Spain 1936 and the Friends of Durruti

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Presentation

Anarchism today has the wind in its sails. Anarchist ideas, in the form both of the emergence and strengthening of anarcho-syndicalism, and of the appearance of numerous small libertarian groups, are getting off the ground in several countries (and are getting more and more attention from the capitalist media). This is perfectly explicable inperfectly explicable in the present historic period.

The collapse of the Stalinist regimes at the end of the 1980s allowed the bourgeoisie to unleash unprecedented campaigns proclaiming the "death of communism". These had a definite impact on the working class, and even on elements who rejected the capitalist system and hoped to see its revolutionary overthrow. According to the bourgeoisie's campaigns, the bankruptcy of what has been presented as "socialism" or even "communism" marks the bankruptcy of Marx's ideas, which the Stalinist regimes had transformed into an official ideology (by systematically falsifying them, needless to say).

Marx, Lenin, Stalin - all the same enemy: this is the theme rehashed for years by every fraction of the ruling class. The anarchist current has defended exactly the same theme ever since the creation in the USSR of one of the most barbaric regimes that decadent capitalism has produced. The anarchists have always considered marxism as "authoritarian" by nature, and for them the Stalinist dictatorship was the inevitable result of the application of Marx's ideas. In this sense, the present success of the anarchist and libertarian currents is essentially a fall-out from the bourgeoisie's campaigns, a sign of their impact on those elements who refuse to accept capitalism, but who are trapped by all the lies that have inundated us dururing the last ten years. The current that presents itself as the most radical opponent of bourgeois order thus owes a large part of its progress to the concessions which it makes, and has always made, to the classic ideological themes of the bourgeoisie.

That being said, there are many anarchists and libertarians today who feel somewhat uncomfortable with all this.

On the one hand, they find it hard to swallow the behaviour of the most important organisation in the history of anarchism, which had the most determining influence on the working class of a whole country: the Spanish CNT. It is obviously difficult to lay claim to the tradition of an organisation which, after years of propaganda for "direct action", of denouncing any kind of participation in the bourgeois political game of parliamentarism, of fiery speeches against the state in all its forms, found nothing better to do in 1936 than to send four ministers to the bourgeois government of the Spanish Republic and several councillors to the Catalan Generalitat. In May 1937, when the Barcelona workers rose against the government's police (controlled by the Stalinists), these anarchist ministers called on them to lay down their arms and "fraternise" with their executioners. In other words, they stabbed the workers in the back. This is why some libertarians today prefer to look back to the currents that emerged within anarchism, and which tried to oppose the criminal policies of the CNT: currents like the Friends of Durruti, which in 1937 fought the CNT's official line, to the point where the Spanish CNT denounced them as traitors and excluded them. It is to clarify the nature of this current that we are publishing the article that follows, drawn from a pamphlet on the war of 1936 published by the ICC's section in Spain.

On the other hand, some of those who turn towards libertarian ideas realise (it's not too difficult) the emptiness of anarchist ideology, and look for other reference points to reinforce its classic thinkers (Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, etc). And what better reference could they find than Marx himself, whose "disciple" Bakunin once declared himself to be? Determined to reject the bourgeois lies, which make marxism responsible for all the woes that have befallen Russia since 1917, they try to oppose Lenin to Marx, and so fall under the influence of these same campaigns, which always portray Stalin as Lenin's faithful heir. To promote a "libertarian marxism", they therefore try to return to the tradition of the German and Dutch Communist Left, whose main theoreticians - such as Otto Rühle to begin with, and Anton Pannekoek later - considered that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a bourgeois revolution, led by a bourgeois Bolshevik Party, which itself was inspired by a bourgeois-Jacobin thinker, Lenin. The comrades of the German and Dutch Lefts were always very clear on the fact that they drew wholly from marxism, and nothing from anarchism, and rejected any attempt to reconcile the two currents. This does not prevent some of today's anarchists from trying to annex the Dutch and German Lefts, nor certain - often sincere - elements from trying to work out a "libertarian marxism", and succeeding in the impossible synthesis between anarchism and marxism.

Just such an attempt is to be found in the text published below, an "open letter" written by a small French group called the "Gauche Communiste Libertaire" (GCL), in response to our article "German/Dutch left is not a branch of anarchism", published in WR 231. After it, we also publish substantial extracts from our (non-exhaustive) reply.

ICC

(The last two texts mentioned in this Presentation are not yet available on our website, although they soon will be)


The Friends of Durruti, lessons of an incomplete break with Anarchism

The Anarchist group "The Friends of Durruti" has often been used to demonstrate the vitality of Anarchism during the events in Spain after 1936, since its members played a prominent role during the struggle of May 1937, opposing and denouncing the CNT's collaboration with the government of the Republic and the Generalitat. Today the CNT boasts about the group's achievements, sells its best-known publications, and endorses its positions.

For us however, the essential lesson of the experience of this group is not the "vitality" of Anarchism, but on the contrary, the impossibility of posing a revolutionary alternative from within it. Although the Friends of Durruti opposed the CNT's policy of "collaboration", they did not understand its role as an active factor in the defeat of the proletariat, its alignment in the bourgeois camp; and therefore did not denounce the CNT as a weapon of the enemy. They always maintained that they were militants of the CNT and that there was a possibility of bringing it back to the proletariat.

The fundamental reason for this difficulty was the Friends of Durruti's inability to break with Anarchism. This also explains why all the efforts and revolutionary courage of the group's members sadly did not lead it to a clarification about the events in Spain in 1936.

1936: Proletarian revolution or imperialist war?

In the history books the events in Spain from 1936 are described as a "civil war". The Trotskyists and the Anarchists see them as the "Spanish Revolution". For the ICC they were neither a "civil war" nor a "revolution" but an imperialist war. It was a war between two fractions of the Spanish bourgeoisie: on the one hand, Franco backed by German and Italian imperialism; and on the other, the Republic of the Popular Front, which in Catalonia, in particular, included the Stalinists, the POUM and the CNT, backed by the USSR and the democratic imperialisms. In July 1936 the working class mobilised against Franco's coup, and in May 1937 in Barcelona against the attempt by the bourgeoisie to crush the proletariat's resistance. However, on both occasions the Popular Front managed to defeat it and divert the proletariat towards the military slaughter using the excuse of "anti-Fascism".

This was the analysis of Bilan, the publication of the Italian Communist Left in exile. For Bilan, it was essential to see the international context within which the events in Spain unfolded. The international revolutionary wave which had put an end to World War One and had spread across five continents had been defeated, even though in 1926 it still echoed in the workers' struggles in China, the General Strike in Britain, and in Spain. Nevertheless, the dominant feature of the 1930s was the preparation by all the main imperialist powers for another global conflict. This was the international framework for the events in Spain: a defeated working class and the road open towards World War II.

Other proletarian groups such as the GIK-H defended similar positions, despite also giving space in its publications for positions close to Trotskyism, which thought that the proletariat, starting from the struggle for a "bourgeois revolution", could carry out a revolutionary intervention. Bilan patiently discussed with these groups, including its own minority, who defended the position that a revolution could arise from the war and who mobilised in order to struggle as part of the Lenin Column in Spain.

For all the confusions of their positions, none of these groups was compromised by support for the republican government. None of them participated in the subjection of the workers to the Republic, none took the side of the bourgeoisie. Unlike the POUM and the CNT!

Today the bourgeoisie tries to use these errors of the proletariat to present the political treason and counter-revolutionary role of the POUM and CNT during the events from 1936 in Spain as a "proletarian revolution" led by them, when in reality they were the bourgeoisie's last line of defence against the workers' struggle, as we have already shown:

"But it was above all the POUM and the CNT which played the decisive role in enrolling the workers for the front. The two organisations ordered an end to the general strike without hat having played any part in unleashing it. The strength of the bourgeoisie was expressed not so much by Franco, but by the existence of an extreme left able to demobilise the Spanish proletariat" (In our book The Italian Communist Left 1926-45, page 95).

The Anarchist foundations of the CNT's betrayal in 1936

For many workers, it is hard to understand that the CNT, which regrouped the most combative and determined proletarians, and whose positions were the most radical, betrayed the working class by taking the side of the bourgeois Republican state and enrolling the class in the anti-fascist war.

Confused by the amalgam and heterogeneity of positions that characterise the Anarchist milieu, they come to the conclusion that the problem was not the CNT but the "treason" of the 4 ministers (Montseny, Garcia Oliver etc) or the influence of currents such as the Trentists.

It is true that during the international revolutionary wave that followed the Russian Revolution, the main forces of the proletariat in Spain regrouped in the CNT (the Socialist Party had allied itself with the social patriots who had led the world proletariat into the imperialist war, and the Communist Party represented a very small minority). Fundamentally, this expressed a weakness of the proletariat in Spain, due to the characteristics of the developmlopment of the national capital (poor national cohesion, disproportionate weight of the landowning sectors of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy).

This environment had been a breeding ground for Anarchist ideology, which expressed the thinking of the radicalised petty-bourgeoisie and its influence on the proletariat. This weight had been aggravated by the influence of Bakuninism in the First International in Spain. This had disastrous consequences, as Engels made clear in his book The Bakuninists at Work, in which he showed how they dragged the proletariat behind the radical bourgeois adventure of the 1873 Cantonist movement in Spain. Then, when Anarchism had to choose between the working class taking political power or the government of the bourgeoisie, it had preferred the latter:

"...the same people who call themselves autonomists, anarchist revolutionaries, etc., have on this occasion flung themselves into politics, bourgeois politics of the worst kind. They have worked, not to give political power to the working class - on the contrary this idea is repugnant to them - but to help to power a bourgeois faction of adventurers, ambitious men and place-hunters who call themselves Intransigent Republicans" ("Report on the Madrid Federation of the IWMA", in Engels' book, Collected Works vol.23, p582).

During the revolutiutionary wave that followed World War I, the CNT felt the influence of the Russian Revolution and the Third International. The 1919 CNT Congress clearly took position on the proletarian nature of the Russian Revolution and the revolutionary character of the Communist International, within which it decided to participate. With the defeat of the revolutionary wave and the opening of a course towards counter-revolution, the weaknesses of its Anarchist and Syndicalist foundations deprived the CNT of the theoretical and political strength to draw the lessons of the succession of defeats in Germany, Russia etc and to give revolutionary leadership to the enormous combativity of the proletariat in Spain.

After its 1931 Congress, the CNT preferred its "hatred of the dictatorship of the proletariat" to its previous positions on the Russian Revolution, whilst seeing the Constituent Assemblies as "the product of a revolutionary action" (Report of the Congress: position of the CNT towards the Constituent Assembly), despite its formal opposition to the bourgeois parliament. With this, it began to move towards supporting the bourgeoisie, most explicitly through such fractions as the Trentists; and despite the fact that elements who adhered to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat continued to exist within it.

In February 1936, the CNT flouted its abstentntionist principles, through indirectly calling for a vote for the Popular Front: "Naturally, Spain's working class, which has for many years been advised by the CNT not to vote, placed upon our propaganda the construction we wanted, which is to say, that it should vote, in that it would be easier to stand up to the fascist right, if the latter revolted, once they were defeated and out of government".

With this we can clearly see its move towards support for the bourgeois state, its involvement in the policy of defeating and isolating the proletariat in preparation for the imperialist war.

Thus we should not be surprised by what happened in July 1936. The Generalitat was at the mercy of the workers in arms, but the CNT handed the power to Companys, called for a return to work and sent the workers to be massacred on the Aragon front. No more surprising was what happened in May 1937, when the workers responded to the bourgeoisie's provocation by spontaneously setting up barricades and taking control of the streets; once again the CNT called on them to abandon the struggle, and stopped workers from returning from the front to support their comrades in Barcelona.

What happened in Spain demonstrates that in the era of wars and revolutions, sections of Anarchism are won over by the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, but that Anarchism as as an ideological current is incapable of confronting the counter-revolution and posing a revolutionary alternative; it even reveals an attachment for the defence of the bourgeois state. Bilan understood this and expressed it brilliantly "...it is necessary to openly say that: in Spain the conditions don't exist for transforming the actions of the Spanish proletariat into the signal for the reawakening of the world proletariat, even when there certainly exist some more profound and exacerbated contrasts in economic, social and political conditions than in other countries... The violence of these events must not lead us into making errors in the evaluation of their nature. They demonstrate the life and death struggle that the proletariat has entered with the bourgeoisie, but they also prove the impossibility of replacing it by violence alone - which is an instrument of struggle and not a programme of struggle - a historic vision which the mechanism of class struggle is unable to render fertile. Because the social movement has not the strength to bring to fruition a final vision of the proletariat's goals, and because there is no communist intervention oriented in this direction, it can only drop back into the pitfalls of capitalist development, dragging down in its bankruptcy the social and political forces which hitherto had been the classic representation of the workers' class skirmishes: the anarchists".

The Friends of Durruti; an attempted reaction to the CNT's treason

The Friends of Durruti were Anarchist elements, who despite the bourgeois orientation of the CNT within which they had always been militants, continued to adhere to the revolution and, in this sense, are testimony to the resistance of proletarian elements who refused to go down the same path as the Anarchist union.

For this reason the CNT and the bourgeoisie in general, try to present this group as an example of the revolutionary flame that still burnt in the CNT, even during the worst moments of 1936-37.

However this idea is completely false. What marked the revolutionary approach of the Friends of Durruti was precisely its struggle against the positions of the CNT and its reliance on the strength of the proletariat, of which it formed a leading part.

The Friends of Durruti were on the class terrain, not as militants of the CNT, but as militant workers who felt the force of their class on the 19th July and who, on this basis, opposed the positions of the Confederation.

On the contrary, their attempts to reconcile this proletarian impulse with their commitment to the CNT and its Anarchist orientation, made it impossible for them to take up a revolutionary alternative or to be able to drew clear lessons from these evese events.

The Friends of Durruti group was an Anarchist affinity group, and was formally constituted in March 1937. It was formed from the convergence of a current which took position, in the CNT's own press, against its collaboration with the government, and another current which returned to Barcelona in order to struggle against the militarisation of the militias.

The group was directly linked to the course of the workers struggles, upon which its reflection and struggle rested. It was not a group of theorists, but of workers in struggle, of activists. Therefore, they basically upheld the struggle of July 1936 and its "conquests" - the Control Patrols which arose in the workers areas and the arming of the working class - although for them the movement's fundamental importance lay in the spirit of the July days, and in the spontaneous strength of the workers' struggle, when they took up arms against Franco's attack and took control of the streets of Barcelona.

In the May Days in 1937, the Friends of Durruti group struggled on the barricades and issued a leaflet which made it famous, demanding the formation of a revolutionary junta, the socialisation of the economy and the shooting of the guilty. In the struggle, its positions converged with those of the Trotskyist-leaning Bolshevik-Leninist group, within which Munis was a militant, and with which it maintained discussions that fed its reflection, but which were not able to push the group to break with Anarchism.

After the May Days it began to publish El Amigo del Pueblo (15 issues in all), which expressed its attempt to clarify the questions posed by the struggle. The most prominent theoretician of the group was Jaime Balius, who in 1938 published a pamphlet Towards a new revolution, which took up a more developed defence of the positions put forward in El Amigo del Pueblo.

However, the group was dependent on the oxygen of the workers' struggle and when this was defeated by the Republican state, it disappeared back into the folds of the CNT.

Although it represented a workers' response to the CNT's treason its evolution was truncated by its inability to carry out a break with Anarchism and Syndicalism. Although the struggle and strength of the class kept it alive and fed it, the Friends of Durruti were unable to go beyond that.

An incomplete break with Anarchism

On the two central questions for the class struggle that were debated between July and May, the relationship between the war on the anti-fascist front and the social war, and the question of collaboration with the Republican government or its overthrow, the Friends of Durruti opposed the politics of the CNT and struggled against thst them.

The nature of the war in Spain

Unlike the CNT, which had openly opposed the workers' actions on the 18th July, the Friends of Durruti defended the revolutionary nature of these events: "It has been stated that the days of July were a response to fascist provocation, but we, the Friends of Durruti, have publicly supported the position that the essence of those memorable July days resides in the proletariat's thirst for absolute emancipation". (All quotes from Towards a new revolution).

They also struggled against the policy of subordinating the revolution to the needs of the anti-fascist war; a question that had played a large part in the group's formation:

"Counter-revolutionary work is facilitated by the lack of consistency amongst many revolutionaries. We have given a clear account of the large number of individuals who think that in order to win the war it is necessary to renounce the revolution. This decline has intensely accentuated since the 19th of July (...) It is inadmissible that in order to lead the masses to the battle front they want to silence their revolutionary desires. It should be the other way round. Strengthen the revolution even more in order that the workers with a rare spirit launch upon the conquest of the New World, which in these moments of indecision remains mains nothing more than a promise".

And in May 1937 they opposed the CNT's orders to its militants at the front to stop their march on Barcelona in order to defend the workers struggling in the streets and instead to continue the war at the front.

This determination in the struggle, however clashed with the poverty of the Friends of Durruti's theoretical reflections on the war and revolution. In reality they never broke with the position that the war was united with the proletarian revolution, and that it was therefore a question of a "revolutionary" war opposed to imperialist wars, which from the beginning made them victims of the bourgeoisie's policy of defeating and isolating the proletariat:

"From the first moment of clashes with the military, it was already impossible to disentangle the war and the revolution (...) As the weeks and months passed, it became clearer and clearer that the war which we support against the fascists has nothing in common with the wars waged by states (...) We anarchists cannot play the game of those who pretend that our war is only a war of independence with purely democratic aspirations. To these ideas we, the Friends of Durruti, respond that our war is a social war".

With this, they placed themselves in the orbit of the CNT, whose "radical" version of bourgeois ois positions about the struggle between dictatorship and democracy dragged the most combative workers into the slaughterhouse of the anti-fascist war.

In fact the Friends of Durruti's considerations on the war were made on the basis of anarchism's the narrow and ahistorical nationalist thinking. This led them to a vision of the events in Spain as the continuation of the bourgeoisie's ludicrous revolutionary efforts against the Napoleonic invasion of 1808. Whilst the international workers' movement was debating the defeat of the world proletariat and the perspective of a Second World War, the Anarchists in Spain thought about Fernando VII and Napoleon:

"What is happening today is a re-enactment of what happened in the reign of Ferdinand VII. Once again in Vienna there has been a conference of fascist dictators for the purpose of organising their invasion of Spain. And today the workers in arms have taken up the mantle of El Empecinado. Germany and Italy need raw materials. They need iron, copper, lead and mercury. But these Spanish mineral deposits are the preserves of France and England. Yet even though Spain faces subjection, England does not protest. On the contrary - in a vile manoeuvre, she tries to negotiate with Franco (...) It is up to the working class to ensure Spain's independence. Native capitalism will not do it, since international capital crosses all frontiers. This is Spain's current predicament. It is up to us workers to root out the foreign capitalists. Patriotism does not enter into it. It is a matter of class interests".

As we can see, it takes a clever piece of work to turn an imperialist war into a patriotic war, a "class" war. This is an expression of Anarchism's political disarming of such sincere worker militants as the Friends of Durruti. These comrades who wanted to struggle against the war and for the revolution, were incapable of finding the point of departure for an effective struggle. This would have meant calling on the workers and peasants, enlisted in both gangs - the Republic and the Franquistas - to desert, to turn their guns on the officers who oppressed them and to return to the rear and struggle through strikes and demonstrations, on a class terrain, against the whole of capitalism.

For the international workers' movement however, the question of the nature of the war in Spain was a crucial one, which polarised the debate both between the Communist Left and Trotskyism and also within the Communist Left's own ranks:

"The war in Spain has been decisive for everyone: for capitalism, it has been the means to enlarge the front of forces working for war, to incorporate anti-fascism, the Trotskyists, the so-called Left Communists and to stifle the workers� awakening which appeapeared in 1936; for the left fraction it has been the decisive test, the selection of men and ideas, the necessity to confront the problem of war. We have held on, and, against the stream, we are still holding on." (Bilan no44; quoted in "The Italian Communist Left" page 105-06)

The CNT's collaboration in government

The Friends of Durruti were much clearer in their opposition to the CNT's policy of collaboration with the Republican government than on the question of the war.

They denounced the CNT's treason in July:

"There was a precious opportunity in July. Who was going to oppose the CNT and FAI imposing themselves in Catalonia? Instead of putting confederal thinking into action, wrapping themselves in the folds of black-red flags and the shouts of the multitude, our committees made a round trip official places, but without deciding a position that matched our strength in the streets. After weeks of doubt they begged to participate in power. We remember perfectly well that at the regional level they proposed the constitution of a revolutionary organism which was to be called the National Defence Junta at the national level and Regional Juntas at the local level. However they did not carry out the decisions that had been adopted. They hushed this up by not mentioning the infringement of the decisions taken at the plenary session. First of all they entered the Generalitat, and then later they joined the government in Madrid".

And more forcefully in the manifesto they distributed on the barricades in May:

"The Generalitat stands for nothing. Its continued existence bolsters the counterrevolution. We workers have carried the day. It defies belief that the CNT's committees should have acted with such timidity that they ventured to order a 'cease-fire' and indeed forced a return to work when we stood on the very threshold of total victory. No account was taken of the provenance of the attack no heed paid to the true meaning of the present events. Such conduct has to be described as treason to the revolution which no one ought to commit or encourage in the name of anything. And we know how to categorize the noxious work carried out by Solidaridad Obrera and the CNT's most prominent Militants"

This manifesto led to the CNT repudiating the group and threatening it with expulsion, although the threat was not put into practice. The Friends of Durruti withdrew their accusation of treason in El Amigo del Pueblo no 3 "In the last issue the Friends of Durruti retracted the idea of treason, in the interests of Anarchist and revolutionary unityity" (El Amigo del Pueblo no 4). This was not for lack of courage '-they had shown plenty of that - but because they could not see beyond the CNT, which they considered to be an expression of the working class and not an agent of the bourgeoisie.

In this sense, the limitations of their thinking were those of the CNT and Anarchism and therefore when they finally did criticise the CNT, based on a more serene reflection away from the struggle on the barricades, it was for not having a platform:

"The vast majority of the working population stood by the CNT. In Catalonia, the CNT was the majority organisation. What happened, that the CNT did not make its revolution, the people's revolution, the revolution of the majority of the population...

"What happened was what had to happen. The CNT was utterly devoid of revolutionary theory. We did not have a concrete programme. We had no idea where we were going. We had lyricism aplenty, but when all is said and done, we did not know what to do with our masses of workers or how to give substance to the popular effusion which erupted inside our organisations. By not knowing what to do, we handed the revolution on a platter to the bourgeoisie and the Marxists (read Socialists and Stalinists) who support the farce of yesteryear. What is worse, we allowed the bourgeoisie a breathing space, to ro return, to re-form and to behave as would a conqueror.

"The CNT did not know how to live up to its role. It did not want to push ahead with the revolution with all its consequences" (from Towards a new revolution).

However, the CNT did have a well defined theory: the defence of the bourgeois state. Balius' assertion applies to the whole proletariat (in the sense that Bilan also understood - its lack of a revolutionary vanguard and orientation) but not to the CNT. At least from February 1936, the CNT was unequivocally compromised with the bourgeois government of the Popular Front:

"When the moment came in February 1936, all the forces active within the proletariat, joined together in one front: the necessity to bring about the victory of the Popular Front in order to get rid of the domination of the Right and to gain an amnesty. From the Social democrats to Centrism, to the CNT and the POUM, without forgetting all the parties of the republican left, all were agreed to channel the explosion of class antagonisms into the parliamentary arena. And here we see written in flaming letters the incapacity of the Anarchists and the POUM, as well as the real function of all the democratic forces of capitalism" (Bilan, The lessons of the events in Spain).

From July, far from not knowing how to mto make the revolution as the Friends of Durruti believed, the CNT was very clear about what it was doing:

"For our part, and this was the CNT-FAI's view, we held that Companys should stay on as head of the Generalitat, precisely because we had not taken to the streets to fight specifically for the social revolution, but rather to defend ourselves against the fascist mutiny" (Garica Oliver's response to Bolloten's questionnaire, quoted in Agustín Guillamón: The Friends of Durruti Group, page 13).

If during the May Days in 1937 the Friends of Durruti confronted the CNT, called for a "revolutionary junta" against the Generalitat government, and for the "shooting of the guilty", this was not the product of a break with Anarchism, nor an evolution from Anarchism towards a revolutionary alternative (as Guillamón claims), but the expression of the proletariat's resistance. It was no more than an observation, not an orientation towards the seizure of power: this question could not be posed at a time when the bourgeoisie held the initiative, and had launched a provocation to finish off the workers' resistance. But as Munis pointed out, they could go no further:

"In La Voz Leninista n�2 (23rd August 1937), Munis made a critique of the notion of the "revolutionary junta" set out in no.6 of El Amigo del Pueblo (12thAugust 1937). In Munis' view, the Friends of Durruti suffered from a progressive theoretical decline and a practical inability to influence the CNT, which led them to abandon some of the theoretical positions which the May experience had enabled them to adopt. Munis noted that in May 1937 the Friends of Durruti had issued the call for the "revolutionary junta" alongside "all power to the proletariat"; whereas in no.6 of El Amigo del Pueblo (August 12, 1937) the slogan "revolutionary junta" was invoked as an alternative to the "failure of statist forms". According to Munis, this represented a theoretical retreat from the Friends of Durruti's assimilation of the May experience, taking them further away from the marxist notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and drawing them back into the ambiguities of the anarchist theory of the State".

Once the agitation of the workers struggle had passed and their defeat had been consummated, the reflections and proposals of the Friends of Durruti returned, without trauma, towards the CNT, and the "revolutionary junta" ended up being turned into the Committee of the Anti-fascist Militias, which they had previous denounced as an organ of the bourgeoisie:

"The group harshly criticised the dissolution of the Defense committees, thehe Control Patrols, the Committee of militias and directly criticised militarisation, it understood that these organs had their roots in the July days and that they would be the base - along with the unions and Municipalities - for a new structuring, that is to say, that they should be the model of a new order of things, naturally this includes the modifications brought about by the lessons of the course of events and revolutionary experience" .

Compare the above with the following quote from the same author's 1938 pamphlet Towards a new revolution: "In July a Committee of Antifascist Militias was set up. It was not a class organ. Bourgeois and counter-revolutionary factions had their representatives on it".

Conclusions

The Friends of Durruti group was not an expression of the revolutionary vitality of the CNT or Anarchism, but an effort by militant workers, despite the dead weight of Anarchism, that had never been nor could be the revolutionary programme of the working class.

Anarchism can trap within its ranks sectors of the working class, weakened by a lack of experience or trajectory, as can be seen with young proletarians today, but its proposals cannot not lead to a revolutionary alternative. In the majority of cases, as with the Friends of Durruti, they show courage and combativity, but as the the history in Spain has demonstrated on two occasions, during two decisive moments its ideological speculations were in the service of the Bourgeois State.

Worker elements may think they can join the revolution from Anarchism, but in order to adopt a revolutionary programme they have to break with Anarchism.

Rs, 31/3/00.

Comments

Impure thoughts

As an anarchist of many years (34) I am prepared to debate/defend the actions of comrades in any period. Of course mistakes have been made - particularly during a partial revolution and civil war... but what truly gets my goat is the way left communists are always so pure; I wonder what you would do in real situations (other than critising from the sidelines). For example, during the miners strike 1984/85 I considered it essential that the miners were not defeated and worked with trotskyists, CPGBers, Labour party members, in fact anyone who believed in the primacy of victory over ideology. Still since it resulted in a defeat you would probably claim it was because of unsound ideology or the wrong leadership or some such.

Abstract ideological purity or the truth?

As someone who has been getting called a Left-Communist long before I knew it even meant. I'd like to say the position taken in regards to unions is very much based on their historical trajectory and their actions taken in their material context. It isn't really a position of purity. We feel that it is a demonstrable fact that unions are inextricably linked to the ruling parties and wedded to the capitalist class because of the nature of the epoch we live in and because the unions have become indispensable management tools. Capitalists could never allow unions to remain in the hands of the working class, and the working class isn't strong enough to retain permanent control over its own defensive organizations. What is more the unions’ purpose is to negotiate deals and make contracts, not to go on strike. Unions for the most part try to avoid strikes as strikes get in the way of their getting deals signed with the bosses. This isn't a purist position, it is an honest, if not Marxist observation.

As for the campaigns of support by the Trots, CPGB Stalinists and Labour Party members, in the end these too all abandoned the miners. One of the many critiques left-communists made about the miners strikes was that these political forces and the unions supported the isolation of the strike by not extending it to other sectors of industry, thereby making the strike stronger. The left almost seems to enjoy supporting isolated struggles that are doomed from the start. It is one thing to support a strike but to intentionally support a losing strategy doesn't help workers at all. Consider how many times Labour called the army out on workers on strike, in fact the party of Labour has called the army out on striking workers more often that the Tories ever did. Note as well, you speak of yourself as an Anarchist, but have no problem working with Stalinists in the CPGB. When you work with "authoritarians" you strengthen them and give them legitimacy they do NOT deserve. If you read articles written on the miners strike from World Revolution, or the CWO's publication Workers Voice, you'll find that the criticisms of the unions, the ruling parties and the leftist tail-enders run a good deal deeper than just criticizing from the sidelines.

Activists find a flavor of the month and attack critics for their purist notions, for abstaining and not being a part of the "real" movement. Time and time again, their "real" movements fail. What I ask isn't that you adopt some parody of left-communist political "purity", but to ask yourself why this happens. What are the forces present, the material weaknesses, the ideological confusions and deceptions that led workers to such a bitter defeat?

Now making an honest mistake in a struggle and learning from it could be a good thing. There is no better teacher than making one's own mistakes. However, Stalinists and Labour Party hacks in your ranks will attempt to get you to keep making the same errors again and again. From a left-communist's perspective, Anarchists appear two-faced when they speak anti-authoritarian rhetoric and then enter into any alliance with Stalinists and bourgeois centrist liberals. Anarchists appear as if they are anarchists in words but when it comes to the "real" movement, are no different from the "authoritarian" and frankly bourgeois forces they ally themselves with.

One could come out with a statement encouraging workers to conduct sympathy strikes, to spread the struggle and to denounce the sectional isolation that the union bosses, Labourites, and Stalinists were seeking to maintain. While this might not have been realistic during the miners strike, it is indeed how strikes are won.

It is possible that positions regarding unions get couched by left-communist oriented militants in ways that might appear very "purist". This is in large part due to having our positions attacked constantly, in a straw man fallacy like fashion, by those who criticize their own personal conceptions of left-communism.

As far as real situations go, Internationalists (left-communists) have participated in strikes and on strike committees. At the FIAT Pomigliano plant just last year, workers and left-communists among them participated in blockading the entire plant in opposition to the union who lined up along side the riot police. There are certainly many other examples as well among our French comrades. One thing I have noticed is that when left-communists do participate in a thing, even in leadership, they rarely ever brag about how relevant this has made them, or about how they were participating rather than standing at the sidelines.

You might ask yourself as well, where unions and all those leftists are today when every autoworker on the planet is facing layoffs, wage and benefit cuts, facing attacks on living standards that will become THE standard for future attacks on all workers? Where are the Labour Party members? Where is the CPGB? Why aren't the unions fighting this today? It might be considered that this purist position allows us to analyze events from a standpoint whereby we can cut through bourgeois sophistry and lies and speak the truth to our fellow workers.

It's not a question of

It's not a question of purity but of defending the political positions of the working class.
During the miners' strike, the ICC, as far as its resources would allow, went to to pit "villages", picket lines, demonstrations, meetings, etc., and put to miners and other workers the need to break out of isolation and unify the struggle as much as possible. This also necessitated a critique of the nationalist campaign around the strike of "Defend British Coal" (much like the Labour Party/BNP/unions' slogan of "British Jobs for British Workers" today) and the isolatory tactic of the union "Defend the NUM".

As difficult and "against the tide" as it was, the ICC defended a proletarian position. Vince on the other hand choose to throw in his lot with the forces of nationalism, the left, leftists and the unions who, along with the Tory government and the police, were responsible for isolating and strangling the strike.

As someone who wasn't alive

As someone who wasn't alive during the 1984/85 miners' strike, and as an American whose resources from which to learn about the strike are limited to old news articles the Internet - as opposed to anicdotes from participants - one thing about your statement, Vince, jumps out at me. That is, you talk about how it was "essential that the miners were not defeated" and prized "victory over ideology", but there's no hint given as to what you mean by these words. When talking about the class struggle, "victory" and "defeat" must be clearly understood, as their meanings change as the state of the struggle changes. "Victory" might mean the successful resistance or diminution (sic.) of a pay or benefit cut. It might mean the inculcation of solidarity and combativity where it hasn't existed before. It might mean the destruction of the bourgeois state and the expropriation of bourgeois property.

Even with my limited knowledge of the situation, I strongly suspect that the latter wasn't really on the agenda. In this context, "victory" probably - and I stress again that I am basing this as much on intiution than on assessment - meant something along the lines of the second option: an increase combativity and revolutionary potential of the working class as a whole, coupled with the repulse of the Government's austerity attacks (pit closings, lay-offs, etc.). When the strike was channeled into defense of the union and of British Coal - partly by the efforts of the coalition you laid out - the workers were roped into defending a part of the state, something that is totally opposed not only to their interest but also, incidentally, to Anarchist principle! This is theoretical and practical regression, and the only "victory" it wrought was for the bourgeoisie.