Lessons from argentina: The FORA and Emilio López Arango

 

Emancipation isn’t a problem of mechanics nor an issue that can be resolved through technical means. A worker may be able to run a factory or put in motion all the machinery of an industry, but there isn’t in those attitudes the moral capacity to prevent servility and elevate oneself to a higher level.

Emilio López Arango, Means of struggle

 

The struggle for bread is not enough. Let us capture in the consciousness of man the value of the loss of individuality, establishing a moral resistance to the monstrous constructions of capitalism and opposing to material reality a reality of spirit.

Emilio López Arango, The Resistance to capitalism

 

Argentina’s Federación Obrera Regional Argentina or the FORA, founded in 1905 as an explicitly anarchist-communist labour organisation, offers a rich example – an example theorised in the writings of Emilio López Arango – of a mass anarchist labour movement that endeavoured to navigate between the shoals of reformist labour unionism and anarcho-syndicalism.

If we take López Arango as our guide, the FORA’s ambition was to ground anarchist politics in the practices of everyday working class struggles, thereby overcoming the risks of ideological sterility (and authoritarianism) in the former and reformism in the latter. 

The FORA would finally weaken under a variety of pressures – including the assassination of López Arango -, but it continues to offer an illustration of the necessity of anarchism to remain vitally tied to struggles, as they emerge in different contexts, pushing them always beyond their limits, multiplying their interconnections (an exclusive appropriation of the means of production, or a conquest of the State and nothing more, would be no revolution for López Arango), against the restraints of capitalist social relations.   

Following Robert Graham’s Anarchism Weblog, we share a text by Scott Nappalos on Argentina’s FORA, and another text by one of the principal figures of the movement, López Arango …

Today I reproduce an article by Scott Nappalos describing the approach to social change taken by the Argentine Regional Workers’ Federation (the FORA) in the early part of the 20th century. Although the FORA was an anarchist federation, it did not follow an anarcho-syndicalist approach, as it did not see the workers’ class struggle organizations as providing the basis for a post-revolutionary society. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several selections relating to this approach, including a 1925 article by Emilio López Arango and Diego Abad de Santillán on anarchism in the labour movement, where they argued that the trade union is “an economic by-product of capitalist organization… Clinging to its structures after the revolution would be tantamount to clinging to the cause that spawned it: capitalism.” I have also posted on this blog another article by López Arango on anarchism and the workers’ movement. Nappalos’ article was originally published by Ideas and ActionNappalos has posted several translations of the writings of López Arango on the libcom.org website.

Anarchist Social Organization

Scott Nappalos (Ideas and Action 14/11/2017)

The rise of the right and the incapacity of the institutional left to offer an alternative is pressing the crucial question for our time: what is our strategy in pre-revolutionary times? The revolutionary left is fixated on the ruptures and revolutions of history, and this has done little to prepare us for the present. In the United States there are no nation-wide social movements to draw upon in forging a new social force. Resistance remains largely fragmented, and more often than not abstracted from the struggles of daily life and carried out by a semi-professional activist subculture. The challenge then is where to begin, or more specifically how to move beyond the knowledge, experiences, and groups of the past two decades towards a broader social movement?

There are some experiences we can draw on however from the heyday of the anarchist movement, where similarly radicals in a hostile environment began to discuss and craft strategic interventions. An overlooked and scarcely known debate within anarchism was between so-called dualism and unitary positions on organization.[1] That framing for the disagreement largely comes from the dualists who were supporters of specific anarchist political organizations independent from the workers organizations of their day. This was contrasted against the anti-political organization anarchists in the libertarian unions who proposed a model of workers organizations that were both a politicized-organization and union.

The portrayal of anarchosyndicalists as inherently against political organization and as advocating unions exclusively of anarchists is a straw man. If anything the orthodoxy supported political organizations including: Pierre Bresnard, former head of the International Workers Association (IWA-AIT), the Spanish CNT (through its affinity groups, specific organizations around publications, and the FAI), along with others in the various revolutionary unions of the IWA-AIT. A more balanced picture of the movement would be (at least) a four way division within IWA-AIT organizations including: class struggle syndicalism that downplayed anarchism and revolution (both with defenders and detractors of political organization), the dominant position of revolutionary unionism influenced by anarchism but striving for one big union of the class, political anarchists focused on insurrectionism and intellectual activities, and a fourth position that is likely unfamiliar to most readers.

That position I will call the anarchist social organization for lack of a better term. Elements of this position have existed and persisted throughout the history of the syndicalist movement, but found its core within the revolutionary workers organizations of South America at the turn of the century. In Argentina and Uruguay in particular a powerful immigrant movement of anarchists dominated the labor movement for decades, setting up the first unions and consolidating a politics in an environment where reformist attempts at unions lacked a context enabling them to thrive.[2] This tendency spread across Latin America from Argentina to Mexico, at its zenith influenced syndicalist currents in Europe and Asia as well. It’s progress was checked by a combination of shifting context and political reaction that favored nationalist and reformist oppositions. Both Argentina and Uruguay underwent some of the world’s first legalized labor regimes and populist reform schemes to contain the labor movement combined with dictatorships that selectively targeted the anarchist movement while supporting socialists and nationalists across the region. The anarchist movement of el Río de la Plata was dealt heavy blows by the 1930s and began to decline.

The theorists of Argentina’s Federación Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA, Argentina Regional Workers’ Federation) in particular laid out an alternative approach to politics that was highly influential. Argentina perhaps vied with Spain as the most powerful anarchist movement in the world and yet is scarcely known today. The FORA takes its name from an aspiration towards internationalism and one of the most thorough going anti-State and anti-nationalist currents in radical history. The FORA inspired sister unions throughout Latin America many with similar names such as FORU (Uruguay), FORP (Paraguay), FORCh (Chile) and unions in Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia just to name a few. They even won over the membership of established IWW locals in Mexico and Chile to their movement away from the IWW’s neutral syndicalism.

The ideas of the FORA came to be known as finalismo; so named because in Spanish fines mean ends or goals, and the FORA made anarchist communism it’s explicit aim as early as 1905. Finalismo was a rejection of traditional unions and political organizations in favor of the anarchist social organization.[3] In the unions, FORA saw a tendency to divert the working class into reforming and potentially reproducing capitalist work relations. Unions they argued are institutions that inherit too much of the capitalism we seek to abolish.[4] The capitalist division of labor reflected in industrial unions in particular could be a potential base for maintaining capitalist social relationships after the revolution, something that the FORA argued must be transformed.

“We must not forget that the union is, as a result of capitalist economic organization, a social phenomenon born of the needs of its time. To retain its structure after the revolution would imply preserving the cause that determined it: capitalism.”[5]

This critique they extended to apolitical revolutionary unions like the IWW and even with anarchosyndicalism itself, which was seen as arguing for using unions, vehicles of resistance that reflect capitalist society, as cells of the future structure of society. Their goal was to transform a society built to maintain class domination to one organized to meet human needs; something the existing industries poison.

“Anarchosyndicalist theory, very similar to revolutionary unionism, is today confused by many who approach the workers movement, and even participate in it, because they consider that all anarchists who take part in unionism are automatically anaarchosyndicalists. Anarchosyndicalism is a theory that bases the construction of society after the emancipatory revolution in the same unions and professional associations of workers. The FORA expressively rejects anarchosyndicalism and maintains its conception that one cannot legislate the future of society after revolutionary change…”[6]

While participating in class struggle on a day to day basis, members of the FORA similarly rejected the ideology of class struggle. Class struggle as ideology was seen as reflecting a mechanistic worldview inherited from Marxism, that ultimately would reinforce the divisions derived from capitalism which would sustain obstacles to constructing communism after the revolution. Class and worker identity are too tied to capitalist relationships, they argued, and are better attacked than cultivated.[7]

The foristas were skeptical of political organizations separate from workers organizations, and believed they posed a danger. Such organizations would tend to over-value maintaining their political leadership against the long term goal of building anarchist communism.[8] The world of political anarchism was seen as drawing from intellectual and cultural philosophies abstracted from daily life, whereas the anarchist workers movement drew it’s inspiration from connecting anarchist ethics to the lived struggles of the exploited.

“Anarchism as a revolutionary political party is deprived of its main strength and its vital elements; anarchism is a social movement that will acquire the greater power of action and propaganda the more intimately it stays in its native environment.”[9]

In their place, partisans of the FORA proposed a different type workers organization and role for anarchists. Emiliano Lopez Arango, the brilliant auto-didact and baker, emphasized that we should build organizations of workers aimed at achieving anarchist society, rather than organizations of anarchists-for-workers or organizations of anarchist-workers.

“Against this philosophical or political anarchism we present our concept and our reality of the anarchist social movement, vast mass organizations that do not evade any problems of philosophical anarchism, and taking the man as he is, not just as supporter of an idea, but as a member of an exploited and oppressed human fraction… To create a union movement concordant with our ideas-the anarchist labor movement- it is not necessary to “cram” in the brain of the workers ideas that they do not understand or against those that guard routine precautions. The question is another…Anarchists must create an instrument of action that allows us to be a belligerent force acting in the struggle for the conquest of the future. The trade union movement can fill that high historic mission, but on condition that is inspired by anarchist ideas.”[10]

This position has often been misunderstood or misrepresented as “anarchist unionism” i.e. trying to create ideologically pure groupings of workers. The workers of the FORA however held in little esteem the political anarchist movement, and did not believe in intellectuals imposing litmus tests for workers. Instead they built an organization which from 1905 onward took anarchist communism as its goal, and was constructed around anarchist ideals in its struggles and functioning.

There is a key difference between being an ideological organization doing organizing versus organizing with an anarchist orientation. The workers of the FORA tried to create the latter. Counterposed to raw economics and the ideology of class struggle, they emphasized a process of transformation and counter-power built through struggle but guided by values and ideas.[11] Against the idea that syndicalist unions were seeds of the future society, they proposed using struggles under capitalism as ways to train the exploited for revolutionary goals and a radical break with the structure of capitalism with revolution.[12]

In doing so they organized Argentina’s working class under the leading light of anarchism until a series of repressive and recuperative forces overwhelmed them. The CNT would eventually follow FORA’s suit some three decades later with its endorsement of the goal of creating libertarian communism, but it’s vacillations on these issues (predicted by some foristas such as Manuel Azaretto)[13] would prove disastrous. CNT scored a contradictory initial victory, but floundered with how to move from an organization struggling within capitalism to a post-capitalist order.

Anarchist Social Organization Today

The insight of the FORA was its focus on how we achieve liberation. These organizing projects are centered in struggles around daily life. Working in these struggles aims at creating an environment where participants can co-develop in a specific environment guided by anarchist principles, goals, and tactics. Ideas develop within through a process of praxis where actions, ideas, and values interact and come together in strategy. These are particular weaknesses we have in recent anarchist and libertarian strategies in the US.

In both political organizations and organizing work, anarchists have failed to put themselves forward as an independent force with our own proposals. Anarchist ideology is kept outside the context of daily life and struggle; the place where it makes the most sense and has the most potential for positive contributions. Instead ideology has largely remained the property of political organizations, while anarchists do their organizing work too often as foot soldiers for reformist non-profits, bureaucratic unions, and neutral organizations hostile to their ideas. This is carried out without plans to advance our goals or independent projects that demonstrate their value.

Similarly, as I argued[14] against the debates over the structure of unions (craft vs. industrial), the divisions over dual vs unitary organization carry important lessons but displace more fundamental issues. At stake is what role our ideas play in the day-to-day work of struggle in pre-revolutionary times. The foristas were correct in seeing a positive role of our vision when combined with a practice of contesting daily life under capitalism, while constantly agitating for a fundamental transformation. Many dualists miss these points when they seek to impose an artificial division between where and how we agitate by organizational form.

Still these issues don’t preclude political organizations playing a positive role for example with crafting strategy, helping anarchists develop their ideas together and coordinate, etc. There has been an emphasis in political thought to speak in generalities, about forms and structures, and thereby missing the contextual and historical aspects of these sorts of debates. More important than the structure of an organization is where it stands in the specific context and work on its time, and how it manages to make its work living in the daily struggles of the exploited. That can happen in different ways in a number of different projects.

Today such a strategy can be implemented within work already happening. For those who are members of existing organizations such as solidarity networks, unions, and community groups, militants should begin networking to find ways to formulate an anarchist program within their work, advance proposals to deepen anarchisms influence over the organizations and struggles, and move towards an anarchist social organization model of struggle. With experience and a growth of forces, we could contest the direction of such organizations or form new ones depending on the context.

The existing political organizations similarly can contribute to this work by advocating for anarchist social organizations, contribute to agitation within existing organizing projects, and collaborate on the creation of new projects. In some cases this may require locals of political groups themselves forming new organizing efforts alone. Ideally this would be carried out with other individuals and groups through a process of dialogue. There are at least three national anarchist organizations all of which benefit from having the capacity to influence the debate, and could intervene on the side of advancing anarchism as an explicit force within social movements. The alternative is for it to remain obscured, clumsily discussed, and largely hidden from view of the public.

Where there is sufficient interest and capacity, new groups should be formed. Workplace networks, tenants and community groups, solidarity networks, and unions can be created with small numbers of militants who wish to combine their political work in a cohesive social-political project. In the United States such a strategy has not even been attempted on any serious scale since perhaps the days of the Haymarket martyrs and their anarchosyndicalist IWMA. The unprecedented shift in the mood of the population brought on by the crisis of 2008 has made these sorts of experiments more feasible if not pressing. It is up to us to take up the challenge and experiment. Yet the primary work in front of us is to find ways to translate a combative revolutionary anarchism into concrete activities that can be implemented and coordinated by small numbers of dedicated militants, and allow us a bridge to the next phases of struggle.

[1] This debate was mirrored in the councilists in the aftermath of the aborted German Revolution of 1919 with the splits in the AUD vs. AUD-E. They adopted the term unitary organization to pick out a group that rejected political organization, and is similar to the approach I will lay out with the exception that they rejected organizing around the daily lives of workers, which differentiated them from the FAU at the time until later when the AUD was in decline and the AUDE moved closer to anarchosyndicalism and the KAPD organized in the AUD moved closer to pure political organizations. Unitary organization it should be said is confusing as those anarchists who are called unitary organizationalists by the dualists repeatedly polemicized supports of unitary organization in their writings, by which they meant people who supported a single united organization for all workers with all ideologies inside.

[2] Solidarity Federation. (1987). Revolutionary unionism in Latin America:

The FORA in Argentina. ASP LONDON & DONCASTER https://libcom.org/library/revolutionary-unionism-latin-america-fora-argentina

[3] Lopez Arango, E. Syndicalism and Anarchism. Translated by SN Nappalos. https://libcom.org/library/syndicalism-anarchism

[4] Lopez Arango. E. (1942). Means of struggle – Excerpt from Doctrine, Tactics, and Ends of the Workers Movement, the first chapter of the 1942 Posthumous collection called Ideario. Published in Anarquismo en America Latina. (1990). ed. Ángel J. Cappelletti y Carlos M. Rama. Prólogo, edición y cronología, traducción: Ángel J. Cappelletti. https://libcom.org/library/means-struggle

[5] Lopez Arango, E. & de Santillan, DA. (1925). El anarquismo en el movimiento obrero. Pg. 32 http://www.portaloaca.com/images/documentos/El%20anarquismo%20en%20el%20movimiento_obrero2.pdf

[6] La FORA Anexo 208. Translation of the passage by SN Nappalos. Quoted in Lopez, Antonio. (1998). La FORA en el movimiento obrero. Tupac Ediciones. Pg. 73-74.

[7] Antilli, T. (1924). Lucha de clases y lucha social. https://libcom.org/library/lucha-de-clases-y-lucha-social

[8] Lopez Arango, E. Political leadership or ideological orientation of the workers movement.https://libcom.org/library/political-leadership-or-ideological-orientation-workers-movement

[9] Lopez Arango, E. & de Santillan, DA. (1925). El anarquismo en el movimiento obrero. Pg. 77 http://www.portaloaca.com/images/documentos/El%20anarquismo%20en%20el%20movimiento_obrero2.pdf

[10] Ibid.

[11] Lopez Arango, E. The resistance to capitalism. https://libcom.org/library/resistance-capitalism

[12] Ibid. Means of struggle

[13] Azaretto, M. (1939). Slippery Slopes: the anarchists in Spain. Translated in May-June 2014 from the Spanish original by Manuel Azaretto, Las Pendientes Resbaladizas (Los anarquistas en España), Editorial Germinal, Montevideo, 1939. https://libcom.org/history/slippery-slopes-anarchists-spain-manuel-azaretto

[14] Nappalos, SN. (2015). Dismantling our divisions: craft, industry, and a new society. https://iwwmiami.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/dismantling-our-divisions-craft-industry-and-a-new-society/

This is the translation (by Scott Nappalos) of the first chapter of an essay in an out of print text by Emilio López Arango, one of the premier theorists of the FORA up through the 20s when he was assassinated. This has never been translated into english as far as is known. (libcom.org)

The Resistance to Capitalism

Emilio López Arango

The workers movement is determined by the assembly of moral and material factors that form and give life and reality to the social system, and that in the process of the capitalist civilization enslave humanity to the rule of necessities. But the proletariat, if pushed to struggle for bread, isn’t limited to aspirations of gaining a better wage; they aspire also to break the yoke of economic exploitation and liberate oneself from the domination of the privledged castes in the political sphera; in the struggle against the state.

If for the anarchists every immediate solution is relative, because it is limited by the law of capitalist equilibrium, in consequence syndicalism can’t be a theory of the future. This does not mean that anarchism opposes revolutionary objectives as an expression of the absolute to the contingent reality. On the contrary, it’s about facts and experiences that libertarian theories should create a base for direction, searching in the working masses for the necessary elements to promote the advancement of history and decide social progress against the reactionary currents.

The anarchists should in consequence contribute our energies to the workers movement. But our commitment poses in fact a theoretical hostility to classical syndicalism –to the syndicalism that wants to rely on itself- and takes to the field of class struggle all the theoretical differences that separate us from the marxist parties. It is the interpretation of the role of workers organizations that brings the inevitable polemic between reformists and revolutionaries. And the disagreement should be maintained at all costs, because the political and ideological mentality in the unions is as imposible as demanding that the workers limit their actions to demand better wages to the employing class.

We the anarchists can’t forget that the workers movement, to be truly revolutionary, should cover the conjuncture of social factors that makes the life of the employed odious. To divide socialist ideas in different features, separating the political from the economic- the spirit of the body- is to deny to the worker the faculty to think and act in accordance with the ideal of justice. For this we want to define the trajectory of anarchism of the immediate reality not as a parallel line to the process of the capitalist economy, but as a divergent spiritual power in constant rejection of the social constructions subject to historical fatalism: the determining needs, according to marxist theorists, for the continuity of the capitalist regime.

All the proletarian organizations were born of the necessity to erect a barrier to the exploitation of labor, to the monopoly of the rich for a privledged caste, and to the injustices of the masters. This is the primary contingency that explains the struggle of clases and also the fundamental dynamic of syndicalism. Suppose that the defensive action of the proletariate is only to try to find a base of equilibrium to the problem of necessities. It would then solve the economic issue placing against capitalism a strong workers coalition, regulating the economy with appropriate organs, creating a compelling power that obligates capital and labor to maintain their forces in equilibrium and resolve peacefully their differences. Is not more manifested outside the area of the influence of class struggle, to the margin of union conflicts, in the spirit of strife that frustrates all the plans of reconciliation of the reformist politicians?

To find the solution to social problems in an accord between exploiters and the exploited- about the simple material contingencies- is to accept the height of historic injustices. The resistance to capitalism isn’t determined exclusively by the economic question; it has its origins in moral inequality, in all the determining causes of political privilege, of caste which sustains the regime of wage labor. Could the triumph of the working class, if only for the objective to modify the position of the classes in the social concert, mean something other than a repetition of the phenomenon that is perpetuating injustice throughout the centuries and civilizations?

Syndicalism reduces the sphere of the revolutionary movement to the rule of necessities. For this the authoritarian currents that favor the organization of the workers on economic grounds-who strive to parse the ideas of the union- limit the action to the working class in defense of the wage, allocating to the parties the work of organizing political life of the peoples in the united State.

Through this logic they abandon the position of syndicalism in the respect that their ideologies fail to adjust to the immediate reality. Historical materialism condemns revolutionary propaganda that breaks the rhythm of capitalist evolution. This denies the effort of the rebel against the social environment, which opposes the sacred morals for a new ethical principle, that tries to live their life belying the law of routine conventions.

For these reasons, the anarchist cannot limit our interventions in the workers movement to the simple defense of the wage. Capitalism is not a simple economic concretion: it represents a state of progress and civilization, and is concrete in its force and potency in all the old and new causes of human misfortune. How can the worker liberate herself of the material slavery if she remains a slave morally? In what manner can the people come to realize their own destinies if they accept as fate all the social injustices and can only combat some of the roots of evil?

Capitalism will not be destroyed if the root causes remain unchanged: if humanity is still a slave to their needs and an enemy of their liberty.

All the economic reforms have in consequence the perpetuation of the capitalist regime, and a workers revolution would be nothing more than a change of the privileged classes if performed on the plane of the economy continuing the line of the industrial process, which is mechanizing the individual who has lost their best spiritual qualities by atrophy of the brain and heart.

The struggle for bread is not enough. Let us capture in the consciousness of man the value of the loss of individuality, establishing a moral resistance to the monstrous constructions of capitalism and opposing to material reality a reality of spirit.

Emilio López Arango

The text that is presented here corresponds to the first chapter, titled “Doctrine, tactics, and ends of the workers movement” from his book “Ideario”, published for ACAT, Buenos Aires, 1942.

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2 Responses to Lessons from argentina: The FORA and Emilio López Arango

  1. Thank you for this interesting post !!!

    For those interested about FORA ideas in French :

    La FORA : I. Organisation ouvrière anarchiste
    http://www.cntaittoulouse.lautre.net/spip.php?article4

    La FORA : II. La FORA dans le mouvement syndical argentin
    http://www.cntaittoulouse.lautre.net/spip.php?article918

    La FORA : III. Anarchisme ouvrier contre « syndicalisme révolutionnaire »
    http://www.cntaittoulouse.lautre.net/spip.php?article919

    And more about workers autonomy and anarchosyndicalism : http://www.cntaittoulouse.lautre.net/spip.php?article217

    CNT-AIT in France try to experiment such concpet of “anarchist workers organization”. We established at some time some workers organization in workplaces as explained in this text. (for instance the Blagnac Municipality Workers’ Council).

  2. Julius Gavroche says:

    Thank you for the links.

    In solidarity

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