This article is a translated excerpt from Santillan's history of the FORA named the FORA: ideology and trajectory of the revolutionary workers movement in Argentina. It forms the concluding portion of the 20th Chapter, where Santillan explore the task of revolutionary preparation and its relation to daily struggles.
(translated by Scott Nikolas Nappalos from La FORA: ideologia y trayectoria del movimiento obrero revolutionario en la Argentina by Diego Abad de Santillan, Libros de Anarres, Buenos Aires; 2005. Pgs 298-302).
Published here is a short translation from Santillan's well know but never translated history of Argentina's anarchist workers union, the FORA. A small portion has been abridged in the middle simply for lack of time to translate a larger portion that would make the additional content useful and in context.
This abridged excerpt of Santillan's concluding thoughts give a window into the end of an international debate that occurred within anarchism and anarchosyndicalism about the role of unions in revolutionary practice. The FORA sided heavily with the idea of the role of the union being limited to capitalism, and argued for leaving it behind with the outset of the revolution in favors of new organs of communist production and distribution. Santillan wrote this looking back on a period in which the FORA faced a foe new to the world and ahead of most other workers movements, not merely repression but also the integration of the workers movement within the State and the internalization of left opposition. This is something that was not well understood or appreciated at the time, and proved to be far more dangerous in the long run than the series of coups, massacres, and dictatorships that attacked anarchist unions globally. This final chapter written in 1932 occupies a unique point in that debate as it follows repression and decline, but also insurrectionary movements that attempted to directly implement anarchist communist societies in Latin America (Patagonia in the early 20s and Paraguay in 1931, most notably). Santillan's course would take him to Spain where a series of insurrectionary gymnastics would exhaust the spanish anarchist movement and lead to a reorientation before the revolution. His thoughts here float between these worlds: that of the advanced capitalist state with internalized opposition and the revolutionary gymnastics that were at the same time an advance and hindrance in the coming years. Weaknesses in many of the strategies employed have been exposed by the course of history, but the core issues remain alive and read as startling relevant today for people trying to navigate a path between fetishized revolt and the limitations of daily struggles.
* * *
In a word, the resistance to capitalism, the core of the FORA up to now, should be driven by revolutionary preparation. Revolutionary preparation has two aspects, one economic and the other insurrectionary. If the federation rose to the same heights in this aspect that brought it here, it’s triumph in the near future would be assured.
The tactic should be according to the objectives of the workers organization- and a workers organization may arise for various ends; the methods should realize those objectives and convert aspirations into reality.
The first efforts towards an Argentinian workers federation (Federacion Obrera Argentina), made by legalist socialists in 1890, was designed to: a) create a workers federation of the Republic; b) publish a newspaper; and c) send a petition to the Congress of the Nation to sanction protective laws for the working class.
The FORA, enemy of parliamentary politics, aims not only at direct struggle for the conquest of economic and moral improvements for the working class in the current situation, but rather to destroy the economic regime and political system.
It’s natural that the tactics of the first wouldn’t be identical to those of the second; it’s natural that the methods favored by one, fitting for achieving their purposes, doesn’t suit the other which are inspired by different objectives and vice versa.
The FORA recognized only direct action as the means for economic and moral improvement, i.e. action not mediated by third parties and that is developed by the workers themselves against exploitive Capital and the tyrannical State. And still their methods of direct action have stayed true over the course of more than 30 years of their existence, having no reason to deviate in the least. The experience on the contrary has reaffirmed its principles and assumptions, and has shown well that the rights of the laboring people go no further than their strength to win and defend them.
* * *
These are the means of struggle. Propaganda is done through the conference, public meeting, newspaper, manifesto, etc. The parliament of the FORA is the street, the strength of its organizations are its laws. In all things it works for without interest in its running, because its objective is not to improve that which exists, but rather in its destruction to replace it with an order of things more human and just.
We point out a flaw in its tactics. It responds admirably to the struggle against Capital and the State in the present regime, but doesn’t allow for what is most crucial: to leave capitalist hell, to destroy the monopoly of wealth.
The strike, boycott, sabotage, our favorite resources in the daily struggle can damage capitalism, but it can’t destroy it; they can liquidate a commercial or industrial firm, but not attack the very base of the economic regime in force. To improve wages, shorten hours, get better conditions of work do not destroy capitalism. All this one can get and one does get without leaving the chaos of the present. The strike, boycott, and sabotage serve to initiate and defend these gains; to destroy the pillars of capitalism they’re not enough. The FORA wants to destroy those pillars, and for this it was creates and has been sustained.
Consequently we believe that the time is now to say all and prepare ourselves for our real goal which is the social revolution.
The FORA should sharpen the weapons of revolution and declare that the same as partial conquests have their own methods and logic, the destruction of the regime of oppression and exploitation in which we live has its own as well.
The strike, boycott, and sabotage conform to the previous battles in capitalist society, in revolutionary exercises. The revolution has its own arms, and a workers organization can not coordinate them more than in these two methods:
Occupy the factories, land, and means of transport.
Armed insurrection to defend the occupation.
In what way should we use the organization of the workers, which alone can secure the triumph of a revolution without a new installation of political and economic privileges, to inspire continuing down the road of dislodging capitalism for the direct administration of social wealth and armed defense with all the weapons, of what belongs to us, being their true and legitimate creators?
We believe that it’s sufficient to point out the flaw to provide its remedy. Our methods are good for daily struggles inside capitalism; for the suppression of capitalism we must form our arsenal, still very poor. The first step is in the recognition of the nature of the weapons employed to achieve the main objective. And we have identified these weapons.
Buenos Aires, December 31st, 1932.