The CNT's contribution to the constitution of the Spanish Republic (1921-31)
In this fourth article in the series on the CNT we will show how syndicalism weakened the revolutionary currents within the CNT (those with a Marxist orientation, which were in favour of joining the Third International, as well as those oriented towards anarchism). The CNT had been weakened by the workers' demoralisation after the defeat of the struggles of 1919-1920 and by the brutal repression carried out by armed bands paid by the bosses and co-ordinated by the military and administrative authorities. In 1923 it was once more outlawed by the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, which systematically closed its offices and imprisoned the leading committees as soon as they were formed.
In spite of the constant persecution of its militants, the CNT maintained a certain activity. However, as we showed at the end of the third article in this series, this activity was oriented very differently from that in the period 1911-1915. At that time it focussed on supporting the struggles that arose and reflecting generally on the attacks that rained down on the working class and humanity (especially on the question of the imperialist war). Now however it concentrated almost systematically on supporting any conspiracy hatched by bourgeois politicians against the Dictatorship. It played a decisive role in the formation of the Spanish Republic in 1931, which pretended to represent "liberties" and "rights", and to be a "Workers' Republic" (as it proclaimed itself) but which would massacre the workers' struggles ruthlessly.
The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera
The dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera was a result of various elements.
Firstly, the wearing out of the Restoration Regime that had dominated the Spanish state since 1876: a system that saw the alternation of two parties (conservative and liberal) which represented the dominant part of the Spanish bourgeoisie. However, this system was unable to integrate important factions of the bourgeoisie, the regionalists in particular, and it marginalised the petty bourgeoisie (traditionally republican and anti-clerical). Moreover, the only language it knew in relation to the peasants and the workers was ferocious repression.
Secondly, once the war was over, Spanish capital saw the decline and disappearance of the easy profits it had made by selling all kinds of goods to both sides under the cover of its "neutrality". The crisis had returned in full force and unemployment, inflation and extreme misery hit hard.
Thirdly, the Spanish bourgeoisie got bogged down in the Moroccan colonial war which went from disaster to disaster (the best known was the massacre of Spanish soldiers at the hands of Moroccan guerrillas in 1921). The Spanish army was weakened by internal struggles, by the inability of the political administration to lead and by a monstrous bureaucracy (there was one general to every two sergeants and five soldiers). It needed reinforcing.
This was so in the case of the Italian Duce Mussolini, of General Horthy in Hungary, who came to power after the failed proletarian revolution in 1919, of General Pildsuki in Poland, and so on.
The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera was very well received by the Spanish bourgeoisie, especially in Catalonia and in particular in was supported almost unconditionally by the PSOE whose union, the UGT, became a state union. Its leader, Largo Caballero, who was also a leader of the PSOE, was made a state councillor by the dictator.
In order to ensure its monopoly as a union, the UGT actively persecuted the CNT and many UGT members scabbed and denounced the CNT workers or those who were simply combative.
representative of the Catalan opposition and head of the revolutionary movement that was formed at the time." From 1924 to 1926 there were several attempts to cross the French frontier and attempted military uprisings; these were co-ordinated with the CNT, which was to call for the general strike. In 1926 there was a farcical attempt to kidnap the Spanish monarch in Paris by radical anarchists (Durruti, Ascaso and Jover). On each occasion the CNT supplied militants, that is, it supplied canon fodder. The result was always the same: the dictatorship unleashed savage repression against the members of the CNT by condemning them to death, sending them to prison or by torturing them horribly.
How could the CNT support national sovereignty, the unity of the army and navy and the energetic maintenance of social order?
In a note, Peirats describes direct action by the fact that "conflicts must be resolved by direct contact between the parties concerned: the issue of work with the bosses and that of public order with the authorities" This conception no longer has anything to do with the original vision of the CNT, for which it meant the direct struggle of the masses outside of the framework imposed by the bourgeoisie. It had now become a question of direct negotiation between the unions and the bosses when there is a "labour conflict" and between unions and the authorities in the case of conflicts involving public order! The new direct action is no more than the liberal corporatist vision of direct agreements between bosses and unions. No bourgeois politician would object to this!
On the question of anti-parliamentarianism, during an intervention at the June 1931 Congress (we will come back to this later), Peiró explains how he sees things when describing his conversations with Colonel Macia: "he asked us what conditions would be made by the confederation for it to support the revolutionary movement whose aim was to establish a Federal Republic. The reply of the representatives of the Confederation: ‘it is of little importance to us what may happen after the revolution. What is important is the liberation of all our prisoners without exception and that collective and individual liberty is absolutely guaranteed'". The correct but insufficient concept of revolutionary syndicalism at the outset to "denounce parliament as a dishonest state mask", is now substituted by union neutrality which gives carte blanche to the "politicians" as long as they form a state that guarantees the freedom of union action.
This "alteration" of concepts so dear to revolutionary syndicalism and anarchism made it possible to approach a policy of integration into the bourgeois state. This was not an evil conspiracy on the part of "reformist leaders" but rather a necessity that syndicalism was powerless to ignore. It was obliged to adapt to state capitalism and so "its only interest" was juridical freedom and institutional needs. This was necessary for it to carry out its job of controlling the workers and submitting their demands to the needs of the national capital, as we will now see.
The contribution of the CNT to the declaration of the Republic
The Spanish bourgeoisie was, to say the least, ungrateful. From 1930 to 1931 the number of strikes increased through the whole country but the newly legalised CNT made no attempt to encourage or develop the potential strength of the movement. Contrary to what it had done previously, it did what it could to contribute to the political aim of the bourgeoisie to replace the dictatorship with the Republican façade. In this period it busied itself mobilising the workers as cannon fodder for all street agitation supporting the change that the majority of bourgeois politicians were calling for in the hope of becoming the "saviours of the situation". Francisco Olaya gave eloquent testimony showing that this was the main orientation of the CNT.
When the elections that were to push through the proclamation of the Republic took place in April 1931, the leaders of the CNT decided (albeit coyly) in favour of voting, as Olaya acknowledges: "We voted for the first time in 8 years as if it were a right that we had won. The turn out was massive, even on the part of CNT militants, who were influenced by their hatred of the monarchy and sensible of the critical situation of thousands of social detainees." In an article evaluating the elections Solidaridad Obrera stated that "the vote was for the armistice and the Republic, against the atrocities and injustices committed by the monarchy". This was another striking precedent which was to be manifested much more overtly during the famous elections of February 1936!
The argument of the lesser evil is a trap. In essence it means claiming not to renounce final aims while supporting in practice so-called "minimal aims", which are by no means minimum demands of the proletariat but rather the programme of the bourgeoisie. The "lesser evil" is no other than a demagogic means of pushing through the programme of the bourgeoisie in a crucial political situation while maintaining the illusion that one is really continuing to struggle for a "revolutionary future".
The June 1931 Congress
During the Extraordinary Congress, the CNT made an enormous effort to break into the framework of the capitalist system. Of course numerous criticisms were made and the debates were stormy but the work of the Congress went systematically in the direction of integration into the structures of capitalist production and the institutional framework of the bourgeois state.
This is why the Congress endorsed the policy of making a pact with bourgeois conspirators as Gomez Casas recognises euphemistically: "the report of the national committee was discussed with great fervour as the activity of the representative organ, particularly in referring to the past conspiracy, was somewhat different to the habitual orthodoxy of confederate militancy." How quaint to say it was "somewhat different to the orthodoxy" when in fact it marked a radical change from the CNT's activity from 1910 to 1923!
If we analyse this amendment seriously we can see that it did not really change anything. The moderate rhetoric of the presentation was given a more radical language by invoking "principles", among which is included "a list of minimal demands". It means that the every day policy of the union conformed to the fact that - as Gomez Casas says - "anarcho-syndicalism, albeit implicitly, had given a degree of confidence to the timid and embryonic Republic." This was a realisation of the aims of the liberal monarchist Sanchez Guerra, quoted above: for national sovereignty, for the dignity and unity of the national navy and army and above all, to energetically maintain public order. This maintaining of "public order" entailed the assassination of more that 500 workers and journalists between April and December 1931!
because the aim of the union in capitalism's decadent period is only to become a part of the wheels of state and of the national economy.
An important step towards integration into the bourgeois state
The period that we have just analysed shows a fundamental volte-face in the history of the CNT. It was the main supplier of cannon fodder in the bourgeois battles for the Republic. It adulterated the concepts of direct action and anti-parliamentarianism, it accepted the "lesser evil" logic and the principle of Republican "freedom", it turned the bourgeois programme into the "minimum programme" of the proletariat while turning its own "maximum programme" into a radical version of the needs of the bourgeois national economy.
However these evident changes were hard to swallow. This was true for the old militants who had lived through the period in which, in spite of its difficulties and contradictions, the CNT had been a workers' organisation. It was also true for the young elements that flocked towards it under the pressure of an unbearable situation and the profound disappointment rapidly produced in the working masses towards the Republic.
The resistance and opposition were continuous. The convulsions within the CNT were violent. The "moderates", those in favour of abandoning those that they called the "maximalist anarchists" and of a pure, tough syndicalism, split temporarily to form oppositional unions and were reintegrated in 1936. Angel Pestaña however, who was in favour of a Spanish form of "workerism", split definitively to form an ephemeral Syndicalist Party.
However the situation was very different from that of 1915 to 1919 when, as we showed in the second article of this series, the orientation of the majority of the militants was towards the development of a revolutionary consciousness. The resistance and opposition in this later period suffered from profound disorientation and were not up to offering a real perspective.
There are many reasons for this difference. The deepening of capitalist decadence and, more concretely, the development of the general tendency towards state capitalism, meant that unionism had lost all capacity to recuperate working class efforts and initiatives. The unions can exist only as organisations in the service of capital, whose function is to imprison and sterilise the energies of the working class. This reality inflicted itself like a blind and implacable force upon the militants of a union such as the CNT, in spite of their good will and undoubted desire to the contrary.
Secondly, the 30s was the period that saw the triumph of the counter-revolution whose spearheads were Stalinism and Nazism. Unlike the period 1915-19, when many anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists gravitated towards the Bolsheviks and the Spartacists, the workers' combativity and reflection no longer had the benefit of a similar political compass. What now predominated was the destruction of proletarian reflection by means of the infernal alternative between fascism and anti-fascism, which prepared the way for the imperialist war. The strikes and struggles were directed towards national unity and anti-fascism, as was to be seen in 1936 in Spain and France.
Thirdly, whereas in the period 1910-23 the CNT was open as an organisation and collaborated and discussed with various proletarian tendencies, it was now dominated ideologically by anarchism. In its anarcho-syndicalist variety it simply wrapped a pure, tough unionism in a torrent of grandiloquent radicalism and a frantic activism which did not favour proletarian reflection or initiative.
Finally, the domination of anarchism and its romantic vision of the revolution were encouraged by the Republic's policy of appropriating to itself the old tendency of the Spanish bourgeoisie to repress and persecute the CNT. This policy gave the CNT an aura of being a victim and of defending a "radical and intransigent heroism" which, in the context of the ideological disorientation of the international proletariat that we have just described, enabled it to integrate into its ranks the best elements of the Spanish proletariat.
In the period 1931-36, when there were enormous convulsions of Spanish capital, the CNT became a huge mass organisation regrouping the core of the living forces of the Spanish proletariat in spite of being persecuted. As we will see in the next article in this series, this enormous force was to contribute to the defeat of the proletariat, to dragging it into the imperialist war that bourgeois factions were already preparing in 1936-39.
RR - C. Mir (1st September 2007)
. See the third article in this series in International Review n° 130, under the sub heading "The defeat of the movement and the second disappearance of the CNT."
. See the second article in this series in the International Review n°129.
. See the first article in this series in the International Review n°128.
. Authoritarian regimes based on a single party were formed mainly in the weakest countries or those suffering most from insoluble contradictions - as in the case of Nazi Germany. On the other hand, in the stronger countries it developed more gradually, more or less respecting the democratic form.
. Primo de Rivera was a conspirator who represented the small Andalusian lords; brutal and arrogant land owners who led an idle life of oriental luxury. However he also had very good relations with the Catalonian shop keepers and business men who were dynamic, active and progressive, supposedly the opposite of the small Andalusian lords.
. Partido Socialista Obrero Español - Spanish Socialist Workers Party.
. Union General de Trabajadores - General Workers Union
. Juan Peiró was a CNT militant from its foundation although he did not hold a responsible position in the organisation until 1919. He was minister for industry during the Republic. He was shot by Franco's authorities in 1942.
. Reference is made to this book with the dates of various editions in the second and third articles in this series (International Review n° 129 and 130).
. He was secretary general of the CNT in the 70s.
. A military conspiracy supported by the CNT, which was to take place on St. John's night (24th June) but which failed because a number of military men backed out at the last minute.
. Ibid, p.181.
. Series of articles entitled "Delimiting the Camps", published in Workers' Social Action, 1929.
. See the first article in the series on revolutionary syndicalism in International Review n°118.
. Author of the book on the CNT in the Spanish Revolution, quoted in the first article in this series.
. Ibid. p. 52,
. In the book already quoted, Gomez Casas relates that General Berenguer sent Mola, the head of Security (he later became one of the most inflexible military putchists) to discuss with the CNT delegate, Pestaña. Gomez Casas notes that during these discussions "Pestaña acknowlwdged the the CNT was basically apolitical and independent on all parties. However the organisation was sympathetic to ‘the regime that was closest to its ideal'" (p. 185). These ambiguous words show that it already wanted to integrate itself into the capitalist state.
. For a more detailed account of this period, see our book , 1936 Franco and the Republic massacre the workers (available in Spanish).
. Ibid, p.52.
. Liberal ideology vaunts " direct action" on the part of "social forces" without "state interference". This is no more than a deception of course because the bosses' organisations and the "workers'" union organisations are forces of the state which work strictly - and it cannot be otherwise - within the economic and legal framework of the state.
. The American bourgeoisie used a similar policy of marginalisation and repression against the IWW (see the International Review n° 125). This is why these union organisations never attained the influence that the CNT had within the Spanish proletariat.
. Editor's note : according to the bourgeoisie there are only two alternatives ; integration into the democratice framework of the bourgeois state or the "radical" path of terrorism and, as Gomez Casas says, the law of the talion. In fact the working class alternative is the autonomous international struggle on its own class terrain., an alternative that is opposed to the alienated alternatives of the bourgeois.
. Ibid, p.164.
. A very committed anarchist, less subtle than Gomez Casas. The following quotations (translated by us) are extracts from his book History of the Spanish Workers' Movement which we have quoted in previous articles.
. The same political orientation was adopted in Madrid and elsewhere against meetings of monarchist circles which were increasingly isolated.
. A Republican oppositional publication to which some of the CNT leaders contributed; leaders such as Peiró who signed the Manifesto of Republican Intelligence.
. Olaya, History of the Spanish Workers' Movement, p.628, editors note.
. Ibid, p. 646.
. Ibid, p. 660).
. Ibid, p.664.
. Ibid, p.196.
. The Republican parliament which was to adopt the new constitution declaring Spain to be a " Workers' Republic".
. Gomez Casas, op.cit., p.202.
. Ibid., p.203.
. Ibid. p.200.
. The delegate made reference to the version of marxism presented by the Stalinists and the Social-Democrats, for whom socialism is equivalent to economic and social state control.
. Ibid., p.200.
. Ibid., p.201.
. Ibid., p.200.
. Ibid., p.201