A speech delivered by Salvador Seguí in 1919 in Madrid in which the CNT leader denounces Catalonian separatism as an alibi for the repression of the workers movement, denies that socialist parties or anarchist groups are capable of assuming responsibility for production, calls upon the unions to focus on an educational program to prepare the Trade Unions, based on occupational categories, to guarantee the normalization of production and consumption after the revolution (so that “all the material needs of life for all humans will be assured”), and claims that this preparation (“We have to read a lot, and discuss even more”) is an indispensable precondition for communism.
Speech at the Madrid Ateneo (1919)– Salvador Seguí
Citizens, comrades and friends. First of all, I must greet you in the name of all the workers of Catalonia, whom, along with all our other comrades, we represent at this conference.
Now, I must also tell you that I hope you will be tolerant, at least to me. I am not a professional speaker, and, besides, I am a native of Catalonia. I trust that, when I have problems expressing myself during my brief speech, you will be understanding and, as I said, you will forgive me for my mistakes.
As our comrade Pestaña told you, our situation, the current situation of the Catalonian workers organization, is better today, we are more capable and more tenacious than ever before. This situation has imposed on us the responsibility to go everywhere, to every corner of Spain, to tell our comrades all about what we are doing in Catalonia and what it is that we seek to accomplish. It would do us no good if this immense force, nourished by the determination and the conviction of the Catalonian proletariat, were to remain enclosed within the walls of Catalonia, and that is why we must get in touch with all the Spanish workers and this is why we must make contact with all the other workers outside of Spain. Now we are going to tell you, as we shall soon also tell the other workers, what we think and what we want to accomplish.
There is a lot of talk, indeed, too much talk, about the problems facing Catalonia. What problems? There are no Catalonian problems, the only problem in Catalonia is the one we have raised, but the problem we have raised is not a Catalonian problem, it is a universal problem.
When the representatives of the Catalonian bourgeoisie came here to talk about the problems of Catalonia, they did nothing but confuse the issue and talk about things that have nothing to do with the real situation.
In Catalonia—I must point this out—there is another problem, our problem, and as I have already said, this is not a Catalonian problem, but a Spanish and a universal problem. There is no problem in Catalonia because this problem is only recognized by the organized bourgeoisie, which operates under the aegis of the Regionalist League.
There is no Catalonian problem because if there was such a problem, Cambó would not be Minister right now, nor could he ever be a Minister.
There is only one real problem in Catalonia, it is a perfectly human problem, which we ourselves personify, we are the standard bearers of this human expression of this human problem.
The workers of Catalonia do not recognize any problem of national independence
The Regionalist League has been trying, and has in part succeeded, to make everyone in Spain think that the only problem in Catalonia is the one they are concerned with: the regionalist problem. This is false; there is no other problem in Catalonia than the one that exists for all the free peoples of the world, in all of Europe, a problem of administrative decentralization that all the liberal-minded men of the world recognize, but as for a problem of autonomy that is connected with the question of independence, there is no such thing in Catalonia, because the workers there do not want it, we do not feel this problem, we will not solve this problem under these conditions. [Applause]
The League wants not just autonomy, which is after all acceptable, but it even calls for the independence of Catalonia; and do you know who will be the first to reject the independence of Catalonia? Not us; by no means; we know the Catalonian bourgeoisie quite well. Do you know, I repeat, who will be the first to reject the independence of Catalonia? The businessmen of the Regionalist League, the Catalonian bourgeoisie itself, which is part of the Regionalist League, will be the first to reject the independence of Catalonia.
That is why this fake problem was created, more than anything else, for a lack of anything better, by the mental myopia of the Spanish politicians, who have conferred a degree of importance on a problem that was really nothing but a figment of their imagination, a political aspiration for something else, something that cannot be openly admitted by the leaders of the League.
We must say this, it fits perfectly with all these things that are now pertinent to our conference, because we have endured the consequences of this faction, of this false interpretation of the Catalonian problem adopted by all the state institutions.
Have we been sent to the jails, have we gone to Montjuich, have we been locked up in the brigs of warships, for having committed crimes? No, I repeat. Constitutional guarantees have been suspended in Barcelona, that is what has happened, because the authorities say, they allege, that this problem exists and that this problem could entail grave consequences, when, in fact, this problem does not exist at all.
There is no Catalonian problem, we once again insist on this and it will not be the last time that we shall do so; this problem does not exist because the masses of the proletariat of Catalonia, because even the middle classes of Catalonia, even the managerial classes, and the highest social classes of Catalonia, do not recognize this problem, they do not want a solution for this problem. Then, why are we the ones who have to endure the consequences of this notion, of this policy that has seized the imagination of the Government institutions? Under the present circumstances the normal operations of law and justice do not exist because—so they say—otherwise the Catalonian regionalists will riot and disturb the peace of Barcelona. This is what the authorities have said in Barcelona and its is quite possible that the present national government interprets the facts in the same way, a way that could not be more foreign to reality.
What we want to say about this, my dear comrades and friends, is that we are certain that we have to accept the responsibilities that are incumbent upon us. We are serious enough to accept these responsibilities that are incumbent upon us, but we shall always refuse, and from now on we shall refuse with all our might, to accept all those responsibilities that they want to foist upon us that are no concern of ours.
The trade union struggle in Barcelona is for us a matter of the greatest importance, but not viewed from the perspective from which it has been considered until now; it has other dimensions that we believe are more fundamental.
What good is so much hard work, and so much enthusiasm, if all the preparations and responsibility are focused on nothing more than getting one more dollar, or working one hour less? Would this compensate for all the sacrifices that were made?
By no means, comrades; and here we must speak with complete frankness, with absolute sincerity.
Our goal, as comrade Pestaña told you last night, is communism, our goal is the socialization of all the goods of the earth. By what procedures? By those that are required by the circumstances, without straying from that road that we have traced for ourselves in advance.
At this point in my speech, I shall permit myself to say a few words, to just sketch a superficial picture of the concept that is worthy of the trade union struggle and, even more, about the goal that the trade union struggle, or the Trade Union, can achieve.
In Barcelona we believe that organization on the basis of the Unitary Trade Unions is the greatest source of power and resistance over the long term, and that it could imbue the workers with the spirit of achieving the greatest results. Ah! But this refers not just to the present struggle, but also to the one that the capitalist world is now forcing upon us.
The Unitary Trade Union is the guarantee of the future social regime
For us, the Unitary Trade Union is something more serious, something more essential, more fundamental than all this; the Unitary Trade Union is becoming the collective preparation, it is becoming the occupational preparation, so that at the moment when the possible social transformation takes place, this collective and occupational readiness will be the guarantee that the other social classes will see precisely how we are going to carry out, and how we are going to ensure, this transformation.
It is undeniable that all the groups, all the tendencies, all the socialist parties have up until now fulfilled a mission, that they have done good work; but it is also undeniable that from this moment on, when the facts are teaching us painful lessons about the failed policies that have been followed up until now, it is also evident, I say, that we need a rectification; the one that we have proposed and which we continue to propose.
Neither socialism nor anarchism will assure production and consumption
It is not the socialist parties, nor is it the anarchist groups, that can guarantee, after the possible social transformation takes place, that consumption and production will be completely normalized. No.
We have seen that the only element, the only force, the only organization that can provide this guarantee, is precisely syndicalism, the occupational Trade Union.
The old doctrine of free agreement preached by our comrade Kropotkin, is nullified in practice, because the reality of the facts has proven that it is impracticable.
Instead, we support the theory of Christian Cornelissen when he says: “There is no need to rely on the good will of the citizen on the day of the revolution or social transformation in order to normalize production and consumption.”
No, we need to ensure this production, so that when this transformation into the collectivity takes place, all the classes will have the absolute certainty that this transformation from a lower state to a higher state of justice will be carried out with all guarantees, it will be realized with all certainty, that all duties will be performed and all rights recognized, that all the material needs of life for all humans will be assured. [Applause]
And the facts speak for themselves, comrades and friends; that if the Trade Union is given this responsibility, if this task is allotted to the Trade Union, if the Trade Union were to be capable of this, right now, neither in Hungary, nor in Russia, nor in Germany, nor among the other peoples, would the proletariat have demonstrated its lack of readiness, its lack of preparation to provide practical proofs of socialism in the economy and of its liberatory sense in politics. By no means. And we are now facing this painful fact.
In Russia, surely it is due to this lack of preparation, despite the gigantic efforts engaged in by those heroes; it is more than likely that, on the one hand, because of the blockade imposed by all the Governments of Europe, by the entire international bourgeoisie, but also because of this lack of technical occupational preparation among its people that would make it possible for industry, and labor, as well, to develop normally, it is more than likely—I tell you—that at one painful moment (which would be a moment of transition, perhaps all for the better, too, because it would give precisely the sensation that there is a need to become capable of dealing with such a situation and that this will help us to make the necessary improvements, and this moment will be welcome), in Russia, perhaps our comrades, despite the efforts they have made, will not be able to consolidate the new State, that has cost them so much blood and so much heroism and in which so many hopes have been placed.
It is also undeniable that we are now witnessing the complete bankruptcy of capitalism
The war came, determined not by poverty—the facts speak otherwise—but by a surplus of production and a lack of markets in the world that certain belligerents needed to unload their products. And thus we witnessed the paradox that wealth, that this emporium of civilization, that all the efforts, the sum of our intelligence and of our physical labor, have engendered ruin, pain and tragedy.
In 1914 there was overproduction in the world, at the rate of 28%, and this overproduction did not easily find a market for its sale; so the war came.
The result, comrades, is that when a class has the responsibility, as capitalism currently does, and finds itself in such a situation, like the one it faced in 1914, then that is when this class displays the seeds of its decay, of its incapacity.
That is why, I repeat, as I mentioned earlier, that we are witnessing the bankruptcy of the international bourgeoisie. It is precisely for this reason that we need the critical sense, on the one hand, and the constitutive sense on the other, to penetrate more deeply into our activity, because times of responsibility and danger are coming, times of such majestic solemnity for the international proletariat, that if we Spaniards are not sufficiently prepared and organized and ready for the moment when the international proletariat comes knocking on our door to transfer power from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat, we would once again feel our rottenness, our incapacity and our disorganization, and we would not be able to carry out that labor which is precisely the great objective, the guide of all our actions, the one in which, finally, humanity must precisely establish all its well being, all its freedom, all its justice.
This is the work of the Unitary Trade Union, not just to create a situation where we shall take advantage of the fact that all the Trade Unions, at any given moment, will come to the aid of the section that is embroiled in struggle, not only for this, we want the Unitary Trade Union so that, from one day to the next, we shall be ready for assuming the responsibility for production, we want the Unitary Trade Union so that we shall be strong and indestructible, we want the Unitary Trade Union so that we can carry out real, truly revolutionary work. [Loud applause] We want the Unitary Trade Union for when the moment comes for the possible social transformation. We are not sufficiently prepared to ensure that the transfer of power will be carried out as smoothly as possible. [Hear, hear]
We must have occupational schools within the Unitary Trade Unions; within the Unitary Trade Union, we need, and they must be created voluntarily and willingly—otherwise, we will have to introduce them by force—the technical elements, because we need, when the moment comes and History imposes this task on us, to be sufficiently prepared to give the coup de grâce to this whole moth-eaten social edifice that oppresses us, that tyrannizes over us, that is killing us, precisely because we want to live a free and noble life; because we want, above all else, the kingdom of social justice on earth. [Loud applause]
That is why we no longer live in isolation from the other workers in the world, we have made contacts with the comrades in France, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, and finally, everywhere, and we are doing what we can to make these relations stronger every day and we will do even more, we shall attend an international Congress to proclaim our goal and our viewpoints, we want to engage in discussions.
In the regime of the future, hegemony will be in the hands of the Trade Unions
We believe that, by adhering to the belief that the socialist parties or the anarchist groups must be the entities that provide this regularization of the new economic institutions in order to practically realize socialism, we would succumb to an error.
The former, the socialist parties, see what is happening in Germany: there, parties of the center, the right and the left all exist, tendencies that after all are manifested in all collective groups of men.
When, however, it is the representatives of the center that rule, neither the right nor the left is represented in the Government; when the rulers are from the left, the same thing happens, and when the right is in power none of the other socialist fractions are represented.
Can this error continue? Are the socialist parties the entities that are responsible for production? No, they cannot be called upon to assume these responsibilities. Who is it, then, that has the abilities for controlling production? The occupational Trade Unions, and only them. [Hear, hear]
Are the anarchist groups, regardless of how much good will they have, capable of guaranteeing the functioning of complex institutions and assuring that the community and the social collectivity will have everything that is indispensable for life? No, because the position that the anarchist comrades hold with regard to this point is nothing but an arrogant boast and wishful thinking; it is, more than anything else, a moral assertion; but the activities of the collectivity, of Society, cannot be inspired by good will alone, they must be based on reality, and therefore this position takes on an extremely arrogant form, and this is precisely why the anarchist groups suffer from the same defects and from the same original vice as the socialist parties.
No, it is not the socialist party of the center, nor is it the socialist party of the right, nor is it the socialist party of the left that can ensure the continuation of production; it is the delegate of the Transport Workers Trade Union, it is the delegate of the Food Workers Trade Union, it is the delegate of the Metal Workers Trade Union, it is the delegate of the Construction Workers Trade Union who have the responsibility, by virtue of the representative function they fulfill, of assuring all those needs that the collectivity as a whole will have. [Hear, hear]
That is why, at the upcoming International Congress, we will pose this question, and we will say that the hegemony of the proletariat cannot be exercised by either the socialist parties or the anarchist groups; this hegemony must be exercised by the occupational Trade Unions, the syndicalists. [Hear, hear]
I have sketched a very superficial picture, as I told you, of what we understand and believe must be done. Time is an extremely important factor that must be taken into account and it must not be wasted. We believe that it would be suicidal, that it would be criminal for us, in these circumstances, at this historical juncture, to continue to amuse ourselves in discussions about everything under the sun; and that it would be less bad if we were to discuss things, because it is when personalities are the topic of discussion that time is really wasted. The facts must become a living reality for everyone. What would have happened, what would happen now, comrades and friends, if the revolution, if it were to be victorious throughout all of Europe—let us accept this possibility—were to come knocking on our doors? I will answer for you. We are not ready, we do not have the organization, we would even have to say to the bourgeoisie: “No, we do not want to accept this responsibility; wait a little while; wait a little; wait for us to get our bearings, we do not know what should be done.”
That is what we would have to say. Why? Because we are not prepared, because we are not sufficiently organized, because we do not know anything, except for honorable exceptions, about these things, and this is what we must do: we must obtain knowledge of these things, we must prepare ourselves for these things, because all ideas, absolutely all of them, are victorious when there is capacity and organizations; but when there is only the pure and simple sacrifice of the struggle, the sacrifice of the struggle without that capacity and without that organization, it is of little avail, comrades and friends.
We have to become capable and organize for the day of victory
We have to express our personalities, we have to make an example of our freedom, we even have to risk our lives; we must also prepare ourselves in such a way that this preparation can be translated into an instrument of organization, if we are to translate these things for which we are fighting into realities.
Otherwise we will achieve nothing, without this all our struggles are entirely in vain; that is why we need—and I call upon you to do this, comrades and friends—to prepare ourselves, to make ourselves capable, to organize. We have to read a lot, and discuss even more; but when the time comes for translating all these things into realities, we must be sufficiently prepared, we must have vigorous ideas, we must have strong arms, and we must have the right organization to translate our ideas into realities. This is how we respond when the bourgeoisie goads us to fight for a few more pennies; this is how we go about undermining the foundations of its power; and finally, this is how we will achieve the victory of our ideas, how we will make them worthy of us, and we will write in the pages of history the only thing that needs to be written: the economic freedom of man, which is the precondition, the basis, of the economic freedom of all peoples. [Thunderous applause]
October 4, 1919
Translated in June 2016 from a Spanish-language transcript of a speech delivered in Madrid in 1919.