From Posts to Pages

Only a few posts on this blog are listed under “Recent Posts,” and up to ten are listed under “Authors“. In order to make earlier posts more accessible, I am converting them into Pages, sometimes including longer extracts. For example, my post of Neno Vasco‘s writings on anarcho-syndicalism and anarchist communism has been converted into a lengthier page with extracts from the same source, and I have created one page for Alexander Schapiro and Pierre Besnard‘s pamphlet on anarcho-syndicalism and anarchism.

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.


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

Alexander Schapiro – Anarchosyndicalism and Anarchist Organization

Alexander Schapiro (1882-1946) was an anarcho-syndicalist militant active in the international anarchist movement and the revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist movement in Russia during the Russian Revolution and civil war (Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism, Chapter 18: The Russian Revolution). Born in Russia, he was raised in Turkey, studied in France and then joined his father in London, where both of them were active in the London Anarchist Federation. He was a delegate of the Jewish Anarchist Federation of London at the 1907 International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam and one of the signatories to the International Anarchist Manifesto against the First World War (Volume One, Selection 81). He became the secretary of the Anarchist Red Cross, which provided aid to imprisoned anarchists, particularly in Russia. He returned to Russia after the 1917 February Revolution, where he worked on the anarcho-syndicalist paper, Golos Truda [The Voice of Labour], and sought to revive and strengthen the Russian anarcho-syndicalist movement. For a time, Schapiro collaborated with the Bolshevik government, taking a post in the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. He protested the persecution and imprisonment of anarchists by the Bolshevik regime and went into exile in 1922. He became active in the revived International Workers Association (IWA), which adopted an anarcho-syndicalist program (Volume One, Selection 114), and helped organize relief for anarchist prisoners in Russia. He spent time in Berlin, where he worked with Gregory Maksimov (Volume One, Selection 83) on the Russian anarcho-syndicalist paper in exile, Rabochii Put’ [The Workers Voice], and then went to France, where he continued his work with the IWA and edited the anarcho-syndicalist paper, La Voix du Travail [The Voice of Labour]. He eventually emigrated to New York, where he died in 1946.

The first excerpt set forth below is taken from Schapiro’s September 8, 1917 article in Golos Truda, “The Crisis of Power,” in which he calls for decentralization and self-organization in place of the centralized power favoured by the Bolsheviks. Events were to take a much different turn when the Bolsheviks seized power two months later in the co-called October Revolution and proceeded to establish a centralized dictatorship.

The Crisis of Power (1917)

The last scenes of the first act of the crisis of power are playing themselves out at a feverish pace. And there is only one possible outcome: the removal of the bourgeoisie from any interference in the affairs of the working class. This is now the principal condition for achieving fundamental social changes in the life of the country, the more so as the bourgeoisie is marching openly and defiantly hand in hand with the Kornilovs [leader of a failed Tsarist coup in August 1917] and other conspirators against the revolution.

But we must not close our eyes to the approaching second act, when Russia must decide whether to introduce a socialist government, as demanded by the Soviet of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. If this should happen, the form of power would doubtless be different, but the root of the evil, the essence, would stay the same. For as long as power exists, a small circle of men will have in their hands the right to decide the fate of the whole people; and even if these rulers are socialists of the most decent and honourable sort, a clash between them and the people is unavoidable, and their relations after each conflict will grow more and more intense and antagonistic. The new authority will use as much force as the present authority against its enemies, and the struggle for socialism, the struggle for the rights of man, the struggle for liberty, equality and fraternity, will be as ferocious as it has been until now.

Anticipating this new crisis of socialist power, we come to the conclusion that there is only one way out: the removal of all governmental interference in the affairs of the toiling masses. There must first occur a fundamental decentralization of power to the point of its final disappearance as a factor in the life of the Russian people. The people must not allow themselves to be muzzled again – not even with the muzzle of socialist production – so that they will have to fight once more for the elementary rights of free men.

The transfer of authority to the hands of a Central Executive Committee is not the answer to the crisis of power. It can only slow down the development of this crisis, not resolve it. The only way out of the present situation is to transfer administrative tasks to local organizations – in other words, complete decentralization and the broadest self-direction of local organizations. In this work the local soviets of workers’ and peasants’ deputies can and must play an important role in regulating the course of everyday life and guaranteeing the local population the widest development of freedom.

Only the spread of self-determination and local self-rule will definitively resolve the crisis of power.

Golos Truda, September 8, 1917

Many years later, when the anarchists in Spain were fighting for their lives in another revolution, Schapiro wrote the following introduction to an IWA pamphlet by Pierre Besnard, Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarchism, which set forth the principles of modern anarcho-syndicalism. Schapiro sought to persuade anarchist communists to support anarcho-syndicalist trade union organizations, and pointed to the Spanish FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) as an example of how anarchists can work within broad based anarcho-syndicalist organizations, such as the Spanish CNT (National Confederation of Labour), while maintaining their own explicitly anarchist organizations to help prevent the trade union organizations from becoming apolitical unions or subservient to political parties. At the same time, Schapiro recognized the dangers inherent is such dual organization, as the ideological anarchist organizations could become the de facto leaders of the trade union organization, something which had happened in Spain with disastrous results, as a number of FAI militants took up positions in the Catalonian and Republican governments and sought to subordinate the anarchist movement to the immediate war aims of the Republican government in its fight against fascism, which ultimately resulted in the Communist domination of the Republican forces and the suppression of the anarchist movement (Volume One, Selections 127 & 128). Schapiro was very critical of the Spanish anarchist collaboration with the Republican government and joined with Pierre Besnard at the June 1937 IWA Congress in Paris in denouncing the CNT for abandoning anarcho-syndicalist principles. Translated by Paul Sharkey.

Introduction to Pierre Besnard’s Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarchism (1937)

When the Russian anarchists nearly a half a century ago pioneered the hoisting of the anarcho-syndicalist colours, the word was rather coldly received by the anarchist movement. And in 1917, following the downfall of Tsarism it was also the eve of the October Revolution anarcho-communists were unduly guarded about and even hostile towards this new anarchist formation.

Anarcho-syndicalism is not a doctrine. It is the meeting between a given doctrine and an equally specific trade union tactic.

Revolutionary syndicalism, as we knew it in France, prior to the war, was, so to speak, created and nurtured by anarchist militants, by [Fernand] Pelloutier [Volume One, Selection 56], by [Victor] Griffuelhes, by [Emile] Pouget. But right from the moment it arrived, its creators and propagandists, its militants made to surround the movement with a wall of absolute neutrality as far as political or philosophical ideology went [Volume One, Selection 60]. Remember the terms of the Charter of Amiens [“syndicalism is sufficient unto itself”]…

But the class struggle is of positive value only if it is constructive in its aspirations. So that struggle has to be endowed with a future program that would complement its minimum program of partial demands in the here and now.

Anarcho-syndicalism arose precisely out of that need, which anarchists have eventually come to appreciate, to add to the short-term program a social program that would embrace the whole economic and social life of a people.

The Great War swept away the Charter of trade union neutrality. And the split inside the First International between Marx and Bakunin [Volume One, Chapter 6] was echoed nearly a half-century later in the inevitable historic split in the post-war international workers movement.

To counter the policy of subordinating the workers’ movement to the conveniences of the so-called workers’” political parties, a new movement founded upon mass direct action, outside of and against all political parties, rose from the still smoking embers of the 1914-1918 war. Anarcho-syndicalism made a reality of the only confluence of forces and personnel capable of guaranteeing the worker and peasant class its complete independence and its inalienable right to revolutionary initiative in all of the manifestations of an unrelenting struggle against capitalism and State, and the rebuilding of a libertarian social life upon the ruins of outmoded regimes.

So anarcho-syndicalism is complementary to anarcho-communism. The latter was afflicted by a considerable shortcoming that paralyzed all its propaganda: its detachment from the labouring masses. In order to plant libertarian principles there and afford them opportunities for actual realization, what was required was the organizing of trade unions and the placement of trade unionism upon libertarian and anti-statist foundations.

Which is what anarcho-syndicalism did and continues to do.

Now that anarcho-syndicalism exists as a force organizing the social revolution on libertarian communist lines, anarcho-communists owe it to themselves to become anarcho-syndicalists for the sake of organizing the revolution and every anarchist eligible to become a trade unionist should be a member of the anarcho-syndicalist General Labour Confederation.

Organized, outside of their unions, into their ideological (or, to borrow the terminology employed by our Spanish comrades, specific) federations, anarchists remain the continually active leaven, allowing anarcho-syndicalism to build but preventing dangerous compromises.

But the ideological guidance implied by the builders being imbued with the ideal of the propagandists turns into effective leadership. Prior to this, and especially in the aftermath of the war, nationally and internationally, the trade union movements had always found themselves tied to the apron strings of some workers’” party or labour International. Anarcho-syndicalism, which today stands for the revolutionary syndicalist direct action movement and libertarian reconstruction, must not, by aping the rest of the workers movement, come to find that it too is tied to the apron strings of some specific organization be it at the national or international level. That would be a mistake every bit as irreversibly fatal as it has proved for the reformist or dictatorship-minded brands of trade unionism.

The Anarchist Federation supports the Anarcho-Syndicalist Confederation in its class struggle and striving for revolutionary reconstruction. But it should not assume the initiative or leadership of it.

On the international scene, an Anarchist International can only mirror the national Anarchist Federations. It will be the bulwark of the IWA [International Workers Association – Volume One, Selection 114], but must never become its commander-in-chief.

May 30, 1937