THE 23RD CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL WORKERS ASSOCIATION:
A LITTLE HEAT BUT PRECIOUS LITTLE LIGHT:
The 23rd Congress of the International Workers' Association (IWA-AIT) was held in Manchester, England last December. The Congress was hosted by Solidarity Federation, the British affiliate of the IWA. In the public press releases the present IWW secretariat, based in Norway, was pretty non-committal about the decisions that were actually taken at the Congress. The Secretariat was to be taken on by the Serbian Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative, and the next Congress will be organized by the COB-AIT of Brazil in December of 2008.
Despite being the "official" International the AIT/IWA represents a small minority of active anarcho-syndicalists in the world today. To a large extent it is the creation of the Spanish CNT, and even in Spain the CNT is outnumbered by the CGT by at least an order of magnitude. In countries where the policies of the AIT have led to a split in anarcho-syndicalism, such as France and Italy, the "unofficial" anarcho-syndicalists also outnumber the official affiliates of the AIT.
The original split in Spain between the CNT and the CGT was over the issue of standing in "union elections", which the comrades of the CNT saw as "reformist". Similar splits in France led to the CNT-Vignoles becoming very much the public face of anarcho-syndicalism in that country while the purists of the CNT-AIT have been reduced to a propaganda group of only 100 to 200 members. The Italian USI-AIT also split over the same issue, but the remnant in the USI-AIT ended up participating in the "works councils" of that country anyways(1). Thus they are not in the same minoritarian position as the French purists are. In Spain the CGT has gone on to become the 3rd largest union in the country while the official CNT languishes with afew thousand members.
The REAL issues at stake in this latest Congress were not discussed in any public press releases. Anxious to avoid the loss of their Italian section the AIT avoided the question of the USI's participation in the councils, but this decision will undoubtedly come back to haunt them as it is the be-all and end-all of the whole split in international anarcho-syndicalism. The question of why the USI, which unlike the other sections of the AIT outside of Spain, actually functions as a real union, can "get away" with what others have been expelled for will come back.
The question of the German section, the FAU, and its planned participation in the upcoming I-07 conference in Paris, sponsored by the CNT-Vignoles of France was also "put off" with a reference to deciding whether they should be expelled at some future date. The question of the status of the American ex-affiliate, the Workers' Solidarity Federation(expelled in 2000), was also apparently on the agenda, but efforts by American comrades to gain access to the decisions concerning this matter have born little fruit to date.
Once more very little light. The larger Spanish CGT, along with the French CNT-Vignoles and the Swedish SAC, along with others, have begun a regroupment process in International Libertarian Solidarity and the European Federation of Alternative Syndicalism. The IWW tries to maintain friendly relations with both sides of this dispute, but they generally meet a much more fraternal response from the unions outside of the AIT.
This dispute is a sad reflexion on the present state of international anarcho-syndicalism. The purists, headed by the CNT, would be much more effective in debates within the growing anarchosyndicalist unions across the world. In their present state of isolation they cannot advance the cause of syndicalism at all, but they would be a much needed corrective to more opportunist tendencies in those organizations that have taken a more realistic approach.
For more on the 1979 split in Spain see the Wikipedia article on 'Anarchism in Spain' . The Congress and its "non-news" have been discussed extensively in the forums on Libcom and in the comments section of Anarkismo , often with little light being shed on what actually happened. Molly wonders if the actions of sending the Secretariat to Serbia and the date of the next Congress 2 years into the future and to the other side of the globe may be something of a "pulling a Marx" where the Spanish CNT would rather see the AIT destroyed than fall into the hands of its "competition". Marx did a similar thing when he maneuvered to transfer the First International to the USA rather than see his control of it challenged. This is, of course, just speculation, but it is something to think about.
1)In Italy both of the two USI's claim the name of the AIT/IWA even though only the "official" one named above, also known as the USI PRATO-Carnico, has the approval of the AIT as a whole. The other USI, the USI-Roma, is present in many areas of Italy where the "officials" are absent, and vise versa. BOTH appear to be functioning unions, unlike most of the groups in the AIT outside of Spain. Should the "official" USI be expelled from the AIT there would be little to prevent a reunification with the other USI.
The use of the name "AIT" has not degenerated into the legal wrangling stage that the use of the name "CNT" did at the time of the CNT/CGT split some years ago. Not that such a course hasn't been suggested, but the Italians have demonstrated a little more sense in this regard.