On the occasion of the Founding Congress of the New International, a member of anarcho-syndicalist union CNT interviewed its foreign secretary Miguel Pérez, on the ins and outs of the event. As a note, Freedom does not have a position re: the split with the IWA which produced the new international, and readers are encouraged to check out comments from both groups.
Can you describe the process that has led to this founding congress?
Well, the process as such starts at the XI Congress of CNT, in Zaragoza, in December 2015. There it was decided to immediately launch a process of founding a new international. So we could not know, but it seems that we were touching a sensitive fiber of anarcho-syndicalism worldwide, given the immense interest that has been generated and the perceived need for an operational international.
Be that as it may, several sister organisations, such as FAU of Germany, USI of Italy and the historic FORA of Argentina joined the project. Immediately we realised that the process was going to be long and that it was better to walk slowly, always seeking consensus, to have an International that would avoid falling into the mistakes of the past and that responded to the current needs of anarcho-syndicalism on a global level. From there, we convened the Barakaldo International Conference in November 2016, to which we invited a series of related unions to present our proposal. From that moment, the organisations that had decided to join the process, we began to work in the organisation of this founding congress, which we reached more than two years after the beginning of the journey.
The process has been difficult at times because all the member organisations are horizontal (as it can not be otherwise), with decision-making processes from the bottom up, and we have often had to extend the calendar to ensure that the deadlines and internal processes of each were respected. For example, in CNT we have held three confederal plenums in which the theme of the International has been discussed. In fact, in successive stages, the agreements taken in these plenary sessions have constituted the main columns of the project. The most obvious example is the founding congress itself, whose central papers are from the unions of Compostela and Valladolid.
Personally, I want to say that I have always been impressed by the maturity of the organisation in these debates and the opportunity and relevance of the agreements made. Nothing speaks better than the consensus that they have generated among all the other sections of the International.
What motivates you the most in the creation of the New International?
In the first place, I believe that the capacity of our organisations to bring such a long and complicated process to a successful conclusion speaks volumes about the maturity that anarcho-syndicalist organisations have achieved in recent years, globally. This holds great potential, which I hope the new International will help develop.
Afterwards, it seems to me that to a large extent the ideas of internationalism, in the libertarian and unionist sphere in general, but also beyond, was very distorted. For a long time it seemed that it was enough to be included in a formal international and hold meetings regularly to be an internationalist, although often that project lacked content beyond the occasional collaboration or symbolic support. This has given rise to international structures that are empty shells, without much content inside, but with all the paraphernalia of large global projects. In fact, it is not necessary to go to the international arena to understand why this happens. Anyone can see that in a co-ordination of any size the activity of relatively inactive groups can only be formal and symbolic. That is why from this secretariat we have always insisted that internationalism can only emerge as an extension of the work of the sections in the local territory. It is not, as it was erroneously interpreted, the size of the sections or their number, but whether they enthusiastically address a project to build a revolutionary trade union alternative in their local area, and that from there they converge with others at the international level to help this local project to develop.
In that sense, I believe that we are now in a position to provide tools to build a model of internationalism that goes beyond symbolism and is built as a positive complement to the local activity of the sections. Undoubtedly, this requires exploring new forms of solidarity and joint work among the sections, whose co-ordination should be closer and more flexible as well. There is a lot to develop in this sense, but there is also a lot of desire and enthusiasm.
It may seem paradoxical that internationalism, understood in this way, starts from the local and returns to the territory, but if it is put forward in another way, it does not offer relevance for the daily work of its members. I hope that, at last, internationalism will no longer be a medal that organisations hang on their chests and becomes a reality that provides resources and content to the local reality of the sections. It seems to me that this new International is the opportunity to achieve it.
What proposals do you see more positive in the face of the founding Congress of the New International?
In my opinion, it is very positive that the proposals presented clearly go in the direction of building an International that responds to the model I have explained before. On the one hand, it seeks to explore all possible and necessary forms of solidarity and joint work, from shared formation and debate, to support in union conflicts, joint campaigns, defense against repression, shared resources, etc. The report from Valladolid makes an exhaustive list of possibilities in this regard. There is no doubt that some can be developed better than others, depending on the needs and possibilities of the sections, that over time we will imagine more forms of cooperation, etc. But as a starting point I think it marks an ambitious goal and proposes a very wide range of tasks, how it has to be. You will not miss work in the new International from the first moment!
On the other hand, the Compostela proposal defines a flexible structure, which seeks, precisely, to facilitate this coordination between sections. I know that the presentation is made by compañeras and compañeros who have been accompanying the process of the new International from the beginning and it is clear that there is a deep reflection on the mistakes made in the past. It is evident that the existence of a relationship committee seeks to facilitate the flow of information between sections and the development of direct proposals for collaboration between them. Precisely, that is what it is about.
The most remarkable thing is the synergy that occurs between both papers, which complement each other perfectly. Undoubtedly, there will be much to polish in the months and years to come, but this fact constitutes, in my opinion, an irrefutable proof that our reflection on internationalism is already framed in a new, much more promising horizon. It also seems extremely positive to me that this has been understood by the other sections, which have taken both papers as base documents to be discussed at the congress.
In what fields do you think that the New International is more likely to be useful to workers?
It is time for our international organisations to start making positive contributions to the development of their local sections. From the moment that anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism are no longer just useful, but necessary for workers and workers from all over the globe, an International that contributes to their development and settlement can only be positive. In this sense, sharing experiences, training and resources would be a first step in many cases.
In addition, often working conditions, wages and life in a territory are determined by the place occupied in a global chain of production and consumption. An international organisation is in a position to provide perspective and analysis to this global structure and to provide the framework in which to plan a response. There is no doubt that our resources will be very limited in this regard for a long time, but the objective is to move forward so that we can tackle the response to large global processes.
Finally, in the sense of the above, international solidarity has to materialise in acts that go beyond issuing communiqués or holding solidarity pickets. The concrete form of this solidarity will depend, of course, on each particular case, on the needs of the sections involved, etc. but the new International should tend to propose joint processes and projects that respond to these needs according to their possibilities. These cases should be addressed with imagination, creativity and resolution and in that sense, the role of the relationship committee can be fundamental in facilitating these processes.
What challenges does this New International face in the short, medium and long term?
Well as the anarchist newspaper says, everything is to be done. The first obvious step is to build the scaffolding decided in the congress and organise to put the first projects in motion. A few months of very serious work await the new International to get going. Also, like anyone who has a new device, you have to learn to manage it. That is to say, it will be necessary to see how the operating methods that are decided materialise in practice, how to safely overcome the failures that are detected and develop an organisational culture and ethics. All this will happen over time, but it is evident that it is the immediate objective of the new International.
In the medium term, new forms of collaboration and solidarity should be planned and enacted. As we advance in this process, it is expected that we will begin to see more instances in which internationalism is incorporated into the daily practice of the sections in the local terrain. This will be a gradual process, in which progress will be made as the new International proves itself capable of responding to local needs. To a certain extent it is a process that has already begun, but we will not know its true potential until it begins to be seriously deployed, once the International is set up and put into operation. In this sense, it seems to me that the objective should not be so much to increase the number of sections that make up the International but to strengthen the relationship between its components. Of course, contacts will be expanded with all the anarcho-syndicalist groups that are interested, at a global level, but I believe that the priority must be to give content to international solidarity and to lay solid foundations for joint work. If the new International manages to do this, it will ensure that it has the interest of those organisations that seek to raise a real revolutionary trade union alternative and not just to put on a label. Any growth, to have a foundation, must be given organically, starting from work relationships.
I believe the priority must be to give content to international solidarity and to lay solid foundations for joint work. If the new International manages to do this, it will ensure that it has the interest of those organisations that seek to raise a real revolutionary trade union alternative and not just to put on a label. Any growth, to have a foundation, must organic, starting from working relationships.
And in the long term, the planetary social revolution, right?
Finally, can you make any general assessment of the international political and economic landscape, from a global point of view?
From my point of view, and this is a personal opinion, obviously, the main characteristic of the current world, at a political and intellectual level, is the absence of a revolutionary project of social transformation. For the first time since the emergence of modernity, Western culture seems to have exhausted its dialectic of internal opposition. If since the 17th century, at least on a purely intellectual level, there has always been a tension between different currents within Western societies, this has disappeared, as a conscious and articulated form, since the failure of Marxism, the defeat manu militari of anarchism and the domestication of the labor movement.
This translates into a series of very obvious symptoms: the inability of the left to propose alternatives, even conceptual ones, to the current systems; the repetition of mantras or clinging to obsolete models on the part of the recalcitrant sectors, for example, launching once again electoral projects that can not lead to anything or clinging to international ones that are not operative; the absolute disorientation of oppositional mobilisations, the return to nationalism and xenophobia of those who do not recognise themselves in a left without a project; the rise of populism based on fear and uncertainty etc.
I realise the enormity of this statement. Nor would it be easy to find examples that contradict it, something otherwise normal in such a broad approach. I think it would be the exceptions that confirm the rule. In any case, the characteristics of the global political and economic panorama are symptoms of this fundamental problem. It is urgent, therefore, to face the many negative aspects of the situation, to put on the table again a revolutionary project of social transformation on a planetary scale. And to do it in a practical way, not only in the discourse or in the theoretical level, that also. That is to say, the task that we face is nothing less than to articulate a project where all the projects have been exhausted and to do it, in addition, so that it affects the current social reality and that allows the incorporation of broad layers of the population. I sincerely believe that this can only be done in a libertarian key, through non-hierarchical organisation from the base and rejecting the siren songs of electoralism, betting on self-management and direct action.
In that sense, it seems to me that we are often not aware of the role played by the current CNT, as a node in this context. Not the only one, of course, and of course improvable in many ways. But it seems to me that our trade union model, the agreements of our last congresses, the 10 point program recently approved by Catalan comrades, the effective incorporation of a gender perspective into our practice, etc.; all this speaks of an important effort to land proposals that are consequently revolutionary and transformative, anarcho-syndicalist, in a concrete social, economic and political context. No doubt one could do better in an ideal situation, we advance by trial and error, and we make mistakes and mistakes many times, but we advance.
Returning to the international arena, attempts are being made to fill this void of broad revolutionary projects with very imaginative proposals and equally grounded in concrete situations. Almost without hesitation, the most obvious and interesting case is Rojava and Democratic Confederalism. But that is not a reason to ignore the role of the CNT and other sister organisations in this global sphere. In recent years our international projection has skyrocketed and a well-deserved interest in our model and our proposals has been awakened. I believe that the new international has a very important role to play in this regard, as a projection to the global level of this will to be a revolutionary alternative, and I am confident that it will be able to shape this much needed practical and theoretical project.
This article is an edited machine translation of an interview conducted for the CNT website