Gascón and Guillamón: In Defence of the Spanish Anarchists

The misrepresentation of the history of the Spanish anarchists, particularly with respect to the Spanish Revolution and Civil War, is something that anarchists have had to combat when the events were occuring and ever since. In this manifesto, Antonio Gascón and Agustín Guillamón challenge continuing attempts to blame on the anarchists every atrocity committed outside of the fascist controlled areas (see also “Autopsy of a Hoax,” regarding the shabby attempts to blame the anarchists for mass executions in Madrid). These misattributions of responsibility go back to the Civil War itself, something that, as the authors point out, George Orwell tried to bring to the world’s attention in his memoir of the Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, which professional historians hostile to anarchism continue to denigrate. Gascón and Guillamón’s manifesto has been translated by Paul Sharkey and was originally posted at Christie Books and then reposted by the Kate Sharpley Library. I included a chapter on the Spanish Revolution in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

The Rag-Pickers’ Puigcerdá Manifesto: Fight for History

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The fight put up by workers in order to learn their own history is but one of the many class wars in progress. It is not sheer theory, abstraction nor banality, in that it is part and parcel of class consciousness per se and can be described as theorization of the historical experiences of the world proletariat and in Spain it has to embrace, assimilate and inevitably lay claim to the experiences of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in the 1930s.

There is spectre hanging over historical science, the spectre of falsification. The amnesia worked out between the democratic opposition’s trade unions and political parties with the last management line-up of the Francoist state at the time of the dictator’s demise, was yet another defeat for the workers’ movement during the Transition and it had important implications for how the Francoist Dictatorship and the Civil War are remembered historically. An amnesty amounted to a clean slate and a fresh start with the past. This required a deliberate and “necessary” forgetting of all pre-1978 history. There was a brand new Official History to be rewritten, since the Francoist and the anti-Francoist versions of the past were of no further use to the new establishment, its gaze focused upon papering over the antagonisms that triggered the Spanish Civil War.

At present (April 2018), every reference to conflict or antagonism having been banished from the collective memory along with anything that might make it plain that the Civil War was also a class war, the business of recycling it as a chapter in bourgeois history has peaked. Having played down, covered up or ignored the proletarian and revolutionary character of the Civil War, the mandarins of Official History are busily recuperating the past as the narrative of the formation and historical consolidation of representative democracy, or, in the historically autonomous regions, enshrining the basis of their nationhood.

The working class has had its historical protagonism wrested away from it, to the advantage of the brand-new democratic and nationalistic myths of a bourgeoisie that holds economic and political power. LET US PLACE IT ON RECORD THAT HISTORICAL MEMORY IS A CLASS WAR BATTLEGROUND.

The bourgeois institutions of the state’s cultural apparatus have always controlled and exploited history for their own advantage, by covering up, ignoring or misrepresenting facts that call into question or challenge class rule and, with a few honorable exceptions, the vast majority of academic and professional historians have gone along with this willingly.

As the research presently stands, the book by Pous and Sabaté about Antonio Martín and the Civil War in the Cerdanya, as well as the tiresome repetition of their theses and contentions by virtually every other historian who had dealt with the subject, stands out as the most striking and extreme sample shedding light on the Official History mentioned in this Manifesto. OFFICIAL HISTORY IS THE CLASS HISTORY OF THE BOURGEOISIE.

As a platonic ideal, objectivity is actually non-existent in a society divided into social classes. In the specific instance of the Civil War, Official History is characterized by its EXTRAORDINARY ineptitude and its no less EXTRAVAGANT attitude. The ineptitude resides in its utter inability to achieve, or indeed to strive for, a modicum of scientific rigour. The ATTITUDE springs from its knowing IGNORING or DENIAL of the existence of a hugely mighty revolutionary movement (libertarian, for the most part) which, like it or not, shaped every aspect of the Civil War. These servitors of the bourgeoisie in the field of History are prone to a number of intellectual aberrations (aberrant even from a bourgeois viewpoint):

THEY PRAISE and EULOGIZE the methods and repressive efficacy of the Assault Guards and Civil Guard (renamed the Republican National Guard) or political police (the Military Intelligence Service, or SIM). Perhaps they not very aware that in so doing they are singing the praises of torture. But that is a feature that, like no other, flags up the influence of class outlook and interests in the field of history, because such praise for the efficacy of torture and republican police and judicial crackdowns on revolutionaries, runs parallel to the displays of horror at the class violence unleashed against bourgeois in July 1936 by “uncontrollables”. Experts on the subject of violence and efficient in keeping the books on violent deaths they may well be, but they display total partisanship when they describe as anarchist “terror” or police “efficiency” what was at every step the violence of one class against another. Except that, as far as they are concerned, workers’ violence amounts to terror, whereas, violence coming from the state, the SIM, the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC), the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Estat Catala is to be classed as “efficiency”. On no grounds other than their class outlook. Violence is judged by double standards, depending on one’s view of the person inflicting or enduring it.

They DENY, though they would rather IGNORE (in that the latter would be handier, more effective and more elegant) the decisive strength with the republican zone of a mostly anarchist revolutionary movement.

They DENY, or so extensively downplay as to misrepresent the documented record of the facts, the hugely repressive, reactionary complicity of the Catholic Church in the army coup d’etat and its active involvement in preparing, unleashing and blessing the subsequent fascist repression.

They DEPLORE George Orwell’s having written an “accursed” book that should never have been read and Ken Loach’s having filmed a “ghastly” movie that ought never to have been watched. We wish to sound the ALARM against a rising tide of revisionist historians of the Civil War.

ALARM at the determined brazen misrepresentation of historical events, in defiance of the available documentary record. The facts themselves are being forced underground and the documentation is ignored or misinterpreted. The writing of Civil War history has shifted from being an activist history written by the protagonists and eye-witnesses to the civil war, (with all of the risks that that implied, but also offering the irreplaceable passion of those who do not dice with words because they had previously diced with death) into a cack-handed, obsolete academic history characterized by bloopers, lack of understanding and even contempt for the militants and organizations of the workers’ movement.

ALARM at the increasing banality of Official History and the methodical marginalization of research that highlights the crucial historical role of the workers’ movement, no mater how rigorous it might be. In actual fact, the bourgeois historians are utterly incapable not just of understanding but even of accepting the historical existence of a mass revolutionary movement in 1936 Spain. We are dealing here with a history that refuses to acknowledge the revolutionary upheaval that played out during the Civil War period.

Official History approaches the Civil War as a fascism-antifascism dichotomy, which facilitates consensus between left- and right-wing academic historians, Catalan nationalists and the neo-stalinists who, across the board, are all agreed in chalking the republic’s failure up to the radicalism of the anarchists, POUMists and revolutionary masses who are thereby made into their shared scape-goats.

By ignoring, omitting or down-playing the proletarian and revolutionary aspects of the period of the Republic and the Civil War, Official History manages to turn the world upside down, so that its leading pontiffs have awarded themselves the task of rewriting the whole thing ALL OVER AGAIN, thereby completing their hijacking of historical memory, in yet another step in the overall process of expropriating the working class. When all is said and done, it is the academic historians who write History. Even as the generation that lived through the war is dying out, the books and handbooks of Official History are ignoring the existence of a magnificent revolutionary anarchist movement and, ten years from now, might dare claim that NO SUCH MOVEMENT EXISTED. The mandarins firmly believe that NOTHING THEY do not write about ever existed: if the history calls the present into question, they deny it.

It is the function of revolutionary history to show that legends, books and handbooks tell lies, misrepresent, manipulate and kowtow to the bureaucratic and class-biased academic discipline.

Faced with the growing bringing of the profession of historian into disrepute, and in spite of whatever honorable and outstanding examples there may be around, we, Antonio Gascón and Agustín Guillamón, abjure the description ‘historian’ in the aim of averting undesirable and unpleasant confusion: grounds enough for us lay claim to the honest pursuit of collectors of ancient testimonies and papers: rag-pickers of history.

Following the political (though not military) defeat of the anarchists in May 1937, in Barcelona and all across Catalonia, the crackdown on the libertarian movement during the summer of 1937 was accompanied by a campaign of insult, degradation, outright lies, abuse and criminalization which conjured up a brand-new reality in place of the social and historical facts: the anti-libertarian black legend which has, since then, become the only acceptable explanation, the only living history. For the first time in history, a political propaganda campaign replaced what had happened by a non-existent, artificially constructed fiction. George Orwell, eye-witness to and a victim of this campaign of denigration, falsehood and demonization, posited a Big Brother in his novels. The academic historians were able to rewrite the past time and again, depending on the shifting sectarian and political interests, the wrath of the gods they worshipped or the tastes and whimsies of whoever was their master. As Orwell wrote in his novel 1984: “Whoever controls the past controls the future. Whoever controls the present controls the past.”

In the realm of historiography, the bourgeoisie’s Hallowed History inherited, pursued and completed this defamatory Stalinist and republican campaign, which needs to be denounced, criticized and demolished. History is but one more fight in the class war in progress. The bourgeoisie’s history we counter with the revolutionary history of the proletariat. Lies are defeated by truth; myths and dark legends by archives.

There is a stark contradiction between the trade of retrieving historical memory and the profession of lackeys of Official History as the latter needs to forget and eradicate the past existence and, consequently, the feasibility in the future, of a redoubtable revolutionary mass workers’ movement. This contrast between trade and profession is resolved by means of ignoring what they know or ought to know; and this makes them redundant. Official History purports to be objective, impartial and all-encompassing. But it is characterized by its inability to acknowledge the class element in its alleged objectivity.  It is, of necessity, partisan and cannot embrace any outlook other than the bourgeoisie’s class outlook. And it is, of necessity, exclusivist and banishes the working class from the past, future and present. Official Sociology would have us believe that the working class, the proletariat and the class struggle are no more; and it is up to Official History to persuade us that they never existed.

A perpetual, complacent and a-critical present renders the past banal and eats away at historical awareness.

The bourgeoisie’s historians have to rewrite the past, just the way Big Brother did, time and again. They need to deny that the Civil War was a class war. Whoever controls the present controls the past and whoever controls the past determines the future. Official History is the bourgeoisie’s history and its mission these days is to weave a myth around nationalisms, democracy and market economics, so as to persuade us that these things are eternal, immutable and immoveable.

The promoters of this Manifesto, Antonio Gascón and Agustín Guillamón, having set themselves up as a History Defence Committee, hereby declare themselves belligerents in this FIGHT FOR HISTORY. For that reason, and as set out in our book Nacionalistas contra anarquistas en la Cerdaña (Nationalists versus anarchists in the Cerdanya), published by Ediciones Descontrol (editorial@descontrol.cat)

WE FIND IT PROVEN

That the crackdown on priests and right-wingers in the Cerdanya between 20 July 1936 and 8 September 1936 was directed by the mayor of Puigcerdá, Jaime Palau, a member of the ERC (Esquerra).

That the list of 21 right-wing Puigcerdá citizens “who had to be eliminated” was thrashed out and drawn up in the Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña Clubhouse and its president Eliseo Font Morera “approved the list of victims”. The persons featuring on the list were arrested and murdered on the night of 9 September 1936.

Then when it came to the establishment of the Puigcerdá Town Administrative Council on 20 October 1936, the anarchists forced the ERC to participate in the shape of the two chief protagonists of the crack-down on rightists: Jaime Palau and Elise Font.

That ANTONIO MARTÍN ESCUDERO, the Durruti of the Cerdanya, was assassinated on the bridge in Bellver on 27 April 1937 in an ambush set by the ERC and Estat Catalá. The murder was due to the anarchists’ steely monitoring of the border, to the detriment of the smuggling activities of stalinists and (Catalan) nationalists.

That, after 10 June 1937, in the wake of the political defeat suffered by the anarchists in the May Events, it was the anarchists’ turn. Seven libertarians were murdered in La Serradora by stalinists and nationalists.

An Executive Committee made up of stalinists and nationalists was set up to coordinate and oversee the crack-down on libertarians in the Cerdanya. That crack-down and the campaign of defamation were closely connected. The massacre on 9 September 1936 and all murders committed in the comarca, plus all thievery and criminality were laid at the door of a wrongly blamed scapegoat: the anarchists. This was a distraction from the criminal culpability of the PSUCERC and it criminalized the class enemy: the anarchists.

That the majority of historians lie, manipulate or falsify, some of them unknowingly, but most unconsciously: this is within the very nature and condition of the trade by which they make their living. The bourgeoisie’s Hallowed History is a forgery, concocted to spare the nationalists and stalinists from all blame for the outrages during the early days of the Revolution. One good example would be the prevailing historical writing about Puigcerdá and the Cerdanya, which, for upwards of 80 years now, has successfully concealed the fact that the protagonists of the 1934 coup suffered harsh reprisals at the hands of the pro-Spain rightists (españolistas) in 1935; that that repression provoked the Catalanist coup-makers of 1934 into taking revenge by participating in the abuses and arbitrary acts which followed the July 1936 defeat of the military in Barcelona and across Catalonia. And, in particular, that more than one of them belonged to Estat Catalá, or were, for the most part, known members of the ERC listed in the Causa General as answerable for the local killings.

That the myth of mass shootings in the Tosas Pass, carried out on the instructions of the Puigcerdá Committee, collapses in the face of the emphatic detail in a document in the Causa General which, following the disinterment and analysis of those 26 cadavers, found that most belonged to very young people, some of whom were identified as right-wingers and deserters, slain by the carabineers whilst attempting to cross the border. No mention of Committee nor of firing squads; just carabineers and deserters and in any case these deaths had nothing to do with internal issues in the Cerdanya and ought not to be counted as resulting from social and political conflicts in that comarca.

That it should not escape anyone that the irrefutable demolition of the dark legend surrounding Catalan anarchism in the Cerdanya, and more specifically, the fantastic criminalization of Antonio Martin, in the pages of our book on the Cerdanya, carries significant implications:

A. In 1937 the republican and stalinist authorities were deliberately lying and knowingly concocted that dark legend denigrating Catalan anarchism. It was a powerful political weapon used against the CNTFAI, as well as the perfect defence against their own crimes; these could be pinned on the anarchists.
B. The bourgeoisie’s historians lie and painstakingly choose from among the documentation held in the archives and thereby become the heirs and successors to the propaganda campaign of denigration and defamation which, for the first time in history, successfully ensured that the genuine social and historical facts were eclipsed and replaced by a different fictional reality conjured up by this campaign of propaganda and infamy.
C. In 1937-1938, Catalan stalinists and nationalists subscribed in the same innate, civilized and ethical way to a radical political racism vis à vis the anarchists, in a muddle of ethnic, cultural, ideological and linguistic prejudices. Anarchists were scorned and de-humanized, so that, in the nationalist and stalinist imagination, they stopped being people and instead became brutes and beasts who could be and deserved to be sacrificed on the altar of the homeland. Just the way the españolista right-wingers had been a few months earlier.
D. All of these monsters, serial killers, vampires and priest-eaters who had popped up all over Catalonia like some virus and whom the historians have described as criminals are deserving of a second look. All the historians are under suspicion of partisanship and sectarianism.
E. Over the summer of 1937, the CNT – as an organization – effectively ceased to exist in the Cerdanya. The brutal anti-libertarian repression was orchestrated by an Executive Committee on which Vicente Climent (PSUC), Juan Bayran Clasli (PSUC), Juan Solé (mayor of Bellver), a Watch officer by the name of Samper and another, unnamed officer, both of them Estat Catalá members, served.

IN CONSEQUENCE OF WHICH WE CONCLUDE:

That history is yet another battle in the class war in progress. We posit the proletariat’s revolutionary history as a counter to the bourgeoisie’s history. Lies are routed by truth; myths and dark legends refuted by archives.

That history as a social science is no longer feasible in academic university institutions, where historians are turned into functionaries subject to the authorities and the established order. Honest, scientific, rigorous History is these days only possible in spite of the academic historians and outside of those institutions.

That the mission of bourgeois History is to weave myths about nationalisms, democratic totalitarianism and capitalist economics in order to persuade us that these are eternal, immutable and immoveable. A perpetual, complacent and a-critical present  renders the past banal and demolishes historical awareness. We are shifting from Hallowed History towards post-history. Post-truth is a newspeak for a (these days frequent) situation wherein the reporter creates public opinion by bending facts and reality to suit emotions, prejudices, ideologies, propaganda, material interests and politics. If something seems true and in addition flatters one’s vanity or is satisfying emotionally, as well as bolstering prejudices or identity, it deserves to be true. A decent advertising campaign turns lies, fraud and the counterfeit into a palatable, convenient post-truth. Post-history is no longer the narration or interpretation of events that happened in the past, and is turning into a narrative that hacks of every hue and ideology concoct for the publishing market, regardless of facts and historical reality, which are now regarded as being merely symbolic, secondary, dispensable, prejudicial or hidden.

AS A RESULT WE DEMAND:

That the informational panels erected on the bridge in Bellver be removed or amended.

That the ERC claim its share of the responsibility for the killings in Puigcerdá on 9-9-1936 and drop the slanders that that organization has been constantly and systematically peddling against libertarians.

That Pous and Sabaté formally acknowledge their errors and shortcomings, and do so publicly and openly, for the sake of their own self-respect and because it is only fair.

WE ARE EMBARKING UPON the dissemination of this text with the aim of alerting libertarians and dispelling and freeing them from the huge moral damage they have endured because of this degrading defamatory campaign, driven by the nationalists and stalinists.

There can be no compact or collaboration with the class enemy. We invite the inevitably minority of anarchists and rebels, armed with principles, even though they have no homeland and no flags, no gods and no frontiers, not to give up nor give in, but to associate themselves with these demands by sending messages of support for this Manifesto to the HISTORY DEFENCE COMMITTEE, e-mail: chbalance@gmail.com

Antonio Gascón and Agustín Guillamón, Puigcerdá, 27 April 2018

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Gaston Leval: The Achievements of the Spanish Revolution

This year’s anniversary of the Spanish Revolution and civil war sees the republication by PM Press of Gaston Leval’s eyewitness account, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, with a new introduction by Pedro García-Guirao and a preface by Stuart Christie. I included excerpts from Leval’s book in the chapter on the Spanish Revolution in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Here I reproduce some of Leval’s reflections on the achievements of the Spanish Revolution, taken from the concluding chapter of his book.

Gaston Leval (1976)

The Achievements of the Spanish Revolution

We have said and repeated that the fascist attack created a favourable situation for the libertarian sector to take over an important part of the general situation and of almost the whole economy. Nevertheless the repercussions were only favourable, for negative and positive consequences were about equally balanced. On the one hand many militants, often the best, were, because of the war, mobilised and many died at the front. It was also the best who were missing from the Syndicates, in the Collectives, in the villages where they exercised a salutary influence. And on the other hand, the number of those who became a part of the government bureaucracy were also numerous enough for their absence to be felt.

One of the dominant characteristics which impresses whoever studies the Spanish Revolution is its many sidedness. This revolution was guided by certain very clear and very definite principles, which involved the general expropriation of the holders of social I wealth, the seizure by the workers of the organisational structures of production and distribution, the direct administration of public services, the establishment of the libertarian communist principle. But the uniformity of these principles did not prevent a diversity in the methods for their application, so much so that one can talk of “diversity within unity” and of a surprisingly diversified federalism.

In a very short time, in the agrarian regions and especially in Aragon, a new organism appeared: the Collective. Nobody had spoken about it before. The three instruments of social reconstruction foreseen among those libertarians who had expressed themselves on a -possible future were firstly the Syndicate, then the Cooperative, which did not win many supporters, and final ‘ on a rather large scale, the commune, or communal organisation. Some foreshadowed-and this writer was among them-that a new and complementary organism could and should appear, especially in the countryside, seeing that the Syndicate had not assumed the importance it had in the towns, and the kind of life, of work and production, did not fit into an organic monolithic structure which was contrary to the multiformity of daily life.

We have seen how that Collective was born with characteristics of its own. It is not the Syndicate, for it encompasses all those who wish to join it whether they are producers in the classic economic sense or not. Then it brings them together at the complete human individual level and not just at a craft level. Within it, from the first moment, the rights and duties are the same for everybody; there are no longer professional categories in mutual opposition making the producers into privileged consumers compared with those, such as housewives, who are not producers in the classical definition of the word.

Neither is the Collective the municipal Council or what is called the Commune, the municipality. For it parts company with the political party traditions on which the commune is normally based. It encompasses at the same time the Syndicate and municipal functions. It is all-embracing. Each of its activities is organised within its organism, and the whole population takes part in its management, whether it is a question of a policy for agriculture, for the creation of new industries, for social solidarity, medical service or public education. In this general activity the Collective brings each and everybody to an awareness of life in the round, and everyone to the practical necessity of mutual understanding.

Compared with the Collective the Syndicate has simply a secondary or subordinate role. It is striking to observe how in the agricultural districts, it was more often than not spontaneously relegated, almost forgotten, in spite of the efforts that the libertarian syndicalists and the anarcho-syndicalists, had previously made. The Collective replaced them. The word itself was born spontaneously and spread into all the regions of Spain where the agrarian revolution had been brought about. And the word “collectivist” was adopted just as quickly and spread with the same spontaneity.

One could advance the hypothesis that these two words — collective and collectivism — better expressed the people’s moral, human, fraternal feelings than did the terms Syndicates and syndicalism. A question of euphony perhaps, and of a breadth of views, of humanism: man as something more than the producer. The need for syndicates no longer exists when there are no more employers.

If we pass from Aragon to the Levante we see Collectives emerging there too but not as such a spontaneous, one might almost say instant, creation. It was the agricultural and sometimes the non-agricultural, syndicates which were there at the beginning, not to found other Syndicates, and this is most significant, but to found Collectives. And those who joined these Collectives, Often without belonging to the Syndicates, were also collectivists and acted and behaved as well as anybody else. Let us hasten to add that the groups of organisers often consisted of men who had until then been active in the Syndicates or even in libertarian groups.

But there were some cases where the Commune fulfilled the role of the Collective. Among the examples we have given one especially recalls Granollers, Hospitalet, Fraga, Binefar, and many places in Castile. We also find municipalities which had been reconstructed to conform with governmental decisions (January 1937) and had, as a result, played a more or less important, more or less subordinate, role; and in the Levante the Syndicate and the Collective in the end linked their activities. But in that region the role of the Syndicate was often to become more important, both through direct participation and as inspirer and guide, which it was not in Aragon.

Finally we see in Castile, the Collectives being started in large numbers, under ‘the impulse of militant workers and even intellectuals who left Madrid and spread out into the countryside.

This plasticity, this variety of ways of acting allowed for the creation of true socialism, in each place according to the situation, circumstances of time and place, and for the resolution of a great number of problems which an authoritarian concept, too rigid, too bureaucratic would have only made more complicated with, in the end, a dictatorship reducing everything to a uniform pattern. The variety of methods used reflected the variety of the facets of life. Often in the same region, villages with similar forms of production, with a somewhat similar social history, would start by socialising the local industries and end with agriculture, while others would start with the socialisation of agriculture and end with that of local industries. In some cases, in the Levante for instance, we have seen it start with distribution then proceed towards socialisation of production, which was the opposite procedure to most other places.

But it is remarkable that this diversity of organisational structures did not prevent membership of the same regional federations nor, through them, national coordination, practical solidarity, whether it concerned our Collectives, mixed Syndical Collectives or communities at different stages of municipalisation.

The general law was universal solidarity. We have underlined, in passing, that the Charters or Statutes in which the principles were defined and from which stemmed the practical attitude of each and all, made no mention of the rights and liberty of the individual. Not that the Collectives had ignored these rights, but simply because the respect of these rights went without saying, and that they were already recognized by the standard of life guaranteed to everybody, in their access to consumer goods, to well-being and culture, to the attention, consideration and human responsibilities of which each one, as a member of the Collective, was assured. It was known, so why mention it? In return, for this to be possible, everyone had to carry out his duty, do his work like the other comrades, show solidarity according to the ethic of a universal mutual aid.

One was the guarantee of the other. It is for this reason we so often read that same sentence in the Charters though there had been no previous discussion between Collectives hundreds of kilometres apart: “Anyone not having any work in his trade will help comrades in other activities who might need his help.” This was supra-professional solidarity in practice.

Going deeply into these matters it could perhaps be said that they were developing a new concept of liberty. In the village Collectives in their natural state, and in the small towns where everybody knew one another and were interdependent, liberty did not consist in being a parasite, and not interesting oneself in anything. Liberty only existed as a function of practical activity. To be is to do, Bakunin wrote. To be is to realise, voluntarily, Liberty is secured not only when one demands the rights of the “self” against others, but when it is a natural consequence of solidarity. Men who are interdependent feel free among themselves and naturally respect each other’s liberty. Furthermore so far as collective life is concerned, the freedom of each is the right to participate spontaneously with one’s thought, one’s heart, one’s will, one’s initiative to the full extent of one’s capacities. A negative liberty is not liberty: it is nothingness.

This concept of liberty gave rise to a new morality-unless it was this new ethic that gave rise to another concept of liberty. It explains why when the author sought information about changes, and improvements introduced in the lives of everyone, they did not speak of “liberty” though they were libertarians, but, and they did so with deep joy, of the results of their work, experiments, and research on which they were engaged; on the increase in production. No, they were no longer thinking of liberty in the way workers in capitalist factories or day workers on the land of the owner-employer think.

On this subject we would like to make an observation to which we attach great philosophical and practical importance. The theoreticians and partisans of the liberal economy affirm that competition stimulates initiative and, consequently, the creative spirit and invention without which it remains dormant. Numerous observations made by the writer in the Collectives, factories and socialised workshops permit him to take quite the opposite view. For in a Collective, in a grouping where each individual is stimulated by the wish to be of service to his fellow beings, research, the desire for technical perfection and so on are also stimulated. But they also have as a consequence that other individuals join those who were the first to get together. Furthermore when, in present society, an individualist inventor discovers something, it is used only by the capitalist or the individual employing him, whereas in the case of an inventor living in a community not only is his discovery taken up and developed by others, but is immediately applied for the common good. I am convinced that this superiority would very soon manifest itself in a socialised society.

Gaston Leval

Catalonia 2017

The Spanish government’s response to the Catalan independence vote brought back some painful memories regarding Franco’s dictatorship following the defeat of the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution. Here is a brief statement from the CNT – Catalonia-Balearic Islands that I thought summed things up very well. Respecting people’s right to collective self-determination, while recognizing that such self-determination can only truly be achieved through an anarchist social revolution, is a position that goes back to the beginnings of the anarchist movement, but that attained greater prominence after World War II, with the emergence of various national liberation movements across the globe, something that I have documented in Volume Two: The Emergence of the New Anarchism (1939-1977), in my trilogy, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

CTN – Catalonia-Balearic Islands Statement on the Catalan Independence Vote

The CNT local unions from Catalonia and the Balearic Islands publicly state our support for the self-determination of the Catalan people.

As anarcho-syndicalists, we don’t think that political reforms within a capitalist framework can reflect our desire for social transformation, a change that would place production and consumption means in workers’ hands. Because of this, our daily struggles do not focus on creating new states or backing parliamentary initiatives.

However, we can’t look the other way when regular people are being attacked and repressed by any state. A state that has, in this case, removed its mask and revealed itself as an authoritarian rule, the true heir of the Franco regime. This is something that could be glimpsed before through many instances, such as labour law reforms, bank bail-outs, cuts on health and education, mass evictions of out-of-work families…many of which were implemented by the Catalan government itself.

CNT Catalonia and the Balearic greet this spirit of disobedience against a dictatorial state, a discriminatory and fascist state, and want to assert our strongest denunciation of repression against workers and of those who carry it out.

The men and women in CNT will stand as one to defend their neighbours and townsfolks, as couldn´t be otherwise with an anarcho-syndicalist, and henceforth revolutionary, organisation.

Originally published by CNT L’ Hospitalet.

A Living Utopia – Spanish Anarchism and Revolution

A documentary with English subtitles on Spanish anarchism and the Spanish Revolution. This time you can click on the play button to watch the film. Viva la anarquia!

The Spanish Revolution – 80th Anniversary

"Freedom"

“Freedom”

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a chapter on the Spanish Revolution that included writings from before and during the revolution regarding the Spanish anarchist movement and its role in the often misrepresented and sometimes ignored contributions of the anarchists to the social revolution in Spain that began with the Civil War that was precipitated by a fascist military coup on July 19, 1936. I have added extra material on the role of the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution to this blog. To mark the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Revolution, I present a very short introduction (take that Oxford University Press) from the Workers Solidarity Movement.

Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution

Anarchist and syndicalist ideas had deep roots among Spanish peasants and workers. In 1911, a massive revolutionary trade union federation, the CNT (National Confederation of Labour) was formed. It had two aims; first, to fight the bosses with mass action in the daily struggle and, second, to make an anarchist revolution by organising the workers and the poor to seize back the land, factories and mines.

The CNT led many militant and successful struggles against the bosses and the government. By 1936 it was the biggest union in Spain, with nearly two million members. But the CNT was always democratic and, despite its giant size, never had more than one paid official.

The Anarchists did not restrict themselves to the workplace. They also organised an anarchist political group to work within the unions (the FAI) and organised rent boycotts in poor areas. The CNT itself included working peasants, farm workers and the unemployed. It even organised workers’ schools!

In July 1936, fascists led by General Franco, and backed by the rich and the Church, tried to seize power in Spain. The elected government (the Popular Front coalition of left-wing parties) was unable and unwilling to deal with the fascists. It even tried to strike a deal with the fascists by appointing a right-winger as Prime Minister. Why? Because they would rather compromise with the right wing and protect their wealth and power than arm the workers and the poor for self-defence.

Fortunately, the workers and the peasants did not wait around for the government to act. The CNT declared a general strike and organised armed resistance to the attempted take-over. Other unions and left wing groups followed the CNT’s lead.

In this way the people were able to stop the fascists in two-thirds of Spain. It soon became apparent to these workers and peasants that this was not just a war against fascists, but the beginning of a revolution! Anarchist influence was everywhere, workers’ militias were set up independently from the State, workers seized control of their workplaces and peasants seized the land.

There were many triumphs of the revolution, although we are only able to consider a few of the Spanish workers’ and peasants’ victories here. These included the general take over of the land and factories.

Small peasants and farm workers faced extremely harsh conditions in Spain. Starvation and repression were a part of their daily lives and, as a result, anarchism was particularly strong in the countryside. During the revolution, as many as 7 million peasants and farm workers set up voluntary collectives in the anti-fascist regions. After landowners fled, a village assembly was held. If a decision to collectivise was taken, all the land, tools and animals were pooled together for the use of the entire collective. Teams were formed to look after the various areas of work, while a committee was elected to co-ordinate the overall running of the collective. Each collective had regular general meetings in which all members participated. Individuals who did not want to join the collectives were not forced to. They were given enough land to farm on, but were forbidden to hire labourers to work this land. Most “individualists” eventually joined the collectives when they saw how successful they were.

Anarchism inspired massive transformations in industry. Workers seized control over their workplaces, and directly controlled production by themselves and for the benefit of the Spanish workers and peasants. The tram system in Barcelona provided a shining example of just how much better things can be done under direct workers’ control. On July 24th 1936, the tram crews got together and decided to run the whole system themselves. Within five days, 700 trams were in service instead of the usual 600. Wages were equalised and working conditions improved, with free medical care provided for workers.

Everyone benefited from the trams being under workers’ control. Fares were reduced and an extra 50 million passengers were transported. Surplus income was used to improve transport services and produce weapons for defence of the revolution. With the capitalist profit motive gone, safety became much more important and the number of accidents were reduced.

In the early stages of the revolution, the armed forces of the state had effectively collapsed. In their place, the trade unions and left-wing organisations set about organising the armed workers and peasants into militias. Overall, there were 150,000 volunteers willing to fight where they were needed. The vast majority were members of the CNT. All officers were elected by the rank-and-file and had no special privileges.

The revolution showed that workers, peasants and the poor could create a new world without bosses or a government. It showed that anarchist ideas and methods (such as building revolutionary unions) could work. Yet despite all this, the revolution was defeated. By 1939, the fascists had won the civil war and crushed the working-class and peasants with a brutal dictatorship.

Why did this happen? The revolution was defeated partly because of the strength of the fascists. They were backed by the rich, fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

The CNT also made mistakes. It aimed for maximum anti-fascist unity and joined the Popular Front alliance, which included political parties from government and pro-capitalist forces. This required the CNT to make many compromises in its revolutionary programme. It also gave the Popular Front government an opportunity to undermine and destroy the anarchist collectives and the workers militias, with the Communist Party playing a leading role in these attacks at the behest of Stalinist Russia.

Nevertheless, anarchists had proved that ideas, which look good in the pages of theory books, look even better on the canvas of life.

Workers Solidarity Movement

'The Revolution and the War are Inseparable'

‘The Revolution and the War are Inseparable’

The Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939)

CNT Anarchist militia

CNT Anarchist militia

Continuing with my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, here I present my concluding remarks on the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. In Volume One of the Anarchism anthology, I included a chapter on the Spanish Revolution. I have also created a page on this blog on the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution which includes additional material that I was unable to fit into Volume One.

CNT at the barricades

The CNT in the Spanish Civil War

The greatest controversy in which Abad de Santillán was involved arose from the decisions by the CNT during the Spanish Civil War to accept posts in the Catalonian governing council in September 1936 and, in November 1936, the central government in Madrid. In December 1936, Abad de Santillán became the Councillor of Economy in the regional government in Catalonia (the Generalitat). Not only did the “militants” of the FAI fail to prevent this fatal compromise of anarchist principles, some of the CNT ministers were themselves members of the FAI (such as Juan García Oliver, who became the Minister of Justice in the Madrid government, and Abad de Santillán himself). The decision to join the government was engineered by the National Committee of the CNT (which became the de facto ruling council of the CNT during the course of the Civil War) in order to obtain arms and financing, neither of which were forthcoming.

The decision of the CNT leadership to join the Spanish government was sharply criticized by many well known anarchists, including Camillo Berneri, Sébastien Faure, and Alexander Schapiro. Writing for the IWA publication, The International, the Swedish anarcho-syndicalist Albert Jensen (1879-1957) pointed out that it was by way of revolution that the workers in Catalonia had prevented General Franco from seizing power when he began the military revolt against the republican government in July 1936. Anarchists and syndicalists stormed military barracks, seized weapons and began collectivizing industry, while the republican government was in a state of virtual collapse. However, in order to maintain a “united front” against fascism, and to avoid imposing their own de facto dictatorship, the CNT-FAI decided it was better to work within the republican government rather than against it.

The problem was that, as Jensen pointed out, during a civil war the government “must have recourse always to dictatorship,” governing by decree and imposing military discipline, so instead of imposing an “anarchist” dictatorship the CNT-FAI was propping up a “counter-revolutionary” dictatorship, which hardly constituted “loyalty to [anarchist] ideas” and principles. “Wounded unto death, the State received new life thanks to the governmental participation of the CNT-FAI.” If the CNT-FAI had to work with other anti-fascists, whether capitalists or the authoritarian Communists loyal to Moscow, it would have been better for the CNT-FAI to remain outside the government, taking the position that “under no pretext, would they tolerate any attack on the revolutionary accomplishments and that they would defend these with all the necessary means” (Volume One, Selection 127).

farmerCNT

The Spanish Revolution

In the factories and in the countryside, in areas that did not immediately fall under fascist control, there was a far-reaching social revolution. Spanish peasants collectivized the land and workers took over their factories. In the factories, the workers in assembly would make policy decisions and elect delegates to coordinate production and distribution. In the countryside, village and town assemblies were held in which all members of the community were able to participate.

In “the agrarian regions and especially in Aragon,” observed Gaston Leval (1895-1978), “a new organism appeared: the Collective.” The collective was not a trade union or syndical organization, “for it encompasses all those who wish to join it whether they are producers in the classic economic sense or not.” Neither was it a commune or municipal council, as it “encompasses at the same time the Syndicate and municipal functions.” The “whole population,” not merely the producers, “takes part in [the] management” of the collective, dealing with all sorts of issues, “whether it is a question of policy for agriculture, for the creation of new industries, for social solidarity, medical service or public education” (Volume One, Selection 126).

Although the anarchist collectives were ultimately destroyed, first by the Stalinist Communists in republican areas, and then by the fascists as they subjugated all of Spain, they constitute the greatest achievement of the Spanish anarchist movement. Through the crucible of the social revolution itself, the Spanish people developed this new, more inclusive form of libertarian organization which transcended the limits of anarcho-syndicalist trade union and factory committee forms of organization, inspiring generations to come.

CNT final blow

Counter-Revolution in Spain

Those anarchists who attempted to work within the republican government were consistently outmaneuvered by the Republicans, Socialists and Communists. The areas in which anarchists were free to implement their ideas continued to shrink, but it was the May Days in Barcelona in 1937 that effectively marked the end of the anarchist social revolution in Spain. Factories and services under anarchist inspired workers’ self-management were attacked by Republican and Communist forces while they did battle with the anarchist militias, and several prominent anarchists were murdered, including Camillo Berneri and the Libertarian Youth leader, Alfredo Martinez. The CNT leadership negotiated a truce with the Republican government rather than engage in a “civil war” within the civil war. Hundreds of anarchists were killed in the fighting, and many more were imprisoned. The Socialists and Communists, unsuccessful in having the CNT declared illegal, forced them out of the government and continued their campaign of “decollectivization” and disarmament of the anarchist groups.

Given this disastrous turn of events, Abad de Santillán had second thoughts about the CNT’s policy of collaboration. By April 1937, he had already ceased being a member of the Catalonian cabinet. The following year he denounced those “anarchists” who had used their positions within the movement “as a springboard to defect to the other side where the pickings are easier and the thorns less sharp,” obtaining “high positions of political and economic privilege.” The CNT-FAI’s participation “in political power,” which he had also once “thought advisable due to circumstances, in light of the war,” had demonstrated “yet again what Kropotkin once said of the parliamentary socialists: ‘You mean to conquer the State, but the State will end up conquering you’” (Volume One, Selection 128).

Abad de Santillán noted that the self-styled anarchist “avant-garde,” who fancied themselves the “best trained, most prestigious, sharpest witted,” himself included, were not “in the vanguard of economic and social change” but instead “proved a hindrance, a brake, a hurdle to that change.” He had to admit that the “broad masses” of the Spanish people “were better prepared than their supposed mentors and guides when it came to revolutionary reconstruction.” For Abad de Santillán, by “standing with the State and thus against the people,” anarchists who were working within the Republican government were “not only committing an irreparable act of betrayal of the revolution,” they were “also betraying the war effort, because we are denying it the active support of the people,” who were becoming increasingly alienated from the Republican government as it sought to dismantle the anarchist collectives and other organs of self-management that had been created by the people themselves (Volume One, Selection 128).

Under the pressure of civil war, the CNT-FAI came more and more to resemble a conventional political party. The CNT’s National Committee would negotiate with the Republican government, and then present whatever deals they could get to the membership as a fait accompli. In effect, the “inverse” pyramidal federalist structure of the CNT was turned upside down, as the CNT began to function as a top-down political organization. The anarchist militias were dissolved, broken up or absorbed into the Communist dominated Republican army and subjected to strict military discipline (Richards, 1972).

Looking back on the Revolution and Civil War, José Peirats (1908-1989), active in the CNT and later its historian, believed that “those of us who consistently opposed collaboration with the government had as our only alternative a principled, heroic defeat.” Nevertheless, he was sympathetic to those principled anarchists for whom “the only solution was to leave an indelible mark on the present without compromising the future,” through their “constructive revolutionary experiments like the collectives, artistic and cultural achievements, new models of free, communal living.” This entailed “staying out of intrigues, avoiding complicity with the counterrevolution within the government, protecting the organization and its militants from the vainglory of rulers or the pride of the newly rich.” The seemingly insurmountable difficulties in maintaining these revolutionary achievements in the midst of civil war caused Peirats to question not these achievements, but “the idea of revolution” itself, conceived as a mass armed uprising seeking to overthrow the existing regime which inevitably degenerates into civil war (Peirats: 188-189), a critique further developed by Luc Bonet (Volume Three, Selection 12). This process of rethinking revolution was to be continued by many anarchists after the Spanish Revolution and the Second World War.

Robert Graham

Peirats CNT Spanish Revolution

Spanish Anarchism

The CNT fights fascism in Spain

The CNT fights fascism in Spain

July 19, 1936 marks the 79th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Revolution, when anarchists across Spain took up arms against the reactionary Spanish military forces that were attempting to take over Spain. What ensued was a bloody civil war and the ultimate defeat of the Spanish anarchists three years later, as a result of an arms embargo, Communist treachery and a fascist military machine fuelled by weapons and military expertise from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Spanish anarchist movement began in the late 1860s, when the majority of the Spanish Federation of the International Workingmen’s Association (the so-called “First International”) adopted an anarchist stance, something which I discuss in much more detail in my new book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. I included several selections regarding the Spanish anarchist movement in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

CNT Poster 'Hail the Heroes'

CNT Poster ‘Hail the Heroes’

By the beginning of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War, over 500,000 people belonged to anarchist affiliated organizations, primarily the anarcho-syndicalist trade union federation, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (the CNT, or ‘National Confederation of Workers’). Toward the end of the Civil War, over two million people belonged to these organizations, but by then they had been almost completely coopted by the Communist dominated Republican government, and had developed a bureaucratic structure that mirrored those of other left wing organizations (with the exception of the Stalinist Spanish Communist Party, whose authoritarian structure and methods were incomparable to other left organizations). In the following excerpt from my essay, “The Anarchist Current,” which forms the Afterword to Volume Three of the Anarchism anthology, I discuss the Spanish anarchist movement on the eve of the Revolution. I have created a page on the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, which includes additional material that I was unable to fit into Volume One.

'The Revolution and the War are Inseparable'

‘The Revolution and the War are Inseparable’

Spanish Anarchism: Prelude to Revolution

The Spanish anarchist movement which Bakunin had helped inspire experienced its greatest triumphs and most tragic defeats during the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (1936-1939). The two most prominent anarchist groups in Spain were the Iberian Anarchist Federation (the FAI) and the anarcho-syndicalist trade union confederation, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (the CNT). The FAI was a federation of anarchist revolutionaries which sought to foment social revolution and to keep the CNT on an anarchist path. This “dual organization” model had been followed in Spain since the days of the First International, when Bakunin recruited Spanish radicals into his Alliance of Social Revolutionaries. Members of the Alliance were to ensure that the Spanish sections of the International adopted Bakunin’s collectivist anarchist program.

By the 1930s, the Spanish anarchist movement had moved toward an anarchist communist position, although the doctrine of “anarchism without adjectives,” which originated in the debates between the anarchist collectivists and anarchist communists in the 1890s, continued to be influential. Diego Abad de Santillán (1897-1983), who played a prominent role in the Argentine and Spanish anarchist movements, saw anarchism as representing a broad “humanistic craving” which “seeks to defend man’s dignity and freedom, regardless of circumstances and under every political system, past, present and future.” Anarchism must therefore be without adjectives because it is not tied to any particular economic or political system, nor is anarchy only possible at a certain stage of history or development. Abad de Santillán argued that anarchism “can survive and assert its right to exist alongside plough and team of oxen as readily as alongside the modern combine-harvester; its mission in the days of steam was the same as it is in the age of the electric motor or jet engine or the modern age of the computer and atomic power” (Volume Two, Selection 53).

Despite his endorsement of “anarchism without adjectives,” Abad de Santillán did not shy away from controversy. Although he participated in the anarcho-syndicalist movements in Argentina and Spain, he urged anarchists “not to forget that the Syndicate is, as an economic by-product of capitalist organization, a social phenomenon spawned by the needs of its day. Clinging to its structures after the revolution would be tantamount to clinging to the cause that spawned it: capitalism” (Volume One, Selection 94).

On the eve of the Spanish Revolution, when the CNT reaffirmed its commitment to libertarian communism (Volume One, Selection 124), Abad de Santillán argued not only that people should be free to choose between “communism, collectivism or mutualism,” but that “the prerequisite” of such freedom is a certain level of material abundance that can only be achieved through an integrated economic network of productive units (Volume One, Selection 125).

Robert Graham

"Freedom"

“Freedom”

Buenaventura Durruti: A New World in Our Hearts (Spain 1936)

Durruti

Buenaventura Durruti (1896-1936) was one of the leading militants of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI). When armed thugs in the pay of Spanish capitalists began attacking the anarchists in Spain in 1919-1923, culminating in the assassinations of Salvador Seguí and Francisco Comes of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT in 1923 and the imposition of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, Durruti and other anarchists retaliated, assassinating the corrupt and extremely authoritarian Spanish Cardinal Soldevila. Durruti spent many years in exile, returning to Spain in 1931, where he robbed banks to provide financial support for the anarchist movement and was involved in the FAI’s failed Catalonian uprising of January 1932.

When Spanish fascists attempted to overthrow the Republican government on July 19, 1936, Durruti and other anarchists helped put down the uprising in Barcelona by successfully attacking the military barracks there. Durruti became a member of the Anti-Fascist Militias’ Committee and led the “Durruti” Column to the Zaragoza front. The Durruti column was able to liberate much of Aragon, where numerous anarchist collectives were established. It was while Durruti was fighting in Aragon that he was interviewed by Pierre van Passen, a reporter from the Toronto Star newspaper. Below I reproduce excerpts from the original newspaper article (an English translation of a French translation of the original English article can be found in Daniel Guerin’s No Gods No Masters).

Durruti had no illusions regarding the Republican government and was well aware that the anarchists could not expect to receive any support from other countries. He also anticipated Nazi Germany’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War. He was confident that the Spanish working class would be able to rebuild from the ruins of civil war because they carried “a new world” in their hearts. He was accidentally shot during the defence of Madrid in December 1936, and did not live to see the crushing of the anarchist social revolution in Spain.

The Spanish Revolution: A New World in Our Hearts

For us it is a question of crushing fascism once and for all. Yes, and in spite of government.

No government in the world fights fascism to the death. When the bourgeoisie sees power slipping from its grasp it has recourse to fascism to maintain itself. The liberal government of Spain could have rendered the fascist elements powerless long ago. Instead it temporised and compromised and dallied. Even now at this moment, there are men in this government who want to go easy with the rebels. You can never tell, you know — the present government might yet need these rebellious forces to crush the workers’ movement…

We know what we want. To us it means nothing that there is a Soviet Union somewhere in the world, for the sake of whose peace and tranquillity the workers of Germany and China were sacrificed to fascist barbarism by Stalin. We want the revolution here in Spain, right now, not maybe after the next European war. We are giving Hitler and Mussolini far more worry today with our revolution than the whole Red Army of Russia. We are setting an example to the German and Italian working class how to deal with fascism.

I do not expect any help for a libertarian revolution from any government in the world. Maybe the conflicting interests in the various imperialisms might have some influence on our struggle. That is quite possible. Franco is doing his best to drag Europe into the conflict. He will not hesitate to pitch Germany in against us. But we expect no help, not even from our government in the last analysis.

[Van Paasen interjects: ‘You will be sitting on a pile of ruins if you are victorious.’]

We have always lived in slums and holes in the wall. We will know how to accommodate ourselves for a time. For you must not forget, we can also build. It is we who built the palaces and cities here in Spain and America and everywhere. We, the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth. There is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world, here in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.

Aragon, September 1936

Durruti's Funeral

Gaston Leval: Principles and Lessons of the Spanish Revolution

July 19, 2011 marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, and the remarkable social revolution which followed. Gaston Leval (1895-1978) was the great chronicler of the positive accomplishments of the Spanish anarchists and people during the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. In the following short piece, published in Resistance Volume XII, No. 1, April 1954, Leval describes the process of collectivization which spread through various areas of Spain, often spontaneously, and the obstacles ranged against the collectives. Leval deals with the collectives in much greater detail in his book, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution (London: Freedom Press, 1975). I included excerpts from that book in Chapter 23 of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939), Selection 126, “Libertarian Democracy.”

Principles and Lessons of the Spanish Revolution

Gaston Leval

  1. In juridical principle the Collectives were something entirely new. They were not syndicates, nor were they municipalities in any traditional sense; they did not even very closely resemble the municipalities of the Middle Ages. Of the two, however, they were closer to the communal than the syndicalist spirit. Often they might just as well have been called Communities, as for example the one in Binefar was. The Collective was an entity; within it, occupational and professional groups, public services, trade, and municipal functions were subordinate and dependent. In form of organization, in internal functioning, and in their specialized activities, however, they were autonomous.
  2. The agrarian Collectives, despite their name, were to all intents and purposes libertarian communist organizations. They applied the rule “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Where money was abolished, a certain quantity of goods was assured to each person; where money was retained, each family received a wage determined by the number of members. Though the technique varied, the moral principle and the practical results were the same.
  3. In the agrarian Collectives solidarity was carried to extreme lengths. Not only was every person assured of the necessities, but the district federations increasingly adopted the principle of mutual aid on an inter-collective scale. For this purpose they created common reserves to help out villages less favoured by nature. In Castille special institutions for this purpose were created. In industry this practice seems to have begun in Hospitalet, on the Catalan railroads, and was applied later in Alcoy. Had the political compromise not impeded open socialization, the practice of mutual aid would have been much more generalized.
  4. A conquest of enormous importance was the right of women to livelihood, regardless of occupation or function. In about half of the agrarian Collectives, women received the same wages as men; in the rest women received less, apparently on the principle that they rarely lived alone.
  5. The child’s right to livelihood was also ungrudgingly recognized: not as State charity, but as a right no one dreamed of denying. The schools were open to children to the age of 14 or 15—the only guarantee that parents would not send their children to work sooner, and that education would be really universal.
  6. In all the agrarian Collectives of Aragon, Catalonia, Levante, Castille, Andalusia and Estremadura, the workers formed groups to divide the labour or the land; usually they were assigned to definite areas. Delegates elected by the work-groups met with the Collective’s delegate for agriculture to plan out the work. This typical organization arose quite spontaneously, by local initiative.
  7. In addition to these meetings—and similar meetings of specialized groups—the Collective as a whole met in a weekly or bi-weekly or monthly Assembly. This too was a spontaneous innovation. The Assembly reviewed the activities of the councillors it named, and discussed special cases and unforeseen problems. All inhabitants—men and women, producers and non-producers—took part in the discussion and decisions. In many cases the “individualists” (non-collective members) had equal rights in the Assembly.
  8. In land cultivation the most significant advances were: the rapidly increasing use of machinery and irrigation; greater diversification; and forestation.  In stock-raising: the selection and multiplication of breeds; the adaptation of breeds to local conditions; and large-scale construction of collective stock-barns.
  9. Production and trade were brought into increasing harmony and distribution became more and more unified: first district unification, then regional unification, and finally the creation of a National Federation. The district (comarca) was the basis of trade. In exceptional cases an isolated Commune managed its own, on authority of the district Federation which kept an eye on the Commune and could intervene if its trading practices were harmful to the general economy. In Aragon the Federation of Collectives, founded in January, 1937, began to coordinate trade among the communes in the region, and to create a system of mutual aid. The tendency to unity became more distinct with adoption of a single “producer’s card” and single “consumer’s card”—which implied suppression of all money, local and national—by decision of the February, 1937, Congress. Coordination of trade with other regions, and abroad, improved steadily. When disparities in exchange, or exceptionally high prices, created surpluses, they were used by the Regional Federation to help the poorer Collectives. Solidarity thus extended beyond the district.
  10. Industrial concentration—the elimination of small workshops and uneconomical factories—was a characteristic feature of collectivization both in the rural Communes and in the cities. Labour was rationalized on the basis of social need—in Alcoy’s industries and in those of Hospitalet, in Barcelona’s municipal transport and in the Aragon Collectives.
  11. The first step toward socialization was frequently the dividing up of large estates (as in the Segorbe and Granollers districts and a number of Aragon villages). In certain other cases the first step was to force the municipalities to grant immediate reforms (municipalization of land-rent and of medicine in Elda, Benicarlo, Castillone, Alcaniz, Caspe, etc.).
  12. Education advanced at an unprecedented pace. Most of the partly or wholly socialized Collectives and municipalities built at least one school. By 1938, for example, every Collective in the Levante Federation had its own school.
  13.  The number of Collectives increased steadily. The movement originated and progressed swiftly in Aragon, conquered part of Catalonia, then moved on to Levante and later Castilie. According to reliable testimony the accomplishments in Castille may indeed have surpassed Levante and Aragon. Estremadura and the part of Andalusia not conquered immediately by the fascists— especially the province of Jaen—also had their Collectives. The character of the Collectives varied, of course, with local conditions.
  14. We lack exact figures on the total number of Collectives in Spain. Based on the incomplete statistics of the Congress in Aragon in February, 1937, and on data gathered during my stay in this region, there were at least 400. In Levante in 1938 there were 500. To this the Collectives in other regions must be added. In my research I found only two Collectives which failed: Boltona and Ainsa, in Northern Aragon.
  15. Sometimes the Collective was supplemented by other forms of socialization. After I left Carcagente, trade was socialized. In Alcoy consumers cooperatives arose to round out the syndicalist organization of production. There were other instances of the same kind.
  16. The Collectives were not created single-handed by the libertarian movement. Although their juridical principles were strictly anarchist, a great many Collectives were created spontaneously by people remote from our movement (“libertarians” without being aware of it). Most of the Castille and Estremadura Collectives were organized by Catholic and Socialist peasants; in some cases of course they may have been inspired by the propaganda of isolated anarchist militants. Although their organization opposed the movement officially, many members of the Socialist UGT (Union General de los Trabajadores) entered or organized Collectives, as did Republicans who sincerely wanted to achieve liberty and justice.
  17. Small land-owners were respected. Their inclusion in the consumer’s card system and in the Collective trading, the resolutions taken in respect to them, all attest to this. There were just two restrictions: they could not have more land than they could cultivate, and they could not carry on private trade. Membership in the Collective was voluntary:  the “individualists” joined only if and when they were persuaded of the advantages of working in common.
  18. The chief obstacles to the Collectives were:

a) The existence of conservative strata, and parties and organizations representing them: Republicans of all factions, Socialists  of  Left and Right (Large Caballero and Prieto), Stalinist Communists, and often the POUMists. (Before their expulsion from the Catalonian government—Generalidad—the POUMists were not truly a revolutionary party. They became so when driven into opposition. Even in June, 1937, a manifesto distributed by the Aragon section of the POUM attacked the Collectives.) The UGT was the principal instrument of the various politicians.

b) The opposition of certain small landowners (Catalan    and Pyrenees peasants).

c) The fear, even among some members of Collectives, that the government would destroy the organizations once the war was over. Many who were not really reactionary, and many small landowners who would otherwise have joined the Collectives, held back on this account.

d) The open attack on the Collectives: by which is not meant the obviously destructive acts of the Franco troops wherever they advanced. In Castille the attack on the Collectives was conducted, arms in hand, by Communist troops. In the Valencia region, there were battles in which even armoured cars took part. In the Huesca province the Karl Marx brigade persecuted the Collectives. The Macia-Companys brigade did the same in Teruel province. (But both always fled from combat with the fascists. The Karl Marx brigade always remained inactive, while our troops fought for Huesca and other important points; the Marxist troops reserved themselves for the rearguard. The second gave up Vivel del Rio and other coal regions of Utrillos without a fight. These soldiers, who ran in panic before a small attack that other forces easily contained, were intrepid warriors against the unarmed peasants of the Collectives.)

19. In the work of creation, transformation and socialization, the peasant demonstrated a social conscience much superior to that of the city worker.

GASTON LEVAL

Alexander Schapiro – Open Letter to the CNT

In June 1937, following the May Events in Spain, when anarchists battled Communist and Republican forces in the streets of Barcelona, and many prominent anarchists were arrested, murdered (Camillo Berneri) or simply disappeared, the CNT (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo) adopted a “minimal program” to submit to the Republican government and the forces now in control of it, including the Stalinist Communist Party which was itself embarking on a concerted campaign to suppress the anarchist movement and other opposition groups, such as the dissident Marxist group, the POUM (one of whose leaders, Andres Nin, was notoriously “disappeared” and accused by the Communists of being a Francoist fifth columnist). The “minimal program” was not accepted by the government, and the anarchists continued to be marginalized and persecuted by government and Communist-backed forces. Alexander Schapiro wrote the following Open Letter to the CNT criticizing them for their continuing and disastrous policy of collaboration and accommodation with these counter-revolutionary forces. Translated by Joseph Wagner and published in the One Big Union monthly, August 1937. For a similar critique by a Swedish member of the International Workers Association (IWA), see Albert Jensen, “The CNT-FAI, the State and Government” (1938), in Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume 1, Selection 127.

OPEN LETTER TO THE C.N.T.

We read with more surprise than interest the minimal program of the C.N.T. “for the realization of a real war policy.” The reading of the program raised an entire series of questions and problems, some of which should be called to your attention.

Certainly none of us was simple enough to believe that a war can be carried on with resolutions and by anti-militarist theories. Many of us believed, long before July 19 (1936) that the anti-militarist propaganda, so dear to our Dutch comrades [e.g. Bart de Ligt, Anarchism, Volume 1, Selection 120] of the International Anti-militarist Bureau and which found, in the past, a sympathetic enough echo in the columns of your press in Spain, was in contradiction with the organization of the revolution.

Many of us knew that the putsches, that were so dear to our Spanish comrades, such as those of December 8 and January 8, 1933 [CNT-FAI failed insurrections], were far from helping this organization of the revolution; it helped rather to disorganize it.

July 19 [1936 – Franco’s coup] opened your eyes. It made you realize the mistake you had committed in the past, when, in a revolutionary period, you neglected seriously organizing the necessary framework for the struggle that you knew would be inevitable on the day of the settlement of accounts. Yet, today you are shutting your eyes to another important fact. You seem to think that a civil war brought about by the circumstance of a fascist putsch does not necessarily obligate you to examine the possibilities of modifying and altering the character of that civil war.

A “minimal” program is not something to startle us; but a particular minimal program (such as yours) cannot have any value unless it creates the opportunity for the preparation of a maximal program.

But, your “real war policy,” after all, is nothing but a program for entering the Council of Ministers (government); with it you act merely as a political party desirous of participation in an existing government; setting forth your conditions of participation, and these conditions are so bureaucratic in character that they are far from weakening in the least the bourgeois capitalist regime; on the contrary they are tending to strengthen capitalism and stabilize it.

The surprising part of your program is that you do not consider it as a means for the attainment of some well defined goal, but consider your “real war policy” program as an aim in itself. That is the main danger in your program. It presupposes permanent participation in the government—not merely circumstantial—which is to extend over a number of years, even if the war itself, with its brutal, daily manifestations would cease in the meanwhile. A monopoly of the Foreign Commerce (have the communists whispered this to you?), customs policy, new legislation, a new penal code—all of this takes a long time. In order to realize these tasks, your program proposes a very close collaboration on all fields with the bourgeoisie (Republican block) and with the Communists (Marxist block), while almost at the same time you state in your appeal of June 14 that you are sure of triumphing not only against Franco, but also against a stupidly backward bourgeoisie (“the Republican block”) and against the tricky and dishonest politicians (“Marxist block”).

You see, therefore, that even your minimal program is beset with flagrant contradictions; its realization is dependent on the aid of the very sectors against which that program is aimed. Even the freedom with which you state these two mutually exclusive programs, collaboration with the bourgeoisie and “Marxism” on the one hand and fight to the finish against this same bourgeoisie and “Marxism” on the other, situates your minimal program as the aim, and your declaration of June 14 becomes mere verbiage. We would have, naturally, liked to see things the other way.

The problem of Spain’s economic reconstruction does not form a part of your program. And yet, you cannot help but know that a civil war, like the one you are going through, cannot bring the people to its aid unless the victories on the fronts will assure at the same time their own victories in the rear.

It is true—and many of us outside of Spain have known it long before July 19—the Social Revolution cannot be attained in 24 hours, and that a libertarian regime cannot be erected by the turn of the hand. Nevertheless, neither the C.N.T. nor the F.A.I. cared anything about pre-revolutionary organization and about preparing in advance the framework for the social and economic reconstruction. We claim that there is a bridge leading from the downfall of the old regime to the erection of the new regime erected on the ashes and the ruins of the old regime. This bridge is all the more full of dangerous traps and pitfalls as the new regime differs from the old. And it was precisely this period of transition that you have misunderstood in the past and that you continue to misunderstand today. For if you had recognized that the social and economic reconstruction on a libertarian basis is the indispensable condition to victory over fascism, you would have elaborated (having in view the aim to be attained) a minimal revolutionary program that would have given the urban and country proletariat of Spain the necessary will and enthusiasm to continue the war to its logical conclusion.

But such a program you failed to proclaim. The few timid allusions contained in your “war program” are far from having a revolutionary character: the elaboration of a plan for the economic reconstruction that would be accepted by the three blocks could only be a naive illusion, if it would not be so dangerous; the municipalization of land is an anti-revolutionary project since it legalizes something that a coming revolution will have to abolish, since the municipalities are, after all, but cogs in the wheel of the State as long as the State will exist.

Naturally, the elaboration of an economic program for the transition period presupposes a final aim. Does the C.N.T. consider that libertarian communism is an unattainable “Utopia” that should be relegated to the museum?

If you still think (as you did before July 19) that libertarian communism forms part of the program of the C.N.T. it is your duty—it was really your duty since July 1936—to elaborate your economic program of transition, without regard to the bourgeois and Marxist blocks, who can but only sabotage any program of libertarian tendency and inspiration.

To be sure, such a program will place you in conflict with these blocks, but on the other hand, it will unite with you the large majority of the workers, who want but one thing, the victory of the Revolution. It is necessary, therefore to choose between these two eventualities.

Such a program will, naturally, nullify your “war program” which is nothing but the expression of a “true” desire for permanent cabinet collaboration. But this proposition, this “war program” of yours, is diametrically contrary to the traditionally revolutionary attitude of the C.N.T., which this organization has not denied yet. It is therefore necessary to choose.

The C.N.T. should not allow—as it has unfortunately done since July 19—the acceptance of the tactics of the “line of least resistance,” which cannot but lead to a slow but sure liquidation of the libertarian revolution.

The ministerial collaboration policy has certainly pushed back to the rear the program of revolutionary economy. You are on the wrong track and you can see that yourselves.

Do you not think that you should stop following this road, that leads you to certain downfall?

Alexander Schapiro