What is the relationship between the objectives of the revolutionary union movement and its actions? Ever since unions were first integrated into the State and its legal framework for collaborative industrial relations, the revolutionary union movement has had hard questioned pressed upon it. At crucial moments revolutionary unions defected to back policies destructive to the working class such as the CGT in France supporting WWI, the leadership of the CNT joining the government during the war, and Mexico’s Casa del Obrera Mundial taking up arms for the state against the rural Zapatista movement in its revolution. The post-war labor movement has been defined by trying to navigate the integration of unions within the State and often management, and the subsequent dismantling of those relationships. Today we still grapple with these issues as we try to find ways to fight around daily issues while building a powerful movement of working class people towards a new revolutionary horizon.
This piece comes to us from our brothers and sisters in the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists CRAS-AIT in Russia. Vadim Damier, historian of the seminal work Anarcho-syndicalism in the 20th Century (published and translated by Black Cat Press) writes about the experiences of the spanish anarchosyndicalist union the CNT from a critical perspective, and gives an alternative followed by CRAS-AIT today inspired by experiences in anarchosyndicalists in Argentina. Whichever position you take, this discussion is crucial now as the basis for unions is being transformed, and uncertain possibilities and challenges are unfolding.
Anarchism and Syndicalism: the «CNT model» and its dilemma
-by Vadim Damier
One philosopher has once told that the one, who doesn’t study history, is doomed to repeat its errors. The problem consists just in looking for what was made may be not correctly or not very well in the past. This can give a possibility to avoid some mistakes in the present and in the future.
Of course, it would be unreasonably and conceitedly to give advices to comrades living in a country removed in thousands of kilometers, with quite other situation and with differing conditions of social and workers struggle. But when I turn around back on history of anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain, I see not only brilliant victories and the Great Revolution, but also certain internal problems. And these problems remain the same throughout all history of heroic CNT.
The attempts of Bolshevist usurpation in the beginning of 1920s; the permanent discussions about participation in the politic; the cooperation of leading group of Pestaña and Peirò with oppositional politicians in the struggle against the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera; the Treintismo; the refusal of realization in July of 1936 of Concepto confederal del comunismo libertario adopted on Zaragoza congress; the “Ministerialismo” in the Civil War; the common front of “internal” fraction with authoritarian parties in the struggle against Franco in the 1940s and 1950s; the “Cincopuntismo”; the massive infiltration of the Reformists and then finally the splits which led to a creation of the CGT; and finally the actual troubles with the “heterodoxos” and attempts to force some of their most active critics out of Confederation… (more…)
-editorial by SN Nappalos. The development of Solidarity Networks, based largely to our knowledge on the example of Seattle Solidarity Network, has led to experiments and debate not only in the US, but internationally as well. At its simplest, a solidarity network is a grouping that uses direct action to sway fights of individuals and groups typically of workers and tenants. Different from traditional union organizing, Seattle Solidarity Network (also known as Seasol) began by bringing together a milieu willing to mobilize to support issues working class people have independent of where they work or live. This includes fighting in situations where a union is already there (as was the case with an SEIU shop), where it is a lone individual, or more recently amongst groups of tenants and workers. A thorough discussion of these experiences would be long indeed. Here we provide some of the main points of discussion and pieces looking at solidarity networks to keep those in circulation, and for us to learn as we carry forward.
This week we’re including a piece by Scott Nikolas Nappalos on media and communication where he argues that we need to view them as part of our political process rather than just tools. The IWW has a unique history when it comes to culture, media, and communication in the history of North America. In particular, the IWW experimented with different forms of communication and media as part of its organizing including the famous cartoons, songs, the Industrial Worker newspaper, and the One Big Union Monthly. IWWs used forms of communication as political acts in ways that were innovative for their time such as silent agitators (mass visual propaganda), song and soapboxing tactics, and publications that sustained a working class culture of writers, artists, poets, and working intellectuals. Though good history of this is absent (and indeed of the IWW in general), Salvatore Salerno’s book Red November, Black November explores how culture and community formed a backbone of the IWW. The union went so far as to create a workers university run by IWWs, the Work Peoples College, that addressed a broad range of life under capitalism including basic skills, jobs and home life, as well as training for participating in the IWW, and of course political, artistic, and scientific education. This tradition was picked up by IWWs who started an annual educational and cultural retreat in Minnesota for IWWs by the same name. While focusing on the North American context and the IWW specifically, his points also apply more generally. Nappalos ideas open up a different take on communication that moves away from all the hype and technofetishism of our age, and tries to shift the focus towards understanding our role in sustaining and nurturing political relationships in struggle.
Traditionally many radicals have looked at communication and media as tools for implementing their ideas, programs, and lines on populations. Adopting the same model from capitalist marketing theory and propaganda models, communication is thought of as transmitting information from sender to receiver, with most of the thinking centered around how we can best transmit the information to our receivers, how to achieve the greatest numbers, etc. Different media are debated, and today fascination with the emergence of social media and internet culture has captivated political actors of all stripes. After the development of mass industrialized media around a century ago, the model of media and communication as a megaphone still is dominant in the actions and thinking of our time. (more…)