This is a transcript for Smash the Class, Episode 7.
Table of Contents
- A Short History of the CNT
- Mujeres Libres
- So Where Does That Leave Us?
- Interview with Mireia
Throughout the past few decades, and definitely even longer than that, we have noticed some worrying patterns within anarchist spaces. There are far too many examples of organisations purging members who are sexual abuse victims and working with groups who advocate against gender non-conforming people. We’ve been seeing an increase in the number of cases where, in particular, anarcho-syndicalist organisations have been engaging in various forms of sabotage against internal working groups they claim to support, which makes us ask ourselves a lot of questions about what the role of anarcho-syndicalist unions can and should be in our time.
In theory, anarcho-syndicalist unions are there for the workforce to fight against capitalism. In practice, there are a lot of internal power struggles in these organisations that, in most cases, end with either huge membership purges or the act of more controlling members silently pushing out and ostracising people who they claim to have been either “too difficult” or “causing problems.” They intentionally, even if quietly, continue to exclude those who are already excluded, and it often results in the disintegration of internal working groups and any related work that they had been doing.
This brings up an interesting question that, as educators who have knowledge of anarcho-syndicalist unions’ historical importance in educating and organising people, we must ask: If our anarcho-syndicalist unions still fail to recognise many of the axes of oppressions and to actually engage with them, are they in fact truly outdated for our fights in this century, in the middle of a climate crisis, and with fascism on the rise again?
For today’s podcast, we’d like to present a little example of how internal power struggles based on hierarchies in combination with patriarchal and neoliberal values, can result in self-sabotaging processes that have weakened anarchism and our capacity to fight for ourselves. We will present the example of the CNT, starting with a short historical introduction, connecting it to the foundation of Mujeres Libres, and then to more recent splits and conflicts that have shaped what they are now.
Later in this episode we’ll also be talking with Mireia with regards to organising within anarcho-syndicalist spaces. She first was in the CGT and then in the CNT, and it’s her experience with the latter we intend to focus on.
It is also important to recognise that the branches of the CNT are not the only groups who have engaged in behaviour and rhetoric that is harmful to the members they claim to support. The CNT is not the first group, nor will it be the last, to positively engage with transphobes and abuse apologists. You can find a number of parallels across many of the anarcho-syndicalist unions in the world, and they are even found within other informal and grassroots anarchist groups that do not focus on labour struggles. We have included links to some examples in the show notes, and we encourage you to engage with them and recognise this pattern for yourselves so that we can work to upend this phenomenon.
It’s first important to note that the history of an organisation that has been around as long as the CNT has been and has done so many things throughout that time can be complicated. This is not meant to be a comprehensive history, but it is a short overview that we feel is necessary to create some context for where they are today and how they got there.
Labour movements have existed in Europe for centuries, but most of the well-documented ones have taken place since the development of capitalism and throughout the industrial revolutions. In the 19th century, and with the emergence of the first European nation-states, the Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores (AIT) had started its work of gathering many different kinds of workers to fight against oppression and exploitation. In Spain, organised worker groups had existed since the 1850s, but it was after contact with comrades from the First International who were influenced by Mikhail Bakunin’s thought that these organisations became more connected to each other and common across the country. In 1870, the Federación Regional Española (FRE) was founded as part of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA).
In general, this first regional organisation had a range of different political views with regards to socialism, and after several years the workers realised that the new unions founded at the beginning of the 20th century were seeking neither social nor economic revolution and liberation. Anarchist thought and practices crystallised from the FRE into what is now known as the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in 1910, which came about after several episodes of resistance against the Spanish monarchy, the Catholic church, and capitalist forces.
Between 1923 and 1930, under the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, the CNT were outlawed. Primo de Rivera’s particular form of fascism focused on guaranteeing workers better labour contracts and promoting programs that supported professional and promotional development in order to quell the wave of anger from workers. However, he openly refused to work with those he claimed were “bad” workers and organisations associated with them. When he was talking about supposed “bad” workers, he was actually referring to anarcho-syndicalists and communists. The dictatorship went so far as to openly outlaw the CNT, even as it worked with the socialist party. Primo de Rivera and his dictatorship specifically worked with the socialists only as far as it would isolate the anarcho-syndicalists, curtail the communists, and benefit his other causes. This included the “domestication” and “nationalisation” of socialism, attaching it to the state through corporatist policies. Overall, Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship was a time of major development of such policies, something which was also happening nearby in Italy under Mussolini.
Following this period was that of the Second Republic and the Spanish Civil War, taking place throughout the decade of the 1930s. During this time, the CNT was again legalised and able to regroup, becoming a more prominent force throughout Spain, though it functioned primarily in Catalunya. They initially offered support to the Second Republic, with some of the members in the CNT choosing to work within the governmental structures. However, as they found themselves in constant confrontation with republican forces during successive general strikes, their support for the Republic waned. Throughout this time, workers and unionists faced severe repression, most of which was largely subsidised by industrialists who ensured the strength of strike-breaking police and military forces by providing them with hundreds of thousands of pesetas.
This is the period that the CNT is most well-known for, and it is the one that a lot of people tend to refer back to when talking about them. This particular growth of the CNT’s membership took place during an increase in fascist movements in Europe, which included the growing presence of the fascist Nazi forces in Morocco and other parts of North Africa. Workers in several Spanish cities refused to participate in sending arms to the military in Morocco and organised defenses against Franco’s forces across Spain.
A constant theme for the CNT would be related to the multiple factions that existed within it and the many different external collaborations they engaged in, particularly as some people were attempting to grab positions of power that would give them access to decision-making processes and resources. This would include the ways in which the CNT leadership excluded women, leading to the foundation of Mujeres Libres, which will be presented later.
In the beginning of the 1930s, there was a common belief within the CNT that they could work with and inside of governmental structures to help achieve their goals. As a result, this time is also when it became much easier to recognise the internal conflicts within the CNT that were due to the many different paths that its members wanted to take. Some wanted to remain organised within the union, focusing on building a solid workers’ movement. Others went on to become more politically active in the local governments, choosing to either enter parliament or support those who did. For the militants of the FAI and CNT, this participation was later rejected as a result of repression by the coalitions of their rivals who continually tried to move against them. It’s often cited that the street fights that took place in May 1937 across Catalunya between members of the CNT and a coalition of communists and republicans was the start of the more militant members refusing to participate in governmental structures.
This would go on until roughly 1939, when the Second Republic dissolved at the completion of the Spanish Civil War. Despite all of the international support to fight the fascists, this sadly ended with their victory and caused bloody persecutions that led to the deaths of many people, including anarchist workers, pushing more people into exile.
Because many people were exiled, this led to the creation of other branches of the CNT in places like France, for example, where they continued their anarcho-syndicalist work and supported comrades and their families who were left in Spain to struggle under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. Across Spain, the CNT was once again outlawed and anything they had was expropriated. Much of what they did was done through clandestine actions or through the organisations of CNT members in exile, while other members in Spain continued fighting the state through guerrilla actions such as those of the Maquis.
Later, when Franco died in 1975, there was a resurgence of the CNT in the midst of the growing neoliberal currents. In the new so-called “democratic” process in Spain, this new government was strongly represented by men who had previously been working with Franco and who developed a constitution that was very much based on the right to private property. This created openings for companies and corporations to once more create committees in working places that claimed to act in ways that supported workers, but they were really designed to support management, owners, and the wider capitalist classes while disrupting unionising efforts.
This left the CNT with a very strong sense of responsibility to face these new social democratic conditions, which constantly minimised anarcho-syndicalist possibilities to operate. This, along with other political and economic questions that were being asked, created considerable difficulties for the organisation and were the background for the first major split within the CNT. In the period from 1979 to 1989, after the crisis that the Moncloa Pacts created in workers’ movements, two separate fronts appeared in the CNT and created an organisational crisis between those who wanted to seek the state’s support and those who did not. This crisis in the difference of tactics ended in the foundation of the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), which was largely filled with the people who wanted to seek support from the state for organisation. The CNT was still a part of the IWA (AIT) and kept on working with the same anarcho-syndicalist strategies.
The situation was stable in the organisation until around 2018, when some factions from the CNT in Spain decided to abandon the AIT and join the Confederación Internacional del Trabajo (CIT) while others decided to remain as CNT-AIT. For many outside of Spain, it can be difficult to recognise the slight differences between these two structures, and the number and use of certain acronyms makes it even more complicated. The conflicts for some of the comrades both in the CIT and AIT have become legal, fighting internal power dynamics with accusations of corruption and embezzlement. In later years, after several membership purges, different CNT branches have also punished women and trans people who wished to keep working against oppression and for the liberation of all. These attempts were done from inside these organisations, with women and trans people fighting against the internalised patriarchal structures of the CNT and the persistent power abuse that is commonly leveled against the diversity of anarchist practices in the organisation.
The CNT once stood as an organisation of anti-fascist resistance during the Spanish Civil War, which was in fact an international war between fascist-led nations such as Germany and Italy. The support for these fascist governments also included the Catholic Church and US banks and finance, who chose to aid the fight against international anti-fascist forces. The CNT became an example of a well-organized anarchist organisation that, with strong militant participation, put into practice anarchist principles of fighting for freedom and against oppression. Because of their legacy and the many converging events around them, anarchists around the world would go on to hold up the CNT as a positive example of successful anarchist organising, ignoring the internal struggles that often led to issues that went unaddressed or neglected. The international attention that their struggles garnered also helped in this regard.
However, as time goes on, things tend to change. Many people outside of Spain still view the CNT through the lens of what they were historically and very rarely look at the actions they take and the policies they support today. These are actions that we wish to discuss later.
Today, there’s a lot of romanticisation around Mujeres Libres as an independent anarchist group, focusing largely on their role before and during the Spanish Civil War. The interesting part of this history is that the idolisation of Mujeres Libres tends to erase the historical reality behind why the group was founded outside the CNT in the first place. This serves as an example of how, even in anarchist spaces, not knowing the dynamics and backgrounds of our own organisations can limit our analysis of the current situation in anarcho-syndicalist unions and federations around the world.
In May 1936, a group of anarchist women founded Mujeres Libres. This was the first autonomous, proletarian, and feminist organisation to emerge in Spain and was created with the goal to end, in their words, “the triple slavery of women to ignorance, capital and men.” To a group of people claiming to seek the liberation of all, it should have been more than obvious that they also had to address the concrete realities of the lives of the women and their subordination at the hands of patriarchal structures and institutions.
Despite the fact that it should’ve been obvious enough for a revolutionary organisation to consider specifically addressing these issues, the dominant sector of the Spanish anarchist movement refused to recognise the specific nature of the oppression that women faced, paying little attention to the issues that affected them. When women would approach the mainstream organisations, they often outright denied the legitimacy of women to wage the fight to overcome such complex oppression. As a result, women found that the only way to overcome these issues would be to wage a separate women’s struggle, creating Mujeres Libres. They were pretty much the only group who actively articulated a perspective that recognised and addressed the uniqueness of women’s experiences.
In Martha Ackelsberg’s essay “Mujeres Libres and the Role of Women in Anarchist Revolution,” she highlights the importance of having a separate organisation that reflected Mujeres Libres’s analysis of women’s subordination, saying:
First, Mujeres Libres devoted specific attention to the problems that were of particular concern to women: illiteracy, economic dependence and exploitation, ignorance about healthcare, child care, and sexuality. Second, they insisted that engagement in struggle requires a changed sense of self, which could be developed by women only if they acted independently of men, in an organisation designed to protect new self-definitions. Finally, a separate and independent organisation was essential to challenge the masculine hierarchy of the CNT and of the anarchist movement as a whole. The organisation addressed each of women’s “triple enslavement”: ignorance, economic exploitation, and subordination to men within the family.
In order to do much of this work, Mujeres Libres established a range of programs. They trained nurses who would go to work in hospitals and replace the nuns who had previously maintained a monopoly on such care. They created educational and hygiene programs in maternity wards, which tried to help women to learn more about their own bodies and their sexuality.
It’s also worth noting that, in comparison to other contemporary women’s organisations in Spain, they were far more engaged with doing political work and creating the systems that they saw as necessary to challenge patriarchal structures and institutions. Most of their contemporaries were the “women’s auxiliary” of various political party organisations, which often prompted women to play supporting roles in politics rather than directly participating themselves. The participation of the women in Mujeres Libres came in many different forms, from direct action and the development of educational programs to supporting those who further enabled their causes.
This doesn’t, however, mean that they were always on the right side of history. Like many contemporary organisations elsewhere, Mujeres Libres had strict rules about sex workers and often would force them to quit the trade in order to access any of the resources that could be made available to them. Though not every individual agreed with these policies, they were still commonplace within the many of the groups.
So, with all of that in mind, we have to wonder how much we have actually progressed in the last century with regards to this specific form of liberation.
The most recent episode of undeniably unethical practices, which directly contradicted what should be considered anarchist principles, in CNT-CIT Barcelona took place on July 15, 2023. On that day, the CNT-CIT Barcelona, organised an event called: “Why are there so many girls who don’t want to become women? Data against the neoliberal ideology of health.” The reactions were clear, pointing out how this was nothing more than an attack against trans people, and this was not only because of the title but for several other reasons.
One of those reasons was that the CNT-CIT was working with the Feministes de Catalunya for this event. The director of the Feministes is someone who we do not wish to name, as we do not want to focus on her and the issue of transphobia within our organisations is far larger than her. However, she is a well-known transphobe and the former vice-rector of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In addition to that, it is also known to many that she snitched on members of the CGT in 2015 to the police during a strike. As she provided their names, they were later arrested and imprisoned just for organising the workers. During the event this year on July 15, the CNT members knew that there would be consequences to this collaboration and thus engaged the municipal police to place guards outside of the event, preventing protesters from confronting the people attending the transphobic event and simultaneously angering and confusing others watching from elsewhere in the world.
But in the bigger picture, this is just one example of many openly oppressive dynamics going on in many anarchist spaces that result in self-sabotaging processes that are more aligned with neoliberal and fascist practices than with anarchists. Though many of these organizations outwardly claim that they still stand for freedom and solidarity through mutual aid and direct action, the same structures, protocols, internal agreements, and interpersonal dynamics continue to support patriarchal and neoliberal oppressive structures and institutions. This sparks a lot of questions about how these organisations can even continue being educational examples and models, prompting us to consider the ways that anarcho-syndicalist unions are proving to be outdated examples of anarchist organisation and praxis.
To dig into these reflections more, we’re joined by a Catalan friend who was previously targeted by the latest purges in CNT-CIT Barcelona. She’ll be helping us answer some of the questions that we had, though these are not the only answers. However, they’re some answers that might prove useful to most of us trying to do the work of ensuring that the spaces we’re in are actually responsive to the problems that happen within them.
Interview with Mireia
Nicole: We’re gonna start with: Do you think that formal anarchist organisations are compatible with anarchist practices.
Mireia: From personal experience in two anarcho-unions, I have to say that no.
Before I begin to say why not, I would like to clarify something. Not all people who are active in these organizations share the ideas or behaviors that make them incompatible. I think it is important to point this out.
I believe that we could differentiate between those factors related to behavior and those that encompass the philosophy, ethics, analysis and strategy followed in some organizations. And, being so, in my opinion, it would be necessary to emphasize two axes that flood both blocks of factors:
First, to act as if the fact of being anarchists frees us from having power relations and to think that addressing these issues internally in our organizations delays us or separates us from the objective. This is in direct contradiction with the very ethical and ideological basis of anarchism: to have as a basic objective to do away with all forms of power. It also contradicts the idea that anarchism is not something static or purely theoretical or declarative, but a dynamic path that is exercised and of which one has to be an example.
Second, dislocation between anarchist idea/ethics and practice. One of the anarchist principles is not to oppress, not to exercise power. If power relations are not taken into account and are not eliminated, we are neither carrying any new world in our hearts nor are we spreading the idea correctly. We are not creating anything, we are only reproducing the system and its dynamics. If anything distinguishes anarchism it is precisely its ethics, those red lines that must not be crossed. Without this ethical base in favor of life and in opposition and constant confrontation to power, anarchism does not flourish.
Why do I think this is so? I think in this European world there is a lot of privilege to lose, little will to do so, a lot of nostalgia for a past that does not seem to be coming back and a lot of desire to talk about war but little desire to work for the common peace. Sometimes it seems to me that the western revolutionary world is right now a grumpy and closed old man, with more fear of change than doing the internal work to build the one he is nostalgically naming.
1- Block of ideas, analysis and strategy.
The anarcho-union is conceived as a space to deal only with labor, mainly in terms of wage labor. So, you leave out a lot of people. And you structure yourself in such a way that, even if you don’t want to, many people are left out. This is due to closed thinking, but also to a lack of acceptance of the dominant role you have in establishing what is work and what is the right way to organize. Even what is the priority. Thus, the partial perspective of the white European person, eminently straight cis men, ends up being the measure of all things. This means not only that in these spaces there is a very small number of racialized people, for example, it also means that there will be issues that will be discussed only if it is of interest and in a labor perspective, and there will be pressure to do so. Is it possible to talk about the rights of trans partners? No, sometimes yes, but only in labor issues, and on June 28 (28J).
Nicole: Can I pause you there just to ask, what is the 28th of June?
Mireia: It is the Pride Day.
Nicole: Okay, thank you!
Mireia: Not to mention a growing tendency to demonize the sex workers’ rights movement, feminism or transfeminism. This tendency becomes violent, people are persecuted or expelled within organizations for actively positioning themselves as transfeminist, for supporting assaulted people, for supporting sex workers… It is a tendency that is also successful within fascist groups and ideas, but this does not make us reflect.
It could be said that there is no holistic anarcho-syndical perspective and that it goes beyond labor discrimination. There is also a lack of proposal and analysis of what work is, beyond salaried work. The internal organizational structures of affiliated people are often limited to either factory models or work in the public sector, but they do not adapt to new realities such as riders, nor to long-standing realities such as domestic employees, temporary farm workers or other realities.
These realities are the realities of racialized, migrant, precarious people, who hardly participate in these unions. Therefore, by omission and by structure, we collaborate in structural oppressions and power dynamics, since they end up being white, bureaucratized, hyper-structured spaces in which it is even annoying to open this conversation and even more so to find real solutions about it. Beyond regretting.
If on the one hand there is no apparent desire to be a holistic union as the CNT wanted to be in the last century, on the other hand new proposals that are not based solely on the world of work are fought furiously using the principles of the first anarchism as a dogma. Obviously taking phrases or ideas out of context, because if the integral ethics of anarchism is analyzed, this fight against current grassroots feminism, transfeminism, the decolonial proposal, and animalism would not make any sense.
One of the main ideas of anarchism is that this, freedom, is not something for a few, it is not something selfish, it is assumed that until we are all free, anarchism will continue fighting and positioning itself on the right side. For principles. But currently it is decided in small, masculinized assemblies, full of people who have been in positions for a long time, without racialized people, which struggles are priority, which are correct, which are first class and which are second.
They do not function as a catalyst for struggles, which would be one of the philosophies on which an anarcho-syndicate should be based. Sometimes they pretend to be a Vanguard, thus ignoring the agents of the struggle themselves. But other times they simply close themselves to allying themselves with other non-labor struggles because they consider them post-modern or bourgeois (feminism, transfeminism) or sectoral (ecosystem). This leads to authentic cannibal fights within the union. As well as disinterest and lack of reaction to what is not considered the main thing. This, of course, leads to and encourages external power struggles.
There is a tendency towards bureaucratization that makes the structures, protocols, statutes and norms increasingly extensive and twisted. It often works slowly and the struggles are conditioned to the bureaucratic calendar. Furthermore, the bureaucracy to deal with cases of aggression, if it exists, makes the processes unpleasant, long and full of traps. This bureaucratization also has to do with the way of facing labor struggles. The more adapted the way of fighting is to the system, which it is, the more bureaucracy you will have to go through.
Added to this is the tendency to debate competitively and power struggles. These entrenched dynamics cause any debate to be limited to a war between two teams, or two postures. Even if they support attacked companies or not depending on which team they have supported.
2-Block of behaviors and relationships
Power relationships and dynamics occur for various reasons: sex, gender, class, age, race… Faced with this, there is denial and even people who point out such attitudes, denounce them or try to address them are questioned. The structure does not make it easy for these issues to be addressed, since it is made to deal with labor issues almost exclusively. And when they are addressed, attitudes and practice generally do not change. The conversation is taken to the field of protocols, when there is luck.
Corporatism is put into practice in the face of this, there is almost no self-criticism, and in many cases, people who report attacks are persecuted, questioned or forced to leave. These dynamics are externalized to the entire movement. The positions, when there is some aggression or behavior indicated, are often scarce.
And many times both the attacks and the collective dynamics are allowed to pass, also turning a deaf ear to the proposals for collective management of such behaviors and situations.
In the end minds do not change, we appeal to structures that could be modified but mysteriously never can. But..people can change structures! It is a great contradiction, as a collective and as individuals, to put one’s own structures as dogma that cannot be moved. We know that structures, statutes or protocols can be decided, transformed and improved. If not, could we call ourselves anarchists?
If the way of functioning is not changed to improve, to avoid aggressions, or to be a union for everyone, it is because of fear, laziness or not wanting to let go of some kind of power, privilege or reason.
On the other hand, and in the same sense, if corporatism is not stopped, or the fact of looking the other way in the face of aggressions or questionable attitudes, or questioning the people who point or denounce, as an organization and as individuals, how will we be able to change the dynamics, structures, ours? And those of power?
Nicole: As you were going through that, it just reminded me of so much that I have had to deal with in my local anarcho-syndicalist unions, both with dealing with one that’s in my city and one that’s just across the border because they’re under two different organisations. And I was very much, like, just — no one can see it, but I was just nodding along going like “Yes.” This is exactly what I have been also seeing. Especially when I was trying to talk to them about my– the last school I worked in. And they kept telling me, “Well, everything needs to already have a published source so that way we can actually trust you.” And you’re like, “But no one else is talking about this place because you’ve never talked to us.” So yeah, as you were saying that I was like “Yeah.” Just nodding the whole time like, “Yes.”
Alright, so with that in mind, like all of that… How do you think we can remove these hierarchies? To prevent interpersonal abuse or oppression in specifically anarchist spaces, and definitely the anarcho-syndicalist union?
Mireia: The issue of abuse must be given the same importance as other issues, such as labor self-defense or repression. And we must talk about power dynamics and hierarchy in terms of examples and specific cases that happen to us, just as we would do in a case of workplace harassment, for example. For this to happen, we must work on several aspects:
- Training and, above all, continued conversation about power relationships. The most comfortable spaces possible where you can express but also confront and confront are crucial. We continue to understand that confronting, talking about conflicts, conflicting, are annoying, unnecessary issues that have no place in a large organization. This is how an organization that directs attention where it wants to be understood and fostered, that silences the issues it wants to silence, that produces disciplined militants. Produces. It does NOT create, it does not catalyze, it does not potentiate, it is not the germ of a transformation. Okay, let’s turn this around.
- Promote self-defense as training and pedagogy. Not only as a physical training, but also as an emotional, mental, individual and collective training. In the face of abuse and aggression. Acting through direct action is pedagogy, not just idealism. We know that self-defense is part of the philosophy of direct action. And this is basically all that those who suffer oppression do to defend themselves. But self-defense and direct action also mean creating new conditions, not just responding to attacks. Even create spaces for the abolition of power. Let us understand, exercise and encourage self-defense from that point of view: being active, creative agents.
- You also have to work on focus. Individual and collective responsibility for abuses are the key to two things: that the matter is talked about with a desire to repair and improve, and that they occur less and less. Accountability is key at the individual level. Without it, there is no change. Theatre only. But what about collective accountability? Strong communities are those that do not let an aggression pass, of whatever kind. No abuse. Strong communities are those that do not hide, out of fear, in excuses, corporatism, omissions… They talk, converse cooperatively, look for tools, use them, improve them if necessary.
- You have to be able to talk about trauma, victimization, revictimization, vulnerability. Of the positions where we are each. Of trauma and inheritance even ancestral and collective. And of course what is complicit with the capitalist patriarchal system. And once identified, change attitudes. It takes a job, yes. No one said it was easy.
- We must think precisely about creating spaces of accompaniment. And if possible, empower them until it was a constant practice and attitude. How to do it, that depends on each organization, place … I’m not a friend of recipes, but I am a friend of red lines.
I know perfectly well that the debate about which tools are punitivist and which tools are not has long been open. I am not going to go on too long, because it is a profound debate, but I will say that it should be possible to analyse the issue of aggression and abuse based on sex, gender, orientation… as we would do in the case, for example, with class aggressions and abuses.
Nicole: That is quite a lot to do.
Mireia: [laughing] Sí!
Nicole: There’s a lot of space that we have to kind of work on, and these conversations are also constantly going on, like everywhere. At least among, like, more of the people who feel more marginalised by these groups, who are left to the side. But I know that I’ve been watching this take place way more than I feel happy with, personally. I wish it was decreasing, but it feels like it’s increasing more and more, like… every week.
Okay so, having talked about that, can you tell me some of the examples of abuses that have taken place, particularly with regards to things like power or position or even just, like, like a person’s identity. And how they often might uses these things kind of to like hold those [power and position] within the CNT.
Mireia: Moral harassment. Colleagues have been harassed for wanting to debate transfeminism, for having positions on feminism, sex work or other issues on their personal social networks. He has also threatened himself for these same reasons, accusing several people of wanting to break unionism. It has been said that posting female genital anatomy for educational purposes on one of the union networks is breaking anarcho-syndicalism.
In the assemblies there were threats, yelling, and hitting the furniture when topics such as: sex work came up while affiliated sex workers were also present, radical feminism, transfeminism, masculinities, internal dynamics of the assembly… And such violent attitudes were justified by saying that it is normal for exploited workers to scream at one another when there are disagreements.
The existence of the gender secretariat has been omitted from the people who joined, considering it bourgeois separatism. The members of the gender secretariat were prohibited from commenting on new members of union sections that attend the meetings of the secretariat.
People have been threatened with expulsion and expelled for supporting people attacked by other union members and for spreading their experiences with internal violence on their personal networks.
There has been physical and verbal violence. Cases of sexist violence, sexual violence…
There are also power dynamics due to seniority. Or knowledge of the union’s statutes. A lot of power is often given to people who have been in office for a long time, who know by heart statutes that they refuse to change or who have a lot of academic knowledge. And these people wield this power. Of course.
Another mechanism that is often set in motion is to make gaslighting, even in assemblies. Boycott initiatives that are designed to analyze assembly dynamics. Manipulate, lie directly. It seems that we are in any Parliament or political party instead of an anarcho-syndicalist union.
Nicole: Again, just nodding along with this because I have seen so many of these things in places that I’ve worked in. Particularly, even by people outside of the situation, so like where you have an aggressor and their victim. And people on the outside are sitting there supporting the aggressor because they have done so much work or they have so much knowledge. So like, yeah, I definitely am kind of nodding along with this. Yeah, I’m seeing this not just in Spain but outside. It’s everywhere!
Alright so, how do you think that we can work with these personal and collective accountabilities in order to deconstruct our own prejudices?
Mireia: We have to start listening to understand and reflect, not to answer and refute. When I said that the European revolutionary movement sometimes seems like a grumpy old man with fear, I mean that I think we still believe that we are the cradle of civilization and revolutions or culture. And that is a historical lie that we have swallowed because things were going well for us. And we have to stop being arrogant. What racialized colleagues, or sex workers, tell us, even when cis women say similar things to cis men, constantly questioning and listening, what feels so bad in the meeting chairs, this is one of the essences of anarchist practices.
We must reread the ethical principles, not the instructions, not the dates, the philosophy, that holistic metaphysics, and review if we are really there or are acting within the systemic parameters, even if it hurts us. And from that pain, you have to know how to make something that contributes, not that turns into furious rage at whoever it targets.
We must ask ourselves many questions such as why we need to be told how to do things, why we look for answers in totally different situations and why they were also born without fully analyzing all the oppressions that existed. Let’s not underestimate ourselves so much, we have so much creativity to create a new world that that is precisely what makes power scary.
We have a lot of literature on collective management of aggression and abuse, we know how restorative justice experiences and reparation processes have gone. We know the weak points that this option has. We know what we need. We have current examples of management and prevention, and how change is encouraged. This is promoted collectively, creating non-mixed safe spaces for everyone, also for those who have to ask themselves questions. It is encouraged by facing each case with flexibility: there are several tools that can be used such as repair and training, self-defense, temporary expulsion, permanent expulsion, having some protocol, not following a protocol. Why don’t we create a toolbox so that everyone can choose the one they need? Every time you choose a tool, you create another way of functioning. And yes, pedagogy is needed to get rid of prejudices, but to take responsibility the first thing you need is the will.
I think this question is also somewhat answered in the answer to one of the previous questions. We have to think that fighting against the system has to involve fighting against the system that we carry inside and the one that is in our spaces. And if this means dismantling our spaces to assemble them in another way, so be it. The idea is more important than an acronym. In addition, fighting against the internal system means taking action, doing. And this costs us too much.
Nicole: Yes, again. Like, I’m just sitting here thinking about some of these things, like… Being able to create those new tools? Because so many people still rely upon what we’ve grown up with, like okay… “So in an anarchist society, how can we do this?” Like, it’s our favourite question that I think every single anarchist gets way more than we want. Because even anarchists have also kept, like… They have not killed the cop in their head. So yeah, I’m seeing that same thing where they’re using the same tools and not recognising that we can use something else.
Mireia: We can do it!
Nicole: Yeah, we can do something creative and new! We don’t have to do the same thing all the time.
Mireia: Yeah, it’s boring!
Nicole: Seriously. Alright, so having said all of that, what do you think the role of anarcho-syndicalists is in this kind of… Um, we call it a critical period of history, but I feel like everyone always thinks the period of history they live through is a critical period. But what do you think the role of anarcho-syndicalism is in this period of history with increasing fascism and also in the midst of this kind of ecological crisis or climate catastrophe?
Mireia: Rethinking why some of his speeches are so similar to those of the far right would be a good start. And then, once the reflection is done, think about what proposal they have as anarchists and as anarcho-syndicalists to all this. Not just what they’re against. What they propose. What they would do. How they would change it. That’s the hard part.
Rethink why they are still linked to their own structures? Why do they sometimes complain about them, how slow they go, how little they include all people? Why do they themselves grant their autonomy, their freedom, their ability to create and transform?
They must redo much of their speech and their actions regarding issues such as the ecological crisis, decolonial or feminist proposals. But before that they have to review what their global and systemic vision is about it. As long as you see these struggles as sectoral or external, it will not work.
Perhaps I am focusing too much on the fact that thinking has to change, to drink again from the basic ethics and philosophy of anarchism, with fewer recipes, rigid structures and dogmas. And I am not giving practical organizational proposals. But I really think that if there is not a new look and another thought from another position, any practical proposal will be born wrong.
It should be easier to be able to look at the state of things in the world from the small and exclusive perspective of what is happening in little Europe. And expand the whys. Even return to a complex, holistic and complete vision. When we focus on making our action the resolution of specific conflicts, in the way that the system allows us, without broader action, and in an organization that is restricted and closed to many people, it is almost leading to tragedy. Either you end up very well adapted, or you end up stopping actions, or you end up disappearing. But you do not disappear because you have already fulfilled your task of liberation, you simply disappear.
Here we think we are big, but we are small. We have grown up crushing many. We should learn more and reference each other less. Thus, the aforementioned processes would surely be simpler.
We must get rid of the tendency to make statements only against. For example, against ecofascism. If there are statements on the matter. And go further and give proposals for the future. Here it would be necessary to explain very clearly what free federation and self-management means. And what to propose so that they are real, not nostalgic. And that they provide social, environmental alternatives, resource uses, habits, thinking, economic organization if you want to say that. But if these alternatives are given, let it be to have the will to apply them. Externally and internally. So, here comes another obstacle to overcome, and we return to the mindset. Do we really want to apply all this? Or are we more comfortable writing manifestos and nothing more?
If it is considered that all this is too much, or too slow, or too long, then it can also make way for other people, alternatives, proposals… That does not come directly from anarcho-syndicalism. But perhaps returning to having a role as a simple catalyst for proposals against the system is not so bad. Although this means losing something that should never have been had: shares of power.
Nicole: No, I agree that we are definitely very comfortable… Particularly in Europe and the Anglosphere, so basically the English-speaking countries… just writing manifestos all the time and kind of waiting around for people to help.
Mireia: We’re good writers!
Nicole: We’re very prolific writers, and then occasionally we do something. And I can’t say that I’m not entirely guilty of that, but it can be quite hard if you feel very pushed out and segregated from these spaces. Which part of why I, um, kind of identify with so much of what you’ve said is because it’s been so difficult to find those spaces and feel safe in them.
Mireia: It’s more difficult.
Nicole: Is there anything else that you might want to talk about or are we good?
Mireia: Oh, I talk about the tragedy of anarcho-syndicalism. That’s all!
Nicole: That sounds like a good title. Alright, well, I want to thank you for sharing all of that with us.
Nicole: Thank you!
We’d like to thank Mireia for joining us and sharing her perspectives on how we can potentially make our organising spaces, particularly anarcho-syndicalist unions, more able to engage in dismantling the oppressive structures that still remain within them.
Clearly, it’s going to be a lot of work to unlearn many of the harmful beliefs and behaviours that have been ingrained into us courtesy of the world we live in. But this is entirely necessary in order to build spaces that actually care about those who participate in them and exist around them.
We cannot continue to have outdated definitions of what qualifies as work and who can be protected by our unions, constantly throwing away potential alliances with people who do actually hold close values all because they are the “wrong” kind of person. This often targets, as Mireia discussed, people who are already marginalised by society, especially undocumented migrants, racialised people, queer people, and any intersection of those identities.
And we most certainly cannot entertain any possibility of working with organisations and individuals who perpetuate any form of bigotry. It should be clear that, in the instance of the CNT, they should not be working with transphobic organisations. This is a line they should never cross, and yet they have. Though, as has been said multiple times, they’re not alone; we see and experience this in organisations across the planet.
We hope that this interview has been helpful, but we really want people to continue paying attention to the varying CNT branches and upcoming actions. There have been calls to defederate the CNT-CIT Barcelona over the aforementioned transphobic event with Feministes de Catalunya, where they asked for cops to protect them. And it’s likely that more actions will be taking place.
So thanks for listening!