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40th Anniversary of the 1st CNLA

category italy / switzerland | history of anarchism | opinion / analysis author Tuesday August 27, 2013 00:14author by Guido Barroero Report this post to the editors

40 years since the 1st National Convention of Anarchist Workers, Bologna 11-15 August 1973

40 years ago the 1st National Convention of Anarchist Workers was held in Bologna from 11-15 August 1973. This important event saw the participation of two hundred comrades representing libertarian communist groups and regional organizations and exceeded the expectations of even the organizers. It was not just a one-off, it was the fruit of long, patient work of gathering together, coordinating and networking lasting months and involving the class-struggle sector of the anarchist movement, known by some as the "neo-Platformist" area. In order to see this event in its proper context and better understand the significance of the CNLA and the theoretical and organizational process it grew out of, we need to take a few steps back in time. [Italian]
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40th Anniversary of the 1st CNLA

40 years since the 1st National Convention of Anarchist Workers, Bologna 11-15 August 1973


An anniversary

40 years ago the 1st Convegno Nazionale Lavoratori Anarchici (CNLA - National Convention of Anarchist Workers) was held in Bologna from 11-15 August 1973. This important event saw the participation of two hundred comrades [1] representing libertarian communist groups and regional organizations and exceeded the expectations of even the organizers. It was not just a one-off, it was the fruit of long, patient work of gathering together, coordinating and networking lasting months and involving the class-struggle sector of the anarchist movement, known by some as the "neo-Platformist" area. In order to see this event in its proper context and better understand the significance of the CNLA and the theoretical and organizational process it grew out of, we need to take a few steps back in time [2].
"Early 1970s: the anarchist movement is in a period of strong growth, following the crisis of the early 1960s which culminated in the split by the Gruppi di Iniziativa Anarchica [GIA - Anarchist Initiative Groups]. It has lost its organizational unity (the FAI and GIA are joined by another nationwide organization, the Gruppi Anarchici Federati [GAF - Federated Anarchist Groups]), but thanks to the influx of young militants (mostly students, but also workers) who had come out of the struggles of 1968/69, there was an increase in the number of branches, circles, groups, city-based and regional federations, both inside and outside the nationwide organizations.

This quantitative growth is matched by a strong demand by the new groups and comrades for greater depth of the specific theoretic and analytical apparatus of the anarchist movement and a greater incisiveness by anarchists in the social and workers' struggles of the period.

Thus, it is almost natural that in the convoluted situation of those years (the campaign regarding State-backed terrorism and the murder of Pinelli, the campaign for the liberation of Valpreda and Marini), together with a debate on the forms of struggle (Valpreda's electoral candidature, but also revolutionary violence) there was a new impetus in the discussion on the importance to the movement of the labour question.

And it is almost equally inevitable that the responses of the movement differ: while the GIA, perched on its tower protecting a testimonial vision of anarchism, basically remain impermeable to the new drives, and the GAF begin to move towards a highly-cultured revision of anarchism [3] which however puts into question the very concept of class struggle, in the FAI (and in the vast area of non-federated groups) a profound debate on the nature of anarchism, its organizational forms, the labour question and workers' struggles opens.

A new decade begins (1970-80), one which for the FAI (and the rest of the movement) is rich in events, discussions and polemics - in one word, tumultuous.

Here are, in an extremely synthetic form, some of the salient episodes of those years. In the 2-year period 1972-73 a series of groups and regional organizations (inside and outside the FAI) set out on a path of debate and discussion which, starting with the need to recover the class- and worker-based nature of anarchism, ends up by rediscovering Arshinovism, the experience of the GAAP and acceptance of Platformism.

The reaction within the movement is immediate and bitter; certain positions taken by the GAF regarding the figure of [Gianfranco] Bertoli [4] only serve to worsen matters and, in some ways, become a casus belli.

The constitution of a vast Platformist area - inside and outside the FAI - creates not a few worries within a part of the anarchist movement (GIA, GAF and some sectors of the FAI itself), which view it as an attempt to hegemonize the whole movement. These fears are not entirely unjustified given that the explicit objective of the Platformist area is - acting in a concerted manner both inside and outside the Federation - to bring the movement back to its worker roots and emarginate the components that are judged to be aclassist. It is a radical political project that implies an extremely harsh confrontation (or better still a clash), though a legitimate one.

What will spoil it and determine its failure will be the political and behavioural immaturity of some groups in this area, the overly liberal use of organizational and assembly-based dynamics and, as in the case of the GAAP, a certain amount of intolerant sectarianism leading to an undervaluation of the "adversary"."

So we arrive at the beginning of 1973. Numerous regional libertarian communist groups had been set up or were being set up [5] and there were are numerous groups inspired by the same principles outside and inside the FAI [6].

These FAI groups were carrying on a harsh clash with the traditionalist area within the Federation.

On 6-7 January in Ancona, at the pre-congressional Convention of the FAI, the libertarian communist groups expressed the need for a new Associative Pact in light of the forthcoming 11th Congress.

On 4 February at its Convention in Savona, the OAL launched a nationwide proposal for a National Convention of Anarchist Workers.

On the same date in Bari, the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Bari and the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico Kronstadt from Naples drew up a proposal for a new Associative Pact for the FAI.

On 9 February in Rome, on the fringe of a national demonstration by metalworkers, a meeting was held for the CNLA [7]. On 4 March, again in Rome, the FAI's National Council met in order to decide the agenda for the 11th Congress.

During March, April and May, the activity of coordination of the libertarian communist area intensified and the various groups produced documents and bulletins dealing with labour and political themes [8]. On 30 April in Macerata, there was a meeting of ten groups [9] who were part of the class-struggle area within the FAI in order to draw up a proposal for an Associative Pact which was to be condemned as Platformist in nature by various other areas in the FAI.

On 12 May in Carrara the FAI's Corrispondence Commission met. A statement was drawn up which put off the 11th Congress by reason of "insufficient preparation for the congress" and "criticisms communicated ... by numerous groups and individuals in the FAI, opposed to the method of calling and holding the 11th Congress of the FAI, established by the National Council in its meeting of 4 march 1973 in Rome". A congressional commission was set up to synthesise into one document all the various proposals.

On 14 May the Milanese groups Bandiera Nera (GAF), Milano '73 (GAF), Lotta Anarchica (FAI) and Primo Maggio (FAI) issued a circular to the entire anarchist movement criticizing the text of a manifesto which had been published on 3 May, for its personality cult treatment of Camillo Berneri, its use of the word "party" and its definition of the Italian anarchist movement as a "caravan". Strong polemics followed within the anarchist movement.

On 31 May in Viareggio, the FAI groups who had met in Macerata, faced with the postponement of the 11th Congress, set themselves up as an organized faction taking the name of Nucleo Operativo. On 15 June, the MSL and AAS responded to the accusations they had received from the other Milanese groups after the "May 1937" manifesto.

On 21 June in Genoa, the OAL issued a circular which criticized those components of the anarchist movement who allowed the bomber Bertoli the freedom to declare himself an individualist anarchist. The circular gathered approval from the libertarian communist groups in the FAI. There followed fierce polemics within the anarchist movement.

On 29 June in Rome, a meeting was held of the FAI's Congressional Commission. A delegate of the GCA Kronstadt from Naples participated, representing the Nucleo Operativo. The outcome was not a favourable one for the Federation's libertarian communist area. On 15 July in Milan, the first issue of the libertarian communist bulletin "Pagine Libertarie" was published. The MSL was responsible for editing it, with contributions from the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Reggio Emilia, the Gruppo Anarchico Berneri from Perugia, the Gruppo Anarchico 18 Marzo from Macerata, the Gruppo Anarchico di Viareggio and the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico Kronstadt from Naples.

We arrive finally at 11 August and the 1st CNLA. Called by the OAL, it was joined by the FAI groups in the Nucleo Operativo and other groups both inside and outside the Federation, representing almost all the Italian anarchist movement. The final motion, approved by majority vote, can be read at http://www.fdca.it/fdcaen/historical/fdca-prehistory/1_cnla.htm.

As A. Dadà writes:

"This meeting was no small surprise, not only because of the large number of participants but also for the quality of the debates and the questions dealt with, typical, for anarchists, of the political organization and the mass organization: presence within the confederal trade unions, in the factory councils and neighbourhood councils, techniques of political intervention. At the same time it highlighted the great lack of homogeneity of existing positions, but also registered significant convergence. It was thus that the 1st CNLA, having evaluated the need for "action to be carried out at the same time by a specific anarchist communist organization and by a mass proletarian organization so as to achieve the unity, autonomy, class consciousness and internationalism that are required in order to build anarchist communism", came to recognize trade union work as a priority and to that end set up a structure for coordination, debate and study of the needs of the various groups" [10].
It would seem to be the start of an unstoppable process of renewal within the anarchist movement and the transformation of its biggest organization, the FAI, into a class-struggle, libertarian communist one. Events, however, proved that this would not be the case. Despite having been the highest point of the libertarian communist project, the success of the 1st CNLA remained unrepeated and unrepeatable. The expulsion of the Nucleo Operativo groups from the FAI [11], the fierce campaign unleashed against some groups in the libertarian communist area followed the alleged destruction of the Milanese anarchist premises in Via Scaldasole [12]. the internal crisis within the OAL [13], were all factors which led to the weakening of the libertarian communist project and basically its extinction in the years to come. But these are events that lie outside the scope of this text.

The history of the "Neo-Platformist" movement of the '70s is one that is still waiting to be written, as few have ever dealt with it and almost never in a satisfactory way [14].

Guido Barroero

Translation by FdCA - International Relations Office.


Notes:

1. "At the Convention, there were around 250 Italian militants as well as delegates from the IWA and the French ORA-FL" [Fedeli-Sacchetti, Congressi e Convegni (1944-1995). Atti e documenti, Chieti 2002. The figure is probably somewhat exaggerated, but it would have been in that region.
2. The following reconstruction is taken from my article "Tre libri e una questione ancora aperta" in A rivista anarchica, No. 311, October 2005.
3. For the theoretical positions of the GAF, it is useful to see, amongst other things, the paper on "industrial feudalism", inspired by a reading of Bruno Rizzi.
4. Author of a bomb attack at a police station in Milan in May 1973.
5. Amongst these we must cite the Organizzazione Anarchica Ligure (OAL), the Organizzazione Anarchica Marchigiana (OAM) and the Organizzazione Anarchica Pugliese (OAP).
6. The FAI groups who declared a class-struggle, libertarian communist position (and who would go to make up the Nucleo Operativo) were initially: the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Bari, the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Molfetta, the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico "Kronstadt" from Naples, the Gruppo "Kronstadt" from Ancona, the OAM branches in Civitanova, Jesi and Macerata, the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico Berneri from Perugia, the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Trieste, the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Forlì, the Movimento Anarco-Comunista Bergamasco, the Movimento Socialista Libertario from Milan.
7. The participants were: the Collettivo Lavoratori Anarchici from Rome, the Coordinamento Operai Metalmeccanici from Milan, the Coordinamento Operai Anarchici from Legnano and the Labour Commission of the Organizzazione dei Comunisti Libertari (OAL) from Genova.
8. Of note are "Parità normativa" and "La nocività" by the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Bari; "I° Maggio, giorno di lotta non di festa" by the OAP; "Marini libero subito" by the Gruppo Anarchico di Molfetta. "Maggio 1937 - Barcellona proletaria in lotta contro la reazione stalinista", commemorative wall manifesto for the Barcelona Days, by the Movimento Socialista Libertario (FAI), Azione AnarcoSindacalista, Gruppo Durruti di Trezzane Zingone. "Assistenza sanitaria" by the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Bari.
9. The Gruppo Anarchico "18 marzo" from Macerata, the Gruppo Anarchico Bakunin from Jesi, the Gruppo Anarchico Makhno from Civitanova Marche, the MAC from Bergamo, the Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Reggio Emilia, the Gruppo Anarchico Berneri from Perugia, the OAP from Bari and Molfetta, the GCA Kronstadt from Naples and the MSL from Milan.
10. Adriana Dadà, L'anarchismo in Italia fra movimento e partito, Teti 1984.
11. In its meeting in Rome on 8 December, the FAI's Corrispondence Commission communicated to all members of the federation that, as a result of not "having withdrawn 'their Platformist proposal for an Associative Pact ... nor dissociating themselves from the decisions taken and the actions carried out in harmony with the authoritarian Platformist ideology', the 10 signatory groups [the Nucleo Operativo] must considerthemselves out of the FAI and therefore they will not be entitled to send delegates to participate in the works of the FAI's 11th Congress".
12. With a document dated 27 September, the Milanese groups Lotta Anarchica (FAI), Bandiera Nera (GAF), Durruti and Milano '73 (GAF) attributed responsibility to militants of the Milanese MSL and AAS, the OAL and the Kronstadt group from Naples, sustaining the thesis whereby the French ORA and OAL were acting from without in order to break up the FAI and move the Italian anarchist movement towards "Platformist" and "Arshinovist" positions. The "destruction", was in reality just one episode in a long Milanese feud of which advantage was taken in order to defame the libertarian communists.
13. The Genoan branch (OdCL) left the OAL, thus depriving it of its "mass" base and sparking off an organizational crisis.
14. We can recall just two books. The first, by Cardella and Fenech (Anni senza tregua. Per una storia della Federazione Anarchica Italiana dal 1970 al 1980) which reconstructs a very partisan account of the events we have spoken of, in the framework of an uncritical and superficial apology of the FAI. The second, by Adriana Dadà (L'anarchismo in Italia: fra movimento e partito), is rich in documentation but also in quite a few inaccuracies.

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