Chapter 19: The Economic Plenum of the CNT


The Economic Plenum of the CNT

We have set forth in detail, with excessive redundancy, the betrayals that the responsible leaders of the CNT and the FAI endorsed and implemented. There is one other aspect: the economic, which must be addressed and to which we shall devote a few brief comments.

The cenetistas and faístas, having lost their way with regard to ideology and slipped down the chute of apostasy, dedicated themselves with tenacious zeal to the task of plugging the holes in the ship of state—which they had saved from sinking—engaging in initiatives directed towards restoring it to its former condition. They still were not satisfied, however, with having put the brakes on the social revolution; they entered into alliances of every kind with the political factions; they collaborated with the central government from the ministries. They had to complement their disastrous activities by addressing, for “constructive” purposes, the complex economic problems the country faced because of the civil war, seeking, preferentially, a possibilist solution.

The policies approved at the Extended National Economic Plenum of the CNT, held in January 1938, exhibit—by virtue of their structure and essence—a passionate appetite for reformism, a multiplication of the governmental bureaucracy and, even more importantly, a mistaken operational conception of state syndicalism.

We must take into account the abnormal situation that prevailed at the time, in order to affirm that the organization and functioning of this Plenum suffered from many defects and shortcomings, which deprive its resolutions of any moral authority. Even more important than these defects and shortcomings are the assumptions and the mentality that informed the conceptual motor force that would make possible the realization of and conferred dynamism to these activities. It could be argued, with powerful logic, that the delegations were not the faithful representatives of the workers organized in confederal cadres, nor did they convey the precise expression of those workers concerning these economic panaceas, since many workers were at the front and did not participate in the preliminary debates.

What is undeniable is the fact that the initiative to convoke the Economic Plenum arose from the highest levels of the organization—from the top down—and that the delegations—except for a few exceptions, let us add—were monopolized by nattily dressed governmentalist bureaucrats.

It would not be appropriate to say that this fact constitutes evidence of malfeasance, because that would be a platitude and besides, it would mean that that we would have to minutely examine all the political and legalistic loopholes and fine points of the whole process. We can say, however, that it was an indecency whose purpose was to sow confusion among the workers.


The CNT, exuding optimism, proposed—according to the text of the approved resolutions—the creation of powerful state-syndicalist bodies—with their respective legions of parasites—to control and direct the industries under their jurisdiction; legislation concerning the various manifestations of human effort, measuring their quality and quantity in order to establish pay scales and to create files for each category; the centralization or trustification of written propaganda and managing the funds of the organizations. It was a reconstructive plan on a vast scale, which would have left the most prestigious statists awestruck and would have made those States that boast of having “advanced” social and economic legislation look ridiculous.

Let us take a look at the concerns of the CNT and the general tenor of the resolutions of the Economic Plenum.


In the introductory section of this particular proposal, the CNT asserts that it is not guided by any proselytizing ends. We cannot confirm the veracity of this assertion. We can say, however, that those of us who live in these little republics [in South America] are inured to incredulity. When a political party, whether or not it is in power, proposes the creation of a new government body or inspectorate, besides the proselytizing motive what is of much greater interest to it is to be able to find jobs for its friends.

By calling attention to this example it is not our intention to reprimand the cenetistas by cataloguing them under the heading of politics. They acted with and like the politicians, because of “imperious circumstantial necessities”.

Here is the text of the Articles on the Labor Inspectorate:

“1. The National Industrial Federations, at the proposal of the Trade Unions as conveyed through the Regional, County and Local Federations, will appoint the Technical Delegates needed to inspect and direct the Economic units under their jurisdiction.

“2. These Delegates will propose the norms to be implemented in order to effectively direct the different Industrial units for the purpose of improving their efficiency and administration. They will not operate on their own account; they will be responsible for complying with and enforcing compliance with the directives issued by the Councils, to which they will be answerable.

“3. To achieve greater efficiency and operational improvements and in such cases where it will be necessary, they will propose to the Councils that have appointed them the application of sanctions against those Institutions or individuals who, as a result of the non-fulfillment of their duties, have merited such sanctions.

“The Organization will agree to the extension of the corresponding coercive means to the Institutions which must avail themselves of this right, establishing the Rules that will determine how these coercive means may be applied. These directives are undertaken exclusively by and refer only to the Industries that are in the hands of the workers.”


The humanist and just anarchist concept—“From each according to his abilities”—had no place in the statist plans of the CNT. Its plans seemed to be oriented in accordance with the standard type established by capitalism. The CNT planned to recompense the efforts of the workers according to their outputs and skill levels, thus preserving privileged categories.

It sought—according to the CNT—“to correct those deficiencies and inequalities that so often sow discord and apathy among the workers, to the detriment of the economy” and therefore the Plenum resolved:

“First. The acceptance of pay according to job categories, and we propose that the National Industrial Federations adopt, while adapting them to their economic possibilities, the following scales of payment, taking X as the initial indispensable quantity necessary to cover the needs of the producer:

“Base Category. Assistant laborer…. X 1a superior category. Skilled worker 20% of increase 2a superior category. Specialist 40% of increase 3a superior category. Assistant Technician 70% of increase 4a superior category. Technical Director 100% of increase.

“The above percentages are to be understood as being applicable to the base category.”

The schedule of pay scales approved at this Plenum was a “revolutionary innovation”. It is very similar to the one established in Russia. We are not saying that the CNT’s version is an exact copy of the Bolshevist system.


One can very well imagine that, if the CNT was proceeding in the direction of a statist orientation, regulating and controlling the economy of the country, then it logically should create a Trade Union Bank to “increase production”, to “rebuild industry”, “offer loans to the peasants”, etc. Thus it was that, while at the Congress of the Agricultural Collectives of Aragon the delegates were trying to abolish money, creating in its stead a rationing card, the CNT gave money the same exchange value that capitalism assigned to it. This was deliberate. We should point out that in order to arrive at these paradoxical positions, or more accurately, these aberrations, of the CNT, eminent academics had previously come forth to hold conferences on economic, financial, monetary, commercial and statistical topics—among others, Fábregas, Santillán, Leval, López, Carsi, Cardona Rosell, etc.—who oriented the cenetista approach in this sense. We are going to read a fragment of the article signed by Amezcua, published in Solidaridad Obrera while the CNT’s Economic Plenum was in session, which will help us to evaluate the state syndicalist mentality that predominated among the cenetistas. Let us begin by getting one thing straight:

“The ideal … the suppression of money; unquestionable. But until we get there, we have to go through stages, overcome very prominent obstacles and climb the slopes of the social economic topography.” And he continues as follows:


“In the liquidated economy, it was the function of the Bank to store the money, to look after its circulation, to ensure its fictitious multiplication, its investment or assignment, constituting with the individual and voluntary deposits of this money, masses of capital with which it decisively influenced the industrial and even the moral life of the country, leading to the hegemony of the possessors of the largest quantity of monetary symbols to the detriment of the more modest possessors, who never obtained more than a sparse and always miserable return on their deposits. The capitalist imagination invented, to the detriment of the non-capitalists and for its profit, the theory of credit and of the loaning of money, and on this basis the greatest immoralities have been committed, giving way to usury, to the abuse of confidentiality and to fraud, which CAUSED THE DISCREDITING OF MONEY—an element of exchange and circulation of natural and industrial products—by employing it as just another commodity. Naturally, the producers, who did not participate in all the permutations and dishonest games played with money by the bankers, but possessing an instinctive understanding of all this chicanery, and in part understanding it because of its practical repercussions (the price of bread, clothing and other necessities of life), have repudiated money as the cause of the misery of the working class, and had no objection against the proposal that money be purely and simply ABOLISHED, imagining that it could be replaced by the direct exchange of products. It was the specific and precise function of money, however, to regulate this exchange, since it made possible the establishment of a standard of exchange between diverse products—a common denominator for knowing, for example, how much wheat must be delivered by a Peasant Organization in order to obtain a pair of shoes—and to the extent that money performs and is limited to performing this function and is not the object of speculation that would disturb its NATURAL ROLE AS REGULATOR OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND, of production and consumption, THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT ABOUT ITS NECESSITY within an economic complex, much less in a regime whose nature, with the suppression of the capricious and inorganic activity of the individual, and within the structural framework of the Trade Union, will have entailed the disappearance of even the possibility of any deviation of the use of money from its exclusive role as regulator of exchange as well as obviating any danger that it would ever serve as an object of speculation and exploitation of the worker. Once the MONETARY SYMBOL HAS BEEN PURIFIED AND RECOVERED from the grip of the plutocracy THAT HAD DISTORTED IT AND EVEN PROSTITUTED IT, it must perform its natural role in the collectivized Economy, as will that economic sector which, as we pointed out above, has the SPECIFIC TASK OF STORING, CIRCULATING AND INVESTING THE SYMBOL OF EXCHANGE.”


As you can see, in the last paragraph the author argues in favor of the creation of the Trade Union Bank. And not only does he endorse the creation of such a bank, but he also extends the initiative to the creation of two other banks: the Producers’ Bank and the Bank of Foreign Trade. It is unnecessary to point out that the creation of the Iberian Trade Union Bank implies the appointing of a president, vice president, director general and many other employees.


The purpose of this institution is to administer the insurance program for illness, workplace accidents, pensions, maternity leave, etc.; in short, what is called social welfare in the “democracies”. The essence of this project is contained in this paragraph:

“a) To demand the representation of the CNT in each an every one of the official State institutions, Autonomous Regional Governments, and Provincial and Municipal Councils in Loyalist Spain, whose mission is to regulate, direct, or provide consultative services with regard to the management and implementation of national, regional, provincial and local, or county policies relating to insurance and social welfare in all of its dimensions. This representation must not be inferior to that already possessed, or which may be granted in the future, to the other trade union central organization.”


We have noted that in Spain, during the war, it was hard to obtain the raw materials for manufacturing paper. At first sight, this would seem to justify the proposal to impose restrictions on the press. However, of the three “compelling” reasons that the CNT offered, the third one is the one that best expresses its views regarding and its interest in such restrictions:

“The last reason is the necessity of conferring homogeneity to the orientation of our publications, which is the only way to obtain benefits from the powerful weapon known as the press. We have to put an end to the public disagreements in the Movement. Up until now, this has been largely achieved in the Bulletin of Internal Orientation, published by the Secretary of the National Committee, but its effectiveness is cancelled out by the small publications that, although of little importance in themselves, produce no small effect by disorienting instead of orienting opinion and the militants, because they do not abide by the ESTABLISHED LINE of the national order for propaganda.”

It is obvious that the CNT wanted to centralize control over written propaganda, in order to silence those who criticized the statist orientation that was expressed by the unfolding events.

This is proven by these two paragraphs of the proposal:

“With this plan for the publication of newspapers, the propaganda of our Movement is absolutely guaranteed, with regard to both aspects. The major publications with a large circulation and the smaller papers in the provinces that fulfill the need to provide guidance that is in concordance with the psychology and the customs of each town.

“All the newspapers that do not abide by this plan must disappear as a result of their being contrary to economic efficiency and unnecessary.”

We have already mentioned that the CNT, dominated by a feverish zeal for planning, was passionately preoccupied with “reconstructing” the economy that was destroyed by the war and establishing certain “creations” tested during the subsequent months. This is proven by our summary commentary on the work of the Economic Plenum. There is much more evidence, however, which we cannot provide because of considerations of space. We shall merely proceed, then, by providing the names of the institutions that it sought to create and the rules that it sought to impose, which were approved at the Plenum.

The proposal recommended the creation and further development of “Consumers Cooperatives”. It called for “research on how to carry out the implementation of effective planning of Industry, without waiting for the creation of the National Council of the Economy, a government organization with a mixed state-trade union composition, which would be called upon to fulfill this obvious economic necessity”. We shall add that this government body was insistently advocated by the CNT in its petitions to the central government. The proposal furthermore advised the “administrative Centralization of the Confederal Economy”, and that within the resulting administrative body many other sections would be formed. And, finally, it proposed regulations concerning “general labor standards”, by means of which human labor power could be controlled; these norms would specify the quality and quantity of production and would apply moral sanctions against those workers who failed to comply with their standards, those who came to work late, those who did not carry out the type of production indicated, etc.


So far we have described, in broad strokes, the results of the deliberations of the Extended Economic Plenum of the CNT. By virtue of its contents and its proposals for the future, it may be deduced that the cenetistas—having reneged on their ideological patrimony—were concerned, directly and indirectly, with reinforcing the prestige of bourgeois institutions, giving them a trade union character and denomination. We say this because the reader will have noticed that these institutions would, in order to function normally, have to be legalized by the State; that is, the State would have to approve their statutes and participate in their control and supervision. Even assuming, however, that all the proposed initiatives were to be implemented under the aegis of the revolution, what perspectives and what basis did the CNT possess that would lead it to believe that the State would not destroy these creations in the same way—with a military incursion—that the Collectives of Aragon were destroyed? According to the CNT, these proposals were based on the solid purpose of helping to win the war. Furthermore, in the text of the regulations and in the appeals issued by the Plenum, after its adjournment, to the confederal organizations, all language of a revolutionary character is eliminated, with the intention, of course, that no obstacles should be interposed by the authoritarians to the implementation of these plans. This appeal concludes with these words: “Hail to all the anti-fascists, regardless of their other views!”


We are convinced that the Spanish workers movement must be reborn, like the Phoenix, in order to once again take up its post in the struggle for emancipation. Many seeds have been sown and the germination of rebellion and the expression of the anarchist ideal must soon break out with greater force. The Spanish people are indomitable and preserve in their hearts the hope for freedom. They are spurred on by their yearning for redemption and the moral force of their glorious revolutionary history, that moral force that our comrade P. Minotti recalls in an article that we read a short time ago and in one of its paragraphs he says:

“We therefore grant to these moral forces all their splendor and character, due to the elevated significance they imply in the struggles for liberty, in the vehicles of our anarchist propaganda. It can never be the offspring of mere words or of the more or less brilliant demagogy of leaders, of politicians of every stripe and color, because as opposed to the ephemeral and traitorous words, in the conscience of men there must be, firm in anarchist ideals, ideas of social transformation; the more dismal the present time, the more firm must be the moral forces of the anarchists. They have not been destroyed, nor have they been replaced by the negativism of historical materialism. We need to know how to give the fecund passions of the people their true function in the process of social transformation, which, according to the words of Mikhail Bakunin, will create a new world from the old.”

And when this mission is resumed—the creation of a new world—the Spanish workers will, with their great revolutionary achievements, erase from history all the aberrations and betrayals of the CNT, in order to affirm anarchist communism.