Balius' pamphlet: Towards a Fresh Revolution

The pamphlet Hacia una nueva revolución, of which fifty thousand copies were printed,1 even though it was published clandestinely, fleshed out a program which had until then been rather vague. Balius set to work on the drafting of it sometime around November 19372, and it was published by the Friends of Durruti Group in January 19383. Without doubt, it is the Friends of Durruti's most extensive text and for this reason deserves a separate comment.

The pamphlet's most significant theoretical contributions had been set out before in editorials in issues Nos. 5, 6, and 7 of El Amigo del Pueblo, which is to say, between July 20 and August 31, 1937.

So, the pamphlet has no great theoretical novelties to offer. The great novelty of it resides in any case in the adoption by an anarchists group of concepts which marxism had systematized as the most elementary idiom of the revolutionary theory of the proletariat. On that score the vocabulary used by Balius differs from that used by the marxist classics. But as we shall see, it is not too hard to recognize a familiar idea even when it is called by different names.

The pamphlet comprised 31 pages4, divided into eight chapters. The first chapter offered a short historical introduction, in which Balius offered an overview of the period between the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and October 1934. In the second chapter, the events leading up to the revolutionary uprising in July 1936 were examined. A number of claims stand out, being startling, though none the less true for that:

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The people had to go and look for weapons. They took them by right of conquest. Gained them by their own exertions. They were given nothing: not by the Government of the Republic, not by the Generalidad - not one rifle.

The Friends of Durruti's searching analaysis of the revolution of July 19, 1936 is worth highlighting:

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The vast majority of the working population stood by the CNT. Inside Catalonia, the CNT was the majority organization. What happened, that the CNT did not make its revolution, the people's revolution, the revolution of the majority of the proletariat?

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

The CNT did not know how to live up to its role. It did not want to push ahead with the revolution with all of its consequences.

So, according to the Friends of Durruti, the July revolution failed because the CNT lacked a revolutionary theory and a revolutionary program. From anarchist quarters, lots of reasons have been advanced for this and several different explanations offered of the character of the July revolution: some of these arguments are pretty attractive, but neither Vernon Richards, Semprun Maura, Abad de Santillán, Garcia Oliver, nor Berneri were as plain and clear-cut, nor did they probe the nature of the July revolution as deeply as the Friends of Durruti did in the extract just cited.

Nevertheless, this is only a sampler, because the Friends of Durruti, who were not brilliant theorists nor gifted organizers, but essentially barricade fighters who argued their theoretical case from deliberation upon first hand experiences, with no more than their class instinct to guide them, arrived, in the text which we shall being looking at anon, at one of the finest contemporary analyses of the Spanish revolution. An analysis that deserves to be considered, and which we ought not to tag as anarchist or marxist, because it is an analysis from men who did not dice with words but with lives and primarily with their very own lives:

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When an organization's whole existence has been spent preaching revolution, it has an obligation to act whenever a favorable set of circumstances arises. And in July the occasion did present itself. The CNT ought to have leapt into the driver's seat in the country, delivering a severe coup de grace to all that is outmoded and archaic. In this way, we would have won the war and saved the revolution.

But it did the opposite. It collaborated with the bourgeoisie in the affairs of the state, precisely when the State was crumbling away on all sides. It bolstered up Companys and company. It breathed a lungful of oxygen into an anemic, terror-stricken bourgeoisie. One of the most direct reasons why the revolution has been asphyxiated and the CNT displaced, is that it behaved like a minority group, even though it had a majority in the streets. [. . .]

On the other hand, we would assert that revolutions are totalitarian, no matter who says otherwise. What happens is that the various aspects of revolution are progressively dealt with, but with the proviso that the class which represents the new order of things is the one with the most responsibility. And when things are done by halves, we have what presently concerns us, the disaster of July.

In July a committee of Antifascist Militias was set up. It was not a class organ. Bourgeois and counterrevolutionary factions had their representatives on it. It looked as if this Committee had been set up as a counterbalance to the Generalidad. But it was all a sham.

First of all, we ought to underline the definition of the Central Antifascist Militias Committee as a class collaborationist agency and not as the germ of embryonic worker power. On this score, there is total agreement with Nin in the articles he wrote after the May events. And of course the Friends of Durruti were unaware of that article.

To the truism that a revolutionary organization's sole obligation is to make revolution was added a critique of the CNT's cooperation in the rescue and reconstruction of the State.

Thus far, the arguments of the Friends of Durruti were orthodoxly anarchist. But as a direct result of these arguments, or perhaps it would be better to say, as a result of the contradictions within the CNT which was embroiled in such an unlikely anarchist endeavor as rescuing and rebuilding a crumbling capitalist State, we come to a remarkable theoretical advance by the Friends of Durruti: revolutions are totalitarian. If such a self-evident truth was at odds with the libertarian mentality, then it has to be said that an anarchist revolution is a contradiction defying resolution. Something of the sort was experienced by the anarchists of Spain in 1936.

In its next section, Balius's pamphlet dealt with the revolutionary uprising in May 1937. The Friends of Durruti's reasoning was as plain and radical as could be: the roots of the May events went back to July because of the failure to make the revolution in July.

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Social revolution could have been a fact in Catalonia. [. . .] But the events took a different turn. The revolution was not made in Catalonia. Realizing that once again the proletariat was saddled with a leadership of quibblers, the petit bourgeoisie, which had gone into hiding in its back-rooms in July, hastened to join the battle.

Their analysis of Stalinism and of the crucial role it played as a springboard for counterrevolution was not only perceptive but probed further into a profile of the social strata which had afforded it support. It ought to be pointed out, though, that the term "Stalinism" was never used: instead the preferred terms were "socialism" or "marxist" though these carried the meaning with which we today invest the term "Stalinism" from all historical and ideological angles:

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In Catalonia, socialism has been a pitiful creature. Its ranks have been swollen by members opposed to revolution. They have captained the counterrevolution. It has spawned a UGT which has been turned into an appendage of the GEPCI. Marxist leaders have sung the praises of counterrevolution. They have sculpted slogans about the issue of a united front while first eliminating the POUM5, then trying to repeat the exercise with the CNT.

The maneuvers of the petit bourgeoisie, in alliance with the socialists and communists, culminated in the events of May.

According to the Friends of Durruti, the May events represented a deliberate provocation designed to create a climate of indecision preparatory to dealing the working class a decisive blow, in order to put paid once and for all to a potentially revolutionary situation:

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The counterrevolution wanted the working class on the streets in a disorganized manner so that they might be crushed. They partially attained their objectives: thanks to the stupidity of some leaders who gave the cease-fire order and dubbed the 'Friends of Durruti' agents provocateurs just when the streets had been won and the enemy eliminated."

The accusation leveled against the anarchist leaders (and although no names are given, we cannot help thinking of Garcia Oliver and Federica Montseny) is not intended as an insult but is a fair assessment of their performance during the May days.

The Friends of Durruti's belief was that the counterrevolution had achieved its chief aim - Valencia government control of public order.

The Friends of Durruti's description and assessment of the workers' backlash against the Stalinist provocation, that is, the May event, is extremely interesting:

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a) It was a spontaneous backlash.

b) There was no revolutionary leadership.

c) Within a few hours, the workers had scored a resounding military victory. Only a few buildings in the city center were holding out and these could have been taken with ease.

d) The Uprising had been defeated, not militarily, but politically.

At the end of a few hours, the tide had turned in the favor of the proletarians enrolled in the CNT who, as they held in July, defended their rights with guns in hand. We took the streets. They were ours. There was no power on earth that could have wrested them from us. Working class areas fell to us quickly. Then the enemy's territory was eaten away, little by little, to a redoubt in a section of the residential district - the city center which would have fallen soon, but for the defection of the CNT committees.

Next, Balius justified the Friends of Durruti's actions during the bloody week of May 1937: the Friends of Durruti, in a context of indecision and widespread disorientation in the workers' ranks, issued a leaflet and a manifesto, in the intention of affording events a revolutionary lead and purpose. Later the Group's primary concern in the face of the CNT leadership's incredible policy of appeasement and fraternization was that the barricades should not come down unconditionally or without assurances.

According to Balius, in May there had still been time to salvage the revolution6, and the Friends of Durruti had been alone in showing themselves equal to the circumstances. The CNT-FAI's blinkered attitude to the repression that would needlessly batten upon the revolutionary workers had already been foretold by the Friends of Durruti.

The next chapter in the pamphlet tackles the subject of Spain's independence. The entire chapter is replete with wrong-headed notions which are short-sighted or better suited to the petit bourgeoisie. A cheap and vacuous nationalism is championed with limp, simplistic references to international politics. So we shall pass over this chapter, saying only that the Friends of Durruti subscribed to bourgeois, simplistic and/or backward-looking ideas with regard to nationalism7.

The chapter given over to collaborationism and class struggle is, by contrast, greatly interesting. Collaboration in the government business of the bourgeois State was the big accusation which the Group leveled at the CNT. The Friends of Durruti's criticism was even more radical than that of Berneri, because Berneri was critical of CNT participation in the Government, whereas the Group was critical of the CNT's collaboration with the capitalist State. It was not just a matter of two slightly divergent formulations, but rather of a quite different political outlook underpinning it. To return to the pamphlet:

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There must be no collaboration with capitalism, whether outside the bourgeois state or from within government itself. As producers, our place is in the unions, reinforcing the only bodies that ought to survive a revolution headed by the workers. [. . .] And the State cannot be retained in the face of the Unions - let alone bolstered up by our own forces. The fight against capitalism goes on. Inside our own territory, there is still a bourgeoisie connected to the international bourgeoisie. The problem is now what it has been for years.

The Friends of Durruti ventured to suggest that the collaborationists were allied with the bourgeoisie, which was tantamount to saying that the anarchist ministers and all who advocated collaborationism were allied with the bourgeoisie.

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The collaborationists are allies of the bourgeoisie. Individuals who advocate such relations have no feeling for the class struggle, nor have they the slightest regard for the unions. Never must we accept the consolidation of our enemy's positions. The enemy must be beaten. [. . .] There can be absolutely no common ground between exploiters and exploited. Which shall prevail, only battle can decide. Bourgeois or workers. Certainly not both of them at once.

However, the Group at no time took the next definitive step, the inevitable break with a collaborationist type organization which had demonstrated its inability to call off and finish with this policy of alliance with the bourgeoisie. The Group never proposed a break with the CNT, and the denunciation of that organization as one of capitalism's organizations. The ideological premises set out were not explored in all that they entailed. It was easier to point the accusing finger at a few individuals, a few leaders who advocated a policy of collaboration with the bourgeoisie than to arrive at the stark and dismal conclusion that the CNT was an organization for collaborating with the bourgeoisie, by virtue of its very nature as a trade union. It was not the anarchist ministers who were leading the CNT away from its principles, but rather the CNT that was churning out ministers. But the Group reckoned that the trade unions were class struggle organizations. Even the Catalan UGT, Stalinist through and through and nothing more than an instrument of the PSUC, the party of counterrevolution, was not regarded as an organ of the bourgeoisie. So it was impossible for the Friends of Durruti to take that crucial step. If they could not acknowledge the true nature of the unions8 as capitalist State machinery, they could not contemplate breaking with the CNT either. Very much the opposite; the unions were a fundamental factor in the Group's theoretical argument. Its charges were leveled at individuals, not at organizations. There was no acknowledgment of the disease, nor of its causes: only a few of the symptoms were recognized9.

The pamphlet continues with an exposition of the positions and program of the Friends of Durruti. Perhaps because they were hastily drafted, or because of the poor reception awaiting them at that point, the main and most typical tactical political positions, were set out in a more incomplete, confused and vague form than in previous expositions. Those points were as follows: 1. Workers' direction of the war through a workers' revolutionary army. 2. Rejection of class collaboration, meaning that the unions were to be strengthened. 3. Socialization of the economy. 4. Anticlericalism. 5. Socialization of distribution, through eradication of bureaucracy and universal rationing of all consumer products. 6. Equal pay. 7. Popular courts. 8. Equality between countryside and town, and defense of the agrarian collectivizations. 9. Worker control of public order.

The central basis of the program was the July experience, which the Friends of Durruti very tellingly depicted as a successful uprising, which had been found wanting in revolutionary theory and revolutionary objectives:

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They had no idea which course of action to pursue. There was no theory. Year after year we had spent speculating around abstractions. What is to be done? the leaders were asking themselves then. And they allowed the revolution to be lost. Such exalted moments leave no time for hesitancy. Rather, one has to know where one is going. This is precisely the vacuum we seek to fill, since we feel that what happened in July and May must never happen again.

We are introducing a slight variation in anarchism into our program. The establishment of a Revolutionary Junta.

The revolutionary Junta was described by the Group as a vanguard established for the purpose of repressing the revolution's enemies:

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As we see it, the revolution needs organisms to oversee it and to repress, in an organized sense, hostile sectors. As current events have shown, such sectors do not accept oblivion unless they are crushed.

There may be anarchist comrades who feel certain ideological misgivings, but the lesson of experience is enough to induce us to stop pussy-footing.

Unless we want a repetition of what is happening with the present revolution, we must proceed with the utmost energy against those who are not identified with the working class.

After this preamble, the Friends of Durruti set out their revolutionary program, which boiled down to three major points: 1. Establishment of a Revolutionary Junta or National Defense Council, the task of which would be to oversee the war, control public order and handle international affairs and revolutionary propaganda. 2. All economic power to the unions: this meant the formation of an outright trade union capitalism. 3. Free Municipality as the basic cell of territorial organization, the intersection between State decentralization and the quintessentially anarchist federal approach.

The pamphlet closed with a final section bearing the same title as the whole pamphlet: there was a realistic, categorical statement: "the revolution no longer exists." After a long string of speculations and questions about the immediate prospect, acknowledging the strength of the counterrevolution, a timid, utopian, well-meaning and perhaps rhetorical summons was issued to a future anarchist revolution capable of satisfying human aspirations and the anarchist ideal. However, the counterrevolution's success in the republican zone and the fascists' victory in the war were by then inevitable, as Balius conceded in his 1978 foreword ("Forty Years Ago") to an English-language edition of Hacia una nueva revolución (Towards a Fresh Revolution).

  • 1. According to Arquer, op. cit., although the figure seems to us a bit inflated, if not incredible.
  • 2. On page 16 of the pamphlet Hacia una nueva revolución it is stated: "Sixteen months have past. What remains? Of the spirit or July, only a memory. Of the organisms of July, a yesterday." From which our deduction is that the pamphlet was drafted around November 1937, which is to say, sixteen months after July 1936.
  • 3. In his 1978 introduction to the English-language edition of the pamphlet, Towards a Fresh Revolution, he says that it was published [he says "written" when he ought to have said "published"] in mid-1938: and he also explains the background to its publication:

    "I shall now proceed with a short introduction to our pamphlet: Hacia una nueva revolución. First of all, when was it written? Around mid-1938. [. . .] Such was the tragic hour when we of the Friends of Durruti, at the Group's last session, after prolonged examination of the disaster into which the counterrevolution had plunged us, and regardless of the scale of the disaster, refused to accept the finality of such defeat. The infamous policy pursued by Largo Caballero, whose government contained several anarchist militants, had eroded the revolutionary morale of the rearguard: and the Negrin government, the government of defeat and capitulation, gave the defeat hecatomb proportions. For this reason we decided to publish Hacia una nueva revolución which was, as we said, a message of hope and a determination to renew the fight against an international capitalism which had mobilized its gendarmes of the 1930s (in other words, its blackshirts and its brownshirts) to put down the Spanish working class at whose head marched the anarchists and the revolutionary rank and file of the CNT.

    See the Friends of Durruti Group Towards a Fresh Revolution (New Anarchist Library (2) Translated by Paul Sharkey. Sanday, Orkney 1978).

    However, in spite of what Balius claims in no. 12 of El Amigo del Pueblo there was a reference to the pamphlet, recently published by the Group and entitled Towards a Fresh Revolution. Since issue No. 12 of the Friends of Durruti's mouthpiece is dated February 1, 1938, it can be stated that the pamphlet appeared in January 1938.

  • 4. We have consulted the pamphlet in the original, which differs slightly from the reprint by Etcétera, which is only 28 pages in length, although the text is full and complete.
  • 5. Note the distinction drawn by the Friends of Durruti between the "marxist" leaders (marxist meaning Stalinist counterrevolutionaries) and the exclusion of the POUM (POUMists as revolutionaries different from the Stalinists) from the united front.
  • 6. In 1971 Balius reiterated this view: "And I want to finish with the uprising of May 1937. The mistakes made could still have been set right. Again we had mastery of the streets. Two front-line divisions made for Barcelona, but the 'cease-fire' and the pressures and arguments brought to bear upon the commanders of the two divisions [the CNT's Rojinegra division commanded by Maximo Franco (a Group member) and the POUM division under Josep Rovira: they were stopped thanks to the overtures by the CNT member Molina and the Defense councilor, the CNT's Isgleas prevented them from reaching the Catalan capital. The counterrevolution's day had come. The hesitancy in May did for the 20th century's proletarian epic.

    Had we been able to call upon a capable revolutionary leadership, we would have made and consolidated a revolution that might have set an example for the world and would have put paid once and for all to the shabby Muscovite bogey" (Jaime Balius "Recordando julio de 1936" in Le Combat syndicaliste of April 1, 1971).

  • 7. And yet Balius had (in 1935?) published through the Editorial Renacer a pamphlet entitled El nacionalismo y el proletariado in which he set out, from an anarchist and workerist angle, very intriguingIdeason the matter of nationalism.
  • 8. See Benjamin Peret and G. Munis Los sindicatos contra la revolución (FOR, Apartado 5355, Barcelona, 1992). See also the appeal issued by the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain on June 26, 1937 (ten days after the outlawing of the POUM) to the POUM left:

    Instead of using a United Front to marshal the revolutionary anarchist masses against their anarcho-reformist leaders, your leadership blindly followed the CNT. This fact was most plainly demonstrated during the May events, when the POUM ordered a retreat before any concrete objective, such as the disarming of the security forces, had been achieved. During the events, the POUM was merely an appendage of the anarcho-reformist leadership.

    The reverse side of this policy of support for the CNT bureaucracy has been the abandonment of the committees of workers, peasants and combatants which had sprung up spontaneously. So you are cut off from the masses. Your leaders concocted new theories under which the unions, those aged bureaucratic machines, could take power. You had done nothing to halt the dissolution of the local committees, while you were expelling our comrades for carrying out propaganda on the committees' behalf. But during the May events you swiftly turned to the defense committees. This eleventh hour stance was of course utterly inadequate, for it is not enough to issue a hasty call for "committees": they have to be organized in practical terms. But in fact, right after the May events your platonic solicitude for the committees ceased completely.

    (Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain - (on behalf of the Fourth International) "El viejo POUM ha muerto: viva el POUM de la IV Internaciónal," Barcelona June 26, 1937)

  • 9. In 1939 Eduardo Maurico came up with a very similar critique of the Friends of Durruti's program:

    For such groups [groups such as the Friends of Durruti] the root of all evil had been the abandonment of 'principles' by the leadership. A reversion to 'wholesome principles', a return to 'purity', 'a fresh start' - that in its entirety was the program and the rallying cry of these factions. Now, starting afresh is an utter impossibility. There is more likely to be a reenactment of history. There can be no return to the situation prior to July 19: but the same mistakes can be made in similar circumstances. The biggest mistake that these factions today can make is to fail to draw all of the lessons evident in the Spanish Revolution, all in the name of 'purity of principles.' That initial mistake would induce them sooner or later to make the same mistakes and compromises which today they are against. And the primary consequence of the Spanish Revolution is that the compromises by the Garcia Olivers and the Cipriano Meras were not due to the abandonment of the CNT's traditional 'apoliticism,' but were down to that 'apoliticism' itself, that is, to the lack of a revolutionary theory, in the absence of which revolution is impossible. (Lenin)

    [O. Emem "Situación revoluciónaria. El poder. El partido." in ¡Experience españole. Faits et documents No. 2, Paris, August 1939]