The CNT: Anarchosyndicalism or revolutionary unionism ? [R. THIEBLEMONT, 1955]

Leafing through the archives, we found this text published in the CNT-AIT newspaper, Le Combat syndicaliste, n°134 of July 1955, but which still seems very relevant to us!

This article, published in 1955 in the newspaper of the time of the CNT-AIT (Le Combat Syndicaliste), was written by René THIEBLEMONT. A metallurgist, he notably worked at the Renault factory in Boulogne-Billancourt. He was a member of the CNT-AIT but also of the Makhno group of the Anarchist Federation (FA), with other FA activists (including André Nédélec and Gil[bert] DEVILLARD Gil as well as several Spanish refugees), and who published a newsletter: Le Libertaire Renault

René Thiéblemont

At the beginning of the 1950s, he was the secretary of the CNT-AIT union section of the Murat factory in Paris 16th arr. where, in February and March 1952, he participated in a strike organized by the CGT and the CNT-AIT.

In 1954, he was the secretary of the CNT-AIT section of the Sadir-Carpentier company in Paris 18th century. This company manufactured radio guidance equipment for the navy and aviation. On October 7, 1954, at the request of the Ministry of Defense, he was fired, being considered « harmful to national security. » A twelve-day strike followed to try to obtain his reinstatement.

After the short peak of the years 47-48 and its participation in the major post-war strikes (Renault, Railway workers, miners, etc.), the CNT entered a phase of internal crisis.

1947 Renault Strike, Gil Devillard in the red circle

While until the end of 1947, it was the only union alternative to the communist CGT, the creation of a third union « Force Ouvrière » (FO) in April 1948 (with the help of Irving Brown and the CIA : comes to change the situation: the FO union will attract to itself all the anti-communists who did not share the revolutionary project of the CNT because they wanted to integrate into the social system put in place by the welfare state, but also all those who – although proclaiming themselves anarchists – abandoned any revolutionary perspective in the name of unity against the Stalinist threat (Maurice Joyeux, the main activist of the Federation Anarchist in particular left the CNT and joined FO, taking the FA with him. d FO, taking the FA with him. In FO he joined with the Trotskyists who had left the CGT for the same reasons and cooperated with them until his death in 1991).

The CNT is therefore emptying itself of its members who had joined it solely so as not to be in a union controlled by the Communist Party. Among those who remain, two tendencies clash: one claiming revolutionary unionism (or pure syndicalism), the other claiming anarchosyndicalism. In the end, the revolutionary syndicalists left the CNT in the 1960s.

However, this conflict reappeared during the relaunch of the French CNT at the end of the 1980s, notably with the arrival of activists from Marxism. The same causes producing the same effects, these conflicts led to a tear, but this time it was the revolutionary unionists of the CNTf (known as CNT vignoles, from the name of the street of their Parisian premises) who won, the anarchosyndicalists finding themselves in the CNT-AIT.


I am a member of the CNT, for Anarchosyndicalism

The division born from two tendencies which clash in the congresses and assemblies of the CNT comes from the fact that, for some, so-called revolutionary unionism (or syndicalism) must be and remain neutral of any philosophy or economic system: it is sufficient to himself, they say; for others, classic syndicalism having as its emblem the Charter of Amiens cannot lead to social transformation without privilege, so it is necessary to give men the philosophical and social economic principles of anarchism, without which society would inevitably fall back under the authority of a political Party.

I am one of those who espouse this latter way of seeing, rejecting the Charter of Paris (a sort of improved Charter of Amiens adopted at the Congress creating the CNT in 1946), as well as the current structure of the CNT, revealing itself to be the faithful continuation of the old CGT[from the 1900s]. Will the first way of seeing have the same fate as the second? Or will the anarcho-syndicalists react against this union neutrality in order to restore an emancipatory character to the CNT?

The anarchist ideal must be the driving force of the CNT, without which it would have no meaning and would be hardly better than the other unions; neutralism is not enough, it is a question of knowing what we want and whether or not we are moving towards what we want.

Will we work alongside activists whose only motive for action is their wallets, ready to make concessions for small money that relegate our principles, principles that are making us something more than revolutionaries renegades without convictions?

Will we accept that the structure of the CNT is still corporatism of industry federation, while we advocate economic equality and thus – divided in action – we go against what we proclaim in our declarations? Will we keep for a long time this structure which lets each federation title its own demands, draw up its own leaflets, organize in a word its federal, compartmentalized union work, pumping a good number of activists into the union administration work, etc.? So much time, money and physical expenditure absorbed by this disappointing and bureaucratic system. We must immediately shake up this routine and come strictly to the local and territorial unions, leaving the industry federations in the shadows until after the social revolution.

Do our present demands live up to what we claim to be? Do they correspond to reality? No. We set a minimum subsistence level of 35,000 francs and are only ahead of other unions on this point; can we honestly believe that an average family of three can live on this amount? Considering that living in this century means being able to access the benefits of modernism in the home, or would our struggles be limited only to subsistence?

Can we follow the activists advising our participation in organizations such as works councils, even for tactical reasons, since we know that inevitably, this would mean collaborating directly with our enemies, whether they are bosses or workers, and so it would mean cooperating with them to consolidate our own explotation ?

Should the possibility of becoming a staff representative in a company encourage us to be elected for reasons of protection from possible management repression and comfort in action alone; because, in fact, what is our power once elected: to defend the legality of collective agreements, to demand, for those who work excessive overtime, that these hours be well paid; take an interest in the boss’s loyal employees who are exploited like no other, but who never strike and come to work during strike crossing picket lines; take care of a lot of little things like showers, toilets, sinks, etc., ultimately a lot of wind for not much; our position must be clear on this subject : participation to representative elections : NO ; only delegates on the job[during a strike and designated by the assembly of strikers] : YES, and for the duration of the engaged struggle only.

It is time to become serious about our orientation, our structure, our Charter, we have to clarify what we must really be (anarchosyndicalists) with all that that entails, and not revolutionary unionists (syndicalists) without baggage, without definition, we we will also avoid the regrettable confusion which allows a good number of Marxists and neo-Marxists (revolutionaries, too) to come and cause trouble in our organization; we will also prevent pure syndicalists from wasting their time among us, who have chosen anarchism as a system of existence.

Let the activists of the CNT understand all this and work accordingly, shouting and fist fights do not improve an inevitable situation permitted by a Charter which is not at all clear. It would be good to take an example from the organization of the FORA, which seems to me of certain value in terms of its firmness.


Postscript: 50 years later, the activists of the CNT-AIT arrived at the same conclusions and drew the consequence, affirming that yes, the CNT-AIT is clearly anarchosyndicalist – and therefore anarchist – and not vaguely « revolutionary syndicalist « .

To find out more about the experience of the FORA, you can read the brochures (in French):


Pour en savoir plus sur l’actualité de l’anarchosyndicalisme :

L’anarchosyndicalisme aujourd’hui : questions / réponses (suivi de : Fédéralisme et réseau : pour une organisation anarchosyndicaliste fédérale du XXIème siècle) []

Pour recevoir la version imprimée écrire à ou à CNT-AIT, 7 rue St Rémésy 31000 TOULOUSE

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