An Anarchist FAQ - Appendix 3.2 - Marxists and Spanish Anarchism

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Marxists and Spanish Anarchism

In this appendix of our FAQ we discuss and reply to various analyses of Spanish anarchism put forward by Marxists, particularly Marxist-Leninists of various shades. The history and politics of Spanish Anarchism is not well known in many circles, particularly Marxist ones, and the various misrepresentations and distortions that Marxists have spread about that history and politics are many. This appendix is an attempt to put the record straight with regards the Spanish Anarchist movement and point out the errors associated with the standard Marxist accounts of that movement, its politics and its history.

Hopefully this appendix will go some way towards making Marxists (and others) investigate the actual facts of anarchism and Spanish anarchist history rather than depending on inaccurate secondary material (usually written by their comrades).

Part of this essay is based on the article "Trotskyist Lies on Anarchism" which appeared in Black Flag issue no. 211 and Tom Wetzel's article Workers' Power and the Spanish Revolution.

1. Were the Spanish Anarchists "Primitive Rebels"?

The thesis that the Spanish Anarchists were "primitive rebels," with a primitive understanding of the nature of revolution is a common one amongst Marxists. One of the main sources for this kind of argument is Eric Hobsbawm's Primitive Rebels, who was a member of the British Communist Party at the time. While the obvious Stalinist nature of the author may be thought enough to alert the intelligent of its political biases, its basic thesis is repeated by many Marxists.

Before discussing Hobsbawm in more detail, it would be useful to refute some of the more silly things so-called serious historians have asserted about Spanish Anarchism. Indeed, it would be hard to find another social or political movement which has been more misrepresented or its ideas and activities so distorted by historians whose attitudes seem more supported by ideological conviction rather than history or investigation of social life.

One of the most common descriptions of Spanish anarchism is that it was "religious" or "millenarium" in nature. Hobsbawm himself accepts this conceptualisation, along with historians and commentators like Gerald Brenan and Franz Brokenau (who, in fact, did state "Anarchism is a religious movement"). Such use of religion was largely due to the influence of Juan Diaz del Moral, a lawyer and historian who was also a landowner. As Jerome R. Mintz points out, "according to Diaz del Moral, the moral and passionate obreros conscientes [conscious workers -- i.e. workers who considered themselves to be anarchists] absorbed in their pamphlets and newspapers were akin to frenzied believers in a new religion." [The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, p. 5f] However, such a perspective was formed by his class position and privileges which could not help but reflect them:

 

"Diaz del Moral ascribed to the campesinos [of Andalusia] racial and cultural stereotypes that were common saws of his class. The sole cause for the waves of rural unrest, Diaz del Moral asserted, could be found in the psychology of the campesinos . . . He believed that the Andalusian field workers had inherited a Moorish tendency toward ecstasy and millenarianism that accounted for their attraction to anarchist teaching. Diaz del Moral was mystified by expressions of animosity directed toward him, but the workers considered him to be a senorito, a landowner who does not labour . . . Although he was both scholarly and sympathetic, Diaz del Moral could not comprehend the hunger and the desperation of the campesinos around him . . . To Diaz del Moral, campesino ignorance, passion, ecstasy, illusion, and depression, not having a legitimate basis in reality, could be found only in the roots of their racial heritage." [Op. Cit., pp. 5-6]

 

Hence the "religious" nature of anarchism -- it was one of the ways an uncomprehending member of the middle-class could explain working class discontent and rebellion. Unfortunately, this "explanation" has become common place in history books (partly reflected academics class interest too and lack of understanding of working class interests, needs and hopes).

As Mintz argues, "at first glance the religious model seems to make anarchism easier to understand, particularly in the absence of detailed observation and intimate contact. The model was, however, also used to serve the political ends of anarchism's opponents. Here the use of the terms 'religious' and 'millenarium' stamp anarchist goals as unrealistic and unattainable. Anarchism is thus dismissed as a viable solution to social ills." He continues by arguing that the "oversimplifications posited became serious distortions of anarchist belief and practice" (as we shall see). [Op. Cit., p. 5 and p. 6]

Temma Kaplan's critique of the "religious" view is also worth mentioning. She argues that "the millenarium theory is too mechanistic to explain the complex pattern of Andalusian anarchist activity. The millenarian argument, in portraying the Andalusian anarchists as fundamentally religious, overlooks their clear comprehension of the social sources of their oppression." She concludes that "the degree of organisation, not the religiosity of workers and the community, accounts for mass mobilisations carried on by the Andalusian anarchists at the end of the nineteenth century." She also notes that the "[i]n a secular age, the taint of religion is the taint of irrationality." [Anarchists of Andalusia: 1868-1903, pp. 210-12 and p. 211] Thus, the Andalusian anarchists had a clear idea who their enemies were, namely the ruling class of the region. She also points out that, for all their revolutionary elan, the anarchists developed a rational strategy of revolution, channelling their energies into organising a trade union movement that could be used as a vehicle for social and economic change. Moreover, as well as a clear idea of how to change society they had a clear vision of what sort of society they desired -- one built around collective ownership and federations of workers' associations and communes.

Therefore the idea that anarchism can be explained in "religious" terms is fundamentally flawed. It basically assumes that the Spanish workers were fundamentally irrational, unable to comprehend the sources of their unhappiness nor able to define their own political goals and tactics and instead looked to naive theories which reinforced their irrationalities. In actuality, like most people, they were sensible, intelligent human beings who believed in a better life and were willing to apply their ideas in their everyday life. That historians apply patronising attitudes towards them says more about the historians than the campesinos.

This uncomprehending attitude to historians can be seen from some of the more strange assertions they make against the Spanish Anarchists. Gerald Brenan, Eric Hobsbawm and Raymond Carr, for example, all maintained that there was a connection between anarchist strikes and sexual practices. Carr's description gives a flavour:

 

"Austere puritans, they sought to impose vegetarianism, sexual abstinence, and atheism on one of the most backward peasantries of Europe . . . Thus strikes were moments of exaltation as well as demands for better conditions; spontaneous and often disconnected they would bring, not only the abolition of piece-work, but 'the day,' so near at hand that sexual intercourse and alcohol were abandoned by enthusiasts till it should dawn." [Spain: 1808-1975, p. 444]

Mintz, an American anthropologist who actually stayed with the campesino's for a number of years after 1965, actually asked them about such claims. As he put it, the "level-headed anarchists were astonished by such descriptions of supposed Spanish puritanism by over-enthusiastic historians." [Op. Cit., p. 6] As one anarchist put it, "[o]f course, without any work the husband couldn't provide any food at dinnertime, and so they were angry at each other, and she wouldn't have anything to do with him. In that sense, yes, there were no sexual relations." [quoted, Op. Cit., p. 7]

Mintz traces the citations which allowed the historians to arrive at such ridiculous views to a French social historian, Angel Maraud, who observed that during the general strike of 1902 in Moron, marriages were postponed to after the promised division of the lands. As Mintz points out, "as a Frenchman, Maraud undoubtedly assumed that everyone knew a formal wedding ceremony did not necessarily govern the sexual relations of courting couples." [Op. Cit., p. 6f]

As for abstinence and puritanism, nothing could be further from the truth. As Mintz argues, the anarchists considered alcoholism as being "responsible for much of the social malaise among many workers . . . Excessive drinking robbed the worker of his senses and deprived his family of food. Anarchist newspapers and pamphlets hammered out the evil of this vice." However, "[p]roscriptions were not of a puritanical order" (and so there was no desire to "impose" such things on people) and quotes an anarchist who stated that "coffee and tobacco were not prohibited, but one was advised against using them. Men were warned against going to a brothel. It was not a matter of morality but of hygiene." As for vegetarianism, it "attracted few adherents, even among the obreros conscientes." [Op. Cit., pp. 86-7 and p. 88]

Moreover, academic mockery of anarchist attempts to combat alcoholism (and not alcohol as such) forgets the social context. Being academics they may not have experienced wage labour directly and so do not realise the misery it can cause. People turn to drink simply because their jobs are so bad and seek escape from the drudgery of their everyday lives. As Bakunin argued, "confined in their life like a prisoner in his prison, without horizon, without outlet . . . the people would have the singularly narrow souls and blunted instincts of the bourgeois if they did not feel a desire to escape; but of escape there are but three methods -- two chimerical and a third real. The first two are the dram-shop and the church, debauchery of the body or debauchery of the mind; the third is social revolution." [God and the State, p. 16] So to combat alcoholism was particularly important as many workers turned to alcohol as a means of escaping the misery of life under capitalism. Thus Bookchin:

 

"[T]o abstain from smoking, to live by high moral standards, and to especially adjure the consumption of alcohol was very important at the time. Spain was going through her own belated industrial revolution during the period of anarchist ascendancy with all its demoralising features. The collapse of morale among the proletariat, with rampant drunkenness, venereal disease, and the collapse of sanitary facilities, was the foremost problem which Spanish revolutionaries had to deal with . . . On this score, the Spanish anarchists were eminently successful. Few CNT workers, much less a committed anarchist, would have dared show up drunk at meetings or misbehave overtly with their comrades. If one considers the terrible working and living conditions of the period, alcoholism was not as serious a problem in Spain as it was in England during the industrial revolution." ["Introductory Essay", The Anarchist Collectives, Sam Dolgoff (ed.), pp. xix-xxf]

Mintz sums up by stating "[c]ontrary to exaggerated accounts of anarchist zeal, most thoughtful obreros conscientes believed in moderation, not abstinence." [Op. Cit., p. 88] Unfortunately Mintz's work, the product of years of living with and talking to the people actually involved in the movement, does not seem to have made much impact on the historians. Unsurprising, really, as history is rarely about the actions, ideas and hopes of working people.

As can be seen, historians seem to delight in misrepresenting the ideas and actions of the Spanish Anarchists. Sometimes, as just seen, the distortions are quite serious, extremely misleading and ensure that anarchism cannot be understood or viewed as a serious political theory (we can understand why Marxists historians would seek this). Sometimes they can be subtle as when Ronald Fraser states that at the CNT's Saragossa congress in 1936 "the proposal to create a libertarian militia to crush a military uprising was rejected almost scornfully, in the name of traditional anti-militarism." [Blood of Spain, p. 101] Hugh Thomas makes the same claim, stating at "there was no sign that anyone [at the congress] realised that there was a danger of fascism; and no agreement, in consequence, on the arming of militias, much less the organisation of a revolutionary army as suggested by Juan Garcia Oliver." [The Spanish Civil War, p. 181]

However, what Fraser and Thomas omit to tell the reader is that this motion "was defeated by one favouring the idea of guerrilla warfare." [Peter Marshal, Demanding the Impossible, p. 460] The Saragossa resolution itself stated that a "permanent army constitutes the greatest danger for the revolution . . . The armed people will be the best guarantee against all attempts to restore the destroyed regime by interior or exterior forces . . . Each Commune should have its arms and elements of defence." [quoted by Robert Alexander, The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, vol. 1, p. 64]

Fraser's and Hugh's omission is extremely serious -- it gives a radically false impression of anarchist politics. Their comments could led a reader to think that anarchists, as Marxists claim, do not believe in defending a revolution. As can be seen from the actual resolutions of the Saragossa conference, this is not the case. Indeed, given that the congress was explicitly discussing, along with many other issues, the question of "defence of the revolution" their omission seriously distorts the CNT's position and anarchist theory. As seen, the congress supported the need to arm the people and to keep those arms under the control of the communes (as well as the role of "Confederal Defence Forces" and the efficient organisation of forces on a national level). Given that Thomas quotes extensively from the Saragossa resolution on libertarian communism we can only surmise that he forgot to read the section entitled "Defence of the Revolution."

Hugh and Thomas omissions, however, ensure that anarchism is presented as an utopian and naive theory, unaware of the problems facing society. In reality, the opposite is the case -- the Spanish anarchists were well aware of the need to arm the people and resist counter-revolution and fascism by force. Regardless of Thomas' claims, it is clear that the CNT and FAI realised the danger of fascism existed and passed appropriate resolutions outlining how to organise an effective means of self-defence (indeed, as early as February 14 of that year, the CNT had issued a prophetic manifesto warning that right-wing elements were ready to provoke a military coup [Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists, p. 273]). To state otherwise, while quoting from the document that discusses the issue, must be considered a deliberate lie.

However, to return to our main point -- Eric Hobsbawm's thesis that the Spanish anarchists were an example of "pre-political" groups -- the "primitive rebels" of his title.

Essentially, Hobsbawm describes the Spanish Anarchists -- particularly the Andalusian anarchists -- as modern-day secular mystics who, like the millenarians of the Middle Ages, were guided by the irrational belief that it was possible to will profound social change. The actions of the Spanish anarchist movement, therefore, can be explained in terms of millenarian behaviour -- the belief that it was able to jump start to utopia via an act of will.

The Spanish farm and industrial workers, it is argued, were unable to grasp the complexities of the economic and political structures that dominated their lives and so were attracted to anarchism. According to Hobsbawm, anarchism is marked by "theoretical primitivism" and a primitive understanding of revolution and this explained why anarchism was popular with Spanish workers, particularly farm workers. According to Hobsbawm, anarchism told the workers that by spontaneously rising up together they could overthrow the forces of repression and create the new millennium.

Obviously, we cannot refute Hobsbawm's claims of anarchism's "theoretical primitivism" in this appendix, the reader is invited to consult the main FAQ. Moreover, we cannot stress more that Hobsbawm's assertion that anarchists believe in spontaneous, overnight uprisings is false. Rather, we see revolution as a process in which day-to-day struggle and organisation play a key role -- it is not seen as occurring independently of the on-going class struggle or social evolution. While we discuss in depth the nature of an anarchist social revolution in section J.7, we can present a few quotes by Bakunin to refute Hobsbawm's claim:

 

"Revolutions are not improvised. They are not made at will by individuals. They come about through the force of circumstances and are independent of any deliberate ill or conspiracy." [quoted by Brian Morris, Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 139]

"It is impossible to rouse people by artificial means. Popular revolutions are born by the actual force of events . . . It is impossible to bring about such a revolution artificially. It is not even possible to speed it up at all significantly . . . There are some periods in history when revolutions are quite simply impossible; there are other periods when they are inevitable." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 183]

 

As Brian Morris correctly argues, "Bakunin denies that a social revolution could be made by the will of individuals, independent of social and economic circumstances. He was much less a voluntarist than his Marxist critics make out . . . he was . . . aware that the social revolution would be a long process that may take many years for its realisation." [Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom, pp. 138-9] To aid the process of social revolution, Bakunin supported the need for "pioneering groups or associations of advanced workers who were willing to initiate this great movement of self-emancipation." However, more is needed -- namely popular working class organisations -- "what is the organisation of the masses? . . . It is the organisation by professions and trades . . . The organisation of the trade sections . . . bear in themselves the living seed of the new society which is to replace the old world. They are creating not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself." [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 252 and p. 255]

Therefore, Bakunin saw revolution as a process which starts with day-to-day struggle and creation of labour unions to organise that struggle. As he put it himself:

 

"What policy should the International [Workers' Association] follow during th[e] somewhat extended time period that separates us from this terrible social revolution . . . the International will give labour unrest in all countries an essentially economic character, with the aim of reducing working hours and increasing salary, by means of the association of the working masses . . . It will [also] propagandise its principles . . . Lastly, the International will expand and organise across frontiers of all countries, so that when the revolution -- brought about by the force of circumstances -- breaks out, the International will be a real force and will know what it has to do. Then it will be able to take the revolution into its own hands and give it a direction that will benefit the people: an earnest international organisation of workers' associations from all countries, capable of replacing this departing world of States and bourgeoisie." [The Basic Bakunin, pp. 109-10]

However, while quoting Bakunin refutes part of his thesis, Hobsbawm does base his case on some actual events of Spanish Anarchist history. Therefore we need to look at these cases and show how he gets these wrong. Without an empirical basis, his case obviously falls even without quotes by Bakunin. Luckily the important examples he uses have been analysed by people without the ideological blinkers inherent in Leninism.

While we shall concentrate on just two cases -- Casa Viejas in 1933 and the Jerez rising of 1892 -- a few general points should be mentioned. As Jerome Mintz notes, Hobsbawms' "account is based primarily on a preconceived evolutionary model of political development rather than on data gathered in field research. The model scales labour movements in accord with their progress toward mass parties and central authority. In short, he explains how anarchosyndicalists were presumed to act rather than what actually took place, and the uprising at Casa Viejas was used to prove an already established point of view. Unfortunately, his evolutionary model misled him on virtually every point." [Op. Cit., p. 271] We should also note his "model" is essentially Marxist ideology -- namely, Marx's assertion that his aim for mass political parties expressed the interests of the working class and all other visions were the products of sectarians. Mintz also points out that Hobsbawm does not live up to his own model:

 

"While Hobsbawm's theoretical model is evolutionary, in his own treatment anarchism is often regarded as unchanging from one decade to the other. In his text, attitudes and beliefs of 1903-5, 1918-20, 1933, and 1936 are lumped together or considered interchangeable. Of course during these decades the anarchosyndicalists had developed their programs and the individuals involved had become more experienced." [Op. Cit., p. 271f]

Hobsbawm believed that Casas Viejas was the classic "anarchist" uprising -- "utopian, millenarian, apocalyptic, as all witnesses agree it to have been." [Primitive Rebels, p. 90] As Mintz states, "the facts prove otherwise. Casas Viejas rose not in a frenzy of blind millenarianism but in response to a call for a nation-wide revolutionary strike. The insurrection of January 1933 was hatched by faistas [members of the FAI] in Barcelona and was to be fought primarily there and in other urban centres. The uprisings in the countryside would be diversionary and designed to keep the civil guard from shifting reinforcements. The faista plot was then fed by intensive newspaper propaganda, by travelling orators, and by actions undertaken by the [CNT] defence committees. Representatives of the defence committees from Casas Viejas and Medina had received instructions at a regional meeting held days before. On January 11, the anarchosyndicalists of Casas Viejas believed that they were joining their companeros who had already been at the barricades since January 8." [Op. Cit., p. 272]

Hobsbawm argued that the uprising occurred in accordance with an established economic pattern:

 

"Economic conditions naturally determined the timing and periodicity of the revolutionary outbreaks -- for instance, social movements tended to reach a peak intensity during the worse months of the year -- January to March, when farm labourers have least work (the march on Jerez in 1892 and the rising of Casas Viejas in 1933 both occurred early in January), March-July, when the proceeding harvest has been exhausted and times are lean." [Op. Cit., p. 79]

Mintz states the obvious:

 

"In reality, most agricultural strikes took place in May and June, the period of the harvest and the only time of the year when the campesinos had any leverage against the landowners. The uprising at Casas Viejas occurred in January precisely because it was not an agricultural strike. The timing of the insurrection, hurriedly called to coincide with a planned railway strike that would make it difficult for the government to shift its forces, was determined by strategic rather than economic considerations." [Op. Cit., p. 273]

 

As for the revolt itself, Hobsbawm asserts that:

 

"Secure from the outside world, [the men] put up the red and black flag of anarchy and set about dividing the land. They made no attempt to spread the movement or kill anyone." [Op. Cit., p. 274]

 

Which, as Mintz clearly shows, was nonsense:

 

"As is already evident, rather than securing themselves from the rest of world, the uprising at Casas Viejas was a pathetic attempt to join in an ill-fated national insurrection. With regard to his second point, there was neither the time nor the opportunity to 'set about dividing the land.' The men were scattered in various locations guarding roads and paths leading to the town. There were no meetings or discussions during this brief period of control. Only a few hours separated the shooting at the barracks and the entrance of the small [government] rescue force from Alcala. Contrary to Hobsbawm's description of peaceful enterprise, at the outset the anarchists surrounding the barracks had fired on the civil guards, mortally wounding two men." [Op. Cit., p. 274]

 

As can be seen, Hobsbawm was totally wrong about the uprising itself and so it cannot be used as evidence for his thesis. On other, less key issues, he was equally wrong. Mintz gives an excellent summary:

 

"Since kinship is a key feature in 'primitive' societies, according to Hobsbawm, it was a major factor in the leadership of the sindicato [union] in Casas Viejas.

"There is no evidence that kinship had anything to do with leadership in the anarchist movement in Casa Viejas or anywhere else. The reverse would be closer to the truth. Since the anarchists expressed belief in universal brotherhood, kinship ties were often undermined. In times of strike or in carrying out any decision of the collective membership, obreros conscientes sometimes had to act counter to their kinship demands in order to keep faith with the movement and with their companeros.

"Hobsbawm's specific examples are unfortunately based in part on errors of fact. . .

"Hobsbawm's model [also] requires a charismatic leader. Accordingly, the inspired leader of the uprising is said to be 'old Curro Cruz ('Six Fingers') who issued the call for revolution . . . '

[. . .]

"This celebration of Seisdedo's role ['Six Fingers'], however, ignores the unanimous view of townspeople of every class and political persuasion, who assert that the old man was apolitical and had nothing to do with the uprising . . . every observer and participant in the uprising agrees that Seisdedos was not the leader and was never anything other than a virtuous charcoal burner with but a slight interest in anarchosyndicalism.

[. . .]

"Should the role of charismatic leader be given to someone else in the town? This was not a case of mistaken identity. No single person in Casas Viejas could lay clam to dominating the hearts and minds of the men. . .The sindicato was governed by a junta. Among the cast of characters there is no sign of charismatic leadership . . ." [Op. Cit., pp. 274-6]

 

Mintz sums up by stating "Hobsbawm's adherence to a model, and the accumulation of misinformation, led him away from the essential conflicts underlying the tragedy and from the reality of the people who participated in it." [Op. Cit., p. 276]

The Jerez uprising of 1892 also fails to provide Hobsbawm with any empirical evidence to support his claims. Indeed, as in Casas Viejas, the evidence actually works against him. The actual events of the uprising are as follows. Just before midnight of 8th January 1892, several hundred workers entered the town of Jerez crying "Long live the revolution! Long live Anarchy!" Armed with only rocks, sticks, scythes and other farm equipment, they marched toward the city jail with the evident intention of releasing its prisoners -- who included many political prisoners, victims of the government's recent anti-anarchist campaign. A few people were killed and the uprising dispersed by a regiment of mounted troops.

Hobsbawm claims this revolt as evidence for his "primitive rebels" thesis. As historian George R. Esenwein argues:

 

"[T]he Jerez incident cannot be explained in terms of this model. What the millenarian view fails to do in this instance is to credit the workers with the ability to define their own political goals. This is not to deny that there were millenarian aspects of the rising, for the mob action of the workers on the night of 8 January indicates a degree of irrationalism that is consistent with millenarian behaviour. But . . . the agitators seem to have had a clear motive in mind when they rose: they sought to release their comrades from the local jail and thereby demonstrate their defiance of the government's incessant persecution of the International [Workers' Association] movement. However clumsily and crudely they expressed their grievance, the workers were patently aiming to achieve this objective and not to overthrow the local government in order to inaugurate the birth of a libertarian society." [Anarchist Ideology and the Working Class Movement in Spain: 1868-1898, p. 184]

Similarly, many Marxists (and liberal historians) point to the "cycle of insurrections" that occurred during the 1930s. They usually portray these revolts as isolated insurrections organised by the FAI who appeared in villages and proclaimed libertarian communism. The picture is one of disorganisation, millenarianism and a believe in spontaneous revolution inspired by a few militants and their daring actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The "cycle of insurrections" was far more complex that this, as Juan Gomez Casas makes clear:

 

"Between 1932 and 1934 . . . the Spanish anarchists tried to destroy the existing social order through a series of increasingly violent strikes and insurrections, which were at first spontaneous, later co-ordinated." [Anarchist Organisation: The History of the FAI, p. 135]

 

Stuart Christie stresses this point when he wrote "[i]t has been widely assumed that the cycle of insurrections which began in . . . January 1933 were organised and instigated by the FAI . . . In fact the rising had nothing to do with the FAI. It began as an entirely spontaneous local affair directed against a local employer, but quickly mushroomed into a popular movement which threatened to engulf the whole of Catalonia and the rest of Spain . . . [CNT militant] Arturo Parera later confirmed that the FAI had not participated in the aborted movement 'as an organisation.'" [We, the Anarchists, p. 66] While the initial revolts, such as those of the miners of Alto Llobregat in January 1932, were spontaneous acts which caught the CNT and FAI by surprise, the following insurrections became increasingly organised and co-ordinated by those organisations. The January 1933 revolt, as noted above, was based around a planned strike by the CNT railway workers union. The revolt of December 1933 was organised by a National Revolutionary Committee. Both revolts aimed at uprisings all across Spain, based on the existing organisations of the CNT -- the unions and their "Defence committees". Such a degree of planning belies any claims that Spanish Anarchists were "primitive rebels" or did not understand the complexities of modern society or what was required to change it.

Ultimately, Hobsbawm's thesis and its underlying model represents Marxist arrogance and sectarianism. His model assumes the validity of the Marxist claim that true working class movements are based on mass political parties based on hierarchical, centralised, leadership and those who reject this model and political action (electioneering) are sects and sectarians. It was for this reason that Marx, faced with the increased influence of Bakunin, overturned the First International's original basis of free discussion with his own concept of what a real workers' movement should be.

Originally, because the various sections of the International worked under different circumstances and had attained different degrees of development, the theoretical ideals which reflected the real movement would also diverge. The International, therefore, was open to all socialist and working class tendencies. The general policies of the International would be, by necessity, based on conference decisions that reflected the free political development that flowed from local needs. These decisions would be determined by free discussion within and between sections of all economic, social and political ideas. Marx, however, replaced this policy with a common program of "political action" (i.e. electioneering) by mass political parties via the fixed Hague conference of 1872. Rather than having this position agreed by the normal exchange of ideas and theoretical discussion in the sections guided by the needs of the practical struggle, Marx imposed what he considered as the future of the workers movement onto the International -- and denounced those who disagreed with him as sectarians. The notion that what Marx considered as necessary might be another sectarian position imposed on the workers' movement did not enter his head nor that of his followers -- as can be seen, Hobsbawm (mis)interpreted anarchism and its history thanks to this Marxist model and vision.

However, once we look at the anarchist movement without the blinkers created by Marxism, we see that rather than being a movement of "primitive rebels" Spanish Anarchism was a movement of working class people using valid tactics to meet their own social, economic and political goals -- tactics and goals which evolved to meet changing circumstances. Seeing the rise of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism as the political expression of the class struggle, guided by the needs of the practical struggle they faced naturally follows when we recognise the Marxist model for what it is -- just one possible interpretation of the future of the workers' movement rather than the future of that movement. Moreover, as the history of Social Democracy indicates, the predictions of Bakunin and the anarchists within the First International were proved correct. Therefore, rather than being "primitive rebels" or sectarian politics forced upon the working class, anarchism reflected the politics required to built a revolutionary workers' movement rather than a reformist mass party.

2. How accurate is Felix Morrow's book on the Spanish Revolution?

It is fair to say that most Marxists in Britain base their criticisms of the Spanish Anarchism, particularly the revolution of 1936, on the work of Trotskyist Felix Morrow. Morrow's book Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, first published in 1938, actually is not that bad -- for some kinds of information. However, it is basically written as Trotskyist propaganda. All too often Morrow is inaccurate, and over-eager to bend reality to fit the party line. This is particularly the case when discussing the actions and ideas of the CNT and FAI and when discussing the activities of his fellow Trotskyists in Spain, the Bolshevik-Leninists. We discuss the first set of inaccuracies in the following sections, here we mention the second, Morrow's comments on the Spanish Trotskyists.

The Bolshevik-Leninists, for example, an obscure sect who perhaps numbered 20 members at most, are, according to Morrow, transformed into the only ones who could save the Spanish Revolution -- because they alone were members of the Fourth International, Morrow's own organisation. As he put it:

 

"Only the small forces of the Bolshevik-Leninists. . . clearly pointed the road for the workers." [Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, p. 191]

"Could that party [the party needed to lead the revolution] be any but a party standing on the platform of the Fourth International?" [Op. Cit., p. 248]

 

And so on. As we will make clear in the following discussion, Morrow was as wrong about this as he was about anarchism.

The POUM -- a more significant Marxist party in Spain, though still tiny compared to the anarchists -- is also written up as far more important than it was, and slagged off for failing to lead the masses to victory (or listening to the Bolshevik-Leninists). The Fourth Internationalists "offered the POUM the rarest and most precious form of aid: a consistent Marxist analysis" [Op. Cit., p. 105] (never mind Spanish workers needing guns and solidarity!). But when such a programme -- prepared in advance -- was offered to the POUM by the Fourth International representative -- only two hours after arriving in Spain, and a quarter of an hour after meeting the POUM [Op. Cit., p. 139] -- the POUM were not interested. The POUM have been both attacked (and claimed as their own) by Trotskyists ever since.

It is Morrow's attacks on anarchism, though, that have most readily entered leftist folklore -- even among Marxists who reject Leninism. Some of Morrow's criticisms are fair enough -- but these were voiced by anarchists long before Morrow put pen to paper. Morrow, in fact, quotes and accepts the analyses of anarchists like Camillo Berneri ("Berneri had been right" etc. [Op. Cit., p. 153]), and praises anarchists like Durruti ("the greatest military figure produced by the war" [Op. Cit., p. 224]) -- then sticks the boot into anarchism. Indeed, Durruti's analysis is praised but he is transformed into "no theoretician, but an activist leader of masses. . . his words express the revolutionary outlook of the class-conscious workers." [Op. Cit., p. 250] Of course, his words, activity and "outlook" (i.e. political analysis) did not spring out of thin air but rather, to state the obvious, were informed by and reflected his anarchist politics, history, activity and vision (which in turn reflected his experiences and needs as a member of the working class). Morrow obviously wanted to have his cake and eat it.

Typically for today's left, perhaps, the most quoted sections of Morrow's book are the most inaccurate. In the next eight sections we discuss some of the most inaccurate claims. After that we point out that Morrow's analysis of the militias is deeply ironic given Trotsky's actions as leader of the Red Army. Then we discuss some of Morrow's inaccurate assertions about anarchism in general.

Of course, some of the errors we highlight in Morrow's work are the product of the conditions in which it was written -- thousands of miles from Spain in America, dependent on papers produced by Spanish Marxists, Anarchists and others. We cannot blame him for such mistakes (although we can blame the Trotskyist publisher who reprints his account without indicating his factual errors and the Marxist writers who repeat his claims without checking their accuracy). We do, however, blame Morrow for his errors and misrepresentations of the activities and politics of the Spanish Anarchists and anarchism in general. These errors derive from his politics and inability to understand anarchism or provide an honest account of it.

By the end of our discussion we hope to show why anarchists argue that Morrow's book is deeply flawed and its objectively skewed by the authors politics and so cannot be taken at face value. Morrow's book may bring comfort to those Marxists who look for ready-made answers and are prepared to accept the works of hacks at face-value. Those who want to learn from the past -- instead of re-writing it -- will have to look elsewhere.

3. Did a "highly centralised" FAI control the CNT?

According to Morrow, "Spanish Anarchism had in the FAI a highly centralised party apparatus through which it maintained control of the CNT" [Op. Cit., p. 100]

In reality, the FAI -- the Iberian Anarchist Federation -- was founded, in 1927, as a confederation of regional federations (including the Portuguese Anarchist Union). These regional federations, in turn, co-ordinated local and district federations of highly autonomous anarchist affinity groups. In the words of Murray Bookchin:

 

"Like the CNT, the FAI was structured along confederal lines: the affinity groups were linked together in a Local Federation and the Local Federation in District and Regional Federations. A Local Federation was administered by an ongoing secretariat, usually of three persons, and a committee composed of one mandated delegate from each affinity group. This body comprised a sort of local executive committee. To allow for a full expression of rank-and-file views, the Local Federation was obliged to convene assemblies of all the faistas in its area. The District and Regional Federations, in turn, were simply the Local federation writ large, replicating the structure of the lower body. All the Local Districts and Regional Federations were linked together by a Peninsular Committee whose tasks, at least theoretically, were administrative. . . [A FAI secretary] admits that the FAI 'exhibited a tendency towards centralism' . . . Yet it must also be emphasised that the affinity groups were far more independent than any comparable bodies in the Socialist Party, much less the Communist. . . the FAI was not an internally repressive organisation . . . Almost as a matter of second nature, dissidents were permitted a considerable amount of freedom in voicing and publishing material against the leadership and established policies." [The Spanish Anarchists, pp. 197-8]

 

And:

 

"Most writers on the Spanish labour movement seem to concur in the view that, with the departure of the moderates, the CNT was to fall under the complete domination of the FAI . . . But is this appraisal correct? The FAI . . . was more loosely jointed as an organisation than many of its admirers and critics seem to recognise. It has no bureaucratic apparatus, no membership cards or dues, and no headquarters with paid officials, secretaries, and clerks. . . They jealously guarded the autonomy of their affinity groups from the authority of higher organisational bodies -- a state of mind hardly conducive to the development of a tightly knit, vanguard organisation.

"The FAI, moreover, was not a politically homogeneous organisation which followed a fixed 'line' like the Communists and many Socialists. It had no official program by which all faistas could mechanically guide their actions." [Op. Cit., p. 224]

 

So, while the FAI may have had centralising tendencies, a "highly centralised" political party it was not. Further, many anarcho-syndicalists and affinity groups were not in the FAI (though most seem to have supported it), and many FAI members put loyalty to the CNT (the anarcho-syndicalist union confederation) first. For instance, according to the minutes of the FAI national plenum of January-February 1936:

 

"The Regional Committee [of Aragon, Rioja, and Navarra] is completely neglected by the majority of the militants because they are absorbed in the larger activities of the CNT"

 

And:

 

"One of the reasons for the poor condition of the FAI was the fact that almost all the comrades were active in the defence groups of the CNT" (report from the Regional Federation of the North).

These are internal documents and so unlikely to be lies. [Juan Gomez Casas, Anarchist Organisation: the History of the FAI, p. 165 and p. 168]

Anarchists were obviously the main influence in the CNT. Indeed, the CNT was anarcho-syndicalist long before the FAI was founded -- from its creation in 1910 the CNT had been anarcho-syndicalist and remained so for 17 years before the FAI existed. However, Morrow was not the only person to assert "FAI control" of the CNT. In fact, the claim of "FAI control" was an invention of a reformist minority within the organisation -- people like Angel Pestana, ex-CNT National Secretary, who wanted to turn the CNT into a politically "neutral" union movement. Pestana later showed what he meant by forming the Syndicalist Party and standing for Parliament (the Cortes). Obviously, in the struggle against the reformists, anarcho-syndicalists -- inside the FAI or not -- voted for people they trusted to run CNT committees. The reformists (called Treinistas) lost, split from the CNT (taking about 10% of the membership with them), and the myth of "FAI dictatorship" was born. Rather than accept that the membership no longer supported them, the Treinistas consoled themselves with tales that a minority, the FAI, had taken control of the CNT.

In fact, due to its decentralised and federal structure, the FAI could not have had the sort of dominance over the CNT that is often attributed to it. At union congresses, where policies and the program for the movement were argued out:

 

"[D]elegates, whether or not they were members of the FAI, were presenting resolutions adopted by their unions at open membership meetings. Actions taken at the congress had to be reported back to their unions at open meetings, and given the degree of union education among the members, it was impossible for delegates to support personal, non-representative positions." [Juan Gomez Casas, Anarchist Organisation: The History of the FAI, p. 121]

 

The union committees were typically rotated out of office frequently and committeemen continued to work as wage-earners. In a movement so closely based on the shop floor, the FAI could not maintain influence for long if they ignored the concerns and opinions of co-workers. Moreover, only a minority of the anarcho-syndicalist activists in the CNT belonged to the FAI and, as Juan Gomez Casas points out in his history of the FAI, FAI militants frequently had a prior loyalty to the CNT. Thus his summation seems correct:

 

"As a minority organisation, the FAI could not possibly have had the kind of control attributed to it . . . in 1931 . . . there were fifty CNT members for each member of a FAI group. The FAI was strongly federalist, with its groups at the base freely associated. It could not dominate an organisation like the CNT, which had fifty times as many members and was also opposed to hierarchy and centralism. We know that FAI militants were also CNT militants, and frequently they were loyal first to the CNT. Their influence was limited to the base of the organisation through participation in the plenums of militants or unions meetings." [Op. Cit., p. 133]

He sums up by arguing:

 

"The myth of the FAI as conqueror and ruler of the CNT was created basically by the Treinistas" [Op. Cit., p. 134]

 

Therefore, Morrow is re-cycling an argument which was produced by the reformist wing of the CNT after it had lost influence in the union rank-and-file. Perhaps he judges the FAI by his own standards? After all, the aim of Leninists is for the vanguard party to control the labour unions in their countries. Anarchists reject such a vision and believe in union autonomy -- influence of political parties and groups should only exist in as much as they influence the rank-and-file who control the union. Rather than aim to control the CNT, the FAI worked to influence its membership. In the words of Francisco Ascaso (friend of Durruti and an influential anarchist militant in the CNT and FAI in his own right):

 

"There is not a single militant who as a 'FAIista' intervenes in union meetings. I work, therefore I am an exploited person. I pay my dues to the workers' union and when I intervene at union meetings I do it as someone who us exploited, and with the right which is granted me by the card in my possession, as do the other militants, whether they belong to the FAI or not." [cited by Abel Paz, Durruti: The People Armed, p. 137]

 

In other words, the FAI "controlled" the CNT only to the extent it influenced the membership -- who, in fact, controlled the organisation. We must also note that Ascaso's comment echoes Bakunin's that the "purpose of the Alliance [i.e. anarchist federation] is to promote the Revolution . . . it will combat all ambition to dominate the revolutionary movement of the people, either by cliques or individuals. The Alliance will promote the Revolution only through the NATURAL BUT NEVER OFFICIAL INFLUENCE of all members of the Alliance." [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 387]

Regardless of Morrow's claims, the FAI was a federation of autonomous affinity groups in which, as one member put it, "[e]ach FAI group thought and acted as it deemed fit, without bothering about what the others might be thinking or deciding . . . they had no . . . opportunity or jurisdiction . . . to foist a party line upon the grass-roots." [Francisco Carrasquer, quoted by Stuart Christie, We, the Anarchists!, p. 28] There was co-ordination in a federal structure, of course, but that did not create a "highly centralised" party-like organisation. Morrow judged the FAI according to his own standards, squeezing it into his ideological vision of the world rather than reporting the reality of the situation (see Stuart Christie's work for a more detailed refutation of the usual Marxist and Liberal inventions of the activities and nature of the FAI).

In addition, Morrow's picture of the FAI implicitly paints the CNT as a mere "transmission belt" for that organisation (and so a re-production of the Bolshevik position on the relationship of the labour unions and the revolutionary party). Such a picture, however, ignores the CNT's character as a non-hierarchical, democratic (self-managed) mass movement which had many tendencies within it. It also fails to understand the way anarchists seek to influence mass organisations -- not by assuming positions of power but by convincing their fellow workers' of the validity of their ideas in policy making mass assemblies (see section J.3.6 for more details).

In other words, Morrow's claims are simply false and express a total lack of understanding of the nature of the CNT, the FAI and their relationship.

4. What is the history of the CNT and the Communist International?

Morrow states that the "tide of the October Revolution had, for a short time, overtaken the CNT. It had sent a delegate to the Comintern [Communist International] Congress in 1921. The anarchists had then resorted to organised fraction work and recaptured it." [Op. Cit., p. 100] He links this to the FAI by stating "[t]henceforward . . . the FAI . . . maintained control of the CNT." Given that the FAI was formed in 1927 and the CNT disassociated itself with the Comintern in 1922, five years before the FAI was created, "thenceforward" does not do the FAI's ability to control the CNT before it was created justice!

Partly it is the inability of the Communist Party and its Trotskyist off-shoots to dominate the CNT which explains Morrow's comments. Seeing anarchism as "petty bourgeois" it is hard to combine this with the obvious truth that a mass, revolutionary, workers' union could be so heavily influenced by anarchism rather than Marxism. Hence the need for FAI (or anarchist) "control" of the CNT. It allows Trotskyists ignore dangerous ideological questions. As J. Romero Maura notes, the question why anarchism influenced the CNT "in fact raises the problem why the reformist social democratic, or alternatively the communist conceptions, did not impose themselves on the CNT as they managed to in most of the rest of Europe. This question . . . is based on the false assumption that the anarcho-syndicalist conception of the workers' struggle in pre-revolutionary society was completely at odds with what the real social process signified (hence the constant reference to religious', 'messianic', models as explanations)." He argues that the "explanation of Spanish anarcho-syndicalist success in organising a mass movement with a sustained revolutionary elan should initially be sought in the very nature of the anarchist concept of society and of how to achieve revolution." [J. Romero Maura, "The Spanish Case", in Anarchism Today, D. Apter and J. Joll (eds.), p. 78 and p. 65] Once we do that, we can see the weakness of Morrow's (and others) "Myth of the FAI" -- having dismissed the obvious reason for anarchist influence, namely its practicality and valid politics, there can only be "control by the FAI."

However, the question of affiliation of the CNT to the Comintern is worth discussing as it indicates the differences between anarchists and Leninists. As will be seen, the truth of this matter is somewhat different to Morrow's claims and indicates well his distorted vision.

Firstly to correct a factual error. The CNT in fact sent two delegations to the Comintern. At its 1919 national congress, the CNT discussed the Russian Revolution and accepted a proposition that stated it "declares itself a staunch defender of the principles upheld by Bakunin in the First International. It declares further that it affiliates provisionally to the Third International on account of its predominantly revolutionary character, pending the holding of the International Congress in Spain, which must establish the foundations which are to govern the true workers' International." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, pp. 220-1]

In June 1920, Angel Pestana arrived in Moscow and represented the CNT at the Second Congress of the Communist International. He was arrested when he arrived back in Spain and so could not give his eye-witness account of the strangulation of the revolution and the deeply dishonest manipulation of the congress by the Communist Party. A later delegation arrived in April 1921, headed by Andres Nin and Joaquin Maurin professing to represent the CNT. Actually, Nin and Maurin represented virtually no one but the Lerida local federation (their stronghold). Their actions and clams were disavowed by a plenum of the CNT the following August.

How did Nin and Maurin manage to get into a position to be sent to Russia? Simply because of the repression the CNT was under at the time. This was the period when Catalan bosses hired gun men to assassinate CNT militants and members and the police exercised the notorious practice known as ley de fugas (shot while trying to escape). In such a situation, the normal workings of the CNT came under must stress and "with the best known libertarian militants imprisoned, deported, exiled, if not murdered outright, Nin and his group managed to hoist themselves on to the National Committee . . . Pestana's report not being available, it was decided that a further delegation should be sent . . . in response to Moscow's invitation to the CNT to take part in the foundation of the Red International of Labour Unions." [Ignaio de Llorens, The CNT and the Russian Revolution, p. 8] Juan Gomez Casas confirms this account:

 

"At a plenum held in Lerida in 1921, while the CNT was in disarray [due to repression] in Catalonia, a group of Bolsheviks was designated to represent the Spanish CNT in Russia . . . The restoration of constitutional guarantees by the Spanish government in April 1922, permitted the anarcho-syndicalists to meet in Saragossa in June 11 . . . [where they] confirmed the withdrawal of the CNT from the Third International and the entrance on principle into the new [revolutionary syndicalist] International Working Men's Association." [Anarchist Organisation: History of the FAI, p. 61]

 

We should note that along with pro-Bolshevik Nin and Maurin was anarchist Gaston Leval. Leval quickly got in touch with Russian and other anarchists, helping some imprisoned Russia anarchists get deported after bringing news of their hunger strike to the assembled international delegates. By embarrassing Lenin and Trotsky, Leval helped save his comrades from the prison camp and so saved their lives.

By the time Leval arrived back in Spain, Pestana's account of his experiences had been published -- along with accounts of the Bolshevik repression of workers, the Kronstadt revolt, the anarchist movement and other socialist parties. These accounts made it clear that the Russian Revolution had become dominated by the Communist Party and the "dictatorship of the proletariat" little more that dictatorship by the central committee of that party.

Moreover, the way the two internationals operated violated basic libertarian principles. Firstly, the "Red Labour International completely subordinated trade unions to the Communist Party." [Peirats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 38] This completely violated the CNT principle of unions being controlled by their members (via self-management from the bottom up). Secondly, the congresses' methodology in its debates and decision-making were alien to the CNT tradition. In that organisation self-management was its pride and glory and its gatherings and congresses reflected this. Pestana could not fathom the fierce struggle surrounding the make-up of the chairmanship of the Comintern congress:

 

"Pestana says that he was particularly intrigued by the struggle for the chairmanship. He soon realised that the chair was the congress, and that the Congress was a farce. The chairman made the rules, presided over deliberations, modified proposals at will, changed the agenda, and presented proposals of his own. For a start, the way the chair handled the gavel was very inequitable. For example, Zinoviev gave a speech which lasted one and one-half hours, although each speaker was supposedly limited to ten minutes. Pestana tried to rebut the speech, but was cut off by the chairman, watch in hand. Pestana himself was rebutted by Trotsky who spoke for three-quarters of an hour, and when Pestana wanted to answer Trotsky's attack on him, the chairman declared the debate over." [Op. Cit., pp. 37-8]

 

In addition, "[i]n theory, every delegate was free to table a motion, but the chair itself selected the ones that were 'interesting.' Proportional voting [by delegation or delegate] had been provided for, but was not implemented. The Russian Communist Party ensured that it enjoyed a comfortable majority." Peirats continues by noting that "[t]o top it all, certain important decisions were not even made in the congress hall, but were made begin the scenes." That was how the resolution that "[i]n forthcoming world congresses of the Third International, the national trade union organisations affiliated to it are to be represented by delegates from each country's Communist Party" was adopted. He also noted that "[o]bjections to this decision were quite simply ignored." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, p. 224]

Many of the syndicalist delegates to this "pantomime" congress later meet in Berlin and founded the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers Association based on union autonomy, self-management and federalism. Unsurprisingly, once Pestana and Leval reported back to their organisation, the CNT rejected the Bolshevik Myth and re-affirmed the libertarian principles it had proclaimed at its 1919 congress. At a plenum of the CNT in 1922, the organisation withdrew its provisional affiliation and voted to join the syndicalist International formed in Berlin.

Therefore, rather than the anarchists conducting "fraction work" to "recapture" the CNT, the facts are the pro-Bolshevik National Committee of 1921 came about due to the extreme repression the CNT was suffering at the time. Militants were being assassinated in the streets, including committee members. In this context it is easy to see how an unrepresentative minority could temporarily gain influence in the National Committee. Moreover, it was CNT plenary session which revoked the organisations provisional affiliation to the Comintern -- that is, a regular meeting of mandated and accountable delegates. In other words, by the membership itself who had been informed of what had actually been happening under the Bolsheviks. In addition, it was this plenum which agreed affiliation to the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers Association founded in Berlin during 1922 by syndicalists and anarchists horrified by the Bolshevik dictatorship, having seen it at first hand.

Thus the decision of the CNT in 1922 (and the process by which this decision was made) follow exactly the decisions and processes of 1919. That congress agreed to provisionally affiliate to the Comintern until such time as a real workers' International inspired by the ideas of Bakunin was created. The only difference was that this International was formed in Germany, not Spain. Given this, it is impossible to argue that the anarchists "recaptured" the CNT.

As can be seen, Morrow's comment presents radically false image of what happened during this period. Rather than resort to "fraction work" to "recapture" the CNT, the policies of the CNT in 1919 and 1922 were identical. Moreover, the decision to disaffiliate from the Comintern was made by a confederal meeting of mandated delegates representing the rank-and-file as was the original. The anarchists did not "capture" the CNT, rather they continued to influence the membership of the organisation as they had always done. Lastly, the concept of "capture" displays no real understanding of how the CNT worked -- each syndicate was autonomous and self-managed. There was no real officialdom to take over, just administrative posts which were unpaid and conducted after working hours. To "capture" the CNT was impossible as each syndicate would ignore any unrepresentative minority which tried to do so.

However, Morrow's comments allow us to indicate some of the key differences between anarchists and Leninists -- the CNT rejected the Comintern because it violated its principles of self-management, union autonomy and equality and built party domination of the union movement in its place.

5. Why did the CNT not join the Workers' Alliance?

Morrow in his discussion of the struggles of the 1930s implies that the CNT was at fault in not joining the Socialist UGT's "Workers' Alliance" (Alianza Obrera). These were first put forward by the Marxist-Leninists of the BOC (Workers and Peasants Bloc -- later to form the POUM) after their attempts to turn the CNT into a Bolshevik vanguard failed [Paul Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, p. 154]. Socialist Party and UGT interest began only after their election defeat in 1933. By 1934, however, there existed quite a few alliances, including one in Asturias in which the CNT participated. Nationally, however, the CNT refused to join with the UGT and this, he implies, lead to the defeat of the October 1934 uprising (see next section for a discussion of this rebellion).

However, Morrow fails to provide any relevant historical background to understand the CNT's decision. Moreover, their reasons why they did not join have a striking similarity to Morrow's own arguments against the "Workers' Alliance" (which may explain why Morrow does not mention them). In effect, the CNT is dammed for having policies similar to Morrow's but having principles enough to stick to them.

First, we must discuss the history of UGT and CNT relationships in order to understand the context within which the anarchists made their decision. Unless we do this, Morrow's claims may seem more reasonable than they actually are. Once we have done this we will discuss the politics of that decision.

>From 1931 (the birth of the Second Spanish Republic) to 1933 the Socialists, in coalition with Republicans, had attacked the CNT (a repeat, in many ways, of the UGT's collaboration with the quasi-fascist Primo de Rivera dictatorship of 1923-30). Laws were passed, with Socialist help, making lightening strikes illegal and state arbitration compulsory. Anarchist-organised strikes were violently repressed, and the UGT provided scabs -- as against the CNT Telephone Company strike of 1931. This strike gives in indication of the role of the socialists during its time as part of the government (Socialist Largo Caballero was the Minister of Labour, for example):

 

"The UGT . . . had its own bone to pick with the CNT. The telephone syndicate, which the CNT had established in 1918, was a constant challenge to the Socialists' grip on the Madrid labour movement. Like the construction workers' syndicate, it was a CNT enclave in a solidly UGT centre. Accordingly, the government and the Socialist Party found no difficulty in forming a common front to break the strike and weaken CNT influence.

"The Ministry of Labour declared the strike illegal and the Ministry of the Interior called out the Civil Guard to intimidate the strikers . . . Shedding all pretence of labour solidarity, the UGT provided the Compania Telefonica with scabs while El Socialista, the Socialist Party organ, accused the CNT of being run by pistoleros. Those tactics were successful in Madrid, where the defeated strikers were obliged to enrol in the UGT to retain their jobs. So far as the Socialists were concerned, the CNT's appeals for solidarity had fallen on deaf ears. . .

"In Seville, however, the strike began to take on very serious dimensions. . . on July 20, a general strike broke out in Seville and serious fighting erupted in the streets. This strike . . . stemmed from the walkout of the telephone workers . . . pitched battles took place in the countryside around the city between the Civil Guard and the agricultural workers. Maura, as minister of interior, decided to crush the 'insurrection' ruthlessly. Martial law was declared and the CNT's headquarters was reduced to shambles by artillery fire. After nine days, during which heavily armed police detachments patrolled the streets, the Seville general strike came to an end. The struggle in the Andalusian capital left 40 dead and some 200 wounded." [Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists, pp. 221-2]

 

Elsewhere, "[d]uring a Barcelona building strike CNT workers barricaded themselves in and said they would only surrender to regular troops. The army arrived and then machine-gunned them as soon as they surrendered." [Antony Beevor, The Spanish Civil War, p. 33] In other words, the republican-socialist government repressed the CNT with violence as well as using the law to undermine CNT activities and strikes.

Morrow fails to discuss this history of violence against the CNT. He mentions in passing that the republican-socialist coalition government "[i]n crushing the CNT, the troops broadened the repression to the whole working class." He states that "[u]nder the cover of putting down an anarchist putsch in January 1933, the Civil Guard 'mopped up' various groups of trouble makers. And encounter with peasants at Casas Viejas, early in January 1933, became a cause celebre which shook the government to its foundations." However, his account of the Casas Viejas massacre is totally inaccurate. He states that "the little village . . ., after two years of patient waiting for the Institute of Agrarian Reform to divide the neighbouring Duke's estate, the peasants had moved in and begun to till the soil for themselves." [Op. Cit., p. 22]

Nothing could be further from the truth. Firstly, we must note that the land workers (who were not, in the main, peasants) were members of the CNT. Secondly, as we pointed in section 1, the uprising had nothing to do with land reform. The CNT members did not "till the soil", rather they rose in insurrection as part of a planned CNT-FAI uprising based on an expected rail workers strike (the "anarchist putsch" Morrow mentions). The workers were too busy fighting the Civil and Assault Guards to till anything. He is correct in terms of the repression, of course, but his account of the events leading up to it is not only wrong, it is misleading (indeed, it appears to be an invention based on Trotskyist ideology rather than having any basis in reality). Rather than being part of a "broadened . . . repression [against] the whole working class," it was actually part of the "putting down" of the anarchist revolt. CNT members were killed -- along with a dozen politically neutral workers who were selected at random and murdered. Thus Morrow downplays the role of the Socialists in repressing the CNT and FAI -- he presents it as general repression rather than a massacre resulting from repressing a CNT revolt.

He even quotes a communist paper stating that 9 000 political prisoners were in jail in June 1933. Morrow states that they were "mostly workers." [p. 23] Yes, they were mostly workers, CNT members in fact -- "[i]n mid-April [1933]. . . the CNT launched a massive campaign to release imprisoned CNT-FAI militants whose numbers had now soared to about 9 000." [Bookchin, Op. Cit., pp. 231-2]

Moreover, during and after CNT insurrections in Catalonia in 1932, and the much wider insurrections of January 1933 (9 000 CNT members jailed) and December 1933 (16 000 jailed) Socialist solidarity was nil. Indeed, the 1932 and January 1933 revolts had been repressed by the government which the Socialist Party was a member of.

In other words, and to state the obvious, the socialists had been part of a government which repressed CNT revolts and syndicates, imprisoned and killed their members, passed laws to restrict their ability to strike and use direct action and provided scabs during strikes. Little wonder that Peirats states "[i]t was difficult for the CNT and the FAI to get used to the idea of an alliance with their Socialist oppressors." [Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 94]

It is only in this context can we understand the events of 1934 and the refusal of the CNT to run into the UGT's alliance. Morrow, needless to say, does not present this essential context and so the reader cannot understand why the CNT acted as it did in response to Socialist appeals for "unity." Instead, Morrow implies that CNT-FAI opposition to "workers alliances" were due to them believing "all governments were equally bad." [p. 29] Perhaps if Morrow had presented an honest account of the repression the republican-socialist government had inflicted on the CNT then the reader could make an informed judgement on why anarchist opposition to the socialist proposals existed. Rather than being sectarian or against labour unity, they had been at receiving end of extensive socialist scabbing and state repression.

Moreover, as well as the recent history of socialist repression and scabbing, there was also the experience of a similar alliance between the CNT and UGT that had occurred in 1917. The first test of the alliance came with a miners strike in Andalusia, and a "CNT proposal for a joint general strike, to be initiated by UGT miners and railway workers, had been rejected by the Madrid Socialists . . . the miners, after striking for four months, returned to work in defeat." Little wonder that "the pact was in shreds. It was to be eliminated completely when a general strike broke out in Barcelona over the arrests of the CNT leaders and the assassination of Layret. Once again the CNT called upon the UGT for support. Not only was aid refused but it was denied with an arrogance that clearly indicated the Socialists had lost all interest in future collaboration. . . The strike in Catalonia collapsed and, with it, any prospect of collaboration between the two unions for years to come." [Bookchin, Op. Cit., pp. 175-6]

Of course, such historical context would confuse readers with facts and so goes unmentioned by Morrow.

In addition, there was another reason for opposing the "workers' alliances" -- particularly an alliance between the UGT and CNT. Given the history of UGT and CNT pacts plus the actions of the UGT and socialists in the previous government it was completely sensible and politically principled. This reason was political and flowed from the CNT's libertarian vision. As Durruti argued in 1934:

 

"The alliance, to be revolutionary, must be genuinely working class. It must be the result of an agreement between the workers' organisation, and those alone. No party, however, socialist it may be, can belong to a workers' alliance, which should be built from its foundations, in the enterprises where the workers struggle. Its representative bodies must be the workers' committee chosen in the shops, the factories, the mines and the villages. We must reject any agreement on a national level, between National Committees, but rather favour an alliance carried out at the base by the workers themselves. Then and only then, can the revolutionary drive come to life, develop and take root." [quoted by Abel Paz, Durruti: The People Armed, p. 154]

 

In the Central Region, Orobon Fernandez argued along similar lines in Madrid's La Tierra:

 

"Revolutionary proletarian democracy is direct management of society by the workers, a certain bulwark against party dictatorships and a guarantee of the development of the revolution's forces and undertakings. . . what matters must is that general guidelines are laid down so that these may serve as a platform of the alliance and furnish a combative and constructive norm for the united forces . . . [These include:] acceptance of revolutionary proletarian democracy, which is to say, the will of the majority of the proletariat, as the common denominator and determining factor of the new order of things. . . immediate socialisation of the means of production, transportation, exchange, accommodation and finance . . . federated according to their area of interest and confederated at national level, the municipal and industrial organisations will maintain the principle of unity in the economic structure." [quoted by Jose Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 1, pp. 74-5]

 

The May 1936 Saragossa congress of the CNT passed a resolution concerning revolutionary alliances which was obviously based on these arguments. It stated that in order "to make the social revolution an effective reality, the social and political system regulating the life of the country has to be utterly destroyed" and that the "new revolutionary order will be determined by the free choice of the working class." [quoted by Jose Peirats, Op. Cit., p. 100]

Only such an alliance, from the bottom up and based on workers' self-management could be a revolutionary one. Indeed, any pact not based on this but rather conducted between organisations would be a pact the CNT and the bureaucracy of the UGT -- and remove any possibility of creating genuine bodies of working class self-management (as the history of the Civil War proved). Indeed, Morrow seems to agree:

 

"The broad character of the proletarian insurrection was explained by the Communist Left (Trotskyist). It devoted itself to efforts to build the indispensable instrument of the insurrection: workers' councils constituted by delegates representing all the labour parties and unions, the shops and streets; to be created in every locality and joined together nationally . . . Unfortunately, the socialists failed to understand the profound need of these Workers' Alliances. The bureaucratic traditions were not to be so easily overcome . . . the socialist leaders thought that the Workers' Alliances meant they would have merely to share leadership with the Communist Left and other dissident communist groups . . . actually in most cases they [Workers' Alliances] were merely 'top' committees, without elected or lower-rank delegates, that is, little more than liaison committees between the leadership of the organisations involved." [Op. Cit., pp. 27-8]

 

As can be seen, this closely follows Durruti's arguments. Bar the reference of "labour parties," Morrow's "indispensable instrument" is identical to Durruti's and other anarchist's arguments against taking part in the "Workers' Alliances" created by the UGT and the creation of genuine alliances from the bottom-up. Thus Morrow faults the CNT for trying to force the UGT to form a real workers' alliance by not taking part in what Morrow himself admits were "little more than liaison committees between the leadership"! Also, Morrow argues that "[w]ithout developing soviets -- workers' councils -- it was inevitable that even the anarchists and the POUM would drift into governmental collaboration with the bourgeoisie" and he asks "[h]ow could party agreements be the substitute for the necessary vast network of workers' councils?" [Op. Cit., p. 89 and p. 114] Which was, of course, the CNT-FAI's argument. It seems strange that Morrow faults the CNT for trying to create real workers' councils, the "indispensable instrument" of the revolution, by not taking part in a "party agreements" urged by the UGT which would undermine real attempts at rank-and-file unity from below.

Of course, Morrow's statement that "labour parties and unions" should be represented by delegates as well as "the shop and street" contradicts claims it would be democratic. After all, that it would mean that some workers would have multiple votes (one from their shop, their union and their party). Moreover, it would mean that parties would have an influence greater than their actual support in the working class -- something a minuscule group like the Spanish Trotskyists would obviously favour as would the bureaucrats of the Socialist and Communist Parties. Little wonder the anarchists urged a workers' alliance made up of actual workers rather than an organisation which would allow bureaucrats, politicians and sects more influence than they actually had or deserved.

In addition, the "Workers' Alliances" were not seen by the UGT and Socialist Party as an organisation of equals. Rather, in words of historian Paul Preston, "from the first it seemed that the Socialists saw the Alianza Obrera was a possible means of dominating the workers movement in areas where the PSOE and UGT were relatively weak." [Op. Cit., p. 154] The Socialist Party only allowed regional branches of the Alianza Obrera to be formed only if they could guarantee Party control would never be lost. [Adrian Schubert "The Epic Failure: The Asturian Revolution of October 1934", in Revolution and War in Spain, Paul Preston (ed.), p. 127] Raymond Carr argues that the Socialists, "in spite of professions to the contrary, wished to keep socialist domination of the Alianza Obrera" [Spain: 1808-1975, pp. 634-5f] And only one month after the first alliance was set up, one of its founder members -- the Catalan Socialist Union -- left in protest over PSOE domination. [Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, p. 157] In Madrid, the Alianza was "dominated by the Socialists, who imposed their own policy." [Op. Cit., p. 154] Indeed, as Jose Peirats notes, in Asturias where the CNT had joined the Alliance, "despite the provisions of the terms of the alliance to which the CNT had subscribed, the order for the uprising was issued by the socialists. In Oviedo a specifically socialist, revolutionary committee was secretly at work in Oviedo, which contained no CNT representatives." [The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 1, p. 78] Largo Caballero's desire for trade union unity in 1936 was from a similar mould -- "[t]he clear implication was that proletarian unification meant Socialist take-over." Little wonder Preston states that "[i]f the use that he [Caballero] made of the Alianza Obreras in 1934 had revealed anything, it was that the domination of the working class movement by the UGT meant far more to Largo Caballero than any future prospect of revolution." [Preston, Op. Cit., p. 270]

As can be seen, the CNT's position seemed a sensible one given the nature and activities of the "Workers' Alliance" in practice. Also it seems strange that, if unity was the UGT's aims, that a CNT call, made by the national plenary in February 1934, for information and for the UGT to clearly and publicly state its revolutionary objectives, met with no reply. [Peirats, Op. Cit., p. 75] In addition, the Catalan Workers' Alliance called a general strike in March 1934 the day after the CNT's -- hardly an example of workers' unity. [Norman Jones, "Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia", Revolution and War in Spain, Paul Preston (ed.), p. 102]

Thus, the reasons why the CNT did not join in the UGT's "Workers' Alliance" are clear. As well as the natural distrust towards organisations that had repressed them and provided scabs to break their strikes just one year previously, there were political reasons for opposing such an alliance. Rather than being a force to ensure revolutionary organisations springing from the workplace, the "Workers' Alliance" was little more than pacts between the bureaucrats of the UGT and various Marxist Parties. This was Morrow's own argument, which also provided the explanation why such an alliance would weaken any real revolutionary movement. To requote Morrow, "[w]ithout developing soviets -- workers' councils -- it was inevitable that even the anarchists and the POUM would drift into governmental collaboration with the bourgeoisie." [Op. Cit., p. 89]

That is exactly what happened in July, 1936, when the CNT did forsake its anarchist politics and joined in a "Workers' Alliance" type organisation with other anti-fascist parties and unions to set up the "Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias" (see section 20). Thus Morrow himself provides the explanation of the CNT's political rationale for being wary of the UGT's "Workers' Alliance" while, of course, refusing to provide the historical context the decision was made.

However, while the CNT's refusal to join the "Workers' Alliance" outside of Asturias may have been principled (and sensible), it may be argued that they were the only organisation with revolutionary potential (indeed, this would be the only argument Trotskyists could put forward to explain their hypocrisy). Such an argument would be false for two reason.

Firstly, such Alliances may have potentially created a revolutionary situation but they would have hindered the formation of working class organs of self-management such as workers' councils (soviets). This was the experience of the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias and of the Asturias revolt -- in spite of massive revolutionary upheaval such councils based on delegates from workplace and community assembles were not formed.

Secondly, the CNT policy of "Unity, yes, but by the rank-and-file" was a valid method of "from the bottom up solidarity." This can be seen from just two examples -- Aragon in 1934 and Madrid in 1936. In Aragon, there was a "general strike that had totally paralysed the Aragonese capital throughout April 1935, ending . . . on 10 May. . . the Zaragoza general strike had been a powerful advertisement of the value of a united working-class front . . . [However,] no formal agreement . . . had been reached in Zaragoza. The pact there has been created on a purely circumstantial basis with a unity of trade-union action achieved in quite specific circumstances and generated to a considerable extent by the workers themselves." [Graham Kelsey, Anarchism in Aragon, p. 72] In Madrid, April 1936 (in the words of Morrow himself) "the CNT declared a general strike in Madrid . . . The UGT had not been asked to join the strike, and at first had denounced it . . . But the workers came out of all the shops and factories and public services . . . because they wanted to fight, and only the anarchists were calling them to struggle." [Op. Cit., p. 41]

Thus Morrow's comments against the CNT refusing to join the Workers' Alliance do not provide the reader with the historical context required to make an informed judgement of the CNT's decision. Moreover, they seem hypocritical as the CNT's reasons for refusing to join is similar to Morrow's own arguments against the Workers' Alliance. In addition, the CNT's practical counter-proposal of solidarity from below had more revolutionary potential as it was far more likely to promote rank-and-file unity plus the creation of self-managed organisations such as workers' councils. The Workers' Alliance system would have hindered such developments.

6. Was the October 1934 revolt sabotaged by the CNT?

Again, following Morrow, Marxists have often alleged that the Socialist and Workers Alliance strike wave, of October 1934, was sabotaged by the CNT. To understand this allegation, you have to understand the background to October 1934, and the split in the workers' movement between the CNT and the UGT (unions controlled by the reformist Socialist Party, the PSOE).

Socialist conversion to "revolution" occurred only after the elections of November 1933. In the face of massive and bloody repression (see last section), the CNT-FAI had agitated for a mass abstention at the polling booth. Faced with this campaign, the republicans and socialists lost and all the laws they had passed against the CNT were used against themselves. When cabinet seats were offered to the non-republican (fascist or quasi-fascist) right, in October 1934, the PSOE/UGT called for a general strike. If the CNT, nationally, failed to take part in this -- a mistake recognised by many anarchist writers -- this was not (as reading Morrow suggests) because the CNT thought "all governments were equally bad" [Morrow, Op. Cit., p. 29], but because of well-founded, as it turned out, mistrust of Socialist aims.

A CNT call, on the 13th of February 1934, for the UGT to clearly and publicly state its revolutionary objectives, had met with no reply. As Peirats argues, "[t]hat the absence of the CNT did not bother them [the UGT and Socialist Party] is clear from their silence in regards to the [CNT's] National Plenary's request." [Peirats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 96] Rhetoric aside, the Socialist Party's main aim in October seems to have been to force new elections, so they could again form a (mildly reformist) coalition with the Republicans (their programme for the revolt was written by right-wing socialist Indalecio Prieto and seemed more like an election manifesto prepared by the Liberal Republicans than a program for revolutionary change). This was the viewpoint of the CNT, for example. Thus, the CNT, in effect, was to be used as cannon-fodder to help produce another government that would attack the CNT.

As we discussed in the last section, the UGT backed "Workers Alliances" were little better. To repeat our comments again, the Socialist Party (PSOE) saw the alliances as a means of dominating the workers movement in areas where the UGT was weak. The Socialist "Liaison Committee", for instance, set up to prepare for insurrection, only allowed regional branches to take part in the alliances if they could guarantee Party control (see last section). Raymond Carr argues that the Socialists, "in spite of professions to the contrary, wished to keep socialist domination of the Alianza Obrera." [Spain: 1808-1975, pp. 634-5f] Only one month after the first alliance was set up, one of its founder members -- the Socialist Union of Catalonia -- left in protest over PSOE domination.

During October the only real centre of resistance was in Asturias (on the Spanish north coast). However, before discussing that area, we must mention Madrid and Barcelona. According to Morrow, Catalonia "should have been the fortress of the uprising" and that "[t]erribly discredited for their refusal to join the October revolt, the anarchists sought to apologise by pointing to the repression they were undergoing at the time from Companys." [Op. Cit., p. 30 and p. 32] Morrow fails, however and yet again, to mention a few important facts.

Firstly, the uprising in Catalonia was pushed for and lead by Estat Catala which had "temporary ascendancy over the other groups in the Esquerra" (the Catalan Nationalist Party which was the Catalan government). "Companys felt obliged to yield to Dencas' [the leader of Estat Catala] demand that Catalonia should take this opportunity for breaking with Madrid." [Gerald Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, pp. 282-3] Estat Catala "was a Youth movement . . . and composed mostly of workmen and adventurers -- men drawn from the same soil as the sindicatos libres [boss created anti-CNT yellow unions] of a dozen years before -- with a violent antagonism to the Anarcho-Syndicalists. It had a small military organisation, the escamots, who wore green uniforms. It represented Catalan Nationalism in its most intransigent form: it was in fact Catalan Fascism." [Op. Cit., p. 282] Gabriel Jackson calls Estat Catala a "quasi-fascist movement within the younger ranks of the Esquerra." [The Spanish Republic and the Civil War: 1931-1939, p. 150] Ronald Fraser terms it "the extreme nationalist and proto-fascist" wing of the party. [Blood of Spain, p. 535] Hugh Thomas notes "the fascist colouring of Dencas ideas." [The Spanish Civil War, p. 135]

In other words, Morrow attacks the CNT for not participating in a revolt organised and led by Catalan Fascists (or, at best, near fascists)!

Secondly, far from being apologetics, the repression the CNT was suffering from Dencas police forces was very real and was occurring right up to the moment of the revolt. In the words of historian Paul Preston:

 

"[T]he Anarchists bitterly resented the way in which the Generalitat had followed a repressive policy against them in the previous months. This had been the work of the Generalitat's counsellor for public order, Josep Dencas, leader of the quasi-fascist, ultra-nationalist party Estat Catala." [The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, p. 176]

This is confirmed by anarchist accounts of the rising. As Peirats points out:

 

"On the eve of the rebellion the Catalan police jailed as many anarchists as they could put their hands on . . . The union offices had been shut for some time. The press censor had completely blacked out the October 6th issue of Solidaridad Obrera . . . When the woodworkers began to open their offices, they were attacked by the police, and a furious gunfight ensured. The official radio . . . reported . . . that the fight had already began against the FAI fascists . . . In the afternoon large numbers of police and escamots turned out to attack and shut down the editorial offices of Solidaridad Obrera." [Peirats, Op. Cit., pp. 98-9]

In other words, the first shots fired in the Catalan revolt were against the CNT by those in revolt against the central government!

Why were the first shots of the revolt directed at the members of the CNT? Simply because they were trying to take part in the revolt in an organised and coherent manner as urged by the CNT's Regional Committee itself. In spite of the mass arrests of anarchists and CNT militants the night before by the Catalan rebels, the CNT's Catalan Regional Committee issued a clandestine leaflet that stated that the CNT "must enter the battle in a manner consistent with its revolutionary anarchist principles . . . The revolt which broke out this morning must acquire the characteristics of a popular act through the actions of the proletariat . . . We demand the right to intervene in this struggle and we will take this." A leaflet had to be issued as Solidaridad Obrera was several hours late in appearing due censorship by the Catalan state. The workers had tried to open their union halls (all CNT union buildings had been closed by the Catalan government since the CNT revolt of December 1933) because the CNT's leaflet had called for the "[i]mmediate opening of our union buildings and the concentration of the workers on those premises." [quoted by Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 1, p. 85] The participation of the CNT in the revolt as an organised force was something the Catalan rebels refused to allow and so they fired on workers trying to open their union buildings. Indeed, after shutting down Solidaridad Obrera, the police then tried to break up the CNT's regional plenum that was then in session, but fortunately it was meeting on different premises and so they failed. [Peirats, Op. Cit., pp. 85-6]

Juan Gomez Casas argues that:

 

"The situation [in October 1934] was especially difficult in Catalonia. The Workers' Alliance . . . declared a general strike. Luis Companys, president of the Catalan Parliament, proclaimed the Catalan State within the Spanish Federal Republic . . . But at the same time, militants of the CNT and the FAI were arrested . . . Solidaridad Obrera was censored. The Catalan libertarians understood that the Catalan nationalists had two objectives in mind: to oppose the central government and to destroy the CNT. Jose Dencas, Counsellor of Defence, issued a strict order: 'Watch out for the FAI' . . . Luis Companys broadcast a message on October 5 to all 'citizens regardless of ideology.' However, many anarchosyndicalist militants were held by his deputy, Dencas, in the underground cells of police headquarters." [Op. Cit., pp. 151-2]

 

Hence the paradoxical situation in which the anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and FAI members found themselves in during this time. The uprising was organised by Catalan fascists who continued to direct their blows against the CNT. As Abel Paz argues, "[f]or the rank and file Catalan worker . . . the insurgents . . . were actually orienting their action in order to destroy the CNT. After that, how could they collaborate with the reactionary movement which was directing its blows against the working class? Here was the paradox of the Catalan uprising of October 6, 1934." [Durruti: The People Armed, p. 158]

In other words, during the Catalan revolt, "the CNT had a difficult time because the insurgents were its worst enemies." [Peirats, The Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 98] However, the complexity of the actual situation does not bother the reader of Morrow's work as it is not reported. Little wonder, as Peirats argues, the "absurd contention according to which the confederal proletariat of Catalonia betrayed their brethren in Asturias melts away in the face of a truthful narration of the facts." [The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 1, p. 86]

In summary, therefore, Morrow expected the membership of the Catalan CNT and FAI to join in a struggle started and directed by Catalan fascists, whose leaders in the government were arresting and shooting their members, censoring their press, closing their union offices and refusing them a role in the revolt as self-organised forces. We think that sums up the validity of Trotskyism as a revolutionary theory quite well.

In Madrid, the revolt was slightly less farcical. Here the CNT joined the general strike. However, the UGT gave the government 24 hours notice of the general strike, allowing the state to round up the Socialist "leaders," seize arm depots and repress the insurrection before it got started [Morrow, Op. Cit., p. 30]. As Bookchin argues, the "massive strike in Madrid, which was supported by the entire left, foundered for want of arms and a revolutionary sense of direction." [Op. Cit., p. 245] He continues:

 

"As usual, the Socialists emerged as unreliable allies of the Anarchists. A revolutionary committee, established by the CNT and FAI to co-ordinate their own operations, was denied direly needed weapons by the UGT. The arms, as it turned out, had been conveniently intercepted by government troops. But even if they had been available, it is almost certain that the Socialists would not have shared them with the Anarchists. Indeed, relationships between the two major sectors of the labour movement had already been poisoned by the failure of the Socialist Youth and the UGT to keep the CNT adequately informed of their plans or confer with Anarchosyndicalist delegates. Despite heavy fighting in Madrid, the CNT and FAI were obliged to function largely on their own. When, at length, a UGT delegate informed the revolutionary committee that Largo Caballero was not interested in common action with the CNT, the committee disbanded." [Op. Cit., p. 246]

 

Bookchin correctly states that "Abad de Santillan was to observe with ample justification that Socialist attempts to blame the failure of the October Insurrection on Anarchist abstention was a shabby falsehood" and quotes Santillan:

 

"Can there be talk of abstention of the CNT and censure of it by those who go on strike without warning our organisation about it, who refuse to meet with the delegates of the National Committee [of the CNT], who consent to let the Lerrous-Gil Robles Government take possession of the arms deposits and let them go unused before handing them over to the Confederation and the FAI?" [Ibid.]

 

Historian Paul Preston confirms that in Madrid "Socialists and Anarchists went on strike . . ." and that "the Socialists actually rejected the participation of Anarchist and Trotskyist groups who offered to help make a revolutionary coup in Madrid." [The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, p. 174] Moreover, "when delegates travelled secretly to Madrid to try to co-ordinate support for the revolutionary Asturian miners, they were rebuffed by the UGT leadership." [Graham Kelsey, Anarchism in Aragon, p. 73]

Therefore, in two of the three centres of the revolt, the uprising was badly organised. In Catalonia, the revolt was led by fascist Catalan Nationalists who arrested and shot at CNT militants. In Madrid, the CNT backed the strike and was ignored by the Socialists. The revolt itself was badly organised and quickly repressed (thanks, in part, to the actions of the Socialists themselves). Little wonder Peirats asks:

 

"Although it seems absurd, one constantly has to ask whether the Socialists meant to start a true revolution [in October 1934] in Spain. If the answer is affirmative, the questions keep coming: Why did they not make the action a national one? Why did they try to do it without the powerful national CNT? Is a peaceful general strike revolutionary? Was what happened in Asturias expected, or were orders exceeded? Did they mean only to scare the Radical-CEDA government with their action?" [The Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, pp 95-6]

 

The only real centre of resistance was in Asturias (on the Spanish north coast). Here, the CNT had joined the Socialists and Communists in a "Workers Alliance". But, against the alliance's terms, the Socialists alone gave the order for the uprising -- and the Socialist-controlled Provincial Committee starved the CNT of arms. This despite the CNT having over 22 000 affiliates in the area (to the UGT's 40 000). We discuss the activities of the CNT during the revolt in Asturias later (in section 20) and so will do so here.

Morrow states that the "backbone of the struggle was broken . . . when the refusal of the CNT railroad workers to strike enabled the government to transport goods and troops." [Morrow, Op. Cit., p. 30] Yet in Asturias (the only area where major troop transportation was needed) the main government attack was from a sea borne landing of Foreign Legion and Moroccan troops - against the port and CNT stronghold (15 000 affiliates) of Gijon (and, we must stress, the Socialists and Communists refused to provide the anarchists of these ports with weapons to resist the troop landings). Hence his claim seems somewhat at odds with the actual events of the October uprising.

Moreover, he seems alone in this claim. No other historian (for example, Hugh Thomas in The Spanish Civil War, Raymond Carr in Spain: 1808-1975, Paul Preston in The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, Gerald Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, Gabriel Jackson, The Spanish Republic and the Civil War: 1931-1939) makes this claim. But, of course, these are not Trotskyists and so can be ignored. However, for objective readers such an omission might be significant.

Indeed, when these other historians do discuss the crushing of the Asturias they all stress the fact that the troops came from the sea. For example, Paul Preston notes that "[w]ith CEDA approval, Franco . . . insisted on the use of troops from Africa . . . they shipped Moorish mercenaries to Asturias." [The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, p. 177] Gabriel Jackson argues that the government "feared to send in the regular Army because of the strong possibility that the Spanish conscripts would refuse to fire on the revolutionaries -- or even desert to them. The War Minister . . . , acting on the advice of Generals Franco and Goded, sent in contingents of the Morrish regulares and of the Foreign Legions." These troops arrived "at the ports of Aviles and Gijon." [The Spanish Republic and the Civil War: 1931-1939, p. 157]

Richard A. H. Robinson argues that it "was soon decided that the [Asturias] rebellion could only be crushed by experienced, professional troops. The other areas of Spain could not be denuded of their garrisons in case there were other revolutionary outbreaks. Franco therefore called upon Colonel Yague to lead a force of Moorish regulars to help re-conquer the province from the rebels." [The Origins of Franco's Spain, pp. 190-1] Stanley G. Payne gives a more detailed account of the state's attack:

 

"Army reinforcements were soon being rushed toward the region . . . Eduardo Lopez Ochoa . . . head[ed] the main relief column . . . he began to make his way eastward [from Galicia] with a modest force of some 360 troops in trucks, half of whom had to be detached on the way to hold the route open. Meanwhile . . . in the main Asturian coastal city of Gijon . . . reinforcements first arrived by sea on the seventh, followed by larger units from the Moroccan Protectorate on the tenth." [Spain's First Democracy, p. 219]

No mention of trains in these accounts, so indicating that Morrow's assertions are false. The main attack on Asturias, and so the transportation of troops and goods, was by sea, not by trains.

In addition, these historians point to other reasons for the defeat of the revolt -- the amazingly bad organisation of it by the Socialist Party. Raymond Carr sums up the overwhelming opinion of the historians when he says that "[a]s a national movement the revolution was a fiasco." [Op. Cit., p. 633] Hugh Thomas states that the revolt in Catalonia was "crushed nearly as quickly as the general strike had been in Madrid." [The Spanish Civil War, p. 136] Brenan correctly argues that "[f]rom the moment that Barcelona capitulated and the rising in Madrid fizzled out, the miners were of course doomed." [Op. Cit., p. 286] The failure of both these revolts was directly attributable to the policies and actions of the Socialists who controlled the "Workers' Alliances" in both areas. Hence historian Paul Heywood:

 

"[A]n important factor which contributed to the strikes' collapse and made the state's task easier was the underlying attitude of the Socialists. For all the talk of united action by the Left, the Socialists still wished to dominate any combined moves. Unwilling to cede its traditional hegemony, the PSOE rendered the Alianze obrera necessarily ineffective . . .

"Thus, there was little genuine unity on the Spanish Left. Moreover, the strike was very poorly planned. Differences within the PSOE meant that there was no agreement even as to the programme of the strike. For the . . . leftists, it represented the initiation of a full-scale Socialist revolution; for . . . the centrists in the party, the aim of the strike was to force Alcala-Zamora to reconsider and invite the Socialists back into a coalition government with the Republicans." [Marxism and the Failure of Organised Socialism in Spain 1879-1936 pp. 144-5]

Significantly, Heywood argues that "[o]ne thing, however, did emerge from the October strike. The example of Asturias provided a pointed lesson for the Left: crucially, the key to the relative success of the insurrection there was the participation of the CNT in an effective Alianza obrera. Without the CNT, the Asturian rising would have been as short-lived and as easily defeated as those in Madrid and Barcelona." [Op. Cit., p. 145]

Having discussed both Madrid and Barcelona above, we leave it to the reader to conclude whether Morrow's comments are correct or whether a more likely alternative explanation for the revolt's failure is possible.

However, even assuming Morrow's claims that the failure of the CNT rail workers' union to continue striking in the face of a completely farcical "revolt" played a key role in its defeat were true, it does not explain many facts. Firstly, the government had declared martial law -- placing the railway workers in a dangerous position. Secondly, as Jerome R. Mintz points out, railway workers "were represented by two competing unions -- the Sindicato Nacional Ferroviario of the UGT . . . and the CNT-affiliated FNIFF . . . The UGT . . . controlled the large majority of the workers. [In 1933] Trifon Gomez, secretary of the UGT union, did not believe it possible to mobilise the workers, few of whom had revolutionary aspirations." [The Anarchists of Casa Viejas, p. 178] Outside of Catalonia, the majority of the railway workers belonged to the UGT [Sam Dolgoff, The Anarchist Collectives, p. 90f] Asturias (the only area where major troop transportation was needed) does not border Catalonia -- apparently the army managed to cross Spain on a rail network manned by a minority of its workers.

However, these points are of little import when compared to the fact that Asturias the main government attack was, as we mentioned above, from a sea borne landing of Foreign Legion and Moroccan troops. Troops from Morocco who land by sea do not need trains. Indeed, The ports of Aviles and Gijon were the principle military bases for launching the repression against the uprising.

The real failure of the Asturias revolt did not lie with the CNT, it lay (unsurprisingly enough) with the Socialists and Communists. Despite CNT pleas the Socialists refused arms, Gjon fell after a bloody struggle and became the main base for the crushing of the entire region ("Arriving at the ports of Aviles and Gijon on October 8, these troops were able to overcome the resistance of the local fishermen and stevedores. The revolutionary committees here were Anarchist dominated. Though they had joined the rising and accepted the slogan UHP [Unity, Proletarian Brothers], the Socialists and Communists of Oviedo clearly distrusted them and had refused arms to their delegate the day before." [Gabriel Jackson, Op. Cit., p. 157]).

This Socialist and Communist sabotage of Anarchist resistance was repeated in the Civil War, less than two years later.

As can be seen, Morrow's account of the October Insurrection of 1934 leaves a lot to be desired. The claim that the CNT was responsible for its failure cannot withstand a close examination of the events. Indeed, by providing the facts which Morrow does not provide we can safely say that the failure of the revolt across Spain rested squarely with the PSOE and UGT. It was badly organised, they failed to co-operate or even communicate with CNT when aid was offered, they relied upon the enemies of the CNT in Catalonia and refused arms to the CNT in both Madrid and Asturias (so allowing the government force, the main force of which landed by sea, easy access to Asturias). All in all, even if the minority of railway workers in the CNT had joined the strike it would have, in all probability, resulted in the same outcome.

Unfortunately, Morrow's assertions have become commonplace in the ranks of the Left and have become even more distorted in the hands of his Trotskyist readers. For example, we find Nick Wrack arguing that the "Socialist Party called a general strike and there were insurrectionary movements in Asturias and Catalonia, In Madrid and Catalonia the anarchist CNT stood to one side, arguing that this was a 'struggle between politicians' and did not concern the workers even though this was a strike against a move to incorporate fascism into the government." He continues, "[i]n Asturias the anarchist militants participated under the pressure of the masses and because of the traditions of unity in that area. However, because of their abstentionist stupidity, the anarchists elsewhere continued to work, even working trains which brought the Moorish troops under Franco to suppress the Asturias insurrection." ["Marxism, Anarchism and the State", pp. 31-7, Militant International Review, no. 46, p. 34]

Its hard to work out where to start in this travesty of history. We will start with the simple errors. The CNT did take part in the struggle in Madrid. As Paul Preston notes, in Madrid the "Socialists and Anarchists went on strike" [The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, p. 174] In Catalonia, as indicated above, the "insurrectionary movement" in Catalonia was organised and lead by Catalan Fascists, who shot upon CNT members when they tried to open their union halls and who arrested CNT and FAI militants the night before the uprising. Moreover, the people organising the revolt had been repressing the CNT for months previously. Obviously attempts by Catalan Fascists to become a government should be supported by socialists, including Trotskyists. Moreover, the UGT and PSOE had worked with the quasi-fascist Primo do Rivera dictatorship during the 1920s. The hypocrisy is clear. So much for the CNT standing "to one side, arguing that this was a 'struggle between politicians' and did not concern the workers even though this was a strike against a move to incorporate fascism into the government."

His comments that "the anarchists . . . work[ed] trains which brought the Moorish troops under Franco to suppress the Asturias insurrection" is just plain silly. It was not anarchists who ran the trains, it was railway workers -- under martial law -- some of whom were in the CNT and some of whom were anarchists. Moreover, as noted above the Moorish troops under Franco arrived by sea and not by train. And, of course, no mention of the fact that the CNT-FAI in the strategically key port of Gijon was denied arms by the Socialists and Communists, which allowed the Moorish troops to disembark without real resistance.

Morrow has a lot to answer for.

7. Were the Friends of Durruti Marxists?

It is sometimes claimed that the Friends of Durruti Group which formed during the Spanish Revolution were Marxists or represented a "break" with anarchism and a move towards Marxism. Both these assertions are false. We discuss whether the Friends of Durruti (FoD) represented a "break" with anarchism in the following section. Here we indicate that claims of the FoD being Marxists are false.

The Friends of Durruti were formed, in March 1937, by anarchist militants who had refused to submit to Communist-controlled "militarisation" of the workers' militias. During the Maydays -- the government attack against the revolution two months later -- the Friends of Durruti were notable for their calls to stand firm and crush the counter-revolution. During and after the May Days, the leaders of the CNT asserted that the FoD were Marxists (which was quite ironic as it was the CNT leaders who were acting as Marxists in Spain usually did by joining with bourgeois governments). This was a slander, pure and simple.

The best source to refute claims that the FoD were Marxists (or becoming Marxist) or that they were influenced by, or moved towards, the Bolshevik-Leninists is Agustin Guillamon's book The Friends of Durruti Group: 1937-1939. Guillamon is a Marxist (of the "left-communist" kind) and no anarchist (indeed he states that the "Spanish Revolution was the tomb of anarchism as a revolutionary theory of the proletariat." [p. 108]). That indicates that his account can be considered objective and not anarchist wishful thinking. Here we use his work to refute the claims that the FoD were Marxists. Section 9 discusses their links (or lack of them) with the Spanish Trotskyists.

So were the FoD Marxists? Guillamon makes it clear -- no, they were not. In his words, "[t]here is nothing in the Group's theoretical tenets, much less in the columns of El Amigo del Pueblo [their newspaper], or in their various manifestos and handbills to merit the description 'marxist' being applied to the Group [by the CNT leadership]. They were simply an opposition to the CNT's leadership's collaborationist policy, making their stand within the organisation and upon anarcho-syndicalist ideology." [p. 61] He stresses this in his conclusion:

 

"The Friends of Durruti was an affinity group, like many another existing in anarcho-syndicalist quarters. It was not influenced to any extent by the Trotskyists, nor by the POUM. Its ideology and watchwords were quintessentially in the CNT idiom: it cannot be said that they displayed a marxist ideology at any time . . . They were against the abandonment of revolutionary objectives and of anarchism's fundamental and quintessential ideological principles, which the CNT-FAI leaders had thrown over in favour of anti-fascist unity and the need to adapt to circumstances." [p. 107]

 

In other words, they wanted to return the CNT "to its class struggle roots." [Ibid.] Indeed, Balius (a leading member of the group and writer of its 1938 pamphlet Towards a Fresh Revolution) was moved to challenge the charges of "marxist" levelled at him:

 

"I will not repay defamatory comment in kind. But what I cannot keep mum about is that a legend of marxism has been woven about my person and I should like the record put straight . . . It grieves me that at the present time there is somebody who dares call me a Marxist when I could refute with unanswerable arguments those who hang such an unjustified label on me. As one who attends our union assemblies and specific gatherings, I might speak of the loss of class sensibility which I have observed on a number of occasions. I have heard it said that we should be making politics -- in as many words, comrades -- in an abstract sense, and virtually no one protested. And I, who have been aghast at countless such instances, am dubbed a marxist just because I feel, myself to be a one hundred percent revolutionary . . . On returning from exile in France in the days of Primo de Rivera . . . I have been a defender of the CNT and the FAI ever since. In spite of my paralysis, I have done time in prison and been taken in manacles to Madrid for my fervent and steadfast championship of our organisations and for fighting those who once were friends of mine Is that not enough? . . . So where is this marxism of mine? Is it because my roots are not in the factory? . . . The time has come to clarify my position. It is not good enough to say that the matter has already been agreed. The truth must shine through. As far as I am concerned, I call upon all the comrades who have used the press to hang this label upon me to spell out what makes me a marxist." [El Amigo del Pueblo, no. 4, p. 3]

 

As can be seen, the FoD were not Marxists. Two more questions arise. Were they a "break" with anarchism (i.e. moving towards Marxism) and were they influenced by the Spanish Trotskyists. We turn to these questions in the next two sections.

8. Did the Friends of Durruti "break with" anarchism?

Morrow claims that the Friends of Durruti (FoD) "represented a conscious break with the anti-statism of traditional anarchism. They explicitly declared the need for democratic organs of power, juntas or soviets, in the overthrow of capitalism." [Morrow, Op. Cit., p. 247] The truth of the matter is somewhat different.

Before discussing his assertion in more detail a few comments are required. Typically, in Morrow's topsy-turvy world, all anarchists like the Friends of Durruti (Morrow also includes the Libertarian Youth, the "politically awakened" CNT rank and file, local FAI groups, etc.) who remained true to anarchism and stuck to their guns (often literally) -- represented a break with anarchism and a move towards Marxism, the revolutionary vanguard party (no doubt part of the 4th International), and a fight for the "workers state." Those anarchists, on the other hand, who compromised for "anti-fascist unity" (but mainly to try and get weapons to fight Franco) are the real anarchists because "class collaboration . . . lies concealed in the heart of anarchist philosophy." [Op. Cit., p. 101]

Morrow, of course, would have had a fit if anarchists pointed to the example of the Social Democrat's who crushed the German Revolution or Stalin's Russia as examples that "rule by an elite lies concealed in the heart of Marxist philosophy." It does not spring into Morrow's mind that those anarchists he praises are the ones who show the revolutionary heart of anarchism. This can best be seen from his comments on the Friends of Durruti, who we argue were not evolving towards "Marxism" but rather were trying to push the CNT and FAI back to its pre-Civil War politics and strategy. Moreover, as we argue in section 12, anarchism has always argued for self-managed working class organisations to carry out and defend a revolution. The FoD were simply following in the tradition founded by Bakunin.

In other words, we will show that they did not "break with" anarchism -- rather they refused to compromise their anarchism in the face of "comrades" who thought winning the war meant entering the government. This is clear from their leaflets, paper and manifesto. Moreover, as will become obvious, their "break" with anarchism actually just restates pre-war CNT policy and organisation.

For example, their leaflets, in April 1937, called for the unions and municipalities to "replace the state" and for no retreat:

 

"We have the organs that must supplant a State in ruins. The Trade Unions and Municipalities must take charge of economic and social life." [quoted by Agustin Guillamon, Op. Cit., p. 38]

 

This clearly is within the CNT and anarcho-syndicalist tradition. Their manifesto, in 1938, repeated this call ("the state cannot be retained in the face of the unions"), and made three demands as part of their programme. It is worth quoting these at length:

 

"I - Establishment of a Revolutionary Junta or National Defence Council.

"This body will be organised as follows: members of the revolutionary Junta will be elected by democratic vote in the union organisations. Account is to be taken of the number of comrades away at the front . . . The Junta will steer clear of economic affairs, which are the exclusive preserve of the unions.

"The functions of the revolutionary Junta are as follows:

 

    "a) The management of the war
    "b) The supervision of revolutionary order
    "c) International affairs
    "d) Revolutionary propaganda.

"Posts to come up regularly for re-allocation so as to prevent anyone growing attached to them. And the trade union assemblies will exercise control over the Junta's activities.

"II - All economic power to the syndicates.

"Since July the unions have supplied evidence of the great capacity for constructive labour. . . It will be the unions that structure the proletarian economy.

"An Economic Council may also be set up, taking into consideration the natures of the Industrial Unions and Industrial federations, to improve on the co-ordination of economic activities.

"III - Free municipality.

[...]

"The Municipality shall take charge of those functions of society that fall outside the preserve of the unions. And since the society we are going to build shall be composed exclusively of producers, it will be the unions, no less, that will provide sustenance for the municipalities. . .

"The Municipalities will be organised at the level of local, comarcal and peninsula federations. Unions and municipalities will maintain liaison at local, comarcal and national levels." [Towards a Fresh Revolution]

 

This programme basically mimics the pre-war CNT policy and organisation and so cannot be considered as a "break" with anarchist or CNT politics or tradition.

Firstly, we should note that the "municipality" was a common CNT expression to describe a "commune" which was considered as "all the residents of a village or hamlet meeting in assembly (council) with full powers to administer and order local affairs, primarily production and distribution." In the cities and town the equivalent organisation was "the union" which "brings individuals together, grouping them according to the nature of their work . . . First, it groups the workers of a factory, workshop or firm together, this being the smallest cell enjoying autonomy with regard to whatever concerns it alone . . . The local unions federate with one another, forming a local federation, composed of the committee elected by the unions, and of the general assembly that, in the last analysis, holds supreme sovereignty." [Issac Puente, Libertarian Communism, p. 25 and p. 24]

In addition, the "national federations [of unions] will hold as common property the roads, railways, buildings, equipment, machinery and workshops" and the "free municipality will federate with its counterparts in other localities and with the national industrial federations." [Op. Cit., p. 29 and p. 26] Thus Puente's classic pre-war pamphlet is almost identical to points two and three of the FoD Programme.

Moreover, the "Economic Council" urged by the FoD in point two of their programme is obviously inspired by the work of Abad Diego de Santillan, particularly his book After the Revolution (El Organismo Economico de la Revolucion). Discussing the role of the "Federal Council of Economy", de Santillan says that it "receives its orientation from below and operates in accordance with the resolutions of the regional and national assemblies." [p. 86] Just as the CNT Congresses were the supreme policy-making body in the CNT itself, they envisioned a similar body emanating from the rank-and-file assemblies to make the guiding decisions for a socialised economy.

This leaves point one of their programme, the call for a "Revolutionary Junta or National Defence Council." It is here that Morrow and a host of other Marxists claim the FoD broke with anarchism towards Marxism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Firstly, anarchists have long supported the idea of workers' councils (or soviets) as an expression of working class power to control their own lives (and so society) -- indeed, far longer than Marxists. Thus we find Bakunin arguing that the "future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and universal." Anarchists "attain this goal . . . by the development and organisation, not of the political but of the social (and, by consequence, anti-political) power of the working masses." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 206 and p. 198] These councils of workers' delegates (workers' councils) would be the basis of the commune and defence of the revolution:

 

"the federative Alliance of all working men's associations . . . constitute the Commune . . .. Commune will be organised by the standing federation of the Barricades. . . [T]he federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . [would] organise a revolutionary force capable of defeating reaction . . . it is the very fact of the expansion and organisation of the revolution for the purpose of self-defence among the insurgent areas that will bring about the triumph of the revolution." [Op. Cit., pp. 170-1]

 

This perspective can be seen in the words of the German anarcho-syndicalist H. Ruediger (member of the IWA's secretariat in 1937) when he argued that for anarchists "social re-organisation, like the defence of the revolution, should be concentrated in the hands of working class organisations -- whether labour unions or new organs of spontaneous creation, such as free councils, etc., which, as an expression of the will of the workers themselves, from below up, should construct the revolutionary social community." [quoted in The May Days in Barcelona, Vernon Richards (ed.), p. 71]

Camillo Berneri sums up the anarchist perspective clearly when he wrote:

 

"The Marxists . . . foresee the natural disappearance of the State as a consequence of the destruction of classes by the means of 'the dictatorship of the proletariat,' that is to say State Socialism, whereas the Anarchists desire the destruction of the classes by means of a social revolution which eliminates, with the classes, the State. The Marxists, moreover, do not propose the armed conquest of the Commune by the whole proletariat, but the propose the conquest of the State by the party which imagines that it represents the proletariat. The Anarchists allow the use of direct power by the proletariat, but they understand by the organ of this power to be formed by the entire corpus of systems of communist administration -- corporate organisations [i.e. industrial unions], communal institutions, both regional and national -- freely constituted outside and in opposition to all political monopoly by parties and endeavouring to a minimum administrational centralisation." ["Dictatorship of the Proletariat and State Socialism", Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, no. 4, p. 52]

 

In other words, anarchists do support democratic organs of power when they are directly democratic (i.e. self-managed). "The basic idea of Anarchism is simple," argued Voline, "no party . . . placed above or outside the labouring masses . . . ever succeeds in emancipating them . . . Effective emancipation can only be achieved by the direct, widespread, and independent action of those concerned, of the workers themselves, grouped, not under the banner of a political party . . . but in their own class organisations (productive workers' unions, factory committees, co-operatives, et cetra) on the basis of concrete action and self-government." [The Unknown Revolution, p, 197]

Anarchists oppose representative organs of power as these are governments and so based on minority power and subject to bureaucratic deformations which ensure un-accountablity from below. Anarchists argue "that, by its very nature, political power could not be exercised except by a very restricted group of men at the centre. Therefore this power -- the real power -- could not belong to the soviets. It would actually be in the hands of the party." [Voline, Op. Cit., p. 213]

Thus Morrow's argument is flawed on the basic point that he does not understand anarchist theory or the nature of an anarchist revolution (also see section 12).

Secondly, and more importantly given the Spanish context, the FoD's vision has a marked similarity to pre-Civil War CNT organisation, policy and vision. This means that the idea of a National Defence Council was not the radical break with the CNT that some claim. Before the civil war the CNT had long has its defence groups, federated at regional and national level. Historian Jerome Mintz provides a good summary:

 

"The policies and actions of the CNT were conducted primarily by administrative juntas, beginning with the sindicato, whose junta consisted of a president, secretary, treasurer, and council members. At each step in the confederation, a representative [sic! -- delegate] was sent to participate at the next organisational level -- from sindicato to the district to the regional confederation, then to the national confederation. In addition to the juntas, however, there were two major committee systems established as adjuncts to the juntas that had developed some autonomy: the comites pro presos, or committees for political prisoners, which worked for the release of prisoners and raised money for the relief of their families; and the comites de defensa, or defence committees, whose task was to stockpile weapons for the coming battle and to organise the shock troops who would bear the brunt of the fighting." [The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, p. 141]

 

Thus we see that the CNT had its "juntas" (which means council or committee and so does not imply any authoritarianism) as well as "defence committees" which were elected by democratic vote in the union organisations decades before the FoD existed. The Defence Committees (or councils) were a CNT insurgent agency in existence well before July 1936 and had, in fact, played a key role in many insurrections and strikes, including the events of July 1936. In other words, the "break" with anarchism Morrow presents was, in fact, an exact reproduction of the way the CNT had traditionally operated and acted -- it is the same program of a "workers defence council" and "union management of the economy" that the CNT had advocated prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. The only "break" that did occur post 19th of July was that of the CNT and FAI ignoring its politics and history in favour of "anti-fascist unity" and a UGT "Workers' Alliance" with all anti-fascist unions and parties (see section 20).

Moreover, the CNT insurrection of December 1933 had been co-ordinated by a National Revolutionary Committee [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, p. 235]. D.A. Santillan argued that the "local Council of Economy will assume the mission of defence and raise voluntary corps for guard duty and if need be, for combat" in the "cases of emergency or danger of a counter-revolution." [After the Revolution, p. 80] During the war itself a CNT national plenum of regions, in September 1936, called for a National Defence Council, with majority union representation and based on Regional Defence Councils. The Defence Council of Aragon, set up soon after, was based on these ideas. The need for co-ordinated revolutionary defence and attack is just common sense -- and had been reflected in CNT theory, policy and structure for decades.

An understanding of the basic ideas of anarchist theory on revolution combined with the awareness of the CNT's juntas (administrative councils or committees) had "defence committees" associated with them makes it extremely clear that rather than being a "conscious break with the anti-statism of traditional anarchism" the FoD's programme was, in fact, a conscious return to the anti-statism of traditional anarchism and the revolutionary program and vision of the pre-Civil War CNT.

This is confirmed if we look at the activities of the CNT in Aragon where they formed the "Defence Council of Aragon" in September 1936. In the words of historian Antony Beevor, "[i]n late September delegates from the Aragonese collectives attended a conference at Bujaraloz, near where Durruti's column was based. They decided to establish a Defence Council of Aragon, and elected as president Joaquin Ascaso." [Op. Cit., p. 96] In February 1937, the first congress of the regional federation of collectives was held at Caspe to co-ordinate the activities of the collectives -- an obvious example of a regional economic council desired by the FoD. Morrow does mention the Council of Aragon -- "the anarchist-controlled Council for the Defence of Aragon" [Op. Cit., p. 111] -- however, he strangely fails to relate this fact to anarchist politics. After all, in Aragon the CNT-FAI remained true to anarchism, created a defence council and a federation of collectives. If Morrow had discussed the events in Aragon he would have had to draw the conclusion that the FoD were not a "conscious break with the traditional anti-statism of anarchism" but rather were an expression of it.

This can be seen from the comments made after the end of the war by the Franco-Spanish Group of The Friends of Durruti. They clearly argued for a return to the principles of anarchism and the pre-war CNT. They argued not only for workers' self-organisation and self-management as the basis of the revolution but also to the pre-war CNT idea of a workers' alliance from the bottom up rather than a UGT-style one at the top (see section 5). In their words:

 

"A revolution requires the absolute domination of the workers' organisations as was the case in July, 1936, when the CNT-FAI were masters . . . We incline to the view that it is necessary to form a Revolutionary Alliance; a Workers' Front; where no one would be allowed to enter and take their place except on a revolutionary basis . . . " [The Friends of Durruti Accuse]

 

As can be seen, rather than a "revolutionary government" the FoD were consistently arguing for a federation of workers' associations as the basis of the revolution. In this they were loyally following Bakunin's basic arguments and the ideas of anarchism. Rather than the FoD breaking with anarchism, it is clear that it was the leading committees of the CNT and FAI which actually broke with the politics of anarchism and the tactics, ideas and ideals of the CNT.

Lastly there are the words of Jaime Balius, one of the FoD's main activists, who states in 1976 that:

 

"We did not support the formation of Soviets; there were no grounds in Spain for calling for such. We stood for 'all power to the trade unions'. In no way were we politically orientated . . . Ours was solely an attempt to save the revolution; at the historical level it can be compared to Kronstadt because if there the sailors and workers called for 'all power to the Soviets', we were calling for all power to the unions." [quoted by Ronald Fraser, Blood of Spain, p. 381]

 

"Political" here meaning "state-political" -- a common anarchist use of the word. According to Fraser, the "proposed revolutionary junta was to be composed of combatants from the barricades." [Ibid.] This echoes Bakunin's comment that the "Commune will be organised by the standing federation of the Barricades and by the creation of a Revolutionary Communal Council composed of one or two delegates from each barricade . . . vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates." [Op. Cit., pp. 170-1]

As can be seen, rather than calling for power to a party or looking to form a government (i.e. being "politically orientated") the FoD were calling for "all power to the unions." This meant, in the context of the CNT, all power to the union assemblies in the workplace. Decision making would flow from the bottom upwards rather than being delegated to a "revolutionary" government as in Trotskyism. To stress the point, the FoD did not represent a "break" with anarchism or the CNT tradition. To claim otherwise means to misunderstand anarchist politics and CNT history.

Our analysis, we must note, also makes a mockery of Guillamon's claim that because the FoD thought that libertarian communism had to be "impose[d]" and "defended by force of arms" their position represented an "evolution within anarchist thought processes." [Op. Cit., p. 95] As has been made clear above, from Bakunin onwards revolutionary anarchism has been aware of the need for an insurrection to create an anarchist society by destroying both the state and capitalism (i.e. to "impose" a free society upon those who wish hierarchy to continue and are in a position of power) and for that revolution to be defended against attempts to defeat it. Similarly, his claim that the FoD's "revolutionary junta" was the equivalent of what "others call the vanguard or the revolutionary party" cannot be defended given our discussion above -- it is clear that the junta was not seen as a form of delegated power by rather as a means of defending the revolution like the CNT's defence committees and under the direct control of the union assemblies.

It may be argued that the FoD did not actually mean this sort of structure. Indeed, their manifesto states that they are "introducing a slight variation in anarchism into our program. The establishment of a Revolutionary Junta." Surely this implies that they saw themselves as having moved away from anarchism and CNT policy? As can be seen from Balius' comments during and after the revolution, the FoD were arguing for "all power to the unions" and stating that "apolitical anarchism had failed." However, "apolitical" anarchism came about post-July 19th when the CNT-FAI (ignoring anarchist theory and CNT policy and history) ignored the state machine rather than destroying it and supplanting it with libertarian organs of self-management. The social revolution that spontaneously occurred after July 19th was essentially economic and social (i.e. "apolitical") and not "anti-political" (i.e. the destruction of the state machine). Such a revolution would soon come to grief on the shores of the (revitalised) state machine -- as the FoD correctly argued had happened.

To state that they had introduced a variation into their anarchism makes sense post-July 1936. The "apolitical" line of the CNT-FAI had obviously failed and a new departure was required. While it is clear that the FoD's "new" position was nothing of the kind, it was elemental anarchist principles, it was "new" in respect to the policy the CNT ("anarchism") had conducted during the Civil War -- a policy they justified by selective use of anarchist theory and principles. In the face of this, the FoD could claim they were presenting a new variation in spite of its obvious similarities to pre-war CNT policies and anarchist theory. Thus the claim that the FoD saw their ideas as some sort of departure from traditional anarchism cannot be maintained, given the obvious links this "new" idea had with the past policies and structure of the CNT. As Guillamon makes it clear, the FoD made "their stand within the organisation and upon anarcho-syndicalist ideology" and "[a]t all times the Group articulated an anarcho-syndicalist ideology, although it also voiced radical criticism of the CNT and FAI leadership. But it is a huge leap from that to claiming that the Group espoused marxist positions." [Op. Cit., p. 61 and p. 95]

One last comment. Morrow states that the "CNT leadership . . . expelled the Friends of Durruti" [Op. Cit., p. 189] This is not true. The CNT leadership did try to expel the FoD. However, as Balius points out, the "higher committees order[ed] our expulsion, but this was rejected by the rank and file in the trade union assemblies and at a plenum of FAI groups held in the Casa CNT-FAI." [quoted by Agustin Guillamon, Op. Cit., p. 73] Thus the CNT leadership could never get their desire ratified by any assembly of unions or FAI groups. Unfortunately, Morrow gets his facts wrong (and also presents a somewhat false impression of the relationship of the CNT leadership and the rank and file).

9. Were the Friends of Durruti influenced by Trotskyists?

Morrow implies that the Bolshevik-Leninists "established close contacts with the anarchist workers, especially the 'Friends of Durruti'" [Op. Cit., p. 139] The truth, as usual, is somewhat different.

To prove this we must again turn to Guillamon's work in which he dedicates a chapter to this issue. He brings this chapter by stating:

 

"It requires only a cursory perusal of El Amigo del Pueblo or Balius's statements to establish that the Friends of Durruti were never marxists, nor influenced at all by the Trotskyists or the Bolshevik-Leninist Section. But there is a school of historians determined to maintain the opposite and hence the necessity for this chapter." [Op. Cit., p. 94]

 

He stresses that the FoD "were not in any way beholden to Spanish Trotskyism is transparent from several documents" and notes that while the POUM and Trotskyists displayed "an interest" in "bringing the Friends of Durruti under their influence" this was "something in which they never succeeded." [Op. Cit., p. 96 and p. 110]

Pre-May, 1937, Balius himself states that the FoD "had no contact with the POUM, nor with the Trotskyists." [Op. Cit., p. 104] Post-May, this had not changed as witness E. Wolf letter to Trotsky in July 1937 which stated that it "will be impossible to achieve any collaboration with them . . . Neither the POUMists nor the Friends would agree to the meeting [to discuss joint action]." [Op. Cit., pp. 97-8]

In other words, the Friends of Durruti did not establish "close contacts" with the Bolshevik-Leninists after the May Days of 1937. While the Bolshevik-Leninists may have wished for such contacts, the FoD did not (they probably remembered their fellow anarchists and workers imprisoned and murdered when Trotsky was in power in Russia). They were, of course, contacts of a limited kind but no influence or significant co-operation. Little wonder Balius stated in 1946 that the "alleged influence of the POUM or the Trotskyists upon us is untrue." [quoted, Op. Cit., p. 104]

It is hardly surprising that the FoD were not influenced by Trotskyism. After all, they were well aware of the policies Trotsky introduced when he was in power. Moreover, the program of the Bolshevik-Leninists was similar in rhetoric to the anarchist vision -- they differed on the question of whether they actually meant "all power to the working class" or not (see section 12 and 13). And, of course, the Trotskyists activities during the May Days amounted to little more that demanding that the workers' do what they were already doing (as can be seen from the leaflet they produced -- as George Orwell noted, "it merely demanded what was happening already" [Homage to Catalonia, p. 221]). As usual, the "vanguard of the proletariat" were trying to catch up with the proletariat.

In theory and practice the FoD were miles ahead of the Bolshevik-Leninists -- as to be expected, as the FoD were anarchists.

10. What does the Friends of Durruti's programme tell us about Trotskyism?

Morrow states that the FoD's "slogans included the essential points of a revolutionary program: all power to the working class, and democratic organs of the workers, peasants and combatants, as the expression of the workers' power." [Op. Cit., p. 133] It is useful to compare Leninism to these points to see if that provides a revolutionary program.

Firstly, as we argue in more detail in section 11, Trotsky abolished the democratic organs of the Red Army. Lenin's rule also saw the elimination of the factory committee movement and its replacement with one-man management appointed from above (see section 17 and Maurice Brinton's The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control for details). Both these events occurred before the start of the Russian Civil War in May 1918. Moreover, neither Lenin nor Trotsky considered workers' self-management of production as a key aspects of socialism. On this level, Leninism in power did not constitute a "revolutionary program."

Secondly, Leninism does not call for "all power to the working class" or even "workers' power" to manage their own affairs. To quote Trotsky, in an article written in 1937, "the proletariat can take power only through its vanguard." The working classes' role is one of supporting the party:

 

"Without the confidence of the class in the vanguard, without support of the vanguard by the class, there can be no talk of the conquest of power.

"In this sense the proletarian revolution and dictatorship are the work of the whole class, but only under the leadership of the vanguard."

 

Thus, rather than the working class as a whole seizing power, it is the "vanguard" which takes power -- "a revolutionary party, even after seizing power . . . is still by no means the sovereign ruler of society." [Stalinism and Bolshevism] So much for "workers' power" -- unless you equate that with the "power" to give your power, your control over your own affairs, to a minority who claim to represent you. Indeed, Trotsky even attacks the idea that workers' can achieve power directly via organs of self-management like workers' councils (or soviets):

 

"Those who propose the abstraction of the Soviets from the party dictatorship should understand that only thanks to the party dictatorship were the Soviets able to lift themselves out of the mud of reformism and attain the state form of the proletariat." [Op. Cit.]

 

In other words, the dictatorship of the proletariat is, in fact, expressed by "the party dictatorship." In this Trotsky follows Lenin who asserted that:

 

"The very presentation of the question -- 'dictatorship of the Party or dictatorship of the class, dictatorship (Party) of the leaders or dictatorship (Party) of the masses?' -- is evidence of the most incredible and hopeless confusion of mind . . . [because] classes are usually . . . led by political parties. . . " [Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, pp. 25-6]

 

As has been made clear above, the FoD being anarchists aimed for a society of generalised self-management, a system in which working people directly controlled their own affairs and so society. As these words by Lenin and Trotsky indicate they did not aim for such a society, a society based on "all power to the working class." Rather, they aimed for a society in which the workers would delegate their power into the hands of a few, the revolutionary party, who would exercise power on their behalf. The FoD meant exactly what they said when they argued for "all power to the working class" -- they did not mean this as a euphemism for party rule. In this they followed Bakunin:

 

"[T]he federated Alliance of all labour associations . . . will constitute the Commune . . . there will be a federation of the standing barricades and a Revolutionary Communal Council will operate on the basis of one or two delegates from each barricade . . . these deputies being invested with binding mandates and accountable and revocable at all times. . . An appeal will be issued to all provinces, communes and associations inviting them to follow the example set . . . [and] to reorganise along revolutionary lines . . . and to then delegate deputies to an agreed place of assembly (all of those deputies invested with binding mandates and accountable and subject to recall), in order to found the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . Thus it is through the very act of extrapolation and organisation of the Revolution with an eye to the mutual defences of insurgent areas that the . . . Revolution, founded upon . . . the ruins of States, will emerge triumphant. . .

"Since it is the people which must make the revolution everywhere, and since the ultimate direction of it must at all times be vested in the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial organisations . . . being organised from the bottom up through revolutionary delegation . . ." [No God, No Masters, vol. 1, pp. 155-6]

 

And:

 

"Not even as revolutionary transition will we countenance national Conventions, nor Constituent Assemblies, nor provisional governments, nor so-called revolutionary dictatorships: because we are persuaded that revolution s sincere, honest and real only among the masses and that, whenever it is concentrated in the hands of a few governing individuals, it inevitably and immediately turns into reaction." [Op. Cit., p. 160]

 

As can be seen, Bakunin's vision is precisely, to use Morrow' words, "all power to the working class, and democratic organs of the workers, peasants and combatants, as the expression of the workers' power." Thus the Friends of Durruti's program is not a "break" with anarchism (as we discussed in more detail in section 8) but rather in the tradition started by Bakunin -- in other words, an anarchist program. It is Leninism, as can be seen, which rejects this "revolutionary program" in favour of all power to the representatives of the working class (i.e. party) which it confuses with the working class as a whole.

Given that Morrow asserts that "all power to the working class" was an "essential" point of "a revolutionary program" we can only conclude that Trotskyism does not provide a revolutionary program -- rather it provides a program based, at best, on representative government in which the workers' delegate their power to a minority or, at worse, on party dictatorship over the working class (the experience of Bolshevik Russia would suggest the former quickly becomes the latter, and is justified by Bolshevik ideology).

By his own arguments, here as in so many other cases, Morrow indicates that Trotskyism is not a revolutionary movement or theory.

11. Why is Morrow's comments against the militarisation of the Militias ironic?

Morrow denounces the Stalinist militarisation of the militias (their "campaign for wiping out the internal democratic life of the militias") as follows:

 

"The Stalinists early sought to set an 'example' by handing their militias over to government control, helping to institute the salute, supremacy of officers behind the lines, etc. . .

"The example was wasted on the CNT masses . . . The POUM reprinted for distribution in the militias the original Red Army Manual of Trotsky, providing for a democratic internal regime and political life in the army." [Op. Cit., p. 126]

 

Morrow states that he supported the "democratic election of soldiers' committees in each unit, centralised in a national election of soldiers' delegates to a national council." Moreover, he attacks the POUM leadership because it "forbade election of soldiers' committees" and argued that the "simple, concrete slogan of elected soldier's committees was the only road for securing proletariat control of the army." He attacks the POUM because its "ten thousand militiamen were controlled bureaucratically by officials appointed by the Central Committee of the party, election of soldiers' committees being expressly forbidden." [Op. Cit., p. 127, p. 128 and pp. 136-7]

Again, Morrow is correct. A revolutionary working class militia does require self-management, the election of delegates, soldiers' councils and so on. Bakunin, for example, argued that the fighters on the barricades would take a role in determining the development of the revolution as the "Commune will be organised by the standing federation of the Barricades . . . composed of one or two delegates from each barricade . . . vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates." This would complement "the federative Alliance of all working men's [and women's] associations . . . which will constitute the Commune." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 170-1] That is exactly why the CNT militia organised in this fashion (and, we must note, they were only applying the organisational principles of the CNT and FAI -- i.e. anarchism -- to the militias). The militia columns were organised in a libertarian fashion from the bottom up:

 

"The establishment of war committees is acceptable to all confederal militias. We start from the individual and form groups of ten, which come to accommodations among themselves for small-scale operations. Ten such groups together make up one centuria, which appoints a delegate to represent it. Thirty centurias make up one column, which is directed by a war committee, on which the delegates from the centurias have their say. . . although every column retains its freedom of action, we arrive at co-ordination of forces, which is not the same thing as unity of command." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, pp. 256-7]

 

In other words, Morrow is arguing for an anarchist solution to the problem of defending the revolution and organising those who were fighting fascism. We say anarchist for good reason. What is ironic about Morrow's comments and description of "workers' control of the army" is that these features were exactly those eliminated by Trotsky when he created the Red Army in 1918! Indeed, Trotsky acted in exactly the same way as Morrow attacks the Stalinists for acting (and they used many of the same arguments as Trotsky did to justify it).

As Maurice Brinton correctly summarises:

 

"Trotsky, appointed Commissar of Military Affairs after Brest-Litovsk, had rapidly been reorganising the Red Army. The death penalty for disobedience under fire had been restored. So, more gradually, had saluting, special forms of address, separate living quarters and other privileges for officers. Democratic forms of organisation, including the election of officers, had been quickly dispensed with." [The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, p. 37]

 

He notes that "[f]or years, Trotskyist literature has denounced these reactionary facets of the Red Army as examples of what happened to it 'under Stalinism.'" [Op. Cit., p. 37f] This claim was, amazingly enough, also made by Trotsky himself. In 1935 he re-wrote history by arguing that "[i]n the fire of the cruel struggle [of the Civil War], there could not be even a question of a privileged position for officers: the very word was scrubbed out of the vocabulary." Only "after the victories had been won and the passage made to a peaceful situation" did "the military apparatus" try to "become the most influential and privileged part of the whole bureaucratic apparatus" with "the Stalinist bureaucracy . . . gradually over the succeeding ten to twelve years" ensuring for them "a superior position" and giving them "ranks and decorations." [How Did Stalin Defeat the Opposition?]

In fact, "ranks and decorations" and "superior" positions were introduced by Trotsky before the outbreak of the Civil War in May 1918. Having been responsible for such developments you would think he would remember them!

On March 28th, 1918, Trotsky gave a report to the Moscow City Conference of the Communist Party. In this report he stated that "the principle of election is politically purposeless and technically inexpedient, and it has been, in practice, abolished by decree" and that the Bolsheviks "fac[ed] the task of creating a regular Army." Why the change? Simply because the Bolshevik Party held power ("political power is in the hands of the same working class from whose ranks the Army is recruited"). Of course, power was actually held by the Bolshevik party, not the working class, but never fear:

 

"Once we have established the Soviet regime, that is a system under which the government is headed by persons who have been directly elected by the Soviets of Workers', Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies, there can be no antagonism between the government and the mass of the workers, just as there is no antagonism between the administration of the union and the general assembly of its members, and, therefore, there cannot be any grounds for fearing the appointment of members of the commanding staff by the organs of the Soviet Power." [Work, Discipline, Order]

 

Of course, most workers' are well aware that the administration of a trade union usually works against them during periods of struggle. Indeed, so are most Trotskyists as they often denounce the betrayals by that administration. Thus Trotsky's own analogy indicates the fallacy of his argument. Elected officials do not necessary reflect the interests of those who elected them. That is why anarchists have always supported delegation rather than representation combined with decentralisation, strict accountability and the power of instant recall. In a highly centralised system (as created by the Bolsheviks and as exists in most social democratic trade unions) the ability to recall an administration is difficult as it requires the agreement of all the people. Thus there are quite a few grounds for fearing the appointment of commanders by the government -- no matter which party makes it up.

If, as Morrow argues, the "simple, concrete slogan of elected soldier's committees was the only road for securing proletariat control of the army" then Trotsky's regime in the Red Army ensured the defeat of proletarian control of that organisation. The question Morrow raises of who would control the army, the working class or the bourgeois failed to realise the real question -- who was to control the army, the working class, the bourgeois or the state bureaucracy. Trotsky ensured that it would be the latter.

Hence Morrow's own arguments indicate the anti-revolutionary nature of Trotskyism -- unless, of course, we decide to look only at what people say and not what they do.

Of course some Trotskyists know what Trotsky actually did when he held power and try and present apologetics for his obvious destruction of soldiers' democracy. One argues that the "Red Army, more than any other institution of the civil war years, embodied the contradiction between the political consciousness and circumstantial coercion. On the one hand the creation of a Red Army was a retreat: it was a conscripted not a voluntary army; officers were appointed not elected . . . But the Red Army was also filled with a magnificent socialist consciousness." [John Rees, "In Defence of October", International Socialism, no. 52, pp. 3-82, p. 46]

This argument is somewhat weak for two reasons.

Firstly, the regressive features of the Red Army appeared before the start of the Civil War. It was a political decision to organise in this way, a decision not justified at the time in terms of circumstantial necessity. Indeed, far from it (like most of the other Bolshevik policies of the period). Rather it was justified under the rather dubious rationale that workers did not need to fear the actions of a workers' state. Circumstances were not mentioned at all nor was the move considered as a retreat or as a defeat. It was not even considered as a matter of principle.

This perspective was reiterated by Trotsky after the end of the Civil War. Writing in 1922, he argued that:

 

"There was and could be no question of controlling troops by means of elected committees and commanders who were subordinate to these committees and might be replaced at any moment . . . [The old army] had carried out a social revolution within itself, casting aside the commanders from the landlord and bourgeois classes and establishing organs of revolutionary self-government, in the shape of the Soviets of Soldiers' Deputies. These organisational and political measures were correct and necessary from the standpoint of breaking up the old army. But a new army capable of fighting could certainly not grow directly out of them . . . The attempt made to apply our old organisational methods to the building of a Red Army threatened to undermine it from the very outset . . . the system of election could in no way secure competent, suitable and authoritative commanders for the revolutionary army. The Red Army was built from above, in accordance with the principles of the dictatorship of the working class. Commanders were selected and tested by the organs of the Soviet power and the Communist Party. Election of commanders by the units themselves -- which were politically ill-educated, being composed of recently mobilised young peasants -- would inevitably have been transformed into a game of chance, and would often, in fact, have created favourable circumstances for the machinations of various intriguers and adventurers. Similarly, the revolutionary army, as an army for action and not as an arena of propaganda, was incompatible with a regime of elected committees, which in fact could not but destroy all centralised control." [The Path of the Red Army]

 

If a "circumstantial" factor exists in this rationale, it is the claim that the soldiers were "politically ill-educated." However, every mass movement or revolution starts with those involved being "politically ill-educated." The very process of struggle educates them politically. A key part of this radicalisation is practising self-management and self-organisation -- in other words, in participating in the decision making process of the struggle, by discussing ideas and actions, by hearing other viewpoints, electing and mandating delegates. To remove this ensures that those involved remain "politically ill-educated" and, ultimately, incapable of self-government. It also contains the rationale for continuing party dictatorship:

 

"If some people . . . have assumed the right to violate everybody's freedom on the pretext of preparing the triumph of freedom, they will always find that the people are not yet sufficiently mature, that the dangers of reaction are ever-present, that the education of the people has not yet been completed. And with these excuses they will seek to perpetuate their own power." [Errico Malatesta, Life and Ideas, p. 52]

 

In addition, Trotsky's rationale refutes any claim that Bolshevism is somehow "fundamentally" democratic. The ramifications of it were felt everywhere in the soviet system as the Bolsheviks ignored the "wrong" democratic decisions made by the working masses and replaced their democratic organisations with appointees from above. Indeed, Trotsky admits that the "Red Army was built from above, in accordance with the principles of the dictatorship of the working class." Which means, to state the obvious, appointment from above, the dismantling of self-government, and so on are "in accordance with the principles" of Trotskyism. These comments were not made in the heat of the civil war, but afterward during peacetime. Notice Trotsky admits that a "social revolution" had swept through the Tsarist army. His actions, he also admits, reversed that revolution and replaced its organs of "self-government" with ones identical to the old regime. When that happens it is usually called by its true name, namely counter-revolution.

For a Trotskyist, therefore, to present themselves as a supporter of self-managed militias is the height of hypocrisy. The Stalinists repeated the same arguments used by Trotsky and acted in exactly the same way in their campaign against the CNT and POUM militias. Certain acts have certain ramifications, no matter who does them or under what government. In other words, abolishing democracy in the army will generate autocratic tendencies which will undermine socialistic ones no matter who does it. The same means cannot be used to serve different ends as there is an intrinsic relationship between the instruments used and the results obtained -- that is why the bourgeoisie do not encourage democracy in the army or the workplace! Just as the capitalist workplace is organised to produce proletarians and capital along with cloth and steel, the capitalist army is organised to protect and reinforce minority power. The army and the capitalist workplace are not simply means or neutral instruments. Rather they are social structures which generate, reinforce and protect specific social relations. This is what the Russian masses instinctively realised and conducted a social-revolution in both the army and workplace to transform these structures into ones which would enhance rather than crush freedom and working class autonomy. The Bolsheviks reversed these movements in favour of structures which reproduced capitalist social relationships and justified it in terms of "socialism." Unfortunately, capitalist means and organisations would only generate capitalist ends.

It was for these reasons that the CNT and its militias were organised from the bottom up in a self-managed way. It was the only way socialists and a socialist society could be created -- that is why anarchists are anarchists, we recognise that a socialist (i.e. libertarian) society cannot be created by authoritarian organisations. As the justly famous Sonvillier Circular argued "[h]ow could one expect an egalitarian society to emerge out of an authoritarian organisation? It is impossible." [quoted by Brian Morris, Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 61] Just as the capitalist state cannot be utilised by the working class for its own ends, capitalist/statist organisational principles such as appointment, autocratic management, centralisation and delegation of power and so on cannot be utilised for social liberation. They are not designed to be used for that purpose (and, indeed, they were developed in the first place to stop it and enforce minority rule!).

In addition, to abolish democracy on the pretext that people are not ready for it ensures that it will never exist. Anarchists, in contrast, argue that "[o]nly freedom or the struggle for freedom can be the school for freedom." [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 59]

Secondly, how can a "socialist consciousness" be encouraged, or continue to exist, without socialist institutions to express it? Such a position is idealistic nonsense, expressing the wishful notion that the social relationships people experiences does not impact on those involved. In effect, Rees is arguing that as long as the leaders have the "right ideas" it does not matter how an organisation is structured. However, how people develop, the ideas they have in their heads, are influenced by the relations they create with each other -- autocratic organisations do not encourage self-management or socialism, they produce bureaucrats and subjects.

An autocratic organisation cannot encourage a socialist consciousness by its institutional life, only in spite of it. For example, the capitalist workplace encourages a spirit of revolt and solidarity in those subject to its hierarchical management and this is expressed in direct action -- by resisting the authority of the boss. It only generates a socialist perspective via resistance to it. Similarly with the Red Army. Education programs to encourage reading and writing does not generate socialists, it generates soldiers who are literate. If these soldiers do not have the institutional means to manage their own affairs, a forum to discuss political and social issues, then they remain order takers and any socialist conscious will wither and die.

The Red Army was based on the fallacy that the structure of an organisation is unimportant and it is the politics of those in charge that matter (Marxists make a similar claim for the state, so we should not be too surprised). However, it is no co-incidence that bourgeois structures are always hierarchical -- self-management is a politically educational experience which erodes the power of those in charge and transforms those who do it. It is to stop this development, to protect the power of the ruling few, that the bourgeois always turn to centralised, hierarchical structures -- they reinforce elite rule. You cannot use the same form of organisation and expect different results -- they are designed that way for a reason! To twitter on about the Red Army being "filled with a magnificent socialist consciousness" while justifying the elimination of the only means by which that consciousness could survive, prosper and grow indicates a complete lack of socialist politics and any understanding of materialist philosophy.

Moreover, one of the basic principles of the anarchist militia was equality between all members. Delegates received the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes as the rest of the unit. Not so in the Red Army. Trotsky thought, when he was in charge of it, that inequality was "in some cases . . . quite explicable and unavoidable" and that "[e]very Red Army warrior fully accepts that the commander of his unit should enjoy certain privileges as regards lodging, means of transport and even uniform." [More Equality!]

Of course, Trotsky would think that, being the head commander of the Army. Unfortunately, because soldier democracy had been abolished by decree, we have no idea whether the rank and file of the Red Army agreed with him. For Trotsky, privilege "is, in itself, in certain cases, inevitable" but "[o]stentatious indulgence in privilege is not just evil, it is a crime." Hence his desire for "more" equality rather than equality -- to aim for "eliminating the most abnormal [!] phenomena, softening [!] the inequality that exists" rather than abolish it as they did in the CNT militias. [Op. Cit.]

But, of course, such inequalities that existed in the Red Army are to be expected in an autocratically run organisation. The inequality inherent in hierarchy, the inequality in power between the order giver and order taker, will, sooner or later, be reflected in material inequality. As happened in the Red Army (and all across the "workers' state"). All Trotsky wanted was for those in power to be respectable in their privilege rather than showing it off. The anarchist militias did not have this problem because being libertarian, delegates were subject to recall and power rested with the rank and file, not an elected government.

As another irony of history, Morrow quotes a Bolshevik-Leninist leaflet (which "points the road") as demanding "[e]qual pay for officers and soldiers." [Op. Cit., p. 191] Obviously these good Trotskyists had no idea what their hero actually wrote on this subject or did when in power. We have to wonder how long their egalitarian demands would have survived once they had acquired power -- if the experience of Trotsky in power is anything to go by, not very long.

Trotsky did not consider how the abolition of democracy and its replacement with an autocratic system would effect the morale or consciousness of the soldiers subject to it. He argued that in the Red Army "the best soldier does not mean at all the most submissive and uncomplaining." Rather, "the best soldier will nearly always be sharper, more observant and critical than the others. . . by his critical comments, based on facts accessible to all, he will pretty often undermine the prestige of the commanders and commissars in the eyes of the mass of the soldiers." However, not having a democratic army the soldiers could hardly express their opinion other than rebellion or by indiscipline. Trotsky, however, adds a comment that makes his praise of critical soldiers seem less than sincere. He states that "counter-revolutionary elements, agents of the enemy, make conscious and skilful use of the circumstances I have mentioned [presumably excessive privilege rather than critical soldiers, but who can tell] in order to stir up discontent and intensify antagonism between rank and file and the commanding personnel." [Op. Cit.] The question, of course, arises of who can tell the difference between a critical soldier and a "counter-revolutionary element"? Without a democratic organisation, soldier are dependent (as in any other hierarchy) on the power of the commanders, commissars and, in the Red Army, the Bolshevik Secret Police (the Cheka). In other words, members of the very class of autocrats their comments are directed against.

Without democratic organisation, the Red Army could never be a means for creating a socialist society, only a means of reproducing autocratic organisation. The influence of the autocratic organisation created by Trotsky had a massive impact on the development of the Soviet State. According to Trotsky himself:

 

"The demobilisation of the Red Army of five million played no small role in the formation of the bureaucracy. The victorious commanders assumed leading posts in the local Soviets, in economy, in education, and they persistently introduced everywhere that regime which had ensured success in the civil war. Thus on all sides the masses were pushed away gradually from actual participation in the leadership of the country." [The Revolution Betrayed]

 

Obviously Trotsky had forgotten who created the regime in the Red Army in the first place! He also seems to have forgotten that after militarising the Red Army, he turned his power to militarising workers (starting with the railway workers). He also forgets that Lenin had been arguing that workers' must "unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of labour" from April 1918 along with granting "individual executives dictatorial power (or 'unlimited' powers)" and that "the appointment of individuals, dictators with unlimited powers" was, in fact, "in general compatible with the fundamental principles of Soviet government" simply because "the history of revolutionary movements" had "shown" that "the dictatorship of individuals was very often the expression, the vehicle, the channel of the dictatorship of revolutionary classes." He notes that "[u]ndoubtably, the dictatorship of individuals was compatible with bourgeois democracy." [The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, p. 34 and p. 32]

In other words, Lenin urged the creation of, and implemented, bourgeois forms of workplace management based on the appointment of managers from above. To indicate that this was not in contradiction with Soviet principles, he points to the example of bourgeois revolutions! As if bourgeois methods do not reflect bourgeois interests and goals. In addition, these "dictators" were given the same autocratic powers Trotsky claimed the demobilisation of the Red Army four years later had "persistently introduced everywhere." Yes, "on all sides the masses were pushed away gradually from actual participation in the leadership of the country" but the process had started immediately after the October Revolution and was urged and organised by Lenin and Trotsky before the Civil War had started.

Lenin's support for appointment of ("dictatorial") managers from above makes Trotsky's 1922 comment that the "Red Army was built from above, in accordance with the principles of the dictatorship of the working class" take on a new light. [The Path of the Red Army] After all, Lenin argued for an economy system built from above via the appointment of managers before the start of the Civil War. The Red Army was created from above via the appointment of officers before the start of the Civil War. Things had certainly changed since Lenin had argued in The State and Revolution that "[a]ll officials, without exception, [would be] elected and subject to recall at any time." This would "serve as the bridge between capitalism and socialism." [The Essential Lenin, p. 302] One major difference, given Trotsky's rationales, seems to be that the Bolsheviks were now in power and so election and recall without exception could be forgotten and replaced by appointment.

In summary, Trotsky's argument against functional democracy in the Red Army could, and was, used to justify the suppression of any democratic decision or organisation of the working class the Bolshevik government disapproved of. He used the same argument, for example, to justify the undermining of the Factory Committee movement and the struggle for workers' control in favour of one-man management -- the form of management in the workplace was irrelevant as the workers' were now citizens of a workers' state and under a workers' government (see section 17). Needless to say, a state which eliminates functional democracy in the grassroots will not stay democratic for long (and to remain the sovereign power in society, any state will have to eliminate it or, at the very least, bring it under central control -- as institutionalised in the USSR constitution of 1918).

Instead of seeing socialism as a product of free association, of working class self-organisation from the bottom up by self-managed organisations, Trotsky saw it as a centralised, top-down system. Of course, being a democrat of sorts he saw the Bolshevik Government as being elected by the mass of the population (or, more correctly, he saw it being elected by the national congress of soviets). However, his vision of centralisation of power provided the rationale for destroying functional democracy in the grass-roots -- and without healthy roots, any plant will wither and die. Little wonder, then, that the Bolshevik experiment proved such a disaster -- yes, the civil war did not help but the logic of Bolshevism has started to undermine working class self-management before is started.

Thus Trotsky's argument that the democratic nature of a workers' army or militia is irrelevant because a "workers' state" exists is flawed on many different levels. And the experience of Trotsky in power indicates well the poverty of Trotskyism and Morrow's criticism of the CNT -- his suggestion for a self-managed militia is pure anarchism with nothing to do with Leninism and the experience of Bolshevism in power.

12. What is ironic about Morrow's vision of revolution?

Equally ironic as Morrow's comments concerning democratic militias (see last section) is his argument that the revolution needed to "give the factory committees, militia committees, peasant committees, a democratic character, by having them elected by all workers in each unit; to bring together these elected delegates in village, city, regional councils . . . [and] a national congress." [Op. Cit., p. 100]

Such a position is correct, such developments were required to ensure the success of the revolution. However, it is somewhat ironic that a Trotskyist would present them as somehow being opposed to anarchism when, in fact, they are pure anarchism. Indeed, anarchists were arguing in favour of workers' councils more than five decades before Lenin discovered the importance of the Russian Soviets in 1917. Moreover, as we will indicate, what is even more ironic is the fact that Trotskyism does not actually see these organs as an expression of working class self-management and power but rather as a means of the party to take power. In addition, we must also note that it was Lenin and Trotsky who helped undermine the Russian workers' factory committees, militia committees and so on in favour of party rule. We will discuss each of these ironies in turn.

Firstly, as noted, such Morrow's stated position is exactly what Bakunin and the anarchist movement had been arguing since the 1860s. To quote Bakunin:

 

"the federative alliance of all working men's associations . . . constitute the Commune . . . all provinces, communes and associations . . . by first reorganising on revolutionary lines . . . [will] constitute the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . [and] organise a revolutionary force capable defeating reaction . . . [and for] self-defence . . . [The] revolution everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation. . . " [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 170-2]

"The future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and universal." [Op. Cit., p. 206]

 

Here is Kropotkin presenting the same vision:

 

"independent Communes for the territorial organisation, and of federations of Trade Unions [i.e. workplace associations] for the organisation of men [and women] in accordance with their different functions. . . [and] free combines and societies . . . for the satisfaction of all possible and imaginable needs, economic, sanitary, and educational; for mutual protection, for the propaganda of ideas, for arts, for amusement, and so on." [Peter Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, p. 79]

"the complete independence of the Communes, the Federation of free communes and the social revolution in the communes, that is to say the formation of associated productive groups in place of the state organisation." [quoted by Camillo Berneri, Peter Kropotkin: His Federalist Ideas]

 

Bakunin also mentions that those defending the revolution would have a say in the revolutionary structure -- the "Commune will be organised by the standing federation of the Barricades and by the creation of a Revolutionary Council composed of . . . delegates from each barricade . . . vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates." [Op. Cit., p. 171] This obviously parallels the democratic nature of the CNT militias.

Interestingly enough, Marx commented that "odd barricades, these barricades of the Alliance [Bakunin's anarchist organisation], where instead of fighting they spend their time writing mandates." [Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 111] Obviously the importance of militia self-management was as lost on him as it was on Lenin and Trotsky -- under Marx's state would its defenders just be cannon-fodder, obeying their government and officers without the ability to help determine the revolution they were fighting for? Apparently so. Moreover, Marx quotes Bakunin's support for "responsible and recallable delegates, vested with their imperative mandates" without commenting on the fact Bakunin predicts those features of the Paris Commune Marx praised in his Civil War in France by a number of years. Looks like Morrow is not the first Marxist to appropriate anarchist ideas without crediting their source.

As can be seen, Morrow's suggestion on how to push the Spanish Revolution forward just repeats the ideas of anarchism. Any one familiar with anarchist theory would not be surprised by this as they would know that we have seen a free federation of workplace and communal associations as the basis of a revolution and, therefore, a free society since the time of Proudhon. Thus Morrow's "Trotskyist" vision of a federation of workers' council actually reproduces basic anarchist ideas, ideas which pre-date Lenin's support for soviets as the basis of his "workers' state" by over half a century (we will indicate the fundamental difference between the anarchist vision and the Trotskyist in due course).

As an aside, these quotes by Bakunin and Kropotkin make a mockery of Lenin's assertion that anarchists do not analysis "what to put in the place of what has been destroyed [i.e. the old state machine] and how" [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 362] Anarchists have always suggested a clear answer to what we should "replace" the state with -- namely free federations of working class organisations created in the struggle against capital and state. To state otherwise is to either be ignorant of anarchist theory or seek to deceive.

Some anarchists like Bakunin and the anarcho-syndicalists and collectivists saw these organisations being based primarily on libertarian labour unions complemented by whatever organisations were created in the process of revolution ("The future society must be nothing else than the universalisation of the organisation that the International has formed for itself" -- "The Sonvillier Circular" echoing Bakunin, quoted by Brian Morris, Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 61] Others like Kropotkin and anarcho-communists saw it as a free federation of organisations created by the process of revolution itself. While anarchists did not present a blueprint of what would occur after the revolution (and rightly so) they did provide a general outline in terms of a decentralised, free federation of self-managed workers' associations as well as linking these future forms of working class self-government with the forms generated in the current class struggle in the here and now.

Similarly, Lenin's other assertion that anarchists do not study "the concrete lessons of previous proletarian revolutions" [Ibid.] is equally baseless, as any one reading, say, Kropotkin's work would soon realise (for example, The Great French Revolution, Modern Science and Anarchism or his pamphlet "Revolutionary Government"). Starting with Bakunin, anarchists analysed the experiences of the Paris Commune and the class struggle itself to generalise political conclusions from them (for example, the vision of a free society as a federation of workers' associations is clearly a product of analysing the class struggle and looking at the failures of the Commune). Given that Lenin states in the same work that "anarchists had tried to claim the Paris Commune as their 'own'" [p. 350] suggests that anarchists had studied the Paris Commune and he was aware of that fact. Of course, Lenin states that we had "failed to give . . . a true solution" to its lessons -- given that the solution anarchists proposed was a federation of workers councils to smash the state and defend the revolution his comments seem strange as this, according to The State and Revolution, is the "Marxist" solution as well (in fact, as we will soon see, Lenin played lip service to this and instead saw the solution as government by his party rather than the masses as a whole).

Thus, Morrow's vision of what was required for a successful revolution parallels that of anarchism. We shall now discuss where and how they differ.

The essential difference between the anarchist and Trotskyist vision of workers' councils as the basis of a revolution is what role these councils should play. For anarchists, these federations of self-managed assemblies is the actual framework of the revolution (and the free society it is trying to create). As Murray Bookchin puts it:

 

"There can be no separation of the revolutionary process from the revolutionary goal. A society based on self-administration must be achieved by means of self-administration . . . Assembly and community must arise from within the revolutionary process itself; indeed, the revolutionary process must be the formation of assembly and community, and with it, the destruction of power. Assembly and community must become 'fighting words,' not distinct panaceas. They must be created as modes of struggle against the existing society, not as theoretical or programmatic abstractions. . . The factory committees . . . must be managed directly by workers' assemblies in the factories. . . neighbourhood committees, councils and boards must be rooted completely in the neighbourhood assemble. They must be answerable at every point to the assembly, they and their work must be under continual review by the assembly; and finally, their members must be subject to immediate recall by the assembly. The specific gravity of society, in short, must be shifted to its base -- the armed people in permanent assembly." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, pp. 167-9]

 

Thus the anarchist social revolution sees workers' councils as organs of working class self-management, the means by which they control their own lives and create a new society based on their needs, visions, dreams and hopes. They are not seen as means by which others, the revolutionary party, seized power on behalf of the people as Trotskyists do.

Harsh words? No, as can be seen from Morrow who is quite clear on the role of working class organisation -- it is seen purely as the means by which the party can take power. As he argues, there is "no magic in the soviet form: it is merely the most accurate, most quickly reflecting and responsively changing form of political representation of the masses. . . It would provide the arena in which the revolutionary party can win the support of the working class." [Op. Cit., p. 136]

He states that initially the "reformist majority in the executive committee would decline the assumption of state power. But the workers could still find in the soviets their natural organs of struggle until the genuinely revolutionary elements in the various parties banded together to win a revolutionary majority in the congress and establish a workers' state." In other words, the "workers' state, the dictatorship of the proletariat . . . can only be brought into existence by the direct, political intervention of the masses, through the factory and village councils (soviets) at that point where a majority in the soviets is wielded by the workers' party or parties which are determined to overthrow the bourgeois state. Such was the basic theoretical contribution of Lenin." [Op. Cit., p. 100 and p. 113]

>From an anarchist perspective, this indicates well the fundamental difference between anarchism and Trotskyism. For anarchists, the existence of an "executive committee" indicates that the workers' council do not, in fact, have power in society -- rather it is the minority in the executive committee who have been delegated power. Rather than govern themselves and society directly, workers are turned into voters implementing the decisions their leaders have made on their behalf. If revolutionary bodies like workers' councils did create a "workers' state" (as Morrow recommends) then their power would be transferred and centralised into the hands of a so-called "revolutionary" government. In this, Morrow follows his guru Trotsky:

 

"the proletariat can take power only through its vanguard. In itself the necessity for state power arises from an insufficient cultural level of the masses and their heterogeneity. In the revolutionary vanguard, organised in a party, is crystallised the aspirations of the masses to obtain their freedom. Without the confidence of the class in the vanguard, without support of the vanguard by the class, there can be no talk of the conquest of power.

"In this sense the proletarian revolution and dictatorship are the work of the whole class, but only under the leadership of the vanguard." [Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism]

 

Thus, rather than the working class as a whole "seizing power", it is the "vanguard" which takes power -- "a revolutionary party, even after seizing power . . . is still by no means the sovereign ruler of society." [Ibid.] He mocks the anarchist idea that a socialist revolution should be based on the self-management of workers within their own autonomous class organisations:

 

"Those who propose the abstraction of Soviets to the party dictatorship should understand that only thanks to the party dictatorship were the Soviets able to lift themselves out of the mud of reformism and attain the state form of the proletariat." [Trotsky, Op. Cit., p. 18]

 

In this he followed comments made when he was in power. In 1920 he argued that "[w]e have more than once been accused of having substituted for the dictatorships of the Soviets the dictatorship of the party. Yet it can be said with complete justice that the dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only be means of the dictatorship of the party. It is thanks to the . . . party . . . [that] the Soviets . . . [became] transformed from shapeless parliaments of labour into the apparatus of the supremacy of labour. In this 'substitution' of the power of the party for the power of the working class these is nothing accidental, and in reality there is no substitution at all. The Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class." [Terrorism and Communism, p. 109] Any claims that Trotsky's infamously authoritarian (indeed dictatorial) politics were a temporary aberration caused by the necessities of the Russian Civil War are refuted by these quotes -- 17 years later he was still arguing the same point.

He had the same vision of party dictatorship being the basis of a revolution in 1924. Commenting on the Bolshevik Party conference of April 1917, he states that "whole of . . . Conference was devoted to the following fundamental question: Are we heading toward the conquest of power in the name of the socialist revolution or are we helping (anybody and everybody) to complete the democratic revolution? . . . Lenin's position was this: . . . the capture of the soviet majority; the overthrow of the Provisional Government; the seizure of power through the soviets." Note, through the soviets not by the soviets thus indicating the fact the Party would hold the real power, not the soviets of workers' delegates. Moreover, he states that "to prepare the insurrection and to carry it out under cover of preparing for the Second Soviet Congress and under the slogan of defending it, was of inestimable advantage to us." He continued by noting that it was "one thing to prepare an armed insurrection under the naked slogan of the seizure of power by the party, and quite another thing to prepare and then carry out an insurrection under the slogan of defending the rights of the Congress of Soviets." The Soviet Congress just provided "the legal cover" for the Bolshevik plans rather than a desire to see the Soviets actually start managing society. [The Lessons of October]

We are not denying that Trotskyists do aim to gain a majority within working class conferences. That is clear. Anarchists also seek to gain the support of the mass of the population. It is what they do next that counts. Trotskyists seek to create a government above these organisations and dominate the executive committees that requires. Thus power in society shifts to the top, to the leaders of the centralised party in charge of the centralised state. The workers' become mere electors rather than actual controllers of the revolution. Anarchists, in contrast, seek to dissolve power back into the hands of society and empower the individual by giving them a direct say in the revolution through their workplace, community and militia assemblies and their councils and conferences.

Trotskyists, therefore, advocate workers councils because they see them as the means the vanguard party can take power. Rather than seeing socialism or "workers' power" as a society in which everyone would directly control their own affairs, Trotskyists see it in terms of working class people delegating their power into the hands of a government. Needless to say, the two things are not identical and, in practice, the government soon turns from being the people's servant into its master.

It is clear that Morrow always discusses workers councils in terms of the strategy and program of the party, not the value that workers councils have as organs of direct workers control of society. He clearly advocates workers councils because he sees them as the best way for the vanguard party to rally workers around its leadership and organise the seizure of state power. At no time does he see then as means by which working class people can govern themselves directly -- quite the reverse.

The danger of such an approach is obvious. The government will soon become isolated from the mass of the population and, due to the centralised nature of the state, difficult to hold accountable. Moreover, given the dominant role of the party in the new state and the perspective that it is the workers' vanguard, it becomes increasingly likely that it will place its power before that of those it claims to represent.

Certainly Trotsky's role in the Russian revolution tells us that the power of the party was more important to him than democratic control by workers through mass bodies. When the workers and sailors of the Kronstadt navy base rebelled in 1921, in solidarity with striking workers in Petrograd, they were demanding freedom of the press for socialist and anarchist groups and new elections to the soviets. But the reaction of the Bolshevik leadership was to crush the Kronstadt dissent in blood. Trotsky's attitude towards workers democracy was clearly expressed at the time:

 

"They [the dissent Bolsheviks of the Workers' Opposition] have placed the workers' right to elect representatives above the Party. As if the Party were not entitled to assert its dictatorship even if that dictatorship temporarily clashed with the passing moods of the worker's democracy!"

 

He spoke of the "revolutionary historic birthright of the Party" and that it "is obliged to maintain its dictatorship . . . regardless of temporary vacillations even in the working class . . . The dictatorship does not base itself at every given moment on the formal principle of a workers' democracy." [quoted by M. Brinton, Op. Cit., p. 78]

This perspective naturally follows from Trotsky's vanguardist politics. For Leninists, the party is the bearer of "socialist consciousness" and, according to Lenin in What is to be Done?, workers, by their own efforts, can only achieve a "trade union" consciousness and, indeed, "there can be no talk of an independent ideology being developed by the masses of workers in the process of their struggle" and so "the only choice is: either bourgeois or socialist ideology" (the later being developed not by workers but by the "bourgeois intelligentsia"). [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 82 and p. 74] To weaken or question the party means to weaken or question the socialist nature of the revolution and so weaken the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Thus we have the paradoxical situation of the "proletarian dictatorship" repressing workers, eliminating democracy and maintaining itself against the "passing moods" of the workers (which means rejecting what democracy is all about). Hence Lenin's comment at a conference of the Cheka (his political police) in 1920:

 

"Without revolutionary coercion directed against the avowed enemies of the workers and peasants, it is impossible to break down the resistance of these exploiters. On the other hand, revolutionary coercion is bound to be employed towards the wavering and unstable elements among the masses themselves." [Collected Works, vol. 24, p. 170]

 

Significantly, of the 17 000 camp detainees on whom statistical information was available on 1 November 1920, peasants and workers constituted the largest groups, at 39% and 34% respectively. Similarly, of the 40 913 prisoners held in December 1921 (of whom 44% had been committed by the Cheka) nearly 84% were illiterate or minimally educated, clearly, therefore, either peasants of workers. [George Leggett, The Cheka: Lenin's Political Police, p. 178] Needless to say, Lenin failed to mention this aspect of his system in The State and Revolution (a failure shared by Morrow and later Trotskyists).

It is hard to combine these facts and Lenin's and Trotsky's comments with the claim that the "workers' state" is an instrument of class rule -- after all, Lenin is acknowledging that coercion will be exercised against members of the working class as well. The question of course arises -- who decides what a "wavering" or "unstable" element is? Given their comments on the role of the party and the need for the party to assume power, it will mean in practice whoever rejects the government's decisions (for example, strikers, local soviets who reject central decrees and instructions, workers who vote for anarchists or parties other than the Bolshevik party in elections to soviets, unions and so on, socialists and anarchists, etc.). Given a hierarchical system, Lenin's comment is simply a justification for state repression of its enemies (including elements within or even the whole working class).

It could be argued, however, that workers could use the soviets to recall the government. However, this fails for two reasons (we will ignore the question of the interests of the bureaucratic machine which will inevitably surround a centralised body -- see section H.3.9 for further discussion).

Firstly, the Leninist state will be highly centralised, with power flowing from the top-down. This means that in order to revoke the government, all the soviets in all parts of the country must, at the same time, recall their delegates and organise a national congress of soviets (which, we stress, is not in permanent session). The local soviets are bound to carry out the commands of the central government (to quote the Soviet constitution of 1918 -- they are to "carry out all orders of the respective higher organs of the soviet power"). Any independence on their part would be considered "wavering" or an expression of "unstable" natures and so subject to "revolutionary coercion". In a highly centralised system, the means of accountability is reduced to the usual bourgeois level -- vote in the general election every few years (which, in any case, can be annulled by the government to ensure that the soviets do not go back into the "mud" via the "passing moods" caused by the "insufficient cultural level of the masses"). In other words, the soviet form may be the "most accurate, most quickly reflecting and responsively changing form of political representation of the masses" (to use Morrow's words) but only before they become transformed into state organs.

Secondly, "revolutionary coercion" against "wavering" elements does not happen in isolation. It will encourage critical workers to keep quiet in case they, too, are deemed "unstable" and become subject to "revolutionary" coercion. As a government policy it can have no other effect than deterring democracy.

Thus Trotskyist politics provides the rationale for eliminating even the limited role of soviets for electing representatives they hold in that ideology.

Morrow argues that "[o]ne must never forget . . . that soviets do not begin as organs of state power" rather they start as "organs defending the workers' daily interests" and include "powerful strike committees." [Op. Cit., p. 136] That is true, initially workers' councils are expressions of working class power and are organs of working class self-management and self-activity. They are subject to direct control from below and unite from the bottom up. However, once they are turned into "organs of state power" their role (to re-quote the Soviet constitution of 1918) becomes that of "carry[ing] out all orders of the respective higher organs of the soviet power." Soviet power is replaced by party power and they become a shell of their former selves -- essentially rubber-stamps for the decisions of the party central committee.

Ironically, Morrow quotes the main theoretician of the Spanish Socialist Party as stating "the organ of the proletarian dictatorship will be the Socialist Party" and states that they "were saying precisely what the anarchist leaders had been accusing both communists and revolutionary socialists of meaning by the proletarian dictatorship." [Op. Cit., p. 99 and p. 100] This is hardly surprising, as this was what the likes of Lenin and Trotsky had been arguing. As well as the quotes we have provided above, we may add Trotsky's comment that the "fundamental instrument of proletarian revolution is the party." [Lessons of October] And the resolution of the Second World Congress of the Communist International which stated that "[e]very class struggle is a political struggle. The goal of this struggle . . . is the conquest of political power. Political power cannot be seized, organised and operated except through a political party." [cited by Duncan Hallas, The Comintern, p. 35] In addition, we may quote Lenin's opinion that:

 

"The very presentation of the question -- 'dictatorship of the Party or dictatorship of the class, dictatorship (Party) of the leaders or dictatorship (Party) of the masses?' -- is evidence of the most incredible and hopeless confusion of mind . . . [because] classes are usually . . . led by political parties. . . "

 

And:

 

"To go so far in this matter as to draw a contrast in general between the dictatorship of the masses and the dictatorship of the leaders, is ridiculously absurd and stupid." [Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, pp. 25-6 and p. 27]

 

As Lenin and Trotsky constantly argued, proletarian dictatorship was impossible without the political party of the workers (whatever its name). Indeed, to even discuss any difference between the dictatorship of the class and that of the party just indicated a confused mind. Hence Morrow's comments are incredulous, particularly as he himself stresses that the soviet form is useful purely as a means of gaining support for the revolutionary party which would take over the executive of the workers' councils. He clearly is aware that the party is the essential organ of proletarian rule from a Leninist perspective -- without the dictatorship of the party, Trotsky argues, the soviets fall back into the mud. Trotsky, indeed, stressed this need for the dictatorship of the party rather than of the proletariat in a letter written in 1937:

 

"The revolutionary dictatorship of a proletarian party is for me not a thing that one can freely accept or reject: It is an objective necessity imposed upon us by the social realities -- the class struggle, the heterogeneity of the revolutionary class, the necessity for a selected vanguard in order to assure the victory. The dictatorship of a party belongs to the barbarian prehistory as does the state itself, but we can not jump over this chapter, which can open (not at one stroke) genuine human history. . . The revolutionary party (vanguard) which renounces its own dictatorship surrenders the masses to the counter-revolution . . . Abstractly speaking, it would be very well if the party dictatorship could be replaced by the 'dictatorship' of the whole toiling people without any party, but this presupposes such a high level of political development among the masses that it can never be achieved under capitalist conditions. The reason for the revolution comes from the circumstance that capitalism does not permit the material and the moral development of the masses." [Trotsky, Writings 1936-37, pp. 513-4]

The net result of Bolshevik politics in Russia was that Lenin and Trotsky undermined the self-management of working class bodies during the Russian Revolution and before the Civil War started in May 1918. We have already chronicled Trotsky's elimination of democracy and equality in the Red Army (see section 11). A similar fate befell the factory committees (see section 17) and soviet democracy (as noted above). The logic of Bolshevism is such that at no point did Lenin describe the suppression of soviet democracy and workers' control as a defeat (indeed, as far as workers' control went Lenin quickly moved to a position favouring one-man management). We discuss the Russian Revolution in more detail in the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" and so will not do so here.

All in all, while Morrow's rhetoric on the nature of the social revolution may sound anarchist, there are important differences between the two visions. While Trotskyists support workers' councils on purely instrumentalist grounds as the best means of gaining support for their party's assumption of governmental power, anarchists see workers' councils as the means by which people can revolutionise society and themselves by practising self-management in all aspects of their lives. The difference is important and its ramifications signify why the Russian Revolution became the "dictatorship over the proletariat" Bakunin predicted. His words still ring true:

 

"[b]y popular government they [the Marxists] mean government of the people by a small under of representatives elected by the people. . . [That is,] government of the vast majority of the people by a privileged minority. But this minority, the Marxists say, will consist of workers. Yes, perhaps, of former workers, who, as soon as they become rulers or representatives of the people will cease to be workers and will begin to look upon the whole workers' world from the heights of the state. They will no longer represent the people but themselves and their own pretensions to govern the people." [Statism and Anarchy, p. 178]

 

It was for this reason that he argued the anarchists do "not accept, even in the process of revolutionary transition, either constituent assemblies, provisional governments or so-called revolutionary dictatorships; because we are convinced that revolution is only sincere, honest and real in the hands of the masses, and that when it is concentrated in those of a few ruling individuals it inevitably and immediately becomes reaction." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 237] The history of the Russian Revolution proved him right. Hence anarchist support for popular assemblies and federations of workers' councils as the framework of the social revolution rather than as a means to elect a "revolutionary" government.

One last point. We must point out that Morrow's follows Lenin in favouring executive committees associated with workers' councils. In this he actually ignores Marx's (and Lenin's, in State and Revolution) comments that the Paris Commune was "to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time." [Selected Writings, p. 287] The existence of executive committees was coded into the Soviet Union's 1918 Constitution. This suggests two things. Firstly, Leninism and Trotskyism differ on fundamental points with Marx and so the claim that Leninism equals Marxism is difficult to support (the existence of libertarian Marxists like Anton Pannekoek and other council communists also disprove such claims). Secondly, it indicates that Lenin's claims in State and Revolution were ignored once the Bolsheviks took power so indicating that use of that work to prove the democratic nature of Bolshevism is flawed.

Moreover, Marx's support of the fusion of executive and legislative powers is not as revolutionary as some imagine. For anarchists, as Bookchin argues, "[i]n point of fact, the consolidation of 'executive and legislative' functions in a single body was regressive. It simply identified the process of policy-making, a function that rightly should belong to the people in assembly, with the technical execution of these policies, a function that should be left to strictly administrative bodies subject to rotation, recall, limitations of tenure . . . Accordingly, the melding of policy formation with administration placed the institutional emphasis of classical [Marxist] socialism on centralised bodies, indeed, by an ironical twist of historical events, bestowing the privilege of formulating policy on the 'higher bodies' of socialist hierarchies and their execution precisely on the more popular 'revolutionary committees' below." [Toward an Ecological Society, pp. 215-6]

13. Why do anarchists reject the Marxist "workers' state"?

Morrow asserts two "fundamental" tenets of "anarchism" in his book [Op. Cit., pp. 101-2]. Unfortunately for him, his claims are somewhat at odds with reality. Anarchism, as we will prove in section 14, does not hold one of the positions Morrow states it does. The first "tenet" of anarchism he fails to discuss at all and so the reader cannot understand why anarchists think as they do. We discuss this "tenet" here.

The first tenet is that anarchism "has consistently refused to recognise the distinction between a bourgeois and a workers' state. Even in the days of Lenin and Trotsky, anarchism denounced the Soviet Union as an exploiters' regime." [Op. Cit., p. 101] It is due to this, he argues, the CNT co-operated with the bourgeois state:

 

"The false anarchist teachings on the nature of the state . . . should logically have led them [the CNT] to refuse governmental participation in any event . . . the anarchists were in the intolerable position of objecting to the necessary administrative co-ordination and centralisation of the work they had already begun. Their anti-statism 'as such' had to be thrown off. What did remain, to wreck disaster in the end, was their failure to recognise the distinction between a workers' and a bourgeois state." [Op. Cit., p. 101]

 

Needless to say, Morrow does not bother to explain why anarchists consider the bourgeois and workers' state to be similar. If he did then perhaps his readers would agree with the anarchists on this matter. However, before discussing that we have to address a misrepresentation of Morrow's. Rather than the expression of anarchist politics, the actions of the CNT were in direct opposition to them. As we showed in the section 12, anarchists see a social revolution in terms of creating federations of workers associations (i.e. workers' councils). It was this vision that had created the structure of the CNT (as Bakunin had argued, "the organisation of the trade sections and their representation in the Chambers of Labour . . . bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old one. They are creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself" [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 255]).

Thus, the social revolution would see the workers' organisation (be they labour unions or spontaneously created organs) "tak[ing] the revolution into its own hands . . . an earnest international organisation of workers' associations . . . [would] replac[e] this departing political world of States and bourgeoisie." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 110] This is precisely what the CNT did not do -- rather it decided against following anarchist theory and instead decided to co-operate with other parties and unions in the "Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias" (at least temporarily until the CNT stronghold in Saragossa was liberated by CNT militias). In effect, it created a UGT-like "Alliance" with other anti-fascist parties and unions and rejected its pre-war policy of "unity from below." The CNT and FAI leadership decided not to talk of libertarian communism but only of the fight against fascism. A greater mistake they could not have made.

An anarchist approach in the aftermath of the fascist uprising would have meant replacing the Generalitat with a federal assembly of delegates from workplace and local community assemblies (a Defence Council, to use a CNT expression). Only popular assemblies (not political parties) would be represented (parties would have an influence only in proportion to their influence in the basic assemblies). All the CNT would have had do was to call a Regional Congress of unions and invite the UGT, independent unions and unorganised workplaces to send delegates to create the framework of this system. This, we must stress, was not done. We will discuss why in section 20 and so will refrain from doing so here. However, because the CNT in effect "postponed" the political aspects of the social revolution (namely, to quote Kropotkin, to "smash the State and replace it with the Federation [of Communes]" [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 259]) the natural result would be exactly as Morrow explains:

 

"But isn't it a far cry from the failure to create the organs to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to the acceptance of the role of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie? Not at all . . . Without developing soviets -- workers' councils -- it was inevitable that even the anarchists and the POUM would drift into governmental collaboration with the bourgeoisie." [Op. Cit., pp. 88-9]

 

As Kropotkin predicted, "there can be no half-way house: either the Commune is to be absolutely free to endow itself with whatever institutions it wishes and introduce all reforms and revolutions it may deem necessary, or else it will remain . . . a mere subsidiary of the State, chained in its every movement." [Op. Cit., p. 259] Without an alternative means of co-ordinating the struggle, the CNT would, as Morrow argued, have little choice but to collaborate with the state. However, rather than being a product of anarchist theory, as Morrow states, this came about by ignoring that theory (see section 20).

This can be seen from the false alternative used to justify the CNT's and FAI's actions -- namely, "either libertarian communism, which means anarchist dictatorship, or democracy, which means collaboration." The creation of libertarian communism is done from below by those subject to capitalist and statist hierarchy overthrowing those with power over them by smashing the state machine and replacing it with self-managed organisations as well as expropriating capital and placing it under workers' self-management. As Murray Bookchin argues:

 

"Underlying all [the] errors [of the CNT], at least in theoretical terms, was the CNT-FAI's absurd notion that if it assumed power in the areas it controlled, it was establishing a 'State.' As long as the institutions of power consisted of armed workers and peasants as distinguished from a professional bureaucracy, police force, army, and cabal of politicians and judges, they were no[t] a State . . . These institutions, in fact comprised a revolutionary people in arms . . . not a professional apparatus that could be regarded as a State in any meaningful sense of the term. . . That the 'taking of power' by an armed people in militias, libertarian unions and federations, peasant communes and industrial collectives could be viewed as an 'anarchist dictatorship' reveals the incredible confusion that filled the minds of the 'influential militants.'" ["Looking Back at Spain," pp. 53-96, The Radical Papers, pp. 86-7]

 

This perspective explains why anarchists do not see any fundamental difference between a so-called "workers' state" and the existing state. For anarchists, the state is based fundamentally on hierarchical power -- the delegation of power into the hands of a few, of a government, of an "executive" committee. Unlike Lenin, who stressed the "bodies of armed men" aspect of the state, anarchists consider the real question as one of who will tell these "bodies of armed men" what to do. Will it be the people as a whole (as expressed through their self-managed organisations) or will be it a government (perhaps elected by representative organisations)?

If it was simply a question of consolidating a revolution and its self-defence then there would be no argument:

 

"But perhaps the truth is simply this: . . . [some] take the expression 'dictatorship of the proletariat' to mean simply the revolutionary action of the workers in taking possession of the land and the instruments of labour, and trying to build a society and organise a way of life in which there will be no place for a class that exploits and oppresses the producers.

"Thus constructed, the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' would be the effective power of all workers trying to bring down capitalist society and would thus turn into Anarchy as soon as resistance from reactionaries would have ceased and no one can any longer seek to compel the masses by violence to obey and work for him. In which case, the discrepancy between us would be nothing more than a question of semantics. Dictatorship of the proletariat would signify the dictatorship of everyone, which is to say, it would be a dictatorship no longer, just as government by everybody is no longer a government in the authoritarian, historical and practical sense of the word.

"But the real supporters of 'dictatorship of the proletariat' do not take that line, as they are making quite plain in Russia. Of course, the proletariat has a hand in this, just as the people has a part to play in democratic regimes, that is to say, to conceal the reality of things. In reality, what we have is the dictatorship of one party, or rather, of one' party's leaders: a genuine dictatorship, with its decrees, its penal sanctions, its henchmen and above all its armed forces, which are at present [1919] also deployed in the defence of the revolution against its external enemies, but which will tomorrow be used to impose the dictator's will upon the workers, to apply a break on revolution, to consolidate the new interests in the process of emerging and protect a new privileged class against the masses." [Malatesta, No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, pp. 38-9]

 

Maurice Brinton sums up the issue well when he argued that "workers' power" "cannot be identified or equated with the power of the Party -- as it repeatedly was by the Bolsheviks . . . What 'taking power' really implies is that the vast majority of the working class at last realises its ability to manage both production and society -- and organises to this end." [The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, p. xiv]

The question is, therefore, one of who "seizes power" -- will it be the mass of the population or will it be a party claiming to represent the mass of the population. The difference is vital -- and anyone who confuses the issue (like Lenin) does so either out of stupidity or vested interests.

If it is the mass of people then they have to express themselves and their power (i.e. the power to manage their own affairs). That requires that individuals -- no matter where they are, be it in the workplace, community or on the front line -- are part of self-managed organisations. Only by self-management in functional groups can working class people be said to controlling their own lives and determining their own fate. Such a system of popular assemblies and their means of defence would not be a state in the anarchist sense of the word.

As we argued in section 12, the Trotskyist vision of revolution, while seeming in some ways similar to that of anarchists, differ on this question. For Trotskyists, the party takes power, not the mass of the population directly. Only if you view "proletarian" seizure of power in terms of electing a political party to government could you see the elimination of functional democracy in the armed forces and the workplaces as no threat to working class power. Given Trotsky's actual elimination of democracy in the Red Army and Navy plus his comments on one-man management (and their justifications -- see sections 11 and 17) it is clear that Trotskyists consider the workers' state in terms of party government, not self-management, not functional direct democracy.

Yes, the Trotskyists do claim that it is the workers, via their soviets, who will elect the government and hold it accountable but such a position fails to realise that a social revolution can only be created from below, by the direct action of the mass of the population. By delegating power into the hands of a few, the revolution is distorted. The initiative and power no longer rests in the hands of the mass of the population and so they can no longer take part in the constructive work of the revolution and so it will not reflect their interests and needs. As power flows from the top-down, bureaucratic distortions are inevitable.

Moreover, the government will inevitably clash with its subjects and Trotskyist theory provides the justification for the government imposing its wishes and negating workers' democracy (see section 12 for evidence for this claim). Moreover, in the centralised state desired by Trotskyists democratic accountability will inevitably suffer as power flows to the top:

 

"The power of the local soviets passed into the hands of the [National] Executive Committee, the power of the Executive Committee passed into the hands of the Council of People's Commissars, and finally, the power of the Council of People's Commissars passed into the hands of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party." [Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 152]

 

Little wonder, then, these CNT aphorisms:

 

"power corrupts both those who exercise it and those over whom it is exercised; those who think they can conquer the State in order to destroy it are unaware that the State overcomes all its conquerors. . . dictatorship of the proletariat is dictatorship without the proletariat and against them." [Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 456]

 

That, in a nut shell, why anarchists consider the workers' state as no real change from the bourgeois state. Rather than creating a system in which working class people directly manage their own affairs, the workers' state, like any other state, involves the delegation of that power into the hands of a few. Given that state institutions generate specific social relations, specific relations of authority (namely those order giver and order taker) they cannot help becoming separated from society, becoming a new class based on the state's bureaucratic machine. Any state structure (particularly a highly centralised one, as desired by Leninists) has a certain independence from society and so serves the interests of those within the State institutions rather than the people as a whole.

Perhaps a Leninist will point to The State and Revolution as evidence that Lenin desired a state based round the soviets -- workers' council -- and so our comments are unjustified. However, as Marx said, judge people by what they do, not what they say. The first act of the October Revolution was to form an executive power over the soviets (although, of course, in theory accountable to their national congress). In The State and Revolution Lenin praised Marx's comment that the Paris Commune was both administrative and executive. The "workers' state" created by Lenin did not follow that model (as Russian anarcho-syndicalists argued in August 1918, "the Soviet of People's Commissars [i]s an organ which does not stem from the soviet structure but only interferes with its work" [The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, p. 118]).

Thus the Bolshevik state was not based around soviet self-management nor the fusion of executive and administrative in their hands but rather the use of the soviets to elect a government (a separate executive) which had the real power. The issue is quite simple -- either "All power to the Soviets" means just that or it means "All power to the government elected by the Soviets". The two are not the same as the first, for the obvious reason that in the second the soviets become simply ratification machines for the government and not organs in which the working masses can run their own affairs. We must also point out that the other promises made in Lenin's book went the same way as his support for the combining administration and executive tasks in the Paris Commune -- and, we stress, all before the Civil War started in May 1918 (the usual Trotskyist defence of such betrayals is blame the Civil War which is hard to do as it had not started yet).

So it is unsurprising that Morrow does not explain why anarchists reject the "dictatorship of the proletariat" -- to do so would be to show that Trotskyism is not the revolutionary movement for workers' liberty it likes to claim it is. Moreover, it would involve giving an objective account of anarchist theory and admitting that the CNT did not follow its teachings.

14. What is wrong with Morrow's "fundamental tenet" of anarchism?

According to Morrow the "second fundamental tenet in anarchist teaching" is, apparently, the following:

 

"Since Bakunin, the anarchists had accused Marxists of over-estimating the importance of state power, and had characterised this as merely the reflection of the petty-bourgeois intellectuals' pre-occupation with lucrative administrative posts. Anarchism calls upon workers to turn their backs on the state and seek control of the factories as the real source of power. The ultimate sources of power (property relations) being secured, the state power will collapse, never to be replaced."

 

He then sums up by stating the Spanish anarchists "thus failed to understand that it was only the collapse of state power . . . which had enabled them to seize the factories." [Op. Cit., p. 102]

It would be interesting to discover in what work of Bakunin, or any anarchist, such a position could be found. Morrow gives us no references to help us in our quest -- hardly surprising as no anarchist (Spanish or otherwise) ever argued this point before July 1936. However, in September 1936, we discover the CNT arguing that the "withering away of the State is socialism's ultimate objective. Facts have demonstrated that in practice it is achieved by liquidation of the bourgeois State, brought to a state of asphyxiation by economic expropriation." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, p. 261] This, we must note, was the same month the CNT decided to join the Catalan Government! So much for the state having withered away.

However, will soon be made clear, such comments were a revision of anarchist theory brought about by the apparent victory of the CNT on July 19th, 1936 (just as other revisions occurred to justify CNT participation in the state). In other words, Morrow's "second fundamental tenet" does not exist in anarchist theory. To prove this, we will quote Bakunin and a few other famous anarchists as well as giving an overview of some of the insurrections organised by the CNT before 1936. We start with Bakunin, Kropotkin and Malatesta.

Given that Bakunin thought that it was the "power of the State" which "sustains the privileged classes" against the "legitimate indignation of the masses of the people" it is hard to know what Morrow is talking about. [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 196] Given this perspective, it naturally follows that to abolish capitalism, to allow the seizure of factories by the workers, the state had to be abolished (or "destroyed"). Equally clear is that the "natural and necessary consequence of this destruction will be . . . [among others, the] dissolution of army, magistracy, bureaucracy, police and priesthood. . . confiscation of all productive capital and means of production on behalf of workers' associations, who are to put them to use . . . the federative Alliance of all working men's associations . . . will constitute the Commune." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings p. 253 and p. 170]

Thus, the state has to be abolished in order to ensure that workers' can take over the means of production, so abolishing capitalism. This is the direct opposite of Morrow's claim that "[s]ince Bakunin" anarchism had "call[ed] upon the workers to turn their backs to the state and seek control of the factories as the real source of power." While control of the economy by workers is an important, indeed a key, aspect of a social revolution it is not a sufficient one for anarchists. It must be combined with the destruction of the state (as Bakunin argued, "[n]o revolution could succeed . . . today unless it was simultaneously a political and a social revolution" [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 141]). As the power of the state "sustains" the capitalists it clearly follows that the capitalist only has his property because the state protects his property claims -- without the state, workers' would seize the means of production. Which means, contra Morrow, Bakunin was aware that in order for workers' to take over their workplaces the state had to be destroyed as it was by means of the state that capitalist property rights are enforced.

And, just to stress the obvious, you cannot "turn your backs on the state" while dissolving the state bureaucracy, the army, police and so on. This is clear for Bakunin. He argued that "[l]iberty can only be created by liberty, by an insurrection of all the people and the voluntary organisation of the workers from below upward." And the nature of this workers' organisation? Workers' councils -- the "proletariat . . . must enter the International [Workers' Association] en masse, form[ing] factory, artisan, and agrarian sections, and unite them into local federations." [Statism and Anarchy, p. 179 and p. 49]

Similarly, we discover Kropotkin arguing that "expropriation" would occur at the same time as "the capitalists' power to resist [had] been smashed" and that "the authorities" will be "overthrown." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 232 and p. 233] He also recognised the need for self-defence, arguing that the revolution must "withstand both the attempts to form a government that would seek to strangle it and any onslaughts which may emanate from without." [Op. Cit., p. 232] He argued the Commune "must smash the State and replace it with the Federation and it will act accordingly." [Op. Cit., p. 259] You cannot do all this by "turning your backs" on the state. To smash the state you need to face it and fight it -- there is no other way.

Elsewhere he argued that the commune of the future would base itself on "the principles of anarchist communism" and "entirely abolish . . . property, government, and the state." They will "proclaim and establish their independence by direct socialist revolutionary action, abolishing private property" when "governments are swept away by the people . . . the insurgent people will not wait until some new government decrees, in its marvellous wisdom, a few economic reforms." Rather, they "will take possession on the spot and establish their rights by utilising it without delay. They will organise themselves in the workshops to continue the work, but what they will produce will be what is wanted by the masses, not what gives the highest profit to employers. . . they will organise themselves to turn to immediate use the wealth stored up in the towns; they will take possession of it as if it had never been stolen from them by the middle class." [The Commune of Paris] Note that Kropotkin explicitly states that only after "governments are swept away" would the "insurgent people . . . organise themselves in the workshops."

As Malatesta noted, the anarchist principles formulated in 1872 at the Congress of St Imier (under the influence of Bakunin, obviously) stated that "[d]estruction of all political power is the first duty of the proletariat" who must "establish solidarity in revolutionary action outside the framework of bourgeois politics." He adds, "[n]eedless to say, for the delegates of St. Imier as for us and for all anarchists, the abolition of political power is not possible without the simultaneous destruction of economic privilege." [Life and Ideas, pp. 157-8]

Malatesta himself always stressed that revolution required "the insurrectionary act which sweeps away the material obstacles, the armed forces of the government." He argued that "[o]nce the government has been overthrown . . . it will be the task of the people . . . to provide for the satisfaction of immediate needs and to prepare for the future by destroying privileges and harmful institutions." [Op. Cit., p. 163 and p. 161] In other words, the revolution needs to smash the state and at the same time abolish capitalism by expropriation by the workers.

Thus anarchism is clear on that you need to destroy the state in order to expropriate capital. Morrow's assertions on this are clearly false. Rather than urging "workers to turn their backs on the state and seek control of the factories as the real source of power" anarchism calls upon workers to "overthrow," "smash," "sweep away," "destroy", "dissolve" the state and its bureaucratic machinery via an "insurrectionary act" and expropriate capital at the same time -- in other words, a popular uprising probably combined with a general strike ("an excellent means for starting the social revolution," in Malatesta's words, but not in itself enough to made "armed insurrection unnecessary" [Errico Malatesta, The Anarchist Reader, pp. 224-5]).

That, in itself, indicates that Morrow's "fundamental tenet" of anarchism does not, in fact, actually exist. In addition, if we look at the history of the CNT during the 1930s we discover that the union organised numerous insurrections which did not, in fact, involve workers "turning their backs on the state" but rather attacking the state. For example, in the spontaneous revolt of CNT miners in January 1932, the workers "seized town halls, raised the black-and-red flags of the CNT, and declared communismo liberatario." In Tarassa, the same year, the workers again "seiz[ed] town halls" and the town "swept by street fighting." The revolt in January 1933 began with "assaults by Anarchist action groups . . . on Barcelona's military barracks . . . Serious fighting occurred in working-class barrios and the outlying areas of Barcelona . . . Uprising occurred in Tarassa, Sardanola-Ripollet, Lerida, in several pueblos in Valencia province, and in Andalusia." In Casas Viejas, as we discussed in section 1, the CNT members surrounded and attacked the barracks of the Civil Guard. In December 1933, the workers "reared barricades, attacked public buildings, and engaged in heavy street fighting . . . many villages declared libertarian communism." [Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists, p. 225, p. 226, p. 227 and p. 238]

Moreover, "[w]herever possible . . . insurrections had carried out industrial and agrarian take-overs and established committees for workers' and peasant's control, libertarian systems of logistics and distribution -- in short, a miniature society 'organised on the lines set down by Kropotkin.'" [Bookchin, Op. Cit., p. 239]

Now, does all that really sound like workers turning their backs on the state and only seizing control of their factories?

Perhaps it will be argued that Morrow is referring to after the insurrection (although he clearly is not). What about the defence of the revolution? Anarchists have always been clear on this too -- the revolution would be defended by the people in arms. We have discussed this issue above (in sections 1 and 8 in particular) so we do not need to discuss it in much detail here. We will just provide another quote by Bakunin (although written in 1865, Bakunin made the same points over and over again until his death in 1876):

 

"While it [the revolution] will be carried out locally everywhere, the revolution will of necessity take a federalist format. Immediately after established government has been overthrown, communes will have to reorganise themselves along revolutionary lines . . . In order to defend the revolution, their volunteers will at the same time form a communal militia. But no commune can defend itself in isolation. So it will be necessary for each of them to radiate outwards, to raise all its neighbouring communes in revolt . . . and to federate with them for common defence." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 142]

 

This was essentially the position agreed by the CNT in May 1936:

 

"The armed people will be the best guarantee against all attempts to restore the destroyed regime by interior or exterior forces . . . Each Commune should have its arms and elements of defence." [quoted by Robert Alexander, The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, vol. 1, p. 64]

 

Like the CNT with its "Defence Committees" the defence of the revolution would rest with the commune and its federation. Thus Morrow's "fundamental tenet" of anarchism does not exist. We have never urged the ignoring of the state nor the idea that seizing economic power will eliminate political power by itself. Nor is anarchism against the defence of a revolution. The position of the CNT in May 1936 was identical to that of Bakunin in 1865. The question is, of course, how do you organise a revolution and its defence -- is it by the whole people or is it by a party representing that people. Anarchists argue for the former, Trotskyists the latter. Needless to say, a state structure (i.e. a centralised, hierarchical structure based on the delegation of power) is required only when a revolution is seen as rule by a party -- little wonder anarchists reject the concept of a "workers' state" as a contradiction in terms.

The question of July 1936 however rears its head. If anarchism does stand for insurrection, workers councils and so on, then why did the CNT ignore the state? Surely that suggests anarchism is, as Morrow claims, flawed? No, it does not -- as we argue in some detail in section 20 this confuses mistakes by anarchists with errors in anarchist theory. The CNT-FAI did not pursue anarchist theory and so July 1936 does not invalidate anarchism. As Bakunin argued, "[n]o revolution could succeed . . . unless it was simultaneously a political and a social revolution." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 141] The revolution of July 1936 was a social revolution (it expropriated capital and revolutionised social relationships across society) but it was not a political revolution -- in other words, it did not destroy the state. The CNT refused to do this because of the danger of fascism and fear of isolation (see section 20). Little wonder the social revolution was defeated -- the CNT did not apply basic anarchist theory. To dismiss anarchist ideas because they were not applied seems somewhat strange.

To finish this section we must indicate that Morrow's statement concerning anarchists "turning our backs" to the state and concentrating on property actually contradicts both Engels and Lenin.

As Lenin notes in The State and Revolution, "Marx agreed with Proudhon on the necessity of 'smashing' the present state machine. . . [there is] similarity between Marxism and anarchism (Proudhon and Bakunin) . . . on this point" and that anarchists advocate "the destruction of the state machine." [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 310 and p. 358] You can hardly smash the state or destroy the state machine by "turning your back" to it. Similarly, Engels argued (although distorting his thought somewhat) that Bakunin saw "the state as the main evil to be abolished . . . [and] maintains that it is the state which has created capital, that the capitalist has his capital only by the grace of the state . . . [Hence] it is above all the state which must be done away with . . . organise, and when ALL workers are won over . . . abolish the state and replace it with the organisation of the International." [The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 728-9] You cannot "abolish" and "replace" the state by ignoring it ("turning your back to it"). We must also stress that Engels comments disprove Lenin's assertion that anarchists "have absolutely no clear idea of what the proletariat will put in its [the states] place." [Op. Cit., p. 358] We have always been clear, namely a federation of workers' associations (this was the organisation of the First International). In other, more modern, words, a system of workers' councils -- a position Marxists only embraced six decades later when Lenin advocated them as the basis of his "workers' state."

Thus Morrow's comments against anarchism are in contradiction to usual Marxist claims against anarchism (namely, that we seek to smash the state but do not understand that the workers' state is necessary to abolish capitalism). Indeed, Engels attributed the opposite idea to Bakunin that Morrow implies anarchists think with regards to property -- namely the idea that the capitalist has his property because of the state. Morrow's "fundamental tenet" of anarchism not only does not exist in anarchist theory, it does not even exist in the Marxist critique of that theory! It is impressive enough to assign a false doctrine to your enemies, it takes real ability to make a claim which contradicts your own theory's assertions!

15. Did Spanish Anarchism aim for the creation of "collectives" before the revolution?

The formation of the worker-managed enterprises called "collectives" in the Spanish revolution of 1936 has sometimes led people (particularly Marxists) to misconceptions about anarcho-syndicalist and communist-anarchist theory. These comments by a Marxist-Leninist are typical:

 

"Spanish anarchists believed that a system of autonomous collectives, with the weakest possible connections between them, was the alternative to capitalism and also to the Marxist view of society running the entire economy as one whole."

 

And:

 

"The anarchist theory led to the ordinary anarchist considering each factory as owned simply by the workers that laboured there, and not by the working class as a whole." [Joseph Green, "The Black Autonomy Collective and the Spanish Civil War", Communist Voice no. 10, Vol. 2, no. 5, Oct. 1, 1996]

 

This assertion is sometimes voiced by Libertarian Marxists of the council communist tendency (who should know better):

 

"At the time of the Civil War, a popular idea amongst the Spanish working class and peasants was that each factory, area of land, etc., should be owned collectively by its workers, and that these 'collectives' should be linked with each other on a 'federal' basis - that is, without any superior central authority.

"This basic idea had been propagated by anarchists in Spain for more than 50 years. When the Civil War began, peasants and working class people in those parts of the country which had not immediately fallen under fascist control seized the opportunity to turn anarchist ideal into reality." ["Anarchism and the Spanish 'Revolution'", Subversion no. 18]

 

Trotskyist Felix Morrow also presents a similar analysis when he states that the POUM "recorded the tendency of CNT unions to treat collectivised property as their own. It never attacked the anarcho-syndicalist theories which created the tendency." [Op. Cit., p. 104]

However, the truth of the matter is somewhat different.

Firstly, as will soon become clear, CNT policy and anarchist theory was not in favour of workers' owning their individual workplaces. Instead both argued for socialisation of the means of life by a system of federations of workers' assemblies. Individual workplaces would be managed by their workers but they would not exist in isolation or independently of the others -- they would be members of various federations (minimally an industrial one and one which united all workplaces regardless of industry in a geographical area). These would facilitate co-ordination and co-operation between self-managed workplaces. The workplace would, indeed, be autonomous but such autonomy did not negate the need for federal organs of co-ordination nor did federation negate that autonomy (as we will discuss later in section 18, autonomy means the ability to make agreements with others and so joining a federation is an expression of autonomy and not necessarily its abandonment, it depends on the nature of the federation).

Secondly, rather than being the product of "more than 50 years" of anarchist propaganda or of "anarcho-syndicalist theories", the "collectives" instituted during the Civil War were seen by the CNT as merely a temporary stop-gap. They had not been advocated in the CNT's pre-Civil War program, but came into existence precisely because the CNT was unable to carry out its libertarian communist program, which would have required setting up workers congresses and federal councils to establish co-ordination and aid the planning of common activities between the self-managed workplaces. In other words, the idea of self-managed workplaces was seen as one step in a process of socialisation, the basic building block of a federal structure of workers' councils. They were not seen as an end in themselves no matter how important they were as the base of a socialised economy.

Thus the CNT had never proposed that factories or other facilities would be owned by the people who happened to work there. The CNT's program called for the construction of "libertarian communism." This was the CNT's agreed goal, recognising it must be freely created from below. In addition, the Spanish Anarchists argued for "free experimentation, free show of initiative and suggestions, as well as the freedom of organisation," recognising that "[i]n each locality the degree of [libertarian] communism, collectivism or mutualism will depend on conditions prevailing. Why dictate rules? We who make freedom our banner, cannot deny it in economy." [D. A. de Santillan, After the Revolution, p. 97] In other words, the CNT recognised that libertarian communism would not be created overnight and different areas will develop at different speeds and in different directions depending on the material circumstances they faced and what their population desired.

However, libertarian communism was the CNTs declared goal. This meant that the CNT aimed for a situation where the economy as a whole would be socialised and not an mutualist economy consisting independent co-operatives owned and controlled by their workers (with the producers operating totally independently of each other on the basis of market exchange). Instead, workers would manage their workplace directly, but would not own it -- rather ownership would rest with society as a whole but the day-to-day management of the means of production would be delegated to those who did the actual work. Councils of workers' delegates, mandated by and accountable to workplace assemblies, would be created to co-ordinate activity at all levels of the economy.

A few quotes will be needed to show that this was, in fact, the position of the Spanish Anarchists. According to Issac Puente, the "national federations will hold as common property all the roads, railways, buildings, equipment, machinery and workshops." The village commune "will federate with its counterparts in other localities and with the national industrial federations." [Libertarian Communism, p. 29 and p. 26] In D. A. de Santillan's vision, libertarian communism would see workers' councils overseeing 18 industrial sectors. There would also be "councils of the economy" for local, regional and national levels (ultimately, international as well). [Op. Cit., pp. 50-1 and pp. 80-7] These councils would be "constitute[d] by delegations or through assemblies" and "receives [their] orientation from below and operates in accordance with the resolutions" of their appropriate "assemblies." [Op. Cit., p. 83 and p. 86]

The CNT's national conference in Saragossa during May 1936 stressed this vision. Its resolution declared that the revolution would abolish "private property, the State, the principle of authority, and . . . classes." It argued that "the economic plan of organisation, throughout national production, will adjust to the strictest principles of social economy, directly administered by the producers through their various organs of production, designated in general assemblies of the various organisations, and always controlled by them." In urban areas, "the workshop or factory council" would make "pacts with other labour centres" via "Councils of Statistics and Production" which are the "organ of relations of Union to Union (association of producers)", in other words, workers' councils. These would "federate among themselves, forming a network of constant and close relations among all the producers of the Iberian Confederation." In rural areas, "the producers of the Commune" would create a "Council of Cultivation" which would "establish the same network of relations as the Workshop, Factory Councils and those of Production and Statistics, complementing the free federation represented by the Commune."

The resolution argues that "[b]oth the Associations of industrial producers and Associations of agricultural producers will federate nationally" and "Communes will federate on a county and regional basis . . . Together these Communes will constitute an Iberian Confederation of Autonomous Libertarian Communes." Being anarchists, the CNT stressed that "[n]one of these organs will have executive or bureaucratic character" and their members "will carry out their mission as producers, meeting after the work day to discuss questions of details which don't require the decision of the communal assemblies." The assemblies themselves "will meet as often as needed by the interests of the Commune. . . When problems are dealt with which affect a country or province, it must be the Federations which deliberate, and in the meetings and assemblies all Communities will be represented and the delegates will bring points of view previously agreed upon" by the Commune assembly. [quoted by Robert Alexander, The Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 1, p. 59, p. 60 and p. 62]

Joan Ferrer, a bookkeeper who was the secretary of the CNT commercial workers union in Barcelona, explained this vision:

 

"It was our idea in the CNT that everything should start from the worker, not -- as with the Communists -- that everything should be run by the state. To this end we wanted to set up industrial federations -- textiles, metal-working, department stores, etc. -- which would be represented on an overall Economics Council which would direct the economy. Everything, including economic planning, would thus remain in the hands of the workers." [quoted by Ronald Fraser, Blood of Spain, p. 180]

 

However, social revolution is a dynamic process and things rarely develop exactly as predicted or hoped in pre-revolutionary times. The "collectives" in Spain are an example of this. Although the regional union conferences in Catalonia had put off overthrowing the government in July of 1936, workers began taking over the management of industries as soon as the street-fighting had died down. The initiative for this did not come from the higher bodies -- the regional and national committees -- but from the rank-and-file activists in the local unions. In some cases this happened because the top management of the enterprise had fled and it was necessary for the workers to take over if production was to continue. But in many cases the local union militants decided to take advantage of the situation to end wage labour by creating self-managed workplaces.

As to be expected of a real movement, mistakes were made by those involved and the development of the movement reflected the real problems the workers faced and their general level of consciousness and what they wanted. This is natural and to denounce such developments in favour of ideal solutions means to misunderstand the dynamic of a revolutionary situation. In the words of Malatesta:

 

"To organise a [libertarian] communist society on a large scale it would be necessary to transform all economic life radically, such as methods of production, of exchange and consumption; and all this could not be achieved other than gradually, as the objective circumstances permitted and to the extent that the masses understood what advantages could be gained and were able to act for themselves." [Life and Ideas, p. 36]

 

This was the situation in revolutionary Spain. Moreover, the situation was complicated by the continued existence of the bourgeois state. As Gaston Leval, in his justly famous study of the collectives, states "it was not . . . true socialisation, but . . . a self-management straddling capitalism and socialism, which we maintain would not have occurred had the Revolution been able to extend itself fully under the direction of our syndicates." [Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, p. 227-8] Leval in fact terms it "a form of workers neo-capitalism" but such a description is inaccurate (and unfortunate) simply because wage labour had been abolished and so it was not a form of capitalism -- rather it was a form of mutualism, of workers' co-operatives exchanging the product of their labour on the market.

However, Leval basic argument was correct -- due to the fact the political aspect of the revolution (the abolition of the state) had been "postponed" until after the defeat of fascism, the economic aspects of the revolution would also remain incomplete. The unions that had seized workplaces were confronted with a dilemma. They had control of their individual workplaces, but the original libertarian plan for economic co-ordination was precluded by the continued existence of the State. It was in this context of a partial revolution, under attack by the counter-revolution, that the idea of "collectives" was first put forward to solve some of the problems facing the workers and their self-managed workplaces. Unfortunately, this very "solution" caused problems of its own. For example, Gaston Leval indicates that the collectivisation decree of October 1936 "legalising collectivisation", "distorted everything right from the start" [Op. Cit., p. 227] and did not allow the collectives to develop beyond a mutualist condition into full libertarian communism. It basically legalised the existing situation while hindering its development towards libertarian communism by undermining union control.

This dilemma of self-managed individual workplaces and lack of federations to co-ordinate them was debated at a CNT union plenary in September of 1936. The idea of converting the worker-managed workplaces into co-operatives, operating in a market economy, had never been advocated by the Spanish anarchists before the Civil War, but was now seen by some as a temporary stop-gap that would solve the immediate question of what to do with the workplaces that had been seized by the workers. It was at this meeting that the term "collective" was first adopted to describe this solution. This concept of "collectivisation" was suggested by Joan Fabregas, a Catalan nationalist of middle class origin who had joined the CNT after July of 1936. As one CNT militant recalled:

 

"Up to that moment, I had never heard of collectivisation as a solution for industry -- the department stores were being run by the union. What the new system meant was that each collectivised firm would retain its individual character, but with the ultimate objective of federating all enterprises within the same industry." [quoted by Ronald Fraser, Blood of Spain, p. 212]

 

However, a number of unions went beyond "collectivisation" and took over all the facilities in their industries, eliminating competition between separate firms. The many small barber and beauty shops in Barcelona were shut down and replaced with large neighbourhood haircutting centres, run through the assemblies of the CNT barbers' union. The CNT bakers union did something similar. The CNT Wood Industry Union shut down the many small cabinet-making shops, where conditions were often dangerous and unhealthy. They were replaced with two large factories, which included new facilities for the benefit of the workforce, such as a large swimming pool.

The union ran the entire industry, from the felling of timber in the Val d'Aran to the furniture showrooms in Barcelona. The railway, maritime shipping and water, gas and electric industry unions also pursued this strategy of industrial unification, as did the textile union in the industrial town of Badalona, outside Barcelona. This was considered to be a step in the direction of eventual socialisation.

At the Catalan union plenary of September, 1936, "the bigger, more powerful unions, like the woodworkers, the transport workers, the public entertainment union, all of which had already socialised [i.e. unified their industries under union management], wanted to extend their solution to the rest of industry. The smaller, weaker unions wanted to form co-operatives. . ." [Fraser, Op. Cit., p. 212]

The collectives came out of this conflict and discussion as a sort of "middle ground" -- however, it should be stressed that it did not stop many unions from ignoring the Catalan's governments' attempt to legalise (and so control) the collectives (the so-called "collectivisation" decree) as far as they could. As Albert Perez-Baro, a Catalan Civil Servant noted, "the CNT . . . pursued its own, unilateral objectives which were different. Syndical collectivisation or syndicalised collectives, I would call those objectives; that's to say, collectives run by their respective unions . . . The CNT's policy was thus not the same as that pursued by the decree." [quoted by Fraser, Op. Cit., pp. 212-3] Indeed, Abad de Santillan stated later that he "was an enemy of the decree because I considered it premature . . . When I became [economics] councillor [of the Generalitat for the CNT], I had no intention of taking into account of carrying out the decree; I intended to allow our great people to carry on the task as they saw fit, according to their own aspiration." [quoted, Op. Cit., p. 212f]

Therefore, when Leninist Joseph Green argues the initial collectivisation of workplaces "was the masses starting to take things into their own hands, and they showed that they could continue production in their workplaces . . . The taking over of the individual workplaces and communities is one step in a revolutionary process. But there is yet more that must be done -- the workplaces and communities must be integrated into an overall economy" he is just showing his ignorance. The CNT, despite Green's assertions to the contrary, were well aware that the initial collectivisations were just one step in the revolution and were acting appropriately. It takes some gall (or extreme ignorance) to claim that CNT theory, policy and actions were, in fact, the exact opposite of what they were. Similarly, when he argues "[h]ow did the anarchists relate the various workplace collectives to each other in Barcelona? . . . they made use of a patchwork system including a Central Labour Bank, an Economic Council, credit . . ." he strangely fails to mention the socialisation attempts made by many CNT industrial unions during the revolution, attempts which reflected pre-war CNT policy. But such facts would get in the way of a political diatribe and so are ignored. [Green, Op. Cit.]

Green continues his inaccurate diatribe by arguing that:

 

"The problem is that, saddled with their false theory, they could not understand the real nature of the economic steps taken in the collectives, and thus they could not deal with the economic relations that arose among the collectives." [Op. Cit.]

 

However, the only thing false about this is the false assertions concerning anarchist theory. As is crystal clear from our comments above, the Spanish anarchists (like all anarchists) were well aware of the need for economic relations between collectives (self-managed workplaces) before the revolution and acted to create them during it. These were the industrial federations and federations of rural communities/collectives predicted in anarchist and CNT theory and actually created, in part at least, during the revolution itself.

Thus Green's "critique" of anarchism is, in fact, exactly what anarchist theory actually argues and what the Spanish anarchists themselves argued and tried to implement in all industries. Of course, there are fundamental differences between the anarchist vision of socialisation and the Leninist vision of Nationalisation but this does not mean that anarchism is blind to the necessity of integrating workplaces and communities into a coherent system of federations of workers' councils (as proven above). However, such federation has two sources -- it is either imposed from above or agreed to from below. Anarchists choose the former as the latter negates any claim that a revolution is a popular, mass movement from below (and, incidentally, the Leninist claim that the "workers' state" is simply a tool of the workers to defeat capitalist oppression).

The actual process in Spain towards industrial federations and so socialisation was dependent on the wishes of the workers involved -- as would be expected in a true social revolution. For example, the department stores were collectivised and an attempt to federate the stores failed. The works councils opposed it, considering the enterprises as their own and were unwilling to join a federation -- the general assemblies of the collectives agreed. Joan Ferrer, the secretary of the CNT commercial union, considered it natural as "[o]nly a few months before, the traditional relationship between employer and worker had been overthrown. Now the workers were being asked to make a new leap -- to the concept of collective ownership. It was asking a lot to expect the latter to happen overnight." [quoted by Fraser, Op. Cit., p. 220]

However, before Leninists like Green rush in and assert that this proves that "anarchist theory led to the ordinary anarchist considering each factory as owned simply by the workers that laboured there" we should point out two things. Firstly, it was the "ordinary anarchists" who were trying to organise socialisation (i.e. CNT members and militants). Secondly, the Russian Revolution also saw workers taking over their workplaces and treating them as their own property. Leninists like Green would have a fit if we took these examples to "prove" that Leninism "led to the ordinary Bolshevik worker considering each factory as owned simply by the workers that laboured there" (which was what the Mensheviks did argue in 1917 when Martov "blamed the Bolsheviks for creating the local, particularistic attitudes prevailing among the masses." [Samuel Farber, Before Stalinism, p. 72]). In other words, such events are a natural part of the process of a revolution and are to be expected regardless of the dominant theory in that revolution.

To summarise.

The Spanish revolution does confirm anarchist theory and in no way contradicts it. While many of the aspects of the collectives were in accord with pre-war CNT policy and anarchist theory, other aspects of them were in contradiction to them. This was seen by the militants of the CNT and FAI who worked to transform these spontaneously created organs of economic self-management into parts of a socialised economy as required for libertarian communism. Such a transformation flowed from below and was not imposed from above, as would be expected in a libertarian social revolution.

As can be seen, the standard Marxist account of the collectives and its relationship to anarchist theory and CNT policy is simply wrong.

16. How does the development of the collectives indicate the differences between Bolshevism and anarchism?

As argued in the last section, the collectives formed during the Spanish Revolution reflected certain aspects of anarchist theory but not others. They were a compromise solution brought upon by the development of the revolution and did not, as such, reflect CNT or anarchist theory or vision bar being self-managed by their workers. The militants of the CNT and FAI tried to convince their members to federate together and truly socialise the economy, with various degrees of success. A similar process occurred during the Russian Revolution of 1917. There workers created factory committees which tried to introduce workers' self-management of production. The differences in outcome in these two experiences and the actions of the Bolsheviks and anarchists indicate well the fundamental differences between the two philosophies. In this section we discuss the contrasting solutions pursued by the CNT and the Bolsheviks in their respective revolutions.

The simple fact is that revolutions are complex and dynamic processes which involve many contradictory developments. The question is how do you push them forward -- either from below or from above. Both the Spanish and the Russian revolution were marked by "localism" -- when the workers in a factory consider it their own property and ignore wider issues and organisation.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks "solved" the problem of localism by eliminating workers' self-management in favour of one-man management appointed from above. Attempts by the workers and factory committees themselves to combat localism were stopped by the Bolshevik dominated trade unions which "prevented the convocation of a planned All-Russian Congress of Factory Committees" in November 1917 when "called upon" by the Bolsheviks "to render a special serve to the nascent Soviet State and to discipline the Factory Committees." [I. Deutscher, quoted by Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, p. 19] Instead, the Bolsheviks built from the top-down their system of "unified administration" based on converting the Tsarist system of central bodies which governed and regulated certain industries during the war. [Brinton, Op. Cit., p. 36] The CNT, in comparison, tried to solve the problem of localism by a process of discussion and debate from below. Both were aware of the fact the revolution was progressing in ways different from their desired goal but their solution reflected their different politics -- libertarian in the case of the CNT, authoritarian in the case of Bolshevism.

Therefore, the actual economic aspects of the Spanish revolution reflected the various degrees of political development in each workplace and industry. Some industries socialised according to the CNT's pre-war vision of libertarian communism, others remained at the level of self-managed workplaces in spite of the theories of the union and anarchists. This was the case with other aspects of the collectives. As Vernon Richards points out, "[i]n some factories . . . the profits or income were shared out among the workers . . . As a result, wages fluctuated in different factories and even within the same industry . . . But fortunately . . . the injustice of this form of collectivisation was recognised and combated by the CNT syndicates from the beginning." [Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, pp. 106-7]

Thus the collectives, rather than expressing the economic vision of communist-anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism, came into existence precisely because the CNT was unable to carry out its libertarian communist program, which would have required setting up workers congresses and co-ordinating councils to establish common ownership and society wide self-management. To assert that the collectives were an exact reflection of anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist theory is, therefore, incorrect. Rather, they reflected certain aspects of that theory (such as workers' self-management in the workplace) while others (industrial federations to co-ordinate economic activity, for example) were only partially meet. This, we must stress, is to be expected as a revolution is a process and not an event. As Kropotkin argued:

 

"It is a whole insurrectionary period of three, four, perhaps five years that we must traverse to accomplish our revolution in the property system and in social organisation." [Words of a Rebel, p. 72]

 

Thus the divergence of the actual revolution from the program of the CNT was to be expected and so did not represent a failure or a feature of anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist theory as Morrow and other Marxists assert. Rather, it expresses the nature of a social revolution, a movement from below which, by its very nature, reflects real needs and problems and subject to change via discussion and debate. Bakunin's comments stress this aspect of the revolution:

 

"I do not say that the peasants [and workers], freely organised from the bottom up, will miraculously create an ideal organisation, confirming in all respects to our dreams. But I am convinced that what they construct will be living and vibrant, a thousands times better and more just than any existing organisation. Moreover, this . . . organisation, being on the one hand open to revolutionary propaganda . . . , and on the other, not petrified by the intervention of the State . . . will develop and perfect itself through free experimentation as fully as one can reasonably expect in our times.

"With the abolition of the State, the spontaneous self-organisation of popular life . . . will revert to the communes. The development of each commune will take its point of departure the actual condition of its civilisation . . ." [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 207]

 

To impose an "ideal" solution would destroy a revolution -- the actions and decisions (including what others may consider mistakes) of a free people are infinitely more productive and useful than the decisions and decrees of the best central committee. Moreover, a centralised system by necessity is an imposed system (as it excludes by its very nature the participation of the mass of the people in determining their own fate). As Bakunin argued, "Collectivism could be imposed only on slaves, and this kind of collectivism would then be the negation of humanity. In a free community, collectivism can come about only through the pressure of circumstances, not by imposition from above but by a free spontaneous movement from below." [Op. Cit., p. 200] Thus socialisation must proceed from below, reflecting the real development and desires of those involved. To "speed-up" the process via centralisation can only result in replacing socialisation with nationalisation and the elimination of workers' self-management with hierarchical management. Workers' again would be reduced to the level of order-takers, with control over their workplaces resting not in their hands but in those of the state.

Lenin argued that "Communism requires and presupposes the greatest possible centralisation of large-scale production throughout the country. The all-Russian centre, therefore, should definitely be given the right of direct control over all the enterprises of the given branch of industry. The regional centres define their functions depending on local conditions of life, etc., in accordance with the general production directions and decisions of the centre." He continued by explicitly arguing that "[t]o deprive the all-Russia centre of the right to direct control over all the enterprises of the given industry . . . would be regional anarcho-syndicalism, and not communism." [Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 292]

We expect that Morrow would subscribe to this "solution" to the problems of a social revolution generates. However, such a system has its own problems.

First is the basic fallacy that the centre will not start to view the whole economy as its property (and being centralised, such a body would be difficult to effectively control). Indeed, Stalin's power was derived from the state bureaucracy which ran the economy in its own interests. Not that it suddenly arose with Stalin. It was a feature of the Soviet system from the start. Samuel Farber, for example, notes that, "in practice, [the] hypercentralisation [pursued by the Bolsheviks from early 1918 onwards] turned into infighting and scrambles for control among competing bureaucracies" and he points to the "not untypical example of a small condensed milk plant with few than 15 workers that became the object of a drawn-out competition among six organisations including the Supreme Council of National Economy, the Council of People's Commissars of the Northern Region, the Vologda Council of People's Commissars, and the Petrograd Food Commissariat." [Op. Cit., p. 73] In other words, centralised bodies are not immune to viewing resources as their own property (and compared to an individual workplace, the state's power to enforce its viewpoint against the rest of society is considerably stronger).

Secondly, to eliminate the dangers of workers' self-management generating "propertarian" notions, the workers' have to have their control over their workplace reduced, if not eliminated. This, by necessity, generates bourgeois social relationships and, equally, appointment of managers from above (which the Bolsheviks did embrace). Indeed, by 1920 Lenin was boasting that in 1918 he had "pointed out the necessity of recognising the dictatorial authority of single individuals for the pursue of carrying out the Soviet idea" and even claimed that at that stage "there were no disputes in connection with the question" of one-man management. [quoted by Brinton, Op. Cit., p. 65] While the first claim is true (Lenin argued for one-man management appointed from above before the start of the Civil War in May 1918) the latter one is not true (excluding anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, there were also the dissent Left-Communists in the Bolshevik party itself).

Thirdly, a centralised body effectively excludes the mass participation of the mass of workers -- power rests in the hands of a few people which, by its nature, generates bureaucratic rule. This can be seen from the example of Lenin's Russia. The central bodies the Bolsheviks created had little knowledge of the local situation and often gave orders that contradicted each other or had little bearing to reality, so encouraging factories to ignore the centre. In other words the government's attempts to centralise actually led to localism (as well as economic mismanagement)! Perhaps this was what Green means when he argues for a "new centralism" which would be "compatible with and requiring the initiative of the workers at the base" [Green Op. Cit.]-- that is, the initiative of the workers to ignore the central bodies and keep the economy going in spite of the "new centralism"?

The simple fact is, a socialist society must be created from below, by the working class itself. If the workers do not know how to create the necessary conditions for a socialist organisation of labour, no one else can do it for them or compel them to do it. If the state is used to combat "localism" and such things then it obviously cannot be in the hands of the workers' themselves. Socialism can only be created by workers' own actions and organisations otherwise it will not be set up at all -- something else will be, namely state capitalism.

Thus, a close look at Lenin's "solution" indicates that Trotskyist claim that their state is the "tool of the majority in their fight against exploitation by the few" (to use Joseph Green's words) is refuted by their assertion that this state will also bring the economy under centralised control and by the actions of the Bolsheviks themselves.

Why is this? Simply because if the mass of collectives are not interested in equality and mutual aid in society as a whole then how can the government actually be the "tool" of the majority when it imposes such "mutual aid" and "equality" upon the collectives? In other words, the interests of the government replace those of the majority. After all, if workers did favour mutual aid and equality then they would federate themselves to achieve it. (which the collectives were actually doing all across Spain, we must note). If they do not do this then how can the "workers' state" be said to be simply their tool when it has to impose the appropriate economic structure upon them? The government is elected by the whole people, so it will be claimed, and so must be their tool. This is obviously flawed -- "if," argued Malatesta, "you consider these worthy electors as unable to look after their own interests themselves, how is it that they will know how to choose for themselves the shepherds who must guide them? And how will they be able to solve this problem of social alchemy, of producing a genius from the votes of a mass of fools? And what will happen to the minorities which are still the most intelligent, most active and radical part of a society?" [Malatesta, Anarchy, p. 53]

What does all this mean? Simply that Trotskyists recognise, implicitly at least, that the workers' state is not, in fact, the simple tool of the workers. Rather, it is the means by which "socialism" will be imposed upon the workers by the party. If workers do not practice mutual aid and federation in their day-to-day running of their lives, then how can the state impose it if it is simply their tool? It suggests what is desired "by all of the working people as a whole" (nearly always a euphemism for the party in Trotskyist ideology) is different that what they actually want (as expressed by their actions). In other words, a conflict exists between the workers' and the so-called "workers' state" -- in Russia, the party imposed its concept of the interests of the working class, even against the working class itself.

Rather than indicate some kind of failure of anarchist theory, the experience of workers' self-management in both Spain and Russia indicate the authoritarian core of Trotskyist ideology. If workers do not practice mutual aid or federation then a state claiming to represent them, to be simply their tool, cannot force them to do so without exposing itself as being an alien body with power over the workers.

For these reasons Bakunin was correct to argue that anarchists have "no faith except in freedom. Both [Marxists and anarchists], equally supporters of science which is to destroy superstition and replace belief, differ in the former wishing to impose it, and the latter striving to propagate it; so human groups, convinced of its truth, may organise and federate spontaneously, freely, from the bottom up, by their own momentum according to their real interests, but never according to any plan laid down in advance and imposed upon the ignorant masses by some superior intellects." Anarchists, he continues, "think that there is much more practical and intellectual common sense in the instinctive aspirations and in the real needs of the mass of the people than in the profound intelligence of all these doctors and teachers of mankind who, after so many fruitless attempts to make humanity happy, still aspire to add their own efforts." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 198]

In summary, the problem of "localism" and any other problems faced by a social revolution will be solved in the interests of the working class only if working class people solve them themselves. For this to happen it requires working class people to manage their own affairs directly and that implies self-managed organising from the bottom up (i.e. anarchism) rather than delegating power to a minority at the top, to a "revolutionary" party or government. This applies economically, socially and politically. As Bakunin argued, the "revolution should not only be made for the people's sake; it should also be made by the people." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 141]

Thus the actual experience of the collectives and their development, rather than refuting anarchism, indicates well that it is the only real form of socialism. Attempts to nationalise the means of production inevitably disempower workers and eliminate meaningful workers' self-management or control. It does not eliminate wage labour but rather changes the name of the boss. Socialism can only be built from below. If it is not, as the Russian experience indicated, then state capitalism will be the inevitable outcome.

17. Why is Morrow's support for "proletarian methods of production" ironic?

Morrow states "[i]n the midst of civil war the factory committees are demonstrating the superiority of proletarian methods of production." [Op. Cit., p. 53] This is ironic as the Bolsheviks in power fought against the factory committees and their attempts to introduce the kind of workers' self-management Morrow praises in Spain (see Maurice Brinton's The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control for details). Moreover, rather than seeing workers' self-management as "proletarian methods of production" Lenin and Trotsky thought that how a workplace was managed was irrelevant under socialism. Trotsky argued that "[i]t would be a most crying error to confuse the question as to the supremacy of the proletariat with the question of boards of workers at the head of factories. The dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed in the abolition of private property in the means of production, in the supremacy of the collective will of the workers [a euphemism for the Party -- M.B.] and not at all in the form in which individual economic organisations are administered." Indeed, "I consider if the civil war had not plundered our economic organs of all that was strongest, most independent, most endowed with initiative, we should undoubtedly have entered the path of one-man management in the sphere of economic administration much sooner and much less painfully." [quoted by Maurice Brinton, Op. Cit., p. 66 and pp. 66-7]

In other words, Trotsky both in theory and in practice opposed "proletarian methods of production" -- and if the regime introduced by Trotsky and Lenin in Russia was not based on "proletarian methods of production" then what methods was it based on? One-man management with "the appointment of individuals, dictators with unlimited powers" by the government and "the people unquestioningly obey[ing] the single will of the leaders of labour." [The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, p. 32 and p. 34] In other words, the usual bourgeois methods of production with the workers' doing what the boss tells them. At no time did the Bolsheviks support the kind of workers' self-management introduced by the anarchist influenced workers of Spain -- indeed they hindered it and replaced it with one-man management at the first opportunity (see Maurice Brinton's classic The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control for details).

To point out the obvious, bourgeois methods of production means bourgeois social relations and relations of production. In other words, Morrow comments allows us to see that Lenin and Trotsky's regime was not proletarian at the point of production. How ironic. And if it was not proletarian at the point of production (i.e. at the source of economic power) how could it remain proletarian at the political level? Unsurprisingly, it did not -- party power soon replaced workers' power and the state bureaucracy replaced the party.

Yet again Morrow's book exposes the anti-revolutionary politics of Trotskyism by allowing anarchists to show the divergence between the rhetoric of that movement and what it did when it was in power. Morrow, faced with a workers' movement influenced by anarchism, inadvertently indicates the poverty of Trotskyism when he praises the accomplishments of that movement. The reality of Leninism in power was that it eliminated the very things Morrow praises -- such as "proletarian methods of production," democratic militias, workers' councils and so on. Needless to say, the irony of Morrow's work is lost on most of the Trotskyists who read it.

18. Were the federations of collectives an "abandonment" of anarchist ideas?

>From our discussion in section 15, it is clear that anarchism does not deny the need for co-ordination and joint activity, for federations of self-managed workplaces, industries and rural collectives at all levels of society. Far from it. As proven in sections 12 and 15, such federations are a basic idea of anarchism. In anarchy co-ordination flows from below and not imposed by a few from above. Unfortunately Marxists cannot tell the difference between solidarity from below and unity imposed from above. Morrow, for example, argues that "the anarchist majority in the Council of Aragon led in practice to the abandonment of the anarchist theory of the autonomy of economic administration. The Council acted as a centralising agency." [Op. Cit., pp. 205-6]

Of course it does nothing of the kind. Yes, anarchists are in favour of autonomy -- including the autonomy of economic administration. We are also in favour of federalism to co-ordinate join activity and promote co-operation on a wide-scale (what Morrow would, inaccuracy, call "centralism" or "centralisation"). Rather than seeing such agreements of joint activity as the "abandonment" of autonomy, we see it as an expression of that autonomy. It would be a strange form of "freedom" that suggested making arrangements and agreements with others meant a restriction of your liberty. For example, no one would argue that to arrange to meet your friend at a certain place and time meant the elimination of your autonomy even though it obviously reduces your "liberty" to be somewhere else at the same time.

Similarly, when an individual joins a group and takes part in its collective decisions and abides by their decisions, this does not represent the abandonment of their autonomy. Rather, it is an expression of their freedom. If we took Morrow's comment seriously then anarchists would be against all forms of organisation and association as they would mean the "abandonment of autonomy" (of course some Marxists do make that claim, but such a position indicates an essentially negative viewpoint of liberty, a position they normally reject). In reality, of course, anarchists are aware that freedom is impossible outside of association. Within an association absolute "autonomy" cannot exist, but such "autonomy" would restrict freedom to such a degree that it would be so self-defeating as to make a mockery of the concept of autonomy and no sane person would seek it.

Of course anarchists are aware that even the best association could turn into a bureaucracy that does restrict freedom. Any organisation could transform from being an expression of liberty into a bureaucratic structure which restricts liberty because power concentrates at the top, into the hands of an elite. That is why we propose specific forms of organisation, ones based on self-management, decentralisation and federalism which promote decision-making from the bottom-up and ensure that the organisation remains in the hands of its members and its policies are agreements between them rather than ones imposed upon them. For this reason the basic building block of the federation is the autonomous group assembly. It is this body which decides on its own issues and mandates delegates to reach agreements within the federal structure, leaving to itself the power to countermand the agreements its delegates make. In this way autonomy is combined with co-ordination in an organisation that is structured to accurately reflect the needs and interests of its members by leaving power in their hands. In the words of Murray Bookchin, anarchists "do not deny the need for co-ordination between groups, for discipline, for meticulous planning, and for unity in action. But [we] believe that co-ordination, discipline, planning, and unity in action must be achieved voluntarily, by means of self-discipline nourished by conviction and understanding, not by coercion and a mindless, unquestioning obedience to orders from above." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 215]

Therefore, anarchist support for "the autonomy of economic administration" does not imply the lack of co-operation and co-ordination, of joint agreements and federal structures which may, to the uninformed like Morrow, seem to imply the "abandonment" of autonomy. As Kropotkin argued, the commune "cannot any longer acknowledge any superior: that, above it, there cannot be anything, save the interests of the Federation, freely embraced by itself in concert with other Communes." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 259] This vision was stressed in the CNT's Saragossa resolution on Libertarian Communism made in May, 1936, which stated that the "the foundation of this administration will be the commune. These communes are to be autonomous and will be federated at regional and national levels to achieve their general goals. The right to autonomy does not preclude the duty to implement agreements regarding collective benefits." [quoted by Jose Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, p. 106] Hence anarchists do not see making collective decisions and working in a federation as an abandonment of autonomy or a violation of anarchist theory.

The reason for this is simple. To exercise your autonomy by joining self-managing organisations and, therefore, agreeing to abide by the decisions you help make is not a denial of that autonomy (unlike joining a hierarchical structure, we must stress). That is why anarchists have always stressed the importance of the nature of the associations people join as well as their voluntary nature -- as Kropotkin argued, the "communes of the next revolution will not only break down the state and substitute free federation for parliamentary rule; they will part with parliamentary rule within the commune itself . . . They will be anarchist within the commune as they will be anarchist outside it." [The Commune of Paris] Moreover, within the federal structures anarchists envision, the actual day-to-day running of the association would be autonomous. There would be little or no need for the federation to interfere with the mundane decisions a group has to make day in, day out. As the Saragossa resolution makes clear:

 

"[The] commune . . . will undertake to adhere to whatever general norms may be agreed by majority vote after free debate . . . The inhabitants of a commune are to debate among themselves their internal problems . . . Federations are to deliberate over major problems affecting a country or province and all communes are to be represented at their reunions and assemblies, thereby enabling their delegates to convey the democratic viewpoint of their respective communes . . . every commune which is implicated will have its right to have its say . . . On matters of a regional nature, it is the duty of the regional federation to implement agreements . . . So the starting point is the individual, moving on through the commune, to the federation and right on up finally to the confederation." [quoted by Jose Peirats, Op. Cit., pp. 106-7]

 

Since the Council of Aragon and the Federation of Collectives were based on a federal structure, regular meetings of mandated delegates and decision-making from the bottom up, it would be wrong to call them a "centralising agency" or an "abandonment" of the principle of "autonomy." Rather, they were expressions of that autonomy based around a federal and not centralised organisation. The autonomy of the collective, of its mass assembly, was not restricted by the federation nor did the federation interfere with the day to day running of the collectives which made it up. The structure was a federation of autonomous collectives. The role of the Council was to co-ordinate the decisions of the federation delegate meetings -- in other words, purely administrative implementation of collective agreements. To confuse this with centralisation is a mistake common to Marxists, but it is still a confusion.

To summarise, what Morrow claims is an "abandonment" of anarchism is, in fact, an expression of anarchist ideas. The Council of Aragon and the Aragon Federation of Collectives were following the CNT's vision of libertarian communism and not abandoning it, as Morrow claims. As anyone with even a basic understanding of anarchism would know.

19. Did the experience of the rural collectives refute anarchism?

Some Leninists attack the rural collectives on similar lines as they attack the urban ones (as being independent identities and without co-ordination -- see section 15 for details). They argue that "anarchist theory" resulted in them considering themselves as being independent bodies and so they ignored wider social issues and organisation. This meant that anarchist goals could not be achieved:

 

"Let's evaluate the Spanish collectives according to one of the basic goals set by the anarchists themselves. This was to ensure equality among the toilers. They believed that the autonomous collectives would rapidly equalise conditions among themselves through 'mutual aid' and solidarity. This did not happen . . . conditions varied greatly among the Spanish collectives, with peasants at some agricultural collectives making three times that of peasants at other collectives." [Joseph Green, Op. Cit.]

 

Of course, Green fails to mention that in the presumably "centralised" system created by the Bolsheviks, the official rationing system had a differentiation of eight to one under the class ration of May 1918. By 1921, this, apparently, had fallen to around four to one (which is still higher than the rural collectives) but, in fact, remained at eight to one due to workers in selected defence-industry factories getting the naval ration which was approximately double that of the top civilian workers' ration. [Mary McAuley, Bread and Justice: State and Society in Petrograd 1917-1922, pp. 292-3] This, we note, ignores the various privileges associated with state office and Communist Party membership which would increase differentials even more (and such inequality extended into other fields, Lenin for example warned in 1921 against "giving non-Party workers a false sense of having some increase in their rights" [Marx, Engels and Lenin, Op. Cit., p. 325]). The various resolutions made by workers for equality in rations were ignored by the government (all this long before, to use Green's words "their party degenerated into Stalinist revisionism").

So, if equality is important, then the decentralised rural collectives were far more successful in achieving it than the "centralised" system under Lenin (as to be expected, as the rank-and-file were in control, not a few at the top).

Needless to the collectives could not unify history instantly. Some towns and workplaces started off on a more favourable position than others. Green quotes an academic (David Miller) on this:

 

"Such variations no doubt reflected historical inequalities of wealth, but at the same time the redistributive impact of the [anarchist] federation had clearly been slight."

 

Note that Green implicitly acknowledges that the collectives did form a federation. This makes a mockery of his claims that earlier claims that the anarchists "believed that the village communities would enter the realm of a future liberated society if only they became autonomous collectives. They didn't see the collectives as only one step, and they didn't see the need for the collectives to be integrated into a broader social control of all production." [Op. Cit.] As proven above, such assertions are either the product of ignorance or a conscious lie. We quoted numerous Spanish anarchist documents that stated the exact opposite to Green's assertions. The Spanish anarchists were well aware of the need for self-managed communities to federate. Indeed, the federation of collectives fits exactly pre-war CNT policy and anarchist theory (see sections 15 and 18 for details). To re-quote a Spanish Anarchist pamphlet, the village commune "will federate with its counterparts in other localities and with the national industrial federations." [Issac Puente, Libertarian Communism, p. 26] Thus what Green asserts the CNT and FAI did not see the need of, they in fact did see the need for and argued for their creation before the Civil War and actually created during it! Green's comments indicate a certain amount of "doublethink" -- he maintains that the anarchists rejected federations while acknowledging they did federate.

However, historical differences are the product of centuries and so it will take some time to overcome them, particularly when such changes are not imposed by a central government. In addition, the collectives were not allowed to operate freely and were soon being hindered (if not physically attacked) by the state within a year. Green dismisses this recognition of reality by arguing "one could argue that the collectives didn't have much time to develop, being in existence for only two and a half years at most, with the anarchists only having one year of reasonably unhindered work, but one could certainly not argue that this experience confirmed anarchist theory." However, his argument is deeply flawed for many reasons.

Firstly, we have to point out that Green quotes Miller who is using data from collectives in Castille. Green, however, was apparently discussing the collectives of Aragon and the Levante and their respective federations (as was Miller). To state the obvious, it is hard to evaluate the activities of the Aragon or Levante federation using data from collectives in the Castille federation. Moreover, in order to evaluate the redistributive activities of the federations you need to look at the differentials before and after the federation was created. The data Miller uses does not do that and so the lack of success of the federation cannot be evaluated using Green's source. Thus Green uses data which is, frankly, a joke to dismiss anarchism. This says a lot about the quality of his critique.

As far as the Castille federation goes, Robert Alexander notes "[a]nother feature of the work of regional federation was that of aiding the less fortunate collectives. Thus, within a year, it spent 2 000 000 pesetas on providing chemical fertilisers and machines to poorer collectives, the money from this being provided by the sale of products of the wealthier ones." [The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, vol. 1, p. 438] He also quotes an article from an anarchist paper which states "there does not yet exist sufficient solidarity" between rich and poor collectives and that notes "the difficulties which the State has put in the way of the development of the collectives." [Op. Cit., p. 439] Thus the CNT was open about the difficulties it was experiencing in the collectives and the problems facing it.

Secondly, the collectives may have been in existence for about one year before the Stalinists attacked but their federations had not. The Castille federation was born in April, 1937 (the general secretary stated in July of that year "[w]e have fought terrible battles with the Communists" [Op. Cit., p. 446]). The Aragon federation was created in February 1937 (the Council of Aragon was created in October 1936) and the Communists under Lister attacked in August 1937. The Levante federation was formed a few weeks after the start of the war and the attacks against them started in March 1937. The longest period of free development, therefore, was only seven months and not a year. Thus the federations of collectives -- the means seen by anarchist theory to co-ordinate economic and social activities and promote equality -- existed for only a few months before they were physically attacked by the state. Green expects miracles if he thinks history can be nullified in half a year.

Thirdly, anarchists do not think communist-anarchism, in all its many aspects, is possible overnight. Anarchists are well aware, to quote Kropotkin, the "revolution may assume a variety of characters and differing degrees of intensity among different peoples." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 231] Also, as noted above, we are well aware that a revolution is a process ("By revolution we do not mean just the insurrectionary act" [Malatesta, Life and Ideas, p. 156]) which will take some time to fully develop once the state has been destroyed and capital expropriated. Green's assertion that the Spanish Revolution refutes anarchist theory is clearly a false one.

Green argues that a "vast organisational task faces the oppressed masses who are rising up to eliminate the old exploiting system, but anarchist theory just brushes aside this problem -- co-ordination between collective would supposedly be easily accomplished by 'mutual aid' or 'voluntary co-operation' or, if absolutely need be, by the weakest possible federation." [Op. Cit.] As can be seen from our discussion, such a claim is a false one. Anarchists are well aware of difficulties involved in a revolution. That is why we stress that revolution must come from below, by the actions of the oppressed themselves -- it is far too complex to left to a few party leaders to decree the abolition of capitalism. Moreover, as proven above anarchist theory and practice is well aware of the need for organisation, co-operation and co-ordination. We obviously do not "brush it aside." This can be seen from Green's reference to "the weakest possible federation." This obviously is a cover just in case the reader is familiar with anarchist theory and history and knows that anarchists support the federation of workers' associations and communes as the organisational framework of a revolution and of the free society.

This distorted vision of anarchism even extents to other aspects of the revolution. Green decides to attack the relative lack of international links the Spanish anarchist movement had in 1936. He blames this on anarchist theory and states "again the localist anarchist outlook would go against such preparations. True, the anarchists had had their own International association in the 1870s, separate from the original First International and the Marxists. It had flopped so badly that the anarchists never tried to resuscitate it and seem to prefer to forget about it. Given anarchist localism, it is not surprising that this International doesn't even seem to be been missed by current-day anarchists." [Op. Cit.]

Actually, the anarchist International came out of the First International and was made up of the libertarian wing of that association. Moreover, in 1936 the CNT was a member of the International Workers' Association founded in 1922 in Berlin. The IWA was small, but this was due to state and Fascist repression. For example, the German FAUD, the Italian USI and the FORA in Argentina had all been destroyed by fascist governments. However, those sections which did exist (such as the Swedish SAC and French CGTSR) did send aid to Spain and spread CNT and FAI news and appeals (as did anarchist groups across the world). The IWA still exists today, with sections in over a dozen countries (including the CNT in Spain). In addition, the International Anarchist Federation also exists, having done so for a number of decades, and also has sections in numerous countries. In other words, Green either knows nothing about anarchist history and theory or he does and is lying.

He attacks the lack of CNT support for Moroccan independence during the war and states "[t]hey just didn't seem that concerned with the issue during the Civil War." Actually, many anarchists did raise this important issue. Just one example, Camillo Berneri argued that "we must intensify our propaganda in favour of Morocco autonomy." ["What can we do?", Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, no. 4, p. 51] Thus to state "the anarchists . . . didn't seem that concerned" is simply false. Many anarchists were and publicly argued for it. Trapped as a minority force in the government, the CNT could not push through this position.

Green also points out that inequality existed between men and woman. He even quotes the anarchist women's organisation Mujeres Libres to prove his point. He then notes what the Bolsheviks did to combat sexism, "[a]mong the methods of influence was mobilising the local population around social measures promulgated throughout the country. The banner of the struggle was not autonomy, but class-wide effort." Two points, Mujeres Libres was a nation wide organisation which aimed to end sexism by collective action inside and outside the anarchist movement by organising women to achieve their own liberation (see Martha Ackelsberg's , Free Women of Spain for more details). Thus its aims and mode of struggle was "class-wide" -- as anyone familiar with that organisation and its activities would know. Secondly, why is equality between men and women important? Because inequality reduces the freedom of women to control their own lives, in a word, it hinders they autonomy. Any campaign against sexism is based on the banner of autonomy -- that Green decides to forget this suggests a lot about his politics.

Thus Green gets it wrong again and again. Such is the quality of most Leninist accounts of the Spanish revolution.

20. Does the experience of the Spanish Revolution indicate the failure of anarchism or the failure of anarchists?

Marxists usually point to the events in Catalonia after July 19th, 1936, as evidence that anarchism is a flawed theory. They bemoan the fact that, when given the chance, the anarchists did not "seize power" and create a "dictatorship of the proletariat." To re-quote Trotsky:

 

"A revolutionary party, even having seized power (of which the anarchist leaders were incapable in spite of the heroism of the anarchist workers), is still by no means the sovereign ruler of society." [Stalinism and Bolshevism]

 

However, as we argued in section 12, the Trotskyist "definition" of "workers' power" and "proletarian dictatorship" is, in fact, party power, party dictatorship and party sovereignty -- not working class self-management. Indeed, in a letter written in 1937, Trotsky clarified what he meant: "Because the leaders of the CNT renounced dictatorship for themselves they left the place open for the Stalinist dictatorship." [our emphasis, Writings 1936-7, p. 514]

Hence the usual Trotskyist lament concerning the CNT is that the anarchist leaders did not seize power themselves and create the so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat" (i.e. the dictatorship of those claiming to represent the proletariat). A strange definition of "workers' power," we must admit. The "leaders" of the CNT and FAI quite rightly rejected such a position -- unfortunately they also rejected the anarchist position at the same time, as we will see.

Trotsky states that the "leaders of the CNT . . . explained their open betrayal of the theory of anarchism by the pressure of 'exceptional circumstances' . . . Naturally, civil war is not a peaceful and ordinary but an 'exceptional circumstance.' Every serious revolutionary organisation, however, prepares precisely for 'exceptional circumstances.'" ["Stalinism and Bolshevism", Op. Cit., p. 16]

Trotsky is, for once, correct. We will ignore the obvious fact that his own (and every other Leninist) account of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution into Stalinism is a variation of the "exceptional circumstances" excuse and turn to his essential point. In order to evaluate anarchism and the actions of the CNT we have to evaluate all the revolutionary situations it found itself in, not just July, 1936 in Catalonia. This is something Trotsky and his followers seldom do -- for reasons that will become clear.

Obviously space considerations does not allow us to discuss every revolutionary situation anarchism faced. We will, therefore, concentrate on the Russian Revolution and the activities of the CNT in Spain in the 1930s. These examples will indicate that rather than signifying the failure of anarchism, the actions of the CNT during the Civil War indicate the failure of anarchists to apply anarchist theory and so signifies a betrayal of anarchism. In other words, that anarchism is a valid form of revolutionary politics.

If we look at the Russian Revolution, we see anarchist theory gain its most wide scale influence in those parts of the Ukraine protected by the Makhnovist army. The Makhnovists fought against White (pro-Tsarist), Red and Ukrainian Nationalists in favour of a system of "free soviets" in which the "working people themselves must freely choose their own soviets, which are to carry out the will and desires of the working people themselves. that is to say, administrative, not ruling councils." As for the economy, the "land, the factories, the workshops, the mines, the railroads and the other wealth of the people must belong to the working people themselves, to those who work in them, that is to say, they must be socialised." ["Some Makhnovist Proclamations", contained in Peter Arshinov, The History of the Makhnovist Movement, p. 273]

To ensure this end, the Makhnovists refused to set up governments in the towns and cities they liberated, instead urging the creation of free soviets so that the working people could govern themselves. Taking the example of Aleksandrovsk, once they had liberated the city the Makhnovists "immediately invited the working population to participate in a general conference . . . it was proposed that the workers organise the life of the city and the functioning of the factories with their own forces and their own organisations . . . The first conference was followed by a second. The problems of organising life according to principles of self-management by workers were examined and discussed with animation by the masses of workers, who all welcomed this ideas with the greatest enthusiasm . . . Railroad workers took the first step . . . They formed a committee charged with organising the railway network of the region . . . From this point, the proletariat of Aleksandrovsk began systematically to the problem of creating organs of self-management." [Op. Cit., p. 149]

They also organised free agricultural communes which "[a]dmittedly . . . were not numerous, and included only a minority of the population . . . But what was most precious was that these communes were formed by the poor peasants themselves. The Makhnovists never exerted any pressure on the peasants, confining themselves to propagating the idea of free communes." [Op. Cit., p. 87] Makhno played an important role in abolishing the holdings of the landed gentry. The local soviet and their district and regional congresses equalised the use of the land between all sections of the peasant community. [Op. Cit., pp. 53-4]

Moreover, the Makhnovists took the time and energy to involve the whole population in discussing the development of the revolution, the activities of the army and social policy. They organised numerous conferences of workers', soldiers' and peasants' delegates to discuss political and social issues. They organised a regional congress of peasants and workers when they had liberated Aleksandrovsk. When the Makhnovists tried to convene the third regional congress of peasants, workers and insurgents in April 1919 and an extraordinary congress of several regions in June 1919 (including Red Army soldiers) the Bolsheviks viewed them as counter-revolutionary, tried to ban them and declared their organisers and delegates outside the law. For example, Trotsky issued order 1824 which stated the June 1919 congress was forbidden, that to inform the population of it was an act of high treason and all delegates should be arrested immediately as were all the spreading the call. [Op. Cit., p. 98-105 and p. 122-31]

The Makhnovists replied by holding the conferences anyway and asking "[c]an there exist laws made by a few people who call themselves revolutionaries, which permit them to outlaw a whole people who are more revolutionary than they are themselves?" and "[w]hose interests should the revolution defend: those of the Party or those of the people who set the revolution in motion with their blood?" Makhno himself stated that he "consider[ed] it an inviolable right of the workers and peasants, a right won by the revolution, to call conferences on their own account, to discuss their affairs." [Op. Cit., p. 103 and p. 129] These actions by the Bolsheviks should make the reader ponder if the elimination of workers' democracy during the civil war can fully be explained by the objective conditions facing Lenin's government or whether Leninist ideology played an important role in it. As Arshinov argues, "[w]hoever studies the Russian Revolution should learn it [Trotsky's order no. 1824] by heart." [Op. Cit., p. 123] Obviously the Bolsheviks considered that soviet system was threatened if soviet conferences were called and the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was undermined if the proletariat took part in such events.

In addition, the Makhnovists "full applied the revolutionary principles of freedom of speech, of thought, of the press, and of political association. In all cities and towns occupied by the Makhnovists, they began by lifting all the prohibitions and repealing all the restrictions imposed on the press and on political organisations by one or another power." Indeed, the "only restriction that the Makhnovists considered necessary to impose on the Bolsheviks, the left Socialist-Revolutionaries and other statists was a prohibition on the formation of those 'revolutionary committees' which sought to impose a dictatorship over the people." [Op. Cit., p. 153 and p. 154]

The army itself, in stark contrast to the Red Army, was fundamentally democratic (although, of course, the horrific nature of the civil war did result in a few deviations from the ideal -- however, compared to the regime imposed on the Red Army by Trotsky, the Makhnovists were much more democratic movement). Arshinov proves a good summary:

 

"The Makhnovist insurrectionary army was organised according to three fundamental principles: voluntary enlistment, the electoral principle, and self-discipline.

"Voluntary enlistment meant that the army was composed only of revolutionary fighters who entered it of their own free will.

"The electoral principle meant that the commanders of all units of the army, including the staff, as well as all the men who held other positions in the army, were either elected or accepted by the insurgents of the unit in question or by the whole army.

"Self-discipline meant that all the rules of discipline were drawn up by commissions of insurgents, then approved by general assemblies of the various units; once approved, they were rigorously observed on the individual responsibility of each insurgent and each commander." [Op. Cit., p. 96]

 

Thus the Makhnovists indicate the validity of anarchist theory. They organised the self-defence of their region, refused to form of a "revolutionary" government and so the life of the region, its social and revolutionary development followed the path of self-activity of the working people who did not allow any authorities to tell them what to do. They respected freedom of association, speech, press and so on while actively encouraging workers' and peasants' self-management and self-organisation.

Moving to the Spanish movement, the various revolts and uprisings organised by the CNT and FAI that occurred before 1936 were marked by a similar revolutionary developments as the Makhnovists. We discuss the actual events of the revolts in 1932 and 1933 in more detail in section 14 and so will not repeat ourselves here. However, all were marked by the anarchist movement attacking town halls, army barracks and other sources of state authority and urging the troops to revolt and side with the masses (the anarchists paid a lot of attention to this issue -- like the French syndicalists they produced anti-militarist propaganda arguing that soldiers should side with their class and refuse orders to fire on strikers and to join popular revolts). The revolts also saw workers taking over their workplaces and the land, trying to abolish capitalism while trying to abolish the state. In summary, they were insurrections which combined political goals (the abolition of the state) and social ones (expropriation of capital and the creation of self-managed workplaces and communes).

The events in Asturias in October 1934 gives a more detailed account of nature of these insurrections. The anarchist role in this revolt has not been as widely known as it should be and this is an ideal opportunity to discuss it. Combined with the other insurrections of the 1930s it clearly indicates that anarchism is a valid form of revolutionary theory.

While the CNT was the minority union in Asturias, it had a considerable influence of its own (the CNT had over 22 000 affiliates in the area and the UGT had 40 000). The CNT had some miners in their union (the majority were in the UGT) but most of their membership was above ground, particularly in the towns of Aviles and Gijon. The regional federation of the CNT had joined the Socialist Party dominated "Alianza Obrera," unlike the other regional federations of the CNT.

When the revolt started, the workers organised attacks on barracks, town halls and other sources of state authority (just as the CNT revolts of 1932 and 1933 had). Bookchin indicates that "[s]tructurely, the insurrection was managed by hundreds of small revolutionary committees whose delegates were drawn from unions, parties, the FAI and even anti-Stalinist Communist groups. Rarely, if at all, were there large councils (or 'soviets') composed of delegates from factories." [The Spanish Anarchists, p. 249] This, incidentally, indicates that Morrow's claims that in Asturias "the Workers' Alliances were most nearly like soviets, and had been functioning for a year under socialist and Communist Left leadership" are false. [Op. Cit., p. 31] The claims that the Asturias uprising had established soviets was simply Communist and government propaganda.

In fact, the Socialists "generally functioned through tightly knit committees, commonly highly centralised and with strong bureaucratic proclivities. In Asturias, the UGT tried to perpetuate this form wherever possible . . . But the mountainous terrain of Asturias made such committees difficult to co-ordinate, so that each one became an isolated miniature central committee of its own, often retaining its traditional authoritarian character." The anarchists, on the other hand, "favoured looser structures, often quasi-councils composed of factory workers and assemblies composed of peasants. The ambience of these fairly decentralised structures, their improvisatory character and libertarian spirit, fostered an almost festive atmosphere in Anarchist-held areas." [Op. Cit., p. 249] Bookchin quotes an account which compares anarchist La Felguera with Marxist Sama, towns of equal size and separated only by the Nalon river:

 

"[The October Insurrection] triumphed immediately in the metallurgical and in the mining town. . . . Sama was organised along military lines. Dictatorship of the proletariat, red army, Central Committee, discipline. authority . . . La Felguera opted for communismo libertario: the people in arms, liberty to come and go, respect for the technicians of the Duro-Felguera metallurgical plant, public deliberations of all issues, abolition of money, the rational distribution of food and clothing. Enthusiasm and gaiety in La Felguera; the sullenness of the barracks in Sama. The bridges [of Sama] were held by a corp of guards complete with officers and all. No one could enter or leave Sama without a safe-conduct pass, or walk through the streets without passwords. All of this was ridiculously useless, because the government troops were far away and the Sama bourgeoisie disarmed and neutralised . . . The workers of Sama who did not adhere to the Marxist religion preferred to go to La Felguera, where at least they could breathe. Side by side there were two concepts of socialism: the authoritarian and the libertarian; on each bank of the Nalon, two populations of brothers began a new life: with dictatorship in Sama; with liberty in La Felguera." [Op. Cit., pp. 249-50]

 

Bookchin notes that "[i]n contrast to the severely delimited Marxist committee in Sama, La Felguera workers met in popular assembly, where they socialised the industrial city's economy. The population was divided into wards, each of which elected delegates to supply and distribution committees. . . The La Felguera commune . . . proved to be so successful, indeed so admirable, that surrounding communities invited the La Felguera Anarchists to advice them on reorganising their own social order. Rarely were comparable institutions created by the Socialists and, where they did emerge, it was on the insistence of the rank-and-file workers." [Op. Cit., p. 250]

In other words, the Asturias uprising saw anarchists yet again applying their ideas with great success in a revolutionary situation. As Bookchin argues:

 

"Almost alone, the Anarchists were to create viable revolutionary institutions structured around workers' control of industry and peasants' control of land. That these institutions were to be duplicated by Socialist workers and peasants was due in small measure to Anarchist example rather than Socialist precept. To the degree that the Asturian miners and industrial workers in various communities established direct control over the local economy and structured their committees along libertarian lines, these achievements were due to Anarchist precedents and long years of propaganda and education." [Op. Cit., p. 250-1]

 

Unlike their Socialist and Communist allies, the anarchists in Asturias took the Alianza's slogan "Unity, Proletarian Brothers" seriously. A key factor in the defeat of the uprising (beyond its isolation due to socialist incompetence elsewhere -- see section 6) was the fact that "[s]o far as the Aviles and Gijon Anarchists were concerned . . . their Socialist and Communist 'brothers' were to honour the slogan only in the breach. When Anarchist delegates from the seaports arrived in Oviedo on October 7, pleading for arms to resist the imminent landings of government troops, their requests were totally ignored by Socialists and Communists who, as [historian Gabriel] Jackson notes, 'clearly mistrusted them.' The Oviedo Committee was to pay a bitter price for its refusal. The next day, when Anarchist resistance, hampered by the pitiful supply of weapons, failed to prevent the government from landing its troops, the way into Asturias lay open. The two seaports became the principal military bases for launching the savage repression of the Asturian insurrection that occupied so much of October and claimed thousands of lives." [Murray Bookchin, Op. Cit., p. 248]

Therefore, to state as Morrow does that before July 1936, "anarchism had never been tested on a grand scale" and now "leading great masses, it was to have a definite test" is simply wrong. [Op. Cit., p. 101] Anarchism had had numerous definite tests before involving "great masses," both in Spain and elsewhere. The revolts of the 1930s, the Makhnovists in the Ukraine, the factory occupations in Italy in 1920 (see section A.5.5) and in numerous other revolutionary and near revolutionary situations anarchism had been tested and had passed those tests. Defeat came about by the actions of the Marxists (in the case of Asturias and Italy) or by superior force (as in the 1932 and 1933 Spanish insurrections and the Ukraine) not because of anarchist theory or activities. At no time did they collaborate with the bourgeois state or compromise their politics. By concentrating on July 1936, Marxists effectively distort the history of anarchism -- a bit like arguing the actions of the Social Democratic Party in crushing the German discredits Marxism while ignoring the actions and politics of the council communists during it or the Russian Revolution.

But the question remains, why did the CNT and FAI make such a mess (politically at least) of the Spanish Revolution of 1936? However, even this question is unfair as the example of the Aragon Defence Council and Federation of Collectives indicate that anarchists did apply their ideas successfully in certain areas during that revolution.

Morrow is aware of that example, as he argues that the "Catalonian [i.e. CNT] militia marched into Aragon as an army of social liberation . . . Arriving in a village, the militia committees sponsor the election of a village anti-fascist committee . . . [which] organises production on a new basis" and "[e]very village wrested from the fascists was transformed into a forest of revolution." Its "municipal councils were elected directly by the communities. The Council of Aragon was at first largely anarchist." He notes that "[l]ibertarian principles were attempted in the field of money and wages" yet he fails to mention the obvious application of libertarian principles in the field of politics with the state abolished and replaced by a federation of workers' associations. To do so would be to invalidate his basic thesis against anarchism and so it goes unmentioned, hoping the reader will not notice this confirmation of anarchist politics in practice. [Op. Cit., p. 53, p. 204 and p. 205]

So, from the experience of the Ukraine, the previous revolts in 1932, 1933 and 1934 and the example of the Council of Aragon it appears clear that rather than exposing anarchist theory (as Marxists claim), the example of July 1936 in Catalonia is an aberration. Anarchist politics had been confirmed as a valid revolutionary theory many times before and, indeed, shown themselves as the only one to ensure a free society. However, why did this aberration occur?

Most opponents of anarchism provide a rather (in)famous quote from FAI militant Juan Garcia Oliver, describing the crucial decision made in Catalonia in July of '36 to co-operate with Companys' government to explain the failure of the CNT to "seize power":

 

"The CNT and FAI decided on collaboration and democracy, eschewing revolutionary totalitarianism . . . by the anarchist and Confederal dictatorship." [quoted by Stuart Christie, We, the Anarchists!, p. 105]

 

In this statement Garcia Oliver describes the capitalist state as "democracy" and refers to the alternative of the directly democratic CNT unions taking power as "totalitarianism" and "dictatorship." Marxists tend to think this statement tells us something about the CNT's original program in the period leading up to the crisis of July 1936. As proven above, any such assertion would be false (see also section 8). In fact this statement was made in December of 1937, many months after Garcia Oliver and other influential CNT activists had embarked upon collaboration in the government ministries and Republican army command. The quote is taken from a report by the CNT leadership, presented by Garcia Oliver and Mariano Vazquez (CNT National Secretary in 1937) at the congress of the International Workers Association (IWA). The CNT was aware that government participation was in violation of the principles of the IWA and the report was intended to provide a rationalisation. That report is an indication of just how far Garcia Oliver and other influential CNT radicals had been corrupted by the experience of government collaboration.

Garcia Oliver's position in July of 1936 had been entirely different. He had been one of the militants to argue in favour of overthrowing the Companys government in Catalonia in the crucial union assemblies of July 20-21. As Juan Gomez Casas argues:

 

"The position supported by Juan Garcia Oliver [in July of '36] has been described as `anarchist dictatorship' Actually, though, Oliver was advocating application of the goals of the Saragossa Congress in Barcelona and Catalonia at a time in history when, in his opinion, libertarian communism was a real possibility. It would always signify dissolution of the old parties dedicated to the idea of [state] power, or at least make it impossible for them to pursue their politics aimed at seizure of power. There will always be pockets of opposition to new experiences and therefore resistance to joining 'the spontaneity of the popular masses.' In addition, the masses would have complete freedom of expression in the unions and in the economic organisations of the revolution as well as in their political organisations." [Anarchist Organisation: The History of the FAI, p. 188f]

 

Those libertarians who defended government participation in Spain argued that a non-hierarchical re-organisation of society in Catalonia in July of '36 could only have been imposed by force, against the opposition of the parties and sectors of society that have a vested interest in existing inequalities. They argued that this would have been a "dictatorship," no better than the alternative of government collaboration.

If this argument were valid, then it logically means that anarchism itself would be impossible, for there will always be sectors of society -- bosses, judges, politicians, etc. -- who will oppose social re-organisation on a libertarian basis. As Malatesta once argued, some people "seem almost to believe that after having brought down government and private property we would allow both to be quietly built up again, because of a respect for the freedom of those who might feel the need to be rulers and property owners. A truly curious way of interpreting our ideas!" [Anarchy, p. 41] It is doubtful he would have predicted that certain anarchists would be included in such believers!

Neither anarchism nor the CNT program called for suppressing other viewpoints. The various viewpoints that existed among the workforce and population would be reflected in the deliberations and debates of the workplace and community assemblies as well as in the various local and regional congresses and conference and on their co-ordinating Councils. The various political groups would be free to organise, publish their periodicals and seek influence in the various self-managed assemblies and structures that existed. The CNT would be dominant because it had overwhelming support among the workers of Catalonia (and would have remained dominant as long as that continued).

What is essential to a state is that its authority and armed power be top-down, separate and distinct from the population. Otherwise it could not function to protect the power of a boss class. When a population in society directly and democratically controls the armed force (in fact, effectively is the armed force as in the case of the CNT militias), directly manages its own fairs in decentralised, federal organisations based on self-management from the bottom upwards and manages the economy, this is not a "state" in the historical sense. Thus the CNT would not in any real sense had "seized power" in Catalonia, rather it would have allowed the mass of people, previously disempowered by the state, to take control of their own lives -- both individually and collectively -- by smashing the state and replacing it by a free federation of workers' associations.

What this means is that a non-hierarchical society must be imposed by the working class against the opposition of those who would lose power. In building the new world we must destroy the old one. Revolutions are authoritarian by their very nature, but only in respect to structures and social relations which promote injustice, hierarchy and inequality. It is not "authoritarian" to destroy authority, in other words! Revolutions, above all else, must be libertarian in respect to the oppressed (indeed, they are acts of liberation in which the oppressed end their oppression by their own direct action). That is, they must develop structures that involve the great majority of the population, who have previously been excluded from decision making about social and economic issues.

So the dilemma of "anarchist dictatorship" or "collaboration" was a false one and fundamentally wrong. It was never a case of banning parties, etc. under an anarchist system, far from it. Full rights of free speech, organisation and so on should have existed for all but the parties would only have as much influence as they exerted in union, workplace, community, militia (and so on) assemblies, as should be the case! "Collaboration" yes, but within the rank and file and within organisations organised in a libertarian manner. Anarchism does not respect the "freedom" to be a capitalist, boss or politician.

Instead of this "collaboration" from the bottom up, the CNT and FAI committees favoured "collaboration" from the top down. In this they followed the example of the UGT and its "Workers' Alliances" rather than their own activities previous to the military revolt. Why? Why did the CNT and FAI in Catalonia reject their previous political perspective and reject the basis ideas of anarchism? As shown above, the CNT and FAI has successfully applied their ideas in many insurrections before hand. Why the change of direction? There were two main reasons.

Firstly, while a majority in Catalonia and certain other parts of Spain, the CNT and FAI were a minority in such areas as Castille and Asturias. To combat fascism required the combined forces of all parties and unions and by collaborating with a UGT-like "Anti-Fascist Alliance" in Catalonia, it was believed that such alliances could be formed elsewhere, with equality for the CNT ensured by the Catalan CNT's decision of equal representation for minority organisations in the Catalan Anti-Fascist Committee. This would, hopefully, also ensure aid to CNT militias via the government's vast gold reserves and stop foreign intervention by Britain and other countries to protect their interests if libertarian communism was declared.

However, as Vernon Richards argues:

 

"This argument contains . . . two fundamental mistakes, which many of the leaders of the CNT-FAI have since recognised, but for which there can be no excuse, since they were not mistakes of judgement but the deliberate abandonment of the principles of the CNT. Firstly, that an armed struggle against fascism or any other form of reaction could be waged more successfully within the framework of the State and subordinating all else, including the transformation of the economic and social structure of the country, to winning the war. Secondly, that it was essential, and possible, to collaborate with political parties -- that is politicians -- honestly and sincerely, and at a time when power was in the hands of the two workers organisations. . .

"All the initiative . . . was in the hands of the workers. The politicians were like generals without armies floundering in a desert of futility. Collaboration with them could not, by any stretch of the imagination, strengthen resistance to Franco. On the contrary, it was clear that collaboration with political parties meant the recreation of governmental institutions and the transferring of initiative from the armed workers to a central body with executive powers. By removing the initiative from the workers, the responsibility for the conduct of the struggle and its objectives were also transferred to a governing hierarchy, and this could not have other than an adverse effect on the morale of the revolutionary fighters." [Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, p. 42]

 

In addition, in failing to take the initiative to unite the working class independently of the Republican state at the crucial moment, in July of '36, the CNT of Catalonia was in effect abandoning the only feasible alternative to the Popular Front strategy. Without a libertarian system of popular self-management, the CNT and FAI had no alternative but to join the bourgeois state. For a revolution to be successful, as Bakunin and Kropotkin argued, it needs to create libertarian organisations (such as workers' associations, free communes and their federations) which can effectively replace the state and the market, that is to create a widespread libertarian organisation for social and economic decision making through which working class people can start to set their own agendas. Only by going this can the state and capitalism be effectively smashed. If this is not done and the state is ignored rather than smashed, it continue and get stronger as it will be the only medium that exists for wide scale decision making. This will result in revolutionaries having to work within it, trying to influence it since no other means exist to reach collective decisions.

The failure to smash the state, this first betrayal of anarchist principles, led to all the rest, and so the defeat of the revolution. Not destroying the state meant that the revolution could never be fully successful economically as politics and economics are bound together so closely. Only under the political conditions of anarchism can its economic conditions flourish and vice versa.

The CNT had never considered a "strategy" of collaboration with the Popular Front prior to July of '36. In the months leading up to the July explosion, the CNT had consistently criticised the Popular Front strategy as a fake unity of leaders over the workers, a strategy that would subordinate the working class to capitalist legality. However, in July of '36, the CNT conferences in Catalonia had not seen clearly that their "temporary" participation in the Anti-Fascist Militia Committee would drag them inexorably into a practice of collaboration with the Popular Front. As Christie argues, "the Militias Committee was a compromise, an artificial political solution . . . It . . . drew the CNT-FAI leadership inexorably into the State apparatus, until them its principle enemy, and led to the steady erosion of anarchist influence and credibility." [Op. Cit., p. 105]

Secondly, the fear of fascism played a key role. After all, this was 1936. The CNT and FAI had seen their comrades in Italy and Germany being crushed by fascist dictatorships, sent to concentration camps and so on. In Spain, Franco's forces were slaughtering union and political militants and members by the tens of thousands (soon to reach hundreds of thousands by the end of the war and beyond). The insurrection had not been initiated by the people themselves (as had the previous revolts in the 1930s) and this also had a psychological impact on the decision making process. The anarchists were, therefore, in a position of being caught between two evils -- fascism and the bourgeois state, elements of which had fought with them on the streets. To pursue anarchist politics at such a time, it was argued, could have resulted in the CNT fighting on two fronts -- against the fascists and also against the Republican government. Such a situation would have been unbearable and so it was better to accept collaboration than aid Fascism by dividing the forces of the anti-fascist camp.

However, such a perspective failed to appreciate the depth of hatred the politicians and bourgeois had for the CNT. Indeed, by their actions it would appear they preferred fascism to the social revolution. So, in the name of "anti-fascist" unity, the CNT worked with parties and classes which hated both them and the revolution. In the words of Sam Dolgoff "both before and after July 19th, an unwavering determination to crush the revolutionary movement was the leitmotif behind the policies of the Republican government; irrespective of the party in power." [The Anarchist Collectives, p. 40]

Rather than eliminate a civil war developing within the civil war, the policy of the CNT just postponed it -- until such time as the state was stronger than the working class. The Republican government was quite happy to attack the gains of the revolution, physically attacking rural and urban collectives, union halls, assassinating CNT and FAI members of so on. The difference was the CNT's act only postponed such conflict until the balance of power had shifted back towards the status quo.

Moreover, the fact that the bourgeois republic was fighting fascism could have meant that it would have tolerated the CNT social revolution rather than fight it (and so weakening its own fight against Franco). However, such an argument remains moot.

It is clear that anti-fascism destroyed the revolution, not fascism. As a Scottish anarchist in Barcelona during the revolution argued, "Fascism is not something new, some new force of evil opposed to society, but is only the old enemy, Capitalism, under a new and fearful sounding name . . . Anti-Fascism is the new slogan by which the working class is being betrayed." [Ethal McDonald, Workers Free Press, Oct. 1937] This was also argued by the Friends of Durruti who stated that "[d]emocracy defeated the Spanish people, not Fascism." [The Friends of Durruti Accuse]

The majority at the July 20-21 conferences went along with proposal of postponing the social revolution, of starting the work of creating libertarian communism, and smashing the state and replacing it with a federation of workers' assemblies. Most of the CNT militants there saw it as a temporary expedient, until the rest of Spain was freed from Franco's forces (in particular, Aragon and Saragossa). Companys' (the head of the Catalan government) had proposed the creation of a body containing representatives of all anti-fascist parties and unions called the "Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias," sponsored by his government. The CNT meeting agreed to this proposal, though only on condition that the CNT be given the majority on it. A sizeable minority of delegates were apparently disgusted by this decision. The delegation from Bajo Llobregat County (an industrial area south of Barcelona) walked out saying they would never go along with government collaboration.

Therefore, the decision to postpone the revolution and so to ignore the state rather than smashing was a product of isolation and the fear of a fascist victory. However, while "isolation" may explain the Catalan militants' fears and so decisions, it does not justify their decision. If the CNT of Catalonia had given Companys the boot and set up a federation of workplace and community assemblies in Catalonia, uniting the rank-and-file of the other unions with the CNT, this would have strengthened the resolve of workers in other parts of Spain, and it might have also inspired workers in nearby countries to move in a similar direction.

Isolation, the uneven support for a libertarian revolution across Spain and the dangers of fascism were real problems, but they do not excuse the libertarian movement for its mistakes. On the contrary, in following the course of action advised by leaders like Horacio Prieto and Abad Diego de Santillan, the CNT only weakened the revolution and helped to discredit libertarian socialism. After all, as Bakunin and Kropotkin continually stressed, revolutions break out in specific areas and then spread outward -- isolation is a feature of revolution which can only be overcome by action, by showing a practical example which others can follow.

Most of the CNT militants at the July 20th meeting saw the compromise as a temporary expedient, until the rest of Spain was freed from Franco's forces (in particular, Aragon and Saragossa). As the official account states, "[t]he situation was considered and it was unanimously decided not to mention Libertarian Communism until such time as we had captured that part of Spain that was in the hands of the rebels." [quoted by Christie, Op. Cit., p. 102] However, the membership of the CNT decided themselves to start the social revolution ("very rapidly collectives . . . began to spring up. It did not happen on instructions from the CNT leadership . . . the initiative came from CNT militants" [Ronald Fraser, Blood of Spain, p. 349]). The social revolution began anyway, from below, but without the key political aspect (abolition of the state) and so was fatally compromised from the beginning.

As Stuart Christie argues:

 

"The higher committees of the CNT-FAI-FIJL in Catalonia saw themselves caught on the horns of a dilemma: social revolution, fascism or bourgeois democracy. Either they committed themselves to the solutions offered by social revolution, regardless of the difficulties involved in fighting both fascism and international capitalism, or, through fear of fascism . . . they sacrificed their anarchist principles and revolutionary objectives to bolster, to become part of the bourgeois state . . . Faced with an imperfect state of affairs and preferring defeat to a possibly Pyrrhic victory, Catalan anarchist leadership renounced anarchism in the name of expediency and removed the social transformation of Spain from their agenda.

"But what the CNT-FAI leaders failed to grasp was that the decision whether or not to implement Libertarian Communism was not theirs to make. Anarchism was not something which could be transformed from theory to practice by organisational decree. . .

"What the CNT-FAI leadership had failed to take on board was the fact that the spontaneous defensive movement of 19 July had developed a political direction of its own. On their own initiative, without any intervention by the leadership of the unions or political parties, the rank and file militants of the CNT, representing the dominant force within the Barcelona working class, together with other union militants had, with the collapse of State power, . . . been welded . . . into genuinely popular non-partisan revolutionary committees . . . in their respective neighbourhoods. They were the natural organisms of the revolution itself and direct expression of popular power." [Op. Cit., p. 99]

In other words, the bulk of the CNT-FAI membership acted in an anarchist way while the higher committees compromised their politics and achievements in the name of anti-fascist unity. In this the membership followed years of anarchist practice and theory. It was fear of fascism which made many of the leading militants of the CNT abandon anarchist politics and instead embrace "anti-fascist unity" and compromise with the bourgeois republic. To claim that July 1936 indicated the failure of anarchism means to ignore the constructive work of millions of CNT members in their workplaces, communities and militias and instead concentrate on a few militants who made the terrible mistake of ignoring their political ideas in an extremely difficult situation. As we said above, this may explain the decision but it does not justify it.

Therefore, it is clear that the experiences of the CNT and FAI in 1936 indicate a failure of anarchists to apply their politics rather than the failure of those politics. The examples of the Makhnovists, the revolts in Spain between 1932 and 1934 as well as the Council of Aragon show beyond doubt that this is the case. Rather than act as anarchists in July 1936, the militants of the Catalan CNT and FAI ignored their basic ideas (not lightly, we stress, but in response to real dangers). They later justified their decisions by putting their options in a Marxist light -- "either we impose libertarian communism, and so become an anarchist dictatorship, or we collaborate with the democratic government." As Vernon Richards makes clear:

 

"Such alternatives are contrary to the most elementary principles of anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism. In the first place, an 'anarchist dictatorship' is a contradiction in terms (in the same way as the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' is), for the moment anarchists impose their social ideas on the people by force, they cease being anarchists . . . the arms of the CNT-FAI held could be no use for imposing libertarian communism . . . The power of the people in arms can only be used in the defence of the revolution and the freedoms won by their militancy and their sacrificed. We do not for one moment assume that all social revolutions are necessarily anarchist. But whatever form the revolution against authority takes, the role of anarchists is clear: that of inciting the people to abolish capitalistic property and the institutions through which it exercises its power for the exploitation of the majority by a minority. . . the role of anarchists [is] to support, to incite and encourage the development of the social revolution and to frustrate any attempts by the bourgeois capitalist state to reorganise itself, which it would seek to do." [Op. Cit., pp. 43-6]

 

Their compromise in the name of anti-fascist unity contained the rest of their mistakes. Joining the "Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias" was the second mistake as at no time could it be considered as the embryo of a new workers' power. It was, rather, an organisation like the pre-war UGT "Workers' Alliances" -- an attempt to create links between the top-level of other unions and parties. Such an organisation, as the CNT recognised before the war (see section 5), could not be a means of creating a revolutionary federation of workers' associations and communes and, in fact, a hindrance to such a development, if not its chief impediment.

Given that the CNT had rejected the call for revolution in favour of anti-fascist unit on July 20th, such a development does not reflect the CNT's pre-war program. Rather it was a reversion to Felix Morrow's Trotskyist position of joining the UGT's "Workers' Alliance" in spite of its non-revolutionary nature (see section 5).

The CNT did not carry out its program (and so apply anarchist politics) and so did not replace the Generalitat (Catalan State) with a Defence Council in which only union/workplace assemblies (not political parties) were represented. To start the process of creating libertarian communism all the CNT would have had do was to call a Regional Congress of unions and invite the UGT, independent unions and unorganised workplaces to send delegates. It could also have invited the various neighbourhood and village defence committees that had either sprung up spontaneously or were already organised before the war as part of the CNT. Unlike the other revolts it took part in the 1930s, the CNT did not apply anarchist politics. However, to judge anarchism by this single failure means to ignore the whole history of anarchism and its successful applications elsewhere, including by the CNT and FAI during numerous revolts in Spain during the 1930s and in Aragon in 1936.

Ironically enough, Kropotkin had attacked the official CNT line of not mentioning Libertarian Communism "until such time as we had captured that part of Spain that was in the hands of the rebels." In analysing the Paris Commune Kropotkin had lambasted those who had argued "Let us first make sure of victory, and then see what can be done." His comments are worth quoting at length:

 

"Make sure of victory! As if there were any way of forming a free commune without laying hands upon property! As if there were any way of conquering the foe while the great mass of the people is not directly interested in the triumph of the revolution, by seeing that it will bring material, moral and intellectual well-being to everybody.

"The same thing happened with regard to the principle of government. By proclaiming the free Commune, the people of Paris proclaimed an essential anarchist principle, which was the breakdown of the state.

"And yet, if we admit that a central government to regulate the relations of communes between themselves is quite needless, why should we admit its necessity to regulate the mutual relations of the groups which make up each commune? . . . There is no more reason for a government inside the commune than for a government outside." [The Commune of Paris]

 

Kropotkin's argument was sound, as the CNT discovered. By waiting until victory in the war they were defeated. Kropotkin also indicated the inevitable effects of the CNT's actions in co-operating with the state and joining representative bodies. In his words:

 

"Paris sent her devoted sons to the town hall. There, shelved in the midst of files of old papers, obliged to rule when their instincts prompted them to be and to act among the people, obliged to discuss when it was needful to act, to compromise when no compromise was the best policy, and, finally, losing the inspiration which only comes from continual contact with the masses, they saw themselves reduced to impotence. Being paralysed by their separation from the people -- the revolutionary centre of light and heat -- they themselves paralysed the popular initiative." [Op. Cit.]

 

Which, in a nutshell, was what happened to the leading militants of the CNT who collaborated with the state. As anarchist turned Minister admitted after the war, "[w]e were in the government, but the streets were slipping away from us. We had lost the workers' trust and the movement's unity had been whittled away." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, p. 274] The actions of the CNT-FAI higher committees and Ministers helped paralyse and defeat the May Days revolt of 1937. The CNT committees and leaders become increasingly isolated from the people, they compromised again and again and, ultimately, became an impotent force. Kropotkin was proved correct. Which means that far from refuting anarchist politics or analysis, the experience of the CNT-FAI in the Spanish Revolution confirms it.

In summary, therefore, the Spanish Revolution of 1936 indicates the failure of anarchists rather than the failure of anarchism.

One last point, it could be argued that anarchist theory allowed the leadership of the CNT and FAI to paint their collaboration with the state as a libertarian policy. That is, of course, correct. Anarchism is against the so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat" just as much as it is against the actual dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (i.e. the existing system and its off-shoots such as fascism). This allowed the CNT and FAI leaders to argue that they were following anarchist theory by not destroying the state completely in July 1936. Of course, such a position cannot be used to discredit anarchism simply because such a revision meant that it can never be libertarian to abolish government and the state. In other words, the use made of anarchist theory by the leaders of the CNT and FAI in this case presents nothing else than a betrayal of that theory rather than its legitimate use.

Also, and more importantly, while anarchist theory was corrupted to justify working with other parties and unions in a democratic state, Marxist theory was used to justify the brutal one-party dictatorship of the Bolsheviks, first under Lenin and the Stalin. That, we feel, sums up the difference between anarchism and Leninism quite well.