A speech delivered in prison in 1920 by Salvador Seguí, a major, and complex, figure in the early history of the CNT: a proponent of alliances with other trade union and political groups, yet also a militant strike leader who spent years of his life behind bars; an opponent of unconditional membership in the Red Trade Union International in 1919, yet also a supporter of the CNT’s 1922 Zaragoza Declaration, according to which the “totally revolutionary” CNT is “absolutely political” by virtue of its far-reaching social goals; an advocate of more intellectual training for trade union militants and a harsh critic of the increasingly more popular exemplary actions, he was assassinated in 1923.
Anarchism and Syndicalism – Salvador Seguí
It is widely believed that Syndicalism does not signify anything. The errors committed in connection with this denial are so abundant, and some of them are so serious, that it is necessary, once and for all, to take them apart and destroy them.
That Syndicalism is nothing, that it will be nothing, without the spirit that emanates from Anarchism, as some claim, is conditionally true. But only conditionally.
What is anarchism?
Anarchism is a stage of human thought. Or, more precisely, it is the highest stage of human thought. It is a logical consequence of the various phases undergone by ideas through the passage of time, filtered through the senses.
Without the men who create them, ideas are nothing. Unless men create them, they will not exist. Thus, ideas have been determined by men.
Anarchy, we shall repeat, did not precede humanity, because if that were the case, anarchists would no longer be, spiritually and morally, what they were and what they are, and would instead be fanatical worshippers of the supernatural.
In that case, anarchist principles would be indistinguishable from theological principles.
And it is precisely because they are ideas created by man, conceived by man, that they have human substance and value. Otherwise, as we said, they would not exist at all; they would be worthless. They would actually have a negative value. They would be a negation of human consciousness. Allow me to explain.
All ideas that do not pass or have not passed through the processes of evolution, are nothing but mental fantasies. Anarchism had to pass through this evolutionary process that we are talking about. Otherwise, Anarchy would not have been conceived as a human expression.
Let us take something else into account. The fact that all ideas, the most modest as well as the earth-shattering, have undergone this process of evolution. The proof of this lies in the fact that not a single one of all these ideas that have been conceived has been realized in practice, has taken shape in reality, strictly according to its original concept, in its integral form and its purity. So it is with religions; and with all philosophical, economic and political concepts. And that’s the way it is with our ideas, too.
Some of them, in fact, in their passage from concept to reality, have been disconnected from their anchoring principles in the process.
That’s the way it is. The more faith is incorporated into the struggle, and the more organically the struggle is conceived, the sooner and more smoothly will the realization of the ideas in question be achieved. Otherwise, the longer it takes for them to be realized, the more indifferent we shall become concerning them.
You must also take into account, however, you must not forget this, because the disappointment would be disastrous, that they lose the wholeness of their original conception, just as any idea splits into two, so that it can be translated into practice, sooner or later, by the new roads opened up, for its most immediate realization.
An idea can give leeway to new ideological concepts; to new explanations. It can be the reason for the creation of organizations that are based on the spiritual conception of the same idea, for the creation of other, new ideas. And even when they are not the same, there is basically nothing to distinguish them.
What is Syndicalism?
This is the way it is with Syndicalism. Because Anarchism, we agree with this claim, gave rise to Syndicalism.
Syndicalism is the foundation, the economic orientation of Anarchism. It is, let’s say, its concept. Anarchy is not an ideal for immediate realization.
It is limited by nothing. By its spiritual extension, it is infinite. For its implementation, it has neither time nor place. In the social order of ideas, humanity will never be able to exhaust its possibilities.
We shall make another claim regarding Anarchism, and that is: since it is the ideal concept of the life of man, it will never be realized, because it is such a perfection of thought that for such a thing to take place it would have to pass through the stages of the definite.
Unlike what took place with the positive religions, which presented tangible forms which they proposed to realize, Anarchism, for the reasons set forth above, cannot do this.
Admitting that Anarchism, in its passage through time, can become a reality, there can be no doubt that it will lay the foundation in advance for the creation of other concepts and other schools, born, of course, from the original concept of the idea.
Anarchism will not take shape in reality in its true philosophy. This would be tantamount to defining it and limiting it. And this, we cannot accept.
Anarchism does not have a material origin. It is not born at one point so as to die at another. It is coeval with intelligence and feeling. It is the sum, as we said, of human perfections.
This is why Anarchism is already Individualism. Just as that ideal in its wholeness is individualist, there is also the collectivist concept that accepts those aspects of Anarchism that are the easiest to realize.
It is therefore undeniable that our organization, Syndicalism, is the spiritual offspring of Anarchism.
And what is the significance of Syndicalism?
Historically, it is the crystallized result of a process undergone by thought; ideologically, it is the crystallization of thought, which was given life by the comrades of the International; practically, it is the weapon, it is the tool that Anarchism uses to translate into practice the most immediate aspects of its doctrine.
They say that Syndicalism is nothing. They deny the value of the Trade Union. They are mistaken. The Trade Union is indeed something. It is the brain. Brain and brawn. One cannot be understood without the other.
I think that the anarchists can be proud, if Syndicalism and its instrument, the Trade Union, translate one or more of the concepts of Anarchism into reality. Syndicalism tends to make fruitful the prerogatives that are properly its own in the social order.
Syndicalism, of course, is not Anarchism. But it is a stage on the way to Anarchism.
They also say that Syndicalism does not have its own ideas. This is not correct.
This is another error, another unfounded assertion.
At the Congresses held in 1910, 1915, 1916, 1918 and 1919, Syndicalism expressly declared that it will seize the instruments of labor. And when people talk about the practical idea of communism, they say that this is Anarchism. Very well. But what instrument will be sufficient for the realization of its economic postulate? Is it not the Trade Union?
Anarchism gave Syndicalism its soul and spirit. No one, however, has the least doubt that Syndicalism is a promise and a guarantee for the realization of anarchist ideas.
Who would deny that Syndicalism addresses and possesses the solution to the economic problem, the greatest problem of all? Who would dare to deny that revolutionary and libertarian Syndicalism in its economic conception, who would doubt, who would deny, I repeat, that it is the powerful and effective auxiliary of Anarchism? This is the relevance of Syndicalism. This is why we do not agree with the socialists. They make men who do not believe in their personality.
The socialists, with the work they are doing, are postponing the moment of the integral possession of the social prerogatives of man. As long as there are people who believe that we must not resolve our problems ourselves, but that their solution depends on others, man will never do anything. Anyone who believes in state organization is a slave.
The virtue of Syndicalism, insofar as it has its own ideas, is to substitute for and to replace the elements of capitalism and the bourgeoisie.
The professional organization of Syndicalism, oriented in a revolutionary and libertarian sense, is proceeding in the direction of Anarchism.
Syndicalism is the natural form of association of the elements of each profession. It will not only replace the bourgeois and capitalist values I mentioned above, but will provide guarantees of morality and personality not hitherto provided by any bourgeois regime.
Syndicalism, in a word, is the advance guard of Anarchism.
The anarchists in the trade unions: work to be done
Some anarchists, when they think that organization must not be statist—what do they propose instead? They will say that practical forms of Anarchism must be implemented in order to achieve an almost perfect condition. But is it not true that the comrades of 1868 and 1873, during their Congresses, despite their sectarian divergences, foresaw the need to address this question and understood that the economic aspect of Anarchism must be immediately realized? I think so.
Certain aspects of the problems that Anarchism proposes to solve can be solved immediately.
Who, if not the workers, is in a position that is conducive to understanding new concepts of thought? Who, if not the workers, can carry out a movement of renewal?
Moreover, I doubt that there is anyone who is more eager to see the defeat of the economic values of the capitalist and bourgeois world, and who is more eager to see the downfall of the old, false concepts, including the bourgeois ones, and to replace them with new values and concepts, than those who embrace the integral perspective on these problems that Anarchism proposes.
Because we owe it to the truth, we must address the specific problems of Anarchism.
The mission of the anarchists is in the Trade Unions, to watch over their development and to provide them with direction.
By not abandoning trade union action, they will exercise a greater influence; the trade union organizations will become more libertarian; they will become more libertarian before they usher in the new society.
The anarchists must put the anarchist idea into practice within the Trade Unions. The deliberate avoidance of the professional associations on the part of the anarchists is suicidal. Everyone can and must participate in the Trade Unions.
This does not by any means imply that the existing anarchist groups must be dissolved. Not at all. The more influence they exercise, the more Anarchism and anarchists there will be. Anarchism is no longer such a scary word, and this is due to work of proselytizing that has been carried out. Thanks to the influence exercised by the anarchists, it was possible for the trade union organization to accept, at the Catalonian Regional and National Congresses, respectively, the decisive declaration that we must orient ourselves towards the conquest of libertarian communism, a goal that might have been achieved in 1914 if the anarchists had not remained aloof from the workers organizations.
The Russian State: the function of the Trade Unions
It is not the anarchist groups, or the state organizations, that must organize and control production. This is the task of the Trade Unions.
We are not Leninists, because we do not believe that the State, no matter how revolutionary and socialist it may proclaim itself to be, will be the force that makes the elements of production fruitful. The only force capable of playing this role is the Trade Unions. First of all, because they are more moral. And secondly, because they are more competent.
The Russian State, regardless of how essentially socialist it may be, is not the agent that is called upon to distribute production. Such a mission would be tantamount to making people believe in a supernatural factor. Just recently, in Germany, various disasters have taken place with a socialist state. And even though the situation there is not the same as in Russia, the incompetence of the State is noteworthy.
Two great strike movements have taken place. One in Westphalia and the other in Essen. Why? It’s simple. Because the State fails where the Trade Unions deliver the goods.
That is why the affairs of production cannot be in the hands of the State, or in the hands of anarchist groups, the two extremes.
It is the Trade Unions that will distribute and regulate production, consumption and exchange—we will instill this idea into the minds of the workers—since the Trade Union encompasses the anarchist conception of the economic postulate.
We are not in a period of preparation, but of realization.
Both those who are devoted to action and those devoted to education must go to the Trade Unions to give them power and importance.
In the future, affinity groups will replace the trade union organizations.
And when our desires are transformed into tangible reality; when our revolutionary efforts have culminated in the triumph of the proletariat; when man, after being a slave, becomes a free being, then we shall bring about a situation where all the values of human life will be represented in the Trade Union and all men will have the strongest guarantee of personality, independence and emancipation.
We have to bear this in mind, because otherwise our efforts will have been in vain. The Russian revolution has been victorious, but it has not been capable of victory on the economic front because it has not given Power to the Trade Unions, and by this we are not referring to the Power to impose a dictatorship, but the Power to control production.
There will be, here or there, more or less numerous disturbances, but also, sooner or later, the responsibility for overseeing production, consumption and exchange, will pass into the hands of the professional organizations.
We are unfortunately losing time by denying the virtues of the Trade Union, virtues that have certainly not been attributed to it by anyone, but which it is nonetheless capable of possessing.
All of these denials are just so much mental gymnastics. It can be a personal opinion, very respectable, of course, and for that reason one that no one will dispute. And precisely because the respectability of opinions is not open to dispute, we shall not dispute virtues, either.
So, the Trade Union is amorphous? Imbue it with spirit. Elevate it; we must raise ourselves above sterile and insubstantial passions and discussions and we must all strive to make sure that the Trade Union serves the most immediate economic purpose that it was meant to fulfill.
Syndicalism, or the Trade Union, is a guarantee, the best guarantee, within a proletarian regime.
With our Trade Unions, the social revolution can be securely consolidated within 24 hours after its victory. In order to do this, of course, we need an extensive and profound labor of preparation.
Syndicalism and the problem of culture
We face another extremely important problem that the proletariat must resolve. That of culture.
What will the workers do on the day after the revolution with respect to this problem? What will the workers do with the cultural centers [Ateneos], schools, libraries, vocational training institutes, etc.?
Syndicalism entrusts the work that must be done in this field to affinity groups, to the different sectors of the intelligentsia that are incorporated in our Trade Unions.
If the work of preparation, our preparation, is as productive as we would wish it to be, and we can bring it to bear on the day after the revolution, we will thus destroy everything in the cultural order that can be prejudicial to our goals.
If we destroy the Universities, and we destroy the Ateneos, with respect to the moral aspect that we are now discussing, we will have performed a productive task in opposition to the dominant routine.
We have to create our own Universities, and our own Ateneos.
If we cannot, if events take us by surprise, if we do not have time, we will have to utilize what has been achieved by the bourgeoisie in this respect. In that case, what we will have to do, is to uproot the evil, the perverse, and the useless. We will use what can be used from the bourgeoisie and in the meantime, we shall carry out our work with thoroughness.
This is what Syndicalism will do with respect to the problem of culture. There can be no question that this is what it will do.
The anarchist genius and the practical man of syndicalism
We shall use some images to explain the philosophical concept of Anarchism and the practical orientation of Syndicalism.
In any given town on Earth let us take the Genius incarnated in a human being. The Genius has a human conception of Life.
Studying the different philosophical schools, and reviewing the claims of all ideas, he has arrived at the conclusion that other men do not know how to live without hatred, without misery, without suspicion, without needs and without injustice. Caprice and vanity play an important role in the life of these men.
The Genius, however, has his own ideas, with his own philosophy; he is what we may refer to as an aristocrat of Thought.
He has solutions to the problems of the economy and culture.
His thought is so all-embracing, so vast, that the Genius cannot translate his ideas into realities.
In the town where our Genius appears, he encountered another man. He was not a Genius, but a practical, and also intelligent, man.
The Genius-Man initiated the practical Man into the secrets of what he had discovered. This practical Man understands the Genius and is swept away by the faith that inspires the Genius.
However, because he is familiar with other men and their ways, and is ultimately attentive to immediate realities, he says to the Genius:
“Here it is impossible to do as you desire. I know these men, I have risen to a position of respect among them, they honor me because of the years that I have lived among them, they look up to me, and that is why I can tell you that if you explain to them what you have explained to me, they will think you are out of your mind. You have, however, explained to me that there are indeed ideas that can be realized and established almost immediately. This is what these people want. Realities. Unfortunately, your ideas shock them. They want feasible things. They want, even when their existence is explained to them, that the result of your explanation should procure, at least, some material advantage for them. Perhaps we can awaken their consciousness later. Today, you cannot cause them to be interested in your ideal projects. Despite the respect that I have won from these men, I cannot cause your ideas about humanity to penetrate their brains. Yes, I agree to talk to them, to get them to listen to me, and I even agree to support your economic plan. I can promise no more than that. But that much, I promise. I promise not to relent in sowing the seed that you have deposited in my brain.”
“Good”, the Genius replied. “I understand, and you have explained your fears to me. In accordance with your conscience, your intelligence and your feelings, I leave it to you to realize as soon as possible the ideas that you believe are consonant with the feelings and thoughts of these people.”
“You are a practical man and you are working on my behalf.”
The Genius who speaks in this way to the Man, is Anarchism. The practical, intelligent man, that is Syndicalism. Perseverance in pursuit of our plan and faith in ourselves.
And now, my friends, allow me to pronounce my last words tonight. That in these times of recollection, in which we are united in both suffering and in the luminous hope for economic and spiritual emancipation, we shall make a profession of faith, of perseverance in our plan and of faith in ourselves.
Many were the nights when we met as on this occasion, so that we would feel more ourselves; so that we could learn to desire.
Now, by chance, we meet in this prison. In the future, duty will bring us together again. And always, now or in the future, whether we are together or separated, we have to raise our hearts and our thoughts above what surrounds us. Only thus will victory be possible.
I told you it is necessary to have perseverance with regard to our goal, because, if in the course of these minor accidents in the struggle, we falter, it will be impossible to realize our ideals.
Faith in ourselves, because it means security, and it means honor, and it means the nobility of our goals.
Do not believe in humanity, insofar as that term would be an encumbrance on our will, but believe in each one of yourselves.
And do not lose hope, because the ordeal we must go through will be a long one.
December 31, 1920
Castillo de la Mola Prison
Mahón, Menorca, Balearic Islands
Source of the original text in Catalan: http://www.fondation-besnard.org/IMG/pdf/Salvador_SEGUI_an_y_sind.pdf.
The Spanish translation of the above text was taken from Salvador Seguí, Su vida, su obra [Salvador Seguí. His Life and His Work], Ed. Solidaridad Obrera, Paris, 1960, pp. 77-87. The same text is reproduced by Antonio Elorza in Artículos madrileños de Salvador Seguí, Madrid, 1978, pp. 178-191.
Translated from the Spanish translation in July 2015.
Source of the Spanish translation: http://www.portaloaca.com/pensamiento-libertario/47-generalpensamientolibertario/5685-anarquismo-y-sindicalismo-salvador-segui-texto-completo.html.