IWA, the unknown revolutionary international
Conference delivered in Cologne (Germany) by the Secretary General of the IWA, Fidal Gorron Canoyra, on November 15 and 15, 1986.
Translated from Spanish by Liberté Ouvrière journal, 2022
Leer el original en español
The INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ ASSOCIATION, the current IWA, is not only the oldest international union in existence, but it is considered as the direct heir of the First International founded in 1866, mainly of the anti-authoritarian and federalist current from which it took its name.
The truth is that it is not easy to talk about the IWA today. Little is known about it and what we do know is intimately linked to the development of the international anarchist movement. We can affirm that it has been the most serious attempt of the anarchists to approach the working masses with a specifically libertarian strategy.
Le Monde Libertaire, the organ of the French Anarchist Federation recalled it in one of its last issues, we must indeed say that not of all anarchists, for the current in favor of syndicalist pluralism and opposed to the organization of anarchists, as manifested at the Amsterdam congress, has hardly been present in it.
Hence the IWA is known less as the International of Revolutionary unionism, what it really should be, than as the anarcho-syndicalist international or the anarchist syndicalist international.
And we say that it is difficult to speak of the IWA because already, in principle, the archives of the first years of the IWA disappeared in Berlin, where the General Secretariat resided, with the arrival of Nazism to power. It is possible that some of the founding sections, such as the SAC and FORA, preserve documentation from that time, but not the secretariat.
Later documentation also disappeared as a consequence of the Second World War, and the existing documentation from that period is scattered in the different sections that have survived without constituting a formal archive. I want to emphasize the enormous obstacle that the two world wars have meant for the development of the present IWA throughout its sixty-four years of history.
However, that does not mean that it is a vulgar unknown. The IWA has been the engine of the anarcho-syndicalist movement of our time, and its history is a passionate history like that of all revolutionary organizations that have left a deep social imprint.
It is at once the turbulent and tormented history of Europe between the world wars. A history that can only be explained, and above all understood, through the brutal clash of two opposing waves: the revolutionary wave born of the Russian revolution and the authoritarian wave of fascist sign that from Italy flooded the whole of Europe in the thirties.
Because the IWA was forced to associate the struggle for workers emancipation with the struggle against fascism that social democracy and communists had lost politically. The conquest of the 36 hours a week by the Spanish CNT in June 1936 and the bloody struggle against fascism of the Italian, Bulgarian, German and Spanish Anarchists, are an example.
But a double struggle that the IWA paid for in the face of all. Perhaps, what best defines the situation of the IWA today caught between two fires in its history is the tragedy of the anarchist Muhsam family. The poet Muhsam of the Bavarian Soviet was murdered by the Nazis in July 1934 and his companion Zensl Muhsam disappeared in the Soviet prisons in 1939 when he took refuge in Russia seeking help against fascism.
For a better understanding of the history of the current IWA, we have divided it into four significant periods, which we will briefly comment on:
– The first one goes from its origins to its foundation. It is the period of social unrest.
– The second one goes from its foundation to the Spanish Civil War. It is what we would call the revolutionary period.
– The third is the IWA and the Spanish Civil War. It is the baptism of fire of the IWA.
– The fourth and last, from 1951 to 1986. The era of reconstruction.
1º – Social Unrest.
The need for a Revolutionary Syndicalist International began to be felt at the end of the last century, after the definitive rupture of the First International in 1877. Twelve years later the reformist syndicalists created their own international, the one of Amsterdam, known as the IIe international, which disappeared, victim of its contradictions, after the First World War.
But it was at the beginning of this century when the first revolutionary and anarcho-syndicalist unions were formalized, such as the North American IWW and the Argentine FORA. In Europe, to mention a few, the Italian USI, the Swedish SAC and the industrial federations of Holland; because the Spanish CNT was not founded until 1910.
Thus, it was not until 1913 that the revolutionary unions could hold their first congress in September of the same year, with the attendance of the German unions of the FVDG, the Swedish SAC, the Brazilian COB, the Argentine FORA, the Italian USI and delegates from several French, Belgian, Spanish and English unions (1).
This same International Trade Union Congress already sets the principles of the future IWA by declaring itself in favor of the class struggle until achieving the socialization of property, international solidarity and the free association of workers aiming at the abolition of the capitalist system and the State. The struggle will be in the economic field and through direct action.
Also in this London Congress it was decided to convene a next meeting for the following year, which could not be held because of the First World War. The National Labor Secretariat of Holland sent a circular to all the participating unions for a new congress at the end of the war, which also could not be held because the governments of Holland, Sweden and Denmark prevented it every time.
But it is also the time of the Russian revolution, that immense bonfire that set fire to the world and was about to reduce to ashes the projects of the future International of Revolutionary unionism, the current IWA, even though later the rejection of Soviet centralism by the revolutionary syndicalists was the greatest stimulus for the founding of the IWA.
Indeed, some of the big unions that would eventually build the vertebration of the future IWA declared themselves sympathizers of the IIIe International, the Red International of Labor Unions of Moscow. Among them were the USI, the Spanish CNT, some French unions and certain currents of the FORA (2).
And it was taking advantage of the passage of delegations of revolutionary trade unions from various countries to Berlin, to attend the founding Congress of the Red International of Labor Unions, when in 1920 a hasty Congress was held that gave rise to the revolutionary international of labor in the midst of violent debates of the different positions (3).
In reality, the agreements of this Congress were only a transitional pact of the revolutionary unions summarized in the commitment to have all the delegations present at the Moscow Congress. On their return from Russia, the delegates, disappointed to see that the Soviet reality did not respond to the hopes placed in the revolution, met in Dusseldorf to convene a larger conference the following year in Berlin.
The revolutionary trade union conference was held, as planned, in Berlin in 1921 and was attended by delegations from all European countries, including delegates from official Soviet trade unions and Russian revolutionary trade union minorities (4).
The Conference sessions lasted four days and in the course of the second day the delegates of the Soviet trade unions violently left the meeting when the Conference adopted a resolution of the Russian revolutionary trade unionist minorities condemning the persecutions of revolutionary workers in all countries, particularly in the USSR.
The preliminary conference agreed, among other things, to hold a constitutional congress of the new international at the end of that same year in Berlin. It was also decided to break off relations with the two Marxist trade union internationals: the reformist Amsterdam trade union international and the Red International of Labor Unions in Moscow.
The new International of Revolutionary unionism would be of an anarchist type, independent of all political parties, revolutionary and federalist; capable of grouping all workers to transform society. Above all, the new international would promote a syndicalist current different from those of the IIe and IIIrd international.
The conference also made an appeal of solidarity in favor of the Italian comrades of the USI who were fighting desperately against fascism in their country. A struggle parallel to that of the Russian revolutionary syndicalists and anarchists against the Russian communists after they destroyed the workers councils of the Revolution.
From now on, along with the struggles for the emancipation of the working class against the bourgeoisie and capitalism, the revolutionary syndicalists had to fight also against fascism and international communism.
Finally in the month of December of that same year, 1922, the constituent congress of the IWA was held in Berlin, its sessions lasted until January 2nd and were clandestine and hindered by the police. It was attended by seven delegations at the beginning and ended with ten. The Spanish delegation was detained in Paris by the police and arrived at the end (5).
The founding congress adopted the declaration of principles of revolutionary unionism approved at the previous conference in June, to which it added a preamble with an analysis of the current situation in the world denouncing the offensive of capitalism against the workers and the deviation of the social revolution by the Russian communists, which justified the need for a new revolutionary international.
In terms of principles, revolutionary unionism recognizes the class struggle and aspires to the reorganization of society on the basis of free communism. The double task of revolutionary unionism consists in the daily struggle for the economic and social emancipation of the working class in today’s society, and in the elevation of the masses to the management of the administration of the production and distribution of consumer goods, replacing the rule of political parties and dominant groups.
The methods of struggle of revolutionary unionism are direct action, general strike, boycott and solidarity among workers. The structures of the future society will be libertarian federalism and free agreement, understanding that revolutionary unionism is only a means to end revolutionary capitalism is only a means to end capitalism but never an end.
For this reason, revolutionary unionism opposes the state and the Church for their authoritarian centralism that limit the freedom of individuals, and rejects parliamentarism and collaboration with legislative institutions. Likewise, it declares itself antimilitarist both against the existence of armies and against the manufacture of war material of any kind.
Fundamentally revolutionary unionism declares itself internationalist and rejects all borders, since it considers nationalisms as the cause of states and wars, as well as the exploitation of workers. Peoples, like individuals, must be free to determine with whom they associate without historical, ethical, religious or political coercion. Ethical, religious or political.
As we said, the constituent Congress was closed on January 2, 1923, and the new International of Revolutionary unionism recovered the name of International Workers’ Association (IWA) in memory of the First International that began the struggle for social emancipation.
2º – From the foundation until the Spanish Civil War
From its foundation to the present day the IWA has held 17 international congresses, the last of them in Madrid in 1984, where the current general secretary was appointed. The period we are going to comment on closes with the IVe IWA Congress in Paris in 1938 with the historic debate on the Spanish civil war.
The 2nd IWA Congress (6) was held in March 1925, in Amsterdam. Two years before the IWA had held an important international plenary session in Innsbruck (Austria) attended by seven delegations and where the problem of relations with the other international workers’ union, the advances of fascism and the ratification of the entry of the sections in the IWA were raised again.
Regarding the advances of fascism, the General Secretariat reported on the steps taken with the other two workers’ internationals to protest the occupation of the Rhur basin by the allied troops and the lack of interest of the German Communist Party to fight fascism with the support of the workers.
The two trade union internationals, the Amsterdam Socialist International and the Moscow Red International of Labor Unions did not respond to the call of the IWA and the plenum agreed to reject the united front slogans launched by the communists since they only intended to lead the international labor movement and control revolutionary unionism.
The reports of the delegates of the Sections were dramatic: fascism was advancing everywhere, and it was no longer only Italy and Germany that were threatened, but also Bulgaria, Spain and Turkey were beginning to feel the effects of the bloody repression of the military dictatorships.
In those days the Northern European sections of the IWA were growing steadily. The Norwegian NSF had fifty-two local groups and two industry federations; the Swedish SAC, 30,000 members. The German FAU had 520 groups and 120,000 members; its newspaper printed 50,000 copies a week.
But as we say, the IInd congress was held in Amsterdam in March 1925. The 12 sections that formed the IWA were present, three of them American. A delegation from Brazil also attended as observers. At that time the IWA was already publishing three periodicals in different languages and a social studies journal in German (7).
The report of the General Secretariat confirmed the consolidation of the international, in spite of the harsh repression in most countries, even by the Russian Bolsheviks. Revolutionary unionism was driving the anti-authoritarian currents of the workers’ movement with unstoppable force.
As themes of the congress, a motion was debated on the political parties, from which the monopoly they exercised over the workers had to be uprooted and freedom of the press, of speech and of association, conquests of previous revolutions, had to be reclaimed. In countries where unions were illegal, the struggle should be waged in the workplaces.
In addition, independently of the struggle against fascism, the congress encouraged workers to fight for immediate economic improvements, because such struggles favor the advance of the revolution. The congress accepted the formation of international federations of industry to internationalize the struggle against capital and organize workers’ solidarity.
The IIIrd Congress was held in Liege, Belgium, in May 1928. As was mandatory, a Plenary had first been held in Paris, in 1926, to examine the situation of some Sections in exile and clandestinity, such as the USI, the Spanish CNT, the Bulgarians, the Portuguese where their militants were assassinated and imprisoned by fascism.
The persecutions of the IWA motivated the congress to study the need for the creation of a solidarity fund for the persecuted in all countries. Twelve delegations and numerous representatives of Bolivian, Chilean, Paraguayan, Chinese and Japanese unions attended (8).
In the economic field, the congress denounced the new forms of capital exploitation, among them, the rationalization of labor and its financial and industrial development in international cartels and trusts that would eventually become the multinationals of today.
In the face of the capitalist offensive, the congress advises the reduction of the working day to 6 hours of work and the necessary wage increase to maintain the purchasing power of the workers. In the same way, it warns about the concessions of capitalism, such as the 8 hours of the Washington Treaty. Signed by most of the governments that weakened the labor movement.
The congress advised the workers not to be dogmatic in their approaches in order to be able to advance parallel to the development of progress and to put their methods of struggle on a par with the demands of the moment. We must be flexible and able to adapt to the circumstances without abandoning the principles of revolutionary unionism. International capitalism must be fought with international actions, in the same terrain of its approaches.
Finally, the IIIrd Congress approves the motion against militarism and the manufacture of war material and calls upon all ideologically related organizations to unite in the revolutionary struggle.
The IVe Congress of the IWA took place in Madrid in June 1931 after the military dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera was overthrown and the Republic was proclaimed, which allowed the Spanish CNT to return to legality, with almost one million members.
The attendance of delegates was numerous. The sections recognized in the IWA were joined by those of the American ACAT founded in 1929, a considerable variety of representatives of anarchist groups from all countries and independent unions (9).
At this congress the official presentation of the ACAT, American Continental Association of Workers, an affiliate of the IWA, which groups 13 revolutionary syndicalist centrals, seven of which are represented at the congress by their own delegation.
The general secretary’s report reflects the growth of the IWA with the new entries of Romania, Bulgaria and the Polish F.C.. FORA has been dissolved by the Argentine government and this has negative repercussions on the revolutionary syndicalist movement in Latin America.
On the other hand, the resurgence of the Spanish CNT was powerful and threateningly revolutionary and was also persecuted by the new Republic which replaced the military dictatorship. In other sections the situation is difficult, such as the FAUD, which presents a percentage of 90% of its members without work. It is the Europe hungry of fascism.
The analysis of the situation promotes a debate on the new forms of production. The new techniques must be welcomed by the workers because industrial progress is revolutionary if it is stripped of its repressive aspects. What must be achieved is that the techniques do not benefit only capitalism nor serve to further exploit the working class.
The congress also approved several resolutions on agrarian reform and the economic crisis, which will not be resolved unless the transformation of the capitalist system is complete and encouraged the defense of wages through direct action without concessions to any political or corporate power.
Likewise, the congress approves an antimilitarist resolution and against the manufacture of war material, specifying measures to prevent its production and transport, to fight against the conscription of workers.
Also, and as part of the analysis of the situation, the congress denounces the penetration of nationalist ideas among the working class because of the growing misery, which precipitates social and militant tensions. Because fascism is not only the seizure of power by the reactionary rightists, but it is also war.
The Vth congress is held in Paris in August 1935, after a series of decisive events for the IWA. It is a terrible period. The clash of the two waves, the revolutionary and the fascist, is announced to be brutal… it is the beginning of a war of survival without quarter.
To the irresistible rise of fascism in Europe, which does not hesitate to crush the workers with cannon fire, as in the case of the Austrian socialists in Vienna; the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists respond with a series of strikes and revolutionary movements that have gone down in history under the name of « the three eights ».
That’s right. On January 18, 1932 the miners of the upper Llobregat declared a general strike and like a revolutionary tide implanted libertarian communism in many Catalan towns. The revolutionary strike also reached Andalusia and the struggle lasted almost a week. The repression of the Republican government is harsh and deports a hundred anarcho-syndicalists of the CNT to the African colonies.
A year later the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists threw themselves again into the struggle and in more than fifty cities and towns of the country proclaimed Libertarian Communism, even if only for a few hours or days. It was January 8, 1933.
At the end of the same year, on December 8, the CNT launches a new insurrectionary movement that is drowned in blood by the Republican government. The Extremaduran town of Villanueva de la Serena, where Libertarian Communism has been implanted, as in other towns in the area, is taken by assault by the Civil Guard forces.
From that moment on, the future of the world revolutionary movement is linked to the success or failure of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists. That is, of the IWA, because the CNT was its revolutionary bulwark in Europe. The meeting of the two waves, as was seen later, was Spain.
During this violent period, the IWA held important international Plenary Sessions before the Vth Congress. The first one was in April 1932, where the new secretary of the IWA was elected, who took up residence in Berlin again.
But the IWA did not last long there. In January 1933 Hitler came to power and after the Reichstag fire the persecution against political parties and workers’ organizations was unleashed. The fascist police seized the IWA premises and seized its archives. The General Secretariat had to leave Germany.
The second International Plenary was held in Amsterdam, Holland, where the General Secretariat was established for greater security. A large part of the Plenum was dedicated to the debate on the loss of the archives that endangered the Sections and militants of the International.
In this Plenum the Belgian Federal Syndicalist Union joins the IWA. Then, the situation in Europe is analyzed before the advances of fascism, since the Sections already have thousands of militants in hiding or in exile. The possibilities of survival in revolutionary Spain against fascist or social-democratic Europe are also analyzed.
But within the IWA another danger had been created. The CNT itself, in spite of its demonstrated revolutionaryism, was suffering the consequences of a deep split provoked by reformist approaches of the so-called trentista group which preferred collaboration to social confrontation.
It was the same problem that for ten years the Argentine FORA had been dragging along with its confrontations of two syndicalist tendencies and that in time would become the Achilles heel of revolutionary unionism.
The third international Plenum, before the Fifth Congress, was also held in Madrid, where the General Secretariat had moved in November 1933. However, the revolutionary activities of the CNT, which a month later, as we have seen, launches another insurrectionary movement, creates problems for the development of the general secretariat.
Moreover, in Spain, barely a year had passed since the October socialist revolution in the Asturian mining area and that of the Catalan separatists, so the climate was one of repression, but also of revolutionary exaltation.
In the Plenum the possibility of the IWA joining the campaign of united or popular fronts against fascism organized by the 3rd Communist International was studied, and it was left pending a referendum among the Sections.
In the referendum, the IWA refused to join the united fronts because it understood that the struggle against fascism also involved the struggle against the State. Because allying with the political parties and the democracies meant reinforcing the democratic system of the capitalists which it also fought against.
Error of strategy or not, it was the same problem that was to burden the Spanish CNT during the Civil War, to make the revolution or win the war against fascism, which opened a polemic in revolutionary circles and divided the international anarchist movement tragically.
Finally, the Vth Congress (10) of the IWA was held in Paris in August 1935. At this Congress a new general secretary was elected who would reside in Amsterdam. The pressing concern of the Congress was the threat of war looming over Europe.
But in this Congress, as in the previous plenary sessions, the delegates insist that the struggle against fascism must be carried out not according to the interests of the bourgeoisie but according to the interests of the social revolution, which implies a second approach to that of democracy or fascism: social revolution or fascism, for which the IWA is inclined.
A paper on revolutionary unionism and its response to the advances of capitalism in the economic field is discussed but not approved. The congress closes with a message to the victims of repression, both fascist and Soviet and of the thirsty liberal and democratic governments of the world.
Here we can conclude the second period of the history of the current IWA.
3º – Baptism of fire
The third period can be said to begin in the first days of 1936 and closes with the outbreak of the Second World War when the IWA has practically been swept from the social scene by the military events and only survives officially in Sweden and in the will of hundreds of anarcho-syndicalists exiled all over the world.
This period could be considered as the litmus test of the IWA, and also of the ideological confusion, because under the protection of the war, reformist and possibilist currents prospered in world unionism as alternatives to collaborate in the fight against fascism and in the reconstruction of the countries destroyed by the war.
Evidently the first great event to take place in the sphere of the IWA is the Extraordinary Congress of the Spanish CNT in Zaragoza, in the month of May 1936. A Congress that took place in the midst of strong social tensions in the country, strikes, attacks and that was considered as the detonator of the Spanish Civil War.
For twelve days, thousands of anarcho-syndicalists gathered in Zaragoza debating the problems of the revolution of the future and the possibilities of libertarian communism to replace the capitalist system; this frightens reaction.
Although perhaps, and this has never been sufficiently appreciated, the most important thing about the Congress is the reunification of the two currents that divided the CNT and the faith in the triumph of the revolution that was almost considered within reach.
The congress, as we have said, was held in May, coinciding with the anniversary of the Chicago events, an anniversary of the IWA. Two months later, in July, the military uprising supported by international fascism would take place, which would give rise to the Civil War and the social revolution of the anarcho-syndicalists of the IWA.
We are not going to say anything about the Spanish Civil War, except what links it to the revolution and the IWA, because millions of pages have been written about the Civil War and it is not the subject of this conference.
The Spanish anarcho-syndicalist or anarchist revolution, as some authors like to call it, was the consequence, as much or more than a revolutionary project such as that of the Zaragoza congress, of the need for an urgent response to the situation created by the military uprising that had paralyzed the economic life of the country.
Because it is doubtful that if the military had not revolted the revolutionary trial would have been possible. But as the uprising was put down in the large industrial and urban zones and in the large peasant areas, where the anti-fascist political and union organizations predominated, social life was reorganized on a different basis and that is what the revolution consisted of.
And the revolution was anarchist for two reasons: because the CNT was the strongest organization in the country, with the clearest ideas of what should be done in a situation like this, and because the other organizations were not capable of reacting as the circumstances demanded and only did so when the military had already been stopped.
That is why there was also a counterrevolution in the Republican zone during the war and the anarcho-syndicalists of the CNT had to fight on two fronts: against fascism on the battlefields and against the bourgeois anti-fascist coalition government to save the revolutionary conquests.
The revolution consisted of the socialization of commerce, transport and industries in the big cities, as well as the collectivization of the countryside in hundreds of villages on a scale that had never before occurred in any country.
In the revolution there were successes and mistakes, mostly because in thirty-six months you cannot change the life of a country, and even less so in war, but it was demonstrated that the workers could organize society without classes and without authoritarian impositions. That was the great moral triumph and the historical lesson of the Spanish anarchists to the world.
I am going to repeat here what some old peasants told me when, after Franco’s dictatorship, I went to give a lecture in a village in La Mancha where the CNT had maintained a prosperous collectivization throughout the war: « we did not collectivize wealth because there was none in the village, we socialized decent living conditions for all with the effort of all ».
The revolutionary impulse of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists lasted three months, until in November they accepted to participate in the Government. But the collectivities and the socializations were maintained throughout the war overcoming the obstacles of the circumstances and the violent pressures of the Government and the petty bourgeois parties, mainly the communists, who sought their destruction.
However, paradoxically, the greatest criticism of the revolutionary work was received by the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists of the IWA, from the General Secretariat itself, initiating an ideological debate that still lasts and has overflowed the international anarchist sphere.
In November 1936, five months after the beginning of the civil war, and when the CNT was already collaborating with the government, the IWA met. The report of the then general secretary, who had made three trips to Spain, was negative for the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists.
For the general secretary, the revolution had stagnated and in some respects was retreating under pressure from the government. The collectivities and free municipalities born of the revolution were being subordinated to the policy of winning the war as a consequence of the development of military operations and the anarcho-syndicalist leaders favored this situation.
The plenary debate was divided into two camps. Those who justified the reasons of the CNT and its behavior, among which were the Sections of the North and those exiled from fascist countries; and on the other hand the radicals who demanded from the CNT a return to revolutionary orthodoxy (11).
The Spanish delegates justified the attitude of the CNT in the participation of the Government and in the militarization because with that it achieved the control of the situation and avoided that the Confederate brigades were commanded by officers foreign to them. The same happened in the economic field with the work developed by the unions.
The plenum approved a resolution favorable to the CNT considering that the struggle in Spain was part of the general battle against fascism on the international level. The IWA committed itself to support the struggle of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists with all the means at its disposal. Another resolution was also passed protesting to the Soviet government about the disappearance of Zebl Musham in Russian prisons.
In June 1937 another IWA plenum is held on the subject of the Spanish revolution. The general secretary maintains his criticism of the CNT and censures its leaders for not having made of the May 1937 anarchist revolt in Barcelona another July 19 which would have given back to the CNT the control of the revolution instead of appeasing the other political forces.
In addition to the General Secretary’s report, the Swedish delegate of the IWA, in his report, denounces that the Spanish civil war has evidenced some problems in the international anarchist movements never known in practice and warns that the Sections of the IWA should study the teachings of the revolution.
The CNT, according to the SAC delegate, had accepted a whole series of political responsibilities with which it did not agree before the war. As the CNT had understood that in a revolution there must be a public power, especially in a country where the anarchists were not alone.
The Swedish delegate advised in favor of political collaboration with all the imparted without committing himself too much to an offer of renewal, with all his unions closed by the Republican government. Because the CNT was the first to respond to the military uprising.
Moreover, the CNT was not alone in Spain in the face of fascism. There was also the UGT which was a powerful union central, although less combative, and there were the socialists. The small republican parties, as a whole, were also strong; the communists joined them in defending the bourgeoisie.
There were also the European democracies that feared both fascism and anarchist revolution and made it a condition that the struggle of the anarchists against fascism should not go beyond the limits of the electorally established republican regime.
There was even talk of a landing of English and French troops in Catalonia to put an end to the anarchist revolution and facilitate the end of the civil war.
Three reasons justified the arbitrary landing project to liquidate the anarchist revolution: the desire of the democracies to stop German fascism on the basis of concessions, which culminated in the shameful Munich Pact of September 1938 with the surrender of Hitler’s Southeastern territory.
The second was the threat posed to British and French interests by the existence of a revolutionary nation straddling the most strategic trade route in the world, the Mediterranean, and above all, when at the other end of the sea, Arab nationalism posed another danger as well.
The third reason was the fear of the triumph of the anarcho-syndicalist revolution in Spain and its extension to all of Europe, which was imprisoned by the grip of the communists to the North and the anarchists to the South.
Finally, said the Spanish delegates, the Barcelona revolt broke out because the comrades of the Catalan organization could no longer withstand the pressures of the autonomous government of the Generalitat, nor the provocations of the socialists and communists who in those days exterminated the Trotskyist wing of the POUM.
The international plenary of the IWA, once again, ratified its support to the Spanish Section in its fight against fascism. A brief review was made of the rest of the sections of the IWA and the situation was summarized as follows: in Latin America, almost all the sections of the ACAT were in hiding because of the military dictatorships.
In Europe, except for the French, Dutch, Swedish and Norwegian Sections, all the others had disappeared in the face of the advance of fascism, except for the Spanish Section, which fought openly on the battlefields with unequal fortune and little understood by the world proletariat.
The IWA still convoked an extraordinary Congress to deal with the problem of the Spanish civil war, but it would be the last of this third period because the IWA would not meet again until fifteen years later. That is, after the Second World War, when fascism had already disappeared militarily.
The extraordinary Congress took place in Paris, in the month of December 1937, and gave rise to a confrontation between the Spanish CNT and the General Secretariat of the IWA, as in the previous Plenary Sessions, due to the deviations suffered by the Spanish comrades in the revolution (12).
Another of the topics discussed was the attitude of the SAC with respect to the IWA, since it had not admitted the critical positions of the International in the case of Spain and had suspended its aid to the CNT and severed its relations with the secretariat. The SAC did not share the theses of the other Sections on the Spanish revolution.
The general secretary once again accused the CNT of giving in to the interests of the bourgeoisie, which threatened the unity of the world proletariat. The confusion created by the collaboration of the CNT with the government was too serious and the general secretary asked to have it deregistered from the International, among other things, because it had not respected the Principles of the IWA and because it had hardly contributed since its entry.
The response of the CNT was to ask the Sections to replace the general secretary with another one with a broader vision of things and less dogmatic. At the end of the Congress the general secretary would be replaced by a new secretary who resided in Spain because the IWA had no strength to be able to oppose the CNT.
The Extraordinary Congress, the VIe of the IWA, lasted ten days and, besides the polemic between the General Secretary and the CNT, it dealt with solidarity in Spain and international aid. In spite of the significance of the Spanish civil war, the world proletariat showed little sensitivity to it, as it had not done with the German revolutionaries when fascism rose.
The IWA presented a plan of collaboration to the other two Marxist trade union internationals of boycott of the world transports to the goods of the fascist countries, as an aid to the Spanish people, which the other internationals did not accept.
On the other hand, the anarchists lacked the masses in the still free countries to be able to drag the workers to an unconditional support to the Spanish revolution and that limited the activities of the IWA and its efforts in the struggle.
The end of the Spanish war with the victory of Francoism and the outbreak of the Second World War would force the IWA general secretary to new transfers. This last one to Sweden, for a long period during which the IWA would remain in a state of forced hibernation, forced by the circumstances the world was going through.
4º – Reconstruction
The VIIe IWA Congress was held almost fifteen years after the previous one and by then, not only the IWA, but the whole world had changed with the defeat of fascism on the battlefields and the emergence of new nationalities and new social problems from which the weak IWA was marginalized.
However, this did not mean that the IWA was absent from the problems of its time. The General Secretariat resided in Sweden and in a circular of August 1944 announced the return of FORA to clandestinity as a consequence of the military coup known as « the movement of the colonels » which anticipated Perón’s fascism.
Another circular of October of the same year speaks of the persecutions of the anarchists in Poland and of their internment in the Soviet concentration camps, because as soon as they were liberated from the Nazis they were persecuted again by the Russian communists, despising their collaboration and their struggle in the resistance with the Jews against the occupying German troops.
Finally that same year of 1944, in another circular dated December in Stockholm, the General Secretariat alerted the workers of the world to the real meaning of the war that had just ended in very harsh terms for the Allies.
The Allied troops, the circular said, claimed to be fighting for democracy, but they were thinking of a capitalist democracy. The mission of the Allied troops was not only to destroy fascism but also to prevent the struggle of the workers for their economic emancipation and freedom.
The allied troops in the countries liberated from fascism protect the interests of the bourgeoisie and even fascist regimes like Franco’s when it suits their interests. The Allies disarm the armed groups of men of the popular movements fighting against fascism under the pretext of the end of resistance, but in reality, their intention is to prevent revolutionary attempts as in 1917.
When the war ended – let us remember that the circular was dated December 1944 – the struggle of the working class must begin again to achieve new revolutionary conquests without concessions to the bourgeoisie and capitalism.
In a later circular, dated May 1945, he denounced a telegram from Stalin to the Pope in which he stated that the USSR would not attempt to change the existing social order, but, on the contrary, would oppose any revolutionary change in the world.
A denunciation that would later be confirmed by a dramatic circular a year later, in May 1946, speaking of the repression of anarchist groups in Bulgaria by the new communist rulers in the service of the USSR, who did not hesitate to shoot anarchists accusing them of being traitors and allies of capitalism.
As will be seen, the anarcho-syndicalists were not far wrong when in their analysis of the struggle against fascism in the congresses which preceded the Spanish civil war they excluded alliances with the bourgeoisie and the communists. Because the capitalist democracies, the communists and the Catholic Church coincided in the same objectives.
The important thing that, if the Sections of the IWA had disappeared in the gale of the war, its militants uprooted by the thousands from their countries of origin like the Spanish and Bulgarians, and others who, like the Italians, returned to them after many years of exile, it had not lost the revolutionary sense of its mission that like an umbilical cord linked it to the past and to the origins of its struggles.
What is clear is that the Second World War was the triumph of capitalism over all the other social forces which, under the illusion of fighting fascism, intervened in the war. That is why so much emphasis was placed on neutralizing the revolutionary wave of the previous years, starting with the Spanish anarchist revolution.
Subsequent wars of liberation have not been revolutionary because they have empowered the State and the national bourgeoisies as dominant groups in those countries. They have denaturalized the concept of social revolution by substituting the emancipation of the workers for the rise of political groups at the service of the financial oligarchies.
In May 1946 in Stockholm there was a Conference to try to rebuild the IWA, of which we hardly have any reference, but which served to resume the relations interrupted by the world war with all the anarcho-syndicalist groups of the world.
The VIIe Congress was held in Toulouse in mid-May 1951, and although it was organized by the French CNT, the impulse came from the thousands of Spanish anarcho-syndicalists exiled all over the world who were perfectly organized in federated nuclei of the CNT – IWA.
The congress had the character of relaunching the IWA in the new era, but consumed its sessions in the debate on the relations with the Spanish CNT, which at that time was going through another serious split in the underground and exile that lasted six years.
A split that transcended the whole IWA in a certain way, dividing it into two interpretations about the legitimacy of the delegations present. In reality, something deeper was being debated: whether the commitment with the other antifascist forces that fought the war had ended or, on the contrary, whether it should be maintained, as well as the collaboration with the republican institutions in exile as long as Francoism remained in power.
Another central theme of the congress was the reformism of the SAC and its acceptance of the proposals of the employers and the Swedish government to get out of the economic crisis, which distanced it from the principles of the IWA. The SAC sought a reform of the statutes in order to be able to collaborate with the state and stand for municipal elections; it even made certain concessions to militarism.
The discussion on the principles and tactics of the IWA and the pretension of reforming the statutes greatly impassioned the Congress, prevailing the rejection of collaboration with the State and ideological orthodoxy, as in the Spanish case, but the SAC had introduced in it the seed of reformism.
Fourteen delegations representing the IWA were present at the VII Congress, with a majority of European countries and two American delegations, the Argentinean and Cuban. Sweden was again elected as the residence of the General Secretariat (13).
The VIIIe Congress took place two years later also in France, in Puteaux, in July 1953. A total of 20 delegations from Europe and America attended this congress, and the highlight of the congress was the approval of the resolution on the so-called case of Spain (14).
This resolution put an end to the debate opened with the collaboration of the CNT in the civil war and considered the situation created by it to have been overcome. The collaborationist period was over and the CNT returned to its characteristic anarcho-syndicalist orthodoxy.
But the serious thing is that the split within the CNT remained open and it would still take almost ten years to achieve the union of the two tendencies. A very fragile union that would break up again three years later, giving rise to a long series of separations that still last. The schism of collaboration and the underground work of the SAC had had negative effects on Spanish anarcho-syndicalism.
The report of the Sections to the Congress is clearly positive about its recovery, but the IWA is far from being that which brought it to the head of the world revolutionary workers movement. It has not yet found its place in the new post-war world situation.
Finally, the VIIe Congress accepts the resignation of the General Secretary, from the Swedish section, who has been at the head of the IWA for fifteen years and elects a French comrade to take his place. It was the first time that a woman represented the International, setting a precedent in the history of the revolution.
From this Congress (15) onwards, the others follow one another quite regularly and in accordance with the IWA statutes. The IXth Congress is also held in France, in Marseilles, in July 1956. What does not change is the tone of the debates on reformism.
Thus, the General Secretary’s report denounces the activities of the Swedish section in favor of collaborationism, interfering in the life of other sections. The seriousness of the case is that the SAC is dragging other sections to its approaches, such as the Dutch section, where it has found support.
It is also the first time that the Danish comrades attend an IWA Congress with their own representation, the Danish delegation seriously accused the Swedes of underhanded maneuvers to impose their views on the IWA. The SAC, say the Danes, has changed its principles and wants to force the others to follow it against their will.
The reaction of the Sections against the SAC is unanimous. The IWA may be a weak International at that time, but that does not justify that it should let itself be carried away by the reformist current that dominates the workers’ movement and that within the IWA represents the SAC.
To the arguments of the SAC and the Dutch in favor of reformism and the possibilist strategy, the delegates respond by recalling that neither the possibilism of Kropotkin, nor the betrayal of the Second Socialist International have favored the workers’ movement in any way and on the contrary facilitated the rise of fascism and authoritarian communism.
But if the preceding congresses are of debate on the principles of the IWA, the 10th congress, held in August 1958, is the one of the break with the SAC. Ten different sections of the IWA attended this congress. The congress took place in Toulouse.
This 10th congress re-analyzes the collaborationist activities of the SAC, particularly in its municipal activities and in the unemployment funds which link it to the State. There is understanding for its difficulties to develop in Swedish society, but its conspiracies against the IWA are not tolerated (16).
In the debates on the SAC, the sections consider that if the SAC does not respect the principles of the IWA, it excludes itself from the International. The intention is not to expel the SAC, but to have it clarify its position in anarcho-syndicalism.
The end of the debate on the Swedish section results in a resolution of the Congress in which it is forced to accept the sidelining of the SAC, one of the founding sections of the IWA in the twenties. The SAC delegates lament the lack of vision of the IWA for the current problems and leave the Congress.
In order to avoid future deviations in the International, the Congress approves a motion of the FORA in which it is established that only groups that accept libertarian communism, better still anarchic communism, and the principles of federalism as their purpose can be admitted in the IWA.
At the end, the congress develops a paper aimed at strengthening the IWA, and a comrade of the exiled Spanish CNT is appointed General Secretary. The General Secretary will continue to reside in France.
Of the XIth Congress we lack documentation but it was held in 1961 in France, and in it were present the Swedish and Dutch delegates who had left the IWA, but they did not rectify their positions nor reconsidered their disaffiliation. This is not surprising after the radicalization of the Xth Congress on libertarian communism.
The XIIth Congress is also held in France, in Puteaux, between the end of October and the beginning of November 1963. In this congress the most relevant thing is the debate on the relations with other trade union internationals by some sections outside the IWA (17).
Another problem studied was the difficult relations between some anarchist federations and IWA sections as in the case of the FAF with the French CNT, and the Uruguayan FAU with FORU. The IWA suffers from the crisis of organized anarchism in its new stage.
Also considered as a problem is the petition to the Congress of several Argentinean associations requesting to be recognized as members of the IWA outside FORA. The existence of three different currents in FORA produces a lot of confusion in the Congress when deliberating.
On the subject of relations with other internationals, the Spanish CNT in exile is reproached for its lack of respect for the statutes of the IWA because of its commitments with international reformist unions and with organizations under the protection of the Vatican.
The agreement of the Allianza Sindicalista with organizations affiliated to the internationals such as the CIOSL and the CISC, so opposed to the IWA, does not fit in the analysis of the sections. Thirty years ago, the Allianza Sindicalista already existed in Spain as a revolutionary approach but now it is seen that it is a maneuver of the Socialist International and the church to facilitate the exit of Francoism.
The XIIIe Congress of the IWA takes place in Bordeaux, in November 1967. Ten sections, American and European, are present: the Argentine section continues to present three representations as in the previous Congress. In the FORA there was a phenomenon of disintegration common to the big unions affected by reformism (18).
Mostly the works of this Congress are constructive. New papers on economics, cooperativism and collectivism, and on how to make IWA propaganda more practical are studied, the congress closes with a debate on the Argentine situation and a new General Secretary, who will also reside in France, is appointed from the Spanish exile.
Before going any further, we will say that, between the last two Congresses, in 1961 the Spanish CNT split after 17 years of confrontations between the two opposing currents. The exile and the interior for the first time since the civil war march together and the result is the intensification of the struggle against Francoism where the CNT pays a bloody tribute.
The XIVth Congress was held in Montpellier in October 1971 and was attended by ten delegations.
Like the previous one, it is rather a constructive Congress, even though the FORA problem clouds the sessions. The group of friends of the Venezuelan IWA becomes a section under the name of FORVE (19).
The congress makes a study for the penetration of the IWA in underdeveloped countries and defines revolutionary self-management, which in the Spanish civil war was called collectivization and socialization. These are formulas that must be transferred to today’s society as part of the revolutionary struggle.
And as we say, the FORA issue clarifies little of the situation. Basically, it is the same problem that the unions of the IWA suffer in the present epoch when confronted with the complex labor legislations imposed by social democracy. It is the struggle against the influence of reformism in the labor movement.
The XVth Congress follows the same tone of the two previous ones. It is a Congress prolific in resolutions on current world problems: nationalist wars and the so-called liberation struggles; the return of dictatorships in underdeveloped countries, the consumer society, population growth and hunger, environmental pollution….
The German comrades of the colony group, absent from the IWA for more than forty years, attend this Congress for the first time as observers. Unfortunately most of the Sections are absent for various reasons. It is a minority Congress. It was held in Paris in April 1976 (20).
In the period of this Congress the IWA is going through a bad moment. The Uruguayan and Norwegian sections hardly give signs of life, and the Italian USI is in a period of reconstruction. The positive side is the presence of the Germans, who have played such an important role in the history of the IWA, as well as the request for membership of the Danish comrades and the contacts with groups of Portuguese anarcho-syndicalists who wish to formalize their membership. The Portuguese comrades inform of their relations with the SAC and of their presence in the Stockholm Congress where they could appreciate many interests of young people for the IWA.
A calm analysis of the situation of the IWA allows us to affirm that the International is slowly recovering, in spite of the social-democratic expansion in the European countries that have demobilized the workers’ movement by integrating it as an institution in the mechanisms of the State.
The XVIth IWA Congress also took place in France, in Paris, in April 1979. It is the most optimistic of the last IWA congresses and there is no lack of reasons for it. New sections have been incorporated and this stimulates the work of the Congress.
As we were saying, the presence of the new sections is the highlight of the Congress. There are three new delegations and two have been recovered since the previous Congress, such as the Norwegian and the Italian, which had gone through a serious consolidation crisis (21).
Among the new faces are the Germans, the Americans of the LWG from the USA which will be the first North American section of the IWA in its present history, and the Australians of the Industrial Workers. All of them groups that in the next Congress will already be sections of the IWA.
In this Congress the Spanish section after being represented for many years by the exiled organization of the CNT is substituted by the Spanish legation because it has been six months since the military dictatorship of Franco has disappeared and the CNT has returned to legality.
It is a qualitative substitution, very significant, which will change the tradition of the IWA in its usual development. The survival work of the exiled Spanish comrades has been hard and it can be affirmed that their almost fanatic dedication to the association has saved the IWA.
It is clear that the IWA is a growing organization. From five sections in the XIV Congress it has passed to ten in the XVIst, some of them, never having belonged to the IWA before. The USI, now recovered, has become a national organization and the Swedish groups are seen as a future alternative to the SAC.
However, there is a debate between the Italian anarchist delegates at the congress as observers and the representation of the USI, about the legitimacy of the USI as a section of the IWA, which the congress resolves by not recognizing any other Italian union centrale as a member of the international than the USI.
On the issue of relations with other anarchist organizations, specifically with the Comisión de Relaciones Internacionales de las Federaciones Anarquistas (CRIFA), the congress is unquestionable: « we recognize the ideological affinity of the CRIFA with the IWA – says the Congress – but the organizations are autonomous ».
The CRIFA and the IWA can develop concrete problems together, always bearing in mind that the CRIFA is a specifically anarchist organization and the IWA a workers’ organization.
The Congress is in favor of maintaining relations with all related organizations and with those of revolutionary unionism, even if they do not consider themselves anarcho-syndicalist, such as the SAC, the American IWW and the Dutch OVB. The Danish ASO is provisionally admitted as a sanction until the next Congress.
On the point of revolutionary positions and the attitude of the IWA before the actions of international left- and right-wing terrorism, the congress establishes that the so-called leftists are not revolutionaries, but the product of state repression and the current authoritarian system.
Another thing is that these terrorists pretend to represent the workers from whom they are isolated. Right-wing terrorism is that organized by international fascism against the workers’ movement with the collaboration of the states, the police and the military, and financed by capitalism.
There are other forms of terrorism, nationalist terrorism, with deep Catholic or Muslim fundamentalist religious roots, which use the misery of the people as a moral justification for their violent acts, but are not truly revolutionary either.
The new technology, the advances of multinationals and the situation created by them in labor relations, as well as the great economic crisis resulting from the increase in the price of oil products, are also analyzed by the Congress.
Another novelty of this Congress is the composition of the new General Secretariat, which until then had been composed of delegates from various sections and from now on a single section will assume responsibility for it. The new secretary will be from the Spanish section, with residence in Madrid, and will consist of five members: General Secretary, Organization, Archives, Propaganda and Administration.
The last Congress of the International, the XVIIth, is held in Madrid, breaking with a long tradition of thirty-three years of meeting in France for reasons known to all. The Congress has a refreshening air, and the IWA speaks in English.
In this congress the 12 sections that make up the current IWA and some of those that will be integrated in a short period of time are already represented. The congress was held in April 1984 and the Sections lasted four days (22).
The novelty of the XVIInd Congress is the Japanese comrades of the WSM, as a new section of the IWA, although the Japanese have been militating for a long time in the area of the International. So are the Australians, but their entry is pending the next Congress.
The ASF is also incorporated into the IWA as a new section, pending ratification since the previous congress. The important thing is that the IWA grows with an open mind to the problems of the present time. The problem of the situation in Latin America, as well as that of Poland, are of concern to the Congress.
Thus, several important resolutions were passed analyzing the world situation and the tensions created by the two military imperialisms that have divided hegemony in two zones of influence. But imperialism has much to do with the expansion of capitalism in all its forms.
As for unemployment, which in the world reaches dramatic proportions, the Congress affirms that within the capitalist system there is no solution to the problem. As a method of struggle, the workers must demand a 35-hour working week with maintenance of the purchasing power necessary to cope with the situation.
But perhaps, where the Congress places greater emphasis is in the antimilitarist resolution and in the condemnation of nuclear energy as a source of destruction. The IWA condemns the imperialist military blocs and exalts civil disobedience to military service and desertion in case of war. The new General Secretariat called again on the Spanish section.
Since the XVIInd Congress, two international plenary sessions of the IWA have been held: one in Paris (23) in September 1985 and another in Turin, Italy, in June 1986. In September 1985 and another in Turin, Italy, in June 1986. In the first one the world crisis of reformist unionism was dealt with and the situation created in the Spanish CNT by a new split promoted by a reformist sector was studied.
In the Turin plenum (24) a single theme was addressed: the advance of the multinationals and the need for international alternatives to fight them. Because the problem of the multinationals is above all a struggle between exploited and exploiters under other guises, but the same struggle as always.
And now, a few words to finish: Is it the time of the IWA, the time of revolutionary unionism? I think it is again its great opportunity. The failure of reformist unionism in the current economic crisis and the approaches of the market economy are reviving syndicalist practices that were thought to have been overcome.
The millions of unemployed in the industrial countries and the emergence of the black or underground economy are a consequence of the new capitalist approaches, but also of the failure of reformist trade unionism and of the economic policy of social democracy in all countries.
The announcement of the closure of eleven General Motors plants in the U.S. with a layoff of thirty thousand workers in these days and the collapse of the Neue Heimat real estate of the DGB unions are also aspects of this failure of reformist trade unionism of which we speak.
We are not going to say that the approaches of the IWA are the only alternative to the current situation, but we will try to continue to demonstrate it. Nothing more comrades.
Cologne (FRG) 15