An account of the rise and fall of the CNT’s Revolutionary Syndicalist tendency—said to reflect the “original” orientation of the CNT of 1910-1918, modeled on the CGT and the "Charter of Amiens", as opposed to the “sectarian” anarchosyndicalist “deviation” that first arose in the CNT in 1919 as a result of the post-war crisis—featuring the “Declaration of Principles” and “Manifesto” of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees (founded in 1922), and discussions of the debates in the CNT concerning the Russian Revolution, the Third International, the Red Trade Union International, how to respond to repression, the question of violence, and the campaign for the trade union united front.
The History of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees
The General Confederation of Labor of Spain was founded 100 years ago by trade unions that were inspired by the experience of the French CGT. The government prohibited the organization from using this name, so it had to call itself the National Confederation of Labor instead.
This new confederation laid claim to the strategic positions of the Charter of Amiens: working class unity, independence with regard to all philosophies, revolutionary general strike, preparation for socialist administration by the trade unions….
In 1919, the crisis that accompanied the rapid growth of the confederation and the ensuing collapse of the revolutionary upsurge led to a profound wave of discouragement and internal dissent. Three tendencies faced off against each other to define the orientation of the CNT.
Many veteran organizers, such as Seguí and Pestaña, gravitated towards distinctly reformist anarchosyndicalist positions.
Demoralization also provoked an ultra-leftist deviation among a younger anarchosyndicalist current that had only recently joined the movement. Enjoying majority support among the younger militants, this current plunged the CNT into a militarist and sectarian flight forward.
Against these two deviations, a third tendency tried to uphold the revolutionary syndicalist orientation of the CNT, and strove to engage in a project of fundamental strategic reflection. This tendency eventually formed the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees [RSCs] in December 1922. These RSCs worked very closely with the revolutionary syndicalist organizations in other countries: the French CGTU, the Portuguese RSCs, the Revolutionary Syndicalist fraction of the Italian USI, the British Minority Movement, the Dutch NAS….
The experience of the Spanish RSCs has never been studied. This revolutionary organization was often caricatured, and frequently defined as a “Bolshevik” tendency allied with the Communist Party. In fact, this tendency was the rightful heir of the original revolutionary syndicalist CNT.
This experience is nonetheless very rich because it serves as a lesson for those who want to instill new life into revolutionary syndicalism and who reject anarchosyndicalism’s retreat into sectarianism. This experience also tells us why the CNT was incapable of spearheading a revolutionary dynamic, in 1934 as well as in 1936, and right up to the mid-1970s. With this pamphlet we propose to engage in the first study of these Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, the historical revolutionary tendency of the CNT.
This text constitutes a contribution to the history of 100 years of the CNT.
— Comités Syndicalistes révolutionnaires. BP 3 31240 Saint-Jean. [Telephone Number Omitted]. Email: [email protected]
The Spanish Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. The History of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Tendency of the CNT (1919-1925)
In 1919 and 1920, the revolutionary syndicalist movement not only regained its pre-war strength, but actually disposed of an unprecedented mass of forces.
In every country in Europe, the Americas and even Asia (China, Japan, Indonesia…), the revolutionary syndicalist movement had powerful trade union confederations or tendencies. Between 1920 and 1923, however, revolutionary syndicalism suffered a series of defeats, due mainly to the absence of an international organization and the harmful impact of an all-too-confused revolutionary strategy. Fortunately, these weaknesses were rapidly analyzed and the formation of the Red Trade Union International1 (RTUI) emerged as a means to reorganize and focus revolutionary reflection. The RTUI considered itself to be an organization linked to the Third International, yet independent of the latter. The RTUI was led by the most outstanding militants of revolutionary syndicalism and defended its independence against the Bolshevik apparatus: Alfred Rosmer and Herclet of the French RSCs, Nin of the CNT and subsequently of the Spanish RSCs, Tom Mann of the Minority Movement of Great Britain, Larkin of the Irish IGTWU, Enrique Flores Magón of the Mexican CGT, Murphy of the IWW, Foster of the revolutionary syndicalist tendency of the AFL, Sneevliet of the Dutch NAS, and, above all, Lozovsky, a revolutionary syndicalist militant trained in the French CGT.
The RTUI took this series of defeats into consideration and proposed the strategy of the United Front, that is, the systematic unity of action with all working class forces that advocate an anti-capitalist position.
The revolutionary syndicalists were never very well organized nor were their activities very well coordinated. The RTUI produced strategic analyses and called for actions in various domains: workers control and factory committees, industrial unionism, the anti-fascist struggle, the unionization of women and immigrant workers, socialist cooperatives…. But the stagnation and decline of the workers movement triggered its first wave of desertions. Beginning in 1920, “anarchosyndicalism” made its debut. Militants, shocked by the scale of the defeats they had suffered, fell back on their tiny national or local organizations. They vehemently rejected the strategy of the United Front, and devoted themselves to a culture of sectarianism. This sectarianism would be justified by an advocacy of a culture of affinity. Philosophical discourse concealed the absence of a revolutionary perspective. These trade union leaders often utilized anarchist rhetoric as a façade, while many other libertarian militants refused to allow their doctrines to be used to justify this new sectarian deviation.
In many countries (France, Holland, Great Britain…), anarchosyndicalism was a minority current that was overshadowed by the militants who remained faithful to revolutionary syndicalism. Most of the libertarians in these countries refused to support the anarchosyndicalists. In other countries (Spain, Portugal, Mexico…), the anarchosyndicalist fraction would staff the highest offices of trade union confederations which had originated as revolutionary syndicalist organizations. It was during this period that the CNT broke with its origins. It was originally created on the model of the French CGT and the Charter of Amiens: trade union independence, administration of society by the trade unions, and therefore trade union unity, which would make working class administration possible.
The harsh repression inflicted on the CNT after 1918 produced a sectarian deviation that was accentuated with the neutralization of the first generation of militants: Salvador Seguí and many of his comrades were assassinated or demoralized. A new generation plunged into a flight forward that would terminate in a series of disasters: the urban guerrilla warfare of 1920-1923, the exclusions of 1931-1932, the series of coup d’état-style uprisings of 1932-1933, the sabotage of the Workers Alliance and the sacrifice of Asturias in 1934, the class collaboration of 1936-1939, the passivity of the Resistance in France in 1940-1944, a sectarian attitude towards the Workers Commissions during the 1960s and, finally, the expulsion of the dissident currents in the 1980s.
In fact, the new leadership of the CNT abandoned its revolutionary strategy in favor of a single goal: the sectarian defense of its apparatus. At no time did it ever devote its attention to the revolutionary process, to the means at the disposal of the trade unions for the administration of society, to the political education of its militants. When it was not collaborating with the bourgeois parties, it was sabotaging trade union unity, systematically refusing to construct industrial federations, and confecting a caricature of anarchist discourse to justify trade union disunity. It fell back upon an exclusively “national” class struggle. Its membership in the tiny sect known as the IWA offered it an “internationalist” cachet that lacked any real content. The CNT cut off all communications with French, Italian and British revolutionary syndicalists … for which the Spanish workers movement would pay dearly in 1936.
This anarchosyndicalist deviation, however, would produce a series of internal disputes: the Opposition Trade Unions, some comrades who returned to the fold of revolutionary syndicalism, and then the activities of the CNT’s Asturian Federation in 1934, and later the Friends of Durruti in 1937, the Libertarian Youth of the 1930s and finally the revolutionary syndicalist tendency of 1979. As early as 1922, however, an opposition was formed for the purpose of defending a revolutionary syndicalist orientation within the CNT. It was inspired by the French Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees and was joined in the following year by the Portuguese Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. Later, this opposition suffered from the negative influences of Leninism, and was transformed into the BOC (Workers and Peasants Bloc) and the POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification). It did, however, remain faithful to the strategic foundations of revolutionary syndicalism: the unity of the trade union as an instrument for the seizure of power and socialist administration.
We also encounter the Spanish Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees among the trade unions of the CNT in Asturias that propelled the revolutionary experience to its most complete form: the Workers Alliance that in 1934 would unite all the working class organizations of the region (except for the FAI) on a revolutionary platform. This experience has been concealed for the most part, but it nonetheless demonstrated the effectiveness of the United Front as opposed to the Popular Front of 1936. This history has long been covered in oblivion and the result is that many people think that anarchosyndicalism was one of the founding currents of the Spanish workers movement. All anarchosyndicalist historiography makes this claim without ever proving it with any documents from that time. To the contrary, this historiography deliberately conceals this experience and does violence to the facts. Anarchosyndicalism did not exist prior to 1919, either in Spain or anywhere else. This trade union current was a degenerate form that arose in 1919-1920, during a period of crisis for revolutionary syndicalism. The myth of the anarchosyndicalist origins of the CNT served to justify all those who, in France and all over the world, sought to propagate anarchosyndicalism by making people believe that it was a Spanish version of revolutionary syndicalism. These two currents, however, are opposed in every respect. One is purely defensive, the other is revolutionary. One is sectarian, the other is the inveterate advocate of trade union unity. One is based on the action of vanguard minorities, the other on collective and mass action. One indulges in sectarianism, the other favors critical reflection. One withdraws within the borders of its own nation, the other practices internationalism.
Today, in France as in numerous other countries, the lure of anarchosyndicalism is strong because the workers movement has suffered a series of defeats. One might be tempted to fall back on small affinity groups, justifying this with a radical philosophical discourse. It is therefore important to analyze this phenomenon by tracing it back to its beginning, to its Spanish stronghold. We must show all those who might be tempted by this defensive and sectarian withdrawal all the consequences of this orientation. In 1910, the Spanish proletariat was one of the most revolutionary proletariats in the world. It is therefore absolutely imperative that we should understand how the Spanish revolutionary movement could have subsequently undergone such a radical decline. Every time the revolutionary syndicalists tried to reorganize in Spain, they were blocked by the hegemony of anarchosyndicalism, which explains the whole series of defeats that followed.
The Spanish workers movement is an extremely interesting subject for study. This European country underwent a very late wave of industrialization and was notably characterized by its lack of agrarian reform. The proletariat therefore suffered from deep poverty and unstable organizations. The debates between tendencies were distinguished by very distinct positions. Splits were therefore quite bitter and took place very rapidly. It is not surprising that reformism and leftism, like anarchosyndicalism later, exercised such predominance. Revolutionary syndicalism, first embodied in Solidaridad Obrera and then in the CNT of 1910-1919, was characterized by persistent weaknesses. The study of the decline of the CNT and of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees is therefore rich in lessons.
This study should interest all those who want to fight and organize effectively for the social revolution. In this text we shall place at the disposal of syndicalists some documents that are almost inaccessible but quite interesting.
The study of the RSCs has been totally neglected by leftist as well as mainstream historians. This is all the more surprising insofar as this organization was formed when the Spanish workers movement was undergoing a profound phase of reorganization. The RSCs would have a decisive impact not only on the emergence of such important currents as the BOC-POUM and the PCE, but also on the unitary sectors of the CNT in Catalonia, Asturias, Valencia…. The rise of anarchosyndicalism, however, blocked the reorganization of international revolutionary syndicalism. One cannot understand the evolution of the CNT after 1919 without studying the tendency that defended the original historical orientation of the Confederation.
This brief history is therefore a draft outline, which will have to be completed because, at last, real historians are now studying the archives of the Spanish workers movement.
1. The revolutionary syndicalist origins of the CNT (1910-1919)
a) The myth of an anarchosyndicalist CNT
Revisionism, as cultivated by anarchosyndicalists, social democrats and leftists, depicts the founding of the CNT as an initiative of libertarians who wanted to create their own trade union confederation. This hypothesis, according to which the trade union is the instrument of a philosophical current, is totally false as far as the Spanish CNT is concerned. Many libertarians participated in the founding of the CNT, but they were not alone. Marxists and militants without any particular philosophical affiliations worked alongside them. When the CNT was first formed, revolutionary syndicalism was a very influential movement in Europe and all over the world. The first explicitly revolutionary syndicalist organization emerged in France in 1892. This was the Federation of the Bourses du Travail, which would merge with the CGT in 1902, instilling the latter with a revolutionary syndicalist strategy. The Federation of the Bourses du Travail was led by militants from the (“Allemanist”) Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party, supported by militants from the Central Revolutionary Committee (“Vaillantists”). Shortly afterwards, in various countries, such as Italy and Holland, revolutionary Marxist tendencies fought against the institutional orientation of the socialist parties. These tendencies therefore favored the formation of revolutionary syndicalist organizations. Only later did groups of libertarian militants, expressing their opposition to the dead end of “propaganda of the deed”, join this trade union dynamic.
At that time, Spanish militants were inspired by the French model. The works of the historian Wayne Thorpe highlight the influence of the French experience.2 According to Thorpe, Paris was “the Mecca of revolutionary syndicalism”. Testimonies of militants confirm this analysis. In his memoirs, Adolfo Bueso observes that the future founders of the CNT went to Paris to behold the CGT in action for inspiration.3 Antonio Bar, in his historical reference work, calls attention to the fact that, during the five years leading up to the founding of the CNT, many pamphlets of the French revolutionary syndicalists were translated and widely distributed Spain.4 Later, the leaders of the CNT would arrive in France as refugees during the wave of repression in 1911. The leaders of the UGT accused the militants of the CNT of having “imported” their organization from France. At its founding Congress in 1910, the proceedings of the Iberian confederation were conducted in the name of the “General Confederation of Labor of Spain”. The Spanish authorities were not fooled and prohibited the new confederation from adopting the name of its French sister organization. It would finally adopt the name, CNT. It did, however, refer to the Charter of Amiens, adopted by the French CGT, which affirms the independence of the confederation with respect to philosophies. Revolutionary Syndicalism defined itself as an independent revolutionary strategy, circumventing the multiple splits of Marxism and anarchism.
The founding of the CNT alongside the UGT should not be understood as an effort to divide the workers movement. The delegates understood that their organization would include associations that advocated direct action, which refused to join the extremely institutionalized UGT. Their goal was to organize the forces of revolutionary syndicalism in order to subsequently be in a favorable position to negotiate a merger of the two confederations. The CNT therefore did not originally conceive of its goal as creating an organization based on affinity5 that would fall back on a defensive logic.
All historical studies based on documents from that time agree on this fact.
Unfortunately, these books are very hard to find and are seldom read. It is therefore the myth of an anarchosyndicalist CNT that is propagated, based on oral accounts, partisan journals and eccentric Internet sites.
From 1910 to 1919, the CNT was led by revolutionary syndicalist militants. It was a unitary organization that included all the advocates of independent, democratic and revolutionary trade unionism. It was this unitary dynamic that allowed the CNT to experience an astonishing rate of growth in 1916-1917. Beginning in 1919, the crisis entailed by this unprecedented growth led to a sectarian withdrawal and a suicidal trajectory.
b) The weaknesses of Spanish Revolutionary Syndicalism
The history of the CNT is very uneven. Its process of construction seems relatively disorderly for various reasons. The confederation was built when another trade union federation already existed. The CNT seemed to be a branch of Solidaridad Obrera, a Catalonian organization. In the context of its “national” presence, its influence in the various regions of Spain was quite unbalanced. It was repression, however, that permanently rendered the CNT a fragile organization. Its periods of reconstruction were short, which gave the workers little time to form stable organizations and acquire administrative skills. This was even more true for Barcelona, where waves of immigrants answered the call for labor, a massive phenomenon between 1914 and 1918. And this is the major difference between the CNT and the French CGT that served as its model. There was no equivalent in Spain of the Bourses du Travail. Salvador Seguí understood the importance of the Bourses du Travail, because he was the driving force behind the syndicalist cultural center [Ateneo] of Barcelona whose purpose was educating militants. Most of the ateneos, however, were founded by affinity groups and were regularly broken up by repression or dissolved due to a lack of involvement in their affairs on the part of the trade unions.
The CNT embraced the strategy of the French CGT and its organizational model, the industrial trade union, in 1919. But French Revolutionary Syndicalism was capable of taking shape thanks to a relatively long period of development of the workers movement. It also benefited from the support of revolutionary socialist currents that advocated the general strike and trade union autonomy. These currents (“Allemanism” and “Blanquism”) contributed many militants who would participate in the creation of the Bourses du Travail. This phenomenon was non-existent on the Iberian peninsula. The social democratic perspective was deeply etched in the PSOE [the Socialist Workers Party of Spain, the majority social democratic party in Spain] and the anarchist movement contained a major current that was hostile to syndicalism and Solidaridad Obrera.
In Spain, the process that led to the founding of the CNT was quite unlike the French experience that led to the founding of the CGT. Seguí and his comrades tried to reproduce the French organizational framework. Spain, however, was much more influenced by a profound localism and regionalism, which favored tactics based on localist withdrawal and finally led to the victory of the anarchosyndicalist tendency. Until 1919, the CNT endured some setbacks but generally made progress, experiencing a dynamic of increasing membership. At the end of 1918, it had 107,096 members in Catalonia. The same region would have 345,000 members one year later. In Spain as a whole, the Confederation had 700,000 members. In the summer of 1918, the CNT reorganized on the basis of industrial unions, which would allow for the coordination of struggles but would also permit a more effective integration of the precarious “immigrant” proletariat.
The CNT benefited from the revolutionary wave in Europe and from the popularity of the Russian Revolution. Later, between 1919 and 1923, the CNT underwent a period of serious decline, one that was much more damaging than the setbacks suffered by the French, English or German trade union movements. Spanish revolutionary syndicalism therefore did not have the time it needed to consolidate its trade union structure. At the same time, it faced many difficulties in forming teams of militants from people who were politically undereducated. The anarchosyndicalist deviation then drove the CNT into a flight forward. Many of its young militants committed themselves to a sectarian and military policy. This factor affected not only the anarchosyndicalist tendency but also the young Communist Party. Most of the historical leaders of the CNT, above all Seguí and Pestaña, joined the most sectarian anarchosyndicalist tendency in order to isolate the advocates of revolutionary syndicalism. This moderate tendency, disturbed by the wave of repression, attempted to carry out an institutional withdrawal. As was so often the case in the history of the workers movement, the tactics of withdrawal were justified with ultra-revolutionary speeches, in this case by the cultural adherence to anarchism.
This withdrawal was carried out quite rapidly. Beginning in August 1918, the CNT suffered its first defeat during a strike wave. As a result, the UGT suspended the trade union unity pact. At first, those who would later comprise the moderate tendency of anarchosyndicalism defended a strategy of trade union independence. Enjoying majority support in the Regional Committee of Catalonia, this tendency rapidly came into conflict with the radical anarchosyndicalists. The latter had been in control of the National Committee since September. They took advantage of their position to federate the Regional Committees, which they then mobilized. Another anarchosyndicalist tendency was formed around the former seminarian Buenacasa and the former actor Evelio Boal. Until December 1919, these two tendencies fought it out for control over the leadership of the CNT.
At the end of 1918, a national anarchist congress was convened in Barcelona to vote on the question of whether or not to join the CNT. Revolutionary syndicalists who were present at this congress, as evidenced by their philosophical ideas, did not understand the consequences of this decision. At first pleased with the entry of numerous anarchist militants into the Confederation, they were soon submerged in the trade unions with the arrival of ultra-sectarian militants who joined the CNT long after it was originally founded in order to impose an anarchist identity on it.
In January 1919 a major general strike launched in the electric power and water industries shook Barcelona. The initiative of the CNT, the intransigence of the employers, and the generalization of the struggle, gave rise to renewed interest in strategic debates in the CNT. The question of “revolutionary violence” would also assume a central place in the theoretical confrontations then underway.
On March 24, the action groups of the CNT took the initiative to call a general strike in Barcelona without previous debate in the trade unions, which resulted in defeat when the authorities responded with repression, but also with legislation imposing the eight hour day. Martial law caused the CNT to go underground. The arrest of thousands of militants would therefore allow the young anarchosyndicalist militants to take over the organization. It was, however, the action groups of the CNT, often uncontrolled armed gangs, that acquired preeminence in the organization by means of brute force and their anti-democratic practices. The older generation of Buenacasa and Boal was rapidly eclipsed in a wave of violence by relatively uneducated activists: Durruti, Ascaso, Oliver, Escartins….
Terrorism would take on a systematic form and become a veritable way of life. It attracted young people, who were very much under the influence of individualism and the insurrectionist ideas that originated in the tradition of peasant uprisings. Beginning in 1916, the CNT contained “action groups” that specialized in the assassination of employers. They were the reflection of certain strategic weaknesses, and of the belief in individual action as a substitute for the action of the class. These methods would become a veritable system that assumed forms similar to those of the mafia. They were very popular among the young people who were attracted by activism. But they also became means of obtaining money on the part of numerous militants who were fired from their jobs and unable to find work because of the repression unleashed by the employers and their blacklists. In certain trade unions, “groups of special delegates” were formed.
Members of these groups were offered a weekly wage of 70 pesetas and a pistol with which they were supposed to collect dues from recalcitrant workers. Meaker notes in his historical study that: “Many of these newcomers came from the lowest layers of the proletariat and were merely ideological desperados who soon came to prefer an exciting and relatively high-paid lifestyle as armed enforcers rather than the prosaic and low-paid life of a proletarian.” (p. 175)
The advocates of revolutionary syndicalism fought against this double deviation. These militants were fully aware of the crisis of the workers movement. This is why they thought it was necessary to create a revolutionary tendency within the CNT, a tendency that would train trade union militants, but also one that would be in favor of the United Front and would oppose the anarchosyndicalist deviation.
This tendency would only be formally constituted, however, in December 1922, when the CNT was already on the verge of dissolution. Before we study the activities and strategic reflections of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, however, we shall analyze the situation that led to the appearance of this revolutionary organization.
2) The Trade Union Crisis of 1919
We must recall that the creation of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees would later be systematically presented by their anarchosyndicalist rivals as a “communist” maneuver. Thus, at the Plenum of 1923, those who adhered to “revolutionary syndicalism” would be criticized by the leadership of the CNT. The anarchosyndicalist delegates depicted the intervention of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees as a maneuver of infiltration on the part of Bolshevik elements. Such an accusation was easier to accept at a time when the CNT had almost been driven completely underground, which made open public debates in the organization difficult. The myth of conspiracy and infiltration was even more easily accepted because the trade union militants were on the defensive, living in an atmosphere of repression. It was on the basis of this accusation of infiltration, of “usurpation by revolutionary syndicalism”, that the militants of the RSCs would be systematically denounced and expelled from the Confederation. Before we analyze the experience of the RSCs, it is therefore essential to study the context of their creation and to understand how the supporters of Revolutionary Syndicalism were finally marginalized in the CNT. We shall see that the militant experience and strategic analyses of the RSCs placed this organization squarely in the heritage of revolutionary syndicalism but also constituted an initiative of theoretical reexamination and reflection on the practice of Revolutionary Syndicalism.
In the chapters below, we shall present the biographies of the principal leaders of the RSCs. We shall see how their militant backgrounds place them squarely within the revolutionary syndicalist tradition of the historical CNT. The process that led to the formation of the RSCs began in the debates that took place in the CNT beginning in 1919. The creation of the RSCs was therefore a healthy, but belated, reaction to the need to oppose the anarchosyndicalist deviation in the CNT, a deviation that had already begun in 1919. It would nonetheless result in introducing numerous cenetista militants to a revolutionary strategy that was not widely understood at the time.
In order to understand the marginalization of revolutionary syndicalism in the CNT, we have to analyze the crisis that struck the CNT in 1919. It was from this crisis that anarchosyndicalism was born.
The 1919 Congress constituted a turning point in the history of the Confederation and led to the formation of three currents that would confront one another in the CNT. Yet the anarchosyndicalist deviation was already well underway by then: the sectarian conflict was already a reality. This was quite surprising, for this deviation was not restricted to the young anarchist militants who had recently joined the trade union organization. A large proportion of the historical leaders of the CNT, despite their origins in the revolutionary syndicalism of Solidaridad Obrera, turned towards anarchosyndicalism. Furthermore, it was these same militants who proposed the motion that made the CNT’s dedication to the goal of “libertarian communism” official. This deviation was not, however, viewed as a decisive threat by those who founded the RSCs. For at that very same Congress, the delegates voted in favor of the CNT’s joining the Communist International. The political currents were at that time in the midst of comprehensive realignments. The anarchists perceived the Russian Revolution as a model and they would be the most vocal supporters of the Communist International. The theoretical confusion at the Congress reached such a pitch that an “anarchist” declaration, which contradicted the original nature of the CNT, could appear to the future founders of the RSC as a revolutionary orientation. A. Bar notes that the speeches of the delegates mixed references to “socialism”, “anarchism” and “communism” without any doctrinal consistency.6 The first resolution approved by the Congress expressed total support for the Russian Revolution and “the provisional dictatorship of the proletariat”. The confusion was so widespread that militants like Simon Piera spoke in favor of ideological neutrality while simultaneously supporting the resolution on “libertarian communism”. This reference to “libertarian communism” illustrates the political confusion that characterized the majority of the militants of the CNT.
Adding the adjective “libertarian” in front of the word “communism” makes no more sense than adding “authoritarian” or “Marxist”. Communism is defined as a society in which social classes as well as the split in society have disappeared. The resolution on “libertarian communism” was intended to artificially radicalize, with words, the CNT’s position. Ultimately, this is a demonstration of a total lack of reflection on the revolutionary project.
It was the international question, however, that would occupy center stage in the internal conflicts that began to take shape. For the positions taken on the question of the Communist International, and then with respect to the RTUI, automatically led to a debate concerning the revolutionary and therefore unitary orientation of the CNT. The recent stance taken by Seguí and Pestaña, who abandoned the philosophical neutrality of the Confederation, was certainly shocking and disturbing but was not analyzed as the seed of an anarchosyndicalist deviation.
This situation was further exacerbated by the debate on the question of industrial federations. The CNT was composed of trade federations. Taking the cue from the revolutionary model of their French comrades, the Spanish revolutionary syndicalists proposed that the CNT’s organization should be restructured on the basis of industrial unionism. There was a general consensus in favor of the formation of local industrial trade unions. In fact, this proposal was not at all in conflict with the profound localism that was characteristic of anarchosyndicalism. This was not at all the case, however, with regard to the proposal to adopt the structure of industrial federations. This latter instrument appears to be indispensable to any militant who seriously reflects on the question of social revolution. A capitalist economy cannot be replaced by a socialist economy except by action on a national level, and the latter requires an instrument through which militants can operate on a national scale. This is the purpose of the industrial federations, which are responsible for the coordination of struggles in the various industries and for preparation for the socialist management of these same industries and their associated trades. Of course, the most inveterate enemies of the revolution rejected this and voted against the formation of industrial federations. This vote certainly caught the attention of the revolutionary syndicalist militants, at least among the more alert comrades. The situation would rapidly change, however, because the majority of the moderate anarchosyndicalist sector declared its support for the industrial federations, which would be of use in everyday struggles. Optimism therefore still appeared to be warranted.
The resolution to join the Communist International, proposed by Arlandis, was adopted. Arlandis was the delegate of the provincial Federation of Cullera, but like other young delegates, he would rapidly assume important responsibilities in the CNT. This Congress was therefore an opportunity for militants to define their positions in the midst of the framework of debates on the revolutionary project. The question of whether or not to join the Communist International did not have the same political meaning for every militant. For the extreme libertarian left, joining the Communist International had, above all, a symbolic meaning, one that was often opportunist. At that time, during the wave of revolutionary struggles, few indeed were the militants who would court discredit by criticizing the symbol that the Russian Revolution and the Communist International represented. Seguí was one of the few who openly criticized the Russian Revolution. Yet it was also the case that few indeed were those militants who would proceed beyond this impulsive decision to join the Communist International. Some of the delegates had seriously considered the question of revolutionary strategy and rejected the libertarian catechism proposed to the Congress. It is not surprising that it was at this Congress that the contacts were made between various militants who would form the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees three years later. We must point out that these militants, many of whom were participating in their first national meeting, did not already know one another. They met at the CNT Congress for the first time. This fact is important because it utterly refutes all the absurd allegations of an alleged infiltration of the CNT by Bolsheviks in 1921.
Among these revolutionary syndicalist delegates we shall mention the Valencian Arlandis, the Catalonians (David Rey, Nin, Maurin), the Asturians (Moral, Ibañez and Garcia). Many of them were quite young. They had different political backgrounds: some came from the anarchist movement, others from the PSOE, and some even from Republicanism. Gradually, more connections were made and more debates took place. They gradually formed groups that would constitute poles for critical reflection. The most important such group was the local Federation of Lérida in Catalonia. In 1919, La Lucha Social was published as the “organ of the trade unions of Lérida and its province”. Joaquín Maurin, who had just been discharged from military service in April 1920, would have the opportunity to orient the activities of the CNT in this province. Named editor in chief of the journal, he also coordinated the CNT’s organizing efforts in Lérida with the help of Nin. The magazine soon came to possess a much broader influence, however. It was read throughout Catalonia, Asturias and Valencia. It became a widely respected journal, that featured, until 1922, articles by militants who would later become anarchosyndicalist leaders, such as Ramón Acin and Felipe Alaiz. The latter had already worked with Maurin and Tuso in 1914 on a student magazine called Talion. La Lucha Social would henceforth serve as a focal point for critical reflection and propaganda for the CNT leaders who sought to acquire a more profound understanding of the revolutionary syndicalist strategy. This shows that the stances of the various individuals involved had not yet fully crystallized. This utterly refutes the theory according to which the rise of revolutionary syndicalists to positions of responsibility in the CNT in 1921 was the result of an infiltration scheme that was only made possible by the arrest of the Confederation’s most influential militants.
The 1919 Congress, however, was already a stage for the confrontation between the various tendencies. The anarchosyndicalists, in a solid bloc, launched their offensive even before the Congress opened. Boal, in his welcoming speech to the Congress at the inaugural session, allowed himself to declare that the militants of the CNT supported the principles of “anarchist communism”. This confirmed the sectarian directives to form affinity groups that had been imposed by the last session of the National Committee, after August 1919, in complete opposition to the resolutions of the Congresses of 1910 and 1911. This anarchosyndicalist orientation had the consequence of the deliberate sabotage of the dynamic tendency towards the unification of the CNT and the UGT. The nine members of the National Committee published a threatening note in which they openly proclaimed their maneuvering and their divisive actions: “We warn the Congress that if the new Committee that replaces us does not adhere to the practices of libertarian and anti-political action that have defined the CNT up until now, we will engage in a struggle in our own trade unions to render any and all mergers or fusions impossible that would be inconsistent with our previously defined basic principles and practices.” In opposition to this extremely sectarian current, a moderate anarchosyndicalist tendency was then taking shape around Seguí and younger militants like Pestaña and Peiro. This tendency was influenced by a certain degree of pessimism: with respect to the future of the workers movement and more particularly of the CNT, the situation seemed quite grave to these comrades. They thought that it would change and they hoped to be able to organize a tactical retreat on the basis of their victories in the latest strikes. This retreat would not be possible without breaking with the Communist International, which at that time sought to coordinate the revolutionary waves throughout all of Europe. This moderate tendency would therefore take advantage of the surge of anarchosyndicalism in the CNT to use it as a buffer between it and the Communist International. This tendency’s supporters adhered to anarchosyndicalism in only a tactical sense, hoping to justify a political retreat at the same time that they neutralized the young anarchosyndicalist activists. This outcome was further reinforced as the CNT was increasingly affected by the wave of repression. The CNT was the target of a full-scale attack by the authorities. Arrests and assassinations multiplied. This wave of repression would have a decisive impact on the internal debates of the CNT.
3) The reorganization of the CNT by the revolutionary syndicalists
Beginning in January 1920, the CNT was subjected to a full-scale wave of repression. The assault became even more violent in November 1920. Martínez Anido was appointed Civil Governor of Barcelona. He was the author of the famous “law of flight” [“ley de fugas”].
CNT militants released by the police were immediately executed, their murders being disguised as legal responses to their attempted escape. Seguí, Pestaña and Boal were imprisoned one after the other; militants were being executed in a totally extrajudicial manner.
It was in this context that Nin replaced Boal as National Secretary of the CNT and the future militants of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees assumed responsibility for implementing the principal mandates of the organization within the national and regional directive institutions. This situation has often been presented as a coup orchestrated by the “pro-Bolsheviks”. This is totally false. This new militant leadership team did not by any stretch of the imagination impose an illegitimate orientation on the CNT. They applied the decisions of the CNT’s Congresses. These militants became the faithful adherents of the historical political position of the CNT, after the experience of the previous National Committee. Evelio Boal, while he finally turned towards anarchosyndicalism, supported, after his election as confederal secretary in 1918, unity of action with the UGT, a unity that had been forged in the strikes of 1916 and 1917. In August 1920, he was a member of the delegation that went to Madrid with Seguí to negotiate a “defensive” alliance with the UGT. The same was true of Pestaña, who had not yet completely embraced anarchosyndicalism.
When he returned from the Second Congress of the Communist International, which he attended as a delegate of the CNT, he did not have enough time to present his report to the superior committees of the CNT. Subsequently, the anarchosyndicalists would say that he came back with a hostile attitude towards the Communist International. Seguí, after having met with Pestaña, said in an interview with the magazine Nuevo Heraldo that on his return from Russia his “friend was enthusiastic about the Congress”.7 It was only during 1921 that Pestaña would once again become an opponent of the Communist International. It must also be recalled that Pestaña participated in many committees at the 1920 Congress of the CI, and that he did so without the mandate of his organization. It was the content of that Congress and its political richness that led him to choose this course of action. His anti-CI position only crystallized after his return to Spain, when he was stunned by the course taken by events in his country since his departure for Russia. It must also be pointed out that the revolutionary syndicalists did not monopolize all the positions of responsibility in the CNT. Thus, the new Regional Committee of Catalonia was composed of a team of four militants, including anarchosyndicalists: Miquel Ferrer from Barcelona, Felipe Alaiz from Tarragona, Francés Isgleas from Girona, and Maurin representing Lérida. If the Revolutionary Syndicalists occupied the leading positions, despite the infiltration carried out by the anarchist groups, this is explained above all by their abilities and political courage. It was the political qualities of the young Revolutionary Syndicalist leaders of the CNT that allowed them to keep the organization alive, a point that is not emphasized very much in historical studies. The CNT was facing its worst period of repression. Other militants, anarchosyndicalists, for example, certainly could have taken on responsibilities that would put them in the position of a sitting duck. Nin miraculously escaped one assassination attempt, and Maurin was seriously wounded in another. Where were the Durrutis and the García Olivers and company? Some took refuge in verbose declarations and others in underground activity.
a) The CNT and the Red Trade Union International (RTUI)
On April 28, 1921, under completely clandestine conditions in Barcelona, the delegates to the first congress of the RTUI were chosen. Some regional committees were unable to attend this session due to threats from authorities: the North, Central and Andalusian regions. Nin attended the meeting as national secretary. Arturo Parera, Maurin, Jesús Ibáñez, Hilari Arlandis and Jesús Arenas represented, respectively, Aragon, Catalonia, Asturias, Valencia and Galicia. Pestaña, who was in prison, had still not been able to present his report on the Second Congress of the Communist International. The delegation was composed of four militants, who were joined by a representative of the French anarchist groups, Gastón Leval, due to pressure exercised by the anarchist faction. In anarchosyndicalist historiography the four militants are accused of not having abided by their mandate. This same historiography does not, however, question the validity of the mandate of a militant named by an organization outside the CNT to represent it at an international congress. Political coherence often disappeared under the weight of the logic of the apparatus.
The strategic points of this CNT Plenum were not approached from a unified international perspective. The crisis of the revolutionary project compelled the organization to define a strategy inspired by the Russian experience but adapted to the Spanish situation. The delegate from Aragon proposed that the CNT respond to terror with terror. This theory was rejected by the other regional delegations who defended the perspective of revolutionary violence as action by the class.
After the concluding session of the Plenum, the delegation to the RTUI Congress prepared for their journey. This experience constituted a new stage in the process leading to the emergence of a revolutionary tendency within the CNT. The Revolutionary Syndicalist delegates were then able to obtain a clear picture of the deviation that was taking shape in certain regions and among certain trade unions. The delegation to the RTUI Congress would prove to be an occasion for reinforcing links between the militants who were most seriously devoted to critical reflection on the CNT and its organization.
The journey itself would also be rich in political lessons. Nin and Maurin took advantage of their itinerary to meet Pierre Monatte in Paris and to discuss the experience of the French Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. As for the Congress of the RTUI, it was certainly one of the most interesting in the history of the international workers movement. Never before had so many highly influential and veteran international militants been gathered together. Despite the conflicts instigated by the French anarchosyndicalist delegates, as far as the CNT delegates were concerned it was obvious that they should support the membership of their organization in the RTUI; in this way they did nothing more than respect the mandate of the 1919 CNT Congress.
The stance taken by the CNT delegation has often been criticized by anarchosyndicalists. But what else could these delegates have done to respect their mandates? At that time, the CNT had not yet refused to join the Communist International. The proposed statutes of the RTUI established an organic connection with the Communist International. But the CNT could not criticize this because it was itself, in a confused way, a member of both internationals! If the delegates are to be criticized at all for not having respected their mandates, it is for an entirely different reason. The Spanish delegates defended the mandate of the Plenum: to ensure the independence of the RTUI with respect to the Communist International. Here is their position, a position that once again contradicts the thesis of a “pro-Bolshevik tendency” within the CNT. These delegates took responsibility for their actions when they returned to Spain by defending this position in favor of the independence of the RTUI.8 Nin and Maurin, together with Rosmer, proposed an amendment to the statutes that replaced the “obligatory” nature of the organic connection with the CI with the phrase “highly desirable”. Maurin would go so far as to attempt to form an openly revolutionary syndicalist tendency within the RTUI: the Alliance of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Workers of the World.9 This attempt failed, however, due to the anarchosyndicalist nature of the organizations that were members of the Alliance. The Congress of the RTUI was soon followed by the Congress of Communist International, and this once again gave the Spanish Revolutionary Syndicalists an opportunity to challenge the psuedo-hegemony of the Spanish Communist Party in the revolutionary movement in their country. The representatives of the CNT expressed themselves at the Congress in the following terms: “If a revolution takes place, it is certain that it will not be the Communist Party alone that will lead it, nor will it be the only vanguard organization; there is no doubt that the revolutionary syndicalists will be the vanguard of the revolution and even the vanguard of the Communist Party.”10 Such views are not at all consistent with the Bolshevik theses for which the delegates were systematically reproached by their anarchosyndicalist opponents. This tenacity in the face of the Soviet apparatus is well attested. The Spanish delegation demonstrated its political courage. Nin and Arlandis were elected to the executive committee [bureau] of the RTUI. Nin was soon chosen to be the Assistant Secretary of the organization.
The Spanish delegation was critical of the RTUI statutes but no alternative seemed to be possible. The revolutionary movement was then undergoing a phase of decline in Europe. To cut off their relations with the Bolshevik regime seemed to be impossible without generating a great deal of discouragement. Sympathy for the Bolshevik regime was so widespread that it even seemed to be a counterweight against the anarchosyndicalist threat in the CNT.
b) An open confrontation between the tendencies becomes an urgent necessity
In the meantime, the anarchosyndicalist fraction had taken advantage of the absence of the leading representatives of the Revolutionary Syndicalist tendency. A Plenum was held in Madrid in August 1921. The Regional Committees of the North, Madrid and Aragon launched an anarchosyndicalist offensive. The Committee of the North proposed that the Communist International should be condemned, which was rejected by the delegates to the Plenum, and debate was suspended until after the presentation of the report of the delegates in Russia. After his arrival in Spain, Maurin could only present his report to the Barcelona Plenum of October 1921 in the name of the National Secretary. For he had replaced Nin as National Secretary of the CNT. Nin had been arrested along with Arlandis in Germany. Nin had to return to Russia to serve as Lozovsky’s secretary. Arlandis was momentarily neutralized. The situation was much the same for Jesús Ibáñez, arrested when he returned to Spain and only released from prison in April 1921. These revolutionary syndicalist leaders, the heart of the current, had to confront a new situation. The fact that Maurin was unable to attend the Barcelona Plenum of October 1921 was due not only to the arrests of the comrades outside of Spain. In Spain itself, the situation had become even more serious. He was therefore forced to remain for several months in Paris due to security issues. The appointment of Maurin as General Secretary, to replace Nin, therefore took place in a context that was catastrophic for the Revolutionary Syndicalist current.
We already mentioned that the anarchosyndicalist current had taken advantage of the absence of the most influential militants in order to launch its offensive within the CNT. But this offensive was all the more effective because the workers movement was facing an unprecedented surge of repression. The CNT was almost completely destroyed in Barcelona after its military confrontation with the authorities. Under such circumstances, the anarchosyndicalist tendency, which advocated clandestine activity, was overrepresented in the surviving trade unions. As always, the discouragement that arises during a period of defeat led to a retreat to the logic of affinity groups and dogmatism. This trend was also victorious over the supporters of reformism who, while rejecting violent methods, emphasized a labor of libertarian education. The Revolutionary Syndicalist current, however, retained its prestige when the repression became even more vicious. This served to provide systematic proof of the facts that were concealed by the anarchosyndicalists. At the Barcelona Plenum of October 14-15, 1921,11 the Regional Committee of the North proposed to transfer the location of the National Committee headquarters in order to make it easier to change its membership later. This proposal was rejected by the delegates to the Plenum, among whom the Revolutionary Syndicalists constituted a minority. Furthermore, the Plenum declared that the Plenum of April 1921, at which the delegates for the Moscow Congresses were chosen, was “legitimate”. By a vote of 12 to 6, the Plenum refused to take a stance on the RTUI and set a date for the next national meeting, after the trade unions had an opportunity to debate the issue. The Barcelona Plenum also resolved that the CNT should continue to be represented on the Executive Committee of the RTUI. The illegitimacy of the CNT delegation to Moscow is therefore an unacceptable thesis, yet it is systematically repeated in the “history” books later written by anarchosyndicalists. Despite the terrible blows it absorbed from the wave of repression, the Revolutionary Syndicalist current in the CNT remained a legitimate and influential part of the organization. After Maurin’s imprisonment in February 1922, the anarchosyndicalist sector launched another offensive within the CNT, taking advantage of the fact that only Arlandis remained to defend the project initiated in Moscow. It was around this time when numerous confederal militants and leaders were murdered and the alliance with the UGT was repudiated. A political retreat was building up steam within the Confederation. This retreat took the form of a temporary tactical alliance between the sectarian anarchosyndicalists and the Seguí-Pestaña tendency. The latter tendency sought to bring about a definitive break with the RTUI, because the latter organization was a factor that helped foster a revolutionary spirit in the CNT. It was impossible to induce such a retreat within the national apparatus of the CNT if the CNT were to continue to be a member of the RTUI. And to bring about this definitive break, it was necessary to neutralize the militants who were faithful to the resolutions of the preceding Congresses of the CNT. Seguí, Pestaña and numerous other leaders would now support the claim that it was the previous National Committee that most faithfully represented the principles of the CNT.
This maneuver on the part of the moderate anarchosyndicalist tendency only made the most sectarian tendency stronger. The deviation of the CNT from its original principles was now irreversible.
c) The victory of anarchosyndicalism
The Saragossa Conference of June 1922 was convoked as a “planning meeting for a national congress”. In effect, however, its purpose was to challenge the previous National Congress resolution which called for the CNT to join the Communist International, and to argue that in order for that resolution to be legitimate, it must be ratified by a subsequent National Congress. The Plenum was therefore only obliged to listen to the reports of the delegates to the Congresses of 1920 and 1921 held in Russia. In fact, this Saragossa meeting turned into a congress that would adopt definitive resolutions. Peiro disregarded the mandate entrusted to him by his Barcelona Federation and by the Regional Committee of Catalonia. The National Committee, from then on under the control of the anarchosyndicalists, maneuvered deftly. Despite assurances given on June 4 that international questions would not be debated during the upcoming Plenum, the National Committee exerted pressure to see to it that a resolution on the question of the Communist International and the RTUI should be adopted. Yet, as this same National Committee had pointed out only a few days earlier, the trade unions had not yet been informed concerning the reports of the CNT delegates who had returned from Moscow. The statutes and the resolutions of the RTUI were not translated, nor were they distributed to the trade unions.
Furthermore, this meeting, held on June 11-14, was hastily organized. In ten days, a meeting that would review the legitimacy of the mandates of the delegation that attended the Congresses in Russia was fully arranged. It must be recalled, however, that this meeting could only be attended by five Regional Federations, eight Local Federations, fifteen District Federations and two unitary trade unions [sindicatos únicos]. In addition, anarchosyndicalist militants were invited to speak at the Plenum, without any mandate from any trade union, while Ibáñez, the delegate representing the RTUI, was not invited. Arlandis was the only delegate who attended the RTUI Congress who was present at this Plenum.
The decision to join the anarchosyndicalist IWA would therefore be approved in this make-believe democracy. This total about-face was made possible thanks to the new positions assumed by the tendencies in the CNT. As we have seen, an alliance was formed between the two anarchosyndicalist currents, both of which were insistent on imposing a dynamic of retreat on the CNT. The Saragossa Conference resolution declared that the 1919 resolution approved at the CNT’s National Congress mandating that the CNT should join the RTUI was a mistake. It was resolved that that decision would have to be ratified by means of a referendum within one month, when the information in question had yet to be distributed to the trade unions. It was at this time that the new situation really began to take shape. Starting on May 2, the confederal daily newspaper once again reappeared as the mouthpiece of the most sectarian position against the RTUI.
A delegation was elected to attend the anarchosyndicalist conference in Berlin. The resolution to join the IWA is a masterpiece of opportunist discourse: “In consideration of the fact that sending a delegation to the Berlin conference would not be a hindrance to the proper organic operation of the CNT, and of the fact that our participation in that conference would not violate either the principles of the Confederation or the resolutions adopted at the Madrid Congress, it is resolved that the resolutions adopted at the Madrid Congress displayed a tendency to be moving in the direction of the CNT’s membership in an international trade union organization that is independent of all political parties.” It should also be recalled that this resolution would later be subjected to repeated attacks by the leaders of the CNT. It was an appeal to the CNT to participate in the creation of a “Revolutionary Syndicalist International, independent of all political parties, regardless of tendency”. The IWA, however, which the CNT joined, would have direct connections with certain anarchist organizations.
The resolution to join the IWA was rejected only by the Local Federation of Lérida and by the Regional Federation of Asturias. Salvador Seguí would become one of the leading theoreticians of the anarchosyndicalist retreat. He had a major impact because he seemed like a level-headed man, and a good strategist. But the direction in which he was heading was already evident in 1919. The report he submitted on October 4, 1919 is unambiguous: “Comrades and friends, what would happen if today the revolution were to be victorious throughout Europe, let’s just accept this possibility for the sake of argument, what would happen if it came knocking at our door? Answer! We are not prepared, we do not have the organization, we would be forced to say to the bourgeoisie: No—we do not want to accept this responsibility; wait a while; wait until we orient ourselves: we do not know how the game is played!” These same arguments were utilized by reformist tendencies; in the reformist current of the French CGT, for example, led by Jouhaux. The resolution then goes on to recite arguments in favor of organization, debate and critical reflection. This position would have made sense in 1922-1923, when the Spanish, and more generally the European workers movement, was in an obvious state of retreat. At the very moment, however, when the revolutionary wave of 1919 was taking place, it is incomprehensible, and it is even more incomprehensible that the main thrust of this resolution would be to produce a totally abstract anarchist catechism. This demoralizing discourse would be elaborated on many occasions by Seguí at the Saragossa Plenum. It is therefore not at all surprising that Seguí, even as early as 1919, would be one of the few militants who were opposed to joining the Communist International. Nor is it surprising that he should have been among those who spoke in favor of the proposed resolution on libertarian communism, totally contradicting the views that he had held for more ten years. Not only did Seguí become firmly entrenched in the anarchosyndicalist deviation, he was undeniably its leading theoretician. After 1919, he successfully convinced numerous militants with a background in the revolutionary syndicalism of the early years of the CNT to support his libertarian reformism. This reformism became increasingly explicit, while he used his ostensible moral devotion to anarchism as an alibi. In April 1922, having returned from exile, Seguí met with Republican leaders to negotiate to offer docile conduct on the part of the CNT in exchange for the Republicans’ formation of a liberal government and an end to the repression waged against the CNT.
After the formal resignation of its Spanish section, the Executive Committee of the RTUI sent an appeal to the CNT that was not published in the confederal press. The CNT had deliberately isolated itself from the Revolutionary Syndicalist organizations that had served as its inspirations, particularly the French CGTU. By joining the anarchosyndicalist IWA, the CNT had allied itself with organizations in crisis which had retreated into themselves. The nationalist deviation had begun to take hold on the CNT. Henceforth, its “internationalism” was transformed into a totally abstract, merely verbal discourse. The crisis that afflicted the CNT was accompanied and accentuated by the recently adopted position of the UGT which had also been adversely affected by a wave of discouragement. At the UGT Congress of November 1922, a terrible incident occurred. A member of the security services was killed during an altercation with a Communist Party militant. The reformists then took advantage of this tragedy to obtain support for a proposal to condemn the Communist Party. The fifteen trade unions that refused to vote for this resolution were immediately expelled from the UGT. This exclusion reinforced the ultra-left current in the Communist Party, which had already distinguished itself due to its work in the trade unions. With these exclusions, however, the UGT deprived itself of its own revolutionary wing. This revolutionary wing was even more indispensable for the united front. In December 1920, the leaders of the UGT repudiated the UGT-CNT unity pact, and thus helped the anarchosyndicalists to acquire hegemony in the CNT. The anarchosyndicalists then attacked the supporters of the united front, and severed the last link that connected them with trade union unity.
This trend would be confirmed during subsequent working class movements, such as, for example, the strike wave in Asturias, Euskadi and the Madrid wood products industry in May 1922. This movement was used by the supporters of the RTUI as an argument in favor of the united front. For it was clear that the employers were taking advantage of the disunity and diminished combativity of the workers to reduce wages and fire workers. This united front policy, proposed by the revolutionaries of the UGT and the CNT, was rejected by the respective leadership groups of the two organizations. It must be pointed out that the Spanish Communist Party took the initiative to send an open letter in support of the united front to all the working class organizations of Spain. The trade union bureaucrats were therefore placed in an advantageous position from which they could justify disunity with philosophical arguments that referred exclusively to rejecting the Spanish Communist Party. The supporters of the RTUI nonetheless exercised a great deal of influence in the sectors where the workers were still trying to go on the offensive.
Not only did the attempt to forge a united front in the crucible of the wave of strikes and demonstrations fail, but other revolutionary trade unions were excluded from the UGT, including, for example, the thirteen sections of the powerful miners trade union in Asturias. Some of these excluded trade unions sought to join the CNT. But this initiative only had the support of a minority and most of the trade unions willingly chose to remain independent while they were still pleading, in a half-hearted way, to be readmitted into the UGT. This wave of exclusions confirmed the need to create a real Revolutionary Syndicalist tendency in the trade union confederations.
4. The activity of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees
a) The process leading to the formation of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees
In December 1922, the Spanish trade union was facing an extremely serious crisis. The situation was diametrically opposed to the one that prevailed in 1918-1919. The number of trade union members was declining, the divide between the two trade union confederations seemed to have been firmly established, the bureaucracies had set down stronger roots, social conquests were in danger…. Only one positive factor appeared in this panorama. A new trade union current spontaneously arose during the course of the social struggles and internal debates. This current was also able to rely on the material and political support of the RTUI. It maintained regular contacts with the other Revolutionary Syndicalist organizations (the French CGTU, the Dutch NAS, and the Revolutionary Syndicalist tendencies in the Portuguese CGT, the Italian USI, the English Trade Union Committees, the Irish IGTWU….). It participated in discussions in the RTUI with the most influential militants of the revolutionary workers movement: Monatte and Rosmer, Tom Mann, Foster, Larkin, Sneevliet, Shliapnikov, Murphy, Enrique Flores Magón, Lozovsky….
In December 1922, this Spanish current would undergo a radical transformation. It was at first devoted to discreet agitation within the CNT; then it became a real revolutionary organization. It took three years, and the advice of the French Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, before this perspective would appear to be necessary in the eyes of the Spanish Revolutionary Syndicalists. It appears that after the Plenum of June 1922, a decision was made to form Syndicalist Groups in a number of cities. Revolutionary syndicalism had crossed a qualitative threshold in Spain. Events themselves had demonstrated that Revolutionary Syndicalism could only exist in the form of an organization, a material reality. At the time of the strike waves of 1907-1909, 1909-1911, and 1917-1919, the CNT had momentarily been transformed into an organization with a Revolutionary Syndicalist majority. The crisis that soon engulfed the CNT made it clear, however, that the CNT’s readiness to engage in revolutionary action was not always and forever a foregone conclusion.
Now it was the task of the Revolutionary Syndicalists to build a real Revolutionary Syndicalist organization, one that was permanent, structured and composed of well-educated militants. This organization was to consist of core groups of militants and trade unions, in the image of the French Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. It was supposed to be the instrument for education and for setting an example within the CNT, for the purpose of re-instilling the confederation with its former Revolutionary Syndicalist strategy. This revolutionary organization, while it was inspired by the theses of the RTUI, engaged in its own strategic reflections. The latter often served as a bond that united the Revolutionary Syndicalists within the CNT. As we have seen, prior to 1922 there was no Revolutionary Syndicalist tendency in the CNT, much less a fraction led by the Spanish Communist Party. Meaker points out that the distance between the PCE and the RSCs was so great that the Communist Party’s press hardly ever even mentioned the struggles led by this current, even after the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees were created (p. 426). The most important means of communication and discussion for the Revolutionary Syndicalists were the trade union journals, La Lucha Social, published in Lérida, and Acción Sindicalista, published in Valencia. Until 1922, however, the Revolutionary Syndicalist militants were not yet organized as a tendency.
The situation changed in March 1922. A new conservative government attempted to implement a conciliatory policy towards the CNT. Constitutional guarantees were reinstated on April 1st, which led to the release of many militants from prison and the reorganization of the trade unions. It was in this context that the anarchosyndicalist fraction opted for a policy of tension at a time when the CNT could count on no more than 20% of the membership it had in 1919, and when the older members were discouraged by their recent defeats. The anarchosyndicalist action groups engaged in their terrorist actions and staged bank robberies, which were denounced by the superior committees of the CNT. The flight forward would continue, however.
The Revolutionary Syndicalists took advantage of this slackening in the intensity of the wave of repression to organize. Before this effort would lead to the creation of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, however, a labor of reflection was initiated for the purpose of reassessing the Revolutionary Syndicalist strategy in the context of the revolutionary wave of 1917-1919 and the ensuing crisis of 1919-1922, and even the recent international experiences were taken into consideration. The results of this reassessment would be summarized in a series of texts written by Maurin that were published in La Lucha Social over the course of the first half of 1922, which were later published in pamphlet form. This document, Syndicalism in the Light of the Russian Revolution, would become the basis for the strategy of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. This text was a valuable contribution to the project to reassess the strategy of Revolutionary Syndicalism.
Maurin’s text is never cited, and for a good reason, by anarchosyndicalist “historians”. For in this text we are very far indeed from the Bolshevik theories on account of which the anarchosyndicalists pilloried the alleged “pro-Bolshevik” fraction. Maurin’s text constituted a summary of the previous Revolutionary Syndicalist theories.
The text features quotations from the theoreticians of the French CGT, whose works were widely disseminated in Spain, but it also contains summaries of and excerpts from the writings of Lagardelle, Berth, Sorel, Labriola, and also Marx as well as the major anarchist theoreticians. Maurin’s discussion is not totally abstract, but includes discussions of the recent experiences of the international workers movement. Thus, the “factory committees” are presented as the future institutions of socialist administration.
Unlike the Bolsheviks, left-wing socialists and certain anarchists, however, he did not present them in their corporativist or “soviet” form. He viewed them from the perspective of Revolutionary Syndicalist theory. The trade union must become “the federation of factory committees in each industry” (p. 18). It will therefore be so much easier to understand why the Spanish Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees would become the most ardent advocates of industrial federations, while the anarchosyndicalists would attempt to prevent them from being introduced and to sabotage the ones that were already established. Thus, for Maurin, the preeminence of the trade union as a revolutionary instrument is combined with a critical analysis of the Russian Revolution. Nin, for example, who was in Moscow at the time, saw the formation of the Workers Opposition of the Russian Bolshevik Party as a natural response to the degeneration and bureaucratization of the party (Meaker, p. 424). Nin and Maurin therefore supported the analyses of the Russian Revolutionary Syndicalist tendency that was trying to put the trade unions in charge of the management of the economy.
The revolutionary rupture was also construed in a new way, with a concept that should have gratified the supporters of anarchism. Maurin evaluated the weaknesses of previous general strikes, such as the general strike of 1919, and formulated a plausible critique of this strategy. The general strike alone is not enough, it is also necessary to destroy the State. The general strike must therefore be accompanied by an armed insurrection. This is not an argument in justification of seizing the reins of the State’s ruling institutions. To the contrary, his pamphlet consistently advocates working class federalism. He does not deny the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat “in order to prevent the resurgence of the defeated class”.
He does, however, criticize the deviations of the Russian Revolution, which were, according to him, due to a lack of trade union organization. Proletarian violence, however, both before and after the revolution, does not have to take the form of individual violence, as in the anarchosyndicalist model. Violence must be collective, under the control of mass organizations. “Terrorism is not acceptable as a system, because it paralyzes the initiative of the masses” (p. 83).
His essay also offers solutions for the problem of how to articulate the relation between mass organization and revolutionary action. Certain historians, such as Yveline Riottot, have interpreted Maurin’s positions in this text as evidence of his transition to Leninism. The fact is, however, that it was not just by accident that Maurin never even once mentions the word “party” in his pamphlet, at a time when Bolshevik pressure was ubiquitous in the debates of that time. When Maurin was writing this essay, he was not on the verge of forming a party but of constituting the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, a decision that cannot be unrelated to his meetings with Monatte in Paris. Maurin was therefore putting the finishing touches on the strategic coherence of Spanish revolutionary syndicalism. The trade union must organize the largest number of workers that it can, which prevents it from immediately becoming a revolutionary organization. Therefore, what is needed is a real revolutionary organization, not a party external to the proletariat, but a revolutionary tendency within the trade union organization that must gradually transform the latter into an instrument for the seizure and administration of socialist power. This tendency must include only trade union militants who are supporters of the revolutionary strategy.
The National Conference of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Groups took place in Bilbao on December 24, 1922.
b) The founding conference of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees
The Bilbao meeting was attended by delegates of the following organizations: the Metal Workers Trade Union of Bilbao, the Furniture Workers Trade Union of Vizcaya, the section of metal workers of Ortuella and Gedio, syndicalist groups of municipal workers from Llauners and Peons, retail workers, stonecutters and longshoremen from Bilbao, the federation of syndicalist groups of Erandio and Portugalete, the trade union group of Baracaldo, the association of barbers and hair-stylists of Bilbao, the trade union group of Sestao, the local federation of labor of Lérida, the syndicalist groups of Valencia and of the woodworkers, metal workers, textile trades, transport and food industry trade unions, groups from Castellón, Crevillent, Alcoy, Elx, Novelda and Elda, the revolutionary syndicalist groups from Alicante and from Valle de Uxó, the unified trade union of Benifaió and Buñol, the retail workers trade union, the association of bricklayers, the association of metal workers, carpenters and farm workers of Castella, the unified trade union of Falset, the unified trade union of Burgos, the trade union group of Eibar, the automotive body manufacturing trade union of Oviedo, the unified trade union of the miners of Asturias, the metal workers trade union of Oviedo, and the syndicalist groups of Asturias.
The syndicalist groups of bricklayers of Madrid and the syndicalist groups of the Balearic Islands notified the conference that they supported the articles of constitution of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees but were unable to send delegates. We can therefore see that two kinds of organizations formed the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. First, the actual trade unions that joined the organization. But there were also revolutionary syndicalist groups that had already been formed. This shows us that even before the December meeting the most conscious Revolutionary Syndicalist militants had already organized locally in order to subsequently make their appearance as a revolutionary tendency.
The fact that trade union organizations joined the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees calls for analysis. It must be admitted that the wave of repression, and the concomitant difficulties involved in holding meetings of the trade union membership, made it easier for a trade union, or actually for the most active militants of a trade union, to join the RSCs. As for the trade unions that joined the RSCs that were based in regions where the repression was less harsh than in Barcelona, however, one might think that the members of these trade unions may have voted in favor of joining the RSCs in regular general assemblies. Yet the same argument applies to the creation of revolutionary syndicalist committees inside the most representative trade unions: the most powerful trade unions in Valencia and Barcelona. To summarize this discussion, it can be said that the militants of the RSCs exercised a great deal of influence at the local level. Half of the organizations and groups that founded the RSCs were trade unions. The other organizations were composed of militants who were members of powerful trade unions where the various tendencies coexisted in a state of constant tension.
The influence of the revolutionary syndicalist militants is confirmed by other factors. The fact that the local federation of Lérida joined the RSCs might seem to constitute an exception. The Revolutionary Syndicalists exercised complete hegemony in that region, a hegemony that resulted in the adherence of their trade union federation to the RSCs, but this hegemony also had deep roots.
We know that since 1920 La Lucha Social was a prominent journal with a national circulation. It was gradually transformed into a platform for a trade union tendency. Its contributors included Bonet, Maurin, Victor Colomer, and Nin, but also future anarchosyndicalists such as Mauro Bajatierra. In August 1922, La Lucha Social adopted the subtitle, “A Revolutionary Syndicalist Weekly”. This circumstance was not, however, due particularly to the presence of Maurin, or of Nin (temporarily). Bilbao was then home to a dense concentration of the organizations that composed the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. The same was true of Tarragona. Eusebio Rodríguez Salas joined the RSCs with a group of militants from that province. He was the secretary of the provincial federation of Tarragona. The influence of the Revolutionary Syndicalists was also very strong in Asturias. Within core groups at the heart of the CNT’s most powerful strongholds, in the transport, textile and metal workers trade unions in Barcelona, the militants of the RSCs won the political support of the majority. These facts confirm the political impact of the RSCs, where they were in a position to engage in a strategic debate with the other two tendencies. It should be pointed out that the RSCs were entirely unrepresented in the two important regions of Aragon and Andalusia.
The Bilbao conference was characterized by a focus on committee organization. This was intended to proceed first of all by way of political education and the founding of a journal. A resolution was approved to merge the journals La Lucha Social of Lérida and Acción Sindicalista of Valencia in order to form a single organ of the RSCs: La Batalla. Arlandis and Bonet were elected to serve as editors of the journal, assisted by Maurin, while José Maria Foix was elected to act as its business manager. Three thousand copies of the first issue of La Batalla were printed in Barcelona. Later, the print run was gradually increased from 3,000 copies up to almost 10,000 copies in 1924.
The conference was an occasion for the political unification of the member organizations. With respect to this goal, great progress was made. It is clear that its confrontation with the anarchosyndicalists forced the revolutionary syndicalist current to reassess the strategic foundations of Revolutionary Syndicalism. The December 1922 issue of La Batalla featured an article whose purpose was to define the tasks of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees:
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE REVOLUTIONARY SYNDICALIST COMMITTEES.
“On December 24 a meeting took place in Bilbao, attended by delegates from Asturias, Vizcaya, Burgos, Catalonia and Levante, to found the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. The proceedings of this meeting are of transcendent importance for the Spanish proletariat. They mark the first steps toward the unification of the whole working class in its struggle against capitalism.
“The spirit of the sect and personal charisma have made just as great a contribution to the derangement of the workers organization in Spain as has government repression. A great deal of confusion has been sowed that has formed a fog that hinders proletarian action. Capitalism, clever and intelligent, has understood the importance of this spiritual fragmentation of the working class masses and is seeking to further it by every means at its disposal.
“The present situation of the working class is catastrophic. Layoffs, which continue to increase in number; reduction of wages, to starvation levels; lengthening of the working day: such is its situation. And to all of this you have to add the threat of a destructive fascism that is sowing salt on the fields of the proletariat.
“It was necessary to take action in order to shock the working class masses, shock them from their present situation and once again direct them to their posts in the machinery of the most implacable class struggle. It was necessary to sound the alarm of battle and direct the attention of the proletariat to the vista that lies right under our noses.
“This has been the purpose of the organizers of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. An identical organization in France saved the proletariat from the reformist influences of the camarilla around Jouhaux. In Spain, the formation of this organization is of enormous importance. This organization will be the community, within the CNT, of all those who agitate for revolutionary action, eschewing all reformist influence and all deviations from the class struggle. It will not display any of that sectarian spirit that can be so harmful to proletarian unity. Composed of anarchists, communists and syndicalists, it will condemn the obscurities of party politics.
“Opposed to all trade union disunity, it will fight indefatigably for the united front and for the definitive merger of the working class institutions.
“The Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees resolutely stand at the side of the Russian Revolution and defend the CNT’s membership in the Red Trade Union International, as did the syndicalists of France.
“The work of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees will be devoted to engaging in the revolutionary education of the working class multitudes, reviving their taste for direct mass action, and for the imposition of collective violence. Salvation lies only in the social revolution: this is the motto around which all the work of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees will gravitate, and their founding congress in Bilbao has been a success that augurs a splendid future.”
DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES
“The Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, in accordance with the manifesto distributed by the trade unions that advocated their creation, issue the following declaration of principles:
1. The CNT must not be a sectarian group, as some would prefer, but a strong class organization that can in the future become an organization that embraces all revolutionary-minded workers, regardless of their ideological nuances.
2. The CNT must desist from using evolutionist rhetoric and once again engage in serious revolutionary action within the class struggle, championing the doctrine of collective violence against all the 'possibilisms' and 'cultural formulas' currently on offer.
3. To confront the capitalist concentration of forces that has marshaled enormous efforts to revoke the eight hour day and reduce wages, we advocate the formation of a proletarian united front.
4. To contribute our efforts to bringing about the fusion of the entire Spanish working class into a single revolutionary institution.
5. Support for the Red Trade Union International and defense of the Russian Revolution, under threat from the alliance of international capitalism.
1. To form Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees inside of all organizations in order to espouse the declaration of principles adopted by the Congress.
2. To join the Red Trade Union International, and to appoint comrade Andrés Nin to be the representative of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees within that organization.
3. To defend the principles of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees at the next Congress of the CNT, and to hold a preparatory conference in order to attend the CNT Congress with a coordinated plan of action.
4. To distribute a manifesto to all independent organizations inviting them to join the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees and to join the National Confederation of Labor.
5. To establish monthly dues in the amount of .25 peseta per member to defray the expenses of propaganda.
6. That La Batalla shall be the main press organ of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, and that another weekly review should be published as soon as possible in order to serve as the main press organ of the Committees in Asturias and Vasconia.
7. To actively engage in propaganda for national and international industrial unity, by creating National Federations, Liaison Committees and National Industrial Trade Unions.
8. To undertake intensive propaganda in favor of revolutionary trade union control, exercised by the Factory Committees and the Industrial Unions.
9. To invite the National Confederation of Labor, the General Workers Union, anarchist groups, the socialist party, the communist party and independent groups devoted to the class struggle, to immediately constitute a proletarian united front to oppose the bacchanal of Morocco, the outrages perpetrated by the Government, the reduction of wages and the lengthening of the working day, and the incipient organization of murderous fascism.
10. To engage in a constant struggle to bring about the total unity of the proletariat as soon as possible.
11. To demand an across-the-board amnesty and new trials that will lead to the release of an enormous number of our imprisoned comrades. It is agreed that the National Committee of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees will be composed of one delegate from each Regional Federation, and that the comrades Jesús Ibáñez and Maximino Sánchez are appointed to serve as the Executive Committee of the organization, whose headquarters will be located in Asturias.”
A short time later the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees published a manifesto that elaborated the strategy of the organization.
MANIFESTO OF THE REVOLUTIONARY SYNDICALIST COMMITTEES
“The Saragossa Conference confirmed the existence of an evolutionist current that amounts to the repudiation of an active past full of heroism and sacrifice. The orientation adopted at Saragossa is worse than reformism because the latter has a basis in economics while the tendency that emerged victorious at Saragossa totally ignores the economic factor.
“Revolutionary syndicalism is always based on collective violence. All of its value is due to this fact. Violence is the nervous system of the class struggle, the principal factor of the revolution. The Revolutionary Syndicalists are opposed to democracy because they accept the doctrine of violence. The various schools of social thought that were originally based on this doctrine have, one after another, abandoned it, and have ended up mired in reformism and the repudiation of their past. This is what happened to the Second International. Collective violence or democracy, permanent struggle or the peace of the grave, implacable class war or collaboration, revolution or reformism—these are the choices. Having renounced violence, the Saragossa assembly delivered a treacherous blow against Revolutionary Syndicalism.
“All the decisions made and all the resolutions approved at Saragossa bear the stigma of the repudiation of the class struggle and the dawn of an era of submission.
“The idea of revolution was totally abandoned at Saragossa. The conference was more like an assembly of representatives of the workers organizations. It declared that the revolution can only be the result of a process of education. This is the second phase of the renunciation of violence. It ignores the power of the concentrated working class. It relies on doctrinal propaganda and education to lay the foundations for the revolution. This open declaration of 'evolutionism' disguised under such terms as 'cultural elevation' and 'libertarian possibilism' is a confession of Tolstoyism and of a surrender to fate that has absolutely nothing to do with the principles of the social revolution.
“The crowning achievement of this evolution towards the right is the Saragossa conference’s opposition to the Russian Revolution, at a time when international capitalism has formed an alliance on the economic front against the republic of soviets; when the moral support of the revolutionary proletariat of the world is indispensable for the revolution. Such support does not entail identifying with the mistakes that may have been committed over the course of a long and arduous process. It represents above all the homage rendered to those who, for the liberation of the international proletariat, have endured prodigies of suffering, sacrifice and self-denial. The problems confronting the trade unions in the current phase of the class struggle were not even cursorily examined at the Saragossa conference. The conference proceedings made no reference to the offensive of the Spanish bourgeoisie against wage rates and the eight hour day. The conference’s declarations have sabotaged the united front, an indispensable method of struggle proposed by the Moscow International. The issues of workers control, factory committees and national industrial unions that are now the urgent topics of debate in the revolutionary trade union movement were not even discussed in passing. Such serious matters as how the proletariat should respond to the Moroccan massacre, the crisis in the agricultural sector, reorganizing the trade unions, and what tactics should be employed to combat the criminal policy of assassination that is being pursued by the bourgeoisie, were not even mentioned. The conference limited its observations to an abstract pessimism and disregarded the vital problems upon the solution of which the progress or collapse of the movement depends.”
The Orientation of the CNT
“Some people want to turn the CNT into a sectarian group. If this view prevails, the class organization will be replaced by an anarchist party.
“Revolutionary syndicalism is incompatible with this narrow concept. The revolution is forged by the permanent struggle of the masses. This is why the revolutionary trade union movement cannot be, politically speaking, either anarchist, or communist, or socialist. All the workers, regardless of their doctrinal positions, must join the trade union. There is a place in the CNT for anarchists, syndicalists and communists, and it is in this spirit that the cadres of the trade unions, which are currently in a state of disorganization, must be reorganized. The revolutionary proletariat of Spain must concentrate as a class in a single trade union institution in order to wield the maximum amount of offensive and defensive effectiveness. The need to coordinate all efforts to bring about the united front, to win the support of the masses and to achieve trade union unity, is even more obvious now that the Spanish employers, after their political offensives (repression), have unleashed an economic offensive against wages and against the eight hour day. It will not be ‘libertarian possibilism’, devotion to education, and the renunciation of collective violence that will stop the employers’ offensive. In order to confront capitalism, we need to coordinate our efforts and to prosecute the most implacable collective violence in the class struggle.
“The agricultural crisis must be closely scrutinized if we want to effectively organize the discontent of the peasants. A national agricultural workers federation must be organized to unite the peasant masses subjected to the yoke of property and the State.”
The CNT and the International
“The degree of capitalist economic concentration is such that national borders have evaporated before the advance of capital. To resist the bourgeoisie, the international working class must constitute a solid unity.
“The lackeys of capitalism have the Amsterdam Trade Union International, which is nothing but a subsidiary of the League of Nations.
“In order to organize the revolutionary proletariat, the Red Trade Union International was founded, and its headquarters was established in the country that carried out the social revolution.
“The RTUI was founded to unite revolutionary syndicalists and communists in action. The revolutionary proletariat of the world must be concentrated in the International of the revolution in order to fight against reformism and capitalism.
“The maneuvers of certain anarchists who tried to sabotage the RTUI at the Berlin Conference have failed. They were incapable of creating an organization that would represent a million workers. The CNT must join the RTUI, as the French syndicalists did at their Saint-Etienne Congress. We need the directives and the support of the RTUI. We must ally ourselves with the vast proletarian forces that it represents.”
The Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees
“The situation throughout Spain demands the creation of Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, which must act with great discipline and clearly espouse a program of action that will impress upon the masses the fact that we have definitively dispensed with all empty rhetoric and sterile projects in order to devote ourselves to effective and serious action.
“The activity of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees can, if they act in accordance with the following five points, make a decisive impact on the Spanish workers movement.
1. The CNT must not be a sectarian group, as some would prefer, but a strong class organization that can in the future become an organization that embraces all revolutionary-minded workers, regardless of their ideological nuances.
2. The CNT must desist from using evolutionist rhetoric and once again engage in serious revolutionary action within the class struggle, championing the doctrine of collective violence against all the 'possibilisms' and 'cultural formulas' currently on offer.
3. To confront the capitalist concentration of forces that has marshaled enormous efforts to revoke the eight hour day and reduce wages, we advocate the formation of a proletarian united front.
4. To contribute our efforts to bringing about the fusion of the entire Spanish working class into a single revolutionary institution.
5. Support for the Red Trade Union International and defense of the Russian Revolution, under threat from the alliance of international capitalism.”
When they were founded, the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees made it clear that their principal objective was the formation of the united front. Thus, on December 30, La Batalla expressed its support for the proletarian united front “to oppose the bacchanal of Morocco, the outrages committed by the Government, the reduction of wages and the lengthening of the working day, and the incipient organization of murderous fascism”.
This unitary program was, however, systematically sabotaged by the two dominant trade union organizations.
The Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees were forced to attempt to constitute the united front among the rank and file first, in order to subsequently impose it on the national and regional leadership committees of the trade unions. The RSCs enjoyed political support among the working class rank and file, but evaluating the ability of the RSCs to organize this working class base in the context of repression and trade union decline was an altogether different question. Antonio Bar pointed out that “the influence of the RSCs among the confederal rank and file was considerable and deeply rooted” (p. 577). This confirms the report of the Spanish delegation, drafted by Maurin and published in August 1923 in the International Bulletin of the RTUI. In the section devoted to “the state of our forces”, Maurin describes the influence of the RSCs in the following terms: “Within the National Confederation of Labor, [the RSCs] have approximately 50,000 supporters…. Our forces are distributed in the following manner: in the Catalonian region, we enjoy almost total support in the federation of Lérida; we have about half the trade unions in the province of Tarragona and a few other organizations in the provinces of Barcelona and Serón. In Barcelona and the capital, we are constantly gaining new supporters in all the trade unions, especially in the metal and food processing industries, as well as among municipal employees and textile and transport workers. Approximately half of the trade unions that are members of the Balearic Regional Federation support our views. In Valencia, the woodworkers federation, which is the largest in the province, has come out in favor of our platform with its 4,000 members. In all the other trade unions, we have active cells. In Vizcaya, where there are not many trade unions, our program is endorsed by four or five trade unions. It must be pointed out that many of the trade unions that have aligned themselves with the platform of the RTUI are independent trade unions, although they are tending to embrace the directives of the Communist Party. If this mass of trade unionists joins the National Confederation, we would be assured of an overwhelming majority. We already have the support of half the organizations in Asturias. At the last Regional Council, our opponents obtained a one-vote majority. The entry of the organizations excluded from the UGT would also give us a majority. Our forces are of minor importance in Galicia, due to the lack of propaganda. The same can be said of Aragon and Andalusia. In Madrid, the Confederation does not have a strong presence and the revolutionary syndicalist committee that comprises a minority of the regional trade union forces has brought its influence to bear exclusively on the construction workers trade union…. It is evident that our minority forces are gaining influence with each passing day.” This description seems to be relatively accurate with regard to the influence of the RSCs in mid-1923. It highlights the source of both the strengths and the weaknesses of this revolutionary organization: the extreme polarization of its base organizations. This factor reflected an unavoidable reality. The RSCs, rather than an organization of trade unions, were above all an organization of Revolutionary Syndicalist militants. The profile of these militants was relatively homogeneous and this favored the further growth of the organization. These militants came of age during the grand finale of 1919. They were experienced and highly motivated. Above all, however, they had acquired a solid strategic training within the framework of the internal debates of the CNT and the Communist International.
It is easy to understand that where the RSCs had organized militants, they rapidly became capable of gaining majority support at the expense of the anarchosyndicalist tendencies. Their level of analysis and their position on the united front were advantageous in their confrontations with the sectarian currents. They easily convinced the militants and rank and file members of the trade unions of the correctness of their analyses. Where they did not have organized committees, however, the supporters of the RTUI were neutralized by the sectarian currents. This explains their extreme polarization in a handful of local strongholds, but also the fact that wherever Revolutionary Syndicalist groups were active, the trade unions in which they agitated most often joined the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. This confirms the persistent influence of Revolutionary Syndicalism in the CNT. This polarization of its rank and file base, however, would soon work to the detriment of the RSCs.
c) The Weak Points of the RSCs
The strongholds of the RSCs were soon surrounded by the anarchosyndicalists. The situation that required clandestine activity made it difficult and even contradictory to carry on a public debate. Power rapidly shifted into the hands of those who were most capable of operating in clandestine conditions. The anarchosyndicalist tendency of Seguí and Pestaña held the CNT apparatus firmly in its grasp. The most sectarian anarchosyndicalists, reinforced by anarcho-communist groups, intervened as an organized fraction, not hesitating to foment a climate of pressure on the Revolutionary Syndicalists. In February 1923, a National Plenum was held in Barcelona, and its agenda included the following topic: “What position should the CNT take towards the formation of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees?” Once again, the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees were depicted as a Bolshevik maneuver disguised under the label of Revolutionary Syndicalism. The Resolution adopted on this question was very strict and certainly did not correspond to the opinions of the members, which casts doubts on the mandates granted to the delegates who attended these secret meetings:
1. It is resolved that no group formed within the CNT, which does not implicitly accept the principles of the CNT, will be recognized;
2. It is resolved to engage in an intense three-pronged campaign on the economic, revolutionary and ideological terrains to prevent the communists, disguised as syndicalists, from continuing to pursue their proselytizing activity.
This characterization of the activity of the RSCs is very far from reality.
The truth is that the RSCs were by no means a fraction of the Spanish Communist Party. The trade unions led by the Party, located for the most part in Asturias and Euskadi, maintained very ambiguous relations with the RSCs and were even more circumspect with regard to engaging in relation with the RSCs than they were with the CNT. We know that about thirty trade unions were expelled from the UGT at its 1922 Congress. Some of them participated in the founding conference of the RSCs in Bilbao. But the majority of these thirty trade unions refused to join the CNT and preferred to maintain an ineffective and sectarian independence. They therefore reproduced, outside of the CNT, the anarchosyndicalist model, which involved the preservation of trade union structures by justifying their independence due to their ideological preferences. This political orientation was incompatible with the strategy of the RTUI. Maurin denounced this attitude in his August 1923 report. He recounted the attempts made by the RSCs to convince the Spanish Communist Party to advocate the merger of the excluded trade unions with the CNT, which would “allow it to spread its influence in Asturias and Vizcaya”.
Furthermore, in relation to the united front, “the merger of the excluded trade unions with the National Confederation would have great moral value”. These attempts to convince the militants of the Spanish Communist Party would not be abandoned. The RSCs continued to attempt to engage the PCE in debate in order to influence its trade union policy.
This orientation would garner positive results with its advocacy of “the merger of the UGT and the CNT with the independent organizations to form a single, unitary trade union”. The entry into the CNT of the miners’ trade union locals that had been excluded from the UGT was also an encouraging development. Closer cooperation between the RSCs and the PCE would not take place until 1924, when leaders of the PCE began to contribute articles to La Batalla. The situation was more complex in Asturias and Euskadi. It was in these two regions where the PCE really enjoyed its only success among the working class. This special circumstance can be explained largely by the weakness of the CNT in these areas prior to 1919. Young workers joined the PCE, the symbol of the Russian Revolution, and defended a revolutionary syndicalist orientation. Many of them later joined the RSCs and the CNT, but not all. These two regional federations of the PCE were therefore not at all typical of the other regions of Spain. They were especially subject to two kinds of influence, on the one hand the party’s leftist political line, and on the other the reference to revolutionary syndicalism. These groups of militants were very influential, and enjoyed majority support in trade union organizations like those of the miners. But their political training and experience did not have a solid foundation (Meaker, pp. 428-431). The leftist political line of the PCE would therefore facilitate the isolation of the RSCs. Not only did the PCE not assist the activities of the RSCs but it conferred upon Spanish communism a caricatural and sectarian image that served to reinforce the worldview of the anarchosyndicalists.
How can we explain the fact that the RSCs, which represented the current that was most faithful to revolutionary syndicalism, were so completely marginalized, and that their ideas were subjected to such scorn? This marginalization was obvious and it can only be explained with reference to maneuvers at the highest levels of the trade union apparatus. For the influence of the RSCs not only persisted but actually grew stronger. This fact is contested by anarchosyndicalist historiography. In his memoirs, Manuel Buenacasa assumes that, at the Regional Plenum held in Sabadell on April 4, 1924, Maurin was the only “Bolshevik” delegate, and since “he represented no one, he was denied the right to address the congress after the unanimous vote of all the delegates”.12 If this was true, then how can we explain the dispatch of a delegation from the RSCs to the Third Congress of the RTUI three months later? This delegation included Desiderio Trilles and José Grau, accredited by the CNT transport workers trade union of Barcelona, and José Jover, accredited by the CNT metal workers trade union in the same city. Two of the most powerful trade unions in Catalonia that represented no one at the Regional Plenum! José Valls represented the construction workers trade union of Valencia, which indicates the growing influence of Revolutionary Syndicalism in that region. These mandates were not the outcomes of backroom deals or strong-arm tactics. We have already seen that the metal workers trade union of Barcelona, one of the strongest trade unions in Spain (20,000 members in 1923) was an active proponent of the united front. Its orientation cannot be explained solely by the influence of David Rey, since other notable militants also participated in the activities of the RSCs. In 1923, this trade union issued an appeal to the Spanish proletariat, calling upon it to immediately form the united front. The fact that this trade union was incapable of winning majority support for the united front at the Plenum of April 4, 1924, clearly reveals the main obstacle that stood in the way of the RSCs: the bureaucratic operation of an organization that was increasingly more disorganized by repression and the infiltration of fractions.
In 1923, the general context made it difficult to build a Revolutionary Syndicalist tendency in the CNT despite the fact that most of the militants were on the defensive. For the influence of the RSCs was for the most part local. Their supporters were not yet in a position to assume the leadership of a regional committee. In Asturias and Euskadi, their influence was real, but the Revolutionary Syndicalists did not represent these regions at the National Plenums, where debate was limited to conflicts between factions in the superior committees and between different personalities among the anarchosyndicalist leaders. The RSCs were therefore ultimately unable to influence the national situation of the CNT. They were even isolated from militants who might have been able to take part in their revolutionary organization, such as those who inspired the local federation of Seville to issue an appeal in 1923 in favor of the united front. Among these militants, we encounter influential anarchists who, a few years later, would join the PCE and bring with them the most important trade unions of the CNT in that city. In 1923, however, these militants who were in favor of the united front were not members of the RSCs.
The RSCs had formed at a moment when the workers movement was in decline, but most importantly, when it was beset with complete disorganization and beaten down by repression. The RSCs experienced serious difficulties in their attempts to address the members of the trade unions, and not just the older members, but also the militants who shared their views.
This situation of stalemate that momentarily confronted the RSCs would develop into a veritable crisis in 1924. The organization would have to confront the decline of the Spanish and the international workers movement.
5. The crisis of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees
The decline of the Spanish RSCs was the result of two factors. The first is the near-disappearance of the CNT, which was the natural habitat of the RSCs. The UGT, deeply embroiled in a policy of class collaboration and having expelled the elements that expressed their support for the RTUI, could not serve as a refuge for the revolutionary syndicalists. And the crisis that affected international revolutionary syndicalism would also affect its Spanish component. After having first experienced an anarchosyndicalist deviation within its ranks, Revolutionary Syndicalism would then undergo a second deviation, this time towards Leninism.
a) The crisis of the CNT
Primo de Rivera's coup d’état hit the CNT at a time when it was already affected by profound disorganization and political decline.
The anarchosyndicalists had moved the Regional Committee of Catalonia to Mansera and the National Committee to Seville. In both instances, the members of the Committees who were delegated the responsibility of managing the affairs of the organization were incapable of performing their tasks. This was not the CNT’s only problem, however. In addition to this organic weakness, the CNT had to deal with a radically new confederal policy. The day after the coup d’état, Buenacasa went to Madrid to meet with the leaders of the UGT with a proposal that he had himself condemned only a few days earlier: unity of action and a united general strike. The goal was to put pressure on the king so he would withdraw his support for Primo de Rivera.13 This emissary was not the best militant that could have been chosen to inspire the leaders of the UGT with confidence. They rejected the proposal on the pretext that a tactic that involved such decisive action could not be implemented on such short notice.
The official leadership of the CNT once again performed an about-face. In an article published in Solidaridad Obrera on September 18, the CNT proposed that a truce should be observed towards the new government, if the latter would agree not to attack wage rates and the eight hour day of the working class. Primo de Rivera, however, almost immediately required that the workers organizations must strictly comply with the statute of March 1923. The Local Federation of Barcelona went underground in October 1923, and the entire Confederation followed suit. The publication of Solidaridad Obrera was suspended, and the local trade union offices were shut down by the trade unions themselves. This provoked a revolt among the more syndicalist elements who were fully aware of the implications of such a decision. They also knew full well that this situation would reinforce the power of the groups of anarchosyndicalist activists, who were devotees of clandestine action. The metal workers trade union of Barcelona, largely under the influence of the RSCs, assumed the leadership of a public movement of dissent, which was joined in October by the textile, transport and public service trade unions.
The Revolutionary Syndicalists, who had the temporary support of the less sectarian anarchosyndicalists, had to improvise a plan to reorganize the trade unions. Where the sectarian elements were in the minority, the CNT trade unions became Independent Workers Associations, and were at times able to preserve their local and regional organizational structures. Thus, the Regional Committee of Galicia would continue to operate legally during the dictatorship. On December 13, 1923, the Regional Plenum of Catalonia condemned the directive to dissolve the CNT, taking advantage of the reaction of many militants who were critical of the flight forward of radical anarchosyndicalism. But the growing influence of the RSCs would also be manifested in the actions of the Regional Committee of Asturias. Although it was the target of repression during the first few months of the dictatorship, this organization survived. It was able to rely on its solid organization and its prestigious militants, but also on the dynamic of the united front. We have seen that, during the entire crisis of the CNT, this Regional Committee maintained its stance in favor of the united front, and even supported total merger with the UGT. Among the leading figures of the Asturian trade union movement, not all of them would join the RSCs, which were very influential in the region, but they nonetheless remained faithful to revolutionary syndicalism, or at least they were not very sympathetic towards anarchosyndicalism. Their choice of a title for the regional newspaper of the CNT was not accidental. By adopting the title, Workers Life, the Asturian militants were directly referring to their comrades in the French Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees.14 It was therefore the Asturian Regional Committee that would assure the continued existence of the CNT National Committee until the end of 1926. The CNT trade unions of Asturias would survive until 1925. By that time, however, the National Committee no longer had much to coordinate.
The last Regional Plenum of Catalonia was held on April 4, 1924, prior to the government’s final decree banning the CNT. Instead of drawing up a balance sheet of the series of defeats, the anarchosyndicalists, moderates as well as radicals, pursued the same course. Maurin, the representative of the Lérida Federation, was not allowed to address the conference. Most of the militants of the CNT were demoralized. Some attempted to negotiate with the authorities to obtain recognition for the CNT, while others plunged into a flight forward, a sectarianism that seemed at the time to be protective. As in every period of working class defeat, militants sought refuge in affinity groups. Antonio Bar noted that the libertarians, prior to the total dissolution of the Catalonian CNT, “spent more time involved in conspiratorial activities than in purely trade union activities” (p. 647). Likewise, he noted that the definitive prohibition of the trade unions of the Catalonian CNT, after the assassination of a high-level government official on May 28, 1924, only confirmed the decision made six months previously by the anarchosyndicalists.
At the same time, however, two events would undermine the growing influence of the RSCs and lead to a certain degree of discouragement. On March 10, 1923, Salvador Seguí was assassinated in Barcelona. Seguí had only recently been involved in negotiations between the leaders of the CNT and the RSCs. Maurin had profound admiration for Seguí and thought that Seguí might once again take up a position against the precipitous decomposition of anarchosyndicalism. Seguí was planning to go to Moscow just before he was assassinated.15 His death dealt a hard blow to the moderate current of anarchosyndicalism, which then fell into the hands of Pestaña, who was correctly perceived to be a politically unstable personality. The RSCs were therefore isolated. Another setback would be cast onto the scales. For the RSCs really did have considerable political influence on the moderate current of the CNT.
Taking advantage of the trauma inflicted by the dissolution of the trade unions and Solidaridad Obrera, the Revolutionary Syndicalists approached certain leading figures of the CNT and journalists at Solidaridad Obrera and proposed that a new daily newspaper should be published. This proposal resulted in the publication of La Lucha Obrera on December 1, 1923. This newspaper was edited by Arlandis and Maurin but the leading figures of the CNT who formerly worked on the staff of Solidaridad Obrera were also involved in its production (Viadiu, Alaiz…). The newspaper openly called itself “communist syndicalist”. It was financed mainly by the transport and metal workers trade unions of Barcelona. This offensive on the part of the Revolutionary Syndicalist sector certainly marked the high point of its activity. After having reinforced its position in Asturias, Euskadi, Valencia and Catalonia, the current now possessed not only a theoretical journal but also a daily newspaper. Powerful trade unions then joined it. Since 1922, the center of gravity of the workers movement had shifted. After the near-disappearance of the trade unions led by the anarchosyndicalists, the initiative to call strikes passed into the hands of the revolutionary syndicalist militants. It was in Asturias and Euskadi that the trade unions that were sympathetic to the RTUI launched strikes to counter the employers’ offensive. In other sectors that were still active, such as the transport workers trade union of Barcelona, which joined the RSCs, a series of major strikes were launched in almost every enterprise.
But this resurgence was based on a CNT that was politically and structurally fragmented. In any other situation in which such a surge of workers struggles would have taken place, this dynamic would have instilled many militants with confidence. In this situation of decline, however, the sectarian tendencies concentrated their efforts on the fight for positions in the trade union apparatus, their preferred habitat. They marshaled all their militants for the internal battle. The rank and file members of the CNT were caught in the crossfire of the battle between factions. They voted with their feet by abandoning an organization dominated by anarchosyndicalism. It must also be pointed out that the regions where mass action was still taking place were the ones that were in favor of the united front. It is possible that if the members would have really been able to express their views in normal conditions, they would not have cast their lot with the majority tendencies of the CNT.
The initiative to publish La Lucha Obrera infuriated the most sectarian anarchosyndicalist tendency, which waged an offensive against the RSCs. It put pressure on the editors of the newspaper and, after three weeks, the newspaper was shut down. The Granollers Plenum of December 30, 1923 refused to seat delegates who were members of the RSCs. During the next few weeks, the trade unions that adhered to the Revolutionary Syndicalist tendency were dissolved by the anarchosyndicalist leaders of the CNT.16 We need not go into details concerning the atmosphere of verbal abuse and physical violence that prevailed at that time within the CNT. Revolutionary Syndicalist militants were regularly threatened by gunmen. On March 4, the editorial office of La Batalla was the target of an attempted bombing. At the same time, Tomas Tus, a doctor who had joined the RSCs, was treating the militants of the action groups of the CNT who were wounded in their gun battles with the pistoleros of the employers.
The RSCs issued a proposal to Pestaña that the columns of Solidaridad Obrera should be opened up for a public debate between the tendencies. Pestaña refused and chose to shift the center of gravity of the CNT towards the most sectarian current, which he would forget when, in 1930, he would sign the Manifesto of the Thirty.17
In January 1924, it was in this dramatic context that the militants of the RSCs attempted to salvage what they could of their position in the CNT. By that time, however, the situation of the international revolutionary movement had undergone major changes.
b) The Communist International as a safe haven
The crisis experienced by Revolutionary Syndicalism between 1919 and 1923 was also experienced almost without exception by similar tendencies throughout the world. The existence of the RTUI served as an organizational pole before its deviation in 1928. Yet the seed of its decline was already germinating under the influence of the decline of the workers movement. The decomposition of the Revolutionary Syndicalist current would therefore proceed more or less rapidly depending on the situation in each country. In Spain, the phenomenon would proceed at an extraordinarily rapid pace, under diverse forms. It can be said that in this country we beheld a veritable implosion of the RSCs. The situation was most unfavorable for Revolutionary Syndicalism. The trade unions were incapable of meeting in their general assemblies, and this favored the activity of the sectarian fractions. Furthermore, the workers movement was undergoing a process of decline that was as evident in Spain as it was everywhere else in Europe. The RSCs would fall victim to this decline, which would assume dramatic forms in Spain. The militants of the RSCs were the main targets of repression. Their public activity, the result of their opposition to the clandestine armed struggle, turned them into sitting ducks. After the assassination attempts against Nin and Maurin, Foix, the business manager of La Batalla, was assassinated on a Barcelona street in April 1923. The RSCs were much more exposed to the effects of the wave of repression than were the advocates of clandestine armed struggle. Many of the articles published in La Batalla were subjected to censorship. Then, the publication of the journal was suspended in the summer of 1924 by order of the civil governor Anido. La Lucha Social therefore temporarily resumed publication. Most of the RSCs’ leadership, however, was behind bars in January 1925. Manuel Valls and Desideri Trilles were arrested in August, Eusebio Rodriguez in September, and then Arlandis, Masmano, Colomer…. On August 18 Bonet, one of the leading figures of La Batalla, was taken into custody. Bonet and Maurin, from their prison cells, issued appeals for help to Nin, who was the representative of the RSCs in the RTUI. Nin finally traveled to Paris to help organize support for the reorganization of the Spanish revolutionary movement. But he was arrested and deported from France.
The underground groups therefore had free rein to assert their dominance over what remained of the active but demoralized militants in the CNT. This dominance was all the more easily obtained because the government was very much aware of the fact that it was winning the war against the advocates of violent action waged by a minority. The government allowed the periodicals of these currents to publicly express their views in order to reinforce the split in the workers movement. The journal of the PCE was legalized, as was the main theoretical review of the anarchist movement, La Revista Blanca; the latter would remain on the newsstands for the entire duration of the dictatorship.
The days of the RSCs were therefore numbered. The main reason advanced by the militants of the RSCs for dissolving their organization was that they remained faithful to the principles of their organization, unlike the anarchosyndicalists. This might seem contradictory but the power of the RSCs resided in the mass action of the trade unions. They did not comprise a fraction that was remote-controlled by a party. In a situation in which the trade unions were almost totally unable to hold meetings in Catalonia, and amidst a serious wave of resignations from the trade unions, the RSCs lost part of their reason for existence. The RSCs were a trade union tendency that worked at the heart of the trade union movement. At the time, clandestine action seemed to be more effective under the form of a vanguard organization of the affinity group-type. This factor, even though it was decisive, cannot by itself explain the dissolution of the RSCs. They could very well have continued to work in secrecy to help stimulate a dynamic of reconstruction of the mass trade union organizations. In this connection, it is a fact that during the years of 1924 and 1925, sectors influenced by the moderate tendency distanced themselves more and more from anarchosyndicalism. This new current gained support in the Asturian and Galician regions, but its success was also due to some extent to the new secretary of the underground Catalonian Regional Federation, Adrián Arno. In October 1924, Arno began to publish a new confederal journal, Solidaridad Proletaria, which was supposed to serve as an instrument for reorganizing the trade unions. This initiative was undertaken on the basis of scarce resources, but it did prove that some influential libertarian militants had refused to follow the anarchosyndicalists in their flight forward. For by this time, the CNT was not an anarchosyndicalist organization but a sectarian anarcho-communist group like the Argentinian FORA. Anarchosyndicalism had split into two currents. The more sectarian current, inspired by Buenacasa and Santillán, attempted to transform the trade union organizations into a federation of purely anarchist groups, which led to the creation of the FAI. The moderate current, meanwhile, had changed course. Peiro, the former confederal secretary of 1922, a theoretician of anarchosyndicalism, now advocated a position of relative ideological neutrality. Pestaña supported him, and devoted his efforts to reorganizing the trade unions. And now Pestaña became an enthusiastic advocate of industrial unionism.
This new orientation of the moderate current of the CNT was, however, viewed by the Revolutionary Syndicalists as a temporary expedient. Peiro and Pestaña were characterized by their anti-democratic conduct and their positions that were opposed to the Revolutionary Syndicalists. Their sudden change of course, furthermore, seemed to be a phenomenon of minor importance compared to the power of attraction exercised by the USSR.
This is one of the main factors that explain the dissolution of the RSCs. Maurin would be the person most responsible for this shift of the RSCs towards majority support for joining the PCE. He was one of the leading theoreticians of the organization and took advantage of his trip to Moscow in 1924 to engage in intense debates with Nin. Maurin was quick to analyze the crisis of the workers movement. Primo de Rivera’s coup d’état in September 1923 served to vindicate his views. With Nin, he would define the rise of fascism in Europe as a “preventive counterrevolution” that was made possible by the errors committed by the workers movement. Nin was the leading theoretician of the RTUI with respect to the objective analysis of the fascist phenomena, which he studied for the most part during his trips to Italy, but also by examining the Spanish situation. Nin and Maurin quite correctly stated that the immediate situation was no longer revolutionary. The meteoric rise of the CNT’s membership and the strikes of 1917-1919 were not enough to unleash a revolution. The concept of “preventive counterrevolution” is essential for understanding the development of the RSCs. The fascist threat was analyzed correctly, as an immediate danger that implied the imperative necessity of a united front. This threat, however, was “preventive”, which means that the workers movement possessed a real power of deterrence that worried the bourgeoisie allied with fascism. This real capacity motivated the bourgeoisie to take action because the successes of the RSCs triggered the rise of a new dynamic within the CNT. As the months passed, however, the absence of the united front and the accelerated decomposition of the CNT brought about a change in the situation. In 1924, the usefulness of fascism for the Spanish bourgeoisie was in rapid decline. The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera made possible both the liquidation of the CNT and the integration of the UGT. Maurin and his comrades would henceforth overestimate the impact of “the crisis of leadership” and as a result they would underestimate the importance of a trade union united front that was becoming increasingly more hypothetical: “the working class is demoralized, discouraged by the absence of good leadership” (La Batalla, April 4, 1924).
Maurin’s political writings, frequently published in La Batalla, then began to display a lack of logic and materialist rigor. Idealism, in the form of an overestimation of the importance of ideology, gradually prevailed. For example, the propaganda pamphlet published under the imprint of the RTUI, Anarchosyndicalism in Spain, contained an incorrect analysis of the anarchosyndicalist current in the trade unions. Maurin saw anarchism as a factor of deviation in the CNT. In fact, however, their abstract references to anarchism primarily served the interests of the bureaucrats of the CNT to justify their retreat into the refuge of sectarian niches in officialdom. Thus, anarchism was not the cause of the political decline of the CNT. Anarchism was used as a allusive catch-phrase that would allow these bureaucrats to justify their defensive and nationally-restricted withdrawal into an apparatus cut off from class struggles on the international level. This increasing predominance of idealism in the writings of Maurin also affected his analyses of the instruments of the struggle. The vanguard party is more often referred to as a panacea for all the problems encountered by the workers movement. His support for Moscow now assumes comical proportions even though Maurin, after having conferred with Nin in Moscow, was fully apprised of the bureaucratic evolution of the Communist International and the Soviet regime. Whereas Maurin criticized the regime during its first few years of existence, he stood solidly behind it after the revolution had been strangled by the bureaucracy. In the context of the time, however, this support was very tempting because what remained of the revolutionary forces was overwhelmingly organized around and within the Communist International.
Maurin and many of the militants of the RSCs joined the PCE during the period when the French Revolutionary Syndicalists controlled the French Communist Party. This French influence is a constant theme in La Batalla. But Maurin was already well aware of the fact that the entry of the French syndicalists into the Communist Party had provoked its first deviations and internal conflicts. Furthermore, when Maurin was imprisoned, it was the revolutionary syndicalists led by Monatte who sent the material assistance that was not provided by the PCE. In 1925, the expulsion of Monatte and his friends associated with La Vie Ouvrière from the French Communist Party was a major political shock for Maurin.18 It was already too late, however; the dissolution of the RSCs and their merger with the PCE had already begun.
At first, this initiative seemed to be successful. In the fall of 1924, Maurin took advantage of his presence at the congress of the RTUI to negotiate the entry of the RSCs in the PCE, and he even threatened to form a dissident movement in the RTUI if his proposal was not approved. His purpose in entering the PCE was therefore to take over the leadership of the party, not in order to obtain paid positions, but to bring an end to its passivity towards the dictatorship and trade union struggles. In November 1924, the clandestine Plenum of the PCE was dominated by a series of angry condemnations of the Central Committee on the part of the Basque and Catalonian federations, which were composed of Revolutionary Syndicalist militants. The Central Committee submitted its resignation, leaving Maurin in charge as general secretary. The authorities immediately changed their attitude towards the PCE. From being relatively tolerated, the party then began to be subjected to harsh repression. On January 12, 1925, Maurin was shot and wounded, and then arrested by the police. The former leaders of the RSCs trod a familiar path: they would spend a few more years in jail.
No meeting was held to officially dissolve the RSCs. This would prevent the drawing up of a collective balance sheet. The militants would stay in touch with each other but Spanish Revolutionary Syndicalism disappeared as a structured organization. Its history was not yet, however, at an end.
6. From tragedy to drawing up a political balance sheet
a) From the united front to the affinity group deviation
The veteran militants still supported the united front but they were all tempted to take refuge in affinity groups. Some joined the FAI, others the PCE, but some also joined socialist or Catalanist organizations. The most prominent militants joined the PCE, especially its Catalonian-Balearic Communist Federation (FCCB), which had only about thirty members. This proves that the RSCs were not a creation of the PCE because these comrades joined the party only after the dissolution of the RSCs and in a context of heated debates with the communists. In their Catalonian stronghold, the vast majority of the Revolutionary Syndicalist militants did not join the PCE until 1924.
Like Maurin, they were very suspicious of the profoundly bureaucratic nature of the PCE. As a result, they had to wait until 1924 for this party to be used as a refuge. Although the influence of the Communist International has often been offered as an explanation, it was above all the crisis in the CNT that drove these militants towards a politics of affinity groups. These same militants would later be found in the leadership of the POUM. In 1931, however, the Workers and Peasants Bloc underwent a split. Arlandis, Masmano, Antoni Sesé Artaso and other trade union militants would leave the Workers and Peasants Bloc in order to organize the creation of the Catalonian Communist Party, and later, in June 1936, the Stalinist PSUC. The influence of the former members of the RSCs was an important factor in the Catalonian UGT, in which they would occupy the leading positions.
During the 1920s other militants had opted to take advantage of a tactical retreat into the UGT and the socialist organizations. It is important to emphasize that the libertarian militants were the first ones to take this step. It was these same militants who openly criticized the Soviet regime after their participation in the RTUI congress of 1924: Desideri Trillas joined the UGT in 1931 and became Vice President of the Region of Catalonia. Josep Jove was President of the Catalonian Regional Committee of the UGT in 1928 as well as of the Regional Federation of the PSOE. After his participation in the Government of the Generalitat in 1931, he was expelled from the PSOE and joined the Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña where he met Martí Barera, former member of the CNT and erstwhile printer of La Batalla.
These realignments did not at first have a dramatic impact. All of these militants supported the united front. They were reunited in the Asturian struggle of October 1934, when many of the leaders of the Workers Alliance were former militants of the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees. Without a national organization, however, the former members of the RSCs tended to withdraw into their respective organizations’ structures, which prevented the elaboration of revolutionary perspectives. With the defeat of October 1934, the united front entered into a period of crisis in which it was opposed by the increasing popularity of the concept of the popular front. The political careers of the various former militants of the RSCs would then diverge and conclude in open conflict. The experience of the RSCs would end in a bloody fratricidal struggle. The divergent tendencies would become more radically distinct during the revolutionary process of 1936-1937. In the last days of July 1936, Desideri Trillas, the leader of the PSUC, was mysteriously assassinated in Barcelona. Those who remained faithful to revolutionary syndicalism would be denounced as “Hitlero-Trotskyist” agents by their former comrades who had become followers of the popular front. This campaign would lead to the assassination of Nin in May 1937. The PSUC tried to prove that the POUM was a fascist bureau. This accusation was all the more ridiculous when one recalls that the leaders of the PSUC and the UGT in Catalonia came from the RSCs and knew perfectly well that the POUM came from the same origins, as the masthead of their journal attests.
The events of May 1937 involved a battle between former comrades. It was Eusebio Rodríguez Salas, the former secretary of the provincial federation of Tarragona, who organized the provocation that triggered the May events by attacking the Telephone Exchange building in Barcelona. At that time he was the police chief of Catalonia. One of the main targets of repression would be the POUM and the new Revolutionary Syndicalist tendency that had formed within the CNT, “The Friends of Durruti”. The latter responded to the provocation with arms. The fratricidal battle was a bloody one. Antoni Sesé was assassinated on May 5, 1937 when he was appointed to serve as a Minister of the Government of the Generalitat. A few days later, Nin was arrested, tortured and murdered after having refused to sign a confession implicating his comrades.
b) Organization based on affinity: An advance beyond the trade union tendency?
The militants of the RSCs dissolved their organization in 1925 in order to join various organizations based on their personal affinities as an alternative to the crisis of the revolutionary movement. This experience would end in a real tragedy. The withdrawal to their respective organizational structures permitted the destruction of the united front and the disappearance of all revolutionary perspectives. But we cannot allow our analysis to conclude with this observation. It is important to analyze the crisis of Spanish Revolutionary Syndicalism during the years of 1924-1925, a crisis that persists to this day, 85 years later.
Most of the members of the RSCs joined the PCE. Others joined the socialist parties, the libertarians or the Catalanists. This was justified as a way to palliate the crisis of the RSCs. In the end, however, it made the crisis even worse. The militants who joined these leftist parties and organizations were unable to form real revolutionary tendencies involved in workers struggles. The careers of these militants, who joined one or another party or organization, were characterized by political confusion and instability.
The people who comprised the inner core of the RSCs preserved a certain degree of organic homogeneity by retaining their separate identity as members of a political tendency. After they left the PCE, they founded the “Bloc Obrer i Camperol” [Workers and Peasants Bloc] and then the POUM. These organizations based on personal affinities, which were presented as means to overcome the “weaknesses of revolutionary syndicalism”, soon came up against political obstacles that were much more complicated than the ones that the RSCs had to face.
We saw that the process of gravitation of the RSCs towards the PCE was characterized by a loss of militants. The same process would unfold with the founding of the BOC and the POUM. These vanguards could present themselves as the future leadership of the workers movement. This may very well have been true with respect to their level of theoretical elaboration, which far and away overshadowed all the strategic reflections of the other tendencies in the Spanish workers movement. The fundamental question, however, was that of conveying these reflections to the working class masses. The separate articulation of the revolutionary organization and the trade union confederation was once again called into question. It was not long before the former members of the RSCs found themselves facing a real conundrum.
In 1927, the PCE addressed the question of rebuilding the CNT. Such a project, however, had to necessarily be based on a revolutionary tendency. The Communist International and its Spanish Section therefore adopted Maurin’s proposal to once again create … the RSCs and a journal … La Batalla! Opposition groups of revolutionary syndicalists were rapidly formed. These groups, however, were universally viewed as sections of the PCE, which was not the case with the previous RSCs. This prevented militants who subscribed to other ideologies from joining these groups, even as the crisis of anarchosyndicalism was provoking acute dissent within its own ranks. As a result, in 1932 the Opposition Trade Unions of the CNT announced their support for the united front and revolutionary syndicalism. At the very moment when revolutionary syndicalism could have offered an alternative that might have obtained the political support of the majority in the CNT, the absence of a unitary tendency undermined this dynamic of reconstruction.
This absence of a unitary revolutionary syndicalist tendency was even more harmful, insofar as it led the former members of the RSCs into a dead end. Their membership in the Communist International was, in the final analysis, temporary, one stage of a tactical retreat, but one that would cost them dearly from the political point of view. These militants, who engaged in collective reflection on revolutionary strategy, knew full well that the fate of the revolution would be decided at the level of the big trade union confederations and that soviet-style socialism can only be constructed on the basis of trade union administration. This analysis would be vindicated by the rapid reconstruction of the CNT and the radicalization of the UGT in 1930-1931. This political strategy, which became an essential part of the Revolutionary Syndicalist doctrine, would be criticized by both the Stalinist Communist International and by the Trotskyist Opposition. The former members of the RSCs subscribed to the theory of the vanguard party without thereby abandoning their Revolutionary Syndicalist analyses. This contradiction would prove to be insoluble.
The militants of the BOC-POUM would play a leading role in the CNT by propagating their Revolutionary Syndicalist analyses (united front, trade union administration of socialism, industrial unionism, collective violence…). Their membership in a party, however, was an obstacle to the creation of a unitary revolutionary tendency within the CNT. The anarchosyndicalist leaders would take advantage of this political weakness in order, once again, to isolate the former members of the RSCs, despite the major roles played by the BOC’s militants in the CNT between 1930 and 1935.
The crisis of the RSCs in 1924 cannot be explained by internal causes. The only weakness that might be mentioned is the same one that plagued the French Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees: the fact that entire trade unions could be enrolled as members of the RSCs. This error could lead to underestimating the need for political education of the membership. Just because a trade union renders a majority vote in favor of a revolutionary motion, its members are not instantly transformed into revolutionary militants, and it is even less likely that the trade union itself is instantly transformed into a revolutionary instrument. The purpose of a revolutionary organization is to organize only revolutionary militants, which is something that a trade union cannot do except during a revolutionary phase.
The real weakness of the RSCs was the fact that they were formed too late. This weakness is not the exclusive property of Spain. Militants often have a tendency to create revolutionary organizations after defeats, when their grasp of the need for such organizations comes too late. In a period of decline, however, it is obviously more difficult to organize militants when demoralization is rife in the movement. If the RSCs had arisen in 1919, their impact would have been much greater and more significant, and the Seguí-Pestaña deviation would surely have been avoided. The militants would have also had more time to organize and educate the trade union members, and it would therefore have been easier for them to confront the wave of repression and to rebuild the CNT.
In any event, this experience must be used by all those who, in Spain or any other country, fight for the socialist revolution. A revolution will not take place without the previous existence of a trade union united front; nor will it take place without the previous existence of a Revolutionary Syndicalist tendency that will serve as an instrument of education and strategic impulse.
This tendency has once again arisen in France. In Spain, this dynamic has yet to reemerge.
Comités Syndicalistes révolutionnaires
Translated in August 2015 from the Spanish translation of Les Comités Syndicaliste-Révolutionnaires espagnols, Editions des CSR (reference obtained online from: http://www.syndicaliste.fr/).
Source of Spanish translation: http://www.radioklara.org/spip/spip.php?article3435.
- 1 Also known as the “Profintern” or “Red Labor Union International” [American translator’s note].
- 2 Wayne Thorpe, “A Family Feud. Revolutionary Syndicalism in Europe, from the Charter of Amiens to the First World War”, Mille Neuf Cent, No. 24, 2006.
- 3 Adolfo Bueso, Recuerdo de una Cenetista, Ariel, 1976, p. 53.
- 4 Antonio Bar, La CNT en los años rojos, del sindicalismo revolucionario al anarcosindicalismo: 1910-1926, Akal, Madrid, 1981, p. 72.
- 5 When the authors refer to “affinity groups”, “groups based on affinities” or other phrases containing the word “affinity” in this essay, they are deliberately using the word not only to call to mind the popular anarchist concept of “affinity groups”, but to redefine that concept and employ it ironically in a new context to describe all the political or “philosophical” tendencies external to the revolutionary trade unions and alien to revolutionary syndicalism, and therefore all forms of association based not on the economic and social imperatives of trade union-based revolutionary struggle and socialist administration, but on personal “affinities” or “philosophies”, as in the political parties and anarchist groups; this view reflects the logic of the Charter of Amiens, which states that “the General Confederation of Labour unites, independent of all political groupings, all workers who recognise the struggle to be carried on for the abolition of the wages system…. the Congress declares complete freedom for every Trade Unionist to participate, outside of the trade organisation, in any forms of struggle in accordance with his political or philosophical views, confining itself only to asking him, in return, not to introduce into the trade union the opinions which he professes outside it….”. An interesting discussion of the Charter of Amiens and revolutionary syndicalism may be found (August 2015) online at: http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1980s/1986/no-986-october-1986/syndicalism-its-origin-and-weakness [American translator’s note].
- 6 Bar, op. cit., p. 4999
- 7 “Salvador Seguí (Noi de Sucre) 1887-1923, Thirty-Six Years of a Life”; Arquer, pp. 23-24.
- 8 Acción Sindicalista (September 22, 1922).
- 9 Y. Riottot, Joaquín Maurin, de l’anarcho-syndicalisme au communisme (1919-1936), L’Harmattan, Paris, 1997, p. 33.
- 10 Acción Sindicalista (October 13, 1922).
- 11 This Plenum actually took place in Barcelona, rather than in Lérida as Meaker claims. His chapter devoted to this period contains many errors. For instance, he describes the Basque Country as a region where the Revolutionary Syndicalists enjoyed little support, which is contradicted by numerous facts, including, among others, the fact that many CNT trade unions in the Basque Country joined the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees.
- 12 La CNT en los años rojos, p. 629.
- 13 Information supplied by Maurin to the historian Gerald H. Meaker in a letter dated August 9, 1965, Maurin Archives of the Hoover Institute, Stanford University.
- 14 La Vie Ouvrière, the French revolutionary syndicalist newspaper founded in 1909 by Alphonse Merrheim and Pierre Monatte, which suspended publication in 1914 after the outbreak of the war and resumed publication in 1919 as a platform for the internationalist members of its editorial committee and contributors who rallied to the Comités syndicalistes révolutionnaires (Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees), founded by Monatte and others in April 1919 as a dissident current in the CGT [American Translator’s note].
- 15 Information provided by Maurin to the historian Gerald H. Meaker in a letter dated August 9, 1965, Maurin Archives of the Hoover Institute, Stanford University.
- 16 Y. Riottot, Joaquín Maurin, de l’anarcho-syndicalisme au communisme (1919-1936), L’Harmattan, Paris, 1997, p. 64.
- 17 In 1930, thirty leaders of the CNT published a text that condemned the anarchosyndicalist deviation of the CNT. They would rapidly move closer to revolutionary syndicalist analyses, and they would later join the Workers Alliance. Some of them, like Pestaña, would forget to admit their share of personal responsibility for this deviation. This split would not last long. They rejoined the CNT at the Saragossa Congress of 1936, where they once again accepted the principles of “libertarian communism”.
- 18 Y. Riottot, Joaquín Maurin, de l’anarcho-syndicalisme au communisme (1919-1936), L’Harmattan, Paris, 1997, p. 101.