A 1933 reply by Ralph Chaplin to, seemingly, Spanish anarchist Maximiliano Olay, about the differences between the CNT and the IWW.
European syndicalism and the IWW
The editor of the Industrial Worker was recently taken to task for stating the I.W.W. position in regard to European anarcho-syndicalism. The critic, objecting to two or three paragraphs in an editorial (now included in the new I.W.W. pamphlet, the 'General Strike') proceeds to point out that "the editor is not up to date on the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Europe, and especially in Spain," and that, "he fails to specify clearly where they (the I.W.W. and anarcho-syndicalist movements) differ, being satisfied with general statements which reveal a lack of knowledge of the development of anarcho-syndicalism."
The editor of the Industrial Worker is willing to concede, for the sake of this discussion, that Olay knows more about the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Europe and Spain than he does. Olay, being a Spaniard, Spanish speaking, and familiar with the literature of the labor movement in his own country, has a decided advantage in this respect.
Even at that, the facts seem to be against Olay. According to an International Working-Men's Association's publication, (1933) the Spanish syndicalists have only within the last few months changed fom the trade to the industrial form of organisation.
All the Conventions of the International insist upon the necessity of reorganizing the revolutionary labor movement on (the industrial) basis. One of the countries that had remained outside this scheme, and which had stuck to the "trade" union principle, was Spain. Yet, even there, at the Extraordinary Congress of the National Confederation of Labor, held in Madrid in June 1931, i.e. barely two months after the overthrow of the Monarchy, the reorganization of the revolutionary unions of Spain on the principle of Industrial Federations was carried by an overwhelming majority of the 600,000 workers represented at that Convention.
It is significant to note that, even now the Spanish syndicalists are not organized into One Big Union like the I.W.W. They are merely united nominally on the basis of "federation" similar to the A.F. of L.
This, however, is not the important point in dispute. The critic is incensed at a couple of paragraphs, only one of which he takes the trouble to quote, and that merely in part. The full text follows:
...the European anarcho-syndicalist movement and the I.W.W. differ considerably by reason of the fact that the I.W.W. is the result of a later and mature period of industrial development.
It is not so much a question of how the Spanish unions are organized as it is WHY they are organized that way.
If one will read the statement carefully and not with impetuous haste, as Olay seems to have done, it will immediately be seen that what the writer had in mind is not [WORD UNCLEAR][WORD UNCLEAR], or any other kind of comparison between the merits of the I.W.W. and the anarcho-syndicalists as organizations, BUT A COMPARISON OF THE ECONOMIC CONDITIONS WHICH BROUGHT THEM INTO BEING. As to what the editorial "implies" or how Olay "understands" it, that is quite another matter, and one for which the editor can hardly be blamed. After all, Olay is not a member of the working class and it is only natural that as non proletarian theoretician he is perhaps too prone to confuse matters of theory with matters of fact. His impatience to have the anarcho-syndicalist position explained in detail is understandable also. But this, in the small confines of a 48 page pamphlet covering such a multitude of material was obviously impossible. It took Olay two full columns to reply to a couple of carelessly quoted paragraphs, and in spite of that, his precise meaning is still lost in haze!
Needles to say the editor of the Industrial Worker has considerable admiration for the accomplishments and courage of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists. Neither their theories nor their actions need defense as far as either the I.W.W. or the editor of the Industrial Worker are concerned. If the membership of the I. W. W. were to be transplanted, to Spain it is possible that many of them would line up solidly with the anarcho-syndicalists as the only Spanish organization resembling to any extent their own. But the fact remains that we of the I.W.W. are not in Spain, confronted with the problems of organizing Spanish industry. We are here in the United States of North America; confronted with industrial problems which belong distinctly and exclusively to this part of the earth's surface.
And it is these distinct and unique differences of local and industrial development which have, and must of necessity, made the American I.W.W.'s concept of organization structure and tactics for a proposed General Strike dissimilar in scope and detail from those of any other country. There is no criticism from the I.W.W. as to the theoretical structure of the anarcho-syndicalist unions either for the present day struggle or for the administration of industry. These things may, and perhaps do, fit Spanish conditions to a 'T'. The point is that they would NOT be entirely suitable for a country as highly industrialized as the U.S.A. which not only make possible but require the use of both a different organization structure and different tactics particularly in such a major industrial offensive against the capitalist system as the General Strike. Anyone who can understand industry at all can understand exactly what is meant. The mere theorist will still be in as much of a haze as ever.
A brief glance at few comparative figures as to the relative industrial development and technological importance of the two countries may possibly help to make this point clear. And please keep in mind that this comparison is intended for no other purpose than to show the set-up with which Spanish and Yankee workers respectively are confronted. This is the actual evolutionary material out of which the two movements grew and to which they must of necessity conform both in theory and practice.
Spain has a population of roughly 22 millions, 45 per cent of which is said to be illiterate. The area is about 197,000 square miles, 90.04 percent of which is used for agricultural purposes. This, on the face, of it would indicate that Spain, in the modern sense, can hardly be classed as an industrialized country. The entire mining industry employs less than 175,000 in prosperous times, working with comparatively antiquated equipment. Fisheries, employ about 25,000 workers and the manufacturing industry absorbs in 'normal' times less than 200,000 actual workers. To compare the transport of Spain of that of the U.S.A. would be like comparing a toy train to a modern super power steam freight carrier. Spanish import and export business for the prosperous year, 1928, amounted to only $775,000,000 and the available water power represents 6,000,000 K.W. of which 1,261,000 is developed.
As to the U.S.A. available water power is 26,000,000 K.W. with about 7,000,000 developed. Spain produces about 6,000,000 tons of coal against 545,000,000 in the U.S.A. The import and export of the U.S.A. amounted to about $10,000,000,000 in 1928. Agricultural activities in the U.S.A. cover a total of 505,000,000 acres with a population of 27,000,000, which although it is only slightly greater than Spain is still less than 22 percent of the American total. In manufacturing, the U.S.A. employs (or did employ) 9,000,000 wage earners working in 187,000 establishments with a primary installed horsepower of about 40 million and valued at 65 billion dollars.
The above rather sketchy contrast will reveal the real difference between the problems of the I.W.W. and that of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist movement clearer than any amount of purely theoretical discussion. The figures are as accurate as any available to the editor of the Industrial Worker at the present moment. The matter of financial control would throw a great deal of additional light on the matter of the I.W.W.'s centralized rather than federated industrial union organizational policy. But space does not permit us to go into it here.
The I.W.W. position is, and always has been, that syndicalist unions in other countries, when confronted with a similarly ripe industrial and technological development, be forced to these conditions in theory and practice just as the I.W.W. has been forced to conform in the U.S.A. To expect us to adopt or agree with, for use in our immediate or ultimate struggle, the policies of the Spanish syndicalists is almost as foolish as to ask us to adopt the policies and tactics which brought Communist capitalism in Russia. Similarly a General Strike, as I clearly proved in the new I.W.W. pamphlet, would require different tactics and organizational support and coordinated effort than in any Continental or South American country.
The I.W.W. stands unqualifiedly for the abolition of the wage system and the inauguration for a new social order based on the principle of industrial freedom. It believes that the impending crisis can be handled adequately only by the working productive and technological managerial army of production - in other words by the working class, and without the services of politicians, or outside meddlers. It is in the field to day, as it always has been, not only to create a unified, fighting industrial organization for the purpose pf helping to abolish the present rotten system, but also to build up a clear-thinking, willing and disciplined force capable of helping to keep the wheels of production in operation when capitalism shall have been overthrown.
-Editor, The Industrial Worker
Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker January 31, 1933, Vol. 14, No. 107, Whole No. 840
Transcribed for libcom.org by Juan Conatz