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Confederación Nacional del Trabajo

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Bandera CNT-AIT.svg

The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT; English: National Confederation of Labour) is a Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions affiliated with the International Workers Association (IWA; Spanish: AIT - Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores). When working with the latter group it is also known as CNT-AIT. Historically, the CNT has also affiliated itself with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation - FAI), and in this capacity has been referred to as the CNT-FAI. Throughout its history, it has played a major role in the Spanish labor movement. Founded in 1910 in Barcelona[1] from groups brought together by the trade union Solidaridad Obrera, it significantly expanded the role of anarchism in Spain, which can be traced to the creation of the Federación de Trabajadores de la Región Española, the successor organization to the Spanish chapter of the IWA.

Despite several decades when the organization was illegal in Spain, today the CNT continues to participate in the Spanish worker's movement, focusing its efforts on the principles of workers' self-management, federalism, and mutual aid.

Organization and function[edit]


CNT membership is open to all workers and students, except members of the police forces, the military or other repressive forces, as well as employers and other kinds of exploiters.[2] It is not necessary to subscribe to any particular ideology to be a member. CNT members may belong to a political party, but anyone who acts as an officer in a political party cannot also hold office in the union. This is to prevent the CNT from being controlled or manipulated by any political organization.


As a union organization, and in accordance with its bylaws, the aims of the CNT are to "develop a sense of solidarity among workers" hoping to improve their conditions under the current social system, and prepare them for future emancipation, when the means of production have been attained, to practice mutual aid amongst CNT collectives, and maintain relationships with other like-minded groups, hoping for "emancipation" of the entire working class.[3] The CNT is also concerned with issues beyond the working class, desiring a radical transformation of society through revolutionary syndicalism.[4] To achieve their goal of social revolution the organisation has outlined a social-economic system through the confederal concept of anarchist communism, which consists of a series of general ideas proposed for the organisation of an anarchist society.[5] The CNT draws inspiration from anarchist ideas, and also identifies with the struggles of different social movements. The CNT is internationalist, but also supports communities' right of self-determination and their sovereignty over the state's.[6]


The organisational structure of the CNT is based on direct democracy.[7]

Industrial union and various posts union[edit]

Diagram of the CNT organizational structure

The industrial unions (sometimes referred to as "branch unions") form the base structure of the CNT. Each industrial union groups together workers of different crafts within an industry. When there are fewer than 25 people working in one particular industry, a various posts union is formed for that industry, rather than multiple industry unions. A various posts union can include workers from different crafts and industries; it requires a minimum of five people.[8] If this number cannot be reached, four or fewer workers can form a confederal group. Due to the small size of the CNT, a majority of its unions are various posts unions.[9]

The decision-making power of the industry and various posts unions resides in the union assembly: decisions are taken by all of the workers of the union in question via a system of direct democracy and consensus. These assemblies may address any number of issues, whether "local, provincial, regional, national or international".[10]

Union sections[edit]

Union sections are assemblies of union workers who work in the same work centre or small business. The assembly of the union section chooses a delegation for the union section, which is usually rotated and which will represent the opinions of the union section in meetings with other entities, although it does not have decision-making powers.

Committees and secretaryships[edit]

The assembly chooses a committee to carry out routine or administrative duties that do not require the discussion of all members; the committee does not have decision-making powers. Committees can organise themselves through different departments, including propaganda, culture and archives; press and information; treasury and economic affairs; legal and prisoner advocacy; union action; social action and general secretariat. The number of secretaryships can vary, sometimes two or more overlapping on a single one if considered necessary. Delegations from the union sections of the branch businesses are also part of the committee.

Federations and confederations[edit]

Unlike organizations that are organized from the top down, the CNT organises itself in an anarchistic fashion, from the bottom up, through different levels of confederations, following the Principle of Federation. The reason for favoring this structure is intended to limit homogeneity in committees, and keep them from having politics or programs. It is also intended to minimize the power of individuals who may be more active in the organization.[11]

Local and comarcal federations[edit]

The different industry and various posts unions of a particular municipality constitute the local federation[12] of unions that are coordinated by means of a local committee which has the same characteristics and powers as the union committees. The local committee is selected in the local plenary assembly to which every industry and various posts union can send delegations with written agreements previously adopted in their assembly. Because of the CNT's relatively small membership, it has only managed to from Local Federations in Granada and Seville.[13] In turn, the unions of neighbouring municipalities can group together into a comarcal federation.

Regional confederations[edit]
Regional map of the CNT
     Andalusia      Aragon-La Rioja      Asturias-León      Canary Islands      Catalonia-Balearics      Central      Extremadura      Galicia      Levante      Murcia      North

A regional confederation brings together several local unions within a geographic regional zone. The structure is the same again: a regional committee with a Secretary General and the rest of the Secretariats in a regional plenary to which the local unions send delegations with written agreements previously made in the assembly. The regional division of the CNT has undergone changes through time.

National confederation[edit]

The regional confederations send representative delegations—again on the same basis—to the national plenary assembly, which constitutes the national confederation. The national plenary of regional confederations elects a national General Secretary, who moves the CNT headquarters to his/her place of residence. Hence, the CNT has no fixed headquarters.

The local plenary of the local federation chosen as headquarters gathers to designate the rest of the secretarial offices. The General Secretary and the rest of the secretaries form the Permanent Secretariat of the National Committee (SPCN, in Spanish) of the CNT, along with the General Secretariats of each of the regions. As in every committee in the CNT, their capacities are technical or administrative: they have no authority to make decisions for others.

Congress of the CNT[edit]

Direct representatives of the industry and various posts unions attend the CNT Congress with agreements from their own assemblies, independently from the local and regional levels. Among its duties, the Congress has to decide upon the CNT general line of action, and can appoint new National Committees. Since the foundation of the CNT in 1910 and the initial constitutional congress in September 1911[14], nine congresses have taken place, five prior to the Spanish Civil War, and four since the Spanish transition to democracy.

The Congress is convoked by the National Committee a year beforehand when there is an imperative need or there are new issues to assess. The discussion subjects are presented after being confirmed in a national plenary session, and then seven months before the Congress each member union starts its own debate which culminates with the presentation of their ideas to the Congress.

Plenarias and plenary assemblies[edit]

The meetings of the various committees (local, regional, national) are called plenarias. Plenarias cannot take decisions, only develop technical and administrative issues, as they are constituted by committees without decision-making powers.

Another method of decision-making is through local and regional plenaries (or plenary assemblies), and congresses, in which industry and various posts unions take active part sending delegations with previously reached and written agreements. The National Plenary does not follow this rule, as in this case the delegations with the written agreements come from the regional confederations.

Parallel Structures[edit]


CNT conferences are open meetings in which matters are discussed and themes proposed; they serve to take the pulse of general opinion within the organization at any given moment. The discussions are later passed on to the local unions for their perusal. Persons representing themselves or another group or trade union may attend, but they cannot pass resolutions.

Industry federations[edit]

Industry federations are organized by branch of production, not geographically. All CNT unions in a particular branch of production form the national industry federation of that branch, differing from the structure of branch unions organized by local and regional federations and confederations. Industry federations exist on a regional level as well. Industry federations are empowered to act regarding matters lying within their area of responsibility. They send representatives that can speak, but not vote, at the national and regional confederations.

Relationship with the IWA[edit]

Logo of the Spanish Regional Federation of the IWA.

The International Workers Association (IWA, AIT in Spanish) is a transnational organization which consists of delegations from a number of countries. The national anarcho-syndicalist organizations, each of which operates only in its home country, are known as the sections of the IWA. As such, the CNT is the IWA's Spanish section.[15]

The IWA has an international secretariat elected by the various sections and can be structured by continent through the industry federations' system.

Other organisms[edit]


The CNT journal CNT, or Periódico CNT (CNT Journal),[16] operates autonomously. Its directorship and headquarters are chosen in a congress or national plenary. The directorship manages its distribution, printing, sales, and subscriptions, as well as selecting from among articles submitted. The chosen director attends the CNT National Committee's meetings on a non-voting basis. The Secretary General of the CNT is responsible for writing Periódico CNT's editorial page. Periódico CNT is published monthly, under a Creative Commons copyleft license and it is available in printed and online format.

All organs and trade unions within the CNT may have their own media. Solidaridad Obrera ("Workers' Solidarity") is the journal of the Regional Confederation of Labour of Catalonia. It was established in 1907,[17] being the oldest communication medium of the CNT. Other media are La tira de papel, the Graphic Arts, Media and Shows National Coordinator bulletin; the Cenit, newspaper of the Regional Committee of the Exterior;[18] and BICEL, edited by the Anselmo Lorenzo Foundation,[19] which was created in 1987.[20] The Foundation works autonomously, and its directorship is elected in a national plenary congress. Some of its duties are to maintain, catalogue and publicly display historic properties of the CNT, to publish books and other media, including BICEL, the Internal Bulletin of Centers of Anarchist Studies, to prepare cultural events during CNT or AIT congresses: lectures, debates, conferences, videoforums, book presentations, etc., and to coordinate with other similar projects.


The CNT generally avoids bringing matters to a vote, preferring consensus decision-making, which it considers to be more in tune with its anarchist principles. While pure consensus is plausible for individual base unions, higher levels of organizations cannot completely avoid the need for some type of vote, which is always done openly by a show of hands.[21]

Size of union[22] Votes
From To
1 50 1
51 100 2
101 300 3
301 600 4
601 1,000 5
1,001 1,500 6
1,501 2,500 7
2,500 more 8
The problem arises when decisions have to be made in local or regional plenaries or congresses. It has already been explained that the basic structure of the CNT is the industrial union branch, or where these do not exist, the union of various occupations. Well then, there is no completely fair method for making decisions through voting:
  • If each union gets one vote, a union of 1,000 members would have the same voice in decisions as a union of 50. Two unions of 25 (2 votes) could impose their will upon a union of 1,000 (1 vote).
  • If votes are by the number of members, a union of 2,000 members would have 2,000 votes, and 100 unions of 20 members would have the same voice in decisions as just one union. The geographical distribution of 100 unions is wider than that of just one, but an agreement obligates all unions equally even though a small union would have the same responsibility to enforce it as a big union, in spite of the greater difficulty for the small one.
  • We find besides the problem of minorities. For example, union A decides to go on strike by 400 votes against 350, and would have to support its decision to strike, since that was the outcome of its assembly. Union B of the same local federation says no to the strike by 100 votes to 25. Union C of the local federation says yes by a unanimous 15 votes. There are thus two unions in favour of the strike and one against, so a strike would be called if based on one vote per union. But adding the negative votes together, 450 voted against the strike, leaving 440 in favour.

Basic Anarcho-syndicalism[23]

The CNT attempts to minimize this problem by a system of limited proportional voting. Even so, this system has some failures and may discriminate against unions with larger memberships. As an example, "ten unions with 25 adherents would total 250 members having 10 votes. This would be more votes than a union of 2,500, which with 10 times more members would only have the right to 7 votes."[24] Within the CNT this isn't considered a major problem, because agreements tend to reach consensus after long discussions. However, due to the nature of consensus decision-making, the final agreements consensed to may bear little resemblance to the initial proposals brought to the table.[25]


CNT militants carrying a banner.

The CNT is rooted in three basic principles: Workers' self-management or autogestion, federalism and mutual aid,[26] and considers that work conflicts must be settled between employers and employees without the action of such intemediaries as official state organisms or professional unionists. This is why the union criticizes union elections and works councils as means of control for managers, preferring workers' assemblies, union sections and direct action.[27] Also, when possible, the CNT avoids taking legal action through the courts. Administrative positions in the union rotate and are unpaid.[28] They prefer linear salary raises to increases that are percentage based, because the former increase equality of salaries. (That is, they prefer that all workers have their pay raised by the same absolute amount rather than the same percentage of their previous wage.)

The CNT's usual methods of action include exhibiting banners in front of the headquarters of companies with which the union has a conflict, and calls for consumer boycotts of their products and for social solidarity with the aggrieved workers. During strikes, resistance funds are created to help strikers and their families economically.

The CNT is organized around craft unions. This practice was adopted around 1918 in times of great class struggle under the reign of Alfonso XIII:

There were detentions aplenty in both crafts, so the pasta-makers craft, which included four hundred skilled workers, was disabled to act for lack of people. But then the whole food craft solidarizes: the furnacers, confectioners, millers, did the work of their arrested colleagues. And the carpenters, lathe operators, varnishers, the whole wood craft were set to relieve the saboteurs. The cabinet-makers' strike lasted seventeen weeks. Until the employers acceded… It was an overwhelming success. And the solidarity lesson was, rigorously, what impulsed the creation of The One Wood Union - the one that was famous -, and the Food one, comprising all the sector unions.

Joan Ferrer, in Baltasar Porcel's La revuelta permanente


The early years[edit]

The 1910 Congress.

The Spanish anarchist movement lacked a stable national organization during its early years. The anarchist Juan Gómez Casas described the evolution of the anarchist organization prior to the creation of the CNT:

After a period of drift, the Worker's Federation of the Spanish Region disappeared and was replaced by the Anarchist Organization of the Spanish Region… This organization then changed, in 1890, to the Aid and Solidarity Pact, which dissolved itself in 1896 due to repressive legislation against anarchism, splitting into several autonomous workers' societies and entities… Those who still remained from the WFSR founded Solidaridad Obrera in 1907, the direct ancestor of the CNT.

Juan Gómez Casas

At the beginning of the 20th century there was a consensus among anarchists that a new national labor organization was necessary, to bring coherence and strength to the movement. During the Bourbon restoration (1874–1931), carried out by the traditional and dynastic parties represented by Cánovas del Castillo and Mateo Sagasta, a large portion of the workers' movement united around the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party as a political force, and around the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT, "Workers' General Union") for collective bargaining purposes. There were also republican movements with a stronger democratic emphasis, which was supported by a portion of the new bourgeoisie.Template:huh

In 1910, in the middle of the restoration, the CNT was founded in Barcelona in a congress of the Catalonian trade union Solidaridad Obrera (Workers' Solidarity) with the objective of constituting an opposing force to the then-majority trade union, the socialist UGT and "to speed up the economic emancipation of the working class through the revolutionary expropriation of the bourgeoisie". The CNT started small, counting 26,571 members represented through several trade unions and other confederations.[29]

In 1911, coinciding with its first congress, the CNT initiated a general strike that provoked a Barcelona judge to declare the union illegal[30] until 1914. That same year of 1911, the trade union officially received its name.

In 1916 the CNT changed its strategy respecting the UGT, establishing new relations that allowed the two unions to initiate the general strike of 1917 jointly. The second congress of the CNT in 1919 studied the possibility of merging both organizations to unify the Spanish labor movement. That same congress approved linking the CNT to the Third International, but after Ángel Pestaña's visit to the Soviet Union, and on his advice, they broke definitively from the Third International in 1922.

Peak of the CNT[edit]

From 1918 on the CNT grew stronger, due to a crisis in Catalonian industry which caused many workers to unionize. The CNT had an outstanding role in the events of the La Canadiense general strike, which paralyzed 70% of industry in Catalonia in 1919, the year the CNT reached a membership of 700,000.[31] Around that time, panic spread among employers, giving rise to the practice of pistolerismo (employing thugs to guard the employers from active unionists), causing a spiral of violence which significantly affected the trade union. These pistoleros are credited with killing 21 union leaders in 48 hours.[32]

In 1922 the International Workingmen's Association (later International Workers' Association) was founded in Berlin; the CNT joined immediately. However, the following year, with the rise of Miguel Primo de Rivera's dictatorship, the labor union was outlawed, once again.[33]

In 1927 with the "moderate" positioning of some cenetistas (CNT members) the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), an association of anarchist affinity groups, was created in Valencia. The FAI would play an important role during the following years through the so-called trabazón (connection) with the CNT, that is, the presence of FAI elements in the CNT, encouraging the labor union not to move away from its anarchist principles, an influence that continues today.[34]

The Second Republic[edit]

Evolution of the number of affiliates in the CNT from 1911 to 1937

After the fall of the monarchy in 1931, the CNT offered minimal support to the Second Republic. This support decreased progressively during the years between 1931 and 1933 because of constant confrontations with the republican authorities in the successive general strikes. The end of that period was marked by so-called revolutions of January and December, both of which were swiftly suppressed by the government. In those days the CNT functioned primarily in Catalonia, but was also gaining importance in other regions, such as Andalusia and Aragon (where it had a higher membership than the UGT).

Tensions between the radical faístas, or FAI members, and the moderate non-faístas were constant and difficult to analyze because of the decentralized and sectorial nature of the organization. Finally, in 1931 a group of moderates published the Manifesto of the Thirty, which would give rise to treintism (from treinta, thirty in Spanish), and in 1932 Ángel Pestaña split from the CNT to create the Syndicalist Party.[35]

The two years governed by the coalition of the center-left Partido Republicano Radical and the center-right CEDA were marked by mostly clandestine CNT activity, in the face of severe government repression. During the socialist October Revolution of 1934 (at which point membership in the CNT reached 1.58 million)[36] the CNT participated only from the background. However, the CNT's Regional Confederation of Labour of Asturias, León and Palencia actively participated in the revolution because of its loyalty to workers' alliances, this time formalized through the Uníos Hermanos Proletarios (UHP) in the pact with the UGT and the Asturian Socialist Federation. Thus, in La Felguera and in El Llano district of Gijón there were short periods when anarchist communism was put into practice:

In the El Llano barricade they proceeded to regularize life according CNT postulates: socialization of wealth and abolition of authority and capitalism. It was a brief experience of great interest, as the revolutionaries did not rule the town. […] A procedure was followed similar to the one in La Felguera. For organization of consumption a Supply Committee was created, with street delegates established in the grocery stores who controlled the number of neighbors in each street and produced the distribution of food. This street-by-street control made it easy to determine the amount of bread and other goods needed. The Supply Committee managed the general control over the available stock, especially flour.

Manuel Villar, Anarchism in the Asturian Insurrection: The CNT and FAI in October 1934

It is believed that 30,000 people were imprisoned during this period. The successful transportation strike in Zaragoza, followed by a more-than-two-week general strike, was convoked in 1935 jointly with the UGT. However, this collaboration was not to be repeated in later actions.

After Lerroux's government crumbled, the 1936 elections placed the CNT at a crossroads. Opinions inside the organization were split among the supporters of abstentionism, those who wanted to allow the workers to choose whether or not to vote, or those directly advocating a vote for the Popular Front. This coalition party promised amnesty for prisoners, and part of the growth of the Front appears to have been thanks to the anarchist vote.

The CNT held a congress in Saragossa on May 1, ratifying the position that the union should make no pacts with any political party, despite UGT leader Largo Caballero's attempts to persuade the union to stand in unity with the UGT.[37]

On June 1, the CNT joined the UGT in declaring a strike of "building workers, mechanics, and lift operators." A demonstration was held, 70,000 workers strong. Members of the Falange attacked the strikers. The strikers responded by looting shops, and the police reacted by attempting to suppress the strike. By the beginning of July, the CNT was still fighting, while the UGT had agreed to arbitration. In retaliation to the attacks by the Falangists, anarchists killed three bodyguards of the Falangist leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera. The government then closed the CNT's centers in Madrid, and arrested David Antona and Cipriano Mera, two CNT militants.[38]

The Civil War[edit]

See also: Spanish Revolution


A poster from the Spanish Civil War published by the propaganda offices of the CNT, FAI, and Libertarian Youth.

After periods of clandestine operation followed by other shorter periods of legalization, in 1936 the CNT was finally legalized, and would remain legal until the end of the Civil War. During the war, the union collaborated with other republican groups opposed to the Nationalists. As the war developed, members of the CNT came to form part of the government of the Republic, holding various ministries and high positions within the administration.

In Barcelona, the anarchists came to control the majority of the functions of society, collectivizing a large part of the activity of the city, as George Orwell described:

It was the first time I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and café had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said Señor or Don or even Usted; everyone called everyone else Comrade and Thou, and even said Salud! instead of Buenos dias.

George Orwell, 'Homage to Catalonia, ch. I'

Across the border from Catalonia in the nominally Republican eastern portion of the divided Aragon, the republican state was similarly powerless. The CNT militias, which occupied Lower Teruel and Huesca, established defense committees that replaced the old city councils. In zones that had more anarchist presence before the war, collectivization of the land was carried out with great success. These first collectivizations were voluntary and were established from the lands that belonged to the members and those which had been requisitioned from those who were fugitive or missing. Those property-owners who wanted to keep possession of their land were not allowed to hire outside their families, and those lands they could not farm passed under community control.

George Orwell wrote of the nature of the new society that arose in the communities:

I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites. Up here in Aragón one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality. In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilised life – snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. – had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared to an extent that is amost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned anyone else as his master.

George Orwell, 'Homage to Catalonia, ch. VII'

CNT workers in an armoured car factory.

Some of the most important communities in this respect were those of Alcañiz, Calanda, Alcorisa, Valderrobres, Fraga or Alcampel. Not only were the lands collectivized, but collective labours were also undertaken, like the retirement home in Fraga, the collectivization of some hospitals (such as in Barbastro or Binéfar), and the founding of schools such as the School of Anarchist Militants. These institutions would be destroyed by the Nationalist troops during the war.

The Committee held an extraordinary regional plenary session to protect the new rural organization, gathering all the union representatives from the supporting villages and backed by Buenaventura Durruti. Against the will of the mainly Catalonian CNT National Committee, the Regional Council for the Defense of Aragon was created.

The Civil War era also showed a spirit of sexual revolution. The Anarcha-feminist organization Mujeres Libres established an equal opportunity for women in a society that traditionally had held women in lower regard. Women acquired power they had not previously had in Spanish society, fighting at the front and doing heavy jobs, things that had been forbidden to them until then. Free love became popular, although some parents' distrust produced the creation of the revolutionary weddings, informal ceremonies where the couples declared their status, and that could be annulled if both parties didn't want to continue their relationship.[39]

Following Largo Caballero’s assumption of the position of Prime Minister of the government, he invited the CNT to join in the coalition of groups making up the national government. The CNT proposed instead that a National Defense Council should be formed, led by Largo Caballero, and containing five members each from the CNT and UGT, and four “liberal republicans”. When this proposal was declined, the CNT decided not to join the government. However, in Catalonia, the CNT joined the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias, which joined the Generalitat on September 26. For the first time, three members of the CNT were also members of the government.[40]

In November, Caballero once again asked the CNT to become part of the government. The leadership of the CNT requested the finance and war ministries, as well as three others, but were given four posts, the ministries of health, justice, industry, and commerce. With Federica Montseny became Minister of Health, the first female minister in Spain. Juan García Oliver, as minister of justice, abolished legal fees and destroyed all criminal files. Shortly afterwards, despite the disapproval of the anarchist ministers, the capital was moved from Madrid to Valencia.[41]

On December 23 1936, after receiving in Madrid a retinue formed by Joaquín Ascaso, Miguel Chueca and three republican and independent leaders, the government of Largo Caballero, which by then had four anarchists as ministers (García Oliver, Juan López, Federica Montseny and Joan Peiró), approved the formation of the National Defense Committee. It was a revolutionary body which represented anarchists as much as socialists and republicans.


Halfway through February 1937, a congress took place in Caspe with the purpose of creating the Regional Federation of Collectives of Aragon. 456 delegates, representing more than 141,000 collective members, attended the congress. The congress was also attended by delegates of the National Committee of the CNT.[42]

At a plenary session of the CNT in March 1937, the national committee asked for a motion of censure to suppress the Aragonese Regional Council. The Aragonese regional committee threatened to resign, which thwarted the censure effort. Though there had always been disagreements, that spring also saw a great escalation in confrontations between the CNT-FAI and the Communists. In Madrid, Melchor Rodríguez, who was then a member of the CNT, and director of prisons in Madrid, published accusations that the Communist José Cazorla, who was then overseeing public order, was maintaining secret prisons to hold anarchists, socialists, and other republicans, and either executing, or torturing them as "traitors". Soon after, on this pretext, Largo Caballero dissolved the Communist-controlled Junta de Defensa.[43] Cazorla reacted by closing the offices of Solidaridad Obrera.[44] In Catalonia, the Catalan Communists in the Catalan government made several demands that provoked the ire of the anarchists, in particular the call for turning all weapons over to the control of the government. The April 8, 1937 issue of Solidaridad Obrera opined, "We have made too many concessions and have reached the moment of turning off the tap,"[45] while the May 2 issue urged workers to prevent the government from disarming them. On the 25th, Juan Negrín sent security forces to take over posts on the French border in the Pyrenees that had until then been controlled by the CNT, anarchists in Bellver de Cerdanya fought with Negrín's carabineros, and Roldán Cortada, the Communist leader of the UGT was killed, allegedly by an anarchist. Cortada's funeral was used by the PSUC as an anti-CNT demonstration. Because of all the conflict, the UGT and CNT agreed with the Generalitat to cancel any celebrations on May Day. On May 3, Assault Guards of the government attempted to take over the CNT-controlled telephone exchange building in Barcelona, but were held off by gunfire. The assault guard laid siege to the building, and fighting between the anarchists and POUM on one side, and Communists and the government forces on the other began. Leaders of the CNT attempted to acquire the resignation of the Communists they felt were responsible for the conflict, but to no avail.

The next day CNT's regional committee declared a general strike. The CNT controlled the majority of the city, including the heavy artillery on the hill of Montjuïc overlooking the city. CNT militias disarmed more than 200 members of the security forces at their barricades, allowing only CNT vehicles to pass through.[46] After unsuccessful appeals from the CNT leadership to end the fighting, the government began transferring Assault Guard from the front to Barcelona, and even destroyers from Valencia. On May 5, the Friends of Durruti issued a pamphlet calling for "disarming of the paramilitary police… dissolution of the political parties…" and declared "Long live the social revolution! - Down with the counter-revolution!" The pamphlet was quickly denounced by the leadership of the CNT.[47] The next day, the government agreed to a proposal by the leadership of the CNT-FAI, that called for the removal of the Assault Guards, and no reprisals against libertarians that had participated in the conflict, in exchange for the dismantling of barricades, and end of the general strike. However, neither the PSUC or the Assault Guards gave up their positions, and according to historian Anthony Beevor "carried out violent reprisals against libertarians"[48] By May 8, the fighting was over.

These events, the fall of Largo Caballero's government, and the new prime ministership of Juan Negrín soon led to the collapse of much that the CNT had achieved immediately following the rising the previous July. At the beginning of July, the Aragonese organizations of the Popular Front publicly declared their support for the alternative council in Aragon, led by their president, Joaquín Ascaso. Four weeks later the 11th Division, under Enrique Líster, entered the region. On August 11 1937, the Republican government, now situated in Valencia, dismissed the Regional Council for the Defense of Aragon.[49] Líster's division was prepared for an offensive on the Aragonese front, but they were also sent to subdue the collectives run by the CNT-UGT and in dismantling the collective structures created the previous twelve months. The offices of the CNT were destroyed, and all the equipment belonging to its collectives was redistributed to landowners.[50] The CNT leadership not only refused to allow the anarchist columns on the Aragon front to leave the front to defend the collectives, but they failed to condemn the government's actions against the collectives, causing much conflict between it and the rank and file membership of the union.[51]


In April 1938, Juan Negrín was asked to form a government, and included Segundo Blanco, a member of the CNT, as minister of education, and by this point, the only CNT member left in the cabinet. At this point, many in the CNT leadership were critical of participation in the government, seeing it as dominated by the Communists. Prominent CNT leaders went so far as to refer to Blanco as "sop of the libertarian movement"[52] and "just one more Negrínist."[53] On the other side, Blanco was responsible for installing other CNT members into the ministry of education, and stopping the spread of "Communist propaganda" by the ministry.[54]

In March 1939, with the war nearly over, CNT leaders participated in the National Defense Council's coup overthrowing the government of the Communist Juan Negrín.[55] Those involved included the CNT's Eduardo Val and José Manuel González Marín serving on the council, while Cipriano Mera's 70th Division provided military support, and Melechor Rodríquez became mayor of Madrid.[56] The Council attempted to negotiate a peace with Franco, though he granted virtually none of their demands.

The CNT during the Franco dictatorship[edit]

In 1939 the Law of Political Responsibilities outlawed the CNT[57] and expropriated its assets.[58] At that time the organization had a million members and a large infrastructure. According to one estimate, roughly 160-180,000 members of the CNT were killed by the Franco government.[59]

The CNT acted clandestinely inside Spain during the Franco years, as well as conducting activities from exile, and some members kept on fighting the regime of Francisco Franco until 1948 through the guerrilla actions of maquis. There was much disagreement amongst factions of the CNT during these years. There was a major split after the National Committee inside Spain chose to support members of the Republican government in exile, while members of the Libertarian Movement in Exile (MLE) (basically the CNT-in-exile) stood against further collaboration with the government. Even Federica Montseny, who had joined the Republic as Minister of Health changed her stance on collaboration, describing the "futility of...participation in the government."[60]

In January 1960, the MLE was formed by the CNT, the FAI, and the FIJL. In September of the next year, a congress was held in Limoges, at which the Sección Defensa Interior (DI) was created, to be partially funded by the CNT. By this point, a great majority of the CNT-in-exile had given up on political action as a tool, and one of the main goals of the DI was to assassinate Franco.[61]

These divergent attitudes combined with Franco's repression to weaken the organization, and the CNT lost influence among the population inside Spain.[62] In 1961 it began to regain strength, consolidating itself during the 1960s and 1970s thanks to penetration of anarcho-syndicalist ideology into Catholic anti-Francoist workers' organizations such as the Hermandad Obrera de Acción Católica (HOAC, "Worker Brethren of Catholic Action") or Juventud Obrera Católica (JOC, "Catholic Worker Youth").

During the "transition"[edit]

The Barcelona offices of the CNT.

After Franco's death in November 1975 and the beginning of Spain's transition to democracy, the CNT was the only social movement to refuse to sign the 1977 Moncloa Pact,[63] an agreement amongst politicians, political parties, and trade unions to plan how to operate the economy during the transition. In 1979, the CNT held its first congress since 1936 as well as several mass meetings, the most remarkable one in Montjuïc. Views put forward in this congress would set the pattern for the CNT's line of action for the following decades: no participation in union elections, no acceptance of state subsidies,[64] no acknowledgment of works councils, and support of union sections.

In this first congress, held in Madrid,[65] a minority sector in favor of union elections split from the CNT, initially calling themselves CNT Valencia Congress (referring to the alternative congress held in this city), and later Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) after an April 1989 court decision determined that they could not use the CNT initials.[66] In 1990, a group of CGT members left this union to be able to receive the same government subsidies that other unions receive, founding Solidaridad Obrera.

One year before, the 1978 Scala Case affected the CNT. An explosion killed three people in a Barcelona night club.[67] The authorities alleged that striking workers "blew themselves up", and arrested surviving strikers, implicating them in the crime.[68] CNT members declared that the prosecution sought to criminalize their organization:[69]

It was evident that the police weren't looking for anything nor anyone – they already had the culprits – it was just about intimidating the cenetistsa and scaring away from the organization thousands of affiliate workers that, although they identified with the syndical line of the anarcho-syndicalists, they weren't determined to go a long way in their support, let alone to defy such police repression. Things weren't a joke, the news of new arrests created an insecurity atmosphere among great part of the members. On the other hand, the certainty of the implication of the CNT in the attack kept consolidating in the public opinion, which caused serious deterioration in the organization's image, and thus the anarchists'. If we add news of aggressions and assaults by fascist groups, which considerably increased those days, we can more or less picture the situation. Being an anarchist those days turned very unpleasant. The media made it unpopular; the police and ultra-rightwing groups made it dangerous.

Revista Polémica, The Scala case. A trial against anarcho-syndicalism.

After its legalization, the CNT began efforts to recover the expropriations of 1939. The basis for such recovery would be established by Law 4/1986, which required the return of the seized properties, and the unions' right to use or yield the real estate. Since then the CNT has been claiming the return of these properties from the State.

In 1996, the Economic and Social Council facilities in Madrid were squatted by 105 CNT militants.[70] This body is in charge of the repatriation of the accumulated union wealth. In 2004 an agreement was reached between the CNT and the District Attorney's Office, through which all charges were dropped against the hundred prosecuted for this occupation.

Current status[edit]

CNT members picketing outside a Mercadona store in Barcelona, June 2006.

The CNT opposes the model of union elections and workplace committees,[71] and is critical of the mainstream Spanish unions, the Workers' General Union and the Workers' Commissions, and of labor reforms;[72] instead they put forward a platform of reivindicación: that is, of "return of what is due," of social revolution.[73]

In 2005, the government of Spain continued the return of the union endowments seized during and after the Civil War to the UGT and CNT. According to some social groups and media reports, this return was seen to be a show of favoritism to the UGT, because in 1936, the anarcho-syndicalist trade unions had about as many members as other unions, but the government returned about four million euros to the CNT while the UGT received a much larger amount. The CNT has continued to demand the full return of their seized historical endowment.[74]

July 2006 marked the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Revolution, and in commemoration the CNT and FAI organized commemorative celebrations, with events such as speeches, debates, film screenings, expositions, and musical performances.[75]

Symbols and culture[edit]

See also: Anarchist symbolism

Movie ticket for a theatre managed by the CNT

The CNT, owing to its interests in the radical transformation of society, has sought to make free knowledge and culture accessible to workers, a task which has been developed through the support of the anarchist academies. The School of Anarchist Militants was an institution which, by means of anarchist pedagogy, sought to ensure that "groups of teenagers could acquire the knowledge and the personal responsibility essential to work in collectives such as those of entertainers and accountants." Through the Anselmo Lorenzo Foundation, the CNT manages its cultural heritage, edits books, and organizes conferences and colloquies. Also, some sections of the CNT have supported and promoted Esperanto.

The flag of the CNT is the traditional flag of anarcho-syndicalism, which joins diagonally the red color of the labour movement and the black color of anarchism, as a negation of nationalism and reaffirmation of internationalism.

The anthem of the CNT is A las barricadas (To The Barricades), composed by the Polish poet Wacław Święcicki in 1883. Święcicki's work, called Warschawjanka, was given Spanish lyrics by Valeriano Orobón Fernández and published with some musical arrangements for mixed choir by Ángel Miret in 1933.

Several postage stamps were issued by the CNT during the Spanish Civil War.[76] Other surviving artifacts of this period are posters, [77] movie tickets, and other objects related to the companies which were collectivized during the Spanish Revolution of 1936.

George Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War in the militia of the POUM, a revolutionary Marxist party (though oppossed to the Soviet Union line) whose militants were allied with the CNT during the revolution and to which Andrés Nin, the former Secretary General of the CNT, belonged. Orwell described in his book Homage to Catalonia the time during which Barcelona rose up with the CNT and anarchism. In the ninth chapter of his book, Orwell commented that "As far as my purely personal preferences went I would have liked to join the Anarchists."[78]

Robert Capa photographed the death of Durruti Column militiaman Federico Borrell García during the Spanish Civil War in the snapshot called "Death of a Loyalist Soldier".[79] This photograph has become a famous image which shows the calamity of war.[80]

In 1936, the film industry was collectivized[81] and produced short films such as En la brecha (In the Gap, 1937). The CNT has been portrayed in recent Spanish filmmaking by the Vicente Aranda's film Libertarias (1996), which shows a group of militiamen (and especially militiawomen) at the Aragon front during the Spanish Civil War.


  1. Woodcock 1962, p. 312
  2. CNT's official web (Spanish)
  3. (Spanish) Estatutos de la CNT de 1977 ("1977 Statutes of the CNT"), accessed online on Wikisource 31 January 2007.
  4. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 106
  5. CNT 1998
  6. CNT 1998
    Anarcho-syndicalism is internationalist; it sees the world as a whole in spite of racial, language or cultural differences. In this sense, it opposes the oppression that the states exert over the people. We are against the Spanish state oppressing the Basque people, in favor of the Basque, Catalan, Palestine, Saharan, Tibetan, or Kurdish people being responsible for their own destinies, settling on more or less delimited territories, participating in the richness of the society as a whole, federating as they like, becoming independent from the states; but we would oppose just as strongly the creation of a Basque, Palestinian, Saharan or Kurdish state, with its police, army, currency, government and repressive instrument.
  7. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 109
  8. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 109
  9. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 110
  10. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 109-110
  11. CNT 1998, p. 14
  12. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 110
  13. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 115
  14. Geary 1989, p. 261
  15. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 110
  16. Periódico CNT. URL accessed on 2008-02-02.
  17. Gómez Casas 1986, p. 49
  18. Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, International Workingmen's Association (1983). Cenit : órgano de la CNT-AIT Regional del Exterior : portavoz de la CNT de España, CeNiT
  19. REVISTA BICEL. Fundación de Estudios Libertarios Anselmo Lorenzo. URL accessed on 2008-02-02.
  20. Origen de la Fundación de Estudios Libertarios Anselmo Lorenzo. URL accessed on 2008-02-02.
  21. CNT 1998, p. 21
  22. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 111
  23. CNT 1998, p. 20
  24. CNT 1998, p. 21
  25. CNT 1998, p. 21
  26. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 109
  27. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 109
  28. (Spanish) CNT: otra forma de hacer sindicalismo ("CNT: another form of doing unionism"), official CNT site. Accessed online 6 January 2007.
  29. Geary 1989, p. 261
  30. Geary 1989, p. 261
  31. Beevor 2006, p. 13
  32. Beevor 2006, p. 15
  33. Beevor 2006, p. 17
  34. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 116
  35. Horn 1996, p. 56
  36. Beevor 2006, p. 24
  37. Beevor 2006, p. 46
  38. Beevor 2006, p. 48
  39. Ackelsberg 2005, p. 167
  40. Beevor 2006, p. 146-147
  41. Beevor 2006, p. 170
  42. Alexander 1999, p. 361
  43. Beevor 2006, p. 260
  44. Beevor 2006, p. 263
  45. Beevor 2006, p. 261
  46. Beevor 2006, p. 263-264
  47. Beevor 2006, p. 266-267
  48. Beevor 2006, p. 267
  49. Beevor 2006, p. 295
  50. Beevor 2006, p. 295
  51. Beevor 2006, p. 296
  52. Alexander 1999, p. 976
  53. Alexander 1999, p. 977
  54. Alexander 1999, p. 978
  55. Alexander 1999, p. 1055
  56. Beevor 2006, p. 490
  57. Bowen 2006, p. 248
  58. Aguilar Fernández 2002, p. 155
  59. Alexander 1999, p. 1095
  60. Guérin 2005, p. 674
  61. Christie 2002, p. 214
  62. Aguilar Fernández 2002, p. 155
  63. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 108
  64. Roca Martínez 2006, p. 109
  65. Aguilar Fernández 2002, p. 110
  66. FAQ.
  67. Alexander 1999, p. 1094
  68. Meltzer 1996, p. 265
  69. (Spanish) A series of three articles about the Scala Case from the CNT point of view: (1) El Caso Scala. Un proceso contra el anarcosindicalismo, ("The Scala Case. A trial against anarcho-syndicalism"), Jesús Martínez, Revista Polémica online, 1 February 2006; (2) Segunda parte. El proceso ("Second part: the trial") 31 January 2006; (3) Tercera parte. El canto del Grillo ("Third part: Grillo's song") 31 January 2006. All accessed online 6 January 2008.
  70. Los 117 detenidos de la CNT, en libertad tras prestar declaración. El Mundo. URL accessed on 2008-01-14.
  71. (Spanish) ¿Que son las elecciones sindicales?, official CNT site. Accessed online 6 January 2008.
  72. (Spanish) Otra reforma laboral ¿Y ahora qué?, official CNT site. Accessed online 6 January 2008.
  73. (Spanish) Plataforma Reivindicativa, official CNT site. Accessed online 6 January 2008.
  74. (Spanish) Reivindicación de nuestro patrimonio | recuperaación de la memoria histórica, a collecton of articles on the official CNT site. See especially (1) Reivindicación del patrimonio sindical acumulado, CNT de Toledo, 9 September 2007 and (2) La CNT ha presentado hoy una demanda ante el Tribunal Supremo sobre Patrimonio Histórico, Secretaría de Prensa y Comunicación del Comité Nacional de CNT-AIT (Secretary of Press and Communication of the National Committee of the CNT-AIT), 6 September 2007. All accessed online 6 January 2008.
  75. (Spanish)Jornadas Conmemorativos del 70º Aniversario de la Revolución Social Anarquista; Semana del 10 al 22 de Julio. ("Commemorative Days of the 70th Anniversary of the Anarchist Social Revolution: week of 10 to 22 July" (and interactive schedule, which is an active image map). On official CNT site. Accessed 6 January 2008.
  76. (French) Les trimbres édités par la CNT et la FAI entre 1936 et 1939 ("The stamps issued by the CNT and FAI between 1936 and 1939"), Increvables Anarchistes. Includes images of many stamps. Accessed 6 January 2008.</small>
  77. Spain 1936/1939, what are the anarchist posters during the civil war?. URL accessed on 2008-01-07.
  78. Orwell 1969, p. 116
  79. The picture, taken September 5, 1936, is known by various similar names: "Death of a militiaman", "Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936." See Federico Borrell García for image.</small>
  80. Proving that Robert Capa's Falling Soldier is Genuine: a Detective Story, Richard Whelan, American Masters, PBS Website. Accessed 5 January 2008.
  81. (Spanish) Cine y Anarquismo. 1936: colectivización de la industria cinematográfica. ("Film and anarchism. 1936: Collectivisation of the film industry"), official CNT site. Accessed 5 January 2008.


  • CNT (2001). Anarcosindicalismo básico (in Spanish), Seville: Federación Local de Sindicatos de Sevilla de la CNT-AIT.
    • CNT; Jeff Stein (1998). Basic Anarcho-Syndicalism (in English), Johannesburg, South Africa: Zabalaza Books. URL accessed 2008-01-07. Excerpts from the 1998 edition of Anarcosindicalismo básico were translated by Jeff Stein and published first in the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, then as a pamphlet (PDF linked). Direct quotations in this article follow Stein's wording for passages he has translated. Note that the pagination of the linked PDF places two pages of the pamphlet on each PDF page; cited page numbers follow the pamphlet itself.
  • Aguilar Fernández, Palomar (2002). Memory and Amnesia: The Role of the Spanish Civil War in the Transition to Democracy, Berghahn Books. ISBN 1571814965.
  • Ackelsberg, Martha A. (2005). Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women, Oakland: AK Press. ISBN 1902593960.
  • Alexander, Robert (1999). Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, Janus Publishing Company. ISBN 185756412X.
  • Beevor, Antony (2006). The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0297-848325.
  • Bowen, Wayne H. (2006). Spain During World War II, University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0826216587.
  • Christie, Stuart (2002). My Granny Made Me an Anarchist: The Cultural and Political Formation of a west of Scotland ‘baby-boomer’, Christie Books. ISBN 1873976143.
  • Christie, Stuart (2003). General Franco Made Me A ‘Terrorist’, Christie Books. ISBN 1873976194.
  • Fernández, Frank, Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement, See Sharp Press.
  • Gómez Casas, Juan (1986). Anarchist Organisation: The History of the F.A.I., Black Rose Books Limited. ISBN 0920057381.
  • Geary, Dick (1989). Labour and Socialist Movements in Europe Before 1914, Berg Publishers. ISBN 0854967052.
  • Horn, Gerd-Rainer (1996). European Socialists Respond to Fascism: Ideology, Activism and Contingency in the 1930s, Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0195093747.
  • Meltzer, Albert (1996). I Couldn't Paint Golden Angels: Sixty Years of Commonplace Life and Anarchist Agitation, Oakland: AK Press. ISBN 1873176937.
  • Orwell, George (1938). Homage to Catalonia.
  • Porcel, Baltasar (1978). La revuelta permanente (in Spanish), Barcelona: Editorial Planeta.
  • Beltrán, (2006). "Anarchism, anthropology and Andalucia: an analysis of the CNT and 'New Capitalism'," Anarchist Studies, 14, 106–130.
  • Villar, Manuel (1994). El anarquismo en la insurrección de Asturias: la CNT y la FAI en octubre de 1934 (in Spanish), Madrid: Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo.
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External links[edit]


CNT poster appealing to peasants.

(French) Images of numerous CNT-related posters can be seen on the French-language site Increvables Anarchistes:

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