Black Flag 211 (1996) partial

Issue of the London-based anarchist magazine Black Flag from the 1990s. Partial contents only.


  • Building worker group win in Milton Keynes
  • Anarchist News-Service from Czech Republic
  • We, The Anarchists! A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927-1937
  • Shorts
  • Anarchist History: Trotskyist Lies on Anarchism
  • La Princesa
  • Take Back the Night! Demo against police violence in Stockholm
  • Vitrolles: The logic of the urns
  • Brazilian Dockers Occupy Ships
  • What is anarcho-syndicalism? - libertarian reformism, vanguardism or revolutionary unionism?
  • Abortion: French CNT Win Abortion Legal Case
  • Announcement: Albert Meltzer
  • Review: Human Rights or Control Units
  • Review: More of the Same by the 1926 Committee

Building worker group win in Milton Keynes

On January 6th a bricklayer in Northampton UCATT told branch secretary Brian Higgins that he and 12 others had been sacked that morning on their return from the Xmas break. Eight others had started in their place! At the invitation of the men Brian went to Milton Keynes two days later and established that the men were entitled to notice or pay in lieu of notice. As there were only a couple of weeks left on the job the men involved demanded that all wages owing and a week's wages in lieu be paid that day or they would picket the site the next morning. The bosses thought this was a bluff and didn't settle but contacted UCATT headquarters instead. UCATT "organiser" Dominic Hehir, who is threatening Brian Higgins with a libel action (see BF210) said Higgins had no authority. At 7.15am the next day the picket was on. By 9am the site was at a standstill and by 1pm the contractor had settled in full. Once again, direct action gets the goods.

Anarchist News-Service from Czech Republic

Squatters from the last remaining anarchist squat in Prague - Sochora Street broke up a police attack on 15th February this year. Police officers stated that they had an official order to evict this "house of junkies and dangerous anarchists". The local police commander was so depressed by defeat of his policemen, that he declared to use special anti-terrorist assault troops in few more days to evict the squat. Sochora was squatted in 1992 and hosts Prague meetings of the Czech Anarchist Federation and other groups. You can help the squatters by sending protests to your Czech embassy: (Subject: Eviction of Squat in pplk. Sochora 28 in Prague 7)

Four days later 70 anarchists demonstrated in support of Sochora 28 squat. We had one large slogan banner "Flats instead of banks" (the Sochora street is endangered by the project of one bank) and black/red anarchosyndicalist flag.

We, The Anarchists! A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927-1937
by Stuart Christie Published by The Meltzer press; £12.50 spiral bound

This book contains some very important lessons for anarchists that deserve a wider circulation. The Spanish revolution and the events leading up to it are the most important events this century from an anarchist perspective. (So far at least!) This issue of Black Flag marks 60 years since the May Day events in Barcelona marked the triumph of the Stalinist reaction and the defeat of the revolution. The role of militants of the FAI and the CNT (Spain's anarcho-syndicalist union) in the revolution has been subject to much interpretation, particularly by those hostile to anarcho-syndicalism. Christie's book deals with most of what bourgeois commentators have said about Spain. But the real value in this work is that it places the betrayal of anarchist principles by the FAI and CNT in the context of the evolution of those organisations, and addresses the question of leadership, but more importantly, the question of "followership".

Christie starts by explaining how three factors need to be considered to understand recent Spanish history. Firstly, that anarchism was embedded deeply in the working class, at least partly because it reflected their relationships and values. Secondly, that anarchism was the predominant ideological influence within the labour movement. And thirdly, that the anarchist militants who defended and built up their organisations through decades of repression were motivated by a desire to bring about a libertarian communist society, objectives which brought them into conflict both with the state and the bosses, and the leaders of their own union confederation.

The book outlines the historical development of anarchism in Spain, and how it developed and influenced the labour movement, particularly in Catalonia, the industrial heartland. It also takes an analytical view and tries to address, in the author's words, "how can ideals survive the process of institutionalisation? If this is not feasible, at least to be able to identify the turning points so that we can counter the process".

From about 1927 onward, a struggle broke out within the CNT between the leadership of the CNT and conscious anarchist militants of the rank and file over the heart and soul of the union. This struggle was to culminate in the split of the CNT in 1931 when the treintistas, leadership figures who had signed the "manifesto of the Thirty", left the Confederation taking a small number of unions with them. Outside commentators have claimed the reformists were pushed out by a rigidly disciplined party-type organisation -the FAI. The truth is somewhat different.

Christie takes us through how the reformists, many of whom were national or regional secretaries, believed that they had to concentrate on trade union type issues and compete for members with the socialist UGT. However, the UGT's co-operation with the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, which passed labour laws favouring them and attacking the CNT, had lost them credibility and the CNT was growing with its message of open class warfare and direct action. The CNT leadership, though popular as individuals, were out of touch. One of the reasons that individuals like Angel Pestaña were in these positions was that anarchist militants refused to take them because of their corrupting nature.

The reformists tried to change the CNT's constitution, moving it away from federalism and anti-capitalism to being a mere mediator between workers and capital. At the same time the UGT was working with the structures of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and using this position to attack the CNT. The reformists wanted the CNT "in from the cold", so to speak, and able to operate free from the socialists' attacks. Against this background, a small number of militants met in Valencia in 1927, founding the Federacion Anarquista Iberica, the FAI, which also included Portuguese militants. The FAI addressed how it would relate to the CNT, a relationship described as the trabazon, an organic bond at local level between the CNT and FAI through Defence Committees and Pro-Prisoner Committees.

AT this time, the FAI was an ad hoc association of affinity groups. It never even grouped a majority of anarchists in the CNT into its ranks, despite the allegations of bourgeois and Marxist historians like Woodcock, Carr and Morrow that it was a centralised party-like apparatus. It consisted of anarchists who refused to go along with their union's leadership and asserted the historic anarchist role of fighting authoritarian ideas and defending the libertarian spirit of the CNT. Indeed, many of the more famous names associated with it were not even members, and there seems to be doubt whether Durruti was ever a fully fledged member.

The roots of the collaboration proposed by the reformists were in the tactical co-operation they had had with military and political oppositionists of all shades under the dictatorship. . Though the anarchists were a minority, they did exercise a powerful moral authority within the membership of the union. Many FAIstas had graduated from the open class war of pistolerismo, where employers hired gunmen to murder CNT members. When the dictatorship collapsed, there was a surge in strike activity and the FAI were blamed, even though in this period their very existence was nominal.

By now, Pestaña and his allies held the upper hand. They published a paper, Acción and controlled the National Committee. They were pressing for closer contacts with the republicans as a strategy, not just as a tactic. One of them, Juan Peiró, had to resign after signing a particularly dubious manifesto, Inteligencia Republicana. That April, after the CNT National Plenum advised a tactical vote for the left, a Socialist- Republican coalition won the elections overwhelmingly.

The Second Republic enacted a number of measures against the CNT, some deliberate to favour the UGT, others, such as the mixed juries, as a by product. On May Day, civil guards fired on the CNT demonstration, killing one and wounding 15. The FAI now began to emerge as a pole of dissent within CNT against the reformists. The arguments came out at the III Congress in June, but were not resolved.

During the summer, heightened social conflict with the government polarised these differences. The reformists gambled with the "manifesto of the 30", to isolate the revolutionaries. They failed. The rank and file, subject daily to the brutality of open class war from the bosses and the state, sided with the FAI. The Treintistas left the CNT and Pestaña went on to form the Syndicalist party. Christie now argues that the FAI had done its job but was taken over by "rootless intellectuals" like Diego Abad de Santillan. It is certain that most of its militants went back to their day to day activity as members of the CNT. Many others were taken out of activity after the abortive uprising which led to the massacre at Casas Viejas and a wave of arrests and repression. De Santillan had joined the FAI in 1933. He had an obsession with economic planning and saw the FAI as providing anarchism with the discipline and organisation to fulfil its historic mission. Groups around De Santillan argued for "greater democracy" within the FAI and moves were made to expel the Nosotros group (which included Durruti, Ascaso etc) though nothing came of the latter. Quite definitely the culture changed and many of the working class militants no longer felt at home in the FAI, to quote Progreso Fernández, "Lots of people dropped out then, but we remained anarchists, because anarchism is an attitude to life".

Christie's analysis points out one of the failings of the most common criticism made of the Spanish anarchists by English speaking anarchists: that they did not take organisation seriously enough. If only, bemoaned the Platformist (later Leninist) Anarchist Workers Group, if only the Spanish translation of the "Platform" had reached them, they might have been equipped with better ideas to win. The fallacy of this argument is obvious - it was not a correct political line which could win the revolution, but the deeds and actions of the militants involved. Those who advocated greater organisation within the FAI were not those who were the first to rise and defeat the fascists in Barcelona and elsewhere.

The success of the revolution on July 19th 1936 is well documented. There is no need to go over it again here. But what is interesting is the way the FAI and CNT ended up collaborating with the State and even joining the government. Christie's view is that this happened because, just because of their history, these organisations substituted themselves for the organs of the revolution - the factory and neighbourhood committees. It was in this way that Federica Montseny became co-opted into the government. Her neighbourhood committee sent her along to the CNT-FAI headquarters to find out what was going on. Instead she got co-opted onto the committee. Christie's account of the defeat of the revolution does not make light reading. His conclusions are that we must not and cannot separate ends from means. By adapting to circumstances, the FAI found itself on the wrong side of the struggle for social justice and equality. It would be purely speculative to suggest other things that could have been done at the time. The anarchists of Spain faced a difficult dilemma, and we should not judge their failings too harshly, rather we should learn from them and try not to make the same mistakes ourselves. And he poses the question of why the anarchist rank and file went along with a lot of the actions of the CNT-FAI at the time which betrayed anarchist principles by ignoring the relationship between ends and means.

On a final note, this book is way too expensive for what it is. I contacted The Meltzer press about this, and they are prepared to give a discount for groups buying more than one of 50% on subsequent copies. I think this should be more widely available and in a cheaper format. All you book publishers out there should contact TMP.



More Minsk Arrests

Every week or two, more and more activists are being arrested and harrassed in the Belarussian capital of Minsk. The latest wave of arrests occurred on Friday and Saturday (March 14-15) in Minsk. About 100 people were arrested for peacefully demonstrating. Among these were three anarchist students. Pavluk Konovalchuk was given 10 days and has declared a hunger strike. He is asking that protests be made to the General Procuror of Belarus and at the Belarussian embassies abroad. His arrest is just part of a continuing pattern of harrassment that will either lead to the destruction of all political movements via obedience or absolute repression.

The other two anarchists arrested were given five days each.

Any protests should address the issue of repression in general but should also mention Pavluk. It is important as a well known activist that the pigs understand that he has comrades in Moscow and other places; last October letters of protest and phone calls from Moscow and elsewhere was of great help to some of our comrades who were locked up. Telegrams can be sent to the City Prosecutor's Office, 24 Internatsionalnaya UIitsa, Minsk. Protests may also be sent via fax to Moscow at 7(095)141-3467 or via e-mail to

Anarchist History: Trotskyist Lies On Anarchism

It’s fair to say that most Marxists in Britain base their criticisms of the Spanish Anarchist Revolution of 1936 on the work of Trotskyist Felix Morrow. Morrow’s book ‘Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain’, first published in 1938, actually isn’t that bad – for some kinds of information. However, it’s basically written as Trotskyist propaganda. All too often Morrow is inaccurate, and over-eager to bend reality to fit the party line.

The Bolshevik-Leninists, for example, an obscure sect who perhaps numbered 20 members, are, according to Morrow, transformed into the only ones who could save the Spanish Revolution – because they alone were members of the Fourth International, Morrow’s own organisation. ‘Only the small forces of the Bolshevik-Leninists...clearly pointed the road for the workers’ (1); ‘Could that party [the party needed to lead the revolution] be any but a party standing on the platform of the Fourth International?’ (2), etc.. The POUM – a more significant marxist party in Spain, though still tiny compared to the anarchists – is also written up as far more important than it was, and slagged off for failing to lead the masses to victory (or listening to the Bolshevik-Leninists). The Fourth Internationalists ‘offered the POUM the rarest and most precious form of aid: a consistent Marxist analysis’ (3) (never mind Spanish workers needing guns and solidarity!). But when such a programme – prepared in advance – was offered the POUM by the Fourth International representative – only two hours after arriving in Spain, and 1/4 of an hour after meeting the POUM (4) – the POUM weren’t interested. The POUM have been both attacked (and claimed as their own) by Trotskyists ever since...

It’s Morrow’s attacks on anarchism, though, that have most readily entered leftist folklore – even among Marxists who reject Leninism. Some of Morrow’s criticisms are fair enough – but these were voiced by anarchists long before Morrow put pen to paper. Morrow, in fact, quotes and accepts the analyses of anarchists like Camillo Berneri (‘Berneri had been right’ etc. (5)), and praises anarchists like Durruti (‘the greatest military figure produced by the war’ (6)) – then sticks the boot into anarchism. Morrow obviously wanted to have his cake and eat it.

Typically for today’s left, perhaps, the most quoted sections of Morrow’s book are the most inaccurate. Here’s a detailed look at three of them:

According to Morrow, ‘Spanish Anarchism had in the FAI a highly centralised party apparatus through which it maintained control of the CNT’ (7). In reality, the FAI – the Iberian Anarchist Federation – was founded, in 1927, as a confederation of regional federations (including the Portuguese Anarchist Union). These regional federations, in turn, coordinated local and district federations of highly autonomous anarchist affinity groups. So, while the FAI may have had centralising tendencies, a ‘highly centralised’ political party it was not.

Further, many anarcho-syndicalists and affinity groups were not in the FAI (though most seem to have supported it), and many FAI members put loyalty to the CNT (the anarcho-syndicalist union confederation) first. For instance, according to the minutes of the FAI national plenum of Jan-Feb 1936: ‘The Regional Committee [of Aragon, Rioja, and Navarra] is completely neglected by the majority of the militants because they are absorbed in the larger activities of the CNT’. And ‘One of the reasons for the poor condition of the FAI was the fact that almost all the comrades were active in the defence groups of the CNT’ (report from the Regional Federation of the North). These are internal documents and so unlikely to be lies (8).

Anarchists were obviously the main influence in the CNT (which was anarcho-syndicalist long before the FAI was founded). But ‘FAI control’ was an invention of a reformist minority within the organisation – people like Angel Pestana, ex-CNT National Secretary, who wanted to turn the CNT into a politically ‘neutral’ union movement. Pestana later showed what he meant by forming the Syndicalist Party and standing for Parliament/the Cortes. Obviously, in the struggle against the reformists, anarcho-syndicalists – inside the FAI or not – voted for people they trusted to run CNT committees. The reformists lost, split from the CNT, and ‘FAI dictatorship’ was born.

Again, following Morrow, marxists have often alleged that the Socialist and Workers Alliance strike wave, of October 1934, was sabotaged by the CNT.

To understand this allegation, you have to understand the background to October ’34, and the split in the workers’ movement between the CNT and the UGT (unions controlled by the reformist Socialist Party, the PSOE). >From 1931 (the birth of the Second Spanish Republic) to 1933 the Socialists, in coalition with Republicans, had attacked the CNT (a repeat, in many ways, of the UGT’s collaboration with the Primo de Rivera dictatorship of 1923-30). Laws were passed, with Socialist help, making lightening strikes illegal and state arbitration compulsory. Anarchist-organised strikes were violently repressed, and the UGT provided scabs – as against the CNT Telephone Company strike of 1931. During and after CNT insurrections in Catalonia (north eastern Spain) in 1932, and the much wider insurrections of January 1933 (9,000 CNT members jailed) and December 1933 (16,000 jailed) Socialist solidarity was nil.

Socialist conversion to ‘revolution’ occurred only after the elections of November 1933 – when they lost, and all the laws they’d passed against the CNT were used against themselves. When cabinet seats were offered to the non-republican right, in October 1934, the PSOE/UGT called for a general strike..

If the CNT, nationally, failed to take part in this – a mistake recognised by many anarchist writers – this was not (as reading Morrow suggests) because the CNT thought ‘all governments were equally bad’, but because of well-founded, as it turned out, mistrust of Socialist aims. A CNT call, in February 1934, for the UGT to clearly and publicly state its revolutionary objectives, had met with no reply. Rhetoric aside, the PSOE’s main aim in October seems to have been to force new elections, so they could again form a (mildly reformist) coalition with the Republicans (9). The CNT, in effect, were to be used as cannon-fodder to help produce another government that would attack the CNT.

The ‘workers alliances’ were little better. These were first put forward by the marxist-leninists of the BOC (Workers and Peasants Bloc – later to form the POUM) after their attempts to turn the CNT into a bolshevik vanguard failed (10). PSOE interest began only after their election defeat – when the alliances were seen as a means of dominating the workers movement in areas the UGT was weak. The Socialist ‘Liaison Committee’, for instance, set up to prepare for insurrection, only allowed regional branches to take part in the alliances if they could guarantee Party control (11). And only one month after the first alliance was set up, one of its founder members –the Socialist Union of Catalonia – left in protest over PSOE domination.

During October, apart from Catalonia (where the Catalan government arrested CNT militants the night before, then tried to declare Catalan autonomy), and Madrid (where a general strike was supported by the CNT), the only real centre of resistance was in Asturias (on the Spanish north coast).

Here, the CNT had joined the Socialists and Communists in a ‘workers alliance’. But, against the alliance’s terms, the Socialists alone gave the order for the uprising – and the Socialist-controlled Provincial Committee starved the CNT of arms. This despite the CNT having over 22,000 affiliates in the area (to the UGT’s 40,000).

Morrow states that ‘The backbone of the struggle was broken...when the refusal of the CNT railroad workers to strike enabled the government to transport goods and troops’ (12). Yet in Asturias (the only area where major troop transportation was needed) the main government attack was from a seaborne landing of Foreign Legion and Moroccan troops – against the port and CNT stronghold (15,000 affiliates) of Gijon. Despite CNT pleas the Socialists refused arms, Gjon fell after a bloody struggle, and became the main base for the crushing of the entire region. This Socialist and Communist sabotage of Anarchist resistance was repeated in the Civil War, less than two years later.

Finally, Morrow claims that the Friends of Durruti ‘represented a conscious break with the anti-statism of traditional anarchism. They explicitly declared the need for democratic organs of power, juntas or soviets, in the overthrow of capitalism..’(13). Typically, in Morrow’s topsy-turvy world, all anarchists like the Friends of Durruti (Morrow also includes the Libertarian Youth, the ‘politically awakened’ CNT rank and file, local FAI groups, etc.) who remained true to anarchism and stuck to their guns (often literally) – represented a break with anarchism and a move towards marxism, the revolutionary vanguard party (no doubt part of the 4th International), and a fight for the ‘workers state’...

Those anarchists, on the other hand, who compromised for ‘anti-fascist unity’ (but mainly to try and get weapons to fight Franco) are the real anarchists because ‘class collaboration...lies concealed in the heart of anarchist philosophy’ (14).

The Friends of Durruti were formed, in March 1937, by anarchist militants who’d refused to submit to Communist-controlled ‘militarisation’ of the workers’ militias. During the Maydays – the government attack against the revolution two months later – the Friends of Durruti were notable for their calls to stand firm and crush the counter-revolution. They did not ‘break with’ anarchism – they refused to compromise their anarchism in the face of ‘comrades’ who thought winning the war meant entering the government. Their leaflets, in April ’37, called for the unions and municipalities to ‘replace the state’ and for no retreat (15). Their manifesto, in 1938, repeated this call (‘the state cannot be retained in the face of the unions’), and made three demands: For a National Defence Council, elected and accountable to the union rank and file (including those at the front), with all posts up for regular recall; for ‘all economic power to the unions’; and for the ‘free municipality’ to cover those areas outside the unions’ mandate (16). More recently, Jaime Balius, one of the FoD’s main activists, has stated: ‘We did not support the formation of Soviets; there were no grounds in Spain for calling for such. We stood for “all power to the trade unions”. In no way were we politically orientated’ (17). (‘Political’ here meaning ‘state-political’ – a common anarchist use of the word).

Morrow’s book may bring comfort to those marxists who look for ready-made answers and are prepared to accept the works of hacks at face-value. Those who want to learn from the past – instead of re-writing it – will have to look elsewhere.

Notes & References

1) Felix Morrow, ‘Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain’, 2nd Edition 1974, p191.

2) Morrow p248.

3) Morrow p105.

4) Morrow p139.

5) Morrow p153.

6) Morrow p224.

7) Morrow p100.

8) Juan Gomez Casas, ‘Anarchist Organisation – the history of the FAI’, p165 and p168. Most of the information on the FAI comes from this. Also see Murray Bookchin, ‘The Spanish Anarchists, The Heroic Years, 1868-1936’.

9) See for instance Adrian Schubert ‘The Asturian Revolution of October 1934’ , in ‘Revolution and War in Spain’ ed. Paul Preston.

10) Paul Preston, ‘The Coming of the Spanish Civil War’ p117.

11) See Schubert (above). Most of the rest of this section comes from Preston ‘The Coming of the Spanish Civil War’, Bookchin (above), and Abel Paz ‘Durruti, the People Armed’.

12) Morrow p30.

13) Morrow p247

14) Morrow p101

15) Quoted in Paul Sharkey, ‘The Friends of Durruti – a Chronology’.

16) ‘Towards a Fresh Revolution’. The idea of a National Defence Council wasn’t the radical break with the CNT that some claim. Before the civil war the CNT had long has its defence groups, federated at regional and national level, and the CNT insurrection – of December 1933 – had been coordinated by a National Revolutionary Committee. During the war a national plenum of regions, in September 1936, called for a National Defence Council, with majority union representation and based on Regional Defence Councils. The Defence Council of Aragon, set up soon after, was based on these ideas. The need for coordinated revolutionary defence and attack is just common sense.

17) Letter to Ronald Frazer 1976 – in Frazer’s book ‘Blood of Spain’ p381.

La Princesa

La Princesa is an old cinema situated in the centre of Barcelona. The Spanish state owned the cinema as an inheritance from the Sindicato Vertical (the Francoist official union). A former sub-secretary of the Employment Office (Ministerio de Trabajo) sold the cinema, which now belongs to Carmen Companys, widow of the businessman Salvador Forcadell. With this paperwork, and convinced that this sale operation was illegal, some squatters arrived to the building and established their squat there. La Princesa was a forgotten place, ridden by rats, and dirt, and used by some business people to speculate with the building's value. The squatters worked fast to clean the place, and in few weeks they had the neighbours' sympathy, and started transforming an abandoned empty space into a local centre where a number of cultural activities were going to take place. In fact, Jordi Llovet, the president of the residents association of Ciutat Vella, where La Princesa cinema is, said that he supported the squatters because it was the first time in twenty years that this abandoned space had been put to any use. It didn't make any difference. The new Cððdigo Penal (the equivalent of the Criminal Justice Bill) considers that squatting is illegal, even if you enter an abandoned building without breaking in, that is, without violent means. Tension was building up, and, on the 20 of October 1996, in a music concert organised in support of the squatters, the coppers charged against the people, beating up squatters and members of the general public attending the festival.

Back to the bad old times.

Finally, on the early hours of Monday 28th of October, the big battle. 200 coppers, 20 police vans and 1 helicopter arrived at the old cinema. The squatters, behind the barricades built with old furniture on the terraces of the building, tried to defend themselves throwing objects to the police, but the coppers attacked them shooting rubber balls and using water„cannons, before entering the building (they were equipped with ladders for this purpose). Finally, the squatters were defeated and 48 people (squatters and sympathisers) were arrested. 20 people injured. All political parties (except the right wing ones, surprise, surprise) criticised the police's brutality. The situation now is that 15 people remain arrested, and 6 of them have already been on trial, with sentences between 1 and 2 years of prison. Normally, if you get a sentence of less than 2 years you don't have to go to prison. In the case of one prisioner, he got 2 years and 2 months plus 1 year for "Insumisión" (that is, for refusing to do the military service or any other social service as compensation), plus 1 year for anti-fascist stuff. Altogether, 4 years and 2 months, so he'll have to go to prison. Since that initial court case, 9 other squatters have been called to court, with expected sentences for 1-2 years. Two of them who are under eighteen have denied the allegations. The other seven have refused to testify. They are: Jorge Alberto Fernandez, Pau Vilaseca, Juan José Pareja, Gabriel Javier Vigaté, David Pocez, Luis Vicente Gil and Basilio Oko Ejaka. Another case is that of Todd Benson, an English teacher who has been sentenced for 2 years for rioting against the police... at a time when he was teaching miles away!. In spite of him providing proof of this, he has still been sentenced! He, like many of the arrested people, was guilty of being young and trying to cross the street. They need scapegoats to set an example, they need sacrificial lambs for their "new" regime, so called law and order. And they don't care.

Finally, it must be pointed out as well that there were some irregularities in the legal process. The judge taking the case did not send Mr. Arnau (the squatters' lawyer) the eviction order until three hours AFTER the police had evicted the squatters, so Mr Arnau didn't have the chance to appeal against that decision. On top of that, at the time of the eviction, the squatters were still negotiating with the owners. The judge didn't take the squatters' statements into account, because she said that the police provided more guarantee of reliability than a bunch of youngsters. Is this the new democratic Spain? Where, from the start, the coppers are always right just because they are coppers, full stop? Where an English teacher can be sentenced for 2 years for doing NOTHING? Where a group of young people doing a creative, constructive and socially positive task, and demanding a right as basic as sleeping under a roof can be imprisoned? At the moment, somesolidarity groups are carrying out a number of actions, like picketing some Tourist Agencies in Catalonia. Any ideas, letters of support, etc. will be welcomed.For more information and letters, you can write to: Assemblea d'Okupes Barna (Ateneo Llibertari@Gracia) C/Perill 52 baix Barcelona 08012 Spain Telephone: 00 34 3 458 46 37 Fax: 00 34 3 474 46 15



Take Back the Night! Demo Against Police Violence in Stocholm

On International Women's Day, there has for the last 7 years been a "Take Back the Night!" demonstration organised by the anarcha-feminists in Stockholm in the evening. Women protest against the fact that they do not feel safe to be able to walk their own streets at night.

This year, on March 8th, 70 mainly young women gathered at 9pm on the square Medborgarplatsen on the island of Södermalm which is the traditional workers quarters of the city. As in past years the demonstration went through the city streets stopping at porn shops along the way. Near one porn shop, Golden Rose, the police planned an ambush.

The police closed off both ends of the street using 27 police cars (including 4 anti-terrorist vans) and mounted police Without warning the two ends converged upon the demo. Horses from one end and batong weilding anti-terrorist police from the other.

Three young women; 18, 16 and one under the age of 16 were hospitalised Many others were beaten but out of fear have not sought medical care. In addition, many women were "frisked" by male policemen (unlawful according to Swedish law) and violated in the process.

A number of women have brought charges against the police for assault. There are even rumours that certain policemen have brought charges against their own because of the excesive use of force.

The issue was covered in the national press and in Parliament. The police have begun an internal inquiry.

On Saturday the 15th of March a demonstration against police violence was held. Approximatly 500 anarcha-feminists, anarchists and libertarian sympathisers paricipated in the march to the newly opened police station on the island of Södermalm. This is a very good turn-out for a Swedish anarchist demonstration - especially with the short notice. This demonstration has been a sort of unified rallying point for us.

Speeches were held at both the beginning and end of the demo and police presence was minimal. No permission had been applied for but the police granted it anyway! It is worth noting that the majority of the police escort were women. The resignation of the commander in charge of the attack on the anarcha-feminist demonstration was demanded.

The international protest day against police violence was mentioned in both the demo flyer and a speech. It also appeared in full in Swedens largest daily newspaper's sunday edition, Dagens Nyheter. Support from anarchists in Geneva, Switzerland was especially mentioned!

Vitrolles: The Logic of the Urns

This article was translated and abridged from Le Monde Libertaire. Vitrolles is a town in France whose council was won at recent elections by the fascist Front National. It is the fourth city run by the FN - the others are Toulon, Orange and Marignane.

Vitrolles: The Logic of the Urns (there's a pun here that English readers won't appreciate - urnes in French means both ballot boxes and funeral vases)

The socialists were too gross. They preferred to safeguard the feeble chance of taking the Mayoralty of Vitrolles by playing the republican card and trying to impose an alliance on the right. Keeping the Socialist list meant the election of the Front National mayor. The local militants who made it up, and said as much, have since been expelled from the Party. Once again politics has taken priority over the antifascist struggle and the logic of favouring the FN to divide the right can be seen.

The rules of the Game

The failure in Vitrolles of this struggle, shows a fact many find hard to accept. It's a matter of democratic principle to delegate power. At the time of the FN successes at Toulon, Marignane and Orange, the revulsion of all those shocked or well meaning was focussed on the minority aspect of the victor. That a party could, with one third of the votes and even less of those registered to vote, win a municipal election and manage the life of all was unacceptable. But they forget that all elections function this way. And that most of those who run Town halls are a "minority". Their logic implies that all parties are equal except the FN. The latter have the right to play with the others only if they stay in the role of asserting or being a scarecrow, for the 'democratic spectacle'. But if they participate fully and win, like the others, then "democracy is in danger". It's completely true.

It is doubly true when the later election of Vitrolles isn't the result of a minority vote but that of a majority vote without a saucer of irregularity or fault of the electoral code. An anti-democratic party has the right to accede democratically to power to apply their programme. It has the right because all the parties have it and, as is thought, the FN is a party like all the others (This is not a compliment!). In the same way it can take the right to interfere in the purchases of the municipal libraries because everyone else, socialists included, have done this for a long time - in all democracy!

The democratic contradiction

Is the power of the people in danger? This depends on your definition of the people. If the citizen is spoken of, it must be admitted that they only exist as a brave few and are diminishing even now, except for the privileged citizens. If it's a matter of the nation, we are already in a totalitarian world yet risk knowing other totalitarianisms more restricting. The root of the problem is the principle of delegation of power to the dictatorship of a majority - or a minority - over all.

The principle of giving, and also of losing, one's voice in elections is the basis of the democratic illusion. Article 27 of the constitution, title IV on the Parliament, which says "all imperative mandate is null" shows well the role of politics. If the MP cannot impose a vote by his group, it is one part to safeguard his role as a free arbiter and the other part to divide parliament, but it is also to recall that the nomination doesn't give any control over him by his electors. He represents then those who voted (for or against) and those who didn't or couldn't vote. An elected MP represents the whole world, not the mandates of the population, nor even of his party. This infers that in Toulon, for example, the council represents all Toulonnais, the foreigners there included.

It is the system which is at fault, not the beneficiaries in the FN. To want to deny them yet appeal to the "democratic ideal" is to admit defeat. It is to continue to deny the freedom for all to take their destiny in their own hands. We prefer the direct action and self organisation

Claude Delattre - group Humeurs noires, Lill

Brazilian Dockers Occupy Ships

As we go to press, troops are poised to intervene to break the peaceful occupation of two ships in the Brazilian port of Santos, where workers are resisting attempts to replace them with contract labour on a berth belonging to COSIPA, the São Paulo Steel Company.

According to Santos portworkers' web site and e-mail received by the Liverpool dockers, the "Marcos Dias" and the "Vancouver", moored at the COSIPA terminal, are occupied. On Monday 7th April, COSIPA requested that the Army be brought in to clear the occupation. The unions expect an imminent armed military intervention., despite assurances from the local army commander that he will not send his men unless ordered to do so by the President himself.

Some time ago, COSIPA proposed contracting out of cargo handling in their own berth, which came to a head when they obtained legal authority to impose their plans. Santos portworkers' then struck from the 2nd to the 5th of April, with a general stoppage of Brazilian ports on 4th April. On Saturday 5th April, 3 workers were injured in clashes with the Military Police. On 7th April COSIPA succeeded in gaining authority to call in the Army.

According to the Lloyds list coverage, "The crisis is being widely seen as the crunch point in the long-running drive to privatise Brazil's waterfront, with President Cardoso under heavy pressure to personally authorise the use of troops."

"Henrik Simon, a director of Hamburg Sud in São Paulo, said: "This crisis is one of the most crucial points in the privatisation push. If the government gives in on this then the whole modernisation and privatisation law comes into question.""

For more info check out the Liverpool Dockers Page on Labounet, where regular updates are posted. Http://

Contact the Brazilian portworkers by fax on 0055 13 232 4877 or email them at

What Is Anarcho-Syndicalism? - Libertarian Reformism, Vanguardism or Revolutionary Unionism?

About a dozen years ago a pamphlet published by the Direct Action Movement asserted that the (anarcho-syndicalist) International Workers' Association contained three main currents - Anarcho-Syndicalists, Revolutionary Syndicalists and Syndicalists. In reality there is no such thing as just "syndicalism", and anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism are one and the same thing.

However, the pamphlet's author, Col Longmore, was describing debates within the International between poles described in these terms. The debate is really between a kind of anarchist vanguardism (styling itself anarcho-syndicalism) and a libertarian reformism (styling itself revolutionary syndicalism). Both poles of the debate contain elements of anarcho-syndicalism, but each is being selective in its interpretation.

The vanguardists emphasise the anarchist principles, particularly opposition to class collaboration exemplified by the longstanding IWA hostility to participation in Works Councils [1] and collaboration with the state, and are keen that all actions of affiliated unions pass stringent standards of political soundness. The libertarian reformists are just as disingenuous in their emphasis on other principles, particularly apolitical membership, mass recruitment and union autonomy. For the principled anarcho-syndicalist there are merits to both viewpoints, but we fall between self-righteous stagnation on the one hand, and a drift towards class collaboration on the other.

This debate remains stillborn within the confines of the IWA today. The existence of libertarian reformist organisations is not seen as evidence of a problem facing anarcho-syndicalism as it breaks out of its sects and ghettos, to be analysed and avoided as we seek to establish a revolutionary practice in the here and now. The discourse is one of contagious treachery, exposure to which must be avoided in order to remain revolutionary. The penalty for exposure is demonisation and expulsion, and deep suspicion of any comrades with whom there is contact.

To do this debate justice it needs to take place both among and beyond the (disputed) membership of the International, because the majority of those who need to speak and to hear are those whose participation is currently taboo. For many of us revolutionary organisation poses a challenge. To meet it we need to recognise, understand and overcome the flaws in our theories, organisations and strategies that can lead to libertarian reformism. We find it bizarre that we can work with authoritarian reformists, whose organisations can teach us little about our own, but must shun libertarians from whose reformism we can learn and strengthen our own revolutionary organisation and resolve.

Revolutionary Unionism

Syndicalisme Revolutionnaire is the French term coined to describe the theory and practice of the Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT), set up by anarchists such as Emile Pouget in post-Commune France in response to the party-affiliated fragmentation and impotence of the labour movement. It stressed workers' unity and militancy and an anti-parliamentary practice based on direct action and revolution precipitated by the Social General Strike. Apoliticism (as an antidote to party-affiliated unions) and union autonomy, a result of the anarchists' federalism, were always part of its make-up.

It is worth remembering that it was French anarchists who first coined the term "libertarian" to describe themselves as a means of avoiding the post-Commune censorship, and who found that the content of their ideas and actitivities was more important than a label that carried the certainty of repression. (It would be many years before "anarchist" became a term safe for bourgeois liberals and individualists to cloak themselves in spurious radicalism with.)

The history of revolutionary labour movements is dominated by Spain, however. The lack of scope for reformist trades unionism meant that, aside from the Asturian mineworkers, the Socialist Party-affiliated Union General de Trabajo (UGT) was composed predominantly of craft unions before the industrial boom provided by Spanish neutrality in the 1914-18 War.

This left the organisation of semi-skilled and often internal migrant workers to the anarchists. Cycles of organisation and repression linked to political upheavals eventually gave birth to the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in 1910-11. The close identity of anarchism and mass labour organisation in Spain and its former colonies meant that in the Spanish-speaking world the same phenomenon as the practice of the French CGT was termed more explicitly anarcosindicalismo.

The two terms describe the same phenomenon, although in the English-speaking world Syndicalisme Revolutionnaire became "syndicalism". This is also the direct political descendent of the federalist workers' organisations affiliated to the original International Working Men's Association, for whom Michael Bakunin served as a spokesman. Indeed, the modern IWA was formed in 1922 as a reformation of that organisation. Federalist and economic, not centralist and political.

We also got the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), whose English language publications are more readily available than translations of our French and Spanish antecedents' propaganda and ideas. Technically-speaking the IWW espouse a theory called Industrial Unionism (the One Big Union), derived from the ideas of American marxist and Socialist Labour Party leader Daniel De Leon.

This is also the form of socialism espoused by Irish Republican hero James Connolly, incidentally, although you'd be hard pressed to get any "socialist republicans" to admit he was a syndicalist, and you won't find Socialism made easy, his fullest exposition of his syndicalist ideas, in the most recent edition of his complete works, either.

The only people I can think of who call themselves just Syndicalists as if it was some kind of distinct theory are Hull Syndicalists/Syndicalist Bulletin. They draw heavily on the 1930's IWW ideas expressed in Ralph Chaplin's The General Strike, which is pacifist and hostile to any activity not focussed on the workplace. It was pushing this agenda alongside an ill-concealed hostility to anarchism in the pages of Direct Action which led to their acrimonious departure from DAM in 1986.

Partly as a result of the spurious anarcho/revolutionary syndicalism split, partly to give our ideas a label in plain English and complete the translation of Syndicalisme Revolutionnaire, I prefer to use the term "revolutionary unionism". What I mean by this is anarcho-syndicalism, undiluted and without distortions.

Vanguard, what vanguard?

One problem with the use of the term anarcho-syndicalism in Britain is the fact that in the early 1980's genuine anarchists adopted the term in order to distinguish ourselves from the pacifists, hippies, liberals, individualists and eco-fascists who were able to call themselves anarchists without either understanding the term or having its meaning rammed down their throats after their teeth by aggrieved proles. Unfortunately, many of the anarchists (real ones) had as sketchy an idea of anarcho-syndicalism as the unwashed had of anarchism.

While this is partly due to the lack of concrete anarcho-syndicalist organisation and practice and of English language propaganda, the existence of both in Spain, for example, has not prevented similar problems from arising there. The real problem has to do with the legacy of (fascist) repression in the 1930's and post-war labour policies in Western Europe. The living culture of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism has been interrupted by these events, and it has been possible to dress cobblers up as anarchism without being shown up by the real thing.

A widely-held view of anarcho-syndicalism involves a misreading of history and of the role of anarchist organisations. This view can be summed up as "if you have your CNT, you need your FAI". The FAI was the Federacion Anarquista Iberica, in reality a loose federation of diverse anarchist groups embracing everyone from those who would today be termed lifestylists to those active in CNT Defence Committees.

Many anarchists misread the FAI as a vanguard organisation essential to keeping the CNT on its revolutionary course, without which it would have succumbed to the reformist tendencies fools believe to be inherent in the working class and our organisations (some "anarchists" show a remarkable consistency with leninism at times).

While the above characterisation may be over-simplified it accurately sums up the basis on which some comrades, who currently dominate the IWA, act. The role of the contemporary FAI in both the (Spanish) CNT-E and the IWA is questionable, but it continues to haunt us. Historically, it would have been both impossible and unprincipled for the FAI, or any faction, to control the CNT, or any mass anarcho-syndicalist organisation.

Although anarchists did fight reformists within the CNT in the 1930's, notably the bureaucrat Angel Pestana, they did so as anarcho-syndicalist workers preserving federalist, autonomist and democratic principles which were basic to the union's principles and culture, not as a rival leadership. There was no role for a vanguard to play because a healthy anarcho-syndicalist organisation established through class struggles dating back to the 1860's embodied a tradition and culture of libertarian organisation which belonged to the working class as a whole, not to some "revolutionary" priesthood.

The destruction of such mass organisations by fascism and the Allied victory in the 1940's has robbed us of our culture and left us nursing a shadow of it. It is unfortunate that the guardians of the shadow seem to prefer it, which they own, to the real thing, which belongs to the working class as a whole.

Post-War stagnation

The IWA suffered post-war stagnation - the CNT was in exile; the Swedish SAC was sucked into collaboration with the state in order to survive in a society dominated by social democracy, robbing the international of its last mass organisation; prominent anarcho-syndicalists like Rudolf Rocker and Augustin Souchy came out in favour of bourgeois democracy. Resistance continued in Spain, however, and provided a focus for networks of anarchists in Western Europe.

When younger revolutionaries attracted to armed resistance became active in the late '60's and the '70's as part of the re-emergence of revolutionary activity characterised by workers' militancy in Britain and the "events" of 1968, a link with our history was there. Our comrade Albert Meltzer played a key role in this process, and Black Flag is part of its legacy.

With the death of Franco in 1975, underground networks who had maintained the traditions of anarcho-syndicalism, as well as participating in armed resistance actions (both branded "terrorism" by the state), re-formed the CNT. The reaction of the exiled organisation is instructive - they denounced the militants for using the name CNT, as it was the property of the exile organisation!

Reality won through eventually, and led to a revival of the IWA in the late '70's, among the other sections were the CNT-F in France and the revived Unione Sindicale Italiano (USI). The (allegedly three) members of the Syndicalist Workers' Federation in Britain formed the Direct Action Movement in 1979 with a disparate membership of anarcho-punks, squatters, ex-Wobblies, stray Australians, etc. Since the reformation of the CNT-E was the catalyst for this revival, it took some years for the British Section - DAM - to get over a hero-worship phase towards the Spanish Section.

A long-running controversy in the IWA was the participation of the CNT-F in elections for Works Councils, for propaganda purposes on an abstentionist basis (or so we have always been told). This section was also traditionally the "revolutionary syndicalist" source of opposition to the affiliation of anarchist-dominated anarcho-syndicalist "propaganda groups", as opposed to revolutionary/anarcho- syndicalist unions only. The former issue was a matter of debate within the French CNT, but the majority position remained that unions might participate in elections on an abstentionist basis, and that this fell into the sphere of union autonomy.

Another was relations with the ex-Section in Sweden, SAC, now firmly established as a reformist union dispensing welfare to workers on behalf of the state in the Swedish mould, but with a strong pride in its libertarian traditions and a degree of militancy at odds with social democracy. SAC's pluralist political culture leads it to seek international relations with any union or political group who will deal with it, and to plead innocence when it causes offence.


Ultimately, the most damaging process has been the dispute over the CNT-E's "historic patrimony". In 1939 the victorious nationalists seized the assets of both the CNT and the UGT. Part of the process of "restoring democracy" was the return of these assets to those unions, the greater share of which belonged to the majority union in Spain at the time - the CNT. The attraction of the money caused two splits from the CNT to unite and claim that they were the real, "Renovated" CNT, and that the anarcho-syndicalist organisation recognised by the IWA was merely a rump living in the past.

Since the patrimony was held by the state, the CNT went to court to settle the dispute, causing varying degrees of disquiet among anarcho-syndicalists worldwide. While officially maintaining loyalty to the CNT-AIT and denying the lie that there were two CNT's in Spain, other IWA Sections sought clarification of the CNT-E's position and to express concern over an anarcho-syndicalist union asking the state to establish its credentials.

Muddying the waters was the SAC, who offered assistance (financial) to "both CNT's", which the phoney, reformist organisation accepted, and the CNT-AIT refused - partly due to SAC's dealings with the rival claimants, and partly due to official IWA hostility to SAC dating back to the dispute over which SAC disaffiliated in the '50's.

SAC has always claimed innocent neutrality in its defence, but this is the neutrality of the arms dealer, prolonging the dispute and increasing the bitterness both in Spain and towards itself. I strongly suspect that had SAC offered assistance only to the CNT-AIT the original dispute would have been regarded as an irrelevance.

Bizarrely, among those championing the "two CNT's" theory were the anti-syndicalist anarchists who endorse the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, among them the newly-formed Anarchist-Communist Federation in Britain. Strangely, those who are convinced that anarcho-syndicalism is reformist, and who have adopted a neo-council communist line on unions [2], are the first to endorse libertarian reformists who claim to be anarcho-syndicalist (particularly in France where there is a proliferation of both groups) even as they make denunciation of the real thing their distinguishing characteristic in the "revolutionary" marketplace.

The root cause of the splits in Spain had been participation in Works Councils, which although associated with the European Union and the Maastricht Treaty's Social Chapter are the direct descendants of the fascist corporatism of the Franco regime in Spain. The CNT-AIT promoted the idea of the Union Section - shopfloor organisation represented by directly-elected, recallable delegates - in opposition to the Works Councils, which are a form of industrial parliamentarism.

Eventually, the courts ruled in favour of the CNT-AIT, and the "CNT-R" was forced to change its name to CGT. At the XVIII Congress of the IWA held in Bordeaux at Easter 1988 the dispute was still in the hands of the judges, and a source of friction between the CNT-E and other sections. The attitude of some Spanish delegates, and of their General Secretary, Garcia Rua, to any query about the CNT-E's attitude towards other sections and the use of courts (ie collaboration with the state) was openly hostile. It was also obvious that some of our "comrades" in Spain regard the IWA as their overseas auxiliaries, not fellow anarcho-syndicalists working under different conditions.

The problems this caused led the members of the CNT-E National Committee present to soften the organisation's attitude, and to decide that the IWA Secretariat should not be drawn from members of the Spanish Section. It was eventually forced on a member of the German Section, the Freie Arbeiterinnen und Arbeiter Union (FAU).

While the move of the Secretariat led to greater openness in the International, and vastly improved communication, particularly for non-Spanish speaking sections, the personality of the General Secretary and his relationship with the Section from which he had been chosen [3] caused a lot of problems. This led to the Secretariat returning to Spain in 1992 - two steps forward, one step back as it turned out.

The French dispute

Having settled the patrimony dispute to the satisfaction of the CNT-E, the attention of the IWA turned to expansion, particularly in Eastern Europe in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet system, and also in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This is still a source of strength and hope for the international, but sectarianism [4] continues to dominate.

Among those lending support to the CNT-E in the patrimony dispute was a Swiss groupuscule calling itself Les Amis de l'AIT (Friends of the IWA), which specialised in exposing the dubious associations of those supporting the future CGT in Spain. As a reward for this they were awarded the status of "Friends of the IWA", which is neither a Section nor a Candidate seeking affiliation, but has a de facto privileged status nevertheless.

Having reached an impasse through the proper channels, the minority within the CNT-F who were implacably opposed to any involvement with Works Councils or elections to them decided to internationalise the dispute. This they did by engineering a split (although outwardly conciliatory, the majority appeared quite happy to let this happen), and demanding the IWA Secretariat recognise them, not the majority, as the true IWA Section in France.

Quite rightly the General Secretary declined to interfere in the internal business of a Section, and for this he was vilified by the Swiss, who then offered themselves as "impartial mediator" in the dispute! Matters spilled over at a Plenary of the IWA held in London in 1994, which involved provocative dossier flicking by the minority faction, known as "Bordeaux" who claimed that some of the unions in France had only one member, and were a paper majority. It culminated in a walkout by the minority faction from the next Plenary in Cologne when they weren't endorsed as the sole representatives of the French Section.

This coincided with the build-up of an increasingly poisonous atmosphere in Spain, sparked by the receipt of the patrimony from the state, and disputes about its distribution. Certainly the then General Secretary of the IWA was under pressure from his Section, in breach of the rules, to take sides in the French dispute. Eventually he resigned under the pressure.

The legacy of the patrimony dispute, and the corrupting influence of the money, has had an impact on the nature of the CNT-E. Small, unpopular unions run by those whose families have traditionally been associated with the CNT have received money, and are now no longer dependent on the support of the larger unions.

Those who see the CNT and anarcho-syndicalism as their property, forced to compromise in 1975, have taken revenge on the modern CNT. The majority of the CNT in Catalunya has been expelled. In international terms the clock has turned back to 1988, and the Spanish Section is now dominated by those who see the IWA as merely its auxiliary.

This process has been confirmed at the XX Congress of the IWA, held at Madrid in December 1996. The CNT-E tried to exclude one of the parties to each dispute - in France and Italy - at the stage of confirmation of credentials, before any debate had taken place. Attempts to investigate the disputes fully, in order to have sufficient information to make the right decision, were rejected. This led to only two Sections voting to expel the majority in France and the Rome-based split of USI - CNT-E and Norway's NSF.

The rest abstained due to insufficient information, and the British Section were told by the hosts that they were not following their mandate in an attempt to get another vote for expulsion. In fact the Solidarity Federation's mandate was based on full investigation and reconciliation where possible, and it is a measure of the proprietorial attitude of the host Section that they should regard another Section's delegates as accountable to them.

The decision to expel the majority in France was greeted by cheering from many Spanish observers and the bus-load of "Bordeaux" CNT-F who had turned up. An atmosphere of intimidation and confusion was encouraged by the hosts, and exploited to slip through changes to the Principles of Revolutionary Unionism and the Statutes of the IWA without proper discussion or consideration of their implications. A comrade from the British Section was abused by another from Spain when trying to establish some order and clarity from the chair.

Principled anarcho-syndicalists now face the prospect of spending the next four years trying to repair the damage, and in all likelihood such a course will attract the attentions of the smear-machine which runs the Swiss franchise - sold to Les Amis de L'AIT in return for political support for the sectarians.

Laying down the line

The majority CNT-F has retained its name - it was affiliated to the IWA, but existed in its own right - and is consistent with its own traditions, warts and all. By not investigating the French and Italian disputes thoroughly, the IWA has wasted an opportunity to get at the truth (we think we've been misled or lied to by both sides), and to examine the relevance of anarcho-syndicalism in the real world. It has also missed an opportunity to identify how an anarcho-syndicalist union can drift towards libertarian reformism.

Worse, the Statutes of the International have been amended to create "conditions for disaffiliation" (expulsion), which include:

"A) Failure to comply with the Principles, Tactics and Aims of the IWA." (My italics.)

The word "Tactics" also now appears in the Conditions of Affiliation. There are no "IWA Tactics". This is saying that no section has the right to tactical freedom, or to allow union autonomy. We await the party line, based on the assumption that Spanish conditions are universal. Opposition to Works Councils, in the guise of opposition to class collaboration, has now been elevated to a universal principle, rather than being a matter for sections. We were supposed to be becoming less eurocentric.

Similarly, an attempt to update the Principles of Revolutionary Unionism by adding two points, on Environmentalism and on forms of oppression not economic in origin (race, gender, sexuality, etc), has had a negative outcome. Both points were proposed by the Solidarity Federation. The point about environmentalism was accepted. On the other point we suddenly found ourselves in Militant....

The Solidarity Federation proposed:

"Revolutionary unionism is opposed to all hierarchies, privileges and oppressions, not simply those which are economic in origin. It recognises that oppression can be based on race, gender, sexuality or any other perceived or actual difference, and that these oppressions both must be fought for their own sake, and because they are fundamental to the maintenance of capitalism. However, all oppression, whatever its origin, has an economic aspect and is based on a power relationship. Concepts of "equality" which fail to recognise this fact, and any attempt to fight discrimination without also attacking hierarchy and privilege based on class will chiefly benefit hitherto excluded sections of privileged classes, and will not end discrimination against those without class privileges, even where they achieve some short term gains."

What was drawn up by a Congress Commission and passed without proper discussion was (amendment in italics):

"6 Revolutionary unionism rejects all parliamentary activity and all collaboration with legislative bodies. It holds that even the freest voting system cannot bring about the disappearance of the clear contradictions at the centre of present day society. The parliamentary system has only one goal: to lend a pretence of legitimacy to the reign of falsehood and social injustice. Revolutionary unionism does not recognise differences other than those of the economic order, national or regional, the result of these being the emergence of hierarchies, privileges and oppressions of every type (for race, sex, sexuality, or whatever difference, perceived or real)."

Try arguing with black workers that racism merely divides the working class, and is a diversion from the real struggle, rather than it is oppressive and must be fought in its own right, but is not independent of capitalism and class. I know what they think of that position, because I've seen the left, with their commitment to a 19th century universalism derived from the pseudo-science of marxism, try it. It's patronising. This is nearly the 21st century, the IWA has responded to the lessons of black, women's and gay liberation by diving back into the 19th.

Federalism, which includes such principles as regional and union autonomy, encourages diversity. At its XX Congress the IWA has subtly, possibly unintentionally, moved away from federalism and betrayed its anarcho-syndicalist heritage because of a preoccupation with sectarian disputes and the proprietorial attitude of the CNT-E towards both the IWA and anarcho-syndicalism. The challenge facing revolutionary unionists is to be true to our heritage, and to apply our principles to the world we live in, rather than retreating into what is familiar.

Principles in practice

Article 4, Part D of the Statutes of the International Workers' Association now reads:

"Revolutionary unionism rejects class collaboration, which is characterised by the participation in committees organised under corporate state schemes, (for example in union elections for company committees) and the acceptance of state subsidies which maintain union officials and other practices that can distort anarcho-syndicalism."

This is all very well but it assumes the Spanish model of industrial relations is universal, which it clearly isn't. Any potential anarcho-syndicalist union in Britain seeking recognition under Labour's proposed law to grant it to any union gaining a vote of 50% of the workforce in a (state sponsored) ballot would find itself in a tricky situation. If you can't deliver to your members, and you can't strike over everything, they will go elsewhere. OK, you strike for recognition, but your members will be lured to a reformist outfit who will use the law.

This new Article also puts question marks over such things as facility time for union representatives, and any participation in collective bargaining machinery. While ideally anyone would rather all management initiatives were rejected out of hand, sometimes they can be neutralised, or problesm avoided through talking.

We can play a double game in reformist unions, but impossible conditions are expected of a revolutionary union. There has to be room for union autonomy, and for people to make mistakes so that they can learn. As one French comrade once put it: "anarcho-syndicalism is like free speech, useless if you don't practise it."

This is the kind of dilemma that has faced anarcho-syndicalists on the continent. You recruit workers to your union on the basis of direct democracy, recallable delegates, control by the rank and file and direct action. Inevitably, they are not all anarchists, and are not committed to every dot and comma of the IWA Statutes, but there's nothing wrong with that because it's an anarcho-syndicalist union, not a disciplined party. You make some progress in getting revolutionary ideas across, and build up a libertarian culture of self-organisation.

Then you run up against a conflict between your apolitical membership (described above) and federalist union autonomy on the one hand, and too rigid an interpretation of anarchist principles on the other. Now, it's a mistake to base commitment to a union on a ballot, rather than on solidarity built up through a strike, but recognition on more than paper is going to lead to the latter after you've won the former. You learn (collectively) from the mistake. However, you are not allowed to make mistakes, and you've all been disaffiliated for breaching IWA Statutes.

In an anarchist journal like this it is easy to understand the thinking behind the IWA Statutes, but in the real world choices are harder. In France, in the private sector, CNT-F claims that Works Councils are the only means of gaining recognition. CNT-F unions have sought election to them, a grave error, but one you don't get to make twice. The natural consequence of union autonomy, an anarcho-syndicalist principle, is tactical flexibility. In Spain too, anarchists whose ex-CNT-E unions were expelled have ended up in the CGT.

To demonise these unions and their members is a grave error, because there are anarcho-syndicalists in them too. What is needed is communication, honesty and full information. The reason anarcho-syndicalism is advocated by this journal instead of disciplined political groups is because it establishes a libertarian, revolutionary culture within the wider working class. Without such a culture there can not be a successful social revolution, because that can only be made by the working class as a whole.

To put on a tactical straitjacket will prevent us gaining a mass audience for anarcho-syndicalism, without which it is pointless. We need to accept this, and to strike a working balance. Reformism is a real danger, we need to learn from other's mistakes, but we will learn nothing from retreating into sectarianism.

Where the Solidarity Federation stands at present we have an opportunity to avoid both errors, which are the product of a split, which has been manipulated by libertarian reformists and opportunists on the one hand, and vanguardists on the other. We must stick to our principles, but appreciate that the relevance of a hardline stance is going to be directly proportional to the level of hostility of the boss. Most fruitful will be areas where there is discontent and potential militancy, but no established union and negotiating structures.

If workers learn to organise the anarcho-syndicalist way, they will be sceptical of the reformist way. The top-down approach of the TUC affiliates scared of their members opens the way for us. Revolutionary unionists need to fill the vacuum they leave, by organising to win small victories around health and safety and other basic conditions, to organise education and briefing sessions on real issues, and to promote libertarian organisation, direct action methods and revolutionary goals as a practical package for establishing rights for workers.

Peter Principle


[1] Works Councils are advocated by the European Union as part of its Social dimension. They are consultative bodies composed of annually-elected representatives. They have no power to negotiate and are a means of bypassing unions, and introducing individualised relationships between the workers and the company. They are consistent with the fascist idea of corporatism, denying differences of class interest and promoting social harmony. The Solidarity Federation is opposed to them, the TUC is sceptical, being in favour of collective bargaining. Labour....

[2] Many left or council communists believe that all unions are inherently reformist, and are barriers to workers' militancy, let alone revolution. Workers' experience of unions as their own organisations, and shopfloor organisations self-organised character are dismissed out of hand. The contradiction between the shopfloor union which belongs to the workers and the corporate body which has a stake in capitalism, hence the behaviour of its bureacracy, is not recognised, and cannot, therefore, be exploited. But if you are against workers' organisation except under revolutionary conditions you can slag off everyone under the guise of being more revolutionary than they are.

[3] While in office, the General Secretary and the other members of the IWA Secretariat cease to be members of their Section. This is intended to remove them from any pressure, and to ensure their neutrality. Unfortunately, it has not worked like that when the General Secretary has come from either Germany or Spain in recent years. In the case of the 1988-1992 period of office, a dispute between the General Secretary and FAU over its direction overshadowed the work of the Secretariat. When the Secretariat has been in Spain it has not always looked beyond the Spanish-speaking world.

[4] By sectarian I mean requiring the working class to share your own political perspective, rather than applying revolutionary principles to the reality experienced by the working class. Revolutionary ideas come from the working class and its traditions of self-organisation. As well as federalism, anarchism and by extension anarcho-syndicalism draw on the practice of the sans culottes in the French Revolution of 1789-1792. Kropotkin's history of those events is a good grounding in anarchist theory. The left often use sectarianism to mean attacking other political groups, but it is the sense of insularity which is damaging, and which I refer to here.

French CNT Win Legal Abortion Case

As we reported in BF 210, a prominent right wing anti abortion politician, Christine Boutin, was suing the French CNT. We are happy to report that Mme Boutin has lost her case, after nearly a year. The court found that the CNT's polemic against her, comparing her positions with those of the wartime Vichy regime which collabarated with the nazis, while "effected in a scathing tone" was not outside the bounds of political polemic. The CNT states that it can only feel comforted in its determination to fight for the right of women to freely control their own bodies.

Announcement: Albert Meltzer

Albert Meltzer's ashes will be scattered in the CNT section of Montjuich cemetary in Barcelona on Sunday 20th July. If you are interested in attending, please contact us for more details.


Published by Lancaster ABC-SG, PO Box 891, Lancaster PA 17608 USA (hopefully available from AK, Edinburgh and Active Dist, BM Active, London WC1N 3XX)

Maroon Russell Shoats is a black New Afrikan political prisoner. He was jailed for actions in support of the Black Panther Party in 1972, serving multiple life sentences.

This pamphlet contains two essays by Maroon on control units. A control unit is a special section within a prison designed to hold prisoners that the administration has decided must be locked up for 23 hours a day. It is different from normal solitary because it is indefinite. The essays aim to show how such regimes do nothing to reform and only produce even more embittered individuals who return to the poor communities they are from and wreak more havoc. Control units try to destroy the prisoner as functional individuals, the reasoning being that they would then no longer be a threat. The origin of these ideas are traced to the behaviourism of people like B.F Skinner and the experience of prisoners of war subdued by Chinese communist and North Korean mind control methods. That these practices are dehumanising doesn't bother the authorities. As Maroon states, "Our collective welfare demands that we do everything within our power to bring about an end to this form of imprisonment."

The crucial thing to remember is that the US wants to imprison more people so that it's economy can compete with low wage Asian economies, and this is done by the growing amount of prison labour, used by companies such as Microsoft and TWA at times.

Prisons in America are big business (coming here soon) and rehabilitation programmes, whether run by liberal organisations, churches, or the Nation of Islam are a threat to the system. If prisoners come out and fit back into society, the State will find it hard to send them back to prison. Bear in mind that someone was given life under California's reactionary 3 strikes system for stealing a slice of pizza. This system has no interest in rehabilitation, only in perpetuating itself as a multi-billion dollar business. Therefore, such units are not just an issue for those inside and their families and friends, but indirectly affect the ability of workers outside to defend their pay and conditions.


Available for £5 (payable to S.Cope) from Box 26, 56a Infoshop, 56a Crampton St London SE17

The 1926 Committee (or their earlier incarnation The Proles) have played at some of the best benefits I've been at in the last 6 years or so. Whether anti-poll tax, Liverpool dockers, Albert Meltzer's Birthday and funeral - whatever cause the movement has supported they've been there, in dusty halls or on picket lines. Here's your chance to repay that hard work and get yourself some right good anarcho-folk-pop at the same time.

Unlike so many worthy but dull anarcho bands, the 1926 Committee treat songwriting and musicianship as crafts. This tape contains ten tracks, played in a variety of styles. My favourite, just for its sass and humour, is "Attitude Problem", a chirpy little number about having pride in your class and not falling for all this classless society bullshit. I defy anyone working class not to find themselves somewhere in this song!

Some songs are explicitly political, like "Wandsworth Prison" and "Viva Zapata!". Others explore the everyday resistance inherent in even small acts, like finding your voice and having the confidence to sing, such as "Shattering Silence". Either way, the politics run right through, and the politics are good.

My biggest surprise came with the bluesy piano arrangement on "On The Blade", a song I didn't really like the first times I heard it. This works really well and Steve gets to show off his voice, which is strong and human.

I'm writing this review while listening to that great Wobbly singer Utah Philips. That the 1926 Committee can stand alongside him on a tape recorded in a living room is testament to their ability. If you like our music real and rootsy, buy this one.


Posted By

Apr 3 2018 13:08


Black Flag magazine

Attached files


tyneside anarchist
Aug 19 2018 14:09

1996 (late)

Aug 19 2018 17:47

Thanks! I'll change that.