicalism: In theory and practice.


Nov 6 2013 14:47

Thanks for the translation! I just wanted to add that actually the ACAT still exists, although not very big these days. It is the subsecretariat of the IWA in the region.

Nov 7 2013 02:49

Scott thanks for translating and publishing this, I do think it's an important part of our history, among other things as the IWW tries to figure out how to relate to other organizations.

Laure is there an actual IWA decision which declares the ACAT to exist? My impression was that the Brazilian section declared its existence and there has not been an official "no" - and that the Argentine section, the only other American section of the IWA, is not interested. Could you clarify?

If this is the case it seems potentially problematic as it essentially means one section is responsible for a third of the globe, and for example might get "territorial" over say Mexico or the USA.