Goals and Means: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica

By Evans, Danny | Anarchist Studies, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Goals and Means: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica


Evans, Danny, Anarchist Studies


Jason Garner, Goals and Means: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica Edinburgh: AK Press, 2016; 384pp; ISBN 9781849352253

For understandable reasons, many studies of Spanish anarchism encompass the period from the foundation of the Second Republic to the end of the Spanish Civil War (1931-1939), which saw the apogee and tragedy of the movement's principal organisation, the National Confederation of Labour (CNT). This new book, which traces the turbulent trajectory of the CNT and the place of anarchism within it in the decades before the Second Republic, thus provides a great service to those in the Anglophone world interested in the earlier history of the Spanish anarchist movement.

Garner focuses on the attempts of activists within the CNT to marry the goal of libertarian communism to the means of industrial syndicalism. This was a far from simple task, and the book highlights the many controversies that complicated the relationship between the organisation's anarchist and syndicalist wings. The author argues that it was only through an effective unity of both that the movement in Spain could avoid succumbing to either gradualist reformism or impotent purism. Anarcho-syndicalism was the term that came to express this synthesis, but its practical implementation was impeded by bitter doctrinal disputes. For the 'purist' anarchists, the gradualism of the syndicalists had the whiff of Marxism and political ambition, while for the syndicalists, the overt association of the union organisation with any one ideology would fatally undermine its attractiveness to the working class. The Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), founded in 1927, attempted to address this problem. Its members were expected to devote themselves selflessly to union activity but would also seek to prevent its quotidian tasks from becoming the be-all and end-all of the CNT. While the FAI would go on to play an important role in the anarchist movement during the Second Republic, it could not overcome the mutual distrust between the more organisationally-focused and more ideologically-focused tendencies. …

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