Attention: New definitions of anarcho-syndicalism - Juan Gómez Casas

Article written in 1983 for Solidaridad Obrera, #128

Submitted by Juan Conatz on May 26, 2011

I would like to refer to the analysis developed by José Bondía in the March issue (number 72) of CNT with objectivity but with a certain degree of concern. Inspired by the need to provide coherence to my argument, I will refer to the paragraph where the comrade states that many of us have forgotten or do not realize “That the very concept of anarcho-syndicalism involves a basic contradiction as it tries to harmonize two concepts that are antagonistic: syndicalism, by necessity reformist and integrated into the system, and anarchism, necessarily revolutionary and transcendent of the system”. For this reason, the comrade says, the social and union action of the CNT and its very existence take place on the frontier between a reformist and a revolutionary stance, between being integrated into the system and transcending it. He deduces from this that anarcho-syndicalism, by its very nature, will have two currents, two natures that are struggling against one another and which may incline towards reform or revolution. There is a struggle between ‘good and evil’ in the CNT. But the comrade’s reasoning is deficient. He forgets, or does not know, because he does not refer to history, that the direct influence of anarchism in the workers’ movement through associations, first of all, and then unions, created revolutionary syndicalism. This is what happened with the First International in Spain in 1870, the first workers’ Congress to take place in Barcelona. At that Congress, anarchism, already as a part of workers’ associations, decided to back the free federation of workers’ associations as a revolutionary formula to substitute Capitalism and the State. The revolutionary syndicalism of the French CGT was a step in this direction together with the previous historical experiences of the International in the making of the CNT.

Anarchism helped to create revolutionary syndicalism as an outgrowth of itself and this would make nothing less than anarcho-syndicalism. It is for this reason that the anarcho-syndicalist CNT has no personality problems, but plain syndicalism can be fascist, communist, socialist or reformist and plain syndicalism is not part of our organization. This means that the CNT can have aims unique and principles, which could not be the case if it was floating precariously between reformism and anarchism. This supposed dualism only exists in the minds of some comrades. Because the coherence of the CNT’s anarcho-syndicalism means that there cannot be any contradiction between aims, principles and end objectives. If such a condition were to exist, it is then that would start to worry about the existence of anarcho-syndicalism itself. The great advantage of the coherence and of socialism in the broad sense, and we often don’t apply this because of our own laziness, is that in the CNT we can project the anticipation of a society without State and classes, made up by militants who are responsible and who do not delegate their personal responsibility, which is not transferable, and do take decisions themselves.

In addition from its end aims, the CNT realizes that it must create the objective conditions for a radical change. This is no joke, and it must act in a counter-cultural manner, allowing revolutionary consciousness to grow amongst workers and the community wherever it can – where people live and work. The CNT, whose conception of syndicalism is revolutionary because it comes from anarchism, also knows that in the period up to the transition it will have to defend workers’ demands as it always has done in history, using direct unmediated action, in accordance with its own strength. In the history of the CNT there have also occurred serious contradictions according to circumstance, as in the Civil War. The deep coherence that I am talking about should prevent similar occurrences in the future.

We need to be clear

Comrade Bondía writes that the CNT makes up one of the many unions currently in the Spanish state and it favours the evolution of the system in this or that way; because of this, whether it wants to or not, it becomes evolutionary in the absence of a revolutionary situation. Agreed, to some extent. The CNT is evolutionary in the sense that during the long preparation towards revolutionary change it is, or can be, a major element in convincing and preparing the people for the conditions that will allow for a radical change. This evolution is what I call the growth of revolutionary consciousness in and outside of the workplace (some will smile at this). In any case, comrade Bondía is wrong when he calls us ‘static’ because this new awareness alone can mean that real change is taking place. The imitation of what others do, under the guise of originality, is like pedalling away for exercise’s sake on one of those bicycles that are rooted to the spot. But, straight away, we note a much more ambiguous current running through Bondía’s article as he affirms that in order to redress the balance and to find the path of anarcho-syndicalism once more we should adopt more syndicalist tactics. This is too much of a slip. Because, if by definition we are anarcho-syndicalists and not something else, why should we return to syndicalism to reaffirm something that we already are? What does all this mean?

Emptying the CNT of its content. The problem of integration

As Bondía does not like history, particularly when it goes against his rather improvised interpretations, he may well not be aware that confusion such as this was around in the CNT during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and later in the polemics fought between Santillán, Pestaña and Peiró (particularly the latter two). Pestaña came to defend the CNT as a catch-all rather than something with content. A catch-all serves to put things together. Having embraced ‘neutral’ syndicalism he finished up by founding a political party in order to give the former some content. It is clear that this is not Bondía position but the implication of what he advocates are equally unforeseeable.

After arguing against political integration or participation in the fight for political power, Bondía argues that we need inevitably to become integrated into society. He finishes by saying that, as we are keen to become a social force, our non-marginalization (integration, I would say) has to be as deep as it possibly can be, and we must become part of the social structure. But Spanish society or the social structure as we know it today is the system. And Spanish society, or the system, is everything, that is, those who work, those who are unemployed, the marginalized, the oppressed, the oppressors, the armed forces, politicians, institutions, the State. Is it here that we are to integrate ourselves to become a ‘powerful’ force as he says? Above all, what does being ‘integrated’ mean? To be integrated is to unite the parts of a whole, make them live in harmony, so that they can fulfil their natural roles. These roles include differences, diversity and opposition, to a certain degree, but understood as a way of making the whole function properly. For the normal functioning of the system, we would say. This is how political reformism understands this question. Are the CNT and the libertarian movement integrated in the system? No. We are within the workings of the system. This limits us; indeed, it represses us and places us in the constraints of authoritarian relations. But we are against the system; we are not an integral part of the system for its development. In fact, we are in a position of marginalization accepted by ourselves. From this position, we try to get our ideas and values across, we try to get to the core of this society with our ideas and our practice. Collaboration or integration, as Bondía would have, would leave us prostrate and defenceless for the creation of alternatives which seek to perform a radical change in society and would make us into yet another part of the system.

The basis of a strategy

In the section ‘The basis of a strategy’, there follows an attempt at conveying how our profound integration in society’s workings should be and it should not be political. Bondía starts by saying that we have to start by demonstrating “that at the end of the twentieth century there can exist an anarcho-syndicalist organization capable of acting with realism and effectively in the resolution of social and labour problems. Does this mean the resolution of the enormous contradictions of capitalism, which end up as economic crisis, unemployment, repression and marginalization? Is an integrated anarcho-syndicalist movement going to resolve all this without conducting a social revolution? Then we are told, amongst other things, that we must “control all those strictly workplace- or union-based issues where there are direct interests of the workers at stake (not political ones), such as Social Security, unemployment, etc.”. This would be an extensive task and would include all those technical and social organisms that are related to this question: the job exchanges, Social Security, the arbitration boards, where union bureaucracies and state functionaries are installed. The political frameworks that control these ‘social and economic’ mechanisms are in the hands of those parties that guide these types of unions.

In the second activists’ conference in Madrid, Bondía was told that the social and economic institutions are inseparable from the political institutions that create them. So, to be coherent, that politics of a presence in some areas would also entail a complementary political presence in political structures from where, to follow the logic of his analysis, the former could be defended “with realism and effectively”.

Finally, I think we have heard enough to draw some conclusions on the kind of new formulae that are proposed here. Are we seeing the advocacy of a certain kind of political syndicalism?

Taken from Anarcho-Syndicalism 101 (Dated November 17th, 2006)