Emilio López Arango: Anarchism and the Workers’ Movement

Emilio López Arango

It is great to see that AK Press is about to publish Ángel Cappelletti’s history of anarchism in Latin America. In the chapter on Latin American anarchism in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary of Libertarian Ideas, I included several translations of material collected by Cappelletti and C.M. Rama in their companion anthology of anarchist writings, El Anarquismo en America Latina (Caracas, 1990). One of the pieces I used was an excerpt from Emilio López Arango (1894-1929) and Diego Abad de Santillan’s El Anarquismo en el movimiento obrero, published in 1925 in Argentina, where both of them were very active in the anarchist movement. Together with Neno Vasco in Brazil, López Arango was one of the most original and important anarchist thinkers in Latin America. This is a translation (I’m assuming by Scott Nappalos) of excerpts from López Arango’s “Doctrine, tactics, and ends of the workers’ movement,” the first chapter of a posthumous collection of López Arango’s writings, Ideario, published by the Asociación Continental Americana de Trabajadores (ACAT), in Buenos Aires in 1942 (I also included statements from the 1929 founding congress of ACAT in Volume One of the Anarchism anthology).

Argentine anarchist paper edited by López Arango

The workers movement is determined by the assemblage 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 privileged castes in the political sphere, 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 impossible as demanding that the workers limit their actions to demand better wages from the employing class.

We the anarchists can’t forget that the workers movement, to be truly revolutionary, should cover the confluence of social factors that makes the life of the employed odious. To divide socialist ideas into different features, separating the political from the economic – the spirit from 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 privileged caste, and to the injustices of the masters. This is the primary contingency that explains the struggle of classes and also the fundamental dynamic of syndicalism. Suppose that the defensive action of the proletariat is only to try to find a base of equilibrium to the problem of necessities. It would then solve the economic issue by 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 to 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 a united state.

Through this logic they abandon the position of syndicalism in the sense 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 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 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 not 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

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