Article from Black Flag debunking myths of the libertarian Spanish Revolution from American Trotskyist Felix Morrow.
Trotskyist Lies on Anarchism
It's fair to say that most marxists in Britain base their criticisms, of the Spanish Anarchist Revolution of 1936, on the work of Trotskyist Felix Morrow. Morrow's book 'Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain', first published in 1938, actually isn't that bad - for some kinds of information. However, it's basically written as Trotskyist propaganda. All too often Morrow is inaccurate, and over-eager to bend reality to fit the party line.
The Bolshevik-Leninists, for example, an obscure sect who perhaps numbered 20 members, are, according to Morrow, transformed into the only ones who could save the Spanish Revolution - because they alone were members of the Fourth International, Morrow's own organisation. 'Only the small forces of the Bolshevik-Leninists...clearly pointed the road for the workers' (1); 'Could that party [the party needed to lead the revolution] be any but a party standing on the platform of the Fourth International?' (2), etc.. The POUM - a more significant marxist party in Spain, though still tiny compared to the anarchists - is also written up as far more important than it was, and slagged off for failing to lead the masses to victory (or listening to the Bolshevik-Leninists). The Fourth Internationalists 'offered the POUM the rarest and most precious form of aid: a consistent Marxist analysis' (3) (never mind Spanish workers needing guns and solidarity!). But when such a programme - prepared in advance - was offered the POUM by the Fourth International representative - only two hours after arriving in Spain, and 1/4 of an hour after meeting the POUM (4) - the POUM weren't interested. The POUM have been both attacked (and claimed as their own) by Trotskyists ever since...
It's Morrow's attacks on anarchism, though, that have most readily entered leftist folklore - even among Marxists who reject Leninism. Some of Morrow's criticisms are fair enough - but these were voiced by anarchists long before Morrow put pen to paper. Morrow, in fact, quotes and accepts the analyses of anarchists like Camillo Berneri ('Berneri had been right' etc. (5) (see below), and praises anarchists like Durruti ('the greatest military figure produced by the war' (6)) - then sticks the boot into anarchism. Morrow obviously wanted to have his cake and eat it.
Typically for today's left, perhaps, the most quoted sections of Morrow's book are the most inaccurate. Here's a detailed look at three of them:
According to Morrow, "Spanish Anarchism had in the FAI a highly centralised party apparatus through which it maintained control of the CNT (7).
In reality, the FAI - the Iberian Anarchist Federation - was founded, in 1927, as a confederation of regional federations (including the Portuguese Anarchist Union). These regional federations, in turn, coordinated local and district federations of highly autonomous anarchist affinity groups. So, while the FAI may have had centralising tendencies, a 'highly centralised' political party it was not.
Further, many anarcho-syndicalists and affinity groups were not in the FAI (though most seem to have supported it), and many FAI members put loyalty to the CNT (the anarcho-syndicalist union confederation) first. For instance, according to the minutes of the FAI national plenum of Jan-Feb 1936: 'The Regional Committee [of Aragon, Rioja, and Navarra] is completely neglected by the majority of the militants because they are absorbed in the larger activities of the CNT'. And 'One of the reasons for the poor condition of the FAI was the fact that almost all the comrades were active in the defence groups of the CNT' (report from the Regional Federation of the North). These are internal documents and so unlikely to be lies (8).
Anarchists were obviously the main influence in the CNT (which was anarcho-syndicalist long before the FAI was founded). But 'FAI control' was an invention of a reformist minority within the organisation - people like Angel Pestana, ex-CNT National Secretary, who wanted to turn the CNT into a politically 'neutral' union movement. Pestana later showed what he meant by forming the Syndicalist Party and standing for Parliament/the Cortes. Obviously, in the struggle against the reformists, anarcho-syndicalists - inside the FAI or not - voted for people they trusted to run CNT committees. The reformists lost, split from the CNT, and 'FAI dictatorship' was born.
Again, following Morrow, marxists have often alleged that the Socialist and Workers Alliance strike wave, of October 1934, was sabotaged by the CNT. To understand this allegation, you have to understand the background to October '34, and the split in the workers' movement between the CNT and the UGT (unions controlled by the reformist Socialist Party, the PSOE).
From 1931 (the birth of the Second Spanish Republic) to 1933 the Socialists, in coalition with Republicans, had attacked the CNT (a repeat, in many ways, of the UGT's collaboration with the Primo de Rivera dictatorship of 1923-30). Laws were passed, with Socialist help, making lightening strikes illegal and state arbitration compulsory. Anarchist-organised strikes were violently repressed, and the UGT provided scabs - as against the CNT Telephone Company strike of 1931. During and after CNT insurrections in Catalonia (north eastern Spain) in 1932, and the much wider insurrections of January 1933 (9,000 CNT members jailed) and December 1933 (16,000 jailed) Socialist solidarity was nil.
Socialist conversion to 'revolution' occurred only after the elections of November 1933 - when they lost, and all the laws they'd passed against the CNT were used against themselves. When cabinet seats were offered to the non-republican right, in October 1934, the PSOE/UGT called for a general strike..
If the CNT, nationally, failed to take part in this - a mistake recognised by many anarchist writers - this was not (as reading Morrow suggests) because the CNT thought 'all governments were equally bad', but because of well-founded, as it turned out, mistrust of Socialist aims.
A CNT call, in February 1934, for the UGT to clearly and publicly state its revolutionary objectives, had met with no reply. Rhetoric aside, the PSOE's main aim in October seems to have been to force new elections, so they could again form a (mildly reformist) coalition with the Republicans (9). The CNT, in effect, were to be used as cannon-fodder to help produce another government that would attack the CNT.
The 'workers alliances' were little better. These were first put forward by the marxist-leninists of the BOC (Workers and Peasants Bloc - later to form the POUM) after their attempts to turn the CNT into a bolshevik vanguard failed (10). PSOE interest began only after their election defeat - when the alliances were seen as a means of dominating the workers movement in areas the UGT was weak. The Socialist 'Liaison Committee', for instance, set up to prepare for insurrection, only allowed regional branches to take part in the alliances if they could guarantee Party control (11). And only one month after the first alliance was set up, one of its founder members -the Socialist Union of Catalonia - left in protest over PSOE domination.
During October, apart from Catalonia (where the Catalan government arrested CNT militants the night before, then tried to declare Catalan autonomy), and Madrid (where a general strike was supported by the CNT), the only real centre of resistance was in Asturias (on the Spanish north coast). Here, the CNT had joined the Socialists and Communists in a 'workers alliance'. But, against the alliance's terms, the Socialists alone gave the order for the uprising - and the Socialist-controlled Provincial Committee starved the CNT of arms. This despite the CNT having over 22,000 affiliates in the area (to the UGT's 40,000).
Morrow states that 'The backbone of the struggle was broken...when the refusal of the CNT railroad workers to strike enabled the government to transport goods and troops' (12). Yet in Asturias (the only area where major troop transportation was needed) the main government attack was from a seaborne landing of Foreign Legion and Moroccan troops - against the port and CNT stronghold (15,000 affiliates) of Gijon. Despite CNT pleas the Socialists refused arms, Gjon fell after a bloody struggle, and became the main base for the crushing of the entire region. This Socialist and Communist sabotage of Anarchist resistance was repeated in the Civil War, less than two years later.
Finally, Morrow claims that the Friends of Durruti 'represented a conscious break with the anti-statism of traditional anarchism. They explicitly declared the need for democratic organs of power, juntas or soviets, in the overthrow of capitalism..'(13).
Typically, in Morrow's topsy-turvy world, all anarchists like the Friends of Durruti (Morrow also includes the Libertarian Youth, the 'politically awakened' CNT rank and file, local FAI groups, etc.) who remained true to anarchism and stuck to their guns (often literally) - represented a break with anarchism and a move towards marxism, the revolutionary vanguard party (no doubt part of the 4th International), and a fight for the 'workers state'...
Those anarchists, on the other hand, who compromised for 'anti-fascist unity' (but mainly to try and get weapons to fight Franco) are the real anarchists because 'class collaboration...lies concealed in the heart of anarchist philosophy' (14).
The Friends of Durruti were formed, in March 1937, by anarchist militants who'd refused to submit to Communist-controlled 'militarisation' of the workers' militias. During the Maydays - the government attack against the revolution two months later - the Friends of Durruti were notable for their calls to stand firm and crush the counter-revolution. They did not 'break with' anarchism - they refused to compromise their anarchism in the face of 'comrades' who thought winning the war meant entering the government. Their leaflets, in April '37, called for the unions and municipalities to 'replace the state' and for no retreat (15). Their manifesto, in 1938, repeated this call ('the state cannot be retained in the face of the unions'), and made three demands: For a National Defence Council, elected and accountable to the union rank and file (including those at the front), with all posts up for regular recall; for 'all economic power to the unions'; and for the 'free municipality' to cover those areas outside the unions' mandate (16). More recently, Jaime Balius, one of the FoD's main activists, has stated: 'We did not support the formation of Soviets; there were no grounds in Spain for calling for such. We stood for Òall power to the trade unionsÓ. In no way were we politically orientated' (17). ('Political' here meaning 'state-political' - a common anarchist use of the word).
Morrow's book may bring comfort to those marxists who look for ready-made answers and are prepared to accept the works of hacks at face-value. Those who want to learn from the past - instead of re-writing it - will have to look elsewhere.
Notes & References
1) Felix Morrow, 'Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain', 2nd Edition 1974, p191.
2) Morrow p248.
3) Morrow p105.
4) Morrow p139.
5) Morrow p153.
6) Morrow p224.
7) Morrow p100.
8) Juan Gomez Casas, 'Anarchist Organisation - the history of the FAI', p165 and p168. Most of the information on the FAI comes from this. Also see Murray Bookchin, 'The Spanish Anarchists, The Heroic Years, 1868-1936'.
9) See for instance Adrian Schubert 'The Asturian Revolution of October 1934' , in 'Revolution and War in Spain' ed. Paul Preston.
10) Paul Preston, 'The Coming of the Spanish Civil War' p117.
11) See Schubert (above). Most of the rest of this section comes from Preston 'The Coming of the Spanish Civil War', Bookchin (above), and Abel Paz 'Durruti, the People Armed'.
12) Morrow p30.
13) Morrow p247
14) Morrow p101
15) Quoted in Paul Sharkey, 'The Friends of Durruti - a Chronology'.
16) 'Towards a Fresh Revolution'.
The idea of a National Defence Council wasn't the radical break with the CNT that some claim. Before the civil war the CNT had long has its defence groups, federated at regional and national level, and the CNT insurrection - of December 1933 - had been coordinated by a National Revolutionary Committee. During the war a national plenum of regions, in September 1936, called for a National Defence Council, with majority union representation and based on Regional Defence Councils. The Defence Council of Aragon, set up soon after, was based on these ideas. The need for coordinated revolutionary defence and attack is just common sense.
17) Letter to Ronald Frazer 1976 - in Frazer's book 'Blood of Spain' p381.
Camillo Berneri was an Italian anarchist active in Spain during the revolution, who wrote "An Open Letter to Comrade Federica Montseny", a call for a return to anarchist principles and defence and extension of the revolution and was editor of Guerra di Classe, an Italian language journal of the time. He was murdered by Stalinists in 1937.