The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) held its 10th Congress from 4th to 8th December 2010 in the city of Cordoba.
A little history
The origins of today's CNT can be found in the final years of Franco's regime and the early years of the political transformation of the Spanish State into the current parliamentary monarchy in the mid-1970s.
The CNT came out of a process where a wide variety of elements, both social and generational, came together. United mostly by their admiration of the 1930's CNT, they sought to rebuild the organization, though with a range of objectives, many of which were in contrast with each other.
On the one hand there were young workers who were part of a workers' movement that was very active and well-rooted since the late '60s, looking for an instrument of union struggle; on the other hand there were young people who were uninterested in the labour world, but were attracted to the CNT by counter-culture, nostalgia for the "glorious years" or an abstract identification with anti-authoritarianism. In any event, one of the principal problems with the CNT was the "generation gap", with no intermediate generation to act as a bridge between those who were just starting out on their social and political activism and those who had been active participants back in the '30s and who were now retired or on the point of retirement.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see now how naive it was to expect to re-create and imitate the name of an organization that developed in a particular context with particular conditions, and to adopt as the basis for common agreement among participants in the initiative the very identification with its legacy, interpreted in so many different ways (indeed, there was no shortage of people who considered themselves to be the guardians of the past and as excommunicators, on that basis). It all led to a series of totally sterile disputes over the definition and characteristics of what they were trying to build, all of which had a paralysing effect.
One of the main problems is that a conception of the CNT took roots where the limits between the tasks, the structures and the forms of action of a specific organization and a popular, mass organization became blurred, leading the organization into a schizophrenic situation where it tried to act both as the party of anarchists and as a trade union open to all workers, thus wasting away the organization's strength as it couldn't, and never could be either one or the other. It thus quickly lost members and consensus in society.
In the wilderness
In December 1979, when the new CNT held its 1st Congress, it was almost only a shadow of what it had been two years before, when it was managing to bring together hundreds of thousands of people for demonstrations. It was a stampede away from an organization the mere mention of whose historical name was able to unite, but which over time and if it were to succeed in consolidating itself needed something more - it needed levels of agreement that in the key years of political opening when everything seemed possible were never reached.
By watering down the instrument they had chosen to tie in with society, the libertarian communists wasted a golden opportunity to return to being a major player in the Spanish State and linked their fate to a CNT that became increasingly minoritarian, beset by internal disputes often ending in expulsion and individual or collective resignations. But it was not alone in this. Other organizations on the left of the Left were splintering into pieces that would in the years to come struggle with varying success, wandering in the wilderness between the popular movement and the Left that, paradoxically, would lead to the Partido Socialista's election victory in 1982. With the exception of the Basque Country (Euskal Herria) and some small local or sectoral fiefdoms, they began their wanderings, a long journey through the desert marked by small victories and big defeats.
In the 1980s and '90s the widespread ebb of the trade unions and the Left of revolutionary intent led the organization that had kept the name of CNT to close ranks and adopt a conservative approach, fearing that the slightest change could lead to a new break-up, more splits, and integration into a system that was impotently perceived as bullet-proof. A mentality of resistance was instilled into the entire membership. As a confederation, the CNT - except for a few particular cases - became increasingly isolated from society in general and the world of labour, developing an attitude of self-imposed exclusion, typical of minority social groups who feel that their survival is in jeopardy from an external threat and who respond by taking refuge in a better past. This only serves to widen the gap between them and the rest of society (which is painted in the blackest of tones, as if it were lost and practicably impossible for an emancipator project) and accentuate its dogmatic features: though fewer and fewer, they were increasingly convinced they possessed the absolute truth and tended to see enemies and traitors everywhere... even in their own midst.
Sectarianism is only one of the paths that a revolutionary organization can take (together with the great step forward, leaving the masses behind - the typical attitude of insurrectionalists - or integration into the system of social domination itself - typical of social democracy) when faced with a similar situation of decline after a sharp rise among the masses. They are understandable responses and we've seen them many times throughout history... but they all lead, sooner or later, to suicide.
There were other responses and, very slowly and with great effort, they have been opening up the way to overcome the CNT's survival crisis.
The CNT in the 21st century
The new millennium saw signs appear that announced a turnaround, a slow improvement, a willingness to overcome the ghosts of the past, a new rise with all its ups and downs, an opening in the path through the dark, the abandoning of certainties and the accepance of the risks inherent in any human group that is seeking to transform the unjust society in which they live in a revolutionary way.
What was able to put the brakes on the sectarianism which had been leading towards the slow extinction of the organization?
It was simply immersion, humbly but without fear, in the many struggles that were being waged by the class that started the organization's snowball rolling. This snowball has grown quantitatively and qualitatively alongside the social conflict: timidly and, for now, without threatening the stability of capitalism and the parliamentary monarchy in the Kingdom of Spain, but achieving, alone or with others, sprouting the embryo of revolutionary social force from within the working class, reaching a point that a few short years ago would have been unthinkable, participating in and in many cases being the main driving force behind struggles that have involved thousands, which once their peak had been passed left a residue, an accumulation which has become an asset of the class and has indicated a way to the future.
The CNT, like all organizations of revolutionary intent, is not yet a determining factor in Spanish political and social life, and even though it is still, except in some very specific locations and sectors, a very small - even tiny - organization, it is tending towards consolidation and growth. It has reached the end of the stage of resistance.
When it held its previous Congress in 2002, the CNT was made up mostly of small local groups of between 5 to 20 people, whose priority was anarchist propaganda with little impact on the world of labour.
Today, the situation is different. Many small local groups have grown in recent years into real unions with the capacity to develop mass struggles. Dozens of young workers have joined the class struggle through the CNT and its presence at the bargaining table, in strikes, in union protests. It has gone from being something out of the ordinary to a perfectly normal figure. The type of trade union conflict that the CNT typically engages in is no longer the individual disputes regarding figures, and there are workplaces where the CNT is increasingly becoming a force to be reckoned with. The growth and accumulation of experience has been particularly intense in the area of subcontracting in the public administration sector and in industries such as cleaning, graphic arts, transport, commerce, forestry and new technologies.
Without wanting to be overly optimistic, when one looks at things with the right perspective, the CNT's future development is promising. And this Congress confirms it.
The 10th Congress of the CNT
The highlights of this Congress were not brilliant declarations of intent or substantial changes to a trade union line that continues to base itself on direct action and the direct involvement of the class in struggles, but primarily the adaptation of the organization's structures to the difficult times ahead - the major offensive by the ruling classes, the rampant unemployment that is leading to greater disciplining of employed workers and the elimination of all those gains that were won by the action of the grassroots in the labour and social field.
Improving coordination at the State and sectoral level while increasing the autonomy and financial health of the local union branches, ensuring more proportionate representation of these in the confederal decision-making bodies, facilitating the creation of alliances with other trade unions and social organizations, opening new avenues for the implementation and consolidation of branches in the workplace... these are some of the changes introduced by the 10th Congress with the aim of preparing the CNT, together with other class forces, to stop the advance of capitalism while building a socialist, libertarian alternative.
Translation by FdCA - International Relations Office - taken from anarkismo