Iain McKay on the Spanish Revolution

I am a few weeks late for marking the anniversary of the Spanish Revolution, but here is a recent piece on that topic by Iain McKay. I included a chapter on Spanish anarchism and the Spanish Revolution in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Anti-Fascist and Anti-Capitalist

The Spanish Civil War is usually considered as a forerunner of the Second World War – a struggle between the Spanish Republic and Franco’s fascist forces. This is not quite the case for the Spanish Labour movement [which], thanks to the influence of anarchists, was the most revolutionary one in the world. The CNT, a mass anarcho-syndicalist union, rightly saw the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s as a product of capitalism’s fear of revolution.

To fight fascism effectively meant to fight the system that spawned it. Hence the CNT National Committee on 14 February 1936:

“We are not the defenders of the Republic, but we fight against fascism relentlessly, we will contribute all of the forces that we have to rout the historical executioners of the Spanish proletariat [… to] ensure that the defensive contribution of the masses leads in the direction of real social revolution, under the auspices of libertarian communism…”

“Either fascism or social revolution. Defeating the former is the duty of the whole proletariat and all those who love freedom, weapons in hand; that the revolution be social and libertarian must be the deepest concern of Confederates.”

In short, the CNT was not fighting fascism to maintain an exploitative and oppressive system in which a nominally democratic government protects an economic system mired in years of depression. It was fighting fascism for a better society – and it was this fear which had driven ruling classes across Europe to embrace fascism to protect themselves.

Spanish Revolution Timeline

These were the ideas which were commonplace in working class circles in many parts of Spain in 1936. Yet, as Noam Chomsky noted, the social revolution of 1936 dates back decades and starts in 1868 with the formation of the Spanish section of the International Workers’ Association. State repression soon saw this smashed but it was replaced by other union federations which suffered the same fate.

Then, in 1911 the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) was founded – and was quickly banned. Legalised again, it surged in membership as workers in Spain (as elsewhere) were radicalised by the First World War and the Russian Revolution. 1919 saw the CNT declare at its national congress that its objective was libertarian communism. It was soon banned by the quasi-fascist Primo de Rivera regime. While the CNT was banned in the 1920s, in 1927 the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) – a specially anarchist federation – was founded.

In 1931 the Second Republic was created. The CNT re-organises and leads countless strikes and revolts – all faced repression by the liberal republic. Two years later, in 1933, a right-wing government was elected and, again, numerous libertarian revolts were crushed and the CNT repressed. In 1934 an insurrection in Asturias and Catalonia called by the UGT-run Workers Alliance is crushed. 1936 is the year of civil war and revolution as 19th February sees the Popular Front elected. The CNT starts to re-organise. On 17th July the Army revolts against the Republic, starting in Morocco but soon spreads across Spain. The government is paralysed – the workers’ organisations, with the CNT and FAI at their head, respond and draw upon their years of experience in the class struggle to resist the army.

I cannot cover all the popular resistance and so will concentrate on what happened on the 19th of July in Barcelona. The troops started to leave their barracks around 5am, with the officers claiming to be defending the republic against (yet another) anarchist uprising. The CNT declares a general strike and factory sirens called the masses onto the streets. Libertarians seize weapons wherever they could and barricades are built — some assault and civil guards join the resistance. Fighting takes place all day and into the next. The Army revolt is finally ended with the storming of the final rebel barracks (the Andreu barracks).

All this, I must stress, was no spontaneous response. It was prepared and organised by libertarian “committees of defence” in Barcelona’s working-class neighbourhoods as well as by CNT unions – not to mention years of strikes, rent strikes, street fighting, etc. However, while the fighting was organised the subsequent Revolution was spontaneous – it was created by militants who had taken Kropotkin’s call to “act for yourselves” seriously.

The Revolution Begins

Where the army had been defeated, the people took the opportunity to transform society into one worthy of human beings. Anarchist militant Enriqueta Rovira paints a vivid picture:

“The atmosphere then, the feelings were very special. It was beautiful. A feeling of – how shall I say it – of power, not in the sense of domination, but in the sense of things being under our control, if under anyone’s. Of possibility. We had everything. We had Barcelona: It was ours. You’d walk out in the streets, and they were ours – here, CNT; there, comite this or that. It was totally different. Full of possibility. A feeling that we could, together, really do something. That we could make things different.”

The workers did not go back to being wage-slaves but expropriated their workplaces. The days and weeks following the 19th of July saw the collectivisation of industry and the land. About eight million people directly or indirectly participated, with over 60% of the land collectively cultivated by the peasants without landlords while in Catalonia almost all the industries run by workers and their committees, without capitalists, well-paid managers or the state. Every branch of industry was taken over and run by their workers – factories, mills, workshops, transportation, public services, health care, utilities, even football teams. As visitor Emma Goldman recounted:

“I was especially impressed with the replies to my questions as to what actually had the workers gained by the collectivisation [. . .] the answer always was, first, greater freedom. And only secondly, more wages and less time of work. In two years in Russia I never heard any workers express this idea of greater freedom.”

The Spanish Revolution created a socialism which was based on workers’ control rather than, as in the Russian Revolution, controlled workers. The new collectives were structured like the CNT and its strikes and so based on, as historian Martha A. Ackelsberg put it, “general assemblies of workers [which] decided policy, while elected committees managed affairs on a day-to-day basis”. The collectives showed that capitalists were not needed for investment and innovation either, for “they maintained, if not increased, agricultural production, often introducing new patterns of cultivation and fertilisation […] collectivists built chicken coups, barns, and other facilities for the care and feeding of the community’s animals. Federations of collectives co-ordinated the construction of roads, schools, bridges, canals and dams.”

While individual workplaces were taken over by their workers, federations were seen as a means to co-ordinate and socialise the economy. The CNT was well aware of the need “[t]o socialise an industry” as “partial collectivisation will in time degenerate into a kind of bourgeois co-operativism”. As anarchist theorists had predicted, the process of federation and socialisation took time and developed unevenly. However, as CNT militant Saturnino Carod reminds us:

“For it can never be forgotten that it was the working class and peasantry which, by demonstrating their ability to run industry and agriculture collectively, allowed the republic to continue the struggle for thirty-two months. It was they who created a war industry, who kept agricultural production increasing, who formed militias […] Without their creative endeavour, the republic could not have fought the war”.

Getting the economy running again was not the pressing task facing the members of the CNT. Franco had only been defeated across two-thirds of Spain and so the defence of the revolution predicted by anarchist thinkers had an even greater urgency. This led to the organisation of militias by the CNT and other unions and parties. However, the CNT’s armed forces were based on libertarian principles as militant Buenaventura Durruti summarised:

“I don’t believe—and everything happening around us confirms this— that you can run a workers’ militia according to classical military rules. I believe that discipline, coordination, and planning are indispensable, but we shouldn’t define them in the terms of the world that we’re destroying. We have to build on new foundations.”

It should be noted that only the CNT militias were democratic, those organised by Marxist parties like the POUM and PSUC were modelled on the [Soviet] Red Army.

As well as organising militias to free those under Army rule elsewhere in Spain, the workers of the CNT took the initiative in creating war industries by the conversion of existing industry to produce home-made armed vehicles, grenades, etc. However, it was not forgotten that a key measure to defend the revolution and defeat the forces of reaction was the interest and active participation of the many rather than power to a few. As Pilar Vivancos, a collective member, put it:

“It was marvellous to live in a collective, a free society where one could say what one thought, where if the village committee seemed unsatisfactory one could say. The committee took no big decisions without calling the whole village together in a general assembly. All this was wonderful.”

As well as transforming the economy, the social revolution also looked to transform all aspects of social life. Women activists of the CNT and FAI created the Mujeres Libres (Free Women) movement which was organised to fight against the “triple enslavement to ignorance, as women, and as producers” and recognised the interwoven nature of social oppressions and hierarchies:

We could not separate the women’s problem from the social problem, nor could we deny [its] significance […] by converting women into a simple instrument for any organisation, even our own libertarian organisation. The intention […] was much much broader: […] to empower women to make of them individuals capable of contributing to the structuring of the future society, individuals who have learned to be self-determining”

This was needed because, in spite of a theoretical awareness of the need for sexual equality, many male anarchists in Spain practiced manarchy in action. Thus patriarchy within the libertarian movement also had to be combated as Kyralina, a Mujeres Libres activist, argued:

“All those compañeros, however radical they may be in cafes, unions, and even affinity groups, seem to drop their costumes as lovers of female liberation at the doors of their homes. Inside, they behave with their compañeras just like common husbands.”

Another, Soledad, stressed that [i]t was essential that we work and struggle together, because otherwise, there would be no social revolution. But we needed our own organisation to fight for ourselves.” This was based, to use the words of Lucia Sanchez Saornil, empowerment (capacitación):

“It is not [the man] who is called upon to set out the roles and responsibilities of the woman in society, no matter how elevated he might consider them to be. No, the anarchist way is to allow the woman to act freely herself, without tutors or external pressures; that she may develop in the direction that her nature and her faculties dictate.”

With this perspective Mujeres Libres were active across Republican Spain and created alternatives which undercut patriarchy wherever it raised its ugly head – including in the CNT and FAI.

Thus a new world was created across Spain, one which transformed every aspect of life – from the economic to the personal. A world which George Orwell vividly recounted when he arrived in Barcelona in December 1936:

“The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. […] It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists […] Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.”

An Incomplete Revolution

After 19th July, the members of the CNT started to build the beginnings of Anarchy. Workplaces and land expropriated and collectivised under workers control while union- and party-based militias were organised to defeat Franco’s forces.

Yet, was the State smashed and replaced by a federation of workers’ organisations as anarchism had long argued? No – the CNT in Barcelona decided to cooperate with other anti-fascist groups in a Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias. As they later recounted, the leadership of the CNT decided “not to speak about Libertarian Communism as long as part of Spain was in the hands of the fascists.” This eventually led to the CNT joining the Catalan and Spanish governments [where they] were quickly marginalised.

The question is: why? Was this anarchist theory or the situation facing anarchists? As anarchist theory was ignored, it must be the second.

For, lest we forget, immediately after the defeat of the Army in Barcelona the CNT was isolated – it had no idea what the situation was elsewhere, even elsewhere in Catalonia. Then there was the danger of fighting on two fronts if libertarian communism was declared as there was a distinct possibility of having to fight Franco and the Republican State in that case. Then there was the fear of wider foreign intervention against the revolution beyond the help Franco received from Germany and Italy. Finally, there was optimism in the membership who had just defeated the Army in Barcelona and so were willing to tolerate the remnants of the State for a short period while Franco was defeated – particularly as there was so much else to do like organise militias and an economy.

All these factors help explain the decision to ignore Anarchist theory rather than push for libertarian communism even if it does not justify it nor make it correct.

The Counter-Revolution

Ultimately, the decision of the CNT to avoid fighting on two fronts did not mean it did not happen. The remnants of the State and the capitalist class regrouped and pursued a counter-revolution. At its head was the Communist Party – and this party soon created a civil war within the civil war.

In Spain, it sided with the urban and rural petit-bourgeois and bourgeois to (finally) get a mass base and undermined the gains of the revolution while USSR shaped Government Policy by supplying weapons (and to get its claws on Spanish gold). The attack on the revolution reached its climax in the May Days of 1937 which began with a government attack on Barcelona’s collectivised telephone exchange. This saw CNT members raise barricades across the city while the Communist and State forces assassinated anarchist activists (including Italian anarchist and refugee from Mussolini, Camilo Berneri). Elsewhere, saw the destruction of the rural collectives by use of troops and tanks while falsely claiming the peasants were forced to join – at the same time praising Stalin’s collectivisation!

As well as using troops and tanks against peasants rather than Franco’s troops, the State denied resources and weapons to libertarian troops and collectives. George Orwell stated the obvious:

“A government which sends boys of fifteen to the front with rifles forty years old and keeps its biggest men and newest weapons in the rear is manifestly more afraid of the revolution than the fascists”

Finally, I should note the political repression and trials of radicals – starting with the dissident Marxists of the POUM as “Trotsky-Fascists” (although Trotsky had few, if any, kind words for the party). It was experiencing this at first hand which forced Orwell – a member of the POUM militia – to flee Spain.

Lessons of the Revolution

Yes, ultimately the revolution was defeated but it must be stressed that every political grouping failed – anarchists, socialists, Stalinists, the POUM and the handful of Trotskyists.

In areas were the socialist UGT was bigger than the CNT the revolution was correspondingly less. As anarchist Abel Paz notes “in Madrid, thanks to the Socialist Party, bourgeois structures were left intact and even fortified: a semi-dead state received a new lease on life and no dual power was created to neutralise it.” In terms of the Stalinists, they defeated the revolution, replaced the militias with an army, placated the bourgeoisie but Franco still won. So the Communist solution completely failed – the People Armed won the revolution, the People’s Army lost the war.

The Spainish labour movement clearly vindicated the anarchist critique of Marxism. While the anarchist influenced unions remained militant, the socialists soon became as reformist as Bakunin predicted:

“the workers […] will send common workers […] to […] Legislative Assemblies. […] The worker-deputies, transplanted into a bourgeois environment, into an atmosphere of purely bourgeois political ideas, will in fact cease to be workers and, becoming Statesmen, they will become bourgeois, and perhaps even more bourgeois than the Bourgeois themselves. For men do not make their situations; on the contrary, men are made by them”.

Indeed, it was the libertarian labour movement which was the innovative trend – so much so, many Marxists often point to the Spanish Revolution as an example of socialist revolution! As such, Engels was completely wrong when he proclaimed in the 1870s that “we may safely predict that the new departure will not come from these ‘anarchist’ spouters, but from the small body of intelligent and energetic workmen who, in 1872, remained true to the [Marxist dominated wing of the] International.”

The reasons are clear enough – as anarchists had long argued, organising and fighting on the economic plain radicalised those involved rather than producing the apathy and reformism associated with electioneering. Likewise, the anarchist critique involved all social hierarchies and oppressions which meant – to use the words of historian J. Romero Maura – that “the demands of the CNT went much further than those of any social democrat: with its emphasis on true equality, autogestion [self-management] and working class dignity, anarcho-syndicalism made demands the capitalist system could not possibly grant to the workers.”

It should also be noted that Anarchism itself had predicted the failure of the revolution. Kropotkin, for example, had repeatedly stressed that “a new form of economic organisation will necessarily require a new form of political structure” but the CNT refused to do this out of a desire to promote anti-fascist unity. However, in practice this cooperation within non-worker organisations did little to aid the revolution nor even the fight against fascism. As Kropotkin had suggested:

“what means can the State provide to abolish this monopoly that the working class could not find in its own strength and groups? […] Could its governmental machine, developed for the creation and upholding of these [class] privileges, now be used to abolish them? Would not the new function require new organs? And these new organs would they not have to be created by the workers themselves, in their unions, their federations, completely outside the State?”

The experience of 1936 reinforces this argument for Anarchists did not fully apply Anarchist ideas and disaster resulted. In short, as British anarchist Vernon Richards put it, the CNT-FAI “failed to put their theories to the test, adopting the tactics of the enemy”. Rather than, to use Bakunin’s words, creating “the federative Alliance of all working men’s associations “in order to “constitute the Commune” and so “the federation of insurgent associations” to “organise a revolutionary force capable of defeating reaction,” the CNT in Barcelona [joined the] Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias. Instead of [joining] this body it should have called a full plenum of CNT unions and neighbourhood defence committees with delegates invited from the [socialist] UGT and unorganised workplaces. Only this would have built the popular federations which could have successfully resisted Franco and defended the revolution.

The decision to work with other anti-fascist parties and unions was understandable but such co-operation had to be based on popular organisation from below. Anti-Fascism is not enough – the need remains to destroy the system which spawns it. As Scottish Anarchist Ethel McDonald put it:

“Fascism is not something new, some new force of evil opposed to society, but is only the old enemy, Capitalism, under a new and fearful sounding name [. . .] Anti-Fascism is the new slogan by which the working class is being betrayed.”

However, the most important lesson of the revolution is that libertarian socialism worked – but this is usually downplayed or ignored by “objective” historians. As Noam Chomsky argues, “there is more than enough evidence to show that a deep bias against social revolution and a commitment to the values and social order of liberal bourgeois democracy has led the author to misrepresent crucial events and to overlook major historical currents.” The revolution shows that products and services can be provided to workers, by workers without bosses and bureaucrats. It shows that there is a viable alternative to both privatisation and nationalisation in the form of socialisation and associationism.

This is why the Spanish Revolution should be remembered today. As Orwell put it, it was “a foretaste of Socialism […] the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilised life – snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. – had simply ceased to exist […] no one owned anyone else as his master […] One had breathed the air of equality”. It shows that a genuine socialist alternative exists and works. As Durruti memorably put it at the Aragon Front:

“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 the workers who built these palaces and cities here in Spain and in 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.”

These words, like the revolution that inspired them, should inspire all seekers of liberty today.

Conclusions

The experience of Spain in the 1930s shows that it is not enough to just oppose fascism for, after all, defending the status quo is hardly inspiring. This helps explain the often limited appeal of campaigns today against the far-right in which the critique of the social problems which the right blame on scapegoats is muted in the interest of widening the campaign. This portrays the left as being part of the problem rather than the solution by linking it with those who benefit from the system. As Chomsky noted long ago:

“Why should a liberal intellectual be so persuaded of the virtues of a political system of four-year dictatorship? The answer seems all too plain.”

It also shows that revolutions cannot be half-made. Even in the face of immanent threat of Franco’s troops, the so-called anti-fascist parties spent time and resources crushing the revolution and the CNT-FAI. It is hard to not draw the conclusion that the Republicans seemed to prefer fascism to anarchism. As such, attempts to limit the revolution were a fatal error by the CNT-FAI leadership.

However, we must not forget that Anarchists failed, not Anarchism. Unlike the Russian Revolution, which failed because Marxist theory was applied, in Spain the revolution failed because [anarchist] theory was not applied. Yet for all the errors and limitations, the social revolution of 1936 was Anarchy in Action and remains an inspiration for today – although, of course, one to be learned from rather than idolised.

Iain McKay

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’

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

Luis Andrés Edo: Redefining Syndicalism (1984)

Luis Andrés Edo (1925-2009) was very active in the anarchist resistance to Franco following the Spanish Civil War. He joined the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist trade union federation, the CNT (Confederación  Nacional del Trabajo see Volume One, Selection 124) in 1941, at the age of 16, two years after Franco took over Spain. He was involved in various attempts to overthrow the Franco dictatorship, working clandestinely in Spain and sometimes from exile in France. He was imprisoned several times, and participated in the mutiny at the Model Prison in Barcelona in 1975. He recounts his experiences in his memoirs, La CNT en la encrucijada: Aventuras de un heterodoxo (Barcelona: Flor del Viento, 2006). In the following piece from 1984, Andrés Edo argues, echoing Maurice Joyeux (Volume Two, Selection 61), that there remains an important role for anarcho-syndicalist trade union organizations to play, as they can provide an ongoing structure that can serve as a revolutionary example and catalyst without absorbing other forms of anarchist organization and activity. Andrés Edo opposed attempts to turn the CNT into a broader based anarchist federation which would include cultural centres (ateneos), alternative lifestyle and other anarchist groups that emerged in Spain following the death of Franco in 1975, so that the CNT could remain focused on its role as a revolutionary trade union. He also opposed the “institutionalization” of the CNT (the participation of the CNT in the government controlled system of union elections and representation). In 2002, he published La Corriente (originally entitled El pensamiento antiautoritario), a collection of more theoretical essays that he had written during his many years of imprisonment. In his later years, Andrés Edo moved closer to Murray Bookchin’s then anarchist social ecology (Volume Two, Selections 48, 62 & 74), endorsing the concept of ecological communities based on popular assemblies. The following piece was originally published in Anarcho Syndicalisme et Luttes Ouvrieres (Lyon: Atelier de Creation Libertaire, 1985). The translation is by Paul Sharkey.

Luis Andrés Edo: Redefining Syndicalism (1984)

1. Anarcho-syndicalism defined

The anarchist discourse in support of the trade union option has thrown up some arguments of incontestable value as far as the struggles of the workers’ movement are concerned. The devising and propagation of anarchist models of action and organization (direct action, autonomy, the federalist principle, assemblyism, etc.) are contributions offered by militant anarchism and they evolved from within revolutionary labour currents.

Those contributions, taken on board by the structural phenomenon of syndicalism, have been acted upon time and time again, in accordance with their anarchistic content and despite the obvious difficulties inherent in the translation of theory into practice.

That is an undeniably true fact: however, the manifest incapability of anarcho-syndicalist organization to translate these insights into actions without doing injury to their anarchist content is equally a fact. So much so that within the trade union structures one finds a persistent phenomenon whereby these anarchist presentiments are subjected to “redefinition” and where the tendency is for them to be distorted and for the implications of them to be restricted to the narrow confines of the organization.

Repeatedly, even within an anarcho-syndicalist context, distorted notions such as “class union, and  syndicalism sufficient unto itself” have been peddled; these plainly and brazenly fly in the face of anarchist ideas.

Were those two notions to prevail, the anarcho-syndicalist structure would become the exclusive element of the anarchist revolution. And while the accomplishment of any such revolution in the absence of participation by the anarcho-syndicalist organizations is inconceivable, it is every bit as true that revolution can scarcely be achieved without participation by all segments of society toiling away on the fringes of the trade union sector in order to meet libertarian targets.

If the tendencies championing organizational autonomy from the system lapse into this adulterating “redefinition” generated by structures, the adulteration phenomenon takes an even more serious turn when the “redefinition” emanates from these other tendencies ready to embrace institutionalization of anarcho-syndicalism, as is currently the case in Spain where well-known militants with lengthy records as anarchists are beset by some sort of blight (the “institutional syndrome” laying Spanish civil society waste) and are championing institutionalization of the CNT [the participation of the CNT in the government controlled system of union representation]; at which point the “redefinition” turns into unacceptable adulteration.

Calm reflection upon all these contradictions leads us to suspect that any sort of definition limits perspective and that any structure is inclined to lead to a thoroughgoing, final, exclusive and closed “redefinition”…

It is our belief that the anarchist substance of syndicalism should not be feigned by a definition but that this substance should be discernible in the orientation and content of its action.

2. Trade unionism hits a brick wall

Since, following the Second World War, the System agreed to the most significant trade union demands (for social security, the right to work, company recognition of the union) which had been, up until the 1930s, partly but not universally acknowledged, all of the major trade union organizations have voluntarily remained integrated into the system as institutions essential to its proper running.

Furthermore, the process whereby collective bargaining is conducted being, especially in the industrial context, subject to regulation and codification and the ordinances of the governmental administration — endorsed in advance by the legislative authorities — it represents one of the most important, indeed most indispensable, factors in the continuance of capitalist exploitation. By accepting that negotiating process, the trade unions are facilitating the furtherance of the exploitation of workers.

By becoming institutionalized, trade unionism has lost its freedom of action and it believed that this might be replaced by supposed social security and employment.

“Arbitrary dismissal” (whereby the worker loses his right and guarantee to his job), the burgeoning “black economy” (whereby the bosses wriggle out of the payment of taxes destined for social payments to workers) and finally technological readjustment which preaches increases in the rate and volume of production and job cuts are, essentially, the factors that have led to the irresistible rise of a slide into insecurity of employment and social insecurity in the relations of production.

As may be seen from the process of rigorous integration, trade unionism loses its freedom of action as well as its chance to make a genuine defence of workers’ job security and  social security net.

That process of integration has thrown up an utterly irreconcilable and irreversible contradiction. In fact, the members of the trade union apparatus are rewarded by Capital and the State with a privileged status in comparison with the rest of the workforce and this is the start of a widespread process of making the workers subordinate to the trade union machine.

The workers’ very own structures (the trade unions) are thereby stripped of their role as protagonists.

The “machine” replaces the trade union movement and the trade union-organized labour movement’s revolutionary strand finds itself neutralized yet again.

It is against the backdrop of this fact that, undeniably, trade unionism as a revolutionary option has hit a brick wall, that we should analyze the role of anarcho-syndicalism, the only approach to workers’ action that can resist the charms of integration.

Here the first critical observation that needs to be made is that an anarcho-syndicalist organization would have at the core of its activity the escalation of trade union demands (broadening the social security net, lowering retirement age, reducing the working day, additional leisure time, extension of all benefits to victims of discrimination, etc.), that is, broadening and improvement of the application and operation of demands that have made a contribution towards greater refinement of exploitation.

So anarcho-syndicalism is caught in a trap: it cannot make progress in the direction of its goals of transforming society, it remains outraged by and opposed to integration, and at the same time it calls for the extension and escalation of demands which, objectively, have eased the integration of the trade union organized workers’ movement into the system…

The belief that the impasse of collaborationist trade unionism should open the way to anarcho-syndicalism is a mistaken one: the former’s loss of revolutionary élan triggers a chain reaction that damages the trade union movement as a whole.

But there is no reason to speak of trade unionism being in crisis unless the link is made to the general crisis afflicting all of the institutions and trends within civil society, a crisis that triggers that very same “chain reaction” and afflicts the entire body of society, not excepting anarchist organizations, bodies and currents.

Anarchist critiques of trade unionism should be asking whether that is the root cause of the revolutionary crisis or if its loss of élan is simply a side-effect of a wider crisis that also entails a crisis in anarchism.

3. Need for an anarcho-syndicalist structure

Despite the current impasse, despite the contradictions and shortcomings that have become evident within anarcho-syndicalist organization throughout its history, we must resolutely reject the idea of it being dismantled.

The emergence of diverse currents within anarchism has required and continues to require backboned, stable organization capable of serving all of the options emerging from within anarchism as a catalyst for action.

Of all the organizations that the movement has known, none serviced that need so well as anarcho-syndicalism. Wherever the anarcho-syndicalist discourse has not translated into an influential organization, anarchism has simply vegetated. True, the catalyzing action of the anarcho-syndicalist structure is being constantly called into question these days, but no discourse thrown up by the libertarian movement has proposed the creation of a structure with the capacity to fulfill this purpose. The organizational articulation of anarchist federations (which we are not opposed to, of course) cannot in any way be regarded as a substitute for that catalyzing function; at any rate, it has not thus far shown that it is.

Moreover, and by way of an answer to all who consider that there is no need for a structured organization, we need only refer to historical processes and current affinity-based social phenomena for proof of the extent to which anarchism is ineffective when it is afflicted by the absence of some organization capable of serving as a catalyst.

If anarcho-syndicalism’s structure no longer fits the bill, we will have to come up with some other sort of a structure, but the critics have yet to devise one. Which is why we believe we need to hold on to anarcho-syndicalist organization.

4. Prospects of anarcho-syndicalism

By dint of other potential definitions and affording a non-restrictive scope to influences and perspectives that may derive from trade union organization, one can think of a trans-structural and extra-trade union activity at odds with a simple, wholly structural view of trade union action.

In order to demonstrate the incompatible impacts of both positions, we shall refer to two (out of the many) historical phenomena:

1. July 19, 1936, when the army rose in rebellion in Spain and the CNT might not have been able to abort that rebellion but for its organizational structures: this was feasible (in Catalonia in particular) because it was flanked by segments of the people not affiliated to any structure, but who had been exposed to the CNT’s trans-structural and extra-trade union activity for several years;

2. From July 21, 1936 on, the representative bodies of the CNT were caught up in a frantic flurry of meetings, plenarias and plenos, so much so that the unions were unable to keep up this pace without serious operational difficulties; federalism ran out of control, leading to a gulf between the unions and the federal and confederal organs and this was to have a heavy impact on the CNT’s political approach. Thus was triggered intra-structural activity by representative organs which no doubt smoothed the way towards CNT participation in the government. In this particularly limited instance, an intra-structural phenomenon came to light, one to which all organizations are inclined when their representative bodies are no longer responsive to pressures from those whom they represent.

Today, more than ever, when trade unionism finds itself in an undeniable impasse, the anarcho-syndicalist structure must engage in some activity that is trans-structural, extra-trade union, and at all times counter-institutional.

A. Trans-structural

The basic, prime aim of anarcho-syndicalist activity must be to take a hand in the situation of non-institutionalized sectors (ones not part and parcel of some trade union structure) whose numbers are growing daily (the unemployed, new-style, fringe cooperatives, and ‘wildcat’ disputes involving workers, producer sub-groups discriminated against by the ‘black economy,’ etc.).

Paradoxical though it may seem, we must fight shy of playing a leading role geared towards absorbing all sectors and sub-sectors into anarcho-syndicalism; this should be a matter of free and voluntary choosing in which pressure should not be a factor.

B. Extra-trade union

Extra-trade union activity is a way of getting involved in the activities of social, cultural and fringe groups whose anti-authoritarian bent affords them a quasi-anarchistic outlook.

Establishing non-structural, concerted action relations with such movements while rejecting the wrong-headed notion (seen in Spain in 1976-1977) of an “all-embracing CNT”, i.e. a structure wherein there would be room, alongside trade unions, for ateneos, collectives, groups and communes, etc. We look upon such absorption as inadequate for it would introduce into the anarcho-syndicalist organization a factor tending towards destructuring.

The structural and the a-structural should enjoy complete autonomy in their respective operations; the “federal compact” through which the anarcho-syndicalist organization grows cannot be applied to the a-structural development characteristic of such movements; the two formats can only be associated through some “action agreement”.

C. Counter-institutional

Anarcho-syndicalism’s presence and activity are needed as an ongoing pressure on integrated worker macro-sectors, breaking down the institutionalized patterns through which they evolve. The way to go is to intervene in campaigns, demonstrations, strikes, disputes and negotiations which overpower the institutionalized trade union “machinery” and organisms.

Any attempt to introduce qualitative initiatives into the institutional framework by agreeing to participate in its mechanisms is sheer illusion. The only qualitative initiative is to shatter the framework in question. The institutional company committee must be countered by “company delegates” and by representatives receiving their mandate from the workers’ assembly.

Workers’ assemblies (be they company or industrial sector based) can, it is true to say, on certain occasions take decisions at odds with the general accords of the anarcho-syndicalist organization; however recourse to the assembly is not simply a one-off exercise but also an ongoing process regulating and amending relations between the workers; in spite of the contradictions that can be thrown up by these situations, anarcho-syndicalism can get involved, with improved and broader prospects, in the institutional framework.

 

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

Comrade Peasant Listen!

This is a translation of a CNT-FAI pamphlet approved at the December 6, 1936 Regional Plenum of the FAI for distribution to Spanish peasants unfamiliar with the CNT-FAI, in order to assure them that the CNT-FAI was opposed to the forced collectivization of the land, but also to convince them of the benefits of libertarian communism. I had intended to include this selection in Chapter 25, “The Spanish Revolution,” in Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939). The translation is by Paul Sharkey.

COMRADE PEASANT, LISTEN:

WHO WE ARE

The National Confederation of Labour (CNT) and Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) address you. Both are made up of urban and rural workers, by workers and peasants who, like yourself, work for their poor fare and would like to live better. Of workers, and no one else. In our ranks you will not find folk who live off somebody else’s labours – property-owners, capitalists, rentiers or bourgeois who purloin the fruits of another man’s sweat. You and we, we and you like are members of the same family as all who produce all of the wherewithal of life and who have always, thus far, seen those who did nothing living a life of luxury and wallowing in everything while we lack life’s necessities. The time has come for this to end. Listen, comrade, to what we, the peasants and workers of the CNT and FAI have to say to you.

YOUR LIFE

Your parents, your grandparents, your forebears worked on the land and made it ready for cultivation. Can you still remember them, with hoe or pitchfork in their hands? You too labour as they did. And your children will labour, as you do.

Who benefited from that toil by your forebears, your grandparents, your parents? Whom does yours profit? And tomorrow, who will benefit from your childrens’, unless things change? The boss, the landlord, the proprietor. The State and the whole bureaucracy that oppress us with their levies and taxes. The middle-man who traffics in the fruits of your labour. You hand over thirty or forty per cent of your crops to the landlord. You pay very heavy taxes to the tax-collector. The middle-man charges a hundred pesetas for what he bought from you at fifty.

The fact is that right now, thanks to the revolution made by the CNT and the FAI, this has eased or stopped for a while. But that pause will be a fleeting one unless you make up your mind to join with us to ensure that the landowners, tax-collectors and middle-men cannot gain the upper hand again. When the wheat, rice, potato, orange, grape or any other harvest is good, instead of your benefiting from this, as ought to be the case, you are worse off, because, on the pretext of a glut, they pay you such a poor return that you get no reward and you are denied what you need to live. When the harvest is a poor one, you have little to sell and earn little. Everything backfires, everything works against you, the way things are organized. But the landlord carries on living the high life, the State gets its taxes and the middle-man carries on trading. Does this seem fair to you? Is it the truth or not?

WHAT WE WANT

We of the CNT and FAI want to see these injustices ended. We want to prevent others from being masters of the land that you work. We want to stop others from living off your exertions by depriving you of twenty, thirty or forty per cent of your harvests. We want an end to a situation whereby there are the rich who do nothing alongside so many of the poor who labour.

Let’s look at something familiar to you. Say there is a cold snap, or a drought and a crop is destroyed. As you well know, this is a frequent occurrence. The peasants hit by it are left penniless and facing a year of wretchedness, hunger or scarcity. Is that reasonable? Is the fault theirs? Is it your fault if the rain stops falling, if there is an unexpected cold snap, killing the buds on the trees, or if a blight wipes out your cereal crops? Yes or no? And, that being the case, why should you and your family have to be denied the means to exist which can be found elsewhere, when these are sometimes wrested from you, leaving you short? We want an end to all this. Should you be unable to market as much produce one year as you did the year before, because of the vagaries of nature, we want you to have the same access to what you need, provided, of course, that it can be drawn in from other parts. We know the circumstances in which you too would be prepared to send your produce to other peasant victims of cold snaps, drought or blight. So, in addition to doing away with those who exploit other people’s labours, those who grow rich on it, we want to establish a society in which all men live in fellowship, where no one goes hungry, where everyone is ready to help anyone in need and gets such help whenever required too. This is what the CNT and the FAI stand for.

HOW IS THIS TO BE BROUGHT ABOUT?

Now let us explain to you how we mean to organize all this. We want to do it without politicians, without bureaucracy, without parliament. The world should belong to the workers. We, you and we, labour in the fields, the factories, the mines. We must look to organizing ourselves, on our own account, in our unions and our communes. Workers’ associations are all that we need. Everything else is a nursery for parasites. Some peasants produce olives and grapes. Others produce rice, or wheat, or oranges. The olive- and grape-growers form one association, the rice-, vegetable-, wheat- and orange-growers another. Along with the other peasants belonging to your federation, you ship your produce to others. They send you theirs. You ship your produce to the cities. The workers in the cities in return send you clothing, footwear, furniture, tools machinery, wireless sets, etc. Is that hard? Certainly not. It merely requires determination to do it and you need only join with us in this work of emancipation and it will be accomplished in very little time.

SMALL-HOLDING

Those who seek to keep you impoverished so that they can live off you argue that we want to strip the rural small-holder of his land. That is a strategem to ensure that you do not join with those who are pointing the way ahead. We want to take the land from him who does not work it. We want to take it from him who has more than he can cultivate. We know that most of the rural small-holders would be a lot better off if society was fairer. WE understand your love of the land which supplies you with the wherewithal for living. For these reasons, we cannot target the small-holder.

But we know that work is a lot more productive when the land is worked in common. If ten small-holders were to abolish the boundaries between their fields, they could use modern machinery that would reduce the exertions required of them. On the other hand, the individual small-holder cannot afford such machinery and has to labour mightily to bring in his harvest. And his isolation leaves him defenceless in a bad year. There is work that, unlike wheat and cereal crops, does not require farm machinery; for instance, there is market gardening. Here too, joint production produces outstanding results. On the outskirts of the great cities of Europe there are three or four harvests per year, thanks to this form of farming. But it requires special piping, heating, green-housing and wintering equipment; it requires the use of special chemicals, too dear for the individual pesant to afford. The only ones who can utilize them are those who operate as collectives, or landowners who exploit eight, ten or more workers. In order to cut back on your exertions, or to ensure that you produce is at least doubled, you must, comrade peasants, work the land in common. Which does not mean that we want to impose this by force. Anybody who says that we do is a liar. We know that, over time, as they see the improvement in results, those who start out as doubters will later be won over. But we would caution you, comrades, against those who want to add to the existing number of small-holdings and who tell you that small-holdings are a necessity. They do this in order to turn you against us, so that division between the rural workers and urban workers protects them from a concerted backlash against those who keep them in wretchedness. We have no desire to forcibly wrest his land from the small-holder, but we say to him: ÒSmall-holding renders farm machinery purchase, or, once bought, payments on it, impossible; it prevents proper improvements to the working of the land. And thereby keeps and will always keep the peasant owner in poverty. Property keeps the peasant at the mercy of the rich man who buys up his land for nothing in times of bad harvests. It makes him the victim of the middle-man who pays him nothing for his produce. Whoever advocates this practices wretched deception against the peasant. You should shun him as a liar, a hypocrite and a traitor.

ALL TOGETHER, COMRADE

All together, comrade, we shall build a workers’ world. But it will belong to real workers, the sort who use hoe or hammer, file or axe, pick or shovel, who man the plough and the tractor. All together, comrades, we shall do away with poverty, so that our children may be strangers to shortages of food, clothing, care and education. All together, comrades, we shall prevent the return of the landlord, the owner of the land that you work, the collector of pointless taxes, the thieving middle-man. Workers and peasants together, in the CNT and in the FAI, let us set out to free ourselves forever and let us seek the triumph of justice, equality and happiness in a world redeemed and organized on our own account and to meet our needs. If this strikes you as right, comrades, join our ranks. We are waiting for you.