Anarchism fails to prevent the CNT's integration into the bourgeois state (1931-34)

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The previous article in this series[1] showed how the CNT contributed decisively to setting up the trap of the Spanish Republic and how, at the Madrid Conference (June 1931), the union leaders of the CNT did all they could to complete this marriage between the union and the bourgeois state.

Two factors prevented this marriage at the time:

  • the Republican state rejected the CNT's offer and continued its habitual and merciless persecution of CNT militants;
  • the proletarian base of the CNT opposed this perspective.

Anarchism took the lead in this resistance, when the majority regrouped to form an organisation, the Iberian Anarchist Federation (Federacion Anarquista Iberica - FAI) in 1927. The aim of this article is to assess this attempt to preserve the CNT for the proletariat.

Anarchism and the Republic

The FAI was born out of the struggle against the growing influence of the union wing in the CNT. Although it was officially formed in 1927 in Valencia, it originated in a Committee for anarchist links which called a clandestine Congress in Barcelona in 1925. This Congress was to take position on three points:

  1. The need to work towards overthrowing the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. Francisco Olaya[2] put it like this: "Is Spanish anarchism able to incite a revolution in the short term without linking itself to the political parties? Basing ourselves on the fierce and frequent persecutions we have experienced, we have to say ‘No', we have to act in concord with the CNT and with those forces that are attempting to overthrow the dictatorship by violent means but without limiting the scope and development of the revolution." So the door was left open to a "tactical" alliance with all bourgeois oppositional forces and in fact the Congress decided to "continue the conspiratorial relationship with Francisco Macia[3], giving him a time limit of 31st July to take decisive action against the regime." It was also decided to "suspend all relationship with the republican Rodrigo Soriano as he is unable to fulfil what he has undertaken to do." One might ask just what sort of undertaking would it have been possible to conclude with this notorious right winger?
  2. The need for an anarchist organisation. The Congress proposed to direct its efforts towards the formation of an Iberian Anarchist Federation which included the Portuguese groups.
  3. The topic "Syndicalism and Us". According to Olaya, "it was decided to take positive action aimed at progressively accentuating the anarchist ideology of the CNT".

So the anarchist Congress placed itself on the same basis as the unionists that it claimed to combat: it adopted the "tactical" aim of replacing the dictatorship with a liberal regime and making an alliance with the Republican opposition forces. Olaya quotes a declaration by Garcia Oliver[4] during a meeting held at the Paris trade union centre ("Bourse de travail") "that a change of regime is imminent in Spain and that it must be given every support regardless of ideology".

This position of Garcia Oliver was formally rejected by the Marseilles Congress of 1926, which concluded that it was necessary to "break off relations with the political parties and prepare to overthrow the dictatorship in collaboration with the CNT." That is, the "tactical" aim to participate in the "fight against the dictatorship" still stood but at the same time it declared that it would have no relationship with the political parties. On the other hand, contact between its militants and the Republican parties continued even after the formation of the FAI[5].

After the Republic was declared, a long editorial in Tierra y libertad[6] (Earth and Freedom) of 19th April 1931 entitled "The Position of Anarchism on the Republic" welcomed "warmly the creation of the Republic", explicitly welcomed "the new leaders" and formulated a series of demands which, according to Olaya, "coincide with the electoral promises made by many of them." This was the very least they could do as these demands included the suppression of aristocratic titles, a limitation on dividends paid to the share holders of large companies, the closure of convents, monasteries and Jesuit communities! No more nor less than a 100% bourgeois programme to be put into effect... by the much vilified political action!

Far from breaking with the direction of the CNT majority which gave priority to the struggle for a bourgeois regime in Republican form, the anarchist FAI jumped into it feet first! However it maintained the illusion that it could break out of this framework by encouraging the radicalisation of the masses. In doing so it reproduced the classic ambiguity of anarchism in relation to the Republic, an ambiguity that it had already displayed in 1873 with the First Spanish Republic (1873-1874)[7].

The split in the CNT

On 8th June 1931 a Peninsula[8] anarchist plenum was held at which the "comrades" of the peninsula committee were sanctioned for having contacts with "politicians". The Plenum declared it necessary to "direct activities towards revolution and anarchism in the knowledge that democracy is the last refuge of capitalism"[9].

How are we to understand this radical about-turn? Two months previously democracy was welcomed, now it is denounced. In fact it is the very basis of anarchism that obliges it to do one thing and then its opposite. This basis affirms that individuals tend naturally towards liberty and reject any kind of authority. On the basis of such abstract and general principles it is possible to justify the total rejection of any kind of authority or of the state - which makes it possible to understand that democracy is the last refuge of capitalism - while at the same time supporting an authority that "has more respect for individual liberty" or which is "less authoritarian" than the former one, as the Republic pretended to be.

Moreover these "principles" lead to a complete personalisation of political activity. The members of the former peninsula committee were forced to resign because they had had contact with political elements. However no attempt was made to examine the reasons which led them to support what was now rejected; no attempt was made to understand why the central organ, the peninsula committee, pursued a policy that was contrary to the principles of the organisation. The committee members were changed on the principle that "if the creature is dead so is its poison". Such personalisation meant that the struggle against the union sector was not carried out by means of debate and clarification but rather by means of campaigns against those militants who had a different point of view, through attempts to "win over" local or regional committees, administrative measures of expulsion, etc. For most of the CNT militants the fight against the "union" sector is not seen as a struggle for clarity but rather as a war between pressure groups, in which insults, suspicion and prohibitions predominated. Events reached a surprising level of violence. Olaya says that there reigned "within the CNT a civil war atmosphere". On 25th October 1932 "a group of those who had split attacked two CNT militants at their workplace who were opposed to the split. They killed one and seriously wounded the other".

"During the regional union plenum organised at Sabadell during the repression, there was a resounding confrontation between the two tendencies. The reformist 'Trentists' were little by little relieved of their organisational responsibilities. Pestaña and Arin, who signed the Manifesto of the 30, were stripped of their functions on the national committee. The unions linked to the local Sabadell federation withdrew from the regional Congress as a protest against the so-called dictatorship of the FAI. The unions in question, who counted more than 20,000 members, were later expelled by the regional committee. All this led to the organisational split that was at the origin of the 'Oppositional Unions'"[10]. The division was very serious in Catalonia and in the region of Valencia (where there were more members in the oppositional unions than in the official CNT) but there were also serious repercussions in Huelva, in the Asturias and in Galicia.

Although - as we will see later - the CNT was to follow the anarchist orientation, the union sector which made up a large part of the CNT was to function autonomously under the name of the Oppositional Unions up until the definitive regroupment of 1936 (see the next article). The Oppositional Unions acted on the basis of a more or less open collaboration with the UGT (the socialist union) on the principle of unity between unions.

In the period 1931-32 the FAI managed to convince the CNT to take up a revolutionary orientation. Behind this 180° about-face lay a real radicalisation of the workers, day labourers and peasants, who were suffering greatly from the increase in poverty and brutal repression under the Republic. This about-face took place within a situation of total confusion, on the one hand because of the split and the way it came about[11] and on the other because it was not based on any serious reflection, going from a policy of support for the Republic to a vague "struggle for the revolution" without answering collectively some basic questions: what kind of revolution are we fighting for? are the historic conditions ripe internationally? why did both unionists and the FAI support the formation of the Republic? These questions remained unanswered, the CNT's orientation was simply reversed from a right wing "critical" support for the Republic to a left wing position for the "insurrectional struggle for the revolution". The eternal principles of anarchism made it possible to endorse one or the other.

The insurrectional period, 1932-34

The period 1932-1934 has been called the "insurrectional period" by Gomez Casas. The most significant episodes were the attempts at a general strike in 1932, January 1933 and December of the same year. These movements were highly combative, there was an ardent desire to escape from an intolerable situation of poverty and oppression but they remained totally dispersed, each sector of workers confronting the capitalist state in isolation. Of course the army was sent systematically to crush the struggles. The Republic's response was always the same; massacres, massive detentions, incarceration, torture, penal servitude and deportation. The principle victims were naturally the militants of the CNT.

These movements often arose at the initiative of the workers themselves and were labelled by the bourgeoisie an "insurrectional plot perpetrated by the anarchists"[12]. One example is what happened to the strike in Alto Llobregat[13] in January 1932. On the 17th the workers of the Berga textile industry went on strike to protest against the failure to apply an agreement won six months beforehand. The next day other workers and miners in the area (Balsareny, Suria, Sallent, Figols...) struck in solidarity with their comrades. The workers managed to disarm the Somatenes (the auxiliary civil guard of the state forces in Catalonia). By the 22nd January the strike was solid throughout the whole zone. The CNT flag was hoisted above local government headquarters in some places. The Civil Guard shut itself in its barracks so the government sent reinforcements from the Civil Guard stationed at Lerida and Saragossa as well as army units to crush the struggle.

In order to justify the barbarous repression the government launched a campaign to create confusion. It claimed that the strike at Alto Llobrega was the work of the CNT-FAI[14] "it portrayed the confederates [confederates, ie members of the CNT] as infiltrated criminals and spread the repression to Catalonia, the Levant and Andalusia. Hundreds of prisoners were crammed into the holds of ships that were to take them into deportation"[15]. Fransisco Ascaso, one of the leaders of the FAI, was among the detainees. To complete the confusion one the leaders of the organisation, Federica Montseny, attributed the movement to the initiative of the FAI in an article that was to become famous.

The movement made demands and was solid, it was an expression of the workers themselves and as such it was very different from the insurrectional movements created by anarchist groups. However, although it was motivated by solidarity, in particular with the numerous detainees who were victims of the Republican repression, and also by a clear revolutionary will, these movements involved a minority, they were very localised and were foreign to the real dynamic of the workers' struggle and also very dispersed.

The most important insurrectional action began in January 1933 and spread throughout Catalonia and many districts of Valencia and Andalusia. Peirats shows that this movement originated in the continual provocations of the autonomous government in Catalonia, controlled by the "radicals" of the republican Esquerra. These señoritos (gentlemen of good family) had flirted with the CNT in the 20s and had made an agreement more or less secretly with the unionist leaders to support the autonomous government and "turn the CNT into a domestic union like the UGT in Madrid" (Federica Montseny). They were very disappointed when the Trentists were excluded and, with even more fury than their Spanish brothers, tried to "crush the CNT by systematically closing its unions, suppressing its press, a regime of governmental prisons and a terrorist policy of the police and escamots[16]. The Casals de Esquerra[17] were turned into clandestine prisons where the confederated workers were kidnapped, beaten and tortured"[18].

The improvisation and chaos which characterised the organisation of this movement rapidly transformed it into a rout that the Catalonian and state forces together finished off by means of an incredible and immense repression. The climax was the massacre of Casas Viejas perpetrated under the direct order of the Prime Minister Azaña, who gave the direct and famous command:"Leave no wounded or prisoners, shoot at the stomach!"

"The revolutionary movement of 8th January 1933 was organised by the Defence Corps, shock troops formed by the action groups of the CNT and the FAI. These badly armed groups hoped that a few committed groups would be able to infect the people who would then follow them. The general strike in the railways depended on the national federation of this sector which, unfortunately was in a minority relative to the national railway union of the UGT and the strike failed to get off the ground (...). The barracks did not throw open their doors to revolutionary magic. The people remained indifferent or approached the movement with great reservations"[19].

Peirats describes the five phases of these insurrectional actions:

  1. "At the agreed time the conspirators infiltrate the houses of 'respectable' citizens likely to possess weapons. They seize the weapons and go out into the streets, calling on the people to revolt. There are no victims. Those who have been disarmed are freed. The social revolution hates vengeance and prisons. Terrified, the people remain neutral. The mayor hands over the keys of the local government building.
  2. The barracks of the Civil Guard are besieged and some weapons taken.
  3. The revolutionaries declare libertarian communism and turn the local government office into a free commune. The black and red flag is hoisted. The archives and documents detailing property rights are burned in the public square before the curious eyes of on-lookers. Public announcements are made declaring that money, private property and the exploitation of man by man have been abolished.
  4. Police and army reinforcements arrive. The insurgents resist more or less until they realise that the movement has not involved the whole of Spain and that they are isolated in their splendid action.
  5. As they retreat towards the mountains, the forces of repression continue their manhunt. The macabre epilogue is murder without distinction of sex or age, mass arrests, beatings and torture in police cells..."

This testimony is terribly eloquent. The most combative forces of the Spanish proletariat were mobilised for ridiculous battles that were condemned to be routed. The heroism and the great moral worth[20] of the combatants was brought to nothing by an ideology - anarchism - which produced the very opposite result from that which it was trying to attain. The conscious and collective action of the majority of the workers was substituted by the unreflecting action of a minority; the revolution was not the result of the workers' action but that of a minority who decreed it.

While the FAI was throwing its militants into imaginary battles, the real struggles of the proletariat passed completely unnoticed. In The Spanish Labyrinth Gerald Brenan notes that "the cause of almost all of the CNT strikes was the question of solidarity, that is the strikes broke out around the demand to free the prisoners or against unfair sackings. These strikes were not led by the FAI, they were real and spontaneous demonstrations of the unions"[21].

This disastrous conception of "the revolution"[22] was described in the famous Manifesto of the Thirty written by Pestaña and his friends: "History shows us that revolutions have always been made by daring minorities who have incited the people against the dominant forces. Is it enough for the minorities to want and call for it in order to bring about the destruction of the regime in power and its defensive forces in such a situation? That remains to be seen. Such minorities, joined one fine day by certain aggressive elements or taking advantage of the element of surprise, confront the public forces and provoke a violent event that may lead to the revolution (...) They entrust the victory of the revolution to the capacities of certain individuals and to the hypothetical intervention of the masses who support them when they take to the streets. There is no point in planning anything in advance, or in counting on anything or thinking about anything except flooding into the streets in order to vanquish a colossus: the state (...). Everything is left to chance; all hope is in the unexpected, in faith in the miracles of the Holy Revolution".

The insurrection in the Asturias in October 1934

In the words of Peirats himself, thousands upon thousands of workers were no more than "clusters of tortured flesh scattered throughout the Spanish gaols". The brutality of the repression carried out by the Socialist-Republican alliance did not however stop them from winning the general election of November 1933: "The workers' movement, which had shown some signs of recovery, was hit hard and retreated after the anarchist adventure. On the other hand, the reaction recovered from its fearful hesitation and went onto the offensive with great energy. The anarchists had not managed to draw the masses behind them but their defeat was that of the masses. The government and the reaction understood perfectly; they affirmed themselves and organised themselves openly"[23].

The change in the political situation was also linked to the development in the international situation and, in particular to the perspective of the Second World War, towards which capitalism was inexorably headed. There were two preconditions for war; to crush beforehand those sectors of the proletariat who still had some reserves of combativeness and to enroll the whole of the world proletariat within anti-fascist ideology. Against the fascist offensive, that is the offensive of the imperialist camp composed of Germany and Italy, it was necessary to marshal the workers behind the defence of democracy, that is the opposite camp formed around Great Britain and France. It was the latter camp that the USSR[24] and the United States would later join.

Engaging the proletariat in the defence of democracy and anti-fascism, meant dragging its struggle off its class terrain and towards aims that were foreign to it and that were merely in the service of one of the imperialist camps. With this aim in view, Social-Democracy (abetted by Stalinism from 1934 onwards) used a combination of legal and pacifist means as well as "violent" policies to drag the proletariat towards insurrectional struggles condemned to bitter defeat and followed by barbaric repression.

This international perspective accounts for the dramatic about-face of the PSOE in Spain following its defeat in the elections of 1933. Largo Caballero, who had been no less than Councillor of State to the dictator Primo de Rivera and who had participated in the Republican government from 1931 to 1933[25] as Labour Minister, suddenly became a revolutionary maximalist[26] and adopted the insurrectional policy defended up to then by the FAI.

This cynical manoeuvre mirrored that of the Austrian Social-Democrats, who managed to mobilise the workers of that country for a suicidal insurrection against the pro-fascist Chancellor Dollfuss which ended in a terrible defeat. Largo Caballero undertook to defeat a particularly combative sector of the Spanish proletariat, that of the Asturias. The coming to power of the most pro-fascist section of the current Spanish right - that led by Gil Robles whose slogan was "All power to the leader" - incited the miners of the Asturias to rise up in October 1934. The Socialists had promised them a vast general strike throughout the whole of Spain but they were careful to avoid any solidarity movement in Madrid or in the areas were they were influential.

The workers of Asturia were caught in a trap, from which they could only escape by means of the solidarity of their class brothers in other regions. This could be based not on a struggle against the new right-wing government but rather against the Republican state which it served. The spontaneous attempts to strike which occurred in several places in Spain were blocked and were refused recognition not only by the Socialists but also by the CNT and the FAI: "In fact the FAI and consequently the CNT too, were against the general strike and when their militants participated in the struggle on their own initiative and, as usual, with great heroism they called on them to stop doing so in Barcelona and made no attempt to extend the strike to other regions where they were the predominant force"[27].

In Catalonia the autonomous Esquerra Republicana government took advantage of the situation to organise its own "insurrection", whose aim was to declare "the Catalan state within the Federal Spanish Republic". In order to carry out this grandiose "revolutionary action", they first banned the CNT publication, closed down its centres and arrested its better known militants, one of whom was Durruti. The "strike" was imposed by force of arms by the autonomist police force. The radio of the Catalonian "revolutionary" government did not fail to denounce the "anarchist provocateurs who have sold themselves to the reaction". This terrible confusion reached a magnificent high-point the next day: the Catalonian government surrendered shamefully as soon as it was confronted by two regiments that had remained faithful to Madrid. The reaction of the CNT was pitiful. It declared in a Manifesto: "the movement that broke out this morning must be transformed into popular heroism through proletarian action, without accepting the protection of the public forces, which shame those who authorised it and who lay claim to it. The CNT has been the victim of bloody repression for a long time and can no longer be confined within the limited space that its oppressors have left it. We demand the right to intervene in this struggle and we will take it. We are the best guarantee against fascism and those who claim otherwise are promoting fascism by preventing us from acting"[28].

The trap of anti-fascism

Certain points can be drawn out of the CNT's manifesto very clearly:

  • it makes no demonstration of solidarity with the workers of the Asturias;
  • it is situated on the very ambiguous basis of a more or less nuanced support for the nationalist movement of the Catalan government, to which it proposes to contribute "popular heroism";
  • it nowhere denounces the anti-fascist trap; on the contrary it puts itself forward as the best rampart against fascism and insists on its right to contribute to the anti-fascist struggle.

This manifesto marks a very serious development in its political orientation. Against the whole tradition of the CNT and against the will of many anarchist militants, it abandoned the terrain of workers' solidarity to embrace the terrain of anti-fascism and "critical" support for Catalan nationalism.

It was quite logical for the CNT, as a union, to go onto this anti-worker terrain. Within the framework of the repression and marginalisation for which the Republican state was responsible, it needed desperately a "liberal" regime that would enable it to play a role as a "recognised spokesman". But the FAI was the mouthpiece of anarchism and the propagandist of the struggle "against any form of state" that denounced "any alliance" with political parties; as such

it is harder to see why it supported this orientation.

A deeper analysis makes it possible to understand this paradox. The FAI had made the CNT, a union, into an organisation for the "mobilisation of the masses" which obliged it increasingly to make concessions. It was no longer the logic of anarchist principles that directed the FAI's action; it was more and more the "realities" of unionism, determined by the imperious need to be integrated into the state.

Moreover anarchist principles are not seen as the expression of the aspirations, the general demands and historic interests of a social class, the proletariat. So they are not rooted in the terrain marked out by its historic struggle. On the contrary, they claim to be much "freer". Their terrain is timeless and unhistorical, basing itself on the freedom of the individual in general. The logic of this kind of reasoning is implacable: the interest of the free individual may be the rejection of any kind of authority, of any state and any centralisation or it may be the tactical acceptance of the "lesser evil". So against the fascist danger, that denies all rights simply and strictly, it is preferable to have a democratic regime that formally recognises certain individual rights.

Gomez Casas stresses in his book that "the mentality of the radical part of anarcho-syndicalism saw the process as revolutionary gymnastics by means of which the optimum conditions for social revolution would be obtained" (ibid). This vision considers it essential to maintain the masses in a state of mobilisation, whatever its aim. The "anti-fascist" terrain evidently seemed propitious in order to "radicalise the masses" and conduct them towards the "social revolution", as the "left-wing" socialists of the period advocated. In fact, the anti-fascist vision of Largo Caballero and that of the FAI seemed to converge but their intentions were radically different. Largo Caballero was trying to bleed the Spanish proletariat dry by means of his calls to "insurrection" whereas the majority of the FAI militants sincerely believed in the possibility of the social revolution. On the question of the Republic Largo Caballero declared in 1934 (in complete contradiction with what he had said in 1931): "The working class wants the democratic Republic [not] for its intrinsic virtues, not as an ideal of government but because within its framework the class struggle, that has been stifled by despotic regimes, can obtain its immediate and middle term aims. If this is not so, why should the workers want the Republic and democracy?"[29]. For his part, Durruti said: "We are not interested in the Republic but we accept it as a departure point for a process of social democratisation, on condition of course that this Republic really does guarantee those principles that make freedom and social justice more than empty words. If the Republic disdains the aspirations of the workers, then the slight interest that they have in it will be reduced to nil because this institution would not answer the hopes awoken on 14th April"[30].

How could the 20th century state with its bureaucracy, its army, its system of repression and totalitarian manipulation, be "a departure point for a process of social democratisation"? How in anyone's wildest dreams could it be the guarantor of "freedom and social justice"? The very idea is as absurd as it is illusory...


This contradiction had a long history. When General Sanjurjo rose up against the Republic on 10th August 1932, provoking the mobilisation of the Seville workers under the leadership of the CNT, the latter already saw the struggle as being on an openly anti-fascist terrain. In a manifesto it stated: "Workers! Peasants! Soldiers! A factious and criminal assault of the most shady and reactionary section of the army, of the autocratic and military caste which is bogging Spain down in the most terrible horrors of the dark period of the dictatorship (...) has surprised us all, obscuring our history and our consciousness, burying our national sovereignty in the most deadly of choices"[31].

The proletariat had to block the assassin's hand of General Sanjurjo but its struggle could only follow its class interests, whose perspective represents the interests of the whole of humanity. It was therefore necessary for them to combat both fascism and also its Republican rival. The CNT's manifesto places the emphasis on... national sovereignty! It calls for a choice between dictatorship and the Republic. The Republic that had already assassinated more than one thousand workers and peasants through its repression! The Republic that had filled the prisons and gaols with militant workers, essentially those belonging to the CNT!

The assessment to be made is very clear and we will make it by leaving the last word to our predecessors of the Italian Communist Left: "We will now look at the action of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) which now controls the CNT. After the fall of Azaña it demanded an unconditional amnesty, also valid for the generals of the military pronunciamientos, the friends of General Sanjurjo. It abandoned the CNT workers who had put a stop to the latter's manoeuvres in Seville by telling them not to do anything. In October 1934 it adopted the same position when it wrote that it was a question of a power struggle between Marxists and fascists, which was of no interest to the proletariat and that the latter must wait before intervening until the two had destroyed each other"[32].

The attempt of the FAI to rescue the CNT for the working class was a failure. It was not the FAI that corrected the CNT, it was rather the CNT that that dragged the FAI into the state capitalist trap. This was apparent in 1936 when well-known members of the FAI collaborated in the government in the name of the CNT.

"In February 1936 all the forces within the proletariat shared the same goal: the need to attain victory for the popular front in order to get rid of the right-wing and obtain an amnesty. From social-democracy to the centrist parties[33], to the CNT and the POUM, not forgetting the parties of the Republican left, everyone was agreed to divert the explosion of class conflicts onto the parliamentary arena"[34]

In the next article in the series we will analyse the situation in 1936 and examine the definitive union between the CNT and the bourgeois state.

RR - C.Mir 10-12-07

[1] See International Review n°131, "The CNT's contribution to the constitution of the Spanish Republic (1921-1931)"

[2] The anarchist author of the book History of the Spanish workers' movement (2 volumes in Spanish). The quotations translated here are extracts from the second volume.

[3] It is to be noted that Macia was a Catalan nationalist army officer.

[4] Juan Garcia Oliver (1901-1980) was a founder member of the FAI and one of its best-known leaders. In 1936 he was made a minister of the Republic within the government of the socialist Largo Caballero (we will go into this in a future article).

[5] Olaya reveals that in 1928, "the Republicans for their part entered into contact with Arturo Parera, José Robusté, Elizalde and Hernandez, members of the FAI and the Catalan regional committee of the CNT".

[6] A Spanish anarchist newspaper which appeared for the first time in 1888. In 1923 it was suppressed by Primo de Rivera's dictatorship. In 1930 it reappeared as an organ of the FAI.

[7] In his pamphlet, The Bakhuninists at work, Engels shows how the leaders of the Spanish section of the IWA "had been preaching the gospel of unqualified abstention too long to be able suddenly to reverse their line; and so they invented that deplorable way out - that of having the International abstain as a body, but allowing its members as individuals to vote as they liked. The result of this declaration of political bankruptcy was that the workers, as always in such cases, voted for those who made the most radical speeches, that is, for the Intransigents, and considering themselves therefore more or less responsible for subsequent steps taken by their deputies, became involved in them".

[8] ie, the Iberian peninsula

[9] Olaya, ibid.

[10] Gómez Casas, the anarchist author of a History of Spanish Anarcho-syndicalism. We have reproduced extracts from this book in previous articles in this series.

[11] This attempt to adopt a "correct" orientation by means of campaigns of intimidation and bureaucratic manoeuvres gave rise to tragi-comic situations due to the desire of each committee to be "more insurrectional" than the next one. Olaya describes the chaos created by the national committee in October 1932, "when to prove that it was not influenced by the Pestaña tendency, asked the unions in its Circular n°31 if they would agree to ratify or rectify the decisions of the August plenum on the revolutionary general strike". The Levant Committee (Valencia) replied that it was ready for action. This firm reply stopped the national committee in its tracks; it backed down and revoked the order. This angered the Levant Committee, which demanded that a date be fixed to "go out onto the streets" A plenum was therefore convoked and, after a series of zigzags, it was decided that the "general strike" would take place in January 1933 (we will come back to this later).

[12] The Republic's insistent campaigns about the "FAI menace" only served to nourish the myth believed by some FAI militants that they had fomented this or that revolutionary action. Olaya wrote of the declaration of the general strike in Seville which was decided in July 1931 and cancelled two days later: "in reality it was no more than bragging, at the time the FAI was no more than a ghost used by the bourgeoisie to frighten old ladies".

[13] Industrial and mining district in the province of Barcelona.

[14] In fact, although CNT militants certainly played a very active role in the movement, the attitude of the CNT as an organisation was fairly tepid and contradictory. On 21st January "the departmental Plenum called by Emilio Mira, the secretary of the regional committee of the CNT, was held and it decided to send another delegate. Although some delegates were in favour of expressing solidarity with the strikers, the majority abstained on the pretext that they did not have a mandate from their organic base" (Olaya, ibid). This decision was re-examined the next day but was revoked once more on the 24th when a manifesto was adopted calling for an end to the strike.

[15] Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, ibid.

[16] The escamots were "Catalonian action groups that expressed xenophobia against anything that was not Catalonian" (Peirats, ibid).

[17] The centres of the escamots.

[18] Peirats, ibid.

[19] Peirats, ibid.

[20] The honesty and uprightness of many FAI militants was proverbial. Buenaventura Durruti, for example never touched the funds entrusted to him even when he had nothing to eat.

[21] Ruedo Ibérico publishers, 1977 Madrid. Brenan is not an author who has links with the workers' movement but he examines the historic period 1931-39 with great honesty, which often enables him to make correct observations.

[22] By denouncing in a caractural way the absurdity of the "insurrectional method" of its opponents in the FAI, those who wrote the Manifesto - who belonged to the unionist wing of the CNT - did not aim to clarify consciousness but rather to reinforce their reformist and capitulatory band wagon.

[23] Munis, Jalones de derrota promesas de Victoria. Munis was a Spanish revolutionary (1911-1988) who broke with Trotskyism in 1948 and approached the positions of the Communist Left. He was a founder member of the group Fomento Obrero Revolucionario (FOR). For an analysis of his work see the International Review n°58. Chapter V of our book 1936:Franco y la Republica masacran al proletariado goes into a critique of his positions on the so-called Spanish revolution in 1936.

[24] We can recall here that there was formerly a secret pact allying the USSR and Hitler from 1939-41.

[25] See International Review n°131, the fourth article in the series.

[26] The Young Socialists venerated him as the "Spanish Lenin".

[27] Bilan, organ of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, "In the absence of a class party", no 14, Dec 1934-Jan 35. This analysis is corroborated by a passage in the book History of the FAI by Juan Gomez Casas: "J.M. Molina states that although the CNT and the FAI were by no means involved in the strike (he was talking about the one in the Asturias in 1934), the committees of these two organisations were in permanent session. He said that 'all these meetings accorded with our own inhibition but without committing one of the most serious and incomprehensible errors in the history of the CNT'. Molina is referring to the position taken by some of the organisms of the CNT for a return to work and the instructions to this effect given to the radio by Patricio Navarro, a member of the regional committee (in Barcelona, the regional Committee that met in plenary session, headed by Ascaso, was obliged to resign)".

[28] Quoted by Peirats, ibid.

[29] Quoted by Bolloten, an author sympathetic to anarchism, in his very interesting work the Spanish Civil War: revolution and counter-revolution.

[30] Juan Gomez Casas, History of the FAI, ibid.

[31] Quoted by Peirats, ibid.

[32] Bilan, n°34, "In the absence of a class party", ibid.

[33] This is the rather ambiguous term by which the Italian Left of the period described Stalinism.

[34] Bilan n°36, Oct-Nov 1936, "The Lesson of the Events in Spain".

Historic events: 



History of the workers' movement: